Eighteen Years and Loyalty

Jennifer and I got married the Saturday after Thanksgiving, so the two events have always been linked in my mind.

Eighteen years is a long time together… plus three and a bit more years of knowing her before getting married. It’s hard to remember what life was like before Jennifer came along wearing a blue and white plaid dress, that smile and those eyes.

Writing about having a better marriage in your real name requires a great deal of faith in your partner. At any point she likes, Jennifer can nuke me and MMSL into the ground.  The fallout, both emotional and financially, from her leaving me or cheating would be truly epic. The honest truth though is that I didn’t really think about that aspect of things over much because I have such faith in her loyalty and desire to do the right thing.

Looking back, I think the last few years have been the most interesting and valuable. I’ve learned more about myself, Jennifer and life in general these last three years than everything that happened before I started writing MMSL. I think we’re far more conscious of each other as a couple and appreciative of each other. We’ve grown a lot. This year we named “The Year of Transition” as I switched roles from nurse to writer. 2011 was “The Year of Survival”, dad passed away, we were broke and we pulled through. We didn’t name 2010, though looking back, “The Year of Starting” would have been good.

This next year is “The Year of Body Building”. We’ve both finally seemed to sync up with interest and motivation with exercise and are loving our gym time. Plus it also means me creating a body of work. I’ve transitioned enough and I really really have to start producing more books and bits and pieces. It’s with a degree of awkward awareness that I’ve realized my MMSL income equals what my nursing income was. Like I can only earn X dollars and no more. There’s some sort of mental barrier there I need to punch through. Plus as anyone who has written a book knows… it’s much nicer to think about writing a book than to actually write one. In fact it’s probably nicer to think about writing a book than to have actually written one.

Anyway… something I wrote a long time ago. I’m not exactly sure when I wrote it, I think 2004-5, but I printed it off nice and framed it. I don’t write much poetry and I know I had zero concept of MMSL in my head at the time.


I am thankful for the gift of writing.

The gift is to enrich myself and my family,

by awakening miracles in the lives of others.

The talent is the call.

With acceptance and openness,

the right words cannot help but come.

Not the trumpet of ego,

not the strain of intelligence,

but the documentation of my heart,

connected to the source.

When I perform my proper action,

support and opportunity are created around me.

Like a bird on a thermal.

The flow is peace and freedom.

Neither work or play,

writing is my act of faith,

reaping joy, wealth, love and healing.


Yes I know there’s a paradox. On one hand I have no use for God or magical thinking, on the other hand everything seems to have driven me to this point with a purpose and I use words like “faith” and “source”. Just roll with it, I do. It’s a whole other topic.

So this Thanksgiving / Wedding Anniversary, I am thankful for three things. For Jennifer, for the gift of writing and for having a fanbase. I’m also deeply thankful that I have an audience. That people write to me and ask questions. That people let me know how much of a difference Jennifer and I have made in their lives. Truly.

Anyway… as per MMSL wedding anniversary tradition… Dave Dobbyn sings “Loyal”. This time in the basement with the Finn brothers (a.k.a “Crowded House”)  Usually I frame it as a tribute to Jennifer, which it is, but I’m also more aware this Thanksgiving that I need to be loyal too and not stop doing what got me here.

Phase Four: Short, Sweet and to the Point

From the forum…

DrBeta:  Several posters have advised me in my Phase 4 “State Your Expectations” that I needed to move to a Phase 4.1, wherein these expectations:

1.Healthy sex life

2.Productive wife.

3.Self-care (stay in good shape, dentist, doctors, etc.)

4.No negative talk

Are really all sub-ordinate to this one:

1.Quit drinking.

Those of us that remember the book know that Phase 4 is supposed to be quick compared to other phases, and I’ve been there about two months.

So I rebooted Phase 4 yesterday, and it started with “Quit Drinking”.

To my surprise… no defensiveness and no denial.  Some pleading.  Some, “I wish…” and me foreshadowing Phases 5 and 6, as in

“I am making changes in my life.  I am going to become a much better man.  You are going to have this choice.  ‘Do you want to keep up with me?  Or do you want to lose me just as I’m becoming the best man I can be?’ “

She wants to try and keep up.  So I say:

“You do not drink anymore.  You are no longer a drinker.”

