I Don’t Feel It ‘Til It Hurts Sometimes

Comments 22


Wives and girlfriends get upset with their husbands and boyfriends because it often seems as if the men in their lives are emotionless, insensitive, oblivious jerks.

It’s because men tend to deal in facts and logic and generally believe saying “I love you” (and meaning it) is evidence enough that they do.

And that’s because for most of human history, man’s brute strength and physical prowess was really important to a community’s survival and it put men into positions of power, where they were given unique opportunities to lead groups and organizations.

Thus, being factual and logical was believed to be “best” or “right.”

Women often deal more in emotion and intention than what men consider logic or fact.

That’s why she sometimes gets upset because he’s going out with his friends AGAIN. She’s crying and angry. And he thinks she’s being a little “crazy” or “unstable.” But he relents, cancels plans with the boys, and spends the entire night really being present with her.

Maybe he makes her dinner. They have a couple drinks and laugh about some funny thing going on in their lives. They watch a show or two together. Hold one another close. Spend an hour or two in bed making a beautiful mess of things.

And then the next night? She ENCOURAGES him to go out with his friends. Because yesterday she was having a bout of insecurity. And today, she’s not. And she genuinely wants him to be happy.

So she encourages him to go even though it’s the exact opposite of what she said before.

And it makes ZERO SENSE to her husband or boyfriend. He secretly thinks she’s a little bit insane. Depending on the type of guy he is, he might tell his buddies about how uneven she can seem from one moment to the next. Other guys will nod, because they’ve been there, too.

“Bitches be crazy,” one will say.

The men think they’re “correct.” They think the way they are and behave is the “better” way to be and behave. They’re often waiting for the women in their lives to recognize the “obvious” truth that it’s better to be emotionally steady and stable and factual and logical.

They figure: “She’s totally smart! Sooner or later, she’ll outgrow this and think like me!” As if it’s some massive flaw in the female genetic code.

That’s in large part because it took until 2010 before there were more females in the workforce than males, and more females earning university graduate degrees than males.

Most men haven’t figured out there even are fundamental chemical gender differences between males and females, let alone that one is neither more “right” nor “better” than the other.

I don’t like this phrase, but: They simply are what they are.

These are broad generalizations. Not ALL men fit into all male stereotypes, just like ALL women don’t fit into all female stereotypes. We’re all our own, individual, customized blend of this and that.

But the above scenario probably seems familiar to most people, even the ones thinking: That’s not how I am at all. We’ve all at least seen it before.

I like to think I’m more evolved than the average male, but it’s probably a lie I tell myself that my ex-wife and any future partner I may have would tell you is a massive pile of bullshit.

I cook and read and like to talk, and think a lot about male-female relationships, but the latter is only true because divorce was really horrible and I want to get smart enough to never do it again AND maybe in the process help someone not go through what I did.

Men have emotions, too. Most of us suppress them because for many years society taught us that it was “girly” to show vulnerability, and being “girly” is BAD, because men are better than women.  (I believe many men, and SADLY, a lot of women still believe this. But it’s improving all the time.)

Burying the Lede

That’s the phrase newspaper folk use to describe when the ACTUAL news or point of your story isn’t the thing you lead with in the first sentence of your news story (otherwise known as the lede).

And that’s what I’ve done here because I felt like it, even though it’s bad writing and storytelling. This isn’t the first time I’ve been guilty of that.

“I don’t feel it ‘til it hurts sometimes,” is a line from my current favorite song and I hear it a lot because when I fall in love with music I tend to play it over and over again.

The lyric makes me think about my tendency to live complacently until some unpleasant threat or consequence forces me to make changes.

I don’t know how many men this applies to, but in my experience, what happens to me is usually something that happens to millions of other people too because all humans are human and we all feel the same stuff.

Your Husband or Boyfriend Isn’t Changing Because It Doesn’t Hurt

For years, my wife would tell me about things I was doing that upset her and hurt her feelings. Over and over again, these “little, insignificant” conflicts would arise where she would be sad or angry with me because of something I did or said.

And because in my “logical” brain, it didn’t make sense, I “knew” she was wrong. And since she was wrong, I didn’t have to change!

