Tag Archives: Trust

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.

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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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10

trust-torn

My wife felt unsafe because she could no longer trust me.

She didn’t feel unsafe because she thought I would physically hurt her or because she thought I couldn’t protect her if someone else tried.

She didn’t stop trusting me because she worried I might have sex with someone else.

My wife stopped trusting me because she determined I could not be counted on to be the partner she needed. As a parent. As a housemate. As a lover. As a financial partner.

It wasn’t the big things that brought her to that point. There often aren’t big things in marriage.

It was the little things. Often, it is the little things that scratch and claw and chip away at the integrity of a marriage until the union and its participants look nothing like they did when first formed.

She was a youthful, fun, vibrant, happy, joyful young woman.

She grew tired, weary, anxious, frightened, sad and angry.

I begged and pleaded for the girl I knew to come back once I stopped recognizing her. I grew sad and angry when she couldn’t or wouldn’t. I blamed her for not trying.

But I think maybe she wanted to. I think she wanted to feel like her old self again. But she simply couldn’t.

Because she couldn’t trust me.

So she kept her guard up.

Because she didn’t feel safe.

Men (I) Have a Problem

And I think maybe women have this same problem but because of the state of the world in which we live (where men sometimes literally believe they’re better than women), I think the male version is worse.

Men think and feel and experience the world around them in certain ways. We experience things, see things, hear things, digest information, and come to what we consider to be very rational, very logical, very sensible, very correct conclusions.

When you think you’re right, everyone who doesn’t see things the same way must be wrong. Thus, your wife or girlfriend is “wrong” A LOT.

For example, despite loving our wives, forsaking all others, being willing to die for them, and spending every day trying to earn more money and respect and admiration for and from them, our wives often FEEL unloved.

And because we don’t think it makes sense for them to feel unloved based on all the things I just listed—because we think it’s crazy, irrational and unreasonable—we pretty much ignore all suggestions to the contrary.

I am mocking and sarcastic. It is a brand of humor my friends and I have enjoyed for as long as I can remember. When I call my male friend a name or laugh at him about something, it is understood that he is my friend, he is loved and respected, and that by virtue of me wanting to be around him and wanting him to be part my social circle, that the comments and laughter are in fun and not mean-spirited.

My wife did not appreciate my mockery and sarcasm directed toward her. She was my wife and deserved a higher standard of treatment, she said.

She was right.

I accidentally hurt her feelings a lot. I NEVER did it on purpose. So I always got pissed when she’d get mad at me over something I did unintentionally.

But.

The “intent” argument only works the first time.

If you’re out hunting and you fire a shot that accidentally kills someone in a nearby home you didn’t realize was there, you are unlikely to be charged with murder or homicide. Because it was an accident.

But if you go out hunting again to that same spot and accidentally kill a second person due to negligence? Have fun in prison.

My crime wasn’t hurting my wife’s feelings the first time. An accidental one-time offense is almost always forgivable. My crime was hurting my wife’s feelings repeatedly, even after she explained why it was happening.

Because I don’t respond to things the same way she does, I never really changed, and expected her to adjust to my “correct” way of thinking and feeling and behaving.

Go ahead and keep that up guys and let me know how it works out for you.

She’s going to fall in love and have sex with someone else, and she’s probably going to tell him and her friends what a chump you are.

You’re not going to like it.

The Thing About Trust

I don’t like to sound like I know everything, because I don’t know anything about you or your life or what you think and feel.

But what I think I’ve learned is that when I feel and experience something, I can feel confident that MANY others have felt and experienced it too. Because we’re not so different, you and me.

I think most men think about trust in the context of infidelity.

I think one of the major hang ups guys have about committing to a relationship or to marriage when they’re young is that by doing so, they’re effectively promising to never have sex with anyone else again. I don’t know whether men like variety or options or freedom or what, but that’s a big deal when we’re younger.

I thought of marriage mostly as agreeing to a permanent girlfriend. By agreeing to marriage in my early twenties, I thought I was agreeing to have an exclusive relationship with my girlfriend forever and to not have sex with anyone else.

And that’s dangerous because a girlfriend isn’t that important and is reasonably easy to replace.

A wife?

In some respects (if you meant your vows) is irreplaceable and a piece of your soul gets poisoned and dies when you lose that fundamental part of you.

