Do You Want to Know the Secret, Too?

Comments 21
Woman whispering in man's ear --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Everyone wants to know the secret.

But it seems like no one knows it, and if they do, no one’s telling.

The question haunts me now. Because people keep asking and I never know what to say.

“What could she have done?”

I never knew enough to ask that question during my marriage. In the beginning, I was too immature and oblivious. I figured marrying my girlfriend just meant things would always stay the same, and we were both simply agreeing to stay together, forever. Like forever boyfriend and girlfriend.

When you’re young, people tell you marriage is hard. That you really have to work and communicate and forgive.

But when you’re listening to it, you politely nod your head, but think to yourself: These well-meaning people don’t know anything about us. We love each other and are totally committed. They don’t see how we are together when no one is around. They don’t know how we feel on the inside. We’ve got this.

We hear them. But we don’t hear them.

People keep asking: “What took you so long to figure it out? What more did she have to do?”

I keep telling wives that their husbands don’t know how they actually feel. That they don’t know how much it hurts or actually understand that something does. I don’t think it matters how many times you’ve told him, or how many times you wrote it in a letter. I don’t think it matters how many times you’ve cried or begged him to really HEAR and compute what you’re saying.

You think he’s listening and not caring.

But really he’s listening and trying to think of a solution to your problem he doesn’t understand before mentally moving on to something else.


“Is he stupid?”

No. The way he works on the inside is unique to being a man and everything you think you know about the human experience and how he sees, and thinks, and feels about the world around him is probably wrong because you’re applying your female experience to him, which is the equivalent of typing Portuguese into a French-to-English translator and wondering why nothing makes sense.

He is DIFFERENT than you. Not worse. Not better. Different.

You’ve repeatedly tried to explain to him how you feel, and to ask for changes, but nothing changes. He doesn’t hear you.

And when nothing changes, it hurts really badly because you think: I’ve begged, pleaded and cried for his love. And he won’t give it. He doesn’t care about me.

That is a logical conclusion to come to if he was female and wired on the inside to experience life similarly to you. But he’s not.

He’s different.

Men abandon their wives emotionally without realizing they’re doing so, and then their wives who feel totally rejected and unloved, slowly detach from their husbands and sometimes find another person to emotionally attach to. There are always men out there willing to compliment lonely wives and make them feel special. She felt dead inside. But this guy who paid attention to her made her feel again. Made her feel alive. And she’d forgotten what that felt like.

So she fantasizes about romance and (yes, guys—it’s true) sex—really hot sex—with this new guy.

The marriage is now at the breaking point. I think every marriage (and dating relationship, much sooner) hits this point once or twice, at least.

If the husband continues to be emotionally detached, she will leave him, sleep with the new guy, or both.

She NEEDS to feel safe. Like water and oxygen. She’s probably wrong to think the new guy’s penis can provide that safety for her, but chemically it’s the natural and obvious response to her life experience. She was so eager and happy to get married because the idea of a life of loving commitment gave her the security her heart desired.

And now she believes her husband has checked out and abandoned her. And it makes her feel fear. Debilitating, panic-inducing fear. And now she has to run from this unsafe place and find a new safe place.

Men have needs, too. Just like water and oxygen. Just like their wives’ inherent need for security.

Men have a need to feel like they are succeeding at their pursuits. They often pour a lot of themselves into work, or athletic competition, or video games, or some other hobby in which there are gains or victories to be had.

Men have a need to feel like their wives believe in them. Men crave purpose—a reason for existing. And when his wife believes in him and appreciates his successful pursuits and is proud of him for his victories, he thrives.

Men have a DEEP aversion to shame.

When a wife feels afraid, she often tries to talk to her husband in a way one of her girlfriends might understand, but he can’t. She feels like she’s talking to a wall. He feels like she’s telling him what a bad husband he is and that he’s not good enough and that she regrets marrying him. So he feels shame in a profound way, and retreats further, because he needs to feel like he’s succeeding and when he has to have “a talk” with his wife, he’s not succeeding.

