Category Archives: Marriage

Text Less, Speak More — Because the Break-Up Sauce Tastes Awful

text message confusion by Hamilton Animatic

(Image/Hamilton Animatic)

I want you to imagine a person looking you directly in the eye and saying: “I’m going to kill you.”

First, I’d like you to imagine that it’s your best friend saying it with a huge smile on his or her face immediately following a joke you’d just played on them.

friends laughing together

(Image/Video Block)

And next, I’d like you to imagine that it’s a stranger saying it after breaking into your house late at night wearing a creepy mask, using an ominous tone of voice, carrying a weapon, and just looking all-around murdery.

Strangers-mask by Horror News

(Image/Horror News)

Our reaction to hearing “I’m going to kill you,” is largely dependent on what we can see and hear. On context.

What we can see and hear—non-verbal communication—is commonly called the 7% Rule, even though that’s probably not technically correct. The 7% Rule says that communication, on the whole, is 7 percent verbal, and 93 percent non-verbal.

A good example might be a person saying “I love the taste of canned spinach. I’m going to eat a bunch right now,” while shaking their head no, which we’d all safely interpret as the person NOT liking canned spinach like a smarty, and joking about wanting to eat some.

Tone of voice, facial expression, and other nuanced components of how we interpret information when someone is speaking to us play a HUGE role in our understanding of what someone is saying to us.

Which is why, other than exchanging logistical information—making plans, sharing news, etc.—we should try to avoid text messaging as much as possible.

Seriously.

Two Dumbass Kids and a Potentially Phantom Rivalry Over a Girl

When I was a high-school sophomore, I had a little crush on a super-attractive girl in the freshman class.

Katie. She was awesome and liked me back. We had a cute little almost-thing for a couple of months before summer break happened and I disappeared for a few months, and then for my entire junior year, because I moved 500 miles away to live with my father for the first time since I was 4.

Which doesn’t really matter in the context of this discussion.

What does matter is that I moved back with my mom and with all of my old friends I’d grown up with for my senior year of high school. And during the year I was gone, Katie had dated some other guy at school. And for reasons/explanations I was told and can’t remember, THAT guy decided he didn’t like me, and maybe wanted to fight.

We didn’t fight. We just kind of ignored each other and probably considered the other to be a huge asshole. Then I graduated and moved away and haven’t seen that guy since.

Without EVER speaking a meaningful word to him, I still have memories of us not liking one another for an entire school year. Because of a girl neither of us dated that year.

I don’t know how he remembers it. I don’t know how he’d feel about it, or me, today.

I just know I perceived another guy to be someone I didn’t like (the reason being that my friends told me he didn’t like me—not because he’d ever actually wronged me in some way), and that I spent an entire year feeling shittier than necessary whenever we were in the same place—and I had ZERO facts about his true feelings and intentions, nor had I ever attempted any type of meaningful conversation with him.

I have memories of a high school rivalry that I may have fabricated like an idiot from totally false information from other high school idiots.

I experienced real, tangible negative moments that I still kind-of remember 20 years later, and I can’t even prove whether my opinions and beliefs back then were based on anything real or true.

With Text Messaging, We Don’t Even Need the Help of Idiots to Recreate These Scenarios

This video has bad words, FYI. But it’s amazing. Watch it. (Special thanks to Becky for sharing the timely video on the MBTTTR Facebook page.)

I don’t think we need any more examples. You get it. Not that it matters. You’ll keep on texting because you’re a masochistic, lazy glutton-for-punishment like me.

Remember when we used to memorize 30 phone numbers and politely leave messages with our friends’ parents to have them call us back, sometimes several hours later, just to ask a question we insta-text today?

We’ve arrived at the point where actually answering and speaking on the phone is an inconvenient thing we have to do—like laundry. Texting feels easier, and it tickles our This Shortcut Is Awesome pleasure sensors.

But it also lends itself to a crap-ton of misunderstood messages—things intended to be benign but that angered someone or hurt their feelings. Things that read like a joke through our current emotional filters, only to respond in a way that feels disrespectful and dismissive to the person who, in fact, is not joking.

That kind of awkward, fact-deficient exchange can escalate something immaterial into a real-life problem, and a minor problem into a relationship-ender.

Because I’m a writer, I’m really comfortable texting. Because I’m more comfortable communicating via the written word, I like to try to explain myself through writing.

Sometimes, I try to do that via text message.

Rife with peril, this is.

Choosing convenience over focusing our attention on the people and things that matter is essentially the summarized theme of Shitty Husbandry, as well as being a substandard friend, family member or teammate/partner of any kind.

We struggle mightily with empathy in our human relationships. We like to think what we think and feel is right and true, while anyone bringing something different to the table is wrong and full of shit. It’s why pretty much all human conflict exists—disagreeing about something, and then being dicks about it to everyone on the other side of a debate or argument.

We struggle mightily with this even when the person is our spouse, friend, or family member of several years. We struggle mightily with this when someone we know better than anyone else is looking right at us and speaking words from the same language we speak.

Even with all of that going for us, we still fundamentally don’t understand the other person often enough that MOST people who truthfully say “I love you” and have sex a bunch of times and share a home address end up not liking each other and divorce or break up. They don’t “get” each other, fight about stuff and hurt each other’s feelings a bunch of times, then one or both of them quits because it feels too hard.

People who share a bed and have known each other for years.

Reducing all of that to auto-corrected text and emoji is literally Anthony Bourdain’s recipe for Fuckness Casserole with Break-Up Sauce.

So please be more thoughtful about what you choose to discuss via text, and how easily something you say might be interpreted in a way that makes someone you care about feel shitty even if that’s not your intention.

Sometimes, the things that matter warrant a phone call.

Sometimes, No Response is a great choice.

