Tag Archives: Commitment

Broken Promises Ended My Marriage—Can Keeping Them Save Yours?

broken glass

(Image/Crosswalk.com)

I break promises.

I break promises, and then other people sometimes feel let down or betrayed, and then maybe I never talk to them again.

Break enough promises and maybe your entire life breaks.

Maybe you lose a wife. Maybe you lose friends. Maybe you lose touch with your family.

Just maybe, if you break too many promises, you lose your children.

I am divorced because I broke promises. I lost half of my son’s childhood because I broke promises.

I’ve known for a long time that I break promises, even though I remember feeling like a reliable person in my youth. I remember feeling as if I was someone others could count on.

I remember being someone people could trust.

But when enough time passes and enough instances pile up of us not doing something we said we would, a new narrative begins to form.

I am not someone who keeps his word.

I am unreliable.

I can’t be trusted.

But, it’s not as if you discuss this personal shortcoming with others.

I mean, you’re not walking into job interviews proclaiming how unreliable you are or listing on your work resume all of the moments in which you let others down. You want the job.

You’re not telling a group of peers ridiculing something that you actually like whatever they’re mocking. You don’t want them to not like or mock you.

You’re not communicating to someone you want to date or marry that you’re not trustworthy. You don’t want them to leave you.

If I tell you something and it turned out not to be true, did I lie to you?

That’s nuanced, right?

To me, a lie is something said to deliberately mislead, deceive, or conceal truth in ways that protect or benefit you at the expense of other people ultimately being hurt by the deception.

By that definition, I am not a liar. I don’t plot mistruths in an effort to hurt others. Never.

But, do I say things that sometimes end up not being true because I didn’t follow through with a promise, or because things outside of my control prevented me from keeping the commitment? Absolutely.

Whether I lied or not, or whether I intended to keep a promise and was a victim of circumstance, the fact remains that I promised something that never got delivered.

Sometimes that leads to a shrug, easy forgiveness, understanding, and a time extension to try again. Another chance to make it right.

And then other times, your wife takes off her wedding ring, packs a suitcase, and drives your 4-year-old son away to be with someone else.

Broken Promises and the Stories We Believe

prom·ise /ˈpräməs/ (noun) – a statement telling someone that you will definitely do something, or that something will certainly happen in the future.

I’m the captain of the ADHD Squad. My capacity for calendar mismanagement and task-list forgetfulness exceeds the boundaries of known anthropology.

Because of this, I’ve believed myself to be unreliable for so long that it’s seeped into my bones and psyche so much that it’s almost like I believe it now: I am unreliable.

I too often don’t do what I say I will. (Has anyone seen my book yet? Exactly. I’m an asshole.)

I believe these things about me because they fit the narrative of why I’m a single, divorced 39-year-old who is a little bit disappointed with his life on various levels.

Being the kind of person who breaks promises or fails to complete goals is a massive disappointment.

Sometimes I’m afraid of pursuing jobs with more responsibility because I’m afraid I might not be responsible or reliable enough to excel with a larger accountability load and higher stakes.

Sometimes I’m afraid to pursue a speaking and writing career because I’m afraid without the structure of a quasi-formal work environment, I won’t be disciplined enough to do all of the work day in and day out that I believe successful entrepreneurism requires.

Sometimes I’m afraid to pursue relationships because no matter how much work I’ve done to understand and attempt to help others understand what causes marriages and human relationships of all types to break, I’m not confident that I’m built with the right materials to be someone’s husband.

I’m afraid to have my life fall apart again after experiencing the brutality of divorce five years ago.

I’m afraid to hurt someone else again.

I’m afraid of it negatively impacting my son.

I’m afraid of being a dude who writes about relationships, but then sucks at actually being in them.

I’m afraid of a lot of things, but almost all of them are rooted in the fear of not being up to the task—of being in over my head.

Maybe I’m not tall enough, you know? All those online-dating profiles five years ago suggested as much.

Maybe I’m not good enough.

If I was, she would have never left and napalmed our lives like that.

We believe these fear-based negative stories about ourselves in our weakest moments. When our fragile brains and emotions are getting the best of us.

Maybe there was a young black kid who grew up watching TV and in doing so, mostly saw only white people in those stories on TV.

Like Santa Claus. Looks white.

Even Middle-Eastern Jesus looks white.

Forty-three of the 44 U.S. presidents have been white.

Maybe the company owner where mom or dad worked was white.

And maybe, if she or he has a brain that worked like mine did, maybe they felt different around anything unfamiliar.

Maybe when you tell yourself negative stories like that, a bunch of bad things happen—or rather, a bunch of good things DON’T happen because of all of things we never try.

I went through thoughts like that, and I was just some little sheltered kid in a small town in Ohio surrounded by farm fields for several miles. Relatively charmed, compared to many other children.

What we believe is EVERYTHING. It doesn’t even matter whether it’s true. If we believe it, we experience it as real, and one way or another, it will affect our lives.

Of course there are gay kids feeling “wrong” or “bad” or “broken” if they grew up seeing and hearing others saying that they were.

Of course there are kids growing up in various religious faiths or ideologies who feel confused, conflicted, and guilty when they hear that things they think or do will damn them to hell.

