J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

Category: Relationships

How I Helped My Wife Get Skinny (Freedom and Joy, not Dieting)

Kia hotel

Not a blues dancing outfit.

This isn’t a post about diet or exercise (at least not directly). It’s also not about exerting control over my wife. The opposite, in fact.

This post is about how your body-brain system is going to wring some pleasure out of life, one way or another, and the choices you have in terms of how that happens.

Kia wanted to go dancing with her friend Myra on a Wednesday night. Would I be willing to do bedtime and stay home with our daughter that night? Couples with young kids have these kinds of conversations.

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How To Organize and Prioritize Your Family Calendar

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Last week we narrowly averted a collective emotional meltdown encompassing three generations of our family. The issue was a schedule conflict in our daughter’s schedule, and how to resolve it. The schedule conflict occurred *despite* everyone involved thinking they had done everything right, following the correct procedures, and “checking” with everyone else. The main problem was that our shared scheduling system sucked.

A family meeting and a compromise calmed everyone down, and we avoided a full-on crisis. Still, it was time for a new system.

The Old (Bad) System

Parent One enters things in the shared family Google calendar, which we both subscribe to via Calendar on our Macs and the built-in Android calendar app on our phones. Parent Two coordinates childcare with various grandparents.

Parent One “confirms” new family dinner date by waving text message in face of Parent Two, who is drinking wine and playing cards. Parent Two says “Fine — looks good.”

Schedule conflict surfaces on day of both scheduled events. Parent Two informs Grandparent One of schedule conflict. Grandparent One is not pleased, having previously scheduled playdate with friend of Child (and double-checked with Parent Two regarding time of playdate). Child is in tears because Child was looking forward to said playdate (and has little control of own schedule and parents keep changing it).

In the end we worked it out, but we realized we need a new system.

The New System

Child has own dedicated Google calendar, which parents edit and grandparents can ALL view.

Considerations

While the system change is relatively simple and straightforward, a lot of thought went into it.

  • For parents fortunate enough to get childcare help from grandparents (we’re very lucky in this regard), it’s important for parents to respect the scheduling considerations of their own parents. It’s reasonable to provide grandparents (and other regular childcare participants) with the “big picture” on your child’s schedule.
  • A physical “main calendar” in the kitchen is great for the nuclear family, but it doesn’t do much for the extended family. Shared digital calendars with different view permissions are a necessary complexity for a complex extended family.
  • A single “joint” calendar is fine for a couple scheduling dates, but it isn’t sufficient for the entire family when children start having their own engagements.

Calendaring and Kid’s Feelings

A big “a-ha” moment for me was during our family meeting, our daughter was expressing exactly why she was so upset about the change of plans. It wasn’t only that she was looking forward to the playdate herself, but she actually felt a sense of obligation to her new friend, who she had promised she would “buddy-up” with to reduce her friend’s anxiety about her first session of a martial arts class. In short, my daughter didn’t want to flake! I really felt for her at this moment — I remember being seven and having very little control of my own schedule. It seemed that adults would sometimes change things on a whim, with no regard for my feelings.

Sometimes work or other adult realities trump the feelings of children, but it’s important for parents to remember that children have complex emotions that impact them even more than the emotions of adults — they haven’t yet fully developed the self-regulating capabilities of the frontal cortex.

How to Resolve Conflicts?

There are different ways to resolve scheduling conflicts.

  • First on the “main” calendar wins.
  • Paterfamilias or materfamilias — the dominant head-of-household or schedule boss “puts their foot down” and gets their way.
  • Values-based approach.

Of these, I’m a fan of the third. By “values based” I mean the values of your family in particular. What does it mean to be a member of your family?

If there is a schedule conflict, which event supports the highest held value in your family? Friendship? Earning money? Keeping up appearances? Winning at sports? Once the underlying values behind a choice are revealed, a “difficult” choice may become much easier to make.

Misogynistic “Manblogs”, and Feminism

Let's get ripped! And also cherish women.

Let’s get ripped! And also cherish women.

