Category Archives: Marriage

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

Aladdin and Jasmine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We find hope in new places.

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

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

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

Reality vs. what you thought would happen.

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

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

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

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

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

Because now we have to talk about something uncomfortable.

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

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

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

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

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

But it can be Happily Ever After.

And Happily Ever After is definitely worth fighting for.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a good thing in a lot of ways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Hedonic Adaptation Ruins Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

You meet. It feels very exciting.

You touch. It’s great.

You kiss. It’s amazing.

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

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

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

It’s wild, right?

But then what happens?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weeks and months pass.

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

There’s love there.

There’s loyalty there.

There’s mutual attraction.

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

We can do this, you think.

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

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

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

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

You know what happens next, right?

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

Facts.

Difficult ones.

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

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

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

I know.

I’m sorry.

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

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

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

Damn right it’s inappropriate.

It’s bullshit.

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

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

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

It happens all of the time.

Hedonic adaptation.

Blinded by the All The Time.

Blinded by the constant.

Blinded by the totally obvious.

But then the lights stop working and you notice.

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

And what do you know? You notice.

I don’t care how much love there is.

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

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

YOU WILL GET BORED WITH ONE ANOTHER A LITTLE BIT.

You just will, and I’m sorry.

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

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

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

Probably. Sorry.

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

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

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

I totally agree with you.

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

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

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

And you know what I think?

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

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

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

Just don’t.

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

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

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

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

You know what happens?

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

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

They’re not really getting it wrong.

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

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

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

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

I’m so glad you asked.

Happily Ever After Occurs When You Both Choose it Everyday

Sounds too simple, doesn’t it?

It IS simple.

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

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

And the trick is simple enough.

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

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

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

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

This isn’t always feel-good work.

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

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

But you’re going to do it anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You start on Day 1 and you never stop.

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

It will be more boring than that.

But it will be real. It will be truth.

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

And all you have to do is choose it.

Not once.

Always.

You May Also Want to Read:

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

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

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

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

black and white puzzle pieces

Puzzle pieces are cool because they sort of police themselves. Even though several pieces might look like they’ll fit together, they usually don’t, and even if they do, it’s easy to spot the problem and fix it. Try to think of having strong, healthy personal boundaries just like that. When you identify your boundaries, and you enforce them, crappy incompatible puzzle pieces don’t get misplaced and mess everything up. Healthy boundaries take the mystery out of dating and good relationships. Either you fail fast, and avoid a horrible relationship, OR you progress in mostly pleasant, functional ways with a romantic partner who is a great match for the long haul. The people who are still around after you enforce your boundaries like a boss? They’re the keepers. (Image/daninicoleauthor.files.wordpress.com)

You’re not going to like this, but you probably shouldn’t marry your girlfriend or boyfriend.

Seriously.

You know how it feels safe to eat bacon cheeseburgers, drink milkshakes, or maybe even smoke something without the fear of imminently dropping dead of a heart attack or developing lung cancer?

You feel that way because you have several years ahead of you, which is awesome.

But, you’re also intellectually aware that eating bacon cheeseburgers and milkshakes for every meal and smoking a pack a day will end with you being a VERY unhealthy adult and will almost certainly rob you of several years of life.

I’m asking you to please think of your dating life in that same way.

Things that feel like no big deal right now will WRECK you in your thirties and forties. Big-time suckage.

And the only person who can protect you from those future shitty things is you. On this particular matter, you’re all you’ve got.

Because I’m capable of not concerning myself with three days from now in the interest of enjoying today, I promise that I understand that some or all of you will dismiss this friendly warning.

That’s okay.

I think maybe most people have to learn life’s most important lessons on their own. That’s how I am too. Every important lesson that stuck with me was learned the hard way.

The reason I’m even talking about this is because I got divorced about five years ago, and it was a WAY bigger deal than I ever realized divorce could be. And I say that as a child of divorced parents who lived about 400 miles apart through my formative years which made me cry a lot when I was a little kid.