Of course there are kids growing up who feel self-righteous, judgmental, or superior to others because everything they were ever taught from their earliest memories until right this moment is that everything THEY believe and do is “correct” and “right” and “better,” and everyone who disagrees is incorrect—and possibly a threat. Or an enemy. Or evil.

We see it all of the time in politics.

And in racial division.

And gender battles.

And lifestyle choices.

And too many other things.

Whether we believe we’re wrong and broken—or THEY are—we always have a fundamental breakdown whenever the thought exists: That person is not like me, followed by feelings of either inferiority OR superiority.

Why does it seem like there’s so much wrong with the world?

Almost all of it can be traced back to that.

  • What I believe is right and true.
  • What they believe is wrong and false.
  • We are opponents with competing interests, and the right and true side must win at all costs.

People who believe that are capable of anything.

Even mass murder, if they believe they’re serving the “greater good” by doing so.

The sheer power of our beliefs about ourselves (and others) can’t be calculated.

Maybe You Break Promises Too (And Maybe It’s More Damaging Than You Realize)

I had the recent pleasure of connecting with someone at an Ohio non-profit organization facilitating a social movement called Because I said I would.

The organization is dedicated to the betterment of humanity by educating people on the power of making and keeping promises.

It took me all of five minutes in learning about their organization’s mission to connect the work they’re doing with the social crisis we have with marriage failure rates, and the untold fallout stories and trickle-down effects of those failures.

Speaking at TEDx a few years ago, Alex Sheen, founder of Because I said I would, identified marriage, along with political promises and New Years’ resolutions as prime examples of how humans commonly suck at keeping promises.

Marriage involves making promises. Half of them fail.

New Years’ resolutions are made by 40 percent of people (that’s, like, 3 billion people), according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Only 8 percent of the people who make resolutions, follow through with them.

Politicians make promises when running for office, and while in office. According to PolitiFact (at the time of Sheen’s TEDx talk three years ago), fewer than half of all publically stated promises made by U.S. leaders of either political party were kept.

The people we entrust to protect us from violent enemies and keep society from descending into dangerous lawlessness and economic collapse—they fail to do what they say they will more than half of the time. Yet, we all allow them to take 25 percent to 50 percent of all the money we earn. Which is insane, when you think about it.

Everyone is Unreliable—You’re Not Alone

Sheen does a great job during his TEDx talk of diving into the art and science of promise-making, and if you take the 18-minute journey with him, it won’t take long for you to also see the wisdom and CRITICAL IMPORTANCE in his message.

This isn’t a small problem—this It’s-Common-to-Break-Promises,-So-Whatever thing we have going on.

It strikes at the heart of all that’s broken and fucked in our lives and world.

We break promises on the reg. And it’s a huge problem because of how many other things break when our promises are.

People suck at keeping promises.

But, why?

A few reasons, Sheen says.

  1. We say A LOT of words every day. (Statistically speaking, about 15,942 words per day.)
  2. It has become routine for people to say things like “Oh yeah, I’ll do that,” or “Sure, I’ll be there,” or “I promise,” or “Always,” or “Never.”
  3. We have shitty memories. (Note: Sheen did not use the word “shitty,” I don’t think. He seems more mature than I am.)

Mark Manson—one of my favorite writers because he’s awesome—was the first person I heard or read say what Sheen is saying here: Our memories, beliefs and opinions are NOT reliable. You’re mathematically LIKELY to have some key detail wrong in your memory of an event.

You really can’t trust yourself. Seriously.

It’s really Step 1 on the journey to becoming less of an asshole in life and relationships.

How bad are our memories?

U.S. readers: How many times would you guess you’ve seen a nickel (the five-cent coin)?

Hundreds of times in your life? Maybe thousands?

Sheen asks: “Can you tell me what a nickel looks like?”

  • Which way is the face pointing?
  • Where is the year marked on the coin?
  • What’s depicted on the back?
  • How many windows are on the building?
  • Is there even a building?

If you’re anything like me, you know precisely dick about nickels beyond Thomas Jefferson, their relative thickness, and silver color.

And why is that?

Because we’re human and there’s no getting out of it, and part of that package is that you overestimate your ability to remember things, to get facts straight, and even interpret the intentions of the people you love the most and know the best.

Sheen goes on to talk about “flash-bulb memories.” These are those significant moments that we remember best because there is often so much emotion attached to them. Humans have been documented to retain the most information about these flash-bulb moments.

One study interviewed a group of students in the aftermath of the NASA space shuttle “Challenger” explosion shortly after lift-off. Each student was asked seven questions.

Then two and a half years later, those same students were asked those identical questions.

Half of the study’s participants got two out of seven answers correct by remembering the incident accurately, and 25 percent answered incorrectly on all seven questions.

Conclusion: We have terrible memories whether we believe it or not, and whether we want to admit it or not.

So, What if We Owned That and Accounted for It?

My favorite part of Sheen’s talk involved him posing his hypothesis he intentionally mislabels The Two-People Theorem.

“We almost look like two different people with a promise,” Sheen said. “We’re going to be there for someone who needs us. We’re going to stay passionate. We’re going to do what is right. We’re going to stay committed.

