Category Archives: Marriage

Adding Spice to Your Love Life Through Routine and Predictability

“We almost died like 15 times throughout this movie, Sandra. We should totally go home and do it.” – Keanu Reeves (Image/whodatedwho.com)

Have you ever been an audience member during a speaking presentation or concert where the audience is asked to do something to participate—like share something to the group, or clap, or sing? You remember that feeling?

Yeah, you do.

I’ve always hated that shit. It triggers whatever big red Discomfort Button that lives in the invisible parts of me, and every time it gets pushed, the loudspeaker in my brain yells, “Everyone is looking at you and judging you and thinking that you’re a stupid asshole!”

It’s irrational. I know it’s silly and unnecessary to think and feel that way. I’m intellectually aware that it’s unhealthy, that hardly anyone is paying attention to me, ever, and if they are, they give zero effs what I’m doing, because they’re too busy worrying about themselves if they’re neurotic like me, or not having a care in the world if they’ve achieved a higher level of mental and emotional maturity than I have.

At 40, I get this in ways I did not in my teens and twenties. But lifelong habits are hard to break, so this is still the default mental and emotional experience whenever I’m in those situations.

Public displays of affection (unless I quiet that internal loudspeaker with the requisite amount of alcohol) trigger those same thoughts and feelings.

My ex-wife used to playfully make fun of me for it, but I think it also made her feel bad. If she grabbed my hand while we were walking together, I’d tense up a little, hold it for just a bit, give it a quick double-squeeze which was SUPPOSED to communicate: “I really do love you! I swear!” but which I’m pretty sure communicated: “It’s sweet that you want to hold my hand, but I care more about what OTHER people think of me/us than I care about you feeling connected and cared for in our relationship! So piss off with the hand-holding, babe!”

Can you imagine? Caring more about what strangers you’ve never met, and probably never will, might think about you for holding your wife’s hand or kissing her?

It’s some next-level dickbag stuff. Life tip: Care more about the emotional wellbeing of the people you love than you do about the neurotic stories you conjure up in your own brain regarding what strangers might think.

Simply, one of those things matters and has genuine relevance to your life, and the other does not.

Romantic Spontaneity vs. ‘Boring’ Routines

If you’re guessing that because I operated that way about hand-holding and any other form of public affection, that I also resisted forced romantic and/or intimate encounters because they didn’t seem ‘authentic’ due to their inherent lack of spontaneity, you’re a fabulous guesser.

Reminder: My wife totally divorced me six years ago, and in my estimation, made an appropriate choice to preserve what was left of her mental/emotional health.

This irrational thing I was doing inside my own head inevitably led to countless situations in which repeated attempts by my wife to connect with me were rejected. Several times per year for more than a dozen years.

Romance and sexual desire doesn’t always manifest in the daily hum-drum routines of the average married couple who spent a long day at work and are maybe caring for kids and pets throughout the mornings and evenings the way it does between two super-attractive Hollywood actors who just survived a dramatic near-death experience in the movies.

I guess I thought that’s what was supposed to happen.

Leveraging the Power of Habit to Increase Emotional Connection with our Partners

I was reminded of how egregiously I failed my wife while watching a recent Mindvalley video featuring Jon and Missy Butcher, called 9 Daily Habits That Will Help You Lead An Extraordinary Life.

Here’s a couple married 25 years, and instead of them complaining about one another to anyone who will listen like most of the 25-year couples I’ve encountered, these two take a walk together every single day, as a daily check-in.

While most of us are busy holding in our frustrations so they can spew out in an undisciplined way at what usually ends up being the most inopportune times, Jon and Missy plan a time each day to unload all of that crap to one another. A daily appointment with one another to listen to each other about the things they experienced earlier in the day, good and bad. This is what it looks like to intentionally move toward one another instead of allowing the natural drift-apart to occur by being too busy with everything else.

And then, once per week, the couple has an overnight date night. Maybe at home. Maybe somewhere else. But every single week, Friday night overnight, no matter where they are, belongs to them, and arrangements are made for everything else in their lives (children, pets, work) to be cared for.

This is their Connection Ritual.

This is what it means to water your own lawn so that your own grass ALWAYS looks greener and better than whatever is on the other side of the fence.

Having a good marriage or a quality, connected romantic relationship of any kind, I think, is a lot like getting in good physical shape. A select few don’t have to work very hard to look and feel great. But most of us do.

And despite the efforts of many magic diet and supplement salespeople, there are no shortcuts to being our best selves physically.

You just do the work. It’s really hard at the beginning. Inertia is always the greatest obstacle. Something new is always more difficult to accomplish than something routine. Our first week of work is always more challenging and intimidating than our 18th month on the job. We move every day. We are mindful about what we consume. The more healthy choices we make, the more our health and wellness benefits from those choices.

And so it is with our relationships. They are what the participants mindfully choose for them to be. When two people wake up every day making the choice to choose one another, and prioritizing one another over everything else, our connections grow. Our love flourishes. Our relationships thrive.

And when you derpy-derp around like I did with your fingers crossed that everything will work out without having to give anything or do anything uncomfortable to achieve it?

I think it’s telling that I don’t even have to say it.

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Drifting Apart: How Bad Things Happen Even When it Feels Like Nothing Happened

Did you almost cry but pretend like you weren’t because crying over a volleyball feels REALLY stupid when you watched our boy Tom lose his only friend in the movie “Cast Away”? Whatever. That’s what I did. (Image/newsmov.biz)

I almost wrote something outrageous about how Galileo Galilei’s and Isaac Newton’s first law of motion was effing up relationships.