And she agrees.

Now, we didn’t say, “Go to AA.” or anything positive that she could actually do.  We kept this in the realm of the “what not to do”, which ain’t the strongest way to put things.  I have serious doubts about whether she can make this work.  The only times she was completely sober was during pregnancies — but those interludes do provide some hope.

Coincidentally, another sister has quit drinking (for a week), lost two pounds, and Mrs. Beta is thinking, “Maybe it’s time for me to do this, too.”

In the meantime, I’m practicing my this statement-of-fact-as-if-it’s-already-true wife hypnosis technique, and we’ll see where it gets us.

Athol:  I think it’s worth remembering that the MAP works for any “intolerable relationship breaking problem”. It’s just a case of getting to the point where you’re strong enough to walk away from them if they continue to persist in doing what they are doing. It’s not just about getting more sex.

It’s important that the Phase Four demand isn’t frivolous. You can’t pop these demands out willy-nilly and not eventually get a failed relationship as your partner gives up on the endless ultimatums. It needs to be something that an impartial observer would agree was a serious and meaningful problem. Alcoholism meets that requirement.

Also the simpler your Phase Four demand is, the stronger it is. “Quit drinking” is a clear simple directive understood by even a toddler. They may not want it, but they understand what you’re telling them. There’s no wiggle room on getting confused by the demand. Reading a shopping list of points dilutes everything and turns into a debate.

Also with a short simple demand, you can also say it with such greater force of will, that it has a better impact. If you’re a geek, Phase Four always sounds best “in the original Klingon”. Bonus points for the correct reference.

Phase Four means the debate is over. You’re demanding they stop talking and choose.



Why She’s Silent About Why She’s Divorcing

A woman Jennifer knows is divorcing. Being a busybody that likes sticking his nose in, and relationships generally being my pet interest…

Athol:  “Why is she divorcing?”

Jennifer: “Don’t know. All I know is that she’s divorcing.”

Athol:  “She isn’t blaming him for anything?”

Jennifer: “No, just keeping it all very quiet.”

Athol: “She cheated then.”

Jennifer: “Huh? What makes you say that?”

Athol: “If he was doing anything wrong, she would have told everyone in the world what it was. Which means she did something wrong… and it’s over. So he caught her cheating.”

Jennifer: “Wow that’s a bit of a leap. Just because she isn’t running him down doesn’t mean she cheated.”

Athol: “Can I have lunch with her then?”

Jennifer: “$%^& NO!”

Athol: “Why?”

Jennifer: “Okay so she must have cheated.”

Athol: “Exactly.”

Jennifer: “Yeah yeah.”


Reader Story: MAP is the New Lifestyle

I think had some semi-regular emails for about three month from this reader, the crisis issue being the wife not doing anything dramatic, but obviously getting the hots for another guy which we nipped in the bud. After that, six months of radio silence and now…

Reader:  Hi Athol, I wanted to give you a relatively quick update as to where I am in my journey.

We are still married, I am taking a lot less crap from her and she is attracted to me. Between the MAP and our marriage counselor (which we haven’t seen since late April) things are really going in the right direction. You were of course 100% right. I needed to deal with my structural issues FIRST before I could really impact my marriage. I have done this and continue to work on them. It doesn’t fix overnight, or even over a year. However, my issues have shrunk now to a more manageable amount. I am able to deal with them quickly. Also, my attraction in my wife’s eyes has grown to the point that when I do “screw up” or make a mistake due to those issues, she doesn’t get repelled.

I have taken my drinking from every day down to maybe once every 3 weeks or so, and only one drink on that one time. Further, I now am an avid Crossfitter. I work out 3 days on, one day off, with my wife actually. I have put on about 17 lbs of muscle and my wife LOVES it. She is all over the way I look in sexy underwear and loves my chest. I started to deal with my chest hair as well, which she LOVES. Beard yes, chest hair, not so much. She doesn’t like that. Once I dealt with that my sexual encounters went from me always initiated to her actually initiating once and a while.

