Category Archives: Divorce

The Myth of the Nagging Wife — It’s Invisible Burns That Actually End Marriages

Burn victim with medical bandages

Sometimes we’ll find it’s the husbands, or men, in relationships whose invisible wounds aren’t properly cared for. Just not most of the time. (Image/RawStory)

We sometimes hear husbands complain about their stupid, bitchy, nagging wives.

Some of them probably are married to petty, unkind women who’ve been plotting all along to make their husbands’ lives miserable. Statistical probability and whatnot.

But that’s NOT who most women are.

Most women said yes to a man’s voluntarily offered marriage proposal.

This isn’t arranged marriage in medieval times. This is one adult voluntarily asking another adult to give up being single together to form a partnership and live together faithfully for the rest of their lives, share property and finances, and maybe have children together.

Maybe some people don’t mentally grasp the parameters of a typical marriage agreement, but I feel confident in speculating that most do. Most people know what they’re signing up for, and then they sign up voluntarily.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where we go wrong, but Dr. John Gottman and the Gottman Institute identify husbands (I’m paraphrasing): “failing or refusing to accept their wives’ influence” as the No. 1 reason for—and predictor of—divorce. For those who don’t know, the Gottman Institute is to marriage and relationships what FiveThirtyEight is to sports and political election data, with Dr. Gottman playing the role of Nate Silver.

The math is the math, and math is truth. Math doesn’t have an agenda.

Statistics can lie, but that’s not what we’re dealing with here, no matter how uncomfortable it makes all the men who want to be “right,” or want to “win,” or want to perpetuate the narrative that it’s not the common male behavior that needs adjusting, but it’s actually the female response to it that’s “wrong” or “broken” or “inappropriate.”

Husbands vs. Wives and the Battle of the Sexes

One of the most common complaints I get from male readers on several blog posts is the (totally false and misguided) accusation that I’m advocating that men be submissive in their marriage and do whatever their wives want.

It annoys me, but I can’t reasonably expect everyone to have read everything I’ve ever written (and remember it) to know what I think and am advocating at any given time.

What I struggle with most is when people frame the husband-wife relationship as adversarial. As if two people should agree to marry, and then spend the rest of their partnership jockeying for control in the household.

What about that arrangement sounds appealing, or as if there’s a chance for any sort of happy ending?

Advice: DO NOT MARRY PEOPLE WHO WANT TO CONTROL YOU. And make sure you rule out that possibility BEFORE you marry them. Also, maybe don’t try to control others. That’s one effective way to avoid being a thundering asshole.

One novel idea is to actually LOVE the human being you are vowing to marry for life.

If we can start the conversation with LOVE assumed to be a foundational element in this arrangement, then I feel like there’s a chance to understand one another.

Love is generous. It’s kind. It’s unselfish.

Love is not about winning. Love is not about power and control. Love is not about who’s right and who’s wrong.

Love is freely given in action, word and spirit—a conscious choice that is constantly being made—to support and communicate to a spouse or relationship partner how much value they have.

So, when talking about marriage, I begin with three assumptions:

  1. Two people loved each other and wanted to get married.
  2. Both people knew what they were promising—a lifetime of faithful love and support.
  3. Both people entered marriage with the best of intentions, setting out to have a good marriage that looked and felt like however they idealized it in their heads throughout their dating and engagement.

But Then the Invisible Burns Start to Hurt

There are various things men often do (or don’t do) that cause women to feel shitty in their relationships.

These behaviors HURT wives and girlfriends. They cause legitimate pain, the same as if you were punched, kicked, cut, stabbed or shot. A thing happens. Someone hurts because of it.

And it’s in THIS MOMENT that marriages die along with countless relationships that never reach marriage status. 

This painful, damage-causing behavior isn’t happening because men are systematically plotting to upset their partners. It’s happening because many men don’t realize that these things hurt their wives. These men don’t realize it in most instances because that same situation DOES NOT hurt them.

It’s hard to understand how something we KNOW doesn’t hurt could hurt someone else.

Which is why I like the second-degree burn analogy.

If someone places their finger on our arm, it doesn’t typically hurt us. “Brace yourself, I’m going to lightly touch your arm with the tip of my finger,” is potentially a sentence that’s never been written or spoken before.

However, what if we have a second-degree burn that’s an open wound and THEN someone puts their finger on it?

That shit will feel like a horror show and we’ll want to stab them.

Point being: One event can occur and be experienced in radically different ways by two different people. In relationships, that often breaks down as husbands or boyfriends tending to do things one way, and wives or girlfriends tending to do things another. It’s not gender-specific, nor is it universal. It’s simply what we can observe while looking at vast amounts of data, and I think most of us can see it and feel it in various parts of our personal lives.

The Change We Need is for Men to “See” the Hurt

I don’t think men are bad. I don’t think men are intentionally hurting their wives or girlfriends.

What I do think is that wives have invisible second-degree burns, and then husbands and boyfriends are touching painful burn wounds that they have no idea are even there.

Their wives say, “Oh my God, that hurts me when you do that. Could you please stop?”

And then the confused and startled husbands reply, “All I did was touch your arm! Why don’t you make a bigger deal out of it? It seems like you’re always finding something else to complain about.”

And then she says, “When you touch my arm it hurts me.”

And then we husbands say: “God, that’s stupid. It doesn’t hurt when people touch your arm. You’re being crazy and overly emotional. Again.”

What happens next seems logical enough when you truly see this hidden, misunderstood and poorly translated interaction play out.

She feels unloved, neglected, abused, abandoned and unwanted by the person she loves most and who promised her forever. She explains exactly what’s hurting, and he tells her she’s wrong and making it up in her head.

He feels as if he’s being treated unfairly, receiving unjust accusations, not being given the benefit of the doubt, nor credit for all of the good he does, and all of the internal and external changes he’s made to be his wife’s partner for life. He ALSO feels as if his reality and intentions are being unfairly and inaccurately misrepresented.

Like clockwork, the relationship breakdown is inevitable unless there’s some kind of magical empathy breakthrough. Usually, there’s not, which is why MOST relationships fail. Most dating couples never make it to marriage at all. The ones who do, divorce half the time. And many of the couples that don’t divorce are hopelessly miserable and wish they weren’t together.

So guys, this isn’t about feminism or trying to emasculate men.

This is about ACTUALLY SEEING the mechanics of how relationships really are, and then adjusting accordingly even if it’s “inconvenient.”

We can do that by NOT getting married. And we can do that by NOT saying or doing things that hurt the people we claim to love and promised to love and serve for life.

It’s clearly difficult to see and effectively communicate this thing that too often ends our relationships—this inability to “see the hurt.”

But, when you finally do see it, you realize quickly enough that it was never very complicated.

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The Friday Reclamation Project

Weekend Loading Please Wait

(Image/picturequotes.com)

Five years ago today, I didn’t want to go home.

Our entire lives, most of us look forward to weekends. TGIF and stuff. Weekends are fun. We associate them with doing things we want to do instead of things we have to do like go to school, or go to work.

But five years ago today, my marriage was total shit. Awful. My wife and I would go to bed or leave the house without acknowledging one another sometimes.

Maybe it’s only because I was being a massive wimp, but I’d watch her dote on our son while greeting him or saying bye to him.

Right in front of me, I had the evidence of what it looked like when my wife loved someone. Thus, the absence of any of that in her dealings with me could only mean one thing.

It was hard. I hurt all over and acted like it, which couldn’t have done me any favors. No one likes pouters who wear their “I’m Feeling Sorry for Myself” badges for everyone to see.

I imagine that’s especially true for wives who feel as if they’ve been abandoned, neglected and unheard in their marriages year after year after year after year.

Even if you didn’t mean to, when you hurt someone long enough, they lose their capacity for hiding all that fuck-you rage and/or apathy simmering beneath the surface.

One of the things I remember most from the final 6-12 months of my marriage was how the joyful anticipation of Friday night had been taken away from me.

At work, I mattered.

At work, people liked me.

At work, I didn’t feel anxious.

At home, all I had was our son, and at a time when our marriage was a complete shit-festival, you can imagine how often my wife found ways to be doing things with him. Sometimes she would invite me to things like hikes or bike rides, but it was always miserable and sometimes I wished I was dead.

Going on a family hike or bike ride DOES NOT make you a family. I needed to be a family to do family things.

I needed to be in a marriage to do marriage things.

It was broken, and everything I needed was missing. So on Friday at work, I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t look forward to weekends anymore because it felt like a prison.

I’m thinking about the loss of anticipating fun so many of us felt sitting at our classroom desks on Friday afternoons at school, and looking forward to the break from the stresses of work on Friday afternoon at our respective workplaces.

But something MUCH bigger actually happens. We lose home.

We lose the place we can retreat to, to feel loved and safe and relaxed and comfortable. This space that is ours becomes this polarizing thing. It’s supposed to feel good. Safe. Fun. Welcoming. But when your closest personal relationships with those you live with are broken, you can feel it in the very air you breathe.

Alcohol is the only thing that ever helped. But I never could drink enough to erase the pain I felt when our friends would leave, and the joy and normalcy she’d display in the company of others would vanish entirely.

I don’t know if she was faking fun and happiness for them, or intentionally communicating her angry feelings non-verbally to me. Either way, the change was always jarring and a reminder that my wife really wasn’t my wife anymore.

