Lift Him Up

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Image by Imajali at Deviant Art.
Image by Imajali at Deviant Art.

Maybe I was wrong.

When I said that men have the most power to save their marriages or long-term relationships.

The thinking was, men have so much room for improvement, that if they can get some of these little things right—these little things that make their wives or girlfriends feel unloved, unsafe, and insecure—that men can collectively make incredible gains toward a future where divorce occurs much less frequently.

And while I still believe that to be true—that men wield a lot of power in the fight for marriages—I’m questioning whether men actually have the most responsibility.

Bear with me for a minute, please.

Divorce is bad, I think. Worse than most people give it credit for. It’s the second-most-stressful thing that EVER happens to you, according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Marital separation is No. 3 on the list. It is only behind the death of your spouse, and ranked ahead of things like going to prison and the death of a close family member or friend. When it happened to me, I FREAKED. Hard to describe, but I don’t think I have to. I think most people understand what freaking the hell out feels like. It’s worth avoiding. (Free life tip!)

I repeat: Divorce is BAD. And it affects 95 percent of us.

We are not arming young people (or ourselves) with the information we need to make good marital choices. It ends up with a whole bunch of broken homes and broken hearts and economic hardships and children growing up in more-challenging environments than we’d all prefer.

It’s an epidemic.

People collectively freak out and band together to fight all kinds of worthy causes in this world. Causes that impact barely a fraction of the people that divorce does.

It matters to me.

It affects me every day in one form or another.

And I believe as we collectively become more enlightened in the information age, it’s something that can get incrementally better as we move into the future.

Boys vs. Girls

I have no idea how girls (and women) experience the world. I won’t pretend to.

But I know what it’s like to be a boy growing up in a reasonably typical environment in small-town Ohio.

Political correctness keeps a lot of people from being honest with themselves and others about differences between boys and girls that are generally true. (I KNOW there are exceptions.)

Here’s how I remember it:

Boys liked to play sports. Roughly. And with trucks and action figures and watch superhero shows on TV.

Girls liked to play with bedroom vanity and kitchen sets. Much more orderly. And with dolls and watch Jem and Strawberry Shortcake.

Boys were generally stronger and faster and got in more trouble during school, more prone to fighting, but also pretty good at getting along with other boys.

Girls were generally better students, stayed out of trouble, would go to the bathroom together in groups (I still don’t get it, ladies—totally weird!), and were generally less successful at getting along with other girls not in their immediate social circle.

Boys wore blue. Sports t-shirts. Air Jordans and Reebok Pumps.

Girls wore pink. Pretty things. Jewelry.

I think it’s important to admit that boys and girls are different. If you think your husband or wife thinks and feels exactly like you, then it’s no damn wonder you communicate poorly and get so frustrated with one another.

But. If you acknowledge the differences. Respect them. Understand their complementary value. Then you can understand why conflict and misunderstandings are taking place. You can learn empathy. You can attempt to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. THAT’s where compromise, balance and peace live.

Ladies: You Can be the Superhero

Depending on your individual chemical makeup, I understand that you want—check that, need— to feel supported, loved, respected, cared for, protected. It’s necessary security and I can appreciate now more than ever how important feeling secure really is.

I also understand ladies that when some of your critical individual needs aren’t being met… (you feel alone in your marriage, he doesn’t touch you or look at you like he used to, he chooses other things over spending time with you, he seems oblivious to all you do for the household—thoughtless and insensitive, he repeatedly does things that hurt you even though you tell him over and over and over again that it does. He tells you that you’re acting crazy. Like you’re making it up. That how you feel ISN’T what’s real. He just doesn’t get it. I understand.)… that it’s really hard for you to exert the energy to carry the responsibility of the relationship on your shoulders as well.

You already do feel that way because the vast majority of the time, you’re WAY better at performing the functions of married life than your male counterpart.

You just are.

