Tag Archives: Family

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 14

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Because I failed to create any type of plan or structure to ensure preparation and acknowledgment of special occasions like Valentine’s Day, our wedding anniversary, my wife’s birthday, etc., my epic ADD-ness, procrastination and sometimes lack of money created a bunch of negative or lackluster moments in my marriage.

When two people are in a romantic partnership together, there’s always a little bit of give-and-take as it’s impossible and impractical for each partner to satisfy exactly half of all shared responsibilities.

But when someone doesn’t get anything back when they give, give, give, they eventually run out of energy. They eventually stop giving.

Until the final couple of years of our marriage that I should have (but didn’t) recognize as the End Times, my wife was always incredibly thoughtful and an organized planner about almost everything, including things specifically for me.

It wasn’t a courtesy that I returned. I’m prone to procrastination and poor calendar management because I’m all kinds of ADD that was undiagnosed and unidentified during my marriage. I got comfortable. Lackadaisical. And lost sight of the importance of investing in my wife and marriage.

She put effort and energy into doing things for me, and planning things for us to do together.

I did not return that same level of effort and energy. I very rarely took the initiative to plan shared activities for the both of us.

For YEARS.

And now I’m divorced, and this EXTREMELY EASY THING TO CORRECT is a significant reason why.

Here’s the simple truth: When you make conscious, mindful, regular investments in your wife and marriage, and create opportunities to do fun things together, and demonstrate as a matter of routine that you have HER and the BOTH OF YOU top of mind and are investing effort and energy in your togetherness… you probably have a strong and healthy marriage.

And when you don’t?

You end up like me.

It Wasn’t Always That Way

I was still 18 when I met the girl who would give birth to our son 10 years later.

A mutual friend had been talking about hooking the two of us up for months. My future wife was super-involved in school activities at the university we attended, whereas I mostly just drank beer and smoked weed at awesome parties.

She was the feature baton twirler for the marching band during football season.

She was a competitive ballroom dancer.

She was on the dance team for the college basketball season.

She always had practice or a part-time job to go to, or homework to do, so she was never at any of our parties. After months of being told we’d make the perfect couple, we’d still never met.

Then one night, I heard she was going to be there—at the off-campus apartment where most of our freshman-year parties took place.

I was drinking and smoking and having a great time with my best friends like almost any other keg-party night, so I wasn’t ready for her to walk in.

Insta-smitten.

She’s the kind-of pretty that makes your stomach hurt. Smiling eyes. Gorgeous cheekbones. The kind-of smile that makes you mirror one back to her, even when she isn’t looking.

She was smart. Funny. Easy to be around.

She was everything teenage-me could have ever wanted. Everything except available.

Our mutual friend didn’t realize my future wife was dating someone. And even if she wasn’t, she didn’t have free time to actually date, nor am I sure we’d have ever made it while she was being super-responsible and I was being super-irresponsible.

Our “perfect-togetherness” would have to wait.

We stayed in touch. A phone call here and there. A hug and friendly chat somewhere on campus whenever we’d cross paths.

I dated someone for a couple of years in there, and so did she.

But here’s why I’m telling this story: One random afternoon while I was riding around with one of my friends, I had him stop at a store because I wanted to buy flowers and a card for this gorgeous blonde I was crushing on.

Just something to let her know I was thinking about her.

The Framed Greeting Card

It was the kind of card that folded from the top down.

She’d kept it for a few years in between me giving it to her, and us getting together in a couple’s capacity when we were 22.

I liked that she kept it. I liked it a lot.

It sat in a little horizontal frame on a dresser or nightstand throughout our years together. I read it a few times, but I can’t remember what I wrote inside, and I don’t think it mattered.

What mattered was me taking the time to get a card and flowers, to write a thoughtful, personal note to her. There was no particular occasion or reason to.

I had just wanted to.

Call it a broad generalization if you want, but I think girls like it when you do something for them—just because.

For more than a decade, that little card sat there.

Once a cute, heartwarming reminder of a thoughtful guy who would call a Life timeout simply to invest in making the woman he loved feel good. For no other reason than he wanted her to feel good.

But later, I think that little card became a disappointing reminder of what might have been. Not a symbol of goodness. A symbol of a guy who is capable of making her light up and feel good, and who day after day after day, seems to choose stuff he cares about, and doesn’t seem to think much about her at all.

A little card that’s almost certainly not hiding in her nightstand drawer—but decomposing in a garbage landfill somewhere.

Waste.

Which is fitting, because a waste is exactly what this was.

Just an everyday text: “Thinking about you.”

A weekly phone reminder to plan a mutual (or family) activity for the weekend.

A conscious effort to prioritize this concept of investing in and giving energy to things that benefit our partner, or actively demonstrate that we value and appreciate the person to whom we promised Forever.

That we want them.

That we love them.

That something we do for them is worthy of sitting out as a reminder of something good and meaningful. Something that won’t be discarded to rot in the ground, buried and forgotten forever.

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The Cancer of Misunderstanding

hieroglyphics egyptian

(Image/Pinterest)

Remember when we were kids?

Afraid of getting on the big roller coasters. Afraid of jumping off the high-dive at the local pool. Afraid of the person we liked at school finding out about it.

We think back now, and if you’re anything like me, you might wonder: Why did I care about all of that lamer crap?

I think the answer is: Because we were entirely different people then. Through the prism of hindsight and years piled on top of years of life experiences, we now laugh at our naïve, immature, foolish selves.

We were mostly doing the best we could. In any given moment, we were mostly just acting on whatever our beliefs were at the time. We still do that today. We believed things based on what we were taught as children, combined with our limited life experiences.

We were just kids.

True story: My son in third-grade lost a tooth a few weeks ago, and I half-expected him to tell me that he no longer believed in the Tooth Fairy. We also just had Easter, and while the words “Easter Bunny” were never spoken aloud, I’m not under the impression he knows I put the candy, toys and baseball cards in his Easter basket.

As an aside, I do question whether we are doing the right thing feeding our children stories about imaginary magical beings they will later learn were totally made-up. I wonder how that breach of trust and shattering of innocence that occurs might negatively impact them in other ways, but that’s beside the point.

My son is just a cute little kid.

How I think and feel about his words and actions are totally different than how I think and feel about the words and actions of other adults who I believe should know better.

Imagine if I talked to my son the same way I might talk to, say, a friend at work…

Me: “Hey buddy! Did you have a good weekend?”

Son: “Yeah! I lost a tooth and put it under my pillow, and the Tooth Fairy came and left me money! Awesome, right? But then it got even better. When I went downstairs Easter morning, I saw that the Easter Bunny had visited overnight and filled my Easter basket with some presents and my favorite candy.”

Me: “You’re shitting me, right?”

Son: “Dad. Language.”

Me: “Right. Sorry. I mean, are you being serious right now?”

Son: “Yes! The Tooth Fairy AND the Easter Bunny both came to my house in the same weekend! Isn’t that amazing, dad?”

Me: “Wait. Just wait. Let’s back up the Sanity Truck to the beginning of this conversation. You’re seriously not messing with me right now? You left a tooth under the pillow you sleep on, and you believe a supernatural fairy magically flew into your bedroom, pocketed your shitty old blood-crusted tooth, and then gave you money for it?”

Son: “Yes. That’s what happens, dad. When you lose a tooth and put it under your pillow at night, the Tooth Fairy comes and leaves you money.”

Me: “Rrrrrrright. A. I can’t believe you actually believe that. And B., I can’t believe you don’t think it’s TERRIFYING that some creeper fairy is buzzing around your head collecting gnarly old teeth and actually paying money for them. It’s pretty illogical, across the board. I can almost understand believing in Santa given how much we’re inundated with Santa stories and images around the holidays, but the Tooth Fairy? Good God, man. You’re like a Cro-Magnon special-ed student. Are you high on drugs right now?”

Son: “What’s a ‘crow magnum’?”

