Monthly Archives: May 2019

How the Color Purple is Harming Your Relationships

(Image/Science)

Pop quiz: If your relationship problems are decreasing mathematically and your romantic partner is observably adjusting his or her behavior in an honest attempt to connect with you emotionally, but your brain and subsequent emotions are telling you otherwise, is your relationship actually improving?

But Matt! What a silly question! If my partner were lovingly changing their behavior for my benefit and the benefit of our relationship, my mind and heart would NEVER tell me otherwise!

Awww. It’s cute because I would have totally said that too before learning about the Blue Dot Effect.

It occurred to me only after learning about the Blue Dot Effect that sometimes it doesn’t matter whether there is objective, measurable improvement. Our brains will sometimes invent new negatives to replace the ones that went away.

Simply put: Even though the world is measurably the best it’s ever been (longest life expectancy, best health care, most material wealth, most educated, most freedoms, most mobile, most access to information in human history), everyone feels shitty and complains to each other about it on social media when they’re not too busy bragging about the awesome new thing they just acquired or did to earn street cred with all of the people they went to high school with.

It’s largely the premise of Mark Manson’s new book Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope. (It’s good.) Manson is among my favorite writers because he tries to do what I try to do, only more effectively and his focus extends beyond romantic relationships.

What is the Blue Dot Effect?

It was Manson’s book which introduced me to the Blue Dot Effect, but writer Sam Brinson had written about it a year ago not long after a group of scientists published their findings on “Prevalence-induced concept change in human judgment” in the June 19, 2018 issue of Science.

The conclusion of the study was simple: When humans are on the lookout for something, like bad behavior or threats, when instances of that bad behavior or those threats lessen, people will expand their definition of “bad behavior” or “threats” to include things they wouldn’t have previously.

From Brinson’s Medium article “The Psychology of Finding What You’re Looking For”:

“The researchers ran several experiments, most of which involved participants identifying blue dots from a series that ranged in color from ‘very blue’ to ‘very purple.’ After some time, the number of blue dots would reduce, and the participants would react by selecting as blue dots those they had previously considered purple — their category of ‘blue’ expanded as the number of examples of blue decreased.”

Brinson continues:

“In further experiments, the researchers found the same effect when participants had to identify aggressive faces from a group that ranged from ‘very threatening’ to ‘not very threatening,’ and again when separating unethical research proposals from ethical ones.

“When increasing the number of blue dots instead of reducing them, the effect reverses — what had previously counted as blue suddenly gets left out. What’s more, the researchers also found the effect to occur when people were told they were doing it, and even when those people were paid to not fall into the trap.”

Important note, Brinson points out:

“This experiment seems to prove that we are incapable of making our concepts rigid, and must give in to ebbing and flowing. It should be noted, however, that this effect occurred when people were looking for instances of the concept — the blue category expanded as people sought to find blue dots, neutral faces became threatening when people were on a mission to find threatening faces.

“People in normal circumstances, who aren’t actively looking to label certain things, might not be as susceptible to the same concept shifts. If I remain indifferent to acts of aggression and acts of kindness, even if the frequency of either act changes, will I be more likely to recognize that change or to alter my definition?”

What This Means for Your Relationships

What this means is, if you’ve identified a pattern of behavior in your relationship partner that you don’t like—like a wife who feels disrespected and unloved because of an incomplete house chore or display of forgetfulness from her husband; or like a husband who feels disrespected and unloved because he perceives EVERY attempt by his wife to communicate with him about her feelings as an unprovoked and unfair attack on his character—you’re likely to find instances of your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend doing the same old bullshit things they always did even if they are legitimately doing things ‘better’ per previous conversations and agreements between the two of you.

And it’s not always because your partner is a huge, selfish asshole who will never change.

Sometimes, it’s simply because things you used to be cool with are now things you’ve labeled unacceptable. Things that were once benign are now painful. Things that were once just humans being humans are now relationship killers.

This tendency to find negatives even when things are improving around us is NOT a weapon for narcissists to wield in another mind-game argument where they invalidate their partner’s expressed feelings and try to convince them that the things they think and feel aren’t real.

It’s merely another opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth. An opportunity to check your own biases and bullshit at the door.

