Category Archives: Divorce

The Mistake Smart People Make That Causes Divorce and Other Miserable Things

(Image/CBC)

How well do you know your spouse or romantic partner? Your parents? Siblings? Best friends?

If you were to take a personality test, answering questions as you imagine they would answer them, how confident are you that the results would match reality?

People frequently have conflict—often minor, sometimes major—with loved ones and people they spend a lot of time with and know well.

And the reason we have conflict with other people is not because we’re dumb nor is it because they are (even though that would be nice and neat, right?). The reason we have conflict with the people we are closest to is because we’re smart. All of us.

No matter how lacking you think you or someone else is in the intellect department, I’m here to try to convince you that almost EVERYONE you encounter is incredibly smart. Amazingly smart.

And the reason you might not see it in others, or possibly yourself, is the same blindness that causes all of those fights, arguments, disagreements—conflict—in our interpersonal relationships.

Would You Marry Someone You Didn’t Know?

One of my coaching clients is getting married in three days. She has known and dated her fiancé for more than 10 years.

Something I ask all of my married or dating clients to do is take the awesome (and totally free) personality test at 16 Personalities, which is sort of a hybrid version of Myers-Briggs.

First, I ask them to take the test for themselves and confirm for me their accuracy. (Still 100% reporting as accurate.)

Second, I ask them to take the test answering questions as they believe their spouse or romantic partner would answer them. I love the insights and conversations that occur naturally when we discover the gaps between what we believe and what’s actually real.

I like to say that the majority of conflict that exists between two romantic partners lies in that gap.

My soon-to-be married client is brilliant. Impressive. Master’s degree holder. Objectively intelligent in all of the measurable academic ways. And subjectively intelligent in all of the ways you experience when you’re conversing with her about big-picture life stuff.

So, I was totally floored this morning when I learned that she got ALL FOUR PILLARS of her near-future husband’s personality totally wrong.

If you’re not familiar with Myers-Briggs, there are four letters to classify a person’s personality. Each letter slot can only be one of two letters. (For example, I am ENFP.) There are 16 possible combinations.

My client sent me the results of her “guess test” for her fiancé—the results of a test where she guessed how he would answer questions.

The result?

INFP.

Then, this morning, her real-life fiancé sent me his real-life results.

ESTJ.

It was a relationship coach’s wet dream. Not only did my brilliant client get her fiancé’s personality traits 100% backward, but it turns out that his personality profile is the same as her’s.

You are Scary Smart (and That’s Why This is Dangerous)

The reason you don’t usually spill your drink down your shirt, or crash your shoulder into doorways you’re walking through, or cut yourself when handling sharp objects is because your brain is constantly processing information in real time and essentially guessing what your body needs to do to avoid injury.

And our brains are AMAZING. They’re right almost 99 percent of the time about everything it’s in charge of guessing. We usually don’t crash our cars. We usually don’t wander aimlessly off the edge of a cliff. We usually don’t mistake some fatal substance for a common meal.

That’s why, even though our bodies are pretty frail compared to most of the stuff on earth, we still have a life expectancy greater than 70 years.

It’s a miracle.

We’re always subconsciously guessing EVERYTHING, all of the time, and statistically speaking, we’re pretty much always right. We have every reason in the world to trust our instinctual thoughts. They happen on auto-pilot. We’re smart. And we know it.

So, when we’re having a conversation, and our brain (or “gut”) is automatically interpreting and reacting to what’s happening without us even having to think about it, it’s really difficult to check ourselves and think: “Wait a minute. Could this be one of those fewer-than-1% things I’m getting wrong?”

Every time someone says our does something—just like our brain guessing keeps us from crashing into stuff and falling off cliffs—we are applying our own internal belief filters to what they are saying and doing.

We almost never account for the possibility that they could mean something entirely differently than what we interpreted on auto-pilot.

All of this bullshit happens in our blindspots. We are so good, and so correct, and so on-point the vast majority of the time, that we all just trust the statistical likelihood of that being true in whatever moment we’re in, and are thus surprised, disappointed, shocked, humiliated, ashamed, or whatever, when we realize we’re wrong and have our asses handed to us.

I’m an Asshole, but I’m Trying Hard to Not Be

The thing I’ve tried really hard to do throughout these past six years of being divorced and trying to reinvent myself—and I still mess up a lot (but I’m getting better)—is to mindfully account for my human fallibility. It’s CERTAIN that I am wrong some (hopefully small) percentage of the time. And the only way for me to avoid seriously damaging something or myself is to be aware of that, so that I can be less of an asshole in my daily life.

Most of the time, terrorists aren’t carrying out attacks. But it’s awesome when our security measures in the intelligence and law enforcement communities prevent something horrible from happening during that fewer-than-1% of the time.

I’m trying to turn myself into the kind of person who is vigilantly avoiding being an emotional terrorist to myself and/or the people I care about.

Being smart is great most of the time.

But sometimes, being smart is a handicap. A blindness. A weakness. One that can cost us our most precious and meaningful relationships both in and outside of our homes.

It’s a simple mistake. One that’s so common and ever-present in our daily lives that it’s easy to make, and most of us always will.

But we don’t have to make it all of the time.

And those times we don’t, because we saw something previously invisible?

Just maybe those are the moments that will save our lives.

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Love vs. Respect—Which is More Critical for Making Relationships Last?

Love vs Respect

(Image/Deskgram – chrysalisjewels)

I didn’t respect my wife even though I loved her a lot. And even though my wife loved me back, because she respected herself, she eventually divorced me.

I never considered that my freely given unconditional love could ever not be enough. I never considered that my selective demonstrations of respect toward my wife could impact her love for me—both the emotional love one feels, as well as the psychological love one actively chooses to give to someone else.

Now, I showed a requisite amount of respect for my wife for most people—including her most of the time—to observe, think, and feel Matt respects his wife.

And that’s the big secret in all of these complicated relationship conversations. They’re so dangerously nuanced that most of us are capable of interpreting them multiple ways, or—perhaps more commonly—our interpretation is different than another person’s interpretation, and then when discussing the disagreement, one or both people are horrible at navigating the conversation without damaging the relationship they have with whomever they’re having a disagreement.

Often, that’s a romantic partner or spouse.

Often, it’s just one more paper cut on one or both of them that will eventually cause the relationship to bleed to death and die.

My newest coaching client asked me this morning: “What is your view of the relationship between love and respect? Can you love someone with whom you are inconsistent in showing respect? If you lose respect over time, can you recover and still love that person?”

The following is my answer.

Love is NOT All You Need

“Love is all you need,” The Beatles sang over and over again in their smash hit from 1967 that all of us have heard dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times.

And I think I know what John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney intended when writing the song. I’m not here to quibble with their lyrics.

But I am here to quibble with that idea in its most literal interpretation and in the most anal-retentive way possible, because it’s the difference between whether your relationship survives ups and downs, or slowly withers on the vine and dies.

I love my son. Like, LOVE him. Intensely. And philosophically, I respect him. Like, I think and believe that I respect him.

But I think there’s a chance he often feels disrespected by me. Maybe because of my tone when I say something to him, or because of how I react to some outrageous 10-year-old thing he says, instead of simply RESPECTING him.

I shower my son with praise.

I tell him regularly how much he’s loved and cared for and valued. I tell him how proud of him I am.

And that’s real. I FEEL those things, authentically, when I say them. In Dr. Chapman’s 5 Love Languages terms, words of affirmation are my love language.

I don’t know what that child’s love language is.

Maybe his love language is “Hey Dad, show up on time for the last-ever Cub Scouts event of my life because you respected me enough to put it in your calendar and be sure you wouldn’t miss it instead of forcing Mom to text you after it already started, which is the only reason you even showed up.”

(That really happened. Two days ago. ADDitude Magazine should put me on their cover.)

I FEEL intense love for my son. It’s very real to me. But what good does that love do if my son feels disrespected? What good does it do if my son grows up not trusting me with whatever he’s dealing with because—from his perspective—I don’t show him respect?

Maybe all my bullshitty Dad-talk feels to him like disrespectful, unsolicited advice, or worse—like criticism that I don’t think he’s good enough.

Maybe despite telling my son (and believing it) how smart I think he is, he doesn’t FEEL as if I think he’s smart, since sometimes I think he says bullshitty things, and act like it.

Life continues to humble me, and remind me that no matter how much I learn, I’m still as far away from being a finished product as I was when I was still doling out shitty husbandry like a nudie-card peddler on Las Vegas Blvd.

Romantic Love and Marriage is Even More Fragile Than Our Parent-Child Relationships

Kids don’t really choose their living arrangement. But our adult romantic partners DO choose it. It’s a volunteer activity, and if we want them to voluntarily choose us over every other possible option in the world, we should offer some type of value proposition in exchange for their voluntary commitment to being our partners.

