Tag Archives: Therapy

Hire Me as Your Relationship Coach and Let’s Bend Some Spoons

coach mike gundy

I’m a man! I’m 40! (Almost.) But this isn’t a joke. I seriously provide coaching services now. Drop me a line if you want to talk about it. I promise to smile more than Mike Gundy. (Image/USA Today)

“Wait. What?!” you might be thinking.

I get it, because that’s exactly what I said to relationship coach, speaker and writer Mark Groves when he told me I needed to be coaching during a phone conversation a few years ago.

But on a much more recent call a few months ago, he said it again, only it sounded slightly less insane this time.

I’ve worn my NON-expertise like a badge of honor throughout the years writing here. I’m one of those idiots who thumbed his nose at formal schooling after earning a bachelor’s degree, because I always believed I could scratch and claw my way to wherever I wanted to be, career-wise.

While I was misguided to wholly dismiss formal higher education, there’s no denying that the reason certain people (my mom and like three other people) care about things I write or say—isn’t because they think I’m especially smart or insightful—but because the things I write and say sound a lot like THEIR lives. We’re all just running around trying to make sense of our lives.

And I have a built-in secret weapon to connect with others that I never had to earn. All I have to do is tell the story of my marriage and divorce, and then it accidentally sounds like millions of other people’s lives because there isn’t anything extraordinary about me or my life at all, and my crappy marriage is statistically likely to be a lot like your crappy marriage.

And all of the well-meaning and mostly decent guys out there who sort of feel like lousy husbands? Hey, welcome to the club. It sucks in here and drink service is slow. Let’s get out of here.

You’re me. I’m you. We’re us. It doesn’t have to be weird unless you make it weird.

I can sometimes help guys whose experiences are a lot like mine were. And I can sometimes help women whose experiences are a lot like my wife’s were.

Here’s the thing I didn’t understand until Mark beat me over the head (with coolness and kindness, as he does most things)—I don’t need to fit some predetermined mold to be a relationship coach, or to be magically qualified to help people transition through divorce or a bad break-up.

I’m me and I can’t be anyone else. And once I embraced the idea that I don’t need to live up to some magical standard—that all I had to do was be me and give everything I had to trying to help people in this very specific and deeply personal way instead of the more general way I experience when writing about it?

I finally embraced the idea fully. I’m really glad that I did.

‘You, a…Coach?’

Totally.

And while I wouldn’t have had the stones a few months ago to tell you with any confidence that I can legitimately help anyone, today I feel blessed to tell you that I can.

Several people have asked me to work with them, or someone they love, in a formal coaching capacity over the past four or five years. I have always declined.

I’m not a licensed therapist. I’m not a counselor. I’m not any kind of guru.

I’m just a guy who’s pretty good at asking the right questions and not being a judgy prick about it. I’m just a guy who cares about human beings. I don’t have to pretend to care about the people sharing their painful stories and secrets with me. I just care.

Sometimes when things hurt a lot, we just need someone to care. Turns out I’m pretty good at that. And sometimes, when two people care about the same thing and work on it together, extraordinary things happen.

>> Learn more about Relationship Coaching & Divorce Support with Matthew Fray here. <<

‘How Does it Work?’

Well, someday when I have a big-boy website (soon-ish), the Relationship Coaching & Divorce Support page will have online forms where people can apply directly from the site.

Currently, we do it this super-sketchy way where you email me (MBTTTR@gmail.com) with “Coaching Request” in the subject line, and then I send you a questionnaire to fill out, and if afterward we mutually decide to proceed, we’ll schedule video chats or phone calls and get to work.

‘Will I Cry Like Will Hunting?’

God-willing.

It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

Just kidding. It may totally be your fault—or better stated—something you have the responsibility to do something about. Personal-growth efforts are challenging. They’re hard. They force us to stare at ourselves in the mirror and answer uncomfortable questions. They force us to make new choices every day. Uncomfortable choices that don’t always provide the immediate gratification we subconsciously seek from our old, comfortable choices.

Remember that little bald There is no spoon kid from The Matrix? When he drops mad knowledge on our hero in waiting?

spoon-boy-matrix

(Image/Warner Bros.)

Little Bald Kid: “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.”

Neo: “What truth?”

Little Bald Kid: “There is no spoon.”

Neo: “There is no spoon?”

Little Bald Kid: “Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”

That junior-sized monk knows what’s up.

We’re all looking for secrets. Whispers that upon hearing them will magically transform our surroundings. Shortcuts. Fairy dust. An easy way.

But I prefer to dabble in as little bullshit as possible. Coaching is not about sharing secrets. As my friends Jay and Lori Pyatt taught me, coaching is about shining a light in people’s blind spots—helping people discover things hiding in plain sight.

The world doesn’t change. The way you look at it does.

Your relationship doesn’t change. The way you show up in it does.

But, the spoon STILL looks and feels like it’s bending. And you can do it if you want—if you only realize the truth.

‘Okay, Matt. Piss Off. Surely There are Better Options.’

Probably!

These are really smart human beings that I have a personal relationship with, and all of them bring infinitely more expertise and experience to the table.

Self-work is hard stuff. That’s why we turn to others for help. And each of these amazing people can help you. Seriously.

  • Mark Groves (Relationship coach, Connection specialist, Speaker)
  • Lori Pyatt (Specializes in helping women work through relationship betrayals)
  • Jay Pyatt (Specializes in helping men rebuild trust in relationships suffering the fallout of betrayals like porn use or affairs)
  • Dr. Ali Kravit — (Specializes in ADHD, and helping couples and individuals navigate ADHD in relationships)
  • Melissa Ryan  (Colorado-based licensed relationship counselor specializing in Adventure Therapy – student of Terry Real
  • Lesli Doares — (North Carolina-based licensed marriage & family therapist)

This is a new life adventure for me. The safety of the keyboard is gone. Real human beings with real, high-stakes problems, and no way of knowing where the conversation might go.

