Tag Archives: Psychology

Prison Break: Free Yourself By Taking the Red Pill

yellow saltwater fish

This fish has spent its entire existence swimming in water, yet is probably completely unaware of what water is. Maybe the fish does know, and we have even bigger problems than I thought. It’s hard to be certain. And that’s the entire point. (Image/Unsplash)

We’re going to talk a little red pill, blue pill.

Not the way dudes who hate women sometimes talk about it, though.

But like Morpheus does—the impeccably dressed part-time sage, part-time badass in The Matrix.

We’re going to get a little weird. Please don’t run like I would have five or six years ago.

Try hard to not do the thing I always did in late-night college pot-smoking circles when one person would inevitably start waxing stoner philosophy, and I thought they sounded like morons and thus insta-dismissed whatever they were saying.

Because there’s this idea that I think might be the most important idea in the world.

The idea that we’re dangerously blind to what’s constantly in front of us.

Like fish that spend their entire lives in water, but don’t actually know what water is.

And I think the amount of people we hurt or help in life, and how people will remember us after we’re gone, and the relative success of our marriages and work life and parent-child relationships is entirely dependent on how well we manage to execute this ONE life skill.

You see, when I consider what makes someone interesting, or “deep,” or intelligent, I tend to think about it in terms of how much they know, and their capacity for learning, or their capacity for thought.

Maybe you do too. I believe it’s common.

But the more I think about this way I thoughtlessly measure how intelligent I consider something to be, the more I agree with the brilliant David Foster Wallace’s suggestion that a good education should be less about someone’s capacity to think, and more about a person’s ability to choose WHAT to think about.

And that is going to seem intolerably banal to many people, and maybe you want to stop reading now.

Like breathing.

Like blinking our eyes.

You almost never think about doing them even though they might be the two things you’ve done more times than anything else in your entire life. Boring as hell, to be sure. But so important. If you stop blinking, you’ll go blind. If you stop breathing, you’ll die.

I think this idea is just like that. Like blinking. Like breathing.

If you’re feeling that mental-auto-pilot nudge to shut your brain off now and move on to the next thing, then maybe that is your little warning light to hang on just a little longer. That means I’m writing this sentence just for you.

I know you might not care, and that’s okay.

I’m not writing it because I think you’re wrong or bad or dumb, or need help from some idiot writer on the internet.

I’m writing it because sometimes we humans mess up our entire lives, and damage our children, and lose everything that’s fragile and dear to us, and if someone asked us to explain how it happened, most of us wouldn’t be able to.

Not because we were careless, even though it might feel like that afterward.

Not because we were reckless, even though it might feel that way to the people we hurt.

But because we CHOSE to think about something else in moments when thinking differently would have changed our entire lives for the better.

That’s not a small thing.

Our health.

Our bank accounts.

Our human relationships.

Our souls.

I must ask, as Wallace did in his remarkably poignant commencement speech that first introduced me to this idea, that you please “bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.”

The Real Value of The Matrix’s Red Pill/Blue Pill Lesson

Morpheus - red pill blue pill The Matrix

(Artwork/Joel Jerry)

Before it was hijacked by men who I perceive to be intentionally trying to recruit broken, depressed and angry guys to join their Women are the Real Enemy Cult, the red pill/blue pill symbolism portrayed in The Matrix served as a valuable thought exercise.

20-Year-Old Movie Spoiler Alert: The film’s protagonist Neo is given a choice by Morpheus.

Neo can choose the blue pill, which will put him to sleep and allow him to wake up in his bed with no memory of recent events, and carry on with his low-stakes, ignorance-is-bliss life. That would have been easy. No risk. Very little danger.

Or, he can choose the red pill. The red pill won’t taste so good going down. It will be hard to swallow. He’ll have to face some really uncomfortable truths, and life will inevitably feel harder. But it will be REAL. It will be the TRUTH. Even if it doesn’t feel as good. Even if it’s more difficult.

Neo chooses the red pill.

After swallowing it, the world melts around him. Neo wakes up in this alien goo pod with a bunch of cords and shit sticking out of him. His weird, goopy, hairless body is hardwired into some kind of massive biomechanical machine tower with millions of other human bodies all sleeping and hardwired into the same system.

Big machines are flying around.

Aside from the machines and the enslaved humans in sleeping pods, the world is nothing but rubble and ash.

Neo had spent his entire life in a simulated computer life that the machines built to make him think he’s living just like the rest of us. With houses and cars and day jobs.

But actually, he was unwittingly a slave to an intelligent race of alien machines harvesting humans to produce energy.

Whoa.

The Importance of Choosing What to Think About

My mind wanders. A lot.

I have an ADHD brain, and I take medicine every day for it.

That means I have a capacity for unawareness (when I’m on auto-pilot) that I believe exceeds the average person, and which I think contributed heavily to the demise of my marriage.

But even if you don’t have similar brain chemistry, you are still affected by blindness to all of the things hiding in plain sight. (Breathing. Eye-blinking. Fish not knowing what water is.)

Our minds—on autopilot—file everything we see, hear, taste, feel, or experience into some kind of bucket.

OMG. That’s amazing.

Or.

OMG. What hot garbage.

Or.

OMG. What happened, again? I wasn’t paying attention because I just dripped coffee all down the front of my shirt and now I’m for-sure going to look extra-assholey today. NEAT.

We automatically—without any thinking whatsoever—classify stuff in our own minds. How good a movie or song is. How attractive that gal or guy is. How we perceive what others will think about us if they know that we like or do [insert whatever here].

We value and measure whatever we just heard or saw or tasted based on a million prior experiences—which calibrates our personal measuring sticks totally differently than other people’s measuring sticks.

It’s cool that this happens because it saves us an enormous amount of mental energy. Our brains go on auto-pilot, and for that we’re not needing to start drinking heavily or go back to sleep by lunchtime just to survive the mental strain of our brains working a thousand times harder than they do now.

But it’s also NOT cool.

Because maybe when we were young, we were either taught something that wasn’t true (or was only partially true) because we were too innocent, inexperienced and naïve to question what people taught us.

I’m not talking about the big, scary things like religion and politics. Most adults, parents, teachers, older siblings, celebrity influencers aren’t intentionally trying to brainwash people. They simply believe something as surely as everyone else does, and if we value their thoughts and opinions, maybe we adopt them for ourselves.

Most of the time, it’s harmless.

Some of the time, it’s not.

I’m talking about the stuff most people think very little about—whether it’s cool for a man to be a ballerina; whether dogs or cats make better pets; what the vehicle someone is driving says about them.

I know a lot about NFL football and NBA basketball, which many guys like to talk about.

But if I go to a random pub in Dublin, Ireland; or Juneau, Alaska; or Istanbul, Turkey, will the average guy there give even a miniscule shit about North American football and basketball?

I don’t know.

But certainly less than you might expect to find in downtown Cleveland, Ohio; Chicago, Ill., or Boston, Mass.

It’s because people know what they know, and NOTHING else. We can’t know what we haven’t been exposed to or experienced ourselves.

And for everyone, everywhere, we are the stars of our own stories. You, me, the people in Bangladesh, and some other people in Argentina. Everybody. Everywhere.

We have experienced EVERY moment of our entire lives from the view inside of our own heads and first-person perspectives, and filtered through the prism of our specific individual experiences.

And really, this is great most of the time. That you are a unique individual. It’s awesome that you’re not identical to everyone else, because that would seem really boring to me and others. It’s amazing that you’re you. Don’t stop being that.

But it’s also a handicap, even though most people don’t think of it that way because few people like selfish egomaniacs, and most of us want to be liked.

A significant handicap. One with life-and-death consequences.

“Blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up,” Wallace said in that commencement speech. “The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way.”

This isn’t about being a good person or being a bad person.

This isn’t about encouraging people to be virtuous.

“It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being ‘well-adjusted,’ which I suggest to you is not an accidental term,” Wallace said.

The Life-Saving Opportunity Crowded Supermarkets, Traffic Jams, and Adulthood Monotony Provide Us

busy supermarket by ABC News

(Image/ABC News)

Note: I just want to reiterate one more time that these aren’t my words. They are from Wallace’s commencement speech to Kenyon College graduates in 2005. And the only reason I know about it is because one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson, shared it several years ago.

It affected him profoundly.

It affected me profoundly, even though I still mess up often.

And I wonder: If it affected EVERYONE profoundly, would most of what’s wrong in the world go away?

I think the answer to that is: Yes.

And I think people who apply what Wallace is encouraging us to do to our relationships with our spouses, friends, siblings, children, co-workers, and even the strangers we encounter in the world—I think if we can muster the strength and courage to take the extra step of choosing WHAT to think, then we can prevent the worst things in our lives from ever happening in the first place.

Maybe we don’t get cancer because we quit smoking.

Maybe we don’t have a heart attack because we exercise and eat healthy.

Maybe we don’t get divorced because we don’t spend years accidentally swinging bats wildly in a room full of the most precious and fragile things in our lives.

Now, Wallace is going to take us home.

“And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what ‘day in day out’ really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

“By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

“But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to ‘Have a nice day’ in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

“Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of you graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

“But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides.

“But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

“Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] — this is an example of how NOT to think, though — most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

“You get the idea.

“If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

“The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

“Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

“Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.

“But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

“Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

“This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

“Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

“They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

“And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

“That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

“I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

“The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

“It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“’This is water.’

“’This is water.’

“It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.

“Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

“I wish you way more than luck.”

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The Secret Way Sex and Faith Collide to Destroy Your Marriage

secret

(Image/OCD Life)

Before we begin, let’s address three truths everyone should understand:

  • No matter your spiritual beliefs, Christianity’s reach and impact has been enormous through the centuries, and likely affects your life in ways you’ve never even considered. While only 33 percent of people globally identify themselves as Christians, the VAST majority of the English-speaking world (the only language in which I write and speak fluently) are Christian. That’s 83 percent of Americans, 76 percent of Europeans, 80 percent of South Africans, and about half of the population of Australia and New Zealand.
  • You’re probably going to get married or be involved in a long-term relationship which approximates marriage. Humans crave connection and companionship. In the United States, 95 percent of people 18 and over are either married, formerly married, or planning to marry. That’s 9.5 out of 10, which any statistician will tell you is basically everyone.
  • Sex is like, totally a big deal to people. It’s easy to prove. “Sex” and “s e x” are the top two Google searches every day out of the 3.5 BILLION that people type into the world’s top search engine. More than 250 babies are born every minute worldwide. (Sex-ed spoiler alert: Most pregnancies occur from a man and a woman doing the hibbity-dibbity, and most hibbity-dibbity sessions do not result in pregnancy.) Lastly, the pornography industry earns about $100 billion per year globally (if you believe the stats I read on the internet). The Hollywood film industry releases about 600 movies per year, and makes about $10 billion in profit. The porn industry produces 13,000 films per year, and makes about $15 billion in profit, which means the adult film industry makes more money than the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball combined.

