Tag Archives: Boundaries

You Don’t Have to Get Married, So Maybe You Shouldn’t

Old School wedding scene

Screenshot from the movie “Old School” (Image/DreamWorks Pictures)

Frank: “Hey, I just want to thank you one last time for being here. It’s the best day ever.”

Beanie: “Don’t even start with me, Franklin, okay? You need to walk away from this ASAP.”

Frank: “What?”

Beanie: “You need to get out, Frankie. This is it. It’s now or never. You need to get out of here while you’re still single.”

Frank: “I’m not single.”

Beanie: “She’s 30 yards away. You’re single now.”

Frank: “Come on, Marissa’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Beanie: “Why don’t you give that six months. You don’t think that’ll change? I got a wife, kids. Do I seem like a happy guy to you, Frankie?”

Beanie: “There’s my wife. See that? Always smiling? Hi, honey. Judging, watching, ‘Look at the baby.’”

Mitch Martin: “She’s coming down the aisle, Beanie. Let it go.”

Author’s Note: I think the #1 problem in the world is how poorly humans manage their relationships. Even if you disagree, follow my logic, please. The biggest influence on whether our lives suck or are awesome is the quality of our closest relationships. For most of our lives, that’s the relationship with our spouses or long-term romantic partners. Human conflict is problematic everywhere. But when it’s two people who decided to pool resources and promised to love one another forever, and make and share children? It’s a crisis. The ripple-effect consequences know no bounds. Divorce breaks people, and then broken people break other things.

I think the #1 cause of divorce is relationship-damaging behavior by men who honestly don’t recognize it. Good men with good intentions who damage their wives’ emotional and mental health with behaviors they don’t understand to be as damaging as they are.

How? Why? There are no easy answers. But I think the closest one is: No one knows. Just like people spent decades smoking tobacco without knowing it had dire health consequences.

I think we don’t teach our children the truth about adulthood. That we don’t teach our boys the truth about manhood. Not because we’re liars. But because we didn’t know either.

This is the sixth in a series of posts about The Things We Don’t Teach Men (And How It Ruins Everything).

The Things We Don’t Teach Men: You Don’t Have to Get Married

I can’t prove this, but I believe almost everything we do in life is based off of us modeling the behaviors of others or doing things we believe we are “supposed” to because we think: This is how everyone does it!

Like when we stop our vehicles at red lights or “STOP” signs even though we can see that no other cars or pedestrians could be hurt or affected by us disregarding the traffic signal. Humans are creatures of behavioral habits. And many of those habits start before we can even talk, watching others around us do all the things.

I think that’s why most people get married. Because we grow up with adults who are mostly married or in some stage of dating, and that then makes us believe “Getting married is just what you do when you’re old enough!” Sprinkle in any beliefs about sex being sinful and wrong outside of marriage, and it’s not hard to see why most people make a beeline for a relationship model well known to fail painfully half of the time, and on average, spending $30,000-$40,000 between the engagement rings, wedding bands, wedding receptions and honeymoon trips just to get started.

A few key points here:

I am NOT pro-marriage (unless people plan to have children).

I am NOT anti-marriage.

What I AM is anti-divorce.

I am, I believe, a well-informed pragmatist on the subject. And I know that 95% of people WILL marry, or are planning to marry someday. That’s real-life math. Of all people ages 18 and up in the United States, 9.5 out of 10 are married, used to be married, or are planning to get married.

Thought exercise: Name something besides air, food and water that affects 9.5 out of every 10 people.

Other than cataclysmic apocalyptic things like asteroids striking earth or nuclear holocaust, there aren’t many things capable of impacting the human population as significantly as marriage does. Yet, the majority of people in positions to improve or optimize marriage, and to teach young children the things they need to know to have healthy and successful marriages, don’t seem to be talking about or thinking about any of this stuff.

We tend to not worry about cancer until we’re diagnosed with it.

We tend to not worry about marriage until we’re sobbing in the kitchen watching our wives drive away for the last time with our kids in the backseat.

The Masks We Wear Doom Our Relationships and Families

I got engaged and married sooner than I wanted to. I didn’t feel ready. But all around me, my friends and other couples we knew were getting married.

I was afraid to lose her. My fear of not being with her was bigger than my fear of getting married.

Which is all well and good. My biggest mistake was NOT being more fearful of divorce. But really, there was no way I could have known what I do today. And I never believed divorce was a realistic eventuality. My parents split when I was 4. I always said I would NEVER get divorced, and I meant it.

But I was just a kid. And you can’t know what you don’t know.

I was worried, but it wasn’t enough to scare me off. I assumed EVERYONE worried. I assumed EVERYONE doubted themselves. I assumed EVERYONE must feel this way leading up to their weddings.

The math for me was simple: I loved her and wanted to be with her, and I perceived marriage to be the only way that was going to happen.

We were married at 25.

Prior to marriage, we never had a legitimately honest and vulnerable conversation about sex. Likes, dislikes, fantasies, preferences, etc.

I blame me for this. I have some weird guilt-shame hang-ups about sex. Maybe all boys growing up in Catholic school in small, conservative Midwest towns do.

I wasn’t fully honest about things I liked and felt and wanted in the bedroom. I thought I was being a gentleman because I never wanted my wife to feel like she wasn’t good enough. And I never felt comfortable telling her all of the things I really thought about and felt, because What if she thinks I’m a weird perv and doesn’t want to be with me anymore?!?!

I never wanted to “plan” a date night or to have sex because I had this ridiculous idea in my head that all sex should be an act of passionate spontaneity.

I rarely flirted with my wife the way I did as a young single guy, or the way I can now as an old single guy.

There are several examples, I’m sure, of my wife and I not being as intentionally transparent and honest with one another as we should have out of fear of what the other might think.

The concept of being ACCEPTED is really important to a lot of people. It was always really important to me. Intellectually, I care less today. But emotionally? It still feels the same. There are people I want to like me and it’s not fun when it feels as if they don’t.

But a magical thought occurred to me over the past couple of years of dating, and once I recognized The Truth, almost everything about being single started to feel positive.

It has forever changed the way I feel about human relationships, about career opportunities, and about many significant Life events.

You DO NOT Want to Marry Someone Who Doesn’t Like the REAL You

I can’t begin to explain how powerful this realization was for me.

What am I so afraid of? That someone who is truly not a good fit, or a company that is truly not a good place for me to work, will reject me for being the most honest and real version of myself?

What is the motivation to date or marry someone, or to earn a job, where the true and authentic version of yourself is incompatible with the other person, or with the place you spend most of your time every day?

Yet, so many people put on masks and try to say things and behave in ways they believe the person they’re dating or the person interviewing them for a job wants to hear and see. So many people are afraid if someone knows the REAL us that we’ll be deemed unworthy of love or employment.

People go to great lengths for acceptance. To feel part of something with the best of intentions. What we often don’t realize until much too late is how many bad things could have been avoided if we were more courageous in sharing our innermost selves and thoughts and desires and beliefs, because the people who want THAT version of you—romantically or professionally—THOSE are the great matches with an incredibly high chance for success.

When you’re young and ignorant like I was, it feels safer to hide certain thoughts and feelings that might earn you a rejection from someone you want to like you. But when the stakes are as high as a marriage, or even a job where you will spend most of your time, there couldn’t be a more important time to be YOU.

Because you’re already good enough. Whether they like you or whether they hire you can’t and won’t change who you really are.

So we must own all the things that make us who we are.

And if we have to suffer dozens or hundreds of personal and professional heartbreaks and disappointments in order to get to our highly filtered matches? On the back end of a difficult divorce, I’m confident saying it feels worth it.

And even if it didn’t? Bad matches are bad matches, no matter how much they like you. And bad matches don’t have happy endings.

