Tag Archives: Health

Safety and Trust in Relationships: Those Words Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

woman hiding under table

(Image/Crosswalk.com)

 

Author’s Note: I think the #1 problem in the world is how poorly humans manage their relationships. Even if you disagree, follow my logic, please. The biggest influence on whether our lives suck or are awesome is the quality of our closest relationships. For most of our lives, that’s the relationship with our spouses or long-term romantic partners. Human conflict is problematic everywhere. But when it’s two people who decided to pool resources and promised to love one another forever, and make and share children? It’s a crisis. The ripple-effect consequences know no bounds. Divorce breaks people, and then broken people break other things.

I think the #1 cause of divorce is relationship-damaging behavior by men who honestly don’t recognize it. Good men with good intentions who damage their wives’ emotional and mental health with behaviors they don’t understand to be as damaging as they are.

How? Why? There are no easy answers. But I think the closest one is: No one knows. Just like people spent decades smoking tobacco without knowing it had dire health consequences.

I think we don’t teach our children the truth about adulthood. That we don’t teach our boys the truth about manhood. Not because we’re liars. But because we didn’t know either.

This is the second in a series of posts about The Things We Don’t Teach Men (And How It Ruins Everything).

Safe – adj. – \ˈsāf\ — secure from threat of danger, harm, or loss

Trust – verb – \ˈtrəst\ — to commit or place in one’s care or keeping; to place confidence in, rely on; to hope or expect confidently

‘You don’t make me feel safe. I don’t feel like I can trust you anymore.’

Safety is probably more important to you than you consciously realize in any given moment.

After basic metabolic functions, like your heart beating and properly working lungs, and the most basic things needed for survival (food, water, shelter and clothing), Safety is the next thing people need to function in life.

The concept of safety, for me, tended to be rooted in physical safety. Wearing a seat belt. Not getting pistol-whipped during an armed robbery. Wearing the proper safety equipment on a construction site or in a manufacturing facility, or during a football or baseball game.

And color young-me as an ignorant sexist rube if you must, but in male-female relationships—including my marriage—I thought of safety in the context of protecting her from physical harm.

I want to sleep closest to the bedroom door.

I want to be the one to check out the strange noise in the house.

I want to be with her walking in a dimly lit parking garage at night.

I want to pay for a home-security system to deter and warn of intruders.

I want to fight and take the potential beat down to give her time to run away.

I want to take the bullet for her.

And I will never physically harm her. Ever.

And because of those things, I thought my wife (and anyone, really) should feel safe with me. I thought all of those true things made me a person who was safe to be with.

But I wasn’t. And this is in NO WAY anyone’s fault but my own—but nowhere, at any point in my upbringing, was I exposed to other ways of thinking about safety or taught the fundamental importance of making one’s girlfriend or wife feel safe and secure in those OTHER ways.

Other safety and security needs people have in addition to not being hurt or killed in an accident or act of violence include:

  • Financial security
  • Health and well-being (mental and emotional safety)

Everyone has different thresholds for what financial security looks like. I think having enough money to pay for one’s family’s needs is a concept anyone mature enough to be reading this already understands.

But on mental and emotional safety?

I failed about as hard as a person claiming ignorance possibly can.

I was mentally and emotionally abusive to my wife without realizing it because I also demonstrate classic only-child levels of self-centeredness, and I hadn’t yet learned that Marriage Isn’t For You.

But I’m not the only one.

I think many men accidentally abuse their wives’ mental and emotional health without realizing it (and it probably happens in reverse, too), and then once enough damage has been done, the couples end up having what feels like the exact same frustrating and familiar fight over and over again.

For men, it often becomes a thing we learn to deal with. It pisses us off sometimes. It certainly stresses us out and makes us feel shitty. But it tends to be a nuisance that we believe will be better after everyone calms down.

However, for many women, every one of these fights tends to slowly and systematically erode her love and respect for her husband/boyfriend, and her faith in the integrity of the relationship itself.

Over time, “lesser” incidents can trigger the arguments.

Maybe five years ago, a guy stayed out too late drinking with his friends, passed out and never told his wife or girlfriend where he was. She stayed up all night freaking out, and then they had a big fight because he thought she was overreacting.

But maybe five years later, he accidentally left his phone in the car during a two-hour business presentation in the middle of the day, and his non-responsiveness triggers that same level of concern and anger in her. And maybe he thinks it’s a gross overreaction because while reacting to an all-night drinking bender seems reasonable, freaking out because of an accidental work-related situation does not.

And once again, they have The Same Fight.

Men—boyfriends and husbands—often are so determined to defend their actions and feelings that they don’t actively listen to their upset girlfriends or wives. They HEAR them, saying words and being angry and stuff. But they don’t LISTEN. They don’t understand. They never figure out WHY their partner is saying and feeling these things.

[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.]

Here’s a guy who works hard and is good at his job. He’s a good provider for his wife and children.

He never complains about his wife’s behavior. And he thinks it’s unfair that he isn’t given the same courtesy.

He would NEVER hit her. He’s a capable protector. So it makes sense to him that she should feel Safe.

He would NEVER cheat on her. He never intentionally fails to do something he says he will. He’s not a liar. He’s a good parent and guardian. He feels like a “trustworthy” person. So it makes sense to him that she should Trust him.

The Thing That Ends Relationships

After dozens, perhaps hundreds of attempts to explain what it is that upsets her, he generally responds angrily. Or tells her she’s wrong. Or tells her she’s just being emotional again. Or tells her she’s mentally unstable. Or simply walks away in frustration because he doesn’t want to fight anymore. Or maybe he’s really patient, and simply walks away confused after the conversation without fighting back, but also without ever understanding what she’s trying to communicate to him.

No matter which of those common responses occur with any given couple, each instance further weakens a wife or girlfriend’s faith in the relationship.

“He’s NEVER going to get it. I can’t trust him.”

The mistrust is not about sexual faithfulness. It’s not really even about his human integrity, assuming he is as unaware of the damage he’s causing as I believe he is. (I believe strongly that the VAST majority of husbands would never KNOWINGLY inflict pain on their wives, and I stand by that belief. I think I know an easy way to determine whether your spouse is hurting you on purpose.)

A wife or girlfriend loses trust in her husband or boyfriend after repeated attempts to explain why something hurts and requests for help in making it stop haven’t resulted in any positive outcomes nor any evidence that he wants the painful thing to stop.

Faced with feeling hurt every day for the rest of her marriage/relationship, and no evidence her committed partner is willing to be a partner in making something painful go away, she stops trusting him.

No matter how good he may be. No matter how perfect his record might be in every other part of his life.

Something hurts her. He either can’t or won’t help her. She knows because they’ve talked about it countless times with the same result.

She knows the marriage/relationship is unsustainable without trust. Its future is in doubt.

The security and well-being of her and possibly children are now in jeopardy.

And now she doesn’t feel safe.

And no matter how much he tries, a man she can’t trust to not hurt her can’t make her feel safe. In most cases, not like how her father used to.

The realization is often frightening: “I no longer believe our marriage will survive.”

I used to believe the scariest guys were the obvious assholes. The guys that punch and cheat and name-call. The drunks and addicts and reckless gamblers.

But red flags are easy enough to spot. Red flags are obvious warning signs that help people steer clear.

Real danger is what lurks undetected.

These awesome guys. Nice. Friendly. Smart. Successful. By all appearances, good men and good fathers.

The guys everyone praises as good husbands and fathers. Guys just like me.

If you leave guys like that, maybe her parents don’t approve or support the decision. Maybe her friends will judge her. Maybe when she feels most afraid than at any other time in her entire life because she doesn’t believe her marriage and family will survive, and she’s feeling guilty for not being able to make it work and how it might affect her children. And the only thing she wants and needs is support. But the ONE person she believed she could count on for the rest of her life to lift her up and care for her in such moments is the very person inflicting all of the pain, fear and anxiety.

Mistrust.

Unsafe.

Fight or flight?

She has already spent years fighting, leaving her with just one choice: Run.

I used to blame her.

But I see it all so clearly now.

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The Strangers We Live With: Maybe Birth Control, Food & Aging Dooms Our Relationships

sinkhole

Sinkholes open without warning, sometimes destroying things and killing people. I think body chemistry might work that way, too. (Image/CNN)

Even the most-honest people lie sometimes.

When we love or even just like someone, the last thing we want to tell them is that we don’t like their new haircut, or that the meal they just prepared for us tastes gross, or that their ass totally looks fat in those jeans.

Maybe that’s not a “lie.” When you’re trying to protect someone’s feelings. Or maybe it is, but it’s not bad due to its noble intentions.

Or maybe a lie is a lie, and it’s ultimately bad no matter how well-intentioned it is because dishonesty is NEVER better than honesty. I don’t think we’ll ever know because humans are never going to collectively start telling the whole truth.

So, maybe we’ll never really know why attraction went away and they left. Or why we chose someone else. Or why love died. Or whether love and attraction were ever present in the first place.

Maybe everyone has a secret they’ll never tell. And maybe being afraid of everyone, or even just one person, discovering that secret will keep us “lying” our entire lives.

Maybe those lies—or rather undiscovered truths—will prevent us from ever “solving” the problems that harm or end our relationships, sometimes ruining our lives.

Maybe we never really know someone all the way.

And, just maybe, even if we do know someone all the way, they don’t always stay the person we’ve gotten to know.

And, just maybe, we don’t always stay the person we think we’ve gotten to know.

And, just maybe, when you can no longer recognize yourself in the mirror, all bets are off.

Why Do So Many Relationships Go Bad?

Let the record show that until proven otherwise, I maintain the stance that Shitty Husbandry (which is mostly accidental) is the No. 1 cause of failed marriages and divorce.

But there’s something else that happens to people which we’ve rarely, if ever, discussed here. All humans are affected by changing hormone levels and body chemistry at different points in our lives for various reasons. And while I’m no science whiz, I’m reasonably confident in saying that, when you change something’s literal chemistry, that thing always changes into another thing.

You don’t even have to change the actual building blocks to change something into something else.

Mix carbon and oxygen so that there are two units of oxygen for every unit of carbon, and you get carbon dioxide (CO2), which is our friend, and used by trees and grass to produce breathable air.

By simply reducing by half the amount of oxygen in the equation, you create carbon monoxide (CO). And if you don’t know, that shit will kill you.

