Monday, March 25, 2013

Stop touching her

Seriously. Stop it. Talking about your wife. Yep. Stop it, now. Why? Because most of us guys are doing it wrong. Most guys... See most women... Just like the menu at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Legs, thighs, breasts, etc. not all of us, just most of us. Is there any chance that a self respecting woman wants to be seen like that? Especially from the most important man in her life? They deserve better. We can do better,  if we want. But, we have to want to.
Have you ever given her a back run, foot rub, massage, deep kiss or long hug without a slight nudge towards "something more?" Have you ever run a hot bath for her, poured a glass of wine, or just been intimate like that without expectation? Try it sometime. It will freak her out. I was the worst. Every time I got close enough to touch my wife, I did. Usually with minimal respect. Groping doesn't count as health touching. I have learned to do better. She appreciates it. She told me. Now that she trusts me again, she tells me lots of stuff. Women will tell you how to take care of them if you listen.
Which opens another can of worms. Do you listen? Most of us suck at all this stuff. The touchy feely stuff. It's not hard to figure out. Conversation, letting her coach you on being the "man of her dreams," making the effort. You can do it. Think of it like playing catch. All the great counselors know this one. She says something to you and you respond. Don't use yes and no for answers. Give your answers some thought. She's throwing you a pass, you are catching it. You turn it around, take aim and throw it back. Then repeat the process. She needs it. Turn yourself towards her. Give her your full attention. Make her the center of your world. It will feel phony and awkward at first but, with time, it's completely natural. This works with your kids, too. Try it.
The other touching issue you need to understand is the draining kind. Do you hug her for your benefit or hers? Are you offering comfort and support or taking it? My wife told me, before, that when I hugged her it felt like I was sucking the life out. I was just giving affection to get it back. I wanted her to do the mommy thing. Just make it all better after a bad day or experience. I was using her. I was taking, not giving. There is a big difference. Just keep it in mind. Make the effort to communicate, touch the right way and hug the right way. The changes in your marriage are worth it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My social experiment

I am in the process of conducting an involuntary experiment on unknowing test subjects. Seriously. Here's what I am up to.
I contacted 12 of the best guys I know. These are guys I would trust with my family. Guys who I would trust with my wallet. People I know stuff about and have been through stuff with. Some of them could be, and are, considered brothers to me. You get the point. These are 12 of my best friends.
I didn't set out to find guinea pigs for a social experiment. I was trying to do them a favor. They all know most of my story. They all know most of the details of my three year fight to keep my family. Many of them watched as I experienced panic attacks, breakdowns, nosebleeds from hysterical crying, bad decisions like picking cigarettes back up and many more wonderful fits of misery. They saw me crumble as everything that really mattered was hanging in the balance of a back and forth marriage. They saw me angry, sad, hurt, rejected, terrified, immature, pathetic and useless. Yep. Didn't even try to act cool during the worst part. So, what's the experiment?
Knowing what we went through. Knowing that we not only survived but are doing great. Knowing that my wife is happier with me than in our first year. Knowing how far we are from the divorce papers I was handed a year and a half ago. Would they be willing to listen to any advice I had. So far the answer is "no."
During our 5 day marriage intensive with Joel and Kathy, we were introduced to some books. Two that they wrote and several that they recommended. (Joel and Kathy's books) One was by Robert Alter, called "Good husband, great marriage." That's the one that woke me up and shook me up the most. Joel and Kathy are pastors and ministers, their stuff is amazing and I read them first. I learned more about being a Christian man and husband from those two books than 20 years in church. Read them. The Good husband book, is written in a straightforward style from a tough talking veteran marriage counsellor. After 25 years of Counselling, he figured out how to coach the husbands and totally change the marriage. Awesome book. Read it twice already. Keep it with me. It was written directly for guys like me and my friends. So, the experiment.
I wanted to put this book in the hands of all my friends, starting with these guys. No surprises or blindsiding from me. I contacted every one of them first. Told them about the book and how it had affected me. Told them why I wanted them to read it. Told them I couldn't stand the idea of them ever going through what we have. Told them they were just as likely to end up facing an angry wife who was done with their crap.... Just like me. I told them I had gotten a case of books, wanted them to read it. Told them not to wasted my time or money if they were not going to read it. Told them to be honest, if you don't want it, tell me, someone else will. All said to send it.
The last copy went out six weeks ago. Not a peep. No response. I have spoken with a few wives, the books are all sitting where they left them. Nobody has read a single page.  So, what does all this tell me? My friends are all knuckleheads like me? Nobody gives a crap about my advice? Men don't care enough about their marriage and family to invest 3-4 hours reading a book? Even one recommended by their closest friends? Do I need to apologize for my entire gender?
What I keep seeing, and experiencing, is this. Men generally don't see any reason to change or grow up without some type of trauma as motivation. That sucks. I thought I was the perfect husband until I found out she was leaving. Then I was all kinds of motivated to get my act straight. Really, when do we change? After the doctor tells us we have cancer? After we lose our job? When someone close dies and makes us consider our mortality? When the divorce papers land in front of us?
I know I am not going to create a bunch of perfect little soldiers who wake up and start doing good from this. But, it makes me really wonder how much good I can really do. If the guys closest to me refuse to take me serious, who else will listen? Do me a favor, visit Joel and Kathy's site, read a little. Order some books. Go to a marriage intensive. Invest in your family. Become a better man. I don't get paid to send people there. I am repaying them for what they did for me. They saved my family and got me past a lot of what was holding me back. Let me know how it turns out.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Let it go

Better magic words than, "abracadabra." Those words, and the action, can make all kids of crap disappear. The funny thing about it, I couldn't do it. I carried my fair share of emotional and psychological baggage around for 40 years. I felt like somehow, all that junk had to be resolved. I felt obligated to hold on to every bad thing that ever happened in my life. My wife even told me to let stuff go, for 20 years, and I couldn't even grasp what the heck she was talking about.
I had a very abusive grandfather. He beat my mother, aunts and uncle mercilessly. He cheated on my grandmother repeatedly. He fought with anyone who didn't have the same opinion as him. He was violently racist. He also passed on all that anger to his kids, and his grand kids. He softened up later in life, remarried after my grandmother passed. Ended up a fairly likeable guy. But.... My family refused to forgive him for anything. Really. They watched him go to his grave, waiting for some kind of apology from a man who had no idea he did anything wrong. In his mind, everything he ever did was fully justified and made perfect sense. To them, he was a monster who was intentionally withholding apologies and restitution that they deserved. Never happened. He died. Never said a word about anything from their childhood or his past. Never apologized. Never admitted any fault.
He was rough on me, too. Had some of the worst beatings I ever had by his hand, belt, stick, whatever he had. Fortunately, I didn't spend much time with him. I have plenty of traumatic memories attached to him. Add to that, parents, a brother, a difficult neighborhood, crappy schools, bad business deals, manipulative pastors, stupid friends, bad ideas and generally being human. I had decided to embrace my baggage and share it with everyone.
About 10 years ago, one of my pastors preached a sermon called, "take off the mask." He explained how we come to work or church or wherever wearing masks. We attempt to make everyone think we have it all together and our lives are great. He said we should take those masks off and be willing to be honest and real with people. Well, I decided to do it. If someone asked me how I was doing, I told them. People eventually quit asking those stupid questions. Mt attitude went downhill quick. I began resenting all the phony people and their lies. I became very sarcastic and rude. I didn't like anyone. I felt used, robbed, manipulated, scammed, hurt and miserable. My family was overjoyed with my newfound personality. They were so excited to just sit with me and hear all the stories of how wrong I had been treated and how bad everything sucked.
But, none of it was my fault. Everyone else had the issues. Everyone else refused to do the right thing. Everyone else had failed me and hurt me. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! No really. I actually felt like that. I felt like the whole world owed me an apology. Hoped that one day it would all just fix itself. Everyone would realize what they did wrong, see it my way, and do the right thing.
During our 5 day marriage intensive with Joel and Kathy, I finally got woken up. Four days into it, with my wife still not fixed, we ended up in a private counseling session. I honestly thought she had to be the problem, I had done everything in my power to fix the marriage. Had to be her. But, we figured out that I couldn't smile at her. Big problem. My wife is the happiest,  most wonderful person you will ever meet. And I couldn't smile at her. Kathy started pushing my buttons. She stood up, leaned over the table and told me that I could just let all that junk go. Really? Never even considered it before. Even though my wife had been telling me to let it go for 20 years, I never stopped to think about how to do it.
In my mind, here's what I saw. I was walking up a stream, water about knee deep. Just like the ones in north Georgia, where I love trout fishing. I saw myself trudging up this river, against the flow, with a huge bag on my back full of those smooth rocks from the bottom of that stream. I was walking along, staring at the rocks, picking them up and adding them to the bag. I was collecting every bad memory from my life. Every hurt and abuse. I was consciously making myself remember those bad things and holding onto them. My bag of rocks. The rocks were connected to a huge chain, like the ones you see on ship anchors. When she said, let it go, I saw myself stand up, take my eyes off the rocks, notice the chain in my hand and let go of it. I saw the bag hit the water and watched the rocks scatter back not the riverbed. I realized that I could just enjoy the walk in the water. I could pick up the rocks that caught my attention, but I could just drop them back in the water after I looked them over. I didn't have to keep them.
Sounds kinda weird, but it worked. I smiled at my wife. I laughed out loud. They thought I was kidding or messing with them at first. I had to convince them that I really got it. I really got it! Now, I can remember those things, but there's no emotion involved. I can remember something awful from my childhood, or even last week, and not get upset or angry. I am still getting used to it, not normal, but life changing. My wife likes me a lot better these days. My kids enjoy being with me more. Try it. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Don't give up

