Tag Archives: Advice

‘Should I Divorce My Wife?’

man drinking alone at bar

(Image/Improvemant.com)

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

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

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

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

Maybe one of you had a sexual or emotional affair.

Maybe someone very close to one of you died.

Maybe you lost a job or are having financial difficulties.

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

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

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

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

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

I Was You Once

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

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

It was, like, bad.

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

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

And later, any married person.

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

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

So, yeah.

I totally considered initiating a divorce with my wife.

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

It hurt.

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

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

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

The Hard Questions

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

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

Those are hard questions.

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

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

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

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

They’re the uncomfortable truths.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope.

Because now you’ve got a real chance.

Should you divorce your wife?

Who can say?

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

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

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

An opportunity to be courageous.

An opportunity to be men.

Should you divorce your wife?

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

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‘This is why you shouldn’t get married’

bad advice

Including from me. (Images/quotesgram.com)

Grumpy old divorced or unhappily married men say it a lot.

They’re the guys complaining about their wives during the backroom poker game at the country club after a round of golf. They’re the guys nestled up to the bar who overhear younger men’s conversations about their girlfriends or fiancées, and then disclose the check amounts they wrote to their ex-wives after getting divorced as cautionary tales. They’re the husbands reluctantly getting up from a sofa or armchair to perform some inconvenient household task during a game or TV show they’re watching.

They look over at you, and then with varying degrees of seriousness—but the sentiment always being the same—say: “And this is why you should never get married.”

Which is sad, because they really believe they’re doing you a favor, imparting this hard-earned wisdom.

Millennials (those ages 18-34 in 2015) have overtaken Baby Boomers as the largest demographic age group in the United States. One in four (25%) say they will never marry. (Here’s one Millennial’s take on why.)

So the grumpy old guys will see many young people heeding their advice. Some of the time, that will accidentally be a good thing. But mostly it won’t be, because it has been demonstrated repeatedly that marriage has an overwhelmingly positive effect on society—improving individual physical and mental health of partners, increasing wealth, improving education, reducing crime, and most importantly, improving the future lives of children raised by their biological parents in a stable and loving environment.

Cynicism’s Silver Lining

There is one positive to be gained from all of these old guys telling all of these young guys not to marry, and for all of the young Millennials who view marriage as some archaic religious and social construct that has outlived its purpose in the 21st century.

And that’s that many young people (regardless of intelligence and relative “maturity”) are ignorant mooks by virtue of being young. Just ask every 70 year old whether they want to trade brains with their younger selves. Hell—ask me. And I only missed the “Millennial” label by a year.

Many young people blindly follow The Life Blueprint® which says they have to find their future spouse in high school, college, or early in their young professional lives “before all the good ones are taken!” and then get jobs, a house and start their families.

And in all of this behavior modeled after what most of us witnessed growing up, we simply never learn what we don’t know about marriage and human relationships. It’s so fun and easy! We love each other, and always will!, said every divorced person years earlier.

We don’t identify our core values, nor do we enforce our boundaries. Maybe we’re too scared to start again. Maybe we simply don’t realize that will be the death of our marriages and the reason that our lives suck. But we ignore the bad and charge headstrong into marriage believing we’ll be the exception to the rule.

Since no one bothered to teach us what relationships REALLY look and feel like and how to effectively deal with conflict—or better yet, preemptively prevent it through best practices in marriage and long-term relationships—we end up learning the hard way.

It’s hard to blame the parents and our education system. No one bothered to tell them either.

But This is Mostly About Men Unwilling to Own Their Shit

It started with this HuffPost Divorce entry: 5 Reasons Women Leave Their Marriages; In Their Own Words.

My original plan was to take each listed reason and explore ways people could avoid divorce and breaking up for those same reasons.

But then I read the top comment (more specifically, the comment generating the most engagement), got a little pissed, and decided to write about it instead.

Five women shared their personal reasons for filing for divorce. Commenter Greg didn’t approve.

“This is why you shouldn’t get married fellas. Her change of heart costs you a lot of money,” Greg wrote.

The comment has 140 Facebook “likes” thus far.

Greg reveals later in the thread that he was awarded custody of his daughter because his ex-wife is a heroin addict who didn’t show up to court for the custody hearing.

One wonders whether Greg and his ex-wife might have done a poor job aligning core values and enforcing personal boundaries in their relationship.

Regardless, Greg may have been a model husband victimized by a spouse who didn’t adhere to her marriage vows. How do you tell a man with that experience that you find his opinion misguided?

But let’s get honest. Because examinations of conscience only work when we tell ourselves the truth, guys:

You were a shitty husband just like me. Maybe you didn’t know what you were doing was wrong. Maybe you didn’t intend to hurt her repeatedly and leave her feeling alone in her marriage, which is pretty much the worst thing you can do to your wife.

You took for granted that she’d be there forever, so you didn’t try harder. You weren’t scared enough. You committed a few crimes accidentally, but then intentionally failed to make amends for them.

She told you what you were doing hurt her, and you told her she was wrong, or that she was making it up in her head. She told you what you could or should be doing to help her manage the household, and you played the You’re Not My Mom & I’m the Man of the House card. And when she wanted to talk about ways in which you could improve your marriage, you denied her your listening ear, accusing her of demanding MORE change from you while seeming unwilling to examine her own behavior.

“You’re acting like an ungrateful, spoiled little bitch. Nothing is ever good enough for you. You’re the best married person of all time. You’re an amazing wife who never does anything wrong! And I’m the worst husband ever who can’t do one damn thing right! It must be awesome being so perfect all the time! If you want to bitch about me some more, why don’t you find someone else who wants to listen to it because it’s not going to be me.”

Remember that?

Followed by you driving off to meet a buddy for a drink? Or retreating to another room to do or watch something you wanted to do more than have a conversation with her?

I mean, I wish I was the only guy who ever acted like such a childish douchebag.

I don’t feel any better knowing that I’m not.

There are a million reasons you shouldn’t get married.

Five short, personal accounts without additional context from divorced women on the internet SHOULD NOT be among them.

Because there are a million reasons you SHOULD get married.

Active and physically fit people sometimes die of heart attacks during workouts. Should people stop exercising?

People are sometimes hurt or killed while driving. Should we avoid getting behind the wheel?

Patients sometimes die in hospitals because of human error or unpredictable reactions to medicine. Should we stop visiting doctors while suffering health problems?

Bad news, guys: the problem was never the institution of marriage. It was us.

But maybe tomorrow we’ll make better choices, because I don’t think it has to be.

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I Won’t Be Your Ally Because You’re Probably Doing it Wrong Like Me

I'm probably not your ally. (Image/www.mawwab.com)

I’m probably not your ally. (Image/www.mawwab.com)

I got lazy.

Lulled into complacency. No matter how many times I’ve experienced negative consequences due to my word choices or tone of voice, I’m not always mindful of how what I’m saying might be affecting her.

Sometimes I don’t stop and think. There’s always so much to do, you know. Never enough time.

So I spit out a response which seems reasonable and innocuous at the time. And then I help destroy a family.

Only this time, it isn’t mine.

She wrote me a note because she’s unhappy in her marriage. I get a lot of those, and I can’t read all of them, and can’t respond to most of them.

She tells me a story. It makes sense and sounds true. It’s pretty much the same story I always hear, because no matter how unique we like to believe we are, most of our divorce stories sound eerily similar.

