Tag Archives: Health

How to Respond to Your Emotional Spouse Without Making Things Worse

mirroring and building rapport with others

(Image/cristianobaraghini.it)

More often than not, when my wife reacted emotionally to anything—something I said or did; something on TV; something that happened at work, whatever—my gut reaction was to think of her response as an overreaction.

This was not me intentionally trying to demean or disrespect her. This was my honest, natural, and I believed—objective—reaction to whatever she was saying or doing that I perceived to be disproportionate to whatever triggered the emotional response.

I was using commonplace, relationship-killing invalidation methods, but I wasn’t doing so maliciously. Never.

I don’t like injustice. So if my wife told me a story about how a co-worker or client had upset her earlier in the day, and I agreed with the offending co-worker or client, I would say so. I was sharing my honest opinions and feelings, and believed that happy, healthy marriages were built on such things.

When my wife would act pissy because I wasn’t taking her side, I was once again appalled by the notion that my wife would rather me dishonestly side with her than share my actual beliefs.

Lastly, I felt protective of my wife. Loved her and wanted her to be the best, healthiest, smartest, most balanced person she could be. I felt morally and lovingly obligated to point out that I thought many of these situations were beneath her.

Babe. You are very smart. You are very talented. You are very decent. I wish you wouldn’t let these inconsequential things negatively affect how you feel. If you learn to see them as minor nuisances rather than these big, day-ruining things, then moving forward you will have more good days and feel happy.

I believed these were honest thoughts and feelings, and that sharing them with my wife was not only appropriate, but that I was offering her a path to feeling more peace and joy in her life.

But then, of course, in all of my blind ignorance, my marriage continued to slowly—very slowly—deteriorate, one dinner or car-ride conversation like this at a time, until it felt like my wife hated me, and we spent more than a year sleeping in separate bedrooms until she finally ended it for good.

The entire time, me thinking she was emotionally broken—that her internal calibration was misaligned—and that once she made a few subtle adjustments, she would feel better, and then we could get back to having that marriage we both believed we were signing up for.

The Emotional Intelligence Litmus Test

If you’ve read this far, and you are in 100-percent lockstep philosophical agreement with how I processed and responded to my wife sharing her emotions with me during our marriage, then I think it’s safe to assume you have a lot of conflict in your romantic relationships.

If you agree with my good-hearted, well-intentioned approach to supporting my wife in my now-failed marriage, or are married to (or dating) someone who behaves as I did, I bet you have The Same Fight, which produce the same toxic feelings of stress and anxiety, tones of voice, and emotionally unpleasant results over and over again. I assume you are incredibly frustrated with your failure to make progress in these conversations, because you are stuck in this conflict cycle that won’t stop repeating itself.

Most of us are familiar with the Intelligence Quotient, or IQ, but fewer of us, it seems, are familiar with the Emotional Quotient, or EQ—the measure of a person’s emotional intelligence.

While IQ can help you solve advanced math theorems or learn a foreign language, it’s EQ that will determine the quality and fate of your romantic and interpersonal relationships.

Here’s a Mind Tool for Connecting with Your Emotional Partner and Ending the Fight Cycle

This is not exclusively a male behavior—this attempt to “correct” or “adjust” someone else’s emotional reactions—but it’s most typically seen in men, which is why we have the stereotype of men frustrated by their overly emotional wives or girlfriends.

The majority of my male coaching clients report feeling this same sense of helplessness with their wives.

“Suddenly, she’s mad about something again, and I don’t even know what I did wrong. It’s like nothing I do is ever good enough for her.”

Right now, some of you guys are nodding. I am too. This is exactly how I felt when I was married. Like I could never win. And I didn’t understand why my efforts to help my wife feel better only seemed to make her feel worse.

Men in this scenario have an opportunity (responsibility?) to adjust their response habits to their relationship partners during these conversations and situations, and many will discover that by doing so, these emotionally volatile, conflict-heavy discussions will lessen in both frequency and severity, leading to two partners increasing their connection and moving closer together instead of drifting further apart.

Here’s where I was getting it wrong, and where you (or your partner) may also be getting it wrong.

When my wife started reacting emotionally to something, my first reaction was to evaluate the situation and determine whether I would react the same way to that same scenario. I was very good at empathizing with people whenever I recognized that I would feel just like them if I had gone through what they had.

But my wife would typically react to things in ways that I would not.

And my VERY FIRST ACTION was to decide that her reaction was disproportionate to whatever had happened. Another way to say that is that my very first move was to determine that my wife was wrong, incorrect, mistaken, misinformed, ignorant, crazy, or emotionally weak to be acting the way she was.

Imagine that every time you told your spouse that something made you mad, sad, or hurt, they told you were wrong—that you either didn’t know how you really felt because you were confused, or that you were incorrect for feeling as you did. That you’re too dumb to know that none of that stuff matters.

Imagine that when you told them that THEY were saying or doing things that resulted in you feeling shitty, that they DEFENDED and JUSTIFIED their actions, all but ensuring that in the future—both short-term and long-term—you could count on feeling shitty because of your partner’s actions over and over again.

