The Ugly Truth About Love

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and I refer to it as "Forced Affection Day" - that is fact. And every year the same situation unfolds. Nearly every woman in the western world is swooning, and nearly every man is groaning. For good reason. It is a "holiday" set up for failure.

It's due to unrealistic expectations.

The overpriced roses, candy, and teddy bears. It could be an Olympic sport seeing the men dashing to the store on their way home from work tomorrow to pick up the needed "provisions" to stay out of the proverbial doghouse.

But odds are, despite their good intentions, they will fall short of expectations and wind up in the doghouse anyway.

Allow me to illustrate.

Exhibit A: While at the Pub tonight, there was a group of three women and one said, "I just want the Romeo and Juliet romance experience for Valentine's Day!"

The other two giddily agreed.

I couldn't contain myself.

"You want what?!?! Have you EVEN read the story?"

"Of course I have silly," she quipped back. "It is a beautiful and romantic story and it's every woman's dream."

"What are you talking about?!?! The relationship lasted less than a week, three people were murdered, and Romeo and Juliet each committed suicide. Is that your idea of romance?!?!"

They each picked up their drink and moved to the other side of the bar.

Welcome to the South where the education system failed decades ago.

More importantly, the idea of romance that has been implanted in the minds of people in the western world is as warped as the story of Romeo and Juliet. If Shakespeare were alive today he would have described them as "cray-cray."

After all, Romeo & Juliet is referred as a Tragedy after all.

But I digress.

Just stop celebrating this "holiday" already.

Why do you succumb to the marketing machine that dictates when you should be romantic and affectionate? The word "should" is toxic, YOU choose when you do things, not because the calendar says so.

If you have a significant other, they should already know that you think they are f***ing awesome, because it is something that you tell them and show them, on your terms, not based on a date on a calendar.

That's how it should be.

Damn. I just used the word "should."

And before you think if you throw Valentine's Day in the dumpster fire that your relationship will be hell, let me give you a gift.

Fixing yourself and your current relationship.

"What?" you're thinking. "Jerry, you're twice-divorced, and you're going to give relationship advice?"

Yes I am.

Look, both my ex-wives hate my soul, so who better to give you advice than someone who has been to hell and back TWICE and not only lived to tell about it, but came out more awesome. ;)

It's true.

Let's talk the divorce rate. It's around 50%, and that takes into account first, second, third, fourth, and yeah, fifth marriages.

It's high. Higher than it should be.


Because half of the people in the western world typically fall into one of two categories: a saver or a victim. And I don't mean a "saver" in a financial way, but in a dependent crazy way. And both men and women can take on either role.

Face it,  crazy isn't sexist. It never has been.

Alright, let me spell it out for you so it becomes crystal clear with an example.

The Saver and Fixer: Imagine a partner who constantly takes on the role of the "fixer and saver" in the relationship. They believe it's their responsibility to rescue their partner from any difficulties or challenges they face. For example, Sarah sees her husband, John, struggling with his career and decides to take charge by finding him job opportunities, scheduling interviews, and even writing his resume. She believes that by helping him in this way, she can show her love and support and ultimately strengthen their bond.

The Dependent Victim: Now picture a partner who often portrays themselves as the helpless Victim in the relationship, constantly seeking attention and validation from their partner. For instance, John frequently complains about his job, feeling unappreciated and undervalued by his boss and coworkers. He shares his frustrations with Sarah, hoping she will comfort and reassure him of his worth. He may exaggerate his struggles or create unnecessary drama to elicit Sarah's sympathy and attention.

Dynamic in the Relationship: In this scenario, Sarah's role as the Saver and Fixer reinforces John's role as the Dependent Victim. However, the key to breaking this cycle lies in self-reflection and awareness. Sarah can start by recognizing her need for rescue, and John can begin to understand his reliance on Sarah for emotional support. This self-awareness can pave the way for a healthier, more balanced relationship.

Impact on the Relationship: While the Saver-Victim dynamic can indeed lead to resentment, frustration, and imbalance in the relationship, it also holds the potential for growth and change. Sarah, for instance, may recognize the need for boundaries and self-care, while John may learn to take more responsibility for his own emotional well-being. This realization can lead to a healthier, more balanced relationship where both partners can grow and thrive independently.

To Recap: "Savers" are those who think of themselves as "white knights," and their role in life is to "save" the other person (the Victim) from the "peril" they have fallen into. And by doing this, the Saver will receive (in their mind) love, appreciation, and/or sex from the Victim as their "reward."

The Victims have their role too. They manufacture drama to get the attention of the Saver because they believe if they look like the helpless victim, someone will come along to solve their "problems" and give them the love, romance, and/or sex that they crave.

If this sounds at all familiar, keep reading, you CAN fix this.

Let me give you an example from my life that you might be able to relate to.

Back in 2009 when I was married (second wife), I was in Nashville closing an important business deal. It's a great city and you should definitely visit. Day drinking on Broadway is the shit.

Wait, I'm getting distracted now, where was I?...

Oh yeah, as I normally did, I brought my wife and kids with me. They were at the hotel pool about 20 minutes away while I negotiated the deal along with my wife's brother, who was my top employee at the time.

About half-way through the talks, my phone starts blowing up from my wife. After the third call in a row, I excuse myself into the hallway and take the call.

She's hysterical.

All I was able to make out from her hysterics was "these black people at the hotel and they are making threats" to damage her car and to her personally. I thought that was odd to label people, but I advised her to call the police immediately. She refused stating it would just incite the situation and make it worse. She pled for me and her brother to return to the hotel.

We did. At 110 mph.

When we arrived, we were greeted with a sight I was not expecting. The "threatening black people" my wife warned me against was a high school church choir group. I'm not kidding. They were the nicest kids I'd ever run into.

"What the actual f***," I said out loud, and my brother-in-law concurred. They were hands down the nicest group of kids, and I hate kids. The emphasis here is on kids.

To wrap up the dramatic story, there was no incident where threats were made. She made it up. She did it to get me to come back to her. She wanted to see where she mattered in my life. Where my priorities were. Would I leave an important business meeting to come to her rescue?

Dear God and Baby Jesus. It would take more than a year for me to finally show her the door.

Now, before you go thinking my ex-wife was crazy, I had a big part in this too.

It's true.

We were both messed up.

Let me further explain, and it just might shed so much light on your current or past relationships that you say out loud, "THAT'S it!!!" And a hat tip to Mark Mason, and his book, "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k" on bringing to the forefront on how messed up I truly was.

You see, the roles of Victim and Saver between my wife and I did not form while we were married. We had those roles BEFORE we met.

In fact, that is the main reason why we were attracted to each other and felt "instant chemistry" on our first date.

She was the one that started fires to get my attention and make her feel important, and I put out those fires because it made me feel important. Our dysfunction fed off each other and gave us emotional highs. That dopamine hit.

Now, to be clear, that isn't the definition of a bad relationship; it is the exact definition of a TOXIC relationship.

We were toxic but we just couldn't see it.

And the insanity of this is that even though we saw four different marriage counselors during our time together, not one of the therapists saw this. And it is clear as day to me now.

We both used each other as a means of escape. We took no responsibility for our own problems, and instead, we took responsibility for each other's problems. This means we had no boundaries. While you may think that was sweet and considerate of us to worry about each other, it was based on selfishness and insecurity.

This is what our relationship looked like:

Her: "You used to come home immediately after conferences out-of-state, now you stay a few more days away from us. You should be home with your family."

Me: "I can give you a job as event coordinator if that will help you feel more important and involved in my business."

Her: "You never tell me the names of the people you meet at conferences. You used to, but now I never get names anymore."

Me: "My new staff is struggling. I am not going to be able to make it to your mom's for dinner; I have to explain this process to them once again."

Some of these may seem innocent enough, but they are wrought with Victim and Saver roles which leads to "traps" in the relationship.

First, she expected me to take responsibility for her problems. I'd come home from work and would have consulting calls scheduled, "I wanted a nice relaxing night at home with you, you should have known that and not scheduled work."

Or, in my case, I would take on too much responsibility and take on her problems: "Her flower business is struggling, but it is probably my fault because I didn't work hard enough on her website to get her better rankings and more leads. I'm going to push client work aside and work on her site all day tomorrow."

Our problem is we didn't outline our respective values. Instead, she either focused on making me happy per her unstated values, or I expected her to make me happy based on my unstated values, and visa-versa.

That is what we call a self-defeating relationship and the reason our relationship burned to the ground like a dumpster fire as we were separated just two months after the incident aforementioned.

Newsflash: People can't solve your problems for you because even if they did, you wouldn't be happy.

This is fact.

You might think they would, but they don't. Happiness comes from solving YOUR OWN problems. The same goes for you trying to solve other people's problems because it won't make them happy either.

If you are thinking, "So, I shouldn't help my partner with their problems anymore?"

No, you idiot. That isn't what this is about. This is about your intentions. If your focus is to solve your partner's problem because if you do you'll feel important and even be rewarded with sex or other extra attention, THAT is the problem. You should do it because you CHOOSE to, not because there is something in it for you.

Get it now?

Back to my ex-wife and I.

We failed in meeting each other's needs, because we never clearly stated what our needs were to the other. We both had horriffic self-worth, and our communication was near non-existent. We would avoid each other. She would go to bed early, and I would stay up late playing Madden or working. I'd spend more time than I needed to at the office, and I'd extend business trips for the sole purpose of avoiding time at home.

What happened was she created more and more problems for me to solve, not because these problems were real, but she just wanted attention from me. She craved affection. And instead of her communicating her need or me being aware and seeing her need, I was an idiot and I solved every problem I could. Not because I actually cared about her problems - and since I'm being open about it, I was more interested in getting her to shut up and stop bitching about ridiculous things. And to showcase how much of a delusional idiot I was, I actually thought doing this would also get me sex.

It's true, and yes, I'm quite embarrassed of my dumb-assness.

Mark Mason sums up perfectly how we could have fixed our issues, and how you can fix yours.

Seriously, it's this simple.

If my wife would have said, "I have a problem, you don't have to fix it for me, just support me while I fix it myself, and this is how you can best help me. <outlines support needed> Can you do that?"

THAT would be a demonstration of love; taking full responsibility for your problems, not holding your partner responsible for them, and outlining how you want support.

See? That's not hard.

For me, if I really wanted to save my wife from all the negativity she was feeling, I could have said, "You're blaming others for your own problems, but you are responsible for your own problems and dealing with them yourself is the answer you are avoiding."

While that may seem like a crass and insensitive move, it isn't. It is showing love in that you are telling your partner clearly and distinctly to solve their own problems, and stop playing the Victim role while at the same time stopping the Saver role within yourself.

See? Coming across as an asshole isn't always a bad thing. Well, it can be, and it is all in the tone in how you say it. I shouldn't have to explain this further. You get it.

And this isn't to say that if you currently fall in this cycle that the best choice is divorce. That would be stupid. Why you ask?

Because you will end up attracting the same type of person as before and you'll just end up in the same situation.

You have to fix yourself FIRST. Break the cycle!

If you have played the Victim role, the hardest thing for you is to start holding yourself accountable for your problems and stop making up drama to make yourself feel worthwhile.

One of the best things you can do is stop posting anything personal on Facebook or talking to family or friends about your marriage/relationship. This is going to be absolutely terrifying for you, but it is the only way to have the relationship that you want and stop self-sabotaging it.

If you are in the Saver role, the hardest thing for you is to stop trying to rescue everyone, including your significant other. I get it, you have spent your whole life feeling valued by saving other people, coming to the rescue, saving the day, etc. And those constant fantasies in your head that you miraculously are the hero is based on delusion.

Yes, delusion.

Fact: Acts of love are only valid if they are done without conditions or expectations.

If you're a Saver, how do you know the difference between acts of love done with conditions and expectations or without?

Just ask yourself one question: "If I refused to help my significant other, would the relationship change? If so, how?"

Now, if the answer is a major blowup and high drama, then you have a problem. A big problem. Your relationship is conditional and could be borderline toxic.

The solution is to first recognize which role each of you plays and see how it has sabotaged your relationship. The clearest way to see this is to realize you aren't getting out of the relationship what you expected, but you still love each other.

