Tag Archives: Spouse

Do You Love Your Spouse Enough?: The Uncomfortable Truth About Who Should Rank #1 Among Our Spouses, Children & Parents

Who's #1?

(Image/The Bullvine)

Where does your spouse or romantic partner rank in your life?

Take all the time you need to think before answering. Just don’t be a lying doucheface when you make your list.

Ever have your wife ask you to fold a basket of laundry or clean up after dinner, and you said you would but really you just ended up playing video games all night? Unless it was a legit one-time incident, don’t rank your spouse ahead of video games on your list.

Ever have your husband ask you to not complain about him to your mother or discuss intimate details of your private sex life with your friends? Unless you did so as part of consulting those you trust for marital wisdom, don’t rank your spouse ahead of gossiping with your friends, mom, or whoever.

I think many—perhaps most—people have other things and people ranked ahead of their spouses. They won’t say it. But they don’t have to. You can see what people do.

Ranking anything ahead of your spouse is the most surefire way I know to create mistrust and instability in a marriage which often leads to divorce and almost always unhappiness for everyone involved.

Here’s how I think many married guys would publically rank their Life Things (I’m intentionally leaving Faith out of the conversation as it often proves to be an unproductive and distracting argument starter – though I think it’s fair to note that I’ve never heard of a divorce resulting from two people putting their God and faith first in their marriage):

  1. Marital Family
  2. Family of Origin
  3. Job
  4. Friends
  5. Favorite Hobby or Lifestyle Activity

But here’s how I think many married guys actually prioritize their Life Things, according to their actions:

  1. Favorite Hobby or Lifestyle Activity
  2. Job
  3. Friends
  4. Family of Origin
  5. Marital Family

I work hard at not blaming my ex-wife for our divorce. I get more blog comments and private messages encouraging me to start putting more blame on her than I’d prefer. Each and every message like that tends to signify that someone doesn’t understand what it means to accept personal responsibility, which means they’re going to feel like a victim every time something bad happens for their rest of their lives until they learn how to flip that around.

But there are thousands of wives reading here too, and several have asked for help understanding what kinds of wifely behavior can destroy a marriage.

And for me, it was THIS.

I feel like my wife prioritized her family of origin over our marriage. Later, she doubled-down by giving 95% of herself to our son when it was just the three of us. I thought I was being noble by not calling that one out. ALSO, I’d already screwed up so badly at being a husband by that point, that there’s no intellectually honest or fair way to predict how she might have been after childbirth had I been a kick-ass husband leading up to becoming parents.

What About the Kids? Shouldn’t They Come First?

Nope. They shouldn’t. And, as a father who loves his little boy more than anything else on this planet, I struggle writing that.

It twists my insides a little. That’s usually how I know something is true — when it feels uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Prioritizing anyone or anything over your wife or husband is the most surefire way I know to destroy your family.

In marriage, either your spouse is #1, or you’re doing it wrong.

I say that without judgment. I’m divorced largely because I prioritized all kinds of bullshit ahead of my wife and our relationship.

I offer it only as a thought exercise, because I think MOST married people put at least something ahead of their marriage.

And yes, that includes our children. And yes, that includes our parents and families of origin. And yes, that idea makes me uncomfortable.

But it’s still true.

“WAIT. Matt. Are you seriously saying we should choose our husbands and wives over our children? I can ALMOST understand the parents thing. But the kids? My kids come first no matter what!”

Do they really?

When we teach our children that they are the most important things in life, and that if they want our attention they’re going to get it, and that if they need something it is magically done for them, and that the marriage between mom and dad isn’t the top priority, what happens?

Bad news: You end up getting someone like me. (Sorry mom.)

You raise kids who grow up believing they’re uniquely special even though they’re not.

You raise kids who lack self-sufficiency and grow up expecting their partners to do things for them that their parents used to.

You raise kids who have no idea what a loving, high-functioning, healthy, mutually respectful marriage looks like. A marriage between two people who truly cherish one another and maintain their romantic and sexual spark through MINDFUL INTENTION and channeling energy into the human being they promised to love, honor and serve for the rest of their lives.

The Adam and Eve bible story famously depicts the first marriage. In the story, you’ll find the word “cleave” which describes what we’re supposed to do to our spouse.

The word “cleave” means “to adhere to, stick to, or join with.” I think it’s reasonable to assume the spiritual text is promoting a metaphorical bond of unity between them beyond promoting the literal act of inserting a penis into a vagina, but surely we can celebrate both the figurative and literal in this particular instance.

Don’t Marry Until You’re Ready to Make Her/Him #1

You’ll be doing your girlfriend or boyfriend, their family and friends, and any children or pets you may one day share a HUGE favor by doing this.

Please remember: You don’t have to get married, and maybe you shouldn’t.

If your parents or siblings mean more to you than your partner, and you feel inside as if you’d choose them over the person you’re considering marrying, then DO NOT get married.

If your job or your friends or the fun things you like to do mean more to you than your partner, DO NOT get married.

And *big swallow*, if your children mean more to you than your partner, and you believe catering to their needs at the expense of your partner’s is the right thing to do, then I think your marriage is a ticking time bomb. (NOTE: I’m writing specifically about married moms and dads who made babies together. I think it’s both fair and proper for divorced or otherwise single parents to prioritize their children over people they’re dating when there’s still uncertainty about whether marriage is in the future.)

Physician Danielle Teller, in “How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage,” wrote, “Children who are raised to believe that they are the center of the universe have a tough time when their special status erodes as they approach adulthood. Most troubling of all, couples who live entirely child-centric lives can lose touch with one another to the point where they have nothing left to say to one another when the kids leave home… Is it surprising that divorce rates are rising fastest for new empty nesters?”

You’re born to your parents. They and any siblings are all you know and love.

Family by birth. Love tends to be part of the package.

When you’re older, and your offspring are born, you are all they know and love. You’re their everything. And the intense love we feel for our children is something beyond description.

But still. Family by birth. And again, the love is easy. We tend to not need reminders to feel love for our kids.

But our spouse. THAT is a particularly unique and special relationship. That’s not inherited. Love is not some pre-packaged thing that comes along with dating or marriage like it does with being born into a family or having kids of your own.

