Not Afraid to Step Into the Fight When We Can’t See the Light

(Author’s note: Writing and posting today nearly undermines its intended purpose. Today is not a day for my voice. It’s just the day I had the opportunity to use it. I’ve not posted in nearly three months. I don’t anticipate that kind of gap happening again. Please don’t interpret this as me trying to talk over others. Please interpret this as me encouraging others to join me in listening to everyone who must be heard. They must.)

Here’s how I come at this: I spend most of my time talking about relationship stuff. And the reason why is because when I was 4 my parents divorced and it felt really bad, followed by my own divorce at age 34 which felt even worse.

My premise is simple enough as it pertains to marriage and romantic relationships. I don’t care whether people get married. I’m not out here advocating for marriage.

But I think when two people marry, voluntarily and intentionally, that they should have WAY better odds of making it than 50 percent.

The real tragedy from my perspective is that the list of things I believe will have the greatest impact on whether relationships will be healthy and sustainable versus shitty and broken are NOT on anyone’s radar.

In other words, situations and behaviors that will determine the fate of people’s marriages and families happen while the participants are unaware of how critical and life-altering they are. People—none more than me 10+ years ago—struggle with getting outside of their own heads to seek greater understanding about how another person or other people might be experiencing something.

Our partners share thoughts and feelings with us. And instead of:

  1. Listening
  2. Validating
  3. Seeking further understanding to A. Know the people we love more fully, and B. Make sure we know what we need to know in order to actively participate in them NOT feeling this hurt or shitty in the future…

we often judge what they’re telling us. We try to evaluate whether we think they should or should not feel what they feel. We try to correct them.

This is how you make people feel invisible. Sad. Angry. Rejected. Unloved. Disrespected.

Maybe there’s a case to be made for shit relationships. Maybe there are people unlike me who perceive toxic relationships to be a positive thing for themselves and those around them.

But this is the fight I fight.

Seems Pretty Black and White to Me

As friends and professional colleagues have broached conversations with me about recent events in the United States, I heard myself saying IDENTICAL things as I do in my coaching conversations about marriage and healthy romantic relationships.

It took me a long time to embrace the idea of listening to people outside of my bubbles, echo chambers, and social circles of sameness. It took me a long time to realize I needn’t ever be afraid of my beliefs being challenged.

Truth will always, always, ALWAYS hold up to scrutiny.

Please validate people who think and feel things differently than you (if you value having healthy relationships with them and/or believe they deserve respect and decency). You needn’t ever agree with someone else. Agreement is not required.

Please seek to understand WHY people think and feel the things they think and feel. You’ll likely find that based on everything they have seen, heard, been taught, and experienced, it totally makes sense that they think and feel the things that they do.

Always search for the WHY.

People matter. Not some people. Not people who look like me. Not people who act like me. Not people who think like me.

EVERYONE.

Either everyone matters or nobody does.

When our spouses come to us and say that they feel hurt, please don’t say “Everyone hurts, you whiner. Toughen up!” and then expect afterward to have a healthy, connected, trusting relationship with them where everyone feels loved, cared for, and respected as equals. If that’s how you show up, it’s going to get bad. It just is.

Everyone in that relationship will suffer.

When our fellow citizens come to us and say “Black lives matter,” please don’t say “All lives matter, you whiner. Toughen up!” and expect afterward to have healthy, connected, trusting relationships with them where everyone feels respected as equals. That’s how many of us have been showing up. And it got bad.

I mean, for many people, it’s been bad for my entire life. I was just mostly too comfortable and too busy “not needing to worry about it” to notice most of the time.

Of course all lives matter. Just like of course your spouse isn’t always being his or her best self when trying to communicate with you about something that’s upsetting them.

Is the goal to have a healthy relationship where everyone thrives peacefully, or to win some semantics debate? It’s a choice.

When someone is screaming and fighting for justice for their fallen brother or sister killed by the actions of a public servant sworn to protect them, maybe that’s not the time to scream and fight over political points RE: Antifa, and George Soros, and about how white people sometimes suffer too, and about fucking ANYTHING that is NOT specifically: “Holy shit. I’m so sorry that happened, and I can’t imagine the horror and outrage you must be feeling right now, and I know I can’t do anything to help, but I can stand with you. You’re not alone.”

Validation is not about agreement. Everyone has a perspective. And the path forward is everyone listening to and understanding those other perspectives regardless of how much they agree with them.

The danger is allowing oppression to silence some of those perspectives.

That’s not what sustainable relationships are built on.

That’s not what sustainable societies are built on.

That’s not what the stars and stripes represent. And that’s why our brothers knelt.

Silently.

Peacefully.

Maybe some of us listened. But we didn’t lift a finger.

Just more silencing. Just more comfortably moving onto the next thing that was all about us.

Just more twisting the conversation into one about politics and patriotism and NFL public relations TV optics instead of the conversation peaceful protesters tried to have: “What if we collectively banded together in order to—to the best of our abilities—prevent the killings of innocent people? What if we collectively worked together to fight for civil liberties for EVERYONE?”

I struggle to understand what could be considered so unfair or unreasonable about those questions.

