Tag Archives: Trust

The 3 Tiers of Lying and How Well-Intentioned Lies Can Still Destroy Relationships

chair in spotlight

(Image/iStock Photos)

How many times have you lied to people you genuinely love and respect in the past few days?

If someone asked me that, I’m pretty sure I’d say “Zero! I don’t lie to people, but especially not to those I care about most!”

And by doing so, I’d be telling another lie.

I don’t think of myself as a liar. I don’t think of myself as dishonest.

But maybe I am.

I used to think I was this really good and nice person just because I got along with people so well and had a bunch of friends. And you know what I found out later? That my behavior sometimes hurt people—friends and family. And you know what else I found out later? That my behavior often hurt my wife, and even though I thought of myself as a good husband, she thought and felt differently, and left anyway.

I’m pretty sure the fact that I was hurting my wife rules out the possibility that I was one.

So let’s get honest for a minute.

The uncomfortable kind.

The truth is that I probably lie all of the time and because I label it something else, I don’t feel like a liar.

I want to talk about why, because I think it’s probably significant as to how marriages, or relationships in general, deteriorate slowly through these tiny little breaches of trust that I think work a bit like a tree being chopped down.

Each swing of the axe affects the tree’s structural integrity just a little bit. If the trunk’s large enough, you can keep chopping away for the longest time, and everything seems fine. The tree remains standing.

And then, maybe on the fiftieth, or hundredth, or thousandth swing, it comes crashing down.

It wasn’t the last blow that caused the tree to fall. It was all of them before it. The cumulative effect.

The final blow wasn’t more damaging than the first or tenth. It was just the last one the tree could handle before giving way.

We talk a lot about these little moments that add up in relationships. These seemingly inconsequential little conversations or arguments where one person hurts the other, and some kind of fight ensues, before an eventual apology or mutual calm takes over and things seem to return to normal.

These are the tree-chopping moments. A little bit more damage was caused, but by all appearances, that tree stands tall and looks like it will remain so.

I think the person who felt pain (which is sometimes both of them) noticed the extra swing of the axe, and maybe the person who didn’t feel pain, and spent the fight defending their behavior and spinning the moment to accuse her or him of overreacting and misinterpreting the situation, forgets all about it.

So, what is a lie?

The 3 Tiers of Lying

I like to rank things. Sorry.

I think there are three tiers—three categories—of lies.

And in my opinion, one is very bad, the second can range from very bad to just kind-of bad, and the third doesn’t feel bad at all.

I think a lot of people categorize mistruths in their own minds, just like I do, and they can morally justify some of them because they don’t really feel like lies.

Tier 1 – Lying Evil Piece of Shit Lies

They’re the worst and most indefensible kind of falsehood. Lying Evil Piece of Shit Lies involve a person being intentionally deceptive for some nefarious purpose. To steal. To con someone into sleeping with them. Whatever.

Example:

Man meets Woman at business event. She’s single. He’s not wearing a wedding ring. He invites her to dinner. She likes him. They start seeing each other. Sleeping together.

And then one day, she’s out with friends at a random restaurant, and in walks the guy she’s seeing with another woman and three children.

All along, he’s been misrepresenting himself to both her and, presumably, his wife and family.

Fuck that guy.

Tier 2 – Cover Your Ass or Look More Awesome Lies

These are STILL indefensible in my estimation, but at least I GET why someone would do it.

Circumstances matter. Because a Cover Your Ass lie could certainly look and feel an awful lot like a Lying Evil Piece of Shit lie under the right circumstances, such as:

“Where were you last night?”

“I was playing cards with the guys. Just like I said.”

But she knows he wasn’t there because the actual person hosting the poker game texted her to ask where her husband was.

And the truth is, he was with a woman he’s having an affair with.

BUT.

That identical scenario can happen, and it wouldn’t seem like an Evil Piece of Shit lie at all.

For example:

“Where were you last night?”

“I was playing cards with the guys. Just like I said.”

But she knows he wasn’t there because the actual person hosting the poker game texted her to ask where her husband was.

And the truth is, he was meeting their travel agent because he’s going to surprise his wife with an elaborate trip overseas to celebrate their upcoming wedding anniversary.

Our self-preservation instincts are strong. It’s how our ancestors survived lions and bears trying to eat them all the time. So when we’re afraid that telling the whole truth will HURT us, it’s not hard to resort to a lie that doesn’t feel ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ in order to avoid experiencing that hurt, or feeling what would seem to be unnecessary discomfort.

I tell self-preservation lies sometimes. I do.

I don’t think I tell them in my close personal relationships in a way that I perceive to be a breach of trust, but I also know better than to trust my own judgment anymore.

Maybe I’m just embarrassed about something that someone else doesn’t really need to know, so I find some other way to say it that isn’t the most truth I could tell.

I don’t think it’s good.

I think it’s lying, and I think lying is almost universally frowned upon as a bad thing for good reason.

I understand why someone might make something sound cooler than it actually was to try to impress a date, or professional colleagues, or friends.

I understand why someone might omit a detail, or talk around some embarrassing thing when explaining a situation because they’re afraid of that person they’re crushing on, or their friend, or their co-worker thinking they’re a douchebag and not wanting to hang out with them anymore.

We are irrational creatures, us humans.

Tier 3 – Little White Lies

You already know about these. You probably tell one every day, and don’t think twice about the moral implications of doing so because they don’t FEEL wrong or bad. They just don’t.

If I think a meal tasted kind of shitty, and I say “Thank you so much for dinner. It was wonderful,” I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

I played along with stories about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy that today I actually have mixed emotions about, because I have legitimate concerns about the psychological effect it has on kids when they grow up and realize the ENTIRE WORLD, including the people they love the most had orchestrated a scheme to make them believe that something was real that actually wasn’t.

No one was trying to hurt anyone, and it’s all done in the spirit of childhood innocence and helping kids have a good time, so we all convince ourselves it’s fine. That it’s a good thing, even.

But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve begun to question how true that is.

If I don’t like someone’s shirt, or haircut, or new car, or whatever, and they ask me about it, I’m not going to tell them the whole truth if I believe doing so will offend them or hurt their feelings.

Maybe that makes me some kind of coward or weakling. I don’t know.

I just know I don’t like how it feels to say or do things that make people feel bad, and not ONCE in my life have I ever intentionally tried to do that.

So, sometimes, I won’t tell the whole truth because I perceive it to be the ‘right’ thing to do.

NOT hurting someone I care about > Being the most honest I can possibly be.

I think there’s a reasonable debate to be had about that little math equation, and I think how everyone feels about it will depend on a thousand unknown variables.

How Lies Destroy Marriages and Compromise Relationships

Here’s the part I didn’t get when I was married and was justifying the Little White Lies or Cover Your Ass lies I told.

Human beings have NEEDS. Not wants. Not nice-to-haves. NEEDS.

And the needs people have come with varying degrees of importance.

For example, we NEED a phone, right? And it’s a life emergency that yours just went over the side of the boat and sunk to the bottom of the lake or ocean.

But now, you get word that a tornado swept through your neighborhood, and your house is gone. You don’t have anywhere to live. How big of a deal is that lost phone feeling now?

You’re homeless, and you can’t even text your friends or put up a sad Instagram post about it. It feels like the sky’s falling at this point.

But suddenly, the sky IS falling. An asteroid falls down to Earth out of nowhere and it’s dark and scary, and it doesn’t take everyone long to figure out that the ash cloud from the asteroid impact is going to block out the sun for the next two years, and all plant and animal life on earth is going to die. How big of a deal is the tornado-hit home situation now?

It’s chaos. Scary. People are looting big-screen TVs they can’t watch because there’s no power or internet right now. Everything looks post-apocalyptic, like you’ve seen in the movies.

But suddenly you hear a gunshot, and the Jolly Rancher piece of candy in your mouth goes down the wrong pipe, and you can’t breathe. You’re choking. No matter what you do. Your body can’t get air. If you can’t unblock your air passage, you’re dead in 30 seconds…

How scary does that gunshot you heard feel now?

That’s probably excessively dark, and I’m sorry, but it amateurishly illustrates something in psychology called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, and it’s usually presented in pyramid form like this:

There are these things in life we all want and need. BUT, if you take away one of the foundational needs holding it up? None of that other shit matters. We’re stuck trying to regain that foundational need, and things can’t improve until we do.

If you look at Maslow’s pyramid, you’ll notice that after the most basic human needs like air, water and food, the next thing people need is Safety.

Some people only think of ‘safety’ in the context of physical safety. Like NOT getting murdered or kidnapped or burnt by fire or hit by a moving vehicle.

But there are other elements to safety, and I think it’s common for men—young and old—to have the wrong idea about safety and trust in their relationships that will inevitably lead to divorces that neither they nor their wives actually want.

People ALSO need to feel ‘safe’ financially. People need to feel ‘safe’ with good health. People need to feel ‘safe’ emotionally.

People need to be able to trust their romantic partners to not hurt them.

Sometimes a husband leaving a pair of dirty socks on the bedroom floor HURTS his wife.

