Tag Archives: Husband

I Have No Idea What You’re Talking About; Do We Say What We Really Mean?

Futurama Fry

Not sure if we should have to crack codes, or just speak using clear and direct language in our relationships. (Image/Looper)

In January 2016, I published an article titled “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” which became the most popular thing on the internet worldwide for a day or so and has now been read several millions of times in several languages.

I don’t think it’s anywhere near the best writing I’ve done, and I spend most days embarrassed at how much “Men do this, and Women do another thing” sort-of language is in there. I don’t believe all men, nor all women, do things one certain way, with the possible exception of our respective peeing techniques.

Despite its many flaws, “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” resonated with many people and continues to. Surely the click-baity headline has been a factor, but there’s something more important, and it’s the reason thousands of people have thanked me for “saving their marriage” even though I did no such thing.

That article did for many people what the book “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It” had done for me. It removed the blinders many of us were wearing on the subjects of effective communication and empathy in our relationships.

It’s such a dangerously simple concept that all of the wise and mature people who already figured it out dismiss it as child’s play, and about which the rest of us roll our eyes like “I’m so sure this over-simplified bullshit is the reason my marriage is in shambles and half of all marriages end in divorce! No way!”

But we need the wise people to patiently teach this secret of life to their children, and skillfully share it with their friends and extended family.

And we need everyone else to start paying attention to details that—tragically—fall into a category of things most people don’t talk or think about, and aren’t formally taught.

“She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink”—effectively or otherwise—tried to communicate the most important idea in romantic relationships other than Love is a Choice.

An event can occur—anything, really—and it’s possible for one person to be deeply emotionally or psychologically wounded and feel intense pain because of it while a second person experiencing the same thing at the same time and place never even notices.

This is common. Human nature. The result of individuals not sharing brains and nervous systems.

But it’s also the reason the majority of human relationships fail.

I like the second-degree burn analogy, because it illustrates it perfectly. Lightly touching someone on their arm doesn’t hurt them. Almost never. If they scream out in pain, they’re probably a bizarrely dramatic person with some form of mental illness and questionable sanity.

HOWEVER. If someone has a second-degree burn, and you lightly touch their arm on the burn wound, their painful outburst makes sense.

And what the average person in the average relationship doesn’t understand, but that “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” helped some people finally get is that just because being lightly touched on your arm, or a dirty dish sitting by the sink, or a damp towel on the bed, or dirty socks on the floor, or sarcastic jokes, or staying home with kids instead of going to work full-time doesn’t feel or seem like it should be hard or painful DOES NOT mean that another human being with a different mind, heart, body, and life experiences doesn’t experience those same things in profoundly painful ways that are different than yours. Especially when it happens over and over and over. And over. And over. And over. And over. And over, again.

THAT scenario is what ends the majority of marriages and relationships of all stripes, every day, everywhere on earth and probably on some other alien worlds in the far reaches of the universe, but I can’t substantiate that since Mexico is the furthest place from Ohio I’ve ever been—and their shitty relationships look just like the ones I see around here, except it sounds better, because Spanish.

If young people fundamentally understood this basic concept of empathy and learned how to talk about it during their formative dating years, our marriage success rates would improve dramatically and help fix much of what’s broken.

It Feels Like a Code or a Secret

To me and others, it does.

Every human being’s great crime is forgetting that literally every other member of the seven-billion-and-counting human race has a totally different brain and chemical makeup than we do. Since every conscious second of our lives is experienced through our own eyes in the first-person, it seems easy enough to understand how this happens, but I continue to choke on the sheer amount of assholery I see, hear, feel, and dish out myself every day despite the growing number of people maturing into the adults responsible for setting new standards of human behavior in the 21st century.

My parents didn’t talk to me about this stuff.

No one did.

And most people never had a parent or teacher or trusted adult explain this nuanced idea while emphasizing how big the stakes are. No one prepares us for the shit-storm that ensues when we get it wrong.

So when I discovered this “code” on the heels of my life-crippling divorce, I felt a powerful compulsion to share my story and try to raise awareness about this.

After more than four years of writing about it, I don’t feel any closer to a concise and clear method for communicating this marriage/relationship-saving idea.

Commenter: ‘Must Husbands Crack Codes? Why Can’t Wives Clearly State the REAL Problem?’

Brian’s question got me thinking, and motivated me to write for the first time in weeks.

Strictly for pragmatism’s sake, YES—men/husbands/boyfriends, and presumably women/wives/girlfriends as well—must crack this code.

We’re human beings. When we hurt is often when we communicate most poorly, or not at all, running off to pout silently and waiting for an apology we’ll never receive (probably because they never even knew we were hurt by whatever the thing was).

But we also deal with a lot of philosophical questions around here, and Brian asks a fair one:

“If the wife simply came out and said ‘Hey… look, when you leave the glass there, it makes me feel like you’re not even aware that it is hurting me in a way that’s actually way bigger than just the glass,’ instead of hinting around and playing the ‘This issue we’re currently arguing isn’t actually the real issue that I’m pissed off about and fighting like hell over’ game; the guy is now presented with a statement that needs to be digested prior to spewing an emotional ‘WTF? Really? Over a glass?’ response.”

Should We Have to Decipher Coded Language in our Relationships?

Part of me believes the average guy in this “dishes by the sink” situation will respond to her attempts to connect something larger to the “dish” with the same level of dismissal and invalidation that he already exhibits toward the seemingly minor matter of the dish itself. But—BUT—if we are asking men to step outside of themselves and exercise the humility necessary to listen, communicate, behave, comfort, respect, support, love in the ways their wives or romantic partners can understand and interpret accurately, is it not also fair to ask women (or everyone who plays little miscommunication games for reasons few of us understand) to work to more clearly or effectively communicate what is actually hurting or causing relationship problems?

To Brian’s point, if someone seems dismayed at the idea that a dish left by the sink could be significant enough to be worthy of a marriage fight, might there be greater need for the affected person to communicate more skillfully WHY the dish, or the socks, or the towel, or the sarcasm, or whatever, has been elevated into a marriage-threatening thing that could fundamentally change everyone in the family’s lives forever?

I don’t know.

But considering what’s at stake, I hope more people will think and talk about it.

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The Myth of the Nagging Wife — It’s Invisible Burns That Actually End Marriages

Burn victim with medical bandages

Sometimes we’ll find it’s the husbands, or men, in relationships whose invisible wounds aren’t properly cared for. Just not most of the time. (Image/RawStory)

We sometimes hear husbands complain about their stupid, bitchy, nagging wives.

Some of them probably are married to petty, unkind women who’ve been plotting all along to make their husbands’ lives miserable. Statistical probability and whatnot.

But that’s NOT who most women are.

Most women said yes to a man’s voluntarily offered marriage proposal.

This isn’t arranged marriage in medieval times. This is one adult voluntarily asking another adult to give up being single together to form a partnership and live together faithfully for the rest of their lives, share property and finances, and maybe have children together.

Maybe some people don’t mentally grasp the parameters of a typical marriage agreement, but I feel confident in speculating that most do. Most people know what they’re signing up for, and then they sign up voluntarily.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where we go wrong, but Dr. John Gottman and the Gottman Institute identify husbands (I’m paraphrasing): “failing or refusing to accept their wives’ influence” as the No. 1 reason for—and predictor of—divorce. For those who don’t know, the Gottman Institute is to marriage and relationships what FiveThirtyEight is to sports and political election data, with Dr. Gottman playing the role of Nate Silver.

The math is the math, and math is truth. Math doesn’t have an agenda.

Statistics can lie, but that’s not what we’re dealing with here, no matter how uncomfortable it makes all the men who want to be “right,” or want to “win,” or want to perpetuate the narrative that it’s not the common male behavior that needs adjusting, but it’s actually the female response to it that’s “wrong” or “broken” or “inappropriate.”

Husbands vs. Wives and the Battle of the Sexes

One of the most common complaints I get from male readers on several blog posts is the (totally false and misguided) accusation that I’m advocating that men be submissive in their marriage and do whatever their wives want.

