Tag Archives: Unselfish

The Best Relationship Advice I Know: Give More Than You Take

I feel certain that if one of them dropped their pretzel, the other would give them theirs. (Image/Huffington Post)

I feel certain that if one dropped a pretzel, the other would give them theirs. (Image/Huffington Post)

There are three common reactions to my ‘An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands’ series, and I hate two of them.

Reaction 1: “Atta boy! Good for you for owning up to your part in the divorce and trying to help others.”

I agree because it’s true. I accept praise for my efforts to accept responsibility for the mistakes I’ve made. Mistakes without consequence rarely teach us anything useful.

Reaction 2: “You take on too much, Matt! It takes two to tango! It’s not all your fault! Stop being so hard on yourself!”

I disagree with that one because I’m not being hard on myself. I’m telling you the truth: If I had behaved daily—in good times and in bad—as a husband must to love his wife and thoughtfully tend to his marriage, there’s no way I would be divorced right now, and my son would have both parents at home, which I think is a big deal. Exactly zero people benefit in life from pointing fingers and casting blame for their life circumstances.

Reaction 3 (always from men): “This is bullshit! No matter how hard we work, or what we sacrifice, it’s never good enough! We go to work to pay for their house and their car and their hair and their nails and their jewelry! We give them everything we have! We make them orgasm in bed! And then when we want to have a drink with our buddies or play golf or watch a ballgame, we’re somehow failing them because they’re not getting enough attention? So you’re saying we just have to do whatever they want all the time, or we’re shitty husbands? Fuck them. Fuck that. Fuck you.”

The problem with this is that it rings true for many men. I think most husbands—justified or not— feel this way at times in their relationships.

No, I’m Not Saying ‘Do Whatever They Want’

Some people seem to think I’m telling husbands to submit to their wives’ demands. Let’s deal with that for a second:

Your wife should not be DEMANDING anything from you in your marriage except for you to respect and abide by her personal boundaries. All other “demands” are totally inappropriate.

If you got married without knowing your wife’s personal boundaries, it should come as little surprise that your marriage is shitty and unpleasant. You promised a lifetime to someone you didn’t actually know, and before you were intellectually or emotionally mature enough to make the promise.

If a husband or wife wants to bark orders at one another in their bedroom while they engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual role play, I assume that might build trust and intimacy, and prove good for the marriage in the long term.

But any man or woman who acts like a tyrant, making commands and abusing partners (physically, verbally or emotionally) when they don’t obey them? They can eat dicks.

So many people find themselves in relationships that aren’t partnerships, but constant power struggles as one partner jockeys for position and authority over the other.

“I work harder!”

“I make more money!”

“I’m the man of the house!”

“This household would fall apart if it wasn’t for me!”

Marriage can’t be like a business partnership where one partner owns 70% of the company, and the other owns 30%. The person with the majority share ALWAYS has final say. It makes sense for a wife or husband investing heavily in their marriage while the other doesn’t to feel like their opinions should carry more weight.

In marriage, both partners need to be fully vested in the union. Most people think of it as a 50-50 partnership. But my mom said something to me once, and I knew right away it was true: In a marriage, 50% isn’t enough. Only 100% is. Successful marriages happen when two people both give 100% to the other. Not meeting halfway, but going all the way to one another. A 100-100 partnership.

Give More Than You Take

According to Adam Grant’s business book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, there are three styles of interpersonal dealing:

Takers – They intentionally take more than they give. Self-oriented.

Matchers – They give and take proportionally to what they are given, and their willingness to give is conditional. Others-oriented when it will benefit them to do so because it will help them.

Givers – They always give more than they take. Others-oriented.

All three styles can be successful in the business world, though “taking” will earn you little goodwill.

Through anecdotal evidence backed by mountains of research, Grant concludes that being a giver yields the greatest business success (but also writes about under what conditions giving is a failing strategy).

I think it applies to every transaction we have in our lives. At work. In our spiritual lives. With our friends.

First we give. Then life gives back.

Our emotions are insanely powerful.

We say and do shitty things to the people we love because we are hurt or angry. It’s so easy to say “Oh, just be unselfish and generous to your partner all the time!” But it’s really hard to do. A million things unrelated to our partners preoccupy and stress us out. Pressures at work or school or with family members or with some other thing we’re super-involved in. We forget. We’re thoughtless. We NEVER think: “Gee. What really shitty and thoughtless thing can I do today to make my partner feel horrible and cry?”

