Tag Archives: Empathy

The Subtle Difference Between Shitty and Non-Shitty Husbands and Wives

Coke vs. Pepsi by Adweek

I don’t drink a lot of soda, but I think I could identify Coke vs. Pepsi in a blind tasting. But since they’re both cola, there are probably many people who cannot. And I think it’s fair to call the differences subtle. (Image/Adweek)

The difference is so subtle that I didn’t recognize it until now.

And now that I have, it isn’t hard to see why so many pissed-off guys stumble on these articles and miss it too. My own inability to tell the difference when I was married is WHY I’m divorced today.

In everyone’s defense, including my own, the differences can be hard to detect. Really hard. If it were easy, therapists and divorce attorneys would have trouble finding work.

It’s not only subtle, but ever-changing.

The shitty behavior of husbands and wives may be healthy and totally acceptable in different relationships with different partners.

What is NOT shitty today may one day become shitty. What is shitty today may one day cease to be shitty.

It’s little wonder we have so many disagreements in our relationships.

I’m accused often of blaming men and husbands for the majority of relationship failures and divorce, and I’ve written sentences so strikingly similar to “I believe male behavior is responsible for the majority of divorces,” that I understand why some people feel that way. One of the best things about speaking these ideas someday as opposed to writing them now is that I think it will be easier for people to more-accurately gauge my meaning when they hear it vs. reading it.

Subtle.

More subtle than the flavor of Coke vs. Pepsi.

Even more subtle than the difference between the words “complement” and “compliment.”

So very subtle.

“You’re a female-worshipping pussy!” some tough guy said.

“This is bullshit!” another guy said. “A wife’s expectations need a reality check in many cases, though others hearing the story are sure to think the husband is at fault due to the false ideas permeating our culture.”

Another guy characterized my ideas as old-fashioned and unrealistic. He said a few things I disagreed with, but then he asked a great question that I’ve been thinking about since:

“What about the seeming double standard—is this fair to men, or anyone, to expect them to be any less human, any less fallible or fragile than anyone else? Is it OK to suggest that men are not entitled to simply be loved for who they are as a person? Or should men be required to constantly earn love—not for who they are—but for what they can do or provide?”

You see, when I was married, I misdiagnosed the marriage-problem symptoms my wife and I displayed, and I was CERTAIN of my correctness in any given disagreement between us. I was right, therefore she was wrong.

Here I was doing or not doing all of these things she wanted me to do differently. And most of the time, I would draw a line in the sand—a boundary, if you will—and stand my ground. I—quite literally—believed my wife was being unfair, or reacting inappropriately to something (like a judge sentencing someone to life in prison for a speeding ticket).

What’s the Difference?

I don’t know that I believed my choices were things I considered to be marriage-enhancers, but I DEFINITELY didn’t consider them to be things that might destroy mine.

Don’t you see the inherent danger there? For me, the scariest things in life are the dangerous, potentially fatal things that we don’t or can’t see coming.

Cancer. Heart attacks. Fatal auto accidents. Terrorism. Sink holes. Asteroids.

I don’t sit around feeling fear over these things because I don’t give a lot of mental energy to them. But I absolutely believe they’re the scariest things.

The things we don’t see coming.

I believe the behaviors that end relationships, lead to affairs, and are ultimately responsible for divorce, are behaviors that MOST people don’t recognize or identify as a danger.

I wasn’t a bad guy. Most guys aren’t bad.

But I WAS a shitty husband. Accidentally. Unaware. Thoughtlessly. Not on purpose.

And because I was trained from a really young age that we treat ACCIDENTS radically differently than we treat INTENTIONAL harm and destruction, I usually defaulted to the position that the “punishment” of my wife’s frustration or anger didn’t fit the “crime” of whatever action or inaction had upset her.

This might sound familiar because I’m pretty sure the vast majority of people can identify with either my experience, or my ex-wife’s.

“But, Matt! You always say that you were a SHITTY husband! How do you know?! Maybe your wife was just being a control freak or an insufferable nag! Maybe SHE was the shitty one!”

You know what, maybe she was sometimes.

I don’t think about things like that. I don’t try to remember every time I felt wronged by her in some attempt to excuse or justify my choices.

My marriage ended and now my little boy has to share homes and CONSTANTLY miss one of his parents, and possibly suffer a little bit socially.

I did things that hurt my wife.

Not her face. Not her arms. Not anywhere on the outside of her.

In her heart. In her mind. In her gut.

I didn’t know when I was married that emotional pain could hurt worse than physical pain. When my wife would talk about feeling hurt, I consciously or subconsciously treated her like she was a crazy person. Like she was a child I perceived to be acting overly dramatic about a tiny scrape. Like she didn’t know how to rank or manage discomfort.

This is what it looks like to not possess empathy nor understand the word’s meaning. When a husband or wife proves incapable of displaying mindful, intentional empathy for the person they promised to love and honor forever, they are breaking their marriage vows.

A shitty husband disregards his wife’s expressions of pain and treats her like there’s something wrong with her whenever he would have felt differently.

A shitty wife disregards her husband’s desire to feel appreciated as “payback” for feeling unappreciated herself.

A shitty husband abandons his wife to entertain herself in favor of doing things he prefers to do alone, when the THING she prefers to do is be together.

A shitty wife berates and shames her husband anytime he performs a task differently than she would have.

Where’s the Line?

“Where is the line between being responsive to your partner’s needs, and drawing a boundary around your own?” said MBTTTR commenter Lindsey in a recent conversation that inspired this post.

Is it possible that some husbands are having THEIR boundaries violated by wives who force husbands to earn their love and kindness, rather than give it freely?

“Is it OK to suggest that men are not entitled to simply be loved for who they are as a person?” the male commenter asked.

That question forced me to self-reflect more than almost any question I’ve been asked in the four years I’ve been writing here.

I think it’s quite simple. NOT to decipher. It’s way too subtle and requires vigilant communication and a mindful, willful desire to achieve a high level of bridged understanding with another person whose differences might frustrate you and create discomfort.

There’s nothing easy about it. But it is simple.

There are:

  • Things That HURT. Actions or words that fundamentally cause pain and/or harm to others, and
  • Things That Inconvenience or Conflict with Personal Preferences. Stuff a husband or wife WISHES were different, like how my ex-wife wished I liked skiing and house cleaning, and I wished she liked watching sports and playing poker.

If a relationship’s survival depends on HURTFUL things coming to an end, then I perceive it to be largely on the shoulders of the person causing the pain to stop, or at minimum, to actively seek ways to minimize it because they love and respect the person they married.

If a relationship’s survival hinges on two people finding balance between personal preferences and conveniences, then I think it’s profoundly important that the two people love and respect one another enough to make damn sure these matters of disagreement DO NOT cause damage to one another.

Because here’s what happens.

An event takes place. A moment comes and goes. Maybe someone did or said something. Maybe someone forgot a calendar event or special occasion.

There are endless possibilities for events we experience, and there are endless possibilities for how any individual person might react to that experience.

And it strikes me as being perfectly okay to not sign up for a lifetime together with someone whose preferences or reactions to events do not align with yours. By all means, don’t get married if you believe the relationship is doomed to fail.

BUT.

It strikes me as perfectly NOT OKAY to promise in front of witnesses, friends, and family; and sign legal contracts, and—most importantly—be assuring one’s partner or fiancé/fiancée throughout the length of an engagement that you’re in this forever to either:

  1. Knowingly bring harm to your spouse.
  2. Knowingly treat your spouse as if they aren’t good enough, and required to EARN your love simply because you want them to think as you think, or do things as you prefer them to be done.

A person who threatens a marriage by treating their spouse as if they aren’t good enough because of a difference in PREFERENCES is every bit as bad as the shitty spouse who damages their partner through intentional or neglectful harm.

Love is a choice.

And when we marry someone, we are to give that love freely for the rest of our lives. But NOT when our marriage vows have been broken by someone who refused to give the love and empathy marriage requires.

How do we get two people to actively choose to love one another, even when they don’t “feel” like it?

Maybe we can’t.

But that’s what a shitty spouse is—someone who won’t give love because it’s inconvenient or doesn’t feel good.

Who’s to blame?

Amidst the chaos of war in the middle of the battlefield, where both sides are firing shots and taking no prisoners, it’s really hard to tell.

No one?

Everyone?

I don’t know.

So, I looked in the mirror and figured out who to blame for my divorce.

Because there’s a better life out there. One I didn’t find blaming everyone else for my problems. But after looking into that reflection long enough and hard enough, I think it might be coming into focus.

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I Am the Monster You Should Be Afraid Of

Monster Check by Adrian Sommeling

(Artwork by Adrian Sommeling)

How far back can you remember?

I’m pretty sure I can remember moments when I was 3. We must have thought and felt things before our earliest memories. I can only guess that the things I thought and felt as a baby are consistent with what I remember through most of childhood.

Unless you value money above all else, I had it sickeningly good.