It annoys me, but I can’t reasonably expect everyone to have read everything I’ve ever written (and remember it) to know what I think and am advocating at any given time.

What I struggle with most is when people frame the husband-wife relationship as adversarial. As if two people should agree to marry, and then spend the rest of their partnership jockeying for control in the household.

What about that arrangement sounds appealing, or as if there’s a chance for any sort of happy ending?

Advice: DO NOT MARRY PEOPLE WHO WANT TO CONTROL YOU. And make sure you rule out that possibility BEFORE you marry them. Also, maybe don’t try to control others. That’s one effective way to avoid being a thundering asshole.

One novel idea is to actually LOVE the human being you are vowing to marry for life.

If we can start the conversation with LOVE assumed to be a foundational element in this arrangement, then I feel like there’s a chance to understand one another.

Love is generous. It’s kind. It’s unselfish.

Love is not about winning. Love is not about power and control. Love is not about who’s right and who’s wrong.

Love is freely given in action, word and spirit—a conscious choice that is constantly being made—to support and communicate to a spouse or relationship partner how much value they have.

So, when talking about marriage, I begin with three assumptions:

  1. Two people loved each other and wanted to get married.
  2. Both people knew what they were promising—a lifetime of faithful love and support.
  3. Both people entered marriage with the best of intentions, setting out to have a good marriage that looked and felt like however they idealized it in their heads throughout their dating and engagement.

But Then the Invisible Burns Start to Hurt

There are various things men often do (or don’t do) that cause women to feel shitty in their relationships.

These behaviors HURT wives and girlfriends. They cause legitimate pain, the same as if you were punched, kicked, cut, stabbed or shot. A thing happens. Someone hurts because of it.

And it’s in THIS MOMENT that marriages die along with countless relationships that never reach marriage status. 

This painful, damage-causing behavior isn’t happening because men are systematically plotting to upset their partners. It’s happening because many men don’t realize that these things hurt their wives. These men don’t realize it in most instances because that same situation DOES NOT hurt them.

It’s hard to understand how something we KNOW doesn’t hurt could hurt someone else.

Which is why I like the second-degree burn analogy.

If someone places their finger on our arm, it doesn’t typically hurt us. “Brace yourself, I’m going to lightly touch your arm with the tip of my finger,” is potentially a sentence that’s never been written or spoken before.

However, what if we have a second-degree burn that’s an open wound and THEN someone puts their finger on it?

That shit will feel like a horror show and we’ll want to stab them.

Point being: One event can occur and be experienced in radically different ways by two different people. In relationships, that often breaks down as husbands or boyfriends tending to do things one way, and wives or girlfriends tending to do things another. It’s not gender-specific, nor is it universal. It’s simply what we can observe while looking at vast amounts of data, and I think most of us can see it and feel it in various parts of our personal lives.

The Change We Need is for Men to “See” the Hurt

I don’t think men are bad. I don’t think men are intentionally hurting their wives or girlfriends.

What I do think is that wives have invisible second-degree burns, and then husbands and boyfriends are touching painful burn wounds that they have no idea are even there.

Their wives say, “Oh my God, that hurts me when you do that. Could you please stop?”

And then the confused and startled husbands reply, “All I did was touch your arm! Why don’t you make a bigger deal out of it? It seems like you’re always finding something else to complain about.”

And then she says, “When you touch my arm it hurts me.”

And then we husbands say: “God, that’s stupid. It doesn’t hurt when people touch your arm. You’re being crazy and overly emotional. Again.”

What happens next seems logical enough when you truly see this hidden, misunderstood and poorly translated interaction play out.

She feels unloved, neglected, abused, abandoned and unwanted by the person she loves most and who promised her forever. She explains exactly what’s hurting, and he tells her she’s wrong and making it up in her head.

He feels as if he’s being treated unfairly, receiving unjust accusations, not being given the benefit of the doubt, nor credit for all of the good he does, and all of the internal and external changes he’s made to be his wife’s partner for life. He ALSO feels as if his reality and intentions are being unfairly and inaccurately misrepresented.

Like clockwork, the relationship breakdown is inevitable unless there’s some kind of magical empathy breakthrough. Usually, there’s not, which is why MOST relationships fail. Most dating couples never make it to marriage at all. The ones who do, divorce half the time. And many of the couples that don’t divorce are hopelessly miserable and wish they weren’t together.

So guys, this isn’t about feminism or trying to emasculate men.

This is about ACTUALLY SEEING the mechanics of how relationships really are, and then adjusting accordingly even if it’s “inconvenient.”

We can do that by NOT getting married. And we can do that by NOT saying or doing things that hurt the people we claim to love and promised to love and serve for life.

It’s clearly difficult to see and effectively communicate this thing that too often ends our relationships—this inability to “see the hurt.”

But, when you finally do see it, you realize quickly enough that it was never very complicated.

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The Friday Reclamation Project

Weekend Loading Please Wait

(Image/picturequotes.com)

Five years ago today, I didn’t want to go home.

Our entire lives, most of us look forward to weekends. TGIF and stuff. Weekends are fun. We associate them with doing things we want to do instead of things we have to do like go to school, or go to work.

But five years ago today, my marriage was total shit. Awful. My wife and I would go to bed or leave the house without acknowledging one another sometimes.

Maybe it’s only because I was being a massive wimp, but I’d watch her dote on our son while greeting him or saying bye to him.

Right in front of me, I had the evidence of what it looked like when my wife loved someone. Thus, the absence of any of that in her dealings with me could only mean one thing.

It was hard. I hurt all over and acted like it, which couldn’t have done me any favors. No one likes pouters who wear their “I’m Feeling Sorry for Myself” badges for everyone to see.

I imagine that’s especially true for wives who feel as if they’ve been abandoned, neglected and unheard in their marriages year after year after year after year.

Even if you didn’t mean to, when you hurt someone long enough, they lose their capacity for hiding all that fuck-you rage and/or apathy simmering beneath the surface.

One of the things I remember most from the final 6-12 months of my marriage was how the joyful anticipation of Friday night had been taken away from me.

At work, I mattered.

At work, people liked me.

At work, I didn’t feel anxious.

At home, all I had was our son, and at a time when our marriage was a complete shit-festival, you can imagine how often my wife found ways to be doing things with him. Sometimes she would invite me to things like hikes or bike rides, but it was always miserable and sometimes I wished I was dead.

Going on a family hike or bike ride DOES NOT make you a family. I needed to be a family to do family things.

I needed to be in a marriage to do marriage things.

It was broken, and everything I needed was missing. So on Friday at work, I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t look forward to weekends anymore because it felt like a prison.

I’m thinking about the loss of anticipating fun so many of us felt sitting at our classroom desks on Friday afternoons at school, and looking forward to the break from the stresses of work on Friday afternoon at our respective workplaces.

But something MUCH bigger actually happens. We lose home.

We lose the place we can retreat to, to feel loved and safe and relaxed and comfortable. This space that is ours becomes this polarizing thing. It’s supposed to feel good. Safe. Fun. Welcoming. But when your closest personal relationships with those you live with are broken, you can feel it in the very air you breathe.

Alcohol is the only thing that ever helped. But I never could drink enough to erase the pain I felt when our friends would leave, and the joy and normalcy she’d display in the company of others would vanish entirely.

I don’t know if she was faking fun and happiness for them, or intentionally communicating her angry feelings non-verbally to me. Either way, the change was always jarring and a reminder that my wife really wasn’t my wife anymore.

She was someone else.

Getting the Weekend Back

Today, I’ve reclaimed Friday. I’ve got the weekend again. Sitting here on a Friday afternoon, I can look forward to all kinds of fun possibilities with friends or my little boy.

I can feel fun again. I can breathe in the same house that just five years ago felt like a prison.

I took the hard way to get here. For much of my life, I had to learn things the hard way. It’s sort of a defining characteristic.

I’m so grateful to be able to breathe again—literally and figuratively. But that’s not without a pocket full of regrets I’m always carrying around with me.

Back when I first lost the weekend, there were two ways to recover it.

