She Feels Like Your Mom and Doesn’t Want to Bang You

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angry mom and son

Your mom probably doesn’t want to have sex with you.

I work hard at not judging. Glass houses and whatnot. But that’s a good thing, right? Your mom not wanting to sleep with you? Because, ew?

I don’t know to what extent incestuous relationships’ taboo classification is a byproduct of biological trial-and-error and documented birth defects, or is something culturally driven, and everyone just sort of looked around at one another and agreed: “Yeah, not banging family members sounds like a good rule! I’m on board! Shouldn’t be a problem because I just naturally don’t want to anyway! Because, ew!”

The reason isn’t important.

But for your marriage’s sake, being aware of this general reality is helpful. Because no matter how many times you sarcastically remind your wife that she’s not your mother and you wish she’d stop acting like it, she often feels like your mother.

This is bad for your sex life.

And, gone unchecked, a precursor to the death of your marriage.

What I Meant To Say…

You may be aware of this, and are already super-sick of hearing about it (just like I am), but I wrote a post called She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink which several million people read. Depending on who you ask, I’m either a genius who saves marriages, or a huge pussy whose wife actually left—not because of dishes—but because I’m a huge pussy.

A bunch of guys developed heartburn over a particular passage, and even though close to 100-percent of them will never read this, I’ll selfishly feel better having addressed—and hopefully, clarified—my stance.


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From the “dishes” post:

“But I remember my wife often saying how exhausting it was for her to have to tell me what to do all the time. It’s why the sexiest thing a man can say to his partner is ‘I got this,’ and then take care of whatever needs taken care of.

“I always reasoned: ‘If you just tell me what you want me to do, I’ll gladly do it.’

“But she didn’t want to be my mother. She wanted to be my partner, and she wanted me to apply all of my intelligence and learning capabilities to the logistics of managing our lives and household.

“She wanted me to figure out all of the things that need done, and devise my own method of task management.

“I wish I could remember what seemed so unreasonable to me about that at the time.”

A Closer Look

“But I remember my wife often saying how exhausting it was for her to have to tell me what to do all the time. It’s why the sexiest thing a man can say to his partner is ‘I got this,’ and then take care of whatever needs taken care of.”

This does NOT mean, every day of my life, my wife bossed me around. It does not mean I awaited her daily instruction on how I could be her little man-servant and cater to her every whim.

I don’t write sentences expecting millions of strangers to read them and not know what I’m talking about.

Here’s what it does mean, specifically:

My wife was awesome about keeping the house clean and organized. She ALWAYS did—hell, I don’t know—65- or 70-ish percent of every house chore (dating back to a couple of apartments I lived in alone when we first got together).

Like so many adults today, we both grew up watching our moms do most of the housework while our dads went off to work and mostly stuck to “man chores” like mowing grass, shoveling snow, sanding and staining decks, cleaning the gutters, taking out the trash, etc.

Because I wasn’t as self-aware in my youth as I am now, I didn’t identify the imbalanced workload.

But here’s the key part: My wife—usually on Saturday mornings—wanted to clean the house. I would have been happy to wait an extra week or two because I don’t like cleaning in the same way you don’t want to bang your parents. But I wasn’t going to sit around watching SportsCenter while my wife scrubbed toilets, and vacuumed floors, and dusted furniture, and wiped down bathroom vanities. Even I’m not THAT big of an asshole.

And the second key part: We brought our baby boy home from the hospital and if you’re anything like me, it was VERY surreal and every minute afterward for several months, you’re like: “What the hell do I do now?”

But my wife wasn’t like me at all. She talked to lots of other moms and prepared herself for some of the challenges of caring for newborns. She read the baby books. The ones Seth Rogan didn’t want to read in Knocked Up. The ones I didn’t read, either.

“I always reasoned: ‘If you just tell me what you want me to do, I’ll gladly do it.’”

I wasn’t asking my wife to boss me around.

I was asking my wife to HELP ME help her. Read that sentence again, guys. I wanted to help my wife. I did. But instead of actually being helpful, I put the burden of responsibility on her to manage her life, our baby’s life, AND my life. It was the most stressful time physically, psychologically, and emotionally my wife had ever been through. The health and wellbeing of her and my little son rested entirely on her being the best mother possible. And instead of putting in the work to support those efforts the best I could, I totally abandoned her to do all the “baby work” alone, while I sat around daydreaming of the future when I would be throwing the football around with him in the backyard.

We totally do that now too. My little son and I. It’s great.

But instead of mom watching from the deck with a drink and a smile, she has a new mailing address.

Generalization Police, Beware!

Many sons grow up hero-worshipping, or at least modeling behavior after, their fathers. Dad watches sports on TV, and does “man chores,” and probably makes most of the money.

Mom cleans and folds their clothes, vacuums their bedroom, replenishes the refrigerator and pantry, cleans their pubic hairs from showers, washes dishes after dinner, and packs lunches.

But mom has an even-harder job.

Mom manages the schedule for EVERYONE in her family. Not just for herself, but for her children’s school, medical and extracurricular needs; her pet’s veterinarian appointments, and her husband’s stuff, too.

It’s HARD to be an adult.

I’ve lived alone about three years now with a young child in grade school there half the time. IT. IS. HARD.

Keeping track of what he needs every day, and for coming school days, and managing my calendar to make sure I’m where I need to be on his behalf. Taking care of his needs alone just half the time, combined with managing my house alone is EASILY the most mentally challenging and taxing work I have ever done, and there is no close second-place thing. And I don’t keep the place 80-percent as nice as it was when my ex-wife lived there. Still quite challenging.

Sons too often grow up this way and end up woefully ill-prepared for adulthood or marriage. It’s bad.

“But she didn’t want to be my mother. She wanted to be my partner, and she wanted me to apply all of my intelligence and learning capabilities to the logistics of managing our lives and household.

“She wanted me to figure out all of the things that need done, and devise my own method of task management.

“I wish I could remember what seemed so unreasonable to me about that at the time.”

Hopefully you get it now.

She felt like my mom because I never took the initiative to identify the needs of our son nor the needs of the household, and then set up whatever personal system I needed in order to take care of stuff. I just derpy-derped around all the time as if me not saying or doing anything would make life tasks magically disappear.

Combine those maternal feelings with a little bit of resentment and a little bit of boredom due to hedonic adaptation, and you’ve just prepared to perfection the She Doesn’t Want to Have Sex with You casserole with a side of You’re Kind of an Asshole gravy.

It might seem hard to believe a man could go through many years of marriage hearing his wife tell him about how exhausting this dynamic is for her, and how much it upsets her, and STILL not get it.

But I’m relatively smart.

And that’s precisely how I experienced it. So I know it can, and does, happen.

But maybe with the help of a Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure visual aid, it won’t have to happen to you.

It’s your mom, dude.


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172 thoughts on “She Feels Like Your Mom and Doesn’t Want to Bang You”

  1. Yes! Especially women who already have a child (as in a little person, not a half-grown man), we do not want to do the shit that you can do for yourselves, nor do we want to remind you 1000 times about it. Make a routine, just like you have to brush your teeth and change your underwear everyday, add a few more chores onto that. It’s simple. Love your blog. Love the post about the dishes, though I am guilty of the ‘dish leaving’ too – again, metaphorical dish leaving, not actual, for those out there that don’t get it. It made me want to work on myself too.

    1. I’ve said it several times AND stole it from a song lyric “I don’t feel it ’til it hurts, sometimes.”

      And there’s evidence human beings operate that way about many, many things–not just relationships.

      We take things for granted and forget to put the most energy into the most important stuff.

      We need to take responsibility for ourselves to NOT do that.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. It’s appreciated.

    2. I’ve always said, if I wanted to take care of a child, then I would have one, not date one.

      Doesn’t mean I haven’t had my share of assholes, but at least I never had to play ‘mommy’ to any of them.

  2. This is soooooo damn true….I’m so thankful I have a second chance with my current ex-wife, to win her back and be the man I am and the one she needed me to be. Keep up the good work…there are guy’s who will get this and wake up.

    1. Thank you, Kevin. These are my favorite kinds of comments, and make all the unpleasant aspects of writing these things worth it.

    1. I agree with Lindsey. And I’ve already noticed that you’ve had this comment before and are considering just such a project. I’m quite interested in seeing in future what happens with that!

      1. Yes I ALSO agree. It’s too late for my marriage but there is a tiny part of me that hopes there might be another guy out there somewhere that would magically be compatible enough with me AND have an idea of how this works. Likelihood is slim, which is okay by me but I do still have that slim hope. What would be REALLY great is something along the lines of a “before you get married” book.

        1. In a perfect world, a young person, pre-marriage, would learn what I learned and never break his relationship in the first place. I agree.

          The current book project is based on the Open Letter to Shitty Husbands posts, and I’m writing new stuff around each of the ideas tackled in each of them.

          If I’m honest with myself and you (and I am), I can’t say I would have ever read a non-fiction relationship book when I was in my late teens or early 20s.

          My wife tried to get me to read “Men are From Mars…” and “The 5 Love Languages” long before I knew our marriage was in jeopardy, and I just… didn’t.

          And I wonder sometimes if I had, whether it would have even made a difference.

          We believe what we want to believe.

          The various reactions to that “dishes” post is evidence enough of that for me.

          But I think it’s a great idea. And maybe inspiration will strike and I’ll think of a creative way to do so for a second book.

          And I really appreciate your encouragement and the implication that you believe it could help people have better relationships.

          That’s the entire point, and it never gets old when people say so.

          Thank you!

          1. Hey Matt,

            I’m reading a lot of your posts from the perspective of training my sons to be good husbands. My husband and I have been married for 21 years and have had challenges, have worked through them and are generally content and happy in our relationship. He has always been willing to change, which is one of the things I have most appreciated about him.

            So much of what you say on your blog resonates with me, and so we are in a learning phase again: I have struggled to find the words to explain how I feel in a way that my husband understands and accepts, so I feel validated and strengthened to address these niggles with my husband. I’m using many of your words and phrases to do this. Thank you.

            The other reason I’m commenting is to plant the seed of an idea, from what I have learnt about effective and loving discipline of children.

            When our eldest was still a baby, I listened to Dr James Dobson teaching that one must look ahead 10 years in forming character and behaviour: if we tolerate something undesirable now, it will not magically disappear in 10 years’ time, and if one wants a certain type of behaviour or attitude in 10 years’ time, one must address and change it now.

            Have you thought of aiming a book at boys and young teens?

            You mention late teens or early 20s: I think it should be younger than that, around 11-15 years.
            If you get them young, then you have more impact in the formation of beliefs.

            There are so many subtle messages aimed at young kids idealising romance and the male and female roles in relationships.
            We need books that are aimed at pre- and early teens to shape realistic, constructive thought patterns that will produce good husbands.

            We need the nitty-gritty, broken down ideas of the big words to teach them the hows and whys of successful relationships.

            We need people like you to give us the words to teach our boys to understand women.

            Keep on doing what you’re doing, Matt. It makes a difference.

      2. I think you’re probably correct in that, that young people might not read books like these. However, don’t discount it too soon. I’m not young but I can tell you right now if I ever decide to take the leap again, the man better have a really good grasp on this stuff. Books (especially written by a man) are a great way to do this, since I found myself unable to articulate this kind of stuff for the decade I was married.

        Also, don’t forget that lots of people before they get married, do pre-marital counseling at which point they often will read things like this.

    2. Thank you, Lindsey. I’ve been working on one for a long time, but it’s the thing that always gets pushed off in favor of full-time jobs, side-business startups, parenting duties, random life happenings, and at the end of most days, mental exhaustion.

      I have several thousand words written to supplement some existing blog content here.

      It will be a really gratifying feeling to see a finished product, so I hope whatever needs to happen in my brain to get me to put in a little more work every day to wrap it up, will happen.

      What I’m afraid I need to do, is simply move it up the priority ladder, and neglect other things.

      Never enough hours in the day, you know. 🙂

  3. It’s the implementation of “derpy-derped” as a verb that I most appreciated. Because, yes.
    (And maybe, when my mother-in-law’s boyfriend grabs the broom after dinner to sweep up under the table, I say, “That is the hottest thing.” I mean, maybe I don’t say that, because it’s almost as creepy as your title. But maybe I do.)

    1. Creepy!?

      I was going for funny. #didn’twork

      “Derpy-derping” is a thing that people do. We should write it more, I think.

  4. I wish I would have stumble upon this blog 3 years ago, your testimony fits me to a T. I only hope that I have not ventured into the point of no return or forgiveness. Keep the lessons coming.

    1. I appreciate this, K.

      I don’t like the word “lessons” because I don’t think of myself as being some wise and all-knowing whatever.

      I’m just a divorced guy whose ex-wife still occasionally gets frustrated over the EXACT same things she occasionally got frustrated over during our marriage.

      Batting 0-1 in marriage attempts.

      That said, there’s probably something to be gained for all the people who can identify with the same stories (as you said you did), and I like the idea of other people benefitting in some way from my mistakes.

      That means it wasn’t in vain.

      That means, all the really horrible days could end up being worth it.

      So, thank you. Very much.

  5. Thank you, yes!
    It’s easy for me to climb around my head and heart to see the ways I helped end my marriage.
    But my ex’s contributions? It’s hard for me to see past his general inability to “man-up” and even if I could, I don’t know the specifics. Your posts give me an idea to what experiences a man might share if he had the insight and the balls to say it out loud.
    Thank you for yours.

    1. And thank you for reading.

      One of the great takeaways from my divorce and all of this writing is that I will either spend the rest of my life alone, or be with someone who is willing to think about life the way we talk about it here, and demonstrates a desire to grow and to practice kindness, even when it’s inconvenient.

      I hope other people will do that too.

      STRONG boundaries. No compromises on core values. Lots of compromise on everything else.

  6. Oddly enough my mother in law DID actually tell me that she would fuck my husband if I wouldn’t. Cue first sign to run for the hills. I didn’t run though, I stayed and my husband has exhibited every asshole behavior known to man as everyone around him facilitated it and I tried to hold it all together. My love goggles have been removed though and I see him fully for the person he is. I love reading your blog and daydreaming about him happening upon it and having a revelation but I know that regardless of any realization, there has already been too much damage to our marriage. What I find in your blog is validation that I am not crazy, hope that there will be someone out there who actually wants to proactively participate in a relationship and comfort in the decision I am making to leave him. Thank you for your insight.

    1. When I first read this comment, I made the assumption you were talking about your own mother (HIS mother-in-law).

      But upon re-reading it, it appears your husband’s mother told you that she would sleep with her own son if she felt you were not doing an adequte job.

      I don’t really have anything else to say about that.