Sometimes a wife not demonstrating faith in her husband’s ability to succeed at something HURTS her husband.

And sometimes, being lied to hurts.

Sometimes—even if the lies told were designed to preserve someone’s feelings or simply cover your ass—the experience of being lied to by the person you love and trust the most HURTS.

So maybe several years ago, your girlfriend found out you were going to strip clubs all the time and getting lap dances, and maybe that really hurt her feelings.

And maybe you promised to never do that again.

Then, maybe a couple of years after that, during your engagement, your fiancée figured out that you were looking at porn, and it made her feel bad in the same way you going to those strip clubs made her feel bad.

Maybe when she asked you about it, you lied. And she knew you lied. And maybe because you don’t think looking at pornography is a big deal, you don’t think she should make a big deal out of it.

It’s not like I’m cheating, or even looking at a real-live person!

You just want to protect her feelings.

So you don’t tell the truth. For HER, you tell yourself. But really you just don’t want to feel uncomfortable, but it’s easy enough to justify.

And maybe this keeps happening off and on through the months and years.

And then maybe one day you’re married and on a bachelor party golfing trip with your buddies out of town, and one of the guys hires a stripper to the vacation house you guys are staying in. You’re all drinking and having a good time, but everything’s on the up and up, behaviorally.

Then maybe your wife asks you on the phone what you guys are doing, and you say you’re playing cards and having drinks, and it’s actually true.

But she also knows that your buddy hired a stripper because she’s friends with one of the other wives, who casually mentioned it with an eye roll: Our big, silly, idiot husbands, amirite?

Strippers and pornography were never a marriage problem or breach of trust in her house, so she didn’t realize the trigger she just caused your wife.

Suddenly, she’s the young woman crying about your strip club appetites back when you were in your early twenties again.

Suddenly, she wonders: Why would he lie to me about that? What ELSE does he lie to me about?

There’s no answer he could ever give to convince her that he actually respects his wife.

There’s no answer he could ever give that would make that feeling go away. Those nagging questions: Who is this guy? Do I really KNOW my husband? If I don’t even know who this guy is, how can I trust myself to know who I can feel safe with, and who I can’t? If I can’t trust my husband anymore, maybe we shouldn’t be married. Oh my God. I’m so afraid of what might happen to us and our kids.

I don’t trust my husband.

I don’t trust myself.

I don’t feel safe in my life.

And maybe that’s the end. Maybe that’s the moment the marriage ended and a family broke apart, whether anyone realized it as it was happening.

We All Wear Masks But Must Take Them Off With Our Forever Person

We all do in some form or fashion.

But the people who MUST always have behind-the-mask access is our spouses or long-term committed romantic partners.

That’s the only way it works.

We hide parts of ourselves because we fear rejection.

It’s difficult and scary to take off the armor for someone not knowing whether they’ll choose to stab us in the heart.

But the couples that make it to forever?

They’re the ones who were brave enough to.

We tell lies sometimes and they don’t even feel bad or wrong.

But, just maybe, even when we’re not telling Evil Piece of Shit Lies, and the people who love and trust us most find out that we were dishonest with them, maybe the PAIN is the same as an Evil Piece of Shit Lie.

And then.

Maybe even less-severe Cover Your Ass Lies and totally innocent Little White Lies begin to cause that SAME amount of pain.

That same feeling of betrayal and mistrust.

That loss of safety.

I can’t even breathe.

And then it’s over.

But with the slightest adjustment; just a little bit more courageous honesty and trust-building, maybe that tree remains.

In the most tumultuous and violent storms.

Steady.

Tall.

Rooted.

Strong.

Always.

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7 Steps to Rebuilding Trust in Your Relationship After Betrayal and Lies

interlocked fingers - rebuilding trust in relationship

(Image/Life Supports Counselling)

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post written by my friend Jay Pyatt, who mentors men struggling with various addictions, including sexual ones which have resulted in relationship betrayal. Jay has a proven track record of helping men conquer inner demons, reconnect with their spouses, and restore broken trust at home. How does he know what to do? Because he’s been there. He fought back and won. And you can, too.

I’ll be honest with you: I lied to my wife almost every night for four straight years.

I did a quick estimate and figure I lied about a thousand times to her face in those four years.

I know how to destroy trust in a relationship. Thankfully, I learned how to rebuild trust, too.

It wasn’t easy.

It wasn’t even difficult.

It was the single hardest, awful-est, and most challenging thing I’ve ever done—and I have jumped out of airplanes.

But, I did it. And here is the really important thing: Rebuilding trust is worth it.

Here why:

  • You heal the person you betrayed.
  • You can look yourself in the mirror again, knowing you are an upstanding person.
  • Your relationship will be stronger and more satisfying to both of you.

What I lied about doesn’t matter—at least not as much as the impact of the lies and the other behavior around the lies. (If you are interested in the whole story, you can read it here.)

Relationships are built on a foundation of trust, and when I undermined the foundation a thousand times, I didn’t expect the relationship to survive.

Yet, my relationship survived.

My wife and I did all of the normal things couples do during times like this. We went to counseling, we read more books, and we talked about it. And got nowhere.

Not because those things aren’t helpful or important, but because of my attitude and my skill set. Specifically, my attitude hovered around the “is this really worth it?” idea, and I possessed no skill set for rebuilding trust.

Additionally, I thought just not lying would fix things.

My thinking was: If I quit lying, everything will be okay. I just have to be honest when she asks me questions. She should trust me again in two or three weeks.

This didn’t work.

Not lying is really hard to distinguish from lying when there isn’t a way to verify what the heck is going on. My wife still didn’t feel safe and certainly didn’t trust me. Simply not lying isn’t enough to get the relationship turned around.

I had to get radical in my honesty. I had to put more energy into the relationship than I had previously. I had to grow.

I had to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Again, rebuilding trust challenged me more than anything I have ever done.

Can You Rebuild Trust?

My very firm answer on this is: Maybe.

Not everyone chooses the relationship over their own comfort. Not everyone wants to humble themselves in front of the person they betrayed.

Sometimes the cost to the betrayed person exceeds the time needed to rebuild.

However, I rebuilt trust. So it can be done. And now, I actually help other guys fighting those same battles, and many have rebuilt trust in their marriages.

There is hope if you are willing to do the work.

Hard work.

Scary work.

Are you willing to do it? Because if you aren’t, tell the other person right now. Rip off the bandage and tell them you don’t want the relationship any longer. Walk out the front door.

Okay, if you are still with me, then there is a chance for you to rebuild trust in a relationship wrecked with lies, deception, or sneakiness.

7 Steps to Rebuilding Trust in Your Relationship

To rebuild trust, I needed to take a different approach than I had in the past. What got me where I was wouldn’t get me where I wanted to be.

I needed to “grow up.”

I lived from an immature place, or maybe an uneducated one.

Growth is painful—ask anyone trying to get into shape. Using new muscles and developing new habits takes effort and focus, and a degree of suffering.

But simply telling you to “grow up” isn’t terribly helpful and probably feels a little insulting. I’m okay with the insulting part. If you need to rebuild trust, then you didn’t get here through honorable behavior.

Anyway, I am about to break it down into six things you can do to begin rebuilding trust. Plus, a bonus option you need to consider seriously.

All of these steps are written with the assumption you betrayed your spouse or significant other. If it was someone else, you may be able to adapt the steps to fit your situation.

Step 1: Consistency

To rebuild trust, I had to be consistent.

Anything I committed to do, I had to see it through. My wife lived in fear of the uncertain ground I created by lying. When I would start something only to fall quickly back into past behavior, this just reminded her of how little she could count on me.

So, if you start something, stick to it. “Every Damn Day” as I read on a Nike shirt.

There are some pitfalls to consistency, but you must stay consistent or the person you betrayed will see this as playing with their trust (or heart).

Stay consistent, or you waste your efforts.

Step 2: Proactivity

I’ll be honest; this word pissed me off for a long time. Both my therapist and my wife kept telling me to “be proactive.”

I didn’t get it. I think I know what the word means, but not what it means, mechanically. What am I supposed to do proactively?

The answer is: Take action on your own initiative.

Step 3: Meeting Needs

The person you broke trust with has specific needs. Find out what they are.

Now, go back to step two, and start meeting these needs proactively.

Don’t wait for the person you betrayed to tell you what they need. Go ask them.

Once they tell you what they need, go do it.

This is the growth process I mentioned earlier. You will have to set aside your own needs to meet the needs of the other person. Considering some possible alternatives, this is a small price to pay.

Step 4: Openness

Openness and honesty are two sides of the same coin.

Honesty means if I ask you a question, you tell me the truth. Openness means you tell me the truth without me having to ask the ‘right’ question, especially in areas where trust has been broken.

Rebuilding trust requires a new level of communication with the person whom you betrayed.

You must talk to them about what you are doing, plain and simple. Open and direct.

I am not saying, “Hey, this is a good idea!”

I am telling you: Openness is a requirement.

If you aren’t willing to give the other person this much access to your life, you may never rebuild trust.

Giving full access to the person you betrayed will help them see your commitment to do whatever it takes to make things right.

