The Secret About Men Most Women Don’t Know

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smoking man

The January 1956 edition of The Atlantic Monthly quotes The American Cancer Society as saying it “does not hold that smoking causes cancer of the lung. It does not propose to tell the public not to smoke.”

In the 1960s, a person sick with a respiratory illness could visit her doctor and think nothing of him smoking a cigarette in a closed-door, windowless room while examining her.

Into the 1990s, smoking on airplanes and inside most public buildings was commonplace.

Sure, there were plenty who suspected tobacco smoking was a major individual and public health concern long before the Surgeon General got involved, but smoking was so routine and considered so benign, that things like “Smokes for the Troops” fundraising campaigns existed to supply tobacco to U.S. soldiers in 1918 during World War I.

In the following years, doctors began discovering the correlation between the heavy-smoking war veterans and the various cancers and respiratory diseases we now understand to be indisputably linked to smoking.

It was 1994 when I started smoking in high school. I was 15.

There was certainly a false sense of invincibility common to young people. That was a factor. But I’m not reckless regarding life and limb, and never have been.

I’m not a motorcycle guy for that very reason. It’s not because I don’t think they’re awesome, or don’t want one. I don’t ride a motorcycle because I’m not voluntarily signing up to do something where—no matter how skilled or cautiously I ride—some texting-and-driving asshole might clip me at a tortoise-like 20 miles per hour in the middle of a busy four-way intersection and kill me even though I didn’t make any mistakes.

I understood that smoking was bad. But I knew of plenty of people in their 70s and 80s who smoked regularly. There were still smoking sections in most restaurants then. How bad can it really be?

As a 15-year-old, smoking was bad for me for a variety of reasons. I didn’t make much money to buy them. I didn’t have a car. I couldn’t smoke whenever I wanted because I was trying to hide it from my mom. My Catholic high school would have come down hard if they ever caught me with cigarettes or actually smoking. And it made conditioning for track season infinitely less pleasant.

But I did it anyway.

And anyone who has never smoked, nor felt the pull from a nicotine addiction, nor understood the allure of a bad habit would rightfully question why I’d ever want to.

Anyone with memories of watching a loved one die slowly and painfully from a smoking-related illness, or with a uniquely wise or mature life outlook, are probably incapable of understanding how a person could intentionally make the choice to smoke when it seems so obvious to so many how dangerous and harmful it is.

Over time, more people figured it out and have collectively instituted personal and societal changes for the better.

Emotional Neglect is Cancerous to Marriage in Less-Obvious Ways

Many wives don’t understand how it can happen. “I have told you over and over and over and over and over again. I’m exhausted from telling you. And now I say I’m leaving you, and you REALLY don’t understand why?”

My only lifelong female friend, despite being super-smart and thoughtful, is by her own admission the least-responsible car owner in the history of the universe. Throughout her marriage, she never paid attention to the oil-change mileage, the air pressure in her tires, the depth of her tire tread, or any unusual brake noises.

It left her husband totally vexed. “How in the hell could she be so negligent?” He’d complain about it. He’d try to explain to her why a particular aspect of vehicle maintenance was important for safety or financial reasons, and that would be the end of it until the next incident.

A lot of husbands might be able to relate to that. Shit happens. It’s kind of our wife’s fault. We’re annoyed because it costs money or creates a new broken thing to fix, or a new problem to solve. But, typically, once we find some kind of solution or workaround to the problem, everything goes back to normal and we forget about it.

From a How Angry Did That Make Us? standpoint, we tend to not have prolonged anger-and-freakout sessions over such things, and we usually move on quickly. We like this about ourselves.

This is why our immediate reaction when our wives appear—in our estimation—to be inordinately angry about a pair of jeans tossed on a piece of bedroom furniture or an empty glass sitting by the sink, is to get defensive and think it’s unreasonably harsh and unfair.

I don’t treat you like this when you make mistakes, we think, so why should I sit here and take this?

But it’s a lot more than that.

We think it should be REALLY obvious that you shouldn’t drive a car 10,000 miles without an oil change. We think it should be REALLY obvious that the DVD/CD-ROM slit on the side of the iMac is not designed for mini-discs.

Cars cost tens of thousands of dollars. iMacs cost a couple grand. Then our wives break shit on them. Then we get a little pissed about it, but work hard at being cool.

And THEN, we get taken to task over where a pair of pants or a used glass is set down?

In the moment, it feels very unfair when this is happening, and when it appears our wives are so incapable of taking historical context into account in any sort of fair or thoughtful way.

Our wives talk and talk and talk and talk, but we don’t hear it. It’s because we’re pissed. Really pissed. We don’t hear the things they say. And EVEN when we do, we don’t get it.

We don’t understand how if broken cars and expensive computers aren’t worthy of fighting about, we have to defend ourselves over something as petty as a dirty dish, or a pair of pants in the bedroom no one but us will ever see.

We Don’t Get It Because It Doesn’t Make Sense to Us

Wives and other female readers of this blog keep asking the question: “Hey Matt! I don’t get it. If she told you a bunch of times that leaving the dish by the sink hurt her feelings, how can you claim that you didn’t know you were hurting her?”

For the same reasons men don’t understand how “silly little things” related to housecleaning and grocery shopping and childcare can so profoundly affect their wives’ emotional health and jeopardize their marriages, women often don’t seem to understand how those men could continue to neglect them emotionally UNLESS their husbands were doing it intentionally.

Most of the time, (like 98 percent, probably) men don’t hurt their wives or girlfriends on purpose. They do it accidentally. Wives have A LOT of trouble believing this.

But just like we can improve marriages by husbands understanding how a dish by the sink can actually cause pain, we can also improve marriages by wives understanding how husbands can accidentally hurt them by doing the same things over and over.

It seems to be one of those intangible concepts that seem obvious to men, but remarkably difficult to understand for some women, especially those hurt by the men they love.

There’s a guy who lately has been commenting often, engaging in thoughtful and respectful conversation with other readers.