What they did wasn’t bad or wrong! YOUR feelings and opinions are what’s bad and wrong! So you just go ahead and fix whatever is wrong with your brain and body chemistry, and then you won’t have to feel bad anymore!

Imagine it.

When a person tells you that something you did or said caused them pain, and then you respond in ways that essentially promise you will repeat that pain-causing behavior because you don’t think there’s anything wrong with it? It makes perfect sense for that person to hurriedly remove you from their life.

We should not allow people to hurt us after they refuse to stop doing something we have repeatedly asked them to stop doing. Those people should not be granted permission to continue torpedoing our lives.

It’s this inclination to match or compare how we would react to certain events that creates conflict with our partners.

I ask my coaching clients who report this conflict pattern in their relationships to cut that shit out, stat.

Instead of matching or comparing their predicted reaction to an identical scenario, I ask them to reverse-engineer it.

I ask them to match or compare their current emotional state to that of their partner’s.

Psychologists call it emotional mirroring. I’m not asking people to intentionally make themselves feel sad or angry. I’m simply asking them to swap out the thing they’re currently comparing for something else that will foster positive emotional connectivity, which is often what’s missing in conflict-heavy relationships.

It’s not useful to waste the time debating the merits of whether they SHOULD feel as they feel. They DO feel as they feel.

Deal in reality. And an effective emotionally intelligent response to someone in pain, or who feels sad or angry, is to match or compare YOUR emotions to THEIRS.

They’re sad. Should they be sad? WHO CARES? They ARE sad. What makes you sad? What happened the last time you were sad? What behaviors and words are consistent with what feels appropriate when you’re in that state?

They’re angry. Should they be angry? Doesn’t matter. They ARE angry. What makes you angry? Can you remember the last time you were really angry and your entire body felt shitty? What could your wife or friend or whoever have said or done to help?

Trying to correct someone else’s emotions is a recipe for DESTROYING your relationship with them.

Instead, attempt to evoke that same emotion. Notice how they feel. Communicate that you understand that they’re feeling that, and that you know it sucks. Communicate that what they think and feel MATTERS, because THEY matter. Communicate that you’re there to be whatever version of a support system they need to get through whatever is happening.

If it’s something you said or did to trigger those feelings, DO NOT attempt to defend or justify whatever happened. Do not double down on the thing that’s causing all of this suck. Seek to understand both WHAT and WHY something hurt. Communicate that you want to be their teammate—their partner—in cooperatively finding new ways to say and do things so that the shitty thing doesn’t repeat itself.

After a competitive sporting event like a football game, all of the viewers, fans, and participants have WILDLY different reactions.

The winning players, coaches, and fans are happy.

The losing players, coaches, and fans are sad or angry.

Some neutral viewers didn’t experience any emotion at all.

You can see the lunacy in any of those people acting as if others should share their identical emotional reaction, yes? OF COURSE losing players and fans are typically going to feel shittier than winning players and fans.

Same event. Different reactions.

Just as contextually, all of those different reactions make sense when you understand things from their perspective, we’ll discover that people reacting emotionally to something in ways that might be foreign or surprising to us ALSO have a very sensible, understandable reason for responding that way.

If you’re interested in loving, living with, sleeping with, sharing resources with, this other human being who behaves differently than you would, I think you’ll find it incredibly useful to seek out those reasons for this surprising reaction. That’s information you’ll be able to use to NOT say and do things that lead to your partner (or anyone you care about) feeling hurt and mistreated.

Our relationship problems are subtle. Nuanced.

And the adjustments we must make in our minds and hearts are equally subtle and nuanced.

It’s not hard because it’s especially difficult to do any of this stuff. It’s hard because we frequently struggle to notice, to see, to recognize these moments for what they are.

Good news: We can do hard things.

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Must Women Leave Men to Get Them to Change?

Learning the hard way flowchart (Image/David Colarusso)

“Would you have changed if she had not left you?”

Within an hour of answering this exact question in the comments of How to Change Your Shitty Husband, someone else sent an email asking the same question, and whether I’d written an article about it before.

I have answered this question many times—but I think thoughtlessly and too cynically. Maybe because I thought the question was actually about me. Maybe sometimes it is.

Wives and girlfriends, I think, are mostly asking this because they’re trying to decide whether there’s hope for their partner to experience the same emotional intelligence evolution that I did WITHOUT going through divorce, since divorce sucks more than shitty drivers trying to kill you and your 11-year-old at highway speeds.

People frequently ask whether my wife had to divorce me in order for me to make the changes that I did, and it’s easy to say yes.

For me, under my specific life circumstances, it’s easy to efficiently and truthfully say that it took the pain of losing my family to motivate me since to learn all that I have about human relationships.

But that’s a dangerously simplistic answer AND eliminates the opportunity for me to humble-brag about my coaching work with husbands and boyfriends, which sometimes results in clients demonstrating vastly improved emotional intelligence and relationship habits. You know, without all of the limp-wiener sobbing and vomit parties that accompanies the dark and scary early days of divorce when you’re still trying to decide each day whether you want to continue breathing and feeling things. (Or maybe that was just me.)

 

The Answer is Not Either Or

It’s not a binary choice. It’s much more than just one or the other. There are other possibilities to consider beyond whether to divorce/break up, or remain in a toxic relationship.

