Tag Archives: Fighting

Maybe Jesus Was a Lousy Carpenter

bad fence

“Thanks for building our fence, Jesus. We promise to leave you a fair review on the Angie’s List bulletin board next time we’re in town.” (Image/Home Services by Gary)

I don’t know whether things like building inspectors or mechanisms for people to leave positive and negative customer reviews existed in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.

But maybe in the Nazareth town square there was a bulletin board of some kind where townspeople could leave reviews.

“Ezekiel the shepherd did an amazing job! He took our goats and pigs from Town A to Town B in just a few weeks’ time and he only ate three of our goats to survive! If you need a shepherd/goat herder for a cross-country flock transfer, Zeke’s totally your guy!”

Or maybe.

“We hired Ishmael to help us harvest figs and grapes. He was the absolute worst. He showed up late every day, collected the fewest figs of any hired farmhands, and he was always walking around the property naked with nothing but fig leaves covering his privates! Gag me. Ishmael is a dirty, fig-stealing nudist, and we will NEVER hire him again!”

And, just maybe, Jesus of Nazareth was a subpar carpenter. Maybe in today’s online-review terms, he had a 2.3-star rating.

“Our family hired Jesus the carpenter to help us build a barn. And we feel morally obligated to say what an absolute gem of a guy he is. Literally, the most kind and patient person we’ve ever met. I was giving him crap about being late half the days he worked here, and Jesus calmly explained how he’d stopped on the way over to help some sick and hungry people, and by the time he finished explaining, I wasn’t even mad anymore! He’s amazing. But, we’d also be doing our neighbors a disservice if we overlooked Jesus’ work. I mean, the guy’s a BRILLIANT philosopher and demonstrates impeccable character… but good God, his miter joints and tongue-and-groove work are about as shoddy as we’ve ever seen. Forty-five-degree angles, Jesus! Amiright? Goodness. We’re going to have to redo half of the barn next year, and when we call Joseph, we’re going to politely request that he not bring Jesus along with him. The entire back-half of the roof is leaking water every time it rains! I’ve got buckets of water everywhere! Anyone know a guy who can turn it into wine? I need a drink!”

No matter what you believe about Jesus, I encourage you to consider that he might not have been an amazing carpenter.

I’m a long-time Jesus guy, so I had a little trouble dealing with the idea when I first considered it. But I think your life will suck more if you run away from discomfort all the time, so I hope even if you’re also a long-time Jesus person, you’ll let the idea roll around your mind a little.

It’s amazing the stuff we don’t think about. REALLY important things.

For many people in the world, Jesus is the focal point of their spiritual lives. PERFECT. SINLESS. DIVINE.

For many people, Jesus = God.

I insist we not have any religious or theological discussions on the matter. Because that’s not the point.

The point is: You’re a human being. And you’re a miracle. And you’re amazing. And you’re capable of doing incredibly beautiful and inspiring things, and I couldn’t believe in you more.

But you know what you also are? Thoughtless. Wrong. Confused. Misinformed. Misremembering. Flawed.

Those aren’t value judgments. Those are simply true things that come along with each and every one of our Welcome to Earth gift packs when we arrive.

And I think this is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT for people to understand about themselves—this idea that no matter how intelligent or healthy or functional we are, we get things wrong a lot.

When you KNOW you’re right and are disagreeing with someone else who also KNOWS they’re right, bad things tend to happen—especially when you’re in a romantic relationship or marriage with them.

I don’t think I’m going to blow the minds of anyone in the relationship counseling or family therapy space by identifying THAT as the root cause of the vast majority of relationship dysfunction and human emotional suffering.

And I can only think of two things that might help:

  1. Encouraging smart and healthy communication techniques.
  2. Encouraging people to start questioning their beliefs and holding them to the same level of scrutiny they’re applying to others’.

Every instinct in your body is to avoid doing this. You start rattling your inner Beliefs cage, and your whole world can feel unsteady.

But it’s what we’ve got to do. We must.

Uncomfortable Truths > Comfortable Wrongs

It’s the difference between being a slave in the Matrix, or living free in the Real World.

What Might You Be Wrong About?

I want to be SUPER-clear on something. I am NOT trying to challenge your core beliefs. Never. I promise. Those are for you and no one else.

But I think calling attention to things—VERY serious and sacred things for many of us—and then pointing out how thoughtless and careless we are with some of those beliefs can help illustrate how silly we can be. Ultimately, that silliness can cost us healthy relationships with those we love most, and lead to the most pain we can ever feel. The pain of breaking on the inside after your family or marriage or friendship is torn apart can feel infinitely more uncomfortable than can the process of challenging your own beliefs and assumptions.

NEVER FORGET—the truth will always hold up to intense scrutiny. Truth is truth. It CAN’T be proven false. So rest easy, truth seekers.

Santa Claus is my favorite example for this conversation.

I was wrong about Santa Claus. I believed totally and completely for about five or six years of my life that an overweight, bearded, jolly man in a bright red suit flew through the air in a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer, and delivered Christmas presents to every well-behaved child on the planet in one night.

I believed that even though I woke up on various Christmas mornings in Iowa, in Ohio, in Missouri, and in Florida when I was little that Santa magically always knew where I was.

I can’t remember what I did last Tuesday, but Santa could keep track of things like that. I was too young to realize that’s even more improbable than flying reindeer.

Santa was real. And there wasn’t a damn thing you could do to convince me otherwise.

Finally a holiday season came along where by that time I’d heard enough rumblings from friends via their older siblings enough times to finally have the breakthrough: Ugh. Our parents are playing Santa. That’s not a shot at parents. Nor a call to destroy childhood innocence, or a sense of wonder which we should all demonstrate no matter what.

But I have to deal in reality. I believed in something I felt certain was true. I later discovered it wasn’t.

Want your relationships to be awesome? Be mindful of the fact that you are capable of wholeheartedly believing in things that aren’t true. That realization allows us to demonstrate the humility necessary to experience healthy intimate relationships and cultivate meaningful, unbreakable friendships.

Jesus Might Not Have Even Practiced Carpentry

Thanks to white European artists becoming famous, having their work spread far and wide, and then having Europeans bring their homeland’s artwork across the Atlantic ocean 250 years ago, I grew up only seeing the images of Jesus I imagine most of you think of when you hear the name “Jesus.”

White guy. Long hair. Piercing eyes.

But Jesus was a Nazarene. He was Middle Eastern. I’m not pretending to know what he looked like. But I think we can safely assume it’s NOT like the images we all grew up seeing in the United States.

I had trouble with that at first. That was a little bit like the Santa thing.