In the time it takes you to read this sentence, a child will die because there’s no sanitary drinking water in his family’s village, another will be physically abused or abandoned by her father and/or mother, and another still will become a pariah within his family, social circle or community because of appearance or handicaps or interests or beliefs. It’s unspeakably tragic.

But me? I was immersed fully in constant affirmations of love, had all of my basic needs met, had most of my wants catered to (within the context of our financial resources), and experienced nothing in the realm of abuse, neglect or rejection by family or friends.

“You’re such a good boy, Matt!”

“You’re so smart, Matt!”

“You’re so handsome, Matt!”

“You’re so polite, Matt!”

“You’re so funny, Matt!”

“You’re so nice, Matt!”

“You’re so SPECIAL, Matt!”

Not the sarcastic “special,” either. They meant it. Parents. Grandparents. Aunts and Uncles. Parents of friends. Teachers. Coaches.

I’ve had embarrassing amounts of nice things said about me.

It’s a nice way to grow up. You’re never afraid to meet strangers. You’re never afraid people won’t like you. You’re never afraid of failure.

Because you’ve never heard, experienced or even CONCEIVED of a situation in which people didn’t like and accept you, or where you failed to succeed at whatever you set out to do. From your earliest memories, everything about you is “good.” When everything about you is good, you don’t have to work at anything. There’s nothing to improve because everything’s good as it is.

Suggestions from someone to the contrary makes them “weird,” or “wrong.” How many people think YOU’RE the nicest, smartest, most-special person in the world?! Hmmmmm?!, you think to yourself without saying it out loud. Because that wouldn’t be “polite.” And polite = good. Just like me.

When the world sees a happy, polite, nice, smart, funny person, no one raises any red flags or sounds the alarms. In a world with people who rape and murder on purpose, no one’s going to center any public-awareness campaigns around protecting society from people fitting my description.

Violent crime is scary. But in the United States you have less than a 2% chance of being a victim of one in your lifetime, and that’s including a punch to the face.

The vast majority of human suffering stems not from violent acts, but from the trauma endured from the emotional and psychological damage inflicted in our human relationships.

So, philosophical question: What’s a more frightening proposition—the easy-to-spot emotionally abusive and neglectful person you should obviously steer clear from, or the happy, polite, nice, smart, funny person you never see coming?

And this last part is important: The emotionally abusive, happy, polite, nice, smart, funny person isn’t using deceptive subterfuge to trick anyone. The ability and/or tendency to neglect and abuse isn’t part of some clandestine conspiracy.

Because even they themselves can’t see behind the cloak.

A monster.

A terrifying one. Not because you’re afraid, but because you’re NOT afraid.

A dangerous one. Not because they’re intent on destruction, but because they don’t know what they are.

Undetected Monsters Don’t Just Sleep in Our Beds, But Stare Back in Our Mirrors

Remember when little I-see-dead-people Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense” said that the ghosts he saw didn’t know they were dead? Same thing.

Sometimes, we are monsters. Dangerous ones who WILL destroy things, including ourselves, and the scariest part about it is that it’s NOT scary.

Non-imaginary creature definitions for the word “monster” include:

  • a powerful person or thing that cannot be controlled and that causes many problems.
  • one who deviates from normal or acceptable behavior or character.
  • a threatening force.

I was, and likely remain, dangerous because I’m conditioned to assume that my good, polite and intelligent (arguably) thoughts, intentions and actions are completely benign. That something I do or say is harmless. And if someone suggests that something I do or say isn’t that, then the instinct is to assume they’re getting something wrong.

I fundamentally changed the course of several people’s lives just by waking up every day and doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing, or at the very least, making normal, reasonable choices.

The expectation was for my girlfriend/fiancée/wife to think of me and treat me the same as all of my family and friends did from every second I could remember, until whatever present-day moment I was ever in with her.

When she didn’t, she was being unfair, or she was being crazy, or she was just being WRONG.

On matters big and small, she seemed so wrong because of her failure to see how nice and smart and polite and thoughtful and correct and GOOD I was.

It seemed totally insane to hear her say things like: “How could you be so mean to me?” or “If you really love me, why can’t you act like it?”

The Good Guys vs. The Bad Guys

I’ve been a sports fan for as long as I’ve known what sports were.

Football, basketball, baseball and others. My Cleveland Indians are getting ready to face the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.

Almost no one outside of Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals fans dislike the Cubs. They’re the quintessential Lovable Losers. The Indians are too, but the Cubs sort of out-pathetic them in an Ultimate Baseball Sadness competition.

Because my dad’s side of the family is Illinois-based, most people I know and love there are Chicago sports fans. And because I grew up with my mom in Ohio, and live here today, I and most of my friends are Cleveland sports fans.

For the first time in 37 ½ years of life, I am forced to actively root against the team my dad and hundreds of people I know and love are rooting for. The Cubs, who I have ALWAYS also rooted for because there’s never been a conflict, are now the enemy.

The Cubs (it hurts to type) are the bad guys.

I realized as I was going through this thought exercise that the Indians—my lovable-loser, underdog Indians—are ALSO the bad guys. They’re the good guys to me and my Ohio friends. But they’re the bad guys to the legion of fans in Chicago who have been dying for a Cubs championship their entire lives.

Every time something good happens to the Indians and I feel happy, a bunch of other people will feel sad.

If we win a game, we’ll celebrate while Cubs fans will hurt.

And vice versa.

The heroes in our World Series stories are different, depending on who we are and how we feel.

The good guys and the bad guys are different, depending on your individual circumstances and opinions.

Who is right? Who are the good guys?

It’s always been hard for me to imagine the people rooting for the other team to be rooting for the good guys. I’ve never had much sympathy for them.

But this really drove the point home for me. A bunch of very good people. Amazing people. People I love. Craving desperately a result that will make me and a bunch of my friends feel shitty. And me wanting the opposite even though it will adversely affect people I love.

Yet another example of the two perspectives, and how two people can look at the same thing and describe it differently. How two people can disagree with neither being wrong.

The lovable losers have become the monsters.

Monsters who don’t think they’re bad guys.

They look in the mirror and can’t see the monster underneath all the good guyness.

Maybe just like you.

Certainly just like me.

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The Illusion of Incorrectness: The One Time Seeing the Other Woman Can Save Your Marriage

optical illusion old lady young lady

Surely, most of you have seen this famous optical illusion before. Many of us can see “both” women — the young woman facing the other direction, as well as the large-nosed old woman. But our brains tend to default to one or the other, forcing us to really “look” for the other perspective. Is it WRONG to see the young lady? Is it WRONG to see the old one? Two different conclusions, but NEITHER are incorrect. Both are right. This happens in life and marriage all the time, but we’re less quick to let others see what they see. We tell them they’re wrong. And then, sometimes, everything breaks. (Image/Gizmodo)

Megan wrote: “I posted your ‘She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink’ article on FB and my one woman friend who always disputes the existence of sexism replied, ‘This wife could’ve learned that dishes in the sink actually isn’t an act of deep disrespect worthy of divorce just as easily as he understood she interpreted it that way despite his intention. I think he’s better off without her. Part of marriage is accepting small flaws rather than blowing them out of proportion. But I say this as someone who’s not a neat freak, nor married to a neat freak (thank God!).’ I’d be curious to hear your reply to that.”

I don’t think Bob Dylan’s music is all that great. I hear it and naturally don’t like it as much as music played by others.

I think shopping in retail stores on Black Friday is insane. I can’t save enough money to justify putting myself in the middle of those crowds.

I think bleu cheese makes everything taste worse. If I was kidnapped and starved by a gnarly hillside cave dweller who scraped a dead skunk off the road, ate it raw along with all of the bugs and grossness crawling on it, had a bowel movement, and then presented it to me as an alternative to a regular meal with crappy bleu cheese sprinkled all over it, I’d have a difficult decision to make.

But people like bleu cheese. A lot.

Black Friday is, I think, the second-most-popular shopping day of the year.

And Bob Dylan’s an absolute legend. I think we all can agree that on the Great Musicians Totem Pole, Dylan ranks considerably higher than Twenty One Pilots, GZA, or The Decemberists, yet the latter are all in my phone and listened to semi-regularly. I don’t hear much Dylan unless I’m somewhere and classic rock is being played.

I got caught up the other day reading a monstrous comment thread on Facebook underneath a Tasty video where a macaroni and cheese recipe called for cottage cheese.

People lost their minds. Some called cottage cheese an abomination. Others said they loved it.

Was anyone right?

The Worst Thing We Do In Relationships

Think about your life for a moment.

You are born. And then you have all of these individual experiences, feelings, educational opportunities (formal or otherwise) and emotional responses to things based on your specific makeup combined with all of those life things.

Now, whenever anything happens to you, you respond accordingly.

When you see a car driving on the street, you probably don’t think anything of it.

If a member of an indigenous Peruvian tribe living in the wilderness saw one, maybe they’d freak out like Brendan Fraser’s caveman character in Encino Man when he saw his first garbage truck.