His name is Travis B. Maybe his real name is Travis. Maybe it’s not. Travis and I don’t know each other.

But Travis, in the comments of a recent post, explained this dynamic so much better than I ever have. I found it insightful, well-written and totally accurate in terms of how I experience life as a man capable of accidentally hurting the woman I love.

I don’t think I can write it better than Travis, so I’m not going to try.

Other readers (who go by “Donkey” and “wandathefish”) asked questions.

Travis replied to those questions. And any wives confused about the idea that men are ACCIDENTALLY neglectful should read it a dozen times and tell all their friends.

How Men Accidentally Hurt Their Wives (as written by Travis B.)

Travis: Please understand that the explanations and theories I’m offering up from my own male perspective are not to be taken as justifications or defenses of them.

Donkey: “But when he’s been made aware of it over and over? Isn’t the reality then that he behaves (to put it simply) at work and accepts feedback there because he has to, but he doesn’t at home because he believes she won’t leave him anyway so he won’t bother with the effort?

If that’s what you’re saying, then guys can’t also claim to have been blissfully ignorant of being bad husbands. Then he’s just exploiting that she won’t easily leave him.”

Travis: Yes, I am saying he doesn’t put out the necessary effort because he doesn’t believe she will leave him, and yes, I’m ALSO saying we men can accurately claim to have been blissfully unaware of being bad husbands at the same time. You see, this always comes back to Matt’s “dishes by the sink” post because we don’t ever believe our wives will actually leave us over such issues because, from our perspective, we can’t fathom how something so unimportant to us can truly be so important to you.

This is the point that I see missed over and over by women here—this sense that there has to be some sort of active maliciousness happening on the part of the men in your lives to properly explain your misery.

I’m sure there is a subsection of men in the world who are true down-in-the-marrow-of-their-bones assholes who legitimately seek to ruin the hearts and spirits of their wives, twisted and damaged men who can only keep themselves psychologically afloat by hurling all their inner loathing at anyone who will willingly endure it, but I very much believe (naively? I dunno) they’re the exception, not the rule. The majority of us dunderheaded husbands aren’t actively trying to exploit you. It’s that when we hear you complain for the umpteenth time about the dirty dish being left out, it’s simply that we’re not taking the complaint seriously because, again, we don’t relate to the importance of the “pain” associated with the “crime.” We don’t hear (even if these are the actual words used!), “I’ve told you so many times that this matters to me, and you constantly dismiss it, which means you constantly dismiss me, and I refuse to live a life where nothing that matters to me matters to you.” No, instead, instead, we’re thinking: Boy, you can always count on women to make the most minuscule complaints in the most overdramatic ways, can’t you?

It’s not that we know how much it means to you and don’t care, it’s that we don’t truly believe you care about it that much, either. We just think you’re taking a minor pittance of a concern and, to be frank, just “laying it on rather thickly.” Now is that sexist? Very possibly. Is it passively disrespectful? Most certainly. BUT IT’S NOT INTENTIONALLY DRIVEN BY MALICE AND A DESIRE TO HURT AND DEMEAN.

You don’t have to like that answer (heck, it may, paradoxically, even hurt worse than if our behavior was intentional) but you better serve your quest to find peace with the men in your lives to accept it as the fact of the matter. Again, it doesn’t EXCUSE our behavior, but it sheds light on our psychology and the gulf between our perception and what we desperately need to start understanding about our wives’.

wandathefish: “Why don’t you see the ever-present palpable threat for the spouse, that misalignment with spousal duties and expectations can and will lead directly to a cessation of the relationship? Even if it’s neither quick nor clinical? Why don’t men fear losing the person they are supposed to love more than anyone else in the world more or at least as much as they fear losing their job??”

Travis: The majority of men with their heads screwed on at least halfway will clearly recognize that, if their wives catch them having an affair, or gambling away all their paychecks and savings, or killing innocent people, or filling their veins with heroin every day and the like, divorce is almost surely going to be fast-tracked. But, at the risk of sounding like I’m going back over the same ground I just went over, do any of us assume we’re literally going to lose the love and presence of the wives who’ve taken life vows with us because of dirty dishes? Toilet seats with pee drops on them? Weekends of being plugged into the week’s big games? Eye rolls at being asked to watch a “chick flick”? Changing the radio without asking from your Beyonce to our AC/DC? Not for a second.

Because, again, these things seem such trifles to us. Wrongfully. Wrongfully. Let me beat that drum. WRONGFULLY.

But, nevertheless, we do think that way, because, when similar behaviors are practiced against us, they don’t typically wound our sense of dignity and internal equilibrium the way they do for most women. We simply do not relate. Not even close. It’s a very alien perspective to us.

wandathefish: “Moreover, your reply would seem to back up the theory that men are not unable but rather unwilling to make their partner’s happy.”

Travis: You’re quite right there, but again, that comes not from an actively malicious place but from a passively disrespectful and lazy one.

If men could truly process and internalize that the little shreds of dismissiveness we toss at our wives’ expressed needs, complaints and concerns festers into a tsunami of disrespect and wholesale invalidation in their minds, hearts and souls, the majority of us would be shaken to our core. But it’s so outside the pale of our internal normalcy as males that it almost always takes packed bags and loveless, dead-eyed messages of, “I’ve reached my breaking point and I’m not taking another minute of living life like this” before our proverbial light bulb belatedly goes off.

wandathefish: “And I can’t see anything for her to give him the benefit of the doubt on. Where do you see benefit of the doubt applying in this scenario? It comes across as simple and deliberate cruelty or at best indifference to her suffering. There is no possible positive intent that could be involved in this scenario. If a man tries hard and fails then yes, you could see positive intent but when no serious attempt is even made to understand a woman’s position then you can’t spin that as anything other than callous disregard. Can you?”

