Tag Archives: Family

What to Do When Your Wife Doesn’t Respect You

Basics of respect

(Image/Respect360.org)

Oh no. You feel disrespected by your wife. This is definitely bad for your marriage and a poor example for any children you might have.

You’ve done the best possible thing you could have in this situation, and I hope you’ll choose to feel good about it. You’ve asked great questions: Why doesn’t my wife respect me? What do I do about it?

But it’s possible you’ve missed one: Are my feelings about my wife’s respect level for me accurate?

One of the biggest problems EVERYONE contends with in life is our inclination to believe everything we think. Just maybe she DOES respect you. That would save you a lot of time, energy, and frustration if that were the case. And for some of you, that will be true.

But for the sake of this exercise, let’s just say that your wife legitimately lacks respect for you. If your brain and/or heart are telling you that this condition is bad for your marriage and that you don’t want to be part of a marriage that lacks basic respect, I applaud you and totally agree. A marriage without respect is a marriage in name only.

I used to be married to a woman who didn’t respect me. It feels really bad, and if that’s where you are right now, I’m so sorry. Eventually, my wife chose to not be my wife anymore. I cried and vomited and felt sorry for myself and blamed everything on her.

I thought she was ungrateful. Cruel. A promise-breaker. Selfish.

And then, over the following six years I asked myself a thousand uncomfortable questions, I wrote about many of the realizations I’d made about how I was showing up in my marriage (spoiler alert: like a piece-of-shit husband), and today, despite being a divorced single guy, people pay me actual money to coach them about relationship stuff.

I know. It’s crazy.

Let’s talk about:

  • Whether your wife respects you; and
  • How you can earn her respect.

Does Your Wife Respect You?

The most important job you have any time you’re faced with a decision or encounter conflict with someone else, is to be damn sure you’re not accidentally being the bigger asshole without realizing it.

This is hard, because we spend the vast majority of our lives making snap judgments about everything, and mostly being right. If we have friends and jobs and are reasonably educated and have mostly avoided things like prison and Darwin Award-worthy near-death experiences, then—mathematically speaking—we have a pretty good track record with our gut reactions.

Recent example from my life: Because I am frequently calling strangers that I meet on the internet for coaching work, I toggle my phone’s Caller ID setting off so that my number shows up ‘Restricted’ or ‘Private’ on people’s phones when I call them.

A few weeks ago, when I was trying to call my dad on his birthday, my calls kept getting rejected. The first couple of times, I didn’t think much of it. But after six or seven tries over the course of many hours, I was feeling shitty. My dad’s too busy to talk to me. He’d rather do whatever he’s doing right now than talk to his son.

On Mother’s Day, the same thing was happening with my mom, though I realized my mistake much faster that time. You’ve no doubt already solved the mystery. I had forgotten to toggle my phone settings to “Show Caller ID,” which resulted in my parents doing EXACTLY what I would do in the same situation—ignore the phone call from an unrecognized number.

Stuff like this happens all of the time in our human relationships—particularly in our marriages.

We FEEL certain negative emotions when an event happens (someone else says or does something) that we would not have felt had we known one simple, but critical, piece of information to put the situation in its most proper and accurate context.

Powerful Questions That Can Help You Make Difficult Decisions (Including How to Feel)

The world’s thought leader on the subject of question-asking once sent me an email asking whether he could interview me for a book he was writing. (I said yes, because duh. Life highlight.) Bestselling author Warren Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions is one of my go-to resources for the questions I need to ask—or that my coaching clients might need to be asking—to arrive at answers that can help us achieve clarity about what we believe and why, and which can help us find answers to life’s most difficult problems.

The section of the book that includes things I said about human connection isn’t necessarily where I’ve find found the most value. It was the section on better decision-making—about anything. And because ‘anything’ includes our relationships, I hope you’ll take the following exercise seriously. It might help you.

From Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions:

Ask These 4 Questions to Check Your Biases and Beliefs

  • What am I inclined to believe on this particular issue? Start by trying to articulate your beliefs/biases.
  • Why do I believe what I believe? The “jugular question,” per Nobel Prize-winning physicist Arno Penzias, forces you to consider the basis of those beliefs.
  • What would I like to be true? A “desirability bias” may lead you to think something is true because you want it to be true.
  • What if the opposite is true? This question is inspired by ‘debiasing’ experts and Seinfeld’s George Costanza.

That last question is my favorite.

I’d ask you to think about it like a mock courtroom trial. There’s what you believe—The Defense Attorney. And then there’s what the other person believes—The Prosecuting Attorney.

I’ve never been to law school, but I’m pretty sure part of the process involves mock trials where law students (not unlike practicing lawyers) are sometimes required to prepare legal arguments for one side of a case they don’t necessarily believe or agree with.

I’m asking you to do the same thing. Give your best effort to argue the opposite of what you believe. It takes guts. I know you can do it. What evidence is there—what reasonable explanations exist—for how the opposite of what you believe could be true?

What happens afterward is several positive possibilities: 1. You get to be totally sure you believe what you believe, or 2. You get to abandon an incorrect or poorly conceived belief, and replace it with a better one, or 3. You get to, at the very least, come to understand how someone else could come to the conclusions that they did. And maybe when we fully understand The Why behind their actions, we can see that they were never trying to be assholes after all, and we get to feel all that wonderful lovey-dovey stuff again for a few minutes until the dopamine wears off.

‘Oh Shit. My Wife Really Doesn’t Respect Me’

That’s bad.

There’s no reasonable way to offer useful ‘advice,’ because it’s totally possible that the healthiest thing you could do is tell your meanie wife to piss off and file for divorce. But maybe you don’t want to do that because you have three kids together, and you calculate that the most loving fatherly thing you can do is stay married on their behalf.

I get it.

I get it because I’m pretty sure my wife stayed with me for a few more years than she wanted to for that exact same reason.

My wife stopped loving me and wanted to leave our marriage because I didn’t demonstrate the type of respect a wife deserves in a healthy marriage. While it was all pissing and moaning and whining at the beginning of my divorce, once I started asking myself a bunch of difficult questions and figuring out that I was actually a tremendously intolerable asshole throughout the majority of our marriage, I was able to empathize with my wife.

When you discover that you inflicted a bunch of bullshit on someone you care about that they didn’t deserve, and you view their behavior and decision-making through THAT prism, then the mystery of what happened, and the unjustified victimhood you were experiencing disappears.

When you’re a victim, life is happening to you. You’re just there, and a bunch of crap affects your life and there’s nothing you can do about it.

When you accept responsibility for your actions, and realize that what’s happening—or what has happened—are the consequence of your own actions, then it gives you a bunch of control of the situation that you couldn’t otherwise have. It’s powerlessness that’s most terrifying.

I don’t get to go back in time and fix my past mistakes. But I DO get to not feel anger now. I get to not enter future relationships blind to the things that destroys them. I get to make decisions armed with a bunch of critical information I didn’t have before. I like the confidence that gives me.

Just maybe, you execute the skills and duties of a husband at an incredibly high level. You’re a good husband, but you’re still not respected by your spouse. Ugh. Sorry. This won’t do.

Question (an uncomfortable and unpleasant one): Do you respect yourself?

I’m not a psychologist. But. A bunch of bad shit happens to us throughout our entire lives, starting in childhood. And all of that bad shit helps to shape our beliefs about ourselves, which affects what we feel—and how intensely we feel both positive and negative things throughout the rest of our lives.

Just maybe, YOU don’t believe you’re worthy of being respected (even though you might wear a metaphorical mask like I used to, and probably still sometimes do in order to convince others that we’re self-confident).

Do you ever say and do things around your wife one way, say and do things around your guy friends a different way, and say and do things around your coworkers yet a different way?

A component of that is social awareness and politeness, which is totally cool. But another portion of that might be that you adjust your behavior to fit into whatever environment you’re in, because you want to be accepted and/or liked by the people around you.

I totally do this sometimes. It’s lame. I want to be liked. It feels so much better than not being liked.

Self-confident people say and do the things that are true for them regardless of whether someone might not like them afterward. They give no phucks. None. Because they already respect themselves and don’t require others’ approval to know they are a person with inherent value.