Total indifference to a passing car AND being blown away by seeing a car — a machine you didn’t know existed — driving by for the first time are equally reasonable responses in context.

It would be weird if a 30-year-old American living in suburbia freaked out when a car drove by.

It would be weird if a person who had never seen a complex machine before paid no attention to a passing automobile.

But when we have the whole story (and we NEVER have the whole story), we understand why someone else responded differently to something than we would.

People draw upon their background and experiences to interpret information.

Everyone you meet will like you so much more, and you’ll be able to grow meaningful connections with them if you DO NOT trash and invalidate their memories and experiences just because they’re different than yours.

This exact same phenomenon happens in each and every one of our relationships up and down the spectrum, from parents and siblings, to friends and coworkers, to our kids and romantic partners.

I am divorced today for many reasons, but I think this is the biggest one:

I never honored, respected or demonstrated any real effort to understand my wife’s individual thoughts, feelings and life experiences during disagreements.

The patience and compassion I would grant to the tribesman in awe of seeing modern civilization for the first time, I denied my spouse. And I honestly don’t even know why, and can only guess it must have felt more difficult to agree with her and I have a nasty habit of choosing “the easy way.”

And here’s the REALLY scary part — I was honest, self-assured and felt confident I wasn’t doing anything wrong each and every time I did so.

I was doing one of the worst things a person can ever do to a loved one, and I was doing so without one shred of remorse because I didn’t know any better.

After doing so enough times, the worst thing that ever happened to me happened and I never saw it coming.

I was so certain of my opinions and personal preferences throughout most of my life that I thought I was doing my wife and other people a favor by challenging theirs. Like, if they just start doing things MY way, imagine how much happier their lives will be!

And even though I think it’s an asshole move, I think I still involuntarily do it almost every day in moments big and small.

That Certainness Will End Your Marriage

Here’s what I think most of us do. We think:

1. I’m of sound mind and body. I’m not insane. My choices and beliefs make sense.

2. That other person is saying that X made them angry or sad or embarrassed. But I experience X all the time, and it doesn’t make me angry or sad or embarrassed.

3. Because my choices and beliefs make sense, this other person disagreeing with them must be wrong.

It makes perfect sense that we do this. Which is why it’s so scary that it’s at the heart of virtually every human conflict in global history.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

Anaïs Nin, author

We don’t have time to go over EVERY imaginable life scenario. Surely, there are times where facts and evidence should sway reasonable people toward certain conclusions.

But on matters which are CLEARY subjective — “That movie sucked,” or “Vegan meals taste amazing,” or “When the person I love repeatedly chooses to play video games or watch football alone rather than touch me or spend time together, it HURTS badly” — the future of marriage and healthy human relationships across the board is dependent on our ability to let people own those opinions and feelings, even when they clash with ours.

Everyone who isn’t an exact clone of ourselves with our super-specific set of emotional reactions, habits, beliefs and life experiences, might react in ways we don’t expect to something we do or say. They might enjoy things we don’t, or want to avoid things we want to do.

And if you tell that person that they are WRONG, or MISTAKEN, or FLAWED, or STUPID, or CRAZY, or otherwise INCORRECT because they don’t arrive at the identical conclusions that you have, you’re going to wreak havoc and dysfunction in all of your relationships.

That means, anytime you surround yourself with confident, boundary-enforcing, authentic people who care about you enough to always tell you the truth even when it’s uncomfortable, and you have a disagreement with them, it’s going to end with one or both of you walking away, perhaps causing irreparable harm.

And maybe there are people out there who thrive in isolation, but it’s my observation that the quality of our human relationships tends to dictate how good and pleasant, or how shitty and miserable, our lives are.

Megan asked me for my response to the woman who suggested my wife could have adjusted just as easily to my behavior and thoughts, as she expected me to do to hers.

The woman said I’m “better off without her.”

At the risk of putting words in this total stranger’s mouth, I think this woman said the equivalent of: “Because the husband’s feelings were just as valid as the wife’s feelings, and she failed to recognize it, this guy should be happy that he’s now divorced and only sees his son half of the time, because I can tell from this one metaphorical story that she is more trouble than she’s worth.”

In one Facebook comment, a stranger dismissed the value of my family and marriage because she disagreed with the premise of my blog post, or perhaps objected to her friend Megan liking and sharing it.

Make of that what you will.

We’re all a little bit blind, or at least colorblind, to the world as it really is.

We can’t know what we don’t know, and that’s nobody’s fault.

But once we KNOW, it becomes our job to stay AWARE.

Don’t forget. Remember. Every day:

Other people are different. My spouse is different.

They are not wrong or crazy. They simply arrived at a conclusion different from mine, and in the context of their entire life story, it makes PERFECT sense that they did.

I want to be friends with them.

I want to have good relationships.

I don’t want my family to break because I was an unaware asshole worsening each and every problem.

And then we go to work trying hard to understand WHY the people we know and love believe things different from us.

In the end, we become smarter and stronger. And we have great friendships.

And I think, just maybe, we have the kinds of marriages we set out to have when we first say “I do.”

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How Colorblindness Can Destroy Your Marriage

(Image/ewao.com)

(Image/ewao.com)

What’s more damaging to relationships: Inventing problems that don’t actually exist, or denying the existence of those that do?

I felt like I was on another planet, sitting next to my wife in front of the marriage counselor.

Hearing her tell it, you’d think our marriage was a trainwreck.

Hearing her tell it, you’d think I neglected my wife, constantly choosing other things over her and our family.

Hearing her tell it, you’d think I was a shitty husband.

I knew she was wrong.

But I can’t be a shitty husband! Those are the guys who drink excessively, hit their wives or call them names. Those are the guys who gamble away the family savings account, are never home, sleep around, and do a bunch of drugs or whatever.

Right? If a bad guy showed up at the house, pointed a gun at us and said: “It’s either you or her,” I’d be terrified, sure, but I’m standing in front of her.

NEGLECT! That’s insane. What about all those guys who go out drinking with the guys every night? THAT is neglect. I don’t do things like that. So I can’t possibly be neglectful.

Our marriage couldn’t possibly be a trainwreck.

If our marriage was a trainwreck, SURELY I would want to get out of it, too. I mean, I don’t want anything to do with trainwrecks or subjecting myself or a child to anything horrible or dysfunctional.

After more than 30 years of living, I thought I had a decent handle on reality.

I had a clean bill of mental health. There was no reason to assume I was crazy or delusional. There was no reason to assume I was evil or out to cause damage.

In fact, there was every reason to assume I was a really nice guy who people mostly enjoyed being around. Given all of the horrible things that happen in the world, one might say my wife was lucky to have someone like me.

I had a hard time sitting there listening to her tell the marriage counselor all of the ways she considered me to be a substandard husband.

I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the really huge assholes out there, and how I wasn’t like them, and just how unfair it felt to sit there listening to her indict me in front of this stranger who doesn’t ever get to see what it’s REALLY like at home.

I was certain I wasn’t certifiably crazy.

I had ample evidence of people liking and trusting me.

It seemed clear by every measurable standard I knew of that I was a “good” and competent human being.

So if she’s saying there are relationship problems, and I’m saying there aren’t, my conclusion was that she must be mistaken. She had to be wrong.

Hearing her tell it, we had a lousy marriage. I took that personally, and spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself about it.

When I was asked about the marriage, I only had good things to say. We were two good people who loved one another and could count on the other to always be there.

“In fact, the only things we ever fight about are these little things she wants to turn into big problems,” I’d say. “If she’d stop finding new things to be upset about, everything would be perfect.”

Thought Exercise: Guilty or Innocent?

Imagine being accused of murdering 30 people. Or of being a Columbian drug lord. Or anything really that is so far outside the confines of your reality that when someone accuses you of it, you can just laugh.

When people accuse us of legitimately outrageous things, we don’t generally get angry. You can’t say “Hey Matt! You’re an asshole because you tried to release a poisonous gas in that shopping mall in Berlin, Germany in 1973!!!” and get any kind of rise out of me.

I’ve never possessed poisonous gas (nor tried to harm anyone). I’ve never been to Berlin. And I was still six years shy of being alive in 1973.

It’s laughable. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t hurt to be accused of outrageous things.

So, what might it mean that when my wife accused me of being a shitty husband, that it did hurt and cause a bunch of discomfort?

I’m Going to Say This As Gently As I Can

You’re probably colorblind and it’s probably damaging your relationships.

Imagine the world before vision specialists were able to prove colorblindness is real.

How would two people looking at the same colored object ever come to an agreement on what they were experiencing?

Person #1 says it’s orange. Person #2 says it’s green. Person #1 says it’s yellow. Person #2 says it’s pink.

They’re both correct.

AND they’re both incorrect.

Because as much as some people don’t want to admit it, perspective, context, and frame of reference DO impact how true or false something is from time to time.

Maybe the reason you and your partner are both so certain of yourselves while you continue to have The Same Fight over and over and over again is because you’re BOTH right.

It’s frustrating when you know something is green but the other person insists it’s orange. But I think reasonable people can question whether those disagreements are grounds for breaking up marriages and families.

