Tag Archives: Life

How the Color Purple is Harming Your Relationships

(Image/Science)

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Blue Dot Effect?

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

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

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

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

Brinson continues:

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

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

Important note, Brinson points out:

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

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

What This Means for Your Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s HARD to be an adult.

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

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

That they are respected, appreciated, and cherished.

That they are good enough, honored, and supported.

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

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

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

And we don’t have to.

We can do better.

We must.

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Podcast Interview: The Mindset You Must Change if You Want a Great Marriage

(Image/thelifestyleplaybook.com)

I know what you’re probably not thinking: I really want to listen to Matt blather on about conflict in relationships!

And because you’re not thinking that, this is me encouraging you to start thinking about it because clearly I’m an attention-whore. Therapist and author Lesli Doares, because she’s kind and gracious, invites me onto her podcast Happily Ever After is Just the Beginning every so often to jam about relationship stuff. (You can also check out Lesli’s The Hero Husband Project here.)

Today, her newest episode “The Mindset You Must Change if You Want a Great Marriage,” features … wait for it … me, soapboxing about people’s beliefs and how everyone thinks they’re right all of the time, and how that condition is the root of most relationship conflict (and every other kind of conflict).

In this episode, Lesli and I discuss this unhelpful mindset, and kick around ideas for how people can connect more powerfully with loved ones to improve their romantic relationships, as well as connect with other people, so they can have better social relationships in general.

You can listen here on the web at Web Talk Radio, or from your favorite podcast service (because I’m an Apple user, I can’t provide a Google Play link, and I’m sorry), but here is the link to the Apple Podcasts episode.

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What to Do When Your Wife Doesn’t Respect You

Basics of respect

(Image/Respect360.org)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know. It’s crazy.

Let’s talk about:

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

Does Your Wife Respect You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions:

Ask These 4 Questions to Check Your Biases and Beliefs

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

That last question is my favorite.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s bad.

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

I get it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How You Earn Your Wife’s Respect

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

Great question.

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

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

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

That’s what you could possibly do.

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

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

Go be the best of us.

Go be a hero.

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Would You Leave Your Spouse Over Dirty Dishes?: A Lesson on Conflict Management

(Image/HuffPost)

We pulled into our parking space in Florida’s version of the “happiest place on earth,” and all of my insides were knotted up.

In my left pocket was the most expensive thing I’d ever bought—a pretty pear-shaped diamond engagement ring I’d been secretly paying off for months.

This felt like the place. Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. She loved Disney. This felt like the time. The Fourth of July. She loved fireworks.

I wasn’t tense because I was planning a surprise marriage proposal. I was tense because we were fighting over whether the song playing on the radio was Duran Duran. (Shazam didn’t exist in 2003.)

It was. The song was “Hungry Like the Wolf.” I knew it. She didn’t. She told me I was wrong. I knew I wasn’t. So we had a little fight and probably said dickhead things to one another.

It wasn’t that weird for us to have a little spat and be temporarily mad about something silly. We never fought about anything “important,” as far as I could tell. Just “dumb stuff.”

Everything’s totally fine, I thought.

While the fireworks lit up the night sky above Cinderella’s castle, I slipped the ring on her finger and she said yes.

Ten years later, she divorced me because I left dishes by the sink.

I can’t remember whether Duran Duran was playing in the background while she drove away for the last time.

The Important Difference Between the Two Types of Relationship Conflict

As recently as this week, someone commented on the dishes article that went viral in January 2016, minimizing the significance of dirty dishes and encouraging people to learn how to let go of “the little things” in an effort to avoid conflict and have healthy relationships.

While I appreciate the spirit of his comment and those of the hundreds of other people also touting the merits of “letting it go,” as a happy-marriage philosophy, I respectfully believe they all share the same toxic mental condition that ailed me throughout my marriage.

It’s a diseased belief called I Know That What I Believe is Right, Therefore Anyone Who Believes Something Else is Wrong.

That’s the belief that ends every doomed relationship, and is more or less responsible for starting every major conflict—including the deadliest wars—in human history.

My favorite writer Mark Manson categorizes conflict into two categories:

1. Conflict of Preference, and

2. Conflict of Values.

A Conflict of Preference is liking rap music more than country music, or tacos more than sweet potatoes, or attending a symphony orchestra performance more than off-roading in a lifted pickup truck.

A Conflict of Values is belief in God versus atheism as a guiding life principle, the intention to have children versus not reproducing, or behaving charitably or greedily.

Preference is “I like Rocky Road ice cream more than strawberry ice cream!”