“Then, what happens?”

Hedonic adaptation happens—that’s what. And that’s why many people struggle to stay happy in life and relationships.

But I’m kind of putting words in Sheen’s mouth and shouldn’t be.

“That emotion completely fades,” he said. “If you could step away from the situation and just observe it—it’s like you’re crazy. It’s weird.”

Like we’re two entirely different people, he said.

“One person wants to make this promise,” he said. “The other doesn’t want to show up.”

Sound familiar, married people?

How to Overcome the Promise-Breaking, Marriage-Ending Two-People Theorem 

Sheen then offers an awesome analogy involving zombies, and zombies make analogies better just like they made Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice better. (Probably not true.)

If you discovered that a toxin had been pumped into the air that would turn you into a zombie 24 hours from now—and that you would remain a zombie for 24 hours before reverting back to your normal self—what would you do?

Most responses are the same, Sheen said.

Most of us would go home and warn loved ones to get away and keep away from us until it was safe to return. Most of us would find a way to lock ourselves up in a way that we couldn’t harm others or ourselves.

“You chain yourself,” Sheen said. “What you’re doing is forecasting your own weakness and taking preventative actions to prevent yourself from hurting others.

“Why don’t we do this in real life? Are you telling me we don’t become two different people?”

Sheen and the team at Because I said I would have made it their mission to help people “chain themselves” and “forecast their own weaknesses” and ultimately “take preventative actions to prevent yourself from hurting others.”

What we’re doing is making a plan, just like we would if we were going to do a 24-hour stint as an animated brain-eating corpse.

“Humans have a very horrible perception of time. How much time it takes to complete the four steps to fulfill a commitment,” Sheen said.

Sheen hates the phrase: “You need to make the time for what’s important in life.”

“Time cannot be made. It can only be reserved,” he said. “It can only be adjusted. Not many people take their schedule and put each little step in a promise on it to ensure they’re following a sequence that hits a certain date to fulfill a promise. We normally just say it, and that’s a problem.”

If you want to be good at keeping promises, you have to think through these things, he said.

Awareness. Mindfulness.

“Be careful with your word choice,” Sheen said. “Write those promises down. Create motivators that chain you to your promise so when you’re at your weakest moment, you know you can still do something right. Create a plan.

“Fulfill your promise.”

Not unlike many of the ideas I like to discuss here, it’s an idea that comes off dangerously simple.

Of course we should keep our promises! Duh!

Yeah, but maybe things we say thoughtlessly or otherwise feel like promises to the people who matter to us most, and maybe when we fail to follow through on those promises, we damage the hearts and minds of those we love and the integrity of our relationship with them.

Maybe we slowly erode others’ trust in us without ever realizing the hurt they feel from promises unkept that we forgot about long ago.

“That’s what we need in this world. People who are reliable. Who fulfill their promises,” Sheen said.

Just maybe, if I learn how to forecast my weaknesses and plan accordingly, I’ll be able to start telling myself different stories.

Just maybe, I’ll get a little bit taller.

Just maybe, an idea we’ve been aware of since our earliest memories—the importance of keeping our promises—is the key to saving human relationships.

It’s the most deceptively simple ideas that destroy us.

Just maybe, it’s the most deceptively simple ideas that will save us.

Check out this group. Because I said I would. They’re awesome. Order some Promise Cards (they’ll ship 10 for free to anyone who asks anywhere in the world).

Be more mindful of the words you say among the nearly 16,000 you’ll speak today. And if you tell someone you’ll do something, do it.

Because if we can collectively find a way to simply do the things we’ve promised, we just might save the world.

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Diagnosing Relationship Failure is Not for the Self-Assured

check engine light

(Image/carriagenissan.com)

The white hair and calloused hands with a couple of missing fingertips darkened by sun, dirt and every type of automotive oil imaginable gives him away.

The mechanic.

A seasoned one, having spent fifty-some years wrenching under lifted cars, and lifted car hoods.

He owns a little shop downtown, and anyone with a classic antique or high-powered muscle car knows he’s the guy to see for repairs or new speed parts.

He’s brilliant. And every 70-hour week through the decades has taught him something new.

That’s why my father, a car enthusiast who started racing later in life than most drivers in motorsports, trusts him to build and tune his racing engines.

After winning a big race a couple of years ago, part of the prize was a brand new engine block.

In artistry terms, that’s a bit like giving Michaelangelo a 20,000-pound block of solid marble sourced from a Tuscan quarry and asking him to get to work.

A bare engine block is to the skilled auto technician what a blank canvas is to the talented oil painter.

Leaning on five decades of mastery, a not-particularly-restrictive budget, and the best performance engine parts available, this experienced and capable mechanic built a new one from scratch.

The goal: A 1,000-horsepower, fuel-injected engine designed to eclipse 150 miles per hour in a quarter of a mile, and cross the finish line consistently in less than nine seconds.

The engine builder and my dad succeeded.

The longtime mechanic built an engine using best practices he’d learned over many years.

And dad, the skilled driver, piloted the car using best practices he’s picked up through the years.

The guys did everything they knew how to do. They did everything “right.”

