Tag Archives: Affair

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

man sitting at bar drinking

(Image/Shutterstock)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I obliged.

Drinking alone isn’t any fun.

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

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

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

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

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

Donna and I didn’t have an affair.

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

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

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

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

I did. I wanted to.

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

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

So I didn’t.

But still. I wanted to.

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

I wanted to.

This is How Affairs Happen

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

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

I really thought and felt that.

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

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

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

That feeling.

They want me.

A powerful drug. Appealing. Addicting.

I want more.

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

And now I do understand.

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

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

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

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

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

A Thought Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s rarely about the sex.

It’s usually about human connection.

Affairs don’t lead to disconnection, per se.

Disconnection leads to affairs.

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

But it doesn’t have to be.

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What to do When Your Spouse Isn’t Your Soulmate

soulmate spiritual

You can continue chase that elusive Tron game of blue-ish transcendent love. Or you can simply create it with a couple of pretty simple choices. (Image/Ascended Relationship)

The person you’re married to—or will marry one day—isn’t your soulmate.

[Insert very dramatic orchestra music here.]

It sucks, I know.

How can I be sure?

If we begin with the basic assumption that soulmates are, in fact, real things, and that everyone has one, I can know you’re not with your soulmate because—math.

There are 7.5 billion people in the world. You’ll meet approximately 80,000 of them if you live the average human lifetime of 78.3 years.

That’s .001% of the human population. And that’s everyone you’ll meet over 75-80 years. We really get to know much fewer than that.

“So you’re saying there’s a chance!”

Nope. Sorry.

It means that neither the girl you like in history class, nor that guy you met at work is your soulmate. It means that neither your childhood crush nor Ryan Gosling is your soulmate.

It’s okay to feel disappointed because it is disappointing.

That you’re not “made for each other.”

That you’re not “perfect together.”

That you’re just two people who both happened to be in the same place at the same time and both wanted to have sex with one another. (Hopefully things like shared interests, shared beliefs, mutual admiration, and intellectual stimulation contributed to this attraction, but mostly you just wanted to do the hibbity-dibbity).

This disappointing realization that we’re not with our soulmates SHOULD NOT make us want to end our relationships in order to seek out our soulmates, but it does have significant implications for us whether we’re married, or planning on marrying someday.

The ‘Holy Shit, I Just Found Out I’m Not with My Soulmate!’ Emergency Guide

The Married Edition

First, take a deep breath. It’s really important to stay calm or else everyone dies. (Just kidding! Everyone dies even if you stay calm! But hopefully not soon.)

Let’s evaluate this predicament.

1. You got married

This means you exchanged spiritual and/or legal vows promising to be someone’s life partner forever. You did this in front of witnesses, probably your closest friends and family members.

Questions: Did you understand the basic parameters of this arrangement prior to doing this? Did you understand what you were agreeing to? Were you being honest when you exchanged vows? To what extent do you value adhering to your marriage vows? Is it important, or not really?

2. You have choices

Your choices are:

  • Stay married and invest in making the experience the best it can be.
  • Stay married and ignore, neglect, or intentionally sabotage the relationship.
  • End your marriage.

Unless your spouse breaches the legal marriage contract, or violates the spiritual one, ending your marriage requires some soul-searching and having to answer some tough questions.

Staying married but not putting in effort, or actively harming your marriage, more than likely violates the vows and promises you made on your wedding day. You’ll want to read the fine print to be sure.

Staying married and doing things to make it the best-possible experience seems like an obvious choice, but there’s A LOT of grey area out there that I’m not trying to swim in.

Questions: Do you want to be married? If so, what could you do differently to make the marriage a better experience for both partners? If not, do you think there are things you could have done differently throughout your marriage that might have led to a different result than a marriage so undesirable that you want to end it?

The Ultimate Mind Tool For Being Married to Your Non-Soulmate

Understand what hedonic adaptation is, because you can NEVER feel happy if you do it wrong.

Hedonic adaptation is the name for how our individual happiness levels tend to return to our “normal” baseline after either good or bad life experiences as we adjust to our new realities.

Money and material wealth are the classic example. We feel happy when we get a new job with a bigger paycheck. We feel happy when we get a pay raise. We feel happy when we get a new house, or new car, or new gadget at home. And then, we eventually get used to the new paychecks and the new stuff, and it doesn’t feel special anymore. So we chase MORE. (This is also called the “hedonic treadmill.” Always chasing, chasing, chasing, but never really going anywhere, no matter what it looks like on the outside to everyone else.)

Hedonic adaptation is a fundamental part of the human condition. You’re not a bad person nor especially selfish or ungrateful in any way that warrants singling you out because you experience it. You’re just a person like me and everyone else. And this is part of the deal. We get used to things and then they seem less awesome than when they were brand-new.

People like to say: “The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence!”

What that means is, if you start having sex and heavy-petting contests with someone who’s not your spouse just because you kind of feel like you like or want them more—OR, actually end your relationship to pursue a new one with someone who’s exciting your pelvic region—you WILL 100%, no-exceptions, experience hedonic adaptation with the new partner too.

And then, in order to serve that fickle little lust monster between your legs, you’ll eventually have to find a new person again.

This is HIGHLY impractical if you value being part of a lasting relationship.

As long as you’re honest with yourself, everything will be okay. When two people who love, honor and respect one another deal with this inevitable human condition together out in the open, it’s an opportunity to strengthen the relationship and build intimacy.

If one person acts like a dishonest child about it and shames the other person out of discussing this, everyone will just carry on in silence fantasizing about someone else and growing apart in ways that extend beyond the bedroom, until one day you discover you’ve somehow turned into some divorced asshole blogging about this stuff on the internet.

When you’re honest with yourself and your partner, and when you accept the fundamental truth of life that NO MATTER WHO YOU’RE WITH, you’ll feel something that feels a little bit like boredom and complacency creep in, you can approach sex and attraction in marriage with a useful and productive mindset.

Hedonic adaptation is entirely in our heads.

And so is the remedy.

Questions: Why did you marry your spouse? What do they do for you, and have done for you, that you appreciate about them? What is something about them, or something about how they make you feel, or something they do that improves your daily life that you could feel and express gratitude for?

One minute you want to beat your kids and send them to their room without dinner.

But then, while sitting in a doctor’s office the next day, you discover they have a terminal illness, and all the sudden you don’t want to beat and bedroom-banish them anymore.

How you FEEL about your child in such a moment changes radically, simply because of what’s going on inside your brain. Our thoughts change everything.  I’ll never take time with my child for granted again.

That very same thought process is what allows us to manifest feelings of gratitude and love for our partners to create a healthy, beautiful and lasting marriage.

People want it to be easy. People want it to feel “natural.”

But we all have mortgages; and debt; and healthcare expenses; and children who need us; and busy, stressful jobs; and unique pressures, fears, anxieties, guilt, etc. And we juggle all of this while the TV, radio and internet hurl “It’s the end of the world as we know it” headlines at us.

It doesn’t feel easy because it’s NOT easy.

It’s hard to remember to mindfully feel intentional gratitude and then take the next step of expressing that gratitude to the person we promised to love for the rest of our lives.

But that’s what it takes.

That’s what Love is a Choice looks like.

And if you’re not married but want to be, please think long and hard about making these promises to another human being you claim to love until you know what you’re signing up for.

You’re not signing up for a life of that person “making you happy” every day. Other people can’t make us happy, even when they try really hard.

But, when we feel and express gratitude every day for the person who gave the rest of their lives to us, and when that person does the same in return, we create something durable and life-giving.

Know this, and make sure they know it too.

Talk about whether you both want to sign up for a life of giving more to the other than you take for yourselves.

Because when THAT person says “I do,” you’ll have found something every bit as powerful, and someone every bit as significant, as a soulmate.

And even though they may not technically be your soulmate, no one will ever be able to tell the difference.

Including you.

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The Marriage Paradox

dead rose by wolfman570

(Image/wolfman570 – Flickr)

They had a chance encounter on 5th Avenue in New York City.

The boy and the girl in the movie I was watching.

They were two old friends who crushed on one another growing up together in Texas. He was an aspiring novelist attending the University of Texas. She was going to Yale, after abandoning her childhood dreams of being a creative artist.

They reconnected over dinner and drinks, catching up from the years apart.

He was a dreamer. And his hope and optimism was contagious and inspiring. His belief in her and encouragement to chase her dreams moved her. It made her feel good. She was in love.

In a later scene, we see the young woman having dinner with her mother, where she reveals her plans to leave Yale, return to Texas to attend the University of Texas, and marry this boy from back home.

Her mother was mildly amused, but mostly incredulous and discouraging.

“Keep seeing him if you have to. Live with him. I don’t care, but don’t marry him,” the mother said. “I understand what you see in him. I get it. I do. He’s the opposite of your father. He’s a romantic. But he’s also very fragile. I saw that when his father died.”

She paused for a moment, accepting her daughter’s angry glare.