About a month after the worst thing that ever happened to her, happened, she looked at me across the dinner table after I offered a “What’s wrong?” and told me she didn’t love me anymore and didn’t know whether she wanted to stay married.

That got my attention.

I don’t feel it ‘til it hurts sometimes.

My first reaction was not to run out and figure out how to be a good husband. It was to pout and whine and act like I was getting screwed over even though that’s exactly how she felt for a really long time.

But after a while, I did want to figure it out.

After a while, I started putting in work. Because even though my behavior might have suggested otherwise, my brain and heart absolutely ALWAYS believed that my marriage and family were the most-important things in my life.

I’ve written a series of posts titled An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands. There are 11 of them now. They get read quite a bit these days. It’s now how the vast majority of people find this blog. Sad and angry wives write to me: “How can I get my husband to understand all this!?!?”

And I don’t know what to say.

I don’t have the first clue what it feels like mentally and emotionally inside another person.

I only know what happened to me.

My wife was honest. She said: I don’t love you and I don’t know whether I want to be married to you anymore.

And it hurt.

A lot. Then a year and a half later we got divorced.

And now I write things about being a better husband. A better boyfriend. A better partner.

I write things about being a better man.

I don’t know how to reach him. The man who just doesn’t get it. Because that guy was me.

I’m afraid the truth is this: Most of us have to learn the hard way.

We don’t feel it ‘til it hurts sometimes.

22 thoughts on “I Don’t Feel It ‘Til It Hurts Sometimes”

  1. “How do you make him realize?” – is what they ask? You cannot change someone, knock it into them, or make choices for them either because one day that individual will wake up and realize they want to make their own choices. It’s how we are all wired whether male or female. So the question I believe needs to be asked is what can “I” do? After all “I” is the only one any of us have control over. Now unfortunately, eventually as I am making effort and if “you” don’t hop on board – I too will have a choice to make. One, to love regardless and be patient or two, to move on. Although relationships are a two way street, I honestly believe if we spent more time being self reflective – there could be so much awareness in how we contribute to conflict, broken communication and broken relationships. Thanks for the post – I really enjoyed the read.

    1. Thank you so much. I suspect we agree strongly on almost all of this relationship messiness.

      It all starts with a person accepting responsibility for his or her role in all things, big and small. Giving more than they take. Choosing to love every day even when they don’t “feel” like it.

      I’m pretty sure that’s the only path to forever.

      I really appreciate you reading and commenting. Thank you.

  2. The Woman Invisible

    I also found you through a recommendation to read the open letters – which are fantastic and well written. The truth is, I just wish more men would pay attention to the signals their wives give them before it became too late. I waited 20 years, 20 years!! for my x to wise up…and now he says it hurts? All people have their breaking point and when we commit to relationships and marriages, we really should never let it get so far.
    I think your blog is just wonderful and i always look forward to your next, insightful installment.

    1. We are a dense, stubborn bunch of apes sometimes. We really are.

      I don’t know that there’s anything to do except try to be the best we can be and help those around us do the same.

      I can’t thank you enough for your kind compliments and you taking the time to read and comment.

      I appreciate your time very much.

  3. “Men have emotions, too. Most of us suppress them because for many years society taught us that it was “girly” to show vulnerability, and being “girly” is BAD, because men are better than women.”

    Hmm, I don’t quite agree there. I think we developed culturally to teach men to keep a lid on their emotions, not because men are superior and the girly must be rejected, but because the emotional in men can get dangerous quite quickly. An over wrought man can be scary. Women tend to be fearful of too much emotion in men, certainly anger, but also grief, despair, etc.

    Women need men to be reason based, logical, stable because that is what provides the safety for us to not be, to actually be ourselves. Women are more emotion based and that is okay. Men are more reason based and that is okay too. In fact, it’s a rather perfect design. It provides balance in the world.

    1. depends who you asked. i am married to incredible rationality and ended up in an affair with emotional connectivity. both men.

      i think there are huge left/right brain differences and tendencies in both genders. personalities fall on both ends of the spectrum and every inch between.