Do you ever think about that no one ever even called him Jesus?

His name was Yeshu’a ben Yosef. After all of the translating from Hebrew-Aramaic into Greek, then to English, you end up with a name that’s the equivalent of Joshua or Jesus.

Christians grow up learning about Jesus working as a carpenter. Despite my juvenile jokes about him possibly doing shoddy carpentry, Jesus was likely not a contractor doing a bunch of framing and finishing work.

The original Greek word was “tekton.” Which is more like “craftsman” or “builder.” And when you start digging into all the word stuff, it’s not hard to see that Jesus may have always been more in the philosopher/teacher/Rabbi line of work “crafting” and “building” the following that evolved into Christian faith.

And if the image of a Middle Eastern man named Yeshu’a not practicing actual carpentry, OR maybe so, but not at a high level, can be so radically different from my lifelong image of Christ, ISN’T IT POSSIBLE THAT HUMAN BEINGS WHO DISAGREE WITH ME ON ANY SUBJECT AREN’T WRONG?

I’m not asking you to doubt your beliefs. I’m not asking you to abandon confidence or faith. And I’m NOT suggesting that your most sacred personal beliefs are like childhood beliefs about Santa.

I’m only asking you to allow yourself to be wrong.

About EVERYTHING.

I’m asking you to ask good questions with a curious mind and heart.

Not to create doubt and disconnection. To seek Truth and create lasting connection.

Mentally. Physically. Spiritually. Emotionally. With yourself. With others. With Life that we see and feel on Earth, as well as the Life beyond these bones.

Sometimes there’s Right. Sometimes there’s Wrong.

It’s hard to choose a path when we can’t tell the difference.

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

The Art of Conversation

(Image/gentlemansgazette.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You want to be heard. Being kind will help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Compose a Successful Critical Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Life delivered.

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

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

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How to Avoid Spit in Your Food and Get Your Spouse to Work on Your Marriage

Always Be Kinder Than You Feel

(Image/notonthehighstreet.com)

I lose control sometimes.

I don’t know whether I’m in the minority, or whether most other people lose it, too. I don’t go off the deep end into full-fledged insanity. I can prove it by showing you all of the non-murder and non-arson I committed following my separation and divorce.

I do feel emotional swings that probably register on the upper-end of the Emoswingomometer I just invented, but I have no way of knowing how other people experience their feelings.

Sometimes I yell at my son. He’s 7 and my favorite thing on Earth. And, even though I know raising my voice doesn’t help him learn lessons, and almost certainly contributes to unhealthy emotional responses, I still do it when I’m super-stressed and he does something that’s really, just, seven. There tends to be something really messy or broken to clean up afterward.

I say and think this a lot: Will this matter in five years? No? Then how much does it REALLY matter now? It’s a way for me to deal with anxiety or simply to keep life in perspective because everyone has their own hourglass, and their story ends when that last bit of sand falls from the Life bulb to the Death bulb, and we tend to not know when that will happen. We always assume it’s some future day so far away that it doesn’t matter, so we just live life taking it for granted. Even the most grateful person in the world probably takes being alive for granted—what?—98-ish percent of every day?

And that’s good. We shouldn’t be obsessed with death and freaking out all the time. But I do believe in being mindful of the perfect amount of death.

One of my favorite writers reads New York Times obituaries every morning in order to be mindful of the opportunity he has been given to be alive. He does it to maintain gratitude and as motivation to not squander it. Another of my favorite writers sometimes walks around imagining that everyone he sees is going to die soon as a reminder to treat them with kindness.

Morbid? A little. Foolish? No way.

What if we treated everyone we encounter as if they were going to die tomorrow?

But I Forget

I forget every day to do all of the things I’m supposed to. It’s either because I haven’t formed good habits, or because it’s impossible.

Sometimes I say really mean things to the driver of the car in front of me because they’re driving the speed limit. They’re literally doing ZERO WRONG THINGS and I call them some creative combination of the worst words I know because I’m in a hurry for something that probably doesn’t matter.

Will this matter in five years? Will this matter next week? Will this matter in an hour?

I need to get a grip. But it’s hard. I know it’s hard for other people, too. Sometimes people lose their shit and murder their entire family, and then shoot themselves, which seems like an extreme reaction to every possible thing imaginable.

I’m not going to beat myself up about it. The smartest psychologists in the world can’t agree on what REALLY happens to our biochemistry regarding emotional reactivity.

Sometimes, I even self-sabotage a little bit, like when my mom would ask me how much I’d like being grounded for a week, and I’d respond with something like: “Probably not as much as I’d like two!”

And then I’d be grounded for two weeks like an asshole who deserved it.

It feels good, though, right? To scratch that Fuck You itch once in a while?

My favorite exchange in the movie Good Will Hunting goes like this:

Will (Matt Damon’s character) is attending therapy sessions with Sean (Robin Williams’ character). Will is telling Sean about how his alcoholic foster father used to come home drunk looking to beat on his wife and kids.

Will: “He used to just put a belt, a stick, and a wrench on the kitchen table and say, ‘Choose.’”

Sean: “Well, I gotta go with the belt there.”

Will: “I used to go with the wrench.”

Sean: “Why?”

Will: “Because fuck him. That’s why.”

Whether we’re mad at a co-worker, our children, a business we believe screwed us, or our romantic partners—I think once in a while, all of us choose the wrench.

The Thing About Being Nice

Sometimes, I’m an asshole.

But. And this isn’t fair for me to say because I can’t substantiate it, but I really do believe it: I’m mostly—like, very mostly—NOT an asshole.

I care about things. I care about people. It seems like many people go through life completely unconcerned with how their actions affect others. You see it every day. Maybe you’re even the person accidentally doing it. I am sometimes.

I wanted to tell you about choosing the wrench and about me sometimes being a dick because, A. It’s true, but also B. I was hoping it would allow me a little leeway to also talk about me being nice without you thinking I was a totally hypocritical, holier-than-thou douchebag.

I think being nice is important. I think not being nice causes a high percentage of life’s problems, and exacerbates them close to 100-percent of the time.

Words Matter. Choose Wisely

Actions speak louder than words. What we do matters more than what we say. Kindness lives in our deeds, not our platitudes.

It’s why someone can punch his friend in the arm yelling: “You are the biggest dickhead I know!” and it’s fun and hilarious because of context, facial expression, and tone of voice; but the EXACT same thing can happen with it being the opposite of fun and hilarious.

But words matter, too. What we say, and HOW we say it.

Every conversation is a transaction. What do you want to accomplish?

When the restaurant server or kitchen messes up your order, what is it that you really want to happen next?