The first law of motion—also called the “law of inertia”—states that a body or object at rest remains at rest, and that a body or object in motion continues to move at a constant velocity unless acted upon by an external force.

Or, in regular-speak: If shit doesn’t happen, nothing changes. At least that’s how I always thought about it. If I set a lamp on a bedroom nightstand and never touch it, the expectation is that the lamp will sit still—right there—forever.

Applying that to my marriage, I believed stillness—inactivity or uneventfulness such as going several days or weeks without an argument or negative incident—while not necessarily a positive, was at worst—a non-event. Harmless. Benign. Safe.

If my wife was watching something on HGTV in the living room, and I was watching basketball in the basement rec room, NOTHING was happening. Thus, in my brain, nothing bad happened.

I was going to quibble immaturely with Galileo and Newton. I was going to say that their laws of motion don’t apply to movement within our human relationships.

But then I realized I was the one getting it wrong (shock).

The laws of motion absolutely apply to our relationships. My mistake was thinking of the people in the relationship as being still.

If they were still—then nothing happening would be totally harmless.

But they’re not still. In our relationships, we are not at rest. We are CONSTANTLY adrift, and in my estimation, slow drifting away from one another when we don’t have a strong tether. It’s only now occurring to me how apt the metaphor “tying the knot” is.

And since a body in motion continues to move at a constant velocity unless acted upon by an external force, two people doing nothing AREN’T sitting still. They’re drifting apart at a constant velocity until someone does something about it.

Moving Toward Each Other vs. Moving Away From Each Other

This was the running theme of both of my coaching calls yesterday.

While we’re busy at work, distracted by our personal stresses, tasks, hopes, and dreams. While we’re busy simply trying to stay alive, do a good job at work, keep our bills paid, etc., we are drifting away from our romantic partner.

A visual aid:

I <——> I

Connected.

A month later.

I <————————————> I

Drifted apart a little.

Three months later after a great vacation, a nice anniversary dinner and gift exchange, mind-bending orgasms, and a job promotion for one of them which alleviated financial stress.

I <–> I

Boom.

Four years later after a new baby, a blown anniversary by the husband because ANOTHER promotion made him super-busy and away from home a lot, five consecutive months without sex, and quiet avoidance of one another at home.

I <—————————————————————————————————————————> I

On the brink.

If they continue to avoid the growing distance between them, they will continue to drift away from one another. The further they distance themselves, the weaker their connection—their bond—becomes, which then makes it vulnerable to outside forces. (Traumatic illness, a death in the family, sexual affairs, etc.)

Every Day—Every Conversation, Every Moment—is an Opportunity to Move Closer to One Another or Further Apart

Doing nothing is a death sentence.

Because when we do nothing, we are NOT sitting still, biding our time waiting for something to happen. While we wait, we move apart. And I think couples—often men—are unaware of this drift that’s constantly occurring.

This is why focused, connected, mindful, present dinner conversations are so important.

This is why six-second hugs are significant.

This is why planning activities to do together—often and intentionally—is fundamental to the health of the relationship.

And most notably, THIS is why being competitive with one another—trying to WIN debate points in your next emotion-fueled fight with one another is, as Galileo famously said: “totally fucking stupid.”

His mother was very disappointed in his word choices.

The Objective is to Connect—Not to Teardown or Dominate Your Partner

We are always moving away from each other. Always. So we need to row our little boats against the current back toward each other. Tie knots. Tether ourselves to one another. Anchor ourselves to one another.

The goal of an emotional conversation with your partner can be to try to win debate points with them, while you essentially shove them further away from you. Or, maybe the goal of an emotional conversation with your partner can simply be to decrease the distance between you two.

Maybe the merits of right vs. wrong—the value of being “correct”—is a big, fat zero when it comes to your relationship.

Maybe the only thing you should be measuring is the gap between you, and constantly fighting to move toward the other.

Just maybe, that shift alone would change everything for you.

When you wake up in the morning, you can make the choice to connect. A kind word. A thoughtful action.

When you’re sitting at the office, or hiking in the park, or waiting for the doctor’s appointment, or standing in line at the grocery store, you can make the choice to connect. Maybe I can text her right now to let her know how important and beautiful she is. Maybe I can remind her today and every other day, how grateful I am for her to choose me and sacrifice for me.

When we’re tired after a long day at work, or irritated by our unsympathetic children, or in the middle of something at home—maybe we can strengthen our capacity for awareness, for patience, for mental discipline.

Maybe we can NOTICE the things in our lives that are All The Time. The stuff we look past. Forget to feel grateful for.

Forget to hug.

Forget to nurture.

Forget to love—not the feeling. We think and feel love, and forget that other people don’t always know that we think and feel it. We forget to love—the action. They NEVER misunderstand love the action.

We forget every day to prioritize that which matters most to us.

It’s so hard to be a person and juggle all of the things.

We grew up with no one but ourselves to care for and our parents and guardians did most of the heavy lifting. It takes work—guts and work—to show up every day for the unpleasantness of adulthood.

And it’s even harder to be that person when caught up in the vortex of life and dysfunctional relationships, and trying to put our families and jobs ahead of our personal wellness, and then wonder why we don’t have anything left to give our marriages when it feels like our spouse thinks we’re constantly letting them down anyway.

But it’s almost impossible when no one sees you. When everything you live for and invest in every day—your reason for living—goes unnoticed by the people who matter most. If it doesn’t physically kill us, it kills all of the invisible parts.