So, if you betrayed them through money, give them access to the bank accounts. If you cheated in the relationship, give them the passwords to your phone, computer, social media, and anything else you can think of so they can determine and verify what you are up to.

Step 5: Vulnerability

When it comes to the scariest words in the English language, vulnerability is probably near the top—at least it was for me.

Vulnerability is the very reason I lied to my wife. The truth makes me vulnerable to her judgment, rejection, or anger; all of which were justified from my behavior.

I tell the guys I work with: “The relationship you want with your wife will be purchased through your vulnerability.”

I really think of vulnerability as taking off the armor that I used to protect myself.

For me, that was my anger when she would ask uncomfortable questions. When she did—Boom!—I got angry.

This is an effective way of telling another person to shut up. Effective, but not helpful or healthy. Anger is one way to stop the conversation. Or you might run away or shut down.

The other person really needs you to listen even though it feels awful to discuss the topic they brought up.

They also need you to connect with the emotions of what they’re going through. They need you to know how bad it feels for them. This is difficult because it requires us to double-down on how rotten it feels to hear how our unhealthy behavior impacts someone close to us.

Step 6: Ownership

Take responsibility for your actions and the impact those actions had on the other person.

Then keep taking responsibility for those actions, especially when it feels uncomfortable.

I say that because I am a minimizer. I nearly ended my marriage trying to salvage my image with the very person I lied to.

So when she would say, “Remember those times you lied about using porn at work?”, I would respond with something like, “I didn’t say that, I said I only looked at YouTube videos at work.” And then she would say, “That is not what you said…” and the breakdown would continue until I finally confessed or re-owned my actions.

This type of behavior makes people crazy. 

Bonus – Step 7: Blind Spots

Believe it or not, I am not clear on all of my behaviors and how they impact the person I betrayed.

This means I have blind spots—areas of my personality that I’m completely unaware of and need help to see.

Ask the person you betrayed for help with this. This requires humility (or acknowledging that I don’t know everything) and a willingness to learn.

Once you discover these blind spots, start working on them, or at the very least, own them. Because these could be the very things holding you back in the relationship.

Give Them Time

These are the basics, and they’ll require practice. While you are doing this, the other person will need time to heal and decide whether they believe it’s worth it to stay.

I lied for four years in the last go-round; so I shouldn’t be shocked it took almost four years to fix things. Although I drug my feet on these topics and made them much more difficult than they needed to be.

Get Help

My work with men trying to rebuild trust in their relationship shortened the recovery time to somewhere between four and 18 months, depending on the breakdown.

So, if you feel stuck and don’t know what to do next, you might want to contact me for assistance.

Also, if you sign up on my mailing list, I will let you know when our upcoming video series on this topic goes live.

From here, you may want to read about:

…..

About the Author

Jay Pyatt is a certified BraveHearts Mentor and founder of Porn Is Killing Me where he mentors men through weekly video or phone meetings. The meetings help them to establish healthy disciplines and work through a proven curriculum guiding them to a path of long-term freedom.

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The Secret Way Sex and Faith Collide to Destroy Your Marriage

secret

(Image/OCD Life)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is porn messing up your relationship?

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

…..

Burn in Hell, Sinners

Let’s start at the beginning.

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

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

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

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

ETERNITY is FOREVER.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I get married someday, everything will be okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re not going to debate theology here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know.

I just think.

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Broken Promises Ended My Marriage—Can Keeping Them Save Yours?

broken glass

(Image/Crosswalk.com)

I break promises.

I break promises, and then other people sometimes feel let down or betrayed, and then maybe I never talk to them again.

Break enough promises and maybe your entire life breaks.

Maybe you lose a wife. Maybe you lose friends. Maybe you lose touch with your family.

Just maybe, if you break too many promises, you lose your children.

I am divorced because I broke promises. I lost half of my son’s childhood because I broke promises.

I’ve known for a long time that I break promises, even though I remember feeling like a reliable person in my youth. I remember feeling as if I was someone others could count on.

I remember being someone people could trust.

But when enough time passes and enough instances pile up of us not doing something we said we would, a new narrative begins to form.

I am not someone who keeps his word.

I am unreliable.

I can’t be trusted.

But, it’s not as if you discuss this personal shortcoming with others.

I mean, you’re not walking into job interviews proclaiming how unreliable you are or listing on your work resume all of the moments in which you let others down. You want the job.

You’re not telling a group of peers ridiculing something that you actually like whatever they’re mocking. You don’t want them to not like or mock you.

You’re not communicating to someone you want to date or marry that you’re not trustworthy. You don’t want them to leave you.

If I tell you something and it turned out not to be true, did I lie to you?

That’s nuanced, right?

To me, a lie is something said to deliberately mislead, deceive, or conceal truth in ways that protect or benefit you at the expense of other people ultimately being hurt by the deception.

By that definition, I am not a liar. I don’t plot mistruths in an effort to hurt others. Never.

But, do I say things that sometimes end up not being true because I didn’t follow through with a promise, or because things outside of my control prevented me from keeping the commitment? Absolutely.

Whether I lied or not, or whether I intended to keep a promise and was a victim of circumstance, the fact remains that I promised something that never got delivered.

Sometimes that leads to a shrug, easy forgiveness, understanding, and a time extension to try again. Another chance to make it right.

And then other times, your wife takes off her wedding ring, packs a suitcase, and drives your 4-year-old son away to be with someone else.

Broken Promises and the Stories We Believe

prom·ise /ˈpräməs/ (noun) – a statement telling someone that you will definitely do something, or that something will certainly happen in the future.

I’m the captain of the ADHD Squad. My capacity for calendar mismanagement and task-list forgetfulness exceeds the boundaries of known anthropology.

Because of this, I’ve believed myself to be unreliable for so long that it’s seeped into my bones and psyche so much that it’s almost like I believe it now: I am unreliable.

I too often don’t do what I say I will. (Has anyone seen my book yet? Exactly. I’m an asshole.)

I believe these things about me because they fit the narrative of why I’m a single, divorced 39-year-old who is a little bit disappointed with his life on various levels.

Being the kind of person who breaks promises or fails to complete goals is a massive disappointment.

Sometimes I’m afraid of pursuing jobs with more responsibility because I’m afraid I might not be responsible or reliable enough to excel with a larger accountability load and higher stakes.

Sometimes I’m afraid to pursue a speaking and writing career because I’m afraid without the structure of a quasi-formal work environment, I won’t be disciplined enough to do all of the work day in and day out that I believe successful entrepreneurism requires.

Sometimes I’m afraid to pursue relationships because no matter how much work I’ve done to understand and attempt to help others understand what causes marriages and human relationships of all types to break, I’m not confident that I’m built with the right materials to be someone’s husband.

I’m afraid to have my life fall apart again after experiencing the brutality of divorce five years ago.

I’m afraid to hurt someone else again.

I’m afraid of it negatively impacting my son.

I’m afraid of being a dude who writes about relationships, but then sucks at actually being in them.

I’m afraid of a lot of things, but almost all of them are rooted in the fear of not being up to the task—of being in over my head.

Maybe I’m not tall enough, you know? All those online-dating profiles five years ago suggested as much.

Maybe I’m not good enough.

If I was, she would have never left and napalmed our lives like that.

We believe these fear-based negative stories about ourselves in our weakest moments. When our fragile brains and emotions are getting the best of us.

Maybe there was a young black kid who grew up watching TV and in doing so, mostly saw only white people in those stories on TV.

Like Santa Claus. Looks white.

Even Middle-Eastern Jesus looks white.

Forty-three of the 44 U.S. presidents have been white.

Maybe the company owner where mom or dad worked was white.

And maybe, if she or he has a brain that worked like mine did, maybe they felt different around anything unfamiliar.

Maybe when you tell yourself negative stories like that, a bunch of bad things happen—or rather, a bunch of good things DON’T happen because of all of things we never try.

I went through thoughts like that, and I was just some little sheltered kid in a small town in Ohio surrounded by farm fields for several miles. Relatively charmed, compared to many other children.

What we believe is EVERYTHING. It doesn’t even matter whether it’s true. If we believe it, we experience it as real, and one way or another, it will affect our lives.

Of course there are gay kids feeling “wrong” or “bad” or “broken” if they grew up seeing and hearing others saying that they were.

Of course there are kids growing up in various religious faiths or ideologies who feel confused, conflicted, and guilty when they hear that things they think or do will damn them to hell.

Of course there are kids growing up who feel self-righteous, judgmental, or superior to others because everything they were ever taught from their earliest memories until right this moment is that everything THEY believe and do is “correct” and “right” and “better,” and everyone who disagrees is incorrect—and possibly a threat. Or an enemy. Or evil.

We see it all of the time in politics.

And in racial division.

And gender battles.

And lifestyle choices.

And too many other things.

Whether we believe we’re wrong and broken—or THEY are—we always have a fundamental breakdown whenever the thought exists: That person is not like me, followed by feelings of either inferiority OR superiority.

Why does it seem like there’s so much wrong with the world?

Almost all of it can be traced back to that.

