Tag Archives: Pain

The Myth of the Nagging Wife — It’s Invisible Burns That Actually End Marriages

Burn victim with medical bandages

Sometimes we’ll find it’s the husbands, or men, in relationships whose invisible wounds aren’t properly cared for. Just not most of the time. (Image/RawStory)

We sometimes hear husbands complain about their stupid, bitchy, nagging wives.

Some of them probably are married to petty, unkind women who’ve been plotting all along to make their husbands’ lives miserable. Statistical probability and whatnot.

But that’s NOT who most women are.

Most women said yes to a man’s voluntarily offered marriage proposal.

This isn’t arranged marriage in medieval times. This is one adult voluntarily asking another adult to give up being single together to form a partnership and live together faithfully for the rest of their lives, share property and finances, and maybe have children together.

Maybe some people don’t mentally grasp the parameters of a typical marriage agreement, but I feel confident in speculating that most do. Most people know what they’re signing up for, and then they sign up voluntarily.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where we go wrong, but Dr. John Gottman and the Gottman Institute identify husbands (I’m paraphrasing): “failing or refusing to accept their wives’ influence” as the No. 1 reason for—and predictor of—divorce. For those who don’t know, the Gottman Institute is to marriage and relationships what FiveThirtyEight is to sports and political election data, with Dr. Gottman playing the role of Nate Silver.

The math is the math, and math is truth. Math doesn’t have an agenda.

Statistics can lie, but that’s not what we’re dealing with here, no matter how uncomfortable it makes all the men who want to be “right,” or want to “win,” or want to perpetuate the narrative that it’s not the common male behavior that needs adjusting, but it’s actually the female response to it that’s “wrong” or “broken” or “inappropriate.”

Husbands vs. Wives and the Battle of the Sexes

One of the most common complaints I get from male readers on several blog posts is the (totally false and misguided) accusation that I’m advocating that men be submissive in their marriage and do whatever their wives want.

It annoys me, but I can’t reasonably expect everyone to have read everything I’ve ever written (and remember it) to know what I think and am advocating at any given time.

What I struggle with most is when people frame the husband-wife relationship as adversarial. As if two people should agree to marry, and then spend the rest of their partnership jockeying for control in the household.

What about that arrangement sounds appealing, or as if there’s a chance for any sort of happy ending?

Advice: DO NOT MARRY PEOPLE WHO WANT TO CONTROL YOU. And make sure you rule out that possibility BEFORE you marry them. Also, maybe don’t try to control others. That’s one effective way to avoid being a thundering asshole.

One novel idea is to actually LOVE the human being you are vowing to marry for life.

If we can start the conversation with LOVE assumed to be a foundational element in this arrangement, then I feel like there’s a chance to understand one another.

Love is generous. It’s kind. It’s unselfish.

Love is not about winning. Love is not about power and control. Love is not about who’s right and who’s wrong.

Love is freely given in action, word and spirit—a conscious choice that is constantly being made—to support and communicate to a spouse or relationship partner how much value they have.

So, when talking about marriage, I begin with three assumptions:

  1. Two people loved each other and wanted to get married.
  2. Both people knew what they were promising—a lifetime of faithful love and support.
  3. Both people entered marriage with the best of intentions, setting out to have a good marriage that looked and felt like however they idealized it in their heads throughout their dating and engagement.

But Then the Invisible Burns Start to Hurt

There are various things men often do (or don’t do) that cause women to feel shitty in their relationships.

These behaviors HURT wives and girlfriends. They cause legitimate pain, the same as if you were punched, kicked, cut, stabbed or shot. A thing happens. Someone hurts because of it.

And it’s in THIS MOMENT that marriages die along with countless relationships that never reach marriage status. 

This painful, damage-causing behavior isn’t happening because men are systematically plotting to upset their partners. It’s happening because many men don’t realize that these things hurt their wives. These men don’t realize it in most instances because that same situation DOES NOT hurt them.

It’s hard to understand how something we KNOW doesn’t hurt could hurt someone else.

Which is why I like the second-degree burn analogy.

If someone places their finger on our arm, it doesn’t typically hurt us. “Brace yourself, I’m going to lightly touch your arm with the tip of my finger,” is potentially a sentence that’s never been written or spoken before.

However, what if we have a second-degree burn that’s an open wound and THEN someone puts their finger on it?

That shit will feel like a horror show and we’ll want to stab them.

Point being: One event can occur and be experienced in radically different ways by two different people. In relationships, that often breaks down as husbands or boyfriends tending to do things one way, and wives or girlfriends tending to do things another. It’s not gender-specific, nor is it universal. It’s simply what we can observe while looking at vast amounts of data, and I think most of us can see it and feel it in various parts of our personal lives.

The Change We Need is for Men to “See” the Hurt

I don’t think men are bad. I don’t think men are intentionally hurting their wives or girlfriends.

What I do think is that wives have invisible second-degree burns, and then husbands and boyfriends are touching painful burn wounds that they have no idea are even there.

Their wives say, “Oh my God, that hurts me when you do that. Could you please stop?”

And then the confused and startled husbands reply, “All I did was touch your arm! Why don’t you make a bigger deal out of it? It seems like you’re always finding something else to complain about.”

And then she says, “When you touch my arm it hurts me.”

And then we husbands say: “God, that’s stupid. It doesn’t hurt when people touch your arm. You’re being crazy and overly emotional. Again.”

What happens next seems logical enough when you truly see this hidden, misunderstood and poorly translated interaction play out.

She feels unloved, neglected, abused, abandoned and unwanted by the person she loves most and who promised her forever. She explains exactly what’s hurting, and he tells her she’s wrong and making it up in her head.