And I used to be afraid of that, because I was trying to bend that stupid, stubborn spoon. And then I realized the truth.

I don’t know whether I can help you. I don’t know whether it makes sense for you and I to work together.

I only know that we’ll be able to figure it out together. And probably some other helpful things as well.

Wishing everyone a very happy, peaceful and blessed holiday season wherever you are. Love you guys.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Death of Manhood

The Suicide by Edouard Manet

“The Suicide” by Edouard Manet (Image/Public domain)

I made fun of my gay friend in high school for the same reason I was afraid to tell my father about this blog.

It’s also the same reason I was a shitty husband, and the same reason millions of men—even ones who are pretty good guys—are shitty husbands.

Somewhere down deep, in places we don’t like to talk about, most men are afraid of losing their identity as men. They’re afraid of being rejected by their male peers. They’re afraid of not being respected or sexually desired by women. They’re afraid of disappointing their fathers, their coaches, their male mentors.

Men are so afraid of these things that we don’t seek help when we need it in matters big and small, for fear of projecting a lack of “manliness.” We sometimes won’t even admit there’s a problem.

I can handle it. I’m a man.

Men won’t admit that they are bad husbands and fathers, even with all the evidence in the world staring them in the face. Sad, angry, emotionally bent or broken wives. Jacked-up kids with daddy issues. Feelings of shame, dealt with in silence and pretend-stoicism. We grow our shame piles but hide them behind masks. Behind alcohol, and behind sex, and behind work, and behind escapist video games, and behind a whole bunch of pretending to be happy while feeling something else.

Our behavior drives our wives and girlfriends away. The ones we secretly want to rescue us. All we need them to do is tell us how great we are and want to enthusiastically take our pants off all the time. But they won’t. Because they don’t feel that way and because they’re twisted-up too. They’re just more honest about it.

So we feel even more shame.

You did this to me, bitch, thinks the broken, damaged man who feels like he gave up his old life for her.

I was happy. I felt good. People liked me. I had friends. My life was amazing.

And I gave up virtually all of it and promised you forever, and all you do is treat me like a failure every day. As if I’m a constant disappointment to you. As if you’re so perfect and amazing, and I’m the loser piece-of-shit. And now you want to pin our shitty marriage on ME?! Go to hell.

But he knows she’s a little bit right. The proof is in the shame. There’s no shame when we gave all we could.

The shame is proof we’re a little bit guilty.

I went to a small high school in a small Ohio town. We played football and called things “gay” when we meant “stupid,” and called each other “fags” as a slang bro-out locker room putdown.

So when one of the kids in our small class exhibited occasional voice-inflections and hand movements most of us guys made fun of him behind his back, because he was obviously gay, which is obviously the worst-possible thing to be because it meant you weren’t a real man like us!

By the time senior year rolled around, he had suffered silently and mostly alone for the lack of acceptance he felt from many of us. He was one of the student leaders on a retreat half of my class attended that year, and admitted during a prepared talk in front of everyone that he’d considered killing himself several times.

This guy who had NEVER—near as I could tell—mistreated me or anyone else, was so uncomfortable at school, that he thought being dead might be better than being around for what are often referred to as the best years of our lives.

You might say I almost killed a kid in my class. An awesome and kind one.

And it wasn’t because I disliked him. I was never mean to him in any obvious or direct way. It was because I wanted to be acknowledged by my friends as a “man” while we cracked private jokes more than I wanted to treat a good person with respect and dignity.

But at least I had my Man Card.

The potency of this male-identity thing is the primary reason wives can’t get their husbands to read relationship books, or my blog posts, or visit a therapist. This male-identity thing from which I also suffer. It makes me part of the problem.

In that vein, your broken marriage or divorce is kind of my fault, too.

Men Won’t Seek Help to Avoid the Appearance of Weakness

I imagine I love my country as much as any generally satisfied citizen living in a developed nation. I think the United States is an excellent place to live, and the day I believe there to be an obviously better choice is the day I’ll want to move elsewhere.

But many Americans suffer from something I’ll call America Is #1 You Foreign Losers!!! Syndrome. While I’m a proud American and will gladly defend my homeland verbally and otherwise when called for, I don’t think you can look around with intellectual honesty and say that all things American are somehow demonstrably better than things we observe elsewhere.

In fact, it’s nonsense. In 2016, we have data available to anyone with internet access which proves that other countries are better at [insert public policy of choice here]. Some places have more successful schools. More effective transportation. More thriving economies. And, it pains me to say, but maybe even people who, as a whole, are infinitely more pleasant to be around than, as a whole, a random same-sized sampling of people in the U.S.

My favorite recent example of America Is #1 You Foreign Losers!!! Syndrome is learning that U.S. students are just whatever at math performance, but lead the world in being confident about their math skills. In other words, American students think they’re awesome at math, but they’re actually a little bit shitty.

Sound familiar?

Men are confident in their abilities as husbands and fathers, or at the very least, demonstrate confidence by actually getting married, and actually fathering children. And it’s because they’re a lot like American math students. They’re not actually good, but they think they are, or at least are damn sure going to tell you they are. Like a man.

It starts to get ugly when wives who have detected the danger, try to get their husbands to give more to her and their marriage or family.

Oh, so now I’m not good enough for you, Miss Perfect? I gave up my fun life for this?

Men Are 300% More Likely Than Women to Kill Themselves

I kept this blog a secret from my parents and most people I know until about a month ago.

I kept it a secret from my mom because I didn’t want her to read my profanity or read her son write about sex, pornography and masturbation.

I kept it a secret from my dad because I didn’t want him to read about me crying about my divorce, or my newly discovered convictions about empathy, or the fact that I spend so much of my time writing about relationships. You know, “girl stuff.” You know, so he didn’t think his son was a candy-ass pussy.