I think Christianity might be negatively affecting young men in ways that has produced generations of guys who hide their sexual desires or activities out of shame, which then leads to relationship-destroying trust issues in marriage.

NOTE: I am NOT saying Christianity is bad. So don’t even, please. I’m saying in its current form culturally, modern Christian teachings might be accidentally creating a human condition that I believe fundamentally harms marriages.

And I think this might lead to a wide-range of commonly occuring marriage-killing conditions, including:

  • Secret pornography use.
  • Sexual anxiety that can adversely affect performance.
  • Discomfort discussing sex with their wives, which can prevent intimacy building, and lead to wives questioning their own desirability and self-worth.
  • A belief that all sexual thoughts and desires and activities are taboo outside of marriage, which can create a psychological condition where forbidden sex becomes a turn-on in a way “approved” sex with one’s spouse never could. The negative implications of which should be obvious.

…..

Is porn messing up your relationship?

If so, I made new friends yesterday who I think can help you. They’re a husband-wife team who I hope to do a lot more work with.

…..

Burn in Hell, Sinners

Let’s start at the beginning.

Me and all of my friends were taught growing up that any sexual thought or action we had was sinful (if we weren’t married, and none of us were because we were little kids).

I don’t mean sinful like “That’s naughty!”

I mean sinful like “If you die—which could literally happen any minute—Jesus is going to be so disappointed in you that he might send you to Hell for eternity!”

Have you guys ever spent a couple of hours in a hospital waiting room? Stood in line at the DMV? Got stuck in bumper-to-bumper vehicular traffic when you were in a huge hurry? That’s just hours.

ETERNITY is FOREVER.

No end. Holy crap. Have you ever contemplated eternity before? You probably haven’t, and you shouldn’t, because I’m pretty sure everyone who does has an aneurysm and dies.

Nobody talks about this, but we need to, because it’s a thing that’s destroying people’s marriages, but the root causes (fear, guilt, and shame) are never dealt with in healthy or productive ways.

A HUGE number of young men are growing up with naturally occurring sexual urges, and believing that if they act on them, there’s the chance they will spend FOREVER experiencing the worst-possible pain and suffering imaginable. Perpetual shitty days. Not regular-shitty. Mega-shitty. Forever.

Sexual desires, thoughts, and certainly actions (the ultimate sign of weakness and low self-control when you consider what’s at stake, right?) produce SHAME. Not a little. A lot.

And profound feelings of shame can cause men to do some very funny things, almost all of which can lead to divorces nobody wants.

English-speaking countries, where Christianity is prevalent, has NOT made it safe for ANYONE to discuss the human activity that MOST people think about, and want to do more than anything else (depending on individual circumstances, of course), every day.

I’m 99 percent sure that isn’t Jesus’ fault. I don’t think the New Testament writers ever quoted him saying the things I was taught.

It’s a condition that crept up organically. No one set out to create generations of sexually dysfunctional men and couples. It’s a consequence of teaching billions of people that they’re doomed to an eternity of fiery torment if they have an orgasm before they’re married, or even think about it too much.

Do Guys, or Their Wives, Understand the Impact of Sexual Shame on Their Marriage?

I grew up like this, and while nobody meant to screw me up, I think that’s what happened anyway.

Sex was forbidden, so maybe I craved it even more than I would have simply because I was a person.

Sex was forbidden, so maybe every time I didn’t succeed at saving myself for marriage, I felt fear that I would be punished for eternity, I felt fear that I contributed to jeopardizing the spiritual health of someone else, I felt ashamed that I wasn’t strong and disciplined enough to do what’s “right” or to be a “good” person, that I’d let down my parents, and the people I used to go to church with, and that I failed to live up to the behavioral standards all the adults around me seemed to demonstrate.

When I get married someday, everything will be okay.

I wouldn’t have to be afraid, or be ashamed. I wouldn’t be “bad” anymore.

But then I got married, but I didn’t feel any different.

I’d already felt guilty thousands of times because of sexual thoughts or activities. I didn’t know how to shut it off.

I didn’t know how to talk about it with my wife. I didn’t want her to know that I was “bad.” That I was “weak.” I didn’t want to poison our marital bed with shame.

I wanted my wife. Lovely woman, she is. But there were so many times I avoided being honest with her about things I thought and felt, either because I was trying to “protect” her from dirty, evil things, or because I was trying to conceal things about me that I was worried she might consider perverse or offensive or otherwise undesirable.

And I’m left with a couple of simple questions:

  1. Did my fear and shame and embarrassment related to sharing my true thoughts and feelings about sex impact my marriage negatively, and was that a major contributor to my eventual divorce?
  2. If I never felt fear or shame or embarrassment while discussing sex with my wife, is it possible we could have built intimacy, and created a relationship-strengthening connection in that way?

I believe the answer to both of those questions is: Yes.

I’m almost 40 and I don’t know things. I just think things.

Today, the only thing I’m sure of is that I don’t know anything for certain.

I know that SOMETHING is true. Something is Absolute Truth. But I also know that I currently don’t know what that Absolute Truth is. Maybe nobody does, even if they believe they do and tell you that they do.

And that’s a scary thing, right? Uncertainty?

Because I used to KNOW things. And there’s comfort in certainty. There’s comfort in a foundational belief system that guides your decision-making and calibrates your moral compass.

I was raised in a small Ohio town, where almost everyone went to church and believed that Jesus wanted you to vote Republican.

We’re not going to debate theology here.

I’m not here to be an advocate for, nor discourage, a faith-based life.

I think Jesus and his core message are all kinds of rad, but I sometimes have doubts about some of the people who claim to follow him.

I don’t claim to know the mysteries of the universe. I’m just pretty sure divorce is bullshit, and messing up all kinds of lives in all kinds of ways.

And sex—or a lack thereof—can be one of the greatest influences on divorce.

And if we continue to heap shame on young men because of their sexual desires in the name of Good and Evil, or Faith and Love; and we never create a safe environment for them to discuss it without being judged, mocked, or rejected, how can we realistically expect the success rate of long-term relationships to improve?

I don’t pretend to know what’s right or wrong.

I don’t pretend to know how to reconcile helping children to not feel fear and shame because of things damn near EVERYONE thinks and feels while trying to impart on them a deeply held spiritual belief.

I don’t pretend to know what God or Yahweh or Jesus or Allah or anyone—all-powerful or otherwise—wants us to actually do, think or feel.

But I do know that if we don’t start having this conversation, nothing is ever going to improve.

So many silent sorrows you’ll never hear from again,
And now that you lost tomorrow, is yesterday still a friend?
All the bridges we built were burned
Not a single lesson was learned
Everything that mattered is just a city of dust covering both of us.

The men who grew up like me may never find the courage to talk to their wives about how it might be negatively affecting their relationship.

And their wives, missing critical pieces of information, may never know WHY something is happening or not happening.

But maybe if he did, and maybe if she did, something amazing would happen.

I don’t know.

I just think.

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The Real Reason Why Women Leave Men

David vs. Goliath

(Image/Flickr User upside of inertia, via CC)

“Hey Matt! You’re a big, stupid idiot!

“How far do you want us to bend over backward to excuse women’s poor behavior?! We shouldn’t have to pretend it’s okay for them to act this way. What are you, some kind of feminist? You hold men to this high standard, but not women! This is why everything women do is fine, but men will always be the bad guys with you, you sackless loser.”

Signed, A Thousand Male Readers Who Think I’m an Asshole

Listen, guys.

I used to be you, so I very much understand where you’re coming from. I also used to be married, and now I’m not BECAUSE of just how much I used to be you.

We’re pretty sure we’re not crazy, so when our wives or girlfriends say or react to something that challenges our brain’s parameters for Normal Human Response, we conclude that something must be seriously wrong with them.

If you’re anything like me, it scares you. Bat-shit crazy is terrifying. Especially when you love them. You want to help, right? You want to help them think correctly and believe all of the true and wise things you believe, so that these weird and seemingly unnecessary arguments stop happening. I remember. I thought and felt those same things.

I was missing one critical piece of the puzzle, though. Unfortunately, that piece of the puzzle represented 80 percent of the actual image, so I was never entirely sure of what I was looking at and now, through the prism of hindsight, I understand that I’d spent my entire marriage guessing incorrectly.

This elusive puzzle piece that I was missing is absent in MOST marriages. I believe 100% that it is the greatest contributor to divorce and relationship break-ups everywhere.

I tried to share this magical, relationship-saving puzzle piece many times before.

In a story about colorblindness.

In a story about dishes.

In a story about painful second-degree burns.

And I’ve even shared this exact one in radio interviews and article comments.

I hope it makes sense this time more than all of the other times, because this life-saving truth is evasive.

This truth hides from you in plain sight. This truth is uncomfortable because it requires that we trust other people more than we trust ourselves, and we are understandably afraid of doing that. This truth is uncomfortable because it shatters our very perception of reality.

Other people hurt us. Other people don’t always have our best interests at heart. Others are more difficult to trust than our own eyes and ears.

I know what I saw.

I know what I heard.

I know what I felt.

Everyone feels that way. And since everyone is in constant disagreement with someone about SOMETHING, we can safely conclude that at least some percentage of us are getting it wrong.

No matter how sure we feel, we pretty much never KNOW things.

If you are so certain of what you saw, heard and felt that you argue with someone sharing a different account, then I have bad news: You are probably going to get divorced.

It really sucks, so I hope you don’t.

I’ll make you a promise, right here, right now.

If you’ll bravely open your mind and heart to honestly consider whether what I’m about to share might actually be the difference between you having a healthy, lasting marriage and wonderful family life vs. a depressing, shitty divorce that negatively impacts your kids and strains all of your family and social relationships; you might just find a bit of magic to transform your entire world and the lives of your partner and kids.

Because THIS is it.

This is everything.

The Simple Secret That Could Save Your Marriage

Most people are familiar with the bible story of David and Goliath. It’s frequently used to characterize any underdog scenario in life where an individual or competitive sports team might be facing seemingly insurmountable odds.

With apologies to Old Testament writer Samuel, I’m going to share three versus from the famous David-and-Goliath story, but I’m going to replace ONE word three times, because doing so might save your marriage, and I’m pretty sure Samuel would want that.

48As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a cotton ball, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The cotton ball sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a cotton ball; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

Holy shit!

Did you just see that, guys?!

Little shepherd boy David just smoked that giant Murdery Hagrid-looking sonofabitch right in the forehead with a small piece of balled-up cotton fibers and dropped him like third-period French!

Wait.

That’s a bunch of crap, right? Bollocks? Nonsense? Stupid? Impossible?

This is where I need you to take the leap of faith. Please.

You guys ever see a movie or read a book where the story’s protagonist knows something really important and tries to tell everyone about it, but no one believes her or him, until something horrible happens later and everyone goes “Ohhh. Holy shit. Voldemort REALLY is alive, terrorists REALLY have taken control of Nakatomi Plaza, Freddy Kruger REALLY is murdering teens in their dreams, future murder bots called Terminators REALLY are travelling through time to try and kill various members of the Connor family! I should have believed them! Now I feel like a huge dick!”?