Me: “Don’t worry about it, Copernicus. I’m more concerned with the other thing you said. You think a giant-ass magic bunny that either looks like an actual rabbit, or possibly just a large two-legged rabbity mascot-looking thing ACTUALLY snuck into our house like Santa Claus and left you presents?”

Son: “Yeah.”

Me: “And this doesn’t terrify you, why?”

Son: “The Easter Bunny isn’t scary, dad.”

Me: “Whatever you say, genius.”

I would never speak to my little boy the way I talk to my adult friends or buddies at the office. And that’s because I’m intellectually capable of understanding that it makes sense for my young son’s perceptions and life experiences to be much different than mine, or pretty much any adult.

And here’s where I think it gets interesting: As easy as it is to recognize these totally sensible differences between what’s expected of children’s behavior vs. adults and adjust our language and emotional responses accordingly; we often appear HORRIBLE at recognizing that it is equally sensible for other adults to have radically different beliefs, opinions, and emotional responses than us to any given situation we happen to be in. Others’ unique life experiences can lead them to thinking and feeling differently than us, and that is in no way strange when you go through the mental exercise of how different you would have been had you been born with THEIR DNA, and born into THEIR family, living in THEIR town, going to THEIR church or THEIR school, and being taught THEIR beliefs.

Other people are different than us for various reasons.

The people we marry or have romantic relationships with are among those very-different people.

The Things We Don’t Teach Men: EVERYONE Loses Right vs. Wrong Debates in Relationships

Sometimes I’m smart and know things. Like indisputable fact sort-of things. And I’m capable of getting frustrated or overtly angry if I hear or read someone “being wrong” about this thing I know.

Sometimes I just think I know things, but actually don’t. A false belief like I used to have about the Tooth Fairy, or how afraid I should be of getting on a ridiculously fun roller coaster or of jumping off high-dive boards into swimming pools.

When we believe we are Right or Correct, or that our opinions are Better or Worth More Than, we often argue or debate the point with anyone who disagrees.

And that is often the person we married or have a serious relationship with, simply because they tend to be around the most often.

And I’ve come to believe that these arguments—which often turn into fights—frequently destroy adult relationships. Not only does it erode while we fight, but our poor sense of how to communicate and help manage our partner’s emotions can poison everything further.

I think the things we, societally, are directly and indirectly teaching (or not teaching) boys, and later reinforcing in men, are the primary drivers of these marriage-ending, family-breaking behavior patterns.

Men often demonstrate the desire to be right. Correct. Smart. Reliable. Trusted. Skilled. Best. Respected. (This is not all men all the time, just as there are millions of women who ALSO demonstrate these traits. We’re talking in broad generalities here.)

It happens to me all of the time. In friendly conversations at work, or with friends, or even right here with MBTTTR blog comments.

I still trigger easily into “I Am Right, Therefore They Must Be Wrong” mode, but fortunately I recognize this assholery much faster than I used to.

But most people don’t seem to think it’s an asshole move to debate Right vs. Wrong. About politics. About sports. About music or movies or restaurants. Some people LIKE debating. I’m one of them.

There are others who DON’T like debating because it makes them feel uncomfortable.

And this is where, in my experience, the VAST, VAST, VAST majority of men seem to totally miss the boat.

The Undetected Cancer of Not Understanding Each Other

If a wife or girlfriend is upset about us leaving a dish by the sink, we may spend hours—and even weeks, months or years—arguing the merits of the dish.

And this is a frightening symptom society should treat like cancer because THIS moment is the beginning of The Great Misunderstanding at the root of why couples always have the same fight.

Two people CANNOT get over a fight involving a major violation of trust when neither person actually understands what the other person is saying or feeling.

I wrote that a wife will ABSOLUTELY leave her husband and end her marriage over something as seemingly simple as him leaving dishes by the sink.

And a common reaction to that is: “What a petty, control-freak bitch! Why does HER opinion about where the dish should go rank higher than his? What gives her the right to break up a family over something that insignificant? Marriages are more important than debates about dishes! She’s the one who is wrong!”

Over and over and over again, people (mostly men) read about the dishes by the sink and the countless marriages that ended because of them or some other seemingly insignificant “crime,” and over and over and over again they fail to make the connection I’d hoped for, which is probably because of substandard writing on my part.

So we’re trying again.

I agree with you, Person Who Says Marriage is More Important Than Dishes, Thus Something So “Minor” Should Never End Them.

I’m on your side. I promise.

However. This has never been, and never will be, about who has the most valid opinion. We’re measuring Right vs. Wrong like morons. Like if we tried to measure human weight in Celsius degrees or sound decibels or kilometers per hour. We have bullshit data because we’re not using the right filters.

The Big Secret That Shouldn’t Be a Secret

It will never matter who makes the best or most-convincing or most-skilled argument.

That’s NOT why she’s leaving us.

You couldn’t out-debate her because Correct vs. Incorrect never even came into play.

It’s about this really important secret, and nothing else:

Something you did, said, or are actively doing, HURT her or is HURTING her.

Like if you were throwing rocks at her face, or striking her with a belt. Like if you were calling her vile names and telling her she was ugly and that you didn’t love her anymore.

Something you’re doing or saying is causing actual pain.

And the scary part is that you don’t know. We don’t know because it would never hurt us. Because it would never hurt us, we act like she’s weak. We act like her response is crazy or illogical or out of line with reality.

Then when she tells us about it, we don’t apologize and stop the hurtful behavior like we would if we were accidentally hitting her with rocks or belts.

Moreover, we pile on more hurt in the form of us puffing our chests in all of our “correctness,” defending our behavior, and implying or saying outright that she’s stupid or mentally unstable or a bad or mean person for feeling all of these illogical things on account of our perfectly reasonable and justifiable actions.

First, we inflict pain without realizing it.

Second, we are informed of the pain we cause, and we wave our hands dismissively and tell her she’s full of shit.

Third, we get angry when she won’t let it go, and flip it around into a “This is actually YOUR fault for being such a miserable and ungrateful bitch all the time” discussion.

Fourth, we stay angry that she keeps bringing it up and “nagging” us about something we think we’re “right” about, and make everything about us, and how she’s the unfair person ruining the marriage.

Don’t you see it?

I’m not blaming anyone for this. These aren’t the behaviors of evil people. These are the behaviors of two people who emotionally harm one another over the course of five to 10 years with little to no awareness of it.

We accidentally cut and bruise her with our stones and belts without ever realizing we’re striking her.

Then, not only do we NOT apologize for it, or attempt to change the behavior, but we often defiantly blame everything on her, and tell her that nothing is ever going to change because she’s got this whole thing wrong.

And if you keep saying it enough times, maybe you believe she’ll figure it out too.

Ironically, she feels exactly the same, right up until she can’t take the hurt anymore.

She might be able to handle the metaphorical stones and belt lashes. Because the years have scarred and hardened her.

But she’s sure as hell not going to take the blame for it anymore, nor dedicate the rest of her life to an intimate partnership that rewards her with: “Why don’t you cry about it, you nagging bitch? And by the way, I love you, honey. Wanna have sex later?”

Neither person meant to hurt the other. It just happens, and most of these guys have no idea how it’s perceived by his wife or girlfriend. Not until it’s too late. Not until she’s heartbroken and gone.

It’s one person being hurt and the other person saying through their actions, “I don’t care about the same things you care about. Also, I don’t even care THAT you care. Your stuff doesn’t matter to me.”

Because THAT ends marriages. Thousands of times per day.

And I think it’s tragic.

Because it’s essentially just a big misunderstanding.

And I don’t believe kids should have to cry and spend every night missing one of their parents for the entirety of their childhood because of a misunderstanding.

We can do better.

We must.

