15 Years


Today’s my 15th wedding anniversary. I thought I’d leave something for my daughters.

I was born Canadian and figured if you’re going to marry an American then best to do it on the 4th of July.

In normal times, the benefits of a strong domestic partnership aren’t obvious. These aren’t normal times!

Being locked down with my wife is great. The other night I shared, “I could roll this for another 75 weeks, no problem.”

I saw my wife’s silent reply in her eyes… 75 frickin’ weeks?! Anyhow, she might not feel the same way about lockdown but she’s happy for me.

That might be a good first tip => the capacity to be happy for other people.

I had zero empathy through my 20s. Which bring us to the next tip…


End bad relationships early

You’re unlikely to get to a great marriage via a rocky courtship.

How will you know it is a bad relationship? Turn that question on its head.

Is it going to be the greatest mistake of your life if you let this person go? That’s how I felt when I proposed to Monica.


Be willing to be alone

A good marriage is an outstanding deal. It is worth a lot of effort to get there. There is so much stuff I don’t have to deal with.

However, there’s no rush to get there. It wasn’t until my 30s that I started to show any potential to be “marriage material.”


Don’t marry the prettiest girl in high school

This observation isn’t about being pretty, or being female.

It’s this… being treated like you’re special, for no good reason, from a young age, will skew your perception of the world.

All my best relationships, male and female, have been with people who grew up lower middle-class. The exceptions were financially comfortable but had to overcome significant emotional challenges growing up.

Pretty, gifted, athletic… from an early age… can make the rest of your life seem like a downer.

Don’t peak in high school.


How to spot a husband

Is he kind? Kindness takes time to develop in many people.

Will people work for him? You’ll be doing a lot of work together.

If people like working for him then you’re less likely to resent him. Female-to-male resentment is the #1 trait I come across in unhappy marriages.

A kind guy, that “people” enjoy working for.

You, and your kids, will become his people.

Good luck.

Dealing With Really Difficult People

To offer my very best to these four people, I say “no” to drama

Over the course of your life, you will be sucked into many unnecessary arguments.

With the stress in our societies right now, I thought I’d share some hard-won wisdom.

Something I do well is deal with extremely difficult people.


Difficult people tend to divide into two camps.

  • Someone who is nuts, addicted or abusive => your best outcome is a clean exit
  • Somebody who is very comfortable with conflict => your best outcome is a mutually beneficial relationship

It is essential to know the difference => are you seeking a relationship or an exit?

Remember, it only takes one side to make a relationship completely impossible. You might never get the chance for a relationship. Likewise, no one can create a relationship without your agreement.

Keep your desired outcome front and center.


For the merely difficult, the best resource I’ve found is a book called B.I.F.F. => BIFF stands for Brief Informative Friendly and Firm.

BIFF is how I deal with every email in my life => when it spills into my marriage, or my family, it can get me into trouble. Still, on balance, it’s a winning strategy.

The BIFF method has saved me thousands of hours of hassle. You might not realize the psychological, and energetic, cost of the difficult people in your life.

Quick read => $10.

The book helped me see my own role in the conflicts that follow me around. The BIFF techniques work when applied with myself => Time to move along & What’s important now?

It takes discipline, and training, to avoid spinning my wheels with people, and situations, that have no good outcome (other than an exit).

With the Buddhists in my life, I joke, “that situation might need to wait for my rebirth.”

With the secular folks, “I have realized there are going to be some loose ends at the time of my death. This situation might be one of them.


So… onto times when you desire an exit.

Once you’ve decided your best outcome is an exit you need to constantly remind yourself of your goal.

Beware of the tendency for self-sabotage via:

  • Self-justification => forgiveness can come later => you don’t need victory or the last word => you need an exit
  • Helping => unless you’re a board-certified medical clinician, working in a professional capacity, you will not sort this person out => you need an exit
  • Obligation => this is a big one for people caught in a multi-year abusive relationship => you might feel that the person’s place in society (boss, relative, child, spouse, priest, coach, doctor) requires you to put up with their abuse => hell no => you need an exit

I struggled with the above in my 20s, so it’s probably going to take you a few years to get it right.

Some family systems train their members to put up with abuse across multiple generations => break the chain, if not for yourself then for your children.


Protect your exit – there will be many attempts to pull you back in => block, filter, never reply, don’t answer unknown calls, don’t open letters, don’t post your travel schedule, change your mobile number… whatever it takes. I’ve done it all.

The craftiest manipulators will use people close to you to advocate for them. These people will be happy to do so – in the hope that they will successfully pass the abuser off to you!

