Tag Archives: Parenting

She Divorced Me Because I Was Nicer to Strangers Than I Was to Her

couple fighting in public

(Image/Bao Moi)

I was usually nicer to strangers than I was to my wife.

People I didn’t know and would never see again. I treated them with patience, courtesy and politeness.

But the person who lived in the same house, gave birth to my son, and did more for me than anyone else? I often didn’t extend those same courtesies to her.

While I was oblivious to most of my missteps as a husband, I was fully aware of this—something I’ve noticed about myself from childhood: I sometimes treat total strangers better than the people I love most.

From age 5 on, I lived with my mom nine months out of the year. I lived with my dad, who lived hundreds of miles away, the other three months (school breaks).

I was observably nicer to my dad than my mom.

Throughout my relationship with my wife, she would point out instances when she felt I was being mean, or impatient, or thoughtless toward her, and that it hurt her feelings because as she was feeling that way, she could see me being kind, patient and thoughtful toward others, even strangers. She wondered why I couldn’t treat her that way, too.

My defense was always something like: “I LOVE you. I married you. Everything I have is yours,” arguing that should somehow earn me the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t know why I did that, felt that, or thought that.

I have a little boy in third grade who I love in ways I don’t know how to articulate. He’s my favorite everything.

But sometimes, I’m kind of a dick to him, and I hate it.

When he gets crumbs on the floor, or makes some mistake that is probably super-standard for little boys in third grade, or otherwise “fails” whatever expectations I have for him in a given moment, I sometimes respond with anger and a little harshness.

Sometimes I imagine if the last words I ever said to him were angry or prick-ish, and then I died in a car accident or something.

I almost feel like crying when I mentally put myself there.

I was nicer to other adults than I was to my parents.

I was nicer to other people than I was to my wife.

I was and am sometimes nicer to other children than I was or am to my son.

We know that we love the people we love. But the people we love only know we love them when they see, hear and feel evidence of that love. They don’t just psychically or magically feel good because of our thoughts and intentions.

When we are nicer to others than we are to them, they can begin to question whether we actually do love them.

I don’t know what that does to a parent when their child treats others better than them as I’m still in My Dad Can Do No Wrong Land, which will surely go away in the next couple of years. Not looking forward to finding out what that’s like.

Bad things happen to children who feel unloved and unaccepted by their parents.

And bad things happen to people who feel unloved, unwanted or rejected by their spouses.

All because we sometimes treat strangers better than people we love.

As Always, You’re Not the Only One

The term is “selfobject.” And you and I have “selfobject needs” and when these needs go unfulfilled, we lose our sense of self, feel shittier about our lives, treat ourselves and other people worse, and inadvertently damage all of our relationships, including our marriages.

Psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut figured this out and coined the term in the mid-twentieth century, and therapist F. Diane Barth illustrated it with examples from one of her married-couple clients in her excellent article “Why It’s Easier to be Kind to Strangers Than Our Partners” which I discovered by typing almost that exact phrase into Google.

“At some point in every relationship, partners, parents, siblings, friends, and even children provide psychological and emotional functions for us that we cannot provide for ourselves.”

Most people—even non-parents—can probably relate to married couple Bob and Ann.

The couple struggled for years to conceive a child.

When they finally did, they welcomed a colicky newborn into the world who cried nonstop every night for a long time.

The first thing that happened was all of the happy things they’d imagined in their heads about starting a family looked and felt quite different in real life. It was supposed to be amazing and feel good. But mostly it was exhausting and felt bad.

Bob and Ann both are stressing out, big-time.

Ann feels like a crappy mother.

Bob feels helpless but tries anyway by offering suggestions. The suggestions anger Ann. She cries and lets him know how much harder he’s making it on her.

He withdraws. She feels abandoned.

This is totally NOT how I thought this would go, they think.

Stress is hard on marriage and relationships even when the stress is good, like moving into a new house, taking a new job, or bringing a new child home.

“It is also common not to have compassion for one another during these times, even though it would seem that it would be exactly the most useful emotion in the moment,” Barth writes. “Why is it that we can be compassionate and kind to friends, relatives and even strangers in ways that we cannot muster for our loved ones?

“The answer is in part found in the meaning of compassion itself. One of the keys to compassion is empathy, which author and speaker Brené Brown defines as the ability to take another person’s perspective, to understand and appreciate what they are feeling. We expect our loved ones to do exactly this for us. Ann expected Bob to appreciate how badly she was feeling about herself as a mother, for instance. She also needed him to recognize how hard she was trying and to tell her that she was not a bad mother simply because her baby was not being soothed.

“But, as happens in relationships, Bob also had needs. In particular, he needed Ann to help him feel okay about himself as a partner. He needed to believe that she would know how to soothe their baby. And he desperately wanted her to let him know that they were going to be the family he had imagined they were.”

Kohut said people require “selfobject needs” to be met just like they need oxygen to breathe, from birth to death.

Kohut explained that humans use the RESPONSES of certain others—our romantic partners or parents or children or friends, etc.—to help us maintain a healthy, balanced, positive, stable sense of self.

In other words, we make those closest to us an actual part of ourselves, and those people provide important psychological and emotional functions for us that we can’t give ourselves.

We literally rely on loved-ones’ behavior to guide our beliefs about ourselves, and to know the person we believe ourselves to be and see in the mirror while brushing our teeth.

And when those others stop providing the responses we’re conditioned to expect, or that we grew accustomed to, we’re not really ourselves anymore. We stop being the person we thought we were.

And when people in marriages or romantic relationships of any kind become someone else, everything tends to break.

But you know that already.

Because it’s not just you. And it’s not just me. And that often makes us feel better to know we’re not in this alone.

But I don’t really feel that way about this, because it’s another in a LONG and distinguished list of things that cause divorce that WOULDN’T cause divorce if we were simply aware of it before it happened, or as it was happening.

I’m aware of many areas of my life that could use improvement. Sometimes, I take steps to make things better. Sometimes, I let bad habits continue to make my life worse and erode my relationships.

Even when I understand that my words and actions are accidentally hurting someone I love and care about, I still sometimes say or do those things thoughtlessly.

Maybe that will always be.

Or maybe some habits are simply harder to break, and I’ll get there one day.

I didn’t know how to make my wife feel loved.

I don’t know if I would know how to make her feel loved now.

I only know that a bunch of bad things happened because I was unaware of how my words and actions made her feel, and then everything got sick and died.

But you can’t treat an illness that you can’t diagnose.

And maybe now that we’ve identified it, we can do things better.

You deserve it.

And so do all the people who matter most.

If we can treat total strangers with kindness, using polite language and thoughtful action, I think we might be able to do the same for our spouses.

And since I don’t have one of those, I’m going to have to count on you find out.

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5 Sales and Writing Secrets That Could Save Your Marriage (and Make Your Relationships Thrive)

telling a secret

(Image/We Share Pics)

Couples struggle in relationships because they don’t know how to talk to each other.

There are other reasons. But that’s the biggest.

Maybe I’m the only one, but nuanced, intangible things like “feelings” and “communication” and “psychology” never pulled much weight with me growing up, or even in my 20s.

Feelings?! Those are for girls!

Communication?! What’s there to talk about?! Everyone is basically the same!

Psychology?! That’s pseudo-science! Can’t we talk about something that matters, like football or movies?!

Yes, I was/am an idiot.

Those very accurate (if ignorant) thoughts and internal monologues explain why I’m divorced.

It’s worth repeating: If your marriage is miserable and broken, the reason is because you don’t know how to talk to each other.

Sure, you both have personal and collective problems outside of the communication spectrum, but two people pulling in the same direction who understand how to exchange healthy and productive dialogue about them will actually grow closer while overcoming the hardships together.