Your spouse is someone you CHOOSE. Out of every human being—billions of them—you choose that person.

It is a love as rich and powerful as we have for our parents and children, but it’s one that is grown. Something purely voluntary.

Love is a choice we must make every day.

More and more, people are coming to understand this, but often when their marriage is in shambles and their trying to figure out why, or in the aftermath of a painful divorce.

I didn’t know what marriage REALLY was when I asked her to marry me, or when I said “I do.” The proof was in the pudding.

If more people entered marriage committed to this idea of putting their spouse first, and why it’s such an important mindset, I think a lot more marriages would go the distance because they’d never deteriorate to begin with.

You honor your parents when you put your spouse first. You comfort them because they know you’re safe and secure, and that their grandchildren are well cared for.

You honor your children when you put your spouse first. You teach them that they are, in fact, NOT the center of the universe and that the best way to live is to be aware of other people’s needs. You teach them what marriage is supposed to look like. You provide a safe and unbreakable home. You provide a lifelong foundation from which to build their futures.

You honor yourself when you put your spouse first. Because you are living for something greater than yourself and are less likely to die alone with herpes on your mouth.

Your parents will pass one day. It will be hard. You’ll carry on because your spouse is always first and he or she will carry you through the grief and transition. You will provide the same support for her or him.

Your children will move out one day. It will be hard. You’ll carry on because your spouse is always first and he or she will carry you through the major life adjustment. You will provide the same support for her or him.

And there you’ll be. In the future. Waking up every day seeking purpose and adventure.

And when we have spent the years putting our spouse first, we won’t have to look very hard to find either.

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‘Should I Divorce My Wife?’

man drinking alone at bar

(Image/Improvemant.com)

You two are fighting a lot, sleeping in separate places, not having sex, nor really even talking to each other any more than you have to.

You haven’t felt like yourself—the person you remember being growing up—in months. Maybe years.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how you got here.

That’s probably because no one thing caused this. It was a series of many tiny, mostly undetectable moments over the course of months and years, many of which you’ve forgotten about. There may even be things you don’t realize are on the Reasons Why This Is Happening list.

Maybe one of you had a sexual or emotional affair.

Maybe someone very close to one of you died.

Maybe you lost a job or are having financial difficulties.

Those tend to be the big things that camouflage all the little things.

Maybe addiction problems are driving a wedge between you. (Maybe even stuff you don’t consider to be addictions, like video games or pornography.)

Or, maybe you’re a little bit like me and can’t pinpoint exactly where everything went off-track. You only know you’re several years into this marriage and none of it feels like you thought it would back when you said “I do” in front of everyone who mattered.

There’s no one-size-fits-all diagnosis or a specific One Thing that kills a marriage. But the laundry list of “little” things that break relationships and the hearts of those in them all tend to live in the same bucket, and look and sound the same as everyone else’s story.

In other words: No matter what your particular set of shitty-marriage circumstances looks and feels like, you can rest assured that you’re not the only one.

I Was You Once

I don’t talk about it much. In fact, I don’t think I ever have. The time I considered divorcing my wife.

Maybe because it doesn’t fit the narrative of her leaving me and the gargantuan cloud of fuckness that infected me for a long time afterward because it turned out to be the last thing I ever wanted, and the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

It was, like, bad.

I cried sometimes and felt like a massive loser and failure. Like I’d let everyone down. And to this day, I have significant shame issues any time a life situation forces me to acknowledge my failed marriage to someone new.

My little boy. My parents and family. Her parents and family. Our friends.

And later, any married person.

It’s easy to feel like you’ve failed all of them, or like you don’t measure up to all the people who didn’t mess up like you did.

(It gets better when you realize that they actually DO mess up and simply mask it well, OR mess up at other life things that you have a good handle on. You’re a human being with inconvenient thoughts and feelings, as well as certain fears, anxieties, insecurities and personal vices. Everyone has that same list of suckage. It’s the minutiae that varies from person to person. You’re not a freak or fundamentally different than anyone else. Promise.)

So, yeah.

I totally considered initiating a divorce with my wife.

I was sleeping in the guest bedroom. She wasn’t particularly nice to me. She didn’t make me feel good. She wasn’t interested in doing anything with me. We never touched one another. After several years of marriage, she’d sometimes leave for work in the morning or go upstairs to bed at night without saying a word to me.

It hurt.

I thought she was a cold, cruel, unforgiving shell of a human being who didn’t like nor love me.

I didn’t think it was fair that I felt the way I did because of how she was treating me. I didn’t think it was fair that she had advocated to get married when I was still young and scared only to be acting this way now. And it seemed obvious that being single again, or maybe with someone else, would drastically improve my day-to-day life experience, mentally and emotionally.

If we didn’t share a beautiful son, and I hadn’t spent the previous 30 years vowing to never get divorced like my parents, I’d have walked out like a huge moronic asshole, and spent the rest of my life telling people over bar drinks what a raw deal I got, and how unlucky her next boyfriend or husband will be.

The Hard Questions

It took me a long time and a bunch of misery and depression to piece the mystery together. To be able to tell the REAL story.

And had it never hurt, maybe I’d have never asked myself the right questions: What have I done to cause this? What could I have done differently to avoid having my marriage and family fall apart? How much of this might have been avoided had I made better, less-selfish choices?

Those are hard questions.

Not if you lie to yourself and others like I would have had I kept blaming my wife for everything and feeling sorry for myself like a helpless butt-hurt victim.

They’re hard questions when you’re willing to tell yourself the truth, even if it’s inconvenient.

Those are the answers that gut you from the inside. They’re the ones that make you throw up with tears streaming down your face.

All those times you told her she was crazy or wrong simply because she disagreed with you. All those times you chose video games and poker night to sitting next to her. All those times you chose fun excursions with your buddies and left her alone, yet never invested a similar amount of time and energy to planning fun things for her and you to do together. All those times you jerked off to porn or thoughts of someone else instead of investing that desire and energy into the person you once loved and wanted so much that YOU asked HER to marry you.

They’re the uncomfortable truths.

The ones that keep you up at night and generate all those What Might Have Beens.

A stronger, more courageous, and all-around better version of yourself emerges once you’ve asked and answered all the hard questions.

Because it typically turns out that you weren’t the stupid idiot who married the wrong girl.