But what about when the “colorblindness” is about more than just identifying color?

What if the person who sees green is being hurt?

I’m not talking about bullshit hurt, either. I’m not talking about crying over spilled milk. I’m talking about situations where someone takes damage on the inside.

Is it really so hard to imagine a scenario where the person who sees orange ignores the person seeing green’s cries for change or help over something they can’t see, feel or experience for themselves?

When You Talk: Do You Want to Win, or Understand?

Another thing people don’t always like talking about is the topic of behavioral traits by gender. Some traits are prevalent in men. Others are prevalent in women. It creates arguments when people are jerks about it. I’m not trying to be. I’m just saying someone smarter than me noticed how men and women tend to communicate during conversation and it’s worth thinking about if you dislike divorce, missing your children, and frequent sobbing.

I was trying to read about football when Football Perspective’s Chase Stuart introduced me to communication concepts I’d never heard of before: The Rapport Dimension and The Status Dimension. In short, the “rapport dimension” is about using conversation to connect with the person you’re speaking with, and the “status dimension” is about looking awesome by sounding funny or smart or whatever.

As you might have already guessed, women more often use conversation as an attempt to build rapport with the person they’re speaking with. And men? Men often use conversation as an attempt to prove how brilliant and desirable and successful they are. Men often use conversation to increase their “status.”

Pardon the Inceptiony nature of this, but Stuart’s article references a Vox article about presidential campaigning which included a linguist’s observations that caught Stuart’s attention. From the Vox piece:

“’Listening is something women value almost above everything else in relationships,’ says Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown linguist who studies differences in how men and women communicate. ‘The biggest complaint women make in relationships is, “He doesn’t listen to me.”

“Tannen’s research suggests a reason for the difference: Women, she’s found, emphasize the ‘rapport dimension’ of communication — did a particular conversation bring us closer together or further apart? “Men, by contrast, emphasize the ‘status dimension’ — did a conversation raise my status compared to yours?

“Talking is a way of changing your status: If you make a great point, or set the terms of the discussion, you win the conversation. Listening, on the other hand, is a way of establishing rapport, of bringing people closer together; showing you’ve heard what’s been said so far may not win you the conversation, but it does win you allies.”

Just like the people we love who are diagnosed with colorblindness, maybe we need to learn how to trust that some of their experiences are fundamentally different than ours.

We don’t say: “Haha, you stupid moron!!! Of course it’s orange and not green!!! Dumbass!!!”

We understand that they literally see a different thing. We have context for the disconnect.

We don’t assume we know what it’s like to see what they see.

So we ask good questions. We listen.

Not to “win” and look awesome. Simply to understand. To build rapport. To connect.

Maybe there’d be a lot less brokenness that way.

Maybe then it would seem like we’re all living on the same planet.

Maybe then it wouldn’t matter so much what colors we see.

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The War Inside: If You’re Not Uncomfortable, You’re Probably Doing it Wrong

angry goat

(Image/trinitypropertysales.com)

I’m a little outraged by all the outrage.

One group of people is outraged because an NFL quarterback chose to remain seated during the U.S. national anthem before a game.

“It’s disrespectful!” “If he doesn’t like America, he should get the hell out!” “People died for that flag, man. Honor the troops!”

A separate group is outraged for the very reason San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has decided to protest the national anthem.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

49ers fans posted videos of them burning Kaepernick jerseys to let him know how they felt about his decision.

Some of my friends badmouthed him at my fantasy football draft yesterday.

I don’t know how many of the angry people can accurately explain Kaepernick’s reasoning. I think it’s fair to assume at least some of them jumped to conclusions, and that most if not all of them have never been targets of harassment, racial profiling, or discrimination in any fundamentally dehumanizing ways.

Similarly, I don’t know how many angry Black Lives Matter activists can accurately explain official police procedure for officer-involved shootings, or have ever been in the type of highly stressful, life-threatening situations most law enforcement officers volunteer for to protect innocent people and, by extension, our very way of life through the preservation of civil order.

I think maybe some people just like to scream about things.

‘What’s wrong with the world?’ This. All This Self-Righteous Certainty.

Men often say how exhausting it is for them to have “talks” with their wives or girlfriends. You know—the ones they didn’t initiate. The ones that force us to deal with things like criticism, or questions about certain behaviors, or listening to the women we love tell us how we make them sad and miserable.

We have all kinds of reactions:

Silence.

Walking away.

Defensiveness.

Retorting with complaints of our own.

Haughty moral superiority.

“I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

Fighting.

Sometimes we fight because we think it might end the conversation. We often regret that once the anger subsides. We apologize and try to make peace. But nothing gets resolved because we never actually listened to her with focus and intention in any kind of effort to instill personal changes that would solve the problem.

If she decides to bring it up again (which she often won’t simply to avoid the fight, even though it hurts her a lot to do so) sometimes we just get angry all over again. Maybe we accuse her of “always trying to pick a fight!”, or “always finding something new to complain about!”

It’s bullshit.

Having the conversation she wants to have is making us uncomfortable because it forces us to look inward for answers, and ask ourselves hard questions. It forces us to deal with our flaws, it exposes our weaknesses, and brings us face-to-face with our demons.

That’s when we squirm.

The hard truths make us squirm.

The prospect of needing to change makes us squirm.

This is why people are angry about Colin Kaepernick.

This is why people are angry about Black Lives Matter.

This is why people are angry about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or Gary Johnson.

This is why people are angry about atheism.

This is why people are angry about God.

This is why people are angry about feminism.

This is why people are angry about Red Pill philosophy.

This is why people are angry about homosexuality.

This is why people are angry about abortion.

Talking about these things makes us uncomfortable. These are the things that make us squirm. It’s because we all have stories that we tell ourselves about each and every one of these things, and it hurts when these core (and sacred-feeling) beliefs are challenged.

EVERYONE has different points of view. And EVERYONE usually has some kernel of Truth—or at minimum, some real-world, first-person experience—at the core of whatever they believe.

We MUST Discuss Uncomfortable Things, Else Nothing Ever Changes

I love the American flag and the national anthem. Americans piss me off constantly. Our federal government is something of a dysfunctional, financially inefficient pool of incompetence. But I love my country, my flag, and our anthem. I have problems with many things in our country. But I will not protest the flag.

But I am WAY more outraged by the people who think Kaepernick exercising his Constitutional right to free expression warrants insulting him, harassing him, or suggesting he’s un-American and should leave the country.

That’s just my opinion. It might be unpopular. Let’s talk about it.

Let me ask you this, Outraged NFL Fan or Outraged American who thinks Kaepernick’s national anthem protest is disrespectful of the men and women who have died protecting the many freedoms we enjoy as American citizens.

Which is the greater crime against patriotism: Kaepernick’s sitting down during the national anthem (a PERSONAL decision he didn’t seek attention for—a media member approached him about it, not the other way around), or the NFL accepting millions in taxpayer dollars to promote “patriotic” displays before and during NFL games?

And here’s another: Which is the greater service to our brave military men and women—standing at attention for the national anthem, or actually getting off of our asses to donate time and money to the tragic problem of what happens to many of our veterans when they return home?

I’m raising my hand on this. I am one of you, and we are many. The people quick to criticize a man not doing the same thing we would do during the national anthem in the name of patriotism, only to turn and look the other way when we hear about the sad state of veterans affairs in the United States.

Why?

Because it makes us uncomfortable. It’s easy to scream at Kaepernick.

But it’s HARD to solve real problems.

I love the police. I assume the reason my house isn’t regularly broken into by gunmen who might hurt my son, or why my car isn’t stolen, or why there aren’t more high-speed fatalities in neighborhoods where kids play and people walk dogs is because of the police.

You know what else I love?

People NOT getting shot and killed (especially children) who do not present a deadly threat to police or other people.

Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t we strongly support the police AND respect and honor the feelings of those participating in Black Lives Matter?

White people in suburban neighborhoods around the country never experience or even think about what racial discrimination or oppression looks like. I get it. I’m a white person in a suburban neighborhood who almost never experiences those things either. But how are WE the Arbiters of Truth on issues affecting black communities? We couldn’t be more ignorant about it if we tried.

Millions of black Americans believe police officers have unjustly killed children or their friends or their neighbors or just someone with the same amount of melanin in their bodies.

Worse yet, many believe that the people doing the killing are unfairly enjoying paid leave instead of being scrutinized the same way they or other people they know have been scrutinized by police.

Maybe all of the officer-involved shootings were justified.

Maybe none of them were.

I’m not focused on that (even though they obviously merit our concern). I’m focused on what a shitty job everyone is doing at dealing with it.

Thought Exercise: The Goat-Sex Conundrum

I hope you’ll take this seriously.

Would you prefer to:

  1. Have sex with a goat, with assurances that no one will ever find out. Or,
  2. NOT have sex with a goat, but everyone will believe you did, no matter how much you protest or try to convince them otherwise?

