Tag Archives: Anger

The Search for Beauty in Divorce

(Image/Shutterstock)

Six short years ago, my wife was selfishly choosing her emotions over the wellbeing of our family. She was breaking her promise to love me and to honor our marriage in good times and in bad. She was failing me, and our son, and I blamed her—angrily—for quitting on me. For quitting on us.

Her leaving, resulting in an empty home, the loss of half my son’s childhood, and genuine fear of my unknown future, was the most painful and life-disrupting thing I’ve ever been through.

First, my parents divorced when I was too young to object, making my life harder than all of my friends’. A long-time source of pain and sadness, and my wife knew it.

Divorce wasn’t on the table. We’d said it a hundred times.

But there she goes. Choosing another life over ours. She was running toward something she wanted and felt good about. Her life was IMPROVING, while I was crying in the kitchen, dry heaving into the sink, and feeling certain no one would ever want to kiss me again.

It was almost like I wanted to die, and the shame and feelings of failure that brought are indescribable. I was officially NOT ME anymore. I was some pathetic, sobbing, broken imposter.

She did this to me, I thought and felt.

Not felt, like a purple bruise or a hard slap.

I felt gutted. Betrayed.

I felt rage.

I didn’t want anyone physically hurt—that’s not my way—but I wanted to burn something to the ground. I had a couple of places in mind.

When you hurt that much, you stop caring about things you previously used to. Self-preservation matters less because dying would at least solve the pain problem. When it seems like the worst thing just happened to you, it can make you feel as if nothing else can be taken from you. You’re not afraid of new pain, because nothing could hurt worse than what you’re feeling now.

The worst thing I have ever known—bringing a pain I couldn’t have survived too much longer than it lasted, and forcing me to adjust uncomfortably to an entirely new life I’d never wanted or asked for—was divorce.

Divorce—in and of itself—was the enemy, and an evil thing.

And my ex-wife—the betrayer; the quitter—was the one who forced me to endure it.

The anxiety would make me puke sometimes. Tears would stream down my face.

“That fucking bitch,” I’d choke out.

And then I’d vomit again.

The Road Back to Life

I was dead.

My heartbeat remained. I could move around and talk a little. But I’d lost several months, maybe even a year. What I was doing wasn’t living.

I had ONE ultra-focused mission: To make sure I protected myself and my son from ever experiencing a pain like that again.

My new top priority was to NEVER feel dead again. I’m not sure I could survive it twice.

Divorce hurt me as a little kid.

Divorce hurt me as an adult.

Divorce hurt me as a friend, as several of my social relationships faded away.

Divorce hurt me as a professional, as I couldn’t focus at all on anything being said in meetings, nor could I care about work projects.

Divorce hurt me as a father, as I saw my son half as much as I had before, and I no longer had any control over who he was around, how safe he was; and that I now had to wear the Scarlet Letter of divorced dad in a million life situations where I assumed everyone—friend and stranger, alike—thought I was a shitty father.

Divorce was my new enemy. And I needed to understand it. NEEDED to.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle,” Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War.”

It was an idea I’d already accepted. So I went to work on understanding divorce.

I did that right here.

I wrote stories. I wrote stories about my marriage. Little moments that stood out to me, and then I wrote about what I was thinking and feeling about them at the time, versus how I thought and felt about them today.

I read books.

I asked questions. I asked so many questions. Sometimes, just to myself while I stared at the ceiling waiting for the pain to stop.

And I just kept writing as I discovered new ideas. I was uncovering so much about myself, about people, about love and relationships and marriage, and it was empowering to find that new knowledge.

If I UNDERSTAND what happened to me, then I don’t need to be afraid of it happening again, I thought.

I became addicted.

I needed answers.

It was the only way to save myself.

How I Saved Myself

I used to creepily stare at myself in the bathroom mirror for longer than I imagine most sane people do. Like a cliché movie scene you don’t want to watch.

I didn’t recognize myself, because I felt like an entirely different person, and I think that made me see an entirely different person.

I actively sought UNCOMFORTABLE ideas—things I didn’t necessarily want to hear; things that opposed ideas I’d accepted as gospel truth my entire life; things I didn’t WANT to be true—because I’d spent my entire life swimming exclusively in comfort and familiarity, and all that had done was deliver the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

I had to try something else.

Why did my wife choose to end our marriage and leave? Is she evil? Crazy? Out to get me?

Is she stupid? Is she a con artist? Is she a monster?

Is she a bad mother?

Is she a bad person?

All that mattered was the truth because the truth is what I needed to understand to protect my future self from divorce, or from hurting like this ever again. I wasn’t afraid of any answers as long as they were true.

My wife wasn’t evil.

She wasn’t crazy.

She wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me. There was no credible evidence of any of those things.

She wasn’t stupid, nor a con artist, nor a monster.

We still interacted all of the time, because our son was going back and forth between us every two or three days. We HAD to cooperate so that he always had school clothes, and lunch money, and whatever he needed to feel safe and loved.

Not only was she NOT trying to make any of that extra-hard on me, she—just as she had in our marriage—took on the responsibility of leading the way in knowing what he needed, and taking steps to make sure he had whatever that was. Doctor appointments. Meetings at school. Clothes. Supplies. Birthday and Christmas presents.

She did everything possible to include me in anything meaningful going on with our son.

She was the furthest thing from being a bad mother.

I met her when I was 18—a freshman in college. I’d known her for 16 years—more than half of my life that I could actually remember. My son’s mother was NOT a bad person.

So how could this be? How could this happen?

I’d just stare into that bathroom mirror. Until I finally recognized my true enemy.

It wasn’t my ex-wife.

It wasn’t divorce.

It wasn’t God, or the Universe, or Life.

It was me.

The worst thing that had ever happened to me didn’t happen to me because my wife quit on me and tried to hurt me. My son wasn’t gone and growing up a child of divorce because of my wife’s selfishness.

The worst thing that had ever happened to me happened because of me.

Because my wife HURT—just as I was hurting right then—for years and years. And not only was I the source of that pain, but instead of listening to her and trying to help her NOT HURT anymore, I used pretty much every opportunity she took to try to talk to me about our marriage as some kind of personal affront, and accused her of always finding new things to complain about.

I was the source of her pain. Thus, I was the only one who could stop the hurt, and help her heal. As her husband, I must have seemed to her like a reasonable person to seek help from RE: the biggest source of pain and fear that SHE had ever known—again, just as I was feeling right then.

She came to me for help, and I told her that her concerns were a figment of her imagination.

She asked me to help her stop hurting, and I told her that the things she was telling me were painful were NOT things that actually hurt people, so something must be wrong with her. I told her to get help. I told her to stop blaming me for her own weaknesses and poorly thought-out arguments.

Without even trying to be an asshole, I transformed all of the pain and relationship-killing behaviors I caused into something my wife was responsible for.

I BELIEVED the story I had told myself about her selfishness and mismanaged emotions.

I BELIEVED I was the good guy. The victim.

I BELIEVED divorce was evil and a plague on society.

I BELIEVED women everywhere were growing dissatisfied in their relationships for superficial reasons, and then abandoning their husbands and breaking families because life didn’t deliver them the Cinderella fairytale ending they’d hoped for.

It felt true. All of it. Because from the inside of my life, that’s how I experienced it.

But what really happened?

She persevered through 12 years of the person who had promised to love, serve, honor and protect her for the rest of her life, ignoring most requests for help.

She remained hopeful that she’d eventually find the right words to break through. The ones that would help me see what she already knew to be true. The ones that would effectively communicate how much she hurt on the inside—how afraid she was—just as I felt right then, staring into the bathroom mirror taking stock of all that I’d done.

