It’s Not Your Fault, Men; Just Your Responsibility

Comments 114

Many men neglect and abuse their wives emotionally, and it leads to thousands of new divorces every day.

Husbands do this totally unaware and accidentally, and sometimes wives think it’s a cop-out to say so, but it doesn’t make it less true. Their husbands don’t know, even though their wives have told them once or a thousand times.

There are more than 3,000 daily divorces in the United States, two out of three which are initiated by wives. It’s too depressing to figure out how many children that affects, so I’m not going to. Too many.


Sure, some guys are the worst kind of human beings imaginable. Disgusting. Violent. Physically and verbally and sexually abusive. Criminally irresponsible. Dishonest and unreliable. Remorselessly unfaithful. I’m still trying to figure out how women end up marrying men like this, but regardless, these marriages usually end badly, and it’s generally safe to point fingers at the guy in such situations. Your fault, dick.

But that’s not who most of us are. Most of us are—flawed and imperfect though we may be—decent people with aspirations of being “good.” Most of us are good men. Good men who are also bad husbands. Being good at marriage is like being good at your job, or being good at woodworking, or being good at motorcycle repair.

Being a good husband is a skill. And the reason it’s not your fault you’re shitty at it is because no one told you that you were shitty at it until your wife did. The person you gave up your previous identity for and promised to faithfully love and share resources with forever. The person you tell “I love you.” The person you help provide for. The person you trust with your life and the lives of your children.

She’s the first one to break the news, and it doesn’t go down easy: “You are a shitty husband who makes me feel bad and unloved.”

IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. It wasn’t my fault, either.

My great-grandfather didn’t teach my grandfather who didn’t teach my father who didn’t teach me. Maybe it’s my great-great grandfather’s fault. Or maybe his dad’s. I don’t know.

I just know that I got married when I was 25, and no one had ever said anything until my wife did around the age of 30. I had the same reaction as the rest of you guys.

Really!? My fault? Why is it ALWAYS the guy’s fault!? The ones who don’t gossip, who stay out of drama, who rarely complain, who never have fights with others, who never start fights at home, who forgive and forget? What a crock of shit.

I’d get really pissed and defensive just like you. Because it wasn’t my fault. And it’s not your fault, either. Maybe other people are blaming you, but I’m not.


But your wife’s wellbeing? The state of your marriage? The stability of your family?

It’s your responsibility.

Come With Me If You Want To Live

Terminator 2: Judgment Day Spoiler Alert: An artificial-intelligence computer called Skynet developed for military applications becomes self-aware, takes control of U.S. military weapons systems, and launches a global nuclear attack to wipe out humanity. Judgment Day.

The computer processor which would evolve into Skynet was invented by a cybernetics scientist named Miles Dyson. He was a decent guy. Married with a young son. He was Director of Special Projects at Cyberdyne Systems Corp. Just a guy doing his job, developing advanced technology. He probably believed he was doing something valuable for the world.

But his greatest achievement led to global destruction.

As most of you know, this was an accidental side effect of Dyson’s work. OF COURSE he wouldn’t have developed those technologies if he knew humanity would face global extinction as a result.

The end of the world WAS NOT HIS FAULT.

But it was his responsibility, which is why he helped the protagonists blow up his lab and destroy all of the research, losing his life in the process.

Sacrificial redemption.

The Secret to Making Your Wife Happy and Your Marriage Awesome

Men are looking for the cypher to crack the code. A solution to the problem. They want someone to say: “Here’s what’s wrong! And if you do X, Y, and Z everything will magically get better!”

Bad news, guys. There is no actual secret code.

There’s no shortcut. There’s only the long, slow way, like saving for retirement or building a successful business:

We love hard. We listen to our partners and believe them when they tell us things. We devote the same energy we devote to learning how to be good at our jobs, or how to succeed in our competitive endeavors and hobbies to learning the intricacies of our spouse.

We don’t stop flirting with them and courting them and learning about their hopes and dreams just because we don’t feel all young and lusty like we did when we were dating.

We give a little bit more to them than we take for ourselves. (And of course they should do the same — so no one ever vampire-sucks the life out of the relationship.)

And then we all show our kids how to do it, so future generations won’t have all this broken shittiness.

It’s not just that our parents and grandparents and ancestors didn’t pass down any secret knowledge about how to not ruin our relationships. No one else talked to us about it either. Not in school. Not in some secret How To Be Married Club. Not even some random older married-couple mentors to talk to you about what this is all supposed to look and feel like. But please don’t blame them. It’s not their fault. Because no one bothered to tell them either.

Someday, we will need to start having these talks before we get married. But no one is motivated to figure this stuff out until their marriages fall apart and it feels like the sky is falling. When we’re young and care-free and ignorant, we don’t know enough to even ask the right questions.

The reason no one can figure it out is because it’s not just one thing. And there isn’t an 80-20 rule either where there’s one big thing to concentrate on that might help.

It’s a million teeny-tiny, imperceptible moments.

And simply by being ourselves, combined with our lack of awareness that being ourselves causes emotional damage to our partners, we fail these little moments over and over again without realizing it.

And it’s fine when we’re dating. And it’s fine in the first couple years. And it might even be fine after the first baby.

But after a couple of kids, and several years, and work and financial stresses, and one of your parents dying unexpectedly?


It’s finished. And you didn’t see it coming because you didn’t know you were supposed to be looking for it.

The vast majority of men have absolutely no idea what it looks and feels like to meet a woman’s emotional needs, and no one has EVER talked about it with him before in his 20-30 years of life prior to engagement and marriage.

These aren’t just foreign concepts. They’re entirely absent.

No one is talking about these things with young men. These kids just think they’re supposed to be well-mannered. Respectful. Polite. Kind. To help protect. To help provide.

You can do almost all of those things through the prism of the male experience and neglect your partner emotionally completely by accident.

Which is what usually happens. Then the emotionally neglected wife is often unable to communicate the emotional neglect in a way that A. Makes sense to him, and B. Doesn’t come off like an ungrateful attack on his faithful husbandry.

Then they both slowly push one another away, one angry disagreement at a time, but with the husband often never considering divorce. Because of that list of things he’s been raised to believe about what he must do for his wife.

Being responsible for her “feelings”!? That seems like an incredibly unfair burden to a man who wasn’t educated on the intricacies of human emotional response and psychology.

He never asks his wife to be responsible for his feelings, but he’ll tell her all about it when she “attacks” him. He’ll fire back about the times he was upset about something she did, but that he never “stooped so low” as to try to make a fight out of it, or suggested marriage might have been a mistake, or tried to make it out like she was an inadequate spouse simply because she hurt him.

It’s unfair to her because he doesn’t give her what she needs, and when she tells him, he simply denies it, or rejects the idea that he owes more.

It’s unfair to him because she doesn’t give him the same courtesy he gives her: He doesn’t EVER threaten the marriage because of disagreements that seem minor and petty compared to his promise to love her and remain faithful forever.

This is where almost everyone waits for the other person to finally “see the light” and agree how right the other is. Then almost everyone ends up divorced because no one ever “sees the light.”


We husbands do a million little things to destroy our marriages. But until we understand how and why, it’s not our fault that it’s happening.

But is it our responsibility? You’re damn right, it is. And now it’s our responsibility to change it.

114 thoughts on “It’s Not Your Fault, Men; Just Your Responsibility”

  1. There is a secret code decoder besides asking the women in your life. It is in many, many books for any man to read if he is interested. For example, John Gottman just published a book called The Man’s Guide To Women. I am going over the concepts in it with my 17 year old son so he can unravel the so-called mystery of women long before he is married. Check it out it’s really a great book!

    1. I agree, Lisa. I just meant there’s no magic shortcut. It’s a lifetime of conscious effort, thoughtfulness, energy, sacrifice, and empathy.

      That’s not supposed to sound negative, because a great marriage and family is life-giving and replinishes the expended energy.

      But I think men want easy answers. There aren’t any.

      It requires a lot of work to figure it out, a lot of honesty and humility to own your mistakes, and then a lifetime of walking the walk.

      Thank you VERY much for having these conversations with your son at 17.

      To me, that represents what our societal and cultural norms would ideally look like. Young people in their teenage years, learning about these ideas, discussing them, and when appropriate, practicing them.

      We have Don’t Do Drugs campaigns and people still do drugs. We have Don’t Drink and Drive campaigns and people still drink and drive.

      But EVERYONE is aware of those dangers and the problems they cause.

      The scary thing about these conversations is that seemingly MOST people who have not been through divorce, severe marriage problems, or have been upclose and personal with a divorce during a mature-ish period of their life, don’t have any idea that they even need to worry about this.

      I had 12 years of Catholic schooling. Marriage is considered a sacred institution in Catholicism. Then I graduated from college. Pretty much everyone I knew was married or planned to be one day.

      And yet, NOT ONE TIME was I ever introduced to the conversations we are having right here, right now.

      And that must change, or this will never stop.

      1. Matt,

        I agree with you completely. I am also training my son to clean up after himself and load the dishes in the dishwasher and not leave them on the counter. (Ha!). So if he is a crappy husband it will be his fault I guess. I think he will be a good husband though because he is a good guy and he will have learned basic skills and he will have learned that books about relationships are for men to read.