By all appearances, the car was bulletproof while performing better than it ever had before.

The car clocked its’ highest-ever speed and lowest-ever time on the run where it experienced catastrophic engine failure, requiring the master mechanic to pull apart every engine component, and start another long, tedious, expensive rebuild.

That’s what has to happen now.

Why?

Because, despite all of the knowledge and wisdom and expertise and experience and best practices and best efforts and highest-quality parts and tools to work with, something was missed or overlooked.

No one knows what.

But it wasn’t black magic that blew up the engine.

It was a miscalculation or a festering problem too small to notice, until everything fell apart, even when everything seemed to be functioning perfectly to the only people who could have done something about it.

You’re Misjudging a Situation and Doing Something Wrong

But, what?

I have a life-long history of being good with people.

I am pretty nice. I am pretty friendly. I have good intentions.

I loved my wife.

I loved my son.

I valued our family and our home and our future more than I valued all other things.

I think most who know me would tell you that they perceived me to be a good husband and father.

When I wrote the first Open Letter to Shitty Husbands post, I wrote about declining a spring-day hike with my wife and young son in favor of staying inside and watching The Masters golf tournament.

Most people seem to get it. Most people seem to understand that it was just one moment that was representative of a macro-level pattern of behavior and decision making which I’ve lovingly dubbed Shitty Husbandry (which you can read about here).

But others don’t get it, or simply disagree with the premise.

It seems like once a week, I see the same note: “But Matt! That’s NOT being a shitty husband! All you wanted to do was watch a golf tournament! She was wrong and selfish and bitchy to make a big deal out of it!”

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).

All I know is that the race car broke. Somewhat dramatically. While appearing to do well the very thing for which it was designed and built to do.

And that’s what our relationships do.

They break with one or both of us asleep at the wheel. Because we didn’t pay attention to a tiny detail, or because we have a higher tolerance than our partners for some discomfort or inconvenience, or because we didn’t know how to interpret the warning signs.

It doesn’t matter how skilled or smart or wise or experienced or certain you think you are.

It doesn’t matter whether something functions, or meets our expectations, or performs adequately to our individual set of standards.

Under intense pressure, something we didn’t notice, nor ever knew to be aware of can cause catastrophic failure.

It’s hard to care when you don’t even know to be afraid of it.

It’s hard to be vigilant when things feel comfortable and convenient.

And it’s hard to have your life blow up in your face when you never saw it coming.

Should we have seen it coming?

Are we responsible for breaking something when we think we’ve done everything correctly, even if we haven’t?

Are we willing to pull it all apart and put it back together again with even more thought and care and effort than before?

Decisions.

…..

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The Two Paths to Solving Divorce: Which Will We Choose?

The easy way or the hard way

(Image/iStock)

There are two ways to solve society’s divorce crisis.

One is pretty easy, which is great! We like easy things because everyone can do it!

The other is hard, which is a bummer. We generally prefer easy over difficult, and most of the time it makes sense to choose the easier way when the result is the same.

I think divorce is the great social crisis of our time.

The consequences of divorce on individual people and families are nothing short of life trauma for one or both partners, their children, extended families and close friends. There is often financial suffering, and more importantly, suffering of the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional variety.

The trickle-down effects of divorce on society as a whole have been well documented. Children in unstable homes often grow up struggling emotionally, have trouble in school, experience dysfunctional relationships and never learning what healthy ones look like, all of which leads to sick and broken people who hurt others, commit crime, and repeat the cycle.

Is it Fair to Label it a ‘Crisis’?

Of course it is.

First, marriage is a thing which affects 95% of all people (in the United States, but I’m super-confident this applies everywhere).

Second, marriage consists of two people VOLUNTEERING to commit the rest of their lives to one another, most of the time doing so in front of hundreds of witnesses and spending $30,000 on a big party to celebrate it. These two people are serious, and you can tell since they’re investing so much in it. The vast majority of the time, both people exchanging vows are totally convinced they will love and honor one another forever.

Third, despite that, 5-10 years later, more than half will divorce. Those brave enough to marry again end up divorcing 67% of the time, even after experiencing what didn’t work the first time.

Fourth, (and most frightening) is that so few see it coming. We date and we’re happy. We want to get married. We get married. Then millions of things happen both good and bad over the course of many days, and emotional ups and downs, and perhaps children and other life changes.

And then it breaks, and people die inside. Then they get divorced, and most of the time, can’t even tell you how it all happened, because there’s rarely some big thing to point to as the reason. It’s many countless little moments no one knew were important until they looked back later and identified their missteps. Which some never do.

Fifth, (and most disturbing) is that it seems so few talk about it, making me wonder how things can get better if no one ever talks about it.

The Two Divorce Solutions

Solution #1 is Easy! – Redefine Divorce, making it “less painful through rebranding and rethinking.”

OMG! YES!!!

This sounds awesome! After all, I’m a huge proponent of the power of mindset, asking the right questions, and reframing problems to find solutions!

Maybe divorce isn’t a crisis! Maybe it’s an opportunity!