One way was to go through hell, and feel like dying for a long time before eventually healing and recovering the ability to anticipate weekend fun a half-decade later while living an entirely new life as a divorced, single parent rebuilding and reshaping his future with a whole new set of rules.

The other way was to exercise humility and demonstrate personal accountability and lead by example in my own home and marriage. The other way was to apply all of my intelligence and problem-solving skills to determining WHY my wife was feeling and acting as she was.

What if, much earlier, I’d determined how much some of my past and reoccurring behavior HURT her?

What if I learned what it means to practice intentional empathy before the impassable fissure appeared in our home?

What if I’d recovered the weekend by identifying what ACTUALLY was wrong, and done something about it when there was still time?

I don’t like being Advice Guy. I’m just some divorced person, and I don’t and can’t understand how it feels to be you in your own home and relationships.

But if you’re in that place in life where you can no longer look forward to the weekend and smile—where you can no longer feel hope regarding life’s simplest little pleasures—you probably only have two weekend-reclamation options as well.

Both options are long.

Both options are hard.

Both options are humbling.

But, when you imagine the best version of your life, who are the people standing in the photos with you? If it’s your spouse and/or children, then I hope you won’t do what I did—feel sorry for myself. Avoid the problem. Wait for her to “come around,” as if she’d eventually see things my way.

When you can’t even look forward to Friday anymore, that’s Life telling you something is wrong. That something is broken, and that the broken thing needs fixed.

It may not be fun or feel good, but a Friday you’re not looking forward to is the PERFECT opportunity to begin fixing what’s really broken.

I made my shitty weekend problem ANOTHER selfish bullet point on my Life resume. ANOTHER thing I made about me.

But I should have made it about her. I should have made it about us. And because I didn’t, my wife chose my weekend-reclamation path for me.

There’s a better way, and I hope you’ll choose it. To make the last day of the work week Friday again.

Together.

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Please Help Me Answer These Important Questions

your-big-questions-built with statamic

(Image/Statamic)

Of the many questions sent to my email inbox (some of which go unanswered—I’m so sorry for that), there are two that stand out as the most frequently asked.

1. How can I get my husband/wife to read your blog posts?

2. How can I get my husband/wife to understand these ideas you write about before it’s too late?

In a way, they are the same question, because they share a common desire and goal—to bridge a relationship divide. To help one person gain the ability to translate their partner accurately, or to acquire the ability to communicate an idea so clearly that the other person finally understands.

Just yesterday I got this question from a husband wanting me to help him find a way to get his wife to read the An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands series, which now stands at 14 volumes. He didn’t say whether he considered her, or himself, to be a shitty spouse.

I don’t know how valuable getting people to read the posts are. I have no way to measure how effectively they accomplish the goal of helping someone evolve their understanding of their spouse and/or marriage that “saves” a marriage, or better yet, makes one thrive.

But the big-picture question here is a significant one: How can we get our partners to understand the ideas that keep couples together?

I am asked these questions more than I know how to estimate. I’ve attempted to answer them more times than I can remember. I’ve tried a variety of answers. I don’t have a sense of how effective any of them really are.

I think we can all agree that we can’t make people love if they don’t love, nor care if they don’t care.

It’s often the case that one spouse has mentally and emotionally checked out of a marriage before their partner realizes it. That’s how it was at my house, only I was still too slow on the uptake to recognize she would actually leave.

I spent YEARS not reading Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, even after my wife asked me to. She proactively wanted me to read a book she believed would help us connect. A book that might teach me how to exhibit intentional empathy in a way that would make our marriage a pleasant, safe, sustainable relationship for both of us.

But I was like: I already love her. I already promised her forever. What more does she want? What more do I really need to do beyond that?

And I just kept NOT reading it.

At some point during the 18-month shit show of us sleeping in separate bedrooms before the day she finally moved out, I discovered and adopted the Love is a Choice philosophy after being introduced to The Love Dares. I also randomly picked up a copy of How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It (which I credit most for putting me on the path of understanding what I think I do today)—which totally blew my mind.

It was an epiphany. Legit. I finally SAW it. The way two people imperceptibly pinprick and papercut one another over the course of many moments through the months and years. I finally saw the danger of two people (usually a man and woman) unable to understand one another, even though they both speak and read the same language.

I excitedly gave my wife my copy of How to Improve Your Marriage… and couldn’t wait for her to read it so she could understand that I FINALLY understood, like for-real this time. So she could see how the book so precisely nailed our relationship dynamics, and my realization that if a mainstream book was able to do that, it must mean that many couples—perhaps even most—experience these same dynamics.

Which means we weren’t uniquely dysfunctional or broken. Which means we weren’t hopeless.

Because common problems have common solutions.

We’re going to figure this out and save our marriage! I thought.

But then for a handful of months, that book sat discarded and ignored next to the bed where she slept. Every morning when I’d go up to the bedroom I no longer slept in to get dressed for work, I’d check her reading progress. If she’s reading, then she must care.

But the bookmark was always on page 53. That’s where she stopped.

I couldn’t figure out why.

But it’s easy enough to see now: She’d been done with the marriage long before I ever even had the ability to articulate the real problem.

She tried to reach me for years, and I was uncooperative and disrespectful.

Later, I tried to reach her, and she was mentally and emotionally spent. I’d exhausted whatever faith she’d had in me a long time ago. And I was getting a taste of my own medicine, as it were.

My wife did not WANT to divorce. Not philosophically.

But in the end, she concluded it was ultimately the best choice for her and our son, and it took me a long and painful time to understand and appreciate why that makes sense.

Because it DOES make sense. The truth hurts.

What’s Your Experience?

We’re not always going to reach everyone. Sometimes, a person isn’t—and can’t be—ready until they’re ready. But I think we’re still obligated to try. Right? To help? To do our best?

We must.

So, I’ve got to ask, and will appreciate immensely your feedback:

Have you ever successfully asked your spouse or partner to read blog articles here, or relationship-oriented books to the betterment of your relationship? If so, how did you do so?

What do YOU believe is the most-effective way to break through communication gridlock to reach a stubborn spouse and help him or her grasp these extremely important relationship ideas so few people seem to inherently understand? Have you tried and succeeded, or did someone successfully get through to you? If so, will you please share how?

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The Secret to Long-Term Compatibility in Dating and Marriage Isn’t How Alike We Are

puzzle pieces that fit together

(Image/hdimagelib.com)

com·pat·i·bil·i·ty

noun

  1. a state in which two things are able to exist or occur together without problem or conflict.
  2. a feeling of sympathy and friendship; like-mindedness.

We must start with an important truth—there are two kinds of compatibility.

And I might be being a presumptuous D-hole, but I’m under the impression that when the average person speaks about romantic “compatibility,” they’re focusing on the #2 definition. Friendship. Like-mindedness. Similar personalities, interests, wants, life goals, etc.

The focus, to a certain extent, is on ALIKENESS or SAMENESS.

Which isn’t without merit, and helps make a compelling argument for using romantic compatibility charts (like you might find in astrology) and matchmaking tests.

As a general rule, I think it’s fair to feel as if a brothel-owning cocaine enthusiast and an Evangelical Christian aren’t a good match for long-term dating and marriage.

I think it’s fair to feel as if a 24-year-old hip-hop DJ in Brooklyn might not be a great romantic fit with a 41-year-old botany professor in rural Oklahoma.

And before we get into the #1 definition for compatibility, I want to talk about this part a little bit.

Why I Support Radical Discrimination and Profiling in Dating

“What kind of dog should I get?” I typed into Google.

Several sites popped up with dog breed selector tools and quizzes designed to help people find dogs best-suited for particular preferences, lifestyles and living environments.

The American Kennel Club makes its recommendations based on the following categories:

  • Living Environment (House or apartment)
  • Number of Children
  • Number of Other Dogs
  • Typical Activity (At home, Walking in neighborhood, Going on adventure)
  • Noise Tolerance
  • Cleanliness Preferences

Depending on your answers, the AKC returns a short list of recommended matches, almost like an eHarmony for those interested in pet ownership.

Why? How? Are the people at the American Kennel Club dog psychics?

Nope.