When people enforce their boundaries vigilantly while dating, ONLY people with a high probability for success will ever end up exchanging wedding vows with one another.

Your life will suck less and you will have a better chance for succeeding in your relationships if you read and behave according to this:

Please Read This:

THE MAGIC OF BOUNDARIES: DATE WELL, MARRY THE RIGHT PERSON, AND LOVE HARD FOREVER

 …

You don’t HAVE to get married. You don’t.

And even if you feel like you do, I promise you don’t want to marry someone with whom you have significant compatibility issues. Every day turns into a shit show, and you kind of want to die.

When we exercise bravery, we can embrace disappointment and those BAD things that happen because we understand that all the future good things can’t happen without these moments; then we all have the opportunity to write stories with less horror and trauma and tragedy, and with more humor and hope and happiness.

You know—all the good shit.

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Commitment Phobia: When Relationship Avoidance Isn’t Dumb

(Image/datingadvice.com)

(Image/datingadvice.com)

I have commitment issues.

The classic kind, like when it’s easy to choose between Chicken, Seafood or Vegetarian at the wedding reception or business luncheon, and hard to choose a meal when perusing massive restaurant menus.

I struggle with committing to future events on my calendar, or choosing which movie to watch, or even committing hypothetically to whether my perfect home is in a city or the peaceful countryside.

Maybe that’s why I live in the suburbs.

I think these commitment issues are unhealthy and neurotic, and do little to help me live my best-possible life.

But there are other kinds of commitment issues, and they often revolve around dating and relationships.

Because I’m single and spend a lot of time discussing relationships due to my writing here, this subject has come up a few times recently, and I think it’s important.

Men often get stereotyped as being afraid of commitment. There are several reasons why—some more noble than others.

But people—especially ones who have suffered emotional trauma from divorce or failed relationships—frequently express fear of commitment because they don’t want to ever feel that hurt again.

It makes sense to me. It’s irrational and joy-robbing, but I get it. We might die from choking or food poisoning when we eat. We might contract the flu from shaking hands with strangers. We might get killed in a car accident during our work commutes.

We fear losing good things ALL THE TIME.

Poor people can lament not having money OR they can feel grateful that they don’t have something they’re afraid to lose or that makes them some kind of target.

Rich people can lament having so much to lose, being targets, and having valuable things to protect OR they can feel grateful for their wealth of resources.

It’s always about perspective.

People who can see and hear and walk could go blind and deaf and become paralyzed from the waist down. Blind, deaf and paraplegic people don’t have those fears.

Parents fear for the safety and wellbeing of their children in profound ways. People without kids rarely think about that at all.

Having something of value in our lives, whether it’s intangible human connection and love, or material possession, often brings with it the burden of being afraid to lose it.

Every moment of our lives involves some kind of tradeoff. To be irrationally afraid of scary future scenarios we totally make up in our heads seems counterproductive.

Therapy. Good discussion. Writing. Deep thinking. All are good tools for overcoming our various neuroses.

But—and I’m admittedly biased—I think there are times when “fearing” commitment is wise and prudent.

People Who Love Hard Should Be ‘Afraid’

Fear is rarely useful outside of prompting us to run from scary things like a fire, or an attacker, or like, a mountain lion or something.

“Cautious” is probably a better word.

Sometimes people tell me they’re surprised I’m still single more than three and a half years after my marriage ended.

But the truth is, I haven’t come particularly close to not being single. Some of that is circumstantial. Some of that is logistical.

But most of it?

It’s because I think I understand what it takes for two individuals to merge their lives into one thing and give it a good chance to go the distance. I think I know what people need to give because I spent a nine-year marriage NOT giving it which predictably ended in ways impossible for me to recognize in the thick of it.

And I haven’t been shy about saying that I’ve been unwilling to give it.

My parenting, life and job responsibilities, and writing pursuits are already more than I can handle. When the day comes, I’ll have to abandon or reshape some of those things in order to give what’s required.

“What’s required?”

Giving more than I take. That’s what. And until a person can do that, I don’t think they’re ready.

I don’t think I’m ready.

This last part is important to me. Because I think it’s—tragically—a big part of what destroyed my marriage and is likely affecting others’ as well.

My friend said it today. She was talking about some of these same relationship fears. She said “I love hard.”

She means she invests a lot of herself into the other person and into her relationships. In the past, that might have caused her to not maintain and enforce personal boundaries as vigilantly as she would today. And when you don’t enforce boundaries, you can find yourself miles down the road with someone and wake up one day like: “Holy shit. I guess we’re, like, boyfriend-girlfriend or whatever.”

And when you love hard in those scenarios, months turn into years, and Like turns into Love.

And when you didn’t enforce compatibility and/or behavioral boundaries early in the process, the relationship suffers, often breaks, and often hurts.

She felt the hurt. And now she’s afraid. But it’s not because she doesn’t get it that she’s afraid. It’s because she does.

I love hard. Or at least, I aspire to.

I loved my girlfriend before she was my fiancée/wife/ex-wife. And because I loved her, I didn’t understand where the fear was coming from regarding my having not proposed after just a year or so together.

We were too young to say the right words. We were too scared to tell the whole truth. She probably felt pressure to get married because some of her friends were, or maybe because of childhood expectations that it should be by a certain age. Maybe she was too afraid to say that she wanted to know whether I was going to propose, because if not, she was going to break up and find someone who would and not waste her time.

Who knows what I was afraid to say. Probably everything.

But I think I was “right”—if there is such a thing—about feeling fear and hesitancy regarding marriage proposal, or even just giving the idea of a future proposal a bunch of lip service.

When you love hard, and Love = Forever, then tell me the difference between promising a proposal and actually proposing. Tell me the difference between proposing and being married.

Divorce was never on my to-do list. I always believed Marriage = Forever.

I would never commit to someone with whom I couldn’t imagine achieving Forever with.

By virtue of BEING in the committed relationship, I was working toward that goal. And when your brain works that way and you love someone with that level of matter-of-factness, it creates the family and marriage-jeopardizing scenario of totally dismissing anyone who tells you they sometimes feel as if you don’t love them.

You start writing them off as “crazy” or “emotional.” Since you think and feel Love, maybe you don’t feel the need to show it. Maybe that seems dumb to you.

I think that’s why many people get divorced. Different interpretations of verbal and non-verbal cues. It seems too subtle to be the reason everything turns to shit. But it doesn’t make it any less true.

Relationships have phases.

“Just dating” morphs into commitment.

Committed dating evolves into engagement or cohabitation.

And engagement/cohabitation often transitions to marriage.

Do you see?

When Marriage = Forever in your mind and heart, THEN engagement ALSO = Forever. And if committed dating = engagement, then you’re left in the funny little place I, along with many who love hard, or have lost much, find themselves.

If committing to dating someone feels essentially the same as engagement, and engagement is essentially the same as marriage, then—as insane as it might sound to some—committing to dating can FEEL pretty close to promising someone Forever.

After divorce? Children? Hard-earned wisdom?

That manifests as commitment phobia. As being “afraid,” or again, “cautious.”

Maybe some people will tell you that’s irrational. That you’re being “dumb.”

But when our hearts and minds are in the right place, I don’t think so.

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The Magic of Boundaries: Date Well, Marry the Right Person, and Love Hard Forever

line in the sand

Establish boundaries. When someone knowingly crosses them? Say bye. Because life is too short. (Image/pando.com)

Yep. We’re talking about boundaries again. They’re THAT important.

Because I’m a hack writer (or possibly just because every single person on earth hasn’t read or doesn’t remember all of my posts), our conversations about boundaries are getting gray and cloudy like a sucky winter day in Cleveland.

And that’s bad. Because boundaries are magical. Like when the sun comes out during the rain and gifts you a sweet rainbow to frolic on, or how God doesn’t strike me dead when I order groceries online and an underpaid high school kid loads them in my Jeep for me curbside while elsewhere deserving people starve.