        I am confused about one thing though. I thought Catholics had pretty good pre marital courses they are required to take before marrying. Did they not include good information in them? I know as Protestants we received virtually no premarital counseling. I think all couples should take a Gottman relationship course before marrying. There is a lot of good marriage stuff out there (and a lot of bad stuff too). I think Gottman is particularly user friendly for most men because it is very concrete and talks about emotions in a skills based way.

        1. There is a pretty extensive course that Catholics take before they marry. I never took it.

          I married a non-Catholic. The wedding was in her church. We had a Catholic ceremony a few years later, but you don’t have to go through the pre-marriage class to do that.

          And our marriage seemed totally legit at the Year 3 or whatever mark.

          I’m very familiar with Dr. Gottman’s name, and completely unfamiliar with any of the Gottman content. I have not read any of his (and he writes with his wife, too, right?) books, nor have I gone through any coursework.

          I’ve only read a small handful of relationship books, but there are many more I want to read (and I own a stack of unread ones), because once my marriage ended, it took away a lot of my drive to do so.

          But since I want to be the best version of myself possible, I do intend to read several more.

          In the meantime, I write my thoughts and experiences here, many of which have been shaped by three years of feedback by thousands of comments and emails.

          When you get to have real-life conversations about what modern marriage looks like from that many people, you really start to see the macro-level patterns which negatively affect everyone.

          It’s not hard for me to apply them to my own experiences and realize just how devastatingly typical and negligent I was.

          I have no clue HOW we get people to introduce our youth to these ideas. But I’ve become convinced it’s the only option for instilling meaningful cultural change RE: divorce.

          We can’t go back in time.

          So all we can do is make tomorrow better.

          1. I actually saw a book today called How To Be An Adult. Almost bought it too, lol. Cuz I strongly suspect that a lot of relationship issues are related to one or both partners not knowing how to adult.

            I wonder if that book will touch on relationship skills at all…?

            I may just buy it.

      2. Matt,

        Thanks for your response! I enjoy reading your blog! You’re an excellent writer and clearly have tapped into what a lot of “average good guys” go through trying to understand their wife’s unhappiness. You are helping a lot of people improve their current or future relationships and that’s just about as important as it gets.

        I was curious about the Catholic pre marriage counseling because I was wondering if they talk about many of these common issues. Maybe someone out there in common land has taken it?

        I know many Protestant churches have young married classes and marriage resources so some men get some education there.

        If you do get a chance, check out the Gottmans work. John has done scientific marriage research for what makes a happy or unhappy marriage for decades and his therapist wife Julie was the one who convinced him to write books because the state of marriage material was generally very bad and people were suffering. Many of the things you have figured out are similar to their findings.

        The latest Gottman book explaining the mystery of women that I am going through with my son is really good. One small example is that most men have no idea how much fear women experience in their daily lives and have to organize their lives around it staying safe.

        Thanks for all the effort you put into this blog and comments!

        1. LisaR,
          On Catholic pre-marriage counseling: It’s intense and covers a lot of ground. Basically the engaged couple pairs with an aproved (and trained) mentor couple in the parish they’re getting married in. There’s a structured questionnaire that the pre-marriage couple completes as individuals and then goes through with the mentor couple. It aims to make sure you have important conversations, are on the same page, and begin to learn to communicate as a couple. There’s some focus on the significance of marriage as a sacrament of the church. Also, depending on how conservative the individual church, a separate class on natural family planning might be required and possibly a retreat. All this starts nine months to a year before the wedding date.
          There are also various resources (retreats, courses, groups, etc) for marriage support but I think that varies more from parish to parish.

      3. Night7,

        Thanks for the info on Catholic premarital counseling! Not sure if you went through it or not but do people find it helpful to go through it? Does it prevent the kinds of communication problems this blog talks about?

        1. LisaR,
          I did and I think it can prevent many of the typical communication problems talked about here if the parties involved are open and truly honest with themselves and eachother. Many of my friends and family members went through similar marriage prep regiments too and found it extremely helpful. My now ex-husband and I also went to a Marriage Encounter weekend many years later. I can see how that program is immensely helpful for improving marriages as well. Unfortunately for us it was a case of too little too late.

      4. Interesting info on the Catholic pre-marital program some have experienced. I went through the program myself and it was a questionairre followed by one meeting with the priest which focused on our planned means of birth control, whether we would divorce if one of us cheated and would be promise to baptize our kids and raise them Catholic. Questionairre took less than an hour, talking with the priest took less than an hour. That was it!

    2. Matt,

      I just reread my first comment and realized it came out a little snarky. Sorry about my harsh start up as my man crush Gottman calls it and thank you for overlooking it with you gracious response.

      I totally get your point about men not being trained in emotional intelligence particularly in modern marriage with a woman. It’s not their fault in that sense but we now have so much information available. World class researcher and therapists you can watch for free on YouTube. Books and ebooks and courses and we seminars. Who buys all that stuff? I read it was 90% women. So I do think it is their “fault” for not applying themselves to be the best husband possible in the same way many apply energy and seek out books to improve their golf games.

      I love men (I have some great ones I love) and am sympathetic to how hard some of this. But just like men had to pioneer being more involved fathers with not role models or training, these grown men have the responsibility (as you said) to figure it out.

      1. No apology necessary! It was kind of you to do so anyway.

        I didn’t perceive it as being snarky. And since I’m totally snarky, I think it’s only fair that a bunch of other people be granted that free-speech liberty as well.

        90% women? How accurate do you believe that to be? That the money spent on relationship-improvement tools is 9 out of 10 times, being initiated by wives/girlfriends?

        Because that’s a bit of a problem, if true.

      2. I just googled it and it does indeed seem that women buy 90% or more of all books about relationships, which doesn’t surprise me. I think one of the reasons that men are so clueless is because they’re not spending any time reading relationship research whereas I started at age 12 or so and have continued to read and read about relationships throughout my adult life (all relationships – not just romantic/sexual ones). And I think this is typical of women. We want to be really good at this because it’s such a big part of life, so costly to get wrong and we don’t make the assumption that there’s nothing to it; that it’s all obvious. I think this might have something to do with the fact that you quoted, Matt, about women feeling far more fear and anxiety than men (I had no idea about that until I read it here). I have worried about getting divorced since I was 12 or so, even though nobody in my immediate family had ever got divorced and none of my friends had parents that were divorced. I grew up seeing almost no divorce around me and yet I still feared divorce very much and still do (I’m single!). But men don’t seem to even fear divorce when they’re married and their wives are regularly telling them they’re miserable. It still isn’t registering as a concern. Although you said it was at least on your radar since it happened to your parents. Would you say you feared it in any real way?

        1. Interesting question.

          I was very scared of divorce, conceptually. Which is why I frequently suggest if I only knew then what I know now, there’s no way I’m divorced today.

          I feared divorce. In a literal sense.

          But I didn’t fear divorce in my marriage because I took it for granted. I thought my my wife like I think of my parents. I disappoint them. They get mad at me. We don’t always agree. But the love between us is not in question. It is FOREVER.

          I mistakenly believed my relationship with my wife would be that way. I learned the hard way it wasn’t true. And by “the hard way,” I mean it hurt in ways I can’t begin to describe.

          That pain is what taught me what empathy means. And learning what empathy is and what it means is one of life’s greatest lessons. So, good for me? I don’t know.

          I just know I respected my marriage and had a healthy fear of divorce, philosophically.

          But in a real-world sense? I never actually believed it would happen until the end came.

          I have yet to find the words. It sounds so immature and insane and hard to believe when I read myself describe it.

          I just hope you’ll accept in good faith that it’s how I experienced it. I thought she was out of line, not me.

          And only the excruciating pain of sleeping in the guest room, and divorce, and my son being gone half the time was enough to motivate me to explore better explanations for how my life turned out so out of sorts.

          In my search for answers, I discovered the things I write about here with the hopes that maybe other people won’t go through the same thing.

      3. And yeah, the fact that men are creating so many of the problems in relationships and women are the ones spending the time and money trying to sort them out is another aspect of wifework, or emotion work. The effort and energies put into trying to make the relationship work that fall to the woman simply by default, because men don’t think it’s anything to do with them.

      4. Sorry – I posted my last post before your last response appeared. I do believe you completely – I think you do write in good faith and while I don’t always fully understand your explanations and experiences I appreciate how much time and effort you are putting into figuring things out and doing so in a way that is getting so many people engaged. I am working on understanding men’s experiences better. I think this lower fear level might be quite a big deal. I’m still not sure what to make of the shame thing but I’ll rethink that when I’ve read that book about improving your marriage without talking about it..

      5. Matt,

        Men can learn about relationships in different ways, reading books, writing a blog as you’re doing, or talking to couples. The only thing that matters is the willingness to learn.

        I have been married almost 20 years to a really good guy. Yet we were both increasingly miserable for the last several. So I decided to “science the shit out of it” ( catch the nerdy The Martian reference?)

        I have read a LOT of relationship/couples therapy books, youtube videos, podcasts, and even subscribed to therapist training to try and figure out what was causing the problem and how to fix it. I have no idea how many books my husband read but I do know he did not read the one he agreed to read so yeah that is more than a little frustrating.

        You know what I found from my research? I am a shitty wife and my husband is a shitty husband even though both of us were convinced the other was really the one with the problem.