They love and accept themselves. (Side note: Narcissists ALSO love and accept themselves and do all of these things, but struggle with gaining respect, because they rarely offer it themselves.)

How You Earn Your Wife’s Respect

  1. Respect yourself. Don’t you dare say that you do until you know it’s true. It’s okay to admit that you don’t. I do not always respect myself or act in my own healthy best interests. You’re not the only one.
  2. Respect your wife. You might be thinking: “But Matt! I do respect my wife! I married her and have children with her and love her more than anyone! I trust her with our finances, and for raising our children, and to not murder me in my sleep! What more could I possibly do?”

Great question.

While you humbly acknowledge to your wife that you’re actively working on learning how to behave with self-respect in order to grow into the best version of yourself you can possibly be because you, and your marriage, and your family deserve that, you also ask your wife what could change within your relationship so that she felt more respected.

You might be surprised by her answers, because there’s a better-than-average chance it will involve things you’ve heard before like housework, how you speak to her in the company of friends and family, and maybe some things you’ve never considered—like her desire to see you let your guard down by being uncomfortably real and honest with her about what goes on in your head and heart. By being vulnerable instead of pretending you’re the toughest guy she knows, she may feel both closer to you and more accepted by you because maybe she’s also sometimes insecure about what goes on in her head and heart.

Have the courage to expose your greatest flaws, weaknesses, and scars. Lovingly accept her greatest flaws, weaknesses, and scars. Regularly demonstrate that the shit that matters to her matters to you—simply because you respect the things that affect her, and you value her wellbeing.

That’s what you could possibly do.

That’s how you might earn back your wife’s respect.

“Being heroic is the ability to conjure hope where there is none.” – Mark Manson, author of Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope.

Go be the best of us.

Go be a hero.

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This is Why Your Wife Hates You

angry wife

(Image/Psychology Today)

“Why does my wife hate me?”

My initial reaction was to tell you that your wife doesn’t hate you, but the uncomfortable truth is that she might. She might actually hate you. Let’s deal with it.

The definition for ‘hate,’ according to Merriam-Webster, is “a: intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury; b: extreme dislike or disgust.”

And that sounds about right.

The reason your wife hates you—or the reason it feels as if she does—is because she’s probably afraid, she’s probably angry, and she’s probably hurt. No matter how difficult it is to believe, and regardless of how unintentional it may have been, YOU are at the epicenter of that fear, anger, and pain.

Your Wife Might Hate You Because She’s Afraid

We all have anchors. Things that steady us even when life gets turbulent.

Families of origin are common anchors. Hometowns—familiar geography—can be an anchor. Social circles. Faith and/or churches. Jobs or specific career fields. Homes we’ve lived in.

Maybe your wife lost an anchor. Maybe she lost many anchors.

I had to learn it the hard way, because—perhaps just like you—I believed I was a good husband. I didn’t cheat, I wasn’t an addict or alcoholic, and I was gainfully employed and willing to give everything I earned to whatever she wanted. I was a nice person. Decent to strangers. Got along well with her family.

When our son was still a toddler, we had a weekend getaway for nice dinners and a concert in the city. Our little boy stayed with his grandparents in the same house my ex-wife grew up in. A beautiful log cabin home her father and uncles literally built with their own hands years before she was born.

At the conclusion of the fun weekend, she and I had dinner with her parents and our son in their dining room. It was a good night. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just, comfortably good.

My father-in-law died the next day. Heart attack. No warning.

One minute, everything was normal. Regular. Predictable. Safe. Steady. Anchored.

The next minute, everything wasn’t.

My wife—in an impossible-to-process blink—lost her longest-standing anchor. The one man who had proved for more than 30 years that he could always be counted on was gone. Just, gone.

Now, my wife not only had her own life to worry about as an individual, a mother, and a wife, but she also had to be an anchor for her mother. While she was grieving the loss of her family of origin, grieving the loss of a future she’d imagined watching our son growing up with more grandfather-grandson adventures, she was forced into the role of being the emotional anchor for her mom as they prepared to sell and vacate the home her father had built with his hands.

I knew right away that I was providing no comfort to my wife during this time. I don’t mean I wasn’t trying. I mean, there was nothing about me being her husband that brought her any peace or comfort. And I kind of resented that until some years later when I finally learned why.

My wife was afraid.

A husband is supposed to be an anchor. Steady. Reliable. Foundational. Unshakeable. But I wasn’t those things. I just didn’t know it yet.

Maybe your wife hates you because she’s afraid.

Your Wife Might Hate You Because She’s Angry

Commonly, young adults ‘leave’ their families of origin in order to create a new family of origin as two spouses, often bringing children into the world, and becoming that anchor—that safe, comfortable, reliable foundation—for their kids.

Thoughtful, careful people don’t rush foolishly into marriage. They take seriously the idea of promising forever to another human being. Of inviting someone into our respective inner family and social circles, and potentially creating precious new humans together.

The pregnancy, birth, and eventual arrival of our baby son at home shined a spotlight on how little I respected the mental, physical, and emotional load my wife carried through pregnancy and becoming a new mother.

Basically, if something needed to be thought of, or planned for, or managed in regards to providing care for our newborn son, my wife was left to do it.

She worked just as many hours as I did. She did more around the house than I did. And for years, that arrangement mostly worked. It was mostly tolerable for her.

But when an additional human (or humans) is brought into the fold, the math changes dramatically. The heaviness—the mental, emotional, and physical toll—increases exponentially. Two people working in lockstep can overcome the new challenges.

One person left to problem-solve on her own while her husband improves his poker game? Not so much.

When she lost her father, she had to face a hard reality: “I just lost the only man I could ever truly count on. The one who promised to always be there for me, isn’t. Every time I express what I think and feel and want, he fights back. He tells me I’m wrong, or crazy, or overreacting. He doesn’t accept what I’m asking for as a request for help. He gets defensive as if I’m attacking him.”

And as she took stock of her life while grieving the loss of her father, assumed responsibility for supporting her mother, all while being an attentive mother to our son and a valued employee at her job?

She concluded the same thing your wife might be concluding: “I only have so many years left on this planet. Do I really want to commit it to a life and a person that makes me feel angry every day? I can’t trust that this person, this marriage, this life is going to deliver all of the promises that were made. Is continuing to choose this really the smartest thing I can do?”

Maybe she tried to reach me some more times after that.

“Matt. Would you please read this book for me that describes many of the things I feel?”

No.

“Matt. Would you please agree that how I feel is just as important, just as real, just as correct, just as valid, as how you feel?”

No.

“Matt. Would you please just put this glass that you like to leave sitting by the sink in the dishwasher? Please? It would mean a lot to me.”

No.

Over and over and over again, I communicated to my wife—to the mother of my son—that I could not be counted on to love and honor her all of the days of my life, in good times and in bad, even though that’s what I’d vowed to do for her in front of everyone we both knew.

So.

She became angry. I didn’t get it then. I totally get it now.

Maybe your wife hates you because she’s angry.

Your Wife Might Hate You Because She’s Hurt

I would never physically harm my wife. I would never even intentionally mistreat her according to my own gauge for what constitutes treating someone well versus not.

That’s why I was so adamant that my wife was wrong anytime she accused me of being mean or of doing things to hurt her.

I was absolutely certain that I was a good person. That I was a nice person. People had told me so my entire life. I knew a lot of people, and in my experience, they all liked me. I was well-liked and popular growing up. Moreover, my heart was in the right place. I wasn’t secretly plotting to hurt anyone—certainly not the mother of my son, and the only person in world history I had ever volunteered to marry and live with for the rest of my life.

My logic seemed sound enough. Based on everything I have ever known or encountered, I was a nice, good person. I loved my wife. And I was smart enough to know the difference between right and wrong. Good and bad. Stuff that hurts versus stuff that doesn’t hurt.

So when my wife told me about some things I did or said that HURT her, the most logical conclusion was that SHE was crazy. If thousands of people I encounter like me and think I’m a good person, and the ONLY PERSON who ever complains about me is my wife, she MUST be the problem.

It’s a dangerously ‘reasonable’ conclusion to come to.

If my wife is the statistical anomaly, then clearly she’s the one who needs to fix something—not me.

Like a colorblind person totally unaware that other people literally see and experience different colors, I believed—in my mind, heart and soul—that I was a good man, and therefore MUST be a good husband.