I defeat these attempts by asking an advocate, “Do you want more of XXX in your life?” and noting “I don’t have any interaction with them and that is plenty for me.” We then share a smile and move on.

Over time, there will be fewer and fewer attempts to rope you in.

It is no fun to “play” with a person who never responds and you must remember, never respond to sociopaths.

Don’t poke the bear.


I use similar rules on Social Media.

One strike you’re out => mute button on twitter, unfollow on FB => much less triggering than blocking, allow difficult people to move along to their next obsession.

How do they make you feel? Some people bring out the worst aspects of my personality => politicians, of every political stripe, do this on purpose => mute them down. Don’t water the worst seeds of your personality.

Discipline is freedom => execute my advice and pay attention => Is your life better without the drama? It is easy to develop a habit of engagement, of not leaving well enough alone.

What are you trying to achieve? Don’t rope yourself into a mess, just to give yourself something to do.

Fill your life with something more than emotional highs from justified rage and lows from sadness.

Knowing How To Screw Up A Marriage

All-time greatest hair!

My daughter and I are doing a summer essay project. I wasn’t able to get this quite where I wanted before hitting my writing duration limit of two weeks. So I’ll pull the key points to the start and publish:

  • Marriage is an agreement to never knowingly hurt each other. Digging deeper, this implies a promise that I will take the time to absorb my spouse’s value system.
  • If you’re not sure then wait. Wait until you are willing to constantly offer yourself. Getting out of a poor marriage is awful and being in a great marriage is fabulous. Choose wisely.
  • Renew vows every morning. Every new choice provides the opportunity to leave the mistakes of the past.
  • You have a hidden superpower. You have the ability to create your spouse. First and foremost by who you become in the years ahead. Secondly, in the aspects of your partner you choose to support.

Finally, your relationships, your life => it only needs to make sense to you and your partner.


There’s a paradox. My current marriage, which works very well for us, depends on a path of going through my first marriage, which ended in divorce.

Success via failure.


Marriage Life Cycle

With each passing year, the “getting married” becomes less of a factor in my life. As we near fifteen years together, the “staying married” has been stable for a long time. These days, where I focus is the enjoying of marriage.

Getting => Staying => Enjoying

First baby

The Search

Prior failure is painful evidence that I might not be as smart as I think I am or, perhaps, I’m not in the right spot to find what I’m looking for.

But…

Can I articulate what I am looking for? If I can’t articulate my needs then I’ll default to a set of criteria outside myself, outside my true needs. This is the old advice to start with the end in mind.

A kind companion with whom I enjoying sharing all aspects of my life => that might be a good starting point. Sharing “all aspects” has a decent shot at enduring through the stages of life and reflects a core value of openness.

For me, the step after that was to park myself in a place (two places, in fact) where there were a lot of people who shared my interests.


First vacation

The Getting

Arriving at a point where I had a shot at success was an achievement.

However, even at that point, my relationship CV was horrendous:

  • Five divorces in my immediate family, including my own
  • Blindly heading towards financial ruin
  • No sustained success in relationships
  • No proven ability to stay put
  • Addiction, alcoholism and mental illness throughout my family tree

All of the above were extremely useful as I gradually inverted my personal history => with a crystal clear idea about how to screw up a marriage => just do the opposite.

July 4th, 2005 => I embark on my second marriage with a clear thoughts on:

  • What I didn’t want in a relationship.
  • Where I didn’t want to live.
  • What it takes for me to ruin a relationship.

It was easier to figure what I didn’t want, than what I did. Most importantly, the pain of my prior mistakes left me motivated to change.

Where is this behavior, this choice, likely to take me?

I knew where my past choices had taken me – not where I had wanted to go!


Caring Enough To Change

Being motivated to change is not unique.

I’ve met many people with a passionate drive to overcome themselves. Often, this drive is applied towards conventional success => monetary wealth, power and sexual partners. I was this person. I had an opportunity to achieve a world-class marriage but decided to apply my energy elsewhere.

Our prior mistakes do not need to be renewed each morning!

The starting point in my own transformation was giving up on relationships. I spent 1,000 days seeking to make myself the absolute best (athlete) I could be. The physical outlet of this pursuit let me burn away a prior life of achieving what others valued. Extreme fatigue was a useful way to peel the onion and figure out who I wanted to be.



The Staying

Marriage is journey:

  • across time
  • facing common challenges
  • about which you have limited experience

Time => success is very different at 25, 50 and 75 years old.

Stress & Adversity => across long time horizons you are guaranteed to face adversity:

  • Parenthood
  • Babies and toddlers
  • Near death experiences of kids and each other
  • Death experience of parents and grandparents
  • Financial ruin
  • Alcoholism and addiction
  • Menopause, cancer, dementia, heart disease
  • Mental illness

Stuff happens to everyone, regardless marital status. We face these major events largely clueless about how to deal with them. How you handle stress, within your relationship, will have an outsized impact on outcome.