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The One Where I Defend My Ideas Against Charges of Sexism and a Lack of Credibility

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Mary said:

It’s still an extremely negative piece that includes such statements as decent men ‘trying their God’s honest best … are accidentally napalming their homes and closest relationships.’ You feel that trying their best isn’t good enough, that in order to succeed men have to be selfless and humble.’ Your piece doesn’t take into account that relationships fail for a bunch of reasons and they are not all about what men did wrong to get them to that place. You say you’d like to be a teacher, but except for your experience of divorce and separation from your child, what makes you qualified to? You say that ‘men are going to have a lot to do with humanity’s future.’ If you’re writing from the perspective of the early 20th century, then you’ve got a point. Some women may still be attracted to high status men, but mostly they’re busy out there creating their own high status professions.

Three things about Mary’s comment bothered me.

  1. Mary disagreed with my take, and just like everyone else in the world, I have a very high opinion of my opinions and an immature tendency to cling to my beliefs. Maybe I’m wrong. I never pretend to know for sure. But I do write more confidently today than I ever have, because I keep getting more certain, not less, that I’m onto something.
  2. Mary questioned my “qualifications.” I don’t have any other than my ridiculously large data sample. I don’t claim to be anything other than some divorced idiot trying to help people divorce less.
  3. Mary interprets my request for men to assume responsibility for growing and changing to be sexist, as if the constant invalidation of women isn’t the very thing I’ve identified as the root cause of marriage problems.

So, I responded, and because I’m me, it turned into a post-length thing, so screw it—I might as well share it.

(Apologies for temporarily suspending my Things Men Don’t Know series. There may be a lot of people out there who feel as Mary does, so here’s my take on all of this.)

Why Marriage and Divorce Must Get More Attention

From a blog comment exchange:

In any given 1,000- to 1,500-word post, there is only so much territory one can cover, Mary. I hope you don’t think the limits of my thoughts are all contained in this tiny little collection of words and sentences.

If you’d like me to give you the bird’s-eye view of my general theories and “qualifications,” I’ll be happy to.

Here’s the rundown:

MOST people get married. Statistically, 95 percent of adults 18+ are either married, formerly married, or are planning on marrying one day.

So, that’s 9.5 out of every 10 people. Significant, no?

And of those people, what happens?

Well, statistically, a young man asks a young woman to marry him. He usually spends $6,000+ on a ring, and has spent the better part of two or more years considering whether he should. When she says “Yes,” they plan a wedding, and on average, spend $30,000 on it and invite 300 or more of their closest friends and family.

Two free-thinking adults with no one forcing this on them. They, all on their own, considered all of their options in life and thought: “Yes. I want to marry this very specific human being, and I understand it is a spiritual/legal contract for the rest of my life. I’m so confident about this, I’m going to sign the contract, and publically exchange vows in front of everyone I know, and spend a crap-ton of money on it.”

So, they’re serious, right? Not coerced or anything. They mean this shit.

But THEN. As sure as the sun rises and sets each day, one half of all of those people who did that get divorced. ONE HALF. Even though they’ve been married 5, 10, or even more years, share homes, financial resources, social circles, and children.

70% of those divorces are initiated by the wives.

Of the remaining half of people who stay married, what percentage of them report that their marriages are filled with love and happiness and contentment and mutual partnership and tons of life satisfaction?

I don’t know. But I know damn well there are a TON of unhappily married people.

Regardless of how many divorces actually occur, the MAJORITY of marriages fail.

I think it’s a crisis and not enough people are talking about it.

So we have this thing — marriage. It’s significant because 95% of people are affected by it.

And two people who, let’s be honest and real, are usually very decent, well-meaning people (not secretly masochistic or evil or plotting some huge emotional terrorist attack seven years from now to ruin the lives of spouses and children and extended families)… they’re failing.

They’re failing at the thing that matters the most, hurts the most, is the most significant and foundational thing in our earthly day-to-day lives. The people we live with, rely on, know best, share the most resources with, do the most for, get the most from, etc., etc., etc.

THOSE two people are so unhappy that they choose to end their marriage and go through a really difficult life event. According to the Holmes & Rahe Stress Scale, divorce is the #2 most stressful thing that can happen to a human being, following only the death of a spouse.

Divorce is a big deal. It hurts people and changes their lives PROFOUNDLY.

And I think I know why most divorce happens.

At first, it was a simple educated guess, and I wrote about it in the first-person because MY story, it turns out, is A LOT of people’s stories.

There wasn’t addiction, abuse, affairs, gambling problems, crime, etc. going on.

We were just two pretty smart, pretty decent, totally well-intentioned people who married at 25 and accidentally harmed one another over the course of our nine-year marriage.

That’s what MOST people do, Mary.

How do I know? I don’t. I don’t ever pretend to know anything, for sure. I just believe things like everyone else, but I try to come to these beliefs in a responsible way.

Perhaps second only to the Gottman Institute, I have a MASSIVE data sample of blog comments and emails.

“Oh my God. You’re describing my marriage exactly.”

“It’s like you’re observing my life.”

“Why aren’t more people talking about this? This is it exactly!”

Maybe you don’t think my conclusions are valid. That’s okay. People disagree about all kinds of things.

Wives, women, have PLENTY of culpability in the failing of marriage. Some are married to good guys who DO do the right things, and they’re largely responsible for the marriage failing. Others respond inappropriately and ineffectively to their husbands’ well-intentioned mistakes or misunderstandings.

But, in my humble opinion, MOST of the time, men behave in marriage as I did.

During a disagreement, we believe we are right, which means our wives MUST be wrong.

We constantly deny our wives the right to care about things we deem meaningless.

My most-commonly cited example is a dish left by the sink.

Any woman who would end her marriage over a simple dish left by the sink is an overly emotional, control-freak, nagging, hard-to-please bitch, right? Someone without her priorities straight?

But what about a man who hears his wife tell him dozens, perhaps HUNDREDS of times that something he is doing HURTS her? Causes her pain. Makes her feel unloved, unwanted and disrespected?

And each time, hundreds of times, over and over and over again, he says: “You’re crazy. You’re wrong. Your feelings are stupid. I’m not changing, because I don’t agree that the things I’m doing actually hurts you. It wouldn’t hurt me. So it SHOULDN’T hurt you.”

She can take it for a month. For a year. Sometimes for 10 years, especially when she has young children whose home she doesn’t want to break up.

But sooner or later, the levee breaks.

Sooner or later, when the person who vowed in front of everyone you both knew that he would love and honor you forever, tells you for the thousandth time that he doesn’t give a shit about your pain and suffering, and doesn’t value nor acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, you’re going to go find a better way to live.

Life is too short to have the one person who you committed to for life make you feel shitty every day.

GOOD men, with good hearts do this to their wives. They do it ALL THE TIME.

They struggle so much with the idea that their wives can actually feel pain and suffering from things that don’t matter to them.

A dish by the sink? Who cares, right?

She cares.

And when you tell her the things she cares about don’t matter, and you’re not honoring them, you destroy your marriage, no matter how much you “think and feel” love for your spouse.

It’s a fundamental lack of empathy.

It is a husband’s greatest crime. And the #1 cause of relationship breakdowns and divorce on the planet today.

It just is.

And if men got that shit buttoned up, 80%-plus of the “crimes” women commit in marriage would go away, because most of them are REACTIONS to men’s general lack of empathy and willingness to listen and communicate.

This isn’t about sexism.

This isn’t about blame.

It’s about math and reality and truth.

It’s about living through something painful and life-changing and sharing it with others in the hopes that they won’t ever have to feel the same way.

I hope it makes people uncomfortable. The hard truths always do. If people aren’t a little uncomfortable, I always assume that means they’re doing it wrong.

I’m sorry if you think there’s something wrong with that, or if you think I’m somehow making the situation worse.

This is how I try to help.

I don’t know how to not.

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The Taxonomy of Married Men, Vol. 2

loss of self-awareness

(Image/willemgous.com)

First we took Husbands, and split them into two groups — Good Men and Bad Men.

And this isn’t about “nice guys” versus “bad boys.” Non-conformist “bad boys” engaging in mischief with sometimes aggressive, daring and tough exteriors can still be very good men. We’re talking about character. Not personality type.

