(Author’s note: Writing and posting today nearly undermines its intended purpose. Today is not a day for my voice. It’s just the day I had the opportunity to use it. I’ve not posted in nearly three months. I don’t anticipate that kind of gap happening again. Please don’t interpret this as me trying to talk over others. Please interpret this as me encouraging others to join me in listening to everyone who must be heard. They must.)
Here’s how I come at this: I spend most of my time talking about relationship stuff. And the reason why is because when I was 4 my parents divorced and it felt really bad, followed by my own divorce at age 34 which felt even worse.
My premise is simple enough as it pertains to marriage and romantic relationships. I don’t care whether people get married. I’m not out here advocating for marriage.
But I think when two people marry, voluntarily and intentionally, that they should have WAY better odds of making it than 50 percent.
The real tragedy from my perspective is that the list of things I believe will have the greatest impact on whether relationships will be healthy and sustainable versus shitty and broken are NOT on anyone’s radar.
In other words, situations and behaviors that will determine the fate of people’s marriages and families happen while the participants are unaware of how critical and life-altering they are. People—none more than me 10+ years ago—struggle with getting outside of their own heads to seek greater understanding about how another person or other people might be experiencing something.
Our partners share thoughts and feelings with us. And instead of:
- Seeking further understanding to A. Know the people we love more fully, and B. Make sure we know what we need to know in order to actively participate in them NOT feeling this hurt or shitty in the future…
we often judge what they’re telling us. We try to evaluate whether we think they should or should not feel what they feel. We try to correct them.
This is how you make people feel invisible. Sad. Angry. Rejected. Unloved. Disrespected.
Maybe there’s a case to be made for shit relationships. Maybe there are people unlike me who perceive toxic relationships to be a positive thing for themselves and those around them.
But this is the fight I fight.
Seems Pretty Black and White to Me
As friends and professional colleagues have broached conversations with me about recent events in the United States, I heard myself saying IDENTICAL things as I do in my coaching conversations about marriage and healthy romantic relationships.
It took me a long time to embrace the idea of listening to people outside of my bubbles, echo chambers, and social circles of sameness. It took me a long time to realize I needn’t ever be afraid of my beliefs being challenged.
Truth will always, always, ALWAYS hold up to scrutiny.
Please validate people who think and feel things differently than you (if you value having healthy relationships with them and/or believe they deserve respect and decency). You needn’t ever agree with someone else. Agreement is not required.
Please seek to understand WHY people think and feel the things they think and feel. You’ll likely find that based on everything they have seen, heard, been taught, and experienced, it totally makes sense that they think and feel the things that they do.
Always search for the WHY.
People matter. Not some people. Not people who look like me. Not people who act like me. Not people who think like me.
Either everyone matters or nobody does.
When our spouses come to us and say that they feel hurt, please don’t say “Everyone hurts, you whiner. Toughen up!” and then expect afterward to have a healthy, connected, trusting relationship with them where everyone feels loved, cared for, and respected as equals. If that’s how you show up, it’s going to get bad. It just is.
Everyone in that relationship will suffer.
When our fellow citizens come to us and say “Black lives matter,” please don’t say “All lives matter, you whiner. Toughen up!” and expect afterward to have healthy, connected, trusting relationships with them where everyone feels respected as equals. That’s how many of us have been showing up. And it got bad.
I mean, for many people, it’s been bad for my entire life. I was just mostly too comfortable and too busy “not needing to worry about it” to notice most of the time.
Of course all lives matter. Just like of course your spouse isn’t always being his or her best self when trying to communicate with you about something that’s upsetting them.
Is the goal to have a healthy relationship where everyone thrives peacefully, or to win some semantics debate? It’s a choice.
When someone is screaming and fighting for justice for their fallen brother or sister killed by the actions of a public servant sworn to protect them, maybe that’s not the time to scream and fight over political points RE: Antifa, and George Soros, and about how white people sometimes suffer too, and about fucking ANYTHING that is NOT specifically: “Holy shit. I’m so sorry that happened, and I can’t imagine the horror and outrage you must be feeling right now, and I know I can’t do anything to help, but I can stand with you. You’re not alone.”
Validation is not about agreement. Everyone has a perspective. And the path forward is everyone listening to and understanding those other perspectives regardless of how much they agree with them.
The danger is allowing oppression to silence some of those perspectives.
That’s not what sustainable relationships are built on.
That’s not what sustainable societies are built on.
That’s not what the stars and stripes represent. And that’s why our brothers knelt.
Maybe some of us listened. But we didn’t lift a finger.
Just more silencing. Just more comfortably moving onto the next thing that was all about us.
Just more twisting the conversation into one about politics and patriotism and NFL public relations TV optics instead of the conversation peaceful protesters tried to have: “What if we collectively banded together in order to—to the best of our abilities—prevent the killings of innocent people? What if we collectively worked together to fight for civil liberties for EVERYONE?”
I struggle to understand what could be considered so unfair or unreasonable about those questions.
I can’t imagine what it must be like living in the United States in the year 2020 and fearing for your safety, or for the safety of your children, siblings, parents, neighbors, and friends because you happened to be born with skin that looks differently than mine.
And I hate the helplessness I feel—this tiny voice behind a keyboard.
I destroyed my marriage—not by actively sabotaging it, but by not paying attention to the things that actually mattered. I hurt people I loved because I chose to passively and comfortably not pay attention.
Even if I didn’t “do anything,” I allowed bad things to happen.
And I don’t want to be the kind of person who allows bad things to happen because I’m too busy being comfortable. Because I’m too busy not being black, not being female, not being gay, not being the person in the relationship feeling shit on every day.
That’s who I was in my marriage, and it’s precisely what I’ve been fighting against.
And this is exactly who I’ve been as a white guy in America. I’m not “doing anything” to cause harm. And I can keep justifying my actions or lack thereof behind that wimpy defense. Because I’m not “the problem,” I can just keep blindly, deafly, ignorantly coasting through life while others suffer. That’s a choice.
But it’s not one I want to make.
It’s not who I want to be nor who I want my son to be.
I want to listen. You MUST be heard.
I want to validate. You MUST be made whole.
And most importantly, I want to understand. Because I can’t be the kind of person who walks around with blinders on, obliviously letting my neighbors suffer while I comfortably do nothing.
My brothers can’t breathe.
My sisters can’t breathe.
I’m so sorry that I wasn’t listening to you. I’m so sorry that I wasn’t fighting for you.
If it’s not too late to earn your trust, I’m listening now.