The difference between Life and Death.

All because you changed the amount of one of just two basic ingredients.

Which begs the questions, I think:

Can changes in our hormone levels—our literal body chemistry—turn us into entirely different people?

Isn’t it possible that we all change into different people who sometimes transition into people unattracted to, or incompatible with our partners?

Isn’t it possible that we all change into different people, and that sometimes, our partners don’t like nor are attracted to the new and different versions of us?

Isn’t it possible that we all end up living with strangers or discovering them in our reflections, and that when one or both members of a marriage change into someone else, it strains the relationship in ways difficult or impossible to properly repair?

Maybe Hormones are the Sinkholes of Relationships

Let me just say this: Sinkholes are bullshit.

There are a lot of things to be afraid of in life. Natural disasters and disease and mortal enemies and other things. And most responsible people take precautionary measures to avoid these things when possible, which is how the human race has survived to this point.

But sometimes, you’re just sleeping in your bedroom at night, and then the ground gives way beneath your home, and your house falls down into the planet, and then you die.

It’s pretty much the least-fair thing I can think of. And the thing I am theoretically most afraid of due to its fundamental randomness. I can’t even trust the ground I stand on.

And maybe hormones are just like that.

One time, the person I loved most and knew best in the world had a baby and then everything about her body chemistry changed for a while afterward, and then later still, everything about Us got sick and died.

And when We died, I don’t think either of us were still the same person who met at that college party 15 years earlier.

Many things affect hormones.

The birth-control pill, in particular, interests me because it has been demonstrated to take away a biological tool women use to choose partners—smell. Pheromone detection via the olfactory system. It’s a thing, I guess.

According to this article in The Telegraph (U.K.): “…the Pill could stop women picking up these important genetic clues because it alters hormones which make the body think it is pregnant. While that stops women getting pregnant it also means they would rather be surrounded by close family members, and so are more attracted to people who are genetically similar. And for choosing a partner, that is dreadful.”

Pregnancy and child birth, menopause, and menstrual cycles all affect women’s bodies in chemistry-changing ways.

Most forms of contraception (about 60-ish%) affect hormone levels as well.

Estrogen, progresterone, testosterone, adrenaline and cortisol are some relatively well-known hormones. Leptin and ghrelin are some appetite-related lesser-known ones.

We all have all of these hormones. But as the levels of one or many increase or decrease, we literally become different versions of ourselves.

Different versions who tend to be shitty at the things that keep marriages thriving, or even simply afloat.

The food we eat matters.

Men today have significantly lower testosterone levels than our fathers and grandfathers. Some of the pesticides used to grow much of our food has high estrogen levels, which many in the science community point to as an explanation.

The food supply would affect women equally, on top of the previously mentioned changes.

Lifestyle factors like sleep, poor nutrition and a lack of exercise all affect us as well.

Sinkholes scare me. And they’re a bullshit, unfair wrinkle in our collective efforts to not die.

Hormones? They’re just like that.

Affecting all of us indiscriminately.

Turning people into someone else.

Turning lovers into strangers.

Turning Life into Death.

And maybe if everyone keeps on hiding the changes we feel because of this or that, maybe we’re all doomed to end up living with strangers.

Even when we live alone.

…..

(Update: Edited to correct nonsense scientific claim that trees and grass produced carbon dioxide rather than oxygen, because we don’t live on Venus.)

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It Doesn’t Jive Because We’d Just Assume Do Things the Wrong Way

Ptolemy's geocentric model of the solar system

Everything revolves around Earth. We can actually “prove” that. Right? (Image/Khan Academy)

Donkey wrote: “Matt has a post about leaving his crying wife in the hospital after giving birth/having a C-section. Lisa said her husband did something similar (he now can’t believe how he could do that, so credit to him and Matt both for having realized the extreme shittiness of that. Grrrr. Honestly, thinking about it just makes me feel some kind of immense primal rage).
“Do you have any idea as to the thought process of a shitty husband (who isn’t a Dick who gets off on abusing his wife) who makes that ok in his mind? That after 9 months (usually) of pregnancy and the woman, really, risking her life during childbirth/ C-section often suffering through a lot of pain, and then is also left alone with their newborn, it’s ok for him to go to get a good night sleep and leave his crying wife who’s begging him to stay alone?
“I can understand that some people wouldn’t be hurt by a dish by the sink and all of that (and we’ve already had the conversation about accepting influence even if you don’t understand), and I remember Matt saying it was hard for him to empathize with people’s physical discomfort that ha couldn’t relate to. I understand that men can’t really get how pregnancy/birth feels like. But still, isn’t childbirth very much accepted as a VERY Big Deal, a painful and stressful and high risk deal in our society, and that the role of the modern man is to support his wife however she needs? I would think leaving your wife alone after childbirth when she’s crying and begging you to stay would be just as obvious a faux pas as cheating (again, for me, I believe I’d rather have the father of my child cheat on me with 10 prostitutes than leave me crying alone in the hospital after having our baby).
“Matt, if you have any more explanations of your thought process you want to share, I would appreciate that too of course. I’m really just trying to understand the (faulty and frankly, like Lisa said, narcissistic) thought process, because I just don’t get it.”

I left my crying wife alone in the hospital like an asshole just hours after she delivered our son via emergency C-section.

It was a long and difficult labor for her. The doctor induced labor 26 hours and 24 minutes prior to the time of delivery, give or take a few minutes or a false memory.

The anxiety, fear, stress and physical discomfort my wife felt after nine months of pregnancy, followed by a long, painful, vulnerably exposed and at times terrifying delivery ending in emergency surgery, is something only a mother could possibly know.

I won’t pretend to.

But I can understand today in a way I did not eight years ago, what a betrayal and moment of abandonment that was for my ex-wife. She was in pain, frightened, and needed someone simply to BE PRESENT with her. To feel loved and supported. And she asked me to stay. Begged, even.

And I made a different choice.

After years of reflection and additional wisdom earned only by living longer, I can see and understand how much that moment damaged my relationship in a way I couldn’t at the time. I think it’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever done.

Not only did I not recognize that moment for what it was, when my wife would bring it up later as an instance in which I hurt her, I’d actually get mad at her for holding grudges and using the past against me. I’d treat her like she was the problem because she had anger issues she needed to work out. Like there was something wrong with her, because clearly there is nothing wrong with me!

After all, everyone else liked me and thought I was a great guy. She must be wrong since she’s the only one saying it!

I didn’t do all of those things as part of some meticulously planned and conspiratorial attempt to inflict maximum emotional damage on my newborn son’s mother—the woman I vowed to love forever—nor did I defend myself in later disagreements as part of a thoughtful strategy to make her feel shitty, push her away and ultimately destroy my marriage, leaving my little boy with divorced parents and a broken home.

What was the thought process? 

There kind of wasn’t one.

I thought my choices were, if not “best,” at least reasonable every step of the way, and at any point in which there was disagreement, I believed I was correct, and that she was incorrect.

I Make Mistakes Like Every Known Human, Ever

For 1,500 years, early astronomers used Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the solar system to create astronomical charts. “Geocentric” means Earth is the center of the universe, and everything in the night sky is orbiting around it.

Today, we know this isn’t true. Nicolaus Copernicus got suspicious and theorized we were actually the ones moving around the sun. Later, Italian genius Galileo Galilei proved it.

But for 1,500 years prior, every educated person in the world believed the sun revolved around Earth. And it wasn’t because everyone was a bunch of stupid morons. Given the mathematical parameters and limited technology of that time, you can PROVE Ptolemy’s model.

For 1,500 years, every scientist, navigator, educator and thought leader in the world knew how the sun, moon and stars would move in the sky. They could “prove” it convincingly by accurately predicting what would happen next, even though EVERYTHING about their prediction model was based on something completely untrue.

(Note: The following is NOT directed at you, Donkey. I genuinely appreciate your question, and it’s my pleasure to write more about it, because it’s important. I’m simply trying to illustrate my point further.)

You’d just assume your husband or boyfriend cheat on you with 10 prostitutes as opposed to leaving you alone at the hospital after giving birth?

No.

You’d just as soon have that happen.

That doesn’t jive with your expectations of a husband and new father?

No.

It doesn’t jibe with your expectations.

Because I’ve had some wonderful editors through the years who have taught me things, I no longer make the common mistake of saying or writing “assume” when I mean “as soon,” nor do I make the even more-common mistake of saying or writing “jive” when I really mean “jibe.”

I learned the “assume” one in my early twenties when I was the editor of a semi-large university newspaper and working as a summer intern for a daily newspaper. I learned the “jive” one in my late twenties after more than 10 years of being paid to write things.

I didn’t use the two phrases incorrectly on purpose. I remember feeling quite a bit of embarrassment when I realized how many times I must have used each phrase incorrectly up to that point, and how some of the people who heard or read that from me knew I was an ignorant dumbass.

Until I was in a very specific, focused moment in which someone with more knowledge and experience than me corrected my mistake and helped me learn from it, I never even had reason to question the legitimacy of my word usage.

I KNEW I was correct. You know? Even though I was actually incorrect?

You Are Biased and Selfish Without Realizing It

That’s the first of eight reasons Why You Can’t Trust Yourself, according to one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson.

He writes:

“There’s a thing in psychology called the Actor-Observer Bias and it basically says that we’re all assholes.

“For example, if you’re at an intersection and somebody else runs a red light, you will probably think they’re a selfish, inconsiderate scumbag putting the rest of the drivers in danger just to shave a couple seconds off their drive.

“On the other hand, if you are the one who runs the red light, you’ll come to all sorts of conclusions about how it’s an innocent mistake, how the tree was blocking your view, and how running a red light never really hurt anybody.

“Same action, but when someone else does it they’re a horrible person; when you do it, it’s an honest mistake.

“We all do this. And we especially do it in situations of conflict. When people talk about someone who pissed them off for one reason or another, they invariably describe the other person’s actions as senseless, reprehensible, and motivated by a malicious intent to inflict suffering.

“However, when people talk about times when they inflicted harm on someone else, as you might suspect, they can come up with all sorts of reasons about how their actions were reasonable and justified. The way they see it, they had no choice to do what they did. They see the harm experienced by the other person as minor and they think that being blamed for causing it is unjust and unreasonable.

