Tag Archives: Shame

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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Empathizing with Hitler: How Being Aware of This One Thing Can Save the World

empathy

It’s so much more important than I ever knew. (Image/abigailleighphillips.com)

Settle down, kids. I don’t mean it like THAT.

I think I know why our relationships fail more than half the time, and how most men—even good-character guys who are easy to get along with—can be colossally shitty husbands and boyfriends.

Every day, millions of wives and girlfriends turn to the internet desperate for an answer to this question. Sometimes they find this blog and write me comments and emails asking various forms of it.

This question is at the heart of this blog’s existence and my personal search for answers because it’s the same question my wife—crying and desperate—begged me to answer during our marriage fights. It’s the same question many—maybe even, most—wives and girlfriends ask themselves about the men in their lives:

“Why don’t you love me?”

We husbands and boyfriends stand there dumbly because we’re at a total loss. How crazy is this chick right now? Why don’t I love her? I gave up (or am planning to give up) my ENTIRE LIFE to marry her, share the rest of my life and things and experiences with her, and have children with her. I say ‘I love you’ every day. EVERY DAY! How in the hell can she stand there, question my love for her, and expect me to take her seriously?!

We think she’s from another planet, and we tend to act like it. Even if we’re not being actively hostile, our inability to understand why she’s upset down deep in her bones, twists the knife even further.

She thinks we’re from another planet, and she tends to act like it, especially when she’s packing bags and moving out while we stand there like drooling oafs.

And why?

Because most of us don’t know what the word “empathy” means, or that if we worked to be as skilled at empathy as we are at driving cars, or playing golf, or whatever our primary work is, our lives would transform from shitty to awesome.

Important Things Men Don’t Often Understand or Think About

I think when we strip off all the clothes and trimmings, and let it stand there naked and exposed and broken down to its most basic form, the truth about common destructive male behavior in relationships stems from the following:

1. Men don’t know what EMPATHY is.

2. We don’t know it is the most critical skill to acquire in order to have good relationships and avoid divorce.

3. We don’t WANT to learn about it because it’s ignorantly mistaken for a feely “girl” concept that threatens our sacred identity as Real Men.

4. Behaving in ways that avoid the appearance of weakness (even though most of us secretly feel weak and afraid at times under our faking-it masks) trumps love-affirming behavior because we don’t realize our wives are actually going to leave us, and that it’s going to be way worse than our fear of looking weak.

5. Men are mostly unaware of this, like we’re living in The Matrix, and don’t see the world as it really is.

A Short Lesson on ‘Awareness’

Consider this parable from the late novelist David Foster Wallace: “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’

Men Are Unknowingly Empathetic, Just Like the Nazis

I used Adolf Hitler’s name in the headline for cheap shock value and in a Moonwalking with Einstein-sort-of way, but I could have used the name of anyone who sucks. Joseph Stalin. Pol Pot. Mao Zedong. Osama Bin Laden. Take your pick.

It’s important to disassociate the concept of empathy from good vs. evil, or right vs. wrong. Two evil people can empathize with each other. One good person could even empathize with an evil person if he or she wanted to. A compassionate Jewish widower could conceivably empathize with a Nazi man who lost his wife.

Empathy is NOT an emotion. It’s not a feeling. Empathy is simply the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

“Empathy is a choice. And it’s a vulnerable choice, because in order to connect with you I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling,” said author and speaker Brené Brown in this excellent little video designed to help viewers understand the distinction between the words “Empathy” and “Sympathy.”

Every man who isn’t a sociopath (mental health experts say 4% of the population is sociopathic) probably exhibits empathy regularly, even if it’s only with a few like-minded people, like his guy friends.

Guys who are heavily invested in tribes (like friends or athletic and business teammates, brotherhoods, and enthusiast groups) likely behave empathetically in most interactions with fellow tribe members.