At the risk of sounding like I think my ex-wife wasn’t supportive, an honest look at my adulthood yields the feeling that she didn’t have much respect for the things I was (and am) good at because I fell short in her eyes in so many other areas.

In the interest of fairness, perhaps that wouldn’t have been the case had I gotten my husband duties right. I did not. The net result was a broken marriage. It takes everyone pulling in the same direction. Always has. Always will. No cheats or shortcuts.

My ex grew up around tough guys who fixed and built things with dirty, calloused hands. Guys not unlike my father (who I was rarely with throughout my formative years). Men who fought in wars. Men who fixed cars and broken water heaters. Men who chopped down trees and repaired household appliances.

I am not like those men. And I’m fucking tired of trying to be.

I write. I read. I talk. I like watching sports on TV. And playing poker.

I find joy in cooking. In laughing with friends.

I can’t build you a car. I can write you a book.

I can’t fix your furnace. I can cook you a five-course meal.

I don’t think working all the time is nearly as valuable as living all the time.

I think my wife, in conjunction with all of the typical husband failings I committed, really tired of me not being the kind of man she respected and idealized.

And I’m very much done worrying about not living up to expectations in that regard.

I will be judged on my behavior. And you’ll leave the who-I-am part of it the fuck alone. Thanks.

Ladies, I think men need your help.

Because I do believe strongly that you are, just, BETTER, at relationships and marriage than your male partners. Not always. And not about everything. Just most of the time about most things.

And those with the most power to do something, in my humble opinion, have the most responsibility to.

You know things. You feel things. You inherently understand things that he does not.

Help him.

If he’s not successful at whatever he’s working on, his inclination is to stop doing that thing and to find something in which he does succeed. It might look like quitting to you. It might look like giving up. Like he has no follow through. But he’s NOT quitting. He’s simply chasing success. And it’s because he WANTS you to be proud of him.

Help him.

Maybe you don’t respect him because you feel unloved. He craves the respect, though. Needs it. Like water and air. Having your respect is every bit as important to him as having your love. It’s true.

Help him.

You’re not crazy. You’re not psychotic or delusional. It really happened. When you met him, you were totally smitten with him. Desire. Love. Respect. And you HAPPILY and WILLFULLY entered the relationship with him based on all the evidence that he was every bit the man you could ever want.

But now he’s changed, you say.

But now you’ve changed, he says.

He’s got work to do. I’m not saying he doesn’t.

But… maybe you do, too?

What if you just believed in him like you did back then? Encouraged him? Told him you were proud of the things he does well? Of all the things he takes care of so you don’t have to?

Believe in him.

Because that’s the same man. There’s more guilt now. More shame. More stress. More… just… life and baggage and bullshit piled on all those shoulders.

But he will carry it to the moon and back for you if you can find a way to love him and lift him up even when you don’t feel like it. Even when it’s inconvenient.

Maybe you feel like you’ve been the bigger person all this time and just don’t have the energy or desire to do it anymore.

I can’t save your marriage or relationship and would never think otherwise.

But I know that we all meant it when we said “I Do,” and most of us do a really shitty job with follow through years later when life and love stop being easy.

You loved him once.

He loved you once.

And you probably both still do.

You probably just don’t feel it. And sure, that’s important.

So maybe don’t wait for him to “get it.” Because maybe the way you’ve been trying to get through to him doesn’t work very well.

We all learn differently.

And maybe if you’re the strong one—the superhero—you’ll lift him and your relationship to places you didn’t know it could go.

Maybe if you believe in him, he’ll surprise you in ways you didn’t think possible.

Maybe if we choose love even when it’s hard, we change the world.

But there’s really no “maybe” about it.

Choose love.

Change the world.