“Don’t do this. You’ll regret it and you’ll only hurt him in the end. What you love about him now, you’ll hate about him in a few years. You may not realize it but you and I are a lot more alike than you think.”

“You’re wrong,” the daughter said. “You and I are nothing alike.”

“Really? Just wait,” the mother said. “We all eventually turn into our mothers.”

Why Do We Marry?

The first time, I mean.

Is it because we love someone so much that we can’t stand the idea of living without them?

Is it because we love how they make us feel? Or how we feel being seen together?

Is it because we love what they do for us? What they provide?

Is it because we want to have children, and we identify who we think will make the best mother or father to our future kids?

Here’s what I feel sure about: Pretty much NO ONE gets married, spends a lot on the wedding, pools their financial resources and material possessions, and has children together with the intent or expectation that it’s going to end in horrible pain, and potentially cost a lot of money, and in the BEST of cases, costs half of your children’s lives, and in the WORST, costs much more time than that OR involves unsupported parenting to children whose other parent is almost never around.

The most generous divorce stats say that marriages end about 40 percent of the time, but I still like to say marriages fail “half the time,” because it feels truer and because I don’t think marriages are successful simply because two miserable people who hate or cheat on one another haven’t technically divorced.

Therapist Lesli Doares said it best during my first interview with her on her podcast radio show, discussing HuffPost content. I’m paraphrasing, but she said something like: “They have a section for Weddings and a section for Divorce, but there isn’t any information about actual marriage.”

Even the most beautiful, inspiring and successful marriages feature two people who will be sure to tell you how hard it is: “It wasn’t always easy! We didn’t always like each other, but we always loved each other!”

WHY DO WE MARRY?

We mostly suck at it. It’s mostly hard. So, why?

What other Important Life Thing do we collectively fail at more than marriage?

Another Tragic Ending

More time passes for the young couple in the movie I’m watching.

After a few years together, the lustful, feel-good stuff had disappeared, and her husband hadn’t written the next Great American Novel and she started to lose faith in him. She started pushing him to go back to school to study something more financially sustainable.

After growing up in a wealthy family and unquestioned financial security, she was dissatisfied with the couple’s humble apartment. She wanted more. And she was afraid she’d never have it if she stayed married.

Her: “You have to realize this isn’t working. We’re not right for each other. I wish we were, but we’re just not.”

Him: “What do you mean, we’re not right for each other? We’re perfect for each other.”

Her: “No. We’re not. We would be if we didn’t live in the real world. I need a life that is more structured and I need a future that is more structured. I want to be the person that you want me to be but I just can’t.”

Him: “But you are. You are. Just stop.”

Her: “I really wanted to be this person that you thought I was. I really did, but I’m just not that person. I just don’t have your kind of faith in things. I’m cynical. I’m pragmatic. I’m a realist.”

Him: “No, you’re just afraid. We’ve been through this so many times.”

Her: “No, I’m not scared. I’m unhappy. I’m just really, really unhappy.”

Later, she meets a guy in one of her grad school classes and develops a close enough relationship with him to ask him to drive her to an abortion clinic where she terminated an early pregnancy she hadn’t yet told her husband about.

We see the crying, confused, scared young woman, wet from the rain, clinging to this other guy while sitting inside his parked car outside of the clinic.

And then through the windshield, we see the husband, headlights shining on him, standing in the rain, taking in the moment, and his wife sees him, and cries even more.

End of scene.

End of marriage.

The Paradox: Because We’re Human

Some people believe the easy answer is to simply not get married and discourage others from doing so. Great. Have fun with that.

I admit to being as cynical about marriage as I’ve ever been, but I still believe the world needs marriage.

And even if you disagree, I hope I can appeal to your inner-pragmatist, because regardless of how good of an idea you consider it to be, 95 percent of adults are either married, formerly married, or plan on marrying in the future. The simple math is that almost everyone gets married anyway.

But why?

Everyone will have their own individual reasons for doing so, but I think the simplest explanation is that everyone thinks they’re supposed to.

I think the majority of people in the world do almost everything they do because that’s what they believe they’re supposed to be doing.

From our earliest memories, we saw married people, families, or young people dating and exploring the possibility of marriage. We see those same stories play out in novels, on TV, and in music.

And marriage crosses religious and cultural boundaries, so we see it everywhere. All over the world, you’ll find countless examples of two people who felt attraction for one another (or part of an arranged marriage) and now live in a committed partnership that both people expect will last the rest of their lives.

People get married because, for them, getting married is a personal goal.

People get married because they want to have a family and believe that’s best accomplished with marriage as a foundation.

People get married because they feel social pressure to do so.

People get married because they’re afraid of being alone.

People get married because they believe sex outside of marriage is a sin and they REALLY want to have sex and not feel shitty about it.

People get married because they want a financial partner.

People get married because they want to be with someone who makes them feel safe, or special, or a bunch of other good things.

And, of course, people get married because they love someone more than they love themselves and crave the opportunity to love that person every day for the rest of their lives.

Why do people get divorced?

Because their expectations weren’t met.

Someone broke a promise, or someone FELT like a promise was broken.

Two people failed to communicate in ways the other person could understand well enough to adjust whatever behaviors or mindsets needed changed in order to save it.

Because their feelings changed. About their spouse, or maybe about someone else they should have never gotten so close to, or maybe just about themselves.

People get divorced because they were dishonest with themselves before and during marriage.

People get divorced because human emotion is very powerful, and we pursue what feels good and avoid what feels bad, which means our marriages are screwed once bad feelings seep in.

People get divorced because of hedonic adaptation. That’s the psychological phenomenon we experience when awesome things stop feeling awesome once we get used to them. Hedonic adaptation is why we get sick of eating the same foods even if they’re delicious, or hearing the same songs even if they’re amazing, or why we feel dissatisfied with our homes, cars, clothes, paychecks, and everything else as we get used to them.

The people who made us feel the best we’ve ever felt stop making us feel that way. Because they change AND we change.

The people who made our bodies tense, our hearts race, our privates scream to touch theirs… they become the people that bore us sexually.

Maybe because of emotional reactions to their behaviors. Or maybe just because we’ve known them long enough. You know the phrase: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”? I’m pretty sure that was coined by someone who never got tired of having sex with the same person because of how rarely he or she got to see them.

People get bored and angry and disappointed and resentful and ashamed and feel shitty. About their partners. But maybe mostly about themselves.

It’s so hard when you realize you’re not the person you wanted to be and your life hasn’t turned out the way you’d expected.

It’s so hard when you wake up in a shit-festival of a marriage, and your life doesn’t feel like your own, and Jack and Nora are sharing their amazing-looking photos from another fucking vacation where everything about the photos represent everything your life is not.

It’s so hard when you see people in love on TV, while your spouse ignores you but lights up for other people. It’s so hard when you hear about good things happening in your friends’ marriage when your spouse is ignoring you sexually in favor of late-night internet porn or romance novels and detachable showerheads.

It’s so hard being an adult.

Because you thought you’d wake up one day and FEEL like how you imagined all the adults to feel when we were kids. When we’d finally have our hormones under control, and mature into the kind of person who always did the right thing and made a lot of money and could buy and do anything we wanted.

It’s so hard being an adult because it’s so damn disappointing when you realize you made all that shit up in your little-kid head and none of the adults actually knew what they were doing either. They just faked it the best they could for our sake just like we’re doing now for our kids.

We tried the best we could to be who we thought we were supposed to be.

So we got married. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do.

But there was so much we didn’t know.

Like how this thing that was supposed to make us feel good could make us feel so bad.

We didn’t know what we wanted back then isn’t what we’d want later. We didn’t know people would start acting differently. We didn’t know the holidays wouldn’t feel like they did when we were kids. We didn’t know how to imagine life without the people who die, or move away, or just stop calling.

We didn’t know so much would change.

We didn’t know so much could change.

People don’t know what to expect.

We say “I do” with the best of intentions only to realize everything we signed up for is some bullshit we don’t actually recognize. Because our partners have let us down. Or because WE let us down.

People don’t know HOW to be married when they decide to get married.

But maybe we can change that.

With so much at stake, I think we have to try.

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No, the Affair Didn’t Cause the Divorce

fractured glass

(Image/quotesgram.com)

Sometimes, a married person has an affair, and everyone screams: “Oh my God, Roger and Beth got divorced because he/she had an affair!!!”

Wrong.

And that’s bad because everyone sits around thinking: That was so stupid of [Insert Name Here] to do that. And now they’re divorced. I would never cheat on my spouse, and he/she would never cheat on me. So we have nothing to worry about.

No one is afraid of what ACTUALLY ends marriages.

Hurt, scorned spouses suffering from the fallout of betrayal hurt about as bad as humans can. Let’s not trivialize that agony, nor act like it doesn’t matter. But in the end, people burned by marital affairs fall into one of two camps:

1. Spouses Who Repeatedly Fail Their Partners Until the Pain of Feeling Neglected Outweighs Any Guilt They Might Feel From the Affair (By far, the most common.)