The inconvenient truth is typically that you were the stupid idiot who didn’t know that all those things you were doing instead of paying attention to your wife and marriage were a lot less harmless than you’d thought.

All those things you thought were stupid and petty and nagging, yet would have been so damn easy to accommodate with a tiny bit of graciousness and unselfishness, weren’t so stupid and petty after all.

You didn’t know it would all lead to this moment right now. Standing there with puke on your chin, snot dripping from your nose, and salty tears you never realized were trapped behind those red eyes.

And then it happens. Something unexpectedly good in the midst of all the soul-sucking shittiness.

Hope.

Because now you’ve got a real chance.

Should you divorce your wife?

Who can say?

Before we start to guess, I’d ask you to first take off the mask and make yourself really uncomfortable playing Devil’s Advocate against your self-preservation instincts.

You’ll know you’re on the right track once you start to squirm. You’ll know you’re in the right place once you identify the moments that seemed so benign and unimportant at the time, but actually changed the whole world.

The kind of moments that might crop up again, and give us an opportunity to right a few wrongs.

An opportunity to be courageous.

An opportunity to be men.

Should you divorce your wife?

We can talk about it later. Though the truth is, when the time is right, you’ll already know the answer.

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The Taxonomy of Married Men, Vol. 1

taxonomy illustration

(Image/aiim.org)

Tax·on·o·my – /takˈsänəmē/ – The classification of something.

Here’s the breakdown:

1. Husbands

All husbands fall into one of two camps, which for the purpose of this exercise, require defining.

A. Good men.

A good man is the kind of person you’d let spend the night in your house without hesitation. A good man can be trusted to care for your children and pets. A good man is generally kind, honest, reliable, respectful, polite, loving and demonstrates loyalty and commitment to his family, friends, co-workers, teammates, etc. A good man is not perfect. But his Pros in the character department far outweigh his Cons.

B. Bad men.

A bad man does not care — even a little bit — how his actions affect others. He hurts people physically and emotionally without remorse. He cons people in order to take advantage of them. He lies. Cheats. Steals. Rapes. Murders. Abuses. He is toxic to himself and everyone around him, and his toxic behavior is intentional. His behavior can legitimately be described as EVIL. He revels in chaos, drama and dysfunction. He takes pleasure in others’ pain. A bad man is a constant danger to himself and anyone near him. His Cons far outweigh his Pros.

I am not going to waste thought and space on men who are bad. I lack the maturity and patience to explain to a stranger who is unlikely to be reading this or to ever care what I say, why knowingly marrying, or intentionally remaining married to, a BAD man are shitty life decisions.

2. Husbands Who Are Good Men

All good men who are married fall into one of two camps.

A. Good husbands.

A good husband performs the duties of marriage with skill and competence. His success is usually most apparent to his wife, who often feels loved and secure every day of her life, and who loves and respects him in ways she’s only ever felt for her children and her very closest family members. He is often appreciated by his in-laws, admired by his friends and neighbors, secretly or not-so-secretly wanted by women who covet the things he provides his wife and family in their own lives, and has very little drama or life stresses at home with his wife and/or family as a result of human conflict.

B. Bad husbands.

A bad husband is shitty at marriage. No matter how GOOD of a human being he is, he blows ass at the complexities of human relationships. (Note: This puts him in the 95% of everyone who at times struggles with the complexities of human relationships. This does not make him stupid or incompetent or unfit necessarily for anything good men are suited for. It just makes him bad at marriage. Throughout human history, good men have been bad at many things, like singing and dancing, or constructing high-rise buildings, or playing the piano, or carving ice sculptures, or solving advanced mathematics.)

I am not going to waste thought and space here on men who are good husbands. They’re awesome. I appreciate them. I hope you do too.

3. Good Men Who Are Shitty Husbands

All good men who are bad husbands fall into one of two camps.

A. Men who don’t know they are bad husbands.

Either these men don’t know they’re bad husbands because they don’t know what shitty husbandry is and/or no one has ever taught him that he’s one, OR anytime someone (usually his wife) says that he is, he doesn’t actually believe it. (Note: I believe, of all married men in existence, the VAST majority — I’m talking 85-ish% — fall into this category.)

B. Men who know they are bad husbands but want to be good.

This is a very bad spot to be in, because to arrive here, one usually has to have a miserable, failing marriage wreaking so much emotional havoc, stress and anxiety in our home lives, that we FINALLY decide to ask ourselves the right question: What can I do to help fix this?

An Earnest Search for Answers Uncovers Life-Changing Truths

One night at dinner, my wife said: “I don’t know if I love you or want to be married to you anymore.”

I reacted poorly and selfishly, making it entirely about me. I pouted and started sleeping in the guest room, from which point every day got a little harder and more difficult over 18 months before she chose to move out and end our relationship. But months before that, something in me snapped. I wanted to — needed to — understand why this was happening.

I knew that I loved my wife. I knew that I wanted to stay married. And I thought because I was a good man, and because we shared a son, our entire adulthoods, a home and many friends, that we should be able to pull through.

All you need is love! Right? RIGHT?!?!

Wrong.

Just like being a good man and being a good husband can be mutually exclusive things, so too can love exist in the shittiest and most painful of marriages.

One night, I found myself reading a book called “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It”. The book is written by two long-time marriage counselors who used their experiences with clients and years of notetaking to explain common marriage problems and how husbands and wives commonly experience them.

The experience of reading about random married couples having IDENTICAL conversations and reactions as my wife and I had a profound effect on me, and set the stage for the fundamental shift from who I was to who I am.

Here’s What My Brain Did Afterward

Realization #1

Wow. Our marriage problems are so common that generic, made-up stories in a marriage book totally NAIL my marriage. These exact same marriage problems are affecting almost everybody.

Realization #2

If these marriage problems are this common, that means my wife and I aren’t somehow fatally flawed. We’re not NOT soulmates or freaks unfit for marriage. These marriage problems are practically universal and we don’t have to feel ashamed for having them.

