Monthly Archives: April 2018

My 9-Year-Old Accidentally Explained Why His Mom Divorced Me

Oh the Places You'll Go Dr. Seuss book cover art

(Image/Dr. Seuss – drseussart.com)

“What do you want to have for dinner tomorrow?”

My wife asked me that a lot and I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like it on two levels:

Level 1 No-Likey: I have enough to worry about. Whether I have serious things to do, or perhaps am simply unwinding from a day at work, there are SEVERAL things competing for my time and energy, and what we’re doing for dinner TOMORROW was extremely low on my priority list. Maybe I’ll want pizza. Maybe I’ll want tacos. Maybe I’ll want seafood. I don’t know. Also, I’m not hungry, so almost nothing sounds appealing. This doesn’t matter right now. Can’t this wait until it does?

Level 2 No-Likey: This conversation often didn’t go my way. I don’t want to invest time doing something I don’t want to do, only to be told why it’s a bad idea or why it can’t or shouldn’t be done. I don’t want to say something that will require either of us to have to stop at the grocery store when we previously weren’t planning on it. As a general rule, I am against decisions that create more work when an alternative is available that doesn’t.

I’m sure she agreed to ordering a pizza a bunch of times when she probably didn’t want to. I bet she even went to the grocery store a bunch of times just to accommodate whatever dinner idea I’d suggested.

But my natural state of being—generally—is to worry about things when it seems like I need to. You know—“cross that bridge when we get to it.”

I wasn’t shy during my marriage about saying or behaving in ways that communicated how insignificant I considered the Future Dinner Conversation to be.

“What do you want to have for dinner tomorrow?” she said.

“I truly don’t have an opinion, babe. I kind-of don’t care. Whatever you want will be fine with me,” I said.

I thought I was being cool and accommodating my wife’s preferences.

It took me several years to realize just how incorrect I was.

The Little Things That “Don’t Matter” in Marriage

I don’t remember it being a big deal in our first few years together, but somewhere along the way, it evolved into a full-fledged “marriage problem.”

I eventually came around on the dinner thing.

I was certainly imperfect, because I don’t default naturally to Person Who Thinks About Future Meals, but I improved quite a bit through the years at being helpful with dinner. I’m a competent cook who seriously considered culinary school before choosing a writing career. My wife never seemed to figure it out, but I totally cared about her opinion of me. Me getting better at meal planning, volunteering for the grocery buying, and cooking most of the time seemed like a way for me to contribute positively and be a “good husband.”

It was easy for me to do it when I thought it was something she valued that I could take care of.

But it was hard for me when viewed through the “Do I seriously think this is important?” prism.

Five years post-divorce, I almost never plan meals for my son and I, and even less often for nights when it’s just me.

I don’t value planning future meals unless I’m going to be cooking for other people, like friends or a date. Otherwise, I just don’t think it matters. There are many important things in Life. Many. Planning meals for three days from now doesn’t crack the high-priority section of my list.

My wife seemed to get irrationally upset about this lack of concern for tomorrow’s meal. In my mind, she was “overreacting.” In my mind, she was blowing things out of proportion. This was another example of my wife having mixed-up priorities in our marriage.

Our marriage = Important.

Tomorrow’s dinner = Not Important.

According to my math, my wife was willing to damage our marriage by “starting a fight” over something that didn’t matter.

I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with her emotional calibration.

I thought she was irrational, which I thought made her wrong.

But because I would never let something silly like that outrank our marriage, I loved her anyway.

This “selfless” act showed that I took my marriage vows seriously. I was a “good husband” because I had my priorities straight.

If I can move past my wife’s crazy and irrational responses to little things that don’t matter, why can’t she chill about silly stuff like me not wanting to plan for tomorrow’s dinner, or me leaving my drinking glass next to the sink to use again later?

Kids Say the Darndest Things

I was feeling a little frustrated with my 4th-grade son this morning.

First, I had to remind him to hang up his bath towel the way that I’ve showed him at least a dozen times.

Then, I had to take away his iPad that he’d inexplicably started playing with in the middle of breakfast, which was slowing him down.

He was intentionally making noises to annoy me while I was trying to hear a conversation on talk radio, even after I’d asked him not to a couple of times.

I gave him three tasks after breakfast: Brush his teeth, put his packed lunch inside of his backpack, and put his shoes on.

I don’t remember which incident of non-compliance finally made me snap, but my response made it clear that he’d finally succeeded at pissing me off.

To which he responded: “Dad, why do you get mad about dumb stuff?”

