Tag Archives: Debate

The 4 Easy Steps for Getting Your Husband to Finally Listen to You

The Art of Conversation

(Image/gentlemansgazette.com)

“How do I talk to my husband about this without making him defensive?” is a variation of the question I probably get asked most often in emails and blog comments.

I try really hard to keep my focus on speaking to men, because it feels unfair and out of line for me to address wives when discussing broken marriages. But this post is for all of the wives on a desperate search for answers.

For reasons I still don’t understand, I have managed to write a bunch of things that somehow communicate the feelings of many frustrated wives in bad marriages or those on the brink of divorce.

Many read, then cry, then say “Thank you” because reading their feelings and frustrations spelled out from a guy willing to accept responsibility for his divorce sometimes validates their pain and sadness in a way they desperately crave from their own husbands. In a way my wife probably craved from me, but never received.

I’ve been repeating and rehashing a lot of the same turf lately. I know this, and I’m sorry.

Just a few weeks ago, I attempted to address this frequently asked question in a post titled How to Avoid Spit in Your Food and Get Your Spouse to Work on Your Marriage, where the crux of the message was encouraging people to be kind even when they don’t feel like it. Tone of voice and word choice has a major effect on how the person we’re speaking to reacts to us, or whether they “hear” us at all.

This is something that’s super-easy to talk and write about, and incredibly hard to execute in a live-fire exercise when feeling ragey and nuclear.

But since strong, healthy marriages are way more important than trying to out-anger our spouses, intentional kindness is always a pretty great place to start—even if it’s forced as a means to an end.

You want to be heard. Being kind will help.

But I think I found something that will help even more.

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I saw this impossible-to-not-click headline from Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova:

Hey, Frustrated Wives! THIS is How You Get Through to Him

Popova’s nearly two-year-old post, perhaps divinely gifted to me like a walk-on-water miracle (I spend very little time perusing my Twitter feed, or any other social media), delivers the goods with brief and substantive clarity. She nails it in the very first sentence:

“In disputes upon moral or scientific points,” Arthur Martine counseled in his magnificent 1866 guide to the art of conversation, “let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent. So you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument, and gaining a new discovery.”

In other words, if you want to argue or criticize effectively, your goal can’t be to WIN. The goal must be to ARRIVE AT TRUTH.

The goal can’t be to win an argument in which you might not actually be correct, or in which there is no obvious right or wrong answer (Example: Watching a football game is more fun than watching a reality show on TLC). The goal, when offering criticism to someone else should aim “…not to be right at all costs but to understand and advance the collective understanding.”

So if you’re married to a shitty husband hell-bent on leaving dishes by the sink and accusing you of being irrational when you suggest such a “petty” thing is somehow worth fighting about, this is how you get your husband to listen to you, read things you wish he would read to better understand you, and transform—overnight—the way you communicate and connect for the rest of your relationship which is hopefully forever.

From philosopher and social psychologist Daniel Dennett’s Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking via Brain Pickings: 

How to Compose a Successful Critical Commentary

1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”

2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

He leaves his dishes by the sink. He doesn’t actively listen when you speak to him. He appears to value his personal interests more than you and your family.

And now you want to communicate that in a way he will understand, but every time you try, you guys end up having the same old fight you always have.

You keep saying the same things in the same way, and his reaction and the results are always the same. Your husband will likely have to look in the mirror and ask himself some really hard and uncomfortable questions for your marriage to last. If he’s honest with himself, some of the answers will make him squirm. He will have to meet you halfway, and possibly come even further if your marriage is to arrive at Ever After.

But maybe right now you’re looking for a way to affect change. To be active in healing old wounds.

You asked, and I didn’t really know what to say.

Then Life delivered.

And now you have a tangible way to get through to him. Maybe this is something that can truly help your marriage if you’re willing to swallow the pride necessary to cooperatively seek truth more than victory.

To borrow an oft-used phrase in my posts to substandard husbands: Maybe you could start right now.

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Maybe It’s Not a Popularity Contest

America's greatest president. Despite half of the country thinking he was an asshole AND having a civil-freaking-war break out on his watch. Maybe it's okay when people don't like you.

America’s greatest president. Despite half of the country thinking he was an asshole AND having a civil-freaking-war break out on his watch. Maybe it’s okay when people don’t like you.

I want everyone to like me and when they don’t I sometimes obsess about it.

I think I have it programmed into my mind somehow that the most important thing in life is whether people like you. When I take a hard look at my feelings and behavior, that’s the conclusion I come to.

I want people to like me so I try to be funny even though everyone laughs at different things.

I want people to like me so I try to be nice even though sometimes on the inside I want to kick them in the shin and insult their mothers before kicking them in the other shin.