Women are often attracted to men who do bad things. But good, healthy people are not attracted to BAD people. (Think Adolf Hitler, not James Dean.) I’m comfortable saying that people should NOT marry, remain married to, or have children with fundamentally bad people.

(Read The Taxonomy of Married Men, Vol. 1 here)

So now we have Husbands who are Good Men, and we’re splitting them into two groups — Good Husbands and Bad Husbands.

Lots of good men are lousy husbands. Being a husband is a skill. Just like playing instruments, flying helicopters and performing heart surgery. A very good person can be bad at marriage. It’s an important distinction. Good husbands can’t benefit from anything I ever think or write, so we’re honing in on Good Men Who Are Bad Husbands.

We split them into two groups, as well: The ones who don’t know they’re bad husbands (which I guesstimate to be about 85% of all married men — yes, I’m serious about that), and the ones who DO know and are trying to be better (which mostly include men on the brink of losing their family, and in their desperate search for answers, realized as I did that they’d been accidentally messing up for all these years).

I’m operating under the assumption that no GOOD man could KNOW he’s a bad husband and intentionally refuse to alter his behaviors. Because that would make him a bad man.

Conclusion: Troubled Marriages Worth Saving Only Involve Good Men

I’m probably biased. I — perhaps delusionally — think of myself as a “good” man. I’m not always nice. I don’t always do the right thing. I certainly upset people now and then. But I know who I try to be, and I’ll share a humanity foxhole with anyone else trying to be this way too.

And I’ll go to bat for these husbands and fathers over and over and over and over and over again, if they demonstrate the humility and effort required to evolve on behalf of their wives and children.

And MANY men will.

The powerful influence of simple AWARENESS in our lives can’t be overstated. People are willing to change when they understand WHY change is needed.

Most men who repeatedly hurt their wives simply don’t know why the behavior changes are needed.

A good man armed with correct information changes the entire world for his wife and children.

Beautiful things. Hero shit.

And we should all be doing a bit more of that.

The Things Good Men Who Are Bad Husbands Don’t Know

For the same reason husbands sometimes believe their wives get disproportionally sad or angry over things that would never upset them (dirty dishes by the sink; Bree and Monica at work going to lunch without asking her to join, or simply his laid-back non-committal attitude about upcoming weekend plans), wives sometimes have trouble believing their husbands aren’t fully aware of how hurt they feel.

It makes sense, too.

  1. She’s told him a bunch of times already. Using the very language they both have spoken their entire lives. She doesn’t remember saying it in code, or anything.
  2. She FEELS it. The gross feeling. The feeling that comes when we feel disrespected or unloved or outright rejected. Things happen. She feels shitty because of those things. Those things = Pain. His inability to understand how these things that make her life miserable make just as much sense and are just as valid as his inability to understand how things he considers to be harmless can cause pain in others.

Every Failing Relationship (With Good People) is Rooted in Unawareness

Good people simply do not hurt one another on purpose. We don’t.

We do it thoughtlessly, and our crime is not the thoughtless things we do, but rather our lack of respect for our partners’ expressed pain and our unwillingness to put forth the energy to changing whatever’s required for the pain to stop.

It’s the idea that changes the world. But most people don’t know about it.

Marriages rarely die from big, dramatic things. It’s death by 10,000 paper cuts.

What most married people — OFTEN husbands — don’t know is that what kills marriages, precipitating affairs and divorce, are an incalculable amount of moments pushing two people apart so minutely that we can’t detect that shift. Some cancer and heart disease goes undetected until the symptoms show up and it’s too late to save us.

That’s what marriage is, too.

We don’t work hard to avoid things that end our marriages because they don’t hurt enough to register with us as they’re happening.

It’s The Undetectable Death.

If two spouses find themselves arguing or fighting (without resolution) about these things, then The Marriage Death Watch has already begun:

  • Time spent watching sports and/or managing fantasy teams
  • Time spent playing video games or on their phone
  • Time spent working at a job
  • Time spent tinkering in the garage or in the yard
  • Time spent on any individual hobbies or interests which don’t include the rest of the family

These things are felt and interpreted by the spouse who is hurting as rejection and abandonment.

Men are most often the offending party.

He would rather play video games than play with his children. They miss him so much, and he doesn’t care at all. It hurts me to see my children rejected by their own father, she thinks.

Here’s the other big one:

He’s never romantic. EVER. He never tells me I’m pretty or makes me feel as if he’s interested in pursuing me. I have to beg him to come to bed, and he usually says no. If the choice is between me and watching football, he always chooses football. I don’t see nor feel evidence that my husband loves me anymore, she thinks.

Sometimes fears, anxieties and insecurities start to rear their ugly heads. Very little good has ever happened as a result of the stories we make up in our own minds to try to make sense of why the behavior of people we love makes us feel so bad.

Is he REALLY working late tonight?

Is he REALLY going to the gym?

Is he REALLY “just friends” with Joanna at work?

All the sudden, a decent man who works hard, tried to keep his body in shape, and has a respectful and professional relationship with a co-worker, creates feelings of uncertainty and suspicion.

And then, sometimes another thing happens.

She learns that he’s jerking off to internet porn on the family computer or on his phone. It makes her feel ugly and rejected in ways she’s never felt before.

Oh my God. I ask him all the time to come to bed with me, and he always says no. We haven’t had sex in over a month. And now he’s getting himself off while watching THAT on the internet? He PREFERS strangers on a screen and his own hand to me.

If you live a secret life, no matter how innocent you consider it since you’re “not hurting anyone!,” your marriage will probably end, and it will totally be your fault.

Spouses SHARE life. That’s the design. And when you deny or hide parts of yourself — no matter how innocent or noble you think it might be — things will eventually crash and burn.

You can’t NOT do the work of the shoveling coal in your marriage every day and expect your spouse to not notice since she/he MUST shovel enough coal to compensate for the deficit you leave.

The Good Men Must Wake Up

Like Neo in the Matrix.

It’s a little bit harder to see the world as it really is. Life is less convenient. But it’s Truth. And good men seek truth.

We are unaware.

We either stay unaware or become aware.

Once we’re aware, we make good choices. Selfless ones, that put those we love ahead of ourselves.

What we see looks convincing enough. It looks real. So when the person next to us reacts differently than we would, we scream: “YOU’RE WRONG!!!”

And that’s what ends us.

The simple, hard-to-detect realization that they’re not wrong. They’re just different.

Wrong is intolerable.

But different is beautiful.

And once we see the beautiful Different instead of the ugly and hate-inducing Wrong, our relationships can thrive.

It’s a story I keep telling over and over again, and maybe everyone who gets it is bored by it, but it’s too important to not talk about.

It’s the idea that changes the world. But most people don’t know about it.

It’s not a secret. There are simply so many people who NEVER think about this, that the idea never spreads far and wide enough to impact the critical mass of humanity we need for this to always be top of mind.

But someday, that’s going to change.

And all of the good men righting their shitty husband wrongs will be the catalyst.

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The Taxonomy of Married Men, Vol. 1

taxonomy illustration

(Image/aiim.org)

Tax·on·o·my – /takˈsänəmē/ – The classification of something.

Here’s the breakdown:

1. Husbands

All husbands fall into one of two camps, which for the purpose of this exercise, require defining.

A. Good men.

A good man is the kind of person you’d let spend the night in your house without hesitation. A good man can be trusted to care for your children and pets. A good man is generally kind, honest, reliable, respectful, polite, loving and demonstrates loyalty and commitment to his family, friends, co-workers, teammates, etc. A good man is not perfect. But his Pros in the character department far outweigh his Cons.

B. Bad men.

A bad man does not care — even a little bit — how his actions affect others. He hurts people physically and emotionally without remorse. He cons people in order to take advantage of them. He lies. Cheats. Steals. Rapes. Murders. Abuses. He is toxic to himself and everyone around him, and his toxic behavior is intentional. His behavior can legitimately be described as EVIL. He revels in chaos, drama and dysfunction. He takes pleasure in others’ pain. A bad man is a constant danger to himself and anyone near him. His Cons far outweigh his Pros.