The best thing I’ve ever read on boundaries was written by Mark Manson (who coincidentally released a new book this week AND graciously agreed to a Q&A with me which you should obviously read).

For the 90 percent of you who won’t read Mark’s piece, I’m going to share a small part because it’s really important. From Mark:

“Let’s do the ‘You Might Have A Boundary Issue If…’ list so you know where you stand:

  • Do you ever feel like people take advantage of you or use your emotions for their own gain?
  • Do you ever feel like you’re constantly having to ‘save’ people close to you and fix their problems all the time?
  • Do you find yourself sucked into pointless fighting or debating regularly?
  • Do you find yourself faaaaar more invested or attracted to a person than you should be for how long you’ve known them?
  • In your relationships, does it feel like things are always either amazing or horrible with no in-between? Or perhaps you even go through the break-up/reunion pattern every few months?
  • Do you tell people how much you hate drama but seem to always be stuck in the middle of it?
  • Do you spend a lot of time defending yourself for things you believe aren’t your fault?

“If you answered ‘yes’ to even a few of the above, then you probably set and maintain poor boundaries in your relationships. If you answered a resounding ‘yes’ to most or all of the items above, you not only have a major boundary problem in your relationships, but you also probably have some other personal problems going on in your life.”

If you’re like me, you nodded your head ‘yes’ a few too many times because it hits a little too close to home, or because you remember how the younger you did all those things and maybe that’s why many shitty things happened.

Boundaries are about Emotional Health.

Emotionally healthy people have and enforce strong boundaries. And ALSO, having and enforcing strong boundaries makes you emotionally healthier.

Having strong boundaries means you don’t take responsibility for other people’s crap, and you ALWAYS take responsibility for your own.

I believe we must vigilantly enforce our boundaries (and respect others’ vigilantly enforced boundaries) in order to have high-functioning, healthy, mutually beneficial, and ultimately successful, human relationships.

And what that means is, when people knowingly violate our boundaries, we need to be willing to walk away and cut them out of our lives, which is a really hard thing to do. Because sometimes it’s your spouse, or a parent, or a sibling, or an old friend, or a co-worker, or someone you share children with.

You can’t always just walk away from people to enforce boundaries without innocents (like your kids or other family members or friends) becoming casualties of the decision.

One thing we can be sure of is that if we’re in such a spot, it’s because at some time in our past, we failed to enforce our boundaries in healthy ways, and later we suffer the consequences.

We’ll leave the family and friendship drama for another time.

For now, I’m focused exclusively on enforcing boundaries while dating. And then later, during marriage.

THESE ARE NOT THE SAME THING.

Let’s talk about why.

The Magic of Dating Boundaries

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Girl meets Boy. It’s all flowers and Facebook status changes and sexting and orgasms.

But then Hedonic Adaptation does what it ALWAYS does, and the lovey-dovey stuff wears off for the Boy.

Boy starts behaving differently. Communicating infrequently. Spending more time with friends or maybe other girls.

Boy’s behavior makes her feel bad. She tells her friends and her diary, but she doesn’t tell the Boy.

Eventually, things get more serious.

Meal planning, domestic housework, calendar scheduling, and sharing resources comes more into play.

Boy’s behavior forces Girl to take on lion’s share of that work because he’s totally disengaged outside of their date-ish time together.

Girl finally tells Boy that she’s upset, either because he finally asks her what’s wrong, or because she works up the courage to say something even though she’s afraid of the potential fight or making him feel smothered and pushing him away.

Boy tells her she’s delusional. That she’s imagining things. That she’s crazy. “OF COURSE I love you!” he says.

But no matter how much he tells her she’s being overly emotional or misreading the situation, she continues to feel sad and anxious about his behavior. He says her feelings aren’t real. But they damn sure FEEL real to her.

Girl keeps feeling uneasy, but she doesn’t want to break up.

Boy only gets upset WHEN she points out his behaviors that hurt her feelings, so she stops bringing them up so much, because she doesn’t like fighting, and the fear of him rejecting her or of being single again somehow outweighs the fear of his behavior hurting her feelings again.

Maybe he’ll change one day, she thinks.

Maybe she talks to her mom about it. “Oh that’s just how men are, honey,” Mom tells her while cleaning up after a weekend family meal while Dad goes to the other room to watch TV. “You see how your father is. He’s a good man. This is life. This is just the way it is.”

It seems a little depressing to Girl. But she’s already invested two or three years in the relationship, all of her girlfriends are getting married, and all of the guys do stuff to upset them once in a while.

I guess this really is just the way life is, she thinks.

Girl marries Boy.

Five to seven years later, they’re miserable because the same behavior that hurt her feelings while dating hurts even more now that he promised to love and care for her forever, but she doesn’t feel loved, nor cared for, nor emotionally safe or secure in any way.

Boy is oblivious.

Girl is stressed to the max.

Girl gets a phone call. Her mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

Girl loses her mother.

Girl breaks because losing a parent can feel impossibly hard. She feels responsible for caring for her father who doesn’t know how to cook and clean for himself. She needs to grieve but it’s hard because there’s no one else around to take care of Life Things.

Girl takes care of Life Things until she finally collapses emotionally.

Boy is absolutely zero comfort. She didn’t know it until right now—but he doesn’t feel steady like her mom did. He can’t comfort her even when he tries.

Girl rejects Boy. Boy feels sorry for himself. One or both of them seek comfort in the arms and privates of someone they’re not married to.

Very bad things happen.

More breakage.

Mid-life misery ensues.

And even though it’s not her fault, it is her responsibility.

This happened because she didn’t enforce her personal boundaries while dating.

Enforce Your Boundaries Vigilantly

I work in marketing.

It’s a complete waste of time and damaging to marketing programs to try to sell products and services to people unlikely to want or need them.

You don’t want to open a fishing bait shop in the middle of the desert. You want to open one by waters used for fishing.

You don’t want to sell “Make America Great Again” hats at Hillary Clinton political rallies. You want to sell them to fans of her political rival.

For marketing programs to succeed, we must target customers intelligently.

And so it goes in dating.

I’ve written repeatedly that I think people should vigilantly enforce their boundaries while dating.

That doesn’t mean you cut somebody off the first time they upset you. No one would EVER stay together if that was the case.

But what if Girl made different choices in the above example? What if, when Boy started exhibiting behaviors she was uncomfortable with, she simply communicated that to him?

What if she said: “Hey. I really care about you and want to see where this can go, but you need to know that I felt really crappy when X happened earlier. Maybe I’m misunderstanding, or getting something wrong. But I have plenty of things in Life that hurt and will hurt me in the future. The person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with WILL NOT be one of them if I can do anything about it. I just want you to know that what happened crosses a hardline boundary with me”?

One of three things happen afterward.

  1. He can act like he usually does and try to explain to her how she’s wrong and her feelings are stupid, and then she can walk away toward a future where she gives someone else a shot to demonstrate actual love and respect.
  2. He can promise to try harder and fail. She avoids a sad divorce later.
  3. He can promise to try harder and succeed. They have a healthy marriage.

When people enforce their boundaries vigilantly while dating, ONLY people with a high probability for success will ever end up exchanging wedding vows with one another.

Will there be a shit-ton more break-ups? Absolutely. But explain to me what the problem is. If all of the people destined for divorce or shitty marriages don’t end up getting married, how does that make the world a worse place?

Exchanging Vows is Something Else

In the ideal scenario where everyone is making good Life choices, two assholes incapable of healthy marriage don’t end up marrying each other in the first place.

That means boundary enforcement during marriage rarely rises to the level of causing divorce. Two people vigilantly enforcing their dating boundaries are WELL PREPARED for the kinds of unselfishness and communication necessary to thrive.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. And no one owns a kick-ass DeLorean time machine. And that means many of us find ourselves in shitty relationships where the criteria for being willing to walk away from the relationship can’t be the same as that of the unattached dater with options.