Yet, even with the proper give-more-than-you-take mindset, you’ll probably upset your partner more than you’d prefer.

Being a person is hard. It just is. But you have almost no chance of having a satisfying life if you’re not at least generally aware of how to succeed in a committed relationship.

The only responsible choice is to actively seek to give more than you take, every day.

Even if you’re not a natural giver, what’s the downside of giving unselfishly in your relationship knowing YOU will benefit from doing so? Hint: There isn’t one.

Consider it.

Every day, you try to give more of your love and generosity and time and energy and patience to your partner. And maybe you’re like: “Whoa! That sounds draining and unsustainable!”

But wait.

Every day, your partner is ALSO giving more of their love and generosity and time and energy and patience to you.

You are now in a relationship where you’re trying to out-give one another every day.

You both feel good because you’re giving generously to each other. Unselfishness always feels good.

You both feel good because you’re both GETTING everything you need from each other. Getting stuff always feels good too.

I think this is what love looks like. And two people practicing it daily will live a fulfilling, regret-free forever-kind-of marriage together showing friends, family and children the blueprint for sustainable relationships along the way.

I know it’s hard. I did it totally wrong.

I’m selfish and defensive. So any time a future partner might tell me how I’m failing them, my first inclination might be to justify whatever I did and try to convince her why I’m fine and how she’s really the one with the problem. You know, instead of apologizing and meaning it like one does for the people they love.

But if I was in a relationship in which giving more than we take was the very foundation on which we were built, in which that was the code by which we lived, I think we’d figure it out.

I think we’d get through anything. I think everyone living that way will.

I wonder what’s stopping us.

Maybe we could start today and then everything would change.

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When a Partner Grieves: The Moment of Truth

hands1

“Your life is about to fall apart, you’re going to get divorced, and things will never be the same,” is what my wife’s cousin could have said.

But she didn’t. She told me in vague and confusing ways that we’d lost my father-in-law without warning and that I needed to tell his daughter.

Oh no.

She had to be mistaken. We had just had dinner with him the night before and he was the same great guy I’d known for a decade. He was fine!

It doesn’t always make sense when people die. I don’t think it makes sense for people even when they see it coming.

But sometimes we don’t see it coming.

We just wake up and have the same kind of day we always do. And then someone surprises us with a phone call.

And now, even though the earth will need to spin a billion more times before you can finally process it, you know: Everything is different now.

And it’s true. Everything you think and feel now has a new layer in it. Something uninvited. And it casts shadows. And makes things heavier.

The day my father-in-law died was the day my marriage died. I just didn’t know it yet.

Hold On, Don’t Let Go

One of my favorite cousins got married two Saturdays ago and I was fortunate enough to attend the wedding. It was the first day of my summer vacation visiting family and friends.

It was my second wedding since my divorce.

They feel different now.

I used to go to weddings and (even if I was wrong) I just knew they were going to be married forever. Now, it’s not like that. Statistically, one of the two marriages I’ve witnessed as a single guy will end in heartbreak and misery.

There are all these themes of love and loyalty and togetherness at weddings. All this talk of unselfishness and service and forgiveness.

It’s the kind of stuff most people tune out as they smile and take photos for Instagram and Facebook while looking forward to the party afterward.

I used to be just like that. But then my marriage died and all the symbolism and messages of love took on much deeper meaning. The sacredness of the occasion feels much greater now.

I look at these two people and (even if I’m wrong) I just know they have no idea what they’re in for.

Probably not soon.

Probably later.

Once complacency or resentment or sadness or grief sets in. My cousin is very close to her mother—my aunt. She moved to Florida a few years ago for all the same reasons I did after graduating college. Her daughter missed her very much. Would start crying the day BEFORE she or her mother would have to say goodbye to one another during visits, which is why my aunt moved back home.

It’s a beautiful mother-daughter bond. And one of them will have to say bye to the other someday. No one gets forever in this life.

My cousin is going to break on the inside when she loses her mother. She has a dad and brother, too. And lots of friends and other family members. Loss is part of life, but it’s one we don’t think about until it sucker punches us without warning.

Will her new husband know what to do when that day comes?

