Category Archives: Divorce

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 4

pie-chart-people-count by Wonkhe

(Image/Wonkhe)

Imagine a pie chart.

But not the kind with only a few slices like you might see in classroom presentations or this image above.

Think about a pie chart that is attempting to illustrate every imaginable hobby or personal interest known to man.

Mountain biking.

Astrophysics.

Rap music.

Sewing.

Tap dancing.

Politics.

Mixed martial arts.

Gardening.

Architectural design.

Cars.

Books.

Religion.

Solitaire.

Ice sculpting.

It would be the largest, most impossible-to-read pie chart in history, but please try to imagine it anyway.

So, because we only live for about 80-ish years on average, and because most of us tend to grow up surrounded by “people like us” in our cities, towns, schools, sports teams, churches, etc., the vast majority of us only ever see a ridiculously tiny slice of this Imaginary Hobby & Interest Pie Chart in our lifetime. Add up all of our hobbies and interests over the course of our lives, and maybe none of us ever even come close to sniffing 0.01% of all of the possible things out there that people do and care about.

Kids growing up in rural Manitoba, Canada or Oklahoma are statistically likely to have different hobbies and interests than kids who grow up in the heart of Los Angeles or central Prague.

There are all kinds of wonderful applications for this thought exercise.

Dwell on this long enough, and the obviousness of how insane and bullshitty it is to dislike or mistreat other people based on their particular religion or skin color or political affiliations or personal preferences for who they love simply because they’re different than yours becomes really evident.

People have a nasty habit of classifying anything different than what they believe or prefer as ‘bad’ or ‘worse’ or even ‘wrong.’

I know it’s uncomfortable to think about the possibility that everything you were taught might be bullshit like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, but the sooner you come to terms with the fact that literally no human beings know, or have ever known, with 100% certainty the answers to life’s greatest mysteries (we can’t even get a manned mission to Mars—the nearest planet to Earth), the sooner we can all stop being gigantic dicks to one another just because some of us were taught different stories when we were little than other kids who were taught different things in faraway places.

But healthy self-awareness and mature social consciousness aside (which as a cool bonus will make you much less of an asshole for the rest of your life), the reason we’re thinking about this massive Imaginary Hobby & Interest Pie Chart is because I don’t want you to accidentally hurt the person you’re dating or married to every day for the rest of your life until you inevitably break up or get divorced and end up a lonely sad sack with no friends.

You’re worth so much more than that.

And THIS super-simple idea can help your relationship with your future romantic partner or spouse thrive, or at the very least, help you NOT accidentally sabotage it because you didn’t know this secret.

Relationship Secret: Care About Things Because the Person You Love Cares About Them

You are NOT a bad person for liking pro wrestling and video games, and hating classical music and knitting classes.

That’s not what makes a person bad. DIFFERENT does not mean the same thing as BAD.

However.

If you’re anything like me, you have a natural tendency to prefer some things over other things, and your brain mistakes your preferences and interests as having greater value than everything that ISN’T in your tiny sliver of the Imaginary Hobby & Interest Pie Chart.

Your stuff is “worth more.” Your stuff “matters more.”

So, maybe you love steak and you’re out with friends, and one of them orders some abomination like a well-done strip steak, and then dips it in ketchup when they eat it.

It is NOT bad that in your mind and heart, you’re secretly like holy shit, do they know how to ruin a steak dinner.

It IS bad if you say out loud: “Holy shit. What are you—stupid or something?” It will likely lead to having fewer friends and the people you spend time with not liking you very much.

And if the person demonstrating different preferences than you is someone you hope to have a long-term romantic relationship with, acting this way WILL end your relationship one way or another.

Don’t just think about food or musical tastes or what you like to do with your free time.

It’s everything.

Everything someone thinks, does, and feels is a result of all of their individual experiences from the moment they were born through right now.

Everyone’s 0.01% of the pie chart is going to be a different blend then everyone else’s, and inevitably lacking 99.9% of the life experiences necessary to objectively measure how much they like or dislike other slices of the pie chart they’ve never even heard of or experienced before.

Imagine a large black piece of construction paper.

One that I punch a tiny hole into with a needle.

And then I block your view with that piece of paper and ask you to accurately describe what’s on the other side only having that tiny pinhole to work with.

That’s what all of us are doing every second of our lives.

None of us have unlimited knowledge, time, nor the education and life experiences necessary to evaluate the big, uncharted alien world around us.

Everyone who tries ends up looking and sounding like an asshole, and they make their spouses or romantic partners feel shitty. They make their spouses or romantic partners fantasize about being with someone who wouldn’t communicate—verbally or otherwise: “Everything you like and care about is stupid and worthless. I don’t love or respect you enough to try to understand why it matters to you because it’s a complete waste of my time.”

Again: The Reason to Care is Because You Care About Them; Not Because You’re Naturally Interested in the Same Stuff

I can’t emphasize strongly enough how much this matters.

You have to learn how to silence your inner monologue that communicates how ugly that painting they love is, or how terrible that food they love tastes, or how crappy that song they love sounds.

It’s totally okay that you feel that way. It’s a math equation that made you feel that way. It would be impossible for you to NOT feel that way. You can’t control that.

But you CAN control what you do with that feeling.

I used to believe it was okay to just be honest and say out loud what I was thinking. I used to believe it was okay to openly mock or chide my friends or wife for everything they liked or believed that was different than my likes and beliefs.

But then my wife moved out after nine years of marriage and I lost a bunch of my friends and now every day is shittier and more difficult than necessary.

It seemed fine, totally fine, to like what I liked and pay no attention to the rest of it.

And if you want to live a single life with a bunch of surface-level relationships with other people (no judgments here—that’s totally an option if you don’t crave the things long-term relationships and marriage provide), it IS totally fine to live that way.

There’s no law against asshole-ism. Choose it if you want.

But.

If deep down, you’re embarrassed by the idea that you might be causing people you care about to feel awful and not even realize it, and if you’re really interested in a long-term romantic relationship or marriage that doesn’t end all shitty and horrible with a bunch of tears and lawyer fees, then try this one simple life trick.

That person you care about is super-interested in something that doesn’t interest you at all.

I’m not asking you to change your internal chemistry through sorcery to make yourself like stuff you don’t naturally like. That’s impossible.

But it IS possible to mindfully invest your time and energy to understand what it is about a particular hobby or interest that captivates this person you love.

It IS possible to learn more about it, and through that discovery, gain a greater appreciatiation for your loved one’s personal passions.

In addition to not constantly shitting all over the things that make your spouse or partner or friend feel joy, the simple act of you investing in what they care about will build a new bridge between you. A new bond. An extra tether, binding you together.

You know what happens when you add additional tethers to two objects, right?

They strengthen.

Become more secure.

Sturdier.

They don’t drift apart.

Steady.

They stay connected.

Together.

Always.

Unbreakable.

And if I may be so bold, I think every day of the rest of your life, and the lives of everyone you interact with will be better for it.

You don’t change the world one grand dramatic act at a time. You do it by making the slightest little course adjustments millions of times, causing other people to do the same. Like ripples in a pond.

Leaving everything just a little bit better than you found it.

Maybe they won’t write books or sing songs about it. But that’s what makes you legend.

That’s how you change the world.

And I can’t wait to see it.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3

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An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3

Aladdin and Jasmine

I remember liking this movie, but the idea that Aladdin and Jasmine will live happily ever after just because it feels good right now is every bit the fantasy that a magic carpet and wish-granting genie are. In other words, it’s kind-of bullshit. (Image/FanPop via Disney)

Author’s Note: Before we begin, you should probably grab a spoonful of sugar. Because this isn’t going to taste very good.

Do you remember when you learned the truth about Santa Claus?

Or when you heard awful stories about Bill Cosby or Kevin Spacey or Matt Lauer, or some other person you admired, and you felt like something was stolen from you?

It’s easily one of my least-favorite things about growing up.

When you finally get to peek behind the curtain and you realize that the great and powerful Oz is really just some charlatan.

There have been, and will continue to be, these moments in life when you discover that some things are just a little bit darker and uglier and scarier than we believed. They make us feel uneasy for a little bit, but then we move on, and find joy in other things.

We find hope in new places.

I’m not sure whether training yourself to expect the unexpected is even possible, but if it were, it would be an amazing life skill to practice.

Everything that hasn’t happened yet lives only in our imaginations, and you’ll be disappointed to learn that we’re all pretty lousy guessers. Some things will be better than you expected and you’ll feel good because of them, and other things will be worse, and then you’ll feel bad after those experiences.

That’s your entire existence emotionally, in a nutshell.

Reality vs. what you thought would happen.

Do we want to be negative and cynical, and occasionally be pleasantly surprised?

Do we want to be positive and optimistic, and often be disappointed?

I don’t know what the answer is, nor do I think there’s much you can do about it. You’re you. And no matter what that looks, sounds, and feels like, you should embrace being yourself, because no one else gets to.

Try your best. KNOW you will mess up. KNOW other people will mess up even if they hide it really well.

Be uncomfortably honest with yourself, because maybe after you practice that enough, it won’t feel hard anymore.

Because now we have to talk about something uncomfortable.

It’s not an easy conversation to have because your brain and body are likely to revolt. You won’t want to believe it, even though it’s true.

The truth is often more difficult to deal with than things we imagined to be better or easier than they really are.

It’s up to you to decide whether operating in a world where you know the truth—even if it’s more difficult—is a better choice than operating in blissful ignorance and maybe feeling a little better in the short term.

If you’re up for it—if you’re brave enough—the idea (I might even call it a secret) I’m about to share WILL absolutely give you and your future spouse the ability to have a long and beautiful marriage.