He thinks she’s emotionally unstable, because he doesn’t understand what changed. His best effort to understand her while applying man-logic to the situation yields: Wow. She’s a little bit crazy. She always says I do these things that upset her, but I’m not doing anything wrong.

It’s because he literally can’t comprehend a reaction like the one his wife just had. The only logical conclusion for him is that she’s sort of nuts. How could she feel like I don’t love her?

It’s because he has yet to learn his wife isn’t like him. He wasn’t using the right translator.

It won’t be long before they’re both having affairs or fantasizing about a different life because this isn’t what I signed up for!

Divorce is a safe bet.

It’s the same story, everywhere. Every divorced or struggling couple tells a tweaked version of the same story.

And so I write.

And sad and angry wives (and sometimes, husbands) find my stories and think: Wow. This guy’s been right here. He gets it.

Yeah, I get it. I spent many nights crying like a child. It was kind of pathetic. But it’s also what happened.

My wife left. I lost half my little boy’s childhood. Those precious minutes that go too fast even when you’re sitting there staring at them, willing the clock to slow. That got cut in half.

All because neither my wife nor I knew how to speak one another’s language.

But more importantly than that, I didn’t know until too late that this dynamic even existed. That EVERY couple was experiencing this same, relationship-killing cycle.

“What could she have done differently that would have made a difference for you?” they ask me. “What could she have said or done that would have kept it from ending in divorce?”

And I want to answer. It’s a great question. But there aren’t any words.

Because I don’t know.

I don’t know whether there is an answer.

But that has to be the mission now. Finding that answer.

Because it will save marriages, families and lives. I know it.

And if you’ll help me figure it out, we’ll start changing the world together.

21 thoughts on “Do You Want to Know the Secret, Too?”

  1. Another heart felt post; very good.

    Have you already talked about change over time? Couples that end up changing together, but to different ends?


      1. It does, and it happens. But don’t be afraid of a challenge.
        I say it being in a long term thing where we have both totally changed, because of time just as much as the affect we have had on each other and the effects of life/different experiences.
        Although further apart instead of being put out by it, we just have new reasons to be motivated- there are new things to find out about each other as well as ourselves. It’s challenging. There are arguements. But no more than when you are dating someone totally new.
        It’s the prospect of it getting old that weirds us out. Hence, reading Matt’s stuff.

  2. Wow, you really are right one with this. Makes me so sad that my marriage of 18 years ended for all those reasons, I told him , I wrote him letters explaining why I was so unhappy and nothing changed, so I knew he didn’t care and I left, of course when I did he couldn’t believe I had left him because he loved me so…well, I didn’t feel that so… I didn’t get married to get divorced, just such a waste. I hope you find the answer and clue us all in! Great writing! thank you. Michelle

  3. Once again. Nailed it. I do believe that the answer is this. You. Your blogs. If you and your wife were to read what you are writing now, well…like you said. There is no answer. I think there are only solutions. I believe you found it, and if more people spoke these words then who knows? Marriages might actually be saved.

    1. Obviously really kind words.

      Thank you.

      I mean the question seriously, though. There must be solutions. Not fixes, of course. Human beings are too complex. But perhaps there are legitimate things a wife could do to more effectively convey her feelings or more effectively influence her husband’s behavior without further driving the emotional wedge.

      Something tangible. That works a high percentage of the time, in terms of saying words and having her husband completely understand.

      Gotta be possible. I’m going to keep thinking about it and asking smart people for feedback.

      Thank you for reading and commenting, sir.

  4. I’ve very sorry to learn of your divorce. I’ve been through one as well and they are very difficult.

    This is a really great post. I think one of the main problems is that once the honeymoon phase is over, a lot of couples don’t want to work at their marriage as you pointed out. A marriage counselor once told me that if a couple comes in and they hate one another, he still has hope they might make it, but once one of them shows apathy it is over. Apathy is the opposite of love – not hate. Hate is still an emotion.

    The difference between the male and female species is very pointed as you discussed. Males tend to want to be problem solvers and women tend to want to vent. Men also need to think through their thoughts to understand their emotions while women need to feel through their emotions to get to their thoughts. I think that understanding helps communication.

