The Difference Between Knowing the Path and Walking the Path

Comments 38
Anyone can run a marathon, right? After all, you’re only doing one simple thing. (Image/

Because I sometimes make bad decisions and do the wrong thing, I got internet-mouthy with readers in the comments of a recent post. In doing so, I undermined the very message I attempt to convey as critical to healing broken relationships and having pleasant, healthy and functional marriages.

Nothing fuels Imposter Syndrome and fears regarding future relationships quite like realizing you’re behaving exactly as you did in the marriage you helped destroy.

I wrote about something I think is important and believe can help guys like me because it’s the concept that helped me discover the secret to making marriage positive and lasting. Some readers were offended by certain word choices and ideas I shared. And because they didn’t respond like I wanted, or agree with me, or didn’t focus on my conclusion and then forgive me and tell all their Facebook friends I’m perfect and amazing, I dug in my heels for a You’re-Wrong-and-I’m-Right-and-Here’s-Why exchange that changed approximately zero hearts and minds.

Like children do.

Like many disagreeing people do.

Like I did when I emotionally abandoned my wife in my marriage, creating a culture of resentment and mistrust which ended unceremoniously with her packing a suitcase and driving away one April Fools’ Day.

I apologize to the people whose opinions I dismissed as if they were somehow less important than mine. And I apologize to people in relationships hoping my explanation of how leaving dishes by the sink can end marriages might connect with their significant others, because maybe—even though blog readers and commenters are not the same as husbands and wives—you felt like all the comment-fighting was evidence that I didn’t really learn anything after all.

You wouldn’t be the first people to tell me that.

I’m Afraid of History Repeating Itself

I worry that, unless I meet someone of a particular temperament and personality type (not that I have any idea what that might be), I will end up doing many of the same bad things in a future relationship I did in my last one. The things I’m always warning people to not do now.

What if all the fights are about different things but I still end up reacting defensively and dismissively? What if, no matter how much I think I know, these same emotional triggers and habits always wind up sabotaging my relationships?

This is a key point: Some people LOVE conflict and could give a shit how they make you feel while they’re trying to “win.” I am not one of them. Kindness matters. More specifically, I would never—not once under any circumstances—intentionally choose to harm or inflict pain on people I love. Yet, I have accidentally done so countless times. I have done so with such frequency and relentlessness apparently that I could not convince someone I genuinely loved and shared a home with that she was genuinely loved enough to feel safe and secure in our marriage.

It really scares me. Because for the first time in my life, I understand something profound and powerful about the human experience—something many people don’t seem to know—and it causes a lot of unintended damage in relationships. And no matter how much I know it, and how much I think about and write about it for public consumption, I still demonstrate shortcomings in executing it during live-fire exercises.

It’s because there’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.

How to Run a Marathon

Running a marathon is easy! There’s almost nothing to it! All you have to do is ONE thing for a very specific distance.

Anyone can do it, right?

You just run! That’s it. That’s all you do. You do one simple activity for 26.2 miles, and then you’ve completed a marathon.


But then you’re me who probably can’t run a 5K without heart palpitations, and you try to do this “super-simple” thing and fail epically and/or die.

Because it’s actually a very difficult thing to do.

And everyone who has successfully done so (I’m not one of them) knew it was hard, so they took a bunch of steps, and trained and trained and trained and trained to be able to do it successfully.

Everyone knows how to run marathons. But not many can actually do it without proper mindset and preparation.

And so it is in marriage and our other relationships.

People often think once love stops feeling easy and romantic and lusty that they made a bad partner choice. Everything breaks down from there.

For some reason, so few of us seem to understand that we will eventually experience difficult moments which require sacrifice—sometimes very painful sacrifice—no matter who we’re with. We will get tired, bored, angry, hurt, and want to quit so we can stop feeling all of those unpleasant feelings and go do something fun and easy that makes us feel good.

Maybe on those days we’ll collapse for lack of preparation. Maybe we’ll quit.

We have choices to make.

Maybe figuring out what we need to do in order to reach the finish line can be the choice we make.

Maybe it can be the choice I make.

So maybe then we don’t have to be afraid anymore.

38 thoughts on “The Difference Between Knowing the Path and Walking the Path”

  1. don’t worry about other people’s comments. and, by the same token, don’t feel compelled to respond. just read it; absorb it; take the good that resonates with you; move on. it’s a journey. thanks for your writing.

  2. Many of us are appreciating your ability to put your emotions into words so effectively. Please try not to get bogged down by the trolls. Not everyone is a hater.