2. Spouses Who Were Excellent at Marriage and 100% Innocent Victims of Con Artistry

I’m not defending people who have affairs. Betrayal is a horrible thing to do to anyone. To do it to the person you vowed to love forever (and/or your child(ren)’s other parent, is next-level wretched).

The affairs make the headlines. The affairs are big and dramatic. The affairs are gossip-worthy.

So many people then think affairs end marriages, thus concluding: “If I simply don’t have affairs, I won’t get divorced!”

The root cause of the marriage failure goes ignored or undetected.

No lessons are learned. No one grows.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

NOTE: Regular readers of this blog are about to be bored with another overly wordy recap of things I always write, including the most recent post on Married Men Taxonomy. (Much of what’s below is stuff that spewed out of me while trying to write that post.)

Your time (and the time of any reader truly interested in improving relationships and marriage) would be better spent with this gem from Dr. Brent Atkinson which helps explain WHY couples struggle so mightly with communication, called “Core Differences in Ways of Maintaining Emotional Stability (Legitimately Different Ways of Navigating Life).”

It’s brilliant and important, and I’m certain you’ll recognize yourself and your partner in the words, and God-willing, maybe even find some answers you’ve been searching for.

The Everyday Divorce

Two adults voluntarily marry one another. Thousands of times per day, on average. Good people, too. They promise with all the sincerity they possess to love one another for life.

Five to 10 years later, half of them divorce and a large percentage of still-married people are sad, angry, scared, frustrated, having affairs, and often only still married because they feel trapped.

In the context of what’s at stake for all involved, and what people invest to be part of it, I’d call marriage (the institution) the biggest societal failure we have.

I also call it the biggest social crisis of our time, and I don’t think it’s even close to being an exaggeration.

The inability of human beings to functionally coexist with those they profess to love, have children with, and share homes and other resources with; and then the negative trickle-down effects of all those broken people and relationships and behavior models for the kids involved, causes damage to humanity and society that can’t be calculated.

It’s very bad.

Evil people aren’t causing this very bad thing. It’s a bunch of good people accidentally making mistakes — and because it’s not common knowledge that these things are mistakes, there isn’t enough awareness to solve the problem.

How the History of Cigarettes Can Save Marriage

Just in my lifetime (I’m 37), we’ve gone from smoking in airplanes and restaurants, and in the car with the windows rolled up and our kids in the backseat, to very little public smoking, and essentially ZERO people who don’t realize that smoking causes major health problems.

All it took was enough people giving a shit. Once a critical mass of people get it, everything changes forever.

I think the bad things that stem from broken families and divorce cause infinitely more societal harm than smoking does.

Hell, all I wanted to do in the midst of my own divorce was smoke and drink vodka.

People are getting divorced and breaking their marriages for the same reasons people used to accidentally die of lung cancer — they were making lifestyle choices based on incomplete or false information.

They simply don’t realize what they are doing has dire consequences.

So, Roger and Beth get married. Roger starts leaving a glass by the sink each night before bed. And each morning, Beth finds it sitting by the sink and wonders why he won’t just put it in the dishwasher. For a while, she puts it in the dishwasher or washes it herself.

But then other things like this start happening. Leaving shoes on the living room floor. Leaving damp towels on the bedroom floor. Leaving the toilet seat up (with the added bonus of pee stains on the toilet rim).

Beth finally speaks up.

Roger laughs it off, telling her she’s making a big deal about nothing.

The next time they have the conversation, Beth shares that it hurts her when these things happen — when even after asking him to do things differently, he continues to do it his way, regardless of the hurt she feels.

What Happens Next is Why Our Marriages End

(Note: These things don’t always manifest as husbands doing this, and wives doing that. There are exceptions. But it looks like this MOST of the time.)

She tries to explain why these things hurt her. A dish by the sink. Leaving laundry on the floor. Spending hours and hours playing video games or watching sports but being unwilling to spend 15 minutes replacing the lightbulb above the kitchen sink. For months.

Dishes and laundry and lightbulbs don’t matter to him. He doesn’t care and never will.

There’s no switch he knows how to flip to make himself care, not that he’d ever want to anyway. It all seems too minor. Life would suck if I let petty crap like this bother me!

Beth says it matters. But he “knows” it doesn’t.

The problem is not with me, Roger thinks. The problem is Beth’s emotional calibration! It’s wrong!

She lets inconsequential things negatively affect her, he thinks. And it all adds up to a simple fix: All I need to do is show her how silly and meaningless these things are. Once she learns how to feel like me, everything will be awesome.

He tells her: “That’s a stupid reason. Stop making such a big deal out of this. What are you going to do someday when something that’s ACTUALLY bad happens?”

That’s not theory. That’s pretty much exactly what I used to say to my wife every time I told her all of the things she said and felt didn’t matter.

Beth hears her husband, for the thousandth time, say her feelings don’t matter, aren’t real, are not his problem or responsibility, and that the quality of their relationship rests solely on whether she’s willing to start accepting things she finds unacceptable.

Because he has no intention of changing.

That’s when it gets scary. Because Beth realizes: Oh my God. He’s never going to change. This is my life. Where I must feel hurt and unloved every day until one of us dies. How did I get here?

She feels trapped and betrayed. She agreed to build a life with someone but he’s not keeping his promises. She withdraws.

She’s been hurt so many times, she can no longer carry on like she normally does. He asks what’s wrong. She drops the hammer: “I don’t feel like myself anymore. I feel like a stranger in my own life. I don’t know if I love you anymore.”

They start sleeping apart. Spending little time together. Hardly speaking.

He jerks off to internet porn, justifying it because she doesn’t want to touch him anyway. Beth knows it, too.

She fantasizes about the guy at work who is always so nice to her and actually listens to all the things Roger does not. This man really understands me!

When Home Stops Being Home

Everything they used to think, feel and believe about love and marriage morphs into something else.

They dread coming home at the end of the work day. It feels so much freer when they’re not trapped in that prison.

Gone are feelings of love. Gone is any sense of the values they grew up believing in and committed to when they married.

When every moment of every day hurts, and the rules people have always followed led them to the misery, then people start writing new rules.

When people feel dead inside, they just want to feel alive.

More months go by in the loveless, sexless marriage.

Beth or Roger finally crack, and take the marital affair plunge with someone they’d built an intimate relationship with, either at work or online.

That’s usually where the story ends.

But Then Everyone, Including Divorcees Themselves, Get it Wrong

“Oh my God, Roger and Beth got divorced because he/she had an affair!!!”

Everyone who knows them writes off another relationship due to heinous, inexcusable actions of the person who had the affair. No one really sees how everything poisoned and fractured along the imperceptibly slow march toward their deaths.

All those smokers were dying of respiratory illnesses, but the doctors just kept smoking their cigarettes and scratching their heads about their patients’ cause of death. Everyone stood around the funeral parlor smoking cigarettes and saying: “Frank was so young and healthy. This is so sad and unexpected.”

And for the longest time, no one ever learned anything.

It’s NOT okay that the affair happened.

But intellectually honest people recognize that the affair never, ever comes close to happening without the smaller marital indiscretions slowly eroding the relationship leading up to it.

Our marriages don’t fail JUST because we’re shitty at marriage.

Our marriages fail because everyone just keeps on metaphorically smoking and blaming the resulting lung cancer on anything and everything except the sick person’s choices.

Our marriages fail because we’re shitty at marriage, and even with a failure rate of more than half, nobody realizes it.

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Your Wife Thinks You’re a Bad Husband Because You Are One

See that guy in the back? He's probably employed, faithful, easy to get along with, and generally nice to people and his wife. That must also mean he's a good husband, right?

See that guy in the back? He’s probably employed, faithful, easy to get along with, and generally nice to people, including his wife. That must also mean he’s a good husband, right?

We have a problem, guys.

I don’t know why we have the problem, but if you want to have a non-sucky marriage, it will help to acknowledge this, then work daily to overcome it.

You think your wife is unfairly critical of you. That she’s ungrateful. That she’s always coming up with a new problem or complaint with your behavior. That she’s constantly nagging you about something, and usually at the least-convenient times after a long day at work.

You think your wife is a little bit crazy. She’s upset and it’s a total freaking mystery to you because you would NEVER get upset over something so little and insignificant, right? So, she’s crazy. Hormonal. She must be. It’s the only logical explanation.

You think your wife has a problem with priorities. You would never start a fight with her for leaving a towel on the floor of your bedroom. It doesn’t really matter! Or over forgetting to set out the chicken to defrost for dinner. We can just order pizza and eat the chicken tomorrow! Not a big deal! Let’s not fight over silly things!

But more important than that, she was the person you gave up your bacherlorhood and individuality for. Of every person on planet Earth, she is the one you proposed to and vowed to faithfully live with forever. And you’ve probably sacrificed a lot for her, right? Maybe she decides what town you live in, and what house you bought, and how the house looks, and mostly dictates the general rhythm of your lives. Maybe you go to work every day, handing over entire paychecks so she can decide what to do with it. Maybe you let her drive the nicer of your two cars. You feel like you’ve dedicated the majority of your existence to being her partner for the rest of your life, and you’ve done so mostly complaint-free. That’s gotta count for something, right?