For the record, both of my parents (they don’t live together) have been amazingly supportive and I’m a little bit embarrassed how afraid of telling them I was. Since I’m thirty-freaking-seven and stuff. But I still haven’t told anyone else. Maybe I’m afraid.

The fear is real. And it’s the same fear many men you know carry around behind their veils of stoic machismo.

Even though women are more likely than men to report suicidal thoughts and tendencies, men are statistically THREE TIMES MORE LIKELY TO KILL THEMSELVES.

This phenomenon, the Gender Paradox, is observed in every race, culture, religious affiliation and country in the world.

Why?

Because men don’t want to lose their Man Card. It’s something we joke about with friends, but when we REALLY feel like we lose it because our wives leave us, or hair loss, or erectile dysfunction, or a job loss, or we just slowly lose that Successful Man feeling we remember from our youth?

We’re afraid to seek help. Because that’s tantamount to admitting weakness or that we’re not man enough.

So, when shit really hits the fan? That noose or gun trigger after a bender starts looking like a viable escape plan for broken men.

The really scary part is how most of these feelings are self-inflicted. It’s no different than how most men and women accidentally destroy their relationships through a series of incorrect assumptions about how their partner thinks and feels due to an absence of effective communication habits and skills.

Men are worried about what other people think of them. But it’s not actually rooted in fact. It’s rooted in assumption. We GUESS what other people think about us, and then react emotionally to whatever we guess that is. And because we tend to be afraid of negative things more than feel pleasure or excitement over positive things, we usually make things worse in our own minds.

A person may have not thought about you AT ALL. But you are afraid because they were in the area when you did or said something which embarrassed you that they now think you’re a huge loser, and that will somehow matter five minutes from now.

From “Why Men Kill Themselves in Such High Numbers” in Pacific Standard:

“Even in the developed world, where gender equality is not as bad as in developing countries, most men still see themselves as being responsible for providing and protecting their family. Of course, some women are social perfectionists too. But men’s social perfectionism is much more harmful.

‘A man who can’t provide for the family is somehow not a man anymore,’ said Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University. ‘A woman is a woman no matter what, but manhood can be lost.’”

Men need help in the mental and emotional health space as much as anyone needs help with anything.

But we refuse, because we don’t believe we need it, or simply won’t admit it.

Why, men?

To appear strong?

To be fake-strong?

Not unlike the weak-boundary daters who care more about the people they meet liking them than they do about whether a healthy and successful relationship is actually possible, men often choose the appearance of strength or the appearance of success over ACTUALLY pursuing strength and success.

It’s really hard to win, or even competently play, games in which we don’t know the rules.

In our own minds and bodies, men don’t know the rules.

So we accidentally destroy our marriages.

And we accidentally ruin relationships with friends and family.

If it makes us feel shame, or feels like something in which we can’t succeed, we turn around and walk the other way, but we make sure it looks like something manlier than fear.

We never just say: “For the same reason I don’t know how to design rocket engines and navigation computers for space shuttles, I also don’t know all there is to know about how to feel great about my life and have successful relationships with my wife and kids and friends and self.

We choose the bottle or a gun or a pill or a mask, instead of what we should do.

Learn the rules of the game so we can have fun and play competently.

Then, just like back in the day: Practice makes perfect.

Then?

We win.

More On Why Men Won’t Seek Help

From PsychCentral: Real Men Don’t Get Help

From Everyday Health: Why Depression is Underreported in Men

From HealthDay News: Many Men With Mental Health Issues Don’t Seek Help

…..

Like this post? Hate it? You can subscribe to this blog by scrolling annoyingly far to the bottom left-hand corner of this page and inserting your email address under “Follow Blog via Email.” You can also follow MBTTTR on Twitter and Facebook.

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

And Then I Woke Up Three Years Later

(Image/Paramount Studios)

Are you mentally playing the Top Gun Anthem in your head right now? You should be. (Image/Paramount Studios)

I spent the first year depressed and freaking out.

I spent the second year using reading and writing to get to know myself.

This past year, time seemed to move faster than ever.

And then I woke up this morning.

My wife left on April 1, 2013. We’re funny about anniversaries. We can be five years removed from an event, and we feel good and our lives are in order, but then that date pops up, triggers a bunch of memories, and we’re left sorting through a bunch of feelings and trying to figure out what they mean.

I’ve yet to find a better word than “broken” for what I felt in the immediate aftermath of my marriage failing.

Not many people in my personal life knew how bad it was at the time. But it was bad. Your vital signs indicate being alive. But nothing else does. I roll my eyes at all the motivational posters and sometimes cliché- and a little-bit-fake-feeling “You can do it!” messages we’re bombarded with on social media, but some of them are cliché because they’re true. And one of those truths is how valuable of a life experience excruciating emotional and psychological pain can be once it’s in the rearview mirror and it’s not violently stabbing your chest and skull every day.

There’s the me before experiencing that, and the me right now.

Before experiencing that, I didn’t know how to empathize or even what it really meant.

And now I do, for having been through it. Success in love and marriage, in parenting, in super-close social and business relationships appears impossible without the ability to empathize. Maybe some people can learn it without having to hurt first. I hope so.

I tend to learn things the hard way, which isn’t the optimum path to personal growth, but it’s got to be better than never learning.

I was a WRECK. A total mess of a person. My chest felt tight every day. My head hurt every day. I felt full-body anxiety often. It made me vomit a lot.

I can’t remember many instances of feeling more pathetic than the times I found myself teary-eyed, puking, struggling to calm my heartrate, knowing I probably needed some serious couch time with a shrink but couldn’t afford it, and thinking: This is why she left you. And now no girl will ever like you because you’re a total failure.

There were a million things I wanted to know, but the thing I wanted to know most is: When will this be over? Soon? Never?