      1. There are variances and different personality styles, but still I think there are characteristics innate to each gender. Regardless, our culture clearly has taught men to focus more on the rational and women the emotional, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. It serves a purpose in the world. I do not like the current pressure put on men to be more emotional, to truly express their feelings, because that is not necessarily healthy either, nor is it what the vast majority of women even want.

        1. i agree that no one should be pressured to be who they are not. i used to categorize men more narrowly but it has become very clear to me that even in their own gender, there is a huge emotional range. i think there is a cultural influence as well, but again… there just aren’t hard and fast rules when it comes to human beings. and i’m glad! 🙂

  4. If men were so logical they would realize that they will get much further with an “I love you” than anything else.

    1. Thank you very much. We’re not so bad, so long as we are honest about our intentions.

      Really appreciate you taking a minute to read and leave a note. Please have a good weekend.

  5. Great post Matt! It’s good to read from a guy’s perspective… Most men won’t even give you a chance to ‘glimpse’ inside, and know why they do what they do, or don’t do….

    1. Thank you very much! I can never be quite sure what percentage of the population experience things the way I do, but I am certain there are a lot.

      That’s probably not a good thing. 🙂

  6. a woman will suffer years of emotional abuse and abandonment, she will fight for the relationship and beg him to listen. she changes from hints to outright STATING that the marriage is in trouble. the only thing ‘real’ in the relationship is her one sided battle to get him to listen…and he hears and sees nothing… willful ignorance.
    because she stays, it gives him permission to continue ignoring her and her needs. the only thing most men recognize, is the absence of his partner once she has actually left. then he comes to the epiphany that she must have been serious. by the time he figures out he has to work at the relationship, she no longer loves him and nothing he can do, can repair what destroyed.

    1. I think you just nailed what often happens. That was my experience.

      In a perfect world, people would learn about their personal shortcomings in the context of a long-term relationship BEFORE they were five years deep in a marriage.

      There’s one group of people you’re not giving enough credit to, though, miss.

      The Goonies-never-say-die crowd.

      The people who believe love isn’t something you always feel. Just something you always choose.

      And when said douchebag husband turns into a better man through self-examination and personal growth, maybe he and his wife find a way to set aside all the bullshit to rebuild intimacy and connection.

      To say there’s NOTHING he can do to repair what’s destroyed suggests that ALL marital sins are unforgivable.

      Cheating and hitting and behavior like that could justifiably be considered unforgivable.

      But what we’re talking about here? Obliviousness? Being dense? Immature? Unwise? Irresponsible?

      I don’t know.

      Here’s the thing: You’re either the kind of person who wants to be with someone long-term, or the kind of person who wants to be single.

      If you’re the kind of person who wants to be with someone long-term, I won’t entertain the argument that some other guy or girl is going to magically cure all that ails someone.

      That’s believing the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

      And I’ve been alive long enough to know that it almost never is.

      If someone’s married and decides they want to be single forever… fine. I don’t have a comeback for that.

      But if someone’s married and WANTS to be in a relationship? And the other person is actively working on self-improvement and sacrifice and everything else?

      I don’t think I can accept “nothing he can do can repair what was destroyed.”

      I don’t know if I can accept that a stranger somehow represents a better choice.

      1. what I am saying there comes a point…and it’s a definitive point…where if one partner has spent the first 20 years screwing up, and then they spent the next 20 years trying to repair the damage they created in the first place….they will be 40 years into a marriage and JUST starting at the break even point. The ‘never say die’ crowd has not lived in a marriage of shadows long enough to comment. The thing is, everyone has a limit on how much they try and how much they take. Some people it’s 5 years…others stay 10-15-20-25 years. Every relationship is vastly different. It’s easy to leave when you have physical abuse and it’s noticed. But what about emotional abuse? What about ignoring the most important person in your life until they want to die from the loneliness of being married to you? How long do those partners stay? Other people may see a ‘normal’ marriage and public appearance. They don’t see the sexless marriage, the snide remarks, the ignoring of emotional supports.
        Your first experience with marriage taught you the valuable lesson to actually listen to your partner in the future. You might be insecure and nervous about trusting…as well you should be…because we all come with baggage…but the most important thing we can learn from failed relationships, whether they end or not, is that having someone is not the same as keeping someone and it takes 2 people to make a marriage functionally work. If you stay with someone who doesn’t listen and can not communicate…then unless ‘they want to change’ it is a waste of time staying with them as you can not change them… as you stated, some people learn the hard way and have to experience the pain of separation, to understand that love is not a noun…it’s a verb.
        Your post resonated with me…i understand it…

        1. I appreciate how thoughtful you are on these matters. Thank you for contributing (valuably) to many of these discussions. You make these posts better.