There’s nothing particularly special about me or the coaching work that I do. It’s unique, I suppose, in that only I can be me, and only I can think and speak the way I think and speak. People frequently reach out to me because of articles I’ve written which they say explains their relationship to them in ways that make sense where other self-help content had failed to connect or resonate.

I’m not for everyone. But I am for those people. The people who speak my language and think and feel kind of like how I think and feel. Those are the people I can help via coaching.

For other people, different coaches, or therapists, or marriage counselors, or even just some great books might be what can help them the most.

Like figuring out how to fine-tune your specific relationship with your specific partner by tailoring your behavioral and communication habits to THEIR individual needs in order to achieve balance and peace, so too should you use the tools and resources best suited to helping you succeed.

I didn’t have me to talk to.

But I think Now Me could have helped Then Me because I know how to say things in ways that make sense to me. My ex-wife did NOT know how to say things in ways that made sense to me. She said things in ways that made sense to her, and I was too ignorant and immature to put in the work necessary to help both of us learn how to say and do things in the ways that made sense to one another.

People don’t divorce on the reg because all these people who were once madly in love and super-connected to one another suddenly disagree about every possible thing.

People divorce because they don’t know how to explain what’s wrong from the OTHER person’s point of view. Unless you can clearly explain your spouse’s argument or feelings in a way that makes them say “Yes! You totally get it! That’s exactly right!” then it’s safe to conclude you STILL don’t get it.

It’s not your failure to understand it that will get you divorced as much as your stubborn unwillingness to legitimately TRY to understand. That usually ends with your spouse concluding (sensibly) that you don’t care enough about them for them to justify investing the rest of their lives in your relationship, which to them, feels bad every day.

The Right Words, the Right Way, the Right Time

The 5 Love Languages is a simple, profound, and useful way to frame relationship communication and behavior, which is why the book’s author Dr. Gary Chapman has more money than really good bank robbers.

There are five common ways in which people receive love—meaning when people do these things to or for them, they literally feel loved. What most of us do is show our love to others in the way that makes sense to us—in the way WE feel loved. But whenever OUR love language doesn’t align with our romantic partner’s love language (and vice versa), things can get super-hairy like the Elephant Exhibit at the Jimmy John’s Wildlife Preserve.

For many people, the simple adjustment to using words and behavior tailored to their partner’s specific love language can revolutionize the way two people communicate with and connect to one another.

This same principle can be applied to any kind of human connection or communication challenge.

We find answers to our problems when we ask the right questions.

There is a way THAT person learns things, hears things, feels things. It’s probably different than the way you and I learn, hear, and feel stuff.

So to get through to them, it’s our job to understand HOW things get through to them, and then using behavior and communication methods consistent with the way the other person absorbs new information.

Would You Have Changed if She Had Not Left You?

It’s easy to say no. It’s easy to say my wife had to leave me for me to hurt badly enough in order to motivate me to learn WHY, thus developing the emotional intelligence and empathy necessary to learn how be less of an asshole in life and relationships.

But I can’t be sure that’s true.

I might even say I AM sure that I would have changed if I’d had the requisite amount of information I needed back when I needed it.

You can’t know what you don’t know.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

The key difference between me now versus me then, is then I believed I knew a lot, and now I’m pretty committed to never assuming I KNOW things. If I ‘know’ things, I can’t learn. If I ‘know’ things, I won’t ask good questions. If I ‘know’ things, I’ll be wrong the exact same amount as I always am, but a much bigger asshole along the way.

We just need the right people, the right conditions, and partners willing and able to speak the language and use the vocabulary that we understand.

It’s a choice.

And no matter which side of the broken-translator crisis you live on, I hope you’ll choose it.

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The 2,000 Reasons I’m Glad I Didn’t Die Last Night

Compass photo by Aron Visuals

(Image/Aron Visuals)

There haven’t been many days when I’ve wanted to die. Maybe zero.

I felt really bad for a long time after my marriage ended, and I sort of stopped caring. I figured being dead might hurt less.

A little boy and you guys gave me reasons to dust myself off and keep trying every day.

There aren’t many days when I actually thought that I was going to die, even though I’ve probably almost died a bunch of times.

Three of those times stand out above the rest. One was the first day of my life when the docs and nurses told my parents to expect the worst. I don’t remember this, of course, but I’ve heard the story so many times that it feels like I do. Another was a three-wheeler ATV accident when I was a teenager where a little safety bar sticking out from behind the seat probably saved me.

And the third happened last night while driving home from a concert with my 11-year-old in the passenger seat.

I assume I’m not the only one who feels this really surreal feeling when my brain realizes that something bad is about to go down. It’s all happening so fast that you don’t have time to be afraid, so there’s no fear or anxiety, just real-time acceptance that the bad thing is happening, and you just sort of hope things will be okay on the other side, knowing it’s out of your hands.

My son was dozing off in the seat next to me even though the new Volbeat album was playing pretty loudly.

I had just changed lanes from the right lane to the center lane of a three-lane highway at about 70 miles per hour to pass a large semi hauling gasoline, and then exit for home about a mile later.

