Tag Archives: Life

My 9-Year-Old Accidentally Explained Why His Mom Divorced Me

Oh the Places You'll Go Dr. Seuss book cover art

(Image/Dr. Seuss – drseussart.com)

“What do you want to have for dinner tomorrow?”

My wife asked me that a lot and I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like it on two levels:

Level 1 No-Likey: I have enough to worry about. Whether I have serious things to do, or perhaps am simply unwinding from a day at work, there are SEVERAL things competing for my time and energy, and what we’re doing for dinner TOMORROW was extremely low on my priority list. Maybe I’ll want pizza. Maybe I’ll want tacos. Maybe I’ll want seafood. I don’t know. Also, I’m not hungry, so almost nothing sounds appealing. This doesn’t matter right now. Can’t this wait until it does?

Level 2 No-Likey: This conversation often didn’t go my way. I don’t want to invest time doing something I don’t want to do, only to be told why it’s a bad idea or why it can’t or shouldn’t be done. I don’t want to say something that will require either of us to have to stop at the grocery store when we previously weren’t planning on it. As a general rule, I am against decisions that create more work when an alternative is available that doesn’t.

I’m sure she agreed to ordering a pizza a bunch of times when she probably didn’t want to. I bet she even went to the grocery store a bunch of times just to accommodate whatever dinner idea I’d suggested.

But my natural state of being—generally—is to worry about things when it seems like I need to. You know—“cross that bridge when we get to it.”

I wasn’t shy during my marriage about saying or behaving in ways that communicated how insignificant I considered the Future Dinner Conversation to be.

“What do you want to have for dinner tomorrow?” she said.

“I truly don’t have an opinion, babe. I kind-of don’t care. Whatever you want will be fine with me,” I said.

I thought I was being cool and accommodating my wife’s preferences.

It took me several years to realize just how incorrect I was.

The Little Things That “Don’t Matter” in Marriage

I don’t remember it being a big deal in our first few years together, but somewhere along the way, it evolved into a full-fledged “marriage problem.”

I eventually came around on the dinner thing.

I was certainly imperfect, because I don’t default naturally to Person Who Thinks About Future Meals, but I improved quite a bit through the years at being helpful with dinner. I’m a competent cook who seriously considered culinary school before choosing a writing career. My wife never seemed to figure it out, but I totally cared about her opinion of me. Me getting better at meal planning, volunteering for the grocery buying, and cooking most of the time seemed like a way for me to contribute positively and be a “good husband.”

It was easy for me to do it when I thought it was something she valued that I could take care of.

But it was hard for me when viewed through the “Do I seriously think this is important?” prism.

Five years post-divorce, I almost never plan meals for my son and I, and even less often for nights when it’s just me.

I don’t value planning future meals unless I’m going to be cooking for other people, like friends or a date. Otherwise, I just don’t think it matters. There are many important things in Life. Many. Planning meals for three days from now doesn’t crack the high-priority section of my list.

My wife seemed to get irrationally upset about this lack of concern for tomorrow’s meal. In my mind, she was “overreacting.” In my mind, she was blowing things out of proportion. This was another example of my wife having mixed-up priorities in our marriage.

Our marriage = Important.

Tomorrow’s dinner = Not Important.

According to my math, my wife was willing to damage our marriage by “starting a fight” over something that didn’t matter.

I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with her emotional calibration.

I thought she was irrational, which I thought made her wrong.

But because I would never let something silly like that outrank our marriage, I loved her anyway.

This “selfless” act showed that I took my marriage vows seriously. I was a “good husband” because I had my priorities straight.

If I can move past my wife’s crazy and irrational responses to little things that don’t matter, why can’t she chill about silly stuff like me not wanting to plan for tomorrow’s dinner, or me leaving my drinking glass next to the sink to use again later?

Kids Say the Darndest Things

I was feeling a little frustrated with my 4th-grade son this morning.

First, I had to remind him to hang up his bath towel the way that I’ve showed him at least a dozen times.

Then, I had to take away his iPad that he’d inexplicably started playing with in the middle of breakfast, which was slowing him down.

He was intentionally making noises to annoy me while I was trying to hear a conversation on talk radio, even after I’d asked him not to a couple of times.

I gave him three tasks after breakfast: Brush his teeth, put his packed lunch inside of his backpack, and put his shoes on.

I don’t remember which incident of non-compliance finally made me snap, but my response made it clear that he’d finally succeeded at pissing me off.

To which he responded: “Dad, why do you get mad about dumb stuff?”

Zoose, the ironic god of sky and thunder, had just face-blasted me with a bolt of ironic lightning.

I wasn’t pissed anymore, even though he was totally being a dickhole again. (Sorry, lupushope.)

I wasn’t pissed anymore because this was funny.

My son doesn’t know enough to know WHY it was funny, and I wasn’t going to get into it with him right then, but I did try to teach him something important that he clearly hadn’t learned yet.

(I’m probably not quoting myself with 100% accuracy. Sorry.)

“Listen, kiddo. I understand why you think I’m getting mad about dumb stuff that doesn’t matter. I really do,” I said. “I’m giving you a hard time about how quickly you’re putting on shoes or eating. I’m angry because you’re making silly noises, or not hanging up your bath towels in the way I’ve asked you to. I get why that seems stupid. Those are all things that don’t seem very important.

“But I’m not really upset because you did a less-than-stellar job hanging up your towel, or because you’re making weird mouth noises for no apparent reason, or because you don’t have your shoes on yet.

“I’m upset because I’m your dad, and I’ve asked you to do a few easy and simple things this morning, and then you didn’t do them. You chose to not help me. Not only did you not help me, you kind of sabotaged my efforts to get us ready so you can get to school on time. Towels and school shoes and you making noise are NOT important. But you obeying your mom and dad IS important. I’m not upset about dumb stuff. I’m upset because you’re not listening to your parents.”

Flashing Neon Sign: I Was a Child Throughout My Entire Marriage

The irony wasn’t lost on me, and anyone who has read anything I’ve written probably knows that I figured out much of this long ago.

But this still felt like a breakthrough moment with my son.

I get comments from people who read She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By The Sink and then accuse my son’s mother of being a control-freak nag because she was making a big deal out of a dish.

I get comments from people who read An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1 and tell me that I’m better off without my wife, because at least now I can watch The Masters golf tournament on a Sunday without anyone giving me crap for doing so. “All you wanted to do was watch a little golf from a tournament that only happens once a year! What’s wrong with that?”, they ask rhetorically, believing they see the world as clearly and correctly as I used to believe I did.

I just wanted to watch golf and football instead of work on some home-improvement project or go to an event at the in-laws. What’s the big deal?

I just wanted to let my wife choose what to have for dinner, because I didn’t have a preference. Why is that a problem?

I just wanted to leave my jeans that I wore one time on that little bedroom stand because it seemed more efficient than hanging them up again, or putting them in the laundry before they actually needed washed. Why is she acting upset about this silly crap?

Our marriage was effectively over long before I was capable of behavioral change in this arena, and was logistically and legally over long before I could see the WHY underneath all of the frustration and sadness my wife had expressed during these disagreements that seemed so insignificant to me at the time.

I spent my marriage kind-of acting like my 4th-grader: Why is she always getting mad about dumb stuff?

The truth was always hovering just a little over my head.

Just a little out of reach, kind of like I wasn’t tall enough.

Some people grow until they’re tall enough to see and understand.

Others find a way to climb up, sometimes because they’re crawling out of the darkness after hitting the floor.

I love my son so much, but if I can’t find a way to effectively communicate and help him understand the WHY underneath my requests or expressed frustrations over “dumb stuff,” he may spend the majority of his life believing that his father treats him like he’s never good enough, or that his dad is always looking for reasons to criticize him.

Can you imagine a son carrying that with him his entire life? As if his father doesn’t think he’s good enough? All because of a little nuanced misunderstanding?

But what if he learns all the things I didn’t know?

Oh, the places he’ll go.

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Why I Think Most Married People Get Bored and Stop Wanting Each Other

bored couple

(Image/ZUMI Kenya)

Author’s Note: I’m not a doctor. I’m not much of an expert on anything. But I’m curious, and I think a lot, and I like to explain WHY I think things. I don’t want there to be any confusion about what I believe or the reasons that led me here. I don’t think I have anything to teach people necessarily. But I think we can teach ourselves things by going through certain mental exercises, and those lessons or conclusions will sometimes be different than mine. That’s okay. Until I’m certain I know everything, I’ll continue to operate as if I might be wrong about all of it. Because I might be. The only story I know is my own, so it’s pretty much the only one I tell.