The future of our closest and most-treasured, most-meaningful relationships depends on us figuring this out. I say “us,” because I’m totally in the boat, too. A lifetime of bad habits and emotional triggers can only be broken and reprogrammed with new, better habits and thoughtful situational response.

Maybe my professional life can be a source of inspiration.

If Words and Sales Techniques Influence People to Buy Things, Could They Also Affect Behavior in Relationships? 

“They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.” — Carl W. Buehner

From dating through our divorce, my wife and I were together for 12 years.

Maybe it’s because we’re creeping up on four years since our separation and my memory isn’t what it used to be, but I can’t remember the specific words, tone of voice, timing and circumstances of any of our verbal spats.

I can only remember how it felt.

I was angry. Confused. Frustrated. Arrogant. Defensive. Ashamed.

Like most couples, we mostly had the same fight over and over again. A few details change, but it’s always The Same Fight®, with the same themes and argument patterns.

The Same Fight doesn’t always scare you when it’s happening because you’re used to having it. But The Same Fight is what infects hearts, breaks couples and destroys families.

People pay attention to, and try to change or fix things that scare them. Have you heard or lived the story of the husband who seems disengaged from his wife and marriage, but has a complete meltdown and goes into desperate Super-Husband Mode after his wife says she wants a divorce, causing “WTF???” reactions from a wife who felt ignored, unwanted and unloved for years?

That’s what I’m talking about.

Those men fighting for their marriages and families when it’s too little, too late are guys who would have made different choices all along had they only FELT what they now feel in their frightened desperation.

It’s the marketing and advertising industry’s most potent weapon — human emotion.

Coca-Cola is the world’s most recognized brand and, I believe, the top-selling beverage in every country on Earth where it’s sold except Scotland (where I believe it’s #2). Coke is last on the list of companies that need more brand awareness. Yet they spend a kajillion dollars every year on people-oriented or “feely” marketing campaigns and advertisements because they want people to feel good when they think about, or drink, Coke.

And this is a company selling a product that’s not particularly good for us.

I think maybe we should try to be more like Coke in our relationships, except what we are offering IS actually good for people. With due respect to the fine people at Coca-Cola, strong relationships and stable, cohesive families actually will change the world.

“But, Matt!!! Advertising and marketing stuff doesn’t work on me!!!”

Right. I used to believe that, too.

And maybe it’s true. I can’t prove nor promise that certain word choices will influence an individual person to take a desired action. But I CAN prove and promise that certain word choices influence people.

When I’m not blogging about what a shitty husband I was, I’m writing marketing content designed to influence people to buy or sign up for something. I see a lot of data. I read a lot about strategy for improving results.

And yesterday, for the first time, I asked myself the question: Couldn’t these ideas just as easily apply to our interpersonal relationships?

5 Sales and Marketing Tricks You Can Use to Improve Communication with Relationship Partners (and Everyone Else)

1. Pay Attention to Timing

It’s hard to sell Christmas gifts in April. It’s hard to sell swimwear to cold-weather residents during winter. It’s often impossible to sell things during a crisis.

For example, Sept. 12, 2001 was probably a bad day to launch a new mattress and bedding sale in New York City.

But more subtle than that in the marketing world is time-of-day engagement metrics for things like email open rates or social media posts and ads.

MANY more people will open an email at 9 a.m. Monday than at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, just as many more people will see and engage with a Facebook post or advertisement at lunchtime or 7 p.m. on a weeknight than most other times (though it varies by demographic – young people stay up longer, for example).

All that to say: Maybe dumping criticisms or complaints on people during their busy workdays, or making requests or demands of others right when they walk in the door from a long day at work or at home with small children (and we have no idea what they’ve been through) isn’t the most effective timing nor best idea.

2. Chemistry is NOT Pseudo-Science. Smile and Hug More.

I’m not a biologist or any other kind of doctor, but I’ve read about dopamine enough to know it’s one of, if not the, most influential chemical our body produces to give us feelings of happiness.

Smiling is measurably the highest positive emotional gesture we make. It makes others AND ourselves feel better. And it’s a non-verbal cue which connects us to others and signals that we mean them no harm.

Additionally, HUG. For at least SIX SECONDS. Not strangers, necessarily because that might be weird. But your spouse, for sure. After six seconds, the body releases all of these excellent chemicals, including dopamine, which makes everyone’s lives better.

You might not feel like smiling or hugging. You also might not feel like brushing your teeth, or going to the doctor, or replacing your vehicle’s tires. But you do it because it’s important.

Smiling and hugging (and the chemicals they release) are IMPORTANT.

Side note: When you are text-messaging, non-verbal cues AND tone of voice are absent. Stop discussing important things via text. Pick up the phone, or save the important stuff for later.

3. Use the Right Words

Effective marketing and sales copy is customer-focused. It either educates or entertains. Customers DO NOT care about companies. Customers care about how companies’ products and services can solve their problems or otherwise improve their lives.

A thoughtful copywriter always asks: “How does this make you feel?” rather than “Which message do you want to send?”

Specific word choice matters.

You, Because, Free, Instantly and New are the five most-persuasive words in the English language, according to data analysis of advertising and marketing copy. Using those words has a measureable impact on the number of people who will open an email or click something online.

What words have a positive impact on your partner?

What words have a negative impact on them?

Don’t know? Ask. Or pay attention to what words (and actions) soothe them or make them happy, as well as those that upset them. Keep track! Talk about them!

How is it that I know which words will help me improve my email marketing campaigns, but don’t know which specific words made my wife hurt or feel good?

No need to overthink that one. I was an asshole.

4. Talk No Longer Than 30 Seconds at a Time During Conversation

Brevity is critical in marketing. And while I’m decent executing it as a marketer, I’m fairly horrible in conversation (and writing blog posts, *ahem*).

I am the KING of the never-ending monologue because of the way my brain processes new ideas and keeps triggering new thoughts while I’m talking, but also because my dad used to monologue-lecture me. I can remember ALL of the things I did which earned the lectures, but none of the lessons dad tried to teach me.

I used to use a lot of words while trying to convince my wife she was wrong to be mad at me or on the wrong side of an argument.

Pro Tip: That shit doesn’t work.

“Sometimes we speak beyond what someone is able to listen to. What the research shows is that the human brain can really only hold on to four things at a time, so if you go on and on for five or 10 minutes trying to argue a point, the person will only remember a very small part of that,” said neurologist Andrew Newberg, co-author of “Words Can Change Your Brain.” “We developed compassionate communication with the idea of having several goals, and one of them is to speak briefly, meaning that you speak one or two sentences, maybe 30 seconds worth or so, because that’s really what the human brain can take in and absorb.”

5. Make three positive comments for every negative statement

Newberg’s research also suggests that negative arguments have a very detrimental effect to our brain. We need to pay particular attention to not let them take over and work against them by using the 3-to-1 ratio:

“When you get into a dialogue with somebody to discuss any particular issue, a three-to-one ratio is a relatively good benchmark to think about; you wind up creating the opportunity for a more constructive dialogue and hopefully a better resolution,” Newberg said.

In marketing, positive messages work better when consumers have time to ponder purchase decisions. (Your partner totally has time to ponder.)

And negative marketing messages work better when there are deadlines because people generally demonstrate a fear of missing out and want to avoid negative outcomes.

Both positive AND negative statements should be used in our personal relationships to communicate thoughts and feelings.

But, for best results, we must counterbalance the fear- and anxiety-producing ones by using much more positive and hope-inspiring words.

Less hate. More love.

Less anger. More forgiveness.

Less stress and anxiety. More peace.

No tricks or scams. No lies or deception. Just authentic, thoughtful word choice and message delivery.

What we say, where we say it, when we say it, why we say it, and how we say it all dictates whether our messages are heard, understood, and properly digested.