Human behavior is messy. Human emotion and mental health is messy.

It’s HARD to be an adult.

And that’s why finding someone to walk side-by-side with for the rest of our lives is such a beautiful thing. Sometimes we need to be lifted up. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we’re not the only ones who are afraid or unsure of what to do next. Sometimes we need to be forgiven.

The people who promised to love us, and who we promised to love in return, deserve our best. They deserve our most generous thoughts and assumptions. They deserve our most humble and compassionate responses. They deserve our focus and energy and effort to remind them that we’ve got their back.

That they are respected, appreciated, and cherished.

That they are good enough, honored, and supported.

Sometimes, they show up as purple dots and we should lovingly and compassionately remind them they’re kind of being dicks when they do.

Other times, the people who promised to love us forever are showing up as blue dots, and because we are imperfect creatures, we think that dot is purple. We’re LOOKING FOR purple. And we treat those purple-dotting sonsofbitches accordingly.

But really, that dot is blue. Our person showed up just as they’d promised. It feels like they failed us, but really we’re failing them.

And we don’t have to.

We can do better.

We must.

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Podcast Interview: The Mindset You Must Change if You Want a Great Marriage

(Image/thelifestyleplaybook.com)

I know what you’re probably not thinking: I really want to listen to Matt blather on about conflict in relationships!

And because you’re not thinking that, this is me encouraging you to start thinking about it because clearly I’m an attention-whore. Therapist and author Lesli Doares, because she’s kind and gracious, invites me onto her podcast Happily Ever After is Just the Beginning every so often to jam about relationship stuff. (You can also check out Lesli’s The Hero Husband Project here.)

Today, her newest episode “The Mindset You Must Change if You Want a Great Marriage,” features … wait for it … me, soapboxing about people’s beliefs and how everyone thinks they’re right all of the time, and how that condition is the root of most relationship conflict (and every other kind of conflict).

In this episode, Lesli and I discuss this unhelpful mindset, and kick around ideas for how people can connect more powerfully with loved ones to improve their romantic relationships, as well as connect with other people, so they can have better social relationships in general.

You can listen here on the web at Web Talk Radio, or from your favorite podcast service (because I’m an Apple user, I can’t provide a Google Play link, and I’m sorry), but here is the link to the Apple Podcasts episode.

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What to Do When Your Wife Doesn’t Respect You

Basics of respect

(Image/Respect360.org)

Oh no. You feel disrespected by your wife. This is definitely bad for your marriage and a poor example for any children you might have.

You’ve done the best possible thing you could have in this situation, and I hope you’ll choose to feel good about it. You’ve asked great questions: Why doesn’t my wife respect me? What do I do about it?

But it’s possible you’ve missed one: Are my feelings about my wife’s respect level for me accurate?

One of the biggest problems EVERYONE contends with in life is our inclination to believe everything we think. Just maybe she DOES respect you. That would save you a lot of time, energy, and frustration if that were the case. And for some of you, that will be true.

But for the sake of this exercise, let’s just say that your wife legitimately lacks respect for you. If your brain and/or heart are telling you that this condition is bad for your marriage and that you don’t want to be part of a marriage that lacks basic respect, I applaud you and totally agree. A marriage without respect is a marriage in name only.

I used to be married to a woman who didn’t respect me. It feels really bad, and if that’s where you are right now, I’m so sorry. Eventually, my wife chose to not be my wife anymore. I cried and vomited and felt sorry for myself and blamed everything on her.

I thought she was ungrateful. Cruel. A promise-breaker. Selfish.

And then, over the following six years I asked myself a thousand uncomfortable questions, I wrote about many of the realizations I’d made about how I was showing up in my marriage (spoiler alert: like a piece-of-shit husband), and today, despite being a divorced single guy, people pay me actual money to coach them about relationship stuff.

I know. It’s crazy.

Let’s talk about:

  • Whether your wife respects you; and
  • How you can earn her respect.

Does Your Wife Respect You?

The most important job you have any time you’re faced with a decision or encounter conflict with someone else, is to be damn sure you’re not accidentally being the bigger asshole without realizing it.

This is hard, because we spend the vast majority of our lives making snap judgments about everything, and mostly being right. If we have friends and jobs and are reasonably educated and have mostly avoided things like prison and Darwin Award-worthy near-death experiences, then—mathematically speaking—we have a pretty good track record with our gut reactions.