Realization #3

If nearly all marriages suffer these common problems, then that means it’s foolish to get divorced with the intention of replacing your spouse with someone else. Because these same problems will ALSO exist with that other person. If my wife and I love each other, our son, and both generally prefer marriage to being single, the most logical course is to work hard on this marriage, rather than trying to start new relationships as middle-aged divorced single parents only to inevitably have to work hard on THAT relationship, but with the added suck of all the family and friends breakage, and losing so much time with our children.

The Most-Asked Questions of Hurting Wives

It’s one of two, but they both mean the same thing.

Either “You get it! How can I get my husband to read your stuff or understand what you now understand?” or “What could your wife have said or done to help you understand this before it was too late?”

Tomorrow, in Vol. 2 of this post, I’ll attempt to lay out what I perceive to be The Things Good Men Who Are Accidentally Bad Husbands Don’t Know.

But since it will inevitably cover plenty of familiar territory, you can get a preview by reading what I think is among my most helpful posts, Cracking the Code: 7 Ideas That Would Have Saved My Marriage.

It’s hard to be the guy desperately trying to save his family while his wife has checked out of the marriage because she’s been beaten down emotionally so much through the years without him — a genuinely good dude who simply sucked at marriage — realizing it.

And now he KNOWS. Now, he gets it.

But she’s done.

Few relationships come back from the dead. It’s a pill that’s hard to swallow.

But the value of understanding where we went wrong, how to avoid being shitty husbands in the future, and how to teach our children to have healthy and functional human relationships can’t be overstated.

I have to believe all the good men will agree.

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Your Wife Thinks You’re a Bad Husband Because You Are One

See that guy in the back? He's probably employed, faithful, easy to get along with, and generally nice to people and his wife. That must also mean he's a good husband, right?

See that guy in the back? He’s probably employed, faithful, easy to get along with, and generally nice to people, including his wife. That must also mean he’s a good husband, right?

We have a problem, guys.

I don’t know why we have the problem, but if you want to have a non-sucky marriage, it will help to acknowledge this, then work daily to overcome it.

You think your wife is unfairly critical of you. That she’s ungrateful. That she’s always coming up with a new problem or complaint with your behavior. That she’s constantly nagging you about something, and usually at the least-convenient times after a long day at work.

You think your wife is a little bit crazy. She’s upset and it’s a total freaking mystery to you because you would NEVER get upset over something so little and insignificant, right? So, she’s crazy. Hormonal. She must be. It’s the only logical explanation.

You think your wife has a problem with priorities. You would never start a fight with her for leaving a towel on the floor of your bedroom. It doesn’t really matter! Or over forgetting to set out the chicken to defrost for dinner. We can just order pizza and eat the chicken tomorrow! Not a big deal! Let’s not fight over silly things!

But more important than that, she was the person you gave up your bacherlorhood and individuality for. Of every person on planet Earth, she is the one you proposed to and vowed to faithfully live with forever. And you’ve probably sacrificed a lot for her, right? Maybe she decides what town you live in, and what house you bought, and how the house looks, and mostly dictates the general rhythm of your lives. Maybe you go to work every day, handing over entire paychecks so she can decide what to do with it. Maybe you let her drive the nicer of your two cars. You feel like you’ve dedicated the majority of your existence to being her partner for the rest of your life, and you’ve done so mostly complaint-free. That’s gotta count for something, right?

Your ONLY complaint is that she’s always on your ass about something. Can’t you just chill out and not give me shit, since I NEVER give you shit!?, we all think.

It’s because, despite our imperfections (which to us feel the same as theirs—we just don’t complain about theirs much) we know we’re pretty decent guys.

We know we love our wives and families, and every time someone suggests our love isn’t good enough, we get a little bit prideful and a little bit pissed off. Especially when it’s our wives.

I get it. I felt the same way.

You Have a Problem with Relativism, and It Will Probably Earn You Divorce

I don’t cheat on my wife. A lot of husbands do. Since I don’t, I must be a good one.

I don’t hit my wife. A lot of husbands do. Since I don’t, I must be a good one.

I don’t drink excessively or do drugs. A lot of husbands do. Since I don’t, I must be a good one.

I have a job making good money and provide for my wife. A lot of husbands don’t. Since I do, I must be a good one.

I’m a good guy and a nice person. A lot of husbands aren’t. Since I’m a good, nice guy, I must therefore be a good husband.

Then we make it worse.

Because we’re so good at logical reasoning and leaving emotion out of it unlike our idiot wives, we surmise that her complaints about us lack merit. We’re good husbands! We just established this! So she’s being an unfair bitch right now, but she’ll get over it if I just go watch TV in the other room!

Moving forward, every time our wives complain about us, we chalk it up as another bullshit nag-fest because A. She’s complaining about this insignificant crap I would NEVER complain about, while ignoring all the actual important things I do every day that matter! and B. I’m a good husband, and this is the same fight we always have, and she’s obviously full of shit.

I Have Bad News, Kid

You can be a great guy and be a bad electrician.

You can be a great guy and be a lousy dancer.

You can be a great guy and be a shitty husband.

Relativism is a funny thing. I certainly dabble in all kinds of it. I always figure, if there’s a God, I’m in good shape spiritually because I treat people kindly while not murdering, raping, kidnapping, stealing, fighting, vandalizing, abusing, etc. It’s a logical fallacy. It’s one I use to make myself feel better and avoid making difficult and disciplined lifestyle changes.

And I’m sorry, guys. Just because you make a bunch of money and avoid having sex with other women on business trips and tend to not criticize your wife’s choices as much as she does yours, doesn’t make you a good husband.

Marriage isn’t graded on a curve. Just because millions of assholes are getting an F and you’re getting a C-, doesn’t mean you deserve a pizza party for making your imaginary Honor Roll. C- grades are shitty regardless of how many guys are doing it worse than you.

Marriage grades are strictly pass or fail.

HALF OF ALL MARRIAGES END IN DIVORCE. Of the ones that don’t, how many of those appear to be fun, loving, satisfying relationships? Look around and decide for yourself. In other words, even if you aren’t divorced, does that mean you’re succeeding in your marriage?

I have a son in second grade. He’s awesome. But he’s a complete tool bag sometimes when we’re working on math homework and he guesses the answer wrong by a digit or two, and then defends his wrong answer by saying “I was close!” before telling me he doesn’t want to learn how to do math because he doesn’t feel like it.