        We went to marriage therapy because my husband is a good guy and not like a lot of “average guys” who will not go. You know what I found there? Most marriage counselors are truly, truly, terrible. Really, I know because I have read books and seen videos of what good marriage counseling looks like and it does not resemble the idiot who told me that all women are illogical and hormonal or the one who told me that you can’t really expect that much out of a man or those that think it would be helpful for us to sit on a couch and tell everything we hate about each other with no solutions offered. At least my husband and I bonded over laughing at how bad they were. I researched a ton more and have found a good one we skype with.

        The most frustrating part for me? I have had to make this virtually a full time job on top of everything else I was already doing while my husband does very little to solve the problem. No books, no blogs, no podcasts etc etc. So THAT is why it is his “fault” and I am reading the Gottman’s new book with my 17 year old son. This is BOTH of our problem, why am I the only one all in to find the solution? YOU DON’T GIVE UP when you have several crappy therapists, you keep researching and working UNTIL the problem is solved! I never understand that stereotype about men being the problem solvers when from my experience it is the women who have to do virtually all of the research and search for solutions and hope the husband will agree to do some of it.

      6. Matt said:
        But I didn’t fear divorce in my marriage because I took it for granted. I thought my my wife like I think of my parents. I disappoint them. They get mad at me. We don’t always agree. But the love between us is not in question. It is FOREVER.

        I mistakenly believed my relationship with my wife would be that way. I learned the hard way it wasn’t true.

        Today, it is rare to have true commitment to marriage by both spouses. Divorce happens when marriage is no longer convenient, one thinks they have a better option, or similar. And with no-fault divorce, all it takes is one to end the marriage.

    3. Lisa, you’re so right. if only we all could look in the mirror and see how we ourselves are the problem rather than accuse our spouse! It takes a patient, forgiving couple to allow themselves the time and the chance to “unshitty” their ways.

      1. It was so much more fun when I thought I was a pretty good wife married to a shitty husband! LOL

        I am trying to do what Matt is doing and really learn how healthy relationships work and make changes accordingly. It’s hard but well worth the effort to be a better person and see my husband smile again.

    1. Michelle. This is the second time you have asked me to take your name off my email list, and I’m afraid it’s the second time I have to inform you that I cannot do that.

      I do not have the power to subscribe or unsubscribe people to this blog, otherwise I would make everyone in the world read it like a blogging tyrant.

      I’m afraid YOU must unsubscribe from your email from WordPress.

      Once again, I’m sorry you don’t like the posts.

  2. Excellent writing. Excellent insight. Excellent distinction between fault and responsibility. Hopefully that distinction will make it easier for husbands to understand and accept. Keep writing, Matt! You give me hope for the human race!

    I have often thought that someone should do classes or a seminar for men who want to understand their wives–call it something like “The Nuts and Bolts of Marriage” or “Romance for Dummies.” Before marriage would be great, because I think in the first few years, a husband really does want to please his wife and is more open to learning new things. If he could get the instruction BEFORE he’s married and starts blowing it big time, we could avoid the ego block of him interpreting everything as “criticism.” After 20 years of marriage, it’s a lot harder to swallow being told that you’re not doing it right and you haven’t been for years. Still, for those who really want to save their marriages and are willing to learn, it would be awesome.

    I wonder how many men would utilize a resource like this? Because going to a class on this topic is kind of like admitting you’re lost and pulling over to ask directions, and husbands respond to being asked to go to marriage counseling about as well as they would to the threat of blackmail. Women ask for directions and voluntarily go to counseling all the time. Why is it so hard for men?

    1. Start it as early as possible, and even use it for friendships and how to make people feel special and loved.
      We all suck at it at some times, and

  3. Excellent, as usual. I saw a ‘perfect couple’ today at the bulk food store. The wife said something to her husband about ‘not those peanuts’ and he replied (with a bit of a sigh and in a long-sufffering tone), “okay, I’ll put them back”, and poured the back back into the bin.

    Judging the situation, I leaned over and said “the liquor store is next door if you want some real wine to go with your whine”. They both laughed WITH each other. When I told them I wrote hot romance books they startled giggling like teenagers.

    I asked how long they’ve been together. Almost 59 years. They were country people, both spry, and had married very young. They were still young at heart, and obviously in love.

    This is so rare — not the years together but that they still shared joy and laughter after almost sixty years. I wanted to give one example that wonderful marriages do exist.

    Thanks for the reminder that we are all responsible for how we live our lives. Reading, and sharing, your blog may help us achieve something deeper than what we have now.

    1. Thank you, Reece!

      60-year marriage. Solid run! I know precisely the kind of couple you mean. It’s a shame more of us won’t get there.

      But, perhaps a shorter version? Possible!

  4. Bull’s eye with this post, Matt.

    Ladies, if your husband finally does come around to recognizing what he has done, try to give him a little slack as he works to right the ship. He’s likely confused, embarrassed, panicked and super stressed because he knows his marriage could be over and he didn’t know what he was doing to cause it. It’s frustrating on a number of fronts.

    First, realizing that he unwittingly alienated and hurt his wife is a massive slap in the face. It’s an admittedly deserved slap in the face, but he has to adjust to the shock of failing the woman he vowed to honor and cherish, a woman who likely is checked out and done with trying.

    Second, taking responsibility and owning what he has done requires a major dose of humility, something many (most??) men don’t come by easily.

    Third, the trickle of wounds he caused over the years ends up creating a massive gulf between him and his wife. And it’s a long row to get to her, often too long a row because her proverbial ship has sailed.

    So the dude finds himself alone in his marriage, confidence in tatters because the woman who fell in love with him for all the right reasons sees him only through lenses clouded by umpteen years of these wounds, and the distance between him and her seems too far to bridge. The guy has gone from being the man who hung the moon to being the man alone ON the moon. It is hard not to feel hopeless.

    I’m not suggesting that the man be allowed to play his victim or “poor pitiful me” card, but it’s shitty for the guy just as it is for the girl. Give your guy the chance to make amends and work within his newfound framework.

    As Matt put it, “The vast majority of men have absolutely no idea what it looks and feels like to meet a woman’s emotional needs, and no one has EVER talked about it with him before in his 20-30 years of life prior to engagement and marriage.” It’s not an excuse, it’s a reality. And when the guy finally sees it, it changes his thinking and (we all hope) his actions.

    Thanks for writing another thought-provoking post, Matt. You’re helping a lot of people.

    1. You just described, to a T, the last year of my marriage.

      It’s uncanny how so many of us live the same story.

      It’s scary as hell. But it’s also the thing that gives me hope. Like maybe we can all figure this out together someday.

  5. Ahhh! That’s a sigh after reading your delicious words. Amen, Matt. Men are not to blame, not in terms of shame, but he who picks up the responsibility also holds all the power. We want empowered men in the world, men who understand where their responsibility lies so they don’t get blindsided, so they don’t feel victimized.

    Also, there’s a fine line here, while yes, men need to deal with their wives emotional needs, to recognize and address them, women also need to learn how to recognize what our needs are and to figure out how to fulfill them ourselves. That’s how you create empowered women. Believe it or not, two empowered people in a marriage doesn’t lead to conflicts, it leads to peace and romance and all that good stuff.

  6. Appreciative Reader

    Outstanding post as always Matt. Thank you. You are an amazing writer. Have you thought about writing a book with all of your material? Your last post previous to this made me feel so sad. I could feel your sadness. Your commitment to helping and focus on how destructive divorce is – it’s so needed in our society and no one talks about it the way you do. Sincere Thanks To You for putting it all out there. You are a very special.

  7. Appreciative Reader

    Matt, a lot of what you refer to is in Gottman’s research and books — I totally thought that you had read his material. It’s excellent. But hard for the average joe to understand and read maybe. Your writing explains it with real examples that show from your heart. But seriously, it seems like you know Gottman’s material. He would like what you are writing a lot. Your honestly would impress him I think. Thank you Matt.

      1. I’ve only read one Gottman book but I’ve just googled the new one. I thought I’d copy and paste from the blurb as this is an interesting point:

        “Results from Dr. Gottman’s research prove a simple truth: men make or break heterosexual relationships. This does not mean that a woman doesn’t need to do her part, but the data proves that a man’s actions are the key variable that determines whether a relationship succeeds or fails, which is ironic since most relationship books are written for women.”

        This rings so true. I found Gottman when trying to work out how I could get my relationships to succeed. I read the 7 principles book – the 7 things you have to do to have a healthy relationship (something like that). And I read through each one thinking “well that’s completely obvious, you obviously have to do that or nothing works”. While feeling intensely frustrated that I couldn’t find a man who would do even one of these 7 things consistently.

        I left the book lying out when my last boyfriend was staying with me. He asked me why I was reading it and I said it was because I found it interesting and because I wanted to have a strong, happy relationship. I asked him if he ever read that kind of book or if he’d like to read this one in particular and his answer was, “There’s no point. I probably know it all any way”. Funnily enough that relationship didn’t last either (he knew less than most men and most men don’t know very much at all).

      2. Wandathefish,

        When I have heard Gottman speak on a podcast or YouTube he talks a lot about men being the key differential on whether a marriage succeeds or fails (on average).