So I write back a note which validates her feelings:

“There’s a famous saying I often heard growing up: ‘You can’t fix stupid.’ If the men you are talking about are simply WRONG and maybe stubborn and ignorant, maybe there is no reasoning with someone like that. In my experience, not everyone can be saved. If a man is incapable of demonstrating kindness and selfless love for his wife, then I think he’s kind of an asshole. I’ve never seen anyone turn an asshole into a non-asshole. I HAVE seen good men doing wrong by accident figure out that they were doing wrong, and then making changes to be better afterward. Those are the guys I write for and root for.”

Reasonable, I thought. Innocuous.

About two hours ago, I opened the blog’s email account to scan the subject lines. One of my professional niches is email marketing and effective subject line writing. This guy wrote a good one:

“My wife is divorcing me with your help.”

I figured it would be some guy getting pissed at me for the dishes post again. A million guys were upset with me about that one. But he wasn’t pissed at me. And he wasn’t using hyperbole.

He’s a regular reader and fan. His email was full of nothing but praise, gratitude and admiration.

He tells me a story. It makes sense and sounds true.

Halfway through his story, it hits me: Holy shit. This is the ‘You can’t fix stupid’ husband. And wouldn’t you know it? He doesn’t sound stupid at all.

I spent 10 years writing news stories. Then I went through a painful divorce and have fairly successfully learned how to explain my ex-wife’s side of the story. So you’d think I’d remember—there are ALWAYS two sides to a story.

My Son’s Other Family

I like, respect and care about my ex-wife. She’s a good person. We get along well and are effective, cooperative co-parents. She’s an outstanding mother.

She sees a man I like and respect, and have known for years. I trust him to be good to her and my son, which is all I could ever ask for.

For only the second or third time, they pulled in the driveway together yesterday to pick up our son. I waved goodbye to him as the three of them drove away.

There isn’t a pain now like there was three years ago. That would have hurt worse than a bullet three years ago. Today, things are different.

Infinitely less pain. Now it’s simple discomfort.

But the truth is painful: I didn’t like it.

Most Divorce is Stupid, Selfish and Wasteful

I really believe that.

If that husband and wife who wrote to me over the weekend end up divorced, their three children will see their family torn apart.

I don’t know how much of that is on me. I only know a guy who thinks I’m awesome and said really nice things about me and my writing believes my note to his wife convinced her to pull the trigger.

I contributed to the thing I despise most. I became part of the problem. Maybe it’s not the first time. And now I’ll have to live with that.

Three kids.

I think most divorce is bad. It think it’s lazy and wasteful.

I don’t want to eliminate the ability to divorce. God knows it’s an important option for people who discover they’re married to dangerous people or con artists. People in abusive relationships SHOULD NOT stay in them.

That’s where the gray area begins. I would have scoffed in haughty offendedness had you suggested my marriage was abusive. Nonsense!, I’d have told you. I never once felt abusive, even in the moments I knew I wasn’t loving as hard and selflessly as I should have. But after everything I’ve learned over these past three years, I do think my wife found herself in an abusive relationship.

One of those sneaky ones so many wives find themselves in, where to the outside world, everything seems cool, and they go borderline-crazy because it’s hard to find people who know how to see the subtlety of emotional abuse for what it is.

“But I didn’t mean to!” husbands say. Much of the time, it’s true. We didn’t mean to.

But that doesn’t turn fact into fiction. Abuse is abuse even when we label it “a misunderstanding.”

Still, most divorce feels wrong to me. Stupid and wasteful. A move done for ONE reason only: to feel better.

The Common Marriage and Divorce Story

Two young people meet, usually in their early to mid-twenties. They become serious and get engaged just before turning 30. Literally, 99 out of 100 accepted marriage proposals come from the guys.

They plan a wedding for a year or two later. Maybe the groom is heavily invested in the process. Maybe he’s not. It’s been well-established this is the bride’s day.

They put untold hours into decisions about colors and dress styles and who to invite and where to seat them at the reception. They invest about $30,000 to pay for everything.

“Why don’t these young people put more time into discussing and making plans about the MARRIAGE?!” so many of us wonder.

That’s easy—for the same reason you didn’t. They don’t know what they don’t know. NO ONE talked to them about this other than to say “Marriage is hard work, you know! It’s a lot of give and take!”

Sweet. Thanks for the life tip.

Everyone thinks marriage is going to be EXACTLY LIKE IT IS RIGHT NOW when they already see each other every day, and are going through daily life together. It makes sense to them to feel confident that everything is always going to be like it is right now.

Most young people don’t have serious, brutally honest talks about VALUES and BOUNDARIES. That rarely happens.

We overlook value differences, because it’s been fine so far! And we forgive boundary violations, because of real love I love them no matter what! or The Sunk Cost Fallacy, where no one wants to end the relationship, become single again, and lose this multi-year investment in one another.

We get married.

Husbands obliviously do the shitty husband thing.

Wives don’t enforce their boundaries, and when they try, they use communication techniques that don’t come anywhere near working.

You know what will help? A baby!

After all, that’s just WHAT YOU DO! You go to school, get a job, meet someone, get a place, and have babies! This is The Way®!

The kids come and exacerbate all of the problems which already existed, but because we love our kids so much, we don’t like to say it, because it’s not their fault. (And it’s true. It’s our fault.)

We drift further apart. Maybe someone has an emotional and/or physical affair. The marriage has withered on the vine over the course of 5-10 years, and it feels to one or both partners like the love died.

In the United States alone, more than 3,000 people file for divorce every day. Two out of three of those are unhappy wives.

That’s 2,000 unhappy wives EVERY DAY leaving their marriages.

You think all 2,000 of those husbands are bad guys?

You think all 2,000 of those wives are bitchy, entitled maniacs?

Neither do I.

I think divorce is stupid when two good people who love one another end their marriage (especially when there are children) because they believe there is something unique about their specific dynamics that prevent them from having a happy marriage.

If people are getting divorced because they decide marriage isn’t for them, I feel much better about it. But people who are married are people who naturally crave companionship and physical intimacy. Before long, they will start dating again, possibly remarry. Even if they don’t remarry, they will likely enter a long-term monogamous relationship where the dynamics are nearly identical to marriage.

And, if they haven’t learned it already, that’s when they will.

I traded in my old problems for a new set of them with this new person. All of the warm, fuzzy excitement I felt when I first met them has worn off just like it did with my ex. In fact, there are moments when I’m angry with my partner, that I sort of miss my kids’ other parent.

They might not know what to call hedonic adaptation just yet, because it’s not spoken or written about enough, but they’ve damn sure experienced it. And now in a VERY specific way.

The grass wasn’t greener after all.

Where are you going to go to escape from yourself?

I’m Probably Not Your Divorce Ally

I’m confident there are plenty of stories I could hear that, if true, would cause me to advocate divorce. It’s already happened before.

I’m not against divorces that SHOULD happen.

I’m against divorces that shouldn’t happen.

There’s how it is. And then, there’s how it should be.

I know it’s inconvenient and unpopular when your insides are all messed up and escaping your painful marriage feels like ointment on a gaping wound.

But this is my truth.

Love is a choice.

Nothing matters more than family.

And every relationship we EVER have will feel painful and fall apart if we don’t make the right choices.

What we’re doing isn’t working.

Maybe we should do something else.

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The 4 Ways Women Can Help Save Marriages

Queen chess piece

(Image/iStock)

Someone asked: “I dont have a failed marriage, but I do have a failed engagement. We were together for 6 years, and I eventually called off the wedding and the relationship because, well, we had so many of the problems you describe here. I just couldn’t picture getting married to someone under those sorts of circumstances.

“Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts to women – sort of what can we do in these circumstances? I think a lot of your advice could really go both ways (because, lets be honest, we can be equally guilty of being terrible partners), but are there specific things women can do? I would love to hear your thoughts on preventing issues (since I’m just starting a new relationship) and then how to fix it (if I fail to follow the first set of instructions)!”

Dear Failed Engagement,

In the interest of being the anal-retentive, hair-splitting quibbler over semantics that I am, I would argue that you did not have a “failed” engagement.

Any fatally flawed relationship that doesn’t end in divorce, but still results in a bunch of introspection and personal growth, strikes me as a highly successful one. By saying so, I risk insulting your happy memories associated with said relationship, and disrespecting the emotional fallout following the end of any relationship, regardless of whether marriage vows were exchanged.

But so long as there’s an institution of marriage, public promises to love one another forever, and a formal acknowledgment of said promises, I’m going to draw a personal line in the sand between what happens before marriage, and what happens after. If marriage isn’t something more, then I fail to recognize its purpose for existing.

Thus, I enthusiastically applaud your recognition of a toxic relationship and calling it off, instead of doing the Sunk Cost Fallacy thing where people are too afraid to abandon something because of how much money, time, or energy they’ve already invested in a losing proposition.

Because I’m me and spend most of my life flying by the seat of my pants, I’m thinking about and writing this on the fly, when a lot of reflection and conversation with other thoughtful, self-aware husbands and boyfriends would be in order. But here’s what my totally-winging-it answers look like.

What Can Women Do to be Part of the Solution?

Let me start by saying I think MOST women are already part of the solution, by virtue of demonstrating a much higher level of competence and awareness about relationship dynamics than their male partners. I’m not saying women, by virtue of being women, are “better at relationships.” I’m saying, I perceive women to be more knowledgeable about, and more skilled in, the mechanics of successful relationships than men.

And I perceive MOST women’s greatest fatal flaw to be impatiently marrying their boyfriends (who couldn’t POSSIBLY have demonstrated high-level relationship knowledge or skill up to this point), and perhaps assuming incorrectly that their boyfriends understand things about them and about how to make them feel loved and safe, or maybe believing she can “change him.”

By “understand things about them,” I mean the whole Dishes By The Sink Thing. I mean empathy. I mean that too often we see a wife in a situation in which she thinks and feels one way about it (sometimes quite painfully), and her husband interprets the situation differently. Neither are wrong. And then both fight about it and usually end up feeling like their partner is “stupid” or “crazy,” instead of really understanding on a fundamental level that two people can experience the same event at the same time, and come away describing it differently without either being incorrect.

I don’t know that I believe there to be a more critical concept for young people to understand about their romantic partners. This is NOT taught to any extensive degree growing up.

At least, it wasn’t in my world where I had educated and conscientious parents, an upper-tier high school education, and then spent five years (don’t judge!) getting my overpriced and not particularly useful bachelor’s degree. And at no time between ages 5 and 23 did someone try to explain this worth-more-than-gold life secret to me.

Well, maybe my girlfriend did while crying after a fight, but I probably just told her she was a stupid emo girl before meeting my buddies at another keg party.

In my opinion, women could contribute more positively to their relationships by doing the following:

Enforce Boundaries Early and Often

Here’s what I see ALL THE TIME, including in my own failed marriage. Guy accidentally and obliviously sucks ass at his relationship or marriage. Whenever his girlfriend or wife calls him out, he gets defensive and tells her she’s wrong and stupid, and his evidence is that no one else in his life accuses him of making them feel as she claims he makes her feel. He resents it more than you might imagine because, in his mind and heart, he thinks by virtue of committing to her, and loving her (which he probably believes he’s appropriately demonstrating by not cheating, and supporting her financially or otherwise, and spending more time with her than anyone else in his life) that he deserves more credit and respect than her accusations of emotional neglect make him feel.

This goes on long enough, and both of them start to feel disgust, then a little bit of apathy toward one another.

I have to believe 90-ish percent of affairs begin here. Husband feels disrespected and unappreciated and unwanted, so he bangs a co-worker or the waitress at his favorite lunch spot because she looks up to him and makes him feel like a Man. She wants him and admires him. “Since my wife doesn’t want me and doesn’t fulfill my needs, I’m going to go stick my privates in this other person. I mean, is it really THAT different than when I jerk off thinking about her in the shower?”

Or, wife feels like her husband is doing this on purpose. She’s told him, literally, hundreds of times the exact same thing, but he just keeps doing it. “He doesn’t love me. He doesn’t want me. He doesn’t make me feel safe or desirable in any way. But Brad at the gym? He makes me feel 20 again. He’s always so eager to listen to me talk about my feelings or ask me how my day was. I love his arms and scent. I bet they’d feel good wrapped around me. Since my loser husband doesn’t want me and doesn’t fulfill my needs, I’m going to let Brad do anything and everything he wants to me because he makes me feel so good. I mean, is it really THAT different than when I touch myself thinking about him in the bathtub?”

Even without an affair, shit has totally hit the fan in a relationship and the wife (in two out of three cases, statistically) has had enough and wants a divorce.

She says it out loud, and the husband acts like someone just told him he’s living in The Matrix and nothing he knows is actually real. As soon as the husband realizes she means business, and the previous thousand instances of brushing off her complaints as inconsequential were actually things she was serious about, he tries to transform overnight into Super Husband Mode®.

He’ll start doing a bunch of things she had wanted him to do all along. See! See! I can change!

Maybe he really has. Maybe he really hasn’t.

Most of the time, she thinks it’s too little, too late. When a wife is prepared to end her marriage, she has usually thought about it for a LONG time. It only feels rash to the idiot, oblivious husband who failed to trust her sincerity in all of these previous conflicts.

She often sees his behavioral changes as insincere. The marriage is over.

But if young women would enforce these boundaries EARLY in relationships, young men would have their Come-to-Jesus moments with their girlfriends so much earlier. Are they less inclined to put in the work to change than a husband with shared children and property? Probably. But those who would make sincere changes would make for great husbands and fathers, and those unwilling to probably weren’t worth keeping around and having children with anyway. And if that rejection happens to them enough times, maybe they’ll figure some shit out and more quickly mature into a man capable of being a great husband and father than most of us do.

This has the added benefit of improving the collective self-esteem of women, and reducing instances of children being born to crappy fathers.

Become Near-Experts on Relationships

Men generally respect and respond well to logic-based arguments rooted in demonstrative knowledge and expertise.

Don’t read ONE relationship book, and then the second you find some passage that validates your feelings, sprint to your husband or boyfriend yelling: “SEE!? SEE!? You’re a stupid asshole just like I always say! I’m right and you’re wrong because this one sentence from this one writer says so!!!”

That’s a poor communication strategy.

Instead. REALLY become highly knowledgeable about relationship dynamics. Learn how to make your boyfriend’s or husband’s argument FOR him. Articulate it with precision, proving that you understand and respect it fully, and even realize why he feels that way.

And then explain to him the truth. With love and respect, where he’s not made to feel like a big, fat, stupid asshole for not knowing these things (which MOST of humanity doesn’t know).

That would help.