She was someone else.

Getting the Weekend Back

Today, I’ve reclaimed Friday. I’ve got the weekend again. Sitting here on a Friday afternoon, I can look forward to all kinds of fun possibilities with friends or my little boy.

I can feel fun again. I can breathe in the same house that just five years ago felt like a prison.

I took the hard way to get here. For much of my life, I had to learn things the hard way. It’s sort of a defining characteristic.

I’m so grateful to be able to breathe again—literally and figuratively. But that’s not without a pocket full of regrets I’m always carrying around with me.

Back when I first lost the weekend, there were two ways to recover it.

One way was to go through hell, and feel like dying for a long time before eventually healing and recovering the ability to anticipate weekend fun a half-decade later while living an entirely new life as a divorced, single parent rebuilding and reshaping his future with a whole new set of rules.

The other way was to exercise humility and demonstrate personal accountability and lead by example in my own home and marriage. The other way was to apply all of my intelligence and problem-solving skills to determining WHY my wife was feeling and acting as she was.

What if, much earlier, I’d determined how much some of my past and reoccurring behavior HURT her?

What if I learned what it means to practice intentional empathy before the impassable fissure appeared in our home?

What if I’d recovered the weekend by identifying what ACTUALLY was wrong, and done something about it when there was still time?

I don’t like being Advice Guy. I’m just some divorced person, and I don’t and can’t understand how it feels to be you in your own home and relationships.

But if you’re in that place in life where you can no longer look forward to the weekend and smile—where you can no longer feel hope regarding life’s simplest little pleasures—you probably only have two weekend-reclamation options as well.

Both options are long.

Both options are hard.

Both options are humbling.

But, when you imagine the best version of your life, who are the people standing in the photos with you? If it’s your spouse and/or children, then I hope you won’t do what I did—feel sorry for myself. Avoid the problem. Wait for her to “come around,” as if she’d eventually see things my way.

When you can’t even look forward to Friday anymore, that’s Life telling you something is wrong. That something is broken, and that the broken thing needs fixed.

It may not be fun or feel good, but a Friday you’re not looking forward to is the PERFECT opportunity to begin fixing what’s really broken.

I made my shitty weekend problem ANOTHER selfish bullet point on my Life resume. ANOTHER thing I made about me.

But I should have made it about her. I should have made it about us. And because I didn’t, my wife chose my weekend-reclamation path for me.

There’s a better way, and I hope you’ll choose it. To make the last day of the work week Friday again.

Together.

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Divorce or Stay? Using Direct vs. Circumstantial Evidence to Decide

Evidence

(Image/Behance)

There’s direct evidence that I was a crap husband and that my ex-wife made the right choice in ending our marriage.

I left her alone and crying in the hospital the night our son was born. Fact.

When given the choice, I often chose myself and my preferences over her and her preferences. Fact.

During disagreements between us in which I felt confident in my beliefs, I treated her as if she was wrong, and as if her ideas or beliefs were stupid. Fact.

Because my ex-wife is female—and in my life experience, I’d seen mostly women handling the lion’s share of household tasks and childcare like laundry, dusting, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, decorating, and basically everything related to caring for babies and small children—my general behavior and state-of-being in our marriage was one of passively leaving most life and household management tasks and decisions to her. Men go to work, mow the lawn, take out the trash, and do the “big” jobs! Women do the rest, and it’s totally fair. Even if that’s not, and never has been, my actual belief, my actions—the direct evidence—reflected that. Fact.

My ex-wife is an attractive woman. Always has been. I’m a red-blooded male with the same primitive sex drive and cliché wants and interests as any male caricature depicted in cinema, music or advertising—or the same as most of the guys reading this, or the ones you know. Despite that, there were various phases throughout our marriage where my behavior communicated sexual disinterest in my wife. Fact.

Every Yin Tends to Have a Yang

Of course, there’s also direct evidence that I was—if not a superstar husband—a pretty good or decent one.

[NOTE: Let’s pause for a minute to acknowledge that we’re wading precariously into a neck-deep pool of relativism, and that the “direct evidence” referenced here—defined as “evidence that directly proves a fact”—probably is not ACTUALLY direct evidence in a legal sense. I’ll appreciate whatever latitude you give me here.]

I loved my wife. Fact.

I (given my then-limited understanding of what healthy relationships are made of) tried to put my wife first. In most situations in which I didn’t perceive Right vs. Wrong to be a factor, I went along with whatever she wanted. If I wanted to buy something expensive and she didn’t, we didn’t buy it. If she wanted to spend more money on something than I would prefer, I tried to be cool about it. I wanted her to drive the nicer of our two vehicles. I was happy to hand over to her all of the money I earned at work. We fortunately were never faced with such a terrifying scenario, but I believe with all of my heart I would have taken a bullet for her or otherwise chose certain death if it came down to my life or hers. Fact.

I was pretty nice (though I now understand it wasn’t, and could never be, enough). Friendly. Fun. Polite. Courteous. You know, in all of the surface-level ways we can be those things with people (even though there’s a Continental Divide-sized difference between “common courtesy” and the type of thoughtful, mindful courtesy one must have to foster love and healthy relationships.) I am what I believe most people would generally describe as a “good person.” Fact.

I am not a criminal or con artist. I did not try to manipulate my wife or otherwise knowingly behave in ways that would bring her harm so that I might benefit. When I asked her to marry me, and when I said “I do” 13 months later, I was quite sincere in both desire and intent. Fact.

I wanted our marriage to last the rest of our lives. I wanted to have at least one more child. And I wanted her to feel loved and wanted and secure, and for us to grow old together watching our grandchildren play in the backyard. Fact.

The Evidence of Feelings

None of us are perfect. Not as people. Not as couples. No marriage is perfect. I grew up learning that marriage was a commitment for life—a sacred one. Something spiritual. Something much bigger than our individual wants.

There will always be good and bad. And some might say my marriage was par for the course, and that there was sufficient direct evidence that I was a good guy and husband, and that my wife was selfish and/or “wrong” for choosing to end our relationship.

Every day—including right at this moment—wives and husbands are evaluating their marriages and lives, taking in all of the information available to them which is guiding their thoughts and feelings regarding the health of their relationship.

When people are deciding whether to stay married or get divorced—both of which are scary and stressful to think about in a suffering marriage—all they have to go on are their feelings and beliefs.

Evidence. Facts. We like to think they add up to what we KNOW. But what we “know,” is nothing more than our collection of beliefs, which may or may not be accurate (because we’re wrong a lot).

But the most powerful and important thing is our FEELINGS—which is probably a hard thing for all of the Spock-like emotionless Vulcan logic cyborgs out there to accept.

I’ve always been someone who felt. But it never made sense to me to let our emotions be our Life Compass. If we always acted on our emotional impulses, we’d all be road-rage monsters, child abusers, divorced or never-married, unemployed, and all kinds of other less-than-ideal things.

Facts aren’t feelings!

Facts AREN’T feelings. But the hard truth is, in real life, it’s how we feel in any given moment that tends to dictate what we do, what we think, how we speak, treat others, and ultimately guides most of our decisions. Ask anyone in the funeral industry how much money they’d lose if their customers weren’t highly emotional while grieving the loss of their closest loved ones when facing expensive death-related financial decisions.

For the same reason we will fork over tens of thousands to honor our deceased loved ones even though most of them would rather us spend the money on something more objectively practical, we will uproot our entire lives by ending our relationships because of our beliefs about our spouses and how those beliefs make us feel.

Circumstantial Evidence Doesn’t Lie

One of my childhood best friends—an attorney—said that to me yesterday.

He didn’t mean that circumstantial evidence can’t be misinterpreted or misused to paint a false picture in a court of law. He meant that direct evidence can sometimes lie in ways circumstantial evidence cannot.

But let’s not confuse courtroom procedure with what most of us experience in our daily lives.

Neither O.J. Simpson or Casey Anthony were found guilty in court of the crimes they were charged with. But the circumstantial evidence in both cases is so strong that I’m pretty confident speculating that almost everyone you know assumes the guilt of both accused murderers.

Circumstantial evidence is evidence that indirectly proves a fact. It requires someone to make inferences based on incomplete information. The guilt or innocence of people are decided both in and out of court all the time based on circumstantial evidence.

It is circumstantial evidence that ultimately convicts us in our relationships and foretells their imminent demise.

When a wife discovers her husband looking at porn, she might feel like her husband thinks she’s ugly or as if he wants whatever’s on that screen more than he wants her, even if it isn’t true.

When a wife wants to have sex with her husband, but he declines, she might feel rejected as if he’s no longer interested in touching her when the real truth is he got himself off in the bathroom 20 minutes earlier fantasizing about her, and now physically can’t, even though he wants to.

When a wife finds a dirty dish sitting next to the kitchen sink, she might feel as if her husband doesn’t respect her since it appears he—at best, thoughtlessly; and at worst, intentionally—left another chore for her to do.

When a wife wakes up on her birthday, or a holiday, or her wedding anniversary to discover her husband did nothing—no plans or gifts to acknowledge it in any way—she might feel abandoned and unloved since it might appear that he doesn’t value her or their marriage enough to have put any thought into celebrating the occasion which might feel particularly meaningful to her.

I BELIEVED I was a good husband. I can point to all kinds of direct evidence to demonstrate that.