  7. When I have asked my husband for a divorce or to leave the house and he feels “the pain” he becomes all the things I love. He will openly admit that he refuses to do things purely because he doesn’t like to be told what to do and that he knows he’s doing It but can’t stop. The moment I agree to stay he reverts back to normal behaviour. It’s tiring and upsetting and so pointless. All this unhappiness when the “good guy” is right there within the stubborn mule. Hopefully one day the good guy will come out and stay out but I shan’t hold my breath!!

  8. The premise that men are more rational and reasonable than women, (generally speaking) is one I wholly dispute, at least in relationships. Men will cut off their nose to spite their face, not either a rational or reasonable response, in order to protect some self image they have invested in, despite the logic than runs contrary to that image being true. From my husband to my various boyfriends and seriously multiple dates, to all the men I have worked with who confided in me, to husbands and boyfriends of my female friends, logic, reason, rationale and practicality are slippery slopes in the male mind. At least in regard to relationships. When guys seek my help with advice to save their relationships and tell me the absurd gyrations they employ to avoid seeing the facts right in front of them, I find myself repeating over and over “Can’t you see that what you are doing/not doing is destroying the relationship? Can’t you see that she will eventually get sick and tired of it and leave you? Can’t you see that you are not being responsible? Can’t you see that of course she will leave, it is a matter of when, not if? ” As you can see, I am not gentle. Sometimes I would lose it and tell them they are idiots who deserve what they are wreaking. But the guys still maintain that they are right and she is wrong. Against all reason, logic, pragmatism, self interest, rationale. No, men, at least many of them, are not the reasoning one of the sexes. They are self duping and almost cultish. Not all, of course. But a majority when it comes to the inside workings of a marriage/relationship. Then, when it is over, as Matt put it, they see it all through the pain. But she is done. So they cry on my shoulder while frantically trying to find a way to put Humpty Dumpty together again. I feel for them, but jeesh. It is like watching a train coming down the track blaring its horn from miles away, and not stepping out of the way.

    My own husband, in the throes of working on it, is almost stupid. I don’t mean that as a snarky remark, I mean that as a statement of fact. He has so many illogical, emotional defenses of who he thinks he is built around him, that a simple, practical solving of a problem takes on the emotion of the whole relationship. This is coming out because I am challenging him. He digs in, I challenge, we fight, we talk, we go back and forth, then eventually, in baby steps, he sees what and how he does what he does (or doesn’t). Then things settle out and improve, until the next time. Each time a tiny, and I do mean tiny, inroad in made. I sometimes question his intelligence, but realize it is not that he is actually dumb, anymore than it is that he is actually a jackass, or mean, it is that he is in the thrall of some male-mentality spiderweb that keeps him clinging to unreality, for some purpose of his own. Just like all the others. If I realized early on that this is a recurrent theme, I would not have married. Now married, and seeing all the good sides of him, I want to make it work. But this trait, whatever it is, which I am sure exists in both sexes, is amazing, in a horrible, delusional, way. I know that as long as I challenge him, things are going to be rocky, but I would rather do that than what I used to do. Which is to understand, put myself to the side, keep his ego intact, try again and again, do more and more. I am ready to go to the wall on this and go down fighting, but I am not willing to live with the status quo. I do think that when a wife tells her husband she wants a divorce, it is part despair. She tried everything BUT all those things that would hurt his ego. Is that true, Matt? Did your wife ever tell you in the most brutal of terms what she is experiencing? No need to answer, your story is yours, but if you are comfortable, it would be nice to know. Keep up the good work.

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Matt Fray

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