Vows, Bullshit and Personal Responsibility

Comments 25

bullshit large

bonbon2 wrote:

“I don’t think it’s a wife’s responsibility to make husband understand what he should know, he is not a teenager anymore, he doesn’t need to make her wife another mother to him and should grow up and be a sensible adult. It’s not a wife’s duty to educate her husband. It’s not that he doesn’t understand, it’s that he DOESN’T want to understand, and to me it seems a very stupid way to ruin your own marriage like that. If that’s my husband who still needs me to educate him this and that, I would rather get a clean divorce from this man, to save myself some trouble. Men need to understand that she is your WIFE, NOT your MOTHER, don’t turn your wife into your mother and then blame her for not treating you in a way of a supposedly wife. I’ve seen too many men doing this and then whining about their wife and their marriage.

Please guys, you all can do better than this, don’t wait for your girlfriend or wife to repeat themselves a thousand times and get disappointed eventually, you all can do the education by yourselves and stop making her feeling she has to leave. She doesn’t have an obligation to educate her man, but she does have to take full responsibility to live a happy life, even if that means a divorce for her.

I really hope all women, regardless of each of our marital status, to know that we have the obligation to our happiness in life, and it’s our own responsibility fully. Maybe your boyfriend or husband makes you sad, but it doesn’t mean you can’t live happily ever again. Sometimes marriage just isn’t the solution. We are the solution to a happy life.

Wife isn’t dead inside, wife seems dead because she is still in this marriage with him. Once a woman leaves her shitty marriage, she can be herself again because she isn’t dead inside.”

I try hard to not be combative.

Combative people are never happy because they’re always at odds with someone, and never content or satisfied. And if I’ve learned anything valuable in adulthood, it’s that all anyone ever really wants is to be content. Or “happy,” if you prefer. I use them interchangeably.

Sometimes people think: “That’s not true! What I really want is to accomplish my life goals! To have a lot of money! Or to have a great job! Or to have lots of orgasms! Or to have a great relationship! Or the opportunity to make a difference in the world! Or to have a great family! Or to have my dream home and nice cars! Or to get high all the time! Or to travel and have amazing vacations and life adventures!”

Not everyone figures out that they want all those things BECAUSE they—consciously or subconsciously—believe those things will bring them happiness and make them feel good.

Everything—EVERYTHING—we chase in this life is rooted in our internal desire to feel good. To attain peace. To achieve happiness.

Combativeness is a surefire way to always have drama and conflict in our lives and never achieve goals.

But, screw it. Sometimes I make bad decisions.

Some things are stupid. And it’s irresponsible to not point them out.

Silly policies at my son’s school. Ridiculous corporate policies or inefficient workflow at my job. And once in a while? Other people’s observations and opinions.

Sometimes, things are soooooo bullshitty that I just can’t help myself. I just have to shout it from the rooftops: “Wow! Look at that thing over there! It’s REALLY bullshitty! Even more bullshitty than all the regular-sized bullshitty things I see!”

That’s how I feel about bonbon2’s comment above, which was written in response to one of my comments on An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1.

That if you imagine a gigantic—I mean COLOSSAL—mountain of bullshit, you would need beachball-sized bullshit-hail to rain on it nonstop for months to reach the pinnacle of the giant bullshit mountain I’m describing.

I feel like everyone probably gets it now, but just in case you don’t, feel free to go back and read the comment again, and then come back and read the following sentence:

That comment is total bullshit.

Marriage: Before and After, Because There’s a Difference

I’m not suggesting everything this person wrote is patently false. For example, comments like this are right on: “Men need to understand that she is your WIFE, NOT your MOTHER, don’t turn your wife into your mother and then blame her for not treating you in a way of a supposedly wife.”

I agree with this one too: “Please guys, you all can do better than this, don’t wait for your girlfriend or wife to repeat themselves a thousand times and get disappointed eventually, you all can do the education by yourselves and stop making her feeling she has to leave.”

And if we take a few sentences out of context from which they were written, I might agree with them also. But basically every other utterance is total crap.

1. Taking Responsibility Goes Both Ways

Unless you are held at gunpoint in front of a marriage official, suffer amnesia or some type of head trauma that fundamentally changes your conscious self, are married to someone who develops amnesia or experiences life-altering head trauma, or married an intentionally deceptive con artist (which I’ll allow liberal interpretation of, because some guys really are dicks), then you are TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR WHO YOU MARRY.