But it was the circumstances that found me guilty in her mind of being a shitty husband.

And that’s exactly what I was—a shitty husband.

I wasn’t a bad guy. I was just bad at marriage, and didn’t have enough respect for her, myself or our marriage to identify the problem and work hard to turn things around until too much damage had already been done.

The jury of one found me guilty, and sentenced me for life.

Not because of a bunch of things we can touch, taste, or see. But because of circumstantial evidence.

Because of the stuff we can feel.

And for everyone who values lasting marriage, we should work harder to recognize just how much that matters.

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8 Ways Good People Invalidate Their Partners and Ruin Relationships

(Image/Pinterest)

That’s an important word—“invalidate.” But I haven’t always thought so.

My wife would sometimes ruin an otherwise perfectly good night at home or dinner conversation by accusing me of “invalidating her feelings,” to which I’d usually roll my eyes at my silly, overly sensitive wife and her cute little feelings.

Feelings aren’t facts, right? So facts matter and feelings don’t—a convenient excuse to fall back on any time the topic was about something impacting her emotionally but not affecting me.

“It’s always about what Matt wants,” she’d say. I’d get angry (and all of the sudden feelings mattered!) and remind her that she’s the one who started it by freaking out because I apparently didn’t do or say what she wanted me to. I’m not a mind-reader, freak-o!

Even today, I’m guilty of thinking back on my marriage as a relationship with fights about things that didn’t matter. Little, insignificant things we’d blow out of proportion. A dozen years of being unable to see the forest for the trees.

EVERY one of those fights mattered. They signaled that something was wrong and I dismissed or ignored that for years, probably because it hadn’t started hurting yet. EVERY one of those fights was the result of a conversation where one or both of us made a thoughtless, selfish, emotionally impulsive and undisciplined choice.

Only masochists who hate themselves would create and execute an action plan to sabotage every conversation they have to provoke an emotionally unpleasant fight for one or both relationship partners–especially knowing the end of that story was a messy divorce and broken home.

Most of us aren’t masochists who hate ourselves.

Most of us are just a little bit broken and a lot bit uninformed about the healthy and unhealthy behaviors that make marriage and dating relationships thrive vs. the ones that poison and destroy them.

Emotional Cyborgs and Fake Stoicism are the Life of the Invalidation Party

“Really? You want to talk about validating someone’s feelings? God, you’re such a pussy,” some internet tough guy might be thinking.

And I understand that because I used to be an internet tough guy too and throughout my life have pretended that things that hurt or upset me weren’t actually hurting or upsetting me. (That’s an example of validating someone’s thoughts and feelings even if you disagree with them.)

I thought if people knew the truth—that my feelings were hurt—that they’d view me as some wimpy bitch. Not a Real Man. Boys don’t cry!

Having my Man Card was important to me. It’s important to most guys, near as I can tell. The thinking seems to be: If you have your Man Card, the guys will accept me and the ladies will want me.

It’s funny how we ignore the obvious truth of how cowardly it is to pretend to be something we’re not because we’re afraid of what others will think about the Real Us.

We are ACTUALLY BEING the very thing we’re afraid of, or accusing others of being, when we put on our masks to hide our true and authentic thoughts and feelings.

To be sure, there ARE people who demonstrate a high level of stoicism and emotional consistency. People who seem consistently steady, regardless of what’s happening around them. People who are being authentically true to themselves amid their stoicism are awesome, and probably great behavior models to aspire to—because we probably shouldn’t let our emotions affect us as much as we do.

But in the interest of pragmatism, it’s pretty important to deal in reality. In real life, almost nothing influences human behavior as much as our emotions do. Just ask every successful marketing pro in world history.

So yeah. I want to talk about invalidating people’s feelings because it was routinely part of my conversations with my wife—EVEN when we weren’t disagreeing or fighting. It was my routine invalidation of the things she might have been thinking or feelings that ultimately CAUSED the fight or relationship-damaging moment. One of the thousands of paper cuts that would eventually cause our marriage to bleed to death.

Good People with Good Hearts Do This All the Time

Dudes often get bent out of shape about a series of posts called An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, as well as one called Your Wife Thinks You’re a Bad Husband Because You are One.

They lose their shit as if I’m attacking their character or not calling their mom again after our first date.

I understand this reaction also, because I too would lose my shit when I felt as if my wife was constantly telling me how I was failing her and our marriage despite feeling like a good human being who would do anything for her, and as if I’d sacrificed a lot on her behalf in order to share a life together. (More validation!)

Being a lousy husband like I was DOES NOT make you a bad person any more than an inability to prove advanced mathematical theorems like Will Hunting would make you a bad person.

We accidentally destroy our relationships. It’s an idea that’s been beaten to death on this blog and will be beaten to death some more in the book I’m writing. (For real, this time.)

I was reading through various psychology articles on invalidating others as a tactic for winning an argument, or as a means of trying to convince someone or ourselves that something is better or worse than what it is.

In doing so, I found eight common invalidation techniques people use in all kinds of conversations with everyone they talk to—not just their partners. I realized that people who are otherwise wonderful do this, and accidentally ruin their relationships with people who want to love them, but eventually stop subjecting themselves to that person’s invalidating bullshit.

8 Common Invalidation Methods That Accidentally Destroy Relationships

1. Misunderstanding What Validation Is

Sometimes my wife would tell me a story about one of her friends or something that happened at work. Sometimes, when she told me the story, I would find myself disagreeing with her assessment, and defending her friend, or otherwise taking a different viewpoint than she did. I thought I was “being fair.” I thought I was calling it like I saw it. Being real and stuff. But what I was doing was confusing Validation with Agreement. I didn’t have to agree with her to look for the very real reasons why she felt as she did, and then express that I understood her perspective.

“I get it, babe. I’m sorry you have to deal with that at work on top of everything else. I know it gets hard sometimes,” would have worked fine. Instead of “It seems to me you’re overreacting. Maybe if you did X, Y, and Z, your dumb girl feelings wouldn’t be interrupting my dinner,” which I didn’t actually say, but she probably heard.

2. Wanting to Fix Feelings

Sometimes people feel sad or angry. We don’t want them to. Maybe for unselfish reasons, but probably for selfish ones too. So we say, “Oh, don’t be sad,” or “You have nothing to feel sad or angry about. Everything is going to be fine. Don’t worry about it.” This is almost always done with the best of intentions, but it also almost always makes you a dick.

When you tell someone who is sad or otherwise upset (involuntarily) to NOT be that way, what they hear is (even from really nice, unselfish people): “Oh, that sucks that you feel that way. Let’s go do something awesome that I want to do instead so that I don’t have to worry about this thing that matters to you but doesn’t impact me.” The first cousin of trying to fix feelings is…

3. Minimizing

Dishes by the sink, yo. Didn’t matter to me, so they SHOULDN’T matter to my wife, right? Because how I experience the world should be indisputable, absolute truth and the unquestioned law of all human behavior, right? For the life of me, I can’t figure out why we’re so shitty about this. Every second of our lives, we experience things through our individual, first-person experiences, and so often it seems, we think EVERYONE—no matter where they’re from or what they’ve been through—should draw all of the same identical conclusions and have identical emotional responses as us.

If someone is acting like something’s important, that we don’t think is important, we minimize it. Make it out like it’s not a big deal and they shouldn’t worry about it. This is ESPECIALLY shitty when someone is upset with OUR behavior, but we disagree that what we’re doing should upset them. You should only do that if you love getting divorced.

4. Hoovering

According to Dr. Karyn Hall, “Hoovering is when you attempt to vacuum up any feelings you are uncomfortable with or not give truthful answers because you don’t want to upset or to be vulnerable. Saying ‘It’s not such a big deal’ when it is important to you is hoovering. Saying someone did a great job when they didn’t or that your friends loved them when they didn’t is hoovering. Not acknowledging how difficult something might be for you to do is hoovering. Saying ‘No problem, of course I can do that,’ when you are overwhelmed, is hoovering.”

We wear masks for all kinds of reasons in our relationships and in our interactions with others. We’re afraid of rejection. We want to be liked. A lot of bad things happen when we’re dishonest—even when they seem like innocent little white lies that are totally harmless.

5. Misinterpreting What It Means to Be Present

Sometimes people think that being in the same room, or the same house, is the same as being WITH someone. We’re not off doing something on our own away from home. We’re right there, watching TV, playing a video game, fiddling with our phone, or whatever. I used to play online poker, watch movies, sports, or TV shows my wife wasn’t interested in, and all kinds of other things that saw her doing things by herself, while I was doing things by myself. I thought it was fine. I always thought it was good that both of us were doing “what we wanted to do.”

But what she wanted to do sometimes, even more than what she might have preferred individually, was to be TOGETHER. Feeling present with each other, and the emotional connections that thrive from shared experiences was something she wanted. Turns out, this is also something NEEDED for relationships, including marriage, to thrive and function well. She knew it. I didn’t. And now we’re not married.

6. Judging

Judging isn’t so different than minimizing. But judging often adds an element of ridicule to the occasion, which can often cause a lot of damage. I already mentioned it earlier—if my wife told me a story, or even just liked or didn’t like something opposite of me—I would react with judgment. Not only was I disagreeing with her, but sometimes I was doing so in ways that made it clear that I believed all of my thoughts and feelings had more value than hers. As if I came to them from some pure and intellectually superior place, and hers were just some stupid girl feelings.