Take Ownership of Your Emotions

This happens as a natural byproduct of enforcing strong boundaries, but I believe many (I won’t venture a percentage guess) women spend much of their lives showcasing a power-draining You Made Me Feel This! philosophy, and blaming everyone around them when they experience negative emotions.

Certainly, it’s reasonable for us to expect our close friends and family, and romantic partners to demonstrate concern for our emotional wellbeing, and make an effort to respect our feelings.

But to lay the responsibility of our emotions at the feet of another human being? THAT is the epitome of not enforcing our boundaries. That’s giving someone else total control of our lives, and not accepting the all-important job of being in control of ourselves. Remember being little kids? “You’re not my boss!!!”

When we hand over our emotional health to others, we make them our boss. It’s a bad life strategy, and it’s one of the few areas of relationship dynamics where I perceive men to generally outperform their female partners.

Focus On Good and Demonstrate Gratitude

It can’t be said enough times: One curse of the human condition is that you WILL bore of everything sooner or later. It’s called Hedonic Adaptation, and every one of us deals with it. We take our health, and money, and safety, and homes, and cars, and jobs, and whatever else for granted once we are accustomed to having them as a matter of routine.

It happens in love, too. We feel all those lovey-dovey infatuation feelings early on and it’s great. We feel all those lusty, achy feelings early on and that’s pretty great, too.

But then time marches on.

And that stuff goes away. And it’s not because you’re not soul mates, just like having your house and money and health isn’t less awesome than it was when you first acquired them.

It’s because it is a psychological inevitability that you will take things (even really important things) in your life for granted.

There’s nothing you can do about it. It won’t go away.

The only thing you can realistically do is vigilantly combat it. And the only way to do that is to wake up every day (and maybe before you go to sleep at night, too) and express and feel gratitude for all of the great things in your life.

Everyone should do this every day, always, always, always. It’s a prerequisite to happiness. And happiness is pretty freaking important when it comes to whether being alive is a good experience, or a bad one.

Wives and girlfriends are often viewed as “complaining nags” by their husbands and boyfriends. Daily demonstrations of gratitude (combined with strong boundary enforcement) would seem to be a surefire way to make sure a relationship never falls into the too-common cycle of shit so many do today.

Speaking of gratitude, I had no idea what I was going to write today.

And you, Failed Engagement (but not really), helped me think of something.

Thank you.

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Because Your Marriage Won’t Survive Without It

(Image/unincorporatedmagazine.com)

(Image/unincorporatedmagazine.com)

I don’t have enough clout to recommend things and have people actually do what I suggest.

I love my second-grade son more than anything, have never given him a reason to not trust me, and I STILL can’t get him to do or try certain things I know to be better than his shitty 7-year-old ways that don’t work.

I’m sort of smart enough and self-aware enough to know when I’m talking out of my ass. But when I’m pounding the table, saying: DO THIS! IT WILL MAKE YOUR LIFE BETTER!, you can rest assured I believe it strongly, whether we’re talking about shredding your own blocks of cheese instead of lazily (and foolishly) buying pre-shredded grossness, or about things that actually matter, like how to not ruin your marriage and create a life of misery for you and your children who deserve better.

I received an email over the weekend which included this question, which is fair and reasonable if you don’t have access to my checking account: “Are you singing the praises of ‘How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It’ because you’ve been promised a commission?”

It kind of made me laugh. But then I let it roll around in my brain for a while, and I started to worry that other people might actually think this too. Because I DO strongly recommend the book often. To be clear, I don’t care if people incorrectly believe I make money I don’t actually make. But I do care about helping men better understand their wives, and encouraging them to give more to their marriages than they do. I also care about being credible so they won’t immediately dismiss things I’m saying that contradict their current: “My wife’s crazy and overly emotional, and if she’d just relax like me, our marriage would be perfect!” philosophy.

The answer to whether I’m a paid shill for that book, or any book, is: No. I just think it has a legitimate chance to save marriages, and better yet, contribute to happy ones.

If the woman who asked me that could look at my bank statement after the holiday shopping season, she would totally get a reverse-lady boner and realize there’s no way I’m earning secret book money.

[UPDATE: Because transparency and NOT being a lying douchebag matters to me, effective April 25, 2017, I have begun participating in the Amazon Associates affiliate program, which means if people click a link on MBTTTR, and then buy something on Amazon afterward, I’ll get a tiny percentage of the value of that sale. Because I’ve never done anything like this before and am writing this note before having ever received a check, I’m totally unsure as to how much money we’re talking about, but you can rest assured I won’t be quitting my day job.]

‘I Can’t Believe I’m Asking a Stranger on the Internet for Help’

I have a series of posts that—in the context of this blog’s weak internet traffic—are semi-popular, called An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands. There are 12 posts in the series, and I secretly think the first three are crappy and I’m ashamed they are read so much. Collectively, the dozen posts are read more than a thousand times a day, and sometimes more when shared on Facebook.

Because of that, I get varying versions of this paraphrased email several times per week:

“My marriage is in trouble and I was looking for information online when I stumbled on your Open Letter to Shitty Husbands series. I’m in tears. It’s nice to read I’m not a crazy, psycho bitch and that other people feel this way too. I really think this can help people. But I have one question…”

Uh-oh. Here it comes.

“… how can I get my husband to understand this, too?”

That question is relentless. It haunts me.

I hate it because the answer sucks and isn’t at all helpful: I. DON’T. KNOW.

I’m not your husband! Some people like cabbage, and prefer winter to summer, and purposefully wear costumes to weekend Renaissance festivals for fun. These are not things I understand.

I have no idea what it’s like to be inside the mind and consciousness of another person—even people I see daily and think I know well.

I can only tell you what happened to me and hope that someone recognizes some of it, and then can make better choices that can lead to a better life.

Wives want to know how I became “enlightened.” How I figured out the secret. Because they believe if their husbands learn the secret too, their marriages can be saved and the pain and fear in their lives will go away.

I’m talking to people sometimes who are more afraid and in more pain than they’ve ever been. I remember what that’s like. It’s so bad that you stop worrying about dying, because dying is less scary than feeling like this forever.

Me telling them “I don’t know” probably feels the same as when broke, desperate and hopeful job hunters get form-letter responses from human resource departments thanking them for applying and promising to keep their information on file.

I don’t want wives to abandon hope, because I didn’t want my wife to give up on me, and at least some percentage of these men have what it takes to turn it around with the right information.

Those men and their wives and children are who I’m thinking about every day when I’m answering an email from another crying spouse on the brink.

Why That Book?

I don’t recommend that book because anyone is paying me to do so, or because I’m lazy and haven’t read any others, or because I assume everyone will feel exactly the same as I do about it.

I recommend it because—FOR ME—reading it was like Neo waking up from the Matrix, or Agent Kujan realizing he’d just spent the past few hours talking to Keyser Soze. I was seeing things as they really are for the first time. It’s the thing that flipped the light switch for me. It’s the thing that put me on the path to being able to write things that thousands of people read and say: “Oh my God! That’s just like my marriage!”

For me, it was: FINALLY!!! I get it now! I understand why my wife and I always have the same fight! I understand why she always brings up things from the past to be angry about even though I’ve completely forgotten them! I understand why more than half of all couples divorce or have unhappy marriages!

Changed my life.