I believed a story about myself that wasn’t true. That—because I tried to be a good person who loved others and didn’t hurt people—I was by default a good husband.

I believed a story about my wife that wasn’t true. That—because years and years and years and years of pain piled up in moments big and small where the ONE person she had let into her life to be with forever, and had trusted to love her deeply, turned his back on her, or ran away any time she talked about feeling sad or hurt or unhappy. She didn’t QUIT. She reluctantly submitted after THOUSANDS of moments where her partner demonstrated both a lack of competence and/or desire to help protect her from the kind of pain that turns you into an entirely different person.

The kind of person you no longer recognize in the mirror.

I believed a story about divorce that wasn’t true. That—because I felt so hurt by it and saw so many other people hurt by it—it was evil.

Divorce isn’t evil. It’s just bad. Like cancer.

Divorce isn’t a plague. Broken people accidentally hurting each other in their most important relationships is. THAT’s the plague.

Divorce—as ugly as it feels to me, and as uncomfortable as it makes me philosophically after a lifetime of believing Marriage is Forever—is a tool for people who are otherwise out of options.

It’s a lifeline.

An emergency escape hatch.

It’s inconvenient. Because the thing I want most in the world is to help people avoid accidentally harming their relationships, which I believe will lead to fewer divorces and more forever-marriages.

It’s inconvenient. Because divorce has caused me more pain than anything else I’ve ever known.

And as I’ve railed against divorce, and lifted up marriage as virtuous and sacred, I’ve accidentally piled on even more.

Because divorce is bad, but some things are worse.

What causes more pain than divorce?

I never recognized it because it was never happening to me.

But just maybe, the trappings of a faux-happy marriage—the kind that look good to everyone else, but are silently killing one or both members of it—wreaks more havoc. Maybe that causes even more damage, and more pain.

Everyone and everything is a little bit damaged.

Perfection isn’t part of the human experience.

But when we know we are a little bit damaged and love ourselves anyway; and when we acknowledge our imperfections, but still courageously step up to light up the darkness—I think that’s about as close as we get to perfect.

In the uncomfortable, gritty, raw, unfiltered muck of real life, both the beauty and the pain often keeps out of sight.

I was lost.

And I found my way back by learning how to find both the beauty and the pain that isn’t obvious to anyone not looking for it.

You must find the pain. If you don’t see it, you’ll feed it, and accidentally hurt the people you love—and yourself.

I see you, people suffering silently. You’re brave and amazing.

And you must find the beauty. Covered up by all the rage and fear and anxiety and vomit and tears.

If you don’t see it, you’ll lose hope.

I see you, people committed to being a force for good when it seems like you’re constantly being shit on for doing so. You inspire me to carry on. You fuel me to give more. Thank you.

The most beautiful things are those that persist despite all of the horrors happening around them and all of the ugliness trying to cover them up.

The most beautiful things ARE NOT those things unmarred by nicks and scratches.

The most beautiful things are those that radiate so much good, that whatever imperfections inevitably exist, we never even notice.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How I Avoided Bitterness After Divorce

resilience

(Image/coachfederation.org)

Lilly asked: My main question is how did you keep yourself from becoming bitter toward life and women? Not all men (or people) seem to recover from the line in the sand their spouse may have drawn due to the belief there is “evidence there’s a better way.” My spouse is now stuck in bitterness toward me and women in general (because of my audacity to expose that we were doing it wrong). All in all, he would have preferred to have kept his head in the sand it seems. Just wondering from a man’s perspective what keeps some in the game and others eager to jump into a world of solitude and hate after being hurt.

The Disclaimer

That’s an interesting question. Learning about empathy and what that actually means is probably the most important thing I’ve learned post-divorce.

I still have a long way to go, but have made strides.

Because of this newfound ability, I understand and respect that every other guy is not me.

With the exception of severe mental illness and non-sobriety, I believe that when a person shares an honest story about WHY they believe, think and feel the things that they do, a reasonably honest and empathetic person should be able to connect those dots and understand how the other person arrived at those life conclusions.

It might sound like a copout, but I don’t mean for it to. I WANT every guy to agree with me all the time and do what I think is best because I think marriage and relationships, as a whole, would improve overnight. (Which might not be true. I’m just guessing, and I’m wrong sometimes.)

But that won’t happen. I know that it won’t. I know that only a certain percentage of men will ever share enough commonalities with me in terms of life experience, education, emotional makeup, personality type, etc. to draw the same conclusions I have.

I mostly write for them. Those faceless unknowns who I know exist because they sometimes reach out and say, “Hey, we’re kind of the same!”

That was my wordy disclaimer before answering the question, which I hope made clear “This only applies to me, and the vast majority of other people aren’t anything like me, so maybe it doesn’t matter that much.”

Lilly asked: “… how did you keep yourself from becoming bitter toward life and women?”

I faked it at first.

I WAS bitter toward life. Not women, I don’t think. But I was poisoned by cynicism and was wallowing in Woe-is-Me-ism for a bit. It was pathetic.

The early days were dark ones. I didn’t want to die, but for the first and only time ever, I didn’t care whether I did. Everything hurt — head and body — every second of every day with lousy sleep and disturbing dreams for several weeks and months.

It was unsustainable, and I can’t be sure of what or where I’d be had those feelings persisted.

They did not.

Some percentage of healing came simply from the passage of time. I think most people heal if they just keep breathing and stay alive. Like any wound, there might be scar tissue, but the body mends. And life goes on.

Some other percentage of the healing came because of the self-improvement work I was doing.

In my previous 33 years pre-divorce, I’d NEVER set out on any sort of meaningful self-improvement journey. I don’t know why. Maybe everything felt good enough.

But now I was on a self-improvement journey. It felt like I’d spent a lifetime blind and finally could see.

I identified several self-sabotaging things I regularly thought about, felt and did. Then I worked to do better.

I started reading more with an emphasis on books I believed would make me a smarter, healthier, and more-capable person.

It was intoxicating at first.

Not many people read things I wrote then, but it still served as a mechanism to share ideas. Combined with my first-person divorce stories, people found relatable examples of how the common marriage breaks down. Because that’s what my marriage and divorce turned out to be. Typical. Average. Something that happens all the time.

For shame.

I’m motivated to help others avoid the same fate. Sharing those stories was truly therapeutic.

Who I am today isn’t entirely about my life choices.

I had really excellent parents who loved me (still do) and whose selfless intentions to make my life the best it can be have NEVER been in question.

I have really excellent, loving, predominantly functional extended family members. They are very good, loving people who made me feel special and cared for throughout childhood and into adulthood.

I have awesome friends. I don’t often see or talk to most of them because they’re scattered all over the damn place, but I love and miss them, and when we get together, it’s always fantastic.

I grew up in a nice, safe town with nice people. I currently live in a reasonably nice, safe town with nice people.

Throughout my life, there was a reasonable expectation that, when I woke up in the morning, today would be a good day.

I spent my entire life taking THAT for granted. How much would the wealthy pay for that luxury? To wake up optimistic every day because the vast majority of their human experience was positive?

That was my life. I didn’t have money and things and impressive life experiences.

But I had THAT.

It’s a priceless and incalculably valuable gift I was given. I did not earn it.

But because I was young and couldn’t know what I didn’t know, I didn’t actively appreciate the charmed state of being.

And then, BOOM. Marriage falls apart. Woman I love leaves. Son I love more than life itself goes away half the time at EXACTLY the same age I was when my mom and dad divorced when I was 4.

The psychological and emotional fallout is impossible to describe, though I’ve tried. Only the people who lived through something similar get it. Sadly, that’s a large amount of people.

My default state of being for most of my life was one of hope and optimism, and I can’t be sure what percentage of that mindset is rooted in upbringing, and what percentage is from me making the choice. That hope and optimism was always rewarded because things tended to work out for me, even when there were hiccups along the way.