“Both views can’t be right. In fact, both views are wrong. Follow-up studies by psychologists found that both perpetrators and the victims distort the facts of a situation to fit their respective narratives.

“Steven Pinker refers to this as the ‘Moralization Gap.’ It means that whenever a conflict is present, we overestimate our own good intentions and underestimate the intentions of others. This then creates a downward spiral where we believe others deserve more severe punishment and we deserve less severe punishment.

“This is all unconscious, of course. People, while doing this, think they’re being completely reasonable and objective. But they’re not.”

What if We Assumed the Best About One Another?

I don’t pose the question as any sort of defense of the behavior I now believe to have been emotionally abusive.

But the validity of the question remains: How much better might our relationships be if, when something happens and we’re missing too much information to KNOW why it happened, we tell ourselves the most generous, best-possible story to explain it rather than the most cynical, or worst-possible explanation?

One of the most famous and important scenes in the Harry Potter saga takes place near the end of the sixth (second-to-last) book. You either know the story and what I’m talking about, or you should start reading the Harry Potter books right now. Yes, adults. Even you.

Seconds before death, a beloved character faces his killer and says “Please.”

It seems like a man begging for his life to be spared. But his life isn’t spared. Other characters in the book are horrified, as are the emotionally invested readers.

In the absence of information we later learn, the killing seems like the malicious work of an evil murderer. But once the story is told fully, we realize the killer was actually GOOD, and the dying man’s “please” wasn’t a mercy plea, but rather a request for his secret ally to kill him in order to protect a confused teenager from becoming a murderer or from suffering punishment for refusing to.

Not unlike the scientific community during the Ptolemaic period of astronomy versus the scientific community today, we believed one thing under one set of facts, and as more information was gathered, we came to believe something else, which turned out to be the truth.

I left my wife alone in that hospital because I didn’t know better.

It wasn’t my fault. It was simply my responsibility.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

We make choices, learning things along the way. Stuff happens, and we are all constantly interpreting the things happening around us with limited information. Sometimes we’re right. Much of the time, we’re wrong.

In this case, I was wrong, and am deeply sorry for the damage I caused. There are millions of guys out there doing these exact same things. Hurting their spouses accidentally, even when they are told their actions are hurtful. They STILL don’t know. It’s the Secret About Men Most Women Don’t Know.

But I can’t do anything about yesterday. I can only do something about tomorrow.

Life’s too short. I want to live it well.

That jibes with who I want to be. Because I’d just as soon be part of the solution.

By actually doing things the right way.

…..

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How to Brew Magic Sex Potion

magic sex potion

(Image/betterphoto.com)

Author’s Note #1 – This is intended for men focused on long-term monogamous relationships. It’s NOT for “pick-up artists,” who I’m confident know WAY more than I about how to succeed at having cheap sex with many strangers they’ll never see or speak to again.

Author’s Note #2 – Hey mom! Maybe you should skip this one.

Talking about sex is uncomfortable for some people.

I think it’s because many of us grow up only hearing about it as this naughty, taboo thing we’re not supposed to be doing or thinking about until we’re married.

Some people grow up avoiding sex in an effort to do what they’ve been taught is the right thing. Most of that group is probably doing so out of fear. They might be afraid of eternal damnation, moral judgment from others, disease, unplanned pregnancy, or something I haven’t thought of. Another group might not be afraid at all, but rather are deeply committed to living according to their moral code.

Maybe we succeed in our individual pursuits of avoiding sex or sex-related activities and enter marriage as shy, awkward and intimidated virgins.

Or maybe we failed in those pursuits, and spend our lives carrying a bunch of guilt and shame around like painfully heavy and oversized luggage without wheels.

In EITHER case, we’re suddenly supposed to shut off 25 or whatever years of psychological conditioning the moment we enter marriage because A. It’s totally okay to have sex now!, and not only that, but B. You better be kind of awesome at it, because no matter how much someone might want to deny it, a healthy and active sex life IS ABSOLUTELY one of the structural foundational elements of a marriage that lasts.

Or, put another way—failing in your marital sex life has a few different eventualities, and all seem bad: Divorce, Affairs, Miserable Marriage, or a total psychological disconnect from one’s sexuality in order to cope in a life devoid of physical intimacy.

I’ve been putting more effort into not categorizing things in terms of the gender divide, but sometimes the evidence is so strong that something is true for MOST people, that efficiency demands it:

While men and women both crave sexual satisfaction, the things that create feelings of arousal in men are often not the same things that produce sexual arousal in women.

Men’s sexual cravings tend to be more—I don’t know… superficial? Men’s arousal is often tied to visual stimulation. Body parts. Images of women in the throes of sexual ecstasy. And unfortunately, from novelty—something new or unfamiliar. Men are more prone to view an orgasm as the end game in and of itself. The research shows that sharing the experience with a partner is typically less important to men than it may be to women.

Women’s sexual arousal is much more psychologically rooted than in men. In fact, women often experience a civil war of sorts between their physical and mental responses to sexual stimuli.

Put more simply, a male erection is a virtual guarantee of sexual interest and arousal. But a female exhibiting physical evidence of stimulation can be 100-percent detached from the experience psychologically and emotionally.

In other words, a good female actor willing to lie can convincingly fake sexual pleasure, while men sort of can’t.

How to Make Your Partner Want You

Sometimes I look at the search terms people used to find this blog.

Last week, I saw this one: “magic potion to make a woman crave for sex.”

I laughed and made a note of it. But then I found myself thinking about it because it’s a conversation topic with merit.

I think this is a critical component of healthy relationships, and fits neatly into the overarching We Must Learn Empathy conversation.

If men assume (as I naively did for years) that their female partners generally experience sexual thoughts and activity in the same ways they do, it’s no wonder there’s so much dysfunction, cheating and crappy relationships happening.

Put another way, your wife or girlfriend leaving you because of your inability to understand how leaving dirty dishes by the sink can inflict severe emotional harm would be essentially the same thing as her leaving you because of your inability to satisfy her in the bedroom. (Hint: It would have almost nothing to do with your bedroom skills or the quality of your performance.)

My anonymous friend stumbling on MBTTTR during his digital quest for magic sex potion is highly unlikely to ever read this. But maybe someone else will.

The Recipe for Magic Sex Potion

1. Wake up each day, and intentionally think and feel: I choose to love my partner today. No matter what happens or how my mood swings, I love her. I am grateful that she chooses me despite my flaws. I appreciate the many things she does for me. Think of those things. There are A LOT. Pick one of those things and then, by speaking face-to-face, writing a note, sending a text, making a phone call or maybe some other really cool way, communicate to her that you appreciate something she does. There’s nothing too small to notice.

2. When you hug her (daily), do it for six seconds. Not four or five. Six. That’s how long it takes for important brain chemicals to kick in and boost our emotional connection with the person we’re hugging. Six-second hugs. Be mindful of stuff like this. These things matter.

3. When she tells you stories about her day, or wants to include you in a life decision she has to make for herself or your household, LISTEN attentively to her stories, and be engaged enough to provide feedback if (and only if) she requests it. Because I have bad news: Your penis WILL NOT make it all better for her. However, if you actually sacrifice just a little bit of time each day to actively listen to your partner, she will be infinitely more interested in touching it.

4. Become an empathy expert and practice demonstrating it. I’m serious. It will change your life. You can actually FAIL a little bit at empathy and still improve the health of your relationship simply through your demonstration of TRYING. Empathy Wizardry. That should be your new thing. So much sex, potion seeker. Or I should say… empathy wizard.

5. Avoid at all costs anything which forces her to do something your mom would have done for you. It’s okay if she WANTS to. I’m talking about the things she doesn’t want to do. Cleaning up after you. Reminding you of that thing you have to do this week. When you put her in a mother-like position, then she starts to feel like your mom and doesn’t want to bang you. This isn’t discussed enough.

6. Be kind. I don’t mean “nice.” Nice is bullshit and it’s not enough. BE KIND. If you don’t know the difference, this might be a good time to figure it out. Not being a prick should be a given. It might be time to learn why she gets upset with you even though everyone else in the world thinks you’re such a nice guy.

7. Exercise, but not because you think she likes toned arms and a flat stomach (even though she probably does). That’s gravy. Exercise demonstrates and results in a few things which women do respond to sexually: A. Self-respect, B. Discipline and follow-through, and actively doing those things breeds within you C. Confidence. These are important ingredients.

There are many other ingredients you can add to your cauldron while you brew future batches of Magic Sex Potion, and I’d love to learn other things I can add to improve this recipe.

People hunting for magic sex potions want a shortcut. A life hack. That’s what Pick-Up Artistry is for. If you love the idea of dying old and alone with herpes, feel free to explore some of those ideas.

But if you’re someone who craves companionship, contentment and connection every day for the rest of your life with a partner who genuinely derives pleasure from satisfying you sexually and from your touch, I think you’ll find this concoction to be an effective tool.

Order your Magic Sex Potion today and I’ll throw in a nice bonus gift:

A guarantee that you’ll literally be a better man every day for the rest of your life, reaping countless riches in the process and helping others do the same.

Go kick ass, potion seeker.

…..

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A Misdiagnosis Can Kill You

misdiagnosis

(Image/dailyherald.com)

An infectious disease specialist who was suffering severe throat pain visited a doctor to figure out why.

Acid reflux, his colleagues said. More time went by. The pain persisted despite treating the acid reflux. So he went to see more doctors. Repeatedly over several months, multiple head and neck surgeons assured him acid reflux was causing the pain.

Finally, a resident performed a simple examination procedure which the surgeons over several visits hadn’t tried, and discovered a cancerous tumor the size of a peach pit.

The doctor with the throat pain underwent emergency throat surgery and had his voice box removed.

All because he spent months trying to fix something that wasn’t actually the problem.

I read it right here in the blog comments of a recent post. Someone wrote that her father was a doctor and often said: “An accurate diagnosis is 90 percent of the cure.”

Sometimes I read or hear something that sticks with me. This is one of those things.

Because, how do we diagnose the problems in our marriages or long-term relationships?

We mostly guess. And I think we mostly guess when we’re angry or sad or afraid.

At any given time, we have a certain amount of facts we know or at the very least, believe to be true. Certainty, real or otherwise.

Regardless, there is also a certain percentage of missing information. About everything. We constantly have expectations about what will happen next, or about what might be going on elsewhere, or about something we’ll be doing in the future.

