I’m Failing and Winning at the Same Time

I’ll admit that I’m not getting as much done during this quarantine period as I expected.

I thought I was going to spend this time writing and otherwise producing.

That hasn’t happened.

And it’s ok.

I’ve discovered that it’s hard for me to think and write when the kids are home all day. Those who are parents of young kids know that they are always hungry. This means multiple times an hour I have to stop what I’m doing to get them snacks, drinks, defuse an argument, or find a toy they misplaced.  

I am also trying to spend as much time with them as possible. This means daily walks or hikes when they are done with their school work, which usually happens by noon.

I also want to spend time with my wife and, frankly, when given the choice between writing or sneaking upstairs with her, the latter wins every time.

I am also fortunate to still have a job and am working from home. That also takes chunks of time out of each day.

I have also not missed a single basement workout since I cannot let my fitness slip.

I could get angry at myself for not accomplishing all I wanted, but I don’t see it that way. It’s ok to set goals and adapt to the circumstances. In fact, I would argue that this approach is better than being rigid and inflexible.  

I have a lifetime to do productive work, but this dedicated 24/7 family time will probably never happen again.

I intend on taking full advantage of it. That’s why I don’t see how I’ve been spending this time as a failure.

If you are not doing as much “productive” work as you expected but are connecting to your family in ways not usually possible, I’d call that a win.

If, on the other hand, you are sitting around watching Netflix, drinking beer, and eating chips all day, then I would say that’s a loss and there’s still time to make a change.

Ultimately, I see it this way: family time is productive time.

I may not finish writing the book I meant to finish. That’s ok.

I may not come out of this fluent in Spanish. That’s ok.

I know this. My family will remember this time fondly as a time when we were all together making memories.

As a father and husband, there’s not much more I can ask for.   

That’s why I’m failing and winning at the same time.

Note: During the time I wrote this my son asked for a banana and five minutes later asked for an orange ice pop.

Sons Rely On Their Fathers To Teach Them How To Be Men

Young boys are often taught that their innate qualities and nature are, in some way, defective, and that they must bury those parts of themselves to fit in to the dominant culture.  

While I can’t directly control what my son is explicitly and implicitly taught in school or in the media, I can control the lessons we teach him in our home.

The most important lesson I teach him is that masculinity and men throughout history are heroic. I will ensure that he internalizes this positive message and always remembers it.   

He will know that male kings, presidents, emperors, philosophers, poets, artists, scholars, novelists, artisans, builders, farmers, soldiers, fathers, and so many other anonymous hard-working men through millennia, built and shaped our world, and continue to do so.

They created democracy, wrote most of the great works of literature we still study today, refined philosophical thought, created much of the art in our museums, designed and built the great skyscrapers and bridges that are ubiquitous throughout our world, discovered life-saving medications and vaccines that saved untold numbers of lives and alleviated suffering, defeated our enemies and died in horrific numbers keeping our world safe, and lived quiet unassuming lives raising and protecting their families and passing on important lessons to the next generations.  

Men throughout history have been and continue to be heroic.  This is the message we must teach our boys in our homes because we know that revisionist history wants to focus exclusively on the negatives perpetrated by some men throughout history.

My son and I will continue looking at pictures and videos of American soldiers, many of them so young that under new laws they would not even be allowed to legally purchase cigarettes today, storming the beach at Normandy, and dying by the thousands in the desperate quest to free Europe from the Nazis.

We will watch Civil War movies featuring thousands of young men marching towards each other in formation with full knowledge they would probably be cut down by a musket ball.

We will discuss the role of monks during the Dark Ages who painstakingly hand copied great works of ancient literature, thereby preserving those works for all posterity.

Push Back Against the Cultural Narrative

Modern society today tries to tell boys, like my son, that he is responsible for the ills perpetrated by others in the past. He is given the message that there’s something wrong with him, and that he should sit still, shut up, and comply.

There’s not a chance I will let that happen.   

Fathers of sons must counteract these messages that our sons are bombarded with in school, on television, and everywhere else they turn to remind them that masculinity is heroic.

This is why it is so important for fathers to be familiar with history – real history – not the politically correct stories that masquerade as history today. We must be prepared to inspire our sons with tales of heroic men throughout the centuries who, through their actions, built and sustained the world.

At that same time, we as fathers must always demonstrate to our sons our own heroism by forging ahead against the culture by taking care of our bodies and health, improving our minds and spirits, financially providing for our families, and protecting our families in every way possible.

It is up to us to push back against the dominant cultural narrative before our sons internalize its false premise.

If we don’t do it, no one else will.

Never Cede Your Responsibilities to Anyone Else

Our sons must also know that they do not have to do great public acts to be heroic. Countless men throughout the ages and today lived quiet anonymous lives leading and protecting their families and shaping the next generations. They are no less heroic than great leaders of nations.

We go to work, and we know statistically men are far more likely to work in the most dangerous and deadly of occupations, and we provide through the sweat of our brow. We serve as moral teachers, as our guidance helps direct our sons’ innate quest to want to push boundaries and explore. We teach them how to be good at being a man and to be good men (for a greater discussion of the difference between the two, see Jack Donovan’s The Way of Men).

My son and I talk about when violence may be the answer. The fact is that sometimes it may be necessary, but those instances are rare, and must be reserved for proper purposes.  