They simply have decades, perhaps more than a century, of historical data which tells us that a Puggle, an Old English Sheepdog, and a Yorkshire Terrier all will exhibit certain characteristics common to those particular breeds, just as a Siberian Husky, French Bulldog and Cocker Spaniel will typically exhibit a different set of characteristics.

I believe this is a positive, useful, helpful practice.

The results of successfully matching certain dog breeds with certain owner preferences are happy dogs delighting happy pet owners who generally aren’t surprised by totally unexpected and negative behavior from their pets.

Successfully matching certain dog breeds with owner preferences significantly reduces the amount of dogs being abandoned at shelters or by the side of the road, reducing demands on animal shelters, and minimizing instances of euthanizing abandoned or stray pets in overpopulated shelters.

“Hey, Matt! Why are you writing about dogs?! Are you an animal blogger now? Is that what this is? Have you been watching ‘Space Buddies’? What’s your favorite dog breed? Pugs? Mastiffs? Are you super-into Yorkies?”

No. I’m not super-into Yorkies.

I’m super-into the idea of using profiling and discrimination in our dating lives and partner selection processes to eliminate potential partners who are metaphorically liable to shit on your floors and destroy your shoes all the time.

The experiences aren’t particularly fun or functional, and the stories tend to have sad—sometimes tragic—endings.

Profiling Isn’t Always Bad

“OMG, Matt! Are you going to say something racist, sexist or bigoted right now?!?!”

No. Settle the fuck down.

Is it okay for police officers to pull someone over because of his or her skin color alone? Never.

But is it okay for banks to lend different amounts of money to borrowers under different conditions based on the individual borrowers’ credit history? I think so.

Is it okay for government-led armies to round up citizens and then imprison and execute them for no other reason than their ethnicity, religious beliefs or country of origin? Right.

But is it okay for college and professional sports teams to choose very large, very fast, very athletic people to be part of their teams as opposed to recruiting a bunch of short, slow and out-of-shape people?

“But coach! How do you know I’m not going to be the best middle linebacker in the history of this football team?! Don’t judge me and tell me what I can’t do!”

Let’s try to avoid running this idea through our political or social justice filters.

SOMETIMES, discrimination and profiling is USEFUL.

It just is. And we need to collectively demonstrate the intelligence and wisdom necessary to know the difference between when it’s okay and not okay.

Our actions and choices in any given moment amount to a calculated gamble.

When we reach out to flip a light switch, we’re estimating how far we need to extend our arms and move our hands and fingers in a way that will flip the switch successfully. I achieve my goal of flipping a light switch on or off almost every time I try. Probably 98 percent. Maybe 99 percent.

Of course, nothing is absolute. Once in a great while, I’ll miss the swipe and have to quickly do it again to turn a light on or off.

We’re guessing when we turn steering wheels, when we eat food, when we jump into water, and when we speak to people.

We have a lot of experience doing these things, and over time, we can predict with near certainty what’s likely to happen when we move around and do routine life things. And we’re right most of the time, which is why you and I are still breathing.

We’re a lot better at these mostly automatic physical movements and routine choices than we are choosing partners with whom we demonstrate the kind of compatibility and relationship skills necessary to not end up sad, divorced and sharing our kids (or Yorkies) on the holidays.

What If We Create Compatibility?

  1. a state in which two things are able to exist or occur together without problem or conflict.

It’s natural to want to be with people who share our interests and values. And it’s logical (although people somehow screw this up) to seek out a partner who has the same plans for having children and long-term family life.

But—and this is likely observably true in your own life—the interests and quirks and things people find attractive don’t remain static. They change and evolve as we age and experience new things and new people.

According to the Gottman Relationship Blog, Dr. Ted Hudson, a researcher at the University of Texas, conducted a longitudinal study on romantic compatibility in couples who had been married for several years.

The results?

“My research shows that there is no difference in the objective compatibility between those couples who are unhappy and those who are happy,” Hudson wrote.

Couples that feel content and positivity within their relationships said that compatibility wasn’t an issue for them. The happy couples in Hudson’s study said it was their own willful behavior that made the relationship successful—not personality compatibility.

When the unhappy couples in the study were asked about compatibility, they all said that compatibility was extremely important to having a successful marriage. And in the midst of their failing marriages, they didn’t believe they were compatible with their partners.

When the unhappy couples said, “We’re incompatible,” what they actually meant was, “We don’t get along very well,” Hudson wrote.

That’s the problem with the word “compatibility.”

Partners unhappy in their relationships often resort to blaming a lack of compatibility for their dysfunctional relationship, the Gottman Institute blog article said.

“They fail to realize and comprehend that a successful relationship does not hinge its posterity on how alike you are, instead it hangs on by the sheer willpower and want to stay in a relationship,” the article said.

Maybe We Can Do Better at Identifying What Really Matters

Natural human chemistry brings people together romantically and sexually. We’ve been making babies and populating the planet using this method for longer than we’ve been recording history.

So this will keep happening.

Just maybe someone who likes to go square dancing on the weekends can have an amazing relationship with a competitive miniature golfer. Just maybe some competitive pit master barbecue guy can have a beautiful family with a vegetarian. After all, two people from the same town, who go to the same church, and know all the same people, and vote the same way, and believe all the same things can have a colossally shitty marriage.

So maybe what we really need to be “compatible” with our partners on aren’t just our stated values, but what we can actually demonstrate that we know and understand.

She wants to talk about it. It makes her feel better.

He doesn’t want to talk about it. It makes him feel worse.

Are they incompatible?

Or.

Does being compatible really mean that she fundamentally understands how stressful and difficult conversations that feel cathartic for her, are difficult and damaging for him, and approaches a request for communication accordingly?

And does being compatible really mean that he fundamentally understands that listening to what she has to say, even if it’s inconvenient or a little bit frustrating for him, will strengthen the intimate bond between them, so he’s going to make whatever concessions are necessary to achieve that?

Does being compatible mean that two people are AWAKE to the needs and wants of one another, and that simple demonstrations of respecting and honoring those needs and wants—these little things many people never think about—create as a byproduct all the feel-goodness that makes a person feel connected and compatible.

Love is a choice. Sure, it’s really damn hard after several years inside a shitty marriage, but it doesn’t make it less true.

Love IS a choice.

And I know that’s not helpful to a hurting heart. And I know that’s not going to save a severely damaged relationship.

HOWEVER, when two people mindfully choose to love one another each day—to demonstrate that choice in word and action—all the brokenness and resentment and mistrust? These things that destroy relationships never manifest at all.

It’s easy to chalk it up to incompatibility.

It’s hard to be an adult who gives more to his or her partner than they take for themselves.

But it’s also hard to divorce. It’s hard to say goodbye to your children all the time.

And it’s easy to live in a home where everyone is secure in the love that’s present there. It’s easy to walk into a peaceful space where your heart rate and stress levels don’t increase because another brutal fight could start any minute.

It feels hard to be an adult sometimes.

I think it’s beautiful how hard we try, even when we fail to achieve what we want.

Even when we got what we hoped for and we’re left feeling disappointed.

Even when things we hope for feel beyond reach.

Because I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but it might turn out to be one of the best days of my life.

I don’t know much, but I’m pretty sure the same is true for you.

Take This Gottman Institute Quiz to Discover How Well You Know Your Partner

Because it seems like a worthwhile thing to know.

Start Quiz Here

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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 14

(Image/hellopretty.co.za)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For YEARS.

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

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

And when you don’t?

You end up like me.

It Wasn’t Always That Way

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

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

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

She was a competitive ballroom dancer.

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

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

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

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

Insta-smitten.

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

She was smart. Funny. Easy to be around.

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

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

Our “perfect-togetherness” would have to wait.

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

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

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

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

The Framed Greeting Card

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

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

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

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

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

I had just wanted to.

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

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

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

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

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

Waste.

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

Just an everyday text: “Thinking about you.”

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

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

That we want them.

That we love them.

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

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The Subtle Difference Between Shitty and Non-Shitty Husbands and Wives

Coke vs. Pepsi by Adweek

I don’t drink a lot of soda, but I think I could identify Coke vs. Pepsi in a blind tasting. But since they’re both cola, there are probably many people who cannot. And I think it’s fair to call the differences subtle. (Image/Adweek)

The difference is so subtle that I didn’t recognize it until now.