      Divorce is hard. I think even when marriages are really bad, divorce is hard. So if your’s is inevitable, I do wish you as peaceful of a process as possible, and that you feel healed and whole sooner rather than later.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  7. Reblogged this on For better, For worse, Forever and commented:
    I’ve been following this guy, Matt, over at his blog “Must Be This Tall to Ride”. He recently wrote an article, “She Left Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink,” which is what hooked me to follow his blog in the first place. In this article “She Feels Like Your Mom and Doesn’t Want to Bang You,” Matt elaborates on a particular portion of that first blog that has resonated with me as a terribly indecisive person. If you’re not taking steps to be actively involved in decision-making and doing things around the house without being asked then your spouse becomes your parent.

  8. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I wish all men would read this – I have left my husband as I am fed up of taking all the responsibility and feeling like his mother….and I don’t want to sleep with someone who feels like my son!

  9. This totally makes sense when I apply it to my first marriage. He was a good man and we could have had a great marriage, but this exact thing happened. It seemed like I was the only one taking care of anything. Eventually I developed resentment. I knew that if I didn’t take care of the house, the kid, the bills, the daily chores, nothing would happen. And it got to the point where I was disgusted when he tried to have sex…..and I’m a sex fiend! We both worked, the same sort of job. I did feel like I was his mom, hence at least one of the reasons we divorced.

    1. Right. I think there are some core marriage dynamics that cause the vast majority of divorce. I also think the vast majority of affairs begin because of the same dynamics.

      This concept of forcing your wife into a maternal role of sorts is clearly one of them. Sometimes, it will even be tolerated during all of the childless years of a marriage.

      But once children come, and life really gets busy? Then I think the added work and resentment from a husband/father not owning his shit finally boils over.

      Pretty scary how common these stories are. I always try to be encouraged by that, though. Because I like to believe that universal problems have universal solutions.

    1. I’m very sorry you cried.

      I know what that means, in terms of how many times you’ve had “The Talk” with absolutely ZERO positive results.

      I hope you guys can find a way to speak to one another in ways you both understand, and that after doing so, he’ll be able to identify ways he can help make your relationship a great thing for both of you.

  10. First off, I simply cannot argue with what you say in your blog because like so many commenters I am living it. I am not disputing a single thing you have said.

    To respond from the male side, I think today’s men are being asked to “work around” the past 100,000 years of evolution of family roles, whereby men did “man chores” and women, sadly/unfortunately/it-is-what-it-is, were left with “the rest”. I don’t disagree at all that women take on a larger role in managing the household than men… sure there is the odd guy out there who fills that perfect “partner” role in the couple but I’m guessing there are a helluva lot more who fall into the category (hole?) you fell into (and me too). However, and I am prepared to get crucified for this, I do think that women come by a lot of the organizing more naturally than men. They do not hate it. It does not ruin their Saturday morning to clean toilets. It does not seem like a waste of time to her to wash perfectly clean laundry because it’s on the schedule to do the guest room bedding every other Friday. They recognize, without effort, THINGS THAT NEED TO BE DONE. Over the past 3 years or so, since my wife and I split up for six months (a significant contributing factor of the breakup being the exhaustion of her telling me to do things… for both of us), I have been forcing myself to learn to do this… to be proactive, to keep a schedule that includes the kids, her parents (who help with child care), my job commitments, to take on some household chores 100% (I cook, as it turns out much better than her!). But man, it is neither natural to me nor terribly enjoyable. But I am getting better at it. I keep THE LIST on the kitchen counter or table and use it every day. Whereas my job requires that I manage a zillion facets of a 15 million dollar job, I just don’t seem to be able to remember (much less manage) stuff the same way around the house… I wish I could change this but 3 years on and the list is still just as necessary.

    I think there’s a real fundamental difference between men and women. Many men like to derpy-derp. Many women like to organize. I’m sure you can name off at least half a dozen women you know who have spent their married life trying to change the man they married into someone who, well, is MORE LIKE THEMSELVES, and who is miserable because they have failed in this endeavour. I’m sure you CANNOT name half a dozen men who have tried to change their wife into being more relaxed, less stressed out, less anal about stuff like cleaning, what we’re having for dinner on Tuesday, who is picking up Jenni after tennis lessons, all that stuff that WILL actually get done without planning the entire year in 15-minute increments. If by some miracle you can identify these six hapless guys, then I am sure that they have been equally unsuccessful at changing their wives as the six aforementioned women were at changing their husbands.

    What would be useful is if there was a mandatory high school course that educated both boys and girls about these natural traits and the consequences they will have in any relationship… everyone would have a few more tools in their bag, or at least know that the tools exist, going into the unknown that is a long-term relationship.

    At the end of the day it is what it is: Happy Wife, Happy Life.

    1. It makes me weep sometimes, when men like you, who seem well-meaning, express themselves so well and intelligently, and who are so close to getting it, just still don’t.

      “I do think that women come by a lot of the organizing more naturally than men”.
      – NO WE DON’T! We really don’t. It’s just that it’s expected of us, so most of us just buckle up and learn how to do it. After a while, yes, we become good at it.

      “They do not hate it.”
      – Well, we kind of do. Many things about being an adult sucks, and so does organizing and planning everything. But since planning and organising and so on needs to happen, and somehow we have to do it mostly by ourselves, we just learn how to do it and get on with it.

      “It does not ruin their Saturday morning to clean toilets.”
      – Sure it does, at least kind of. It’s not very fun, but it needs to be done, so we do it. Just like people don’t always love their jobs, they still go because they need to provide for themselves and their families. What we hate even more than cleaning the toilets is being the only one who does it (or having to remind other people to do it).

      “They recognize, without effort, THINGS THAT NEED TO BE DONE.”
      – Here comes the point: IT IS NOT EFFORTLESS! IT TAKES EFFORT! It takes a lot of energy, thoughtfulness and mental capacity to be constantly aware of everything. That’s why we’re exhausted. That’s why we want you to share the burden! How can you not understand this? The only reason why it seems effortless is because we’ve done it for so long.

      “I have been forcing myself to learn to do this… to be proactive, to keep a schedule that includes the kids, her parents (who help with child care), my job commitments, to take on some household chores 100% (I cook, as it turns out much better than her!). But man, it is neither natural to me nor terribly enjoyable.”
      – This is exactly how I felt when I had to become responsible for my own, pardon my French, shit. No it’s not enjoyable. No it DID NOT come naturally. I had to LEARN to pick up after myself, to manage my own appointments, plan everything. I had to force myself to develop the discipline to do the dishes regularly, or else they’d pile up. I knew that if I didn’t make an effort with my friends, they wouldn’t make an effort with me in the long run.

      I think, to be frank, a lot of men are coming up against their own unconscious sense of entitlement that they shouldn’t have to do this (because they’re men), that it’s hard etc. That’s why it seems worse, more onerous and difficult for you than your wife. And yes, as of now, you have less practice so it i harder. But when you’re able to do it at work, you’re able to do it at home. If it seems harder, it’s tome to check your conscous/unconscious beliefs (like believeing that running a home shouldn’t be so much WORK, it should just be a home where you can relax), work on optimizing your systems and generally just keep practicing. And if you’ve put in 40 hours a week at work for many years you have more practice there than at home. It makes sense that you know better what to do at your job

      “I think today’s men are being asked to “work around” the past 100,000 years of evolution of family roles, whereby men did “man chores” and women, sadly/unfortunately/it-is-what-it-is, were left with “the rest””.
      – This is largely a myth. Sure, women were pregnant and breast-fed. But in hunter-gatherer times women often brought in (provided!) more of the calaories, and on the farm both men and women worked close to home. Read “The we we never were”.

      And even if you were right (and regarding quite a few decades you are right) I’m sorry, but men as a group should have figured how to do all of this in the 70s or whenever it was women started leaving the home post-war in the West. The information is all there, the books have been written. When women joined the work force, it’s not like someone had to remind us everyday that we need to show up at work, that we need to do our tasks or whatever because it’s just not on our radar as women. Men today in all kinds of professions do not have to daily remind their female colleages to do their jobs, because it’s just so hard for the women because they’re women to remember by themselves. That would be absurd. And it’s just as absurd that men should not be able to learn housework and emotional labour by putting in thought and effort, reading, learning etc.

      Read this thread, or at least part of it, on emotional labour. If you read enough examples, it will open your mind to see that all of this takes effort (and yes, eventually it can become engrained, but it didn’t start that way):

      And let me just say that both men and women have different personalities. Some people hate/enjou housework more than others, some people are more scatterbrained than others no matter their gender etc. And I also know several men who do their fair share, and I know some who do more than their fair share in the home. My mom and her husband are late 50s early 60s. She says he does just as much as her, if not more, and that they really didn’t have much trouble working it out. If a man in his 60s can do this , so can anyone else. Using being a man as an excuse is absurd and misguided.. Some women I know of who were raised by single dads consider themselves in many ways to have an advantage, because they grew up seeing first hand that men were certainly capeable of running a household, planning birthdayparties, buying gifts, keeping track of everyones calenders and activities.

      Have a good day/evening/night everybody.

      1. Geez, if men are so bad at planning and organizing because “evolution” then why do we let them run companies and governments? Surely that is a more difficult task than remembering to do the dishes.
        Agree 100% with Donkey.

        1. haha, exactly, if men can’t look at a home, why do we let they have jobs? especially, mostly the important ones?

      2. Donkey, I see your point(s), and I appreciate the effort you put into your reply… and I will read the article you mentioned. I actually have entirely switched roles with my wife – as of last year I work part-time, I get the kids to school and pick them up, I grocery shop, cook, and clean. Swimming lessons, tae kwon do, piano lessons, plus running my own business, it’s all me. My wife works 50+ hours a week at a high-pressure job. So, I know where you’re coming from as far a “volume of work” and “effort required” is concerned.

        In my post above, I think as much as anything I meant to point out that (some) women seem to have different priority rankings of tasks compared to (some) men. Yes, we need to eat, sleep, bathe, and get where we need to go every day… these are obvious necessities. However, there’s also a TON of “optional” stuff like the guest room linen that just doesn’t need to be done but which somehow gets auto-ranked at priority 100 along with repair faulty brakes on car.. I’d be curious to see how long it would take the train to head over the cliff into the abyss if we assigned pragmatic, fact-based priorities to all of those things that (some) women feel “have to get done”. On my Saturday morning, if the toilet’s not dirty I don’t want to feel guilt-tripped into cleaning it anyway when a perfectly good golf day is slipping by. I use golf as an example, but I don’t play.

        I actually AM one of those guys who does WAY WAY WAY more around the house than my wife or any other guy I know, and I’m okay with it.

        I know it must be frustrating, but men as a demographic are not inherently lazy, or stupid, or even particularly callous or insensitive. Most of us want to please more than anything else, especially those we care for. There’s definitely some irrational thinking going on in a man’s head which goes something like “I’m better off to do nothing than screw it up trying and piss her off again”. Not making excuses, just pointing out that we’re not all out to do the least amount of work possible.

        Have a great night.


        1. I call bs. A grown man of sound mind and is just as able to do chores, run a house and that just as much as woman is. Here’s the thing… I don’t find it fun, rewarding, easy and relaxing or do chores and all the other stuff my hubby thinks I should do, either. But guess what, it’s called being a adult. You have to do basic stuff in your house for it to run! Grow up!

      3. Donkey – I just wanted to say, wholeheartedly – thank you so much for posting that link to the MF thread. It changed my life, and I’m not just saying that. I spent the last several days absorbing it and finally finished yesterday. What a trip. I am not the same person as I was before I started reading.

      4. Very well said and excellent comeback my friend. I agree with everything you have said. I’m so sick of society (female enablers and sexist men) insisting that women are natural planners etc and men don’t see dirt etc. It’s not true at all. No one I see born tidy or messy etc. It Is how that person was raised and want society says the should act like. I’m afraid that girls are still be raised to be mothers and do chores and be educated while their brothers are being raised to have fun and be educated too.

        Most men have jobs where they have to have an array off skills including Time keeping skills, manage workload, multi task and treat communal areas and staff with respect. Funny how they get on with it all of that at work and don’t have someone following them around reminding them what to do or they don’t forget to a Jin do a job or they pretend to be useless there. If they tried to slack at work as they do at home they would get the sack which is why they don’t try that shot there. Yet they don’t transfer any of this workplace knowledge into there homes. At home They pretend to be useless at a chore or do a half assed job or pretend to forget to do it or take a whole day to do one easy chore or will have full on hissy fits with their wives when they ask them to do their share or even do the odd job. It’s pathetic, childish and lazy. No wonder their wives are beyond fed up, tired, resentful and don’t want to Have sex with them.

    2. Several times during my marriage I had asked my ex-husband WHY it made logical sense for him that when I was the stay home parent, I was in charge of EVERYTHING (and even then, there were always those sidelong glances when things were messy or little comments about how the house should be cleaner), but when he was the stay home parent, all he had to do was survive the day and manage to not kill the kids and it was somehow logical and OK that when I came home I would make dinner, wash dishes afterwards, and of course assist him in catching up on chores on the weekend.

      His response was basically (he said it more PC than this, but this is really what he was saying) “You’re better at it than I am, so it’s ok to expect more from you than from me.”

      I just… couldn’t even. How do you come up with any kind of intelligent response to that?? But it MADE SENSE TO HIM. I STILL shake my head to myself thinking about this.

      There is no difference. My ex husband is actually much better at keeping things tidy than I am… I suck at housewifing. Yet it was always my responsibility. And the only reason I did the things was… because I HAD TO. And the honest, honest truth is he DIDN’T do the things because he knew that I would. He knew he could pretend to sleep at night when the baby was crying because I’d get up with them. He knew that I’d make sure the bills got paid. And I’m not saying he’s a bad guy or conniving or anything. He really isn’t some big dumb meanie head. Just… I don’t think he even realized what he was doing.

      It’s a mindset and it has nothing to do with genders or whether you have a penis or vagina.

      So – I have to say… I totally disagree. I think most of this whole “women are better at organizing and babies and all that” is like 99% cultural. Like the original “dishes” post said very eloquently, men are good at stuff. Men are perfectly capable of stuff.

      AND – MATT – you are absolutely correct. I lived this kind of thing for a decade of marriage. And when I asked for divorce, the only thing he said to me was that I’d made him feel emasculated because I didn’t desire him sexually. And – objectively speaking, we are talking about a very attractive man… but his behavior throughout our marriage made me feel very much like he wanted me to mother him, which just absolutely destroyed my desire for him.

      1. Ruralbethany, to your heartfelt thank you, I just wanted to say you’re so very welcome! 🙂 Sending you a virtual hug, if you want it. Hope you didn’t miss this, if you’re interested (I have as of now not joined, but I might):

      2. Hi Donkey – I did join up to Crone Island! But I find that being one more place to check in, I don’t go and the format is a little hard for me. I am considering starting a Facebook group, though, to be honest. I have searched with zero luck for a group or community of women who are likeminded in this way, and haven’t had much luck.