This is why relationships are a thing. This is why marriage brings beauty and value and enrichment to people’s lives when it’s done well.

Because all of this shit is hard, but we can do it when we have people in our corner, lifting us up, and helping us carry things when our piles get too high.

The inevitability of doing nothing—of inertia—is a broken relationship. The inevitability is broken people.

When we’re not moving toward one another, we’re moving away.

Love is a choice.

Please choose it.

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How the Color Purple is Harming Your Relationships

(Image/Science)

Pop quiz: If your relationship problems are decreasing mathematically and your romantic partner is observably adjusting his or her behavior in an honest attempt to connect with you emotionally, but your brain and subsequent emotions are telling you otherwise, is your relationship actually improving?

But Matt! What a silly question! If my partner were lovingly changing their behavior for my benefit and the benefit of our relationship, my mind and heart would NEVER tell me otherwise!

Awww. It’s cute because I would have totally said that too before learning about the Blue Dot Effect.

It occurred to me only after learning about the Blue Dot Effect that sometimes it doesn’t matter whether there is objective, measurable improvement. Our brains will sometimes invent new negatives to replace the ones that went away.

Simply put: Even though the world is measurably the best it’s ever been (longest life expectancy, best health care, most material wealth, most educated, most freedoms, most mobile, most access to information in human history), everyone feels shitty and complains to each other about it on social media when they’re not too busy bragging about the awesome new thing they just acquired or did to earn street cred with all of the people they went to high school with.

It’s largely the premise of Mark Manson’s new book Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope. (It’s good.) Manson is among my favorite writers because he tries to do what I try to do, only more effectively and his focus extends beyond romantic relationships.

What is the Blue Dot Effect?

It was Manson’s book which introduced me to the Blue Dot Effect, but writer Sam Brinson had written about it a year ago not long after a group of scientists published their findings on “Prevalence-induced concept change in human judgment” in the June 19, 2018 issue of Science.

The conclusion of the study was simple: When humans are on the lookout for something, like bad behavior or threats, when instances of that bad behavior or those threats lessen, people will expand their definition of “bad behavior” or “threats” to include things they wouldn’t have previously.

From Brinson’s Medium article “The Psychology of Finding What You’re Looking For”:

“The researchers ran several experiments, most of which involved participants identifying blue dots from a series that ranged in color from ‘very blue’ to ‘very purple.’ After some time, the number of blue dots would reduce, and the participants would react by selecting as blue dots those they had previously considered purple — their category of ‘blue’ expanded as the number of examples of blue decreased.”

Brinson continues:

“In further experiments, the researchers found the same effect when participants had to identify aggressive faces from a group that ranged from ‘very threatening’ to ‘not very threatening,’ and again when separating unethical research proposals from ethical ones.

“When increasing the number of blue dots instead of reducing them, the effect reverses — what had previously counted as blue suddenly gets left out. What’s more, the researchers also found the effect to occur when people were told they were doing it, and even when those people were paid to not fall into the trap.”

Important note, Brinson points out:

“This experiment seems to prove that we are incapable of making our concepts rigid, and must give in to ebbing and flowing. It should be noted, however, that this effect occurred when people were looking for instances of the concept — the blue category expanded as people sought to find blue dots, neutral faces became threatening when people were on a mission to find threatening faces.

“People in normal circumstances, who aren’t actively looking to label certain things, might not be as susceptible to the same concept shifts. If I remain indifferent to acts of aggression and acts of kindness, even if the frequency of either act changes, will I be more likely to recognize that change or to alter my definition?”

What This Means for Your Relationships

What this means is, if you’ve identified a pattern of behavior in your relationship partner that you don’t like—like a wife who feels disrespected and unloved because of an incomplete house chore or display of forgetfulness from her husband; or like a husband who feels disrespected and unloved because he perceives EVERY attempt by his wife to communicate with him about her feelings as an unprovoked and unfair attack on his character—you’re likely to find instances of your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend doing the same old bullshit things they always did even if they are legitimately doing things ‘better’ per previous conversations and agreements between the two of you.

And it’s not always because your partner is a huge, selfish asshole who will never change.

Sometimes, it’s simply because things you used to be cool with are now things you’ve labeled unacceptable. Things that were once benign are now painful. Things that were once just humans being humans are now relationship killers.

This tendency to find negatives even when things are improving around us is NOT a weapon for narcissists to wield in another mind-game argument where they invalidate their partner’s expressed feelings and try to convince them that the things they think and feel aren’t real.

It’s merely another opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth. An opportunity to check your own biases and bullshit at the door.

Human behavior is messy. Human emotion and mental health is messy.

It’s HARD to be an adult.

And that’s why finding someone to walk side-by-side with for the rest of our lives is such a beautiful thing. Sometimes we need to be lifted up. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we’re not the only ones who are afraid or unsure of what to do next. Sometimes we need to be forgiven.

The people who promised to love us, and who we promised to love in return, deserve our best. They deserve our most generous thoughts and assumptions. They deserve our most humble and compassionate responses. They deserve our focus and energy and effort to remind them that we’ve got their back.

That they are respected, appreciated, and cherished.

That they are good enough, honored, and supported.

Sometimes, they show up as purple dots and we should lovingly and compassionately remind them they’re kind of being dicks when they do.

Other times, the people who promised to love us forever are showing up as blue dots, and because we are imperfect creatures, we think that dot is purple. We’re LOOKING FOR purple. And we treat those purple-dotting sonsofbitches accordingly.

But really, that dot is blue. Our person showed up just as they’d promised. It feels like they failed us, but really we’re failing them.