How To Love is a great resource on this topic and will help you increase the odds towards relationship success.


The Enjoying

How do you get to a marriage that is better than you ever expected?

Wait until you are ready to continually offer yourself.

Looking back, I think my first marriage was driven, at least in part, by an unwillingness to be alone. However, I am cautious about memory because I am an expert at fooling myself and back-fitting a coherent personal narrative.

On the other hand, the failure of my first marriage was absolutely due to an attitude of what I was going to “take” and a disregard for bringing anything, other than money, to the relationship. It’s an attitude that followed me for many years, in many different parts of my life. It didn’t serve me well.

What would I tell my younger self, or my kids, about marriage?

There’s no rush, rather than searching for what you think you need, turn inwards and work on becoming the person you want to marry. Once you are married, you’ll be able to apply this habit into supporting your spouse. Together, you will each become better partners.

Create your spouse => I look for ways to support anything that builds my spouse into the person I’d like them to become.

Often when I read advice on how to love, it centers on what to avoid in a partner. Rather than avoidance in others, seek to self-cultivate the traits you want to receive.

Your Life

2020-02-22 07.55.12

Last May, I challenged myself to publish 50 blogs.

The process was triggered by an article encouraging me to embrace small failures. There is a little bit of risk associated with publishing, and risk makes me feel good.

I have a policy whereby I only publish if I’m ok with the article being the last thing on my site. This is a good email policy as well. I only publish/send something if I’m OK with it being my last interaction with you.

The final two goals were to leave a record of this period for my kids and find out if we (reader/writer) have overlap in our areas of interest.

The goals were useful, especially the practice with risk-taking.

2020-02-17 09.12.42

Two things were even more helpful.

#1 – document the key strategic decisions in my life. Do not trust your memory, or your ability to remember over time. Our memories are selective and self-serving.

#2 – talent, hard work, luck => their impact is real. However, the largest impact in your life is knowing what you want to achieve. Most people never compare their daily choices to their goals. Writing helps me get straight in my head.

Marriage => athletic wife, who is kind to me

Home Life => kids who respect my desire for harmony

Financial Life => simple, low cost, long term gain oriented, enables me to spend most of my life exercising in nature

Physical Life => able to do fun things with my wife and kids, separately

Each of these implies a certain “what to do.”

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I am bombarded daily by ideas about how to pack more into my life => my need is not more. I have plenty to do!

The “what to do” helps me prioritize => for example

  • an athletic wife implies supporting the athletic aspect of her life
  • harmony at home implies routine and adequate sleep for the kids (and using incentives for them to change disruptive behaviors)
  • financial life goals are a filter for eliminating ideas that will take time away from my real priority (of exploring the Rockies)
  • physical life goals get me lifting weights early in the morning – start every day with a win

The best filter I have is my early wake up. It encourages me to say “no” to a lot of attractive stuff.

Another “not to do” is overlaying “my” goals across my spouse. It is endlessly tempting to help her improve her life (by being more like me).

Finally, watch that your journalling doesn’t become a never-ending list for Santa, or your ego.

Your life only has to make sense to yourself.

Choose wisely.

Marriage Mindset

Ax_Dad

I’ve found these helpful.

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At its core, what’s marriage?

Marriage is an agreement to never intentionally harm each other.

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I have a strange, and recurring, expectation => a desire to see my spouse happy doing things that I find difficult.

It is unreasonable to expect my spouse to be happy doing things I find difficult.

2020-01-20 10.27.15

Early in our relationship, I made a wise decision.

I gave up trying to teach my wife anything about nutrition.

I should have extended this attitude across a wider range of topics.

I didn’t marry for the opportunity to teach competency to my spouse.

I married for the opportunity to serve.

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Our children have two habits that cause problems in our house: (1) “accidentally” physically hurting each other; and (2) the use of biting “humor” to tweak each other.

Make a habit of avoiding unnecessary conflict.

Start by noticing, there is a lot of it, particularly internally.

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Winners want the ball.

To be fit for leadership, I need to figure out how to deal with this.

“This” being whatever happens to be upsetting me at the minute.

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I don’t need to “figure out” everything.

What I need to figure out is my reaction to the normal ups and downs of life!

I am absolutely certain, my future self will say I could have chilled out more.

Make a habit of yielding as much as possible.

Basic Week Parenting

2020-01-12 09.45.34

When I was training seriously, I’d start most seasons with 13-weeks where I would “stay put and roll the week.” Having a simple, basic week is a powerful tool for getting stuff done and avoids the cost of variation.