I’ve known and seen countless men who prefer to hang out with their buddies than their wives or girlfriends. It’s because there exists a MONUMENTALLY IMPORTANT connection with his friends that doesn’t exist between him and his significant other. He’s simply never been able to label it before. But it has a name.

It’s empathy.

“Empathy? Stop being a gay pussy, Matt, and start being a man,” a terrifying percentage of guys would think if they actually read this far into the post. But they usually don’t because they don’t know they need help. They don’t know they lack empathy in their most critical relationships, and they don’t know that it matters.

They just don’t know.

How do we make people aware of a nuanced concept so subtle that it escaped me for 36 consecutive years, including recently, while I was looking for it every day?

While wives Google: “Why doesn’t my husband care about me?” or “My husband is an asshole” (which this blog ranks #1 for), men want answers also: “Why does my wife hate me?”

All along, most of these men loved their wives. But because they lacked empathy skills and often never realized it was something to worry about, their wives BELIEVE their husbands don’t love them. Over time, wives retreat emotionally because it’s virtually impossible to perpetually love someone who perpetually hurts you. When she retreats, it often feels like hate, repulsion and disgust to her husband.

And sometimes it is.

Men, You MUST Understand What Empathy Is

Again, guys already do it! They sit next to each other at the bar, or on the patio table after a round of Saturday golf, and one says “Betsy is all over my ass right now to repaint the half-bath in the basement and she got all pissed off last night and this morning about us playing golf today,” and his friend says: “Ha! Join the club, brother. Val wants me to help her plan a Disney trip for us and the kids next summer that I don’t really want to take. They’re always complaining about something, right?” and then they clink their beer bottles together at 11 a.m., delaying their return home by ordering another round.

THAT. IS. EMPATHY.

And if you can figure out how to intentionally behave and speak to your significant other (and pretty much everyone!) with conscious empathy, you will transform all of your close relationships (spouses, children, siblings, parents), and then, like MAGIC, a bunch of drama and dysfunction will begin to disappear and life will suck less, and maybe even morph toward amazing.

It’s EASY to empathize with friends who think and feel and like all the same things we do. It’s why we have all of these naturally easy relationships with people who share our interests, temperament and circumstances.

It’s DIFFICULT to empathize with people whose thoughts, feelings and interests conflict with ours.

Empathy is a life skill which requires practice and repetition. So, first we learn that it’s a thing. We wake up. We become aware of the water. We learn what empathy actually is. Then we decide whether we care. (Since your life will suck more and your marriage will fail or be defined by misery if you don’t, I hope you’ll choose to care.)

Then we get started. With a real, God’s-honest chance to change the world.

More Resources on Empathy

Thanks to readers of this blog, I was introduced to Dr. Brené Brown’s remarkable research, writing and speaking on critical ideas most men aren’t actively thinking about. But it’s only because they don’t know how life-changing it would be if they did. Brown’s work kicks ass. 

Here are a couple things to get you started:

Brown’s TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability

Brown’s online courses, COURAGEworks

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The Moments

The rhododendrons bloom outside my house for just a couple short weeks each year. A reminder to slow down. To live in the present. And that these little moments end up being most important.

The rhododendrons bloom outside my house for just a couple short weeks each year. A reminder to slow down. To live in the present. And that these little moments end up being most important.

It was a slow death.

Not a major trauma—like a shooting or stabbing—that killed the marriage.

More like a terminal illness that could have been cured with early detection.

Despite having lived with my wife in my house for seven years, the daily surroundings don’t trigger memories and emotions within me the way one might expect.

But the opposite is true of places we visited together.

I took my son yesterday to a learning and discovery center geared toward teaching children about plant and animal life on farms.

While we waited for our friends to show up, we spent time playing on a little playground near the parking lot. The last time I stood there, it had been the three of us. The family. Dad. Mom. Son.

Together.

And it was a little heavier than I wanted it to be.

I didn’t feel it in the morning at the house in which we lived together.

