Tag Archives: Habit

Do Bad Husbands Ever Really Change?



Blackolives wrote: “Found your Huffpo ‘dishes’ post earlier today. Still laughing at how an appalling number of people didn’t get ‘dishes as metaphor’, and used that to cement classic women-are-irrational narratives. Now I’m going through everything you’ve written about shitty husbands. I feel less alone — it’s weird that a ‘shitty husband’ is having this comforting we-are-not-alone effect on women who are married to good friends/nice guys who also happens to be heartbreakingly bad at marital responsibilities.

“Thank you for all your self-deprecating but also — self-improvement writings — so, I am just — and please forgive me for my own cynicism — I am just wondering if you believe your self-awareness will now impact you in a positive way so that you wouldn’t habitually make those mistakes in a future relationship. I have this belief that, nice people/shitty spouses usually don’t get to self-awareness and introspection because they stay in the bitter/blame the other stage. But you have recognized your active role in the failed relationship — well done. Is that enough to create enough change in active participation in relationships? I believe most of us aren’t resilient enough to constantly fight against our instincts — in the case of the shitty husbands you describe — stubbornness and belief that if you don’t think it’s important, she’s overreacting, and that makes you not ‘feel like’ doing whatever it is.

“(I have been criticized for believing [most] people don’t [not can’t] change — having wasted a considerable chunk of my life on emotionally abusive immediate family members and a nice-guy/shitty husband, which cemented a narrative of ‘people don’t change’ in me. People will always prefer being right. Me included. I’d be so pissed if everyone did 180s and became fabulously self-aware and innately empathic :)”

There is some mathematical probability that I’ll divorce again or suffer a tough breakup resulting from my personality, habits or behavior causing problems.

Blackolives’ experience tells her that people don’t change, so she asks a fair question: “Do you believe your self-awareness will now impact you in a positive way so that you wouldn’t habitually make those mistakes in a future relationship?” and “You have recognized your active role in the failed relationship — well done. Is that enough to create enough change in active participation in relationships? I believe most of us aren’t resilient enough to constantly fight against our instincts — in the case of the shitty husbands you describe — stubbornness and belief that if you don’t think it’s important, she’s overreacting, and that makes you not ‘feel like’ doing whatever it is.”

I’ve had several bouts of fear with these questions in my three years of post-divorce reflection.

I know that it’s less expensive and generally healthier to cook at home than to eat out all the time. But because I don’t like cooking for one, and because my life is busier than it has ever been and don’t like grocery shopping as much as I once did, I often eat out.

I know that having a book published will give me a greater feeling of accomplishment than anything I’ve done as it’s long been a dream of mine, yet EVERY DAY, many of my choices would seem to prioritize other things ahead of book progress.

I know about MANY things I could or should do to improve my life, yet I sometimes make choices that work against me.

I’m a pretty reflective and self-aware guy. So, yeah—I’ve asked myself the question: What if BEING ME is, in and of itself, something that kills love and relationships? What if I’m, ultimately, not cut out for marriage?

The Power of Awareness

I shared this last week, but it’s so powerful, I want to do so again.

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

There is ENORMOUS power in the simple concept of awareness.

I posit—sometimes to the disbelief of wives currently or formerly married to guys like me—that men can go YEARS hearing their wives repeat themselves about how something like leaving socks on the bedroom floor can inflict physical, emotional pain and HAVE NO IDEA that it’s actually happening.

It’s The Secret About Men Most Women Don’t Know.

I understand how bizarrely oblivious and neglectful that might sound to someone who has been painfully and frustratingly living on the opposite end of those relationships.

But, since I actually lived this, I know it’s true. We don’t always get it until she walks out the door.

Wow. She totally meant what she said all those hundreds of times.

Put simply: Good men can be bad husbands, because it’s not always about character. It’s about awareness, relationship skills, and making the choice to apply those skills in a way consistent with loving and respecting our partner.

One of the advantages I will have in my next relationship, is that I’m HYPER-aware of these things. Writing, thinking and talking about these ideas often certainly helps because these things are top of mind for me.

In the future, a lack of awareness will not be my downfall, though it may be a huge factor for others.

The Power of Habit

Much of our lives—nearly 40 percent!—are comprised of things we do out of habit.

Or, you might say, thoughtlessly.

I have some bad habits, including biting my fingernails. I think about how disgusting and unattractive it is every day, yet I probably bite one of my nails at least once every day. No part of my nail-biting habit is me thoughtfully going: Hmmm. If I bite my nails right now, I’ll get to enjoy some gross microscopic germs hiding under them and have uglier hands afterward! Awesome!

I just bite the damn things and sort of realize it later.

Maybe poor relationship habits are that way too. Maybe much of what we do to hurt those we love—or at least much of what I do—are byproducts of bad habits.

