Tag Archives: Love

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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How Accidental Sexism Ruined My Marriage (and Might be Ruining Yours)

lumberjack - crying at the gates

(Image/Crying at the Gates)

I did, said, and believed things throughout my youth and marriage that were totally sexist—even though I didn’t view them as sexist at the time—and those things more or less turned my wife against me and ultimately cost me my marriage and family.

If you’d have told me I was a sexist, I’d have undoubtedly responded with defensive outrage and mansplained how you were wrong, all the while believing everything I was saying and feeling.

That’s the real danger. THAT is what causes all of these relationships to slowly turn ugly and then end miserably—that we 100% believe all of the bullshit we peddle. We’re telling the truth. We act like we’re right and like we know everything because we all actually believe it at the time.

Life’s worst things happen while we feel CERTAIN about things that aren’t actually true.

It doesn’t matter that I didn’t believe I was sexist. What matters is that I was sexist.

My mom more or less ran the household growing up with her and my stepdad, and was the alpha in regards to parenting decisions determining what I was allowed or not allowed to do, or to determine punishments, and all sorts of other things.

Most of my teachers were female.

The very best students—the most intelligent and top-performing kids in my class—were female. Anne and Colleen. I think both are doctors now.

I had close-knit friendships with a few of the girls in my class that at the time rivaled my close friendships with guy friends, a handful of which remain strong more than three decades later.

All of this to say that I NEVER believed that men were fundamentally better than women. Like, never. Just like I never believed being white was better than having dark skin because so many of my favorite athletes, actors, and musicians didn’t look like me—which conned me into believing I couldn’t feel racist things—a belief proven wrong by how my brain reacted to boarding planes with people of Middle Eastern descent in those first few years following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Fear Perpetuated my Sexism—Is it the Same for You?

I never disliked someone because they were from Iran or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. I’ve always liked pretty much everyone. Maybe that’s an ENFP thing.

I was AFRAID—irrationally—that someone from a particular ethnicity was somehow more likely to harm me than someone who looked like Timothy McVeigh or Robert Gregory Bowers. Which I think we can agree, in hindsight, is a pretty stupid thing to believe.

Where I came from, it was BAD to be a guy who did anything like a girl.

As recently as my 20s, I was giving major judgy side-eye looks to buddies who listened to Taylor Swift (“girl music”) or who liked watching romantic comedies (“chick flicks”).

It wasn’t BAD to be a girl. It wasn’t BAD to be a woman.

It was simply bad to do things “like a girl” if you weren’t one. Maybe that’s why we were also all little homophobic assholes as well. We spent so much time calling each other “gay fags” as a way to rip on one another that there’s no chance that any of the kids who actually were gay could have ever felt respected, accepted, or comfortable around us—which is undoubtedly a factor in them moving far away and waiting several years before coming out.

Where I come from, if you’re a man who does “girl things,” you’re less of a man. Which is bad.

And where I come from, women do the majority of housework, the majority of childcare, the majority of social calendar management, etc. There was no Right vs. Wrong judgment about any of it. It was just The Way. It was Normal.

And we, as human beings, tend to react to things outside of OUR Normal as being “wrong.” It’s because we’re assholes, but we don’t have to be.

It Was My Wife’s Responsibility to Fix Her Dumb Girl Emotions

Right? If my wife was responding incorrectly to things because she had weak girl emotions, how was that MY fault?

Is it really fair to ask me to adjust everything I do, think, feel, and say simply because it hurts my wife’s incorrect feelings when all she has to do is realize her mistake and simply STOP feeling bad about silly things?

After writing about marriage and divorce for more than six years, I’ve come to believe that THAT sentiment is the No. 1 marriage killer in the world.

I ALREADY did more around the house (I probably did the majority of cooking, grocery shopping, and kitchen cleanup throughout our nine-year marriage) than every male role model I’d ever had.

I was ALREADY compromising my Man of the House role, and was hell-bent on retaining my Man Card.

I was working and making the most money. I was doing more housework (“women’s work,” you might have heard it called) than any of the adult men I grew up around. I didn’t cheat. I didn’t do drugs or drink excessively. I didn’t gamble away our savings. I wasn’t physically or verbally abusive. I was a reliable caretaker for our son.

So, when I was told what an insensitive and shitty husband I was being (she never actually called me those things), my reaction was always one of high-and-mighty moral outrage.

How DARE you tell me I’m not a good husband!

Matt, would you please stop throwing your jeans on this nightstand? I try hard to keep the bedroom looking nice. Can you please just put them in the closet out of sight?”

How DARE she make a big deal out of something stupid like throwing my jeans on the nightstand that literally no other human being besides us will ever see! Why make a marriage fight out of this small thing?! This is all because of her dumb girl-feelings!

“Matt, would you please stop leaving that dirty glass by the sink? I try hard to keep the kitchen looking nice. Can you please just put it in the dishwasher?”

How DARE she make a big deal out of something stupid like setting that water glass by the sink that isn’t even dirty! I’m just trying to recycle the glass because it’s easier than washing extra dishes every time. Why make a marriage fight out of this silly thing?! This is all because of her dumb girl-feelings!

“Matt, would you please not make fun of me in front of our friends? It hurts my feelings. You’re literally nicer to total strangers than you are to me.”

Oh my God. How DARE she make a big deal out of something stupid like some playful mocking that everyone knows is a joke! I married this woman and chose her out of EVERYONE IN THE WORLD to love and commit to and have children with! Why make a marriage fight over this totally illogical thing?! This is all because of her dumb girl-feelings!

Because I was the more “emotionally stable” one—you know, because I handled things like a logical man—I was right, therefore my wife was wrong.

She was the one with the problem.

I believed she was the one responsible for maturing and simply CHOOSING to not feel hurt over things that were in no way intended to hurt her.

It’s a Respect Thing

I loved my wife. Maybe even more than myself. But I didn’t RESPECT her individual experiences as being equally valid to mine.

Things that were real and true—and often painful—for her didn’t affect me. Not outside of her complaining to me about it. My wife spent many years trying to recruit me to understand what was happening in her heart and mind so that her husband could work cooperatively with her to eliminate negativity in the marriage.

