Category Archives: Marriage

Safety and Trust in Relationships: Those Words Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

woman hiding under table

(Image/Crosswalk.com)

Author’s Note: I think the #1 problem in the world is how poorly humans manage their relationships. Even if you disagree, follow my logic, please. The biggest influence on whether our lives suck or are awesome is the quality of our closest relationships. For most of our lives, that’s the relationship with our spouses or long-term romantic partners. Human conflict is problematic everywhere. But when it’s two people who decided to pool resources and promised to love one another forever, and make and share children? It’s a crisis. The ripple-effect consequences know no bounds. Divorce breaks people, and then broken people break other things.

I think the #1 cause of divorce is relationship-damaging behavior by men who honestly don’t recognize it. Good men with good intentions who damage their wives’ emotional and mental health with behaviors they don’t understand to be as damaging as they are.

How? Why? There are no easy answers. But I think the closest one is: No one knows. Just like people spent decades smoking tobacco without knowing it had dire health consequences.

I think we don’t teach our children the truth about adulthood. That we don’t teach our boys the truth about manhood. Not because we’re liars. But because we didn’t know either.

This is the second in a series of posts about The Things We Don’t Teach Men (And How It Ruins Everything).

Safe – adj. – \ˈsāf\ — secure from threat of danger, harm, or loss

Trust – verb – \ˈtrəst\ — to commit or place in one’s care or keeping; to place confidence in, rely on; to hope or expect confidently

‘You don’t make me feel safe. I don’t feel like I can trust you anymore.’

Safety is probably more important to you than you consciously realize in any given moment.

After basic metabolic functions, like your heart beating and properly working lungs, and the most basic things needed for survival (food, water, shelter and clothing), Safety is the next thing people need to function in life.

The concept of safety, for me, tended to be rooted in physical safety. Wearing a seat belt. Not getting pistol-whipped during an armed robbery. Wearing the proper safety equipment on a construction site or in a manufacturing facility, or during a football or baseball game.

And color young-me as an ignorant sexist rube if you must, but in male-female relationships—including my marriage—I thought of safety in the context of protecting her from physical harm.

I want to sleep closest to the bedroom door.

I want to be the one to check out the strange noise in the house.

I want to be with her walking in a dimly lit parking garage at night.

I want to pay for a home-security system to deter and warn of intruders.

I want to fight and take the potential beat down to give her time to run away.

I want to take the bullet for her.

And I will never physically harm her. Ever.

And because of those things, I thought my wife (and anyone, really) should feel safe with me. I thought all of those true things made me a person who was safe to be with.

But I wasn’t. And this is in NO WAY anyone’s fault but my own—but nowhere, at any point in my upbringing, was I exposed to other ways of thinking about safety or taught the fundamental importance of making one’s girlfriend or wife feel safe and secure in those OTHER ways.

Other safety and security needs people have in addition to not being hurt or killed in an accident or act of violence include:

  • Financial security
  • Health and well-being (mental and emotional safety)

Everyone has different thresholds for what financial security looks like. I think having enough money to pay for one’s family’s needs is a concept anyone mature enough to be reading this already understands.

But on mental and emotional safety?

I failed about as hard as a person claiming ignorance possibly can.

I was mentally and emotionally abusive to my wife without realizing it because I also demonstrate classic only-child levels of self-centeredness, and I hadn’t yet learned that Marriage Isn’t For You.

But I’m not the only one.

I think many men accidentally abuse their wives’ mental and emotional health without realizing it (and it probably happens in reverse, too), and then once enough damage has been done, the couples end up having what feels like the exact same frustrating and familiar fight over and over again.

For men, it often becomes a thing we learn to deal with. It pisses us off sometimes. It certainly stresses us out and makes us feel shitty. But it tends to be a nuisance that we believe will be better after everyone calms down.

However, for many women, every one of these fights tends to slowly and systematically erode her love and respect for her husband/boyfriend, and her faith in the integrity of the relationship itself.

Over time, “lesser” incidents can trigger the arguments.

Maybe five years ago, a guy stayed out too late drinking with his friends, passed out and never told his wife or girlfriend where he was. She stayed up all night freaking out, and then they had a big fight because he thought she was overreacting.

But maybe five years later, he accidentally left his phone in the car during a two-hour business presentation in the middle of the day, and his non-responsiveness triggers that same level of concern and anger in her. And maybe he thinks it’s a gross overreaction because while reacting to an all-night drinking bender seems reasonable, freaking out because of an accidental work-related situation does not.

And once again, they have The Same Fight.

Men—boyfriends and husbands—often are so determined to defend their actions and feelings that they don’t actively listen to their upset girlfriends or wives. They HEAR them, saying words and being angry and stuff. But they don’t LISTEN. They don’t understand. They never figure out WHY their partner is saying and feeling these things.

Here’s a guy who works hard and is good at his job. He’s a good provider for his wife and children.

He never complains about his wife’s behavior. And he thinks it’s unfair that he isn’t given the same courtesy.

He would NEVER hit her. He’s a capable protector. So it makes sense to him that she should feel Safe.

He would NEVER cheat on her. He never intentionally fails to do something he says he will. He’s not a liar. He’s a good parent and guardian. He feels like a “trustworthy” person. So it makes sense to him that she should Trust him.

The Thing That Ends Relationships

After dozens, perhaps hundreds of attempts to explain what it is that upsets her, he generally responds angrily. Or tells her she’s wrong. Or tells her she’s just being emotional again. Or tells her she’s mentally unstable. Or simply walks away in frustration because he doesn’t want to fight anymore. Or maybe he’s really patient, and simply walks away confused after the conversation without fighting back, but also without ever understanding what she’s trying to communicate to him.

No matter which of those common responses occur with any given couple, each instance further weakens a wife or girlfriend’s faith in the relationship.

“He’s NEVER going to get it. I can’t trust him.”

The mistrust is not about sexual faithfulness. It’s not really even about his human integrity, assuming he is as unaware of the damage he’s causing as I believe he is. (I believe strongly that the VAST majority of husbands would never KNOWINGLY inflict pain on their wives, and I stand by that belief. I think I know an easy way to determine whether your spouse is hurting you on purpose.)

A wife or girlfriend loses trust in her husband or boyfriend after repeated attempts to explain why something hurts and requests for help in making it stop haven’t resulted in any positive outcomes nor any evidence that he wants the painful thing to stop.

Faced with feeling hurt every day for the rest of her marriage/relationship, and no evidence her committed partner is willing to be a partner in making something painful go away, she stops trusting him.

No matter how good he may be. No matter how perfect his record might be in every other part of his life.

Something hurts her. He either can’t or won’t help her. She knows because they’ve talked about it countless times with the same result.

She knows the marriage/relationship is unsustainable without trust. Its future is in doubt.

The security and well-being of her and possibly children are now in jeopardy.

And now she doesn’t feel safe.

And no matter how much he tries, a man she can’t trust to not hurt her can’t make her feel safe. In most cases, not like how her father used to.

The realization is often frightening: “I no longer believe our marriage will survive.”

I used to believe the scariest guys were the obvious assholes. The guys that punch and cheat and name-call. The drunks and addicts and reckless gamblers.

But red flags are easy enough to spot. Red flags are obvious warning signs that help people steer clear.

Real danger is what lurks undetected.

These awesome guys. Nice. Friendly. Smart. Successful. By all appearances, good men and good fathers.

The guys everyone praises as good husbands and fathers. Guys just like me.

If you leave guys like that, maybe her parents don’t approve or support the decision. Maybe her friends will judge her. Maybe when she feels most afraid than at any other time in her entire life because she doesn’t believe her marriage and family will survive, and she’s feeling guilty for not being able to make it work and how it might affect her children. And the only thing she wants and needs is support. But the ONE person she believed she could count on for the rest of her life to lift her up and care for her in such moments is the very person inflicting all of the pain, fear and anxiety.

Mistrust.

Unsafe.

Fight or flight?

She has already spent years fighting, leaving her with just one choice: Run.

I used to blame her.

But I see it all so clearly now.

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The Things We Don’t Teach Men (And How It Ruins Everything)

father holding baby son

(Image/abc.net.au)

The world fails men.

We fail everyone, but we fail men in particular. And that failure leads to a countless number of men—some incredibly smart, talented, strong, brave, and decent men—achieving positions of influence where they inevitably perpetuate the cycle of collectively failing men, and by proxy, all of the women and children in their sphere of influence.

Husbands.

Fathers.

Big brothers.

Best friends.

Business leaders.

Celebrity influencers.

Politicians.

Coaches.

Educators.

Commanding officers.

Group leaders.

Classmates.

Teammates and tribesmen.

What men in these positions think, believe, do, feel and say affects countless people—the ripple effects of which can last for centuries.

Many of these guys are amazingly virtuous. Many are trying their best every day to live according to the values instilled in them. They’re simply following the examples of their male role models from their youth.

These aren’t evil men Muahahaha-ing and fist-bumping a bunch of other sadistic D-holes in the secret back room of their private male-only clubs. I mean, some are, but those dipshits aren’t hard to spot, nor are their crimes dangerously undetectable.

What is so dangerous about the world failing men is that we’ve created billions of very decent human beings who unknowingly walk around every day trying their God’s-honest best, but are accidentally napalming their homes and closest relationships.