I can’t imagine what it must be like living in the United States in the year 2020 and fearing for your safety, or for the safety of your children, siblings, parents, neighbors, and friends because you happened to be born with skin that looks differently than mine.

And I hate the helplessness I feel—this tiny voice behind a keyboard.

I destroyed my marriage—not by actively sabotaging it, but by not paying attention to the things that actually mattered. I hurt people I loved because I chose to passively and comfortably not pay attention.

Even if I didn’t “do anything,” I allowed bad things to happen.

And I don’t want to be the kind of person who allows bad things to happen because I’m too busy being comfortable. Because I’m too busy not being black, not being female, not being gay, not being the person in the relationship feeling shit on every day.

That’s who I was in my marriage, and it’s precisely what I’ve been fighting against.

And this is exactly who I’ve been as a white guy in America. I’m not “doing anything” to cause harm. And I can keep justifying my actions or lack thereof behind that wimpy defense. Because I’m not “the problem,” I can just keep blindly, deafly, ignorantly coasting through life while others suffer. That’s a choice.

But it’s not one I want to make.

It’s not who I want to be nor who I want my son to be.

I want to listen. You MUST be heard.

I want to validate. You MUST be made whole.

And most importantly, I want to understand. Because I can’t be the kind of person who walks around with blinders on, obliviously letting my neighbors suffer while I comfortably do nothing.

My brothers can’t breathe.

My sisters can’t breathe.

I’m so sorry that I wasn’t listening to you. I’m so sorry that I wasn’t fighting for you.

If it’s not too late to earn your trust, I’m listening now.

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24 thoughts on “Not Afraid to Step Into the Fight When We Can’t See the Light

  1. leslidoares645321177 says:

    Thanks Matt! I couldn’t agree more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. JR says:

    Thank you Matt. One voice I recommend we listen to is Layla Saad, take a look

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Shirley J says:

    Thank you so much for this Matt. I have followed you for a few years now. I missed your active presence but I know you’re here. Your observation does not overshadow. Instead, it contributes a layer to all the others out there that build strength together, like plywood (the good stuff). Keep talking…I’m listening. Regards.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Matt. As a dating and relationship coach I help people who want a dream relationship overcome their fears and find true love. Then stay open to love by validating and understanding the other. Your words today are spot on for me. 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  5. tlsharman says:

    This is what I needed to hear today. I feel so disconnected from this whole battle. I think I am compassionate and treat everyone the same, but yet I have been accused of being “tone deaf” in this situation. I do believe all lives matter… I often see both sides of every situation and try not to judge. Maybe that is the image I have been projecting though, that black lives do not matter “as much” as all the other lives? I hope that is not it, but I do truly believe everyone has a struggle and I do not know how to change that perspective other than being myself and treating everyone as equally as I can. Please feel free to give me some input… and thank you for using your voice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      Thank you for this. Thank you so much for taking a moment to consider that — independent of your pure intentions and sense of self — other people might experience it differently.

      That. Is. EVERYTHING. In terms of the conversations I’m having every day.

      I’m so grateful for your time and for you leaving this note.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Chandra Rutledge says:

    This is fantastic! I just get you. I do not do enough validating…I am going to strive for change. Thank you!

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Matt! As an African-American woman, I thank you for taking a moment to self-reflect. I also applaud your bravery to share your reflections with your readers.

    It’s sometimes difficult to connect to something that one
    can’t relate to, and we are all overwhelmed with trying to manage our individual lives. That’s human.

    However, you’ve done exactly what can be done, and by you sharing, you’ve encouraged others to do the same. You don’t have to have the answer, and that’s fine. But just acknowledging the fact that something is wrong, and taking the time to reflect is an important step to positive change.

    Your voice and thoughts actually come at the right time. It’s comforting to know – rather confirm – that others who are not sharing these experiences are appalled, saddened, and do not condone the injustices.

    Thank you, and if you ever have a question, or just want to share a thought, feel free to reach out.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Matt says:

      You. [insert heart emoji here]

      Thank you so much, Monique. This is a very kind and generous response, and it’s my favorite thing that’s happened so far today.

      Like

  8. maggiepeggy says:

    Wait. What?

    How about the innocent people trying to defend their stores? How about the cop who just went to work and was shot in the head because he pissed a protestor off? He was no where near Mr. George Floyd and the crappy cop Derek I-don’-even-want-to-say-his-last-name.

    No one, no matter race or belief, deserves to be treated like an animal. And, if I am expecting to be treated well by others, I better be treating them well too. Is what you are saying that if we feel horror at what happened to George Floyd, then we need to step aside and ” stand ” with those who want to destroy our cities, beat and kill innocents and burn anything they can? How does throwing a brick at another human being help the family and the rights of George Floyd? How does it address the problem of police immunity, and them not being held accountable for their actions?

    Honestly, I love my neighbors and my Ohana. I always have. I don’t care what you look like, your color, your beliefs. I respect you, you respect me. End of story. If a neighbor finds themselves in trouble, I will help them. No questions asked. Working in health care, any patient that comes through my ER doors will be helped, no questions asked.