      3. You totally nailed it. These men choose to be lazy and dirty and messy. They have Plenty of stupid reasons why they cannot do chores. They deflect, name call and swear when there wives call them Them out for being lazy pigs etc. They would not dare try any of this shit in their work place,

        My husband of 10 years doesn’t seem to know how to live in a house and has no common sense either I think. For example he doesn’t know how curtains work and won’t ever open them. Or he will use a hand towel as his bath towel. He leaves papers all over the table. He throws clothes on floor. He never fixes any things. He never thinks to look in the fridge to see if we need more food etc. This man says he loves me and will do stuff for me. But he never follows through and never lifts me or plans any thing even on my birthday.

        And yet, For years I have done lots for him without any thanks at all and now I have no expectations of him. I’m actually on strike this week and am visualising life without him once our kids are grown up. There’s no way on earth will I ever live with a man again. I didn’t sign up for looking after a third kid when I got together with him.

    3. Dave, I just want to congratulate us both on remaining civil while discussing this.

      “I know it must be frustrating, but men as a demographic are not inherently lazy, or stupid, or even particularly callous or insensitive”. I agree. Like Matt says, men are very capeable of all kinds of things. That’s why there’s no reason for men (or women!) to not do their fair share.

      I agree that many people have to high standards, and that people would benefit from considering what they could cut out, cut down on etc. I certainly have! One thing though, it’s probably easier for a lot of men to do this, because they haven’t had to face all the cultural indoctrination of how a house should look like, they don’t have to face getting blamed if the family ties aren’t tight enough, if thank you cards aren’t sent etc. And some things can probably be dropped, but some things, even if you don’t think they’re important they probably are, it’s just that you haven’t learned to value it and face the consequences if they don’t happen. Maybe you think hosting/visitng/calling/sending cards to friends/parents/in-laws is a drag and you should just cut it out. But consider how important it is for kids to know some other people, to learn how to care for relationships, to have other family who loves them.

      I get that you don’t want to scrub toilets when they’re not dirty. Maybe in this case you can decide to do it less often, while still remaining a routine. I think that’s so important for the spouse who has felt that he or she is the one who has to stay on top of things. If they know that by a decided and agreed upon time the toilets will be cleaned, they can relax and maybe also accept a lower frequency. Because if you say, well they’re not dirty so I won’t clean them, the other person thinks “WELL WHEN WILL YOU CLEAN THEM THEN?! I WILL I HAVE TO REMIND AND NAG YOU YET AGAIN ON TOP OF THE 1000 OTHER THINGS I NEED TO KEEP TRACK OF AND THAT’S JUST UNTIL WEDNESDAY WHEN ALL HELL WILL SURELY BREAK LOOSE BECAUSE I HAVE TO TAKE KIDDO TO THE SPECIALIST AND IT’LL TAKE ALL DAY AND I’LL HAVE SO MUCH TO CATCH UP ON BOTH AT WORK AND AT HOME AND I’M ALREADY EXHAUSTED?!”

      The donkey has spoken. I have to get some stuff done now. Have a good day Dave, and everybody else too.

      1. And you’re welcome Emma! 🙂 (And I meant “They way we never were”. I made a typo tryng to correct my typo. Sigh. Sorry folks.)

    4. Nice discussion! I really appreciate reading everyone’s views. Thank-you for sharing your candor here in this way, while I’m working to surf the wild emotional waves of having had my marriage forsaken and permanently flushed. I wish I’d been better at organizing and doing the regular chores of life…well better in the face of constant criticism and interference and health problems. In the short periods of life not overwhelmed by those problems I’ve actually done fairly well.

      I am naturally a nurturer, a person who put everyone’s emotional and spiritual needs far ahead of the housework and the other logistics of life. Although I can’t comment on those women who don’t naturally nurture and resent the generalization, I wholeheartedly agree that type of “work” usually goes 100% unpaid and unappreciated in marriage. No matter how naturally it comes to me to put such a high priority on it or to be able to eventually figure it out no matter how difficult and chaotic relationships have grown it is still hard work! And still draining, especially as it goes on and on unappreciated, misunderstood, and attacked by someone who doesn’t want to face himself or to allow for others to be different than himself in how they operate and what their needs are.

      Now that I’m nurturing two teenage girls through the traumas of their dad having walked out the door, it’s as overwhelming as ever. (And he’s as emotionally unavailable as ever and then some.) But I’m learning to accept that he just doesn’t care about that as much as he cares about not facing his own stuff. As Matt mentioned somewhere on this blog in a moment he was addressing bad husbands, they’ll eventually either be dumped or won’t like who their wives have turned into. And 18 years in he just couldn’t face the whole built up chaotic mess anymore. Now he has ease and nice chemical hits to the brain in a new relationship with no serious mistakes in it yet. I’m sure it’s nicer for him to have run from guilt and responsibility. I could almost wish him well in it, since I do recognize my own faults and I did love him enough to put his needs ahead of my own and to still always want good things for him, if only he hadn’t put our children’s hearts through a wood chipper. But that’s the destructive nature of treating humans and marriages as disposable. Nearly our whole society seems bent on justifying divorce and pretending it’s actually not so very destructive. But the dirty little secret is that it is.

      Now I’m forcing myself to temporarily avoid the temptation to look for something new for my own needs. I’m going to heal some. I’m going to help my kids through. I’m going to hold to an ethical standard that’s more comfortable and sensible in my own eyes of not looking for any fake or replacement intimacy while I’m still married in the eyes of the government…and while my kids are struggling so hard with the end of what was supposed to be stable and safe and permanent. And I hope someday to have something real and good and healthy with a man who’s actually healthy and actually capable of mutually putting each other first and of growth, and learning and adapting as any two humans need so they can be good to each other even in the hard times.

    5. Dave, I read your follow up as well and appreciate your clarification. However, I can’t help but feel as if you’re equating must-do tasks (like the gorram dishes) with anal retentive tasks like washing unused sheets in the guest room (that one’s a big wtf? to me. Why the hell would someone even do that?). I think that’s where there are problems between couples: it’s not hard to notice that there’s a pile of dishes on the counter or that the floor is disgusting. But, Wife is repeatedly the only one to do anything about it.

      I wish you the best of luck and hope that your marriage turns out better than mine.

      1. As a side note – you used the word “gorram.” Allow me to give you the secret Browncoat handshake XD

    6. Yeah… no. All the no.

      You know how and why women are able to do these things, seemingly *magically* so much easier? We’re trained to it. From infanthood.

      Google for girl’s toys. You’ll find toy cookers. Toy sinks and dishwashers. Toy hoovers. Toy baby changing tables. Toy shopping trolleys.

      From when I was 3 years old, I would help my grandparents with the cooking. Peeling potatoes, shelling peas, getting boxes of ingredients, or pieces of cooking equipment, from the back of the lower cupboards, being encouraged to taste a sauce as it was cooking and being told “now here’s what it’s like with some salt added. Is it better?”. They’d have me up standing on a stool so I could reach the sink, drying the dishes I could lift or carrying them to the cupboard to put away, one at a time. One project they often gave me was to sit me with all their little brass ornaments and a bottle of polish to clean them. I’d play with them at the same time – little brass horses and cannons and things – but I’d polish them, too. Cleaning up the kitchen floor with a dustpan and brush. Dusting and polishing furniture. “Helping” on grocery shopping trips by reading out the list, or being sent running from one aisle to another after. By the time I was 14 I was expected to occasionally be able to prepare dinner for everyone for when they got home, and you can bet I’d get told off if I left the kitchen messy or didn’t clean the dishes *well enough*.

      Boys I knew growing up might be asked to mow the lawn sometimes, or take out the trash, but usually when I visited a friend’s house where there were boys and girls, I’d see the girls all being asked to help out in some way while the boys were mostly encouraged to stay *out of the way* unless there was a specific task deemed too dangerous for us girls.

      And even then, it’s not *easy* to see this stuff. It’s constant, unrelenting work. It takes energy and effort to keep an eye on the running of a house. And it can be exhausting if it all falls on one person.

      I know this because, when mine and my partner’s mental health collapsed a few years ago, and I was no longer able to carry the field-marshalling of the house, our home fell into literal squalor. I’m talking inaccessible rooms, paths through the filth from door to bed to cupboard, collapsed furniture buried under piles of stuff, having to dig through piles of filthy clothes to find something *clean enough* to wear because neither of us had managed to remember to pick up detergent, SQUALOR. All because neither of us had enough mental health energy to organise or see that work any more.

      We’ve come out the other side of that now, and my partner has become an amazing house-spouse. But it was a scary time. When our mental health started returning, little by little, we had a LOT of work to do, and you can bet the state of our home made clawing our way out of that mental hole all the more difficult.


      All of the above to basically say that no. No, women aren’t “naturally” better at this stuff. It is a learned skill. And it’s something you CAN learn, if you CHOOSE to. Hell, when I mentioned my grandparents up there? I meant both of them. My grandfather turns 80 this year. As a child, I ate a lot of meals cooked by him. If my nan was washing the dishes, he’d be drying and putting away (and showing me how to do that), and half the time he’d be the one washing them. He never had to be *told* or *asked* to do it. There was a chore, it needed to be done, he’d happened to notice it so he did it. And so did she. They both worked full-time and they both shared every single task equally. I’ve seen him changing my cousins’ nappies while my nan fixed a dodgy plug socket. because he happened to be nearer the child when it started crying.

      If a man who was a child during WWII can manage it, guys my age have NO excuse.

      1. Thank you for sharing about your upbringing and grandparents. I’m sorry for your hard time, and also for the fact of how much of the housework/organisational/constantly-keeping-an-eye-on-things you had unfairly been shouldering (if I’m understanding you correctly). I’m glad you’re both doing better and that your partner is now a good house-spouse! Not the main point, but for what it’s worth I have found that for me decluttering decreases housework and stress quite a bit!

    1. It’s an interesting subject to me because I am a terrible slob and I find housework AWFUL and pointless. It just gets dirty again! My boyfriend does more cleaning than I do, no doubt. But I work more than he does so this seems fair to me. We don’t have kids.
      My parents were the opposite of what is apparently the norm – my Dad is definitely the neater one, more into planning and deciding ahead of time. After they divorced, my mom’s house was a constant mess and his was always very tidy.
      Anyway, there’s definitely nothing in my female genes that makes me “good at” housework. I do better with work work, because it is more interesting. I DO mind cleaning. It’s a chore. I think it’s all about what we are taught by our culture, nothing to do with our brains or genes. The evolutionary biology argument leaves me cold.

      1. Thanks for bringing up the term “emotional labor,” Donkey. If anybody wonders why Dave finds it hard to do that stuff, but easy to manage big projects at work, I’ve got a good example of how he learned to do one but not the other.

        My 7-year old daughter went to a co-ed slumber party a couple weekends ago, hosted by a girl friend of hers; two boys in their class were also there. The next morning the mom texted me to say the kids were having a hard time getting all their crap (pjs, light sabers, dozens of those demonic “sparkly eyes” stuffed animals, etc.) packed up– they were all tired and hungry after late night of movies and junk food, and mostly just interested in playing. One kid in particular, “David,” couldn’t get it together. “David sez he doesn’t no how 2 pack!” my friend texted me. “Tilly [her daughter] helping him. Such a great lil hostess!”

        Right there, in that tiny, innocuous set of exchanges, is the key set of lessons that teach boys like Matt how to leave their dishes in the sink and feel fine with it, while teaching girls how to take responsibility for putting them away:

        Boy doesn’t want to participate in mundane tasks, prefers to play –> claims ignorance about tasks –> receives mild approbation from authority figure, then is excused from tasks –> returns to playing
        Girl picks up boy’s mundane tasks and completes them–> is praised for competence in tasks AND for “helping” helpless boy –> returns to playing when HIS tasks are complete

        Most important, David’s unwillingness to leave play for work was not punished, and Tilly’s willingness to do his work for him was rewarded. Each received an incentive for successfully performing their gender role– which increases the likelihood that they will perform the same way next time. Similar incidents happen over and over every day in kids’ lives, at home, at school, in church– you name it. Kids see their parents rehearse this dynamic, see it on tv, see it among bigger kids on the playground, etc.

        Regardless of what you TELL them about what their responsibilities within their community are, what they learn from millions of lived experiences like this is that boys (mostly) will not be punished for not doing emotional and other domestic labor, and girls (mostly) will be rewarded for doing it. Males are not “hard-wired” to be clueless fucks/titans of industry, nor are females “naturally” better at relationships and butt-wiping. We LEARN to be that way. Incentives align for boys to grow up and want to leave their dishes in the sink (so they can have time for high-status work on “15 million dollar jobs”), and for girls to want to clean up after them (so they can be praised for their saintly, morally pure and, not coincidentally, uncompensated, low-status emotional labor).

        Guess who benefits the most from thinking of this as the “natural” order of things?

        1. While, because I can identify so much with David’s experiences here (obvs!), I’m not inclined to pile on him, I just want to say how awesome this example and explanation is.

          It makes sense to me. Perfectly.

          And I buy every bit of it.

          I make A LOT of generalizations in my writing, and it bothers everyone who do not fit neatly into that generalization. And perhaps, rightly so. No one likes being pigeonholed, marginalized, labeled, etc.

          But this has also become something of a distraction.

          I, personally, LOVE this conversation and want to learn all I can. I value truth, even if it makes me uncomfortable and challenges my beliefs.

          Truth, truth, truth. That’s what I want. That’s what everyone should want.

          But here’s a truth:

          Me using Men Think/Feel This, and Women Think/Feel That as a baseline for understanding why there is such horrible communication breakdowns and disconnects in relationships is the very reason the lightbulb went on for me RE: empathy, and learning how to care about something–not because it matters to me–but because it matters to someone I care about. And since it matters to them, I’m going to honor and respect it as best I can in a demonstration of my love and respect for them.

          Until my entire marriage was presented to me in terms of: Wife speaks Mandarin, but Husband hears Russian (and vice versa), I was never able to get past my own mind’s perceived “correctness” in evaluting the merit of a glass being left by the sink.

          Perspective matters. It’s how we learn to appreciate the people and things in our lives. We are grateful because we have what we have, and we’re lucky that we are not without those things, and that we don’t have to deal with (insert random horrible life problem here).

          In context, I COMPLETELY agree with everyone in the “dishes” post comments who are like: “Good grief!!! It’s just a dish! Get a grip!”

          But as part of the larger conversation about Spousal communication and demonstrating love/respect/empathy/fairness, I think the dish metaphor is a really important one for people to grasp.

          And by “people,” I mostly mean Men.

          Because I totally believe men get this aspect of relationships wrong a lot more often than their female partners do, and I don’t think we need lab-documented reports from PhDs to demonstrate it.

          I, perhaps carelessly, use words like “hard-coded” or “wired” to describe gender differences, and maybe ignorantly evoke human evolution as being part of all this.

          I’ve said this a couple other times and I’m inclined to stand by it:

          There is certainly a Nature vs. Nurture argument to be had about gender roles in our culture.

          As I believe in the power of the mind, I don’t think it really matters. I think if you look in the mirror and tell yourself a specific story every day (“I’m horrible, stupid and ugly”; or “I’m awesome, smart and attractive.”) that your body will biologically adjust to that story. Mind over matter, and all that.