Values are literally WHAT WE ARE. “Our values are constantly reflected in the way we choose to behave,” Manson wrote in Who the F*ck Am I?: The Ultimate Guide to Personal Values (which is the best thing I’ve read on the subject of personal values).

It’s silly to fight ugly and end up divorced over Conflict of Preference.

It’s tragic—but possibly healthy—to end relationships in which there are an irreconcilable Conflict of Values. (Though I have some challenging questions for you about WTF you were thinking when you said “I do.”)

But what about when we can’t tell the difference?

It requires high-level mindfulness and self-awareness. And it takes both relationship partners valuing their relationship more than their individual feelings (until it can be determined whether those feelings are a result of preferential differences, or value differences).

I think many people get divorced because they have difficulty identifying whether conflict is a matter of preferences or values.

And I think many people believe my article She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink is stupid because they confuse my ex-wife’s and my differing preferences for where to set a used drinking glass as NOT being about values.

It was totally about values. Values, masquerading as something that didn’t matter.

It’s Not About the Dishes

Everyone who cries foul at my ex-wife after reading the dishes article is hyperfocused on the relative merits of setting a drinking glass by the sink.

After all, children are starving in Africa. Someone at work was diagnosed with cancer. The family on the news lost their home in the hurricane.

It’s easy to point at the glass as a minor thing. It’s easy to point to that glass and convince yourself that anyone who makes a big deal out of it has misplaced priorities and probably some emotional problems.

It’s easy to say those thoughts out loud when your spouse is irritating you because she seems to be suggesting once again that something you do is making her life worse. And it’s easy to feel angry when you feel as if all of your shortcomings are being highlighted while all of your contributions and virtues are ignored.

Why isn’t anything I do good enough for her?

Where to set the dish is a Conflict of Preference. But the way in which we treat our marriage partner is a Value.

Most of the time when relationship fights like this crop up over disagreements which might seem minor from the outside looking in, the injured party isn’t feeling hurt because of this one thing. The injured party is feeling hurt because, for them, this incident is another reminder that they’re married to someone who believes that their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are more valuable—that they matter more—than their spouse’s.

I can’t relate to someone who cares whether a drinking glass is sitting by the sink.

But I can totally relate to someone who feels hurt, disrespected, or disregarded because of someone refusing to thoughtfully consider our thoughts, ideas, emotional experiences, etc.

You ever have a good idea at work? One that would make things better for the company, the customer, or the employees? And then when you bring that idea to the table, it gets ignored, or discounted, or otherwise rejected by some self-important anal-retentive?

I bet you have.

It’s shitty. But I can accept self-important anal-retentives doing asshole things.

I find it infinitely less acceptable for someone who vowed to love and honor me as their partner for life to do that.

When romantic partners (too often the men in male-female relationships) dispute, challenge, reject, insult, minimize, invalidate the expressed experiences of the other, they are communicating the following:

  • My beliefs are true; yours are false
  • What I feel is right; what you feel is wrong
  • What I think matters more than what you think
  • Because you’re wrong, and I’m right, I’m never going to change my behavior
  • You say that this hurts, but I don’t feel hurt by it so you must be crazy. I’m not going to help you stop hurting because you’re wrong for hurting.

And the day I realized that I would never agree to marry or remain married to someone who said that or treated me that way is the day I made peace with my wife leaving me.

The day I realized THAT was what I had been saying to my wife every time we argued about glasses by the sink or fucking Duran Duran songs, was the day I realized that she did the right thing by leaving, and then I started writing the Shitty Husband letters. She owed it to her mental and emotional health to wake up every day and not have someone who had promised to love and honor her forever tell her over and over again that her real-life experiences weren’t worth my time and attention and effort.

A marriage is NOT a promise to endure neglect and abuse for the rest of your life.

A marriage is a promise to work cooperatively to mutually thrive for the rest of your life, and is currently the most successful model in human history for reproducing and raising healthy, socially adjusted children.

When someone refuses to cooperate to that end, then the marriage ceases to be a marriage.

It’s easy to miss because, after all, it’s just a stupid glass by the sink.

Or, is it?

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How to Comfort (and Not Comfort) Someone Going Through a Divorce

(Image/Upsplash)

Only two kinds of people could help me feel better during my first year of coping with, adjusting to, and healing from my divorce.

The first kind of person was a friend or family member who knew me before I was married. My relationship with them lived independent of my marriage. My identity—for them—wasn’t intertwined with me being married.

My ex-wife and I were together about 13 years in total, married for nine. And the majority of people in my daily adult life met me and knew me as her husband or us as a couple. So when I spent time with them as a frightened, depressed, embarrassed divorced guy during those initial weeks and months, being with them only amplified all of my fear, sadness, and shame—through no fault of their own.