The waiter or waitress almost certainly didn’t intentionally bring you the wrong food. A member of the kitchen staff almost certainly didn’t read the order ticket and think: “I know!  Let’s give this person the wrong meal, so that maybe they’ll get mad, want free stuff, yell at us, complain about us on Facebook, and force us to throw food away.”

If the restaurant is conspiring against you, you should stop eating there and choose a different dining location. I think it makes sense to get mad at the front-of-the-house workers or kitchen staff if you can prove they brought you the wrong thing on purpose.

But restaurants only conspire against you when you’re an unreasonable prick.

So, they brought you the wrong thing and now you have choices:

  1. Try to get the meal you ordered and actually want by being nice.
  2. Try to get the meal you ordered and actually want by being shitty.
  3. Verbally abuse the server or restaurant manager because someone made an honest mistake, and you don’t care what happens with your food.

This is just one guy’s opinion, but if you verbally abuse people for one mistake when it’s illogical to believe they were trying hurt you, you’re a huge asshole. You are my least-favorite kind of person. You spend your life purposefully causing conflict and stress and making life harder and shittier for everyone around you. I try hard to figure out what motivates people to do things. It’s always helpful to understand what drives people. Sometimes when you figure it out, it makes sense, and you learn how to see things from a more balanced perspective, and then grow as a person. Sometimes people, with regularity, verbally abuse others when things don’t go their way. I understand that they have some kind of unmet psychological need to lash out. But to the rest of the world, it is merely being shitty for shittiness’ sake. It borders on inexcusable.

If you want to get the meal you ordered, but you want to be a dick about it in an effort to let them know you mean business, I submit you’re making a poor choice.

“Excuse me, waiter. I know you have the hardest job in the world and everything, but I clearly said I wanted this steak well-done. You see that? Does that look well-done to you?”

“I’m really sorry about that, sir. We’ll get that taken care of right away.”

“I’ve got an idea. Don’t be sorry. Just listen to what people are saying to you, so that maybe you can get a real adult job someday. Also, when you’re finished not screwing up my order, maybe you could bring us another round of drinks.”

That’s kind of a ridiculous example, but you get it. More often than not, people who witness it will think less of you, you’ll feel worse about yourself, and someone in the kitchen will spit in your food or “accidentally” drop it on the floor and laugh about it. And it’s a little bit hard to feel sorry for you because you were shitty.

If you want to get the meal you ordered, respect yourself, earn the respect of others, and become one of the staff’s favorite people who they want to do favors for, give free drinks to, and try hard to deliver your meal fast and spit-free, you should be nice. Smiling helps.

“Hey. I know you’re incredibly busy and have too many things to do, and I’m sorry to ask you this, but I ordered the pork shoulder, and this appears to be a fish of some kind. And, listen, I’m sure the fish is great, but I love that pork dish more than my family. Will you please help?”

“I am really sorry about, sir.”

“I promise I’m not mad at you. I understand that neither you nor the kitchen did it on purpose, and I appreciate your time and help. I probably should have told you about the pork obsession ahead of time.”

“Thank you so much for your patience and understanding. Can I bring you some drinks on the house while you wait?”

Pretty much everyone has experienced a restaurant messing up their order. We had a choice to make about how we were going to handle it.

I can’t figure out what the good reason would be to respond with unpleasant words or tones. EVEN IF you have to fake it because you’re secretly super-pissed, how does speaking and acting confrontationally improve the situation? How does it get you what you want?

This blog’s most frequently-asked-question is: “How do I get my husband to read these letters?”

Having never met any of these people, it’s really hard to answer that. I’m sure some of those guys are awesome and willing to make their wives feel secure and loved in their marriages. I’m sure there are others who are not.

In either case, how can “Ask him very nicely” not be the best answer?

“Hey Manfred. (Because all of them are obviously married to guys named Manfred.) I have a favor to ask you, but I want to explain a little bit. First of all, I love you. I love you and appreciate you for all that you do for me and for all the good things that you are.

“Secondly, I want to apologize to you. I’m sorry for anything I’ve done that might have made you feel unappreciated, or as if I was pushing you away. Because this favor I’m going to ask you might come off like I think you’re some horrible person, and like I think I’m perfect and amazing. Which of course isn’t true. I also want to apologize for not talking about this with you before. I just didn’t know how to bring it up.

“But listen, this is really important to me. This is our lives. We are not like we used to be. And I know it’s easy to shrug our shoulders and think this is just what happens to all married couples. All around us, people are falling apart because they ignore these changes. It seems like no one sees the end coming. It can’t happen to us, Manfred.

“Sometimes you hurt me. Badly. Sometimes I tell you about it, and we have a fight, and afterward I usually hurt more. But many times—and maybe you do this, too—I don’t say anything because I don’t want to fight with you, but then it just keeps hurting.

“I don’t believe you would ever intentionally hurt me. So it’s my job to help you understand what causes the pain, and up until now, I’ve failed to do that. You don’t hurt me on purpose, so some of this is on me.

“I read something that made sense to me. I don’t want to be like: ‘Hey, read this thing on the internet and then feel bad about it because you’re treating me like crap!’ I’m begging you to not take it that way. What I hope you will do is read this stuff in an attempt to understand why I sometimes get upset and you can’t figure out why. I know it’s frustrating for you when that happens.

“Please read this for me, and when you’re ready, we can talk about it, because I want to be married to you until we’re the oldest, gnarliest couple in the world.”

Again. Every conversation is a transaction. What is it that you really want to accomplish?

There’s a time for choosing the wrench.

And the other 99-plus percent of the time, there’s a time to be nice.

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Why Couples Always Have the Same Fight

(Image/Huffington Post)

(Image/Huffington Post)

There are always exceptions to the rule. People who never smoke sometimes die of lung cancer, and some smokers live to 95.

If he’s drunk and hitting his wife and kids, or she’s a serial cheater while faking a happy-wife façade; or addiction, mental health, or sexual abuse is involved in a marriage, this conversation changes.

But that’s not what usually happens.

What usually happens is two perfectly cool, sane, healthy, decent people get married—probably a little sooner than they should—with both innocently and naively believing it’s always going to feel just like it does right now. It’s basically just like being Forever Boyfriend and Girlfriend! We can do that!

They love one another. They pledge faithfulness genuinely. They exchange wedding vows with the best of intentions.

And then, like clockwork, more than half of them are totally miserable within five to seven years. One or both are having affairs, or at least thinking about it, because they just want to feel something again. He’s jerking off in the shower or to late-night internet porn instead of having sex with her. She’s crushing on pretty much any non-creepy guy paying attention to her and making her feel special because her husband never makes her feel important anymore.