You take it for granted. You take her for granted.

Like your eyesight. Or functioning legs.

But they’re really important.

And you figure it out when they’re gone.

The trust is rarely about whether she worries about you cheating.

It’s more about whether she can trust you to not hurt her emotionally. About whether she can trust you to help her by not sabotaging her efforts to keep your house clean, or to plan activities with family and friends, or to be a reliable parenting partner.

We had this little stand in our bedroom. I have this thing—especially with jeans—where I wear them once or twice and consider them too clean for the laundry basket, but too dirty to fold and put away. Laundry limbo, if you will. I used to throw them on this stand in the back of our room.

She didn’t like it because it made the room look disorganized and she prided herself on a clean and tidy home.

She’d get mad at me because I kept thoughtlessly doing it even after repeated attempts to get me to stop.

Men think: Why’s she making a federal case about this? Is a pair of jeans sitting out somewhere in my bedroom where no visitors come really THAT big of a deal?

We rationalize it with our sensible, logical brains. And we don’t necessarily work very hard to change the behavior because: “She’s not going to leave me over laundry!”

No. She’s not going to leave you over laundry.

She’s going to leave you because she can’t trust you to be her partner because you don’t even respect her enough to put your laundry-limbo jeans in a different location.

“If I can’t trust him with this little teeny-tiny thing,” she thinks, “how can I ever trust him with my heart?”

You’re Like a Child

And in EVERY other situation in life, I’d tell you that’s a good thing. Kids laugh 200-300 times a day and love life and are happy and innocent and free. Adults are miserable.

We must never stop playing and laughing and dreaming and seeking fun and adventure.

But in a marriage? Being like a child is bad. That’s why children can’t and don’t get married.

Your wife used to be a girl.

The girl you fell in love with because she was beautiful and fun and playful and wanted you and made you feel good.

And now she doesn’t act like that anymore. She’s worn out. Angry. Short-tempered. Frustrated. Disinterested in your penis. And seems to not even like or respect you anymore.

And now you’re angry and resentful, because your mom never treated your dad like this, or because you thought she was just going to take care of you the way your mother always did.

You’re angry because you haven’t changed that much, but she has, and you feel cheated because she said “I do” and now she’s acting like the man she married isn’t good enough.

You feel unwanted, disrespected, and ashamed.

But, probably without realizing it, you did it to yourself.

Because you have a home, and finances, and maybe children or pets or possessions of significance. You’re not kids anymore. But you still act like one. When you playfully mock your friends or your wife. When you leave your pants out, or a dish in the sink, or forget to do that thing you promised on your way home.

And all these little things add up.

Why are you making such a big deal about this!?, you wonder.

And now she CAN’T be a kid anymore. She can’t play and laugh and live carefree anymore. Because you are. And if she does it too, nothing will ever get done.

The clothes will never get washed. Meals will never be made. The kids will never have what they need.

You refused to take the next step.

So she HAD to.

And now she’s angry, resentful, sad and afraid.

Because you’ve left all the adult work to her.

But, more importantly?

You left her with no choices. And now she doesn’t get to be who she used to be.

And you want that girl back.

But she can’t come back.

Because there’s no such thing as time travel.

But the clock’s still ticking.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 6

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 7

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 8

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 9

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 11

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 12

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 13

…..

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You Don’t Know Me

Image by SuperMeww at Deviant Art.

Image by SuperMeww at Deviant Art.

At work I write subject lines and email copy designed to get people to open my company’s emails and buy something.

Sometimes, there is internal debate at the office about the words I choose.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea because…”

And then I’ll respond with why I chose to write something as I did.

Recently, during a debate about a particular subject line that said simply: “You’re Invited,” a co-worker took exception to its lack of clarity. Considered it to be a little too “tricky.” That a customer who opened it would be opening it to learn to what event they were “invited” and be disappointed and close the email upon realizing it was not an invitation to an actual event, but merely an informal invitation to save money on our company’s sales.

I was more than willing to change the subject line to what the other guy wanted because I thought he made a decent-enough point.

But our boss, upon hearing the discussion and both sides of the debate, wanted to test it.

We’d send a small batch (but a significant data sample) with one subject line, and another small batch with the other.