    All of the United States is not a hot bed of racism. All of the people in the United States do not hate each other. The riots are clearly an organized violent attack with some other, weird and nefarious goal. The real protestors are the ones who are peacefully marching and holding signs and shouting for change during the day. Bless them. At night, the freaks come out with their pipes and their guns and their red bricks and terrorize a whole city/cities. Tell me how drilling out the cash register at a Target you have destroyed helps a cause?

    Yesterday, I watched a video of five people breaking into a store in Brooklyn, NY. The two people who lived above the store ran down stairs to ask the men to stop. The five men started swinging their fists at the couple who were asking them to stop, and then WITHOUT HESITATION the men picked up wooden boards and started beating the two people they had punched to the ground with the boards until the beaten stopped responding. I have no empathy for these men, or their cause. I saw them try to kill total strangers just because they wanted to. Because they felt they had a right to, I guess. Who knows.

    Nothing is as easily explained as you would like it to be. People are people, and I believe they are basically good. I come from a mixed race family, have mixed race children, and live in a very mixed race neighborhood. My Ohana defines me and protects me, and I them. I have lived all across the US, and while not all is peaches and cream, it is good. Mr. Floyd was unjustly detained and brutally treated. Atrociosly treated. It’s beyond comprehension. He deserves justice. But I am furious people think It is okay to loot and rob and burn and kill in his name. How does that help anyone? It just stokes hatred and tension and loss. How does this stop the police immunity that is allowed by the Supreme Court? How do you think burning down our cities will affect the upcoming Supreme Court vote to change the immunity laws for law enforcement?

    Forget about it. We are a grand country, and we will prevail. All are welcome in this world, and all deserve to be heard. I will fight for Mr.Floyd, and protect anyone who needs protection. I will respect and honor all, and expect them to act the same to me.

    Mahalo nui loa brother. Love your work, and glad to have you back. Come visit one day, and form your own opinions of how/when/where/what/ why. In the meantime, be chill and be extra good to each other and pray that we stop burning and destroying our cities. We are one Ohana, and all deserve to give, and to be given, respect. Live in the light.

    Thanks for listening! Mad respect and gratitude.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I’m surprised that you interpreted this as me condoning violence against innocent people, rampant property destruction, or setting things on fire which don’t belong to us.

      I’m hopeful that very few others interpreted this as a call to get out there and loot stores and damage innocent people’s property.

      Far from it.

      I appreciate the kindness and patience you demonstrated in your passionate response.

      Be assured I’m anti-bullshit of any kind.

      You know I talk to a LOT of married people. And they’re hurt. They’re angry.

      And sometimes I meet a husband who is trying really hard to restore trust in his relationship with his wife after having a light-bulb moment. After finally figuring out the kind of hurt he’d been inflicting in his blind spots.

      And she’s angry, right? And in her anger, she doesn’t always show up as her best self. Sometimes, she says and does things I don’t perceive to be particularly useful or productive in marriage.

      Sometimes, I think she is being legitimately unfair to her husband.

      But I also think that maybe she’s endured 10, 15, or 20 years of mistreatment by him, while he was busy not paying attention.

      BOTH people deserve to be treated with love and respect. Of course.

      But in context, it seems appropriate to make room for the mistreated wife to heal — to re-earn her trust — before we start making self-righteous demands for behavior change from her.

      I pray the symbolism is obvious. I, of course, would never ask you to agree.

      Only to understand why I believe what I believe.

      Liked by 1 person

      • maggiepeggy says:

        Yes, I totally understand. Your point was well made.

        Always a delight to read your thoughts. Holding you to the promise of hearing from you more. Enjoy your thoughts and insights.

        All the best.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Abby Rose says:

    Thank you for using your voice. I’m proud to call you my brother. I love you.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The Guat says:

    This was such a good post and great reminder to listen to, validate people’s feelings and try to understand. Finding out the WHY as you mentioned is so important during listening. THANKS so much for posting. Being able to listen better in any relationship is SO IMPORTANT. These are such good reminders. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. gottmanfan says:

    Great post Matt. It’s all the same thing at its core.

    Glad you are writing again.❤️

    Like

  12. T Clark says:

    I just dont get it. I dont know what anti-racism means…much less what it is. And thats not validating/invalidating anyone’s concepts and/or ideas. We can call it bias, privilege, being blind, being woke (or not woke…ive lost track), activism, slacktivism, et al. I personally could prob count on the fingers of one hand the white ppl I know who DO NOT actively go out of their way to make things ‘better’ for POC, BIPOC, non-whites, LGBTQ, et al. Most I know practically have a religious zeal regarding these issues, and spend a fair amount of time self-flagellating. Or at least striving for some impossible atonement for what is described as an ‘original sin’ and/or a ‘stain’ on US history. The religious tone is striking…
    As far as structural, systemic, institutional and all those sociological concepts …I still dont get it. Something else is going on here…something under the surface of abhorrent policing, politics, race and class, diversity and inclusion, the Left/Right dynamic.
    No doubt I will be pilloried, here and elsewhere, but its my observation that these conversations never move ‘forward’ because we are not having the correct conversations….

    Like

  13. Brooke says:

    Well said old friend.

    Liked by 1 person

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