Tag Archives: Brene Brown

I Figured Out Who To Blame For My Divorce

man and woman pointing fingers at each other

(Image/shawnpowrie.com)

After an 18-month downward spiral of misery hallmarked by sexlessness, sleeping in separate bedrooms, and crying more than any middle-class white guy living in the United States should be allowed, my wife packed a bag and drove away with our preschooler in the backseat.

And because during those final months I felt as if I was trying harder than she was to make it work, I blamed her for ruining my life and taking half of my son’s childhood away from me.

I felt abandoned. Betrayed. Rejected.

I felt like she chose someone else over me because I wasn’t good enough.

Not rich enough. Not smart enough. Not attractive enough. Not sexy enough. Not tall enough.

Not ANYTHING enough.

Must be this tall to ride.

She moved out. And before I had time to figure out what hit me, she was with someone else.

I blamed her for breaking up our family. I blamed her for disrupting our little son’s childhood. I blamed her for the intense pain I felt in my head, chest and stomach. I blamed her for leaving me alone in a town where I didn’t have roots, but couldn’t move from.

I blamed her for ruining my entire life.

She did this to me.

The Skill of Blaming

When bad things happen in my personal life, my brain quickly creates stories to explain why those bad things are as much Not My Fault as mathematically possible.

It’s kind of incredible how instantaneously it occurs.

I’d call it a superpower, but maybe everyone does it. Also, I perceive superpowers to be tools used for good, and blame-shifting even as an involuntary subconscious process that happens before we even have time to speak or act, is not something I’d consider “good.”

I don’t have to try hard to do this.

Point to something you don’t like about me, or some aspect of my behavior or lifestyle you observe as needing improvement, and I can tell you a legit story about why it’s that way.

Only child.

Small-town Ohio.

Divorced parents.

Unforeseeable economic conditions.

ADHD.

Super-busy.

Single father.

Whatever.

Something I inherited or some limitation created by someone else can usually be blamed for whatever The Bad Thing is.

Sometimes I even catch myself saying: “That’s not meant to be an excuse; that’s the actual reason” to people to whom I’m probably just making excuses.

I’d like to think I’m being honest when I say it.

But maybe I trick myself into believing my own bullshit before I ever get to the part where I challenge my own assumptions. Maybe I sometimes move on before ever getting to the self-challenging part because I’m busy or distracted or lazy. That’s probably how a whole bunch of false beliefs and general assholery happens.

I think I might thoughtlessly do what many humans thoughtlessly do: We rationalize and believe whatever story makes us feel most comfortable.

I’ve been thinking about blame ever since another writer pointed me in the direction of this Dr. Brené Brown video on blame. It’s excellent and you should watch it in an effort to keep your assholery quotient as low as possible.

When Blame is Good

I’ve been trying to work out when blame or the act of assigning blame might be useful.

If someone is wrongly accused of a crime or even just misidentified as having caused The Bad Thing at home, school or work, it seems like a good thing to exonerate the innocent by discovering the true cause.

Similarly, bad things sometimes happen on a broader scale, like a workplace accident, airplane crash or building fire. In these situations, some type of root-cause analysis and investigation is conducted to identify the reason The Bad Thing happened.

It’s good to identify reasons. To assign “blame” correctly, because then steps can be taken to learn from any mistakes that might have contributed to The Bad Thing happening.

There are very few items on my Reasons My Life is Better Because of Divorce! list that I just invented.

But one of them is: Now that I’ve identified several ways that my incorrect beliefs and asshole behaviors contributed to my divorce, I can now be confident that I’m unlikely to repeat them.

Which is a bigger deal for people like me than you might realize.

People who smoke a pack of Marlboros every day, and pound fast-food cheeseburgers and shakes for every meal are more likely to gain weight and develop heart disease, cancer or another potentially fatal disease linked to poor nutrition.

There was a time in history not so long ago where MOST people in the world didn’t know things like that.

Figuring out what to “blame” for the sickness and death was good. It was useful. It helped us collectively make better choices moving forward.

The truth is that blame is rarely good or useful. A better word for the good kind of “blame” is Accountability.

When Blame is Bad

I’m wrong more often than I want to believe (You are too. Sorry!), but I’m pretty sure blaming other things and other people for The Bad Things we encounter is almost never good.

Brené Brown says it best in that video above that you probably didn’t watch.

She said “I’d rather something be my fault than no one’s fault. Why? Because it gives us some semblance of control.”

And that very thought is, I believe, the one that helped me get from depression and borderline-suicidalness, to the place where I can find comfort and peace that my son and his mother have someone other than me who cares about them and looks out for their wellbeing.