Your ONLY complaint is that she’s always on your ass about something. Can’t you just chill out and not give me shit, since I NEVER give you shit!?, we all think.

It’s because, despite our imperfections (which to us feel the same as theirs—we just don’t complain about theirs much) we know we’re pretty decent guys.

We know we love our wives and families, and every time someone suggests our love isn’t good enough, we get a little bit prideful and a little bit pissed off. Especially when it’s our wives.

I get it. I felt the same way.

You Have a Problem with Relativism, and It Will Probably Earn You Divorce

I don’t cheat on my wife. A lot of husbands do. Since I don’t, I must be a good one.

I don’t hit my wife. A lot of husbands do. Since I don’t, I must be a good one.

I don’t drink excessively or do drugs. A lot of husbands do. Since I don’t, I must be a good one.

I have a job making good money and provide for my wife. A lot of husbands don’t. Since I do, I must be a good one.

I’m a good guy and a nice person. A lot of husbands aren’t. Since I’m a good, nice guy, I must therefore be a good husband.

Then we make it worse.

Because we’re so good at logical reasoning and leaving emotion out of it unlike our idiot wives, we surmise that her complaints about us lack merit. We’re good husbands! We just established this! So she’s being an unfair bitch right now, but she’ll get over it if I just go watch TV in the other room!

Moving forward, every time our wives complain about us, we chalk it up as another bullshit nag-fest because A. She’s complaining about this insignificant crap I would NEVER complain about, while ignoring all the actual important things I do every day that matter! and B. I’m a good husband, and this is the same fight we always have, and she’s obviously full of shit.

I Have Bad News, Kid

You can be a great guy and be a bad electrician.

You can be a great guy and be a lousy dancer.

You can be a great guy and be a shitty husband.

Relativism is a funny thing. I certainly dabble in all kinds of it. I always figure, if there’s a God, I’m in good shape spiritually because I treat people kindly while not murdering, raping, kidnapping, stealing, fighting, vandalizing, abusing, etc. It’s a logical fallacy. It’s one I use to make myself feel better and avoid making difficult and disciplined lifestyle changes.

And I’m sorry, guys. Just because you make a bunch of money and avoid having sex with other women on business trips and tend to not criticize your wife’s choices as much as she does yours, doesn’t make you a good husband.

Marriage isn’t graded on a curve. Just because millions of assholes are getting an F and you’re getting a C-, doesn’t mean you deserve a pizza party for making your imaginary Honor Roll. C- grades are shitty regardless of how many guys are doing it worse than you.

Marriage grades are strictly pass or fail.

HALF OF ALL MARRIAGES END IN DIVORCE. Of the ones that don’t, how many of those appear to be fun, loving, satisfying relationships? Look around and decide for yourself. In other words, even if you aren’t divorced, does that mean you’re succeeding in your marriage?

I have a son in second grade. He’s awesome. But he’s a complete tool bag sometimes when we’re working on math homework and he guesses the answer wrong by a digit or two, and then defends his wrong answer by saying “I was close!” before telling me he doesn’t want to learn how to do math because he doesn’t feel like it.

There’s no “close to correct” in math. It’s either correct (and for the purposes of second-grade math, there is only ONE right answer and an infinite number of wrong ones), or it’s not. I think marriage is exactly like that.

You can’t almost get marriage right. You can’t be close to being a good husband.

You either ARE a good husband (which requires a daily display of strength and heroism and fortitude and courage and discipline and empathy and wisdom and knowledge and love), or you’re not one.

We get defensive. We buck and protest and point fingers and deflect.

But you know.

Dude. I know that you know that I know that you know that you’re a little bit selfish and that you frequently make choices that are easiest for you, often at the expense of your wife’s preferences. You do it all the time.

Sure, I know you just forgot, sometimes! I’m the freaking king of forgetting. But when you don’t create a system to not forget anymore (that you have that thing on Tuesday, or your wedding anniversary, or to pick up the dry cleaning, or whatever) so that your wife knows she’s loved and respected enough for you to take care of things and demonstrate you can be counted on, you reinforce feelings of mistrust that make her feel afraid and insecure about her entire life.

That will end badly for all parties, even when it seems so insignificant to you in the moment.

There are many ways to die.

Instantly, from a bullet.

Or imperceptibly slow from undetected cancer.

She can trust me to not cheat!

Sorry, man. No one gives a shit. If basic assurances of sexual faithfulness didn’t come with the most base-model marital packages, marriage would cease to be a thing. She already assumes she can and should be able to trust you to not bang other chicks. It’s best to not expect pats on the back for your restraint.

If you’re still reading, you might be tired of being lectured by some divorced asshole on the internet. You might be wondering why—if I’m so brilliant about marriage—mine ended.

It’s because I had a problem with relativism and it earned me a divorce.

Everyone’s different, so maybe divorce won’t be bad for you. For me, it was the worst thing that ever happened, and I cried a lot more than a man should, and dying didn’t seem so bad for a while.

And you know what I thought about every day for the next year or two while I was struggling to get my shit together? If I’d spent every day giving 10 percent more to the person I loved above all things, my wife and son would still live here and my life would be much happier.

Because, I wasn’t a bad guy. I was just a bad husband.

And if I had it to do over again, I’d have made better choices—choices that might still be available to you.

Maybe you can start right now.

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The Magic Boner

Old-man-looking-sad-eating-alone-547114

(Image/express.uk.com)

Men frequently demonstrate wisdom and foresight to protect future interests.

Saving money for retirement. Physical fitness and healthy eating. Career advancement. Thoughtful real estate and home-improvement investments. Paying for insurance policies.

These things are all done in the spirit of sacrificing now, so that their future lives might be better for having done so.

And it begs the question: For those who showcase this level of forward-thinking, disciplined decision making, why not apply the same logic to our sex lives and marriage?

There are many good reasons for a man to love his wife faithfully.

There are also bad reasons.

I want to believe when guys invest money in engagement rings, and thoughtfully execute marriage proposals, and make the internal decision to swear off other women for the rest of their lives, it is their honest intention to follow through.

I think men aspire to this. Because their fathers married and loved their mothers, and now they want to live up to that same standard, or maybe their fathers DIDN’T, and they tell themselves they’ll never do that to their kids.

My good friend’s dog passed recently. A bulldog. Let’s call him H. Super-close canine pal for the past 12 years. Got him through a difficult divorce. He knew H was struggling and didn’t have much time left. But he felt mentally and emotionally prepared for it, he said.

Then it happened, and it was MUCH harder than he thought it would be.

And I think I know why. I think we have a bunch of moments in life that we anticipate and think about and imagine a certain way. Our minds almost involuntarily predict how it’s going to be, whether it’s a date, high school reunion, wedding reception, business presentation, pet death, or marriage.

But we’re kind of shitty at predicting things. Moreover, when human emotion—specifically pain—is involved, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to know how we’ll feel during this future thing. It’s hard for someone who feels good now to know how they’ll respond to something later when they’re feeling unexpectedly bad.

Men propose to their girlfriends and enter marriage with good intentions, “predicting” that it will always be and feel like it is today. We have a great relationship! She’s the one! Failing to account for all the times (and more importantly, how it will feel) when the relationship is no longer a positive experience.

The good reasons for making marriage last are obvious. But, just in case that’s not enough for you, there’s also a bad reason to make marriage last, and we should talk about it.

Thinking With the ‘Other’ Head 

Men like and want sex. Lots of it. No reason to sugarcoat it.

Don’t tell me how much women like it too. I get it. I know women also like and want sex. But it’s often different with guys. Common is the man that would walk into any busy bar on Saturday night and sleep with any (literally any) woman that passes his Would I sleep with her? pass-or-fail test which probably gets less stringent with each drink. Much rarer is the woman who would do the same.

I don’t know what the adult entertainment industry is raking in these days (I’m totally talking about pornography, by the way), but the numbers are always scary-high. The Rockefellers could have probably just as easily built their fortune on sex films as they did on oil. Those eye-popping dollar amounts have everything to do with men’s appetite for it. (Which I think is bad, and we can talk about why someday.)

Man’s general desire for sex appears to be a root cause for many life choices. How he grooms, how he smells, how he dresses, the cars he drives, the stuff he buys, the way he behaves.

Any choice a guy makes along those lines has EVERYTHING to do with wanting to be sexually attractive. I promise he’s not trying to impress his buddies.

Men totally like sex.

If you’re a woman, you probably know this already from your personal experiences. If you’re a woman currently dating online, you FOR SURE know it, because dudes online are shameless and tactless and fail to exhibit whatever little manners they might in a real-world, face-to-face scenario.