It’s a problem.

Your Life Will Be Measured by Your Family and Friends—Not All That Other Stuff

Life is essentially a contest to see who can have the most people say truthful, authentically nice things about us at our funerals.

Men are taught that status is everything. It’s reinforced by women, because women are often attracted to high-status men. It’s reinforced by children, because children’s lives can often benefit in observable ways (financially and socially) from high-status fathers.

Men pursue wealth. Men pursue fame. Men pursue physical attractiveness. Men pursue business ventures, athletic competitions and hobbies where they succeed. Men pursue sexual conquests. Men pursue the accumulation of material possessions. Men pursue all of this shit that doesn’t mean a damn thing to ANYONE the second the doctor tells them they have terminal cancer, or discover their wife having an affair, or try to digest their child’s suicide note.

What men really want is to have PURPOSE.

And all of those aforementioned “successes” have a legitimate purpose in our personal lives. I’m not trying to trivialize success in personal ventures. It matters to all of us.

I’m only saying that most of us coast through much of life unaware of this obvious truth:

The #1 influence on how good our lives are is the quality of our human relationships.

No amount of money, possessions, career success, trophies on the shelf, notches on the bed post, nor fame can provide the peace and contentment we all crave down deep inside.

Fear. Sadness. Pain. Anxiety. Anger. Stress. Grief. Shame.

These are the mortal enemies of all of us, but surely for men.

When we put the people we care about, live near, and work with, first—selfless love, humble leadership, principle above profit—the only Life currency that actually matters starts to accumulate.

And then when we do that enough, more people will cry and share funny stories at our funerals instead of not give a crap we croaked because they kind of thought we were assholes anyway.

Most of What We Believe About Marriage and Relationships Is Wrong

It’s not our fault.

All we have to go in is our parents, who either divorced, or fumbled through marriage hiding most of the hard stuff from us because no one taught them any of this either.

Our marriages or long-term relationships (or lack thereof) ultimately prove to be the biggest influencers on our day-to-day lives. If our relationships are shitty, our lives are shitty.

Many men believe if they make money or experience personal success somehow, and showcase attractive characteristics while being generally nice and not cheating on their partners, that THAT is being a good husband and/or father.

Men think that being a good man automatically defaults them to “good husband” or “good father,” if they are married or have children. I thought the same thing.

But it’s a dirty lie we accidentally tell ourselves.

Good men can be colossally shitty husbands. You can have all the character and professional skills in the world and still demonstrate gross incompetence as a husband and father.

You can be a genius and still not know how to design and build skyscrapers or working space shuttles.

You can be a brilliant musician and still not know how to play several instruments.

You can be a GREAT guy and absolutely destroy your wife, causing her to cry for months and years before she eventually has an affair and/or files for divorce.

Men Have Done, and Will Do, Great Things

For all of the bad things men have done and will do in the future, guys are still pretty awesome.

For every horrible story you can tell me with a man at its center, I can share dozens more about guys who did great things—brave warriors, courageous leaders, wise teachers, loving husbands and fathers, genius inventors, inspiring artists, disciplined athletes, and brilliant thinkers who helped shape and change the world in positive ways with better ideas.

I still get the occasional note accusing me of man-bashing and betraying my own gender. The last thing I want to be is someone adding to the negativity.

What I’d like to be is a teacher because I think there are men out there who I’m capable of helping, even though I’ve always felt like an asshole trying. As if I somehow know more about life or relationships or anything than any other guys out there.

What’s worse than some know-it-all jerkoff acting like he knows more than you, or is in any way better than you?

Burning sensations while peeing? Traffic jams when you’re in a hurry? That whiny cartoon kid, Caillou?

Pretty sure that’s the entire list.

I’m not on any one group’s side. I’m on EVERYONE’S side. Men are going to have a lot to do with humanity’s future turnaround when the tenets of good relationships become common knowledge instead of the annoyingly huge secret they seem to be today.

Sometimes I Can Help, So I Must

I’m not better nor smarter than you. I’m probably worse and dumber.

But I might still be able to help.

Maybe not you. Maybe not your partner. Maybe not your friends nor family. But someone, probably.

I hit a couple of quasi-significant personal milestones recently.

I turned 38 about a week and a half ago.

We never feel as old as we are, right? That number doesn’t seem as significant to me as it did when my parents were my age. But 38-year-olds can know things. I’ve been eligible for the U.S. presidency for three years now.

Also, April 1 marked four years since my marriage ended. Four years that I have spent dissecting my failed relationship from every angle I could think of, and always asking: What could I have done differently that would have led to a happier result for my wife, son, friends and extended family?

If my divorce was someone else’s fault, then that means it’s a lottery. Dumb luck. It means I am a helpless slave and victim to the passing whims and fancies of whoever I date or marry, and have absolutely no control over what happens to me or my young son.

But if I’m responsible—and I am responsible—then there’s hope. I don’t have to be afraid of it happening again.

My marriage ending was the worst thing that ever happened to me. There is no close second-place thing. Yesterday morning while I was dropping my son off at school, he told me he doesn’t like Mondays because no matter which of his parents he just spent a fun weekend with, he knows he’s probably not going to see them again until Wednesday evening and that it makes him sad.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since. What that child has to carry because of me.

He’s in third grade, so he hasn’t asked me any hard questions yet. But he probably will someday.

That’s when he’ll realize that his father failed his mother, and by proxy, him. That I made his life shittier than necessary because I too often made things about me when they needed to be about them—him and his mom.

When we put others first, our lives are satisfying and filled with meaning.

When we put ourselves first, we damage others—often without realizing it—and that damage can change the trajectory of our lives and of those closest to us. And then we inadvertantly damage ourselves.

It can ruin us. Poison us. Break us.

Broken people raising broken children.

Broken fathers raising broken sons.

Broken men raising broken boys and girls who don’t always learn how to be whole again. Girls who may never learn what it’s supposed to look and feel like when a husband loves a wife. Boys who may never learn what it looks like to love and serve our families, to lead humbly, and how the rewards of unbreakable marriage and family is much greater than the short-term highs of their individual pursuits.

Boys and girls become the new men and women.

And then they don’t teach their sons the things they needed to know. So the boys grow up repeating the sins of their fathers.

Not because they’re bad. Just because they didn’t know better. Because their parents didn’t know. And their grandparents didn’t know. And neither did anyone else.

Marriage is difficult, and everyone “knows” it just like we know that fire can burn us.

Still we often learn the hard way while our relationships crumble around us just like we can only feel the intense pain of severe burning in the middle of the fire.

And too often, for a long time afterward.

NOTE: Some may cover familiar territory but the next several posts will cover topics I believe are The Things Men Don’t Know. The things we aren’t teaching people. Things that are critical to couples and families not breaking from within on account of a bunch of good people who just didn’t know better. Yes, it’s a huge pile of broad generalizations. But as the emails from guys “like me” continue to come in, I am always struck by how similar all the stories are. Time to talk more about it.

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Can We Use Personality Matching and Astrology to Have the Perfect Partner and Marriage? Kind Of!

astrology art

(Image/Prosveta.it)

Someone asked me what I thought about using astrology as a compass for romantic compatibility.

Fair question, I think. No matter what you think of the pseudoscience, horoscopes are published in most newspapers, and a significant number of people consult astrology-based information regularly for personal guidance or simple entertainment.

Astrology involves several beliefs, and at the core of those beliefs is the idea that there is a relationship between astronomical activity—the position of the sun, moon, stars and other planets in our solar system in relation to the earth—and earthly events or human personality and behavior.

For me, there are two distinct questions to deal with:

  1. Is astrology real?
  2. How significant is behavioral and personality compatibility to relationship success?

Is Astrology Real?

Obviously, astrology is real. It’s a thing people study, practice and discuss. It’s real. But that’s not what I meant.

Better questions might be: Does astrology have scientific or spiritual merit, and should people take seriously the information astrologers offer? Does heeding astrological advice result in good things happening? Does ignoring or smiting it result in something bad?

I have, personally, never believed that the position of planets and stars could somehow be used to predict events.

Like, the love and financial advice people read in horoscopes.

It seems reasonable to conclude that if humans had discovered any type of connection between our astrological signs and romantic or financial success, we would all be rabid astrology practitioners in 2017.

Instead, most people have mountains of credit card debt and are statistical coin-flips to succeed in a romantic partnership, even after promising to love each other forever in front of a bunch of witnesses, and sharing homes, bank accounts, and children.

Right?

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying.

NOTE: For the TL;DR folk, the most important thing I want to share in this post is this guide to understanding the 10 Core Differences in Ways of Maintaining Emotional Stability, because understanding how your specific type matches with your partner’s specific type could be the difference between you two having a great marriage, or a life-altering divorce.

I have always found there to be an interesting observable relationship between astrological signs and personality.

In my experience, true or not, it has always seemed as if astrology’s universally agreed-upon personality traits matched up with what I knew to be true about people born within the corresponding date ranges.

But guess what? Almost everyone—no matter what sign they are—thinks that, too.

It’s called the Forer effect (or Barnum effect).

Psychologist Bertram Forer conducted an experiment in which all participants took an individual personality assessment, and then later were given a list of personality traits tailored to their results. The students were asked to rate the accuracy of their customized personality report afterward, and the students collectively rated them a 4.26 on a scale of 0-5.

