Tag Archives: Marital affairs

Divorce is Bad, but Some Things are Worse

Escape the cage

(Image/Glogster)

Divorce is bad.

I wish it wasn’t a thing. I don’t mean Let’s ban divorce! I mean, I wish we didn’t live in a world where it was statistically likely that two people who invest their lives in one another, and share resources, and build their life’s foundation on top of this living arrangement, and often have children together, will eventually divorce and secretly wish they had never met their ex.

All of us who were married for a while privately roll our eyes at all those people who marry and divorce within a year or two. But really? They’re kind of lucky.

I was married nine years. Many other divorced couples were married MUCH longer.

And in a life where the clock always seems to tick louder with each passing year, we have a hard time reconciling the loss of that time.

More than a third of my life was invested in that relationship. And if my favorite little person on Earth hadn’t resulted from it, I’d have a hard time finding the silver lining in losing my twenties and early-thirties to an investment reminiscent of a Bernie Madoff dick in the ass.

At least I have a little boy to hang my hat on—to help justify the pain—even though my geography choices, finances and dating life suffer for it.

Childless divorcées have many more options as they take stock of their post-divorce lives, but maybe nothing of lasting value to pull from the experience.

Divorce is a necessary choice and freedom. Sometimes people find themselves married to mentally ill or straight-up evil frauds and abusers. Victims of domestic violence, sexual and verbal abuse, financial fraud, partners who endanger their children, infidelity, crime, and all the other sucky things that happen in this world, deserve the liberating choice to escape. To give themselves a new start where they can choose hope and reclaim their lives.

But I still hate it.

Divorce and all the accompanying shittiness are heavy contributors to most of the world’s wrongs.

There’s a huge (and growing) group of “progressive,” “enlightened” thinkers who believe everyone who gets married is simply brainwashed by hundreds of years of Puritanical influence, and that marriage and monogamy goes against our natural biological instincts as Eat-Sleep-Fuck mammals—that we’re all unwitting slaves to our primal urges.

I think they say that for two reasons:

1. For most people who never had to fight in wars, or stand in bread lines, or experience extreme violence or sexual assault, or lose someone super-close like a child or parent or spouse or sibling or best friend to an untimely death, divorce is the most difficult thing they have ever experienced.

I have a pretty positive disposition and, on paper, have lived a reasonably pleasant life. I like being alive and hope to stay this way for many years.

But throughout my separation and divorce, the thoughts and feelings I experienced were all so new and terrifying and unexpected. You either know what it feels like to completely lose control of yourself, or you don’t. You feel crazy. You hurt, fucking everywhere. Inside. Outside. In your chest. In your head. In your stomach. And no matter where you are. At work. Watching TV. The million times you wake up every night. During holidays. At parties. On dates with a stranger.

Everything feels wrong. And there’s no escape. We try to mask it with alcohol or sex or drugs or God or other forms of escapism. You don’t know as it’s happening that there’s no way around it. Just through it. And it feels impossibly long when you’re feeling it.

Once I realized I was going to feel that shitty no matter what I did—worse than I knew a person could feel on the inside, and no matter where I went, or who I was with—I finally understood how a person could take his or her own life. When there’s no escaping pain and horror, shutting it off somehow starts to make sense to a brain desperate for solutions. Just make this stop!

I never wanted to actually die. But I finally stopped being afraid of it. That oncoming semi-truck wants to cross over center and hit me head on? Bring it. I don’t give a shit anymore.

Once a human being has felt that, I can understand why they would be too afraid to put themselves in another vulnerable position to possibly feel it again. Self-preservation is a powerful instinct.

2. They don’t want to grow up. And I don’t blame them because I don’t want to grow up either. It’s juvenile and immature and impractical. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t a real feeling inside of us. We yearn for the innocence of childhood. Desperate for a life where all we have to do is hang out with our friends and play every day. Bottom line: Being an adult isn’t as fun as being a child. And some people (and I’m occasionally among them) are too selfish to choose responsibility over fun.

Brett and Kate McKay nail it in this excellent piece from The Art of Manliness:

“The world of children is made possible by the world of adults.