Because the vast majority of men do not change much after marriage. In fact, THAT’s a huge part of the problem. Men often crave routine and stability, and want to do the same things over and over again. Bad habits from the single life sometimes remain, and staleness from routine sometimes sets in. Their wives get pissed about the bad habits and ask them to change, OFTEN not getting the response they need or want. That perceived lack of respect, combined with monotonous boredom festers into feelings of loneliness and neglect. As she gets more upset, he withdraws further because it’s how he naturally and chemically responds to conflict with his partner.

The cycle lasts until someone has an affair and/or leaves.

I’m not going to entertain the idea that millions of men are getting married and then fundamentally changing who they are on the inside. The next time I see that will be the first time.

Here’s an idea: Take some fucking responsibility for who you chose to marry. Because you had UNLIMITED time to choose the person you agreed to exchange forever-vows with.

I understand that when we’re young, we can’t know what we don’t know, and that young women aren’t unreasonable for assuming their husbands might evolve and grow in many of the same ways they do in a marriage. It just so happens that in real life, it tends to not work that way.

But I’m not going to stand idly by while angry wives point fingers calling for men to grow up and take responsibility while not taking any themselves.

There ARE victims in this world. You know them based on the facts of an individual’s story. No question, some spouses get TOTALLY screwed. I’ve seen it plenty.

But that’s not what usually happens. What usually happens is two good people get married with the best of intentions and ACCIDENTALLY ruin their marriage through hundreds of little decisions they didn’t know were important at the time.

Our lives are the sum of our choices, from our earliest memories to right this second.


2. Don’t Take Vows if You Don’t Mean Them

I hate to break it to you, bonbon2, but after you say “I do” and promise all that shit in front of spouse, God and country, it kind of DOES become your responsibility to help your husband be a better husband if that’s what it takes to save your marriage.

bonbon 2 wrote: “She doesn’t have an obligation to educate her man, but she does have to take full responsibility to live a happy life, even if that means a divorce for her.

“I really hope all women, regardless of each of our marital status, to know that we have the obligation to our happiness in life, and it’s our own responsibility fully. Maybe your boyfriend or husband makes you sad, but it doesn’t mean you can’t live happily ever again. Sometimes marriage just isn’t the solution.”

Well, that’s great bonbon2!

You’ve just alleviated every married man or woman of all responsibility for the rest of their lives! Awesome!

Now men can leave their wives guilt-free after gaining weight from childbirth because she didn’t “take responsibility for her physical health” and that doesn’t make him “happy”!

Now every time a wife would like her husband to help her solve a problem, from opening a jar, to fixing the brakes on her car, to properly setting up a new electronic gadget she isn’t comfortable using, he can say: “Sorry babe! I don’t have an obligation to help or educate you! You’re an adult, so you can just figure it out all by yourself! It’s not my responsibility to help you because it sounds like more trouble than it’s worth. I’d rather get divorced since what I’m really responsible for is my own happiness in life!”

For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and health. Until death do us part.

Remember that shit?


You don’t have an obligation to educate your boyfriend on what it takes to be a good husband any more than I am obligated to avoid walking into an ISIS camp and calling them assholes.

But when a bunch of bad shit happens afterward, shouldn’t we be big enough to admit our choices were unwise?

Men get things wrong in marriage all the time. And I think if men collectively came to understand what I think I now understand, and then acted accordingly, the divorce rate would drop 80-90 percent.

Men have a HUGE responsibility to help keep families and marrages intact, and that’s what I dedicate much of my writing time to saying.

But I don’t give wives free passes. I just think all the things wives get wrong happen in response to some bullshit their husbands did. So if the husbands get it together, maybe their wives won’t accidentally push them away while trying to make their homes and marriages the best they can be.

Sure, husbands get a lot wrong. I did. And millions just like me are doing the same things right now. I hate it.

But if you’re the kind of person who thinks trying to EFFECTIVELY communicate your wants and needs to your spouse in an effort to educate them on things they might honestly NOT KNOW OR UNDERSTAND is more trouble than it’s worth, then you’re every bit part of the problem.

But feel free to enjoy the view from the top of Mount Bullshit.

Don’t forget to take deep breaths. The air is thinner up there.

25 thoughts on “Vows, Bullshit and Personal Responsibility”

  1. I am a wife in what I fear is a dead end marriage. I recently found your blog, and so much of what you say resonates with me. Your story about your marriage is eerily familiar. I feel like I’m living it now.

    I want to take responsibility for my mistakes. I have been a poor commincator. I ignored red flags in our relationship before marriage. There were a lot of things about my marriage and my family relationships I didn’t completely comprehend until my daughter was born. Then it was like blinders lifted.