And we don’t have to.

We can do better.

We must.

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Podcast Interview: The Mindset You Must Change if You Want a Great Marriage

(Image/thelifestyleplaybook.com)

I know what you’re probably not thinking: I really want to listen to Matt blather on about conflict in relationships!

And because you’re not thinking that, this is me encouraging you to start thinking about it because clearly I’m an attention-whore. Therapist and author Lesli Doares, because she’s kind and gracious, invites me onto her podcast Happily Ever After is Just the Beginning every so often to jam about relationship stuff. (You can also check out Lesli’s The Hero Husband Project here.)

Today, her newest episode “The Mindset You Must Change if You Want a Great Marriage,” features … wait for it … me, soapboxing about people’s beliefs and how everyone thinks they’re right all of the time, and how that condition is the root of most relationship conflict (and every other kind of conflict).

In this episode, Lesli and I discuss this unhelpful mindset, and kick around ideas for how people can connect more powerfully with loved ones to improve their romantic relationships, as well as connect with other people, so they can have better social relationships in general.

You can listen here on the web at Web Talk Radio, or from your favorite podcast service (because I’m an Apple user, I can’t provide a Google Play link, and I’m sorry), but here is the link to the Apple Podcasts episode.

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What to Do When Your Wife Doesn’t Respect You

Basics of respect

(Image/Respect360.org)

Oh no. You feel disrespected by your wife. This is definitely bad for your marriage and a poor example for any children you might have.

You’ve done the best possible thing you could have in this situation, and I hope you’ll choose to feel good about it. You’ve asked great questions: Why doesn’t my wife respect me? What do I do about it?

But it’s possible you’ve missed one: Are my feelings about my wife’s respect level for me accurate?

One of the biggest problems EVERYONE contends with in life is our inclination to believe everything we think. Just maybe she DOES respect you. That would save you a lot of time, energy, and frustration if that were the case. And for some of you, that will be true.

But for the sake of this exercise, let’s just say that your wife legitimately lacks respect for you. If your brain and/or heart are telling you that this condition is bad for your marriage and that you don’t want to be part of a marriage that lacks basic respect, I applaud you and totally agree. A marriage without respect is a marriage in name only.

I used to be married to a woman who didn’t respect me. It feels really bad, and if that’s where you are right now, I’m so sorry. Eventually, my wife chose to not be my wife anymore. I cried and vomited and felt sorry for myself and blamed everything on her.

I thought she was ungrateful. Cruel. A promise-breaker. Selfish.

And then, over the following six years I asked myself a thousand uncomfortable questions, I wrote about many of the realizations I’d made about how I was showing up in my marriage (spoiler alert: like a piece-of-shit husband), and today, despite being a divorced single guy, people pay me actual money to coach them about relationship stuff.

I know. It’s crazy.

Let’s talk about:

  • Whether your wife respects you; and
  • How you can earn her respect.

Does Your Wife Respect You?

The most important job you have any time you’re faced with a decision or encounter conflict with someone else, is to be damn sure you’re not accidentally being the bigger asshole without realizing it.

This is hard, because we spend the vast majority of our lives making snap judgments about everything, and mostly being right. If we have friends and jobs and are reasonably educated and have mostly avoided things like prison and Darwin Award-worthy near-death experiences, then—mathematically speaking—we have a pretty good track record with our gut reactions.

Recent example from my life: Because I am frequently calling strangers that I meet on the internet for coaching work, I toggle my phone’s Caller ID setting off so that my number shows up ‘Restricted’ or ‘Private’ on people’s phones when I call them.

A few weeks ago, when I was trying to call my dad on his birthday, my calls kept getting rejected. The first couple of times, I didn’t think much of it. But after six or seven tries over the course of many hours, I was feeling shitty. My dad’s too busy to talk to me. He’d rather do whatever he’s doing right now than talk to his son.

On Mother’s Day, the same thing was happening with my mom, though I realized my mistake much faster that time. You’ve no doubt already solved the mystery. I had forgotten to toggle my phone settings to “Show Caller ID,” which resulted in my parents doing EXACTLY what I would do in the same situation—ignore the phone call from an unrecognized number.

Stuff like this happens all of the time in our human relationships—particularly in our marriages.

We FEEL certain negative emotions when an event happens (someone else says or does something) that we would not have felt had we known one simple, but critical, piece of information to put the situation in its most proper and accurate context.

Powerful Questions That Can Help You Make Difficult Decisions (Including How to Feel)

The world’s thought leader on the subject of question-asking once sent me an email asking whether he could interview me for a book he was writing. (I said yes, because duh. Life highlight.) Bestselling author Warren Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions is one of my go-to resources for the questions I need to ask—or that my coaching clients might need to be asking—to arrive at answers that can help us achieve clarity about what we believe and why, and which can help us find answers to life’s most difficult problems.

The section of the book that includes things I said about human connection isn’t necessarily where I’ve find found the most value. It was the section on better decision-making—about anything. And because ‘anything’ includes our relationships, I hope you’ll take the following exercise seriously. It might help you.

From Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions:

Ask These 4 Questions to Check Your Biases and Beliefs

  • What am I inclined to believe on this particular issue? Start by trying to articulate your beliefs/biases.
  • Why do I believe what I believe? The “jugular question,” per Nobel Prize-winning physicist Arno Penzias, forces you to consider the basis of those beliefs.
  • What would I like to be true? A “desirability bias” may lead you to think something is true because you want it to be true.
  • What if the opposite is true? This question is inspired by ‘debiasing’ experts and Seinfeld’s George Costanza.