Though our behavior often suggests otherwise, our closest relationships are the most precious and important things in life.

Sales and marketing people. Writers. They’re not for everyone.

But in the realm of HOW to communicate effectively — maybe doing things as they do would go a long way toward inspiring change in the feelings and behaviors of the people we live and work with.

Of the people we love.

Only one way to find out.

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What Screws Us Up Most in Life

Little girl looking into a telescope in the mountains

Maybe she’d be super-into space. (Image/Telescope Guide)

There’s at least one missing child. A beautiful little thing I would love intensely. Maybe this would be the first holidays where she was old enough to be excited about a visit from Santa. Maybe she looks like her mom.

Of course, maybe she’s not a girl at all. Maybe my third grader has a little brother instead. Three little boys, even if one of us is disguised as an almost-40-year-old.

The house is different. The plan was to move.

Thanksgiving and Christmas Day plans are different too. What was supposed to be busy and filled with family will be something else.

Maybe my imaginary daughter or son would have just been disappointed anyway.

I always had an idea in my head about what Life would look like. It never occurred to me it would be anything but that. But then Real Life happened.

We’d always talked about two kids. But after abandoning my wife in the hospital five hours after she delivered our son via emergency C-section, and then leaving the creation and management of baby logistics to her throughout most of our first year as parents, I think I sapped her desire to go through anything like that again.

I once asked her if I was the reason she chose not to have more children.

She said yes.

‘What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.’

I read that yesterday in MBTTTR commenter Drew’s excellent blog post about marital affairs.

This is a Life Thing I had picked up on when I was still young. I always said: “Expectations are everything.”

And what I mean by that is, my enjoyment or disappointment in something—or rather, my initial perception of something’s quality—was based entirely on my expectations prior to the experience.

Things like movies and books taught me this.

I can go to the theater to see two movies of approximately equal quality, say Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Avatar; or I can listen to two new albums for the first time—say AWOLNATION’s Run and Brian Fallon’s Painkillers—and my feelings about all of them are predicated entirely on what I thought heading in.

I thought Avatar was going to be the greatest achievement in cinematic history. It didn’t achieve that for me. The Force Awakens met my expectations entirely. Both movies, in my estimation, are of equal quality, but I like Force Awakens quite a bit more, and I think that’s why.

Same with AWOL and Brian Fallon. I expected to like the AWOL album. And I did.

I didn’t have any expectations whatsoever for Brian Fallon (front man for The Gaslight Anthem). And that album kicks ass. I don’t know whether I think it’s better than AWOL’s or not. But BECAUSE it was an out-of-nowhere pleasant surprise for me, I have a major fondness for it.

Maybe everyone does this.

Maybe I’m a little extreme. Or maybe some people are much better at accurately predicting their emotional responses to things, and maybe those people have much happier and healthier relationships and lives as a result.

I only know that pretty much all of my life experiences are impacted greatly by whether Real Life meets, exceeds, or falls short of, my prior expectations.

This has implications for my human relationships I’ve yet to wrap my head around.

This Isn’t Where I Thought I’d Be

Divorce changed everything.

That’s a MAJOR reset-button push when you don’t see it coming, or are in denial about its inevitability once a certain amount of breakage and ugliness has poisoned the marriage.

Everything in the very beginning is a blur.

When everything is broken on the inside of you, the world looks skewed and it’s impossible to tell whether what you’re seeing is wrong because it’s actually wrong, or because your brain’s Reality Calibration is busted.

I had just turned 34 when Everything became Something Else.

After a lifetime of companionship and/or reliable care from loving and responsible adults, I woke up to silence and a reflection in the mirror I hardly recognized.

Everything felt unsteady and out of balance, and even now, I can’t be sure how much of that to attribute to the psychological and emotional trauma of ending a nine-year marriage and losing half of my son’s childhood, and how much was simply the radical change in environment.

Where there used to be a person making noise in the house—Being a mom. Eating dinner with me. Talking on the phone. Watching TV. Walking around.

Where there used to be life and conversation and full calendars and partnership and the pitter-pattering of little feet and the stability and reliability and comfort that comes from waking up to This Is Normal And Right… there was nothing.

A void.

I was obsessed with dating at first. Not actually doing it, per se because I wasn’t very good at it and it all felt so, just, off. Wrong.

But at age 34 the ticking clock was louder than I’d realized. And I felt like filling the new void in my life quickly should be a priority.

After all, I was clearly the kind of guy who got married and lived that kind of life. Which meant, I faced the monumental task of finding someone who fit what is probably an impossible list of criteria, that I then loved along with any children she might have, and was loved by her (as would my son be), and felt secure enough in all of that to get married again.

When you’ve never been single and divorced before, it’s easy to imagine that happening in a three- to five-year window (which I did).

But then Real Life happened.

The clock ticks.

The calendar pages flip.

The seasons change.

You mark another line higher on the wall where you measure your child’s height.

You tell him to put on a pair of pants only to discover they no longer fit.

One Christmas turns into two, and then three with a fourth fast-approaching.

And then you wake up, and it’s today.

Divorced and Single Four Holiday Seasons Later

There was a part of me during the early days of this blog that believed I’d eventually have a relationship to tell you about.

Not all the nitty-gritty. I keep too much private for that.

But at least a birds-eye view of giving Round 2 a genuine shot while armed with what I believe I’ve learned about life and love and relationships. I thought maybe that would help people. I thought maybe that would help me.

But that’s not where things are.

That’s not Real Life.

In actuality, I’m just a guy who read a crap-ton of New Zealand travel guides so I can tell you all about the country, but I’ve never actually forked over the money nor invested the time to experience it myself.

(That was a metaphor. I haven’t actually read a bunch of New Zealand travel guides.)

But I’m not even sure that’s right.

That suggests fear. And I’m not afraid.

I guess I feel more like the tired old man coaching basketball (even though I certainly don’t think of myself as a “coach,” or that I’m qualified to instruct others in any way). I know what good basketball is supposed to look like, but am not inclined to get back out on the floor to play in any games.

Maybe I feel too tired. Or too old. Or too busy.

I don’t know.

I also don’t know whether to feel good, bad or indifferent about it.

As in all things, there’s some good and some bad.

But I’m learning to have fewer expectations. Less disappointment, you know? Maybe less joy, too.

I wouldn’t know.

I’m trying to remember what my daughter’s name would have been. The one I never had.

Julianne? Julie Anne? A J-name that stopped mattering the second I held my son.

Or did it?

I think about that little girl a lot. The one who never was.

And the family that isn’t. The one I used to know. And the one I’d imagined with them. And the one I was forced to imagine for a reimagined world.

But I wish I would stop. Because in The Way Things Are vs. The Way They Should Be, I’m not sure we’re always smart enough to know the difference.

And with these little ones involved, real or imagined, how much can we afford to get disillusioned by reality falling short of what we’d expected or hoped for?

Thank God she didn’t die after birth or from miscarriage.

Or that she didn’t fall ill.

Or that she never ran away or went missing.

Or that the courts never said I couldn’t see her.

Or that her family never lost her precious life.

Or that my son never lost his little sister.

And that we never had to sob over that too.

Maybe I don’t make it to today, had that not been the case.

But there’s still a bit of tragedy in Never Was.

And I can’t help but wonder sometimes about an alternative life where I chose other options and turned to different Choose Your Own Adventure pages with entirely different outcomes.

Because that would have been cute, right? Watching the Thanksgiving Day parade? Showing her massive balloons? Reminding my eldest to be kind to his sister? Putting up the Christmas tree and watching her face as we plugged in the lights for the first time?

I’d have liked that, even if the real-life version would have gone an entirely different way.

I’d have especially liked the part where I told her about that first night in the hospital where I stayed awake all night holding her so mommy could sleep.

Many years later, we’d teach older children how things that seem innocuous in a moment can redefine everything in the future.