Normally, this mental exercise is designed to help you figure out whether you place more value on what you think and feel about yourself, or on what others think and feel about you.

I intend it a slightly different way.

Maybe the Police are a bunch of racist murderers. Or maybe they’re not.

Maybe the Black Lives Matter movement is totally out of line and wrong in their beliefs.

And to either side, I’d say: Does the truth even matter if no one believes it?

Maybe Exchanging Stories and Ideas with People Who DON’T Share our Life Experiences Can Help

We avoid conversations and experiences that make us uncomfortable.

It’s just easier that way.

But I wonder what might happen if every police department in the United States invited community leaders, Black Lives Matter representatives, and everyday citizens to a friendly and public conversation about these issues.

What if law enforcement officials collectively spent more time investing in understanding the day-to-day lives of those who mistrust them? What if BLM officials invested more time in police ride-along programs to get a closer look at what our bravest first responders face?

People (mostly men, I think) scoff at the call for empathy.

They’d rather bitch and moan about whatever new controversy is on TV before getting back to the routine of not paying attention.

The most powerful and healing move we can make in ANY conflict—from international disputes and wars, down to our most personal relationships, is simply to pour energy into understanding what daily life or a specific situation looks like through the prism of another person with sometimes intensely different lenses and filters.

It’s easy to dismiss our relationship partners. They’re being crazy.

It’s easy to dismiss our political opponents. They’re obviously stupid morons.

It’s easy to dismiss people of different faiths. I just want what’s best for them!

It’s easy to dismiss people who make different lifestyle choices. Those people are freaks, and nothing like me!

It’s easy to dismiss people from different cultures. We’re already doing things the best way!

Because NOT dismissing them makes us squirm.

NOT dismissing them makes us explore questions we’d rather not have to answer.

NOT dismissing them forces us to have the uncomfortable conversations we’re all constantly avoiding.

But maybe those are the only ones that actually change things.

I’m With Kaep

It’s easy to criticize Kaepernick. My initial reaction was to do just that.

No matter what your beef is, you should honor the flag! But that’s my personal opinion.

But after hearing what the man had to say?

What do you want from him? To shut up and do things your way?

Is that what you want your wife, and people of different faiths and different lifestyles and different political opinions to do?

We have TWO choices:

  1. Have a group take over by force, overpowering or enslaving the opposition, and then imposing new laws which everyone must follow. That’s one option.
  2. The second option is freedom. The second option is acknowledging that everyone gets to be and do and think and feel whatever they want so long as doing so doesn’t restrict those same freedoms of others.

Please let people be themselves. It is the best way I know to be less of an asshole.

And please accept this truth about ANY disagreement discussed with kindness and empathy:

In the end, you’ve either proven how smart you are and helped another person understand your point of view, OR you’ve been properly convinced of a better idea and evolve into a smarter, higher-functioning human being.

It’s the Everybody Wins Strategy.

And it would save the world if we would just let it.

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New Things and Places Make You Grow and I’m Almost 1% of the Way There

Guy walking down road traveling

(Image/smagmagazine.wordpress.com)

Even though I lived in three different states growing up, I didn’t understand that people in other places were different than the people I was accustomed to seeing around me.

As I imagine there are many common traits among people living in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, so it is with people in Iowa, Illinois and the part of Ohio in which I was raised.

I was born in Iowa.

My parents split when I was 4 and I moved to Ohio to begin my school years. I spent a lot of time in Iowa and Illinois along the Mississippi River visiting my family throughout those years. Both places—Ohio, and the Mississippi River Valley—provide feelings of Home.

There wasn’t a ton of money floating around nor did I know anyone close to me with a passion for travel.

So I didn’t get out much.

Which is actually fine as it’s happening when you’ve never experienced anything different. Contentment is a highly underrated thing—a lesson I learned the hard way after graduating from college. What I lacked in material wealth and life experience was more than made up for in genuine contentment, surrounded by wonderful family and friends no matter which state I was in.

How do you manufacture a decent guy with a genuinely kind heart and good intentions who is capable of ditching his crying wife in the hospital hours after giving birth to his beautiful newborn son?

There are an incalculable number of factors, but I fear many innocent and well-meaning actions and conditions contributed.

I was born to very young parents. They were eightish years younger than my ex-wife and I when our son was born. I didn’t feel ready at 29. It’s hard to imagine how they must have felt.

I am, for all intents and purposes, an only child.

Because my mom is from a very large family of kind, loving people; and because my dad was from a mid-sized family who didn’t see me often; and because I made friends easily and was seemingly well liked by their parents and my teachers because I’m naturally outgoing and well mannered, I was showered with an almost-obscene amount of love, support and affirmation growing up.

These things feel good. And almost every day felt good. Being me was a very positive experience.

I think my dad spoiled me just a bit because of our unfortunate geographic situation which kept us from a typical father-son relationship. I think my mom took it pretty easy on me in terms of chores and responsibilities around the house because she was so accustomed to (and skilled at) accomplishing home management tasks from being the oldest of many brothers and sisters, so I got used to things just “magically” getting taken care of.

Folded laundry. Swept floors. Clean counters. Spotless bathrooms. Stocked fridge and pantry.

My only real job was schoolwork, and I could perform academically at a fairly high level without trying hard, and certainly without learning the material inside and out. After all that K-12 learning, followed by whatever I did to get a bachelor’s degree, I’d be surprised if I’ve retained even 10 percent of it. We’ll never know.

So what DID I “know”?

  1. Being myself makes most people like me, and I don’t have to work hard for things.
  2. I’m totally smart, which means when people disagree with me or challenge my beliefs, there’s an above-average chance they’re wrong.
  3. Life is beautiful, people are kind, and mostly good things happen, which means sad, depressed, angry or impoverished people just aren’t trying hard enough. Yay, life!
  4. People are mostly the same everywhere you go. It’s obvious because I’ve been between Iowa and Ohio my entire life, and it pretty much all looks and feels the same! Neat!

Certainly, attending a 20,000-plus-student public university after 12 years of Catholic schooling in a town with the same amount of people delivered some eye-opening moments.

Not everyone believes what I believe. Some objectively super-smart people disagree with some of my political philosophies and can articulate why without saying anything moronic. Also, I’m friends with black people! 

But the real shock to the system happened when I braved a move outside of my little four-state bubble in middle America, moving to a Florida beach town on the Gulf side to take a newspaper reporting job.

Because we all live inside our own heads and nowhere else, and because I hadn’t done a lot of travelling, and because when I had gone to other places, they shared many cultural similarities with my hometown, I assumed people were pretty much the same everywhere, at least in the United States.

In other words, I thought I was moving to Ohio with Nice Weather and Beaches.

It only took me a few months in Florida to observe how incorrect my assumption had been, and to learn an important life lesson at the age of 23:

Different people in different places often have different beliefs and different life experiences than I do, and those differences feel as natural to them as my normal does to me.

Oh, the Places We’ll Go

Last week, one guy I met while living in Florida told his oldest son to pick any place in the world to visit for a father-son trip. The boy (I think he’s 11) chose Tokyo, Japan. And off they went, leaving mom and the younger two brothers behind. Those two looked like they had an awesome time, and I imagine both father and son will have grown significantly from the experience in some way.

As I type, another friend is in the midst of a two-week tour of Europe. She texted me some photos from Switzerland that made me want to drop everything and go there. Mountains. Waterfalls. The greenest greens. And those totally rad “Ri-cola!” horns.

A new friend, author and potential future collaborator routinely travels the globe, has lived in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, is married to a Dutch man she now lives with in south Florida, and returned less than a month ago from a speaking gig in Stockholm, Sweden.

That’s just regular life for her.

For me, that’s, like, whoa.

I started traveling domestically in my second job out of school, which had brought me back to Ohio. Every couple of months, I was going somewhere for a conference or industry trade show. It was then that I really felt as if I was broadening my horizons in my mid- to late-twenties.

I took a look at a map to evaluate where I’ve been.

Toronto, Ont. is my furthest trek north. New York City is my furthest east. To the south, Key West, Fla. And to the west, San Diego, Calif.

I downloaded an app where you can log all of the places you’ve been. I went through it carefully, marking my destinations.

Two countries. My homeland. And Canada. And let’s be honest. When you’re from the United States, and you occasionally get Canadian coins handed to you when cashiers are making change, and when the border is way closer than half of the U.S. states, it doesn’t really feel like international travel.

And unless I’m forgetting one, I’ve visited 24 states and Washington D.C.

That’s it.

About half of the states in my native country and a few cities in one Canadian province.

My new app was kind enough to calculate what percentage of the world I’ve seen.

That figure? 0.8 percent.

I’m 37 years old. And I try to write stories that I hope might help someone live and love better.

And I’ve seen less than 1 percent of this world.

There’s More to Life Than What We Think We Know

I’d seen and read a bunch of things about saltwater fish and coral reefs, but until I went snorkeling off the coast of the Florida Keys, I couldn’t accurately describe their beauty.