It might not look and feel like the fairy-tale ending you’ve imagined or dreamed of.

But it can be Happily Ever After.

And Happily Ever After is definitely worth fighting for.

Almost Everything You Think You Know About Romance and Attraction is a Lie

Have you ever had the power go out for several hours at home, and suddenly you become hyper-aware of just how much you use electricity in your daily life and just how much you take it for granted?

Because you can’t stream Netflix or get a Wi-Fi signal or charge your phone or any of a million other things that can only be accomplished when our lights are on and our power outlets function?

EVERYTHING in your life is like this, and you don’t think about it, and it’s not your fault, so please don’t feel bad about it.

We are blind to the totally obvious. Dangerously blind. Kind of like how fish—even magical intelligent ones—could spend their entire lives swimming in water without ever knowing what water is.

I submit that two things you have done more times than anything else in your entire life are blinking your eyes and breathing air.

And you almost never think about doing it. Things on autopilot escape our notice, and it’s not because you’re a bad person. It’s a fundamental component of having a human brain.

This Phenomenon is called Hedonic Adaptation and it Will Help You So Much if You’re Aware of It

Hedonic adaptation, in its most basic form, is the process your brain goes through while it normalizes changes in your life.

So you move to a new town and school and it’s crazy and strange at first, but then eventually it’s your new normal. And going back to your old life in your old town and your old school would now seem crazy and strange.

This is a good thing in a lot of ways.

Most commonly, hedonic adaptation is referenced in regards to POSITIVE life changes.

So, you get a brand-new Xbox, or a new pair of shoes, or an awesome new phone, and it’s the freaking best for a few weeks. You feel a little bonus jolt of excitement every time you look at them or use them.

But then, what happens? Not sometimes. But, EVERY time?

One day at a time, your brain normalizes this new, awesome thing, until it becomes just like all the other stuff you have. Something you barely notice, like your working light switches. Something you eventually throw out or trade in for an upgraded model.

Hedonic adaptation serves a valuable purpose in nature. If humans didn’t care about making things better, or improving one’s circumstances, we’d all just quit trying things or working hard as soon as the first good thing happened.

Can you imagine what would have happened if the cavemen and women had made fire for the first time, realized how amazing cooked food and not freezing to death is, and then just stopped trying to do anything else?

Our life expectancy would still be like 12 years, we wouldn’t have rad tunes to listen to, and I wouldn’t get to spam you with preachy articles on the internet that your cooler-than-you-realize mom probably sent to you.

So, yay hedonic adaptation! You help us to not rest on our laurels, and actually try to achieve things in life!

Of course, like pretty much every life scenario, there’s a tradeoff. A really uncomfortable one.

How Hedonic Adaptation Ruins Marriage

Every Disney princess movie or romantic comedy you’ve watched, or every poorly conceived love story masquerading as an edgy BDSM sex story you’ve ever seen have contributed somehow to the way your brain imagines an ideal relationship to be.

It DOES feel good when the two people on screen or on page finally get together in the end after overcoming whatever obstacles they had to overcome to get there. It tugs at our heartstrings and shit, and then we buy more stuff or convince our friends to.

It’s easy to WANT to feel that very-good feeling we imagine the two fictional characters to be feeling. We dream about it and then feel all the feels. And then, thoughtfully or somewhat mindlessly, pursue that feeling.

We get crushes. Some people like us back. Some don’t. We go out together. Some of those turn into dating relationships. Some don’t. Some of those dating relationships turn into marriage.

And then, EVERY marriage doesn’t look anything like the Disney princess or Boy-Meets-Girl movies that made you feel so good.

You meet. It feels very exciting.

You touch. It’s great.

You kiss. It’s amazing.

And then eventually, when it feels safe and appropriate, maybe some other things will happen. Super-delightful under the proper circumstances (which vary from person to person for a multitude of valid reasons).

It’s so good when it’s good. The love thing.

People use phrases like “falling in love.” Like it’s this powerful force that sweeps you away against your will. And it makes sense. If you’ve ever even had a crush on someone, you know exactly how insane we can be. Staying up for hours thinking about them. Getting full-body tense before walking into a classroom where we know they’re going to be. Telling our best friend, just so you have some kind of outlet for the pent-up madness.

It’s wild, right?

But then what happens?

Months, weeks, maybe even just days later, those feelings are gone, and you’re now projecting them onto someone new—either because something bullshitty happened with the first one, or because something happened that switched your focus to the new one.

It’s different in marriage, because much of the fickleness goes away.

When you’re 14, how pretty or handsome someone looks to you might be enough to earn your crush.

When you’re 24, you’ve now had enough experiences with “attractive” people to realize that who people are—in their minds and hearts—is infinitely more important than how they look. Physical attraction eventually boils down to a simple pass-or-fail test. Would you or wouldn’t you get naked with that person based on their looks?

Anyone who passes that test goes into your Yes bucket, and then all of the things that really matter like Character, Personality, Shared Interests, Values, etc. separate the people you want to date and marry from the people you don’t.

And then you hit it off with someone, and now you’re together. You’re a committed couple.

Weeks and months pass.

You both wonder: Is she/he the one? Are we going to get married?

There’s love there.

There’s loyalty there.

There’s mutual attraction.

Maybe you argue a little sometimes, but mostly it feels easy. If it didn’t, you’d have already broken up.

We can do this, you think.

After a year or two or three or four together, you have every confidence you can just keep doing what you’re doing. I can’t believe so many people get divorced! It’s almost like we’re married right now, and everything’s fine! I’ll never cheat. They’ll never cheat. We don’t have any addiction or abuse problems. We’re going to live Happily Ever After!

Statistically, people spend more than $6,000 on engagement rings, and more than $30,000 on weddings.

In my experience, most people invite their closest family members and friends to celebrate this big day with them.

They’ve thought about it, and they’re ready to spend the rest of their lives together. They’re willing to spend more money than they have on a huge party to commemorate the occasion. To demonstrate just how serious they are, they’re going to exchange sacred vows in front of everyone they know.

You know what happens next, right?

More than half of those people within 10 years will be divorced, having affairs, or wishing they were doing one or both of those things.

Facts.

Difficult ones.

And there are many, many, many reasons why this happens.

But one of the reasons it begins is because of hedonic adaptation.

You Won’t Want to Believe it Because the Truth Hurts

I know.

I’m sorry.

I swear on everything that is good and beautiful in this life and world that I take no pleasure in writing this. It’s just as hard to type as it was to learn.

Because you’re a person, as is the person you love and trust and promised the rest of your life to (and who did the same for you in return), BOTH of you will take one another for granted (like you do with working electricity in your home), and BOTH of you will get a little bored with one another (like when you stop wanting to play your old Xbox or wear your old shoes, even though they were the absolute best when you first got them).

It’s common for people to spaz over this idea a little and say it’s inappropriate to compare material devices to human beings.

Damn right it’s inappropriate.

It’s bullshit.

But WE DO IT ANYWAY, and we do it with very little awareness that we’re doing it.

We do it even when we genuinely love them more than we love anyone or anything else.

It’s normal for people to be nicer to strangers than they are to the people they love the most like their parents, or siblings, or spouses, or even their own children.

It happens all of the time.

Hedonic adaptation.

Blinded by the All The Time.

Blinded by the constant.

Blinded by the totally obvious.

But then the lights stop working and you notice.

But then you’re out at a restaurant with your wife who you haven’t complimented on how nice her hair looks, or how good her shoes look with her outfit. And you see her eyes and face light up when the handsome waiter pays extra attention to her and treats her just like you did on your first date.

And what do you know? You notice.

I don’t care how much love there is.

I don’t care how objectively beautiful you both are.

I don’t care whether you would win the Super Hot Sex Olympics over every other human couple in history.

YOU WILL GET BORED WITH ONE ANOTHER A LITTLE BIT.

You just will, and I’m sorry.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t soulmates or whatever. There’s no reason to freak out about it. It doesn’t mean you weren’t “meant for each other.”

It just means you’re two human beings with brains that work EXACTLY as brains are supposed to work, and a bunch of time has passed.

WTF. Does That Mean I’m Always Going to Desire Novelty or That My Spouse Will Always Find Other People Attractive?

Probably. Sorry.

And now I want you to consider whether signing up for a long life of potentially “boring” routineness with one person is the choice you really want to make.

After all, you can stay single and keep chasing those exciting new experiences if you want. It’s an option. I think it’s worth considering what your life might look like when you’re your parents’ or grandparents’ age if you make that choice, but at least you’ll “solve” the boredom problem.

If you’re like me, you grew up around people who mostly got married and had kids, and you think the positives of that are worth the risk of some boredom along the way.

I totally agree with you.

Family gatherings, holding your own children and watching them grow up, and having an adult living with you who you trust and love and enjoy being with is pretty amazing.

That’s why it hurt so much when my wife took off her wedding ring and moved out the next day with our 4-year-old in the backseat.

I just stood in the kitchen crying as hard as I can ever remember crying, and then I threw up in the bathroom, and then I tried to watch Netflix, but I couldn’t even do something as simple as watch TV.

And you know what I think?

I think that if someone had taught me about hedonic adaptation when I was younger and warned me of the dangers of taking the most precious things in my life for granted, that maybe I could have done a better job every day between our wedding day and the day she took her ring off nine years later. Just a bunch of little things. Nothing major. But a bunch of little things that would have prevented the most major thing I’ve ever been through from happening.

Crap. That Sounds Awful. What Can We Do About It?

DO NOT GET MARRIED UNTIL YOU’VE EXPERIENCED AND CONQUERED THE BOREDOM AND ROUTINE.

Just don’t.