Recent example from my life: Because I am frequently calling strangers that I meet on the internet for coaching work, I toggle my phone’s Caller ID setting off so that my number shows up ‘Restricted’ or ‘Private’ on people’s phones when I call them.

A few weeks ago, when I was trying to call my dad on his birthday, my calls kept getting rejected. The first couple of times, I didn’t think much of it. But after six or seven tries over the course of many hours, I was feeling shitty. My dad’s too busy to talk to me. He’d rather do whatever he’s doing right now than talk to his son.

On Mother’s Day, the same thing was happening with my mom, though I realized my mistake much faster that time. You’ve no doubt already solved the mystery. I had forgotten to toggle my phone settings to “Show Caller ID,” which resulted in my parents doing EXACTLY what I would do in the same situation—ignore the phone call from an unrecognized number.

Stuff like this happens all of the time in our human relationships—particularly in our marriages.

We FEEL certain negative emotions when an event happens (someone else says or does something) that we would not have felt had we known one simple, but critical, piece of information to put the situation in its most proper and accurate context.

Powerful Questions That Can Help You Make Difficult Decisions (Including How to Feel)

The world’s thought leader on the subject of question-asking once sent me an email asking whether he could interview me for a book he was writing. (I said yes, because duh. Life highlight.) Bestselling author Warren Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions is one of my go-to resources for the questions I need to ask—or that my coaching clients might need to be asking—to arrive at answers that can help us achieve clarity about what we believe and why, and which can help us find answers to life’s most difficult problems.

The section of the book that includes things I said about human connection isn’t necessarily where I’ve find found the most value. It was the section on better decision-making—about anything. And because ‘anything’ includes our relationships, I hope you’ll take the following exercise seriously. It might help you.

From Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions:

Ask These 4 Questions to Check Your Biases and Beliefs

  • What am I inclined to believe on this particular issue? Start by trying to articulate your beliefs/biases.
  • Why do I believe what I believe? The “jugular question,” per Nobel Prize-winning physicist Arno Penzias, forces you to consider the basis of those beliefs.
  • What would I like to be true? A “desirability bias” may lead you to think something is true because you want it to be true.
  • What if the opposite is true? This question is inspired by ‘debiasing’ experts and Seinfeld’s George Costanza.

That last question is my favorite.

I’d ask you to think about it like a mock courtroom trial. There’s what you believe—The Defense Attorney. And then there’s what the other person believes—The Prosecuting Attorney.

I’ve never been to law school, but I’m pretty sure part of the process involves mock trials where law students (not unlike practicing lawyers) are sometimes required to prepare legal arguments for one side of a case they don’t necessarily believe or agree with.

I’m asking you to do the same thing. Give your best effort to argue the opposite of what you believe. It takes guts. I know you can do it. What evidence is there—what reasonable explanations exist—for how the opposite of what you believe could be true?

What happens afterward is several positive possibilities: 1. You get to be totally sure you believe what you believe, or 2. You get to abandon an incorrect or poorly conceived belief, and replace it with a better one, or 3. You get to, at the very least, come to understand how someone else could come to the conclusions that they did. And maybe when we fully understand The Why behind their actions, we can see that they were never trying to be assholes after all, and we get to feel all that wonderful lovey-dovey stuff again for a few minutes until the dopamine wears off.

‘Oh Shit. My Wife Really Doesn’t Respect Me’

That’s bad.

There’s no reasonable way to offer useful ‘advice,’ because it’s totally possible that the healthiest thing you could do is tell your meanie wife to piss off and file for divorce. But maybe you don’t want to do that because you have three kids together, and you calculate that the most loving fatherly thing you can do is stay married on their behalf.

I get it.

I get it because I’m pretty sure my wife stayed with me for a few more years than she wanted to for that exact same reason.

My wife stopped loving me and wanted to leave our marriage because I didn’t demonstrate the type of respect a wife deserves in a healthy marriage. While it was all pissing and moaning and whining at the beginning of my divorce, once I started asking myself a bunch of difficult questions and figuring out that I was actually a tremendously intolerable asshole throughout the majority of our marriage, I was able to empathize with my wife.