It never occurred to me that being a husband was a bit like a professional trade or activity requiring learned skill. It never occurred to me that the kindest, best, most decent men in the world can also be totally shitty at crafting boat hulls, writing legal briefs, or performing heart-transplant surgery.

Very good people can be very bad at certain professions or activities.

Turns out, marriage—along with parenting—is one of those activities.

I hurt my wife over and over and over again, even though I never meant to. Every time she pointed it out or asked me to stop, I told her she was wrong. I suggested she was emotionally unstable, or perhaps not intelligent enough to recognize the real problem.

For years. YEARS. My wife came to me with a problem about feeling actual pain and asking me to help her stop hurting, and a very high percentage of the time, my answer was for her to figure out what was wrong with her, and to learn how to be more grateful, because I didn’t agree that whatever I was doing actually hurt her.

When people hurt for long enough, their highest priority—sensibly—is to escape the source of pain so that healing can begin.

My wife concluded that I had broken my promises to love, honor, and respect her—that I broke my promise to simply CARE for her. Whether I had intentionally misled her, whether I was incompetent, or whether I was willfully refusing to help her moving into the future, this realization caused intense pain for a woman trying to navigate adulthood with a child, with a struggling marriage, and while juggling the pain and stress of losing her father and childhood home as well.

Not only wouldn’t I help my wife feel better, but I was the reason she was hurting in the first place. Near as she could tell, every time she asked me for help, I repeatedly promised to never change. Near as she could tell, she wasn’t important enough for me to respect, or handle with care.

Maybe your wife hates you because she hurts, and you neither help soothe her pair nor eliminate behaviors that cause her pain even though she asks you to over and over again.

Maybe your wife hates you because she’s angry, because every time she asks you to help her, you refuse and then turn her problems around and blame them on her.

Maybe your wife hates you because she’s afraid, because she thought she knew what she was getting herself into when she accepted your marriage proposal, and again on your wedding day when you promised to love her forever. But now, nothing is at all like she’d imagined.

Every day, she hurts, she feels angry, and she’s afraid.

Every day, she feels those shitty, life-sucking things. Because of you.

It’s an uncomfortable truth, a bitter pill to swallow—that you’ve become your wife’s worst enemy, even though you never wanted nor tried to be that. But if you’re seriously looking for the answer to your question, I’m afraid this is it.

This is why your wife hates you.

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3 Secrets for Getting Your Spouse or Romantic Partner to Do What You Want

giving a flower

(Image/The Conversation)

Imagine a famous influencer—say, Oprah Winfrey—criticizing her audience and demanding that they do something she wanted them to do without so much as the courtesy of telling them why she believed they should.

“Oprah’s Book Club sales were down last month and I’m really disappointed in all of you. Tell me again how you’re too poor to afford a $20 book! Yeah, right. I bet you had $20 for fast food, you illiterate fatties,” the Bizarro Oprah might say. “Buy this new book, peasants. You owe me after your pathetic showing last month.”

Everyone with an ounce of pride and self-respect would flip Bizarro Oprah the bird, NOT buy the book she was promoting, and never pay attention to her again.

The most successful salespeople succeed because they tell the right story to the right person at the right time.

People buy things or services because they are trying to solve a problem. They need a new outfit for a wedding. They’re embarrassed about their landscaping, so they hire a landscaping company to give their home curb appeal. They need a place to spend the night while travelling.

You can wear a potato sack to a wedding if you really want. But you dress to kill because you like the feeling of looking good (or not looking bad).

A product or service sale should ideally be an exchange that BOTH parties feel good about. The business is happy to offer a widget or their service expertise for a price. And for consumers buying those things, they would rather have the widget or have the service done more than the money they’re exchanging.

In our human relationships, we are also constantly “buying and selling” in our everyday exchanges. Ideally, both parties feel good about these exchanges in our relationships with our romantic partners, with our children, with our friends, with our co-workers, with our employers, etc. That it was a “good deal,” or “fair exchange,” or “worth it” for everyone involved.

Because love is often present in our most personal relationships, we might not think of them as businesslike relationships, but it would be a mistake to believe otherwise. Parents. Children. Siblings. Best friends. Lovers. Spouses. All of these relationships can break when the “value” of being in that relationship goes away for one side.

Those are abusive relationships. If we are abused, we should try to remove ourselves from people and situations where we are mistreated. If we abuse others, it makes sense that they will eventually not want to have a relationship with us.

When we don’t see the value in a product or service, we hold onto our money.

When we don’t see the value in a personal relationship (or are not providing value for others), someone will choose to remove themselves from it at the earliest opportunity.

The Secrets of Successfully Selling Things are the Same Secrets for Influencing Others (Namely Your Spouse/Partner) to “Do What You Want”

They won’t do what you want because you tricked them. They won’t do what you want because you manipulated them. They won’t do what you want because you brainwashed them.

They will do what you want for the same reasons people are happy to exchange their money for goods and services in billions of transactions every day.

Persuasion Secret #1 – Give them what they want.

One of the surest ways to get someone to do what you want is to simply give them something first.

It’s called the rule of reciprocation.

The Hare Krishna religious organization started handing out flowers and books in airports and other public places back in the 1960s and ‘70s, because they understood that nearly everyone who accepted a flower would feel obligated to give some of their time or money in return. That simple act grew their orange-robed community to millions of people and created millions of dollars in funding.

In 1974, Phillip Kunz, a sociologist at Brigham Young University wanted to know what would happen if he sent 600 Christmas cards to complete strangers.

More than 200 (more than 33%) sent Christmas cards back to him—several with long, multi-page, handwritten letters included.

The world thought leader on persuasion is Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University, and author of the bestseller Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In an interview with NPR, he said that the rule of reciprocity is drilled into us as children, and is observable in every human culture he knows of.

“We are obligated to give back to others, the form of behavior that they have first given to us,” Cialdini said. “Essentially, thou shall not take without giving in return.”

It’s why it’s so unexpected and socially awkward to pass someone in the hall and say hello, only to have the greeting ignored.

“Give them what they want” sounds nice in a headline, but what we really should be doing is giving people what they need.

“People say they want to be rich, they need to be fulfilled,” wrote former U.S. Special Forces operative Mike Martel in an article for Lifehack. “People say they want sympathy, they need empathy. People say they want power, they need respect. If you supply what someone truly needs, they will do anything you want.”

Persuasion Secret #2 – Ask them to help you solve a problem.

You want something from someone. Thus, you have a problem to solve. So recruit them to help you, to rescue you, to save you.

“Present this as an opportunity to ‘help’ you by taking a look at something with fresh eyes and give you their seasoned opinion,” wrote venture capitalist Chris Snook in an article for Inc. “When they come in thinking that they are there primarily to protect you from making a potential mistake, they are listening and learning with both ears and eyes open. Their normal filter to block information will be gone and they will see it for what it is. Assuming you have a great solution or idea in front of them, they will likely feel compelled to act when you get done showing them.”

Persuasion Secret #3 – Tell them—very specifically—what you want and why.

This third secret is the primary reason I’m writing this.

I’ve read both husbands and wives write in blog comments and private emails about how frustrated they are with their spouse—one because they never feel as if they understand what their partner wants, and are perplexed by her or his unwillingness to say what they want. And on the other side are all of the spouses who have spent YEARS trying to explain themselves to their partner, only to feel ignored, invalidated, disrespected, etc. And they don’t want to HAVE TO explain themselves to their partner anymore. “They should already know how I feel about this!”

And I’m here to say:

  1. I totally understand why angry spouses/romantic partners don’t want to have to explain themselves. For example, I always wanted my wife to tell me what she wanted me to do to “help her” with house cleaning. I thought that was reasonable. She didn’t. She was right, and I was wrong. I was wrong, because by doing it that way, I was making it HER responsibility to keep things clean and organized, and to keep projects on-task. When wives start feeling like your mom, they stop wanting to sleep with you because that’s a really normal response in a parent-child relationship. HOWEVER.
  2. That’s not the dynamic I’m talking about. My wife 100% should have never had to be the team leader on house cleaning and childcare. But, could she have done a better job of explaining what she really wanted in a way that made sense to me? Yeah, I think so. I think I’ve demonstrated that I truly understand the problem, and I think I could have understood it while I was still married if the message was delivered in whatever way would have been more effective than however it actually happened.