This moment, right now, is EXACTLY like those moments.

You’re being the huge dick who isn’t believing the person who really needs you to and who also happens to be the person who loves you, trusts you, and gives you more than anyone else in your life.

Sometimes, you see a cotton ball hurling through the air and bouncing softly off of someone else—usually your wife or girlfriend—which is then followed by them freaking out as if that harmless cotton ball actually hurt them.

What a bunch of drama-queen psychos.

We get so focused on their whiny bullshit over that cotton ball hitting them, that what they’re actually saying hardly registers with us.

We are concerned with their ability to process information within the framework of reality, right? How scary is it to live with a person who literally can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not?

And the secret—the one that can change your entire relationship and worldview is this: While you are seeing and feeling a cotton ball in your hand and hurling through the air, it’s not only possible, but likely, that your spouse or romantic partner is seeing and feeling a stone. Not a pebble. Not a tiny speck of gravel. A substantial, hard, shitty, ­­don’t you dare throw that at me, you prick kind-of stone like the one David slayed the giant with in the bible story.

You Might Not Believe Me Yet, But You Should

What’s more likely?

That every romantic partner you’ve ever met or heard of is clinically insane or mentally incompetent, OR that both of you, despite living through the same moment, are experiencing it much differently than one another?

Here’s the part that ruins everything.

It MAKES SENSE for BOTH people to think, feel, say, and do what they do after a disagreement in which one person is getting pelted by stones by their asshole partner, but loves them and is trying to communicate that they need help from them; but the OTHER person is defending themselves like “OMG. Cotton balls! They were just cotton balls! Calm down, please. Why are you acting like a psycho?”

Do you recognize the danger?

Two good people, trying their best, both reacting TOTALLY NORMALLY to the events they’re experiencing.

It’s not always gender-specific, but so often it’s the men feeling under attack for something they’re being accused of doing or neglecting.

These guys’ wives and girlfriends are like: “Why would you hurl stones at me?! What is wrong with you? Don’t you love me?”

“I didn’t throw stones at you.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Umm, no I didn’t Kathy Bates in ‘Misery.’ How about we put down the sledgehammer and take a stress tab or something?”

“You’re not listening to me! Why would you want to hurt me? Stones hurt!”

“I didn’t throw stones at you. I threw cotton balls at you, and now you’re acting like a baby about it.”

“You’re such an asshole. Are you, or are you not going to stop hitting me with stones?”

“Since that ISN’T what happened—cotton balls; they were COTTON BALLS—I’m probably not going to stop. Cotton balls don’t hurt people. They’re soft and light, and bounce harmlessly to the floor, so please stop trying to turn this into something it’s not.”

“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me. I don’t even know who you are anymore.”

Maybe there are tears. Maybe there is fear.

Maybe then, his defensive anger melts and his protective instincts kick in.

He runs to her rescue. She sucks when she’s mad, but nothing gets to him quite like when she’s sad.

“I’m so sorry, baby. I would never, ever, ever do anything to hurt you. Never. I’m really sorry. Everything’s going to be okay.”

You have a finite number of those moments, husbands and boyfriends (or whoever).

It feels like you’re having The Same Fight over and over and over again. It becomes routine. You get used to it. Because you get used to it, you don’t think it matters.

But it matters.

Because every time you have that conversation, she is becoming more and more convinced that you’re going to keep throwing stones at her. She’s going to keep getting hurt.

So, now she can’t trust you.

She concludes that you’re either doing it on purpose, or that you care so little about her, that you’re unwilling to help her not feel pelted by stones anymore. Has to be one of those two, right?

AND IT MAKES SENSE THAT SHE WOULD FEEL THAT WAY.

It does.

Stop throwing rocks at me, dick. I don’t care what you’re calling them. It hurts and I’ve told you this a million times, and you haven’t stopped, so I’m out. You’re mean, dumb or both, and I can’t trust you to be my partner. I can’t trust the rest of my life to you.

AND IT MAKES SENSE THAT YOU THINK ALL OF IT IS BAT-SHIT CRAZY TOWN DOT COM.

Because, after all. They were just cotton balls.

Just some little, harmless cotton balls that have never, and will never, hurt anyone.

God, she’s crazy.

I believe that if we can help more people understand that the various realities people experience aren’t identical—that one person can see and feel cotton balls, and that another person can see and feel stones—and that based on that fact, it MAKES SENSE for everyone to behave as they are, then people can accommodate for that in their communication with one another.

They’ll be able to meet each other halfway.

“Oh man. I had no idea, babe. Can you understand how crazy it seemed when you were freaking out about the cotton balls? Obviously, I would NEVER throw a rock at you. I would never try to hurt you on purpose. Ever. In fact, it hurts when you tell me otherwise. You’ve been feeling pummeled by stones this entire time! I’ve been hit by stones. That shit totally hurts. I get it, and again, I am so so so sorry, and I swear, if you just tell me moving forward that it’s another situation where even though it appears harmless to me, it’s physically harming you, I’ll understand what you mean, and we’ll be able to get through it without accidentally destroying each other.”

About 70 percent of divorces are initiated by women. Thousands, every day.

And for most of them, THIS is why they’re leaving. This cotton ball-stone thing.

All that you see, touch, taste, hear feels as concrete and tangible as anything else in our lives. Of course we’re going to default to trusting our first-person experiences.

It’s monumentally difficult to doubt our own interpretations enough to trust others’ conflicting accounts of what happened, especially when it makes us out to be assholes.

But, if you can muster the courage, the trust—the faith—to believe your partner when she or he tells you about something that doesn’t jibe with your perception of reality—I think you’ll discover that giant missing piece of the puzzle I referenced earlier.

The one that completes the picture and helps you see things as they really are.

It’s the piece that says Happily Ever After on it.

And it’s the story ending you and your family deserve.

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Why I Think Most Married People Get Bored and Stop Wanting Each Other

bored couple

(Image/ZUMI Kenya)

Author’s Note: I’m not a doctor. I’m not much of an expert on anything. But I’m curious, and I think a lot, and I like to explain WHY I think things. I don’t want there to be any confusion about what I believe or the reasons that led me here. I don’t think I have anything to teach people necessarily. But I think we can teach ourselves things by going through certain mental exercises, and those lessons or conclusions will sometimes be different than mine. That’s okay. Until I’m certain I know everything, I’ll continue to operate as if I might be wrong about all of it. Because I might be. The only story I know is my own, so it’s pretty much the only one I tell.

It’s possible I’m the only person in human history to treat strangers differently than people I know well. I often do that.

I’m more patient with and, arguably, “nicer” to other people’s kids than I am to my son.

I don’t have words to describe what I feel when I think about him. He’s the cutest. He’s in 4th grade, and he’s my favorite everything. He also pisses me off all the time when he’s being a little dickhole. The person I love the most is ALSO the person who makes me angry most frequently. The person I love the most is ALSO the person I spend the most time with which leads to me lapsing into moments when I’m taking him for granted.

Maybe I’m a shitty person or a bad father because of those moments when I show an extra ounce of favoritism to another kid when I’m correcting my son, or tolerating behavior from another kid that I wouldn’t tolerate from my own.

Because I’m not a psychology expert, or even just a really smart person, I can’t explain with 100-percent certainty the WHY behind this.

I can’t explain why I’ll walk around in sweatpants with out-of-control hair in front of a woman who I want to like me and find me attractive, but won’t go out in public or even answer the door for a pizza delivery without dressing better.

I can’t explain why my manners are on full display when first meeting someone who hasn’t earned my respect, but I’ll be totally informal with someone I’ve known for years.

I can’t explain why I was often nicer to strangers than I was to my wife.

But it’s true. I was.

Before my son was the person I spent the most time with, his mother was.

Before my son was the person I loved the most but who could also upset me the most, his mother was.

She’s beautiful. Hot, even. And she is the person I loved above all things. She’s the person I cared about and valued most. She’s the person I shared all of my resources with and promised to be with for the rest of my life.

She’s the only person I ever did that for.

I loved that woman very much.

But I was still a dick to her when things weren’t going my way. I was still sometimes nicer to our friends who were visiting for dinner and wine than I was to her. I was still quick to dismiss something she claimed to care about based solely on me not caring about it like an egomaniacal douchebag.

I still was disinterested at times in going to bed with her, even though she’s sexually attractive and literally asked me to. Which seems insane, really.

Why?

Why?

WHY?!?!

I don’t know. I’m not proud of it. And I’m under no delusion that I’m all together.

Something might be fundamentally wrong with me. I might be a new or unique kind of broken. I don’t know.

But I think it might be something else. Let’s start here…

Hugh Grant Got Caught Soliciting a Miami Prostitute

Remember that?

Sure you do.

Hugh Grant. The British actor. Totally handsome dude. Presumably super-wealthy. I don’t think he had any trouble finding dates if he wanted them. Just a hunch. I’m theorizing that he wouldn’t “need” to employ the services of a prostitute to have his sexual wants satisfied.

But more significantly than all that is that he was married. And not just to anyone. He was married to the woman who—to me—was (purely from a visual standpoint—let the record show that visual stimulation and desire is probably the least-important aspect of “attraction”) the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

Elizabeth Hurley. She’s 52 now and probably still gorgeous. In her early 30s, she’s what I would have designed with a Weird Science computer and a pointy-bra hat.

I was 21 years old back when this went down in 2000 and it seemed super-significant. My 21-year-old brain couldn’t process how Hugh Grant could intentionally choose to cheat on Elizabeth Hurley with some rando lady of the night in South Beach.

But I think I can now.

Personal decisions about hiring sex workers aside, I think I understand why any man or woman married to another human being wouldn’t see that person through the same prism as some star-struck 20-something who never met them before.

I Classify it as Hedonic Adaptation, But Maybe it’s Something Else

I think it’s an important idea to understand, because I think when people don’t know what they’re up against, they’re more likely to experience hardship and failure.

Hedonic adaptation is the psychological phenomenon of our brains adjusting to positive life changes and normalizing them, the consequences of which are losing some of the “highs” we used to feel when we first experienced them.

You get a pay raise. It feels good. You get used to the new pay. Feel just as poor as you used to.

You get a new car. It feels good. You get used to the new car. You let it be just as dirty as your old car.

I’ve written in many posts, including my most recent from last week, that I believe hedonic adaptation is a major contributor to relationship problems.

A kind reader objected to my use of the term hedonic adaptation.

I can’t be sure, but I think she was uncomfortable with the idea of comparing how we treat and feel about “things” with how we treat and feel about people.

As a recovering idealist, I totally understand where she’s coming from. It’s an insult to the sacredness of marriage and the intrinsic value of a human being to reduce a person—and certainly a spouse—to an object.