They’ll eventually divorce, or possibly stay together “for the kids” in silent misery, ensuring that pretty much every day is shitty for the rest of their lives.

What the Fight Looks Like

Sarah asked me: “Do you have thoughts on WHY men are (typically) so quick to blame hormones when they feel as though the women in their lives are acting unreasonably? Is it that it can so easily be used as a copout (why look to yourself for answers when it is probably her problem)? Or is it that many men really believe we are total victims to our ovaries?”

And yes. I have all kinds of thoughts on why this happens. In fact, I’m pretty sure I know exactly why men and women seem like they’re always repeating the same fight over and over again.

And it shouldn’t be a secret because divorce is bad.

Here’s what I think happens:

She gets upset about something she thinks is important, but he doesn’t. It could be any number of things. Leaving dishes in the sink. Leaving laundry on the floor. Tracking mud through the house right after she cleaned. It doesn’t matter what the actual thing is.

What matters is that for the rest of the conversation, neither person is talking about the same thing, because neither person actually understands what the other’s (legitimate) problem is.

To the wife, this is just another example of him not respecting her enough to demonstrate thoughtfulness about how his actions affect her. It’s not really about the dishes or the laundry. It’s more about the general pattern of behavior.

But that’s not what he thinks the conversation is about.

He thinks she’s actually mad about the glass in the sink or the pair of pants he left on the nightstand.

He thinks: “What kind of insane person would want to have a horrible fight and ruin our night and make our marriage out to be a trainwreck over something as insignificant as laundry or a dirty dish? I am never this irrational! If she thinks laundry is more important than our marriage, her priorities are warped, and she must not love me.”

And she thinks: “I cannot trust this man. I can’t count on him. He does NOT respect me. He never apologizes for hurting me because he doesn’t think it’s a big deal. He always tells me how what I think and feel is wrong or dumb. I have all these feelings and I know I’m not crazy, but he NEVER acknowledges them as important or worth his attention. He thinks ‘proving’ his point and winning our arguments are more important than my feelings. He doesn’t care. He must not love me.”

Both husband and wife settle on logical conclusions that make a lot of sense. But both are also totally mistaken! And the only way for them to figure it out is to learn the secret.

Most people get so pissed with each other, they don’t even want to. They don’t WANT to figure out how to make him or her feel better. Because THEY are clearly the problem! My next partner won’t make me feel this way!

Before long, everyone stops putting effort into the marriage. Some people start sleeping with someone else. A marriage can survive on life-support for a while, with just one person making a go of it. But once both quit, it’s effectively over.

Most of us just aren’t strong enough to handle the mental and emotional anguish we feel when our marriages fall apart. Nothing in our lives up to that point could have prepared us for it. It’s all very new and terrifying, and there’s no instruction manual for what to do next.

A troubled marriage CAN be saved.

But since most husbands and wives don’t understand how one another actually work on the inside, the marriage breaks down imperceptibly slow—especially to the husband who has yet to connect the dots about what his wife is really upset about.

If the husband thinks the only problems in his marriage are teeny little fights over laundry on the floor or dirty dishes in the sink, he’s liable to be blindsided by the news she’s unhappy and contemplating divorce.

Wives feel like they’ve been really clear about their feelings up to this point. Yet, husbands are like: Wha-!? Why didn’t you say anything!?

Wives think he’s dumb and oblivious and disengaged.

Husbands think she’s gone off the emotional deep end once again.

Wives know their husbands are reasonably smart, so they can’t figure out how he could be so dense as to not understand her after hundreds of these conversations. She can only conclude that he doesn’t give a shit.

Husbands know their wives are reasonably smart, so they can’t figure out why she doesn’t acknowledge his perfectly logical conclusion: “Ummm. A pair of pants on the floor or an empty glass in the sink is NOT worth fighting over and further damaging our marriage! Why would she rather fight than keep the peace?” He can only conclude that she’s a little bit crazy.

He doesn’t know the laundry is linked to a hundred other things inside her, all of which erode her ability to feel safe and loved in her own home.

And she doesn’t know about his frequent feelings of shame and failure that stem from these fights due to his apparent inability to make her happy. If she’s always sad and frustrated with him even though he really does love her and really believes he’s trying his best, then he’s failing epically at the most important thing in his life. These constant feelings of failure are making him withdraw further. He’s losing self-confidence, because it seems obvious now that he can’t make her feel good anymore. She doesn’t look at me the way she used to. She doesn’t want me to touch her. She thinks I’m a failure.

If he doesn’t feel like he can succeed at home, or that he is even moderately respected or appreciated, he can never muster the energy the marriage needs.

The vicious cycle continues.

Unless something changes, the marriage is doomed.

[NOTE: I felt like I cracked a secret life code when I grasped this idea for the first time. I have to credit the book “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It” for putting me on the right path. Maybe it can help you or your partner, too.]

There’s a Better Way

The only way to fix this is for both partners to “get” it. To understand what’s ACTUALLY happening inside themselves and their partners. Because they’re speaking plain English to one another, and neither person knows what the shit the other is talking about. For the trillionth time.

There’s a fun little book called Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti which provides a lovely visual food metaphor to help people grasp the basic concept.

As a general rule, men are like waffles. Their thoughts and feelings are comprised of all these little individual compartments. And at any given time, he is dealing with the contents of one compartment, and one compartment ONLY. So when he’s talking about a pair of pants on the floor with his wife, he’s only talking about that pair of pants. All previous conversations are not part of this one conversation.

But his wife is actually talking about EVERY instance of something like this happening. She’s talking about the thousand other times because, generally, women are like spaghetti. And their minds and bodies operate in a way in which everything isn’t compartmentalized into individual boxes. Their thoughts and feelings all live in the same place where they are intertwined and wound around one another. It’s why the pants thing really matters to her. It literally hurts her. Because it proves you don’t love me or respect me, and I don’t have time to do all the laundry AND take care of everything for the kids because Kyle has a field trip Thursday and Valerie needs to get to her swim meet, and it hurts so much that I can’t count on you to make sure Kyle’s lunch and outfit and permission slip are taken care of, and tomorrow is the four-year anniversary of my dad dying, and yes asshole—it still hurts—because he was the person who always made sure I was taken care of, and then I trusted you to be that person for the rest of my life, and you don’t do it, and now he’s gone, and just—fuck you—for leaving me alone in my marriage.

Since the only consciousness we understand is our individual first-person experience, we all just assume everyone else sees and thinks and feels like we do. Your parents never told you otherwise, because they didn’t want you to know how many times they almost divorced or had sex with someone else. No one explains any of this shit to us in school because the Department of Education thinks obtuse triangles, The Grapes of Wrath, and the French and Indian War are more important than the information we need to have functional adult relationships.