Here’s what a couple of super-smart doctors had to say about this exciting new method of dealing with the end of a marriage—The Inconvenient Truth About Love and Divorce, they say:

“Divorce is intrinsically hard, but our attitudes make it harder than it needs to be. Guilt, shame and a sense of failure significantly raise the emotional cost of divorce.”

They continue:

“…people contemplating divorce are generally profoundly unhappy. America has taught us that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human right — yet because our society feels threatened by divorce, it does not particularly want to attach that concept to the dissolution of marriage. We want to talk about love and happiness on the way into marriage, but after the exchange of rings, we demand an old-fashioned narrative, one of self-sacrifice, loyalty and hard work.

“These attitudes are rooted in the past, when marriage was an economic institution designed to build wealth and raise children. While it was surely the case that humans longed for love and happiness as much then as they do now, those feelings were not expected to derive from marriage. The pursuit of love and happiness was not considered to be an adequate reason for marriage, and it certainly was not an adequate reason for divorce.

“Today, in contrast, the vast majority of Americans marry for love. We promise at the altar to love one another until death do us part. We do not pause long enough to ask ourselves what that promise signifies, because we do not want to know the answer. Can anyone commit to feel an emotion in perpetuity? No, of course not. We can force ourselves to be loyal and self-sacrificing, but we cannot force ourselves to love. We humans have little control over our hearts.

“This truth is so inconvenient that we try to tell ourselves stories about how love can be created through determination and hard work, but we don’t really believe our own stories. If we did, we would all still agree to arranged marriages. In reality, some modern couples are held together by a strong bond of love, but for other couples, love fades, leaving behind an existential question: If we married for love, what does it mean, now, to be married without love?

“If we, as a society, were honest with ourselves, we would admit that it is not reasonable to expect people to marry for love yet not to divorce for lack of love.”

Maybe you didn’t pick up on this earlier, but I think the co-authors’ take on love, marriage and divorce is about the dumbest, shittiest, unhealthiest and damaging take on this topic that I’ve ever seen.

Maybe murder would be better dealt with using simple rebranding and rethinking!

Is murder really so bad? After all, everyone dies anyway. By demonstrating empathy and support for murderers, we can see that what they really did was simply accelerate an event which was inevitably going to happen anyway. There’s no evidence the deceased is suffering. Let’s not think of it as “murder,” and start telling ourselves different stories!

Maybe I’m being an asshole. That’s probably not a very good example.

I shared this TED article written by Astro and Danielle Teller yesterday on Facebook, curious what others may think and feel about it.

I think frequent MBTTTR commenter Lisa Gottman summed up my initial thoughts nicely with this:

“One aspect of love is emotion, but it’s also involves our cognitive choices and relationship skills and biology. So many people get divorced because they don’t understand where love went or how to fix it.”

And then kicked more ass with this:

“Also, by these authors’ premise, we could also apply these principles to children. That used to be a practical way to get help for the farm or just a lack of birth control. We now have children for love. But you know what, we don’t feel love for them sometimes, or when they’re teenagers maybe not at all for years.
“Should we consciously uncouple from them too? How about our annoying relatives? The mom who is not abusive but just has poor boundaries. Do I get to consciously uncouple from her because I don’t feel a lot of touchy feely emotions of love each Thanksgiving when she criticizes the meal?”

Because I read that article and was totally dumbfounded. The Tellers are brilliant, highly accomplished people. Astro is a successful entrepreneur, scientist and author. Danielle is a physician, scientist and author.

And if THEY don’t know, then it’s no damn wonder so many people out there don’t know either.

LOVE IS NOT AN EMOTION.

Love is certainly something we feel. But it is NOT a “feeling.”

And I needn’t say more than Lisa already did regarding our feelings toward our children or family members. We don’t “feel” like waking up and going to work sometimes. But most of us do it anyway because it’s what we must in order to achieve something we desire—paying for homes, food, transportation, electricity, TV and internet service, eliminating debt and every other life expense. We WANT these things, so we do things we don’t want in order to acquire them.

We don’t wake up every morning for the rest of our marriages feeling the same emotional waves of infatuation and lustful desire as we might have in the early days of our relationship. We’re soul mates and best friends!!!

Umm. No you’re not. And it won’t take long for hedonic adaptation to firmly take hold of your brain and make you shittier at several aspects of human relationships.

It’s your job to KNOW you will get bored. It happens to every person about everything. Always, always, always. You can’t trade in your boring spouse for a new one who will magically never bore or upset you one day.

The Tellers are smart. But on this, they’re terrifyingly wrong.

LOVE IS A CHOICE.

Solution #2 is Hard! – Wake Up Every Day, and Make the Choice to Love Hard, Just Like You Promised

The Tellers called it “old-fashioned.”

They labeled “self-sacrifice, loyalty and hard work” as being outdated concepts we should all move past. If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it!

Yeah, great message. That should do wonders for the world’s youth who don’t want to go to school, and who want governments to just give them things without making any discernible societal contribution.

When you don’t mow your grass, your lawn looks shitty and your property becomes ugly.

When you don’t exercise, you gain weight and your muscles atrophy, and you look worse and literally become less healthy.

When you don’t educate yourself or develop skills, you end up ignorant and unskilled, and a life of difficulty and poverty is likely. (Yes, I know there are layers of complexity related to certain unearned advantages here.)