Forer had taken statements from a newsstand astrology book and given every student the exact same list, regardless of their astrological sign or personality test results.

The Forer effect essentially says that because the statements are so vague, people are able to apply their own meaning to each, making them “personal” to each individual.

Thorough scientific testing of astrology has been done through the years, and has found it to have no known scientific validity. The idea that the movement and positions of planets and stars could affect human behavior and earthly events defies everything science tells us about the laws of physics and biology.

Of course, scientists can only identify about 5 percent of “stuff” in existence (the other 95 percent is made up of dark energy and dark matter, which no one knows anything about), so maybe scientists can go eat a fat one.

I don’t pretend to know anything, for sure. I just ask a lot of questions and try unsuccessfully to not be a dick to people.

Does Human Behavior and Compatibility Influence Our Relationship Success?

I’m not a doctor or anything, but: Ssshhhyeah, it does.

And the irony is that most people believe they are dating or marrying someone they are “compatible” with.

Totally makes sense, too. Think about who people tend to date and marry. It’s pretty much always people “like us.”

We usually meet people who believe what we believe (same faith or belief system).

We usually meet people who live or work where we live or work.

We usually meet people with similar educational experiences (lots of people marry fellow students from high school or college/university).

We usually meet people with the same friends.

We usually meet people with the same hobbies and interests.

I think it makes sense that people believe that someone coming from any of those groups would be “compatible.”

Sometimes, they’re happily (and accidentally) right.

Often, they’re tragically (but also accidentally) wrong.

Thinking That Emotional = Weak Earned Me My Divorce

Maybe because I’m a guy who likes football, beer, women and other “guy stuff,” and grew up in a pretty traditional and conservative small-town culture, I—like many men—rejected human emotion as something relevant.

In guy terms, if you’re emotional, you’re just a weak, crying bitch. Who probably listens to boy bands and drinks a bunch of Diet Sierra Mist and white zin.

If you cry, you’re weak.

If you let your emotions control you, you’re weak.

If you let your emotions override your logic, you’re weak.

If you’re emotional in any way, about anything, you’re weak.

And I took that into marriage with me. All that false bravado, acting like I was all tough and manly and my wife was some weak-ass crier whenever things got hard.

Because crying = weak, and not-crying = strong, I thought I was clearly demonstrating the coolness, strength, smarts, and emotional steadiness to decide what was best in a given moment where my sad wife and I might have disagreed.

I can’t remember details of any of these moments, but I’m pretty sure I was being an inauthentic douchebag most of the time, peacocking with false bravado like I was tougher or smarter or better in any way than someone with the courage to let the tears fall.

Between the two of us, I was the only one pretending. I was the one actually weak and afraid.

Human emotion is significant—whether or not it’s convenient to admit.

Emotion is the No. 1 influencer on our consumer buying decisions—cars we buy or lease, brands we support, advertisements we respond to, homes we purchase or rent.

Emotion moves us in certain directions professionally, in determining where we geographically want to live, in whether we have children or pets, in where our kids go to school and the activities we involve them in.

Emotion heavily influences all aspects of our personal belief systems.

The Part That Really Matters

So, in addition to me (and near as I can tell, many other guys) not respecting the significance and importance of human emotion, I think most people don’t think enough about the various ways in which different humans process emotion.

Almost everyone reading this will know their astrological sign, but won’t have the first clue how their biological nervous systems and life experiences have shaped them into some combination of the 10 ways humans manage emotions.

Not unlike Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, or the lessons imparted by visual metaphors such as Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti, these Core Differences in Ways of Maintaining Emotional Stability were identified by Dr. Brett Atkinson, the principle architect of Pragmatic/Experiential Therapy.

This strikes me as one of the most-significant things I have ever seen to help two people better understand one another and incrementally improve, rather than incrementally destroy, their relationship.

It’s not an overstatement to say it can save you.

And I’ll try to wrap this up as succinctly as I know how.

What astrologists and those who follow astrology are trying to do is make it simple for certain types of people to pair up with other certain types of people, because well-matched people have happier lives, stay married, and have rewarding family and social lives.

They are attempting to do so via a connection between planets and stuff, and things we do and feel here on earth.

Maybe it’s all super-legit. Maybe it’s all total nonsense.

I’m not sure it matters or that I care very much.

Because while sharing values and vigilantly enforcing/respecting personal boundaries is critical to effective matchmaking, I believe humanity (namely men) identifying the significance of emotion on our personal lives, and then applying intelligent matchmaking and behavioral responses to our individual emotional-makeup profiles would have the same profound effect on love and relationships as horoscopes that were never wrong.

We forget sometimes, but love is not about finding the perfect partner so much as BEING the perfect partner.

We forget sometimes that love is not always a feeling. Love is a choice. And marriage is about commiting each and every day to love regardless of how we feel about it.

Do feelings matter? Everyone gets to decide for themselves.

But, if your partner feels unloved every day, and feeling unloved significantly impacts her or him, do feelings matter EVEN IF they don’t matter to you?

Sometimes, the purest act of love is demonstrating care and compassion for those we profess to love even when their interests or opinions clash with ours.

Sometimes—no matter how insignificant they might seem to us—things have to matter just because they matter to them.

A lesson learned too late.

So, thank God there’s tomorrow.

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I Didn’t Trust My Wife Long Before She Stopped Trusting Me

Trust dissolving

(Image/equippingministries.com)

I trusted my wife with everything I thought was important.

I trusted her with everything that mattered to me.

I trusted her to honor our marriage vows. I trusted her to not kill me in my sleep. I trusted her to conceive, deliver and mother my children. I trusted her to not commit major crimes. I trusted her to not clean out our bank accounts and disappear. I trusted her to behave in mature, intelligent, socially acceptable ways when we were out together. I trusted that my wife was who she said she was, and that I’d made a wise and acceptable decision to choose her as my life-long partner in marriage, parenting, money, co-habitation, and whatever else the future may deliver.

But I didn’t trust my wife with everything.

I didn’t trust her on matters I didn’t perceive to be important, such as our respective preferences for different types of food or drink or music or movies or personal hobbies or weekend activities, etc.

Cheering from the stands of a New Year’s Day college football bowl game, I was emotionally invested in the outcome, because my favorite team winning mattered to me.

My wife thought football was a little bit dumb and boring, and was infinitely more interested in what I’d call sideshow attractions, like the marching bands and cheerleaders.

Sitting among 75,000 screaming fans, with millions more watching at home on TV, and feeling those intense moments of anxiety as the clock counted down with the game in the balance, and then—MAGIC—something unexpected and glorious happens to secure unlikely victory. JOY. Total strangers embracing with happy tears streaming down our faces. VICTORY.

My wife thought it was all a little ridiculous. A bunch of adults investing themselves emotionally in something silly like football. She loved the art and showmanship of the marching bands, baton twirlers and dancers, and there was nothing anyone could say, nor anything she could witness that would change her mind or make her conclude anything other than: football is stupid and marching band stuff is awesome.

I didn’t trust my wife’s opinions when they conflicted with mine.

And in and of itself, that’s probably not particularly weird or harmful. But when combined with the following truth, I think you stamp your divorce papers long before anyone ever realizes there’s a problem.

I didn’t trust my wife’s feelings.

If my wife was upset about something—independent of my involvement—it’s fair to say I defaulted to a position of: She’s overreacting again.

I didn’t always come right out and say that. If I wasn’t defending myself against some perceived criticism, I’d exercise as much diplomacy as possible.

But she’s smart and perceptive. If I didn’t agree with her conclusions, I usually said so, and tried to offer reasons why.

No matter how valid my reasons, or how sound my logic, or how well-intentioned I was being, this little song and dance usually resulted in another marriage fight.

I thought I was right. I thought she was wrong. And I believe Right should always win out over Wrong.

And in a vacuum, I still believe that. Right should trump Wrong.

But marriages are not vacuums.

Love matters.

And loving and honoring one’s partner and working for the benefit of her or his emotional health and welfare, is INFINITELY more important than winning arguments about marching bands vs. football, or the significance of leaving a dirty dish by the sink.

StillTryingHard asked:

“From the male perspective—what is the impact of loss of trust from the wife on the male psyche? How does this impair ability to function in the relationship and does the despair it causes just result in giving up trying to regain it? Not sexual infidelity loss of trust, but honestly worded and kind explanation of why the wife feels like the parent, how repeated secrets and their discovery makes the wife wonder what the next one will be and how learning of secret emotional relationships makes the wife hate his password protected always present iPhone.
“To what extent (as a man) do ‘you’ see it as the wife’s job to fix her shit? I know your answer—but around trust and facing loss of it, what do men need to hear to make it safe to be vulnerable to their vulnerable partner?”

A Different Kind of Answer

StillTryingHard asked for my take on the polar-opposite scenario in a marriage.

She asked me to talk about what happens inside the male mind when his wife demonstrates a distrust of him.

And I hope STH will forgive me for providing what might appear to be a counter-intuitive response (we can and should talk about this more in the comments!), but the above scenario and general mindset is what I believe the actual problem to be.

No “male behavior” encompasses all men, and no “female behavior” accurately describes the actions of all women. But men and women often display tendencies that cut to the heart of the whole Battle of the Sexes/Mars-Venus conversation.