Every couple who has the same fight over and over again (the vast majority, right?) needs to learn the science and chemistry of what’s happening during conflict.

Everyone’s having the same fight and no one can figure out why. It’s especially frustrating when they discover on their second and third partners that the same things keep happening no matter how many new relationships they try, because: Surprise!!! Wherever you go, there you are.

It never stops until a person makes the choice to try something else.

Thousands of years ago, we all lived in tribes and villages, and sometimes lions and bears and other tribes would try to attack, rape, pillage, and burn our communities.

Evolutionary science required that women’s bodies respond to threats the way they do to help warn of danger and protect the tribe.

Men were hunting and gathering and responsible for physically protecting the elderly, women and children in the village.

Evolutionary science required that men’s bodies respond to threats the way they do to accomplish that.

A lot of this stuff is hardcoded into our DNA because it was the only way for us to survive.

But now it’s 2015, and bears and lions and violent tribes tend to not attack us in our predominantly domesticated homes and schools and workplaces. All these involuntary emotional and chemical reactions we have to threats don’t help save our lives anymore because most of us live in houses with partners and children with virtually no chance of being mauled by a lion while we sleep in our beds.

All these natural tendencies humans developed over thousands of years now cause major communication problems between male-female partners who in no way benefit from the way their bodies chemically respond to conflict in their marriages.

Chemistry is powerful. I learned that in school while they weren’t teaching me how to be a good husband.

But we’re pretty smart. We are. And once we get it, we have a chance to recognize this little dance of insanity we do as it’s happening and stop it from growing into a monster.

We give ourselves a chance if we can at least understand what’s happening to us, and why we always feel a little frustrated and out of control.

We have no chance at all when we don’t know.

When we don’t know better, and just do what feels natural, everything breaks. You’re not the only person dealing with this. It’s happening to everyone else too.

And even when you recognize what’s happening and have a high-level understanding of it and what you should or shouldn’t do next, it’s STILL super-hard when you’re pissed off and your insides are all mish-mashed in fuckness.

In 2015, everyone who gives a shit knows how to lose weight. Simplest math formula ever.

Eat less + Move more = Weight loss

Yet, even though we’re the most enlightened we’ve been in human history, we still have a ton of obese people, rampant diabetes, and heart disease.

Even when you KNOW what should or shouldn’t be done, it still requires a level of commitment and discipline hard for flawed (that’s all of us) human beings to achieve.

A person shouldn’t eat bacon cheeseburgers and milkshakes every day and wonder why they never lose weight. That’s essentially what married people do who want to have a happy marriage but never bother to try a new way of doing things, in large part because they literally don’t know that pounding the metaphorical burgers and ice cream is dangerous and unhealthy.

That if it goes unchecked long enough, they’re all going to get sick and die.

They don’t realize it until they’re sick.

And they don’t want to change anything until they’re already dead.

…..

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A Failed Marriage, a Beautiful Son, and Tomorrow

father son hands

(Image/ashscrapyard.wordpress.com)

“Fine. I’ll just stay with mom all the time and you won’t see me anymore!” he said about seven years sooner than expected.

I can’t remember why he was upset with me. It’s usually because I denied him something he wanted.

He was 6 when he said that during a father-son fight more than a year ago. An occasionally angry little boy adjusting to a brand-new school and a brand-new life where mom and dad live in different houses. An occasionally angry father adjusting to the same.

I try to remember how I felt at age 5 when my parents split, but everything’s hazy. I remember bits and pieces. The moments. But I can’t remember me then. How I felt. But that’s no surprise. I can’t remember me five years ago.

I haven’t talked to any therapists about it, but my amateur self-evaluation is that my traumatic experience with divorce two and a half years ago is largely due to hypersensitivity related to also going through it as a child. I think some things I’d buried might have clawed their way up to the surface.

I was the only kid I knew whose dad lived hundreds of miles away.

I don’t know what parts of me—good or bad—are byproducts of that upbringing. I wonder whether living near, and coexisting well with his mother, might make his life better than mine.

I cried a lot in the weeks leading up to, and following, my marriage imploding. Everything hurts. And it scares the shit out of you when you figure out you can’t run away from it.

It’s there in your office meetings at work.

It’s there when you’re having drinks with friends.

It’s there when you visit family for the first time without your spouse and you’re totally drenched in failure.

It’s there in the house you shared with her for more than seven years.

It’s there when you look into your child’s eyes. The most beautiful, pure, innocent, precious thing you have ever known. And it’s your job, your mission, your solemn duty to provide him with the safety, resources, education and love required for him to have a chance at a life better than your own.

And you feel like you just helped destroy his family.

You’re afraid of everything and you’re carrying a mountain of shame.

You wonder how you can ever take care of him if you can’t even take care of yourself.

Maybe he deserves a better father than this, you think.

Maybe he does.

I was in his mom’s driveway helping him buckle his seatbelt—something he does now on his own—the last time I remember crying. Every child has a patented little frown that no other kid can make. All parents recognize it because it’s the one that makes your heart bleed. The corners of his mouth turned down. Tears fell.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I said.

“I just want you and mommy to live in the same house again,” he said.

And then you hold your breath and wonder whether your heart will keep beating. I knew he wished for that. He just hadn’t said it until then.

He’d been so strong and brave. Wearing his little mask every day like his parents used to while hiding a marriage on life support from family and friends.

You hold his little face in your hands and apologize harder than you ever have before. You pray your ex isn’t watching you from the window. You mutter silent Why me, God?s before remembering that you brought this on yourself.

When you neglect a garden, the plants stop producing. And the flowers wither and die.

I have a massive capacity for forgiveness. This doesn’t make me a good or virtuous person. I didn’t work hard to grow into a person who forgives easily. It’s a gift I didn’t earn.

It caused a lot of problems in my marriage. Because my wife and I would fight, and it was ALWAYS the same fight. I think maybe every couple has it.

Something I did or didn’t do would upset her, and she’d tell me about it. And instead of acknowledging something I had done hurt my wife’s feelings, I would get defensive and justify it. I didn’t apologize. Since I didn’t do anything intentionally, I didn’t owe it, I reasoned, and I’d go to great lengths to justify that, too.

Why is she always finding something new to complain about?

I think most husbands and boyfriends get annoyed about things their wives or girlfriends do, but because they don’t like to have “talks,” they avoid saying anything. Having a beer, or watching football, or playing video games, or going to work, or literally any other thing in the entire universe including taxes and dental work are less painful than “talks.”