I am not going to waste thought and space on men who are bad. I lack the maturity and patience to explain to a stranger who is unlikely to be reading this or to ever care what I say, why knowingly marrying, or intentionally remaining married to, a BAD man are shitty life decisions.

2. Husbands Who Are Good Men

All good men who are married fall into one of two camps.

A. Good husbands.

A good husband performs the duties of marriage with skill and competence. His success is usually most apparent to his wife, who often feels loved and secure every day of her life, and who loves and respects him in ways she’s only ever felt for her children and her very closest family members. He is often appreciated by his in-laws, admired by his friends and neighbors, secretly or not-so-secretly wanted by women who covet the things he provides his wife and family in their own lives, and has very little drama or life stresses at home with his wife and/or family as a result of human conflict.

B. Bad husbands.

A bad husband is shitty at marriage. No matter how GOOD of a human being he is, he blows ass at the complexities of human relationships. (Note: This puts him in the 95% of everyone who at times struggles with the complexities of human relationships. This does not make him stupid or incompetent or unfit necessarily for anything good men are suited for. It just makes him bad at marriage. Throughout human history, good men have been bad at many things, like singing and dancing, or constructing high-rise buildings, or playing the piano, or carving ice sculptures, or solving advanced mathematics.)

I am not going to waste thought and space here on men who are good husbands. They’re awesome. I appreciate them. I hope you do too.

3. Good Men Who Are Shitty Husbands

All good men who are bad husbands fall into one of two camps.

A. Men who don’t know they are bad husbands.

Either these men don’t know they’re bad husbands because they don’t know what shitty husbandry is and/or no one has ever taught him that he’s one, OR anytime someone (usually his wife) says that he is, he doesn’t actually believe it. (Note: I believe, of all married men in existence, the VAST majority — I’m talking 85-ish% — fall into this category.)

B. Men who know they are bad husbands but want to be good.

This is a very bad spot to be in, because to arrive here, one usually has to have a miserable, failing marriage wreaking so much emotional havoc, stress and anxiety in our home lives, that we FINALLY decide to ask ourselves the right question: What can I do to help fix this?

An Earnest Search for Answers Uncovers Life-Changing Truths

One night at dinner, my wife said: “I don’t know if I love you or want to be married to you anymore.”

I reacted poorly and selfishly, making it entirely about me. I pouted and started sleeping in the guest room, from which point every day got a little harder and more difficult over 18 months before she chose to move out and end our relationship. But months before that, something in me snapped. I wanted to — needed to — understand why this was happening.

I knew that I loved my wife. I knew that I wanted to stay married. And I thought because I was a good man, and because we shared a son, our entire adulthoods, a home and many friends, that we should be able to pull through.

All you need is love! Right? RIGHT?!?!

Wrong.

Just like being a good man and being a good husband can be mutually exclusive things, so too can love exist in the shittiest and most painful of marriages.

One night, I found myself reading a book called “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It”. The book is written by two long-time marriage counselors who used their experiences with clients and years of notetaking to explain common marriage problems and how husbands and wives commonly experience them.

The experience of reading about random married couples having IDENTICAL conversations and reactions as my wife and I had a profound effect on me, and set the stage for the fundamental shift from who I was to who I am.

Here’s What My Brain Did Afterward

Realization #1

Wow. Our marriage problems are so common that generic, made-up stories in a marriage book totally NAIL my marriage. These exact same marriage problems are affecting almost everybody.

Realization #2

If these marriage problems are this common, that means my wife and I aren’t somehow fatally flawed. We’re not NOT soulmates or freaks unfit for marriage. These marriage problems are practically universal and we don’t have to feel ashamed for having them.

Realization #3

If nearly all marriages suffer these common problems, then that means it’s foolish to get divorced with the intention of replacing your spouse with someone else. Because these same problems will ALSO exist with that other person. If my wife and I love each other, our son, and both generally prefer marriage to being single, the most logical course is to work hard on this marriage, rather than trying to start new relationships as middle-aged divorced single parents only to inevitably have to work hard on THAT relationship, but with the added suck of all the family and friends breakage, and losing so much time with our children.

The Most-Asked Questions of Hurting Wives

It’s one of two, but they both mean the same thing.

Either “You get it! How can I get my husband to read your stuff or understand what you now understand?” or “What could your wife have said or done to help you understand this before it was too late?”

Tomorrow, in Vol. 2 of this post, I’ll attempt to lay out what I perceive to be The Things Good Men Who Are Accidentally Bad Husbands Don’t Know.

But since it will inevitably cover plenty of familiar territory, you can get a preview by reading what I think is among my most helpful posts, Cracking the Code: 7 Ideas That Would Have Saved My Marriage.

It’s hard to be the guy desperately trying to save his family while his wife has checked out of the marriage because she’s been beaten down emotionally so much through the years without him — a genuinely good dude who simply sucked at marriage — realizing it.

And now he KNOWS. Now, he gets it.

But she’s done.

Few relationships come back from the dead. It’s a pill that’s hard to swallow.

But the value of understanding where we went wrong, how to avoid being shitty husbands in the future, and how to teach our children to have healthy and functional human relationships can’t be overstated.

I have to believe all the good men will agree.

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Poor Meal Planning Can End Your Marriage

(Image/quickenloans.com)

(Image/quickenloans.com)

“My DH (Darling Husband) makes me want to kill him over dinner. Kill him. I don’t know why 30 minutes that occur exactly the same way each day can drive us to such rage. Marriages would be so much better without dinner.” – A wife, speaking for many

Before my wife and I were married, we sometimes fought about dinner plans.

I thought it was stupid and wasn’t afraid to say so. Like: Just eat food! Who cares?! I thought.

Figuring out what to do for fun, making sure I was getting to class or work, keeping my schedule clear for Cleveland Browns football games—now THOSE were important.

Having a conversation about what we were eating later that night, or God forbid, later in the week? Who in the hell could ever know what they might want? Why would someone subject themselves to that? And why does it matter?

I didn’t care. It’s because I was 21, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, pasta with canned sauce, Hamburger Helper, fast food, pizza, Chinese takeout, and boxed macaroni & cheese weren’t just acceptable—they were awesome.

But she cared. “We can’t eat the same three things every night. People eat dinner, Matt. Eating dinner requires a little thought as to what might be needed from the store to make those meals.”

It all came back to me while reading this comment on an internet message board:

“My H seems to think that dinner is magic and just shows up. No planning, no groceries required, etc. When I ask him on Sunday at 8 a.m. what he wants for dinner, he gets all annoyed. Um, I have to defrost or go to the store. Thanks,” she wrote.

I remember getting annoyed about things like this, too. I’d be watching or reading or playing something, and then my girlfriend/fiancée/wife would have the audacity to ask me what I wanted to eat for dinner.

Sometimes the easy and delicious path of least resistance like ordering pizza would win the day. Other times it wouldn’t because she wanted to, like, eat vegetables and stuff.

On the list of Common Marriage Domestic Disputes I perceive wives to be “right” about that accidentally selfish shitty husbands should come around on if they want to stay married, Dinner was the first one to rear its head in my relationship, and one of the few I actually did a decent job of adjusting to through the years, but maybe that’s only because I have a legitimate passion for cooking.

Dinner is one of those things that starts the long, slow, nearly imperceptible fracturing and eventual breakup of marriages.

It seems like such a harmless and innocuous topic. An argument about dinner? DINNER?! That’s one of those topics boyfriends/fiancés/husbands get pissed about once it transitions from Typical Disagreement to Actual Fight.

Ummm. I LOVE you. LOVE. Stop starting fights over stupid crap like food! Your warped sense of reality is really disturbing!