The book taught me something I generally knew in a boys like blue, girls like pink sort-of way, but didn’t understand:

Men and women (to varying degrees—nothing is one-size-fits-all) are fundamentally different in how they process thought and emotion, and there are very specific evolutionary science reasons as to why. Those unique abilities and differences helped our ancestors survive bear attacks and invasions from other tribes during the hunter-gatherer days. But today, those differences wreak havoc on our relationships because our natural, instinctive emotional responses and communication techniques clash. Our fear responses now kick in during arguments in the kitchen instead of in our wigwams. Totally helpful in the wigwam! Totally NOT helpful in the kitchen! Because we usually say horrible things to one another and then storm off afterward to do whatever we do to make ourselves feel better (which has the added bonus of also making our partners feel even more abandoned).

Having a high-level understanding of what was happening for the first time was a total game-changer.

And here’s what my brain did:

When something happens, I have always assumed my wife saw it, heard it, felt it and experienced it just as I do. Because I’m pretty smart, and she’s pretty smart, it makes sense that we see things the same way. But NOW I KNOW THAT IT’S NOT THE SAME. And when I apply my natural translator to something, and she applies her natural translator to something, we are probably going to disagree about what really happened.

The moment you realize your wife or husband isn’t broken or crazy, but actually responding to things exactly as he or she is naturally programmed to do, (and if your partner can understand that and give it back to you) you can instantly eliminate the majority of conflict in your relationship.

That won’t guarantee marital happiness. But it’s a pretty good first step.

Combining the knowledge gleaned from that book with my memories of conflict between my wife and I helped me put a bunch of the puzzle together.

Then I got divorced anyway, because most troubled marriages are over by the time the husband figures it out.

My divorce destroyed me emotionally.

I am a child of divorce and hyper-sensitive about it. My parents split when I was 4, and I grew up 500 miles from my dad, only seeing him during school breaks throughout my childhood. Every day of my life reinforced divorce = bad.

It was the one thing in life I was really sure about: I’ll never get divorced!

It hurt so much after she left that I needed to figure out how to not hurt anymore AND how to make sure nothing like that ever happens again. I’ve spent countless hours reading about, thinking about, and talking about relationships and human psychology.

Now I’m this new version of myself.

And I like how it feels to know one of life’s greatest secrets. 

Will the Same Thing Happen to Others?

Sometimes husbands read this stuff and think it’s bullshit. They can’t accept that their individual consciousness and worldview can be so radically different from others’. In their defense, it’s a really hard concept to grasp, and women are equally guilty of not understanding or respecting the fundamental differences between her and the men in her life.

Sometimes husbands refuse to read it because they’re prideful and don’t believe they need help, or maybe think acknowledging relationship troubles is a sign of failure and weakness, and most men will go to great lengths to conceal failure and weakness.

Sometimes husbands don’t appear to love their wives and family, and have little interest in anything that might be difficult to save something they don’t actually care about.

It’s hard to identify with people when they’re so much different than you.

But it’s really important that we try.

Sometimes guys like me read this stuff. They’ll leave a comment or a note, or maybe I’ll hear from their wives afterward: “Thank you. This changed our lives. You may have just saved my marriage.”

If there’s really a God that I get to meet on the day of my judgment, this is the one thing about which I get to hold my head high. This is the thing I get to say I did that mattered. Punching these keys and telling people I never met how I screwed up my marriage so maybe they can make better choices. Maybe someday I’ll get to tell God that a little 4-year-old boy was able to grow up with both his mom and dad because of something his father learned from me.

That’s why I always recommend the book. Because none of this is mine. It’s years of accidentally hurting my wife because I was selfish and ignorant. It’s years recovering from brokenness following separation and divorce.

It’s countless hours of combining the wisdom and lessons from a bunch of amazing thinkers and writers into a huge vat with all my nonsense and making something new.

Most of the time, people won’t care. Until a person is in total agony and desperate for answers, it’s really hard to care.

And even if you do care, you might think I’m totally full of shit. Maybe I am.

But every so often, when the stars align just so, the right person reads the right sentence at the right moment for them and everything becomes clear.

The Eureka Moment has a transformative effect on the heart and mind.

And then that person gets to be a better version of themselves for the rest of their lives, accidentally changing the world as they go.

Just like you.

Just like me.

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The Best Relationship Advice I Know: Give More Than You Take

I feel certain that if one of them dropped their pretzel, the other would give them theirs. (Image/Huffington Post)

I feel certain that if one dropped a pretzel, the other would give them theirs. (Image/Huffington Post)

There are three common reactions to my ‘An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands’ series, and I hate two of them.

Reaction 1: “Atta boy! Good for you for owning up to your part in the divorce and trying to help others.”

I agree because it’s true. I accept praise for my efforts to accept responsibility for the mistakes I’ve made. Mistakes without consequence rarely teach us anything useful.

Reaction 2: “You take on too much, Matt! It takes two to tango! It’s not all your fault! Stop being so hard on yourself!”

I disagree with that one because I’m not being hard on myself. I’m telling you the truth: If I had behaved daily—in good times and in bad—as a husband must to love his wife and thoughtfully tend to his marriage, there’s no way I would be divorced right now, and my son would have both parents at home, which I think is a big deal. Exactly zero people benefit in life from pointing fingers and casting blame for their life circumstances.

Reaction 3 (always from men): “This is bullshit! No matter how hard we work, or what we sacrifice, it’s never good enough! We go to work to pay for their house and their car and their hair and their nails and their jewelry! We give them everything we have! We make them orgasm in bed! And then when we want to have a drink with our buddies or play golf or watch a ballgame, we’re somehow failing them because they’re not getting enough attention? So you’re saying we just have to do whatever they want all the time, or we’re shitty husbands? Fuck them. Fuck that. Fuck you.”

The problem with this is that it rings true for many men. I think most husbands—justified or not— feel this way at times in their relationships.

No, I’m Not Saying ‘Do Whatever They Want’

Some people seem to think I’m telling husbands to submit to their wives’ demands. Let’s deal with that for a second:

Your wife should not be DEMANDING anything from you in your marriage except for you to respect and abide by her personal boundaries. All other “demands” are totally inappropriate.

If you got married without knowing your wife’s personal boundaries, it should come as little surprise that your marriage is shitty and unpleasant. You promised a lifetime to someone you didn’t actually know, and before you were intellectually or emotionally mature enough to make the promise.

If a husband or wife wants to bark orders at one another in their bedroom while they engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual role play, I assume that might build trust and intimacy, and prove good for the marriage in the long term.

But any man or woman who acts like a tyrant, making commands and abusing partners (physically, verbally or emotionally) when they don’t obey them? They can eat dicks.

So many people find themselves in relationships that aren’t partnerships, but constant power struggles as one partner jockeys for position and authority over the other.

“I work harder!”

“I make more money!”

“I’m the man of the house!”

“This household would fall apart if it wasn’t for me!”

Marriage can’t be like a business partnership where one partner owns 70% of the company, and the other owns 30%. The person with the majority share ALWAYS has final say. It makes sense for a wife or husband investing heavily in their marriage while the other doesn’t to feel like their opinions should carry more weight.

In marriage, both partners need to be fully vested in the union. Most people think of it as a 50-50 partnership. But my mom said something to me once, and I knew right away it was true: In a marriage, 50% isn’t enough. Only 100% is. Successful marriages happen when two people both give 100% to the other. Not meeting halfway, but going all the way to one another. A 100-100 partnership.

Give More Than You Take

According to Adam Grant’s business book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, there are three styles of interpersonal dealing:

Takers – They intentionally take more than they give. Self-oriented.

Matchers – They give and take proportionally to what they are given, and their willingness to give is conditional. Others-oriented when it will benefit them to do so because it will help them.

