Tag Archives: Coaching

How to Respond to Your Emotional Spouse Without Making Things Worse

mirroring and building rapport with others

(Image/cristianobaraghini.it)

More often than not, when my wife reacted emotionally to anything—something I said or did; something on TV; something that happened at work, whatever—my gut reaction was to think of her response as an overreaction.

This was not me intentionally trying to demean or disrespect her. This was my honest, natural, and I believed—objective—reaction to whatever she was saying or doing that I perceived to be disproportionate to whatever triggered the emotional response.

I was using commonplace, relationship-killing invalidation methods, but I wasn’t doing so maliciously. Never.

I don’t like injustice. So if my wife told me a story about how a co-worker or client had upset her earlier in the day, and I agreed with the offending co-worker or client, I would say so. I was sharing my honest opinions and feelings, and believed that happy, healthy marriages were built on such things.

When my wife would act pissy because I wasn’t taking her side, I was once again appalled by the notion that my wife would rather me dishonestly side with her than share my actual beliefs.

Lastly, I felt protective of my wife. Loved her and wanted her to be the best, healthiest, smartest, most balanced person she could be. I felt morally and lovingly obligated to point out that I thought many of these situations were beneath her.

Babe. You are very smart. You are very talented. You are very decent. I wish you wouldn’t let these inconsequential things negatively affect how you feel. If you learn to see them as minor nuisances rather than these big, day-ruining things, then moving forward you will have more good days and feel happy.

I believed these were honest thoughts and feelings, and that sharing them with my wife was not only appropriate, but that I was offering her a path to feeling more peace and joy in her life.

But then, of course, in all of my blind ignorance, my marriage continued to slowly—very slowly—deteriorate, one dinner or car-ride conversation like this at a time, until it felt like my wife hated me, and we spent more than a year sleeping in separate bedrooms until she finally ended it for good.

The entire time, me thinking she was emotionally broken—that her internal calibration was misaligned—and that once she made a few subtle adjustments, she would feel better, and then we could get back to having that marriage we both believed we were signing up for.

The Emotional Intelligence Litmus Test

If you’ve read this far, and you are in 100-percent lockstep philosophical agreement with how I processed and responded to my wife sharing her emotions with me during our marriage, then I think it’s safe to assume you have a lot of conflict in your romantic relationships.

If you agree with my good-hearted, well-intentioned approach to supporting my wife in my now-failed marriage, or are married to (or dating) someone who behaves as I did, I bet you have The Same Fight, which produce the same toxic feelings of stress and anxiety, tones of voice, and emotionally unpleasant results over and over again. I assume you are incredibly frustrated with your failure to make progress in these conversations, because you are stuck in this conflict cycle that won’t stop repeating itself.

Most of us are familiar with the Intelligence Quotient, or IQ, but fewer of us, it seems, are familiar with the Emotional Quotient, or EQ—the measure of a person’s emotional intelligence.

While IQ can help you solve advanced math theorems or learn a foreign language, it’s EQ that will determine the quality and fate of your romantic and interpersonal relationships.

Here’s a Mind Tool for Connecting with Your Emotional Partner and Ending the Fight Cycle

This is not exclusively a male behavior—this attempt to “correct” or “adjust” someone else’s emotional reactions—but it’s most typically seen in men, which is why we have the stereotype of men frustrated by their overly emotional wives or girlfriends.

The majority of my male coaching clients report feeling this same sense of helplessness with their wives.

“Suddenly, she’s mad about something again, and I don’t even know what I did wrong. It’s like nothing I do is ever good enough for her.”

Right now, some of you guys are nodding. I am too. This is exactly how I felt when I was married. Like I could never win. And I didn’t understand why my efforts to help my wife feel better only seemed to make her feel worse.

Men in this scenario have an opportunity (responsibility?) to adjust their response habits to their relationship partners during these conversations and situations, and many will discover that by doing so, these emotionally volatile, conflict-heavy discussions will lessen in both frequency and severity, leading to two partners increasing their connection and moving closer together instead of drifting further apart.

Here’s where I was getting it wrong, and where you (or your partner) may also be getting it wrong.

When my wife started reacting emotionally to something, my first reaction was to evaluate the situation and determine whether I would react the same way to that same scenario. I was very good at empathizing with people whenever I recognized that I would feel just like them if I had gone through what they had.

But my wife would typically react to things in ways that I would not.

And my VERY FIRST ACTION was to decide that her reaction was disproportionate to whatever had happened. Another way to say that is that my very first move was to determine that my wife was wrong, incorrect, mistaken, misinformed, ignorant, crazy, or emotionally weak to be acting the way she was.

Imagine that every time you told your spouse that something made you mad, sad, or hurt, they told you were wrong—that you either didn’t know how you really felt because you were confused, or that you were incorrect for feeling as you did. That you’re too dumb to know that none of that stuff matters.