It’s possible I’m the only person in human history to treat strangers differently than people I know well. I often do that.

I’m more patient with and, arguably, “nicer” to other people’s kids than I am to my son.

I don’t have words to describe what I feel when I think about him. He’s the cutest. He’s in 4th grade, and he’s my favorite everything. He also pisses me off all the time when he’s being a little dickhole. The person I love the most is ALSO the person who makes me angry most frequently. The person I love the most is ALSO the person I spend the most time with which leads to me lapsing into moments when I’m taking him for granted.

Maybe I’m a shitty person or a bad father because of those moments when I show an extra ounce of favoritism to another kid when I’m correcting my son, or tolerating behavior from another kid that I wouldn’t tolerate from my own.

Because I’m not a psychology expert, or even just a really smart person, I can’t explain with 100-percent certainty the WHY behind this.

I can’t explain why I’ll walk around in sweatpants with out-of-control hair in front of a woman who I want to like me and find me attractive, but won’t go out in public or even answer the door for a pizza delivery without dressing better.

I can’t explain why my manners are on full display when first meeting someone who hasn’t earned my respect, but I’ll be totally informal with someone I’ve known for years.

I can’t explain why I was often nicer to strangers than I was to my wife.

But it’s true. I was.

Before my son was the person I spent the most time with, his mother was.

Before my son was the person I loved the most but who could also upset me the most, his mother was.

She’s beautiful. Hot, even. And she is the person I loved above all things. She’s the person I cared about and valued most. She’s the person I shared all of my resources with and promised to be with for the rest of my life.

She’s the only person I ever did that for.

I loved that woman very much.

But I was still a dick to her when things weren’t going my way. I was still sometimes nicer to our friends who were visiting for dinner and wine than I was to her. I was still quick to dismiss something she claimed to care about based solely on me not caring about it like an egomaniacal douchebag.

I still was disinterested at times in going to bed with her, even though she’s sexually attractive and literally asked me to. Which seems insane, really.

Why?

Why?

WHY?!?!

I don’t know. I’m not proud of it. And I’m under no delusion that I’m all together.

Something might be fundamentally wrong with me. I might be a new or unique kind of broken. I don’t know.

But I think it might be something else. Let’s start here…

Hugh Grant Got Caught Soliciting a Miami Prostitute

Remember that?

Sure you do.

Hugh Grant. The British actor. Totally handsome dude. Presumably super-wealthy. I don’t think he had any trouble finding dates if he wanted them. Just a hunch. I’m theorizing that he wouldn’t “need” to employ the services of a prostitute to have his sexual wants satisfied.

But more significantly than all that is that he was married. And not just to anyone. He was married to the woman who—to me—was (purely from a visual standpoint—let the record show that visual stimulation and desire is probably the least-important aspect of “attraction”) the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

Elizabeth Hurley. She’s 52 now and probably still gorgeous. In her early 30s, she’s what I would have designed with a Weird Science computer and a pointy-bra hat.

I was 21 years old back when this went down in 2000 and it seemed super-significant. My 21-year-old brain couldn’t process how Hugh Grant could intentionally choose to cheat on Elizabeth Hurley with some rando lady of the night in South Beach.

But I think I can now.

Personal decisions about hiring sex workers aside, I think I understand why any man or woman married to another human being wouldn’t see that person through the same prism as some star-struck 20-something who never met them before.

I Classify it as Hedonic Adaptation, But Maybe it’s Something Else

I think it’s an important idea to understand, because I think when people don’t know what they’re up against, they’re more likely to experience hardship and failure.

Hedonic adaptation is the psychological phenomenon of our brains adjusting to positive life changes and normalizing them, the consequences of which are losing some of the “highs” we used to feel when we first experienced them.

You get a pay raise. It feels good. You get used to the new pay. Feel just as poor as you used to.

You get a new car. It feels good. You get used to the new car. You let it be just as dirty as your old car.

I’ve written in many posts, including my most recent from last week, that I believe hedonic adaptation is a major contributor to relationship problems.

A kind reader objected to my use of the term hedonic adaptation.

I can’t be sure, but I think she was uncomfortable with the idea of comparing how we treat and feel about “things” with how we treat and feel about people.

As a recovering idealist, I totally understand where she’s coming from. It’s an insult to the sacredness of marriage and the intrinsic value of a human being to reduce a person—and certainly a spouse—to an object.

But I don’t think being uncomfortable makes it less true. I don’t think our brains give a shit WHAT the thing/person/experience is. I believe it’s a foregone conclusion that as familiarity and comfort with something grows, the likelihood that you’ll take it for granted through thoughtlessness increases.

I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that you will love or value something less. Just that you’ll “forget” how much it really matters to you. Like your ability to breathe or see or use your arms and legs. People tend to take them for granted until the least-fortunate among us lose one of them.

It’s not ideal. But it is the human condition.

I certainly don’t love or value my son less as I’ve “gotten used” to him being around. But I think those little chemical triggers that make young couples crush on one another and lust for one another when they first meet WILL, 100-percent, no-exceptions, lose intensity or go away entirely over time.

It’s TOTALLY uncomfortable to suggest to your spouse that you aren’t quite as attracted to them as you once were. I think that’s why most of us avoid discussing it. We love to avoid uncomfortable conversations and situations.

I wonder what would happen if we did things differently.

Remember, much of this is superficial. And it’s not your fault.

None of us are actively sitting around TRYING to bore with stuff—certainly not our marriage partner. I don’t think I’m going out on much of a limb in suggesting that if we never got “bored” or lost the intense chemical reactions our bodies experience when we first meet a romantic partner, that we’d have about 90-percent fewer divorces to worry about.

This isn’t about how much someone matters. It’s not about objectifying human beings or disrespecting those we love.

It’s about acknowledging that we are programmed by nature to lose over time some of the naturally occurring emotional triggers that help us effectively communicate and convey attraction, desire, love, courteousness, patience, forgiveness, etc. to our partner.

We can’t deal in reality when we don’t know what reality is, or deny its very existence.

I think the people who have the best relationships are secure enough with themselves and one another to deal with uncomfortable things and topics as a team. As a partnership. To—together—ask questions and discuss ways in which they can demonstrate the love and care that they think and feel, even if it doesn’t quite look or feel the same as it did when they first met.

Here’s a free life tip I think my failed marriage taught me: Confidently discussing uncomfortable things together in order to promote a healthy relationship and marital harmony will benefit a marriage. I think the act of doing so together is WAY more powerful and bond-forming than being honest about our feelings can be damaging.

The husband and wife who can, with intellectual honesty, discuss and deal with the natural “boredom” or “loss of attraction” that might eek into a long-term relationship are going to be better off than the ones who pretend it isn’t real.

BE UNCOMFORTABLE and discuss things bravely, because being uncomfortable and discussing things bravely is the hard—but RIGHT—thing to do.

But It Could Be Other Things Too

I label this hedonic adaptation because it’s what makes sense to me.

But that doesn’t make me right, and even if I am “right,” hedonic adaptation wouldn’t be a catch-all for this phenomenon.

When you first meet someone, you are single. You are an individual with mystery and potential in their eyes, as they are to you.

The dynamics of that moment are RADICALLY different than when you wake up in the same bed for the 1,871st day in a row, looking and smelling your worst with two kids and a dog and a mortgage.

I’m not even trying to be cynical about this. The love and care you feel—the VALUE—you place on your long-term spouse, family and household is infinitely higher than the first night you met back when all the sparks first flew.

But there are elements of relationships that often “worsen” as circumstances, individual interests and priorities, and group priorities change over time.

Maybe it’s worse manners. Maybe it’s the absence of displaying sexual attraction for your wife or husband. Maybe it’s saying something a little bit mean, or offering a thoughtless or dismissive reaction to something she or he told you.

Maybe back on your third date, all of that would have gone much differently.

Comfortable Lies vs. Uncomfortable Truth

Maybe it’s not about the other person. Maybe none of it is.

Maybe it’s about us.

I was a confident young man when I met my ex-wife. I was going to win the Pulitzer Prize and be whatever I wanted. The world was mine. And so was she.

The years went by.

The confident individual became an unsure partner. The cool guy living alone became the uncool part of a couple.

Maybe we stop feeling attracted to our partners because once they’re our partners, and two I’s become a We, we literally stop being the people they were attracted to in the first place.