She tried every way she knew how to communicate to me that these “little, silly, emotional girl things” were important. Each and every time she tried, I made it clear to her how much I disagreed, and how certain I was that I was correct because of my wise man brain.

This idea can’t be shared enough times:

My wife HURT—down deep where the medicine can’t fix it—because of things I said and did. And for more than 10 years, when she came to me for help to make the hurt stop, I communicated to her that I thought she was MISTAKEN—wrong—to feel hurt, and even worse, that she was using it to cause problems in our marriage.

I seriously said that to her, like, a million times.

Every chance I had to respect my wife and live up to the vows I’d made on our wedding day, I instead communicated to her: No. Your girl-feelings are dumb. It’s not MY job to stop doing these things that don’t even matter. It’s YOUR job to stop caring about them so that you won’t feel hurt anymore.

This is why my wife could no longer trust me or feel safe with me. When you don’t make your partner feel safe and lose their trust, it’s all over.

I hope you’ll believe me when I say that if you’re someone who agrees with my thoughts and feelings from when I was still married, and feel as if my actions were justified when discussing it with my wife, your current or future relationships have almost no chance of succeeding. If you think what I did was right, we need to talk.

Happy International Women’s Day

I used to roll my eyes at things like today. March 8—International Women’s Day. What a bunch of hippie, liberal hogwash, I thought.

But then, I figured out what Accidental Sexism looks like, how I unwittingly abused my wife emotionally for a decade, and realized that I would have NEVER done those things had I known back then what I know now.

Being sexist is bad. Being a shitty husband is bad. But NOT all men (and/or women) who exhibit sexism and shitty husbandry are bad.

You can be—in your core—a good human being who genuinely cares about making this world a better place, and still innocently and unknowingly mistreat other people in ways you are blind to. You can be a good man who genuinely loves his wife and wants to have a long and happy marriage, and still innocently and unknowingly lack the knowledge and skills necessary to actually be a good husband.

To our daughters, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, neighbors, bosses, friends, teachers, co-workers, nieces, cousins, and everyone I’m forgetting.

To our influencers and heroes.

And most importantly—to the women who voluntarily choose us out of all 7.7 billion people on earth—to love and trust and care for.

Thank you.

Your thoughts and feelings and experiences don’t matter because you’re women. They matter because you’re human, like me.

Thank you for all that you tolerate and give and fight through.

Thank you for helping me remove some of my blinders.

Thank you for being you.

Please don’t give up on us.

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3 Helpful and 3 Unhelpful Things You Can Say to People Suffering from Anxiety

anxious woman

(Image/Verywell Health)

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

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

The Fear Itself podcast is also available now on most podcast platforms. 

It’s 2 a.m.

My heart is racing and I shoot out of bed, unable to sit still. My breathing is ragged. My skin feels clammy to the touch.

Wild-eyed and frantic, I pace my bedroom. Back and forth and back and forth, squeezing my eyes shut tightly in the hope that if I just ignore this feeling, it will go away. It doesn’t.

What is happening?  Why do I feel this way?  How can I make it stop?

For someone who clings to the illusion of control in my everyday life, this is my worst fear being realized. Last night, everything was fine. And tonight, I opened the door to my closet to find that there really is a boogeyman. I feel ashamed. Guilty. Broken.

After an hour or so of pacing with no end in sight, I know I need to wake my husband. I need help, but I am terrified to ask for it. I am afraid he’ll think I’m crazy. I’m afraid he might be angry. I’m afraid he might leave me because of my sudden—maybe permanent—break.

Neither of us knows it yet, but how he responds in this moment of crisis will be critical to my suffering and my recovery.

How do we love others well when they suffer from anxiety?

If you are in a relationship with someone who suffers from anxiety, it can be difficult to know what to say.

Here are phrases that were not helpful (even insulting) when I was having an anxiety attack. I strongly encourage you to avoid saying them if you genuinely want to help.

 

, and some that I found to be hugely supportive and encouraging.

3 Things You Should Never Say to Someone Feeling Anxious

1. ‘Everything happens for a reason.’

I don’t like this one because it’s so trite and dismissive. What’s the follow-up to this? What possible reason could explain what is happening right now? Simply put, it is not helpful and it is not true.

2. ‘Just calm down.’

This probably doesn’t require much explanation for those who have anxiety.

For everyone else, I’ll explain in two points: 1.) If it were that simple, I’d have already done it and, 2.) Anxiety really has nothing to do with calmness. The logical brain already KNOWS that nothing is going on, but the logical brain isn’t driving the bus here. Telling someone to “calm down” trivializes pain and sounds condescending. No one needs that.

3. ‘You just need to have faith.’

A phrase that still rouses rage when I hear it.

When a “friend” said this to me, I felt like she thought my panic attacks were my fault; suggesting that if my faith in God was strong enough, I wouldn’t be panicking.

It was confusing and hurtful, and made me question a lot of things I thought were true about myself and about my creator. In hindsight, I can see that this person had her own issues to sort through and was projecting judgment on me, but at the time I was crushed and bewildered, thinking that I was somehow not doing Christianity the right way or with enough sincerity.

In reality, I was more sincere and more of a truth seeker than I had ever been. Bottom line: This is just a mean thing to say. Please don’t ever blame someone for their trauma.

3 Helpful Things You Can Say to Someone Suffering from Anxiety

Most people out there with loved ones suffering with mental illness do genuinely want to help.

Here are examples of things you can ask or say that are actually helpful.

1. ‘How can I help?’

This question is great, because it removes any pressure. An open question like this gives me—or the anxiety suffer—the power, and a little bit of a voice in a situation where I (or they) feel like no one can hear us. Sometimes, the only thing I need is for someone to listen.

2. ‘My sister/brother/uncle/dog walker had anxiety.’

Absolutely, positively, tell me all the stories and bestow on me ALL the knowledge.

Researching during The Terror was a daunting task. I would listen to anything anyone had to tell me about anxiety cures. I don’t think that all people suffer from anxiety for the same reasons or due to the same triggers, but I am always willing to try something to find out what works for me. It may be something I can add to my anti-anxiety arsenal.