There’s a fundamental difference between two people who are dating, and two people who are married.

When you’re dating, you can dump someone over something petty like how loud they chew their food, or the fact that they root for a sports team you hate. When you’re dating, you’re allowed to have any personal boundaries you want. It does NOT matter what someone else thinks is reasonable. You are not beholden to anyone.

You are free to create or eliminate any boundary you want, for any reason, at any time.

The important thing is that when someone crosses your line and inflicts pain, that when they KNOW they did, they exhibit remorse and a desire to avoid causing future pain.

If they dismiss what you’re saying and feeling, indicating this shitty thing will continue to happen over and over again? We should walk away.

Our marriage boundaries shouldn’t be superficial.

And our vigilance should be limited to major vow-breaking violations, and not just a fight over what to put on the TV that night or whether you’re going to attend the family get-together next weekend.

And that’s because when we get married, we vow—VOW—to love generously. Forever.

We promise to sacrifice. To give more than we take. To forgive. To lift up the other when they’ve fallen. To choose love each and every day regardless of how inconvenient it might feel.

That’s what it means when we say “I do.”

Our marriages are shit today because the younger, dumber versions of ourselves didn’t know what we didn’t know. And now we have some hard choices to make. Choose to love, even though it isn’t easy? Or divorce, even though it isn’t easy?

Life is HARD.

Not easy.

And there are no judgments here. People need to do what they need to do. People need to make mistakes and figure things out. That’s how human beings learned that fire and water—two amazing, life-giving things—can also kill us.

Marriages rooted in poor boundary enforcement will be difficult and dysfunctional. Most will fail.

But the conversation about boundary enforcement changes between people who are dating and people who are married.

We enforce boundaries while dating IN ORDER TO achieve a healthy and successful relationship.

And in marriage?

We love hard. Not because we feel like it every day. Because we choose it every day.

We choose it today. And then tomorrow. And then the next day.

And when our partners do the same in return, Forever happens.

Rarely easy.

Often worth it.

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Having the Same Goals Won’t Save Your Relationship

hands slipping part

(Image/singleblackmale.org)

An unexpected phone call changed everything.

I was in the middle of failing to learn how to speak Spanish effectively when my dad handed me the house phone.

“Hello?”

She spoke.

Oh man. It’s her.

I hadn’t talked to her in six months, and even though we’d known each other for a few years, we didn’t know each other particularly well.

After a lifetime in Ohio like me, she was moving to Florida with friends, she said. She had just graduated from the same university where I had another year of classwork before I’d get my degree.

Something was telling her she needed to see me before she left. You know — a feeling. Just like in the movies.

Dad reluctantly agreed to a stranger he had never met flying into town and staying with us for a few days that set the direction for the rest of my life.

The family loved her. My friends loved her.

I loved her.

She canceled her planned move to Florida, knowing I was planning to move there a year later. She would wait.

I instantly stopped living like a single 21-year-old. I would wait.

We had the same goals.

And for the first time in my young life, I was pretty sure I had found someone with whom I wanted to chase them with forever.

An Unmatched Pace Will Cause Just as Much Distance as Misalignment

I think alignment between two people is a prerequisite to them having a successful relationship.

Two people must want the same things in life for them to have a functional, mutually beneficial partnership.

We can generically call them “goals.”

But what I really mean is that two people must achieve alignment with their values (and honor one another’s boundaries) to have any chance of making it.

I think people need to share core beliefs about life (especially if they are raising children together), otherwise I think their lives will suck. Painfully.

I think people need to honor their partner’s honestly communicated boundaries, and I think people need to enforce (that means, being willing to walk away) their own well-communicated boundaries when they are violated.

When you Share Values and Enforce Boundaries, you achieve Alignment.

And that shit’s important.

Here’s what happens when two things are off by just one degree, according to Antone Roundy’s blog post about achieving alignment in business:

“I’ve been thinking lately about the big differences little things make.

“Consider this. If you’re going somewhere and you’re off course by just one degree, after one foot, you’ll miss your target by 0.2 inches. Trivial, right? But what about as you get farther out?

  • After 100 yards, you’ll be off by 5.2 feet. Not huge, but noticeable.
  • After a mile, you’ll be off by 92.2 feet. One degree is starting to make a difference.
  • After traveling from San Francisco to L.A., you’ll be off by 6 miles.
  • If you were trying to get from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., you’d end up on the other side of Baltimore, 42.6 miles away.
  • Traveling around the globe from Washington, DC, you’d miss by 435 miles and end up in Boston.
  • In a rocket going to the moon, you’d be 4,169 miles off (nearly twice the diameter of the moon).
  • Going to the sun, you’d miss by over 1.6 million miles (nearly twice the diameter of the sun).
  • Traveling to the nearest star, you’d be off course by over 441 billion miles (120 times the distance from the earth to Pluto, or 4,745 times the distance from Earth to the sun).

“Over time, a mere one-degree error in course makes a huge difference!”

Going the Same Direction Doesn’t Mean You’ll Arrive Together

My wife and I always wanted the same things. Sure, there were times we had competing interests and personal things take us in opposite directions, but never far enough that our hands couldn’t reach out and grab the others’.

However, we had a catastrophic problem with pacing.

She didn’t enforce her boundaries strongly enough when I was an asshole.

And I didn’t enforce my boundaries strongly enough when she wanted to me to keep up with her — for me — unsustainable running pace.

As serendipitous and magical as it all felt having her call me out of nowhere that one night and change all of her life plans to give us a shot at Forever, I was still just a kid in his early 20s trying to figure it all out.

She wanted to leave Florida faster than me.

She wanted to get engaged and married faster than me.

And she wanted to do a bunch of little life things, which added up to Huge Life Things, at different speeds than me.

She’d get her way sometimes because I’d reluctantly agree. I’d get my way sometimes because she’d reluctantly agree. And rarely, if ever, were we feeling the simple joy of doing something for someone we loved.

Rarely, if ever, were we giving more than we take with a grateful and unselfish servant’s heart.

We were shoveling coal to keep the steam train moving, but not without a lot of resentment and questioning of whether the effort was worth it.

Throughout our lives and relationships, we grow and evolve as Life introduces All The Things to us at whatever pace it chooses. New opportunities, major life events like having children, illness, financial hardships or windfalls, and a million others.

Sometimes we’ll want this and that. Sometimes we’ll want this and that in a certain timeframe.

Sometimes they’ll want this and that. Sometimes they’ll want this and that in a certain timeframe.

Sometimes that will work out for everyone.

Sometimes it won’t.

The question then becomes: Do I want this and that more than I want my relationship? Or, a much better and unselfish one: For the benefit of my Marriage which I want more than This And That, am I willing to give what is required to help my partner achieve their This And Thats?

Alignment matters. Am I willing to continue in that same direction?

Pacing matters. Am I willing to speed up or slow down so my hand stays connected to their’s?

Simply having the same goals won’t save your relationship.

Only love will.

And only you can decide which direction you’ll move and how much effort you’re willing to exert to keep walking hand in hand.

Because, love? It’s not a feeling.

Love is a choice.

…..

AUTHOR’S NOTE: One of my favorite writers is a guy named Mark Manson. He has written some of my favorite pieces on Values here, and on Boundaries here. They’re awesome.

Mark’s new book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” is being released tomorrow much to the chagrin of everyone who hates profane language more than they hate learning how to embrace discomfort for the sake of growth

Mark agreed to do a short Q&A with me as part of his book launch, which I’m super-flattered about.

I’ll be sharing that tomorrow. Bad language will be involved.