I’m not a child psychologist, but our kids just sort of get born into our homes and families, and grow up without enough information to gauge how good or bad it is relative to other homes and families in the world.

So long as we’re not horribly abusive and sadistic, I think our kids often hero-worship us in a lot of ways, even when we don’t deserve it.

But not so much with our spouses or girlfriends/boyfriends.

The most common story of romantic love dying in a relationship is because RESPECT is absent.

What Does Respect Look Like?

I’m polite. Kind. Nice. Well-mannered.

And because I say please and thank you, and generally behave “respectfully,” I always believed that I was demonstrating respect to others. Combined with that intense love that I felt toward my wife, any suggestion that I didn’t love and respect my wife was met with total confusion.

Outrageous! How dare she! OF COURSE I love and respect her! She’s the person I married and share all my things with and made a child with!

That is the 100% true and authentic (and tragically common) thought and feeling residing in the hearts and minds of one or both married/romantic partners that will paradoxically lead them to a messy and painful divorce or breakup.

Outrageous. That doesn’t make any sense at all. I would have never married them or do X, Y, and Z for and with them for all of these years if I didn’t love and respect them! They’re just mistaken. But that’s okay. All you need is love.

When you believe in your heart and soul that you love and respect your partner, then you’re in no way motivated to change your behavior or mindset. Which leads to the exact same things happening over and over again. The exact same things that are leading to one or both relationship partners feeling disrespected and unloved.

Our INTENTION to respect others in no way guarantees that other people FEEL respected.

The math is simple enough.

When your partner doesn’t feel as if they’re respected, they will feel mistreated. They will feel uncared for. They will feel dismissed and marginalized.

A person in that situation has two choices—continue to feel beaten down and unloved, which often leads to a total loss of positive self-image, and a person who feels shitty all of the time ceases to be fun and attractive, so the PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DISRESPECT AND MISTREATMENT actually ends up having “legitimate” reasons to stop feeling attracted to their partner, commonly leading to affairs or a divorce/breakup.

The other choice a person has—and I’m so glad that my ex-wife chose it—is to stand up for oneself. To preserve your own internal self-respect, self-love, personal integrity, etc.

Because God forbid, my son’s mother have turned into some beaten-down, self-loathing, joyless human incapable of demonstrating the kind of love and respect I wish for any child, but especially my son who I love so much and for who I wish so many good things.

“But Matt! What do you mean you didn’t respect your wife? What does that even look like?”

That’s the tricky part. That’s the scary, sneaky part.

It’s difficult to recognize. So, just in case you didn’t see it above, this is what it looks like.

A semi-famous example from this blog and my marriage is the story of me leaving a dish by the sink, and how my habit of doing that led to my divorce.

I saw a dish by the sink. No big deal. I saw something virtually meaningless. Insignificant, at most.

My wife saw a blatant act of disrespect. A huge deal. And FELT it, emotionally, down where it hurts the most. She saw weekly, if not daily, reminders that her husband didn’t respect her enough to do something SUPER-easy for her. She felt so uncared for, and so unheard, and so invalidated, that her choice was either:

  • Spend the rest of her life with someone who constantly makes her feel shitty through common, frequent acts of disrespect.
  • Choose a different option involving infinitely less pain, more hope, better health, and ensuring that she’d continue to be a person she could look at in the mirror and feel proud of.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t think her concerns were valid. It didn’t matter that I disagreed with her.

Even in some magical universe where I was objectively RIGHT in those assumptions, it STILL wouldn’t matter what was true to ME.

My wife felt pain, down in her gut, because she couldn’t trust me to be her adult partner for the rest of her life.

And major change is scary. And facing a lifetime of pain is scary. Especially when a little boy is at the center of it.

Love is great. Love is paramount to humanity’s survival. Love is a necessary and critical component of making marriage or any romantic relationship work.

But, which is MORE important? Which is MORE critical?

Love or respect?

It’s respect.

Respect is something virtually every human deserves on a basic level.

But love? That’s a choice. That’s something we reserve for a select few for our own reasons.

Love is a choice people will no longer choose to make in the absence of respect.

If you’re in a marriage or dating relationship that used to be full of love, but now feels heavy and empty? And you’re wondering where that love and joy went?

This is why.

I didn’t respect my wife, and now I’m divorced.

I hope you’ll make a different choice.

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How Accidental Sexism Ruined My Marriage (and Might be Ruining Yours)

lumberjack - crying at the gates

(Image/Crying at the Gates)

I did, said, and believed things throughout my youth and marriage that were totally sexist—even though I didn’t view them as sexist at the time—and those things more or less turned my wife against me and ultimately cost me my marriage and family.

If you’d have told me I was a sexist, I’d have undoubtedly responded with defensive outrage and mansplained how you were wrong, all the while believing everything I was saying and feeling.

That’s the real danger. THAT is what causes all of these relationships to slowly turn ugly and then end miserably—that we 100% believe all of the bullshit we peddle. We’re telling the truth. We act like we’re right and like we know everything because we all actually believe it at the time.

Life’s worst things happen while we feel CERTAIN about things that aren’t actually true.

It doesn’t matter that I didn’t believe I was sexist. What matters is that I was sexist.

My mom more or less ran the household growing up with her and my stepdad, and was the alpha in regards to parenting decisions determining what I was allowed or not allowed to do, or to determine punishments, and all sorts of other things.

Most of my teachers were female.

The very best students—the most intelligent and top-performing kids in my class—were female. Anne and Colleen. I think both are doctors now.

I had close-knit friendships with a few of the girls in my class that at the time rivaled my close friendships with guy friends, a handful of which remain strong more than three decades later.

All of this to say that I NEVER believed that men were fundamentally better than women. Like, never. Just like I never believed being white was better than having dark skin because so many of my favorite athletes, actors, and musicians didn’t look like me—which conned me into believing I couldn’t feel racist things—a belief proven wrong by how my brain reacted to boarding planes with people of Middle Eastern descent in those first few years following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Fear Perpetuated my Sexism—Is it the Same for You?

I never disliked someone because they were from Iran or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. I’ve always liked pretty much everyone. Maybe that’s an ENFP thing.

I was AFRAID—irrationally—that someone from a particular ethnicity was somehow more likely to harm me than someone who looked like Timothy McVeigh or Robert Gregory Bowers. Which I think we can agree, in hindsight, is a pretty stupid thing to believe.

Where I came from, it was BAD to be a guy who did anything like a girl.

As recently as my 20s, I was giving major judgy side-eye looks to buddies who listened to Taylor Swift (“girl music”) or who liked watching romantic comedies (“chick flicks”).

It wasn’t BAD to be a girl. It wasn’t BAD to be a woman.

It was simply bad to do things “like a girl” if you weren’t one. Maybe that’s why we were also all little homophobic assholes as well. We spent so much time calling each other “gay fags” as a way to rip on one another that there’s no chance that any of the kids who actually were gay could have ever felt respected, accepted, or comfortable around us—which is undoubtedly a factor in them moving far away and waiting several years before coming out.

Where I come from, if you’re a man who does “girl things,” you’re less of a man. Which is bad.

And where I come from, women do the majority of housework, the majority of childcare, the majority of social calendar management, etc. There was no Right vs. Wrong judgment about any of it. It was just The Way. It was Normal.

And we, as human beings, tend to react to things outside of OUR Normal as being “wrong.” It’s because we’re assholes, but we don’t have to be.

It Was My Wife’s Responsibility to Fix Her Dumb Girl Emotions

Right? If my wife was responding incorrectly to things because she had weak girl emotions, how was that MY fault?

Is it really fair to ask me to adjust everything I do, think, feel, and say simply because it hurts my wife’s incorrect feelings when all she has to do is realize her mistake and simply STOP feeling bad about silly things?

After writing about marriage and divorce for more than six years, I’ve come to believe that THAT sentiment is the No. 1 marriage killer in the world.

I ALREADY did more around the house (I probably did the majority of cooking, grocery shopping, and kitchen cleanup throughout our nine-year marriage) than every male role model I’d ever had.

I was ALREADY compromising my Man of the House role, and was hell-bent on retaining my Man Card.

I was working and making the most money. I was doing more housework (“women’s work,” you might have heard it called) than any of the adult men I grew up around. I didn’t cheat. I didn’t do drugs or drink excessively. I didn’t gamble away our savings. I wasn’t physically or verbally abusive. I was a reliable caretaker for our son.

So, when I was told what an insensitive and shitty husband I was being (she never actually called me those things), my reaction was always one of high-and-mighty moral outrage.