How could he?

I shook hands yesterday with a man at his wife’s funeral. I hugged his three daughters, all standing next to their husbands in the receiving line. And as much as I attempted to focus on these women trying to cope with and process the loss of their mother, I spent most of the time thinking about these husbands.

I can’t be certain this will be their greatest tests as husbands, but I’m pretty sure it will be their biggest one yet.

In Good Times, and In Bad

This is what we promise standing on that alter or in front of whoever is officiating our marriages.

We know there will be good days AND bad days, but we’re going to love our partners forever, no matter what. At least, that’s what we all say.

But then shit hits the fan without warning and life gets really inconvenient and THAT’s when we’re measured.

Everyone grieves differently.

I don’t know what I was expecting from my wife when she lost her father, but it wasn’t what I got. She seemed like a different person. One who no longer wanted me around. She said as much about a month into the grieving process.

I don’t know what the optimum way would be to deal with that, but I chose the wrong way. I moved into the guest room and felt sorry for myself every day until she left a year and a half later.

I would advise against that strategy.

I don’t know what it will look and feel like when your spouse or partner loses someone close to them. But it’s safe to assume they will hurt and feel brokenness on the inside. They’re going to feel lost and scared because they won’t feel like themselves anymore and that’s a terrifying experience.

I wish I could tell you what to do. How to make everything okay for your partner and you.

But there are no instruction manuals for this stuff. There are no blueprints to follow.

I thought it was unfair that because my wife was sad about losing her father that I had to be treated like a leper. So instead of being strong and EVERY DAY asking: “What can I do to make your day better?,” I pouted like an asshole instead of asking myself the hard questions about why my wife wasn’t coming to me for comfort.

When your spouse is grieving, this is NOT your time. This is THEIR time. Put them first. They hurt very badly. And you need to be the rock they can lean on instead of selfishly hoping he or she gets over it soon so your life can get comfortable again.

I write it a lot: Love is a choice.

When your spouse isn’t his or her fun self anymore and they don’t make you feel good because they’re lost in a vortex of emotion that changes day to day and they don’t know how to manage their own feelings, let alone yours, it’s easy to throw up your hands months later:

“Does she really think this is more important than our marriage?”

“If she’s not going to try, why should I?”

“Why is she doing this to me?”

The Moment of Truth

No one’s out to get you, and unless you and your spouse are master communicators (and you’re not, otherwise there wouldn’t be any problems) about half the things you believe your spouse is thinking and feeling are wrong. We’re sometimes bad guessers.

The phrase “The moment of truth” originated in Spanish bullfighting, referring to the moment in a bullfight in which the matador is about to make the kill.

Specifically, the dictionary tells us it’s “The moment at which one’s character, courage, skill, etc., is put to an extreme test; critical moment.”

When your partner is grieving and you feel your life unraveling because you don’t know how to help them, and you’re hurting yourself because you feel the relationship slipping away—it’s your moment of truth.

Theoretically, it won’t be the only one.

It’s hard to put yourself on the back burner and selflessly love without asking for anything in return.

But that’s what it takes. It’s a test of your character.

And you’re afraid. So afraid. Because you don’t know if the sacrifice is going to pay off because you’re not promised love and loyalty in return. It’s a test of your courage.

No one teaches us how to do this. To serve others at the expense of our own comfort, and sometimes, happiness. It’s a test of your resourcefulness. A test of your skill.

Because you’re being put to an extreme test.

And it’s a critical moment.

And many of us don’t make it.

Because we’re lost.

Because we’re not heroes.

But maybe you are.

And even if you’re not—maybe you can choose to be.

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The Unsung Heroes

(Image by Ashley Ma.)

(Image by Ashley Ma.)

Is there such a thing as a truly unselfish act?

I don’t know. I also don’t care.

I’ll let the psych community and people smarter than me debate the merits of selfish and unselfish behavior in society.

If a human being performs an unselfish act that helps another person, and the helper did so out of self-interest in order to feel good or be perceived as unselfish, does that somehow lessen the good thing that happened as a result of their action?

I stumbled on this video a couple days ago. Thai Life Insurance made it about nine months ago (I’m a little late to the party.) I don’t mean to intentionally advertise for this insurance firm, but if you’re interested in getting more life insurance from Bangkok, knock yourself out, I guess.