I am still not 100% satisfied with our sex life, but I also feel I have a ways to go on the MAP. Honestly, I see the MAP as my way of living now. It fits perfectly with Crossfit to be honest. Continuous improvement! On a side note, we have gone almost 100% (yup almost 100%!) paleo and it has been completely worth it. Further to working out regularly, I of course got my new job for $35k more per year than I was making. On top of that I am also doing some consulting on the side making a few hundred here and there to help chip more in.

All in all Athol, you helped change my life. In doing that I was able to change my marriage. I now feel more in control and my wife knows that I could land another woman if I wanted to. I would never cheat, but her knowing that women are attracted to me now does have the desired effect.

Please keep preaching the MAP, MMSL and fixing YOU to fix your marriage. Thank you Athol. Don’t be modest.. you are saving lives every day.

Athol:  [Takes a bow]

The Green Peppers and Sausage Incident

(TL:DR  Yes Jennifer is a magical unicorn, but unicorn’s have a long horn and occasionally it gets inserted up my ass and I’d like to break the damn horn off and shove it up her ass.)

I’ve tried to write this post about six or seven times now, but it always comes out being too angry and too blaming of Jennifer, so I’ve trashed it every time I’ve tried to write it. Anyway, some important bits of information before I begin.

(1)  My least favorite house related task is raking leaves.

(2)  My least favorite meat is sausages. I believe I have eaten my quota of these growing up, I do not wish to eat any more of them.

(3)  My least favorite vegetable is green peppers. I hate them. They taste bad and give me heartburn.

So… anyway…

In August 2010 we fly to New Zealand because dad has crossed the threshold from “really unwell” fighting his cancer, to “the doctors finally let slip that he’s totally going to die”. So we winged our way to go see him before the end. Our last conversation together was how if he didn’t in fact die after all the travel and expense, that it would be socially awkward next time we saw each other.

About a month or two later mum Skypes us and turns the camera on dad for a bit. He looks at the screen and says “hello” with a tone of expectant but polite confusion. My father is a very bright man… and that’s all gone. I can’t react to that though. I don’t really know how.

The Friday before Thanksgiving in 2010, I’m at work and my cellphone rings. The incoming number being a long line of numbers scrolling across the screen leading off with the 0064 meaning a call from New Zealand. Thus I know dad is dead before I even answer it. It’s mum, dad had a really rapid decline at the end and it’s over and both sad and a relief.

My work day is planned to be over in about five hours, but I know I’m not going to be coming back at the start of next week, and then it’s Thanksgiving. I’m somewhat sole charge of my area and effectively just got handed a nine day vacation. I stay at work for about another seven hours tidying it all up and prepping for me being away. I can’t remember when I called Jennifer, but I do remember holding off on telling everyone around me and my boss until later in the day. Just didn’t want to deal with people trying to “support” me, when I just needed everyone to say out of my way so I could crunch out a whole bunch of work and then not come back for a week and a half.

Now because Jennifer and I are so much in step with each other, having a mild form of telepathy after then 16 years of marriage, when we miscommunicate it’s like a tire blowing out on a NASCAR Sprint Cup car at 200mph. It’s bad. Really really bad. The corner goes left and the car goes right. The wall comes up at you so fast and you hit it so hard. After that you’re just a passenger on a badly maintained rollercoaster.

At some point on the Friday, I told Jennifer that I would be okay by myself. What I meant was, on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I would be okay staying home by myself. We had the weekend together and then Thanksgiving was coming and after that was our wedding anniversary too. So plenty of family time and stuff around me. I would be okay. Not like dad’s passing was a surprise out of the blue, it was just here finally.

Unfortunately what Jennifer understood was that I’d like to be… by myself. So she very dutifully gave me a lot of personal space all weekend, including shepherding the girls to friends places and she had work events on the Sunday she kept as well. This I experienced as being totally abandoned by my family.