Travis: Well, I hope I’ve provided a bit more perspective above in addressing this concern. I do believe that it is better for all concerned in a loving relationship to always approach matters of both communication and observed behaviors from a perspective of assuming positive intent and providing the benefit of the doubt (because, really, if you think so very little of your mate’s motives, why did you betroth yourself to them for life???).

The positive intent from a man’s perspective is that, if he demonstrates how unimportant these issues of dishes, watching click flicks, et al are in the grand scheme of things, surely the woman will recognize the “truth” of it, too, and be freed of her angst over them. Does this amount to disregard? Yes. CALLOUS disregard? Not intentionally, or wantonly, no. Simple cruelty? Yes. DELIBERATE cruelty? Again, not at all.

I’m telling you, I feel 100% confident that the toxicity most men pour into their marriages stems from a complete lack of proper frame of female reference, not because of any willful, vicious, targeted desire to wound, belittle and demoralize. To paraphrase a quote from Mr. Spock, “Our scanners only recognize what they have been programmed to recognize.” Men need better programming.

Slapping on the Bow and Shipping It

I started smoking when I was 15 because I didn’t understand HOW bad it was for me, nor did I have the ability to feel mortal peril like I can in my 30s, nor did I have a child to love, protect and teach.

But today I do understand. And that’s why I quit smoking long ago. And now we live in a world where most people don’t smoke and most kids will never start.

I am divorced because throughout my marriage I didn’t understand how dangerously horrible my wife and I were at comprehending and accurately interpreting one another’s thoughts and behaviors, nor did I understand how hedonic adaptation unknowingly lulls us into treacherous complacency, and how ugly and life-changing divorce can really be.

But today I do understand. And that’s why I write things here.

And maybe someday we will live in a world where most people do understand how these nuanced moments in our relationships ultimately make or break them.

And maybe most kids won’t grow up to learn the hard way like you and me.

152 thoughts on “The Secret About Men Most Women Don’t Know”

  1. Wow. Just…whew…I find myself rather speechless and humbled to be featured right at the forefront of your superb blog. It really means a great deal to me that I have, in whatever small way, helped to support your goals and intentions at Must Be This Tall to Ride by contributing my own hard-learned perspective and marital experience. But please know that returning here each day provides me the necessary reminders and reinforcements I need to always keep my marriage, and my make-or-break role in it, top of mind; as such, it means even more that you keep using this blog to fight this good fight, whether I’m allowed any air time in the discussion or not.

    Oh, and yes, my name really is Travis. And my middle name is Thorin. Yes, as in the King of the Dwarves, Thorin, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT, because I was born in the early ’70s and, you know, there was all that pot ‘n’ ever’thing. I love:

    The color red
    Collecting Blu-ray movies
    Steven Spielberg films
    U2’s music
    Stephen King’s books
    All STAR TREK shows

    But I don’t love any of that even remotely as much as I love my wife. She’s what brought me here. She’s the reason I’ll always keep coming back.

    1. Thank you. You have backed up what I often pass off as my husband blowing smoke up my ass. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around how such a smart man cannot “get” what I’ve said so clearly so many times. He’s said the same you’ve said but I must have needed to know it’s not just us. It’s not just his excuse. As much as the dishes in the sink post was sent to him to try to get him to understand what I’ve been saying for years (and saying it wrongly as well, as read in that post) this post made me understand. This post is my “a-ha” moment. Thank you Travis.

      1. I was stunned that Matt felt my thoughts were worthy of being spotlighted; now my mind is totally blown that they actually provided crucial insight to even a single reader. I assure you it has been my humble pleasure.

  2. Great post Matt. I think this is and continues to be a gender difference that will never, ever be solved as long as either side thinks they are right.

    One of things you have talked about (which I believe to be a truth) is that when we as men do things that are hurting our partners, then even if we can’t understand it we need to accept that these things truly are hurting our partners. And try to change our behavior accordingly.

    While we are doing this, our partners have to accept that there are things about us which they may not understand, but that doesn’t make them any more valid.

    I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a buddy who spent most of his life suffering from a serious anxiety disorder.

    His anxiety was real – it caused all sorts of physical and psychological pain to him. And it hurt like hell for him when the people who were close to him, the people who loved him, tried telling him “don’t worry, this is just your anxiety, it’s all in your head”. Yeah, in some ways that was true. It was in his head, in the sense that he would have very different reactions and experiences in situations that people without anxiety would have. But both were right.

    He desperately wanted people to understand his anxiety, and accept him for it. With that acceptance though, what was also looking for was for people to accommodate what worked for him.

    It took him many years to beat his anxiety, and it will always be there to a degree but now he can live with it and not have it control him.

    Part of the healing for him was accepting that although what he was feeling was very real to him, because it wasn’t the same for others it was no more fair of him to expect them to accommodate him then it was others to always expect him to accommodate them.

    For healthy relationships it has to go both ways.

    One of the things I love about your blog is there is great dialogue with guys and girls trying to explain things, without being critical and without attacking.

    I love Travis’s comment about giving people the benefit of the doubt. We need to do our best to understand each other. Guys need to listen more, and be more in tune with their wife. And wives need to accept that by and large we do care, and want them to be happy with us.

    I think a few small changes on both sides can go a long way towards better relationships and sustainable happiness.

    1. I agree. I love where Matt comes from with every post. At the same time, as a woman, we definitely have our role. We like to talk, we assume and we tend to have high unspoken expectations. In any relationship there are unspoken contracts that arise between both sides but as women we expect men to think the way we do. Women are complex and layered. In fact, there is research the shows women are more adept at communication than men…It has to do with different hormones and such (which I won’t go into here). Men on the other hand are usually more grounded emotionally with a higher mechanical aptitude. They can be great sounding boards and strong emotional supports. For me, I find a relationship is headed towards long term happiness when we can understand each others perspectives. But it must be both sides, not just the woman and not just the man. For instance, my ex husband and I used to always bicker over his clothes on the floor.