We’d talk about having expectations. About the bad. And the good.

About regrets. And triumphs.

About fear. And hope.

We’d all show up, and just be.

Because that’s everything, really. Showing up. Being present. And being invested.

The reason my life is as it is today is virtually 100% because I failed to show up because I was too ignorant to know I was supposed to, too irresponsible to actually do it, or too selfish to actually want to.

It’s not always Life and Death, but maybe just Life and Never Was.

But sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference.

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The Thing Divorced Parents Fear Most

lost child

After divorce, you’re not always there to hold their hand. (Image/The Coverage)

When people experience divorce, several life changes happen at once, often compounding an already-excruciating time for those involved.

First, your partner is gone. Maybe you feel rejected. Maybe you feel guilt.

The entire ebb and flow of your life turns upside down. Everything feels different. You either live in the place you shared with them which now feels lifeless and empty, or you live in a brand-new place which can be a difficult adjustment under the best circumstances.

Some percentage of life tasks once performed by your partner aren’t getting done. You—literally—have more to do every day, even if you were the one doing most of the heavy lifting. Since I wasn’t, everything from vacuuming, dusting, laundry and bathroom cleaning to kitchen cleaning, opening mail, bill paying and keeping track of Life things on the calendar were added to the These Things Need Done pile. Life got harder.

You often lose in-law family members and friends overnight. Maybe they miss you. Maybe they don’t. Maybe you’ll never know.

Your money situation can be affected. Sometimes majorly. Sometimes it scares you.

Sometimes single adulthood produces life and social challenges in the dating and partnership arenas.

If you’re a parent, the situation with your children tends to emerge as the most-difficult component. It’s hard to lose your time with them. Kids grow so fast anyway. My son was in preschool when my time with him reduced by half.

It didn’t take me long to realize: if he’s a kid for another 14 years, that means I just lost SEVEN years with my son.

What would you trade for seven more years with ANYONE you love? Maybe everything.

There’s a long list of things negatively affected by divorce. But what I perceive to be the worst thing is something I rarely see discussed: The loss of any and all control of what happens to your children—the very people for which you live and breathe—when they’re not with you.

When Life Beats You Into Submission

When James Bond gets captured, we always know he’s going to pull off some rad-007 super-spy escape to get out of whatever situation he’s in.

In more tragic fiction stories, the bad guys sometimes catch up to and overpower our heroes. In some stories, those heroes may die or suffer enormous loss.

It’s often hard to watch or read. When the hero gets taken down from a fight he or she couldn’t have possibly won. Somewhere along the way, the characters realize, as we do: there’s no escape.

I like to say I don’t believe in unsolvable problems. That there’s ALWAYS a solution, or at least a way to make something or a situation substantially better.

But with kids after divorce? [*massive exhale noise*]

It can feel like there’s no escape. Not that you want to. But the reality of divorce and custody law and, I imagine, most of our moral compasses, gives us no obvious solutions.

That’s what makes it hard.

Some people are crappy spouses, but amazing parents. They “deserve” to be divorced because of their substandard efforts or behavior in marriage. And without going too far down the semantics and “Yeah, but” rabbit hole, it can be argued that amazing parents NEVER “deserve” to lose their children, even just sometimes. Certainly, children don’t deserve to lose parents.

As an advocate of personal responsibility, I think married parents should be intellectually capable of understanding that what’s best for their children is to always love the other parent in mind, heart, word and action, but I also know how murky the waters get and how gray the areas get when emotionally damaged humans start doing what emotionally damaged humans do.

Under the very best of divorced circumstances—where two adults communicate frequently, never undermine one another or use their children as pawns to inflict pain, and who truly demonstrate a commitment to putting children first—(which I’m insanely blessed to experience in my life) it’s STILL super-hard.

And there are so many levels to that. You worry about their physical health and safety. You worry about whatever undeserved emotional and psychological baggage they’re taking on from your past or present failings.

Mothers’ hearts break while driving away from screaming, outstretched-armed infants too young to verbally communicate or understand why mommy is leaving them. Mothers who stress over their children eating unhealthy meals, not brushing their teeth before bed, or being left unattended for long periods of time by partying, video-game-playing, or otherwise inattentive, fathers.

Fathers’ hearts break while looking at vacation photos of their children posted on social media while a bunch of people who used to be inner-circle friends and family Like and Favorite and Comment on Facebook and Instagram: “Everyone looks so happy! Love this!” Fathers who stress over their children’s unknown neighbors, or trying to match the level of domestic care their kids might experience at mom’s, or seeing another man experience father-child moments with their kids while attending baseball games or riding bikes and probably other things we’ll never hear about.

That’s when things are optimal.

When they’re not?

The other parent’s girlfriend or boyfriend might present some kind of threat to your child’s wellbeing. Perhaps in some obvious and specifically terrifying ways, or perhaps in more subtle mind- and heart-damaging ways you can only imagine.

I know of one 10-year-old girl and 7-year-old brother who text their dad (a guy I believe to be a decent man and fiercely loving father) every time a strange man emerges from mommy’s bedroom. The last number I heard was 6.

Maybe those new boyfriends or girlfriends are criminals. Abusers. Addicts. Maybe they’re psychotic. Moronic. Cruel.

Maybe they’ll teach your kids that what they’ve been taught about faith, or politics, or personal interests are “wrong” or “stupid” or not as good as some other thing.

Maybe they’ll tell your kids about things you do and spin them in ugly ways in an effort to make them think less of you.

Maybe they’ll make up lies to make them afraid of you or not want to see you at all.

In the United States, we have a legal system that mostly—but not always—helps people navigate these situations, but even then, they’re brutally expensive, emotionally exhausting, and even when things go your way, you STILL end up facing the tragic reality of your child’s other parent being someone you (and maybe even your children) can’t trust to take care of them in ways you perceive to be best for them.

Right or wrong, if your heart’s in the right place, it’s all a bit more than human beings are equipped to handle.

The Thing About Control

Maybe there’s a really wise approach to feeling out of control. Maybe there are obvious choices to make, and when we do, everything gets to be okay afterward.

Even though I feel truly blessed to share parenting with someone who I perceive to do virtually everything “right,” and who loves our son with the same passion and fierce loyalty any parent could want, I STILL experience this loss of control we’d all ideally like to have over the things that mean most to us, and affect us most deeply.

One of my friends texted me about a month ago: “May I request a future post about HOW TO COPE WITH A DOUCHEBAG dating your ex-wife and constantly hanging with your kid?”

My friend is solid people. But while I’m inclined to trust his judgment that his ex-wife’s boyfriend demonstrates legitimate douchebaggery, I can’t be 100-percent sure his feelings aren’t comprised the same as most of us are when we talk and think about our exes.

Regardless, this is an important thing.

It’s profoundly important when children are truly at risk.

It’s pretty damn important when children are being damaged in some ways, even if only accidentally.

And as part of the Macro Divorce Conversation, this needs acknowledgement and its day in the sun.

It’s hard to lose control of anything that impacts our lives.

It’s CRUSHING to lose control of things that directly impact our children’s wellbeing.

Maybe We’re Never Actually In Control

I wish I had an answer for how to cope, JBD.

But I don’t. I just…don’t.

I might die on my drive home today.

We can’t control whether our hearts will beat five seconds from now.

And I think that means we can’t control most things. Some people accept the lack of control as fundamental to the human experience. Others have faith that God’s in control, which helps eliminate fear.

Maybe the best we can do is influence.

We can use brute force and later pay the legal and human consequences.

We can use the legal system and maybe after spending a bunch of money, something gets better somehow.

We can fight back, trying to do things that might affect our exes as much as we feel affected.

Maybe some of that serves the purpose of helping our kids. Probably not.

Or.