        Three critical things: Does he respond to her bids for attention? This is a lot of what Matt is taking about in this post. The everyday interest in responding with interest when she talks about something etc.

        Will he accept her influence? This is the stuff Matt talks about when writing about caring about the dishes or in general power sharing.

        The third is: Will he be interested and help her fulfill her “dreams”. Most women help men with theirs whether it’s career or otherwise, Gottman’s research shows a good husband reciprocates.

        This is not to bash men, it is actually to show them how important they are and how important it is that they be willing to learn and improve their relationship skills. And the cool thing is it’s all broken down into skills that anyone can learn if willing.

      3. Totally agree LisaR – I think a key moment of enlightenment for me was understanding that this stuff is skills and effort and not inherent personality traits as they are sometimes treated. I once read a thing about a couple in marriage counselling and the man was saying that doing the things his wife asked of him was akin to changing every aspect of his personality. And the woman was of course frustrated because she saw the things she was asking him to do as being skills and effort based; no different to a situation when one spouse is asked to do more cleaning; when they take on more of the cleaning work this isn’t changing their core personality. They’re still the same person, it’s just that they do more cleaning. Same with emotion work. Becoming more inquisitive and being demonstrably more engaged in the lives of those around you might look like more of a personality change than cleaning up more often but it’s just exactly the same thing. The same person doing more of a certain activity and doing it better.

      4. Wandathefish,

        Since coming to the hard realization that I am a shitty wife I have found the idea that all of this stuff is just really a bunch on skills to be learned to be so helpful.
        One of the things I’ve had to work on changing is having a neutral tone of voice and having bringing topics up less harshly. It is hard to change but really anything can be improved with enough practice. One of my favorite books is Talent is Overrated which basically says that “talent” is comprised of hard work and having directed focus ( which means you are applying things that really will improve you skills, hence my love for Gottman among others).

  8. uneffingbelievable

    Really great post, Matt. When you wrote about the basics such as being well-mannered, polite, respectful, kind, etc. it really struck a cord. I think if most men and women treated their spouses like they treated their friends and business associates, marriages would be much healthier. We tend to be our best selves with people that don’t know us well, and our worst selves with the people that know us best. The reason for this? We are constantly “courting” others and we stop courting our spouses. We know those people can just turn their backs on us so we try hard to keep them interested. Many people see their spouses as sure things and stop putting effort into that relationship.

    I know most of your male readers won’t want to hear this, but please bear with me. When a man and woman marry, I think the woman grows up pretty quickly. Most women understand that it’s time to stop being a little girl, that her friends and hobbies and what she wants to do takes a back seat now that she is a wife. I think many men have a much harder time with this concept. She doesn’t see it as such a sacrifice, because even though she’s giving up things that are important to her, she knows that her partnership is much more important. A lot of men just see it as a sacrifice.

    I believe it is a societal thing. When a woman gets engaged, her friends and family are so happy for her. She’s congratulated. When men get engaged, his friends and family kid him about losing his freedom, about the old ball and chain. After the wedding I think most woman see what they’ve gained. A partner to go through life with, someone who is on their side, someone they can trust above all others. Many men see what they’ve lost – autonomy, someone nagging to keep the house neat, etc. And in my opinion, the man begins to resent his spouse very early in the marriage. And when she bitches about the dish in the sink, the man may become a little passive/aggressive due to the resentment.

    When kids come along, the woman is inundated with what NEEDS to be done. She is the primary care-giver to the children, she’s in charge of schedules and doctors appointments and play dates and science fair projects and laundry and dinner and cleaning and a giant pile of others things that keep her constantly juggling. She may also be working full-time. She is an adult in every sense of the word. Sadly, her spouse may be pushed into the background. Many men react to this by being petulant, pouty, passive/aggressive and complain that she is a drill sergeant. He still does what he WANTS to do some of the time and he is free to do it because his wife is handling the minutiae. I think she finally looks up and says WTF!?!

    I agree that no one teaches men how to be good husbands and fathers. No one teaches women how to be good wives and mothers, either. I think the secret to being both is to grow up and step forward and do what needs to be done. Most women feel loved and cherished when their husband sees her floundering in the sea of everyday life and throws her a life preserver, instead of telling her it wasn’t his fault she got washed overboard. His primary focus is to save her, not to debate how and why she got there. If my husband had ever said to me that I was doing a good job, that he was proud of me, or once had said “let me do that for you” it would have gone a long way in saving our marriage. I felt like I was in it alone, while he bitched that he couldn’t hang out with his friends all the time.

    I’m so sorry this is so long winded, Matt. I just think we can all do our children a favor by teaching them empathy. How to walk around in each other’s shoes and see what daily life looks like for the other. To be kind. To be polite. To be respectful to the people that matter most.

    1. Fromscratchmom

      Great insights! I’ve noticed this crazy thing many times where people tease and discourage men about getting married and basically brainwash them in some cases into believing marriage is bad and wives are bad in 82 different ways. That and the bachelor party tradition! I just can’t fathom how those two things can be “norms” in our society! If you enter marriage by having to pass through rituals that denigrate the whole concept, what legitimate right or expectation can you have that your marriage will be any good?

    2. @uneffingbelievable “I think if most men and women treated their spouses like they treated their friends and business associates, marriages would be much healthier.”

      I actually think this is part of the problem rather than being the solution. Men and women very often do treat their spouses like their friends and this causes issues. The problem is that women predominantly have female friends and men predominantly have male friends and male-male friendships are very different to female-female relationships in terms of dynamics. Crucially, female-female friendships involve far more emotion work than male-male friendships. Women’s friendships are far higher effort and there is also evidence that they are far more rewarding (women tend to cope with a lot of life events better and fare better upon divorce and the death of their partner partly because they have stronger friendships that are more based on support and positive reinforcement). So when a man and a woman get together they both treat the other as they would treat a friend. But this automatically means that the woman is putting a huge amount of effort in and expecting to get a huge reward while the man puts far less effort in and expects to get less reward. The rewards the couple actually get are not in line with their expectations. The man gets far more than he would get from a male-male friendship and this is why marriage feels so good for men. They get a super-friend, who does an awful lot of what his male friends do plus a lot that they don’t do. Married men fare better on all sorts of well being indicators than their single counterparts and this is why. He receives far more than he puts in. For the woman on the other hand, the situation is reversed. She ends up with something that feels far inferior to the type of relationships she has with her friends. She puts everything she has effort-wise in but gets back far far less than she expected and less than she is used to getting from her female friends. So the relationship feels like a very inferior friendship for her. Which is why women do so badly in marriage and well-being indicators show that their quality of life and mental health deteriorate. Sadly, the woman can usually see what’s going on but the man can’t. And when she tries to tell him and he brushes her off, things start going downhill even faster than they were before. Hence the divorce rate.

      1. Great insights Wandathefish,

        I was surprised when I read the high percentage of husbands who say that their wife is their only friend as opposed to work or sport buddies that don’t talk about deep issues.

      2. Fromscratchmom – this is kind of based on something in the book “You just don’t understand” by Deborah Tannen (and mixed with various bits of knowledge I had from other sources). There’s a lot in there that doesn’t quite ring true for me personally but there is a lot of really interesting stuff that does ring true for me too (and it could be right or wrong irrespective of my own experience). Essentially, it’s premise is that boys and girls actually grow up in two different cultures with different social rules and these cultures (I think) come more from the playground and their peers than from the parents (although some stuff comes from the family and the rest of society). So even if a set of parents bring their son and daughter up without any gender bias (probably impossible in practice but let’s just say in theory), if their son and daughter socialise primarily with their own gender in the playground they learn very different life lessons and come to communicate in very different ways. It’s worth reading.

      3. wandathefish (great movie you’re riffing off of there with your username, btw), I think you’re on to something very, very interesting here. It rings true in many ways. Much food for thought. As a forgotten late night talk show once said, “things that make you go, hmmm…”

      4. Wandathefish,

        That is a good book! I didn’t like how she uses fiction in her examples but the concepts are helpful in general. How did you discover it since you were probably barely born when it was published?

      5. I think, putting this together with Gottman’s research it would seem that successful marriages and relationships look very similar to strong female-female friendships which is partly why men flounder; they’re not aware of how female-female friendships work and even if they were they wouldn’t know that to be successful, research suggests that a male/female relationship has to work like a female-female friendship. That’s the bit where I think men need to be given a bit of leeway and where women genuinely have an unfair advantage (although it’s not quite that simple). I think the bit where the sexism comes in is when the man then doesn’t listen to his partner when she tries to explain why she’s distressed and what needs to change. They write off years of crying and pleading as some sort of female hormone induced craziness rather than trying to understand that the woman is genuinely not receiving the same levels of care and support that they are.

        So to sum up: the best advice for a marriage that works is this: Women should treat their partners as they treat their female friends (pretty much, and they tend to naturally do this). But men should treat their partners like how women treat their female friends (pretty much). So the man needs to learn a whole new skill set.