26 thoughts on “Lift Him Up”

  1. Matthew!!…as I read, I read louder and louder…murmuring, grunting…then full on “yes!” And “amen,”-ing. And you’ve just scratched the surface of all the AWFUL things we women do to -and then expect from- our husbands. It’s SHAMEFUL and I regret so much of my micromanaging my ex into a resentful nub of his old self….forget any potential he had. I obliterated it by tearing him down every which way in the name of…efficiency…or something even more ridiculous. You can’t even comprehend fully. Women are screwing marriage up and SHOCKED that their husbands aren’t aren’t being molded by our squeeze. Thank you. I hope a LOT of women take stock today.

    Take down your ponytail, ladies, put on some lipgloss, and build him up!

    Which reminds me….how’s that book coming? This needs to be in there.

    (Exhale!)… I typed this in a state of frenzy…ness?

  2. Matt, when I got divorced I, like you, took a good look at myself to find what I could do better if there was a next time. I realized I forgot the good things about my ex. I viewed him through a single lens of disgust and disdain. I didn’t appreciate anything about him or anything he did. Now that I found someone new who I love very much, I take time every day to write down all the things he does that make me love and appreciate him. I never want to forget the way I feel about him right now. I never want to take for granted all the things he does. If I forget or lose sight of things in the future, I will read my words and remember to choose love.

    Your post is so insightful. You’ve been a little hard on those shitty husbands….They can let us down but you’re right–we can lift them up.

  3. I absolutely agree with you that we must uplift each other, strive to work through the problems, try – try – try again! Speaking from experience – being that “strong one” to carry the marriage, there is still a time when you have to realize it is not working and the Love you need to show is the Love for yourself. Sometimes, that means exiting the relationship. (For me it was 15 years of trying until I realized I deserve Love too, and not abuse….)

  4. I know where you are coming from. Communication. That’s about all I can really say. Reading this and all the replies with interest.

  5. That’s really well said. Women can pour a whole lot into relationships, pour love into men, honor, respect, lift them up, and it has a huge impact on the relationship. Everyone needs support, to be seen, to be believed in. Women can have a whole lot of influence that way.

    One doesn’t cancel out the other, however. Men are simply awesome when they know who they are, and lead the way, as brothers, fathers, husbands, friends. Men have huge value in the world and what they bring to the equation is quite priceless. There’s a kind of symbiosis that goes on there, in order to lift men up, women kind of need to have seen enough positive examples of men that they can reflect that back to them. Also, women have to understand that this guy is our choice, a part of us, so to tear him down is a bit like tearing our own selves down.

  6. I think the difference between men and women have more to do with what attracts us to one another more than what it takes to uphold a long term relationship.
    If you can fix cars and one is broken and sitting in the garage for months on end, that is more an effort to do and not that you are unable to do. If you can write poetry for your loved one and you don’t…well, the question is why.

    Men and women are attracted too, I think, for the most part the deeply masculine and feminine parts of the other…however, it is what resides deep in the other person that will maintain a long term relationship. Women are attracted mostly to men who can protect them and do manly things. Men are attracted to women who are feminine and nurturing.

    Initial attraction fades….men don’t really have much opportunity to protect their women, and women don’t always have a reason to be all dolled up and girly. Life happens.

    We both, have a lot to do with whether a relationship can make it for a lifetime. It does not lie more on one side or the other. If one is no longer interested in giving to the other, no matter what they have to offer, then the relationship fails.

    I could go on….but hopefully I made my point. 🙂

  7. One of the reasons I am following your blog, besides that I enjoy your writing, is because I THINK, and I’m pretty sure, I want a divorce. I think my life would be a hell of a lot less stressful. I am TIRED of trying to ‘fix’ the communication, intimacy, and trust issues. I can’t do it alone, and I cannot or do not know how to motivate him to make any kind of effort, or to even acknowledge the problems. One of my favorite sayings is, “You can lead a man to knowledge but you can’t make him think.”

    What I am saying is, I don’t know how to help him, or communicate with him through his values. One of my favorite Man Minds is Dr. John Demartini. I recently purchased his book, “The Heart of Love.” It’s a keeper book for me. I downloaded the worksheets, and worked through them, because I have some serious resentment built up towards my spouse. What I found is that as I listed all of the things I admired about him, I began to feel LESS resentful. I was amazed at how quickly this happened too.