Imagine that when you told them that THEY were saying or doing things that resulted in you feeling shitty, that they DEFENDED and JUSTIFIED their actions, all but ensuring that in the future—both short-term and long-term—you could count on feeling shitty because of your partner’s actions over and over again.

What they did wasn’t bad or wrong! YOUR feelings and opinions are what’s bad and wrong! So you just go ahead and fix whatever is wrong with your brain and body chemistry, and then you won’t have to feel bad anymore!

Imagine it.

When a person tells you that something you did or said caused them pain, and then you respond in ways that essentially promise you will repeat that pain-causing behavior because you don’t think there’s anything wrong with it? It makes perfect sense for that person to hurriedly remove you from their life.

We should not allow people to hurt us after they refuse to stop doing something we have repeatedly asked them to stop doing. Those people should not be granted permission to continue torpedoing our lives.

It’s this inclination to match or compare how we would react to certain events that creates conflict with our partners.

I ask my coaching clients who report this conflict pattern in their relationships to cut that shit out, stat.

Instead of matching or comparing their predicted reaction to an identical scenario, I ask them to reverse-engineer it.

I ask them to match or compare their current emotional state to that of their partner’s.

Psychologists call it emotional mirroring. I’m not asking people to intentionally make themselves feel sad or angry. I’m simply asking them to swap out the thing they’re currently comparing for something else that will foster positive emotional connectivity, which is often what’s missing in conflict-heavy relationships.

It’s not useful to waste the time debating the merits of whether they SHOULD feel as they feel. They DO feel as they feel.

Deal in reality. And an effective emotionally intelligent response to someone in pain, or who feels sad or angry, is to match or compare YOUR emotions to THEIRS.

They’re sad. Should they be sad? WHO CARES? They ARE sad. What makes you sad? What happened the last time you were sad? What behaviors and words are consistent with what feels appropriate when you’re in that state?

They’re angry. Should they be angry? Doesn’t matter. They ARE angry. What makes you angry? Can you remember the last time you were really angry and your entire body felt shitty? What could your wife or friend or whoever have said or done to help?

Trying to correct someone else’s emotions is a recipe for DESTROYING your relationship with them.

Instead, attempt to evoke that same emotion. Notice how they feel. Communicate that you understand that they’re feeling that, and that you know it sucks. Communicate that what they think and feel MATTERS, because THEY matter. Communicate that you’re there to be whatever version of a support system they need to get through whatever is happening.

If it’s something you said or did to trigger those feelings, DO NOT attempt to defend or justify whatever happened. Do not double down on the thing that’s causing all of this suck. Seek to understand both WHAT and WHY something hurt. Communicate that you want to be their teammate—their partner—in cooperatively finding new ways to say and do things so that the shitty thing doesn’t repeat itself.

After a competitive sporting event like a football game, all of the viewers, fans, and participants have WILDLY different reactions.

The winning players, coaches, and fans are happy.

The losing players, coaches, and fans are sad or angry.

Some neutral viewers didn’t experience any emotion at all.

You can see the lunacy in any of those people acting as if others should share their identical emotional reaction, yes? OF COURSE losing players and fans are typically going to feel shittier than winning players and fans.

Same event. Different reactions.

Just as contextually, all of those different reactions make sense when you understand things from their perspective, we’ll discover that people reacting emotionally to something in ways that might be foreign or surprising to us ALSO have a very sensible, understandable reason for responding that way.

If you’re interested in loving, living with, sleeping with, sharing resources with, this other human being who behaves differently than you would, I think you’ll find it incredibly useful to seek out those reasons for this surprising reaction. That’s information you’ll be able to use to NOT say and do things that lead to your partner (or anyone you care about) feeling hurt and mistreated.

Our relationship problems are subtle. Nuanced.

And the adjustments we must make in our minds and hearts are equally subtle and nuanced.

It’s not hard because it’s especially difficult to do any of this stuff. It’s hard because we frequently struggle to notice, to see, to recognize these moments for what they are.

Good news: We can do hard things.

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The 2,000 Reasons I’m Glad I Didn’t Die Last Night

Compass photo by Aron Visuals

(Image/Aron Visuals)

There haven’t been many days when I’ve wanted to die. Maybe zero.

I felt really bad for a long time after my marriage ended, and I sort of stopped caring. I figured being dead might hurt less.

A little boy and you guys gave me reasons to dust myself off and keep trying every day.

There aren’t many days when I actually thought that I was going to die, even though I’ve probably almost died a bunch of times.

Three of those times stand out above the rest. One was the first day of my life when the docs and nurses told my parents to expect the worst. I don’t remember this, of course, but I’ve heard the story so many times that it feels like I do. Another was a three-wheeler ATV accident when I was a teenager where a little safety bar sticking out from behind the seat probably saved me.