He feels as if he’s being treated unfairly, receiving unjust accusations, not being given the benefit of the doubt, nor credit for all of the good he does, and all of the internal and external changes he’s made to be his wife’s partner for life. He ALSO feels as if his reality and intentions are being unfairly and inaccurately misrepresented.

Like clockwork, the relationship breakdown is inevitable unless there’s some kind of magical empathy breakthrough. Usually, there’s not, which is why MOST relationships fail. Most dating couples never make it to marriage at all. The ones who do, divorce half the time. And many of the couples that don’t divorce are hopelessly miserable and wish they weren’t together.

So guys, this isn’t about feminism or trying to emasculate men.

This is about ACTUALLY SEEING the mechanics of how relationships really are, and then adjusting accordingly even if it’s “inconvenient.”

We can do that by NOT getting married. And we can do that by NOT saying or doing things that hurt the people we claim to love and promised to love and serve for life.

It’s clearly difficult to see and effectively communicate this thing that too often ends our relationships—this inability to “see the hurt.”

But, when you finally do see it, you realize quickly enough that it was never very complicated.

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The Truth is What We Save From the Fire

Value of hard things vs. easy things

Like vigorous exercise, a disciplined reading regiment, and giving more than we take in our marriages, there is VALUE — tons of it — in doing hard things. So maybe don’t run away. Maybe allowing ourselves to feel is THE way. (Image/Carl Richards – New York Times)

I’m afraid of someone using a circular handsaw to cut open my skull.

But I’m more afraid of dying, so if the choice is certain death or brain surgery, I would choose brain surgery.

I’m afraid of jumping off of 100-foot cliffs into unknown waters.

But I’m more afraid of being eaten by big-ass dinosaurs, so if a genetically modified hybrid Jurassic World dinosaur was chasing me, I would totally jump if the alternative was being Indominus Rex’s lunch.

Broken down in the most primitive way possible, human beings are motivated by just two things:

  1. Feeling pleasure
  2. Avoiding pain

Psychologists say most people devote more energy to avoiding bad feelings than chasing good ones.

I believe them.

It’s always the same.

Whether I’m standing poolside, on the edge of a boat, or on a sandy beach, and I know the water is especially cold (which I realize is subjective), it always takes me a little longer to brave the plunge.

The water generally validates my fears as my body revolts. I lose my breath a little. My male extremities disappear like a sick David Copperfield prank. I may or may not lose consciousness for a second. All I know is I want to sprint to warmth and dryness because swimming is supposed to be fun and not take your penis away.

However. Inevitably. In what feels like a few years, but is probably only a few minutes, your body temperature begins to regulate itself. Your breathing normalizes. Your body parts are usually all in place.

Phew.

Depending on wind and air temperature, your body often adjusts so well to the water that it begins to feel almost like a warm bath relative to the chilly air.

I was afraid to take the plunge. I was afraid of the discomfort.

But I always adapt. All of us do.

Change is uncomfortable. But we always adapt.

I allow myself to bathe in the discomfort, sometimes because there’s no other choice. But the truth hits you pretty fast: This was the only way to adapt.

We like to run from discomfort. We’re smart. We know that putting ourselves in certain situations, or subjecting ourselves to certain experiences are likely to cause discomfort. Sometimes, intense pain.

And we run.

But at some point, we realize the only way through it, is through it.

We allow ourselves to feel.

And God, it sucks.

But we adapt. We always adapt. And then some uncomfortable things no longer make us uncomfortable. Certain painful things don’t hurt as much.

Because we’re, just, stronger now.

So, Give Me The Fire

“Pain is sometimes an indication we need to set boundaries, learn to say no more often, or take better care of ourselves; but sometimes it just means that it’s human to hurt, and we need to let ourselves go through it.” – Lori Deschene

I don’t believe in fate, per se. I don’t believe necessarily that “everything happens for a reason,” because little kids get cancer. So, no.

But there is no question that enormous value can be gained from the horrible things we experience.

Maybe there were parents who weren’t very attentive to their child, and were on the fast track to divorce, but then their young child was diagnosed with cancer, and everything changed.

Maybe a sick child can teach you how to prioritize things that really matter in life.

Maybe overcoming adversity can teach them the life skills needed to handle future challenges.

Maybe the entire experience was a galvanizing moment for a struggling couple who finally learned how to choose love and practice gratitude.

Everything may not happen for a reason. But if you ask the right questions, you can always pinpoint the positive results of negative events.

If I have to choose between living with the wool pulled over my eyes, or feeling growing pains, then damn it, I choose growing pains.

I choose truth.

You fight for what you love. It doesn’t matter if it hurts.

You find out what it’s worth, and you let the rest burn.

Ashes from the flames, the truth is what remains.

– Switchfoot

Carry On, Warrior

That’s the name of Glennon Doyle Melton’s first book.

Her second book, Love Warrior, released Tuesday.

I caught a couple quotes from her recently that mattered enough for me to save them for a moment such as this.

Glennon said this in a recent Facebook post:

“I spent the first half of my life being afraid of pain. I found a million easy buttons to transport myself out of pain: Food, booze, sex, shopping, snark, scrolling.

“I was afraid of the wrong thing.

“I’m no longer afraid of pain — I’m now afraid of the easy buttons.

“Because I’ve learned that all my courage and wisdom I need to become the woman I want to be is inside of my pain. When you transport yourself out of it, you miss your transformation.

“First the pain, then the rising.

“You can do hard things, Warrior. You were born to do this.”

You will NEVER hear me celebrate my divorce. Not ever.

I failed my wife and son. I haven’t decided yet who I failed more.

It remains the worst and most painful thing that has ever happened to me.