    But . . . I cannot change or fix his hoarding/packrat, messy habits. Even though I felt and acted more loving towards him, this does not lead to him initiating intimacy, it does not lead to better communication, and most certainly does not make him stop lying to me.

    Dr. Demartini always says that when you love people for who they are, they become the people that you love-well, something like that anyways. I do not want to lower my standards, or my expectations. I do realize that my own values have changed, and I am trying to link what he does and see how it helps me fulfill mine.

    So, I just cannot see how no decent communication, literally no fulfilling intimacy, and the fact that he won’t stop lying, and the fact that he is completely disorganized and messy, helps me fulfill my top priorities or my highest values in any way.

    I am tired of having to ask or beg for sex. I’m tired of doing all of the touching, the initiating…you know, it would be nice if I felt like he wanted to take care of me in any or all of those areas for once. Maybe I would feel proud of that. I don’t know what to feel proud of…I don’t know what he values. It’s so hard to figure out what to do. I try to be happy despite all of this, and I really don’t want to hurt him either. But, I really don’t know how to help someone who doesn’t want to even make an effort to communicate. And I have all sorts of books, and I’ve tried so many things..techniques…there just seems to be nothing left to try, and it seems hopeless.

    1. Jeannie, I resonate with your comments. You can’t make them think…They have to think like Matt, for starters – be receptive to appreciation, change and insight. But for others, this leads to enabling.

      1. I think I’m flattered by this. I’m sorry if I was unclear. I totally agree. All of this is predicated on the man or husband CARING. Deep down inside him.

        It is borderline hopeless when a member of a marriage isn’t invested in a positive outcome.

        And if not hopeless, utterly sad.

    2. I’m very sorry, Jeannie. These are the saddest stories there are.

      Your husband is going to learn the hard way.

      There are no magic bullets for problem solving. I just really wanted to encourage frustrated wives and girlfriends to consider another angle.

      I think it many cases, it might help. But BOTH parties in a relationship have to care.

      One person can’t carry it all.

      I’m incredibly sorry for all you’ve been through. I hope you don’t feel as if I was suggesting you were responsible for failing to get through to him.

      We all learn at different speeds and through different experiences.

      I hope he gets it someday.

      In the meantime, I hope you find the love, peace and contentment you deserve.

  8. I tried, Matt. I tried so hard. I admired him. I adored him. I was so proud of him. I didn’t care that he couldn’t use a drill or fix a car. At all. I grew up with a man who could, and I loved him, but all he wanted for his kids was education. And my husband had that in spades.

    The thing is, he was so sure he knew what was best. He thought that sending me back to work was what I needed, having a baby far from home was what I needed, time alone while he minded the baby was what I needed. I just needed him. And it was the one thing I didn’t have. And I still adored him despite the loneliness. In the end he was the one who cheated. He was the one who thought I wasn’t grateful enough.

    Believing in him isn’t enough if the him he believes in isn’t the best of him. He was proud of the wrong things in himself. And there’s only so much you can do about that. Sometimes people have to run aground to realise they valued the wrong things.

    1. 🙁

      I hope you know that I agree with you.

      It absolutely takes both.

      Here’s what I think: I think sometimes we wait for someone to rescue us. And no one is coming. We have to rescue ourselves.

      But a marriage isn’t one person. It’s TWO. But one unit. And the marital unit has to rescue itself. It’s hard. God knows I know. So hard.

      Because you’re right. If the other checks out? It all breaks no matter how hard you work.

      I’m NOT placing blame. I hope it didn’t come off that way.

      I’m encouraging wives (some of whom might feel helpless) to empower themselves and try something they may have not tried before.

      I absolutely respect and understand that some men (some people, I should say) are beyond saving in the context of a specific relationship.