          My point being: The goal of this blog has never been, and will never be, to convince people to believe a particular story about the biological nature of men and women. (Though, you can rest assured I don’t want to perpetuate FALSE information, which is why it’s my pleasure to receive education.)

          The goal of this has always been to help guys like me not get divorced and have positive marriages and relationships.

          And in my current form, I believe presenting things as I do helps people “get it” sometimes. I have thousands of comments and emails supporting that belief.

          This is an important conversation. Because truth and equality are ideas I value. Gender bias in a “Who’s better?” way is, in my opinion, a ridiculous conversation. A human being’s worth will never be measured by gender or skin color or most any other broad-brushed stroke.

          Moreover, in male-female relationships specifically, I think women ARE demonstrably “better.”

          We used to enslave people with dark skin in this country, and mainstream society didn’t bat an eye–the ramifactions of that are still felt today.

          We used to see doctors smoke during your annual checkup.

          We used to drive little kids around while they just played around in the back seat with no safety equipment whatsoever.

          And over time, we’ve inched closer and closer to a better way of doing all of those things, and treating people with at least a modicum of decency.

          I think, in time, the way men think about their roles in marriage can change too. To something sustainable and lasting that will teach their children what it’s REALLY supposed to look like if you want it to last a lifetime, instead of all the shittiness and idiocy we see today.

          All this blog has ever been is my teeny-tiny way of trying to be part of that effort.

  11. Again, you have nailed it, Matt. Keeping track of everything is exhausting and we get tired of having to do that. My husband is always totally wiling to do anything I ask of him, but the point is, I shouldn’t always have to ask. But we are in our sixties, and products of our upbringings. Hopefully, more of your generation will get this issue and work on it in their relationships.

    Keep writing this stuff! It’s helping a lot of people.

    1. Thank you for saying so, Kassandra.

      I think some of this “I assume my wife will take care of all the housework” mentality will go away organically as a natural byproduct of women today running billion-dollar companies and possibly becoming President; in the same way my little boy won’t look at skin color through the same prism my parents’ or grandparents’ generations did, and in the same way most of these kids will never smoke tobacco.

      But I don’t think the communication issues will disappear, and they are the most important thing.

      My favorite thing about the recent interest in this blog was all of the people who wrote me to say that it started a conversation in their homes — in some cases, the first really good and important one they’d ever had regarding their relationships.

      Pretty awesome.

  12. I used to be that the man goes to work and the woman stays home. Now the woman works to because most of them have to. One income families aren’t cutting it anymore unless you are in the lucky few, so that to me is pretty common sense that if a guy decides to be with a woman who is working and pitching in, he should also pitch in with the housework. But it seems a lot of men don’t get this.

    1. A lot of men don’t.

      But I do believe much of that will change with the generation of kids growing up now. That, alone, will help with some aspects of this. Which is good.

    2. I was talking to my mom about this the other day and she pointed out that we have an entire generation of men and women who both (mostly) went to work and worked full time but THEIR parents had the “mom stays home and does everything, and when dad comes home he sits down and reads the newspaper.” So without even thinking about it, people emulate their parents.

      Men emulated their fathers, and came home and sat down to read the newspaper. Women emulated their mothers, and came home to do the second shift of cooking and cleaning. And for the most part, people fall into these roles “that’s just what we do” without even considering the fact that the women in the past were ABLE to maintain the homes because they didn’t have to work an outside job and perhaps if the women need to work said outside job then maybe they should split the labor.

      I do think, however, that this issue will work itself out eventually for the most part, but it will probably take several generations to do so, so I definitely agree with Matt on that. I know I will be raising my girls with this kind of thing in mind.

  13. whoa – that is the exact same discussion I have had with my soon to be ex partner for the last 6 years – and he still doesn’t get it. stubborn, stupid – not sure – but overwhelmingly frustrating for sure.

    1. I think you’ll find that the vast majority of married/long-term-dating couples have had this exact same discussion.

      As someone who was part of the problem, I apologize.

      Maybe someday this won’t be such a common thing.

  14. Dave makes a very important point. Too often men are afraid they will do something around the house the “wrong” way, i.e., not the way their woman would have done it, and she’ll get mad. (This is a biggie for my husband.) So they don’t do anything until asked to do it. And we women sometimes reinforce this by fussing at them when they do it wrong. (I’ve caught myself doing this more than once.) We forget that they didn’t have the role models that we did.

    Then again, when women enter the work force, they have to figure out how to deal with that environment and its expectations. So maybe the guys need to pay closer attention to how their women do things around the house, and/or ask for instructions.

    Bottom line, it’s going to take a while to break out of these old entrenched roles, but we’ve got to keep trying.

      1. That’s a teenager’s trick: Do a chore badly enough and you’ll never be asked to do it again.

      2. Sheez, sadly I’ll believe that. Some men are truly lazy jerks. But assuming both parties mean well and are trying their darnedest to make things work, sometimes the guys just need some instruction.

  15. I keep thinking about something in terms of this article, but bear with me because I can’t seem to adequately explain it.

    My kid is 9 and I can tell her to go clean her room and she’ll do it. When she was 3, I couldn’t do that. I had to break it down into tasks for her and sit there while she did each one, and after each thing she’d either say “am I done yet?” or “what next?”

    Eventually she will be grown and won’t need me to tell her when to do it, she will be able to correctly evaluate when it needs to be done (according to her comfort levels with mess) and do it without me needing to call her and remind her.

    On a larger, more grand scale, you have a marriage and the adulthood and all the work that LIFE entails. I NEED to be able to trust my husband, life *partner* to be able to be an adult and look at our life, do what needs to be done without waiting for me to tell him or ask him.

    If a husband puts his wife in a position of having to guide and manage him like a child – there is going to be a tremendous loss of respect there and with that comes a definite loss of desire to be intimate.

    1. Exactly Ruralbethany! And of course, sometimes people are clueless about housework and so on. But then they have to learn! Read a book, google, take a class. Yes, ask your partner if you absolutley have to, but realize that they’re now expending effort to teach you. And if they were able to learn something by themselves (like read books on how to care for babies), you can too! Don’t burden your partner even more if you don’t have to.

      Who wants to sleep with someone who year after year lets their life partner bear the greater burden so he/she doesn’t have to? Who let’s you be the one who’s health/energy/well being suffer, who has less leisure time and sleep and mental peace, because he/she doesn’t do his fair share? Crikey! When people slack off because they know the other person will do it, I’m sorry, that’s exploitative and selfish.

      I remember being a teenager, I would sometimes “charm” my way out of doing chores my mother(!) had assigned to me (and they were reasonable). Charming indeed. NOT NOT NOT NOT!!! I am so effing ashamed of that behaviour now. I’m so ashamed that I’ve yet to gather the courage to apologize to her for this. No, let’s be honest here. As of now it’s more important to me to not feel the legitimate shame I’ll surely feel if I were to own up to this behaviour and apologize, than it is to be a decent person and help my mom heal (by apologizing) from they pain that I’ve contributed to causing her, because of my selfishness. Ouch.

      1. Exactly. Which is why I will probably be single forever… and that’s okay with me. Have been reading that metafilter link and I am just blown away by how much my traditional Leave it to Beaver upbringing contributed to this also…

  16. I agree that being made to feel like your husband’s mother is a good way to destroy sexual desire. Would someone please explain to me why that horrific “Daddy/little girl” kink is so popular? Why is it that a father figure (and a helpless/dumb little girl) is so eroticized by both genders?

    1. I was very fortunate to have a husband who got the housework issue thing. He was better at it than me. My issue was financial and the lack of emotional support. I would like to hear from the men out there so I can try to understand what men think their role is in emotionally supporting their wife. What does it mean to them?

  17. Thank you Matt for adding another piece! I was one of the first people of those millions who have read your “dishes” post, and this new one is hilarious but it (sadly) says so much that needs to be said.

    Has your ex read anything of what you write? Sounds like you have grown and learned to articulate your part of the equation to a point that I’m thinking your relationship with her could/should possibly be reconsidered?

    1. Thank you very much for reading.

      Yes, I’m afraid she has read it. I think it annoys her more than impresses her.

      We have an excellent co-parenting partnership, and I find myself striving to constantly improve at that, not unlike one should do in their relationship.

      I believe the co-parenting partnership will remain what it is.

      1. I’m rather slack-jawed to hear that. Your personal relationships are none of my (or anyone else’s here) business, so don’t feel compelled to answer, but if I may inquire, is it because she doubts your sincerity? Does she fundamentally disbelieve in a man’s capacity for change and personal growth? Because, outside of those reasons, hers seems a rather cruel, dare I say even inhuman, response to such openness and raw vulnerability.

      2. I’m not Matt’s ex but someone in a similar situation (ie, ex husband who is realizing his mistake and is very sorry for what he did). I will say this with the caveat that my ex husband did things a little worse than what I’m guessing Matt did – he was very neglectful in many ways, and other people recognized it even when I didn’t – but the concept is really the same.

        Sometimes, the damage and destruction of trust (and, I mean, trust of the hands in which I placed my heart to not hurt it) has been so thorough and complete that there simply would not be any way that I could ever trust that same person again. Forgiveness, certainly. I forgive my ex, for sure. I can sit and have a friendly conversation with him and be totally fine with it.

        But the truth is, the damage and scars he caused me over the decade we were married was so bad that it will be a miracle if I ever get to the point where I am fully able to trust and give my heart to someone else again.

        Give my heart to the very man who destroyed it to begin with? Not on your life. I don’t think I could feel romantically about him again even if I wanted to.

        There is more to it than that, a lot. But that’s one of the main things. Sometimes, when your heart has been hurt so bad, a friendship or even a cordial relationship is all you can offer to the person who was the cause of that much pain.

        I wish my ex the best. I am not a bitter ex wife. I hope he finds happiness with a woman, perhaps one with different priorities than I. I really mean that. But it could never be me again, not again.

  18. “It might seem hard to believe a man could go through many years of marriage hearing his wife tell him about how exhausting this dynamic is for her, and how much it upsets her, and STILL not get it.”

    Yes. I’m also wondering how this can happen. I just can’t fathom it. When someone explains the dynamic to you, over and over, how can you not get it? And those who end up getting it, what happened? Was it having to be responsible for everyhting youself? Why didn’t you just believe your partner in the first place?

    1. I suspect it goes back to the whole… water takes the downhill path thing.

      Or, in other words, they may believe it in their heads, but until staying the same becomes more painful than the change, they will choose to stay the same.

      I still don’t understand why my husband said he felt blindsided when I asked for divorce. Why? Because two months prior, I told him we needed marriage counseling. When we went and got said marriage counseling, I proceeded to verbally vomit for 40 minutes about how unhappy I was and how emotionally finished I was with being his wife and I had pretty much no desire to still be married and the only reason why I was there was because I didn’t feel like I should divorce him without actually seeing a therapist together. I can safely say he felt blindsided then (although, then if I look back even a few months prior, I remember telling him “You’re losing me because of The Things” and I could go on).

      Two weeks later, more broken promises, abandoned me again. Hedonic adaptation for the lose, there. (which, by the way Matt, is something I could NOT verbalize through our marriage and thank you so much for giving me those words!). And he STILL said he was just completely blindsided. He just subconsciously expected me to “take it” forever, I think, because “you love me so you will make sacrifices for me.”

      And NOW he’s changed. Because his staying the same became much, much more painful than the change I’d asked for. Too late, though, unfortunately.

    2. Should my ex-wife read this comment, she might get a little irritated with me for sharing this story, but I’m going to do it anyway:

      I have a little son in grade school.

      His Valentine’s Day party at school (you know, where kids exchange little Valentine’s Day cards and maybe some treats or whatever) is this week.

      In an effort to help out my ex-wife, I asked her whether me acquiring our son’s V-day cards and candy would make her life easier. She said yes. Cool.

      So my son and I went to the store, bought a box of valentines and a bag of V-day-themed M&M fun-size packs for him to share with his classmates.

      I also got a shoebox out my closet he would need to make his Valentine’s Day card box for his party. I put those things in a bag so I could deliver them to her home yesterday.

      While I was on my way to deliver said Valentine’s Day supplies, I got a phone call. It was my son’s mom.

      She was annoyed. It’s a tone I recognized immediately.

      I had done two things wrong:

      1. Having not carefully read my son’s homework materials, I didn’t realize they were supposed to take their shoeboxes TO SCHOOL so they could work on them there as a little art project.

      2. When I sent our son off to school that morning, I failed to include a sheet of schoolwork that was supposed to be returned to his teacher, but I found stuck in a pile of other worksheets that didn’t need to go back to school.

      Both things were a function of me being a little bit disorganized and not as careful or thorough or detail-oriented as I should be. To be sure, I was embarassed about it. After all, just a few hours earlier, I published something on the internet about NOT making wives feel like mothers, and here I was putting my son’s mom in a position to feel like my mother. I’m pretty self-aware. The irony was NOT lost on me.

      Why am I telling you this?

      Because of the way she spoke to me about it.

      Perspective matters. I had, voluntarily, gotten three things together our son needed in an effort to help her out, and with total disregard for that fact, she only wanted to be pissed about the part I got wrong.


      And a lot of guys were pissed about it and took me to task for it because or their lack of reading comprehension skills and/or context.

      There are always details and specifics that affect a conversation. Everything needs to be evaluated in context. In the context of helping people understand how leaving a dish by a sink can upset a partner because it makes them feel unvalued and disrespected, I think it’s a good example.

      Some husbands complained that bitching about the dish by the sink is a HUGE slap in the face because he does X, Y, and Z for her every day, and he does it because he loves her and wants to be helpful, but now he’s getting shit about a glass?

      It feels VERY unfair to be criticized without also being recognized for the good.

      And so it was yesterday. Ignoring the good I was attempting to do, she chose to be mad about the mistake that I made.

      In an effort to help me understand her perspective and instill behavior change in the future where I’m more careful about looking at our son’s school material, she chose certain words and a certain tone.

      I think this post we’re commenting on demonstrates my understanding of the dynamics.

      I get it.

      I don’t need to be told how I messed up and even though it wasn’t said, it felt implied: “How could you be so stupid?”

      And I was pissed. And, even though I aspire to walk a higher path, where I don’t let my emotions get the best of me, and I choose kindness even when it feels inconvenient, my tone of voice conveyed my pissedness.

      Human emotion is INSANELY powerful. It pretty much drives the vast majority of every decision every person makes, when you dig down to the root of all of our actions.

      And no matter how much I understood on a macro level how my mistakes had made her feel, and how I’d failed to step up (and I did apologize for doing so once I stopped being pissed), the METHOD my son’s mom chose for communicating with me worked about as well as it did for the first 12 years she knew me and tried to explain her feelings to me.

      It’s nothing we haven’t all heard before from parents and educators, but it’s worth repeating:

      It’s not always WHAT you say. Sometimes, it’s HOW you say it.

      That subtlety alone probably causes a third of every divorce on Earth.