Men sometimes are dishonest with their wives (and girlfriends) about how much they crave sex, and what kinds they like. I think it happens a lot to guys who grew up in conservative families where wholesomeness was a virtue to which everyone aspired. They’re taught their entire lives that premarital sex is bad, and God is mad at them for masturbating at 13, and that sex is only appropriate with their demure wives in the missionary position IF they’re trying to have a baby. They develop weird guilt-shame complexes about sex.

Secretly, they might want to go to European sex parties, or have BDSM dungeon sex, or have a three-way with a couple Asian chicks.

Even conservative guys want infinitely more than Demure Missionary™, but might feel uncomfortable having open and honest conversations with their wives about it. If she knows I’m into this, she’ll think I’m a sexually deviant pervert and won’t love me anymore!

One thing leads to another, and some couples go years without ever having a real conversation about what they want (or need?) from their partner, sexually (and emotionally).

Sex is no longer a positive in their marriage, because even at its best, it’s only moderately satisfying. Wives fantasize about being romanced by the cute guy at work who will spend a little more time doting on her collarbone and inner thighs. Husbands turn to porn and “take care of themselves,” while they fantasize about someone else. Sometimes, their respective fantasies lead to affairs. Even if they don’t, the sexlessness is an eventual marriage killer.

When he proposed to his girlfriend, he was eager to marry her and swear off all others. She wanted him. He felt really good.

Now? Both of them are justifiably sad, confused and angry. The marriage looks nothing like they thought it would.

Sometimes that, combined with months or years of a sexless marriage, lead men to look outside their marriage for sexual relief. They like feeling wanted again. And they justify it because their wives clearly don’t want them anymore. She changed, not me! What did she expect me to do!?

Tomorrow Always Comes

That’s a really long and tedious way of saying: sometimes men cheat on their wives for a variety of psychologically sexual motivations the rest of us often don’t understand.

Whatever the reasons, we should all agree it’s bad to break wedding vows or engage in deceiving our spouses, and that some component of the cheating is rooted in a desire for immediate gratification even at the risk of jeopardizing long-term security.

And the question is: Why? Why so much effort to work hard now and save money for later in this one area of life, but a total disregard for the long term in this other area?

Chump Lady gifted me this thought (and fantastic post title) in one of her posts from last week:

“The Dan Savages of the world would excuse such unilateral decision making (as a response to what they’d blameshift as your unilateral decision to Deny Him Sex), because Sex Is Of Paramount Importance! It trumps considering your partner and his or her health! Obey the Boner! Is cheating “optimal”? No, but hey, the MAN NEEDED SEX!

“Okay, you know what, cheaters? — go for it. Please, fuck the younger woman, the Thai prostitutes, the Craigslist hookups, the slutty co-worker. Do it all in service to Almighty SEX. Make that your paramount value. And good luck later when you need someone to change your colostomy bag. When you’ve traded all your gold for a magic boner — who’s going to love you when you’re old and vulnerable? When your equipment fails? When you’ve invested all those years in the magic boner and not in meaningful relationships — then what?”

And she’s right.

She is.

Tomorrow always comes, guys. Where you’re bald or sick or fat or ugly or can’t get it up anymore.

And all those cheap orgasms you chased? When you’re alone and unloved in your condo? What good did any of it do? What was it worth?

Tomorrow is gonna come, and your wants and needs will shift accordingly. It’s totally possible dying sick and alone with herpes on your penis is a super-fun time. I won’t pretend to know.

But I have to believe growing old with someone who stuck with you through it all, and feeling grateful for her every day, and falling asleep and waking up each day free of guilt and shame, might be a preferable alternative.

With fun holidays. And grandchildren. And self-respect.

Maybe not chasing cheap pieces of ass at the expense of your wife and family isn’t something you want to avoid because of your particular moral bent. Maybe it just doesn’t seem wrong enough to you. Some people seem okay with shooting and blowing up innocent people as much as possible, forcing me to admit there is some human behavior I can never understand.

Maybe “doing the wrong thing” isn’t a big-enough deterrent for you, and never will be. Maybe all the good reasons for excelling at marriage don’t register with you.

But why not, at the very least, give it a shot in the spirit of long-term security and your future self-interests?

Why not do a good job in your marriage for bad reasons?

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Try Something Else

Author and food systems expert Anna Lappe said that. Probably about food systems. But it could have been about marriage.

Author and food systems expert Anna Lappe said that. Probably about food systems. But it could have been about marriage.

I was 15 minutes early for the church thing.

My ex-wife lives close so I expected her and our son to show up soon. The church thing was for him and other kids his age.

His mom and I are good about going to events together to support him. It’s the kind of thing that was uncomfortable in the early months of separation and divorce, but I now find totally okay and occasionally pleasant two and a half years later.

I asked a guy if he knew where the kids and families were sitting. He pointed to a spot on the far side of the large church. I recognized a few faces. Whenever my son and his mom showed up, we’d sit over there.

But the minutes ticked by. And everyone filing in for the 9:30 a.m. start time wasn’t my son and his mom.

At 9:26, I finally sent a text: “Are you here?”

She replied at 9:29: “Walking thru parking lot now. Where are you?”

I told her to go through a back entrance. There are two of them. I stood by one while I waited, guessing incorrectly that she would choose it. It was 9:31 and church was starting. I sent a text describing a lady passing out things our son would need to grab.

She asked again where I was sitting, but instead of answering, I told her where the kids and families were sitting together.

Because I’m divorced and feel shame easily, particularly among the school and church parents where it seems like all their families are still intact, I didn’t go sit with them, electing to wait for my son and ex to arrive.

For that same reason, I also chose not to walk across the front of the entire church in front of hundreds of people to meet them after the Catholic mass started.

Long story short: My son wasn’t sitting with his parents together like we’d planned. Mission: failed.

My non-Catholic ex-wife spent the next hour with our son who was upset because he didn’t know where I was, and was forced to do a semi-ceremonial Catholicy thing with him that she might have felt some discomfort doing.

I was a little pissed because she arrived late and perceived her lack of punctuality as a sign she didn’t respect this Catholic thing she wouldn’t have to worry about if it wasn’t for me (which isn’t true).

She was a little pissed because she felt I didn’t try hard enough to sit with them and didn’t like that me not being with them upset our son.

She lives close. So I assumed she just didn’t try hard enough. But what actually happened was they spent the night at his grandma’s house much farther away, and when they arrived with what would typically be enough time, they found no parking spots and ended up having a long walk to get there.

She thought I was being unhelpful not telling her where I was sitting, instead telling her where our son was supposed to sit with his classmates.

OF COURSE I wanted to be next to my son. But I thought him being with his classmates for this special occasion was the bigger priority.

That probably seems like a typical misunderstanding.

But that’s exactly my point in telling it. THIS RIGHT HERE, is how divorce happens. She didn’t do anything wrong and tried her hardest to make the moment special for our son. I didn’t do anything wrong and tried my hardest to do the same. With limited information about one another’s thoughts and feelings, we were both a little bit pissed at one another, even though NO ONE DID ANYTHING WRONG.

That’s How Your Marriage Ends

Sometimes he’s a drunk or an addict.

Sometimes she’s financially manipulative.

Sometimes he’s a degenerate gambler.

Sometimes she’s sleeping with a guy at work.

BUT.

That’s not usually what happens. Usually, two well-meaning people get married with the heartfelt intention to love one another forever, and raise good kids, and enjoy backyard barbecues with friends, and holiday gatherings with family, and trips together to Disney World and the Grand Canyon.

And then slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, little moments like the one I described above start to invade and infect our psyche and emotional chemistry.

She thinks he’s thoughtless and irresponsible.

He thinks she’s unfairly bitchy and never happy.

She thinks he’s selfish and that all his decisions revolve around self-interests.

He thinks he’s already changed so much of his behavior and lifestyle for her, he doesn’t understand why she’s always so dissatisfied with him.

She decides he’s never going to change and eventually grows exhausted by him. Because there are only two possibilities: He’s a childlike moron incapable of being a responsible adult partner and co-parent, OR he’s as smart as she thinks he is and cares so little about her feelings that every day he chooses all the fuck-you-I’m-going-to-do-things-my-way stuff that she’s been pleading with him to stop.

In either case, she can’t trust him anymore. He’s no longer SAFE.

Not because he had sex with someone else.

Not because he gambled away their money.

Not because he’s an unreliable financial provider or not physically capable of protecting her from harm.

But because when she bares her soul to him, nothing changes. So she must not matter enough to him. She loves him in theory, but the feelings go away. It’s hard to stay in love with the person who hurts you every single day. Because he’s no longer safe and behaves like someone who doesn’t love her, she stops being sexually attracted to him. Sex becomes super-infrequent or dries up altogether.

All this time, her husband thinks she must be a little bit crazy. She’s hormonal and imbalanced. SHE MUST BE. Because he does love her. Very much. Of everyone he has ever known or currently knows, she’s the one he chose to spend the rest of his life with. She’s the one he was willing to forsake all others for. If he’s a father, there’s a secondary layer of love and protection he feels. He loves his kids a lot and he knows how amazing she is at caring for them. He could NEVER do what she does, thus her safety and wellbeing become even more important to him.