Recently a bot (or a link-commenter-for-hire) left a comment on this site linking to an e-book by a popular “manblogger.” I deleted it.

“Manblogs” typically include:

  • tips on steroid use
  • workout tips
  • diet tips
  • tips on how to pick up women
  • tips on how to be aggressive, macho, and a “winner”

10% of “manblog” content is useful, good advice for becoming an empowered, healthy, confident man. 80% is entertaining nonsense.

But the last 10% is hatred, and that’s why I deleted the link. I don’t tolerate links to sexist (or racist) content on this site (unless it’s for educational purposes).

Some of these manblogs rail against feminism as if it were an evil scourge corrupting the world. They worry about the “feminization” of culture and “girlymen.”

Now it may be true that modern life leaves most men testosterone-deficient. But if that’s true, the culprit isn’t feminism. It’s bisphenol-A, low protein diets, fructose, alcoholism, vitamin A & D deficiency, and porn addiction.

If you’re a young man who has stumbled across this site because you’re looking for health or diet tips, then welcome. While you’re here, let me tell you something about feminism to counterbalance the bullshit you might read elsewhere on the internet.

Feminism is a simple concept. Feminists advocate for equal rights and privileges for women. That’s it. Women have historically been oppressed (not being able to vote, for example), and feminists want to reverse the legacy of that historical oppression.

Men and women aren’t the same, but they mostly want the same things. Like men, women want to be happy, healthy, attractive, to have money in the bank, to be engaged with life, to have a stimulating career, to have loving relationships, to have a rich family life, to make the world a better place, and to enjoy hedonistic pleasures (delicious food, great sex, etc.).

Sure, there are some differences, both biological and neurological. But we’re part of the same species. Don’t overcomplicate things.

If you want to be a manly-man, that’s good! Lift heavy weights. Build something. Be confident. Decide what you want to do and make it happen. Feed your body well and make it strong. And don’t give your power away, to anyone.

But don’t hate women or resent them. Cherish them. Cherish your girlfriend or your wife (or the girl you want to date). Cherish your mother and your grandmothers. Cherish your daughters, if you have them. Cherish your female friends (it is possible to have an intellectual or emotional connection even when the physical vibe isn’t there).

Just trust me on this. Life is so much better when you cherish women, and accept them into your life with open arms. Women don’t want to steal your freedom, they want you to be strong and confident and powerful (and yes, also honest and true — but don’t you want the same?).

Women are not the enemy. They are the best source of joy in life.

Radical Work Autonomy In Marriage

 

Want to experience zero-G marriage?

Kia and I have recently stumbled across a principle that has significantly altered (for the better) our dynamic regarding who does what work and how we each feel about it.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the work of marriage.  Honestly, I don’t think being married to somebody should be that much work.  It should be fun (at least most of the time), and relatively easy.  The real work is finding the right person — someone you love for who they are, someone you feel relaxed around, and someone you’re physically attracted to (and vice versa in all cases — which is sometimes the harder bit).

What I’m talking about is the work in marriage; who takes out the trash, who does the dishes, who takes care of the kid, and so forth.  Most of this work exists for single people as well, but if you’re married (or live with your romantic partner) then questions surface — questions of division of labor.

Secret Balance Sheet — A Dysfunctional System

Keeping track in your head?

Division of labor is often a source of conflict in a marriage.  A common dynamic is for one (or both) partners to feel like they are doing more work, or more valuable/important/difficult work, than the other person.  Maybe they have a secret balance sheet in their head, on which they are constantly accruing credits on their own side and debits on their partner’s side (or it is the other way around? — I always get those accounting terms mixed up).  If each partner has a secret balance sheet (one that is never discussed), then there’s never any chance to reconcile the two.  A giant blow-up argument is inevitable; the secret balance sheets are eventually brought out into the open and are found to differ massively.  The “you owe me” dynamic is destructive — it leads to resentment on both sides of the relationship.