There’s no “close to correct” in math. It’s either correct (and for the purposes of second-grade math, there is only ONE right answer and an infinite number of wrong ones), or it’s not. I think marriage is exactly like that.

You can’t almost get marriage right. You can’t be close to being a good husband.

You either ARE a good husband (which requires a daily display of strength and heroism and fortitude and courage and discipline and empathy and wisdom and knowledge and love), or you’re not one.

We get defensive. We buck and protest and point fingers and deflect.

But you know.

Dude. I know that you know that I know that you know that you’re a little bit selfish and that you frequently make choices that are easiest for you, often at the expense of your wife’s preferences. You do it all the time.

Sure, I know you just forgot, sometimes! I’m the freaking king of forgetting. But when you don’t create a system to not forget anymore (that you have that thing on Tuesday, or your wedding anniversary, or to pick up the dry cleaning, or whatever) so that your wife knows she’s loved and respected enough for you to take care of things and demonstrate you can be counted on, you reinforce feelings of mistrust that make her feel afraid and insecure about her entire life.

That will end badly for all parties, even when it seems so insignificant to you in the moment.

There are many ways to die.

Instantly, from a bullet.

Or imperceptibly slow from undetected cancer.

She can trust me to not cheat!

Sorry, man. No one gives a shit. If basic assurances of sexual faithfulness didn’t come with the most base-model marital packages, marriage would cease to be a thing. She already assumes she can and should be able to trust you to not bang other chicks. It’s best to not expect pats on the back for your restraint.

If you’re still reading, you might be tired of being lectured by some divorced asshole on the internet. You might be wondering why—if I’m so brilliant about marriage—mine ended.

It’s because I had a problem with relativism and it earned me a divorce.

Everyone’s different, so maybe divorce won’t be bad for you. For me, it was the worst thing that ever happened, and I cried a lot more than a man should, and dying didn’t seem so bad for a while.

And you know what I thought about every day for the next year or two while I was struggling to get my shit together? If I’d spent every day giving 10 percent more to the person I loved above all things, my wife and son would still live here and my life would be much happier.

Because, I wasn’t a bad guy. I was just a bad husband.

And if I had it to do over again, I’d have made better choices—choices that might still be available to you.

Maybe you can start right now.

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The Magic Boner

Old-man-looking-sad-eating-alone-547114

(Image/express.uk.com)

Men frequently demonstrate wisdom and foresight to protect future interests.

Saving money for retirement. Physical fitness and healthy eating. Career advancement. Thoughtful real estate and home-improvement investments. Paying for insurance policies.

These things are all done in the spirit of sacrificing now, so that their future lives might be better for having done so.

And it begs the question: For those who showcase this level of forward-thinking, disciplined decision making, why not apply the same logic to our sex lives and marriage?

There are many good reasons for a man to love his wife faithfully.

There are also bad reasons.

I want to believe when guys invest money in engagement rings, and thoughtfully execute marriage proposals, and make the internal decision to swear off other women for the rest of their lives, it is their honest intention to follow through.

I think men aspire to this. Because their fathers married and loved their mothers, and now they want to live up to that same standard, or maybe their fathers DIDN’T, and they tell themselves they’ll never do that to their kids.

My good friend’s dog passed recently. A bulldog. Let’s call him H. Super-close canine pal for the past 12 years. Got him through a difficult divorce. He knew H was struggling and didn’t have much time left. But he felt mentally and emotionally prepared for it, he said.

Then it happened, and it was MUCH harder than he thought it would be.

And I think I know why. I think we have a bunch of moments in life that we anticipate and think about and imagine a certain way. Our minds almost involuntarily predict how it’s going to be, whether it’s a date, high school reunion, wedding reception, business presentation, pet death, or marriage.

But we’re kind of shitty at predicting things. Moreover, when human emotion—specifically pain—is involved, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to know how we’ll feel during this future thing. It’s hard for someone who feels good now to know how they’ll respond to something later when they’re feeling unexpectedly bad.

Men propose to their girlfriends and enter marriage with good intentions, “predicting” that it will always be and feel like it is today. We have a great relationship! She’s the one! Failing to account for all the times (and more importantly, how it will feel) when the relationship is no longer a positive experience.

The good reasons for making marriage last are obvious. But, just in case that’s not enough for you, there’s also a bad reason to make marriage last, and we should talk about it.

Thinking With the ‘Other’ Head 

Men like and want sex. Lots of it. No reason to sugarcoat it.

Don’t tell me how much women like it too. I get it. I know women also like and want sex. But it’s often different with guys. Common is the man that would walk into any busy bar on Saturday night and sleep with any (literally any) woman that passes his Would I sleep with her? pass-or-fail test which probably gets less stringent with each drink. Much rarer is the woman who would do the same.

I don’t know what the adult entertainment industry is raking in these days (I’m totally talking about pornography, by the way), but the numbers are always scary-high. The Rockefellers could have probably just as easily built their fortune on sex films as they did on oil. Those eye-popping dollar amounts have everything to do with men’s appetite for it. (Which I think is bad, and we can talk about why someday.)

Man’s general desire for sex appears to be a root cause for many life choices. How he grooms, how he smells, how he dresses, the cars he drives, the stuff he buys, the way he behaves.

Any choice a guy makes along those lines has EVERYTHING to do with wanting to be sexually attractive. I promise he’s not trying to impress his buddies.

Men totally like sex.

If you’re a woman, you probably know this already from your personal experiences. If you’re a woman currently dating online, you FOR SURE know it, because dudes online are shameless and tactless and fail to exhibit whatever little manners they might in a real-world, face-to-face scenario.

Men sometimes are dishonest with their wives (and girlfriends) about how much they crave sex, and what kinds they like. I think it happens a lot to guys who grew up in conservative families where wholesomeness was a virtue to which everyone aspired. They’re taught their entire lives that premarital sex is bad, and God is mad at them for masturbating at 13, and that sex is only appropriate with their demure wives in the missionary position IF they’re trying to have a baby. They develop weird guilt-shame complexes about sex.

Secretly, they might want to go to European sex parties, or have BDSM dungeon sex, or have a three-way with a couple Asian chicks.