How DARE you tell me I’m not a good husband!

Matt, would you please stop throwing your jeans on this nightstand? I try hard to keep the bedroom looking nice. Can you please just put them in the closet out of sight?”

How DARE she make a big deal out of something stupid like throwing my jeans on the nightstand that literally no other human being besides us will ever see! Why make a marriage fight out of this small thing?! This is all because of her dumb girl-feelings!

“Matt, would you please stop leaving that dirty glass by the sink? I try hard to keep the kitchen looking nice. Can you please just put it in the dishwasher?”

How DARE she make a big deal out of something stupid like setting that water glass by the sink that isn’t even dirty! I’m just trying to recycle the glass because it’s easier than washing extra dishes every time. Why make a marriage fight out of this silly thing?! This is all because of her dumb girl-feelings!

“Matt, would you please not make fun of me in front of our friends? It hurts my feelings. You’re literally nicer to total strangers than you are to me.”

Oh my God. How DARE she make a big deal out of something stupid like some playful mocking that everyone knows is a joke! I married this woman and chose her out of EVERYONE IN THE WORLD to love and commit to and have children with! Why make a marriage fight over this totally illogical thing?! This is all because of her dumb girl-feelings!

Because I was the more “emotionally stable” one—you know, because I handled things like a logical man—I was right, therefore my wife was wrong.

She was the one with the problem.

I believed she was the one responsible for maturing and simply CHOOSING to not feel hurt over things that were in no way intended to hurt her.

It’s a Respect Thing

I loved my wife. Maybe even more than myself. But I didn’t RESPECT her individual experiences as being equally valid to mine.

Things that were real and true—and often painful—for her didn’t affect me. Not outside of her complaining to me about it. My wife spent many years trying to recruit me to understand what was happening in her heart and mind so that her husband could work cooperatively with her to eliminate negativity in the marriage.

She tried every way she knew how to communicate to me that these “little, silly, emotional girl things” were important. Each and every time she tried, I made it clear to her how much I disagreed, and how certain I was that I was correct because of my wise man brain.

This idea can’t be shared enough times:

My wife HURT—down deep where the medicine can’t fix it—because of things I said and did. And for more than 10 years, when she came to me for help to make the hurt stop, I communicated to her that I thought she was MISTAKEN—wrong—to feel hurt, and even worse, that she was using it to cause problems in our marriage.

I seriously said that to her, like, a million times.

Every chance I had to respect my wife and live up to the vows I’d made on our wedding day, I instead communicated to her: No. Your girl-feelings are dumb. It’s not MY job to stop doing these things that don’t even matter. It’s YOUR job to stop caring about them so that you won’t feel hurt anymore.

This is why my wife could no longer trust me or feel safe with me. When you don’t make your partner feel safe and lose their trust, it’s all over.

I hope you’ll believe me when I say that if you’re someone who agrees with my thoughts and feelings from when I was still married, and feel as if my actions were justified when discussing it with my wife, your current or future relationships have almost no chance of succeeding. If you think what I did was right, we need to talk.

Happy International Women’s Day

I used to roll my eyes at things like today. March 8—International Women’s Day. What a bunch of hippie, liberal hogwash, I thought.

But then, I figured out what Accidental Sexism looks like, how I unwittingly abused my wife emotionally for a decade, and realized that I would have NEVER done those things had I known back then what I know now.

Being sexist is bad. Being a shitty husband is bad. But NOT all men (and/or women) who exhibit sexism and shitty husbandry are bad.

You can be—in your core—a good human being who genuinely cares about making this world a better place, and still innocently and unknowingly mistreat other people in ways you are blind to. You can be a good man who genuinely loves his wife and wants to have a long and happy marriage, and still innocently and unknowingly lack the knowledge and skills necessary to actually be a good husband.

To our daughters, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, neighbors, bosses, friends, teachers, co-workers, nieces, cousins, and everyone I’m forgetting.

To our influencers and heroes.

And most importantly—to the women who voluntarily choose us out of all 7.7 billion people on earth—to love and trust and care for.

Thank you.

Your thoughts and feelings and experiences don’t matter because you’re women. They matter because you’re human, like me.

Thank you for all that you tolerate and give and fight through.

Thank you for helping me remove some of my blinders.

Thank you for being you.

Please don’t give up on us.

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Making Sense of Your Emotions After Divorce and Beyond

guy hiding under desk - the great courses daily

It wasn’t quite this dramatic. ;) (Image/The Great Courses Daily)

I walked into my ex-wife’s house following a quick knock as I do a few times every week to pick up my son after work.

I had a bag of our son’s clothes with me full of specific items I’d promised I’d return, and when I walked into the kitchen to set the bag of clothes on the counter, I saw the red envelope leaning up against the bottle of whatever liquor she had bought her boyfriend for Valentine’s Day. This is their third or fourth Valentine’s Day together.

You feel something when you see something like that. Even six years removed from marriage. You feel something.

Sometimes, I have these conversations with myself when I feel that something. Because, what does it mean?

Does it mean that I love my ex-wife and miss her desperately and wish we were still together?

No. She’s a fine human being and the best co-parenting partner and mother to my son that I could ever hope to have. But, I don’t sit around my house (the one she and I used to share) wishing that she still lived there.

There’s no evidence that she and I could have a good marriage—even now that I understand so much more about my failed marriage than I did back when I assumed all of our problems were her fault.

I DON’T WANT a shitty relationship full of uncomfortable conversations and conflict INFINITELY more than I want to be in another permanent romantic relationship that might be a stepping stone to another marriage. Regardless of who that other person is.

“Given all of the changes and strides you have made in your own growth and understanding of how things went sideways, is there the potential for reconciliation with your ex-wife?” a reader asked me in a recent blog comment.

I’ve received that question many times over the past five years.

There’s a faction of people out there invested in the story—my story. The almost-redemption story.

The shitty husband who is just like their spouse.

And if I can figure it out, maybe they can figure it out.

And if I can figure it out AND want to reconcile with my wife and maybe have a great marriage on the second try, maybe the dream is still alive for them too.

I hope they know their dream can remain alive regardless of what happens with me.

Because a beautiful marriage might be in my future, but there’s virtually no chance my ex-wife will have any part to play other than hopefully having a positive, peaceful relationship with whoever I would invite into our co-parenting inner circle. And that’s more than okay.

I think what I felt when I saw that Valentine’s Day card was shame.

Do I—in a spiritual sense—regret that I was a shitty husband and now we’re not married, and I have to drop my son off in the morning to be cared for by the guy sleeping with his mother? Absolutely.

Am I jealous? No.

It’s more nuanced than that.

It’s not pain. But it is discomfort.

I’m ashamed at who I was.

And just maybe, ashamed at who I am.

What’s wrong with me that all these years later, my ex-wife is in this super-stable relationship, and I’m still ordering takeout with my fifth-grader?

Trigger City Looks Nice Until You Hit That One Part of Town

The next morning my son didn’t have school, so I dropped him off back at his mom’s house before driving to the office. Her boyfriend was the only person who was going to be home with him for the first couple of hours that morning.

I neither hesitated nor thought twice about leaving my favorite little human in his care. I can trust him unequivocally to be good to my son and his mother.

If you don’t know how much that’s worth, you’ve never shared a child with someone who doesn’t live in the same house.

I have what I consider to be a mature, well-thought-out and healthy mental and emotional position RE: my ex-wife.

Married people with children have never thought about what it feels like to wrestle with the stress, fear, and anxiety that you encounter the first time you realize that your ex who you share children with are now in total control of what happens to them whenever they’re not with you.

They can date, live with, marry ANYONE and there’s not one damn thing in the world you can do about it.

When the divorce first happened, I couldn’t breathe.

Not the way normal people breathe.

I couldn’t sit still or sleep or think or talk or in any way behave however I perceive ‘normal’ to be.

Someone at work asked me about it. About the time I was adjusting to a new world where I felt like I had Iost half of my son’s already going-too-fast childhood, and where I felt like I’d lost ALL control over his safety and wellbeing.

If I can’t influence who she sees, how can I protect my son from the bad ones?

A huge percentage of the panic I felt back then was being stripped of that sense of control.

That slice of the Pain & Horror pie chart got tossed into a cauldron with all of the other stuff—rejection, embarrassment, fear, a sense of failure, emotional brokenness, and surely some other bad-tasting things I’m forgetting.

Holy shit, is this really happening? I quietly thought to myself while I recounted that story from six years ago. Because I started to feel it.

I’d just sit at my desk sometimes staring straight ahead on the verge of tears, trying to draw long breaths and hoping no one would notice or ask me any work questions.