    I tried to communicate these realizations to my husband. I tried to open up and become more transparent. When I told him I believed I had PPD, he said it wasn’t true because I was happy with the baby, just not with him.

    We have spent the last year in marriage therapy. I have been learning to communicate better. I have told him my needs in very specific terms.

    It has all been ignored. Nothing has changed except that he has gotten more vigilant about hiding things from me.

    The worst part is that he is excellent at maintaining appearances, even in therapy. He is even starting to anticipate things that bother me, bringing them up in therapy, turning them around on me.

    I feel completely invalidated and inloved. I feel unsupported. I’m not meeting his physical needs because I feel emotionally depleted. I feel I have said the same thing in many different ways.

    I am trying to work on my issues and manage my depression to be a strong, caring, and happy mother and wife.

    But how much of the responsibility is mine? I am drained. I want my marriage to work, but I feel I have nothing left to give. I even expressed that I was thinking of divorce. I didn’t threaten. I wasn’t angry when I said it. I just said I have considered it since I feel we are getting nowhere. He told me I don’t care as much as he does about the vows we made.

    I want to take responsibility. I married someonr with issues (and so did he). But the issues have begun to affect our child’s emotional health.

    Do I keep trying? When do I say enough is enough? I feel broken and exhausted. I want to own my part. I want to get better and work at it. But I feel like I’m doing it alone.

    1. One thing you can be absolutely sure of Allie, is that this post doesn’t apply to you.

      Thoughtful people who truly value their marriage and family are NOT the same as people who champion divorce as an easy alternative to sacrificing on behalf of their marriage and family.

      I’m very sorry for the poor timing of this post if it somehow piled on and made you feel worse at a time when you’re feeling alone and abandoned in your marriage.

      This was so not meant for all of the truly hurting wives out there who can’t get their husbands to be active participants in the marriage and demonstrate the kind of love and support you require.

      The pain you feel, and the concern you have for the welfare of your child, matters very much, and in many ways, is my motivation for most of what I choose to write about here.

      Really hurt spouses who continue to give and bleed for their marriages are light years away from being the audience for today’s little rant.

      A thousand apologies if that wasn’t obvious to you.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    2. Allie,

      Your comment today is a blessing- thank you for writing it. I realize you didn’t write for PPD but I would like to tell you to hang on-it gets better and many of us are in the EXACT situation -you are not alone. I don’t know what your therapist tells you about your marriage but mine told me that first and foremost we deal with PPD and me getting healthy, then we deal with the husband (my husband doesn’t go to therapy with me because he would needle me and manipulate me with what he learned in therapy) … What I found is that I can absolutely communicate more effectively than I have been and that I am a lot stronger than I thought I was and recovery happens much faster when the person you are counting on for support can’t needle you or try to scare you or manipulate you and make your symptoms worse. I also learned Allie that I can only do my part- I can’t do his and I can’t change him. PPD was a blow to an already shaky marriage with someone who wasn’t all in from the beginning, for me- I’m clear about that now. PPD is not something we choose and I don’t allow myself to feel guilt or shame anymore or blame (that’s not easy) and I don’t accept my husband using it as an excuse to make the poor choices he has made. I too have suggested divorce and he didn’t agree until I caught him in more lies recently. He blamed me, PPA/PPD (sometimes I’m an asshole) and has said he would like to stay married every other message when we start going back and forth…
      I don’t know what is going to happen but I am going to continue to do my part (work on me/therapy) and maybe hold off on making any big decisions right now…
      I feel your exhaustion and want to tell you you WILL get through this.
      I also share this blog with my husband because aside from what happens with PPA/PPD and the stuff here recently he does exactly what Matt writes about in these posts. I am going to send this to him today because maybe if he sees what another person is experiencing something may click (I’m always hopeful) so thanks again for commenting.

  2. it’s not just marriage. it’s life! if i can do/say/act/prevent/protect/educate … i should! am i forced to contribute to anyone else’s wellbeing? no. but if i want to be a compassionate human who can leave things better in my wake, it IS my responsibility to try. truth is, my wellbeing is the thing best affected by caring for my husband’s heart and giving to our marriage.

    and a promise is a promise. might not be a terrific foundation, in and of the words themselves, but it’s one stone laid firmly in place, and all it takes is another laid next to it, and then another.

    1. Yeah, I’ve never really liked the whole “it’s not my job!” philosophy, that always causes a bunch of frustration because no one wants to be bothered with more than what they signed up for.