When you’ve driven the same route to work for five years, you can predict with relative accuracy (even with all the variables) how long it will take to drive to your destination.

You can accurately predict how long it will take for your shower water to turn from cold to hot when you first turn it on.

We expertly perform countless little tasks every day that seem routine and inconsequential, but to someone who had never done them before, the experience would be much different.

Any time we’re missing too much information, our brains use every piece of input it can to try to guess what’s happening or will happen. We fill in all the missing pieces with guesses. Maybe we’re right sometimes. But we’re probably mostly wrong. 

 

During most of my marriage, I would repeatedly choose things I wanted to do over being present and engaged with my wife. I’d sometimes watch movies or ballgames in a separate room, or play online poker or do whatever.

In moderation, two healthy people can have an amazing relationship balancing Together Things and individual pursuits. But outside of our social lives, we didn’t have a lot of Together Things, so I pursued many individual interests.

I made a habit out of leaving my wife alone in a separate room to watch TV or read a book or talk on the phone believing it was a simple matter of us both doing what we wanted to do. Everything’s cool! We’re just both good at letting one another do their thing!

But when you combine it with me not pursuing her intimately as a husband should, and me being disengaged and disinterested in some of her personal interests, and frequently demonstrating an unwillingness to perform household chores and projects, and of course ALWAYS messing up the empathy thing during disagreements, it must have looked and felt much different to her.

She felt alone. Unsupported. Unwanted. Unloved. Disrespected. Rejected.

I never realized people could feel alone with other people around. I didn’t know the typical “shitty husband” behaviors affecting so many marriages were the dangerous relationship killers they are.

There was a lot of incorrect guessing going on all around.

It’s hard to explain how many pegs I had to fall in my own mind to gain the perspective and humility necessary to eat the Crow, the Humble Pie, and the Shit Sandwiches I needed to be the me I am now.

How does one feel genuine gratitude for the worst thing to ever happen to them?

That’s how.

It’s silly for her to be sad and angry!, I thought. She’s misdiagnosing the problem!

And in a way, I was correct. Philosophically, my wife was mistaken. She was loved, wanted, respected, desired, etc. But knowing what I know now allows me to see how everything happened in a way that was impossible (due to ignorance and neglecting to educate myself) for me to see then.

She was missing information. And because our communication was so epically shitty (despite both of us being longtime communication professionals), I was never able to communicate the missing information effectively or convincingly enough to help her more accurately understand those unknown things we’re all constantly guessing at.

During the final 18 months of my marriage, I slept in the guest room, and our already substandard and ineffective communication had come to a near-standstill. Because I was fully disconnected from and disengaged with my wife, the Unknown piece of the Things I Know About My Wife pie chart was expanding.

That was very bad.

The Art of Guessing What We Don’t Know

Back to the example we started with, The Washington Post ran an article about medical misdiagnosis a few years ago. It somehow feels relevant.

“Misdiagnosis ‘happens all the time,’ said David Newman-Toker, who studies diagnostic errors and helped organize the recent international conference. ‘This is an enormous problem, the hidden part of the iceberg of medical errors that dwarfs’ other kinds of mistakes, said Newman-Toker, an associate professor of neurology and otolaryngology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Studies repeatedly have found that diagnostic errors, which are more common in primary-care settings, typically result from flawed ways of thinking, sometimes coupled with negligence, and not because a disease is rare or exotic, the Post story said.

“The problem is not new: In 1991, the Harvard Medical Practice Study found that misdiagnosis accounted for 14 percent of adverse events and that 75 percent of these errors involved negligence, such as a failure by doctors to follow up on test results.”

I started to lose it.

I know people say that as a figure of speech to talk about normalish episodes of feeling upset or whatever. But I mean it a bit more seriously than that. I came undone. I became, to some degree, mentally and emotionally unstable.

I totally lost it during those months sleeping in the guest room while I watched everything break apart from the inside.

I started feeling immature jealous feelings which is something I hadn’t experienced much in life.

Every attractive guy on TV or in real life suddenly became an object of her sexual interest in my imagination. Every text message alert was some guy she probably had a crush on, I thought suspiciously. I’d make up all kinds of thoughts and feelings for her—all of which I was really afraid of being true—and I thought about and worried about these made-up thoughts and feelings so much that they became real for me.

When our friends would come over and we’d pretend to be cool, I secretly thought that the wife in those other couples had been talking to her about our marriage problems and that they were silently judging and thinking bad things about me with fake smiles on their faces.

I wasn’t kidding. I lost it.

Without ever having any sort of mature fact-finding, soul-searching conversation with my wife, I just kept letting my paranoid imagination tell me stories about her thoughts, feelings and dreams. About who and what she wanted. About with whom she was discussing our broken marriage.

It’s funny because I assumed everyone knew, but almost no one did.

Until it was all over, she barely spoke of it, and even then, not much.

I thought I knew my wife better than anyone, and maybe I did. But without communicating effectively or asking the right questions, there was still so much I didn’t know.

The truth is hard to write:

We both guessed incorrectly about what the other person thought and felt, we both did an awful job trying to bridge the communication gap, and the kiss of death was my assumption that My Way—the way I thought and experienced the world through my own individual perspective—was somehow “more correct” than her way. That inherently flawed belief helped me justify not putting in the work reading books and talking to people who knew better than I did what love really is.

I don’t know how long I believed my marriage problems were simple acid reflex instead of cancer.

Maybe if I’d started down this path sooner, everything would be different.

Maybe the misdiagnosing and early detection failures at the start of our relationships are ultimately the things that kill us.

There can be no answers when we fail to ask the right questions.

There can be no cure when we don’t even know what’s wrong.

We think it’s this thing. But really it’s something else. So we never get the medicine or treatment we need.

And then we die.

…..

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And Then I Woke Up Three Years Later

(Image/Paramount Studios)

Are you mentally playing the Top Gun Anthem in your head right now? You should be. (Image/Paramount Studios)

I spent the first year depressed and freaking out.

I spent the second year using reading and writing to get to know myself.

This past year, time seemed to move faster than ever.

And then I woke up this morning.

My wife left on April 1, 2013. We’re funny about anniversaries. We can be five years removed from an event, and we feel good and our lives are in order, but then that date pops up, triggers a bunch of memories, and we’re left sorting through a bunch of feelings and trying to figure out what they mean.

I’ve yet to find a better word than “broken” for what I felt in the immediate aftermath of my marriage failing.

Not many people in my personal life knew how bad it was at the time. But it was bad. Your vital signs indicate being alive. But nothing else does. I roll my eyes at all the motivational posters and sometimes cliché- and a little-bit-fake-feeling “You can do it!” messages we’re bombarded with on social media, but some of them are cliché because they’re true. And one of those truths is how valuable of a life experience excruciating emotional and psychological pain can be once it’s in the rearview mirror and it’s not violently stabbing your chest and skull every day.

There’s the me before experiencing that, and the me right now.

Before experiencing that, I didn’t know how to empathize or even what it really meant.

And now I do, for having been through it. Success in love and marriage, in parenting, in super-close social and business relationships appears impossible without the ability to empathize. Maybe some people can learn it without having to hurt first. I hope so.

I tend to learn things the hard way, which isn’t the optimum path to personal growth, but it’s got to be better than never learning.

I was a WRECK. A total mess of a person. My chest felt tight every day. My head hurt every day. I felt full-body anxiety often. It made me vomit a lot.

I can’t remember many instances of feeling more pathetic than the times I found myself teary-eyed, puking, struggling to calm my heartrate, knowing I probably needed some serious couch time with a shrink but couldn’t afford it, and thinking: This is why she left you. And now no girl will ever like you because you’re a total failure.

There were a million things I wanted to know, but the thing I wanted to know most is: When will this be over? Soon? Never?

How to Heal After Divorce in 3 Simple Steps

  1. Stay alive by breathing.
  2. Love yourself.
  3. Repeat.

I said it over and over again, even when it was hard to believe: Everything is going to be okay.

It didn’t feel okay after one year.

It felt kind of okay after two.

And on the three-year anniversary of the worst day of my life, everything is absolutely okay.

I wish I could pass out little manuals to everyone struggling with the end of a marriage and/or loss of their children at home, including the 2013 edition of me. But there are no instruction manuals for grieving. There’s no “right” or “best” way to suffer.

It took me a long time to understand that I wasn’t suffering the wrong way. I didn’t think at the time that divorce warranted the devastation I felt. I didn’t think it was worthy of so much hurt. I concluded weakness instead of letting it be what it was—a highly stressful, totally life-changing event which psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially damages nearly everyone it touches.

Three years ago, I wanted to know what I could do to speed up the process. To fast-forward to the Okay part.

I never did find that button.

Here’s what worked for me:

1. I put my son first. He’s my baseline for all things. If it’s not good for him, I don’t do it. That helped heal the post-divorce relationship between his mother and I. It helped me build a kind, respectful, cooperative relationship with my ex-wife. I’d like to believe I’d care about her wellbeing regardless, but because she’s my son’s mother and an excellent parent and caretaker, one of the best things I can do for my child is treat his mom well. Which I try to do.

His long-term wellbeing drives my business endeavors and serves as a guidepost for me as I consider potential relationships.

2. I admitted that I don’t really know anything. Growing up, I thought being an adult meant you just knew stuff. The meaning of life. How to be disciplined and exercise self-control. How to not be afraid. Not knowing anything reduces the pressure. Not knowing anything allows you to ask better questions and stay curious. Not knowing anything helps you remain humble. Not knowing anything allows you to withhold judgment, and treat others and yourself better. Almost every adult is just making this up as they go. You’re not alone.

3. I wrote here. Putting thoughts and feelings to paper (or the keyboard) has long been touted by mental health experts as a good thing to do. Everyone’s experience will vary, but writing here created a lot of good in my life.

It forced me to look deep within for answers and explore uncomfortable topics.

I discovered other people who knew how I was feeling, and when life is hard, one of the most helpful things is the realization that someone else is walking the same path as you. It just helps when someone understands.

I got positive feedback about the writing, and that gave me confidence.

People sometimes said that it helped them, and that gave me purpose.

And the entire exercise of writing and asking questions and answering questions gave me something to pour my time and heart into when my young son wasn’t home.

And then I woke up one day and it was three years later.

My son’s mom and I had a couple friendly and peaceful text exchanges about our son.