Sometimes my hands would shake a little in conference room meetings. Every guy at the table had a wedding band on but me, and they were all super-interested in the work conversations just like I used to be before the world ended.

I didn’t speak. I didn’t make eye contact. I didn’t do anything except hide my jittery hands under the table and concentrate really hard on pretending to be tough and stoic so that I wouldn’t cry in front of my friends and coworkers.

Those were the hardest days I’ve ever known.

Those were the days where I used vodka as a crutch and started smoking again after having kicked the habit. Those were the days were I felt so dark and shitty and uncomfortable down deep where no medicine can reach, I FINALLY understood why some people give up. After a lifetime of not getting it, I finally “got it.”

If every second of your life HURTS—excruciatingly—and you lose hope that you can find your way back to where it doesn’t hurt (or tragically have never known a life without pain), then it makes sense to be more afraid of living than dying.

I wasn’t suicidal. That never happened. But I remember thinking that if some semi coming the other direction crossed over center and pulverized me that it would feel merciful.

That’s when I knew I was damn close to rock bottom.

After a lifetime of being afraid of lots of things, I wasn’t afraid of much.

It’s the super-power of grief. It’s the ONE cool thing about it. Everything sucks. Things can’t get worse. So—boom. A liberating taste of fearless living.

When we have things to lose (the best things in life) it makes sense that we’re afraid of losing it.

When we’re out of things to lose, it’s not super-neat that we suffered a great loss, but you are gifted a healthy dose of perspective that I think most of us need.

There were all of these things in life that I had wanted. That I’d made a goal. A certain amount of money. A certain kind of house. A certain kind of job. Etc. Material-ish things, in many cases, as a measure of having “a good life.”

But then I felt like dying, and it occurred to me that even if I had my dream home and the largest bank account I could think of, I STILL would have felt empty and broken in that moment.

There’s nothing we can buy or acquire to protect us from that feeling down deep inside where the medicine can’t reach. Once I discovered that important truth, I developed a healthier, more appropriate perspective on finances and material possessions.

I felt that feeling return.

The bullshit one that nothing but time can fix.

And all it took was me retelling the story to a couple of friends at work. It all came rushing back. The nausea. The anxiety. That feeling of tears welling in my eyes that I hope no one noticed.

I went for a walk, just like I did six years ago. Just a bunch of quiet deep breaths and the music in my headphones. Maybe no one will know.

The problem though is that I knew.

WTF is happening right now?

Our Scars and Stories

I was fine by the time night rolled around. I didn’t think about it over the weekend.

I’m only thinking about it now because I wanted to write this.

We have all of these souvenirs from our past lives. Maybe they’re tangible objects. Maybe they’re foggy memories. Maybe they’re razor-sharp feelings triggered by things we see or hear or smell or think about.

These souvenirs are comprised of both our scars and stories.

Our scars are proof that they happened. That we’re still alive.

Your ex-husband is seeing someone new, and you don’t like it, even though you left him AND would never choose to be with him again? It hurts somehow but you can’t explain why?

You don’t have to. Scars. Stories. Yours.

Your ex-wife is seeing someone new and it’s totally fine, but the memory of your wife leaving you, and losing control of your son, and all of those nights thinking about how much she was loving being with that other piece of shit while you sobbed at home alone on the couch makes you FEEL that all over again? Several years later? And you can’t explain it?

You don’t have to.

I don’t have to.

Scars. Stories.

Yours.

Mine.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Really, it already is.

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The Missing Ingredient that Ruins Valentine’s Day (and Every Other Day)

red roses

(Image/Fortune)

Flowers are pretty and smell nice. They make nice gifts as a symbolic gesture to those you care about. Unless, of course, the person you’re buying flowers for doesn’t really like flowers, or maybe has an allergy to the particular variety you bought.

But mostly, they’re nice. Like chocolates. And jewelry. And champagne. And dinner reservations at the nicest places.

There are two reasons that gifts are (usually) nice:

  1. They demonstrate that someone voluntarily went outside of their daily routine for the sole purpose of making another person feel valued and cared for.
  2. The gift, in and of itself, usually provides value for the recipient. Gifts are usually not one-size-fits all. Thoughtful gift buyers effectively match the gift to the person they’re buying for, so that we’re not giving Boston Red Sox fans a New York Yankees hat, or giving child-size winter mittens to adult men living in balmy Miami, Fla. (Unless you’re being intentionally ironic, which I’m entirely on-board with.)

I don’t know how it works in other countries, but in the United States most businesses are required by law to accommodate physically handicapped people.

Handicapped parking spaces near entrances, wheelchair ramps, and extra-large bathroom stalls to accommodate wheelchair users.

Why?

Well. To be considerate.

I can’t speak from experience, but I imagine most blind people don’t spend a lot of time in art museums. I imagine most deaf people don’t spend a lot of time at concerts. I imagine most people who don’t know how to swim don’t spend a lot of time participating in competitive swimming. I imagine most people without arms don’t work as hairdressers. I imagine most people with deadly bee sting allergies don’t work as beekeepers.

I realize how obvious all of this is, but what’s truly amazing is that these same principles apply to EVERYONE we encounter in life.

Certainly not everyone’s ‘conditions’ or ‘handicaps’ or ‘shortcomings’ are going to be as obvious to others as blindness and wheelchairs might be, but I think the case can be made that we should know about these things in all of the people we are close to—like say our spouses, children, siblings, parents, best friends, etc.

And I don’t mean ‘should,’ like it would be nice someday. I mean SHOULD, like how is it even possible that we don’t already know?

About someone who lives in the same house? A wife or husband who we vowed to love and honor all the days of our lives?

How is it even possible that we don’t know THEIR ‘things’ so well that every move we make automatically includes our consideration of them and their needs?

Until We Get This (Like Really Get it Down in Our Bones and Soul), Our Flowers and Chocolates are Little More than Concert Tickets for the Deaf

Our spouses don’t want things (even if they actually like things).

Your spouse wants to be considered. She, or he, wants to be considered because they are a person.

And people want to be considered.

No one wants to be the kid in the wheelchair hanging out with his friends, and while they’re all deciding what do together on Friday, they pick some activity that’s totally impossible to participate in from a wheelchair.

So everyone else goes and has a great time, and leaves you sitting there, alone and wheelchair bound.

It’s scary how apt that metaphor is to the average wife and mother in 2019.

Dad and Son and Daughter run off to watch TV, play video games, text their friends after dinner, and mom is abandoned in the kitchen to put food away, clear the table, wash the dishes, etc. while everyone else is off having fun doing the things they want to do.

That’s making your wife the abandoned kid in the wheelchair.

That’s making your mom the abandoned friend in the wheelchair.

‘I want to be considered.’

That’s what my married friend said after her husband changed their Valentine’s Day plans without talking to her about it first, creating a cascade of inconveniences she had to account for and deal with because of the last-minute changes.

Her husband had a schedule conflict. So he fixed the problem by adjusting his schedule.

Adjusting his schedule created SEVERAL problems for his wife. Enough to more than negatively offset all of the previous kind and thoughtful things he’d said to her on Valentine’s Day.

Flowers are nice.

But being considered is REALLY nice. And flowers are a demonstration—evidence—that you are considering someone you care about.

Chocolates and pajamas and stuffed animals and dinner reservations and jewelry—all the things—are nice.

People like getting things, but outside of children, MOST people like getting things because thoughtful acts of generosity and/or pleasant surprises from those we love and want to love us make us feel good.

It’s not really more complicated than that.

When we are considered—which is another way of saying RESPECTED, or LOVED, or CARED FOR, or HONORED—we feel good.

When we are not considered—which is another way of saying DISRESPECTED, or ABANDONED, or NEGLECTED, or DISCARDED—we feel shitty.

This scenario is not limited to Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, and birthdays. The opportunity for this scenario to occur happens EVERY SINGLE DAY. And it does.

And the difference between good relationships and bad ones—between good marriages and bad marriages—boils down to this one simple, but deceptively complex idea.

When you say things, do things, make plans—in your daily life—are your romantic partner’s needs CONSIDERED?

The quality of your relationship—and the relative impact of your bouquet of flowers on Valentine’s Day—depends on it.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. (Even you, my single partners in crime.)

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Always Something There to Remind Me

(Image/PortsmouthFreemasons.org)

There’s something appalling—nearly unforgivable—about the things we forget, like, 98-ish percent of our known existence.

We forget that we breathe. We breathe more than 23,000 times per day on average. There’s literally NOTHING we’ve done in our lives more times than taken a breath.

Yet, we never notice.

We forget that we are not promised tomorrow. Today may be our last. This conversation may be the last one you ever get to have with someone. Virtually all of us would say and do things differently if we knew this meeting would be our last.