    And, you hinted at this, I believe, but also the language of love is VERY important in a relationship. It is important that the partners are able to express their love in a means that is compatible with the way the other partner receives it. My ex-wife’s language of love was money and gifts but my means of feeling loved was affection, respect, and spending time together. She could never understand how buying me something didn’t satisfy me. “But I bought you this,” she would say. Yet, I felt so empty all the time.

  5. I have an answer but I know it goes completely against what we are told is a successful life. We build boxes and put in one man and one woman(this is true of gay families as well). Into that box might come children. In the morning there is a hurry up to get the day going. Either both work or, usually, Mom stays home. If she works she still working alone even in an office. This is completely opposite what most wome require emotionally. Working side by side while looking after children has been the mother’s role since the beginning. That is because until recently babies were breast fed. Also, women need a lot of verbal interactions just to connect. Men can talk but it is usually about fixing something and they cannot understand why their wives are still talking about the same issues over and over. (Of course if it is a car engine or a football pass that needs discussing they can go on for eternity). Add into that the idea of women’s roles vs men’s and you have the makings for a bad marriage. If you give most of your energy, humor, conversation to your work partners you have little left over for your family at the end of the day. Who cooks? Who does laundry? Who mows the grass? Who pays the bills? Boring stuff that has to get done. He never notices the toilet needs cleaning or that dust piles up but his car is waxed so shiney you can see it from space. She likes lots of pillows and he thinks putting most of them in the dumpster makes sense. Therefore, I suggest that women live together and men camp out in their various caves, tents, garages, what have you and “visit” when the mood strikes. He can cook over a fire and pee on trees. I think this would make the world a happier place.

    1. Thank you, Aussa. These things matter to me. I want couples to make it. Very much. Really appreciate you taking a minute to check this out. Have a great weekend, please.

  6. This post is absolutely correct, and everyone should read it! It’s honest and written in a way that both men AND women can relate to – not easy given the point of the post – ha! Another issue for relationships is people’s attachment style. Hold Me Tight is a great book that addresses this second layer of potential trouble. The Five Love Languages is another good resource…It’s weird that it takes so much work to live with the person you LOVE for more than a few weeks. Humans. We’re a piece of work, eh? Great post!

  7. when couples choose to stick it out, holding divorce as a non-option, it seems we are left with the same scenario. infidelity creeps in because she doesn’t have the emotional connection she craves. he find out, world imploded. they agree families are better staying together, plus they love each other. he promises to meet unmet meeds, and so does she. but a few months pass. she still notices and needs and hurts from layers of grief. he settles comfortably. as long as there is sex, a peaceful home, and conversation (however one-sided it may be), all is well. much like he would’ve said while his wife was giving her heart to someone who gave emotionally. and so it’s not wrecked, and she wants it to work so she endures, but it turns out changing without the brutal injury of divorce is pretty hard.

    switch the pronouns around as needed. i’m sure it isn’t a solitary situation.

  8. One time she was crying upstairs in our bedroom because she was feeling sad about how our relationship was and how I was treating her. I tried to understand what I was doing wrong for so long but I just couldn’t see it . We were married with kids and well that’s just the way things were and would always be. I remember out of frustration I said something like, “well too bad, things are the way they are and that’s just the way it is.” Man what a thing to say but I promise I just didn’t know what to do or how to make things better for us. I’m not saying I wish we were still married but I wish, just out of love at the time, I would have hugged her and said I was sorry and I’m trying to be better.

  9. You had me in tears.

    My ex and I never got past speaking different languages. We knew we did in the beginning and for years we had the emotional currency to hear the best from each other’s mouths when the worst was actually being said. However, eventually that emotional currency was less available and the willingness to give each other the benefit of the doubt faded. All that was left was hurt and sorrow, anger and fear, and divorce.

  10. Brilliant post. This is EXACTLY how it was for us, down to seeking safety/closeness elsewhere. I love that your writing can make me laugh at a situation which is clearly not unique – there I was thinking our marital problems were something special and strange. I think that part of the answer to your question lies in simply acknowledging that the condition of miscommunication exists, is real and has consequences. Awareness results in behavioural changes.

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Matt Fray

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