Divorce was VERY hard, and I think most people don’t talk about it because they’re ashamed, or because it’s such an awkward and uncomfortable conversation to be on either side of. Divorce is COMMON. Thousands of divorces happen every day.

And common things seem NORMAL. Regular. Not weird.

And things that we think of as normal, regular and not weird don’t scare us. So we don’t protect or prepare ourselves because it never occurs to us that we should.

This is me trying to convince you that you should.

According to a couple of researchers who studied the health impact of major life events on human beings, divorce is the #2 most-stressful life event a person will ever experience.

According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, divorce ranks ahead of things like going to prison, the death of a parent or child, and losing a body part in a horrific accident.

And I’m here to tell you that Holmes and Rahe weren’t playing.

You don’t want any part of it.

So when I say things that offend you a little and make both of us uncomfortable like: Your boyfriend or girlfriend who you currently feel super-in-love with is statistically likely to be your life’s greatest threat at the moment, I want you to understand why.

Let that sink in for a minute before we talk about what you can do about it.

The Boring Word You MUST Prioritize to Avoid a Crappy Adult Life

Boundaries.

When I was growing up, if someone tried to talk to me about boundaries, I would have tuned them out like when my gym teacher tried to stress the importance of stretching and eating vegetables.

I’m 17 and can do 25 more chin-ups than you, dude.

And it would make sense to me if you thought I was an asshole for disparaging your relationship that has always felt like a really good and healthy thing, and that it all seems pretty hypocritical coming from some divorced guy.

But I’m totally right about this, so I hope you’ll begrudgingly come along anyway.

Your future non-crying children who enjoy having both mom and dad living in the same house will really appreciate it.

What Boundaries Are and Why They’re Your Best Defense Against Divorce

Your parents aren’t going to like me using this example, but I think it’s probably the quickest way to cut through the bullshit, so I hope they’ll get over it.

I want you to think about being a girl in high school. A junior. Sweet 16.

I want you to imagine walking through the busy, locker-lined hallway, and as you walk by a group of guys, you hear one of them say about you: “Check out the ass on her. Oh man, I would love to tap that.”

You feel embarrassed, but you just keep moving. You kind of know who the guy is. He’s a cliché high school jock that you know is dating one of the cheerleaders. You know that he routinely harasses some of the less-popular kids in the hallway. He’s a jerk and a bully.

His comment made you feel gross, but it’s not as if you’ve never heard things like that before or even heard your guy friends say them about other girls. So, you leave it alone.

I want you to imagine that you have three rules for dating:

  1. You don’t go out with guys who have girlfriends.
  2. You don’t go out with guys whose only objective is to have sex with you.
  3. You don’t go out with cocky dickbags who intentionally bully other kids for a cheap laugh.

And now, I want you to imagine that the new semester has started and that same guy is in one of your classes. He approaches you after class one day. He smiles and asks you if you’d like to hang out sometime. At first, you’re like ewww, but you don’t say anything right away.

You look him in the eyes, studying them. You think he’s cute, and you secretly feel flattered that a popular kid wants to go out with you.

He seems nice right now. He’s so different when his friends aren’t around. Maybe I should give him a chance.

So, you say “Sure. Why not? Let’s get together soon.”

Fast-forward to your first date.

You went to the movies, or grabbed dinner somewhere. Maybe you went to a house party where someone’s parents were out of town.

And somewhere along the way, he kisses you. You like it. You kiss him back. Everything is great.

But then his hands start going to places you didn’t want them to go. “Oh man, I would love to tap that” is on repeat in your head. All of the sudden you don’t want to be there anymore.

You tell him to stop.

He finally does, but he’s got a surprised look on his face as if you’ve wronged him somehow.

“I thought we were having a good time,” he whines.

You make it clear that there’s no way that’s happening tonight.

Now he looks wounded. You’ve bruised his ego. What you don’t know is that he told a few of his friends he was going to get into your clothes tonight.