I honestly think half of divorces are just people who had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

But if you’re aware—if you KNOW that this is what’s going to happen—then you won’t have any weird surprises later when you don’t feel that same excitement and attraction that you did when you first met your spouse.

If you believe THAT is a signal that your marriage is broken, or that your spouse sucks, then you have a real problem on your hands, because THAT WILL NEVER STOP HAPPENING.

So, people get bored with their marriage, right? And then they maybe have an affair or get a divorce and marry someone else.

You know what happens?

They totally get bored with their new sex partner or with their new “upgrade” marriage, and then the EXACT same problems repeat themselves.

Some people get married three or four times, and you might be like What the shit?! How can you get it wrong that many times?

They’re not really getting it wrong.

They’re just lacking the right information. When something good begins to feel bad, it makes sense for people to interpret that as if something’s wrong or broken. It makes sense for people to not deal with wrong and broken things and live a life where things are right and functioning as they should.

For people—people like you—who know the truth, you have two choices, and I won’t judge you for either.

1. Stay Single – It really is an option. If I thought mountains of celibacy and spending my twilight years sad and alone was an attractive proposition, I would for-sure choose it.

2. Get Married with the Appropriate Mindset that Will Help You SucceedBut what’s the appropriate mindset?

I’m so glad you asked.

Happily Ever After Occurs When You Both Choose it Everyday

Sounds too simple, doesn’t it?

It IS simple.

But it’s not easy. It’s hard for people to do which is why there’s so many divorced and miserable people, and I do not want you to be one of them.

It’s really hard. But you can do hard things. You really can.

And the trick is simple enough.

1. You understand that no matter who you were dating or married to that you would ALWAYS feel some of those naturally occurring attraction and lusty feelings go away over time. You exercise wisdom and knowledge to not go foolishly chase the next good time only to realize they’re just going to come out with another new iPhone someday making the one that’s out now old and boring just like the one you’re holding.

2. You understand that there’s no such thing as soulmates or perfect people. That relationships don’t happen magically. They happen intentionally.

3. You understand that FEELINGS change. All the time. Like when you said you loved that one kid back in high school, but then you’ve loved like five other people since, and you kind of feel like a dumbass for saying it a few of those times. FEELINGS are important, but they’re also super-fickle. You can’t forget this. If humans simply did what they FELT like all of the time, society would break down because no one would go to work and pay bills, and everyone would be super-murdery to people in traffic jams and shopping malls, and in work meetings. I think we can all agree that’s not a very good idea. We can’t and shouldn’t do what we FEEL every second of our lives.

4. You keep your promises. Again, not easy, but totally simple. You might not always feel that same level of excitement or sexual desire or physical attraction. You might not laugh at their jokes quite as hard or be quite as impressed by their life accomplishments. The years have passed and these things have become routine. They’ve become ALL THE TIME. Like your electricity. Like the water the fish never notice. So you stay together on purpose. You manufacture the love. You don’t wonder where it ran off to. You MAKE it. Create it. You have to. It’s the only way it works out.

This isn’t always feel-good work.

Two people just got home from crappy days at work, and now the 2-year-old is rubbing a yogurt stick all over the TV screen, and the 8-year-old is whining about how hungry he is, and somebody needs to cook dinner and walk the dog, and do laundry and pack a school lunch for tomorrow.

You’re not going to FEEL like giving your partner a nice six-second hug. (SIX seconds. Don’t cheat.)

But you’re going to do it anyway.

You’re not going to get all those good vibrations in your nether regions after two kids and a busy, stressful daily routine. Nothing either of you are doing is triggering sexy-time feelings in one another, and even if you were, you might not feel like there’s adequate time or energy.

But you’re not going to neglect your partner like a thoughtless sock-sniffer. You’re NOT.

You’re going to—even if it means setting reminders on your phone calendar, or writing little reminder notes for yourself—spend your days and weeks and months INTENTIONALLY doing and saying kind things to and about your spouse, and doing kind and thoughtful things for them.

You’re going to send little I-love-you texts, or maybe even surprise them with some naughty flirty ones.

You’re going to sit still and invest your whole mind and heart into the conversations they want to have with you, NOT because they interest you—you’ll probably be “bored” out of your mind; that’s not why you’re doing it—but because THAT will help a person feel loved. Feel respected. Feel cherished. Feel important.

You are going to CHOOSE to love every day so that the person you promised forever to never feels like they can’t trust you to love them and be their partner.

You’re going to choose it, because you won’t always FEEL like it.

You’re going to choose it, because that’s your ticket to Happily Ever After.

It won’t look or feel like it does in the movies you see or the books that you read. Those are made-up. Those are fairytales that don’t have any shitty work commutes and screaming children or post-partum depression written into the scripts.

In real life, things are hard. But again, we can do hard things.

Love isn’t just something you feel. Feelings come and go.

Love is a choice. It’s a choice you make today and tomorrow and next week and 30 years from now.

You start on Day 1 and you never stop.

There won’t be chariots and amazing ballroom gowns and kick-ass fireworks displays while you make out right before the movie credits roll.

It will be more boring than that.

But it will be real. It will be truth.

It won’t be exciting, but it will be good.

And all you have to do is choose it.

Not once.

Always.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 4

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The Real Reason Why Women Leave Men

David vs. Goliath

(Image/Flickr User upside of inertia, via CC)

“Hey Matt! You’re a big, stupid idiot!

“How far do you want us to bend over backward to excuse women’s poor behavior?! We shouldn’t have to pretend it’s okay for them to act this way. What are you, some kind of feminist? You hold men to this high standard, but not women! This is why everything women do is fine, but men will always be the bad guys with you, you sackless loser.”

Signed, A Thousand Male Readers Who Think I’m an Asshole

Listen, guys.

I used to be you, so I very much understand where you’re coming from. I also used to be married, and now I’m not BECAUSE of just how much I used to be you.

We’re pretty sure we’re not crazy, so when our wives or girlfriends say or react to something that challenges our brain’s parameters for Normal Human Response, we conclude that something must be seriously wrong with them.

If you’re anything like me, it scares you. Bat-shit crazy is terrifying. Especially when you love them. You want to help, right? You want to help them think correctly and believe all of the true and wise things you believe, so that these weird and seemingly unnecessary arguments stop happening. I remember. I thought and felt those same things.

I was missing one critical piece of the puzzle, though. Unfortunately, that piece of the puzzle represented 80 percent of the actual image, so I was never entirely sure of what I was looking at and now, through the prism of hindsight, I understand that I’d spent my entire marriage guessing incorrectly.

This elusive puzzle piece that I was missing is absent in MOST marriages. I believe 100% that it is the greatest contributor to divorce and relationship break-ups everywhere.

I tried to share this magical, relationship-saving puzzle piece many times before.

In a story about colorblindness.

In a story about dishes.

In a story about painful second-degree burns.

And I’ve even shared this exact one in radio interviews and article comments.

I hope it makes sense this time more than all of the other times, because this life-saving truth is evasive.

This truth hides from you in plain sight. This truth is uncomfortable because it requires that we trust other people more than we trust ourselves, and we are understandably afraid of doing that. This truth is uncomfortable because it shatters our very perception of reality.

Other people hurt us. Other people don’t always have our best interests at heart. Others are more difficult to trust than our own eyes and ears.

I know what I saw.

I know what I heard.

I know what I felt.

Everyone feels that way. And since everyone is in constant disagreement with someone about SOMETHING, we can safely conclude that at least some percentage of us are getting it wrong.

No matter how sure we feel, we pretty much never KNOW things.

If you are so certain of what you saw, heard and felt that you argue with someone sharing a different account, then I have bad news: You are probably going to get divorced.

It really sucks, so I hope you don’t.

I’ll make you a promise, right here, right now.

If you’ll bravely open your mind and heart to honestly consider whether what I’m about to share might actually be the difference between you having a healthy, lasting marriage and wonderful family life vs. a depressing, shitty divorce that negatively impacts your kids and strains all of your family and social relationships; you might just find a bit of magic to transform your entire world and the lives of your partner and kids.

Because THIS is it.

This is everything.

The Simple Secret That Could Save Your Marriage

Most people are familiar with the bible story of David and Goliath. It’s frequently used to characterize any underdog scenario in life where an individual or competitive sports team might be facing seemingly insurmountable odds.

With apologies to Old Testament writer Samuel, I’m going to share three versus from the famous David-and-Goliath story, but I’m going to replace ONE word three times, because doing so might save your marriage, and I’m pretty sure Samuel would want that.

48As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a cotton ball, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The cotton ball sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a cotton ball; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

Holy shit!

Did you just see that, guys?!

Little shepherd boy David just smoked that giant Murdery Hagrid-looking sonofabitch right in the forehead with a small piece of balled-up cotton fibers and dropped him like third-period French!

Wait.

That’s a bunch of crap, right? Bollocks? Nonsense? Stupid? Impossible?

This is where I need you to take the leap of faith. Please.

You guys ever see a movie or read a book where the story’s protagonist knows something really important and tries to tell everyone about it, but no one believes her or him, until something horrible happens later and everyone goes “Ohhh. Holy shit. Voldemort REALLY is alive, terrorists REALLY have taken control of Nakatomi Plaza, Freddy Kruger REALLY is murdering teens in their dreams, future murder bots called Terminators REALLY are travelling through time to try and kill various members of the Connor family! I should have believed them! Now I feel like a huge dick!”?

This moment, right now, is EXACTLY like those moments.

You’re being the huge dick who isn’t believing the person who really needs you to and who also happens to be the person who loves you, trusts you, and gives you more than anyone else in your life.

Sometimes, you see a cotton ball hurling through the air and bouncing softly off of someone else—usually your wife or girlfriend—which is then followed by them freaking out as if that harmless cotton ball actually hurt them.