The cost of variation is the energy required to consider alternatives, to choose and to negotiate for “space” for ourselves.

When you are at the limit of your ability, patience or capacity to recover => eliminating unnecessary variation (and associated conflicts) can be a big help. I’ve brought a similar approach to my family.

I’ll use my son’s schedule as an example, here’s what he’s doing November to April:

  • Monday – school/soccer
  • Tuesday – school/water polo
  • Wednesday – choir/school/jiujitsu
  • Thursday – school/swim lesson
  • Friday – school/go to mountains
  • Saturday – ski group/movie night
  • Sunday – family ski/back home

Every-single-morning, he’s going to read for 20 minutes before doing anything. He is usually reading by 6:31am.

Despite everyone “knowing” the schedule, we write it out and place it on the kitchen counter. This lets everyone have a look and get comfortable with the plan.

There is variety between the days, but little variation between the weeks. For example, I don’t need to worry about what we are going to do on a rainy February weekend.

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The bulk of my “life” fits into the time before my kids wake up, when they are at school and my “days off.” In the winter, many weeks, my wife handles the kids from end of school Thursday to Friday evening.

Bedtimes, my own included, are set so we can wake up and keep the week rolling. When we start to get run down bedtimes move earlier and earlier.

I give myself zero flexibility with my own wake-up time => “no excuses wake-up” eliminates energy spent on choice.

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Some principles we use.

Sleep, school work and healthy eating is our highest priority. Create the habits and energy to outperform.

Kids don’t know what they want. Our minds are hardwired to complain about every single change and variation => just look inside! Absent a repeating schedule, you are certain to have endless negotiations. Exhausting, when you don’t have energy to spare.

My kids want: love, to demonstrate competence and acceptance => the schedule needs to provide everyone with a chance to meet their basic human needs.

Clear ownership of responsibilities. Who is doing what? The kids are hardwired to compete for your time. Lay out the mommy/daddy times, make it equitable. With our preschoolers, showing them their “mommy days” was very important to reduce conflict and let mom see she was doing enough.

Keep it rolling at grade level. I do not care about the relative performance of my kids. I am most interested in identifying holes. If you have a future Rhodes scholar in the house then it will become apparent in its own time. However, if you miss the fact that your little one doesn’t know how to read then it will severely damage self-confidence, their attitude toward education and their capacity to teach themselves.

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My constraints are extremely useful as they keep me from over-doing-it. I have a track record of burying myself with fatigue.

My goal is to do what needs to be done, strengthen my marriage and have peace of mind => to know I am executing to the best of my ability, most days. I know what I want.

Because I witness my internal dialogue, I am constantly reminded of my shortcomings!

Meeting a reasonable basic week gives me an anchor and avoids the temptation to increase my expectations of myself.

Simplicity and repetition.

 

Ownership Within A Marriage

2019-10-30 06.41.45Here’s a parenting challenge we’ve been dealing with for a few years.

If we don’t get her out of the house, 90-minutes after she wakes up, then our daughter gradually becomes anti-social. She doesn’t like to putter around. We’ve been muddling through for years. and it is why I used a ton of sitters => to get her engaged and into her day.

As I’ve phased out help we’ve been forced to deal with things we’ve been avoiding (article here).


 

I’m certain every marriage has repeating conflicts not between spouses => conflicts that give rise to frustration between spouses.

The conflict is never all that big.

Easy to endure for a little while.

But it repeats.

As it repeats, frustration morphs into bitterness towards the other spouse.

There is a simple fix.

Make it crystal clear who owns the situation.

  • Saturday mornings => down to me
  • Organize a swim meet => down to my wife
  • Get the kids to gymnastics, ski team or water polo => down to me
  • Sunday mornings => down to my wife

So when conflict arises, I know who’s in charge.

This helps me:

  • let go from outcome when I don’t own; and
  • own my frustration within my domain => instead of sliding into blaming… fix it, or grind it out.

 


 

With ownership assigned, we need a process for assessing if the job is getting done.

This can be tricky!

With babies and toddlers in the house, I could not reconcile my leadership principles with my marriage principles.

#1 being => I will never ask my spouse to do something I am not willing to do myself.

I do not like spending time with toddlers. So I used a lot of childcare, preschool and after school activities (~50,000 hours). It was a difficult, but temporary, time.

These days, I chuckle and remind my wife that the kids will start moving out “soon.”

Soon being eight years.

 


 

Increasing My Capacity To Own

Over the last two years, I have put the key elements of “my life” into the time before my family wakes up, or when the kids are in school.