The more I tell these stories, the more horrified I am at my obliviousness through the years, and my blindness to what asshole moves these types of beliefs and behaviors are.

7. Denying

This one’s awesome. We invalidate other people by saying they don’t feel what they are saying they feel. They report what they’re experiencing in real-time, and instead of accepting that—we just tell them they’re mistaken. That they don’t know what they’re saying and feeling, as if we think they’re hallucinating or mentally insane. It’s hilarious in the saddest way possible how common this is.

8. Nonverbal Invalidation

Nonverbal invalidation comes in many forms. The shittiest are obnoxious eyerolls, finger-drumming, or yawning.

The more common and innocent ones are when we drift off during conversation, interrupt, change the subject, check our phone, or any number of nonverbal things that communicate to someone that whatever they’re saying couldn’t possibly be as important as whatever we wish we were doing or discussing.

Unfortunately, this is classic ADHD behavior, and OFTEN done with no intention or awareness of how it’s being received emotionally by someone else. I’ve spent a lifetime doing this, I think, but only in the last few years have had the mental wherewithal to check myself and achieve the self-awareness and focus necessary to keep my eyes and thoughts on the person with whom I’m conversing.

More than half of marriages fail (when you factor in all the still-married people who hate one another). I assume non-married relationships end at an infinitely higher rate, but I don’t have data to support that.

But I don’t need data to know that MOST of the ugliness that arises between two people who began their interpersonal journey totally infatuated with, and interested in, one another grows slowly from a million of these little moments.

Invalidation. It ended my marriage and has surely ruined a number of my other relationships, romantic or otherwise.

What has it done to yours?

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The 4th Wedding Anniversary (That Wasn’t)

Lucky 13 carnival

(Image/Halloween Forum)

Yesterday would have been lucky-number 13.

My wife and I celebrating 13 years of marital bliss.

Only we didn’t. Because we stopped at 9. In large part because the final couple of years were anything but blissful.

Also, I didn’t remember.

I hadn’t noticed until I flipped a daily calendar to today.

And all joking aside about my totally suspect ADHD calendar management, it’s significant that I didn’t remember.

Maybe some people feel completely fine and normal after getting divorced. But other people feel shitty and want to die a little bit and cry a lot more than they’re proud of while feeling like the world’s biggest loser and binge-watching a lot of shows on Netflix and assuming they will spend the rest of their lives celibate and alone while their exes are having orgasm parties with some wildly successful entrepreneur ready to sell their tech startup for a billion dollars and pretty much guaranteeing a lifetime of their children respecting and wanting to be with the other parent more than them.

I was a member of the latter group.

Even my grandma (the sweetest, most-prayerful and non-judgmental person I know) was probably like: “My #1 grandson seems extra-losery lately. If he doesn’t get it together, he’s going to die alone, because no woman will ever want to kiss him on the mouth, let alone play fiddlesticks in his nether regions. I’m demoting him to, like, #4 in the grandson ranking.” It’s difficult to know for sure how she felt and/or whether I’ve reclaimed by spot atop the family grandson rankings.

It’s significant that I didn’t reflect on my wedding anniversary yesterday, because that’s exactly the kind of thing you tend to do when you feel broken and depressed after divorce.

Every major holiday.

Her birthday.

My birthday.

Our son’s birthday.

The Fourth of July (our “engagement anniversary”).

There were all of these things that triggered the most powerful and unexpected emotions for the first couple of years following the end of our marriage. If you’d told me some date on the calendar had the power to trigger something within me that would make my entire body revolt, I’d have called you crazy.

But then I lived it.

I felt in the most intense ways what a particular anniversary could remind you of. If it wasn’t something on the calendar, it was one of those asshole Facebook memories that seem to randomly pop up and try to ruin your day, or it was me driving by a particular building or location, or maybe hearing a certain song, and then I’d feel all the things rushing in again.

It wasn’t just hard because it hurt.

It was hard because it reminded me that I wasn’t fully back yet. I hadn’t recovered. I remained weak and fragile. It reminded me that I didn’t have control over emotions, which meant I didn’t have control over myself.

Once every day stops hurting after a major life trauma, the next phase involves unpredictable and intermittent flare-ups.

Rock-bottom has one perk. NOTHING scares you anymore, because (even if it isn’t true) it feels like it can’t get any worse.

But once the healing begins, some of the fear returns, because the ability to just behave normally during the day without all of the hurt and fear and anxiety becomes this really important and valuable thing that you had always taken for granted until you knew better.

So when something sneaky triggers us into a mini-relapse, it can shake you up because you don’t know if that’s ever going to stop happening.

It’s hard to feel like you don’t have any control about your baseline state-of-being. As if you don’t know which “you” you’ll be when you wake up tomorrow.

I often wondered when these triggers would finally go away.

And Then Something Funny Happens

You don’t really notice because you forget to look for it.

The same way that resentment and shit-festival rides and funnel cake booths sneak quietly into our relationships and go undetected until we finally bite into some funnel cake we overpaid for and it tastes like goat piss, and then we pop three balloons with our skilled dart throwing to win that awesome stuffed monkey, but instead of giving us the awesome stuffed monkey, the carnie gives us the middle finger and divorce papers…

The same way that happens, goodness and normalcy slowly creep in when life feels like it’s beating us down.

I wanted so badly to hack the process.

I researched whatever scientific studies I could find on happiness. I went to guided meditation classes. I drank a little more beer, tequila and vodka than usual.

I wanted a shortcut, and if I couldn’t find one, I at least wanted to know when the terrible pain and sadness might end.

What is the thing or the time I can look forward to because that’s when I’ll know this is mostly behind me?

I took comfort in some of the stories and experiences of other divorcees.

But still. When will it be my turn?

And then the funny thing happens. You wake up one day and realize you’d stopped counting. You’d stopped looking for signs. You’d stopped wondering when tomorrow will come because, holy shit, it’s ALREADY tomorrow and I didn’t even notice.

There was no magic to evoke.

There was no exorcism or major therapeutic breakthrough (not that there’s anything wrong with leaning on psych pros—I’d have done so if I was financially comfortable enough to shell out $250/hour).

There was no one thing I can point to that took me from the painful and debilitating shit-festival to today. The day AFTER a wedding anniversary (that wasn’t) that I never got around to noticing.

The path to today wasn’t complex or hard to explain even though I hadn’t realized I’d arrived here. The path wasn’t around. There were no shortcuts or helpful detours. There was only one straight path that could only be traveled at the speed with which I move.

There were unpleasant and difficult obstacles from the get-go. And it turns out, Life doesn’t magically remove all those obstacles to make the path easier to walk. Dealing with each obstacle by climbing over it, or blasting my way through simply made me good at navigating them.

I wanted it to be easy and fast. But it didn’t feel that way. It felt torturously slow.

But as I look back today? Four wedding anniversaries (that weren’t) later? I don’t know where the time went.

But I’m here now. (Hi!)

The path was hard. But then it gets a little bit easier. Then a little bit easier. Then a little bit easier. Then you accidentally get so busy living again that you forget to measure the difficulty.

Hope is the carrot at the end of the stick, and it’s worth walking toward. When you’re emerging from divorce or some other awful life event, how much better tomorrow can be than today is so incremental, we’re unlikely to notice it. But it IS better.

And when you wake up and breathe enough times, you stop, look back, and really see how far you’ve come.

The only path was through.

Never easy. But always worth it.

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The 7 Life-Changing Benefits of Treating My Ex-Wife Well After Divorce

olive branch

(Image/Challies.com)

The worst day of my life wasn’t the day the divorce was finalized.

It wasn’t even the day she packed a suitcase and drove away with our little boy in the backseat while I watched from the kitchen wondering whether I might die, right then, just because I didn’t know if the human body could withstand what I was feeling.

The worst day of my life came later, when I learned that she was in a new relationship.

It wasn’t bad because I was sad.

It was bad because I was angry. Very. I think “rage” is the most precise word for what I was feeling. I didn’t understand how I could be feeling so horribly broken and miserable, and she could be investing emotionally in another person.

My pride was wounded. It seemed unfair that she could be enjoying life while I felt like dying. I was still coming to terms with my loss of parental control, and not knowing anything about this guy was making it worse. For all I knew, he was a serial child-abuser, and I was too pissed to rationally conclude that my son’s mother would not subject him to obvious harm, and I was still too shell-shocked to know what was real and what wasn’t.

I was so angry that I actually imagined something bad happening to her—this person I loved above all things—and felt nothing. No sadness. No guilt. Nothing. I was still blaming her, even though we now know how immature and foolish that was.

I still didn’t “get it” yet.

It’s hard to be angry and rational at the same time. It’s difficult to feel ragey and then make wise choices.

I now understand how crimes of passion can happen. For anyone comfortable with, or previously exposed to violence, and no children to worry about, I can conceptually grasp why that kind of person might lash out in anger, and how easy it would be for people to die in those confrontations.

But because I’ve been immensely blessed in life, I haven’t witnessed nor experienced much violence nor am I prone to behave violently. Because the adults in my life treated me with intense love and care, I’ve never had any trouble treating my young son with that same care.

Even IF I was capable of something as heinous as intentionally harming another person—let alone the mother of my son—I simply don’t do things (mindfully) that will make my son’s life worse.