We LOSE ourselves when we give up our individual identities to be a husband or a wife. To be a mother or a father.

We turn into different people because we must.

So it’s not just boredom. Sometimes, attractive traits literally go away, and unattractive traits take their place.

Many of us spend years politely or fearfully not mentioning it. Maybe we grumble to one of our friends about it in a private moment.

Then years go by, and two people who were once inseparable are now total strangers.

It’s the saddest story of our time because it happens thousands of times every day and hardly anyone is doing anything about it.

But you can. You can be honest with yourself and the people you love, and you can talk about true things even when it’s hard.

Pleasant lies taste wonderful and are easy to hear and hide behind. But they’re poison.

Difficult truths taste bitter going down and kind of make you want to puke. But they’re medicine. They cure the sick. Mend the broken.

Difficult truths might save the whole world.

Maybe we just need enough courageous people taking the leap.

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Why Nonsense and Choosing the Wrong Thing Can’t be Ignored

The-Kummakivi-Balancing-Rock

Not everything can be explained easily. Some things just are. (Image/Ancient-origins.net)

“Feelings don’t matter.

I don’t think anyone currently or formerly close to me would accuse me of heartlessness, but I’ve also been known—especially when it was convenient for my argument—to reduce human emotion to some bullshit little thing that weak people allow to control them.

Maybe all but the most empathetic members of humanity think and do this too.

Feelings Don’t Matter isn’t such a bad life mantra.

I’m strongly anti-divorce, and I consider it tragic that millions of people think and feel Love for one another and publicly promise to do so forever, only to take it all back and break their relationships, homes and families a few years later because they don’t “feel” it anymore.

I’ve written about hedonic adaptation a bunch of times because I believe it’s such a strong contributor to the world’s divorce and crappy-relationship problem, and I don’t think very many people are aware of it or talk enough about it.

Because you’re a human being, you very naturally (not because something is wrong with you) become less emotionally responsive to good things in your life as your brain adjusts to them.

New songs. New houses. New cars. New pay raises. New clothes. New jobs. New dating relationships.

These things make us FEEL good. Very good. They make us feel excited. A tidal wave of emotional motivation to invest your time, your money, and your mental and emotional energy into this awesome new positive thing in your life.

But you get used to them. They become routine. Ordinary. And all the sudden they don’t trigger those same feelings of excitement in you.

Call it the Universe’s way of keeping us motivated. The cave-people had everything they needed once they discovered fire. Between that and their stone tools, life improved about a gazillion percent.

Instead of calling it a day and spending the rest of human history spearing fish and roasting woodland creatures over an open fire, people kept pursuing more.

I like movies, football, video games, vacations, automobiles, typing keyboards, the internet and life expectancies beyond our twenties. So I’m glad we didn’t stop at fire.

Of course, the downside is that awesome things seem less awesome once I get used to them.

I don’t wake up every day with the intention of being an ungrateful douchebag, but inevitably, I say or think things that only ungrateful douchebags say and think. I forget that I have electricity, modern health care, sanitary water, the use of my arms and legs, massive HD televisions, etc. I forget that other people watch their children die because of mosquito bites and literally don’t know where their next meal will come from.

I forget that every day.

Hedonic adaptation is why. I’m used to houses, cars, modern conveniences, and even a few luxuries. My Wi-Fi was out a few weekends ago.

I couldn’t play PUBG on Xbox for like, a day, and you would have thought the world had ended.

Asshole.

I even called AT&T’s internet people twice, and I hate being on the phone with customer service people.

It occurs to me that—in that moment—my feelings mattered.

Whether I’m evaluating my old sins or new ones, I think I’m the dumbest smart person I know.

Dismissing Emotion is Stupid, Hypocritical and Will Probably Ruin Your Relationships

I thought I was so fucking smart back when I was telling my wife how silly she was to let her emotions control her like that.

I think through things. Some would say I overthink. And after dissecting and closely inspecting the idea of letting emotions drive human behavior, I concluded how foolish it was.

Because how I feel can change in an instant.

Good news makes me happy.

Bad news makes me mad or sad.

Sometimes my fourth-grader acts like a little penis-face and I get angry with him, but then I’ll drop him off at school knowing I won’t see him for a couple of days and totally melt—all traces of anger and frustration gone.

I concluded MANY years ago that if I simply did what I “felt” like all the time, I would:

  • Lack money because I probably wouldn’t show up regularly for work.
  • Have a morally questionable and unhealthy sex life.
  • Be a shitty father.
  • Likely be in prison for vehicular homicide because other drivers are assholes and deserved it.

You get it.

We shouldn’t let such fickle and constantly changing things drive our decisions, should we?

LeBron James (local hero here in Ohio) at age 33, and Tom Brady (non-local hero playing professional football in Massachusetts) at age 40, spend ungodly amounts of money on their bodies in the form of personal chefs, expensive disciplined diets, and expensive disciplined workout regimens which have both of them setting new standards for player performance in their respective sports after playing as many games as each of them have.

Their longevity—true or not—is largely linked to their disciplined lifestyle choices.

They make good choices, then good things happen.

I think most of us fundamentally understand that when we make “good,” disciplined, responsible choices, the results are positive.

When you sacrifice financially in the present to save money, you can often retire comfortably.

When you sacrifice nightlife to get plenty of sleep, you often go through the day feeling better than when sleep-deprived.

When you sacrifice physical excursion in order to be physically fit, you tend to look better, feel better, and improve your overall quality of life.

Basically, all of life is this way. Good choices = good results. Bad choices = bad results.

Some people make bad choices because they don’t know any better.

But most of us? Most of us who make bad choices do so despite knowing better.

We choose the cheeseburger over the salad. The milkshake over the tea. The snooze button over the work. The alcohol over harsh reality. The orgasm over all kinds of different life-enhancing alternatives depending on your relationship status and/or the methods for doing so.

Conclusion: No matter how much the calculated analysis, thoughtful logic, or macho tough-guy “wisdom” might dissuade us from making—or even respecting—emotion-driven decisions, the TRUTH of life is that shit’s going to go down in the hearts and minds of pretty much everyone we know, and they’re going to want and need certain things for reasons we may or may not understand.

And if those people going through these things happen to be people who agreed years ago to be our adult partners and are now feeling constantly disrespected and fucked with by our apparent lack of concern for the things they care about, they’re highly likely to make choices one way or another that end with them not being our adult partners anymore.

Maybe they’ll even go poach an egg.

Sure, feelings are bullshit.

Sure, feelings are fleeting. Neither we nor they will feel like this next week or next month. Maybe neither of us will even remember this five years from now.

Sure, we shouldn’t let something fickle and fleeting guide our decisions. But since when did people do what they are SUPPOSED to?!

Life isn’t a predictable math equation like some of us might like it to be.

Life is not If This, Then That, with any of us having a clue what “That” may turn out to be.

Today—right now—some shit that won’t matter to anyone in five years is the most important thing imaginable to someone you care about.

And just maybe if you treat that thing as important BECAUSE you care about the person, something magical will happen.

Or, perhaps at minimum, something horrible won’t.

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You’re Right, Guys—You Can’t Make Women Happy

unhappy wife

(Image/Moldova Christina)

A common complaint among married men is feeling like their wives are always complaining about something—that they’re never happy for long and that nothing he does ever seems to be good enough for her.

I remember feeling that way for a few years before spending the final 18 months of my marriage sleeping in the guest room until she finally left for good.

I’m a pretty nice guy and most people seem to like me, and because of that, I always believed and acted as if she was the one with the problem.

I know how frustrating it feels to exchange your bachelorhood for a lifelong commitment to love someone else, only to be told over and over again that you’re doing it wrong.

I know how much it hurts to want your spouse to want you back when they clearly don’t.

I know what it feels like to want to die when they move out and choose some asshole stranger over you after a dozen years together.

Those are honest and real feelings I experienced in the months between her driving away permanently with our preschool-aged son in the backseat, and a court magistrate nullifying our marriage.

Because I hadn’t yet learned the critical life lesson that we can’t and shouldn’t always trust ourselves, I was confident that my interpretation of my marriage and wife’s choice was accurate. That, for whatever my marital shortcomings and mistakes might have been, in the final analysis she was MORE wrong for quitting on our family.

After all, I was happy being married to her. If she would have just stopped finding stuff to get pissed about, it would have been awesome.

But she was hard to please. She was ungrateful. She was the one with the problem.