We forget all of the opportunities we have to be grateful.

Health. Money. Shelter. Clothing. Transportation. Family. Friends. Employment. Education. Abilities.

There’s always something to be deeply thankful for. Something we’re taking for granted.

Our health and closest loved ones seem to be the most obvious victims of our unintentional neglect.

My Blindness to the ‘All The Time’ is Why My Marriage Ended

There are so many perspectives. So many ways to frame and slice the conversation about how love dies. How families break. Including the story of my own divorce.

But underneath all of the specifics is a simple and difficult truth: I didn’t remember to actively love my spouse.

Like, I forgot.

I feel shitty about it, and I’d feel even worse if I didn’t know that pretty much everyone suffers from this in some form or fashion.

We grow numb to the things we feel All The Time.

We grow deaf to the things we hear All The Time.

We grow blind to the things we see All The Time.

Combine this psychological phenomenon that all of us encounter with undiagnosed adult ADHD, and boom. You get some hapless asshole who derpy-derps through life unintentionally hurting those he loves.

You know what the worst part might be? I used to be blind to it, legitimately.

Today? Not so much. I write about this stuff every day, so I’m much quicker to recognize when I’m doing it, and better understand how another person might feel about it.

I’m always in the market for a larger Shame bucket to carry around.

How I Remember to Actively Love My Son

I hope it’s clear that I felt love for my wife. The same way I feel grateful for breathable air.

I just FORGOT to actively demonstrate it in the way that would have saved everyone involved a lot of pain and suffering through the years. Sometimes, when you have a near-death experience with a Jolly Rancher, you remember how neat it is to be able to breathe without a delicious piece of hard candy lodged in your windpipe.

“News at 11, a local man was found dead in his parked vehicle this afternoon. Law enforcement officials at the scene declined to comment on the active investigation, but we were told off the record that there’s no evidence of foul play, and that a giant bag of Jolly Ranchers candy was found on the passenger seat, suggesting the man likely died from a choking incident like you might expect from a small child. None of the man’s coworkers admitted to being friends with him. Reporting live from Cleveland, Ohio, this is Johnny McJohnson. Back to you in the studio.”

I had a serious problem with forgetting to actively love my son.

He’s a fifth-grader. He’s amazing. And he’s been my entire world for the past six years.

And even though that’s true, and I’ve never known love like the love I feel for him, I still get really upset with him sometimes (almost always when getting ready for school, where his priority often seems to be to do ANYTHING except stuff that will help us accomplish our goal of getting to school on time with as little stress as possible).

And I get pretty mad sometimes. Because I know what he’s capable of, and I know how smart he is, and it feels like he’s intentionally sabotaging my efforts some mornings.

(I know. The irony isn’t lost on me. I promise.)

And sometimes, he and I will exchange words and attitude, and then maybe that was a morning where I wasn’t picking him up later that day. Maybe it would be two or three days before I’d see him again, per his mother and I’s 50-50 shared parenting arrangement.

So, sad and angry dad drops off sad and angry son only to have both of us feel crappy about it for a while and would both choose to go back in time and do it all over again, if we could.

And since he’s 10, and I’m the ‘adult,’ I needed to take action. Because doing the same thing over and over again more or less guarantees the same results over and over again.

The Simple Magic of the ‘Focus’ Wristband

I could make myself a sign.

I could get a tattoo.

I could set reminders on my phone.

I could write it in my calendar.

I could do a lot of things. But ultimately, I chose a simple black, flexible bracelet. One of those rubbery wristbands like the #LiveStrong ones that former cyclist Lance Armstrong used to pimp before he admitted to doping and everyone stopped thinking he was cool.

I bought a box of them. They all have cliché motivational words on them which annoy me, but in this case, the word “Focus” is apropos.

These. I only cared about the one that said ‘Focus.’ (Image/Amazon)

I now wear a mostly non-descript small black rubber wristband on my left wrist. There is nothing special or noteworthy about it. Unless I’m wearing short sleeves, no one would ever know it’s there.

My Focus bracelet has one job. Only one job.

To remind me to actively demonstrate intentional love and patience toward my favorite person in the world. He is my life’s greatest gift. And it’s pathetic that I get angry with him and speak to him in ways his young mind might interpret as me saying he’s not good enough, or communicate that I’m not immensely proud of him.

Jolly Rancher jokes aside.

What if on one of those mornings, I never made it where I was going? What if the last thing he remembered about me was me being angry with him at school drop-off, only to never have the chance to speak again or remind him that there is NOTHING he could ever do or say, and no amount of frustration he could ever make me feel that would equate to my love for him lessening somehow?

That wouldn’t do.

So, I ordered a pack of these silly wristband bracelets.

And, you know what? It works.

My Focus bracelet reminds me to smile and laugh at him clowning around when he’s supposed to be brushing his teeth.

My Focus bracelet reminds me that a few minutes here and there are NOT even in the same universe as him knowing his father loves him and feels immense pride in him.

My Focus bracelet literally triggers intentional patience, resulting in a 90-percent reduction in anything resembling an emotional outburst, and a much more mindful father not carelessly ‘forgetting’ how much he loves his son.

I know it might seem silly, this small thing. This wristband with only one job.

I was skeptical as to how effective it would be. I shouldn’t have been.

When we MINDFULLY, INTENTIONALLY, invest our mental and emotional energy in those we love, it sticks. Because we know what’s at stake.

Someone, somewhere doesn’t know how much you care about them.

They don’t have any idea how much they are loved and cherished.

What super-tiny, subtle shift can we make to keep our minds attuned to what matters most to us in a way that can help us maintain discipline, better communicate our love for others, and walk the walk in our daily lives?

What small thing can we do today to invest in and protect our life’s biggest, most sacred things?

I paid about $15 for a pack of wristbands I only needed one of.

But can you guess how much it’s worth?

There’s not enough room here to write out the number.

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She Divorced Me Because I Tried to Fix Her Problems

Discover Your Why Torn Paper Concept

(Image/Getty Images)

In nine years of marriage, it’s safe to assume my ex-wife and I ate dinner together between 2,500 and 3,000 times.

We must have talked about things that didn’t upset her sometimes. We must have talked about things that bored her sometimes. Maybe we even talked about things that made her happy.

I don’t remember. Several hundred conversations, and I can’t remember most of them.

It’s hard to remember the moments that never made you feel.

Maybe that’s why the only dinner conversations I remember are the ones involving her saying that she didn’t love me or want to stay married, as well as a few conversations that I’ve retroactively applied emotion to, since I now realize that they’re on the official This is Why I’m Divorced® list along with me sometimes leaving dishes by the sink.

My wife divorced me because when she told me stories about her day, I tried to fix whatever she was telling me was wrong.

And for many people, that will seem sensible—to try to help someone solve a problem they’re having. For many people, the idea of turning a husband trying to help into a marriage problem will seem like the insane actions of an emotionally unstable wife who is always looking for something new to complain about.

I would have agreed with you 10 years ago. I mean, I DID agree with you 10 years ago. Because I agreed with you 10 years ago, I was a shitty husband who accidentally and obliviously sabotaged what could have been, and should have been, a good marriage. (Hint: Which is what almost ALL married people have. Two people who married each other on purpose, thoughtfully, and well-intentioned SHOULD have a good marriage.)

I Didn’t Understand the Why

My wife was telling me stories about her day—about things or people or situations that might have upset her—for ONE reason. Just one.

It was my wife’s way of trying to connect with me. To share her experiences. The ACT OF SHARING the experience with me, and me simply being present and listening to her was THE ENTIRE POINT.

My role was to listen.

When my wife told me about someone that bothered her earlier in the day, I would sometimes tell my wife that I agreed with the other person.

Not only did I deprive her of the connection-building exercise by simply allowing her to speak without judgment, but I piled on more pain and frustration by validating the words or actions of the person that hurt or upset my wife earlier in the day.

Let’s recap:

1. Something happened that my wife experienced as a negative. Someone said or did something that made her feel shitty.

2. The thing that helps her feel better is to tell someone who will listen without judging her for her honest feelings and actual experiences.

3. She wanted to tell the ONE person in the world who promised to love and honor her every day for the rest of her life, and the only other adult who lives under the same roof.

4. I took her outlet for a positive connection-building experience—the thing she needed to do to emotionally move past the shitty day—and made THAT shitty. The thing that is designed to make her feel good became something that actually felt bad.

5. I then took the extra step of sometimes TAKING THE SIDE of her adversary from her story. I sometimes listened to her account of the day’s events, and essentially told her that her response—emotional or behaviorally—was INCORRECT. I literally told her that she did it wrong, and agreed with the other person.