      For a good year I would pick up and wash all of his clothes, like a mother. I was angry. Why couldn’t he just do it?? He knows it bugs me?! I continued doing it. Building resentment. Then I realized…he doesn’t see it. Aha! OMG he literally does not see it as a problem! I knew I had a choice…either keep doing it because the mess bothered me or ignore it and accept that his side of the bed would regularly maintain a 3ft high pile of clothes. I chose the latter. Sometimes, I would still do it when I couldn’t take it but I would actively remind myself, in those moments, If I did it then it was my choice because it bothered ME. He could care less. That was a major revelation for me and a huge weight lifted. Interestingly, he wasn’t as blind to it when company was about to come over :). Men just need their man-caves.

  3. I think the hardest realization I had to make was seeing my husband for what he was – which was AS HE IS – PERIOD. Without intention, without forethought, without maliciousness, without empathy and without compassion. The last two were keys to realizing that he – strike that – that what I told him I needed was not in his radar. ( see how I took ALL emotion out of that observation?) To understand that about him was like stripping my mind of emotions but being miserable becomes deadly so it had to end but only when I could see that we were just not well matched. The institution of marriage has the biggest challenge when this type of misalignment rears its head.

    1. There’s a continent-sized gulf between a man without empathy and compassion, and a man who’s failing to make the connection that empathy and compassion are being desperately called for (of course, only you can say which type of man your ex was). I would caution distraught wives that the issue may not be that you’re married to a T-800 cyborg. I’d wager it’s far more likely that your husband is actually Stevie Wonder and you’re pulling your hair out trying to figure out how to describe a rainbow to him so that he’ll understand.

      1. You’re funny and right BUT my real sentiment is to how women’s minds try to decipher what is and isn’t there. There may be a difference in your view but not mine. It goes hand in hand in my view. It wasn’t my first husband’s view because it simply wasn’t. I think that’s part of Matt’s point too. Distraught is an emotion when a woman is still hopeful that something can change – her view or his ways. I think that’s part of stage 1.
        I actually have a funny Stevie Wonder story but I can’t make a joke out something harmless.
        Live and learn! : )

      2. I think Jayne is on to something. When the wife is distraught, it means she is giving the man the opportunity to see the problem, have the problem fixed and improve the marriage. She believes the marriage can be saved, and that’s what she is hoping for! But this makes the man uncomfortable, and he fights her because he not only doesn’t see the problem, he doesn’t want to deal with her emotions.

        Once she gets to the point where, in her mind, it’s over-she’s no longer distraught. She emotionally leaves the marriage, and even if he wakes up, smells the coffee, and begins to change, it’s too late.

        Maybe guys need to view their wife’s “distress” like they view the “check engine” light on the dashboard of their car. If the light comes on, you better pull over and start poking around under the hood, figure out what’s wrong and fix it if you don’t want the car to break down.

      3. You make an interesting point, Lissy; however, I’d caution all of us to be a little cautious with this car analogy that keeps coming up. In fairness to Matt’s original intention for it, he was seeking to draw a correlation between men stereotypically not caring about proactively putting a dirty dish away when it’s important to many/most women with women stereotypically not caring about proactive car maintenance when it’s important to many/most men. I lost the thread of how it happened but, somewhere along the way, the car maintenance analogy got co-opted into husbands equating handling their wives’ needs with car maintenance, which wasn’t the intended goal.

        If we take a car maintenance = wife maintenance approach, we run the risk of husbands everywhere coming to the conclusion that, if their “car’s” “check engine” light is going to keep flashing as often as it does, maybe rather than providing it with additional maintenance, the more fulfilling option would be to scrap the “car” altogether and upgrade to a new “make and model”.

        As insanitybytes22 already noted, the relationship between a person and their car is not a reciprocal one. The car exists to serve the owner in all things; the owner need only provide the minimum care in return to keep the dynamic alive. A wife exists to serve and be served in equal measure by her husband. It is a mutually reciprocal, quid pro quo relationship that keeps both parties fulfilled, strong, healthy, tended to, challenged and evolving. If we insist on keeping the problematic “car as woman” analogy in use, then I would further tweak your statement, Lissy, to read:

        “Maybe guys need to view their wife’s ‘distress’ like they view the ‘check engine’ light on the dashboard of their car. If the light comes on, you better pull over and start poking around under the hood, and figure out what’s wrong [b]or you may end up with no car altogether. And, then, you’ll probably discover you were actually a car all along, too, and are rapidly headed for your own complete breakdown.”[/b]

  4. Both you and Travis make some great points! I’m not convinced that men are really so much less sensitive to little triggers; I think it’s that the triggers are different, on average. The scenarios you mention, neglected car maintenance and jamming up the computer, are issues I have often heard couples fighting about with the men actually being quite angry, putting down the woman’s intelligence and competence, holding a grudge, and being condescending about the subject forever afterward. Ditto for spending more money than he thinks she should on something he doesn’t think is necessary. And here’s one that’s not about money: “I think she was letting that guy flirt with her!!!” is an idea that will keep some men up nights even if it’s totally baseless.

    I feel that there’s one insight missing from the whole dish-by-the-sink issue that I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned here at all: Many women are socialized to believe that the appearance of our homes reflects our value as women. I’ve struggled with this, even though it isn’t something my own family believed or taught, because when I was a girl some of the other girls who came over to my house reported to their mothers and/or to other girls, “Becca’s mother doesn’t keep a clean house,” and this was repeated and the specifics gossiped about, as if the dead bugs in the light fixtures meant my mother was a BAD WOMAN instead of meaning that she had a serious and painful spinal problem as well as a number of more interesting things to do. So in my early adult years, and again in my first few years of motherhood, I felt afraid of being judged by anyone who came into my house when it wasn’t perfect (which is 99% of the time). It’s taken not only a lot of objective observation that this isn’t the case but also a lot of emotional work to convince myself that it’s morally and socially acceptable for the house to be in a state that is clean enough for those of us who live in it.