I can’t remember much of the Friday night, or the Saturday… but I do remember that by Sunday afternoon… raking fucking leaves all by myself… that I stopped feeling upset about dad and started feeling upset squarely at Jennifer. Plus I seriously hate raking leaves. Hate it , hate it, hate it… and as the sun went down, I raked leaves into the darkness.

I can’t imagine I was pleasant to look upon when Jennifer got home with the kids, because I think she scampered fairly quickly into the kitchen to cook dinner. She knows by this point I am really off balance and is simply trying to recover the situation. Immediately cooking something is a great idea. What’s not so great however is what she cooks…



I bite into one.

There’s actually little pieces of green pepper inside the mother fucking sausage.

I do remember being sorely tempted to simply bat the entire plate across the room, but resisted it in favor of coolly getting my car keys and driving to the nearest McDonalds. I purposely left my phone at home to punish Jennifer. I know she’s going to be freaking out and don’t want to let her off the hook. Anyway I eat and about a hour later I go home and we don’t even have an argument because that would require communication skills on my part.

I’m just mentally cycling through all the times I was there for her… pregnancies, miscarriages, bad mammograms, surgery, another bad mammogram, another biopsy, the death of her grandfather… and now it was finally my turn getting something nasty happening… and Jennifer was a no show. So decided in that moment to divorce her. If you cannot act like my family, you cannot be my family. I couldn’t actually tell her though, because after I decided that I completely, totally and utterly lost it. I met the wall at 200mph.

I remember feeling at the time completely disconnected from my body, just a passenger as my body convulsed in the most appalling crying I could ever imagine. It was more like throwing up than anything else I can describe it as. Just so far beyond anything I thought myself capable of. I don’t remember really anything else of that night. Just an emotional cartwheeling that never seemed to stop.

The Monday morning I’m still hazy on too. I think Jennifer went to work for like 30 minutes to do something vital and then was back home again in full panic mode. Meanwhile the first twinges of intellect started returning to me as I simply didn’t understand why Jennifer was acting as she was acting. It all simply didn’t make any sense. Why would she ignore me all weekend? That’s not like her at all. I’ve never seen Jennifer screw someone over… why would she do that to me of all people?

There were still more leaves to rake and haul to the curb. I forget how, but somehow in that process of trying to figure out why she avoided me, her coming back home from work and immediately helping… and looking like she had accidentally run over a box of kittens… somehow it all started to come out. She had been trying to do the right thing all weekend… it was just the wrong thing. By the time she figured that all out, it was too late as I’d already flipped out on her.

We made up and went out for lunch together. Later that evening Jennifer and the girls gave me/us all a big long group hug. That’s all I really wanted and needed.

I’d love to say everything was peachy right after that, but it wasn’t. This one really hurt. It really hurt both of us too. Jennifer put sausages and green peppers on the banned substances list, then forgot her own rule a month later and burst into tears cooking dinner with green peppers. It took a while to work through and stop smarting, plus dad’s passing was much harder on both of us than either one of us suspected it would be.

This time last year everything kind of bubbled up again. I was kinda mentally off as I was raking leaves but Jennifer was around, so didn’t really get bad bad. I tried writing about all this last year and basically devolved into framing Jennifer as a cunt, so tossed it. This year, I’ve raked up most of the leaves myself and haven’t felt that cycling down into darkness. Had a little sad moment writing about dad during the post, but that’s it. I haven’t had a random tear up about losing him for a long time now.

Anyway…I know I’m meant to have some kind of wondrous point to all this, so here goes. Jennifer and I have a really good marriage, but no one is perfect. Of all the people in the world, I think we can hurt each other the most. Almost always it’s been accidental though, one of us hurt, the other horrified at what happened. It’s also not like I’ve been brooding about this for two years, it’s only when I’ve tried to write about it that I get sucked back into the emotion of the moment. If there’s a bright side to all this, Jennifer and I have such a strong relationship, that it survived this colossal wreck of miscommunication.

Jennifer: And we’ve also been reminded that we cannot, in fact, always read each other’s minds, so it’s important to have that “Did you mean…” or “Did you really want…” conversation just to be sure.

Athol: You just figure out what the problem was and correct it. You slowly build the Relationship of Tomorrow.