How to Heal After Divorce in 3 Simple Steps

  1. Stay alive by breathing.
  2. Love yourself.
  3. Repeat.

I said it over and over again, even when it was hard to believe: Everything is going to be okay.

It didn’t feel okay after one year.

It felt kind of okay after two.

And on the three-year anniversary of the worst day of my life, everything is absolutely okay.

I wish I could pass out little manuals to everyone struggling with the end of a marriage and/or loss of their children at home, including the 2013 edition of me. But there are no instruction manuals for grieving. There’s no “right” or “best” way to suffer.

It took me a long time to understand that I wasn’t suffering the wrong way. I didn’t think at the time that divorce warranted the devastation I felt. I didn’t think it was worthy of so much hurt. I concluded weakness instead of letting it be what it was—a highly stressful, totally life-changing event which psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially damages nearly everyone it touches.

Three years ago, I wanted to know what I could do to speed up the process. To fast-forward to the Okay part.

I never did find that button.

Here’s what worked for me:

1. I put my son first. He’s my baseline for all things. If it’s not good for him, I don’t do it. That helped heal the post-divorce relationship between his mother and I. It helped me build a kind, respectful, cooperative relationship with my ex-wife. I’d like to believe I’d care about her wellbeing regardless, but because she’s my son’s mother and an excellent parent and caretaker, one of the best things I can do for my child is treat his mom well. Which I try to do.

His long-term wellbeing drives my business endeavors and serves as a guidepost for me as I consider potential relationships.

2. I admitted that I don’t really know anything. Growing up, I thought being an adult meant you just knew stuff. The meaning of life. How to be disciplined and exercise self-control. How to not be afraid. Not knowing anything reduces the pressure. Not knowing anything allows you to ask better questions and stay curious. Not knowing anything helps you remain humble. Not knowing anything allows you to withhold judgment, and treat others and yourself better. Almost every adult is just making this up as they go. You’re not alone.

3. I wrote here. Putting thoughts and feelings to paper (or the keyboard) has long been touted by mental health experts as a good thing to do. Everyone’s experience will vary, but writing here created a lot of good in my life.

It forced me to look deep within for answers and explore uncomfortable topics.

I discovered other people who knew how I was feeling, and when life is hard, one of the most helpful things is the realization that someone else is walking the same path as you. It just helps when someone understands.

I got positive feedback about the writing, and that gave me confidence.

People sometimes said that it helped them, and that gave me purpose.

And the entire exercise of writing and asking questions and answering questions gave me something to pour my time and heart into when my young son wasn’t home.

And then I woke up one day and it was three years later.

My son’s mom and I had a couple friendly and peaceful text exchanges about our son.

I came to work and didn’t cry or puke in the bathroom.

I didn’t feel anxious, because I’m neither a wreck nor a complete mess.

Two different large websites published my work today in what has become a regular occurrence since the “dishes” post.

I like and respect myself—which is something a person should not take for granted—and I’m looking forward to liking and respecting myself even more in the future.

It was the worst day of my life. And God knows, conceptually, I regret the end of my family. But three years into the metamorphosis, I have to ask the question: Can the thing that changed me for the better, allowed me to explore relationships with my eyes wide open and an uncommon awareness, and granted me the opportunity to actually do something that matters to people, fairly be labeled the worst thing that ever happened to me?

I don’t know.

I only know that tomorrow arrived and everything really is okay.

And all I had to do was breathe.

Then again.

And again.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

My Podcast Conversation with Therapist Lesli Doares

radio on air microphone

(Image/kathurley.com)

I’m still working on a more sensible way to share audio content than to create a new post every time I have something.

But until then, I must settle for this. Sorry.

I was a guest recently on marriage counselor and coach Lesli Doares‘ podcast, Happily Ever After Is Just The Beginning! Our philosophies about modern-day marriage, it turns out, align very closely, and it was very flattering that she cared even a little bit about what I had to say.

The podcast episode is about 30 minutes. I don’t think it went as well as my first-ever radio interview last month, but maybe some of you will like it anyway.

You can listen to or download the podcast episode here at Web TalkRadio, or check out the “What Causes Divorce Isn’t What You Think” episode free on iTunes here.

The conversation covers mostly familiar territory for regular readers of this blog, but perhaps you’ll gain value from Lesli’s thoughts, or take pleasure in whatever stumbly dorkness I display with a few strange voice inflections, probably because I was trying to sound smarter than I am.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Why Marriage Counseling is a Bad Idea, Vol. 2

(Image/The New York Times)

(Image/The New York Times)

I’ve been to marriage counseling twice.

By that I mean, in two separate instances during my marriage, I agreed to see a couple’s therapist with my wife.

The first time, my son had just been born, and I was offered a job that, in theory, would solve any and all financial concerns for the rest of our lives. (Top 1% money in my 40s, and eventual company ownership.)

The catch? It would require us to move 500 miles away near my family in Illinois, and my wife, who had already left her family once when we moved to Florida after college, knew she didn’t want to leave them again.

In my estimation at the time, fixing our financial difficulties (they were serious, and we had a newborn) combined with eliminating money concerns forever, was worth the move.

I argued that I’d make enough money where my wife would never have to work again if she didn’t want to, and would be free to travel to Ohio often (I suggested one week per month as a compromise) and that the grand total of time spent with family during one non-working week every month would GREATLY outweigh the time spent with family as our lives were currently constructed.

She argued that Ohio was our home, and that she could never be happy living so far from her friends and family in another new place.

She told me she believed we would eventually get divorced if we made the move. That her family was always going to be more important than money to her. (Which I always admired somewhat.)

We discussed it patiently and at length with a couple’s counselor.

He blatantly said in each of the final two sessions with him that he agreed with my take. That solving financial problems made sense for our family since money was the top source of conflict and stress for our marriage. He agreed that “Home” can be anywhere, so long as you’re willing to make it so. He agreed that visiting family in Ohio, while somewhat unconventional, could be done with the financial resources we would have, and that, in the end, she would actually see her family for greater amounts of time that way.