People who knew me BEFORE I was married had a personal relationship with me as an individual. Was I still ashamed, sad, and afraid? Yes. But one of the biggest parts of healing after divorce is readjusting from a WE to a ME. From an Us to being an individual again. It doesn’t happen overnight.

It hurts when everything feels wrong. It’s hard to not feel like yourself. But O.G. friends and family make you feel like yourself automatically because it’s not weird or different to be an individual with them.

The second kind of person who could help me was someone who had experienced divorce or an ultra-significant breakup of a long-term relationship where the emotional and logistical loss is essentially the same.

The second kind of person could be a total stranger, but if they knew what I knew, being with them and talking with them was more cathartic than some of my best friends and other people who loved me could ever be.

People who understood—I mean, really got it down in their core—were people whose lived experiences were similar to mine. And people with shared life experiences are best equipped to offer one another the thing people in crisis need: empathy.

Let’s roll with a good, old-fashioned Do’s and Don’ts (<— that can’t be grammatically correct) list.

Let’s start with the Don’ts.

Things You Should Never Do or Say to Someone Getting Divorced

1. Don’t say “You’re going to be fine! Divorce is the best thing that ever happened to [insert you or whoever here].”

Not all marriages, divorces, families, nor the humans that comprise those things are the same. Divorce IS totally great for people who escaped abusive situations, or for people who WANTED the divorce, or for people who don’t have children and profited from the situation.

For some people, divorce doesn’t make them a social pariah in their neighborhoods, families, churches, social groups, workplace, etc. But for others, it does. For others, they’re mostly sad because of their children. And for others still, divorce was literally the #1 thing in their entire lives they didn’t want to have happen.

Dismissing it as some rad thing they’ll grow to appreciate later makes you a tone-deaf asshole.

[Side Note: You can learn how to be less of an asshole in life and relationships here.]

2. Don’t say “You know what you need? To get laid,” or try to manufacture a party or night out at the bars where that happens.

I promise that sexual beings will have sex when they feel like it. So you don’t need to encourage them, unless YOU are someone they are potentially sexually attracted to and feel like propositioning them.

Few things in life have insulted me more than when a few guys I knew thought me hooking up with some drunken rando at a bar would be beneficial or somehow right things that were wrong.

Does copious amounts of alcohol-driven euphoria and intense orgasmic ecstasy generally feel good? Sure. If you eliminate anything mental, emotional, or spiritual from the conversation, yes. But when people are suffering from divorce, the problem IS mental, emotional, and spiritual. Tying one on and climaxing a few times (or probably just once) with someone you’re never going to see again is infinitely more likely to make someone feel worse than better. Please encourage your loved ones to NOT do that.

3. Don’t say mean things about their ex as a method of offering support.

If you’re just talking out of your ass and don’t really mean it, then you’re being a ridiculous asshole and telling your friend/family member/colleague that they were stupid to marry and share resources (and possibly children) with such a substandard human being. You’re tearing down and verbally desecrating the good, sacred, beautiful thing the sufferer is grieving the loss of, and you’re doing it from a place of nonsense where you don’t actually know or believe what you’re saying.

And if you ACTUALLY do mean it and believe it? Then you’re doing those same things intentionally. Don’t.

Things You Should Say or Do For Someone Going Through a Divorce

1. Make yourself available to listen. Not to speak. Just to be there.

Make yourself available to share space with them and be prepared to do nothing except sit there, still, listening. If you have lived a similar experience, it will be easy to respond in affirming, supportive ways. If you have not, there’s NOTHING you can say to make it better, but you BEING THERE is making it better. That’s the gift you’re giving, and it’s a powerful one.

The greatest lesson I learned from my divorce (or rather my reflections on my failed marriage) is that we MUST—if we desire a happy, healthy, peaceful, mutually beneficial relationship—allow people to care about whatever they care about. Maybe that’s horse racing, maybe it’s knitting, maybe it’s yoga, maybe it’s I just got divorced and I feel like I want to die. Everyone has their own unique list of things that are meaningful to them, whether it be something deeply personal and emotional, or something mentally stimulating like a hobby or entertainment pursuit.

One of the most valuable things we can give someone is the gift of respecting, honoring, sharing interest in the things that matter to them. There is no agenda. There is no natural interest or pleasure, necessarily. Just a very basic: That person really cares about this. I really care about them. So I’m going to behave as if I care about this too out of love and respect for them.

That applies to all relationships, no matter what. It’s also particularly useful when supporting someone who is grieving a loss and trying to heal a personal trauma.