Givers – They always give more than they take. Others-oriented.

All three styles can be successful in the business world, though “taking” will earn you little goodwill.

Through anecdotal evidence backed by mountains of research, Grant concludes that being a giver yields the greatest business success (but also writes about under what conditions giving is a failing strategy).

I think it applies to every transaction we have in our lives. At work. In our spiritual lives. With our friends.

First we give. Then life gives back.

Our emotions are insanely powerful.

We say and do shitty things to the people we love because we are hurt or angry. It’s so easy to say “Oh, just be unselfish and generous to your partner all the time!” But it’s really hard to do. A million things unrelated to our partners preoccupy and stress us out. Pressures at work or school or with family members or with some other thing we’re super-involved in. We forget. We’re thoughtless. We NEVER think: “Gee. What really shitty and thoughtless thing can I do today to make my partner feel horrible and cry?”

Yet, even with the proper give-more-than-you-take mindset, you’ll probably upset your partner more than you’d prefer.

Being a person is hard. It just is. But you have almost no chance of having a satisfying life if you’re not at least generally aware of how to succeed in a committed relationship.

The only responsible choice is to actively seek to give more than you take, every day.

Even if you’re not a natural giver, what’s the downside of giving unselfishly in your relationship knowing YOU will benefit from doing so? Hint: There isn’t one.

Consider it.

Every day, you try to give more of your love and generosity and time and energy and patience to your partner. And maybe you’re like: “Whoa! That sounds draining and unsustainable!”

But wait.

Every day, your partner is ALSO giving more of their love and generosity and time and energy and patience to you.

You are now in a relationship where you’re trying to out-give one another every day.

You both feel good because you’re giving generously to each other. Unselfishness always feels good.

You both feel good because you’re both GETTING everything you need from each other. Getting stuff always feels good too.

I think this is what love looks like. And two people practicing it daily will live a fulfilling, regret-free forever-kind-of marriage together showing friends, family and children the blueprint for sustainable relationships along the way.

I know it’s hard. I did it totally wrong.

I’m selfish and defensive. So any time a future partner might tell me how I’m failing them, my first inclination might be to justify whatever I did and try to convince her why I’m fine and how she’s really the one with the problem. You know, instead of apologizing and meaning it like one does for the people they love.

But if I was in a relationship in which giving more than we take was the very foundation on which we were built, in which that was the code by which we lived, I think we’d figure it out.

I think we’d get through anything. I think everyone living that way will.

I wonder what’s stopping us.

Maybe we could start today and then everything would change.

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The Magical Power of Writing for Two Years (and a Bit About Marriage)

Magic-Book

The date came and went without me noticing.

June 21 was the two-year anniversary of my first post here. You can’t read it anymore because I privatized it. I privatized it because I said angry things about my ex-wife. She is my son’s mother and my relationship with her means more to me than having a published account of the worst thing that ever happened to me.

It won’t be long before I start publishing my last name. I will publish books. I want to write for larger publications. I’ll have to use my full name, and protecting people I care about matters to me. Even if they’re just someone that I used to know.

It took two years to get here.

The Advice Guy

I don’t want to be Advice Guy. That guy is usually an asshole. Plus, I don’t really know anything. If you forced me to offer the world life advice; that would be my contribution: Stop pretending you KNOW anything about anything. You don’t know. And there’s freedom in being honest about it.

Better to ask questions. Better to seek truth.

There is something about writing that gives you an aura of credibility that you don’t really deserve, but it doesn’t rid you of your responsibility to help when people want it.

I’ve published about 450,000 words here in the past two years. And for reasons that don’t fully make sense to me, some people think that means I know things.

I never know things. I just think things.

On Marriage

People ask me to advise them on marriage ALL THE TIME. Several times per week, wives email me asking for marriage advice or at least for suggestions on how they might get their husbands to understand the things they believe I do based on what they’ve read.

It happens so often now that I’ve actually looked into acquiring certification for marriage coaching. Because, you may recall, I’m nothing more than one divorced guy who failed at marriage in his only attempt.

I think every marriage reaches a breaking point. And the choices made by each (or either) spouse during that time determines the union’s fate.

I think, generally speaking, everyone gets married (the first time) LONG before they’re ready. Ironically, you’re never ready for marriage until you’re already married and THEN demonstrate good (read: unselfish) decision making.

I think we grow up seeing all these married people around us, so we’re all programmed from Day 1: When you get older and become an adult, you get married! It’s just what you do!

All we see from these marriages are the masks everyone wears. We’re kids! No one is going to tell us how it really is. That he NEVER says thank you or demonstrates appreciation for all her hard work cooking or cleaning or taking care of his laundry. That she constantly tears him down and never encourages him. That he’d rather jerk off thinking about her cousin or his old college fling than have sex with her. That she spends half her day swapping complaints with her girlfriend about what an inattentive asshole he is while both of them fantasize about one another’s husband.

We send our kids off to school to learn about the World Wars and the Periodic Table and The Old Man and the Sea and about our solar system and Algebra II. And that’s great. We should all be learning things.

But when the kids are 30, clinically depressed and fantasizing sexually or otherwise about other people and other lives because no one EVER was honest with them about what it takes to make marriage work, I have to ask: Are we really teaching people things that matter? How much good is Hemingway and knowing the atomic number for Boron really doing them? When they’re broken and sobbing on the floor?

I think men and women are biologically different to varying degrees, and that, because of a misplaced desire for political correctness, or because people are sexist and believe their gender is “correct” or “better,” very few people ever bother to learn about gender differences.

So guys walk around their entire lives thinking women are overly emotional and crazy.

And girls walk around their entire lives thinking men are dense and are only motivated by competition and sex (but mostly just sex).

Guys think that over time, women will come around and “get it.” Start thinking “the right way.” Like a man!

Women think that over time, their man will come around and “get it.” That he will finally start understanding her and seeing her for who she truly is. The he will start thinking and communicating and doing things “the right way.” Like a woman!

Usually, 5-10 years later, it’s all fucked and broken.

All because no one bothered to teach us important things about love and communication. Because no one ever really showed us what it looks like to give more than we take. And how by giving more than we take, we actually GET MORE, and create a life of love and abundance.

No, we all hurt too much from that mean thing he said.

We all hurt too much because she is so disrespectful and makes us feel like failures.

Resentment grows. Communication lessens. Sexual interest and attraction fades. You grow apart and die on the inside.

THIS IS THE SAME THING THAT HAPPENS TO EVERYONE. You’re not a freak. None of it’s good. But it is normal.

It happened to me. And now it’s happening to you. And I don’t know how to stop it. I don’t know how to make people care as much as they should. And I’m sorry.

I am so sorry that I don’t know how.

On Writing

People like to ask about writing sometimes, too.

My advice on writing is infinitely shorter.

1. Read writers who write how you want to write. Also read other things. Basically, just read. A lot.

2. Write often. Use fewer words than me.

3. Bleed when you write. (It’s a metaphor. Please don’t cut yourself.) Write about things that frighten and embarrass you. That sadden or anger you. Because you need to learn (and constantly be reminded of) something really important: We are all super-similar and you are never the only one. And you get to be the brave one that helps people realize that simple, but sometimes life-changing truth. Don’t take it for granted.