He spent his entire life going to school and hanging out with his friends.

Many of his best memories are Friday nights on the football field, or up in the stands at basketball games, or playing golf or soccer or poker or video games, or watching MMA or boxing or pro wrestling with his friends.

He has this loyalty he innately feels to his friends. They’re like brothers. Either because they played sports together, or roomed together in college, or served in the military together, or worked together, or any other bond-forming activity guys often do.

Now, he spends maybe 5-10% of his social time with them, or participating in hobbies ingrained in him from all those years. He thinks it’s REALLY unfair that even though he gave up the vast majority of those activities and hobbies for his marriage, she still complains about what little time he spends on all those things he has always loved.

She didn’t sign up for this. Not a life where she constantly feels invalidated because he either offers a hundred reasons why she’s being an unreasonable, nagging bitch, or he totally withdraws and doesn’t communicate with her at all.

He didn’t sign up for this. Not a life where he is constantly disrespected and made to feel inadequate even though his PURPOSE in life is to provide the best life possible for his family.

She stops sleeping with him.

He starts jerking off thinking about the office receptionist or that waitress at his favorite lunch spot.

She gets huge crushes on any man who appears to show genuine interest in her because her husband hasn’t talked to her or looked at her that way in years. He really gets me, she thinks. I want to sleep with him.

He gets his kicks from the female friend or coworker who listens to him complain about how unappreciated he is at home. She feels bad and wants to help so she puts his penis in her mouth, and he justifies it because his wife hasn’t slept with him in several months. What did she expect me to do!?, he thinks.

The guilt and shame pile up for everyone.

The shoulders are just a little bit heavier every second of every day.

Quiet moments alone are no longer peaceful because those are the moments the skeletons rattle loudest.

No one feels peace or innocence anymore. Not like when you were kids. You miss it so much, and it’s amplified by watching your kids. Because they’re pure and innocent and you want them to stay that way, but you can’t protect them from all the shit. There’s just way too much of it.

You feel like you’re constantly failing them because how can a broken, flawed person like me ever expect to raise children to be great people while protecting them from every danger?

What You’re Doing Isn’t Working

Two things:

  1. The above example is a fictional hypothetical situation that is NOT autobiographical but I believe is one super-common example of how marriages break and deteriorate into tar pits of shit.
  2. Your marriage or relationship has some element of all this going on in it. The reason it’s so easy to write this off-the-cuff example that will probably resonate with a kajillion people is because I read and hear the same stories over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. It’s totally frustrating and depressing.

You’re doing the same things everyone does, and when you do that, you get divorced and often end up sad and angry and hurting with sad and angry and hurting kids. It’s a real shit show.

A suggestion: TRY SOMETHING ELSE.

Hey Husbands: Your wife is going to leave you, and may or may not start sleeping with another man and take your children away. It’s horrible, and you and your family deserve better. If your wife tells you there’s a problem, and you don’t agree because you don’t think it’s as big a deal as she does? I have bad news. There’s a problem, and she’s going to leave.

Hey Wives: You’re not wrong that your husband who pledged to love you forever is a little oblivious and thoughtless, and should absolutely be prioritizing your feelings on all matters related to your emotional wellbeing so you can feel safe in your own life and trust that it will be here tomorrow. But you are wrong about your husband not loving or caring about you. And you’re doing a piss-poor job choosing WHEN, HOW and in what TONE OF VOICE to tell him how dissatisfied you are.

If I knew how to cure marriage problems, I’d have already written the magic-bullet bestselling book of all time, and currently be enjoying the spoils of commercial success while also kind of saving the world.

Every couple, and every individual, is different. Unique. Nuanced. Special.

And when we pledge to love and cherish and serve one another for as long as we live, it is our solemn duty to figure out what we can do to make our partner’s lives better.

Guys, marriage isn’t for you. It’s for your wives. You don’t need to agree with her. You simply have to care that the person you love most feels serious pain and fear. And if you put your mind to solving that problem—alleviating her pain and fear—you’re going to be much happier.

Ladies, marriage isn’t for you. It’s for your husbands. You don’t need to agree with him. You simply have to care that the person you love most in the world feels seriously unappreciated and undervalued. And if you put your mind to solving that problem—making him feel respected for all of the positive traits for which you originally fell in love with him, and valued for his many contributions to your life—you’re going to be much happier.

My ex-wife had a choice: Be pissed because I wasn’t with them during the church thing. Or appreciate that I tried my best at the expense of my own happiness to make sure our son was getting the most out of the moment.

I had a choice: Be pissed my ex-wife didn’t make a better effort to arrive sooner. Or appreciate that she—a non-Catholic—goes out of her way to support and participate in things she doesn’t always understand or agree with.

The moment passed.

Later that night, I had to run a pair of our son’s pants to her house. We do little favors like this all the time.

The anger and frustration from earlier was gone.

Despite her annoyance, she had sent me a video in the afternoon of our son riding his bike like a big boy. I appreciated it.

Despite my annoyance, it was my pleasure to bring clothes to her that he needed for school. She appreciated it.

Gratitude.

It’s the baseline emotion necessary to achieve happiness.

And just maybe, while you’re searching for answers on what to do next? On how to get through to him? On how to get her to respect you or sleep with you? On how to save your marriage? On what else you can try?

Maybe you can start with something you learned before entering kindergarten.

Saying thank you.

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Why Marriage Counseling is a Bad Idea, Vol. 2

(Image/The New York Times)

(Image/The New York Times)

I’ve been to marriage counseling twice.

By that I mean, in two separate instances during my marriage, I agreed to see a couple’s therapist with my wife.

The first time, my son had just been born, and I was offered a job that, in theory, would solve any and all financial concerns for the rest of our lives. (Top 1% money in my 40s, and eventual company ownership.)

The catch? It would require us to move 500 miles away near my family in Illinois, and my wife, who had already left her family once when we moved to Florida after college, knew she didn’t want to leave them again.

In my estimation at the time, fixing our financial difficulties (they were serious, and we had a newborn) combined with eliminating money concerns forever, was worth the move.

I argued that I’d make enough money where my wife would never have to work again if she didn’t want to, and would be free to travel to Ohio often (I suggested one week per month as a compromise) and that the grand total of time spent with family during one non-working week every month would GREATLY outweigh the time spent with family as our lives were currently constructed.

She argued that Ohio was our home, and that she could never be happy living so far from her friends and family in another new place.

She told me she believed we would eventually get divorced if we made the move. That her family was always going to be more important than money to her. (Which I always admired somewhat.)

We discussed it patiently and at length with a couple’s counselor.

He blatantly said in each of the final two sessions with him that he agreed with my take. That solving financial problems made sense for our family since money was the top source of conflict and stress for our marriage. He agreed that “Home” can be anywhere, so long as you’re willing to make it so. He agreed that visiting family in Ohio, while somewhat unconventional, could be done with the financial resources we would have, and that, in the end, she would actually see her family for greater amounts of time that way.

She cried and I hated it and I held her hand.

She was so sad. I had made my wife—the mother of my new son—sad. I couldn’t take it.

I told her the night before our final marriage-counseling session with that first counselor that I loved her more than anything, and that there’s no way I would jeopardize our marriage and family. I turned down the job offer and agreed to stay in Ohio.

“We’ll figure something out,” I told her.

The second time we attended counseling, our marriage was a trainwreck. I’d been sleeping in the guest room for at least a year. We never touched one another. Every day was shitty and horrible. Being at work and volunteering at a local homeless shelter was infinitely less stressful than being at the house, so I worked and volunteered a lot.

My wife started seeing a marriage counselor on her own.

After a handful of sessions, she told me the counselor wanted to see me too. I really wanted to stay married and not feel shitty and horrible anymore, so I agreed.

I don’t remember exactly what the counselor’s questions were, nor do I remember exactly how my wife answered them, during our first session together. I only know that I’m a pretty nice and pragmatic guy, and I wanted to commit double homicide right then and there.

I perceived my wife’s characterizations of me and our marriage to be totally unfair, and I perceived this aloof, disengaged counselor to be 100-percent validating all of it.

It’s possible I was being overly defensive and immature in my reaction, because I am overly defensive and immature. Also, that was the worst time of my life, so negative things might have felt magnified. I don’t know.

But I do know that I felt the counselor was disinterested in whether our marriage succeeded, and that my wife was cold and unfair. True or not, it seemed to me at the time like she was looking for validation for her anger and sadness and inclination to leave more so than she was a genuine, heartfelt strategy for repairing our marriage.

Something tells me I’m not the only one to experience this.

I Think It’s Insane

If you could get couples to attend regular marriage counseling sessions from the beginning of their marriage as a routine maintenance tool and a strategy for healthy communication, I believe marriage counseling would be a very wise, useful investment, and successful activity.

But that’s not how the real world works.

In the real world, people get married young and don’t know what to expect. They think it’s going to be just like the two or three years they’ve been together so far as boyfriend and girlfriend, and that it’s going to stay that way forever.