And the third happened last night while driving home from a concert with my 11-year-old in the passenger seat.

I assume I’m not the only one who feels this really surreal feeling when my brain realizes that something bad is about to go down. It’s all happening so fast that you don’t have time to be afraid, so there’s no fear or anxiety, just real-time acceptance that the bad thing is happening, and you just sort of hope things will be okay on the other side, knowing it’s out of your hands.

My son was dozing off in the seat next to me even though the new Volbeat album was playing pretty loudly.

I had just changed lanes from the right lane to the center lane of a three-lane highway at about 70 miles per hour to pass a large semi hauling gasoline, and then exit for home about a mile later.

That’s when a white SUV passed quickly on my left and started merging into the center lane right where we were. I probably said a bad word. A collision with either the merging, speeding vehicle on my left OR the massive fuel tanker on my right seemed like they would end poorly, but I was pretty sure one or both of those things was about to happen.

I knew we were going to have a high-speed highway accident.

I hit the brakes hard and moved as close to the semi as I could. Maybe he saw what was happening and drifted a little to give me room. All I know is I left an epic trail of fishtailing rubber down the center lane of the highway I drive several times per week, I didn’t hear the expected crunch of metal on metal from either the left or the right, and then—miraculously—no one smoked us from behind which could have sent us in any number of directions to some unknown fate.

It happened too fast to really feel anything.

“Did we just almost get in a car accident, dad?”

“Yeah bud. A bad one, I think. Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Are you okay?”

“I’m having a little moment, but yeah, I think so. Did you feel us hit anything?”

“No.”

“That’s insane. I don’t understand how we didn’t hit something. I was sure we were going to. I guess I did a good job.”

“You did do a good job, dad. We’re both okay.”

[Update: The other driver DID hit us. I have a fancy dent in my driver’s side front fender to show for it, and no means of making the other driver’s insurance company pay for it. I hadn’t had a clear view of that front fender until after writing this. Garbage. On the flip side, the vehicle repair costs are insignificant measured against the gratitude I feel for my son’s safety, and both of us still being here.]

2,000 Days Later

It was about six years—about 2,000 or so days—ago when I used to drive down this same stretch of road imagining a large truck driving in the opposite direction crossing over center and just insta-taking me out in a freak accident. I remember thinking: Do your worst. I don’t fucking care.

Back when I didn’t really know how to smile anymore.

Back when it felt impossible to focus on what was in front of me.

Back when it felt hard to breathe.

My son and I were driving home from an Imagine Dragons concert when I felt certain we were going to be involved in the worst vehicular accident of my life.

The most poignant part of the evening came when Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds intro’d a song talking specifically to kids in the audience about mental health and depression, speaking about the cultural stigma attached to opening up about depression, or about seeking therapy. He was sharing his story to normalize the idea that you can be the lead singer for one of the most popular rock bands in the world, and still need help.

And that that doesn’t make you weak. It makes you strong.

It doesn’t make you broken. It makes you wise.

“Life is ALWAYS worth living,” he said, before they started playing again in what turned out to be the most visually impressive musical performance I’ve ever seen.

Imagine Dragons - Pro Football Hall of Fame - MF

It was pretty rad. (Image/Matthew Fray)

The almost-accident shook me. Down in the places we can’t see and mostly don’t talk about.

Presumably because the little person I’m most alive for was right there with me.

And it dawned on me this morning how unsettling it was to think about family and friends—including you guys (if word ever even got to you)—that I was just gone without so much as a goodbye note telling you how much you matter.

How much this matters.

How much life matters.

What Might 2,000 More Days Bring?

Sometimes my coaching work brings me people who were in the same dark place I was 2,000 days ago.

People who are legitimately asking themselves the question: Why am I even getting up today? What is the point of all of this?

The answer to that question is different for everyone. But 2,000 days later, I’m more confident than ever that there’s ALWAYS an answer. There’s always a reason.

Interpret that with as much or as little spirituality as you want. The answer stands either way.

These past 2,000 days represent about one-fifth of my 40 years—about 20%, and I can’t remember the first 2,000, so it’s really more like 25%.

That number shocks me.

You make the decision to breathe. When everything hurts. You make the decision to get to tomorrow, whatever may come. You don’t have to do it 2,000 times. You just have to do it one more time. We can always do things one more time.

Heavy things become lighter to carry. Sometimes because we set a bunch of it down and leave it behind us. But mostly because we become stronger.

Ugly things become beautiful. Not because things we used to hate become things we love. But because we would be so much less capable had we not endured the difficult human trial.

Darkness becomes light. Which is a choice. To light up the darkness. One you feel prepared to make after wandering around in the dark for a while and deciding it sucks enough to do something else.

