Tag Archives: Ask Me Stuff

I Didn’t Trust My Wife Long Before She Stopped Trusting Me

Trust dissolving

(Image/equippingministries.com)

I trusted my wife with everything I thought was important.

I trusted her with everything that mattered to me.

I trusted her to honor our marriage vows. I trusted her to not kill me in my sleep. I trusted her to conceive, deliver and mother my children. I trusted her to not commit major crimes. I trusted her to not clean out our bank accounts and disappear. I trusted her to behave in mature, intelligent, socially acceptable ways when we were out together. I trusted that my wife was who she said she was, and that I’d made a wise and acceptable decision to choose her as my life-long partner in marriage, parenting, money, co-habitation, and whatever else the future may deliver.

But I didn’t trust my wife with everything.

I didn’t trust her on matters I didn’t perceive to be important, such as our respective preferences for different types of food or drink or music or movies or personal hobbies or weekend activities, etc.

Cheering from the stands of a New Year’s Day college football bowl game, I was emotionally invested in the outcome, because my favorite team winning mattered to me.

My wife thought football was a little bit dumb and boring, and was infinitely more interested in what I’d call sideshow attractions, like the marching bands and cheerleaders.

Sitting among 75,000 screaming fans, with millions more watching at home on TV, and feeling those intense moments of anxiety as the clock counted down with the game in the balance, and then—MAGIC—something unexpected and glorious happens to secure unlikely victory. JOY. Total strangers embracing with happy tears streaming down our faces. VICTORY.

My wife thought it was all a little ridiculous. A bunch of adults investing themselves emotionally in something silly like football. She loved the art and showmanship of the marching bands, baton twirlers and dancers, and there was nothing anyone could say, nor anything she could witness that would change her mind or make her conclude anything other than: football is stupid and marching band stuff is awesome.

I didn’t trust my wife’s opinions when they conflicted with mine.

And in and of itself, that’s probably not particularly weird or harmful. But when combined with the following truth, I think you stamp your divorce papers long before anyone ever realizes there’s a problem.

I didn’t trust my wife’s feelings.

If my wife was upset about something—independent of my involvement—it’s fair to say I defaulted to a position of: She’s overreacting again.

I didn’t always come right out and say that. If I wasn’t defending myself against some perceived criticism, I’d exercise as much diplomacy as possible.

But she’s smart and perceptive. If I didn’t agree with her conclusions, I usually said so, and tried to offer reasons why.

No matter how valid my reasons, or how sound my logic, or how well-intentioned I was being, this little song and dance usually resulted in another marriage fight.

I thought I was right. I thought she was wrong. And I believe Right should always win out over Wrong.

And in a vacuum, I still believe that. Right should trump Wrong.

But marriages are not vacuums.

Love matters.

And loving and honoring one’s partner and working for the benefit of her or his emotional health and welfare, is INFINITELY more important than winning arguments about marching bands vs. football, or the significance of leaving a dirty dish by the sink.

StillTryingHard asked:

“From the male perspective—what is the impact of loss of trust from the wife on the male psyche? How does this impair ability to function in the relationship and does the despair it causes just result in giving up trying to regain it? Not sexual infidelity loss of trust, but honestly worded and kind explanation of why the wife feels like the parent, how repeated secrets and their discovery makes the wife wonder what the next one will be and how learning of secret emotional relationships makes the wife hate his password protected always present iPhone.
“To what extent (as a man) do ‘you’ see it as the wife’s job to fix her shit? I know your answer—but around trust and facing loss of it, what do men need to hear to make it safe to be vulnerable to their vulnerable partner?”

A Different Kind of Answer

StillTryingHard asked for my take on the polar-opposite scenario in a marriage.

She asked me to talk about what happens inside the male mind when his wife demonstrates a distrust of him.

And I hope STH will forgive me for providing what might appear to be a counter-intuitive response (we can and should talk about this more in the comments!), but the above scenario and general mindset is what I believe the actual problem to be.

No “male behavior” encompasses all men, and no “female behavior” accurately describes the actions of all women. But men and women often display tendencies that cut to the heart of the whole Battle of the Sexes/Mars-Venus conversation.

Out here in the world, the Men Are Pigs brigade can blame men for everything while the Red Pill-Swallowing Manosphere can point fingers at women, and the consequences—on a case-by-case basis—might be minor.

Maybe it’s limited to an impolite exchange of comments on the internet, or a group of men swapping stories after a Saturday morning round of golf, or a group of women doing the same at the spa. It’s not ideal, but it’s mostly contained.

In a marriage between a man and a woman? Where the break-up will fundamentally change the lives of both people, their children, their finances, their friends and family, and unknown other ripple effects?

There, the stakes are a bit higher.

I don’t know that I particularly care about the women that hate men because they’ve had a lifetime of bad experiences with them. Doesn’t it make sense for certain women to have their guards up with men after the previous five or eight or 15 that they’ve dated/loved/lived with/slept with, etc. all turned out to be negative life experiences?

And isn’t that also true for certain men? If they’ve been lied to, manipulated, or cheated on by women they believed to love them?

We can’t make people like and respect each other, unfortunately.

But, in MARRIAGE?

What could POSSIBLY be ambiguous about publicly stated vows like “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad”? Or “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life”? Or “until death do us part”?

We can be dicks to one another here on the internet or to strangers on the street with little immediate consequence.

It spreads hate. It extinguishes light. It perpetuates fear.

But we can do it, and in that moment, an individual’s life or group of family members’ lives might not be adversely affected forever.

But when we do it in our marriages, we break things inside others and ourselves that I’m not sure can ever be fixed.

I have a little boy in third grade. He’s my entire world. Almost every decision I make, big or small, begins and ends with him in mind.

Almost every hardship he faces—all of the little things that present challenges and anxieties and fears and pain in that child’s world—is a direct result of his parents’ divorce.

On occasions where that child is crying in my arms, he’s crying because of circumstances that wouldn’t exist if his mom and dad were still married.

And I’m sure there’s all kinds of blame to go around, but I KNOW why I’m divorced. I know who to blame for those tears.

My wife believed one thing.

I believed something else.

And instead of that being okay like it is when my best friends root for a different sports team or vote for a different political candidate, I didn’t trust her.

No matter how many millions of ways I DID trust her, I didn’t trust that when she told me that something was hurting her or mattered to her, that she was experiencing it accurately.

Didn’t seem like it would hurt to me.

Didn’t seem important from my perspective.

So, when she said something that didn’t align with my experiences, I didn’t trust her.

I didn’t trust her feelings.

I didn’t trust her feelings because they were different than mine.

You can get away with that with your buddies. With your co-workers. With people you want to argue with on the internet.

But when you promise to love and honor someone forever, you damn well better TRUST them when they describe their experiences to you.

Which Came First—His Distrust or Hers?

Men often display a need to be trusted and respected. Bad things tend to happen when they feel otherwise in their relationships.

But when you deny your wife or girlfriend’s right to experience human life in the way they do, calling them wrong, or stupid, or crazy?

When she can’t feel safe talking to you about things that make her feel bad?

When she can’t trust you to take care of her even in matters as seemingly small as a random conversation?

Cause. Effect.

When we love and honor our partners, we go first.

We don’t point fingers. We look in the mirror.

Trust can’t be a thing in a constant state of rebuild.

Trust must be in a perpetual state of accumulation.

Trust shouldn’t be something we react to.

Trust should be the thing we lead with.

These two articles are awesome, and helped me formulate my thoughts here:

1. Men Just Don’t Trust Women. And This is a Problem

2. 5 Stages of Distrust and How it Destroys Your Relationships

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How to Have a Good-Enough Relationship

(Image/theodesseyonline.com)

(Image/theodesseyonline.com)

“What *is* enough?” she asked.

Fair question, I thought, since I’d just written a list of things that WERE NOT enough, without offering any thoughts on what is. In Diagnosing Relationship Failure is not for the Self-Assured, I listed a litany of conditions that are great for relationship health, but which I think are things people (often men) use to “Yeah, but… !” their partners during arguments. I know how pathetic it is because it’s how I used to think.