Relating someone else’s struggles, successes, and methods of coping are always appreciated.

3. ‘Yes.’

Just say yes.

This was one of the most helpful and selfless acts my husband could do for me on a daily basis.

If I asked him to drive me around and look at houses all day (because it calmed me), he said yes. No matter what the request he said yes. He even got us cable TV, which we didn’t have previously, because having the local news made me feel like I had a connection to the outside world.

It may sound silly, but it made sense to me at the time, and it made me feel less trapped. So he said yes and made it happen.

Similarly, my dad said yes when I wanted to sit in his living room and rock in his rocking chair until midnight because I was afraid to be home alone. My stepmom said yes countless times when I needed company, allowing me to pace in her sewing shop for hours while she worked. She said yes to FaceTime chats and yes to bike rides.

When lack of control is a trigger, allowing an anxious person to make small decisions—what to eat for lunch, whether to drive to the store—can help us feel steadier on our feet.

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Making Sense of Your Emotions After Divorce and Beyond

guy hiding under desk - the great courses daily

It wasn’t quite this dramatic. ;) (Image/The Great Courses Daily)

I walked into my ex-wife’s house following a quick knock as I do a few times every week to pick up my son after work.

I had a bag of our son’s clothes with me full of specific items I’d promised I’d return, and when I walked into the kitchen to set the bag of clothes on the counter, I saw the red envelope leaning up against the bottle of whatever liquor she had bought her boyfriend for Valentine’s Day. This is their third or fourth Valentine’s Day together.

You feel something when you see something like that. Even six years removed from marriage. You feel something.

Sometimes, I have these conversations with myself when I feel that something. Because, what does it mean?

Does it mean that I love my ex-wife and miss her desperately and wish we were still together?

No. She’s a fine human being and the best co-parenting partner and mother to my son that I could ever hope to have. But, I don’t sit around my house (the one she and I used to share) wishing that she still lived there.

There’s no evidence that she and I could have a good marriage—even now that I understand so much more about my failed marriage than I did back when I assumed all of our problems were her fault.

I DON’T WANT a shitty relationship full of uncomfortable conversations and conflict INFINITELY more than I want to be in another permanent romantic relationship that might be a stepping stone to another marriage. Regardless of who that other person is.

“Given all of the changes and strides you have made in your own growth and understanding of how things went sideways, is there the potential for reconciliation with your ex-wife?” a reader asked me in a recent blog comment.

I’ve received that question many times over the past five years.

There’s a faction of people out there invested in the story—my story. The almost-redemption story.

The shitty husband who is just like their spouse.

And if I can figure it out, maybe they can figure it out.

And if I can figure it out AND want to reconcile with my wife and maybe have a great marriage on the second try, maybe the dream is still alive for them too.

I hope they know their dream can remain alive regardless of what happens with me.

Because a beautiful marriage might be in my future, but there’s virtually no chance my ex-wife will have any part to play other than hopefully having a positive, peaceful relationship with whoever I would invite into our co-parenting inner circle. And that’s more than okay.

I think what I felt when I saw that Valentine’s Day card was shame.

Do I—in a spiritual sense—regret that I was a shitty husband and now we’re not married, and I have to drop my son off in the morning to be cared for by the guy sleeping with his mother? Absolutely.

Am I jealous? No.

It’s more nuanced than that.

It’s not pain. But it is discomfort.

I’m ashamed at who I was.

And just maybe, ashamed at who I am.

What’s wrong with me that all these years later, my ex-wife is in this super-stable relationship, and I’m still ordering takeout with my fifth-grader?

Trigger City Looks Nice Until You Hit That One Part of Town

The next morning my son didn’t have school, so I dropped him off back at his mom’s house before driving to the office. Her boyfriend was the only person who was going to be home with him for the first couple of hours that morning.

I neither hesitated nor thought twice about leaving my favorite little human in his care. I can trust him unequivocally to be good to my son and his mother.

If you don’t know how much that’s worth, you’ve never shared a child with someone who doesn’t live in the same house.

I have what I consider to be a mature, well-thought-out and healthy mental and emotional position RE: my ex-wife.

Married people with children have never thought about what it feels like to wrestle with the stress, fear, and anxiety that you encounter the first time you realize that your ex who you share children with are now in total control of what happens to them whenever they’re not with you.

They can date, live with, marry ANYONE and there’s not one damn thing in the world you can do about it.

When the divorce first happened, I couldn’t breathe.

Not the way normal people breathe.

I couldn’t sit still or sleep or think or talk or in any way behave however I perceive ‘normal’ to be.

Someone at work asked me about it. About the time I was adjusting to a new world where I felt like I had Iost half of my son’s already going-too-fast childhood, and where I felt like I’d lost ALL control over his safety and wellbeing.

If I can’t influence who she sees, how can I protect my son from the bad ones?

A huge percentage of the panic I felt back then was being stripped of that sense of control.

That slice of the Pain & Horror pie chart got tossed into a cauldron with all of the other stuff—rejection, embarrassment, fear, a sense of failure, emotional brokenness, and surely some other bad-tasting things I’m forgetting.

Holy shit, is this really happening? I quietly thought to myself while I recounted that story from six years ago. Because I started to feel it.

I’d just sit at my desk sometimes staring straight ahead on the verge of tears, trying to draw long breaths and hoping no one would notice or ask me any work questions.

Sometimes my hands would shake a little in conference room meetings. Every guy at the table had a wedding band on but me, and they were all super-interested in the work conversations just like I used to be before the world ended.

I didn’t speak. I didn’t make eye contact. I didn’t do anything except hide my jittery hands under the table and concentrate really hard on pretending to be tough and stoic so that I wouldn’t cry in front of my friends and coworkers.

Those were the hardest days I’ve ever known.

Those were the days where I used vodka as a crutch and started smoking again after having kicked the habit. Those were the days were I felt so dark and shitty and uncomfortable down deep where no medicine can reach, I FINALLY understood why some people give up. After a lifetime of not getting it, I finally “got it.”