But then one day, it’s not.

And all the sadness and resentment and anger starts to build. Because men and women have so much trouble communicating, attempts to talk about it leave both parties dissatisfied and angrier than before.

As a last resort, one convinces the other to go to couple’s therapy, so an “objective” third-party arbitrator can set the record straight.

Then two people, who not too many years ago, stood before a pastor, judge, priest or minister, and declared their undying love and commitment to one another in front of almost everyone they know, are now sitting on a sofa or chairs, talking about how the person they “love” makes them sad, miserable and angry.

Let me repeat that.

We put two people during one of the most-difficult times of their lives in a room, when they feel like their spouse isn’t there for them anymore and may actually leave them, and we ask them to say out loud in front of one another how the other person’s actions make their lives shitty.

And excuse my language, but that’s fucking insane.

The people who don’t love their spouses are never going to succeed in marriage counseling anyway.

And the people who do love their spouses just sat there and took it up the ass while the person they do EVERYTHING for just told a stranger what stupid assholes they are right in front of them, and then the counselor validated it and celebrated their “honesty.”

I think there’s probably a better way.

We’re All a Little Bit Broken and Messed Up

I’m stealing this from a comment I left in the previous post on this subject:

There are a million different reasons why we are all a little broken and messed up, and no one has the time or money to get it all figured out. But if we can all be a little bit more self-aware of our shortcomings (or at least our behaviors that tend to upset others, even if it’s only our partners who get upset), and work hardest on making ourselves the most whole, balanced, healthy, content people we can possibly be… we give ourselves an excellent chance for happiness.

Two people trying to be the best versions of themselves possible, will also try to give unselfishly to their partner and/or marriage every day. When two people give more to the other than they take for themselves, Happily Ever After happens. Both people always get what they need, and they always feel good because they’re giving a lot, too.

Jayne left a fair comment about just how hard maintaining a stable and healthy relationship truly is, even with two intellectually capable people trying their best:

“okay…but having been through divorce, as I have, and having witnessed many people aware of the danger, still fall into that black hole of complacency and taking each other for granted… Do you believe you yourself can keep a relationship “good”. As I wrote “you, yourself” I had part of my answer and that is that it’s not possible to do all by yourself. Sooo much thinking on this subject and sooo much evidence of miscommunication makes me think most of it is driven by chance. Relationships seem to start by “chance” and even with our knowledge and intellect, they can’t be formulated for success. Sometimes I do believe that relationships aren’t supposed to last forever and this is proof. When you think about it, there is a lot of proof for that,” Jayne said.

I liked my response because I think it’s the difference between couples who make it and couples who don’t:

Chance favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur famously said that in the 1800s. And I think he was right.

Sure, there’s a lot of chance and bullshit that affect our lives.

But when we aren’t lazy, when we put in the time and effort to psychologically prepare ourselves for ANYTHING (a project, a new job, a new town we’re moving to, learning a native language before visiting a country, etc.), but certainly a committed relationship, I think we give ourselves an excellent chance for success.

I have no idea whether I’ll ever marry again. And all of the preparation in the world can’t guarantee it will last forever.

But my would-be fiancée and I will spend a LOT of time talking about these things, working on them, and demonstrating self-awareness and empathy.

Anyone I end up having “the same fight” with over and over again? It’s likely going to be her stubbornness or my stubbornness that prevents us from breaking that cycle.

In either case, that will be a sure sign to NOT get married.

If I get married again, she and I will have had these high-level talks and will have, repeatedly, over many weeks, months and years, demonstrated the ability to communicate effectively and behave unselfishly even when it’s inconvenient.

Sure, I may divorce again one day.

But it won’t be because I made the mistake of going into it not properly armed with the tools and information I need to be a good husband and succeed.

Fate gets to decide whether I live or die five minutes from now.

But it doesn’t get to decide how I treat the people I love.

Let’s Stop All the Finger-Pointing

Individual marriage counseling is the act of one person exploring all the ways they can be a better husband or wife. And THAT should be the question every married person asks themselves daily: How can I be a better spouse today?

So, confession: I don’t think ALL marriage counseling is bad. I just think the way it’s most often done is.

I also stole the following from another one of my comments in the previous post:

EVERYONE commits some kind of crime in their marriage.

Therapists shouldn’t spread the blame around equally when one person got screwed over, but they also shouldn’t not ask the right question.

People sometimes say I take on too much responsibility for the end of my marriage. Right or wrong (and I think it’s wrong), it doesn’t matter.

It’s ALL about responsibility and accountability.

This is something I believe strongly (this only applies to me, not all marriages): If I behaved every day in my marriage the way I have grown to believe a person must behave in order to have a long, healthy marriage, my wife and I would still be married, and probably with a second child.

I’ve never said or typed that before. But I think it’s true.

That doesn’t mean it’s entirely my fault that we got divorced.

It just means, I had a lot of control over my own destiny (and that of my wife and son) and I squandered it through immaturity, irresponsibility and negligence.

Thus, I’m now 36 and single and only see my son half the time.

Even when our hearts are in the right place, we reap what we sow.

If you can’t find an answer to the question: What have I done that might have contributed to my spouse’s sadness and anger?, then you’re one of two things—the greatest husband or wife in the world, or a self-centered narcissist.

And in either case, couples counseling can’t and won’t save you. You’re going to have to save yourself.

And to do so, you need to start asking the right questions.

You need to start right now.

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Do People’s Feelings Matter? That Depends.

Plutchik-wheel-591x270

I once wrote that feelings are bullshit.

Except I wrote it more dramatically: “Feelings. Are. Bullshit.”

That probably seems rich coming from a guy who frequently writes emotion-based stories and whose only success as a blogger has come from a series of posts validating emotionally damaged wives’ feelings and warning husbands to ignore them at their peril.

Because of a technical glitch, an 18-month-old post titled Love is a Choice was re-posted to my Twitter feed over the weekend after making a small edit to that post and hitting the Update button.

A reader saw the tweet, read the post which included my “Feelings are bullshit” claim, and asked a challenging, but fair question: “Matt. I just read your post on ‘Love is a Choice.’ Do you still feel this way about feelings?”

Human emotion is a fascinating and complex thing.

I don’t think I need to rattle off the litany of wars, romances, terror attacks, artistic creations, revolutions, epic social or cultural changes, marriages, divorces, friendships, or nearly every single notable thing that’s ever happened, instigated by human emotion.

By day, I am a marketing professional.

As everyone in this profession or who has watched Mad Men knows, connecting with consumers emotionally is the ultimate key to getting them to take desired actions.

In most respects, emotion drives our choices and dictates how we feel at any given time.

Emotional bonds change everything.

They’re the difference between some stray animal, and a beloved pet that becomes part of the family.

They’re the difference between a random adult and child, and an adoring father and son.

They’re the difference between two strangers walking by one another on a crowded street, and those same two people sharing beds and homes and lifetimes after meeting and connecting.

“Do you still feel this way about feelings?”

What I Meant

Despite my affinity for the written word, some conversations are best had in person, because in a rapid exchange of information, clarity and understanding can win the day.

In this case, I can understand how my “Feelings. Are. Bullshit.” declaration could cause some bristling and heartburn.

I’ll try to be clearer.

Because how people feel dictates their entire human experience—literally determines whether them being alive is a positive or negative experience—considering the feelings of those around us when we say and do things is what separates the dicks from the conscientious. People who suck from people who are cool.

“But wait a minute, Matt. Are we REALLY responsible for how OTHER PEOPLE FEEL? Is it REALLY our problem or responsibility?”

I’ll be on both sides of this argument for the rest of my life, depending on the situation.

While I’m a MAJOR free speech and anti-censorship advocate, I applaud the State of South Carolina for pulling the Confederate flag from government property.

I don’t know whether this is fair or not (and fairness REALLY matters to me), but I simply give a MUCH LARGER shit about the feelings of black Americans who view that flag as a symbol of racism and oppression than I do about the feelings of southern whites who see it as an important symbol of their heritage.

To demonstrate the depths of my hypocrisy, I’m a Cleveland Indians fan, and much like Washington Redskins fans, and fans of other sports teams which use Native American names and symbols as mascots, I make the same argument as the rebel flag supporters about keeping the teams’ names and mascots as is. I find it unreasonable to suggest that because I root for my favorite baseball team, I am somehow mocking or belittling the heritage of a particular group of people, or that I’m insensitive to the atrocities they suffered centuries ago.

I imagine some people flying the Confederate flag feel exactly like that.

I don’t know.

But I do know that how people feel is at the very heart of both debates. And that there doesn’t always appear to be a clear-cut right or wrong thing to do.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea that I am RESPONSIBLE for another person’s emotions. I can write a sentence or a blog post, for example, that will yield dramatically different responses.

I recently wrote a post joking about a drunk guy inappropriately touching women at a party one night several years ago.

Some people thought it was hilarious.

Others thought it was serious subject matter, and that my tone and treatment of the story was in poor taste.

