Tag Archives: Marriage problems

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

text message confusion by Hamilton Animatic

(Image/Hamilton Animatic)

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

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

friends laughing together

(Image/Video Block)

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

Strangers-mask by Horror News

(Image/Horror News)

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously.

Two Dumbass Kids and a Potentially Phantom Rivalry Over a Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes, I try to do that via text message.

Rife with peril, this is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes, the things that matter warrant a phone call.

Sometimes, No Response is a great choice.

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

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

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No, the Affair Didn’t Cause the Divorce

fractured glass

(Image/quotesgram.com)

Sometimes, a married person has an affair, and everyone screams: “Oh my God, Roger and Beth got divorced because he/she had an affair!!!”

Wrong.

And that’s bad because everyone sits around thinking: That was so stupid of [Insert Name Here] to do that. And now they’re divorced. I would never cheat on my spouse, and he/she would never cheat on me. So we have nothing to worry about.

No one is afraid of what ACTUALLY ends marriages.

Hurt, scorned spouses suffering from the fallout of betrayal hurt about as bad as humans can. Let’s not trivialize that agony, nor act like it doesn’t matter. But in the end, people burned by marital affairs fall into one of two camps:

1. Spouses Who Repeatedly Fail Their Partners Until the Pain of Feeling Neglected Outweighs Any Guilt They Might Feel From the Affair (By far, the most common.)

2. Spouses Who Were Excellent at Marriage and 100% Innocent Victims of Con Artistry

I’m not defending people who have affairs. Betrayal is a horrible thing to do to anyone. To do it to the person you vowed to love forever (and/or your child(ren)’s other parent, is next-level wretched).

The affairs make the headlines. The affairs are big and dramatic. The affairs are gossip-worthy.

So many people then think affairs end marriages, thus concluding: “If I simply don’t have affairs, I won’t get divorced!”

The root cause of the marriage failure goes ignored or undetected.

No lessons are learned. No one grows.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

NOTE: Regular readers of this blog are about to be bored with another overly wordy recap of things I always write, including the most recent post on Married Men Taxonomy. (Much of what’s below is stuff that spewed out of me while trying to write that post.)

Your time (and the time of any reader truly interested in improving relationships and marriage) would be better spent with this gem from Dr. Brent Atkinson which helps explain WHY couples struggle so mightly with communication, called “Core Differences in Ways of Maintaining Emotional Stability (Legitimately Different Ways of Navigating Life).”

It’s brilliant and important, and I’m certain you’ll recognize yourself and your partner in the words, and God-willing, maybe even find some answers you’ve been searching for.

The Everyday Divorce

Two adults voluntarily marry one another. Thousands of times per day, on average. Good people, too. They promise with all the sincerity they possess to love one another for life.

Five to 10 years later, half of them divorce and a large percentage of still-married people are sad, angry, scared, frustrated, having affairs, and often only still married because they feel trapped.

In the context of what’s at stake for all involved, and what people invest to be part of it, I’d call marriage (the institution) the biggest societal failure we have.

I also call it the biggest social crisis of our time, and I don’t think it’s even close to being an exaggeration.

The inability of human beings to functionally coexist with those they profess to love, have children with, and share homes and other resources with; and then the negative trickle-down effects of all those broken people and relationships and behavior models for the kids involved, causes damage to humanity and society that can’t be calculated.

It’s very bad.

Evil people aren’t causing this very bad thing. It’s a bunch of good people accidentally making mistakes — and because it’s not common knowledge that these things are mistakes, there isn’t enough awareness to solve the problem.

How the History of Cigarettes Can Save Marriage

Just in my lifetime (I’m 37), we’ve gone from smoking in airplanes and restaurants, and in the car with the windows rolled up and our kids in the backseat, to very little public smoking, and essentially ZERO people who don’t realize that smoking causes major health problems.

All it took was enough people giving a shit. Once a critical mass of people get it, everything changes forever.

I think the bad things that stem from broken families and divorce cause infinitely more societal harm than smoking does.

Hell, all I wanted to do in the midst of my own divorce was smoke and drink vodka.

People are getting divorced and breaking their marriages for the same reasons people used to accidentally die of lung cancer — they were making lifestyle choices based on incomplete or false information.

They simply don’t realize what they are doing has dire consequences.

So, Roger and Beth get married. Roger starts leaving a glass by the sink each night before bed. And each morning, Beth finds it sitting by the sink and wonders why he won’t just put it in the dishwasher. For a while, she puts it in the dishwasher or washes it herself.

But then other things like this start happening. Leaving shoes on the living room floor. Leaving damp towels on the bedroom floor. Leaving the toilet seat up (with the added bonus of pee stains on the toilet rim).

Beth finally speaks up.

Roger laughs it off, telling her she’s making a big deal about nothing.

The next time they have the conversation, Beth shares that it hurts her when these things happen — when even after asking him to do things differently, he continues to do it his way, regardless of the hurt she feels.

What Happens Next is Why Our Marriages End

(Note: These things don’t always manifest as husbands doing this, and wives doing that. There are exceptions. But it looks like this MOST of the time.)

She tries to explain why these things hurt her. A dish by the sink. Leaving laundry on the floor. Spending hours and hours playing video games or watching sports but being unwilling to spend 15 minutes replacing the lightbulb above the kitchen sink. For months.

Dishes and laundry and lightbulbs don’t matter to him. He doesn’t care and never will.

There’s no switch he knows how to flip to make himself care, not that he’d ever want to anyway. It all seems too minor. Life would suck if I let petty crap like this bother me!

Beth says it matters. But he “knows” it doesn’t.

The problem is not with me, Roger thinks. The problem is Beth’s emotional calibration! It’s wrong!

She lets inconsequential things negatively affect her, he thinks. And it all adds up to a simple fix: All I need to do is show her how silly and meaningless these things are. Once she learns how to feel like me, everything will be awesome.

He tells her: “That’s a stupid reason. Stop making such a big deal out of this. What are you going to do someday when something that’s ACTUALLY bad happens?”

That’s not theory. That’s pretty much exactly what I used to say to my wife every time I told her all of the things she said and felt didn’t matter.

Beth hears her husband, for the thousandth time, say her feelings don’t matter, aren’t real, are not his problem or responsibility, and that the quality of their relationship rests solely on whether she’s willing to start accepting things she finds unacceptable.

Because he has no intention of changing.

That’s when it gets scary. Because Beth realizes: Oh my God. He’s never going to change. This is my life. Where I must feel hurt and unloved every day until one of us dies. How did I get here?

She feels trapped and betrayed. She agreed to build a life with someone but he’s not keeping his promises. She withdraws.

She’s been hurt so many times, she can no longer carry on like she normally does. He asks what’s wrong. She drops the hammer: “I don’t feel like myself anymore. I feel like a stranger in my own life. I don’t know if I love you anymore.”

They start sleeping apart. Spending little time together. Hardly speaking.

He jerks off to internet porn, justifying it because she doesn’t want to touch him anyway. Beth knows it, too.

She fantasizes about the guy at work who is always so nice to her and actually listens to all the things Roger does not. This man really understands me!

When Home Stops Being Home

Everything they used to think, feel and believe about love and marriage morphs into something else.

They dread coming home at the end of the work day. It feels so much freer when they’re not trapped in that prison.

Gone are feelings of love. Gone is any sense of the values they grew up believing in and committed to when they married.

When every moment of every day hurts, and the rules people have always followed led them to the misery, then people start writing new rules.

When people feel dead inside, they just want to feel alive.

More months go by in the loveless, sexless marriage.

Beth or Roger finally crack, and take the marital affair plunge with someone they’d built an intimate relationship with, either at work or online.

That’s usually where the story ends.

But Then Everyone, Including Divorcees Themselves, Get it Wrong

“Oh my God, Roger and Beth got divorced because he/she had an affair!!!”

Everyone who knows them writes off another relationship due to heinous, inexcusable actions of the person who had the affair. No one really sees how everything poisoned and fractured along the imperceptibly slow march toward their deaths.

All those smokers were dying of respiratory illnesses, but the doctors just kept smoking their cigarettes and scratching their heads about their patients’ cause of death. Everyone stood around the funeral parlor smoking cigarettes and saying: “Frank was so young and healthy. This is so sad and unexpected.”

And for the longest time, no one ever learned anything.

It’s NOT okay that the affair happened.

But intellectually honest people recognize that the affair never, ever comes close to happening without the smaller marital indiscretions slowly eroding the relationship leading up to it.

Our marriages don’t fail JUST because we’re shitty at marriage.

Our marriages fail because everyone just keeps on metaphorically smoking and blaming the resulting lung cancer on anything and everything except the sick person’s choices.

Our marriages fail because we’re shitty at marriage, and even with a failure rate of more than half, nobody realizes it.

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Poor Meal Planning Can End Your Marriage

(Image/quickenloans.com)

(Image/quickenloans.com)

“My DH (Darling Husband) makes me want to kill him over dinner. Kill him. I don’t know why 30 minutes that occur exactly the same way each day can drive us to such rage. Marriages would be so much better without dinner.” – A wife, speaking for many

Before my wife and I were married, we sometimes fought about dinner plans.

I thought it was stupid and wasn’t afraid to say so. Like: Just eat food! Who cares?! I thought.

Figuring out what to do for fun, making sure I was getting to class or work, keeping my schedule clear for Cleveland Browns football games—now THOSE were important.

Having a conversation about what we were eating later that night, or God forbid, later in the week? Who in the hell could ever know what they might want? Why would someone subject themselves to that? And why does it matter?

I didn’t care. It’s because I was 21, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, pasta with canned sauce, Hamburger Helper, fast food, pizza, Chinese takeout, and boxed macaroni & cheese weren’t just acceptable—they were awesome.

But she cared. “We can’t eat the same three things every night. People eat dinner, Matt. Eating dinner requires a little thought as to what might be needed from the store to make those meals.”