That last question is my favorite.

I’d ask you to think about it like a mock courtroom trial. There’s what you believe—The Defense Attorney. And then there’s what the other person believes—The Prosecuting Attorney.

I’ve never been to law school, but I’m pretty sure part of the process involves mock trials where law students (not unlike practicing lawyers) are sometimes required to prepare legal arguments for one side of a case they don’t necessarily believe or agree with.

I’m asking you to do the same thing. Give your best effort to argue the opposite of what you believe. It takes guts. I know you can do it. What evidence is there—what reasonable explanations exist—for how the opposite of what you believe could be true?

What happens afterward is several positive possibilities: 1. You get to be totally sure you believe what you believe, or 2. You get to abandon an incorrect or poorly conceived belief, and replace it with a better one, or 3. You get to, at the very least, come to understand how someone else could come to the conclusions that they did. And maybe when we fully understand The Why behind their actions, we can see that they were never trying to be assholes after all, and we get to feel all that wonderful lovey-dovey stuff again for a few minutes until the dopamine wears off.

‘Oh Shit. My Wife Really Doesn’t Respect Me’

That’s bad.

There’s no reasonable way to offer useful ‘advice,’ because it’s totally possible that the healthiest thing you could do is tell your meanie wife to piss off and file for divorce. But maybe you don’t want to do that because you have three kids together, and you calculate that the most loving fatherly thing you can do is stay married on their behalf.

I get it.

I get it because I’m pretty sure my wife stayed with me for a few more years than she wanted to for that exact same reason.

My wife stopped loving me and wanted to leave our marriage because I didn’t demonstrate the type of respect a wife deserves in a healthy marriage. While it was all pissing and moaning and whining at the beginning of my divorce, once I started asking myself a bunch of difficult questions and figuring out that I was actually a tremendously intolerable asshole throughout the majority of our marriage, I was able to empathize with my wife.

When you discover that you inflicted a bunch of bullshit on someone you care about that they didn’t deserve, and you view their behavior and decision-making through THAT prism, then the mystery of what happened, and the unjustified victimhood you were experiencing disappears.

When you’re a victim, life is happening to you. You’re just there, and a bunch of crap affects your life and there’s nothing you can do about it.

When you accept responsibility for your actions, and realize that what’s happening—or what has happened—are the consequence of your own actions, then it gives you a bunch of control of the situation that you couldn’t otherwise have. It’s powerlessness that’s most terrifying.

I don’t get to go back in time and fix my past mistakes. But I DO get to not feel anger now. I get to not enter future relationships blind to the things that destroys them. I get to make decisions armed with a bunch of critical information I didn’t have before. I like the confidence that gives me.

Just maybe, you execute the skills and duties of a husband at an incredibly high level. You’re a good husband, but you’re still not respected by your spouse. Ugh. Sorry. This won’t do.

Question (an uncomfortable and unpleasant one): Do you respect yourself?

I’m not a psychologist. But. A bunch of bad shit happens to us throughout our entire lives, starting in childhood. And all of that bad shit helps to shape our beliefs about ourselves, which affects what we feel—and how intensely we feel both positive and negative things throughout the rest of our lives.

Just maybe, YOU don’t believe you’re worthy of being respected (even though you might wear a metaphorical mask like I used to, and probably still sometimes do in order to convince others that we’re self-confident).

Do you ever say and do things around your wife one way, say and do things around your guy friends a different way, and say and do things around your coworkers yet a different way?

A component of that is social awareness and politeness, which is totally cool. But another portion of that might be that you adjust your behavior to fit into whatever environment you’re in, because you want to be accepted and/or liked by the people around you.

I totally do this sometimes. It’s lame. I want to be liked. It feels so much better than not being liked.

Self-confident people say and do the things that are true for them regardless of whether someone might not like them afterward. They give no phucks. None. Because they already respect themselves and don’t require others’ approval to know they are a person with inherent value.

They love and accept themselves. (Side note: Narcissists ALSO love and accept themselves and do all of these things, but struggle with gaining respect, because they rarely offer it themselves.)

How You Earn Your Wife’s Respect

  1. Respect yourself. Don’t you dare say that you do until you know it’s true. It’s okay to admit that you don’t. I do not always respect myself or act in my own healthy best interests. You’re not the only one.
  2. Respect your wife. You might be thinking: “But Matt! I do respect my wife! I married her and have children with her and love her more than anyone! I trust her with our finances, and for raising our children, and to not murder me in my sleep! What more could I possibly do?”

Great question.

While you humbly acknowledge to your wife that you’re actively working on learning how to behave with self-respect in order to grow into the best version of yourself you can possibly be because you, and your marriage, and your family deserve that, you also ask your wife what could change within your relationship so that she felt more respected.

You might be surprised by her answers, because there’s a better-than-average chance it will involve things you’ve heard before like housework, how you speak to her in the company of friends and family, and maybe some things you’ve never considered—like her desire to see you let your guard down by being uncomfortably real and honest with her about what goes on in your head and heart. By being vulnerable instead of pretending you’re the toughest guy she knows, she may feel both closer to you and more accepted by you because maybe she’s also sometimes insecure about what goes on in her head and heart.

Have the courage to expose your greatest flaws, weaknesses, and scars. Lovingly accept her greatest flaws, weaknesses, and scars. Regularly demonstrate that the shit that matters to her matters to you—simply because you respect the things that affect her, and you value her wellbeing.

That’s what you could possibly do.

That’s how you might earn back your wife’s respect.