        I get that some people might ask why the man should do the accommodating and all the new learning; why can’t the woman lower her expectations and work with a relationship that looks more like a male-male friendship? But this just won’t work in practice because the woman will continue to spend time with her female friends. And every time she sees them she gets big doses of positivity, support, validation, encouragement, reinforcement. No matter how hard she tries not to feel her relationship with her husband is inferior it always will and she will always be yearning for this level of nurture from the man she falls asleep with. I think the evidence also shows that what women do in relationships does on the whole work, in that married men are predominantly happy in their marriages. What men are currently doing isn’t working and if the woman were to reduce her workload and stop providing the support she does she would be less drained but I reckon you’d just get a situation in which both partners were pretty miserable.

      6. @Travis B – I’ve never actually seen the movie! I was just frantically searching for a username that wasn’t taken so I could post my first comment asap! No idea why this came to mind but I should watch the movie!

        @LisaR “That is a good book! I didn’t like how she uses fiction in her examples but the concepts are helpful in general. How did you discover it since you were probably barely born when it was published?”

        Someone mentioned it on this blog actually (which I discovered like many people at the time of the dishes post) and I bought it straight away! I’m loving this discussion and the associated reading but it has started to take over my life! Off to bed now – I’ll be back for more tomorrow!

      7. Terry Real has written some really good books on this topic amidst especially how boy culture trains men to limit their emotional range and girl culture trains women to give up their needs too quickly. He has free stuff on YouTube. His first book was about men and depression called I don’t want to talk about it and his more recent book is a The New Rules of Marriage both are very good. The one about men really helped me understand with empathy the deep sense of shame men can feel.

      8. Wandathefish,

        The quality of friendship is a big key to a happy marriage research has shown. Many men do have close friendships so there is less of a learning curve even if they have to make some adjustments. (like not teasing in the way men do). The men who have never had close friendships will need a lot of skillbuilding I agree.

        The skills women need to learn are good boundaries and speaking up when their needs are not being met. And using actions when words are not effective.

        These are things that men are usually better at because of their culture so both sides have skills to learn to make things work out. Terry Real is a good resource for these ideas. I am currently reading Brent Atkinson’s stuff. Really good! It talks about what a person needs to do to be successful in a relationship. Cool flowcharts and everything for all situations! One of them that women need to learn is to stand up to your partner when they are not treating you well but not to make a big deal of the fact that you are having to do it. (I am working on the not making a big deal part of it).

      9. Glad my idea was helpful to some people. And thanks for the book recommendations. I have a huge list of reading materials for this topic now!

        LisaR – Yes, men tend to see their wives as their best friends but women don’t tend to see their husbands in the same way sadly.

        I’m interested to know more about men’s experience with shame. I do remember little boys at school being shamed for crying before girls were but a few years down the line the little girls were getting it too – you can’t burst into tears every time something bad happens past a certain age, for either gender. But boys are often told they shouldn’t cry because they’re male, whereas girls are told they shouldn’t cry because of their age. I wonder what difference that makes. I’ll check out Terry Real.

        I don’t disagree that many men do have close friendships, but I do think that on the whole they’re still less close than those women have and the closeness takes different forms.

        I’m not sure about the speaking up when your needs are not being met thing. I think most women are quite good at this already but the issue is that men are just brushing them off or ignoring them. I don’t think it’s a question of women learning to communicate better if men just won’t listen no matter how they put it but i’m keeping an open mind. Maybe someone will find a way to get through that works for most men and prove me wrong.

        While I tend to think that women’s relationship skills are “good enough” on the whole (not necessarily true for individuals though) I do think that men have skills in other areas that women could learn from. I think maybe in my next relationship I might try to solve the problem as a skills exchange. Maybe he can teach me to be more assertive in the face of poor customer service and I can teach him not to break the relationship.

        This idea about standing up to your partner when they’re not treating you well – what kinds of behaviours count as not treating someone well? I tend to just leave as soon as I see that someone is deliberately trying to hurt me or cause problems. I don’t think it’s a good idea to stay when that kind of behaviour rears its head but then maybe they just mean the kind of thoughtless behaviour like not tidying up after yourself so that someone else has to do it.

      10. Ah, here it is. Great points, wandathefish! The differences in quality of friendships means different skill levels and expectations both, and then you have the whole not communicating well thing on top of that.

      11. Wandathefish,

        Thanks for the reply. I enjoy swapping ideas with you as I try and figure this stuff out more, you have some great ideas!

        Here’s what I have learned that I needed to do differently: when my husband metaphorically kept leaving the dishes by the sink, I requested change, he kept doing it, I kept requesting change increasingly louder and in more detailed ways. I did it in anger, I did it crying, I did it calmly, I did it vulnerably, I did it with all the super special wifey soft startup techniques, he kept “leaving the dishes” and got more and more withdrawn and angry with each request. This is NOT really a communication issue for most marriages. This is an issue of not accepting influence and that requires an approach that “girl world” does not generally teach you. When your husband is willing to accept influence, you can use all your girl world communication skills and work out a compromise because it’s really not about the stupid dishes.

        If your husband is kind of willing to accept your influence, a soft start up and super excellent communication skills they can be learned will probably allow you both to work it out. According to that Gottman statistic I posted the other day, 35% of men accept influence. That means MOST wives need to know how to deal with the likelihood that he is not going to automatically accept her influence and rock the boat EARLY before she exhausts herself requires setting up boundaries with consequences. “Boy world” does generally teach this but “girl world”does not. So the same skills used to negotiate a raise or respond to a bad customer experience is in play. You decide what your boundaries are and what the consequences are and you stick with it in a matter of fact way.

        Early in the process, if the dishes make you feel disrespected and your husband is not willing to accept your influence in a reasonable way you determine what boundary you can our in place that will restore the balance and communicate that. Maybe you say, I am making an appointment with a marriage counselor because this is an important relationship skill and we statistics show we need to develop for a happy marriage, if he won’t go or provide another reasonable alternative you DO NOT continue with business as usual. You MUST demonstrate how important this is! That restores the sense of empowerment to you again instead of being dependent on him to do something. The real issue that needs to be addressed is both of you accepting influence from each other. Many women as you can read in some of the other comments do not speak up for themselves because girl world trains you to help others. I never had that problem but I did not learn to set boundaries and implement then in a matter of fact way that DOES NOT make the other person evil in my eyes for having to do it. I am learning that now and I think many other women need to learn that skill too. It is identified as one of the key things that people in successful relationships do in Brent Atkinson’s work on taking Gottman’s research and telling your practically in step by step directions how to achieve healthy relationships. This is a relationships skill many women don’t have which is why some exhaust themselves giving to other people and feel guilty for saying no. I can say no but I always think the other person is a selfish sob for even asking me. Boy world trains men that everyone has their own interest at heart and it’s no big deal you just need to negotiate for your needs.

        This skills applies to other relationships besides marriage. I learned it first to use with my teenage daughter but it also has made me a better negotiator with bad customer service lol.

    3. Yes. Spot on. But I do think women get taught how, to some extent, to be wives and mothers. Ever play house as a child? I remember cooking and cleaning and taking care of the babies. I remember dusting and cleaning at my aunt’s because it was fun to play at. Every babysit as a child? I started babysitting in highschool and babysat almost every weekend through college. The first time my ex every changed a diaper was the doll at the pre-natal class when I was pregnant. The first time he every held a baby was my cousin’s child when I was pregnant

      1. God, no! I never played at cooking or cleaning or taking care of babies! Do most girls honestly do this? I don’t remember any of my little friends wanting to play at that kind of thing either. I liked dolls but not baby dolls – they had to be old enough to interact with each other because that’s what made it interesting for me. But then I hate cooking and cleaning and looking after babies as an adult. Maybe that’s where I went wrong…

  9. I think men as a whole are raised to not express their feelings, and therefore do not share these things with us. Now that really does include all things. They don’t share verbally their happiness, sadness, joy, elation, anger, etc.

    I too was raised Catholic, and though many of my beliefs and feelings are rooted in how I was raised, I’ve also come to realize that being raised by my parents generation has also caused me much harm. My mother is the queen of the guilting/shame. And when I would approach her angry, and seeking my mother’s advice on how to talk to my husband….after all she and my dad are still married, I think 48 years now this year…. her response was often that I should “bite my lip” or “hold my tongue”. I was not allowed to express my anger about the way my inlaws treated me or my children. I was supposed to let him do whatever he wanted. I was not allowed to “make waves”. So instead I kept my mouth shut until everything came to such a ridiculous HELL like boil that Mt Vesuvius would seem like a tepid bath.

    I actually find myself wondering how many other women have gotten the same advice from their elders. To remain quiet…he’s your husband…don’t make waves….you have to fix this for the kids.

    The greatest debate comes when you have to consider what you want to model for your children. And if you aren’t modeling what you want them to have when they are married, then should you not consider a different option? Just my own thoughts.

    1. Fromscratchmom

      Yes. There are definitely some bad examples and bad advice out there that mirrors what you’ve received. Whenever I go to a ladies class I always notice the tone of the lady leading the study. Some are amazing and uplifting and helpful and some just make me sad for them. They can’t teach what a victorious marriage would be like because they don’t have one. The sad ones probably shouldn’t be teaching or teaching often or something. It seems to me that the general needs aren’t being met well enough when the class can only be led by a woman whose learned how to survive an unloving husband. But then again in reality the needs that are really going wanting in my view are the husbands’! The men need to care enough to get together and teach each other just like the women are doing! And then I take heart because I know some of them are doing that in some places.