      Change has to happen on the inside.

      I feel like I’m someone who has gone through a lot of interior change.

      And that makes me believe it’s possible. That makes me feel hope that struggling couples can make it. Not all. Never all.

      But some? God-willing, most?

      Wouldn’t that be beautiful? Worth chasing.

      I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through. It’s important to me that you not believe I’m trivializing that.

      1. Thanks Matt. I am more sanguine than I was that some people just need a wake up call. I wish that you and your ex-wife had managed that. I guess I am saying not only that you have to be willing to be saved, but also that part of what gets you in the fix is thinking that what they need is what you think they need. And even if it is, you can’t make someone see that at the time necessarily. You make good points about men and women, but sometimes it’s not the differences per se that matter, but that one tries to give what they want to receive (perverse backfiring of the golden rule).

        In the end, if someone can stomach giving a second chance I think there’s good reason to hope. But of course prevention would be better than cure!

        Thanks, as ever, for the support. I read your blog about the 18 months leading up to your wife leaving and I feel like I can see it happening to you, and I wish someone could have said then “hang on, there’s a way through this!”

        I guess I feel strongly that it could easily have been us. And it wasn’t that we were skilled, it was that we were lucky. Now if we could distribute more lucky pills to good folks…

      2. Sorry for the follow up. But have you ever written about the early days with your ex wife in the context of these insights? I’m trying to make sense of our beginning, knowing what I know now. Your post was really helpful in writing that story. Thanks.

  9. This divorce thing, it’s like a pandemic! I don’t know all the answers but I do know this. I know five guys who I consider good friends that are either divorcing or have divorced within the past couple years. In each case the guy was pretty much blindsided with the request for a divorce. That’s not to say they didn’t see the signs, myself included, but divorce was not an option in their minds. Each time they were left wondering what the hell happened.

    I think many of us guys just don’t get it. Nothing made me self reflect more than my divorce did or does. I dig deep sometimes and really try hard to see what it is about me that allowed this to happen. What I come up with is I should have said “I love you” more. I should have tried to hold her hand more and say nice things. I should have been there for her emotionally even when I didn’t understand it all. There’s more but you know what? I remember over the years thinking, “man I wish she would say I love you more to me, laugh at my jokes, give me more sex, act proud of my accomplishments even if they are not so great.

    I think guys take on the lion share of blame when it comes to divorce but all of those guys I know that are divorced or divorcing..they didn’t want to. They wanted to keep working on it and try harder to make it a good marriage. The wives in each case, including mine, said they were done and there was just nothing to do about it.

    While I do believe we tend to drop the ball in so many ways I think is mostly accidentally because we don’t know how to carry the ball but we are willing to learn and keep trying. I know this isn’t always the case but it’s something I see so much of these days, guys who are left reflecting and trying to figure out if they really are that much of a fuck up.

    You know what I’ve come away with during all the self reflection? I list of things I could be better at, but when it comes down to it I believe I was a good husband who just needed to be met somewhere near the middle on things. I’d be willing to be a ton of guys would say the same thing.

    Sorry for the long post or slight rant.

    1. I’d like to think you know I agree with you, Vince. So much. And I can’t thank you enough for sharing all that. Insightful, I think. Quite.

      Hoping you’re well, sir.

  10. A relationship built on mutual respect will endure. Love will make you lie. Love will make you stay. Love can sometimes spoil the pot. But respect will keep things honest. Respect will allow you to see that walking away is better. Better than causing more hurt. Respect is too often absent from our relationships. In favour of a level of politeness that ends up falsifying everything.
    Human beings in general need to build each other up and knock down the archaic gender boundaries we have allowed to overtake us. We are a generation lost in thought. Lost in transition and so never changing. We need to lift each other up. And we need to stop sulking.