I want people to like me so I don’t write about controversial things here, and I justify it by saying that I want to be someone who connects, rather than divides. Who participates in healing more than the tearing open of scars.

There are about 13,000 comments on this blog. About 7,000 of those are from readers, and the vast majority of them contain something nice about me.

It’s funny, because in real life when you read internet comments, it’s usually just racists and mean people rehashing political talking points like: “republitards hate women and black people and poor people!!” or “barack HUSSEIN obama is from kenya and is not real president!!” or my personal favorite: “your a moran.”

One of my biggest fears about taking my writing to a bigger platform is that a bunch of those people are going to say dickhead-ish things to me and I’m going to want them to like me, but they won’t. Ever.

I’ll probably stay awake all night thinking about them even though a really smart writer says that would be a good thing.

Despite getting overwhelmingly positive feedback (and that’s generally true for my personal life as well), I am capable of putting 95 percent of my focus on the 5 percent of people acting like cocks.

Sure, I’m a little insecure. Sure, I worry about what people think of me. Sure, I just want to be liked.

But I’m not 12 anymore and seldom act like it when I’m sober.

I know that I’m going to die and so is everyone else. I know it. And it just. doesn’t. matter.

It doesn’t matter!

Maybe I should write and say exactly what I think and feel. Exactly. Instead of being polite.

And maybe if people don’t like it, they can lick my balls.

When Bill Cosby wasn’t too busy drugging and raping women, he was saying insightful things, like: “I don’t know the key to success. But the key to failure is trying to please everybody. And also sexual assault. That’s another key to failure.”

(Half of that quote may or may not have been made up.)

The idea itself is important. That trying to please everyone doesn’t get you very far in life. Millions of people either love or hate Michael Moore. And Rush Limbaugh. And Bill Mahr. And Rachel Maddow. And Glenn Beck. And Chris Matthews. And Ann Coulter. Depending on their beliefs.

These are wildly successful political commentators and anyone with a penchant for (American) politics is going to know each person’s political bent immediately. That’s how strong (and controversial) these people’s personalities and ideas are.

Maybe it’s better to be that way?

I don’t know.

I never thought a non-Christian was going to convert to Christianity because of a screaming man holding a bible on a street corner pointing at them and yelling that they were going to hell unless they believed and behaved just like him. Who wouldn’t want to be like THAT guy!?

I never thought blowing up innocent civilians in Iraqi cafes or in American office towers was an effective way to convert people to Islam. You mean I’m not allowed to have sex here, but in Heaven, I get to have a 73-way!?!?

I never thought that smart-mouthed liberals like Mahr and Maddow were particularly good champions of social change, just like I never thought the fear-mongering and pompous tactics of conservatives like Beck and Coulter were an effective way of promoting family values and patriotism. I can barely stand the ones I AGREE with. It’s maddening.

I read something this morning. I’m not prepared to discuss it. But reading it made me question everything about my approach to life and writing. This idea that I need to always be careful about what I’m saying because I want everyone to like me and end up being a big pussy any time something controversial warrants discussion.

Life consists of issues about which not everyone agrees.

Americans used to shoot and stab one another by the thousands in open fields because they couldn’t agree on whether it was okay to enslave other humans.

Maybe sometimes you need to take a stand.

The point of sharing an idea is to put it out into the world in hopes that it, if well-conceived, will start getting kicked around other people’s heads and conversations and perhaps promote change of some kind.

Some people mean well. Others do not.

I mean well.

When I say I want to be a good man. Kind. Patient. Loving. Wise. I don’t mean “good,” like: “Oh yeah! Matt was a cool guy! He really liked beer and tequila and always made me laugh when he air humped inanimate objects at parties!”

I want to actually be good.

Maybe it doesn’t matter whether everyone likes me because A. I’m going to die, and B. We’re probably not going to meet anyway.

Maybe what is popular isn’t always right.

Maybe you really will fall for anything if you don’t stand for something.

And maybe now’s the time to figure out what that means.

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The Flammable Heart

heart-on-fire

I used to be homophobic, an unabashed litterer, and so pro-life that I would argue passionately against the idea that women should have a right to choose whether to abort babies.

I used to believe all illegal immigrants should be deported. I used to believe that any system rewarding racial or gender quotas was shitty and unfair. I used to believe racism wasn’t a problem in the United States and was limited to a few uneducated rednecks with nothing better to do than hate people.

I used to think that if you didn’t believe Jesus was God, you were ignorant, uneducated and doomed to a life of dissatisfaction and an unpredictable afterlife.

And if you didn’t agree with me, you were wrong.