2. Encourage them to take all the time they need.

Don’t abandon them or stop inviting them to social get-togethers because they’re not “over” their divorce or break-up as fast as you would like, because you feel like they’re not as fun as they used to be.

If you’re truly interested in helping them heal, then remind them that there’s no blueprint or How-To manual for any of this.

I have had a variety of coaching clients talk to me about feelings of shame stemming from their swirling intense emotions, or from their impatience with themselves for feeling like they haven’t moved on.

And I always remind them that divorce is hard, and if they weren’t totally freaking out I’d be way more worried about them—especially if they’ve lost time with, and influence over, their children’s lives. It’s NORMAL to spaz out big-time when your entire life is disrupted and you lose things that are most precious and meaningful to you. It’s all of the people who bounce back in a day or two that scare the shit out of me.

Remind them that it’s hard and they’re responding in a way totally consistent with something excruciatingly difficult. Encourage them to be patient with themselves. Encourage them to be kind to themselves. Our primary job as people moving past something difficult is to breathe. To stay alive for one more minute, one more hour, one more day, one more week, one more month, one more year.

When you do that long enough, you eventually arrive at a year, month, week, day, hour, or moment where everything is okay. Where you get to be you again.

Where something amazingly good and beautiful happens. Something that could have, and would have, never happened unless every day before that one had happened exactly as it did.

People deserve to have something to look forward to. And when we stay alive long enough, that moment inevitably arrives.

To stay alive, all that’s required is that we keep breathing. Kindly, remind them.

There is nothing we can specifically do to heal the individual trauma suffered by another.

We can simply be the friend or supportive family member/colleague that creates an environment where grieving people can heal on their own terms.

You don’t need to fix anyone. You shouldn’t try to save anyone.

Just love them. No matter what. And, if they choose healthy things, time will do what time always does.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

It almost seems as if nothing happens, but everything happens.

If we’re not careful, it can sound trite. Maybe even cheap. But it’s true and important, and I like to remind people as often as possible in the most empathetic and encouraging way I can, and I would encourage you to remind everyone that you care about:

Just breathe.

Everything is going to be okay.

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This is Why Your Wife Hates You

angry wife

(Image/Psychology Today)

“Why does my wife hate me?”

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

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

And that sounds about right.

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

Your Wife Might Hate You Because She’s Afraid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next minute, everything wasn’t.

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

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

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

My wife was afraid.

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

Maybe your wife hates you because she’s afraid.

Your Wife Might Hate You Because She’s Angry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

No.

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

No.

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

So.

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

Maybe your wife hates you because she’s angry.

Your Wife Might Hate You Because She’s Hurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is why your wife hates you.

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

giving a flower

(Image/The Conversation)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persuasion Secret #1 – Give them what they want.

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

It’s called the rule of reciprocation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I’m here to say:

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

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

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

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

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

Fill out this form, hit submit, and we’ll call you back within the hour!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good things happen.

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

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

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The Mistake Smart People Make That Causes Divorce and Other Miserable Things

(Image/CBC)

How well do you know your spouse or romantic partner? Your parents? Siblings? Best friends?

If you were to take a personality test, answering questions as you imagine they would answer them, how confident are you that the results would match reality?

People frequently have conflict—often minor, sometimes major—with loved ones and people they spend a lot of time with and know well.

And the reason we have conflict with other people is not because we’re dumb nor is it because they are (even though that would be nice and neat, right?). The reason we have conflict with the people we are closest to is because we’re smart. All of us.

No matter how lacking you think you or someone else is in the intellect department, I’m here to try to convince you that almost EVERYONE you encounter is incredibly smart. Amazingly smart.

And the reason you might not see it in others, or possibly yourself, is the same blindness that causes all of those fights, arguments, disagreements—conflict—in our interpersonal relationships.

Would You Marry Someone You Didn’t Know?

One of my coaching clients is getting married in three days. She has known and dated her fiancé for more than 10 years.

Something I ask all of my married or dating clients to do is take the awesome (and totally free) personality test at 16 Personalities, which is sort of a hybrid version of Myers-Briggs.

First, I ask them to take the test for themselves and confirm for me their accuracy. (Still 100% reporting as accurate.)

Second, I ask them to take the test answering questions as they believe their spouse or romantic partner would answer them. I love the insights and conversations that occur naturally when we discover the gaps between what we believe and what’s actually real.

I like to say that the majority of conflict that exists between two romantic partners lies in that gap.

My soon-to-be married client is brilliant. Impressive. Master’s degree holder. Objectively intelligent in all of the measurable academic ways. And subjectively intelligent in all of the ways you experience when you’re conversing with her about big-picture life stuff.