Zoose, the ironic god of sky and thunder, had just face-blasted me with a bolt of ironic lightning.

I wasn’t pissed anymore, even though he was totally being a dickhole again. (Sorry, lupushope.)

I wasn’t pissed anymore because this was funny.

My son doesn’t know enough to know WHY it was funny, and I wasn’t going to get into it with him right then, but I did try to teach him something important that he clearly hadn’t learned yet.

(I’m probably not quoting myself with 100% accuracy. Sorry.)

“Listen, kiddo. I understand why you think I’m getting mad about dumb stuff that doesn’t matter. I really do,” I said. “I’m giving you a hard time about how quickly you’re putting on shoes or eating. I’m angry because you’re making silly noises, or not hanging up your bath towels in the way I’ve asked you to. I get why that seems stupid. Those are all things that don’t seem very important.

“But I’m not really upset because you did a less-than-stellar job hanging up your towel, or because you’re making weird mouth noises for no apparent reason, or because you don’t have your shoes on yet.

“I’m upset because I’m your dad, and I’ve asked you to do a few easy and simple things this morning, and then you didn’t do them. You chose to not help me. Not only did you not help me, you kind of sabotaged my efforts to get us ready so you can get to school on time. Towels and school shoes and you making noise are NOT important. But you obeying your mom and dad IS important. I’m not upset about dumb stuff. I’m upset because you’re not listening to your parents.”

Flashing Neon Sign: I Was a Child Throughout My Entire Marriage

The irony wasn’t lost on me, and anyone who has read anything I’ve written probably knows that I figured out much of this long ago.

But this still felt like a breakthrough moment with my son.

I get comments from people who read She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By The Sink and then accuse my son’s mother of being a control-freak nag because she was making a big deal out of a dish.

I get comments from people who read An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1 and tell me that I’m better off without my wife, because at least now I can watch The Masters golf tournament on a Sunday without anyone giving me crap for doing so. “All you wanted to do was watch a little golf from a tournament that only happens once a year! What’s wrong with that?”, they ask rhetorically, believing they see the world as clearly and correctly as I used to believe I did.

I just wanted to watch golf and football instead of work on some home-improvement project or go to an event at the in-laws. What’s the big deal?

I just wanted to let my wife choose what to have for dinner, because I didn’t have a preference. Why is that a problem?

I just wanted to leave my jeans that I wore one time on that little bedroom stand because it seemed more efficient than hanging them up again, or putting them in the laundry before they actually needed washed. Why is she acting upset about this silly crap?

Our marriage was effectively over long before I was capable of behavioral change in this arena, and was logistically and legally over long before I could see the WHY underneath all of the frustration and sadness my wife had expressed during these disagreements that seemed so insignificant to me at the time.

I spent my marriage kind-of acting like my 4th-grader: Why is she always getting mad about dumb stuff?

The truth was always hovering just a little over my head.

Just a little out of reach, kind of like I wasn’t tall enough.

Some people grow until they’re tall enough to see and understand.

Others find a way to climb up, sometimes because they’re crawling out of the darkness after hitting the floor.

I love my son so much, but if I can’t find a way to effectively communicate and help him understand the WHY underneath my requests or expressed frustrations over “dumb stuff,” he may spend the majority of his life believing that his father treats him like he’s never good enough, or that his dad is always looking for reasons to criticize him.

Can you imagine a son carrying that with him his entire life? As if his father doesn’t think he’s good enough? All because of a little nuanced misunderstanding?

But what if he learns all the things I didn’t know?

Oh, the places he’ll go.

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Why I Think Most Married People Get Bored and Stop Wanting Each Other

bored couple

(Image/ZUMI Kenya)

Author’s Note: I’m not a doctor. I’m not much of an expert on anything. But I’m curious, and I think a lot, and I like to explain WHY I think things. I don’t want there to be any confusion about what I believe or the reasons that led me here. I don’t think I have anything to teach people necessarily. But I think we can teach ourselves things by going through certain mental exercises, and those lessons or conclusions will sometimes be different than mine. That’s okay. Until I’m certain I know everything, I’ll continue to operate as if I might be wrong about all of it. Because I might be. The only story I know is my own, so it’s pretty much the only one I tell.

It’s possible I’m the only person in human history to treat strangers differently than people I know well. I often do that.

I’m more patient with and, arguably, “nicer” to other people’s kids than I am to my son.