When you neglect Things Which Need Done, or even just Things We Should Do, your life suffers in whichever areas you are neglecting. This is a universally true thing, applicable to everyone in every culture, since the beginning of recorded human history.

We must DO STUFF—some of which isn’t fun and maybe doesn’t “feel good”—in order to achieve something we want, or maintain a particular state of being.

Treating marriage or any long-term monogamous relationship as something that lives outside this universal truth is dangerous, delusional, and fuels the problem we’re already having.

The Problem: We’ve Cheapened Marriage

We’re all probably a little guilty.

I am with the Tellers that a “non-confrontational approach to divorce” is a better way of doing things. Kindness almost always has merit. And I’m totally cool with “conscious uncoupling.” Two people calmly and collaboratively agreeing to go their separate ways. That’s awesome. Good for them.

Just do it before you get married.

Because, Marriage = Forever. That’s the entire point. Any hesitation to sign up for forever lends itself, I think to simply NOT getting married.

Succeeding in marriage and avoiding divorce has NEVER been advertised as something easy to do. That doesn’t make it “old-fashioned.” It just makes it true.

The solution to achieving future love and happiness is NOT encouraging everyone who doesn’t feel loved or feel happy to treat their relationships like an older-generation iPhone they want to upgrade.

The solution to achieving future love is to actually love—because when we give, we receive.

The solution to achieving future happiness is to realize there’s no such thing as a life destination where Happiness lives. We don’t arrive somewhere, discover we feel happy, and then simply stay there forever. Happiness is something we feel along our various life journeys in our endless pursuits of whatever it is we choose to chase.

Choose to love. Choose gratitude and contentment while doing so.

It’s rarely easy. It’s often hard.

But it’s always good.

Life is full of hacks and shortcuts.

Like with physical fitness, education, and our individual pursuits of excellence, in Love and Marriage there are no shortcuts. Just the long way.

No one promised it would be easy or feel good every day. Only that it’d be worth it.

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The 95 Percent

95 percent

“Hey, Matt! Why are you always talking about divorce!?!?”

Because next to things like air and food and water, I can’t think of anything else affecting so many people. (And because I got divorced less than a year ago, and it’s totally shitty.)

According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 54 percent of adults (18 and over) in the United States are married, 20 percent used to be married, and 21 percent desire marriage.

That’s 95 percent.

That’s 95 out of 100 people.

That’s damn near everybody.

It’s hands across America for childhood obesity, and anti-bullying measures, and animal adoption, and blood donation, and prostate exams, and hundreds of other causes you already know about. To be sure, those are important causes. I’m not dismissing them as inconsequential.

But marriage affects 95 PERCENT of all people. It affects where we live, how much money we have, our mental and emotional health, our relationships with friends and family. The stats related to children are even scarier. Crime, poverty, education, and sex-related issues like disease and unwanted teenage pregnancy all increase dramatically in children raised in single-parent households.

My point? Marriage deserves more of our problem-solving attention than it gets. I don’t think this is a conversation enough people are having.

I guess you could say I really care.

The Moment You Realize Everyone’s Kind of the Same

My wife and I were sitting across from the marriage counselor who I didn’t think was very good at her job.

She was dispassionate. And I’m sorry, if you’re trying to save marriages, you better also be in the give-a-fuck business.

Because you can’t help people when you don’t care about the outcome.

But she did have one shining moment I will never forget. My wife was answering some of her questions. Then the counselor directed a few questions my way. The entire time we were answering questions, she was drawing something on the back of a sheet of paper.

When I was finished speaking, she held up the piece of paper.

It was a drawing of two stick figures. She’d drawn a comic strip of sorts, minus all the funny.

The two figures were happy and connected. Then conflict was introduced. The male figure withdraws. The female figure chases. And it happens repeatedly. Until one day, the female figure stops chasing. She withdraws. Then the male figure gets confused. And becomes the chaser.

It was a reasonably accurate depiction of what my wife and I had experienced in our relationship. And it was so generic that I knew this counselor had drawn that very thing dozens, if not hundreds, of times.

Holy shit! EVERYBODY does this, I thought.

Months later, I read my favorite book on the subject of male-female relationships—How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It—and so many things I’d been confused about for years suddenly started making sense to me.

I finally get it!

Like a real-life epiphany. A genuine ah-ha! moment.

I finally understand why she responds the way she does! I finally understand why she gets so upset! I can fix this!

It made me feel better knowing so many other couples were experiencing the same problems. It wasn’t just us. It was everyone. We weren’t cursed. Or doomed. Or singled out. We were just another typical couple. And I saw that as a very hopeful thing.

I felt empowered.

If this happens to everybody, then we can make it work.

Well, it didn’t work.

But that doesn’t make it less true, and it doesn’t mean I didn’t learn something. I’m right about this.

And I legitimately think it’s the key to solving the marriage-and-divorce crisis we’re having:

We need men to have the same “ah-ha” moment that I did.

The reason my marriage failed even after I figured so many things out is because I’d already caused so much damage. Sometimes years of smoking simply causes too much lung damage to overcome by quitting later. You get cancer and die.