      The problem with that attitude in marriage is you can’t know what you don’t know, so you don’t know anything about marriage until you’re in one.

      You signed up for something based on your best guess what it would be like. And it pretty much NEVER turns out that way.

      God knows I’m not asking people to stay in marriages with BAD human beings who can’t or won’t actively and lovingly participate in the marriage.

      But just because your mistaken and poorly communicated expectations weren’t meant, you’re just going to start advocating divorce as the obvious and easiest solution?

      It’s EXACTLY that attitude that’s contributing to all the breakage.

  3. Hey Matt, love this post. I mean, totally LOVE it.

    I also operate under the assumption that 9 times out of 10, a couple who gets married does so because they actually believe at the time that this is “forever”.

    Then, over the course of the next X number of years, they each make a number of small mistakes that are compounded by a lack of communication and/or poor communication, until eventually they get to a point that they have lost a lot of what brought them together in the first place.

    I also happen to believe that they were already making those mistakes with each other long before the vows were spoken.

    People don’t really change much. Who we are is largely who we are.

    A while back I saw a great analogy for this with the idea of a ship that is headed for a destination and is slightly off course. When you are off course by a little bit, the longer you go on this way the more impact it has.

    Thing is, we all get off course once in a while. This is where effective communication has to come in. An ability to listen without anger, criticism, defensiveness or ego (something much easier said than done), and to respond with empathy. Doing this allows you to have periodic course corrections that get you back on line.

    Unfortunately we often go into marriage totally blind – having some crazy misconstrued notion of how amazing and wonderful it will be. Yeah, some couples have problems and yeah, divorce rates are pretty high. But that won’t apply to us because “we love each other”.

    Love is pretty important, and needs to be there. But communication and coping skills are pretty damned essential too. No one tells us that though. No one teaches that. We only start to learn that when we’re already quite a ways off course, struggling to understand what has become of our lives.

    Your comment from bonbon2 seems reflective of the exact notions that get us in trouble – an idea that this “isn’t my problem”, and that the other person needs to “get with the program, and adjust to me”.

    When we are off course, the only correction that will actually last is when both people take a good long look in the mirror, and see not only what their partner is doing to them but also how they are contributing to the problems.

    Not easy. And unfortunately not a high success rate once you hit that point. But when you look at the diminishing success rate of subsequent marriages it’s worth the effort of doing what you can to try and turn things around.

    1. I think it’s clear to you by now, Drew, that you and I see this whole marriage thing pretty much the same way. I’m glad you’re out there thinking about and talking about these things.

      It’s the conversation not enough people are having. And it probably seems oversimplified to some, but I don’t think it is.

      A slight shift in mindset, and a slight adjustment in tone of voice and communication style can dramatically alter a relationship overnight.

      Dramatically altered relationships can make it with two people pulling the same direction.

      Once the majority of married couples are doing this, troubled marriages become the exception rather than the rule.

      I always appreciate your time and thoughtful commentary, Drew. Don’t say it enough. Thank you.

  4. Hi! I love the comment. I think I love it because I am SO sick of what feels like parenting my husband and SO sick of all his excuses; it feels like he makes an excuse for everything. For lying over and over again and every other thing you shouldn’t do to your wife. Sometimes his ex’s are the worst and to the other women I just found out he is communicating with, I’m the worst person ever and he is a victim and not responsible for a single choice he has ever made. The aforementioned and a ton of other things makes me want to fist bump bonbon.

    I love what you wrote (I always do) because I know I should support and help my husband become a better man but I don’t want to. He is an asshole. And… I am an asshole sometimes and it makes everything suck! <<See, that's all I've got. It's difficult to look at someone who has hurt you and want to help them be better and it feels safer to stay and asshole and just try to survive until the divorce. WHY won't he just read your blog and get a clue and fix his shit so I don't have to leave him and marry you?? (Winking at ya, and kidding of course).

    I guess because I would be doing exactly what I am complaining about (minus the lying and other people part). Thanks for reminding us that we take vows and make a commitment to one another and that I don't get a free pass (to blame especially) just because I am the wife. I will read this over and over again and maybe keep my wedding set out of the pawn shop a little longer.

    With gratitude,

    1. Hi Alice. I hope my stance on this is clear, but I’m afraid it might not be, and I want to clarify, just in case:

      There are lots of troubled marriages, and I believe most of the time, it’s because of two good people who don’t know what they need to know to make marriage work. And what they’re naturally inclined to do causes more pain and more fights because it’s just the way men’s and women’s conflict coping behavior tend to affect one another.

      I think those people can (and should) save their marriages, because if they mistakenly believe they just “married the wrong person,” they’re going to have the same thing happen again in their next relationship.

      But THEN, there are troubled marriages where the husbands (and sometimes wives) are massive dickholes. HUGELY sucky and shitty, behaviorally.

      They cheat. They hit. They’re addicts. They gamble foolishly. They abuse. They neglect. They abandon.

      And they KNOW it. They get it. And they don’t care because THEIR feelings are more important than their spouses.

      Those guys are even worse (but basically the same to me) as the woman who cavalierly espouses divorce as the quick and easy solution to a husband that doesn’t fulfill her every want and desire.

      So many people don’t get it.

      I’m ALL FOR SELFISHNESS, if that’s your thing. Just don’t get married. And don’t have children.

      Because both of those things REQUIRE unselfishness.

      But if you get married, you better damn well understand this concept:

      Marriage IS NOT for you. http://sethadamsmith.com/2013/11/02/marriage-isnt-for-you/

  5. Like Zombiedrew2 above, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I Iove this post!! I was getting so angry at bonbon2’s comment for being short sighted and and self absorbed. I really appreciate that you took this comment head-on….I know you try not to be combative but this was necessary. She doesn’t even realize that by assuming it’s ALWAYS the other person’s responsibility, she will continue to run on the the never-ending torture wheel in every relationship she jumps ship to. That’s a whole heck of a lot of damage in her wake. My husband left me to be gay and although it could be argued that it wasn’t my fault, I STILL assume quite a bit of responsibility for the breakdown of my marriage. My personal growth and the success of my future marriage hang on it (not to mention my children’s future marriages as they watch me navigate these waters! Entitlement in marriage? YUCK!

    1. Thank you. While I know you don’t always approve of my methods or language, I do know that we’re generally on the same philosophical page. 🙂

  6. Alice, that gave me chills! Thoughtful and so honest. As I was reading it I thought OMG *that’s* how we saved our marriage – we stopped being assholes to each other! Not trying to be glib, but that’s basically what it came down to.

    I’m convinced that men of good-will do want to be good husbands to their wives and are often kinda clueless (sorry guys) about when they’re being an asshole. But women, well…for the most part, we know pretty darn well when we’re being an asshole, don’t we?

    No matter where you ultimately end up in this marriage, Not Being an Asshole sure can’t hurt. ?

      1. That is awesome! 🙂

        For the record, it seems to me that most of the time, marriages start breaking down because of one simple concept: lack of or break down of communication. Then all the horrible stuff starts to happen.

  7. Amen, Matt! Good job wading through the bovine poo. I’ll just highlight a couple of points you made,

    “Because the vast majority of men do not change much after marriage. In fact, THAT’s a huge part of the problem. Men often crave routine and stability..”

    This is very true, we women call that craving of routine and stability “a rut.” In this divine comedy we call love, men tend to crave routine, women tend to crave change. Recognizing that difference and striving to accommodate each others needs can be really helpful. My husband scares the crap of of me sometimes by being completely unpredictable. I jest and exaggerate, but seriously most women like to kept slightly off balance with some unpredictability.

    “Now men can leave their wives guilt-free after gaining weight from childbirth because she didn’t “take responsibility for her physical health” and that doesn’t make him “happy”!”

    True, the entire idea that marriage is designed to “make us happy,” needs to get thrown out the window. No one is responsible for our own happiness but us and happiness can be an elusive thing, especially for women who crave some movement, some change. What makes us happy one day may not make us happy the next day. To dump that responsibility on a man is unfair. Half the time we aren’t even sure what we want, so to expect him to be able to figure it out for us, is unreasonable at best.

    1. Thanks for that final paragraph which applies equally to both partners in a marriage.

      When you’re counting on someone else to provide your happiness, you pretty much guarantee you’re both going to be miserable.

  8. I see it over and over again….a lot women expect men to be mind readers. I’m not saying all women do this because I’m not one of them. Communication is the key and I don’t see it as *education*. Unless we have a habit of talking to ourselves, it takes two to have a conversation and hopefully keep it civil…and I’m not talking about nagging, that falls into the category of talking to yourself. Expectations are also something that should be examined. Life isn’t perfect, people aren’t perfect, and relationships require mutual respect.

    1. As always, I think men are worse at marriage than women. Truly.

      But marriages have no chance if wives are going into them believing, or deciding mid-stream, that putting effort into helping her husband be a better husband is somehow beneath them or not worth the effort.

      In a perfect world, men would understand what it takes to be a good husband long before getting married.

      But more often than not, fools rush in, and learn things the hard way. It’s the human way.

      We have to deal in reality. In reality, partners owe it to their marriages and families to give what they can to making it the best it can be.

      And sometimes, that might include a wife “educating” her husband on some things he truly doesn’t understand.

      If she is married to the kind of man who cares so little for her that he won’t try to understand her, and overtly says he doesn’t care about the welfare of the marriage or his family, then I’d say she did a piss-poor job in lifetime partner selection.

      Nice to hear from you, April. Hope you’re well.

      1. I don’t think men are worse at marriage than women. We just communicate and share differently. If a partner overtly states they don’t care….or shows by the way they are treating their partner, then yes, they did a piss-poor job.
        Each person in a relationship should help each other to be a better person. I have been married 28 years and my husband and I have gone back and forth on *educating* each other. I sure hope our 2 sons have learned how to be a good husband long before they rush into marriage.
        What I’m trying to say is that I know some women who made the shitty wife list. It goes both ways.

  9. I liked this post and perspective across the board. Honestly, bonbon did make some good points, and you identified with what I agreed with, too, Matt.

    I loved the point about taking a vow and keeping it. A marriage is a living, breathing thing and if you cut off the communication, then you cut off its oxygen and it dies. When most people get married, I think we are young and immature in relationships. At least in my case. I’ve had to grow up a lot. Motherhood helped, but it doesn’t stop – the maturing and growing. If I do it right, my marriage will continue to grow – together and get better.

    It IS about not being an asshole – so friggin true. It is about loving each other enough to improve myself each and every day and helping my husband understand me more, as I learn to understand him.

  10. I’m actually not surprised to see a response like this, I guess your reaction is what a typical person would react to see my comment. For one thing I need to crear thing first, I do feel that it’s a bit unfair to you in this ‘debate’ or ‘conversation’, but the thing is that you have a blog and you write about yourself entirely and honestly here, whereas I’m just a reader here and didn’t have to tell the whole world about who I am, so it could cause you or anyone who’ve read my comment to react like that.

    I think you probably sense something between the lines in my comment, that I don’t seem to encourage women being supportive to their boyfriend or hushand, or to invest more into their marriage, that’s just the opposite way of reading it. I am not saying men have to change or have to be mind reader of their girlfriend or wife, in fact I can’t do that to my loved ones either, it’s just impossible. But this doesn’t mean you could do things wrongly to your marriage, and whining about why my husband/my wife never told me how to change. Guess what, they did, and it’s not their obligation to change you.

    To be honest, Matt, you were the one who didn’t take up your responsibility to be the husband and eventually the marriage ended, not me. You have no ground to react to me like that when I utterly point out this painful truth. In fact not only you, just like you said in most of your articles, most men didn’t know how to be a husband and, after their wives tried a thousand times and been rejected a thousand times, left with a broken heart.

    Women don’t need to educate their husbands in order to change them to be a better husband, because that’s not her responsibility. Her responsibility is to be a wife, and when things turn out to be unbearable and painful, she need to save herself first, to learn to be a happy woman again, even if that means ending the marriage. In fact, it’s not a marriage anymore, it’s just an empty shell in the name of marriage. Everyone who had gone through this, knows what it felt like.

    My mother is a good example, well, maybe not a “good” example, but rather a typical example of how a bad marriage can ruin a person. She married young, and my parents started domestic violence in the sixth year of their marriage. I remember this becuase I remember I was six at that time. It went on for five years. In the beginning my mother still believed in him that he would be a better person one day, but little did she know, it’s highly unlikely to change another person. Because my mother married young, she didn’t have the chance to pursuit further education and a good carrer, a life like a normal person would have. My parents divorced when I was 12, and they lived in the same house for another 3 years until I was 15. By the time they divorced, my mother was in her 30 something, with no money, no job experience and with two young daughters. She tried to date again but she was already very afraid by then, losing courage to start her life again. My mother told me she had a lot of bad decisions in her life, I didn’t respond in that time. I remember I start to question and search the meaning of all these, life, marriage, men and women, everything, and I like to think that I did a pretty good job at that for myself. I didn’t try to be a husband for my mother, because I know I shouldn’t, all I had to do is to be a kid, and I know what kind of grown up I wanted to be. Not the one who never make bad decisions, but someone who face the results of past decisions and still remain positive to life. My father gave up trying in his marriage, and my mother were afraid of trying, not because they were awful (well, they were awful sometimes), but becuase they were only human. And I like that I actually have the ability to educate myself how to treat my man, and the courage to leave when my man treated me poorly. That’s my responsibility, a commitment to my life.