It’s Not Your Fault, Guys—No One Taught Us Differently

The notion that “girls are crazy” or that women are “stuck-up bitches” or “hard to understand” or “always finding something new to complain about,” isn’t something me and my friends invented. We heard men and older boys and TV telling us these things.

Collectively, men are FAR from innocent victims in all this. But I have no doubt that MOST guys grew up believing this narrative—because situations with crying girlfriends, angry mothers, and stories from their guy friends about their experiences with girls/women seemed to reinforce these beliefs.

That girls/women are too emotional.

That they’re crazy and irrational.

Thought exercise: If you honestly believe a person you’re talking to is capable of temporary moments of insanity where they become hyper-emotional and their judgment becomes clouded to the point where they’re “wrong” or “misjudging” a situation, how do you handle a disagreement with them?

Most guys are set up from childhood to not only believe (as most everyone does) that our first-person experiences and emotional interpretations of them are a reliable guide for determining right and wrong, but many of us also believe that our girlfriends and wives are WRONG when they react emotionally to something we say or do, and during arguments.

I thought my wife frequently overreacted to something she was upset about.

I left a dirty dish by the sink, and she decided she wanted to argue about it. I thought it was irrational to elevate a dirty dish to a marriage problem.

And because I believed my wife to be irrational, I believed she was wrong.

Because I believed she was wrong, I was never really motivated to change.

She’s the one with the problem.

The Danger of Not Recognizing the Difference Between “Trying to Make Her Happy” and “Not Hurting Her”

A lot of people read my most-popular articles—either “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” or “An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands”—and sometimes afterward men will tell me what a stupid dumbass moron I am because of whatever I wrote.

They think I’m advocating for men to start selling out and doing whatever they can to placate their wives so she won’t want to leave. To “make her happy.” They think I wrote that all men are dicks who deserve to be left and all women are victims who never make mistakes in their marriages.

I recognize these guys right away now—the ones still wearing the blinders they inherited from childhood. The ones that taught them that women are often crazy and wrong. The ones that might have even taught them that men are somehow better than women.

They confuse my message of “Stop hurting her” with “Do whatever the little missus wants and worship her no matter what,” and it’s sad because they and their families will inevitably suffer for it, but it makes sense to me because maybe I would have had a similar reaction back when I was still blaming everything on my wife.

Let the record show that this isn’t intended to be gender-specific. This dysfunctional conversation/argument dynamic can just as easily exist in a role-reversal scenario in relationships that look differently than mine did. But this is generally the kind of relationship I see and hear about most, and the kind I lived through.

The one where husbands and wives get caught in a Man vs. Woman vortex, and slowly hurt one another repeatedly for many years until their marriage fails.

Not from any one moment. In isolation, none of these past arguments seemed like a big deal as they were happening. Certainly not marriage-enders.

None of these moments were scary enough to trip the emergency alarms. Marriages have fights! You just get over it and move on! No big deal!

Until one day the pile of No-Big-Deal arguments gets so big that the floor collapses beneath you, and everything falls apart.

Most marriages don’t end because of something big and dramatic like a gunshot or bomb explosion.

Most marriages end from bleeding out after being paper cut to death. One, even 10, paper cuts aren’t that scary. But after tens of thousands, maybe you bleed so much that you die.

The #1 Thing That Ends Relationships

I believe, when you strip away all of the bullshit and psychobabble, that one idea sums up why more than half of all relationships fail:

Men frequently demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to recognize the pain they cause their wives or girlfriends and then fail to intentionally adjust the behavior to stop hurting them.

Empathy can often be hard for people to exhibit when we don’t relate to nor understand what someone else is going through.

His wife is telling him that something he is doing HURTS her—not unlike him punching her in the face or stabbing her with a knife.

Only the smallest percentage of men would ever actually punch or stab the woman he loves. The VAST majority of men take seriously their role as “protector,” regardless of whether his wife or girlfriend needs protecting.

“I would never hurt you,” men say to their wives or girlfriends.

He says it over and over again, and believes it with all of his heart. He’s being totally serious and genuine.

This situation his wife or girlfriend is describing during this most recent silly argument is too ridiculous to be taken seriously.

She’s overreacting again. Making a federal case out of something that doesn’t matter. She’s saying this HURTS her? No way.

I don’t care when she leaves a piece of laundry on the bedroom floor, so how could it HURT her when I do it?

I don’t care whether she gives me a gift for our wedding anniversary, so how could it HURT her when I forget to do it?

I don’t care when she forgets something at the grocery store, so how could it HURT her when I do it?

I don’t care about Valentine’s Day and think it’s stupid that people make a big deal out of it, so how could it HURT her when I don’t agree to treat the day the same way she wants to?

I felt like my wife was getting lightly hit with a pillow but responding emotionally as if I was swinging a bat at her.

And I thought that was CRAZY.

I thought she was wrong.

I thought she was hard to please.

I thought she was acting like an ungrateful bitch for acting like nothing I did was good enough for her.

My wife thought I was either hurting her on purpose, or cared so little about her that I was refusing to change any of my behaviors that might help her.

When you tell someone that something within their control is HURTING you, and they not only demonstrate an unwillingness to stop, but also are telling you that you’re too dumb, too crazy, too WRONG to know what’s real and not real—what do you do?

Stay calm?

Put on a happy face and pretend everything is okay?

Decide to carry on as an intimate partner to the person who hurts you more than anyone else, and seems unwilling to stop?

Bad news, guys: You CAN’T make your wife or girlfriend happy no matter how hard you try. Not because they’re hard to please, but because all people must make peace with themselves before they can ever feel content and comfortable in their own skin. Until then, we’re all just fumbling around in the dark breaking shit.

But you CAN stop hurting her when she says “Hey. When you do that, it hurts me.” You can stop hurting her by treating her as if she’s insane for feeling hurt by something just because that same thing might not hurt you. You can stop hurting her by continuing to do whatever the thing is that she says is hurting her because you don’t respect her enough or take her seriously enough to eliminate the pain-causing behavior.

I’d like to see what happens when a sad and angry wife or girlfriend tells her husband or boyfriend about something that’s hurting her, and instead of telling her she’s dumb and crazy, he apologizes sincerely, and moves forward giving his best effort to not let that happen again.

I want to know how many of THOSE wives and girlfriends go “looking for something else to complain about.” I want to know how many of THOSE husbands and boyfriends feel disrespected and mistreated by a wife who never makes him feel like he’s good enough.

When you reduce your wife or girlfriend to a stupid, nagging bitch while she’s privately bleeding from hundreds of papercuts you’ve already forgotten about and never apologized for, maybe it makes sense for her to try a dramatic, emotional outburst to get your attention.

When you dismiss her plea for help repeatedly, maybe it makes sense for her to remove herself from the relationship in order to preserve her health and wellbeing.

And just maybe, when you take responsibility for the pain you might have accidentally caused, respect your partner enough to listen and believe her when she tells you about it, and LOVE her enough to make sure the painful thing stops happening—just maybe that’s where marital peace and healing live.

Just maybe that’s how you get to ‘Til death do us part.

I wouldn’t know, because I never actually considered that I might be wrong about her, and that I was not only capable of hurting her, but that I actually was.

I wouldn’t know, because I never actually took any responsibility during our marriage for hurting my wife. I never apologized, then followed it up with a behavioral change that would allow her to trust me again.

I wouldn’t know, because my marriage and family fell apart despite my insistence that nothing was wrong. My marriage and family fell apart long before I ever developed the humility necessary to ask the right questions.

If my wife repeatedly hurt me and every time I told her about it she blew me off and told me I could expect her to keep doing so, would I really agree to stay in the marriage?

Is it possible that the same situation can hurt one person, and not another?

If I was hurting my wife and she couldn’t trust me or feel safe with me anymore because I told her a hundred times that she was crazy and mistaken instead of believing her, wasn’t she SMART and WISE to reluctantly end our marriage?

It took many years, but the truth eventually hit me hard.

I’m not divorced because my wife was hard to please or that she felt I was never good enough for her. I’m divorced because when my wife told me something was wrong, I treated her like a second-class mental patient and all but promised to never change.

Sometimes I wonder what might have happened had I not.

Instead of wondering, maybe you can actually find out.

Isn’t she worth it? Aren’t you?

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Stop Waiting Until it’s Too Late

top regrets of the dying

(Image/Humanengineers)

There was something I wanted to tell someone and I was just waiting for the right time. But then he died before I saw him again.

Message: Undelivered. Permanently. Nice work, Matt. Way to prioritize all the things.