Out here in the world, the Men Are Pigs brigade can blame men for everything while the Red Pill-Swallowing Manosphere can point fingers at women, and the consequences—on a case-by-case basis—might be minor.

Maybe it’s limited to an impolite exchange of comments on the internet, or a group of men swapping stories after a Saturday morning round of golf, or a group of women doing the same at the spa. It’s not ideal, but it’s mostly contained.

In a marriage between a man and a woman? Where the break-up will fundamentally change the lives of both people, their children, their finances, their friends and family, and unknown other ripple effects?

There, the stakes are a bit higher.

I don’t know that I particularly care about the women that hate men because they’ve had a lifetime of bad experiences with them. Doesn’t it make sense for certain women to have their guards up with men after the previous five or eight or 15 that they’ve dated/loved/lived with/slept with, etc. all turned out to be negative life experiences?

And isn’t that also true for certain men? If they’ve been lied to, manipulated, or cheated on by women they believed to love them?

We can’t make people like and respect each other, unfortunately.

But, in MARRIAGE?

What could POSSIBLY be ambiguous about publicly stated vows like “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad”? Or “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life”? Or “until death do us part”?

We can be dicks to one another here on the internet or to strangers on the street with little immediate consequence.

It spreads hate. It extinguishes light. It perpetuates fear.

But we can do it, and in that moment, an individual’s life or group of family members’ lives might not be adversely affected forever.

But when we do it in our marriages, we break things inside others and ourselves that I’m not sure can ever be fixed.

I have a little boy in third grade. He’s my entire world. Almost every decision I make, big or small, begins and ends with him in mind.

Almost every hardship he faces—all of the little things that present challenges and anxieties and fears and pain in that child’s world—is a direct result of his parents’ divorce.

On occasions where that child is crying in my arms, he’s crying because of circumstances that wouldn’t exist if his mom and dad were still married.

And I’m sure there’s all kinds of blame to go around, but I KNOW why I’m divorced. I know who to blame for those tears.

My wife believed one thing.

I believed something else.

And instead of that being okay like it is when my best friends root for a different sports team or vote for a different political candidate, I didn’t trust her.

No matter how many millions of ways I DID trust her, I didn’t trust that when she told me that something was hurting her or mattered to her, that she was experiencing it accurately.

Didn’t seem like it would hurt to me.

Didn’t seem important from my perspective.

So, when she said something that didn’t align with my experiences, I didn’t trust her.

I didn’t trust her feelings.

I didn’t trust her feelings because they were different than mine.

You can get away with that with your buddies. With your co-workers. With people you want to argue with on the internet.

But when you promise to love and honor someone forever, you damn well better TRUST them when they describe their experiences to you.

Which Came First—His Distrust or Hers?

Men often display a need to be trusted and respected. Bad things tend to happen when they feel otherwise in their relationships.

But when you deny your wife or girlfriend’s right to experience human life in the way they do, calling them wrong, or stupid, or crazy?

When she can’t feel safe talking to you about things that make her feel bad?

When she can’t trust you to take care of her even in matters as seemingly small as a random conversation?

Cause. Effect.

When we love and honor our partners, we go first.

We don’t point fingers. We look in the mirror.

Trust can’t be a thing in a constant state of rebuild.

Trust must be in a perpetual state of accumulation.

Trust shouldn’t be something we react to.

Trust should be the thing we lead with.

These two articles are awesome, and helped me formulate my thoughts here:

1. Men Just Don’t Trust Women. And This is a Problem

2. 5 Stages of Distrust and How it Destroys Your Relationships

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‘Should I Divorce My Wife?’

man drinking alone at bar

(Image/Improvemant.com)

You two are fighting a lot, sleeping in separate places, not having sex, nor really even talking to each other any more than you have to.

You haven’t felt like yourself—the person you remember being growing up—in months. Maybe years.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how you got here.

That’s probably because no one thing caused this. It was a series of many tiny, mostly undetectable moments over the course of months and years, many of which you’ve forgotten about. There may even be things you don’t realize are on the Reasons Why This Is Happening list.

Maybe one of you had a sexual or emotional affair.

Maybe someone very close to one of you died.

Maybe you lost a job or are having financial difficulties.

Those tend to be the big things that camouflage all the little things.

Maybe addiction problems are driving a wedge between you. (Maybe even stuff you don’t consider to be addictions, like video games or pornography.)

Or, maybe you’re a little bit like me and can’t pinpoint exactly where everything went off-track. You only know you’re several years into this marriage and none of it feels like you thought it would back when you said “I do” in front of everyone who mattered.

There’s no one-size-fits-all diagnosis or a specific One Thing that kills a marriage. But the laundry list of “little” things that break relationships and the hearts of those in them all tend to live in the same bucket, and look and sound the same as everyone else’s story.

In other words: No matter what your particular set of shitty-marriage circumstances looks and feels like, you can rest assured that you’re not the only one.

I Was You Once

I don’t talk about it much. In fact, I don’t think I ever have. The time I considered divorcing my wife.

Maybe because it doesn’t fit the narrative of her leaving me and the gargantuan cloud of fuckness that infected me for a long time afterward because it turned out to be the last thing I ever wanted, and the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

It was, like, bad.

I cried sometimes and felt like a massive loser and failure. Like I’d let everyone down. And to this day, I have significant shame issues any time a life situation forces me to acknowledge my failed marriage to someone new.

My little boy. My parents and family. Her parents and family. Our friends.

And later, any married person.

It’s easy to feel like you’ve failed all of them, or like you don’t measure up to all the people who didn’t mess up like you did.

(It gets better when you realize that they actually DO mess up and simply mask it well, OR mess up at other life things that you have a good handle on. You’re a human being with inconvenient thoughts and feelings, as well as certain fears, anxieties, insecurities and personal vices. Everyone has that same list of suckage. It’s the minutiae that varies from person to person. You’re not a freak or fundamentally different than anyone else. Promise.)

So, yeah.

I totally considered initiating a divorce with my wife.

I was sleeping in the guest bedroom. She wasn’t particularly nice to me. She didn’t make me feel good. She wasn’t interested in doing anything with me. We never touched one another. After several years of marriage, she’d sometimes leave for work in the morning or go upstairs to bed at night without saying a word to me.

It hurt.

I thought she was a cold, cruel, unforgiving shell of a human being who didn’t like nor love me.

I didn’t think it was fair that I felt the way I did because of how she was treating me. I didn’t think it was fair that she had advocated to get married when I was still young and scared only to be acting this way now. And it seemed obvious that being single again, or maybe with someone else, would drastically improve my day-to-day life experience, mentally and emotionally.

If we didn’t share a beautiful son, and I hadn’t spent the previous 30 years vowing to never get divorced like my parents, I’d have walked out like a huge moronic asshole, and spent the rest of my life telling people over bar drinks what a raw deal I got, and how unlucky her next boyfriend or husband will be.

The Hard Questions

It took me a long time and a bunch of misery and depression to piece the mystery together. To be able to tell the REAL story.

And had it never hurt, maybe I’d have never asked myself the right questions: What have I done to cause this? What could I have done differently to avoid having my marriage and family fall apart? How much of this might have been avoided had I made better, less-selfish choices?

Those are hard questions.

Not if you lie to yourself and others like I would have had I kept blaming my wife for everything and feeling sorry for myself like a helpless butt-hurt victim.

They’re hard questions when you’re willing to tell yourself the truth, even if it’s inconvenient.

Those are the answers that gut you from the inside. They’re the ones that make you throw up with tears streaming down your face.

All those times you told her she was crazy or wrong simply because she disagreed with you. All those times you chose video games and poker night to sitting next to her. All those times you chose fun excursions with your buddies and left her alone, yet never invested a similar amount of time and energy to planning fun things for her and you to do together. All those times you jerked off to porn or thoughts of someone else instead of investing that desire and energy into the person you once loved and wanted so much that YOU asked HER to marry you.

They’re the uncomfortable truths.

The ones that keep you up at night and generate all those What Might Have Beens.

A stronger, more courageous, and all-around better version of yourself emerges once you’ve asked and answered all the hard questions.

Because it typically turns out that you weren’t the stupid idiot who married the wrong girl.

The inconvenient truth is typically that you were the stupid idiot who didn’t know that all those things you were doing instead of paying attention to your wife and marriage were a lot less harmless than you’d thought.

All those things you thought were stupid and petty and nagging, yet would have been so damn easy to accommodate with a tiny bit of graciousness and unselfishness, weren’t so stupid and petty after all.

You didn’t know it would all lead to this moment right now. Standing there with puke on your chin, snot dripping from your nose, and salty tears you never realized were trapped behind those red eyes.

And then it happens. Something unexpectedly good in the midst of all the soul-sucking shittiness.

Hope.

Because now you’ve got a real chance.

Should you divorce your wife?

Who can say?

Before we start to guess, I’d ask you to first take off the mask and make yourself really uncomfortable playing Devil’s Advocate against your self-preservation instincts.

You’ll know you’re on the right track once you start to squirm. You’ll know you’re in the right place once you identify the moments that seemed so benign and unimportant at the time, but actually changed the whole world.

The kind of moments that might crop up again, and give us an opportunity to right a few wrongs.