6. All she wanted was for someone who loves her to LISTEN to her. That’s it. Not hard. Just STFU and listen. And after several hundred times of NOT doing that, I ceased to be someone she could trust to confide in. I was no longer a feel-good resource for coping with the ups and downs of adulthood, because hundreds of previous attempts ended badly and painfully for her. She didn’t feel safe anymore. She didn’t trust me anymore. Because safety and trust are two words that don’t always mean what we think they mean.

The most dangerous part of human relationships is how subtle and nuanced these moments are.

The things that erode and eventually destroy that which is most fragile and dear and precious to us tend to be things happening within the blind spots of our daily lives. We’re not being neglectful or irresponsible by not noticing them. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to notice them unless we are actively and mindfully looking for them.

After thousands of conversations with my wife that didn’t go like I thought they would. After, literally, thousands of instances where my wife reacted to me or a situation differently than I would have expected, I NEVER—not one time—set out to really understand the reason behind it.

I was certain—I was so certain that I was right, and therefore, she must have been wrong—that I guess I just kept waiting for her to grow up and see the world as clearly and correctly and smartly as I did.

But she never did.

She finally had enough and left.

And then I cried a lot more than a man probably should and felt sorry for myself.

But then I grew up.

And I began to see the world more clearly. I learned to stop labeling what an individual experiences as being ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Because if I was born to their parents and had their identical life experiences, I would say and do and feel all of the exact same things that they do.

Maybe my wife was wrong sometimes, too. Maybe she did things she shouldn’t have done. People ask me about that a lot, suggesting I’m too hard on myself. That there must be another side to the story.

Of course there’s another side. Here it is:

Imagine an alternative reality where when my wife told me stories about her day, I listened, and then told her that I cared about her experiences—that I was so happy when she had good things happen, and that I was so sorry when she had bad things happen—because I loved her and wanted to make sure she knew it. Make sure she felt it, because those are the things we remember.

Imagine if I’d done that.

Maybe all of those theoretical ‘mistakes’ my wife made would have never happened at all.

Just maybe.

Behind every misunderstanding is a reason. Behind every disagreement is a WHY. The Why behind why someone feels a certain way. And when we love the person on the other side of the disagreement—or simply on the other side of the dinner-table conversation—understanding that Why is EVERYTHING.

Find the Why.

Start right now.

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How Does Your Personality Type Match Up With Your Partner’s?

Albert-Einstein-Quote-Explain-Simply

(Image/Parent Palace)

It is my belief that the #1 reason marriages—or all types of close personal relationships—fail, is because the two people in that relationship fundamentally don’t understand how to accurately interpret the words and actions of one another.

Like, a person says words. Or a person performs an action. And then the other person listening to or observing those words and actions has an involuntary emotional reaction consistent with literally hearing or seeing something entirely different.

Right? You’ve been in that fight, yes? Where you say something that seems totally sane and logical to you, but the other person looks at you like you’re from another planet?

Doesn’t it make sense that two people who can never explain or understand what the eff the other is doing would struggle to maintain a trusting, secure relationship that lasts forever? Crazy scares us. So when we think the people we love are crazy, bad things tend to happen.

I believe that if we could—with 100% accuracy—interpret others’ words and actions as THEY intend them, or simply understand WHY someone is doing something a certain way (is that guy driving like a maniac because he’s an inconsiderate asshole, or is he driving like a maniac because he’s rushing his critically ill child to the hospital?) that our relationships can thrive because misunderstandings would no longer cause the buildup of pain and injury commonly found in marriages or long-term romantic relationships.

That’s not a small thing.

[NOTE: If you’re sort of doing the lazy skim-reading thing, please just scroll to the bottom of this article and take the free personality test from 16Personalities, and then have your partner do the same. Read about your respective personality types, because by having context and understanding for why you both do the things you do, healing can take place, and love can blossom.]

I think people—generally—are terrible at having uncomfortable conversations. I think people typically avoid them, and frequently lack the courage to tell the whole truth once they find themselves in the middle of one.

And in the absence of the whole truth, our brains are left to GUESS what the words and actions of another person actually mean.

And, historically speaking, our brains are HIGHLY UNRELIABLE tools for accurately applying the correct meaning to the words and actions of other people.

Often, when we are responding emotionally to things other people do and say (or don’t do or say), we’re getting sad, angry, anxious, or afraid over things entirely made up in our own heads. But it seems real enough to us as it’s happening, and our bodies respond emotionally on auto-pilot, and then we get all mixed-up inside, and the other person gets all mixed-up inside, and then—even though we really want to help one another feel better, and we genuinely care about them—we sort of fumble around in the dark breaking more stuff and causing even more damage.

There’s the school of thought that Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and I bought into it for a long time, because it was a story that made sense to me. Men do things The Man Way, and Women do things The Woman Way, and it’s the inability to accurately translate those two languages that causes men and women to have the common relationship breakdowns all of us are familiar with.

But I think I see it more clearly now.

And I think for many people struggling to connect with their partners (or anyone, really)—seeing it more clearly can change everything for the better within their relationships and homes.

When You Accurately Interpret the Words and Actions of Your Spouse, They Start to Make Sense, and Then Everyone Hurts Less

When our wife isn’t showing interest in us physically, it hurts our feelings, and we wonder whether she thinks we’re ugly, or bad at sex, or wishes she was sleeping with some other guy—or actually doing it. Maybe our insecurities are triggered because of it. And since we’re starting to see that our sexual advances aren’t wanted, we learn that Trying to Have Sex with Wife = Unsuccessful.

I hate failure. Sometimes, when things are really hard, and I fail every time I try, I simply stop trying. Maybe other people are that way, too.

So now, a marriage with infrequent sexual intimacy just got worse, because the husband withdrew even further, believing sincerely that’s what his wife actually wants.

When husbands aren’t showing interest in their wives sexually, wives sometimes feel hurt feelings, and they report feeling concerned that their husbands think they’re ugly, or bad at sex, or that they wish they were sleeping with some other woman—or are actually doing it.

But in reality, the husbands withdrew out of respect for what they honestly interpreted their wives’ behavior to indicate.

And in reality, ALL the wife wants is to be reconnected with her husband again the way they were early in their dating relationship and early parts of their marriage. She WANTS him. A lot.

But maybe there are fears and trust issues and insecurities today that didn’t exist back when they were dating. Maybe there is mental and physical exhaustion from working 40+ hour weeks and/or chasing children around, or managing the family and social calendars of three or four or five people.

The bottom line is that both the husbands and wives who love one another WANT to connect in the bedroom. But both want to feel wanted by the other, and often do NOT feel that way—but often for reasons totally different than what their brains incorrectly guess might be the reasons.

We cannot connect with people, we cannot solve problems, we cannot do anything well in this world when we don’t understand the context for why it matters, the rules of the game, the appropriate boundaries, the potential hazards, etc.

And the scary truth is that most of us go through life finding ourselves in and out of relationships—romantic or otherwise—where we never really had all of the information we needed to navigate the relationship effectively or successfully.

Terrifyingly, millions of people enter and try to live within marriages under those same nearly impossible conditions.

This is why 7 out of 10 marriages end or involve two people who truly wish they weren’t married anymore, according to psychologist and author Ty Tashiro.

But, What if You COULD Understand Them?

Personality profiles are not precise, indisputable gospel truths.

While there are 16 “categories” of personality types according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator based on the psychology work of famed psychiatrist and father of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, even people within the same personality type can exhibit clear differences.

For example, someone with a certain personality type raised as a strict Baptist in the southern United States is likely to showcase obvious differences from someone with that same personality type, but raised as a Buddhist in the Himalayan mountains in northern Bhutan.

It’s foolish to say “An INTJ ALWAYS does THIS” or “An ESTP ALWAYS does THAT” much like it’s foolish to pigeon-hole all men and all women into the same buckets.

BUT.

If our spouse prefers to do things a certain way—and it’s annoyed us for years—but then we learn that there’s this super-rational and important reason why they do it that way…

Might it help us better understand them? And when we get onboard with their way of doing things because we finally understand the WHY behind their methods, and what that might mean for their mental and emotional health? Might that foster connection? Might that bring us closer together?

I think it’s a CERTAINTY that it would. If both people bought in.

That doesn’t mean people in bad marriages will suddenly have good marriages. It means that two people who can accurately interpret the words and actions of their partner (rather than thinking that they’re bat-shit crazy and/or out to hurt them intentionally) are infinitely more likely to have successful, peaceful romantic relationships than people who do not.

1200px-MyersBriggsTypes

(Image/Wikipedia)

Which Type of Person Are You?

Last week, I officially launched a relationship coaching and divorce recovery support business. I want to help people who ask for it, have the same experiences I’ve had—figuring out how to make sense of my broken and failed marriage, and recovering from an emotionally excruciating divorce with hope and confidence.