It’s a touching video. I liked it. I watched it three times.

Here it is:

I work in marketing, and I feel this accomplishes what the best ads in the world have always accomplished: It made you feel something.

But more importantly, it got me thinking again about what we’re actually living for.

What do I really want?

People chase money and career success and social connection and travel and new experiences and nice cars and big houses and many other things.

That’s what many spend their lives pursuing. Trying to acquire or achieve as many things on their “I Want This” List as possible.

People do this because they want to feel good. They want to be happy.

Out of the Clear Blue Sky

That’s the name of a documentary I watched last night.

On Sept. 11, 2001, a jet exploded when bad men flew it into the upper floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. A large financial firm that oversaw the majority of U.S. bond trading at the time, Cantor Fitzgerald, had offices on the top five floors of that building.

Nearly 700 of the company’s employees—virtually everyone who had made it into the office that morning—died from the fire, or jumping out a window, or from the tower’s eventual collapse.

The company’s CEO—Howard Lutnick—wasn’t in the office at the time of the crash because he had taken his son to his first day of kindergarten.

Lutnick had EVERYTHING. The top job at a major financial firm. He was one of the most respected and feared men on Wall Street. He had a gorgeous wife and children. And more money then you could ever want.

It would seem he achieved the very best of all these things we’re programmed to chase in our lives. The things on our “I Want This” List.

But on Sept. 11, 2001, he suddenly became responsible for trying to save a company who had just lost 80-90 percent of its workforce. He lost his brother. Dozens of friends. Hundreds of people he knew.

Some 700 families were turning to him for help.

And in that moment, his gorgeous family, and all his career achievements, and his massive bank account amounted to very little in the context of his ability to feel happy.

Howard Lutnick had everything we all want. And in an instant became the very last person any of us would want to be.

I am not Howard Lutnick. But on paper, I had what I had always been chasing. A gorgeous family. A nice home. A good job. Friends. Family.

But then adulthood delivered hardships. The kind none of us are immune from and rarely see coming.

Everything fell apart.

And then I didn’t have a family anymore.

In the aftermath of the divorce, I could not have felt worse. I had never respected feelings. Because they’re fleeting and fickle and people make a lot of bad decisions based on their feelings.

But everything changed inside me when I felt just how low and miserable and tortured a person can feel in the midst of trauma.

It wasn’t until that moment that I could understand how someone could ever take their own life. We’re always like: How!? Why!? And if you’ve never felt THAT miserable you can’t understand how or why. For some people, shutting off that pain sounds like a drink of water after days in the desert.

The World Needs Unsung Heroes

Giving just to give. Helping just to help. Loving just to love.

Without wanting or expecting or demanding anything in return, including acknowledgment or admiration.

That’s the work of an unsung hero.

No one knows but you.

The Thai Life ad says it all and it bears repeating:

“What does he get in return for doing this every day? He gets nothing. He won’t be richer. Won’t appear on TV. Still anonymous. And not a bit more famous.

“What he does receive are emotions. He witnesses happiness. Reaches a deeper understanding. Feels the love. Receives what money can’t buy. A world made more beautiful.

“And in your life? What is it that you desire most?

“Believe in Good.”

Even if it’s selfish. Simply because you want to feel better, too. Do it anyway. Because that’s why we’re here. To do heroic work. Even if it’s quiet and understated and no one ever knows about it.

The pursuit of happiness begins with giving more than we take.

And believing in good.

And then doing some.

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The Vampire Test

Image courtesy of fanpop.com

Image courtesy of fanpop.com

Pablo Picasso was a vampire.

The famed artist had a talent and reputation for sucking energy from the people he spent time with, then using that energy back in his studio to paint all those famous images I don’t like (except for The Old Guitarist. That painting is rad).

I didn’t know this about Picasso. Austin Kleon taught me in his awesome new book Show Your Work! where he wrote that he learned it by reading John Richardson’s biography A Life of Picasso.

Picasso was a taker. And, wrote Kleon, most people would deal with it because they liked hanging out with a famous guy.

But one man was unwilling to tolerate Picasso’s energy-draining behavior—a sculptor named Constantin Brancusi.

“Brancusi hailed from the Carpathian Mountains, and he knew a vampire when he saw one,” Kleon wrote. “He was not going to have his energy or the fruits of his energy juiced by Picasso, so he refused to have anything to do with him.