She cried and I hated it and I held her hand.

She was so sad. I had made my wife—the mother of my new son—sad. I couldn’t take it.

I told her the night before our final marriage-counseling session with that first counselor that I loved her more than anything, and that there’s no way I would jeopardize our marriage and family. I turned down the job offer and agreed to stay in Ohio.

“We’ll figure something out,” I told her.

The second time we attended counseling, our marriage was a trainwreck. I’d been sleeping in the guest room for at least a year. We never touched one another. Every day was shitty and horrible. Being at work and volunteering at a local homeless shelter was infinitely less stressful than being at the house, so I worked and volunteered a lot.

My wife started seeing a marriage counselor on her own.

After a handful of sessions, she told me the counselor wanted to see me too. I really wanted to stay married and not feel shitty and horrible anymore, so I agreed.

I don’t remember exactly what the counselor’s questions were, nor do I remember exactly how my wife answered them, during our first session together. I only know that I’m a pretty nice and pragmatic guy, and I wanted to commit double homicide right then and there.

I perceived my wife’s characterizations of me and our marriage to be totally unfair, and I perceived this aloof, disengaged counselor to be 100-percent validating all of it.

It’s possible I was being overly defensive and immature in my reaction, because I am overly defensive and immature. Also, that was the worst time of my life, so negative things might have felt magnified. I don’t know.

But I do know that I felt the counselor was disinterested in whether our marriage succeeded, and that my wife was cold and unfair. True or not, it seemed to me at the time like she was looking for validation for her anger and sadness and inclination to leave more so than she was a genuine, heartfelt strategy for repairing our marriage.

Something tells me I’m not the only one to experience this.

I Think It’s Insane

If you could get couples to attend regular marriage counseling sessions from the beginning of their marriage as a routine maintenance tool and a strategy for healthy communication, I believe marriage counseling would be a very wise, useful investment, and successful activity.

But that’s not how the real world works.

In the real world, people get married young and don’t know what to expect. They think it’s going to be just like the two or three years they’ve been together so far as boyfriend and girlfriend, and that it’s going to stay that way forever.

But then one day, it’s not.

And all the sadness and resentment and anger starts to build. Because men and women have so much trouble communicating, attempts to talk about it leave both parties dissatisfied and angrier than before.

As a last resort, one convinces the other to go to couple’s therapy, so an “objective” third-party arbitrator can set the record straight.

Then two people, who not too many years ago, stood before a pastor, judge, priest or minister, and declared their undying love and commitment to one another in front of almost everyone they know, are now sitting on a sofa or chairs, talking about how the person they “love” makes them sad, miserable and angry.

Let me repeat that.

We put two people during one of the most-difficult times of their lives in a room, when they feel like their spouse isn’t there for them anymore and may actually leave them, and we ask them to say out loud in front of one another how the other person’s actions make their lives shitty.

And excuse my language, but that’s fucking insane.

The people who don’t love their spouses are never going to succeed in marriage counseling anyway.

And the people who do love their spouses just sat there and took it up the ass while the person they do EVERYTHING for just told a stranger what stupid assholes they are right in front of them, and then the counselor validated it and celebrated their “honesty.”

I think there’s probably a better way.

We’re All a Little Bit Broken and Messed Up

I’m stealing this from a comment I left in the previous post on this subject:

There are a million different reasons why we are all a little broken and messed up, and no one has the time or money to get it all figured out. But if we can all be a little bit more self-aware of our shortcomings (or at least our behaviors that tend to upset others, even if it’s only our partners who get upset), and work hardest on making ourselves the most whole, balanced, healthy, content people we can possibly be… we give ourselves an excellent chance for happiness.

Two people trying to be the best versions of themselves possible, will also try to give unselfishly to their partner and/or marriage every day. When two people give more to the other than they take for themselves, Happily Ever After happens. Both people always get what they need, and they always feel good because they’re giving a lot, too.

Jayne left a fair comment about just how hard maintaining a stable and healthy relationship truly is, even with two intellectually capable people trying their best:

“okay…but having been through divorce, as I have, and having witnessed many people aware of the danger, still fall into that black hole of complacency and taking each other for granted… Do you believe you yourself can keep a relationship “good”. As I wrote “you, yourself” I had part of my answer and that is that it’s not possible to do all by yourself. Sooo much thinking on this subject and sooo much evidence of miscommunication makes me think most of it is driven by chance. Relationships seem to start by “chance” and even with our knowledge and intellect, they can’t be formulated for success. Sometimes I do believe that relationships aren’t supposed to last forever and this is proof. When you think about it, there is a lot of proof for that,” Jayne said.

I liked my response because I think it’s the difference between couples who make it and couples who don’t:

Chance favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur famously said that in the 1800s. And I think he was right.

Sure, there’s a lot of chance and bullshit that affect our lives.

But when we aren’t lazy, when we put in the time and effort to psychologically prepare ourselves for ANYTHING (a project, a new job, a new town we’re moving to, learning a native language before visiting a country, etc.), but certainly a committed relationship, I think we give ourselves an excellent chance for success.

I have no idea whether I’ll ever marry again. And all of the preparation in the world can’t guarantee it will last forever.

But my would-be fiancée and I will spend a LOT of time talking about these things, working on them, and demonstrating self-awareness and empathy.

Anyone I end up having “the same fight” with over and over again? It’s likely going to be her stubbornness or my stubbornness that prevents us from breaking that cycle.

In either case, that will be a sure sign to NOT get married.

If I get married again, she and I will have had these high-level talks and will have, repeatedly, over many weeks, months and years, demonstrated the ability to communicate effectively and behave unselfishly even when it’s inconvenient.

Sure, I may divorce again one day.

But it won’t be because I made the mistake of going into it not properly armed with the tools and information I need to be a good husband and succeed.