And for clients who are in active romantic (but potentially struggling) relationships, we’re going to introduce personality testing to our conversations and coaching work—because these tests help us get to know ourselves more deeply, but even more importantly, they can be effective translators between two people who struggle to understand one another.

What if that was the difference between a peaceful marriage or a painful divorce? The simple ability to KNOW what the other person means or is trying to do.

Maybe learning about yourself and learning about your partner can help bridge the communication-and-understanding gap between you.

I certainly hope you’ll try.

They’re worth it. And so are you.

>>Take the Free 16Personalities Test<< 

(And then ask your partner to do the same. Let’s call it a holiday gift to yourself and each other.)

The entire world changes when we understand things we had never even thought to ask.

Miracles.

‘Tis the season for such things.

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You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave

man pulling luggage by pexels

No matter how beautiful things look up ahead, it’s hard to find a place to set down the heavy stuff. That’s why I mostly keep it shoved away in a closet. (Image/Pexels)

I’m good at hiding it.

The emotional baggage I drag around all the time.

Most of the time, I forget it’s there until something triggers it. I don’t like talking about it, because people sometimes assume it means I’m hung up on my ex-wife and pining for a life that I’m nearly six years removed from and barely remember anymore.

I remember being married, of course. But I don’t remember ME when I was married. I don’t remember what I thought and felt in my everyday baseline emotional state of being.

Those life choices led to the worst thing that ever happened to me, happening. So I’m not sure why pursuing that would make sense to anyone.

I also don’t like talking about it because it makes other people uncomfortable, like all those nights when I was freshly divorced and intellectually aware that no one wanted to talk about it and see me cry in the middle of a bar on a Friday or Saturday night. I used to always say to myself: “Don’t talk about your divorce, don’t talk about your divorce, don’t talk about your divorce.”

And then, without fail, I would talk about my divorce like a massive, undisciplined asshole.

So when I was walking around Las Vegas last week with two work friends, they couldn’t have known that underneath my calm exterior, I was triggered and distracted by more than all the flashing lights.

The past doesn’t always cooperatively stay hidden in the closet.

It was the week of July 6, 2007.

Our close friends were getting married at Bellagio in Las Vegas on that day. My wife and I were the maid of honor and best man.

They wanted to get married on 07-07-07 (because Las Vegas), but a million other people had the same idea (because Las Vegas), so logistically it made sense for them to move the wedding to the day before.

I don’t know what my marriage was back then.

Good? Bad? Average?

She’d have a different perspective, anyway. We decided to start the trying-to-have-children process not long after that trip, which might signal that she was already unhappy at that point and thought having a baby might make things better.

Regardless of how okay I thought my marriage was at the time, 39-year-old me today would have totally pegged us for a future divorce.

She was hanging out poolside with friends at Caesars Palace and shopping in the Forum Shops.

I was playing in a poker cash game at Harrah’s, warming up for an afternoon tournament at Paris.

This past week in Vegas, I didn’t play one hand. Not one. I chose to go out with coworkers and be social, rather than sit at a table with nine strangers.

But when I was in Las Vegas for the first and only time with my wife, I ran away to play cards and do what I wanted to do, rather than invest my time connecting with my wife and friends.

If writing is my thing now, poker was my thing back then.

I was running through everyone at the afternoon poker tournament in Paris.

My wife stopped into the poker room on her walk back to our hotel room to see how I was doing. I was at the final table. Maybe five or six players left out of a field of about 200.

I was on the cusp of victory, and instead of sitting down to cheer for me to win, she said she’d see me back in the hotel room when I was done, and left.

It kind of hurt my feelings. That she had so little interest in this thing that mattered to me.

I was too dense to recognize the 500 times I had made her feel that exact same way over the years, and make that connection that might have saved us later.

I won the tournament.

And I wanted her to be proud of me. I wanted her to think I was good enough.

The tourney winnings paid for the Vegas trip, and then some.

I didn’t know back then that money couldn’t fix what was broken.

I didn’t realize back then how bittersweet it must have been for her to watch me succeed at an activity that adversely affected our marriage because I usually invested more time in watching, reading about, and playing poker than I invested in anything constructive, or proactive, or meaningful to our marriage.

Still. It was a good trip. Fun. Reconnecting with old friends. Making new good memories together, including a fun night with the bride and groom having lots of drinks and laughing at a Lewis Black comedy show at the MGM Grand, and then a memorable laugh-filled walk back to Bellagio afterward.

I hadn’t thought about that moment for years.

And then fast-forward to a week ago, when I found myself walking through the MGM Grand 11 years later.

Even though I LIVE IN THE SAME HOUSE that we lived in together as a married couple, and see and talk to my ex-wife several times per week and it’s super-normal and functional, here I was in Las Vegas on some random casino escalator having a moment.

Then, my friends and I walked north up the Las Vegas Strip. The same walk the four of us had made 11 years earlier on the Vegas wedding trip.

And involuntarily, I felt it.

I don’t know why that mattered.

I have no idea why it made me feel.

But it did.

It just did.

A couple of years removed from divorce, I spent a few days at Disney World and the Daytona 500 with friends, including a woman who liked me.

We were walking around the Magic Kingdom together, just the two of us.

It was cute. I liked her.

But, inevitably, we ended up walking right by the spot where I’d proposed to my ex-wife. We were talking about something, my friend and I. But walking by that spot on the bridge felt just like driving by a place where someone you know died in an auto accident.

Your insides recoil a bit involuntarily.

If you stay cool, it remains invisible to people who don’t know you very well.

The engagement-spot trigger. At Disney.

I don’t know that I’ve ever told anyone about that.

And then a similar thing sort of randomly happened again in Las Vegas.

I’m not sure what to do with that.

There’s luggage—an invisible suitcase—where all of the memories live.

The good and the bad ones. The laughs and smiles and triumphs. But also, the guilt and fear and shame.

It’s baggage. Human baggage. My baggage. But I think everyone else has a little too.

It’s the kind of baggage that single people don’t want to deal with while dating because baggage usually contains or requires a little hardship.

Baggage contains surprises, because it’s full of all the grimy, ugly history that sometimes tarnishes things that looked beautiful just the day before.

The thing about baggage is that you’re supposed to be able to set it down. Just set it down and walk away. It doesn’t matter anymore.

Baggage is something you’re supposed to be able to lose. Or give away. Or destroy.

But it’s like the longer we stay alive, the more things we shove into our suitcases. They just keep getting heavier and more difficult to drag around with us.

Maybe we will be able to set them down someday and walk away. Or maybe we’ll trade them in for new ones.

I don’t know.

And maybe it doesn’t matter. Because it’s always hiding in the closet.

Hardly anyone knows it’s there.

Most of the time, not even me.

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The Search for Beauty in Divorce

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Six short years ago, my wife was selfishly choosing her emotions over the wellbeing of our family. She was breaking her promise to love me and to honor our marriage in good times and in bad. She was failing me, and our son, and I blamed her—angrily—for quitting on me. For quitting on us.

Her leaving, resulting in an empty home, the loss of half my son’s childhood, and genuine fear of my unknown future, was the most painful and life-disrupting thing I’ve ever been through.

First, my parents divorced when I was too young to object, making my life harder than all of my friends’. A long-time source of pain and sadness, and my wife knew it.

Divorce wasn’t on the table. We’d said it a hundred times.

But there she goes. Choosing another life over ours. She was running toward something she wanted and felt good about. Her life was IMPROVING, while I was crying in the kitchen, dry heaving into the sink, and feeling certain no one would ever want to kiss me again.

It was almost like I wanted to die, and the shame and feelings of failure that brought are indescribable. I was officially NOT ME anymore. I was some pathetic, sobbing, broken imposter.

She did this to me, I thought and felt.

Not felt, like a purple bruise or a hard slap.

I felt gutted. Betrayed.

I felt rage.

I didn’t want anyone physically hurt—that’s not my way—but I wanted to burn something to the ground. I had a couple of places in mind.

When you hurt that much, you stop caring about things you previously used to. Self-preservation matters less because dying would at least solve the pain problem. When it seems like the worst thing just happened to you, it can make you feel as if nothing else can be taken from you. You’re not afraid of new pain, because nothing could hurt worse than what you’re feeling now.

The worst thing I have ever known—bringing a pain I couldn’t have survived too much longer than it lasted, and forcing me to adjust uncomfortably to an entirely new life I’d never wanted or asked for—was divorce.

Divorce—in and of itself—was the enemy, and an evil thing.

And my ex-wife—the betrayer; the quitter—was the one who forced me to endure it.