So, I was totally floored this morning when I learned that she got ALL FOUR PILLARS of her near-future husband’s personality totally wrong.

If you’re not familiar with Myers-Briggs, there are four letters to classify a person’s personality. Each letter slot can only be one of two letters. (For example, I am ENFP.) There are 16 possible combinations.

My client sent me the results of her “guess test” for her fiancé—the results of a test where she guessed how he would answer questions.

The result?

INFP.

Then, this morning, her real-life fiancé sent me his real-life results.

ESTJ.

It was a relationship coach’s wet dream. Not only did my brilliant client get her fiancé’s personality traits 100% backward, but it turns out that his personality profile is the same as her’s.

You are Scary Smart (and That’s Why This is Dangerous)

The reason you don’t usually spill your drink down your shirt, or crash your shoulder into doorways you’re walking through, or cut yourself when handling sharp objects is because your brain is constantly processing information in real time and essentially guessing what your body needs to do to avoid injury.

And our brains are AMAZING. They’re right almost 99 percent of the time about everything it’s in charge of guessing. We usually don’t crash our cars. We usually don’t wander aimlessly off the edge of a cliff. We usually don’t mistake some fatal substance for a common meal.

That’s why, even though our bodies are pretty frail compared to most of the stuff on earth, we still have a life expectancy greater than 70 years.

It’s a miracle.

We’re always subconsciously guessing EVERYTHING, all of the time, and statistically speaking, we’re pretty much always right. We have every reason in the world to trust our instinctual thoughts. They happen on auto-pilot. We’re smart. And we know it.

So, when we’re having a conversation, and our brain (or “gut”) is automatically interpreting and reacting to what’s happening without us even having to think about it, it’s really difficult to check ourselves and think: “Wait a minute. Could this be one of those fewer-than-1% things I’m getting wrong?”

Every time someone says our does something—just like our brain guessing keeps us from crashing into stuff and falling off cliffs—we are applying our own internal belief filters to what they are saying and doing.

We almost never account for the possibility that they could mean something entirely differently than what we interpreted on auto-pilot.

All of this bullshit happens in our blindspots. We are so good, and so correct, and so on-point the vast majority of the time, that we all just trust the statistical likelihood of that being true in whatever moment we’re in, and are thus surprised, disappointed, shocked, humiliated, ashamed, or whatever, when we realize we’re wrong and have our asses handed to us.

I’m an Asshole, but I’m Trying Hard to Not Be

The thing I’ve tried really hard to do throughout these past six years of being divorced and trying to reinvent myself—and I still mess up a lot (but I’m getting better)—is to mindfully account for my human fallibility. It’s CERTAIN that I am wrong some (hopefully small) percentage of the time. And the only way for me to avoid seriously damaging something or myself is to be aware of that, so that I can be less of an asshole in my daily life.

Most of the time, terrorists aren’t carrying out attacks. But it’s awesome when our security measures in the intelligence and law enforcement communities prevent something horrible from happening during that fewer-than-1% of the time.

I’m trying to turn myself into the kind of person who is vigilantly avoiding being an emotional terrorist to myself and/or the people I care about.

Being smart is great most of the time.

But sometimes, being smart is a handicap. A blindness. A weakness. One that can cost us our most precious and meaningful relationships both in and outside of our homes.

It’s a simple mistake. One that’s so common and ever-present in our daily lives that it’s easy to make, and most of us always will.

But we don’t have to make it all of the time.

And those times we don’t, because we saw something previously invisible?

Just maybe those are the moments that will save our lives.

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Here’s How They Chop Hot Women in Half

Yep. That’s actor and comedian Bill Hader “sawing a woman in half” at a Playboy photoshoot. A friend challenged me to use today’s headline on one of my blog posts. Then I asked him to hold my beer. (Image/Playboy)

Spoiler alert #1: When magicians perform the Saw-Woman-in-Half trick on stage, he or she is not actually sawing a human being in half, and then magically putting her together again afterward.

But when the illusionists are really good at their craft, it looks to the audience as if that’s exactly what happened. It defies everything our brains know to be true or possible.

No matter how impossible it appears—for any well-executed illusion—there is always an explanation for it. There is always a story behind the illusion that fills in the blanks, and those missing pieces make the impossible, possible.

Before optometrists were able to prove scientifically that some people had various forms of color-blindness that resulted in them literally seeing different colors than another person standing next to them looking at the same thing, it was IMPOSSIBLE that two people could look at the same flower or the same car or the same painting, and describe them differently with BOTH of them being correct. Totally impossible. Madness.