    So if you think of your wife trying to keep a nice house in order to prove that she is a worthy person, then every time you mess it up carelessly, you are attacking her self-worth. She just cleaned up the kitchen after dinner, and now she’s a good woman who is finally allowed to rest, but an hour later she comes back and sees that she’s not a good woman anymore!! If you’re like most couples, she does far more of the major cleaning work than you do, and she’s just asking you to keep up with minor maintenance related to your own activity (like the dishes and clothes you use)–but every day you’re rubbing in her face that you think you’re too good for that and you’re just leaving all the dirty work to her, all of it, so obviously you don’t think much of her.

    Does that make sense?

    1. I love this comment, and think it’s really important to some of the issues between men and women:

      “Many women are socialized to believe that the appearance of our homes reflects our value as women”.

      About a year ago I went to a conference where the keynote was presented by a fairly influential lady in the technology field. She talked about the demographic in the room, which was probably 90-95% male, and mentioned she believes a big part of the reason for that is how men are brought up vs. how women are brought up.

      She used the phrase “pretty little girls” to talk about how women are often brought up with the belief that they need to look perfect, and be quiet, and be supportive, and to listen and sacrifice for others. And all sorts of other things that ultimately lead to them being worried about how other people judge them. Perception from others often (not saying always) becomes much more important to women then men. So what you are saying about things coming to represent self image, and own value makes a lot of sense.

      Men on the other hand are taught with less restrictions and expectations. When we do things and mess up, or mess ourselves up, it’s just “boys being boys”. Over the years, this is internalized and the “little things” don’t seem to matter as much.

      A while back Matt referenced some book that talks about mens minds being more like boxes, while womens are more like spaghetti – we seperate things more while for women there are more connections. Thing A impacts thing B, etc. I haven’t read the book, but that kind of makes sense.

      And to me makes sense out of some of our differences.

    2. Absolutely! I am not a fashionista by any means, and I’m not interested in interior design, and I absolutely hate hate hate shopping. Hate it. And yet I feel this great pressure to have a constantly pretty-looking home and to look neat and cute and put together (without feeling like a complete alien to myself), and I seem to be failing a lot of the time.

      I had this discussion with my friend the other day. Because of course you should look nice and attractive as a woman, but not too sexy because then you’re slutty. And it shouldn’t look like you tried hard to look great, it should kind of be, ” oh my ass just happens to look fabulous in these pants, I did not spend hours and hours finding just the right pair (not to mention previous years agonozing and learning what works for me in general), I am not doing any deliberate dressing to flatter my figure at all, oh heavens no, how shallow and pathetically brainwashed one must be to do that!” I feel exhausted just writing this.

      1. Donkey,

        ” oh my ass just happens to look fabulous in these pants, I did not spend hours and hours finding just the right pair (not to mention previous years agonozing and learning what works for me in general),

        I think I’m starting to understand why your nickname is donkey 😉

    3. Fromscratchmom

      Wonderful and important comment ‘Becca! It reflects some similar things to some that I’ve experienced. My dad was an OCD nut job about the house and terrible to my mom about wanting it magazine pic perfect 24/7 and also said outrageous things (which I recognized as such) about other women as housekeepers based on little things he saw in their homes.

      My husbands mom didn’t keep as nice a house as my mom did in some ways, better in other ways, but behaved horribly to her family about the house.

      I’m sure you can imagine the confused muddle my hips and and I experienced about those things in our marriage. He criticized constantly. I had health problems develop. He made me feel even more worthless than I already did which was considerable. He had some really bad habits and demands. So in various ways he sabotaged my housekeeping AND my self esteem constantly. AND acts of service was his primary love language. But words of affirmation were far more important to me and I learned to be afraid to say anything ever because it always resulted in more awful words from him.

      I always accepted a lot of what he wanted about the house and never fussed or nagged or tried to change him. For example, he wanted to keep his clothes in piles of partially dirty in the bedroom. He wanted to force me to use a dishcloth instead of my preferred sponge in the kitchen. I could go on and on.i just gave those things to him because he said it mattered to him, even though they were actually really hard on me. So I read the thing above and think “but I did let it go! I let everything go trying to keep the peace!” But peace isn’t what he wanted….at least not for me. So I’m not the intended target of the blog post. And that’s OK.

      Oh well, a lot of our marriage was pretty miserable for me anyway. I’m beginning to realize he was a lot more of a manipulator and an abuser than I ever realized before. So I’m just journaling a lot today about allowing myself to be angry. Anger has gotten me in trouble some in the past but I know. It’s not always wrong. Sometimes it’s needed.

      Maybe someday I’ll be blessed with real love from a real man. If not at least I won’t be with the abuser anymore.

      1. Fromscratchmom, you are so strong. I know it’s so very easy to pass judgement over the internet about someone else’s relationship, but honestly, it sounds like you’ll be better off without him the way he he was acting. And I definitely think allowing yourself to be angry can be healthy. 🙂

    4. Upon reading your comment it struck me as freaking ridiculous seeing it in words but it’s absolutely true! I am guilty of judging people by their housekeeping skills ( I am more spartan and hoarding like situations give me he heebies ) but I have gotten so angry with my ex in the past for just bringing over friends on short notice because I had to drop what I was doing and clean. And cleaning the same spaces every day after other people when there is so many other things you want to do gets old fast. And no one seems to appreciate it. I’ve tried letting the mess go but that really just doesn’t work for me. I feel so much better in a tidy room. More relaxed and creative ( I am a painter ). Maybe as women we should stop judging other women on their housekeeping. This won’t solve the problem between men and women but it could cut us ladies some slack.

      1. Yeah, and I bet when you “had to drop everything and clean” he didn’t see it that way at all–he was just bringing friends by and assuming they would not care how the place looked–he didn’t realize it was your reputation on the line!