  3. “I got internet-mouthy with readers in the comments…”

    Sigh. Seriously Matt, we need to provide you some perspective here. If we are grading on a curve as to what constitutes “internet mouthy,” you did not even make the grade. That’s a good thing! You are to be commended for your level headedness, your patience, and your kind words. Just right there you have managed to achieve what 80% of us cannot.

    “I would never—not once under any circumstances—intentionally choose to harm or inflict pain on people I love. Yet, I have accidentally done so countless times.”

    I’ve done that too, you know, a few times to my husband. Not just words, but I literally threw a few things at him, too. Lawn chairs mostly, and tea cups. I can’t even claim it was accidental, it was deliberate and purposeful, although I did not realize at the time how hurtful I was being. That is the wrong kind of inflicting harm, that is the bad kind of causing pain.

    Then there is the other kind, the good kind, yes there is a good kind, the kind where you stand up for yourself, where you speak the truth, where you take responsibility for the fact that you may hurt some feelings, but hurt feelings are not always bad. Sometimes I think of parenting, I don’t want to break the kid’s heart and crush her feelings, but no, you are not taking my car to a party with a bunch of strange boys. Don’t ever apologize for causing that kind of pain, it serves a vital purpose in the world. Feelings are fleeting things, they pass and many people come to understand where you’re coming from, come to appreciate you even.

    1. yes to all of this, and from another tea cup thrower (not that I’m suggesting it’s mature) I feel that in those moments I am drowning. Drowning in the responsibilities of being a mother, a wife and an employee; and 2 of those jobs are in dire need of a union representative because the pay sucks and the work load is unreasonable. Have I lashed out at the other person in the water? Absolutely, but I need him to know I am DROWNING here. I have learned that as long as we’re both splashing around in the water I will try my hardest not to judge his front crawl technique but as soon as he sits back to float on a raft while I kill myself trying to get us to shore, you better believe I’m going to try to dunk him. Probably not the most mature way of dealing with it, but as my blog makes clear, I’ve made my peace with failing…but I’ll never accept not trying.

      1. That would require me to let on that I’m reading you, and I’m not there yet. You’re the type of person I want to be friends with…even while I’m cursing you for undermining my reasons (read: excuses) for *choosing* not to walk the path. (“Wait a minute, she’s a shitty wife too.”)

        What appeals to me, along with many other commenters that I’m seeing, is your raw authenticity. Whatever the state of one’s relationship, we’re all some degree of messy. It’s refreshing to hear from someone who doesn’t pretend otherwise.

        Your experience is all too common, as you’ve said…but your perspective still feels *uncommon* because few of us have the platform or the intellect or the will to articulate it. Keep keeping it real, brother. You’re making a difference.

      2. Oh the irony. One of my friends shared one of your posts on FB, extolling the virtues of what a great man you are. I did a double take when you appeared in my feed!

        I couldn’t very well say, “Oh yeah I know that guy…”

        First world anon blogger problems ?

  4. Loved your honesty in the dishes piece and fully empathize with your struggle to walk the talk now. Although I shared your post with my husband in hopes it might help him better understand my perspective, I became a subscriber because I’m hopeful your experience will help me become more open and compassionate towards my husband. Looking forward to more!

  5. I think you’re right, it’s about choice. Making the choice at least once a week that you’ll get your butt out the door to run a little further than you did last week until you build up enough miles to be able to run a marathon or making the choice in the course of one tense exchange to NOT say everything that’s on your mind and instead, in time, be able to move to the other person’s side of the table for a moment to consider, just for a split second, they have a point that only requires you to say “yes, thanks for sharing” even if you don’t agree with it. And after a string of those instances, you have a long-lasting relationship. Another great post!

  6. Matt, what a wonderfully genuine, self-reflective, introspective post. I’m honoured to have played a small part in inspiring it. I am confident you know that my comments and my post were definitely not “hating”. Quite the opposite. I very much admire your work. And, you obviously ^^^^^ have some readers who have your back no matter what. That is a clear indication that you have, and continue, to change lives by putting yourself out there.

  7. The internet is a great place to hone your skills at disagreeing an accepting criticism without getting defensive. Like anything else difficult, it takes practice. I used to run a very popular Facebook page and it took me years to get better at resisting my emotional need to be right and understanding that we are all coming from different places. Practice makes perfect! If you wanted to run that marathon, you’d have to train for it. No reason this should be any different.

  8. I didn’t think you were particularly mouthy, although I did get get a bit of a chuckle out of you digging in your heels. In a good way.

    Relax, Matt, I promise you will get there…it just takes practice, that’s all. The fact that you recognized, “oops, I did it again”? That’s progress.