  • What I believe is right and true.
  • What they believe is wrong and false.
  • We are opponents with competing interests, and the right and true side must win at all costs.

People who believe that are capable of anything.

Even mass murder, if they believe they’re serving the “greater good” by doing so.

The sheer power of our beliefs about ourselves (and others) can’t be calculated.

Maybe You Break Promises Too (And Maybe It’s More Damaging Than You Realize)

I had the recent pleasure of connecting with someone at an Ohio non-profit organization facilitating a social movement called Because I said I would.

The organization is dedicated to the betterment of humanity by educating people on the power of making and keeping promises.

It took me all of five minutes in learning about their organization’s mission to connect the work they’re doing with the social crisis we have with marriage failure rates, and the untold fallout stories and trickle-down effects of those failures.

Speaking at TEDx a few years ago, Alex Sheen, founder of Because I said I would, identified marriage, along with political promises and New Years’ resolutions as prime examples of how humans commonly suck at keeping promises.

Marriage involves making promises. Half of them fail.

New Years’ resolutions are made by 40 percent of people (that’s, like, 3 billion people), according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Only 8 percent of the people who make resolutions, follow through with them.

Politicians make promises when running for office, and while in office. According to PolitiFact (at the time of Sheen’s TEDx talk three years ago), fewer than half of all publically stated promises made by U.S. leaders of either political party were kept.

The people we entrust to protect us from violent enemies and keep society from descending into dangerous lawlessness and economic collapse—they fail to do what they say they will more than half of the time. Yet, we all allow them to take 25 percent to 50 percent of all the money we earn. Which is insane, when you think about it.

Everyone is Unreliable—You’re Not Alone

Sheen does a great job during his TEDx talk of diving into the art and science of promise-making, and if you take the 18-minute journey with him, it won’t take long for you to also see the wisdom and CRITICAL IMPORTANCE in his message.

This isn’t a small problem—this It’s-Common-to-Break-Promises,-So-Whatever thing we have going on.

It strikes at the heart of all that’s broken and fucked in our lives and world.

We break promises on the reg. And it’s a huge problem because of how many other things break when our promises are.

People suck at keeping promises.

But, why?

A few reasons, Sheen says.

  1. We say A LOT of words every day. (Statistically speaking, about 15,942 words per day.)
  2. It has become routine for people to say things like “Oh yeah, I’ll do that,” or “Sure, I’ll be there,” or “I promise,” or “Always,” or “Never.”
  3. We have shitty memories. (Note: Sheen did not use the word “shitty,” I don’t think. He seems more mature than I am.)

Mark Manson—one of my favorite writers because he’s awesome—was the first person I heard or read say what Sheen is saying here: Our memories, beliefs and opinions are NOT reliable. You’re mathematically LIKELY to have some key detail wrong in your memory of an event.

You really can’t trust yourself. Seriously.

It’s really Step 1 on the journey to becoming less of an asshole in life and relationships.

How bad are our memories?

U.S. readers: How many times would you guess you’ve seen a nickel (the five-cent coin)?

Hundreds of times in your life? Maybe thousands?

Sheen asks: “Can you tell me what a nickel looks like?”

  • Which way is the face pointing?
  • Where is the year marked on the coin?
  • What’s depicted on the back?
  • How many windows are on the building?
  • Is there even a building?

If you’re anything like me, you know precisely dick about nickels beyond Thomas Jefferson, their relative thickness, and silver color.

And why is that?

Because we’re human and there’s no getting out of it, and part of that package is that you overestimate your ability to remember things, to get facts straight, and even interpret the intentions of the people you love the most and know the best.

Sheen goes on to talk about “flash-bulb memories.” These are those significant moments that we remember best because there is often so much emotion attached to them. Humans have been documented to retain the most information about these flash-bulb moments.

One study interviewed a group of students in the aftermath of the NASA space shuttle “Challenger” explosion shortly after lift-off. Each student was asked seven questions.

Then two and a half years later, those same students were asked those identical questions.

Half of the study’s participants got two out of seven answers correct by remembering the incident accurately, and 25 percent answered incorrectly on all seven questions.

Conclusion: We have terrible memories whether we believe it or not, and whether we want to admit it or not.

So, What if We Owned That and Accounted for It?

My favorite part of Sheen’s talk involved him posing his hypothesis he intentionally mislabels The Two-People Theorem.

“We almost look like two different people with a promise,” Sheen said. “We’re going to be there for someone who needs us. We’re going to stay passionate. We’re going to do what is right. We’re going to stay committed.

“Then, what happens?”

Hedonic adaptation happens—that’s what. And that’s why many people struggle to stay happy in life and relationships.

But I’m kind of putting words in Sheen’s mouth and shouldn’t be.

“That emotion completely fades,” he said. “If you could step away from the situation and just observe it—it’s like you’re crazy. It’s weird.”

Like we’re two entirely different people, he said.

“One person wants to make this promise,” he said. “The other doesn’t want to show up.”

Sound familiar, married people?

How to Overcome the Promise-Breaking, Marriage-Ending Two-People Theorem 

Sheen then offers an awesome analogy involving zombies, and zombies make analogies better just like they made Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice better. (Probably not true.)

If you discovered that a toxin had been pumped into the air that would turn you into a zombie 24 hours from now—and that you would remain a zombie for 24 hours before reverting back to your normal self—what would you do?

Most responses are the same, Sheen said.

Most of us would go home and warn loved ones to get away and keep away from us until it was safe to return. Most of us would find a way to lock ourselves up in a way that we couldn’t harm others or ourselves.

“You chain yourself,” Sheen said. “What you’re doing is forecasting your own weakness and taking preventative actions to prevent yourself from hurting others.

“Why don’t we do this in real life? Are you telling me we don’t become two different people?”

Sheen and the team at Because I said I would have made it their mission to help people “chain themselves” and “forecast their own weaknesses” and ultimately “take preventative actions to prevent yourself from hurting others.”

What we’re doing is making a plan, just like we would if we were going to do a 24-hour stint as an animated brain-eating corpse.

“Humans have a very horrible perception of time. How much time it takes to complete the four steps to fulfill a commitment,” Sheen said.

Sheen hates the phrase: “You need to make the time for what’s important in life.”

“Time cannot be made. It can only be reserved,” he said. “It can only be adjusted. Not many people take their schedule and put each little step in a promise on it to ensure they’re following a sequence that hits a certain date to fulfill a promise. We normally just say it, and that’s a problem.”

If you want to be good at keeping promises, you have to think through these things, he said.

Awareness. Mindfulness.

“Be careful with your word choice,” Sheen said. “Write those promises down. Create motivators that chain you to your promise so when you’re at your weakest moment, you know you can still do something right. Create a plan.

“Fulfill your promise.”

Not unlike many of the ideas I like to discuss here, it’s an idea that comes off dangerously simple.

Of course we should keep our promises! Duh!

Yeah, but maybe things we say thoughtlessly or otherwise feel like promises to the people who matter to us most, and maybe when we fail to follow through on those promises, we damage the hearts and minds of those we love and the integrity of our relationship with them.

Maybe we slowly erode others’ trust in us without ever realizing the hurt they feel from promises unkept that we forgot about long ago.

“That’s what we need in this world. People who are reliable. Who fulfill their promises,” Sheen said.

Just maybe, if I learn how to forecast my weaknesses and plan accordingly, I’ll be able to start telling myself different stories.

Just maybe, I’ll get a little bit taller.

Just maybe, an idea we’ve been aware of since our earliest memories—the importance of keeping our promises—is the key to saving human relationships.

It’s the most deceptively simple ideas that destroy us.

Just maybe, it’s the most deceptively simple ideas that will save us.

Check out this group. Because I said I would. They’re awesome. Order some Promise Cards (they’ll ship 10 for free to anyone who asks anywhere in the world).

Be more mindful of the words you say among the nearly 16,000 you’ll speak today. And if you tell someone you’ll do something, do it.

Because if we can collectively find a way to simply do the things we’ve promised, we just might save the world.

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You’re Right, Guys—You Can’t Make Women Happy

unhappy wife

(Image/Moldova Christina)

A common complaint among married men is feeling like their wives are always complaining about something—that they’re never happy for long and that nothing he does ever seems to be good enough for her.

I remember feeling that way for a few years before spending the final 18 months of my marriage sleeping in the guest room until she finally left for good.

I’m a pretty nice guy and most people seem to like me, and because of that, I always believed and acted as if she was the one with the problem.

I know how frustrating it feels to exchange your bachelorhood for a lifelong commitment to love someone else, only to be told over and over again that you’re doing it wrong.

I know how much it hurts to want your spouse to want you back when they clearly don’t.

I know what it feels like to want to die when they move out and choose some asshole stranger over you after a dozen years together.

Those are honest and real feelings I experienced in the months between her driving away permanently with our preschool-aged son in the backseat, and a court magistrate nullifying our marriage.

Because I hadn’t yet learned the critical life lesson that we can’t and shouldn’t always trust ourselves, I was confident that my interpretation of my marriage and wife’s choice was accurate. That, for whatever my marital shortcomings and mistakes might have been, in the final analysis she was MORE wrong for quitting on our family.