An opportunity to be courageous.

An opportunity to be men.

Should you divorce your wife?

We can talk about it later. Though the truth is, when the time is right, you’ll already know the answer.

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Influence Your Relationship Using the 6 Principles of Persuasion

influence

(Image/justinmarroquin.com)

Most divorce and breakups could be avoided if the partner most dedicated to the relationship could effectively persuade or influence the other to adjust their behavior or communication habits in relationship-strengthening ways.

You know—theoretically.

In real life, the problem often lies in one person believing their ideas, opinions and ways of doing things are right while their partner’s hare-brained ideas, opinions and stupid way of doing things are wrong.

Sadly, it frequently breaks down along gender lines.

It’s good for all of the people who can benefit from the whole Mars/Venus, Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti concept.

It’s bad for all of the people who don’t fit neatly into those molds, and value things like equality and not being pigeonholed by stereotypical labels.

I think most rapists and serial killers are white men. It would be awesome if people didn’t assume I’m a threat to rape or kill someone based on my gender and skin color. I think other people with different skin colors and gender profiles probably feel the same.

Yet, mountains of Gottman Institute data has demonstrated that the top predictor of divorce has direct ties to gendered behavior, and that is: A husband’s willingness to accept his wife’s influence has the greatest statistical correlation to, and is the No. 1 predictor of, whether or not a marriage will last.

Sorry guys.

Understanding What Influences Human Behavior

That’s a powerful word.

Influence.

I like it. I like how it sounds, what it means, and the idea of people being influential (if you’re not an evil dickface planning a poison Kool-Aid® party or whatever).

Setting aside my belief that many men are accidentally sexist because of their Father Knows Best upbringings where they were exposed to women catering to, or being belittled by, men who were the bosses, primary decision makers, and group or organizational leaders by virtue of their stoic manliness and not being slaves to their emotions and menstrual cycles like all those diaper-changing, laundry-folding, lunch-packing women… setting all that to the side for a moment…

Human beings, regardless of gender or any other categorical label, often believe things or react emotionally to things in ways that are radically different than another person. It happens all the time, every day, in every conceivable type of relationship or life scenario.

First, something happens.

Then one person thinks and feels one way about it. And another person thinks and feels something different. It’s common for the two people to debate whose thoughts and feelings are better, or right, or most accurate.

Sometimes the debates are reasonably friendly and/or professional.

Other times, such disagreements can lead to name-calling, or fist fights, or divorce, or homicide, or violent riots and rebellion, or one country bombing another country.

It’s a problem.

An incalculable amount of human misery is generated by the equivalent of someone with colorblindness identifying something as being green (the color they accurately see) fighting with someone who sees the same object as being red.

When we tell people that their feelings and life experiences are wrong, and deny honoring their wants or needs simply because they’re not the same as ours, we end up breaking a lot of things AND being stupid assholes. Because if we had the same eyes and brain as the person we’re talking to, we’d see the color green, too.

The 6 Principles of Influence and Persuasion

The most sensible solution, I believe, is to master the skill of empathy and teach it to our children at home and in schools.

But that’s like saying the most sensible solution to our financial problems is finding hidden pirate treasure or riding our pet unicorns to Leprechaun McGee’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The transformation of the current human race into a more empathetic version that won’t fight and troll one another on the internet at every opportunity will probably take longer than it takes my 8-year-old to put his shoes on before school. (An inexplicably and painfully long time.)

So, we turn to the next-best thing: Persuasion.

We develop the ability to influence those within our influential sphere—the most important being our marriage/relationship partners, our children, our co-workers, etc.

The long-time thought leader in the psychology-of-persuasion space is a man named Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, and author of the classic Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Cialdini spent 35 years studying what moves people to change behavior, and broke it down into six basic principles.

Cialdini wrote the book to help people protect themselves from manipulative mind tricks (from con artists and shady sales pitches), and to help marketers tap into the human psyche ethically to succeed in their profession.

But since only a small percentage of people work in marketing and since I believe marriages and families matter more than product sales, I thought it might be interesting to explore how we could use persuasive behavior to positively influence our partners in an effort to strengthen our relationships.

Principle #1: Reciprocation

We feel indebted to people who give us gifts or do nice things for us. And we are societally conditioned to think of people unwilling to reciprocate favors as assholes. And since we don’t want to be assholes, we are much more likely to do things for people who have done things for us.

“The implication is that you have to go first. Give something: give information, give free samples, give a positive experience to people and they will want to give you something in return,” Cialdini said.

I know what many of you are thinking: “But Matt!!! That’s bullshit!!! I do EVERYTHING for my spouse and children, and they don’t do anything for me!!!”

I get it.

Your partner and/or family takes you for granted. Welcome to the human experience.

This exercise isn’t about what feels fair.

It’s about influencing another human being to do something we want them to do. When we are willing to go first, and give before we try to get, we have a MUCH greater chance of cooperation from anyone.

What nice thing could we do for our partners that they don’t expect that might earn us a kind and empathetic ear when we want to ask them to do something for us?

Principle #2: Social Proof

When people are uncertain about a particular course of action, we tend to look around for cues from others to help guide our actions and decisions.

Cialdini and a research team conducted an experiment to see what type of messaging on hotel room signs would result in hotel guests reusing their bathroom towels.

Sign #1 cited environmental reasons.

Sign #2 said the hotel would donate a portion of laundry savings to an environmental cause.

Sign #3 said the hotel had already made the donation and asked “Will you please join us?”

Sign #4 said the majority of hotel guests reused their towels at least once during their stay.

When guests were told that most other hotel guests were reusing their towels, they were more likely to comply with the request. Sign #4 got 48 percent of experiment participants to reuse their towels.

I would STRONGLY discourage someone from telling their spouse that “So-and-so does all these great things for his/her spouse! Why can’t you do them for me, loser?” and contrasting undesirable behavior with something that looks more attractive. That will prove counterproductive.

But, how might we use proven, successful relationship behavior from other people to help influence our partners to change a harmful behavior?

Principle #3: Commitment and Consistency

Obviously, people don’t always do what they say they are going to do. That probably includes more than half of everyone who has ever made a public marriage vow.

However, the science is the science. People are more likely to do something after agreeing to it verbally or in writing.

People strive for consistency in their commitments, and prefer to follow pre-existing attitudes, values and actions, Cialdini said.

How might we (with kindness and good intentions) get our partners to reaffirm their commitments to our relationships in ways that might foster more connection and positive love- and intimacy-related feelings?

Principle #4: Liking

“People prefer to say yes to those they know and like,” Cialdini said.

Physical attraction, shared traits, and being paid compliments MAJORLY influences who we like.

People struggling in shitty relationships often love, but don’t really “like” being around, their partners. Try to look beyond that for a minute.

In the context of this psychological principle, something super-subtle like having a similar name nearly doubled the likelihood of someone responding to a survey request by actually participating in it.

For example, someone named Robert James was almost twice as likely (56% to 30%) to comply with a request if asked by someone with a similar name like Bob Ames, than he was by someone named Matt Fray.

The key takeaway for relationships, I believe, is learning how to be knowledgeable about our partner’s existing preferences.

Sales people greatly improve their chances of making a sale by demonstrating that they understand their customer’s personal preferences.

Couldn’t that same principle work in our behavior toward our spouses?

Principle #5: Authority

Most people tend to respect authority figures. Not just our bosses at work or police officers, but even people like the medical office workers checking our insurance cards and asking us to fill out sign-in sheets at our doctor appointments, and others, such as flight attendants.

That’s why con artists commonly pose as company officials via email, on the phone, or by wearing some type of uniform when they knock on doors. It’s to appear “official” and authoritarian.

We tend to follow the lead of real experts.

There are an endless amount of helpful resources on improving relationships and marriage, with one of the most obvious being the Gottman Institute, and their science-based approach using big data to uncover the secrets of happy marriages, and the hallmark traits of relationships that are doomed.

How can we cleverly use an authentic expert to influence our partner to take a certain action?

Principle #6: Scarcity

Ahh. Good ol’ scarcity.

The genesis of all “Act fast! These deals end soon!” messaging and the reason why those brilliant countdown clocks on Amazon and Living Social products sometimes prompt us to click that “Buy Now” button sooner than we might otherwise.

It’s the most basic premise of economic theory: The less there is of something, the more valuable it is.

People are drawn to, and willing to overpay for, rare and uncommon things that other people also want.

Cialdini didn’t need to conduct any new experiments to prove that people OFTEN want what they can’t have.

This bears out in shitty marriages all the time. Husbands frequently demonstrate indifference in their romantic relationships with their wives, and fight with her when she calls him on it, but then freak out and cry a lot when she finally decides to leave him.

That’s kind of how it went for me, too.

While it might be tempting to threaten divorce or withhold sex in a misguided effort to manipulate our partner in a reverse-psychology sort of way, I think any relationship-damaging behavior (which any type of cruel or unloving manipulation would be) defeats the purpose of using persuasion and influence to strengthen our connections with those we love.

But the question remains: How can we use the SUPER-powerful “Fear of missing out” phenomenon to influence our partners in healthy ways to adjust a behavior that might save or strengthen our marriage?

Influencing others isn’t about luck or sorcery. It’s science.