I don’t have words to describe what I feel when I think about him. He’s the cutest. He’s in 4th grade, and he’s my favorite everything. He also pisses me off all the time when he’s being a little dickhole. The person I love the most is ALSO the person who makes me angry most frequently. The person I love the most is ALSO the person I spend the most time with which leads to me lapsing into moments when I’m taking him for granted.

Maybe I’m a shitty person or a bad father because of those moments when I show an extra ounce of favoritism to another kid when I’m correcting my son, or tolerating behavior from another kid that I wouldn’t tolerate from my own.

Because I’m not a psychology expert, or even just a really smart person, I can’t explain with 100-percent certainty the WHY behind this.

I can’t explain why I’ll walk around in sweatpants with out-of-control hair in front of a woman who I want to like me and find me attractive, but won’t go out in public or even answer the door for a pizza delivery without dressing better.

I can’t explain why my manners are on full display when first meeting someone who hasn’t earned my respect, but I’ll be totally informal with someone I’ve known for years.

I can’t explain why I was often nicer to strangers than I was to my wife.

But it’s true. I was.

Before my son was the person I spent the most time with, his mother was.

Before my son was the person I loved the most but who could also upset me the most, his mother was.

She’s beautiful. Hot, even. And she is the person I loved above all things. She’s the person I cared about and valued most. She’s the person I shared all of my resources with and promised to be with for the rest of my life.

She’s the only person I ever did that for.

I loved that woman very much.

But I was still a dick to her when things weren’t going my way. I was still sometimes nicer to our friends who were visiting for dinner and wine than I was to her. I was still quick to dismiss something she claimed to care about based solely on me not caring about it like an egomaniacal douchebag.

I still was disinterested at times in going to bed with her, even though she’s sexually attractive and literally asked me to. Which seems insane, really.

Why?

Why?

WHY?!?!

I don’t know. I’m not proud of it. And I’m under no delusion that I’m all together.

Something might be fundamentally wrong with me. I might be a new or unique kind of broken. I don’t know.

But I think it might be something else. Let’s start here…

Hugh Grant Got Caught Soliciting a Miami Prostitute

Remember that?

Sure you do.

Hugh Grant. The British actor. Totally handsome dude. Presumably super-wealthy. I don’t think he had any trouble finding dates if he wanted them. Just a hunch. I’m theorizing that he wouldn’t “need” to employ the services of a prostitute to have his sexual wants satisfied.

But more significantly than all that is that he was married. And not just to anyone. He was married to the woman who—to me—was (purely from a visual standpoint—let the record show that visual stimulation and desire is probably the least-important aspect of “attraction”) the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

Elizabeth Hurley. She’s 52 now and probably still gorgeous. In her early 30s, she’s what I would have designed with a Weird Science computer and a pointy-bra hat.

I was 21 years old back when this went down in 2000 and it seemed super-significant. My 21-year-old brain couldn’t process how Hugh Grant could intentionally choose to cheat on Elizabeth Hurley with some rando lady of the night in South Beach.

But I think I can now.

Personal decisions about hiring sex workers aside, I think I understand why any man or woman married to another human being wouldn’t see that person through the same prism as some star-struck 20-something who never met them before.

I Classify it as Hedonic Adaptation, But Maybe it’s Something Else

I think it’s an important idea to understand, because I think when people don’t know what they’re up against, they’re more likely to experience hardship and failure.

Hedonic adaptation is the psychological phenomenon of our brains adjusting to positive life changes and normalizing them, the consequences of which are losing some of the “highs” we used to feel when we first experienced them.

You get a pay raise. It feels good. You get used to the new pay. Feel just as poor as you used to.

You get a new car. It feels good. You get used to the new car. You let it be just as dirty as your old car.

I’ve written in many posts, including my most recent from last week, that I believe hedonic adaptation is a major contributor to relationship problems.

A kind reader objected to my use of the term hedonic adaptation.

I can’t be sure, but I think she was uncomfortable with the idea of comparing how we treat and feel about “things” with how we treat and feel about people.

As a recovering idealist, I totally understand where she’s coming from. It’s an insult to the sacredness of marriage and the intrinsic value of a human being to reduce a person—and certainly a spouse—to an object.

But I don’t think being uncomfortable makes it less true. I don’t think our brains give a shit WHAT the thing/person/experience is. I believe it’s a foregone conclusion that as familiarity and comfort with something grows, the likelihood that you’ll take it for granted through thoughtlessness increases.

I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that you will love or value something less. Just that you’ll “forget” how much it really matters to you. Like your ability to breathe or see or use your arms and legs. People tend to take them for granted until the least-fortunate among us lose one of them.