  5. Wow! I have been waiting for this entry for a long time. I have been reading your blog since the “dishes” post but admittedly as a poor beleaguered wife that watched as the comments came in, as further proof that men were idiots. Even the post themselves, as insightful as I felt they were, were written after all, by a DIVORCED man (no offense but reading your posts reminded me of the apologies from my son after breaking my favourite vase; poetic, beautiful, seemingly sincere and exactly what I want to hear, but in no way a guarantee that I wouldn’t find him tearing through my house in the near future with another ceramic casualty on the horizon)
    Boy’s will be boys and somehow I had to find a way to stay married to one.
    I was putting in 120% of the effort, a getting minimal returns. My husband isn’t a jerk; he listens and agrees and then goes right back to falling into the same routines that are sabotaging our relationship. I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t see what was so obvious to me. We were heading towards a right off.
    And then a metaphor (and unbelievably a car maintenance metaphor at that!) and I get it.
    Other than our house, the cars are the largest investment that this family has made. I am not irresponsible with our money and I’m not an idiot. It makes perfect sense that I should spend time and money in protecting that investment. I am on board. None of this is new or shocking to me and yet I have never done anything to my car other than put gas in it and once washed it with the brush at a self serve car wash that apparently was filled with grit and left the ENTIRE car with a sort of etched appearance that my husband did not appreciate. If you told me at that moment that I didn’t deserve my car anymore, I would feel that you were being slightly unreasonable. Contrary to the perfectly logical argument that a 15000 dollar piece of complicated equipment requires a certain amount of care, I have always just climbed into my vehicle expecting it to work, regardless of putting in zero effort. What an enlightening moment.
    Car maintenance makes sense. Car maintenance is a small price to pay to protect the original investment. I am absolutely capable of investing the time and money necessary and yet I have never done so. It’s not that I don’t care about the investment or that I’m getting the last laugh over the investment or that I’m trying to screw that investment over. WOW.
    Ok, I get it…so the next step is how do you get someone to care before they have to suffer a loss so great that they think, “well I’ll never make THAT mistake again.” Instead of just being reactionary (and feeling guilty) about the damaged paint job, how does one become proactive to the needs of the car before it becomes a right off? Can any first marriage succeed or does it take a divorce before you can learn?

  6. “Most of the time, (like 98 percent, probably) men don’t hurt their wives or girlfriends on purpose. They do it accidentally. Wives have A LOT of trouble believing this.”

    Awesome post as usual, Matt. Really well said. I’d be 110% on board, except something is still missing and I can’t quite put my finger on it. If you had said 60% of men don’t hurt their wives or girlfriends on purpose, I’d be right there with you.

    The thing is, that women who neglects her car, who never puts oil in it, in her heart, she takes that car for granted, she feels entitled, and so invests no concern about it at all….until it breaks down and fails to serve her. Men often do the same to women and maybe we don’t know better, maybe there is plenty of mercy to go around, maybe being human requires a lot of forgiveness, but just the same a car is an inanimate object, while a woman is not.

    I don’t want to point fingers at “all” men, I don’t want to imply they’re “all” selfish, but the fact remains that many men look at women as if we were kind of like a car that should just run because they put the key in the ignition. None of us really “accidentally,” do anything at all. We deliberately invest in the things that are important to us. Perhaps we don’t understand that at the time, but where our treasure is, that is were our heart is also.

    1. “We deliberately invest in the things that are important.”

      I’ve never been in stronger disagreement with you than I am with this statement. What we deliberately invest in is the things which continue to give us that “new car smell” thrill of novelty. We all too often fail to invest in the things that are truly important, perhaps for as simple as a reason as thinking, if those things are so important, doesn’t it follow that, by extension, they are infallible? Isn’t it a given that my body will know to keep taking in air, even if I’m not dedicating conscious effort into the physical act of breathing?

      You yourself made the analogy of a woman who “neglects her car, never puts oil in it, [and] in her heart, takes that car for granted, feels entitled, and invests no concern about it at all….until it breaks down and fails to serve her.” Wouldn’t that woman answer that she considers having dependable transportation to be of vital importance every day of the week? Yet all the while, she assumed her car would function properly all of its own volition as an axiom.

      1. I do deliberately invest on things that are important to me. Starting from my family, through my home and car, ending at small things like books or shoes I like and want them to last me a long time. I don’t however spend much time on things that can be easily replaced or I don’t like. These I sometimes deliberately neglect to justify getting rid of them.

      2. “What we deliberately invest in is the things which continue to give us that “new car smell” thrill of novelty.”

        That’s interesting! I think that might be a more male perspective, because I tend to value the things that have been around for a while, my favorite shoes, comfortable jeans. I don’t think I have much of that “novelty for new things,” but I know my husband does.

        However, I think the very fact that we’re speaking of women as if we are somehow comparable to cars, is somewhat funny. I mean, that is the whole problem, many men assume women will just “function properly,” like a car. Women are not cars, we are people and people are complex.

    2. But again, isn’t the whole struggle of trying to get to a place of equilibrium in your marriage is that the way you do and think of things isn’t necessarily the way your spouse does? And that neither perspective is inherently wrong, just that some methodologies for holding to that equilibrium have a better chance at success than others?

      In simpler language, you care about the car and, as such, keep it regularly maintained. Therefore, you have little to worry about with concern to it breaking down before its natural point of obsolescence. Another person cares just as much about their car and falls into a kind of naive and impractical thinking that, since that car is so important to them, it’s somehow impervious to failure. This blog speaks to that “car owner”. The men in your life may be that kind of “car owner”.

    3. Fromscratchmom

      Well, IB. I tend to agree. Of course no one does it perfectly or perfectly consistently. But generally speaking, I invest quite a bit in the things that are important to me. I invested in God. I invested in my husband and my children. I invested in trying to develop healthy, mutually beneficial communication and kindness and cooperation in all the relationships in our family. I invested in my physical health AND my married sex life AND the health of everyone else in the family. There were a lot of things up at the top of the priority list so there were times that some fell and would have looked to like they weren’t important to an observer. I invested in other things going down the list from there as I could. Heck, I even helped take care of the cars. lol. Somedays I wonder if we should have just never had any TV or other electronics in our lives because there were far too many other things that needed my attention! But… Ya know… Everyone needs a little downtime!