That’s when a white SUV passed quickly on my left and started merging into the center lane right where we were. I probably said a bad word. A collision with either the merging, speeding vehicle on my left OR the massive fuel tanker on my right seemed like they would end poorly, but I was pretty sure one or both of those things was about to happen.

I knew we were going to have a high-speed highway accident.

I hit the brakes hard and moved as close to the semi as I could. Maybe he saw what was happening and drifted a little to give me room. All I know is I left an epic trail of fishtailing rubber down the center lane of the highway I drive several times per week, I didn’t hear the expected crunch of metal on metal from either the left or the right, and then—miraculously—no one smoked us from behind which could have sent us in any number of directions to some unknown fate.

It happened too fast to really feel anything.

“Did we just almost get in a car accident, dad?”

“Yeah bud. A bad one, I think. Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Are you okay?”

“I’m having a little moment, but yeah, I think so. Did you feel us hit anything?”

“No.”

“That’s insane. I don’t understand how we didn’t hit something. I was sure we were going to. I guess I did a good job.”

“You did do a good job, dad. We’re both okay.”

[Update: The other driver DID hit us. I have a fancy dent in my driver’s side front fender to show for it, and no means of making the other driver’s insurance company pay for it. I hadn’t had a clear view of that front fender until after writing this. Garbage. On the flip side, the vehicle repair costs are insignificant measured against the gratitude I feel for my son’s safety, and both of us still being here.]

2,000 Days Later

It was about six years—about 2,000 or so days—ago when I used to drive down this same stretch of road imagining a large truck driving in the opposite direction crossing over center and just insta-taking me out in a freak accident. I remember thinking: Do your worst. I don’t fucking care.

Back when I didn’t really know how to smile anymore.

Back when it felt impossible to focus on what was in front of me.

Back when it felt hard to breathe.

My son and I were driving home from an Imagine Dragons concert when I felt certain we were going to be involved in the worst vehicular accident of my life.

The most poignant part of the evening came when Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds intro’d a song talking specifically to kids in the audience about mental health and depression, speaking about the cultural stigma attached to opening up about depression, or about seeking therapy. He was sharing his story to normalize the idea that you can be the lead singer for one of the most popular rock bands in the world, and still need help.

And that that doesn’t make you weak. It makes you strong.

It doesn’t make you broken. It makes you wise.

“Life is ALWAYS worth living,” he said, before they started playing again in what turned out to be the most visually impressive musical performance I’ve ever seen.

Imagine Dragons - Pro Football Hall of Fame - MF

It was pretty rad. (Image/Matthew Fray)

The almost-accident shook me. Down in the places we can’t see and mostly don’t talk about.

Presumably because the little person I’m most alive for was right there with me.

And it dawned on me this morning how unsettling it was to think about family and friends—including you guys (if word ever even got to you)—that I was just gone without so much as a goodbye note telling you how much you matter.

How much this matters.

How much life matters.

What Might 2,000 More Days Bring?

Sometimes my coaching work brings me people who were in the same dark place I was 2,000 days ago.

People who are legitimately asking themselves the question: Why am I even getting up today? What is the point of all of this?

The answer to that question is different for everyone. But 2,000 days later, I’m more confident than ever that there’s ALWAYS an answer. There’s always a reason.

Interpret that with as much or as little spirituality as you want. The answer stands either way.

These past 2,000 days represent about one-fifth of my 40 years—about 20%, and I can’t remember the first 2,000, so it’s really more like 25%.

That number shocks me.

You make the decision to breathe. When everything hurts. You make the decision to get to tomorrow, whatever may come. You don’t have to do it 2,000 times. You just have to do it one more time. We can always do things one more time.

Heavy things become lighter to carry. Sometimes because we set a bunch of it down and leave it behind us. But mostly because we become stronger.

Ugly things become beautiful. Not because things we used to hate become things we love. But because we would be so much less capable had we not endured the difficult human trial.

Darkness becomes light. Which is a choice. To light up the darkness. One you feel prepared to make after wandering around in the dark for a while and deciding it sucks enough to do something else.

Every day that we wake up offers the possibility of being the best day of our lives. Every single day. I don’t always remember to, but I choose hope.

I don’t know how close I actually came to dying last night. Maybe it doesn’t matter since it eventually happens to all of us, and time is never on our side. We are not promised tomorrow, and never have been.

But it felt like a thing in the moment. I was shook. Still am. I’ve been in lots of things, and this one was different.

It made me want to hug my son. I’m so glad you’re here.

It made me want to write to you. I’m so glad you’re here.

It made me realize that I’m not the same person I was 2,000 days ago, and that I won’t be the same person in 2,000 more.

And neither will you.

But who will we be?

Decisions, decisions.

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Adding Spice to Your Love Life Through Routine and Predictability

“We almost died like 15 times throughout this movie, Sandra. We should totally go home and do it.” – Keanu Reeves (Image/whodatedwho.com)

Have you ever been an audience member during a speaking presentation or concert where the audience is asked to do something to participate—like share something to the group, or clap, or sing? You remember that feeling?

Yeah, you do.

I’ve always hated that shit. It triggers whatever big red Discomfort Button that lives in the invisible parts of me, and every time it gets pushed, the loudspeaker in my brain yells, “Everyone is looking at you and judging you and thinking that you’re a stupid asshole!”