I just talked with an old friend. Haven't heard from him in a while. He is miserable. His wife just left him for another man. He is in real pain. I am hurting for him. I understand that kind of pain. 
What do we do when we hit rock bottom like that? We hold on. Easier said than done, but we have to. As Christians, we all talk a big game about faith and hope, but what about when it hits the fan like that? Either we trust God or we don't. Well. Do we?
If we really trust Him, we have to keep moving forward and expect that He has what's best for us. I can talk big like that now. Yep. After surviving what I have, I might even get a little obnoxious about it. Wasn't all calm and cool in the middle, though. Cried to the point of nosebleeds twice. Broke down and collapsed on the floor a few times. Lost my mind completely for the first two weeks after finding out she wanted out. My whole world fell apart. Even started smoking again. Still fighting that one. Quit for 19 years and just picked right back up like I never quit. It made perfect sense at the time. Stupid. I know. Still going back and forth on that one. Don't ever start. Really. 
After my first few conversations with Joel and, understood what I had to do. I had to track down the big jerk who hurt my wife and ruined my family. It took a few weeks to figure out who it was. Even though Joel told me during our first conversation. It was me. Unbelievable. Me. The perfect husband. Not possible. 
I loved my wife. I rubbed her feet and back. I brought her flowers. I cooked meals and washed dishes. I helped around the house, a lot. I did everything I thought I was supposed to do. And I was way better than all those other losers from her past. Compared to the other guys she dated and various step fathers over her life, I was freakin' perfect! I was the man! She was lucky to have me. I really believed my own crap, too. As Christian husbands, we don't get the luxury of comparing ourselves to any other random meathead we know. We have to compare ourselves to Christ. And once I did that, I didn't look so good anymore. I actually looked pretty bad. Turns out all those great things I was doing for her were done from purely selfish motivation. I was being good to her so that I could get a response from her. I had expectations. ( already worked that one out in a previous post. Read it if you dare) I expected her to react a certain way every time I did something good. And guess what happened when she didn't. I pouted. Or threw a tantrum. Or just sulked. Or stomped around angry. Or refused to do something she wanted. Or did something I knew she didn't like. Seriously. Joel had to explain the whole "arrested development" thing to me. Basically, most adult men had something traumatizing happen at a young age. Whatever it was, we pretty much quit maturing emotionally at that point. Something inside us is holding that moment until it is resolved. So. Apparently, I was about 3-4 years old emotionally. Yep. And the head of my household. Dragging my family through life by whatever seemed logical at the time. 
Really. That's where most of us live. Deal with it. Do something about it. Your wife needs pure, unconditional love. She needs to know that you love her and not what she does. She needs the freedom to be her own person without you controlling her and demanding she act or be a certain way. You have to forget yourself and your needs for a while and focus on her. That's what dying to self really is anyway. Put your needs and desires aside and focus on what she needs. Dang. Kinda like what Christ did for us. Isn't it. That would mean..... You would be on the path to being Christlike. That's the goal, right? As Christians. Christlike. Giving up everything to do what's best for the bride. 
Not going to be easy. I promise. You will be fighting yourself every minute. Like Rocky. Yeah. (I am a big Rocky fan) Even in those goofy Rocky movies. It was never a question of whether or not he could beat the other guy. The issue was always, could he beat himself? Could he get over whatever fear or anxiety or insecurity or prideful issue that was holding him back? Can you? Can you get over the fear of what people will think? Can you get over your own pride and humble yourself to serve the one person who really needs it? Can you get over the fear of being alone and focus on her? Can you get over the pain of feeling like a dog being trained to act like a decent, respectful human? 
She is worth whatever it costs to save her. Love her. Do for her. Give to her. Listen to her. Meet her needs. It's worth it. Do not give up. </