Maybe we can accept responsibility for the role we played in creating the situation. Maybe we can accept responsibility for choosing life partnership and/or procreation with someone capable of not putting our child’s welfare above other things.

Or.

Maybe we can work on being the kind of people who make this spinning rock a better place to be. Maybe we can work on being people who light up the darkness.

And.

Maybe we can WANT and actively work for good things to happen to our exes, if for no other reason than to give our children the best lives possible.

Maybe we can pray for their hearts and minds. Maybe we can wish good things for them. Maybe we can say nice things to and about them. Maybe we can support them. Maybe we can help them. Maybe we can work on redeeming ourselves in our shared-parenting relationships by walking a higher path than we did on our marches toward divorce.

And just maybe, when we love that hard, walls come down and connections form.

Just maybe, our children thrive even under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Because life feels extra-difficult when we try to control everything only to discover we’re never really in control.

Maybe when we love hard enough, we won’t feel like we have to.

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It’s Okay to Miss Things Without Wanting Them Back

driving-away-country-road

(Image/The Guardian)

Because I’ve been incredibly blessed, my parents’ divorce when I was 4 was the worst thing to happen to me until my own divorce 30 years later.

I was a little kid who didn’t like that if I was at my mom’s house, I couldn’t see my dad, or my family and friends who lived near him, because they were hundreds of miles away.

I didn’t like that if I was at my dad’s house, I couldn’t see my mom or my family and friends living in faraway Ohio.

From the age of 4 onward, I’ve been emotionally calibrated to dread goodbyes while simultaneously looking forward to an overdue reunion. Have you ever felt the joy of hugging someone you love after having not seen them for several months, while also crying because you’re saying bye to someone else you love and now won’t see for several months?

It creates contradictions. Internal human ones that probably don’t make sense to anyone who has read the magical “These Are The Things That Make Sense” book, and are likely responsible for concocting the subset of people I call Good Men Who Are Shitty Husbands. Of which I was/am a member.

I have a unique ability to be disengaged with people I love for long periods of time, but pick up warmly right where we left off once I see or talk to them again. People accustomed to higher-functioning communication habits sometimes get upset with me, perhaps interpreting a lack of communication as me not caring about them. Which makes sense.

When the two people you love, trust, desire and count on more than anyone else (which were my parents throughout my childhood) live hundreds of miles apart, requiring months-long stretches of not seeing one of them (in a pre-FaceTime world), you develop a capacity for limited contact in ways most people might consider unhealthy, or at least uncomfortable.

I’ve been asked approximately 78 billion times: “Do you wish your mom and dad would have stayed married?”

Hmmm.

I didn’t know what a quandary was for most of those, but surely that’s what this was.

I knew my mom. I knew my dad. And even though I didn’t know how to articulate important relationship concepts like Shared Values, or having Alignment, I felt reasonably sure a household including both of my parents would have been awkward in ways difficult to articulate.

I’m pretty good at pragmatism, and I’m pretty good at finding silver linings. My parents’ divorce was the epicenter of any negative experiences in my life and the thing that hurt me most while tearfully waving bye to my favorite people disappearing in the rear window.

And if my parents had stayed married, none of that would have been the case.

But also? I wouldn’t have had my wonderful stepparents, friends, school and life experiences and opportunities that I did.

Like everything else in Life, there are almost always tradeoffs. Few are the moments we get to feel: Ahhh. This is perfect.

This was my first experience with this important Life Thing in adulthood — it’s okay to miss things without wanting them back.

You’re Allowed to Do Both

When we first become “real adults” with jobs and responsibilities, many of us sometimes miss the carefree lifestyle we enjoyed as kids living at home. But, do we really want to move back in with our parents? With curfews and other restrictions? With the parameters of your adult life dictated for you?

It’s okay to miss things without wanting them back.

When we first get married, many of us miss the “freedom” and relative ease of the single life. Do we really want to be single again?

When we first have children, many of us miss the ability to go out with friends, sleep through the night and have sex whenever and wherever we want. Do we really wish our kids didn’t exist?

I miss college. All my friends. All the parties. All my youthful ignorance and innocence. Do I really wish I could be back there?

I miss my hometown. Family and friends and favorite restaurants. Do I really wish I lived back there?

People’s marriages and relationships end. It hurts because we miss them. Not hurt like getting kicked in the shin, but more like your childhood nemesis digging out your insides with an ice cream scoop.

Sometimes we can’t breathe.

Sometimes we want to die to make it stop.

Sometimes we feel stabbing pains waving bye to our children while they disappear in the rear window.

Sometimes we feel all kinds of things. Even if you could somehow read “These Are The Things That Make Sense,” maybe nothing ever will.

You can miss your freedom without wanting your marriage to end or your children to disappear.

You can miss your youth without wanting to trade in the hard-earned wisdom acquired on the Journey.

You can miss your failed relationship without wishing you were back in it.

Sometimes the answers aren’t always right or wrong. Because you love, want and miss whatever you love, want and miss.

That’s yours. That’s just for you.

Uncle Rico wanted desperately to go back to 1984 and win the state football championship.

Maybe you want to go back in time, too. Cool.

Like freezer burn, you’re allowed to feel two seemingly opposite things at the same time. Even if we weren’t allowed, I think we’d still feel them anyway.

There’s nothing wrong with you.

There’s nothing wrong with us.

It’s okay to miss things without wanting them back.

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My Story is Your Story—Even When it’s Not

(Image/churchleaders.com)

(Image/churchleaders.com)

Imagine this: A magical alternative universe where total strangers randomly being in your house isn’t as scary or bizarre as it would actually be. (Because it’s the only way the next few paragraphs make any sense.)

And now imagine a stranger (who isn’t scary) in your house doing things your small child often does: Carelessly peeing on your toilet. Spitting globs of toothpaste in your sink without adequately rinsing the basin. Leaving toys or whatever scattered all over the living room floor. And NO MATTER HOW MANY FREAKING TIMES YOU’VE TOLD HIM, he doesn’t remember to eat over his plate, leaving 47 million crumbs on and around his seat at the table. Or maybe he puts his fingers on the house and car windows, or he gives you a little mouthy elementary-school sass that kind of makes you want to dropkick him.

If some dude off the street does that, I’ll secretly want to embed a golf club in his face, and might actually take a swing if that dumb bastard leaves another trail of crusted toothpaste in the bathroom sink that requires a power sander to clean.

If someone I kind of knew or was renting a room to did it, I might ask them to go away or find another place to live.

But if my little offspring—the absolute love of my life and my greatest earthly source of pride and joy—does it for the thousandth time? I’ll be frustrated with him for 10 seconds, remind him how easy it is to be less messy, and soon after, be laughing about whatever thing we move on to because he’s my favorite.

I think it’s relevant and noteworthy that three different people could do IDENTICAL things, and I’d react three different ways to each: one, I would hug and love unconditionally; the second, I would evict; and the third, I would face-punt.

All of which strike me as reasonable responses to the occasionally thoughtless, make-you-want-to-tear-out-your-hair-and-drink-excessively behaviors of my young grade schooler.

I have a few points, none of which are currently obvious:

1. Marriages Break Because Neglectful Spouses Devolve From Loved One, to Roommate, to Stranger You Want to Face-Punt

Sure, I love, care for, and am super-quick to forgive my young son in all his youthful innocence and cute-facedness. But what if he shows up in his 20s or 30s, pees all over the toilet, and repeatedly drops food and whatever all over the floor no matter how many times I’ve asked him to respect this seemingly reasonable sanitation policy? Maybe I’ll stop inviting him to dinner. Or maybe I’ll visit his house and pee all over his bathroom after brushing my teeth and leaving nasty toothpaste-saliva drippings in his sink.