But I don’t think being uncomfortable makes it less true. I don’t think our brains give a shit WHAT the thing/person/experience is. I believe it’s a foregone conclusion that as familiarity and comfort with something grows, the likelihood that you’ll take it for granted through thoughtlessness increases.

I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that you will love or value something less. Just that you’ll “forget” how much it really matters to you. Like your ability to breathe or see or use your arms and legs. People tend to take them for granted until the least-fortunate among us lose one of them.

It’s not ideal. But it is the human condition.

I certainly don’t love or value my son less as I’ve “gotten used” to him being around. But I think those little chemical triggers that make young couples crush on one another and lust for one another when they first meet WILL, 100-percent, no-exceptions, lose intensity or go away entirely over time.

It’s TOTALLY uncomfortable to suggest to your spouse that you aren’t quite as attracted to them as you once were. I think that’s why most of us avoid discussing it. We love to avoid uncomfortable conversations and situations.

I wonder what would happen if we did things differently.

Remember, much of this is superficial. And it’s not your fault.

None of us are actively sitting around TRYING to bore with stuff—certainly not our marriage partner. I don’t think I’m going out on much of a limb in suggesting that if we never got “bored” or lost the intense chemical reactions our bodies experience when we first meet a romantic partner, that we’d have about 90-percent fewer divorces to worry about.

This isn’t about how much someone matters. It’s not about objectifying human beings or disrespecting those we love.

It’s about acknowledging that we are programmed by nature to lose over time some of the naturally occurring emotional triggers that help us effectively communicate and convey attraction, desire, love, courteousness, patience, forgiveness, etc. to our partner.

We can’t deal in reality when we don’t know what reality is, or deny its very existence.

I think the people who have the best relationships are secure enough with themselves and one another to deal with uncomfortable things and topics as a team. As a partnership. To—together—ask questions and discuss ways in which they can demonstrate the love and care that they think and feel, even if it doesn’t quite look or feel the same as it did when they first met.

Here’s a free life tip I think my failed marriage taught me: Confidently discussing uncomfortable things together in order to promote a healthy relationship and marital harmony will benefit a marriage. I think the act of doing so together is WAY more powerful and bond-forming than being honest about our feelings can be damaging.

The husband and wife who can, with intellectual honesty, discuss and deal with the natural “boredom” or “loss of attraction” that might eek into a long-term relationship are going to be better off than the ones who pretend it isn’t real.

BE UNCOMFORTABLE and discuss things bravely, because being uncomfortable and discussing things bravely is the hard—but RIGHT—thing to do.

But It Could Be Other Things Too

I label this hedonic adaptation because it’s what makes sense to me.

But that doesn’t make me right, and even if I am “right,” hedonic adaptation wouldn’t be a catch-all for this phenomenon.

When you first meet someone, you are single. You are an individual with mystery and potential in their eyes, as they are to you.

The dynamics of that moment are RADICALLY different than when you wake up in the same bed for the 1,871st day in a row, looking and smelling your worst with two kids and a dog and a mortgage.

I’m not even trying to be cynical about this. The love and care you feel—the VALUE—you place on your long-term spouse, family and household is infinitely higher than the first night you met back when all the sparks first flew.

But there are elements of relationships that often “worsen” as circumstances, individual interests and priorities, and group priorities change over time.

Maybe it’s worse manners. Maybe it’s the absence of displaying sexual attraction for your wife or husband. Maybe it’s saying something a little bit mean, or offering a thoughtless or dismissive reaction to something she or he told you.

Maybe back on your third date, all of that would have gone much differently.

Comfortable Lies vs. Uncomfortable Truth

Maybe it’s not about the other person. Maybe none of it is.

Maybe it’s about us.

I was a confident young man when I met my ex-wife. I was going to win the Pulitzer Prize and be whatever I wanted. The world was mine. And so was she.

The years went by.

The confident individual became an unsure partner. The cool guy living alone became the uncool part of a couple.

Maybe we stop feeling attracted to our partners because once they’re our partners, and two I’s become a We, we literally stop being the people they were attracted to in the first place.

We LOSE ourselves when we give up our individual identities to be a husband or a wife. To be a mother or a father.

We turn into different people because we must.

So it’s not just boredom. Sometimes, attractive traits literally go away, and unattractive traits take their place.

Many of us spend years politely or fearfully not mentioning it. Maybe we grumble to one of our friends about it in a private moment.

Then years go by, and two people who were once inseparable are now total strangers.

It’s the saddest story of our time because it happens thousands of times every day and hardly anyone is doing anything about it.

But you can. You can be honest with yourself and the people you love, and you can talk about true things even when it’s hard.

Pleasant lies taste wonderful and are easy to hear and hide behind. But they’re poison.

Difficult truths taste bitter going down and kind of make you want to puke. But they’re medicine. They cure the sick. Mend the broken.

Difficult truths might save the whole world.

Maybe we just need enough courageous people taking the leap.

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When You’re Too Comfortable to Know You Shouldn’t Be

Marlboro Man

“Holy crap, that guy looks awesome. I’m going to start smoking Marlboros,” I probably thought to myself at age 15 — several years before the actual Marlboro Man in this magazine ad died from a smoking-related respiratory illness. (Image/BuzzFeed)

Sometimes I wonder whether I’ll die one day from a heart attack or cancer because of things I consume or do.

Like maybe I eat pizza or a cheeseburger or Milk Duds at the movie theater because, duh, but if in some magical alternate reality I received some type of clear signal from the future that making different decisions would save my life, I would totally NOT eat those things.

Like if former TV psychic Miss Cleo was standing in my kitchen or sitting in the passenger seat next to me…

“Matt! If you keep drinking extra-large coffees with cream and ordering pizza you’re going to drop dead of a heart attack, but if you switch to tea and up the raw vegetable intake a bit, you’ll live a long-ish, healthy life! Get your shit together!”…

If Miss Cleo told me that, and I had good reason to believe she was telling the truth, I would adjust course.

It occurs to me that I order pizza, consume the occasional cheeseburger, and rock Milk Duds at the movie theater because I’m “comfortable.” I don’t assume I’m going to die soon, so I’m comfortable making choices I understand to be unhealthy.

At best, I sometimes mindlessly coast through life breaking a few things along the way. At worst, I am intentionally doing the wrong thing.

Why?

Because I’m comfortable. Because everything feels okay, even if everything’s not.

Comfort Kills Us in Other Ways Too

This whole thing—this Divorced Guy Writes Stuff and a Few People Care thing—started in July 2013 when I wrote my first-ever blog post that was intended to serve a purpose other than me simply word-vomiting emo shit on Day 93 of my wife leaving.

In An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1, I told this little story about fighting with my wife because I wanted to watch The Masters golf tournament on a beautiful Sunday afternoon while my wife wanted me to accompany her and our infant son on an outdoor hike.

I concluded that I could have recorded the golf tournament on the DVR, and regret not joining my wife and son on that hike, because I perceive that time she was out walking our son in his stroller to be one of dozens or hundreds of moments where my wife must have stewed in her disappointment over my choosing golf on TV over spending time with her and our child.

I concluded that IF I had realized in that moment that it was a contributing factor to my wife leaving and losing 50 percent of my son’s childhood, that I would have made a different choice.

That post still gets read a lot, and predictably, I’ll get the occasional blog comment from some guy frustrated by what he read there—presumably because he has the same sort of argument with his wife or girlfriend.

“You’re such a pussy, dude. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to watch a golf tournament that’s only on once a year!” says some guy standing 50 feet below the point sailing over his head.

OF COURSE choosing to watch a golf tournament over going on a hike ONE TIME is a non-issue. Of course. What level of Idiot Mastery must one achieve to read that story—then assume every other aspect of my marriage throughout its history was rosy and perfect—and conclude that my wife randomly freaked out like an insane person over one brief moment in time in which she and I wanted to spend an afternoon doing different things?

The point of that story was to convey my newfound understanding that it WASN’T the moments of conventional significance or importance that sealed the fate of my marriage. It was the collection of a million tiny moments where I disappointed or hurt my marriage partner without doing enough to eliminate or relieve that pain, or offer enough other positives to make a life with me feel like a net-positive.

She spent months—years, maybe—having an internal conversation: “Do the good things about him, or about being with him, outweigh all the bad?”

The answer to that became self-evident when she moved out on April 1—exactly 93 days prior to me thinking about and sharing the story from that otherwise-routine Sunday afternoon a couple of years earlier.

Just like eating a bunch of pizza, donuts and bacon cheeseburgers can eventually cause a person’s heart to stop without warning, our marriages and relationships can end from these moments piling up—these moments that hurt a person while their partner is unfazed. Because they don’t know or they don’t care.

And the reason they don’t know or care is because they don’t feel the need to be bothered with trying to figure it out.

One partner keeps hinting at a problem, but nothing feels wrong to the other.

Because the non-hurting partner is COMFORTABLE.

Everything’s fine. She’ll (or he’ll) get over it.

These people—too often men—can’t understand why it hurts when she sees him expertly adjusting his schedule to attend two different fantasy football drafts where he’ll drink and joke with his friends all day, assembling a fake team of players to “manage” for an entire football season.

“How is it that he can’t be bothered to make a dinner reservation for our wedding anniversary or adjust his schedule to come to our daughter’s dance recital, but he’ll jump through hoops to draft and manage an imaginary football team? one might think or say.

Defenders and apologists will accuse me of being overly harsh on the fantasy-football crowd (of which I’m a proud member), but they’ll have to be disingenuous in order to do so. A wife or girlfriend who feels loved, included, thought about, cared for, valued, etc., will NOT ask these questions on fantasy football draft day.

For the rest of us: the truth hurts, I guess. Sometimes, fantasy football is something men seem to love more than wives and children.

I don’t think as much as I used to. I don’t drive around thinking about a new blog post, or contemplating life’s deeper questions.

Because of that, I haven’t been writing often. It’s not that I don’t want to. I do.

I just don’t have much to say.

I don’t like it, but it’s true.

Why?

Because I’m comfortable.

My ex-wife doesn’t hurt me anymore. Enough time has passed and enough circumstances have changed where I don’t feel the sting of rejection like I once did.

I felt alone. Abandoned. Unwantable. Unlovable. I was worried about dating. I was worried about finding someone that would like someone so apparently unlikable.

I was worried about finding a long-term partner to fill the cavernous hole in my life. What’s going to happen now? What about my son? I can’t even breathe.

But then I could breathe. And our son in grade school is growing into a smart and handsome little man. And everything’s, just, okay.

And that’s all I wanted back then. When everything hurts and you think you might die, all you want is to feel like yourself again.

You just want to be okay.

You just want to feel “normal.”

And here we are. Now I do.

I’m okay. Fine. Totally.

I’m comfortable.

There’s merit in comfort and contentment.

There’s real value—physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally—in feeling balanced enough to just BE. To just be able to sit in a room at home alone, and be so comfortable that you’re not even really mindful of it. You’re just living on autopilot.

I think that’s how most of us do it. Autopilot.