Even conservative guys want infinitely more than Demure Missionary™, but might feel uncomfortable having open and honest conversations with their wives about it. If she knows I’m into this, she’ll think I’m a sexually deviant pervert and won’t love me anymore!

One thing leads to another, and some couples go years without ever having a real conversation about what they want (or need?) from their partner, sexually (and emotionally).

Sex is no longer a positive in their marriage, because even at its best, it’s only moderately satisfying. Wives fantasize about being romanced by the cute guy at work who will spend a little more time doting on her collarbone and inner thighs. Husbands turn to porn and “take care of themselves,” while they fantasize about someone else. Sometimes, their respective fantasies lead to affairs. Even if they don’t, the sexlessness is an eventual marriage killer.

When he proposed to his girlfriend, he was eager to marry her and swear off all others. She wanted him. He felt really good.

Now? Both of them are justifiably sad, confused and angry. The marriage looks nothing like they thought it would.

Sometimes that, combined with months or years of a sexless marriage, lead men to look outside their marriage for sexual relief. They like feeling wanted again. And they justify it because their wives clearly don’t want them anymore. She changed, not me! What did she expect me to do!?

Tomorrow Always Comes

That’s a really long and tedious way of saying: sometimes men cheat on their wives for a variety of psychologically sexual motivations the rest of us often don’t understand.

Whatever the reasons, we should all agree it’s bad to break wedding vows or engage in deceiving our spouses, and that some component of the cheating is rooted in a desire for immediate gratification even at the risk of jeopardizing long-term security.

And the question is: Why? Why so much effort to work hard now and save money for later in this one area of life, but a total disregard for the long term in this other area?

Chump Lady gifted me this thought (and fantastic post title) in one of her posts from last week:

“The Dan Savages of the world would excuse such unilateral decision making (as a response to what they’d blameshift as your unilateral decision to Deny Him Sex), because Sex Is Of Paramount Importance! It trumps considering your partner and his or her health! Obey the Boner! Is cheating “optimal”? No, but hey, the MAN NEEDED SEX!

“Okay, you know what, cheaters? — go for it. Please, fuck the younger woman, the Thai prostitutes, the Craigslist hookups, the slutty co-worker. Do it all in service to Almighty SEX. Make that your paramount value. And good luck later when you need someone to change your colostomy bag. When you’ve traded all your gold for a magic boner — who’s going to love you when you’re old and vulnerable? When your equipment fails? When you’ve invested all those years in the magic boner and not in meaningful relationships — then what?”

And she’s right.

She is.

Tomorrow always comes, guys. Where you’re bald or sick or fat or ugly or can’t get it up anymore.

And all those cheap orgasms you chased? When you’re alone and unloved in your condo? What good did any of it do? What was it worth?

Tomorrow is gonna come, and your wants and needs will shift accordingly. It’s totally possible dying sick and alone with herpes on your penis is a super-fun time. I won’t pretend to know.

But I have to believe growing old with someone who stuck with you through it all, and feeling grateful for her every day, and falling asleep and waking up each day free of guilt and shame, might be a preferable alternative.

With fun holidays. And grandchildren. And self-respect.

Maybe not chasing cheap pieces of ass at the expense of your wife and family isn’t something you want to avoid because of your particular moral bent. Maybe it just doesn’t seem wrong enough to you. Some people seem okay with shooting and blowing up innocent people as much as possible, forcing me to admit there is some human behavior I can never understand.

Maybe “doing the wrong thing” isn’t a big-enough deterrent for you, and never will be. Maybe all the good reasons for excelling at marriage don’t register with you.

But why not, at the very least, give it a shot in the spirit of long-term security and your future self-interests?

Why not do a good job in your marriage for bad reasons?

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Could the Loss of Tribe be Jeopardizing Your Marriage?

(Image/Carl Fleming)

(Image/Carl Fleming)

Because I’m an only child, my friends have been hugely important to me forever, and I think it was an unidentified factor in my divorce.

From grade school through high school and college, I was immersed in social activity. When I was little, I was playing at friends’ houses. When I was in high school, I was involved in team sports, or part-time jobs or doing things typical of a teenage boy in the mid- to late-‘90s. My college years were unquestionably my favorite from a How I Felt on the Inside standpoint.

I lived with my friends. Good friends. And we were, most of the time, doing whatever we wanted.

Little stress. Tons of laughter. An almost inexplicable amount of social connection, all accomplished without social media which was still a few years away from being a fundamental part of our societal fabric.

We weren’t carrying our challenges alone. Oh, you need your furniture moved from your apartment to a storage unit for the summer? Bam. Here are three or four guys willing to do it at the drop of a hat. Our massive social inner circle in college didn’t consist of many fraternity or sorority members, but if fate or happenstance hadn’t brought us all together—male and female, alike—I can see why students would want to be a part of them. After leaving the safety net of our hometowns and high schools, we crave involvement, acceptance, and being part of something bigger than ourselves.

Of course we like being with our families. We also like dating and being with our girlfriends or boyfriends. We totally like spending one-on-one time with our closest friends.

But nothing can replace this critical and fundamental part of our lives which has existed for as long as we can remember, and which grows steadily in importance from grade school through the end of our college years.

Our tribes.

Sudden Tribe Loss and Isolation

My negligent ignorance isn’t the only reason my marriage failed. I spent MY ENTIRE LIFE, just, living. I only knew what I knew. And what I knew was: I feel best when I’m with friends—the more, the merrier—and I am a good, happy, confident person. I am well-adjusted with a huge group of friends, supportive family, with the résumé, writing chops and charisma to justify my goal of writing Pulitzer Prize-winning stories at huge daily newspapers.

I had a 21- to 22-year data sample of knowing exactly who and what I was.

And then, in less than one calendar year, most of us graduated and moved away. But even in the end, after so many of the oldest tribe members had gone, we could still round up 40 or more people for a great party any time we wanted. That’s how kick-ass college was.

And then it was my turn.

My girlfriend and I had been together for a year, and we were making long-term plans. We agreed to move to Florida together from our more-than-20,000-student university in Ohio. A decent mid-sized newspaper on Florida’s Gulf Coast hired me for a business-writing gig. My girlfriend took a job at a marketing agency.