What a bunch of drama-queen psychos.

We get so focused on their whiny bullshit over that cotton ball hitting them, that what they’re actually saying hardly registers with us.

We are concerned with their ability to process information within the framework of reality, right? How scary is it to live with a person who literally can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not?

And the secret—the one that can change your entire relationship and worldview is this: While you are seeing and feeling a cotton ball in your hand and hurling through the air, it’s not only possible, but likely, that your spouse or romantic partner is seeing and feeling a stone. Not a pebble. Not a tiny speck of gravel. A substantial, hard, shitty, ­­don’t you dare throw that at me, you prick kind-of stone like the one David slayed the giant with in the bible story.

You Might Not Believe Me Yet, But You Should

What’s more likely?

That every romantic partner you’ve ever met or heard of is clinically insane or mentally incompetent, OR that both of you, despite living through the same moment, are experiencing it much differently than one another?

Here’s the part that ruins everything.

It MAKES SENSE for BOTH people to think, feel, say, and do what they do after a disagreement in which one person is getting pelted by stones by their asshole partner, but loves them and is trying to communicate that they need help from them; but the OTHER person is defending themselves like “OMG. Cotton balls! They were just cotton balls! Calm down, please. Why are you acting like a psycho?”

Do you recognize the danger?

Two good people, trying their best, both reacting TOTALLY NORMALLY to the events they’re experiencing.

It’s not always gender-specific, but so often it’s the men feeling under attack for something they’re being accused of doing or neglecting.

These guys’ wives and girlfriends are like: “Why would you hurl stones at me?! What is wrong with you? Don’t you love me?”

“I didn’t throw stones at you.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Umm, no I didn’t Kathy Bates in ‘Misery.’ How about we put down the sledgehammer and take a stress tab or something?”

“You’re not listening to me! Why would you want to hurt me? Stones hurt!”

“I didn’t throw stones at you. I threw cotton balls at you, and now you’re acting like a baby about it.”

“You’re such an asshole. Are you, or are you not going to stop hitting me with stones?”

“Since that ISN’T what happened—cotton balls; they were COTTON BALLS—I’m probably not going to stop. Cotton balls don’t hurt people. They’re soft and light, and bounce harmlessly to the floor, so please stop trying to turn this into something it’s not.”

“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me. I don’t even know who you are anymore.”

Maybe there are tears. Maybe there is fear.

Maybe then, his defensive anger melts and his protective instincts kick in.

He runs to her rescue. She sucks when she’s mad, but nothing gets to him quite like when she’s sad.

“I’m so sorry, baby. I would never, ever, ever do anything to hurt you. Never. I’m really sorry. Everything’s going to be okay.”

You have a finite number of those moments, husbands and boyfriends (or whoever).

It feels like you’re having The Same Fight over and over and over again. It becomes routine. You get used to it. Because you get used to it, you don’t think it matters.

But it matters.

Because every time you have that conversation, she is becoming more and more convinced that you’re going to keep throwing stones at her. She’s going to keep getting hurt.

So, now she can’t trust you.

She concludes that you’re either doing it on purpose, or that you care so little about her, that you’re unwilling to help her not feel pelted by stones anymore. Has to be one of those two, right?

AND IT MAKES SENSE THAT SHE WOULD FEEL THAT WAY.

It does.

Stop throwing rocks at me, dick. I don’t care what you’re calling them. It hurts and I’ve told you this a million times, and you haven’t stopped, so I’m out. You’re mean, dumb or both, and I can’t trust you to be my partner. I can’t trust the rest of my life to you.

AND IT MAKES SENSE THAT YOU THINK ALL OF IT IS BAT-SHIT CRAZY TOWN DOT COM.

Because, after all. They were just cotton balls.

Just some little, harmless cotton balls that have never, and will never, hurt anyone.

God, she’s crazy.

I believe that if we can help more people understand that the various realities people experience aren’t identical—that one person can see and feel cotton balls, and that another person can see and feel stones—and that based on that fact, it MAKES SENSE for everyone to behave as they are, then people can accommodate for that in their communication with one another.

They’ll be able to meet each other halfway.

“Oh man. I had no idea, babe. Can you understand how crazy it seemed when you were freaking out about the cotton balls? Obviously, I would NEVER throw a rock at you. I would never try to hurt you on purpose. Ever. In fact, it hurts when you tell me otherwise. You’ve been feeling pummeled by stones this entire time! I’ve been hit by stones. That shit totally hurts. I get it, and again, I am so so so sorry, and I swear, if you just tell me moving forward that it’s another situation where even though it appears harmless to me, it’s physically harming you, I’ll understand what you mean, and we’ll be able to get through it without accidentally destroying each other.”

About 70 percent of divorces are initiated by women. Thousands, every day.

And for most of them, THIS is why they’re leaving. This cotton ball-stone thing.

All that you see, touch, taste, hear feels as concrete and tangible as anything else in our lives. Of course we’re going to default to trusting our first-person experiences.

It’s monumentally difficult to doubt our own interpretations enough to trust others’ conflicting accounts of what happened, especially when it makes us out to be assholes.

But, if you can muster the courage, the trust—the faith—to believe your partner when she or he tells you about something that doesn’t jibe with your perception of reality—I think you’ll discover that giant missing piece of the puzzle I referenced earlier.

The one that completes the picture and helps you see things as they really are.

It’s the piece that says Happily Ever After on it.

And it’s the story ending you and your family deserve.

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I Do Not Care About That But I Do Care About You

don't care

(Image/The Mind Unleashed)

Author’s Note: A very special thanks to the author of “The Secret Blind”, whose post with this very same title inspired this one. The headline so perfectly encapsulates the message I’ve repeatedly, and in multiple ways, attempted to share here. It is my greatest failure as both a husband and human being. My failure to treat things with care simply because they hold so much value for other people, even if they do not for me personally.

My wife enjoyed marching band performances, snow skiing, and white wines.

I like those things much less.

I generally preferred watching the live sports where marching bands often played, and thought of their performances mostly as a sideshow at best, and distraction at worst. I don’t like doing much of anything in snow. And if I’m drinking wine, I’m choosing a dry-ish red more than nine times out of 10.

There are no limits to the list I could produce illustrating differences between how my wife chose to do things, or her personal preferences; versus how I chose to do things, and my personal preferences.

We had many surface-level differences.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that we OFTEN did not care about the same things.

You know, like that dish sitting by the sink.

Or how I would be emotionally affected by the outcome of a football, basketball or baseball game I was watching, and the result—good or bad for my favorite teams—wouldn’t faze her either way.

There was a list of Things My Wife Cared About.

And then there was a separate list of Things I Cared About.

The lists were quite different.

I think it’s TOTALLY NORMAL and INSTINCTUAL, frankly, for human beings to react with passion and interest to events or subject matter that live on their Things I Care About lists.

And I think it’s also totally normal and instinctual to lack interest in any subject matter or event NOT on that list.

Most of the time, this is a non-issue.

When readers pick up The New York Times, some of them will go straight to the Sports page while others go to Business news, or Classifieds, or the Opinion page.

Businesses and entertainers have been catering to diverse audiences since the dawn of commerce. None of this seems weird to anyone.

And that’s why it can be so shocking later in life when your spouse’s or romantic partner’s total disinterest in the things that matter to you can be the thing that stress-fractures your previously amazing relationship, and slowly but surely chips away at its structural integrity until it splits in two or totally levels it in a fiery explosion.

How can these TOTALLY NORMAL and COMMONLY OCCURRING personality differences or differing points of view be THE thing that is causing us to fall apart? How did this happen?

These are the questions some of us are left asking ourselves after our spouses move out, and we’re crying in the kitchen, and we miss our kids, and no amount of alcohol can make the hurt stop.

Two people gave varying degrees of shit about several things, just as ANY two people in human history would. And THAT somehow ended the most cherished and important human relationship they’ve ever had.

Damn.

Competing interests can cause nations or groups of varying ideologists to go to war.

Competing interests can cause supporters of opposing sports teams to treat one another like assholes.

And competing interests can cause two people who vowed to love one another for their entire lives to go back on that promise—and JUSTIFY doing so because it feels like their spouse broke that same promise first.

Maybe It’s Not As Hard As We Think

Teed-up That’s what she said jokes aside, maybe it’s true, even though I’m pretty much in a constant state of Sucking at This.

Maybe we do sometimes over-complicate divorce. Maybe we overthink it. Maybe we overestimate the problem facing us societally, or within our own relationships.

Maybe—just maybe—when we take the time to invest our energy in the stuff on the Things My Wife/Husband Cares About lists (not because we naturally care about those things, but because we mindfully care about our loved ones), those existing stress-fractures can heal.

Maybe when we’re focused on investing in the Things [Insert ANY Person We Value] Cares About list, people won’t drift apart, or feel abandoned, or disrespected, or neglected, or unloved, or underappreciated, or any of the countless other emotions we all feel from time-to-time (even though the people who love us would NEVER intentionally try to make us feel that way).

Our habits and naturally occurring instincts are NOT bad. We’re not wrong or broken or evil for responding in the moment in whatever way is most authentic.

HOWEVER, after vowing a lifetime of love, service and partnership to another, and should it turn out that our habits and naturally occurring instincts cause painful stress-fractures and emotional suffering in their hearts and minds, do we not owe them the daily effort to avoid behaviors that they tell us are hurting them, and invest in behaviors that actually foster good?

I didn’t give even the slightest iota of a shit about some of the things my ex-wife loved and valued.

That’s okay.

But then I actually behaved in ways that communicated how little I valued and respected those things that she cared about.

And THAT response hurt—HURT—her. A little at first. Then more. Then every day was a grind and something to dread, and then she eventually stopped wanting to keep doing that.