Which raises something of a philosophical moral dilemma: Would I rather be married still walking through this world oblivious to the harm I cause others, to my wife’s persistent discomfort, and without the ability to help my son grow into a man capable of understanding what it takes to succeed in his human relationships?

Or… can I accept that this is what had to happen for me to arrive in a place where I have a real chance to be a decent human being moving forward?

Blissful ignorance and comfort? Or tormented enlightenment and discomfort?

I don’t know how to say that I’m happy my marriage ended, because that’s not how I feel.

I would NEVER say that I think my son’s life is better with his parents apart.

But I know how to say that I’m genuinely grateful for the opportunity to experience the kind of trauma required to instill real change.

I NEEDED to hurt.

I NEEDED the fear.

I NEEDED the anxiety.

I NEEDED to break.

I NEEDED to cry.

That was my path to right now. There could be no other.

I don’t know that anyone captures the true essence of the human condition in the midst of life’s most challenging moments as well as Glennon.

I wrote about my intense admiration for her in a post last month. And it’s because I am magnetically drawn to people like her — people who accept responsibility for their life choices, who don’t blame others for their problems, who courageously admit their flaws for the sake of helping and encouraging others, and are the ones willing to stand up and raise their hands to say: “This is what it’s REALLY like when I’m not pretending to be who I think everyone wants me to be!”

Because then we all get to feel a little more “normal” afterward. It takes the brave people admitting things for us to realize we aren’t the only ones with those same feelings and fears.

It takes courageous people to teach us how to live courageously.

From Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens’ story about the Love Warrior book release.

“It’s a beautiful lesson for each of us who takes on the responsibility and privilege of partnering and parenting: Do it authentically.

“I asked Melton if it’s daunting to embark on such a public life — book tour, speaking gigs — on the heels of announcing her separation.

‘I’m used to going out all busted up,’ she said. ‘It’s where I’m most comfortable. Now, more than ever, people don’t want shiny, perfect.

‘Lovely and easy and shiny people are really comfortable talking about their problems when they’re over,’ she continued. ‘We’re not allowed to struggle until after we’ve done our victory lap. That’s fine, but it’s less helpful than hearing from people in the trenches. How do I show up in the during? Maybe this all happened to me so I can go out there and be seen in the during.’

Thanks, Glennon.

I know exactly what you mean.

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The Third Post-Divorce Valentine’s Day

Wilted rose sad on valentine's day

I didn’t want to write about Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t thinking about it at all. But it turns out, THAT is the entire point. (Image/freepromotoday.com)

My phone buzzed.

The text read: “I’m telling you now, so we don’t have to have a guilt-ridden conversation later. Today is my bday. Holla! And I am expecting a good V-day post in honor of it.”

“Happy birthday! A V-day post!? What would I possibly write about?”

“I don’t know! About being single on Valentine’s Day?… Unlessss… Wait, do you have another secret girl?!”

(For clarification, said “secret girl” was someone I went out with a few times, and it represented the first time post-divorce that I believed something serious might be happening. It wasn’t.)

“I do not. But I also don’t feel loneliness anymore,” I said.

“Well then. Isn’t that a post?” she said.

“Is it?”

“Isn’t it?!”

“Seems self-indulgent.”

“How could it be self-indulgent when… so many people follow you with the HOPE of one day, being on the other side?! Those ‘I’m not feeling loneliness anymore’ posts are very important to your story. I think.”

Maybe she’s right.

Here’s the thing: I can’t remember me three years ago. I remember wanting to die. But recreating traumatic emotion is, thankfully, not a skill I possess.

I won’t pretend to know what other people feel at the end of their marriage. It was all, just, very bad at my house. I spent 18 months in the guest room. That’s, what? About 540 consecutive mornings of waking up and realizing your life is shitty and your wife doesn’t want you? That takes a toll.

I tried to stay hopeful.

On that final Valentine’s Day, I got her a card. The one I received came from our son, but not her. The depths of my denial were apparently limitless.

April 1, 2013 was the last time I shared an address with another adult.

Loneliness is a State of Mind

I freaked out.

I can’t explain the depths of the pain, fear, sadness, grief and anger I felt. I had no idea simply being alive could feel like that. You either know what I’m talking about, or you’re very fortunate.

In the early days, I was with friends constantly. If I wasn’t home with my son, I was out having drinks. I stayed busy and surrounded by others because spending too much time in my empty house taught me how loud silence can be.

Friends and family were checking in constantly. I have never known lonely like I did then.

Lonely isn’t the same thing as isolated.

You can be standing in the middle of a bustling New York City sidewalk and feel lonely.

And you can be sitting alone on a lakeside picnic table soaking in a gorgeous sunny day with no one in sight and be the furthest thing from it.

We can’t cure loneliness simply by surrounding ourselves with others.

It has to be the right others. But broken insides don’t heal from the outside in. The healing has to start from the inside. And we don’t have much control over how long it takes.

When you first get divorced following 34 straight years of pretty much always being with someone in public, you feel like the biggest loser imaginable when the restaurant hostess asks whether anyone will be joining you.

“Nope. Just me,” I’d say, and then imagine what she must think about me since she probably thought I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to join me.

I’d sit there on my phone, or with a pen and notebook, and I’d meet the eyes of other diners, all of whom had at least one person sitting with them. I felt like every one of them was sending me pity vibes each time we made eye contact.

I irrationally believed everyone who saw me could tell my wife had moved out and thought I was pathetic, when the truth is they likely didn’t give me a second thought.

When you spend 540 straight nights in a guest room, then your wife leaves you and seems a million-percent happier about it than you, really bad things happen to your mental and emotional make-up.

I wrote honest stories here about how it felt. About how afraid I was of everything. A bunch of tough guys read some of it and internet-yelled: “Be a man, pussy!!!”

But, they can all suck it.

I wasn’t broken because I was weak. I was broken because human resiliency is a finite resource, and I’d just been through some shit.

When all you have ever known is companionship and connection, being alone and feeling the disconnection of divorce and celibacy and your child being gone half the time is the recipe for profound loneliness.

And that’s what I felt. Every time I saw an old married couple. Every time I saw any couple. Every time I saw big groups of friends laughing and having a good time. Every time I returned home from a fun weekend away. Every time I walked in the door to my quiet, empty house. Every time I woke up in the morning and realized I was the oldest I’ve ever been AND that my life was worse than it has ever been.

That’s a pretty bleak and brutal realization.

The Giant Ever-Spinning Globe

It’s not something you earn.

It just happens.

You just… feel better.

You have a million questions following a painful divorce, but I think the one you care about the most is: When will I feel like myself again?

Everyone and their individual situations are different. Maybe it’s easier for people to move on when they don’t have children and don’t have to see and speak to their ex constantly. Maybe people who have been through traumatic life events prior to divorce don’t think it’s as bad as the rest of us do. Maybe some people brush off divorce easily because of their emotional wiring in the same way some people can roll their tongues while others can’t.

My wife left on April 1, 2013. That day, and many that followed, are tied for the worst day of my life.

A year later, it was still hard.

Two years later, it was much less so.

Three years later? I spent two hours yesterday morning with my ex-wife and her new significant other, and there were zero ill-effects. He’s a good guy. We have history. And I count my blessings every day that he is in my son’s life instead of an unknown entity or someone who sucks.

You don’t “earn” healing. There isn’t a “best way” to heal in order to speed up the process. If you hurt, you just hurt. And it doesn’t stop until it stops.

There are no shortcuts. Just masks. Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. People use them to numb the pain. To escape.

The only escape is the other side. The only way is through it.

The Earth spins around every 24 hours. It fully orbits the sun every 365.25 days.

And here on the ground a million imperceptible things are happening inside our hearts and souls. We watch the sun rise and set. We watch the clocks tick off the minutes. We flip the pages on our calendars.

And then we wake up, and it’s tomorrow even though it felt like it was never going to get here.

The days are dark at first. We feel out of control. We sometimes question whether waking up tomorrow is even worth it.

But early in the process, I thought of something important. It’s true, and it has stuck with me, and I will never stop saying it:

Someday, the best day of our life is going to arrive. The best thing that will ever happen to us, will happen, or at least something awesome that makes every day after more inspiring and life-giving.

Someday, we will be presented with a new opportunity or we will meet someone who will maybe become the most important person in our lives.

Since looking forward to awesome things is one of life’s greatest pleasures, I always figure: Why not start now?

Something good and beautiful is out there waiting to randomly bump into us in the future. Look forward to it. Choose hope.

And when that day arrives, we get to connect all the dots. We get to see how everything needed to happen exactly as it did. We get to have this beautiful and important thing in our lives and we get to know that all of the shit we crawled through was worth it because it was the only path to now.

I used to say it even when I didn’t feel it: Everything is going to be okay.

It’s three years later, guys. And everything is okay.

Today just might be the day the best thing that ever happens to me, happens.

And if it doesn’t?

I like having things to look forward to.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Maybe Pain and Misery is the Only Way

guy at bar alone

(Image/ThatBestMan.com)

I was drinking a lot of vodka to numb the pain.

Not scary amounts. Nothing dangerous. But I was using alcohol medicinally for the first time and that’s probably bad.

But when you feel jacked up on the inside and everything hurts no matter what, and you’re so scared about tomorrow because for the first time you don’t have any sense of what the future might look like, you only have so many options.

I didn’t want to die, even though that’s the one thing I stopped fearing.

I tried to have fun, but when the brokenness is inside you, it comes with you to parties and friends’ houses and holiday gatherings even when it’s not invited.

Sleeping sounds good. But when every night your subconscious delivers a highlight reel of your wife with someone else, even falling asleep starts to scare you.

So I drank a little. Two or three vodka drinks in an ice-filled tumbler. Feeling sorry for myself. Binge-watching Netflix, but not digesting the escapist fare not doing its job.

I missed them so much—my wife and son. And the only relief seemed to be the nights my little boy was home with me. But when he was home, it meant she was with him. More unwanted highlight reels—my mind concocting vivid X-rated scenes I didn’t find arousing.

I puked a lot.

I finally knew what it meant to be a broken person.

Two things happened when I started blogging in late June 2013.

The first was that writing stuff down helped me feel better. Tangibly. Like a miracle, even though the psych community had been touting the merits of doing so for as long as I could remember. I don’t always believe things until they happen to me.

The second was that a bunch of people started writing me telling me they felt the same way. Men would write me to say they’ve been where I am, or that they were going through it also. And when you find someone who really understands you, you heal even more. Even if they’re faceless strangers on the internet. Women would write me because they were married to, or dating, men who were behaving in ways I identified as the likely cause of my divorce.

And every one of those women still emotionally invested in their relationship had one obvious question: “How did you figure this out, and what can I do to help my husband understand what you now seem to?”

Divorce is the Worst and I Can’t Be the Only One Who Thinks So

I didn’t think: Hey, I know! I’ll write about divorce stuff!

I actually thought: Maybe it will be interesting to write about being freshly divorced and single with a young child and trying to build a new life. There will probably be some hilarious dating stories!

My ill-conceived attempt to journal my dating experiences quickly turned into something else. It turned into a written journey of self-reflection while I tried to find an answer to the questions: What did I do to cause this? What could I have done differently? What will it take to make sure it never happens again?

And as the comments continued to pour in from damaged spouses (mostly wives struggling to connect with their husbands while feeling emotionally abandoned), this seemingly inconsequential slice of the internet developed a meaningful purpose.

To make people realize they weren’t alone. Husbands. Wives. Boyfriends. Girlfriends. Straight. Gay. Everyone has their own tragic love story.

Everyone wants to love and be loved.

And everyone wants to know the secret: How do I find that Happily-Ever-After kind of love?

The kind where it always feels good.

The kind where it always feels safe.

The kind that lasts forever.

Whether your soul has been infected by the worst kind of marital fuckness, or your heart simply aches for someone who is always just out of reach, love—the kind attached to marriage and dating and sex—hurts. Badly.

It’s the kind of pain you have to numb or tough out until time heals you because there are no simple fixes.

And no one makes a scar cream capable of erasing this kind.

It’s the Pain

That’s what makes us change.

The pain.

When we’re kids, we learn not to touch hot surfaces or play with sharp knives or avoid hard impacts, because when we are burnt, cut or struck, we feel pain and learn to try and avoid it.

I lived my life having exclusively positive relationships with girls. I was nice. I didn’t toy with people emotionally. And pretty much everyone I’ve dated has liked me after we stopped.

I think it might be that simple.

Hey wife! Everyone likes me! I’m friends with everyone I used to date! No one else EVER complains about me! So tell me why I should believe you’re not the one with the problem?

It’s not illogical. It’s damn near the scientific method—a systematic and logical approach to forming the (incorrect) conclusion that you are NEVER responsible for anything bad, and that you’re always a victim! Because you didn’t MEAN to do anything wrong!

I think most women think most men are: Selfish, dense, lazy (about activities that don’t interest them), and insensitive.

I think most men think most women are: Emotionally volatile, illogical, unfair, inconsistent, and ungrateful (because his flaws are constantly under scrutiny, while he never hears praise—which he craves—for all of his positive contributions).

I think women think this because it’s really hard for her to imagine how his brain works. She assumes his brain functions like hers, thus he must be mean and stupid.

I think men think this because it’s really hard for him to imagine how her mind and body work. He assumes she thinks and feels—mechanically—in a way that’s similar to him. Thus, she must be hormonal and crazy.

She says something to him that makes perfect sense, but he doesn’t get it.

He fires back with a perfectly valid point of his own, but she doesn’t get it.

The two translators are INCAPABLE of comprehending what the other is saying. Even more importantly, the man is befuddled by her reaction because what he just said would result in a way different reaction from him. The woman is totally confused about him not getting it because she’s speaking very clearly about this thing she KNOWS she is experiencing and he’s not validating it. He’s not admitting it’s true.

She feels a combination of rage and heartbrokenness and fear.

He feels a combination of shame and confusion and frustration.

Often he will feel better soon if he just gets some time alone to think about something else. He’ll come back later ready to hug, apologize and have make-up sex.

But she WILL NOT feel better if she’s left alone. She won’t think about something else. She’ll think about this and the 50 previous fights that were just like this one. She’s afraid he doesn’t love her anymore, and she’s questioning the long-term stability of the relationship which makes her feel afraid, and she feels totally disrespected and invalidated. So the hugs and apologies start to feel empty and meaningless after a while.

And she doesn’t want to have sex because he doesn’t make her feel safe, loved or wanted anymore.

It’s happening all over the world. Right now.

It’s happening to one of you. Right now.

And it ends in piles of shit and misery. Always. You either split up. One of you has an affair. Or you spend years feeling resentful toward the person you’re supposed to love, and like a prisoner in your own life.

And You Have to Want More Than That

You have two other options.

One is stay single. And it does seem easier and less complicated. But we get lonely and we crave companionship and most of us like orgasms. Preferably with other people. So, almost inevitably it seems, we seek partnership.

And for that to work, there’s only one option: Learning best practices for marriage or long-term relationships that last a lifetime.

It’s not so different than learning skills in a particular sport or hobby or profession.

The problem is, most people think they have it all figured out like I did. They’re “smart.” Everything will be totally fine!

And they take for granted that it won’t always be fine. And once it starts to get really hard because one of you lost your job, or because your house is financially underwater, or because of health problems and medical bills, or because someone really close to you dies—most people lack the knowledge and skills and emotional resolve to get through it.

More fighting. More affairs. More divorce.

More guys who don’t figure out what happened. More women wondering how they’re ever going to trust another man, because they all seem the same. More children who bury pain and put on a happy face around mom and dad who they secretly wish were still together.

It’s really hard to do what it takes to love another person more than yourself.

It’s really hard to put your spouse’s needs ahead of your own, and statistically challenging to find a partner willing to do the same in return.

It’s really hard to admit you’re part of the problem. Perhaps the biggest part.

Even the most unselfish of us still feel What’s in it for me? from time to time.

“Hey Matt! How did you figure this out? How can I get my husband to figure out what you did?”

I think there’s probably an effective way on the front end of marital problems. A way for men and women to proactively bolster their marriage so that the foundation is unshakable when the hits eventually come.

And I’m still trying to figure out what that is.

In the meantime, the answer to your question is: The pain.

Waking up every day and asking: What can I do to help my wife have the best day possible and know that I love her? (along with seeing your children every day) is the OBVIOUS choice over the gargantuan pile of shit divorce dumps on your life. You’re ashamed. You lose confidence. You have less money. You miss your children. You miss companionship. You miss the person who was your best friend, even though you can barely remember what that version of them was really like. You miss having a sexual partner. You miss holidays feeling special. You miss in-law family events you’re no longer invited to. You miss your friends who you always spent time with as a couple.

And you miss yourself.

The person you used to know when you looked in the mirror.

The one who didn’t feel as if they failed at the most important thing that ever happened to them.

I don’t know how to make men feel and respond as I did. As I do.

I only know how to write these things down.

Maybe for someone, that can be enough.

Even if that someone is just me.

And even if I no longer need the vodka.

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The Faux Apocalypse

Image by eKBS at Deviant Art.

Image by eKBS at Deviant Art.

The world ended 616 days ago when my wife moved out and my little son became someone I only got to see half the time.

He was 4. The same age I was when my mom left my dad.

That was one year, eight months, and six days ago.

Today isn’t any sort of anniversary. And I’m only thinking about it because I had a perfectly pleasant and seemingly “normal” email exchange about a couple things with my son’s mom.

We were married nine years. It mattered. And it’s sad that we’re not married anymore on a handful of levels.

The most-shocking thing about getting divorced was feeling how hard it was even though I’d already experienced divorce as a child. Your entire life you hear about couples getting divorced, but it never really seems like that big of a deal from the outside looking in.

In the case of a death, we rush to everyone’s side. We send sympathy cards and flowers and make lasagnas. But when people get divorced, we just shrug and think: Gee. That sucks.

But then you get divorced.

And you can’t even breathe.

Maybe it’s because you were so accustomed to the rhythm of life. You get up, kiss your wife and son, go to work, come home, have dinner together, do this or that and go to sleep and do it again the next day.

Routine feels safe.

And then it stops suddenly and you freak out because everything’s different now and change scares us.

And maybe it’s because an actual piece of your soul was intertwined with someone else’s soul. And divorce doesn’t surgically separate that. It just rips the shit out of it and leaves it bleeding.

You gasp for breath. Frantically try to take your mind off it with TV or books or parties or friends or drinks or family or work, but everything you do and experience reminds you of your now-failed marriage.

Your now-failed life.

It reminds you of broken homes and broken dreams and broken hearts.

It reminds you that you had ONE job that really mattered.

And you didn’t get it done.

And you cry.

And then you’re someone else. You’re not who you were. You look in the mirror and think: Who the hell are you?

Someone unfamiliar. Someone strange and broken.

The Time Machine

Life doesn’t have a fast-forward button to get through the hard times. We just have to gut it out.

And it’s excruciatingly slow when everything feels poisoned and broken and wrong.

But life does have a funny way of making it seem—in hindsight—as if time flew by. Maybe it’s our mind’s way of healing.

But here we are. One year, eight months, and six days later.

What have I learned? Am I healed? What can I do to make sure I never feel that way again?

I’ve learned that divorce is worse than I thought. The emotional fallout is unlike anything I could have ever imagined. And losing so much time with your child? Life is too short and too precious to lose what little time we have with our children.

But this is what happens when two people can’t muster up the fortitude and courage necessary to love even when it’s hard. It’s a tall order. It can feel impossible. But if we’ll step in front of a truck or bullet to save our child from harm, it seems particularly foolish and selfish to suggest we can’t also be courageous enough to choose to love someone we already promised to love and cherish forever. Because that’s what is best for our children.

And certainly not in ALL cases, but in most, I believe it’s what is best for us.

There are no perfect partners out there. There are no magic people with whom we will never fight or disagree. With whom we will always want to lustily ravage in the throes of passion.

The Other Side of Divorce

Am I healed?

Damn close. It’s still a tricky thing. A little sensitive. Particularly as it pertains to my son who I cherish above all things. I don’t like not seeing him half the time. I don’t like that I can’t do anything for him when he’s not with me. I don’t like that there will likely be another father figure in his life one day and that if that man is not a particularly good person down deep where it counts, I can’t be sure how that will rub off on my son.

But the most underrated, non-discussed aspect of divorce, from my perspective, is the ebb and flow and logistics of life.

I was born in 1979.

I was raised by parents until I was 18.

I went to college and lived with my best friend for four years.

I started dating my ex-wife, and even when I lived alone, she was always around to help me.

We were married nine years.

Then BOOM.

Here’s a big spoonful of shit, Matt. Eat it. You may not like it. But you better figure out how to deal anyway.

All the sudden, all the little things that need done when you own a house and care for a school-aged child come into play and blindside a guy that relied so heavily on a mom and a wife for the first thirty-whatever years of life. Wow. They did a lot. And with infinitely more efficiency than me.

It’s big and scary and some people totally shut down and can’t handle it. That was me for a stretch.

It all still scares me a little. But nothing like before. Because when you do something 616 days in a row, you realize that you can do it for 616 more.

I have fallen short in several areas, several times. I’m still figuring things out. But I’m getting there.

Love.

Fortitude.

Courage.

How Can I Stop This From Happening Again?

Because it’s really scary to break on the inside and I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

But how?

I don’t know. Nothing?

Do a better job at marriage if I’m ever someone’s partner again?

That’s the rub. Marriage and divorce are big and scary propositions. Ones we don’t see coming when we’re young and in love and feeling invincible.

There’s no insurance against heartache.

Someone can always leave you.

People will always die.

Humans will always be human.

I always say I don’t know much. Still true. I just know the few things I know based on my own experiences. Those are the only things I can really be sure about. And they only really apply to me, and anyone who happens to be like me.

And here’s what I know: Divorce is hard. Excruciating. But you just keep breathing. And after hundreds of days, it doesn’t feel so hard anymore.

I know that I kind of wanted to die because I didn’t want to feel so bad.

And 616 days later, I don’t want to die anymore.

I know that I didn’t know how I was going to get through life alone, raising a young son when I can’t even take care of myself.

And 616 days later, I can take care of myself. And I’ve never felt more pride in anything than I do in that little boy.

I know that I was broken, gasping for air and searching for purpose. I don’t know what’s going to happen and I’m scared.

