Tag Archives: Self-love

How Trying to ‘Fit In’ Can Ruin Your Life and Marriage

Never Abandon Yourself

(Image/Pinterest)

As far back as I remember, I was taught that some human behaviors are so bad that if you do them, God—an otherwise all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving father figure—will be so pissed and disappointed with your choices that you run the risk of being banished to the shittiest, most-frightening, most-painful environment imaginable for ETERNITY.

I don’t know how many of you try to conceptualize FOR-FREAKING-EVER, but it hurts my head so much that even the concept of an eternal paradise scares me a little. I’m not really capable of imagining forever. Dinosaurs were alive 65 million years ago. Compared to FOREVER, 65 million years is less time than it took you to read this sentence, relative to our lifetime.

Let’s not discuss theology, please. I have no idea what’s true and not true, and I have a sneaking suspicion no one else does either—even those who act like they’re really certain about it.

This Bad Human Behaviors List was mostly not a problem.

I didn’t want to kill anyone. I never even liked hurting people.

I didn’t want to rape, or kidnap, or steal things. I didn’t even want to covet my neighbor’s wife or possessions.

I wanted to treat people well—not for praise or recognition—but just because that’s what naturally made sense for me.

The things on the Bad Human Behaviors List were super-easy to avoid for the first 12 or so years of my life. I didn’t want to do them anyway! Yay!!! I’m going to Heaven!!!

And then somewhere along the way, I started waking up with erections and inevitably had one anytime I was called up to write something on the chalkboard in front of the class at school. Sex became a thing I thought about a lot, and to some extent, talked about with friends.

By mid-high school, I’d experienced alcohol and marijuana, and decided I really liked both.

And for the first time in my life, my personal values were on the line.

Am I going to be the kind of person who does things because I like them and they feel good even though I believe they’re wrong?

With the full knowledge and understanding that having sex outside of marriage AND consuming alcohol or smoking pot just to “feel good” were on the Bad Human Behaviors List—the very list that will damn your ass to an eternity of excruciating fiery torment—I totally chose to do them anyway.

Guilt.

Shame.

Fear.

These things were now a part of my world, and there was nowhere to hide from them. What I discovered is that if you drink enough, and smoke a bowl, and climax a couple of times with a sexy partner in crime, you kind-of dull or mute the discomfort of guilt, shame and fear. Like a numbing agent.

Temporary relief from the discomfort of Real Life.

Whenever that relief wore off, you’d just do it again. Like a non-hospitalized college kid’s personal morphine drip.

Twenty years, one son who needs my guidance, and one divorce later, and I still find myself pushing that metaphorical button.

It doesn’t look anything like it used to. I never smoke. I rarely drink. I’m no longer surrounded by 10,000 single women every day.

But I’m still dancing with the question: What kind of person am I? What do I REALLY believe, and can I live courageously and authentically in whatever those true and actual beliefs might be?

Do You Ever Lie Like I Lied?

I didn’t think it was lying. Deception for the sake of taking advantage of someone, or benefiting at others’ expense.

THAT’s lying, right? I’m just not always disclosing the whole truth. That’s so much different than lying! Keeping some things to myself isn’t on the Bad Human Behaviors List!

I was pretty much being Peter in the movie scene from “Office Space” when he’s trying to justify to his girlfriend how stealing fractions of a penny from his employer isn’t actually wrong since Take-a-Penny trays exist.

Because I fucking lied. I was lying to myself as I spent years convincing myself I was doing the right thing.

I was “honest” in that I never tried to deceive my wife in some ultra-heinous way. But I lied to her by misrepresenting myself about sex.

“We celebrate anniversaries instead of the quality of relationships.”

– Mark Groves, relationship coach, speaker, writer

I wasn’t ashamed to drink with her nor have honest conversations about it. It wasn’t a source of guilt and shame.

I wasn’t ashamed to have honest conversations about pot smoking with her because it was such a relatively insignificant thing in our adult lives. It just didn’t matter enough to ever matter.

But then we get to sex. It’s always so uncomfortable to talk about for me, like I’m 12 again.

Maybe deep down, I’m still the 12-year-old just waiting for God to ban-hammer my sinful ass to perma-bathe in some hellfire lava pit.

Here’s the important part:

I was afraid to communicate things I thought and felt about sex to my wife—both when we were dating, and during our marriage.

Why?

Because I was afraid of rejection.