Today, I recognize how fortunate I was to have that, and that many other people have had to overcome much more than I because of those unearned advantages. 

Bitter toward life?

This is going to sound silly, but it’s basically mathematically impossible for us to be alive.

The mathematical odds of the Earth’s relation to the sun and the millions of years of life formation on this planet, and then all of the things that can kill our fragile bodies, including birth, where the doctors at an Iowa hospital told my parents I probably wasn’t going to make it around 5 a.m. one morning in 1979.

But then I did.

And everyone else did, too. It’s, like, pretty much impossible that we’re here and alive and conscious and able to have this conversation.

The odds of you and I being alive are the same as two million different people rolling a TRILLION-sided dice and all rolling the exact same number.

The odds of us being here are pretty much zero.

Yet, here we are.

It’s a damn miracle, Lilly.

Bitter?

Life is a song.

And laughing is always better than crying. And love is always better than hate. And forgiveness is always better than guilt/anger/resentment. And redemption is always better than shame.

When I wake up in the morning, there’s a chance I’ll have a blah, crappy day. There’s always that chance.

But on the other hand? There’s always the chance it’s going to be the day that the greatest thing that ever happens to me, happens. It might be the best day of my life.

Even if it’s not, maybe I’ll have an amazing father-son moment. Share a really kick-ass kiss. Laugh until my cheeks hurt. Learn a new life secret that makes everything better. Make some sort of important personal connection. Or maybe even write something here that resonates with human beings around the world, who then write me nice things to say so.

Among all of that is the perfect combination of “stuff” that makes me me, and not a guy who gets hopelessly bitter and angry.

Being bitter and angry is horrible and feels bad.

Being content and grateful is amazing and feels good.

To me, there’s no choice at all.

We can live in the darkness, or try our best to light it up.

And I choose the latter.

When we decide to make today better than yesterday, and tomorrow better than today, I believe that’s exactly what happens.

I love life and people because I choose to. I choose hope because it’s so much better than the alternative.

And that’s why I’m not bitter, and God-willing, never will be.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

How to Avoid Spit in Your Food and Get Your Spouse to Work on Your Marriage

Always Be Kinder Than You Feel

(Image/notonthehighstreet.com)

I lose control sometimes.

I don’t know whether I’m in the minority, or whether most other people lose it, too. I don’t go off the deep end into full-fledged insanity. I can prove it by showing you all of the non-murder and non-arson I committed following my separation and divorce.

I do feel emotional swings that probably register on the upper-end of the Emoswingomometer I just invented, but I have no way of knowing how other people experience their feelings.

Sometimes I yell at my son. He’s 7 and my favorite thing on Earth. And, even though I know raising my voice doesn’t help him learn lessons, and almost certainly contributes to unhealthy emotional responses, I still do it when I’m super-stressed and he does something that’s really, just, seven. There tends to be something really messy or broken to clean up afterward.

I say and think this a lot: Will this matter in five years? No? Then how much does it REALLY matter now? It’s a way for me to deal with anxiety or simply to keep life in perspective because everyone has their own hourglass, and their story ends when that last bit of sand falls from the Life bulb to the Death bulb, and we tend to not know when that will happen. We always assume it’s some future day so far away that it doesn’t matter, so we just live life taking it for granted. Even the most grateful person in the world probably takes being alive for granted—what?—98-ish percent of every day?

And that’s good. We shouldn’t be obsessed with death and freaking out all the time. But I do believe in being mindful of the perfect amount of death.

One of my favorite writers reads New York Times obituaries every morning in order to be mindful of the opportunity he has been given to be alive. He does it to maintain gratitude and as motivation to not squander it. Another of my favorite writers sometimes walks around imagining that everyone he sees is going to die soon as a reminder to treat them with kindness.

Morbid? A little. Foolish? No way.

What if we treated everyone we encounter as if they were going to die tomorrow?

But I Forget

I forget every day to do all of the things I’m supposed to. It’s either because I haven’t formed good habits, or because it’s impossible.

Sometimes I say really mean things to the driver of the car in front of me because they’re driving the speed limit. They’re literally doing ZERO WRONG THINGS and I call them some creative combination of the worst words I know because I’m in a hurry for something that probably doesn’t matter.

Will this matter in five years? Will this matter next week? Will this matter in an hour?

I need to get a grip. But it’s hard. I know it’s hard for other people, too. Sometimes people lose their shit and murder their entire family, and then shoot themselves, which seems like an extreme reaction to every possible thing imaginable.

I’m not going to beat myself up about it. The smartest psychologists in the world can’t agree on what REALLY happens to our biochemistry regarding emotional reactivity.

Sometimes, I even self-sabotage a little bit, like when my mom would ask me how much I’d like being grounded for a week, and I’d respond with something like: “Probably not as much as I’d like two!”

And then I’d be grounded for two weeks like an asshole who deserved it.

It feels good, though, right? To scratch that Fuck You itch once in a while?

My favorite exchange in the movie Good Will Hunting goes like this:

Will (Matt Damon’s character) is attending therapy sessions with Sean (Robin Williams’ character). Will is telling Sean about how his alcoholic foster father used to come home drunk looking to beat on his wife and kids.

Will: “He used to just put a belt, a stick, and a wrench on the kitchen table and say, ‘Choose.’”

Sean: “Well, I gotta go with the belt there.”

Will: “I used to go with the wrench.”

Sean: “Why?”

Will: “Because fuck him. That’s why.”

Whether we’re mad at a co-worker, our children, a business we believe screwed us, or our romantic partners—I think once in a while, all of us choose the wrench.

The Thing About Being Nice

Sometimes, I’m an asshole.

But. And this isn’t fair for me to say because I can’t substantiate it, but I really do believe it: I’m mostly—like, very mostly—NOT an asshole.

I care about things. I care about people. It seems like many people go through life completely unconcerned with how their actions affect others. You see it every day. Maybe you’re even the person accidentally doing it. I am sometimes.

I wanted to tell you about choosing the wrench and about me sometimes being a dick because, A. It’s true, but also B. I was hoping it would allow me a little leeway to also talk about me being nice without you thinking I was a totally hypocritical, holier-than-thou douchebag.

I think being nice is important. I think not being nice causes a high percentage of life’s problems, and exacerbates them close to 100-percent of the time.

Words Matter. Choose Wisely

Actions speak louder than words. What we do matters more than what we say. Kindness lives in our deeds, not our platitudes.

It’s why someone can punch his friend in the arm yelling: “You are the biggest dickhead I know!” and it’s fun and hilarious because of context, facial expression, and tone of voice; but the EXACT same thing can happen with it being the opposite of fun and hilarious.

But words matter, too. What we say, and HOW we say it.

Every conversation is a transaction. What do you want to accomplish?

When the restaurant server or kitchen messes up your order, what is it that you really want to happen next?

The waiter or waitress almost certainly didn’t intentionally bring you the wrong food. A member of the kitchen staff almost certainly didn’t read the order ticket and think: “I know!  Let’s give this person the wrong meal, so that maybe they’ll get mad, want free stuff, yell at us, complain about us on Facebook, and force us to throw food away.”

If the restaurant is conspiring against you, you should stop eating there and choose a different dining location. I think it makes sense to get mad at the front-of-the-house workers or kitchen staff if you can prove they brought you the wrong thing on purpose.

But restaurants only conspire against you when you’re an unreasonable prick.

So, they brought you the wrong thing and now you have choices:

  1. Try to get the meal you ordered and actually want by being nice.
  2. Try to get the meal you ordered and actually want by being shitty.
  3. Verbally abuse the server or restaurant manager because someone made an honest mistake, and you don’t care what happens with your food.