Every day that we wake up offers the possibility of being the best day of our lives. Every single day. I don’t always remember to, but I choose hope.

I don’t know how close I actually came to dying last night. Maybe it doesn’t matter since it eventually happens to all of us, and time is never on our side. We are not promised tomorrow, and never have been.

But it felt like a thing in the moment. I was shook. Still am. I’ve been in lots of things, and this one was different.

It made me want to hug my son. I’m so glad you’re here.

It made me want to write to you. I’m so glad you’re here.

It made me realize that I’m not the same person I was 2,000 days ago, and that I won’t be the same person in 2,000 more.

And neither will you.

But who will we be?

Decisions, decisions.

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The Mistake Smart People Make That Causes Divorce and Other Miserable Things

(Image/CBC)

How well do you know your spouse or romantic partner? Your parents? Siblings? Best friends?

If you were to take a personality test, answering questions as you imagine they would answer them, how confident are you that the results would match reality?

People frequently have conflict—often minor, sometimes major—with loved ones and people they spend a lot of time with and know well.

And the reason we have conflict with other people is not because we’re dumb nor is it because they are (even though that would be nice and neat, right?). The reason we have conflict with the people we are closest to is because we’re smart. All of us.

No matter how lacking you think you or someone else is in the intellect department, I’m here to try to convince you that almost EVERYONE you encounter is incredibly smart. Amazingly smart.

And the reason you might not see it in others, or possibly yourself, is the same blindness that causes all of those fights, arguments, disagreements—conflict—in our interpersonal relationships.

Would You Marry Someone You Didn’t Know?

One of my coaching clients is getting married in three days. She has known and dated her fiancé for more than 10 years.

Something I ask all of my married or dating clients to do is take the awesome (and totally free) personality test at 16 Personalities, which is sort of a hybrid version of Myers-Briggs.

First, I ask them to take the test for themselves and confirm for me their accuracy. (Still 100% reporting as accurate.)

Second, I ask them to take the test answering questions as they believe their spouse or romantic partner would answer them. I love the insights and conversations that occur naturally when we discover the gaps between what we believe and what’s actually real.

I like to say that the majority of conflict that exists between two romantic partners lies in that gap.

My soon-to-be married client is brilliant. Impressive. Master’s degree holder. Objectively intelligent in all of the measurable academic ways. And subjectively intelligent in all of the ways you experience when you’re conversing with her about big-picture life stuff.

So, I was totally floored this morning when I learned that she got ALL FOUR PILLARS of her near-future husband’s personality totally wrong.

If you’re not familiar with Myers-Briggs, there are four letters to classify a person’s personality. Each letter slot can only be one of two letters. (For example, I am ENFP.) There are 16 possible combinations.

My client sent me the results of her “guess test” for her fiancé—the results of a test where she guessed how he would answer questions.

The result?

INFP.

Then, this morning, her real-life fiancé sent me his real-life results.

ESTJ.

It was a relationship coach’s wet dream. Not only did my brilliant client get her fiancé’s personality traits 100% backward, but it turns out that his personality profile is the same as her’s.

You are Scary Smart (and That’s Why This is Dangerous)

The reason you don’t usually spill your drink down your shirt, or crash your shoulder into doorways you’re walking through, or cut yourself when handling sharp objects is because your brain is constantly processing information in real time and essentially guessing what your body needs to do to avoid injury.

And our brains are AMAZING. They’re right almost 99 percent of the time about everything it’s in charge of guessing. We usually don’t crash our cars. We usually don’t wander aimlessly off the edge of a cliff. We usually don’t mistake some fatal substance for a common meal.

That’s why, even though our bodies are pretty frail compared to most of the stuff on earth, we still have a life expectancy greater than 70 years.

It’s a miracle.

We’re always subconsciously guessing EVERYTHING, all of the time, and statistically speaking, we’re pretty much always right. We have every reason in the world to trust our instinctual thoughts. They happen on auto-pilot. We’re smart. And we know it.

So, when we’re having a conversation, and our brain (or “gut”) is automatically interpreting and reacting to what’s happening without us even having to think about it, it’s really difficult to check ourselves and think: “Wait a minute. Could this be one of those fewer-than-1% things I’m getting wrong?”

Every time someone says our does something—just like our brain guessing keeps us from crashing into stuff and falling off cliffs—we are applying our own internal belief filters to what they are saying and doing.

We almost never account for the possibility that they could mean something entirely differently than what we interpreted on auto-pilot.

All of this bullshit happens in our blindspots. We are so good, and so correct, and so on-point the vast majority of the time, that we all just trust the statistical likelihood of that being true in whatever moment we’re in, and are thus surprised, disappointed, shocked, humiliated, ashamed, or whatever, when we realize we’re wrong and have our asses handed to us.