Am I responsible for those emotions? I don’t know.

This is Why Husbands Have So Much Trouble with Emotion

Emotion and human behavior is not one-size-fits-all. Everyone is different.

But I believe that men share many traits with the vast majority of men, and women share many traits with the vast majority of women. And I believe that allows us to make generally true statements about how the two genders behave.

To that end, how women feel will often be the ultimate factor in whether a marriage lasts, whether a couple is sexually active, and whether children grow up with divorced parents.

And on paper, I might agree with a guy who says that’s too much power for his wife to wield, and inherently unfair, as she accepted him as a young man, and then rejected him later when her wants and needs changed after years of marriage and raising children.

But life isn’t on paper. Not the nitty-gritty human relationships, anyway. Those are on the front lines of the human experience.

And if a husband listens to his wife’s cries for attention and pleas for help and begging for changes that will allow her to feel emotionally safe and secure, and ignores them, or tells her “Sorry! I’m not changing!” then he gets what he deserves when she inevitably leaves, and increases the odds of infidelity about 14 trillion percent.

The reason men are so cavalier about their wives’ emotions is that they literally don’t know. Most men NEVER feel as their wives do, but more importantly, the story of why their wives feel that way doesn’t register with them because it seems totally insane to a man that X caused Y. X didn’t even faze him, so it doesn’t make sense that THAT is the reason she’s hurt and crying right now.

Most men don’t realize that their wives and girlfriends are fundamentally different than them. But men DO understand emotional pain. It’s just triggered by different things. If you find a man who has experienced intense emotional pain, and you can clearly convey that this other thing made the women in their lives feel the exact same type of intense pain, THEN it will finally click in his brain.

At least, that’s what worked for me.

So, Wait. When Are Feelings Bullshit?

Glad you asked.

Feelings are bullshit when you exchange wedding vows and promise forever, and then use negative feelings about the relationship later as a reason for ending the marriage, only to go out, start a new relationship and repeat the cycle all over again. Because (with the exception of abuse, addiction, cheating, and other dysfunctional horribleness) the cycle WILL repeat all over again.

There are no such things as perfect relationships.

They say marriage is hard work BECAUSE of all the times that are hard.

Sometimes drivers next to us make us want to run them off the road.

Sometimes people who disagree with us on emotional matters make us want to punch and scream.

Sometimes we wake up in the morning and don’t feel like working out, or going to our jobs, or paying bills.

Sometimes people are MADLY in love with someone, and then hate them a week later.

Sometimes our kids make us so angry that we wish they weren’t with us. Usually, within five minutes, or just one really nice hug, we’re back to being totally smitten.

Feelings are VERY fickle things. Constantly changing. Thus, dangerous things to put in charge of everything that happens.

People do drugs and drink excessively because it feels good.

Married people fuck people they’re not supposed to because it feels good.

Parents neglect their children because they don’t feel like taking care of them.

Human emotion? Particularly in our close, personal relationships? They are one of the most important things for us to monitor and manage. Absolutely.

But sometimes?

When we have responsibilities? When we feel tempted or lazy? When we’ve made promises?

Doing what we, in our dumbest, weakest human moments, feel like doing is just about the worst idea imaginable.

“Do you still feel this way about feelings?”

I didn’t explain myself very well the first time. And maybe I didn’t this time.

But, the answer is: yes.

I do.

Sometimes what we choose to do is infinitely more important than what we feel like doing.

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Do You Want to Know the Secret, Too?

Woman whispering in man's ear --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Everyone wants to know the secret.

But it seems like no one knows it, and if they do, no one’s telling.

The question haunts me now. Because people keep asking and I never know what to say.

“What could she have done?”

I never knew enough to ask that question during my marriage. In the beginning, I was too immature and oblivious. I figured marrying my girlfriend just meant things would always stay the same, and we were both simply agreeing to stay together, forever. Like forever boyfriend and girlfriend.

When you’re young, people tell you marriage is hard. That you really have to work and communicate and forgive.

But when you’re listening to it, you politely nod your head, but think to yourself: These well-meaning people don’t know anything about us. We love each other and are totally committed. They don’t see how we are together when no one is around. They don’t know how we feel on the inside. We’ve got this.

We hear them. But we don’t hear them.

People keep asking: “What took you so long to figure it out? What more did she have to do?”

I keep telling wives that their husbands don’t know how they actually feel. That they don’t know how much it hurts or actually understand that something does. I don’t think it matters how many times you’ve told him, or how many times you wrote it in a letter. I don’t think it matters how many times you’ve cried or begged him to really HEAR and compute what you’re saying.

You think he’s listening and not caring.

But really he’s listening and trying to think of a solution to your problem he doesn’t understand before mentally moving on to something else.

HE DOESN’T KNOW.

“Is he stupid?”

No. The way he works on the inside is unique to being a man and everything you think you know about the human experience and how he sees, and thinks, and feels about the world around him is probably wrong because you’re applying your female experience to him, which is the equivalent of typing Portuguese into a French-to-English translator and wondering why nothing makes sense.

He is DIFFERENT than you. Not worse. Not better. Different.

You’ve repeatedly tried to explain to him how you feel, and to ask for changes, but nothing changes. He doesn’t hear you.

And when nothing changes, it hurts really badly because you think: I’ve begged, pleaded and cried for his love. And he won’t give it. He doesn’t care about me.

That is a logical conclusion to come to if he was female and wired on the inside to experience life similarly to you. But he’s not.

He’s different.

Men abandon their wives emotionally without realizing they’re doing so, and then their wives who feel totally rejected and unloved, slowly detach from their husbands and sometimes find another person to emotionally attach to. There are always men out there willing to compliment lonely wives and make them feel special. She felt dead inside. But this guy who paid attention to her made her feel again. Made her feel alive. And she’d forgotten what that felt like.

So she fantasizes about romance and (yes, guys—it’s true) sex—really hot sex—with this new guy.

The marriage is now at the breaking point. I think every marriage (and dating relationship, much sooner) hits this point once or twice, at least.

If the husband continues to be emotionally detached, she will leave him, sleep with the new guy, or both.

She NEEDS to feel safe. Like water and oxygen. She’s probably wrong to think the new guy’s penis can provide that safety for her, but chemically it’s the natural and obvious response to her life experience. She was so eager and happy to get married because the idea of a life of loving commitment gave her the security her heart desired.

And now she believes her husband has checked out and abandoned her. And it makes her feel fear. Debilitating, panic-inducing fear. And now she has to run from this unsafe place and find a new safe place.

Men have needs, too. Just like water and oxygen. Just like their wives’ inherent need for security.

Men have a need to feel like they are succeeding at their pursuits. They often pour a lot of themselves into work, or athletic competition, or video games, or some other hobby in which there are gains or victories to be had.

Men have a need to feel like their wives believe in them. Men crave purpose—a reason for existing. And when his wife believes in him and appreciates his successful pursuits and is proud of him for his victories, he thrives.

Men have a DEEP aversion to shame.

When a wife feels afraid, she often tries to talk to her husband in a way one of her girlfriends might understand, but he can’t. She feels like she’s talking to a wall. He feels like she’s telling him what a bad husband he is and that he’s not good enough and that she regrets marrying him. So he feels shame in a profound way, and retreats further, because he needs to feel like he’s succeeding and when he has to have “a talk” with his wife, he’s not succeeding.

He thinks she’s emotionally unstable, because he doesn’t understand what changed. His best effort to understand her while applying man-logic to the situation yields: Wow. She’s a little bit crazy. She always says I do these things that upset her, but I’m not doing anything wrong.

It’s because he literally can’t comprehend a reaction like the one his wife just had. The only logical conclusion for him is that she’s sort of nuts. How could she feel like I don’t love her?

It’s because he has yet to learn his wife isn’t like him. He wasn’t using the right translator.

It won’t be long before they’re both having affairs or fantasizing about a different life because this isn’t what I signed up for!

Divorce is a safe bet.

It’s the same story, everywhere. Every divorced or struggling couple tells a tweaked version of the same story.

And so I write.

And sad and angry wives (and sometimes, husbands) find my stories and think: Wow. This guy’s been right here. He gets it.

Yeah, I get it. I spent many nights crying like a child. It was kind of pathetic. But it’s also what happened.

My wife left. I lost half my little boy’s childhood. Those precious minutes that go too fast even when you’re sitting there staring at them, willing the clock to slow. That got cut in half.

All because neither my wife nor I knew how to speak one another’s language.

But more importantly than that, I didn’t know until too late that this dynamic even existed. That EVERY couple was experiencing this same, relationship-killing cycle.

“What could she have done differently that would have made a difference for you?” they ask me. “What could she have said or done that would have kept it from ending in divorce?”

And I want to answer. It’s a great question. But there aren’t any words.

Because I don’t know.

I don’t know whether there is an answer.

But that has to be the mission now. Finding that answer.

Because it will save marriages, families and lives. I know it.

And if you’ll help me figure it out, we’ll start changing the world together.

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