Tag Archives: Accountability

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

dirty socks on the floor

(Image/The Livingston Post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s my life in a nutshell.

I don’t do it on purpose.

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

But I do often catch myself blaming divorce for things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the hits started coming around age 30.

The fight about where we should live and work.

The birth of our son.

The death of a parent.

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

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

My wife stopped liking me.

Then, stopped loving me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe I’ll just order a pizza.

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

Nothing Changes Unless We Do

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

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

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

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

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

EVERYTHING is Our Responsibility

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

To which I’d reply:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marriages and Relationships Aren’t Two People Doing Something Together

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

And then, boom. Fiery explosions and sadness.

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

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

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

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

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

He’s blaming her.

She’s blaming him.

I’m blaming her, and then…

I’m blaming me.

It’s no one’s fault and everyone’s.

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

We need responsibility.

Accountability.

The willingness to serve a thing bigger than just ourselves.

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

Maybe we’ll get it right someday.

Maybe even me.

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How to Own Your Shit and Never Be a Victim Again

Dont-Be-A-Victim

Eilene asks:

“Have you ever thought (even if briefly or secretly) that your divorce was more her fault than yours? I ask because I know we’re supposed to accept our part in things but I REALLY think it is more on him. I’m struggling with that.”

No.

I am a lot of things—including occasionally hypocritical—but I am pretty skilled at evaluating a situation and understanding who is responsible for what.

People are horrible at accepting responsibility for their life circumstances. HORRIBLE. And it makes us all feel like victims. And when we feel like victims we can’t make our lives better because everything in life is just happening to us against our will.

It makes us powerless to change anything.

When we accept responsibility for where we are in life and own our choices, THEN, and only then, do we have the power to make things better.

I don’t know Eilene. But on faith, I believe her. In my experience, wives get marriage right INFINITELY more often than husbands do. I’m sure her husband or ex-husband sucks at marriage every bit as much as I did. People often don’t get this: Good people can be awful at marriage. You don’t have to be a bad person to suck at marriage. It’s a skill. I can’t fix a car. That doesn’t make me shitty at life. I just don’t know how to fix cars. But I can learn. I didn’t know the really important information about marriage until it was too late. I think a lot of men might be like that. Objectively, it probably is more on him than Eilene. Just like in my marriage.

But never again can I allow myself to start pointing fingers at others.

 …

Let me walk you through my bouts with victimization since turning 30:

My father offered me a job at his small company 500 miles away. Assuming I’d done a good job (and I would have), I would be making top 1% money in my 40s and 50s and have every opportunity to retire a multimillionaire and live the kind of life most of us dream about. My wife didn’t want to go. It was our first major fight.

Victim Matt: I can’t believe how unfair this is that I can’t secure our financial future simply because she doesn’t want to move eight hours away. How could she be so selfish? This will solve EVERY money problem—forever. And now I’m stuck. Because of her.

Smart Matt: I will lose my family if I do this. Money isn’t, and will never be, more important than family. I chose to marry this woman. We make decisions together. She feels like she can’t do this. Okay. We’ll find a way to make more money here in Ohio.

It wasn’t my wife’s fault that I chose a profession (journalism) where making money is such a challenge. It wasn’t my wife’s fault that she didn’t want to live in Illinois far away from everyone she knew. And once I stopped being angry, I saw it as a good thing I had married someone who valued family more than how much money her husband earned.

I was laid off from my job on Jan. 1, 2010. Only people who have lost a job unexpectedly can appreciate what an enormous loss and psychological impact it can have.

Victim Matt: I can’t believe how unfair it is that I lost my job even though I always did it well. How am I supposed to find work now that I’m 30 and have no experience except in newspapers? Now what am I going to do?

Smart Matt: The company was losing money. Without layoffs, EVERYONE would have lost their jobs. Had I been the best, most-valuable employee at the paper, I would probably still be there. So, work harder next time and don’t take employment for granted, asshole. I accepted that job. I wanted it. No one made me take it. I am responsible for choosing to work there, and I am responsible for not ultimately proving myself indispensable regardless of circumstances.

My marriage ended. On April 1, 2013, technically, but not legally until August a few months later. I thought it was unfair because I didn’t want to get divorced.

Victim Matt: When I was standing on that alter and said: “I do,” I meant it. ‘Til death do us part. Sure, it had gotten bad. Really bad. But I wanted to fight for it. I was in marital limbo. A situation in which I didn’t want to get divorced, but was mentally and emotionally incapable of sleeping in the guest room much longer. It was a brutal time. The hardest thing I’d ever been through. Sometimes I’d cry in the guest room. I could hear her footsteps in our room upstairs. And I’d just cry because: This is so un-fucking-fair. After she left, I learned about a new relationship. All I could think about was how happy she must be with this new guy. And I’m sitting in our empty living room and I can’t even breathe. How could she do this to me?

Smart Matt: I caused this. Not because I’m a bad guy. And not because she doesn’t bear any responsibility also. But because I COULD HAVE and SHOULD HAVE been a good husband. A really good one. I used to not know how to cook or drive a car or read or play poker. But then I took an interest, I learned, and I excelled at those things. What if I’d invested more of my time in the most-important thing in my life? What if I’d EXCELLED at marriage? At being the best man, husband and father possible? Had I spent each day being exceptional at those things—would she have left? She’d have never wanted to. This isn’t something that happened to me. This is something I allowed to happen. Through negligence, irresponsibility and a lack of discipline. Sure, it may not all be my fault. But you can bet your ass I’m responsible.

Own Your Shit, Please

If you ask yourself the right questions, an adult can always come to this conclusion: You are ALWAYS responsible for what happens to you. Somewhere along the way, you made the choices that led you right here, right now. Other people didn’t make the choice. You made the choice.

I am responsible for me. No one else is.

I am not responsible for anyone else. These are the strong personal boundaries we need to establish if we want to have healthy relationships with potential mates, friends, family, business associates, etc.

I’m tired of everyone’s reasons for why they “can’t” do something or why it’s always some outside force or lack of opportunity that prevents everyone from doing whatever it is they say or feel they want to do.

The first step to achieving whatever it is we desire is to accept that the No. 1 factor in whether we will achieve or not achieve that thing is the choices we make.

Good choices yield positive results.

Bad choices yield negative results.

This has always been true and will always be true until the end of time.

And once we come to grips with this—once we shake off the gravity of realizing just how large of a role we play in the vast majority of bad things that happen to us, we can take a deep breath and smile.

This is good news, you think. Because now I can do something about it.

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