We discuss justice, and what it means; honor, and how to maintain it; true friendship, and how to find it; and marriage and family, and how to find a wife who will be a true complementary partner.

As he grows up, we will continue to discuss what it means to be a man and the responsibility we have to protect our family from all kinds of harm. He will understand that if he acts in certain anti-social ways that there may be consequences. In short, he will learn the lessons that I learned and that generations of boys learned until recent times.

Fathers, our sons are counting on us to encourage their innate curiosity and desire for action. They need us more than ever to teach them how to be men, heroic men, who will lead in the future and help shape the course of world history.

Let us teach them well, and never cede this responsibility to anyone else.

Hunter Drew recently released a wonderful new resource called Fatherhood for Modern Times, which is an actionable guide for fathers today. I have been working through it and finding different strategies to implement in each chapter. It is a multimedia guide and includes a video and audio file for each chapter of the book. Check it out!

How I’m Making Our Quarantine Productive and Enjoyable

It seems hard to believe how much the world has changed in the last two weeks.

The Governor of New York has asked New Yorkers to not take part in any non-essential activities, and to stay home and away from other people as much as possible. This means we are effectively quarantined at home, and I’m not dreading the next few weeks. Things could be much worse than being asked to stay home with my family.   

After a crazy past week, things should settle into a routine. The teachers spent last week scrambling to put into place a distance learning plan, so the kids are beginning school remotely again.

I’m determined to use this time wisely and productively.

There is no way I will ever be a Netflix and Chill kind of guy, and I have to ask my wife or my daughter how to even turn on the TV.

Here are ten things I’m doing during this unexpected time home:

Write at a minimum 2000 words a day. I’m working on a few different projects, and this will provide me the opportunity to spend more time writing.

Work on a new language. I’m currently working through Pimsleur Spanish. I’m on Day 3 and enjoying the way the material is presented. It’s time to learn a new language! Thanks to those who voted on my Twitter poll and helped me choose Spanish.

Reading Classics I haven’t yet read. I’m currently reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Next up is Orwell’s 1984. While I have read 1984 in the past, it was many years ago and, besides, I think it’s a lot more relevant now than it was a few weeks ago.

Finish audiobooks I’ve been working on for a while. I am currently listening to Sex at Dawn and I Am Dynamite (a biography of Nietzsche). It’s time to finish them.  

Hike in the woods with the kids. My kids are growing up as urban/suburban kids. We are going to change that by hiking many miles of nearby trails.

Continue  my daily meditation practice and increase the time for each session. This has been going well since the New Year, and I am going to continue.

Lift weights in the basement. It doesn’t have close to the variety of equipment I have in the gym, but that’s not an excuse. It’s time to get creative and not let my workouts suffer.

Yard work. We have been putting off some cleanup of our backyard for too long. Now is the time to do it.

Schedule an hour each day with my wife to just talk. I described a good way to spark conversation here. I enjoy our talks and we are going to have them every day.

Continue to wake up early.  I like to wake up before the rest of the house stirs so I can spend it alone planning and thinking through plans. I can’t let this slip.  

Although we are living in a weird new world filled with uncertainty, if we use this time wisely we will look back on it as a time of productivity and increased closeness with our loved ones.

I am determined to make that happen.

Marriage Under Quarantine

In recent days there have been a lot of articles and opinion pieces written about the ongoing Coronavirus situation. Most focus on the health and economic impacts of this crisis.

Some focus on the effects of children who will be home for extended periods of times.

I read an opinion piece from the New York Times entitled “Welcome to Marriage During the Coronavirus: Remember both of you are right,” about the effects it will have on marriage, and I want to briefly comment on it.

The columnist, Jennifer Senior, wrote:

“The coronavirus may turn out to be the ultimate stress test for couples.”

Later in the piece, after expounding on the fact that partners in LTR’s often have “very different coping styles,” she offers the following suggestion:

“To keep our relationships sane, we’ll all need to turn to virtual communities of outsiders, whether it’s through work or FaceTime or virtual dinner parties…”

Much like the many jokes on Twitter by parents about their need for extra alcohol during the time their children are home, this take on the current situation, to me, is deeply fatalistic and emblematic of the state of marriage and the family today.

Frankly, if you view the idea of spending unexpected extra time with your spouse, as a “stress test,” and feel the need to talk to others on FaceTime to keep you “sane” then I would wager that there’s something profoundly wrong with that relationship.

During times of crisis and uncertainty, we should find comfort and strength in our spouses and children. The columnist focuses much attention on the fact that both spouses might have “stylistic differences” in coping styles during adversity. This, she posits, creates conflict, which will be exacerbated by time spent together over the coming weeks.  

If that’s the case that’s a failure of communication, and possibly a failure of leadership on the husband’s part. I have dealt with several stressful situations in the past, including 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, and I can say that my sole goal during both was to get home during to be with my family. I wanted to provide comfort for them and gain strength and extra resolve from them.

That’s my “coping style” during stressful situations. I draw nearer to my wife and children and seek to protect them, just as I’m doing now. By doing so, I gain strength. 

Communicate with your spouse

Instead of looking at time spent with your spouse as a chore, simple mindset changes can help you see it as a blessing. If your marriage hasn’t been that great in recent times, now is a good time to fix it. You may never get this opportunity again to connect in ways not possible during the regular hustle and bustle of life.

Truly get to know each other.