If my wife had said something like: “Matt. You’re smart. When you go to work, you perform your job duties at a high level without someone hanging over your shoulder every second telling you what to do next. In fact, you’d hate it if that’s what happened. You pride yourself on understanding how your work contributes to the greater good of your company, and you’re always thinking about new ways you and others at the company can do things to have even greater success.

“Because of that, it really hurts my feelings and makes me feel disrespected when you don’t apply that same level of thoughtful care and observation skills to our home, to our child, to our marriage, to me. I feel like our family and marriage is way more valuable than our jobs. And it would mean so much to me if you would simply apply the same level of care to us that you do at your job. It would make me feel loved and cared for so much more than you might realize.”

A conservation like that might have changed the world for our three-person family.

My day job is to use words to sell things on the internet. And I can tell you unequivocally that the No. 1 thing you can do to get more people to click a button in an email, or to fill out a form, or to order something online is to very simply, very directly, very specifically tell the customer what you want them to do.

Fill out this form, hit submit, and we’ll call you back within the hour!

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When you tell someone what you want them to do using clear language, and you supply the reason for why you want them to (or why you think they should—telling them what’s in it for them) more people will respond favorably to your sales and marketing efforts. And so too will they in your personal relationships at home and in your daily lives.

We shouldn’t lead with give me, give me, give me.

We should lead by example. We should go first. We should give first. (And BELIEVE ME when I say that I know so many of you already give the most and sacrifice first in your relationships—people who do not reciprocate are not so different than relationship abusers, and I’m sorry.)

I’m simply saying that for most of us, there are ways of adjusting how we do things to increase how often we successfully get the responses we want in our interpersonal relationships.

We use selflessness to achieve what we “selfishly” want.

When we succeed in giving first, and recruiting our loved ones to cooperatively help us solve problems, and by clearly explaining what we want in ways the people we know and love can hear and understand us?

Good things happen.

Remember Phillip Kunz? The guy who mailed Christmas cards to 600 strangers?

His family received Christmas cards from many of those strangers for the following 15 years.

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Here’s How They Chop Hot Women in Half

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Invisible Things Make the Impossible Possible

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

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

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

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

There are The Invisible Things That Hurt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationship Coaching 101

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

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

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

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

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

We eliminate negatives.

We introduce positives.

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

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

How does a magician saw a woman in half?

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

(Image/Arrested Development Wiki)

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

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

Could knowing the answer change everything?

Spoiler alert #3: Yes. Yes it could.

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Love vs. Respect—Which is More Critical for Making Relationships Last?

Love vs Respect

(Image/Deskgram – chrysalisjewels)

I didn’t respect my wife even though I loved her a lot. And even though my wife loved me back, because she respected herself, she eventually divorced me.

I never considered that my freely given unconditional love could ever not be enough. I never considered that my selective demonstrations of respect toward my wife could impact her love for me—both the emotional love one feels, as well as the psychological love one actively chooses to give to someone else.

Now, I showed a requisite amount of respect for my wife for most people—including her most of the time—to observe, think, and feel Matt respects his wife.

And that’s the big secret in all of these complicated relationship conversations. They’re so dangerously nuanced that most of us are capable of interpreting them multiple ways, or—perhaps more commonly—our interpretation is different than another person’s interpretation, and then when discussing the disagreement, one or both people are horrible at navigating the conversation without damaging the relationship they have with whomever they’re having a disagreement.

Often, that’s a romantic partner or spouse.

Often, it’s just one more paper cut on one or both of them that will eventually cause the relationship to bleed to death and die.

My newest coaching client asked me this morning: “What is your view of the relationship between love and respect? Can you love someone with whom you are inconsistent in showing respect? If you lose respect over time, can you recover and still love that person?”

The following is my answer.

Love is NOT All You Need

“Love is all you need,” The Beatles sang over and over again in their smash hit from 1967 that all of us have heard dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times.

And I think I know what John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney intended when writing the song. I’m not here to quibble with their lyrics.

But I am here to quibble with that idea in its most literal interpretation and in the most anal-retentive way possible, because it’s the difference between whether your relationship survives ups and downs, or slowly withers on the vine and dies.

I love my son. Like, LOVE him. Intensely. And philosophically, I respect him. Like, I think and believe that I respect him.

But I think there’s a chance he often feels disrespected by me. Maybe because of my tone when I say something to him, or because of how I react to some outrageous 10-year-old thing he says, instead of simply RESPECTING him.

I shower my son with praise.

I tell him regularly how much he’s loved and cared for and valued. I tell him how proud of him I am.

And that’s real. I FEEL those things, authentically, when I say them. In Dr. Chapman’s 5 Love Languages terms, words of affirmation are my love language.

I don’t know what that child’s love language is.

Maybe his love language is “Hey Dad, show up on time for the last-ever Cub Scouts event of my life because you respected me enough to put it in your calendar and be sure you wouldn’t miss it instead of forcing Mom to text you after it already started, which is the only reason you even showed up.”

(That really happened. Two days ago. ADDitude Magazine should put me on their cover.)

I FEEL intense love for my son. It’s very real to me. But what good does that love do if my son feels disrespected? What good does it do if my son grows up not trusting me with whatever he’s dealing with because—from his perspective—I don’t show him respect?

Maybe all my bullshitty Dad-talk feels to him like disrespectful, unsolicited advice, or worse—like criticism that I don’t think he’s good enough.

Maybe despite telling my son (and believing it) how smart I think he is, he doesn’t FEEL as if I think he’s smart, since sometimes I think he says bullshitty things, and act like it.

Life continues to humble me, and remind me that no matter how much I learn, I’m still as far away from being a finished product as I was when I was still doling out shitty husbandry like a nudie-card peddler on Las Vegas Blvd.

Romantic Love and Marriage is Even More Fragile Than Our Parent-Child Relationships

Kids don’t really choose their living arrangement. But our adult romantic partners DO choose it. It’s a volunteer activity, and if we want them to voluntarily choose us over every other possible option in the world, we should offer some type of value proposition in exchange for their voluntary commitment to being our partners.

I’m not a child psychologist, but our kids just sort of get born into our homes and families, and grow up without enough information to gauge how good or bad it is relative to other homes and families in the world.

So long as we’re not horribly abusive and sadistic, I think our kids often hero-worship us in a lot of ways, even when we don’t deserve it.

But not so much with our spouses or girlfriends/boyfriends.

The most common story of romantic love dying in a relationship is because RESPECT is absent.

What Does Respect Look Like?

I’m polite. Kind. Nice. Well-mannered.

And because I say please and thank you, and generally behave “respectfully,” I always believed that I was demonstrating respect to others. Combined with that intense love that I felt toward my wife, any suggestion that I didn’t love and respect my wife was met with total confusion.

Outrageous! How dare she! OF COURSE I love and respect her! She’s the person I married and share all my things with and made a child with!

That is the 100% true and authentic (and tragically common) thought and feeling residing in the hearts and minds of one or both married/romantic partners that will paradoxically lead them to a messy and painful divorce or breakup.

Outrageous. That doesn’t make any sense at all. I would have never married them or do X, Y, and Z for and with them for all of these years if I didn’t love and respect them! They’re just mistaken. But that’s okay. All you need is love.

When you believe in your heart and soul that you love and respect your partner, then you’re in no way motivated to change your behavior or mindset. Which leads to the exact same things happening over and over again. The exact same things that are leading to one or both relationship partners feeling disrespected and unloved.

Our INTENTION to respect others in no way guarantees that other people FEEL respected.

The math is simple enough.

When your partner doesn’t feel as if they’re respected, they will feel mistreated. They will feel uncared for. They will feel dismissed and marginalized.

A person in that situation has two choices—continue to feel beaten down and unloved, which often leads to a total loss of positive self-image, and a person who feels shitty all of the time ceases to be fun and attractive, so the PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DISRESPECT AND MISTREATMENT actually ends up having “legitimate” reasons to stop feeling attracted to their partner, commonly leading to affairs or a divorce/breakup.