That is a baseline non-negotiable core value.

And the conclusion is simple: The positive value of my son having his mother in his life—independent of my emotional state—cannot be measured.

And as time marched on, it didn’t take long for me to recognize the next logical conclusion: If my son’s mother provides him immeasurable value, doesn’t my ex-wife living her best-possible life benefit him the most?

And finally: As his father and her parenting partner, doesn’t me supporting her life as best I can—even in divorce—lend itself to me being the best father and parenting partner I can be?

Because I’m a single parent, most of the people I’ve met in a dating capacity over the past four years have also been single parents. I’ve been SHOCKED to see what massive dicks some of these guys are, and—full disclosure—it’s usually the first or only “bad” thing I learn about someone I’m dating. Fair or not, marrying and conceiving children with someone capable of THAT much assholery reflects poorly.

If you’re shitty to your former spouse and you don’t have children, I have to ask why you’re even in contact with them. If my wife and I had not been parents, I think I’d have moved far away shortly after the divorce was final and never speak to her again.

Maybe then I would have spent the rest of my life believing a false narrative I’d told myself to try to make sense of what—to me—seemed purely nonsensical.

Maybe I never would have grown, because I wouldn’t have had to.

And maybe I’d never achieve anything resembling a healthy or happy relationship, because I’d keep waiting for someone to “fit” into my life instead of knowing I must one day choose to create an entirely new life that won’t be mine, but “ours.”

If you’re shitty to your former spouse and you DO share children, then I’m forced to question who and what you are as a parent.

To have your kids suffer in order to scratch a sadistic itch to mistreat the person to whom you were once married strikes me as some of the worst kind of selfishness.

It’s fundamentally and undeniably bad for your kids to intentionally tear down their OTHER hero, and perhaps the only other person that grounds them and provides the necessary sense of safety they need just to function in life.

The benefits of, not just avoiding obvious acts of dickheadedness toward our exes, but actually treating them well, seem obvious to me. I understand that all individuals, their personal relationship experiences, and their current relationship dynamics, will vary.

I know there may be things about me or my ex-wife that gives us get-along advantages not available to everyone. And I know that if we didn’t share a child, things might be much different. But the following are very real and tangible benefits I experience regularly as a result of being good to my ex-wife.

How Being Cool to Our Exes Makes Our Lives Better

1. Reciprocated Cooperation is Very Helpful

Because my ex-wife and I treat each other kindly and respectfully, we both experience a steady dose of mutual cooperation.

Maybe one of your best friends is getting married in Mexico and asks you to be a groomsman and you have to leave the country for six days to be there, and it’s going to throw a major wrench in the pre-existing parenting schedule.

Maybe tomorrow is your child’s gym class at school or team practice afterward and you’re missing the shoes or specialty equipment they need to participate.

Maybe the holidays or a birthday or a life event is approaching where coordinating schedules and pooling financial resources makes the situation better.

That my ex-wife and I can hop on the phone or exchange texts asking one another about schedules or splitting costs or whether the other person can drop something off that our son needs for school activities changes the entire world.

If we acted possessive about who bought what for him, or blatantly refused to budge on the parenting schedule, it would mean that both me AND our son would suffer any time something unexpected happened.

Despite no longer being married, if my ex-wife and I couldn’t fundamentally count on one another, our lives would be immeasurably shittier and more-stressful than they are currently.

Communicate. Cooperate. Be helpful.

It matters.

2. I Get to Know Things I Wouldn’t and Freak Less

I care about what happens to my son. I care about his life, his whereabouts, and knowing that he’s safe. If his mother and I didn’t communicate about where he was, who he was with, and what he was doing, we’d be left to wonder and fear the worst.

As it is, when my son goes on vacation for a week, I know where he is, what he’s doing, who he’s with, and I can talk to him as much as I want.

The same, of course, is true when I take my 9-year-old out of town. His mom, always and forever, has unlimited I-Want-to-Talk-to-My-Son requests that I’ll honor. That was true even when we first separated and secretly wanted to stab each other in the face with rusty spears.

I know more about my son’s friends. More about his friends’ families.

And since I’m terrible with calendar management, I get a ton of support from my ex to get special events for school or sports on my calendar to keep me involved even on nights my son isn’t home with me.

3. Being Together Isn’t the Worst Time Ever

When we were first separated and I was harboring powerfully angry and pained emotions which probably simulated the physical sensation of hate, I DREADED being anywhere she was, or even just talking on the phone with her.

It was horrible.

Had we never made efforts to treat one another with kindness and mutual respect, every single event I’d attend as a parent might involve me feeling super-shitty. Maybe I’d even skip things my little boy wished I’d attend to avoid dealing with it.

Instead, we are often in the same place at the same time to support our son. There are likely still parents among the sports teams and extracurricular activities we’re all involved with that don’t realize we’re not married.

If our son is involved in something, most of the time, we’re both there to support him.

I think this has been HUGE for him as he’s adapted to the lifestyle change, and how he feels in any situation involving the families of him and his friends.

Which leads nicely into…

4. Our Son is Happy and Healthy

This is subjective. And I have no way of knowing how another kid with a different personality might react in an identical situation.

But I feel really confident saying that if you speak or behave in any way that is hostile or otherwise shitty to your ex-spouse, your perceptive children WILL know it and feel stressed and generally uncomfortable any time you’re all together, or even just in phone-call situations.

I think being intentionally shitty to your ex is—in many ways—being intentionally shitty to your children.

5. You Preserve Important Friendships

Divorce breaks things and severs relationships. Has always been true. Will always be true.

Friends will pick sides.

Others will try their best to maintain healthy friendships with both of you with varying success.

If you want to make sure you lose even more people in your inner circle, go ahead and be overtly evil and shitty to your ex just because you’re angry with them.

The good friends will keep their distance.

Anyone encouraging you to be an asshole to someone they once called a friend is probably not the caliber of human being you really want in your inner circle.

6. You’re Not a Messy, Walking Contradiction

Don’t act like you didn’t love—or don’t still currently love—your ex-spouse. It’s a lie and you can’t trick yourself no matter how much we’d all like to.

If you want to live a balanced, healthy life where things aren’t constantly shitty and dysfunctional, it’s important that your actions reflect your true values and feelings. When you dislike someone but act like you like them, it becomes this gross, slimy, fake and all-around inauthentic display that most healthy people can identify right away (and if you’re the kind of person who can trick people effectively, you might have bigger problems than trying to get along with an ex.)

You’re always going to feel, just, off, if you spend your life doing things that don’t reflect your true feelings and intentions.

So. Just own it. You loved, and to some extent, still love the person you chose to marry and have children with.

And every time you speak or behave in ways that don’t align with these true, honest, authentic thoughts and feelings inside you, you’re going to continue to feel a little listless and unhinged.

Identify truth. Whatever is real. Then honor that with the things we think, do and say.

Life’s never fun when you’re constantly struggling to find steady ground or sure footing.

Find balance by being the REAL YOU.

7. You Get to be You Again by Healing Much Faster

If you want to know what a depressed, almost-suicidal and totally fucked-up human being looks like, just go check out this blog’s 2013-2014 archived content.

They say time heals all wounds. And maybe it does. But my divorce could easily be a lifelong prison sentence if I chose to be super-involved in my son’s life AND a massive d-hole to his mother at the same time.

Every day might not suck, but ALMOST every day would if we hadn’t let go of all that pent-up anger.

I can’t speak for her, but I was broken. I say that a lot so maybe it’s lost its meaning. But I hope not, because it’s real and it matters.

I was broken.

My insides died and I wasn’t even the same person anymore. For a long time.

It was agonizing and miserable and I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.

Life can be so much harder than I’d ever known. And now I do know. During the dark days, the ones where I didn’t know whether I’d survive or whether I wanted to, I realized that no amount of money, no career success, no material possession—no nothing—could have saved me from that darkness.

It follows you around to tuck you into bed at night, and greet you when you wake. It’s in the shower, in the car, keeping you company at parties and at holiday gatherings. It distracts you while you try to work and taunts you when you can’t.

That was when I figured out that I’d spent more than 30 years prioritizing the wrong things, and that moving forward, my life needed to be about never feeling that way again, and helping my son and others avoid a similar fate.

The fear and anger and self-pity fed the darkness.

The accountability and introspection and self-reflection drowned it in light.

And in that light I found some truths. About me. About life. About the woman I’ll remain tied to for life despite our marriage ending.

And now I get to be me again.

Stronger. Smarter. Wiser.

More confident. More courageous. Less afraid.

Happy and hopeful.

In the truth, I found meaning. In the meaning, I found forgiveness. And in the forgiveness, I found love.

It looks nothing like the love we’d promised each other standing on that alter, young and ignorant.

But I’m pretty sure it can be enough.

In fact, I think it already is.

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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 14

(Image/hellopretty.co.za)

Because I failed to create any type of plan or structure to ensure preparation and acknowledgment of special occasions like Valentine’s Day, our wedding anniversary, my wife’s birthday, etc., my epic ADD-ness, procrastination and sometimes lack of money created a bunch of negative or lackluster moments in my marriage.

When two people are in a romantic partnership together, there’s always a little bit of give-and-take as it’s impossible and impractical for each partner to satisfy exactly half of all shared responsibilities.