If every second of your life HURTS—excruciatingly—and you lose hope that you can find your way back to where it doesn’t hurt (or tragically have never known a life without pain), then it makes sense to be more afraid of living than dying.

I wasn’t suicidal. That never happened. But I remember thinking that if some semi coming the other direction crossed over center and pulverized me that it would feel merciful.

That’s when I knew I was damn close to rock bottom.

After a lifetime of being afraid of lots of things, I wasn’t afraid of much.

It’s the super-power of grief. It’s the ONE cool thing about it. Everything sucks. Things can’t get worse. So—boom. A liberating taste of fearless living.

When we have things to lose (the best things in life) it makes sense that we’re afraid of losing it.

When we’re out of things to lose, it’s not super-neat that we suffered a great loss, but you are gifted a healthy dose of perspective that I think most of us need.

There were all of these things in life that I had wanted. That I’d made a goal. A certain amount of money. A certain kind of house. A certain kind of job. Etc. Material-ish things, in many cases, as a measure of having “a good life.”

But then I felt like dying, and it occurred to me that even if I had my dream home and the largest bank account I could think of, I STILL would have felt empty and broken in that moment.

There’s nothing we can buy or acquire to protect us from that feeling down deep inside where the medicine can’t reach. Once I discovered that important truth, I developed a healthier, more appropriate perspective on finances and material possessions.

I felt that feeling return.

The bullshit one that nothing but time can fix.

And all it took was me retelling the story to a couple of friends at work. It all came rushing back. The nausea. The anxiety. That feeling of tears welling in my eyes that I hope no one noticed.

I went for a walk, just like I did six years ago. Just a bunch of quiet deep breaths and the music in my headphones. Maybe no one will know.

The problem though is that I knew.

WTF is happening right now?

Our Scars and Stories

I was fine by the time night rolled around. I didn’t think about it over the weekend.

I’m only thinking about it now because I wanted to write this.

We have all of these souvenirs from our past lives. Maybe they’re tangible objects. Maybe they’re foggy memories. Maybe they’re razor-sharp feelings triggered by things we see or hear or smell or think about.

These souvenirs are comprised of both our scars and stories.

Our scars are proof that they happened. That we’re still alive.

Your ex-husband is seeing someone new, and you don’t like it, even though you left him AND would never choose to be with him again? It hurts somehow but you can’t explain why?

You don’t have to. Scars. Stories. Yours.

Your ex-wife is seeing someone new and it’s totally fine, but the memory of your wife leaving you, and losing control of your son, and all of those nights thinking about how much she was loving being with that other piece of shit while you sobbed at home alone on the couch makes you FEEL that all over again? Several years later? And you can’t explain it?

You don’t have to.

I don’t have to.

Scars. Stories.

Yours.

Mine.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Really, it already is.

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The Missing Ingredient that Ruins Valentine’s Day (and Every Other Day)

red roses

(Image/Fortune)

Flowers are pretty and smell nice. They make nice gifts as a symbolic gesture to those you care about. Unless, of course, the person you’re buying flowers for doesn’t really like flowers, or maybe has an allergy to the particular variety you bought.

But mostly, they’re nice. Like chocolates. And jewelry. And champagne. And dinner reservations at the nicest places.

There are two reasons that gifts are (usually) nice:

  1. They demonstrate that someone voluntarily went outside of their daily routine for the sole purpose of making another person feel valued and cared for.
  2. The gift, in and of itself, usually provides value for the recipient. Gifts are usually not one-size-fits all. Thoughtful gift buyers effectively match the gift to the person they’re buying for, so that we’re not giving Boston Red Sox fans a New York Yankees hat, or giving child-size winter mittens to adult men living in balmy Miami, Fla. (Unless you’re being intentionally ironic, which I’m entirely on-board with.)

I don’t know how it works in other countries, but in the United States most businesses are required by law to accommodate physically handicapped people.

Handicapped parking spaces near entrances, wheelchair ramps, and extra-large bathroom stalls to accommodate wheelchair users.

Why?

Well. To be considerate.

I can’t speak from experience, but I imagine most blind people don’t spend a lot of time in art museums. I imagine most deaf people don’t spend a lot of time at concerts. I imagine most people who don’t know how to swim don’t spend a lot of time participating in competitive swimming. I imagine most people without arms don’t work as hairdressers. I imagine most people with deadly bee sting allergies don’t work as beekeepers.

I realize how obvious all of this is, but what’s truly amazing is that these same principles apply to EVERYONE we encounter in life.

Certainly not everyone’s ‘conditions’ or ‘handicaps’ or ‘shortcomings’ are going to be as obvious to others as blindness and wheelchairs might be, but I think the case can be made that we should know about these things in all of the people we are close to—like say our spouses, children, siblings, parents, best friends, etc.

And I don’t mean ‘should,’ like it would be nice someday. I mean SHOULD, like how is it even possible that we don’t already know?

About someone who lives in the same house? A wife or husband who we vowed to love and honor all the days of our lives?

How is it even possible that we don’t know THEIR ‘things’ so well that every move we make automatically includes our consideration of them and their needs?

Until We Get This (Like Really Get it Down in Our Bones and Soul), Our Flowers and Chocolates are Little More than Concert Tickets for the Deaf

Our spouses don’t want things (even if they actually like things).

Your spouse wants to be considered. She, or he, wants to be considered because they are a person.

And people want to be considered.

No one wants to be the kid in the wheelchair hanging out with his friends, and while they’re all deciding what do together on Friday, they pick some activity that’s totally impossible to participate in from a wheelchair.

So everyone else goes and has a great time, and leaves you sitting there, alone and wheelchair bound.

It’s scary how apt that metaphor is to the average wife and mother in 2019.

Dad and Son and Daughter run off to watch TV, play video games, text their friends after dinner, and mom is abandoned in the kitchen to put food away, clear the table, wash the dishes, etc. while everyone else is off having fun doing the things they want to do.

That’s making your wife the abandoned kid in the wheelchair.

That’s making your mom the abandoned friend in the wheelchair.

‘I want to be considered.’