“Brancusi practiced what I call The Vampire Test.”

But the Blood Tastes Good

Right?

It feels so good to get.

Love. Attention. Sex. Money. Help. Whatever.

We crave these things on a case-by-case basis. I had to stop reading Kleon’s book at that point. I really wanted to think about this. Because it made me nervous.

Am I a vampire?

Two things happened after my wife left:

  1. I reached out to people and latched onto friends and family members because I needed them. But then I went into a reclusive cocoon and disconnected (not permanently!) with so many of those people who were there for me during those preliminary freak-out moments.
  2. I started writing here. And used you. Because so many of you give, give, give.

You read. You care. You provide feedback.

More often than not, it’s the nicest stuff anyone has ever said to me not counting my mom and grandma who are both inexplicably kind and loving to me.

But what do I give you?

There are dozens of you who peek in on what I’m saying here. You read. You “like.” You comment.

You invest.

You give.

You give more than I give. Because I’m such a self-centered person sometimes. You need to know that I feel it. That I know it. The inequity. I know you give more to me than I give to you.

That, sometimes, my behavior amounts to me sucking your blood.

I do it for the same reasons we don’t pick up the phone enough to call our friends and family members. For the same reasons we have those conversations with people over and over again: “We should talk more! Let’s go have a drink sometime! I just get so busy! You know how it is!” And we all nod our heads, because we all do know how it is.

But it doesn’t have to be. We can choose to give more.

I’m such a wretched communicator with people, which is so stupid because I always feel better WHEN I’m connected to others.

And I always feel better when I give more than I take.

Give More Than You Take

I love this idea. I say it a lot. Usually, I’m thinking about it in the context of a marriage as I still spend every day nearly a full year later thinking about all the ways I did marriage wrong.

Give more than you take.

It applies to all of our friendships. It applies to charity. It applies to the energy we give to our families. Our employers. Our various commitments and extracurricular activities and hobbies and passions.

Give more than you take.

You want to make your relationship work with the person you love?

This idea alone can save you. But it will always take both parties.

One half of the couple can grow as an individual learning to give more than he or she takes. But that’s not enough for marriage.

If both partners can give more than they take?

Spend a lifetime out-giving one another?

That’s what the baseline ingredients for Forever look like.

Let the Right Ones In

“It’s a simple way to know who you should let in and out of your life,” Kleon wrote of The Vampire Test. “If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire.”

He continued.

“Of course, The Vampire Test works on many things in our lives, not just people—you can apply it to jobs, hobbies, places, etc.

“Vampires cannot be cured. Should you find yourself in the presence of a vampire, be like Brancusi, and banish it from your life forever.”

James Altucher practices this very same philosophy—surrounding himself with people who lift him up and make him feel loved, and distancing himself from people who do the opposite.

It has been life changing, he said.

I do not want to be a vampire in your life. And I pray that I am not.

I hope you will think about incorporating The Vampire Test, and spending more time with people and doing things that make your life better, and spending less time with people and doing things that make it worse.

Even if one of those things is me. Because you deserve happiness.

And to achieve it we must only let the right ones in.

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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5

mrmom“So what you are saying is, I need to help you around the house and with the kids whether I want to or not?”Husband, searching for answers after wife left him yesterday, taking their two children

Now you’ve done it.

I told you it was going to happen. And I was right.

Not because I’m smart. Not because I’m psychic.

But simply because I’ve been where you are and tend to learn from my mistakes.

You didn’t think she was going to leave.

We’ve got kids!, you thought.

We have the house!

We have our friends!

She’ll snap out of it!

She loves me!

Surprise, asshole! Love isn’t enough. And neither is all that other crap.

Maybe some people will take the beating forever. I don’t pretend to know everything.

But most won’t. Once life really turns to shit and there’s nothing left to lose, a person sheds a whole bunch of fear. They rise up. Fight back.

Your problem is you only see the world through your narrow little prism.

You don’t realize that she doesn’t think like you. She doesn’t feel like you. And the radical changes taking place are under the surface. On the inside of her. Invisible to anyone not paying attention or unwilling to listen.

Invisible to someone just like you.

And now she’s gone.