I’m an Asshole, but I’m Trying Hard to Not Be

The thing I’ve tried really hard to do throughout these past six years of being divorced and trying to reinvent myself—and I still mess up a lot (but I’m getting better)—is to mindfully account for my human fallibility. It’s CERTAIN that I am wrong some (hopefully small) percentage of the time. And the only way for me to avoid seriously damaging something or myself is to be aware of that, so that I can be less of an asshole in my daily life.

Most of the time, terrorists aren’t carrying out attacks. But it’s awesome when our security measures in the intelligence and law enforcement communities prevent something horrible from happening during that fewer-than-1% of the time.

I’m trying to turn myself into the kind of person who is vigilantly avoiding being an emotional terrorist to myself and/or the people I care about.

Being smart is great most of the time.

But sometimes, being smart is a handicap. A blindness. A weakness. One that can cost us our most precious and meaningful relationships both in and outside of our homes.

It’s a simple mistake. One that’s so common and ever-present in our daily lives that it’s easy to make, and most of us always will.

But we don’t have to make it all of the time.

And those times we don’t, because we saw something previously invisible?

Just maybe those are the moments that will save our lives.

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Here’s How They Chop Hot Women in Half

Yep. That’s actor and comedian Bill Hader “sawing a woman in half” at a Playboy photoshoot. A friend challenged me to use today’s headline on one of my blog posts. Then I asked him to hold my beer. (Image/Playboy)

Spoiler alert #1: When magicians perform the Saw-Woman-in-Half trick on stage, he or she is not actually sawing a human being in half, and then magically putting her together again afterward.

But when the illusionists are really good at their craft, it looks to the audience as if that’s exactly what happened. It defies everything our brains know to be true or possible.

No matter how impossible it appears—for any well-executed illusion—there is always an explanation for it. There is always a story behind the illusion that fills in the blanks, and those missing pieces make the impossible, possible.

Before optometrists were able to prove scientifically that some people had various forms of color-blindness that resulted in them literally seeing different colors than another person standing next to them looking at the same thing, it was IMPOSSIBLE that two people could look at the same flower or the same car or the same painting, and describe them differently with BOTH of them being correct. Totally impossible. Madness.

But once people with color-correct vision had an explanation for the different forms of color-blindness, and were shown visual aids that displayed what people with color-blindness see, it suddenly made sense.

New information explained the inexplicable. The new information made the impossible, possible.

The Invisible Things Make the Impossible Possible

This is a classic optical illusion I remember from my childhood. I always default to the young woman looking off into the distance. But once you see the old lady, you can’t unsee her. (Image/Wikimedia Commons)

Spoiler alert #2: I’m going to tell you about what goes on in my coaching work. Because it’s more or less always the same thing—no matter how unique the individuals, no matter the age of the couple, no matter how long they’ve been together, no matter anything.

And I’m going to tell you everything we talk about, so that you never have to hire me to be your relationship coach. Sometimes, I work with both people in the relationship, but mostly it’s just one of them.

And here’s the #1 goal of every coaching relationship: Identify the Invisible Things. Our highest priority is learning how to see what was previously invisible—like using infrared goggles to “see” the heat signatures of people cloaked in darkness or hiding in a building.

There are The Invisible Things That Hurt.

Most commonly, these are the situations that create pain in a wife or girlfriend, that her husband/boyfriend is completely blind to and unaware of. Every day, he and his work buddies make fun of one another about their favorite music. One guy loves Taylor Swift. One guy loves Richard Marx. One guy loves REO Speedwagon. And the last guy loves Heavy D and the Boyz. And all four guys are constantly jockeying to play their favorite music at work, while the rest of them make fun of whatever’s playing, and their friend who likes it.

It’s not hate. No one is trying to make anyone feel bad. It’s a laugh-fest. A bonding ritual. A fun way to laugh at, and laugh with one another, including themselves.

But maybe one of them is married to or dating a someone who was mocked incessantly in school, or whose father or brothers ganged up on her and laughed at her throughout her entire childhood, and now, because of that, even playful chiding feels intensely uncomfortable.

She says “It hurts me when you make fun of me.”

But he says “Don’t be silly, babe. You know I don’t mean it. My buddies and I make fun of one another just like this all of the time, and it’s all in good fun. Everyone knows that we’re friends.”

And she says “And I understand that. But my father and brothers told me they loved me too, but I never felt loved when I would run away crying from the dinner table, only to have all of them laugh at me while I was sobbing in my room. And when you make fun of me—even when you don’t mean to hurt me—it HURTS me just like it hurt when I was crying in my room back then.”

Maybe he gets it and demonstrates enough care and love to make sure he’s not making her feel that way moving forward. At least not blindly. That would be great.