It all came back to me while reading this comment on an internet message board:

“My H seems to think that dinner is magic and just shows up. No planning, no groceries required, etc. When I ask him on Sunday at 8 a.m. what he wants for dinner, he gets all annoyed. Um, I have to defrost or go to the store. Thanks,” she wrote.

I remember getting annoyed about things like this, too. I’d be watching or reading or playing something, and then my girlfriend/fiancée/wife would have the audacity to ask me what I wanted to eat for dinner.

Sometimes the easy and delicious path of least resistance like ordering pizza would win the day. Other times it wouldn’t because she wanted to, like, eat vegetables and stuff.

On the list of Common Marriage Domestic Disputes I perceive wives to be “right” about that accidentally selfish shitty husbands should come around on if they want to stay married, Dinner was the first one to rear its head in my relationship, and one of the few I actually did a decent job of adjusting to through the years, but maybe that’s only because I have a legitimate passion for cooking.

Dinner is one of those things that starts the long, slow, nearly imperceptible fracturing and eventual breakup of marriages.

It seems like such a harmless and innocuous topic. An argument about dinner? DINNER?! That’s one of those topics boyfriends/fiancés/husbands get pissed about once it transitions from Typical Disagreement to Actual Fight.

Ummm. I LOVE you. LOVE. Stop starting fights over stupid crap like food! Your warped sense of reality is really disturbing!

We do love them, us oblivious guys. But we also think anyone who would FIGHT over what to have for dinner has serious issues. We think we’re cool for giving her a pass. We think we’re loving for staying with her even though this is one of those “batshit-crazy” moments.

Because someone linked to one of my posts in a message board thread, and I clicked on it to discover what it was about, I stumbled on this GBCN (Goodbye Cruel Nest) thread where the original poster asked the community if she was overreacting to a situation with her husband.

The quick-and-dirty version is that she does most of the domestic heavy lifting around the house, mostly taking care of their daughter, and mostly always taking care of housework and dinner prep. For a short time, their routine was interrupted when on Tuesdays, she couldn’t get home until 8:30 p.m. instead of the typical 7 p.m.

When she’d come home and there was no food prepared or thought put into dinner, she asked if he could do that moving forward, and was surprised he hadn’t thought of it on his own. For a few weeks after, he did.

Then, another Tuesday rolled around, and when she got home—no dinner. He forgot, he said.

“It just seems very ‘clueless husband’ to me to be all ‘oh, dinner? you don’t say!’ especially after I have laid out my expectations to him in the past,” she said.

I started reading through the thread.

I was struck once again by how common these Shitty Husband traits seem to be. I thought it was interesting how many wives reported “We’re married to the same husband!” but it didn’t really surprise me because these patterns emerge in divorce story after divorce story to the point where it all starts to look depressingly predictable.

Five different wives (speaking for many!) said essentially the same thing:

“I would be annoyed but that sounds like my husband exactly.”

“I would be mad, but this is totally something my H would do.”

“In short, yes it would drive me crazy, because I’ve seen it happen in my house before. But I’d probably just remind him (‘nag’) over and over in the future.”

“My husband is lovely, but spacey sometimes, so I find it most effective if I articulate expectations.”

“If I don’t spell it out, he’s clueless. He admits this and welcomes a list so he knows what to do. Why stuff that is so simple to us is so difficult for them, I’ll never understand.”

This is hard for wives to understand sometimes, and I don’t know how to explain it, but I’ve tried. I don’t know why it’s so common for men to be oblivious, thoughtless and clueless about things like this.

Probably some combination of parental enabling while growing up and poor boundary enforcement from their partners early in relationships.

Divorce. It’s What’s for Dinner.

Will she REALLY leave you, break up your family, and start a new life because you leave dishes by the sink?

Yep.

And she’ll do the same thing over your failure to help with dinner.

“It would bother me immensely. IMMENSELY.” – A wife, speaking for many

And divorce is so much shittier than meal planning. It really is.

The original author of the dinner post asked whether her anger was justified. Like, borderline-divorce-level pissed.

82% said yes. 93% said yes or maybe.

“The helpless husband act makes me rage. A grown man should be able to use his own brain and realize dinner is a thing that he needs to take care of.” – A wife, speaking for many

When husbands blow off their responsibilities around the house, no matter how innocent the inaction was, nor how irrational they consider their wives to be, they make her feel one of two things: Rage or Like His Mom.

As those experiences pile up, things tend to end badly.

Bad News—You Don’t Get to Dictate What Matters to Other People

I don’t know whether it’s because I was smart, but immature and unwise; or because I was a monumentally huge asshole with zero self-awareness; or because I was actually a dumbass moron, but I used to think my opinions about things were a fair metric for evaluating situations and how I should treat people.

I think I still do this, but tend to recognize it much faster than never, as was the case back then.

My wife was upset about DISHES. How petty! I’m right and she’s wrong, so now I don’t have to care about the thing that’s upsetting her!

My wife was upset about DINNER. Her capacity for love is smaller than mine, therefore SHE is the one who sucks! I know how to really love in marriage and she doesn’t as evidenced by her valuing silly things like meal planning!

The crash back to earth is painful and embarrassing, but I’d encourage everyone to try the life strategy of not automatically assuming you’re right about everything, which forces you to assume the worst about the intellectual and emotional capacity of everyone who disagrees with you.

It’s not a good thing, especially since you’re probably wrong.

My wife wasn’t REALLY upset about the dishes.

“Guys, the point isn’t that [she] and her H could eat a quick dinner. It’s that she cooks on ‘her nights’ (i.e. every night they don’t eat out) and he doesn’t even think of dinner if she doesn’t remind him. It is not on [her] to come up with quick easy meals because her H can’t/won’t cook.” – A wife, speaking for many

My wife wasn’t REALLY upset about the dinner thing.

“I feel like we are giving the H all these excuses for why there was no dinner. We are giving him an excuse that maybe dinner isn’t important to him or not something he cares about.
It doesn’t matter. It was important to [her] that she eat. So even if she came home and he said ‘here honey, I made you a bowl of cereal’ at least it showed that he considered that she may want to eat. He didn’t even consider her needs. She got home and mentioned dinner and he acted like she suggested they paint the living room
Sometimes I make some dinner for my [daughter] and I and I know it won’t last for reheat but I always ask my H when he will be home or I suggest he get something at work because I didn’t make him anything. I always consider his empty stomach.”
– A wife, speaking for many

My wife was upset because when I had numerous opportunities to demonstrate—not even GOOD partnership—but simply EQUAL partnership which would have almost kind of-sort of come close to giving her as much as I was receiving, I didn’t.

It wasn’t intentional.

That was always my defense. Accidental neglect.

Accidentally killing people isn’t nearly as horrible as intentionally murdering them, but the result for the innocent victim is always the same.

A husband must learn to see past the dirty dish, and see past the forgotten or neglected dinner.

A husband must learn to anticipate needs, and actively care and empathize enough to take action, no matter how inconvenient.

That’s what it looks like to shovel the coal necessary to keep the train moving.

Unless, of course, he really misses eating those peanut butter & jelly sandwiches alone every night.

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Vows, Bullshit and Personal Responsibility

bullshit large

bonbon2 wrote:

“I don’t think it’s a wife’s responsibility to make husband understand what he should know, he is not a teenager anymore, he doesn’t need to make her wife another mother to him and should grow up and be a sensible adult. It’s not a wife’s duty to educate her husband. It’s not that he doesn’t understand, it’s that he DOESN’T want to understand, and to me it seems a very stupid way to ruin your own marriage like that. If that’s my husband who still needs me to educate him this and that, I would rather get a clean divorce from this man, to save myself some trouble. Men need to understand that she is your WIFE, NOT your MOTHER, don’t turn your wife into your mother and then blame her for not treating you in a way of a supposedly wife. I’ve seen too many men doing this and then whining about their wife and their marriage.

Please guys, you all can do better than this, don’t wait for your girlfriend or wife to repeat themselves a thousand times and get disappointed eventually, you all can do the education by yourselves and stop making her feeling she has to leave. She doesn’t have an obligation to educate her man, but she does have to take full responsibility to live a happy life, even if that means a divorce for her.

I really hope all women, regardless of each of our marital status, to know that we have the obligation to our happiness in life, and it’s our own responsibility fully. Maybe your boyfriend or husband makes you sad, but it doesn’t mean you can’t live happily ever again. Sometimes marriage just isn’t the solution. We are the solution to a happy life.

Wife isn’t dead inside, wife seems dead because she is still in this marriage with him. Once a woman leaves her shitty marriage, she can be herself again because she isn’t dead inside.”

I try hard to not be combative.

Combative people are never happy because they’re always at odds with someone, and never content or satisfied. And if I’ve learned anything valuable in adulthood, it’s that all anyone ever really wants is to be content. Or “happy,” if you prefer. I use them interchangeably.

Sometimes people think: “That’s not true! What I really want is to accomplish my life goals! To have a lot of money! Or to have a great job! Or to have lots of orgasms! Or to have a great relationship! Or the opportunity to make a difference in the world! Or to have a great family! Or to have my dream home and nice cars! Or to get high all the time! Or to travel and have amazing vacations and life adventures!”

Not everyone figures out that they want all those things BECAUSE they—consciously or subconsciously—believe those things will bring them happiness and make them feel good.

Everything—EVERYTHING—we chase in this life is rooted in our internal desire to feel good. To attain peace. To achieve happiness.

Combativeness is a surefire way to always have drama and conflict in our lives and never achieve goals.

But, screw it. Sometimes I make bad decisions.

Some things are stupid. And it’s irresponsible to not point them out.

Silly policies at my son’s school. Ridiculous corporate policies or inefficient workflow at my job. And once in a while? Other people’s observations and opinions.