EXAMPLE: Husband works late without communicating it to his wife, who came home for the day and spent two hours preparing a meal for their “date night” while the kids were with grandma. Husband forgot because he has a brain like mine, or he simply decided that a project on deadline was more important than making it to dinner with his wife.

Wife: “It would have been helpful if you’d told me about your busy work day BEFORE I spent two hours making all this. It really hurts that you didn’t bother letting me know you’d be late. This is so typical of the things you do that show me how you don’t respect me or this marriage.”

Husband: “Wait a damn minute. What about that new car sitting in the driveway we’re shelling out more money for precisely because I respect your job and that you needed a new one? It’s not like I was trying to ruin your night. I just forgot. I wasn’t out boozing with my friends. I was earning money so that we can live in this house and help our kids go to college!”

Wife: “You forgot because you don’t value our relationship. You only remember things that matter to you.”

Husband: “Things that matter to me?! [Insert spoken list in Asshole Voice® detailing all of the sacrifices he feels he makes on her behalf.] Talk about being ungrateful! Stop treating me like I blow all of our money on gambling like your brother, or shove you into furniture like Jim does to Lisa.”

I used to do it all the time, even if I didn’t always speak the words.

I thought because I was a nice, friendly person who didn’t have addiction issues, wasn’t physically abusive, wasn’t engaged in criminal activity, wasn’t a threat to abandon our family, was educated and employed, and contributed financially to things she cared about which I didn’t, that I was—by default—a good husband.

I thought because I wasn’t what I envisioned a bad husband to be, that I couldn’t be one. As if bad-husband behavior could ONLY be whatever I defined it to be.

Want to get divorced and/or be a life-long asshole?

Tell people you hurt that you’re NOT actually hurting them no matter what they say, or that YOUR definition of what something is or is not is the only true metric by which to measure Life Things.

You are wrong. A LOT. About many things. Life gets so much better when you stop treating those around you as if their individual life experiences are incorrect figments of their imaginations.

In the aforementioned post, I wrote:

“Being nice isn’t enough.

“Being friendly isn’t enough.

“Having good intentions isn’t enough.

“Being a reliable financial partner isn’t enough.

“Avoiding criminal activity or substance abuse isn’t enough.

“Not cheating isn’t enough.

“Being home every night isn’t enough.

“Not being verbally, sexually, or physically abusive isn’t enough.

“Avoiding pornography and/or ogling attractive people in public isn’t enough.

“Not sucking as much as that other husband or wife you know isn’t enough.

“Being a good parent isn’t enough.

“The hopes and dreams you think you share aren’t enough.

“A fatal flaw or shortcoming or too-small-to-notice crack or untightened bolt flies easily undetected when things appear to be functioning—maybe even well.

“But the truth is the truth, no matter what you want to believe.

“Believing you are a good spouse DOES NOT make you a good spouse (just as someone else telling you what you are doesn’t necessarily make it so).”

To which I was asked: “What *is* enough?”

‘Enough’ is Whatever Two People Agree To

If one person disagrees, it’s not enough.

That means it will change between any two people. That means it won’t always seem reasonable to everyone.

“Enough” is what a husband or wife agrees is enough. Nothing more, nothing less.

I’ve had three jobs since graduating college.

In my first job, I could come and go as I please, and didn’t have to tell anyone why or where I was going or anything. That was enough.

In my second and third jobs, I’m generally expected to be in the building between certain hours every day.

In my first job, I could wear whatever I wanted. I wore shorts and jeans all the time (it was in Florida), except when I had a high-level meeting to attend.

In my second job, we had casual days every Friday.

In my third job, we only have casual days once per month, with some randoms thrown in.

You will have your own personal opinion about those schedule and dress-code policies, and you are entitled to it.

If you start a company today, you can establish whatever rule makes the most sense to you. There’s no right or wrong. There’s just the way it is, and then people get to decide whether they’ll put up with it. It’s something that’s agreed upon upfront.

If I wore shorts and jeans every day, or came to and left my office without telling anyone in my current job, it wouldn’t take me very long to get fired. Maybe a couple of weeks, tops.

Even though that EXACT behavior was totally okay and part of the cultural norm in my job 15 years ago.

There is no universal Enough.

Just because your partner thinks it’s fine to snort coke and shoot whiskey in front of your school-aged kids DOES NOT mean you have to think it’s okay.

And just because your partner insists on home-schooling your future kids because he or she doesn’t want them exposed to kids saying bad words and talking about sex in junior high or middle school DOES NOT mean you have to agree that that’s the best way to raise them.

LONG, LONG, LONG before we marry, we are supposed to outline our values. We communicate them VERY clearly through our words and actions. If you don’t, there’s a good chance much of your life sucks.

Every day of our lives we have boundaries. Boundaries on what we will tolerate in terms of how we are treated, or in terms of what we are willing to be associated with, or in terms of what we are willing to subject children to.

Marrying or even seriously dating someone with conflicting values is a recipe for disaster. Always.

Marrying or even seriously dating someone who repeatedly violates your well-communicated boundaries is next-level foolish. Always.

We communicate our values.

We ENFORCE our boundaries. And, (this is really important) we walk the hell away once they are violated by someone who KNEW they were doing so.

I don’t care if that’s cheating, or speaking profanely, or leaving a dirty glass by the sink.

A boundary can be anything we determine it to be. It doesn’t matter whether it seems reasonable to the other person, but we damn sure better communicate those boundaries BEFORE exchanging “I promise to love you forever!” vows with them.

Have a boundary. Enforce it dutifully.

That process organically filters out the crap.

What’s enough? You decide. And in a marriage WE decide. Two of us—together.

With all due respect to the vast majority of humanity, discovering major value differences between you and your partner, or experiencing a blatant lack of respect for your personal boundaries AFTER marriage is a clear sign [* insert southern-twang voice*] you done effed up.

What is enough?

An honest and transparent person who communicates their wants and needs to someone they are dating, and then in love with, and then committed to; and their partner providing the same thing in return.

Simply because they love each other.

Preferably more than they love themselves.

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Do We Need Marriage?

handcuff marriage

Is this what marriage is? (Image/tlbn.org)

Julia asked: “I’m one year post-divorce and still grappling with the idea of ever marrying again. I used to feel that marriage was a necessity, but I’ve realized that I don’t really need it. You don’t need to be married to love someone for a long, long time, ya know? I used to think Marriage = Security, but I realized that isn’t true…

“Do we need marriage? Is it essential?

“I absolutely see the point you’re making, but I would love to hear more about the million reasons why we should get married.”

Life, much like writing, is filled with a bunch of nuance and subtlety.

Life, much like writing, requires we ask difficult questions and put effort into discovering answers. For example: Is there actually a meaningful difference between the words “nuance” and “subtlety”?

We talk about big things here. Big ideas. We have the conversations it often seems as if no one else is having because they’re busy screaming about Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders; or trying to decipher Beyoncé lyrics; or making summer plans for their kids before school starts again in a few months, or, just, individual life distractions that keep most of our minds off anything flirting with the philosophical or psychological.

Something important gets lost in all the noise: Meaning.

One minute, we’re literal. “I am frustrated with Fred at work because certain things he does makes doing my job more difficult for me.”

The next minute, we utter hyperbole—my communication method of choice: “Fred is killing me.”

It’s awesome that the police don’t show up to arrest people for attempted murder OR falsely reporting a crime every time we say “[So and So, or This Random Thing] is killing me,” because that would be really frustrating and burdensome for law-abiding citizens as well as police officers and the judicial system.

Put another way, we’d all lose our shit and wish we were dead.

Should We Get Married?

Probably not. If that’s a serious question a person is asking.

In the post ‘This is why you shouldn’t get married’, I wrote the following:

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

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

“Because there are a million reasons you SHOULD get married.

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

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

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

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

A couple of notes:

There might not be a million reasons you SHOULD get married. A better word choice might have been: “There are a million reasons to get married.” I was just playing off the SHOULD NOT from the previous sentence. And I’m fairly certain no human can write a million-reason list to do ANYTHING, let alone get married, when so many people have become disenchanted with marriage because of divorce, seeing their parents or friends divorce, paying attention to divorce statistics, or believing it to be an outdated religious concept unnecessary for living a fulfilling life in 2016.