After all, I was happy being married to her. If she would have just stopped finding stuff to get pissed about, it would have been awesome.

But she was hard to please. She was ungrateful. She was the one with the problem.

It’s Not Your Fault, Guys—No One Taught Us Differently

The notion that “girls are crazy” or that women are “stuck-up bitches” or “hard to understand” or “always finding something new to complain about,” isn’t something me and my friends invented. We heard men and older boys and TV telling us these things.

Collectively, men are FAR from innocent victims in all this. But I have no doubt that MOST guys grew up believing this narrative—because situations with crying girlfriends, angry mothers, and stories from their guy friends about their experiences with girls/women seemed to reinforce these beliefs.

That girls/women are too emotional.

That they’re crazy and irrational.

Thought exercise: If you honestly believe a person you’re talking to is capable of temporary moments of insanity where they become hyper-emotional and their judgment becomes clouded to the point where they’re “wrong” or “misjudging” a situation, how do you handle a disagreement with them?

Most guys are set up from childhood to not only believe (as most everyone does) that our first-person experiences and emotional interpretations of them are a reliable guide for determining right and wrong, but many of us also believe that our girlfriends and wives are WRONG when they react emotionally to something we say or do, and during arguments.

I thought my wife frequently overreacted to something she was upset about.

I left a dirty dish by the sink, and she decided she wanted to argue about it. I thought it was irrational to elevate a dirty dish to a marriage problem.

And because I believed my wife to be irrational, I believed she was wrong.

Because I believed she was wrong, I was never really motivated to change.

She’s the one with the problem.

The Danger of Not Recognizing the Difference Between “Trying to Make Her Happy” and “Not Hurting Her”

A lot of people read my most-popular articles—either “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” or “An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands”—and sometimes afterward men will tell me what a stupid dumbass moron I am because of whatever I wrote.

They think I’m advocating for men to start selling out and doing whatever they can to placate their wives so she won’t want to leave. To “make her happy.” They think I wrote that all men are dicks who deserve to be left and all women are victims who never make mistakes in their marriages.

I recognize these guys right away now—the ones still wearing the blinders they inherited from childhood. The ones that taught them that women are often crazy and wrong. The ones that might have even taught them that men are somehow better than women.

They confuse my message of “Stop hurting her” with “Do whatever the little missus wants and worship her no matter what,” and it’s sad because they and their families will inevitably suffer for it, but it makes sense to me because maybe I would have had a similar reaction back when I was still blaming everything on my wife.

Let the record show that this isn’t intended to be gender-specific. This dysfunctional conversation/argument dynamic can just as easily exist in a role-reversal scenario in relationships that look differently than mine did. But this is generally the kind of relationship I see and hear about most, and the kind I lived through.

The one where husbands and wives get caught in a Man vs. Woman vortex, and slowly hurt one another repeatedly for many years until their marriage fails.

Not from any one moment. In isolation, none of these past arguments seemed like a big deal as they were happening. Certainly not marriage-enders.

None of these moments were scary enough to trip the emergency alarms. Marriages have fights! You just get over it and move on! No big deal!

Until one day the pile of No-Big-Deal arguments gets so big that the floor collapses beneath you, and everything falls apart.

Most marriages don’t end because of something big and dramatic like a gunshot or bomb explosion.

Most marriages end from bleeding out after being paper cut to death. One, even 10, paper cuts aren’t that scary. But after tens of thousands, maybe you bleed so much that you die.

The #1 Thing That Ends Relationships

I believe, when you strip away all of the bullshit and psychobabble, that one idea sums up why more than half of all relationships fail:

Men frequently demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to recognize the pain they cause their wives or girlfriends and then fail to intentionally adjust the behavior to stop hurting them.

Empathy can often be hard for people to exhibit when we don’t relate to nor understand what someone else is going through.

His wife is telling him that something he is doing HURTS her—not unlike him punching her in the face or stabbing her with a knife.

Only the smallest percentage of men would ever actually punch or stab the woman he loves. The VAST majority of men take seriously their role as “protector,” regardless of whether his wife or girlfriend needs protecting.

“I would never hurt you,” men say to their wives or girlfriends.

He says it over and over again, and believes it with all of his heart. He’s being totally serious and genuine.

This situation his wife or girlfriend is describing during this most recent silly argument is too ridiculous to be taken seriously.

She’s overreacting again. Making a federal case out of something that doesn’t matter. She’s saying this HURTS her? No way.

I don’t care when she leaves a piece of laundry on the bedroom floor, so how could it HURT her when I do it?

I don’t care whether she gives me a gift for our wedding anniversary, so how could it HURT her when I forget to do it?

I don’t care when she forgets something at the grocery store, so how could it HURT her when I do it?

I don’t care about Valentine’s Day and think it’s stupid that people make a big deal out of it, so how could it HURT her when I don’t agree to treat the day the same way she wants to?

I felt like my wife was getting lightly hit with a pillow but responding emotionally as if I was swinging a bat at her.

And I thought that was CRAZY.

I thought she was wrong.

I thought she was hard to please.

I thought she was acting like an ungrateful bitch for acting like nothing I did was good enough for her.

My wife thought I was either hurting her on purpose, or cared so little about her that I was refusing to change any of my behaviors that might help her.

When you tell someone that something within their control is HURTING you, and they not only demonstrate an unwillingness to stop, but also are telling you that you’re too dumb, too crazy, too WRONG to know what’s real and not real—what do you do?

Stay calm?

Put on a happy face and pretend everything is okay?

Decide to carry on as an intimate partner to the person who hurts you more than anyone else, and seems unwilling to stop?

Bad news, guys: You CAN’T make your wife or girlfriend happy no matter how hard you try. Not because they’re hard to please, but because all people must make peace with themselves before they can ever feel content and comfortable in their own skin. Until then, we’re all just fumbling around in the dark breaking shit.

But you CAN stop hurting her when she says “Hey. When you do that, it hurts me.” You can stop hurting her by treating her as if she’s insane for feeling hurt by something just because that same thing might not hurt you. You can stop hurting her by continuing to do whatever the thing is that she says is hurting her because you don’t respect her enough or take her seriously enough to eliminate the pain-causing behavior.

I’d like to see what happens when a sad and angry wife or girlfriend tells her husband or boyfriend about something that’s hurting her, and instead of telling her she’s dumb and crazy, he apologizes sincerely, and moves forward giving his best effort to not let that happen again.

I want to know how many of THOSE wives and girlfriends go “looking for something else to complain about.” I want to know how many of THOSE husbands and boyfriends feel disrespected and mistreated by a wife who never makes him feel like he’s good enough.

When you reduce your wife or girlfriend to a stupid, nagging bitch while she’s privately bleeding from hundreds of papercuts you’ve already forgotten about and never apologized for, maybe it makes sense for her to try a dramatic, emotional outburst to get your attention.

When you dismiss her plea for help repeatedly, maybe it makes sense for her to remove herself from the relationship in order to preserve her health and wellbeing.

And just maybe, when you take responsibility for the pain you might have accidentally caused, respect your partner enough to listen and believe her when she tells you about it, and LOVE her enough to make sure the painful thing stops happening—just maybe that’s where marital peace and healing live.

Just maybe that’s how you get to ‘Til death do us part.

I wouldn’t know, because I never actually considered that I might be wrong about her, and that I was not only capable of hurting her, but that I actually was.

I wouldn’t know, because I never actually took any responsibility during our marriage for hurting my wife. I never apologized, then followed it up with a behavioral change that would allow her to trust me again.

I wouldn’t know, because my marriage and family fell apart despite my insistence that nothing was wrong. My marriage and family fell apart long before I ever developed the humility necessary to ask the right questions.

If my wife repeatedly hurt me and every time I told her about it she blew me off and told me I could expect her to keep doing so, would I really agree to stay in the marriage?

Is it possible that the same situation can hurt one person, and not another?

If I was hurting my wife and she couldn’t trust me or feel safe with me anymore because I told her a hundred times that she was crazy and mistaken instead of believing her, wasn’t she SMART and WISE to reluctantly end our marriage?

It took many years, but the truth eventually hit me hard.

I’m not divorced because my wife was hard to please or that she felt I was never good enough for her. I’m divorced because when my wife told me something was wrong, I treated her like a second-class mental patient and all but promised to never change.

Sometimes I wonder what might have happened had I not.

Instead of wondering, maybe you can actually find out.

Isn’t she worth it? Aren’t you?

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Safety and Trust in Relationships: Those Words Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

woman hiding under table

(Image/Crosswalk.com)

 

Author’s Note: I think the #1 problem in the world is how poorly humans manage their relationships. Even if you disagree, follow my logic, please. The biggest influence on whether our lives suck or are awesome is the quality of our closest relationships. For most of our lives, that’s the relationship with our spouses or long-term romantic partners. Human conflict is problematic everywhere. But when it’s two people who decided to pool resources and promised to love one another forever, and make and share children? It’s a crisis. The ripple-effect consequences know no bounds. Divorce breaks people, and then broken people break other things.