I don’t like to write about religion or politics or any controversial subjects where, afterward, you might decide you don’t like me because we don’t agree on the same things.

Because that happens.

Really conservative people find out Matt Damon and LeBron James stumped for President Obama and all the sudden both guys are morons and “I’m never watching Good Will Hunting or the NBA again!!!”

Really liberal people find out Gene Simmons is conservative and that Ted Nugent is a gun advocate and enthusiast and all the sudden both guys are morons and “I never liked their shitty music anyway!!!”

I don’t want to write things that cause division.

I don’t want to write things that cause anger.

I don’t want to write things that could lead to you thinking I’m a bad or stupid or foolish person.

I like exploring all of the things that connect us and not the things that divide us.

But today? I want to write about what I think and why.

And I want to write about the process of believing one thing and then changing my mind, and what that might mean.

Maybe I’ll offend you. Maybe you won’t like me afterward. I hope that’s not what happens. And if you do disagree I hope you’ll tell me why because I love to discover other perspectives that help me evolve.

That’s So Gay

Maybe it’s because I was raised in a really conservative, Catholic environment in a small Ohio town where boys played football and never wore pink. But I was always homophobic growing up.

As far as I knew, I didn’t know any gay people, but they probably all had AIDS and wore leather chaps. And if they were guys? They all probably wanted to shower with me naked and touch my penis and convert me to gaydom.

I was also taught that God got soooo angry at gay people during Old Testament times that he destroyed an entire city with fire where everyone was apparently having gay sex. It was soooo bad that if you turned around and looked at the city while it was being destroyed you turned into salt.

Being gay must be REALLY bad!

And then I grew up and met a bunch of gay people. Not ONE has mistreated me or displayed a tendency for unkindness. Ever. Not one ever wore leather chaps in front of me. No one ever tried to hook up with me except for creeper Giovanni that one time.

EVEN IF you subscribe to the premise that the act of homosexual sex is sinful because the Bible says so, it dawned on me one day that a bunch of straight people have sex all the time too even if they aren’t married and that THAT is also a sin, according to biblical teachings. Yet, we don’t see this huge groundswell of anti-premarital sex opponents boycotting organizations or forming lobbying groups against pre-marital sex rights.

Want to know why?

Because basically everyone thinks about sex all the time and wants to do it and most people actually do even if they’re not married. And because people are hypocrites and capable of justifying damn near anything, they think their straight sins are less bad than gay sins.

I don’t like hypocrisy. And I don’t think I’m in ANY position to start “ranking” sins. So one day I stopped.

And now? I want people to do what’s in their heart. And to love who they love.

If the God I believe in exists, that all-powerful creator will sort out all the nonsense in the next life.

If my God doesn’t exist, my consciousness will simply shut off like a light bulb when I die and I’ll decompose in the ground and worms and insects will eat me, and being unkind to people because they liked to have sex with people of the same gender will not have done me any good.

Oh, Those Environmentalist Whackos!

I used to litter all the time, mostly by chucking cigarette butts out my car window. But I would also sometimes throw out empty cans or used napkins or whatever else. Garbage that would end up in a country road ditch.

This lasted until I was 22 and moved to Florida and started hanging out by the whitest sand and clearest water I’d ever seen.

I’d find cigarette butts and discarded trash on the beach. How could they do that!?!?, I’d think.

Then I realized what a hypocritical douchebag I was being and stopped throwing cigarette butts out the window for someone else to clean up or to wind up in that beautiful water.

I was also a newspaper reporter and I covered the power companies in Florida. I began to research and report on stories about certain power plant emissions into the air and discharge into nearby waters.

The mercury levels in fish got so bad near one power plant that people couldn’t eat it. I learned about how high mercury levels in your body are virtually irreversible and can cause serious illness over time.

I started to think about how the planet was here long before me and how it will be here long after I’m gone. I started thinking about how our ancestors were such good stewards of the land, and how we’re so shitty at it. We just mow down trees and wipe out various species because we want to build another strip mall, or build a new deck from exotic Brazilian hardwoods.

I decided it was bullshit. I’m not for punishing businesses based on incomplete science. But I am absolutely for erring on the side of taking good care of the world around us. And I’m absolutely blown away that it has become a political issue.

There’s a place in the Pacific Ocean called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” because it has so many plastic particles floating on or near the surface. I want to know what political party is in favor of that.

The Right to Choose

Is there a more divisive topic? I don’t think so. It scares me to talk about and write about. Especially because I’m a guy and believe my opinions are worth about 20 percent of what a (potential) mother’s opinion is worth because I will NEVER be faced with some of the very difficult choices pregnant women sometimes face.

