The Science of the Heart is Sometimes Lost on Me

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heart health

I used to make my wife cry because I treated her like her feelings weren’t important.

“Just because you feel that way doesn’t make it true,” I would say like an asshole.

This is an example of being both right AND wrong at the same time. Because, sure. I was right.

The truth is the truth. There aren’t several versions of the truth. There are only the things that are actually real. Seeking truth seems worthwhile.

Just because someone accuses you of being mean and intentionally trying to hurt their feelings doesn’t mean that’s actually what happened.


In this situation, does the “truth” even matter?

If the woman I vowed to love and cherish forever literally felt as if I was sometimes being mean or hurting feelings to the point of making her believe it might be intentional, or at best, recklessly indifferent, does it even matter what my intentions were?

It goes like this:

Someone levels a charge. It stings because the accusation suggests you’re doing a shitty job of being a spouse/friend/employee/parent/student/teacher/player/coach, etc.

So you get defensive because you’re always trying your best, which is the most anyone can ask for. Right?


Your Best + Indifference = You’re Maybe Being Just a Little Bit Shitty

Your Best + Empathy = Your Actual Best

I didn’t learn how to empathize with my wife until she totally shut down and flipped the script on me during the final stretch of our marriage. She felt as if I had been indifferent and unresponsive to her opinions and emotions for several years. And then I got a taste of it myself.

It tastes like sulfur soup mixed with drunk-guy vomit and asshole sprinkles.

I wonder: How many marriages end because one partner keeps feeling hurt over and over and over, and the other seems like they don’t care even if they actually do?

Are Feelings Bullshit?

I’m guilty of having said more than once (and meaning it) that “feelings are bullshit.”

Context matters.

I believe that people’s emotions are highly volatile and ever-changing. What we liked and wanted five years ago is not what we like and want today. What we like and want five years from now might be different. Those feelings, desires, opinions are always changing as we go through life experiencing all that we do.

So, when we’re talking about marriage and divorce, I’m sometimes of the opinion that feelings are bullshit.

Every married couple is comprised of two people who were once totally, magically enamored with and wrapped up in one another. You’re either the type of person who wants to be married or the type of person who doesn’t.

If you actually got married, I assume the former.

It means you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to spend your life alone. I think most of us get that.

And if you’re that kind of person, you’re going to be with someone, sooner or later.

I don’t think it’s sensible to assume that simply changing partners is going to bring the feelings of lasting love, security, peace, happiness, contentment, sexual satisfaction, that most of us seek.

In fact, I think changing partners without a thorough self-reflection process that forces you to look in the mirror and ask the really uncomfortable question: “What did I do to help destroy my marriage?”, means that you’re pretty likely to keep having relationship problems until you do.

So, I stand on my soapbox and scream for people to realize: Love is a choice.

If you’re going to be with someone anyway. And you accept the premise that no two people are going to feel all lusty and infatuationy forever, then I think there’s a time for leaving emotion at the door and waking up every day and making a choice: Today, I’m going to love unconditionally without expecting anything in return.

One person walking that walk alone cannot and will not save a marriage. By definition, a marriage is two operating as one. And half of that can only carry it for so long before collapsing. You need both people to care.

But I sometimes wonder how many relationships would be saved if just one person (and I’d like it to be the husband) would make the very challenging, very heroic decision to sacrifice that much. To love that much.

I think feelings can follow.

And change the whole world. Maybe for everyone. Or maybe just for one small family.

If you’re part of that family, there’s no difference.

I Don’t Want to Lose My Empathy

I used to cry a lot. I don’t know what that makes me. Not very tough?

I mention it because I’m, historically speaking, not the biggest crier in the world. In fact, I used to be fairly stoic. I haven’t decided whether I think that’s good or bad.

When I was in my early 20s, I got absolutely obliterated on beer and sparkling wine at my best friend’s wedding and cried afterward because I had to say goodbye to everyone and go back to Florida where I missed them a lot. It was embarrassing.

When I was in my late 20s, my mom called me one afternoon to tell me she was leaving my stepdad who I’d known since I was 5. All the sudden I felt like a kindergartner again and cried just like I did back when my mom and dad got divorced.

And then in my 30s, there I was again. Crying. Because of divorce. My own.

I know what it’s like to be a child of divorce. Twice.

I know what it’s like to be a husband getting divorced.

I know what it’s like to be a father watching his young son deal with his parents’ breakup.

That’s empathy. And it manifests itself the best when I feel.

It’s this empathy that made me a better person in the wake of my failed marriage and as I’ve grown and evolved into whatever and whoever I am right now.

And while I’ll never celebrate the end of my family, I’ll always feel grateful for that metamorphosis which gives me a chance to be a better man moving forward. A better father to my son. A better partner to anyone who might one day grant me the opportunity.

Brokenness and Healing

The constant refrain from people close to me following my separation is that no one saw it coming. Time and time again, I heard how we seemed like the perfect happy couple. The couple others aspired to be.

No, Virginia. There is no Santa Claus.