Fate gets to decide whether I live or die five minutes from now.

But it doesn’t get to decide how I treat the people I love.

Let’s Stop All the Finger-Pointing

Individual marriage counseling is the act of one person exploring all the ways they can be a better husband or wife. And THAT should be the question every married person asks themselves daily: How can I be a better spouse today?

So, confession: I don’t think ALL marriage counseling is bad. I just think the way it’s most often done is.

I also stole the following from another one of my comments in the previous post:

EVERYONE commits some kind of crime in their marriage.

Therapists shouldn’t spread the blame around equally when one person got screwed over, but they also shouldn’t not ask the right question.

People sometimes say I take on too much responsibility for the end of my marriage. Right or wrong (and I think it’s wrong), it doesn’t matter.

It’s ALL about responsibility and accountability.

This is something I believe strongly (this only applies to me, not all marriages): If I behaved every day in my marriage the way I have grown to believe a person must behave in order to have a long, healthy marriage, my wife and I would still be married, and probably with a second child.

I’ve never said or typed that before. But I think it’s true.

That doesn’t mean it’s entirely my fault that we got divorced.

It just means, I had a lot of control over my own destiny (and that of my wife and son) and I squandered it through immaturity, irresponsibility and negligence.

Thus, I’m now 36 and single and only see my son half the time.

Even when our hearts are in the right place, we reap what we sow.

If you can’t find an answer to the question: What have I done that might have contributed to my spouse’s sadness and anger?, then you’re one of two things—the greatest husband or wife in the world, or a self-centered narcissist.

And in either case, couples counseling can’t and won’t save you. You’re going to have to save yourself.

And to do so, you need to start asking the right questions.

You need to start right now.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Why Marriage Counseling is a Bad Idea, Vol. 1

(Image/Huffington Post)

(Image/Huffington Post)

A wife asked her husband to read my ‘Shitty Husbands’ posts, which happens more than I’d like. (Because passive-aggressively telling your husband he’s not good enough WILL NOT improve your marriage.)

Then she wrote me an email asking for advice, which also happens more than I’d like. (Because I’m just some guy who doesn’t really know anything, and got divorced the only time I was married.)

In that email, she wrote: “He started reading and said: ‘Fuck that guy. Is he a therapist?’”

I assume MOST men have that response when they read those posts. It’s the same thing I would have said five years ago: Who cares what this idiot thinks? He got a divorce and I’m still married. I’m already doing better than him by default!

I don’t blame the guy for feeling that way. He suffers from the same affliction affecting most married men: Oblivious Husband Syndrome. (Which I totally made up, and could just as easily be called: Oblivious Man Syndrome.)

Our brains (both male and female) contain translators, so that when people speak to us, or we observe something, our brains can process what we’re hearing or seeing and apply meaning to it.

So when we see a “Don’t Turn on Red” traffic sign, we understand it to mean that at particular traffic intersections, we are not allowed to make right turns when the light is red, even though American drivers are accustomed to doing that. We know what the color red looks like. So we’re not sitting there avoiding right turns at green lights while a bunch of pissed-off drivers wait behind us.

Our translators are good at stuff like that.

Sometimes though, our translators are shitty. Sometimes, we need information in English, but it gives us Portuguese or Mandarin or Arabic instead.

And that’s because a member of the opposite sex is talking to us. And because men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and because men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti, when a man says something to a woman or acts like himself around her, or a woman says something to a man or acts like herself around him, it’s not uncommon for neither person to know what the hell the other person is talking about or trying to accomplish.

Men often don’t understand women because women often speak and act in code. Other women know exactly what the code means. Because of this, many women don’t understand why their husbands or boyfriends don’t get it also. The only conclusion is that he’s a stupid moron. And in the context of the way her mind naturally works, it’s a perfectly logical conclusion.

But it’s wrong.

Women often don’t understand men because men are often lousy communicators. We stay quiet about our feelings for a variety of reasons, and we have a hard time patiently listening to problems or stories because we have a tendency to problem-solve. When our wives or girlfriends are telling us a story, the ENTIRE point for them is the act of telling the story and having their husbands or boyfriends listen to it and acknowledge it.

The problem is, the men listening tend to not be interested in the nuance in her story, and are more interested in whatever “the point” is. Once they understand the point, the men can provide solutions to their wives’ or girlfriends’ problems, or solutions to whomever the story is about. That’s his goal. To solve the problem and eliminate the need for discussion.

The process is painful to the guy because he tried to help and listen, but she didn’t want him to help, and now he’s frustrated and feeling unappreciated.

It’s painful to his wife or girlfriend because, once again, he’s demonstrating insensitivity and an inability to really listen and be there for her in matters big or small.

The man thinks he was being helpful. The woman thinks he’s an insensitive dick. The only conclusion for the guy to come to is that she’s overly dramatic, emotional and crazy. And in the context of the way his mind naturally works, it’s a perfectly logical conclusion.

Men with Oblivious Husband Syndrome aren’t always stupid and aren’t always assholes. Often, they just don’t know.

This is just one all-too-common example of how men and women fail to communicate effectively with one another, and at the end of the day, it causes more breakups and divorce than anything else.

Men are not better than women. Women are not better than men. But men and women ARE different in varying degrees depending on environment, upbringing, genetics, etc.

The fundamental breakdown in a romantic relationship between men and women can be traced back to their inability to empathize with one another or to meet their partners halfway. Instead, we try hitting our partners over the head repeatedly until they finally “get” us, or concede that our way is best. (They never will. The most we can hope for are highly functional translators.)

Marketing genius Seth Godin wrote this today:

“Empathy doesn’t involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, ‘why did they do what they did?’

The useful answer is rarely, ‘because they’re stupid.’ Or even, ‘because they’re evil.’ In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.

Dismissing actions we don’t admire merely because we don’t care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn’t help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.”