I think the #1 cause of divorce is relationship-damaging behavior by men who honestly don’t recognize it. Good men with good intentions who damage their wives’ emotional and mental health with behaviors they don’t understand to be as damaging as they are.

How? Why? There are no easy answers. But I think the closest one is: No one knows. Just like people spent decades smoking tobacco without knowing it had dire health consequences.

I think we don’t teach our children the truth about adulthood. That we don’t teach our boys the truth about manhood. Not because we’re liars. But because we didn’t know either.

This is the second in a series of posts about The Things We Don’t Teach Men (And How It Ruins Everything).

Safe – adj. – \ˈsāf\ — secure from threat of danger, harm, or loss

Trust – verb – \ˈtrəst\ — to commit or place in one’s care or keeping; to place confidence in, rely on; to hope or expect confidently

‘You don’t make me feel safe. I don’t feel like I can trust you anymore.’

Safety is probably more important to you than you consciously realize in any given moment.

After basic metabolic functions, like your heart beating and properly working lungs, and the most basic things needed for survival (food, water, shelter and clothing), Safety is the next thing people need to function in life.

The concept of safety, for me, tended to be rooted in physical safety. Wearing a seat belt. Not getting pistol-whipped during an armed robbery. Wearing the proper safety equipment on a construction site or in a manufacturing facility, or during a football or baseball game.

And color young-me as an ignorant sexist rube if you must, but in male-female relationships—including my marriage—I thought of safety in the context of protecting her from physical harm.

I want to sleep closest to the bedroom door.

I want to be the one to check out the strange noise in the house.

I want to be with her walking in a dimly lit parking garage at night.

I want to pay for a home-security system to deter and warn of intruders.

I want to fight and take the potential beat down to give her time to run away.

I want to take the bullet for her.

And I will never physically harm her. Ever.

And because of those things, I thought my wife (and anyone, really) should feel safe with me. I thought all of those true things made me a person who was safe to be with.

But I wasn’t. And this is in NO WAY anyone’s fault but my own—but nowhere, at any point in my upbringing, was I exposed to other ways of thinking about safety or taught the fundamental importance of making one’s girlfriend or wife feel safe and secure in those OTHER ways.

Other safety and security needs people have in addition to not being hurt or killed in an accident or act of violence include:

  • Financial security
  • Health and well-being (mental and emotional safety)

Everyone has different thresholds for what financial security looks like. I think having enough money to pay for one’s family’s needs is a concept anyone mature enough to be reading this already understands.

But on mental and emotional safety?

I failed about as hard as a person claiming ignorance possibly can.

I was mentally and emotionally abusive to my wife without realizing it because I also demonstrate classic only-child levels of self-centeredness, and I hadn’t yet learned that Marriage Isn’t For You.

But I’m not the only one.

I think many men accidentally abuse their wives’ mental and emotional health without realizing it (and it probably happens in reverse, too), and then once enough damage has been done, the couples end up having what feels like the exact same frustrating and familiar fight over and over again.

For men, it often becomes a thing we learn to deal with. It pisses us off sometimes. It certainly stresses us out and makes us feel shitty. But it tends to be a nuisance that we believe will be better after everyone calms down.

However, for many women, every one of these fights tends to slowly and systematically erode her love and respect for her husband/boyfriend, and her faith in the integrity of the relationship itself.

Over time, “lesser” incidents can trigger the arguments.

Maybe five years ago, a guy stayed out too late drinking with his friends, passed out and never told his wife or girlfriend where he was. She stayed up all night freaking out, and then they had a big fight because he thought she was overreacting.

But maybe five years later, he accidentally left his phone in the car during a two-hour business presentation in the middle of the day, and his non-responsiveness triggers that same level of concern and anger in her. And maybe he thinks it’s a gross overreaction because while reacting to an all-night drinking bender seems reasonable, freaking out because of an accidental work-related situation does not.

And once again, they have The Same Fight.

Men—boyfriends and husbands—often are so determined to defend their actions and feelings that they don’t actively listen to their upset girlfriends or wives. They HEAR them, saying words and being angry and stuff. But they don’t LISTEN. They don’t understand. They never figure out WHY their partner is saying and feeling these things.

[NOTE: I felt like I cracked a secret life code when I grasped this idea for the first time. I have to credit the book “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It” for putting me on the right path. Maybe it can help you or your partner, too.]

Here’s a guy who works hard and is good at his job. He’s a good provider for his wife and children.

He never complains about his wife’s behavior. And he thinks it’s unfair that he isn’t given the same courtesy.

He would NEVER hit her. He’s a capable protector. So it makes sense to him that she should feel Safe.

He would NEVER cheat on her. He never intentionally fails to do something he says he will. He’s not a liar. He’s a good parent and guardian. He feels like a “trustworthy” person. So it makes sense to him that she should Trust him.

The Thing That Ends Relationships

After dozens, perhaps hundreds of attempts to explain what it is that upsets her, he generally responds angrily. Or tells her she’s wrong. Or tells her she’s just being emotional again. Or tells her she’s mentally unstable. Or simply walks away in frustration because he doesn’t want to fight anymore. Or maybe he’s really patient, and simply walks away confused after the conversation without fighting back, but also without ever understanding what she’s trying to communicate to him.

No matter which of those common responses occur with any given couple, each instance further weakens a wife or girlfriend’s faith in the relationship.

“He’s NEVER going to get it. I can’t trust him.”

The mistrust is not about sexual faithfulness. It’s not really even about his human integrity, assuming he is as unaware of the damage he’s causing as I believe he is. (I believe strongly that the VAST majority of husbands would never KNOWINGLY inflict pain on their wives, and I stand by that belief. I think I know an easy way to determine whether your spouse is hurting you on purpose.)

A wife or girlfriend loses trust in her husband or boyfriend after repeated attempts to explain why something hurts and requests for help in making it stop haven’t resulted in any positive outcomes nor any evidence that he wants the painful thing to stop.

Faced with feeling hurt every day for the rest of her marriage/relationship, and no evidence her committed partner is willing to be a partner in making something painful go away, she stops trusting him.

No matter how good he may be. No matter how perfect his record might be in every other part of his life.

Something hurts her. He either can’t or won’t help her. She knows because they’ve talked about it countless times with the same result.

She knows the marriage/relationship is unsustainable without trust. Its future is in doubt.

The security and well-being of her and possibly children are now in jeopardy.

And now she doesn’t feel safe.

And no matter how much he tries, a man she can’t trust to not hurt her can’t make her feel safe. In most cases, not like how her father used to.

The realization is often frightening: “I no longer believe our marriage will survive.”

I used to believe the scariest guys were the obvious assholes. The guys that punch and cheat and name-call. The drunks and addicts and reckless gamblers.

But red flags are easy enough to spot. Red flags are obvious warning signs that help people steer clear.

Real danger is what lurks undetected.

These awesome guys. Nice. Friendly. Smart. Successful. By all appearances, good men and good fathers.

The guys everyone praises as good husbands and fathers. Guys just like me.

If you leave guys like that, maybe her parents don’t approve or support the decision. Maybe her friends will judge her. Maybe when she feels most afraid than at any other time in her entire life because she doesn’t believe her marriage and family will survive, and she’s feeling guilty for not being able to make it work and how it might affect her children. And the only thing she wants and needs is support. But the ONE person she believed she could count on for the rest of her life to lift her up and care for her in such moments is the very person inflicting all of the pain, fear and anxiety.

Mistrust.

Unsafe.

Fight or flight?

She has already spent years fighting, leaving her with just one choice: Run.

I used to blame her.

But I see it all so clearly now.

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I Didn’t Trust My Wife Long Before She Stopped Trusting Me

Trust dissolving

(Image/equippingministries.com)

I trusted my wife with everything I thought was important.

I trusted her with everything that mattered to me.

I trusted her to honor our marriage vows. I trusted her to not kill me in my sleep. I trusted her to conceive, deliver and mother my children. I trusted her to not commit major crimes. I trusted her to not clean out our bank accounts and disappear. I trusted her to behave in mature, intelligent, socially acceptable ways when we were out together. I trusted that my wife was who she said she was, and that I’d made a wise and acceptable decision to choose her as my life-long partner in marriage, parenting, money, co-habitation, and whatever else the future may deliver.

But I didn’t trust my wife with everything.

I didn’t trust her on matters I didn’t perceive to be important, such as our respective preferences for different types of food or drink or music or movies or personal hobbies or weekend activities, etc.

Cheering from the stands of a New Year’s Day college football bowl game, I was emotionally invested in the outcome, because my favorite team winning mattered to me.

My wife thought football was a little bit dumb and boring, and was infinitely more interested in what I’d call sideshow attractions, like the marching bands and cheerleaders.

Sitting among 75,000 screaming fans, with millions more watching at home on TV, and feeling those intense moments of anxiety as the clock counted down with the game in the balance, and then—MAGIC—something unexpected and glorious happens to secure unlikely victory. JOY. Total strangers embracing with happy tears streaming down our faces. VICTORY.