But what USUALLY happens, is that we default to OUR experiences as our guide for what is Right and Wrong, or Good and Bad. And because playful mocking is FUN for him, he thinks his wife is literally wrong for referencing a fun and innocent thing as a marriage problem. Not only is it NOT his responsibility to change his behavior, but he believes it’s HER responsibility to recalibrate her emotions to a more acceptable, reasonable, rational, “correct” setting.

These are the invisible wounds. This is just one possibility. And EVERYONE has them.

Similarly, everyone has things that make them feel good. Loved. A common reference point for that conversation is Dr. Gary Chapman’s
The 5 Love Languages
—a critically important and powerful framework for helping people identify the Invisible.

Some people’s love language is Words of Affirmation. Literally being told “I love you.” That is their love language.

And sometimes—even often—they are married to someone with an entirely different love language. Say, Acts of Service. People whose love language is Acts of Service demonstrate their love by doing things for others, sometimes rather than actually speaking the words “I love you.”

And what happens is two really good people who love each other will be together, and one person will say “I love you” all of the time, but never exert any effort or energy to perform an Act of Service for his or her partner. Maybe he never makes the bed, or folds laundry, or washes dishes, or plans fun weekend activities—things that WOULD make her feel loved.

He says “I love you” every day. But she doesn’t feel loved.

She is constantly doing kind and thoughtful things for him, but she never says “I love you,” and he doesn’t feel loved.

THAT is how you can love someone who doesn’t feel as if you love them.

And when you start combining that with instances of causing invisible wounds, and piling on “You’re just being silly” responses when someone calls attention to them?

Well, that’s exactly how two lovely people married for 30 years can be angry and sad with one another every day until they finally decide to give up, because the pain of living together is worse than the perceived pain of splitting up.

Relationship Coaching 101

I can’t be sure that I’m doing it right. But this is how I do it.

Find the list of Invisible Things that Make Her/Him Feel Bad. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Certain things trigger pain and sadness and fights. What are those things? Make the list.

Next, Find the list of Invisible Things that Make Her/Him Feel Good.

This is how we begin the process of repairing our relationship. Step 1 is eliminating the negatives. It’s becoming aware of the list of Invisible Things that cause damage, and then avoiding those things.

Step 2 is becoming mindful of the Invisible Things that create happiness. Joy. Intimacy. Emotional connection. Maybe it’s a bouquet of flowers. Maybe it’s a handwritten note. Maybe it’s a gift card to the day spa. Maybe it’s taking over all child-care duties for a week so that your partner can do anything she or he wants. Maybe it’s surprising them with a fruit basket, or a kind compliment, or an excessively long hug that communicates I’ve got your back no matter what.

We eliminate negatives.

We introduce positives.

And most importantly, we SEE WHAT WAS PREVIOUSLY INVISIBLE. We are no longer angered and perplexed by our friend’s insistence that the colors they see are so obviously different than the ones we see.

We are no longer blind. We finally get it. We understand one another. We start speaking the same language, possibly for the first time ever.

How does a magician saw a woman in half?

There are a few common ways. This is one of them:

(Image/Arrested Development Wiki)

I’d never cared to know. But one day, I did. A simple Google search told me enough.

What do you want to understand about your relationship or romantic partner?

Could knowing the answer change everything?

Spoiler alert #3: Yes. Yes it could.

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Hire Me as Your Relationship Coach and Let’s Bend Some Spoons

coach mike gundy

I’m a man! I’m 40! (Almost.) But this isn’t a joke. I seriously provide coaching services now. Drop me a line if you want to talk about it. I promise to smile more than Mike Gundy. (Image/USA Today)

“Wait. What?!” you might be thinking.

I get it, because that’s exactly what I said to relationship coach, speaker and writer Mark Groves when he told me I needed to be coaching during a phone conversation a few years ago.

But on a much more recent call a few months ago, he said it again, only it sounded slightly less insane this time.

I’ve worn my NON-expertise like a badge of honor throughout the years writing here. I’m one of those idiots who thumbed his nose at formal schooling after earning a bachelor’s degree, because I always believed I could scratch and claw my way to wherever I wanted to be, career-wise.

While I was misguided to wholly dismiss formal higher education, there’s no denying that the reason certain people (my mom and like three other people) care about things I write or say—isn’t because they think I’m especially smart or insightful—but because the things I write and say sound a lot like THEIR lives. We’re all just running around trying to make sense of our lives.

And I have a built-in secret weapon to connect with others that I never had to earn. All I have to do is tell the story of my marriage and divorce, and then it accidentally sounds like millions of other people’s lives because there isn’t anything extraordinary about me or my life at all, and my crappy marriage is statistically likely to be a lot like your crappy marriage.

And all of the well-meaning and mostly decent guys out there who sort of feel like lousy husbands? Hey, welcome to the club. It sucks in here and drink service is slow. Let’s get out of here.

You’re me. I’m you. We’re us. It doesn’t have to be weird unless you make it weird.