The funeral was beautiful. As beautiful as a funeral can be, anyway.

It’s been a few years since my last funeral, I’m fortunate to report, but a couple of things stood out to me beyond the pain, grief and sadness everyone was feeling to varying degrees, and the brutal suffering of a couple of people on my personal I Love These People the Most list.

Life lessons, if you will. Obvious ones.

But despite their obviousness—and critical importance—almost everyone loses sight of, or forgets, them every day.

2 Lessons About Life & Relationships We Learn at Funerals

There are more than just two. These are simply what stood out for me while people cried in my arms or while listening while long-time friends of the departed eulogized him eloquently and tearfully.

If you think about life and death hard enough—and most of us won’t because the idea of dying or losing our loved ones makes us too uncomfortable (I’m not judging—I bury my head in the sand, too)—life kind of boils down to a contest to see who can die while feeling the most internal peace.

The contest “winners” are everyone who faces their impending death with total peace, having lived a regret-free life where they did all they could, gave all they could, and that their family and friends will remember them fondly because the way that they lived made them a great family member or great friend.

Like, I totally need to get my shit together. But I’m really good at waiting until it’s too late.

It’s probably not accurate to categorize these things as lessons. They’re observations that will surprise approximately zero people, but there’s a good chance you’re not remembering them during everyday life.

We’ll call these observations “sub-lessons” that live under the umbrella of the primary lesson no one ever remembers: Everyone Dies, and We Usually Don’t Know When.

1. We Treat the Dead, Terminally Ill, and Grieving Differently

I’m sure the terminally sick, handicapped, and people grieving the deaths of those closest to them resent being pitied and treated like fragile victims once the initial shock wears off.

But that doesn’t stop us. We typically treat people MUCH differently when we learn they’re dying, that they might die, or that someone very close to them just passed.

I’m not the kind of person who verbally berates strangers (not counting all of the things I mutter toward shitty drivers that would probably make Jesus and my grandma really sad), but sometimes I see people get pissed and say mean stuff to the restaurant wait staff, or hear them dress down some customer-service rep on the phone who’s probably making less than $10 per hour to field complaint calls from strangers all day, every day.

Maybe some of the people getting their ears chewed off deserve it. Probably a few. I just think if they had a sign hanging around their neck announcing that their mom died a few days ago, or that they had a terminal illness that would kill them in the next few weeks, that most people would treat them with a certain amount of kindness and patience.

Which begs the question: If our spouses/romantic partners, our children, siblings, friends, co-workers, etc. are all going to die, and that will be among the worst things that ever happen to us, changing our behavior toward them and enhancing our feelings about them… then why are we sometimes or currently being stupid assholes to them about things that don’t really matter?

Taking it a step further—so many men report the same experience I did at the end of my marriage—that we didn’t see it coming, or that we didn’t know that certain things were causing her so much pain.

We say that if we HAD known, we’d have made better choices.

But if something is legitimately the most important thing in your life, why would you EVER show enough neglect to jeopardize it? How could that even be possible?

But we do. So many of us do. For the same reasons we forget that we, and everyone we know and love, are going to die.

2. It’s Difficult to Leave Something Behind, But We Should Make it Count When We Do

The man who died was a musician. A talented one. Even better than I’d realized when he was still alive and I could have shared my admiration and appreciation.

His nephew, a doctor and pastor, was the primary officiant at the funeral, and he talked about two things in particular that affected me.

The first was his encouragement to the rest of us to live our best lives (which, HINT: is the entire point of this article as well), in which he shared author Bronnie Ware’s five biggest regrets expressed by the terminally ill from her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Because those are good reminders of things most of us are probably getting wrong to some degree.

And the second thing that stood out to me during the pastor’s eulogy was his observation of how rare it is for most people to leave something behind for people to remember them by after our deaths.

Painters leave paintings.

Actors leave films.

Builders leave buildings.

Authors leave books.

Parents leave children.

Musicians leave music.

Some career and life paths don’t lend themselves to so easily leave something tangible behind the way artists, construction crews, and parents are able to.

What a gift, I thought. What a gift to be able to write things down that occasionally matter to people. Maybe I shouldn’t wait until it’s too late to finish a book.

What a gift, I thought. What a gift to be able to adjust our behavior toward some people who really matter to us, even if it takes a terrible loss to trigger it and help us refocus.

Maybe we shouldn’t wait until it’s too late to actually behave with the love we say we feel for those who matter most.

Because if we’re too busy putting our most critical relationships on hold in favor of stuff that won’t mean a damn thing to us during their funerals, then I think it’s fair to say we’re probably doing it wrong.

But we don’t have to keep doing so. While there’s breath in us, we can always make a better choice, no matter what life throws our way.

What a gift.

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When You’re Too Comfortable to Know You Shouldn’t Be

Marlboro Man

“Holy crap, that guy looks awesome. I’m going to start smoking Marlboros,” I probably thought to myself at age 15 — several years before the actual Marlboro Man in this magazine ad died from a smoking-related respiratory illness. (Image/BuzzFeed)

Sometimes I wonder whether I’ll die one day from a heart attack or cancer because of things I consume or do.

Like maybe I eat pizza or a cheeseburger or Milk Duds at the movie theater because, duh, but if in some magical alternate reality I received some type of clear signal from the future that making different decisions would save my life, I would totally NOT eat those things.

Like if former TV psychic Miss Cleo was standing in my kitchen or sitting in the passenger seat next to me…

“Matt! If you keep drinking extra-large coffees with cream and ordering pizza you’re going to drop dead of a heart attack, but if you switch to tea and up the raw vegetable intake a bit, you’ll live a long-ish, healthy life! Get your shit together!”…

If Miss Cleo told me that, and I had good reason to believe she was telling the truth, I would adjust course.

It occurs to me that I order pizza, consume the occasional cheeseburger, and rock Milk Duds at the movie theater because I’m “comfortable.” I don’t assume I’m going to die soon, so I’m comfortable making choices I understand to be unhealthy.

At best, I sometimes mindlessly coast through life breaking a few things along the way. At worst, I am intentionally doing the wrong thing.

Why?

Because I’m comfortable. Because everything feels okay, even if everything’s not.

Comfort Kills Us in Other Ways Too

This whole thing—this Divorced Guy Writes Stuff and a Few People Care thing—started in July 2013 when I wrote my first-ever blog post that was intended to serve a purpose other than me simply word-vomiting emo shit on Day 93 of my wife leaving.

In An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1, I told this little story about fighting with my wife because I wanted to watch The Masters golf tournament on a beautiful Sunday afternoon while my wife wanted me to accompany her and our infant son on an outdoor hike.

I concluded that I could have recorded the golf tournament on the DVR, and regret not joining my wife and son on that hike, because I perceive that time she was out walking our son in his stroller to be one of dozens or hundreds of moments where my wife must have stewed in her disappointment over my choosing golf on TV over spending time with her and our child.

I concluded that IF I had realized in that moment that it was a contributing factor to my wife leaving and losing 50 percent of my son’s childhood, that I would have made a different choice.

That post still gets read a lot, and predictably, I’ll get the occasional blog comment from some guy frustrated by what he read there—presumably because he has the same sort of argument with his wife or girlfriend.

“You’re such a pussy, dude. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to watch a golf tournament that’s only on once a year!” says some guy standing 50 feet below the point sailing over his head.

OF COURSE choosing to watch a golf tournament over going on a hike ONE TIME is a non-issue. Of course. What level of Idiot Mastery must one achieve to read that story—then assume every other aspect of my marriage throughout its history was rosy and perfect—and conclude that my wife randomly freaked out like an insane person over one brief moment in time in which she and I wanted to spend an afternoon doing different things?

The point of that story was to convey my newfound understanding that it WASN’T the moments of conventional significance or importance that sealed the fate of my marriage. It was the collection of a million tiny moments where I disappointed or hurt my marriage partner without doing enough to eliminate or relieve that pain, or offer enough other positives to make a life with me feel like a net-positive.

She spent months—years, maybe—having an internal conversation: “Do the good things about him, or about being with him, outweigh all the bad?”

The answer to that became self-evident when she moved out on April 1—exactly 93 days prior to me thinking about and sharing the story from that otherwise-routine Sunday afternoon a couple of years earlier.

Just like eating a bunch of pizza, donuts and bacon cheeseburgers can eventually cause a person’s heart to stop without warning, our marriages and relationships can end from these moments piling up—these moments that hurt a person while their partner is unfazed. Because they don’t know or they don’t care.