It’s simply caring about something enough to figure out how it functions, and how best to care for it to keep it operating at a high level for a very long time.

It’s simply caring enough about the people we love to figure out how best to care for them in a way that keeps their hearts, minds and spirits functioning at high levels for a very long time.

Like, longer than my son’s putting-his-shoes-on process.

Like, forever.

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I Figured Out Who To Blame For My Divorce

man and woman pointing fingers at each other

(Image/shawnpowrie.com)

After an 18-month downward spiral of misery hallmarked by sexlessness, sleeping in separate bedrooms, and crying more than any middle-class white guy living in the United States should be allowed, my wife packed a bag and drove away with our preschooler in the backseat.

And because during those final months I felt as if I was trying harder than she was to make it work, I blamed her for ruining my life and taking half of my son’s childhood away from me.

I felt abandoned. Betrayed. Rejected.

I felt like she chose someone else over me because I wasn’t good enough.

Not rich enough. Not smart enough. Not attractive enough. Not sexy enough. Not tall enough.

Not ANYTHING enough.

Must be this tall to ride.

She moved out. And before I had time to figure out what hit me, she was with someone else.

I blamed her for breaking up our family. I blamed her for disrupting our little son’s childhood. I blamed her for the intense pain I felt in my head, chest and stomach. I blamed her for leaving me alone in a town where I didn’t have roots, but couldn’t move from.

I blamed her for ruining my entire life.

She did this to me.

The Skill of Blaming

When bad things happen in my personal life, my brain quickly creates stories to explain why those bad things are as much Not My Fault as mathematically possible.

It’s kind of incredible how instantaneously it occurs.

I’d call it a superpower, but maybe everyone does it. Also, I perceive superpowers to be tools used for good, and blame-shifting even as an involuntary subconscious process that happens before we even have time to speak or act, is not something I’d consider “good.”

I don’t have to try hard to do this.

Point to something you don’t like about me, or some aspect of my behavior or lifestyle you observe as needing improvement, and I can tell you a legit story about why it’s that way.

Only child.

Small-town Ohio.

Divorced parents.

Unforeseeable economic conditions.

ADHD.

Super-busy.

Single father.

Whatever.

Something I inherited or some limitation created by someone else can usually be blamed for whatever The Bad Thing is.

Sometimes I even catch myself saying: “That’s not meant to be an excuse; that’s the actual reason” to people to whom I’m probably just making excuses.

I’d like to think I’m being honest when I say it.

But maybe I trick myself into believing my own bullshit before I ever get to the part where I challenge my own assumptions. Maybe I sometimes move on before ever getting to the self-challenging part because I’m busy or distracted or lazy. That’s probably how a whole bunch of false beliefs and general assholery happens.

I think I might thoughtlessly do what many humans thoughtlessly do: We rationalize and believe whatever story makes us feel most comfortable.

I’ve been thinking about blame ever since another writer pointed me in the direction of this Dr. Brené Brown video on blame. It’s excellent and you should watch it in an effort to keep your assholery quotient as low as possible.

When Blame is Good

I’ve been trying to work out when blame or the act of assigning blame might be useful.

If someone is wrongly accused of a crime or even just misidentified as having caused The Bad Thing at home, school or work, it seems like a good thing to exonerate the innocent by discovering the true cause.

Similarly, bad things sometimes happen on a broader scale, like a workplace accident, airplane crash or building fire. In these situations, some type of root-cause analysis and investigation is conducted to identify the reason The Bad Thing happened.

It’s good to identify reasons. To assign “blame” correctly, because then steps can be taken to learn from any mistakes that might have contributed to The Bad Thing happening.

There are very few items on my Reasons My Life is Better Because of Divorce! list that I just invented.

But one of them is: Now that I’ve identified several ways that my incorrect beliefs and asshole behaviors contributed to my divorce, I can now be confident that I’m unlikely to repeat them.

Which is a bigger deal for people like me than you might realize.

People who smoke a pack of Marlboros every day, and pound fast-food cheeseburgers and shakes for every meal are more likely to gain weight and develop heart disease, cancer or another potentially fatal disease linked to poor nutrition.

There was a time in history not so long ago where MOST people in the world didn’t know things like that.

Figuring out what to “blame” for the sickness and death was good. It was useful. It helped us collectively make better choices moving forward.

The truth is that blame is rarely good or useful. A better word for the good kind of “blame” is Accountability.

When Blame is Bad

I’m wrong more often than I want to believe (You are too. Sorry!), but I’m pretty sure blaming other things and other people for The Bad Things we encounter is almost never good.

Brené Brown says it best in that video above that you probably didn’t watch.

She said “I’d rather something be my fault than no one’s fault. Why? Because it gives us some semblance of control.”

And that very thought is, I believe, the one that helped me get from depression and borderline-suicidalness, to the place where I can find comfort and peace that my son and his mother have someone other than me who cares about them and looks out for their wellbeing.

When my needy, bitchy, nagging, unsatisfiable and overly emotional wife left me, I was a victim, and powerless to any of her personal-life decisions (which impacted me directly because we share a child). Everything was her fault, and I was miserable and kind of wanted to die.

However.

When my unsupported, emotionally abandoned wife who had spent several years trying her best to help me understand how my actions and attitudes were harming her and our marriage (while I repeatedly denied it and refused to change) FINALLY worked up the courage to leave the relationship in the face of sacrificing so much time with her son, and suffering the personal-life fallout of all who would judge her disapprovingly for that choice…

Everything became MY fault. 

Because—despite tricking myself and others for many years—I had been a monumentally shitty husband.

And after coming to terms emotionally with the depths of my failings, my misery turned into power.

My despair turned into hope.

Because I finally, finally, finally understood how my actions had lead me to the place I was in, and I could feel the incredible power that comes with being in control of my own life again.

And when you understand how something you did or didn’t do lead to the worst thing that ever happened to you, you get to stop being afraid of it happening again for the same reason.

We can’t fix things when we don’t even know what’s broken.

Blame blinds us to accurate diagnoses.

Brown said: “Blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Accountability is a vulnerable process.”

Similar to how The Gottman Institute has conducted incredible amounts of research and amassed huge quantities of data on which to base its relationship-counseling advice, Brown also has taken a research-based approach to helping people develop better relationship skills.

“Blaming is simply a way to discharge anger. People who blame a lot seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we spend all of our energy raging for 15 seconds and figuring out whose fault something is,” Brown said. “Blaming is very corrosive in relationships, and one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy.”

And if you don’t exactly know what empathy is and why it’s important (I did not throughout the entirety my nine-year marriage), then you’ll be pleased to know it’s the one thing you can start practicing today that will literally change your life and those of everyone you interact with regularly in profound and positive ways.

Nine out of 10 doctors recommend it for curing a bad case of assholery.

When I blame other people and happenings for the bad things I experience in life, then nothing I do matters because everything good or bad that happens to me is out of my control.

The poor helpless victim that I am.

When I accept responsibility for all of my choices from an appropriate age of accountability through today, then everything I do matters because everything that happens to me is a result of something I can influence by whatever I choose next.

It’s the difference between anxiety and confidence; between despair and hope; and between a life where things just happen to us, and one where we decide what happens next.

It’s easy to blame everything on my ex-wife.

It’s hard to be accountable for everything that happened to my family.

But my most important discovery following the worst thing that ever happened to me is this: I can do hard things.

And so can you.

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The Power of Understanding

The Power of Understanding

On the left is what we consider “color-correct.” On the right is what someone with red-green colorblindness sees. (Image/Irv Aron’s Journal)

Person #1: “I love the way the red pomegranates, orange oranges and yellow bananas pop in this photo.”

Person #2: “What are you smoking? Everything looks muted. Dark greens and grays. Nothing is red or yellow in that photo.”

Person #1: “Are we looking at the same thing here? The colors are vibrant and beautiful. You’re crazy if you don’t think so.”

Person #2: “Whatever. You’re a moron. I know what I see.”

Couples fight a lot. We’re human. We disagree because our brains work differently than others’. But when we FIGHT, it’s mostly because we don’t understand.

And then, no matter how many different situations crop up, it seems as if the fight is always the same.

Both people believe they’re looking at the same thing, yet both people see something totally different, in much the same way people with color-correct vision perceive color differently than those with red-green colorblindness.

That situation rarely comes up today because advanced tools and understanding in optometry detects colorblindness early.

But you can imagine the conversations people were having before it became widely known that color-blind people literally see something different than those of us blessed with the ability to see the full range of colors.

Two sane people arguing about how something right in front of them looks totally different than what the other is describing, and both thinking the other must be crazy or intentionally trying to upset them.

I think that sums up the majority of marriage and relationship arguments throughout human history.

Sometimes one person will be factually incorrect, yes.

But the marriage fights that slowly break down the emotional connection between two spouses tend not to be about things we can “prove.”

We Don’t Need to Speak the Same Language; We Need Only Accurate Translations

I can’t read nor understand any spoken language that isn’t English (not counting the 30 words I still remember from my Spanish classes).

How accurate or helpful a written document or spoken set of instructions may be can’t overcome my inability to understand them when offered in any language but the one I know.

There’s profound power in understanding what something means.

The Power of Habit

Stuff happened to you when you were a baby that you can’t remember, but the imprint those things left on you is responsible for some of the emotional triggers affecting you today.

