I read an article recently that got me thinking a bit, which is rare for me because I try not to think whenever I can avoid it.
TL;DR for that article: A guy reflects back on failed marriage and thinks that ignoring the things that were important to his wife (namely, the example and other similar ideas) demonstrated the extent to which he valued (or didn’t value) her. He valued proving his point more than he valued her. He realizes post-marriage that it was not fair to think, “I wouldn’t be offended by this, so the fact that she’s offended is petty and invalid, and I shall convince her of this.”The title of the article is a little clickbaity (She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink), although I think it would make a pretty kick ass country song. I fell for it, because I went into the article thinking, “man, what kind of petty woman leaves her man over something like that? Doesn’t she know you’ve gotta Stand By Your Man?” Of course, taking love advice from Tammy Wynette will probably land you a D-I-V-O-R-C-E, so nevermind.
Turns out, the guy is taking pretty much 100% of the blame for his failed marriage, and is just connecting all of the relationship missteps back to his simplest transgression: ignoring his wife’s desire to have the counter clear of dirty dishes.
Having been married and divorced, there’s something powerful in accepting part or all of the blame. I’m introspective, and have a need to distill life into lessons to improve myself going forward. In the wake of my divorce, I absolutely went through moments/days/weeks of feeling that my failings as a husband were the proximate cause of the dissolution of my marriage. I even had moments where I let my ex-wife off the hook for some absolutely unacceptable choices that she made in the last year of our time together. In the spirit of forgiveness and moving on, I knew I couldn’t control anyone other than myself, and as such, I chose to take the blame. It allowed me, for a moment, to channel the shitty situation into an opportunity to learn and grow from it.
Then, I snapped out of it.
Like the dude in this article, I had engaged in post-hoc rationalization and martyrdom. My marriage didn’t end because I was a bad husband. My marriage ended because my ex-wife and I did a terrible job of communicating and keeping the marriage at the top of our priorities. Both of us did that.
If someone my family knows dies, and I ask my mom, “Mom, how did that person die?” my mother will unilaterally answer, “I think it was because his heart stopped beating.” My mom is the undisputed queen of jokes like that, and that gene carried right through to me (thankfully).
Yes, mom, everyone dies because their heart stopped beating. The obvious “question behind the question” is what caused their heart to stop beating, thus precipitating their eminent departure from the terrestrial realm? Was it old age or a swarm of Africanized killer bees or a speedboat crash or what? That’s the interesting part.
That’s the part that forms the story. That’s the part that lets me pad my own sense of immortality with the ability to distinguish my situation from theirs. “Whew, I don’t race my speedboat through bee-heavy areas. I’m probably good for a few more years!” *eats three pounds of bacon in one sitting*
What’s silly is that little “psychological differentiation” trick doesn’t change the outcome at all. You’re still gonna die. I’m still gonna die. You can avoid speedboats, avoid bees, take vitamins, be a vegan, be paleo, exercise, put on sunscreen, and I can absolutely guarantee you you’re still gonna die. Everything is temporary, including you and me.
And putting the dishes up ain’t gonna protect you from divorce, friend.
The only thing that protects a couple from divorce (or from a miserable marriage that they won’t leave) is a stalwart commitment from both parties to prioritize “us” over everything. You’ve both gotta be vulnerable to each other, so much so that you value the success of the relationship more than you value being right. If it’s not on both of you, or it’s conditional, or there’s any other limitation or equivocation, you’re exposed to risk that “mismatched cleanliness priorities” or “a cup on the counter” will end you.
When you’re in love, don’t get excited because he’s hot. Don’t get fired up because she’s smart. Don’t sign the marriage license because they have the same priorities as you. Put a golden band on the Right Left Hand because irrespective of the differences or similarities between you, you can count on them be vulnerable and place the relationship’s success over everything, including their own desire to be right.
Like what I wrote? Think I’m full of shit? Tell me about it! Comment, share, tweet, or stand on your balcony and scream the entire article out loud to passers by. I’m not picky, whatever works for you.