“Being heroic is the ability to conjure hope where there is none.” – Mark Manson, author of Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope.

Go be the best of us.

Go be a hero.

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Would You Leave Your Spouse Over Dirty Dishes?: A Lesson on Conflict Management

(Image/HuffPost)

We pulled into our parking space in Florida’s version of the “happiest place on earth,” and all of my insides were knotted up.

In my left pocket was the most expensive thing I’d ever bought—a pretty pear-shaped diamond engagement ring I’d been secretly paying off for months.

This felt like the place. Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. She loved Disney. This felt like the time. The Fourth of July. She loved fireworks.

I wasn’t tense because I was planning a surprise marriage proposal. I was tense because we were fighting over whether the song playing on the radio was Duran Duran. (Shazam didn’t exist in 2003.)

It was. The song was “Hungry Like the Wolf.” I knew it. She didn’t. She told me I was wrong. I knew I wasn’t. So we had a little fight and probably said dickhead things to one another.

It wasn’t that weird for us to have a little spat and be temporarily mad about something silly. We never fought about anything “important,” as far as I could tell. Just “dumb stuff.”

Everything’s totally fine, I thought.

While the fireworks lit up the night sky above Cinderella’s castle, I slipped the ring on her finger and she said yes.

Ten years later, she divorced me because I left dishes by the sink.

I can’t remember whether Duran Duran was playing in the background while she drove away for the last time.

The Important Difference Between the Two Types of Relationship Conflict

As recently as this week, someone commented on the dishes article that went viral in January 2016, minimizing the significance of dirty dishes and encouraging people to learn how to let go of “the little things” in an effort to avoid conflict and have healthy relationships.

While I appreciate the spirit of his comment and those of the hundreds of other people also touting the merits of “letting it go,” as a happy-marriage philosophy, I respectfully believe they all share the same toxic mental condition that ailed me throughout my marriage.

It’s a diseased belief called I Know That What I Believe is Right, Therefore Anyone Who Believes Something Else is Wrong.

That’s the belief that ends every doomed relationship, and is more or less responsible for starting every major conflict—including the deadliest wars—in human history.

My favorite writer Mark Manson categorizes conflict into two categories:

1. Conflict of Preference, and

2. Conflict of Values.

A Conflict of Preference is liking rap music more than country music, or tacos more than sweet potatoes, or attending a symphony orchestra performance more than off-roading in a lifted pickup truck.

A Conflict of Values is belief in God versus atheism as a guiding life principle, the intention to have children versus not reproducing, or behaving charitably or greedily.

Preference is “I like Rocky Road ice cream more than strawberry ice cream!”

Values are literally WHAT WE ARE. “Our values are constantly reflected in the way we choose to behave,” Manson wrote in Who the F*ck Am I?: The Ultimate Guide to Personal Values (which is the best thing I’ve read on the subject of personal values).

It’s silly to fight ugly and end up divorced over Conflict of Preference.

It’s tragic—but possibly healthy—to end relationships in which there are an irreconcilable Conflict of Values. (Though I have some challenging questions for you about WTF you were thinking when you said “I do.”)

But what about when we can’t tell the difference?

It requires high-level mindfulness and self-awareness. And it takes both relationship partners valuing their relationship more than their individual feelings (until it can be determined whether those feelings are a result of preferential differences, or value differences).

I think many people get divorced because they have difficulty identifying whether conflict is a matter of preferences or values.

And I think many people believe my article She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink is stupid because they confuse my ex-wife’s and my differing preferences for where to set a used drinking glass as NOT being about values.

It was totally about values. Values, masquerading as something that didn’t matter.

It’s Not About the Dishes

Everyone who cries foul at my ex-wife after reading the dishes article is hyperfocused on the relative merits of setting a drinking glass by the sink.

After all, children are starving in Africa. Someone at work was diagnosed with cancer. The family on the news lost their home in the hurricane.

It’s easy to point at the glass as a minor thing. It’s easy to point to that glass and convince yourself that anyone who makes a big deal out of it has misplaced priorities and probably some emotional problems.

It’s easy to say those thoughts out loud when your spouse is irritating you because she seems to be suggesting once again that something you do is making her life worse. And it’s easy to feel angry when you feel as if all of your shortcomings are being highlighted while all of your contributions and virtues are ignored.

Why isn’t anything I do good enough for her?

Where to set the dish is a Conflict of Preference. But the way in which we treat our marriage partner is a Value.

Most of the time when relationship fights like this crop up over disagreements which might seem minor from the outside looking in, the injured party isn’t feeling hurt because of this one thing. The injured party is feeling hurt because, for them, this incident is another reminder that they’re married to someone who believes that their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are more valuable—that they matter more—than their spouse’s.

I can’t relate to someone who cares whether a drinking glass is sitting by the sink.

But I can totally relate to someone who feels hurt, disrespected, or disregarded because of someone refusing to thoughtfully consider our thoughts, ideas, emotional experiences, etc.

You ever have a good idea at work? One that would make things better for the company, the customer, or the employees? And then when you bring that idea to the table, it gets ignored, or discounted, or otherwise rejected by some self-important anal-retentive?

I bet you have.

It’s shitty. But I can accept self-important anal-retentives doing asshole things.

I find it infinitely less acceptable for someone who vowed to love and honor me as their partner for life to do that.

When romantic partners (too often the men in male-female relationships) dispute, challenge, reject, insult, minimize, invalidate the expressed experiences of the other, they are communicating the following:

  • My beliefs are true; yours are false
  • What I feel is right; what you feel is wrong
  • What I think matters more than what you think
  • Because you’re wrong, and I’m right, I’m never going to change my behavior
  • You say that this hurts, but I don’t feel hurt by it so you must be crazy. I’m not going to help you stop hurting because you’re wrong for hurting.