When my needy, bitchy, nagging, unsatisfiable and overly emotional wife left me, I was a victim, and powerless to any of her personal-life decisions (which impacted me directly because we share a child). Everything was her fault, and I was miserable and kind of wanted to die.

However.

When my unsupported, emotionally abandoned wife who had spent several years trying her best to help me understand how my actions and attitudes were harming her and our marriage (while I repeatedly denied it and refused to change) FINALLY worked up the courage to leave the relationship in the face of sacrificing so much time with her son, and suffering the personal-life fallout of all who would judge her disapprovingly for that choice…

Everything became MY fault. 

Because—despite tricking myself and others for many years—I had been a monumentally shitty husband.

And after coming to terms emotionally with the depths of my failings, my misery turned into power.

My despair turned into hope.

Because I finally, finally, finally understood how my actions had lead me to the place I was in, and I could feel the incredible power that comes with being in control of my own life again.

And when you understand how something you did or didn’t do lead to the worst thing that ever happened to you, you get to stop being afraid of it happening again for the same reason.

We can’t fix things when we don’t even know what’s broken.

Blame blinds us to accurate diagnoses.

Brown said: “Blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Accountability is a vulnerable process.”

Similar to how The Gottman Institute has conducted incredible amounts of research and amassed huge quantities of data on which to base its relationship-counseling advice, Brown also has taken a research-based approach to helping people develop better relationship skills.

“Blaming is simply a way to discharge anger. People who blame a lot seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we spend all of our energy raging for 15 seconds and figuring out whose fault something is,” Brown said. “Blaming is very corrosive in relationships, and one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy.”

And if you don’t exactly know what empathy is and why it’s important (I did not throughout the entirety my nine-year marriage), then you’ll be pleased to know it’s the one thing you can start practicing today that will literally change your life and those of everyone you interact with regularly in profound and positive ways.

Nine out of 10 doctors recommend it for curing a bad case of assholery.

When I blame other people and happenings for the bad things I experience in life, then nothing I do matters because everything good or bad that happens to me is out of my control.

The poor helpless victim that I am.

When I accept responsibility for all of my choices from an appropriate age of accountability through today, then everything I do matters because everything that happens to me is a result of something I can influence by whatever I choose next.

It’s the difference between anxiety and confidence; between despair and hope; and between a life where things just happen to us, and one where we decide what happens next.

It’s easy to blame everything on my ex-wife.

It’s hard to be accountable for everything that happened to my family.

But my most important discovery following the worst thing that ever happened to me is this: I can do hard things.

And so can you.

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Empathizing with Hitler: How Being Aware of This One Thing Can Save the World

empathy

It’s so much more important than I ever knew. (Image/abigailleighphillips.com)

Settle down, kids. I don’t mean it like THAT.

I think I know why our relationships fail more than half the time, and how most men—even good-character guys who are easy to get along with—can be colossally shitty husbands and boyfriends.

Every day, millions of wives and girlfriends turn to the internet desperate for an answer to this question. Sometimes they find this blog and write me comments and emails asking various forms of it.

This question is at the heart of this blog’s existence and my personal search for answers because it’s the same question my wife—crying and desperate—begged me to answer during our marriage fights. It’s the same question many—maybe even, most—wives and girlfriends ask themselves about the men in their lives:

“Why don’t you love me?”

We husbands and boyfriends stand there dumbly because we’re at a total loss. How crazy is this chick right now? Why don’t I love her? I gave up (or am planning to give up) my ENTIRE LIFE to marry her, share the rest of my life and things and experiences with her, and have children with her. I say ‘I love you’ every day. EVERY DAY! How in the hell can she stand there, question my love for her, and expect me to take her seriously?!

We think she’s from another planet, and we tend to act like it. Even if we’re not being actively hostile, our inability to understand why she’s upset down deep in her bones, twists the knife even further.

She thinks we’re from another planet, and she tends to act like it, especially when she’s packing bags and moving out while we stand there like drooling oafs.

And why?

Because most of us don’t know what the word “empathy” means, or that if we worked to be as skilled at empathy as we are at driving cars, or playing golf, or whatever our primary work is, our lives would transform from shitty to awesome.

Important Things Men Don’t Often Understand or Think About

I think when we strip off all the clothes and trimmings, and let it stand there naked and exposed and broken down to its most basic form, the truth about common destructive male behavior in relationships stems from the following:

1. Men don’t know what EMPATHY is.

2. We don’t know it is the most critical skill to acquire in order to have good relationships and avoid divorce.

3. We don’t WANT to learn about it because it’s ignorantly mistaken for a feely “girl” concept that threatens our sacred identity as Real Men.