They look and feel different for everyone. Even siblings raised by the same people in the same environment.

Moreover, we spend our lives subconsciously developing habits. Habits are very powerful. When our spouses say or do certain things, it may trigger something within us that brings out the worst in us. It’s emotional, deep-seated chemical response based on a lifetime of experiences (many of which we may have misinterpreted or misunderstood at the time!).

Charles Duhigg wrote an awesome book about habits. Here’s a quick video about the power of habits:

So, I finally understood what my wife had been saying all these years, and that fundamental shift in understanding changed EVERYTHING for me in terms of my ability to properly frame our conversations and disagreements.

It was incredibly empowering (albeit regret-inducing) to recognize reality. To be clued into the truth about colorblindness for the first time.

And I was so excited about this information that seemed so powerful and important to me that I wanted to share it with as many people as possible.

Divorce was very hard as a child to see your parents go through it, and it’s very hard as an adult — the breakage and loss we feel, and the added pain of watching our kids suffer and knowing we had a hand in it.

And FINALLY, I know something that other guys don’t know, but IF they knew, they could all change and then maybe they won’t get divorced like me.

That was what I thought and felt.

But after doing this for four years, seeing and hearing how so many relationship and divorce stories play out, and going through the human experience myself in my various family and social relationships, I’ve learned something else very important.

We Don’t Change — Our Understanding Does

I thought my new understanding would change me. I even used the word “change.” I described myself as a new person. A different person.

It’s a lot of semantics of course, but I’m not actually all that different. And I haven’t really changed despite all of my newfound understanding.

I used to believe that I could help a man understand what I know, and that if he “got it,” he could then flip a switch and magically turn into someone else who never did the things which upset his spouse.

That’s not what happens.

People don’t magically turn into other people with totally different personalities and habits, no matter how much they learn.

I used to believe that a guy would simply stop doing all of those things which started fights at home and THAT would save a marriage.

I no longer believe that.

I believe a guy — any person, really — will continue to be exactly who they are. But I believe they will occasionally be more mindful of their behaviors and reduce instances of situations which historically caused an argument.

But the real value is in the understanding.

Marriages aren’t saved by people changing everything about themselves and the chemistry that brought them together in the first place.

Marriages are saved by people who learn how to understand one another. We learn that our translators are unreliable, so we must account for things getting lost in translation. We learn that the goal of a conversation is not to win an argument, but to achieve mutual understanding.

We learn that we can look at the exact same photo as someone else and see something totally different because neither of us are wrong. Then, when we talk, we are — maybe for the first time ever — actually talking about the same things with the same frame of reference.

Because my brain and your brain are not the same.

Because all of my individual experiences, and all of yours, shaped us into people who see and feel things differently.

Because colorblindness is real.

“Oh, he’s colorblind. Of course the fruit looks different to him. He isn’t wrong. He isn’t crazy. And he hasn’t been intentionally trying to anger or hurt me all this of time after all.”

We want them to change.

But all we really need is for them to understand.

That’s when good things happen.

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Is He the One?: How to Know Whether You Should Marry Him

litmus test

(Image/Broken Bread Club)

I used to leave a drinking glass by the kitchen sink instead of putting it in the dishwasher, and then argue with my wife when she complained about it.

I wrote that story a year ago, and since, more than five million people read it on this blog, and several million more read it elsewhere.

I call it “the dishes post,” even though it’s about a lot more than dishes. When I was asked today in an email whether there was a way to know BEFORE marriage that someone who by all appearances is a good man, might be a shitty husband, I realized the dishes post also serves as an excellent marriage litmus test.

She asked: “But, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a way for a woman to know or predict that *before* getting married? Red flags are obvious (infidelity, abuse, jealousy, etc.) but what about far-less obvious stuff?”

It’s a good question. And a year ago, I wouldn’t have been brazen enough to answer it. But when millions of people read something, share it with their friends and family saying: “THIS!!! This guy gets it!!!” and guys send me private emails telling me that it helped them finally understand why he and his wife or girlfriend always have the same fight over and over again, and that I helped him save his marriage, I feel emboldened even if it’s unjustified.

The Marriage Litmus Test

It could be dishes by the sink. It could be dirty socks thrown next to the hamper. It could be pee dribble on the toilet seat. It could be muddy shoes on the floor. It could be unrinsed shaving cream and facial-hair stubble crusted to the sides of the sink basin.

It doesn’t matter what the Thing is. Everyone has different Things.

It’s the Thing He Does Which Hurts Your Feelings or Disrespects You, And Then Acts Like You’re Crazy or Wrong When You Say So.

It usually goes like this:

Behavior X = The Thing That Hurts. Sometimes there are several things.

But Behavior X does not hurt him. In other words, dirty socks on the floor might bother you, but it doesn’t bother him. Because it doesn’t bother him, he thinks it’s irrational for it to bother you.

Thus, in his mind, the simple and best solution is not for him to stop throwing socks on the floor, but for you to stop letting your irrational emotions ruin your day.

“Why are you freaking out about something so minor and petty? Just let it go, babe! It’s not a big deal! I’ll pick them up later!”

I think you probably get it. So, here’s the test:

Step 1: Identify things or behaviors your boyfriend does which hurts your feelings.

Step 2: Say so. Kindly. Patiently. Honestly.

If he gets it, and says words and adjusts behavior to demonstrate that he gets it, he passes The Marriage Litmus Test with an A+. Congratulations!

This is uncommon. More likely are the following types of responses:

1. Dismissal — Treating your concern as unimportant like shooing away a flying insect.

2. Outrage — Responding as if you’re wrong, even going so far as to blame you for finding reasons to feel angry and start fights.

3. Avoidance — Denying you the opportunity to explain yourself because “Now’s not a good time for this,” and choosing to focus his energy and attention elsewhere.

Which means The Marriage Litmus Test continues. He doesn’t know how much is at stake, just like cigarette smokers in the 1960s didn’t know that smoking caused cancer. He’s not intentionally causing harm. He’s accidentally causing harm by choosing activities he honestly doesn’t know are bad.

Patience must be maintained. If you flip shit on him during the test, the test results will be invalid, because flipping your shit is ALSO not okay, no matter how easily and automatically you might slip into lashing out angrily.

Step 3: Kindly and honestly communicate that the Dismissal/Outrage/Avoidance response ALSO hurts, just like The Thing.

And for the sake of leading by example, kindly ask when a good time might be to talk about it more with him. NOT to criticize. But to help bridge the misunderstanding because you want your partner to understand where you’re coming from, just as you want to understand his perspective. You want to spend the rest of your relationship not fighting over silly things.

If he refuses to ever talk about it because you’re being a stupid, nagging, bitchy idiot, then maybe it’s time to leave. Because, without a major shift, your relationship is doomed.

If he agrees to a later conversation, and honors that commitment, things are looking good, and he may still earn an A.

Step 4: During the conversation, follow The 4 Easy Steps For Getting Your Husband to Finally Listen to You.

Not everyone’s brains work exactly the same. It is common for two people to view the same thing totally differently, which is why you’re having the conversation in the first place. Just because two people disagree DOES NOT make one wrong and the other right. Not all disagreements have an objectively true answer, like whether chocolate tastes better than vanilla.

Chocolate tastes better to me. Others prefer vanilla. The reasons are unique to each individual.

The trick is to understand what HURTS your boyfriend. So many guys mask their pains for fear of losing their Man Cards that sometimes their girlfriends don’t actually know what hurts them.

And it’s truly this simple:

Thing That Hurts Guy = Guy Hurting

And in EXACTLY that same way…

Boyfriend Behavior Being Discussed = Girlfriend Hurting

Each instance of the behavior caused a paper cut. And it just kept happening. Paper cuts. They don’t kill you. But it really hurts and is totally debilitating to get them over and over and over again. And ultimately, too many cuts becomes a fatal wound.

The Test Results

Even though a paper cut won’t kill me, I’m not going to choose a relationship with someone who repeatedly cuts me with paper, even after I point out that it’s happening.

My partner may accidentally give me a paper cut thoughtlessly. If she demonstrates clear remorse and pledges to stop, I will respond differently than if she says: “Toughen up, pussy. They’re just paper cuts.”

Everyone will have a different pain tolerance and threshold, as well as different reasons (they might have children together, for example) for grading the Marriage Litmus Test on a curve.

In the end, it’s up to each person to establish their personal boundaries and to enforce them. People who don’t communicate and enforce their boundaries are doomed to a life of other people making them miserable.

In the end, a guy who doesn’t “get it” or refuses to try will make a shitty husband, even if he’s a good guy in other areas.

He’ll just keep on cutting you with paper. Maybe not on purpose. But eventually, through negligence.

In the end, a guy who believes there’s a clear winner in the Chocolate vs. Vanilla debate, and that anyone who doesn’t agree with his opinion is wrong, will ultimately prove to be an insufferable asshole and shitty husband who will purposefully or inadvertently teach your kids to be insufferable assholes.

But just maybe, once your boyfriend understands that something that doesn’t hurt him and that he never intended to be harmful CAN STILL HURT YOU, and it registers with him how dangerous and abusive it is when people suffer that way, everything will change.

He may still paper-cut you accidentally now and then. But when you say so kindly, the moment won’t turn into another fight.