      1. This sounds like the childishness you described in the post. You want her to thank you for “helping her” but he is your son! You’re not “helping her” you are supposed to be Co Parenting. My partner and I have a saying “You don’t get a trophy or a medal for doing what you’re supposed to.” If I thank him for cleaning the toilet, it’s patronizing. He’s not a child. He doesn’t need to be coddled. He hates it when I thank him for doing the dishes.

        You don’t need to be praised for being a parent. You took on some of the responsibility of parenting, that it seems like you felt was her job but you were “helping”, and you feel entitled to praise and gratitude for parenting your own son. I don’t know. It sounds like you’re blaming her for being irritated, which I’m sure you know comes from your long history, not just this one incident.

        I think you should take another look at why you feel like you should be thanked for trying, even if you ended up screwing it up. Would your boss thank you for writing a report if you sent it to the wrong client? Of course not. You’re asking your ex to treat you like a child and sugar coat her criticism. Sounds to me like she’s over it and is not willing to put in the emotional labor required to make you feel appreciated.

        1. *SIGH*

          Nice try.

          I want perspective. Effective communication.

          Bethany asked WHY her husband, no matter how many times she tried to explain something to him, failed to grasp what she was saying.

          And this was a semi-real-time example that I thought illustrated WHY people do not communicate effectively.

          If you think that vocalizing your opinions in cynical, critical “tones” instead of maintaining perspective and keeping in mind the good with the bad, then I wish you well in every intimate relationship, friendship, professional dealing, or customer-service situation you experience for the rest of your life.

          I use a kind tone of voice, Kate, as often as my undisciplined, fickle emotions allow. I use it even when I’m SUPER-pissed at a business who screwed me over, or even when my I’m angry with my ex-wife or a coworker or whoever.

          Shitty, bitchy, combative tones are less effective, than calm, empathetic, friendly tones.

          I didn’t want thanked for taking care of my son. (Though you missed the part where I volunteered to do it specifically so she’d have one less thing to do.)

          I never once said I wanted to be thanked or for her to feel appreciative.

          I didn’t want to be spoken to in unnecessary, maternal, catty, shitty tones.

          Sounds to me like you think you know the details of my 18-year history of knowing my son’s mother, and my familiarity with the emotional and communication dynamics involved.

          I promise you do not.

          But I just want to reiterate. This was about HOW we speak to our partners.

          It doesn’t matter how “right” you are if no one ever listens to it.

          I’m confident there are a trillion books and articles out there which help people learn effective communication techniques. I hope people who find their communication with their partners to be a frustrating experience will investigate whether their methods of doing so might be part of the problem.

          Or I can say all of that shit in just two words:

          BE NICE.

          1. I knew you were going to get defensive 🙂 If you were still married, you might have a point, but you’re not. That’s my take on it honestly.

          2. Of course you did, Kate. You know everything about me because you’ve read some of my blog posts.

            It’s hard for me to keep track because I’m not very organized and there’s a lot going on, but it also seems like all of the comments never really address the point of the post — always written to maybe help strangers hurt less and live better — but find fault with, or express opinions about, side issues.

            I’ve got bad news, Kate.

            I’m not really that stupid. I make mistakes. I sometimes write and do things thoughtlessly. But not most of the time.

            Most of the time, I write very thoughtfully.

            Everyone with a bent toward cynicism and critical commentary should ignore this at their peril. I repeat:

            It feels VERY unfair to be criticized without also being recognized for the good.


            It’s not always WHAT you say. Sometimes, it’s HOW you say it.

            That subtlety alone probably causes a third of every divorce on Earth.

          3. You’re not being very nice, Matt. Take your own advice if you really believe it. Look, I annoyed you and you reacted. And not very “nicely” I might add.

          4. Anyone who would view this exchange as me being hypocritical almost certainly falls into the We Won’t Send Each Other Christmas Cards category, Kate.

            I’m not, in any way, attempting to hide how irritating I find this exchange.

          5. I don’t want a Christmas card, thanks. I’m a reader of a public blog, not your friend. I’m just telling you what I see. You can take it or leave it, obviously, but I would just say that when things strangers say really irritate us, it’s usually because there’s something unexamined in ourselves we would rather not face.

          6. It is funny because “If you think that vocalizing your opinions in cynical, critical “tones” instead of maintaining perspective and keeping in mind the good with the bad, then I wish you well in every intimate relationship, friendship, professional dealing, or customer-service situation you experience for the rest of your life.” is EXACTLY what you are admonishing me for doing! Passive aggressive criticism. That is not very “nice”! BE NICER!!!

            I kid. I don’t actually think we should expect each other to hide our true feelings from people, especially people we care about. I don’t know you, but the act of posting this story even knowing it will make your ex mad, is not very NICE! I think you might want to examine what you’re really doing instead of what you want to believe you’re doing.

            She was annoyed and it sounds like she let you know it. And you’re annoyed because you wanted her to hide her true feelings and you’re passive-aggressively taking it out by posting it publicly. Do you think this will improve the situation when she reads your comments?

          7. Not that it’s anyone’s business, but I removed 120 published posts from this blog documenting the early days of my separation. And it was for reasons opposite of what you’re implying. Which is why I’m so bothered by them.

            If you have questions for me, you’re invited to ask them. But please don’t guess the most-cynical reasons possible and throw them at me in the comments of my own writing.

      2. Yes, emotion truly is powerful like that. One reason co-parenting is so hard from what can derive from all the experiences of others and now my own tiny bit, is that the mistakes made in those moments can never be recovered by a totally selfless move back to what’s best for each other and mutually uplifting in the way it could be in marriage. You’re never going to hold her or in other ways truly help her emotionally through what those frustrations were like. She’s never going to do that for you. Me and my estranged/ex/whatever-he-is right now etc. etc.

        So we’re all left with just dealing with all our history in our head and all the residual emotions of all the bad dynamic that was written in stone as the legacy of our failed marriages when so-and-so walked away …and then as a solo act putting on our big boy pants and not caring too much about all that stuff in our heads as best we can until we process it enough to fully let go of it. It is HARD. Distance is required. But I guess emotional distance is achieved through a journey and it takes its time for most of us. You’ll get better and better at it. So someday your ADD moments will be dealt with in your own head in a way that don’t have much to do with her or how she reacts. We all make mistakes and we all have to learn to not beat ourselves up too much or let others pile on that same condemnation for us.

      3. I think this is a tricky area, and one I’ve long hoped you would talk more about, Matt. My ex also talks about himself as “unstructured” and “not calendar oriented,” traits he compares (favorably) to my “obsession with details and planning.” I’ve said enough today about how and why the two of us might be these ways. Understanding how and why (and who benefits) is crucial, but like you, I’m also interested in practical interventions within the existing dynamic.

        I’m assuming your ex didn’t say, “you dumb sonofabitch, can’t you read the fucking instructions for once in your life?!” That would be kind of beyond the pale. Yet she didn’t strike the right tone w/you when she drew your attention to the misplaced v-day box and missing homework.

        What was in her comment on this state of affairs that shouldn’t have been there? or what was missing that needed to be there? At the end of the day, you dropped a ball– even as, maybe b/c– you were carrying another ball, and very nicely. Is the right thing for her to do to just ignore the dropped ball? that doesn’t solve the problem caused by dropping it. Apologize for having to bring it to your attention? that seems patronizing. Thank you for what you did, and also hold you accountable for what you dropped? If so, how (what words, what tone) could she have used to create that accountability without bogging down in what felt to you as a “here he goes again…typical man-boy ineptitude” vibe?

        My ex is not interested in growth and change in these areas, so I just try and navigate around him as best I can. A more interesting problem is how a PERSON (who might be female OR male) who is structured and detail-oriented can deal in a way that is constructive and not condescending with another PERSON for whom attention to detail and follow through might not be a strong suit. Such dealings can be especially difficult when every communication two people have on these issues is already burdened by a long history of antagonism and frustration caused by their mismatch in these areas.

      4. I get the defensiveness in the exchange with Kate. What I also see is that the child didn’t have what he needed at school. I agree with ttravis that once again, the ex-wife was in the same situation and it wasn’t even her standards that weren’t met. Why wasn’t the instruction sheet read in its entirety? When you do your taxes, do you just skim the instructions and send the IRS a bag of goodies and call it a day?

        I have been reading your blog for awhile and this is the first time I have been disappointed in what you have written.

        1. There are a few things happening here, and none of them have to do with one another, but I’ll address them.

          1. It’s not an illusion. I AM defensive. I don’t pretend to be anything other than what I am, and I think half of our problems as human beings result from all the pretending so many of us do, just, living. I’m defensive. And I’m mouthy. And it’s not a good trait. Maybe someday, I won’t be. My defensiveness in this particular instance happened because Kate read something I wrote, guessed incorrectly what happened and what my motivations were for writing it, and then proceeded for the umpteenth time to comment on something that had nothing to do with WHY it was being written in the first place. I would have loved it had Kate chimed in with how she effectively communicates in her relationship. That would have been awesome. Instead, she chose to poke a little, was mistaken in her analysis, and then offered criticism based on things that weren’t true. That will upset me 100-percent of the time for the rest of my life. Maybe someday I’ll learn to not reply to comments when I feel that way.

          2. You’re right. My son did not have what he needed for school. I apologized genuinely to his mother for that, the entire time being FULLY aware of how ironic the situation was on the day this post was published, because here I was doing the exact same thing again. My ex-wife was NOT wrong to be irritated. I think she chose an ineffective way to communicate her irritation and THAT was the entire point of sharing the story in the first place.

          3. The reason I didn’t read the instruction sheet is because I NEVER read the instruction sheet. It’s not part of my habits or routines. My little son has the same kind of homework assignment each day of the week. Monday it’s this. Tuesday it’s that. Wednesday it’s reading this. Thursday it’s writing that. And it’s pretty much the same every week. Thus, I don’t look at the sheet.

          This week, there was an anamoly. A new thing that isn’t normally there. And I missed it. It’s because I’m ADHD, disorganized, thoughtless, immature, etc. Moving forward, because of this very incident, I’m going to work MUCH harder at making sure I thoroughly familiarize myself with that piece of paper I have always ignored without incident.

          So, that’s why. Because I never have, and it’s never mattered. But now it has. So, now I know that I have to add it to the list of things I need to do every evening/morning my son is home with me.

          This is how I learn things.

          Anyway, thank you for reading.

          I’m sorry to have disappointed you. (I mean that sincerely.) But I’m always going to be me.

          And sometimes I disappoint people.

          1. I took the words You Wrote and responded to them. You said you were “helping her” (that’s why I put it in quotes, because you said it.) I disagree that parenting or doing household chores should be seen as “helping”. That puts all of the onus on her, it’s her job, and you’re just being so gracious to help out. Nope. It’s your job too and your responsibility. When you go to work and do your tasks, you are not helping your coworkers, you are fulfilling your own responsibility.

            You also said she would be mad if she saw that you had posted that exchange, but you posted it anyway. You said this. So I don’t really see how I’m reading anything into it beyond what You Wrote.

            How do I communicate with my partner? Like an adult. I don’t know how else to explain it. But the thing is that you are not in a relationship with this woman anymore, so it is not her job to make you feel good. Your arrangement isn’t the same as a couple who is still together.

            I can see from our exchange that you are very quick to take offense. Keep in mind that you don’t know what tone of voice I would use if we were discussing this in person. It’s a comment, so you can only infer what tone I am using. You read my “” as cynical. But they were literal. You literally said “helping her.”

            And now I will put a smiley face so you will know I am so nice 🙂 But I don’t think niceness is required when giving criticism to your ex who effed up what he was supposed to do. That’s more emotional care-taking you’re demanding, and you’re a grown up, you should not require this in order to listen. You write in this blog a lot about respecting that other people have feelings and you should accept that even if you don’t totally understand them, they are real. I guarantee your ex’s irritation was indeed real.

      5. Matt,

        My wife (semi) jokingly mentioned your dishes article to me. She didn’t forward it, but I looked it up while on the bus that morning out of curiosity. It was better than I expected. You’re a talented writer with a gift for seeing the another’s perspective. I appreciate good writing in any form, so I’ve since read/skimmed 7-10 of your posts and the comments.

        Your message seems to be–and correct me if I’m wrong–that if each individual in a relationship strives to understand the other, puts the other first, trusts them enough to value their feelings even when they disagree, and works to correct his/her own flaws, that they can potentially achieve a balanced harmony together, thus avoiding divorce which has wreaked havoc on your life twice now. It is a very mature message, and one that many couples could greatly benefit from. I also think it is a recipe for happiness. It has been in my marriage (33 yr. old, married two years with one daughter).

        You appear to have a large following of wives and ex-wives who strongly resonate with the flaws you have exposed in the average husband, which I believe are quite accurate. You would think that after demonstrating such a nuanced understanding of the frustrations they experience, that you (more than the average guy) would have earned some leeway to express things that bother you, or the typical husband. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Like stumbling into a beehive, you are swiftly, and aggressively attacked for expressing any opinion that they disagree with. You are, in fact, THE LAST PERSON they want to hear criticism from, whether directed to them or not. Each comment essentially starts out the same way: “YOU OF ALL PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW. . . ”

        The larger lesson has been lost. The majority of your readership is not interested in the part where they understand the other perspective, and really challenge their own beliefs. They tune in each day for you to articulately validate their feelings, like mice coming back for sugar water. When you defy that expectation, they lash out.

        I have a response to your readership regarding that interaction with your wife. You are not in school, your child is. K-8 education exists primarily as a place for kids to go so that adults can do real work. It should not be some all-consuming interactive experience for the parents. No parent should be expected to keep track of what assignments his/her child has that day, and whether or not homework papers fall out of place or make it back to school. That is why–to address another comment–no one goes to jail when homework papers are missing, while but you can if you screw up with taxes. Apples and oranges. Two completely different levels of importance. Failure to see that, is failure to address your own flaws the way Matt has done. In short, your ex-wife was completely out of line to lash out for your good-faith mistake, and your readership has shown their limited understanding of your message with their replies.

        1. At the risk of sounding just like the readers to whom you’re defending me against (mice coming back for sugar water), thank you.

          I think you have, in reading fewer than 10 posts, succintly and with 100-percent accuracy, articulated the general theme of what I write.

          I appreciate it very much.

          Challenging people I disagree with comes off “not nice,” and I really value nice.

          Debating these little points of fact are a mirror image of the same kinds of arguments people have in their marriages.

          5% of the time, I think: “That’s an excellent point. Thank you for sharing it with me so I can be less dumb.”

          The other 95% of the time, the commenters have misunderstood something I said, taken words out of context, or have simply been 100-percent mistaken about whatever they’re saying. It’s not their fault they’re mistaken. It’s hard to be psychic and know everything, and I’m just not going to dedicate 14,000 words to explaining every possible nuanced sentence or word choice.

          Like “help her.”

          I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND why when husbands and fathers talk about “helping” their wives with housework or child-rearing, it’s offensive.