When you discover that you inflicted a bunch of bullshit on someone you care about that they didn’t deserve, and you view their behavior and decision-making through THAT prism, then the mystery of what happened, and the unjustified victimhood you were experiencing disappears.

When you’re a victim, life is happening to you. You’re just there, and a bunch of crap affects your life and there’s nothing you can do about it.

When you accept responsibility for your actions, and realize that what’s happening—or what has happened—are the consequence of your own actions, then it gives you a bunch of control of the situation that you couldn’t otherwise have. It’s powerlessness that’s most terrifying.

I don’t get to go back in time and fix my past mistakes. But I DO get to not feel anger now. I get to not enter future relationships blind to the things that destroys them. I get to make decisions armed with a bunch of critical information I didn’t have before. I like the confidence that gives me.

Just maybe, you execute the skills and duties of a husband at an incredibly high level. You’re a good husband, but you’re still not respected by your spouse. Ugh. Sorry. This won’t do.

Question (an uncomfortable and unpleasant one): Do you respect yourself?

I’m not a psychologist. But. A bunch of bad shit happens to us throughout our entire lives, starting in childhood. And all of that bad shit helps to shape our beliefs about ourselves, which affects what we feel—and how intensely we feel both positive and negative things throughout the rest of our lives.

Just maybe, YOU don’t believe you’re worthy of being respected (even though you might wear a metaphorical mask like I used to, and probably still sometimes do in order to convince others that we’re self-confident).

Do you ever say and do things around your wife one way, say and do things around your guy friends a different way, and say and do things around your coworkers yet a different way?

A component of that is social awareness and politeness, which is totally cool. But another portion of that might be that you adjust your behavior to fit into whatever environment you’re in, because you want to be accepted and/or liked by the people around you.

I totally do this sometimes. It’s lame. I want to be liked. It feels so much better than not being liked.

Self-confident people say and do the things that are true for them regardless of whether someone might not like them afterward. They give no phucks. None. Because they already respect themselves and don’t require others’ approval to know they are a person with inherent value.

They love and accept themselves. (Side note: Narcissists ALSO love and accept themselves and do all of these things, but struggle with gaining respect, because they rarely offer it themselves.)

How You Earn Your Wife’s Respect

  1. Respect yourself. Don’t you dare say that you do until you know it’s true. It’s okay to admit that you don’t. I do not always respect myself or act in my own healthy best interests. You’re not the only one.
  2. Respect your wife. You might be thinking: “But Matt! I do respect my wife! I married her and have children with her and love her more than anyone! I trust her with our finances, and for raising our children, and to not murder me in my sleep! What more could I possibly do?”

Great question.

While you humbly acknowledge to your wife that you’re actively working on learning how to behave with self-respect in order to grow into the best version of yourself you can possibly be because you, and your marriage, and your family deserve that, you also ask your wife what could change within your relationship so that she felt more respected.

You might be surprised by her answers, because there’s a better-than-average chance it will involve things you’ve heard before like housework, how you speak to her in the company of friends and family, and maybe some things you’ve never considered—like her desire to see you let your guard down by being uncomfortably real and honest with her about what goes on in your head and heart. By being vulnerable instead of pretending you’re the toughest guy she knows, she may feel both closer to you and more accepted by you because maybe she’s also sometimes insecure about what goes on in her head and heart.

Have the courage to expose your greatest flaws, weaknesses, and scars. Lovingly accept her greatest flaws, weaknesses, and scars. Regularly demonstrate that the shit that matters to her matters to you—simply because you respect the things that affect her, and you value her wellbeing.

That’s what you could possibly do.

That’s how you might earn back your wife’s respect.

“Being heroic is the ability to conjure hope where there is none.” – Mark Manson, author of Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope.

Go be the best of us.

Go be a hero.

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Would You Leave Your Spouse Over Dirty Dishes?: A Lesson on Conflict Management

(Image/HuffPost)

We pulled into our parking space in Florida’s version of the “happiest place on earth,” and all of my insides were knotted up.

In my left pocket was the most expensive thing I’d ever bought—a pretty pear-shaped diamond engagement ring I’d been secretly paying off for months.