It will turn into a moment that brings you closer together.

Because he knows what he didn’t before, and because he’s a good guy, he’s going to try hard to not hurt you.

And because you know that when you do feel hurt, it will be safe to tell him, and you can trust he will always have your best interests (and those of your future family) at heart.

Sometimes, he’ll disappoint you. And it will hurt. Maybe one day that pain will be replaced by gratitude for avoiding a toxic marriage.

But sometimes, he’ll surprise you. In a good way. Because he passed the Marriage Litmus Test.

Because you found the one for you.

And that’s where Happily Ever After — at least the real-life, non-fairytale version — begins.

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When Your Spouse Dies and You Miss Their Dirty Socks on the Floor

dirty socks on the floor

(Image/The Livingston Post)

After her husband died unexpectedly, the dirty socks and pants she used to find thrown on the bedroom floor became something she missed.

She avoided washing his last load of laundry as long as she could. Savoring this once-annoying moment as she realized how much she would miss it.

Debbie Wilkins Baisden recounts this story and the life lesson it provided in her article “Stop Being a Butthole Wife.”

Everyone who has ever written about male-female relationships could have predicted what happened next.

Everyone in happy, peaceful marriages read it and said: “Amen, sister! Don’t sweat the small stuff!”

Wives frustrated and angry with their husbands who leave dirty laundry on the floor, and dirty dishes next to the sink said: “I know you’re sad your husband died, but that doesn’t mean we should excuse the disrespectful behavior! I’m not my husband’s maid, and he needs to respect me and pick up after himself!”

And then a guy would reply: “Why do you believe you have the right to command your husband to do things your way, or dictate the terms of your marriage when he feels differently? You’re not his mother!”

And then a married or divorced wife would reply: “The person who does all the cleaning should make the rules!”

And then a married guy would reply: “I suppose that’s what you say and feel when your husband is outside shoveling snow, or fixing the plumbing, or taking garbage to the curb! You feminists have ruined marriage!”

And then a woman would reply: “Actually, you misogynists are the ones who ruined marriage!”

And then more people would internet-scream at each other about who is responsible or to blame for their problems, the premise always being that “If only men/women would stop doing (insert ‘crime’ here), we wouldn’t have all these relationship problems!”

If I Blame Everything on Divorce, Then Nothing is Ever My Fault

That’s my life in a nutshell.

I don’t do it on purpose.

I don’t sit around thinking: This is all totally my fault, but I’ll just blame it on someone or something else for public-relations reasons and trick everyone.

But I do often catch myself blaming divorce for things.

I was popular and well-liked growing up. (Or at least, I THOUGHT I was popular and well-liked, which has the same effect on your mind and body even if it wasn’t true.)

I assumed everyone I met liked me, and I assumed everyone I would meet would like me, and that made me mostly fearless.

I made friends easily. Girls seemed to like me. Friends’ parents, teachers, and coaches all seemed to as well.

I had many friends. Both in high school and college. In two different states because my mom and dad lived in different places.

I struggled with the transition to domesticated, couples-based socializing after my girlfriend/fiancée/wife and I started our life together, and everything converted from big-group activities and parties, to small dinner parties and small-group gatherings.

But as time passed and I matured, I found peace and pleasure with the ebb and flow of being married and couples-based socializing as we all began building careers and families.

Then the hits started coming around age 30.

The fight about where we should live and work.

The birth of our son.

The death of a parent.

The near-universal husband/wife clashes over money, household chores, and how we treated one another when things got rough.

It’s the slow march to divorce most people don’t see coming nor recognize as it’s happening, but it mostly looks the same for everyone in failing or failed marriages.

My wife stopped liking me.

Then, stopped loving me.

She’s not big on pretending, so I felt the change. And one day at a time, it started pecking at my insides.

Next thing I knew, I was sleeping in the guest room and freaking out.

Then, she was gone, and I freaked out harder.

Then—I don’t know. That’s now, I guess. “Then” is now. On April 1, it will be four years since my marriage ended.

It’s a big blur in my head that feels simultaneously lightning-fast and like an agonizing eternity.

I only know this: When the story began, everyone liked me, I wasn’t afraid of anything, and life was awesome. And now? I worry about people liking me. I’m afraid of all kinds of things. And life is just okay.

It’s easy to blame her for my life and feel sorry for myself.

It’s easy to blame her when she goes on vacations with her boyfriend and our old couples friends.

It’s easy to blame her when she goes on trips with our son and families of his new friends from school.

It’s easy to feel: She did this to me. She turned me into someone else, and then dumped the person she made me become.

It’s easy to blame all the hurt and shame and fear and anxiety and inconveniences and difficulties on other people.

I think if men can keep blaming feminism and “nagging wives” for ruining marriage, then men will never have to grow and change.

I think if women can keep blaming misogyny and “shitty husbands” for ruining marriage, then women will never have to grow and change.

Growth and change is hard. Like cooking when you don’t feel like it.

Maybe I’ll just order a pizza.

Maybe someone can start a peaceful-relationship delivery service. Delivering harmony and kindness to our front doors for a small fee.

Nothing Changes Unless We Do

I don’t know Debbie Wilkins Baisden. But as someone helping to popularize the term “shitty husband,” I feel uniquely qualified to guess the following:

Debbie labeling herself a “butthole wife” because she used to complain about her husband’s dirty laundry was NOT to excuse husbands who are slobs, nor to label all wives seeking thoughtfulness and respect from their husbands as “buttholes.”

Me labeling myself a “shitty husband” is NOT me taking on all of the blame for my failed marriage, nor is it to condemn all men who leave laundry on the floor or dishes by the sink as “shitty.”

It’s simply a fun writing convention to talk about where I messed up in my marriage.

Maybe my ex-wife believes she messed up sometimes. I don’t know. I know only that I’m qualified to write about my thoughts, feelings and experiences, and NOT qualified to write about anyone else’s, least of all someone with whom I disagreed with so much, that we ended a marriage with a young child involved.

EVERYTHING is Our Responsibility

Guys LOVE to come back at me with: “This is all just theory and conjecture! If guys do all the stuff you say, they’re just going to get run over by their domineering, emotional, bitchy wives!”

To which I’d reply:

Don’t marry anyone who is domineering, bitchy, or whose emotional reactions you consider intolerable.

I’m simply NOT blaming myself or men for failed marriages. Never have; never will.

I am identifying all of the ways I messed up or made decisions which led to divorce, and asking myself the question: If I hadn’t messed up, and had I made better decisions, isn’t it possible that the events leading to divorce wouldn’t have happened in the first place, and that our marriage would have thrived?

Another good question: If instead of waiting for my wife to grow and change, I proactively grew and changed, isn’t it possible my wife would have felt and responded differently? Isn’t it possible most of our fights would have never happened at all?

Single people can point fingers at certain behaviors and decide for themselves that they’re unacceptable and that they’d never be in a relationship with someone who showcased them. Single people are responsible for their own happiness. Single people are not beholden to others.

Yet, single people almost ALWAYS (to the tune of 95%) pursue long-term relationships with other people, presumably because they believe a long-term relationship will make them happy.

However, the entry fee for a relationship is trading in your Single Person card and exchanging it for a In A Relationship one.

And now, in a certain context, you don’t get to be yourself anymore.

Marriages and Relationships Aren’t Two People Doing Something Together

We talk about two people getting married. And now they’re a couple. Two different people. But a team.

It’s kind of true. But as soon as it gets hard and one person feels like the other is a bad teammate, people start looking for another team to join, or to go back to being a team of one.

But I don’t believe a marriage is two people doing something together.

I believe a marriage is ONE thing. And it’s built from two parts.

What makes an airplane fly? The wings or the engine?

Exactly.

Two different parts, which if EITHER stops functioning, the entire thing goes down.

People fight, fight, fight, fight, and fight some more because they want their spouse to admit to being wrong and acknowledge that he or she was “right.”

And people fight, fight, fight, fight, and fight that EXACT SAME FIGHT until they die or divorce because the husband’s or wife’s goal is to win the fight.

When the airplane’s engine wins enough fights, one of the wings will fall off.

When the airplane’s wings win enough fights, the engine or engines will start to lose thrust.

And then, boom. Fiery explosions and sadness.

The intentions of critical airplane parts should be to maximize the aircraft’s performance, lest they all explode and die.

The intentions of husbands and wives should be to maximize the performance—NOT of themselves, but of the marriage as a unit.

The widowed Debbie missed picking up her husband’s annoying dirty laundry because the marriage was WAY bigger than just her, or just her feelings, or just the laundry, or just anything.

And she shared that experience because it mattered, just as I share mine.

But lost in all the noise, is purpose and meaning. The reasons WHY these stories matter. 

He’s blaming her.

She’s blaming him.

I’m blaming her, and then…

I’m blaming me.

It’s no one’s fault and everyone’s.

And it’s easy to blame, blame, blame, so we all do it some more, even when we don’t need any more blame. We’re totally good on blame now. Quota’s filled.

We need responsibility.

Accountability.

The willingness to serve a thing bigger than just ourselves.

Because that’s where true peace, happiness, love and contentment lives. Or maybe just because you fucking promised. Take your pick.

Maybe we’ll get it right someday.

Maybe even me.

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