It’s irrational. I know it’s silly and unnecessary to think and feel that way. I’m intellectually aware that it’s unhealthy, that hardly anyone is paying attention to me, ever, and if they are, they give zero effs what I’m doing, because they’re too busy worrying about themselves if they’re neurotic like me, or not having a care in the world if they’ve achieved a higher level of mental and emotional maturity than I have.

At 40, I get this in ways I did not in my teens and twenties. But lifelong habits are hard to break, so this is still the default mental and emotional experience whenever I’m in those situations.

Public displays of affection (unless I quiet that internal loudspeaker with the requisite amount of alcohol) trigger those same thoughts and feelings.

My ex-wife used to playfully make fun of me for it, but I think it also made her feel bad. If she grabbed my hand while we were walking together, I’d tense up a little, hold it for just a bit, give it a quick double-squeeze which was SUPPOSED to communicate: “I really do love you! I swear!” but which I’m pretty sure communicated: “It’s sweet that you want to hold my hand, but I care more about what OTHER people think of me/us than I care about you feeling connected and cared for in our relationship! So piss off with the hand-holding, babe!”

Can you imagine? Caring more about what strangers you’ve never met, and probably never will, might think about you for holding your wife’s hand or kissing her?

It’s some next-level dickbag stuff. Life tip: Care more about the emotional wellbeing of the people you love than you do about the neurotic stories you conjure up in your own brain regarding what strangers might think.

Simply, one of those things matters and has genuine relevance to your life, and the other does not.

Romantic Spontaneity vs. ‘Boring’ Routines

If you’re guessing that because I operated that way about hand-holding and any other form of public affection, that I also resisted forced romantic and/or intimate encounters because they didn’t seem ‘authentic’ due to their inherent lack of spontaneity, you’re a fabulous guesser.

Reminder: My wife totally divorced me six years ago, and in my estimation, made an appropriate choice to preserve what was left of her mental/emotional health.

This irrational thing I was doing inside my own head inevitably led to countless situations in which repeated attempts by my wife to connect with me were rejected. Several times per year for more than a dozen years.

Romance and sexual desire doesn’t always manifest in the daily hum-drum routines of the average married couple who spent a long day at work and are maybe caring for kids and pets throughout the mornings and evenings the way it does between two super-attractive Hollywood actors who just survived a dramatic near-death experience in the movies.

I guess I thought that’s what was supposed to happen.

Leveraging the Power of Habit to Increase Emotional Connection with our Partners

I was reminded of how egregiously I failed my wife while watching a recent Mindvalley video featuring Jon and Missy Butcher, called 9 Daily Habits That Will Help You Lead An Extraordinary Life.

Here’s a couple married 25 years, and instead of them complaining about one another to anyone who will listen like most of the 25-year couples I’ve encountered, these two take a walk together every single day, as a daily check-in.

While most of us are busy holding in our frustrations so they can spew out in an undisciplined way at what usually ends up being the most inopportune times, Jon and Missy plan a time each day to unload all of that crap to one another. A daily appointment with one another to listen to each other about the things they experienced earlier in the day, good and bad. This is what it looks like to intentionally move toward one another instead of allowing the natural drift-apart to occur by being too busy with everything else.

And then, once per week, the couple has an overnight date night. Maybe at home. Maybe somewhere else. But every single week, Friday night overnight, no matter where they are, belongs to them, and arrangements are made for everything else in their lives (children, pets, work) to be cared for.

This is their Connection Ritual.

This is what it means to water your own lawn so that your own grass ALWAYS looks greener and better than whatever is on the other side of the fence.

Having a good marriage or a quality, connected romantic relationship of any kind, I think, is a lot like getting in good physical shape. A select few don’t have to work very hard to look and feel great. But most of us do.

And despite the efforts of many magic diet and supplement salespeople, there are no shortcuts to being our best selves physically.

You just do the work. It’s really hard at the beginning. Inertia is always the greatest obstacle. Something new is always more difficult to accomplish than something routine. Our first week of work is always more challenging and intimidating than our 18th month on the job. We move every day. We are mindful about what we consume. The more healthy choices we make, the more our health and wellness benefits from those choices.

And so it is with our relationships. They are what the participants mindfully choose for them to be. When two people wake up every day making the choice to choose one another, and prioritizing one another over everything else, our connections grow. Our love flourishes. Our relationships thrive.

And when you derpy-derp around like I did with your fingers crossed that everything will work out without having to give anything or do anything uncomfortable to achieve it?

I think it’s telling that I don’t even have to say it.

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Drifting Apart: How Bad Things Happen Even When it Feels Like Nothing Happened

Did you almost cry but pretend like you weren’t because crying over a volleyball feels REALLY stupid when you watched our boy Tom lose his only friend in the movie “Cast Away”? Whatever. That’s what I did. (Image/newsmov.biz)

I almost wrote something outrageous about how Galileo Galilei’s and Isaac Newton’s first law of motion was effing up relationships.

The first law of motion—also called the “law of inertia”—states that a body or object at rest remains at rest, and that a body or object in motion continues to move at a constant velocity unless acted upon by an external force.