The other choice a person has—and I’m so glad that my ex-wife chose it—is to stand up for oneself. To preserve your own internal self-respect, self-love, personal integrity, etc.

Because God forbid, my son’s mother have turned into some beaten-down, self-loathing, joyless human incapable of demonstrating the kind of love and respect I wish for any child, but especially my son who I love so much and for who I wish so many good things.

“But Matt! What do you mean you didn’t respect your wife? What does that even look like?”

That’s the tricky part. That’s the scary, sneaky part.

It’s difficult to recognize. So, just in case you didn’t see it above, this is what it looks like.

A semi-famous example from this blog and my marriage is the story of me leaving a dish by the sink, and how my habit of doing that led to my divorce.

I saw a dish by the sink. No big deal. I saw something virtually meaningless. Insignificant, at most.

My wife saw a blatant act of disrespect. A huge deal. And FELT it, emotionally, down where it hurts the most. She saw weekly, if not daily, reminders that her husband didn’t respect her enough to do something SUPER-easy for her. She felt so uncared for, and so unheard, and so invalidated, that her choice was either:

  • Spend the rest of her life with someone who constantly makes her feel shitty through common, frequent acts of disrespect.
  • Choose a different option involving infinitely less pain, more hope, better health, and ensuring that she’d continue to be a person she could look at in the mirror and feel proud of.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t think her concerns were valid. It didn’t matter that I disagreed with her.

Even in some magical universe where I was objectively RIGHT in those assumptions, it STILL wouldn’t matter what was true to ME.

My wife felt pain, down in her gut, because she couldn’t trust me to be her adult partner for the rest of her life.

And major change is scary. And facing a lifetime of pain is scary. Especially when a little boy is at the center of it.

Love is great. Love is paramount to humanity’s survival. Love is a necessary and critical component of making marriage or any romantic relationship work.

But, which is MORE important? Which is MORE critical?

Love or respect?

It’s respect.

Respect is something virtually every human deserves on a basic level.

But love? That’s a choice. That’s something we reserve for a select few for our own reasons.

Love is a choice people will no longer choose to make in the absence of respect.

If you’re in a marriage or dating relationship that used to be full of love, but now feels heavy and empty? And you’re wondering where that love and joy went?

This is why.

I didn’t respect my wife, and now I’m divorced.

I hope you’ll make a different choice.

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How Accidental Sexism Ruined My Marriage (and Might be Ruining Yours)

lumberjack - crying at the gates

(Image/Crying at the Gates)

I did, said, and believed things throughout my youth and marriage that were totally sexist—even though I didn’t view them as sexist at the time—and those things more or less turned my wife against me and ultimately cost me my marriage and family.

If you’d have told me I was a sexist, I’d have undoubtedly responded with defensive outrage and mansplained how you were wrong, all the while believing everything I was saying and feeling.

That’s the real danger. THAT is what causes all of these relationships to slowly turn ugly and then end miserably—that we 100% believe all of the bullshit we peddle. We’re telling the truth. We act like we’re right and like we know everything because we all actually believe it at the time.

Life’s worst things happen while we feel CERTAIN about things that aren’t actually true.

It doesn’t matter that I didn’t believe I was sexist. What matters is that I was sexist.

My mom more or less ran the household growing up with her and my stepdad, and was the alpha in regards to parenting decisions determining what I was allowed or not allowed to do, or to determine punishments, and all sorts of other things.

Most of my teachers were female.

The very best students—the most intelligent and top-performing kids in my class—were female. Anne and Colleen. I think both are doctors now.

I had close-knit friendships with a few of the girls in my class that at the time rivaled my close friendships with guy friends, a handful of which remain strong more than three decades later.

All of this to say that I NEVER believed that men were fundamentally better than women. Like, never. Just like I never believed being white was better than having dark skin because so many of my favorite athletes, actors, and musicians didn’t look like me—which conned me into believing I couldn’t feel racist things—a belief proven wrong by how my brain reacted to boarding planes with people of Middle Eastern descent in those first few years following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Fear Perpetuated my Sexism—Is it the Same for You?

I never disliked someone because they were from Iran or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. I’ve always liked pretty much everyone. Maybe that’s an ENFP thing.

I was AFRAID—irrationally—that someone from a particular ethnicity was somehow more likely to harm me than someone who looked like Timothy McVeigh or Robert Gregory Bowers. Which I think we can agree, in hindsight, is a pretty stupid thing to believe.

Where I came from, it was BAD to be a guy who did anything like a girl.

As recently as my 20s, I was giving major judgy side-eye looks to buddies who listened to Taylor Swift (“girl music”) or who liked watching romantic comedies (“chick flicks”).

It wasn’t BAD to be a girl. It wasn’t BAD to be a woman.

It was simply bad to do things “like a girl” if you weren’t one. Maybe that’s why we were also all little homophobic assholes as well. We spent so much time calling each other “gay fags” as a way to rip on one another that there’s no chance that any of the kids who actually were gay could have ever felt respected, accepted, or comfortable around us—which is undoubtedly a factor in them moving far away and waiting several years before coming out.

Where I come from, if you’re a man who does “girl things,” you’re less of a man. Which is bad.

And where I come from, women do the majority of housework, the majority of childcare, the majority of social calendar management, etc. There was no Right vs. Wrong judgment about any of it. It was just The Way. It was Normal.

And we, as human beings, tend to react to things outside of OUR Normal as being “wrong.” It’s because we’re assholes, but we don’t have to be.

It Was My Wife’s Responsibility to Fix Her Dumb Girl Emotions

Right? If my wife was responding incorrectly to things because she had weak girl emotions, how was that MY fault?

Is it really fair to ask me to adjust everything I do, think, feel, and say simply because it hurts my wife’s incorrect feelings when all she has to do is realize her mistake and simply STOP feeling bad about silly things?

After writing about marriage and divorce for more than six years, I’ve come to believe that THAT sentiment is the No. 1 marriage killer in the world.

I ALREADY did more around the house (I probably did the majority of cooking, grocery shopping, and kitchen cleanup throughout our nine-year marriage) than every male role model I’d ever had.

I was ALREADY compromising my Man of the House role, and was hell-bent on retaining my Man Card.

I was working and making the most money. I was doing more housework (“women’s work,” you might have heard it called) than any of the adult men I grew up around. I didn’t cheat. I didn’t do drugs or drink excessively. I didn’t gamble away our savings. I wasn’t physically or verbally abusive. I was a reliable caretaker for our son.

So, when I was told what an insensitive and shitty husband I was being (she never actually called me those things), my reaction was always one of high-and-mighty moral outrage.

How DARE you tell me I’m not a good husband!

Matt, would you please stop throwing your jeans on this nightstand? I try hard to keep the bedroom looking nice. Can you please just put them in the closet out of sight?”

How DARE she make a big deal out of something stupid like throwing my jeans on the nightstand that literally no other human being besides us will ever see! Why make a marriage fight out of this small thing?! This is all because of her dumb girl-feelings!

“Matt, would you please stop leaving that dirty glass by the sink? I try hard to keep the kitchen looking nice. Can you please just put it in the dishwasher?”

How DARE she make a big deal out of something stupid like setting that water glass by the sink that isn’t even dirty! I’m just trying to recycle the glass because it’s easier than washing extra dishes every time. Why make a marriage fight out of this silly thing?! This is all because of her dumb girl-feelings!

“Matt, would you please not make fun of me in front of our friends? It hurts my feelings. You’re literally nicer to total strangers than you are to me.”

Oh my God. How DARE she make a big deal out of something stupid like some playful mocking that everyone knows is a joke! I married this woman and chose her out of EVERYONE IN THE WORLD to love and commit to and have children with! Why make a marriage fight over this totally illogical thing?! This is all because of her dumb girl-feelings!

Because I was the more “emotionally stable” one—you know, because I handled things like a logical man—I was right, therefore my wife was wrong.

She was the one with the problem.

I believed she was the one responsible for maturing and simply CHOOSING to not feel hurt over things that were in no way intended to hurt her.

It’s a Respect Thing

I loved my wife. Maybe even more than myself. But I didn’t RESPECT her individual experiences as being equally valid to mine.

Things that were real and true—and often painful—for her didn’t affect me. Not outside of her complaining to me about it. My wife spent many years trying to recruit me to understand what was happening in her heart and mind so that her husband could work cooperatively with her to eliminate negativity in the marriage.