And now that I have, it isn’t hard to see why so many pissed-off guys stumble on these articles and miss it too. My own inability to tell the difference when I was married is WHY I’m divorced today.

In everyone’s defense, including my own, the differences can be hard to detect. Really hard. If it were easy, therapists and divorce attorneys would have trouble finding work.

It’s not only subtle, but ever-changing.

The shitty behavior of husbands and wives may be healthy and totally acceptable in different relationships with different partners.

What is NOT shitty today may one day become shitty. What is shitty today may one day cease to be shitty.

It’s little wonder we have so many disagreements in our relationships.

I’m accused often of blaming men and husbands for the majority of relationship failures and divorce, and I’ve written sentences so strikingly similar to “I believe male behavior is responsible for the majority of divorces,” that I understand why some people feel that way. One of the best things about speaking these ideas someday as opposed to writing them now is that I think it will be easier for people to more-accurately gauge my meaning when they hear it vs. reading it.

Subtle.

More subtle than the flavor of Coke vs. Pepsi.

Even more subtle than the difference between the words “complement” and “compliment.”

So very subtle.

“You’re a female-worshipping pussy!” some tough guy said.

“This is bullshit!” another guy said. “A wife’s expectations need a reality check in many cases, though others hearing the story are sure to think the husband is at fault due to the false ideas permeating our culture.”

Another guy characterized my ideas as old-fashioned and unrealistic. He said a few things I disagreed with, but then he asked a great question that I’ve been thinking about since:

“What about the seeming double standard—is this fair to men, or anyone, to expect them to be any less human, any less fallible or fragile than anyone else? Is it OK to suggest that men are not entitled to simply be loved for who they are as a person? Or should men be required to constantly earn love—not for who they are—but for what they can do or provide?”

You see, when I was married, I misdiagnosed the marriage-problem symptoms my wife and I displayed, and I was CERTAIN of my correctness in any given disagreement between us. I was right, therefore she was wrong.

Here I was doing or not doing all of these things she wanted me to do differently. And most of the time, I would draw a line in the sand—a boundary, if you will—and stand my ground. I—quite literally—believed my wife was being unfair, or reacting inappropriately to something (like a judge sentencing someone to life in prison for a speeding ticket).

What’s the Difference?

I don’t know that I believed my choices were things I considered to be marriage-enhancers, but I DEFINITELY didn’t consider them to be things that might destroy mine.

Don’t you see the inherent danger there? For me, the scariest things in life are the dangerous, potentially fatal things that we don’t or can’t see coming.

Cancer. Heart attacks. Fatal auto accidents. Terrorism. Sink holes. Asteroids.

I don’t sit around feeling fear over these things because I don’t give a lot of mental energy to them. But I absolutely believe they’re the scariest things.

The things we don’t see coming.

I believe the behaviors that end relationships, lead to affairs, and are ultimately responsible for divorce, are behaviors that MOST people don’t recognize or identify as a danger.

I wasn’t a bad guy. Most guys aren’t bad.

But I WAS a shitty husband. Accidentally. Unaware. Thoughtlessly. Not on purpose.

And because I was trained from a really young age that we treat ACCIDENTS radically differently than we treat INTENTIONAL harm and destruction, I usually defaulted to the position that the “punishment” of my wife’s frustration or anger didn’t fit the “crime” of whatever action or inaction had upset her.

This might sound familiar because I’m pretty sure the vast majority of people can identify with either my experience, or my ex-wife’s.

“But, Matt! You always say that you were a SHITTY husband! How do you know?! Maybe your wife was just being a control freak or an insufferable nag! Maybe SHE was the shitty one!”

You know what, maybe she was sometimes.

I don’t think about things like that. I don’t try to remember every time I felt wronged by her in some attempt to excuse or justify my choices.

My marriage ended and now my little boy has to share homes and CONSTANTLY miss one of his parents, and possibly suffer a little bit socially.

I did things that hurt my wife.

Not her face. Not her arms. Not anywhere on the outside of her.

In her heart. In her mind. In her gut.

I didn’t know when I was married that emotional pain could hurt worse than physical pain. When my wife would talk about feeling hurt, I consciously or subconsciously treated her like she was a crazy person. Like she was a child I perceived to be acting overly dramatic about a tiny scrape. Like she didn’t know how to rank or manage discomfort.

This is what it looks like to not possess empathy nor understand the word’s meaning. When a husband or wife proves incapable of displaying mindful, intentional empathy for the person they promised to love and honor forever, they are breaking their marriage vows.

A shitty husband disregards his wife’s expressions of pain and treats her like there’s something wrong with her whenever he would have felt differently.

A shitty wife disregards her husband’s desire to feel appreciated as “payback” for feeling unappreciated herself.

A shitty husband abandons his wife to entertain herself in favor of doing things he prefers to do alone, when the THING she prefers to do is be together.

A shitty wife berates and shames her husband anytime he performs a task differently than she would have.

Where’s the Line?

“Where is the line between being responsive to your partner’s needs, and drawing a boundary around your own?” said MBTTTR commenter Lindsey in a recent conversation that inspired this post.

Is it possible that some husbands are having THEIR boundaries violated by wives who force husbands to earn their love and kindness, rather than give it freely?

“Is it OK to suggest that men are not entitled to simply be loved for who they are as a person?” the male commenter asked.

That question forced me to self-reflect more than almost any question I’ve been asked in the four years I’ve been writing here.

I think it’s quite simple. NOT to decipher. It’s way too subtle and requires vigilant communication and a mindful, willful desire to achieve a high level of bridged understanding with another person whose differences might frustrate you and create discomfort.

There’s nothing easy about it. But it is simple.

There are:

  • Things That HURT. Actions or words that fundamentally cause pain and/or harm to others, and
  • Things That Inconvenience or Conflict with Personal Preferences. Stuff a husband or wife WISHES were different, like how my ex-wife wished I liked skiing and house cleaning, and I wished she liked watching sports and playing poker.

If a relationship’s survival depends on HURTFUL things coming to an end, then I perceive it to be largely on the shoulders of the person causing the pain to stop, or at minimum, to actively seek ways to minimize it because they love and respect the person they married.

If a relationship’s survival hinges on two people finding balance between personal preferences and conveniences, then I think it’s profoundly important that the two people love and respect one another enough to make damn sure these matters of disagreement DO NOT cause damage to one another.

Because here’s what happens.

An event takes place. A moment comes and goes. Maybe someone did or said something. Maybe someone forgot a calendar event or special occasion.

There are endless possibilities for events we experience, and there are endless possibilities for how any individual person might react to that experience.

And it strikes me as being perfectly okay to not sign up for a lifetime together with someone whose preferences or reactions to events do not align with yours. By all means, don’t get married if you believe the relationship is doomed to fail.

BUT.

It strikes me as perfectly NOT OKAY to promise in front of witnesses, friends, and family; and sign legal contracts, and—most importantly—be assuring one’s partner or fiancé/fiancée throughout the length of an engagement that you’re in this forever to either:

  1. Knowingly bring harm to your spouse.
  2. Knowingly treat your spouse as if they aren’t good enough, and required to EARN your love simply because you want them to think as you think, or do things as you prefer them to be done.

A person who threatens a marriage by treating their spouse as if they aren’t good enough because of a difference in PREFERENCES is every bit as bad as the shitty spouse who damages their partner through intentional or neglectful harm.

Love is a choice.

And when we marry someone, we are to give that love freely for the rest of our lives. But NOT when our marriage vows have been broken by someone who refused to give the love and empathy marriage requires.

How do we get two people to actively choose to love one another, even when they don’t “feel” like it?

Maybe we can’t.

But that’s what a shitty spouse is—someone who won’t give love because it’s inconvenient or doesn’t feel good.

Who’s to blame?

Amidst the chaos of war in the middle of the battlefield, where both sides are firing shots and taking no prisoners, it’s really hard to tell.

No one?