Or, in regular-speak: If shit doesn’t happen, nothing changes. At least that’s how I always thought about it. If I set a lamp on a bedroom nightstand and never touch it, the expectation is that the lamp will sit still—right there—forever.

Applying that to my marriage, I believed stillness—inactivity or uneventfulness such as going several days or weeks without an argument or negative incident—while not necessarily a positive, was at worst—a non-event. Harmless. Benign. Safe.

If my wife was watching something on HGTV in the living room, and I was watching basketball in the basement rec room, NOTHING was happening. Thus, in my brain, nothing bad happened.

I was going to quibble immaturely with Galileo and Newton. I was going to say that their laws of motion don’t apply to movement within our human relationships.

But then I realized I was the one getting it wrong (shock).

The laws of motion absolutely apply to our relationships. My mistake was thinking of the people in the relationship as being still.

If they were still—then nothing happening would be totally harmless.

But they’re not still. In our relationships, we are not at rest. We are CONSTANTLY adrift, and in my estimation, slow drifting away from one another when we don’t have a strong tether. It’s only now occurring to me how apt the metaphor “tying the knot” is.

And since a body in motion continues to move at a constant velocity unless acted upon by an external force, two people doing nothing AREN’T sitting still. They’re drifting apart at a constant velocity until someone does something about it.

Moving Toward Each Other vs. Moving Away From Each Other

This was the running theme of both of my coaching calls yesterday.

While we’re busy at work, distracted by our personal stresses, tasks, hopes, and dreams. While we’re busy simply trying to stay alive, do a good job at work, keep our bills paid, etc., we are drifting away from our romantic partner.

A visual aid:

I <——> I

Connected.

A month later.

I <————————————> I

Drifted apart a little.

Three months later after a great vacation, a nice anniversary dinner and gift exchange, mind-bending orgasms, and a job promotion for one of them which alleviated financial stress.

I <–> I

Boom.

Four years later after a new baby, a blown anniversary by the husband because ANOTHER promotion made him super-busy and away from home a lot, five consecutive months without sex, and quiet avoidance of one another at home.

I <—————————————————————————————————————————> I

On the brink.

If they continue to avoid the growing distance between them, they will continue to drift away from one another. The further they distance themselves, the weaker their connection—their bond—becomes, which then makes it vulnerable to outside forces. (Traumatic illness, a death in the family, sexual affairs, etc.)

Every Day—Every Conversation, Every Moment—is an Opportunity to Move Closer to One Another or Further Apart

Doing nothing is a death sentence.

Because when we do nothing, we are NOT sitting still, biding our time waiting for something to happen. While we wait, we move apart. And I think couples—often men—are unaware of this drift that’s constantly occurring.

This is why focused, connected, mindful, present dinner conversations are so important.

This is why six-second hugs are significant.

This is why planning activities to do together—often and intentionally—is fundamental to the health of the relationship.

And most notably, THIS is why being competitive with one another—trying to WIN debate points in your next emotion-fueled fight with one another is, as Galileo famously said: “totally fucking stupid.”

His mother was very disappointed in his word choices.

The Objective is to Connect—Not to Teardown or Dominate Your Partner

We are always moving away from each other. Always. So we need to row our little boats against the current back toward each other. Tie knots. Tether ourselves to one another. Anchor ourselves to one another.

The goal of an emotional conversation with your partner can be to try to win debate points with them, while you essentially shove them further away from you. Or, maybe the goal of an emotional conversation with your partner can simply be to decrease the distance between you two.

Maybe the merits of right vs. wrong—the value of being “correct”—is a big, fat zero when it comes to your relationship.

Maybe the only thing you should be measuring is the gap between you, and constantly fighting to move toward the other.

Just maybe, that shift alone would change everything for you.

When you wake up in the morning, you can make the choice to connect. A kind word. A thoughtful action.

When you’re sitting at the office, or hiking in the park, or waiting for the doctor’s appointment, or standing in line at the grocery store, you can make the choice to connect. Maybe I can text her right now to let her know how important and beautiful she is. Maybe I can remind her today and every other day, how grateful I am for her to choose me and sacrifice for me.

When we’re tired after a long day at work, or irritated by our unsympathetic children, or in the middle of something at home—maybe we can strengthen our capacity for awareness, for patience, for mental discipline.

Maybe we can NOTICE the things in our lives that are All The Time. The stuff we look past. Forget to feel grateful for.

Forget to hug.

Forget to nurture.

Forget to love—not the feeling. We think and feel love, and forget that other people don’t always know that we think and feel it. We forget to love—the action. They NEVER misunderstand love the action.

We forget every day to prioritize that which matters most to us.

It’s so hard to be a person and juggle all of the things.

We grew up with no one but ourselves to care for and our parents and guardians did most of the heavy lifting. It takes work—guts and work—to show up every day for the unpleasantness of adulthood.

And it’s even harder to be that person when caught up in the vortex of life and dysfunctional relationships, and trying to put our families and jobs ahead of our personal wellness, and then wonder why we don’t have anything left to give our marriages when it feels like our spouse thinks we’re constantly letting them down anyway.

But it’s almost impossible when no one sees you. When everything you live for and invest in every day—your reason for living—goes unnoticed by the people who matter most. If it doesn’t physically kill us, it kills all of the invisible parts.

This is why relationships are a thing. This is why marriage brings beauty and value and enrichment to people’s lives when it’s done well.

Because all of this shit is hard, but we can do it when we have people in our corner, lifting us up, and helping us carry things when our piles get too high.

The inevitability of doing nothing—of inertia—is a broken relationship. The inevitability is broken people.

When we’re not moving toward one another, we’re moving away.

Love is a choice.

Please choose it.

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How the Color Purple is Harming Your Relationships

(Image/Science)

Pop quiz: If your relationship problems are decreasing mathematically and your romantic partner is observably adjusting his or her behavior in an honest attempt to connect with you emotionally, but your brain and subsequent emotions are telling you otherwise, is your relationship actually improving?

But Matt! What a silly question! If my partner were lovingly changing their behavior for my benefit and the benefit of our relationship, my mind and heart would NEVER tell me otherwise!

Awww. It’s cute because I would have totally said that too before learning about the Blue Dot Effect.

It occurred to me only after learning about the Blue Dot Effect that sometimes it doesn’t matter whether there is objective, measurable improvement. Our brains will sometimes invent new negatives to replace the ones that went away.

Simply put: Even though the world is measurably the best it’s ever been (longest life expectancy, best health care, most material wealth, most educated, most freedoms, most mobile, most access to information in human history), everyone feels shitty and complains to each other about it on social media when they’re not too busy bragging about the awesome new thing they just acquired or did to earn street cred with all of the people they went to high school with.

It’s largely the premise of Mark Manson’s new book Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope. (It’s good.) Manson is among my favorite writers because he tries to do what I try to do, only more effectively and his focus extends beyond romantic relationships.

What is the Blue Dot Effect?

It was Manson’s book which introduced me to the Blue Dot Effect, but writer Sam Brinson had written about it a year ago not long after a group of scientists published their findings on “Prevalence-induced concept change in human judgment” in the June 19, 2018 issue of Science.

The conclusion of the study was simple: When humans are on the lookout for something, like bad behavior or threats, when instances of that bad behavior or those threats lessen, people will expand their definition of “bad behavior” or “threats” to include things they wouldn’t have previously.

From Brinson’s Medium article “The Psychology of Finding What You’re Looking For”:

“The researchers ran several experiments, most of which involved participants identifying blue dots from a series that ranged in color from ‘very blue’ to ‘very purple.’ After some time, the number of blue dots would reduce, and the participants would react by selecting as blue dots those they had previously considered purple — their category of ‘blue’ expanded as the number of examples of blue decreased.”

Brinson continues:

“In further experiments, the researchers found the same effect when participants had to identify aggressive faces from a group that ranged from ‘very threatening’ to ‘not very threatening,’ and again when separating unethical research proposals from ethical ones.

“When increasing the number of blue dots instead of reducing them, the effect reverses — what had previously counted as blue suddenly gets left out. What’s more, the researchers also found the effect to occur when people were told they were doing it, and even when those people were paid to not fall into the trap.”

Important note, Brinson points out:

“This experiment seems to prove that we are incapable of making our concepts rigid, and must give in to ebbing and flowing. It should be noted, however, that this effect occurred when people were looking for instances of the concept — the blue category expanded as people sought to find blue dots, neutral faces became threatening when people were on a mission to find threatening faces.

“People in normal circumstances, who aren’t actively looking to label certain things, might not be as susceptible to the same concept shifts. If I remain indifferent to acts of aggression and acts of kindness, even if the frequency of either act changes, will I be more likely to recognize that change or to alter my definition?”

What This Means for Your Relationships

What this means is, if you’ve identified a pattern of behavior in your relationship partner that you don’t like—like a wife who feels disrespected and unloved because of an incomplete house chore or display of forgetfulness from her husband; or like a husband who feels disrespected and unloved because he perceives EVERY attempt by his wife to communicate with him about her feelings as an unprovoked and unfair attack on his character—you’re likely to find instances of your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend doing the same old bullshit things they always did even if they are legitimately doing things ‘better’ per previous conversations and agreements between the two of you.

And it’s not always because your partner is a huge, selfish asshole who will never change.

Sometimes, it’s simply because things you used to be cool with are now things you’ve labeled unacceptable. Things that were once benign are now painful. Things that were once just humans being humans are now relationship killers.

This tendency to find negatives even when things are improving around us is NOT a weapon for narcissists to wield in another mind-game argument where they invalidate their partner’s expressed feelings and try to convince them that the things they think and feel aren’t real.

It’s merely another opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth. An opportunity to check your own biases and bullshit at the door.

Human behavior is messy. Human emotion and mental health is messy.

It’s HARD to be an adult.

And that’s why finding someone to walk side-by-side with for the rest of our lives is such a beautiful thing. Sometimes we need to be lifted up. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we’re not the only ones who are afraid or unsure of what to do next. Sometimes we need to be forgiven.

The people who promised to love us, and who we promised to love in return, deserve our best. They deserve our most generous thoughts and assumptions. They deserve our most humble and compassionate responses. They deserve our focus and energy and effort to remind them that we’ve got their back.