This felt like the place. Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. She loved Disney. This felt like the time. The Fourth of July. She loved fireworks.

I wasn’t tense because I was planning a surprise marriage proposal. I was tense because we were fighting over whether the song playing on the radio was Duran Duran. (Shazam didn’t exist in 2003.)

It was. The song was “Hungry Like the Wolf.” I knew it. She didn’t. She told me I was wrong. I knew I wasn’t. So we had a little fight and probably said dickhead things to one another.

It wasn’t that weird for us to have a little spat and be temporarily mad about something silly. We never fought about anything “important,” as far as I could tell. Just “dumb stuff.”

Everything’s totally fine, I thought.

While the fireworks lit up the night sky above Cinderella’s castle, I slipped the ring on her finger and she said yes.

Ten years later, she divorced me because I left dishes by the sink.

I can’t remember whether Duran Duran was playing in the background while she drove away for the last time.

The Important Difference Between the Two Types of Relationship Conflict

As recently as this week, someone commented on the dishes article that went viral in January 2016, minimizing the significance of dirty dishes and encouraging people to learn how to let go of “the little things” in an effort to avoid conflict and have healthy relationships.

While I appreciate the spirit of his comment and those of the hundreds of other people also touting the merits of “letting it go,” as a happy-marriage philosophy, I respectfully believe they all share the same toxic mental condition that ailed me throughout my marriage.

It’s a diseased belief called I Know That What I Believe is Right, Therefore Anyone Who Believes Something Else is Wrong.

That’s the belief that ends every doomed relationship, and is more or less responsible for starting every major conflict—including the deadliest wars—in human history.

My favorite writer Mark Manson categorizes conflict into two categories:

1. Conflict of Preference, and

2. Conflict of Values.

A Conflict of Preference is liking rap music more than country music, or tacos more than sweet potatoes, or attending a symphony orchestra performance more than off-roading in a lifted pickup truck.

A Conflict of Values is belief in God versus atheism as a guiding life principle, the intention to have children versus not reproducing, or behaving charitably or greedily.

Preference is “I like Rocky Road ice cream more than strawberry ice cream!”

Values are literally WHAT WE ARE. “Our values are constantly reflected in the way we choose to behave,” Manson wrote in Who the F*ck Am I?: The Ultimate Guide to Personal Values (which is the best thing I’ve read on the subject of personal values).

It’s silly to fight ugly and end up divorced over Conflict of Preference.

It’s tragic—but possibly healthy—to end relationships in which there are an irreconcilable Conflict of Values. (Though I have some challenging questions for you about WTF you were thinking when you said “I do.”)

But what about when we can’t tell the difference?

It requires high-level mindfulness and self-awareness. And it takes both relationship partners valuing their relationship more than their individual feelings (until it can be determined whether those feelings are a result of preferential differences, or value differences).

I think many people get divorced because they have difficulty identifying whether conflict is a matter of preferences or values.

And I think many people believe my article She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink is stupid because they confuse my ex-wife’s and my differing preferences for where to set a used drinking glass as NOT being about values.

It was totally about values. Values, masquerading as something that didn’t matter.

It’s Not About the Dishes

Everyone who cries foul at my ex-wife after reading the dishes article is hyperfocused on the relative merits of setting a drinking glass by the sink.

After all, children are starving in Africa. Someone at work was diagnosed with cancer. The family on the news lost their home in the hurricane.

It’s easy to point at the glass as a minor thing. It’s easy to point to that glass and convince yourself that anyone who makes a big deal out of it has misplaced priorities and probably some emotional problems.

It’s easy to say those thoughts out loud when your spouse is irritating you because she seems to be suggesting once again that something you do is making her life worse. And it’s easy to feel angry when you feel as if all of your shortcomings are being highlighted while all of your contributions and virtues are ignored.

Why isn’t anything I do good enough for her?

Where to set the dish is a Conflict of Preference. But the way in which we treat our marriage partner is a Value.

Most of the time when relationship fights like this crop up over disagreements which might seem minor from the outside looking in, the injured party isn’t feeling hurt because of this one thing. The injured party is feeling hurt because, for them, this incident is another reminder that they’re married to someone who believes that their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are more valuable—that they matter more—than their spouse’s.

I can’t relate to someone who cares whether a drinking glass is sitting by the sink.