MBTTTR commenter Lisa G. dropped this under The Life Blueprint, and it serendipitously hits all the points:

“I agree with this. Question models and think deeply about what you want and need and your gifts. Also consider how it will affect others. Don’t go into $100,000 in debt unless you really understand what you are doing. ;)

“The problem is we often substitute one model for another equally restrictive model instead of fixing the problem underlying the first model.

“That is what is wrong with the model described in your last post. Because so many people have crappy marriages and divorces, the new model is just not to get married. But still have children.

“That’s not a well thought out model either. It’s just reactionary in the opposite direction. Maybe ok on an individual basis but unintended consequences for large populations.”

Why Marriage Matters

“Do we need marriage? Is it essential?” Julia asked.

Let’s first be pragmatic, because there are two ways to approach this conversation.

People WILL get married. To the tune of 95 percent of the time. They’ll marry foolishly and thoughtfully. They’ll marry naively, or mentally and emotionally prepared. They’ll marry people who will lie, cheat and abuse, as well as people who will love, serve and protect.

For a million reasons (hyperbole!), wise or unwise to our individual perspectives, people will marry.

Sometimes religion and faith play a role. Many people believe marriage purifies sex after making spiritual vows, thus eliminating sin. Sometimes the Life Blueprint is a heavy influencer, independent of organized religion. When 95 out of 100 people are married, or say they plan to marry, it feels safe to assume many view marriage as one of those things everyone, just, does. You know? Because it’s The Way? Much of what we do is a result of modeling the behavior of everything we see everyone doing around us. Most people get married. So, we get married.

But, do we need it?

It’s a fair question.

The mentally tangible and observable positives of lifelong marriages are well documented.

Let’s start with the children. Kids raised in homes with their mother and father in an environment relatively close to what we all imagine standing in front of the wedding officiant during our exchange of vows, grow up to have measurably “better” lives than kids who do not. Stats are funny things. I’d prefer not to debate this.

The child who grows up with both mom and dad at home, and avoids exposure to the major red-flag dysfunctional stuff less-fortunate children sometimes witness, turns into an adult who is healthier, learns more, commits fewer crimes, makes more money, lives longer, avoids addiction, treats people well, and ends up having healthier relationships with partners and their children significantly more often than the kids who don’t grow up with an intact family.

The married partners themselves have measurably better lives, too.

They live longer, make more money, report more happiness, etc.

So, What’s the Problem?

Two things, I think.

1. I believe most people end up marrying someone they “shouldn’t.” Which is kind of a bullshit thing to say, because marriage is a very serious and personal decision that most of us should stay out of. I mean simply that most people will have crappy marriages—the half who divorce, and also all of the people who stay married, but hate it. I believe a large percentage of them will have done a poor job aligning their values with one another, enforcing important personal boundaries, and effectively communicating those values and boundaries with each other. In those specific situations, I would label them “incompatible.” Sadly.

2. Many people don’t know how to be married. Like any life situation in which we later find ourselves thinking or feeling: Whoa! I totally didn’t know what I was getting myself into!, I think most people are that way with marriage. Most other life situations are easily remedied. We change jobs, move to new places, hang out with different people—whatever. Since marriage is designed to be a forever-thing, the Whoa! realization is infinitely more inconvenient and creates much more complicated situations than every other life thing not involving children, legal contracts, shared bank accounts, shared property, shared social networks, and inter-family relationships as the difference between blood relatives and in-laws grows smaller with each family gathering.

Captain Obvious sentence-of-the-day: Marriage and divorce are very hard.

Beyond Pragmatism, Should We Marry?

You’re allowed to think marriage is a bullshit social or religious construct that doesn’t matter.

If you believe that, there’s a better-than-average chance you’re totally not reading this right now, or you’re still tasting the bitter pill of a divorce you didn’t want when you agreed to marry years ago.

If you believe that you got married in good faith, loved and honored your spouse in good times and in bad and then put effort into staying married after noticing cracks forming in the foundation, only to end up divorced because your partner quit on you or ripped your heart out and humiliated you through a major betrayal, then marriage stops looking awesome.

I get it.

I once had a pizza delivered to my house when I lived in Florida, and there was a cricket baked into one of the pieces like a black olive. Ordering pizza from that place stopped looking awesome after that.

Only through the prism of hindsight and self-exploration have I been able to identify the many ways I was a shitty husband, and even I felt scorned and abandoned when she decided to leave.

I felt like she was breaking a promise, regardless of how hypocritical that was. I felt it. And I broke. And it was super not-fun.

And after three years of healing, and gaining a lot of empowering clarity about how my choices contributed to the end of my marriage (which helps immensely in gaining confidence that you can avoid repeating those mistakes a second time), I am still quite unsure whether I’ll ever marry.

I assume it will feel like the Universe is forcing my hand should that uncertainty go away.

But if I end up living the rest of my life single and dying alone, it won’t be because I believe marriage is somehow an inherently flawed institution that should be avoided.

It’s hard to climb mountains.

It’s hard to save a million dollars.

It’s hard to finish marathons.

It’s hard to eat healthy.

It’s hard to learn new languages.

It’s hard to volunteer to help others.

It’s hard to do many, many, many things.

I’m really comfortable suggesting that almost everything really good and wonderful in the human experience is achieved through struggle.

Easy feels good, THEN feels shitty.

Hard feels shitty, THEN feels amazing.

What’s the argument against marriage?

That a handshake agreement is the same as a contract? That a half-hearted suggestion is the same as a solemn vow said in front of everyone you cherish?

That monogamy is unnatural because primates and dogs like to have sex with several partners, and that we’re the same as them even though we have minds that can conjure these thoughts and conversations, and ingenuity that can create the internet and build rockets we can land on Mars like remote-control cars?

That it’s shitty and horrible because one time we married someone who failed us, or we know stories about other people who were mistreated? Because THAT defines the institution of marriage and somehow influences what happens to us?

Because we’re powerless victims unable to affect our life circumstances?

No.

Marriage is shitty because people innocently make poor choices in partner selection AND in their decision making while they’re married.

Not because marriage is somehow inherently shitty.

Whether marriage is the thing people do, or becomes a choice fewer people make as we move toward the future, there is no part of the inherent human desire to connect, to experience physical intimacy, to reproduce, and to give and experience love that will change.

Call it whatever you want.

Marry or don’t marry. But in the end, we must learn to love.

Marriage isn’t the problem. Humans being human are. That’s been true forever.

Does a person need marriage?

That’s not for us to say.

Does the world need marriage?

I think it might.

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It Doesn’t Jive Because We’d Just Assume Do Things the Wrong Way

Ptolemy's geocentric model of the solar system

Everything revolves around Earth. We can actually “prove” that. Right? (Image/Khan Academy)

Donkey wrote: “Matt has a post about leaving his crying wife in the hospital after giving birth/having a C-section. Lisa said her husband did something similar (he now can’t believe how he could do that, so credit to him and Matt both for having realized the extreme shittiness of that. Grrrr. Honestly, thinking about it just makes me feel some kind of immense primal rage).
“Do you have any idea as to the thought process of a shitty husband (who isn’t a Dick who gets off on abusing his wife) who makes that ok in his mind? That after 9 months (usually) of pregnancy and the woman, really, risking her life during childbirth/ C-section often suffering through a lot of pain, and then is also left alone with their newborn, it’s ok for him to go to get a good night sleep and leave his crying wife who’s begging him to stay alone?
“I can understand that some people wouldn’t be hurt by a dish by the sink and all of that (and we’ve already had the conversation about accepting influence even if you don’t understand), and I remember Matt saying it was hard for him to empathize with people’s physical discomfort that ha couldn’t relate to. I understand that men can’t really get how pregnancy/birth feels like. But still, isn’t childbirth very much accepted as a VERY Big Deal, a painful and stressful and high risk deal in our society, and that the role of the modern man is to support his wife however she needs? I would think leaving your wife alone after childbirth when she’s crying and begging you to stay would be just as obvious a faux pas as cheating (again, for me, I believe I’d rather have the father of my child cheat on me with 10 prostitutes than leave me crying alone in the hospital after having our baby).
“Matt, if you have any more explanations of your thought process you want to share, I would appreciate that too of course. I’m really just trying to understand the (faulty and frankly, like Lisa said, narcissistic) thought process, because I just don’t get it.”