In internet marketing (and probably several other industries), we call this A-B testing.

We sent the test batches. My subject line got the most opens and made the most money. So we sent the remainder of our list with my version.

My co-worker came over to shake hands and eat crow. And it made me feel bad. Literally. Because he’s a good guy and was just trying to do what he thought was best for our business.

“Don’t apologize, man. I agreed with you and thought you’d end up being right. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

I DO NOT take pleasure from being “right” so long as something mean-spirited wasn’t involved.

I DO NOT feel gratification when one of my work ideas performs better than someone else’s work idea, especially when the other person is a teammate—someone I’m only interested in lifting up.

I often feel bad when I take someone’s money in a poker game.

When my favorite team beats its archrival, I actually feel sympathy for my friends who root for the other team.

I feel lousy when I get to do something awesome or meaningful with my son that his mother wasn’t able to take part in. Like when he lost his first two teeth with me. Like when we visit my family for the Fourth of July.

As much as I love spending time with my little son, I do not enjoy it at the expense of others not being able to spend time with him.

It adds an element of bittersweetness to most of the wonderful things we do.

Perhaps those feelings will go away in time. But given my propensity for not always enjoying victory and fun and good things at the perceived expense of others, I’m not sure it ever will.

I Am Whatever You Think I Am?

No.

I’m not.

There are people in this world (my sweet and innocent grandmother, for example, who thinks I’m an angel even though I almost never call her to say hi) who probably think I’m a way better person than I am.

I’m not afraid to admit I make mistakes all the time.

But I also have no reservations about telling you how hard I try to be better. How much I think about, pray about, and work toward being the best person I possibly can.

A daily grind during the most-challenging few years of my life that has amounted to me aspiring to improve 1% each day, but knowing full well I spent much of that time lazy and lethargic and depressed and alone and feeling sorry for myself.

I don’t always succeed at improving 1% a day.

Maybe I can improve 1% at improving 1% and then win the Extra-Meta Guy Award.

Everyone who creates art of any kind needs to learn and accept The Rule of Thirds.

One third will love you.

One third will hate you.

One third won’t care.

So only make your art for the one third that loves you because you can’t reach the haters. The problem is, if you’re wired like me, you’re going to WANT to. You’re going to want to so bad.

To change their hearts.

To change their minds.

To make them believe that everything you write or draw or sing or sculpt or think or feel lives in your soul at the keyboard or the canvas or the microphone, and away from it.

You don’t know me.

Talk to any divorced person and they’re likely to tell you the same story: If I can’t even trust myself to know and choose the person I planned to spend the rest of my life with, how can I ever trust myself to marry again?

It’s scary when you realize you can fudge the biggest decision of your life.

But there’s another part of that.

You don’t know me.

You don’t really know anyone.

Every time a beloved celebrity commits suicide, we all go: “Oh my God!!! How could that person do that!?!? EVERYONE loved them!!!”

Every time you hear about a school shooting or serial killer, there’s always the people interviewed that knew them from way back when and thought they were just a nice, normal person like everyone else.

Maybe we only see what we want to see.

If anyone comes to my funeral, I hope each of them can walk up to my son and tell him: “Your dad was a really good guy,” then tell him a little story illustrating why they thought that.

That’s what I want from life.

When the final ledger is tallied, I hope analysis of that ledger draws the conclusion I’m working toward: Matt was a man who loved people, who tried hard to be non-judgmental, who loved friends and family and laughter, and who had a big heart that he tried to share with others.

Maybe that’s selfish. Because that’s a lot of things.

I don’t know what you think of me.

And it doesn’t really matter because I can’t prove you right or wrong.

But I want to type it anyway. Because it really matters to me. Maybe today more than ever.

I want to be a good man who helps people.

I want to teach my son to be the same.

I want my son to know in the deepest recesses of himself how much his parents love him.

I want to be a person who gives more than he takes in all things.

I want to write stories that help someone. Not everyone. Just someone.

I want to die as the best-possible version of myself.

And on that final day I die, I want to hold my head up high.

I want to tell you that I tried, to live it like a song.

Everyone is not only allowed to believe whatever they want—they’re going to anyway.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking you know who I am.

This is my truth.

And today I’m 1% closer to living it.

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