This is just one guy’s opinion, but if you verbally abuse people for one mistake when it’s illogical to believe they were trying hurt you, you’re a huge asshole. You are my least-favorite kind of person. You spend your life purposefully causing conflict and stress and making life harder and shittier for everyone around you. I try hard to figure out what motivates people to do things. It’s always helpful to understand what drives people. Sometimes when you figure it out, it makes sense, and you learn how to see things from a more balanced perspective, and then grow as a person. Sometimes people, with regularity, verbally abuse others when things don’t go their way. I understand that they have some kind of unmet psychological need to lash out. But to the rest of the world, it is merely being shitty for shittiness’ sake. It borders on inexcusable.

If you want to get the meal you ordered, but you want to be a dick about it in an effort to let them know you mean business, I submit you’re making a poor choice.

“Excuse me, waiter. I know you have the hardest job in the world and everything, but I clearly said I wanted this steak well-done. You see that? Does that look well-done to you?”

“I’m really sorry about that, sir. We’ll get that taken care of right away.”

“I’ve got an idea. Don’t be sorry. Just listen to what people are saying to you, so that maybe you can get a real adult job someday. Also, when you’re finished not screwing up my order, maybe you could bring us another round of drinks.”

That’s kind of a ridiculous example, but you get it. More often than not, people who witness it will think less of you, you’ll feel worse about yourself, and someone in the kitchen will spit in your food or “accidentally” drop it on the floor and laugh about it. And it’s a little bit hard to feel sorry for you because you were shitty.

If you want to get the meal you ordered, respect yourself, earn the respect of others, and become one of the staff’s favorite people who they want to do favors for, give free drinks to, and try hard to deliver your meal fast and spit-free, you should be nice. Smiling helps.

“Hey. I know you’re incredibly busy and have too many things to do, and I’m sorry to ask you this, but I ordered the pork shoulder, and this appears to be a fish of some kind. And, listen, I’m sure the fish is great, but I love that pork dish more than my family. Will you please help?”

“I am really sorry about, sir.”

“I promise I’m not mad at you. I understand that neither you nor the kitchen did it on purpose, and I appreciate your time and help. I probably should have told you about the pork obsession ahead of time.”

“Thank you so much for your patience and understanding. Can I bring you some drinks on the house while you wait?”

Pretty much everyone has experienced a restaurant messing up their order. We had a choice to make about how we were going to handle it.

I can’t figure out what the good reason would be to respond with unpleasant words or tones. EVEN IF you have to fake it because you’re secretly super-pissed, how does speaking and acting confrontationally improve the situation? How does it get you what you want?

This blog’s most frequently-asked-question is: “How do I get my husband to read these letters?”

Having never met any of these people, it’s really hard to answer that. I’m sure some of those guys are awesome and willing to make their wives feel secure and loved in their marriages. I’m sure there are others who are not.

In either case, how can “Ask him very nicely” not be the best answer?

“Hey Manfred. (Because all of them are obviously married to guys named Manfred.) I have a favor to ask you, but I want to explain a little bit. First of all, I love you. I love you and appreciate you for all that you do for me and for all the good things that you are.

“Secondly, I want to apologize to you. I’m sorry for anything I’ve done that might have made you feel unappreciated, or as if I was pushing you away. Because this favor I’m going to ask you might come off like I think you’re some horrible person, and like I think I’m perfect and amazing. Which of course isn’t true. I also want to apologize for not talking about this with you before. I just didn’t know how to bring it up.

“But listen, this is really important to me. This is our lives. We are not like we used to be. And I know it’s easy to shrug our shoulders and think this is just what happens to all married couples. All around us, people are falling apart because they ignore these changes. It seems like no one sees the end coming. It can’t happen to us, Manfred.

“Sometimes you hurt me. Badly. Sometimes I tell you about it, and we have a fight, and afterward I usually hurt more. But many times—and maybe you do this, too—I don’t say anything because I don’t want to fight with you, but then it just keeps hurting.

“I don’t believe you would ever intentionally hurt me. So it’s my job to help you understand what causes the pain, and up until now, I’ve failed to do that. You don’t hurt me on purpose, so some of this is on me.

“I read something that made sense to me. I don’t want to be like: ‘Hey, read this thing on the internet and then feel bad about it because you’re treating me like crap!’ I’m begging you to not take it that way. What I hope you will do is read this stuff in an attempt to understand why I sometimes get upset and you can’t figure out why. I know it’s frustrating for you when that happens.

“Please read this for me, and when you’re ready, we can talk about it, because I want to be married to you until we’re the oldest, gnarliest couple in the world.”

Again. Every conversation is a transaction. What is it that you really want to accomplish?

There’s a time for choosing the wrench.

And the other 99-plus percent of the time, there’s a time to be nice.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 11

(Image courtesy of ansnuclearcafe.org)

(Image courtesy of ansnuclearcafe.org)

When a conjoined twin dies, their attached sibling usually dies soon after.

In most cases, one can’t live without the other.

Occasionally, surgeons can separate the deceased twin from the other before the dead infects the living.

Maybe life goes on.

But things will never be the same.

When you exchange wedding vows, your soul becomes conjoined with your spouse’s. Every second after, your life is no longer just your own. A part of you is imprinted on her, and her, on you.

Your life just became infinitely more important than it used to be because now someone else’s life is in your hands.

Don’t Try to Fix Your Marriage

Before every flight, the attendant giving the safety spiel always reminds you that in the event of an emergency in which the plane’s oxygen masks deploy from the ceiling, parents flying with children are strongly encouraged to put on their own masks first before helping the child with his or hers.

It goes against our caretaker and unselfish instincts.

As a parent, we always put our children first.

As friends and family and co-workers, and in many other walks of life, we learn to put others’ needs before our own and are taught that this is virtuous and makes us good people.

We are sometimes taught that it’s selfish to do what we want or need to do for ourselves.

But the truth is, if you aren’t right, you can’t be good to anyone else.

If you don’t have your oxygen mask on and you pass out, you can’t save your child.

If you can’t be your true, authentic, best self in your marriage, then the union is already doomed.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

We’ve been collectively rolling our eyes at that bullshit break-up excuse for eons. But I think in the context of mending a broken marriage, the idea has a lot of merit.

Maybe two sad and angry people who feel trapped, disrespected and unloved, shouldn’t necessarily be trying to work cooperatively all the time.

I believe the right way to attack marriage problems starts with NOT trying to work together.

I’ve sat in front of marriage counselors with an angry spouse. When couples disagree, they spend the entire session telling the therapist what it is their partner does to make them feel sad, angry and miserable in front of the person they’re supposed to love the most.

I think it’s a piss-poor strategy.

Maybe if we took all the finger-pointing out of the equation, we’d see real results.

Not: She makes me feel like this! She does this to me and it isn’t fair!

And more this: What is it that I need to do to make my partner feel safe, and content, and loved, and happy?

And if your spouse is doing that same thing to you in reverse? And attempting to make internal and external changes on your behalf?

I think everyone who wants to make it, will.

I think we just have to choose it.

Rethinking the Problem

Politically conservative people are furious with the number of illegal immigrants flooding into the United States via the southern border. It’s because the undocumented people don’t contribute to the tax system but provide an economic burden on the health care, criminal justice and education systems.

Politically progressive people want to make the path to legal citizenship easier, and in the meantime, appreciate the fact that immigrants most often are performing jobs that help the U.S. economy that most Americans are unwilling to do themselves—namely low-paying agricultural jobs and others in the service industry. They believe innocent children should not be punished or denied access to health care and education because they believe in compassion and helping others and believe the government is in the best position to do it (whether or not that’s true).