That’s what my married friend said after her husband changed their Valentine’s Day plans without talking to her about it first, creating a cascade of inconveniences she had to account for and deal with because of the last-minute changes.

Her husband had a schedule conflict. So he fixed the problem by adjusting his schedule.

Adjusting his schedule created SEVERAL problems for his wife. Enough to more than negatively offset all of the previous kind and thoughtful things he’d said to her on Valentine’s Day.

Flowers are nice.

But being considered is REALLY nice. And flowers are a demonstration—evidence—that you are considering someone you care about.

Chocolates and pajamas and stuffed animals and dinner reservations and jewelry—all the things—are nice.

People like getting things, but outside of children, MOST people like getting things because thoughtful acts of generosity and/or pleasant surprises from those we love and want to love us make us feel good.

It’s not really more complicated than that.

When we are considered—which is another way of saying RESPECTED, or LOVED, or CARED FOR, or HONORED—we feel good.

When we are not considered—which is another way of saying DISRESPECTED, or ABANDONED, or NEGLECTED, or DISCARDED—we feel shitty.

This scenario is not limited to Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, and birthdays. The opportunity for this scenario to occur happens EVERY SINGLE DAY. And it does.

And the difference between good relationships and bad ones—between good marriages and bad marriages—boils down to this one simple, but deceptively complex idea.

When you say things, do things, make plans—in your daily life—are your romantic partner’s needs CONSIDERED?

The quality of your relationship—and the relative impact of your bouquet of flowers on Valentine’s Day—depends on it.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. (Even you, my single partners in crime.)

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The 3 Eye-Roll Inducing (But Absolutely True) Steps to Finding Happiness

Stanley from The Office - NBC

Stanley thinks this article is trash. But this is, in many ways, the most important conversation no one ever has. (Image/NBC)

‘Happiness’ is kind of a bullshit word because, not unlike the word ‘love,’ it can hold different meaning for different people.

But I don’t know a better word for conveying what it means to feel good, healthy, peaceful, hopeful (perhaps like you might remember feeling as a child when homework was your biggest problem, and life mostly consisted of pursuing the next good time, and dreaming about how amazing adulthood would be).

When I say ‘happy,’ what I really mean is “Life isn’t shitty. It’s kind of awesome. If every day could be like this, I would feel totally content for the rest of my life.”

It’s hard to be happy when you’re sad or angry.

It’s hard to be happy when you’re stressed or anxious.

It’s hard to be happy when you’re hurt or sick.…

I contend that happiness is what everyone wants in life—whether or not they’re aware of it—and even if they disagree with it. (Because it’s all semantics.)

No matter what that looks like, because while many people share common goals, everyone’s version of happy has its own unique spin.

Happy for some people is career success and financial freedom.

Happy for some people is travel and adventure.

Happy for some people is serving God or other people and living a spiritual life.

Happy for some people is orgasms and alcohol.

Happy for some people is fame and recognition.

Happy for some people is animals and nature.

Everyone has a different list of things, that when you add them to their lives while eliminating the bad things, it results in them feeling ‘happy.’

We are all pursuing, desiring, experiencing different things, for different reasons, but the hard truth is that we do what we do because we feel good about it during and/or afterward. Chemicals fire in our brains, and then we like it, and generally we want to feel more of that, thus our individual pursuits of happiness.

But Happiness is Often a Fleeting and Elusive Thing

Sometimes we get what we want, and it’s kind of a letdown.

Sometimes we get what we want, and it’s awesome at first, but then it stops being awesome once we get used to.

Sometimes the things we want change, and then we have to abandon course to pursue the new thing we want.

Chasing.

Always chasing. We idealize an end goal only to realize the end goal was kind of a stupid goal, or not nearly as great as we’d hoped, or that we’re inevitably dissatisfied once we’ve achieved it and start running toward something new.

It’s draining.

We have a tendency to think: Once I get this thing, or once this happens for me, then I will feel good. THEN, I will finally be happy.

Repeatedly—sometimes painfully—Life teaches us that it doesn’t work that way.

No Matter What You Think You Want, Ask Yourself: Isn’t Happiness All I Really Want?

If you’re someone who likes really nice cars, and you really want a Ferrari, isn’t what you really want the first-person experience of owning and driving a Ferrari? The feeling that comes along with that?

It begs the question: Wouldn’t you be equally satisfied by achieving that same experience, that same FEELING, even if it came without the actual Italian super car?

‘Eff you, Matt. What do you know about being happy?’

Very little.

But I seem to know something that not everyone does, and achieving happiness is impossible without knowing it.

YOU MUST LOVE YOURSELF.

Not like some self-important asshole who compliments his or herself in the mirror all day.

But whoever you love the most in your life—the concern, affection, compassion, protectiveness, etc. that you feel for THAT person (a child, a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a best friend, a pet, whatever), you 100-percent cannot and will not EVER achieve that elusive feeling of ‘happiness,’ without also demonstrating that same level of love and care for yourself.

When you are dissatisfied, or ashamed, or disgusted, or angry with yourself, and then you spend every waking and unconscious second INSIDE of the vessel you are dissatisfied, or ashamed, or disgusted, or angry with, then there is no healthy path to feeling good.

Without self-love, there can be no healthy path to not having shitty days full of self-loathing and regret and all kinds of other crap things no one wants.

The math is simple enough for me.

We only get a finite amount of time on this planet. It’s a blink, really. I turn 40 in a couple of months. I’ll be LUCKY if that’s the halfway point.

Truth is, there’s no guarantee I wake up tomorrow. That’s true every day.

And the fewer days I spend feeling shitty, and the more days I spend feeling glad to be alive seems like a worthwhile thing to consider.

I was accidentally happy every day until my marriage turned into a dumpster fire, and then every day smelled like hot garbage for a long time. So, that was the first time I ever encountered the question: How do I feel happy again?

Here’s what I learned:

1. If you’re not healthy, it’s hard to feel happy. That’s why it’s important to take care of ourselves. But sometimes you don’t feel like taking care of yourself, because it takes more effort and energy. So, how? Easy answer.