Everyone?

I don’t know.

So, I looked in the mirror and figured out who to blame for my divorce.

Because there’s a better life out there. One I didn’t find blaming everyone else for my problems. But after looking into that reflection long enough and hard enough, I think it might be coming into focus.

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Some People Are Women, Others Are Men, and it’s Getting Hard to Talk About

gender identity male female

(Image/Angelus News)

My most popular articles tell true stories about my failed marriage and also tend to include a bunch of my own assumptions about “typical” male-female relationships.

Because of things I’ve experienced, observed, read, and heard about, I perceive there to be common male behaviors and common female behaviors, and sometimes when writing relationship stories—I will say things like: “Husbands often do this… and wives often do this other thing.”

I do it throughout the oft-read Open Letter to Shitty Husbands posts, and this very gender-oriented way of storytelling—for better or worse—is featured prominently in the only thing I’ve written that has been read millions of times: She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink.

I am a straight, white male who was raised in a small Ohio town, and totally immersed—from birth through high school—in conservative politics and what some people like to call “traditional Christian values.”

I used to think it was all very good. Common. Normal. The majority.

I always found comfort in being part of the “majority.” If MOST people believed something, then that must mean that believing that is good. The right thing to do. I am part of the group that is “most correct,” I reasoned.

Of course, I didn’t have access to any sort of data that could reliably tell me what “most” people thought, believed, felt or did, anyway. Nor was I wise enough to even ask the question. SO MANY people were “like me” where I come from that it never occurred to me to question things I was taught or any of the common beliefs of the people who lived where I lived.

Things are much different now.

I don’t live in a place where groupthink is as prevalent as it was for me growing up.

At 38, on the heels of my divorce that forced me to rethink everything I have ever done or believed, today I’m much better about questioning information I come across.

I always want to know WHY. Every one of our beliefs should have a WHY behind it. A REASON. There’s great danger in a bunch of people who believe things but can’t provide an explanation for WHY.

I’m less certain today about the things I think and feel.

Uncertainty isn’t comfortable. Uncertainty probably isn’t very attractive. But it damn sure reduces your asshole quotient. Since no one can know all things, behaving with certainty means you’re totally wrong (and a huge asshole) at least some of the time.

I don’t assume I’m correct about everything, but I always have a REASON for how I came to a belief, and if I discover that my reason for a belief is bullshit, I’m not afraid to abandon it in favor of a better idea.

I’ve learned to embrace the philosophy of Letting the Best Idea Win.

In every conversation, debate or argument between me and someone else with conflicting ideas, there can be only three possibilities:

  1. I’m right.
  2. I’m wrong.
  3. There is no objectively correct answer.

Many people behave in debates as if winning or losing are the only two outcomes. I tend to think everyone loses most of the time. I don’t think “being wrong” is the same thing as losing. Here’s why:

  1. If I’m right, I get to share a better or important idea with the person I’m talking to.
  2. If I’m wrong, I get to learn a better or important idea from the person I’m talking to, and stop believing something that’s untrue, harmful, or otherwise moronic.
  3. If there’s no objectively correct answer, fair-minded and reasonable people can always conclude that an individual’s life experiences shapes their beliefs, and that ANYONE who lived an identical life would have drawn an identical conclusion.

Is it Wrong or Dangerous to Identify Gender-Based Stereotypes in Stories Designed to Help People Improve Their Relationships?

A bunch of people (who might be correct) think I’m a complete idiot douchebag because of what they perceive to be cavalier use of “gendered” descriptors for human behavior.

If you also think I’m an idiot douchebag, you’ll take great joy in reading this MetaFilter thread about the “dishes” post that went viral in 2016.

It’s offensive for some men who are awesome about keeping their house clean, and mindfully comforting their romantic partners, and expertly managing their children’s many needs to read me write the equivalent of “Men are often thoughtless and selfish, dumping a bunch of housework on their wives, which inevitably causes wives to resent their husbands and eventually leave them.”

It’s offensive for some women who are sensitive about gender-based stereotyping of any kind to see it being done. The female experience for them has been one of being shoehorned into certain roles and stereotypes for no other reason than their gender. Women are still sometimes referred to as “minorities,” even though the human sex ratio is essentially 1:1 in almost every country and culture on earth.

I get this. Totally. I don’t like people labeling or telling me who I am either.

And I absolutely understand that this type of stereotyping and generalizing has categorically marginalized huge groups of people through the generations, because of their skin color, gender, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, etc.

“Marginalized” is probably too soft a word for some of the atrocities people have experienced at the hands of the “majority.”

However, I can’t stop asking this question:

While gender-based stereotyping might seem ignorant or misguided to people whose life experiences were much different than mine, is it WRONG or BAD for me to make the observation that “Men often do this, and women often do something else”?

There is no malice intended in my observations that men frequently demonstrate a lack of awareness and empathy in their conversations and behavior at home with their wives. I honestly believe this is the most common scenario. That this is true most often.

There is no malice intended in my observations that women frequently feel sad, abandoned and afraid—and later, resentful—in their marriages because of this common male lack of awareness and empathy.

I am not judging men. I don’t believe women are better than men. But I do believe that women frequently demonstrate superior relationship skills to men like emotional intelligence, empathy, efforts to communicate, and stronger home- and child-management skills as mothers.

I believe that’s true. That doesn’t make anyone good or bad. It simply makes me correct or incorrect—and I honestly don’t know which I am in this case. This is what I think. Not what I know.

I am certainly not judging women. I don’t believe men are better than women, particularly in the context of male-female romantic relationships in cohabitation, marriage, or parenting. But I do believe that men are frequently innocent of intentional wrongdoing in their troubled relationships. That they are predominantly good men with good intentions who honestly love their wives and families, but mindlessly do or do not do things that hurt their wives, and often results in painful break-ups and divorce.

I believe this is true.

I believe anyone can look around and see this for themselves in their own families, and neighborhoods, and workplaces, and religious or social groups, and among the professional relationship therapists who have spent years listening to the same kinds of stories I tell, and who hear all of the same stories I get in my email inbox and in these blog comments.

Another Viral Example: ‘You Should’ve Asked’

Someone awesome and clever created a comic that I believe encapsulates the spirit of several of my posts like the “dishes by the sink” one, or how making your wife or girlfriend feel like your mom by managing your life and cleaning up after you all the time is a common recipe for the death of sexual attraction, and often, the relationship.

This excellent piece called “You Should’ve Asked” is a must-read.

I think the creator (her name is Emma) did an incredible job of capturing this Common Relationship dynamic I’m always going for, but I think she did a better job than I do of not assigning blame or shaming anyone in the process.

I was struck by how many people criticized the piece because they perceived it to unfairly stereotype genders in much the same way people have criticized me.

Does content like “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” and “You Should’ve Asked” cause more harm than good by being too gender-focused? Or do they do more good than harm by raising awareness to relationship issues so common that millions of people read and share them?

I am a guy. Because of this, I write for guys and feel comfortable talking about “guy things” in the same way I perceive them to be true. I don’t pretend to understand what women experience outside of the many books, conversations and stories I’ve read or heard.

I was a husband. Because of this, I write about husbands.

I write stories that I hope resonate with many people, and I don’t know how to do that without describing situations I believe to be most common—most statistically likely to have been true for the average reader.

But, if this isn’t obvious to you already, I believe sexism—which I hope is mostly unintentional—plays a prominent role in the fundamental breakdown of the common marriage, as I tend to describe it.

I defend my stereotyping (right or wrong) because I am rarely making value judgments about men and women.

I think it’s fair and reasonable to identify things as being DIFFERENT, without the underlying assumption that one is better than another. Equality is NOT “Everyone’s the same!” Equality is “Everyone has equal value.”

And I believe that strongly. That all people have equal value, regardless of how many differences we can identify.

I think, whether it be because of cultural conditioning and exposure to mass media or something else entirely, that men frequently demonstrate behaviors common to most males, and that women frequently demonstrate behaviors common to most females.

I don’t know why this happens, though I have foolishly suggested that evolutionary science might have something to do with it because I’m an idiot who occasionally talks out of his ass.