I came to work and didn’t cry or puke in the bathroom.

I didn’t feel anxious, because I’m neither a wreck nor a complete mess.

Two different large websites published my work today in what has become a regular occurrence since the “dishes” post.

I like and respect myself—which is something a person should not take for granted—and I’m looking forward to liking and respecting myself even more in the future.

It was the worst day of my life. And God knows, conceptually, I regret the end of my family. But three years into the metamorphosis, I have to ask the question: Can the thing that changed me for the better, allowed me to explore relationships with my eyes wide open and an uncommon awareness, and granted me the opportunity to actually do something that matters to people, fairly be labeled the worst thing that ever happened to me?

I don’t know.

I only know that tomorrow arrived and everything really is okay.

And all I had to do was breathe.

Then again.

And again.

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This is Why Your Life Sucks

(Image/thoughtsprojected.wordpress.com)

(Image/thoughtsprojected.wordpress.com)

“Could you explain a little more about what you mean by core values?” Lisa asked.

Yes.

I think most people, including me, lack the ability to summarize their core values, and then shitty things happen afterward, and then we all struggle with trying to figure out why.

But THIS IS WHY the shitty thing happened. Because we don’t know what our values are.

Since we can’t go back in time, the only reasonable choice is to try to make tomorrow better than today.

Our inability to identify our values means we don’t REALLY know who we. And that prevents us from being able to communicate it accurately to others.

And that’s a problem. This non-programmed and ill-defined Life Navigation System is incapable of getting us to our desired destination without blind luck. Thus, whenever we’re not experiencing good luck that we may or may not have earned, life sucks.

I’ve been hammering on this point lately and it’s not just because I think I know things (I don’t), but rather because whatever personal advancements I’ve made in the past three years can be directly attributed to me honing in on my values and learning how to enforce my personal boundaries.

And on the flipside, everything about my life that sucks can be directly attributed to not honoring (or not knowing) my values in certain life areas, or compromising my boundaries (usually because it’s “easier” in the moment, even though we always pay for it later).

“What are Values and Boundaries? This Sounds Like Psychobabble.”

The words “values” and “boundaries” are the kind of words that always sounded like bullshit to me. They don’t sound like they mean anything. They’re just words adults used when I was growing up when they were droning on and on about things that weren’t fun to listen to, and if I HAD listened to them, I’d have had less fun.

Or would I have?

When I was young, I didn’t feel motivated to explore ideas like this or learn new things because everything was always good. I was healthy and safe. I felt loved by family and accepted by friends. All of my needs were met. Because I never wanted for things, I never had to ask myself how to get something I wanted, and then go through the growth process and hard work necessary to achieve it.

But then, almost exactly three years ago (April 1) my wife left, and my son didn’t live at home all the time anymore. I was sad, angry and ashamed.

I was nothing like the happy and confident person I used to see in the mirror back when nothing was wrong.

I was a broken, crying, terrified shell of that kid. If I’m not that person anymore, who the hell am I?

I didn’t matter, and I knew it.

I was weak, and I knew it.

I wasn’t worth a woman’s love or desire, and I knew it.

Those were hard truths to accept, but life is really hard sometimes. After a lifetime of mostly blaming others for anything that ever went wrong because it’s so much easier than raising your hand and accepting responsibility, I finally asked the right questions:

How did I get here? What could I have done differently to prevent this?

The answer is simple enough: I didn’t always live my values, and I didn’t always enforce my boundaries.

Suddenly, these “bullshit” concepts skyrocketed to the top of my This Stuff Really Matters list.

Here are two of my favorite explanations for these critical life concepts.

Here’s Debra Smouse at Tiny Buddha on VALUES:

“Values are who YOU are, not who you think you should be in order to fit in.”

“Why is naming your values important?

“Values are the backbone of life. They are the beacons on our path—in personal life and in business. When you identify your values and get clear with them, something magical happens: They come alive in ways you haven’t even imagined and illuminate and nurture your entire life from the inside out.
“If we don’t know what’s important to us, we spend a lot of time wandering and wondering what we should be doing. There is tremendous power in discovering and living according to our highest values, and experiencing inner peace as the natural consequence.

Here’s Mark Manson on BOUNDARIES:

“Healthy Personal Boundaries = Taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions, while NOT taking responsibility for the actions or emotions of others.”

“People with poor boundaries typically come in two flavors: those who take too much responsibility for the emotions/actions of others, and those who expect others to take too much responsibility for their own emotions/actions.”

Why Does This Matter?

It matters because our lives suck sometimes, and outside of grieving the deaths of loved ones or developing a disease impossible to prevent, it’s pretty much always our fault. We feel INFINTELY more confident and in control of our lives once we accept this truth.

Your wife left you because you were a shitty husband.

Your kids rebelled because you made missteps as their parent.

You lost your job because you failed to make yourself indispensable.

You got sick because you make unhealthy choices.

You don’t have money because you’re unwilling to put in the work or take the risks it requires.

Your boyfriends always cheat and treat you like crap because you don’t love and respect yourself enough to not date men like that.

Bad things happen. And we really feel them because negative emotions tend to register more prominently with us than positive ones.

“A major reason for the more noticeable role of negative emotions is that they possess greater functional value. The risks of responding inappropriately to negative events are greater than the risks of responding inappropriately to positive events, since negative events can kill us while positive events will merely enhance our well-being,” Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeév wrote in Psychology Today.

Maybe everyone else grew up faster than I did, but I was in my 30s before recognizing that the common denominator in most of my life problems was me.

Because I want to feel happy (the real happy that comes from internal peace absent fear, guilt, anxiety and shame) more than I want most things, I made the choice to try to define my core values, honestly communicate my boundaries to others, and then ENFORCE them.

That means, when someone I just met at my birthday gathering says something that genuinely offends me and contradicts my core values, she and I will have a totally uncomfortable and not-fun conversation right in front of everyone, and then when she tries to play nice later and reach out to me via Facebook Messenger in an attempt to score a date, I don’t consider it, even though that’s something I probably would have done just three years ago when I was desperate to feel liked and wanted.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Your core values are who you are when no one’s watching. Your core values are what you do and say because it’s your truth, and not what you do to win the approval of your friends, family, co-workers, classmates, neighbors or romantic interests.

Your core values are THE REAL YOU, not who we think we should be so people will like us.

When we live our values and enforce our boundaries, the only people in our inner circles end up being people who share (or at least respect) our values, don’t attempt to manipulate or take advantage of us, don’t bring unwanted drama into our lives, and who love, respect and accept us for who we REALLY are (and not because of what we do for them).

Values.

Boundaries.

Not the bullshit nonsense I once chalked them up to be, but rather ideas with the power to change everything. For the better.

More on Values and How to Define Them

From Dawn Barclay at Living Moxie: How to Define Your Core

From sourcesofinsight.com: How to Find Your Values

From Mark Manson: WHERE ARE YOUR F@#%ING VALUES?

More on Boundaries and Why They Matter

From Mark Manson: The Guide to Strong Boundaries

…..

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SIDE NOTE: I finally have a Facebook page for this blog. It would be awesome to connect with you there. I’ll understand if you don’t want to, because mehhhhhhh.

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The Secret About Men Most Women Don’t Know

smoking man

(Image/upwallpapers.net)

The January 1956 edition of The Atlantic Monthly quotes The American Cancer Society as saying it “does not hold that smoking causes cancer of the lung. It does not propose to tell the public not to smoke.”

In the 1960s, a person sick with a respiratory illness could visit her doctor and think nothing of him smoking a cigarette in a closed-door, windowless room while examining her.

Into the 1990s, smoking on airplanes and inside most public buildings was commonplace.

Sure, there were plenty who suspected tobacco smoking was a major individual and public health concern long before the Surgeon General got involved, but smoking was so routine and considered so benign, that things like “Smokes for the Troops” fundraising campaigns existed to supply tobacco to U.S. soldiers in 1918 during World War I.

In the following years, doctors began discovering the correlation between the heavy-smoking war veterans and the various cancers and respiratory diseases we now understand to be indisputably linked to smoking.

It was 1994 when I started smoking in high school. I was 15.

There was certainly a false sense of invincibility common to young people. That was a factor. But I’m not reckless regarding life and limb, and never have been.

I’m not a motorcycle guy for that very reason. It’s not because I don’t think they’re awesome, or don’t want one. I don’t ride a motorcycle because I’m not voluntarily signing up to do something where—no matter how skilled or cautiously I ride—some texting-and-driving asshole might clip me at a tortoise-like 20 miles per hour in the middle of a busy four-way intersection and kill me even though I didn’t make any mistakes.

I understood that smoking was bad. But I knew of plenty of people in their 70s and 80s who smoked regularly. There were still smoking sections in most restaurants then. How bad can it really be?

As a 15-year-old, smoking was bad for me for a variety of reasons. I didn’t make much money to buy them. I didn’t have a car. I couldn’t smoke whenever I wanted because I was trying to hide it from my mom. My Catholic high school would have come down hard if they ever caught me with cigarettes or actually smoking. And it made conditioning for track season infinitely less pleasant.

But I did it anyway.

And anyone who has never smoked, nor felt the pull from a nicotine addiction, nor understood the allure of a bad habit would rightfully question why I’d ever want to.

Anyone with memories of watching a loved one die slowly and painfully from a smoking-related illness, or with a uniquely wise or mature life outlook, are probably incapable of understanding how a person could intentionally make the choice to smoke when it seems so obvious to so many how dangerous and harmful it is.

Over time, more people figured it out and have collectively instituted personal and societal changes for the better.

Emotional Neglect is Cancerous to Marriage in Less-Obvious Ways

Many wives don’t understand how it can happen. “I have told you over and over and over and over and over again. I’m exhausted from telling you. And now I say I’m leaving you, and you REALLY don’t understand why?”

My only lifelong female friend, despite being super-smart and thoughtful, is by her own admission the least-responsible car owner in the history of the universe. Throughout her marriage, she never paid attention to the oil-change mileage, the air pressure in her tires, the depth of her tire tread, or any unusual brake noises.

It left her husband totally vexed. “How in the hell could she be so negligent?” He’d complain about it. He’d try to explain to her why a particular aspect of vehicle maintenance was important for safety or financial reasons, and that would be the end of it until the next incident.