The Future

I believe that when I choose to love someone for the rest of my life, that I’ve now been through enough divorce horribleness, and possess enough sensitivity, self-awareness and knowledge to remain aware and not let unrestrained bad habits cause it to crash and burn.

But, it’s a nagging thought and concern. One I probably worry about too much.

And it’s probably something many people don’t worry about enough, and it will ultimately lead to their divorce and a bunch of other sad and uncomfortable things.

I don’t own any crystal balls. I’m a good guesser, but still guess wrong sometimes.

I may—in the context of marriage—be fatally flawed.

Blackolives doesn’t believe necessarily that people change.

But I know they sometimes do. Because I’ve changed.

If I ever suffer through another divorce or bad breakup, it’s not going to be because I was a victim of circumstance with no power to influence the outcome. It’s not going to be because I’m some oblivious dumbass with his head in the sand.

It will be because I chose selfishness over selflessness. It will be because I chose easy over difficult. It will be because I chose lazy over love.

There’s always a chance that could happen. Anything’s possible.

But I’m betting on hope. On change. On me.

Maybe others will bet on themselves too.

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How to Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions

habit loop

I was going to write a book.

I was going to get in the best physical condition of my adulthood.

I was going to maybe find a girlfriend.

Fail, fail, and more fail.

I wrote a third of a book. I worked out every day for a stretch and was feeling good and then let the holidays totally derail my efforts instead of maintaining a disciplined routine. I continued to be shy and cowardly out in the world and never met anyone I could realistically have a long-term relationship with for one reason or another.

It does make me a failure. But it doesn’t make me weird. About 92 out of 100 people failed to meet their New Year’s resolution goals in 2014.

That paltry 8% success rate is expected to continue in 2015.

Do you want to be the kind of person who fails to achieve their goals but takes solace in being a member of the overwhelming majority?

Or would you prefer to be a better version of yourself? The kind of person who says or aspires to do something, and then goes out, follows through, and does it?

A hundred years ago, nobody brushed their teeth every day like most of us do now in the United States.

Claude Hopkins was among the first admen to figure out that marketing isn’t all art. There’s a science component, too. One of his old business colleagues invented a toothpaste called Pepsodent. The friend asked Hopkins to build a national ad campaign for the product.

Selling toothpaste in the early 20th century was financial suicide. No one brushed their teeth. It was like trying to sell snow skis in Florida, or live fishing bait in the middle of the Sahara.

Despite the enormous challenge, Pepsodent was one of the best-known products on earth five years later and more than half of all Americans had begun brushing their teeth daily after a lifetime of never doing so.

Hopkins defined a problem and provided a solution.

He identified one of the most-important, most-overlooked phenomena in the human experience: The habit loop. 

Cue, Routine, Reward

That’s it. That’s the habit loop.

The cue? A dirty, smelly mouth with slimy, filmy teeth.

The routine (or solution)? Daily brushing with Pepsodent!

The reward? A clean, fresh mouth, with white, beautiful teeth that made you look better than other people.

Changed the whole world.

I’m reading a fantastic book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. I picked it up on a whim at an airport during my holiday travels.

The book explores the reasons why human beings do what we do. And it explains how habits guide so much of our behavior, effectively eliminating decision making from much of our daily activity.

It explains why you smoke and drink and exercise (or don’t exercise). It explains why Cinnabon stores are rarely located by other food vendors, why people with severe memory loss who can’t recognize their home can learn to walk around the block and find their way back, and why Alcoholics Anonymous has had so much success through the years helping people change unhealthy behavior.

We Don’t Really Quit Our Bad-Habit Urges

In some respects, they’re unstoppable.

The cue happens. And your brain requires the expected reward.

To achieve that reward, you will automatically turn to things that you know give you the reward. Smokers smoke. Alcoholics and addicts will drink or get a fix. Others will eat unhealthy foods or indulge in sexual urges or bite fingernails or whatever.

The key to stopping those unhealthy choices is to recognize what triggers the urges.

That’s your cue.

And if you’re mindful of the cue, your next task is to figure out an alternative to achieve that same reward.

Maybe it’s caffeine instead of nicotine. Maybe it’s a therapeutic conversation with a sponsor instead of a drink. It almost doesn’t matter so long as one understands there is always a trigger and always a reward the brain and body craves. The only thing that needs to be changed is the routine. And then we replace the bad with the good.

Once you do something enough times? It becomes automatic. Thoughtless. Easy.

And then everything changes.

Happy 2015

I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution even though researchers at the University of Scranton say people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t make them in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

But I also don’t like being cliché. I didn’t successfully quit smoking years ago because of a New Year’s resolution. I quit smoking because I didn’t want to die young and because I didn’t want my young son to believe smoking was okay based on what he observed his father doing.