  11. I tried. To help him. He gambled. I helped him. He hurt me. I helped him. He had a nervous breakdown….not just one. I helped him. I lifted him. I stayed and supported him. I was with him for 30 years, since a teenager. I tried. I did my best. And then the transgender episode. Then I was empty. And I stayed three more years and still tried. But I was wrung out. Not that he didnt try too. He did and he was probably better at it than me….likely though (as you pointed out) because of his feminine side. I can smile at that now…..sort of. But I tried until I was empty and dead inside. And now. It’s too late. There is no going back or fixing it or changing the damage and baggage that holds me down and holds me back. I don’t know if women are better. Even though I believe circumstances are neutral in most cases, the emotions seem to dictate how much we try…..male or female. But I do love your post……I tried and I failed.

  12. Matt— all this time and you still don’t know?

    Well, it’s like this, see? I’ve had the experience not only in my own shambolic marriage, but I’ve seen other marriage/divorces too. Once she makes up her mind that the marriage is over, it sure looks to me like nothing— absolutely NOTHING– the man may say or do changes that. Her heart sets hard as reinforced concrete, and— that’s that.

    Now, there may have been good reason for this. Then again, shudder as you realize how many marriages are breaking down because “I don’t love him anymore”– and begin to realize that men aren’t always to blame— and don’t have nearly as much power as you think to stop it once things get rolling.

  13. What a call!

    I consider understanding a two way street. If you want to be understood, loved and supported – give understanding, love and support. That does apply to both partners.
    In my experience the key to that is communication. Constantly. (In any kind of relationship, btw.)

    Marriage is no one way ticket; nor is divorce. It’s never only one person’s responsibility. 🙂

    Be kind to yourself, Matt. You deserve it!

  14. I have learned that people (including husbands) respond so much better to praise and appreciation than to ridicule and nagging. I have always made it a point to thank my other half when he does something for me ( such as driving me somewhere and waiting in the car or even cooking dinner). I find it not only blesses me (having an attitude of gratitude is a big thing) but it makes him feel good.
    Have you ever read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages? It’s a great book.

  15. How did I miss these last couple of posts? WordPress has gremlins…

    You’re right on the money with this one. But then again, I think both partners should step in and help the other. Men and women are generally good at very different things. Ideally, they can help complete each other.

    Of course, I SUCK at relationships, so I’m the last person who should be talking about this stuff. I’ll just sit quietly in the corner, over here, and shut my mouth…

  16. Hello fellow Ohioian!

    I am not the best wife, and I have a shitty husband. I want to be better, he does not.

    I cook, I clean, I take care of our son. I go to my family’s functions without him. I go to HIS family’s functions without him. He stays home and plays video games/watches porn/prances around the house in womens clothing(no joke), while I feel alone in a crowded room.

    I’ve tried talking. He doesn’t want to.

    He played the “you want me to be someone I’m not” card on me the other day…
    dude, all I asked is for you to flirt with ME more than the people who play games online with you. I didn’t even tell you to stop.

    I know he cares, though it seems he doesn’t.

    Where SHOULD a wife draw the line?
    When SHOULD patience run out?

    1. Well, Maxine. I can’t tell you where your personal boundaries are, but I’d say he’s already crossed the ones that seem healthy to me.

      I am a HUGE champion for marriage when BOTH partners want it to work.

      If one checks out? It ceases to be a marriage, which by definition takes TWO.

      You are clearly a lot of fun and have a good attitude, but… damn.

      As funny as you delivered it, there’s very little that’s hilarious about you being at his family functions while he watches porn at home in women’s clothes.

      Your son will have a very hard time learning how to behave in a marriage if that’s all he knows.

      Thank you so much for reading and writing. Fellow Ohioan, indeed.

      Good luck, Maxine.

      1. Thanks for the reply!
        Also, thanks for catching the underlying humor there, the few people I’ve told just kinda-
        “He does WHAAA??”
        I mean, come on now, its just clothes… I don’t find it attractive, but clothes come off! If you can ever get their attention…

        I’m thinking of starting a webcomic as self-therapy…

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