Then there are people like me. I agree and disagree with both sides.

I agree that the financial strain on the system is unsustainable, and that our country is a business and should be treated like one. If you can’t pay for anything, you’re screwed.

But I also (mostly) love human beings and believe the value of a human life can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

What’s a political moderate to do on the subject of immigration?

Choose Option C. The road less travelled.

I think you solve the immigration problems in the United States by creating more economic opportunity for people in places like Mexico. I think if Mexico’s economy and health care and education systems improve, Mexicans will want to stay in Mexico, because there’s no place like home.

I vote we make Mexico so awesome that WE want to go there.

Problem solved.

Don’t sit around thinking about how your spouse makes your life miserable every day.

Think about how you can actively change yourself in an effort to bridge the divide between you and her.

Be selfish about making yourself the best you can be so that you’re strong enough to actually be unselfish when the situation calls for it.

Another Definition of Love

“I moved a step farther toward accepting my complete inability to change another person and my inability to change myself. Love has been called many things, but maybe one definition would be the utterly unbridgeable gap between any two humans and the attempt to bridge it anyway.” — from Stumble, by Heather King

It doesn’t start with her.

It doesn’t start with “us.”

It starts with you.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 6

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 7

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 8

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 9

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 12

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 13

…..

Like this post? Hate it? You can subscribe to this blog by scrolling annoyingly far to the bottom of this page and inserting your email address under “Follow Blog via Email.” You can also follow MBTTTR on Twitter and Facebook.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Control Issues

Control key

It felt like I died.

I was depressed. Not like “oh, I’m feeling a little emo and wish more people liked me.”

I was a version of myself I’d never known and that’s a scary place to be when you didn’t even know it was possible.

When you can’t find a way to be comfortable in your own skin, there is very little pleasantness in the human experience. If you don’t numb it with chemicals or find a way to fall asleep, every part of you just feels… bad.

Not uncomfortable. Fucking bad. Like you kind of want to chop something off you so it stops hurting or maybe die in a fiery explosion because this.is.bad.

That’s when I realized for the first time how little control I really had over my life.

I was out of control.

Life was out of control.

You have a decision to make: Stay afloat until you feel strong enough to start swimming toward where you want to be. Or drown.

The Loss of Control After Divorce

My son was gone. GONE. And there was nothing I could do about it.

Shocks your system. Like the jump into ice-cold water. It’s hard to breathe. You panic a little. Frantically looking for a way out.

Because the world isn’t big enough, I found out where he was and who he was with sometimes when he wasn’t with me.

Someone bad.

Not necessarily dangerous.

Just… bad.

And as that child’s parent, you’re now helpless. Because you no longer get to say what happens to your child 50-percent of his life. You lose control. Even the ability to influence what happens, depending on the other parent’s choices.

Sometimes, I’d get so upset that I would sob and vomit and say bad words in between the heaving.

A New Kind of Prison

Each day. Each new experience. You get a little closer to coming to terms with your new reality.

Your new prison.

Because if you’re a divorced parent, that’s what your new life is. You no longer get to make choices like everyone else, UNLESS you’re willing to abandon your child, and if you’re that kind of person, you have bigger problems to work out than a failed marriage.

When she left, all I wanted to do was run away. Run!

I had these fantasies of getting a copywriting gig in New Orleans or the Pacific Northwest or some other undetermined place to try to find the reset button. To get a fresh start. To get away from everything in my life that represented sadness and anger and my failed life.

To run away for a couple years just to prove I’ve never been free.

It’s not possible.

Until your child is AT LEAST 18, and probably longer than that, they can use all the love and support we as parents can muster during the final stages of their transition from child to adult.

Our most-important job with our children is helping them develop into someone who doesn’t need us anymore.

I couldn’t run.

I was here. Am here. Stuck. No escape.

And your first lesson: Everything’s different now. I have to let some things go.

Including the illusion of control.

Motherfucker, I’ll Be Back From the Dead Soon

The best thing that happens after you get all that crying and puking and swearing out of your system is that you start living again.

You start having new experiences and making new memories with new people.

You can’t know you’re not going to stay dead until you finally stop being dead. It’s liberating when other people can make you smile and laugh and feel good. New people in your new life, proving to you that there is one on the other side.

People who used to have a death grip on your emotions lose that grip.

Not because they let go.

But because you’re strong enough to remove it yourself.

When you’re angry and immature and yelling: “You’re not my fucking mom. No one tells me what to do!” it’s a really ineffective way to establish boundaries and demonstrate that you are in control of your own life.

That’s what I used to do and it should come as little surprise that it was a highly ineffective strategy that probably played a pretty major role in my marriage’s eventual demise or establishing healthy boundaries in other relationships.

Self-reflection and self-awareness helps you recognize all your own bullshit and start owning it. I am a hot-headed, defensive, sarcastic, impulsive, immature sonofabitch when I get really fired up about something. And it has taken me all 36 of these years to get to a place where I could finally learn how to breathe, and pray, and exercise the kind of patience necessary to avoid escalating normal conflict into war.

The Thing About Control

Attempts to control are typically a reaction to the fear of losing control. GoodTherapy.org and virtually every credible source of information on control issues all say the same thing: “The incessant need for control can be overwhelming and exhausting, wreaking havoc on relationships, careers, and overall quality of life.”

People who struggle with control issues fear being at the mercy of others, and the fear typically stems from some past traumatic event that left them feeling helpless and vulnerable.

“As a result, they may crave control in disproportionate and unhealthy ways.”

Empathy and patience is in order when you come across people with control issues. It’s not as if they want to be controlling and domineering. They might not even know they’re doing it. Demonstration of controlling behavior is usually a direct result of traumatic life experiences, a lack of trust, anxiety, fears of abandonment, damaged self-esteem, personal beliefs, perfectionism, or fear of experiencing emotional pain, writes Jeffrey Kaplan, a licensed therapist at GoodTherapy.

It’s a tough pill to swallow when you realize you can’t control what other people do.

It requires simply getting stronger. And demonstrating more courage.

Because that’s the one thing it turns out you can control: How you’re going to react to unpleasantness in this new world where everything feels upside-down.

I know how I’m going to react.

I’m going to clearly state my boundaries and intentions. I’m going to mean exactly what I say.

Because I control me.

No one else does.

Attempts to circumvent my boundaries will be met with unpleasantness.

That’s where freedom lives.

Even when you feel trapped.

You make everything new by changing on the inside.

Because it turns out you’re still alive.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Search for Answers: ‘My Husband is an Asshole’

(Image courtesy of The Guardian.)

(Image courtesy of The Guardian.)

Maybe she was a housewife home alone. Maybe she was crying.

“My husband is an asshole,” she typed into Google.

More and more often, someone like her finds one of my An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands posts. Usually Vol. 1.

They’re getting 250-300 reads a day now, which is a lot relative to most of the posts here.

People are out there broken and looking for answers—probably easy ones—but there aren’t any.

When your marriage is falling apart, there are no magic how-to manuals on the internet to save you. No YouTube videos that show you how to do it better. No Buzzfeed lists to give you pointers.

A part of you dies.

So she types: “shitty husband” into the search engine and she stumbles upon this place.

Anne read Vol. 6. She wrote me:

“This article is as if you have observed my husband since we got married. Thank you for your articles… We do not have children, but everything else is spot on. He thinks I’m the only woman like this and to ‘require less’ when I beg for some attention and help. I am not sure if I can hang on much longer… Thank you for making me believe that it ISN’T just me, that my feelings matter, and I deserve more.”

It’s funny. Things are so different now. Inside me. I was so sad and angry. And it was easy to go off on all these subjects related to marriage where I see guys doing the wrong thing and a bunch of marriages falling apart. Some guys aren’t particularly good people. (That probably applies to some women, too.) And they don’t feel any remorse for violating their marital covenants or abandoning their families.

But I’ve come to believe that most guys are good guys that do want to keep their families intact. Even the really shitty husbands. I don’t think they’re bad men. I think many times they’re good men who just happen to be bad at marriage.

I think learning how to be good at marriage is like learning how to be good at selling pharmaceuticals or smoking ribs or developing commercial real estate. I think it’s a learned skill.

I was angry at all the men who had what I wanted—what I missed. My family. And I was pissed at them for taking their wives and children for granted just like I had.

Some people need to figure things out for themselves.

Some people need to learn the hard way.

Megan wrote:

“I’ve read every single one of these letters now, and they’ve taken the wind out of my sails. It’s incredible really. This is exactly, down to the smallest detail, what I’m going through. I’m pre-divorce, but I’ve told myself I’ll give it 3 more years, until our youngest is 6. And I have some way to support myself, and maybe somehow my husband will care.”

I don’t think about this stuff nearly as much as I used to.

As time marches on, I get further and further away from being a husband. It was so shocking at first. I felt so lost. So without purpose. I was supposed to be a partner. Someone’s husband.

And then I wasn’t. It felt like overnight even though it was a long time coming. I freaked out. Panicked.

It felt hard just to be alive.

But then I got a lot better because that’s what happens if you just keep waking up every day. I was writing and writing and writing, including these posts about what I perceive to be my shortcomings in marriage, and by extension, the shortcomings of so many other men out there.

As I see it, I’m super-average. Nothing extraordinary. And because of that, I figure there must be many people out there who feel how I feel and think how think and do many of the same things I do.

That doesn’t bode well for their marriages.

Stella wrote:

“I’m sitting here crying my eyes out because everything you wrote is so true and I hope my last ditch effort of sending it to my husband of 19 years might wake him up, because no matter how many times I try to talk to him about feeling alone and unloved, he gets the stupid deer-in-the-headlights look on his face. I used to want to cry or slap it off his face, but now I don’t even try to talk to him because it’s too frustrating and I’m sick of banging my head against the wall. I wish I would have stumbled onto you years ago. Maybe it would’ve saved millions of tears and tons of arguments.”

It’s so good for me to read these comments. To be reminded that all those painful keystrokes served a purpose.

That all those ideas—all those feelings inside me—have merit and are shared by many others.

I have no idea whether I have what it takes to be a good husband. I’ve never been one before.

But I feel certain I understand the choices and behaviors that helped facilitate my divorce, and how making better choices and behaving differently in the future could prove a better way to co-exist with a partner.

It’s all still theory at this point.

But this stuff matters to people. And that matters to me.

Morgan wrote:

“I found your blog today after googling “shitty husband” (why I was googling that particular phrase probably doesn’t have to be explained). I read all the open letters during the Murray State basketball game today, which speaks volumes to how much I related to and enjoyed it. I laughed. Even shed a tear or two… it definitely had an impact on me… a positive one. So thanks for that… for your honest take on how much work this whole marriage thing is, for reminding me that I am not perfect in this, but most of all, for reassuring me that I’m not the only girl struggling with a shitty husband, and that there is hope.”

Yes, Morgan.

Hope.

Our hearts don’t have to stay broken. They mend. Like magic.

With just a little care, a little honesty, and the perfect amount of time.

And I believe strongly that hearts can heal within a troubled marriage where two hearts were always supposed to beat as one.

Things break.

But they don’t always die.

Then we give just a little bit more than we did before.

Speak to each other just a little bit smarter than we did before.

Forgive just a little bit more than we did before.

Hug just a little bit longer than we did before.

Love just a little bit harder than we did before.

All these people. Desperate for answers. Trying to save that which matters most.

“Husband is a first-rate piece of shit,” someone typed.

You’re not the only one.

Broken people. Shitty husbands.

But we don’t have to be.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Don’t Invite Me to Your Divorce Party

happy divorce

Because a bunch of people have been encouraging me to write for Huff Post Divorce, I’ve been spending more time reading it.

There are thoughtful pieces I like and agree with, such as “An Open Letter to My Ex-Husband’s New Girlfriend.”

There are thoughtful pieces I hate and disagree with, such as “Here’s Why My Affair Will Turn Into A Healthy, Long-Term Relationship.”

There are very practical Things You Should Know pieces. About legality. About emotional turmoil. About child-custody issues. About moving on.

But there is one type of story that’s prevalent and bothering me.

The Fuck-Yeah-I’m-Divorced-Let’s-Party story.

My ex-wife was in a relationship after our separation. Never met the guy. And that’s more than okay.

When something bad happens to you—something really bad—it cuts you on the inside in ways you didn’t know was possible. It’s shocking.

You’re reeling from the horrible thing that happened. And all the sudden your body and mind are experiencing things you were totally unaware were even possible, making healing seem impossible.

Almost like losing grip on reality. And maybe that’s exactly what happens.

I spent countless hours and nights alone on the couch or in bed. I’d watch TV sometimes, but it was so hard to focus on anything that I would often have to rewind whatever I was watching over and over again because I’d get lost in thought and not pay attention.

I was almost obsessed with them. Another man with my wife. And I spent unhealthy amounts of time picturing them together. At the dinner table. Maybe curled up on the couch together. Maybe driving around in cars. Maybe on vacation to places I could never afford to take her. And, of course, in bed.

In about 35 years, I had never felt anything more excruciating.

You can’t feel more rejected than that.

You can’t feel smaller than that.

You can’t feel more humiliated than that.

You don’t just lose your partner. You lose all your memories of your partner because she ceases to be the person you know, because the person you know would not be doing this right now.

And then you lose yourself. And you can’t recognize yourself in the mirror because you’ve never felt or behaved like this before.

It’s all very scary.

My marriage broke. Much of it was my fault. But that didn’t stop the hurt.

My parents divorced when I was 4, and you might think that life experience would help prepare you for the realities of divorce in your own marriage.

It didn’t.

Divorce was the most brutal thing I have ever experienced. I know some people have experienced more-challenging things and that I’m blessed to have not.

But make no mistake: Divorce (if the love was real) is very hard. Worse, I believe, than most people give it credit for. It’s the second-most-stressful thing that ever happens to you, according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Marital separation is No. 3 on the list. It is only behind the death of your spouse, and ranked ahead of things like going to prison and the death of a close family member or friend. When it happened to me, I freaked.

What that means is, when I see your Fuck-Yeah-I’m-Divorced-Let’s Party stories it makes my skin crawl.

It means I want to punch you in your face, even though I would never, and even though you might not deserve it. (Everyone’s divorce story is different.)

On behalf of the institution of marriage—an important union designed to bring enormous stability to our world—I’m insulted.

On behalf of every scorned spouse who has fallen asleep alone in the dark sobbing and thinking about the person they loved being with that other person—I’m offended.

On behalf of every child that cries and suffers financially and socially and academically and spiritually because his or her mommy and daddy don’t love each other anymore…

I wanted to write it. And almost did. It’s perhaps the most unkind two-word phrase we have in the English language.

But I don’t really mean it.

Because there are some marital horror stories out there. And the women and men who feel liberation, who feel peace, who now have an opportunity to pursue real love in a post-divorce world DESERVE to feel good.

And it makes sense that people with those stories would want to use them to empower other divorced people and encourage them to find peace and contentment in this new life.

But I want so badly to live in a world where love and families are viewed with more reverence than our throwaway-marriage culture calls for.

Where we empathize with people in pain, and the blameless children caught in the middle.

Where divorce is frowned upon and strenuously avoided.

Fuck Yeah, We’re Divorced, Let’s Party?

Have a good time.

I won’t be there.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Secret to Life and Marriage

Guy-telling-a-secret

No. Not again.

It’s a dull, pulsing pain that starts in my stomach and runs to the bottom of the back of my head between my ears.

Unregulated, the headache starts. Very acute, sharp pain around the crown.

Almost every muscle feels engaged. Tense.

Everything hurts.

I can’t find my smile.

My face, stuck in place, just, hurts.

It’s stress. A physiological reaction to anger and perhaps my least-favorite way to feel.

Don’t forget to breathe. In, then out. And again.

If you had EVERYTHING in the world you ever wanted, but felt this way on the inside? How long could a person make it? Not long for me.

It’s poisonous. Anger. And we feel it a lot. We make others feel it.

My marriage ended because of anger. My entire life circumstances—my entire reality—dictated by the net results of angry people doing angry things.

People are Dicks

We are. Perhaps me more than others. But—and this is VERY important to me and I’ll defend myself and others with it until my last breath—I try.

In a candid moment. When no one’s watching. When it’s just me inside my head left to make whatever choice I want: I choose kindness. I intend to be good to others, even when it’s hard.

I don’t know if that makes me a good person. But I hope it makes me close.

When I’m angry, only two things work to make it go away: love and laughter. Staples of a life brimming with kindness. A life worth chasing.

I want to know what motivates people to intentionally choose unkindness and I want to know why, even though it has been documented ZERO times in human history to benefit anyone, people choose abrasiveness in their human relationships at home or at work or in some other facet of their lives.

My favorite writer James Altucher has written repeatedly about how he has cut out of his life every person who makes him feel bad on a regular basis. How peace and contentment are so hard to achieve when constantly dealing with emotional vampires.

If people don’t pass the Vampire Test? Stake their asses and walk away.

But What if You Can’t!?

It’s a fair and difficult question. Because there are many examples in life of people being tied too closely together to simply cut the cord and walk away.

In my search for answers, I kept coming back to marriage.

Why do people have so much trouble loving the people they forsook all others to love forever?

I found something beautiful and important and insightful when I stumbled on a great piece in The Atlantic called “Masters of Love” published about six months ago.

You should read it in its entirety because it’s better than this blog post. But I’d like to explore the highlights, and hopefully by doing so they’ll become more ingrained within me. And maybe moving forward it can help me be a more patient, wiser, better human being.

According to Ty Tashiro, author of The Science of Happily Ever After, only three out of 10 marriages remain happy and healthy.

You read that right: 70% of marriages either break or turn miserable and dysfunctional. Think we might have a problem with kindness and anger?

Psychologists John and Julie Gottman run the New York-based Gottman Institute—an organization dedicated to helping couples achieve loving, healthy marriages through science. They did some homework on this kindness thing.

From The Atlantic story:

John Gottman began gathering his most critical findings in 1986, when he set up “The Love Lab” with his colleague Robert Levenson at the University of Washington. Gottman and Levenson brought newlyweds into the lab and watched them interact with each other. With a team of researchers, they hooked the couples up to electrodes and asked the couples to speak about their relationship, like how they met, a major conflict they were facing together, and a positive memory they had. As they spoke, the electrodes measured the subjects’ blood flow, heart rates, and how much they sweat they produced. Then the researchers sent the couples home and followed up with them six years later to see if they were still together.

From the data they gathered, Gottman separated the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages. When the researchers analyzed the data they gathered on the couples, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters. The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story. Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time.

But what does physiology have to do with anything? The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal—of being in fight-or-flight mode—in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other.

The masters, of course, were physiologically calm and steady.

Giving a Shit Matters

Gottman wanted to know how the masters had achieved the emotional state of being that allowed the relationship to thrive even during difficult times, so he conducted another experiment.

He designed a lab to look like a beautiful bed and breakfast retreat. There, he observed 130 newlywed couples doing what couples do on vacation—cooking, eating, chatting, hanging out, playing games, etc.

Then Gottman discovered something I’ve never heard anyone talk about before as a predictor of marital success, but it makes perfect sense.

From The Atlantic:

Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.

People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.

According to The Atlantic, Gottman can predict with 94 percent certainty whether couples—gay or straight, rich or poor, with kids or without—will be together and happy, together and miserable, or broken up several years later.

Was my divorce a foregone conclusion?

That’s a hard idea to stomach.

Contempt is the number-one factor that tears couples apart, the researchers said.

People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman told The Atlantic, “which is this: they are scanning social environments for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

“Being mean is the death knell of relationships,” The Atlantic’s writer Emily Esfahani Smith wrote. “Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together. Research independent from [the Gottman’s] has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.”

It’s hard to be kind when you’re pissed.

But it’s also when it’s most important.

To walk the walk under the most trying of circumstances. That’s what separates the strong from the weak.

INTENTION is a very important concept. One that should be used to fairly evaluate every situation and person involved.

I’ve believed it forever.

It made me feel good to see these renowned researchers agree:

“One way to practice kindness is by being generous about your partner’s intentions. From the research of the Gottmans, we know that disasters see negativity in their relationship even when it is not there. An angry wife may assume, for example, that when her husband left the toilet seat up, he was deliberately trying to annoy her. But he may have just absent-mindedly forgotten to put the seat down.”

Psychologist Ty Tashiro offers this parting advice: “Even in relationships where people are frustrated, it’s almost always the case that there are positive things going on and people trying to do the right thing,” he said. “A lot of times, a partner is trying to do the right thing even when it’s executed poorly. So appreciate the intent.”

Another breath. In, then out.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Knowledge is power.

And then I find my smile again.

Because I like knowing secrets.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 9

knight-in-shining-armor

Sometimes your wife cries in bed alone because she wants to hang out with you and you’d rather do anything else.

Don’t say you want to be with her. It’s a lie. You don’t. You like watching sports and playing video games and poker and going out with your guy friends and gambling and fishing and drinking and watching movies and TV shows more than you like hanging out with her.

Sometimes she sobs, broken and abandoned.

Because the knight on TV just saved the princess and is going to love her and protect her and make her orgasm every day, forever. Happily Ever After.

And you don’t even want to be in the same room as her. Maybe she’ll talk to you and ask you about your day. Maybe she’ll want to share details of her day.

But you don’t want to talk about it. You definitely don’t want to listen to it.

You just need some ‘Me’ time.

Why can’t she just enjoy doing the things she likes while I enjoy the things I like?

That’s the question, isn’t it?

Why can’t she think and feel like a man thinks and feels?

I mean, it’s not like she’s doing anything to make ME feel good! We used to have great sex! What happened to the blow jobs!? Just look around! I pay for all this for HER! Her hair. Her nails. Her spa treatments. Her jewelry. Her car. Her house. Our kids.

I work hard. And I only have so much time to unwind. This is how I do it. Why can’t she appreciate that? Why can’t she respect me enough to give me space?

Sometimes she panics. The kind where you’re so scared that your hair falls out a little. The kind where you’re so sad and afraid that even your kids know something is wrong.

Maybe you think she’s fat and ugly, she wonders.

Maybe you’re having an affair or wishing you were, she questions.

Maybe you’re going to leave her, she fears.

All you want her to do is treat you like she used to back when she respected and wanted you.

All she wants you to do is treat her like you used to back when you loved and wanted her.

You retreat from her because her neediness is a turnoff and makes you feel bad.

And she keeps chasing, making you want to retreat even more.

You want to be married. You want to keep your family intact. You probably even love her in your own way.

But she doesn’t feel like your best friend anymore. Because she makes you feel inadequate. So you pull away. And when you pull away, she gets even more scared. Feels even less safe.

Divorce or an affair seems inevitable.

My wife and I didn’t like the same things.