And the day I realized that I would never agree to marry or remain married to someone who said that or treated me that way is the day I made peace with my wife leaving me.

The day I realized THAT was what I had been saying to my wife every time we argued about glasses by the sink or fucking Duran Duran songs, was the day I realized that she did the right thing by leaving, and then I started writing the Shitty Husband letters. She owed it to her mental and emotional health to wake up every day and not have someone who had promised to love and honor her forever tell her over and over again that her real-life experiences weren’t worth my time and attention and effort.

A marriage is NOT a promise to endure neglect and abuse for the rest of your life.

A marriage is a promise to work cooperatively to mutually thrive for the rest of your life, and is currently the most successful model in human history for reproducing and raising healthy, socially adjusted children.

When someone refuses to cooperate to that end, then the marriage ceases to be a marriage.

It’s easy to miss because, after all, it’s just a stupid glass by the sink.

Or, is it?

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This is Why Your Wife Hates You

angry wife

(Image/Psychology Today)

“Why does my wife hate me?”

My initial reaction was to tell you that your wife doesn’t hate you, but the uncomfortable truth is that she might. She might actually hate you. Let’s deal with it.

The definition for ‘hate,’ according to Merriam-Webster, is “a: intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury; b: extreme dislike or disgust.”

And that sounds about right.

The reason your wife hates you—or the reason it feels as if she does—is because she’s probably afraid, she’s probably angry, and she’s probably hurt. No matter how difficult it is to believe, and regardless of how unintentional it may have been, YOU are at the epicenter of that fear, anger, and pain.

Your Wife Might Hate You Because She’s Afraid

We all have anchors. Things that steady us even when life gets turbulent.

Families of origin are common anchors. Hometowns—familiar geography—can be an anchor. Social circles. Faith and/or churches. Jobs or specific career fields. Homes we’ve lived in.

Maybe your wife lost an anchor. Maybe she lost many anchors.

I had to learn it the hard way, because—perhaps just like you—I believed I was a good husband. I didn’t cheat, I wasn’t an addict or alcoholic, and I was gainfully employed and willing to give everything I earned to whatever she wanted. I was a nice person. Decent to strangers. Got along well with her family.

When our son was still a toddler, we had a weekend getaway for nice dinners and a concert in the city. Our little boy stayed with his grandparents in the same house my ex-wife grew up in. A beautiful log cabin home her father and uncles literally built with their own hands years before she was born.

At the conclusion of the fun weekend, she and I had dinner with her parents and our son in their dining room. It was a good night. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just, comfortably good.

My father-in-law died the next day. Heart attack. No warning.

One minute, everything was normal. Regular. Predictable. Safe. Steady. Anchored.

The next minute, everything wasn’t.

My wife—in an impossible-to-process blink—lost her longest-standing anchor. The one man who had proved for more than 30 years that he could always be counted on was gone. Just, gone.

Now, my wife not only had her own life to worry about as an individual, a mother, and a wife, but she also had to be an anchor for her mother. While she was grieving the loss of her family of origin, grieving the loss of a future she’d imagined watching our son growing up with more grandfather-grandson adventures, she was forced into the role of being the emotional anchor for her mom as they prepared to sell and vacate the home her father had built with his hands.

I knew right away that I was providing no comfort to my wife during this time. I don’t mean I wasn’t trying. I mean, there was nothing about me being her husband that brought her any peace or comfort. And I kind of resented that until some years later when I finally learned why.

My wife was afraid.

A husband is supposed to be an anchor. Steady. Reliable. Foundational. Unshakeable. But I wasn’t those things. I just didn’t know it yet.

Maybe your wife hates you because she’s afraid.

Your Wife Might Hate You Because She’s Angry

Commonly, young adults ‘leave’ their families of origin in order to create a new family of origin as two spouses, often bringing children into the world, and becoming that anchor—that safe, comfortable, reliable foundation—for their kids.

Thoughtful, careful people don’t rush foolishly into marriage. They take seriously the idea of promising forever to another human being. Of inviting someone into our respective inner family and social circles, and potentially creating precious new humans together.

The pregnancy, birth, and eventual arrival of our baby son at home shined a spotlight on how little I respected the mental, physical, and emotional load my wife carried through pregnancy and becoming a new mother.

Basically, if something needed to be thought of, or planned for, or managed in regards to providing care for our newborn son, my wife was left to do it.

She worked just as many hours as I did. She did more around the house than I did. And for years, that arrangement mostly worked. It was mostly tolerable for her.

But when an additional human (or humans) is brought into the fold, the math changes dramatically. The heaviness—the mental, emotional, and physical toll—increases exponentially. Two people working in lockstep can overcome the new challenges.

One person left to problem-solve on her own while her husband improves his poker game? Not so much.

When she lost her father, she had to face a hard reality: “I just lost the only man I could ever truly count on. The one who promised to always be there for me, isn’t. Every time I express what I think and feel and want, he fights back. He tells me I’m wrong, or crazy, or overreacting. He doesn’t accept what I’m asking for as a request for help. He gets defensive as if I’m attacking him.”

And as she took stock of her life while grieving the loss of her father, assumed responsibility for supporting her mother, all while being an attentive mother to our son and a valued employee at her job?