I left my crying wife alone in the hospital like an asshole just hours after she delivered our son via emergency C-section.

It was a long and difficult labor for her. The doctor induced labor 26 hours and 24 minutes prior to the time of delivery, give or take a few minutes or a false memory.

The anxiety, fear, stress and physical discomfort my wife felt after nine months of pregnancy, followed by a long, painful, vulnerably exposed and at times terrifying delivery ending in emergency surgery, is something only a mother could possibly know.

I won’t pretend to.

But I can understand today in a way I did not eight years ago, what a betrayal and moment of abandonment that was for my ex-wife. She was in pain, frightened, and needed someone simply to BE PRESENT with her. To feel loved and supported. And she asked me to stay. Begged, even.

And I made a different choice.

After years of reflection and additional wisdom earned only by living longer, I can see and understand how much that moment damaged my relationship in a way I couldn’t at the time. I think it’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever done.

Not only did I not recognize that moment for what it was, when my wife would bring it up later as an instance in which I hurt her, I’d actually get mad at her for holding grudges and using the past against me. I’d treat her like she was the problem because she had anger issues she needed to work out. Like there was something wrong with her, because clearly there is nothing wrong with me!

After all, everyone else liked me and thought I was a great guy. She must be wrong since she’s the only one saying it!

I didn’t do all of those things as part of some meticulously planned and conspiratorial attempt to inflict maximum emotional damage on my newborn son’s mother—the woman I vowed to love forever—nor did I defend myself in later disagreements as part of a thoughtful strategy to make her feel shitty, push her away and ultimately destroy my marriage, leaving my little boy with divorced parents and a broken home.

What was the thought process? 

There kind of wasn’t one.

I thought my choices were, if not “best,” at least reasonable every step of the way, and at any point in which there was disagreement, I believed I was correct, and that she was incorrect.

I Make Mistakes Like Every Known Human, Ever

For 1,500 years, early astronomers used Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the solar system to create astronomical charts. “Geocentric” means Earth is the center of the universe, and everything in the night sky is orbiting around it.

Today, we know this isn’t true. Nicolaus Copernicus got suspicious and theorized we were actually the ones moving around the sun. Later, Italian genius Galileo Galilei proved it.

But for 1,500 years prior, every educated person in the world believed the sun revolved around Earth. And it wasn’t because everyone was a bunch of stupid morons. Given the mathematical parameters and limited technology of that time, you can PROVE Ptolemy’s model.

For 1,500 years, every scientist, navigator, educator and thought leader in the world knew how the sun, moon and stars would move in the sky. They could “prove” it convincingly by accurately predicting what would happen next, even though EVERYTHING about their prediction model was based on something completely untrue.

(Note: The following is NOT directed at you, Donkey. I genuinely appreciate your question, and it’s my pleasure to write more about it, because it’s important. I’m simply trying to illustrate my point further.)

You’d just assume your husband or boyfriend cheat on you with 10 prostitutes as opposed to leaving you alone at the hospital after giving birth?

No.

You’d just as soon have that happen.

That doesn’t jive with your expectations of a husband and new father?

No.

It doesn’t jibe with your expectations.

Because I’ve had some wonderful editors through the years who have taught me things, I no longer make the common mistake of saying or writing “assume” when I mean “as soon,” nor do I make the even more-common mistake of saying or writing “jive” when I really mean “jibe.”

I learned the “assume” one in my early twenties when I was the editor of a semi-large university newspaper and working as a summer intern for a daily newspaper. I learned the “jive” one in my late twenties after more than 10 years of being paid to write things.

I didn’t use the two phrases incorrectly on purpose. I remember feeling quite a bit of embarrassment when I realized how many times I must have used each phrase incorrectly up to that point, and how some of the people who heard or read that from me knew I was an ignorant dumbass.

Until I was in a very specific, focused moment in which someone with more knowledge and experience than me corrected my mistake and helped me learn from it, I never even had reason to question the legitimacy of my word usage.

I KNEW I was correct. You know? Even though I was actually incorrect?

You Are Biased and Selfish Without Realizing It

That’s the first of eight reasons Why You Can’t Trust Yourself, according to one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson.

He writes:

“There’s a thing in psychology called the Actor-Observer Bias and it basically says that we’re all assholes.

“For example, if you’re at an intersection and somebody else runs a red light, you will probably think they’re a selfish, inconsiderate scumbag putting the rest of the drivers in danger just to shave a couple seconds off their drive.

“On the other hand, if you are the one who runs the red light, you’ll come to all sorts of conclusions about how it’s an innocent mistake, how the tree was blocking your view, and how running a red light never really hurt anybody.

“Same action, but when someone else does it they’re a horrible person; when you do it, it’s an honest mistake.

“We all do this. And we especially do it in situations of conflict. When people talk about someone who pissed them off for one reason or another, they invariably describe the other person’s actions as senseless, reprehensible, and motivated by a malicious intent to inflict suffering.

“However, when people talk about times when they inflicted harm on someone else, as you might suspect, they can come up with all sorts of reasons about how their actions were reasonable and justified. The way they see it, they had no choice to do what they did. They see the harm experienced by the other person as minor and they think that being blamed for causing it is unjust and unreasonable.

“Both views can’t be right. In fact, both views are wrong. Follow-up studies by psychologists found that both perpetrators and the victims distort the facts of a situation to fit their respective narratives.

“Steven Pinker refers to this as the ‘Moralization Gap.’ It means that whenever a conflict is present, we overestimate our own good intentions and underestimate the intentions of others. This then creates a downward spiral where we believe others deserve more severe punishment and we deserve less severe punishment.

“This is all unconscious, of course. People, while doing this, think they’re being completely reasonable and objective. But they’re not.”

What if We Assumed the Best About One Another?

I don’t pose the question as any sort of defense of the behavior I now believe to have been emotionally abusive.

But the validity of the question remains: How much better might our relationships be if, when something happens and we’re missing too much information to KNOW why it happened, we tell ourselves the most generous, best-possible story to explain it rather than the most cynical, or worst-possible explanation?

One of the most famous and important scenes in the Harry Potter saga takes place near the end of the sixth (second-to-last) book. You either know the story and what I’m talking about, or you should start reading the Harry Potter books right now. Yes, adults. Even you.

Seconds before death, a beloved character faces his killer and says “Please.”

It seems like a man begging for his life to be spared. But his life isn’t spared. Other characters in the book are horrified, as are the emotionally invested readers.

In the absence of information we later learn, the killing seems like the malicious work of an evil murderer. But once the story is told fully, we realize the killer was actually GOOD, and the dying man’s “please” wasn’t a mercy plea, but rather a request for his secret ally to kill him in order to protect a confused teenager from becoming a murderer or from suffering punishment for refusing to.

Not unlike the scientific community during the Ptolemaic period of astronomy versus the scientific community today, we believed one thing under one set of facts, and as more information was gathered, we came to believe something else, which turned out to be the truth.

I left my wife alone in that hospital because I didn’t know better.

It wasn’t my fault. It was simply my responsibility.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

We make choices, learning things along the way. Stuff happens, and we are all constantly interpreting the things happening around us with limited information. Sometimes we’re right. Much of the time, we’re wrong.

In this case, I was wrong, and am deeply sorry for the damage I caused. There are millions of guys out there doing these exact same things. Hurting their spouses accidentally, even when they are told their actions are hurtful. They STILL don’t know. It’s the Secret About Men Most Women Don’t Know.

But I can’t do anything about yesterday. I can only do something about tomorrow.

Life’s too short. I want to live it well.

That jibes with who I want to be. Because I’d just as soon be part of the solution.

By actually doing things the right way.

…..

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Who is Worthy of Your Love?

(Image/loveisrespect.tumblr.com)

(Image/loveisrespect.tumblr.com)

monthemoon asked (read the full comment here): “Hi Matt! I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, just before my partner and I split up. We are still living together due to circumstances, but from summer we will be living separately, and I am kind of looking forward to it. But I am also afraid.