It’s easy on autopilot because everything is habit and routine. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable.

And of course, you never grow or evolve or learn anything.

You don’t get smarter.

You don’t get stronger.

You don’t get better.

And now, in a moment of irony that almost made me laugh out loud as I type, I find myself wondering if it’s really such a good thing when “everything’s okay.”

The fear and pain pushed me to a place mentally and emotionally that truly helped me evolve into a wiser, more-capable human being.

And now?

Static. Still. Plateaued. Treading water.

I got what I wanted and naturally it wasn’t enough because of the human condition.

Maybe getting uncomfortable will get me writing again. Thinking again. Growing again.

Maybe comfort will doom me to a life where I never actually accomplish anything that matters.

Maybe getting uncomfortable can help people recognize unhealthy choices that might be slowly killing their relationships or their physical bodies.

Maybe comfort blinds us from truth, and prevents us from being who we were meant to be.

I don’t know.

I just think.

Because I want to be someone who thinks.

Even if it means battling a bunch of discomfort along the way.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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What You Don’t Know Actually Can Hurt You

dice optical illusion

(Image/Zako.org)

Disclaimer: I might be clinically insane.

That needs to be said upfront, because it’s mathematically possible and I have no official medical diagnosis to prove otherwise. I’ve never been in anyone’s head but mine, and there’s a pretty good chance mine’s a little more whack than yours. I’m not sure.

So that’s my big caveat–that I might be totally bat-shit crazy, because I don’t assume (about this) that just because I experience life this way that you also do.

But I’m betting there will be someone–maybe you (hi!)–who’s also a little bit nuts. Maybe they’ll get it and think it matters.

I am–by far–the wimpiest version of myself while flying on airplanes.

It’s not the kind of thing you can observe. I maintain a calm appearance because I want to look like a cool customer.

But sometimes I’m not.

There are moments while flying where my body feels involuntary jolts of fear. All those “DANGER!” chemicals your brain produces during life’s least-calm moments. I sometimes experience that on routine commercial flights.

I know it’s irrational. Super-irrational.

There are more than 100,000 flights every day around the globe. In the United States alone, there are more than 5,000 commercial jets in the sky at any given time. And how many non-terrorism-related U.S. commercial flights have not made their destinations in my lifetime?

Honestly, that ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades in 1996 is the only one I can think of. Even a 2009 US Airways flight that hit a flock of birds and suffered total engine loss managed to land safely on the Hudson River in New York (an incident dramatized in the film “Sully”).

If you believe in math (and I totally do), it’s literally less than one in a million that something super-scary or dangerous happens on commercial flights.

And yet, there I sit, doing my best to wear my best Super Calm Guy face (I hide the fear pretty well), but on the inside feel all kinds of nerves whenever:

  • The plane changes altitude significantly.
  • We make any major directional turns.
  • The plane bounces significantly from turbulence.
  • I hear that ding-noise that is probably just some random passenger asking for scotch or a pair of headphones, but which my mind always assumes is the pilot calling the flight attendants into the cockpit to warn them of imminent danger and to keep it a secret from the rest of us to avoid panic.

I stare at my phone. I read the same sentence in my book over and over. I maintain eye contact and a calm demeanor with anyone seated next to me I might be talking to.

But on the inside of my chest and stomach, I feel involuntary fear and anxiety as if I’m going to die any minute now, and my son and ex-wife are going to get stuck rifling through my house at the estate sale, with my ex-wife secretly celebrating my untimely passing so that our little boy no longer has to live in a house which clearly hasn’t been dusted or vacuumed in the corners for far too long.

When I was little, I used to have a reoccurring dream of falling–the kind that likes to happen shortly after falling asleep. It wasn’t a peaceful fall. The ground was rushing toward me, and I was afraid.

Of course, like in the dirty dreams where you never actually get to do the deed, I’d wake up before I hit the ground, and just sit there waiting for my heart rate to return to normal.

The Power of Information

I spent last week in Las Vegas for work, and because my company’s travel department hates me apparently, it had me fly through San Francisco on my way back to Cleveland. From Vegas. Don’t get me started.

I flew on four planes. I’ll fly on four more to get to and from Mexico within the next two weeks. I have a fair amount of air-travel experience. Nothing bad has ever happened.

I’m not afraid leading up to the flight. I don’t worry about it, nor dread it. I just have an uncomfortable physical reaction to certain aspects of air travel that are exacerbated by my overactive imagination.

If I was sitting in the co-pilot seat and the captain said to me: “We’re about 100 miles away from a large storm system, but we’re going to increase our altitude by 5,000 feet and veer off to the right, and we’re going to miss the storm by several miles,” I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have any anxiety about these two maneuvers I was anticipating.

If I was sitting with the captain, and he said: “I know turbulence is uncomfortable, but it’s a normal part of flying and there’s nothing to worry about–even when it’s really bumpy–here’s why…,” I’m pretty sure I’d be cooler than how I normally experience it.

It’s not just knowledge or information that eliminates the irrational fear. Sometimes, something significantly distracting overpowers it. I fly at least once a year with my young son. I don’t feel fear when I’m with him up there. Maybe because I feel like it’s my job to be brave for him, so I accidentally am. Or maybe because the rational part of my brain acknowledges the obvious: If this was legitimately risky, you would never have bought the tickets, and you certainly would never put your son in danger, and maybe that’s the thing that offsets that unpleasant panicky feeling that sometimes crops up.

What Don’t You Know About Your Spouse or Romantic Partner?

You’re probably not like I was. You probably don’t concoct paranoid thoughts and feelings about your spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend and then have unpleasant physical reactions to them.

But that was me during the final 18 months of my marriage while I slept in the guest room wondering what my wife was doing, who she was talking to, who she was thinking about, and what she really thought of me.

The final few years of my marriage messed me up pretty bad. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine, because I repeatedly lacked the courage to directly speak my thoughts, feelings and fears to the one person who mattered.

We don’t always speak or behave honestly.

We feel angry. Sad. Embarrassed. Paranoid. Jealous. Ashamed. Insecure. Afraid. But we don’t communicate that to our partner. Since we feel it so profoundly, and they “know us” so well, we assume they know it–or they should if they actually cared.

We don’t effectively communicate truth, and then when our partners don’t do what we silently hoped they would, we feel even shittier–whether that’s sadness, anger or disappointment.

We have brains and our brains are funny things.

Our brains have been doing their thing for however long we’ve been alive, and our brains learn how to tell us stories to fill in gaps. It’s how we can often catch moving things sailing overhead, or instinctively stop or dodge to avoid collisions in vehicles, or on foot.

We don’t need 100-percent of all information to guess accurately.

When we’re inside, but it’s raining outside, we don’t need to experience being rained on to know we’ll get wet.

We’re good guessers most of the time. Seriously. We’d be dead if we weren’t. I’ve never fallen off a cliff, but I’m skilled at guessing what would happen if I did, and taking steps to avoid it.

We’re excellent at observing the world around us, and avoiding danger.

But not always. We don’t bat 1.000. We strike out sometimes. Maybe not even half the time. But sometimes. And sometimes we do it in our relationships when our busy minds start guessing what our partners might be thinking or feeling, and then having psychological and emotional reactions to those guesses without confirming truth or accuracy one way or another.

YOU CAN’T TRUST YOURSELF.

No matter how good we are at not dying, and no matter how effectively we navigate our interpersonal relationships with friends, co-workers, and families of origin. We can’t trust ourselves, because the fact is, we’re WRONG a lot.

We just are.

You’re wrong about what your husband thinks and feels.

You’re wrong about what your wife thinks and feels.

You’re wrong about what your parents think and feel.

You’re wrong about what everyone at work thinks about you.

You’re wrong about what your children think and feel.

We’re all wrong about a countless number of things which all of us lacking the power of omniscience can’t possibly know.

But our brains guess anyway. Our brains always guess, and without a crap-ton of discipline, mindfulness and wisdom, we tend to mentally and emotionally FEEL whatever conclusion our brains settle on.

I have no way of knowing what would have happened had I walked another path. It’s not something I think much about.

But, through the prism of hindsight, I feel confident saying that a major, major, major contributor to my failed marriage and broken family is, simply…

A lack of information.

Either I thought and felt things that weren’t true, and perhaps reacted to those false conclusions, OR my wife thought and felt things that weren’t true, and in many instances, it was my fear or stubbornness that allowed that to happen.

I was so busy pretending to be tough and courageous, that I was hiding all of my weakness and fear.

I hadn’t yet discovered the truth: It IS being tough to be vulnerable and honest. It IS brave to push through fear and tackle things head-on.

Like when I calmly am there for my little boy in the seat next to me on the airplane and everything’s okay.

The most important things and people in our lives are too significant to leave to mistake-prone guessing. Yet, many of us do, and after months and years of that, our worlds end for a little bit until we pick up the pieces again.

Sometimes things are worse than we think, and we don’t really want to know the truth even though the solution lives in that truth.

Sometimes things are better than we think, but we have no idea because we want to pout and be mad, or because we’re too embarrassed to say or ask what’s on our minds.

When we don’t have enough information, we draw incorrect conclusions that lead to us thinking, feeling, saying and doing things we otherwise wouldn’t.

And maybe sometimes that doesn’t really matter.

But sometimes–it’s the only thing that does.

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How Marital Affairs Happen: The Beautiful Stranger I Wanted to Sleep With While I Was Married

man sitting at bar drinking

(Image/Shutterstock)

Because I am sometimes a walking cliché who struggles with controlling negative emotion, I found myself sitting at a bar on a Sunday afternoon with a shot and a beer in front of me.

I’d walked out of the house after another fight with my wife who hated me. My marriage was complete shit and I’d convinced myself that it was mostly her fault. She’d suffered a difficult personal loss, and because her emotional calibration and mindset had the “wrong” settings, she wasn’t prioritizing our marriage over her sadness.

I’d been sleeping in the guest room ever since the night she told me over dinner that she didn’t love me anymore and didn’t know whether she wanted to stay married. That had been more than a year earlier.

Don’t love me, huh? Neat. Way to screw me over after I pledged my entire life to you.

Instead of exercising humility and putting all of the effort I could muster into understanding why my wife was unhappy, I felt sorry for myself and moved into the guest room.

I couldn’t explain how we’d arrived here—a depressed wife seemingly apathetic toward her husband and marriage, and a depressed husband trying simply to not suffocate. It felt like a problem that was too big for me. When things feel too big for me, I tend to avoid them.

Help always came during life’s hardest moments growing up. Maybe I thought my wife would snap out of it and we’d find a way back from this.

I’d been sleeping in the guest room for more than a year because I’m not sharing a bed with a woman who tells me she doesn’t love me and doesn’t know if she wants to be married to me anymore.

It seemed like a reasonable decision at the time if you don’t count the part where I was an adult male approaching 18 consecutive months of celibacy I’d never wanted nor asked for.

So, a Fuck this, I’m not going to sit here and take any more of this crap reaction came naturally when something she said struck me as extra bullshitty.

And then I did what all the sad and angry guys do in the movies.

I went to the bar to drink and smoke cigarettes, leaving my wife at home to care for our toddler and reflect on how her husband always puts himself first during disagreements, completely dismisses her thoughts and feelings when they conflict with his interpretation of truth, and consider a future where she wouldn’t have to put up with any of that.

I ordered a shot and a beer. And then another. And then another.

I’m good at drinking. I tend not to get sloppy drunk and stupid. Sitting there alone on a Sunday afternoon, I wasn’t planning on getting either sloppy or stupid. I was just trying to medicate enough to numb the tightness in my chest and throat.

I was probably doing a lot of staring at my phone and the bottom of my glass because I didn’t see them walk in. I only remember lifting my head and locking eyes with a beautiful brunette woman sitting with her friend on the far side of the bar.

I won’t be mistaken for a Gucci underwear model or anything, but considering it was a Sunday afternoon and the bar was mostly empty, I was the obvious choice for any women interested in meeting a guy.

After our eyes had met a few times, the two ladies invited me to the other side of the bar to sit with them.

I obliged.

Drinking alone isn’t any fun.

Her name was Donna. Donna’s friend was cute and friendly too, but I don’t remember her name. Just Donna.

She was beautiful. Educated. Fun to talk to and drink with.

But what really stood out—and why I still remember her today—is that she liked me.

She liked me. She wanted to meet someone who enjoyed cooking and weekend-afternoon orgasms which is totally a demographic of which I’m a member.

We spent hours drinking and joking and talking and laughing. Donna, me, and her friend I can’t remember.

Donna and I didn’t have an affair.

We didn’t make out, hold hands, or even exchange text messages after that. I loved my wife and absolutely wanted to be married to her for the rest of my life.

But no amount of alcohol could make me forget how horrible it felt to be home in my loveless and stressful marriage.

No amount of alcohol could prevent me from feeling the excitement of an attractive person demonstrating genuine interest in me after so many months of craving my wife’s affection and being denied it.

No amount of family values, codes of moral conduct, or of being philosophically against sexual unfaithfulness in marriage could stop this from being true: I wanted to sleep with Donna.

I did. I wanted to.

I was married. I loved my wife. We had a little boy at home. And I believed it was fundamentally wrong up and down the social and spiritual spectrum of acceptable human behavior.

Cheating = bad, is how I felt about it—no matter how painful and shitty my life and marriage felt.

So I didn’t.

But still. I wanted to.

She made me feel good, simply by paying attention to me, demonstrating interest in me, and expressing verbally and non-verbally that she liked me. All of that paired with her attractiveness was enough to trigger the feeling inside.

I wanted to.

This is How Affairs Happen

As many of you know, it was largely me—not my wife—whose behavior slowly led us down the sneakily disguised path to resentment and divorce. I didn’t know it back then while I was feeling sorry for myself and drunk-flirting with strange women at a bar. I managed to do that WHILE blaming my wife for the state of our marriage.

She doesn’t like me or want me anyway, so who cares? The rules are different now.

I really thought and felt that.

I’m telling this story because I think—save for various details unique to our individual lives—it’s a story that most people reading will understand and relate to. I think this story is a VERY common example of how marital affairs happen.

It’s not usually someone who loses all sense of reason and self-control and gives himself or herself over to lustful temptation.

It’s usually that someone in a committed relationship feels abandoned and alone and miserable inside their home and relationship. And THEN, someone attractive and interesting starts demonstrating emotional, intellectual, or sexual interest—and it’s how amazingly good that feels after months and years of being deprived those feelings that intoxicates people and lures them into submitting to the craving.

That feeling.

They want me.

A powerful drug. Appealing. Addicting.

I want more.

I never really understood how a husband or wife could sleep with someone else. But then my marriage turned to shit and I felt like dying every day, and then she eventually left and it somehow got worse.

And now I do understand.

When something hurts all the time, it’s easy to chase things that relieve the pain.

When we’re deprived of powerful wants and needs like food and water, we starve and dehydrate. Starving people will eat unspeakably disgusting things. Dehydrated people will drink desert sand if the mirage looks real enough.

When we feel deprived of love, attention, physical intimacy, respect—and then we get a taste of that elsewhere? It’s easy to want more.

Maybe if my wife had held on to our broken marriage for another year, I’d have cracked eventually. I don’t know.

I just know this: I messed up big-time in our marriage, and failed my wife and family. In 2017, I can see it clear as day. Despite that, I STILL felt genuinely like a victim. And in all my victimhood, I felt justified in letting my mind want sexual and romantic fulfillment, even if it meant wanting it from someone else. It seemed totally okay to me since my wife ignored me all the time when she wasn’t acting annoyed that I lived in the same house.

A Thought Exercise

I’m a reasonably evolved human being. Even when I was a shitty husband, I could still mostly be counted on to treat people well and make choices that wouldn’t hurt my wife or son.

I was the problem in my marriage, and STILL played the victim card inside of my head and chest.

So, what do you think the people are doing who are ACTUALLY being emotionally neglected and mistreated by their spouses?

There are women and men out there who are married to way bigger screw-ups than me.

What do you think the real victims of shitty spousal treatment are thinking and feeling when their hot co-worker flirts with them, or when their high school sweetheart reaches out to them on Facebook?

There are a lot of marital affairs happening. Too many.

There are also a lot of people who aren’t physically acting on their impulses… but they WANT to.

If your wife or husband doesn’t actually sleep with your best friend, or her work-trip partner, but they WANT to… how do you feel about that?

And we can choose to get all morally righteous and holier-than-thou about it, always pointing fingers at someone who succumbed to an affair as the reason a marriage fell apart.

Or we can tell the truth, even if it’s a little bit inconvenient.

We can talk about root causes. We can talk about all of the little things that did or did not happen over many months and years which resulted in two previously happy and in-love people becoming totally Bizarro versions of themselves who sleep with other people and feel morally justified in doing so.

It’s rarely about the sex.

It’s usually about human connection.

Affairs don’t lead to disconnection, per se.

Disconnection leads to affairs.

And then the world is a little darker and uglier than it was before.

But it doesn’t have to be.

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8 Ways Good People Invalidate Their Partners and Ruin Relationships

(Image/Pinterest)

That’s an important word—“invalidate.” But I haven’t always thought so.

My wife would sometimes ruin an otherwise perfectly good night at home or dinner conversation by accusing me of “invalidating her feelings,” to which I’d usually roll my eyes at my silly, overly sensitive wife and her cute little feelings.

Feelings aren’t facts, right? So facts matter and feelings don’t—a convenient excuse to fall back on any time the topic was about something impacting her emotionally but not affecting me.

“It’s always about what Matt wants,” she’d say. I’d get angry (and all of the sudden feelings mattered!) and remind her that she’s the one who started it by freaking out because I apparently didn’t do or say what she wanted me to. I’m not a mind-reader, freak-o!

Even today, I’m guilty of thinking back on my marriage as a relationship with fights about things that didn’t matter. Little, insignificant things we’d blow out of proportion. A dozen years of being unable to see the forest for the trees.

EVERY one of those fights mattered. They signaled that something was wrong and I dismissed or ignored that for years, probably because it hadn’t started hurting yet. EVERY one of those fights was the result of a conversation where one or both of us made a thoughtless, selfish, emotionally impulsive and undisciplined choice.

Only masochists who hate themselves would create and execute an action plan to sabotage every conversation they have to provoke an emotionally unpleasant fight for one or both relationship partners–especially knowing the end of that story was a messy divorce and broken home.

Most of us aren’t masochists who hate ourselves.

Most of us are just a little bit broken and a lot bit uninformed about the healthy and unhealthy behaviors that make marriage and dating relationships thrive vs. the ones that poison and destroy them.

Emotional Cyborgs and Fake Stoicism are the Life of the Invalidation Party

“Really? You want to talk about validating someone’s feelings? God, you’re such a pussy,” some internet tough guy might be thinking.

And I understand that because I used to be an internet tough guy too and throughout my life have pretended that things that hurt or upset me weren’t actually hurting or upsetting me. (That’s an example of validating someone’s thoughts and feelings even if you disagree with them.)

I thought if people knew the truth—that my feelings were hurt—that they’d view me as some wimpy bitch. Not a Real Man. Boys don’t cry!

Having my Man Card was important to me. It’s important to most guys, near as I can tell. The thinking seems to be: If you have your Man Card, the guys will accept me and the ladies will want me.

It’s funny how we ignore the obvious truth of how cowardly it is to pretend to be something we’re not because we’re afraid of what others will think about the Real Us.

We are ACTUALLY BEING the very thing we’re afraid of, or accusing others of being, when we put on our masks to hide our true and authentic thoughts and feelings.

To be sure, there ARE people who demonstrate a high level of stoicism and emotional consistency. People who seem consistently steady, regardless of what’s happening around them. People who are being authentically true to themselves amid their stoicism are awesome, and probably great behavior models to aspire to—because we probably shouldn’t let our emotions affect us as much as we do.

But in the interest of pragmatism, it’s pretty important to deal in reality. In real life, almost nothing influences human behavior as much as our emotions do. Just ask every successful marketing pro in world history.

So yeah. I want to talk about invalidating people’s feelings because it was routinely part of my conversations with my wife—EVEN when we weren’t disagreeing or fighting. It was my routine invalidation of the things she might have been thinking or feelings that ultimately CAUSED the fight or relationship-damaging moment. One of the thousands of paper cuts that would eventually cause our marriage to bleed to death.

Good People with Good Hearts Do This All the Time

Dudes often get bent out of shape about a series of posts called An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, as well as one called Your Wife Thinks You’re a Bad Husband Because You are One.

They lose their shit as if I’m attacking their character or not calling their mom again after our first date.

I understand this reaction also, because I too would lose my shit when I felt as if my wife was constantly telling me how I was failing her and our marriage despite feeling like a good human being who would do anything for her, and as if I’d sacrificed a lot on her behalf in order to share a life together. (More validation!)

Being a lousy husband like I was DOES NOT make you a bad person any more than an inability to prove advanced mathematical theorems like Will Hunting would make you a bad person.

We accidentally destroy our relationships. It’s an idea that’s been beaten to death on this blog and will be beaten to death some more in the book I’m writing. (For real, this time.)

I was reading through various psychology articles on invalidating others as a tactic for winning an argument, or as a means of trying to convince someone or ourselves that something is better or worse than what it is.

In doing so, I found eight common invalidation techniques people use in all kinds of conversations with everyone they talk to—not just their partners. I realized that people who are otherwise wonderful do this, and accidentally ruin their relationships with people who want to love them, but eventually stop subjecting themselves to that person’s invalidating bullshit.