I’d seen and read a bunch of things about New York and Washington D.C. throughout my childhood, but until I walked the streets of Manhattan or sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I couldn’t marvel at all the steel and concrete that makes up NYC, or feel what a grateful American feels looking out over my favorite visual piece of our nation’s capital.

I’d seen and read a bunch of things about California and the Pacific Ocean, but I was 28 before I stood on Mission Beach for the first time and felt the awesome power of the largest body of water on Earth, and could finally understand why so many people are willing to move so far away and spend so much money to live near it.

I am a better, different, wiser, more intelligent, more balanced, more complete human being for having experienced the few life-expanding places and moments I have.

And I’ve seen less than 1 percent of all there is to see.

How much better, different, wiser, more intelligent, more balanced, more complete might I be if I see more? How much more might you be?

Maybe we owe ourselves the opportunity to find out.

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Is Your Spouse Hurting You On Purpose?

albert einstein the power of asking the right question

(Image/CoSchedule)

Pain sucks.

Some people enjoy the muscle burn after a hard workout because it feels like progress. Others like the achy remnants of vigorous bedroom activities, or headaches the morning after a fun party, as a reminder of the fun.

But we can mostly agree that pain in most forms and at most times is a predominantly negative experience. Hurt someone long enough or hard enough and they won’t even be the same person afterward. It’s a big deal.

My go-to defense when my wife was upset with me in our marriage was to say I didn’t do it on purpose (which was true). To me, it felt unfair for her to be mad about whatever the thing was. Or at least AS mad as she sometimes was.

Inflicting damage intentionally is a universally frowned-upon thing. When your actions result in harm to other people or their property, the penalties in the criminal justice system (presumably everywhere, but certainly in all developed nations) are most severe when the damage was intentional.

Accidents are sometimes punishable as well, but usually with softer penalties. They’re often labeled “negligent,” or “reckless.”

Whenever my wife was mad and I thought she was charging me with murder when my crime was actually driving too fast in a construction zone, I’d get defensive and pivot the conversation to her lack of justice instead of the thing about which she was upset.

My marriage fights mostly consisted of me attempting to invalidate my wife’s complaints under the basic premise that I considered them petty or unworthy. I treated her arguments as illogical. And because, in my mind, her arguments lacked logic and reason, I categorized them as WRONG.

I was right. She was wrong. And since I believed that, she was the real rabble-rouser in the marriage and nothing was ever my fault.

I was either accidentally (and I do mean accidentally) a master manipulator OR an intolerably oblivious moron, depending on how well a given observer understood relationship dynamics as we discuss them here. Since both my ex-wife and I are socially competent, we didn’t have many disagreements in front of others. There were some, but I don’t remember ever being pulled aside so someone could point out my (or my wife’s, if applicable) douchebaggery.

That’s probably because their relationship arguments looked exactly the same.

I was months into divorce before the truth found me:

  • This is what most marriages and relationships look like. Most couples have the same, predictable fights and outcomes.
  • Holy shit. I WAS hurting her worse than if she’d been smacked in the face. (We all get outraged when people physically strike others, but no one gets outraged by emotional neglect, which actually hurts much worse. Why?)
  • I never knew my actions were literally causing pain because I didn’t believe her when she told me. Did I think she was lying? No. I guess I simply thought she was wrong.
  • The intense pain from divorce was my first real taste of emotional pain. I’m not talking about how we feel when the girl at school doesn’t like us back, or even when our parents get divorced when we’re little. I’m talking about BREAKING on the inside.
  • That experience gave me the ability—for the first time in my life—to consciously empathize with others. While I was struggling to perform basic life tasks, only two things helped—family and friends who knew me BEFORE I was married because we had a pre-existing relationship to fall back on, and other people who had gone through divorce. I used to say “they just get it.” That’s true. But what they were actually doing was EMPATHIZING, which is my new favorite life skill and one I consider to be No. 1 on our Things We Need to Succeed at Marriage lists.

When two sober, healthy and seemingly functional adults love one another and promise each other they will continue to do so every day forever, it seems reasonable to expect that to work more than half the time.

But it doesn’t. Half the time it’s Hindenburg dot com. (That’s code for: crashes and burns.)

I can’t overstate how powerful the moment was when the puzzle pieces came together and I finally understood WHY. My Ah-Ha Moment. Our day-to-day existence is so much easier when we live unaware of danger. There’s nothing to fear or stress over, so you just derpy-derp around all the time, and it feels good. Hakuna-ma-dipshit-tata.

But living life unaware can result in everything you know and love going away, including your very sense of self (the YOU that you’ve known and recognized every second of your life dies). And that’s dangerous. I think marriage is important. I think children growing up with both of their parents together and showing them by example how to love effectively is important. And I think MOST divorce is needlessly wasteful because most don’t learn enough to have any more success in their next relationship than the one they think they’re escaping.

When I had my Ah-Ha Moment, I felt like I possessed the secret to life. This stuff is important. Damn near everyone on Earth, regardless of how they think about it, and independent of romance and intimacy, have interpersonal relationships, the quality of which will determine how good or bad life feels every day.

It’s not like it’s hiding or anything. These ideas SHOULDN’T be a secret. All the fish are swimming in water every second of their existence too, but they don’t know what water is.

It appears most people are born, grow up without the information they need to have healthy, functioning relationships, get married with a bunch of people patting them on the back and congratulating them, bring CHILDREN into their flimsy world, and then even though everyone is pretty good and pretty smart, it all breaks and turns to shit.

And why? Because we were unaware. We just—didn’t know better.

But when we’re in it—fighting with our spouses and feeling betrayed because they don’t seem to be loving us as they promised to on our wedding day—we sometimes feel like they’re deliberately causing us harm. And that hurts more than the thing they’re doing. That feeling that they would WANT to hurt us. That’s what hurts the most.

How to KNOW Whether Your Spouse is Hurting You on Purpose

You ask them.

Don’t roll your eyes. I’m totally serious. ASK THEM. Effectively.

We rarely ask ourselves or others the right questions.

What are the right questions?

The right questions challenge our assumptions and beliefs and force us to consider an alternative.

better way.

Matthew E. May shared this classic story about the advent of Polaroid:

“Back in the 1940s, Edwin Land was on vacation with his 3-year-old daughter. He snapped a photograph of her, using a standard camera. But she wanted to see the results right away, not understanding that the film must be sent off for processing.

“She asked, ‘Why do we have to wait for the picture?’ After hearing his daughter’s why question, Land wondered, what if you could develop film inside the camera? Then he spent a long time figuring out how—in effect, how to bring the darkroom into the camera.

“That one why question inspired Land to develop the Polaroid instant camera. It’s a classic Why/What if/How story. But it all started with a child’s naive question—a great reminder of the power of fundamental questions.”

‘What Question Should I Ask?’

Great question! I think it has a simple answer.

“Do you know why I am upset with you?”

Or.

“When you think back to [insert personal experience] and how that hurt you—on the inside—do you understand that I feel similarly right now?”

Or. (A more cooperative exercise.)

“In an effort to try to understand you and not fight about this, I want to try to make your argument for you. I want to accurately state what you think and feel, and why you think and feel that way so that you know I understand you. I was hoping you would agree to do the same for me. Will you?”

The point of this entire post is this: Until your husband, boyfriend, wife or girlfriend, demonstrates beyond doubt they can accurately articulate your point of view, you can safely conclude that THEY DON’T KNOW HOW YOU REALLY FEEL.

I don’t think the significance of that can be overstated.

I don’t think any of us sensitive to the other side of divorce could sleep at night if we had a true picture of the amount of broken homes, broken families, broken people, broken children, broken spirits that have resulted from this one little notion…

Two people didn’t actually know how the other felt.

What if all the pain and dysfunction is just one, big misunderstanding?

What if looking at the world through the curious eyes of children can save our adult selves?

What if something simple and ironic like asking the right question is the answer we’ve been looking for all along?

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You Don’t Understand Me for the Same Reason Couples Divorce

Some things simply get lost in translation. (Image/funcage.com)

Some things simply get lost in translation. (Image/funcage.com)

I wrote a post exactly three months ago today which was so popular and relatable to the average married couple that several million people read it.

It’s so popular that it has remained the most-read post on this site every day since, quadrupling MBTTTR’s daily traffic from pre-“dish” post levels.

The reason it became popular is because people read it, recognized their own lives, and wanted to share and talk about it with others.

And even though She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By the Sink mattered so much to so many, it yielded and continues to elicit radically different reactions from readers:

“I like that this guy got to the deep issue of respecting his wife. It takes a lot of self-reflection for a man to understand that little things like this can really hurt a woman.”

“This will contribute to saving my marriage. I read it, felt like I understood him better. Then read it to him, and now (I think) he understands me better. Thanks!”

“This article is a heap of stink. A woman divorces a man because of him not putting a glass away makes her feel insecure and not loved. It may make her feel that way but to the point of no return and a broken marriage? Get real.”

“Your wife’s petty and you’re justifying it to your own detriment.”