Overnight, two 22-year-old kids went from a lifetime of nothing but friends and family and constant involvement and community, to social isolation and nothing but one another to lean on. We were more than a thousand miles away from our hometowns and you could really feel the distance. My eventual wife missed her family desperately and knew within a few months in Florida that she wanted to be back home. And while I missed my family too, I had spent my entire life living apart from either my mother and her extended family, or my father and his extended family, and was emotionally equipped to deal with it.

But I lost something I never imagined a need to account for: The tribe.

We lived in a sleepy retirement community that would probably be amazing today as 36-year-olds, but mostly blew ass as fresh-faced young professionals dealing with culture shock on a variety of emotional, social, professional and financial fronts. We made wonderful friends and did our best, but only flying home for that rare wedding or holiday gathering could ever fill that tribal void.

Everything came to a head at the wedding of one of my best friends. We were tight all the way through high school, and I lived with him for four years of college. My girlfriend and I flew back to attend. I was a groomsman.

Because I had gone to grade school and high school with both the bride and groom, as well as four years of college with the groom, I knew pretty much everyone there. Tons of high school friends. Tons of college friends. Tons of familiar parent and sibling faces. After being away for two years, combined with heavy drinking, it wasn’t hard to get nostalgic.

I’ve written hundreds of times about crying throughout the hardest days of my separation and divorce. This night, as I drunkenly said bye to hundreds of people as they scrambled off to hotels or after-parties or back home, was the first time I remember crying as an adult. And pretty hard, too. Hugging guys goodbye, I mostly kept it together, but I remember riding shotgun in the passenger seat of a car driven by the first friend I made after moving to my hometown when I was just 6. That’s when I broke down. With my girlfriend sitting in the back next to some newlyweds who would end up being our future son’s godparents five years later. It was a drunken, totally embarrassing shit show that still evokes a little bit of shame. But perhaps no moment in my life more clearly emphasizes how critical my tribe was to my life and identity.

I am more me when surrounded by friends and family than under any other circumstances. The me I like most. The me I’m proud of.

Even back in Ohio for the past decade, I still feel that daily void because I’m a couple hundred miles from my hometown family and friends, and more recently with the loss of my large in-law family following the divorce.

I can’t explain it better than it’s written in this excerpt from Why Growing Up Is Hard to Do (But Why the World Still Needs Adults):

Isolation and the Loss of Tribe

“For most adults, the period of life they are most nostalgic for is high school and/or college. The longing for this period is usually chalked up to a desire to return to a time when they weren’t so freighted with life’s responsibilities. Surely that is part of it, but I think the real reason we miss our youth is often overlooked: it was the last time in our lives when we experienced a sense of “tribe.”

In high school and college, most of us had a group of great friends we saw on a daily basis. Many of us ran with a “gang” of guys, that sometimes joined with a posse of gals, forming a coed tribe that was enormously fun to hang out with.

Then, folks grew up, paired off, got hitched, and had kids. Few adults see their friends on a daily basis; the lucky see each other weekly, and for most, scheduling times to get together isn’t easy. It is then no wonder we get nostalgic for our younger days; it represents the last time our lives resembled the primordial pattern.

In hunter-gatherer tribes, male gangs hunted and battled together. Female posses raised their kids together. Everyone lived and worked together each day with dozens of others. Burden and joys were shared. One’s whole identity was tied up in being part of this tribe.

Today, we have never been more isolated. Many folks don’t even live near their extended kin, and the nuclear family is increasingly marooned on the desert island of the suburbs. Men (and women) go off to work in a cubicle with a bunch of fellow employees they may feel no real kinship with. Many women spend all day enclosed in the four walls of their home, cut off from all other humans, save their inarticulate toddler. Many people, male and female alike, are lonely and unhappy because they are without a tribe.

The heavy and undesirable weight of adulthood is often mistakenly chalked up to the burden of adult responsibilities alone. But the problem is not adulthood itself, but how it is currently being carried. The weight of earning a livelihood, and rearing one’s children, which was meant to be borne by numerous shoulders, is now supported by just a pair. Husband and wife rely on one another for all their emotional fulfillment and practical needs. The strain is more than an individual, or the nuclear family, was meant to bear.

So, (another) reason it’s hard to grow up is that the weight of adulthood feels hard to shoulder when you’re carrying it alone, instead of with a tribe.”

The Loss of Tribe and Its Effect on Your Marriage

This wasn’t supposed to be about me. It was supposed to give married or long-term couples something to think about, because I think when we go through major life changes, we are sometimes blind or ignorant to some of the hidden dangers inherent in those changes.

My girlfriend/fiancée/wife openly expressed displeasure with my constant longing for the big-group social life I’d always known. She was content with four-person dinner parties, and preferred them. With age, I grew to enjoy them more too. But I could never shake (and still haven’t) the deep, organic desire to be part of a large social circle and reclaim that vibrant social life.

Sometimes I get together with large groups when visiting family or friends back home, or at big (by adulthood standards) parties with a group of college friends. With the exception of the priceless father-son moments I’m blessed to have, nothing feels like home quite like these moments.

I think my wife saw it as a sign of immaturity. An unwillingness to grow up. I think she thinks I wanted to drink excessively and smoke pot all the time like we did in college. But that’s really not it. And any guy reading this who still regularly sees his band of brothers will appreciate the distinction. It’s the togetherness that matters more than the specific activity.

I think my wife felt disrespected and possibly even pangs of inadequacy because of it. Almost like because I wanted to be part of a large crew (or back with my old one again) that I was saying You’re not good enough! I need more than you can provide! I’d rather be with my friends than you! And she didn’t like it.

There isn’t one member of my excellent group of old or current friends I want to live with every day for the rest of my life. In a lifetime of thriving in a borderline-village-like family and social life, I simply wished I had more time with them built into my life.

My wife accidentally (she wasn’t being shitty; she was being emotional and wanted me to feel like she was more than enough to be happy) made me feel ashamed of my desire for a social life independent from her. Not that she wasn’t invited and welcome to be a part of it. She simply didn’t want to be. I think some couples are good at both being part of the same tribe. It just worked out for me that I married a more-private, more-introverted person who preferred small groups.

Her “tribe” cravings were satisfied by moving back near her hometown, and it was her family that filled that support network void for her.

She and a smattering of new friends were all I had to lean on.