I always viewed it as loving my wife enough to overlook her “shortcomings,” and was always perturbed I didn’t get that same courtesy in return. I didn’t have empathy for my wife’s feelings because I didn’t know she felt things in profoundly different ways than me. I didn’t have perspective because I ignorantly took my marriage for granted and thought winning battles was more important than actionable love.

She didn’t like that after a good night’s sleep I felt good and was ready to move on because she was still pissed about the unresolved thing.

These things piled up with each passing argument, and instead of acknowledging them, I’d stay defensive and complain that she was keeping track of all these supposed crimes and unloading them on me every time she was upset. I would never be so petty as to do that to her, I’d say like a smug prick.

I didn’t know that her way would have saved our marriage, and that my way was why half of all marriages fail, and why many that don’t are broken and miserable.

Maybe my son will get angry all over again when he’s old enough to recognize that. Or maybe because he’s a boy, he’ll empathize with me by default.

His mom is a grudge holder and is still angry with me about how our lives turned out. I sometimes feel it in those (now rare) moments when she gets upset with me about something I did or didn’t do as her co-parenting partner.

I don’t know how to stay angry. It goes away like magic even if I don’t work at it. But I think it’s opposite for other people. I think they don’t know how to not be angry. A burden they didn’t earn or deserve.

Maybe it’s just nine years of feeling unheard and invalidated all piled up into a mountain of shit too heavy and painful to always keep hidden.

Since there’s no such thing as time travel, our son is all that matters now.

Have we infected him somehow?, I wonder.

Is he secretly sad and angry?

Has he forgiven us?

Will he ever?

“Dad,” he says into my ear. “You’re the best dad in the whole world. If I could choose any dad out of every dad there is, I would choose you.”

He tells mom the same thing about her. And we believe him. He really would choose us.

Some combination of love and resilient childhood magic stirs inside him.

My handsome little second grader, rapidly approaching the day when I’ll no longer be able to call him little.

We crafted a small boat for him to race at a Cub Scouts function this past weekend. Win or lose, he showed maturity and graciousness in congratulating opponents. Losses left other kids in tears. My little man shrugged them off, knowing we did all we could.

One year ago, he was desperate for acceptance from the first graders in his new school. His mom and I worried privately about him being a social outcast because we’re not ingrained in the community the way most of the other families are.

Last year, kids didn’t chant our son’s name in support when it was his turn to race. This year, many did.

Last year, we worried about his social life. This year, every Cub Scout in his class came to our table at the event to sit with and talk to him.

We grow together, that boy and I.

Him—socially and academically. Me—emotionally and professionally.

He rifled through a deck of nerd cards during breakfast this morning. “Nerd cards,” being the little role-playing trading cards popular with kids (and some adults), but which I was too “cool” to play with when I was younger. Things like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Gormiti cards. The particular nerd cards this morning were Gormiti cards given to him by an older boy he looks up to. Gormiti, to me, feels like Wyler’s Flavor Aid to Pokemon’s Kool-Aid®.

You know—even lamer than the regular amount of lame.

I started teasing him: “Hi, I’m Tony Romo and I play Pokemon. And I’m arts-and-craftsy Tony Romo, and I play Gormiti.”

He half-smiled because he likes the DirecTV commercial I was spoofing.

And then I made up another Pokemon-is-better-than-Gormiti joke, and I saw his sweet little face do the patented frown thing, and he started to cry.

I felt like a dick.

I walked around the counter scooped him up, sat him on the counter and hugged him tight, because I’m not the guy I used to be.

“I’m so sorry, bud. Did dad just hurt your feelings?”

He nodded, so I hugged him again.

“Kiddo, you are allowed to like whatever you like, and I am so sorry if I made you feel like I thought your Gormiti cards were stupid. I think it’s awesome that your friend gave you those and I want you to have so much fun with them today, okay?”

I meant it.

He nodded that he understood.

Hands on my shoulders, he sort of pushed me back a few inches so we could look each other in the eye.

“I love you, dad,” he said.

He meant it.

Because he has a massive capacity for forgiveness, too. And God-willing, maybe now he has a role model for how to deal with hurt feelings in ways that can heal rather than divide. That soften hearts rather than harden them.

That, at the risk of oversimplifying humanity, might be the keys to making romantic love last.

The keys to the forever kind-of families.

The keys to healing the broken.

So that we can unlock tomorrow without fear of the unknown. Because we’re ready now.

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A Time for Fighting

(Image courtesy of HuffPo.)

(Image courtesy of Huffington Post.)

If I kill a pedestrian with my car while obeying all laws and cooperating with law enforcement, I am unlikely to be charged with a crime.

If I kill a pedestrian with my car while texting and drunk driving 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, I will almost certainly be charged both criminally and civilly with wrongful death and/or vehicular homicide. Even though it was an accident, a life might have been saved had I been more responsible.

If I kill a pedestrian with my car intentionally because I’m acting like a homicidal maniac, I would be a murderer and could easily spend the rest of my life in prison.

In all three scenarios, a person is dead because I hit them with my car.

But the consequences and whatever happens next all vary dramatically depending on the details.

If you’re my ex-wife and reading this, you’re probably annoyed because you’ve heard this one before and think I’m full of shit. And you wouldn’t be wrong to think so because I used this example in arguments with you when you were right and I was wrong.

The idea wasn’t wrong. I was just wrong to use it.

It’s a fact that I never intentionally—not even one time—set out to hurt my wife’s feelings. But, sometimes I hurt her feelings anyway. “It was an accident!” I’d protest. She’s overreacting AGAIN, I’d think. I didn’t MEAN to hurt her feelings, so she shouldn’t be so mad at me!!!

But I didn’t know then something I know now, and I wrote about it in An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10.

The “intent” argument only works the first time.

If you’re out hunting and you fire a shot that accidentally kills someone in a nearby home you didn’t realize was there, you are unlikely to be charged with murder or homicide. Because it was an accident.

But if you go out hunting again to that same spot and accidentally kill a second person due to negligence? Have fun in prison.

My crime wasn’t hurting my wife’s feelings the first time. An accidental one-time offense is almost always forgivable. My crime was hurting my wife’s feelings repeatedly, even after she explained why it was happening.

Because I don’t respond to things the same way she does, I never really changed, and expected her to adjust to my “correct” way of thinking and feeling and behaving.

In other words, if you’re not willing to set aside stubbornness and defensiveness and pride in order to not inflict emotional pain on your spouse, you’re being an asshole. You get a pass the first time. Apologize and try again. But if you keep doing it and she keeps getting upset and you keep trying to convince her YOU’RE right, and SHE’S wrong?