          I’ve written probably 15,000 words on that very thing. My position is 100-percent, totally clear, to anyone paying attention.

          However, I used the word “help” in regards to my ex-wife in one silly little side story that I used in an attempt to illustrate a point as I’m inclined to do, and someone thought that was somehow the same crime as a married man referring to shared responsibility as “helping.”

          Just in case my friend Kate is reading this, I’ll clarify FURTHER even though it has nothing to do with this comment thread or the post above it:

          My ex-wife very specifically mentioned that she was going to go get valentines and treats for our son. It was on her To-Do List. And I said: “Hey. Why don’t I take care of that? Would that help you?”

          And she said: “Yes. Thank you.”

          We have very pleasant, civil exchanges all the time. We do a great job of getting along and cooperating on behalf of our child.

          I also didn’t say my ex-wife would get “mad.” I said she might get “a little irritated.”

          And I think those two things are quite different.

          These are GREAT examples of little things couples do when they communicate that drive one another nuts, and push one another away.

          My response to Kate was NOT how one should respond to their partner they vowed to love and honor for life, and who sacrifices daily for them.

          I think people need to practice intellectual honesty in all areas of life. Punishments must fit the crime, otherwise they are not just.

          It seems you think and feel the same.

          So, John, thank you. It’s awesome that you took some time to read a few things here open-mindedly, and then comment thoughtfully.

          Much appreciated.

      6. Matt, thanks for your kind answer to my comment. If, after 31 years of marriage, I can come here for my sugar water, so be it. At least I know it exists. I don’t agree, however, that I have a limited understanding of your message, according to another person who commented. I believe that even after the hardest work is done, as you have done, there is still more/will always be more to work on and “get.” You offered to take something off your ex-wife’s hands and missed a part of it. I didn’t hear you say she “lashed out,” but rather, used “a tone.” I don’t know what it’s like to have ADHD, but attention to details is necessary. Of course, the tax situation was off the top of my head, and I’m very glad you can’t go to jail for a missing homework assignment. It may be easier for someone in the second or third year of marriage to have all the answers, but that honeymoon period was over for me, long ago. I don’t have the answers, but I still manage not to compare people to rodents. However, I am encouraged by what I hear from you and hope for wonderful relationships for my three adult daughters. I am doing my best for my son still at home. If you do write those books, I will buy them.

      7. Hi Mat,

        I don’t know if this will help. I’m going to make some assumptions and will probably get the details of what happened wrong. I’ll actually make a lot of it up! So let’s pretend this is a hypothetical situation. But because it’s easy for me to put myself into your ex-wife’s shoes-here’s what I would think and how I would respond. I am not attacking you. I am just going to tell how I would respond based on imagining this happened to me and my husband, and how that would have worked out. How I would have processed the situation, with all the years of baggage I have accumulated. It’s ugly, but here goes….

        At first I am happy. He’s offering to help! Yippee! One less thing I have to do.

        Now I am picking son up from school, and his teacher corners me to tell me that he had to sit there for an hour while all the other kids made the valentine boxes, because he did not bring the needed supplies. I was not the one that screwed up. But I am the one who has to answer to the teacher and explain that his dad was the one who was supposed to buy and send the supplies. And sorry, I don’t have the school work that was supposed to be returned, either. His dad has that. And in case you have forgotten, teacher, we are not married anymore. And instead of you asking him what happened yourself, I am left to deal with the situation and be the messenger. I’ll bet that you won’t even mention it to him the next time he has pick-up duty. You are just going to assume telling me=telling my ex-husband. This ALWAYS happens. I am so sick of having to deal with getting crap for things that are not my fault.

        Or maybe my son comes out of school looking glum or even crying, because all the other kids brought the supplies and made the boxes, and he felt left out and upset. Now the mother bear comes out, and I am furious that your screwing up affects my small, innocent son and it’s so not fair…

        And my conclusion is-it would have been better for me to just have done it myself.

        Now, Mat, I made most of this up. But what I did not make up were my feelings. I actually have a lot of respect for you, and in some ways recognize this is a minor screw up, one that could have happened to anyone. But to pretend me, it’s just the latest in a long history of things in which I feel years of anger and resentment. So I am not just responding to one incident, it’s every incident in the last decade that made me feel the same way. And if pretend me is honest, I don’t really give a shit about your feelings. Why should I? For years you never gave a shit about mine.

        Much like how the dishes aren’t the issue, making a minor mistake isn’t the issue. I did read your reply to Kate explaining a little more about what happened. Rational me understands your point of view. And I have no idea what your ex-wife is really thinking or feeling.

        Hopefully this gave a little more perspective to why you got the criticism you did, without the recognition that it all started out with you wanting to be a decent person, offering to help.

        1. I think you did a fine job explaining it, Lissy.

          I think if you (and I’m not asking you to!) read some more of my writing about marriage, you’d know that I see the situation EXACTLY as you described it.

          It’s the failure of husbands and boyfriends to understand exactly what you just described that causes all of the resentment and affairs and divorce that happens in broken relationships.

          You just summed it up in one perfect story.

          And yes, that’s exactly how my son’s mom felt, and I apologized (sincerely) twice for it.

          I didn’t stay mad at her, nor did she stay mad at me. It was one little moment where she was upset and I was upset.

          I told the story because a reader had asked why husbands don’t always respond to their wives.

          I thought this was a good example.

          I wrote a post yesterday touching on this same topic.

          You wrote (and I understand!) “And if pretend me is honest, I don’t really give a shit about your feelings. Why should I? For years you never gave a shit about mine.”

          1. That’s a false assumption most wives make. I know it FEELS like their husbands don’t care. But in reality, their husbands don’t KNOW that the glass by the sink hurts because it doesn’t make sense to them that it hurts. When you treat your husband as if he’s intentionally hurting you when he’s not intentionally hurting you, your relationship will worsen, and the end will come.

          2. Why should you care about your husband’s feelings? The answer is: You should care about your husband’s feelings if you love him and desire staying married. If you WANT to divorce (or are actually divorced like my son’s mom), then it doesn’t matter other than how much being nice matters to you.

          Most of what I write here is about giving people ways to rethink their behavior in marriage, because what everyone seems ot naturally do causes a pretty high divorce rate. I don’t like it.

          How we speak to our partners, and the feelings we manifest in our hearts and minds toward them (we can choose gratitude and love, and or we can choose resentment and combativeness), will often be the determining factor in which marriages go the distance, and which do not.

          Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

          I think it’s really important for guys to understand what you shared here. Because it was spot on.

      8. I’m laughing so hard and hoping that 2 years later you’ve figured this out instead of whining some more. Could you imagine going to your boss with that attitude? “Yeah, sure I fucked up something important Boss, but I did the other parts of the job right! Why are you being so shitty with me and not praising me for the things I did well!?” You would be out on your ass faster than you could beg for praise.

        I can’t believe you make money off this blog, trying to tell men how to improve their marriages, when you yourself are still blaming your wife for issues you’re having. You couldn’t read a damn piece of paper and figure out what your kid needed for Valentines day, even going as far as asking your exwife to TELL YOU what to do. When she called you to complain that you fucked that up your reaction wasn’t to realize you dropped the ball again, but to whine to everyone here that it was so unfair of her???

        Really? I hope you’ve improved the last 2 years because this is just sad.

        1. Try not to hurt yourself from all that hard laughter.

          Good thing you don’t believe I make money from this because you’d be totally incorrect if you did.

  19. “A more interesting problem is how a PERSON (who might be female OR male) who is structured and detail-oriented can deal in a way that is constructive and not condescending with another PERSON for whom attention to detail and follow through might not be a strong suit. Such dealings can be especially difficult when every communication two people have on these issues is already burdened by a long history of antagonism and frustration caused by their mismatch in these areas.”

    Yes. There’s a trail of ugly nastiness behind my wife and I. I thought it would stop after we separated then reconciled, and it did… no MORE nastiness. But there’s a lot of residual resentment on her side, and rightly so. Hopefully the old adage “time heals all” will kick in sometime soon. Interestingly she just made a comment at how different things are from “all those years when I did everything AND work” THIS VERY MORNING, and I’ve been doing a pretty decent (not amazing, but passable) job for the past year.

    Much as I hate to admit it, I’m quite sure that my upbringing and social programming did reinforce the idea of “if I don’t do it, she almost certainly will” as well as my valuing “high-status” paying work (much) more than the incredible amount of work my wife accomplishes in a day/week/month/year/lifetime. That has changed a lot for me from a lot of introspection, reading, a little therapy thrown in and I have to say: my relationship is far better, far stronger now than it ever has been.

    Guys, dumping all the logistics of running the household on your wife and disengaging from that whole huge ball of wax is a big mistake, ask anyone who’s been there and done that… it affects everything, your relationship to your wife, your kids. It’s the majority of your non-work time, day-in, day-out, for the foreseeable future. Ultimately, why are you married and why did you have kids? THIS IS LIFE and there’s only one go around.

  20. Ha! You are so wrong and all of your dweeb followers. Women belong in the kitchen making sammiches. When i did all that shit and i mean all of it (i had to teach my wife how to bath and diaper our child etc etc) i cleaned cooked, house work. I think the most she did was grocery shop so she could find the most expensive organic produce. I had less sex. Now i dont do shit and have more sex. If she is home all day she can clean my underwear. If she wants me to do all that shit again, i will just take her debit card from her, hire a maid and get meals for myself and she can mve out.

    Its a fact that prostitutes are cheaper per sex than a wife.

    If my wife complains i ask her to go to work and i would be more than happy to stay home and clean and cook and talk with family and friends at my liesure. That shuts her up.

    1. Well, Jeff. If you measure the value of your life in sex, I can see why you feel that way.

      Let’s just say you and I have a different idea about the worth of a human being, and what a successful life looks like.

      I hope you and your obedient wife feel fulfilled and regret-free on your death beds one day.

      Personally, I think you’re both better than that. And I think my dweeb followers are too.

    2. I remember in one of your letters to s.h., that you said something about not criticizing all day,week, etc. and saying appreciative things, and offering to make their day easier. I really like that and agree.
      Aaand, (metaphor) when there’s a glass with inky water in it – one has to add a LOT of clear water to start to see it clear, and even more yet to get it towards clear in the glass.

      Keeping the focus on kindness is the goal, and getting more skillful with that. Getting more skillful means action, (you acted, yay!), and you’re getting feedback to get better/ more skillful. Keep the focus on getting better, more skillful.

      Emotion, E-motion, energy in motion. You can reframe,
      ask: What’s great about that?…..
      and get lots of answers! That empower you! Going to appreciation gets gratitude going which gets that positive energy going and makes positive, kind action available again.

      1. I hear you. It seems simple to those who do “get it”. But it’s almost like you’re speaking Greek to someone whose whole paradigm is geared against “it”. I’m in your same boat and it’s a rough ride!

  21. I can’t find a reply button within the thread, but this goes to Matt’s reply to Shrub’s comment (who knew George W. Bush one of your followers, Matt?! Wow!) on my comment on… something from yesterday. Anyway, I guess my question is where these is defensiveness (responsibly acknowledged, like Matt’s, or denied, like my ex’s), can there be constructive commentary and requests for accountability that do not seem bitchy at some level?

    One of the few useful things I’ve gleaned from a million divorce books is that a business communication mode is an appropriate one for divorced parents. With that in mind, in communications w/my ex, I try to present information, ask for clarification, and make unambiguous statements, all using the first person singular and a neutral tone.

    So for example, this week when our child moved houses, I sent him an email saying that she had had a rash at bedtime the previous night, and while it seemed minor, he might be on the lookout for it. His reply was “she didn’t have a rash when she was at my house last weekend.” In another exchange, I responded to a long convoluted email objecting to my plans for my summer vacation with our child by writing “there are a couple of things in here that I don’t follow…” and asking for clarification. In his (long, convoluted) response, he accused me “acting like [he] was crazy for pointing out the problems in the way you view summer vacation.” (My ex is a lawyer, in case you’re wondering.) So attempts to provide information or ask for clarification were experienced as criticisms, despite my best efforts to present them neutrally.

    My point is this: I have a responsibility to a) know what sarcastic, demeaning, bitchy, nagging speech (and body language) sounds like and b) avoid it in favor of neutral and businesslike speech with my ex. This would be globally applicable, but particularly important when speaking about hot button issues like habitual derpy-derp behaviors that regularly require other people to pick up dropped balls. What is the responsibility of the defensive derpy-derper in this communications situation?

    If the derpy-derper can’t take responsibility for his derpy-derping because he’s too defensive, then communication has broken down. At that point, really all you can do is try and cut your losses. It’s a shitty way to co-parent.

    1. This is the least-objective thing I will ever write on this blog:

      I trust, implicitly, my moral compass and sense of fairness. I believe whatever “skill” exists that allows judges to hear two arguments and declare a fair ruling, is one I possess.

      I spent 10 years writing news stories, where I honed this skill. I care VERY much about presenting the other side, and I have a deep commitment to fairness.


      In the case of me telling a story, you have the choice to trust my intellectual honesty, or that of a human being you imagine in your head based on my storytelling.

      As I have an 18-ish year history; and as I have more experience communicating with my son’s mother than probably any other person on Earth, including family; and as I am privvy to every fact and detail of a particular story; and as I’m good at recognizing and immediately owning up to mistakes, failures and shortcomings; and as I know the intentions of my heart when I do things; and as I know to what extent I value the wellbeing of my son’s mother, and as I have context that no other people have about how much effort I put into cooperating, behaving and speaking kindly and thoughtfully, and how much I’m willing to give and sacrifice in ways that sometimes feel like Bizarro-World marriage without intimacy because it’s what’s best for her and our son…

      I appreciate being given the benefit of the doubt.

      I write about my personal life. So it’s out there for public scrutiny and commentary in that respect, I suppose.

      But there can only be two opinions of my stories: A. I’m credible and am telling the truth. B. I’m not credible and this is all a sham.

      It seems most people, most of the time, live in the A camp.

      In that case, I would respectfully request the benefit of the doubt.

      And if they live in the B camp, fine. Just say: “I think you’re a lying asshole.” Because then the criticism would make sense.

      But if you believe the things I write about, then I’d ask for your trust that I’m presenting things as fairly and accurately as I’m capable of doing.

      If I’m making this shit up and have a warped perception of reality, then no one should ever read it, or attempt to apply it to their lives.

      You ask a fair and honest question about the responsibility of the derpy-derper. I’m sure there are lots of derpy-derpers who treat their ex-wives like shit and make very little effort to demonstrate kindness and cooperation.

      I’d ask you to take a leap of faith that I’m not one of them. OR, apply disbelief to everything I write.

  22. I think you mistook my intent. I’m actually not clear what happened in the valentine’s day box incident and am not really interested in the specifics of that– sorry if that didn’t come across in my post.

    It’s the larger structural issue of how to constructively engage someone on an issue that you’ve both acknowledged is an issue, that you’re both sick of discussing, and that one of you is becoming increasingly resentful about, and the other is becoming increasingly defensive about– that’s what I’d like your perspective on.