But once people with color-correct vision had an explanation for the different forms of color-blindness, and were shown visual aids that displayed what people with color-blindness see, it suddenly made sense.

New information explained the inexplicable. The new information made the impossible, possible.

The Invisible Things Make the Impossible Possible

This is a classic optical illusion I remember from my childhood. I always default to the young woman looking off into the distance. But once you see the old lady, you can’t unsee her. (Image/Wikimedia Commons)

Spoiler alert #2: I’m going to tell you about what goes on in my coaching work. Because it’s more or less always the same thing—no matter how unique the individuals, no matter the age of the couple, no matter how long they’ve been together, no matter anything.

And I’m going to tell you everything we talk about, so that you never have to hire me to be your relationship coach. Sometimes, I work with both people in the relationship, but mostly it’s just one of them.

And here’s the #1 goal of every coaching relationship: Identify the Invisible Things. Our highest priority is learning how to see what was previously invisible—like using infrared goggles to “see” the heat signatures of people cloaked in darkness or hiding in a building.

There are The Invisible Things That Hurt.

Most commonly, these are the situations that create pain in a wife or girlfriend, that her husband/boyfriend is completely blind to and unaware of. Every day, he and his work buddies make fun of one another about their favorite music. One guy loves Taylor Swift. One guy loves Richard Marx. One guy loves REO Speedwagon. And the last guy loves Heavy D and the Boyz. And all four guys are constantly jockeying to play their favorite music at work, while the rest of them make fun of whatever’s playing, and their friend who likes it.

It’s not hate. No one is trying to make anyone feel bad. It’s a laugh-fest. A bonding ritual. A fun way to laugh at, and laugh with one another, including themselves.

But maybe one of them is married to or dating a someone who was mocked incessantly in school, or whose father or brothers ganged up on her and laughed at her throughout her entire childhood, and now, because of that, even playful chiding feels intensely uncomfortable.

She says “It hurts me when you make fun of me.”

But he says “Don’t be silly, babe. You know I don’t mean it. My buddies and I make fun of one another just like this all of the time, and it’s all in good fun. Everyone knows that we’re friends.”

And she says “And I understand that. But my father and brothers told me they loved me too, but I never felt loved when I would run away crying from the dinner table, only to have all of them laugh at me while I was sobbing in my room. And when you make fun of me—even when you don’t mean to hurt me—it HURTS me just like it hurt when I was crying in my room back then.”

Maybe he gets it and demonstrates enough care and love to make sure he’s not making her feel that way moving forward. At least not blindly. That would be great.

But what USUALLY happens, is that we default to OUR experiences as our guide for what is Right and Wrong, or Good and Bad. And because playful mocking is FUN for him, he thinks his wife is literally wrong for referencing a fun and innocent thing as a marriage problem. Not only is it NOT his responsibility to change his behavior, but he believes it’s HER responsibility to recalibrate her emotions to a more acceptable, reasonable, rational, “correct” setting.

These are the invisible wounds. This is just one possibility. And EVERYONE has them.

Similarly, everyone has things that make them feel good. Loved. A common reference point for that conversation is Dr. Gary Chapman’s
The 5 Love Languages
—a critically important and powerful framework for helping people identify the Invisible.

Some people’s love language is Words of Affirmation. Literally being told “I love you.” That is their love language.

And sometimes—even often—they are married to someone with an entirely different love language. Say, Acts of Service. People whose love language is Acts of Service demonstrate their love by doing things for others, sometimes rather than actually speaking the words “I love you.”

And what happens is two really good people who love each other will be together, and one person will say “I love you” all of the time, but never exert any effort or energy to perform an Act of Service for his or her partner. Maybe he never makes the bed, or folds laundry, or washes dishes, or plans fun weekend activities—things that WOULD make her feel loved.

He says “I love you” every day. But she doesn’t feel loved.

She is constantly doing kind and thoughtful things for him, but she never says “I love you,” and he doesn’t feel loved.

THAT is how you can love someone who doesn’t feel as if you love them.

And when you start combining that with instances of causing invisible wounds, and piling on “You’re just being silly” responses when someone calls attention to them?

Well, that’s exactly how two lovely people married for 30 years can be angry and sad with one another every day until they finally decide to give up, because the pain of living together is worse than the perceived pain of splitting up.

Relationship Coaching 101

I can’t be sure that I’m doing it right. But this is how I do it.

Find the list of Invisible Things that Make Her/Him Feel Bad. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Certain things trigger pain and sadness and fights. What are those things? Make the list.

Next, Find the list of Invisible Things that Make Her/Him Feel Good.