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My Story is Your Story—Even When it’s Not

(Image/churchleaders.com)

(Image/churchleaders.com)

Imagine this: A magical alternative universe where total strangers randomly being in your house isn’t as scary or bizarre as it would actually be. (Because it’s the only way the next few paragraphs make any sense.)

And now imagine a stranger (who isn’t scary) in your house doing things your small child often does: Carelessly peeing on your toilet. Spitting globs of toothpaste in your sink without adequately rinsing the basin. Leaving toys or whatever scattered all over the living room floor. And NO MATTER HOW MANY FREAKING TIMES YOU’VE TOLD HIM, he doesn’t remember to eat over his plate, leaving 47 million crumbs on and around his seat at the table. Or maybe he puts his fingers on the house and car windows, or he gives you a little mouthy elementary-school sass that kind of makes you want to dropkick him.

If some dude off the street does that, I’ll secretly want to embed a golf club in his face, and might actually take a swing if that dumb bastard leaves another trail of crusted toothpaste in the bathroom sink that requires a power sander to clean.

If someone I kind of knew or was renting a room to did it, I might ask them to go away or find another place to live.

But if my little offspring—the absolute love of my life and my greatest earthly source of pride and joy—does it for the thousandth time? I’ll be frustrated with him for 10 seconds, remind him how easy it is to be less messy, and soon after, be laughing about whatever thing we move on to because he’s my favorite.

I think it’s relevant and noteworthy that three different people could do IDENTICAL things, and I’d react three different ways to each: one, I would hug and love unconditionally; the second, I would evict; and the third, I would face-punt.

All of which strike me as reasonable responses to the occasionally thoughtless, make-you-want-to-tear-out-your-hair-and-drink-excessively behaviors of my young grade schooler.

I have a few points, none of which are currently obvious:

1. Marriages Break Because Neglectful Spouses Devolve From Loved One, to Roommate, to Stranger You Want to Face-Punt

Sure, I love, care for, and am super-quick to forgive my young son in all his youthful innocence and cute-facedness. But what if he shows up in his 20s or 30s, pees all over the toilet, and repeatedly drops food and whatever all over the floor no matter how many times I’ve asked him to respect this seemingly reasonable sanitation policy? Maybe I’ll stop inviting him to dinner. Or maybe I’ll visit his house and pee all over his bathroom after brushing my teeth and leaving nasty toothpaste-saliva drippings in his sink.

If our expectations for our children’s behavior and respect for our instruction can change over time, is it unreasonable for a spouse to expect the same from her or his partner as their relationship evolves and grows through time?

A common marriage complaint from husbands is that their wives happiness is always a moving target. That nothing they do is ever good enough. I remember feeling that way, too.

A common marriage complaint I hear or read from frustrated wives is that her husband is “childish.” She doesn’t mean that he goofs off all the time and laughs hysterically at dick and fart jokes even though that could also be true, but that he never grows out of being the little boy who pees on the toilet or gets crumbs all over the floor during dinner. That could be literal, if she married someone with slob-like tendencies, or it could be metaphorical in the sense that he so rarely demonstrates thoughtfulness about things like housework or dinner plans or the schedules of others in the family.

It’s a dynamic that tends to be okay while dating and early in the marriage, but as the other We’re Gonna Get Divorced dominoes begin to fall, cleaning pee off the toilet rim—or worse, the seat—graduates from gross annoyance to murder motive.

She starts to feel like his mother, her sexual attraction for him dies, and then a bunch of other bad things start to happen.

2. Nothing is One-Size-Fits All

I often write in generalities because writing in specific absolutes, covering EVERY angle of EVERY topic would lead to 97-million-word posts that only my mom would read. There simply aren’t enough hours in a day to write or read about every possible scenario. So, when I write that Husbands Do This, or Wives Do That, or Men Often Think This, or Women Often Feel That, I’m doing so for brevity reasons, and I’m totally aware that almost NOTHING applies to everyone.

I was criticized recently by someone who interprets my writing as A. Blaming Men for Marriage Failure, B. Acting Like a Know-It-All Who Tries to Speak for All Men, and C. Never Holding Women Responsible for Their Role in Failing Marriages.

I don’t blame men. I even said so on the radio once.

I also don’t necessarily think it’s men’s fault—all these common relationship shortcomings we accidentally display—but I think it is our responsibility to right whatever wrongs we can as soon as we’re aware of them.

And I do believe there are specific things women can collectively do to improve relationships.

I think everyone who makes mistakes, should own them, and everyone with the power to make something better, should.

Which brings me to…

3. While I Write For Others, the Stories Are Mostly About Me

I’m just some guy.

There is nothing particularly noteworthy or special about me which is EXACTLY why the relationship conversations we have here matter.

If I was some super-unique case study or obvious outlier, it would be easy to dismiss.

But that’s not what I am, nor what my marriage was.

My marriage was THE Common Modern Divorce Story. And that should scare the shit out of everyone.

Because it’s really hard to see it coming.

What’s the “common” divorce story? It’s two good, well-intentioned people with an honest desire to marry and promise one another forever, only to discover 5-10 years later that their marriage has become joyless, stressful, unsteady and on the brink of failure, and neither person can really explain how or why they got there.

They spent 5-10 years having the exact same fight, because neither could ever figure out the right combination of words or the right behavioral response to their conflict.

And after it happened enough times, one or both of them became so angry, sad and emotionally exhausted that the agony of divorce looked like the better choice than the status quo.

And then more kids grow up a little bit sad and a little bit confused and never see the way marriage is SUPPOSED to be.

And then more people remarry thinking their ex was the problem, only to discover they brought their own baggage to the new relationship, and that the new person has some too, and that they’ve seen this movie before.

And then more things break, and it just keeps happening over and over again, and not very many people ever slow down long enough amid all the pain and dysfunction to just stop.

To just breathe.

To just look inside and ask the hard questions. The ones that makes us squirm years later, and maybe forever.

What have I done to cause this?

What could I have done better?

What choices can I make to be better tomorrow than I was yesterday, so nothing like this ever happens again?

I don’t blame men. I blame me.

And women certainly aren’t guilt-free. I promise to start pointing fingers right after I wake up awesome and perfect every day.

In the meantime, I think being an adult is hard, and I think we all get a little confused when things hurt more than we knew was possible, or when we’re missing too much information, or when we feel Life falling apart because adulthood is unsteady in ways many of us never imagined.

Back when we were young and innocent.

Back when we were getting crumbs and toothpaste spittle everywhere, and the fortunate among us were hugged and forgiven instead of beaten and abused.

Back when we were happy and hopeful, as the fortunate among us can be once again.

If only we’re willing to own our crimes and pay our penance.

Because it’s not them. It’s us.

It’s not you. It’s me.

We worry about what we can control, and try to make a difference when and where we can.

Maybe people won’t always get it. But maybe it can still matter.

Because everyone loves a good redemption story.

And somewhere beneath all the humanity, I think everyone has one to tell.

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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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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 Truth About Love You Might Not Accept

"The Vagabond/Prodigal Son" by Hieronymus Bosch

“The Vagabond/Prodigal Son” by Hieronymus Bosch

There was a wealthy farmer with two sons.

The younger son, dissatisfied with his boring life, went to his dad and asked for his inheritance early. The request was demanding and entitled. It would have been interpreted at the time a little bit like he wished his father was already dead.

Then the young man, armed with a lot of money, left home, abandoned his family and their business, traveled far and wide, and lived lavishly.

Fancy clothes. Expensive meals. Wild parties. Lots of sex.

He did that every day until he ran out of money right around the time the economy tanked and weather patterns decimated regional crop farming. Widespread famine took hold.

The rich, entitled kid had nothing left. No real friends. No viable job prospects. And now there was a food-shortage crisis, so he couldn’t find food.