A lot of husbands might be able to relate to that. Shit happens. It’s kind of our wife’s fault. We’re annoyed because it costs money or creates a new broken thing to fix, or a new problem to solve. But, typically, once we find some kind of solution or workaround to the problem, everything goes back to normal and we forget about it.

From a How Angry Did That Make Us? standpoint, we tend to not have prolonged anger-and-freakout sessions over such things, and we usually move on quickly. We like this about ourselves.

This is why our immediate reaction when our wives appear—in our estimation—to be inordinately angry about a pair of jeans tossed on a piece of bedroom furniture or an empty glass sitting by the sink, is to get defensive and think it’s unreasonably harsh and unfair.

I don’t treat you like this when you make mistakes, we think, so why should I sit here and take this?

But it’s a lot more than that.

We think it should be REALLY obvious that you shouldn’t drive a car 10,000 miles without an oil change. We think it should be REALLY obvious that the DVD/CD-ROM slit on the side of the iMac is not designed for mini-discs.

Cars cost tens of thousands of dollars. iMacs cost a couple grand. Then our wives break shit on them. Then we get a little pissed about it, but work hard at being cool.

And THEN, we get taken to task over where a pair of pants or a used glass is set down?

In the moment, it feels very unfair when this is happening, and when it appears our wives are so incapable of taking historical context into account in any sort of fair or thoughtful way.

Our wives talk and talk and talk and talk, but we don’t hear it. It’s because we’re pissed. Really pissed. We don’t hear the things they say. And EVEN when we do, we don’t get it.

We don’t understand how if broken cars and expensive computers aren’t worthy of fighting about, we have to defend ourselves over something as petty as a dirty dish, or a pair of pants in the bedroom no one but us will ever see.

We Don’t Get It Because It Doesn’t Make Sense to Us

Wives and other female readers of this blog keep asking the question: “Hey Matt! I don’t get it. If she told you a bunch of times that leaving the dish by the sink hurt her feelings, how can you claim that you didn’t know you were hurting her?”

For the same reasons men don’t understand how “silly little things” related to housecleaning and grocery shopping and childcare can so profoundly affect their wives’ emotional health and jeopardize their marriages, women often don’t seem to understand how those men could continue to neglect them emotionally UNLESS their husbands were doing it intentionally.

Most of the time, (like 98 percent, probably) men don’t hurt their wives or girlfriends on purpose. They do it accidentally. Wives have A LOT of trouble believing this.

But just like we can improve marriages by husbands understanding how a dish by the sink can actually cause pain, we can also improve marriages by wives understanding how husbands can accidentally hurt them by doing the same things over and over.

It seems to be one of those intangible concepts that seem obvious to men, but remarkably difficult to understand for some women, especially those hurt by the men they love.

There’s a guy who lately has been commenting often, engaging in thoughtful and respectful conversation with other readers.

His name is Travis B. Maybe his real name is Travis. Maybe it’s not. Travis and I don’t know each other.

But Travis, in the comments of a recent post, explained this dynamic so much better than I ever have. I found it insightful, well-written and totally accurate in terms of how I experience life as a man capable of accidentally hurting the woman I love.

I don’t think I can write it better than Travis, so I’m not going to try.

Other readers (who go by “Donkey” and “wandathefish”) asked questions.

Travis replied to those questions. And any wives confused about the idea that men are ACCIDENTALLY neglectful should read it a dozen times and tell all their friends.

How Men Accidentally Hurt Their Wives (as written by Travis B.)

Travis: Please understand that the explanations and theories I’m offering up from my own male perspective are not to be taken as justifications or defenses of them.

Donkey: “But when he’s been made aware of it over and over? Isn’t the reality then that he behaves (to put it simply) at work and accepts feedback there because he has to, but he doesn’t at home because he believes she won’t leave him anyway so he won’t bother with the effort?

If that’s what you’re saying, then guys can’t also claim to have been blissfully ignorant of being bad husbands. Then he’s just exploiting that she won’t easily leave him.”

Travis: Yes, I am saying he doesn’t put out the necessary effort because he doesn’t believe she will leave him, and yes, I’m ALSO saying we men can accurately claim to have been blissfully unaware of being bad husbands at the same time. You see, this always comes back to Matt’s “dishes by the sink” post because we don’t ever believe our wives will actually leave us over such issues because, from our perspective, we can’t fathom how something so unimportant to us can truly be so important to you.

This is the point that I see missed over and over by women here—this sense that there has to be some sort of active maliciousness happening on the part of the men in your lives to properly explain your misery.

I’m sure there is a subsection of men in the world who are true down-in-the-marrow-of-their-bones assholes who legitimately seek to ruin the hearts and spirits of their wives, twisted and damaged men who can only keep themselves psychologically afloat by hurling all their inner loathing at anyone who will willingly endure it, but I very much believe (naively? I dunno) they’re the exception, not the rule. The majority of us dunderheaded husbands aren’t actively trying to exploit you. It’s that when we hear you complain for the umpteenth time about the dirty dish being left out, it’s simply that we’re not taking the complaint seriously because, again, we don’t relate to the importance of the “pain” associated with the “crime.” We don’t hear (even if these are the actual words used!), “I’ve told you so many times that this matters to me, and you constantly dismiss it, which means you constantly dismiss me, and I refuse to live a life where nothing that matters to me matters to you.” No, instead, instead, we’re thinking: Boy, you can always count on women to make the most minuscule complaints in the most overdramatic ways, can’t you?

It’s not that we know how much it means to you and don’t care, it’s that we don’t truly believe you care about it that much, either. We just think you’re taking a minor pittance of a concern and, to be frank, just “laying it on rather thickly.” Now is that sexist? Very possibly. Is it passively disrespectful? Most certainly. BUT IT’S NOT INTENTIONALLY DRIVEN BY MALICE AND A DESIRE TO HURT AND DEMEAN.

You don’t have to like that answer (heck, it may, paradoxically, even hurt worse than if our behavior was intentional) but you better serve your quest to find peace with the men in your lives to accept it as the fact of the matter. Again, it doesn’t EXCUSE our behavior, but it sheds light on our psychology and the gulf between our perception and what we desperately need to start understanding about our wives’.

wandathefish: “Why don’t you see the ever-present palpable threat for the spouse, that misalignment with spousal duties and expectations can and will lead directly to a cessation of the relationship? Even if it’s neither quick nor clinical? Why don’t men fear losing the person they are supposed to love more than anyone else in the world more or at least as much as they fear losing their job??”

Travis: The majority of men with their heads screwed on at least halfway will clearly recognize that, if their wives catch them having an affair, or gambling away all their paychecks and savings, or killing innocent people, or filling their veins with heroin every day and the like, divorce is almost surely going to be fast-tracked. But, at the risk of sounding like I’m going back over the same ground I just went over, do any of us assume we’re literally going to lose the love and presence of the wives who’ve taken life vows with us because of dirty dishes? Toilet seats with pee drops on them? Weekends of being plugged into the week’s big games? Eye rolls at being asked to watch a “chick flick”? Changing the radio without asking from your Beyonce to our AC/DC? Not for a second.

Because, again, these things seem such trifles to us. Wrongfully. Wrongfully. Let me beat that drum. WRONGFULLY.

But, nevertheless, we do think that way, because, when similar behaviors are practiced against us, they don’t typically wound our sense of dignity and internal equilibrium the way they do for most women. We simply do not relate. Not even close. It’s a very alien perspective to us.

wandathefish: “Moreover, your reply would seem to back up the theory that men are not unable but rather unwilling to make their partner’s happy.”

Travis: You’re quite right there, but again, that comes not from an actively malicious place but from a passively disrespectful and lazy one.

If men could truly process and internalize that the little shreds of dismissiveness we toss at our wives’ expressed needs, complaints and concerns festers into a tsunami of disrespect and wholesale invalidation in their minds, hearts and souls, the majority of us would be shaken to our core. But it’s so outside the pale of our internal normalcy as males that it almost always takes packed bags and loveless, dead-eyed messages of, “I’ve reached my breaking point and I’m not taking another minute of living life like this” before our proverbial light bulb belatedly goes off.

wandathefish: “And I can’t see anything for her to give him the benefit of the doubt on. Where do you see benefit of the doubt applying in this scenario? It comes across as simple and deliberate cruelty or at best indifference to her suffering. There is no possible positive intent that could be involved in this scenario. If a man tries hard and fails then yes, you could see positive intent but when no serious attempt is even made to understand a woman’s position then you can’t spin that as anything other than callous disregard. Can you?”

Travis: Well, I hope I’ve provided a bit more perspective above in addressing this concern. I do believe that it is better for all concerned in a loving relationship to always approach matters of both communication and observed behaviors from a perspective of assuming positive intent and providing the benefit of the doubt (because, really, if you think so very little of your mate’s motives, why did you betroth yourself to them for life???).

The positive intent from a man’s perspective is that, if he demonstrates how unimportant these issues of dishes, watching click flicks, et al are in the grand scheme of things, surely the woman will recognize the “truth” of it, too, and be freed of her angst over them. Does this amount to disregard? Yes. CALLOUS disregard? Not intentionally, or wantonly, no. Simple cruelty? Yes. DELIBERATE cruelty? Again, not at all.

I’m telling you, I feel 100% confident that the toxicity most men pour into their marriages stems from a complete lack of proper frame of female reference, not because of any willful, vicious, targeted desire to wound, belittle and demoralize. To paraphrase a quote from Mr. Spock, “Our scanners only recognize what they have been programmed to recognize.” Men need better programming.

Slapping on the Bow and Shipping It

I started smoking when I was 15 because I didn’t understand HOW bad it was for me, nor did I have the ability to feel mortal peril like I can in my 30s, nor did I have a child to love, protect and teach.

But today I do understand. And that’s why I quit smoking long ago. And now we live in a world where most people don’t smoke and most kids will never start.

I am divorced because throughout my marriage I didn’t understand how dangerously horrible my wife and I were at comprehending and accurately interpreting one another’s thoughts and behaviors, nor did I understand how hedonic adaptation unknowingly lulls us into treacherous complacency, and how ugly and life-changing divorce can really be.

But today I do understand. And that’s why I write things here.

And maybe someday we will live in a world where most people do understand how these nuanced moments in our relationships ultimately make or break them.

And maybe most kids won’t grow up to learn the hard way like you and me.