We do love them, us oblivious guys. But we also think anyone who would FIGHT over what to have for dinner has serious issues. We think we’re cool for giving her a pass. We think we’re loving for staying with her even though this is one of those “batshit-crazy” moments.

Because someone linked to one of my posts in a message board thread, and I clicked on it to discover what it was about, I stumbled on this GBCN (Goodbye Cruel Nest) thread where the original poster asked the community if she was overreacting to a situation with her husband.

The quick-and-dirty version is that she does most of the domestic heavy lifting around the house, mostly taking care of their daughter, and mostly always taking care of housework and dinner prep. For a short time, their routine was interrupted when on Tuesdays, she couldn’t get home until 8:30 p.m. instead of the typical 7 p.m.

When she’d come home and there was no food prepared or thought put into dinner, she asked if he could do that moving forward, and was surprised he hadn’t thought of it on his own. For a few weeks after, he did.

Then, another Tuesday rolled around, and when she got home—no dinner. He forgot, he said.

“It just seems very ‘clueless husband’ to me to be all ‘oh, dinner? you don’t say!’ especially after I have laid out my expectations to him in the past,” she said.

I started reading through the thread.

I was struck once again by how common these Shitty Husband traits seem to be. I thought it was interesting how many wives reported “We’re married to the same husband!” but it didn’t really surprise me because these patterns emerge in divorce story after divorce story to the point where it all starts to look depressingly predictable.

Five different wives (speaking for many!) said essentially the same thing:

“I would be annoyed but that sounds like my husband exactly.”

“I would be mad, but this is totally something my H would do.”

“In short, yes it would drive me crazy, because I’ve seen it happen in my house before. But I’d probably just remind him (‘nag’) over and over in the future.”

“My husband is lovely, but spacey sometimes, so I find it most effective if I articulate expectations.”

“If I don’t spell it out, he’s clueless. He admits this and welcomes a list so he knows what to do. Why stuff that is so simple to us is so difficult for them, I’ll never understand.”

This is hard for wives to understand sometimes, and I don’t know how to explain it, but I’ve tried. I don’t know why it’s so common for men to be oblivious, thoughtless and clueless about things like this.

Probably some combination of parental enabling while growing up and poor boundary enforcement from their partners early in relationships.

Divorce. It’s What’s for Dinner.

Will she REALLY leave you, break up your family, and start a new life because you leave dishes by the sink?

Yep.

And she’ll do the same thing over your failure to help with dinner.

“It would bother me immensely. IMMENSELY.” – A wife, speaking for many

And divorce is so much shittier than meal planning. It really is.

The original author of the dinner post asked whether her anger was justified. Like, borderline-divorce-level pissed.

82% said yes. 93% said yes or maybe.

“The helpless husband act makes me rage. A grown man should be able to use his own brain and realize dinner is a thing that he needs to take care of.” – A wife, speaking for many

When husbands blow off their responsibilities around the house, no matter how innocent the inaction was, nor how irrational they consider their wives to be, they make her feel one of two things: Rage or Like His Mom.

As those experiences pile up, things tend to end badly.

Bad News—You Don’t Get to Dictate What Matters to Other People

I don’t know whether it’s because I was smart, but immature and unwise; or because I was a monumentally huge asshole with zero self-awareness; or because I was actually a dumbass moron, but I used to think my opinions about things were a fair metric for evaluating situations and how I should treat people.

I think I still do this, but tend to recognize it much faster than never, as was the case back then.

My wife was upset about DISHES. How petty! I’m right and she’s wrong, so now I don’t have to care about the thing that’s upsetting her!

My wife was upset about DINNER. Her capacity for love is smaller than mine, therefore SHE is the one who sucks! I know how to really love in marriage and she doesn’t as evidenced by her valuing silly things like meal planning!

The crash back to earth is painful and embarrassing, but I’d encourage everyone to try the life strategy of not automatically assuming you’re right about everything, which forces you to assume the worst about the intellectual and emotional capacity of everyone who disagrees with you.

It’s not a good thing, especially since you’re probably wrong.

My wife wasn’t REALLY upset about the dishes.

“Guys, the point isn’t that [she] and her H could eat a quick dinner. It’s that she cooks on ‘her nights’ (i.e. every night they don’t eat out) and he doesn’t even think of dinner if she doesn’t remind him. It is not on [her] to come up with quick easy meals because her H can’t/won’t cook.” – A wife, speaking for many

My wife wasn’t REALLY upset about the dinner thing.

“I feel like we are giving the H all these excuses for why there was no dinner. We are giving him an excuse that maybe dinner isn’t important to him or not something he cares about.
It doesn’t matter. It was important to [her] that she eat. So even if she came home and he said ‘here honey, I made you a bowl of cereal’ at least it showed that he considered that she may want to eat. He didn’t even consider her needs. She got home and mentioned dinner and he acted like she suggested they paint the living room
Sometimes I make some dinner for my [daughter] and I and I know it won’t last for reheat but I always ask my H when he will be home or I suggest he get something at work because I didn’t make him anything. I always consider his empty stomach.”
– A wife, speaking for many

My wife was upset because when I had numerous opportunities to demonstrate—not even GOOD partnership—but simply EQUAL partnership which would have almost kind of-sort of come close to giving her as much as I was receiving, I didn’t.

It wasn’t intentional.

That was always my defense. Accidental neglect.

Accidentally killing people isn’t nearly as horrible as intentionally murdering them, but the result for the innocent victim is always the same.

A husband must learn to see past the dirty dish, and see past the forgotten or neglected dinner.

A husband must learn to anticipate needs, and actively care and empathize enough to take action, no matter how inconvenient.

That’s what it looks like to shovel the coal necessary to keep the train moving.

Unless, of course, he really misses eating those peanut butter & jelly sandwiches alone every night.

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Our Marriage is a Steam Train

Steam Train

(Image/w-dog.net)

Our marriage is a steam train.

Like the old locomotives responsible for most long-distance travel and supply shipments from the early 1800s through the middle of the 20th century.

Our marriage is a steam engine-powered train requiring that coal be shoveled into the firebox to keep the fire burning, the pistons pumping, the wheels churning, and the train in motion.

Even before we were married, our relationships were steam trains. But then, keeping the locomotives moving was easy.

Then, the engine is only pulling a few cars. Your fuel source, filled right to the brim and easily accessible. The only other weight comes from whatever train cars are needed to hold all of our baggage.

We’re often in our twenties; sometimes just teenagers. We are youthful, full of energy, strong, and dragging very little baggage behind us.

The steam engine doesn’t require much coal, because it needn’t work hard to pull the lightweight and low-baggage train down the track.

Sometimes, he shovels in a little coal to keep the fire burning. Sometimes, she does.

Everything feels easy.

This train will never stop, we think.

We Get Married Which Adds More Train Cars

Marriage isn’t like having a Forever-Girlfriend or Forever-Boyfriend. It’s something else. Something harder. Something requiring more work and sacrifice.

He shovels more often. Larger piles to help pull the extra weight. New relationships thrust upon him. Her family. Her friends. Her job. Her needs. Her wants. Her dreams. The train is heavier. So he shovels more.

She shovels more often too, for all of the same reasons. The train is heavier now. So she shovels more.

They’re working together. In tandem. And the train chugs on.

We Have Children Which Adds More Train Cars

Children join the train. Many more cars are added to accommodate them and their needs. Life mistakes are made. Guilt and shame. Fear and anxiety. More train cars.

Children consume our hearts and sometimes we give less of them to our steam engine partners as a result. More train cars.

Children consume our time and sometimes we give less of it to our partners. More train cars.

Children consume more of our money, and financial stresses add more weight. More train cars.

The train is now very heavy, but there’s plenty of momentum.

The Shoveling Schedule and Efforts Seal Our Fate

When both partners shovel, the train hums along.

Sometimes, one partner sets down their shovel. There are many reasons why.

Maybe one of us is going back to school to advance our education and career, so one partner says “You go ahead and tend to that. I’ll keep the train moving.”