Want to know a secret?

There are A LOT of couples that divorce that still love each other but they don't know how to get past their own issues and get out of the toxic "Saver" and "Victim" roles.

I'm here to tell you that you can.

Next, come up with agreed values between you and your significant other. What do each of you want? I mean REALLY want. Then set boundaries. Strong boundaries. Doing so puts you in control of fixing your own problems while leaning on your partner for healthy support when you need it, instead of expecting them to fix things for you.

If your relationship is in trouble, one of the worst things you can do is sit down with your partner and "hash things out" or even worse, doing that in front of a therapist.

Why? Because you're going to probably end up defensive and saying things you'll regret later.

Instead, do some work. Real work. Go to somewhere quiet, preferably first thing in the morning. Watch the sunrise and think, really think about WHY you are in the situation you're in.

Put yourself in their shoes. Why have they become withdrawn? Why do they seem emotionally shutdown? Why has intimacy been more of a struggle?

Look at your behavior lately. Have you been sending mixed signals? Could their behavior be them protecting themselves from future hurt? Could it be work stress? Extended family stress? You know, it isn't always about you.

Seriously, it isn't always about you.

Once you come up with some solid reasons, backed with examples, you can go to your partner and say, "Hey, I know things haven't been exactly great between us lately, and I've been thinking about what has caused them. Can we sit for a few minutes and I can share with you what I've come up with?"

Notice that nowhere in that exchange did I say, "Hey, can we talk?" which is the universal language of GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!! Right? That's not what we are doing here. This is about direct, clear and compassionate communication.

By doing this, your partner's guard won't go up, it will feel different, one woman I was dating described it as "safe" and something she had never felt before when discussing problems in a relationship. Because it feels safe you can then focus on how you perceive they are feeling, what you did to bring that about, and what you'd like to do so it doesn't happen again. If you do the work, often you will be dead on and your partner will be shocked you understand.

Let me give you an example. It had only been a couple of months of dating and we hit a snag. I went out of town on business and we had a standing date the night of my return. However, when I returned and texted her, she said she was busy and we could get together another time.

My first reaction was how rude of her. We had a standing date and instead of breaking it off with some notice, she made other plans and failed to tell me. I'll be honest, I was pissed. You probably would be too if you were in the same situation. It was a long trip back and I was looking forward to a relaxing evening with good company. Instead, I would have a date with my laptop at the pub.

About halfway through my dinner at the pub, a thought entered my head, "What if this is YOUR fault?!?!" Yeah, right. She's the one that blew off our date. But as I started to process things, putting myself in her shoes, I could start to see the mixed signals I had been sending.

After a few beers and many pages of notes written out, I could clearly see why she did what she did. Was it right? No. She did not communicate clearly, well, she didn't communicate at all. Instead, she was in protection mode and proceeded accordingly.

When I called her the next day and said I had been thinking about things and feel I had a good idea why she broke our date and asked if I could share my findings.

"Fine, go ahead," she quipped.

Everyone knows that response is not a good one, but I was confident. I had done the work. I had placed myself in her shoes and ran back the tape of all my mixed signals. I laid it out for her. Everything. In as much detail as I could. The other end of the line was quiet. I let the quietness be. It got to the point where it was starting to get real uncomfortable.

Then I heard a soft voice, "Oh. My. God. You get it. You understand. You realIy get it. I can't believe it."

And THAT is how you attempt to fix a miscommunication in a relationship. You don't say "let's talk" or "tell me why you're upset." No, you do the work and project how it would feel in their shoes. Write down how you failed and how you are going to fix that moving forward.

Now I know what you are thinking. What about her role in this? Where is her responsibility. This is the beautiful part. Once real, effective communication is introduced into a relationship, the other partner seizes it. They will begin to open up too. It is just a natural occurrence.

This will open the door for both of you to be able fix your relationship long-term.

You see, it's not about giving a fuck about everything your partner gives a fuck about; it's about giving a fuck about your partner regardless of the fucks he or she gives.

Read that again.

THAT is what unconditional love is.

If you can learn to love like that, your relationship will be solid. Hell yes it can.

Rock on.

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