Do you know any couples where one person supported the other one financially through a degree program, and then as soon that person graduated they dumped the partner that supported them?  From the outside it looks cruel and callous; the student who was being supported was obviously just using the other person, right?  Well, maybe.  But an alternate interpretation is that after graduation, the secret balance sheets were compared, and didn’t match.  The partner who was being supported financially was presented with a gigantic “you owe me” bill which didn’t line up with their own view of things.  Perhaps they felt that while they were in school, being financially supported, they were contributing to the relationship in other ways.  Or maybe they felt that because they were working so hard, things must have somehow been equal in the relationship.  When they suddenly realize that the other partner has been expecting something in return for financially supporting their broke ass for all these years, they freak out.  Faced with the giant debt, they bail.

I’m not trying to justify the behavior of either partner in my hypothetical situation — I’m just saying that the secret balance sheet method is a bad system — one that leads to disappointment and heartbreak.

Open Balance Sheet — A Less Dysfunctional System

A somewhat healthier dynamic (which I think describes my work-sharing dynamic with Kia before we discovered our new principle) is to communicate regularly about who does what and who is responsible for what, in essence frequently reconciling the balance sheets.  Thus, no hidden debts accrue.

This kind of arrangement can exist with varying degrees of symmetry.  Maybe one partner contributes more money, and the other contributes more household work (childcare, cooking, cleaning, shopping, social planning, vacation planning, handling finances, etc.).  Kia and I both work — she earns a bit more hourly but I have more passive income (from music royalties), so we contribute the same amount of money to our household fund.  On the other hand, she spends more time with Tesla Rose (two-year-old girls tend to be slightly more focused on mommy — I try not to take it personally) so I try to make up for that by doing more cleaning, and more household organizing.  It doesn’t really matter what the division of labor is, as long as neither partner feels like they’re getting the short of the stick.  It’s important to remember that 1) there’s a built-in efficiency boost to co-habitating; if you didn’t live with someone you’d both be taking out the garbage and paying the electricity bill, and 2) some degree of asymmetry is probably a good thing; what is difficult for one person might be easy for the other.

Sounds like a pretty good system, right?  It is — but with the extra work generated by parenthood, Kia and I would still sometimes get irritated or snippy with each other around work issues, despite the fact that both of us were working hard.  Was there just too much work to do?  Maybe some disharmony is inevitable for parents of a young child (or children) who also both work, and who also both have artistic pursuits.

Origins of the Principle — Home Improvement

The prequel to our new work-sharing principle came about as we were contemplating our long list of home improvement projects.  We were making very slow progress on our list, while at the same time constantly adding new items.  We’re in the process of converting our garage into an office for Kia (so that Kia’s current office can become a bedroom for Tesla Rose).  It’s a lot of work, but our logic was that it would be easier and cheaper than selling our house and buying a bigger one.  The logic still holds, but the project has been dragging on for many months.  In addition to that project, the house needs painting, the deck needs some work, the gate needs fixing, and so on and so forth.  There’s no end to it.  We started to feel overwhelmed.

In response to these negative feelings, we devised three principles of home improvement, as follows:

  1. Only do one disruptive project a time. For example, don’t try to remodel the kitchen and the bathroom at the same time.  Regain total functionality in one area before tearing up the next thing.
  2. Make it better than it was before. You’d think this would be obvious.  It’s home improvement, right?  But sloppy work is all too common.  Spesh has dubbed the previous owners of our house “The D.I.Y. couple”; there is evidence of sloppy paint jobs, unfinished mouldings, unevenly placed electric outlets, etc.  This principle helps us resist the urge to rush jobs just to “get them done.”
  3. Only do what you feel like doing. The list will never be completed.  All houses are in a constant state of decay, and all you can do is stem the tide.  Keeping this in mind helps take the pressure off.  Each person can work on whatever they want to work on — whatever they feel like needs doing.

We found ourselves enjoying the last principle in particular.  If one of us feels like painting, we put on our painter pants and pick up a brush.  No artificial deadlines, no schedules, and no nagging.  Do what you feel.

We’re making progress at the same rate as before, if not slightly faster.  I’m not sure when exactly, but I’m confident that Tesla Rose will eventually have her own bedroom.  If she starts demanding it sooner, we may hand her a paint brush.