    I can’t solve that problem in my relationship with my ex. That makes me sad and angry. It sounds like you’re trying to solve it, and you write compellingly about how you try. What I’ve been asking for here is what the other person needs to do for you to feel like SHE’S trying. What did she need to do (or not do) in order for you to become aware of your mistake AND not feel defensive about it?

    Since the valentine’s day box thing was the story that prompted this inquiry, you can reply about that particular incident if you want. But I think the question I’m raising also goes to the issue in several of the comments here, which is people deciding “I’d rather not do X (x= housework, communication, giving head, whatever) because I don’t want to be criticized for doing it wrong.”

    What conditions need to obtain for a person to be able to say “I’m frustrated that you’ve done this wrong; I need you to prioritize doing it right?” and to get an authentic “you’re right– this is a weakness of mine, and I am working to improve” as a response? Are the conditions different when you’re having that conversation for the umpteenth time?

    I think what I’m actually asking for, Matt, is the same thing you’re trying to point people to in this whole project. I’m just looking for a concrete version of it, I guess.

    1. “I’m actually not clear what happened in the valentine’s day box incident and am not really interested in the specifics of that– sorry if that didn’t come across in my post.”

      So you are expressly not interested in using the specifics from Matt’s life, yet you want Matt to provide you a response using an example from your own life.

      The sense of entitlement is growing among the readership.

      1. Please be kind to this woman, John. She is a brilliant and decorated academic, a long-time supporter of what I’m trying to do here, and someone who challenges me respectfully and fairly.

        Which is all I ever want anyone to do. When people are kind and fair, it doesn’t matter how much they disagree. They can always get through it.

        (But I do thank you for your support. I’ve had three consecutive weeks of “You’re an asshole who sucks!” comments that haven’t been super-fun to read.)

      2. What I was trying to suggest was that we leave behind the specifics of Matt’s life– none of us can really comment on it very insightfully, what with it being HIS life and all– and ladder up to the larger structural issue that I think is lurking behind many people’s personal comments (including mine) about “this person I love is a jerk and I’m sick of it.”

    2. I think I get what you’re asking, @ttravis. You want to know how to communicate without triggering feelings of defensiveness. I think this is one of those situations that may truly be out of your control. As a person who has (mostly) overcome my own feelings of defensiveness when hearing criticism of myself, I think I can say that it was not anything anyone else could have done for me. However, it was my boyfriend who made me aware of the issue several years ago. It sounds like you have tried to do this, and now it is on him to decide to try to change, or not. My boyfriend let me know that I would get really ridiculously offended by the simplest suggestion, and assume that he was impugning my entire character, just wanted to make me feel bad, didn’t love me, and all kinds of utterly ridiculous things. And yes, it made me feel very defensive when he told me this. But I thought about it and realized he was right and made the decision to try not to do that. I practiced it repeatedly with the commenters on my Facebook page that used to be really popular. Practice worked, and now I can accept criticism as what it is (mostly, I’m human afterall). My boyfriend and I have not had any arguments in years. If he asks me to change something, I try to do it, and so does he. It’s very peaceful.

      But how can you make someone change this behavior who doesn’t want to? I don’t think you really can. If you can’t get him to recognize his own defensiveness as an issue, it seems like it’s probably hopeless. I don’t think any amount of couching your criticism in kind words or padding it with gratitude will do any good until he realizes it is, indeed, a problem and one that he must work on himself.

    3. Valuable goals and laudable effort at communication and understanding, ttravis.

      I may be throwing a monkey wrench in with this. But I want to point out that in all interpersonal relationships the need for there to be, on balance, more positives shared than negatives may be a better starting point than how to share a negative. In these co-parenting situations there is usually already a history of significant, or even extreme, imbalance going in the other direction. So sometimes the best thing to do may be to either let it go without addressing it on a given occasion, although clearly not always, or to only address it insofar as to acknowledge out loud that it happened and then actively show that you’re letting it go after. You can shrug it off and simply say in a commiserating way that you understand that mistakes do happen. This may need to happen a lot in relation to how often a problem is addressed head on.

      I do wish I had a more direct answer for you on how to share a negative. Maybe someone else will be able chime in with that wisdom!

    4. I agree with Kate. Everyone needs to strive to be respectful and clear and more positve than negative overall. And sure, everyone gets defensive! At some point though, complaining about people’s choice of words, their tone, their timing and so on is just a way to dodge introspection and responsibility, it’s a way to make sure the other person stays the problem. I’ve done it myself many times. And let me just be clear that I’m not talking about Matt, at least not any more than anyone/everyone else. And let me also be clear that this absolutely crosses gender lines! Asshole-behaviour knows no gender, but it often follows privilege of some kind in a situation. Lets pretend that person 1 is the person with the privilege who’s also being an ass (in terms of race, money, gender norms, being the more avoidant-attached, not being the one who suffers the consequences, being the one other people are scared of so they’ll take that person’s side, being the more popular one, being the one who cares less etc), and you’re person number 2 (the numbering seems fitting, right?).

      The mind-effing can go like this:

      – If you’re not nice, your tone somehow becomes more important than the bad/unfair/lazy thing the person 1 did. Your tone implies that they’re a bad person, this is an attack on their character and that is such a mean thing to do, so of course that’s worse than whatever person 1 did. Your tone becomes the problem.

      – If you’re nice and deferent, then you’re not confident enough, they didn’t understand that it was important to you, or you just simply can’t expect them to respect for a person who lacks confidence. The fault is yours, because of your lack of confidence,

      – Maybe at one point you hit the jackpot, you somehow were nice enough and clear enough and confident enough (but not too much of anything mind you) and had the right tone and person 1 agreed to change something. But then they didn’t follow up on their promise and when you brought that to their attention you had a hint of irritation in your tone of voice (because you do not yet have the Buddhas’s equanimity and you get exhausted and hurt when people don’t keep their promises), your tone is again the problem, again the problem is that you’re implying that they did something wrong and that they’re not a wholly good person since they didn’t do what they promised to do. So now you’re the bad guy, you need to apologize, of course they’re not going to be nice to you when you’re the one being mean.
      Yes, this is part of the nature of privilge, it’s not logical or fair, yet person 1 gets to think so, and their “logic” is what everyone has to accept as truth. Person 1 feels entitled to behave in a bad way, yet still keep a mental image of themselves as a wholly good and honorable person. So when person 1 gets to imply that person 2 somehow even remotley implied that person 1 did something wrong (even if they did), person 2 is the bad guy.

      – Sometimes you do and say everything right, but they don’t believe you, or they don’t think you should feel that way. Then you’re crazy, you’re irrational. Of course they’re not going to bother doing what a crazy person want.

      You can only do and be so much. There is no fail proof recipe. If a person is not willing to consider your point of view, if they’re not willing to see the plank in their own eye and can only see the speck in yours, if they’re not willing to compromise, if they’re not willing to be inconvenienced to make things more fair even though the status quo means you’ll have to be much more inconvenienced then they would have to be by changing, then it’s not going to work. They won’t change even if you’re right. Them being able to keep a flawed and privileged view of themselves and an unfair status quo that benefits them is more important than you being treated with respect. And I would guess that the more immature/selfish a person is in at least the issue at hand, the more he or she will make the “wrong” tone, the “wrong” words etc the issue instead of being willing to see when they’re the one dropping the ball and realizing that that is what needs to be adressed.

      Sometimes I think practical boundaries can work, although it can lead to a lot of anger and backlash. Let’s say the other person has agreed to pick up after themselves, but they don’t. You can then say and follow through on the following for instance: Anything that’s not put away by 9 pm, you’ll throw in the trash.

      I’ll leave you this gem from the emotional labour thread I mentioned (I think it was originally from somewhere else): “Sometimes people use ‘respect’ to mean ‘treating someone like a person’ and sometimes they use ‘respect’ to mean ‘treating someone like an authority’ and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say ‘if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you’ and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person’ and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.”

      1. Thank you Donkey for this lovely take away. I was going through emotional abuse without recognizing many of the indicators and, with my recent discoveries through research and reading of this blog (and comments), I am able to pinpoint them that much more.

        (I am not claiming Matt to exercise emotional abuse)

        Situation 3, person 1, is so accurate of my ex it is scary. One of my biggest reminders of his hurtful behaviors being Thanksgiving Day where he intentionally ignored me to “make you feel how I felt” (his words exactly) in front of his family. I had simply been listening to his father in conversation that was taking place prior to him trying to interrupt and get my attention. From that point on he made a point to not be physical or acknowledge anything I said.

        He happened to wait until the walk to the car that evening not even off the property yet, to apologize and said it was intentional. However, when I ended things his mother and pastor tried to contact me and say in his defense he would never INTENTIONALLY hurt me. That was just a prime example. Physical abuse is not the only method of hurt.

        He threw literal fits and would say that I, or my parents, was not respecting his wishes and, in essence, seemed to be screaming “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person.”

        I received a letter from him where he addresses that he is still waiting for the one I wrote that explained all the areas where I could not tolerate certain behaviors (all brought up verbally between us and only us in privacy prior), and he apologized for almost half of them. I accepted his apologies, but on the flip side of that coin, it meant he knew what it was doing- enough to know it was WRONG, that it HURT me- and he did it anyway.

        This is not meant to be turned into a bashing post so I stop with this. I agree some people will change, and some will not but it is so TRUE that the person has to want to SEE IT FOR THEMSELVES and WANT THE CHANGE. No one can make them do that. For all the wonderful men and women who see the posts reveal that they need to change- good for you! It means you recognize the issue and I applaud and encourage you. Not everyone will be willing to see or change their behaviors. I am human and not perfect and I accept responsibility for our failed relationship too… What Matt said about Percentage and even if there is SOME percentage we are still at fault.

        I think mine lies in that I saw indicative behavior that he was still emotionally a child when visiting his and his roommate’s house and they asked him repeatedly to take responsibility. I should have seen then and there and ended it. I did as we had a prior break and he tried maybe all of two weeks… I think it best to cut the losses on this one as much as it pains me. I read a post as I still loved him “Why women leave the men they love.” It is a real epidemic and Matt is on to something.

        Thank you Matt for your raw openness and vulnerability. I know it struck a chord with me and other readers (numerous times!!!) and I hope you will keep writing. I am just as ecstatic that there are comments of people reading and learning from the posts and applying it to a rejuvenating marriage.

        Thank you, Donkey, also for the insight.

  23. Pingback: Do Nice Guys Really Finish Last? | Must Be This Tall To Ride

  24. Thanks ttravis, that book looks intriguing!

    Regarding intimate relationships, I love David Schnarch’s book “Passionate Marriage”. He talks about “normal marital sadism” amongst other things. Maybe that’s another term you don’t use often and will find exciting. 🙂

    Relationship coach Jack Ito says having strong boundaries and showing a lot of love at the same time is the apporach most likely to succeed if someone wants their partner to change something:
    But again, you can only do so much.

    Sometimes I read the blog Baggagre Reclaim by Natalie Lue. She’s very good at calling out mind-effery, shady behaviour and urging people to keep their boundaries (it’s geared more towards heterosexual women, relationships and dating it seems).

  25. I come just for the comments! Not really, I love Matt’s blogs, they are my new addiction actually. Honestly though, so many intellects here that can adeptly present an idea and flesh it out and have intelligent debate. Keep it up folks, I’m learning so much through you all, and I give my gratitude. Life and relationships are damn hard, I can relate so well to so many, and I am finding new tools to communicate with my spouse to encourage healing and growth for both of us in our marriage.

  26. Matt, you’ve nailed it. I’m divorced from the father of my children, and he used to say the same thing: “I’ll help you; just tell me what you want me to do.” As if he was blind to the fact that the laundry hamper was overflowing or there were piles of newspapers on the kitchen table. He truly couldn’t understand why this was irritating to me. And he truly couldn’t understand why, after spending all week doing housework and child care by myself, and then all weekend doing housework and child care by myself, I wasn’t irresistibly drawn to him in the bedroom. Really? The most confusing aspect of this is that before kids, we did all of the housework together, so he actually did know exactly what needed to be done around the house. This led me to believe that once children arrived, in his mind our roles had changed and that I was now THE MOTHER to our children, to him, to the household. It makes me wonder if perceptions about our changing roles once we become parents is a factor in all of this.

  27. Hi,

    I am a new follower, since the dishes post alerted me to your blog. I love what you write.

    Can you please add the “Pinterest” button to your articles so I can pin some of them for my boys to read when they are older?

    Thanks!!! Judy (Boys ages 15 and 13 and husband I am still married to perhaps age 5 🙂

    Sent from my iPhone


  28. How did you get diagnosed with ADD? My husband relates to a lot of what you write, and follow through and attention to detail have been major issues for us, leaving me feeling abandoned and left to carry the load. He sees a doc that prescribes a mild medication, but we aren’t seeing a ton of improvement. He does not completely fit the profile of adult ADD – doesn’t have issues keeping a job or making bad choices or being impulsive. So, two marriage therapists have said they don’t think he has it. I’m torn and frustrated. Would love to hear your own experience with diagnosis. Thanks! (If you already wrote about this somewhere and I missed it, I apologize. A link would be appreciated.)

  29. A couple of points I didn’t see here:

    1. There’s a factor that a lot of us forget, but one I think is very important: The way we respond to others is much like leaves that a tree displays – It’s not so much the current weather – although certainly, a hailstorm or hurricane can rip them all off in moments. It’s more about what’s been going on underground for months, or years. The appearance of leaves tends to be more about what’s in the soil, how wet the winter was, etc.

    So how is this relevant? Well, it’s because we are the same way. We respond to others based on the soil they planted us in – NOT on the current forecast. Example – if you have learned, over years of experience, to expect your spouse to disappoint you, or yell at you, or some such – THOSE repetitive behaviors are what shape the lenses in your glasses. You come to EXPECT every and all interaction to be painful in some way – and you REACT in that manner, regardless of how hard your ex is trying to change. So your ex might come to you with sunshine, but you aren’t buying it, because you know that he just wants to blind you so you won’t notice when he pours acid on your roots.

    This learned response is what makes it so hard to rebuild. The base trust is gone; the expected outcome transmogrifies the intended one. The offending spouse has to work four times harder to be absolutely 100% consistent, and the first time he slips, you’ve hit the reset button and you’re back to Square One – or Square Negative One, because you’ve reinforced that he’s “ALWAYS” that way, and he’s lost more than all his progress in his efforts to change.

    Make sense? (This totally applies to work relationships, too, by the way – if your boss micro-manages, or is condescending, it will take YEARS of PERFECT behavior to change that expectation.) Having been the wife in your Valentine’s scenario, I can tell you that that’s how it looked through my telescope.

    2. Others have noted that running a household is exhausting. But what also takes a ton of energy is dealing with disappointment. There have been studies about this – when spouses leave a situation such as one you’ve described, and move into one where 100% of the household is definitively on their shoulders (because now they’re the only adult) the stress levels DECREASE. Why? Because at that point, yes, I have to do EVERYTHING, but that’s now the expectation. I’m not wasting energy on a) nagging you to help and/or b) being disappointed that you didn’t help. It needs to be done, and I do it. It becomes transactional instead of emotional AND transactional. No frustration, no disappointment. It needed to be cleaned, folded, organized, and paid, and I did it. The end.

    Not sure if that was of any help, but I’m sure it applies to someone other than just me! 🙂

    1. I thought it was awesome and well-stated. Thank you for taking time to contribute meaningfully to the conversation.

      1. Thank you! It didn’t save my first marriage, unfortunately….but it has helped a few work relationships (and I coach managers with a lot of first-marriage examples!)

    2. This is one of the most insightful and well-written posts I’ve seen on this blog. Thank you so much for sharing you thoughts.

      I’m a professional providing intervention services to children who are struggling, and over the past few years, I’ve been puzzled when I meet with (loving, financially stable) parents who explain why certain things aren’t happening with their kids, like homework or reading to them at bedtime. They claim “Life is so busy!”

      As a divorced mom who raised two children, I know “busy.” Yet, I was never too busy to make sure my kids got their homework done, sat at the family dinner table almost every night for food and conversation, had some one-on-one reading time with me, and got to school on time wearing clean clothes, with a tummy full of breakfast, and hair and teeth brushed. This isn’t because I’m some kind of superwoman. It just needed to be done and I did it.

      So, I’ve been wondering, why do these two-parent families have so much trouble doing what I was able to do adequately by all by myself? There are TWO of them, for goodness sake! But after reading Matt’s blog, and your post, I have a new perspective on this. Maybe what’s causing much of the stress for these families (among other things only they know), is that one person feels all. the. responsibility. Maybe one person feels he or she is in charge of getting everything done, and clean, and on time. Maybe that person feels that he or she also has to assign tasks to the spouse, and resents that this person can’t just see what needs to be done and do it. Resentment is stressful and exhausting. It robs the family of the “fertile ground” they all need to thrive. And the whole family – including the children- suffers.

      1. Deb and Katie – I agree, very well stated and insightful.

        One of the huge things for me, regarding this blog, has been all the TERMINOLOGY. I struggle sometimes to put things into the correct words. Or maybe just having someone mention these things that were a stress on me and I didn’t even KNOW IT but reading about it just validates things so much.

        When I asked my husband for a divorce he had a few knee-jerk angry responses. One of which was “I don’t see why you think it will be any easier WITHOUT me.” I didn’t know how to explain it to him. How can you even say to someone “Your presence in my life creates more work and stress for me than you offset.”

        The closest I could ever come is to say that when you have one spouse shouldering the burden and there is, in fact, another spouse present and fully capable of pulling their share (but choosing not to or pretending not to see the need), it causes undue stress on the other spouse. An incredible amount of stress.

        When you are literally the only show in town, there’s no questioning or second guessing. There’s no wringing your hands, wondering what you can possibly do to get him to understand that it shouldn’t just be your responsibility to do ____.

        There’s no frustration or resentment because the baby is crying in the middle of the night for the umpteenth time and it has literally been YEARS since you got a full night’s sleep and yet, your husband that just proclaims to love you so much is laying next to you, pretending to sleep because subconsciously he knows you’ll just go get up and tend to the baby… when it’s just you, it’s just you.

        The actual WORKLOAD of my life is higher. I’m a single mom, I work full time, operate a side business, and am living in a half finished house (and I am doing the finishing on my own, which also takes a huge amount of time in my life). My life is immensely work-loaded. But the emotional labor – the emotional workload that my ex created in my life – is gone, so therefore life is easier. The amount of STRESS that I do NOT have, means I actually have more energy and am less tired. My quality of life is up. And I’m finding it quite the novelty that I now have mental energy to spend on self-care.

        ** Side note – this, ironically, this is one area where I suspect men often shoot themselves in the foot. Can’t tell you how many times you hear men talking about how women “let themselves go” after marriage but I suspect a lot of those men maybe don’t realize that as women, we’re socialized to look after ourselves last, so oftentimes if this happens, it might just be because we have so many other things on our plate there simply isn’t space on our plate to take care of ourselves. I struggled with this immensely during the last decade, and I am firmly convinced that this is why I have lost a significant amount of weight since my split without even trying to.

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  31. I’ve read three posts so far and my neck is sore from nodding so much. This is quite possibly the best blog I’ve ever stumbled upon. I’m trying to figure out how to share this with my husband without triggering his defensive nature and causing more harm than good ?

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  35. Best article ever for husbands. I sent this to mine. So many articles talk about giving your wife attention, listening, etc but dont address this. Feeling like a maid and Nanny (after kids come) is exhausting and kills sex drive. Responsibility kills passion.

    Hire a maid, help your wife with chores. Give her time to play, laugh, and catch up on much needed sleep to restore passion.

  36. So if I’m the woman in this scenario, what do I do? Because my husband isn’t reading this. I am. But I don’t want a divorce. So do I just stay? With someone I NEVER want to bang? With someone who is essentially my third child? With someone who thinks that as long as he isn’t cheating or drinking every night that he is a superb partner? What is MY next move?

    1. Solidarity, Beth! You speak for so many here. Not sure Matt has an answer, but you are asking the million dollar question for sure.

    2. Beth — You need to get out. Being in a stale, stalled, dead-end relationship that you have dedicated time and energy to trying to improve on your end is a waste of your life. I had the same thoughts as you until I decided “I do not want to still be in this situation in 10 years, in 5, or even in 1”. And I made the move. It was not easy but within a few weeks I was receiving comments that I seemed so calm, happy, radiant etc. And I was, and I am. (It’s been 2 1/2 years now). If you have communicated to your husband that your needs are not being met and your interest in sex is (correctly) tied to this, then at least a trial separation is worth a try. Because it will give you a chance to see if it’s the right move and it will let him know that you are able to stand on your own without him if he cannot step up to do his part. Good luck to you!

  37. My husband doesn’t know of you yet, but epic fights that have me in tears the next day thinking about it because I’m so frustrated will be the reason I’m sending him here…

    I don’t want to tell him to do yet another thing, and I could be petty and say that it’s his job to know to look for this type of advice, but it won’t help. It won’t get us anywhere. I’m sure your familiar with the “mental load” stay at home moms (and working moms) face. If we have to do one more thing in our heads, we’ll explode. And lately it’s a lot. And we made my son cry yesterday. And I cry thinking about it. He’s 3. He deserves better. He needs Mommy and Daddy to be his Sun and Moon.

    I’m exploding because I’m the one who pushes on things that need pushing, I’m the one who is picking battles, I’m the one who consults lawyers in legal matters, stands up to the pediatricians that dropped the ball with my daughter bad enough for a patient advocate telling me to write to the medical board, scheduling this, reminding, wiping, lifting, chasing, forgetting, remembering, and… I haven’t seen him actually take point and do everything that needs to be done for an entire day in a way that I don’t feel like me leaving is going to mean something gets neglected. I’m not just talking about the dishes. But that is his job and he always finds an excuse for not doing it… But yet his paying job will never suffer.

    And then when he whined that he didn’t get enough sexual attention from me and that’s the reason he lied about porn and spent money on cam girls and basically cheated by doing it…

    I snapped. Something in me that used to be part of me isn’t there. But it comes back when I see my friends. When I have fun. When I have down time. It’s rare.

    And I haven’t had an 8 hour stretch to myself in over 3 years. Our son has special needs and our parents aren’t capable of overnights. And even if they were, I don’t count sleep as time to myself.

    I used to be alone with my son for 11 hours at a time, 4 days a week, and then my husband still wasn’t very involved once he was home.
    And I resented him for not trying to learn the patience I had to learn.

    I’m only mom. And I hate it.

    I lost some baby weight. Got sexy underwear. I am more available sexually. I am trying and trying and trying. I’m trying too hard for someobe that doesn’t make the same effort.

    And that is why the dishes will break a marriage.

    And that may be why I broke a set of dishes on our patio the minute I wasn’t watching the kids one day…

    He’ll see this very soon.

  38. I would only add one thing: when you actually do get the “I got this” from your other half and you’re serious about not wanting to be the “parent” in the relationship, then…back off and let them get this.

    His (her) way works, too.

    If he does the laundry but not exactly the way you would do it, if she mows the lawn but she missed a spot, if he gets up in the middle of the night to deal with a kid’s issue so you can sleep but he’s not as superhumanly awesome at it as you, if she takes the car in for maintenance but doesn’t hardball-negotiate with the mechanic the way you would…you know what you can do?

    Shut up and kiss them, maybe?

    Seems to me that encouragement is a vastly superior motivator.

  39. This is spot on!! However I would say if he also puts effort into setting up the “moment of lovin” that helps too!

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  41. I guarantee that when you decide it’s too much work to bend over and slide your legs into your pants, or move in such a way that you can put on your socks and shoes, and you ask your wife to do it for you, she’s pretty much decided at that point that the marriage has lost it sex.

    If you’re both somewhat disabled and ordinary sex doesn’t work between the two of you, it’s pretty rude to get yours and roll over and go to sleep. It’s the sort of thing that makes your wife uninterested in giving you a hand.

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  43. Matt,
    I stumbled across your posts years ago or maybe someone sent me a link to your letters to a shitty husband, either way, I always check out your new posts when I get your email.
    I really love this one in particular because guys as a whole do not seem to get that our sex drive eventually diminishes especially when we feel unappreciated for everything we do for the home that we feel our husbands either 1-does not seem to see/notice and 2-doesn’t seem to care except when we are too tired to have or want sex.
    Do you have any pointers to get this across to my husband? I have mentioned many times how exhausted I am with everything I have on my plate and he always tells me that he does stuff for me on occasion and that I never remember them (ie: occasionally takes out the trash to the end of the driveway, or puts in a load of laundry that never leaves the dryer). I am definitely an Acts of Service love language and he is a Quality Time, and we spend all our time together with the exception of work. I love him to pieces, I just wish he would help me more without me having to ask or delegate. To make matters more frustrating, he was an E6 in the Army and knows how to take charge and get things done, yet he does none of it in our homelife. Again, any pointers are greatly appreciated.

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  46. Holy shit. You get it. You really get it.

    A part of me deep down inside wants kids (either biological or adopted) but I just can’t bring myself to have kids with my husband. We are in a similar situation with the im doing all the house chores and planning everything and working full time and he’s just mowing the yard and going on fishing trips.

    My biggest fear is that I would be doing all this on my own. His reason for wanting kids is “someone to take care of me when I’m old.” HA!

    I work as a hospital nurse and I can tell you, your kids don’t have to like you much less love you when they are adults. I told him this. This is Not a legit reason to bring a person into the world. By putting that responsibility on them before they even exist? For his own selfish needs?

    Anyway, sorry about the tangent. Just found your blog and most of you stuff hits the nail on the head for me as the wife. I’ve been thinking about divorce, hell, I’ve mentioned, but he just seemed so ambivalent about it that it made me mad and I just walked away.

    It’s taken me years to realize it but I married a narcissist. We can’t even communicate because he turns everything around on me and then I end up feeling so guilty. I just get so upset I just shut myself down and walk away.

    Im sorry for the weird rant. Just wish your posts were required for spouses prior to marriage.

    1. I’m so sorry you’re living that. I’m so grateful that feel like I’ve legitimately made the turn. I very much want to be part of the solution.

      Thank you for being here and sharing here.

    2. This is why I wouldn’t even entertain having kids with my ex. I don’t want to be mom and dad the way most people grow up, I want an actual partner.

  47. In this situation now. The mental load is all on me with our chores, groceries, and our three pets. I used to fantasize about adopting a child with my boyfriend one day but now the thought petrifies me. All my career goals would be put on the back burner for his needs, and the child’s needs, and the pet’s needs, and keeping our living space clean. I have bad allergies and severe asthma and recently had an 8-month long eczema flare up when I have never had eczema before.

    I had pus weeping out of sores on my formerly flawless complexion, my depression was spiraling out of control, and I was in my last year of university just trying to keep my grades up while we also struggled financially. He knew I was DESPERATE to have a clean space to live in but he didn’t really do much to help, he was a dead weight. I think that really hammered home the fact that my health doesn’t really matter very much to him. I feel worthless.

    Every time I try to stand up for myself he turns it back onto me and frames me as this cold ice-queen. I’m not withholding sex because I don’t have any sexual desire left to withhold! I went to stay with my mom for three months during quarantine because she was terrified that my skin would be permanently damaged by all the swelling and sores and she knew that I’d be stuck inside an apartment that I was already afraid to go home to as it was. I think my boyfriend saw this as a personal attack against him and he was annoyed with me for leaving.

    My skin healed within a few weeks and then I got Covid-19 and was bedridden for nearly a month. Then I had to wait to be approved to get back on a plane so I didn’t risk spreading it. I didn’t choose to be gone that long and I wasn’t off having a great time without him. Well, when I came home he slept past my noon arrival time and I had to take a nearly $80 cab ride home with a screaming kitten (my mom’s cat had had kittens and I couldn’t resist).

    Then I walk in the door and the apartment was a nightmare. I could barely breathe through the stench of animal feces and the bottoms of my feet were black with dirt and crumbs after a few steps. Our older cat was significantly heavier and it was showing in her face and the ferret’s cage was caked in feces. There were also stains from his greasy hands on the walls by the light switches, rotten things in the fridge, and peanuts (which I am allergic to) all under the bed and bedroom floor. I promptly had a massive panic attack and had to be talked out of it over facetime by my best friend.

    I know he was depressed having to live alone but my eczema never would have gone into remission had I not left. I have been diagnosed with depression on three separate occasions so I know how difficult it is but a dirty living space is a HUGE trigger for my mental illness, and my allergies, and my asthma, and he knows that. I told him to go and get a diagnosis if he thinks he has depression because every time I talk about struggling with it he says “Well, I think I have depression too!” which I just find so gross and manipulative at this point. He was so considerate and sweet and very obviously adored me before we moved in together and now he just feels like this big un-groomed child who’s holding me back and making me miserable. Even when he makes an effort to fix things it’s inconsistent and I just can’t keep getting my hopes up only for things to go back to a mother and son dynamic all over again.

    I feel like I’m only holding on because this is my first relationship, we’ve been together since I was 18, and now I’m 25 and I’ve never been in the dating scene before and it’s intimidating. His mom is also terminally ill and I wanted to support him through that and I really love his family. I feel like both of our families kind of expected the whole highschool sweethearts thing to continue forever and it kind of feels like a failure as illogical as I know that is. It feels like a waste because our personalities and senses of humor are so well matched but I can’t waste my life mommy-ing him instead of pursuing my dreams so I really doubt that this can be fixed.

    1. You need to move out, take the pets with you, and end it permanently with him. It will never change and never get any better. Only worse. I speak from 18 years of experience with a man exactly like this. It has only gotten worse. Run. Run now, and never look back.

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Matt Fray

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