One way of doing it that I have found to be effective is to pick a different topic to discuss each day. One book that’s helpful to get conversations started on topics you might not otherwise talk about during everyday life is: Questions for Couples: 469 Thought-Provoking Conversation Starters for Connecting, Building Trust, and Rekindling Intimacy.

My wife and I have used this book to effectively spark conversations about a variety of topics. The best way to do it is to randomly pick a question (they are numbered) the night before by using a random number generator online, so there’s no bias about the type of question to be considered. By doing this, both of you have the whole night to ponder the next day’s question. Then, use the following day to talk it through. I guarantee you will learn new things about how your partner thinks by doing this.

Depending on your at-home work schedules and the kids’ schedules, you can pick a time to sit down alone and discuss, perhaps over a glass of wine, or you can discuss it in snippets throughout the day.

Then, repeat the process with a new question the following day.

It’s easy as a married couple to find ourselves always talking about the same things. This is particularly true when you have children since the default discussion topic often becomes the children. 

Using a book like Questions for Couples helps break you out of the routine. It could also have the added benefit of taking your mind, for a bit, off the events taking place in the world. The fact is what’s happening outside of our front doors is all out of our direct control, so we have to do our best to let events happen and view this time together as a blessing and an opportunity to connect in new ways.

If the prospect of spending a few weeks cooped up in a house together with your spouse creates a sense of dread and you feel the overwhelming need to FaceTime with other people, perhaps now is the time to work on that, and discuss what’s wrong.  

This is certainly a stressful time for all, and the world is changing in ways we couldn’t have imagined a few weeks ago. Embrace this time to connect deeply with your spouse. Times of great uncertainty out of your control should bring you closer, not drive you apart.

Charlie Delto Got Me Thinking…

I am thankful that my friend and Fraternity of Excellence brother, Charlie Delto took the time and effort to respond to my recent Heaven & Hell piece.

His response got me thinking… a lot.

The fact is, though it may not look like it on the surface, we agree.

His counterpoint to me was that we must be prepared to be judged truthfully by others based on the “quality of [our] character,” like Martin Luther King spoke of, and if we argue against that we begin falling into the SJW way of thinking, which posits we can define ourselves in any way even if it doesn’t comport with reality.

To Charlie, if I or anyone else says, “I’ll do what I want and not care what anyone thinks;” it should be viewed as a dangerous excursion into new left thinking.

He concluded:

“If no one else thinks that we are handsome, rich, kind, strong or smart, we’re probably not. If anyone and everyone can claim those virtues for themselves then those words will become meaningless. We should accept that some other people’s opinions are important. But those other people need to be our own community that we trust. They need to be our brothers. How you get these brothers is an impossibly long and nuanced process that is as human as humanity itself. But if you’re looking for a good start, do 31DtM and bare your soul to other men who are doing the same damn thing.”

In fact, his conclusion aligns completely with how I think and my initial premise, which I believe I didn’t articulate sufficiently. He cites this portion of my piece:

“But, if we use our freedom to forge our own paths and take responsibility for our own lives, no person and no situation has the power to represent a hell on Earth for us.”

I want to be clear that when I speak of forging my own path and similar language I am referring to forging it independent of society as a whole or from others who probably don’t share my values. In my piece, My Personal Declaration of Independence, I went into some detail about my battle with eliminating the need of approval and validation from other people who haven’t earned the right to speak into my life.

I acted in this manner for much of my life, regardless of whether those individuals shared my values and worldview or not. I will stand by my language as it refers to those who don’t share my values or worldview. I am no longer held hostage by their opinions or expectations of me. If I allow myself to slip into that way of thinking, it would represent a sort of hell on earth for me.

With that said, I fully agree with Charlie’s conclusion, particularly, “We should accept that some other people’s opinions are important. But those other people need to be our own community that we trust. They need to be our brothers. How you get these brothers is an impossibly long and nuanced process that is as human as humanity itself.”

I should have articulated it in my original piece, but those who know me well know that the opinions of those who share my values and who I know have my best interests in mind do mean a great deal to me. In fact, as my brothers in the Fraternity of Excellence know, I am constantly seeking out their thoughts and opinions on a wide range of situations. While they don’t get to define me as an individual, I do expect to be judged by them if I am failing in some way, and I welcome it. That’s what our brotherhood is all about. We work together, and sometimes have tell each other when we are fucking up.  

This is the “community” that I have that Charlie referred to as being important, a community we are both part of.

The key, to me, is to pick those who you allow to have some voice in your life wisely. If you properly curate this part of life, you will welcome their judgments of you because you will know their actions, words, and beliefs are meant in good faith and for your good.

Likewise, don’t let those who don’t deserve a voice in your life have one.  If you do, they will represent a type of hell on earth for you.

Charlie is one of the smartest men I know. He recently released a course on philosophy, Epistemology 101. I am buying it to broaden my knowledge. You should too (not an affiliate link).

Heaven & Hell

I snapped the above photo from the parking lot of my gym.

I always thought this sign was placed at an odd location. I’m not sure how anyone could mistake raised curbs and a sidewalk as an exit, but I guess some have made this mistake, necessitating the sign. 

Every time I see it I think of Jean-Paul Sartre’s short play, No Exit. Since I go to the gym every day, I think of the play every day.

I don’t pretend to be a philosopher or an expert on Existentialism, though I have read some of it throughout the years. I have some friends who could discuss philosophy much more coherently than I could.