I was afraid my wife wouldn’t like the REAL ME, so I played like I was all morally virtuous in the sex department, even though I was actually a little pervy, and fantasized about interracial three-ways and other rad stuff that would probably make my grandma cry.

When Did We Decide Everyone Else Matters More Than Us?

This isn’t about sex, or moral righteousness, or even communication in marriage.

It’s about betraying and abandoning yourself to win the approval of others.

I was watching and listening to relationship coach and speaker Mark Groves talk about these ideas in a video I’ll share below.

[Full disclosure: Mark and I “met” for the first time on the phone last week because I really like and respect the work he does, and from that conversation I am intentionally looking for opportunities to share Mark’s work and support him, as he has the same mission that I do, and he’s already doing what I one day hope to—write about and talk about this stuff full-time.]

In this talk, Mark shares a number of personal stories (not unlike I try to do) in order to illustrate the lesson he learned from it, and share ideas for a better way of living.

Listening to his talk from the video, I was affected when he talks about how there’s a moment when we’re kids where most of us abandon ourselves in favor of: “I need to be this type of person to get the love of my parents.”

And how we often behave and make major life decisions (including who we date and/or marry) in an effort to live up to whatever cultural, religious, educational standards we believe will earn us the approval or praise of others.

“So we become who we think we need to be to be loved,” Mark said. “But when we do that, who’s not getting the love? Inside?

“Us. We abandon self to stay part of a group that doesn’t even celebrate who we truly are.

“That used to be something that preserved us in evolution, but it doesn’t seem so helpful now.”

The Science of Relationships (a Mark Groves talk)

Mark and I had a great talk where it was clear we were both passionate about the idea that our interpersonal relationships are truly the things that have the greatest impact on our lives.

How good or bad our human, earthly life experiences are is most greatly affected by the quality of our closest relationships. How good we feel. How healthy we are.

Yet, we spend our lives NOT learning about relationships from anyone except people who ALSO suck at them. Then shitty things happen and we cry and stuff.

I often use the term “failed relationship.” Mark hates that term and called it “shitty.”

“A relationship that ends is not a failure,” Mark said. “It’s expansion. It’s growth. It’s just the end of a story.

“We celebrate anniversaries instead of the quality of relationships.”

I spent a lot of time thinking about that. Longevity is beautiful, and Mark is the first to say so. But longevity DOES NOT make a relationship “successful.”

And it doesn’t have to be this way.

The path to a better way starts with treating ourselves better.

You deserve it. We all do.

Even me.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing a Letter Won’t Convince Him to Stay, and Your Life Won’t Be Better if He Does

crumpled paper

(Image/Recycle Nation)

My heart was in the right place, but I think maybe I got it wrong when I tried to write a generic letter in response to the question: “What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?”

It’s not a particularly popular blog post, but it gets read a lot because people frequently type variations of that question into Google.

The combination of fear and sadness we feel when our spouses shake the foundation of our lives with comments like “I don’t know if I love you anymore,” or when they actually pack bags and leave, is a feeling hard to describe.

Abandonment hurts, even when you deserve it, because at the time you’re feeling it, you probably haven’t figured out how much them wanting to leave makes sense.

I can’t fathom how it must feel to people like children, or to excellent spouses and parents who don’t deserve it at all.

So, a bunch of people are reading this silly letter I wrote every day, and one of two things are happening:

  1. Readers are dismissing it because it’s probably a little bit bullshit to many people, or
  2. They’re ACTUALLY sending some version of that letter to their partners, and it probably comes off inauthentic as hell, because unless someone thinks and feels exactly the same as I did in January 2015, sharing a letter written by the Then-Me WOULD be inauthentic.

And this is important: Fake, inauthentic shit never works for long.

‘But, Matt! I Really Don’t Want My Husband to Leave! What Should I Do?!’

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of publishing a Q&A with author Mark Manson the day of his second book launch.

In that post, my final question to him kind of, sort of tackled WHY a stranger could never write any sort of meaningful letter that would convince a husband intent on divorce that he should change his mind.

Here’s that exchange:

Matt: The No. 1 question I get is: “How can I get my husband to understand what you’ve written here? He never listens to me any time I say anything he perceives as critical.” I care about helping others, and I believe husbands actively listening to their wives (hearing her, I mean; not following her directives) would dramatically improve relationships/marriage. What advice would you give women on how to communicate concerns or dissatisfaction in ways men are more likely to truly listen to?