  10. @ ThinkingMom “I think men as a whole are raised to not express their feelings, and therefore do not share these things with us. Now that really does include all things. They don’t share verbally their happiness, sadness, joy, elation, anger, etc”

    In my experience this isn’t true but then I think I may well be from a different generation and a different country (I’m 34 and in the UK). There’s always been a lot in the media about men not being able to discuss their emotions and bottling them up but in my experience men are typically fine with expressing their emotions and discussing them at length. It’s just my emotions that they have absolutely no desire to talk about. They don’t seem to want to share in the good stuff for much longer than 5 minutes and they don’t want to help me through the bad stuff. And yet maybe this is progress, the fact that younger men do now at least talk about how they themselves are feeling? It still feels rubbish that I can’t go to a boyfriend for much support though.

  11. “We love hard. We listen to our partners and believe them when they tell us things. We devote the same energy we devote to learning how to be good at our jobs, or how to succeed in our competitive endeavors and hobbies to learning the intricacies of our spouse.”

    This may be the single most important, impactive and radiant-with-the-blinding-light-of-truth statement I’ve ever read on this forum, and it succinctly encapsulates the philosophy and behavior that has guided my every action since I came *this* close to losing the love of my life forever. All the other bullshit things I ever put my attention and interest toward have all dropped to second place (or lower) concerns in my life. The nexus of all my energy, focus, drive and desire is my wife, my wife, my wife. And it’s been better than anything else I’ve ever even thought of devoting my attentions to. How I ever lost sight of that before, I really can’t say. Just shame on me. Never again. As God as my witness, I’ll never be that blind again.

    1. So glad it’s clicking for you and so glad that you’re finding it so rewarding Travis B! That’s the thing about a lot of relationship/emotion “work”. Just because it’s work and effort doesn’t mean that it can’t be immensely enjoyable and rewarding. When you realise you have the power to make the people you love happier and more fulfilled than you could ever imagine it’s wonderful – it makes you feel alive and makes life feel like it’s worth living :).

  12. There’s so much wisdom in this post and in the comments that I’m afraid I can’t add much anything of value….

    I will counter a piece from my experience: While I agree with the above, I’ll also admit that as the female in the relationship, I didn’t do enough to be heard. I swallowed my anger, I kept the peace, I gave in, I let it go. Eventually I couldn’t hold back the feelings anymore, and once they spilled out, they stained the walls and the carpet and the furniture and ruined them forever.

    I felt at the time that I was speaking up, but I was also far too eager to keep stuffing the closet full of feelings vs. addressing the issues before they kersploded into an irreparable mess….

    1. Good point, Katie. Somebody else said this too, that they stuffed their feelings and didn’t say enough for too long. That’s what all too many women have been taught to do. I do it myself sometimes, and I should know better.

    2. “As the female in the relationship, I didn’t do enough to be heard. I swallowed my anger, I kept the peace, I gave in, I let it go. Eventually I couldn’t hold back the feelings anymore.”

      Katie, I admit the same. Thinking I was being a nice person and not wanting to rock the boat, I ignored what should have been confronted and stuffed a lot of frustration. In hindsight, if I had it to do over again, I would address things immediately–graciously, respectfully and succinctly (angry tone and too many words are not helpful!).

      Some education in boundaries would have been very, very helpful! I needed to know and respect myself and my own needs and desires before I could reasonably expect my husband or anyone else to respect them. Assuming the best about my husbands’ motives and intentions and then graciously cluing him in by communicating my expectations (This is what I need) and boundaries (This is what I will tolerate and this is what I will not) would have gone a long way at the beginning of my marriage. I married a good man who, like most men, can’t read a woman’s mind and doesn’t understand a woman’s psyche and had an abysmal model from his own upbringing of what a husband should look like.

      1. Such good points about learning good boundaries and communicating them clearly. Many women are not taught those things in their culture.

    3. My ex told me I should have been forceful in telling him what I wanted and needed and should have kept repeating it until he did it. I think maybe I was too polite, but I did say “Would you mind doing XYZ?” “Hey could you do XYZ” “XYZ needs to be done now would you do it? “Do XYZ”. He often would get mad when I finally took care of XYZ and would demand to know why I hadn’t told him to do it. Sigh. But yeah lot of stuffing of feelings and trying to be who/what he seemed to need me to be.

      1. Magpie, I think we were married to the same man! The one that had me ROTFL was when I asked for help straightening the garage. I asked four or five times over a few months and finally just did it myself. He told me, “I was going to get to that. I didn’t realize when you asked that you meant RIGHT this second.” I just couldn’t stop the giggles. Sometimes you gotta laugh to keep from crying.

        Someone earlier mentioned hormones and I think men find numerous ways to discount their wives’ requests. Whether it’s hormones, or “she’ll forget about it” or “It’s not important” or whatever, they find ways to justify ignoring us. Mine even thought my very serious discussions about divorce were just PMS. They weren’t.

        But this is key. I didn’t expect my husband to say “yes dear” or “my fault” to everything. I think that’s what I wanted and he was responding to that imagined desire for control with passive aggressiveness. I wasn’t trying to control him. I did want him to help and if he couldn’t I wanted him to explain why. I wanted him to help me solve a problem. And that’s how I approached it.

        I really should have listened when he told me, early in our marriage that if I wanted him to hear something I’d have to hit him by a 2 x 4 and be very plain in what I said because he ex expected him to read her mind. What he really meant was, “I will never listen to a word you say.”

  13. Just wanted to say, as a retired therapist, that I love Gottman’s work on relationships–very practical but also research-based.

    I also wanted to respond to a comment that women aren’t taught to be good wives and mothers. In general, they get much better role models for this than men do. Girls see their mothers taking care of them, their siblings, the house, their father. Boys see their fathers playing sports with them and their friends, fixing things that are broken, mowing the lawn, and bitching about their wives nagging them to help more around the house. Girls see their mothers hugging their children, their friends, their husbands. Boys see their fathers shaking people’s hands. And that’s not even getting into the being in touch with one’s feelings and expressing them stuff.

    But I agree that even girls are not really actively taught the difference between being a wife like their mother was and being a truly good mate. So women have some advantages in the relationship department, due to better training, but it’s still far from ideal training.

    We need to be starting in elementary school with classes in how to get along with people in general. Why is that not as important as learning to add and subtract?

    1. Fromscratchmom

      Good food for thought. I was aware that I couldn’t model myself completely on my mom for several different reasons. She and I had very different personalities, a different set of strengths and weaknesses, almost certainly different love languages although she never looked into that. But on the other hand my mom was amazing as a confidante and always encouraged me in my marriage in amazing ways. I think she was pretty phenomenal to be able to hear my pain as a mom and validate it and sympathize with it and also still see the good in my husband and my marriage. She was generally right on the money far more often than not.

      She and I did differ on anger. And that was OK. We both made mistakes in life in our different views and with our different experiences. But still…even with that, I never knew a better person to be able to have a good conversation with even while disagreeing. I miss her!

  14. The struggle is real, the second you start taking your wife/friend for granted, and assume she’s coping and there is nothing you can do to help. You’ve already lost.

    Seconding, thirding, fourthing, fifthing the idea of “How to maintain your relationships” classes, starting preschool. Of all the things we learn in life and are not prepared for, relationships, and their failings and successes are one of the most important and least explained concepts.I have lost my mind over relationship things I could’ve saved, relationships I wasted time on, relationships which just need that little pressure to ignite.

  15. “We love hard. We listen to our partners and believe them when they tell us things. We devote the same energy we devote to learning how to be good at our jobs, or how to succeed in our competitive endeavors and hobbies to learning the intricacies of our spouse.

    We don’t stop flirting with them and courting them and learning about their hopes and dreams just because we don’t feel all young and lusty like we did when we were dating.

    We give a little bit more to them than we take for ourselves. (And of course they should do the same — so no one ever vampire-sucks the life out of the relationship.)”

    This needs to be posted everywhere, on every blog, in every community center, at every corner of life!

  16. Hi Matt. I know I’m responding to the least significant part of this post, but it’s something I’m going through at the moment so I thought I’d write in anyway. As to why women marry men who are “Dishonest and unreliable. Remorselessly unfaithful”, the answer in my case, and I’m sure in many other women’s, is because I didn’t know he was any of those things! I certainly didn’t go into the relationship thinking that he would constantly lie to me , let me down and cheat on me. He was an excellent actor, I adored him and so did most of my friends. The problems showed themselves slowly, over many years, and I only found out about his cheating after I left him (although I suspected something, there was never any proof). I wanted to believe the best of him, I wanted to trust him, I wanted him to be the person I thought he was. Now I know better, but it took an effing long time and an indescribable amount of heartache to get there. To be honest, it’s terrifying to think although my relationship didn’t work because he was a shitty person, there are so many other relationships failing even when the husband is a genuinely good guy, who just doesn’t know how to be a good husband. Luckily, having read your posts and gained an insight into relationships from a man’s point of view, I hope I will have a lot more understanding and empathy and be better equipped to enter into a new, healthy(!) relationship. Thanks for the great post, keep em coming!

    1. mysafariblog, we have mirrored lives. Congratulations on being free from this relationship. Welcome to a new healthy you!