2. Love yourself. It’s hard to take care of yourself when you don’t care about yourself. It’s not motivating at all. I don’t bend over backward for every fifth-grader in my city, but I do for my own because I love him intensely. The motivation to practice self-care is the natural result of loving myself.

3. Gratitude. Feel it, or your life will suck. Period.

I want to be damn careful about insensitivities surrounding depression and mental illness which are not conditions I know much about, but this is the part where I like to point out all of the people we’ve admired through the years that have taken their own lives one way or another. Chris Cornell. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Robin Williams. Kate Spade. Junior Seau. Don Cornelius. Hunter S. Thompson. Anthony Bourdain. Chester Bennington.

These are people most of us know from their accomplishments. They were among the best at what they do, were adored by millions of fans, and had the kind of financial security most of us dream about.

On paper, most of us think: Those people have a good life. I think if I was elite at my craft, praised and cheered for by millions for my talents, and had a fat bank account, I would be really happy.

A list of celebrity suicides/overdoses does not a scientific fact, make. But I think it lends credence to the idea that happiness doesn’t live with our end goals. It doesn’t arrive through what other people or the world gives us.

Happiness manifests when:

We are healthy.

We love ourselves, and treat ourselves with the same care that we treat others that we love.

And, when we are GRATEFUL—intentionally, humbly, mindfully grateful—for the gift of life, for the people in it, for what others do for us, etc.

If every day is: I wish I had this thing that I don’t currently have, then happiness—the thing we want and crave because it makes life a positive experience—will forever stay an illusion just out of reach.

And if every day is: I’m so blessed to have the use of my eyes. Ears. Arms. Legs. I’m so blessed that my children are healthy. I’m so blessed that mosquito bites don’t kill us because of modern medicine and our financial resources. I’m so blessed that I don’t have to walk three miles to find safe drinking water. I’m so blessed that people prepare food and then truck it to a store so that I can buy it instead of running after it in the forest, or growing it in fields, then good things start to happen.

It’s never-ending. Our healthy gratitude list. It can literally go forever, because there are INFINITE things to feel legitimately grateful for.

It takes practice to remember to feel it. It’s not the kind of thing someone can mention, and then you spend the rest of your life feeling grateful for everything, and then happy as a result.

It’s work. Mindful, deliberate work.

But, once it is a habit? Once it does take root?

The world changes around us because, as Anaïs Nin famously said: “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”

We don’t have to chase anything. We don’t have to search for it.

Like everything important and sacred and precious in life, it tends to be hiding in plain sight.

Discover 50 Easy Ways to Show Gratitude for the People in Your Life.

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Always Something There to Remind Me

(Image/PortsmouthFreemasons.org)

There’s something appalling—nearly unforgivable—about the things we forget, like, 98-ish percent of our known existence.

We forget that we breathe. We breathe more than 23,000 times per day on average. There’s literally NOTHING we’ve done in our lives more times than taken a breath.

Yet, we never notice.

We forget that we are not promised tomorrow. Today may be our last. This conversation may be the last one you ever get to have with someone. Virtually all of us would say and do things differently if we knew this meeting would be our last.

We forget all of the opportunities we have to be grateful.

Health. Money. Shelter. Clothing. Transportation. Family. Friends. Employment. Education. Abilities.

There’s always something to be deeply thankful for. Something we’re taking for granted.

Our health and closest loved ones seem to be the most obvious victims of our unintentional neglect.

My Blindness to the ‘All The Time’ is Why My Marriage Ended

There are so many perspectives. So many ways to frame and slice the conversation about how love dies. How families break. Including the story of my own divorce.

But underneath all of the specifics is a simple and difficult truth: I didn’t remember to actively love my spouse.

Like, I forgot.

I feel shitty about it, and I’d feel even worse if I didn’t know that pretty much everyone suffers from this in some form or fashion.

We grow numb to the things we feel All The Time.

We grow deaf to the things we hear All The Time.

We grow blind to the things we see All The Time.

Combine this psychological phenomenon that all of us encounter with undiagnosed adult ADHD, and boom. You get some hapless asshole who derpy-derps through life unintentionally hurting those he loves.

You know what the worst part might be? I used to be blind to it, legitimately.

Today? Not so much. I write about this stuff every day, so I’m much quicker to recognize when I’m doing it, and better understand how another person might feel about it.

I’m always in the market for a larger Shame bucket to carry around.

How I Remember to Actively Love My Son

I hope it’s clear that I felt love for my wife. The same way I feel grateful for breathable air.

I just FORGOT to actively demonstrate it in the way that would have saved everyone involved a lot of pain and suffering through the years. Sometimes, when you have a near-death experience with a Jolly Rancher, you remember how neat it is to be able to breathe without a delicious piece of hard candy lodged in your windpipe.

“News at 11, a local man was found dead in his parked vehicle this afternoon. Law enforcement officials at the scene declined to comment on the active investigation, but we were told off the record that there’s no evidence of foul play, and that a giant bag of Jolly Ranchers candy was found on the passenger seat, suggesting the man likely died from a choking incident like you might expect from a small child. None of the man’s coworkers admitted to being friends with him. Reporting live from Cleveland, Ohio, this is Johnny McJohnson. Back to you in the studio.”

I had a serious problem with forgetting to actively love my son.

He’s a fifth-grader. He’s amazing. And he’s been my entire world for the past six years.

And even though that’s true, and I’ve never known love like the love I feel for him, I still get really upset with him sometimes (almost always when getting ready for school, where his priority often seems to be to do ANYTHING except stuff that will help us accomplish our goal of getting to school on time with as little stress as possible).

And I get pretty mad sometimes. Because I know what he’s capable of, and I know how smart he is, and it feels like he’s intentionally sabotaging my efforts some mornings.

(I know. The irony isn’t lost on me. I promise.)

And sometimes, he and I will exchange words and attitude, and then maybe that was a morning where I wasn’t picking him up later that day. Maybe it would be two or three days before I’d see him again, per his mother and I’s 50-50 shared parenting arrangement.

So, sad and angry dad drops off sad and angry son only to have both of us feel crappy about it for a while and would both choose to go back in time and do it all over again, if we could.