My wife thought it was all a little ridiculous. A bunch of adults investing themselves emotionally in something silly like football. She loved the art and showmanship of the marching bands, baton twirlers and dancers, and there was nothing anyone could say, nor anything she could witness that would change her mind or make her conclude anything other than: football is stupid and marching band stuff is awesome.

I didn’t trust my wife’s opinions when they conflicted with mine.

And in and of itself, that’s probably not particularly weird or harmful. But when combined with the following truth, I think you stamp your divorce papers long before anyone ever realizes there’s a problem.

I didn’t trust my wife’s feelings.

If my wife was upset about something—independent of my involvement—it’s fair to say I defaulted to a position of: She’s overreacting again.

I didn’t always come right out and say that. If I wasn’t defending myself against some perceived criticism, I’d exercise as much diplomacy as possible.

But she’s smart and perceptive. If I didn’t agree with her conclusions, I usually said so, and tried to offer reasons why.

No matter how valid my reasons, or how sound my logic, or how well-intentioned I was being, this little song and dance usually resulted in another marriage fight.

I thought I was right. I thought she was wrong. And I believe Right should always win out over Wrong.

And in a vacuum, I still believe that. Right should trump Wrong.

But marriages are not vacuums.

Love matters.

And loving and honoring one’s partner and working for the benefit of her or his emotional health and welfare, is INFINITELY more important than winning arguments about marching bands vs. football, or the significance of leaving a dirty dish by the sink.

StillTryingHard asked:

“From the male perspective—what is the impact of loss of trust from the wife on the male psyche? How does this impair ability to function in the relationship and does the despair it causes just result in giving up trying to regain it? Not sexual infidelity loss of trust, but honestly worded and kind explanation of why the wife feels like the parent, how repeated secrets and their discovery makes the wife wonder what the next one will be and how learning of secret emotional relationships makes the wife hate his password protected always present iPhone.
“To what extent (as a man) do ‘you’ see it as the wife’s job to fix her shit? I know your answer—but around trust and facing loss of it, what do men need to hear to make it safe to be vulnerable to their vulnerable partner?”

A Different Kind of Answer

StillTryingHard asked for my take on the polar-opposite scenario in a marriage.

She asked me to talk about what happens inside the male mind when his wife demonstrates a distrust of him.

And I hope STH will forgive me for providing what might appear to be a counter-intuitive response (we can and should talk about this more in the comments!), but the above scenario and general mindset is what I believe the actual problem to be.

No “male behavior” encompasses all men, and no “female behavior” accurately describes the actions of all women. But men and women often display tendencies that cut to the heart of the whole Battle of the Sexes/Mars-Venus conversation.

Out here in the world, the Men Are Pigs brigade can blame men for everything while the Red Pill-Swallowing Manosphere can point fingers at women, and the consequences—on a case-by-case basis—might be minor.

Maybe it’s limited to an impolite exchange of comments on the internet, or a group of men swapping stories after a Saturday morning round of golf, or a group of women doing the same at the spa. It’s not ideal, but it’s mostly contained.

In a marriage between a man and a woman? Where the break-up will fundamentally change the lives of both people, their children, their finances, their friends and family, and unknown other ripple effects?

There, the stakes are a bit higher.

I don’t know that I particularly care about the women that hate men because they’ve had a lifetime of bad experiences with them. Doesn’t it make sense for certain women to have their guards up with men after the previous five or eight or 15 that they’ve dated/loved/lived with/slept with, etc. all turned out to be negative life experiences?

And isn’t that also true for certain men? If they’ve been lied to, manipulated, or cheated on by women they believed to love them?

We can’t make people like and respect each other, unfortunately.

But, in MARRIAGE?

What could POSSIBLY be ambiguous about publicly stated vows like “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad”? Or “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life”? Or “until death do us part”?

We can be dicks to one another here on the internet or to strangers on the street with little immediate consequence.

It spreads hate. It extinguishes light. It perpetuates fear.

But we can do it, and in that moment, an individual’s life or group of family members’ lives might not be adversely affected forever.

But when we do it in our marriages, we break things inside others and ourselves that I’m not sure can ever be fixed.

I have a little boy in third grade. He’s my entire world. Almost every decision I make, big or small, begins and ends with him in mind.

Almost every hardship he faces—all of the little things that present challenges and anxieties and fears and pain in that child’s world—is a direct result of his parents’ divorce.

On occasions where that child is crying in my arms, he’s crying because of circumstances that wouldn’t exist if his mom and dad were still married.

And I’m sure there’s all kinds of blame to go around, but I KNOW why I’m divorced. I know who to blame for those tears.

My wife believed one thing.

I believed something else.

And instead of that being okay like it is when my best friends root for a different sports team or vote for a different political candidate, I didn’t trust her.

No matter how many millions of ways I DID trust her, I didn’t trust that when she told me that something was hurting her or mattered to her, that she was experiencing it accurately.

Didn’t seem like it would hurt to me.

Didn’t seem important from my perspective.

So, when she said something that didn’t align with my experiences, I didn’t trust her.

I didn’t trust her feelings.

I didn’t trust her feelings because they were different than mine.

You can get away with that with your buddies. With your co-workers. With people you want to argue with on the internet.

But when you promise to love and honor someone forever, you damn well better TRUST them when they describe their experiences to you.

Which Came First—His Distrust or Hers?

Men often display a need to be trusted and respected. Bad things tend to happen when they feel otherwise in their relationships.

But when you deny your wife or girlfriend’s right to experience human life in the way they do, calling them wrong, or stupid, or crazy?

When she can’t feel safe talking to you about things that make her feel bad?

When she can’t trust you to take care of her even in matters as seemingly small as a random conversation?

Cause. Effect.

When we love and honor our partners, we go first.

We don’t point fingers. We look in the mirror.

Trust can’t be a thing in a constant state of rebuild.

Trust must be in a perpetual state of accumulation.

Trust shouldn’t be something we react to.

Trust should be the thing we lead with.

These two articles are awesome, and helped me formulate my thoughts here:

1. Men Just Don’t Trust Women. And This is a Problem

2. 5 Stages of Distrust and How it Destroys Your Relationships

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Are We Actually Trustworthy in Relationships?: My Radio Interview with Lesli Doares

radio on air microphone

(Image/kathurley.com)

The concept of trust in relationships and marriage is a funny thing, because whether we say “I trust [insert person here]” is so dependent on whatever we are trusting that person to do.

I trust my mom. I trust her as much or more than anyone I’ve ever known.

But I don’t trust my mom to safely fly and land a helicopter, or perform LASIK eye surgery, or draw up blueprints for a natural gas-fired power plant.

We hear or read the word “trust,” and it means to us whatever it means. But, word to the wise: Maybe it means something else to the people you love.

Men Vs. Women on Trust in Marriage

I’m going to venture bravely into a little Mars/Venus territory, while reminding everyone who gets heartburn over this that I’m NOT saying these things are INHERENTLY true to men and women. I’m saying when you observe men and women, you can observe them to be GENERALLY true.

Growing up, then dating, then being married, I perceived conversations regarding the word “Trust” in relationships to revolve around sexual faithfulness, around physical safety, around financial responsibility RE: reliable employment, around abandonment, and around criminal behavior.

A man who will not cheat on his wife; nor physically strike her; and who will always go work and provide financially for shelter, food, healthcare, etc.; who will never abandon her now or with children, and who can be trusted to not engage in criminal behavior that might lead to incarceration or bringing danger to the family from other criminals, always seemed to me like a guy you could trust.

Thus, I thought my wife could trust me.

But then, I learned the hard way that my wife could NOT trust me, and it was because of a bunch of things I didn’t know could make a person feel unsafe.

When she didn’t feel heard, when she didn’t feel paid-attention-to, when she didn’t feel desired, and when she didn’t feel respected because of behaviors I thought I was entitled to, and that I thought she sucked for getting upset about, she eventually stopped TRUSTING me.

She couldn’t trust me to care about her, because she didn’t feel cared for.

Me saying I cared, or me telling her that my actions indicated I did care despite her “crazy emo-girl feelings” DID NOT solve the problem.

My actions bred mistrust. She told me so. And then I basically told her she was wrong, adding yet ANOTHER incident to her See? I Can’t Trust Him pile.

I think maybe I’m not the only guy to do this.

The excellent people at The Good Men Project ran one of my posts about this trust conversation (which originally ran as Vol. 10 in the An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands series), and then marriage counselor, coach and author Lesli Doares read it at GMP.

Afterward, she reached out to see if I would join her Happily Ever After is Just the Beginning! radio-show podcast to discuss it, and I agreed.

This is the second time Lesli has graciously invited me on her show (you can listen to the first interview here, if you want).

Thanks again, Lesli!

Listen to My Conversation With Lesli About Trust

You can listen to or download the podcast episode here at Web TalkRadio, titled “From ‘You’re My World’ to ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately.'”

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Our Marriage is a Steam Train

Steam Train

(Image/w-dog.net)

Our marriage is a steam train.

Like the old locomotives responsible for most long-distance travel and supply shipments from the early 1800s through the middle of the 20th century.