For all my life, I believed abortion isn’t a whole lot different than killing a baby.  I’ve never understood the argument that an eight-month-old baby in her mother’s womb is different from a two-week-old baby outside the womb. I have a couple cousins in their 20s who were born premature. After six or seven months.

And my brain is simply incapable of coming to a conclusion that we MUST protect that baby outside the womb, but that deciding the fate of the child still in the womb is somehow optional, even though, mathematically, the child in utero may actually be older.

It’s all very messy and confusing.

I’ve come to believe that Roe vs. Wade is unlikely to ever be overturned, and that even if it was, it wouldn’t stop abortions from happening.

I have made a choice to not debate it. The only pregnancy that is any of my business in the history of the world is the one that involved my wife and son. The rest are not my business.

Some people are so passionate against abortion that they protest outside of abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood buildings and intimidate young women who might be scared and need help. They usually do this in the name of Christianity despite acting NOTHING like Jesus ever did. A few of them have even bombed clinics or killed doctors who perform abortions. I can’t stand with people like that.

The Immigration Issue

Because I was ignorant, I used to think of immigrants as only being poor people from places like Mexico or Cuba. I never took any time to think about the fact that my great-grandparents immigrated to this country in the 1930s, and opened a bakery in Cincinnati, Ohio before getting freaky and making my grandmother who loves Liam Neeson and remains alive and well.

Did my great-grandparents do it all legally and pay taxes? Yes. And is there a difference between that and the way some people sneak across the border and live undocumented in the United States and other countries? Sure.

But imagine being a young child growing up in Mexico. And your grandfather and your father and your uncles and your older brothers all snuck into the United States and worked for cash and sent money back home so your family could eat food. Imagine if that was the only thing you ever knew. How could you ever believe it was wrong?

While I very much want people working in this country to pay taxes and contribute because our country is essentially a failing business right now that needs to find a way to become a profitable one if we’re going to survive into the future, I have to be a human being first.

And anyone who thinks money is more important than people will never find themselves on the same side of a debate as me.

People have to matter most.

No Racism Because Obama, Jordan, Hendrix!

Because I was obsessed with Michael Jordan and most of my sports heroes were black and Eddie Murphy was the funniest man alive, there’s no way racism was still a problem in America.

Lincoln freed the slaves in 1836!!!

I used to think that when I was a kid. Want to know why? Because I’m white and despite growing up a little poor, I STILL was able to attend private school and almost never had anything really bad or dangerous happen around me. Because police never once suspected I might be up to no good because of my skin color or because of how I dressed.

I’m a white, straight man. As the hilarious Louis CK once said: You can’t even offend me. That’s how good straight white guys have it. I’m trying to think of a time someone discriminated against me and I thought it was unfair and was somehow denied an opportunity because of it.

I’m drawing a blank.

And if you’re like me? And you can’t think of a time like that either? Maybe it would be wise to join me in my quest to be less of an asshole and pretend like I understand what it’s like to be black or female or gay or an immigrant in the United States.

I Have Faith, But I Don’t Know

I have believed in God my entire life but I can’t and won’t say that I know there’s a God.

I’m sorry. I can’t do it.

I don’t know.

I believe, based on my personal experiences, that there’s a God. God makes sense to me. I look around at all the miracles and intricacies that make up this amazing and awe-inspiring world and universe we live in. And I see purpose. Intent. Design.

Other people look around at war and kids with cancer and injustice and ask: How could a benevolent God allow such things?

It’s a fair question. And I don’t have any answers. Some of the best people I know are tested the hardest. They don’t deserve it. Other people are heathens, and they seem to have everything in life go their way.

Why?

The most important thing to happen to me as an adult is when I realized and admitted that I just don’t know.

Don’t know, what?

Don’t know anything. Not in any sort of big-picture sense. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I die. And I’m not going to act like a lunatic and pretend that I do. It’s foolish and a time-waste.

But I know things about how my mind and body respond to things that happen around me.

I know that injustice makes me feel rage.

I know that tragedy makes me feel sad.

I know that being helpful and giving more than I take gives me meaning and purpose.

I know that love—not just romantic love—but the love I feel for us, for people, sets my heart on fire.

And if that isn’t a good compass to follow for how we should live, then I’ll never know what is.

I don’t have any answers but I have a whole bunch of questions.

Sometimes, things make me feel shitty. I’m going to try to not do those things.

And some things make me feel awesome. Like I really am connected to you and him and her and them, no matter what they think and no matter who they have sex with and no matter what color skin they have and no matter who or what they pray to.

We’re all going to die. But not today.

And the things we used to do or think that were wrong have no bearing on who or what we are now.

None of us can change the entire world.

But every one of us can change our own.

Maybe go tell someone you love them. Right now.

Then do something about it.

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