Mark: Questions like this are hard because they’re so person-dependent. It’s hard to say with certainty without knowing the couple. After all, maybe there’s something in the wife’s communication style that is preventing him from hearing her. Maybe the husband has some deep insecurity that is causing him to avoid dealing with the issue. It could be a million things.

But in general, the short answer, is that whenever someone in a relationship has problems with their partner, it always needs to be communicated in such a way that responsibility or blame for each person’s emotions are not shifted to the other. For instance, many people naturally approach their partner by saying something like, “You don’t care about me and make me feel horrible because all you want to do is X.” Because this is said in such a way that puts all of the responsibility on the partner, they will naturally become defensive or seek a way to avoid dealing with it. After all, I can’t control how my wife feels 24/7!

A much better way to communicate it is something like, “When you do X, it often causes me to think/feel badly because I feel unloved. Maybe that’s my own insecurity, but is there something we can do to make it better?” In this example, the person approaching their partner with the problem is owning their responsibility for their own feelings and reactions, and are looking to find some solution. There’s no blame or guilt-tripping going on. This is far more likely to be successful.

Then again, a lot of men are raised and socialized to be emotionally shut down and distant from pretty much everyone (but especially women), so it can be a much more long-term issue that may actually have little to do with the wife herself.

Idealism is Often Irrelevant in Real Life

Never lose yourself to keep someone else.

I have issues with idealism. Many of my beliefs, life philosophies and political opinions are rooted in an Ideal World.

I have a habit of forming my strong beliefs based on The Way Things Should Be (which yes, is subjective). I sometimes describe common marriage scenarios that I believe most people can relate to, and sometimes I frame them as Husbands Often Do This, and Wives Often Do That. The Mars/Venus stuff. Sometimes people get offended by that.

I do it because I believe it’s pragmatic. Because EVEN IF things ideally shouldn’t be described in terms of gender differences, I believe in Real Life, explaining it that way allows MOST people to relate to it. I think it’s likely the most-helpful way to explain relationship conflict to the regular guys and couples out there like me trying to keep their families together.

The IDEAL way would be to promote gender equality across the board, because it’s something I believe strongly in. Without all of the people who protested my word choices and story framing, I would have never come to believe what a powerful force I believe Accidental Sexism to be in the destruction of modern male-female relationships.

Ideally, you could write a letter to a husband saying all of the “right” things about why the couple is always having the same fight, and why it’s HIGHLY ILLOGICAL to leave a marriage over most common relationship problems to go be with someone else because hedonic adaptation GUARANTEES many or all of the same relationship problems will crop up with them too.

But the world is not ideal. Not even close.

I have no idea what kind of men these women are with. While I will never advocate divorce, I think it’s safe to say that at least some percentage of women are married to men they SHOULD NOT be married to.

In real life, people are broken.

I don’t want to write letters that might convince a dangerous someone to stay, or that might reinforce feelings of inadequacy within a wife desperately craving her husband’s approval.

Listen up, ladies: You might be messing a few things up, just like every other human in world history, but you don’t need to sacrifice your identity to appease some guy intent on abandoning you or your family without cause.

Either: A. You’re an obviously horrible spouse, and a very healthy, intelligent person is wisely moving on, or B. You’re experiencing the injustice of a man refusing to fulfill the vow he made to you.

And in either case, my personal goal is not to write some crap letter that can’t possibly mean much to guys on the brink of ending their marriages.

My personal goal is to encourage you to look at the mirror and not see the distorted image your broken insides trick your mind into seeing, but the human being—the most wondrous and miraculous thing the world has ever seen—who possesses the freedom and capability to wake up every day and choose to be whoever you want to be.

No one gets to decide who you are. But people will try.

And it doesn’t matter that you and I have never met for me to know this about you:

You’re already tall enough.

It takes a long time to see it. Like some dusty old antique or oil painting, it isn’t always obvious to us how much something’s worth.

But once you figure it out, you get to start feeling proud of it. You get to appreciate and value it. It gives you balance. Strength. Courage.

When you have those, you don’t plead with other people to choose you. Because YOU get to choose yourself.

People who don’t choose you back aren’t welcome in your life anyway.

So, “What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?”

Maybe instead of writing that letter, you can begin the work of loving yourself as much as you deserve.

Get that part right and I’m pretty sure the rest takes care of itself.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: