What Will I Tell My Son To Help Him Avoid Divorce?

Comments 136
Father Son talk
(Image/Marsha Rakestraw)

Lynda asked: “My question for you is: what are you going to say to your son to teach him how to have a healthy relationship as he grows up? What seeds are you going to plant to help break the cycle? I have only a few years left with my boys under my roof to teach them what they need to know, and I don’t want to feel like they are doomed, given the family history. What are your thoughts?”

Divorce is very bad.

People often downplay it, A. Because it’s so common, “Can it really be THAT bad?” B. Because our parents did it, or we did it, and we’re all world-class experts at rationalizing our behavior no matter how sucky the behavior is, and C. Unless you’re the one getting divorced, or are intimately involved, it doesn’t cause much trauma. So when we hear about another divorce we all just kind of shrug and think: That’s a bummer! They seemed totally fine! or That makes sense! They never seemed right for each other!

But yeah. It can really be THAT bad.

Cancer is super-common too, but we take it pretty seriously.

Our sucky behavior is sucky regardless of our rationalizations, and even the best of humanity hurts other people sometimes, even if only by accident.

And I think it might take getting divorced yourself (while not wanting to) to fully appreciate what it’s capable of doing to your insides. Some people LOVE divorce, because it helped them escape a horrible situation.

Maybe my ex-wife feels that way. I hope not, but since I’m not inclined to ask, I’ll probably never know.

Setting aside the societal trickle-down effects of divorce for a second, the emotional and psychological fallout alone strikes me as one the things people don’t talk about enough. Because I simply didn’t know. Even when I was afraid of my marriage ending and having trouble sleeping every night, and even after 30 years of life experience as a child of divorce, I DID NOT KNOW.

Maybe because it’s another We Can’t Know What We Don’t Know thing. (I guess everything is.)

We live, and we learn.

The end of my marriage destroyed me internally and fundamentally changed me.

The “me” that existed for 33 years ceased to exist because I became someone else. That’s a painful process. It was the crying that gave it away. That’s not something I spent a lot of time doing post-childhood. But then I got divorced, and it happened a lot.

And when toughness is a virtue you admire, every little breakdown is another reminder of what a failing loser you grew up to be. And then maybe you cry some more.

On top of the brain and heart stuff, there’s the logistical fallout and ripple effects. Logistically, divorce makes you poorer, because it takes away your money, and something even more valuable—your time.

It was one of the first things I realized when my young son went from being home daily, to half the time: I just lost half of my son’s childhood. Ask any parent how fast 18 years goes before the little people they love most leave the nest. With 13-ish years to go at the time of the split, the truth hit me hard and fast: I just lost seven years.

I’m not shy about calling divorce the great social crisis of our time. It’s an epidemic that really hurts people while it’s happening, and then makes the lives of all involved a little worse every day afterward, even after the emotional wounds have scarred over.

Only about 1 percent of couples are going through divorce at any given time, so it’s easy to look the other way and act like we don’t have a big problem on our hands. But over 15 years, half of all couples will divorce. Nobody who hasn’t yet divorced believes it will happen to them. And most of the people who survive the emotional crucible post-divorce move on with their lives and don’t get involved afterward, even though everyone who remarries divorces even more frequently than the one-marriage couples.

Children of divorced parents have nearly triple the emotional problems, drug use, arrests—and are more likely to drop out of school and have unwanted pregnancies, according to Dr. Brunilda Nazario.

The risk of divorce is 50 percent higher when one spouse comes from a divorced home, and 200 percent higher risk when both of them do, says Nicholas Wolfinger, a professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah and author of Understanding the Divorce Cycle: The Children of Divorce in Their Own Marriages.

Children of divorce are also 50 percent more likely to marry another child of divorce, he said.

The only way to address divorce is for a cultural shift to take place where people learn effective relationship skills.

I don’t mean: “A happy wife is a happy life!”

Nor: “Marriage is hard work! You must work together and compromise!”

Nor: “Never go to bed angry!”

I mean real-life, hardcore, make-people-uncomfortable, mask-removing, road-less-travelled conversation and behavior to help people go from ignorant (which most of us are) to enlightened on all things related to relationships.

We teach kids about past-participles and the Pythagorean Theorem and the French & Indian War and many other things long-forgotten from my school days. But we don’t teach (or even bother trying) kids relationship skills, and provide important information about the basics of effectively communicating and co-existing with other people (romantically or otherwise).

Maybe someday, that will change. I hope so.

Meanwhile, the only thing we can do is talk to our children and try to help them learn these things so they can slowly chip away at the problem and experience less horribleness in adulthood than we did.

Today’s kids have Generation X and Millennials as their relationship role models, which in their current states, shouldn’t inspire much confidence in the future of long-term relationships.

But We Still Have to Try

Cancer continues to vex medical researchers and practitioners, but we continue to fight.

The complexities of human relationships are such that we’ll never be able to hand someone a reliable instruction manual on how to succeed. So we’ll do the best we can.

Lynda asked me what I will tell my son. No one has ever asked me that before.

There’s almost no reason to think my son will listen to me.

No matter how many times I tell him his made-up word “Eccleest” is actually two words he already knows well (“at least”), he continues to say “Eccleest” instead. No matter how many times I demonstrate that being 37 should afford me some trust on matters of both fact and educated guessing, he continues to—on a case-by-case basis—behave as if I’m the world’s biggest moron on matters of disagreement since one of his friends and/or grade school teachers once told him something he believes contradicts whatever I’m saying.

He certainly loves his father, and is super-impressed with my ability to add large numbers together in my head (even though I could totally give him the wrong answer, and he wouldn’t know the difference because he doesn’t confirm it with a calculator), but if he doesn’t WANT to agree with or listen to me, it doesn’t matter that I can prove 2+1=3. If he wants it to equal 79 million—to him, it will.

It’s a natural handicap brought partially by his age, and mostly because he’s a blend of genetic code produced by his mom and I. In the You Should Listen to Your Parents game, little man never had a chance.

What Will I Tell Him?

That the romantic couples he sees in the movies are a lie.

I’ll tell him that—just like so many things he sees on TV—that’s not real. It’ll be some innocence-robbing shit, too. Like when he inevitably discovers in the next year or two there isn’t actually a Santa Claus. I kind of feel sorry for him. Robbing him of hope and optimism on the romantic front. But it’s exactly what I’m going to do anyway.

I’m going to teach him what real love is. I’m going to show him how it’s a choice to be made. And that when two people are willing to make that choice every day, no matter what, there WILL be legitimate romance sometimes. Not always! Nothing is always. But sometimes. And that just because forever-love looks a little less exciting and like a hell of a lot more work than fairytale-love, it doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful.

I’m going to tell him how HARD marriage is. Over and over and over again. Not to discourage him. To prepare him. And not to scare him. But because it’s true.

I’m going to teach him (and if I can’t, I’ll find someone who can) what it means to define your core values and vigilantly enforce personal boundaries so that his life won’t suck.

I’m going to help him understand that all those little things running around his head that he’s too scared to talk about are byproducts of fear, anxiety and insecurity (and that FEAR is really the only thing we should be afraid of). I’m going to teach him one of the most important lessons so many people don’t understand: YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE.

I’m going to help him recognize that being honest (like, uncomfortably honest) with his partner is awesome, because then he can wake up every day knowing the real him (and not the mask-wearing pretender other people think he is) is truly loved and accepted.

I’m going to teach him what empathy is and make sure he can prove to me that he understands it because it’s the skill he will need most in order to succeed in his relationship.

I’m going to teach him that his marriage can’t be about HIM. That if he’s marrying for himself, he’s doing it wrong. It’s going to be for the person he chooses to marry and any future children he might have.

When he’s old enough, I’m going to tell him that pornography destroys relationships, but maybe not for the reasons he might think.

And I’m going to tell him that the one surefire way to turn a female partner into someone who resents him and loses all feelings of attraction toward him, is to put her in the position of having to do things for him that his mom did.

I’m going to tell him that his mom and I splitting up is the worst thing that ever happened to me, and that he shouldn’t marry until he can demonstrate mastery of all of these concepts and life skills so that he can recognize a partner who understands them too, and teach any children to do the same.

I’m going to make DAMN SURE he understands what hedonic adaptation is. That it happens to EVERYONE about EVERYTHING—including romantic partners.

I’m going to help him really understand that the grass isn’t greener over there.


What am I going to tell him?

The truth.


Like this post? Hate it? You can subscribe to this blog by scrolling annoyingly far to the bottom of this page and inserting your email address under “Follow Blog via Email.” You can also follow MBTTTR on Twitter and Facebook.

136 thoughts on “What Will I Tell My Son To Help Him Avoid Divorce?”

  1. Great stuff. I am making notes for things to have my son read when he’s a little older.

  2. And never, ever leave a laboring/delivering/post-delivery new mom. Especially when she begs you to stay. That’s the first day of the end of your marriage because you just showed her who it was all about – and it’s not her or her child (not your child – if you thought of that child as really important to you, you would have stayed). You’ve just shown her that when it really matters, she’s on her own. (And I’m not talking military and all the reasons that keep awesome dads away – I’m talking that you were tired or whatever and chose to leave when she begged you to stay. You taught her she couldn’t count on you.)

    1. This is a little bit unfair and inaccurate, but we’ll chalk it up to my poor writing, and you only having that to go on.

      Your point is well taken, regardless.

  3. This sounds overly simplistic, but I would suggest counseling for my son and future child-in-law in additional to of all that you mention. Or before, even.

    The deeper things are covered well by what you said and will still be in play over years, but the “obvious” things, like money, kid,jobs, where to live etc. may be best gone over by a third party. Too many things forget to get asked in the midst of “love” and sometimes it really is those things that cause it all to start downhill.

    Of course, the beginning of the end of my marriage was over one of those “basic” things so I admit to wanting to make sure the framework is set (in his mind) ahead of anything else.

  4. Matthew, I admit at times I am just too busy to get too all the blogs I would love to and (tbh, don’t hate me please) you’re posts are often a bit long and I can’t always do anything but scroll and speed read. Most of the time, you come up with something so engaging I don’t even care its 1,000+ words. First, I know the stats are staggering, but taking the time to look at your behavior and what you could do better is important. Second, my children (20 and 22 yo’s) often read my work (unless I get too graphic about their step-dad’s penis, but who could blame them there) and I know they see me talk about the difficulties, but regardless of them we choose to prevail, we choose to work every day. They see that and your son will too. He needs to know it’s not going to be easy. You aren’t scaring him. You are preparing him and that doesn’t happen to a lot of children these days. Yes, it is the biggest social epidemic but with people like you and me and hundreds of others like us, we can turn it around if we try.

  5. Matt wrote “The only way to address divorce is for a cultural shift to take place where people learn effective relationship skills….
    I mean real life, hard core, make-people-uncomfortable, mask removing, road-less-travelled conversation and behavior to help people go from ignorant (which most of us are) to enlightened on all things related to relationships.”

    I really like this. I think most of us really want to have these kinds of conversations (and “get away with them”) but we don’t see people being uncomfortably honest with each other. We see anxiety and avoidance. We see putting on a happy face and not addressing serious issues because we just don’t know how, or we are afraid of the consequences. if we did.

    Not every conversation needs to be gut-level honest, but those conversations need to be ok when they are necessary. We need to know how to cultivate relationships where this is a safe and productive practice.

    1. It’s for this reason that I think anxiety (and the accompanying avoidance) is one of the most toxic things to a relationship. It’s just SO destructive to the ability to move forward in a positive way.

      1. Drew ,
        “Its for this reason that I think anxiety (and the accompanying avoidance) is one of the most toxic things to a relationship. It’s just SO destructive to the ability to move forward in a positive way.”

        Definitely. It may be because criticism is really hard to take, even if meant productively or even if it is just perceived criticism (like “he will think thus and such if I tell him this). It’s especially hard from someone you love and also especially from someone who you know is not perfect, either.
        It becomes about protecting yourself and the whole idea of relationship goes out the window. Its hard to remember that there are (at least) 2 people in the boat and the goal is to get where you are going together. You have to function in a way that keeps the boat afloat and moving, not capsized, not wrecked, not stranded without an oar or paddle.
        What gets missed is that when you take the mask off and say what you really feel: “I need to know you love me.” , “I miss our time together” , or when you agree/admit “Yes, I wasn’t paying attention and now the checking account is overdrawn. I have a really bad habit of forgetting to balance my checkbook, and I am not sure what I need to do to really change that. Can we think of some solutions that will help both of us out?”
        There is a chance for reconciliation and even more- a strengthening of the relationship.
        Unfortunately married individuals have at least 20 years of experience learning how to protect themselves from family and friends while growing up.
        Knowing these areas (how you protect, what your really afraid of, ect.) of yourself and your partner (maybe the first and best mask free conversation??) can help with empathy and repairing bad communication patterns.

        1. “It becomes about protecting yourself and the whole idea of relationship goes out the window. Its hard to remember that there are (at least) 2 people in the boat and the goal is to get where you are going together.”

          Yeah, here’s a line by Daniel Smith, who suffers from anxiety and wrote a really good book (Monkey Mind: a memoir of Anxiety) on it:

          “Their central concern is what affects you, what threatens you, what you need, you regret, you dread, you fear. Anxiety is a condition of near-total self-absorption, made only worse by the fact that the sufferer typically realizes that he is being self-absorbed and grieves over his sad inability to see past himself.”

          My experience is that anxiety definitely makes the world close in. It breaks down intimacy, it breaks down empathy and it breaks down “we”, and virtually everything is seen through the lens of “me”, and how things affect “me”. I’m not sure if I agree with Smiths assessment that anxious people realize they are being self absorbed. I’ve talked to a number of people with serious anxiety disorders, and when they are in the grips of anxiety (and acting in a very self-absorbed way as a result) they don’t realize it. In fact, they usually feel the way they are acting makes sense, as it’s a logical extension of their anxiety.

          If they do realize that they were being selfish (and that’s a big if), it’s usually only later when they are outside the grips of the anxiety.

          I’ve seen a number of marriages destroyed due to anxiety, so it’s a topic that really resonates with me.

          1. Anxiety- It’s a huge issue and I agree that it narrows your ability to see past your own needs a lot of the time. I know I have been guilty of the same thing.
            Some of the research I did last semester was about anxiety in adolescents. Something like 40% of Jr. High and High school student experience anxiety. For some of them it becomes a chronic issue, and it usually flips over into depression also. The group therapy studies that I looked at talked about adults stating the reason for coming in was for symptoms of anxiety and depression, to find that after some sessions the symptoms remitted significantly and the statements became about coming in for improving interpersonal skills and to improve relationships.
            What seems to have happened is the interpersonal skills were being learned and applied, and a lot of the underlying anxiety and depression was less prevalent- because their relationships had improved. They were more involved in their relationships which fed them their natural neurochemicals.
            Just to state up front- I do not believe that anyone just needs to “get over” anxiety and/or depression. I am very aware that there are neurochemical changes in the brain that causes both anxiety and depression. However, the more we understand about the brain the more we get that there are a lot of things we can do in addition to medication to reduce anxiety.
            Anxiety becomes self perpetuating. The more we experience it, the more it occurs. We train our brains to become more anxious.
            For me, it makes perfect sense that 40% (Almost half!!!) of Jr. High and High School students experience anxiety- they are being exposed to new social situations, they are having to make choices and decisions about more things, they are trying to figure out who they are- and its not in the back drop of loving and nurturing parents (even if the students have this, they may not want to rely on mom and dad). They are trying to figure out who they are in the back drop of a bunch of kids who are just as scared as they are to be themselves. All of this is very anxiety producing.
            What I am studying this semester and likely all next year are social interventions that can be implemented in schools. Things like weekly small groups, empathy training, mental health education to reduce stigma.
            40% is almost “normative”. Talking about these things as common experiences and not pathologizing them helps to reduce the sense that “I have a disease and that wont change.”
            The person has to believe that they have the power to change for change to actually occur.
            It is not a chronic disease, but it can become one.
            I don’t know if anything I just wrote was helpful to your personal circumstances at all.
            I’m sorry if not, and I’m even more sorry if it hurt in anyway.
            Our brains get used to responding in the same ways and it takes a lot of purposeful effort to change it.
            We’re all subject to that, no? 🙂

          2. Anxiety and depression are difficult, because as you said – we all have anxiety. And we all get depressed.

            There’s a huge difference between “normal” levels of anxiety and depression and anxiety disorders or clinical depression though. And often those who are suffering think it’s just normal fluctuations of their moods, or they believe “this is just how they are”.

            You mention “Anxiety becomes self perpetuating. The more we experience it, the more it occurs. We train our brains to become more anxious.” And that’s really true. One of the real challenges is, the normal “coping mechanism” for anxiety is avoidance – avoiding those things that generation the fight/flight response. But avoidance actually makes the anxiety worse over time, and people start needing to avoid more and more things as the anxiety tightens it’s grip.

            One thing I find interesting in both anxiety and depression is that they both share similar broken thinking patterns (cognitive disorders), and everything i have learned has led me to believe that rewiring the brain and changing those thinking processes is the only real effective way to learn to cope with anxiety and depression. Medication can help, but in some ways it’s just a band-aid.

          3. Drew,
            “One of the real challenges is, the normal “coping mechanism” for anxiety is avoidance – avoiding those things that generation the fight/flight response. But avoidance actually makes the anxiety worse over time, and people start needing to avoid more and more things as the anxiety tightens it’s grip.

            One thing I find interesting in both anxiety and depression is that they both share similar broken thinking patterns (cognitive disorders), and everything i have learned has led me to believe that rewiring the brain and changing those thinking processes is the only real effective way to learn to cope with anxiety and depression. Medication can help, but in some ways it’s just a band-aid.”

            I totally agree with you that avoiding anxiety triggers helps you to continue to be anxious. Learning ways to effectively cope in situations that can trigger anxiety can make them less anxiety producing- in small bits that can be titrated up. But, you have to be willing to step out and expose yourself to these things. And also expose yourself to things that will increase the feel good neuro chemicals- go find something that really makes you laugh, go for a run/jog, ect.
            I also agree medication can help, but isnt a cure all. It does is optimize what your brain is already producing. Medication can get to certain areas that reduce the output of say nor-epinephrine, or increase dopamine in other areas- so in that way it can be really effective. But there are alot of other things that can be done to limit the severity and chronicity of anxiety.

          4. Just a disclosure here- I may not even be as studied as you are Drew, much less all the other regulars. So, I have opinions, but I am no expert.
            I am learning though- or am supposed to be 🙂
            Getting back to work 🙂
            Hope, peace and love to everyone.- Really.

          5. HI Linbo – learning and growing, that’s all any of us can really do.

            And as for being studied or being an “expert” – it helps I guess, but with all the different approaches to things out there it doesn’t really mean a whole lot.

            People on these comment threads have shared experiences of things like counselors, and some of the so called experts give terrible, terrible advice. Plus you can go to another expert and get advice that contradicts what you received from the first one.

            Relationships aren’t like math. There’s no one path, and no right or wrong. There are just lots of different ways to do things, each with their own pros and cons.

            The best advice I ever received came from my Grandma. If I ever asked her anything, she told me that when she was little she would turn to her father for advice and his answer was always “I know what I think, but only you can know what you think”.

            Grandmas message to me was always think for yourself, don’t follow blindly, but always be willing to reconsider your stance if new information comes to light.

            Any critical thinking skills that I have are probably due to Grandma.

            So I’ve always loved learning, and loved getting more information. But I will always own any choices I make. They’re mine, and I’m responsible for them.

            I do appreciate thoughts and opinions from others though. Differing perspectives are always how we grow.

  6. I have tried and tried to save my marriage but I am through living in a one-sided relationship where I’m treated as an indentured servant. I hope my boys know when they grow up, who really cared for them. Right now they have the worst example possible for how to treat women.

    1. I’m very sorry to hear that, M, and I wish you the best in communicating to your sons the values you wish them to have. If you haven’t seen them, there are many wonderful posts here on MBTTTR and their comments, especially about accepting influence. This is not a term I had heard before following along here, and it is especially enlightening. I have already begun to talk to my 11 year old son about it. Good luck.

  7. Pingback: Nobody taught you how to love. – The Self-Actualized Life

  8. The TRUTH …

    Sounds so simple … so intuitively obvious … and yet, that just might be the most courageous plan EVER …

  9. Thank you for your response. It very neatly tied together all of the things you’ve said throughout the blog. It most definitely will require a cultural shift and it begins with conversations like this taking place. I really appreciate you taking the time to address my question. I’ve got much to do to be successful with my own sons and precious little time. It’s time to get started…

  10. Good thoughts Matt. Here are a few from my kids relationship tips from mommy.

    1. It is critical to talk in advance with a third party about expectations and needs regarding finances, inlaws, sex, housework etc.

    2. Continue to actively work on your relationship. This may involve regular checkups with a counselor. BOTH the husband and wife reading information and working on relationship skills.

    3. Everything needs to be filtered through two basic things. Accepting influence and healthy boundaries. You get those two things right and you have very high odds for a happy marriage no matter what your parents or grandparents did.

    4. Because biology, environment and family history matter far less than a willingness to learn what to do and turn just working hard.
    It is all skills based and can be learned.

    5. Deep friendship is the basis of a happy marriage. Your spouse should be your best friend in the best sense. You know and understand each other intimately. How to sooth each other when upset. How to set boundaries when out of line.

    6. Treat your spouse as your friend AND lover. A good sex life is important. Keep learning about each other and seek help early if there are roadblocks. Don’t ignore or treat it as a low priority. If you do, things will get out of balance and the system becomes dysfunctional.

    7. The primary relationship is your marriage. Not your kids, not your job, not your hobbies not your mother. Of course they matter but if the foundational relationship is not prioritized, the other stuff gets out of balance and the whole system becomes dysfunctional.

    8. You must be trustworthy. This means differ things to different people but in general it means being able to count on you when you say you will do something. Being there when it matters like a death or medical diagnosis.

    Being trustworthy also means not treating each other with contempt. We are one each other’s side and want the best.

    9. If you screw up as we all do, apologize sincerely and make amends of necessary. Do not get defensive or say it was no big deal or I didn’t understand. This will prevent healing.

    10. When your spouse does apologize sincerely, forgive. It will be your turn soon if you’re doing it right. Because everyone screws up, happily married people know how to repair and heal and forgive.

    Just a few of mommy’s tips. I just recently taught my kids step by step how to apologize effectively. We really need to think consciously about all this stuff.

      1. Hey Gottmanfan! 🙂

        You know, in general I agree with this.

        But I believe the personal level of maturity is really so very important. If people have an entitled or codependent mindset, however much they might not realize it, I don’t necessarily think councelig can do that much you know? Who’s to stop an entitled husband (or wife!) from no longer vacuming like they agreed in counceling would be his job, with the justification of he just doesn’t care?

        Maybe the more codependent wife would know that she then needed to practice boundaries (and that would be great if she had learned that), but if she doesn’t
        have the fortitude to follow through after the first or second or third push back?

        With an entitled mindset, it’s not that likely that an entitled husband would accept, or at least not continue to accept, influence from the counceling. 😉 And he might already believe he’s accepted influence, that he’s a Jason, even though he’s not. it takes A LOT to rid yourself of an entitled and self centered mindset and really practice full respect living. I don’t necessarily think counceling is always enough, Sometimes divorce or some other personal disaster isn’t enough!

        I do agree that early counceling is a good idea. Coupled with individuals also being counceled in skills, aka Brent and Lisa Atkinson, as to what to do when your partner doesn’t accept your influence. And counceling that helps people get some clarity on their values, AND that names common dynamics, so that people prone to codependency, shit eating and being gaslighted can be armed (sorry for the violent word) with a lot of clarity from the get go.

        What am I really saying? The more we learn skills and name dynamics and the truth of what’s going on, the better! But it takes so so much to really make it stick you know. And people don’t always know their values and dealbreakers before we get married. Like has been mentioned here on this blog before, folks didn’t know to look for certain things, because they didn’t know that people couldn’t apologize or accept influence or that some people actually didn’t work. So premarital counceling can only do so much. These skills, knowledge of the dynamics must become the new water we all swim in!

        1. Donkey, I agree with you it takes a lot of introspection to figure out this stuff. And counseling is not a magic cure but just a tool.

          But I can tell you that in the US most couples do not have intense premarital counseling to discuss in advance expectations about common things. And that is just plain stupid.

          We spend huge amounts of time and money planning the wedding and very little planning for the marriage. That is just plain stupid that our culture sets it up that way.

          So that is why I would start in my mommy rules with intense premarital counseling. Of course, there will be things agreed to that need to be worked out. But doing that helps you understand that there are different expectations and things to process.

          And you can start the process when things are good. Setting boundaries and not adapting. It prevents a lot of stupid divorces to not start with adapting. Knowing which things require boundaries and which things don’t. A good research based counselor would help. Contempt is never ok. Gender stuff in fast thinking like housework needs extra structure to keep it fair. Guidelines in place for how to respond when things slip into fast thinking. Understanding that stuff.

          We did some of that on our own. I had books wth questions so we were able to talk about some expects and differences. My hubby initially said he wasn’t changing diapers so I said that’s fine then we are not having children as a small example. He changed lots and lots of diapers by the way. Used a mask for the smell but whatever. He accepted influence there and I did not adapt.

          But it was ridiculous how little the pastor who married us asked is his “counseling”. Or the weekend thing he commended that was full of gender stereotypes that didn’t apply to us was useless.

          What I am going to suggest got my kids is a Gottman like (doesn’t have to be that one) skills of a healthy relationship workshop.

          All about the necessity of accepting influence even if you don’t understand it agree and setting boundaries and not adapting to shit. And apologizing and repairing. And which things matter and which don’t. All the stuff I have had to teach myself should be taught before marriage.

          If there are problems identified with either if those two things, the marriage needs to be postponed. If there are problems after marriage with entitlement, boundaries must be set. If you have good premarital counseling you can understand all this and work things out well enough do you continue to learn instead of getting a stupid divorce.

          I am going to suggest to my kids to find a really good counselor premaritally (I will pay!) Not to wait to try and find one until after marriage because there are so many shitty ones out there.

          It’s like having a doctor you trust before you get sick. So you know who to call.

          These are things I am trying to talk to my kids about now in small ways. My hubby and I talk openly about seeing therapists about mental health issues in the same way as seeing a doctor about an infection to get antibiotics. My husband has spoken publicly about his panic disorder and the need to destigmatize mental health disorders. Relationship issues need to be destigmatized too.

          The biggest problem in my view is to get more research based counselors out there who know what the hell they are doing. But it is also something we delay way too long because relationship therapy is seen as something for really troubled couples not people like us with smaller issues. So we dysfunctionally adapt and get a stupid divorce or close to it years of unhappiness later.

          Couples counseling needs to be seen as normal regular stuff. We have talked to our kids about our seeking out help for our relationship. No details of course but to normalize it. That’s what intelligent people do when they have a problem. They research it and seek help. And they keep on researching and seeking help until good help is found and the problem is better. And then they work hard to apply all that good stuff. And keep working hard until you start having fun again.

          That is what we are trying to do learn healthy boundaries and accepting influence from each other. And working hard so we can have fun again.

          Because it’s not really about the toilets or dishes or the tone of voice. Those are just the superficial stuff we use to fight about “do you care about me?” “How can we treat each other and ourselves with respect in this thing we disagree about and what it represents to each of us?”

      2. Yeah, I think we’re in agreement here Gottmanfan.

        It would be so helpful for everyone to learn, even in the abstract, about accepting influence and boundaries, and definitely also about love languages and legitimate differences like Brent Atkinson talks about, and how must have a high level empathy for those differences! I do have to remind myself that not everyone finds the same concepts as useful as I do, but still, legitimate differences, love languages and accepting influence and boundaries/not adapting seem like a great place to start. 🙂 Perhaps along with respect/disrespect, dehumanization, entitlement/narcissism and codependency. :p AND the relevance/irrelevance of intentions! Honestly, that would have to be included (again, not that it never matters). Would the whole Bill, Dick, Jason and Alan.discussion be pushing it to far? :p

        It would at least shorten the time it would otherwise take many couple to figure this out. And folks would have a somewhat of common vocabulary around these things. And negotiating fair boundaries/structures around finances and housework and inlaws while things are good would help immensely. Even if someone doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain at a later point (which I think sadly would happen in quite a few cases), at least both have a common reference to something that would be fair, you know? So it would be helpful even for those cases! (And of course, circumstances might change so things have to be renegotiated, but still)

        And I would say, as you very well know, people learn from different things (I don’t remember the categories precisely): Research, personal stories, a spiritual approach, hiking in nature… So the counceling could include different approaches to teach basically the same thing. I don’t quite know how it would work with the nature folks. Maybe give them the information and then tell them to take a two hour hike? :p

        1. Yeah I just made up those categories based on what I have seen in real life. ?.

          Everyone should just be research based like me. Lol. I do not understand the nature people. Those are also more often woo woo people too.

          Not my tribe. Not saying I don’t think it’s valid it’s just do outside my way of understanding things.

          That’s why I developed my no puppet therapy rule. ?

        2. Also I have been talking about a lot of these concepts with my niece who has said she has found them very helpful in her dating life.

          Stuff about attachment styles, love languages, accepting influence and boundaries. etc.

        3. And what you said about having a common vocabulary is so important.

          To understand how to frame these things to be able to speak the same language and not just shrug shoulders and say ugh men or emotional women or whatever people say when you talk past each other.

    1. Also, I forgot my favorite pillow saying from this blog about boundaries and accepting influence.

      Do not serve shit.

      Do not eat shit.

      If you do serve shit, apologize and take steps to do not repeat.

      If you do eat shit, set boundaries so you do not repeat.

  11. Matt, What do you think your parents or someone else could have said to you to have you understand what to do better as a husband?

    The biggest thing I wish I had known about us that I had to set boundaries EARLY in the relationship when things were good. I did in some areas but adapted in other brcause they were “small”.

    I did not understand that they would almost cause us to get divorced because they represented his not accepting my influence which is critical to staying happily married.

    He adapted to my “assertive fighting style” in an similarly not good way.

    Both these plus other small adaptations we made led predictably to unhappiness and almost divorce.

    Wish someone had told us.

  12. Matt,
    I just re-read your post.
    There’s a few things that it stirs up in me.
    #1) I hope I have never seemed dismissive about how divorce affects you or others.
    #2) I hope you don’t take the statistics as “gospel”. I hope you read them as warning and caution- but not as fact.
    #3) I hope you get to demonstrate to your son what it’s like to have a good relationship with an intimate romantic partner. Whether you feel that way or not right now. You have too much to give a partner . Keeping all the goodness you have obtained all to yourself wouldn’t be right.
    Keep up the good and hard work, Sir.

  13. Hmm, I’ve given this some thought and decided that the one thing I would tell just about everyone is that first you must have a powerful relationship with Christ. You have to be strong within your own self and able to maintain your own frame in the dance. Marriage is only the cherry on top of your sundae, it is not something you are entitled to and it is not going to fulfill you.

    Over an over I see men who feel entitled and women who act co-dependent. It’s like this bizarre dance that is just doomed to failure. Generally I can offend both genders pretty well by saying such things, but in general men act like special snowflakes who expect to be loved like their mothers loved them, and women are like this bottomless pit of endless need he must fulfill.

    Something else that I would tell people is that marriage is awesome, marriage is worth it. Look at TV, the culture, people all around us speak negatively about balls and chains about divorce rape, about how marriage is the end of your sex life, about betrayal and loss and grief, and all that junk just becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. People encounter the slightest bit of hardship and we start confirming our own biases, the biases we’ve been taught. The myth, half of all marriages end in divorce, is exactly that, a total myth, but so ingrained into people’s psyches we just believe it. And then we bring it into our existence.

    1. “You have to be strong within your own self and able to maintain your own frame in the dance. Marriage is only the cherry on top of your sundae, it is not something you are entitled to and it is not going to fulfill you.”

      I largely agree with this.

      Insanitybytes22, I’m struggling a bit with making things clear in my head as to what you think, if you wouldn’t mind enlightening me, I would appreciate it”

      “Over an over I see men who feel entitled and women who act co-dependent. It’s like this bizarre dance that is just doomed to failure. Generally I can offend both genders pretty well by saying such things, but in general men act like special snowflakes who expect to be loved like their mothers loved them, and women are like this bottomless pit of endless need he must fulfill.”

      I can agree with this, as a general thing. But you say other places that women should continue to submit to their husbands? If I’ve misunderstood you, then by all means set me straigth. But I’m wondering how you can combine those two things? If a codependent woman just continutes to submit to her special snowflake husband, the dysfunctional dance will only get worse.

      (If anyone’s wondering what I think, if a couple wants the wife as submissive thing, then by all means. Personally, I believe in equal influence. Doesn’t mean everyone does half of everything or has equal power on everything, and it certainly doesn’t exclude the possibility of one person staying home, but equal influence is what I would prefer.)

      1. Submission can be such a tough thing to discuss Donkey, because it’s been so perverted and people think it’s somehow related to co-dependence or weakness or even staying home. In truth it can actually be empowering and it creates the opposite of co-dependence.

      2. Hello Insanitybytes22, thanks for getting back to me.

        You decide what you want to spend your time on of course, but if you’d like to explain how you believe it can create the opposite of co-dependence I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. 🙂 I hope I don’t come across as snarky, I’m genuinely interested in the thought process.

        I can understand that if someone has excellent integrity and maturity (Christ-based or not) it could be safe for their spouse to submit to them. But I don’t see how someone can go from being codependent to healthy and integritybased while submitting to a special snowflake, or indeed how a special snowflake can become healthy and integrity based when someone codependent submits to them all the time.

        Remember the Steve, Bill and Jason discussion? To me it seems like submitting to a special snowflake would just be to continue eating the shit sandwiches along with the burgers that Steve feeds you, even accepting his explanation that it is a burger and not a shit sandwich. :p

        I feel like easy sayings such as, well everyone should just not be selfish, or everyone must look to Jesus and then we wouldn’t have the problems of special snowflakes taking advantage of codependents, are just not reality based. Please believe me, I’m NOT ridiculing anyone’s religious beliefs, I’m just trying to make the point that just because people *should* do this or that, they often don’t (knowingly or not). And that’s why I think it’s essential that people don’t just submt (of course everyone must submit now and then), but that they have healthy boundaries and ask for equal regard.

        1. Donkey,
          About the submission thing – there is a verse that says a woman should submit to the husband. If you look up most interpretations this is supposed to be willing submission- allowing him to take a leadership role. Kind of allowing him to exercise his natural intuitive nature. It is supposed to create harmony, and is not permission for abuse.
          I think it needs to be looked at a little more thoroughly in context ect.. Why was this stuff being written in the first place? Who were the writers talking to?
          Also, submission is not supposed to be one sided.
          There are verses that say “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” , and “to think of others as better then yourself”- These aren’t telling us we need to flagellate ourselves, they are telling us to consider other peoples needs as more important than our own (because we entrust our needs to Christ.)
          I think the entrusting our needs to Christ is the thing that all of this hinges on, and wouldn’t make sense to someone who doesn’t have a Christian belief system. However, I can tell you, it is hard for it to make sense to me, too- who has a Christian belief system.
          I found this article from Relevant Magazine. It is written from a Christian perspective, and could shed some light on understanding it from this POV.

    2. I just want to say how glad I am to see someone saying it’s important to have a relationship with Christ AND saying that marriage is not the ultimate fulfillment!! Often, people advocating both Christianity and marriage speak as if marriage is the most important thing God wants us to do (the phrase “God’s plan for our lives” is often used) and if you follow all the rules about being pure before marriage and totally committed once you’re married, you are guaranteed to be happy and fulfilled in every way. This isn’t how it works…and so many well-meaning Christians end up divorced as a result.

      1. ‘Becca,
        I followed all the rules in hopes of getting married. It didn’t happen :(.
        When I asked why it didn’t happen- I was the one to blame. I did something wrong.
        But, youre right- after many a temper tantrum before God, I finally got that my life isn’t about being married or having children. Those are certainly great catalysts for growing up. They will inevitably change you, but I guess if you are willing, other things will change you and grow you as well.
        I still want intimate relationships – I do believe he made all of us for that. I think we need to “get” ourselves and others in these friendship/family relationships before we can make a commitment to having a life long romantic relationship.
        It certainly isn’t a guarantee, or a right- and thinking that way IS all wrong. Because it isn’t about having a soul mate, or receiving love or being treated in a certain way- it is about the ability to love others- marriage wont work unless you can do that.

        1. Being in a long-term intimate relationship and having children myself, I get really irritated when people talk about how these are such important ways to grow up. Yes, there are specific things I have learned from each relationship, but in general? Just be an adult! Don’t wait until a baby is depending on you to grow the heck up!!! When people talk about their amazing personal growth as spouses or parents, I’m glad they grew, but absolutely there are other ways to do it, and sometimes it’s hard to resist saying, “I’m sorry you were such a jerk in the first place. Now that your children have reformed you, how are you going to teach them to be better human beings than you were?” :-p

          1. Well, wait a second. being put in situations that are slightly over your head, where you have to struggle has the effect of growing you up. That is what I meant. And absolutely having something that you love more than yourself, such a child shifts your perspective.
            Most people will say they had no idea how much they could love another human being until they had their child. That is what I am talking about.
            For all intents and purposes I am an adult. I am responsible for the things I am responsible for. But, I’m also a human being and tend to choose easier paths that wouldn’t challenge me as much. That is part of being a human. We do that. That doesn’t mean I am always lazy, ect. It just means if I had the choice between really hard, sweat labor vs. less labor and more freedom, and leisure- I would probably choose the latter. That is not unusual. But, that wont get you growth. Most people don’t look at “growth” being a reason for doing anything. Most people just have to do what they have to do- and growth is a bi-product.
            That is what happens in marriage and when you have kids.
            Intimate relationships and child-rearing are on the developmental milestones- so they have a valid place in development.
            I have my reasons for being off of that developmental track- so they aren’t the only way to go, but they are a part of normal development.
            And just to defend myself again in the growth department- I do take on challenges that most people wouldn’t for the sake of growth and development. I have to be intentional about it .
            I have to grow on purpose.
            And, I have had to come far to live into that idea without absolutely hurting for the family I did not grow up with, and the family I currently do not currently have.
            It is easy to say “grow-up” to someone, a lot easier than it is to walk in their shoes, or understand where they are coming from.

          2. Oh, I didn’t mean to be telling YOU to “grow up”! It’s the people who don’t get around to growing up until they have a spouse or children who frustrate me.

            “Most people will say they had no idea how much they could love another human being until they had their child.”–I know. I wonder what’s wrong with them that they didn’t love their parents or their child’s other parent that much. I adore both of my children thoroughly, and there’s a different “flavor” to the love that comes from knowing them all their lives and being so intimately connected at the beginning…but the idea that I love them MORE than other people or they taught me to love MORE than ever before is weird to me.

            “Intimate relationships and child-rearing are on the developmental milestones”–I’m a developmental psychologist, and I think this is a problematic way of putting it. Developmental milestones are things like walking, getting teeth, puberty: things that will happen in normal people without instruction or decisions. The term is also used sometimes for things all normal children can learn to do, like toilet training and reading. But when you apply it to what we more often call “life-course transitions”, it’s problematic. I would not say that a parent is more grown-up than a non-parent or a married person is more grown-up than a single or cohabiting person, any more than I would say that a person who graduated from college is more grown-up than a person who only finished 8th grade or that a person who’s had sex is more grown-up than a person who hasn’t. Those events (and the events that lead to or follow from them) do tend to promote growth and change, but they are not “milestones” required for normal development. A 43-year-old virgin can be just as grown-up as I am, and she may have learned just as much about living with others and caring for others by living in a convent and teaching school (for example) as I have by being a partner and parent.

          3. Becca!
            Great! LOL! Speaking of conflict resolving ..:) I guess I am feeling a little defensive. Sorry!
            Ok, I misunderstood what you were trying to say.
            I appreciate what you were saying about marriage and children being problematic as a developmental milestone.
            But, wouldn’t you say the ability to have intimate interpersonal relationships would count as a normal developmental milestone?
            Actual marriage, and child rearing maybe not, but the fact that you can have these relationships?
            In Erickson’s theory that is part of early adulthood, and it is something that I (And I am sure a lot of other people) kind of compare themselves to.

          4. Yes, the *ability to have* intimate interpersonal relationships could be considered a normal developmental milestone, if by “intimate” you mean emotionally close, rather than requiring sexual intimacy. Most people have what I would call an intimate interpersonal relationship by age 10 or so, with a best friend; even if a person is unlucky enough to live in a place where nobody is compatible enough to be her best friend, by age 10 she is probably able to have an intimate friendship. Adults who are truly unable to form any type of intimate relationship (that is, it’s not just a matter of not finding the right person) got that way as a result of abuse or trauma, so they are “not normal” in the same way as a person who doesn’t learn to read because of a head injury is “not normal”.

          5. Phew! I’m normal then :).
            My best friend from 3rd-5th grade was Kenneth. He would show up at our apartment after school and we would ride bikes until it was getting dark. One of my fondest childhood memories. ❤️.I think without a lot of good guidance through adolescents relationships start to get mucked up, and they do not become any easier as an adult. Ah Lawd! -we definitely need to teach children,adolescents and adults how to be secure in themselves and how to love others. I think about Jr. High and High school culture and think “no wonder we became so mangled.”

  14. My kids have already told me they will never, ever divorce -because they saw what it did to their parents.

    That is one sad legacy, for sure. But if my pain saves them theirs….

  15. We were both children of divorce. I took my mask off, but he kept asking me to take it off and he didn’t believe me that I had. I realize now he was wearing lots of masks and didn’t realize I only had one.

    Lots of good thoughts about what to tell my child – About hard work and Movie Love, about trust and masks and not making your spouse do for you what your mother did for you and setting boundaries and being serious about your beliefs and goals and not letting those go to the wayside because you are compromising yourself.

  16. I love this post Matt. We have kids ranging in age from one year to 21. It is tough, but nothing worth doing right should ever be easy. When my husband and I separated the hardest part was telling our children. It brings to mind that failure to try. It made me realize I hadn’t tried enough. They helped me see that if I could love them unconditionally then I HAD to CHOOSE that for my husband, our marriage and family. It all starts with one person. One choice. One love.

  17. Oooh, Matt, if you should feel so inclined, maybe you could start a letter series with things you want to teach your son about marriage?

    I feel quite sure that many parents here would appreciate them! 🙂

    1. That’s a super-awesome idea.

      I’m going to think on that, but I probably owe you things for that one, miss.

      Thank you!

      1. Thanks, and you’re welcome. 🙂

        When you become rich and (even more) famous, you could consider hiring me. :p
        I’m sure I could learn lots of useful stuff you’d need for your business, and frankly, I’m probably more organized than you so that’s a useful skill right there. And I could also contribute with my smartypants thoughts. 8)

        I would love a job that was partly practical in some way and partly smartypants. 8)

  18. My biggest one for my kids is trying to help them understand that conflict isn’t bad. Without conflict we never improve, we never see other viewpoints or thoughts. And we never grow.

    Feelings aren’t bad. You can be angry, you can be hurt, you can be sad. All those things are natural.

    They key is learning how to manage them.

    1. Yes! Conflict is an opportunity to learn. A friend of mine (whose parents did stay married for decades before her father died) says that the worst thing they did was refuse to argue in front of their kids: Whenever a conflict came up, they would as quickly as possible get the kids occupied doing something (all the time clenching their teeth and glaring at each other) and then go into another room and close the door so that their tone of voices might be heard but very few words could be made out and it was a total mystery what went on in there, and then they would come out acting like everything was fine. When she got engaged, she fully expected her parents to teach her what to do in the other room to resolve a conflict, but they never mentioned it at all. She was left with the feeling that conflict is shameful. Luckily, she explained all this to her husband early on, and they read a lot of books and thoroughly discussed the strategies and agreed on what would work for them, and they’ve been getting along pretty well for about 25 years now.

      1. I think this notion that conflict is bad leads to that guilt and shame about conflicts, and a broken belief that couples should just get along all the time.

        We’re different, with different wants and needs. So conflict is inevitable. How you handle it however is probably one of the most important contributors to marital success (and I suspect most of us don’t do it very well).

      2. Drew: you said “and I suspect most of us don’t do it very well”.
        I think most of the time, while we are in conflict we are in such an emotional state that we do either the flight, fight or freeze.
        You also mentioned in a previous comment about emotions not being bad, but they need to be managed. I agree they aren’t bad- we need to experience them and know what they are and why we are having them, so we can effectively work on the issues that are causing them.
        I just read some of Brent Atkinson’s stuff that Donkey/Lisa recommended. It talks about our primitive, reptilian brain (our emotional brain) taking control and our rational brain has to catch up.
        So, conflict is really hard to address in the middle of reactivity.
        Addressing what is going on in your own reactivity and identifying it in your partner, then responding to “sooth” first your own amygdala and then your partners can foster trust and desire to actually work on the issue that is arousing all the conflict.
        Youre right Conflict isn’t bad- it is the not doing it very well that kind of gets your tires stuck in the mud. But we can learn!!
        You should look up Brent Atkinson!

      3. Drew- I should have said conflict is hard to address in the middle of conflict.

        1. Yeah, during the fight/flight response the body is literally incapable of rational response.

          That’s why anxiety/avoidance is so dangerous and toxic to relationships. In anxiety the fight/flight response gets hijacked, so it kicks in for thing that is probably shouldn’t. Making it so rational response isn’t possible with increasing frequency.

          Add in avoidance (from the extreme stress that the anxiety response puts on the body/mind), and as a way of “coping” with issues people try to avoid the issues; and small issues turn into larger ones and things are rarely (if ever) resolved.

          Couples get stuck, unable to move forward due to a psychological/physiological response.

    2. Hey Drew,

      I’m not sure what the percentages are but that advice is really good for conflict avoidant couples who can live for years in a conflict free marriage avoiding hard topics. But that leads to distance and lack of intimacy. Not good.

      There are couples who are low conflict but they find ways to get things resolved. Those couples are good the research shows. As long as you do not avoid things it’s all good. L

      Doesn’t have to be open conflict, of course. I mentioned in another comment friends of mine who write letters and emails to resolve issues. Virtually no conflict but they also don’t avoid.

      On the flip side are a lot of couples very comfortable with conflict. That’s ok too as long as it doesn’t cross the line into contempt and repairs are made. That’s my parents marriage.

      The communication ideal couple who talk and discuss and compromise are just one version of a couples style that works ok. The other two styles can also work as long as there is no avoidance, contempt and there is healthy repair.

      The worst is when you get a mixture of the two styles. Hey, that’s my marriage! A conflict avoider with a high conflict person. Yeah, that’s harder to work out because it disregulates the others nervous system. Gotta rewire the brain a little for both to work that out. But it can be done.

      So hope abounds! Just need the right diagnosis and cure.

      So, in my view

      1. Due to the differences between people, I think there are all sorts of combinations that CAN work – as what works for one couple doesn’t necessarily work for another.

        Problems arise when the couple doesn’t find something that works for “them”, and instead each person is concerned about what works for the individual even if it doesn’t work for the couple.

        1. Yes! So true. And I can tell you it’s hard when it is not your natural style. Like trying to get an introvert to just love being an extrovert. Hard to rewire stuff like that. Best done with very skilled instructions.

          But you’re right that it has to be what works for the relationship not the individual.

  19. Matt, I think you have great ideas about what to teach your son! Many of them are things you can demonstrate in your relationship with him: Choose love, live by your values, enforce your boundaries, respect others’ boundaries, be yourself, use empathy, don’t avoid doing “women’s work”. Good stuff.

    When you’re teaching that movie romance isn’t realistic, I hope you won’t teach that romantic behavior is stupid and disgusting. Someday I’ll ask my parents why they did that to me. Whenever there was kissing on TV, they’d yell, “Eeewww, mush!!” and turn their faces away. When a man brought a woman a dozen roses, they’d say he should have spent his money on something more practical. When people talked about love in strong terms (“I can’t live without you,” etc.) they’d snort and roll their eyes. To the extent that I questioned any of this, they’d explain that these silly gestures are not what love is really about–which is fine, and they DID set a good example of an enduring relationship with pretty good communication…but for many years I had a hard time trusting anyone who made romantic gestures to me, and I still find it hard to act romantic myself because I feel like I’m acting and it’s stupid. The times I have gotten roses from a lover, I liked them very much and felt special and beautiful and loved every time I looked at them–but I also felt frightened that my enjoyment meant I was one of those mushy people who doesn’t deserve respect. My point is: It’s great to teach that romantic behavior isn’t ALL there is to a love relationship, but that can be done without slamming romantic behavior.

    1. *like*
      yes, romantic gestures are incredible nice. Its not everything involved, but it certainly doesn’t hurt!! 🙂

    2. “It’s great to teach that romantic behavior isn’t ALL there is to a love relationship, but that can be done without slamming romantic behavior.”

      I agree. I think we’ve gone overboard and actually killed romance in our culture. People are hooking up these days, living together, and romance, love, commitment are perceived as hazards. I suppose if romance for you means envy, comparison to TV sitcoms, it could be harmful, set you up for false expectations and disappointment, but I think romance is what we need to reinvigorate and bring back.

      1. That’s the phrase I didn’t use and should have… “false expectations.”

        Our happiness in life is often rooted in our expectations. And when things fail to live up to lofty expectations, they are, by definition, disappointments.

        And that’s a super-dangerous way to live mentally and emotionally, as we have a difficult time finding satisfaction in “average” things, which 80 percent of our experiences are.

        We wake up.

        And we thoughtfully, mindfully, deliberately think/feel/pray: THANK YOU.

        We must find the good, and feel the gratitude for the good.

        Bed. Electricity. Employment. Running water. Hygeine. Clothing. Food. (Those things put us in rare economic company on a global scale, and we experience those before we head off to our jobs or whatever.)

        We have good weather. If we don’t, we have tools and resources to deal with it. (Thank you.)

        We have transportation. Either a working vehicle (Thank you), or the financial resources to afford public transportation, or the friendships to have someone pick us up.

        We have families, friends, luxury items, the internet, and opportunity.

        We always have opportunity, which is pretty great. (Thank you.)

        It’s damn hard to practice gratitude every day.

        But the couple who does, finds the good in one another each day, and finds within themselves the charity and humility necessary to forgive the shortcomings, and cooperatively make things better.

        Money can’t save us.
        Drugs and alcohol can’t save us.
        Sex can’t save us.
        Fame can’t save us.
        Intelligence can’t save us.

        Just, real actual love.

        Healthy expectations. Appreciation for the good. Hope and determination to make the bad improve or go away.

        First we say: Thank you.
        Gratitude makes us happy.
        And happy people love one another and have excellent, high-functioning relationships and families.

        So much of that starts with waking up and being mindful of the bed and running water and food in the kitchen.

        1. I love these words. I want to breath them in. I want to live by them.
          Can you come over and just repeat these words over and over?
          🙂 Or maybe just say them once, and I’ll record them so I can listen later?
          🙂 being silly.
          But, really great reminder- this is something to really be grounded and rooted in.

    3. I certainly will not discourage romantic behavior!

      The reality is (and we can call it “sad” if we want… I think it probably is) that it’s really easy for couples to be “romantic” during courtship because, well, I don’t know why it’s easy then, and not later.

      I THINK it’s the whole hedonic adaptation thing, and I think it’s in our best interest to accept that willfully given love is equal (if not superior) to the involuntary “swept off your feet” love.

      I don’t think it’s possible for humans to bottle up feelings of romantic lust and infatuation and “feel” those things forever.

      But I DO think, when two people love one another unselfishly, demonstrate respect, honesty, excellent communication, etc., then they won’t have that resentment and anger getting in the way. Wives won’t feel abandoned in their own relationships, and men won’t feel nagged/disrespected/inadequate.

      And while I don’t believe two people married for years and years will feel all crushy and feelingsy all the time, while coming and going from work, and changing diapers, and folding clothes, and running kids around to little league games… I think the environment of safety and mutual respect and daily behavior that reflects the words “I love you” WILL, 100-percent provide those feelings in spurts.

      But I think if my son understands that these thoughtful demonstrations of romantic love are all part of this general playbook for how to maintain a healthy marriage, and that he really gets all these little things we discuss here that I don’t think most adults (or at least most men) ever really talk about, then I believe he can have a fantastic marriage (if that’s in his future).

      One where his wife feels loved, safe and respected; and where their friends are given a model for what it’s supposed to look like; and where any children are seeing daily how it’s all supposed to work.

      And then maybe my grandchildren get to grow up awesome at both partner selection and relationship skills.

      I don’t know. But maybe.

      Anyway, I didn’t mean to slam romantic behavior. No way.

      I simply meant to state my belief that the messages we’ve seen our entire lives on television RE: What Love and Marriage Looks Like is every bit the fairytale as the rest of the fiction story.

      Nicholas Sparks, I’m guessing, wouldn’t make a lot of money writing stories about how people actually behave.

      1. My 11-year-old and I like to watch “Modern Family” and we often talk about how those couples express their love. Jay likes to give Gloria big, splashy, expensive gifts because he can, and sometimes that’s what she wants, but sometimes he’s doing it to dodge expressing his feelings, and she’d really rather HEAR how he feels than have a material gift. Phil & Claire and Mitch & Cam often get wrapped up in their careers, kids, and home stuff, but little moments between them keep the love alive. And then there are Phil’s big romantic stunts that go hilariously wrong, with tons of “who misunderstood whom and why” to discuss!

  20. Oh, the other thing I wanted to say was about your teaching that fear is a strong motivator and your son is not the only one who feels it: I’m one of those Star Wars fans who hates the prequel trilogy, but I’m eternally grateful to The Phantom Menace for its one insightful line: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the Dark Side.” Many times, when I am so angry at my partner or my 11-year-old that I wish I’d never met him, it helps a LOT to walk myself backward through this reasoning: “I’m not going to hurt him; I’m just really mad at him. I don’t hate him; I’m just angry right now; it will pass; in fact, some of the things I’m angry about aren’t his fault. I’m angry because I’m afraid of…” and when I figure out what my fear is and do something about that, or even just express it to him as fear instead of anger, then we can make progress. EXAMPLE: “I’m sorry I yelled. I’m afraid that if you wear dirty clothes to church, people will think I’m a bad mom. I want you to wear clean clothes so that our whole family looks nice and put-together.”

    1. Great insight and example. Teal Swan whose shadow work/inner child work I appreciate says:
      “Let us all remember that hatred is revenge for being caused to fear.”

  21. Managing conflict is a really good subject to explore one of these days, Matt. My husband and I are total conflictarians, pretty equally balanced there, but some marriages are not, one or the other partner can be conflict adverse. We have some friends who never fought, my husband used to be envious of them, why did I have to always be so contrary when his buddy’s wife was so much nicer? A few years back, she simply emptied their bank account and slipped out in the middle of the night. It puzzled my hubby, but I wasn’t puzzled at all. She swallowed her bitterness all those years until she’d just had enough. It was a marriage without conflict, something that I always sensed was unnatural, but hubby felt like it was the ideal.

    1. I’ve actually taken a number of courses on conflict management, and a lot of the stuff that makes a lot of sense on paper is SO hard to actually put into practice (in a time of conflict).

      That’s one skill that takes a lot of effort to develop, but unfortunately we don’t get a lot of opportunities to do so – and the opportunities we do get are often overridden by emotional response.

      1. I’m curious if there were things you learned in the conflict mgt courses that can be applied to relationships.

        Any tips appreciated. ?

      2. “..and the opportunities we do get are often overridden by emotional response.”
        I seriously wonder if the bonobo’s were on to something.
        What if when we had hard conversations with each other, we were physically close, and holding each other.
        Expressing our thoughts/feelings, but in a way that made both parties feel secure. –
        That may only work for people who were soothed by emotional touch. Im sure it would repel others.
        But it could be a way for a couple to get into that “feel good” place while talking about real issues.
        Maybe these things should be a part of the conflict resolution plan.
        Both agreeing to allow themselves to time away from the initial conflict, and approaching it in a way that both parties knew they were secure and loved during the “discussion.”

      3. What was the golden triangle thing, anyone care to explain? I can’t find it. :p

        1. Drew said. “In project management we have this concept of the “golden triangle” of projects. On one side you have scope (“what” something is), on another side you have time and on the other side you have required resources (in person hours and/or money). And in the middle you have quality.

          The basic idea is, everything we want to make or do is constrained by these three things, and you can’t adjust one lever without adjusting the others. You want something super amazing? Well, it’ll take a lot more time, and a lot more money. If you are willing to scale back your expectations a bit on the scope of what you want, you can have it sooner and with less effort.

          You talk about your parents having you at 21. They may have been less financially and emotionally ready than you were at 29. But there were tradeoffs. It’s great to find time to be a couple before being parents. Thing is, there’s no “right” time. We can’t pick and choose which side of the triangle we want to adjust and expect the others to remain fixed. Changing one thing affects others.

          There can always be more, but what is enough? We find that, and we find contentment.”

          1. I find this helpful to keep from wishing I or other people were just some idealized thing that doesn’t exist. There is always an adjustment to be made in the golden triangle when a change is made.

            I wish my husband was less avoidant. But that means something else must change. Is that something I would like to trade off?

            It’s like the Dan Wile thing about you pick a partner you pick a set of problems. You will never get the ideal person who is just the absolute best fit. We are all package deals.

            When I start longing for that ideal version instead of asking for small changes is when I get in trouble. For myself too. I get sick of myself and wish I was different. Not helpful.

        2. I see I was beaten to my response on the golden triangle (also known as the triple constraint). As noted, it comes from project management; but I think the concept can really be applied to anything in life (and works really well in relationships).

          Look at relationships in the early romance stage vs. the later stages. People often look back, and wish things could be more like they were at the beginning. Yet in the same breath people will talk about how their partner needs to understand how busy they are with work, the kids, housework etc. Not to downplay any of that stuff, but the relationship can’t always be the thing to fall off the priority list when life gets busy. It’s supposed to be important – so people need to actively show that by *making time*.

          Taking this back to the golden triangle, in the early days we expend a ton of energy on the relationship, we spend a lot of time together (2 sides of the triangle), and this allows us to build towards a lot of depth (scope). Over time we take each other for granted, we already HAVE the relationship so we don’t put in as much effort. We are shortening two of the sides of the triangle on what we put in, and then we are surprised when things aren’t as good? The scope/depth of the relationship starts to suffer, and in the center of that triange is quality. When these things aren’t in balance the quality suffers.

          Yet we’re surprised by this? And disappointed?

          I think it’s actually the expected (though not desired result).

          For some of us, this becomes a wakeup call moment where we realize “hmm, if I want a good relationship I guess I need to put a lot more into it. I guess I can’t expect great things when I don’t put forth effort”.

          Others fall into the “well, it’s my partners fault. I’m doing MY part, but they aren’t doing X, Y, Z”.

          One of those approaches is productive. The other just leads to resentment, emotional detachment, bad relationships and likely divorce.

      4. I think it’s harder for humans because we’re more complex and many more potential ego threats. At least I’d think so. 🙂 But I really think, whenever possible, it’s much easier to resolve conflicts when you’re already feeling close and happy. Steven Stosny mentions this.

        But of course that’s not always possible. And sometimes, pardon my French, people just need to shape the f*ck up!.This is where Schnarch comes to the rescue. 😉

        Steven Stosny in his article on psychology “How compassion fades in love relationships” tells this story (I won’t post a link, because often the blog eats my comments then. :p):

        “Many people get stuck in Toddler brain standoffs (“Mine!” “No!”) by confusing feelings with goals and intentions. For instance, Sabrina came to my office about a “communication problem” with her partner. She described a terrible altercation that began with what she characterized as her “harsh but right” reproach: “Please look at the account balance before you write a check! We’re over drawn again, for the fourth time!”

        Her goal in this interaction, of course, was to ask her partner to take more care with the checkbook. Her intention was to let her partner know that she was upset, due to the repeated oversight. But in the Toddler brain, the problem became one of autonomy rather than negotiation with a loved one. Feeling devalued, the Toddler brain opted for power and attacked. The attack motivation – not Sabrina’s goal or intention or what she felt on the inside – made her look like she was trying to make her partner feel bad for making the mistake. The partner’s response, of course, was defensive and retaliatory. After some mutual name-calling, he said he’d be more careful, in submission and humiliation, which he numbed with resentment. In fact, this is why he “forgot” to check the account balance in the first place – power struggles almost always produce passive-aggressive behavior on the part of the one who has to submit. This kind of forgetting is usually not on purpose.”

        He continues talking about how her communication techniques were ineffective, because they added a level of self righteousness. Ok, let me just say, I’ve found a lot of value in his work! A lot, truly! But, honestly, this is just too much for me right now. We’re talking about an adult here who had done the same thing (I assume) four times! I don’t think Sabrina was that harsh even. If it was the fourth time he did it (and I would feel the same if the genders were reversed!), what can an adult expect, what’s reasonable to expect?! How many times should we communicate with perfect tone of voice about something like this, or else we’re labelled as the problem, because we’re not compassionate enough and the other person feels devalued?! If only we had been valuing them enough, everything would have been fine?! No, I don’t think so.

        He does talk about asserting ourselves (I assume with a clearly stated practical consequence if things don’t change or something), but in my mind he doesn’t focus enough on when that should happen (probably by the fourth time, no) or how. I just think that this massive focus on compassion and tone without ALSO focusing enough on how and when to assert ourselves when a perfect tone of voice, or indeed a less than perfect tone of voice fails, is misguided. And it can perpetuate codependency and unhealthy dynamics. Not that he is responsible for other people’s choices though, but still. I hope y’all understand what I mean. 🙂 I get that he can’t specialize in everything, but I do think he would do well to focus on the necessity of boundaries along with compassion some more.

        Endless compassion and patience isn’t enough. Boundaries i necessary! Full respect living, and that includes respect for ourselves. Ok, if I had a partner who constantly criticized me, I would probably be triggered and hurt by yet another harsh/devaluing tone. But if this was my responsibility (assuming the responsibilites were fairly shared), and I did it for the fourth time and they said “please don’t do it again, it’s happened four times” with a bit of anger in their voice? Ok, I wouldn’t like the harsness/anger, but I think/hope I’d be able to get the f*ck over myself about this. I mean, I forgot it four times! Of course they’re going to be a little bit f*cking annoyed with me and not talk about it as if it were the weather (I’m not talking about deeply shaming stuff and degrading names here, basically just what Sabrina said). I don’t have to feel deeply resentful and devalued that. And I get that there are legitimate differences and everything, but this isn’t even dishes. It’s cash!

        I’m sorry if all my f*cks offended anyone.

        1. Hey I’m with you and Sabrina on this one. The key thing is like you said “the fourth time”. The stuff he was saying is appropriate for the first or second time. Not the fourth.

          Then it’s a dysfunctional pattern.

          Want to look at the system then great! But don’t focus on one person and say they are causing the whole passive aggressive thing. Like the other person has no agency or responsibility.

          That’s why I get irritated at people who out too much focus on the initiator style. Yes it’s important. But it’s part of a system. Put emphasis on both of the parts that feed the responses.

        2. Donkey,
          Just to play devils advocate…Youre absolutely right that it cant be about one persons approach. That is kind of putting the onus on one person to achieve a mutual goal. But, at the same time saying something to the effect of “you need to fix this” is doing the same thing.
          Even if he was the one to make the mistake, the goal is to keep the money situation “safe” and to maintain a good relationship. So instead of presenting it as “you screwed up for the FOURTH time!” – which it can be perceived this way through our pre-school reptilian brain, why isn’t it approached in a way that says “WE have a problem, LET’S work on a solution.”
          Asking questions like “why has this happened 4 times?” and “what can we do to fix it” would be a way to make the problem distinct from the person and make it a collaborative approach.
          And, I don’t think it has to be presented in a way that covers up the real frustration. She could say “this scares me”, this frustrates me” – whatever, so he can know that it is something that needs to be addressed.
          I get that if the solution is she will just take care of the checking account it becomes more of a parental role, but so does approaching it in a way that can be perceived as authoritarian.
          My thought here is that whatever issues one person has, it becomes a mutual problem when it effects both, so both need to make a plan towards the resolution.
          At least that is what happens in my idealized perfect family. : )

      5. Thanks for explaining the golden triangle Gottmanfan.

        “But don’t focus on one person and say they are causing the whole passive aggressive thing. Like the other person has no agency or responsibility.

        That’s why I get irritated at people who out too much focus on the initiator style. Yes it’s important. But it’s part of a system. Put emphasis on both of the parts that feed the responses.”

        For sure!! Like you say, the other person has no agency? Nah ah.

      6. Hey Linbo! It’s totallly fine if you want to play devil’s advocate of course. Let me just say straight off the bat that there’s a lot of anger and swearing in my reply, and it’s not directed at you. 🙂 This post by Stosny really triggered something in me.

        “My thought here is that whatever issues one person has, it becomes a mutual problem when it effects both, so both need to make a plan towards the resolution.”

        In my opinion: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. There’s a lot of wisdom in what you’re saying Linbo. Like Gottmanfan says after asking/reminding nicely one or two times, a different approach needs to happen. Probably brainstorming for solutions that can work for both of you, and if the partner isn’t cooperating, saying and following through on that you’ll have to separate your finances. Or even just change chores, if this one particular thing is hard for him. And there are plenty of legitimate differences that are both people’s responsibility to work out good solutions for. Like how clean and organized the house should be and things like that.

        In all fairness though, Stostny did talk about how Sabrina had been using different communications techniques, like “I feel…” etc, but that they just made things worse, because she came across as even more self righteous. There are no perfect words. So she didn’t just come at him with this harsher statement.

        But I don’t agree completely though, that both people need to make a plan towards a resolution if one person has a problem. Again, sometimes, yes. But sometimes a person has an issue/problem, and really, it shouldn’t be a mutual problem, it should be something that person deals with themselves. I’m with my differentiation man Schnarch on this. We can’t constantly burden our partners with our lack of maturity, our lack of growing up and just expect them to pick up the slack. Sure it’s both people’s responsibility to figure out how to organize their lives and to divide the chores. But when the responsibilites have been shared? Yeah, I think it’s on the person who owns the task to figure it out.

        For instance: Let’s say I’m stressed out of my mind every morning because I can’t find anything to wear to work and my stress is affecting my partner too, because I snap at him every day and that naturally bothers him. Is it really just as much on him to initiate conversations with 100% pleasant tone about this problem and brainstorm solutions, because the problem affects him to? F*cking no. It’s my &%# responsibility to figure out what I’m going to wear! Sure, if he has a suggestion that I can see a personal shopper or whatever, then great, but this problem is on me, not on him. I’m a grown ass woman, he shouldn’t have to raise me, or have to do 50% of the work of raising me!

        Same thing, if my job is to remember to check the account before I pay the bills, than it’s my job to figure it the f*ck out!

        Let me just repeat, some things, many things are a mutual responsibility. And some things maybe shouldn’t be, but it’s ok, we can accomodate our partner’s immaturity/weaknesses/anxiety in this area, just as they do it with us. My point is that it just can’t happen too much. Let’s say I’m with this man who doesn’t remember to check the account. Ok, if he has some kind of hang up on this, sure I can take over that chore and he can do something else. No problem. But lets say his jobs also included the laundry, the kids lunches and pick up from day care and vacuuming. And he also doesn’t remember to take out the laundry when it’s done. And he often forgets to make the kids’ lunches, or somehow never manages to pick the kids up on time, and he never gets how to use to vacuum properly. I strongly feel and think that it’s not my responsibility to work around all of that (what I have to be great at everything becayse he can hardly do anything, or can’t/won’t learn?), to initate conversation with 100% perfect tone and do 50% of the brainstorming for solutions because the problems affect us both. I would say, it’s his responsibility to grow the f*ck up. I have my own responsibilites I need to find solutions for, I can’t do 50% of his work for him aswell.

        Here’s Schnarch on Psychology Today:
        “You don’t have unconditional positive regard for a spouse who lies to your face, steals money from your wallet, goes through your personal papers, treats you with contempt, or has affairs. You don’t empathize with a mate who won’t get a job, won’t do the dishes, or won’t grow up, and expects you to live within his or her limitations.”

        Honestly, I would want to be flexible and figure out solutions and all of it. Again, I have plenty of my own problems and anxieties, so I definitely would be open to working around some of a partner’s problems too. For sure. But someone who won’t grow up, I’d probably have to leave at some point, and I would have to be able to mature enough that that would be a possibility for me. I don’t want to spend my life raising and adult. I have enough trouble growin the f*ck up myself. :p I can’t do it for another grown ass human too.

        1. Hi Donkey, I agree with most of what you say here. Problem is, people can’t/won’t change unless they buy into the idea that the need to.

          We try the “team” approach first, and if that doesn’t work then we need to make it really clear that there are boundaries that we can’t accept being violated. If/when those are violated, we need to have consequences for that – which to me really sucks. I hate the idea of having to “parent” in a relationship, or having to take actions that could be considered punitive or a form of behavior modification (but really, that’s what consequences are). I want someone doing “the right thing” because they see that it’s right. Because they understand it, and know that their behavior is hurting me and the relationship.

          If that’s not happening though? We either need to rethink our expectations – maybe some of the things we need are really wants, and we can adjust accordingly. To me this is a form of accepting the other person as they are, and not holding them up to who we wish they were.

          Depending on the behavior and boundary however, we may not be willing to budge. Which is totally understandable. At that time however, it’s a question between the person and the relationship.

          I’m at that point, and have been for a bit. There are some issues in my marriage where I know I need change, I know things can’t go on like they have been. And unfortunately I feel like I’ve tried pretty much everything possible to facilitate changes without getting any buy in. So right now I’m facing a real tough decision. Can I accept that things that are fundamentally important to me will likely never be met in my marriage (which likely means a marriage that is less fulfilling than I would like and runs the risk of be becoming resentful), or is it best to say I’ve done my best and we’ve just been unable to find a road that works for both of us?

          Been struggling with that question for a while, and I think I know the “right” answer, but after a lot of years it’s a tough one to face.

        2. Donkey,
          Hey there!
          No offense taken to any of the cuss words and all that passion! : )
          So, I want to be clear that when I was writing my suggestions I wasn’t thinking about particulars of the participants in the study article.
          I am thinking of the average couple- who may still be in infatuation phase, because I am trying to think of alternatives to getting so far that there is passive aggressiveness, stonewalling, or whatever behavior that really begins to degrade the relationship.

          I say it is a mutual problem because lo and behold- how two people deal with the conflicts becomes a mutual, relationship problem.

          I get what you are saying that one person cant be responsible for, or side step the other persons issues, when what they need to do is grow up. (Like your “I cant find anything to wear example”..which I loved 🙂
          But, what I am thinking about is- how do you address talking to your partner about their need to do that?

          It seems like (and please tell me if I am wrong) you are assuming that the partner wont listen and there wont be a resolution.
          My thought is that the different approach may not be in the words and tone, I agree- that is putting a huge burden (typically on the wife) to manage her emotions without fault in order to be respected and heard. Which is just horse shit- I agree.
          I’m thinking that the approach to the whole problem needs to change- not how the woman approaches the man.

          So, we talked about the woman going to the man and saying something to the effect of “you need to fix this”.
          You responded about self differentiation in the marriage and that “offender” needs to take responsibility. I agree that in self differentiation the individual continues to be able to make decisions for themselves, so they also should be the ones to experience the consequences for their actions, and not have that burden shifted to someone else.
          And I am definitely for self differentiation.

          But, what I am talking about is seeing there is a problem and saying ” there is a problem and we need to fix this.”
          Then, without fight, flight or freeze mode engaged- find out why it is happening.
          If it is a personality issue (and believe me I have behaviors that I don’t like about me at times- like my complete lack of motivation to fold clothes. I make a plan every week to start habits like folding my clothes and I forget, or I do it for one or two weeks, then shrug my shoulders…sometimes there are just behaviors like that.)

          So, if it is laziness, compulsive spending, forgetfulness- whatever, there can be a plan made to address it. If the plan fails, then try another plan, if that plan fails- yes he gets a separate spending account because that is going to keep everyone most safe.
          He is responsible for his account, you are responsible for yours. If you do the household bills, he takes over something else.
          If there are multiple repeat episodes with different things, where one partner is taking over too much- then yes, you married a child and I think that is illegal in most countries 🙂

          But again- I am thinking about conflict resolution.
          So, here are my rules of engagement:
          To be agreed on and done at the very beginning.

          1.) When there is an issue, just say “I think we need to talk about this” and plan a time to talk. This prevents a partner from being side swiped, and left with feeling ambushed. It allows time to cool off if needed.
          2.) Write out what the issue is, how it effects your life and how it is emotionally affecting you.
          3.) Get your partner’s side. Listen to your partner. Ask your self and your partner “what is the issue really about?”
          4.) Leave it. Take time to consider what your partner said. Take time to assess your feelings about the conflict, AND about the discussion. Are there any false beliefs related to what you are feeling? Write clarification questions- and include “I feel/I believe” statements.
          5.) Come up with possible solutions.
          6.) Come back together. Talk about the issue and come up with workable solution.
          Talk about what the conflict and what the discussion brought up for you emotionally.
          Listen to your partner as they reveal their emotional self to you.
          Kiss, cuddle, and whatever else comes up.
          7.) Implement the change. – Don’t expect perfection. Give genuine praise.

          Fool proof- right??

        3. So, I’m still on resolving conflict.
          I know my list of steps may get tiresome to do after the first 20 times, or it may become a grounded routine that both partners can count on.
          I’d really appreciate some real expert advice from you guys here, do the rules I posted previously seem just like all the other relationship how-to advice that is actually really hard to implement?

          Real issues crop up when there ISNT a resolution/solution that everyone is happy with or satisfied with. That means someone expectations have to change.
          And the list seems like overkill for petty annoyances, unless those annoyances are within a persons power to change and they are really effecting the other partner.

          The main point is have rules on how to “Fight” fair that consider your and your partners style, and that reduce reactivity towards conflict in general.

      7. Hey Zombiedrew2!

        “We either need to rethink our expectations – maybe some of the things we need are really wants, and we can adjust accordingly. To me this is a form of accepting the other person as they are, and not holding them up to who we wish they were.”

        For sure. I took a look at the Brent Atkinson stuff Gottmanfan recommends, and I’m embarassed to say that it opened my eyes further as to what are honestly legitimate differences. I thought my eyes were pretty open, but apparently not. I’ts part of our valuable growth to accept that people are different, to learn to stretch ourselves, and to be creative in coming up with possible solutions. Sometimes meating in the middle isn’t the only possible compromise, sometimes there’s a surprising third option that can work, and we just have to find it and learn to open ourselves to it

        “We try the “team” approach first, and if that doesn’t work then we need to make it really clear that there are boundaries that we can’t accept being violated. If/when those are violated, we need to have consequences for that – which to me really sucks. I hate the idea of having to “parent” in a relationship, or having to take actions that could be considered punitive or a form of behavior modification (but really, that’s what consequences are). I want someone doing “the right thing” because they see that it’s right. Because they understand it, and know that their behavior is hurting me and the relationship”

        Ugh, I hear you. Honestly, with some family members for instance, I don’t really use practical boundaries, I use more avoidance. I scale the closeness of the relationship down to what I can deal with based on whatever behaviour/thinking is bothering me. I usually have tried talking about it though. I do think this can be fine, even healthy, we don’t have to be super close with everyone. But of course, it’s WAY different with a life partner! Way different.

        I would urge you, before you decide to leave, to try practical consequences first (and not just adjsuting your expecations, accepting the other person as they are). As awful as it feels, I think it would be good to at least exhaust that option. I often see questions like “how can I do this or that when it makes me so uncomfortable?”, and often there’s just no way of escaping the discomfort. We just how to plow through and be uncomfortable. At least not until we’ve done it a bunch of times.

        Please just ignore the following psychonalysis if it isn’t releveant, but I’m guessing that part of why you hate the idea of practical consequences is that it would require a lot of grieveing, a lot of differentiation, to be able to live well enough with the fact that some folks won’t change for you, even if it’s the right thing, even if you’ve stretched and grown in plenty of ways, unless it negatively effects them in a practical way. So that if you want them to change in that aspect, practical consequences is the only way. That reality f*cking hurts, and it’s… just very unattractive. It would take a lot of growth to be able to still love them, even fully acknowledging this reality. It doesn’t feel quite safe to love people like this, and it’s hard to feel love and respect and desire (if in a romantic relationship) when this glaringly unattractive tendency is staring us right in our face. I guess, maybe with a lot of maturity and growth we can be able to love and respect people in some ways and not in other and be ok enough with this. And maybe we can’t. And maybe we realize that even if we can, we don’t want to.

        I have recommended Jack Ito before, he seems to have plenty ideas on practical consequences.

        And the Brent Atkinson stuff seems to be good about practical consequences too, but in a more higher order way. Maybe that could be more palatable for you, that would be my guess. Not continuing business as usual unless your partner cooperates in some way.

        I would love to hear any further thoughts of yours.

      8. …. but then again, Zombiedrew2, maybe your bottom line is that you just don’t want to be with someone who can’t/won’t change what’s super duper important to you just because it’s the right thing to do. So either they change because it’s the right thing or you’re out, you’re not willing to be in a relationship where you had to dish out practical consequences to make them change. (Again, Atkinsons seem to have ideas that could be sort of a middle ground between practical consequences aka parenting and leaving straight up)

        From what I’ve gathered that the problems are, I’m guessing the answer to my question is no. But still, have you considered whether you could live apart and still be together? It gets complicated with kids still in the house though, but probably not impossible. I’m a huge fan of people considering alternative options. I did hear about a married couple who did this and were very happy with it. 🙂 Honestly, whatever works for people. I don’t think someone living apart makes them less of a couple. Someone I know (kind of) did this (until the man died, sadly). They each had their own apartment in the same building. I think they were happy. 🙂

        1. Hi Donkey, I’m not sure if I would really think of it is asking someone to “change for me”, but in some ways I guess it is.

          I see conflict as a case where two people have differing viewpoints on something. Neither is necessarily any more right or wrong then the other, sometimes they’re just different.

          Some conflicts I can accept as just part of being two different people. You know them going in (probably), and they are part and parcel of who that person is.

          Other conflicts actually interfere with/damage the relationship, so the couple needs to find a way for them to deal with that conflict in order to have the relationship work.

          I’ve mentioned anxiety/avoidance before, and it’s really difficult when you can’t even begin to try and find a middle ground because someone won’t even engage you on those conflict points due to avoidance.

          So the problems remain, and grow, and then the problem becomes one where the problem isn’t even the original problem. Now the problem has become the refusal to even attempt to deal with/address problems.

          It’s like this fantasy world where everything is good and happy as long as no one talks about problems. But when you do, someone shuts down and retreats – sometimes for lengthy periods.

          I can’t do anything about anxiety – only she can. I don’t think she’s doing anything to actually improve her anxiety, but hey, it’s up to her to deal or not deal with her anxiety as she sees fit. I don’t think her approach is healthy for anyone (her most of all), but I can’t do anything about that.

          Where I take huge issue though is when behaviors as a result of it are damaging/destroying the marriage, and there is no accountability. The anxiety becomes a crutch in a way – “hey, I can’t do this or that due to anxiety”. And it’s true, but it’s also a choice.

          I’m absolutely not saying anxiety is a choice, but it’s a choice to not do anything about the anxiety. And that choice has huge implications for the health of the marriage.

          I try to focus on the behaviors instead of the anxiety – I need this from you, or I miss this. But there’s no meeting part way, no acknowledgement of what I need.

          A relationship to me should involve mutual accommodation. Instead it feels like I’m expected to accommodate everything, but when I need/want anything that is lacking in the relationship I’m pretty much stonewalled. That sucks.

          I know it’s the illness. I know it’s not her. But it’s pretty f*#king hard not to start to internalize and take that personally after a while when it feels like I am not being validated at all. It feels really one sided, and I hate that.

          As for living apart and being together, I can see how that would work for some people but for me I would question what’s the point. Some people have open relationships too – and for the life of me I can’t begin to comprehend that.

          In my mind a marriage involves a high level of emotional intimacy, and sex even is more of an emotional act and a form of communication than just a physical thing.

          Living separately seems a lot like an open relationship to me in the sense that it’s just dealing with the relationship when someone feels like it, or when it’s convenient to them. I don’t know, for me I’ve got to be all in, or I’m out.

          And I AM all in, and have been for almost 20 years now (geez, where did the time go), but for the past few years her anxiety issues have got to the point that she’s not. And I don’t see it as intentional, it’s just that her mind is so busy and full now that there’s not a lot of room for me in her mind or heart.

      9. Hey Zombiedrew2, I meant “change for you” not in the sense of changing their basic personality, more like being willing to change some of their behaviors, to meet you in the middle somewhere if they’re now just refusing to negotiate kind of. Accepting influence basically. So feel free to just use different words, I do believe we’re really thinking about the same thing.

        I don’t really equate living apart as being similar to an open relationship, but I do agree that it certainly would be a lot less….involved. Quality time is lower on my love language list than on yours, so I think it’s easier for me to think that could be a good option for many. I think my top two are physical touch and words of affirmation. I like hearing people say I’m clever and funny and cute and basically a special snowflake, lol. This looks kind of awful on paper, but what can I do?! 8) But oddly, quality time seems to be an important love language for me when it comes to friendship. And acts of service in romantic relationships is great too! Seems like it isn’t completely static for me. I like the idea that the love languages are *languages* so we can learn the other ones too, even if we won’t be as fluent in them.

        Teal Swan said something I thought was really insightful, that we should take notice of our kids’ love languages too, not just our partners! Both so we can give them love the way it makes sense to them, and also that we’re mindful of appreciating it when they show us love in ways that might not seem significant to us, but that really is them trying to show us love. It can be very hurtful to show someone love and have them not receive it. I think she gave the example of a kid who’s love language is gifts. So if this kid brings in a frog to show his/her parent, the kid is really showing their parent love, and they would do well to acknowledge that.

        I don’t have kids, but my mom has two dogs and I’ve noticed they have love languages too! I think they both like quality time, basically being out in nature. I don’t provide that, but then again, I don’t live with them. But other than quality time, one of them seems to have the love language of gifts. 🙂 She’s SUPER excited to get a treat, even if she isn’t really food oriented otherwise. I try to accomodate that, even if it isn’t my love language. 😉 The other one seems to have physical touch as an important love language, and that is easy for me to give. 🙂 I think it’s really important that we learn to show people/animals love how it makes sense to them, even if it doesn’t give us the warm fuzzies and feels odd and maybe even pointless.

        Sorry, I’ve been rambling. I find the topic of love languages quite fascinating, especially when we broaden the scope to include kids, animals, friends and family members too.

        “Where I take huge issue though is when behaviors as a result of it are damaging/destroying the marriage, and there is no accountability. The anxiety becomes a crutch in a way – “hey, I can’t do this or that due to anxiety”. And it’s true, but it’s also a choice.

        I’m absolutely not saying anxiety is a choice, but it’s a choice to not do anything about the anxiety. And that choice has huge implications for the health of the marriage.”

        I agree. There’s a big difference, in my mind, with someone who has anxiety problems who tries to deal with it as best they can but maybe still end up having problems/limitations, and someone who just avoids it. I kind of think of it like other illnesses in this aspect. If you’re with someone with diabetes that might cause some limitations. But if that person watches their diet and takes necessary medication or whatever, many people would probably be fine with accomodating whatever limitations still exist you know? Diabetes is just one example, could be anything really. At least to me, that would be very different from someone who doesn’t take responsibility for their condition and passes out or whatever because of their lack of responsivility for their health and leaves their partner to deal with that drama and burden. Those kinds of limitations most people wouldn’t be happy too deal with.

        I do remember you talking about anxiety and avoidance before. When I talk about change, I do mean things like even just being willing to discuss the problems for a certain amount of time each week or every other week. And also to give you some of the behaviours you need. Like committing to try out some kind of treatment, whatever they think will help, or indeed, whatever they think they can handle at this point.

        1. For love languages I’m a physical touch and quality time person (not sure which is first, as I really see the two of them as going hand in hand).

          And those are two things that tend to go away with anxiety, as often the sufferer is uncomfortable in their own skin and therefore uncomfortable with touch. They also tend to withdraw, so quality time takes a hit too. I get it, but it results in my primary love languages not being met – pretty much at all actually. And as I’m sure many here know, when your primary languages aren’t met you tend to feel pretty alone even when the other person is right there.

          Long ago I raised the question of the line between accommodation and enabling when it comes to things like mental illness, and the difficulty of deciding if it is better to continue to stay or ultimately walk away. The comment pissed off some people, who replied with things like “oh my god – are you actually looking for someone to tell you it’s alright to leave someone because they have a mental illness? Would you leave someone because you found out they have cancer?”

          People who aren’t there really can’t get it. They just can’t. But I love your analogy with diabetes.

          No, you wouldn’t ever leave someone because they have diabetes. You should try to stand by your partner and support them, be there for them. And try to reduce pressure on them while understanding and working around their condition.

          But if someone finds out they have diabetes and doctors tell them they need to change their diet and get some exercise, yet they choose not to? And indeed, not only do they choose not to but they continue to eat really poorly and refuse to get exercise – all the while saying things like “I’m going to live my life my way and no one is going to tell me what to do” – well, that’s a bit different.

          Watching someone you love self destruct in front of you is really hard, and it’s even harder when there are things they CAN do, and they’ve been advised to do, but they choose not to.

          It’s their choice, truly. But their choices don’t just impact them. They impact all those around them who care about them.

          So sometimes I think it’s best to say yes, you can make your own choices, you can continue to not respect me in those choices. I will still love you, that will never change. However just because I love you doesn’t mean I have to be there to watch this.

          Sometimes it’s alright to love from afar, and sometimes if we love we need to let people make their own mistakes and live with the consequences of them.

          Support vs. enabling. there’s a line somewhere there, and I guess I’m trying to find it.

      10. I’m glad you like my diabetes analogy. 🙂 From what you say, we seem to agree on this. Just because someone has a mental illness doesn’t give them a free pass for everything. Same as with physical illnesses, any kind of problem really! As you say, try to be understanding and supportive and work around people’s limitations, but not everything is going to work in a relationship, not everything is ok. Watching someone self destruct as you say is a different thing, knowing that someone could improve the situation, or at least try to improve the situation (I think you and I both agree that effort matters), and yet they don’t, it’s a different thing than being supportive and understanding of someone who tries to deal with their stuff somehow, someway. It’s like if your spouse looses their job, it’s going to be a different thing if they don’t actively look for a new one, looks to get some other education/skill update, if they do more of the chores, takes initiative to figure sh*t out basically, than it they just plops themselves down on the couch and stays there. VERY different thing! Yes we should be supportive and patient f people looses their jobs or has other problems, but not in all scenarios! Sometimes it’s just enabling.

        I don’t know if this is relevant at all, but physical touch and quality time has only just a little bit of overlap in my world. Obviously someone needs to be present for that to happen, but I can get my need for physical touch met pretty quickly, you know? So a lot of quality time wouldn’t be necessary for me to get that need met.

        I’ve had anxiety problems/nervous system problems too, and quality time definitely diminishes as I often can’t deal with people for too long. Not so for physical touch though (if I want it from someone, or a dog or whatever, I’m not happy to get it from just anyone in my life). Snuggles often calm me down, if I feel comfortable with the person/animal in that situation. I think that’s partly why I’m very attached to one of my mother’s dogs. He loves to cuddle with me (with everyone really), and honestly I just feel so loved by him. And even if I feel like crap, I can snuggle with him and feel like I’m doing something that he likes too, which is a good feeling.

        1. Drew,
          I don’t have any words of advice, but want you to know I feel for you. That is a really tough spot to be in.

        2. Ah cuddling. Natures natural anti-depressant, as it reduces cortisol production while also releasing oxytocin (or dopamine, I can’t remember).

          Unfortunately in some cases, when anxiety gets really bad touch can become extremely uncomfortable.

          I’m a quality time/physical person who’s spouse frequently shuts down/wants to be alone and can’t handle touch. Think I’ve cuddled maybe twice in the last year? Not great. And I don’t have pets (unless you count stick bugs, which you can’t really cuddle with. Well maybe you can, but I’m not about to try). If not for my kids I think I would go crazy. Thankfully they are still at an age that they like to curl up together and read books or watch tv/movies.

          1. Ahh, Drew- I know that just sucks. I’m a high touch person, too. It may even be one of my top love languages, but I haven’t done the test.
            I know it kind of feels like a desert- dry and brittle, inside and out, when I dont get a lot of touch/hugs/cuddles. My youngest dog, Pup- is an overgrown lap dog, so I get love from him all the time. Keeps me sane.
            My BFF’s kids love to crawl all over me, too.
            Its good your kids still cuddle.
            I think your showing those stick bugs a lot of love and respect by not cuddling with them 🙂
            Maybe a puppy dog is in order?

            PS- I think it is oxytocin.

      11. Ugh, no affectionate touch either (I’m not talking about…bedroom stuff here, just to be clear), no pat on the shoulder, no grabbing your hand quickly? If so, ouch ouch ouch.

        I probably have to go back a bit from my earlier statement, physical touch can sometimes be hard for me too, with anxiety/health problems (I have a kind of multifaceted thing going on, anxiety is part of it, working on all of it though and making progress) or whatever. But not always, and not completely. I definitely would be able to touch most people (err, you know what I mean) in a quick way a lot of the time, like a quick hug or whatever.

        Ok, if the following makes me sound like a perfect selfless angel, then that’s obviously not accurate.

        You talked about anxiety and selfishness. Sometimes, when I avoid people because I’m struggling with anxiety/other health stuff, it isn’t just selfish. I don’t want to be around people unless I can feel sure that I can be reasonably well mannered. If I’m just going to be a pile of misery anyway, I don’t want to bother people with that kind of energy. I really am trying to protect them in that sense. And if I feel like I might snap at someone or start crying for no good reason or whatever, same thing. I’d rather not be with people than not be able to behave myself.

        Doesn’t mean that I can’t share if I’m feeling bad or whatever, I’m not talking about that. But if I can’t also behave properly, then I’d rather stay away from people until I can.

        And I want to say, regarding the diabetes analogy thing (could be about other problems too of course). If someone tries their best but still has many problems, then that would be (I hope!!) very different for me than if they didn’t try and had all those same problems. If someone tries then the lack of good results isn’t their fault. Then it’s just a bad card in life, and those are things spouses should stick around for. So I hope and believe I’d stay and deal with the situation as best I can in cases like that.

        It seems like some people have as an ideal to stick with their spouse no matter what. I don’t. Not at all costs. I don’t want to accept any kind of behavior and any kind of not taking responsibility for stuff, that just goes on and on and on.

        1. Yeah, it is what it is I guess. I’ve continued to accept it, as there is a lot of good too. And so far the good has outweighed the bad in my mind. It’s definitely getting pretty lonely though, as she increasingly pulls away.

      12. Hey Zombiedrew2,

        You’ve said before that you don’t think you’ll be swayed by anyone’s opinion, and I’m glad you said that, it made me feel safer to just share my thoughts.

        I just want to stress that I’m not urging you to divorce. I’m just thinkin out loud, not even necessarily about you and your wife.

        I would urge you to exhaust all reasonable options before divorce though, includng practical consequences Jack Ito style or Brent Atkinson style (or something else you basically haven’t tried).

        And I just want to acknowledge that I definitely believe you when you say there are good things too!

      13. Hi Drew!

        I have been reading your comments and sometimes it helps for other people to tell you what they are hearing.

        I am hearing that you have been married close to 20 years. You want a good marriage that is mutually fulfilling and are willing to do the hard work needed to have such a marriage. In the past you have said you have realized how you were a shitty husband (a la this entire blog), repented, and moved forward intentionally doing all you can to not be that husband. However, you are at a point where it is evident that your wife is not responding to your efforts. The biggest hindrance to this is her anxiety/ withdrawal/avoidance. Your love languages are physical touch and quality time. Her anxiety causes her to withdraw physically by not touching and by physically not even being present in the same area. You feel you are doing 100% of the accommodating in the relationship and she is not making any effort. You recognize that her anxiety illness is a major factor, and if she got treatment things might improve, but she is not getting treatment. But you cannot even have a productive discussion because of her avoidance style.

        And now you are at the point of having to decide if you can go on like this forever and accept a marriage where very few of your genuine needs are being met, or ending a 20 year marriage-which you will have to initiate since she avoids any and all participation in “Our marriage is in crisis” discussion or action.

        Am I hearing you correctly?

        1. Yeah, that’s it in a nutshell.

          The one clarification I would make is, I don’t think I was ever actually a shitty husband – and according to her I haven’t been. She has been unable to tell me what if anything I have been doing wrong, or what I could potentially do differently or better. That said, I fully acknowledge that after the kids were born we stopped focussing on each other too much and got into parent mode without taking enough time to nurture our relationship with each other. That was a fairly mutual thing though, and I suspect fairly natural when you become a parent.

          I do think there are probably things I’ve done wrong, and her avoidance makes it so she won’t tell me or talk about it it. So yeah, I’m sure I can be better and would like our relationship to grow into something where we can both be happy.

        2. I realize my last comment may have come across as me saying “I’m great” and not owning my part in this, and if so that totally wasn’t the intent.

          I’m sure in many ways I’m just as clued out as anyone else, but what I mean was – my wife and my marriage has always been super important to me. And I think I’ve always tried to show that through how I live, and how I treat her, and the kids. I’ve always tried to do my fair share around the house, and with the child rearing. A lot of the complaints I read in these pages and others about how guys fail their wives are things that I really don’t think apply to me that much.

          After kids we kind of drifted apart, as kids became the focus. And this is also when the anxiety started to become an issue as well (pressure of having being a parent likely contributed).

          In any case, yes your assessment seems fairly spot on. And the only reason I point out the difference of me having always put in effort is because I don’t think there’s the built up resentment in my situation that often does in relationships.

      14. That’s such a hard place to be. Maybe you have tried things like this already, but is there something small you can ask for? Like, “I know you are struggling, and I am doing my best to love and support you. But I’m really struggling, too, and it would mean the world to me and give me hope if, when I come home each night, you could squeeze my hand and say, hi, it’s nice to see you.” Her response will help you figure out where to go from here.

        Another thought would be to write it in a note, and not have a verbal conversation. Maybe writing things out will open channels of communication in a way that produces much less anxiety.

    1. Gottmanfan, you’ve mentioned Internal Family system before, JP Sears is great at that stuff (althoug he might not call it exactly that)! Inner children, different parts inside of us. Teal Swan is also great at inner child stuff and shadow work.

      1. See I just randomly say stuff over and over. Lol?.

        Teal Swan (is that a real name by the way?) and JP Sears are similar? I will check them out.

        I am allergic to woo woo so I have to take this approach in small doses. Also, I have a strict no puppet policy. ?

      2. Teal Swan is highly woo woo. But if you can look past that and if you’re also drawn to shadow work/inner child work, she has awesome stuff. You can look through her youtube channel for videos that may appeal to you (she also has a blog and often posts her videos as articles if you prefer reading instead of listening):


        One of my personal favourites is this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SutayVe_DFo

        And yes, much of the inner child stuff that Teal Swan has is quite similar (though of course they each have their own words and approaches) to JP Sears stuff. At least, their approaches have both helped me in similar ways. I would say JP Sears is noticably less woo woo than Teal Swan, but noticably more woo woo than Gottman. 🙂 Though JP Sears doesn’t just talk about relationships, from what I know of him I would say he mostly focuses on emotional health. But of course that’s related. 🙂

        I was a bit surprised that you’d like Internal Family System theory (you’ve mentioned them on the blog before). Why isn’t this too woo woo for you? :p Or is it too woo woo, but you still find it useful so you just take it in in small bites? :p

      3. Donkey, do you do this stuff for a living, or is this something you just have a deep interest in? (I say “just” as if personal interest is less worthy of professional interest. …I p-sha myself.. : )

      4. Haha Gottmanfan, yes JP Sears is the red headed dude in the video, that’s why I mentioned him! 🙂 Before you realized this, was your talk about randomly mentioning things perhaps subconsciously directed at me? :p

        Linbo, no I don’t do it for a living. That does sound kind of appealing though, I definitely feel very passionate about this. 🙂 But perhaps doing it for a living would make it less interesting, who knows.

        Anyway, I digress. It’s just a strong personal interest because my life kind of fell apart a few years ago, and I’ve been trying to learn how to put it back together in a healthy ways ever since. :p

        But Linbo, you’re familiar with JP Sears? That’s awesome!

        1. I meant I randomly say the same things because you said I had mentioned I had already mentioned internal family systems.

          But I do in general get a few basic ideas in my head and use that to focus on to solve a problem so I defintely do say the same things over and over to myself and others.

          I read and listen a lot of different things to round things out but my flowchart brain does best to focus on just few things at a time.

          I switch them up though. I went through a Sue Johnson EFT focus about a year ago. Terry Real was a few years ago. And personally type differences were a couple of years ago. Lots of others and other topics. I’ve been more Gottman focused lately cause I like his math and science and clarity.

          1. And the IFS stuff was a couple of years ago too but got a resurgence recently because the Brene Brown group was led by a IFS therapist. Also the parts language is used by Ellyn Bader in the training I am doing for couples therapy.

          2. Guys, can I tell you- even though I know it’s a lot of hard work and it sometimes feels like crap- the alternative of never experiencing that is its own personal slice of hell.
            I’m feeling moody, and am thankful classes are starting back up.
            But seriously- it’s its own special jacked- up-ness to just live your life alone. It sucks. Even if I know people will be there if I call them- sometimes I just don’t. So,take aways from this post- yay- classes are starting back. Will likely be eaves dropping – so keep talking- I ❤️Listening.Will “see” yall later.

          3. Linbo,

            I am sorry you are feeling down today. It does really suck to be alone even when you have people that care about you.

            Sending good thoughts your way today. ????❤️

        2. Donkey,
          Hey- you asked about my story a while ago. I’d like to hear yours, too.
          We can share via FB message if you are so inclined.
          Anyway- about to make my trek to class. Hope you have a great day!

      5. Ugh, I think the blog ate a previous comment of mine. Or maybe it’s just delayed. Anyway, sorry if it shows up more than once.

        Yes, Teal Swan (that is a real name, though not her birth name) is very woo woo. But if you can look past that and you’re interested in shadow work/inner child work, she has awesome stuff (and plenty of it, so chances are you can find something relevant for you). A lot of her work doesn’t really touch that much upon the woo woo stuff either, unless you find parts therapy/inner child work (like Internal Family Systems) too woo woo in and of itself. :p

        You can take a look at her Youtube channel and see if any of the videos appeal to you. She also usually posts them as articles too, if anyone prefers to read.



        Here’s one of my personal favourites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SutayVe_DFo

        I would say that JP Sears is noticably less woo woo than Teal Swan (but again, if you find inner child work and shadow work too woo woo already, then yeah, he’s woo woo). But noticably more woo woo than Gottman. 🙂 But JP Sears doesn’t just deal with relationships, from what I know of him, he deals a lot with emotional health. Though that’s related of course. 🙂 And yes, I find much of Teal Swan’s stuff and JP Sears’ stuff similar, though of course they have their own approaches and vocabulary. But at least their material have helped me in similar ways.

        Gottmanfan, I am a bit surprised that you don’t find Internal Family System too woo woo? How come? :p Or do you actually find it too woo woo, but it’s still kind of useful in small portions? 🙂

      6. Gottmanfan, I was just kidding about the randomly mentioning things, hope that came across.

        I go through faces too. I was much more focused on JP Sears’ and Teal Swan’s stuff s few years ago. I wrote two comments about their similarites and differences, but they haven’t been posted as of now. :S Possibly because I included some links.

        But to be quick about it, yes, Teal Swan (that is her real name, though not her birth name) and JP Sears have a lot of similar stuff (inner child work, shadow work). JP Sears is the less woo woo of the two, I would say! Teal Swan is very woo woo, but if you can look past it, a lot of her stuff about shadow work/inner child work is great, if you find that kind of thing useful. I hardly agree with everything she says, some things I very much do not agree with, but again, the useful things have been very very useful!

        They both have youtube channels, you could take a look and see if any of the topics appeal to you. Teal Swan also usually posts her videos as articles if anyone prefers to read. I won’t link to anything, because I think the blog will eat my comment again. But y’all can google. 😉

        One of my personal favourites from Teal Swan is one called “Building walls to keep pain… IN”

        I can’t really mention a favourite by JP Sears as of now, but alot of his stuff is awesome. I first came by his work through the topic of self sabotage (it was an online seminar or something), and he had amazing insights on that.

        But Gottmanfan, how come you don’t find Internal Family System too woo woo? Or do you indeed think it’s too woo woo, but still kind of useful in small doses?

        I’ve basically repeated what I said in the two comments that haven’t showed up yet, so sorry if they show up and I seem to be repeating myself.

        1. I downloaded a couple of podcasts to listen to Teal Swan and JP Sears do I’ll get a brief idea of their approach.

          Internal Family Systems is a psychological therapy approach so its woo woo in that Dick Swartz talks about listening and talking to your parts in a literal way that I can’t grasp.

          And some therapists use puppets ?

          But it’s not woo woo in that it is not religious or spiritual or based on energy or the Secret or Abraham or the Universe or whatever other woo woo things that I really really can’t get behind. (More power to other people who find that helpful as long as they don’t try to convince me).

          So I find the IFS concepts useful as long as the style isn’t too “art therapy or play therapy or experimental therapy” oriented.

          1. I interrupt this broadcast to say
            They encourage you to “talk to and listen to your parts”… What parts are we talking about? Like body parts? Just curious.

      7. Linbo, just quickly. Nah, different part of your emotional make up/your psyche. Maybe you have a pleaser part that tries to get your needs met by pleasing people. And then you have the avoider that…avoids, to try to keep you safe in some way. And then there could be the shamer/the perfectionist, that tells you you’re never good enough or whatever. And then you could have a visionary/dreamer that wants you to go out in the world and make stuff happen. And there can be plenty of inner children too, inner mother and father figures… :p

        Like I heard JP Sears say once (I’m paraphrasing), it doesn’t necessarily make sense on a logical level, but it can make sense on an emotional level!

        Voice dialogue (Hal and Sidra Stone) is another similar concept. And John Bradshaw also deals with inner child work.

        1. The framework that is helpful to me is to think of the different aspects to your personality as characters in a play. They have different personalities, genders, ages etc.

          Here’s an example I have a part that has shown up in comments here once or twice. . I call it Captain America because that part of my personality REALLY doesn’t like bullies. And that part sees myself as protecting others against people who are trying to pick on people. So my Captain America part feels the need to be the voice in the room to stand up to the bully to protect people.

          There are reasons I developed this part. The impulses are good. It’s good to be willing to stand up and protect people. But the part is not a healthy part of my real self.

          So I have to recognize when he wants to swoop in and calm him by saying thanks Captain but the adult Lisa is ok here. And when he is thanked and asked to stand down, the adult Lisa can respond in a reasonable way to the situation. Not an exaggerated way that people will shake their head at at say “wow, what’s up
          with her?”

          Lots of different parts to our personality and reasons for their existence. The idea is to identify them and get your adult self to sooth them that you are in charge and there’s no need to worry. Then the healthy adult version can show up more and more.

        2. Thanks Donkey,
          Inner child work is interesting and I believe its valid. Thank you for clarifying!

      8. gottmanfan,
        Thanks for the happy thoughts! I think they worked! : D.
        Hope you have a great day! 🙂

      1. Linbo, I’m getting closer to wanting to be Facebook friends with you, but I’m not quite there yet. 😉 I only have the one account with my real name and everything. What about you, do you use just your real account or do you have an alias account? 🙂

  22. These are some very good points I wish he had known, or listened to when I talked to him about us. The fact that you can write this and reflect on your past gives me some hope that perhaps he might turn the corner and eventually get it. It might be too late for us already, there’s only so much hurt a person can take, but I’m hoping he’ll gain some insight so that our kids can benefit from it. I’m curious, how long did it take you to get there? What was the turning point or a-ha moment that helped you get there? Was there a number of times people kept trying to reach you and they finally broke through, or was it a maturity, or was it a learn the hard way approach?

    1. First, I was angry and self-righteous. Totally deluded. Because I had no intention of ending the marriage, and it seemed as if she was considering it, I concluded she was the problem.

      “I married someone who doesn’t know how to stay committed when the going gets tough!”

      It’s such an asshole thing to think and feel, and I’m embarrassed about it today. Promise.

      There were 18 months of sleeping in guest room as the marriage died a slow death.

      It was at some point along the way, as sadness overcame anger, and maturity overcame pride, that I began to ask the right question:

      “What have I done to help get us here?”

      I started reading things online and talking to people. I was getting more and more desperate.

      I went to the book store looking for answers in the I’m Having Marriage Problems section. I found a book called “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It.”

      For me, THAT was the mental turning point. I’ve begun to rethink a lot of what I read in there RE: Men Do This, and Women Do That. But the experience of reading it it was what did it for me.

      It taught me a few very important things:

      1. My marriage is just like most other marriages, and our fights look and feel just like everyone else’s. That’s important, because we should all realize we’re not necessarily fatally flawed or incompatible. EVERYONE has the same sorts of conflicts and issues in their marriages, and when you realize you’re not the only one, you get to feel less alone, and more empowered. Less freaky, and more normal. And you also realize, there’s no magic partner out there. When everyone has the same relationship problems, it teaches you that replacing your partner with someone new will NOT solve your problems for you. Most people don’t understand that, but later learn the hard way.

      2. Men and women (regardless of whether it’s something sciencey or something cultural) tend to experience emotion, communication, conflict, etc. different from one another.

      This is important because, without context, when our partner does something, we all guess what that means. And wives typically observe their husbands behavior, and then assume it means the same thing it would mean if she did that thing.

      So she reacts.

      And the husband assumes she’s insane, or wrong, or overly emotional, because he’s applying the meaning of her behavior to his worldview.

      It’s such a simple thing but most couples don’t do it:

      Our partners are DIFFERENT people than us, so why do we assume that their actions and words mean the same thing they would mean if we did and said those things?

      Yet, that’s what we do. In the absense of information, our brains will fill in the blanks. But until we KNOW — on a gut level — that our partner’s actions DO NOT necessarily mean the same as if we did it, then we can start communicating in constructive ways, and not thinking the person we love most is an insane dumbass who is intentionally trying to ruin our lives.

      Because the people we love are usually NOT crazy, and are usually quite smart, and are usually not trying to hurt us.

      We push each other away accidentally. Not through one moment. But through a million little moments we didn’t notice were significant or dangerous as they were happening.

      So that’s it.

      My mind flipped a switch after reading the right thing, and after being more sad/afraid than I was angry.

      Anger is super-dangerous.

      One of the most commonly asked questions I get is: What could she have said or done differently to get you to have the A-Ha Moment before it was too late?

      If she or I had been educated enough to ask the right kinds of questions in the right kinds of tones, we likely never would have had our marriage problems in the first place.

      We are both emotional people, who don’t always keep them in check when the going got tough.

      Love is a choice. It took me so long to realize it.

      1. When sadness and maturity overcame anger. That sounds like an encounter that is definitely necessary. But I guess he’ll get there when he gets there. Not when I try to lead him there asking all the questions I can ask. Anger and immaturity are a difficult combination to break through. A million little moments .. yup. That sounds about right. Not all at once, but a million little moments that add up in the end. Thanks for the enlightening thoughts.

  23. I see Jack Nicholson “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH”!
    The thing is, if you tell anyone the ‘truth’ about marriage they aren’t going to believe you. If you approach it when they are ‘in love’ they’ll think you are insane. You can explain that kids changes lives so dramatically that you cease to exist as a person, let alone as a couple …and then you will never have grandchildren.
    So what do you say? Besides the truth? Because the truth is overwhelming, it’s too big, too much and it’s irrelevant to someone in love because their hormones tell them that their love is different and special. When it isn’t.
    How about instead of the Truth, you share the reality. And the Reality of Marriage is that it is hard work to give up being selfish and self centered and live your life trying to please another person and think about their needs first and trying to help them be happy by reminding them of all the things they love to do when life gets busy and hectic. And expecting them to do the same for you and negotiating with them when you feel unappreciated and under valued. Because Marriage is not about who does the most, or earns more, or who is better at A over B and who can handle parent teacher interviews.
    Marriage is about being present and actively listening. Marriage is a VERB. And it’s making a choice that all your future choices are going to be to support the person and in turn support the marriage. Because marriages fail without support. And they need internal AND external support. Because the first 20 years of a marriage are hard. Brutally hard. Because you are dealing with careers, kids, finances and hormones.
    Marriage is not for the weak or unstable. It requires maximum effort all the time because it matters. It matters to the people who love you and who you are raising and to yourself, even though you won;t appreciate it until you are 30 years into it. Marriage = Effort. More than you can ever explain to people. But it’s why you see people married 50 yrs pass a look between them, that explains everything without words. It’s hanging on and taking turns at carrying the weight of everything on your shoulders because there will be times the other will be weak and you’ll have to do the work of 2 adults to get through it. And be gracious enough to handle it without resentment.
    Marriage. The reality is people used to die in wars and of illness after 5-10 years and so being together for long periods is actually a new thing, humanly speaking. And so we are struggling on learning how to do it successfully. And it;s why so many marriages fail; we just don’t have the experience or expertise to know how to manage living with someone that long considering all the additional stresses we’ve added to us in our modern lives. Marriages need to be continuously negotiated, which is a skill that comes easily for most women who like to analyze things, especially relationships. For men, this is a struggle as most see the wedding contract signature as a done deal of obtaining the highest level of commitment and see no reason to so anything further. Married? Check!
    anytime after this point where ‘she’ wants to discuss is seen as unnecessary. Two divergent creatures trying to share space while under constant under stress, is not as easy as it sounds..lol

  24. That really makes sense Drew! The amount of time and energy as part of triangle. Reduce those things and the quality goes down.

    That’s why I think it’s important to determine as a first step that the marriage is the primary relationship not the kids or work or inlaws.

    If you do that it is easier to allocate time and energy to it.

    1. But often people won’t. There are always more things to do then there are hours to do it. We can have anything we want, but we can’t have everything – yet we still try. And then, because of hedonic adaptation when we need to make choices on what is going to “slide”, we almost ALWAYS choose the relationship. Because we know we have it already.

      I think men and woman are equally guilty of this, though it manifests in slightly different ways.

      One of the most common things counselors hear is “I don’t feel like I matter”, or “I don’t feel like a priority in his/her life”. People *say* their partner is a priority, but if you look at their actions and how they expend their energy, often a different picture is painted.

      Golden triangle – reduce the amount of time and/or effort spent on the relationships, and both the scope and quality of the relationship will suffer. It’s pretty basic.

      Yet for some reason, instead of acknowledging this people often get defensive and say things like “well, I’m busy because of my job, or the kids, or the laundry won’t do itself you know”.

      All of that’s true. There are always things that need to be done.

      But if people REALLY care about their relationships, they find ways to make that a priority and put in consistent effort.

      1. Yes! I agree with you. It is just so easy to let things “slide”. I think some of it might be avoidance of problems too.

        You reach a gridlock thing. A difference in personalities or disagreement about a perpetual problem. And it’s seems smarter at first to just work around it and do other things.

        Focus on the things you do agree on.

        But you don’t really address it head on. And it works ok for a while but eventually there is more and more distance because of the avoidance of more and more issues.

        And then the whole thing seems intractable and not very intimate anymore.

        I think your comments about anxiety are relevant too. Even people without an anxiety disorder are affected. We manage our anxiety about our differences by avoiding or substituting other things like kids or work or friends or alcohol or whatever.

        Instead of directly dealing with the anxiety of being married to a different person who wants and needs and thinks differently.

        It requires a lot of growth and differentiation to do that. Hard to do. Requires a lot of anxiety tolerance. I a working on parts of it now. To tolerate the anxiety of my husband not agreeing with me in fundamental ways and it still being ok. Same for him.

        If you get stuck in a certain level you can spin your wheels for years without ever moving to the next level.

  25. thank you for including pornography as an issue. Because of my *particular* situation, pornography was ironically a non-issue but I know enough people to know how serious a problem it can be, I’ve also noticed recently that TV shows treat it like something with little damage potential. weird. I’d say more here but I’m guessing anything I can come up with is already mentioned. DUDE! your comments are crazy now! there’s a million and each one has a million words!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Matt Fray

Get my latest writing!

Sign up for my free weekly email newsletter as I continue an on-going exploration of love and relationships.