You’ll be the captain of the masturbation squad in no time. (The implication being that she or he will stop having sex with you because you’re doing a bad job.)

There are two points I want to make and they somewhat contradict each other which is always a problem.

1. INTENT MATTERS

Accidents and malicious intent are not the same thing, and if you treat both the same (with me), we’re going to go rounds.

And I think people need to establish strong personal boundaries and draw the line where they’re not going to let other people mess with, or manipulate them, emotionally.

The best thing I have ever read on personal boundaries was written by Mark Manson. It’s titled The Guide to Strong Boundaries, and will take you about 15 minutes to read. Even if you don’t have time, you should make time if you feel like you’re the kind of person always getting the short end of the stick or always in dysfunctional, dramatic relationships.

Manson says it’s a sure sign of boundary issues, and I think being conscious of these things and changing your normal operating procedure is an excellent way to make yourself a higher-functioning, happier, more-confident, more-capable, more-attractive person.

In conclusion? Don’t let someone charge you with murder when you’ve made an honest effort to do the right thing.

However, it’s easy to be dishonest with yourself about this one, and I used to be, so it’s critical to know the difference.

Here’s what I mean.

2. YOU MUST SACRIFICE AND COMPROMISE FOR PEOPLE YOU LOVE

You must.

I used to tease my wife for watching shows I thought were beneath her. Stuff on MTV, or Real Housewives of Bitchville, or whatever.

Anyone who knows me in real life (and I always assumed—incorrectly!—my actual wife) should know that I respect her intellectually. I don’t like talking to people I think are dumb, let alone, living in the same house with them.

My teasing would offend her. Sometimes, it would erupt into a real-life argument. She was upset because I wasn’t respecting her. I was upset because of all the people in the world, you’re not going to give ME the benefit of the doubt!?!?

I bet this exact same fight happens in virtually every marriage.

This is another classic guy-being-dumb scenario in which I became an expert. (Because I was being dumb.)

Because her teasing me about some show doesn’t bother me, I would get offended by it bothering her. I literally thought I should get special treatment since we were married.

I did something that upset her, but I didn’t think it SHOULD bother her, so instead of working really hard to stop the behavior, I just kept doing whatever I wanted without apology because she shouldn’t have been upset in the first place!

The time for strict boundary enforcement is in your professional relationships. With family and friends in adulthood when you are mature and wise enough to sniff out emotionally manipulative bullshit. And in your romantic pursuits—at the very beginning when you’re first meeting people and deciding how much you’re going to let them in.

Partners change the game.

It’s not just about you anymore. It’s about we. It’s about us.

Strong personal boundaries are critical to healthy living.

But those walls have to come down when choosing another. Vulnerabilities and scars exposed.

And you build new boundaries and walls around both of you. Together.

Because you are them.

And they are you.

Two tangled souls.

A beginning.

But no end.

There’s a time for fighting.

And a time for not.

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I Don’t Feel It ‘Til It Hurts Sometimes

Attention

Wives and girlfriends get upset with their husbands and boyfriends because it often seems as if the men in their lives are emotionless, insensitive, oblivious jerks.

It’s because men tend to deal in facts and logic and generally believe saying “I love you” (and meaning it) is evidence enough that they do.

And that’s because for most of human history, man’s brute strength and physical prowess was really important to a community’s survival and it put men into positions of power, where they were given unique opportunities to lead groups and organizations.

Thus, being factual and logical was believed to be “best” or “right.”

Women often deal more in emotion and intention than what men consider logic or fact.

That’s why she sometimes gets upset because he’s going out with his friends AGAIN. She’s crying and angry. And he thinks she’s being a little “crazy” or “unstable.” But he relents, cancels plans with the boys, and spends the entire night really being present with her.

Maybe he makes her dinner. They have a couple drinks and laugh about some funny thing going on in their lives. They watch a show or two together. Hold one another close. Spend an hour or two in bed making a beautiful mess of things.

And then the next night? She ENCOURAGES him to go out with his friends. Because yesterday she was having a bout of insecurity. And today, she’s not. And she genuinely wants him to be happy.

So she encourages him to go even though it’s the exact opposite of what she said before.

And it makes ZERO SENSE to her husband or boyfriend. He secretly thinks she’s a little bit insane. Depending on the type of guy he is, he might tell his buddies about how uneven she can seem from one moment to the next. Other guys will nod, because they’ve been there, too.

“Bitches be crazy,” one will say.

The men think they’re “correct.” They think the way they are and behave is the “better” way to be and behave. They’re often waiting for the women in their lives to recognize the “obvious” truth that it’s better to be emotionally steady and stable and factual and logical.

They figure: “She’s totally smart! Sooner or later, she’ll outgrow this and think like me!” As if it’s some massive flaw in the female genetic code.

That’s in large part because it took until 2010 before there were more females in the workforce than males, and more females earning university graduate degrees than males.

Most men haven’t figured out there even are fundamental chemical gender differences between males and females, let alone that one is neither more “right” nor “better” than the other.

I don’t like this phrase, but: They simply are what they are.

These are broad generalizations. Not ALL men fit into all male stereotypes, just like ALL women don’t fit into all female stereotypes. We’re all our own, individual, customized blend of this and that.

But the above scenario probably seems familiar to most people, even the ones thinking: That’s not how I am at all. We’ve all at least seen it before.

I like to think I’m more evolved than the average male, but it’s probably a lie I tell myself that my ex-wife and any future partner I may have would tell you is a massive pile of bullshit.

I cook and read and like to talk, and think a lot about male-female relationships, but the latter is only true because divorce was really horrible and I want to get smart enough to never do it again AND maybe in the process help someone not go through what I did.

Men have emotions, too. Most of us suppress them because for many years society taught us that it was “girly” to show vulnerability, and being “girly” is BAD, because men are better than women.  (I believe many men, and SADLY, a lot of women still believe this. But it’s improving all the time.)

Burying the Lede

That’s the phrase newspaper folk use to describe when the ACTUAL news or point of your story isn’t the thing you lead with in the first sentence of your news story (otherwise known as the lede).

And that’s what I’ve done here because I felt like it, even though it’s bad writing and storytelling. This isn’t the first time I’ve been guilty of that.

“I don’t feel it ‘til it hurts sometimes,” is a line from my current favorite song and I hear it a lot because when I fall in love with music I tend to play it over and over again.

The lyric makes me think about my tendency to live complacently until some unpleasant threat or consequence forces me to make changes.

I don’t know how many men this applies to, but in my experience, what happens to me is usually something that happens to millions of other people too because all humans are human and we all feel the same stuff.