 

An earlier home improvement project -- The Light Bar (designed and constructed by Dave Shanks and featured in Ready Made magazine)


Getting To The Principle

Recently, for various reasons, Kia was thinking about the term “guilt-tripping” and what it meant exactly.  She asked me for my definition, which resulted in the following conversation (this version is much condensed):

Me:  ” ‘Guilt-tripping’ is what you do when you want the other person to want to do something, as opposed to just asking them to do it.”

Her:  “Do I do that?  Do I guilt-trip you?”

Me:  “Yeah.  Sometimes.”

Kia has an unusual, one might even say preternatural, to instantly change her behavior once she makes up her mind to do so (I, on the other hand, usually have a time-delay of one to ten years).  Kia completely stopped guilt-tripping me from that moment forward.  Instead, if she wanted me to do something, she would just ask me to do it, politely and directly.  Usually I don’t mind doing something even if I don’t want to do it, so the new dynamic worked better (much more so than the previous dynamic, wherein she would drop hints about what she wanted me to do, and I would miss or ignore those hints, and then be confused as to why I was in trouble).

This was a big step towards our new principle, but we weren’t quite there yet.  We arrived at the other half of the equation when I recently asked her if she could finish putting away some dishes I had just washed.  I’d been pulled away from my dish-washing task mid-stream — some time-dependent errand I needed to run (I forget what) — but I really wanted to job to be completed (in a slightly OCD kind of way).  Since I had to run off and do something else, I asked Kia if she could finish the task for me.  I may or may not have said please.

Be very glad they are smaller than you.

I returned from my errand (whatever is was) to find the dishes not yet put away, and my wife feeling resentful about the request.  She explained why.  It has gotten dark in my absence, and Kia had felt nervous about working downstairs in our wide-open-to-the-jungle house (we’re temporarily living in Costa Rica).  It wasn’t an unreasonable fear; we had already sighted howler monkeys and agouti nearby, giant jungle rats running through the kitchen, and one morning we found a paw print on the table (either dog or jaguar — the two look remarkably similar).  In addition to the jungle proximity issue, she had witnessed a horrifying drama unfold on the kitchen counter; a live moth being forcibly dismantled by large black jungle ants.  We have since moved to a beach house.  In any case she had felt the burden of my request quite heavily.  It hadn’t helped that I had delivered it a little tersely.  In my mind it was just an off-hand request, a preference — no big deal if she didn’t feel like doing it.  But she had perceived the request with more weight, and was a little upset.

We talked about it, and came to a joint realization.  It’s a drag to have someone else control your agenda, even a little bit.  I had tried to use Kia’s work units as my own, assigning a task the way I might assign a task to myself.  In the process, I had circumvented her work autonomy.

Not that different.


The Breakthrough Principle

Psychologists who study motivation have known for a long time, via numerous, oft-replicated experiments, that one of the best ways to motivate a person is to give them more autonomy.  People, in general, like to work.  They especially like to contribute and to feel needed and appreciated by their peers.  What they don’t like is to be told exactly what do, how to do it, and when to do it.

The same is true in marriage.  Unless you’re married to a lazy bum or a mammoni, your partner probably likes to work; to contribute to the household.  They also have a strong desire to do it — the work — their way.  Nobody likes being micro-managed (or even managed, when it comes down to it).

So what’s the principle?

Both partners are free to do, or not do, whatever work/tasks they feel like doing, when they feel like doing them.  Asking your partner to do something is allowed, but only as you might ask a friend (politely), and the other person is free to cheerfully decline without fear of repercussions.  No guilt-tripping, delegating, or nagging allowed.  Do what you feel.  Radical work autonomy.

So How Does It Work?

Pretty well, so far.  It’s not that there isn’t a balance sheet — of course there is.  We’ll still have conversations about who is responsible for what — a constantly moving target.  So it’s not that different from the Open Balance Sheet method discussed above.