So when we fell into the rhythm of marriage and domesticated life, we were often at odds about how to spend our time.

I like watching sports.

She likes watching shows about weddings.

I like watching thrillers, science fiction and gritty dramas that don’t sugarcoat the human condition.

She likes watching romantic comedies and things that make her laugh and feel good (which isn’t dumb).

I like playing poker.

She likes skiing.

I like writing.

She likes dancing.

I always thought the fairest, simplest, most-diplomatic thing was for her and I to do what both of us wanted when we disagreed. Agree to disagree! Everybody does what they want and gets their way! Everyone’s happy!

But that’s not how it is in real life.

Because many of the things my wife wanted required contributions from me. A family activity. What a drag. A home-improvement project. The horror. A healthy sex life. Gasp!

I said what any true asshole would: “Why is it that all of the things you want require something from me? How is that fair?”

You hear it from a table of golfers having beers after a round on a Saturday afternoon.

You hear it from a defensive husband pleading his case to a therapist or marriage counselor or an empathetic buddy.

Sometimes, you simply think it when your wife or girlfriend is “inconveniencing” you with a request to spend time together.

It’s the refrain of assholes, worldwide: “What’s wrong with a little ‘Me’ time?”

The Successful, Still-Married Me

A friend sent me a link this morning.

A writer who seems to care about the same things I care about: Seth Adam Smith.

I like this guy. He reminds me of me, except he’s actually successful and relevant. And probably a much-better person.

He once wrote a post called Marriage Isn’t For You. He became famous (by writer standards) after that post received 2.2 million views in 36 hours.

I hope you’ll read it, because it’s really fantastic.

Smith was freaking out about getting married, asking himself: “Am I ready? Is Kim the right person to marry? Will she make me happy?

Smith writes:

“Then, one fateful night, I shared these thoughts and concerns with my dad.

Perhaps each of us have moments in our lives when it feels like time slows down or the air becomes still and everything around us seems to draw in, marking that moment as one we will never forget.

My dad giving his response to my concerns was such a moment for me. With a knowing smile he said, ‘Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.’

It was in that very moment that I knew that Kim was the right person to marry. I realized that I wanted to make her happy; to see her smile every day, to make her laugh every day. I wanted to be a part of her family, and my family wanted her to be a part of ours. And thinking back on all the times I had seen her play with my nieces, I knew that she was the one with whom I wanted to build our own family.

My father’s advice was both shocking and revelatory. It went against the grain of today’s ‘Walmart philosophy,’ which is if it doesn’t make you happy, you can take it back and get a new one.

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, ‘What’s in it for me?’ while Love asks, ‘What can I give?’”

If you’re single, and you don’t have anyone who needs you and you like it that way, then there’s NOTHING wrong with a little YOU time. In fact, have YOU time for the rest of your life. There are no reasons you should feel guilty about that if that’s what’s in your heart.

I think a lot of people marry just because they think that’s what you do after high school or college. It’s what we see other adults do. It’s what we see on TV. It’s what our friends do.

Most guys think: No big deal! It’s just like having a girlfriend—forever! I can do that.

But it’s not like having a girlfriend forever. Marriage is NOT simply an agreement to never have sex with anyone else again.

It’s an exercise in giving more than you take.

In spending your days helping your wife have the best life she possibly can.

Sometimes that means sitting quietly at the dinner table listening to stories that may not interest you, but if you’re doing it right, you’ll care because of how much it matters to her.

Sometimes that means watching a movie or visiting a vacation destination that isn’t your first choice.

Sometimes it means you go to bed and have lots and lots of sex instead of watching Thursday Night Football.

We’re selfish and broken and messy.

So you ask: How can you expect me to give without asking for anything in return? What’s in it for me? 

I don’t know.

But I’m a good guesser.

And I’m pretty sure you get all the stuff that the world’s richest people can’t buy, but wish they could.

Joy.

Peace.

Contentment.

Happiness.

Love.

I’m pretty sure you get to live without fear and shame. That you get to walk tall with courage and pride. That you get to go to bed and wake up feeling confident and secure.

I’m pretty sure you get to keep your family.

And that your kids will grow up knowing how to secure theirs.

What happens when you make marriage not about you, but about the people you love?

Everything.

Happily Ever After.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 6

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 7

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 8

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 11

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 12

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 13

…..

Like this post? Hate it? You can subscribe to this blog by scrolling annoyingly far to the bottom of this page and inserting your email address under “Follow Blog via Email.” You can also follow MBTTTR on Twitter and Facebook.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Writer’s Block, Vol. 2

writers-block

Muse – n. – a source of artistic inspiration.

I’m having trouble writing.

Since launching this blog in late June 2013, I have had little trouble coming up with post ideas.

This is my 271st post published since then.

My writing is fueled by negativity.

It’s sad. But it’s true.

Fear. Anger. Pain. Sadness.

Those emotions dictate the action. When I feel those things, I can’t not write.

But I’m a little less scared now.

A lot less angry.

I don’t hurt unless I stumble on a trigger.

And I can’t remember the last time I cried.

Maybe My Muse is Dead

Human beings will always feel afraid and mad and hurt and sad. I will always feel those things.

But I’m no brooding artist.

And the only way for me to feel lots of pain and sadness is for me to intentionally go there. To time travel to all those moments that destroyed my family and thrust upon me this new and foreign and unwanted and unexpected life.

But I’m not going to do that.

I’m not going to intentionally make myself feel bad just so I can punch these keys more effortlessly. I don’t want to feel bad.

The entire point of this writing exercise from the start was to exorcise some of my demons. To explore my life and my choices and to figure out how those decisions got me here.

I don’t intend to stop doing that.

But I have so much less time now.

Because I’m living again. As more than just dots on a screen. As a real person. Laughing. And hugging. And anticipating. And doing. And just… being.

Months ago, all the unusual silence in my home screamed. I was terrified. Abandoned. Alone.

It wasn’t home.

But now it is again.

There was no one specific event I can point to.

No “ah-ha! That’s it!”

Just a collection of good things trickling into my life, one laugh, one prayer, one post, one party, one date, one moment at a time.

Building up on top of one another and forming this entirely new thing.

We’re more than a year in now.

Since she left.

Since I dealt with the enormous shock of life without my son at home half the time.

Since my world changed into a frightening strange new place, stripping me of so much control that I foolishly thought I had.

And that’s maybe my key takeaway so far from my personal year in review.

The Healing

The trick is simply to stay alive.

Just stay alive.

And then you wake up one day and things aren’t looking so ominous.

Hope?

And then more time goes by and you’re laughing more and worrying less.

Is this going to last?

And then more time goes by and you’ve healed even more. And it fortifies your spirit. And inspires courage. Courage you didn’t even know you had.

I can do this.

And then even more time goes by and you rediscover yourself. You recognize pieces and parts of you, but now you have so much more strength and wisdom and resolve. Now you have the tools to live advantageously in ways you never could before.

You wish you could go back in time and tell yourself what to do and not to do. Because now you know. And you regret the brokenness. And you regret the time lost. And you wish things could be different.

But they’re not different.

They just are whatever they are.

And because it’s less scary and because you’re more courageous it all feels okay—all those differences. It doesn’t feel good, necessarily. But it doesn’t feel bad.

And in a world where relativism and expectations affect us, that’s a whole lot better than dead.

Both literally dead, like all the people who don’t get to have an amazing day today like you and I do.

And figuratively dead. Like I was just one year ago.

I was nobody. I wasn’t who I was before. And I didn’t know who I was going to be tomorrow.

Maybe I still don’t.

But that’s okay. Because I can just enjoy being alive today.

I even managed to write a post with writer’s block.

Maybe my muse isn’t dead.

Maybe my muse is life.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: