Cracking the Code: 7 Ideas That Would Have Saved My Marriage

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Sobbing wives write me all the time, desperate for answers. “I just read your posts and cried all the way through. Thank you for understanding me. How is it that you seem to get it but my husband can’t?”

The most frequently asked question I get is: “How do I get my husband to understand this before it’s too late?” I’ll be extraordinarily wealthy AND save millions of marriages if I ever figure that out.

I’m probably more introspective than the average guy, and certainly more willing to write it all down and share it with strangers. But there’s little difference between me and any of these other guys. By and large, we’re the same. Just ask my ex-wife.

There are exceptions, but most of the time, when a woman on the brink of leaving her husband or who is desperately searching for ways to reconnect with him, lists things he does that make her feel worthless and abandoned, a little bit of shame washes over me because I remember doing some of those same things.

Many readers of this blog think I’m some great guy destined for an amazing relationship someday, and maybe I will have one, but none of them have ever stood in my kitchen and heard me spew hostility toward the woman I vowed before God, her parents, and most people we know, to love and cherish always.

“I love how your way is so perfect and righteous, and my way is bullshit and makes your life miserable all the time,” I more-or-less said during several fights, feigning self-righteousness in a totally immature and belligerent tone. “If you’re so miserable living with me, why don’t you file the fucking papers and go find your new magic husband you’ll love being with so much more than me!”

Which she more-or-less did. I didn’t like it.

I really did love my wife. I don’t just say that. So I’m confused about why I was capable of being such a dick in those moments.

My point is simply that it’s possible to go from Guy Who Acts Like a Dick and Sucks at Marriage to whatever you think I am now.

I don’t know how to get him there. Because there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

But there are ideas fundamental to relationships and human behavior that I have come to learn over the past four years of immersing myself in this world. Ideas that took me from Guy Who is Just Like the Others, to the guy who occasionally gets marriage proposals (probably not super-serious ones) in blog comments and emails.

These ideas changed my life and, in a cynical world, have given me reason for hope.


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1. Two People Can See, Hear, Feel and Experience the Same Thing and Describe it VERY Differently Without Being Wrong

This is, by far, the most important one. This applies to any two people (Barack Obama thinks this, Ben Carson thinks that, and BOTH men have intelligent, valid conclusions even though they might contradict one another).

In male-female relationships, the most common source of breakage is this dynamic. Husband does X. It hurts his wife. She tells him it hurts. He doesn’t take it seriously because if she had done X, he wouldn’t hurt like she is claiming to. His conclusion is that it can’t possibly hurt her, so she’s complaining and being unreasonable about something she’s blowing out of proportion. He chalks it up as something he needn’t take seriously.

It IS possible that she is simply being unreasonable. I account for the fact SOME people are just horrible at being alive. Maybe he married one of those for reasons no sane person could ever explain.

I want to give people credit. If you’re the kind of person who reads things you are reading right now, then you’re the kind of person who I credit as being reasonably smart. Thus, you are unlikely to be the kind of person who would take a marriage commitment so lightly that you’d just marry ANYONE.

You deliberately chose to marry the person you married. Since you’re smart, I think you married another smart person. You didn’t both get dumber and meaner.

In conclusion, you should assume when your partner tells you something that she/he is telling you the truth. Denying the validity of your spouse’s claims will ensure your divorce close to 100-percent of the time.

HONESTLY, GUYS: ACCEPT THAT SHE IS SMART AND MEANS WHAT SHE SAYS, or punch yourself in the face repeatedly for being the dipshit who intentionally married a dumbass.

Until a highly accredited doctor at an insane asylum admits your wife, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by just believing things she tells you.

The only way to do that is to also accept that when X happens, how you feel about it and how she feels about it may not always be the same, but that BOTH can be true.

So when you’re driving home from the party, and she tells you how it made her feel shitty when you made a joke in front of all your mutual friends at her expense, the appropriate response is a sincere apology, a respectful request for an explanation as to how and why, and a pledge moving forward to never intentionally make her feel that way again.

It’s NOT: “Oh, lighten up! We were all just having fun. Everyone was laughing! You obviously can’t take a joke!”

Taking the leap of faith that you’re both fighting about two different things, and then recognizing when it’s happening so you don’t continue the pointless, unsolvable conflict? That will do more to strengthen your relationship than almost anything else, because all the positive dominoes start falling from there.

2. You Cannot Feel Happy Without First Feeling Grateful

Appreciating all of the good things in your life—even when bad things happen—is the only way to consistently feel good. Just ask every rich and famous suicidal person, ever.

People get REALLY annoyed about this. “Stop telling me to look on the bright side! I just want to feel angry!”

Really? You WANT to feel shitty? Like, that’s your goal? Right.

I operate with the assumption that the vast, vast, vast majority of people prefer life when things feel good more than when things feel bad. The foundation for happiness is gratitude.

And so it is true in your relationships.

The foundation for a happy marriage is habitually demonstrating appreciation for the sacrifices our partners make on our behalf.

Every day, find a thing, big or small, and say: Thank you. Start right now.

3. We are Scientifically Wired for Boredom

I used to wonder how Tom Brady could leave Bridget Moynahan or how Hugh Grant could cheat on Elizabeth Hurley, because I find both women painfully attractive.

The answer to why that happens is the same reason you don’t baby your car the way you did when you first bought it, or why even though you felt awesome when you got your big raise at your new job, two years later, you feel just as broke as you did before.

It has a name, and humanity would be wise to get familiar with it: Hedonic adaptation.

It means that your brain adapts to positive changes—new stuff, more money, bigger house, hot girlfriend, great job, etc.—and then you return to the same emotional baseline you usually feel.

You and your spouse WILL, 100-percent, feel boredom toward one another eventually. You are not freaks. There is nothing “wrong” with you. It doesn’t mean you are not “soulmates.” It doesn’t mean you chose wrong because your lovey-dovey, excited feelings didn’t last forever like you hoped they would.

It means you are a normally functioning human being, and your body and brain are doing what EVERYONE’S body and brain does. You are adapting to a previous life change, and it’s “boring.”

This is why we do #4 instead of stick our privates inside of other people’s privates.

4. Love is NOT a Feeling; It’s a Choice

Sometimes you feel happy. Sometimes you feel sad. Sometimes you feel angry. Sometimes you feel afraid. Sometimes you feel confident. Sometimes you feel anxiety.

FEELINGS CHANGE CONSTANTLY. Up and down, side to side, and back around again.

So, when you want to make your marriage work even when you don’t “feel” the same as you did on the day you got engaged and had sex all night afterward, the solution is pretty straightforward: You choose it.

My feelings change. Her feelings change. Sometimes we cannot control our emotions because life is hard, and sometimes unexpected and inconvenient things happen. The only way to make sure our love lasts forever is to deliberately make the choice every morning when we wake up to love our spouses and purposefully demonstrate that love. Some days will be easier than others. But if we both do it every day, our marriage will not end. I’m going to choose it every day.

5. Strong Boundaries are Sexy and Healthy

Develop and cultivate strong boundaries. Understand what boundaries really are and how having them will change your life. Choose to be with other people who have them too. This will benefit you more in the dating phase of your life than your married one, but—you know—better late than never. Demand respect. Be with people who also demand respect. Respect them. Act like it.

6. Wife’s Stories Boring You? Listen Anyway.

Step 1 – Be quiet and listen to your wife or girlfriend tell you her story, or verbalize a problem she’s having. Don’t interrupt unless it’s to ask an engaging question that moves the story forward and demonstrates active listening and mental investment.

Step 2 – Don’t sigh and act disinterested. Don’t ask her whether her story has a point. Don’t behave as if everything she just said was dumb. And for the love of God, DO NOT TRY TO SOLVE HER PROBLEM WITH YOUR MAN-SUGGESTIONS unless she specifically asks for your advice. You’re making a small time investment, like you do when you work out, or like when you save money for retirement. You’re investing in her wellbeing and security. It doesn’t make sense to you that something as seemingly meaningless and passive as sitting there and just listening can make your relationship profoundly strong. But it can, and will, if you can just take a deep breath, and with love and respect, listen.

Step 3 – Enjoy how it feels when your wife respects and appreciates you and tells her mother and friends how great you are, and how it feels when she wants you to ravish her instead of fantasizing about her project partner at work, or the furnace repair guy.

7. Be the Leader

This does not mean “dominate.” This does not mean: Act like you are better or more important than her.

It means:

  • You accept responsibility for the quality of your marriage
  • You accept responsibility for the behavior and “success” of your children
  • You accept responsibility for hurting your wife’s feelings even when you don’t understand how or why it happened
  • You accept the challenge of not repeating those behaviors
  • You do not passively ask your wife to manage the entire household’s calendar and make all decisions about food or weekend activities, only to complain when it doesn’t align with what you want to do
  • You accept responsibility for making her feel sexy and desired, planting the I-Want-To-Have-Sex-With-You Seeds at unexpected times and not just after you ignored her all night and got a sudden hard-on, or worse, only when you’re post-party drunk twice a month

A wife should never cheat on her husband (just as a husband should be vigilantly faithful to his wife). But instead of feeling and exhibiting jealousy and paranoia, or wondering whether she’s looking elsewhere to fill physical or emotional voids, BE THE LEADER.

Accept the challenge to proactively make your wife your life’s focus at the top of your daily priority list.

Then, affairs go away. Emotional insecurity goes away. Resentment and anger and hurt feelings and fighting go away.

In their place, you have two great friends. Two psychologically, emotionally and spiritually balanced parents in position to raise great kids. Two active lovers. Two people who give more to one another than they take for themselves.

We are either people enslaved and victimized by whatever Life does next, or we are people who have a say in the outcome. We have to decide.

Should all marital responsibility fall on men? Of course not.

But could men take the lead in a unified social movement intent on improving the state of marriage—and helping to make it a satisfying, life-giving institution instead of one rife with failure, regret and misery?

I like to think so.

67 thoughts on “Cracking the Code: 7 Ideas That Would Have Saved My Marriage”

  1. Great post, lots of insight. And in some ways, though you are speaking towards the Men, a lot of this isn’t exclusive to them. Us women can look at our own decisions and priorities and meet in the middle with the important man in our life.

    What it really comes down to, for me, as I’m reading this post? Over and over, I hear “partnership” and “shared responsibility”. Sometimes as a wife, it felt like those things were never important to my ex. I am sure I am putting my own spin on things, based on my experiences. But when it comes to what I, personally, grieved in my own marriage, it was the emotional, physical, daily living partner whose absence destroyed my marriage. In a perfect world, trust, once established, perhaps ‘should’ continue. But it’s something that really needs to be maintained, invested in, contributed to.

    Just a few rambles. Always appreciate your insight.

  2. “You and your spouse WILL, 100-percent, feel boredom toward one another eventually. You are not freaks. There is nothing “wrong” with you. It doesn’t mean you are not “soulmates.” It doesn’t mean you chose wrong because your lovey-dovey, excited feelings didn’t last forever like you hoped they would.

    It means you are a normally functioning human being, and your body and brain are doing what EVERYONE’S body and brain does. You are adapting to a previous life change, and it’s “boring.”

    This is why we do #4 instead of stick our privates inside of other people’s privates.”

    This is brilliant! Boring is normal. A LOT of people do not get this!

    1. Yes! But many adults don’t know this (because it’s not sexy enough for the media portrayals, and/or because their family of origin never modeled this).
      I think it’s brilliant that these words are being written down and shared and normalized so that this info can get out there!
      (Hahaha keep your privates out of other peoples and turn back to your partner)
      Great post. Thanks.

  3. I get so much from your posts. We did a lot of therapy; not much helped until I came across Terry Real and his RLT approach.
    You make sense and so does he.

  4. Amazing Matt, simply amazing. While you see yourself as an average guy, you are certainly able to write un-average things that resonate with many people.
    Keep going…you are lifesaver to many of us.

  5. “HONESTLY, GUYS: ACCEPT THAT SHE IS SMART AND MEANS WHAT SHE SAYS, or punch yourself in the face repeatedly for being the dipshit who intentionally married a dumbass.”

    Ha! This was great, Matt. A bit of humility goes a long way, regardless of gender. If we believe we’re married to a moron, well, who’s the moron who married him? Maybe he’s our intended soul mate? I pondered that one a few times. 🙂

    There’s often a bit of gender difference going on there, however. Women will do that, we’ll ask ourselves if maybe we just deserve to be with a total jerk? We do not deserve that, but at least we’ll ask the question. Men are more likely to just have that sense of entitlement that demands women simply recognize how awesome they are. The thing is, what makes men awesome in our eyes is when they actually listen to us. It really is that simple.

  6. Obviously you are writing this directed at men because you are one and that’s the only perspective you can really have, but I hope your female readers are taking all of this advice on board as well because we are hardly saints and are usually guilty of the same offenses in relationships.

    Print. Save forever.

    Thank you.

  7. I love the last point: Be the leader~! We should all be courageous enough to accept our own responsibilities and shares in the relationship. Wonderful post 🙂

  8. This is my first time to read your posts, and I must describe this one as insightful and timely. I want to tell you that hubby and I will have our 60th anniversary in June, and we are incredibly thankful to be able to say this. We’ve have intense challenges, as have all people, and only a few weeks ago, another one assailed us, as I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My husband was devastated, but we are pulling ourselves together for the “detour” that is ahead of us. Blessings to you and your work.

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  11. Thank you for the boundaries link! Mark Manson’s article was amazing.

    I have procrastinated *all* morning, reading your posts and following the trails (don’t tell my boss!). Your words resonate within me, and offer a chance for some self-reflection and therefore growth.

    Thanks so much! 🙂

  12. Really superbly written. Thank you for putting your words out here. At the end of the day we are all people, regardless of being a man or woman. Gender roles aside, it’s so much healthier when both parties take responsibility for their behavior. I’ve had a very healthy long term relationship that grew apart and an emotionally abusive one. Gratitude, self reflection, boundaries, respect and humor and huge to me. This post reminded me how little my partner listens to me, finds expressing gratitude a waste of time and says that I over-anaylze everything. I also have a blog that explores personal growth, albeit mine is a baby compared to your articulate, polished words. Sending a hug of gratitude and respect your way.

  13. I’ve been trying to write a comment on about 4 of your blogs posts today before deleting them because each time I want to say something different – sometimes about my relationship with my boyfriend, some about how wonderful I think you are for “getting it.” Also, I don’t comment on things, so this is hard.

    But I think you’re right. You’re probably not the amazing person you appear to be in your writing. You’re not the Oprah of relationships and life in general. You’re an average guy, which your About Us page can attest to. You fucked up your marriage. Your wife probably helped fuck it up as well.

    What makes you different is that you’re learning not to be angry, or sad, or completely destroyed by your failed marriage, but to take it as a sucky, but hugely important learning opportunity, and you’re gracious enough to share what you’re learning with the world. Your introspectiveness is guiding men to consider their wives and lovers in another light, and giving women hope and some guidance for them to understand their partners better.

    I’ve never been married, but I hope to one day. These blogs give me food for thought in how I can contribute to making my marriage last and support my future husband in having the same goal. They help me see how my current boyfriend and I can improve our relationship NOW, before there are vows and rings and children and other relationship-changing things.

    You’re a beacon of advice and hope for many, all because you ARE a normal, mistaking-making dude like the rest of us. And I am grateful to you for baring your soul for us so that we may learn along with you.

  14. Very thought-provoking and a lot of this can apply to me as well…..I am a lot more amenable to taking advice from someone who isn’t always telling me what a horrible wife and mother I am… some of the blogs out there…..there’s something much more real about hearing the person admit their own failings in life that makes them more credible…..just got back from an amazing pro-life rally and reading from your blog was an added encouragement. I really liked this one.

  15. Matt, I discovered your blog today and I am obsessed! You need to write a book, and not maybe!

  16. Reblogged this on Real life…. and commented:
    I’m ready more and more blogs about marriage. This guy has really captured my attention after his divorce and NOW sees and shares ways he could have saved his marriage. I’m so grateful for our miracle of re-marriage. We can testify all these things are true….but for us, it took our Lord and Savior to humble us and for us to EACH ask for forgiveness and then HE healed our hearts, our marriage and our family!

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  18. I came across a link to your blog online and love how you write 🙂 It stands out to me that you are a fun, deeper thinker who doesn’t give a damn about growing up to society’s measures as much as I don’t care, either and I love human interaction discussion. It says I’m commenting off WordPress and I’m new to it all although do have a blog on another social platform of many years “friends only” that is writing very like how you do, except you write better. Dammit lol. I keep learning. I’d love to blog share, if you ever fancy a chat sometime 🙂

    1. This is all insanely distracting right now. But please don’t hesitate to reach out if and when you feel like it.

      1. LiveJournal is my regular blog if you have an account there. Beyond that, I’m a pretty open book and happy to add via facebook. I just stumbled across you today over the miles and felt a sense we could be good friends. You are a rare type of person I even find online these days with a passion for blogging and document the human experience of life as I do.

  19. Grow a pair and sleep with her mom or sister. Whoever looks better and would make her feel more inadequate. Then leave dishes all over the place. Basically that’s all she’s done to you… Make you feel like less than a person. You know when women do that is when they’re sleeping with other men? They do it all the time. Well good luck to you and hope you find some one who doesn’t personify glasses by a sink. It’s really childish.

  20. Matt, you’re awesome. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the manosphere, but that is where some of your critics are coming from. Don’t take them personally, their capacity for self reflection is rather limited. Downright cognitively impaired and emotionally stunted actually.

    1. Hey. Thank you. Yeah, the red pill posse isn’t hard to spot. Other than really selfish, manipulative and dishonest behavior designed to manipulate and lure women into bed, I don’t have a huge problem with them.

      I mean, they’re obviously childish name-calling dicks, but sometimes I am too.

      But I don’t have a fundamental problem with people who choose to stay single. For any reason. Whatever.

      But, IF the goal is successful marriage or staying married? I’ll take the Pepsi challenge whenever.

      What I’m saying can help a marriage.

      Some of them will figure it out all by themselves when they’re angry and alone 30 years from now and all their “game” is little more than Uncle Rico high school football daydreams.

      Thanks for peeking in.

  21. Point 4 is essentially taught in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 in the Bible and point 7 is dangerously close to what the Bible tells husbands to do in places such as (but not limited to) Ephesians 5.

    It always delights me when people implicitly validate the truth of the Bible 🙂

  22. Married for 25 years, my husband and I are still figuring this out! As we became empty nesters, we suddenly found issues popping up that we had probably put on hold for 20 years. Also, when you don’t have five small children to care for, it’s much easier to think about whether or not you should really still be in the relationship.

    As one woman commented when I shared your article about leaving dirty dishes on the counter, “This should be required reading for all young couples.” I would leave out the young and just say all couples.

    While your insides are accurate and astonishing, I’ll be curious to hear, in the future. how well they transition to your actual life in your new and inevitable relationship! Best wishes to you, I’ll be an avid reader and ensure that my friends are as well.

  23. Married for 25 years, my husband and I are still figuring this out! As we became empty nesters, we suddenly found issues popping up that we had probably put on hold for 20 years. Also, when you don’t have five small children to care for, it’s much easier to think about whether or not you should really still be in the relationship.

    As one woman commented when I shared your article about leaving dirty dishes on the counter, “This should be required reading for all young couples.” I would leave out the young and just say all couples.

    While your insights are astonishingly accurate, I’ll be curious to hear, in the future. how well they transition to your actual life in your new and inevitable relationship! Best wishes to you, I’ll be an avid reader and ensure that my friends are as well.

  24. Dear Matt,

    Thank you for writing. It’s refreshing to hear this from the husband’s point of view.

    Have you written anything on “meanness”? Sometimes my husband is just plain mean. Today, he asked me a question about finances and when he didn’t like my answer (which was actually a request to clarify), he flew off the handle and stormed off. He does this all the time. And then he tries to guilt trip me, telling me I don’t care about X (this time his family). I have never felt like such an awful person as I do when he says these things. Although I have a good relationship with his family members (I plan special activities for his nieces every visit, last weekend we took them skiing for an entire weekend), he makes me feel like I am a selfish, awful person to them. I feel like such an outsider because of him, but that’s another topic.

    My husband and I went away for a weekend, and all weekend, he really tried to be nice, but I could sense him biting his tongue and restraining himself from expressing his annoyance, frustration, etc. towards me. It felt really tense at times. Sometimes other people (my mom, his dad) do things he doesn’t like, and he gets annoyed at me because their actions remind him of me. So I’m just trying to say that he’s very often frustrated with me, even when I’m not actually doing anything. Whether he’s visibly restraining himself or unleashing some biting remarks, his underlying feelings towards me make me unbearably sad. I’m always one wrong move from pissing him off, whether he verbally expresses it or not. I don’t want to “control” his negative feelings; I just wish he didn’t have them so much. Obviously, you can’t make someone feel something they don’t. After this happens, I try to give him some time to cool down and then explain to him how it hurts me, but he refuses to see it and usually says something meaner that makes it worse. He will only say sorry if I ask, usually without even looking at me, which doesn’t feel very genuine.

    My husband is not like this all the time. Other times, he’s very charming and funny, even to me. It’s so confusing when we are cuddling in bed in the morning and then he flips out three hours later. Thank you for reading and do you have any advice? I want a family and a life with him, but this emotional roller coaster ride is unbearable.

    Thank you!

    1. This is called emotional abuse, not “meanness.” Get yourself some help, because he’s not going to give you support or love ever. He wants someone to look down on and control and he’s found that in you.
      Please, PLEASE get help. He won’t go with you to therapy, but you should go. I’ve had friends in this spot and it’s not going to change. You have to look out for yourself.
      Also, think about leaving him. He’ll make you feel like you can’t do anything without him (the cycle of abuse) but you can. You can do anything.

    2. Suzette Hadin-Elgin wrote several books about verbal and emotional abuse, and it’s progression to physical abuse, how to recognize it and the different types, and that it is about power, and that the person doing it has what to them is a satisfactory and emotionally rewarding set of behaviors. She is well known for her series” The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense”. My favorite is one of the latest and most clearly developed,
      ” You Can’t SAY That To Me”

  25. HappilyNeverAfter

    Matt – or anyone: I too am divorced, and I’m not even sure why, as I tried to do everything that you’ve mentioned, or that I could think of, along the way. I even thought I was doing them all pretty successfully over our 10 years together. Except maybe for one thing, and it seems that it may be women’s cardinal sin, since you wrote it in BOTH Capitals and Bold type. I doubt that this was the cause of her deteriorating behavior towards me, but I’m still interested in others’ take on this particular thing. Ok, here goes, but first, a little background:

    I solve problems. I’m a machinist and a woodworker, and a “live sound” engineer for bands. I also have a Masters degree in Psychology, for whatever that’s worth (monetarily, nothing; relationship-wise, nothing too, apparently). I’ve always had a “gift” for pretty immediately being able to size up a problem and see a solution to it. It makes me good at my job(s), which are all, of course, an endless series of problem-solving, and friends have asked for and (I hope) benefited from my advice all my life. I just seem to see answers. Problem-solving comes naturally to me. It’s what I do. To a general extent, I think this is also the natural state for most men. All of our working lives we are tasked with problems and asked to solve them. To whatever extent we are good at it defines how far we go in our careers.

    You said, above, “And for the love of God, DO NOT TRY TO SOLVE HER PROBLEM WITH YOUR MAN-SUGGESTIONS unless she specifically asks for your advice.”

    And my question is: “Why don’t women understand that that’s the way we are ‘built’ (one might even make the case that we are genetically selected for it through our entire evolutionary process), then trained even further for it, and our competency judged, all of our lives, on our ability to do so?”

    I’m clearly not the first guy to fall victim to “hearing a problem” when she is talking to us and, because we love her and want her to NOT HAVE this problem, we offer a solution – and get shit on for doing so? I am not the first guy to think (maybe even subliminally) “If she’s telling me about this thing, then she would certainly like my seeing a solution for it.”
    This is apparently WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!

    But WHY?

    When I (occasionally) sit around a bar table with friends after work, and if I or one of us says, “Y’know, my car has been losing power for no reason every once in awhile. I just can’t figure it,” – well, YOU KNOW DAMN WELL that we would LOVE to have one of us say, “Oh sure – that happened to me once, and it turned out to be_________.”

    It would never, never, NEVER occur to any one of us that our friend was just talking “to be understood,” or whatever-the-hell seems to be the point of NOT offering a solution to a woman. We offer solutions BECAUSE WE CARE, and because we have been trained and judged by our friends, bosses, and Evolution Itself to do so.That is HOW WE PROVE OUR WORTH, for crissakes. It is THE SOURCE OF OUR SELF-ESTEEM. We are PROUD when we solve a problem, and maybe even a little ashamed when we have to take that damned thing to a MECHANIC, because we couldn’t fix it OURSELVES.

    Maybe, just maybe, instead of expecting us to hold our breath at the end of each sentence, waiting for her to say, “I am not just talking this time; this is an actual problem that I would like your help solving,” … maybe our gal could just let us say what we would say to any MALE friend, smile inwardly that we care for her and want her to be happy (that is, “problem-free”!), and be thankful for our love and concern.

    But a word of warning: If you take Matt’s probably-excellent advice, and you’re standing there waiting to see if she is just talking this time, or is actually going to ask you for your advice, don’t pause TOO long, or you may hear, “Are you listening to me?”

    1. It’s not only men!
      As a woman, I’ve been de friended because I’ve offered ideas or solutions to a woman friend (man friend, too!).
      I’ve come up with several rationalizations: – It’s “their homework” , and They are the ones that get the satisfaction for working through it,
      -the talking relieves emotional pressure/ balances their energy a little better so that both sides of the brain can work, …together.
      – in the movie “Good Will Hunting”, Minnie says to Matt, when he hands her the solution to a homework problem, ” You know It is actually important that I learn this”
      -When dealing with little kids, they don’t “feel heard” ( therefore don’t settle/ calm) unless their volume and emotional intensity are matched by the responder….

      Well, …. any of that resonate?

      1. HappilyNeverAfter

        The “Good Will Hunting” reference does make sense – except for the part of getting mad when the man offers a solution, since that is 100% alien to us. As you recall, Minnie didn’t blow up when Will did that – she cheerfully and even humorously explained her reasoning to him. In essence, she sort of “solved that problem” for him. Must’ve been a male screenplay-writer, I suppose… 😉

    2. So, basically, she should change how she reacts and views the world so you don’t have to change at all? Why can’t you smile inwardly and be glad she came to you for emotional support, instead of some other guy?

      1. HappilyNeverAfter

        My point being that it’s unfair to criticize the guy for something he does as normally and innocently as breathing. To the (irrational?) extent that expecting the man to listen to her go on about something and her expect him to just say, “Oh.” at the end of it, yes – I think that that’s too weird a thing to expect, and maybe the onus is on her to think “Well what did I really expect out of me bringing up this ‘conversation’ if not a conversation about it?”

      2. Maybe (likely) her idea of a “conversation” isn’t you telling her how to handle her business.
        It’s pretty simple, really.
        If a woman tells you about a problem she’s experiencing AND explicitly asks for your advice on how to solve it, then give her your advice.
        If a woman tells you about a problem she’s experiencing and DOES NOT explicitly ask for your advice, then do not give it.
        If she wanted your advice, she would ask for it. By not asking, she’s telling you she doesn’t want it. And the subtext of your unsolicited advice in that circumstance is that you don’t think she’s capable of solving the problem on her own, so you need to do it for her.
        I’m sure that’s not your intent. I’m sure you only mean to be helpful. But that’s not how it ever comes across, even to men, but especially to women.

        To suggest that it’s irrational and weird that people don’t want unsolicited advice is, well, irrational.

    3. When she gets angry and says “I DON”T WANT YOU TO FIX IT I JUST WANT YOU TO LISTEN!” The effect is SHE gets to discharge/transfer HER unhappiness into her YOU. Then what?

      So what does the caring man do with this poison? Solving the problem isn’t tolerated or likely even possible. Does he go get into a fight? Yell back? Go get drunk or stoned? Go chop wood until he drops? Go find a woman who will listen to him? Who listens to HIM? Here is some good advice a wise man wrote. Do not tell your problems to someone who cannot not fix them. Women used to deal with stuff with other women over coffee. NO ONE person can meet all someone else needs.

    4. I think that both sides (men *and* women) need to understand the other better. I suppose men just have to realize that their approach simply won’t get the desired result. On the other hand, if women could articulate better what they are looking for (explicitly saying “I’m not looking for a solution, but this was bothering me the other day…”), then the guy could back off with his troubleshooting/fix-it approach. The woman probably is well aware of what to do about her problem (that’s the “I don’t want you to fix it” response), but is, in fact, asking for something different. It’s like listening to someone in an abusive relationship, or dealing with substance abuse, and having someone say “why don’t you just leave?” , or “just stop (insert whatever)”. The person on the receiving side of that kind of advice would just think “well, Duh! Of course that’s what I should do, but that’s not what I’m looking for right now”. True, to a guy this is completely confounding, but if it were prefaced with some explanation of what the person was looking for, the guy would 9 times out of 10 say “Oh, OK”.

      1. HappilyNeverAfter

        Your reply is true, as far as it goes – but have you EVER heard a woman preface something by saying, “I’m not looking for a solution, but this was bothering me the other day…”? As I mentioned above in another reply, it just seems totally unreasonable to expect the man to listen to her go on about something, and for her to expect him to just say, “Oh.” at the end of it. I think that that’s too weird a thing to expect, and maybe the onus is on her to think “Well what did I really expect out of me bringing up this ‘conversation’ if not to have a conversation about it?”

        I’m apparently missing some valuable understanding of how to have a (two-sided) conversation about a problem that doesn’t actually involve the problem…

  26. Thank-you for your candor. It really makes a difference to some of those who read. And therefore it makes a difference in the world at large.

  27. So good.

    “The queens code” by alison armstrong is a great place explore.. mutually respectful partnerships.

    Love your work.


  28. Hi Matt,

    I found your “dirty dishes” post on a friend’s Facebook page. I was impressed with this post for several reasons:

    -Firstly it was very well written (which as a writer is very important to me)
    -Secondly, and so much more importantly, it sounds like you have done so much self-reflection, and growth. I love how your insights showed how much more you now understand the needs of a wife (to feel respected and loved and safe) and mostly I like how you were able to detach your ego from the whole process, admit your shortcomings and realise that sometimes needing to be right is less important than looking at the issue from another’s perspective.

    I commend you for your journey. And I hope that you find everlasting love in the future which both parties fiercely fight for, nurture and respect.

    Thank you x

  29. That Squirrel Again

    I’m still stuck on the part where it’s taken as a given that people have time to get a buzz on twice a week.

    My wife and I split a six-pack of beer that lasts us the better part of a month, maybe a cheap bottle of wine every six weeks or so, and it makes us feel like Keith Richards in ’72.

    1. Ha! Made me laugh. Didn’t I write twice a month?

      In either case, twice a week would probably do most of us a lot of good.

      We are an uptight bunch.

  30. You are a gifted writer and a amazing divorced husband. Sorry that we have to learn through your pain and mistakes. However, your children will benefit from all of your nuggets. I don’t usually read blogs or respond BUT I had to! I LOVED this post and it made me smile, frown, belly laugh out loud BUT as a wife…THINK of what I need to be doing better as well. Thank you for sharing so candidly!

  31. I am so thankful for these thought provoking posts for both my behalf and my fiancé’s. We have been reading these periodically together, or filling each other in on what we feel would benefit us the most. Thank you for helping those of us who haven’t quite figured out the whole “working together in a forever relationship” yet. You’re inspiring us to show each other more of our love than just saying “I love you”.

  32. Pingback: Cracking the Code: 7 Ideas That Would Have Saved My Marriage – Diary of a Terrible Wife

  33. Very insightful. As a woman, I really appreciate that you said people can look at the exact same situation and see it differently. Empathy definitely helps. But we also engage in mind reading. We dont know 100% what another person is thinking and it does little good to guess. Best to ask them straight out.

  34. #1 killed one of my friendships. This applies to all close relationships. I see this event as this way, you see this situation in another way. Both ways are true, and if you discuss it like adults, the issue can be resolved!

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  38. “We are Scientifically Wired for Boredom”

    Actually, hedonic adaptation could be more accurately described by saying “We are designed to accept our most recently frequent states as the norm.” In other words, we learn to accept a high-pleasure state as normal if it occurs often enough, and we learn to accept an extremely unpleasant state as normal if it occurs often enough.

    If a football player is the MVP at the Super Bowl every year, it gets less exciting each time because it naturally becomes perceived as normal. If a person develops extreme fibromyalgia and experiences constant pain, it gets more bearable over time because it naturally becomes perceived as normal.

    How does this relate to the post? First, you should choose to love and continue forward in a marriage when you no longer feel constant excitement. Losing that excitement is the normal human response.

    But how do you respond if and when your marriage gets to a tough, difficult spot? Choosing to love and continue forward will likely result in you being happy within five years. Yes, at the time it will be painful, but hedonic adaptation will help you get through it.

    Note: The results of a study of unhappy marriages support this:
    1. Spouses in a really bad marriage tend to separate. But among those bad marriages in which the spouses stayed together, two out of three reported that their marriages were “happy” five years later.
    2. Among those who rated their marriages as “very unhappy,” 80% of those who stuck it out reported themselves as happily married five years later.
    Report: Linda Waite, et al., “Does divorce make people happy? Findings from a study of unhappy marriages,” Institute for American Values, at: Link

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