Why I Wrote “An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands”

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Families matter. And if you believe your husband doesn't think so, there's a good chance you're wrong.
Families matter. And if you believe your husband doesn’t think so, there’s a good chance you’re wrong.

“Wow. Your marriage is a complete replica of mine except I haven’t walked out yet and you sound a bit more attentive than my husband. I wish he would read your blog and consider it, but he probably wouldn’t cause he’s an asshole.” – Anonymous blog comment

Because a lot of wives are unhappy in their marriages, many of them turn to the internet where they type things like, “my husband is an asshole,” or “shitty husband” into Google.

Maybe they’re looking for advice on how to cope with a bad marriage.

Maybe they’re looking for other wives who feel like them.

Maybe they’re looking for a shred of hope that the life they dream of isn’t completely impossible.

More and more, they find one of the “An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands” posts. Usually Vol. 1. What that means is, hundreds of strangers every day—people who have never read anything else I’ve written, nor understand my motives, nor realize I wrote it two years ago when I was totally broken—are stumbling on that post.

I think it’s a bad post. It’s poorly written and lacking any semblance of the wisdom and understanding I’ve acquired in my search for knowledge.

But one thing is clear: The message is resonating. Because people keep reading and sharing.

There’s something here that matters to people in pain. And that, I understand.

What’s a Shitty Husband?

Lee wrote me, “Understand that not all husbands are shitty…I found myself disagreeing with your choices fairly quickly while reading, and I can see how you ended up where you are now.”

Laura wrote me, “You aren’t a ‘shitty husband’ for being human. And labeling yourself as one isn’t making anybody feel better.”

Let’s get something straight. I like the word “shitty.” And I’m not afraid to use it loosely, because it’s a funny word and an attention-grabbing one in a headline.

Some husbands get drunk all the time, are never home, screw other women, hit their wives, and all kinds of bad things no human being should be.


A woman who marries a man like that probably has really unhealthy boundary and self-esteem issues, or experienced an unplanned pregnancy and decided to marry the father in an effort to do what she felt was best.

I can only help one kind of guy. And I think there are millions of them. And so much of what I think about and write about is for them, their wives, their children, their extended family and friends.

The kind of guy I can help is the shitty husband who doesn’t know he’s shitty.

Guys who get drunk all the time, are never home, screw other women, hit their wives, and all kinds of other bad things, KNOW they’re shitty. They know and don’t care. They do not empathize with their hurting spouses. Unselfishness and improving the lives of his wife and family are not concepts he ever thinks about.

The kind of guy I can help is ACCIDENTALLY SHITTY. A regular guy with an honest desire to keep his marriage vows, raise good kids, and have the kind of family most of us dreamed about when we agreed to get married in the first place. A guy who takes immense pleasure from imagining him and his wife sitting on the porch together 40 years from now, watching grandchildren play in the yard.

I can help the guy who truly loves his wife.

I can help the guy who doesn’t understand why he and his wife always fight about the same things.

I can help the guy who never considered that men and women can describe the exact same situation completely differently with neither of them being wrong.

I can help the guy who doesn’t understand how his wife can feel lonely and unloved even though he’s physically present.

I can help the guy who is too ashamed, embarrassed or afraid to be 100-percent honest about sex.

I can help the guy who feels flattered by the cute girl at work because she makes him feel good, and doesn’t understand why his wife doesn’t do that anymore, nor how dangerous it is.

I can help the guy who doesn’t know what to do when his wife is grieving from the death of a loved one.

I can help the guy whose wife is worried about money and long-term security.

I’ve written it many times before: Good men can be shitty husbands. They’re not bad men. They’re simply bad at marriage. The same way people can be bad at archery, or advanced math, or baking muffins.

Being active and engaged and communicating effectively in marriage is a learned skill, and many men don’t know how to do it because their grandfathers lived in the Mad Men era, and their fathers followed in the same footsteps, or were never around at all.

Being a man in 2015 is so much different than it was 60 years ago. And to succeed, we must evolve.

I write for good men who are getting it wrong and who can and will respond to new information that makes sense to them. I was 33 years old and married for seven years before I understood what I know now.

Men are frustrated because their wives “change” throughout the course of their marriages, especially after becoming mothers.

Men are frustrated because their wives don’t make them feel confident, respected, trusted or loved like they used to.

Men are frustrated because their wives have lost sexual interest.

Men are frustrated because their wives make them feel like they’re no longer good enough for them. Despite all of the changes and sacrifices he has made, she trusts him less, and ‘nags’ him more.

Men are frustrated because their entire lives look nothing like their hopes and dreams, and they feel depressed, and no one understands, and there’s no one to talk to about it.

But really, everyone understands. And you can and should talk to people about it. Especially your wife.

I think I now understand how and why all these things happen. It was completely lost on me during my nine-year marriage. And I think there are a bunch of guys out there just like me.

And I think if every man understood what I know now (especially early in their marriages!), they would radically change the way they behave and communicate in their marriages.