Sometimes, things are soooooo bullshitty that I just can’t help myself. I just have to shout it from the rooftops: “Wow! Look at that thing over there! It’s REALLY bullshitty! Even more bullshitty than all the regular-sized bullshitty things I see!”

That’s how I feel about bonbon2’s comment above, which was written in response to one of my comments on An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1.

That if you imagine a gigantic—I mean COLOSSAL—mountain of bullshit, you would need beachball-sized bullshit-hail to rain on it nonstop for months to reach the pinnacle of the giant bullshit mountain I’m describing.

I feel like everyone probably gets it now, but just in case you don’t, feel free to go back and read the comment again, and then come back and read the following sentence:

That comment is total bullshit.

Marriage: Before and After, Because There’s a Difference

I’m not suggesting everything this person wrote is patently false. For example, comments like this are right on: “Men need to understand that she is your WIFE, NOT your MOTHER, don’t turn your wife into your mother and then blame her for not treating you in a way of a supposedly wife.”

I agree with this one too: “Please guys, you all can do better than this, don’t wait for your girlfriend or wife to repeat themselves a thousand times and get disappointed eventually, you all can do the education by yourselves and stop making her feeling she has to leave.”

And if we take a few sentences out of context from which they were written, I might agree with them also. But basically every other utterance is total crap.

1. Taking Responsibility Goes Both Ways

Unless you are held at gunpoint in front of a marriage official, suffer amnesia or some type of head trauma that fundamentally changes your conscious self, are married to someone who develops amnesia or experiences life-altering head trauma, or married an intentionally deceptive con artist (which I’ll allow liberal interpretation of, because some guys really are dicks), then you are TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR WHO YOU MARRY.

Because the vast majority of men do not change much after marriage. In fact, THAT’s a huge part of the problem. Men often crave routine and stability, and want to do the same things over and over again. Bad habits from the single life sometimes remain, and staleness from routine sometimes sets in. Their wives get pissed about the bad habits and ask them to change, OFTEN not getting the response they need or want. That perceived lack of respect, combined with monotonous boredom festers into feelings of loneliness and neglect. As she gets more upset, he withdraws further because it’s how he naturally and chemically responds to conflict with his partner.

The cycle lasts until someone has an affair and/or leaves.

I’m not going to entertain the idea that millions of men are getting married and then fundamentally changing who they are on the inside. The next time I see that will be the first time.

Here’s an idea: Take some fucking responsibility for who you chose to marry. Because you had UNLIMITED time to choose the person you agreed to exchange forever-vows with.

I understand that when we’re young, we can’t know what we don’t know, and that young women aren’t unreasonable for assuming their husbands might evolve and grow in many of the same ways they do in a marriage. It just so happens that in real life, it tends to not work that way.

But I’m not going to stand idly by while angry wives point fingers calling for men to grow up and take responsibility while not taking any themselves.

There ARE victims in this world. You know them based on the facts of an individual’s story. No question, some spouses get TOTALLY screwed. I’ve seen it plenty.

But that’s not what usually happens. What usually happens is two good people get married with the best of intentions and ACCIDENTALLY ruin their marriage through hundreds of little decisions they didn’t know were important at the time.

Our lives are the sum of our choices, from our earliest memories to right this second.

OWN IT.

2. Don’t Take Vows if You Don’t Mean Them

I hate to break it to you, bonbon2, but after you say “I do” and promise all that shit in front of spouse, God and country, it kind of DOES become your responsibility to help your husband be a better husband if that’s what it takes to save your marriage.

bonbon 2 wrote: “She doesn’t have an obligation to educate her man, but she does have to take full responsibility to live a happy life, even if that means a divorce for her.

“I really hope all women, regardless of each of our marital status, to know that we have the obligation to our happiness in life, and it’s our own responsibility fully. Maybe your boyfriend or husband makes you sad, but it doesn’t mean you can’t live happily ever again. Sometimes marriage just isn’t the solution.”

Well, that’s great bonbon2!

You’ve just alleviated every married man or woman of all responsibility for the rest of their lives! Awesome!

Now men can leave their wives guilt-free after gaining weight from childbirth because she didn’t “take responsibility for her physical health” and that doesn’t make him “happy”!

Now every time a wife would like her husband to help her solve a problem, from opening a jar, to fixing the brakes on her car, to properly setting up a new electronic gadget she isn’t comfortable using, he can say: “Sorry babe! I don’t have an obligation to help or educate you! You’re an adult, so you can just figure it out all by yourself! It’s not my responsibility to help you because it sounds like more trouble than it’s worth. I’d rather get divorced since what I’m really responsible for is my own happiness in life!”

For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and health. Until death do us part.

Remember that shit?

DON’T SAY IT IF YOU DON’T MEAN IT.

You don’t have an obligation to educate your boyfriend on what it takes to be a good husband any more than I am obligated to avoid walking into an ISIS camp and calling them assholes.

But when a bunch of bad shit happens afterward, shouldn’t we be big enough to admit our choices were unwise?

Men get things wrong in marriage all the time. And I think if men collectively came to understand what I think I now understand, and then acted accordingly, the divorce rate would drop 80-90 percent.

Men have a HUGE responsibility to help keep families and marrages intact, and that’s what I dedicate much of my writing time to saying.

But I don’t give wives free passes. I just think all the things wives get wrong happen in response to some bullshit their husbands did. So if the husbands get it together, maybe their wives won’t accidentally push them away while trying to make their homes and marriages the best they can be.

Sure, husbands get a lot wrong. I did. And millions just like me are doing the same things right now. I hate it.

But if you’re the kind of person who thinks trying to EFFECTIVELY communicate your wants and needs to your spouse in an effort to educate them on things they might honestly NOT KNOW OR UNDERSTAND is more trouble than it’s worth, then you’re every bit part of the problem.

But feel free to enjoy the view from the top of Mount Bullshit.

Don’t forget to take deep breaths. The air is thinner up there.

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Could the Loss of Tribe be Jeopardizing Your Marriage?

(Image/Carl Fleming)

(Image/Carl Fleming)

Because I’m an only child, my friends have been hugely important to me forever, and I think it was an unidentified factor in my divorce.

From grade school through high school and college, I was immersed in social activity. When I was little, I was playing at friends’ houses. When I was in high school, I was involved in team sports, or part-time jobs or doing things typical of a teenage boy in the mid- to late-‘90s. My college years were unquestionably my favorite from a How I Felt on the Inside standpoint.

I lived with my friends. Good friends. And we were, most of the time, doing whatever we wanted.

Little stress. Tons of laughter. An almost inexplicable amount of social connection, all accomplished without social media which was still a few years away from being a fundamental part of our societal fabric.

We weren’t carrying our challenges alone. Oh, you need your furniture moved from your apartment to a storage unit for the summer? Bam. Here are three or four guys willing to do it at the drop of a hat. Our massive social inner circle in college didn’t consist of many fraternity or sorority members, but if fate or happenstance hadn’t brought us all together—male and female, alike—I can see why students would want to be a part of them. After leaving the safety net of our hometowns and high schools, we crave involvement, acceptance, and being part of something bigger than ourselves.

Of course we like being with our families. We also like dating and being with our girlfriends or boyfriends. We totally like spending one-on-one time with our closest friends.

But nothing can replace this critical and fundamental part of our lives which has existed for as long as we can remember, and which grows steadily in importance from grade school through the end of our college years.

Our tribes.

Sudden Tribe Loss and Isolation

My negligent ignorance isn’t the only reason my marriage failed. I spent MY ENTIRE LIFE, just, living. I only knew what I knew. And what I knew was: I feel best when I’m with friends—the more, the merrier—and I am a good, happy, confident person. I am well-adjusted with a huge group of friends, supportive family, with the résumé, writing chops and charisma to justify my goal of writing Pulitzer Prize-winning stories at huge daily newspapers.

I had a 21- to 22-year data sample of knowing exactly who and what I was.

And then, in less than one calendar year, most of us graduated and moved away. But even in the end, after so many of the oldest tribe members had gone, we could still round up 40 or more people for a great party any time we wanted. That’s how kick-ass college was.

And then it was my turn.

My girlfriend and I had been together for a year, and we were making long-term plans. We agreed to move to Florida together from our more-than-20,000-student university in Ohio. A decent mid-sized newspaper on Florida’s Gulf Coast hired me for a business-writing gig. My girlfriend took a job at a marketing agency.

Overnight, two 22-year-old kids went from a lifetime of nothing but friends and family and constant involvement and community, to social isolation and nothing but one another to lean on. We were more than a thousand miles away from our hometowns and you could really feel the distance. My eventual wife missed her family desperately and knew within a few months in Florida that she wanted to be back home. And while I missed my family too, I had spent my entire life living apart from either my mother and her extended family, or my father and his extended family, and was emotionally equipped to deal with it.

But I lost something I never imagined a need to account for: The tribe.

We lived in a sleepy retirement community that would probably be amazing today as 36-year-olds, but mostly blew ass as fresh-faced young professionals dealing with culture shock on a variety of emotional, social, professional and financial fronts. We made wonderful friends and did our best, but only flying home for that rare wedding or holiday gathering could ever fill that tribal void.

Everything came to a head at the wedding of one of my best friends. We were tight all the way through high school, and I lived with him for four years of college. My girlfriend and I flew back to attend. I was a groomsman.

Because I had gone to grade school and high school with both the bride and groom, as well as four years of college with the groom, I knew pretty much everyone there. Tons of high school friends. Tons of college friends. Tons of familiar parent and sibling faces. After being away for two years, combined with heavy drinking, it wasn’t hard to get nostalgic.

I’ve written hundreds of times about crying throughout the hardest days of my separation and divorce. This night, as I drunkenly said bye to hundreds of people as they scrambled off to hotels or after-parties or back home, was the first time I remember crying as an adult. And pretty hard, too. Hugging guys goodbye, I mostly kept it together, but I remember riding shotgun in the passenger seat of a car driven by the first friend I made after moving to my hometown when I was just 6. That’s when I broke down. With my girlfriend sitting in the back next to some newlyweds who would end up being our future son’s godparents five years later. It was a drunken, totally embarrassing shit show that still evokes a little bit of shame. But perhaps no moment in my life more clearly emphasizes how critical my tribe was to my life and identity.