And the reason they don’t know or care is because they don’t feel the need to be bothered with trying to figure it out.

One partner keeps hinting at a problem, but nothing feels wrong to the other.

Because the non-hurting partner is COMFORTABLE.

Everything’s fine. She’ll (or he’ll) get over it.

These people—too often men—can’t understand why it hurts when she sees him expertly adjusting his schedule to attend two different fantasy football drafts where he’ll drink and joke with his friends all day, assembling a fake team of players to “manage” for an entire football season.

“How is it that he can’t be bothered to make a dinner reservation for our wedding anniversary or adjust his schedule to come to our daughter’s dance recital, but he’ll jump through hoops to draft and manage an imaginary football team? one might think or say.

Defenders and apologists will accuse me of being overly harsh on the fantasy-football crowd (of which I’m a proud member), but they’ll have to be disingenuous in order to do so. A wife or girlfriend who feels loved, included, thought about, cared for, valued, etc., will NOT ask these questions on fantasy football draft day.

For the rest of us: the truth hurts, I guess. Sometimes, fantasy football is something men seem to love more than wives and children.

I don’t think as much as I used to. I don’t drive around thinking about a new blog post, or contemplating life’s deeper questions.

Because of that, I haven’t been writing often. It’s not that I don’t want to. I do.

I just don’t have much to say.

I don’t like it, but it’s true.

Why?

Because I’m comfortable.

My ex-wife doesn’t hurt me anymore. Enough time has passed and enough circumstances have changed where I don’t feel the sting of rejection like I once did.

I felt alone. Abandoned. Unwantable. Unlovable. I was worried about dating. I was worried about finding someone that would like someone so apparently unlikable.

I was worried about finding a long-term partner to fill the cavernous hole in my life. What’s going to happen now? What about my son? I can’t even breathe.

But then I could breathe. And our son in grade school is growing into a smart and handsome little man. And everything’s, just, okay.

And that’s all I wanted back then. When everything hurts and you think you might die, all you want is to feel like yourself again.

You just want to be okay.

You just want to feel “normal.”

And here we are. Now I do.

I’m okay. Fine. Totally.

I’m comfortable.

There’s merit in comfort and contentment.

There’s real value—physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally—in feeling balanced enough to just BE. To just be able to sit in a room at home alone, and be so comfortable that you’re not even really mindful of it. You’re just living on autopilot.

I think that’s how most of us do it. Autopilot.

It’s easy on autopilot because everything is habit and routine. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable.

And of course, you never grow or evolve or learn anything.

You don’t get smarter.

You don’t get stronger.

You don’t get better.

And now, in a moment of irony that almost made me laugh out loud as I type, I find myself wondering if it’s really such a good thing when “everything’s okay.”

The fear and pain pushed me to a place mentally and emotionally that truly helped me evolve into a wiser, more-capable human being.

And now?

Static. Still. Plateaued. Treading water.

I got what I wanted and naturally it wasn’t enough because of the human condition.

Maybe getting uncomfortable will get me writing again. Thinking again. Growing again.

Maybe comfort will doom me to a life where I never actually accomplish anything that matters.

Maybe getting uncomfortable can help people recognize unhealthy choices that might be slowly killing their relationships or their physical bodies.

Maybe comfort blinds us from truth, and prevents us from being who we were meant to be.

I don’t know.

I just think.

Because I want to be someone who thinks.

Even if it means battling a bunch of discomfort along the way.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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Text Less, Speak More — Because the Break-Up Sauce Tastes Awful

text message confusion by Hamilton Animatic

(Image/Hamilton Animatic)

I want you to imagine a person looking you directly in the eye and saying: “I’m going to kill you.”

First, I’d like you to imagine that it’s your best friend saying it with a huge smile on his or her face immediately following a joke you’d just played on them.

friends laughing together

(Image/Video Block)

And next, I’d like you to imagine that it’s a stranger saying it after breaking into your house late at night wearing a creepy mask, using an ominous tone of voice, carrying a weapon, and just looking all-around murdery.

Strangers-mask by Horror News

(Image/Horror News)

Our reaction to hearing “I’m going to kill you,” is largely dependent on what we can see and hear. On context.

What we can see and hear—non-verbal communication—is commonly called the 7% Rule, even though that’s probably not technically correct. The 7% Rule says that communication, on the whole, is 7 percent verbal, and 93 percent non-verbal.

A good example might be a person saying “I love the taste of canned spinach. I’m going to eat a bunch right now,” while shaking their head no, which we’d all safely interpret as the person NOT liking canned spinach like a smarty, and joking about wanting to eat some.

Tone of voice, facial expression, and other nuanced components of how we interpret information when someone is speaking to us play a HUGE role in our understanding of what someone is saying to us.

Which is why, other than exchanging logistical information—making plans, sharing news, etc.—we should try to avoid text messaging as much as possible.

Seriously.

Two Dumbass Kids and a Potentially Phantom Rivalry Over a Girl

When I was a high-school sophomore, I had a little crush on a super-attractive girl in the freshman class.

Katie. She was awesome and liked me back. We had a cute little almost-thing for a couple of months before summer break happened and I disappeared for a few months, and then for my entire junior year, because I moved 500 miles away to live with my father for the first time since I was 4.

Which doesn’t really matter in the context of this discussion.

What does matter is that I moved back with my mom and with all of my old friends I’d grown up with for my senior year of high school. And during the year I was gone, Katie had dated some other guy at school. And for reasons/explanations I was told and can’t remember, THAT guy decided he didn’t like me, and maybe wanted to fight.

We didn’t fight. We just kind of ignored each other and probably considered the other to be a huge asshole. Then I graduated and moved away and haven’t seen that guy since.

Without EVER speaking a meaningful word to him, I still have memories of us not liking one another for an entire school year. Because of a girl neither of us dated that year.

I don’t know how he remembers it. I don’t know how he’d feel about it, or me, today.

I just know I perceived another guy to be someone I didn’t like (the reason being that my friends told me he didn’t like me—not because he’d ever actually wronged me in some way), and that I spent an entire year feeling shittier than necessary whenever we were in the same place—and I had ZERO facts about his true feelings and intentions, nor had I ever attempted any type of meaningful conversation with him.

I have memories of a high school rivalry that I may have fabricated like an idiot from totally false information from other high school idiots.

I experienced real, tangible negative moments that I still kind-of remember 20 years later, and I can’t even prove whether my opinions and beliefs back then were based on anything real or true.

With Text Messaging, We Don’t Even Need the Help of Idiots to Recreate These Scenarios

This video has bad words, FYI. But it’s amazing. Watch it. (Special thanks to Becky for sharing the timely video on the MBTTTR Facebook page.)

I don’t think we need any more examples. You get it. Not that it matters. You’ll keep on texting because you’re a masochistic, lazy glutton-for-punishment like me.

Remember when we used to memorize 30 phone numbers and politely leave messages with our friends’ parents to have them call us back, sometimes several hours later, just to ask a question we insta-text today?

We’ve arrived at the point where actually answering and speaking on the phone is an inconvenient thing we have to do—like laundry. Texting feels easier, and it tickles our This Shortcut Is Awesome pleasure sensors.

But it also lends itself to a crap-ton of misunderstood messages—things intended to be benign but that angered someone or hurt their feelings. Things that read like a joke through our current emotional filters, only to respond in a way that feels disrespectful and dismissive to the person who, in fact, is not joking.

That kind of awkward, fact-deficient exchange can escalate something immaterial into a real-life problem, and a minor problem into a relationship-ender.

Because I’m a writer, I’m really comfortable texting. Because I’m more comfortable communicating via the written word, I like to try to explain myself through writing.

Sometimes, I try to do that via text message.

Rife with peril, this is.

Choosing convenience over focusing our attention on the people and things that matter is essentially the summarized theme of Shitty Husbandry, as well as being a substandard friend, family member or teammate/partner of any kind.

We struggle mightily with empathy in our human relationships. We like to think what we think and feel is right and true, while anyone bringing something different to the table is wrong and full of shit. It’s why pretty much all human conflict exists—disagreeing about something, and then being dicks about it to everyone on the other side of a debate or argument.

We struggle mightily with this even when the person is our spouse, friend, or family member of several years. We struggle mightily with this when someone we know better than anyone else is looking right at us and speaking words from the same language we speak.