And 616 days later, I feel whole, I can breathe and I am thrilled to be raising my son with his mom while continuing to push my own limits at home and in my career, building a new life, creating more purpose.

I still don’t know what’s going to happen.

But with 616 days in the books? I know I can handle it.

And I’m pretty sure tomorrow is going to be better than today.

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Writer’s Block, Vol. 2

writers-block

Muse – n. – a source of artistic inspiration.

I’m having trouble writing.

Since launching this blog in late June 2013, I have had little trouble coming up with post ideas.

This is my 271st post published since then.

My writing is fueled by negativity.

It’s sad. But it’s true.

Fear. Anger. Pain. Sadness.

Those emotions dictate the action. When I feel those things, I can’t not write.

But I’m a little less scared now.

A lot less angry.

I don’t hurt unless I stumble on a trigger.

And I can’t remember the last time I cried.

Maybe My Muse is Dead

Human beings will always feel afraid and mad and hurt and sad. I will always feel those things.

But I’m no brooding artist.

And the only way for me to feel lots of pain and sadness is for me to intentionally go there. To time travel to all those moments that destroyed my family and thrust upon me this new and foreign and unwanted and unexpected life.

But I’m not going to do that.

I’m not going to intentionally make myself feel bad just so I can punch these keys more effortlessly. I don’t want to feel bad.

The entire point of this writing exercise from the start was to exorcise some of my demons. To explore my life and my choices and to figure out how those decisions got me here.

I don’t intend to stop doing that.

But I have so much less time now.

Because I’m living again. As more than just dots on a screen. As a real person. Laughing. And hugging. And anticipating. And doing. And just… being.

Months ago, all the unusual silence in my home screamed. I was terrified. Abandoned. Alone.

It wasn’t home.

But now it is again.

There was no one specific event I can point to.

No “ah-ha! That’s it!”

Just a collection of good things trickling into my life, one laugh, one prayer, one post, one party, one date, one moment at a time.

Building up on top of one another and forming this entirely new thing.

We’re more than a year in now.

Since she left.

Since I dealt with the enormous shock of life without my son at home half the time.

Since my world changed into a frightening strange new place, stripping me of so much control that I foolishly thought I had.

And that’s maybe my key takeaway so far from my personal year in review.

The Healing

The trick is simply to stay alive.

Just stay alive.

And then you wake up one day and things aren’t looking so ominous.

Hope?

And then more time goes by and you’re laughing more and worrying less.

Is this going to last?

And then more time goes by and you’ve healed even more. And it fortifies your spirit. And inspires courage. Courage you didn’t even know you had.

I can do this.

And then even more time goes by and you rediscover yourself. You recognize pieces and parts of you, but now you have so much more strength and wisdom and resolve. Now you have the tools to live advantageously in ways you never could before.

You wish you could go back in time and tell yourself what to do and not to do. Because now you know. And you regret the brokenness. And you regret the time lost. And you wish things could be different.

But they’re not different.

They just are whatever they are.

And because it’s less scary and because you’re more courageous it all feels okay—all those differences. It doesn’t feel good, necessarily. But it doesn’t feel bad.

And in a world where relativism and expectations affect us, that’s a whole lot better than dead.

Both literally dead, like all the people who don’t get to have an amazing day today like you and I do.

And figuratively dead. Like I was just one year ago.

I was nobody. I wasn’t who I was before. And I didn’t know who I was going to be tomorrow.

Maybe I still don’t.

But that’s okay. Because I can just enjoy being alive today.

I even managed to write a post with writer’s block.

Maybe my muse isn’t dead.

Maybe my muse is life.

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It’s Okay to Hurt

hurtheart1Sarah was just a child when she lost her big sister.

A gorgeous 17-year-old. Stricken with cancer. Died in her bedroom in her father’s arms.

I’ll never forget it because it was my first funeral.

Second grade. Sarah was 8. I would turn 8 a couple weeks later.

Sarah watched her parents lose their first born. And she watched her four younger siblings struggle to make sense of it all.

Thrust involuntarily into the eldest-sibling role, she was forged in pain. In loss. From some of her earliest memories.

Now, Sarah’s a mom. She gave birth to two children. And after learning she would never bear children again, she and her husband adopted a child in 2010. Not two weeks old.

Baby M.

He was a beloved member of their family before he even got there. A brother to an adoring big sister and big brother. And the pride of two parents who felt immeasurable joy being able to love and raise another child.

But Baby M’s birth mother lied when going through the adoption process. Hiding the identity of the birth father.

The birth father discovered he had a son and eventually filed for custody of Baby M.

The court had to choose between a biological parent whom the child had never met, and a loving family who had raised Baby M for more than two years—his entire life.

The judge awarded custody to the birth father in a case that set legal precedent in their state of residence.

Sarah watched her two children lose their brother.

She watched her husband crumble under the weight of it all.

And she watched her baby get taken away, and handed to someone else.

Her marriage disintegrated.

And she’s now separated, too. Just trying to figure it all out. Just trying to keep her children in one piece.

She recently attended Baby M’s fourth birthday party. She maintains an as-pleasant-as-possible relationship with the birth father.

She watched her son—who doesn’t remember her as his mom—open presents. Play. And do all of the things she must imagine him doing in her quiet moments of reflection.

And then, at the end of the evening, she had to crouch down in front of him. Say goodbye. And hope that she’ll get to see him again next year.

I don’t have many friends that I’ve known longer than Sarah. I certainly don’t have any I respect and admire more.

As such, we have a close relationship, where we talk about all of the messy stuff.

All the stuff that really hurts. 

The Hurt

The first thing to go is your breathing.

What you do reflexively about 15 times every minute of your life becomes work.

The chest and stomach respond accordingly. Tightening. Unforgiving. A reminder of our weakness.

Our muscles tense. Our heads ache. Our eyes water.

Our hearts break.

Not in pieces like we watched in cartoons back when life was simple.

They simply stop functioning properly.

They break down.

Then we break down.

When it hurts too much.

Then We Reach Out

Because that’s what people do. We connect.

To not feel alone. To not be alone.

Sometimes we scream. Sometimes we hug. Sometimes we cry.

Almost always, we talk.

We write.

The most tried-and-true forms of therapy since the dawn of the mental health profession.

Sarah and I reach out to one another when it hurts.

And that’s when it always hits me.

I’m crying about losing my son 50 percent of the time.

But she has LOST her son. Someone took him away. Forever.

I’m crying about divorce, isolation, loneliness.

But she has had it so much worse. And now divorce may be on the table for her, too.

I’m crying about financial concerns as I continue my adjustment to my one-income life.

But the legal fight for their son wiped them out completely.

Sarah would NEVER try to one-up your story. That’s not who she is. But she can always do you one better.

Sometimes I realize the absurdity of my whining relative to all she has been through.

And that’s when she stops me. Because she really dislikes that.

“It makes me sad when my friends minimize their troubles or pain because they think mine are greater,” she said. “There is no need for that. I don’t hold the monopoly on pain.”

And while she’s being noble and selfless, she’s also, just, right.

Your Pains Are Yours

I’ve never lived in a place without running water before.

So it was hard for me last week when my pipes were frozen and I had to go a couple days without indoor plumbing at home.

It is frustrating when you’re without electricity for a long time.

It is challenging to not have internet access in 2014.

When that’s all you know.

You just broke up with your girlfriend? Your dog needs surgery? You have expensive car repairs?

Your pains and fears are real. And it’s okay to hurt. And the people that love you will invite you to talk about those things and not trivialize them.

You mustn’t either.

Sarah’s so tough, I could go on a weekend Vegas bender courtesy of her credit card and it would only be the 27th shittiest thing that’s happened to her in the past few months.

Kurt Cobain. Junior Seau. Ernest Hemingway. Countless others.

Beloved celebrities. Adored by the masses. Had all the financial resources in the world.

How is it even remotely possible for their lives to suck?

Yet, they sucked. So much so that these people took their own lives because being dead sounded better than feeling hurt all the time.

Everybody hurts. In their own ways.

And people shouldn’t be ashamed of that. People shouldn’t have to apologize for the pain they feel.

I broke after my divorce.

Broke.

Now what am I supposed to do with my life?

Who will want to date me?

How will I trust again?

I miss my son.

This house is so quiet.

The empty bed, so cold.

Who do I want to be?

Am I strong enough?

When will this go away?

There’s no fast-forward button.

The shit hits. You have to eat a bunch of it. And then you make your next move.

The clock ticks.

The Earth spins.

The calendar flips.

Then one day you wake up and the bed isn’t so cold anymore. The right person will show up.

The house isn’t so quiet. Because you’re comfortable in your own skin. Because you’re living again.

You find purpose in other things.

You give all the love you can to your child during those precious moments together.

And then you cry less.

Or maybe not at all.

You find your smile again.

Laugh.

Discover beauty.

Find joy in the little things once more.

The scars form.

And you emerge from the fire a little stronger than before. A little braver than before.

Like my friend Sarah.

Maybe even like me.

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A Glimpse

It's just a glimpse. But it lingers. When we slow down. When we notice.

It’s just a glimpse. But it lingers. When we slow down. When we notice.

There’s a U.S. military arsenal not far from where I live—adjacent to the small township in which my ex-wife grew up in Ohio.

Why here?

The story I always heard is that the government chose this area to build a military facility because it is statistically the cloudiest place in the United States—making satellite surveillance of this region particularly difficult.

I don’t know whether this really is the cloudiest place in the country. But it’s so gray that I’m not sure it matters. We have our share of pleasant weather in the summer and autumn seasons.

But winter? Even spring?

It’s certainly the cloudiest place I’ve ever lived, and that’s including two other locations in Ohio hours away from here.

A lot of clouds. A lot of gray. A lot of sad.

It’s the Great Lakes.

There’s a lot of water. And water makes clouds.

The grayness feels like a prison sometimes.

Whenever you fly out of here in particularly cloudy weather, it’s always fun to break through the cloud barrier into the clear skies at high altitudes.

Free!

Day after day after day of the clouds can sometimes wear on you. Mentally. Spiritually. Emotionally.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence they call the ailment SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.

But ever the positive spinster, the geographic conditions do cause one lovely side effect. When the skies are clear and the grass is green, we tend to take notice.

We tend to not take it for granted. We tend to soak it in. We tend to feel gratitude.

So it is today.

The only remnants of winter, a few small snow piles that have yet to succumb to melting.

The grass, green.

The sky, blue. So blue.

The bare tree branches criss-crossing the blank canvass, giving our eyes more access to the big, blue heavens.

It’s not forever.

It’s only a glimpse.

Merely a sample.

One small taste.

A whisper of spring.

Silent and still.

To hear the whisper.

Sudden noise may scare it away.

So it waits.

And so we wait.

So still that it lingers.

Like a promise.

A promise that tomorrow, and next week, and next month can be better than now.

A promise of rebirth.

An opportunity.

To do what we want.

To be who we want.

But, don’t hurry.

Winter’s not through, yet.

There’s still time.

For the world to spin.

For wounds to heal.

For scars to form.

For dreams to take root.

For growth.

So for now, we wait.

Not on our time.

On nature’s time.

Not what we want.

But what is right.

That sweet day, full of warmth, light and birdsong.

When new life begins.

And we climb once more.

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