But I can totally relate to someone who feels hurt, disrespected, or disregarded because of someone refusing to thoughtfully consider our thoughts, ideas, emotional experiences, etc.

You ever have a good idea at work? One that would make things better for the company, the customer, or the employees? And then when you bring that idea to the table, it gets ignored, or discounted, or otherwise rejected by some self-important anal-retentive?

I bet you have.

It’s shitty. But I can accept self-important anal-retentives doing asshole things.

I find it infinitely less acceptable for someone who vowed to love and honor me as their partner for life to do that.

When romantic partners (too often the men in male-female relationships) dispute, challenge, reject, insult, minimize, invalidate the expressed experiences of the other, they are communicating the following:

  • My beliefs are true; yours are false
  • What I feel is right; what you feel is wrong
  • What I think matters more than what you think
  • Because you’re wrong, and I’m right, I’m never going to change my behavior
  • You say that this hurts, but I don’t feel hurt by it so you must be crazy. I’m not going to help you stop hurting because you’re wrong for hurting.

And the day I realized that I would never agree to marry or remain married to someone who said that or treated me that way is the day I made peace with my wife leaving me.

The day I realized THAT was what I had been saying to my wife every time we argued about glasses by the sink or fucking Duran Duran songs, was the day I realized that she did the right thing by leaving, and then I started writing the Shitty Husband letters. She owed it to her mental and emotional health to wake up every day and not have someone who had promised to love and honor her forever tell her over and over again that her real-life experiences weren’t worth my time and attention and effort.

A marriage is NOT a promise to endure neglect and abuse for the rest of your life.

A marriage is a promise to work cooperatively to mutually thrive for the rest of your life, and is currently the most successful model in human history for reproducing and raising healthy, socially adjusted children.

When someone refuses to cooperate to that end, then the marriage ceases to be a marriage.

It’s easy to miss because, after all, it’s just a stupid glass by the sink.

Or, is it?

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My Secret to Conquering Social Anxiety: Being Social

(Image/HBO)

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from my friend and colleague, Jenee Day.

Jenee is a long-time anxiety sufferer who now shares her experiences in an effort to help others via her podcast, YouTube channel, and through her coaching and writing. Jenee is the author of “Fear Itself: How Battling Anxiety Brought Me Inner Peace.” The Fear Itself podcast is also available on most podcast platforms.

Nope. No way. Definitely not.

There was no way I was going to put myself out there in such a big way. I’m not a girly girl. I knew we wouldn’t have anything in common. I wouldn’t know what to say. I didn’t even know what to wear to go bowling.

It will be awkward. They probably all know each other already and I’ll sit over in the corner by myself. I should just skip it.

Girls’ Night. I had never been to one before.

My palms were sweaty while I skimmed the Facebook invite, contemplating all the ways I might fail: I might do something stupid, like throw the ball backward or into another lane. That would be mortifying. I might make a joke about my husband to someone who is going through divorce, or stick my foot in my mouth some other way. My worst fear was that I wouldn’t make a connection with a single person there, and then never be invited back.

My fear of failure was really fear of rejection.

Bowling with a group of women I’d never met before. A small part of me really wanted to go. All of my adult life I had longed for female friends. I had a couple of good ones, but I hadn’t been successful at finding my group, my tribe.

A couple of months before this invitation showed up, I had made a promise to myself to say yes to new things, especially if the new things scared me.

And now the universe was going to make me prove it. I laughed at my own timing, wiped my palms on my jeans, touched the “Going” button, and let out a heavy sigh.

Not having a solid group of female friends at my age fed into two anxiety-fueled lies I had always told myself: 1. Women don’t get along with each other, and 2. I’m not normal enough to hang out with normal people.

Both sounded true to me, and were based on real experiences. Women were catty, gossipy, and discussed things I didn’t know much about, like makeup, fashion, and the like. Where were the other girls like me who liked Star Trek and books?

Both of these excuses provided a convenient out from invitations like the one I had just accepted.

Social anxiety is something I talk about a lot, and something I have learned is more common than I’d believed growing up.

Rarely have I walked into a room full of strangers and felt completely cool, confident, and collected. But who does? It isn’t easy for most of us, and that’s okay. The important thing is to try.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States.