Maybe one of us switched jobs, and it takes us away from the shoveling.

Maybe we get sick. “You go ahead and heal. I know you’ll help me shovel again once you’ve recovered. I’ve got this.”

Maybe we suffer a death in the family, and collapse emotionally. One must tend to the fire while the other regains their strength.

But with each new life event, new train cars are added, and the locomotive gets heavier and heavier. As the weight of marriage increases, the relationship requires even more effort to keep it moving forward.

More communication. More empathy. More sacrifice.

More shoveling.

So long as that fire keeps burning, the train moves forward. Sometimes trudging along slowly. Sometimes at a comfortable pace. And when we’re fortunate to come to downhill track grade, things seem to flow very smoothly.

Until it’s time to move uphill again.

The train will keep moving so long as there’s someone manning the engine and willing to shovel coal.

When both partners are shoveling, things run smoothly, though much effort is involved.

When both partners communicate and coordinate a strategy for a mutually beneficial shoveling schedule where one person is willing to shovel while the other tends to another important life need, or is in some kind of recovery period, things still run.

When one partner stops shoveling, but the other is willing to press on, shoveling and sacrificing for everyone on board, the train presses onward, though unsustainably. Because the next uphill climb eventually gets here, and one exhausted shoveler inevitably collapses trying to keep the now quite heavy locomotive moving forward on her or his own.

It’s simple enough.

It’s just very difficult.

A steam engine requires shoveling to keep the fire burning, and all of those heavy parts in motion. Certain sections of track require more power, and more power requires more sacrificial work. Shoveling coal is hard.

Which is why it’s a two-person job.

When we both shovel, we move forward.

When we both cannot shovel, we communicate and work cooperatively to keep moving forward.

When one of us stops shoveling out of necessity, the other must work harder and give more to keep moving forward.

When one of us quits shoveling due to exhaustion or selfishness, the other must work harder and give more to keep moving forward.

When both of us quit, the fire burns out, the train grinds to a halt, and everyone has to find a new way to carry all of that baggage to wherever we’re going next. We’re no longer part of the same passenger list.

When both of us quit shoveling, the ride is over.

Our marriage is a steam train.

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Who is Worthy of Your Love?

(Image/loveisrespect.tumblr.com)

(Image/loveisrespect.tumblr.com)

monthemoon asked (read the full comment here): “Hi Matt! I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, just before my partner and I split up. We are still living together due to circumstances, but from summer we will be living separately, and I am kind of looking forward to it. But I am also afraid.

“Apart from developing his empathy, can you think of any other way to make him realize he has to put his son first, specially after separation?”

I might be a bad father.

I don’t know. I don’t know who gets to decide. I don’t think his mom would call me one. I don’t think anyone close to me would call me one. And I’m certain my son wouldn’t call me one.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t so.

The list documenting my failings as a father is long and distinguished. That might not make me “bad.” That might just make me typical. Who can say?

When we fail our families, sentencing our innocent children to lives without both parents at home, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we’ve fallen short as parents.

When we force our spouses to choose between keeping the family together and suffering in masked silence for years, or ending the marriage risking judgment from family and friends, and emotionally damaged children because THAT somehow feels like the better choice, we have failed our children.

There’s nothing inherently gender-specific about this, but I have no qualms about calling out men as the primary culprits here. It’s because — no matter how much we’ll deny it — there are many things men love more than their wives and children.

It’s all psychological, of course. Most husbands and fathers are GOOD MEN. And they think and feel “I love my wife,” and they think and feel “I love my family.” But when it comes time to choose between getting down on the floor to play LEGOs or to cook pretend-dinner in the play kitchen or have a dinosaur battle, and whatever else feels EASIER or MORE CONVENIENT, we often choose the latter.

“Sorry, kid. That sounds like so much fun, but dad is really tired after a long day. You just play alone while I do this thing by myself that I’m prioritizing over you. I’ll engage you in bond-forming one-on-one activities some other time, because I’ll probably have a lot more energy then. We have all the time in the world to build life-long parent-child bonds. We have all the time in the world to make you feel loved and safe.”

If what you do matters more than what you say, then I was divorced for about a year before I actually started putting my son first in my life.

From the moment I learned about the positive pregnancy test, I always said — and actually believed — that I was putting my child first.

I’ll do anything for my family, we think. Because we’re dads and husbands, we take that job seriously. But then we choose other things over dad and husband things because it’s easier or seemingly more fun in the moment. Sacrificing the later for the now. Like the kids whose lives turned out worse after choosing immediate gratification in the Stanford marshmallow experiment.

Sure, we feel blindsided when our wives leave us and file papers.

Sure, we feel surprised when our children question our love for them during future disagreements.

Our brains automatically search for any explanation that will take away our responsibility. We’ll concoct any story that makes something the fault of someone else, and not ours.

Maybe that’s all people. Maybe that’s just mehhhhhhhh fathers who think they’re great parents. Or maybe it’s just me.

But today I know better, and apologize for the finger pointing. We’re NEVER the only one doing, thinking, believing, or feeling anything. There are always others in the boat with you. Knowing that helps me feel better sometimes.

You’re Probably Forgetting About the Hourglass

Don’t be afraid. Everyone is in this global boat large enough to hold every living thing from the beginning of time ‘til the end.

But, it’s true. You have an invisible hourglass attached to your life.

Just like that person standing over there.

Just like your friends and enemies and family and co-workers and the strangers you pass on the street and the people you scream at when they cut you off in traffic.

Just like your children.

We all have an hourglass that is ALWAYS dropping sand from the top to the bottom, and when that last granule falls, we will take our final breath.

Then, gone.

Our hourglasses live in a dimension beyond sight. So we don’t usually know when the sand is going to run out.

As I’m writing this sentence, someone young and who was thought to be healthy is dying unexpectedly. It’s a statistical certainty.

Living fearfully is no way to live. That’s why it helps to be mindful of the boat. How we’re all in it. This isn’t A way. It’s THE way.

But living mindfully of it? I think that might be important.

Two years ago, I learned about a beautiful little girl named Abby with a disease that has no known cure. I was blogging about some personal things with an ungrateful attitude. And then Life saw fit to introduce me to the story of two parents who lose a little bit of their daughter every day.

I called it a Godsmack. That’s what it felt like.

Maybe no matter how long and hard my day was, playing with my son is the best use of my time because of all the parents whose top wish would be to do what I’m taking for granted.

Maybe if I knew the world was about to explode, all I would want is to hold him tight to try and demonstrate my love one last time.

And maybe the things we should spend the most energy on in life are the things we would do during the final countdown. (No. You’re not the only one who just sang the Europe song.)

This is a Parent’s Most Important Job

With the exception of parents with deeply held spiritual beliefs about salvation and an afterlife whose life mission centers around helping their children achieve it, our earthly life-focused parenting has ONE job beyond meeting basic life needs that seems more important than any other.

The thing we must do for our children is help them KNOW they are worthy of love and belonging.

That’s it.

That’s our most important job.

Most of life’s negative experiences are rooted in us doubting our value or worthiness. Because of a million little things that happen to us as children at home and school, and all we observe as others around us succeed, achieve and acquire things we want but don’t have, and all of the rejection and failure we experience in our relationships, and social circles, and academic pursuits, and work lives.

We don’t celebrate failure as the interesting and valuable mistake it really is — another opportunity to grow and change and improve on our pursuit of mastery. We’re terrified of it and what it will make others believe about us. We fall short all the time. And then we assume everyone thinks we’re huge stupid losers because of failures, big or small. And then we tell ourselves stories about those failures and our self-narrative becomes one of failure, and self-doubt.

We’re not good enough to be happy.

We’re not good enough to be accepted.

We’re not good enough to be loved.

Sorry, kid. You’re just not tall enough. And you never will be.

That narrative is believed by a frightening amount of people. The majority, I believe.

Poverty. Crime. Abuse. Infidelity. Addiction. Suicide. Divorce.