I am more me when surrounded by friends and family than under any other circumstances. The me I like most. The me I’m proud of.

Even back in Ohio for the past decade, I still feel that daily void because I’m a couple hundred miles from my hometown family and friends, and more recently with the loss of my large in-law family following the divorce.

I can’t explain it better than it’s written in this excerpt from Why Growing Up Is Hard to Do (But Why the World Still Needs Adults):

Isolation and the Loss of Tribe

“For most adults, the period of life they are most nostalgic for is high school and/or college. The longing for this period is usually chalked up to a desire to return to a time when they weren’t so freighted with life’s responsibilities. Surely that is part of it, but I think the real reason we miss our youth is often overlooked: it was the last time in our lives when we experienced a sense of “tribe.”

In high school and college, most of us had a group of great friends we saw on a daily basis. Many of us ran with a “gang” of guys, that sometimes joined with a posse of gals, forming a coed tribe that was enormously fun to hang out with.

Then, folks grew up, paired off, got hitched, and had kids. Few adults see their friends on a daily basis; the lucky see each other weekly, and for most, scheduling times to get together isn’t easy. It is then no wonder we get nostalgic for our younger days; it represents the last time our lives resembled the primordial pattern.

In hunter-gatherer tribes, male gangs hunted and battled together. Female posses raised their kids together. Everyone lived and worked together each day with dozens of others. Burden and joys were shared. One’s whole identity was tied up in being part of this tribe.

Today, we have never been more isolated. Many folks don’t even live near their extended kin, and the nuclear family is increasingly marooned on the desert island of the suburbs. Men (and women) go off to work in a cubicle with a bunch of fellow employees they may feel no real kinship with. Many women spend all day enclosed in the four walls of their home, cut off from all other humans, save their inarticulate toddler. Many people, male and female alike, are lonely and unhappy because they are without a tribe.

The heavy and undesirable weight of adulthood is often mistakenly chalked up to the burden of adult responsibilities alone. But the problem is not adulthood itself, but how it is currently being carried. The weight of earning a livelihood, and rearing one’s children, which was meant to be borne by numerous shoulders, is now supported by just a pair. Husband and wife rely on one another for all their emotional fulfillment and practical needs. The strain is more than an individual, or the nuclear family, was meant to bear.

So, (another) reason it’s hard to grow up is that the weight of adulthood feels hard to shoulder when you’re carrying it alone, instead of with a tribe.”

The Loss of Tribe and Its Effect on Your Marriage

This wasn’t supposed to be about me. It was supposed to give married or long-term couples something to think about, because I think when we go through major life changes, we are sometimes blind or ignorant to some of the hidden dangers inherent in those changes.

My girlfriend/fiancée/wife openly expressed displeasure with my constant longing for the big-group social life I’d always known. She was content with four-person dinner parties, and preferred them. With age, I grew to enjoy them more too. But I could never shake (and still haven’t) the deep, organic desire to be part of a large social circle and reclaim that vibrant social life.

Sometimes I get together with large groups when visiting family or friends back home, or at big (by adulthood standards) parties with a group of college friends. With the exception of the priceless father-son moments I’m blessed to have, nothing feels like home quite like these moments.

I think my wife saw it as a sign of immaturity. An unwillingness to grow up. I think she thinks I wanted to drink excessively and smoke pot all the time like we did in college. But that’s really not it. And any guy reading this who still regularly sees his band of brothers will appreciate the distinction. It’s the togetherness that matters more than the specific activity.

I think my wife felt disrespected and possibly even pangs of inadequacy because of it. Almost like because I wanted to be part of a large crew (or back with my old one again) that I was saying You’re not good enough! I need more than you can provide! I’d rather be with my friends than you! And she didn’t like it.

There isn’t one member of my excellent group of old or current friends I want to live with every day for the rest of my life. In a lifetime of thriving in a borderline-village-like family and social life, I simply wished I had more time with them built into my life.

My wife accidentally (she wasn’t being shitty; she was being emotional and wanted me to feel like she was more than enough to be happy) made me feel ashamed of my desire for a social life independent from her. Not that she wasn’t invited and welcome to be a part of it. She simply didn’t want to be. I think some couples are good at both being part of the same tribe. It just worked out for me that I married a more-private, more-introverted person who preferred small groups.

Her “tribe” cravings were satisfied by moving back near her hometown, and it was her family that filled that support network void for her.

She and a smattering of new friends were all I had to lean on.

And maybe that wasn’t enough for me, without me realizing it. Maybe neglecting and denying this fundamental part of me in favor of trying to make my wife happy ended up accidentally causing more harm than good. And maybe this same conflict (which people may or may not be discussing with their spouses) is causing unspoken, and even undetected, conflict in many other relationships.

We grow up whether or not we want to.

And everything feels a little bit harder and a little bit heavier as time marches on. We lose things. Family members. Friends. Jobs. Money. Lifestyles. We gain things. Marriages we don’t know how to nurture. Children we don’t know how to raise. Debts we don’t know how to pay. Weight we don’t know how to shed. Guilt we don’t know how to let go of.

It feels hard to be an adult.

And I’m wondering just how much this cultural loss-of-tribe dynamic might be playing a role in that. How much of all this burdensome adulthood stuff is more difficult because now it’s just us in our private homes trying to do everything alone that not long ago in our evolutionary history, was being done by an entire village? By a community? By a tribe?

Just like men are often oblivious to the emotional needs of their wives, I’m wondering to what degree women might be oblivious to this need their husbands or boyfriends feel, and maybe also feel for themselves. The need to be part of something bigger.

Maybe being part of a tribe is more important than we think.

Maybe wives and mothers, husbands and fathers SHOULDN’T be solely responsible for fulfilling the needs of their partners and children.

Maybe people AREN’T always practicing neglect or immaturity by needing the support of friends, or going out with them.

Maybe it’s something more of us almost need to do.

Maybe it’s something we need to better understand.

And just maybe, if we do, more of us will find what we’ve been looking for.

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Why Couples Always Have the Same Fight

(Image/Huffington Post)

(Image/Huffington Post)

There are always exceptions to the rule. People who never smoke sometimes die of lung cancer, and some smokers live to 95.

If he’s drunk and hitting his wife and kids, or she’s a serial cheater while faking a happy-wife façade; or addiction, mental health, or sexual abuse is involved in a marriage, this conversation changes.

But that’s not what usually happens.

What usually happens is two perfectly cool, sane, healthy, decent people get married—probably a little sooner than they should—with both innocently and naively believing it’s always going to feel just like it does right now. It’s basically just like being Forever Boyfriend and Girlfriend! We can do that!

They love one another. They pledge faithfulness genuinely. They exchange wedding vows with the best of intentions.

And then, like clockwork, more than half of them are totally miserable within five to seven years. One or both are having affairs, or at least thinking about it, because they just want to feel something again. He’s jerking off in the shower or to late-night internet porn instead of having sex with her. She’s crushing on pretty much any non-creepy guy paying attention to her and making her feel special because her husband never makes her feel important anymore.

They’ll eventually divorce, or possibly stay together “for the kids” in silent misery, ensuring that pretty much every day is shitty for the rest of their lives.

What the Fight Looks Like

Sarah asked me: “Do you have thoughts on WHY men are (typically) so quick to blame hormones when they feel as though the women in their lives are acting unreasonably? Is it that it can so easily be used as a copout (why look to yourself for answers when it is probably her problem)? Or is it that many men really believe we are total victims to our ovaries?”

And yes. I have all kinds of thoughts on why this happens. In fact, I’m pretty sure I know exactly why men and women seem like they’re always repeating the same fight over and over again.

And it shouldn’t be a secret because divorce is bad.

Here’s what I think happens:

She gets upset about something she thinks is important, but he doesn’t. It could be any number of things. Leaving dishes in the sink. Leaving laundry on the floor. Tracking mud through the house right after she cleaned. It doesn’t matter what the actual thing is.

What matters is that for the rest of the conversation, neither person is talking about the same thing, because neither person actually understands what the other’s (legitimate) problem is.

To the wife, this is just another example of him not respecting her enough to demonstrate thoughtfulness about how his actions affect her. It’s not really about the dishes or the laundry. It’s more about the general pattern of behavior.

But that’s not what he thinks the conversation is about.

He thinks she’s actually mad about the glass in the sink or the pair of pants he left on the nightstand.

He thinks: “What kind of insane person would want to have a horrible fight and ruin our night and make our marriage out to be a trainwreck over something as insignificant as laundry or a dirty dish? I am never this irrational! If she thinks laundry is more important than our marriage, her priorities are warped, and she must not love me.”

And she thinks: “I cannot trust this man. I can’t count on him. He does NOT respect me. He never apologizes for hurting me because he doesn’t think it’s a big deal. He always tells me how what I think and feel is wrong or dumb. I have all these feelings and I know I’m not crazy, but he NEVER acknowledges them as important or worth his attention. He thinks ‘proving’ his point and winning our arguments are more important than my feelings. He doesn’t care. He must not love me.”

Both husband and wife settle on logical conclusions that make a lot of sense. But both are also totally mistaken! And the only way for them to figure it out is to learn the secret.

Most people get so pissed with each other, they don’t even want to. They don’t WANT to figure out how to make him or her feel better. Because THEY are clearly the problem! My next partner won’t make me feel this way!

Before long, everyone stops putting effort into the marriage. Some people start sleeping with someone else. A marriage can survive on life-support for a while, with just one person making a go of it. But once both quit, it’s effectively over.

Most of us just aren’t strong enough to handle the mental and emotional anguish we feel when our marriages fall apart. Nothing in our lives up to that point could have prepared us for it. It’s all very new and terrifying, and there’s no instruction manual for what to do next.

A troubled marriage CAN be saved.

But since most husbands and wives don’t understand how one another actually work on the inside, the marriage breaks down imperceptibly slow—especially to the husband who has yet to connect the dots about what his wife is really upset about.

If the husband thinks the only problems in his marriage are teeny little fights over laundry on the floor or dirty dishes in the sink, he’s liable to be blindsided by the news she’s unhappy and contemplating divorce.

Wives feel like they’ve been really clear about their feelings up to this point. Yet, husbands are like: Wha-!? Why didn’t you say anything!?

Wives think he’s dumb and oblivious and disengaged.

Husbands think she’s gone off the emotional deep end once again.

Wives know their husbands are reasonably smart, so they can’t figure out how he could be so dense as to not understand her after hundreds of these conversations. She can only conclude that he doesn’t give a shit.

Husbands know their wives are reasonably smart, so they can’t figure out why she doesn’t acknowledge his perfectly logical conclusion: “Ummm. A pair of pants on the floor or an empty glass in the sink is NOT worth fighting over and further damaging our marriage! Why would she rather fight than keep the peace?” He can only conclude that she’s a little bit crazy.

He doesn’t know the laundry is linked to a hundred other things inside her, all of which erode her ability to feel safe and loved in her own home.

And she doesn’t know about his frequent feelings of shame and failure that stem from these fights due to his apparent inability to make her happy. If she’s always sad and frustrated with him even though he really does love her and really believes he’s trying his best, then he’s failing epically at the most important thing in his life. These constant feelings of failure are making him withdraw further. He’s losing self-confidence, because it seems obvious now that he can’t make her feel good anymore. She doesn’t look at me the way she used to. She doesn’t want me to touch her. She thinks I’m a failure.

If he doesn’t feel like he can succeed at home, or that he is even moderately respected or appreciated, he can never muster the energy the marriage needs.

The vicious cycle continues.

Unless something changes, the marriage is doomed.

[NOTE: I felt like I cracked a secret life code when I grasped this idea for the first time. I have to credit the book “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It” for putting me on the right path. Maybe it can help you or your partner, too.]

There’s a Better Way

The only way to fix this is for both partners to “get” it. To understand what’s ACTUALLY happening inside themselves and their partners. Because they’re speaking plain English to one another, and neither person knows what the shit the other is talking about. For the trillionth time.

There’s a fun little book called Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti which provides a lovely visual food metaphor to help people grasp the basic concept.

As a general rule, men are like waffles. Their thoughts and feelings are comprised of all these little individual compartments. And at any given time, he is dealing with the contents of one compartment, and one compartment ONLY. So when he’s talking about a pair of pants on the floor with his wife, he’s only talking about that pair of pants. All previous conversations are not part of this one conversation.

But his wife is actually talking about EVERY instance of something like this happening. She’s talking about the thousand other times because, generally, women are like spaghetti. And their minds and bodies operate in a way in which everything isn’t compartmentalized into individual boxes. Their thoughts and feelings all live in the same place where they are intertwined and wound around one another. It’s why the pants thing really matters to her. It literally hurts her. Because it proves you don’t love me or respect me, and I don’t have time to do all the laundry AND take care of everything for the kids because Kyle has a field trip Thursday and Valerie needs to get to her swim meet, and it hurts so much that I can’t count on you to make sure Kyle’s lunch and outfit and permission slip are taken care of, and tomorrow is the four-year anniversary of my dad dying, and yes asshole—it still hurts—because he was the person who always made sure I was taken care of, and then I trusted you to be that person for the rest of my life, and you don’t do it, and now he’s gone, and just—fuck you—for leaving me alone in my marriage.

Since the only consciousness we understand is our individual first-person experience, we all just assume everyone else sees and thinks and feels like we do. Your parents never told you otherwise, because they didn’t want you to know how many times they almost divorced or had sex with someone else. No one explains any of this shit to us in school because the Department of Education thinks obtuse triangles, The Grapes of Wrath, and the French and Indian War are more important than the information we need to have functional adult relationships.

Every couple who has the same fight over and over again (the vast majority, right?) needs to learn the science and chemistry of what’s happening during conflict.

Everyone’s having the same fight and no one can figure out why. It’s especially frustrating when they discover on their second and third partners that the same things keep happening no matter how many new relationships they try, because: Surprise!!! Wherever you go, there you are.

It never stops until a person makes the choice to try something else.

Thousands of years ago, we all lived in tribes and villages, and sometimes lions and bears and other tribes would try to attack, rape, pillage, and burn our communities.

Evolutionary science required that women’s bodies respond to threats the way they do to help warn of danger and protect the tribe.

Men were hunting and gathering and responsible for physically protecting the elderly, women and children in the village.

Evolutionary science required that men’s bodies respond to threats the way they do to accomplish that.

A lot of this stuff is hardcoded into our DNA because it was the only way for us to survive.

But now it’s 2015, and bears and lions and violent tribes tend to not attack us in our predominantly domesticated homes and schools and workplaces. All these involuntary emotional and chemical reactions we have to threats don’t help save our lives anymore because most of us live in houses with partners and children with virtually no chance of being mauled by a lion while we sleep in our beds.

All these natural tendencies humans developed over thousands of years now cause major communication problems between male-female partners who in no way benefit from the way their bodies chemically respond to conflict in their marriages.

Chemistry is powerful. I learned that in school while they weren’t teaching me how to be a good husband.

But we’re pretty smart. We are. And once we get it, we have a chance to recognize this little dance of insanity we do as it’s happening and stop it from growing into a monster.

We give ourselves a chance if we can at least understand what’s happening to us, and why we always feel a little frustrated and out of control.

We have no chance at all when we don’t know.

When we don’t know better, and just do what feels natural, everything breaks. You’re not the only person dealing with this. It’s happening to everyone else too.

And even when you recognize what’s happening and have a high-level understanding of it and what you should or shouldn’t do next, it’s STILL super-hard when you’re pissed off and your insides are all mish-mashed in fuckness.

In 2015, everyone who gives a shit knows how to lose weight. Simplest math formula ever.

Eat less + Move more = Weight loss

Yet, even though we’re the most enlightened we’ve been in human history, we still have a ton of obese people, rampant diabetes, and heart disease.

Even when you KNOW what should or shouldn’t be done, it still requires a level of commitment and discipline hard for flawed (that’s all of us) human beings to achieve.

A person shouldn’t eat bacon cheeseburgers and milkshakes every day and wonder why they never lose weight. That’s essentially what married people do who want to have a happy marriage but never bother to try a new way of doing things, in large part because they literally don’t know that pounding the metaphorical burgers and ice cream is dangerous and unhealthy.

That if it goes unchecked long enough, they’re all going to get sick and die.

They don’t realize it until they’re sick.

And they don’t want to change anything until they’re already dead.

…..

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‘I’ve Ruined My Marriage and My Wife Hates Me’

drowning

Sometimes, there’s no life preserver. Just prayers. Prayers with painful answers.

She liked to shower at night.

The downstairs bathroom, just down the hall from the guest room I was sleeping in, was the one she always used.

Everything was fucked.

I don’t mean, we were having a spat.

I mean, the entire universe was upside down and I couldn’t remember the last time my wife said “I love you” or hugged me like she meant it. Sex? Sleeping in the same bed? Ha. Right.

The celibacy streak was only just beginning, but relative to my life experience up to that point, it had already been forever.

You want to experiment with male psychosis? Go from sexually active to involuntary celibacy. I know women also don’t like sex deprevation, but I’m not sure the psychological effects are the same.

She seemed fine about it. I’m not saying she was. I’m simply saying it was clear she preferred to sleep in separate bedrooms and never touch each other rather than go back to the way it was.

I wasn’t fine. In these moments, you start asking yourself questions you don’t really want to know answers to: Would she rather touch herself than let me touch her? Is she seeing someone?

You go long enough without, combined with the emotional vortex of shit you’re living in, and you literally go a little bit crazy.

I couldn’t take it anymore. My pretty wife was on the other side of that bathroom door in a towel or nothing at all.

I don’t remember what I said or did next, but she agreed! Holy shit! She said yes! My God. Hope.

It had been several months.

Hands. Lips. Tongue. Teeth. I know how this body works, I thought.

Because when I do this, that usually happens, and when I do that, this usually happens.

But none of that happened.

I wanted so badly for it to be like it used to be. That’s how it had gone in my head. The beginning of the Marriage Reset!

I don’t think she was trying to be cruel or intentionally not physically or emotionally responding. In fact, I think she did try.

But you can’t fake it. There are no masks when it’s just two naked and familiar souls. You just know.

For the first time in my life, I couldn’t do it. I was physically incapable of performing. Like the old guys in those commercials. I needed her to want me and like me.

But she didn’t want me. She didn’t like me.

I was emotionally beaten and physically broken at 33 years old.

I rolled over, staring at the ceiling.

She left without saying anything.

A minute or two later, I had my first God’s-honest Will Hunting breakdown.

I sobbed. Convulsed. Couldn’t catch my breath. She could hear me through the floor vents in our upstairs bedroom.

Her pathetic loser husband who wasn’t even good for THAT anymore. Crying like a wimpy bitch.

I never gave up hope for a miracle. But that’s when I knew it was over.

‘I Want to Save It’

Tom wants to save his marriage.

He’s not just saying the right things. It seems clear he means it the same way I meant it once the lightbulb finally clicked on. His heartfelt blog comment and email contain many of the same things I was thinking and feeling three or four years ago when my life was in much the same place his is now.

He was a little bit selfish and oblivious, and then had the epiphany people have when they finally solve a vexing problem. It happens to all of us. That moment something clicks in our brains and we learn something. Most of the time, it’s some mundane little fact or method of doing something. But sometimes it’s Why My Wife is Hurt, and How I am Responsible for Causing It.

It’s life-changing.

Something just clicks and you finally get it.

For me, it was reading How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. It’s a goldmine.

For Tom, it was something else.

And we get excited. Hopeful. We finally understand, babe! Now I know how to be a good husband! I really, truly get it!

All we need is for them to give us a chance.

But all they see is a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. They ALREADY trusted their entire lives to us. It was the most sacred vow we’ve ever made, looking them in the eye while we slipped the ring onto her finger.

And then we spent years not following through on those promises.

They told us what was wrong as it was happening. Instead of apologizing, taking steps to fix what’s broken, and making sure it never happens again, we tell them they’re crazy and explain how and why their feelings are wrong.

The person they need to make them feel safe is now the greatest threat to their long-term happiness.

But we’re all smiles and promises again, us guys. And EVEN WHEN WE REALLY ARE DIFFERENT THIS TIME, the gamble doesn’t seem worth it for them.

If they guess wrong this time, they may never recover.

You Can’t Taste the Poison

Routine acts like poison that eventually kills your marriage.

You naturally fall into it. It’s human nature to crave safety and predictability. So we like to do the same things every day when we come home from work, and after dinner, and before bed, and when we wake up in the morning.

I live in a decent little house in a typical-for-Ohio older suburban neighborhood and drive a base model 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

When I first got the house, I felt like a real estate baron. After nearly 10 years living there, I mostly don’t think anything about it at all. It’s where I live.

When I first got the Jeep, I felt like I had the nicest vehicle on the road. It was my first-ever brand-new car. Now, it’s just my car, and I mostly think about how much worse it looks than all the more-expensive Grand Cherokees I see.

Everyone gets it. We take things for granted. We don’t know how not to. Every day, we forget to think about and concentrate on the two or three people or things that really matter most.

It’s only cliché because it’s true: We don’t know how good we have it until we lose something.

So we come home from work and have dinner together and chit-chat about the day. We often don’t say “thank you.” For what? For EVERYTHING. After years together, we don’t even see what our partner does for us. Not the good stuff, anyway. We only see the flaws. Like my kitchen that could use an upgrade or my garage door opener that stopped working.

I don’t feel grateful that I have a kitchen with functioning appliances and enough money to cook excellent meals any time I want. I don’t feel grateful that I have a two-car garage even though it’s the first house I’ve ever lived in as a car owner that had one.

I bet I’d appreciate it if I had to live in a shanty in rural Haiti.

I bet I’d appreciate my Jeep if I had to drive a rusted-out $300 car with a non-functioning heater this winter.

Just like I learned to appreciate how much better my life was—despite all the occasional frustration and bullshit—when my wife and son lived at home.

Sometimes husbands and boyfriends fall into the comfortable routine. We like it. Because outside of birthday parties, surprises are usually bad. This goes on for years. When our wives or girlfriends get upset about something, we all just think it’s a common side effect of marriage and long-term relationships. Mom used to get pissed at dad! This is just what happens!

We don’t ever think we should make changes.

We don’t learn how to empathize until our insides twist up and our hearts break just like our wives’ did months or years earlier.

Holy shit. THIS is what she felt like when I told her she was wrong and to get over it.

I finally understand.

We think she owes us this new opportunity now that we have a better tool kit.

We made vows!

We have kids!

When you’re broken on the inside, none of that shit matters. Self-preservation and a desire to protect our children always win out.

Our wives are dead inside. And we made them that way. But then we expect them to just snap out of it because of our epiphany.

Eagerly, we start changing how we do things.

She’ll like and appreciate this!

But she doesn’t like and appreciate it. It feels like desperation. Like parlor tricks. Like a too-little-too-late effort to convince her not to leave.

We’ve never cared about anything more than this. Our family is and has always been our highest priority. But she couldn’t tell. And we didn’t know that behaving the way we were might jeopardize it. She’s got to see that now!

Arguments still pop up. She’s still sad and angry. She’s not happy about how hard you’re trying now, because she’s still totally broken by the previous 2,000 instances of severe pain and emotional abandonment without so much as an apology or acknowledgment from us that we caused it.

We get defensive and freak out.

“Why can’t you ever let anything go!? Can’t we just concentrate on tomorrow!? Can’t we just start over!?”

We become totally unhinged emotionally.

Our brains are telling us to calm down and speak maturely. We know what we want to do and say. We want to use our patient, loving and understanding tone of voice. But our bodies rebel. We blurt out fighting words, and the instant shame washes over us at failing her and succumbing to pride and defensiveness yet again.

“See?” she thinks. “He’s the same. I knew I couldn’t trust him. That asshole deserves what’s coming.”

Can It Be Saved?

I know what it looks and feels like when your wife dies on the inside.

Tom is coming to terms with it now, too. And what he wants to know is the same thing I wanted to know: Can it be saved? What can I do?

I don’t think our wives hate us. Hate is an actual emotion.

What I think they feel is a total absence of emotion.

Apathy.

Indifference.

In the end, it’s not really a negative emotion they feel toward us.

They feel nothing.

First, I watched my mom leave my stepdad because of this indifference. Then I watched my wife leave with my son for the same reason.

Then I broke a little bit more and couldn’t breathe for months.

Then I freaked out and called a therapy hotline, and the lady told me I should try journaling.

Then I got drunk on vodka and started a blog instead.

Then I started writing about my marital separation and divorce without taking responsibility for any of it.

Then I started writing about those things WHILE taking responsibility for it.

And that’s when everything came together.

People read it and cared, because being a person who feels and is afraid of all the things most of us are too scared to talk about is something almost everyone understands.

Wives started writing me.

A few. Then dozens. Then hundreds.

I’ve read THE EXACT SAME DIVORCE STORY so many times, I could be a legit marriage counselor, I think.

But there are always two things I don’t have an answer for:

How do you get a man to have the epiphany BEFORE everything breaks? And…

Can we bring it back from the dead?

Maybe someone out there can provide more insight. Maybe there are success stories about a totally broken marriage that ended up Happily Ever After.

A unifying Disney movie moment with fireworks and shooting stars during the redemptive kiss.

Or maybe magic. Sorcery.

Or maybe a miracle. God.

But I’ve never seen it happen without a bunch of people getting their hands dirty first. I’ve seen instances of two people finding one another again. But in EVERY case, there were other sexual partners and a whole bunch of healing time in between.

On the other hand, I understand the healing power of knowledge.

Because I think Tom gets it now. I think Tom might get it like I get it.

I think Tom might love like I love.

And in my experience? Love never fails.

And even though I’ve never seen one? I believe in miracles.

And even though I’ve never written one? Some stories have happy endings.

…..

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A Failed Marriage, a Beautiful Son, and Tomorrow

father son hands

(Image/ashscrapyard.wordpress.com)

“Fine. I’ll just stay with mom all the time and you won’t see me anymore!” he said about seven years sooner than expected.

I can’t remember why he was upset with me. It’s usually because I denied him something he wanted.

He was 6 when he said that during a father-son fight more than a year ago. An occasionally angry little boy adjusting to a brand-new school and a brand-new life where mom and dad live in different houses. An occasionally angry father adjusting to the same.

I try to remember how I felt at age 5 when my parents split, but everything’s hazy. I remember bits and pieces. The moments. But I can’t remember me then. How I felt. But that’s no surprise. I can’t remember me five years ago.

I haven’t talked to any therapists about it, but my amateur self-evaluation is that my traumatic experience with divorce two and a half years ago is largely due to hypersensitivity related to also going through it as a child. I think some things I’d buried might have clawed their way up to the surface.

I was the only kid I knew whose dad lived hundreds of miles away.

I don’t know what parts of me—good or bad—are byproducts of that upbringing. I wonder whether living near, and coexisting well with his mother, might make his life better than mine.

I cried a lot in the weeks leading up to, and following, my marriage imploding. Everything hurts. And it scares the shit out of you when you figure out you can’t run away from it.

It’s there in your office meetings at work.

It’s there when you’re having drinks with friends.

It’s there when you visit family for the first time without your spouse and you’re totally drenched in failure.

It’s there in the house you shared with her for more than seven years.

It’s there when you look into your child’s eyes. The most beautiful, pure, innocent, precious thing you have ever known. And it’s your job, your mission, your solemn duty to provide him with the safety, resources, education and love required for him to have a chance at a life better than your own.

And you feel like you just helped destroy his family.

You’re afraid of everything and you’re carrying a mountain of shame.

You wonder how you can ever take care of him if you can’t even take care of yourself.

Maybe he deserves a better father than this, you think.

Maybe he does.

I was in his mom’s driveway helping him buckle his seatbelt—something he does now on his own—the last time I remember crying. Every child has a patented little frown that no other kid can make. All parents recognize it because it’s the one that makes your heart bleed. The corners of his mouth turned down. Tears fell.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I said.

“I just want you and mommy to live in the same house again,” he said.

And then you hold your breath and wonder whether your heart will keep beating. I knew he wished for that. He just hadn’t said it until then.

He’d been so strong and brave. Wearing his little mask every day like his parents used to while hiding a marriage on life support from family and friends.

You hold his little face in your hands and apologize harder than you ever have before. You pray your ex isn’t watching you from the window. You mutter silent Why me, God?s before remembering that you brought this on yourself.

When you neglect a garden, the plants stop producing. And the flowers wither and die.

I have a massive capacity for forgiveness. This doesn’t make me a good or virtuous person. I didn’t work hard to grow into a person who forgives easily. It’s a gift I didn’t earn.

It caused a lot of problems in my marriage. Because my wife and I would fight, and it was ALWAYS the same fight. I think maybe every couple has it.

Something I did or didn’t do would upset her, and she’d tell me about it. And instead of acknowledging something I had done hurt my wife’s feelings, I would get defensive and justify it. I didn’t apologize. Since I didn’t do anything intentionally, I didn’t owe it, I reasoned, and I’d go to great lengths to justify that, too.