She tried every way she knew how to communicate to me that these “little, silly, emotional girl things” were important. Each and every time she tried, I made it clear to her how much I disagreed, and how certain I was that I was correct because of my wise man brain.

This idea can’t be shared enough times:

My wife HURT—down deep where the medicine can’t fix it—because of things I said and did. And for more than 10 years, when she came to me for help to make the hurt stop, I communicated to her that I thought she was MISTAKEN—wrong—to feel hurt, and even worse, that she was using it to cause problems in our marriage.

I seriously said that to her, like, a million times.

Every chance I had to respect my wife and live up to the vows I’d made on our wedding day, I instead communicated to her: No. Your girl-feelings are dumb. It’s not MY job to stop doing these things that don’t even matter. It’s YOUR job to stop caring about them so that you won’t feel hurt anymore.

This is why my wife could no longer trust me or feel safe with me. When you don’t make your partner feel safe and lose their trust, it’s all over.

I hope you’ll believe me when I say that if you’re someone who agrees with my thoughts and feelings from when I was still married, and feel as if my actions were justified when discussing it with my wife, your current or future relationships have almost no chance of succeeding. If you think what I did was right, we need to talk.

Happy International Women’s Day

I used to roll my eyes at things like today. March 8—International Women’s Day. What a bunch of hippie, liberal hogwash, I thought.

But then, I figured out what Accidental Sexism looks like, how I unwittingly abused my wife emotionally for a decade, and realized that I would have NEVER done those things had I known back then what I know now.

Being sexist is bad. Being a shitty husband is bad. But NOT all men (and/or women) who exhibit sexism and shitty husbandry are bad.

You can be—in your core—a good human being who genuinely cares about making this world a better place, and still innocently and unknowingly mistreat other people in ways you are blind to. You can be a good man who genuinely loves his wife and wants to have a long and happy marriage, and still innocently and unknowingly lack the knowledge and skills necessary to actually be a good husband.

To our daughters, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, neighbors, bosses, friends, teachers, co-workers, nieces, cousins, and everyone I’m forgetting.

To our influencers and heroes.

And most importantly—to the women who voluntarily choose us out of all 7.7 billion people on earth—to love and trust and care for.

Thank you.

Your thoughts and feelings and experiences don’t matter because you’re women. They matter because you’re human, like me.

Thank you for all that you tolerate and give and fight through.

Thank you for helping me remove some of my blinders.

Thank you for being you.

Please don’t give up on us.

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She Divorced Me Because I Tried to Fix Her Problems

Discover Your Why Torn Paper Concept

(Image/Getty Images)

In nine years of marriage, it’s safe to assume my ex-wife and I ate dinner together between 2,500 and 3,000 times.

We must have talked about things that didn’t upset her sometimes. We must have talked about things that bored her sometimes. Maybe we even talked about things that made her happy.

I don’t remember. Several hundred conversations, and I can’t remember most of them.

It’s hard to remember the moments that never made you feel.

Maybe that’s why the only dinner conversations I remember are the ones involving her saying that she didn’t love me or want to stay married, as well as a few conversations that I’ve retroactively applied emotion to, since I now realize that they’re on the official This is Why I’m Divorced® list along with me sometimes leaving dishes by the sink.

My wife divorced me because when she told me stories about her day, I tried to fix whatever she was telling me was wrong.

And for many people, that will seem sensible—to try to help someone solve a problem they’re having. For many people, the idea of turning a husband trying to help into a marriage problem will seem like the insane actions of an emotionally unstable wife who is always looking for something new to complain about.

I would have agreed with you 10 years ago. I mean, I DID agree with you 10 years ago. Because I agreed with you 10 years ago, I was a shitty husband who accidentally and obliviously sabotaged what could have been, and should have been, a good marriage. (Hint: Which is what almost ALL married people have. Two people who married each other on purpose, thoughtfully, and well-intentioned SHOULD have a good marriage.)

I Didn’t Understand the Why

My wife was telling me stories about her day—about things or people or situations that might have upset her—for ONE reason. Just one.

It was my wife’s way of trying to connect with me. To share her experiences. The ACT OF SHARING the experience with me, and me simply being present and listening to her was THE ENTIRE POINT.

My role was to listen.

When my wife told me about someone that bothered her earlier in the day, I would sometimes tell my wife that I agreed with the other person.

Not only did I deprive her of the connection-building exercise by simply allowing her to speak without judgment, but I piled on more pain and frustration by validating the words or actions of the person that hurt or upset my wife earlier in the day.

Let’s recap:

1. Something happened that my wife experienced as a negative. Someone said or did something that made her feel shitty.

2. The thing that helps her feel better is to tell someone who will listen without judging her for her honest feelings and actual experiences.

3. She wanted to tell the ONE person in the world who promised to love and honor her every day for the rest of her life, and the only other adult who lives under the same roof.

4. I took her outlet for a positive connection-building experience—the thing she needed to do to emotionally move past the shitty day—and made THAT shitty. The thing that is designed to make her feel good became something that actually felt bad.

5. I then took the extra step of sometimes TAKING THE SIDE of her adversary from her story. I sometimes listened to her account of the day’s events, and essentially told her that her response—emotional or behaviorally—was INCORRECT. I literally told her that she did it wrong, and agreed with the other person.

6. All she wanted was for someone who loves her to LISTEN to her. That’s it. Not hard. Just STFU and listen. And after several hundred times of NOT doing that, I ceased to be someone she could trust to confide in. I was no longer a feel-good resource for coping with the ups and downs of adulthood, because hundreds of previous attempts ended badly and painfully for her. She didn’t feel safe anymore. She didn’t trust me anymore. Because safety and trust are two words that don’t always mean what we think they mean.

The most dangerous part of human relationships is how subtle and nuanced these moments are.

The things that erode and eventually destroy that which is most fragile and dear and precious to us tend to be things happening within the blind spots of our daily lives. We’re not being neglectful or irresponsible by not noticing them. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to notice them unless we are actively and mindfully looking for them.

After thousands of conversations with my wife that didn’t go like I thought they would. After, literally, thousands of instances where my wife reacted to me or a situation differently than I would have expected, I NEVER—not one time—set out to really understand the reason behind it.

I was certain—I was so certain that I was right, and therefore, she must have been wrong—that I guess I just kept waiting for her to grow up and see the world as clearly and correctly and smartly as I did.

But she never did.

She finally had enough and left.

And then I cried a lot more than a man probably should and felt sorry for myself.

But then I grew up.

And I began to see the world more clearly. I learned to stop labeling what an individual experiences as being ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Because if I was born to their parents and had their identical life experiences, I would say and do and feel all of the exact same things that they do.

Maybe my wife was wrong sometimes, too. Maybe she did things she shouldn’t have done. People ask me about that a lot, suggesting I’m too hard on myself. That there must be another side to the story.

Of course there’s another side. Here it is:

Imagine an alternative reality where when my wife told me stories about her day, I listened, and then told her that I cared about her experiences—that I was so happy when she had good things happen, and that I was so sorry when she had bad things happen—because I loved her and wanted to make sure she knew it. Make sure she felt it, because those are the things we remember.

Imagine if I’d done that.

Maybe all of those theoretical ‘mistakes’ my wife made would have never happened at all.

Just maybe.

Behind every misunderstanding is a reason. Behind every disagreement is a WHY. The Why behind why someone feels a certain way. And when we love the person on the other side of the disagreement—or simply on the other side of the dinner-table conversation—understanding that Why is EVERYTHING.

Find the Why.

Start right now.

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To Find What’s Missing, Look in the Gaps

hiding- image by navalent

(Image/Navalent)

There’s what we believe. And then there’s whatever is absolutely 100-percent true and real.

In the gap between our beliefs and Absolute Truth are the things that hold us back. Mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

There’s what we expect. And then there’s whatever actually happens.

Sometimes things don’t go as we expect them to. Sometimes that’s kind of good or kind of bad. Sometimes that’s very good or very bad. The gap between our expectations and what we actually experience is what determines how good or happy we feel, or how bad or upset we feel.