All of this is leading me to my strong belief that the vast majority of couples make a huge mistake going to marriage counseling or couples counseling together. I hope marriage counselors don’t get upset with me for writing that, but some probably will.

I started thinking about it when a husband whose wife is just about to leave him said: “Fuck that guy. Is he a therapist?”

No. I’m not a therapist. And I don’t know the secret to fixing troubled marriages. And I don’t know for sure that I will ever have a successful marriage.

I don’t give advice. I just tell you what happened to me.

There are marriage-counseling success stories. Just like sometimes, people actually win the lottery. Because some counselors are great, and some people are blessed to be married to partners willing to humble themselves and learn to empathize.

But most of the time?

It’s a gut-wrenching, resentment-building, bank account-draining affair that drives couples further apart because men and women frequently demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to understand one another.

I think couples counseling is a bad idea.

Soon, I’ll tell you why.

To be continued.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Start a Blog

(Image/blog.ringcentral.com)

(Image/blog.ringcentral.com)

Feral Wife asked:

Hi Matt, I have truly enjoyed reading your blog. I found it shortly after asking my husband for a separation (we decided not to). Your words were a blessing, and long story short, you and the many commenters have inspired me to start my own blog. The premise of my blog is I am the wife of a shitty husband, a husband who was shocked when I asked for a separation. Now we are trying to work it out and stay married. So I want to share my journey in hopes of helping other wives and husbands. But I don’t really know where to start, I am assuming your blog didn’t start off as fabulous as it is now (if it has, more props to you!) so I am asking for tidbits/advice on where to start. I would like to remain anonymous, for a variety of reasons. Anyway, you said we could ask you stuff, for free, so I thought I’d ask: “How do I start my own blog?”

There are countless reasons to start blogging.

Some people love writing. Some people like telling stories. Some people dream big and hope people will like their writing and that it might create future writing and career opportunities. Some people process information and life events best when they get thoughts down on paper (or a computer screen). Some people want to help and be a resource for others.

If you ask me today why I write here, those are my reasons.

But that’s not why I started.

One night, less than three months into my marital separation, I was self-medicating with vodka before some friends were picking me up to go out.

I was feeling sorry for myself because my wife was seeing someone.

I was feeling sorry for myself because my son wasn’t home.

I was feeling sorry for myself because I was taking my first crack at online dating and it was a colossal failure by every measurable standard.

I was totally losing it. I called an 800 number off a card someone at work had given me for over-the-phone counseling.

I don’t remember anything about the conversation except for the part where the therapist lady told me I should start writing down my thoughts and feelings. Normal people keep journals. I thought: Maybe I’ll just write anonymously and publish it! That might be a fun experiment!

I thought Must Be This Tall To Ride was going to be a sarcastic, juvenile journey through my online-dating stumbles—the story of this bumbling, depressed, freaking-out newly single 30-something father trying to “date” for the first time in his life.

I started blogging because I’m a total spaz and as soon as any idea pops into my idiot little head, I rush off and do it until I get bored or distracted by something else and move on.

But then something happened I didn’t expect—some people gave a shit. People were reading. Not a lot. But some! Whoa.

Writing has some magic qualities for the people doing it. Something intangible that, no matter how many times people tell you, you can’t really understand it until it starts happening. That therapist lady knew it. But I didn’t. Not until, for the first time in my life, I took things from the inside of me and turned them into words.

It was a little scary. A little embarrassing. But, man. It worked. I really started feeling better.

And then something even crazier happened.

Some of the people reading said it helped them feel better, too.

I’ve written PLENTY of immature bullshit here. Sorry. I am immature and sometimes I make bad decisions that are bullshit.

But mostly? I started really caring about being someone who wasn’t adding to all the noise and negativity shrieking and clanging around out there.

Maybe this can matter. 

How to Start a Blog

1. Have a reason. A concept. A thing.

No matter how much I don’t want to be, I’ve sort of become this divorce/relationship blogger, which makes no sense, but whatever. Sometimes things don’t make sense.

2. Think of good blog names, and pick one with a sensible, AVAILABLE URL (or if you’re not hiding your identity, try to secure your name. Example: BobRodgers.com)

I picked Must Be This Tall To Ride because a week earlier I wrote to some 5’2” online dating chick one night who wouldn’t date guys under six feet, and I used it as the subject line. It made me laugh. She wrote back, but not because she wanted to go out. I’m glad the URL was available. That was lucky.

3. There are a variety of blogging platforms. I like WordPress for many reasons. Choose a non-sucky theme

I picked this theme (called “Chunk”) because it’s SUPER-clean, and I like clean. I like Google’s home page. I like Apple’s advertising. I like white space.

So I chose this because there aren’t any distractions.

I thought I would be able to customize it so that I could take some of the things that live WAY down at the bottom of these pages that most people never see, and move them up to the sidebars. But this theme doesn’t let you do that, AND I suck at HTML coding, so even if it did, I probably couldn’t have pulled it off.

My advice: Choose a theme that allows people to follow you via email up in the sidebar, and showcase other information they care about like recent posts, or popular posts, or how to follow you on social media, or whatever. When you bury it at the bottom of your blog like I do here, most people never see it because they’re busy and don’t care. You have to make it easy and obvious for them to follow you.

4. Use photos in your blog posts.

I usually stick with just one image up top. Credit the photographer or at least the source whenever possible in the caption. People like images.

5. Write as much as you want, but 800 words or less will help readers stay with you.

I usually write over a thousand because I’m wordy and don’t always do what I’m supposed to.

6. Write well.

This is subjective. I don’t think I’m a particularly great writer. But (usually after publishing a mistake or two every time) I’m pretty good about keeping the copy clean. Typos are bad. Using “their” instead of “there” is bad. Bad punctuation is bad. Bad everything is bad. Unfortunately, I do some things poorly. It’s because I’m only moderately intelligent AND because I rush through this stuff, never planning ahead, and hastily hitting Publish during my lunch hour at work. It’s a bad blogging and writing strategy.