“Apart from developing his empathy, can you think of any other way to make him realize he has to put his son first, specially after separation?”

I might be a bad father.

I don’t know. I don’t know who gets to decide. I don’t think his mom would call me one. I don’t think anyone close to me would call me one. And I’m certain my son wouldn’t call me one.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t so.

The list documenting my failings as a father is long and distinguished. That might not make me “bad.” That might just make me typical. Who can say?

When we fail our families, sentencing our innocent children to lives without both parents at home, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we’ve fallen short as parents.

When we force our spouses to choose between keeping the family together and suffering in masked silence for years, or ending the marriage risking judgment from family and friends, and emotionally damaged children because THAT somehow feels like the better choice, we have failed our children.

There’s nothing inherently gender-specific about this, but I have no qualms about calling out men as the primary culprits here. It’s because — no matter how much we’ll deny it — there are many things men love more than their wives and children.

It’s all psychological, of course. Most husbands and fathers are GOOD MEN. And they think and feel “I love my wife,” and they think and feel “I love my family.” But when it comes time to choose between getting down on the floor to play LEGOs or to cook pretend-dinner in the play kitchen or have a dinosaur battle, and whatever else feels EASIER or MORE CONVENIENT, we often choose the latter.

“Sorry, kid. That sounds like so much fun, but dad is really tired after a long day. You just play alone while I do this thing by myself that I’m prioritizing over you. I’ll engage you in bond-forming one-on-one activities some other time, because I’ll probably have a lot more energy then. We have all the time in the world to build life-long parent-child bonds. We have all the time in the world to make you feel loved and safe.”

If what you do matters more than what you say, then I was divorced for about a year before I actually started putting my son first in my life.

From the moment I learned about the positive pregnancy test, I always said — and actually believed — that I was putting my child first.

I’ll do anything for my family, we think. Because we’re dads and husbands, we take that job seriously. But then we choose other things over dad and husband things because it’s easier or seemingly more fun in the moment. Sacrificing the later for the now. Like the kids whose lives turned out worse after choosing immediate gratification in the Stanford marshmallow experiment.

Sure, we feel blindsided when our wives leave us and file papers.

Sure, we feel surprised when our children question our love for them during future disagreements.

Our brains automatically search for any explanation that will take away our responsibility. We’ll concoct any story that makes something the fault of someone else, and not ours.

Maybe that’s all people. Maybe that’s just mehhhhhhhh fathers who think they’re great parents. Or maybe it’s just me.

But today I know better, and apologize for the finger pointing. We’re NEVER the only one doing, thinking, believing, or feeling anything. There are always others in the boat with you. Knowing that helps me feel better sometimes.

You’re Probably Forgetting About the Hourglass

Don’t be afraid. Everyone is in this global boat large enough to hold every living thing from the beginning of time ‘til the end.

But, it’s true. You have an invisible hourglass attached to your life.

Just like that person standing over there.

Just like your friends and enemies and family and co-workers and the strangers you pass on the street and the people you scream at when they cut you off in traffic.

Just like your children.

We all have an hourglass that is ALWAYS dropping sand from the top to the bottom, and when that last granule falls, we will take our final breath.

Then, gone.

Our hourglasses live in a dimension beyond sight. So we don’t usually know when the sand is going to run out.

As I’m writing this sentence, someone young and who was thought to be healthy is dying unexpectedly. It’s a statistical certainty.

Living fearfully is no way to live. That’s why it helps to be mindful of the boat. How we’re all in it. This isn’t A way. It’s THE way.

But living mindfully of it? I think that might be important.

Two years ago, I learned about a beautiful little girl named Abby with a disease that has no known cure. I was blogging about some personal things with an ungrateful attitude. And then Life saw fit to introduce me to the story of two parents who lose a little bit of their daughter every day.

I called it a Godsmack. That’s what it felt like.

Maybe no matter how long and hard my day was, playing with my son is the best use of my time because of all the parents whose top wish would be to do what I’m taking for granted.

Maybe if I knew the world was about to explode, all I would want is to hold him tight to try and demonstrate my love one last time.

And maybe the things we should spend the most energy on in life are the things we would do during the final countdown. (No. You’re not the only one who just sang the Europe song.)

This is a Parent’s Most Important Job

With the exception of parents with deeply held spiritual beliefs about salvation and an afterlife whose life mission centers around helping their children achieve it, our earthly life-focused parenting has ONE job beyond meeting basic life needs that seems more important than any other.

The thing we must do for our children is help them KNOW they are worthy of love and belonging.

That’s it.

That’s our most important job.

Most of life’s negative experiences are rooted in us doubting our value or worthiness. Because of a million little things that happen to us as children at home and school, and all we observe as others around us succeed, achieve and acquire things we want but don’t have, and all of the rejection and failure we experience in our relationships, and social circles, and academic pursuits, and work lives.

We don’t celebrate failure as the interesting and valuable mistake it really is — another opportunity to grow and change and improve on our pursuit of mastery. We’re terrified of it and what it will make others believe about us. We fall short all the time. And then we assume everyone thinks we’re huge stupid losers because of failures, big or small. And then we tell ourselves stories about those failures and our self-narrative becomes one of failure, and self-doubt.

We’re not good enough to be happy.

We’re not good enough to be accepted.

We’re not good enough to be loved.

Sorry, kid. You’re just not tall enough. And you never will be.

That narrative is believed by a frightening amount of people. The majority, I believe.

Poverty. Crime. Abuse. Infidelity. Addiction. Suicide. Divorce.

These things often happen because someone doesn’t believe they matter. Because they don’t think they are worthy of love. Because they don’t think they belong on any of the boats.

But we are worthy. And we do belong. And that realization eludes many of us for many different reasons.

As parents, we mustn’t let that reason be because we failed our children in a moment that seemed inconsequential to us while not realizing it means the world to them.

She asked: “Can you think of any other way to make him realize he has to put his son first, ‘specially after separation?”

It took me losing my family.

My wife.

And half of my son’s childhood. I estimate AT LEAST seven years, since he was not quite 5 when the marriage ended.

Whatever must happen to ensure he and I stay connected once he leaves the nest? That window is closing fast.

Once this father realizes it, he’ll either care enough to do something about it, or he won’t.

Or maybe he simply doesn’t feel worthy of his son’s love. Maybe he doesn’t feel he deserves that.

Because like so many of us stopped by the Must Be This Tall To Ride gatekeepers, he simply never got the memo: That sign is bullshit.

He’s always been tall enough.

And now his life’s most important work is about teaching his son that too.

Just like you.

Just like me.

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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.

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Do Bad Husbands Ever Really Change?

(Image/lonerwolf.com)

(Image/lonerwolf.com)

Blackolives wrote: “Found your Huffpo ‘dishes’ post earlier today. Still laughing at how an appalling number of people didn’t get ‘dishes as metaphor’, and used that to cement classic women-are-irrational narratives. Now I’m going through everything you’ve written about shitty husbands. I feel less alone — it’s weird that a ‘shitty husband’ is having this comforting we-are-not-alone effect on women who are married to good friends/nice guys who also happens to be heartbreakingly bad at marital responsibilities.

“Thank you for all your self-deprecating but also — self-improvement writings — so, I am just — and please forgive me for my own cynicism — I am just wondering if you believe your self-awareness will now impact you in a positive way so that you wouldn’t habitually make those mistakes in a future relationship. I have this belief that, nice people/shitty spouses usually don’t get to self-awareness and introspection because they stay in the bitter/blame the other stage. But you have recognized your active role in the failed relationship — well done. Is that enough to create enough change in active participation in relationships? I believe most of us aren’t resilient enough to constantly fight against our instincts — in the case of the shitty husbands you describe — stubbornness and belief that if you don’t think it’s important, she’s overreacting, and that makes you not ‘feel like’ doing whatever it is.

“(I have been criticized for believing [most] people don’t [not can’t] change — having wasted a considerable chunk of my life on emotionally abusive immediate family members and a nice-guy/shitty husband, which cemented a narrative of ‘people don’t change’ in me. People will always prefer being right. Me included. I’d be so pissed if everyone did 180s and became fabulously self-aware and innately empathic :)”

There is some mathematical probability that I’ll divorce again or suffer a tough breakup resulting from my personality, habits or behavior causing problems.