With no other options, he would have to return home, tail tucked between his legs, and beg his father to let him come back. He didn’t expect a warm welcome. He was going to ask his dad to hire him as a farmhand to work the land, and sleep in one of the barns with the farm animals.

But to the young man’s surprise, that’s not how it went down. When his father heard word that his wayward son had come home, he dropped everything and sprinted to him.

Instead of admonishing him for being so selfish, foolish and irresponsible, he hugged him tight with tears of joy, expressing his love and gratitude for his safe return.

Instead of punishing him for abandoning the family and his responsibilities to waste a small fortune on excessive living, he threw a massive party to celebrate his child’s return.

The older brother was pissed. While his idiot brother was out burning money on wine and prostitutes, he had stayed home and dutifully tended to the family business and was an all-around respectful and obedient son.

No one ever threw me a party for doing the right thing!, he thought.

He went up to his dad and said what most of us would: “Umm. Dad. This is total bullshit. I’ve been right here doing all the right things all these years while that douchebag was off wasting his entire fortune on drunken orgasms. Then he comes home, and we treat him like the conquering hero? Where’s my party, dad? Where’s my ‘Atta Boy?”

The father understood his elder son’s frustration, but said simply: “Celebrating your brother’s return is the right thing to do. We thought he was dead. But here he is, alive. He was lost. And now he’s been found.”

Anyone even loosely familiar with the bible knows that story. It’s the parable of the Prodigal Son—a story about redemption. My favorite kind. It’s supposed to symbolize the endless mercy of God, personified biblically as a loving father.

But it’s also the best story I know which addresses the thing we need to talk about, because I think maybe a lot of people don’t know what it really means. And I think maybe that lack of understanding is ruining their marriages; their relationships with children and parents, with siblings, with friends, with neighbors, with co-workers, and everyone else:

Unconditional love.

Because We Care What Others Think, We Do Stuff

It’s uncomfortable to admit. We all want to believe we’re so courageous and unique and authentic. We all want to believe the decisions we make are for us because we’re genuinely pursuing whatever it is our hearts and minds compel us to chase in life.

But that’s bullshit, and we all know it.

We do things to win the approval of our parents. You didn’t go to medical school at Dartmouth because you wanted to go to Dartmouth or become a doctor. You did it because your grandfather did that, and then your dad did it, and if you don’t do it, you’ll always be the person who tarnished the family legacy, and you were afraid of the shame and possible rejection.

We do things so that other kids in school will accept us. You dated Lauren because she was hot and you wanted to look cool to the other guys, not because there was some legitimate emotional connection. You avoided playing in the band, not because you didn’t love music, but because you didn’t want your football teammates calling you a “band nerd.”

You didn’t drink beer because you actually liked it. Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper always tasted better. You did it because you wanted to fit in.

We still do this as adults. All the time.

It affects our choices about the houses we live in and the cars we drive. It influences the clothes we wear. Who we hang out with. How we treat our friends.

We worry about our children’s behavior sometimes, not because we’re ACTUALLY worried about the long-term impact on our children’s lives (most of the dumb stuff they do will have almost no bearing on how their lives turn out, and are in fact necessary experiences from which to learn important life lessons), but because we worry about what other parents might think about us as that kid’s parents.

We do and feel many things for no other reason than we invest in other people’s perception of us. The most interesting part of that is, we don’t really know what another person thinks of us. So we project our personal feelings on others, and essentially guess what they think will make us look attractive or smart or funny or successful or whatever. And then we try to display that ideal image as much as possible. We do so in an attempt to win favor with those around us for whatever conscious or subconscious reasons we have. So we ultimately end up living a huge percentage of our lives in the service of others who probably don’t care, and even if they do, we don’t know what they actually believe anyway unless we take off the masks and build legitimately authentic relationships with them.

We’re always pretending a little.

I don’t think that makes us phonies. I think it just makes us humans who haven’t yet asked ourselves the right questions, nor answered them correctly.

If we had, we wouldn’t be driven by fear.

Learning to Enjoy Dating After Divorce

Okay. “Enjoy” is an overstatement. Dating after divorce generally blows.

But there’s one aspect of it I’ve learned to love: I don’t give one iota of a shit what the girl I’m meeting thinks of me.

Let me clarify: Of course I want to be liked. I prefer the feeling of someone liking and desiring me MUCH more than the feeling of non-interest or rejection.

But because dysfunctional relationships, emotionally inconvenient breakups, nor God forbid, another divorce, aren’t thing I want; and because I learned the hard way that wearing masks and shutting out partners from our innermost thoughts and feelings we’re too scared and insecure to share for fear of rejection is a proven path to relationship failure; I’ve developed a taste for courageous honesty. Frankly, it isn’t all that courageous anymore because I’m no longer afraid to share it.

If I tell the girl on the other side of the dinner table something honest about myself and she doesn’t want me because of that honest thing, how was a relationship ever going to work out in the first place? Why would I WANT to be with someone who only liked the fake version of me?

Men have been lying to women to get them into bed for as long as people have had the ability to communicate. (I can’t prove that. I’m just certain it’s true. Cro-Magnon Man was totally grunt-lying to cave chicks about the size of that last bear he killed.)

But if the goal is something with staying power and long-term sustainability, doing the thing most guys do in high school and college to look cool or high-status to girls we meet, is pointless. It amounts to little more than trying to impress them and win their superficial approval. Even if we succeed, it provides no value to our future selves or our current or future children.

Dishonesty—even in the form of not disclosing those two or three things you don’t like sharing with others because you’re afraid they’ll run away or think less of you—WILL break your relationship. And the longer the relationship goes, the greater the pain will be.

So, we choose honesty.

I’m divorced, and largely responsible for it.

I have a young son.

I have ADHD and it sometimes strains my relationships and can affect other parts of my life, professionally and financially.

I’m a child of divorce.

I’m totally middle class but genuinely work hard to be more.

I’m not the kind of dude who can fix your overheated engine on the side of the road, or build you a shelter with my imaginary knife I always carry with me if we get lost in the jungle before I go kill our dinner.

This, this, and this is wrong with me.

I believe X, Y and Z even though it might make you uncomfortable and not want me.

After you take off the mask and share THE REAL YOU with someone? Those who want you, admire you, crave your companionship, enjoy your company; and want to be friends with you, invite you to parties, introduce you to their family and professional network, and think you’re the kind of person who could positively influence their children…

THOSE are the people with whom you build long-lasting, meaningful relationships in whatever capacity you choose.

THOSE are the people who love you, not because of what you do for them, or how you make them look to the people in their lives whose approval they seek, but because they really, just, love YOU.

Mark Manson’s “Maybe You Don’t Know What Love Is” got my wheels turning about this. In it, he writes:

“If you want to remove or repair the conditional relationships in your life and have strong unconditional relationships, you are going to have to piss some people off. What I mean is that you have to stop accepting people’s conditions. And you have to let go of your own.

“This invariably involves telling someone close to you “no” in the exact situation they want to hear it the least. It will cause drama. A shit-storm of drama in many cases. After all, what you are doing is you are taking somebody who has been using parts of you to make themselves feel better and denying their ability to do so. Their reaction will be angry and they will blame you. They will say a lot of mean things about you.

“But don’t become discouraged. This sort of reaction is just further proof of the conditions on the relationship. A real honest love is willing to respect and accept something it doesn’t want to hear. A conditional love will fight back.

“But this drama is necessary. Because one of two things will emerge from it. Either the person will be unable to let go of their conditions and they will therefore remove themselves from your life (which, ultimately, is a good thing in most cases). Or, the person will be forced to appreciate you unconditionally, to love you in spite of the inconveniences you may pose to themselves or their self-esteem.”

Life is difficult. It’s not easy even though we all wonder: Why not?! Relationships are difficult because they require energy and maintenance. Everyone wants love to be a feeling flowing from an eternal spring of easyness like infatuation and lust, two reasonably bullshit feelings exposed as frauds by how short-lived they are.