That they are respected, appreciated, and cherished.

That they are good enough, honored, and supported.

Sometimes, they show up as purple dots and we should lovingly and compassionately remind them they’re kind of being dicks when they do.

Other times, the people who promised to love us forever are showing up as blue dots, and because we are imperfect creatures, we think that dot is purple. We’re LOOKING FOR purple. And we treat those purple-dotting sonsofbitches accordingly.

But really, that dot is blue. Our person showed up just as they’d promised. It feels like they failed us, but really we’re failing them.

And we don’t have to.

We can do better.

We must.

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What to Do When Your Wife Doesn’t Respect You

Basics of respect

(Image/Respect360.org)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know. It’s crazy.

Let’s talk about:

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

Does Your Wife Respect You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions:

Ask These 4 Questions to Check Your Biases and Beliefs

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

That last question is my favorite.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s bad.

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

I get it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How You Earn Your Wife’s Respect

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

Great question.

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

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

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

That’s what you could possibly do.

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

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

Go be the best of us.

Go be a hero.

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My Secret to Conquering Social Anxiety: Being Social

(Image/HBO)

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from my friend and colleague, Jenee Day.

Jenee is a long-time anxiety sufferer who now shares her experiences in an effort to help others via her podcast, YouTube channel, and through her coaching and writing. Jenee is the author of “Fear Itself: How Battling Anxiety Brought Me Inner Peace.” The Fear Itself podcast is also available on most podcast platforms.

Nope. No way. Definitely not.

There was no way I was going to put myself out there in such a big way. I’m not a girly girl. I knew we wouldn’t have anything in common. I wouldn’t know what to say. I didn’t even know what to wear to go bowling.

It will be awkward. They probably all know each other already and I’ll sit over in the corner by myself. I should just skip it.

Girls’ Night. I had never been to one before.

My palms were sweaty while I skimmed the Facebook invite, contemplating all the ways I might fail: I might do something stupid, like throw the ball backward or into another lane. That would be mortifying. I might make a joke about my husband to someone who is going through divorce, or stick my foot in my mouth some other way. My worst fear was that I wouldn’t make a connection with a single person there, and then never be invited back.

My fear of failure was really fear of rejection.

Bowling with a group of women I’d never met before. A small part of me really wanted to go. All of my adult life I had longed for female friends. I had a couple of good ones, but I hadn’t been successful at finding my group, my tribe.

A couple of months before this invitation showed up, I had made a promise to myself to say yes to new things, especially if the new things scared me.

And now the universe was going to make me prove it. I laughed at my own timing, wiped my palms on my jeans, touched the “Going” button, and let out a heavy sigh.

Not having a solid group of female friends at my age fed into two anxiety-fueled lies I had always told myself: 1. Women don’t get along with each other, and 2. I’m not normal enough to hang out with normal people.

Both sounded true to me, and were based on real experiences. Women were catty, gossipy, and discussed things I didn’t know much about, like makeup, fashion, and the like. Where were the other girls like me who liked Star Trek and books?

Both of these excuses provided a convenient out from invitations like the one I had just accepted.

Social anxiety is something I talk about a lot, and something I have learned is more common than I’d believed growing up.

Rarely have I walked into a room full of strangers and felt completely cool, confident, and collected. But who does? It isn’t easy for most of us, and that’s okay. The important thing is to try.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States.

Fear is the first step toward becoming courageous, because courage comes from recognizing that we’re afraid and choosing to move forward anyway.

I wish I could say that it was easy and comfortable.

I wish I could say that there weren’t any awkward moments. Those would be lies. It wasn’t totally comfortable or easy.

I was nervous. I questioned whether I belonged there.

What I will say is that it’s a night I remember fondly and will always cherish. The night I said yes to bowling with strangers

As the evening progressed, we laughed and talked and my fears eventually dissipated.

And now, I have a tribe.

I didn’t connect or form lasting friendships with everyone there, but I found a couple who speak my language.

We went on a weekend vacation together last month. I love them.

And I thought I’d never have that.

I could have easily missed out on knowing them, on their friendship, and on everything they’ve given me, including lots of laughs, shoulders to cry on, advice, someone to shop at discount stores with—girl things.

I also know what it feels like to be the new person, so when someone new is invited to Girls’ Night I now make an effort to reach out and speak to them in an effort to make them comfortable.

Compassion is born from uncomfortable moments. Friendship, too.

And all it took was saying yes to a night of bowling.

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This is Why Your Wife Hates You

angry wife

(Image/Psychology Today)

“Why does my wife hate me?”

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

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

And that sounds about right.

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

Your Wife Might Hate You Because She’s Afraid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next minute, everything wasn’t.

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

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

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

My wife was afraid.

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

Maybe your wife hates you because she’s afraid.

Your Wife Might Hate You Because She’s Angry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

No.

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

No.

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

So.

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

Maybe your wife hates you because she’s angry.

Your Wife Might Hate You Because She’s Hurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is why your wife hates you.

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

giving a flower

(Image/The Conversation)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persuasion Secret #1 – Give them what they want.

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

It’s called the rule of reciprocation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I’m here to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good things happen.

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

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

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