I wasn’t a bad guy. I was a bad husband. And I broke us.

It was all too little, too late. Our marriage died.

But what if we got to guys earlier? You can’t save everyone. People still smoke even though they know it’s bad for them. But every little bit helps. Right?

I want to believe it.

This Blog Cemented It

After she left, I started writing. I had to get the pain and anger out, and writing was the only way I knew how.

Because I make bad decisions, I decided to publish it. Like an emotional train wreck for anyone willing to watch.

It became clear right away: People everywhere—men and women—feel just like me.

First, I saw the marriage counselor’s diagram. The one I was certain she drew for most married couples.

Second, I read an amazing book which introduced me to chemical, emotional, and instinctive gender differences between men and women, and how those differences (which our ancestors needed to survive the tribal hunter-gatherer days) drive wedges in our modern-day relationships, and ability to communicate in healthy ways.

Third, I started writing honest stories about what my life was like and how I felt about it. Just one guy whining on the internet. The comments came flooding in:

“Thank you! That’s exactly what happened to me! I’m glad I’m not the only one!,” hundreds of people—both male and female—said.

And now I know it. In every fiber of my being. WE ARE THE SAME. Sure, we’re different. Individuals. Unique. We are.

But we have some universal humanity coursing through our hearts and minds that unites us all. And we really can learn from one another. And we really can make this whole human experience better than it is.

Just a few minutes ago, I heard a co-worker say she was never getting married, and a travelling sales guy (who’s married) say: “Good for you.”

And that’s fine! I don’t begrudge anyone making the choice to not marry. But the reason they don’t want to marry is because of all of the negative stigmas now attached to it—the general belief that half of all marriages are doomed to fail, so what’s the point?

And I’m not here to advocate for the institution of marriage. People will do what they want.

But I am here to deal in reality.

And in reality, 95 percent of people are going to get married.

Pretty much everyone.

And we have two choices: Keep doing the same crap that has gotten us to our 50-plus percent failure rate. Or we can commit, as rational adults with functioning brains, to care enough to start getting this HUGE part of our lives right.

Because it affects all of us.

Because it matters.

Because it will change everything.

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Sure, Marriage Sucks; But Does it Have To?

Do I still believe in marriage?

Do I still believe in marriage?

My neighbor Ryan proposed to his girlfriend this week.

She said yes.

I live directly across the street. So I’m going to have a front-row seat to their marital journey. From her moving into his house permanently. To the honeymoon period. To having children. To the seven-year itch. To whatever comes next.

I found out about the engagement on Facebook.

I “Liked” it. Then I typed: “Holy shit. Congratulations!”

I’m trying out this new life strategy where I try to be more honest—searching for freedom in truth.

So I asked myself: Am I really happy for them?

Do I really believe in the institution of marriage?

In Defense of Marriage

Conservative, Catholic upbringing aside, marriage does make some sense to me.

Here’s why:

1. A life partner

I don’t really like being alone. I think most people feel that way. I think we inherently crave human connection. There are many ways to achieve it. Marriage is one of those ways. I know what you’re thinking Person Who Hates Marriage. I don’t want some ball and chain tying me down! My friends, my family and my dog keep me company! Yeah, I get it. But, guess what? Someday you’re going to be old. OLD. And I don’t want you dying alone at the local Bingo game reeking of Ben Gay while suffering from gout and fibromyalgia.

2. A sexual partner

Having sex is important. It’s good for you. It keeps you sane. And it chemically and spiritually enhances your relationship with your partner. Sure, you can have sex with a bunch of randoms, if that’s your thing. But if you do that too much, you’ll just end up with bastard children and gonorrhea. And then you’ll die alone. With herpes on your mouth. It’s better to do it with just one person. More boring? Probably. But that’s why you practice often. So you get really good at it. So good that all other people in the world could never do it as well as you guys can. Then, even in your most hedonistic moments, the really selfish part of your brain will kick in and remind you that the hot person at work just isn’t worth it. You don’t need the guilt. And you don’t have time for bad lays.

3. An emotional partner

Everyone has a different childhood experience. But for the most part, we’re raised by parents in some form or fashion. They are the people who love us, and teach us, and provide for us, and care for us, and fill a million different roles as we mature through our youth. And then one day, maybe when you least expect it, they’ll be gone. It’s a hard time. And having a strong, loving, emotional connection with someone—someone you can count on to carry you when you’re too weak to walk, to hold you when you need to cry, to sit patiently when you need to scream—is a valuable thing. We all leave the nest. Well, not you Guy In Mom’s Basement. But most of us do. And there is wisdom in building a new nest. Otherwise, you might just end up flying from one tree to the next, shitting on freshly washed cars and singing for a mate who never comes.

4. A spiritual partner

I understand not everyone makes faith or spirituality part of their lives. I don’t intend to ever use this space as a means to preach to anyone. But I absolutely believe in a Higher Power. And I aspire to Christian principles, which I’d break down into a super-basic philosophy: Love people. Give more than you take. Don’t be a dick. I’m almost decent at two out of three. No matter what faith or philosophy you practice, some days are harder than others. Life gets in the way. We question things. We have doubts. We search for meaning. Having someone around to help you walk your walk is a helpful life tool. More importantly, if there are children, having mom and dad on the same page really helps establish whatever foundation you want your kids to have.