4. Take off the mask. You spend every second of your life trying to be who you think your parents, friends, boss, kids, lover, neighbors, or whoever, want you to be. It’s exhausting trying to be so many people and we always fail at it, because it’s hard enough just being one person. Always be you. It organically filters out all the people you don’t want in your life without exerting any energy. And it organically attracts all of the people you do want to be part of it. And it makes you come alive. This is hard to do in real life, even though we should try. But dammit, you better do it when you’re punching the keys. Make courageousness a habit.

Writing makes me see the world differently.

Writing allows me to see myself differently.

So that I can grow and change and think and love and share and be better today than I was yesterday.

All it takes is a willingness to leave a tiny imprint of your soul in the words. Bare and vulnerable.

Not everyone will care.

But someone will.

And that’s where the magic lives.

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Ask Me Things, Please

Image courtesy of kindnessresources.com

Image courtesy of kindnessresources.com

In an effort to evolve this blog and maybe have a little fun or some great conversation, I launched a page called Ask Me Stuff which you should go read.

I want you to ask me things because it will create some new content opportunities and because maybe I’ll accidentally help someone once or twice.

Let’s call it a social experiment.

For anyone inclined, I appreciate your time and contribution very much.

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Somebody’s Got to Feel This*

write feelingsI was watching Benji with a group of family members in my grandparents’ living room the first time it happened.

Something sad happened onscreen and I wanted to cry so I pretended like I needed to go to the restroom so no one would see me even though every adult probably knew.

Even at 5, I’d already been trained that boys don’t cry.

My parents had recently divorced, so I’m sure I was more emotionally sensitive than I had been prior. But I doubt that’s the reason the sad Benji moment made me feel something.

I wasn’t much of a crier throughout most of my childhood, and save the tragic death of my father’s only brother when I was 17, and a handful of instances where I was forced to say bye to my father for several months at a time because we lived 500 miles apart, I didn’t do much of it.

Maybe because “boys don’t cry.” Or maybe because I ran out of tears for the “small stuff.”

I wasn’t a cyborg. I felt. At funerals of my great grandparents, or the ones I occasionally worked as an alter boy in my childhood church.

I felt when I read Alfred Slote’s Tony and Me.

I felt when I read Where the Red Fern Grows.

I felt when I saw E.T.

Just because I didn’t cry doesn’t mean my body didn’t want to. I just pretended to be tough because that’s the role I thought I was supposed to be playing.

The writing did its job. It made me feel.

In the end, I think that’s what made it good.

Do You Have Any Advice For Other Writers?

As I’ve continued to write personal stories here, something became clear: No one is reading any of this shit because of the writing quality.

People are reading because I wrote a personal story they identified with. I wrote something that mattered BECAUSE it mattered to them, personally. It’s really hard for us to empathize with people who have lives nothing like our own. It’s incredibly easy to empathize with people who have the same stories.

I think the longer we live, the more in common we start to have with everyone else. You know—the law of averages and all that as more things happen to us.

People who have been through divorce sometimes find catharsis in reading someone else’s first-person account.

People who have sick children sometimes find peace and perspective when reading about someone else’s challenges with their child’s health.

People fighting addiction sometimes find strength and support when reading someone else document his or her struggles with the same.

We get so afraid to talk about it.

Because we’re private or shy or don’t want to be seen as weak. Because we’re afraid of what other people think.

That’s what’s so beautiful about writing. The opportunity to be brave and help others.

Some of you might be thinking: “But I don’t think my story is special. I don’t think it can help anyone.”

There’s a scared, self-doubting version of ourselves that lives inside each of us. And that’s the lie that coward tells us so it can stay comfortably and safely hidden in the shadows.

I laugh at the idea of me offering another writer advice as if I’m in any position to do so. But then I remember the most important thing I’ve ever learned about human beings:

We’re not so different, you and me.

Sure, you might like sauerkraut and Mountain Dew: Code Red and rye bread for reasons hard for me to fathom. But when you strip away our skin color (thank you, Dr. King), gender, personal tastes and cultural differences? We are remarkably, miraculously, beautifully (and sometimes tragically) alike.

You Can Feel It*

If you had a family like mine, you were told how special you were your entire life. “Matt, I hope you know how special you are,” I was told by my grandparents, and my parents, and my aunts and uncles, and family friends.

And then you grow up and you realize you really aren’t that special and that’s just something they said over and over again because they loved you a lot and were trying to compensate for the perceived hardships they thought you were dealing with as a child with 500 miles separating your parents.

If you didn’t have a family like mine, you might have been told verbally or otherwise that you weren’t special. That you didn’t matter much. The net result of an upbringing with an unfair amount of dysfunction or neglect or abuse.

The truth is: we are all just a bunch of people. And if every single one of us grew up with the exact same parents in the exact same house with the exact same opportunities in the exact same school in the exact same town, we’d all be excruciatingly similar.

It’s not about special or not special.

But it is about unity.

I write things sometimes about marriage and relationships and women, and people are like: “Whoa! He really gets it!”

And it’s not because I know anything about you or how you feel, or about anyone else.

It’s because I know myself and I have extreme confidence that if I just write honestly about that, it’s going to be relevant to more than enough people to matter.

So, if you’re looking for some writing advice on how to write stories that matter, I’ve got one thing: BE YOU.

And I don’t mean the person your friends hang out with, or the person your co-workers know, or the person everyone thinks you are at school or at church or at parties.

Be the you that you know. Inside your head. When it’s just you in the dark staring up at the ceiling. That’s the you that can help people, and you don’t even have to try.

All you have to do is be brave enough to write it down.

The things that make you happy.

The things that make you angry.

The things that make you laugh.

The things that make you cry.

Because there’s a person out there who gets happy and angry and laughs and cries about the exact same things. And sometimes they feel like a freak. And they’re too afraid to talk about the things they think about when they’re staring up at the ceiling in the dark. They’re afraid of rejection. That no one will like them. That no one IS like them.

That they’re alone.

The most important thing I’ve learned as a writer, as a divorced guy, as a parent, as an insecure single guy who is shitty at dating—is that we’re NEVER alone. By that I mean, we are NEVER the only people feeling something.

There are hundreds. Thousands. Millions.

Countless people just like you. Just like me. Just like us.

And if you can be brave enough to feel something.

And brave enough to write it down.

And courageous enough to hit “Publish.”

They’ll find you. And then they realize: Wow. I’m not the only one.

And then you’ll know you did something that mattered.

The secret to making people feel isn’t through clever wordplay or manipulation.

In fact, there’s no secret at all.

You just write down what happens on the inside. The parts we often hide from the world as we attempt to convince everyone we’re better or stronger or richer or smarter or funnier or braver than we are.

Because you’re not the only one.

Because it’s okay to cry.

Because the best stories are the ones that make us feel something.

Please tell us one.

Author’s Note:

*- that’s what she said.

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This Isn’t Advice, and You Shouldn’t Take It

advice

I do not write an advice column.

I don’t want to be a life coach, I don’t think I’m smart and I don’t believe people’s lives will be better if they act like me.

I don’t think I’m better than anyone, I don’t think I’m an expert in anything and I don’t think anyone should listen to me.

I failed Intro to Computing TWICE my freshman year of college. This challenging class included the basics of Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint. I failed it because I liked smoking pot and having fun more than I liked going to that class.

When I was the editor of my college newspaper, I let a story run with an anonymous source who claimed to be a sophomore female student in the College of Pharmacy’s honors program. She was bragging about how much she liked taking the drug MDMA, which most of us know as Ecstasy.