“When people say they don’t want to embrace adulthood, what they really mean is that they don’t want to be a grownup themselves, but they want to live in a world where everyone else is. They want competent, effective politicians to represent them; they want their journalists and doctors to be smart and level-headed with a comforting mantle of gravitas; they want their children’s teachers to be dedicated and on-the-ball; they want customer service to be friendly and efficient; they want police officers to be honest and fair. They want the world to be stable, predictable…so they can afford to be erratic and irresponsible. They want to be kids, but live in an adult world, where grownups are at the ready to take care of their every need.”

I think it’s possible to live in a society where most people have the smarts and know-how necessary to make their marriages an oasis of love and peace and goodness in their lives, rather than this unpleasant black hole of shit from which so many people crave escape.

I remain hopeful for a future where influencers take seriously the positive societal benefits of stable families and recognize the horribleness of divorce enough to start having real conversations about how to do it better.

All That Said, Yes, Your Spouse is an Asshole. GTFO.

The entire point of this post is supposed to be: Even though I’m a quasi-radical proponent of saving marriage and despise divorce, sometimes I’m like: What the hell are you WAITING for!?

I get lots and lots of blog comments and emails with awful marriage stories. Often, at the end of the story (sometimes people just need to tell someone), they ask for my opinion.

Here I am, a 36-year-old divorced guy hammering out pro-marriage messages on the internet. My mom and dad divorced when I was 4, and it probably fucked me up a little. My mom and stepdad divorced when I was 28, and it probably fucked me up a little more. My wife and I divorced when I was 33, and it felt so bad that suicide, while never an option (I promise), at least made sense.

I’ve never had a cause. But I think I have one now. I think this whole Hey World! Divorce is Horrible and You Seem to be Ignoring Just How Much, Which is Stupid, Here’s Why! crusade is the closest thing to a cause I’ve ever had.

It really matters to me. Because so much of it feels wasteful. Two decent people who don’t know better giving it their best shot without the information or resources they need to succeed in marriage. I think that’s most divorces. Those are the people I encourage to persevere. To choose courage. To choose love.

Two people who want to make it, can make it. 

But sometimes I get emails or blog comments from wives (and occasionally husbands) who have a different kind of story.

I’ll combine and paraphrase all of them into one, using the husband as the bad guy because that’s more than 90 percent of the stories I read: “My husband cheats on me and hits me and is never around and uses all our money to have fun and support his vices and affair partners. If he is home, he is never affectionate, doesn’t pay attention to the kids, and calls me a fat, nagging bitch (even though I’m trying to lose weight after bearing his children!) If I ever even hint at leaving him, he threatens me with money and the children. But I still love him and want to make it work! What should I do?”

First of all, everyone, ESTABLISH AND ENFORCE STRONG BOUNDARIES. Right now, please.

Secondly, it’s hard for me to understand how someone can be cheated on, physically or verbally abused, threatened, abandoned, neglected, and treated miserably by the one person in the world who made a spiritual and/or legal vow to love and cherish them forever, and still be like: “I’m just not sure what’s best! Maybe he’ll change!”

There are psychological and emotional forces at work I can’t begin to understand.

There are children. Innocent, precious little kids I’ll never meet who love their mommy and daddy just like four-year-old me did in 1983 when my father crouched down in front of me with tears in his eyes after a long day in court and said: “Matt. You are going to go live with your mommy far away in Ohio and you’re not going to see me very much anymore, but I want you to know how much I love you and that we will see each other every chance we get.”

And I think about those little kids who are going to carry all the same scars I did and probably still do. And I ask the mothers follow-up questions because trying to make it work for your kids isn’t as dumb a concept as some people think.

But then they write back and you just know. You know they have no chance.

Not because marriage is a failed idea. Not because humans are beyond redemption. Not because it’s just another example of two people falling out of love.

But because these men are not actually husbands.