But when someone doesn’t get anything back when they give, give, give, they eventually run out of energy. They eventually stop giving.

Until the final couple of years of our marriage that I should have (but didn’t) recognize as the End Times, my wife was always incredibly thoughtful and an organized planner about almost everything, including things specifically for me.

It wasn’t a courtesy that I returned. I’m prone to procrastination and poor calendar management because I’m all kinds of ADD that was undiagnosed and unidentified during my marriage. I got comfortable. Lackadaisical. And lost sight of the importance of investing in my wife and marriage.

She put effort and energy into doing things for me, and planning things for us to do together.

I did not return that same level of effort and energy. I very rarely took the initiative to plan shared activities for the both of us.

For YEARS.

And now I’m divorced, and this EXTREMELY EASY THING TO CORRECT is a significant reason why.

Here’s the simple truth: When you make conscious, mindful, regular investments in your wife and marriage, and create opportunities to do fun things together, and demonstrate as a matter of routine that you have HER and the BOTH OF YOU top of mind and are investing effort and energy in your togetherness… you probably have a strong and healthy marriage.

And when you don’t?

You end up like me.

It Wasn’t Always That Way

I was still 18 when I met the girl who would give birth to our son 10 years later.

A mutual friend had been talking about hooking the two of us up for months. My future wife was super-involved in school activities at the university we attended, whereas I mostly just drank beer and smoked weed at awesome parties.

She was the feature baton twirler for the marching band during football season.

She was a competitive ballroom dancer.

She was on the dance team for the college basketball season.

She always had practice or a part-time job to go to, or homework to do, so she was never at any of our parties. After months of being told we’d make the perfect couple, we’d still never met.

Then one night, I heard she was going to be there—at the off-campus apartment where most of our freshman-year parties took place.

I was drinking and smoking and having a great time with my best friends like almost any other keg-party night, so I wasn’t ready for her to walk in.

Insta-smitten.

She’s the kind-of pretty that makes your stomach hurt. Smiling eyes. Gorgeous cheekbones. The kind-of smile that makes you mirror one back to her, even when she isn’t looking.

She was smart. Funny. Easy to be around.

She was everything teenage-me could have ever wanted. Everything except available.

Our mutual friend didn’t realize my future wife was dating someone. And even if she wasn’t, she didn’t have free time to actually date, nor am I sure we’d have ever made it while she was being super-responsible and I was being super-irresponsible.

Our “perfect-togetherness” would have to wait.

We stayed in touch. A phone call here and there. A hug and friendly chat somewhere on campus whenever we’d cross paths.

I dated someone for a couple of years in there, and so did she.

But here’s why I’m telling this story: One random afternoon while I was riding around with one of my friends, I had him stop at a store because I wanted to buy flowers and a card for this gorgeous blonde I was crushing on.

Just something to let her know I was thinking about her.

The Framed Greeting Card

It was the kind of card that folded from the top down.

She’d kept it for a few years in between me giving it to her, and us getting together in a couple’s capacity when we were 22.

I liked that she kept it. I liked it a lot.

It sat in a little horizontal frame on a dresser or nightstand throughout our years together. I read it a few times, but I can’t remember what I wrote inside, and I don’t think it mattered.

What mattered was me taking the time to get a card and flowers, to write a thoughtful, personal note to her. There was no particular occasion or reason to.

I had just wanted to.

Call it a broad generalization if you want, but I think girls like it when you do something for them—just because.

For more than a decade, that little card sat there.

Once a cute, heartwarming reminder of a thoughtful guy who would call a Life timeout simply to invest in making the woman he loved feel good. For no other reason than he wanted her to feel good.

But later, I think that little card became a disappointing reminder of what might have been. Not a symbol of goodness. A symbol of a guy who is capable of making her light up and feel good, and who day after day after day, seems to choose stuff he cares about, and doesn’t seem to think much about her at all.

A little card that’s almost certainly not hiding in her nightstand drawer—but decomposing in a garbage landfill somewhere.

Waste.

Which is fitting, because a waste is exactly what this was.

Just an everyday text: “Thinking about you.”

A weekly phone reminder to plan a mutual (or family) activity for the weekend.

A conscious effort to prioritize this concept of investing in and giving energy to things that benefit our partner, or actively demonstrate that we value and appreciate the person to whom we promised Forever.

That we want them.

That we love them.

That something we do for them is worthy of sitting out as a reminder of something good and meaningful. Something that won’t be discarded to rot in the ground, buried and forgotten forever.

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The Subtle Difference Between Shitty and Non-Shitty Husbands and Wives

Coke vs. Pepsi by Adweek

I don’t drink a lot of soda, but I think I could identify Coke vs. Pepsi in a blind tasting. But since they’re both cola, there are probably many people who cannot. And I think it’s fair to call the differences subtle. (Image/Adweek)

The difference is so subtle that I didn’t recognize it until now.

And now that I have, it isn’t hard to see why so many pissed-off guys stumble on these articles and miss it too. My own inability to tell the difference when I was married is WHY I’m divorced today.

In everyone’s defense, including my own, the differences can be hard to detect. Really hard. If it were easy, therapists and divorce attorneys would have trouble finding work.

It’s not only subtle, but ever-changing.

The shitty behavior of husbands and wives may be healthy and totally acceptable in different relationships with different partners.

What is NOT shitty today may one day become shitty. What is shitty today may one day cease to be shitty.

It’s little wonder we have so many disagreements in our relationships.

I’m accused often of blaming men and husbands for the majority of relationship failures and divorce, and I’ve written sentences so strikingly similar to “I believe male behavior is responsible for the majority of divorces,” that I understand why some people feel that way. One of the best things about speaking these ideas someday as opposed to writing them now is that I think it will be easier for people to more-accurately gauge my meaning when they hear it vs. reading it.

Subtle.

More subtle than the flavor of Coke vs. Pepsi.

Even more subtle than the difference between the words “complement” and “compliment.”

So very subtle.

“You’re a female-worshipping pussy!” some tough guy said.

“This is bullshit!” another guy said. “A wife’s expectations need a reality check in many cases, though others hearing the story are sure to think the husband is at fault due to the false ideas permeating our culture.”

Another guy characterized my ideas as old-fashioned and unrealistic. He said a few things I disagreed with, but then he asked a great question that I’ve been thinking about since:

“What about the seeming double standard—is this fair to men, or anyone, to expect them to be any less human, any less fallible or fragile than anyone else? Is it OK to suggest that men are not entitled to simply be loved for who they are as a person? Or should men be required to constantly earn love—not for who they are—but for what they can do or provide?”

You see, when I was married, I misdiagnosed the marriage-problem symptoms my wife and I displayed, and I was CERTAIN of my correctness in any given disagreement between us. I was right, therefore she was wrong.

Here I was doing or not doing all of these things she wanted me to do differently. And most of the time, I would draw a line in the sand—a boundary, if you will—and stand my ground. I—quite literally—believed my wife was being unfair, or reacting inappropriately to something (like a judge sentencing someone to life in prison for a speeding ticket).

What’s the Difference?

I don’t know that I believed my choices were things I considered to be marriage-enhancers, but I DEFINITELY didn’t consider them to be things that might destroy mine.

Don’t you see the inherent danger there? For me, the scariest things in life are the dangerous, potentially fatal things that we don’t or can’t see coming.

Cancer. Heart attacks. Fatal auto accidents. Terrorism. Sink holes. Asteroids.

I don’t sit around feeling fear over these things because I don’t give a lot of mental energy to them. But I absolutely believe they’re the scariest things.

The things we don’t see coming.

I believe the behaviors that end relationships, lead to affairs, and are ultimately responsible for divorce, are behaviors that MOST people don’t recognize or identify as a danger.

I wasn’t a bad guy. Most guys aren’t bad.

But I WAS a shitty husband. Accidentally. Unaware. Thoughtlessly. Not on purpose.

And because I was trained from a really young age that we treat ACCIDENTS radically differently than we treat INTENTIONAL harm and destruction, I usually defaulted to the position that the “punishment” of my wife’s frustration or anger didn’t fit the “crime” of whatever action or inaction had upset her.

This might sound familiar because I’m pretty sure the vast majority of people can identify with either my experience, or my ex-wife’s.

“But, Matt! You always say that you were a SHITTY husband! How do you know?! Maybe your wife was just being a control freak or an insufferable nag! Maybe SHE was the shitty one!”

You know what, maybe she was sometimes.

I don’t think about things like that. I don’t try to remember every time I felt wronged by her in some attempt to excuse or justify my choices.

My marriage ended and now my little boy has to share homes and CONSTANTLY miss one of his parents, and possibly suffer a little bit socially.

I did things that hurt my wife.

Not her face. Not her arms. Not anywhere on the outside of her.

In her heart. In her mind. In her gut.

I didn’t know when I was married that emotional pain could hurt worse than physical pain. When my wife would talk about feeling hurt, I consciously or subconsciously treated her like she was a crazy person. Like she was a child I perceived to be acting overly dramatic about a tiny scrape. Like she didn’t know how to rank or manage discomfort.

This is what it looks like to not possess empathy nor understand the word’s meaning. When a husband or wife proves incapable of displaying mindful, intentional empathy for the person they promised to love and honor forever, they are breaking their marriage vows.

A shitty husband disregards his wife’s expressions of pain and treats her like there’s something wrong with her whenever he would have felt differently.