And since he’s 10, and I’m the ‘adult,’ I needed to take action. Because doing the same thing over and over again more or less guarantees the same results over and over again.

The Simple Magic of the ‘Focus’ Wristband

I could make myself a sign.

I could get a tattoo.

I could set reminders on my phone.

I could write it in my calendar.

I could do a lot of things. But ultimately, I chose a simple black, flexible bracelet. One of those rubbery wristbands like the #LiveStrong ones that former cyclist Lance Armstrong used to pimp before he admitted to doping and everyone stopped thinking he was cool.

I bought a box of them. They all have cliché motivational words on them which annoy me, but in this case, the word “Focus” is apropos.

These. I only cared about the one that said ‘Focus.’ (Image/Amazon)

I now wear a mostly non-descript small black rubber wristband on my left wrist. There is nothing special or noteworthy about it. Unless I’m wearing short sleeves, no one would ever know it’s there.

My Focus bracelet has one job. Only one job.

To remind me to actively demonstrate intentional love and patience toward my favorite person in the world. He is my life’s greatest gift. And it’s pathetic that I get angry with him and speak to him in ways his young mind might interpret as me saying he’s not good enough, or communicate that I’m not immensely proud of him.

Jolly Rancher jokes aside.

What if on one of those mornings, I never made it where I was going? What if the last thing he remembered about me was me being angry with him at school drop-off, only to never have the chance to speak again or remind him that there is NOTHING he could ever do or say, and no amount of frustration he could ever make me feel that would equate to my love for him lessening somehow?

That wouldn’t do.

So, I ordered a pack of these silly wristband bracelets.

And, you know what? It works.

My Focus bracelet reminds me to smile and laugh at him clowning around when he’s supposed to be brushing his teeth.

My Focus bracelet reminds me that a few minutes here and there are NOT even in the same universe as him knowing his father loves him and feels immense pride in him.

My Focus bracelet literally triggers intentional patience, resulting in a 90-percent reduction in anything resembling an emotional outburst, and a much more mindful father not carelessly ‘forgetting’ how much he loves his son.

I know it might seem silly, this small thing. This wristband with only one job.

I was skeptical as to how effective it would be. I shouldn’t have been.

When we MINDFULLY, INTENTIONALLY, invest our mental and emotional energy in those we love, it sticks. Because we know what’s at stake.

Someone, somewhere doesn’t know how much you care about them.

They don’t have any idea how much they are loved and cherished.

What super-tiny, subtle shift can we make to keep our minds attuned to what matters most to us in a way that can help us maintain discipline, better communicate our love for others, and walk the walk in our daily lives?

What small thing can we do today to invest in and protect our life’s biggest, most sacred things?

I paid about $15 for a pack of wristbands I only needed one of.

But can you guess how much it’s worth?

There’s not enough room here to write out the number.

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She Divorced Me Because I Tried to Fix Her Problems

Discover Your Why Torn Paper Concept

(Image/Getty Images)

In nine years of marriage, it’s safe to assume my ex-wife and I ate dinner together between 2,500 and 3,000 times.

We must have talked about things that didn’t upset her sometimes. We must have talked about things that bored her sometimes. Maybe we even talked about things that made her happy.

I don’t remember. Several hundred conversations, and I can’t remember most of them.

It’s hard to remember the moments that never made you feel.

Maybe that’s why the only dinner conversations I remember are the ones involving her saying that she didn’t love me or want to stay married, as well as a few conversations that I’ve retroactively applied emotion to, since I now realize that they’re on the official This is Why I’m Divorced® list along with me sometimes leaving dishes by the sink.

My wife divorced me because when she told me stories about her day, I tried to fix whatever she was telling me was wrong.

And for many people, that will seem sensible—to try to help someone solve a problem they’re having. For many people, the idea of turning a husband trying to help into a marriage problem will seem like the insane actions of an emotionally unstable wife who is always looking for something new to complain about.

I would have agreed with you 10 years ago. I mean, I DID agree with you 10 years ago. Because I agreed with you 10 years ago, I was a shitty husband who accidentally and obliviously sabotaged what could have been, and should have been, a good marriage. (Hint: Which is what almost ALL married people have. Two people who married each other on purpose, thoughtfully, and well-intentioned SHOULD have a good marriage.)

I Didn’t Understand the Why

My wife was telling me stories about her day—about things or people or situations that might have upset her—for ONE reason. Just one.

It was my wife’s way of trying to connect with me. To share her experiences. The ACT OF SHARING the experience with me, and me simply being present and listening to her was THE ENTIRE POINT.

My role was to listen.

When my wife told me about someone that bothered her earlier in the day, I would sometimes tell my wife that I agreed with the other person.

Not only did I deprive her of the connection-building exercise by simply allowing her to speak without judgment, but I piled on more pain and frustration by validating the words or actions of the person that hurt or upset my wife earlier in the day.

Let’s recap:

1. Something happened that my wife experienced as a negative. Someone said or did something that made her feel shitty.

2. The thing that helps her feel better is to tell someone who will listen without judging her for her honest feelings and actual experiences.

3. She wanted to tell the ONE person in the world who promised to love and honor her every day for the rest of her life, and the only other adult who lives under the same roof.

4. I took her outlet for a positive connection-building experience—the thing she needed to do to emotionally move past the shitty day—and made THAT shitty. The thing that is designed to make her feel good became something that actually felt bad.

5. I then took the extra step of sometimes TAKING THE SIDE of her adversary from her story. I sometimes listened to her account of the day’s events, and essentially told her that her response—emotional or behaviorally—was INCORRECT. I literally told her that she did it wrong, and agreed with the other person.

6. All she wanted was for someone who loves her to LISTEN to her. That’s it. Not hard. Just STFU and listen. And after several hundred times of NOT doing that, I ceased to be someone she could trust to confide in. I was no longer a feel-good resource for coping with the ups and downs of adulthood, because hundreds of previous attempts ended badly and painfully for her. She didn’t feel safe anymore. She didn’t trust me anymore. Because safety and trust are two words that don’t always mean what we think they mean.