Our marriage is a steam engine-powered train requiring that coal be shoveled into the firebox to keep the fire burning, the pistons pumping, the wheels churning, and the train in motion.

Even before we were married, our relationships were steam trains. But then, keeping the locomotives moving was easy.

Then, the engine is only pulling a few cars. Your fuel source, filled right to the brim and easily accessible. The only other weight comes from whatever train cars are needed to hold all of our baggage.

We’re often in our twenties; sometimes just teenagers. We are youthful, full of energy, strong, and dragging very little baggage behind us.

The steam engine doesn’t require much coal, because it needn’t work hard to pull the lightweight and low-baggage train down the track.

Sometimes, he shovels in a little coal to keep the fire burning. Sometimes, she does.

Everything feels easy.

This train will never stop, we think.

We Get Married Which Adds More Train Cars

Marriage isn’t like having a Forever-Girlfriend or Forever-Boyfriend. It’s something else. Something harder. Something requiring more work and sacrifice.

He shovels more often. Larger piles to help pull the extra weight. New relationships thrust upon him. Her family. Her friends. Her job. Her needs. Her wants. Her dreams. The train is heavier. So he shovels more.

She shovels more often too, for all of the same reasons. The train is heavier now. So she shovels more.

They’re working together. In tandem. And the train chugs on.

We Have Children Which Adds More Train Cars

Children join the train. Many more cars are added to accommodate them and their needs. Life mistakes are made. Guilt and shame. Fear and anxiety. More train cars.

Children consume our hearts and sometimes we give less of them to our steam engine partners as a result. More train cars.

Children consume our time and sometimes we give less of it to our partners. More train cars.

Children consume more of our money, and financial stresses add more weight. More train cars.

The train is now very heavy, but there’s plenty of momentum.

The Shoveling Schedule and Efforts Seal Our Fate

When both partners shovel, the train hums along.

Sometimes, one partner sets down their shovel. There are many reasons why.

Maybe one of us is going back to school to advance our education and career, so one partner says “You go ahead and tend to that. I’ll keep the train moving.”

Maybe one of us switched jobs, and it takes us away from the shoveling.

Maybe we get sick. “You go ahead and heal. I know you’ll help me shovel again once you’ve recovered. I’ve got this.”

Maybe we suffer a death in the family, and collapse emotionally. One must tend to the fire while the other regains their strength.

But with each new life event, new train cars are added, and the locomotive gets heavier and heavier. As the weight of marriage increases, the relationship requires even more effort to keep it moving forward.

More communication. More empathy. More sacrifice.

More shoveling.

So long as that fire keeps burning, the train moves forward. Sometimes trudging along slowly. Sometimes at a comfortable pace. And when we’re fortunate to come to downhill track grade, things seem to flow very smoothly.

Until it’s time to move uphill again.

The train will keep moving so long as there’s someone manning the engine and willing to shovel coal.

When both partners are shoveling, things run smoothly, though much effort is involved.

When both partners communicate and coordinate a strategy for a mutually beneficial shoveling schedule where one person is willing to shovel while the other tends to another important life need, or is in some kind of recovery period, things still run.

When one partner stops shoveling, but the other is willing to press on, shoveling and sacrificing for everyone on board, the train presses onward, though unsustainably. Because the next uphill climb eventually gets here, and one exhausted shoveler inevitably collapses trying to keep the now quite heavy locomotive moving forward on her or his own.

It’s simple enough.

It’s just very difficult.

A steam engine requires shoveling to keep the fire burning, and all of those heavy parts in motion. Certain sections of track require more power, and more power requires more sacrificial work. Shoveling coal is hard.

Which is why it’s a two-person job.

When we both shovel, we move forward.

When we both cannot shovel, we communicate and work cooperatively to keep moving forward.

When one of us stops shoveling out of necessity, the other must work harder and give more to keep moving forward.

When one of us quits shoveling due to exhaustion or selfishness, the other must work harder and give more to keep moving forward.

When both of us quit, the fire burns out, the train grinds to a halt, and everyone has to find a new way to carry all of that baggage to wherever we’re going next. We’re no longer part of the same passenger list.

When both of us quit shoveling, the ride is over.

Our marriage is a steam train.

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Can We Trust Ourselves After Divorce?

steel bars

Swords aren’t swords until they’ve been tempered and formed.

You know it when you hear a song.

You know it when you take a drink, read a book, or see a piece of art.

You know it when you have a new experience, or travel for vacation, or attend a party.

There is rarely ambiguity: It was either good or bad. You either liked the experience or didn’t.

We spend our entire lives trusting our own judgment. Sometimes there’s risk assessment involved—Can I get through this yellow stoplight before it turns red? Sometimes it’s as simple as trusting the colors we see, and the words we hear, and our spatial awareness as we constantly move around, and our memory of—everything (who we are, where we live, the best route to work, 3+7=10, and our phone number).

We spend our entire lives trusting that the things we see, hear, touch and experience are real. That we’re not insane.

And unless we are totally and completely crazy, everything (except for all the silly things we make up in our heads out of fear and insecurity) we experience reaffirms constantly that we can trust ourselves.

I was always right.

I mean, lighting that 101-proof shot on fire and drinking it in college showed poor judgment.

And I probably should have realized more quickly that Gay Dave was trying to sleep me that one time.

And sometimes I miscalculate stuff and suffer consequences large and small for doing so.

But mostly? I was always right.

The grass really is green. I caught the football because I correctly guessed where it would end up and my hands did what they needed to in less than a second to not drop it. I always remember my birthday and social security number and address and telephone number.

When I do X, good things happen. When I do Y, bad things happen. I know the difference. I can trust myself.

I think most of us are pretty good at this. Every second of our lives, we exercise judgment, and we’re mostly rewarded for it by virtue of not being dead.

But Then Something Happens

I have no idea what.

One time I got super-intoxicated and got out of bed in the middle of the night to use the restroom, and that’s when my wife started yelling at me, which was REALLY annoying because Leave me alone while I’m relieving myself! I really have to go! before waking up enough to realize I had just peed all over a bunch of my own clothes hanging in my closet.

That was life-changing in that it was the first documented instance of me losing total control of myself. Proof that I can’t always trust myself.

But not even that did it.

My marriage ended.

Not in some explosive, dramatic sort-of way. It was—for me—an imperceptibly slow death by a thousand pinpricks I didn’t recognize until there was no going back.

And after 34 years, everything in my life I felt sure of went up in smoke. I freaked out. And there are a lot of reasons people freak out when their marriage ends. But one of the reasons doesn’t get talked about very much. For many people, divorce is the thing that shatters our illusion of good judgment. Once you have invested all of your time and money and dreams and future plans in a failed marriage, you realize something terrifying: I can’t trust myself anymore.

At first I was all jacked up and didn’t even know who I was looking at in the mirror. I sort of looked like me, but my insides told me everything I needed to know: I WASN’T ME ANYMORE.

And that shakes you. Hard. You don’t even get to be the old you again once you lose your I-can’t-trust-myself-virginity. That person is gone forever.

And then you wake up every day a little less sure of yourself.

You’re scared when you used to be brave. You’re insecure when you used to be confident.

You engage in self-loathing and self-destructive behavior because fuck everything.

The Next Chapter

Other life trauma can trigger the terrifying I-can’t-trust-myself-anymore feeling, but for those experiencing it because of divorce, many people insanely, but understandably, try to date while they’re totally messed up and unable to recognize their own reflections.

It’s because people enjoy being kissed by someone who likes them, and being alone all the time feels lonely and foreign to people accustomed to marriage and companionship.

Fools rush in.

We see it all the time. That shit usually crashes and burns.

Others harden their hearts because of anger.

And others build walls around them because nothing feels scarier than going through that again.

But time marches on, and stuff that used to hurt stops hurting. Things, just, get better. Like magic.

If you just keep breathing and stay alive, the pain resides, the fear lessens, and our smiles return.

We’re not our old selves anymore. We can never be.

But we start living again. We start feeling again. And, even though it seemed impossible just a couple years ago that we could ever be with someone else, it starts to feel possible.

We meet people we like. Sometimes we sabotage it. Maybe for good reasons. Maybe for bad ones.

More time.

More people.

When it’s time to make a decision, how will we know?

When life teaches you unequivocally that you can’t trust yourself, how can you trust yourself? When there’s so much at stake? When there’s so much to lose?

And then I look around. My fingers almost always hit the right keys. I hear the music. I feel the keyboard. I see the sky, and I’m smart enough to know it’s not really blue, but that light refracting off a zillion air particles makes it look that way to our eyes even if I don’t have sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads proving it in a dangerously awesome and random color-science demonstration.

I don’t think we ever get to fully trust ourselves again. I think it’s probably always scary now.

You can’t buy heartache insurance. You can’t sign up for a membership to the Easy Life Club. You can’t be assured nothing bad will happen tomorrow.

You only know that, no matter what, you can handle it.

How will we know?

I don’t think we ever know. But I know we never fly without taking the leap.

So maybe now it’s not about trust anymore.

Maybe now, it’s about faith.

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