      1. Thank you for your lovely message sambucaqueen! I hope that you have found peace and happiness after being treated badly by the person who was meant to love you. I’m so happy to have stumbled across Matt’s blog on facebook, I think it’s going to change a lot of peoples lives

  17. Hi Matt, the Mar 9th post is so awesome it almost made me cry and want to propose to you 😉 Very well said. I send the link to your blog to all my friends and family hoping that together we can start the conversation. There are all kinds of courses on financial management, we need courses on relationship management.
    I am raising two boys and hope I can make a difference.

  18. I also highly recommend a book entitled “The Emotionally Unavailable Man: A Blueprint for Healing” by Patti Henry. A must read for men and women.

  19. Matt, you are reminding me of my grandfather. His father abandoned his mother when she was pregnant, wandered back in a couple times over the next couple years, then took off for good. My great-grandmother divorced him in absentia so she wouldn’t be responsible for his debts. My grandfather met his father only once when he was old enough to remember, and their only contact after that was a couple times when his father wrote him asking to borrow money! This impressed upon my grandfather the need to be a good man and a good husband. My dad says that throughout his childhood, my grandfather would talk to him about how a lady needs to feel special and this means getting her gifts of things she likes even if you think the things are frivolous because they mean a lot to her, how she needs to be cuddled, how you need to tell her you love her every day, how you need to listen when she’s upset and never think badly of her for crying or for being scared of things you aren’t scared of, how you must respect her feelings and be careful not to hurt her because her love for you gives you terrible power. My dad learned pretty well, I would say; he and my mom are still together, and when she reflects back on their toughest years it sounds like they were both really stressed and busy but he still showed respect for her feelings. My dad apparently taught my brother to be a model husband; his wife is always raving about him, and I’ve heard about several arguments they worked through by listening to each other’s feelings. So it’s possible to break the cycle!

    I agree that many families don’t teach boys (or even girls) emotional intelligence and that other sources of learning about it are mostly less accessible to males. Boys Advocacy and Mentoring is a fabulous program for teaching boys to work with and talk about feelings and to react to one another with empathy–skills that should have great repercussions on their relationships with everyone.

    A great book for learning to hear your partner (in both directions) and uncover the deeper meanings of your feelings is Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix.

    1. Fromscratchmom

      Thank you for sharing! I have been blessed to be exposed to some amazing men like that in churches around he country but sadly not in the men I’ve been closest too. I think I’m finally sorting out in my own head and heart just how profound the differences are and all the ways I’ve made mistakes in not recognizing the widespread lacking that families are crying out to find in the husband/father role for just how seriously far off the mark most guys are. I wanted to believe that my dad’s stuff was so extreme and that’s why people couldn’t understand or suspect what we were going through when I was an adolescent. But the truth is it was only extreme in how damaging it was. It was actually common and widespread as a norm in our society and therefore generally didn’t surprise all that many people. They can’t respond appropriately because they’re too used to it and think it’s OK or because they’ve twisted themselves up to make their world make sense. Emotionally unavailable men and their hurting wives and children are everywhere. I’m so blessed to know good men who feel called to be victorious leaders and lovers in their families. Even if my own dad and husband used their freewill to harden their hearts, leave the church, etc when they saw the truth calling them to change, I’ll never be sorry for that calling given to men!

  20. When I was growing up with my sisters, my father was the strong, successful parent. My mother a good homemaker who loved him, respected him, built him up, and deferred to him in all ways. We thought he was a god. Then she died. Very quickly it became apparent that she was the emotional pole of the house, and he, however successful, was clueless and selfish and emotionally weak. All the tenets with which we were brought up were thrown out the window because it was not convenient for him to parent. All the household responsibilities, and I do mean all, from paying bills to carting my siblings around to cleaning house and doing laundry, were dumped on whoever was most able to handle them, which was me.Yes, he was devastated, but so were his kids., At 19, I became mother, sister, wife, business associate. He went on to a successful business and re-marriage. His kids went on to multiple divorces, alcoholism, chronic illness, except for me. He never tried to repair the damage, let alone acknowledge it. What I am trying to say is that exterior trappings of what makes a man have nothing to do with the internal, emotional trappings that make a good man. Throughout his life his kids and his extended family had one of two reactions to him: they admired and revered him for what he had achieved in his career, or they hated him for the who he really was. He left behind a ripped apart pack of adult children who will never be able to be the siblings they should be.

    1. Fromscratchmom

      Very very true of my own father too, not all the specific details just the emotionally/spiritually shall of a man aspect that demands respect but can only do so through shallow, “macho” externals while failing as a real man and leader of a family. It’s taken me a lot of years to finally let go of all my need to have emotions, both positives and negatives, associated with him and just let him exist in his own problems.

  21. Okay, I can’t find the comment I wanted to reply to, so I’ll just say it in general. Whoever raised the point about the differences between male-male friendships and female-female friendships hit another nail right smack on the head. Women learn a lot about relating from their friendships with other women and that does set the bar high for what they expect from their marriages. Meanwhile, men don’t get why women want so much intimacy since they’re fine with talking sports and slapping each other on the back with their guy friends.

    I once had a platonic friendship with a guy fall apart in a rather painful way. I said to my husband, “That’s it! Men don’t know how to really do friendship. I’m not becoming friends with any more men.”

    Wise man that he is, hubs said, “Why do you think most of my friends are female.”

    1. Most of my friends are male. Yet none of them are the “talking sports and slapping each other on the back” type; they are the scrawny geeks who spent their recess turning jump-ropes for the girls. 🙂 I did have mostly female friends growing up, but then I went to a 70% male very geeky university and have stayed in the same city since. Also, after college I had some very bad experiences of making friends with women who then gossiped about me behind my back and did things to sabotage me.

      I have found that the kind of men I make friends with are the kind who tend to be open to a certain amount of emotional intimacy. I wanted to say this to counter some of the stereotyping I’m hearing here. Stereotypes exist because of patterns we observe, so they are “correct” up to a point in describing how things are for a large number of people, but that’s not everyone.

      Female-female friendships with bitchy backstabbing and gossip are a stereotype, too, a dark side that I think needs to be acknowledged when talking in a general way about what women learn about friendship. Very often I’ve heard about a man feeling really hurt because his wife or girlfriend told her female friends a bunch of details about him that he’d thought were private, while she thought they were the stuff of normal conversation. Men’s tend to share fewer personal details, about themselves or anyone else, than women do, and that leads to having a different sense of privacy.

      1. Becca,

        I absolutely agree with you. There are huge variations within genders and many men have close friendships with other men and women. Female friendships are definitely not all lovely and supportive for sure and the dark side is pretty ugly.

        It’s very hard to talk in generalities about men and women as you know because there is more difference within the groups than between the groups.

        Gottman’s research shows that a close friendship is at the heart of a good marriage. The subset of men that already have close friends already posess many skills to have a good marriage. If he marries a woman with close healthy friends odds are they will be happy. If he marries a woman who has destructive female friendships skills that is problematic just as a woman who marries a man with no close friends.

        Doesn’t mean they can’t work it out but they have to learn new healthy skills.

        1. Friendship quality and social skills as a predictor of relationship success is not a concept I’ve ever seen discussed.

          Fascinating new territory. Thank you for that.

          I need to get my hands on Gottman’s lab results.

        2. Gottman’s “Four Horsemen” and antidotes was an exercise used during my marriage counselling sessions. Unfortunately for him, the S2BX didn’t value Gottman’s research and told the psychologist “I don’t like your rules”. Marriage over. Sessions ended but I continue to read and learn from Gottman’s invaluable knowledge and research.

      2. Matt,

        Gottman has a lot of information on his relationship blog at and some YouTube videos too if anyone is interested in a quick intro.

        Here’s some information on friendship in marriage from his blog

        “Deep friendship is the foundational level of Dr. Gottman’s Sound Relationship House Theory of happy couples. It is the root of commitment and trust. More importantly, it forms the basis for intimacy and satisfying sex. Couples with deep friendships have:

        …mutual respect and enjoyment of each other’s company. They tend to know each other intimately – they are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in the big ways but in little ways day in and day out.”

        One of the fascinating things I learned from the research was that communication skills and conflict resolution are not the keys to resolving marriage conflicts. 69% are perpetual problems that NEVER get fully resolved (introvert/extrovert, tidy/messy, more inlaws/less inlaws). The key to managing conflicts is to really LIKE your spouse, have many more positive than negative interactions (20 to 1 is what happy couples have) and then accept influence other from each other to find something workable on the stuff you disagree on do you can concentrate on the great stuff in your marriage.

      3. My apologies, Becca. I should have qualified my remarks by saying that IN GENERAL this is what happens in male-male and female-female friendships. As is the case whenever we generalize, there are lots of exceptions. I’ve had some excellent friendships with men (often the geeky type you describe) and they are special to me, because they are somewhat different from my girlfriend relationships.

        And you also make a good point about some female friendships being pretty crappy, if there is gossiping and backbiting going on.

        As Matt points out, all of this about friendships is fascinating territory for understanding couples’ relationships. There are so many skills one party or the other might have developed through their friendships, or they might not have a clue about because their friendships aren’t that healthy either.

      4. @Matt “Friendship quality and social skills as a predictor of relationship success is not a concept I’ve ever seen discussed.”

