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.