Why is she always finding something new to complain about?

I think most husbands and boyfriends get annoyed about things their wives or girlfriends do, but because they don’t like to have “talks,” they avoid saying anything. Having a beer, or watching football, or playing video games, or going to work, or literally any other thing in the entire universe including taxes and dental work are less painful than “talks.”

I always viewed it as loving my wife enough to overlook her “shortcomings,” and was always perturbed I didn’t get that same courtesy in return. I didn’t have empathy for my wife’s feelings because I didn’t know she felt things in profoundly different ways than me. I didn’t have perspective because I ignorantly took my marriage for granted and thought winning battles was more important than actionable love.

She didn’t like that after a good night’s sleep I felt good and was ready to move on because she was still pissed about the unresolved thing.

These things piled up with each passing argument, and instead of acknowledging them, I’d stay defensive and complain that she was keeping track of all these supposed crimes and unloading them on me every time she was upset. I would never be so petty as to do that to her, I’d say like a smug prick.

I didn’t know that her way would have saved our marriage, and that my way was why half of all marriages fail, and why many that don’t are broken and miserable.

Maybe my son will get angry all over again when he’s old enough to recognize that. Or maybe because he’s a boy, he’ll empathize with me by default.

His mom is a grudge holder and is still angry with me about how our lives turned out. I sometimes feel it in those (now rare) moments when she gets upset with me about something I did or didn’t do as her co-parenting partner.

I don’t know how to stay angry. It goes away like magic even if I don’t work at it. But I think it’s opposite for other people. I think they don’t know how to not be angry. A burden they didn’t earn or deserve.

Maybe it’s just nine years of feeling unheard and invalidated all piled up into a mountain of shit too heavy and painful to always keep hidden.

Since there’s no such thing as time travel, our son is all that matters now.

Have we infected him somehow?, I wonder.

Is he secretly sad and angry?

Has he forgiven us?

Will he ever?

“Dad,” he says into my ear. “You’re the best dad in the whole world. If I could choose any dad out of every dad there is, I would choose you.”

He tells mom the same thing about her. And we believe him. He really would choose us.

Some combination of love and resilient childhood magic stirs inside him.

My handsome little second grader, rapidly approaching the day when I’ll no longer be able to call him little.

We crafted a small boat for him to race at a Cub Scouts function this past weekend. Win or lose, he showed maturity and graciousness in congratulating opponents. Losses left other kids in tears. My little man shrugged them off, knowing we did all we could.

One year ago, he was desperate for acceptance from the first graders in his new school. His mom and I worried privately about him being a social outcast because we’re not ingrained in the community the way most of the other families are.

Last year, kids didn’t chant our son’s name in support when it was his turn to race. This year, many did.

Last year, we worried about his social life. This year, every Cub Scout in his class came to our table at the event to sit with and talk to him.

We grow together, that boy and I.

Him—socially and academically. Me—emotionally and professionally.

He rifled through a deck of nerd cards during breakfast this morning. “Nerd cards,” being the little role-playing trading cards popular with kids (and some adults), but which I was too “cool” to play with when I was younger. Things like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Gormiti cards. The particular nerd cards this morning were Gormiti cards given to him by an older boy he looks up to. Gormiti, to me, feels like Wyler’s Flavor Aid to Pokemon’s Kool-Aid®.

You know—even lamer than the regular amount of lame.

I started teasing him: “Hi, I’m Tony Romo and I play Pokemon. And I’m arts-and-craftsy Tony Romo, and I play Gormiti.”

He half-smiled because he likes the DirecTV commercial I was spoofing.

And then I made up another Pokemon-is-better-than-Gormiti joke, and I saw his sweet little face do the patented frown thing, and he started to cry.

I felt like a dick.

I walked around the counter scooped him up, sat him on the counter and hugged him tight, because I’m not the guy I used to be.

“I’m so sorry, bud. Did dad just hurt your feelings?”

He nodded, so I hugged him again.

“Kiddo, you are allowed to like whatever you like, and I am so sorry if I made you feel like I thought your Gormiti cards were stupid. I think it’s awesome that your friend gave you those and I want you to have so much fun with them today, okay?”

I meant it.

He nodded that he understood.

Hands on my shoulders, he sort of pushed me back a few inches so we could look each other in the eye.

“I love you, dad,” he said.

He meant it.

Because he has a massive capacity for forgiveness, too. And God-willing, maybe now he has a role model for how to deal with hurt feelings in ways that can heal rather than divide. That soften hearts rather than harden them.

That, at the risk of oversimplifying humanity, might be the keys to making romantic love last.

The keys to the forever kind-of families.

The keys to healing the broken.

So that we can unlock tomorrow without fear of the unknown. Because we’re ready now.

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Why Marriage Counseling is a Bad Idea, Vol. 2

(Image/The New York Times)

(Image/The New York Times)

I’ve been to marriage counseling twice.

By that I mean, in two separate instances during my marriage, I agreed to see a couple’s therapist with my wife.

The first time, my son had just been born, and I was offered a job that, in theory, would solve any and all financial concerns for the rest of our lives. (Top 1% money in my 40s, and eventual company ownership.)

The catch? It would require us to move 500 miles away near my family in Illinois, and my wife, who had already left her family once when we moved to Florida after college, knew she didn’t want to leave them again.

In my estimation at the time, fixing our financial difficulties (they were serious, and we had a newborn) combined with eliminating money concerns forever, was worth the move.

I argued that I’d make enough money where my wife would never have to work again if she didn’t want to, and would be free to travel to Ohio often (I suggested one week per month as a compromise) and that the grand total of time spent with family during one non-working week every month would GREATLY outweigh the time spent with family as our lives were currently constructed.

She argued that Ohio was our home, and that she could never be happy living so far from her friends and family in another new place.

She told me she believed we would eventually get divorced if we made the move. That her family was always going to be more important than money to her. (Which I always admired somewhat.)

We discussed it patiently and at length with a couple’s counselor.

He blatantly said in each of the final two sessions with him that he agreed with my take. That solving financial problems made sense for our family since money was the top source of conflict and stress for our marriage. He agreed that “Home” can be anywhere, so long as you’re willing to make it so. He agreed that visiting family in Ohio, while somewhat unconventional, could be done with the financial resources we would have, and that, in the end, she would actually see her family for greater amounts of time that way.

She cried and I hated it and I held her hand.

She was so sad. I had made my wife—the mother of my new son—sad. I couldn’t take it.

I told her the night before our final marriage-counseling session with that first counselor that I loved her more than anything, and that there’s no way I would jeopardize our marriage and family. I turned down the job offer and agreed to stay in Ohio.

“We’ll figure something out,” I told her.

The second time we attended counseling, our marriage was a trainwreck. I’d been sleeping in the guest room for at least a year. We never touched one another. Every day was shitty and horrible. Being at work and volunteering at a local homeless shelter was infinitely less stressful than being at the house, so I worked and volunteered a lot.

My wife started seeing a marriage counselor on her own.

After a handful of sessions, she told me the counselor wanted to see me too. I really wanted to stay married and not feel shitty and horrible anymore, so I agreed.

I don’t remember exactly what the counselor’s questions were, nor do I remember exactly how my wife answered them, during our first session together. I only know that I’m a pretty nice and pragmatic guy, and I wanted to commit double homicide right then and there.

I perceived my wife’s characterizations of me and our marriage to be totally unfair, and I perceived this aloof, disengaged counselor to be 100-percent validating all of it.

It’s possible I was being overly defensive and immature in my reaction, because I am overly defensive and immature. Also, that was the worst time of my life, so negative things might have felt magnified. I don’t know.

But I do know that I felt the counselor was disinterested in whether our marriage succeeded, and that my wife was cold and unfair. True or not, it seemed to me at the time like she was looking for validation for her anger and sadness and inclination to leave more so than she was a genuine, heartfelt strategy for repairing our marriage.

Something tells me I’m not the only one to experience this.

I Think It’s Insane

If you could get couples to attend regular marriage counseling sessions from the beginning of their marriage as a routine maintenance tool and a strategy for healthy communication, I believe marriage counseling would be a very wise, useful investment, and successful activity.

But that’s not how the real world works.

In the real world, people get married young and don’t know what to expect. They think it’s going to be just like the two or three years they’ve been together so far as boyfriend and girlfriend, and that it’s going to stay that way forever.

But then one day, it’s not.

And all the sadness and resentment and anger starts to build. Because men and women have so much trouble communicating, attempts to talk about it leave both parties dissatisfied and angrier than before.

As a last resort, one convinces the other to go to couple’s therapy, so an “objective” third-party arbitrator can set the record straight.

Then two people, who not too many years ago, stood before a pastor, judge, priest or minister, and declared their undying love and commitment to one another in front of almost everyone they know, are now sitting on a sofa or chairs, talking about how the person they “love” makes them sad, miserable and angry.

Let me repeat that.

We put two people during one of the most-difficult times of their lives in a room, when they feel like their spouse isn’t there for them anymore and may actually leave them, and we ask them to say out loud in front of one another how the other person’s actions make their lives shitty.

And excuse my language, but that’s fucking insane.

The people who don’t love their spouses are never going to succeed in marriage counseling anyway.

And the people who do love their spouses just sat there and took it up the ass while the person they do EVERYTHING for just told a stranger what stupid assholes they are right in front of them, and then the counselor validated it and celebrated their “honesty.”

I think there’s probably a better way.

We’re All a Little Bit Broken and Messed Up

I’m stealing this from a comment I left in the previous post on this subject:

There are a million different reasons why we are all a little broken and messed up, and no one has the time or money to get it all figured out. But if we can all be a little bit more self-aware of our shortcomings (or at least our behaviors that tend to upset others, even if it’s only our partners who get upset), and work hardest on making ourselves the most whole, balanced, healthy, content people we can possibly be… we give ourselves an excellent chance for happiness.