Here’s how you can tell the difference:

Actions A, B, C and D cause your wife to hurt more than she has ever hurt before. She’s terrified and cries often. If you continue those things moving forward, you intentionally are choosing to inflict serious harm on her. By choosing those things, you lose her forever, and put your children through life-changing hell. By choosing those things, you lose everything.

When a husband/father figures this out, he strives to grow and change. He apologizes with unmistakable remorse. He demonstrates clear intentions to right his wrongs and makes choices moving forward that contribute to the welfare of his wife/family. That will happen 100-percent of the time.

Men like that are worthy of redemption. Tragically flawed, but good-hearted.

And then, there are the other guys.

The ones who figure it out, or already know, and continue to do A, B, C and D. Why? Because they want to.

That’s it. That’s the reason. Because they want to.

“That’s the whole thing? Those things matter more than me? Those things matter more than your children?”

And no matter what actual words come out of their stupid fuck-shit mouths, the answer is clearly “yes.”

These men (and women) have earned their inevitable comeuppance. You shouldn’t be aboard the same ship when it starts to sink.

Yes, I believe in honoring vows.

Yes, I believe in marriage and love (not the kind you feel; the kind you choose).

Yes, I hate divorce and think it is an underestimated destructive force in our world.

But sometimes, the union you’re part of isn’t an actual marriage.

And sometimes, people are in so much pain they can’t tell the difference.

We don’t want to be the ones to call it off. We don’t want to throw the time investment away. We don’t want to be the person “responsible” for ending the marriage by choosing divorce, and hurting our children, and disappointing our families, and creating dysfunction for our friends.

We want someone else to do the dirty work for us. Or maybe we just want someone to reassure us that it’s okay. Absolution that isn’t ours to give.

The moment you know your partner understands your pain and the real-world consequences of certain behaviors, but chooses them anyway?

Then. Right then. That’s when it’s time.

Run.

I wish it wasn’t a thing.

Divorce is bad.

But some things are worse.

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In Defense of Men

Underneath his mask of apathy, he wants to be a hero. I promise.

Underneath his mask of apathy, he wants to be a hero. I promise.

Men aren’t so bad.

We lead nations. Win wars. Build skyscrapers.

We fix things. Protect things. Create things.

We are often calm. Rarely petty. Good problem solvers.

All men want to be heroes.

I’ve written a series of blog posts titled “An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands.” There are four parts so far. I published Vol. 4 yesterday, and it is far and away the most-popular thing I’ve written.

Predictably, unhappy wives are drawn to it. It makes sense that they would be.

Marriage—or at least, relationship—trouble is unquestionably the human ailment that affects more adults than any other thing in the world.

And that makes sense, too. We are attracted to others. We find each other. Pair up. The honeymoon period is always awesome.

Then monotony sets in. And that’s when we learn about ourselves and our relationships.

That’s when we learn whether we’re going to let our feelings dictate our actions, or whether we’re going to let our decisions and resolve dictate them.

Many guys have commitment issues. When conversations involving “love” or “marriage” come up, lots of men run away.

I don’t like labels!” they might say.

I can’t explain this phenomenon. I can only share my experience.

I was afraid to commit to someone for the rest of my life, too. And then finally, I was in a relationship with my ex-wife, who I met when I was 18 and started dating when I was 21.

She was the first woman toward whom my fear of losing was greater than my fear of losing independence.

I proposed to her when I was 24. We were married a year later.

When men first get married, they have no idea what they’re doing. A small percentage of us figure it out and grow into the role. Most of us don’t. And we end up divorced, or with miserable wives.

When men first get married, they think they’re simply signing up for a permanent girlfriend. That what they’re experiencing in that moment is how it will always be. They’re simply agreeing to never have sex with anyone else again.

They don’t have any clue what is required of them to make a marriage work.

They stand in the reception line at their own wedding accepting little bits of marriage advice from the old timers walking through, smiling and nodding politely, and agreeing to always love and cherish her, but they’re not really listening.

They just want to go party with their friends.

The Ultimate Denial

It’s easy to point fingers at the dicks. The obvious dicks. The guys who physically abuse. The serial cheaters. The guys who go out with their friends and get drunk while their wives stay home raising children alone.