A shitty wife disregards her husband’s desire to feel appreciated as “payback” for feeling unappreciated herself.

A shitty husband abandons his wife to entertain herself in favor of doing things he prefers to do alone, when the THING she prefers to do is be together.

A shitty wife berates and shames her husband anytime he performs a task differently than she would have.

Where’s the Line?

“Where is the line between being responsive to your partner’s needs, and drawing a boundary around your own?” said MBTTTR commenter Lindsey in a recent conversation that inspired this post.

Is it possible that some husbands are having THEIR boundaries violated by wives who force husbands to earn their love and kindness, rather than give it freely?

“Is it OK to suggest that men are not entitled to simply be loved for who they are as a person?” the male commenter asked.

That question forced me to self-reflect more than almost any question I’ve been asked in the four years I’ve been writing here.

I think it’s quite simple. NOT to decipher. It’s way too subtle and requires vigilant communication and a mindful, willful desire to achieve a high level of bridged understanding with another person whose differences might frustrate you and create discomfort.

There’s nothing easy about it. But it is simple.

There are:

  • Things That HURT. Actions or words that fundamentally cause pain and/or harm to others, and
  • Things That Inconvenience or Conflict with Personal Preferences. Stuff a husband or wife WISHES were different, like how my ex-wife wished I liked skiing and house cleaning, and I wished she liked watching sports and playing poker.

If a relationship’s survival depends on HURTFUL things coming to an end, then I perceive it to be largely on the shoulders of the person causing the pain to stop, or at minimum, to actively seek ways to minimize it because they love and respect the person they married.

If a relationship’s survival hinges on two people finding balance between personal preferences and conveniences, then I think it’s profoundly important that the two people love and respect one another enough to make damn sure these matters of disagreement DO NOT cause damage to one another.

Because here’s what happens.

An event takes place. A moment comes and goes. Maybe someone did or said something. Maybe someone forgot a calendar event or special occasion.

There are endless possibilities for events we experience, and there are endless possibilities for how any individual person might react to that experience.

And it strikes me as being perfectly okay to not sign up for a lifetime together with someone whose preferences or reactions to events do not align with yours. By all means, don’t get married if you believe the relationship is doomed to fail.

BUT.

It strikes me as perfectly NOT OKAY to promise in front of witnesses, friends, and family; and sign legal contracts, and—most importantly—be assuring one’s partner or fiancé/fiancée throughout the length of an engagement that you’re in this forever to either:

  1. Knowingly bring harm to your spouse.
  2. Knowingly treat your spouse as if they aren’t good enough, and required to EARN your love simply because you want them to think as you think, or do things as you prefer them to be done.

A person who threatens a marriage by treating their spouse as if they aren’t good enough because of a difference in PREFERENCES is every bit as bad as the shitty spouse who damages their partner through intentional or neglectful harm.

Love is a choice.

And when we marry someone, we are to give that love freely for the rest of our lives. But NOT when our marriage vows have been broken by someone who refused to give the love and empathy marriage requires.

How do we get two people to actively choose to love one another, even when they don’t “feel” like it?

Maybe we can’t.

But that’s what a shitty spouse is—someone who won’t give love because it’s inconvenient or doesn’t feel good.

Who’s to blame?

Amidst the chaos of war in the middle of the battlefield, where both sides are firing shots and taking no prisoners, it’s really hard to tell.

No one?

Everyone?

I don’t know.

So, I looked in the mirror and figured out who to blame for my divorce.

Because there’s a better life out there. One I didn’t find blaming everyone else for my problems. But after looking into that reflection long enough and hard enough, I think it might be coming into focus.

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The Marriage Paradox

dead rose by wolfman570

(Image/wolfman570 – Flickr)

They had a chance encounter on 5th Avenue in New York City.

The boy and the girl in the movie I was watching.

They were two old friends who crushed on one another growing up together in Texas. He was an aspiring novelist attending the University of Texas. She was going to Yale, after abandoning her childhood dreams of being a creative artist.

They reconnected over dinner and drinks, catching up from the years apart.

He was a dreamer. And his hope and optimism was contagious and inspiring. His belief in her and encouragement to chase her dreams moved her. It made her feel good. She was in love.

In a later scene, we see the young woman having dinner with her mother, where she reveals her plans to leave Yale, return to Texas to attend the University of Texas, and marry this boy from back home.

Her mother was mildly amused, but mostly incredulous and discouraging.

“Keep seeing him if you have to. Live with him. I don’t care, but don’t marry him,” the mother said. “I understand what you see in him. I get it. I do. He’s the opposite of your father. He’s a romantic. But he’s also very fragile. I saw that when his father died.”

She paused for a moment, accepting her daughter’s angry glare.

“Don’t do this. You’ll regret it and you’ll only hurt him in the end. What you love about him now, you’ll hate about him in a few years. You may not realize it but you and I are a lot more alike than you think.”

“You’re wrong,” the daughter said. “You and I are nothing alike.”

“Really? Just wait,” the mother said. “We all eventually turn into our mothers.”

Why Do We Marry?

The first time, I mean.

Is it because we love someone so much that we can’t stand the idea of living without them?

Is it because we love how they make us feel? Or how we feel being seen together?

Is it because we love what they do for us? What they provide?

Is it because we want to have children, and we identify who we think will make the best mother or father to our future kids?

Here’s what I feel sure about: Pretty much NO ONE gets married, spends a lot on the wedding, pools their financial resources and material possessions, and has children together with the intent or expectation that it’s going to end in horrible pain, and potentially cost a lot of money, and in the BEST of cases, costs half of your children’s lives, and in the WORST, costs much more time than that OR involves unsupported parenting to children whose other parent is almost never around.

The most generous divorce stats say that marriages end about 40 percent of the time, but I still like to say marriages fail “half the time,” because it feels truer and because I don’t think marriages are successful simply because two miserable people who hate or cheat on one another haven’t technically divorced.

Therapist Lesli Doares said it best during my first interview with her on her podcast radio show, discussing HuffPost content. I’m paraphrasing, but she said something like: “They have a section for Weddings and a section for Divorce, but there isn’t any information about actual marriage.”

Even the most beautiful, inspiring and successful marriages feature two people who will be sure to tell you how hard it is: “It wasn’t always easy! We didn’t always like each other, but we always loved each other!”

WHY DO WE MARRY?

We mostly suck at it. It’s mostly hard. So, why?

What other Important Life Thing do we collectively fail at more than marriage?

Another Tragic Ending

More time passes for the young couple in the movie I’m watching.

After a few years together, the lustful, feel-good stuff had disappeared, and her husband hadn’t written the next Great American Novel and she started to lose faith in him. She started pushing him to go back to school to study something more financially sustainable.

After growing up in a wealthy family and unquestioned financial security, she was dissatisfied with the couple’s humble apartment. She wanted more. And she was afraid she’d never have it if she stayed married.

Her: “You have to realize this isn’t working. We’re not right for each other. I wish we were, but we’re just not.”

Him: “What do you mean, we’re not right for each other? We’re perfect for each other.”

Her: “No. We’re not. We would be if we didn’t live in the real world. I need a life that is more structured and I need a future that is more structured. I want to be the person that you want me to be but I just can’t.”

Him: “But you are. You are. Just stop.”

Her: “I really wanted to be this person that you thought I was. I really did, but I’m just not that person. I just don’t have your kind of faith in things. I’m cynical. I’m pragmatic. I’m a realist.”

Him: “No, you’re just afraid. We’ve been through this so many times.”

Her: “No, I’m not scared. I’m unhappy. I’m just really, really unhappy.”

Later, she meets a guy in one of her grad school classes and develops a close enough relationship with him to ask him to drive her to an abortion clinic where she terminated an early pregnancy she hadn’t yet told her husband about.

We see the crying, confused, scared young woman, wet from the rain, clinging to this other guy while sitting inside his parked car outside of the clinic.

And then through the windshield, we see the husband, headlights shining on him, standing in the rain, taking in the moment, and his wife sees him, and cries even more.

End of scene.

End of marriage.

The Paradox: Because We’re Human

Some people believe the easy answer is to simply not get married and discourage others from doing so. Great. Have fun with that.

I admit to being as cynical about marriage as I’ve ever been, but I still believe the world needs marriage.

And even if you disagree, I hope I can appeal to your inner-pragmatist, because regardless of how good of an idea you consider it to be, 95 percent of adults are either married, formerly married, or plan on marrying in the future. The simple math is that almost everyone gets married anyway.

But why?

Everyone will have their own individual reasons for doing so, but I think the simplest explanation is that everyone thinks they’re supposed to.

I think the majority of people in the world do almost everything they do because that’s what they believe they’re supposed to be doing.

From our earliest memories, we saw married people, families, or young people dating and exploring the possibility of marriage. We see those same stories play out in novels, on TV, and in music.

And marriage crosses religious and cultural boundaries, so we see it everywhere. All over the world, you’ll find countless examples of two people who felt attraction for one another (or part of an arranged marriage) and now live in a committed partnership that both people expect will last the rest of their lives.

People get married because, for them, getting married is a personal goal.

People get married because they want to have a family and believe that’s best accomplished with marriage as a foundation.

People get married because they feel social pressure to do so.

People get married because they’re afraid of being alone.