Two people trying to be the best versions of themselves possible, will also try to give unselfishly to their partner and/or marriage every day. When two people give more to the other than they take for themselves, Happily Ever After happens. Both people always get what they need, and they always feel good because they’re giving a lot, too.

Jayne left a fair comment about just how hard maintaining a stable and healthy relationship truly is, even with two intellectually capable people trying their best:

“okay…but having been through divorce, as I have, and having witnessed many people aware of the danger, still fall into that black hole of complacency and taking each other for granted… Do you believe you yourself can keep a relationship “good”. As I wrote “you, yourself” I had part of my answer and that is that it’s not possible to do all by yourself. Sooo much thinking on this subject and sooo much evidence of miscommunication makes me think most of it is driven by chance. Relationships seem to start by “chance” and even with our knowledge and intellect, they can’t be formulated for success. Sometimes I do believe that relationships aren’t supposed to last forever and this is proof. When you think about it, there is a lot of proof for that,” Jayne said.

I liked my response because I think it’s the difference between couples who make it and couples who don’t:

Chance favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur famously said that in the 1800s. And I think he was right.

Sure, there’s a lot of chance and bullshit that affect our lives.

But when we aren’t lazy, when we put in the time and effort to psychologically prepare ourselves for ANYTHING (a project, a new job, a new town we’re moving to, learning a native language before visiting a country, etc.), but certainly a committed relationship, I think we give ourselves an excellent chance for success.

I have no idea whether I’ll ever marry again. And all of the preparation in the world can’t guarantee it will last forever.

But my would-be fiancée and I will spend a LOT of time talking about these things, working on them, and demonstrating self-awareness and empathy.

Anyone I end up having “the same fight” with over and over again? It’s likely going to be her stubbornness or my stubbornness that prevents us from breaking that cycle.

In either case, that will be a sure sign to NOT get married.

If I get married again, she and I will have had these high-level talks and will have, repeatedly, over many weeks, months and years, demonstrated the ability to communicate effectively and behave unselfishly even when it’s inconvenient.

Sure, I may divorce again one day.

But it won’t be because I made the mistake of going into it not properly armed with the tools and information I need to be a good husband and succeed.

Fate gets to decide whether I live or die five minutes from now.

But it doesn’t get to decide how I treat the people I love.

Let’s Stop All the Finger-Pointing

Individual marriage counseling is the act of one person exploring all the ways they can be a better husband or wife. And THAT should be the question every married person asks themselves daily: How can I be a better spouse today?

So, confession: I don’t think ALL marriage counseling is bad. I just think the way it’s most often done is.

I also stole the following from another one of my comments in the previous post:

EVERYONE commits some kind of crime in their marriage.

Therapists shouldn’t spread the blame around equally when one person got screwed over, but they also shouldn’t not ask the right question.

People sometimes say I take on too much responsibility for the end of my marriage. Right or wrong (and I think it’s wrong), it doesn’t matter.

It’s ALL about responsibility and accountability.

This is something I believe strongly (this only applies to me, not all marriages): If I behaved every day in my marriage the way I have grown to believe a person must behave in order to have a long, healthy marriage, my wife and I would still be married, and probably with a second child.

I’ve never said or typed that before. But I think it’s true.

That doesn’t mean it’s entirely my fault that we got divorced.

It just means, I had a lot of control over my own destiny (and that of my wife and son) and I squandered it through immaturity, irresponsibility and negligence.

Thus, I’m now 36 and single and only see my son half the time.

Even when our hearts are in the right place, we reap what we sow.

If you can’t find an answer to the question: What have I done that might have contributed to my spouse’s sadness and anger?, then you’re one of two things—the greatest husband or wife in the world, or a self-centered narcissist.

And in either case, couples counseling can’t and won’t save you. You’re going to have to save yourself.

And to do so, you need to start asking the right questions.

You need to start right now.

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When a Partner Grieves: The Moment of Truth

hands1

“Your life is about to fall apart, you’re going to get divorced, and things will never be the same,” is what my wife’s cousin could have said.

But she didn’t. She told me in vague and confusing ways that we’d lost my father-in-law without warning and that I needed to tell his daughter.

Oh no.

She had to be mistaken. We had just had dinner with him the night before and he was the same great guy I’d known for a decade. He was fine!

It doesn’t always make sense when people die. I don’t think it makes sense for people even when they see it coming.

But sometimes we don’t see it coming.

We just wake up and have the same kind of day we always do. And then someone surprises us with a phone call.

And now, even though the earth will need to spin a billion more times before you can finally process it, you know: Everything is different now.

And it’s true. Everything you think and feel now has a new layer in it. Something uninvited. And it casts shadows. And makes things heavier.

The day my father-in-law died was the day my marriage died. I just didn’t know it yet.

Hold On, Don’t Let Go

One of my favorite cousins got married two Saturdays ago and I was fortunate enough to attend the wedding. It was the first day of my summer vacation visiting family and friends.

It was my second wedding since my divorce.

They feel different now.

I used to go to weddings and (even if I was wrong) I just knew they were going to be married forever. Now, it’s not like that. Statistically, one of the two marriages I’ve witnessed as a single guy will end in heartbreak and misery.

There are all these themes of love and loyalty and togetherness at weddings. All this talk of unselfishness and service and forgiveness.

It’s the kind of stuff most people tune out as they smile and take photos for Instagram and Facebook while looking forward to the party afterward.

I used to be just like that. But then my marriage died and all the symbolism and messages of love took on much deeper meaning. The sacredness of the occasion feels much greater now.

I look at these two people and (even if I’m wrong) I just know they have no idea what they’re in for.

Probably not soon.

Probably later.

Once complacency or resentment or sadness or grief sets in. My cousin is very close to her mother—my aunt. She moved to Florida a few years ago for all the same reasons I did after graduating college. Her daughter missed her very much. Would start crying the day BEFORE she or her mother would have to say goodbye to one another during visits, which is why my aunt moved back home.

It’s a beautiful mother-daughter bond. And one of them will have to say bye to the other someday. No one gets forever in this life.

My cousin is going to break on the inside when she loses her mother. She has a dad and brother, too. And lots of friends and other family members. Loss is part of life, but it’s one we don’t think about until it sucker punches us without warning.

Will her new husband know what to do when that day comes?

How could he?

I shook hands yesterday with a man at his wife’s funeral. I hugged his three daughters, all standing next to their husbands in the receiving line. And as much as I attempted to focus on these women trying to cope with and process the loss of their mother, I spent most of the time thinking about these husbands.

I can’t be certain this will be their greatest tests as husbands, but I’m pretty sure it will be their biggest one yet.

In Good Times, and In Bad

This is what we promise standing on that alter or in front of whoever is officiating our marriages.

We know there will be good days AND bad days, but we’re going to love our partners forever, no matter what. At least, that’s what we all say.

But then shit hits the fan without warning and life gets really inconvenient and THAT’s when we’re measured.

Everyone grieves differently.

I don’t know what I was expecting from my wife when she lost her father, but it wasn’t what I got. She seemed like a different person. One who no longer wanted me around. She said as much about a month into the grieving process.

I don’t know what the optimum way would be to deal with that, but I chose the wrong way. I moved into the guest room and felt sorry for myself every day until she left a year and a half later.

I would advise against that strategy.

I don’t know what it will look and feel like when your spouse or partner loses someone close to them. But it’s safe to assume they will hurt and feel brokenness on the inside. They’re going to feel lost and scared because they won’t feel like themselves anymore and that’s a terrifying experience.

I wish I could tell you what to do. How to make everything okay for your partner and you.

But there are no instruction manuals for this stuff. There are no blueprints to follow.

I thought it was unfair that because my wife was sad about losing her father that I had to be treated like a leper. So instead of being strong and EVERY DAY asking: “What can I do to make your day better?,” I pouted like an asshole instead of asking myself the hard questions about why my wife wasn’t coming to me for comfort.

When your spouse is grieving, this is NOT your time. This is THEIR time. Put them first. They hurt very badly. And you need to be the rock they can lean on instead of selfishly hoping he or she gets over it soon so your life can get comfortable again.

I write it a lot: Love is a choice.

When your spouse isn’t his or her fun self anymore and they don’t make you feel good because they’re lost in a vortex of emotion that changes day to day and they don’t know how to manage their own feelings, let alone yours, it’s easy to throw up your hands months later:

“Does she really think this is more important than our marriage?”

“If she’s not going to try, why should I?”

“Why is she doing this to me?”

The Moment of Truth

No one’s out to get you, and unless you and your spouse are master communicators (and you’re not, otherwise there wouldn’t be any problems) about half the things you believe your spouse is thinking and feeling are wrong. We’re sometimes bad guessers.

The phrase “The moment of truth” originated in Spanish bullfighting, referring to the moment in a bullfight in which the matador is about to make the kill.

Specifically, the dictionary tells us it’s “The moment at which one’s character, courage, skill, etc., is put to an extreme test; critical moment.”

When your partner is grieving and you feel your life unraveling because you don’t know how to help them, and you’re hurting yourself because you feel the relationship slipping away—it’s your moment of truth.

Theoretically, it won’t be the only one.

It’s hard to put yourself on the back burner and selflessly love without asking for anything in return.

But that’s what it takes. It’s a test of your character.

And you’re afraid. So afraid. Because you don’t know if the sacrifice is going to pay off because you’re not promised love and loyalty in return. It’s a test of your courage.

No one teaches us how to do this. To serve others at the expense of our own comfort, and sometimes, happiness. It’s a test of your resourcefulness. A test of your skill.

Because you’re being put to an extreme test.

And it’s a critical moment.

And many of us don’t make it.

Because we’re lost.

Because we’re not heroes.

But maybe you are.

And even if you’re not—maybe you can choose to be.

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