She concluded the same thing your wife might be concluding: “I only have so many years left on this planet. Do I really want to commit it to a life and a person that makes me feel angry every day? I can’t trust that this person, this marriage, this life is going to deliver all of the promises that were made. Is continuing to choose this really the smartest thing I can do?”

Maybe she tried to reach me some more times after that.

“Matt. Would you please read this book for me that describes many of the things I feel?”

No.

“Matt. Would you please agree that how I feel is just as important, just as real, just as correct, just as valid, as how you feel?”

No.

“Matt. Would you please just put this glass that you like to leave sitting by the sink in the dishwasher? Please? It would mean a lot to me.”

No.

Over and over and over again, I communicated to my wife—to the mother of my son—that I could not be counted on to love and honor her all of the days of my life, in good times and in bad, even though that’s what I’d vowed to do for her in front of everyone we both knew.

So.

She became angry. I didn’t get it then. I totally get it now.

Maybe your wife hates you because she’s angry.

Your Wife Might Hate You Because She’s Hurt

I would never physically harm my wife. I would never even intentionally mistreat her according to my own gauge for what constitutes treating someone well versus not.

That’s why I was so adamant that my wife was wrong anytime she accused me of being mean or of doing things to hurt her.

I was absolutely certain that I was a good person. That I was a nice person. People had told me so my entire life. I knew a lot of people, and in my experience, they all liked me. I was well-liked and popular growing up. Moreover, my heart was in the right place. I wasn’t secretly plotting to hurt anyone—certainly not the mother of my son, and the only person in world history I had ever volunteered to marry and live with for the rest of my life.

My logic seemed sound enough. Based on everything I have ever known or encountered, I was a nice, good person. I loved my wife. And I was smart enough to know the difference between right and wrong. Good and bad. Stuff that hurts versus stuff that doesn’t hurt.

So when my wife told me about some things I did or said that HURT her, the most logical conclusion was that SHE was crazy. If thousands of people I encounter like me and think I’m a good person, and the ONLY PERSON who ever complains about me is my wife, she MUST be the problem.

It’s a dangerously ‘reasonable’ conclusion to come to.

If my wife is the statistical anomaly, then clearly she’s the one who needs to fix something—not me.

Like a colorblind person totally unaware that other people literally see and experience different colors, I believed—in my mind, heart and soul—that I was a good man, and therefore MUST be a good husband.

It never occurred to me that being a husband was a bit like a professional trade or activity requiring learned skill. It never occurred to me that the kindest, best, most decent men in the world can also be totally shitty at crafting boat hulls, writing legal briefs, or performing heart-transplant surgery.

Very good people can be very bad at certain professions or activities.

Turns out, marriage—along with parenting—is one of those activities.

I hurt my wife over and over and over again, even though I never meant to. Every time she pointed it out or asked me to stop, I told her she was wrong. I suggested she was emotionally unstable, or perhaps not intelligent enough to recognize the real problem.

For years. YEARS. My wife came to me with a problem about feeling actual pain and asking me to help her stop hurting, and a very high percentage of the time, my answer was for her to figure out what was wrong with her, and to learn how to be more grateful, because I didn’t agree that whatever I was doing actually hurt her.

When people hurt for long enough, their highest priority—sensibly—is to escape the source of pain so that healing can begin.

My wife concluded that I had broken my promises to love, honor, and respect her—that I broke my promise to simply CARE for her. Whether I had intentionally misled her, whether I was incompetent, or whether I was willfully refusing to help her moving into the future, this realization caused intense pain for a woman trying to navigate adulthood with a child, with a struggling marriage, and while juggling the pain and stress of losing her father and childhood home as well.

Not only wouldn’t I help my wife feel better, but I was the reason she was hurting in the first place. Near as she could tell, every time she asked me for help, I repeatedly promised to never change. Near as she could tell, she wasn’t important enough for me to respect, or handle with care.

Maybe your wife hates you because she hurts, and you neither help soothe her pair nor eliminate behaviors that cause her pain even though she asks you to over and over again.

Maybe your wife hates you because she’s angry, because every time she asks you to help her, you refuse and then turn her problems around and blame them on her.

Maybe your wife hates you because she’s afraid, because she thought she knew what she was getting herself into when she accepted your marriage proposal, and again on your wedding day when you promised to love her forever. But now, nothing is at all like she’d imagined.

Every day, she hurts, she feels angry, and she’s afraid.

Every day, she feels those shitty, life-sucking things. Because of you.

It’s an uncomfortable truth, a bitter pill to swallow—that you’ve become your wife’s worst enemy, even though you never wanted nor tried to be that. But if you’re seriously looking for the answer to your question, I’m afraid this is it.

This is why your wife hates you.

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

(Image/CBC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would You Marry Someone You Didn’t Know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The result?

INFP.

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

ESTJ.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a miracle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being smart is great most of the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love vs Respect

(Image/Deskgram – chrysalisjewels)

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

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

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

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

Often, that’s a romantic partner or spouse.

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

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

The following is my answer.

Love is NOT All You Need

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

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

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

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

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

I shower my son with praise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Does Respect Look Like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The math is simple enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love or respect?

It’s respect.

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

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

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

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

This is why.

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

I hope you’ll make a different choice.

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

lumberjack - crying at the gates

(Image/Crying at the Gates)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most of my teachers were female.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was the one with the problem.

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

It’s a Respect Thing

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

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

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

This idea can’t be shared enough times:

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

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

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

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

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

Happy International Women’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

To our influencers and heroes.

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

Thank you.

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

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

Thank you for helping me remove some of my blinders.

Thank you for being you.

Please don’t give up on us.

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