People get married because they believe sex outside of marriage is a sin and they REALLY want to have sex and not feel shitty about it.

People get married because they want a financial partner.

People get married because they want to be with someone who makes them feel safe, or special, or a bunch of other good things.

And, of course, people get married because they love someone more than they love themselves and crave the opportunity to love that person every day for the rest of their lives.

Why do people get divorced?

Because their expectations weren’t met.

Someone broke a promise, or someone FELT like a promise was broken.

Two people failed to communicate in ways the other person could understand well enough to adjust whatever behaviors or mindsets needed changed in order to save it.

Because their feelings changed. About their spouse, or maybe about someone else they should have never gotten so close to, or maybe just about themselves.

People get divorced because they were dishonest with themselves before and during marriage.

People get divorced because human emotion is very powerful, and we pursue what feels good and avoid what feels bad, which means our marriages are screwed once bad feelings seep in.

People get divorced because of hedonic adaptation. That’s the psychological phenomenon we experience when awesome things stop feeling awesome once we get used to them. Hedonic adaptation is why we get sick of eating the same foods even if they’re delicious, or hearing the same songs even if they’re amazing, or why we feel dissatisfied with our homes, cars, clothes, paychecks, and everything else as we get used to them.

The people who made us feel the best we’ve ever felt stop making us feel that way. Because they change AND we change.

The people who made our bodies tense, our hearts race, our privates scream to touch theirs… they become the people that bore us sexually.

Maybe because of emotional reactions to their behaviors. Or maybe just because we’ve known them long enough. You know the phrase: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”? I’m pretty sure that was coined by someone who never got tired of having sex with the same person because of how rarely he or she got to see them.

People get bored and angry and disappointed and resentful and ashamed and feel shitty. About their partners. But maybe mostly about themselves.

It’s so hard when you realize you’re not the person you wanted to be and your life hasn’t turned out the way you’d expected.

It’s so hard when you wake up in a shit-festival of a marriage, and your life doesn’t feel like your own, and Jack and Nora are sharing their amazing-looking photos from another fucking vacation where everything about the photos represent everything your life is not.

It’s so hard when you see people in love on TV, while your spouse ignores you but lights up for other people. It’s so hard when you hear about good things happening in your friends’ marriage when your spouse is ignoring you sexually in favor of late-night internet porn or romance novels and detachable showerheads.

It’s so hard being an adult.

Because you thought you’d wake up one day and FEEL like how you imagined all the adults to feel when we were kids. When we’d finally have our hormones under control, and mature into the kind of person who always did the right thing and made a lot of money and could buy and do anything we wanted.

It’s so hard being an adult because it’s so damn disappointing when you realize you made all that shit up in your little-kid head and none of the adults actually knew what they were doing either. They just faked it the best they could for our sake just like we’re doing now for our kids.

We tried the best we could to be who we thought we were supposed to be.

So we got married. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do.

But there was so much we didn’t know.

Like how this thing that was supposed to make us feel good could make us feel so bad.

We didn’t know what we wanted back then isn’t what we’d want later. We didn’t know people would start acting differently. We didn’t know the holidays wouldn’t feel like they did when we were kids. We didn’t know how to imagine life without the people who die, or move away, or just stop calling.

We didn’t know so much would change.

We didn’t know so much could change.

People don’t know what to expect.

We say “I do” with the best of intentions only to realize everything we signed up for is some bullshit we don’t actually recognize. Because our partners have let us down. Or because WE let us down.

People don’t know HOW to be married when they decide to get married.

But maybe we can change that.

With so much at stake, I think we have to try.

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How to Seduce Your Wife (Because Your Old Single-Guy Tactics Won’t Work)

(Image/CigsAce – DeviantArt)

Google processes more than 60,000 internet searches every second, or nearly 6 billion per day, and the Nos. 1 and 2 most-frequently searched terms are “sex” and “s e x.”

In other words, sex is a popular topic and human activity.

It also holds VASTLY different meaning or evokes vastly different feelings in people because of their individual religious beliefs, or differing sexual orientation, or previous experiences (positive or negative), or due to several other factors and influences.

The topic of sex can produce significant discomfort for many people. Maybe they’re embarrassed. Maybe they’re afraid. Maybe they’re ashamed.

Maybe that discomfort sometimes gets in the way of two people in a relationship having honest and vulnerable conversations about sex. I think that was true in my failed marriage.

Many things contribute to the common breakdowns that infect and fracture marriages.

We don’t always know how to talk to, nor accurately interpret one another. It’s why couples always have the same fight.

We don’t always know that leaving dirty dishes by the sink, or being extra-polite to strangers, or doing a bad job of executing household tasks like meal planning can end our marriages.

But I think most people realize that when two people who promised one another sexual exclusivity and faithfulness stop wanting to have sex with one another, an obvious problem arises.

But I don’t think most people truly understand WHY this happens. I think most people believe: “That’s just the way it is!,” or that it’s the other person’s fault, or that they simply fell “out of love.”

I believe it’s a lot less complicated than that. But, unfortunately, a hell of a lot more nuanced.

And I think much of it can be fixed by helping men understand something most of us aren’t routinely taught as boys or young men.

The Things We Don’t Teach Men: What Makes Us Sexually Attractive and Desirable as Singles Often Changes Radically in Marriage

In other words, all that shit you did to get your wife in bed back before you were married becomes mostly ineffective in a long-term relationship.

What do I mean?

Your physical appearance. No matter how physically attractive you are, no amount of rugged good looks or a chiseled physique can overcome feelings of mistrust and danger she feels as a result of relationship insecurity.

Your bank account. Money is attractive because it represents both safety and opportunity. But if she feels unsafe BECAUSE of your relationship, all those commas and zeros can’t and won’t matter.

Your “game.” Confidence only works when it’s authentic. Humor and intelligence only works when kindness and trust are present. And while mind games or deception might work for bar pickups and one-night stands, dishonesty or even just the lack of an authentic connection between two mutually trusting and vulnerable people will eventually end all marriages.

‘Did you try to have sex with your wife?’

That was the subject line of an email sent by a reader. She’s a stay-at-home mom with a 10-month-old daughter, and if she’s not exaggerating, her and her husband haven’t had sex since they discovered the pregnancy.

That’s roughly a year and a half ago. Which is a problem.

She found MBTTTR while rifling around the internet, discovered the same unsettling commonalities so many of us share in our troubled relationships, and fired me a note asking whether I tried to have sex with my wife because she’s sad that her husband doesn’t “chase” her nor produce sexual desire in her, and she’s rightly worried about what this means for her marriage’s long-term outlook.

Because if they simply pretend it’s going to get better on its own, things will worsen and then they’ll divorce, and everyone will hurt, especially that little girl who deserves better.

Things only change when our behaviors do. Doing the same thing over and over tends to produce the same results.

The 4 Things Men Should Know About Sex in Marriage

1. Your primal feelings of lust and sexual attraction have waned (or will wane) because of hedonic adaptation.

There’s nothing wrong with this or you. It doesn’t mean you’re not “soul mates” or not “meant to be together.” It means your brain is functioning normally and naturally adjusting to something positive and normalizing it. When things become “normal” or “routine,” they frequently feel more “boring.”

Our brains adjust to positive things because it’s biology’s way of keeping us motivated. It’s called hedonic adaptation, and it’s important for our self-awareness that we understand this. If humans had the tendency to rest on our laurels, we would never accomplish or achieve anything. The downside is, we commonly feel dissatisfied with familiarity. Once you come to mental terms with this, then you can take steps to combat it with intentional gratitude and mindfulness, AND you can come to the intellectually correct conclusion that leaving your spouse for someone else because of “boredom” is an endless cycle like a dog chasing its tail. In marriage, CHOOSING love is very important.

2. Men need to know the REAL recipe for Magic Sex Potion.

Sometimes, people search Google for “magic sex potion.” They want to use an elixir to magically produce sexual desire in their wives. But there’s actually a way to produce sexual desire in wives WITHOUT magic. And it’s a pretty helpful thing to know. See: How to Brew Magic Sex Potion.

3. Pornography and masturbation (especially when hidden) can cause significant harm to relationships.

I’m not going moralist on you here. It’s not my place to judge your heart. I’m saying there are super-practical things you maybe haven’t thought about pertaining to porn and/or masturbation, the most obvious being: Maybe if you stop wanking it in the shower so much, you’ll build up more sexual desire, and maybe that will serve as a helpful reminder and motivator to pursue your wife so she stops feeling like you’re not interested in her, or like you’re more attracted to fake internet chicks than the person you vowed to love forever. This certainly affected my marriage. Badly. I don’t like talking about it because my mom reads this shit. But because I know I’m not the only one, see: An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 13.

4. There comes a point in many relationships where wives feel forced into duties once performed by our mothers. That’s bad.

No further explanation is required: She Feels Like Your Mom and Doesn’t Want to Bang You.

Guys don’t screw up their marriages on purpose. Bad marriages and divorce are MISERABLE. Young men WANT to be great husbands and have successful relationships.

But we are often not armed with the right information in our youth. I don’t think it’s because people are intentionally hiding it from us. I think it’s because most others don’t know this stuff either.

Sex is important. You’re probably thinking about it right now, you big dirties.

Let’s not let one of life’s greatest pleasures be among the things that tears us apart when it, quite literally, is meant to be something that keeps us together.

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