8 Common Invalidation Methods That Accidentally Destroy Relationships

1. Misunderstanding What Validation Is

Sometimes my wife would tell me a story about one of her friends or something that happened at work. Sometimes, when she told me the story, I would find myself disagreeing with her assessment, and defending her friend, or otherwise taking a different viewpoint than she did. I thought I was “being fair.” I thought I was calling it like I saw it. Being real and stuff. But what I was doing was confusing Validation with Agreement. I didn’t have to agree with her to look for the very real reasons why she felt as she did, and then express that I understood her perspective.

“I get it, babe. I’m sorry you have to deal with that at work on top of everything else. I know it gets hard sometimes,” would have worked fine. Instead of “It seems to me you’re overreacting. Maybe if you did X, Y, and Z, your dumb girl feelings wouldn’t be interrupting my dinner,” which I didn’t actually say, but she probably heard.

2. Wanting to Fix Feelings

Sometimes people feel sad or angry. We don’t want them to. Maybe for unselfish reasons, but probably for selfish ones too. So we say, “Oh, don’t be sad,” or “You have nothing to feel sad or angry about. Everything is going to be fine. Don’t worry about it.” This is almost always done with the best of intentions, but it also almost always makes you a dick.

When you tell someone who is sad or otherwise upset (involuntarily) to NOT be that way, what they hear is (even from really nice, unselfish people): “Oh, that sucks that you feel that way. Let’s go do something awesome that I want to do instead so that I don’t have to worry about this thing that matters to you but doesn’t impact me.” The first cousin of trying to fix feelings is…

3. Minimizing

Dishes by the sink, yo. Didn’t matter to me, so they SHOULDN’T matter to my wife, right? Because how I experience the world should be indisputable, absolute truth and the unquestioned law of all human behavior, right? For the life of me, I can’t figure out why we’re so shitty about this. Every second of our lives, we experience things through our individual, first-person experiences, and so often it seems, we think EVERYONE—no matter where they’re from or what they’ve been through—should draw all of the same identical conclusions and have identical emotional responses as us.

If someone is acting like something’s important, that we don’t think is important, we minimize it. Make it out like it’s not a big deal and they shouldn’t worry about it. This is ESPECIALLY shitty when someone is upset with OUR behavior, but we disagree that what we’re doing should upset them. You should only do that if you love getting divorced.

4. Hoovering

According to Dr. Karyn Hall, “Hoovering is when you attempt to vacuum up any feelings you are uncomfortable with or not give truthful answers because you don’t want to upset or to be vulnerable. Saying ‘It’s not such a big deal’ when it is important to you is hoovering. Saying someone did a great job when they didn’t or that your friends loved them when they didn’t is hoovering. Not acknowledging how difficult something might be for you to do is hoovering. Saying ‘No problem, of course I can do that,’ when you are overwhelmed, is hoovering.”

We wear masks for all kinds of reasons in our relationships and in our interactions with others. We’re afraid of rejection. We want to be liked. A lot of bad things happen when we’re dishonest—even when they seem like innocent little white lies that are totally harmless.

5. Misinterpreting What It Means to Be Present

Sometimes people think that being in the same room, or the same house, is the same as being WITH someone. We’re not off doing something on our own away from home. We’re right there, watching TV, playing a video game, fiddling with our phone, or whatever. I used to play online poker, watch movies, sports, or TV shows my wife wasn’t interested in, and all kinds of other things that saw her doing things by herself, while I was doing things by myself. I thought it was fine. I always thought it was good that both of us were doing “what we wanted to do.”

But what she wanted to do sometimes, even more than what she might have preferred individually, was to be TOGETHER. Feeling present with each other, and the emotional connections that thrive from shared experiences was something she wanted. Turns out, this is also something NEEDED for relationships, including marriage, to thrive and function well. She knew it. I didn’t. And now we’re not married.

6. Judging

Judging isn’t so different than minimizing. But judging often adds an element of ridicule to the occasion, which can often cause a lot of damage. I already mentioned it earlier—if my wife told me a story, or even just liked or didn’t like something opposite of me—I would react with judgment. Not only was I disagreeing with her, but sometimes I was doing so in ways that made it clear that I believed all of my thoughts and feelings had more value than hers. As if I came to them from some pure and intellectually superior place, and hers were just some stupid girl feelings.

The more I tell these stories, the more horrified I am at my obliviousness through the years, and my blindness to what asshole moves these types of beliefs and behaviors are.

7. Denying

This one’s awesome. We invalidate other people by saying they don’t feel what they are saying they feel. They report what they’re experiencing in real-time, and instead of accepting that—we just tell them they’re mistaken. That they don’t know what they’re saying and feeling, as if we think they’re hallucinating or mentally insane. It’s hilarious in the saddest way possible how common this is.

8. Nonverbal Invalidation

Nonverbal invalidation comes in many forms. The shittiest are obnoxious eyerolls, finger-drumming, or yawning.

The more common and innocent ones are when we drift off during conversation, interrupt, change the subject, check our phone, or any number of nonverbal things that communicate to someone that whatever they’re saying couldn’t possibly be as important as whatever we wish we were doing or discussing.

Unfortunately, this is classic ADHD behavior, and OFTEN done with no intention or awareness of how it’s being received emotionally by someone else. I’ve spent a lifetime doing this, I think, but only in the last few years have had the mental wherewithal to check myself and achieve the self-awareness and focus necessary to keep my eyes and thoughts on the person with whom I’m conversing.

More than half of marriages fail (when you factor in all the still-married people who hate one another). I assume non-married relationships end at an infinitely higher rate, but I don’t have data to support that.

But I don’t need data to know that MOST of the ugliness that arises between two people who began their interpersonal journey totally infatuated with, and interested in, one another grows slowly from a million of these little moments.

Invalidation. It ended my marriage and has surely ruined a number of my other relationships, romantic or otherwise.

What has it done to yours?

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What to do When Your Spouse Isn’t Your Soulmate

soulmate spiritual

You can continue chase that elusive Tron game of blue-ish transcendent love. Or you can simply create it with a couple of pretty simple choices. (Image/Ascended Relationship)

The person you’re married to—or will marry one day—isn’t your soulmate.

[Insert very dramatic orchestra music here.]

It sucks, I know.

How can I be sure?

If we begin with the basic assumption that soulmates are, in fact, real things, and that everyone has one, I can know you’re not with your soulmate because—math.

There are 7.5 billion people in the world. You’ll meet approximately 80,000 of them if you live the average human lifetime of 78.3 years.

That’s .001% of the human population. And that’s everyone you’ll meet over 75-80 years. We really get to know much fewer than that.

“So you’re saying there’s a chance!”

Nope. Sorry.

It means that neither the girl you like in history class, nor that guy you met at work is your soulmate. It means that neither your childhood crush nor Ryan Gosling is your soulmate.

It’s okay to feel disappointed because it is disappointing.

That you’re not “made for each other.”

That you’re not “perfect together.”

That you’re just two people who both happened to be in the same place at the same time and both wanted to have sex with one another. (Hopefully things like shared interests, shared beliefs, mutual admiration, and intellectual stimulation contributed to this attraction, but mostly you just wanted to do the hibbity-dibbity).

This disappointing realization that we’re not with our soulmates SHOULD NOT make us want to end our relationships in order to seek out our soulmates, but it does have significant implications for us whether we’re married, or planning on marrying someday.

The ‘Holy Shit, I Just Found Out I’m Not with My Soulmate!’ Emergency Guide

The Married Edition

First, take a deep breath. It’s really important to stay calm or else everyone dies. (Just kidding! Everyone dies even if you stay calm! But hopefully not soon.)

Let’s evaluate this predicament.

1. You got married

This means you exchanged spiritual and/or legal vows promising to be someone’s life partner forever. You did this in front of witnesses, probably your closest friends and family members.

Questions: Did you understand the basic parameters of this arrangement prior to doing this? Did you understand what you were agreeing to? Were you being honest when you exchanged vows? To what extent do you value adhering to your marriage vows? Is it important, or not really?

2. You have choices

Your choices are:

  • Stay married and invest in making the experience the best it can be.
  • Stay married and ignore, neglect, or intentionally sabotage the relationship.
  • End your marriage.

Unless your spouse breaches the legal marriage contract, or violates the spiritual one, ending your marriage requires some soul-searching and having to answer some tough questions.

Staying married but not putting in effort, or actively harming your marriage, more than likely violates the vows and promises you made on your wedding day. You’ll want to read the fine print to be sure.

Staying married and doing things to make it the best-possible experience seems like an obvious choice, but there’s A LOT of grey area out there that I’m not trying to swim in.

Questions: Do you want to be married? If so, what could you do differently to make the marriage a better experience for both partners? If not, do you think there are things you could have done differently throughout your marriage that might have led to a different result than a marriage so undesirable that you want to end it?

The Ultimate Mind Tool For Being Married to Your Non-Soulmate

Understand what hedonic adaptation is, because you can NEVER feel happy if you do it wrong.

Hedonic adaptation is the name for how our individual happiness levels tend to return to our “normal” baseline after either good or bad life experiences as we adjust to our new realities.

Money and material wealth are the classic example. We feel happy when we get a new job with a bigger paycheck. We feel happy when we get a pay raise. We feel happy when we get a new house, or new car, or new gadget at home. And then, we eventually get used to the new paychecks and the new stuff, and it doesn’t feel special anymore. So we chase MORE. (This is also called the “hedonic treadmill.” Always chasing, chasing, chasing, but never really going anywhere, no matter what it looks like on the outside to everyone else.)

Hedonic adaptation is a fundamental part of the human condition. You’re not a bad person nor especially selfish or ungrateful in any way that warrants singling you out because you experience it. You’re just a person like me and everyone else. And this is part of the deal. We get used to things and then they seem less awesome than when they were brand-new.

People like to say: “The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence!”

What that means is, if you start having sex and heavy-petting contests with someone who’s not your spouse just because you kind of feel like you like or want them more—OR, actually end your relationship to pursue a new one with someone who’s exciting your pelvic region—you WILL 100%, no-exceptions, experience hedonic adaptation with the new partner too.

And then, in order to serve that fickle little lust monster between your legs, you’ll eventually have to find a new person again.

This is HIGHLY impractical if you value being part of a lasting relationship.

As long as you’re honest with yourself, everything will be okay. When two people who love, honor and respect one another deal with this inevitable human condition together out in the open, it’s an opportunity to strengthen the relationship and build intimacy.

If one person acts like a dishonest child about it and shames the other person out of discussing this, everyone will just carry on in silence fantasizing about someone else and growing apart in ways that extend beyond the bedroom, until one day you discover you’ve somehow turned into some divorced asshole blogging about this stuff on the internet.

When you’re honest with yourself and your partner, and when you accept the fundamental truth of life that NO MATTER WHO YOU’RE WITH, you’ll feel something that feels a little bit like boredom and complacency creep in, you can approach sex and attraction in marriage with a useful and productive mindset.

Hedonic adaptation is entirely in our heads.

And so is the remedy.

Questions: Why did you marry your spouse? What do they do for you, and have done for you, that you appreciate about them? What is something about them, or something about how they make you feel, or something they do that improves your daily life that you could feel and express gratitude for?