Even with all of that going for us, we still fundamentally don’t understand the other person often enough that MOST people who truthfully say “I love you” and have sex a bunch of times and share a home address end up not liking each other and divorce or break up. They don’t “get” each other, fight about stuff and hurt each other’s feelings a bunch of times, then one or both of them quits because it feels too hard.

People who share a bed and have known each other for years.

Reducing all of that to auto-corrected text and emoji is literally Anthony Bourdain’s recipe for Fuckness Casserole with Break-Up Sauce.

So please be more thoughtful about what you choose to discuss via text, and how easily something you say might be interpreted in a way that makes someone you care about feel shitty even if that’s not your intention.

Sometimes, the things that matter warrant a phone call.

Sometimes, No Response is a great choice.

Always, clear and effective communication is the greatest tool in our relationship arsenal and demands thoughtfulness and effort.

Always, the people we love and care about are worth it.

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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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What You Don’t Know Actually Can Hurt You

dice optical illusion

(Image/Zako.org)

Disclaimer: I might be clinically insane.

That needs to be said upfront, because it’s mathematically possible and I have no official medical diagnosis to prove otherwise. I’ve never been in anyone’s head but mine, and there’s a pretty good chance mine’s a little more whack than yours. I’m not sure.

So that’s my big caveat–that I might be totally bat-shit crazy, because I don’t assume (about this) that just because I experience life this way that you also do.

But I’m betting there will be someone–maybe you (hi!)–who’s also a little bit nuts. Maybe they’ll get it and think it matters.

I am–by far–the wimpiest version of myself while flying on airplanes.

It’s not the kind of thing you can observe. I maintain a calm appearance because I want to look like a cool customer.

But sometimes I’m not.

There are moments while flying where my body feels involuntary jolts of fear. All those “DANGER!” chemicals your brain produces during life’s least-calm moments. I sometimes experience that on routine commercial flights.

I know it’s irrational. Super-irrational.

There are more than 100,000 flights every day around the globe. In the United States alone, there are more than 5,000 commercial jets in the sky at any given time. And how many non-terrorism-related U.S. commercial flights have not made their destinations in my lifetime?

Honestly, that ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades in 1996 is the only one I can think of. Even a 2009 US Airways flight that hit a flock of birds and suffered total engine loss managed to land safely on the Hudson River in New York (an incident dramatized in the film “Sully”).

If you believe in math (and I totally do), it’s literally less than one in a million that something super-scary or dangerous happens on commercial flights.

And yet, there I sit, doing my best to wear my best Super Calm Guy face (I hide the fear pretty well), but on the inside feel all kinds of nerves whenever:

  • The plane changes altitude significantly.
  • We make any major directional turns.
  • The plane bounces significantly from turbulence.
  • I hear that ding-noise that is probably just some random passenger asking for scotch or a pair of headphones, but which my mind always assumes is the pilot calling the flight attendants into the cockpit to warn them of imminent danger and to keep it a secret from the rest of us to avoid panic.

I stare at my phone. I read the same sentence in my book over and over. I maintain eye contact and a calm demeanor with anyone seated next to me I might be talking to.

But on the inside of my chest and stomach, I feel involuntary fear and anxiety as if I’m going to die any minute now, and my son and ex-wife are going to get stuck rifling through my house at the estate sale, with my ex-wife secretly celebrating my untimely passing so that our little boy no longer has to live in a house which clearly hasn’t been dusted or vacuumed in the corners for far too long.

When I was little, I used to have a reoccurring dream of falling–the kind that likes to happen shortly after falling asleep. It wasn’t a peaceful fall. The ground was rushing toward me, and I was afraid.

Of course, like in the dirty dreams where you never actually get to do the deed, I’d wake up before I hit the ground, and just sit there waiting for my heart rate to return to normal.

The Power of Information

I spent last week in Las Vegas for work, and because my company’s travel department hates me apparently, it had me fly through San Francisco on my way back to Cleveland. From Vegas. Don’t get me started.

I flew on four planes. I’ll fly on four more to get to and from Mexico within the next two weeks. I have a fair amount of air-travel experience. Nothing bad has ever happened.

I’m not afraid leading up to the flight. I don’t worry about it, nor dread it. I just have an uncomfortable physical reaction to certain aspects of air travel that are exacerbated by my overactive imagination.

If I was sitting in the co-pilot seat and the captain said to me: “We’re about 100 miles away from a large storm system, but we’re going to increase our altitude by 5,000 feet and veer off to the right, and we’re going to miss the storm by several miles,” I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have any anxiety about these two maneuvers I was anticipating.

If I was sitting with the captain, and he said: “I know turbulence is uncomfortable, but it’s a normal part of flying and there’s nothing to worry about–even when it’s really bumpy–here’s why…,” I’m pretty sure I’d be cooler than how I normally experience it.

It’s not just knowledge or information that eliminates the irrational fear. Sometimes, something significantly distracting overpowers it. I fly at least once a year with my young son. I don’t feel fear when I’m with him up there. Maybe because I feel like it’s my job to be brave for him, so I accidentally am. Or maybe because the rational part of my brain acknowledges the obvious: If this was legitimately risky, you would never have bought the tickets, and you certainly would never put your son in danger, and maybe that’s the thing that offsets that unpleasant panicky feeling that sometimes crops up.

What Don’t You Know About Your Spouse or Romantic Partner?

You’re probably not like I was. You probably don’t concoct paranoid thoughts and feelings about your spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend and then have unpleasant physical reactions to them.

But that was me during the final 18 months of my marriage while I slept in the guest room wondering what my wife was doing, who she was talking to, who she was thinking about, and what she really thought of me.

The final few years of my marriage messed me up pretty bad. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine, because I repeatedly lacked the courage to directly speak my thoughts, feelings and fears to the one person who mattered.

We don’t always speak or behave honestly.

We feel angry. Sad. Embarrassed. Paranoid. Jealous. Ashamed. Insecure. Afraid. But we don’t communicate that to our partner. Since we feel it so profoundly, and they “know us” so well, we assume they know it–or they should if they actually cared.

We don’t effectively communicate truth, and then when our partners don’t do what we silently hoped they would, we feel even shittier–whether that’s sadness, anger or disappointment.

We have brains and our brains are funny things.

Our brains have been doing their thing for however long we’ve been alive, and our brains learn how to tell us stories to fill in gaps. It’s how we can often catch moving things sailing overhead, or instinctively stop or dodge to avoid collisions in vehicles, or on foot.

We don’t need 100-percent of all information to guess accurately.

When we’re inside, but it’s raining outside, we don’t need to experience being rained on to know we’ll get wet.

We’re good guessers most of the time. Seriously. We’d be dead if we weren’t. I’ve never fallen off a cliff, but I’m skilled at guessing what would happen if I did, and taking steps to avoid it.

We’re excellent at observing the world around us, and avoiding danger.

But not always. We don’t bat 1.000. We strike out sometimes. Maybe not even half the time. But sometimes. And sometimes we do it in our relationships when our busy minds start guessing what our partners might be thinking or feeling, and then having psychological and emotional reactions to those guesses without confirming truth or accuracy one way or another.

YOU CAN’T TRUST YOURSELF.

No matter how good we are at not dying, and no matter how effectively we navigate our interpersonal relationships with friends, co-workers, and families of origin. We can’t trust ourselves, because the fact is, we’re WRONG a lot.

We just are.

You’re wrong about what your husband thinks and feels.

You’re wrong about what your wife thinks and feels.

You’re wrong about what your parents think and feel.

You’re wrong about what everyone at work thinks about you.

You’re wrong about what your children think and feel.

We’re all wrong about a countless number of things which all of us lacking the power of omniscience can’t possibly know.

But our brains guess anyway. Our brains always guess, and without a crap-ton of discipline, mindfulness and wisdom, we tend to mentally and emotionally FEEL whatever conclusion our brains settle on.

I have no way of knowing what would have happened had I walked another path. It’s not something I think much about.

But, through the prism of hindsight, I feel confident saying that a major, major, major contributor to my failed marriage and broken family is, simply…

A lack of information.

Either I thought and felt things that weren’t true, and perhaps reacted to those false conclusions, OR my wife thought and felt things that weren’t true, and in many instances, it was my fear or stubbornness that allowed that to happen.

I was so busy pretending to be tough and courageous, that I was hiding all of my weakness and fear.

I hadn’t yet discovered the truth: It IS being tough to be vulnerable and honest. It IS brave to push through fear and tackle things head-on.

Like when I calmly am there for my little boy in the seat next to me on the airplane and everything’s okay.

