The Moments

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The rhododendrons bloom outside my house for just a couple short weeks each year. A reminder to slow down. To live in the present. And that these little moments end up being most important.
The rhododendrons bloom outside my house for just a couple short weeks each year. A reminder to slow down. To live in the present. And that these little moments end up being most important.

It was a slow death.

Not a major trauma—like a shooting or stabbing—that killed the marriage.

More like a terminal illness that could have been cured with early detection.

Despite having lived with my wife in my house for seven years, the daily surroundings don’t trigger memories and emotions within me the way one might expect.

But the opposite is true of places we visited together.

I took my son yesterday to a learning and discovery center geared toward teaching children about plant and animal life on farms.

While we waited for our friends to show up, we spent time playing on a little playground near the parking lot. The last time I stood there, it had been the three of us. The family. Dad. Mom. Son.


And it was a little heavier than I wanted it to be.

I didn’t feel it in the morning at the house in which we lived together.

I didn’t feel it looking into the eyes of our beautiful son who we made together.

But I did feel it standing on this relatively nondescript playground in a place I’d only visited a few times.

It’s because those are the moments. Sometimes they don’t feel like they matter now.

But they often feel like they matter later.

This Fleeting Life

My rhododendron bushes have bloomed.

My house looks particularly nice from the street for about two or three weeks each year. That small window is now.

The bushes stand there, green, nearly all year round. But during this short period as spring gives way to summer, they bloom, their vibrant pinks and purples providing a rare splash of color to enjoy each time you pull in the driveway.

They’re here today, gorgeous in their rarity.

Soon enough, perhaps even from the next hard rain, they won’t be. Because I watch this cycle year after year, I’ve learned to appreciate the moment. I’ve learned to appreciate how special and fleeting their simple beauty truly is.

I’ve learned to pause. To look. And look.

And look.

Willing the image into my mind. Willing gratitude into my heart. Willing more growth into this body.

Because these little things are the big things.

These moments are life.

How We Break Connection With Those We Love

I’ve written several times about my favorite book on male-female relationships—How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It.

I think the reason I believe it’s such an insightful, helpful book is because it, within the first 25 pages, absolutely nailed the way my marriage (and certainly millions of others) ended.

Authors Patricia Love and Steven Stosny wrote this about the female tendency to practice fear avoidance and the male tendency to practice shame avoidance, and how that instinctual behavior and dynamic poisons our relationships.

Women build alliances with other women by doing what they learned in early childhood: exposing vulnerability. Marlene doesn’t have to mention to her girlfriends that she feels sad, unhappy, lonely, or isolated. They infer from her body language or tone of voice, just as she can tell if something is wrong with them. As soon as one woman senses a friend in emotional need, they become more interested and emotionally invested in each other.

“But what do you think happens when Marlene tells Mark that she feels bad? (She has to tell him—his defense against feeling failure and inadequacy has blinded him to her emotional world by this time.) You guessed it—once she forces him to face her vulnerability, he feels inadequate as a protector. He responds with typical shame-avoidant behavior: impatience, distractedness, defensiveness, resentment, anger, criticism, or ‘advice’ that sounds an awful lot like telling her what to do.

“After a while, a woman will stop exposing vulnerability to the man in her life and turn more to friends, allowing the emotional void in their relationship to fill with resentment. Marlene doesn’t know it, but she already has one foot out the door. The probable catalyst for their breakup will be one of the following. Marlene becomes ill or depressed or loses a loved one. Feeling inadequate to help her, Mark withdraws emotionally yet again, leaving her to face her ordeal completely alone. When she recovers, she will see no need for such an unreliable alliance and leave him, thinking that they have grown apart. The other likely breakup scenario has one or both of them starting an affair, Marlene to ease her sense of isolation and Mark to prove his adequacy. Fortunately, a breakup can be avoided by paying attention to each other’s innate vulnerability.

And so we’ll think back on all that time together.

What destroyed my marriage?

And you have the tendency to think about how the relationship changed when your child was born.

Or how the relationship changed when you lost your job.

Or how she completely changed when she lost her father.

But those are just like the highlights on your curriculum vitae. The real job experience was gained going to work every day in each of those listed positions.

Those traumatic moments were opportunities to temper the marriage in fire. To make the relationship stronger than before. An unbreakable force forged in a little bit of sacrifice, a little bit of paying attention, and a whole bunch of choosing to love every single day.

It wasn’t the big events that changed my life.

It was the seemingly inconsequential ones. The things we take for granted.

But life gives us occasional glimpses of truth to help us keep our minds focused on the right things.

Like a random playground.

Like the fleeting beauty of a rarely seen blossom.

Like the very next time you speak with your wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend.

An opportunity to make better, wiser choices.

An opportunity to take nothing for granted.

An opportunity to stop, to breathe, to look, and cherish all the beauty that surrounds us.

The moments.