Blackolives’ experience tells her that people don’t change, so she asks a fair question: “Do you believe your self-awareness will now impact you in a positive way so that you wouldn’t habitually make those mistakes in a future relationship?” and “You have recognized your active role in the failed relationship — well done. Is that enough to create enough change in active participation in relationships? I believe most of us aren’t resilient enough to constantly fight against our instincts — in the case of the shitty husbands you describe — stubbornness and belief that if you don’t think it’s important, she’s overreacting, and that makes you not ‘feel like’ doing whatever it is.”

I’ve had several bouts of fear with these questions in my three years of post-divorce reflection.

I know that it’s less expensive and generally healthier to cook at home than to eat out all the time. But because I don’t like cooking for one, and because my life is busier than it has ever been and don’t like grocery shopping as much as I once did, I often eat out.

I know that having a book published will give me a greater feeling of accomplishment than anything I’ve done as it’s long been a dream of mine, yet EVERY DAY, many of my choices would seem to prioritize other things ahead of book progress.

I know about MANY things I could or should do to improve my life, yet I sometimes make choices that work against me.

I’m a pretty reflective and self-aware guy. So, yeah—I’ve asked myself the question: What if BEING ME is, in and of itself, something that kills love and relationships? What if I’m, ultimately, not cut out for marriage?

The Power of Awareness

I shared this last week, but it’s so powerful, I want to do so again.

From the mind of the late novelist David Foster Wallace: “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’

There is ENORMOUS power in the simple concept of awareness.

I posit—sometimes to the disbelief of wives currently or formerly married to guys like me—that men can go YEARS hearing their wives repeat themselves about how something like leaving socks on the bedroom floor can inflict physical, emotional pain and HAVE NO IDEA that it’s actually happening.

It’s The Secret About Men Most Women Don’t Know.

I understand how bizarrely oblivious and neglectful that might sound to someone who has been painfully and frustratingly living on the opposite end of those relationships.

But, since I actually lived this, I know it’s true. We don’t always get it until she walks out the door.

Wow. She totally meant what she said all those hundreds of times.

Put simply: Good men can be bad husbands, because it’s not always about character. It’s about awareness, relationship skills, and making the choice to apply those skills in a way consistent with loving and respecting our partner.

One of the advantages I will have in my next relationship, is that I’m HYPER-aware of these things. Writing, thinking and talking about these ideas often certainly helps because these things are top of mind for me.

In the future, a lack of awareness will not be my downfall, though it may be a huge factor for others.

The Power of Habit

Much of our lives—nearly 40 percent!—are comprised of things we do out of habit.

Or, you might say, thoughtlessly.

I have some bad habits, including biting my fingernails. I think about how disgusting and unattractive it is every day, yet I probably bite one of my nails at least once every day. No part of my nail-biting habit is me thoughtfully going: Hmmm. If I bite my nails right now, I’ll get to enjoy some gross microscopic germs hiding under them and have uglier hands afterward! Awesome!

I just bite the damn things and sort of realize it later.

Maybe poor relationship habits are that way too. Maybe much of what we do to hurt those we love—or at least much of what I do—are byproducts of bad habits.

The Future

I believe that when I choose to love someone for the rest of my life, that I’ve now been through enough divorce horribleness, and possess enough sensitivity, self-awareness and knowledge to remain aware and not let unrestrained bad habits cause it to crash and burn.

But, it’s a nagging thought and concern. One I probably worry about too much.

And it’s probably something many people don’t worry about enough, and it will ultimately lead to their divorce and a bunch of other sad and uncomfortable things.

I don’t own any crystal balls. I’m a good guesser, but still guess wrong sometimes.

I may—in the context of marriage—be fatally flawed.

Blackolives doesn’t believe necessarily that people change.

But I know they sometimes do. Because I’ve changed.

If I ever suffer through another divorce or bad breakup, it’s not going to be because I was a victim of circumstance with no power to influence the outcome. It’s not going to be because I’m some oblivious dumbass with his head in the sand.

It will be because I chose selfishness over selflessness. It will be because I chose easy over difficult. It will be because I chose lazy over love.

There’s always a chance that could happen. Anything’s possible.

But I’m betting on hope. On change. On me.

Maybe others will bet on themselves too.

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The 4 Ways Women Can Help Save Marriages

Queen chess piece

(Image/iStock)

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

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

Dear Failed Engagement,

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

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

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

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

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

What Can Women Do to be Part of the Solution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enforce Boundaries Early and Often

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Become Near-Experts on Relationships

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

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

That’s a poor communication strategy.

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

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

That would help.

Take Ownership of Your Emotions

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

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

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

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

Focus On Good and Demonstrate Gratitude

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

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

But then time marches on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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Bad News: You Two Probably Shouldn’t Be Dating

caution you're doing it wrong

(Image/amaninthegap.blogspot.com)

Your relationship is probably doomed.

I’m sorry, but it’s true. I’m just playing the percentages.

Half of all marriages will fall apart. It’s a huge bummer but it’s been true for so long that unless a critical mass of people in the future take to heart some of the ideas here, there’s every reason to assume that will continue.

Additionally, what percentage of pre-marriage/unmarried relationships won’t work out? Maybe 80, or even 90 percent? Who knows? A damn lot.

So. Like I said: Your relationship is probably doomed.

Maybe I’m Not Doing It Wrong After All

Tiffany asked:

My question is less about the marriage part and more about the singlehood part. I epically failed at the dating game in my younger years long before epic fail was even a phrase. I am oh so much better at it now, NOT! I have no game or swagger, I’m just me. I’m just real but I guess being real is a complete turn off in this reality-tv, instant gratification society. So my question is, now what? Now what are we divorcee’s supposed to do? Online dating did not exist the last time I was single and neither did texting. We thought our cell phones were smart until Apple raised the IQ bar. Now, there seem to be dating rules that no one has shared with me and once I become privy to what they might be, they change. It seems the sea of fishes are now depleted of sea horses but teaming with sharks. If nice guys finish last, WHERE ARE THEY? In my experience, the divorced, single men in our age bracket are either reliving their 20 something frat boy days or trying to experience that lifestyle they never had. It’s exhaustingly frustrating! I feel as if the first line of the online dating profile I don’t have should read “Hi, I am a strong woman of character, value and self-respect. I’m sorry but I will not be selling my body or soul to the lowest bidder with cheesy lines, free cocktails, Netflix and a ‘chill’.”

I feel like when I go on a first date with someone (which has not happened in over a year because I gave up) I should introduce myself as, “Hi, I’m Tiffany. I’m a real person with thoughts, ideas and feelings not just a pin cushion. It’s nice to meet you.” The guy would turn around and run I’m sure lol. I also have two kids which translates to leprosy I’m finding out. Refer back to the previous statement of reliving one’s 20s and the idea of being a grown man that doesn’t shy away from responsibility is just gone. Maybe they are just too overwhelmed with their own responsibility to think about any more…..Maybe they just don’t know how to tread down this road just like me….Maybe I’m giving them too much benefit of the doubt…Maybe they’ve always been irresponsible and that’s why they’re divorced….Maybe I should stop driving myself crazy with all the maybe’s.
BUT I JUST DON’T GET IT!!!
So please, if you have any thoughts as to why divorced men seem to only want friends with benefits or casual, please clue me in.
Also, the separate problem of divorced men who may be looking for something real, but not seeing me, only the fact that I have kids.

I used to think I was horrible at dating (post-divorce, specifically), and even felt a little bit ashamed of it. But that’s because I was comparing the QUANTITY of my dates to what I perceived to be others’ experiences, and now I’ve come to believe it’s actually the low-boundary, unfiltered attitude toward dating that is causing most of these problems in the first place.

I now think I was accidentally awesome, and believe today that I’m a competent dater in a very deliberate way.

There are two reasons people date:

1. Because they desire companionship and/or sex, casually or otherwise.

2. Because they’re looking for a suitable partner for a long-term relationship and/or marriage.

If casual relationships are the goal, then I think a relaxed attitude about dating is an appropriate disposition.