One minute you want to beat your kids and send them to their room without dinner.

But then, while sitting in a doctor’s office the next day, you discover they have a terminal illness, and all the sudden you don’t want to beat and bedroom-banish them anymore.

How you FEEL about your child in such a moment changes radically, simply because of what’s going on inside your brain. Our thoughts change everything.  I’ll never take time with my child for granted again.

That very same thought process is what allows us to manifest feelings of gratitude and love for our partners to create a healthy, beautiful and lasting marriage.

People want it to be easy. People want it to feel “natural.”

But we all have mortgages; and debt; and healthcare expenses; and children who need us; and busy, stressful jobs; and unique pressures, fears, anxieties, guilt, etc. And we juggle all of this while the TV, radio and internet hurl “It’s the end of the world as we know it” headlines at us.

It doesn’t feel easy because it’s NOT easy.

It’s hard to remember to mindfully feel intentional gratitude and then take the next step of expressing that gratitude to the person we promised to love for the rest of our lives.

But that’s what it takes.

That’s what Love is a Choice looks like.

And if you’re not married but want to be, please think long and hard about making these promises to another human being you claim to love until you know what you’re signing up for.

You’re not signing up for a life of that person “making you happy” every day. Other people can’t make us happy, even when they try really hard.

But, when we feel and express gratitude every day for the person who gave the rest of their lives to us, and when that person does the same in return, we create something durable and life-giving.

Know this, and make sure they know it too.

Talk about whether you both want to sign up for a life of giving more to the other than you take for yourselves.

Because when THAT person says “I do,” you’ll have found something every bit as powerful, and someone every bit as significant, as a soulmate.

And even though they may not technically be your soulmate, no one will ever be able to tell the difference.

Including you.

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The Marriage Paradox

dead rose by wolfman570

(Image/wolfman570 – Flickr)

They had a chance encounter on 5th Avenue in New York City.

The boy and the girl in the movie I was watching.

They were two old friends who crushed on one another growing up together in Texas. He was an aspiring novelist attending the University of Texas. She was going to Yale, after abandoning her childhood dreams of being a creative artist.

They reconnected over dinner and drinks, catching up from the years apart.

He was a dreamer. And his hope and optimism was contagious and inspiring. His belief in her and encouragement to chase her dreams moved her. It made her feel good. She was in love.

In a later scene, we see the young woman having dinner with her mother, where she reveals her plans to leave Yale, return to Texas to attend the University of Texas, and marry this boy from back home.

Her mother was mildly amused, but mostly incredulous and discouraging.

“Keep seeing him if you have to. Live with him. I don’t care, but don’t marry him,” the mother said. “I understand what you see in him. I get it. I do. He’s the opposite of your father. He’s a romantic. But he’s also very fragile. I saw that when his father died.”

She paused for a moment, accepting her daughter’s angry glare.

“Don’t do this. You’ll regret it and you’ll only hurt him in the end. What you love about him now, you’ll hate about him in a few years. You may not realize it but you and I are a lot more alike than you think.”

“You’re wrong,” the daughter said. “You and I are nothing alike.”

“Really? Just wait,” the mother said. “We all eventually turn into our mothers.”

Why Do We Marry?

The first time, I mean.

Is it because we love someone so much that we can’t stand the idea of living without them?

Is it because we love how they make us feel? Or how we feel being seen together?

Is it because we love what they do for us? What they provide?

Is it because we want to have children, and we identify who we think will make the best mother or father to our future kids?

Here’s what I feel sure about: Pretty much NO ONE gets married, spends a lot on the wedding, pools their financial resources and material possessions, and has children together with the intent or expectation that it’s going to end in horrible pain, and potentially cost a lot of money, and in the BEST of cases, costs half of your children’s lives, and in the WORST, costs much more time than that OR involves unsupported parenting to children whose other parent is almost never around.

The most generous divorce stats say that marriages end about 40 percent of the time, but I still like to say marriages fail “half the time,” because it feels truer and because I don’t think marriages are successful simply because two miserable people who hate or cheat on one another haven’t technically divorced.

Therapist Lesli Doares said it best during my first interview with her on her podcast radio show, discussing HuffPost content. I’m paraphrasing, but she said something like: “They have a section for Weddings and a section for Divorce, but there isn’t any information about actual marriage.”

Even the most beautiful, inspiring and successful marriages feature two people who will be sure to tell you how hard it is: “It wasn’t always easy! We didn’t always like each other, but we always loved each other!”

WHY DO WE MARRY?

We mostly suck at it. It’s mostly hard. So, why?

What other Important Life Thing do we collectively fail at more than marriage?

Another Tragic Ending

More time passes for the young couple in the movie I’m watching.

After a few years together, the lustful, feel-good stuff had disappeared, and her husband hadn’t written the next Great American Novel and she started to lose faith in him. She started pushing him to go back to school to study something more financially sustainable.

After growing up in a wealthy family and unquestioned financial security, she was dissatisfied with the couple’s humble apartment. She wanted more. And she was afraid she’d never have it if she stayed married.

Her: “You have to realize this isn’t working. We’re not right for each other. I wish we were, but we’re just not.”

Him: “What do you mean, we’re not right for each other? We’re perfect for each other.”

Her: “No. We’re not. We would be if we didn’t live in the real world. I need a life that is more structured and I need a future that is more structured. I want to be the person that you want me to be but I just can’t.”

Him: “But you are. You are. Just stop.”

Her: “I really wanted to be this person that you thought I was. I really did, but I’m just not that person. I just don’t have your kind of faith in things. I’m cynical. I’m pragmatic. I’m a realist.”

Him: “No, you’re just afraid. We’ve been through this so many times.”

Her: “No, I’m not scared. I’m unhappy. I’m just really, really unhappy.”

Later, she meets a guy in one of her grad school classes and develops a close enough relationship with him to ask him to drive her to an abortion clinic where she terminated an early pregnancy she hadn’t yet told her husband about.

We see the crying, confused, scared young woman, wet from the rain, clinging to this other guy while sitting inside his parked car outside of the clinic.

And then through the windshield, we see the husband, headlights shining on him, standing in the rain, taking in the moment, and his wife sees him, and cries even more.

End of scene.

End of marriage.

The Paradox: Because We’re Human

Some people believe the easy answer is to simply not get married and discourage others from doing so. Great. Have fun with that.

I admit to being as cynical about marriage as I’ve ever been, but I still believe the world needs marriage.

And even if you disagree, I hope I can appeal to your inner-pragmatist, because regardless of how good of an idea you consider it to be, 95 percent of adults are either married, formerly married, or plan on marrying in the future. The simple math is that almost everyone gets married anyway.

But why?

Everyone will have their own individual reasons for doing so, but I think the simplest explanation is that everyone thinks they’re supposed to.

I think the majority of people in the world do almost everything they do because that’s what they believe they’re supposed to be doing.

From our earliest memories, we saw married people, families, or young people dating and exploring the possibility of marriage. We see those same stories play out in novels, on TV, and in music.

And marriage crosses religious and cultural boundaries, so we see it everywhere. All over the world, you’ll find countless examples of two people who felt attraction for one another (or part of an arranged marriage) and now live in a committed partnership that both people expect will last the rest of their lives.

People get married because, for them, getting married is a personal goal.

People get married because they want to have a family and believe that’s best accomplished with marriage as a foundation.

People get married because they feel social pressure to do so.

People get married because they’re afraid of being alone.

People get married because they believe sex outside of marriage is a sin and they REALLY want to have sex and not feel shitty about it.

People get married because they want a financial partner.

People get married because they want to be with someone who makes them feel safe, or special, or a bunch of other good things.

And, of course, people get married because they love someone more than they love themselves and crave the opportunity to love that person every day for the rest of their lives.

Why do people get divorced?

Because their expectations weren’t met.

Someone broke a promise, or someone FELT like a promise was broken.

Two people failed to communicate in ways the other person could understand well enough to adjust whatever behaviors or mindsets needed changed in order to save it.

Because their feelings changed. About their spouse, or maybe about someone else they should have never gotten so close to, or maybe just about themselves.

People get divorced because they were dishonest with themselves before and during marriage.

People get divorced because human emotion is very powerful, and we pursue what feels good and avoid what feels bad, which means our marriages are screwed once bad feelings seep in.

People get divorced because of hedonic adaptation. That’s the psychological phenomenon we experience when awesome things stop feeling awesome once we get used to them. Hedonic adaptation is why we get sick of eating the same foods even if they’re delicious, or hearing the same songs even if they’re amazing, or why we feel dissatisfied with our homes, cars, clothes, paychecks, and everything else as we get used to them.

The people who made us feel the best we’ve ever felt stop making us feel that way. Because they change AND we change.

The people who made our bodies tense, our hearts race, our privates scream to touch theirs… they become the people that bore us sexually.

Maybe because of emotional reactions to their behaviors. Or maybe just because we’ve known them long enough. You know the phrase: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”? I’m pretty sure that was coined by someone who never got tired of having sex with the same person because of how rarely he or she got to see them.

People get bored and angry and disappointed and resentful and ashamed and feel shitty. About their partners. But maybe mostly about themselves.

It’s so hard when you realize you’re not the person you wanted to be and your life hasn’t turned out the way you’d expected.

It’s so hard when you wake up in a shit-festival of a marriage, and your life doesn’t feel like your own, and Jack and Nora are sharing their amazing-looking photos from another fucking vacation where everything about the photos represent everything your life is not.

It’s so hard when you see people in love on TV, while your spouse ignores you but lights up for other people. It’s so hard when you hear about good things happening in your friends’ marriage when your spouse is ignoring you sexually in favor of late-night internet porn or romance novels and detachable showerheads.

It’s so hard being an adult.

Because you thought you’d wake up one day and FEEL like how you imagined all the adults to feel when we were kids. When we’d finally have our hormones under control, and mature into the kind of person who always did the right thing and made a lot of money and could buy and do anything we wanted.

It’s so hard being an adult because it’s so damn disappointing when you realize you made all that shit up in your little-kid head and none of the adults actually knew what they were doing either. They just faked it the best they could for our sake just like we’re doing now for our kids.

We tried the best we could to be who we thought we were supposed to be.

So we got married. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do.

But there was so much we didn’t know.

Like how this thing that was supposed to make us feel good could make us feel so bad.

We didn’t know what we wanted back then isn’t what we’d want later. We didn’t know people would start acting differently. We didn’t know the holidays wouldn’t feel like they did when we were kids. We didn’t know how to imagine life without the people who die, or move away, or just stop calling.

We didn’t know so much would change.

We didn’t know so much could change.

People don’t know what to expect.

We say “I do” with the best of intentions only to realize everything we signed up for is some bullshit we don’t actually recognize. Because our partners have let us down. Or because WE let us down.

People don’t know HOW to be married when they decide to get married.

But maybe we can change that.

With so much at stake, I think we have to try.

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