He doesn’t want to go back and have to explain to them how he failed.

Maybe he calls you a tease.

Maybe he calls you a stuck-up bitch.

Maybe he—inexplicably—calls you a slut.

Maybe he makes up a story about you to his friends, and maybe some people start talking about you at school, and maybe the entire incident is pretty horrible.

The girl in this example has good dating rules, I think. Reasonable ones designed to protect her from bad things happening.

But then, even though she had evidence that Captain Dickface was bad news, she still got caught up in a moment of weakness and rationalized why she should break her own rules just to feel good.

Then everything turned into a big shit-festival.

Because she broke her own rules.

Because she didn’t enforce her boundaries.

The girl wasn’t honest with the guy when he first approached her. Maybe she didn’t feel comfortable telling him how it really felt to hear him say that. The guy wasn’t honest with the girl about his true intentions. There are a million reasons, some noble, most not, for why he didn’t want to tell the truth. Predictably, in the end, it didn’t work out.

You might believe this scenario has little in common with married couples, but I would argue that THIS is largely why so many people end up divorced.

Not because of bullying and unwanted sexual advances, certainly.

But because of people being dishonest about their true intentions, and people failing to communicate and enforce their boundaries—probably because they’re afraid of rejection, or of being alone, or are afraid of what others might think about them.

Let’s Get Even More Real

Married adults sometimes have crappy marriages and get divorced. And you know who all of them were before they got married?

The same people who wouldn’t have liked hearing me say that they shouldn’t be marrying their boyfriend or girlfriend. They would have felt offended just like I would have, and maybe you do.

But now here they are, pissed off and resentful and full of regrets about wasting their life, hurting their kids, and being afraid of what might happen next.

And here’s the No. 1 reason that happened: They tolerated things that shouldn’t have been tolerated, they failed to communicate and/or enforce their personal boundaries, and ultimately lied to themselves and one another about what their long-term relationship with this boundary violator (or victim of our violations) would look like.

If your boyfriend or girlfriend (or better yet, someone you’ve dated a couple of times) does something that HURTS you, and after talking about it, there’s no evidence that he or she is going to stop doing that hurtful thing, you should cut them out of your life.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t forgive. Forgiveness is an awesome thing.

This doesn’t mean that all people who violate your boundaries are BAD.

Some will be good people.

They’ll just be bad marriage partners. They’re not the same thing.

I think that might be the worst part. Very good, very decent, very fun, very awesome people will violate your boundaries—either because they’re a flawed mistake-prone human being like the rest of us; or because they legitimately don’t SEE or FEEL the same negative consequence you do from something that happened.

You won’t want to cut all of them out of your life.

But please don’t marry them.

Please.

It’s okay for people to disagree. It’s okay for people who love each other to have their differences.

But it’s NEVER OKAY for the person we are considering teaming up with for the rest of our lives to HURT us.

Never, never, never.

You will accidentally be hurt in life. I don’t suggest walling yourself off from every person who wrongs you.

But I AM suggesting that your marriage will NOT succeed if you spend every day of the rest of your life with someone unwilling to honor and respect your personal boundaries.

Maybe you won’t get divorced, but you won’t like your life or your marriage.

You’ll be miserable.

Because people who have boundary issues are miserable. That’s just how it works.

How Do I Know Whether I Have a Boundary Issue?

Here’s a good start, from one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson, who uses even more bad words than I do:

“Let’s do the ‘You Might Have A Boundary Issue If…’ list so you know where you stand:

  • Do you ever feel like people take advantage of you or use your emotions for their own gain?
  • Do you ever feel like you’re constantly having to ‘save’ people close to you and fix their problems all the time?
  • Do you find yourself sucked into pointless fighting or debating regularly?
  • Do you find yourself faaaaar more invested or attracted to a person than you should be for how long you’ve known them?
  • In your relationships, does it feel like things are always either amazing or horrible with no in-between? Or perhaps you even go through the break-up/reunion pattern every few months?
  • Do you tell people how much you hate drama but seem to always be stuck in the middle of it?
  • Do you spend a lot of time defending yourself for things you believe aren’t your fault?