This is how we begin the process of repairing our relationship. Step 1 is eliminating the negatives. It’s becoming aware of the list of Invisible Things that cause damage, and then avoiding those things.

Step 2 is becoming mindful of the Invisible Things that create happiness. Joy. Intimacy. Emotional connection. Maybe it’s a bouquet of flowers. Maybe it’s a handwritten note. Maybe it’s a gift card to the day spa. Maybe it’s taking over all child-care duties for a week so that your partner can do anything she or he wants. Maybe it’s surprising them with a fruit basket, or a kind compliment, or an excessively long hug that communicates I’ve got your back no matter what.

We eliminate negatives.

We introduce positives.

And most importantly, we SEE WHAT WAS PREVIOUSLY INVISIBLE. We are no longer angered and perplexed by our friend’s insistence that the colors they see are so obviously different than the ones we see.

We are no longer blind. We finally get it. We understand one another. We start speaking the same language, possibly for the first time ever.

How does a magician saw a woman in half?

There are a few common ways. This is one of them:

(Image/Arrested Development Wiki)

I’d never cared to know. But one day, I did. A simple Google search told me enough.

What do you want to understand about your relationship or romantic partner?

Could knowing the answer change everything?

Spoiler alert #3: Yes. Yes it could.

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Love vs. Respect—Which is More Critical for Making Relationships Last?

Love vs Respect

(Image/Deskgram – chrysalisjewels)

I didn’t respect my wife even though I loved her a lot. And even though my wife loved me back, because she respected herself, she eventually divorced me.

I never considered that my freely given unconditional love could ever not be enough. I never considered that my selective demonstrations of respect toward my wife could impact her love for me—both the emotional love one feels, as well as the psychological love one actively chooses to give to someone else.

Now, I showed a requisite amount of respect for my wife for most people—including her most of the time—to observe, think, and feel Matt respects his wife.

And that’s the big secret in all of these complicated relationship conversations. They’re so dangerously nuanced that most of us are capable of interpreting them multiple ways, or—perhaps more commonly—our interpretation is different than another person’s interpretation, and then when discussing the disagreement, one or both people are horrible at navigating the conversation without damaging the relationship they have with whomever they’re having a disagreement.

Often, that’s a romantic partner or spouse.

Often, it’s just one more paper cut on one or both of them that will eventually cause the relationship to bleed to death and die.

My newest coaching client asked me this morning: “What is your view of the relationship between love and respect? Can you love someone with whom you are inconsistent in showing respect? If you lose respect over time, can you recover and still love that person?”

The following is my answer.

Love is NOT All You Need

“Love is all you need,” The Beatles sang over and over again in their smash hit from 1967 that all of us have heard dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times.

And I think I know what John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney intended when writing the song. I’m not here to quibble with their lyrics.

But I am here to quibble with that idea in its most literal interpretation and in the most anal-retentive way possible, because it’s the difference between whether your relationship survives ups and downs, or slowly withers on the vine and dies.

I love my son. Like, LOVE him. Intensely. And philosophically, I respect him. Like, I think and believe that I respect him.

But I think there’s a chance he often feels disrespected by me. Maybe because of my tone when I say something to him, or because of how I react to some outrageous 10-year-old thing he says, instead of simply RESPECTING him.

I shower my son with praise.

I tell him regularly how much he’s loved and cared for and valued. I tell him how proud of him I am.

And that’s real. I FEEL those things, authentically, when I say them. In Dr. Chapman’s 5 Love Languages terms, words of affirmation are my love language.

I don’t know what that child’s love language is.

Maybe his love language is “Hey Dad, show up on time for the last-ever Cub Scouts event of my life because you respected me enough to put it in your calendar and be sure you wouldn’t miss it instead of forcing Mom to text you after it already started, which is the only reason you even showed up.”

(That really happened. Two days ago. ADDitude Magazine should put me on their cover.)

I FEEL intense love for my son. It’s very real to me. But what good does that love do if my son feels disrespected? What good does it do if my son grows up not trusting me with whatever he’s dealing with because—from his perspective—I don’t show him respect?

Maybe all my bullshitty Dad-talk feels to him like disrespectful, unsolicited advice, or worse—like criticism that I don’t think he’s good enough.

Maybe despite telling my son (and believing it) how smart I think he is, he doesn’t FEEL as if I think he’s smart, since sometimes I think he says bullshitty things, and act like it.

Life continues to humble me, and remind me that no matter how much I learn, I’m still as far away from being a finished product as I was when I was still doling out shitty husbandry like a nudie-card peddler on Las Vegas Blvd.