Your Husband or Boyfriend Isn’t Changing Because It Doesn’t Hurt

For years, my wife would tell me about things I was doing that upset her and hurt her feelings. Over and over again, these “little, insignificant” conflicts would arise where she would be sad or angry with me because of something I did or said.

And because in my “logical” brain, it didn’t make sense, I “knew” she was wrong. And since she was wrong, I didn’t have to change!

About a month after the worst thing that ever happened to her, happened, she looked at me across the dinner table after I offered a “What’s wrong?” and told me she didn’t love me anymore and didn’t know whether she wanted to stay married.

That got my attention.

I don’t feel it ‘til it hurts sometimes.

My first reaction was not to run out and figure out how to be a good husband. It was to pout and whine and act like I was getting screwed over even though that’s exactly how she felt for a really long time.

But after a while, I did want to figure it out.

After a while, I started putting in work. Because even though my behavior might have suggested otherwise, my brain and heart absolutely ALWAYS believed that my marriage and family were the most-important things in my life.

I’ve written a series of posts titled An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands. There are 11 of them now. They get read quite a bit these days. It’s now how the vast majority of people find this blog. Sad and angry wives write to me: “How can I get my husband to understand all this!?!?”

And I don’t know what to say.

I don’t have the first clue what it feels like mentally and emotionally inside another person.

I only know what happened to me.

My wife was honest. She said: I don’t love you and I don’t know whether I want to be married to you anymore.

And it hurt.

A lot. Then a year and a half later we got divorced.

And now I write things about being a better husband. A better boyfriend. A better partner.

I write things about being a better man.

I don’t know how to reach him. The man who just doesn’t get it. Because that guy was me.

I’m afraid the truth is this: Most of us have to learn the hard way.

We don’t feel it ‘til it hurts sometimes.

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Good People Ruin Marriage

fight-apathy-or-dont-inspirational-quote

Any time I’d hear about a couple getting a divorce, I always assumed one of them did something bad.

I’d usually suspect the guy. Of cheating. Of hitting. Of being verbally abusive. Of having a problem with gambling or alcohol or child abuse.

But then I got divorced and started talking to lots of other people who are either divorced or in troubled marriages.

And that’s when it became clear that all the common “reasons” for divorce probably don’t cause most of them.

Good people ruin marriage. I don’t mean people, by virtue of being good, ruin marriage. I mean good people with the best intentions ruin marriage. All the time.

They are not bad. They are simply bad at marriage.

Not With a Bang

“This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.”

                – T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

I think most marriages die with someone asleep at the wheel.

Some well-meaning husband or wife just obliviously caught up in the rhythm of comfort and routine. They believe they’re a good husband or wife by virtue of not committing all of those marital cardinal sins.

We do this a lot.

I go to work and church and don’t commit crimes, so my wife must think I’m a good guy!

I don’t do drugs or punch my wife, so she must think I’m a good guy!

I don’t gamble all our money away or stay out late drinking without telling her where I am, so my wife must think I’m a good guy!

We like to think: “Well, at least I’m not like… !!!” and then consider that virtuous.

Just because the worst student in class got Ds and spent a lot of time in detention doesn’t make you a great student just because you got Cs and sat in detention half as often.

Marriage isn’t graded on a curve.

More and more, people are emailing me and asking for relationship advice.

That’s how desperate they’ve become. They’re asking a guy who is batting 0-1 at marriage to advise them on their marriages. I don’t know how this happened.

I can’t fix your marriage. I couldn’t fix mine. What I am good at is asking myself the hard questions and drawing what I consider logical conclusions about things I did in my marriage that led to its demise.

Sometimes, when I write those things down, people recognize the same behavior in their relationships.

It’s Not the Big Things

It’s not.

It almost never is. It’s those little moments you didn’t know were big.

It’s the routine argument, and because it’s routine you don’t choose your words carefully. Because you like to win fights, you don’t take a deep breath and think about what you really want the outcome of the situation to be.

What if someone told you that silly argument over what song was playing on the radio (Shazam would have been helpful in 2003) would ultimately cause real fights and feelings of resentment and a lack of respect for one another and be something that haunted you 12 years later?

Wouldn’t you just keep your mouth shut and thank the heavens for another beautiful day to share with the person you love most?

I would fight with my wife and sometimes she would cry and instead of apologizing and not repeating that mistake again, I would walk away and then the next time we would fight, I would just do that exact same thing again.

Maybe it was pride. I think pride might kill more marriages than gambling or alcoholism or domestic violence.

I would abandon my wife when she was feeling most vulnerable. She just fought—(Fought! Why do we fight people we love?)—with the person who is supposed to be there for her. The person who is supposed to make her feel safe and lift her up during life’s toughest moments.

And I walked away because it was easier. Turned my back on her.

I let her cry instead of hugging because I was prideful and thought I was right.

Why did it matter to me who was right in a fight I can’t even remember?

Remember the topless mall psychic lady in Mallrats with the third nipple? What if a little mini version of her popped up on my shoulder during one of these fights and said: “Hey! Matt! You’re being a moron! 1. You have ONE job, and you’re currently failing. It’s easy to ‘love’ when everything’s going your way! Weak cowards can love on the good days. Real men love when it’s hard. When it’s inconvenient. When you don’t feel like it. 2. This is what’s going to break your marriage. In a few years, you’re going to have a little boy. Some unexpected life challenges will pop up, and because you haven’t built a strong-enough foundation with your wife, you’re going to fall apart. And it’s because of this, right here. You’re going to be in your mid-thirties. And your wife is going to live somewhere else and your son is going to be gone half the time and it’s going to be hard for everyone involved. You’re going to break on the inside. You’re running out of time.”

If that little miniature three-nipple lady said that to me (and I believed her), I truly think I’m prudent enough that I would have changed the way I was doing things.

The things that destroy our marriages are sometimes so small that we’re incapable of respecting the moment enough to behave differently. But if we knew that what we did and said in that moment would change our future one way or the other? Almost as if our entire lives would be determined by it? Wouldn’t we choose the right thing?

I think we would.

I think people do the wrong thing because they don’t know how important that moment is.

You’re going to have a fight soon because you’re a human being. And you’re going to fall into the same behavior you always fall into when you fight because it’s almost involuntary. But at some point, sanity will prevail and you’ll have a chance to ask yourself the right question: What is it that I really hope happens at the end of all this?

I can’t go back and change anything.

But I can be more conscious of right now.

I don’t want to ever again say I didn’t see it coming. That I didn’t recognize the moment for what it was. Something defining. Something that would change everything. Forever.

The little things are the big things.

This is the way your marriage ends.

With a whimper.

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