I can sometimes help guys whose experiences are a lot like mine were. And I can sometimes help women whose experiences are a lot like my wife’s were.

Here’s the thing I didn’t understand until Mark beat me over the head (with coolness and kindness, as he does most things)—I don’t need to fit some predetermined mold to be a relationship coach, or to be magically qualified to help people transition through divorce or a bad break-up.

I’m me and I can’t be anyone else. And once I embraced the idea that I don’t need to live up to some magical standard—that all I had to do was be me and give everything I had to trying to help people in this very specific and deeply personal way instead of the more general way I experience when writing about it?

I finally embraced the idea fully. I’m really glad that I did.

‘You, a…Coach?’

Totally.

And while I wouldn’t have had the stones a few months ago to tell you with any confidence that I can legitimately help anyone, today I feel blessed to tell you that I can.

Several people have asked me to work with them, or someone they love, in a formal coaching capacity over the past four or five years. I have always declined.

I’m not a licensed therapist. I’m not a counselor. I’m not any kind of guru.

I’m just a guy who’s pretty good at asking the right questions and not being a judgy prick about it. I’m just a guy who cares about human beings. I don’t have to pretend to care about the people sharing their painful stories and secrets with me. I just care.

Sometimes when things hurt a lot, we just need someone to care. Turns out I’m pretty good at that. And sometimes, when two people care about the same thing and work on it together, extraordinary things happen.

>> Learn more about Relationship Coaching & Divorce Support with Matthew Fray here. <<

‘How Does it Work?’

Well, someday when I have a big-boy website (soon-ish), the Relationship Coaching & Divorce Support page will have online forms where people can apply directly from the site.

Currently, we do it this super-sketchy way where you email me (MBTTTR@gmail.com) with “Coaching Request” in the subject line, and then I send you a questionnaire to fill out, and if afterward we mutually decide to proceed, we’ll schedule video chats or phone calls and get to work.

‘Will I Cry Like Will Hunting?’

God-willing.

It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

Just kidding. It may totally be your fault—or better stated—something you have the responsibility to do something about. Personal-growth efforts are challenging. They’re hard. They force us to stare at ourselves in the mirror and answer uncomfortable questions. They force us to make new choices every day. Uncomfortable choices that don’t always provide the immediate gratification we subconsciously seek from our old, comfortable choices.

Remember that little bald There is no spoon kid from The Matrix? When he drops mad knowledge on our hero in waiting?

spoon-boy-matrix

(Image/Warner Bros.)

Little Bald Kid: “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.”

Neo: “What truth?”

Little Bald Kid: “There is no spoon.”

Neo: “There is no spoon?”

Little Bald Kid: “Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”

That junior-sized monk knows what’s up.

We’re all looking for secrets. Whispers that upon hearing them will magically transform our surroundings. Shortcuts. Fairy dust. An easy way.

But I prefer to dabble in as little bullshit as possible. Coaching is not about sharing secrets. As my friends Jay and Lori Pyatt taught me, coaching is about shining a light in people’s blind spots—helping people discover things hiding in plain sight.

The world doesn’t change. The way you look at it does.

Your relationship doesn’t change. The way you show up in it does.

But, the spoon STILL looks and feels like it’s bending. And you can do it if you want—if you only realize the truth.

‘Okay, Matt. Piss Off. Surely There are Better Options.’

Probably!

These are really smart human beings that I have a personal relationship with, and all of them bring infinitely more expertise and experience to the table.

Self-work is hard stuff. That’s why we turn to others for help. And each of these amazing people can help you. Seriously.

  • Mark Groves (Relationship coach, Connection specialist, Speaker)
  • Lori Pyatt (Specializes in helping women work through relationship betrayals)
  • Jay Pyatt (Specializes in helping men rebuild trust in relationships suffering the fallout of betrayals like porn use or affairs)
  • Dr. Ali Kravit — (Specializes in ADHD, and helping couples and individuals navigate ADHD in relationships)
  • Melissa Ryan  (Colorado-based licensed relationship counselor specializing in Adventure Therapy – student of Terry Real
  • Lesli Doares — (North Carolina-based licensed marriage & family therapist)

This is a new life adventure for me. The safety of the keyboard is gone. Real human beings with real, high-stakes problems, and no way of knowing where the conversation might go.

And I used to be afraid of that, because I was trying to bend that stupid, stubborn spoon. And then I realized the truth.

I don’t know whether I can help you. I don’t know whether it makes sense for you and I to work together.

I only know that we’ll be able to figure it out together. And probably some other helpful things as well.

Wishing everyone a very happy, peaceful and blessed holiday season wherever you are. Love you guys.

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What’s Next For MBTTTR?

metamorphosis

(Image/The Bridge)

“Shit or get off the pot,” is a fairly common idiom where I’m from.