But not love.

Because love isn’t bullshit. Maybe love “the feeling,” is. But not real love. Not love “the choice.”

It’s the one you wake up and choose to give because you love without expectation of getting something in return. It’s unconditional. You don’t love because of what the person does for you. You don’t love because of how they make you feel about yourself. You don’t love because of the opportunities they provide you.

You just love. Without agenda.

Just because.

Maybe that’s how things come back from the dead.

Maybe that’s how something sacred and lost gets found.

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Cracking the Code: 7 Ideas That Would Have Saved My Marriage

Crack-The-Code

Sobbing wives write me all the time, desperate for answers. “I just read your posts and cried all the way through. Thank you for understanding me. How is it that you seem to get it but my husband can’t?”

The most frequently asked question I get is: “How do I get my husband to understand this before it’s too late?” I’ll be extraordinarily wealthy AND save millions of marriages if I ever figure that out.

I’m probably more introspective than the average guy, and certainly more willing to write it all down and share it with strangers. But there’s little difference between me and any of these other guys. By and large, we’re the same. Just ask my ex-wife.

There are exceptions, but most of the time, when a woman on the brink of leaving her husband or who is desperately searching for ways to reconnect with him, lists things he does that make her feel worthless and abandoned, a little bit of shame washes over me because I remember doing some of those same things.

Many readers of this blog think I’m some great guy destined for an amazing relationship someday, and maybe I will have one, but none of them have ever stood in my kitchen and heard me spew hostility toward the woman I vowed before God, her parents, and most people we know, to love and cherish always.

“I love how your way is so perfect and righteous, and my way is bullshit and makes your life miserable all the time,” I more-or-less said during several fights, feigning self-righteousness in a totally immature and belligerent tone. “If you’re so miserable living with me, why don’t you file the fucking papers and go find your new magic husband you’ll love being with so much more than me!”

Which she more-or-less did. I didn’t like it.

I really did love my wife. I don’t just say that. So I’m confused about why I was capable of being such a dick in those moments.

My point is simply that it’s possible to go from Guy Who Acts Like a Dick and Sucks at Marriage to whatever you think I am now.

I don’t know how to get him there. Because there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

But there are ideas fundamental to relationships and human behavior that I have come to learn over the past four years of immersing myself in this world. Ideas that took me from Guy Who is Just Like the Others, to the guy who occasionally gets marriage proposals (probably not super-serious ones) in blog comments and emails.

These ideas changed my life and, in a cynical world, have given me reason for hope.

1. Two People Can See, Hear, Feel and Experience the Same Thing and Describe it VERY Differently Without Being Wrong

This is, by far, the most important one. This applies to any two people (Barack Obama thinks this, Ben Carson thinks that, and BOTH men have intelligent, valid conclusions even though they might contradict one another).

In male-female relationships, the most common source of breakage is this dynamic. Husband does X. It hurts his wife. She tells him it hurts. He doesn’t take it seriously because if she had done X, he wouldn’t hurt like she is claiming to. His conclusion is that it can’t possibly hurt her, so she’s complaining and being unreasonable about something she’s blowing out of proportion. He chalks it up as something he needn’t take seriously.

It IS possible that she is simply being unreasonable. I account for the fact SOME people are just horrible at being alive. Maybe he married one of those for reasons no sane person could ever explain.

I want to give people credit. If you’re the kind of person who reads things you are reading right now, then you’re the kind of person who I credit as being reasonably smart. Thus, you are unlikely to be the kind of person who would take a marriage commitment so lightly that you’d just marry ANYONE.

You deliberately chose to marry the person you married. Since you’re smart, I think you married another smart person. You didn’t both get dumber and meaner.

In conclusion, you should assume when your partner tells you something that she/he is telling you the truth. Denying the validity of your spouse’s claims will ensure your divorce close to 100-percent of the time.

HONESTLY, GUYS: ACCEPT THAT SHE IS SMART AND MEANS WHAT SHE SAYS, or punch yourself in the face repeatedly for being the dipshit who intentionally married a dumbass.

Until a highly accredited doctor at an insane asylum admits your wife, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by just believing things she tells you.

The only way to do that is to also accept that when X happens, how you feel about it and how she feels about it may not always be the same, but that BOTH can be true.

So when you’re driving home from the party, and she tells you how it made her feel shitty when you made a joke in front of all your mutual friends at her expense, the appropriate response is a sincere apology, a respectful request for an explanation as to how and why, and a pledge moving forward to never intentionally make her feel that way again.

It’s NOT: “Oh, lighten up! We were all just having fun. Everyone was laughing! You obviously can’t take a joke!”

Taking the leap of faith that you’re both fighting about two different things, and then recognizing when it’s happening so you don’t continue the pointless, unsolvable conflict? That will do more to strengthen your relationship than almost anything else, because all the positive dominoes start falling from there.

2. You Cannot Feel Happy Without First Feeling Grateful

Appreciating all of the good things in your life—even when bad things happen—is the only way to consistently feel good. Just ask every rich and famous suicidal person, ever.

People get REALLY annoyed about this. “Stop telling me to look on the bright side! I just want to feel angry!”

Really? You WANT to feel shitty? Like, that’s your goal? Right.

I operate with the assumption that the vast, vast, vast majority of people prefer life when things feel good more than when things feel bad. The foundation for happiness is gratitude.

And so it is true in your relationships.

The foundation for a happy marriage is habitually demonstrating appreciation for the sacrifices our partners make on our behalf.

Every day, find a thing, big or small, and say: Thank you. Start right now.

3. We are Scientifically Wired for Boredom

I used to wonder how Tom Brady could leave Bridget Moynahan or how Hugh Grant could cheat on Elizabeth Hurley, because I find both women painfully attractive.

The answer to why that happens is the same reason you don’t baby your car the way you did when you first bought it, or why even though you felt awesome when you got your big raise at your new job, two years later, you feel just as broke as you did before.

It has a name, and humanity would be wise to get familiar with it: Hedonic adaptation.

It means that your brain adapts to positive changes—new stuff, more money, bigger house, hot girlfriend, great job, etc.—and then you return to the same emotional baseline you usually feel.

You and your spouse WILL, 100-percent, feel boredom toward one another eventually. You are not freaks. There is nothing “wrong” with you. It doesn’t mean you are not “soulmates.” It doesn’t mean you chose wrong because your lovey-dovey, excited feelings didn’t last forever like you hoped they would.

It means you are a normally functioning human being, and your body and brain are doing what EVERYONE’S body and brain does. You are adapting to a previous life change, and it’s “boring.”

This is why we do #4 instead of stick our privates inside of other people’s privates.

4. Love is NOT a Feeling; It’s a Choice

Sometimes you feel happy. Sometimes you feel sad. Sometimes you feel angry. Sometimes you feel afraid. Sometimes you feel confident. Sometimes you feel anxiety.

FEELINGS CHANGE CONSTANTLY. Up and down, side to side, and back around again.

So, when you want to make your marriage work even when you don’t “feel” the same as you did on the day you got engaged and had sex all night afterward, the solution is pretty straightforward: You choose it.

My feelings change. Her feelings change. Sometimes we cannot control our emotions because life is hard, and sometimes unexpected and inconvenient things happen. The only way to make sure our love lasts forever is to deliberately make the choice every morning when we wake up to love our spouses and purposefully demonstrate that love. Some days will be easier than others. But if we both do it every day, our marriage will not end. I’m going to choose it every day.

5. Strong Boundaries are Sexy and Healthy

Develop and cultivate strong boundaries. Understand what boundaries really are and how having them will change your life. Choose to be with other people who have them too. This will benefit you more in the dating phase of your life than your married one, but—you know—better late than never. Demand respect. Be with people who also demand respect. Respect them. Act like it.