But I think it’s less foolish to observe things that happen around us, and then use those observations in stories designed to hopefully help people discover something important about themselves, about their partners, and about their relationships that might otherwise deteriorate and end painfully without that story resonating with them. Without stories that feel a lot like their own experiences.

Sometimes people see themselves in the words, and everything changes for them. Sometimes kids don’t have to move between houses and cry. Sometimes two really good people who honestly love each other don’t spend years accidentally damaging one another’s hearts and minds, because they finally SEE what’s really happening.

I want to believe that the stories told here have done more good than bad.

If there’s a way for me to do more good and less bad, I also want to know that.

But this criticism and question needs dealt with.

No matter how “common” it may seem to me or anyone else. No matter how easy it is for me to justify using a Mars/Venus backdrop to relationship stories. No matter ANYTHING else: Do we hurt others, and ultimately cause more harm than good when we use words that categorize or label or attempt to define a group of people because they’re connected by a shared trait?

I don’t know.

But if I can do better, I must.

If we can do better, we must.

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Do You Love Your Spouse Enough?: The Uncomfortable Truth About Who Should Rank #1 Among Our Spouses, Children & Parents

Who's #1?

(Image/The Bullvine)

Where does your spouse or romantic partner rank in your life?

Take all the time you need to think before answering. Just don’t be a lying doucheface when you make your list.

Ever have your wife ask you to fold a basket of laundry or clean up after dinner, and you said you would but really you just ended up playing video games all night? Unless it was a legit one-time incident, don’t rank your spouse ahead of video games on your list.

Ever have your husband ask you to not complain about him to your mother or discuss intimate details of your private sex life with your friends? Unless you did so as part of consulting those you trust for marital wisdom, don’t rank your spouse ahead of gossiping with your friends, mom, or whoever.

I think many—perhaps most—people have other things and people ranked ahead of their spouses. They won’t say it. But they don’t have to. You can see what people do.

Ranking anything ahead of your spouse is the most surefire way I know to create mistrust and instability in a marriage which often leads to divorce and almost always unhappiness for everyone involved.

Here’s how I think many married guys would publically rank their Life Things (I’m intentionally leaving Faith out of the conversation as it often proves to be an unproductive and distracting argument starter – though I think it’s fair to note that I’ve never heard of a divorce resulting from two people putting their God and faith first in their marriage):

  1. Marital Family
  2. Family of Origin
  3. Job
  4. Friends
  5. Favorite Hobby or Lifestyle Activity

But here’s how I think many married guys actually prioritize their Life Things, according to their actions:

  1. Favorite Hobby or Lifestyle Activity
  2. Job
  3. Friends
  4. Family of Origin
  5. Marital Family

I work hard at not blaming my ex-wife for our divorce. I get more blog comments and private messages encouraging me to start putting more blame on her than I’d prefer. Each and every message like that tends to signify that someone doesn’t understand what it means to accept personal responsibility, which means they’re going to feel like a victim every time something bad happens for their rest of their lives until they learn how to flip that around.

But there are thousands of wives reading here too, and several have asked for help understanding what kinds of wifely behavior can destroy a marriage.

And for me, it was THIS.

I feel like my wife prioritized her family of origin over our marriage. Later, she doubled-down by giving 95% of herself to our son when it was just the three of us. I thought I was being noble by not calling that one out. ALSO, I’d already screwed up so badly at being a husband by that point, that there’s no intellectually honest or fair way to predict how she might have been after childbirth had I been a kick-ass husband leading up to becoming parents.

What About the Kids? Shouldn’t They Come First?

Nope. They shouldn’t. And, as a father who loves his little boy more than anything else on this planet, I struggle writing that.

It twists my insides a little. That’s usually how I know something is true — when it feels uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Prioritizing anyone or anything over your wife or husband is the most surefire way I know to destroy your family.

In marriage, either your spouse is #1, or you’re doing it wrong.

I say that without judgment. I’m divorced largely because I prioritized all kinds of bullshit ahead of my wife and our relationship.

I offer it only as a thought exercise, because I think MOST married people put at least something ahead of their marriage.

And yes, that includes our children. And yes, that includes our parents and families of origin. And yes, that idea makes me uncomfortable.

But it’s still true.

“WAIT. Matt. Are you seriously saying we should choose our husbands and wives over our children? I can ALMOST understand the parents thing. But the kids? My kids come first no matter what!”

Do they really?

When we teach our children that they are the most important things in life, and that if they want our attention they’re going to get it, and that if they need something it is magically done for them, and that the marriage between mom and dad isn’t the top priority, what happens?

Bad news: You end up getting someone like me. (Sorry mom.)

You raise kids who grow up believing they’re uniquely special even though they’re not.

You raise kids who lack self-sufficiency and grow up expecting their partners to do things for them that their parents used to.

You raise kids who have no idea what a loving, high-functioning, healthy, mutually respectful marriage looks like. A marriage between two people who truly cherish one another and maintain their romantic and sexual spark through MINDFUL INTENTION and channeling energy into the human being they promised to love, honor and serve for the rest of their lives.

The Adam and Eve bible story famously depicts the first marriage. In the story, you’ll find the word “cleave” which describes what we’re supposed to do to our spouse.

The word “cleave” means “to adhere to, stick to, or join with.” I think it’s reasonable to assume the spiritual text is promoting a metaphorical bond of unity between them beyond promoting the literal act of inserting a penis into a vagina, but surely we can celebrate both the figurative and literal in this particular instance.

Don’t Marry Until You’re Ready to Make Her/Him #1

You’ll be doing your girlfriend or boyfriend, their family and friends, and any children or pets you may one day share a HUGE favor by doing this.

Please remember: You don’t have to get married, and maybe you shouldn’t.

If your parents or siblings mean more to you than your partner, and you feel inside as if you’d choose them over the person you’re considering marrying, then DO NOT get married.

If your job or your friends or the fun things you like to do mean more to you than your partner, DO NOT get married.

And *big swallow*, if your children mean more to you than your partner, and you believe catering to their needs at the expense of your partner’s is the right thing to do, then I think your marriage is a ticking time bomb. (NOTE: I’m writing specifically about married moms and dads who made babies together. I think it’s both fair and proper for divorced or otherwise single parents to prioritize their children over people they’re dating when there’s still uncertainty about whether marriage is in the future.)

Physician Danielle Teller, in “How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage,” wrote, “Children who are raised to believe that they are the center of the universe have a tough time when their special status erodes as they approach adulthood. Most troubling of all, couples who live entirely child-centric lives can lose touch with one another to the point where they have nothing left to say to one another when the kids leave home… Is it surprising that divorce rates are rising fastest for new empty nesters?”

You’re born to your parents. They and any siblings are all you know and love.

Family by birth. Love tends to be part of the package.

When you’re older, and your offspring are born, you are all they know and love. You’re their everything. And the intense love we feel for our children is something beyond description.

But still. Family by birth. And again, the love is easy. We tend to not need reminders to feel love for our kids.

But our spouse. THAT is a particularly unique and special relationship. That’s not inherited. Love is not some pre-packaged thing that comes along with dating or marriage like it does with being born into a family or having kids of your own.

Your spouse is someone you CHOOSE. Out of every human being—billions of them—you choose that person.

It is a love as rich and powerful as we have for our parents and children, but it’s one that is grown. Something purely voluntary.

Love is a choice we must make every day.

More and more, people are coming to understand this, but often when their marriage is in shambles and their trying to figure out why, or in the aftermath of a painful divorce.

I didn’t know what marriage REALLY was when I asked her to marry me, or when I said “I do.” The proof was in the pudding.

If more people entered marriage committed to this idea of putting their spouse first, and why it’s such an important mindset, I think a lot more marriages would go the distance because they’d never deteriorate to begin with.

You honor your parents when you put your spouse first. You comfort them because they know you’re safe and secure, and that their grandchildren are well cared for.

You honor your children when you put your spouse first. You teach them that they are, in fact, NOT the center of the universe and that the best way to live is to be aware of other people’s needs. You teach them what marriage is supposed to look like. You provide a safe and unbreakable home. You provide a lifelong foundation from which to build their futures.