    Maybe you think this is a really bad example for me and my sister, but I would like to say on the contrary, I rather think that I had a good lesson from my folks marriage. It’s true, we all should be responsible for our choices. But nine times out of ten, we make bad decisions. And you can’t blame others for your own choices, right?

    You can decide whether it’s your wife to educate you what to do in a relationship or marriage, or it’s you who decides to educate yourself. I honestly think it’s better to do the education by yourself. Your wife can help, but in the end, she doesn’t have the obligation to change you, into a better or worse person.

    Women are no exception here, it’s completely our own responsibility to make oneself happy in life, surely your boyfriend and husband can help, but in the end it’s your own duty, don’t blame others making you feel awful in marriage. Don’t. You can choose to become a better person for your marriage, or learn to protect yourself when marriage really should have ended long ago. Leaving isn’t always a bad thing. Life is always larger than marriage.

    I know marrying someone means a lifelong commitment, but do all men agree to this? I thought some men are still waiting for their women to do the education for him, telling them how to make their commitment lifelong. That’s what they do, turning their women from a happy wife into a new mother for him, and wondering where their wife in the marriage has gone. Please, wives, don’t try to be his mom, don’t try to change him, just keep trying to be a wife, and leave when you know it’s time to end it. Women are not responsible to change anyone.

    Really, Matt, it’s nobody else’s responsibility, not even your wife’s.

    1. This is a conversation that requires context. Because every relationship has its own unique set of circumstances and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

      You see, with what you just wrote, there’s very little that I disagree with.

      But you can’t have it both ways: You can’t marry someone expecting that they’ll change, and then act shocked when they don’t. The time for evaluating the character of your partner and compatibility with them is supposed to be done BEFORE marriage. We don’t spend a lot of time discussing partner selection around here, but that’s a pretty big deal. Arguably, the biggest.

      But since pretty much every marriage suffers the same pain points, it kind of doesn’t matter how good we choose. Conflict and life trauma (health, unexpected loss, etc.) come up, and it’s in those moments that husbands and wives begin to accidentally push one another away, because they don’t know how to do and say things in a way that makes sense to their partner, nor do they understand how their partner feels, because husbands and wives tend to be emotionally affected by very different things.

      This comment you just wrote seemed to be a strong show of support for emotionally battered wives too scared to leave their shitty and destructive marriages. And I couldn’t agree more with that.

      A lot of women don’t know when it’s time to leave, because they’re holding on, hoping for miracles that are unlikely to come, because the husbands just don’t know what they need to know.

      Women totally get taken advantage of in a lot of marriages, and so much of the shitty aspects of married life fall to them, and asshole husbands never step up to be the men they swore to be.

      I’m with you. Screw those guys. They’re dicks. She’s not leaving a marriage BECAUSE SHE’S NOT IN A MARRIAGE. It’s only a marriage when a good-faith effort by two people has been made. And all sane and reasonable people can tell the difference.

      If the marriage is too far gone? Totally dead? You’re probably right. Cutting losses is probably the only practical thing to do.

      But that’s not what I read in your first comment.

      I read someone say that wives aren’t responsible for educating their husbands. Understand that I’m not talking about the pig-headed abuser who has treated her like shit for the past decade.

      I’m talking about young men who don’t know that their wives operate so differently than them on the inside. They seriously don’t “get it.” And if people can learn to talk to one another about the right things in the right way, two people can build something strong and beautiful together.

      Marriages are not a one-person show. Never have been, never will be.

      It’s not like a business partnership where one really savvy business partner can operate a successful enterprise.

      By DEFINITION, a marriage is a thing comprised of two people working in unison.

      My favorite analogy (which I learned from a reader) is the steam train analogy.

      A marriage is like a steam engine.

      Husband and wife shovel coal or wood or whatever to keep the train moving down the tracks.

      When they’re working together, everything is humming along as it should. Along the way, people will fall. A mother might have PPD, or just be exhausted from having a child. A husband might get wrapped up in a career move. One might experience a job loss. One might experience the death of a friend or family member. One might get really sick.

      So while that partner is down, the other has to keep shoveling. Has to keep working. Has to keep the train moving.

      But one person can only shovel so long. The other is going to have to get back up and relieve his or her partner before the fire goes out and the train stops.

      And so long as both husband and wife are committed to keeping that train moving, it will keep moving. One of them always shoveling in support of keeping the fire burning. Most of the time, both of them working together.