“If you answered ‘yes’ to even a few of the above, then you probably set and maintain poor boundaries in your relationships,” Manson wrote.

“If you answered a resounding ‘yes’ to most or all of the items above, you not only have a major boundary problem in your relationships, but you also probably have some other personal problems going on in your life.”

OMG. I Totally Have Boundary Issues. Can I Still Have a Happy Marriage?

Probably not.

But I have excellent news. You can absolutely fix your boundary problem. You can fix it right now, but it will probably take some practice before you get comfortable telling people to pound sand whenever they try to take advantage of you if you’ve spent most of your life not realizing that’s what was happening.

Boundaries are about your emotional health, which might be more important than you realize.

Emotionally healthy people have and enforce strong boundaries. And ALSO, having and enforcing strong boundaries makes you emotionally healthier.

Having strong boundaries means you don’t take responsibility for other people’s crap, and you ALWAYS take responsibility for your own.

I believe we must vigilantly enforce our boundaries (and respect others’ vigilantly enforced boundaries) in order to have high-functioning, healthy, mutually beneficial, and ultimately successful, human relationships.

And what that means is, when people knowingly violate our boundaries, we need to be willing to walk away and cut them out of our lives, which is a really hard thing to do. Because sometimes it’s your spouse, or a parent, or a sibling, or an old friend, or a co-worker, or someone you share children with.

The Bottom Line

When you don’t break your own rules—when you enforce your boundaries (while honoring other people’s)—you know what happens?

ONLY emotionally healthy people with a clear understanding of how to NOT hurt one another (or tolerate hurtful behavior) ever end up together.

It reduces the probability of divorce by probably 90 percent.

When you start tolerating behaviors that your mind and body are telling you not to tolerate, a bunch of bad things happen afterward, and tend to repeat themselves until everyone is miserable and gets divorced or stops being friends.

When you NEVER tolerate behaviors that you know you shouldn’t tolerate, maybe bad things happen once, but you can be sure they will never repeat themselves.

And the people who are still around after all of that filtering? After all of those strong and courageous and confidence-building demonstrations of self-respect?

They’re the keepers.

You May Also Want to Read

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

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

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

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

danger tape

(Image/Sophos.com)

You’re in danger.

You don’t know you’re in danger because it doesn’t feel scary right now. That’s both good and bad, but it might be mostly bad.

I hope you’ll believe me when I say that being aware of danger so that you can do something about it is so much better than getting painfully blindsided later in life.

I don’t mean blindsided, like when you’re a freshman playing defensive back for the scout team at football practice, and the biggest, baddest senior lineman annihilates you on a power sweep right in front of the cheerleading squad you were trying to impress.

I don’t mean blindsided, like when your boyfriend breaks up with you the week of prom or homecoming and your parents already got you the perfect dress, and now you’re feeling sad, confused, and almost too embarrassed to go, even though you didn’t do anything wrong.

I mean blindsided, like your parents sit you down at the dinner table one night and say “Sweetie, your dad and I feel you’re finally old enough to know the truth about our family,” right before your dad rips off his own face to reveal some creepy robot face underneath.

“We’re not human, honey. We’re creepy robots. And so are you.”

I wish I was kidding.

That’s seriously what divorce can feel like.

Like everything you thought you understood maybe isn’t true or reliable or believable anymore, and that shock can feel both painful and frightening.

You know that you shouldn’t play with guns or knives. Adults taught you the dangers.

You know that you shouldn’t abuse drugs and alcohol. Adults taught you the dangers.

You know that you shouldn’t participate in reckless sexual activity. Adults taught you the dangers.

You understand the dangers of texting and driving. Of drinking and driving.

You know about bullying. About unhealthy eating disorders. About the hazards of social media.

You’ve heard it all.