There’s what we think we know about another person. And then there’s who they actually are, what they actually feel, what they actually believe, what they actually intend, what they are actually capable of—sometimes bad, but also sometimes good.

What’s Hiding in the Gaps Within Your Relationships?

In a marriage or otherwise long-term romantic relationship, there is always (like, ALWAYS) a gap between what any two people believe about one another and what is actually, 100-percent true.

I don’t mean a husband thinks his wife is a manager at a local bank, but is actually a high-ranking government intelligence officer managing a team of spies and assassins.

I mean a more typical scenario like a wife who believes her husband likes her meatloaf, but secretly he thinks it’s gross like most sensible people who struggle with foamed meat products, but because he—in an effort to be polite—doesn’t communicate his preferences, she doesn’t actually know.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you surprise them with a gift.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you dress extra-nice for them.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you tell them the bad news.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you suggest specific weekend plans.

There’s what you think he or she will do when there’s an emergency.

And then, there’s what actually happens.

Pleasant surprises. Crushing disappointments. The results will both delight and disappoint us to varying degrees.

You Don’t Know What You Think You Know

That’s neither an insult nor a judgment.

It’s a call—a plea really—for more humility and more hope.

You think he’s never going to change. Because after all of these years he’s never changed. But. What if you did something differently to achieve different results?

You think she’s never going to change. Because the things she says that hurt you are only intensifying. But. What if she’s feeling INTENSE pain that you’re accidentally causing, and despite her best efforts to communicate that you’re hurting her somehow, you’ve continued to inflict pain over and over and over again in a way that feels intentional at worst, and negligent at best? Is it possible she WOULDN’T be saying or doing those things—is it possible she wouldn’t take that tone or act exasperated—if she felt loved, cherished, respected, wanted every day of her life as she believed she would when she accepted your proposal?

We believe things.

We believe so many things. I’m not good enough. He’s an asshole. She’s a bitch. They don’t like me. They don’t respect me. They don’t want to be with me.

And then we’re often wrong. But because we BELIEVE the thought or idea, we FEEL it as if it were true.

We feel anxious. Or angry. Or jealous. Or sad. Or stressed. Or afraid.

People who feel shitty—whether they want to or not—harm their relationships. Relationships are a resource for finding support and strength and hope and companionship during life’s most trying moments. But when the relationship itself is the source of life’s most trying moments, then people turn elsewhere for the relief, support, and hope that they need.

It’s an ugly little cycle hiding in shadows and whispers.

Everyone is so blindly certain that what they believe and feel is real and true, that we allow the gaps between what we think and what’s actually real to ruin beautiful things. Our connections to others. To ourselves. To what’s possible.

Kind, beautiful, decent people are married to other kind, beautiful, decent people.

They have kind, beautiful, and decent children, and kind, beautiful, and decent friends.

Everyone means well.

Everyone cares.

Everyone wishes for the best.

But everyone is human. They believe things. And not all of them are accurate or true. And operating on false beliefs, we just keep serving our subpar meatloaf to people who don’t really like it.

What might you be missing?

What might the people you love, mistakenly but understandably, believe that could be harming your relationship?

What might be possible if we begin to eliminate the gaps between what we believe about ourselves and one another with what’s actually true and real?

You don’t know it, but I love you. (Platonically, you dirties.)

The things that hide in the gaps aren’t things we realize are even missing. The things that end our marriages and break our families are things only discovered by asking questions we would never normally think to ask.

Our beliefs guide us on autopilot.

Our lives can break on autopilot.

Be different, please. Be more. Every hopeless and cynical belief is an opportunity to be pleasantly surprised.

Hope.

Not because things magically change, but because we can intentionally do things differently.

To 2019, and to each and every one of you.

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Should We Get Married? (Part 1)

how-the-hell-should-i-know-that

(Image/MemeGenerator.net)

In Wonder Woman lore—including the 2017 Gal Gadot film—there exists an island of Amazonian women unknown and invisible to the rest of the world.

Everyone on the fictional island of Themyscira is female. There are no ‘traditional’ families. There is no such thing as marriage.

Everyone there seems fine with that arrangement. The only child on that island that I can remember from the film is the protagonist heroine Diana—born of a Greek mythology-esque encounter between her mother and Zeus.

She knew little of marriage or family or male-female relationships.

I think we can safely assume that when Diana imagined her future, and established her personal hopes and dreams as a child and young woman, getting married and/or becoming a mother was likely not part of them.

It’s different for most of us.

A lot different. Especially in the United States, where I live, and other Western cultures.

Regardless of our gender, regardless of our religious (or non-religious) affiliations, regardless of our politics, regardless of which state we live in, and regardless of whether our parents themselves are married, we are mathematically likely to get married, or enter into a long-term relationship with dynamics that approximate marriage.

In the U.S., 95 percent of people 18 and older are either married, divorced, or planning to marry someday. In other words, marriage DIRECTLY affects and influences 9.5 out of every 10 U.S. adults.

Why?

Well, we can do the whole history-lesson thing even though it’s probably mind-numbingly boring to most people. We can talk about how Western civilization spread and evolved, incorporating beliefs and traditions rooted in Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Ancient Israel, and the early Catholic Church, all of which continue to influence a ton of our beliefs, religious and political practices, and cultural traditions today.

OR.

We can simply agree that—just as pre-Wonder Woman Diana grew up surrounded only by women and thusly never conceived of marriage and family as a concept—everyone living in Western, English-speaking societies grows up seeing the VAST majority of people around them dating, getting engaged, getting married, and having children (even if they’re only seeing it depicted on TV and in the movies), resulting in most of us believing: Getting married is just what you do when you’re an adult! It’s what you’re supposed to do, and you’re probably weird if you don’t!

Unless you have same-sex romantic leanings or grew up in a single-parent family while hiding out in the woods, I assume—like me—you grew up never for a second questioning the idea that pairing up with someone and probably having children with them was basically ingrained into your belief system. You never even stopped to consider other alternative futures.

Other than our own births—which none of us actually remember—our wedding day and the birth of our first child are frequently cited as the biggest, most significant, happiest days of our lives.

Marriage: Survivor Island

Because that’s what marriage essentially is, right? Survivor Island minus the television crews?

No matter how wonderful our parents and extended families are, and no matter the quality of our education and academic experiences, MARRIAGE is essentially the equivalent of everyone we invite to our wedding being on the same jumbo plane with us and bidding us farewell as we parachute onto some island we know next to nothing about.

We know how to eat. But do we know where to find food, and what’s safe to eat?

Maybe we know how to build shelter. But do we know what location makes sense, and what the greatest threats to our safety—weather, disease, animals, other people—are?

We kind-of, sort-of know how to not die, but in this case, we don’t even know what may or may not be fatal.

“Good luck!!! We love you guys!!! Never go to bed angry!!!” they all smile and wave to us with the best of intentions and fortune-cookie marriage advice, as they’re sending us off on the ultimate Darwinian experience.

No one tells us the truth about marriage, and even if they try it doesn’t take, because most of us don’t take anything seriously that isn’t an immediate threat. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s a REALLY important concept: We CANNOT know what we don’t know.

Old or long-married couples bicker at each other and seem as if they haven’t had sex in two decades. That’s just what happens when you’re married that long!

I didn’t like hearing people I loved speak crossly to one another, but I also never doubted the substance and stability of their marriages.

Even if their marriage was garbage, where I came from, if people got married, it was likely to be forever.

Nowhere was that more evident than my grandfather’s funeral less than two weeks ago where I saw dozens of people I hadn’t seen in a decade or two, many of whom were there with their spouses just as I remembered them from childhood.

The adults did us a disservice as we were growing up, though.

They didn’t give us the real story. They didn’t give us the dirt. They didn’t tell us the truth.

They didn’t tell us all of the things that destroy love and marriage disguise themselves as things that don’t seem important. They didn’t tell us that the most dangerous things don’t APPEAR or FEEL dangerous as they’re happening, but that the slow and steady buildup of these little things is what will ultimately cause the collapse of a marriage and family.

Some of it was because they wanted to preserve our innocence. They wanted us to believe in Santa Claus because it was fun and made us feel happy. They told us not to talk to strangers, but they didn’t tell us WHY.

They don’t tell us what some people are capable of.