      But if one stops. And the other stops. The fire goes out. And it’s game over.

      I’m on your side in encouraging wives to know their own strength and to escape abuse and harmful situations.

      I hope you know that.

      On the flipside. If you’re married, and your partner WANTS to be married, I think it’s highly inappropriate to encourage someone to leave, simply because they don’t feel “happy.”

      I’ve written it dozens of times: Feelings are fickle and they change constantly.

      If everyone did what they wanted every time they wanted to, there would literally be zero marriages or families intact.

      We all get sad, angry, horny, afraid, etc. “Feelings” are not always a good reason to do something, and it’s really, really hard to know when that’s true and when that’s not true.

      We just have to trust people to figure it out.

      I’m with you in encouraging broken and damaged wives to reclaim their lives and pursue happiness when they’re stuck in dead-end relationships with bad men.

      And I’m totally not with you on the “educating husbands” thing. If the marriage is broken, it’s already too late.

      The “educating” needs to be done pre-marriage, and VERY early in the relationship, or at the latest, at the first sign of trouble.

      Many wives understand this but MOST do not, and they’d be wise to read it over and over and over again and believe it: Men OFTEN do not know how you feel when you fight and cry and he walks away, or when he goes out to do something, and you’re alone on the couch and you feel emotionally abandoned. Men DO NOT feel that way when the situation is reversed. Men feel that kind of pain later in the relationship, when you grow cold and resentful, and he starts to feel like a failure because he can’t make you happy and you don’t want him anymore. That’s when the guilt and shame set in. It feels to the man, like the fear and mistrust felt to you.

      When a boyfriend or husband learns this secret, he can behave in a way that’s consistent with how he really feels: That he loves you and doesn’t want you to be afraid of his feelings changing, or as if you can’t trust him to be a reliable partner.

      Patient, empathetic communication between both partners can yield a lifetime of growth and intimacy building.

      And I’d argue it’s not only a spouse’s responsiblity to lift her or his partner up and “educate” her or him (KINDLY) on things they might not understand, but that it’s the ONLY way a marriage could ever survive.

      I apologize if this post and its tone offended you.

      But I felt strongly your comment contradicted my most sacred beliefs about marriage, and combined with immaturity that courses through my veins, prompted the above post.

      I appreciate you taking the time to write a thoughtful response. A lot. Thank you.

  11. Oh, and one more thing, about the combativeness in marriage. I know men don’t like combative tone from a woman, but guess what, I am a woman and I know I can be combative, and other women who share similar quality know this too. In fact I don’t feel bad or ashamed about the combativeness in my personality. The combativeness men can feel from women like myself, I think I could put that in this way, it’s not personal, it’s just part of my personality. Nothing combative in marriage.

    If you ever feel the need to fight to your husband or wife, it’s probably just a projection of your combativeness to the other person. It’s quite common but I guess just like what Matt suggested in this article, this projection would eventually sabotage one’s own marriage. The real comparison is to compare with oneself, so you know where you go wrong and learn to change yourself.

    Thank you again, Matt, for letting me comment here, I do enjoy your articles even when sometimes I don’t agree with some of your points. Again this article regarding to my comment, despite I still don’t agree with some of the points in it, it remains a good article as always.

    And I think I really need to get back to my business now…

  12. I’m glad you wrote back, bonbon2. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. Your take on responsibility is consistent with what you’d find in 12-step recovery, and that’s sometimes difficult for people outside that community to understand. My husband told me he wasn’t happy in our marriage, and I told him it was not my responsibility to make him happy. “Happiness,” as they say, “is an inside job.” I couldn’t have MADE him happy if I tried (just like you can’t MAKE the alcoholic stop drinking). But I could’ve made myself miserable. I had a responsibility to myself not to do that–and to be honest about the fact that I wasn’t going to try b/c that would be bad in the long run for everyone.

    Did that mean I had no responsibilities to my husband? Of course not, and here’s where I agree with Matt. In a marriage, you do have the responsibility to shovel. Shoveling includes being honest, creative, unselfish, and responsible, listening, not being abusive, etc. It includes genuinely trying to meet someone halfway, or maybe further. it includes not being a bitch, or a dick. That’s where things get very hard: given our screwy notions of marriage, usually if you draw a boundary and tell someone “that’s not my responsibility,” you’re automatically seen as a bitch or a dick. So figuring out how to put responsibility where it belongs in a way that feels constructive– in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re withdrawing your love– that seems really hard. And absolutely necessary.

    1. Brilliant articles. I think you all contributed to me considering giving my marriage a second chance.

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