Romantic Love and Marriage is Even More Fragile Than Our Parent-Child Relationships

Kids don’t really choose their living arrangement. But our adult romantic partners DO choose it. It’s a volunteer activity, and if we want them to voluntarily choose us over every other possible option in the world, we should offer some type of value proposition in exchange for their voluntary commitment to being our partners.

I’m not a child psychologist, but our kids just sort of get born into our homes and families, and grow up without enough information to gauge how good or bad it is relative to other homes and families in the world.

So long as we’re not horribly abusive and sadistic, I think our kids often hero-worship us in a lot of ways, even when we don’t deserve it.

But not so much with our spouses or girlfriends/boyfriends.

The most common story of romantic love dying in a relationship is because RESPECT is absent.

What Does Respect Look Like?

I’m polite. Kind. Nice. Well-mannered.

And because I say please and thank you, and generally behave “respectfully,” I always believed that I was demonstrating respect to others. Combined with that intense love that I felt toward my wife, any suggestion that I didn’t love and respect my wife was met with total confusion.

Outrageous! How dare she! OF COURSE I love and respect her! She’s the person I married and share all my things with and made a child with!

That is the 100% true and authentic (and tragically common) thought and feeling residing in the hearts and minds of one or both married/romantic partners that will paradoxically lead them to a messy and painful divorce or breakup.

Outrageous. That doesn’t make any sense at all. I would have never married them or do X, Y, and Z for and with them for all of these years if I didn’t love and respect them! They’re just mistaken. But that’s okay. All you need is love.

When you believe in your heart and soul that you love and respect your partner, then you’re in no way motivated to change your behavior or mindset. Which leads to the exact same things happening over and over again. The exact same things that are leading to one or both relationship partners feeling disrespected and unloved.

Our INTENTION to respect others in no way guarantees that other people FEEL respected.

The math is simple enough.

When your partner doesn’t feel as if they’re respected, they will feel mistreated. They will feel uncared for. They will feel dismissed and marginalized.

A person in that situation has two choices—continue to feel beaten down and unloved, which often leads to a total loss of positive self-image, and a person who feels shitty all of the time ceases to be fun and attractive, so the PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DISRESPECT AND MISTREATMENT actually ends up having “legitimate” reasons to stop feeling attracted to their partner, commonly leading to affairs or a divorce/breakup.

The other choice a person has—and I’m so glad that my ex-wife chose it—is to stand up for oneself. To preserve your own internal self-respect, self-love, personal integrity, etc.

Because God forbid, my son’s mother have turned into some beaten-down, self-loathing, joyless human incapable of demonstrating the kind of love and respect I wish for any child, but especially my son who I love so much and for who I wish so many good things.

“But Matt! What do you mean you didn’t respect your wife? What does that even look like?”

That’s the tricky part. That’s the scary, sneaky part.

It’s difficult to recognize. So, just in case you didn’t see it above, this is what it looks like.

A semi-famous example from this blog and my marriage is the story of me leaving a dish by the sink, and how my habit of doing that led to my divorce.

I saw a dish by the sink. No big deal. I saw something virtually meaningless. Insignificant, at most.

My wife saw a blatant act of disrespect. A huge deal. And FELT it, emotionally, down where it hurts the most. She saw weekly, if not daily, reminders that her husband didn’t respect her enough to do something SUPER-easy for her. She felt so uncared for, and so unheard, and so invalidated, that her choice was either:

  • Spend the rest of her life with someone who constantly makes her feel shitty through common, frequent acts of disrespect.
  • Choose a different option involving infinitely less pain, more hope, better health, and ensuring that she’d continue to be a person she could look at in the mirror and feel proud of.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t think her concerns were valid. It didn’t matter that I disagreed with her.

Even in some magical universe where I was objectively RIGHT in those assumptions, it STILL wouldn’t matter what was true to ME.

My wife felt pain, down in her gut, because she couldn’t trust me to be her adult partner for the rest of her life.

And major change is scary. And facing a lifetime of pain is scary. Especially when a little boy is at the center of it.

Love is great. Love is paramount to humanity’s survival. Love is a necessary and critical component of making marriage or any romantic relationship work.

But, which is MORE important? Which is MORE critical?

Love or respect?

It’s respect.

Respect is something virtually every human deserves on a basic level.

But love? That’s a choice. That’s something we reserve for a select few for our own reasons.

Love is a choice people will no longer choose to make in the absence of respect.

If you’re in a marriage or dating relationship that used to be full of love, but now feels heavy and empty? And you’re wondering where that love and joy went?

This is why.

I didn’t respect my wife, and now I’m divorced.

I hope you’ll make a different choice.

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