  7. I do not think that these are acts of active maliciousness. Had I thought that I would have been gone long time ago. This is not about WHY. This is about WHY NOT. When someone I love and care about asks me to do something or not to do something I do not apply judgment of validity to it. I stop or start doing what I am asked for. When my daughter asks me to bring her to school 20 minutes before her classes begin I DO IT every single day BECAUSE it is very important to her and BECAUSE I love her DESPITE believing that if I dropped her off 5 minutes before would totally suffice. I saw her stress about it, I heard her tell me how anxious about being late she feels, I love her SO I DO WHAT IS MAKING HER FEEL SAFE AND CALM. When my mother asks me to text her right after I land because she is anxious about my safety I do that religiously, even though I personally think that in this case no news is good news. BECAUSE I LOVE HER AND I KNOW IT IS IMPORTANT TO HER. When my husband tells me he loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I make them for him even though I find them disgusting and cannot comprehend how could anybody eat them. BECAUSE I love him and it I important to him. This specific situation applies to all people we love not just husbands and wives. The nature of neglect does not have to contain malicious active intent. It doesn’t make it any less of a neglect. Sadly.

    1. You just explained a wife’s common mentality. We’re trying to explain (not defend, not champion, but simply shed a light on) a husband’s common mentality. If the two were tantamount, this entire blog would have little reason to exist.

      1. I must say I almost find it offensive on behalf of men. I think better than that of men. I have a son, and I am determined to do everything I can to make sure that he is a happily married man one day by making his wife feeling loved! If my husband asked me to take care of my car, by the way, I would. The problem is also here it is the other way around – it is important to ME that the car is taken care of. I am the one doing the car maintenance. Because I care. Also I am the computer savvy person in our house. In this case because I like and know but still.
        I am trying very hard to understand what you are saying but I am clearly falling short.

      2. When you say, “I think better than that of men,” I’m not sure in what sense you mean it. If you mean that you feel we males are fully capable of being better husbands than our typical efforts would indicate, I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why I’m delighted that there’s a forum like this where a man is lighting necessary fires under the lazy, dialed-out asses of so many of us other men. But if you mean that you feel men are better than this WITHOUT a whole lot of labored retraining and come-to-Jesus reorientation of their basic perspectives having to occur first, then I won’t say I speak for all men when I vehemently disagree but this man vehemently disagrees.

      3. IT”S NOT NEGLECT!!!!! The moment it is defined like this, contempt is inevitable and divorce is likely. it’s just a different definition of the relationship that needs to be worked out see my post below.

    2. You’ll hear (or read) no argument from me.

      It absolutely is neglect. And it’s very bad. And I think it is the No. 1 reason why most divorce happens.

      And since I believe when two people get married that they really want to stay married forever, I think more of them should be aware of these things.

      The husband neglects without realizing it. When he is told he’s neglecting, he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t believe it anymore than he’d believe his six-year-old’s story about a magical ogre living in his bedroom closet.

      Since communication is the ONLY way humans acquire new information, it’s important that effective communication be implemented to turn ignorant and neglectful husband into enlightened and reliably nurturing husband.

      The assumption that he is inflicting pain on purpose sometimes causes hurt wives to deliver messages in less-than-optimum ways.

      And the slow breakage and downhill spiral continue.

      Men MUST learn to understand this whole empathy/emotional labor concept are society at large will always be in deep shit. If marriage ever makes a cultural comeback as this really great thing that most people enjoy, it will be because of radical evolution on the parts of male behavior and understanding.

      However. In the meantime, it will help so much if when their wives and girlfriends try to talk to them, that they understand his neglect comes, not from a place of malice, but from one of ignorance.

      I’m not saying “Don’t hurt his fragile ego!”

      I’m saying “I want you to succeed in your relationships and for your accidentally-a-jackass husband to be awesome at marriage so everyone can be happier and not divorce. If you don’t treat him like he’s out to get you, I think it will help a lot.”

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting.

      I very much understand why you do what you do. But I didn’t when I was younger.

      I’m divorced now. And it’s not a coincidence.

      1. I’m still trying to understand why men can hear and understand some people but not others. If they’re not able to follow any direction, respond to any request for help or appropriately respond to a suggestion, they wouldn’t be able to hold down a job or have friends. Hell, they wouldn’t be able to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

        What I’ve observed is that there is a “pack” mentality and if someone they accept as “alpha” says something, they hear it, but if they’re the “alpha” they selectively ignore it.

        If their mom says it, it’s like, “Oh mom (I love you, you silly woman)” but if it’s dad, it’s more like, “Good suggestion. Thanks. (do you still like me?)” If it’s their child, they ignore it. Their boss, they hear it. Their wife – not so much.

        In some couples, I observe that if the wife is the “alpha” the guy hears her. I’d just rather have a relationship of mutual respect rather than power and control anywhere.

        1. Pretty awesome observation, Reece.

          I want to immediately come to men’s defense, and say there’s no way that’s true, but I think that’s a theory worth pursuing.

          The idea that there are people we listen to, and people we don’t. “We,” being men (generally). And that you’re either in the This Person’s Opinion Matters camp, or you’re not. And that dictates what imapact your words have.

          Having not had time to think about it for more than 60 seconds, I can’t say for sure HOW true I think that might be, but there’s clearly something there.

          Lots of food for thought. I love it. Thank you.

      2. Reece- that makes a LOT of sense.

        I’ve often wondered this. I mean, I told my husband flat out “you are losing me because of _____” and “I’m not sure I want to be married to you anymore” and even flat out “I am thinking about divorce” but he still just didn’t take me seriously, threw me a bone here and there and ignored the rest. And now, in hindsight, you bet he wishes he did! But when it came down to it, he never thought, subconsciously or not, that I would do anything about it. It was inertia.