Some readers identified with my ex-wife. Others identified with the me from five years ago. And another group thought the entire thing was a huge time-waste.

Millions of people read the exact same words, but describe it differently.

Millions of people see a dirty glass sitting by the sink, and describe it differently.

Sometimes, when two people describe the same thing differently, they will debate who is correct. “I’m right. You’re wrong. Let me explain why since you have a small, idiot brain.”

One person sees the dish and KNOWS it’s a freaking dish sitting by the sink. No more, no less. If one of the cars got wrecked, or one of them became terminally sick, or a Nigerian 419 scammer cleaned out their bank account, the last thing either of them would care about is a dirty dish.

The other person sees the dish and KNOWS it’s a thoughtless, disrespectful, negligent act of emotional abuse, and if repeated enough times, will be the death of their relationship. And what could be more important to a couple who shares homes, beds, resources, children—entire lives—than to protect that relationship?

It’s a matter of perspective. A matter of mutual respect. A matter of the life skill I perceive to be the most-influential factor in which couples make it, and which do not: Empathy.

I’m Either Sexist, Racist and Anti-Semitic, or… I’m Not

Yesterday, I published a post titled “Empathizing with Hitler…” and I think a bunch of people freaked out about it but didn’t say anything, maybe because I’ve built up a bunch of goodwill credits with them.

I think it is probably the most important post I have ever written, and it had an intentionally shocking headline, yet low readership and engagement, and I think maybe it’s because many people saw those words, jumped to conclusions, and chose to do something else.

Including the words “Empathizing with Hitler” in the headline was probably unwise. But when the goal is to help a man understand what the word empathy REALLY means, and what empathy REALLY is, I find the headline totally defensible, and still haven’t decided whether I’ll change it.

I do not empathize with one of the biggest mass murderers in world history. I do not in ANY way condone, respect or agree with his political and ideological beliefs or actions.

I simply thought a guy like me might be able to read it and make the connection I wanted him to make: Empathy probably isn’t what you think it is. Here is what it ACTUALLY is. Even evil mass murderers can find people to empathize with them. Because empathy is not a feelingsy emo noun, and you don’t have to feel like a “girly pussy” for being empathetic. Empathy is a SKILL. An action. We empathize when we relate to other people in a way that connects us like we do with our high school sports teammates, or childhood friends, or other people in our hobbyist groups who like all the same things we do. We FEEL “me too” and that creates an important connection. It’s EASY to do with people who agree with us on everything and like all of the same things we like. And it’s REALLY HARD to do with people who disagree with us and have different goals, like our wives and girlfriends sometimes do. Which is why if you don’t want to lose your wife and kids to divorce, it will make your life better to become a stud at deliberate empathetic behavior.

I despise the term “African-American” as a generic label for black people (unless I can be certain the people are actually American).

We don’t call white people “European-American” even though most Caucasian American’s ancestors were European. I don’t know WHY we don’t say “European-American” but one good reason would be because that white person sitting over there might have grandparents from Australia, or New Zealand, or South Africa.

Ever see actors Idris Elba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, or Lenny Henry in a TV show or movie? They all have fantastic American accents, so if I didn’t know they were British, and then saw one of them at LAX, maybe I’d elbow my travel partner and say: “Hey! Look! That’s totally Stringer Bell from The Wire!”

“I didn’t watch The Wire. Who are you talking about?”

“The African-American gentleman standing at the gate directly across from us.”

“Oh! That’s Idris Elba from the show Luther! He’s in lots of stuff! He’s actually not American. He’s British.”

And now, even though I was trying to be sensitive or whatever, I was actually being an ignorant and presumptuous D-hole.

One of the many blessings of the “dishes” post doing its thing and growing readership here, is that I have a handful of new people I’ve been able to get to know through the comments.

One of the most awesome is a Gottman fanatic named Lisa. And earlier today, she asked the following:

“As you know, I write all these annoying comments about how men and women are not as different as presented. That many of the things you describe are human and not really at their core pink and blue experiences.

“I fully acknowledge it’s important to understand nature/nurture reasons men and women see the world differently in the same way it is important to understand why blacks did whites see the world differently. But I think it is damaging to our common quest to help men do the hard work of learning empathy skills to perpetuate the idea that men and women are just fundamentally different in more ways than we are alike. I think the opposite is true and it makes it easier to empathize with someone you view as essentially similar even if the details are different.

“The underlying human needs are the same, we all want to feel respected and valued. Anyway, I empathize greatly with your own personal journey. I’m constantly humbled by my own inability to let go of my sense of rightness to empathize with others’ points of views. I greatly enjoy your blog and ‘seeing’ you transform your understanding of relationships. It inspires me to keep learning and struggling to change to be a more emotionally intelligent woman.”

At no point in reading this did I feel as if Lisa was attacking or criticizing. In fact, I’m certain she has my best intentions at heart and wants me to be the best-possible person and writer I can be, both for me and for anyone who might read things here.

I nonetheless felt a few pangs of diet-PTSD following the explosion of the “dishes” post.

Because of my personal experiences and worldview, I have written MANY posts through the prism of Men Commonly Think and Feel This & Women Commonly Think and Feel That, which several people have suggested is, or explicitly labeled it as, sexist.

Maybe it is. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m never afraid of asking myself hard questions and challenging my own beliefs. I’m also not afraid of explaining why I think and feel things, which is why shortly after the “dishes” post, I wrote I Guess I’m a Little Bit Sexist.

Lisa said, “…I think it is damaging to our common quest to help men do the hard work of learning empathy skills to perpetuate the idea that men and women are just fundamentally different in more ways than we are alike. I think the opposite is true and it makes it easier to empathize with someone you view as essentially similar even if the details are different.”

Why I Write the Way I Do

I might be getting worse at this as I grow more confident in my personal understanding of human psychology and emotional health, but my goal has never been to tell someone else how to think or what to believe. Not ever.

My goal is to accurately explain what I believe, how I arrived at those beliefs, and WHY I still maintain them. I’m not afraid to be wrong because if someone can demonstrate that I am, then I get to eliminate another false or incorrect belief and be a smarter, better human being afterward. Everybody wins.

I’m confident that when I say: “I think this, and I think this because…” that I’m reasonable enough that many people will agree with me, or at least understand me, which is enough. (Empathy!)

I don’t believe it is sexist to say that men and women are different. I think cars and trucks are different. Both machines are vehicles. But they are different kinds of vehicles. One is not better than another, though depending on the application, one might be a more appropriate choice.

Being different IS NOT the same thing as having more or less value.

Men are generally stronger (in terms of physical muscle mass only) than women. Men tend to demonstrate stronger spatial skills. They usually have penises.

Women generally demonstrate greater academic proficiency, better memory and stronger social skills. They usually don’t have penises.

Different. NOT better or worse. Simply, NOT the same.

And that gets complicated because the word “same” and the word “equal” can be synonyms. And there is NO question that women have long had to fight for equal treatment in too many life areas to list.

And women who have been fighting this exhausting fight in mind-blowingly subtle ways every day of my life sometimes take issue with me framing my stories through the gender divide.

I’m not insensitive to, or oblivious of, that fight.

Maybe this won’t always be true, but from the moment I wrote the first An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands post, this blog has been about ONE thing: Helping married people stay married if they want to.

I wanted to stay married, but everything was shitty and broken, and when I took a super-honest and uncomfortable look at my life and choices, I realized I always possessed the power to prevent my divorce, had I made better choices. Marriages don’t usually end from one loud and bright defining moment. They end from a million little moments so subtle and seemingly insignificant at the time that most of us don’t remember them.

Today, I think I know a lot (not relative to brilliant PhDs and therapists, but relative to the common man) about relationships and how they fail. People have shared thousands of stories with me, so now it’s easy for me to identify typical patterns because I have such a huge data sample.

Here are my non-scientific conclusions:

  • Husbands commonly make certain mistakes in marriage, and even after his wife expresses disappointment several times, he still will continue to make the mistake not realizing how important it is that he stop (if he wants to stay married and truly loves his wife—which I believe most husbands do).
  • Wives commonly feel the same feelings as other wives resulting from the same types of behaviors from their husbands.
  • Husbands commonly express thoughts and feelings to wives during fights which mirror those of other husbands in other marriage fights. It’s common for wives—whether they live in New York City or a little town in South Dakota or Canada or South Africa (my experience is limited to English-speaking countries)—to reply to those common husband arguments in ways similar to other wives all around the world. In other words, in my experience men predictably display certain communication habits and thought processes while women predictably display different and conflicting ones.

Dr. John Gray got super-famous in the early 1990s when he published Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus (which I’ve never read) because this metaphor made sense to millions of people. I’m assuming the ideas in the book saved a bunch of relationships. I can’t be sure.

I was Common Husband Guy every day of my life until some random day during my 18-month stint of sleeping in the guest room while my marriage died slowly and painfully. Finally, the discomfort of my life outweighed my stubbornness and pride, so I began a search for answers.

I read a bunch of things on the internet. I had lots of private conversations with husbands and wives. I went to the bookstore to grab books that I thought might help me find some answers.