But if you’re genuinely looking for a compatible long-term partner with the intention of spending FOREVER with them, then I think getting hardcore with your intentions, your boundaries, and your stated expectations are CRITICALLY IMPORTANT to your success and emotional wellbeing.

An intentionally casual dater can date another intentionally casual dater, and have a positive experience.

An intentionally casual dater dating someone looking for love can lead to a lot of bad things happening if neither are honest with one another.

A person looking for love and long-term commitment can date someone else looking for love and long-term commitment, and it can go a million different ways. A lot of people believe if they end up married, that the meeting and dating exercise was a success. But that’s not true. It’s only a success if they actually make it to forever.

This is where most of us get it wrong.

Because I write here and some people pay attention, people in my personal life sometimes irrationally believe that makes me the go-to person for relationship questions. Ignoring how flawed that thinking is, I do my best to listen and provide the honest feedback they seek.

One of my friends liked a guy. He was the first guy she really liked in a long time. They met on an online dating site. They started seeing each other regularly. But to her displeasure, he was non-committal. He remained engaged in online-dating activities and was presumably seeing other people.

She wanted my advice. I didn’t think the solution was complicated.

“What should I do?” she asked.

“Only you can decide what you’re willing to tolerate,” I said. “The first thing I would do is decide exactly what you want and what your intentions are. Do you want him to be your committed boyfriend, or don’t you? Are you okay with him logging onto online dating sites and dating other people, or aren’t you? Once you know what you want, those are your boundaries. Then you clearly and honestly communicate those boundaries to him. Then—the hardest part—you ENFORCE those boundaries. You need to be willing to walk away if he doesn’t respect them,” I said.

“Isn’t it too soon for that?” she said. She didn’t want to seem “crazy” or “possessive,” she said.

She was afraid that being honest would cause him to reject her.

“I don’t want to seem insensitive about this, but if your relationship is going to fail, you WANT it to fail fast. Be honest about what you want. If he’s unwilling to give you what you want, or honor your feelings, or he runs away, isn’t that all you really need to know about him in terms of your long-term compatibility?” I said.

Maybe she thought really wanting him to be a certain kind of guy would magically transform him into that person. Like The Secret.

She never had the conversation with him. A couple weeks later, he cancelled plans with her for the third or fourth time, then she ended it, and they haven’t talked to one another since.

The entire scene felt insane to me. THIS is a major reason so many people end up divorced, I thought.

Why Does Dating Suck?

Because people don’t establish strong-enough boundaries for who they date.

Because people aren’t willing to be vulnerable and choose honesty when expressing who they really are on the inside, and what they really want.

And then sooner or later, it all crashes and burns because two people with different values and different expectations and different goals tried to force it using rainbow wishes and unicorn dreams, blaming culture, circumstances and everything but the person standing in the mirror for willingly participating in the madness.

Being a victim of con-artistry is the ONLY honest excuse for crushing heartache in the dating game.

Sure, rejection hurts, when one honest person doesn’t reciprocate the same emotional investment as another honest person. But, A. Don’t you WANT to be with someone who wants you back?, and B. How is that not an infinitely better result than investing years and/or marriage with someone who ultimately rejects you because you never really knew each other in the first place?

I can’t emphasize this belief enough: Every failure-to-launch relationship is a GREAT thing that eliminates wasted time, gives us critical life experience, and ultimately opens the door for people to find legitimately awesome and compatible romantic partners.

I know everyone’s in a big hurry all the time. But as mom always said: Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.

This is how dating goes when you’re from a small Midwestern town in the United States (maybe it’s a lot different in big cities and other cultures): You go to school in kindergarten, and for the next 13 years, you’re almost exclusively surrounded by “people like you,” which I’m loosely defining as single people with similar values, similar life experiences, similar educational opportunities, similar financial prospects, and similar long-term goals and expectations.

There’s no such thing as classmates or even two random students at the same school who don’t share several common interests and cultural similarities, relative to how varied our experiences and worldviews can be as single—divorced, widowed, or never-married—adults.

Unless you’re someone who moved around a lot during your school years (which must come with its own social-development issues and challenges), you’re typically 18 at the earliest before you meet a potential romantic interest with a radically divergent cultural background or value system.

I think exposure to other beliefs, cultures and customs is extremely important for people to figure out who we are. Diversity is critical for us to be able to ask the right questions during our formative and explorative years.

But I’m not sure I believe diversity to be particularly useful in marriage or committed long-term relationships (especially those involving children—more on that in a minute).

How Dating is Like Business

As an internet marketing professional, my job is, in a very generic sense, to generate as much web traffic as possible to pages containing products or services I hope to sell to as many visitors as possible.

Let’s pretend I own a company that sells exclusively men’s t-shirts which read: “Donald Trump Has Very Specific and Credible Plans for America, Excellent Hair, and Should Be President of the World.” And now my job is to sell as many of these stylish and in-demand shirts as possible.

quizzical baby

(Image/mums-corner.com)

Let’s pretend I’m going to try to sell these shirts using targeted online advertising and email marketing (because I magically have access to everyone’s email address), and I have to decide how to wisely spend my email marketing and advertising budget.

And finally, let’s pretend I decide to target the following groups of people for my men’s Trump shirt sales initiative: Registered Democrats who voted for President Obama in the 2012 election, Women who live in Poland, and everyone on Hillary Clinton’s F.B.I.-seized private email server.

I probably wouldn’t have much luck selling Trump shirts to those groups.

There is something in business called a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). A shirtless man carrying a 12-pack of Natural Light at a Trump rally might be an MQL for one of these Trump shirts. A Hispanic Los Angeles resident with a Bernie Sanders yard sign would not be.

I think many daters look for love and marriage using the I’m Trying to Sell Trump Shirts to Sanders Supporters strategy.

Online Dating Can Actually Help With This

Online dating sites allow you to establish parameters to weed out people with incompatible or unattractive traits. This is really helpful for women who receive more attention on dating sites than they can handle and for men with strong boundaries, selective tastes and specific preferences.

It’s probably bad for all of the low-boundary people who care more about feeling liked and accepted than they do about actually having healthy and successful relationships.

Maybe people are lonely and afraid they’ll be alone forever. I remember feeling that way.

Maybe people are worried about what friends and coworkers think. Maybe they want to “keep up” with their ex who has already moved on with someone new. Maybe people are trying to have sex more often than never. Maybe they’re trying to find a financial partner, or just someone to binge-watch Netflix with them.

I don’t know.

I just know that a frightening amount of people voluntarily enter relationships with people who don’t share their values, and subject themselves to all kinds of abuse or dysfunction afterward, and it often seems as if it’s because they’re more afraid of being alone than they are of being mistreated or suffering a horrible break-up.

Single Parents Must Use Stringent Filters to Find MQLs

I don’t think people are discriminating enough, and I think that’s why dating is so frustrating for people, and why so many relationships fail. I think vigilant discernment while dating is extremely critical for single or divorced parents, and any young people who intend to have children someday.

People who look different can have great relationships.

People with differing interests can have great relationships.

People with diverse life experiences can have great relationships.

People from different places can have great relationships.

People with varying personality types can have great relationships.

But, people with DIFFERENT VALUES? I have yet to see evidence that two people with conflicting core values can succeed, particularly when they share children, or are raising them together.

Dating often sucks because people aren’t honest with themselves, and then they make it worse by not being honest with those they date.

If you don’t know who you are and what your values are, YOU HAVE NO CHANCE.

If you haven’t identified your personal boundaries, or aren’t willing to vigilantly enforce them, you’re going to experience a heavy dose of frustration and heartache.

If you do it my way, you’re not going to go out on many dates, and you may often feel frustrated by what seems like a frightening lack of options. The temptation can be great to go out with people simply because you find them attractive and they’re interested.

But I implore people to be deliberate with their intentions, and be courageous enough to share their honest expectations, values and feelings with the people they’re getting to know.

Divorce is A LOT scarier than a relative stranger deciding not to date us anymore.

It bears repeating: If we’re evaluating whether that person across from us is an appropriate choice for a long-term or lifetime commitment, should we REALLY be afraid of how they might react to something honest and true about us?

Can we achieve forever with someone who doesn’t want the real us?

It’s not fun or easy. It won’t always feel good. It’s the furthest thing from sexy.

But it’s the first real step on the path to reducing divorce.

Or, more appropriately, the first real step on the journey to Forever.

SIDE NOTE: I finally have a Facebook page for this blog. It would be awesome to connect with you there. I’ll understand if you don’t want to, because mehhhhhhh.

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The Scary Truth About Marriage and Divorce

married couple arguing

(Image/The Huffington Post)

It wasn’t hard to spot the guys barreling toward divorce.

The message was camouflaged in symbolism, so it makes sense to me that the point was lost on all the cretins. Most critical responses to the “dishes” post were rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of what was read.

A bunch of potentially well-meaning people internet-yelled: “OMG!!! She left him over dirty dishes!!! What a control freak!!! Don’t sweat the small stuff!!! LOL!!!”

I’m not disagreeing with them. I just can’t believe real-life human beings with functioning brains read that post and came away with: “Yep. It was literally about dirty dishes, just like the headline said!” But I was taught in my journalism classes to write for an eighth-grade audience, and those responses help explain why.

A bunch of other people internet-yelled that I am a sexist for various reasons: “OMG!!! Put on a dress you man-hater!!! Way to shit on your own gender!!!” or “OMG!!! You said in your post that men are good at stuff!!! As if women can’t do those things too!!!” or “OMG!!! Why does this have to be so gender-specific!? I’m the wife and I’m a slob!!! It goes both ways!!!”

Once I’d reached a certain frustration threshold, the immediate two minutes or so following a new comment like that were moments when being lobotomized or murdered seemed kind of awesome.

The most troubling comments came from married or formerly married men.

“I’m going to divorce my wife for making me read this crap!” or “So what you’re saying is men need to just agree to do whatever our wives want because of their ‘feelings’ no matter how irrational we consider them, and if we don’t, we’re assholes and bad husbands!?” or “Women are NEVER happy. If you start putting the dishes in the sink, then they will just find something else to complain about!”

My Modern-Day Marriage Theory

This is my big-picture and oft-repeated theory on modern-day marriage: Good men can be bad husbands. Good men can accidentally hurt their wives. Husbands and wives slowly, imperceptibly slowly, push each other away one conflict at a time. They, because of uber-complex and misunderstood emotional, psychological, biological, chemical, etc. differences, can both experience the same event, describe it MUCH differently afterward, without either of them being wrong.

Like a dish by the sink.

Maybe the guy sees a dish. Nothing more. No big deal!

And maybe his wife sees a blatant act of disrespect consistent with his other house-cleaning habits; and the way he criticizes her taste in music and things she wants them to do together on weekends; and the way he wasn’t there for her after she miscarried two years ago; and the way he’s never assertive in family and household management, leaving all those decisions to her, but shooting down her ideas every time it’s not what he wants to do; the way he expects her to know where one of his shirts is because he hasn’t done a load of laundry in four years, nor said ‘Thank you’ for not having to; or the way the two kids have homework that needs done, and little league games to be shuttled to, and special uniforms and outfits that need washed, and permission slips that need signed, and school lunches that need packed, and doctor appointments that need scheduled, and wedding RSVPs that need sent in, and gifts that need bought for that event, and how he always expects her to do everything just like his mother did for him and his dad growing up.

I believe most marriages end because of husbands who are unable to make that connection.

That something “stupid” and “petty” and “meaningless” like a dish by the sink can produce very painful feelings for his wife.

It doesn’t actually matter what the thing is. The specifics are irrelevant. One thing matters, and it’s the difference between happy marriages and shitty ones, or forever-marriages and divorce.

This: “When [insert thing here] happens, my partner and I feel very differently about it. Sometimes, I never realized it was even a thing to worry about because it seemed so innocuous to me. But now I understand that [thing you inserted] is meaningful to my partner. Because of how much I love and respect them, I am going to pay attention moving forward and demonstrate that love and respect.”

In what was perhaps a misguided attempt to explain the deeper meaning of the “dish by the sink” to male readers who were offended or totally missed the point, I offered the second half of my modern-marriage theory:

I believe that men understanding this dynamic and demonstrating concern for their wives’ emotional health through these tiny acts of love and respect, or by adjusting certain habits at home, will discover that their wives WON’T do many of the things husbands often complain about, like “nagging, bitching, overreacting” etc.

I think the “nagging,” “bitching,” and “overreacting” is a direct result of the emotional pain their wives feel. Because the husbands aren’t affected emotionally by things that their wives are complaining about, many dismiss their feelings and opinions.

There’s a dish by the sink, and she’s pissed.

All he can think is: “Ugh. How can she be so damn petty? I NEVER complain about shit like this, so she shouldn’t either. She’s totally unfair and irrational.”

He doesn’t think his wife’s opinion about the dish is valid, so he dismisses it and never thinks about it again until he repeats the same process the next time his wife nags him about some “meaningless” thing.

Some of these guys are assholes. I promise I know that. But I don’t believe most are. I think these are mostly good guys who literally don’t realize they are inflicting emotional damage on their wives. They are simply sticking up for themselves in a way that makes sense to them, and waiting in vain for the day when their wives realize “the little things” aren’t worth fighting over.

They miss the entire point.

Just like they did with the “dishes” post.

Just like I did in my failed marriage.

The little things ARE the big things.

Because of all of this, I believe men in a lot of ways are in position to fundamentally change the culture of marriage. I think if men entered marriage with a demonstrable mental grasp of this “dish” conversation, the relationships would never deteriorate to the point where “the little things” piled up into love, sex and marriage killers like they do now.

But What About the Guys That Are Good at Marriage?

That question blew my mind.

My parents divorced. One of the second marriages ended in divorce. My marriage ended in divorce.

I don’t know what good marriage actually looks like. Which is why I reverse-engineer it. I know what bad marriage looks like. Combine that with reading more personal marriage and divorce stories in my email and blog comments than most counselors and therapists will hear in a lifetime, and—right or wrong—I feel like I have a high-level understanding of how all this goes down.

That’s why I was thrown by one husband’s perfectly fair question: “What if I do all of that shit, and she STILL sucks?”

It made me stop and think. I can’t prove that guy is, objectively speaking, a good husband. But I’m a huge believer in math. Statistically speaking, there are some really great husbands out there. And some percentage of the time, they are probably married to monumentally shitty wives.

Let’s deal with some scary truths.

Every person who has been betrayed first trusted someone they shouldn’t have trusted.

We all have inconvenient thoughts and desires we bury way down deep and never talk about. (I don’t mean criminally deviant stuff, even though that is presumably true for some people. The thoughts don’t have to be “dark” necessarily. They can just be a common and naturally occurring sexual fantasy that everyone has, but since you’re married it’s a little bit inconvenient and a lot wrong. I know you get it. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.)

We’re all pretty selfish when our self-preservation instincts kick in, or even in everyday occurrences when the innocent actions of another negatively impact something we want to be doing.

We don’t know what goes on inside the hearts and minds of other people, including those closest to us, unless they share it.

However.

At some point, we have to leave people to take responsibility for their lives and hope they’re being honest with themselves and others about it. It’s mostly out of our hands.

We should all have clearly communicated boundaries. Boundaries that are fair and reasonable and mutually agreed upon with those we have relationships with.

We should all enforce those boundaries with fair-mindedness and forgiving hearts.

Thus, we should all be able to recognize the Point of No Return.

When the line has been crossed one too many times, we should know it. Divorce shouldn’t be a cowardly escape for fear of self-sacrifice or an unwillingness to compromise. It should be in response to a clear and blatant and intolerable violation of marriage vows and those clearly communicated boundaries.

We all have those moments in life when we’re lying in bed in silent darkness, or driving to work, or standing in the shower. Where we are in some way face-to-face with the Real Us that no one else has access to.

I have no way of knowing this, but I believe it is in these moments that we discover who we really are. I believe we all KNOW whether what we’re doing is good or bad. Whether what we’re doing is right or wrong.

“What if I do all that shit, and she STILL sucks?”

We’re often afraid to take responsibility for life’s biggest and scariest choices. But—face it—there’s only one person who can answer that.

…..

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