Always, clear and effective communication is the greatest tool in our relationship arsenal and demands thoughtfulness and effort.

Always, the people we love and care about are worth it.

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I Have No Idea What You’re Talking About; Do We Say What We Really Mean?

Futurama Fry

Not sure if we should have to crack codes, or just speak using clear and direct language in our relationships. (Image/Looper)

In January 2016, I published an article titled “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” which became the most popular thing on the internet worldwide for a day or so and has now been read several millions of times in several languages.

I don’t think it’s anywhere near the best writing I’ve done, and I spend most days embarrassed at how much “Men do this, and Women do another thing” sort-of language is in there. I don’t believe all men, nor all women, do things one certain way, with the possible exception of our respective peeing techniques.

Despite its many flaws, “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” resonated with many people and continues to. Surely the click-baity headline has been a factor, but there’s something more important, and it’s the reason thousands of people have thanked me for “saving their marriage” even though I did no such thing.

That article did for many people what the book “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It” had done for me. It removed the blinders many of us were wearing on the subjects of effective communication and empathy in our relationships.

It’s such a dangerously simple concept that all of the wise and mature people who already figured it out dismiss it as child’s play, and about which the rest of us roll our eyes like “I’m so sure this over-simplified bullshit is the reason my marriage is in shambles and half of all marriages end in divorce! No way!”

But we need the wise people to patiently teach this secret of life to their children, and skillfully share it with their friends and extended family.

And we need everyone else to start paying attention to details that—tragically—fall into a category of things most people don’t talk or think about, and aren’t formally taught.

“She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink”—effectively or otherwise—tried to communicate the most important idea in romantic relationships other than Love is a Choice.

An event can occur—anything, really—and it’s possible for one person to be deeply emotionally or psychologically wounded and feel intense pain because of it while a second person experiencing the same thing at the same time and place never even notices.

This is common. Human nature. The result of individuals not sharing brains and nervous systems.

But it’s also the reason the majority of human relationships fail.

I like the second-degree burn analogy, because it illustrates it perfectly. Lightly touching someone on their arm doesn’t hurt them. Almost never. If they scream out in pain, they’re probably a bizarrely dramatic person with some form of mental illness and questionable sanity.

HOWEVER. If someone has a second-degree burn, and you lightly touch their arm on the burn wound, their painful outburst makes sense.

And what the average person in the average relationship doesn’t understand, but that “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” helped some people finally get is that just because being lightly touched on your arm, or a dirty dish sitting by the sink, or a damp towel on the bed, or dirty socks on the floor, or sarcastic jokes, or staying home with kids instead of going to work full-time doesn’t feel or seem like it should be hard or painful DOES NOT mean that another human being with a different mind, heart, body, and life experiences doesn’t experience those same things in profoundly painful ways that are different than yours. Especially when it happens over and over and over. And over. And over. And over. And over. And over, again.

THAT scenario is what ends the majority of marriages and relationships of all stripes, every day, everywhere on earth and probably on some other alien worlds in the far reaches of the universe, but I can’t substantiate that since Mexico is the furthest place from Ohio I’ve ever been—and their shitty relationships look just like the ones I see around here, except it sounds better, because Spanish.

If young people fundamentally understood this basic concept of empathy and learned how to talk about it during their formative dating years, our marriage success rates would improve dramatically and help fix much of what’s broken.

It Feels Like a Code or a Secret

To me and others, it does.

Every human being’s great crime is forgetting that literally every other member of the seven-billion-and-counting human race has a totally different brain and chemical makeup than we do. Since every conscious second of our lives is experienced through our own eyes in the first-person, it seems easy enough to understand how this happens, but I continue to choke on the sheer amount of assholery I see, hear, feel, and dish out myself every day despite the growing number of people maturing into the adults responsible for setting new standards of human behavior in the 21st century.

My parents didn’t talk to me about this stuff.

No one did.

And most people never had a parent or teacher or trusted adult explain this nuanced idea while emphasizing how big the stakes are. No one prepares us for the shit-storm that ensues when we get it wrong.

So when I discovered this “code” on the heels of my life-crippling divorce, I felt a powerful compulsion to share my story and try to raise awareness about this.

After more than four years of writing about it, I don’t feel any closer to a concise and clear method for communicating this marriage/relationship-saving idea.

Commenter: ‘Must Husbands Crack Codes? Why Can’t Wives Clearly State the REAL Problem?’

Brian’s question got me thinking, and motivated me to write for the first time in weeks.

Strictly for pragmatism’s sake, YES—men/husbands/boyfriends, and presumably women/wives/girlfriends as well—must crack this code.

We’re human beings. When we hurt is often when we communicate most poorly, or not at all, running off to pout silently and waiting for an apology we’ll never receive (probably because they never even knew we were hurt by whatever the thing was).

But we also deal with a lot of philosophical questions around here, and Brian asks a fair one:

“If the wife simply came out and said ‘Hey… look, when you leave the glass there, it makes me feel like you’re not even aware that it is hurting me in a way that’s actually way bigger than just the glass,’ instead of hinting around and playing the ‘This issue we’re currently arguing isn’t actually the real issue that I’m pissed off about and fighting like hell over’ game; the guy is now presented with a statement that needs to be digested prior to spewing an emotional ‘WTF? Really? Over a glass?’ response.”

Should We Have to Decipher Coded Language in our Relationships?

Part of me believes the average guy in this “dishes by the sink” situation will respond to her attempts to connect something larger to the “dish” with the same level of dismissal and invalidation that he already exhibits toward the seemingly minor matter of the dish itself. But—BUT—if we are asking men to step outside of themselves and exercise the humility necessary to listen, communicate, behave, comfort, respect, support, love in the ways their wives or romantic partners can understand and interpret accurately, is it not also fair to ask women (or everyone who plays little miscommunication games for reasons few of us understand) to work to more clearly or effectively communicate what is actually hurting or causing relationship problems?

To Brian’s point, if someone seems dismayed at the idea that a dish left by the sink could be significant enough to be worthy of a marriage fight, might there be greater need for the affected person to communicate more skillfully WHY the dish, or the socks, or the towel, or the sarcasm, or whatever, has been elevated into a marriage-threatening thing that could fundamentally change everyone in the family’s lives forever?

I don’t know.

But considering what’s at stake, I hope more people will think and talk about it.

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What You Don’t Know Actually Can Hurt You

dice optical illusion

(Image/Zako.org)

Disclaimer: I might be clinically insane.

That needs to be said upfront, because it’s mathematically possible and I have no official medical diagnosis to prove otherwise. I’ve never been in anyone’s head but mine, and there’s a pretty good chance mine’s a little more whack than yours. I’m not sure.

So that’s my big caveat–that I might be totally bat-shit crazy, because I don’t assume (about this) that just because I experience life this way that you also do.

But I’m betting there will be someone–maybe you (hi!)–who’s also a little bit nuts. Maybe they’ll get it and think it matters.

I am–by far–the wimpiest version of myself while flying on airplanes.

It’s not the kind of thing you can observe. I maintain a calm appearance because I want to look like a cool customer.

But sometimes I’m not.

There are moments while flying where my body feels involuntary jolts of fear. All those “DANGER!” chemicals your brain produces during life’s least-calm moments. I sometimes experience that on routine commercial flights.

I know it’s irrational. Super-irrational.

There are more than 100,000 flights every day around the globe. In the United States alone, there are more than 5,000 commercial jets in the sky at any given time. And how many non-terrorism-related U.S. commercial flights have not made their destinations in my lifetime?

Honestly, that ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades in 1996 is the only one I can think of. Even a 2009 US Airways flight that hit a flock of birds and suffered total engine loss managed to land safely on the Hudson River in New York (an incident dramatized in the film “Sully”).

If you believe in math (and I totally do), it’s literally less than one in a million that something super-scary or dangerous happens on commercial flights.

And yet, there I sit, doing my best to wear my best Super Calm Guy face (I hide the fear pretty well), but on the inside feel all kinds of nerves whenever:

  • The plane changes altitude significantly.
  • We make any major directional turns.
  • The plane bounces significantly from turbulence.
  • I hear that ding-noise that is probably just some random passenger asking for scotch or a pair of headphones, but which my mind always assumes is the pilot calling the flight attendants into the cockpit to warn them of imminent danger and to keep it a secret from the rest of us to avoid panic.

I stare at my phone. I read the same sentence in my book over and over. I maintain eye contact and a calm demeanor with anyone seated next to me I might be talking to.

But on the inside of my chest and stomach, I feel involuntary fear and anxiety as if I’m going to die any minute now, and my son and ex-wife are going to get stuck rifling through my house at the estate sale, with my ex-wife secretly celebrating my untimely passing so that our little boy no longer has to live in a house which clearly hasn’t been dusted or vacuumed in the corners for far too long.

When I was little, I used to have a reoccurring dream of falling–the kind that likes to happen shortly after falling asleep. It wasn’t a peaceful fall. The ground was rushing toward me, and I was afraid.

Of course, like in the dirty dreams where you never actually get to do the deed, I’d wake up before I hit the ground, and just sit there waiting for my heart rate to return to normal.

The Power of Information

I spent last week in Las Vegas for work, and because my company’s travel department hates me apparently, it had me fly through San Francisco on my way back to Cleveland. From Vegas. Don’t get me started.

I flew on four planes. I’ll fly on four more to get to and from Mexico within the next two weeks. I have a fair amount of air-travel experience. Nothing bad has ever happened.

I’m not afraid leading up to the flight. I don’t worry about it, nor dread it. I just have an uncomfortable physical reaction to certain aspects of air travel that are exacerbated by my overactive imagination.

If I was sitting in the co-pilot seat and the captain said to me: “We’re about 100 miles away from a large storm system, but we’re going to increase our altitude by 5,000 feet and veer off to the right, and we’re going to miss the storm by several miles,” I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have any anxiety about these two maneuvers I was anticipating.

If I was sitting with the captain, and he said: “I know turbulence is uncomfortable, but it’s a normal part of flying and there’s nothing to worry about–even when it’s really bumpy–here’s why…,” I’m pretty sure I’d be cooler than how I normally experience it.

It’s not just knowledge or information that eliminates the irrational fear. Sometimes, something significantly distracting overpowers it. I fly at least once a year with my young son. I don’t feel fear when I’m with him up there. Maybe because I feel like it’s my job to be brave for him, so I accidentally am. Or maybe because the rational part of my brain acknowledges the obvious: If this was legitimately risky, you would never have bought the tickets, and you certainly would never put your son in danger, and maybe that’s the thing that offsets that unpleasant panicky feeling that sometimes crops up.

What Don’t You Know About Your Spouse or Romantic Partner?

You’re probably not like I was. You probably don’t concoct paranoid thoughts and feelings about your spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend and then have unpleasant physical reactions to them.

But that was me during the final 18 months of my marriage while I slept in the guest room wondering what my wife was doing, who she was talking to, who she was thinking about, and what she really thought of me.

The final few years of my marriage messed me up pretty bad. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine, because I repeatedly lacked the courage to directly speak my thoughts, feelings and fears to the one person who mattered.

We don’t always speak or behave honestly.

We feel angry. Sad. Embarrassed. Paranoid. Jealous. Ashamed. Insecure. Afraid. But we don’t communicate that to our partner. Since we feel it so profoundly, and they “know us” so well, we assume they know it–or they should if they actually cared.

We don’t effectively communicate truth, and then when our partners don’t do what we silently hoped they would, we feel even shittier–whether that’s sadness, anger or disappointment.

We have brains and our brains are funny things.

Our brains have been doing their thing for however long we’ve been alive, and our brains learn how to tell us stories to fill in gaps. It’s how we can often catch moving things sailing overhead, or instinctively stop or dodge to avoid collisions in vehicles, or on foot.

We don’t need 100-percent of all information to guess accurately.

When we’re inside, but it’s raining outside, we don’t need to experience being rained on to know we’ll get wet.

We’re good guessers most of the time. Seriously. We’d be dead if we weren’t. I’ve never fallen off a cliff, but I’m skilled at guessing what would happen if I did, and taking steps to avoid it.

We’re excellent at observing the world around us, and avoiding danger.

But not always. We don’t bat 1.000. We strike out sometimes. Maybe not even half the time. But sometimes. And sometimes we do it in our relationships when our busy minds start guessing what our partners might be thinking or feeling, and then having psychological and emotional reactions to those guesses without confirming truth or accuracy one way or another.

YOU CAN’T TRUST YOURSELF.

No matter how good we are at not dying, and no matter how effectively we navigate our interpersonal relationships with friends, co-workers, and families of origin. We can’t trust ourselves, because the fact is, we’re WRONG a lot.

We just are.

You’re wrong about what your husband thinks and feels.

You’re wrong about what your wife thinks and feels.

You’re wrong about what your parents think and feel.

You’re wrong about what everyone at work thinks about you.

You’re wrong about what your children think and feel.

We’re all wrong about a countless number of things which all of us lacking the power of omniscience can’t possibly know.

But our brains guess anyway. Our brains always guess, and without a crap-ton of discipline, mindfulness and wisdom, we tend to mentally and emotionally FEEL whatever conclusion our brains settle on.

I have no way of knowing what would have happened had I walked another path. It’s not something I think much about.

But, through the prism of hindsight, I feel confident saying that a major, major, major contributor to my failed marriage and broken family is, simply…

A lack of information.

Either I thought and felt things that weren’t true, and perhaps reacted to those false conclusions, OR my wife thought and felt things that weren’t true, and in many instances, it was my fear or stubbornness that allowed that to happen.

I was so busy pretending to be tough and courageous, that I was hiding all of my weakness and fear.

I hadn’t yet discovered the truth: It IS being tough to be vulnerable and honest. It IS brave to push through fear and tackle things head-on.

Like when I calmly am there for my little boy in the seat next to me on the airplane and everything’s okay.

The most important things and people in our lives are too significant to leave to mistake-prone guessing. Yet, many of us do, and after months and years of that, our worlds end for a little bit until we pick up the pieces again.

Sometimes things are worse than we think, and we don’t really want to know the truth even though the solution lives in that truth.

Sometimes things are better than we think, but we have no idea because we want to pout and be mad, or because we’re too embarrassed to say or ask what’s on our minds.

When we don’t have enough information, we draw incorrect conclusions that lead to us thinking, feeling, saying and doing things we otherwise wouldn’t.

And maybe sometimes that doesn’t really matter.

But sometimes–it’s the only thing that does.

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How Marital Affairs Happen: The Beautiful Stranger I Wanted to Sleep With While I Was Married

man sitting at bar drinking

(Image/Shutterstock)

Because I am sometimes a walking cliché who struggles with controlling negative emotion, I found myself sitting at a bar on a Sunday afternoon with a shot and a beer in front of me.

I’d walked out of the house after another fight with my wife who hated me. My marriage was complete shit and I’d convinced myself that it was mostly her fault. She’d suffered a difficult personal loss, and because her emotional calibration and mindset had the “wrong” settings, she wasn’t prioritizing our marriage over her sadness.

I’d been sleeping in the guest room ever since the night she told me over dinner that she didn’t love me anymore and didn’t know whether she wanted to stay married. That had been more than a year earlier.

Don’t love me, huh? Neat. Way to screw me over after I pledged my entire life to you.

Instead of exercising humility and putting all of the effort I could muster into understanding why my wife was unhappy, I felt sorry for myself and moved into the guest room.

I couldn’t explain how we’d arrived here—a depressed wife seemingly apathetic toward her husband and marriage, and a depressed husband trying simply to not suffocate. It felt like a problem that was too big for me. When things feel too big for me, I tend to avoid them.

Help always came during life’s hardest moments growing up. Maybe I thought my wife would snap out of it and we’d find a way back from this.

I’d been sleeping in the guest room for more than a year because I’m not sharing a bed with a woman who tells me she doesn’t love me and doesn’t know if she wants to be married to me anymore.

It seemed like a reasonable decision at the time if you don’t count the part where I was an adult male approaching 18 consecutive months of celibacy I’d never wanted nor asked for.

So, a Fuck this, I’m not going to sit here and take any more of this crap reaction came naturally when something she said struck me as extra bullshitty.

And then I did what all the sad and angry guys do in the movies.

I went to the bar to drink and smoke cigarettes, leaving my wife at home to care for our toddler and reflect on how her husband always puts himself first during disagreements, completely dismisses her thoughts and feelings when they conflict with his interpretation of truth, and consider a future where she wouldn’t have to put up with any of that.

I ordered a shot and a beer. And then another. And then another.

I’m good at drinking. I tend not to get sloppy drunk and stupid. Sitting there alone on a Sunday afternoon, I wasn’t planning on getting either sloppy or stupid. I was just trying to medicate enough to numb the tightness in my chest and throat.

I was probably doing a lot of staring at my phone and the bottom of my glass because I didn’t see them walk in. I only remember lifting my head and locking eyes with a beautiful brunette woman sitting with her friend on the far side of the bar.

I won’t be mistaken for a Gucci underwear model or anything, but considering it was a Sunday afternoon and the bar was mostly empty, I was the obvious choice for any women interested in meeting a guy.

After our eyes had met a few times, the two ladies invited me to the other side of the bar to sit with them.

I obliged.

Drinking alone isn’t any fun.

Her name was Donna. Donna’s friend was cute and friendly too, but I don’t remember her name. Just Donna.

She was beautiful. Educated. Fun to talk to and drink with.

But what really stood out—and why I still remember her today—is that she liked me.

She liked me. She wanted to meet someone who enjoyed cooking and weekend-afternoon orgasms which is totally a demographic of which I’m a member.

We spent hours drinking and joking and talking and laughing. Donna, me, and her friend I can’t remember.

Donna and I didn’t have an affair.

We didn’t make out, hold hands, or even exchange text messages after that. I loved my wife and absolutely wanted to be married to her for the rest of my life.

But no amount of alcohol could make me forget how horrible it felt to be home in my loveless and stressful marriage.

No amount of alcohol could prevent me from feeling the excitement of an attractive person demonstrating genuine interest in me after so many months of craving my wife’s affection and being denied it.

No amount of family values, codes of moral conduct, or of being philosophically against sexual unfaithfulness in marriage could stop this from being true: I wanted to sleep with Donna.

I did. I wanted to.

I was married. I loved my wife. We had a little boy at home. And I believed it was fundamentally wrong up and down the social and spiritual spectrum of acceptable human behavior.

Cheating = bad, is how I felt about it—no matter how painful and shitty my life and marriage felt.

So I didn’t.

But still. I wanted to.

She made me feel good, simply by paying attention to me, demonstrating interest in me, and expressing verbally and non-verbally that she liked me. All of that paired with her attractiveness was enough to trigger the feeling inside.

I wanted to.

This is How Affairs Happen

As many of you know, it was largely me—not my wife—whose behavior slowly led us down the sneakily disguised path to resentment and divorce. I didn’t know it back then while I was feeling sorry for myself and drunk-flirting with strange women at a bar. I managed to do that WHILE blaming my wife for the state of our marriage.

She doesn’t like me or want me anyway, so who cares? The rules are different now.

I really thought and felt that.

I’m telling this story because I think—save for various details unique to our individual lives—it’s a story that most people reading will understand and relate to. I think this story is a VERY common example of how marital affairs happen.

It’s not usually someone who loses all sense of reason and self-control and gives himself or herself over to lustful temptation.

It’s usually that someone in a committed relationship feels abandoned and alone and miserable inside their home and relationship. And THEN, someone attractive and interesting starts demonstrating emotional, intellectual, or sexual interest—and it’s how amazingly good that feels after months and years of being deprived those feelings that intoxicates people and lures them into submitting to the craving.

That feeling.

They want me.

A powerful drug. Appealing. Addicting.

I want more.

I never really understood how a husband or wife could sleep with someone else. But then my marriage turned to shit and I felt like dying every day, and then she eventually left and it somehow got worse.

And now I do understand.

When something hurts all the time, it’s easy to chase things that relieve the pain.

When we’re deprived of powerful wants and needs like food and water, we starve and dehydrate. Starving people will eat unspeakably disgusting things. Dehydrated people will drink desert sand if the mirage looks real enough.

When we feel deprived of love, attention, physical intimacy, respect—and then we get a taste of that elsewhere? It’s easy to want more.

Maybe if my wife had held on to our broken marriage for another year, I’d have cracked eventually. I don’t know.

I just know this: I messed up big-time in our marriage, and failed my wife and family. In 2017, I can see it clear as day. Despite that, I STILL felt genuinely like a victim. And in all my victimhood, I felt justified in letting my mind want sexual and romantic fulfillment, even if it meant wanting it from someone else. It seemed totally okay to me since my wife ignored me all the time when she wasn’t acting annoyed that I lived in the same house.

A Thought Exercise

I’m a reasonably evolved human being. Even when I was a shitty husband, I could still mostly be counted on to treat people well and make choices that wouldn’t hurt my wife or son.

I was the problem in my marriage, and STILL played the victim card inside of my head and chest.

So, what do you think the people are doing who are ACTUALLY being emotionally neglected and mistreated by their spouses?

There are women and men out there who are married to way bigger screw-ups than me.

What do you think the real victims of shitty spousal treatment are thinking and feeling when their hot co-worker flirts with them, or when their high school sweetheart reaches out to them on Facebook?

There are a lot of marital affairs happening. Too many.

There are also a lot of people who aren’t physically acting on their impulses… but they WANT to.

If your wife or husband doesn’t actually sleep with your best friend, or her work-trip partner, but they WANT to… how do you feel about that?

And we can choose to get all morally righteous and holier-than-thou about it, always pointing fingers at someone who succumbed to an affair as the reason a marriage fell apart.

Or we can tell the truth, even if it’s a little bit inconvenient.

We can talk about root causes. We can talk about all of the little things that did or did not happen over many months and years which resulted in two previously happy and in-love people becoming totally Bizarro versions of themselves who sleep with other people and feel morally justified in doing so.

It’s rarely about the sex.

It’s usually about human connection.

Affairs don’t lead to disconnection, per se.

Disconnection leads to affairs.

And then the world is a little darker and uglier than it was before.

But it doesn’t have to be.

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

Burn victim with medical bandages

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

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

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

But that’s NOT who most women are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Husbands vs. Wives and the Battle of the Sexes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Then the Invisible Burns Start to Hurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidence

(Image/Behance)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Yin Tends to Have a Yang

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

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

I loved my wife. Fact.

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

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

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

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

The Evidence of Feelings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facts aren’t feelings!

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

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

Circumstantial Evidence Doesn’t Lie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because of the stuff we can feel.

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

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The Secret to Long-Term Compatibility in Dating and Marriage Isn’t How Alike We Are

puzzle pieces that fit together

(Image/hdimagelib.com)

com·pat·i·bil·i·ty

noun

  1. a state in which two things are able to exist or occur together without problem or conflict.
  2. a feeling of sympathy and friendship; like-mindedness.

We must start with an important truth—there are two kinds of compatibility.

And I might be being a presumptuous D-hole, but I’m under the impression that when the average person speaks about romantic “compatibility,” they’re focusing on the #2 definition. Friendship. Like-mindedness. Similar personalities, interests, wants, life goals, etc.

The focus, to a certain extent, is on ALIKENESS or SAMENESS.

Which isn’t without merit, and helps make a compelling argument for using romantic compatibility charts (like you might find in astrology) and matchmaking tests.

As a general rule, I think it’s fair to feel as if a brothel-owning cocaine enthusiast and an Evangelical Christian aren’t a good match for long-term dating and marriage.

I think it’s fair to feel as if a 24-year-old hip-hop DJ in Brooklyn might not be a great romantic fit with a 41-year-old botany professor in rural Oklahoma.

And before we get into the #1 definition for compatibility, I want to talk about this part a little bit.

Why I Support Radical Discrimination and Profiling in Dating

“What kind of dog should I get?” I typed into Google.

Several sites popped up with dog breed selector tools and quizzes designed to help people find dogs best-suited for particular preferences, lifestyles and living environments.

The American Kennel Club makes its recommendations based on the following categories:

  • Living Environment (House or apartment)
  • Number of Children
  • Number of Other Dogs
  • Typical Activity (At home, Walking in neighborhood, Going on adventure)
  • Noise Tolerance
  • Cleanliness Preferences

Depending on your answers, the AKC returns a short list of recommended matches, almost like an eHarmony for those interested in pet ownership.

Why? How? Are the people at the American Kennel Club dog psychics?

Nope.

They simply have decades, perhaps more than a century, of historical data which tells us that a Puggle, an Old English Sheepdog, and a Yorkshire Terrier all will exhibit certain characteristics common to those particular breeds, just as a Siberian Husky, French Bulldog and Cocker Spaniel will typically exhibit a different set of characteristics.

I believe this is a positive, useful, helpful practice.

The results of successfully matching certain dog breeds with certain owner preferences are happy dogs delighting happy pet owners who generally aren’t surprised by totally unexpected and negative behavior from their pets.

Successfully matching certain dog breeds with owner preferences significantly reduces the amount of dogs being abandoned at shelters or by the side of the road, reducing demands on animal shelters, and minimizing instances of euthanizing abandoned or stray pets in overpopulated shelters.

“Hey, Matt! Why are you writing about dogs?! Are you an animal blogger now? Is that what this is? Have you been watching ‘Space Buddies’? What’s your favorite dog breed? Pugs? Mastiffs? Are you super-into Yorkies?”

No. I’m not super-into Yorkies.

I’m super-into the idea of using profiling and discrimination in our dating lives and partner selection processes to eliminate potential partners who are metaphorically liable to shit on your floors and destroy your shoes all the time.

The experiences aren’t particularly fun or functional, and the stories tend to have sad—sometimes tragic—endings.

Profiling Isn’t Always Bad

“OMG, Matt! Are you going to say something racist, sexist or bigoted right now?!?!”

No. Settle the fuck down.

Is it okay for police officers to pull someone over because of his or her skin color alone? Never.

But is it okay for banks to lend different amounts of money to borrowers under different conditions based on the individual borrowers’ credit history? I think so.

Is it okay for government-led armies to round up citizens and then imprison and execute them for no other reason than their ethnicity, religious beliefs or country of origin? Right.

But is it okay for college and professional sports teams to choose very large, very fast, very athletic people to be part of their teams as opposed to recruiting a bunch of short, slow and out-of-shape people?

“But coach! How do you know I’m not going to be the best middle linebacker in the history of this football team?! Don’t judge me and tell me what I can’t do!”

Let’s try to avoid running this idea through our political or social justice filters.

SOMETIMES, discrimination and profiling is USEFUL.

It just is. And we need to collectively demonstrate the intelligence and wisdom necessary to know the difference between when it’s okay and not okay.

Our actions and choices in any given moment amount to a calculated gamble.

When we reach out to flip a light switch, we’re estimating how far we need to extend our arms and move our hands and fingers in a way that will flip the switch successfully. I achieve my goal of flipping a light switch on or off almost every time I try. Probably 98 percent. Maybe 99 percent.

Of course, nothing is absolute. Once in a great while, I’ll miss the swipe and have to quickly do it again to turn a light on or off.

We’re guessing when we turn steering wheels, when we eat food, when we jump into water, and when we speak to people.

We have a lot of experience doing these things, and over time, we can predict with near certainty what’s likely to happen when we move around and do routine life things. And we’re right most of the time, which is why you and I are still breathing.

We’re a lot better at these mostly automatic physical movements and routine choices than we are choosing partners with whom we demonstrate the kind of compatibility and relationship skills necessary to not end up sad, divorced and sharing our kids (or Yorkies) on the holidays.

What If We Create Compatibility?

  1. a state in which two things are able to exist or occur together without problem or conflict.

It’s natural to want to be with people who share our interests and values. And it’s logical (although people somehow screw this up) to seek out a partner who has the same plans for having children and long-term family life.

But—and this is likely observably true in your own life—the interests and quirks and things people find attractive don’t remain static. They change and evolve as we age and experience new things and new people.

According to the Gottman Relationship Blog, Dr. Ted Hudson, a researcher at the University of Texas, conducted a longitudinal study on romantic compatibility in couples who had been married for several years.

The results?

“My research shows that there is no difference in the objective compatibility between those couples who are unhappy and those who are happy,” Hudson wrote.

Couples that feel content and positivity within their relationships said that compatibility wasn’t an issue for them. The happy couples in Hudson’s study said it was their own willful behavior that made the relationship successful—not personality compatibility.

When the unhappy couples in the study were asked about compatibility, they all said that compatibility was extremely important to having a successful marriage. And in the midst of their failing marriages, they didn’t believe they were compatible with their partners.

When the unhappy couples said, “We’re incompatible,” what they actually meant was, “We don’t get along very well,” Hudson wrote.

That’s the problem with the word “compatibility.”

Partners unhappy in their relationships often resort to blaming a lack of compatibility for their dysfunctional relationship, the Gottman Institute blog article said.

“They fail to realize and comprehend that a successful relationship does not hinge its posterity on how alike you are, instead it hangs on by the sheer willpower and want to stay in a relationship,” the article said.

Maybe We Can Do Better at Identifying What Really Matters

Natural human chemistry brings people together romantically and sexually. We’ve been making babies and populating the planet using this method for longer than we’ve been recording history.

So this will keep happening.

Just maybe someone who likes to go square dancing on the weekends can have an amazing relationship with a competitive miniature golfer. Just maybe some competitive pit master barbecue guy can have a beautiful family with a vegetarian. After all, two people from the same town, who go to the same church, and know all the same people, and vote the same way, and believe all the same things can have a colossally shitty marriage.

So maybe what we really need to be “compatible” with our partners on aren’t just our stated values, but what we can actually demonstrate that we know and understand.

She wants to talk about it. It makes her feel better.

He doesn’t want to talk about it. It makes him feel worse.

Are they incompatible?

Or.

Does being compatible really mean that she fundamentally understands how stressful and difficult conversations that feel cathartic for her, are difficult and damaging for him, and approaches a request for communication accordingly?

And does being compatible really mean that he fundamentally understands that listening to what she has to say, even if it’s inconvenient or a little bit frustrating for him, will strengthen the intimate bond between them, so he’s going to make whatever concessions are necessary to achieve that?

Does being compatible mean that two people are AWAKE to the needs and wants of one another, and that simple demonstrations of respecting and honoring those needs and wants—these little things many people never think about—create as a byproduct all the feel-goodness that makes a person feel connected and compatible.

Love is a choice. Sure, it’s really damn hard after several years inside a shitty marriage, but it doesn’t make it less true.

Love IS a choice.

And I know that’s not helpful to a hurting heart. And I know that’s not going to save a severely damaged relationship.

HOWEVER, when two people mindfully choose to love one another each day—to demonstrate that choice in word and action—all the brokenness and resentment and mistrust? These things that destroy relationships never manifest at all.

It’s easy to chalk it up to incompatibility.

It’s hard to be an adult who gives more to his or her partner than they take for themselves.

But it’s also hard to divorce. It’s hard to say goodbye to your children all the time.

And it’s easy to live in a home where everyone is secure in the love that’s present there. It’s easy to walk into a peaceful space where your heart rate and stress levels don’t increase because another brutal fight could start any minute.

It feels hard to be an adult sometimes.

I think it’s beautiful how hard we try, even when we fail to achieve what we want.

Even when we got what we hoped for and we’re left feeling disappointed.

Even when things we hope for feel beyond reach.

Because I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but it might turn out to be one of the best days of my life.

I don’t know much, but I’m pretty sure the same is true for you.

Take This Gottman Institute Quiz to Discover How Well You Know Your Partner

Because it seems like a worthwhile thing to know.

Start Quiz Here

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How Trying to ‘Fit In’ Can Ruin Your Life and Marriage

Never Abandon Yourself

(Image/Pinterest)

As far back as I remember, I was taught that some human behaviors are so bad that if you do them, God—an otherwise all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving father figure—will be so pissed and disappointed with your choices that you run the risk of being banished to the shittiest, most-frightening, most-painful environment imaginable for ETERNITY.

I don’t know how many of you try to conceptualize FOR-FREAKING-EVER, but it hurts my head so much that even the concept of an eternal paradise scares me a little. I’m not really capable of imagining forever. Dinosaurs were alive 65 million years ago. Compared to FOREVER, 65 million years is less time than it took you to read this sentence, relative to our lifetime.

Let’s not discuss theology, please. I have no idea what’s true and not true, and I have a sneaking suspicion no one else does either—even those who act like they’re really certain about it.

This Bad Human Behaviors List was mostly not a problem.

I didn’t want to kill anyone. I never even liked hurting people.

I didn’t want to rape, or kidnap, or steal things. I didn’t even want to covet my neighbor’s wife or possessions.

I wanted to treat people well—not for praise or recognition—but just because that’s what naturally made sense for me.

The things on the Bad Human Behaviors List were super-easy to avoid for the first 12 or so years of my life. I didn’t want to do them anyway! Yay!!! I’m going to Heaven!!!

And then somewhere along the way, I started waking up with erections and inevitably had one anytime I was called up to write something on the chalkboard in front of the class at school. Sex became a thing I thought about a lot, and to some extent, talked about with friends.

By mid-high school, I’d experienced alcohol and marijuana, and decided I really liked both.

And for the first time in my life, my personal values were on the line.

Am I going to be the kind of person who does things because I like them and they feel good even though I believe they’re wrong?

With the full knowledge and understanding that having sex outside of marriage AND consuming alcohol or smoking pot just to “feel good” were on the Bad Human Behaviors List—the very list that will damn your ass to an eternity of excruciating fiery torment—I totally chose to do them anyway.

Guilt.

Shame.

Fear.

These things were now a part of my world, and there was nowhere to hide from them. What I discovered is that if you drink enough, and smoke a bowl, and climax a couple of times with a sexy partner in crime, you kind-of dull or mute the discomfort of guilt, shame and fear. Like a numbing agent.

Temporary relief from the discomfort of Real Life.

Whenever that relief wore off, you’d just do it again. Like a non-hospitalized college kid’s personal morphine drip.

Twenty years, one son who needs my guidance, and one divorce later, and I still find myself pushing that metaphorical button.

It doesn’t look anything like it used to. I never smoke. I rarely drink. I’m no longer surrounded by 10,000 single women every day.

But I’m still dancing with the question: What kind of person am I? What do I REALLY believe, and can I live courageously and authentically in whatever those true and actual beliefs might be?

Do You Ever Lie Like I Lied?

I didn’t think it was lying. Deception for the sake of taking advantage of someone, or benefiting at others’ expense.

THAT’s lying, right? I’m just not always disclosing the whole truth. That’s so much different than lying! Keeping some things to myself isn’t on the Bad Human Behaviors List!

I was pretty much being Peter in the movie scene from “Office Space” when he’s trying to justify to his girlfriend how stealing fractions of a penny from his employer isn’t actually wrong since Take-a-Penny trays exist.

Because I fucking lied. I was lying to myself as I spent years convincing myself I was doing the right thing.

I was “honest” in that I never tried to deceive my wife in some ultra-heinous way. But I lied to her by misrepresenting myself about sex.

“We celebrate anniversaries instead of the quality of relationships.”

– Mark Groves, relationship coach, speaker, writer

I wasn’t ashamed to drink with her nor have honest conversations about it. It wasn’t a source of guilt and shame.

I wasn’t ashamed to have honest conversations about pot smoking with her because it was such a relatively insignificant thing in our adult lives. It just didn’t matter enough to ever matter.

But then we get to sex. It’s always so uncomfortable to talk about for me, like I’m 12 again.

Maybe deep down, I’m still the 12-year-old just waiting for God to ban-hammer my sinful ass to perma-bathe in some hellfire lava pit.

Here’s the important part:

I was afraid to communicate things I thought and felt about sex to my wife—both when we were dating, and during our marriage.

Why?

Because I was afraid of rejection.

I was afraid my wife wouldn’t like the REAL ME, so I played like I was all morally virtuous in the sex department, even though I was actually a little pervy, and fantasized about interracial three-ways and other rad stuff that would probably make my grandma cry.

When Did We Decide Everyone Else Matters More Than Us?

This isn’t about sex, or moral righteousness, or even communication in marriage.

It’s about betraying and abandoning yourself to win the approval of others.

I was watching and listening to relationship coach and speaker Mark Groves talk about these ideas in a video I’ll share below.

[Full disclosure: Mark and I “met” for the first time on the phone last week because I really like and respect the work he does, and from that conversation I am intentionally looking for opportunities to share Mark’s work and support him, as he has the same mission that I do, and he’s already doing what I one day hope to—write about and talk about this stuff full-time.]

In this talk, Mark shares a number of personal stories (not unlike I try to do) in order to illustrate the lesson he learned from it, and share ideas for a better way of living.

Listening to his talk from the video, I was affected when he talks about how there’s a moment when we’re kids where most of us abandon ourselves in favor of: “I need to be this type of person to get the love of my parents.”

And how we often behave and make major life decisions (including who we date and/or marry) in an effort to live up to whatever cultural, religious, educational standards we believe will earn us the approval or praise of others.

“So we become who we think we need to be to be loved,” Mark said. “But when we do that, who’s not getting the love? Inside?

“Us. We abandon self to stay part of a group that doesn’t even celebrate who we truly are.

“That used to be something that preserved us in evolution, but it doesn’t seem so helpful now.”

The Science of Relationships (a Mark Groves talk)

Mark and I had a great talk where it was clear we were both passionate about the idea that our interpersonal relationships are truly the things that have the greatest impact on our lives.

How good or bad our human, earthly life experiences are is most greatly affected by the quality of our closest relationships. How good we feel. How healthy we are.

Yet, we spend our lives NOT learning about relationships from anyone except people who ALSO suck at them. Then shitty things happen and we cry and stuff.

I often use the term “failed relationship.” Mark hates that term and called it “shitty.”

“A relationship that ends is not a failure,” Mark said. “It’s expansion. It’s growth. It’s just the end of a story.

“We celebrate anniversaries instead of the quality of relationships.”

I spent a lot of time thinking about that. Longevity is beautiful, and Mark is the first to say so. But longevity DOES NOT make a relationship “successful.”

And it doesn’t have to be this way.

The path to a better way starts with treating ourselves better.

You deserve it. We all do.

Even me.

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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 14

(Image/hellopretty.co.za)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For YEARS.

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

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

And when you don’t?

You end up like me.

It Wasn’t Always That Way

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

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

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

She was a competitive ballroom dancer.

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

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

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

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

Insta-smitten.

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

She was smart. Funny. Easy to be around.

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

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

Our “perfect-togetherness” would have to wait.

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

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

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

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

The Framed Greeting Card

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

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

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

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

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

I had just wanted to.

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

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

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

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

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

Waste.

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

Just an everyday text: “Thinking about you.”

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

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

That we want them.

That we love them.

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

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

Coke vs. Pepsi by Adweek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subtle.

More subtle than the flavor of Coke vs. Pepsi.

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

So very subtle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the Difference?

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

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

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

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

The things we don’t see coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know what, maybe she was sometimes.

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

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

I did things that hurt my wife.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s the Line?

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are:

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

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

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

Because here’s what happens.

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

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

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

BUT.

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

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

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

Love is a choice.

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

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

Maybe we can’t.

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

Who’s to blame?

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

No one?

Everyone?

I don’t know.

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

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

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