Men see guys like that and think: How bad can I really be!?!? At least I’m not like those losers. My wife is lucky to have me!

We’re in denial, you see.

Because we mean well. We have hearts. We care. We love. We are well-intentioned. We really, truly do love you more than anyone or anything else in the entire world. We would take a bullet for you. Run through fire for you.

You are why we go to work every day. In many instances, you are the very reason we live and breathe.

You give us something every man needs—purpose.

You validate our existence and give our lives meaning.

We feel this through every fiber of our being. Our brains are almost incapable of understanding how you don’t know it also.

Here’s why this is important: We—I shit you not—DON’T KNOW that we hurt you as badly and as deeply as we do.

They are accidental wounds.

I know what you’re thinking, ladies: “But Matt! I tell him over and over and over and over and over and over and over again! But nothing ever changes!”

You don’t want to hear this, but it’s true.

He thinks you’re crazy and overly emotional.

He thinks you’re crazy because he loves you more than anything and you’re suggesting that despite all of his sacrifices on behalf of your relationship, that he doesn’t.

He thinks you’re overly emotional because he’s a man. And men think that overly emotional = chemically imbalanced.

Men think calm is better than crazy.

Men think steadiness is better than overly emotional.

Men think the way they feel and experience the world is the way women feel and experience the world also, only women don’t handle it as calmly and coolly as they do. (I realize I’m making broad generalizations here. I understand there are always exceptions. But I do believe this covers most of us.)

When we love you more than anything and have mostly positive experiences with our friends. With our co-workers. With people we meet out in the world. With our other family members.

It’s nearly impossible for us to understand how we—the men who love you and swore off all others to be with you—can be your greatest source of pain and frustration.

It’s hurtful and discouraging to hear you say it.

And in the end, we don’t believe it. Because it doesn’t make sense to us.

It doesn’t make sense when everyone likes us except you. In our minds, you must be the problem.

Shame, Shame, Shame

The worst thing a woman can do to a man is make him feel ashamed.

In the end, all of the accusations, all of the sadness and hurt feelings wives report to their husbands, cause men to withdraw.

Women confuse this reaction with selfishness. With apathy. As a display of not loving a wife enough to validate her concerns.

It’s shame, ladies.

You have, probably without trying, just made your spouse feel inadequate. Like he’s not good enough.

He wakes up every day, goes to work to provide for you and any children that may exist. And all he wants is for you to feel proud of him. To respect him. To appreciate that he does this for you every day.

But you don’t feel proud of him. You feel like going to work is the bare minimum. You don’t respect him because you don’t feel like he respects you. You don’t appreciate him because he REALLY doesn’t appreciate how much of a load you carry.

In the end, he feels shame. Deep shame.

And all of the chemicals in his body—just as you have chemicals in yours—cause him to withdraw. Survival mechanism we inherited from our earliest ancestors.

Shame is at the root of most relationship problems. A silent relationship assassin.

And if I can sell unhappy wives on just one teeny, tiny thing, I hope I can sell you on the idea that you can help change your entire marriage by doing just ONE thing.

Always phrase your frustrations and fears in such a way that can’t be interpreted as: “You are the reason my life is shitty. I blame you for all of my problems. All that you do is not good enough.”

Because you simply can’t save your marriage communicating with him that way.

If you do, his shame will grow. He’ll withdraw further. And maybe that girl at the office that makes him feel sexy and brilliant and tells him so will poison your relationship even more, just as your fantasies about the other men in your life who don’t make you feel shitty like your husband does, poison it also.

I feel shame in ways I can’t articulate.

That I don’t make more money. That I’m not more attractive. That I’m not in better shape. That I’m not smarter. That I’m not funnier. That I couldn’t make the woman I love happy. That I have to tell people I’m divorced. That my five-year-old son has a fractured family because of my choices. That I don’t manage my life responsibly. That I procrastinate. That I do a poor job communicating with friends and family. That I’m selfish.

It’s darkness. On the inside. Potent darkness.

And it makes my daily pursuit of inner peace and happiness an incredible challenge.