What’s different is the moment-to-moment dynamic.  There’s a new respect for the other person’s emotional state, in regards to work.  Sometimes a person is out of willpower, and the smallest request can feel like a giant weight.  So now … there’s more slack.  What if something needs doing and nobody feels like doing it?  Usually someone steps up.  If not, it gets done later, or maybe it didn’t really need doing.  Sometimes tasks just go away.

For the most part, I think we’re more efficient.  What needs doing gets done more easily, and we have more energy and attention to do what we enjoy, and to enjoy each others’ company.  There’s definitely less resentment and struggle around division of labor issues.  It’s like R.O.W.E. for the home — you immediately weed out the bums (neither of us, fortunately), and after that it’s all increased productivity and happier people.  It’s free freedom.

I don’t mean to imply that we’ve discovered some kind of magical, argument-free zone in which we live in perfect harmony, subtly communicating our preferences with loving non-verbal signals and sharing the household work with perfect equality and efficiency.  That would be a little too precious, wouldn’t it?  Nah, we still sometimes bicker and get irritated with each other.  But there has been a real breakthrough — a mutual realization that any attempt to delegate, manage, or in any way control the other person’s work autonomy is going to backfire.  Of course we still ask each other to do things (very politely).  Of course we each have a different awareness of what needs to get done in certain areas.  But we’ve committed to abandoning the habit of directing each others’ actions.  We still backslide at times, but we catch ourselves at it (or call each other on it) more often than not.

Freedom In Marriage

It’s a truism that what you sacrifice for the stability, comfort, and warmth of marriage (or any long-term, committed, intimate relationship) is freedom.  A more nuanced view is that each couple decides how much freedom they want to grant each other in each area of life.  Turning up the freedom dial in a given area usually has both costs and benefits.  If you crank up the sexual autonomy dial (open marriage, to whatever degree) then you might gain excitement and the thrill of sexual novelty, but the cost might be jealousy, emotional distance, and long complicated conversations about what is and isn’t allowed and how everybody is feeling (what The Ferret calls “the sex bureaucracy“).  If you turn up the spatial/geographic autonomy dial, perhaps living in different houses (or even different cities), or traveling separately for extended periods of time, then you might experience alienation, or just drifting apart (“separate lives” — that’s probably what happened to Al and Tipper).

The work autonomy dial seems to operate differently.  I don’t see what the costs are when you turn this one up; they’re illusory.  If you’ve married a person who likes to contribute and feel needed (and most people do — watch the video below), then the work still gets done.

So why not crank the dial to eleven?

The Amy G. Method

My wife and I were talking today about how to call out your friends or family members on bad behaviors that drive you crazy, without making a huge issue out of it, or having to have a conversation.  Our good friend Amy G. has mastered a method that is effective without being injurious to the relationship.  Naturally we call it “The Amy G. Method.”

Her trick (which we try to copy whenever we remember) is to bring attention to the bad behavior at the very moment it is happening.  Somehow this circumvents any defensive programming on the part of the poorly-behaving individual in question.  The person can instantly recall/replay their own actions — there’s no denying they just did that.

One bad behavior I’m often guilty of is being over-controlling in the kitchen, especially when my wife is cooking eggs (so much so that I’ve earned the ignominious nickname Eggspert).  She recently caught me in the act and employed the Amy G. method.  I was caught red-handed, unable to deny my side-burner meddling.  Since then I’ve let her cook her eggs in peace.

For such a simple concept, it’s harder than you might think to consistently put it in practice.  I think that’s because we overestimate how often our friends and family members actually do the things that annoy us (the behaviors are so annoying, it seems they do them all the time).  So if you miss an opportunity, you might spend weeks waiting for someone to loudly slurp their tea, or tell you you look tired, or criticize your cooking, or offer unsolicited advice regarding how to raise your child.  And that’s not much fun …

But if you catch them in the act, and hit the right tone, then the Amy G. method can work beautifully.  It’s quick, it’s merciful, and best of all it’s light — an on-the-spot behavioral change request has a much lighter vibe than an hour long dissection of someone’s character (that’s probably going to dig up way too much stuff on both sides of the relationship).

So … thanks Amy G.  Still working on it.

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