Shit Just Got Real

Writing these Open Letter to Shitty Husbands posts, I always have a few specific men in mind. Guys I have met or know in real life. Guys I know are guilty of the EXACT same crimes that doomed my marriage.

Because once you get divorced (and publish your life on the internet) people have a tendency to start sharing private details of their lives with you.

Well, one of those shitty husbands just got left yesterday.

The results were predictable.

After untold hours of conversation, marriage counseling, and repeated warnings of discontent and requests for change, he was still in total shock when he came home to find his wife and two children gone.

Even though this is an untrue generalization, it often seems that only a man could be capable of such dense, negligent behavior.

Believe me. I know.

Every marriage is different. And the marital sins of a husband are going to vary from relationship to relationship, depending on a million different factors.

Some men travel for work. Others don’t.

Some men make an enormous amount of money. Others don’t.

Some men cheat on their wives. Others don’t.

Some men know how to be good fathers. Others don’t.

Some men satisfy their wives’ sexual desires. Others don’t.

This particular husband’s marital sins seem to mostly revolve around doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants, with no regard for how his decisions might affect his wife and children.

You’ve heard it, seen it, done it or experienced it all before. It looks something like this.

Wife: “Hey, I have to get up early tomorrow and take our daughter to her doctor’s appointment. So, you’ll have to make sure our son gets to school on time.”

Husband: “Yeah, sure, no problem.”

Wife: “That means you can’t stay up all night watching football or playing video games with your friends. Every time you do that, you sleep in all morning.”

Husband: “I got it, Mom. Thanks. I’m trying to watch this, okay? While I appreciate your concern, I’m perfectly capable of making my own big-boy choices.”

Wife: *deep breath* “Would you please put the dishes that are in the sink in the dishwasher and start it before you come to bed? I’ll take care of the rest when I get home tomorrow morning.”

Husband: “Yeah. I’ll get it.”

Wife: “Thank you. I love you. Goodnight.”

Husband: “Sure. Night.”

Morning comes.

Wife leaves to take daughter to doctor’s appointment. She notices the kitchen is exactly the way she had left it. There is an open bag of chips and two empty Dr. Pepper cans on the floor by the living room recliner.

That lazy sonofabitch, she thinks.

Husband watched football until 11 p.m. Then he played Madden and Call of Duty for four hours.

Tired at 3 a.m., he forgot to set his alarm.

Wife comes home at 9:30 a.m. after dropping daughter off at school. Six-year-old son is in living room watching television and eating a Pop Tart—totally not at school. Husband is still asleep, oblivious.

Fight ensues.

…..

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…..

About Helping Around the House

“So what you are saying is, I need to help you around the house and with the kids whether I want to or not?”

This kind of thinking still surprises me, even though it shouldn’t.

This is, literally, what the husband said to the wife who left him. He promised to change and she told him she didn’t know if she believed he was capable. So, he asked THAT.

I wish it was weird that so many men think like this. But so many do.

Dishes. Cleaning. Child rearing. Laundry. Cooking. School stuff.

That’s women’s work!

So many men feel this way.

And I think I know why. I think it’s because these men used to be boys. And when they were boys, one of a few different things happened:

  1. Their mothers coddled them. Did their laundry. Did all the cooking and cleaning. Waited on them hand and foot, much like they did to their fathers.
  2. Their fathers had this chauvinistic mindset which THEY learned from their fathers. And because sons almost blindly hero-worship their fathers, they took on this same philosophy.
  3. Or, both, which REALLY validates this way of life in the mind of a son during his formative years.

It’s classic old-school thinking.

I’m actually reminded of it every day. I live in a suburban neighborhood that was developed during the 1950s. Some houses, like mine, have two-car garages because of later modifications or new construction. But most? They have a one-car garage.

And that’s because in the 1950s, families only had one car. They only needed one car. Because the father went to work in the family car while the wife stayed home and raised children.

And even in 2014, there is still much of society that shares that mindset.

Men are hardworking breadwinners away from home.

And women take care of all that easy stuff—EVERYTHING else. And don’t forget the blow job before you get back to ironing my shirts, sweetie!

While I never shared this mindset—ever—I am a product of a mother who coddled me.

My laundry was always folded and in my drawers or hung up in my closet.

The house was always very tidy.

Breakfast and dinner were always on the table. Mom did all the cleaning, too.

Making my bed in the morning was my only chore until I was old enough to help rake leaves and mow the lawn.

My mom is the oldest of eight kids. She has been taking care of others for as long as she can remember.

While I have stepsisters who I grew up mostly apart from and a half sister 14 years younger than me, I was essentially raised as an only child.

I didn’t have to do anything except homework, then whatever I wanted.

That’s the math formula for creating me—a guy who had a very difficult time adjusting to the responsibilities of a full-time relationship, and eventually, marriage, because I had never been asked to do those things before.

I would encourage parents to think about this when raising children. Might be the difference between raising mature, responsible people with successful marriages, or immature, negligent people whose marriages are doomed to fail.

Guys: You must help your wife with the responsibilities of raising children, which includes the tasks of keeping a house in order—laundry, cooking, dishes, grocery shopping, bill paying, etc.

Don’t? She’s going to leave.

She will, man.

Love in the Time of Selfishness

The answer is: Yes.

You have to help around the house and with the kids even when you don’t want to.

But here’s the REALLY important part you need to be thinking about.

You don’t need to help around the house and with the kids just because your wife doesn’t have time to do it all. In truth, she probably can figure it out. A mother’s multitasking capabilities are unparalleled in the world.

What she does need is to have her wants and desires validated by you.

She needs to feel safe.

She needs to feel loved.

She needs to be able to trust you. Not in a don’t-have-sex-with-other people sense. But in a I-can-count-on-my-husband sense.

She doesn’t just want you to do laundry.

In fact, she may literally not want you to do laundry because you’re apt to mess up her clothes by drying things you’re not supposed to, and do a lousy job folding everything.

What she wants you to do is observe, appreciate, and respect the enormous amount of effort she puts in to making your lives what they are.

She doesn’t even need you to thank her and buy her stuff, though that would be a very nice, thoughtful thing to do.

But when you can’t even do the little things she asks you to do, she’s not angry because she has to do that work also. She’s angry because you don’t respect her enough to perform such a simple task, even after saying you will.

THAT’s why she feels unloved. Because she can’t trust you. You’re unreliable.

Because every chance you get to SHOW her that you love her, you choose yourself over her or your family.

She’ll eventually have an emotional reaction. Maybe she’ll yell. Maybe she’ll cry.

You’ll think she’s crazy. You might even tell her so. Maybe you’ll tell her again that the things she thinks and feels are stupid.

Please don’t do that.

She doesn’t like yelling.

She doesn’t like crying.

She doesn’t like feeling alone.

She doesn’t like feeling abandoned.

And she is not out to get you. Or make your life worse. She knows that you two are currently living in ways which are unsustainable. She knows that this can only keep up so much longer, and then it’s all going to break. She knows your marriage is in grave danger.

And you just keep choosing to play golf.

Or to go to the bar.

Or to play video games.

You just keep choosing everything except your marriage.

It might be too late already. Sometimes wives check out. And there’s no turning back.

I’ve seen that play before. It stings.

But maybe you still have time.

Maybe she’s still in the house. Holding on.

Or maybe she left but you still see a glimmer of hope.

Use that fear of loss. Channel it. And use it to fuel your personal growth.

Because that’s the only way this has a happy ending.

If you grow. Not necessarily change. But evolve.

Ask yourself: Am I really happier without her?

Maybe! I don’t know how you experience the world.

I only know my life got infinitely shittier once my wife and son left.

Seriously.

And if you’re like me? If you, deep down where it counts, want to keep your marriage and family intact? Then it’s time to do the hardest thing we do as human beings.

Change.

  1. Stop deflecting blame. Accept responsibility for your role in the breakdowns. Big or small, you have some.
  2. Apologize. Mean it.
  3. Learn about your wife. There are great resources out there.
  4. Pray. If you’re not a believer, just look to the sky and say: “Please help.”
  5. Choose to love. Vow to give more than you take in your marriage, every day, forever.

I know you’re selfish. I get it. I am, too. I know this is intimidating. I know you’re so selfish that you’re asking yourself whether divorce might be easier than putting in the work.

Maybe you’ll need to learn the hard way, like me.

But maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll realize that divorce is not easier than putting more effort into your marriage.

And I’m telling you, you can do it.

You still have time.

To be a soldier.

To change yourself.

To do something heroic.

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. 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. 10

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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