Ladies, Men Are Not Your Enemy

Besides infidelity (which I believe happens mostly because people don’t know how to treat their spouses in the first place), the worst thing a man can do to a woman is abandon her emotionally.

I’m going to repeat this for any guys who might be reading.

Gentlemen, your greatest crime is leaving your wife alone in your relationship.

But Matt! I’m home every night! We have dinner together and sleep in the same bed every single night!”

She feels emotionally detached. I know you don’t understand that. It’s not your fault. You’re a guy. You won’t know what that feels like until she turns into Robot Spouse and completely shuts you out before starting her affair or leaving you. Please believe me when I tell you that you won’t like how that feels.

Being physically present isn’t the same as being emotionally and spiritually present.

Does this sound dumb to you? Like girl talk?

This is the difference between having a happy and satisfying life and marriage, and being a grumpy old man who lives sad and alone.

Basically, in terms of your time on Earth, this is the most-important lesson there is.

You need to treat your relationship with her as you would a project at work, as you would a strategy session on the football or battlefield, as you would any of the many problems you solve all the time. Because that’s what you are. A good problem solver.

And if she says your relationship is in trouble, I implore you to believe her. It’s so easy for you to believe everything is fine because your emotional needs are fewer than hers. So, you shrug her off. Everything’s fine! you tell her. Everything will work itself out! you tell yourself.

Everything WILL NOT work itself out.

FIFTY. PERCENT. DIVORCE. RATE.

You don’t think it’s going to be you. But it is. It is you.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Because you care. You DO love. She does matter to you.

Love your wife enough to admit you hurt her by accident. Believe her when she says it hurts. Then adjust. Adapt.

And ladies, I’m begging you to accept the truth that your husband loves you and—literally—is oblivious to the pain he causes. His chemical makeup prevents him from feeling what you feel, until he gets a taste of it himself.

I did. I got a heaping spoonful of it.

Changed my life.

But usually, once you go down that road, there’s no turning back.

I don’t know how to help you make him understand the pain he causes. To help you convince him to adjust his behavior in ways that will enhance and fortify your relationship.

I’d essentially be able to print money if I could solve that mystery.

But I do know this: You can be part of the solution. Part of this effort to make the world a better place by keeping families together.

And you can do so by believing the following:

  1. He loves you. Perhaps not how you want and need him to. But in his mind and heart, he loves you.
  2. He doesn’t understand that he hurts you. All the pain he’s causing is purely accidental. It’s NOT intentional. It doesn’t matter that you’ve told him 14 million times. You might as well have been speaking a foreign language. He doesn’t know. Please operate from that place when you’re talking to him, or about him.
  3. You can be part of changing your marriage and communication overnight by working REALLY hard at not making him feel ashamed. He doesn’t have any inadequacies that every other man on the planet doesn’t also have. Our DNA is all remarkably similar. Our shittiness just looks and feels different from guy to guy. But we all lack something.
  4. There is no human on the face of this Earth with whom you won’t have conflict. The hot guy at the coffee shop. The co-worker who flirts with you and makes you feel good. The guy writing on the Internet that really seems to understand how you feel. They are all human. Flawed. Selfish. Prone to mistakes. The grass is not greener over there. It’s not.

I believe in men.

We have exceptional guys in this world who don’t need help. And we have some guys that will never learn.

But the 90 percent in the middle?

They’re just human beings learning life lessons every day like the rest of us.

I don’t believe in unsolvable problems. And part of that reason is because I’m a man.

The man in your life probably doesn’t believe in unsolvable problems either.

Please fight for him.

Because underneath all that shame is a man who wants to do something heroic.

What’s a better story?

The one about the unhappy wife who ended up remarried to a divorced guy who’s only a better man because he experienced the agony of divorce also?

Or, the one about the unhappy wife who found a way to reach her husband? To touch his heart. His mind. And helped him grow. To become enlightened. Who watched him grow into the man she believed she was marrying in the first place.

The one about forgiveness. The one about redemption. The one about hope.

The one with the happy ending.

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