The most dangerous part of human relationships is how subtle and nuanced these moments are.

The things that erode and eventually destroy that which is most fragile and dear and precious to us tend to be things happening within the blind spots of our daily lives. We’re not being neglectful or irresponsible by not noticing them. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to notice them unless we are actively and mindfully looking for them.

After thousands of conversations with my wife that didn’t go like I thought they would. After, literally, thousands of instances where my wife reacted to me or a situation differently than I would have expected, I NEVER—not one time—set out to really understand the reason behind it.

I was certain—I was so certain that I was right, and therefore, she must have been wrong—that I guess I just kept waiting for her to grow up and see the world as clearly and correctly and smartly as I did.

But she never did.

She finally had enough and left.

And then I cried a lot more than a man probably should and felt sorry for myself.

But then I grew up.

And I began to see the world more clearly. I learned to stop labeling what an individual experiences as being ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Because if I was born to their parents and had their identical life experiences, I would say and do and feel all of the exact same things that they do.

Maybe my wife was wrong sometimes, too. Maybe she did things she shouldn’t have done. People ask me about that a lot, suggesting I’m too hard on myself. That there must be another side to the story.

Of course there’s another side. Here it is:

Imagine an alternative reality where when my wife told me stories about her day, I listened, and then told her that I cared about her experiences—that I was so happy when she had good things happen, and that I was so sorry when she had bad things happen—because I loved her and wanted to make sure she knew it. Make sure she felt it, because those are the things we remember.

Imagine if I’d done that.

Maybe all of those theoretical ‘mistakes’ my wife made would have never happened at all.

Just maybe.

Behind every misunderstanding is a reason. Behind every disagreement is a WHY. The Why behind why someone feels a certain way. And when we love the person on the other side of the disagreement—or simply on the other side of the dinner-table conversation—understanding that Why is EVERYTHING.

Find the Why.

Start right now.

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To Find What’s Missing, Look in the Gaps

hiding- image by navalent

(Image/Navalent)

There’s what we believe. And then there’s whatever is absolutely 100-percent true and real.

In the gap between our beliefs and Absolute Truth are the things that hold us back. Mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

There’s what we expect. And then there’s whatever actually happens.

Sometimes things don’t go as we expect them to. Sometimes that’s kind of good or kind of bad. Sometimes that’s very good or very bad. The gap between our expectations and what we actually experience is what determines how good or happy we feel, or how bad or upset we feel.

There’s what we think we know about another person. And then there’s who they actually are, what they actually feel, what they actually believe, what they actually intend, what they are actually capable of—sometimes bad, but also sometimes good.

What’s Hiding in the Gaps Within Your Relationships?

In a marriage or otherwise long-term romantic relationship, there is always (like, ALWAYS) a gap between what any two people believe about one another and what is actually, 100-percent true.

I don’t mean a husband thinks his wife is a manager at a local bank, but is actually a high-ranking government intelligence officer managing a team of spies and assassins.

I mean a more typical scenario like a wife who believes her husband likes her meatloaf, but secretly he thinks it’s gross like most sensible people who struggle with foamed meat products, but because he—in an effort to be polite—doesn’t communicate his preferences, she doesn’t actually know.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you surprise them with a gift.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you dress extra-nice for them.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you tell them the bad news.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you suggest specific weekend plans.

There’s what you think he or she will do when there’s an emergency.

And then, there’s what actually happens.

Pleasant surprises. Crushing disappointments. The results will both delight and disappoint us to varying degrees.

You Don’t Know What You Think You Know

That’s neither an insult nor a judgment.

It’s a call—a plea really—for more humility and more hope.

You think he’s never going to change. Because after all of these years he’s never changed. But. What if you did something differently to achieve different results?

You think she’s never going to change. Because the things she says that hurt you are only intensifying. But. What if she’s feeling INTENSE pain that you’re accidentally causing, and despite her best efforts to communicate that you’re hurting her somehow, you’ve continued to inflict pain over and over and over again in a way that feels intentional at worst, and negligent at best? Is it possible she WOULDN’T be saying or doing those things—is it possible she wouldn’t take that tone or act exasperated—if she felt loved, cherished, respected, wanted every day of her life as she believed she would when she accepted your proposal?

We believe things.

We believe so many things. I’m not good enough. He’s an asshole. She’s a bitch. They don’t like me. They don’t respect me. They don’t want to be with me.

And then we’re often wrong. But because we BELIEVE the thought or idea, we FEEL it as if it were true.

We feel anxious. Or angry. Or jealous. Or sad. Or stressed. Or afraid.

People who feel shitty—whether they want to or not—harm their relationships. Relationships are a resource for finding support and strength and hope and companionship during life’s most trying moments. But when the relationship itself is the source of life’s most trying moments, then people turn elsewhere for the relief, support, and hope that they need.

It’s an ugly little cycle hiding in shadows and whispers.

Everyone is so blindly certain that what they believe and feel is real and true, that we allow the gaps between what we think and what’s actually real to ruin beautiful things. Our connections to others. To ourselves. To what’s possible.

Kind, beautiful, decent people are married to other kind, beautiful, decent people.

They have kind, beautiful, and decent children, and kind, beautiful, and decent friends.

Everyone means well.

Everyone cares.

Everyone wishes for the best.

But everyone is human. They believe things. And not all of them are accurate or true. And operating on false beliefs, we just keep serving our subpar meatloaf to people who don’t really like it.

What might you be missing?

What might the people you love, mistakenly but understandably, believe that could be harming your relationship?

What might be possible if we begin to eliminate the gaps between what we believe about ourselves and one another with what’s actually true and real?

You don’t know it, but I love you. (Platonically, you dirties.)

The things that hide in the gaps aren’t things we realize are even missing. The things that end our marriages and break our families are things only discovered by asking questions we would never normally think to ask.

Our beliefs guide us on autopilot.

Our lives can break on autopilot.

Be different, please. Be more. Every hopeless and cynical belief is an opportunity to be pleasantly surprised.

Hope.

Not because things magically change, but because we can intentionally do things differently.

To 2019, and to each and every one of you.

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