Men are happier when their wives are happier, and most men simply don’t understand why their wives become unhappy. They’re not intentionally neglectful. They are accidentally neglectful. And everyone’s lives will be better if they figure it out before the inevitable affair or divorce.

Broken marriages, broken homes and divorce are really awful things to experience. As children. And as adults.

Not everyone is going to care what I have to say. Probably most won’t.

But once in a while, someone is going to stumble on this stuff and have the same sort of eureka moment I had when this all finally clicked for me.

And even if he’s a great guy, he’s probably a shitty husband. Probably accidentally so.

And his story can have a happy ending.

His children’s stories can have happy endings.

His wife’s story can have a happy ending.

So, yeah. This is all a little bit about me.

But it’s a whole lot about them.

23 thoughts on “Why I Wrote “An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands””

  1. Your blog reminds me that our happy union is not an accident or a freak of nature; it’s two people making individual choices and prioritizing each other every single day. My DH is a good man and a reformed shitty husband, just like I am good person and a reformed shitty wife. I read your blog and remember when we were in a darker place, and I am happy and relieved to have scampered over and escaped to the other side of marital strife.

    1. “It’s two people making individual choices and prioritizing each other every single day.”

      I think that sums it up rather nicely.

      So awesome Janelle that you went through the dark times and came out of it a better person and a better couple.

      It’s the best kind of story.

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting.

  2. I wish it were so simple as just reading a (well written) blog to change behaviors. I agree 100% with you that men aren’t intentionally shitty husbands, but I think our capacity to change is pretty limited before its too late.

    I was a shitty husband and my wife, in response, was a crappy wife. She drove me away because I gave her no choice. It wasn’t until we were staring at mutual destruction (divorce) that we pulled our heads out of our asses and started behaving better towards each other. I wonder if you would have ever seen the need to change if your wife hadn’t left? We always think “it can’t happen to me”. Until it does. Then we change. By then the house is gone, the kids are divided, and everyone involved has to start from scratch again.

    Not really much of a point here Matt, just a sad reflection on personal experience.

    1. You totally crushed it with: “We always think ‘it can’t happen to me’. Until it does. Then we change.”

      It’s true.

      I changed before my wife left. That’s the part that crushed me. I slept in the guest room for 18 months and worked pretty hard at figuring out WHY this was all happening.

      In the end, I was ready, and knew what needed to be done. In the end for her, she’d already suffered too much emotional damage and there was no turning back.

      It’s a sad kind-of story. And I agree with pretty much everything you said. But TECHNICALLY (if not actually) I figured it out while everyone was still together.

      It just wasn’t enough.

      Sometimes we just break.

  3. themaritaldivide

    I can completely relate to this entry. We were full of so much hope, and very much excitement in the beginning, but it just gradually dwindled. Can’t say it was all her, or all me, we both made grievous errors. It’s that old saying, “just when you think you know someone, they do something to make you think you don’t.” That was 6 years ago. I’m still recovering.

    1. Yes. You very much get it.

      I’m sorry we share such similar stories. I really mean that. Thank you very much for reading and leaving this note.

  4. *sigh* I apologize in advance for the length of this comment.

    I love my family. I love them more dearly than I can say, but I don’t have to because you’re a dad. You already get it. For years I’ve tried to get my husband to actually be a husband. The problem isn’t that he’s oblivious (although I did think that was the case for a long time). The problem is that he *can’t* do it. He isn’t capable of forming meaningful emotional connections.

    There is a link to an article about passive-aggressive husbands and why it is so intolerably lonely to be the wife in that sort of situation (it can be the reverse: passive aggressive wife and lonely, neglected husbands, but the numbers are overwhelmingly stacked the other way). I read that article and felt like the author must have been living in my house and observing the two of us to have written such an accurate and painful portrait. I won’t put the link here (don’t want to go to spam), but I wish you could read it.

    I still have compassion for my husband. I do. I understand, as well as possible considering there is zero intimacy in our marriage, how he came to be this way. When the light bulb finally turned on, I tried to address it with him, but he acts clueless. He CANNOT engage with me AT ALL. It’s too… TOO, if you get my drift.

    Some men are just broken. Not bad, but broken. And the only one who can fix them is them. It takes a certain amount of courage to do that. Some men are more interested in protecting themselves from a million imagined slings and arrows than in learning how to love and be loved in return.

    I would like to think I could stick it out. I would like to think that my child would be better off if we could become one big happy family. The truth, though, is that I cannot do it. I’m exhausted and depleted. I have nothing left to give, and I do not want my daughter growing believing that this is the way husbands and wives are supposed to be. I’m filing for divorce Friday. Because I love my family, more dearly than I can say.

    1. Please don’t apologize. It’s an incredibly important, worthwhile comment, and I’m so sorry it took me ’til now to respond. (I read it at a stoplight on my commute home yesterday).