I believe strongly in all this stuff. Passionately. That we don’t need to break as much as we do. That our relationships—the very foundations of our human experiences—can be fortified and last forever just like all those Happily Ever After princess stories we’re fed in our youth.

It just take guts. More guts than most of us have when we FEEL so horribly.

We have two choices.

We keep doing what we’re doing. Throwaway marriages built on wedding vows we either betray or never really meant in the first place.

Or we get serious about changing ourselves. On the inside.

About giving more than we take. Every day. Forever.

Feelings aren’t bullshit.

Because how we feel IS what’s real for each of us. And if we can learn to be empathetic enough—courageous enough—to love others on their terms and not on ours, maybe we’ll get the same treatment in return.

And then maybe a bunch of things won’t break.

And then maybe a bunch of kids smile and laugh and play more, family intact.

And then maybe we don’t eat so much sulfur soup mixed with drunk-guy vomit and asshole sprinkles.

And then maybe the whole world changes.

And it didn’t take a miracle.

It just took you.

34 thoughts on “The Science of the Heart is Sometimes Lost on Me”

  1. I totally missed your posts, Matt. I hope you remember me!

    And I see you still have a way with words. You’ve grown exponentially over this time in your life. Amazing. You’re absolutely amazing.

    1. Hi Lara. Totally remember, my young Bostonian friend.

      I even popped into your blog recently and realized you weren’t writing there anymore.

      If you ARE writing somewhere else, please let me know.

      Otherwise, thank you very much for stopping in and for the nice words. Wonderful to hear from you.

      I truly hope you’re well. Hugs.

  2. Feelings are not BS they are real to the person experiencing them. One gets too wrapped up in their own feelings, thoughts and ideas and when they don’t match the other persons feelings, thoughts and ideas we have the tendency to dismiss them as invalid.

  3. I missed your posts too – and you’re right, there are so many (too many) marriages that probably end because of someone hurting and the other person “not caring”…
    A lot of this sounded so exactly like what I went through in my longer relationship (which was basically a marriage). So sad to re-live it and think of this stuff again but it’s true, it’s all so true and people just need to check themselves before they wreck themselves – and others – </3 If we could only go back and apply what we know now huh? (I of course, was on the receiving end of this like your wife was but, I know my ex was going through a lot of what you were and I'm sure he knows now that if he could go back things would've been a whole lot different)…

    1. Nobody has an instruction manual, miss. All this stuff is hard, even for the people who try really hard and care a lot.

      I appreciate very much that you care. As soon as you find someone who matches your passion (I don’t mean that, physically), you’re going to find forever.

      Really nice to hear from you. Hope all is well.

  4. Keep writing. I enjoy reading stuff from another bloke who admits to crying! (I think that comes and goes. You don’t cry for decades and then, suddenly, when your world realm goes wobbly – or utterly pear-shaped even – you can’t stop whenever something remotely emotional comes up.
    But seriously I enjoy your well-written and honest posts. I relate to much.

    1. I’m pleased to report there isn’t any more crying. It borders on miraculous, the difference a year can make.

      Thank you for liking what I’ve written here. I appreciate your time very much.

  5. Nice to see you again Matt! This post is timely and so relevant in every day life! A few weeks ago, during a marriage counseling session, our therapist looked at both me and my husband and then asked “do you want to be right or do you want to address the problem?” it was a telling moment for both of us as one blurted out “right” and the other blurted “address the problem”. And yet it was a good start…

    1. People frown upon marriage counseling sometimes. Particularly men. Sometimes men have trouble admitting they need help.

      We go to doctors because we don’t know how to heal ourselves. To school because we don’t know how to educate ourselves. To music instructors to learn how to play an instrument. Accept coaching to excel in a particular activity.

      I was bad at marriage. Many people are. Maybe even most.

      I’m so happy you guys are talking to someone.

      Please keep fighting. It doesn’t have to die.

      Thoughts and prayers…

  6. Great post, but I completely disagree that there is only one truth. You state “There aren’t several versions of the truth. There are only the things that are actually real”, Now, there is only ONE version of YOUR truth, but I have come to find that there are actually several versions of the truth. Yours. And Mine. Because I have a different life experience than you do, we both could be at the same place at the same time and have the same experience, but each take away a different truth. Just my thoughts. But I do agree, that we need to change from the inside, and empathy is a wonderful thing.

    1. And I think there’s one thing that’s real. True.

      And I think we have a responsibility to figure out what that is.

      I don’t think we get to make up our own rules. I think, whether we like it or not, the rules exist.

      Truth exists.

      And what we write about and feel and talk about is just our opinions.

      We like to think we’re right.

      But I know better than to say I know.

      I think it would be very dangerous to live in a world where every individual gets to decide what’s true and false. What’s right and wrong.

      People already do that.

      The results speak for themselves.

      I hope I don’t sound like I’m challenging you, Kate. I’m merely trying to explain where I’m coming from.