Standing in the “My Marriage is Totally Screwed and I’m Obviously a Piece of Crap Husband” section of my local bookstore, I spotted How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. I’d never heard of it or the authors. I went home that night and started reading it.

It blew my freaking mind, because page after page was explaining my marriage to me.

The truth hit me hard and fast: If this book can so accurately explain why my marriage ended while providing examples of how things I did and said hurt my wife, while things she did and said hurt me, and we both slowly drifted apart, then that means this must happen to other people all the time.

That is the moment I subscribed to Men Often Do This, and Women Often Do That, and it helped my brain make sense of things.

Maybe men and women are different because of a gajillion years of cultural influence, socialization, societal beliefs, etc.

Maybe men and women are scientifically hardwired to internally operate differently. That doesn’t seem THAT hard to believe to me that biology could be a factor. One has a penis. One has a vagina. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. They’re just, different.

I’m not sure the Why matters to me.

Recently, I’ve concluded that I’m committed to continuing my personal education on gender differences because I’m interested in the pursuit of truth, and I don’t want to spread ignorance or perpetuate myths, ESPECIALLY if they’re needlessly offensive or demonstrably untrue.

But my goal remains the same: To help men be better men and better husbands, because that will help them stay married.

I focus on men, because I’m convinced—no matter what the reasons may be—that women ARE better than men at competently demonstrating relationship skills. I think men accidentally self-sabotage themselves and their marriages, and are in turn mostly responsible for our world’s staggeringly high divorce rate.

And I think if I tell my story, through my eyes as Common Husband Guy, that some percentage of male readers will see themselves in the story as I did while reading the How To Improve Marriage book back in that guest room.

I know that women must practice empathy every bit as much as men should. But I also believe they’re (generally!) already better at it than their husbands and boyfriends. And I’m thoroughly convinced they don’t mind discussing it and trying to better understand it.

But I think men might mind discussing it. I think men might resist trying to better understand it.

Because men will go to great lengths to never appear weak. Great lengths.

And the truth is, we’re all weak sometimes. Some are just less honest about it.

The day everyone learns how important empathy is to their quality of life will be the day much of this stops being a problem.

Because the presence of weakness is simply another opportunity to strengthen something. And when we make enough pieces strong, we get to come out of hiding, stop faking it and walk tall.

Not like men or women. Like people.

Not like you or me. Like us.

One.

Indestructible.

…..

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

empathy

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

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

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

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

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

“Why don’t you love me?”

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

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

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

And why?

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

Important Things Men Don’t Often Understand or Think About

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

1. Men don’t know what EMPATHY is.

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

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

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

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

A Short Lesson on ‘Awareness’

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

Men Are Unknowingly Empathetic, Just Like the Nazis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s empathy.

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

They just don’t know.

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

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

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

And sometimes it is.

Men, You MUST Understand What Empathy Is

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

THAT. IS. EMPATHY.

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

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

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

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

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

More Resources on Empathy

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

Here are a couple things to get you started:

Brown’s TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability

Brown’s online courses, COURAGEworks

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The Science of the Heart is Sometimes Lost on Me

heart health

I used to make my wife cry because I treated her like her feelings weren’t important.

“Just because you feel that way doesn’t make it true,” I would say like an asshole.

This is an example of being both right AND wrong at the same time. Because, sure. I was right.

The truth is the truth. There aren’t several versions of the truth. There are only the things that are actually real. Seeking truth seems worthwhile.

Just because someone accuses you of being mean and intentionally trying to hurt their feelings doesn’t mean that’s actually what happened.

However.

In this situation, does the “truth” even matter?

If the woman I vowed to love and cherish forever literally felt as if I was sometimes being mean or hurting feelings to the point of making her believe it might be intentional, or at best, recklessly indifferent, does it even matter what my intentions were?

It goes like this:

Someone levels a charge. It stings because the accusation suggests you’re doing a shitty job of being a spouse/friend/employee/parent/student/teacher/player/coach, etc.

So you get defensive because you’re always trying your best, which is the most anyone can ask for. Right?

Wrong.

Your Best + Indifference = You’re Maybe Being Just a Little Bit Shitty

Your Best + Empathy = Your Actual Best

I didn’t learn how to empathize with my wife until she totally shut down and flipped the script on me during the final stretch of our marriage. She felt as if I had been indifferent and unresponsive to her opinions and emotions for several years. And then I got a taste of it myself.

It tastes like sulfur soup mixed with drunk-guy vomit and asshole sprinkles.

I wonder: How many marriages end because one partner keeps feeling hurt over and over and over, and the other seems like they don’t care even if they actually do?

Are Feelings Bullshit?

I’m guilty of having said more than once (and meaning it) that “feelings are bullshit.”

Context matters.

I believe that people’s emotions are highly volatile and ever-changing. What we liked and wanted five years ago is not what we like and want today. What we like and want five years from now might be different. Those feelings, desires, opinions are always changing as we go through life experiencing all that we do.

So, when we’re talking about marriage and divorce, I’m sometimes of the opinion that feelings are bullshit.

Every married couple is comprised of two people who were once totally, magically enamored with and wrapped up in one another. You’re either the type of person who wants to be married or the type of person who doesn’t.

If you actually got married, I assume the former.

It means you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to spend your life alone. I think most of us get that.

And if you’re that kind of person, you’re going to be with someone, sooner or later.

I don’t think it’s sensible to assume that simply changing partners is going to bring the feelings of lasting love, security, peace, happiness, contentment, sexual satisfaction, that most of us seek.

In fact, I think changing partners without a thorough self-reflection process that forces you to look in the mirror and ask the really uncomfortable question: “What did I do to help destroy my marriage?”, means that you’re pretty likely to keep having relationship problems until you do.

So, I stand on my soapbox and scream for people to realize: Love is a choice.

If you’re going to be with someone anyway. And you accept the premise that no two people are going to feel all lusty and infatuationy forever, then I think there’s a time for leaving emotion at the door and waking up every day and making a choice: Today, I’m going to love unconditionally without expecting anything in return.

One person walking that walk alone cannot and will not save a marriage. By definition, a marriage is two operating as one. And half of that can only carry it for so long before collapsing. You need both people to care.

But I sometimes wonder how many relationships would be saved if just one person (and I’d like it to be the husband) would make the very challenging, very heroic decision to sacrifice that much. To love that much.

I think feelings can follow.

And change the whole world. Maybe for everyone. Or maybe just for one small family.

If you’re part of that family, there’s no difference.

I Don’t Want to Lose My Empathy

I used to cry a lot. I don’t know what that makes me. Not very tough?

I mention it because I’m, historically speaking, not the biggest crier in the world. In fact, I used to be fairly stoic. I haven’t decided whether I think that’s good or bad.

When I was in my early 20s, I got absolutely obliterated on beer and sparkling wine at my best friend’s wedding and cried afterward because I had to say goodbye to everyone and go back to Florida where I missed them a lot. It was embarrassing.

When I was in my late 20s, my mom called me one afternoon to tell me she was leaving my stepdad who I’d known since I was 5. All the sudden I felt like a kindergartner again and cried just like I did back when my mom and dad got divorced.

And then in my 30s, there I was again. Crying. Because of divorce. My own.

I know what it’s like to be a child of divorce. Twice.

I know what it’s like to be a husband getting divorced.

I know what it’s like to be a father watching his young son deal with his parents’ breakup.

That’s empathy. And it manifests itself the best when I feel.

It’s this empathy that made me a better person in the wake of my failed marriage and as I’ve grown and evolved into whatever and whoever I am right now.

And while I’ll never celebrate the end of my family, I’ll always feel grateful for that metamorphosis which gives me a chance to be a better man moving forward. A better father to my son. A better partner to anyone who might one day grant me the opportunity.

Brokenness and Healing

The constant refrain from people close to me following my separation is that no one saw it coming. Time and time again, I heard how we seemed like the perfect happy couple. The couple others aspired to be.

No, Virginia. There is no Santa Claus.

I believe strongly in all this stuff. Passionately. That we don’t need to break as much as we do. That our relationships—the very foundations of our human experiences—can be fortified and last forever just like all those Happily Ever After princess stories we’re fed in our youth.

It just take guts. More guts than most of us have when we FEEL so horribly.

We have two choices.

We keep doing what we’re doing. Throwaway marriages built on wedding vows we either betray or never really meant in the first place.

Or we get serious about changing ourselves. On the inside.

About giving more than we take. Every day. Forever.

Feelings aren’t bullshit.

Because how we feel IS what’s real for each of us. And if we can learn to be empathetic enough—courageous enough—to love others on their terms and not on ours, maybe we’ll get the same treatment in return.

And then maybe a bunch of things won’t break.

And then maybe a bunch of kids smile and laugh and play more, family intact.

And then maybe we don’t eat so much sulfur soup mixed with drunk-guy vomit and asshole sprinkles.

And then maybe the whole world changes.

And it didn’t take a miracle.

It just took you.

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