        That’s so strange to hear you say that Matt because I kind of thought that was what your blog was all about? Unless you mean friendship quality outside the couple (not each couple member’s friendship with each other). Aren’t all the things you’re advocating just social skills?

  22. My husband is a pretty good guy even though we have rotten fights about the things I am frustrated about. We BOTH run separate businesses out of our commercial building. When he needs help, I am there, organizing, writing lists, taking on action, following up. He admits that he has no problems whatsoever with how I help him in his business and how I help in life, except my bitchiness when he lets me down.

    Now, with my business, a phone call is handled thus: Martha, your client, called. Me – I do not have a client named Martha. Him – well, that is what she said. Me – Where’s the number”. Him -on the phone. Me, scrambling through phone which doesn’t list names or may list whatshernames husband’s name…. I could go on and on about this topic, and believe me, I have. We are getting there, Matt, you are helping, but wow. I make decent money with my business, necessary money, play money, all of which he appreciates when it comes to paying the big bills and going on a good vacation. Again, he is a decent guy. It is unfathomable to me that he would not pay attention with the same regard he does to his business when in the end, my business has a huge effect on the quality of both our lives. I would like to hear from men just why some of them would carry through the disregard the wives complain about all the way to their own bread and butter.

  23. As always Matt, you are dead on. It is fascinating how you continue to look at these issues from inside and find the threads to pull, one by one. I would only add though, women have some responsibility to make themselves heard over the uproar, we have a voice and we are capable. Yes, you all are difficult sometimes; hardheaded and ego driven. Nevertheless, we are in it together and there are times when hitting you upside the head with an emotional brick does work.

  24. What an interesting blog with such thoughtful comments! I won’t give details but I am a licensed therapist with much education and experience in this area but just as importantly, I’ve been through the mill myself.

    A few thoughts:
    Gottman’s work has a lot of value clinically as well as personally for those who read his books. He does have a more behavioral focus, supported by his fascinating research from his lab in which he actually studied happy couples as well as unhappy ones. He doesn’t get too far into underlying issues (the deep shit).

    I totally agree with the person who said how bad their marriage counselor was! There are some bad ones out there! One of the challenges is that the average couple comes in SIX YEARS after they can identify (looking back) serious problems arising. Hard to start from there. By then, it’s common for the individuals to be in vastly different places and to have made efforts which resulted in further wounds to the relationship (and to each person).

    When I saw more couples (different focus now) I would tell them at the very first session, “How well this goes depends on your openness to what you are willing to change. Telling the other person what you want is only part of it”. Often one person is too stubborn or defended or scared to admit he/might have to make changes. Sometimes the resistance is, that person actually LIKES the way the relationship is.

    I like your blog a lot. It is one of the only ones I’ve seen which offers intelligent discourse on this subject. Thank you for writing it.

    1. Sasha,

      That was me that was bemoaning all the terrible marriage counselor out there! I would imagine that couples counseling is incredibly challenging to do well. It takes a “particular set of unique skills”as Liam Nieson in Taken would say. After much searching and wasting on money and time we have found a good one (The Couples Clinic outside of Chicago, they offer skyping for those living far away if anyone is looking for that option).

      I have a question, how do you recommend that people find a good counselor? We asked for recommendations from individual therapists and medical doctors, I checked psychology today and Google and Yelp, I looked for those certified in Gottman’s and or Sue Johnson’s EFT approaches, I tried people who taught at local universities. I did phone counseling through referral services. We interviewed people over the phone and in person to eliminate people. We were willing to pay cash. And after doing all this they were still terribly bad.

      What is the magic secret to finding a good couples therapist? I know they are out there because we have one now but I had to waste thousands of dollars and 2 years before we found him. I began to understand why people get divorced over fixable things.

      Any insight would be helpful. I am sure there are people out there with similar problems. Thanks!

      1. I hope she comes back and sees the question! I think the advice I got that my husband spit on for us to each go in individual therapy is probably a really smart approach for a lot of couples. But even if you are married to a spouse willing to do that you still need a good marriage counselor in that plan!

      2. LisaR, I am sorry you had such a hard time finding a good therapist. You certainly were diligent and used many strategies I might suggest, especially asking a therapist you already know and trust for a referral. I never refer to anyone I wouldn’t send a family member to!

        Part of the challenge is that “each unhappy couple is unhappy in its own way” (to paraphrase Tolstoy) so while a certification can be helpful to one couple or set of issues, maybe not so much to another. Plus, poor therapists can go through those trainings also!

        Fromscratchmom, if there is a high level of conflict, if one or both partner/s have a personality disorder or there is some other reason seeing a couple together is not working, recommending individual therapy first is a good call.

        I wish I had a magic secret! I could tell you what I would be asking a potential couple therapist, but I don’t want to detract from this wonderful blog (unless the author asks me for my opinion). I highly recommend phone interviewing any therapist you or any family member is considering! If they are unwilling to answer some questions (and I mean 15 minutes maybe, not a whole free session unless they offer a free consult), they are not that interested in whether they are a good fit for you.

        Unlike Gottman, with two motivated participants, I believe all problems are fixable! I know what he means though. But I have seen couples on the brink of divorce make it work when both are motivated and able to accept eachother’s influence! (Gottman)

      3. Sasha,

        Thanks for your reply! I definitely think the 15 minute interview idea is a good one. I was able to narrow things down quite a bit just based on those. Like you said, unhappy couples are unhappy in their own way and it is critical to find a good fit. I am so happy with our counselor now. It is Brent Atkinson’s clinic outside of Chicago. His material is the best I have ever read (and I’ve read a lot!). and combines mindfulness with practical application for Gottman’s research and attachment repair so it combines behavioral, attachment, and mindfulness for the win!

        My theory is that many types of therapy can work, it really depends a lot of the skill of the counselor and the fit with couple. We worked briefly with a Solution Focused Therapist who was really good. I am absolutely convinced that if we worked with Sue Johnson herself with an EFT approach it would work well even though we are both left brained types. I do know the two EFT certified people we saw didn’t do it anything like my girl Sue Johnson. I definitely think there are some approaches that work better than others though. It is funny to hear Gottman talk about old school marriage therapy where couples were encouraged to release their anger and hit each other with soft bats, oddly enough that didn’t really work 😉

        “Unlike Gottman, with two motivated participants, I believe all problems are fixable! I know what he means though. But I have seen couples on the brink of divorce make it work when both are motivated and able to accept eachother’s influence! (Gottman)”

        Gottman has a funny personality, I’ve heard him on podcasts and videos where he basically says that life is too short to stay with someone you’re unhappy with if it’s too hard which is a weird thing for a marriage expert to say. I chalk it up to his researcher personality since his wife had to talk him into writing the books. Sue Johnson is my inspiration here. She agrees with you that any couple can repair their relationship if they give it enough time and effort with the right tools. I also like Bill Doherty’s discernment counseling where he encourages people to enter therapy to decide to decide whether to work on marriage counseling because so many marriage can be saved if the choice is there to do the work.

        Thanks Sasha, you sound like a great counselor!

  25. I don’t know that husbands are responsible for their wives emotional well being. She’s responsible for her own well being. However, it would be nice if people didn’t annihilate their partner’s well being by disrespecting them and flat out ignoring them when they explain how something has hurt them.

    Typically, your partner will tell you when something bothers them. They’ll give you a second chance, a third chance a three hundredth chance a millionth chance. But at some point, your chances will run out. Every time you ignore your partner, you are hurting them and you are actively choosing to hurt your marriage.

    L I S T E N.

    You may not agree and you have every right to say “I prefer to leave my dish by the sink all day but I know it bothers you because you feel I’m saying you have to clean up after me. How about I do the dishes from now on? Every night before we go to bed, I’ll make sure to run a load and I’ll unload them in the morning. Will that work?”

    If it is THAT important to you to leave your dish in the sink, work it out. But don’t ignore your partner. They are literally giving you the key to save your marriage and by ignoring them, you’re tossing that key away.

    1. Sigh. However one gets to the point of acknowledging a problem and proposing a solution, it all sounds great on paper but becomes one more wife-nagging issue if the promise does not materialize on a consistent basis without becoming yet another disappointment. Thank you, Reed, for trying. I wish you were a fly on the wall for thousands of girl talks where this very theory is the subject of on going despair.

    2. I think this a great solution Reed but most guys don’t get this. I could be wrong. I tried to talk to my husband but he just rolled his eyes and walked away. So disrespectful. I think the key to a good marriage is active communication.

      1. I hear ya. If it was this easy, no one would get divorced. It reminds me of that gold/white, blue/black dress. We can’t believe that anyone sees it differently than we do. It’s mind blowingly disrespectful (to my way of thinking) to just totally ignore a request from someone I love.

    1. A woman was telling Matt what he blogs-his ex- wife. It is now, after she left him, that he is listening and helping married men not repeat his mistakes if they want to stay married.

  26. Well with the kind of women out there these days is a very Excellent Reason why many of us Good men are still Single today.

  27. Pingback: My Story is Your Story—Even When it’s Not | Must Be This Tall To Ride

  28. So the fact that my wife was a physically and emotionally abusive monster who made my and our children’s life hell was my fault? My responsibility?
    Mate you are full of s@#t and can go get f@#ked, I’ve heard enough BS from sanctimonious A holes to last me a lifetime.

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