We read about slavery, about Hitler, about war. But it all seemed so old and faraway and non-threatening.

Sometimes, if we manage to avoid serious trauma as a child, we don’t get to experience actual fear until we watch terrorist hijackers fly airplanes full of people into buildings full of people because they disagree with the religious and political opinions of some unknown percentage of the people they killed.

Ironically, it’s this level of super-belief certainty—this idea that YOU are right, therefore your spouse must be wrong—over a subject of disagreement that will inevitably damage and potentially end your marriage.

But, before we worry about what we should or shouldn’t do within our marriages or romantic relationships, there’s a worthwhile question to explore first.

Should We Get Married?

It’s not obvious to me how best to answer that. I’m confident that I could evaluate couples on a case-by-case basis and form an opinion about whether a particular couple ‘should’ (in my opinion) get married.

But I’m just some asshole writing on the internet, and EVEN IF I was totally ‘right’ about their prospects of having a healthy marriage and satisfying family life, precisely ZERO people should ever do something specifically because of my opinion.

Especially as it pertains to marriage. Because I’m 0-1.

That doesn’t make me good at knowing what awesome marriage looks like. It just makes me kind-of good at knowing what a well-intentioned, but ultimately bad, marriage looks like.

But since I’m divorced—and admittedly much older than your typical bachelor (and a father as well)—I am faced with the very real decision of whether to actively pursue marriage again.

To be clear, I am MOSTLY thinking about younger, never-married people when I write this stuff because that is the group I perceive to be most guilty of unwittingly marrying with good intentions, but without the tool kits and skillsets necessary to execute the day-to-day of healthy monogamous, cohabitating relationships—particularly with children.

Divorce is a plague. It might be a little hyperbolic to say so, but divorce ruins lives. It certainly damages the people affected in profound ways, and every divorce tends to damage SEVERAL people. And there are thousands of divorces every day in the U.S. alone.

So.

SHOULD we get married?

I don’t think I know what I believe. But in Part 2, we’re going to talk through all of the reasons people commonly marry, and just maybe, that will spark something.

To be continued.

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I Didn’t Know Ponds and Cigars Could Do That

vintage wedding photo

Pardon the crookedness of this photo. I wasn’t planning to publish it. These are my maternal grandparents on their wedding day. I’ve always liked this photo. A lot. (Image/Matthew Fray)

That’s my grandparents on their wedding day about 62 years ago. It’s one of my favorite photos.

The handsome gentleman on the left died last night, just one week after his 85th birthday.

Father of eight. My mom’s the oldest.

Grandfather of 23. I’m the oldest.

Great-grandfather of three. My son is the oldest.

Nearly 40 years ago, my grandparents traveled 400 miles west to be with my young parents at the hospital.

My dad was 23. My mom was 21. My mom had received a college scholarship far from home, and that’s where she met my dad while she was in school.

I was supposed to be dead, according to the doctors and nurses. They told my parents and family to expect the worst.

But then I lived anyway, because I don’t always do what I’m supposed to.

My father handed my grandfather a cigar at the hospital. Wrapped in plastic. Blue ribbon.

It’s a boy.

When I was 3, my grandparents again drove west from Ohio to visit me and my parents.

While someone wasn’t looking, I decided to run off into the woods on the edge of our lot. I wandered those woods for more than an hour.

I came across an elevated storm drain spilling rain runoff into a creek bed.

While it was likely just some nasty corroded old water drainage infrastructure, it looked magical through the prism of a 3-year-old.

I thought it was a waterfall.

Then I wandered some more.

Eventually, I heard my grandpa’s voice cutting through the woods. Calling my name.

He must have been terrified. But he wasn’t angry. Not only wasn’t he angry, but he let me take him by the hand and blindly wander those woods again searching for that shitty waterfall I was so excited to show him.

I never found it again.

He never got angry with me.

Not long before my 5th birthday, my mom and dad divorced and then my mom and I moved into my grandparents’ big farmhouse with them in rural Ohio.

They lived on 43 acres, which felt to me like Oz.

They had a small pond, just a little over an acre in size on the other side of a field, far enough to drive to.

There was a little one-room wooden cabin with an old cast iron wood-burning stove that I never saw anyone light or use. Rustic. Dusty. Bugs. Smelled old.

But we called it “the cottage.” And it was perfect.

There was a weeping willow tree close by—a large one—where you could usually find the empty shells of cicadas stuck to the bark of the tree trunk.

If my grandfather wasn’t taking me on a fishing trip to a large nearby lake, or to watch me fail at fly-fishing in the river, we were catching fish at the private pond.

With his youngest son—my uncle—about to finish high school, it must have been perfect timing having me show up to live with them.

He included me in everything age-appropriate.

Not a huge talker. Not like me. He was a doer.

He didn’t really have to say anything, because what he DID was always so transparent. His actions always told the story.

We’d spend hours along the shore of that pond. Casting. Reeling. Casting. Reeling. Landing a fish. Then releasing it. Casting. Reeling. Casting. Reeling.

Dragonflies would buzz around. Wind would stir the trees and tall grass. Grasshoppers. Crickets. Bullfrogs.

And my grandfather.

There to help me tie a better bass-hook knot if I needed it. There to help me unsnag a hook. There to praise me when I landed another largemouth or catfish.

In a life that sometimes feels too heavy, and with a mind that sometimes feels too busy, that was where everything melted away.

The relative silence of the great wide open. The only nearby machine being that fishing rod and reel providing life-sustaining therapy I never even knew I needed.

I didn’t know fishing in a pond with my grandfather could do that.

Two years ago, my grandparents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, and my son got to be there for that. When my grandparents, both in their 80s took to the dance floor at the reception hall to share a dance in front of everyone, my great-uncle—my grandma’s brother—faux-scolded my grandpa: “Keep your hands off my sister!”

More than 60 years of marriage. Eight children. All the grandkids. Health problems. Friends dying. Watching all of the good and bad things happening to all of the branches on his family tree.

I doubt he thought of himself as the patriarch of the family, the way most of us looked at him, but that’s all I could ever see.

A man who loved and served. Steadily. For 20 years longer than I’ve even been alive.

Last summer, my family flew in from all over the country for a family reunion at my grandparents’ house. My grandpa’s last one. Everyone knew it.

I was outside talking to everyone. Someone sent word that my grandpa was asking me to come inside. He had something he wanted to give me.

His kidneys were failing. He was going through dialysis. Painfully. And he didn’t want to. But my grandmother didn’t want to say goodbye to him no matter how in love with Liam Neeson she might be.

So he persevered. Because that’s what you do when you love someone.

I sat on the couch nearest his easy chair. The man was tired. Physically weaker than I’d ever seen him.

But his eyes were clear. And so was his mind.

He asked how I was. He asked about my father hundreds of miles away. He always asked about my father.

He handed me a cigar.

Wrapped in plastic. Blue ribbon. It’s a boy.

I’d never seen it before and thought it was strange that my non-smoking grandfather was handing me a tobacco product.

“Your dad gave that to me in the hospital the day you were born. I thought you should have it,” he said.

I stared at it for a moment, digesting the implications. It looked almost new.

it's a boy cigar

This is the one. It’s resting on my bedroom nightstand. I didn’t know a little thing could be worth so much. (Image/Matthew Fray)

My father—long-divorced from his oldest daughter—had handed him a cigar nearly 40 years earlier celebrating my birth.

Then my grandpa raised eight children. Entertained hundreds of friends and family members in that old farmhouse through the decades. Ran a business. Moved to a smaller house nearby 10-15 years ago.

And throughout all of that, he took care of a cigar.

Just some crappy cigar.

Because it mattered, I suppose. Because it represented the grandson who lived when he wasn’t supposed to. The grandson he found in the woods. The one he must have thought would be somewhat of a stranger to him growing up, but was then granted an entire childhood with because of life circumstances no one ever saw coming.

I didn’t know cigars could do that.

The last thing my grandfather did was fight to stay alive as long as he could because my grandmother wanted him to.

He didn’t have to spin any stories. He’d just hand you a cigar, and you knew.

He didn’t have to tell everyone how much they were loved—particularly my grandmother.

Because he gave his last breath living it.

And if you’re guessing that’s something I can latch onto and feel proud of today, you couldn’t be more right.

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