With that said, when I first read No Exit in college I was struck by Sartre’s depiction of hell. In the popular imagination, hell is often shown as a place with fire and brimstone and plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth. In other words, a physical torture chamber.

Since Sartre was an atheist, the play is meant to be an allegory for his philosophy, and not meant to be a dissertation on religious conceptions of hell; still his description of hell as being trapped in an antiseptic room with other people for all eternity was jarring at first.

The conclusion “Hell is other people,” while in a sense absurd to those with traditional notions of hell in mind, to me is a source of hope for us living this life.

I will add to the famous quote so that it reads “Hell is other people if we allow it.”

We, ultimately, have the freedom to decide whether we will permit situations we are in, or people we deal with, to become a personal hell or not. We have the freedom to determine whether we will allow other people to define us, or if we will use our freedom here on Earth to define ourselves, despite opposition and derision that is sure to come.

When we are overly concerned with what other people think about us, we create the conditions for a sort of hell on Earth. It forces us to constantly be on guard and shift our behaviors to meet the expectations of others. If we use our freedom that way, in a sense abdicating it to others and sacrificing our own values to others, hell sure can be other people.

But, if we use our freedom to forge our own paths and take responsibility for our own lives, no person and no situation has the power to represent a hell on Earth for us.

In the play, Garcin, Inez, and Estelle turned their situation into hell by how they reacted and responded to each other. Nothing inherent in the room made it hell, except themselves.

Some of us are living in a similar state of hell as the main characters. We are imprisoned by the expectations of others and sacrifice our hopes and dreams due to the fear of how others will react to us.  

To me, this short play is positive tale. It urges us to express our individuality and not allow others to define our lives for us. In so doing, we will find our own meaning and purpose.  

Adam Lane Smith recently released a course that I completed that provides tools to help define our own purpose for life. I highly recommend Living With Purpose if you have never done a similar exercise before. Don’t create a hell on earth for yourself by letting other people define you or your purpose.  

Pals

It’s likely that every male who is a member of Generation X watched 1988’s movie, Young Guns, many times.

I know I did. It’s quite possible that I watched it a hundred or more times.  

The movie was a romanticized telling of the story of Billy the Kid and the Regulators, a group of young men Billy was associated with who sought to avenge local merchant John Tunstall, whose murder kicked off the Lincoln County War in New Mexico.

The Old West.

Outlaws.

Betrayal.

Guns.

Friendship.

What’s not to love. 

Young Guns II gave us Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory, which I continue to believe is one of the best songs in their collection.

In the first movie Billy, played by Emilio Estevez, gave his famous “Pals” speech when Chavez, ably played by Lou Diamond Philips, sought to leave the Regulators, saying:  

“See, if you got three or four good pals, why, then you got yourself a tribe. There ain’t nothin’ stronger than that.”

This speech was created for the movie, but it captures a real truth that all men should internalize and strive to achieve.

Find Your Tribe

Although the word “tribe” traditionally refers to a group of families who share the same culture, language, and traditions who have banded together, it has been co-opted in modern colloquial parlance to refer to a group of unrelated friends bonded by common interests who have, in a real sense, become a family, even though they are not blood related.

Tribe equals family.

The fictional version of Billy the Kid was on to something.

Now, I know the term “tribe” is used by marketers when identifying the demographics of potential customers, but I am using it in a much more important and personal sense.   

Every man should have at least one, but preferably several good male friends that become, in effect, family to them.

In the modern world where extended families often live far apart from each other the concept of “family” has a different understanding than it did hundreds of years ago when multi-generations of blood relatives lived together or nearby in the same village.

Today, many people don’t have the fortune of having extended family nearby. And, when they are, oftentimes deep-seated family issues exacerbated by the modern world prevent families from getting along, let alone acting like a “family.”

We all simply need family support and structures, and our friends can – indeed should – provide that for us in part.  

What Does Male Friendship Look Like?

There is mature friendship and immature friendship.

Immature friendship includes the posturing and flexing you see competitive young men sometimes do in the presence of other young men. Not yet experienced at life and its complications, and unsure how to manage their emotions, some friendships among young men is of the immature variety. They constantly seek to outdo one another and impress each other. Some of the features of these immature friendships are what far too many writers on culture call “toxic masculinity” and unfairly and incorrectly ascribe to all men.   

Another feature of immature friendships is the tendency of some groups of young men to lack a moral compass – in effect they lack the ability to say “no” to each other – and there is no one friend willing to step up to be the moral lodestar of the group.  

Let me explain. True friends don’t let other friends get themselves into trouble by doing stupid things without calling them out or trying to talk them out of it. True friends know each other well, and care for each other and seek to stop each other from doing something that might mess up his life. They look out for each other. Within immature friendships, too often no one looks out for the other to say, “maybe we shouldn’t do this since it’s not right or it will hurt us or someone else.”  

Finally, immature friendships include an element of non-friendly competition. Men are by nature, competitive and, yes, my goal is still to outlift my friends in the gym. That’s friendly competition. There are no consequences if they lift more than I do, nor will I try to sabotage their efforts. Within immature friendships it becomes unfriendly when, deep down, your “friends” are hoping for you to fail, or in extreme cases, actively working to ensure your failure.

Until the last five years, I would say many of my own friendships were of the immature variety. There was simply no one there to tell me “Chris, you are fucking up and you are being an asshole, cut the shit.” Instead, most of these immature friendships had the complete opposite dynamic, and my friends encouraged me to do stupid shit, because that’s just what we were all doing, and I would ruin the fun if I didn’t.   

Mature friendship, on the other hand, the “pals” mentioned in the quote I began with, is characterized by a deep concern for the well-being of the other, which means looking out for each other at all times.  

This concern is manifested in your friends calling you out on your bullshit. The fact is they probably know you better than almost anyone and know when you are posturing or acting in a way antithetical to your values or well-being. I think of the scenes in the old cartoons where there is an angel on one shoulder of the protagonist and a devil on the other shoulder, and both are telling him to act in certain way. A mature friend acts as the angel on your shoulder calling you to be the best version of yourself, and the immature friend can be viewed as the devil on your shoulder telling you the complete opposite.    

True friends celebrate your victories with you unconditionally. They root for your success and are genuinely pleased when you achieve it. Likewise, they mourn with you when you don’t.

With mature friends, you can completely be yourself without any filter. You can express concerns, fears, disappointments, and confusion and, likewise, don’t have to hide your joy when you succeed. Immature friends want what’s best for them, and the relationship is built around how they can benefit from the friendship. Mature friends truly want what’s best for each other and think about how they can be helpful to the other friend.  

My Life

For the past five years I have been blessed with mature friendships with two guys. In many ways, we couldn’t be more different; in fact, the only thing I think we have in common is our shared love of working out. We don’t all get together in person too often since it’s hard to make that work with our busy lives and kids and wives. Yet, we talk in some way pretty much every day. We help each other in our various business pursuits without any expectation of compensation. We are a sounding board for each other about business, marriage, fatherhood and, yes, working out. We share our daily ups and downs with each other. Yes, there is a lot of shit-talking that takes place, but it’s all in good fun.

They know everything about me and know how I think, and the same is true vice versa. By now, they can tell from the tone of a text message if something negative is going on in my life that I haven’t shared and will not be shy about asking what’s going on.

They have been there for me, selflessly, whenever times have been rough, and I know they will continue to be there in the future. I hope I have also been there for them in the same way.

They have seen me and heard me at my worst, and also at my best.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I would have gotten through some difficult situations, all of which were caused by my own faulty thinking, without them recognizing it and showing me my errors, even when I resisted. And, oh do I resist when I think I’m right about something and someone confronts me about it.

These are the people I would want my wife to call for help if anything were to happen to me who I can trust with my family, my finances, and any secrets I may have.

This is mature friendship, and I am thankful for it. They make up my tribe, family in the deepest sense of the word.

I know it is not easy to develop such friendships, though I do believe men have an easier time forming them than women do. As an observer it appears to me that some women are more likely to smile at a friend to her face and talk negatively about her behind her back than men are. That’s just my own observation unsupported by any empirical evidence that I know of.

In recent months, my own circle of trusted men has increased with my membership in the Fraternity of Excellence (FOE). Just last night, I participated in a face-to-face Zoom call with about 30 other men where we discussed the concepts of integrity and authenticity with each other. Besides getting to know each other online and through face to face calls, it seems that every day there is some kind of unofficial FOE in-person meetup happening.

If you are a man who is having difficulty finding mature friendship, as I defined it above, I encourage you to give FOE a try, even for a month. The men inside push each other to be the best we can be, call each other out when we are not acting the best we can, and support each other through difficult times. I know, besides the friends I described above, that the men in FOE are also there for me, and I for them.

That’s priceless.

To learn more about FOE, click here.

 

Money, Money, Money…

Managing finances is one of those issues within marriages that frequently causes conflict.

I can say that, in my own marriage, we have never had arguments or even disagreements about money.

It just hasn’t happened.

Not now when we are living comfortably, and not when I was still in school and making very little.

While I know there are several different ways of doing finances as a married couple, I will share what has worked for us.

Transparency

We have and have always had joint bank accounts.

Period.

Venmo, part payment tool and part social media platform, allows you to see who is paying who and for what purpose. Admit it, you creep Venmo too to see which of your friends are paying each other. I can’t be the only one.  

I was struck when I first started using it at the number of married couples who send money to each other for their share of the household bills.

I’ve seen “mortgage,” “rent,” “electricity,” and other explanations that indicate one spouse is paying another his or her share of a regular household expense.   

I’ve even seen one spouse pay another for his/her share of lunch.

This means that they have separate bank accounts and keep at least partially separate finances.

Frankly, I didn’t realize anyone did it this way, naively assuming that everyone just shared money with their spouses in one pot that pays for everything, like we do.  

I could not imagine sharing the payment of bills in this way within my own marriage.

Perhaps my situation is not the norm because my wife is currently a stay-at-home mom. With that said, even when she worked full-time this is still how we handled finances.  

I am particularly cognizant of reminding my wife again and again that the money in the account is not my money – it is our money – no matter what its source. This means she doesn’t have to ask me for permission to spend anything, just as I don’t have to ask her permission to spend.

Now, this doesn’t give either of us carte blanche to blow through the account, and neither of us would ever do that. We both have complete trust of the other. Any large purchases within our home we are both always involved in anyway. She knows, for example, if I am shopping for a car.

We are constantly communicating about finances so there are never misunderstandings, ever.

There will be times I will say something to the effect of, “try to limit the use of the debit card until a check I’m expecting arrives in a couple of days. Use the Amex instead until then.” This isn’t an example of control, since I am also following the same admonition. It’s simply my way of saying the account is a bit low at the moment.

Sharing an account means we are fully transparent with each other. If I was blowing money on hookers and cocaine, she would see the large withdrawals and I would expect her to question me about it, and vice versa.

Our joint accounts extend to our credit card. We each have an Amex charge card on the same account. Using this card keeps us disciplined since we must pay it in full at the end of each month. We use the card mostly for the points, which we convert to airline miles for trips. The flights for our December vacation to Jamaica were paid for using these miles.

This transparency means that neither of us have secrets or opportunities for arguments about money.  We talk things through.

Finances are just never an issue. This was true when we had no income, when we were jointly making $35,000 my first year out of law school, and now.

Allowances

At the beginning of each week, we withdraw an agreed upon sum of money from the bank and split it evenly. This serves as an “allowance,” for lack of a better term, for each of us for the coming week.

This is our personal spending money for the week to be used for whatever we want.  I’ll be honest, I end up putting large chunks of my allowance into my dresser drawer as a sort of savings. When I go on vacation I prefer to use cash, and this mini-savings becomes our spending money during those times.

The allowance amount varies depending on the week and the current financial condition. 

The money in the drawer is also used for buying each other gifts. Of course, if I buy something from a store on the credit card or debit card, she is able to see that I bought something, which can make it hard to surprise each other. The easy solution to that is that we sometimes use some of our saved cash for presents. Each of us have also had a family member order items online for us for complete secrecy.

Do What Works For You

I understand that the way we do things may not work for everyone. We met so young and had nothing in the beginning, so when we started opening bank accounts it just made sense to make them joint. I know those who meet later in life when both parties are established in their careers and already have separate bank accounts may view and do things differently. I am not saying our way is the only way or the right way, but it has worked very well.

My suggestions for those contemplating marriage are:

Discuss Financial Issues before Saying “I Do”: We know that finances are big flashpoint for many married couples. Have the discussions for how you will manage your finances before getting married. This is important. Make sure you share the same values and same goals and are on the same page so there are no surprises or misunderstandings after the wedding.  

Include Money Management in your Vetting: Let’s face it, marriage is a risk and divorce is costly for men. When you meet who think is the girl of your dreams, examine how she spends money. Is she in major debt? Does she make impulsive purchases? Does she save money? These are important questions to consider as you prepare to tie your finances together hopefully for the rest of your lives. If your future wife is compulsive in spending, and can’t stop herself, it may presage other issues, other than financial, down the line.

Be Transparent, Always: Don’t lie about money. Just don’t. Neither of you are children, and you should be able to communicate without fear. Of course, you may not always be able to buy what you want when you want it but communicate what is important to you and work together to spend your money in a way that not break the bank, but still allows you to enjoy life. Lying about finances will inevitably lead to lying about other issues and lead to a marked lack of trust.  

Assign One Spouse the Job of Paying Bills: This is my role in the house. I keep track of bills and pay all of them online (well, except our lawn care company, which doesn’t give that option). With one person responsible for knowing due dates, it will eliminate any confusion and inadvertent blown deadlines, thereby eliminating opportunities for recrimination.   

I understand that every couple has their own system, and some have separate accounts. I am not being critical and would never urge anyone to change something that works well for them. There is no one blueprint for a successful marriage. It depends on a variety of factors, especially the values of the two partners.

There are so many stresses involved in the modern world, particularly for those with children, and it’s sad when married couples allow disagreements about money management add to it.

Don’t let that happen. Talk through these issues. Talk about your values. Find a system that works for you. I recommend full transparency and a joint financial life since I believe it generally leads to greater trust and a better partnership.

Your Wife Wants To Respect You, Don’t Make It Hard For Her

Respect is defined as “admiration for someone or something that you believe has good ideas or qualities.”

So, by definition, in order for another person to respect you they have to:

(a) admire you, and

(b) you must actually have good ideas or qualities that are worthy of admiration.

The great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky observed “If you want to be respected by others, the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you.”

I agree with Dostoyevsky.

If you don’t have positive qualities, how can you expect anyone else to admire you?

Men have to realize that perhaps the reason why they are not getting the sex they want, the true partnership they desire, and the deference to their leadership they expect is because their wife or LTR simply doesn’t respect them. And, like Dostoyevsky indicated, the real problem at the root of this problem is a lack of self-respect.

To get the marriage you want, you simply must develop greater self-respect. You will then have earned the respect you want from your wife, and incorrectly believe you are entitled to by virtue of mumbling a few words during a marriage ceremony.

The fact is your wife wants to respect you. She wants to give herself to you wholeheartedly, body, mind, and spirt. She wants to defer to your leadership. Too often, however, you make it really hard for her.  

Face the facts. Your wife doesn’t owe you anything. She doesn’t owe you wild and passionate sex. She doesn’t owe you a happy life. She doesn’t owe you any deference to your leadership. You have to continually earn it by being the kind of man who respects himself and shows to her he is worthy of her respect.

I have identified several ways that some men self-sabotage their way out of having the kind of relationship they want. 

They get fall down drunk every time they go out.

If every time you go out together she knows she will end up driving at the end of the night because always get too sloppy drunk to get behind the wheel, you are not worthy of her respect.

In my own life, I believe driving is my responsibility, and if I’ve let myself get so intoxicated that I have to shift that responsibility to her I’ve failed her and myself.

If you feel like you cannot enjoy her company without getting sloppy, you have issues with yourself. It’s that’s simple. No, I’m not saying don’t enjoy some wine with dinner, but I am saying to have some self-control and don’t allow it to get out-of-hand. Save that for when you are with your male friends, if at all.

I remember one time when I was at a party, very early in the night one of the husbands was already stumbling around and nodding off alone on a couch, barely able to be roused. He ended up vomiting in the bathroom and passing out on the couch while it was still early. His wife, obviously used to this behavior, ended up visibly shaking her head in disgust and laughing at him with her friends, including other men.

His behavior demonstrated a decided lack of self-respect, and he should have no expectation of any admiration from his wife. In fact, he deserved to be laughed at and deserved her obvious contempt.

If you can’t enjoy a night out with your wife without getting shit-faced drunk you should know that the time to unfuck yourself is now.  

You disappear into your “Man-Cave” every night.

First of all, if you have a place you call your “Man Cave” that is meant to watch sports while drinking copious amounts of beer, you have an issue. I’m not saying not to have hobbies. I’m not saying not to have a study where you can read, work, think, or write or a workshop where you can build things. These latter activities include the act of creation. You are, in fact, doing something.

If you have a “Man Cave,” the purpose of which is to watch other men doing something on as large an HD screen as possible while you increase your already high estrogen levels drinking beer, and wear shirts with another man’s name on your back, you are not creating anything. You are being lazy while others get shit done. You are escaping. You are not demonstrating any self-respect or earning any respect from anyone else, most particularly your wife.

In fact, she probably feels a certain level of contempt for you. She won’t verbalize that feeling, but it’s likely clear through her actions she is demonstrating it, and it’s well-deserved.

This contempt is demonstrated through infrequent duty starfish sex, talking shit behind your back to her friends, and not deferring to you in any area of life.

Your beer belly continues to grow.

Don’t believe the lie. “Dad Bods” are not attractive. Your gut should not stick out further than your chest.

This indicates a lack of self-control and a lack of self-respect. Women don’t want to be led by men who can’t even manage to lead themselves.

By failing the very basics of fitness, you are showing you are not worthy of admiration because you can’t even do the basics to show that you can defend her physically if you had to.  

She may lie to you and tell you she likes a soft belly because it’s comfortable to cuddle with, or that men with “Dad Bods” have a great sense of humor, but she is probably only humoring you. 

Lift. Stop eating like an asshole. Stop drinking so much. Make the physical improvements you know are necessary and can easily be accomplished with even a minimal amount of self-discipline.

You make her pick out your clothes like she’s your mommy.

Your wife doesn’t want to be your mother. She wants to be your lover.

She doesn’t want to make decisions for you. She wants you to be decisive. If you can’t even do the simple things, like ensure you have presentable clothing that fits correctly, and can make the easy decisions, like whether you should wear the dark jeans or khaki chinos, she will never trust you to make the important decisions that will affect the lives of her and your children.

You have made clear that you have ceded even the simplest of leadership roles and are dependent on her, and she can never respect someone who is so quick to cede leadership.

You fail to keep your word.

Do you continually tell her you’re going to do something, and fail to live up to your promises?

Do you forget to pick up the bread on the way home from work like you said you would do?

Do you fail to pay bills and rack up late fees because you forgot?

Do you tell her you will be available to pick the kids up from school, and fail to follow through at the last minute?

Do you promise a date night alone at a nice restaurant, and at the last minute include your boys in the night out and take her to a bar to watch the baseball game instead (after all, it is the playoffs!).

If you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, you demonstrate that you are not worthy of admiration.

It shows you are unreliable and not dependable. It shows her you can’t be trusted. 

The motto of the Fraternity of Excellence is Acta Non Verba, “Actions Not Words.” If you consistently fail to keep your word you are demonstrating that your words are meaningless.

You must act and show that you care. One way of doing that is by acting in congruence with your words.  Your words mean nothing if they are not followed by concrete action.

Conclusion

Sometimes the problem is not with “the relationship” or with your wife, it is with you. While it’s not always the case, it usually is.

She is not acting the way you think she should nor showing the affection you think you are entitled to because she simply doesn’t respect you.

The thing is… she wants to and will, if you show yourself to be respectable.

I’ve just scratched the surface with ways some demonstrate a lack of self-respect and concomitant lack of respect from their wives, but the factors I’ve identified are a good start.

You may have a lot of work to do to begin to respect yourself and earn it from her, but you have to start somewhere. Begin with correcting one of the factors I’ve identified and work hard at fixing it.  

Don’t do it for her. Do it for yourself. If you lack self-respect, it’s time to put in the work. Make yourself a higher value man. She’ll recognize it and, if it’s too late, and the relationship is truly over, you will put yourself in a better position when you start over.

Just make the decision and get to work.    

On Sincerity in Marriage

The word “authenticity” and all its variations are overused.

Everyone wants to be authentic, and the word is used often in the self-improvement world, perhaps too often.  

It’s an overused word, and I’m not going to use it now.

Instead, I’m going to use a related concept, “sincere.”

The words have a similar meaning. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “authentic” means “being what it claims to be; genuine.”

Sincere” means “honest; not false or invented.”