5. A parenting partner

Science supports the notion that having both a mother and father at home is a wonderful thing. Children are better off when they receive the daily benefits of both. And it’s invaluable for them to have their male and female role models show them what unconditional love in a family is supposed to look and feel like. Ever notice how kids who grow up with mothers or fathers who do something great, seem to make following in their footsteps look so easy? Happens in sports all the time. Great football player has kid that goes on to be a great football player. Successful attorney has kid that goes on to be a successful attorney. Famous politician has kid that goes on to succeed in politics. The list goes on and on. Genetics have a little to do with it. But mostly, it’s the example. The football player’s son knows nothing but how to succeed in athletics. The attorney’s daughter never dreams of doing anything but going to law school. The politician’s child never considers any career but public service. They have the blueprint. They follow it. Because they don’t know how to fail at those things. The same can be true of marriage. The same SHOULD be true of marriage.

That said…

Why Marriage Sucks

1. You can’t control the other person

Lisa at Lessons From the End of a Marriage says it better than I can here. It doesn’t matter how much you want it. It doesn’t matter how against divorce you are. It doesn’t matter how committed you are to making it work. If your partner changes his or her mind? You’re finished. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Go straight to your new home. It’s quiet. You won’t get laid. You’ll miss your kids. And it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than just rolling doubles to move on.

2. It fails half the time

I still can hardly believe this is true. I NEVER thought I’d be a party to divorce. But life is slowly but surely teaching me to expect the unexpected. Some of the very best people I know in this world—people I admire, respect and aspire to be—are having a lot of marital problems. One of the side effects of getting divorced is that everyone you know starts to tell you their most intimate secrets. I know of about 10 marriages that have either flamed out or are on the rocks as I type. Will Ryan and his fiancée be among the half who fails? I don’t want to believe it. But I know better than to rule it out with conviction.

3. You trade in YOU for WE

This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But often, it is. People lose their identity. They stop pursuing personal passions in the interest of compromise. Before long, when the relationship goes through a dip or sours completely, the resentment builds. Because the pursuit of dreams was sacrificed for the other person. The other person who now treats you with cold indifference. We are inherently selfish beings. The best of us find ways to put our partners first. To serve others. To think about and care about more than just ourselves. To love. But when all the lights are off and it’s totally silent and it’s just you and your thoughts: What do you want? What do YOU want? If the answer to that question is not morally reprehensible, there’s a strong argument for pursuing it. With vigor. And in many instances, marriage is a roadblock.

4. Bad sex, or its first cousin who lives at my house, no sex

This is an inescapable part of the human condition. No matter what anyone says. I’m right about the following: You WILL take for granted things and people in your life. Things and people that you shouldn’t take for granted. You’ve already experienced it. With your partners, and your health, and your cars, and your TVs, and your jobs and a million other things. An unfortunate downside of marriage is that the sex often gets stale. Now, I don’t believe it has to. And we’ll probably get into this some day in a future post when I’m feeling much more feisty and brave. But with A LOT of honesty, an adventurous streak, and a burning desire to get REALLY good at one of the best things we humans get to do, I believe two monogamous people can have an amazing sexual relationship. I know you want to, ladies. All I have to do is check out the Fifty Shades of Grey book sales figures. And your partner? They want that too. They just might not know how to get there. But there’s a way. Like salsa dancing! Except they probably don’t want to go salsa dancing. But they do want to have an amazing time in bed. Put a little thought into it, why don’t you? Because bad sex and/or no sex is one of the sure-fire ways to make your marriage a statistic of the bad variety.

The Final Analysis

Listen, I don’t know if I’m ever getting married again. On paper, I’d like to.

But I intend to spend the coming months and years doing a lot of soul searching about what really matters in this life and to what extent marriage should be part of the equation for me.

We live in a cynical world full of cynical people. People that will tell you why marriage is awful, and predict doom and gloom, and how there’s no God and that we’re all going to get cancer and die if climate change doesn’t kill us first.

And I won’t live like that.

I won’t echo that chorus.

I kind of hate marriage right now. Nothing has ever felt like this. Nothing has ever robbed me of the spirit and passion for life that I always remember feeling prior to a couple years ago. Nothing has ever felt this horrible.

But I also won’t sit here and tell you that it’s impossible.

Nothing is impossible. Except me getting laid, apparently.

But, seriously. It can be done. It is all the time. Just look around at those beautiful couples married 30, 40, 50 years. They’re out there.

It wasn’t magic that got them there. It wasn’t luck.

It was love.

The real kind. Not the bullshit kind from those lying, evil and soulless romantic comedies.

The good love. The gritty love. The no-nonsense love.

The love that says: “I CHOOSE you. I DECIDE every day when I wake up to love you. And I will make that same choice every day, come Hell or high water, forever.”

Two people doing that? They’re going to make it. Give me that, and you’re damn right I believe in marriage.

Toss in some blindfolds and ice cubes in the bedroom, and these two souls might even enjoy the ride.

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