You honor yourself when you put your spouse first. Because you are living for something greater than yourself and are less likely to die alone with herpes on your mouth.

Your parents will pass one day. It will be hard. You’ll carry on because your spouse is always first and he or she will carry you through the grief and transition. You will provide the same support for her or him.

Your children will move out one day. It will be hard. You’ll carry on because your spouse is always first and he or she will carry you through the major life adjustment. You will provide the same support for her or him.

And there you’ll be. In the future. Waking up every day seeking purpose and adventure.

And when we have spent the years putting our spouse first, we won’t have to look very hard to find either.

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You Don’t Have to Get Married, So Maybe You Shouldn’t

Old School wedding scene

Screenshot from the movie “Old School” (Image/DreamWorks Pictures)

Frank: “Hey, I just want to thank you one last time for being here. It’s the best day ever.”

Beanie: “Don’t even start with me, Franklin, okay? You need to walk away from this ASAP.”

Frank: “What?”

Beanie: “You need to get out, Frankie. This is it. It’s now or never. You need to get out of here while you’re still single.”

Frank: “I’m not single.”

Beanie: “She’s 30 yards away. You’re single now.”

Frank: “Come on, Marissa’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Beanie: “Why don’t you give that six months. You don’t think that’ll change? I got a wife, kids. Do I seem like a happy guy to you, Frankie?”

Beanie: “There’s my wife. See that? Always smiling? Hi, honey. Judging, watching, ‘Look at the baby.’”

Mitch Martin: “She’s coming down the aisle, Beanie. Let it go.”

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

The Things We Don’t Teach Men: You Don’t Have to Get Married

I can’t prove this, but I believe almost everything we do in life is based off of us modeling the behaviors of others or doing things we believe we are “supposed” to because we think: This is how everyone does it!

Like when we stop our vehicles at red lights or “STOP” signs even though we can see that no other cars or pedestrians could be hurt or affected by us disregarding the traffic signal. Humans are creatures of behavioral habits. And many of those habits start before we can even talk, watching others around us do all the things.

I think that’s why most people get married. Because we grow up with adults who are mostly married or in some stage of dating, and that then makes us believe “Getting married is just what you do when you’re old enough!” Sprinkle in any beliefs about sex being sinful and wrong outside of marriage, and it’s not hard to see why most people make a beeline for a relationship model well known to fail painfully half of the time, and on average, spending $30,000-$40,000 between the engagement rings, wedding bands, wedding receptions and honeymoon trips just to get started.

A few key points here:

I am NOT pro-marriage (unless people plan to have children).

I am NOT anti-marriage.

What I AM is anti-divorce.

I am, I believe, a well-informed pragmatist on the subject. And I know that 95% of people WILL marry, or are planning to marry someday. That’s real-life math. Of all people ages 18 and up in the United States, 9.5 out of 10 are married, used to be married, or are planning to get married.

Thought exercise: Name something besides air, food and water that affects 9.5 out of every 10 people.

Other than cataclysmic apocalyptic things like asteroids striking earth or nuclear holocaust, there aren’t many things capable of impacting the human population as significantly as marriage does. Yet, the majority of people in positions to improve or optimize marriage, and to teach young children the things they need to know to have healthy and successful marriages, don’t seem to be talking about or thinking about any of this stuff.

We tend to not worry about cancer until we’re diagnosed with it.

We tend to not worry about marriage until we’re sobbing in the kitchen watching our wives drive away for the last time with our kids in the backseat.

The Masks We Wear Doom Our Relationships and Families

I got engaged and married sooner than I wanted to. I didn’t feel ready. But all around me, my friends and other couples we knew were getting married.

I was afraid to lose her. My fear of not being with her was bigger than my fear of getting married.

Which is all well and good. My biggest mistake was NOT being more fearful of divorce. But really, there was no way I could have known what I do today. And I never believed divorce was a realistic eventuality. My parents split when I was 4. I always said I would NEVER get divorced, and I meant it.

But I was just a kid. And you can’t know what you don’t know.

I was worried, but it wasn’t enough to scare me off. I assumed EVERYONE worried. I assumed EVERYONE doubted themselves. I assumed EVERYONE must feel this way leading up to their weddings.

The math for me was simple: I loved her and wanted to be with her, and I perceived marriage to be the only way that was going to happen.

We were married at 25.

Prior to marriage, we never had a legitimately honest and vulnerable conversation about sex. Likes, dislikes, fantasies, preferences, etc.

I blame me for this. I have some weird guilt-shame hang-ups about sex. Maybe all boys growing up in Catholic school in small, conservative Midwest towns do.

I wasn’t fully honest about things I liked and felt and wanted in the bedroom. I thought I was being a gentleman because I never wanted my wife to feel like she wasn’t good enough. And I never felt comfortable telling her all of the things I really thought about and felt, because What if she thinks I’m a weird perv and doesn’t want to be with me anymore?!?!

I never wanted to “plan” a date night or to have sex because I had this ridiculous idea in my head that all sex should be an act of passionate spontaneity.

I rarely flirted with my wife the way I did as a young single guy, or the way I can now as an old single guy.

There are several examples, I’m sure, of my wife and I not being as intentionally transparent and honest with one another as we should have out of fear of what the other might think.

The concept of being ACCEPTED is really important to a lot of people. It was always really important to me. Intellectually, I care less today. But emotionally? It still feels the same. There are people I want to like me and it’s not fun when it feels as if they don’t.

But a magical thought occurred to me over the past couple of years of dating, and once I recognized The Truth, almost everything about being single started to feel positive.

It has forever changed the way I feel about human relationships, about career opportunities, and about many significant Life events.

You DO NOT Want to Marry Someone Who Doesn’t Like the REAL You

I can’t begin to explain how powerful this realization was for me.

What am I so afraid of? That someone who is truly not a good fit, or a company that is truly not a good place for me to work, will reject me for being the most honest and real version of myself?

What is the motivation to date or marry someone, or to earn a job, where the true and authentic version of yourself is incompatible with the other person, or with the place you spend most of your time every day?

Yet, so many people put on masks and try to say things and behave in ways they believe the person they’re dating or the person interviewing them for a job wants to hear and see. So many people are afraid if someone knows the REAL us that we’ll be deemed unworthy of love or employment.

People go to great lengths for acceptance. To feel part of something with the best of intentions. What we often don’t realize until much too late is how many bad things could have been avoided if we were more courageous in sharing our innermost selves and thoughts and desires and beliefs, because the people who want THAT version of you—romantically or professionally—THOSE are the great matches with an incredibly high chance for success.

When you’re young and ignorant like I was, it feels safer to hide certain thoughts and feelings that might earn you a rejection from someone you want to like you. But when the stakes are as high as a marriage, or even a job where you will spend most of your time, there couldn’t be a more important time to be YOU.

Because you’re already good enough. Whether they like you or whether they hire you can’t and won’t change who you really are.

So we must own all the things that make us who we are.

And if we have to suffer dozens or hundreds of personal and professional heartbreaks and disappointments in order to get to our highly filtered matches? On the back end of a difficult divorce, I’m confident saying it feels worth it.

And even if it didn’t? Bad matches are bad matches, no matter how much they like you. And bad matches don’t have happy endings.

When people enforce their boundaries vigilantly while dating, ONLY people with a high probability for success will ever end up exchanging wedding vows with one another.

Your life will suck less and you will have a better chance for succeeding in your relationships if you read and behave according to this:

Please Read This:

THE MAGIC OF BOUNDARIES: DATE WELL, MARRY THE RIGHT PERSON, AND LOVE HARD FOREVER

 …

You don’t HAVE to get married. You don’t.

And even if you feel like you do, I promise you don’t want to marry someone with whom you have significant compatibility issues. Every day turns into a shit show, and you kind of want to die.

When we exercise bravery, we can embrace disappointment and those BAD things that happen because we understand that all the future good things can’t happen without these moments; then we all have the opportunity to write stories with less horror and trauma and tragedy, and with more humor and hope and happiness.

You know—all the good shit.

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