And all of those things are important, but maybe because you’re so aware of them, they’re not the same danger they would be if no one ever warned you about them. You’re probably bored when people want to talk to you about those things because you’ve heard about them so much.

But you know what you probably haven’t heard about that is just as important as those other things, since it literally affects 95 percent of people?

The REAL reasons that so many people get divorced.

Your teachers, principals, coaches and families are failing you.

They are. It’s harsh, but it’s true. They’re not failing you on purpose. They’re not being negligent intentionally or trying to hold out on you.

The truth is, they don’t know either. Because THEIR teachers, principals, coaches and families failed them as well.

No one told you that you are statistically unlikely to have a good marriage.

And you can’t even conceive of what a good marriage might look and feel like. It’s not because you’re “dumb” or because you’re not around adults who actually do have good, healthy marriages. You may be, and I hope that you are.

But the truth is that we CANNOT—ever—know what we don’t know. We think we know all kinds of things, but we’re wrong most of the time. Even all of the adults instructed with teaching you about all of the important stuff in life. ESPECIALLY me. I’m kind of a dumbass. But I’m kind of a dumbass who accidentally discovered something super-important when I got a divorce five years ago and cried a lot more than a man in his mid-30s probably should.

Also, you don’t know who has good marriages and bad marriages, because people who have bad marriages PRETEND to have good marriages. They pretend all of the time. They do it to protect you, and they do it to protect themselves because they’re ashamed that one of the most important and precious things in their lives has become dysfunctional. They’re afraid to lose the comfort and safety of their home and family. They’re afraid of their friends and neighbors thinking they’re failures.

They’re afraid of hurting you, because when you become a parent, protecting your children (even from bad feelings) becomes one of your top life priorities.

Yes. Adults get afraid sometimes, too. Maybe even often. Very afraid.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but adults are afraid of more things than young people.

The difference between being an adult and a child isn’t the ability to shed fear. It’s the ability to march forward bravely even though you don’t have your parents or older siblings protecting you anymore.

The scariest thing in life might be when we’re in danger and don’t know how to get to safety.

It’s scary when something is wrong and we don’t know how to solve a problem or fix something that’s broken or protect ourselves from being hurt.

That’s what people in bad marriages feel like sometimes. You might think that adults would be able to explain to you WHY they got a divorce, but I think you’ll be both surprised and disappointed to learn that isn’t true.

Because you know what marriage is, right? It’s not that complicated.

It’s a forever agreement to love and be faithful to one another for the rest of your life. Generally, you share money, a home, a bedroom, cars, and often children and pets.

And even you, who has presumably never been married before, understand all of that.

While there are some cultures in the world who still do arranged marriages where people don’t get to decide who they marry, marriage is a volunteer activity for most people.

No one is MAKING us get married.

And no one is MAKING us get married to whomever we choose to marry.

Right?

So, why do you think more than half of all marriages fail? (About half of them end in divorce, and then there are all of the people who are still married but wish they weren’t. I’d like to tell you that’s a small number, but it’s not.)

Even though I’m not super-smart, I kind of know why this happens. There’s a good chance no other adults are talking to you about this (because it makes them uncomfortable OR because they never think about it the way they think about warning you about drug abuse, STDs, and creepy white vans with the words “FREE CANDY” spray-painted on the side.)

The REAL Reasons Your Marriage Will Suck (That Your Parents and Teachers Probably Won’t Tell You About)

Many of you are smarter than I was as a kid, and 100 percent of you didn’t grow up in the same time and place with the same adult role models as me, so our experiences won’t be identical. Please don’t think that because I thought or felt something that it means I believe that you are exactly the same.

But one of the coolest things I’ve learned since writing things on the internet is that no matter how different our lives might be—no matter what part of the world we live in, no matter our gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation, or religion, or politics, or profession, or education, or personal interests—there are ALWAYS life experiences that someone can identify with or connect with.

We’re never the only ones who think or feel or do something.