Fear is the first step toward becoming courageous, because courage comes from recognizing that we’re afraid and choosing to move forward anyway.

I wish I could say that it was easy and comfortable.

I wish I could say that there weren’t any awkward moments. Those would be lies. It wasn’t totally comfortable or easy.

I was nervous. I questioned whether I belonged there.

What I will say is that it’s a night I remember fondly and will always cherish. The night I said yes to bowling with strangers

As the evening progressed, we laughed and talked and my fears eventually dissipated.

And now, I have a tribe.

I didn’t connect or form lasting friendships with everyone there, but I found a couple who speak my language.

We went on a weekend vacation together last month. I love them.

And I thought I’d never have that.

I could have easily missed out on knowing them, on their friendship, and on everything they’ve given me, including lots of laughs, shoulders to cry on, advice, someone to shop at discount stores with—girl things.

I also know what it feels like to be the new person, so when someone new is invited to Girls’ Night I now make an effort to reach out and speak to them in an effort to make them comfortable.

Compassion is born from uncomfortable moments. Friendship, too.

And all it took was saying yes to a night of bowling.

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How to Comfort (and Not Comfort) Someone Going Through a Divorce

(Image/Upsplash)

Only two kinds of people could help me feel better during my first year of coping with, adjusting to, and healing from my divorce.

The first kind of person was a friend or family member who knew me before I was married. My relationship with them lived independent of my marriage. My identity—for them—wasn’t intertwined with me being married.

My ex-wife and I were together about 13 years in total, married for nine. And the majority of people in my daily adult life met me and knew me as her husband or us as a couple. So when I spent time with them as a frightened, depressed, embarrassed divorced guy during those initial weeks and months, being with them only amplified all of my fear, sadness, and shame—through no fault of their own.

People who knew me BEFORE I was married had a personal relationship with me as an individual. Was I still ashamed, sad, and afraid? Yes. But one of the biggest parts of healing after divorce is readjusting from a WE to a ME. From an Us to being an individual again. It doesn’t happen overnight.

It hurts when everything feels wrong. It’s hard to not feel like yourself. But O.G. friends and family make you feel like yourself automatically because it’s not weird or different to be an individual with them.

The second kind of person who could help me was someone who had experienced divorce or an ultra-significant breakup of a long-term relationship where the emotional and logistical loss is essentially the same.

The second kind of person could be a total stranger, but if they knew what I knew, being with them and talking with them was more cathartic than some of my best friends and other people who loved me could ever be.

People who understood—I mean, really got it down in their core—were people whose lived experiences were similar to mine. And people with shared life experiences are best equipped to offer one another the thing people in crisis need: empathy.

Let’s roll with a good, old-fashioned Do’s and Don’ts (<— that can’t be grammatically correct) list.

Let’s start with the Don’ts.

Things You Should Never Do or Say to Someone Getting Divorced

1. Don’t say “You’re going to be fine! Divorce is the best thing that ever happened to [insert you or whoever here].”

Not all marriages, divorces, families, nor the humans that comprise those things are the same. Divorce IS totally great for people who escaped abusive situations, or for people who WANTED the divorce, or for people who don’t have children and profited from the situation.

For some people, divorce doesn’t make them a social pariah in their neighborhoods, families, churches, social groups, workplace, etc. But for others, it does. For others, they’re mostly sad because of their children. And for others still, divorce was literally the #1 thing in their entire lives they didn’t want to have happen.

Dismissing it as some rad thing they’ll grow to appreciate later makes you a tone-deaf asshole.

[Side Note: You can learn how to be less of an asshole in life and relationships here.]

2. Don’t say “You know what you need? To get laid,” or try to manufacture a party or night out at the bars where that happens.

I promise that sexual beings will have sex when they feel like it. So you don’t need to encourage them, unless YOU are someone they are potentially sexually attracted to and feel like propositioning them.

Few things in life have insulted me more than when a few guys I knew thought me hooking up with some drunken rando at a bar would be beneficial or somehow right things that were wrong.