These things often happen because someone doesn’t believe they matter. Because they don’t think they are worthy of love. Because they don’t think they belong on any of the boats.

But we are worthy. And we do belong. And that realization eludes many of us for many different reasons.

As parents, we mustn’t let that reason be because we failed our children in a moment that seemed inconsequential to us while not realizing it means the world to them.

She asked: “Can you think of any other way to make him realize he has to put his son first, ‘specially after separation?”

It took me losing my family.

My wife.

And half of my son’s childhood. I estimate AT LEAST seven years, since he was not quite 5 when the marriage ended.

Whatever must happen to ensure he and I stay connected once he leaves the nest? That window is closing fast.

Once this father realizes it, he’ll either care enough to do something about it, or he won’t.

Or maybe he simply doesn’t feel worthy of his son’s love. Maybe he doesn’t feel he deserves that.

Because like so many of us stopped by the Must Be This Tall To Ride gatekeepers, he simply never got the memo: That sign is bullshit.

He’s always been tall enough.

And now his life’s most important work is about teaching his son that too.

Just like you.

Just like me.

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Is Your Spouse Hurting You On Purpose?

albert einstein the power of asking the right question

(Image/CoSchedule)

Pain sucks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was months into divorce before the truth found me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to KNOW Whether Your Spouse is Hurting You on Purpose

You ask them.

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

We rarely ask ourselves or others the right questions.

What are the right questions?

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

better way.

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

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

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

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

‘What Question Should I Ask?’

Great question! I think it has a simple answer.

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

Or.

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

Or. (A more cooperative exercise.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Things Men Love More Than Wives and Children

daddy wasn't there

Many guys are afraid of committing to relationships.

Maybe it’s because we know there will be work and sacrifice involved and it scares us. Or maybe it’s because we’re afraid of never having sex with a new person again. It could also be because the average diamond engagement ring costs $6,400; the average wedding costs $30,000, but the average 30-year-old guy’s (median age for first-time grooms in the United States is 29) salary is just $40,000.

Maybe we crave “freedom.” Or maybe so much of our self-identity is wrapped up in ourselves as individuals that we psychologically have trouble letting go of that even when we feel strong emotional bonds with another.

If you are a husband and a father, what is it that you rank higher on your My Life Priorities list than your wife and children?

Maybe we realize that divorce is mathematically a 50-50 proposition and since we watched our parents go through it when we were kids and suffered emotionally and logistically for it, we’re just super-cautious because we don’t want to make a mistake.

I was afraid to propose to my girlfriend.

I have trouble sometimes committing to what to eat for dinner, or what to read or watch after. I was 23 years old and terrified about getting married and then getting divorced like my parents did.

But girlfriends have fears, too. And sometimes young women dream of marriage and family, and then see many of their girlfriends getting engaged, and sometimes start to feel pressure to figure out that part of their lives. It’s a pretty big deal, so that makes sense to me.

Maybe that’s how my girlfriend felt. Like if I wasn’t going to commit, that she needed to know, so she could make an informed decision about what to do for the rest of her life.

Maybe a lot of young couples go through that.

And maybe a lot of other guys feel like I did: I’m running out of time, and if I’m unwilling to commit, I’m probably going to lose her.

We’re scared, sure. But at some point, it comes down to which is the greater pain. Letting go of all those commitment worries, or letting go of her?

The fear of losing my girlfriend was greater than my fear of losing whatever I was worried about losing by promising her forever.

Perhaps ironically, we were engaged on Independence Day in the U.S.—July 4, 2003. We were married a little more than a year later.

Men Take Vows Seriously, Too

Despite all of the fears and stresses and discomfort associated with marriage, a young man, with a million previous opportunities to walk away, psychologically approaches his wedding day with the mindset that he’s making the right choice: I love her. Who would I ever find that’s better? Why would I want to? This is the right thing.

I have a difficult time believing more than maybe one percent of people exchange wedding vows knowing secretly in the back of their minds that they don’t intend to fulfill them. Divorce is awful. And good marriage is very good. Almost nobody is rooting for dysfunction and heartache.

They want it to work. They want it to be good. Forever. And when we say “I do,” that’s what we all believe will happen.

Soooo, WTF!?

Yeah, I’ve been wondering that, too.

After all of that hand wringing and internal debate and deliberately choosing marriage and making the personal and financial sacrifices necessary to do so, why do so many of our marriages end up broken and shitty? And why do men so commonly engage in repeated and predictable behaviors that frequently doom their marriages?

These questions should keep us up at night, because it seems infinitely more difficult and complicated than it should be, and if any genius psychology experts are reading maybe one will try to explain it.

Because I think I know something. And it doesn’t jibe with the fact that 99% of marriage proposals come from the future grooms in the 6,200 weddings which take place daily in the U.S.

Most Men Who Go Through That Process Will Tell You His Marriage and Family are His Highest Priorities

There’s a chance I’m not getting this right. There’s a chance that maybe 20 percent of husbands and fathers would look you in the eye and say: “No. My wife and family are #4 on my list. My motorcycle, my social life, and golf are the top three.” or “My wife and kids? In terms of their importance in my life? Hmmm. Video games are more important. I missed my son’s surgery the other day for a work meeting. And there are a few other things I would always choose over them. But they’re definitely in the top 10!”

A deeply religious man would probably tell you that he puts God first, but I think you’d find that that humility serves him well in his marriage and his relationships with his children.

But, generally? I’m looking for an answer to the following question:

If you are a husband and a father, what is it that you rank higher on your My Life Priorities list than your wife and children?

My smart friend wisely observes that men often view their role as husband and father through the prism of being a provider, and then use that self-perception to justify putting so much energy into money-making endeavors, followed by taking recovery time for themselves to gear up for another hard day tomorrow.

And you know what? I’ll even buy that a little for those guys hammering out 60-plus hour weeks and providing high-end financial opportunities for their wives and children which grants them experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have, especially when both husband and wife mutually agree to the arrangement.

But let’s be real, please.

That’s not typical.

Most of the time, wives and mothers do MUCH more of the unpaid adult work required to maintain family life, and frequently make as much or more than their husbands. My wife and I were essentially 50-50 financial partners for the majority of our marriage, and the majority of my social circle is comprised of couples like that.

I get the same email several times per week: “Any time I say anything, he just gets defensive and accuses me of never being happy. I do everything at home with a 40-hour-per-week job. And I could almost live with it if he’d put more energy into the kids. But while they’re so happy to see him and want to play with him when he comes home and I’m making dinner, he always ends up playing on his phone, or the computer, playing a video game, watching something on TV, or whatever. It’s ALWAYS about him, and never about us.”

After she cleans the kitchen, bathes the kids, gets them to bed, starts a load of laundry, and mentally manages grocery lists, school needs for the kids, along with not losing sight of whatever needs done at the office tomorrow, she’s totally spent by the time 9 p.m. or whatever rolls around.

Maybe when she walks back through the kitchen an hour after cleaning it, she finds crumbs on the counter or a dirty glass by the sink.

Maybe when she collapses on the living room couch, announcing that she’s going to take a bath and go to bed, he absently says: “Okay. Goodnight,” without taking his eyes off of the football game, or looking away from his video game.

Or maybe he asks her whether she wants to fool around, and then acts frustrated when she doesn’t want to. Or maybe he keeps his frustration a secret and then jerks off to internet porn for her to discover later as one more thing to make her feel like she’s trapped in My Life is Shit World, with the only obvious means of escape being murdering him, killing herself, or divorce, the latter of which she’s beginning to fantasize about.

Thousands of people have told me almost this exact story.

To a certain degree, I lived almost this exact story.

It’s because it happens all the time.

And I’m trying to figure out why.

Someone answer the question. Maybe you, Married Guy Who Does These Things.

When you rank everything in your life in order of importance, where—if not the top—does your wife and family sit?

And if, as I suspect, you really believe your marriage and children to be the most important and precious things in your life, then I have just one other question:

What are you waiting for?

…..

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