It’s not ideal. But it is the human condition.

I certainly don’t love or value my son less as I’ve “gotten used” to him being around. But I think those little chemical triggers that make young couples crush on one another and lust for one another when they first meet WILL, 100-percent, no-exceptions, lose intensity or go away entirely over time.

It’s TOTALLY uncomfortable to suggest to your spouse that you aren’t quite as attracted to them as you once were. I think that’s why most of us avoid discussing it. We love to avoid uncomfortable conversations and situations.

I wonder what would happen if we did things differently.

Remember, much of this is superficial. And it’s not your fault.

None of us are actively sitting around TRYING to bore with stuff—certainly not our marriage partner. I don’t think I’m going out on much of a limb in suggesting that if we never got “bored” or lost the intense chemical reactions our bodies experience when we first meet a romantic partner, that we’d have about 90-percent fewer divorces to worry about.

This isn’t about how much someone matters. It’s not about objectifying human beings or disrespecting those we love.

It’s about acknowledging that we are programmed by nature to lose over time some of the naturally occurring emotional triggers that help us effectively communicate and convey attraction, desire, love, courteousness, patience, forgiveness, etc. to our partner.

We can’t deal in reality when we don’t know what reality is, or deny its very existence.

I think the people who have the best relationships are secure enough with themselves and one another to deal with uncomfortable things and topics as a team. As a partnership. To—together—ask questions and discuss ways in which they can demonstrate the love and care that they think and feel, even if it doesn’t quite look or feel the same as it did when they first met.

Here’s a free life tip I think my failed marriage taught me: Confidently discussing uncomfortable things together in order to promote a healthy relationship and marital harmony will benefit a marriage. I think the act of doing so together is WAY more powerful and bond-forming than being honest about our feelings can be damaging.

The husband and wife who can, with intellectual honesty, discuss and deal with the natural “boredom” or “loss of attraction” that might eek into a long-term relationship are going to be better off than the ones who pretend it isn’t real.

BE UNCOMFORTABLE and discuss things bravely, because being uncomfortable and discussing things bravely is the hard—but RIGHT—thing to do.

But It Could Be Other Things Too

I label this hedonic adaptation because it’s what makes sense to me.

But that doesn’t make me right, and even if I am “right,” hedonic adaptation wouldn’t be a catch-all for this phenomenon.

When you first meet someone, you are single. You are an individual with mystery and potential in their eyes, as they are to you.

The dynamics of that moment are RADICALLY different than when you wake up in the same bed for the 1,871st day in a row, looking and smelling your worst with two kids and a dog and a mortgage.

I’m not even trying to be cynical about this. The love and care you feel—the VALUE—you place on your long-term spouse, family and household is infinitely higher than the first night you met back when all the sparks first flew.

But there are elements of relationships that often “worsen” as circumstances, individual interests and priorities, and group priorities change over time.

Maybe it’s worse manners. Maybe it’s the absence of displaying sexual attraction for your wife or husband. Maybe it’s saying something a little bit mean, or offering a thoughtless or dismissive reaction to something she or he told you.

Maybe back on your third date, all of that would have gone much differently.

Comfortable Lies vs. Uncomfortable Truth

Maybe it’s not about the other person. Maybe none of it is.

Maybe it’s about us.

I was a confident young man when I met my ex-wife. I was going to win the Pulitzer Prize and be whatever I wanted. The world was mine. And so was she.

The years went by.

The confident individual became an unsure partner. The cool guy living alone became the uncool part of a couple.

Maybe we stop feeling attracted to our partners because once they’re our partners, and two I’s become a We, we literally stop being the people they were attracted to in the first place.

We LOSE ourselves when we give up our individual identities to be a husband or a wife. To be a mother or a father.

We turn into different people because we must.

So it’s not just boredom. Sometimes, attractive traits literally go away, and unattractive traits take their place.

Many of us spend years politely or fearfully not mentioning it. Maybe we grumble to one of our friends about it in a private moment.

Then years go by, and two people who were once inseparable are now total strangers.

It’s the saddest story of our time because it happens thousands of times every day and hardly anyone is doing anything about it.

But you can. You can be honest with yourself and the people you love, and you can talk about true things even when it’s hard.

Pleasant lies taste wonderful and are easy to hear and hide behind. But they’re poison.

Difficult truths taste bitter going down and kind of make you want to puke. But they’re medicine. They cure the sick. Mend the broken.

Difficult truths might save the whole world.

Maybe we just need enough courageous people taking the leap.

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