Does copious amounts of alcohol-driven euphoria and intense orgasmic ecstasy generally feel good? Sure. If you eliminate anything mental, emotional, or spiritual from the conversation, yes. But when people are suffering from divorce, the problem IS mental, emotional, and spiritual. Tying one on and climaxing a few times (or probably just once) with someone you’re never going to see again is infinitely more likely to make someone feel worse than better. Please encourage your loved ones to NOT do that.

3. Don’t say mean things about their ex as a method of offering support.

If you’re just talking out of your ass and don’t really mean it, then you’re being a ridiculous asshole and telling your friend/family member/colleague that they were stupid to marry and share resources (and possibly children) with such a substandard human being. You’re tearing down and verbally desecrating the good, sacred, beautiful thing the sufferer is grieving the loss of, and you’re doing it from a place of nonsense where you don’t actually know or believe what you’re saying.

And if you ACTUALLY do mean it and believe it? Then you’re doing those same things intentionally. Don’t.

Things You Should Say or Do For Someone Going Through a Divorce

1. Make yourself available to listen. Not to speak. Just to be there.

Make yourself available to share space with them and be prepared to do nothing except sit there, still, listening. If you have lived a similar experience, it will be easy to respond in affirming, supportive ways. If you have not, there’s NOTHING you can say to make it better, but you BEING THERE is making it better. That’s the gift you’re giving, and it’s a powerful one.

The greatest lesson I learned from my divorce (or rather my reflections on my failed marriage) is that we MUST—if we desire a happy, healthy, peaceful, mutually beneficial relationship—allow people to care about whatever they care about. Maybe that’s horse racing, maybe it’s knitting, maybe it’s yoga, maybe it’s I just got divorced and I feel like I want to die. Everyone has their own unique list of things that are meaningful to them, whether it be something deeply personal and emotional, or something mentally stimulating like a hobby or entertainment pursuit.

One of the most valuable things we can give someone is the gift of respecting, honoring, sharing interest in the things that matter to them. There is no agenda. There is no natural interest or pleasure, necessarily. Just a very basic: That person really cares about this. I really care about them. So I’m going to behave as if I care about this too out of love and respect for them.

That applies to all relationships, no matter what. It’s also particularly useful when supporting someone who is grieving a loss and trying to heal a personal trauma.

2. Encourage them to take all the time they need.

Don’t abandon them or stop inviting them to social get-togethers because they’re not “over” their divorce or break-up as fast as you would like, because you feel like they’re not as fun as they used to be.

If you’re truly interested in helping them heal, then remind them that there’s no blueprint or How-To manual for any of this.

I have had a variety of coaching clients talk to me about feelings of shame stemming from their swirling intense emotions, or from their impatience with themselves for feeling like they haven’t moved on.

And I always remind them that divorce is hard, and if they weren’t totally freaking out I’d be way more worried about them—especially if they’ve lost time with, and influence over, their children’s lives. It’s NORMAL to spaz out big-time when your entire life is disrupted and you lose things that are most precious and meaningful to you. It’s all of the people who bounce back in a day or two that scare the shit out of me.

Remind them that it’s hard and they’re responding in a way totally consistent with something excruciatingly difficult. Encourage them to be patient with themselves. Encourage them to be kind to themselves. Our primary job as people moving past something difficult is to breathe. To stay alive for one more minute, one more hour, one more day, one more week, one more month, one more year.

When you do that long enough, you eventually arrive at a year, month, week, day, hour, or moment where everything is okay. Where you get to be you again.

Where something amazingly good and beautiful happens. Something that could have, and would have, never happened unless every day before that one had happened exactly as it did.

People deserve to have something to look forward to. And when we stay alive long enough, that moment inevitably arrives.

To stay alive, all that’s required is that we keep breathing. Kindly, remind them.

There is nothing we can specifically do to heal the individual trauma suffered by another.

We can simply be the friend or supportive family member/colleague that creates an environment where grieving people can heal on their own terms.

You don’t need to fix anyone. You shouldn’t try to save anyone.

Just love them. No matter what. And, if they choose healthy things, time will do what time always does.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

It almost seems as if nothing happens, but everything happens.

If we’re not careful, it can sound trite. Maybe even cheap. But it’s true and important, and I like to remind people as often as possible in the most empathetic and encouraging way I can, and I would encourage you to remind everyone that you care about:

Just breathe.

Everything is going to be okay.

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