We’re never as alone as we might sometimes feel. So if you feel like you do something strange or weird inside your own head, or when nobody’s around, I promise you that thousands of other people think and do and feel those same things. Even the kids at school who seem smarter or cooler than you. Even the teachers who seem like they have it all figured out. Even moms and dads, and pastors, and coaches and the guy behind the counter at the convenience store, and the lady in the car next to you.

No matter what, you’re not alone. Promise.

Anyway, here is the first of several reasons your marriage will suck and ruin your life if you don’t know what to watch out for.

What Causes Divorce #1: Accidental Sexism (Boys vs. Girls Stuff)

There’s a possibility that you’re accidentally sexist and don’t realize it.

You need to either realize it OR stop behaving that way, or you’re highly likely to have a crap marriage or get divorced. It’s worse than it sounds.

When I was younger, the boys played football on the playground. We talked about sports, played with action figures, and a bunch of other fake-macho stuff we thought our dads, big brothers, and friends would approve of.

If we got in a fight with another kid during a basketball or football game, we were usually friends again by the following day.

The girls—not always, but often—did different things. Maybe they didn’t play sports because they were dressed much nicer. They often stood off to the side playing with their handcrafted jewelry, or whispering about the boys they thought were cute, or whatever secret stuff girls do that I’d be lying to claim I knew about or understood.

Girls went to the bathroom in groups. They thought boys were “gross,” even while crushing on some of them. Fights could last for entire school years between two girls in my class who were the best of friends just a week earlier.

There were obvious differences between boys and girls, I thought.

I always liked girls, both in the I-want-to-make-out-with-them way, and in the I-enjoy-hanging-out-with-them way. I’m generally well-mannered and was taught to respect people, so I certainly never acted in a way that I would have considered “sexist.”

I didn’t think boys were BETTER than girls.

I didn’t mistreat or disrespect someone because they were female.

But I WAS sexist, and I just didn’t know it. And because I was accidentally sexist, I did (or didn’t do) things during my marriage that contributed heavily to its end, and the entire time, I NEVER knew I was harming it. Scary.

You ever say or hear a boy make fun of some other kid playing a sport by saying he “plays like a girl”?

You ever say or hear someone say the phrase “cry like a little girl”?

You ever say or hear a guy accuse one of his buddies of “menstruating,” or “PMS-ing” or of needing to “clean the sand out of his vagina”?

I used to hear and say things like that.

Our intention was never to belittle women by saying those things. Our intention was to razz one another in that bro-culture way guys use to bond by giving one another a hard time. It’s just something many of us do, and I wish I could explain why.

But the implications of saying any of those things is that being a girl, or doing things like a girl, is bad. Right? Right.

And if we’re saying it’s bad to be a girl, aren’t we kind-of saying that being a guy is better than being a girl? Aren’t we kind-of saying that men are better than women?

We are.

And it’s a total dick move, so you should try to stop immediately.

Even if you don’t want to stop because it’s disrespectful to every girl or woman you know, it’s a good idea to stop simply because not stopping will lay the groundwork for your future divorce that neither you nor I want you to experience.

Who Does the Laundry?

Sure, lots of guys do laundry.

I used to wash my clothes periodically in college, and even a little bit during my marriage.

I wash my clothes all of the time now because I’m divorced and live alone.

You might think that my bedroom is the most-depressing room in my house. You’d be mistaken. It’s the laundry room.

I hate it there.

But I didn’t hate it there when my wife’s clothes needed washed and dried as well.

So now I’m a guy who does a lot of laundry because my wife moved out a few years ago. There were a lot of reasons why, but probably for NONE of the reasons you might be guessing inside your head.

If you knew why I got—and most people in crappy marriages get—divorced, I wouldn’t need to write this.

I didn’t get divorced because I hit my wife or called her names.

I didn’t get divorced because I did drugs or drank too much. I didn’t stay out all night and not tell her where I was. I didn’t sleep around. I didn’t do any of the things that I believed to be The Reasons People Get Divorced when I was growing up.