If our expectations for our children’s behavior and respect for our instruction can change over time, is it unreasonable for a spouse to expect the same from her or his partner as their relationship evolves and grows through time?

A common marriage complaint from husbands is that their wives happiness is always a moving target. That nothing they do is ever good enough. I remember feeling that way, too.

A common marriage complaint I hear or read from frustrated wives is that her husband is “childish.” She doesn’t mean that he goofs off all the time and laughs hysterically at dick and fart jokes even though that could also be true, but that he never grows out of being the little boy who pees on the toilet or gets crumbs all over the floor during dinner. That could be literal, if she married someone with slob-like tendencies, or it could be metaphorical in the sense that he so rarely demonstrates thoughtfulness about things like housework or dinner plans or the schedules of others in the family.

It’s a dynamic that tends to be okay while dating and early in the marriage, but as the other We’re Gonna Get Divorced dominoes begin to fall, cleaning pee off the toilet rim—or worse, the seat—graduates from gross annoyance to murder motive.

She starts to feel like his mother, her sexual attraction for him dies, and then a bunch of other bad things start to happen.

2. Nothing is One-Size-Fits All

I often write in generalities because writing in specific absolutes, covering EVERY angle of EVERY topic would lead to 97-million-word posts that only my mom would read. There simply aren’t enough hours in a day to write or read about every possible scenario. So, when I write that Husbands Do This, or Wives Do That, or Men Often Think This, or Women Often Feel That, I’m doing so for brevity reasons, and I’m totally aware that almost NOTHING applies to everyone.

I was criticized recently by someone who interprets my writing as A. Blaming Men for Marriage Failure, B. Acting Like a Know-It-All Who Tries to Speak for All Men, and C. Never Holding Women Responsible for Their Role in Failing Marriages.

I don’t blame men. I even said so on the radio once.

I also don’t necessarily think it’s men’s fault—all these common relationship shortcomings we accidentally display—but I think it is our responsibility to right whatever wrongs we can as soon as we’re aware of them.

And I do believe there are specific things women can collectively do to improve relationships.

I think everyone who makes mistakes, should own them, and everyone with the power to make something better, should.

Which brings me to…

3. While I Write For Others, the Stories Are Mostly About Me

I’m just some guy.

There is nothing particularly noteworthy or special about me which is EXACTLY why the relationship conversations we have here matter.

If I was some super-unique case study or obvious outlier, it would be easy to dismiss.

But that’s not what I am, nor what my marriage was.

My marriage was THE Common Modern Divorce Story. And that should scare the shit out of everyone.

Because it’s really hard to see it coming.

What’s the “common” divorce story? It’s two good, well-intentioned people with an honest desire to marry and promise one another forever, only to discover 5-10 years later that their marriage has become joyless, stressful, unsteady and on the brink of failure, and neither person can really explain how or why they got there.

They spent 5-10 years having the exact same fight, because neither could ever figure out the right combination of words or the right behavioral response to their conflict.

And after it happened enough times, one or both of them became so angry, sad and emotionally exhausted that the agony of divorce looked like the better choice than the status quo.

And then more kids grow up a little bit sad and a little bit confused and never see the way marriage is SUPPOSED to be.

And then more people remarry thinking their ex was the problem, only to discover they brought their own baggage to the new relationship, and that the new person has some too, and that they’ve seen this movie before.

And then more things break, and it just keeps happening over and over again, and not very many people ever slow down long enough amid all the pain and dysfunction to just stop.

To just breathe.

To just look inside and ask the hard questions. The ones that makes us squirm years later, and maybe forever.

What have I done to cause this?

What could I have done better?

What choices can I make to be better tomorrow than I was yesterday, so nothing like this ever happens again?

I don’t blame men. I blame me.

And women certainly aren’t guilt-free. I promise to start pointing fingers right after I wake up awesome and perfect every day.

In the meantime, I think being an adult is hard, and I think we all get a little confused when things hurt more than we knew was possible, or when we’re missing too much information, or when we feel Life falling apart because adulthood is unsteady in ways many of us never imagined.

Back when we were young and innocent.

Back when we were getting crumbs and toothpaste spittle everywhere, and the fortunate among us were hugged and forgiven instead of beaten and abused.

Back when we were happy and hopeful, as the fortunate among us can be once again.

If only we’re willing to own our crimes and pay our penance.

Because it’s not them. It’s us.

It’s not you. It’s me.

We worry about what we can control, and try to make a difference when and where we can.

Maybe people won’t always get it. But maybe it can still matter.

Because everyone loves a good redemption story.

And somewhere beneath all the humanity, I think everyone has one to tell.

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Are You Paying Attention?

close up of dandelion seeds flower

(Image/Reference.com)

I think about how we treat the people and things that matter most.

The way we “Maybe later, kiddo” our children who want us to play with them, or want to capture our undivided attention while demonstrating something that’s important to them but maybe less so to us.

The way we deliver some snide comment during an argument to the person we profess to love while leaving the house in the morning before work.

The way we are totally oblivious to miracles like electric outlets, light switches, running water, indoor plumbing, safe neighborhoods, the mobile web, stocked pantries, ice cubes, appliances, motor vehicles and on-demand high-definition video.

We take creature comforts for granted until they’re unexpectedly unavailable.

If I’d somehow known one morning that it would be the last time I’d ever see or speak to my wife again, would I even think about saying some shitty thing I don’t really mean before driving off like a huffy prick? Would I even leave her side for a second? On the last day?

How many dismissive “Maybe later, kiddo”s are you dishing out if you know there’s no tomorrow for one or both of you?

Almost everyone is going to be more mindful of their priorities, the things they want to do and say, the people they want to be with, and how they want to be remembered if we all somehow knew: This Is The Last Day.

I don’t mean to be morbid.

But I think it’s obvious that we’re capable of focusing our attention on the things that matter most when we’re painfully motivated to.

And since people die unexpectedly every day, one wonders why we’re all so good at Blissful Unawareness with the frequency we are, but more importantly, with the most precious things in our lives.

Paying attention is hard. I feel ridiculous even typing that. But all I need to do to prove the point is remind you that breathing is just about the most critical and fundamental condition required to be alive, and deep, mindful, intentional breathing is a super-healthy thing to do mentally, physically, and spiritually, and many people know it.

But: When is the last time you were aware of your breathing?

We Have a Vision Problem

Or at least I do.

We have a nasty habit of only valuing things which interest or impress us, while dismissing the things and people who don’t.

My wife was passionate about marching band-related things. And I was a narrow-minded shit eater, so I would poke fun at it, acting as if the marching band high school or college kids’ interests and skills were somehow inferior to those of the football players I was there to watch and which interested me.

I wouldn’t stop there. If I was met with resistance, I’d walk everyone through my “irrefutable” logic about how football programs generate most of the athletic program money for both high schools and colleges, and how millions of people tune in to watch football games on television while not many people tune into marching band shows, even if there were such a thing.

I was right. Right?

You better not be nodding. I was totally NOT right. And even if there was a way to be “right” in an opinion-based argument, why would we exert energy shitting all over something that means so much to the people we love?

I think “Because we’re assholes” comes close to hitting the mark.

Maybe you think playing Pokémon GO, or studying backgammon, or pursuing careers in ballet, or commercial fishing, or comic book stores, or personal training, or music, or golf course design, or alternative health food stores, or laundromats is stupid, and so are all of the people who like those things.

I still accidentally judge things without fully understanding them. I accidentally do it when I’m not paying close enough attention.

We often don’t SEE things as they are.

Like the advanced gymnast or ballerina leaving the avid basketball fan unimpressed, even though the gymnastics feat or the ballet routine might have required more strength, discipline and athleticism than some great basketball play.

I watched Straight Outta Compton for the first time this weekend. It’s the story of how the rap group N.W.A. flipped popular music on its head in the late-1980s with raw, profanity-laced gangster rap that described daily life on the hard streets of Compton, Calif. for hip-hop legends Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E.