They mean the same, and I prefer to use “sincere.”

“Sincerity” and social media don’t belong together. They are different animals.

We all know this on a visceral level. Social media has been a part of our lives for more than a decade and, while we recognize the benefits it provides through the connections it forges, it is also very easy to see its drawbacks, and they are many.  

We all know that it’s often used to paint an idealized portrait of users’ lives, while glossing over the not so great or forgettable parts.

It can be thought of as the press release version of real life. A press release is, after all, a form of propaganda where an organization presents its best face and tries to control the narrative. Any organization that issues press releases does so with the hopes that the narrative it writes will be the story that makes it into the newspapers.

Good reporters will dig deeper beneath the surface level of the press release to find what’s missing. Press releases serve a purpose, and that’s to paint an idealized portrait desired by the issuer while ignoring anything that can appear to be negative.

There’s nothing better for a communications professional than to see their press releases printed verbatim in a news outlet. It means they have won, and the narrative they pitched has become the accepted truth, whether it’s the whole truth or not.  

Danger always exists when a company starts to completely believe its own press releases. At that point any remaining sincerity is gone.

I’m guilty as charged in having using social media to present the parts of my life I want to present to the world. It’s always fun to post about the good stuff – vacations, life accomplishments, date nights, and special occasions.

But for all of us, those feel good posts tell part of our story. After all, it’s uncomfortable to write about disappointments, failures, hurts, and other forms of vulnerabilities. It potentially paints us in a bad light and runs counter to the positive narrative – our own version of press releases – we’ve constructed around our lives.

I’ve decided I’m going to make efforts to attack this problem head on and act with greater sincerity on social media. I will show my defeats as well as my victories.   

Sincere Communication

Patty and I have been together for 25 years, since I was 18 and she was 16 years old.

TLC’s “Waterfalls” was the Billboard Number 1 song, Kevin Costner’s disastrous Waterworld was flopping in theatres, and ER and Seinfeld were the top-rated television shows.  

The years since then have been a veritable journey filled with many, many ups, and also many downs.  

At times, we have hurt each other, disappointed each other, made each other angry, sad, and even despondent.

We all love to remember the good parts of our lives and try to bury the bad parts, but both the good and the bad are what make us, us.

Is it possible to expect anything different from flawed humans than to try to eliminate the bad while elevating the good? After all, we want to feel good about ourselves, and it’s a basic survival instinct.

Without the totality of our experiences we would exist as someone other than who we are right now. While we would still have our physical bodies, we would not be us.  

The passage of time has taught both of us, I think, the value of being fully sincere with each other.

We have been discussing and trying to live a concept we are calling “Sincere Communication” for the past year.

What does this mean? Briefly, it means we talk… a lot.

We don’t try to hide behind any masks and strive to show our true selves to each other at all times, even when what we are revealing or discussing may not show us at our best or it may be ugly in some way.

It means we have no fear about sharing our darkest thoughts or feelings with each other, and we will not judge the other for being human. As with social media, it’s s always easy to share happy thoughts; but those that live in the shadows are much harder to reveal, even to the person who has been your partner for so long.  

Far too often during the past 25 years, one or both of us held back parts of ourselves from the other due to fear and not wanting to rock the boat. This led directly to many bad times.  

Holding back parts of ourselves doesn’t happen anymore.

If something is bothering me, or vice versa, the expectation is now that we will discuss it without judgment and without expressions of anger. We will accept it is part of the reality of the other person, and work through it if it something that needs to be worked through.   

I hate using the word “safe space,” since it rightly has negative connotations, but I want to co-opt the concept for our form of Sincere Communication. Our home is, in fact, a safe space where we can and do live without fear in our communications with the other.

It is safe for us to be real with each other at all times, and about any topic.   

Disagreements will happen. Whenever human beings come together there will always be disagreements, but Sincere Communication helps prevent those disagreements from morphing into smoldering conflagrations.

A good analogy, or at least the best I can come up with, is controlled burns in forest management. Such controlled burns are purposely set because they help keep forests healthy by providing many benefits, such as reducing flammable materials, recycling soil nutrients, and providing an opportunity for new vegetation to grow. These controlled burns are much better than unplanned forest fires that could quickly turn into out-of-control catastrophes, ultimately taxing resources to the breaking point and destroying the forest, all wildlife in it, and the surrounding areas.      

If we had lived this way for the entirety of the past quarter century, we would have been able to prevent problems before they bubbled over the cauldron. We would have had greater intimacy because sharing everything with another person brings you close, exceedingly close.

We have full access to each other’s minds now. She knows me, and I know her, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.   

It’s obviously not possible to go back in time and erase bad moments, but it is possible to create the life and relationship we want now by breaking negative patterns and living with Sincere Communication.  

It is not easy at first, particularly when you are so accustomed to holding things in for fear of looking bad or ceding ground in an argument; but it is necessary. Just like a controlled burn of a forest might look scary and dangerous to an outsider, some conversations can appear to be fraught with danger initially due to fear.   

We continue to live this journey every day.

Just as I made the decision to no longer present the sanitized version of life on social media, we jointly made the decision to no longer present to each other the sanitized version of ourselves.  

Life is messy.

It doesn’t always go according to plan.

It includes inevitable pain, failure, and disappointment.

And, that’s ok.

Accept it, enjoy the ride, and live it with sincerity.