Aside from evoking troubling images of Jesuit standoffs and triggering my (somewhat exaggerated, but totally real) bathroom-related phobias, it translates loosely to “Make a decision, you mook!” or “Start actually doing the things you keep saying you want to do!”

It’s also one of those times where it’s more okay than usual to write or say bad words. #smallwins

This blog has been a great project for me since drunkenly posting my first amidst my darkest days as a human being 40 months ago.

But we need to get serious about next steps. It’s time.

I hope you’ll help.

I want to do and be more than some random idiot writing the same stories using different metaphors over and over again on his blog.

The conversations we have here about marriage and human relationships matter. Maybe more than anything.

We all have our own individual goals and interests and dreams and pursuits. Things we chase, perhaps because we believe there will be some great sense of reward, happiness and forever-satisfaction if we ever get around to capturing it.

But no matter what is going on in our lives—no matter how wealthy, or accomplished, or “successful” we are in those individual pursuits—the quality of our human relationships is the most influential factor in how good or bad our lives are.

When we have conflict with those we’re closest to—spouses, partners, siblings, parents, children, friends, co-workers—life can get unpleasant in a hurry.

Only deteriorating health can affect us more profoundly, but even in a worst-case scenario, the unhealthy person who loves and feels loved can speak honestly about a life well lived in ways physically healthy people with crappy relationships cannot.

This. Stuff. Matters.

What Do You Want?

People ask me for books.

People ask me for coaching.

People ask me for membership forums.

People ask me for video content.

People ask me to speak to groups.

It remains difficult for me to wrap my head around that. I still think of myself as little more than some idiot blogger.

And I’m mostly right about that. I AM mostly just an idiot blogger. But for the right people, I’m something else too.

I am—for the right people—able to communicate concepts they’ve been unable to communicate in their biggest life problem regarding the things and people they care most about. Their marriages. Their families. Their close personal relationships.

Their very way of life is threatened by the brokenness that creeps in sneakily through the years, poisoning our hearts and minds, further damaging our already-shitty translators so that we can’t understand each other, adding anxiety, fear, shame, guilt, depression, cynicism and apathy to our already-heavy loads.

It’s terrifying when you feel doom coming.

It cripples you when the bombs finally drop.

There is no amount of money, material wealth, fame or “success,” that can help broken humans wake up in the morning happy to be alive when EVERYTHING hurts. People try to numb it with alcohol or drugs. Distract from it with escapism or sex. But there’s nowhere to run.

It follows us. Tries to consume us. Tries to kill us.

Until we unbreak.

There are many brilliant and scholarly people out there who fundamentally understand what it takes to heal the broken. People who are smarter and know more than I ever will.

But—and this applies to every husband, wife, person in an argument, politician, lobbyist, etc. who has ever lived—how much does it matter how true or right what you’re saying is if no one ever listens anyway?

My gift or purpose or value seems to be my ability to frame relationship problems in ways that resonate with people.

So, even if I never bring any good ideas to the table, if my ability to effectively communicate important concepts to the right people can be the difference between a family or marriage staying together and thriving, or breaking and creating life-long regrets, then—no matter what—I have something to offer.

I really care about the things I write here. It breaks my heart to see or hear about children crying as they wave goodbye to one of their parents. More than three years later, it still breaks my heart to wave goodbye to mine.

So, What’s Next?

I must decide. We must decide.

I think it makes sense for me to eventually transition Must Be This Tall To Ride into a multi-contributor publication. I think it makes sense for me to build out my own site, where perhaps I can combine my passion for these subjects and desire to help into something tangible that actually CAN help.

It seemed asinine to me to position myself as any sort of relationship expert or fake-ass therapist. That’s not what I am.

I am, for lack of better terms, a translator. An explainer. A decent question-asker.

And perhaps there’s a place for someone like that to work more directly with humans trying to find their way through difficulty, or who want to avoid it altogether.

I want to collaborate with others to create content of lasting value. I want to write books. And have conversations. I want to discuss the formulation of programs and curriculum developed by the appropriate thought leaders, tailored for the appropriate audiences and executed in ways that create fundamental, paradigm-shifting change in the way people think about their human relationships.

People are afraid, sad, angry, broken, and the thing that can help heal those wounds most effectively is the simple realization that we’re not alone. That others are fighting the same battles.

My story is your story.

People don’t read this stuff because they care very much about things that happened to me.

People read this stuff because it connects with them on a deeply personal level, and because things I thought, felt or experienced are the same types of things they think, feel and experience.

It was never about me. It was always about them.

All of this, if it ever has the chance to matter, must be about you.

Please help me take this thing somewhere where good things can happen. Good must spread.

It must.

If you care about the things we talk about here, I hope you’ll share any ideas or suggestions you have about evolving into whatever comes next.

Thanks, everyone.

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