4. Behaving in ways that avoid the appearance of weakness (even though most of us secretly feel weak and afraid at times under our faking-it masks) trumps love-affirming behavior because we don’t realize our wives are actually going to leave us, and that it’s going to be way worse than our fear of looking weak.

5. Men are mostly unaware of this, like we’re living in The Matrix, and don’t see the world as it really is.

A Short Lesson on ‘Awareness’

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

Men Are Unknowingly Empathetic, Just Like the Nazis

I used Adolf Hitler’s name in the headline for cheap shock value and in a Moonwalking with Einstein-sort-of way, but I could have used the name of anyone who sucks. Joseph Stalin. Pol Pot. Mao Zedong. Osama Bin Laden. Take your pick.

It’s important to disassociate the concept of empathy from good vs. evil, or right vs. wrong. Two evil people can empathize with each other. One good person could even empathize with an evil person if he or she wanted to. A compassionate Jewish widower could conceivably empathize with a Nazi man who lost his wife.

Empathy is NOT an emotion. It’s not a feeling. Empathy is simply the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

“Empathy is a choice. And it’s a vulnerable choice, because in order to connect with you I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling,” said author and speaker Brené Brown in this excellent little video designed to help viewers understand the distinction between the words “Empathy” and “Sympathy.”

Every man who isn’t a sociopath (mental health experts say 4% of the population is sociopathic) probably exhibits empathy regularly, even if it’s only with a few like-minded people, like his guy friends.

Guys who are heavily invested in tribes (like friends or athletic and business teammates, brotherhoods, and enthusiast groups) likely behave empathetically in most interactions with fellow tribe members.

I’ve known and seen countless men who prefer to hang out with their buddies than their wives or girlfriends. It’s because there exists a MONUMENTALLY IMPORTANT connection with his friends that doesn’t exist between him and his significant other. He’s simply never been able to label it before. But it has a name.

It’s empathy.

“Empathy? Stop being a gay pussy, Matt, and start being a man,” a terrifying percentage of guys would think if they actually read this far into the post. But they usually don’t because they don’t know they need help. They don’t know they lack empathy in their most critical relationships, and they don’t know that it matters.

They just don’t know.

How do we make people aware of a nuanced concept so subtle that it escaped me for 36 consecutive years, including recently, while I was looking for it every day?

While wives Google: “Why doesn’t my husband care about me?” or “My husband is an asshole” (which this blog ranks #1 for), men want answers also: “Why does my wife hate me?”

All along, most of these men loved their wives. But because they lacked empathy skills and often never realized it was something to worry about, their wives BELIEVE their husbands don’t love them. Over time, wives retreat emotionally because it’s virtually impossible to perpetually love someone who perpetually hurts you. When she retreats, it often feels like hate, repulsion and disgust to her husband.

And sometimes it is.

Men, You MUST Understand What Empathy Is

Again, guys already do it! They sit next to each other at the bar, or on the patio table after a round of Saturday golf, and one says “Betsy is all over my ass right now to repaint the half-bath in the basement and she got all pissed off last night and this morning about us playing golf today,” and his friend says: “Ha! Join the club, brother. Val wants me to help her plan a Disney trip for us and the kids next summer that I don’t really want to take. They’re always complaining about something, right?” and then they clink their beer bottles together at 11 a.m., delaying their return home by ordering another round.

THAT. IS. EMPATHY.

And if you can figure out how to intentionally behave and speak to your significant other (and pretty much everyone!) with conscious empathy, you will transform all of your close relationships (spouses, children, siblings, parents), and then, like MAGIC, a bunch of drama and dysfunction will begin to disappear and life will suck less, and maybe even morph toward amazing.

It’s EASY to empathize with friends who think and feel and like all the same things we do. It’s why we have all of these naturally easy relationships with people who share our interests, temperament and circumstances.

It’s DIFFICULT to empathize with people whose thoughts, feelings and interests conflict with ours.

Empathy is a life skill which requires practice and repetition. So, first we learn that it’s a thing. We wake up. We become aware of the water. We learn what empathy actually is. Then we decide whether we care. (Since your life will suck more and your marriage will fail or be defined by misery if you don’t, I hope you’ll choose to care.)

Then we get started. With a real, God’s-honest chance to change the world.

More Resources on Empathy

Thanks to readers of this blog, I was introduced to Dr. Brené Brown’s remarkable research, writing and speaking on critical ideas most men aren’t actively thinking about. But it’s only because they don’t know how life-changing it would be if they did. Brown’s work kicks ass. 

Here are a couple things to get you started:

Brown’s TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability

Brown’s online courses, COURAGEworks

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