      I hope that you’ll take the time to share (here in the comments, or via email) that article about passive-aggressive husbands that resonated so much with you. I’m on a constant search for knowledge. Everything on the subject matters. (ALWAYS share meaningful content with me, please, even if it’s your own work. It’s the opposite of spam.)

      “Some men are just broken. Not bad, but broken. And the only one who can fix them is them.” <– that's ALL people, but I understand in this instance you're talking about your husband (probably most husbands, actually).

      "Some men are more interested in protecting themselves from a million imagined slings and arrows than in learning how to love and be loved in return." <– so wise. I'm reading an excellent book right now called "The True Measure of a Man" (http://www.amazon.com/The-True-Measure-Deluxe-Paperback/dp/1581694709) that illustrates this point and helps explain WHY men feel this way.

      To your final point…

      When I first started writing here, I wanted every broken marriage to be saved. I'm an idealist sometimes.

      The truth is this. One great spouse cannot carry a marriage. It takes two people trying REALLY hard, and truly understanding what it takes (most people just guess… and incorrectly). Most marriages are broken because one or both of the participants are broken.

      Demonstrating a willingness to grow and change would seem to me to be a worthwhile reason to fight for the marriage and the other person.

      Someone demonstrating an UNwillingness to change? They will destroy their spouse and maybe their child on the inside, and I'm growing to believe that removing oneself from a situation like that can often be the most-responsible, most-sensible choice.

      Sounds to me like you've made a good-faith effort. And I understand what you mean when you say "I'm filing for divorce Friday. BECAUSE I love my family, more dearly than I can say."

      I'm so sorry you're going through this. Thoughts and prayers. Here's to everyone healing and growing no matter what tomorrow brings.

      Hard times are ahead. Me (and a bunch of amazing commenters with a ton of heart) are around if you want or need to talk about it.

      My best wishes for your family.

    2. It’s like reading my own story – my 13 year relationship is breaking apart. I’d never heard of passive aggressive behaviour but reading your story and the articles you posted has resonated so much. Thank you so much for sharing them. Good luck to you for the future and it helps to know I’m not the only one living with such a destructive man.

      1. I’m so glad the information was helpful to you; I know it was for me. I spent so much time and energy doubting myself, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, wondering if I was unreasonable or crazy. When you learn you’re not alone, it makes all the difference in the world to your mental state. It doesn’t necessarily make it easier, but at least you can begin to trust yourself again.

        I wish you all the best. You can do this. You deserve a partner and a friend. <3

  5. I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog! Got here from Harsh Reality. I am at work right now, but I plan on reading your entire shitty husband series! I think I may know some people who need to read it. I had a shitty husband, but in the process of almost completely losing everything we had, I found out that I was also a shitty wife, to some extent. We finally hit that place where all we could do was sit down and have a real discussion. Now, over a year later, we are happier than we’ve been in many years!

    1. I’ll be curious to hear (read) what you think. Again, thank you for taking the time to check this stuff out. I’m grateful for your time. And also, congratulations on figuring things out in marriage. Most people never do. It’s a big deal. Really big.

  6. Matt– As someone who recently got spanked at work for my “edgy” language, I just want to support your use of the word “shitty” in this context. That is the exactly right word for the issues you describe, and it’s right because the “immaturity” that the use of vernacular connotes aligns perfectly with the behaviors of the husbands (and possibly wives) in question. Monstrous husbands like you mention here– abusers, cads, etc.– are serious problems and need to be dealt with. Even the law recognizes that. Does the “shitty” need to be dealt with? it’s so low-level, what’s the big deal? But as you’ve so astutely pointed out, it becomes a big deal. I salute you on your attempts to move beyond shittiness, and your commitment to “shitty” as a very precise and worthwhile adjective within your larger project!

    1. Half of all marriages (maybe more?) fail. And of the ones that make it, not all are happy or healthy.

      MOST people get this wrong.

      One of these days, society is going to have to get serious about remedying that.

      It’s one of my greatest wishes. To see a major shift in the average person’s understanding of what it takes to make it.

      Thank you very much for reading.

    1. That depends, Angie.

      On whether he wants to. Some guys (most, I think) don’t know they’re shitty. Others know and don’t care.

      Which kind is he?

  7. I never post on anything I read…
    But I love the honesty here..
    Shitty husband or not…
    The fact that you had a Eureka moment is world changing.
    Sorry it come a bit late..for you !!!!but husband or wife reading these thoughts feelings and comments. I hope take something away (all of it) and save marriages everywhere and actually make a difference..
    You have nailed it..
    I hope you get another turn at marriage ??
    If not already…

  8. Pingback: When Your Spouse Dies and You Miss Their Dirty Socks on the Floor | Must Be This Tall To Ride

  9. Your writing describes my husband exactly. Not a bad man but not a very good husband and father. I sent your blog to him. I don’t think he read it. He will never understand that it didn’t have to be this way and that the ball was always in his court. I’ve tried everything.

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Matt Fray

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