6. Wife’s Stories Boring You? Listen Anyway.

Step 1 – Be quiet and listen to your wife or girlfriend tell you her story, or verbalize a problem she’s having. Don’t interrupt unless it’s to ask an engaging question that moves the story forward and demonstrates active listening and mental investment.

Step 2 – Don’t sigh and act disinterested. Don’t ask her whether her story has a point. Don’t behave as if everything she just said was dumb. And for the love of God, DO NOT TRY TO SOLVE HER PROBLEM WITH YOUR MAN-SUGGESTIONS unless she specifically asks for your advice. You’re making a small time investment, like you do when you work out, or like when you save money for retirement. You’re investing in her wellbeing and security. It doesn’t make sense to you that something as seemingly meaningless and passive as sitting there and just listening can make your relationship profoundly strong. But it can, and will, if you can just take a deep breath, and with love and respect, listen.

Step 3 – Enjoy how it feels when your wife respects and appreciates you and tells her mother and friends how great you are, and how it feels when she wants you to ravish her instead of fantasizing about her project partner at work, or the furnace repair guy.

7. Be the Leader

This does not mean “dominate.” This does not mean: Act like you are better or more important than her.

It means:

  • You accept responsibility for the quality of your marriage
  • You accept responsibility for the behavior and “success” of your children
  • You accept responsibility for hurting your wife’s feelings even when you don’t understand how or why it happened
  • You accept the challenge of not repeating those behaviors
  • You do not passively ask your wife to manage the entire household’s calendar and make all decisions about food or weekend activities, only to complain when it doesn’t align with what you want to do
  • You accept responsibility for making her feel sexy and desired, planting the I-Want-To-Have-Sex-With-You Seeds at unexpected times and not just after you ignored her all night and got a sudden hard-on, or worse, only when you’re post-party drunk twice a month

A wife should never cheat on her husband (just as a husband should be vigilantly faithful to his wife). But instead of feeling and exhibiting jealousy and paranoia, or wondering whether she’s looking elsewhere to fill physical or emotional voids, BE THE LEADER.

Accept the challenge to proactively make your wife your life’s focus at the top of your daily priority list.

Then, affairs go away. Emotional insecurity goes away. Resentment and anger and hurt feelings and fighting go away.

In their place, you have two great friends. Two psychologically, emotionally and spiritually balanced parents in position to raise great kids. Two active lovers. Two people who give more to one another than they take for themselves.

We are either people enslaved and victimized by whatever Life does next, or we are people who have a say in the outcome. We have to decide.

Should all marital responsibility fall on men? Of course not.

But could men take the lead in a unified social movement intent on improving the state of marriage—and helping to make it a satisfying, life-giving institution instead of one rife with failure, regret and misery?

I like to think so.

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A Time for Fighting

(Image courtesy of HuffPo.)

(Image courtesy of Huffington Post.)

If I kill a pedestrian with my car while obeying all laws and cooperating with law enforcement, I am unlikely to be charged with a crime.

If I kill a pedestrian with my car while texting and drunk driving 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, I will almost certainly be charged both criminally and civilly with wrongful death and/or vehicular homicide. Even though it was an accident, a life might have been saved had I been more responsible.

If I kill a pedestrian with my car intentionally because I’m acting like a homicidal maniac, I would be a murderer and could easily spend the rest of my life in prison.

In all three scenarios, a person is dead because I hit them with my car.

But the consequences and whatever happens next all vary dramatically depending on the details.

If you’re my ex-wife and reading this, you’re probably annoyed because you’ve heard this one before and think I’m full of shit. And you wouldn’t be wrong to think so because I used this example in arguments with you when you were right and I was wrong.

The idea wasn’t wrong. I was just wrong to use it.

It’s a fact that I never intentionally—not even one time—set out to hurt my wife’s feelings. But, sometimes I hurt her feelings anyway. “It was an accident!” I’d protest. She’s overreacting AGAIN, I’d think. I didn’t MEAN to hurt her feelings, so she shouldn’t be so mad at me!!!

But I didn’t know then something I know now, and I wrote about it in An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10.

The “intent” argument only works the first time.

If you’re out hunting and you fire a shot that accidentally kills someone in a nearby home you didn’t realize was there, you are unlikely to be charged with murder or homicide. Because it was an accident.

But if you go out hunting again to that same spot and accidentally kill a second person due to negligence? Have fun in prison.

My crime wasn’t hurting my wife’s feelings the first time. An accidental one-time offense is almost always forgivable. My crime was hurting my wife’s feelings repeatedly, even after she explained why it was happening.

Because I don’t respond to things the same way she does, I never really changed, and expected her to adjust to my “correct” way of thinking and feeling and behaving.

In other words, if you’re not willing to set aside stubbornness and defensiveness and pride in order to not inflict emotional pain on your spouse, you’re being an asshole. You get a pass the first time. Apologize and try again. But if you keep doing it and she keeps getting upset and you keep trying to convince her YOU’RE right, and SHE’S wrong?

You’ll be the captain of the masturbation squad in no time. (The implication being that she or he will stop having sex with you because you’re doing a bad job.)

There are two points I want to make and they somewhat contradict each other which is always a problem.

1. INTENT MATTERS

Accidents and malicious intent are not the same thing, and if you treat both the same (with me), we’re going to go rounds.

And I think people need to establish strong personal boundaries and draw the line where they’re not going to let other people mess with, or manipulate them, emotionally.

The best thing I have ever read on personal boundaries was written by Mark Manson. It’s titled The Guide to Strong Boundaries, and will take you about 15 minutes to read. Even if you don’t have time, you should make time if you feel like you’re the kind of person always getting the short end of the stick or always in dysfunctional, dramatic relationships.

Manson says it’s a sure sign of boundary issues, and I think being conscious of these things and changing your normal operating procedure is an excellent way to make yourself a higher-functioning, happier, more-confident, more-capable, more-attractive person.

In conclusion? Don’t let someone charge you with murder when you’ve made an honest effort to do the right thing.

However, it’s easy to be dishonest with yourself about this one, and I used to be, so it’s critical to know the difference.

Here’s what I mean.

2. YOU MUST SACRIFICE AND COMPROMISE FOR PEOPLE YOU LOVE

You must.

I used to tease my wife for watching shows I thought were beneath her. Stuff on MTV, or Real Housewives of Bitchville, or whatever.

Anyone who knows me in real life (and I always assumed—incorrectly!—my actual wife) should know that I respect her intellectually. I don’t like talking to people I think are dumb, let alone, living in the same house with them.

My teasing would offend her. Sometimes, it would erupt into a real-life argument. She was upset because I wasn’t respecting her. I was upset because of all the people in the world, you’re not going to give ME the benefit of the doubt!?!?

I bet this exact same fight happens in virtually every marriage.

This is another classic guy-being-dumb scenario in which I became an expert. (Because I was being dumb.)

Because her teasing me about some show doesn’t bother me, I would get offended by it bothering her. I literally thought I should get special treatment since we were married.

I did something that upset her, but I didn’t think it SHOULD bother her, so instead of working really hard to stop the behavior, I just kept doing whatever I wanted without apology because she shouldn’t have been upset in the first place!

The time for strict boundary enforcement is in your professional relationships. With family and friends in adulthood when you are mature and wise enough to sniff out emotionally manipulative bullshit. And in your romantic pursuits—at the very beginning when you’re first meeting people and deciding how much you’re going to let them in.

Partners change the game.

It’s not just about you anymore. It’s about we. It’s about us.

Strong personal boundaries are critical to healthy living.

But those walls have to come down when choosing another. Vulnerabilities and scars exposed.

And you build new boundaries and walls around both of you. Together.

Because you are them.

And they are you.

Two tangled souls.

A beginning.

But no end.

There’s a time for fighting.

And a time for not.

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