7. Make it easy for people to share your work.

WordPress plugins make it easy to embed social media sharing on your blog. Twitter is the only social media I use to share posts and it generates very little traffic because I’m shitty at Twitter. Facebook is obviously the biggest and best place to share. Because I’m afraid of family members and people in my professional network reading about accidental vaginas or my grandmother hypothetically marrying a Liam Neeson movie character, I’ve always been too scared to share stuff on Facebook. But it’s still the place where my posts that do get shared, get shared most often.

8. Reply to comments.

I’m not always good at this, but I aspire to be.

9. Try to develop a regular posting schedule.

Posting every day only worked for about nine months for me. That was masochistic. I generally stick to Monday-Wednesday-Friday now and I find it more manageable. There’s no right or wrong way. But consistency is smart.

10. Tag and categorize your posts thoughtfully.

I just sort of guess. There’s a science to it, but I’m always in too big of a hurry. Tagging or categorizing my posts “Marriage” or “Divorce” or “Penis” allows people to find content that interests them and lets regular readers know what they’re getting into.

I’m probably leaving stuff out because I’m out of time and need to stop writing this.

In Conclusion

Feral Wife called my blog “fabulous.” Which is too kind because of all its structural deficiencies and sometimes-shitty writing.

If it is fabulous, I have a hard time believing it started out that way. Some people have read every post, and they would know better than me.

I’ve published close to 500 posts in just over two years here, and any time you do something hundreds of times, you get better at it, but that’s also subjective because some of you are reading this (or quit 700 words ago) and are thinking: Why the hell am I still reading this?

Fair question.

I have no idea.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Eureka Effect: How to Save Marriages

(Image courtesy of iai.tv)

(Image courtesy of iai.tv)

I was crying all the time and sleeping in the guest room. It was a real shit show.

My marriage was dead, but I didn’t know it yet. If I had known it, I would have never experienced the Eureka effect, which might be the most important thing to ever happen to me.

I was reading How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It (which I’ve made no secret is the most important book I’ve read on relationships), and page after page was explaining myself to me. Explaining my wife to me. Explaining my marriage to me.

It was my “Aha” moment. My “Eureka” moment. The moment I truly understood how radically different my wife and I were experiencing our marriage. The moment I could finally see things from her perspective.

I finally understood why all of our fights started and ended the same way. I finally understood why they were so predictable. I finally understood the most important thing there is for a man to know about his wife in a marriage.

She felt alone and abandoned. And that made her feel afraid and like she couldn’t trust me.

I finally understood the most important thing there is for a woman to know about her husband in a marriage.

My wife was not attacking me or telling me I wasn’t good enough. Just like my wife wasn’t actually alone nor abandoned.

It just felt that way.

She was trying to communicate to me how things I did made her feel disrespected and unloved, but she was doing it in a way that only made sense to her and not me.

That tends to make men feel shame. Like their wives are telling them they are not good enough. It fundamentally changes you on the inside when the person you love the most repeatedly tells you you’re not good enough, even if that’s not what she means to do.

I would get defensive because I always felt like I wasn’t guilty of the things she claimed. She would get angry because I WAS doing the things she said I was doing, even if I wasn’t realizing it. I wasn’t validating her anger and sadness and fear and it made her even more angry.

Then when she got angry, I would get equally angry in return.

We were a ticking bomb.

Because she was afraid and didn’t feel safe. The marriage had ceased to be a comfort zone for her.

Because I felt shame that I couldn’t make her happy and frustrated that nothing I did ever seemed to be good enough for her. I always felt like there was a new thing for her to complain about.

Fear. Shame. Fear. Shame. Fear. Shame.

How husbands and wives manage those emotions will prove the No. 1 predictor of whether their marriages will survive.

Wives who are afraid trying to talk to or fight with husbands who feel ashamed are going to fail at marriage a high-percentage of the time.

Something else important happened. Another “Aha!” moment. I realized that EVERYONE has the exact same fights.

There are always outliers and unique circumstances, but by and large, I realized that the reason these books can be written, read by millions of people, and have everyone nod their heads up and down is because these are almost universally true observations about people.

It’s so important to realize you’re not alone.

YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE.

You’re not. No matter what it is you feel. There are many other people who feel it, too. And when you discover that truth, it changes your life because feeling connected is one of our most basic human wants and needs.

The Nine Dot Problem

Nine Dot Problem

The Nine Dot Problem is a classic spatial problem psychologists use to study insight and problem solving. There are nine dots on a page in a perfect 3 x 3 square. The object is to connect all nine dots using exactly four straight lines without retracing or removing the pen from the paper.

The psychologists who conducted the first lab experiment with this problem (Kershaw and Ohlsson) said that in a lab setting where participants are given a time limit of two or three minutes, the expected solution rate is 0%.

You, quite literally, must think “outside the box” to solve it.

How to Save Marriages

I think I experienced something that many (maybe even most) men do not. I experienced the Eureka effect in a very profound way on the subject of marriage and male-female relationships.

And the more I think about it, the more convinced I become: The way to save marriages is to help people have their own Eureka moments.

The question now becomes: How do we get people to have their own Eureka moment?

What is the most effective way to reach people?

I read the book How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It because I was invested in trying to save my marriage. My biggest fear was losing my wife and having my young son growing up a child of divorce like I had.

Fear of loss motivated me.

I don’t know what drives other people, but because I know I’m never the only one, I can infer that there are a lot of other husbands and boyfriends out there who feel as I felt.

So, I start with them.

It will take insightful, creative thinking to change the way people behave in, and think about, their marriages. Habits and evolutionary hardwiring are tough things to overcome.

But there is a way.

I think we just have to draw outside the lines.

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