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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 13

(Image/thetexastiger.wordpress.com)

(Image/thetexastiger.wordpress.com)

Sooooo. I’ve totally masturbated before.

Maybe once. Or maybe 87 million times. Truthfully, I don’t want to talk about it because it makes me really uncomfortable and I can’t stop thinking about my mom or grandma reading this and saying: “Heavens to Betsy! Did you know that Matt played Diddle-Me-Elmo!?”, or thinking about everyone I knew in high school sitting around going: “Ha! I knew that dude wanked it!” and then making plans to announce it at our next high school reunion. It makes me want to set myself on fire. But THAT feeling is precisely why I’m talking about it.

I can’t write about shitty husbandry with intellectual honesty if we don’t talk about pornography and masturbation. According to a 2015 NBC News report, porn is a $97 billion industry worldwide, with about $12 billion of that in the United States alone. What that means is, mathematically, EVERY American, including newborn babies and nuns and 90-year-olds, spends $40 annually on porn. And that’s with virtually unlimited free pornography available on the internet.

Conclusion: You totally wank it too, you Pervy McPerversons. It’ll be our little secret.

Many—maybe even most—relationships that go south, do so because we’re too afraid to talk about things for fear of judgment or rejection, and then our partners end up believing things about us which aren’t true, and you spend years with your marriage never really having a chance because no one knew the real story. Our partners were literally—at least a part of them—someone other than who we thought.

I wasn’t who my wife thought because I never told her who I really was, sexually. When two people promise to never have sex with anyone else again, it stands to reason that—unless you despise orgasms, physical intimacy, or prefer sexual repression—you and your partner MUST make your bedroom (or wherever!) experiences really good, to avoid craving something more or different in ways that will ultimately destroy your relationship.

And then there’s the flipside. The people who are so cavalier and shameless about it that they don’t see any downside to pornography or “taking care of things themselves,” which I can only get behind if all their cards are on the table with their significant others. If one or both of them are lying about, or hiding, that part of them, it can only end badly. More on that in a bit.

Why didn’t I talk to my wife about it? I was afraid. I was afraid that if I told my wife the unfiltered truth she’d think I was some sex-crazed perv or deviant and not love me anymore. That she’d think I was a freak. That she’d somehow reject me.

I wasn’t smart enough to see the big picture and choose bravery. If your ultimate goal is to marry for life, you CANNOT be too afraid to discuss true things with your partner. In addition to actually having a good chance to stay married for life, it also just feels so much better when people choose you even after knowing things about you that make you feel insecure.

I understand there are a lot of people out there who can’t understand what the fuss is about. Some people will shout it from the rooftops: “Of course I masturbate! I have my best orgasms with my vibrator!” or will be like one of my college buddies who was the first person I’d ever heard talk about it casually and without embarassment. It took 19-ish years for me to hear someone speak about it in front of others.

Remember The 40-Year-Old Virgin? I handled all masturbation-related conversation even worse than Steve Carell’s Andy did. And I’m a little bit jealous of the self-assuredness of Paul Rudd’s hilarious David.

Andy: [motioning to David’s box of porn] “I don’t want this stuff, okay? Because I don’t do that, that much.”

David: “What, masturbate?”

Andy: “Yeah.”

David: [who has been standing in the doorway, fully clothed, for only a couple minutes] “Dude, I’ve jacked it twice since I’ve been here.”

Why This is Dangerous

If sex is unimportant to you AND your spouse, then it probably doesn’t matter very much.

If you hate long-term monogamous relationships or were forced into marriage, or just really want to divorce, then this isn’t a problem for you.

But if your marriage is important to you, and you’re like 99 percent of people who really like sex, even if it’s a big secret to everyone who knows them, then this matters. A lot.

I grew up in a little Ohio town with conservative Catholic parents. I went to Catholic school, attended church on Sundays, was part of religious-based activities from first grade through high school graduation, and only “knew” a few things about masturbation as a kid:

1. It’s a sin and depending on what God decides on Judgment Day, could lead to eternal damnation. Imagine that for a minute. The shittiest time in your life you can think of. The worst you’ve ever felt. So, like, a few weeks after divorce, and your ex is dating someone else, and you’re crying and afraid of everything, and then one day you’re like, working it out in the shower or wherever, drenched in loneliness and shame, while everyone else in the world watches because you’re secretly the star of a real-life The Truman Show, and then someone randomly emails you the video with a note: “Everyone knows, loser!!! Even your mom and grandma!!!” and then you look out the side window of your house and there’s your 70-year-old neighbor lady pointing and laughing at you. And then, because you’re in hell for jerking it, you have to feel THAT FEELING for ETERNITY. Not two weeks. Not 1,000 years. FOREVER. That’s what we’re taught. And, you know, maybe it’s true. I don’t have any way of knowing. I just know when you are afraid of THAT your entire childhood and combine it with #2, your marriage can get really shitty.

2. That’s weird and gross! I can’t talk about that! No one else does it! You can tell because everyone at school makes jokes about it! No chance any of these other adults in church would ever do something like that! True story: Catholics go to confession, where we tell a priest in private about the things we feel guilty for, and then God through the intercession of the priest forgives our sins. And even though I’m not a very good Catholic, I’ve been to confession in adulthood. So, I mention this to the priest one time when I was still married, and he can tell I’m feeling nervous and uncomfortable talking about it. So, he asks: “How often?” I told him. And he replied: “That’s it!? You’re not even trying!” Made me snort. Maybe God or the pope or really pious people would frown at him cracking that joke. But it was a huge moment for me in terms of really understanding that most things that make us uncomfortable are things that many, maybe most, other people also feel uncomfortable with. Because so many of us are kind of the same underneath all our masks. Which is awesome to understand when you’re having conversations like this.

3. Just letting “things” build up seemed wholly unsustainable. I don’t think most young people think: Gee, what can I do right now for fun? I know! Diddle myself! I think they think: Good God, man. I totally need to do it with someone. But I’m like 14 and don’t know how, and we’re supposed to wait until we’re married, and premarital sex is a sin too! But that seems like an even-BIGGER sin than this other sin. So, I guess I’ll watch this weird scrambled TV channel that is mostly snowy static, but I can totally see a naked boob once in a while. Or whatever.

So I didn’t talk to my wife about it. I don’t want to blame Jesus and my parents and my Catholic upbringing for my failed marriage. We’re all responsible for our choices. But that’s seriously the reason all the sex stuff got weird. Fear and shame related to beliefs about sex that were unhealthy in the context of marriage.

I had, and in some ways, have, legit guilt-shame issues about sex. And I’m guessing many kids who grew up in religious or conservative homes, or small towns like me, ALSO have some of those conflicting feelings swirling around, and maybe many people outgrow it. I’m working on outgrowing it. But it takes courage for me to talk or write about this. And maybe it does for you, too.

It’s the same fear that kept me from talking to my wife openly and honestly about sex.

Even the most-religious and conservative teachings I’ve heard about marriage don’t address what marital sex is supposed to look like. But no matter what that is? If you’re doing it together, and not hurting other people in the process? How can that be wrong? Be honest with the people you love. They NEED access to what’s inside and underneath the masks, or your relationship will suffer badly.

What it Looks Like for Many People

One of the most common stories you hear about is the guy who sneaks to the computer late at night or when no one else is home, and looks at porn photos or watches videos.

I’m not much of a porn consumer, and I’m not just saying that. Real people just seem hotter to me than “fake” people in photos or videos, and that’s always been true. I think relative to people who consume adult material, I’m probably in the bottom 5 percent.

But I’ve still been the guy whose wife turned on the computer to find some pop-up web page that had been minimized with a bunch of porn images on it, even though it’s never been a major thing.

Maybe some wives don’t care.

But I know some do. Some do because it makes them feel insecure, as if they are not good enough to make their husbands feel good or satisfy him sexually. Some do because their sex lives are inconsistent or seemingly non-existent, and she’s asking herself all these questions about why because she wants to reconnect with him in the bedroom, and then she finds porn.

And she’s like: “Wait a freaking minute. I totally want to have sex with you, even though you’re a shitty husband half the time, and I have actual body parts and a vagina and stuff, and you’re choosing airbrushed, fake-breasted electronic chicks on a screen and your hand over me!?”

So, guys. Mental exercise: Think of your best guy friend. Or one of her platonic guy friends or co-workers you know. And now, imagine your wife has rejected your sexual advances for a few weeks and you’re starting to worry about it or wonder why.

And you come home one day, and you find her masturbating while looking at a picture of your friend or another guy she knows, and moaning his name.

Got it?

That might be close to how she feels when she realizes you never touch her or tell her she’s sexy or beautiful or that you want her, but that you’re wanking it to internet chicks. It’s bad.

The Sexual Motivation Problem

You probably already know this, but you WILL get bored with pretty much everything in your life. It’s called “hedonic adaptation,” and it happens to everyone about everything. You get a new car, you get a new job, you get a bunch of money, you get a new TV, you get new clothes, you get a new romantic partner.

At first, it’s amazing. Everything feels good and it’s all rainbows and unicorns and orgasms.

Then, one day, and you don’t even notice it happening, it stops exciting you. Whatever new thing that made you feel awesome at first has now stopped generating those good feelings.

Hedonic adaptation is your brain naturally adjusting to positive life changes.

This means, you’re going to eventually “bore” of your partner in some form or fashion. It means, if the value of your relationship is measured in skin-deepness, that hot bartender or the new girl in accounting at your office is going to seem more attractive or exciting to you than the person you’re always with, in purely a base mammal sort of way.

This is why we choose to love our partners every day, and not be duped by how we sometimes “feel,” because feelings change constantly and always will.

This is why we actively practice gratitude for all that we have, instead of pining for what we don’t.

This is why we work daily to build profoundly honest and strong and intimately connected relationships, where something as superficial as a person’s physical appearance could NEVER feel more attractive to you than your partner.

This is why I’m championing mega-honesty about sex before and during marriage. Practice doing it with your spouse A LOT. Get awesome at it. Like, really, really, really awesome at it. Because, who wants to go bang some stranger who could never come close to doing it as well as your masterful partner who loves and respects you?

In Mark Manson’s Models: Attract Women Through Honesty, he tackles the subject of porn and masturbation in the context of dating, and does so without filtering it through the prism of religion or morality.