Turns out there were only eight sophomore female students in the Pharmacy honors program that year, and our source WASN’T one of them. I never bothered to vet her ahead of time. Maybe I was high. She had lied about being in the honors program. And eight completely innocent students at my university were made to look like assholes.

But really I was the asshole.

I used to lie about the cost of candy I was selling for school and pocket the extra money.

I accidentally let my car insurance lapse earlier this year and drove around for a while not even realizing I wasn’t insured.

I forget shit all the time unless it’s something I’m super-stressed about or have a reminder note written.

I’m not particularly intelligent. I’m far from being the responsible adult I aspire to be.

My dad has been divorced once.

My mom has been divorced twice.

And I’ve now been divorced. I cried like a total pansy a bunch of times for months afterward.

I don’t have a fucking clue what a super-healthy, super-functional marriage looks like from the inside. And I’m really sorry if anyone is or was under the impression that I did think that.

Some People Don’t Think You Should Listen to Me

I don’t disagree with them.

I wrote a series of posts called An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands. They’re my most popular posts by a mile, because I think sad and pissed-off wives like seeing a guy figure out why his marriage got toxic because he did all the same stupid things their husbands do. I think these women are hopeful that maybe their significant others can come to the same conclusions I did. I think these posts validate all of the things they feel and that they’ve tried to explain to their husbands and boyfriends for years. And finally! A guy gets it.

And I do.

I do get it.

And I think it’s devastatingly sad that so many guys don’t seem to give a shit just like I didn’t seem to give a shit until it became pretty clear that my marriage was fast-tracking to divorce.

It took that fear of losing my marriage—that motivation to avoid it—to exert the energy to learn what was happening in my relationship. I read books. I prayed. I talked to people.

And it started to become really clear how all these little things I had been selfishly and obliviously doing for years made my wife feel how she did.

Anyway, An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands Vols. 1, 4 and 6 get shared a decent amount on Facebook. (For the record, Vol. 4 and Vol. 6 are the only ones I think have much value. Vol. 2 is a preachy, shitty post and I should take it down because it reads like a total asshole wrote it. No one likes being preached to.)

I’m not privy to any of the comments people make about those posts on Facebook.

But a couple days ago, someone shared Vol. 1 on Reddit and a few readers were not impressed. I was able to check those out.

From “terminite”:

“This article, and the other volumes I read look more like the manifesto of a depressed and guilty man who thinks he is the sole reason his wife left him. He talks as if he ruined their marriage because he didn’t treat her like a princess… Then goes on later to say that you both have to give 100% to the marriage – Did she treat him like a king? The volumes I read were overtly abrasive and erroneously absolute, I guess to hook the reader, but it’s hyperbole and generalizations out the ass. I don’t think people should read too much into a recovering divorcee’s self-help writing therapy.”

The writer made that last sentence bold to emphasize it.

And terminite, I’m sure, is right. You SHOULD NOT read too much into a recovering divorcee’s writing on marriage. It’s not as if I was good at it.

But let’s get something straight, because it’s REALLY important:

I write about marital things, shouldering the lion’s share of blame and responsibility, and encouraging men to do their part in their relationships because I think it’s really important to take responsibility for your place in life.

Who am I to tell women what they should do as wives? I don’t know the first thing about being female or a wife.

But I DO know what it’s like to be a dude. I DO know what it’s like to be a husband. And I DO understand how I contributed to my marriage’s demise.

I figure I have two choices: I can either point fingers and scream and pout and call my ex-wife a bunch of names and blame everything on her.

Or.

I can be an adult and take responsibility for what I did and let the rest sort itself out.

Of course I don’t think my ex-wife got everything right. I was a ragey sonofabitch for a while after she left. Of course I felt justifiably pissed off dozens of times during our marriage.

But I’m not going to sit around telling men to just stand their ground and keep doing what they’re doing when I KNOW half of them are going to end up divorced if they do, and another large chunk will spend years suffering through a shitty, loveless marriage “for the kids.”

Someone has to lead. Someone has to apologize first in a fight. Someone has to be the first to call for peace during war. Someone has to be a “big” person and swallow their pride and put their marriage ahead of their selfish, petty wants.

Why not the husband?

“terminite” continues:

“We’re obviously not getting his whole story. The Masters example is a poor one, I think. I’m certain he fucked up greater than that, and much more often. And probably a lot of little things that compounded into years of resentment.”

No. You’re not getting the whole story, terminite. I was married for nine years AND I have a shitty memory. I could write an encyclopedia-sized volume of fuckups if I could only remember all of them.

From “saturdayd”:

“I really think you’re right in saying that this isn’t a reliable source of marital advice and more him trying to process what he felt went wrong.”

She seems to get it.

From “dominodog”:

“I agree. I don’t know why his marriage failed but can guarantee it wasn’t because one Sunday he wanted “me” time instead of going on a family hike that his wife wanted.

“It appears to me this guy has no idea why his marriage failed and I don’t know why anyone would take his writing as good advice.”

I don’t either, man. I don’t either.

From “gddammit”:

“He probably did this all the time to her. I am always alone and doing things alone. When my husband is not working, all he wants to do is watch TV or be in another room from me. We have only been married 3 years. It’s hard and it makes me sad. I don’t know if I am unreasonable in the way I feel, and I often wonder if he is telling me the truth when he says he loves me.”

… 

I don’t give advice. I’m not in the advice-giving business.

I’m in the storytelling business.

Matt did X. X= something shitty.

The result was Y. Y = something REALLY shitty.

And in the final analysis, maybe a couple people will be able to identify with my experiences and make the choice to not do X so that Y won’t happen and ruin their lives.

That last lady? The sad wife? She’s sad because her husband is essentially the same guy I was. He takes her for granted. She likes “Real Housewives” and “The Voice” and romantic comedies. And he likes video games and watching football and movies with explosions.

So he hangs out by himself to do what he wants to do. He might not even realize he’s causing harm.

But he’s committing marriage’s worst crime, after infidelity and abuse.

He’s leaving his wife alone in their marriage.

And someday it’s going to break.

That’s not advice. That’s just really good guessing.

I got a little defensive when I saw people treating my post like I was trying to be a marriage counselor. Part of that is because I’m naturally defensive. It’s one of my shittiest traits.

But another part of that is because I really don’t want to be seen as a guy who thinks he “knows” anything.

I don’t know anything.

I only know that sometimes I read or hear things, and combined with relevant life experience, I sometimes have some “Ah-ha!” moments that make me grow and be better.

It would be really cool to write stuff that helped people have some of those “Ah-ha!” moments once in a while, and God-willing, maybe end up in a happy, healthy relationship because of it.

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands is just a clickable headline. I don’t really believe all these men are “shitty” husbands. And I don’t believe that men are always the assholes ruining their marriages.

But I do believe there are some small, subtle things that a man CAN and WILL do if he knows that doing them will be the difference between being married or being divorced.

I don’t think I’m smarter than you.

I don’t think I’m more insightful than you.

I CERTAINLY don’t think I know any more about marriage than people who are actually still married.

I just think there are a few guys out there that don’t know they’re getting marriage wrong and might recognize a few commonalities in my story.

And just maybe they’ll ask their wives the right questions.

And maybe then they’ll make some changes.

And maybe then everyone grows just a little bit more, loves just a little bit more purely, feels just a little bit happier.

None of this is advice.

It’s just a story.

Just a story with a bunch of blank pages waiting to be written.

Just a bunch of blank pages hoping for a happy ending.

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