And maybe that wasn’t enough for me, without me realizing it. Maybe neglecting and denying this fundamental part of me in favor of trying to make my wife happy ended up accidentally causing more harm than good. And maybe this same conflict (which people may or may not be discussing with their spouses) is causing unspoken, and even undetected, conflict in many other relationships.

We grow up whether or not we want to.

And everything feels a little bit harder and a little bit heavier as time marches on. We lose things. Family members. Friends. Jobs. Money. Lifestyles. We gain things. Marriages we don’t know how to nurture. Children we don’t know how to raise. Debts we don’t know how to pay. Weight we don’t know how to shed. Guilt we don’t know how to let go of.

It feels hard to be an adult.

And I’m wondering just how much this cultural loss-of-tribe dynamic might be playing a role in that. How much of all this burdensome adulthood stuff is more difficult because now it’s just us in our private homes trying to do everything alone that not long ago in our evolutionary history, was being done by an entire village? By a community? By a tribe?

Just like men are often oblivious to the emotional needs of their wives, I’m wondering to what degree women might be oblivious to this need their husbands or boyfriends feel, and maybe also feel for themselves. The need to be part of something bigger.

Maybe being part of a tribe is more important than we think.

Maybe wives and mothers, husbands and fathers SHOULDN’T be solely responsible for fulfilling the needs of their partners and children.

Maybe people AREN’T always practicing neglect or immaturity by needing the support of friends, or going out with them.

Maybe it’s something more of us almost need to do.

Maybe it’s something we need to better understand.

And just maybe, if we do, more of us will find what we’ve been looking for.

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Three Years From Now 

three-years

Sarah asked: 

“How would you like to see your relationships evolved in the next three years?”

If form holds, I’ll still be alive in three years.

But form never holds.

I’ll be barreling toward 40. Maybe I’ll like myself more. I hope so. People should like themselves on their 40th birthday.

My son will have just finished fourth grade. Maybe he’ll like a girl and want to hold hands with her but not want to talk to me about it.

I might still be plugging away at my cubicle job. Maybe that will be depressing. Or maybe I’ll be grateful for the security.

I might be a published author. Hopefully more than just once. You always get better at things when you practice.

When I rank all the things that project to matter in my life three years from now, only four things stand out. All four are personal relationships. Only three are with humans.

The One with my Ex

I didn’t see it coming, but my relationship with the woman I married continues to be the most important one I have.

“But what about your son, Matt!?!?”

If you want to get all lawyery about it, my relationship with him (he’ll be seven soon) is the most relevant and meaningful.

But the thing that gives me the best chance for success with that child is for his mother and I to have a civil, healthy, friendly, cooperative relationship, that provides him the best opportunity for a happy, secure, fruitful childhood.

In three years, I have to assume she will be in a serious relationship with another man. A man who will serve as a de facto stepfather to my son. A man who I will inevitably imagine having sex with my wife of nine years and be slightly repulsed. A man who might have children of his own who will prove to be a major influence on my young son.

I will have no say in the matter, nor should I.

You wake up and breathe. You smile. You help. You care. You love. Not romantically. Just… love.

You continue to practice kindness and you build up that muscle.

This is what love looks like, son.

That’s what it must be about now.

The One with my Son

When I was a boy, I loved being with friends because I was an only child. I wanted to go play with them more than I wanted to be home, and I think it might have made my parents sad.

My mom sometimes took it as I didn’t want to be with her.

My dad? I only saw him for a small percentage of the year. Maybe he felt betrayed, too. He usually didn’t say anything. But maybe it hurt. I don’t know.

My young son was invited recently to spend the night with his friends. I texted his mom to let her know I was thinking about letting him.

“Thanks for letting me know,” she said. “But I think there’s a good chance he will wake up crying and want you, so be prepared to go get him in the middle of the night.”

I asked him whether he’d like to stay with his friends. He was visibly excited. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to be there. In that moment, he had everything he wanted.

That was the first time he has ever slept somewhere else when he was “supposed” to be with me. That’s the first time I ever felt like my parents must have felt a thousand times, each.

I know there will be more.

I want him to know he can talk to me about anything. I pray I never make him feel punished for his honesty. He must learn to communicate honestly about things if he hopes to maintain healthy relationships in the future.

It was a lesson I learned too late.

I have never loved nor been more proud of anything than that child. Nothing can stir in me deep, meaningful feelings the way just looking at him sleeping can, or when he does something that demonstrates how much he has learned and grown.

He’s a beautiful child.

I pray I always feel about him as I do right now. Right as I push this button.

The One with the Girl I Haven’t Met 

It fascinates me when I consider it.

Maybe she’s laying in bed with another guy right now. Maybe she’s giving birth to a child. Maybe she’s on the other side of the world building houses in impoverished communities. Maybe she’s out having drinks with her friends. Or walking her dog. Or visiting her grandmother. Or writing something like me.

Maybe she’s sitting somewhere right now wondering who I am and what I’m doing.

Maybe I’ll be single forever. I just don’t think so.

And that means it’s going to happen again. You know. IT. Love. It’s hard to imagine. Only this time, she’s going to get a more raw, real, honest, authentic version of me than my ex-wife did. (I didn’t know then what I know now.)

With all of my insecurities (though I feel pretty good about myself these days) and baggage. With the knowledge I have a son.

That my family is spread all over. That I’m still trying to figure out who I’m going to be when I grow up.

She’s going to be amazing. AMAZING.

I know.

Because I’m picky. Because her capacity for love and patience and forgiveness will be massive. Because I’m TERRIFIED to love again the way I loved my wife because I never again want to feel the horrors of breaking on the inside. And if there IS a someone?

That means she overcame all that. That means I looked at her and she looked at me, and we both said yes.

It means we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow but for now, we want to find out together.

It means I’ll be cooking again. Hugging again. Kissing again.

It means someone will inspire me. Cheer for me. Believe in me.

It means I’ll rarely feel lonely. Just a reach away.

Maybe all of that will come true, or maybe none of it will. We spend a lot of time reflecting on the past and pondering the future.

But really we only have now.

The things that happened before don’t get to determine what happens next.

And what happens next is not something we control.

Just. Right. Now.

Breathe in. Hold it. Then out.

Alive.

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