How long would our relationships last if, from Day 1, we said things like “Hahaha, that’s so stupid! Everything you like sucks, and all of your opinions are bullshit. You must be dumb like your parents and all of your dumb friends.”

I think, even when we don’t speak—or even think and feel—those words, our actions SAY them when we are constantly dismissive of and inattentive to the Things My Wife/Husband Cares About lists.

You probably don’t think everything on those lists is particularly interesting. Just like if you prefer chocolate ice cream while she/he prefers vanilla.

We all like different things. Seems harmless enough.

But THIS is the thing that’s breaking us.

You don’t care about something, and that’s okay. It would be inauthentic and bullshitty to start faking it now.

BUT.

What if you cared simply because THEY did?

And what if, instead of throwing empty words at them, we actually acted like it?

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7 Relationship Questions People Are Secretly Asking (and Maybe a Few Answers)

fountain of knowledge headwaters at Texas Tech - image-pinterest

Headwaters fountain at Texas Tech University. (Image/Pinterest)

Thousands of people find Must Be This Tall To Ride articles every day because of questions they asked the internet. I just conducted a semi-thorough inspection of the questions and keywords people typed into search engines to find articles here.

If you want to know what’s in someone’s heart, you need only know what questions they ask in privacy, or when no one’s watching.

These are the big questions that a lot of people are most often asking about their marriages and dating relationships.

1. Why is my husband an asshole?

This is the No. 1 question driving internet traffic to this website, and has been since 2013.

Those people usually end up here.

Variations:Why is my husband mean to me and nice to everyone else? Why is my husband such a jerk? Why is my husband such a piece of shit? Why isn’t my husband nice? Why is my husband an arsehole? Why is my husband an idiot? And of course, there are variations including the f-word being used as an adjective for most of these.

Answer: He might not be an asshole!

He might just suck royally at being married because he never learned how, and being married to someone who sucks at it feels exactly the same as someone being an asshole to you.

The most wonderful, charming, handsome, intelligent man in the world might still make for a VERY BAD choice to pilot your aircraft if he’s never had formal aviation training. We train pilots before giving them a pilot’s license. They learn about critical pre-flight checks and have extensive training on what to do during various trouble or emergency scenarios.

The brilliant and awesome guy isn’t an asshole just because he’s a crappy pilot during your first flight together. He’s literally not armed with the proper tools, skills, nor experience to be a good pilot.

The same is true of being a husband.

There are proper tools, skills and experiences that prepare men effectively for marriage. Only the smallest percentage of young men are exposed to and given those tools and skills in their youth to prepare them properly.

Or, maybe you actually did marry a huge asshole.

Sorry.

That was a poorly conceived long-term strategy, but we all make mistakes. Me, especially. This is preventable, and we’ll go over how in just a minute.

2. Why does my wife hate me?

Variations:What to do when your wife hates you. How do you hurt your wife emotionally? (Which I’m generously interpreting as concerned husbands seeking insight on behalf of their wives, and NOT a bunch of psychos plotting emotional abuse with Google research.)

Answer: Because she thinks you’re an asshole, regardless of how true that is.

She probably grew up with a mom and dad who fiercely loved and protected her, and she spent ages 12 through yesterday shooing away men who were trying to sleep with her. And after a LIFETIME of saying no to a bunch of suitors, and not believing anyone was good enough to replace her parents as the most-trusted people in her life, she finally chose YOU.

And whether it’s because you’re an abusive prick who is intentionally cruel to her OR because you’re a good guy completely in the dark about why she’s upset with you, her genuine reality and everyday experiences have her convinced that you are deliberately hurting her.

The guy she chose over dad and mom. The guy she shares a home and bed and bank account with. The guy she chose to be her children’s father. THAT motherfucker is literally her biggest threat and adversary every day of her life.

And then! On top of that, when she asks for your help, or tries to explain what she’s experiencing, she’s told what an overreacting, crazy, ungrateful, incorrect dumbass she is for making these wild accusations and having such poor emotional calibration.

Face it. You frequently choose other things over your wife and kids. She notices.

So. You’re either both evil or insane. Or, just maybe, you’re both actually really good people trying your best and are simply missing key pieces of information (like a marriage cypher) that would grant you the ability to talk to one another in ways that bring a greater sense of understanding and closeness, rather than perpetuating The Same Fight over and over and over again.

What do you do about it?

You love. Actively. Inconveniently. Even when you don’t feel like it. You choose to love even when it’s hard and not feeling reciprocated.

Will that save a marriage? Sometimes it will. Othertimes, things are broken beyond repair, and everything ends with lots of tears, depression, bad life decisions, and excessive alcohol use.

But you love anyway. No matter what. Because you promised you would.

And keeping your promises changes everything.

3. How do I deal with my asshole husband?

Variation:What to do when your husband says hurtful things?

Answer: First, let’s acknowledge that he might not actually be an asshole. Things aren’t always what they seem. Second, if he IS an asshole, you probably have some culpability in the decision to choose him out of the 3.5+ billion males roaming the earth.

If you’re still not married—Phew! There’s still time. That was a close one. Here’s how to know whether you should marry him.

The things one should do to prevent marrying an asshole in the first place tend to be the same things one should do to ANYONE who would treat you poorly.

4. How do I tell my husband I love him in a letter?

  • Step 1: Grab a pen and a piece of paper.
  • Step 2: Write “I love you.”
  • Step 3: Hand that piece of paper to husband.

Unsolicited advice: Writing a Letter to Your Husband Won’t Save Your Life or Marriage.

5. How do I lose my virginity?

God. Get your shit together teenagers (or all you I.T. guys who work in my building who are clearly eating too many Hot Pockets).

Variations:How do I make a sex potion? How to seduce your wife.

Answer: I’m not going to give you the answer you’re looking for, but I am going to give you the answer that will help you have an excellent, healthy and active sex life in the context of a monogamous relationship.

  1. This is how you brew magic sex potion.
  2. This is how to seduce your wife.

You’re welcome.

6. Why does my husband expect me to do all of the work around the house just because I don’t have a job?

Answer: This usually falls squarely within the He Doesn’t Currently Have the Tools Required to be a Good Husband department. It’s theoretically possible that I would agree with him (if he works two jobs, or 70-hour weeks and you don’t have children or classwork or any other daily life responsibilities, for example).

There’s no right or wrong way that works for everyone in terms the division of labor split. Everyone’s “fair” or “effective” will look and feel different.

But if one person feels strongly that there’s a disparity and that they’re carrying too heavy a burden, it doesn’t even matter how true or untrue it is. Your marriage will eventually fail, because all people fall when they no longer have the strength to carry things.

More than likely, your husband is an Accidental Sexist like I used to be. He grew up seeing dads, grandpas, uncles and big brothers going to work, and watching moms, grandmas, aunts and sisters changing diapers, cooking meals, washing clothes and dishes.

He grew up talking football and drinking beer with his buddies.

He experienced women drinking a lot of wine coolers, talking about clothes and reality TV, and reading bridal magazines.

That arrangement is “normal” to him. That is “the right way” to do things. It’s all he knows.

Don’t worry. He’ll either get his shit together once he gets help figuring it out, or he’ll figure it out while trying to do everything himself when he’s single again.

I work a lot at a job and they compensate me reasonably well for my time.

At home, I’m the only adult to do laundry, grocery shop, vacuum, dust, mow grass, take out the trash, manage the mail, and keep a calendar so I’m always on top of upcoming events for me and/or my young son.

My job is FUN compared to all of that shitty work at home.

I don’t always do it because I don’t want to. And that works when you’re a divorced single guy.

That will get you divorced when you’re married.

7. Is marriage counseling bullshit?

Answer: The way you’re using it? Probably.

Let me guess: Your marriage has turned to absolute shit and you can’t really explain how or why. One or both of you had an affair, or secretly wish you were. And now one of you is thinking about paying someone $300 an hour so that your spouse can unleash a laundry list of complaints about you and your relationship to a complete stranger, and have that person AGREE with them.

Sounds awesome. How do you think that’s going to end?

Marriage counseling is NOT bullshit in its purest form.

It’s only bullshit the way most people try to use it as a magical marriage-fixer after having spent the past several years accidentally destroying it and each other.

I believe people who use marriage counseling as a crutch for receiving validation in an attempt to convince their partner that they actually are the asshole they’ve been accusing them of being all along, that their marriages will fail.

I believe people who go to marriage counseling expecting the other person to accept blame and suddenly change their behavior will be both disappointed and divorced at the end of the process.

I believe marriage counseling can save a marriage only when a human being enters it seeking answers to the following questions: What are the things I’ve done—perhaps unknowingly—that have contributed to our shitty, failing marriage? What can I better understand or actively do to be a great spouse? What are the things I can do to make my partner feel loved, wanted, and safe in our marriage so that they WANT to be my spouse?

The Blamers and What’s-In-It-For-Me? people tend to eat mountains of shit.

The genuinely humble people willing to learn what things they don’t know tend to eat mountains of shit too, but THOSE people at least have a fighting chance to save their marriage or have a happy and healthy relationship later in life.

The blamers and me-first people are doomed to a life of repeating their relationship failures over and over again.

But maybe there’s another way.

Just like people consult doctors, pastors, nutritionists, personal trainers, coaches, teachers, etc. for guidance and advice, maybe people can start going to marriage counseling BEFORE marriage. And during the first few months and years of the relationship. Maybe they can always go.

Two happy people who love one another, seeking answers together for how to make life better for their partner.

Can you imagine it?

The closeness and gratitude that would foster?

The fuckness and anger that would prevent?

As a single, divorced father now five years after it all fell apart—I can.

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Broken Promises Ended My Marriage—Can Keeping Them Save Yours?

broken glass

(Image/Crosswalk.com)

I break promises.

I break promises, and then other people sometimes feel let down or betrayed, and then maybe I never talk to them again.

Break enough promises and maybe your entire life breaks.

Maybe you lose a wife. Maybe you lose friends. Maybe you lose touch with your family.

Just maybe, if you break too many promises, you lose your children.

I am divorced because I broke promises. I lost half of my son’s childhood because I broke promises.

I’ve known for a long time that I break promises, even though I remember feeling like a reliable person in my youth. I remember feeling as if I was someone others could count on.

I remember being someone people could trust.

But when enough time passes and enough instances pile up of us not doing something we said we would, a new narrative begins to form.

I am not someone who keeps his word.

I am unreliable.

I can’t be trusted.

But, it’s not as if you discuss this personal shortcoming with others.

I mean, you’re not walking into job interviews proclaiming how unreliable you are or listing on your work resume all of the moments in which you let others down. You want the job.

You’re not telling a group of peers ridiculing something that you actually like whatever they’re mocking. You don’t want them to not like or mock you.

You’re not communicating to someone you want to date or marry that you’re not trustworthy. You don’t want them to leave you.

If I tell you something and it turned out not to be true, did I lie to you?

That’s nuanced, right?

To me, a lie is something said to deliberately mislead, deceive, or conceal truth in ways that protect or benefit you at the expense of other people ultimately being hurt by the deception.

By that definition, I am not a liar. I don’t plot mistruths in an effort to hurt others. Never.

But, do I say things that sometimes end up not being true because I didn’t follow through with a promise, or because things outside of my control prevented me from keeping the commitment? Absolutely.

Whether I lied or not, or whether I intended to keep a promise and was a victim of circumstance, the fact remains that I promised something that never got delivered.

Sometimes that leads to a shrug, easy forgiveness, understanding, and a time extension to try again. Another chance to make it right.

And then other times, your wife takes off her wedding ring, packs a suitcase, and drives your 4-year-old son away to be with someone else.

Broken Promises and the Stories We Believe

prom·ise /ˈpräməs/ (noun) – a statement telling someone that you will definitely do something, or that something will certainly happen in the future.

I’m the captain of the ADHD Squad. My capacity for calendar mismanagement and task-list forgetfulness exceeds the boundaries of known anthropology.

Because of this, I’ve believed myself to be unreliable for so long that it’s seeped into my bones and psyche so much that it’s almost like I believe it now: I am unreliable.

I too often don’t do what I say I will. (Has anyone seen my book yet? Exactly. I’m an asshole.)

I believe these things about me because they fit the narrative of why I’m a single, divorced 39-year-old who is a little bit disappointed with his life on various levels.

Being the kind of person who breaks promises or fails to complete goals is a massive disappointment.

Sometimes I’m afraid of pursuing jobs with more responsibility because I’m afraid I might not be responsible or reliable enough to excel with a larger accountability load and higher stakes.

Sometimes I’m afraid to pursue a speaking and writing career because I’m afraid without the structure of a quasi-formal work environment, I won’t be disciplined enough to do all of the work day in and day out that I believe successful entrepreneurism requires.

Sometimes I’m afraid to pursue relationships because no matter how much work I’ve done to understand and attempt to help others understand what causes marriages and human relationships of all types to break, I’m not confident that I’m built with the right materials to be someone’s husband.

I’m afraid to have my life fall apart again after experiencing the brutality of divorce five years ago.

I’m afraid to hurt someone else again.

I’m afraid of it negatively impacting my son.

I’m afraid of being a dude who writes about relationships, but then sucks at actually being in them.

I’m afraid of a lot of things, but almost all of them are rooted in the fear of not being up to the task—of being in over my head.

Maybe I’m not tall enough, you know? All those online-dating profiles five years ago suggested as much.

Maybe I’m not good enough.

If I was, she would have never left and napalmed our lives like that.

We believe these fear-based negative stories about ourselves in our weakest moments. When our fragile brains and emotions are getting the best of us.

Maybe there was a young black kid who grew up watching TV and in doing so, mostly saw only white people in those stories on TV.

Like Santa Claus. Looks white.

Even Middle-Eastern Jesus looks white.

Forty-three of the 44 U.S. presidents have been white.

Maybe the company owner where mom or dad worked was white.

And maybe, if she or he has a brain that worked like mine did, maybe they felt different around anything unfamiliar.

Maybe when you tell yourself negative stories like that, a bunch of bad things happen—or rather, a bunch of good things DON’T happen because of all of things we never try.

I went through thoughts like that, and I was just some little sheltered kid in a small town in Ohio surrounded by farm fields for several miles. Relatively charmed, compared to many other children.

What we believe is EVERYTHING. It doesn’t even matter whether it’s true. If we believe it, we experience it as real, and one way or another, it will affect our lives.

Of course there are gay kids feeling “wrong” or “bad” or “broken” if they grew up seeing and hearing others saying that they were.

Of course there are kids growing up in various religious faiths or ideologies who feel confused, conflicted, and guilty when they hear that things they think or do will damn them to hell.

Of course there are kids growing up who feel self-righteous, judgmental, or superior to others because everything they were ever taught from their earliest memories until right this moment is that everything THEY believe and do is “correct” and “right” and “better,” and everyone who disagrees is incorrect—and possibly a threat. Or an enemy. Or evil.

We see it all of the time in politics.

And in racial division.

And gender battles.

And lifestyle choices.

And too many other things.

Whether we believe we’re wrong and broken—or THEY are—we always have a fundamental breakdown whenever the thought exists: That person is not like me, followed by feelings of either inferiority OR superiority.

Why does it seem like there’s so much wrong with the world?

Almost all of it can be traced back to that.

  • What I believe is right and true.
  • What they believe is wrong and false.
  • We are opponents with competing interests, and the right and true side must win at all costs.

People who believe that are capable of anything.

Even mass murder, if they believe they’re serving the “greater good” by doing so.

The sheer power of our beliefs about ourselves (and others) can’t be calculated.

Maybe You Break Promises Too (And Maybe It’s More Damaging Than You Realize)

I had the recent pleasure of connecting with someone at an Ohio non-profit organization facilitating a social movement called Because I said I would.

The organization is dedicated to the betterment of humanity by educating people on the power of making and keeping promises.

It took me all of five minutes in learning about their organization’s mission to connect the work they’re doing with the social crisis we have with marriage failure rates, and the untold fallout stories and trickle-down effects of those failures.

Speaking at TEDx a few years ago, Alex Sheen, founder of Because I said I would, identified marriage, along with political promises and New Years’ resolutions as prime examples of how humans commonly suck at keeping promises.

Marriage involves making promises. Half of them fail.

New Years’ resolutions are made by 40 percent of people (that’s, like, 3 billion people), according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Only 8 percent of the people who make resolutions, follow through with them.

Politicians make promises when running for office, and while in office. According to PolitiFact (at the time of Sheen’s TEDx talk three years ago), fewer than half of all publically stated promises made by U.S. leaders of either political party were kept.

The people we entrust to protect us from violent enemies and keep society from descending into dangerous lawlessness and economic collapse—they fail to do what they say they will more than half of the time. Yet, we all allow them to take 25 percent to 50 percent of all the money we earn. Which is insane, when you think about it.

Everyone is Unreliable—You’re Not Alone

Sheen does a great job during his TEDx talk of diving into the art and science of promise-making, and if you take the 18-minute journey with him, it won’t take long for you to also see the wisdom and CRITICAL IMPORTANCE in his message.

This isn’t a small problem—this It’s-Common-to-Break-Promises,-So-Whatever thing we have going on.

It strikes at the heart of all that’s broken and fucked in our lives and world.

We break promises on the reg. And it’s a huge problem because of how many other things break when our promises are.

People suck at keeping promises.

But, why?

A few reasons, Sheen says.

  1. We say A LOT of words every day. (Statistically speaking, about 15,942 words per day.)
  2. It has become routine for people to say things like “Oh yeah, I’ll do that,” or “Sure, I’ll be there,” or “I promise,” or “Always,” or “Never.”
  3. We have shitty memories. (Note: Sheen did not use the word “shitty,” I don’t think. He seems more mature than I am.)

Mark Manson—one of my favorite writers because he’s awesome—was the first person I heard or read say what Sheen is saying here: Our memories, beliefs and opinions are NOT reliable. You’re mathematically LIKELY to have some key detail wrong in your memory of an event.

You really can’t trust yourself. Seriously.

It’s really Step 1 on the journey to becoming less of an asshole in life and relationships.

How bad are our memories?

U.S. readers: How many times would you guess you’ve seen a nickel (the five-cent coin)?

Hundreds of times in your life? Maybe thousands?

Sheen asks: “Can you tell me what a nickel looks like?”

  • Which way is the face pointing?
  • Where is the year marked on the coin?
  • What’s depicted on the back?
  • How many windows are on the building?
  • Is there even a building?

If you’re anything like me, you know precisely dick about nickels beyond Thomas Jefferson, their relative thickness, and silver color.

And why is that?

Because we’re human and there’s no getting out of it, and part of that package is that you overestimate your ability to remember things, to get facts straight, and even interpret the intentions of the people you love the most and know the best.

Sheen goes on to talk about “flash-bulb memories.” These are those significant moments that we remember best because there is often so much emotion attached to them. Humans have been documented to retain the most information about these flash-bulb moments.

One study interviewed a group of students in the aftermath of the NASA space shuttle “Challenger” explosion shortly after lift-off. Each student was asked seven questions.

Then two and a half years later, those same students were asked those identical questions.

Half of the study’s participants got two out of seven answers correct by remembering the incident accurately, and 25 percent answered incorrectly on all seven questions.

Conclusion: We have terrible memories whether we believe it or not, and whether we want to admit it or not.

So, What if We Owned That and Accounted for It?

My favorite part of Sheen’s talk involved him posing his hypothesis he intentionally mislabels The Two-People Theorem.

“We almost look like two different people with a promise,” Sheen said. “We’re going to be there for someone who needs us. We’re going to stay passionate. We’re going to do what is right. We’re going to stay committed.

“Then, what happens?”

Hedonic adaptation happens—that’s what. And that’s why many people struggle to stay happy in life and relationships.

But I’m kind of putting words in Sheen’s mouth and shouldn’t be.

“That emotion completely fades,” he said. “If you could step away from the situation and just observe it—it’s like you’re crazy. It’s weird.”

Like we’re two entirely different people, he said.

“One person wants to make this promise,” he said. “The other doesn’t want to show up.”

Sound familiar, married people?

How to Overcome the Promise-Breaking, Marriage-Ending Two-People Theorem 

Sheen then offers an awesome analogy involving zombies, and zombies make analogies better just like they made Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice better. (Probably not true.)

If you discovered that a toxin had been pumped into the air that would turn you into a zombie 24 hours from now—and that you would remain a zombie for 24 hours before reverting back to your normal self—what would you do?

Most responses are the same, Sheen said.

Most of us would go home and warn loved ones to get away and keep away from us until it was safe to return. Most of us would find a way to lock ourselves up in a way that we couldn’t harm others or ourselves.

“You chain yourself,” Sheen said. “What you’re doing is forecasting your own weakness and taking preventative actions to prevent yourself from hurting others.

“Why don’t we do this in real life? Are you telling me we don’t become two different people?”

Sheen and the team at Because I said I would have made it their mission to help people “chain themselves” and “forecast their own weaknesses” and ultimately “take preventative actions to prevent yourself from hurting others.”

What we’re doing is making a plan, just like we would if we were going to do a 24-hour stint as an animated brain-eating corpse.

“Humans have a very horrible perception of time. How much time it takes to complete the four steps to fulfill a commitment,” Sheen said.

Sheen hates the phrase: “You need to make the time for what’s important in life.”

“Time cannot be made. It can only be reserved,” he said. “It can only be adjusted. Not many people take their schedule and put each little step in a promise on it to ensure they’re following a sequence that hits a certain date to fulfill a promise. We normally just say it, and that’s a problem.”

If you want to be good at keeping promises, you have to think through these things, he said.

Awareness. Mindfulness.

“Be careful with your word choice,” Sheen said. “Write those promises down. Create motivators that chain you to your promise so when you’re at your weakest moment, you know you can still do something right. Create a plan.

“Fulfill your promise.”

Not unlike many of the ideas I like to discuss here, it’s an idea that comes off dangerously simple.

Of course we should keep our promises! Duh!

Yeah, but maybe things we say thoughtlessly or otherwise feel like promises to the people who matter to us most, and maybe when we fail to follow through on those promises, we damage the hearts and minds of those we love and the integrity of our relationship with them.

Maybe we slowly erode others’ trust in us without ever realizing the hurt they feel from promises unkept that we forgot about long ago.

“That’s what we need in this world. People who are reliable. Who fulfill their promises,” Sheen said.

Just maybe, if I learn how to forecast my weaknesses and plan accordingly, I’ll be able to start telling myself different stories.

Just maybe, I’ll get a little bit taller.

Just maybe, an idea we’ve been aware of since our earliest memories—the importance of keeping our promises—is the key to saving human relationships.

It’s the most deceptively simple ideas that destroy us.

Just maybe, it’s the most deceptively simple ideas that will save us.

Check out this group. Because I said I would. They’re awesome. Order some Promise Cards (they’ll ship 10 for free to anyone who asks anywhere in the world).

Be more mindful of the words you say among the nearly 16,000 you’ll speak today. And if you tell someone you’ll do something, do it.

Because if we can collectively find a way to simply do the things we’ve promised, we just might save the world.

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

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

(Image/Dr. Seuss – drseussart.com)

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

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

I didn’t like it on two levels:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I eventually came around on the dinner thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our marriage = Important.

Tomorrow’s dinner = Not Important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids Say the Darndest Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wasn’t pissed anymore because this was funny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, the places he’ll go.

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

bored couple

(Image/ZUMI Kenya)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s true. I was.

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

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

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

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

I loved that woman very much.

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

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

Why?

Why?

WHY?!?!

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

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

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

Hugh Grant Got Caught Soliciting a Miami Prostitute

Remember that?

Sure you do.

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

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

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

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

But I think I can now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder what would happen if we did things differently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But It Could Be Other Things Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comfortable Lies vs. Uncomfortable Truth

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

Maybe it’s about us.

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

The years went by.

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

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

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

We turn into different people because we must.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Difficult truths might save the whole world.

Maybe we just need enough courageous people taking the leap.

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You’re Right, Guys—You Can’t Make Women Happy

unhappy wife

(Image/Moldova Christina)

A common complaint among married men is feeling like their wives are always complaining about something—that they’re never happy for long and that nothing he does ever seems to be good enough for her.

I remember feeling that way for a few years before spending the final 18 months of my marriage sleeping in the guest room until she finally left for good.

I’m a pretty nice guy and most people seem to like me, and because of that, I always believed and acted as if she was the one with the problem.

I know how frustrating it feels to exchange your bachelorhood for a lifelong commitment to love someone else, only to be told over and over again that you’re doing it wrong.

I know how much it hurts to want your spouse to want you back when they clearly don’t.

I know what it feels like to want to die when they move out and choose some asshole stranger over you after a dozen years together.

Those are honest and real feelings I experienced in the months between her driving away permanently with our preschool-aged son in the backseat, and a court magistrate nullifying our marriage.

Because I hadn’t yet learned the critical life lesson that we can’t and shouldn’t always trust ourselves, I was confident that my interpretation of my marriage and wife’s choice was accurate. That, for whatever my marital shortcomings and mistakes might have been, in the final analysis she was MORE wrong for quitting on our family.

After all, I was happy being married to her. If she would have just stopped finding stuff to get pissed about, it would have been awesome.

But she was hard to please. She was ungrateful. She was the one with the problem.

It’s Not Your Fault, Guys—No One Taught Us Differently

The notion that “girls are crazy” or that women are “stuck-up bitches” or “hard to understand” or “always finding something new to complain about,” isn’t something me and my friends invented. We heard men and older boys and TV telling us these things.

Collectively, men are FAR from innocent victims in all this. But I have no doubt that MOST guys grew up believing this narrative—because situations with crying girlfriends, angry mothers, and stories from their guy friends about their experiences with girls/women seemed to reinforce these beliefs.

That girls/women are too emotional.

That they’re crazy and irrational.

Thought exercise: If you honestly believe a person you’re talking to is capable of temporary moments of insanity where they become hyper-emotional and their judgment becomes clouded to the point where they’re “wrong” or “misjudging” a situation, how do you handle a disagreement with them?

Most guys are set up from childhood to not only believe (as most everyone does) that our first-person experiences and emotional interpretations of them are a reliable guide for determining right and wrong, but many of us also believe that our girlfriends and wives are WRONG when they react emotionally to something we say or do, and during arguments.

I thought my wife frequently overreacted to something she was upset about.

I left a dirty dish by the sink, and she decided she wanted to argue about it. I thought it was irrational to elevate a dirty dish to a marriage problem.

And because I believed my wife to be irrational, I believed she was wrong.

Because I believed she was wrong, I was never really motivated to change.

She’s the one with the problem.

The Danger of Not Recognizing the Difference Between “Trying to Make Her Happy” and “Not Hurting Her”

A lot of people read my most-popular articles—either “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” or “An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands”—and sometimes afterward men will tell me what a stupid dumbass moron I am because of whatever I wrote.

They think I’m advocating for men to start selling out and doing whatever they can to placate their wives so she won’t want to leave. To “make her happy.” They think I wrote that all men are dicks who deserve to be left and all women are victims who never make mistakes in their marriages.

I recognize these guys right away now—the ones still wearing the blinders they inherited from childhood. The ones that taught them that women are often crazy and wrong. The ones that might have even taught them that men are somehow better than women.

They confuse my message of “Stop hurting her” with “Do whatever the little missus wants and worship her no matter what,” and it’s sad because they and their families will inevitably suffer for it, but it makes sense to me because maybe I would have had a similar reaction back when I was still blaming everything on my wife.

Let the record show that this isn’t intended to be gender-specific. This dysfunctional conversation/argument dynamic can just as easily exist in a role-reversal scenario in relationships that look differently than mine did. But this is generally the kind of relationship I see and hear about most, and the kind I lived through.

The one where husbands and wives get caught in a Man vs. Woman vortex, and slowly hurt one another repeatedly for many years until their marriage fails.

Not from any one moment. In isolation, none of these past arguments seemed like a big deal as they were happening. Certainly not marriage-enders.

None of these moments were scary enough to trip the emergency alarms. Marriages have fights! You just get over it and move on! No big deal!

Until one day the pile of No-Big-Deal arguments gets so big that the floor collapses beneath you, and everything falls apart.

Most marriages don’t end because of something big and dramatic like a gunshot or bomb explosion.

Most marriages end from bleeding out after being paper cut to death. One, even 10, paper cuts aren’t that scary. But after tens of thousands, maybe you bleed so much that you die.

The #1 Thing That Ends Relationships

I believe, when you strip away all of the bullshit and psychobabble, that one idea sums up why more than half of all relationships fail:

Men frequently demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to recognize the pain they cause their wives or girlfriends and then fail to intentionally adjust the behavior to stop hurting them.

Empathy can often be hard for people to exhibit when we don’t relate to nor understand what someone else is going through.

His wife is telling him that something he is doing HURTS her—not unlike him punching her in the face or stabbing her with a knife.

Only the smallest percentage of men would ever actually punch or stab the woman he loves. The VAST majority of men take seriously their role as “protector,” regardless of whether his wife or girlfriend needs protecting.

“I would never hurt you,” men say to their wives or girlfriends.

He says it over and over again, and believes it with all of his heart. He’s being totally serious and genuine.

This situation his wife or girlfriend is describing during this most recent silly argument is too ridiculous to be taken seriously.

She’s overreacting again. Making a federal case out of something that doesn’t matter. She’s saying this HURTS her? No way.

I don’t care when she leaves a piece of laundry on the bedroom floor, so how could it HURT her when I do it?

I don’t care whether she gives me a gift for our wedding anniversary, so how could it HURT her when I forget to do it?

I don’t care when she forgets something at the grocery store, so how could it HURT her when I do it?

I don’t care about Valentine’s Day and think it’s stupid that people make a big deal out of it, so how could it HURT her when I don’t agree to treat the day the same way she wants to?

I felt like my wife was getting lightly hit with a pillow but responding emotionally as if I was swinging a bat at her.

And I thought that was CRAZY.

I thought she was wrong.

I thought she was hard to please.

I thought she was acting like an ungrateful bitch for acting like nothing I did was good enough for her.

My wife thought I was either hurting her on purpose, or cared so little about her that I was refusing to change any of my behaviors that might help her.

When you tell someone that something within their control is HURTING you, and they not only demonstrate an unwillingness to stop, but also are telling you that you’re too dumb, too crazy, too WRONG to know what’s real and not real—what do you do?

Stay calm?

Put on a happy face and pretend everything is okay?

Decide to carry on as an intimate partner to the person who hurts you more than anyone else, and seems unwilling to stop?

Bad news, guys: You CAN’T make your wife or girlfriend happy no matter how hard you try. Not because they’re hard to please, but because all people must make peace with themselves before they can ever feel content and comfortable in their own skin. Until then, we’re all just fumbling around in the dark breaking shit.

But you CAN stop hurting her when she says “Hey. When you do that, it hurts me.” You can stop hurting her by treating her as if she’s insane for feeling hurt by something just because that same thing might not hurt you. You can stop hurting her by continuing to do whatever the thing is that she says is hurting her because you don’t respect her enough or take her seriously enough to eliminate the pain-causing behavior.

I’d like to see what happens when a sad and angry wife or girlfriend tells her husband or boyfriend about something that’s hurting her, and instead of telling her she’s dumb and crazy, he apologizes sincerely, and moves forward giving his best effort to not let that happen again.

I want to know how many of THOSE wives and girlfriends go “looking for something else to complain about.” I want to know how many of THOSE husbands and boyfriends feel disrespected and mistreated by a wife who never makes him feel like he’s good enough.

When you reduce your wife or girlfriend to a stupid, nagging bitch while she’s privately bleeding from hundreds of papercuts you’ve already forgotten about and never apologized for, maybe it makes sense for her to try a dramatic, emotional outburst to get your attention.

When you dismiss her plea for help repeatedly, maybe it makes sense for her to remove herself from the relationship in order to preserve her health and wellbeing.

And just maybe, when you take responsibility for the pain you might have accidentally caused, respect your partner enough to listen and believe her when she tells you about it, and LOVE her enough to make sure the painful thing stops happening—just maybe that’s where marital peace and healing live.

Just maybe that’s how you get to ‘Til death do us part.

I wouldn’t know, because I never actually considered that I might be wrong about her, and that I was not only capable of hurting her, but that I actually was.

I wouldn’t know, because I never actually took any responsibility during our marriage for hurting my wife. I never apologized, then followed it up with a behavioral change that would allow her to trust me again.

I wouldn’t know, because my marriage and family fell apart despite my insistence that nothing was wrong. My marriage and family fell apart long before I ever developed the humility necessary to ask the right questions.

If my wife repeatedly hurt me and every time I told her about it she blew me off and told me I could expect her to keep doing so, would I really agree to stay in the marriage?

Is it possible that the same situation can hurt one person, and not another?

If I was hurting my wife and she couldn’t trust me or feel safe with me anymore because I told her a hundred times that she was crazy and mistaken instead of believing her, wasn’t she SMART and WISE to reluctantly end our marriage?

It took many years, but the truth eventually hit me hard.

I’m not divorced because my wife was hard to please or that she felt I was never good enough for her. I’m divorced because when my wife told me something was wrong, I treated her like a second-class mental patient and all but promised to never change.

Sometimes I wonder what might have happened had I not.

Instead of wondering, maybe you can actually find out.

Isn’t she worth it? Aren’t you?

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Stop Waiting Until it’s Too Late

top regrets of the dying

(Image/Humanengineers)

There was something I wanted to tell someone and I was just waiting for the right time. But then he died before I saw him again.

Message: Undelivered. Permanently. Nice work, Matt. Way to prioritize all the things.

The funeral was beautiful. As beautiful as a funeral can be, anyway.

It’s been a few years since my last funeral, I’m fortunate to report, but a couple of things stood out to me beyond the pain, grief and sadness everyone was feeling to varying degrees, and the brutal suffering of a couple of people on my personal I Love These People the Most list.

Life lessons, if you will. Obvious ones.

But despite their obviousness—and critical importance—almost everyone loses sight of, or forgets, them every day.

2 Lessons About Life & Relationships We Learn at Funerals

There are more than just two. These are simply what stood out for me while people cried in my arms or while listening while long-time friends of the departed eulogized him eloquently and tearfully.

If you think about life and death hard enough—and most of us won’t because the idea of dying or losing our loved ones makes us too uncomfortable (I’m not judging—I bury my head in the sand, too)—life kind of boils down to a contest to see who can die while feeling the most internal peace.

The contest “winners” are everyone who faces their impending death with total peace, having lived a regret-free life where they did all they could, gave all they could, and that their family and friends will remember them fondly because the way that they lived made them a great family member or great friend.

Like, I totally need to get my shit together. But I’m really good at waiting until it’s too late.

It’s probably not accurate to categorize these things as lessons. They’re observations that will surprise approximately zero people, but there’s a good chance you’re not remembering them during everyday life.

We’ll call these observations “sub-lessons” that live under the umbrella of the primary lesson no one ever remembers: Everyone Dies, and We Usually Don’t Know When.

1. We Treat the Dead, Terminally Ill, and Grieving Differently

I’m sure the terminally sick, handicapped, and people grieving the deaths of those closest to them resent being pitied and treated like fragile victims once the initial shock wears off.

But that doesn’t stop us. We typically treat people MUCH differently when we learn they’re dying, that they might die, or that someone very close to them just passed.

I’m not the kind of person who verbally berates strangers (not counting all of the things I mutter toward shitty drivers that would probably make Jesus and my grandma really sad), but sometimes I see people get pissed and say mean stuff to the restaurant wait staff, or hear them dress down some customer-service rep on the phone who’s probably making less than $10 per hour to field complaint calls from strangers all day, every day.

Maybe some of the people getting their ears chewed off deserve it. Probably a few. I just think if they had a sign hanging around their neck announcing that their mom died a few days ago, or that they had a terminal illness that would kill them in the next few weeks, that most people would treat them with a certain amount of kindness and patience.

Which begs the question: If our spouses/romantic partners, our children, siblings, friends, co-workers, etc. are all going to die, and that will be among the worst things that ever happen to us, changing our behavior toward them and enhancing our feelings about them… then why are we sometimes or currently being stupid assholes to them about things that don’t really matter?

Taking it a step further—so many men report the same experience I did at the end of my marriage—that we didn’t see it coming, or that we didn’t know that certain things were causing her so much pain.

We say that if we HAD known, we’d have made better choices.

But if something is legitimately the most important thing in your life, why would you EVER show enough neglect to jeopardize it? How could that even be possible?

But we do. So many of us do. For the same reasons we forget that we, and everyone we know and love, are going to die.

2. It’s Difficult to Leave Something Behind, But We Should Make it Count When We Do

The man who died was a musician. A talented one. Even better than I’d realized when he was still alive and I could have shared my admiration and appreciation.

His nephew, a doctor and pastor, was the primary officiant at the funeral, and he talked about two things in particular that affected me.

The first was his encouragement to the rest of us to live our best lives (which, HINT: is the entire point of this article as well), in which he shared author Bronnie Ware’s five biggest regrets expressed by the terminally ill from her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Because those are good reminders of things most of us are probably getting wrong to some degree.

And the second thing that stood out to me during the pastor’s eulogy was his observation of how rare it is for most people to leave something behind for people to remember them by after our deaths.

Painters leave paintings.

Actors leave films.

Builders leave buildings.

Authors leave books.

Parents leave children.

Musicians leave music.

Some career and life paths don’t lend themselves to so easily leave something tangible behind the way artists, construction crews, and parents are able to.

What a gift, I thought. What a gift to be able to write things down that occasionally matter to people. Maybe I shouldn’t wait until it’s too late to finish a book.

What a gift, I thought. What a gift to be able to adjust our behavior toward some people who really matter to us, even if it takes a terrible loss to trigger it and help us refocus.

Maybe we shouldn’t wait until it’s too late to actually behave with the love we say we feel for those who matter most.

Because if we’re too busy putting our most critical relationships on hold in favor of stuff that won’t mean a damn thing to us during their funerals, then I think it’s fair to say we’re probably doing it wrong.

But we don’t have to keep doing so. While there’s breath in us, we can always make a better choice, no matter what life throws our way.

What a gift.

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