The most important things and people in our lives are too significant to leave to mistake-prone guessing. Yet, many of us do, and after months and years of that, our worlds end for a little bit until we pick up the pieces again.

Sometimes things are worse than we think, and we don’t really want to know the truth even though the solution lives in that truth.

Sometimes things are better than we think, but we have no idea because we want to pout and be mad, or because we’re too embarrassed to say or ask what’s on our minds.

When we don’t have enough information, we draw incorrect conclusions that lead to us thinking, feeling, saying and doing things we otherwise wouldn’t.

And maybe sometimes that doesn’t really matter.

But sometimes–it’s the only thing that does.

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How Marital Affairs Happen: The Beautiful Stranger I Wanted to Sleep With While I Was Married

man sitting at bar drinking

(Image/Shutterstock)

Because I am sometimes a walking cliché who struggles with controlling negative emotion, I found myself sitting at a bar on a Sunday afternoon with a shot and a beer in front of me.

I’d walked out of the house after another fight with my wife who hated me. My marriage was complete shit and I’d convinced myself that it was mostly her fault. She’d suffered a difficult personal loss, and because her emotional calibration and mindset had the “wrong” settings, she wasn’t prioritizing our marriage over her sadness.

I’d been sleeping in the guest room ever since the night she told me over dinner that she didn’t love me anymore and didn’t know whether she wanted to stay married. That had been more than a year earlier.

Don’t love me, huh? Neat. Way to screw me over after I pledged my entire life to you.

Instead of exercising humility and putting all of the effort I could muster into understanding why my wife was unhappy, I felt sorry for myself and moved into the guest room.

I couldn’t explain how we’d arrived here—a depressed wife seemingly apathetic toward her husband and marriage, and a depressed husband trying simply to not suffocate. It felt like a problem that was too big for me. When things feel too big for me, I tend to avoid them.

Help always came during life’s hardest moments growing up. Maybe I thought my wife would snap out of it and we’d find a way back from this.

I’d been sleeping in the guest room for more than a year because I’m not sharing a bed with a woman who tells me she doesn’t love me and doesn’t know if she wants to be married to me anymore.

It seemed like a reasonable decision at the time if you don’t count the part where I was an adult male approaching 18 consecutive months of celibacy I’d never wanted nor asked for.

So, a Fuck this, I’m not going to sit here and take any more of this crap reaction came naturally when something she said struck me as extra bullshitty.

And then I did what all the sad and angry guys do in the movies.

I went to the bar to drink and smoke cigarettes, leaving my wife at home to care for our toddler and reflect on how her husband always puts himself first during disagreements, completely dismisses her thoughts and feelings when they conflict with his interpretation of truth, and consider a future where she wouldn’t have to put up with any of that.

I ordered a shot and a beer. And then another. And then another.

I’m good at drinking. I tend not to get sloppy drunk and stupid. Sitting there alone on a Sunday afternoon, I wasn’t planning on getting either sloppy or stupid. I was just trying to medicate enough to numb the tightness in my chest and throat.

I was probably doing a lot of staring at my phone and the bottom of my glass because I didn’t see them walk in. I only remember lifting my head and locking eyes with a beautiful brunette woman sitting with her friend on the far side of the bar.

I won’t be mistaken for a Gucci underwear model or anything, but considering it was a Sunday afternoon and the bar was mostly empty, I was the obvious choice for any women interested in meeting a guy.

After our eyes had met a few times, the two ladies invited me to the other side of the bar to sit with them.

I obliged.

Drinking alone isn’t any fun.

Her name was Donna. Donna’s friend was cute and friendly too, but I don’t remember her name. Just Donna.

She was beautiful. Educated. Fun to talk to and drink with.

But what really stood out—and why I still remember her today—is that she liked me.

She liked me. She wanted to meet someone who enjoyed cooking and weekend-afternoon orgasms which is totally a demographic of which I’m a member.

We spent hours drinking and joking and talking and laughing. Donna, me, and her friend I can’t remember.

Donna and I didn’t have an affair.

We didn’t make out, hold hands, or even exchange text messages after that. I loved my wife and absolutely wanted to be married to her for the rest of my life.

But no amount of alcohol could make me forget how horrible it felt to be home in my loveless and stressful marriage.

No amount of alcohol could prevent me from feeling the excitement of an attractive person demonstrating genuine interest in me after so many months of craving my wife’s affection and being denied it.

No amount of family values, codes of moral conduct, or of being philosophically against sexual unfaithfulness in marriage could stop this from being true: I wanted to sleep with Donna.

I did. I wanted to.

I was married. I loved my wife. We had a little boy at home. And I believed it was fundamentally wrong up and down the social and spiritual spectrum of acceptable human behavior.

Cheating = bad, is how I felt about it—no matter how painful and shitty my life and marriage felt.

So I didn’t.

But still. I wanted to.

She made me feel good, simply by paying attention to me, demonstrating interest in me, and expressing verbally and non-verbally that she liked me. All of that paired with her attractiveness was enough to trigger the feeling inside.

I wanted to.

This is How Affairs Happen

As many of you know, it was largely me—not my wife—whose behavior slowly led us down the sneakily disguised path to resentment and divorce. I didn’t know it back then while I was feeling sorry for myself and drunk-flirting with strange women at a bar. I managed to do that WHILE blaming my wife for the state of our marriage.

She doesn’t like me or want me anyway, so who cares? The rules are different now.

I really thought and felt that.

I’m telling this story because I think—save for various details unique to our individual lives—it’s a story that most people reading will understand and relate to. I think this story is a VERY common example of how marital affairs happen.

It’s not usually someone who loses all sense of reason and self-control and gives himself or herself over to lustful temptation.

It’s usually that someone in a committed relationship feels abandoned and alone and miserable inside their home and relationship. And THEN, someone attractive and interesting starts demonstrating emotional, intellectual, or sexual interest—and it’s how amazingly good that feels after months and years of being deprived those feelings that intoxicates people and lures them into submitting to the craving.

That feeling.

They want me.

A powerful drug. Appealing. Addicting.

I want more.

I never really understood how a husband or wife could sleep with someone else. But then my marriage turned to shit and I felt like dying every day, and then she eventually left and it somehow got worse.

And now I do understand.

When something hurts all the time, it’s easy to chase things that relieve the pain.

When we’re deprived of powerful wants and needs like food and water, we starve and dehydrate. Starving people will eat unspeakably disgusting things. Dehydrated people will drink desert sand if the mirage looks real enough.

When we feel deprived of love, attention, physical intimacy, respect—and then we get a taste of that elsewhere? It’s easy to want more.

Maybe if my wife had held on to our broken marriage for another year, I’d have cracked eventually. I don’t know.

I just know this: I messed up big-time in our marriage, and failed my wife and family. In 2017, I can see it clear as day. Despite that, I STILL felt genuinely like a victim. And in all my victimhood, I felt justified in letting my mind want sexual and romantic fulfillment, even if it meant wanting it from someone else. It seemed totally okay to me since my wife ignored me all the time when she wasn’t acting annoyed that I lived in the same house.

A Thought Exercise

I’m a reasonably evolved human being. Even when I was a shitty husband, I could still mostly be counted on to treat people well and make choices that wouldn’t hurt my wife or son.

I was the problem in my marriage, and STILL played the victim card inside of my head and chest.

So, what do you think the people are doing who are ACTUALLY being emotionally neglected and mistreated by their spouses?

There are women and men out there who are married to way bigger screw-ups than me.

What do you think the real victims of shitty spousal treatment are thinking and feeling when their hot co-worker flirts with them, or when their high school sweetheart reaches out to them on Facebook?

There are a lot of marital affairs happening. Too many.

There are also a lot of people who aren’t physically acting on their impulses… but they WANT to.

If your wife or husband doesn’t actually sleep with your best friend, or her work-trip partner, but they WANT to… how do you feel about that?

And we can choose to get all morally righteous and holier-than-thou about it, always pointing fingers at someone who succumbed to an affair as the reason a marriage fell apart.

Or we can tell the truth, even if it’s a little bit inconvenient.

We can talk about root causes. We can talk about all of the little things that did or did not happen over many months and years which resulted in two previously happy and in-love people becoming totally Bizarro versions of themselves who sleep with other people and feel morally justified in doing so.

It’s rarely about the sex.

It’s usually about human connection.

Affairs don’t lead to disconnection, per se.

Disconnection leads to affairs.

And then the world is a little darker and uglier than it was before.

But it doesn’t have to be.

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