But I don’t need the turn of the calendar to make positive changes because there are no advantages to waiting. I can start today. Right now, even.

I can work to stop biting my nails.

I can develop new time-management habits that would allow me to finish the book.

I can find new ways to engage my son and be a better father.

I can insert myself in new environments and situations that will allow me to meet more people and make more friends.

I can read more books.

I can exercise longer and harder and more frequently.

I can be more grateful.

I can think more.

I can ask better questions.

I can be quicker to apologize and forgive.

I can be more mindful of today and tell people I love how much I appreciate them while they’re still here to tell.

I can pray more.

I can love more.

I can give more.

I can be more.

The hunger and cravings are there. The rewards are felt when I indulge them.

But the routines fall short.

But they don’t have to.

And I don’t have to wait until later to do something about it.

And neither do you.

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Breaking the Cycle

Routine keeps us grinding our wheels. New things keep us growing.

Routine keeps us grinding our wheels. New things keep us growing.

Sometimes I am so comfortable in my routine that I get physical anxiety when I’m about to do anything out of the ordinary.

Sometimes I am so comfortable in my routine that I get used to things no human should ever be “used” to.

Tangible things.

Like a cluttered kitchen. Piles of laundry. A non-functioning garage door opener.

And other things.

Like a boring social life. Subpar physical fitness. A messy spiritual life.

Is that routine? I might call it a rut.

You can almost trick yourself into thinking it’s okay. It was one of my favorite things about being married. Accountability.

Accountability motivates me to exercise. To keep my life in order. To quickly and efficiently take care of things that need tended to.

After some emotional ups and downs (mostly downs) following my divorce last year, I have found myself in something of a rut for many months.

A mostly uneventful life full of disorganization and a complete lack of fulfillment in every imaginable area.

Maybe it’s depression. Maybe it’s some psychological condition that makes me crave routine even when the routine is shitty, simply because it feels “safe.”

The only way to break the cycle is to do something different.

The Reset Button

My parents divorced before my fifth birthday and lived 500 miles apart from each other. I lived with my mom in Ohio and visited my dad in Illinois throughout my school breaks.

It was like having two lives. Two very distinct lives where things felt and were different in both places.

I was in school. Changing teachers. Changing classrooms. Playing sports. Growing. Learning.

I was surrounded by friends every day and experiencing all of the growing pains school children do.

But more than that, I was always experiencing huge changes in scenery.

I was always hitting the reset button. Each school break. Each new semester. Each new year.

Minus the long-distance, back-and-forth parent thing, I suspect most of us felt this way during our school years.

The rhythm of life, full of constant change.

Then adulthood comes.

I’m not sure when. People say 18. Especially 18 year olds. But we all know that’s not true.

I felt like an adult when I moved away to college. But I wasn’t.

I felt like an adult when I was put in charge of my college newspaper. But I wasn’t.

I felt like an adult when I moved a thousand miles away from everything I ever knew and loved after graduating and getting my first news reporting job. But I wasn’t.

Surely I was an adult when I got married at 25. When I bought my first house a year or so later.

But it doesn’t seem that way now.

I think our thirties—on paper—are our best years. I describe it as being the best combination of having youth and money. I hope most people feel that way and are living accordingly.

That’s not how it worked out for me.

All of the really shitty things that have happened to me in my life happened after turning 30. And now five years later, it’s hard for me to remember what it felt like when everything was good.

And that’s got me thinking that maybe there’s no age that grants us adulthood.

That it’s more a right of passage that comes about when life starts throwing challenges your way and there’s no one there to save you anymore.

For some people, that happens as children.

For others, it never happens.

For me, I’m still in the transition. Right now. Still trying to figure it all out.

Still learning how to save myself.

Still climbing toward adulthood.

I took my first non-family visit trip in more than two years this past week. A nice trip west to Reno, Nev. with a visit to Lake Tahoe in northern California sprinkled in there. I had never been there before.

I liked both places very much for different reasons.

The important part is that it was somewhere different. It was something different.

A gorgeous hotel room for a week. Reminding me to get my house in order.

A great week at the poker tables. Reminding me to reconnect with a passion from my past.

A week outside the monotony of my daily life. Reminding me to live.

Because I forget sometimes.

I forget to live.

By not inviting friends over. By not getting out and meeting people. By not engaging in outdoor activities I love. By not trying enough new things.

By not writing.

I’m a creature of habit. I think many people are. Especially men.

But I think living can be a habit, too. And breaking the habit of not doing so has to be a priority.

I think the rut—the cycle of monotony we often find ourselves in—can be replaced by the rhythm of life.

It all starts by choosing to do something different.

Maybe just one little thing.

Maybe even right now.

To really feel alive.

To break the cycle.

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