The movie was awesome if you can handle the graphic language and subject matter. I’m sure many people can’t. And I can understand why nearly 30 years ago, parents who love their children didn’t want them listening to young men lyrically celebrate gang violence while championing gratuitous sex and using worse language than George Carlin and Andrew Dice Clay.

How many times have you heard it (almost exclusively from white people)?: “Rap?! That’s not even real music!”

I’ll let musicians debate what is or is not music.

Perhaps a better question is: What is art?

Many people obsessed with Conway Twitty, Iron Maiden and Creedance Clearwater Revival went out of their way to lift up the music they love while tearing down this new thing that sounded, felt, and looked different.

I’m not asking people who love rock and country music to “like” rap music. People are allowed to like whatever they want, which is kind of the entire point.

I am suggesting that I think if we really SAW what these men did and do—mindfully—for what and why and how it was, maybe more of us would respect the artistic genius involved in sampling tracks and writing rhymes. Do the Rascal Flatts really have more talent than Method Man?

This idea of SEEING things as they are—with mindfulness—is important to me, and I think, should be to the world.

People see NASCAR racing on TV and they think it’s easy and boring because it’s just a bunch of people turning left over and over again, and since most of us drive cars, maybe we all secretly think we could do that too.

But when you see what a pack of 43 cars looks like with just a couple feet of room to the front, rear, and sides of them while screaming down a straightaway at 200 miles per hour, you really SEE what it is.

People see DJs playing music at a party or night club and they sometimes think it’s easy or unimpressive because it’s just some person playing other people’s music, and since most of us play other people’s music, maybe we all secretly think we could do that too.

But when you see what DJ AM could do to mash up musical genres, and transition from a rock track, to a hip-hop track, to an electronic house music track with flawless beat transitions, and making sure the final lyric in the previous song flowed seamlessly into the lyrics of the new song live with real vinyl records with a thousand-person audience, you begin to SEE the talent for what it is.

A lot of us don’t necessarily “like” things, but we grow to appreciate them because of some personal experience we have that helps us achieve perspective.

We don’t necessarily walk away loving poetry slams or the sport of hockey, but when we understand what something’s about—when we SEE them for what they really are—everything changes.

Value and appreciation rise. We treat things better. We enjoy life more because now there’s more to enjoy.

Sometimes I don’t pay attention to things, and then life problems emerge.

Sometimes I don’t pay attention to people, and then a bunch of things break—like homes and families.

Sometimes I don’t SEE a thing or a person or a situation or a talent or an opportunity or a lesson for what it really is.

I don’t see the miracles, nor respect the talents, nor appreciate the opportunities in front of me, and it’s not because I’m blind, or obtuse, or ungrateful.

If there was only a whisper: Pssst. Pay attention! THIS matters!, I think maybe I’d drop everything for a few extra minutes of laughter and joy with a little boy who’s growing up too fast, or that I would have during my marriage, or that I’d SEE others and their differences and life’s many opportunities as they really are.

But maybe the whispers are already there. Maybe it’s the tuning and listening that’s the problem.

You know—to the people closest to us.

The things that matter most.

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It’s Not About Us

not_about_me

(Image/pushbackthedark.com)

I’ve asked myself the question a bunch of times: How does some random guy in Ohio writing first-person stories about his failed marriage and divorce become someone who strangers reach out to for relationship advice? Why would anyone care what some divorced guy says about love or about marriage or about anything?

The answer materialized recently in the form of a random Facebook post about public speaking, and that answer is basically: Because none of this is about me.

I write about me and about things I’ve done and thought and felt.

And in and of itself, that matters to zero people. But because people sometimes feel alone, or like they don’t have anyone to talk to, or like no one understands, something powerful happens on the inside when they find a song, or something on TV, or a book, or some random divorced guy’s blog, and that thing they found makes them feel: This is just like me. I’m not alone. Someone else gets it.

It might seem like a small thing.

But it might be the most important thing in the world.

Because when the person you love is your world, or your children are your world, or your friends are your world, or your career is your world, the thing that connects you to that world and helps you bring light and hope and good things, instead of shitting all over it like a roid-raging Godzilla on a Diet Sierra Mist bender, is one simple truth.

It’s not about you.

It’s about them.

How a Facebook Post About Public Speaking Can be the Most Important Thing About Your Entire Life

From author and speaker Glennon Doyle Melton:

“I used to hate public speaking. I hated it because I thought it was about me. I thought it was about being amazing and making everyone think: WOW SHE’S SO AWESOME so I held my breath the whole time and tried to be fabulous and impressive.

“That’s always where we go wrong.

“Life and art and work and love: They’re not about showing off, they’re about showing up. They’re not about saying: HERE I AM! They’re about saying: THERE YOU ARE. They are not just about being seen by others—they are about truly SEEING OTHERS.

“So now, everywhere I’m invited to speak, I make sure I am fully, fully prepared before I walk on the grounds. So that with the first person I meet—from the driver to the hosts to the ushers to every person in the audience and hugging line—I can be fully present. Because those who trust me enough to invite me into the day they’ve spent months planning are not just inviting me to be seen by their people but to SEE THEIR PEOPLE. God, it took me a while to figure this out. People don’t need you to be amazing—but they do need you to be amazed. People don’t even need you to be interesting—they just need you to be interested. Want to be loved today?

“THEN LOVE.

“LOVE LOVE LOVE.

“This is my speaking mantra, from the second I get out of the car: ‘Glennon – Wherever you are, be the soul of that place.’ – Rumi. ‘Then when you get back to the hotel—you can have a cheeseburger and Bravo.’ – I added this part.

“Wherever you are today, loves, be the soul of that place.”

Want a happy marriage?

Make it about making your spouse feel seen and heard. Thank you for what you do every day. What can I do today to make her/him feel grateful for me?

Want a happy child?

Make it about them. Not toys and bullshit things. Real things. I see you, son. I care about that because you care about that.

Want lots of great friends?

Be a great friend. I’m here for whatever. You’re family.

Want a happy life?

Stop trying to make it about all the ways you can be better, smarter, happier, richer, stronger, prettier, faster, thinner, sexier, taller. And maybe try making it about all the ways you can help people—those you love, and maybe even those people over there who you might if you only knew them—be happier.

I’m a self-centered, thoughtless human being.

When bad things “happen” to me, I can always trace it back to how I wasn’t paying enough attention. Sometimes to a thing. Usually, to a person.

I’ve been trying so hard to make me better. But what if Life is about making things better for others? What if THAT is how we make ourselves better?

I am often making life, including the words here, about me. I think maybe writing and life are harder when I make it about me.

The writing isn’t about me. It’s about you.

Life isn’t about me. It’s about my son. My family. My friends. It’s about people. It’s about you.

I’m so sorry for all the times I made life about me or about things, and not about you.

There’s a fire coming that we all will go through
You possess your possessions or they possess you
And if the house burns down tonight
I got everything I need when I got you by my side

And let the rest burn

Ashes from the flames, the truth is what remains

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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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What Will I Tell My Son To Help Him Avoid Divorce?

Father Son talk

(Image/Marsha Rakestraw)

Lynda asked: “My question for you is: what are you going to say to your son to teach him how to have a healthy relationship as he grows up? What seeds are you going to plant to help break the cycle? I have only a few years left with my boys under my roof to teach them what they need to know, and I don’t want to feel like they are doomed, given the family history. What are your thoughts?”

Divorce is very bad.

People often downplay it, A. Because it’s so common, “Can it really be THAT bad?” B. Because our parents did it, or we did it, and we’re all world-class experts at rationalizing our behavior no matter how sucky the behavior is, and C. Unless you’re the one getting divorced, or are intimately involved, it doesn’t cause much trauma. So when we hear about another divorce we all just kind of shrug and think: That’s a bummer! They seemed totally fine! or That makes sense! They never seemed right for each other!

But yeah. It can really be THAT bad.

Cancer is super-common too, but we take it pretty seriously.

Our sucky behavior is sucky regardless of our rationalizations, and even the best of humanity hurts other people sometimes, even if only by accident.

And I think it might take getting divorced yourself (while not wanting to) to fully appreciate what it’s capable of doing to your insides. Some people LOVE divorce, because it helped them escape a horrible situation.

Maybe my ex-wife feels that way. I hope not, but since I’m not inclined to ask, I’ll probably never know.

Setting aside the societal trickle-down effects of divorce for a second, the emotional and psychological fallout alone strikes me as one the things people don’t talk about enough. Because I simply didn’t know. Even when I was afraid of my marriage ending and having trouble sleeping every night, and even after 30 years of life experience as a child of divorce, I DID NOT KNOW.

Maybe because it’s another We Can’t Know What We Don’t Know thing. (I guess everything is.)

We live, and we learn.

The end of my marriage destroyed me internally and fundamentally changed me.

The “me” that existed for 33 years ceased to exist because I became someone else. That’s a painful process. It was the crying that gave it away. That’s not something I spent a lot of time doing post-childhood. But then I got divorced, and it happened a lot.

And when toughness is a virtue you admire, every little breakdown is another reminder of what a failing loser you grew up to be. And then maybe you cry some more.

On top of the brain and heart stuff, there’s the logistical fallout and ripple effects. Logistically, divorce makes you poorer, because it takes away your money, and something even more valuable—your time.

It was one of the first things I realized when my young son went from being home daily, to half the time: I just lost half of my son’s childhood. Ask any parent how fast 18 years goes before the little people they love most leave the nest. With 13-ish years to go at the time of the split, the truth hit me hard and fast: I just lost seven years.

I’m not shy about calling divorce the great social crisis of our time. It’s an epidemic that really hurts people while it’s happening, and then makes the lives of all involved a little worse every day afterward, even after the emotional wounds have scarred over.

Only about 1 percent of couples are going through divorce at any given time, so it’s easy to look the other way and act like we don’t have a big problem on our hands. But over 15 years, half of all couples will divorce. Nobody who hasn’t yet divorced believes it will happen to them. And most of the people who survive the emotional crucible post-divorce move on with their lives and don’t get involved afterward, even though everyone who remarries divorces even more frequently than the one-marriage couples.

Children of divorced parents have nearly triple the emotional problems, drug use, arrests—and are more likely to drop out of school and have unwanted pregnancies, according to Dr. Brunilda Nazario.

The risk of divorce is 50 percent higher when one spouse comes from a divorced home, and 200 percent higher risk when both of them do, says Nicholas Wolfinger, a professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah and author of Understanding the Divorce Cycle: The Children of Divorce in Their Own Marriages.

Children of divorce are also 50 percent more likely to marry another child of divorce, he said.

The only way to address divorce is for a cultural shift to take place where people learn effective relationship skills.

I don’t mean: “A happy wife is a happy life!”

Nor: “Marriage is hard work! You must work together and compromise!”

Nor: “Never go to bed angry!”

I mean real-life, hardcore, make-people-uncomfortable, mask-removing, road-less-travelled conversation and behavior to help people go from ignorant (which most of us are) to enlightened on all things related to relationships.

We teach kids about past-participles and the Pythagorean Theorem and the French & Indian War and many other things long-forgotten from my school days. But we don’t teach (or even bother trying) kids relationship skills, and provide important information about the basics of effectively communicating and co-existing with other people (romantically or otherwise).

Maybe someday, that will change. I hope so.

Meanwhile, the only thing we can do is talk to our children and try to help them learn these things so they can slowly chip away at the problem and experience less horribleness in adulthood than we did.

Today’s kids have Generation X and Millennials as their relationship role models, which in their current states, shouldn’t inspire much confidence in the future of long-term relationships.

But We Still Have to Try

Cancer continues to vex medical researchers and practitioners, but we continue to fight.

The complexities of human relationships are such that we’ll never be able to hand someone a reliable instruction manual on how to succeed. So we’ll do the best we can.

Lynda asked me what I will tell my son. No one has ever asked me that before.

There’s almost no reason to think my son will listen to me.

No matter how many times I tell him his made-up word “Eccleest” is actually two words he already knows well (“at least”), he continues to say “Eccleest” instead. No matter how many times I demonstrate that being 37 should afford me some trust on matters of both fact and educated guessing, he continues to—on a case-by-case basis—behave as if I’m the world’s biggest moron on matters of disagreement since one of his friends and/or grade school teachers once told him something he believes contradicts whatever I’m saying.

He certainly loves his father, and is super-impressed with my ability to add large numbers together in my head (even though I could totally give him the wrong answer, and he wouldn’t know the difference because he doesn’t confirm it with a calculator), but if he doesn’t WANT to agree with or listen to me, it doesn’t matter that I can prove 2+1=3. If he wants it to equal 79 million—to him, it will.

It’s a natural handicap brought partially by his age, and mostly because he’s a blend of genetic code produced by his mom and I. In the You Should Listen to Your Parents game, little man never had a chance.

What Will I Tell Him?

That the romantic couples he sees in the movies are a lie.

I’ll tell him that—just like so many things he sees on TV—that’s not real. It’ll be some innocence-robbing shit, too. Like when he inevitably discovers in the next year or two there isn’t actually a Santa Claus. I kind of feel sorry for him. Robbing him of hope and optimism on the romantic front. But it’s exactly what I’m going to do anyway.

I’m going to teach him what real love is. I’m going to show him how it’s a choice to be made. And that when two people are willing to make that choice every day, no matter what, there WILL be legitimate romance sometimes. Not always! Nothing is always. But sometimes. And that just because forever-love looks a little less exciting and like a hell of a lot more work than fairytale-love, it doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful.

I’m going to tell him how HARD marriage is. Over and over and over again. Not to discourage him. To prepare him. And not to scare him. But because it’s true.

I’m going to teach him (and if I can’t, I’ll find someone who can) what it means to define your core values and vigilantly enforce personal boundaries so that his life won’t suck.

I’m going to help him understand that all those little things running around his head that he’s too scared to talk about are byproducts of fear, anxiety and insecurity (and that FEAR is really the only thing we should be afraid of). I’m going to teach him one of the most important lessons so many people don’t understand: YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE.

I’m going to help him recognize that being honest (like, uncomfortably honest) with his partner is awesome, because then he can wake up every day knowing the real him (and not the mask-wearing pretender other people think he is) is truly loved and accepted.

I’m going to teach him what empathy is and make sure he can prove to me that he understands it because it’s the skill he will need most in order to succeed in his relationship.

I’m going to teach him that his marriage can’t be about HIM. That if he’s marrying for himself, he’s doing it wrong. It’s going to be for the person he chooses to marry and any future children he might have.

When he’s old enough, I’m going to tell him that pornography destroys relationships, but maybe not for the reasons he might think.

And I’m going to tell him that the one surefire way to turn a female partner into someone who resents him and loses all feelings of attraction toward him, is to put her in the position of having to do things for him that his mom did.

I’m going to tell him that his mom and I splitting up is the worst thing that ever happened to me, and that he shouldn’t marry until he can demonstrate mastery of all of these concepts and life skills so that he can recognize a partner who understands them too, and teach any children to do the same.

I’m going to make DAMN SURE he understands what hedonic adaptation is. That it happens to EVERYONE about EVERYTHING—including romantic partners.

I’m going to help him really understand that the grass isn’t greener over there.

How?

What am I going to tell him?

The truth.

…..

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