Going back five years, I made my daily schedule visible to my spouse.

These two changes created the capacity to own more of my family life.

I also changed my attitude. I am willing to take on, or eliminate, anything. I’ll either do it, or eliminate it.

Own the predawn, live an open life and fix repeating pain points.

In this case, better is better.

Quenching A Thirst For Adventure

2019-08-30 19.44.42Being sensible for too long can leave me with a desire to BUST OUT something extreme.

However, there is a substantial hangover if I’m away from home for long.

How to maintain an adventurous spirit without putting a huge strain on our lives?

2019-08-30 18.38.03I’m fortunate to have pals with serious jobs, who do fun things.

I’ve been paying attention to their mini-adventures and planning my own.

  • Excitement => moving through nature in darkness
  • Novelty => route finding in new places
  • Risk => uncertainty, weather
  • Companionship => sharing the trip with my son, or my wife
  • Short duration => back home within 30 hours

Small, frequent doses of shared adventure, while meeting my obligations on the home front.

Do you know your “good enough?”

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Three Marriage Habits

2019-08-24 11.04.17Consider the purpose of your marriage.

Why did you get married?

Why stay married?

2019-08-14 08.14.55-1I am in my marriage for Lifelong Companionship

It is an overriding theme to everything.

Consider…

Do my actions move me towards my desired outcome?

2019-08-13 18.30.02Three habits I seek to create.

#1 => Tell the truth, slowly – foremost to yourself, also to each other.

If your life can’t handle the truth then change the way you’re living.

Being open with each other can be awkward but it’s better than the alternatives.

I always overreact in the short term, so I need to speak my truth slowly. A 24-hour time delay is usually sufficient to avoid an unforced error.

Daddy_blanket_and_Ax#2 => Do more than your share – I’ll illustrate with a story. For the last year I’ve been getting up early, working out before the kids are awake and keeping the hammer down for a couple hours once the house gets rolling. I was kinda looking for an “attaboy” or a “you’re incredible” from my wife. Instead I got…

You’re not lazy.

Reflecting on my “lack of laziness” indicated:

A – our spouses do more than we realize

B – because of “A”, your spouse might think you are lazy

Visible housework is one of the best things we can do to correct misinformed opinions.

2019-08-12 07.41.26#3 => Never rip your spouse – in public, in private, in your mind. A habit of bickering will not serve you well.

Negativity drives good people from our lives. Bring yourself back to the goal… lifelong companionship.

Talk like everyone is in the room.

wedding

You are going to think that you need to get your own way.

Our minds spin all kinds of stories about how our lives will be “better” if we get our way.

Pay attention, most disagreements are a habit of taking the other side.

Lifelong companionship is far more valuable than short term victories.

Yield.

 

 

 

Dealing with Difficult People

2019-07-09 08.06.27We rolled through 14 years of marriage last week. So good!

My marriage is my most important, and easiest, relationship in my life.

This is surprising because I have a track record of being a very difficult person to live alongside.

A favorite bit of advice, paraphrased…

If you are surrounded by difficulties then remain open to the possibility that you may be playing a small role in creating them.

In my 20s, everyone tried to get through to me. Friends, co-workers, mentors, bosses, family… they were ineffective with their attempts to improve me.

Some might think the lesson is not to try.

That’s not my experience.

My experience has been to “try smarter” by focusing on: (#1) myself and (#2) getting expert advice on what those around me are likely to value.

In applying expert advice, I found it easiest to remove little bits of the “small role” I play in my relationship difficulties.

2019-07-04 19.17.39Bit #1 => my attitude is the main source of my (relationship) problems

I’m lucky to live with two people that are VERY easy to get along with (my son and my wife). They are my “canaries in the coal mine” – if they start to bother me… something is out of whack.

This is a major improvement for me. I used to get to the point where everyone, everything… would be bothering me.

When I’m on the other side of “everyone,” I pause and reconsider.

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Bit #2 => I can stay mad for DAYS

This is more common than any of us let on.

The good news… anger only becomes a problem if I act on it.

If I’m wandering around the house doing power-housework then my anger is only making myself miserable (see #1).

The payoff… once I settle down, there’s no emotional cleanup.

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Bit #3 => treat others the way they wish to be seen

The deep reservoir of goodwill I have for my wife and son comes from the match between their instinctive treatment of me and my deepest desires.

I am often unaware of my values & desires but I can intuit them by reflecting on the people I like to hang around.

For other people, I can sit quietly, listen and tweak my approach.

Call out culture does us a huge disservice, I have yet to regret leaving negative thoughts unsaid.

Better to keep my mouth shut and use the energy to improve myself.

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