The anxiety would make me puke sometimes. Tears would stream down my face.

“That fucking bitch,” I’d choke out.

And then I’d vomit again.

The Road Back to Life

I was dead.

My heartbeat remained. I could move around and talk a little. But I’d lost several months, maybe even a year. What I was doing wasn’t living.

I had ONE ultra-focused mission: To make sure I protected myself and my son from ever experiencing a pain like that again.

My new top priority was to NEVER feel dead again. I’m not sure I could survive it twice.

Divorce hurt me as a little kid.

Divorce hurt me as an adult.

Divorce hurt me as a friend, as several of my social relationships faded away.

Divorce hurt me as a professional, as I couldn’t focus at all on anything being said in meetings, nor could I care about work projects.

Divorce hurt me as a father, as I saw my son half as much as I had before, and I no longer had any control over who he was around, how safe he was; and that I now had to wear the Scarlet Letter of divorced dad in a million life situations where I assumed everyone—friend and stranger, alike—thought I was a shitty father.

Divorce was my new enemy. And I needed to understand it. NEEDED to.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle,” Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War.”

It was an idea I’d already accepted. So I went to work on understanding divorce.

I did that right here.

I wrote stories. I wrote stories about my marriage. Little moments that stood out to me, and then I wrote about what I was thinking and feeling about them at the time, versus how I thought and felt about them today.

I read books.

I asked questions. I asked so many questions. Sometimes, just to myself while I stared at the ceiling waiting for the pain to stop.

And I just kept writing as I discovered new ideas. I was uncovering so much about myself, about people, about love and relationships and marriage, and it was empowering to find that new knowledge.

If I UNDERSTAND what happened to me, then I don’t need to be afraid of it happening again, I thought.

I became addicted.

I needed answers.

It was the only way to save myself.

How I Saved Myself

I used to creepily stare at myself in the bathroom mirror for longer than I imagine most sane people do. Like a cliché movie scene you don’t want to watch.

I didn’t recognize myself, because I felt like an entirely different person, and I think that made me see an entirely different person.

I actively sought UNCOMFORTABLE ideas—things I didn’t necessarily want to hear; things that opposed ideas I’d accepted as gospel truth my entire life; things I didn’t WANT to be true—because I’d spent my entire life swimming exclusively in comfort and familiarity, and all that had done was deliver the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

I had to try something else.

Why did my wife choose to end our marriage and leave? Is she evil? Crazy? Out to get me?

Is she stupid? Is she a con artist? Is she a monster?

Is she a bad mother?

Is she a bad person?

All that mattered was the truth because the truth is what I needed to understand to protect my future self from divorce, or from hurting like this ever again. I wasn’t afraid of any answers as long as they were true.

My wife wasn’t evil.

She wasn’t crazy.

She wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me. There was no credible evidence of any of those things.

She wasn’t stupid, nor a con artist, nor a monster.

We still interacted all of the time, because our son was going back and forth between us every two or three days. We HAD to cooperate so that he always had school clothes, and lunch money, and whatever he needed to feel safe and loved.

Not only was she NOT trying to make any of that extra-hard on me, she—just as she had in our marriage—took on the responsibility of leading the way in knowing what he needed, and taking steps to make sure he had whatever that was. Doctor appointments. Meetings at school. Clothes. Supplies. Birthday and Christmas presents.

She did everything possible to include me in anything meaningful going on with our son.

She was the furthest thing from being a bad mother.

I met her when I was 18—a freshman in college. I’d known her for 16 years—more than half of my life that I could actually remember. My son’s mother was NOT a bad person.

So how could this be? How could this happen?

I’d just stare into that bathroom mirror. Until I finally recognized my true enemy.

It wasn’t my ex-wife.

It wasn’t divorce.

It wasn’t God, or the Universe, or Life.

It was me.

The worst thing that had ever happened to me didn’t happen to me because my wife quit on me and tried to hurt me. My son wasn’t gone and growing up a child of divorce because of my wife’s selfishness.

The worst thing that had ever happened to me happened because of me.

Because my wife HURT—just as I was hurting right then—for years and years. And not only was I the source of that pain, but instead of listening to her and trying to help her NOT HURT anymore, I used pretty much every opportunity she took to try to talk to me about our marriage as some kind of personal affront, and accused her of always finding new things to complain about.

I was the source of her pain. Thus, I was the only one who could stop the hurt, and help her heal. As her husband, I must have seemed to her like a reasonable person to seek help from RE: the biggest source of pain and fear that SHE had ever known—again, just as I was feeling right then.

She came to me for help, and I told her that her concerns were a figment of her imagination.

She asked me to help her stop hurting, and I told her that the things she was telling me were painful were NOT things that actually hurt people, so something must be wrong with her. I told her to get help. I told her to stop blaming me for her own weaknesses and poorly thought-out arguments.

Without even trying to be an asshole, I transformed all of the pain and relationship-killing behaviors I caused into something my wife was responsible for.

I BELIEVED the story I had told myself about her selfishness and mismanaged emotions.

I BELIEVED I was the good guy. The victim.

I BELIEVED divorce was evil and a plague on society.

I BELIEVED women everywhere were growing dissatisfied in their relationships for superficial reasons, and then abandoning their husbands and breaking families because life didn’t deliver them the Cinderella fairytale ending they’d hoped for.

It felt true. All of it. Because from the inside of my life, that’s how I experienced it.

But what really happened?

She persevered through 12 years of the person who had promised to love, serve, honor and protect her for the rest of her life, ignoring most requests for help.

She remained hopeful that she’d eventually find the right words to break through. The ones that would help me see what she already knew to be true. The ones that would effectively communicate how much she hurt on the inside—how afraid she was—just as I felt right then, staring into the bathroom mirror taking stock of all that I’d done.

I believed a story about myself that wasn’t true. That—because I tried to be a good person who loved others and didn’t hurt people—I was by default a good husband.

I believed a story about my wife that wasn’t true. That—because years and years and years and years of pain piled up in moments big and small where the ONE person she had let into her life to be with forever, and had trusted to love her deeply, turned his back on her, or ran away any time she talked about feeling sad or hurt or unhappy. She didn’t QUIT. She reluctantly submitted after THOUSANDS of moments where her partner demonstrated both a lack of competence and/or desire to help protect her from the kind of pain that turns you into an entirely different person.

The kind of person you no longer recognize in the mirror.

I believed a story about divorce that wasn’t true. That—because I felt so hurt by it and saw so many other people hurt by it—it was evil.

Divorce isn’t evil. It’s just bad. Like cancer.

Divorce isn’t a plague. Broken people accidentally hurting each other in their most important relationships is. THAT’s the plague.

Divorce—as ugly as it feels to me, and as uncomfortable as it makes me philosophically after a lifetime of believing Marriage is Forever—is a tool for people who are otherwise out of options.

It’s a lifeline.

An emergency escape hatch.

It’s inconvenient. Because the thing I want most in the world is to help people avoid accidentally harming their relationships, which I believe will lead to fewer divorces and more forever-marriages.

It’s inconvenient. Because divorce has caused me more pain than anything else I’ve ever known.

And as I’ve railed against divorce, and lifted up marriage as virtuous and sacred, I’ve accidentally piled on even more.

Because divorce is bad, but some things are worse.

What causes more pain than divorce?

I never recognized it because it was never happening to me.

But just maybe, the trappings of a faux-happy marriage—the kind that look good to everyone else, but are silently killing one or both members of it—wreaks more havoc. Maybe that causes even more damage, and more pain.

Everyone and everything is a little bit damaged.

Perfection isn’t part of the human experience.

But when we know we are a little bit damaged and love ourselves anyway; and when we acknowledge our imperfections, but still courageously step up to light up the darkness—I think that’s about as close as we get to perfect.

In the uncomfortable, gritty, raw, unfiltered muck of real life, both the beauty and the pain often keeps out of sight.

I was lost.

And I found my way back by learning how to find both the beauty and the pain that isn’t obvious to anyone not looking for it.

You must find the pain. If you don’t see it, you’ll feed it, and accidentally hurt the people you love—and yourself.

I see you, people suffering silently. You’re brave and amazing.

And you must find the beauty. Covered up by all the rage and fear and anxiety and vomit and tears.

If you don’t see it, you’ll lose hope.

I see you, people committed to being a force for good when it seems like you’re constantly being shit on for doing so. You inspire me to carry on. You fuel me to give more. Thank you.

The most beautiful things are those that persist despite all of the horrors happening around them and all of the ugliness trying to cover them up.

The most beautiful things ARE NOT those things unmarred by nicks and scratches.

The most beautiful things are those that radiate so much good, that whatever imperfections inevitably exist, we never even notice.

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