One of the reasons I got divorced is because my wife did 80 percent of the laundry. Maybe more.

And so, back to the boy-girl thing.

When I was growing up, my mom always did stuff like that. My mom washed, dried, folded and hung all of the clothes.

My mom cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms.

My mom vacuumed the carpet. Mom swept the floor. Mom dusted.

And when I went to visit my grandparents, my grandma did all of that same stuff.

So, you see, my mom learned that those things were her job from her mom. And I learned that those things were “her” job from my mom.

And that means that when I got married, and my wife didn’t do things exactly as my mom did them, I thought she was doing it wrong.

She was AWESOME at home-care. But she didn’t just silently take care of everything like my mom always had. She told me that I wasn’t pulling my fair share.

I thought that was a load of crap.

But I’m not the world’s biggest moron either. Even I could see that my wife working as many hours per week as I did made her and my situation different from my mom, who spent several years keeping a pristine and well-run home during the hours my wife had to be at work just like me.

So, I tried even harder to help around the house than I perceived my stepdad to do with my mom, or that my dad did with my stepmom.

I cooked a lot. Went grocery-shopping. Did a fair amount of dishes. And made an effort to help her clean the house on weekends, even though I was a whiny jerk about it whenever I didn’t want to spend a few weekend hours cleaning, which was approximately 100 percent of the time.

And this is the part I’m going to leave you with because it’s the most important lesson I can offer you in this first entry:

It’s not so much the amount of physical work one does that creates the anger and imbalance that will end your marriage. It’s more about the amount of MENTAL work one does to make sure that the things that need done, get done.

When you get married, and you just keep acting like you do when you live at home with your parents, where they always take care of everything so that you don’t have to—when you force your partner to do the same things your mom did for you—she (or he, potentially) is going to get tired.

Really tired.

And strong people keep going when they’re really tired, but even the strongest people have to stop and rest at some point.

And when the person holding the marriage together needs to rest, it’s all over.

It’s not about how many dishes are washed or towels are folded.

It’s not about how often someone goes to the store or how many meals get cooked.

It’s about the mental strain of being RESPONSIBLE for making sure the dishes get washed, laundry gets folded, groceries get bought, the food gets defrosted for dinner, the birthday gifts and Christmas cards get sent, etc.

It’s pretty hard for people even when they don’t have kids.

But when they do have kids, it becomes impossible to spend every day being RESPONSIBLE for EVERYTHING that needs done—not just for yourself, but for your spouse, AND your children.

Kids aren’t hard on marriages because kids are inherently difficult as much as kids are hard on marriages because they push people on the brink of mental and emotional exhaustion OVER the brink.

Not because of the children. But because of the lack of support for providing care for them.

Some people fall and never get up again.

Some people break when they hit the ground and never get themselves put back together again.

And your job—your solemn duty as a husband or wife—is to make damn sure they never fall or never break in the first place.

And there’s a good chance no one told you that house chores—House chores! How stupid does that sound?!—can be the reason your marriage will end and that your whole life can fall apart.

But, as God as I my witness, you better believe they can.

You better believe they will.

And then do whatever you must to make sure you’re never letting your spouse carry too much. Don’t try to pick them up after they fall. Don’t try to piece them together after they break.

Just do the work of LOVING them enough each day to carry whatever needs carried so that they never fall or break in the first place.

We’ll talk more about this idea later, but you’ll need it in your long-term romantic relationships and/or marriage: Love is a choice. A choice you must be disciplined and courageous enough to make every day.

So that our loved ones never break.

Because, maybe then, neither will we.

You May Also Want to Read:

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

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

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

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The Real Reason Why Women Leave Men

David vs. Goliath

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

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

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

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

Listen, guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a story about colorblindness.

In a story about dishes.

In a story about painful second-degree burns.

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

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

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

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

I know what I saw.

I know what I heard.

I know what I felt.

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

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

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

It really sucks, so I hope you don’t.