  9. Honesty and constructive criticism is hard stuff, for everyone involved. Just like love. The people who take the time to write thoughtful soul-searching posts on what seems to be missing the mark stand out in contrast amongst those who call them ‘trolls’ and say ‘Hey Matty, you’re awesome, don’t listen to any of that, just go on with your bad self!’

    Who loves and cares for the author more?

    1. Yep. I’ve seen other commenters bring this up here. He gets some of the best constructive criticism and then gets defensive rather than embracing the opportunity to improve. But it’s not too late for that, either.

  10. “What if, no matter how much I think I know, these same emotional triggers and habits always wind up sabotaging my relationships?”

    You can change this. You don’t need to lose anyone else.

  11. Matt, I found a link that said she divorced me b/c I left dishes in the sink. I read it and liked your topics as well as your writing style.

    I have not read everything yet, but just wanted to say I am 22 years removed from my painful divorce that I caused 100%. Let me give you some encouragement – my life has turned out better than I ever could have hoped or imagined. I spent 4 years trying to understand why I was so messed up and swore if I ever got a chance to be married again, I would be good at it.

    It’s sometimes hard to read your stuff because it reminds me of the bad old days, but also reminds me how fortunate I am today.

    Finally, I think it’s interesting that so many (90%?) of the comments are seemingly from women. Maybe guys like me don’t like to express ourselves so public ally.

    Thanks. You are doing the hard work that most divorced guys are unwilling to do.

    Ron Huber


  12. I heard you got internet famous! I’m happy for you, you spent a lot of time writing here and it is always nice to know you are being read by such a large audience. Good for you.

    Though I am very sad to hear about [Redacted to protect the innocent]. That she won’t talk to you and why. I very much hope you can make amends with her, she’s a very special person. I’m so proud of her, how she has handled all the pain in her life with such grace. I think if you give her time, she will be open to speaking to you again. 🙂

    1. Had to edit that one a little, miss. She’s incredibly private. But, yes. She’s been through more difficulty in a relatively short period than most people ever come close to knowing in a lifetime. She’s easy to admire.

      Thank you for congratulating me. I don’t know that what I am qualifies as “internet-famous,” and whether that would even be a good thing, but I am legitmately happy that some people are having really important conversations with their loved ones. That a random blog post of mine saying essentially the same thing 20 others did somehow struck a chord and was able to be an ice breaker for people.

      That made all the headaches worth it.

      1. oops! I am very aware how private she is, I hope she doesn’t see this 🙂 I guess I figured no one would know who I was talking about. I appreciate your editing and hope that you two are on good terms again one day. I really hope that.

        Don’t call them headaches! You have to have both. Yin and yang. Always both. Balance. Wouldn’t you think it was weird to get thousands of blog comments and not one disagreed? You could write a post about anything and SOMEONE will disagree if your audience is big enough.

        You’ll be ok. *hugs*

  13. I “got” your original post (at least I think I did. oxygen deprivation has melted my brain, and I love and “get” this one too. I love your honesty, and willingness to share in your journey. you are awesome and amazing, and if I had any friends I would tell them.

  14. Thank you for putting yourself and your pain out there. My husband and I have been struggling for a few years, and despite good efforts, we seemed to be stuck with a lot of good intentions but not quite really reconnecting after a lot of hurt on both sides. A divorced friend shared your dirty glass post, and I reposted it and read several more in your blog. I got the audibook you recommended from the library (How to improve your marriage without talking about it) and listen to it on the way to work. I think my husband may have read some of your blog also, because I just had the best birthday weekend I’ve had in years 🙂 It’s great to hear your perspective and understand where the husband is coming from, but I think that Patricia Love and Steven Stosny really help wives understand that the approach we take to our marital issues may not be constructive. Not to say we should let the man skate and disrespect us, but often our response isn’t optimal (*guity*). Marriage needs *mutual* respect, and disrespecting the husband because he’s disrespecting the wife is just declaring war. Now I’m also reading
    Living and Loving after Betrayal” (also by Steven Stosny) because of the extent of the damage before our white flags went up. Again, thank you for this blog. It certainly meant a lot to me.

  15. I suppose that knowing the path has to come before walking the path – the latter is a series of tiny decisions along the way, old habits to dig out and new ones to form. It doesn’t happen over night – I think this is the same for everyone, the difficulty with writing candidly as you do is that many readers take you to be the oracle and it’s therefore doubly public and difficult to “fail” or as I would rather call it, to learn!