35 thoughts on “The Moments”

  1. Just recommended this to a friend, someone who’s gasping marriage inspired my Turbines post. Thank you for that. Beautifully written post as always.

    1. Not unlike your thoughtful post on this very subject as it relates to parenting.

      Thank you so much, Jen.

    1. Thank you very much.

      Few things I’ve read have ever influenced me as much as that book. So I’m going to keep sharing it and many of its ideas because I truly believe it can help people–men particularly–figure some of this stuff out.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to read and say nice things. Thank you.

      1. You just said exactly how my marriage ended, though to the outsider it looks like things blew up due to addiction…there is so much more to it than that. I plan to look up the book, I don’t want to make the same mistakes in my next relationship. Thank you for writing such a wonderful blog. As hard as it is for me to read sometimes (being on the other side of a failed relationship), your blog helps me to understand better what my ex is going through…and what went wrong in our relationship, and what I am going through too. I don’t do much actual reading on WP, mostly writing, but yours is on the short list of blogs I always read. So thank you.

        1. It will be hard to read or hear something today that makes me feel better than that. So, thank you very much.

          I can’t say it enough times: I think almost EVERYONE essentially goes through the same cycle.

          Some people just fight the good fight afterward. Others give up. But it sure seems like we all suffer the same afflictions.

          Once I realized this and experienced the epic shittiness of divorce, I became pretty committed to these ideas. And how these little, simple, human things can completely change the world.

          And I really believe that. I really believe an enlightened population understanding the dynamics that break us and teaching our children and one another about them will make marriage a more successful thing.

          Maybe 7 or 8 out of 10 are making it in 25-30 years.

          And that might just be enough to stem the tide. To help generations of people get these fundamentals of humanity correct.

          Without all the brokenness and horribleness, how much better can life be?

          I’d like to think it can be pretty amazing.

          Worth fighting for.

          1. I couldn’t agree more. Divorce has been one of the hardest things I have ever experienced, and I am determined to make myself, and hopefully others, better because of it. My ex gave up, but I won’t. It really IS the simple things that make the world go around…and make marriage work. I believe that without of the gaps in our relationship that existed because of the reasons your wrote about, we could have overcome even my ex’s addiction…but there were just too many gaps, we had been falling apart for a long time, there was inevitably going to be a last straw eventually.

  2. Thank you again Matt. Another good read about gratitude, conviction, and growth.

    My time for WP reading and writing is being diverted to self-growth things. It’s no less important, I’m just hoping it’s temporary because reading this today reminded me how much of a good thing it all is.

    I’m glad I still give some time to it, check in, read a little, write a little, because I still get a lot out of what you write, it still speaks of the common hurt that gets lost in shame and ignorance, which leaves little room for mourning and healing. Also, the common intention to work toward making it better, not repeating our mistakes, and helping others do the same.

    1. Really nice to hear from you, Dorothy. Made me smile. I totally get it. Just never feels like there’s enough time.

  3. The hardest thing a couple have to learn to do is to communicate and not belittle what the other is feeling. The past couple of years in my relationship have been hard but we have got through it by sharing what we are feeling. Although sometimes in a ‘discussion’ (because we don’t fight) I have had to turn and walk out the door because the conversation was just going in circles. Walking away gives us both time to think about what the other has said and to come back together with new eyes.
    It is the little things like acknowledging that feelings are real, saying thank you for small things done and just calling to say “I wanted to hear your voice” that keep things alive. I wish you love in your future Matt.

    1. If sounds so cliche. But it’s the truth. The way we speak to one another, and our ability to truly listen to the other person is what makes or breaks our relationships. So simple. But one of the most important skills one could hope for.

  4. I appreciate your style of sounding the horn for these basics of communication, and thank you for sharing that valuable resource of a book. How many conflicts in relationships might not happen if they read this post?!

  5. Once again thank you. Ironically I just picked the book up last week but have yet to crack it open. I will. It’s hard, struggling to be in this space where for so many years I wanted my husband to pay attention, want me, hear me, let me be vulnerable. For those same years, I got used to the rejection, his silence, his uncomfortable stance until two years ago when I left emotionally. Bereft I sought and found someone who will never be mine. A few months ago, when he realized I was no longer the woman that was always in love with him, the one that always pursued him he decides he’s ready to go to counseling, to show me that he does indeed listen to me, want me, hear me. And so we are in counseling and I am admittedly cautious, leery and not quite half way out. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I’ll be very curious to hear whether you get anything out of it. I certainly hope you learn as much from it as I feel I did.

      In the end, it didn’t save my relationship. What it did do was empower me and enlighten me.

      And I’m a better person for having done so. I hope you’ll let me know what you think.

  6. Beautiful piece, and I can appreciate your view on this sort of situation. Most people dont stop to just think, look, and feel when it comes to a separation. They dont recall, they refuse to relive, and they play the blame game which is oh so sad in the end. You write beautifully.
    Have a wonderful evening.

    1. Thank you very much for the kind words.

      I think there is a ton of people who want to blame everyone else for their problems. In the end, it’s almost always us who bring them on ourselves. One way or another.

      I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

  7. I took my son north this weekend to one of our favorite vacation spots making all our usual stops. It’s the first trip north since the change in our home. It was a great time but I thought about her so much. The walk out to the lighthouse, walking on the beach , the ice cream place etc. I did all things with her when we first married and over the years as a family. It seems unfair that things had to change the way they did

    1. It is unfair. I don’t think it just seems that way.

      The bitter pill I’m trying to learn to swallow is that (and we’ve all heard it a hundred times) life isn’t fair.

      I think the truth is that shitty things will happen no matter what, and the measure of a person is what they do regardless of circumstances.

      I’m just so-so at that.

  8. Lovely and well done. Having partially grown up in Seattle I appreciate your linking to rhododendrons, we had several of them and it was always my favorite time of year when they bloomed.

    1. They’re gorgeous plants, made a little extra special by how little we seem them in bloom.

      Thank you, as always.

  9. You write with such a crystal clear voice of reason. I can rarely even multitask while reading your posts. This one was especially sensible. Thank you for posting this. 🙂

    1. Thank you for that.

      I’m never quite sure what I have when I hit the Publish button, so it’s always reassuring when people say they like them.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to do so.

      I feel so unsure all the time. So, it feels particularly good to find out this doesn’t come off like gibberish.

  10. Well, thank ypu so much. I donj’t know if I should cry or get angry with myself. Those 25 pages explained the failure of my realtionship. I never understood that my man loved me. He just didn’t seem to care, when I felt I needed him the most. But now I see – he just didn’t feel enough.
    Well we all learn and in our next realtionship we’ll be wiser.
    I know it sounds horrible to say “our next realtionship” – But I don’t want to give up at the age of 49, the search of finding togethjerness.
    I certainly hop that you don’t either.
    And I can easily realte to how places that ypu only visited once or twice are difficult to visit again. I think all places where we put som of our hopes and dreams in…always going to move our heart.

    1. I don’t think you should cry OR get angry at yourself.

      I hope you didn’t.

      No one tells us how to do any of this stuff, so must of us, one way or another, have to learn the hard way.

  11. We stop growing or learning when we think everything is “fine.” Then, when our world crashes, we desperately seek this kind of information The signs are always there but we ignore them…and they won’t be ignored. Eventually, they will come up and smack us in the face and make us pay attention (my example would be that I got very sick). I think attempting to be continually present is key in order to avoid creating catastrophes to wake us up. (That, of course, is only if you believe that we create all our experiences.) Thought-provoking post as usual 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    1. “We stop growing or learning when we think everything is ‘fine.'” <—- That is so true.

      It's amazing how easily we take things for granted. And a little bit sad.

      Appreciate your kind words, as always.

  12. That excerpt was very interesting… it’s funny how men often try to respond by “fixing” the problem. That explanation makes a lot of sense, hmmm.

    1. That was one of my very first lessons in male-female communication.

      That, often, women want to simply be heard–listened to–as they describe something that is or has been bothering them. Men want to solve the problem so it ceases to be a problem.

      And that dynamic frustrates both parties because she doesn’t want it “fixed.” She just wants respected and validated.

      And he just wants to “help,” by solving the problem, but doesn’t realize that’s not the way to actually help.

      Both parties get upset with one another. And the breakdown begins.

      It’s tragic.

      An over-generalization, sure. But common enough that we should all be aware of it.

      Appreciate your time, Aussa. 🙂

  13. Beautifully written post! Well said and agreed on every point. Live life abundantly, more importantly, live at the present. Thanks for the great read of the day ^^

  14. Good article. You bring up some very good points to keep in mind. Things to build on. Many have a confusion about what communication is about. Many can talk and not listen or even say much. I enjoyed reading this article.

  15. Every single post you write resonates with me in one way or another, sometimes it’s just one or two sentences that I think, “wow, he just said exactly what I’ve been trying to say but couldn’t.”

    Just this one sentence> “And you have the tendency to think about how the relationship changed when…”

    When people find out that my marriage is over, so many of them ask me what happened, why did my marriage end? And it’s so easy to say, “first X happened, then Y, then Z, we went through so many huge life changing things in such a short period of time and it was too much, it broke us…” But that’s not it at all. Those events themselves didn’t break us, they happened, but the way we were too selfish to take care of each other through them is what did it. It’s just hard to admit sometimes.

    And you’re right, we’re not so different 🙂

    1. It’s crushingly disappointing to think back on those little moments and let the truth sink in. The truth:

      It would have been so easy to make better choices in those moments.

      We don’t even remember all these years later why we didn’t. We just know we’d do the right thing if we had to do it over again.

      It is really hard to admit. That’s why I try to do it a lot.

      There’s something important about doing so.

      I did this. Bad things happened. I’m so sorry.

      Then you heal just a little bit more. And maybe someone else does too.


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