I didn’t feel it looking into the eyes of our beautiful son who we made together.

But I did feel it standing on this relatively nondescript playground in a place I’d only visited a few times.

It’s because those are the moments. Sometimes they don’t feel like they matter now.

But they often feel like they matter later.

This Fleeting Life

My rhododendron bushes have bloomed.

My house looks particularly nice from the street for about two or three weeks each year. That small window is now.

The bushes stand there, green, nearly all year round. But during this short period as spring gives way to summer, they bloom, their vibrant pinks and purples providing a rare splash of color to enjoy each time you pull in the driveway.

They’re here today, gorgeous in their rarity.

Soon enough, perhaps even from the next hard rain, they won’t be. Because I watch this cycle year after year, I’ve learned to appreciate the moment. I’ve learned to appreciate how special and fleeting their simple beauty truly is.

I’ve learned to pause. To look. And look.

And look.

Willing the image into my mind. Willing gratitude into my heart. Willing more growth into this body.

Because these little things are the big things.

These moments are life.

How We Break Connection With Those We Love

I’ve written several times about my favorite book on male-female relationships—How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It.

I think the reason I believe it’s such an insightful, helpful book is because it, within the first 25 pages, absolutely nailed the way my marriage (and certainly millions of others) ended.

Authors Patricia Love and Steven Stosny wrote this about the female tendency to practice fear avoidance and the male tendency to practice shame avoidance, and how that instinctual behavior and dynamic poisons our relationships.

Women build alliances with other women by doing what they learned in early childhood: exposing vulnerability. Marlene doesn’t have to mention to her girlfriends that she feels sad, unhappy, lonely, or isolated. They infer from her body language or tone of voice, just as she can tell if something is wrong with them. As soon as one woman senses a friend in emotional need, they become more interested and emotionally invested in each other.

“But what do you think happens when Marlene tells Mark that she feels bad? (She has to tell him—his defense against feeling failure and inadequacy has blinded him to her emotional world by this time.) You guessed it—once she forces him to face her vulnerability, he feels inadequate as a protector. He responds with typical shame-avoidant behavior: impatience, distractedness, defensiveness, resentment, anger, criticism, or ‘advice’ that sounds an awful lot like telling her what to do.

“After a while, a woman will stop exposing vulnerability to the man in her life and turn more to friends, allowing the emotional void in their relationship to fill with resentment. Marlene doesn’t know it, but she already has one foot out the door. The probable catalyst for their breakup will be one of the following. Marlene becomes ill or depressed or loses a loved one. Feeling inadequate to help her, Mark withdraws emotionally yet again, leaving her to face her ordeal completely alone. When she recovers, she will see no need for such an unreliable alliance and leave him, thinking that they have grown apart. The other likely breakup scenario has one or both of them starting an affair, Marlene to ease her sense of isolation and Mark to prove his adequacy. Fortunately, a breakup can be avoided by paying attention to each other’s innate vulnerability.

And so we’ll think back on all that time together.

What destroyed my marriage?

And you have the tendency to think about how the relationship changed when your child was born.

Or how the relationship changed when you lost your job.

Or how she completely changed when she lost her father.

But those are just like the highlights on your curriculum vitae. The real job experience was gained going to work every day in each of those listed positions.

Those traumatic moments were opportunities to temper the marriage in fire. To make the relationship stronger than before. An unbreakable force forged in a little bit of sacrifice, a little bit of paying attention, and a whole bunch of choosing to love every single day.

It wasn’t the big events that changed my life.

It was the seemingly inconsequential ones. The things we take for granted.

But life gives us occasional glimpses of truth to help us keep our minds focused on the right things.

Like a random playground.

Like the fleeting beauty of a rarely seen blossom.

Like the very next time you speak with your wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend.

An opportunity to make better, wiser choices.

An opportunity to take nothing for granted.

An opportunity to stop, to breathe, to look, and cherish all the beauty that surrounds us.

The moments.

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