  16. I think you’re too hard on yourself. Everyone gets defensive when people criticise or misinterpret them. You seem to suffer from too much remorse and self doubt. You know sometimes certain partners bring out the worst in us. I know I’m a completely different person with different people! Sometimes what attracts us to someone is something that triggers schemas in us that are unhelpful. Ie if someone is deeply afraid of being possessed in a relationship, they are attracted to someone with commitment issues. This makes them frustrated when the person won’t commit but at least they are safe from being smothered. Their deep fear is being overtaken in a relationship by someone else’s needs and so they gravitate to a commitment phobe. Equally, someone afraid of rejection may gravitate to a controlling and enmeshed type of relationship. When it comes down to it we need to be OK by ourselves and choose a partner who is actually good for us. Not just the one who makes us feel infatuated. This was a wise lesson a psychologist taught me once and I firmly believe it. I think your self reflection and humbleness makes you a great person. I always say, as long as people have good intentions and genuinely care about their partner’s feelings, everything else can be worked on. Keep up the great articles and be kind to yourself too!

  17. Well said. I too joined in the comments to defend your points. But really that’s because I feel the same and want to defend MY POINTS. Some people understand and some don’t. Thank you for being brave enough to share your process. It reminds me that I’m not a weirdo and alone in how I think or over-analyze. Your posts are appreciated.

  18. kirstencronlund

    I really relate to this post. Not so much the part about getting Internet-mouthy, since I don’t have an active blog and I rarely post online. The part that I relate to is the wondering if all that I’ve learned through self-reflection, conversation with my ex, and research would amount to any kind of changed behavior on my part if I were to be in a position to test it out in a relationship. I had an aha recently while visiting a friend in a different state who I don’t see regularly. She was kind of distracted and shorter-tempered than usual because she has a big move coming up (actually moving to my home town!). I found myself getting irritated and wondering if I should even have made the trip out to see her, but then I stopped myself and thought, this is a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is moment. If I want to be good in relationships, then I need to be good in all relationships. I challenged myself to take the mindset that I would be getting a review at the end of the year on how good a friend I had been. I wondered what my friend would say if someone asked her how she would rate me on being a friend on several different measures – empathy, attention, appreciation, care, etc.. I could already see how I had fallen down in many ways this calendar year and it was only the end of January. So I changed my approach to her. I asked her what I could do to help her, I understood when she was distracted, and I asked questions about what was going on for her. I think it landed well. Maybe I should actually give her – and all of my friends – a review to fill out about how good a friend I had been at the end of the year. We’ll see if I’m brave enough. I also want to share a quote that maybe you have seen before. It speaks to me of all of this relationship stuff:

    “Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.” Anais Nin

  19. Internet-mouthy is a perfect description of the persona taken on by normally rational people who, under the cloak of anonymity and distance say things they would NEVER say in real life. Cathartic for some, offensive to others but take with a coarse grain of salt. It’s often arguing for the sake of arguing. But I laughed until I cried when I heard that term. Right on! Loving your stuff.

  20. Just read your blog about “dishes by the sink”…sent it directly to my husband, as we literally have that very argument at least 1 or 2 times per month….and you explained perfectly…better than I even understood myself…why it bothers me so much that he leaves that gd glass by the sink. He also leaves one in every bathroom. AAAHHH! He just emailed me after reading your piece, and swears to never do it again. We shall see. Thanks for your point of view. Maybe now he gets it. Fingers crossed! : )

  21. The one thing I hold onto in life, is that we can’t always fix our crazy in the moment… but we can work on it after. And that takes vulnerability, and a willingness to admit when we make mistakes our do something that doesn’t match our own perspectives of the person we want to be. I’ve not read all the comments, but I do respect your response. I follow you because you have a very common-sense and authentic approach to life.

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  23. I thought the admission of the right kind of sexism while still acknowledging that generalizations have their drawbacks was pretty great. I think you’re hitting the nail on the head with knowing that men and women need to learn to work with and around their differences as well as with this excellent post on holding yourself accountable for growth and improvement. If the world had more people holding themselves accountable and growing and learning…imagine how much less pain we’d all be inflicting on each other…

    1. Nothing is black and white for me. You can’t say: “Hey Matt! Choose this, or this.”

      Because I have 30 questions that need answered about each one before I can make what I believe to be the right call.

      There are layers. Context. Changing conditions. Sometimes THIS is the best way, but if when this other thing happens, THAT is probably the best way.

      I know that I over-generalize. I don’t know how to share how I feel about these things without being that way.

      And I just have to trust people to exercise intellectual honesty about my intentions and what I’m trying to say.

      More often than not, that works out. Sometimes, it does not.

      Thank you very much for recognizing–right or wrong–what I’m at least trying to do.

      I appreciate that, and your time, very much.

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