        1. This is going to be a little over the top (I do that sometimes), but NAMBLA members “truth” is that they are attracted to little boys. And since they naturally feel attracted to little boys, it must be okay. Maybe they sit around privately feeling like “God made me this way.”

          Some people believe (even though I think the Quran is most likely being misinterpreted) that if they blow up a bunch of innocent people in a suicide bombing that they get to die and go to heaven and have sex with 72 virgins.

          Some people murder, rape, steal, slander, abuse, have affairs, commit fraud, etc. because somewhere within them is a voice telling them that it’s okay.

          Perhaps I’m misinterpreting you sort of like people do with the Quran’s 72 virgins thing.

          But I can’t accept any premise that gives people free reign to do whatever they want.

          1. If those are the truths you were referring to in your post, then I misinterpreted what you wrote. I thought you were referring more to interpersonal relations inside a relationship. Where you and your spouse or significant other are arguing over an event. What we bring to the table will affect our perception and make each of our truths different. But if you are referring more to societal events and truths, then yes, there is less wiggle room for individual intrepretation. Most of your posts have been geared towards individual interactions and so that was the premise i was bringing to the table and what colored my truth when I read this today!

          2. 🙂

            And there we have a perfect example of two people having a disagreement over something they dont even disagree about.

            In the context of a husband and wife (or any two people) experiencing life through their individual prisms, you and I are on the exact same page, Kate.

            You were probably smart enough to know that the entire time, while I was talking about NAMBLA. *facepalm*

            I just reread that sentence and snorted.

            We all experience the world differently. And in our loving, intimate relationships, we would do well to always try to understand the experiences of the other person rather than trying to force ours onto them.

            Thank you, Kate. Apologies for the tangent.

  7. Do you know trauma, such as what many people experience after a divorce, actually changes the molecular structure around your DNA?

    If you’re not reflecting and changing after an experience like a divorce, then you’re actually working AGAINST nature to stay shitty.

    Great post, Matt. Oh- I’m totally stealing “asshole sprinkles.” I’m gangsta like that.

    1. I have not heard that, but I’m totally fascinated.

      I’m going to read more about that, because there are probably some good post ideas in there somewhere.

      “… you’re actually working AGAINST nature to stay shitty.” <– so awesome.


  8. Lots of truth and reality in this post, Matt. My DH and I have been together/married for 20+ years, second marriage for me, first for him.

    Early in our relationship we discovered there are a few fundamental things we disagree on in a passionate “to the death!” sort of way. Those differences and our entrenched polarizing positions tended to color every serious discussion we had where we did not see eye-to-eye. It built up and exploded and broke our marriage. We separated and were on the brink of divorce because we forgot that we love each other, that we chose to love each other. We both learned and stayed together, chose loving each other over being right or prevailing in the argument and finding ourselves alone.

    1. My favorite kind of story, Janelle.

      Thank you very much for leading by example and having such a nice story to share.

      It would have been easy to quit and go find something else to do.

      I can’t tell you how much I appreciate and admire that you didn’t.

      Appreciate you reading and commenting very much.

  9. Reblogged this on Purse Meets Diaper Bag and commented:
    I really enjoyed reading this honest and heartfelt post by fellow blogger Matt. I hope that you will take the time to read what he shares. You may or may not find yourself in the current situation to relate to what he’s sharing but you can definitely understand it.

    What stood out to me most was the element of “empathy” he talks about, which is so important in any relational experience or interaction, and yet it’s often an element that is just thrown out.

    “Your best + empathy = your actual best”

  10. I experienced this twice in a row with two men I loved deeply. The first was my husband. I waited until 30 to marry because I couldn’t seem to find a guy who put our relationship first and then I thought I found him. He Was affectionate, considerate and sweet. Then after marriage he was indifferent, insensitive and even cruel. We had two kids. I was doing all of the housework, lacked sleep and then the breaking point argument came. In his sneaky way he said the kids were better off without us but latter said me, because of stress. I was angry much of the time and I wish deep down in my soul I could take that back but I was sleep deprived and taken for granted. I yelled some times. At him. St the kids. But there he was telling me that I was a terrible person and our children were better off with one of his relatives and I thought,”Who is this spineless mean bastard and what happened to to great guy I thought I was marrying? We separated, got back together and divorced. I had one boyfriend who was also great in the beginning and turns out he was a serial cheater. So now I’m done. My heart can’t take anymore. I’d like to be in a good relationship and maybe after a rest I can be. I am bi and can date women so there is that. What I want to know is why do guys try so hard in the beginning only to not give a crap later? It’s not a game or competition. This is another person! My other question is, although I am not perfect and could have done things better, what do you do when communication is not enough? What else can you do but try to talk about it to the person you love so dearly? And if they don’t listen again and again and treat you like the way you feel doesn’t matter WHAT OTHER COURSE OF ACTION do you have? I loved both of these men with all of my heart. Now I am broken and alone and I cry some times because I miss them and sometimes because not being taken seriously by them hurt me so much. Thank you Matt for trying. For getting it.

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Matt Fray

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