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

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

Because THIS is it.

This is everything.

The Simple Secret That Could Save Your Marriage

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

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

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

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

Holy shit!

Did you just see that, guys?!

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

Wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a bunch of drama-queen psychos.

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

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

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

…..

Shameless Self-Promotion Note About My Coaching Services

I started coaching in 2019. Clients and I work collaboratively through current and past relationship stuff in order to improve existing relationships or to prepare for future ones. Other clients are trying to find themselves after divorce or a painful breakup. We talk by phone or video conference. People like it. Or at least they fake it really well by continuing to schedule future coaching calls and give me more money. If you’re going through something and think I might be able to help, it’s really easy to find out for sure. Learn More Here.

…..

You Might Not Believe Me Yet, But You Should

What’s more likely?

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

Here’s the part that ruins everything.

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

Do you recognize the danger?

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

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

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

“I didn’t throw stones at you.”

“Yes, you did.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe there are tears. Maybe there is fear.

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

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

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

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

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

But it matters.

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

So, now she can’t trust you.

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

AND IT MAKES SENSE THAT SHE WOULD FEEL THAT WAY.

It does.

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

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

Because, after all. They were just cotton balls.

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

God, she’s crazy.

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

They’ll be able to meet each other halfway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

don't care

(Image/The Mind Unleashed)

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

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

I like those things much less.

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

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

We had many surface-level differences.

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

You know, like that dish sitting by the sink.

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

There was a list of Things My Wife Cared About.

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

The lists were quite different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn.

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

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

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

Maybe It’s Not As Hard As We Think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s okay.

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

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

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

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

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

We all like different things. Seems harmless enough.

But THIS is the thing that’s breaking us.

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

BUT.

What if you cared simply because THEY did?

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

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

fountain of knowledge headwaters at Texas Tech - image-pinterest

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

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

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

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

1. Why is my husband an asshole?

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

Those people usually end up here.

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

Answer: He might not be an asshole!

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

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

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

The same is true of being a husband.

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

Or, maybe you actually did marry a huge asshole.

Sorry.

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

2. Why does my wife hate me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do about it?

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

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

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

And keeping your promises changes everything.

3. How do I deal with my asshole husband?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. How do I lose my virginity?

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

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

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

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

You’re welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That will get you divorced when you’re married.

7. Is marriage counseling bullshit?

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

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

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

Marriage counseling is NOT bullshit in its purest form.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But maybe there’s another way.

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

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

Can you imagine it?

The closeness and gratitude that would foster?

The fuckness and anger that would prevent?

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

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

bored couple

(Image/ZUMI Kenya)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s true. I was.

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

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

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

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

I loved that woman very much.

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

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

Why?

Why?

WHY?!?!

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

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

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

Hugh Grant Got Caught Soliciting a Miami Prostitute

Remember that?

Sure you do.

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

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

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

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

But I think I can now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder what would happen if we did things differently.

…..

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I started coaching in 2019. Clients and I work collaboratively through current and past relationship stuff in order to improve existing relationships or to prepare for future ones. Other clients are trying to find themselves after divorce or a painful breakup. We talk by phone or video conference. People like it. Or at least they fake it really well by continuing to schedule future coaching calls and give me more money. If you’re going through something and think I might be able to help, it’s really easy to find out for sure. Learn More Here.

…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But It Could Be Other Things Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comfortable Lies vs. Uncomfortable Truth

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

Maybe it’s about us.

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

The years went by.

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

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

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

We turn into different people because we must.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Difficult truths might save the whole world.

Maybe we just need enough courageous people taking the leap.

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Stop Waiting Until it’s Too Late

top regrets of the dying

(Image/Humanengineers)

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

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

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

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

Life lessons, if you will. Obvious ones.

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

2 Lessons About Life & Relationships We Learn at Funerals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painters leave paintings.

Actors leave films.

Builders leave buildings.

Authors leave books.

Parents leave children.

Musicians leave music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a gift.

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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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