I think it applies to modern marriage, too. Here are some excerpts:

“Since the advent of internet pornography, it’s become easier than ever for men to satisfy their sexual urges… there’s an entire generation that has grown up always having access to as much pornography as they want since a young age…

“There’s no hard scientific evidence (yet) for porn addiction. But here’s something that is absolutely true: porn kills your motivation to pursue women in real life.”

Part of making your marriage awesome is making your wife feel respected, safe, loved, desired, and sexy so that you can have a kick-ass and bond-forming sex life together. When you stop pursuing your wife emotionally and sexually as you did when you were dating, she feels less respected, less loved, less desired, less sexy, and thusly, less safe. And even though that’s true, she may still want to have sex with you a lot. When you’re jerking it all the time, you eliminate your physical and psychological motivation to pursue your wife. When she expresses sexual interest in you because the kids are finally asleep, or because they’re spending the night at grandma’s, and you say “Um, I’m really tired tonight, babe. I just want to watch this movie,” but the truth is you just got off by yourself in the bathroom, maybe because you guessed incorrectly that she wouldn’t want to do it tonight, or maybe just because you never considered her at all, she’s going to feel rejected.

Like, it’s going to start to really hurt and pile up on top of all these other things we accidentally do to destroy our wives emotionally.

We are selfish creatures, we humans. Some more than others. If you selfishly want your marriage to be good and last forever, then you need to unselfishly communicate with your wife about your wants and desires, and take steps to build up your sexual motivation by devoting that energy toward her. Instead of expecting her to drop her panties on command, maybe you could do what needs done to make her want to.

Maybe even need to. That’s always fun.

Manson continues:

“There’s a bit of an epidemic of sexual apathy going on worldwide, where husbands, boyfriends, and even single men are turning to pornography rather than the real life women that they see walking around every day. And it makes sense why: it’s easier… the sex is more exciting, it’s available at any time… the girls never say no, and… there are no obligations or commitments involved.

“The problem is that there are some negative side effects. The first being that porn creates very, very unrealistic expectations about sex, about women, and about sexuality. Porn makes money by accentuating and exaggerating sexual ideals. Actual sex with an actual woman often involves awkward moments of figuring out what she likes, what you like, who likes it which way. It also involves ecstatic moments of emotional intimacy, something porn can never provide

“The other problem is that porn is so easy, that it encourages men to masturbate… a lot. And as we all know, as men, the more we masturbate, the more interested we become in food and television, and the less we become in women and accomplishing something…

“Science is starting to back this up. Orgasms, or more accurately, ejaculation in men, actually causes a depletion of various hormones and endorphins which often lead to useful behaviors as well as motivation.”

Maybe you’re totally comfortable discussing sex. That will really help you have open and honest conversations with your wife which can contribute to an amazing, and perhaps marriage-saving, sex life. I hope you’ll have them.

Or maybe you’re sometimes scared to talk about it like I was. Maybe you’re afraid to tell her because you’re afraid of rejection or her judgment.

Maybe you have some warped sense of moral duty to hide from your wife some of these things you feel on the inside.

But you have to figure out how to have the conversation. You owe it to her. You owe it to you. You owe it to any future children you have. Talk to her. Courageously. Because you may be surprised to discover she wants those things, too. No matter what, it might help her understand that she is desired and enjoyed much more than she believes.

You may be surprised to discover that little things like blindfolds and neckties and headphones blasting a sexy playlist and ice cubes and food and touching her there, and there, and right there, just like that, can play a major role in making your marriage the sustainable, healthy and joy-giving institution it’s designed to be.

This part of your life can destroy your marriage if you’re not honest with her.

This part of your life can make it phenomenal if you are.

Be brave.

Not tomorrow. Today.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 6

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 7

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 8

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 9

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 11

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 12

…..

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The Third Post-Divorce Valentine’s Day

Wilted rose sad on valentine's day

I didn’t want to write about Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t thinking about it at all. But it turns out, THAT is the entire point. (Image/freepromotoday.com)

My phone buzzed.

The text read: “I’m telling you now, so we don’t have to have a guilt-ridden conversation later. Today is my bday. Holla! And I am expecting a good V-day post in honor of it.”

“Happy birthday! A V-day post!? What would I possibly write about?”

“I don’t know! About being single on Valentine’s Day?… Unlessss… Wait, do you have another secret girl?!”

(For clarification, said “secret girl” was someone I went out with a few times, and it represented the first time post-divorce that I believed something serious might be happening. It wasn’t.)

“I do not. But I also don’t feel loneliness anymore,” I said.

“Well then. Isn’t that a post?” she said.

“Is it?”

“Isn’t it?!”

“Seems self-indulgent.”

“How could it be self-indulgent when… so many people follow you with the HOPE of one day, being on the other side?! Those ‘I’m not feeling loneliness anymore’ posts are very important to your story. I think.”

Maybe she’s right.

Here’s the thing: I can’t remember me three years ago. I remember wanting to die. But recreating traumatic emotion is, thankfully, not a skill I possess.

I won’t pretend to know what other people feel at the end of their marriage. It was all, just, very bad at my house. I spent 18 months in the guest room. That’s, what? About 540 consecutive mornings of waking up and realizing your life is shitty and your wife doesn’t want you? That takes a toll.

I tried to stay hopeful.

On that final Valentine’s Day, I got her a card. The one I received came from our son, but not her. The depths of my denial were apparently limitless.

April 1, 2013 was the last time I shared an address with another adult.

Loneliness is a State of Mind

I freaked out.

I can’t explain the depths of the pain, fear, sadness, grief and anger I felt. I had no idea simply being alive could feel like that. You either know what I’m talking about, or you’re very fortunate.

In the early days, I was with friends constantly. If I wasn’t home with my son, I was out having drinks. I stayed busy and surrounded by others because spending too much time in my empty house taught me how loud silence can be.

Friends and family were checking in constantly. I have never known lonely like I did then.

Lonely isn’t the same thing as isolated.

You can be standing in the middle of a bustling New York City sidewalk and feel lonely.

And you can be sitting alone on a lakeside picnic table soaking in a gorgeous sunny day with no one in sight and be the furthest thing from it.

We can’t cure loneliness simply by surrounding ourselves with others.

It has to be the right others. But broken insides don’t heal from the outside in. The healing has to start from the inside. And we don’t have much control over how long it takes.

When you first get divorced following 34 straight years of pretty much always being with someone in public, you feel like the biggest loser imaginable when the restaurant hostess asks whether anyone will be joining you.

“Nope. Just me,” I’d say, and then imagine what she must think about me since she probably thought I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to join me.

I’d sit there on my phone, or with a pen and notebook, and I’d meet the eyes of other diners, all of whom had at least one person sitting with them. I felt like every one of them was sending me pity vibes each time we made eye contact.

I irrationally believed everyone who saw me could tell my wife had moved out and thought I was pathetic, when the truth is they likely didn’t give me a second thought.

When you spend 540 straight nights in a guest room, then your wife leaves you and seems a million-percent happier about it than you, really bad things happen to your mental and emotional make-up.

I wrote honest stories here about how it felt. About how afraid I was of everything. A bunch of tough guys read some of it and internet-yelled: “Be a man, pussy!!!”

But, they can all suck it.

I wasn’t broken because I was weak. I was broken because human resiliency is a finite resource, and I’d just been through some shit.

When all you have ever known is companionship and connection, being alone and feeling the disconnection of divorce and celibacy and your child being gone half the time is the recipe for profound loneliness.

And that’s what I felt. Every time I saw an old married couple. Every time I saw any couple. Every time I saw big groups of friends laughing and having a good time. Every time I returned home from a fun weekend away. Every time I walked in the door to my quiet, empty house. Every time I woke up in the morning and realized I was the oldest I’ve ever been AND that my life was worse than it has ever been.

That’s a pretty bleak and brutal realization.

The Giant Ever-Spinning Globe

It’s not something you earn.

It just happens.

You just… feel better.

You have a million questions following a painful divorce, but I think the one you care about the most is: When will I feel like myself again?

Everyone and their individual situations are different. Maybe it’s easier for people to move on when they don’t have children and don’t have to see and speak to their ex constantly. Maybe people who have been through traumatic life events prior to divorce don’t think it’s as bad as the rest of us do. Maybe some people brush off divorce easily because of their emotional wiring in the same way some people can roll their tongues while others can’t.

My wife left on April 1, 2013. That day, and many that followed, are tied for the worst day of my life.

A year later, it was still hard.

Two years later, it was much less so.

Three years later? I spent two hours yesterday morning with my ex-wife and her new significant other, and there were zero ill-effects. He’s a good guy. We have history. And I count my blessings every day that he is in my son’s life instead of an unknown entity or someone who sucks.

You don’t “earn” healing. There isn’t a “best way” to heal in order to speed up the process. If you hurt, you just hurt. And it doesn’t stop until it stops.

There are no shortcuts. Just masks. Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. People use them to numb the pain. To escape.

The only escape is the other side. The only way is through it.

The Earth spins around every 24 hours. It fully orbits the sun every 365.25 days.

And here on the ground a million imperceptible things are happening inside our hearts and souls. We watch the sun rise and set. We watch the clocks tick off the minutes. We flip the pages on our calendars.

And then we wake up, and it’s tomorrow even though it felt like it was never going to get here.

The days are dark at first. We feel out of control. We sometimes question whether waking up tomorrow is even worth it.

But early in the process, I thought of something important. It’s true, and it has stuck with me, and I will never stop saying it:

Someday, the best day of our life is going to arrive. The best thing that will ever happen to us, will happen, or at least something awesome that makes every day after more inspiring and life-giving.

Someday, we will be presented with a new opportunity or we will meet someone who will maybe become the most important person in our lives.

Since looking forward to awesome things is one of life’s greatest pleasures, I always figure: Why not start now?

Something good and beautiful is out there waiting to randomly bump into us in the future. Look forward to it. Choose hope.

And when that day arrives, we get to connect all the dots. We get to see how everything needed to happen exactly as it did. We get to have this beautiful and important thing in our lives and we get to know that all of the shit we crawled through was worth it because it was the only path to now.

I used to say it even when I didn’t feel it: Everything is going to be okay.

It’s three years later, guys. And everything is okay.

Today just might be the day the best thing that ever happens to me, happens.

And if it doesn’t?

I like having things to look forward to.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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