        But I mean – if my husband’s boss said to him “I’m considering letting you go because you keep doing X even though you know it is destructive to the company and we have discussed this” he wouldn’t dismiss it, thinking his boss would never fire him. He would immediately stand up, take notice, and correct the issue. Because it’s his boss. If his dad said something along those lines, he would absolutely have listened.

        But me? Nope. He just thought that unconditional love meant he could do whatever he wanted and I’d never leave, and didn’t take me seriously. Even now, in the midst of trying to get me back and telling me how much he loves me still, he still shows time and time again how he doesn’t take me seriously. Because I’m not a domineering type, so I don’t command respect, apparently.

    3. This is the hardest thing for me to understand but there are different ways that people could view this that would be equally valid.

      One of the biggest differences in how people think of their relationships is “Independence First” or “Togetherness First” You sound like someone who defines love with a togetherness mindset. An independence mindset person would define love differently. They may or may not drop the daughter off early because they would find it important for her to develop the ability to manage anxiety (not saying I agree!). They would tell their mother “no new is good news” and wish her well. They would ask their husband to prepare their pb&j sandwiches. These are equally valid ways of reacting to the same requests for an independence person.

      I have friends where both the husband and wife are independence first and friends where they are both togetherness first. Research shows both styles can be happy in marriage. It’s only a problem when the styles are different and each side thinks the other doesn’t LOVE them because they expect different things. I am a togetherness person, my husband is an independence person, it is the biggest cause of conflict in our marriage and research shows it is the hardest for each side to feel the other’s way is legitimate. I had to be willing to accept our differences as equally legitimate and accept that my definitions were one possible way of being loved and happy. Still working on it.

      1. I don’t divide relationships like this. To me this is too black and white. Togetherness sometimes, independence at other times. What is however crucial in my opinion is respect. Respect for another person. How they are different, how they feel (and they do feel differently than we do), what they like. If we assume we know better how they should feel, how they should or shouldn’t react, what should or shouldn’t bother them we do not respect them. Without respecting another person’s self there will be no good relationship. Any relationship. Marriage is no different. Only harder. And from that there is a straight (more or less) path to neglect. We neglect to fulfill another person’s needs because WE find them not important enough.

        1. This is the most easily fixed problem in the world and thenonenleastnlikelyntonbe fixed. He just has to believe what a woman says and believe he is responsible to her. That’s it. Many men find that impossible because we exist in a culture with a patriarchal hangover.

  8. I know this blog is helpful to people for so many reasons some of which is to be able to try and understand why “nice” people do things that are annoying or hurtful or even unintentionally or intentionally cruel (not abuse) to each other. David Scharch calls this normal marital sadism.

    There are some gender patterns that show up commonly that is why your dishes post resonated with so many people. It is true that it is more common for men to dismiss women (see Gottman 65% of men not accepting influence) but this is really about unhealthy adults which is why I see it in BOTH genders. The real thing here is being able to understand and expect that other people are different than you for all kinds of reasons of which gender is one and different doesn’t mean “bad” even if every fiber of your body, mind and soul tells you their way is inferior. I wrote in another post about how I did the exact same thing to my husband by ignoring him when he asked me over and over and over to change my normal upset style. I just couldn’t make and sense of it so I just thought he was being overly sensitive. I’ve also been on the other side, so I know how that feels too. Research show that partners tend to engage in unhealthy relationship habits at the same rate so I don’t really see this as men are unintentionally stupid and women are loving dishwashers. (although I do feel like that some days 🙂

    If you will indulge my theoretical musings I am excited about some new stuff I am learning. I
    have been reading and studying to understand what a healthy adult looks like and how they interact with people in relationships. I am currently reading Brent Atkinson’s book which is profoundly helpful. He takes Gottman’s research, combines it with practical ways to apply it and adds in neurological stuff to help you not be triggered so you can’t apply all those other logical things.

    Here are a few things I have found so far:

    1. The foundation of a healthy adult, both men and women is to understand that my needs/wants/ideas/preferences/communication style/love language/etc is not the same as the person I am talking to. I know this sounds ridiculously basic but it is so hard to get this right because my ways seems so obviously superior :). I call this normal everyday normal narcissism, it is normal to think your preferences are better, otherwise you wouldn’t prefer them. It is so, so easy to believe the other person is wrong when they really aren’t they just have a different point of view.

    This is not a gender thing which is why there are constant “mommy wars” over who has the best parenting style. It is why many people fight over their political beliefs without being able to see the other’s side as inferior.

    2. It is common to believe that your partner’s opinion or actions are wrong in situations where they are arguably valid. It is not wrong for the husband to want to leave the glass by the sink, nor is it wrong for the wife to want the glass in the dishwasher. Many happy couples do it both ways (although probably more women like the clean because of nuture) The only problem is that there is a difference in their preferences that needs to be worked out. It is a problem when either side gets judgmental about the other sides preferences and thinks that they are “needy” or “selfish.”

    3. We each have core differences in ways of calming our nervous systems and relaxing. Situations that are calming to my nervous system may agitate the other’s. If I need external order to feel calm, I am going to need that glass to be in the dishwasher before I can relax, if I don’t need external order I want to sit down and relax in my chair to get calm. The only problem is when what is calming to me is agitating to you. I am going to feel it is “wrong” for you to want to leave that dish out because you are preventing me from calming down, you are going to feel it is “wrong” to get get upset about a dish and preventing me from calming down in my chair.

    4. If I want to be treated well by my partner, I “must have the ability to react effectively when he says or does things that are unconstructive, inconsiderate, or just plain wrong.” This involves understanding the other person is not you and setting boundaries and communication styles that help them understand this is important. Do not give in or ignore which may work in the short term to keep peace but lead to long term unhappiness.

    5. Studies show that partners tend to engage in unhealthy relationship behaviors at approximately THE SAME RATES. We just favor different ones and it turns into a vicious cycle where each side’s unhealthy relationship habits trigger the other to respond with their own unhealthy habit. That’s how you get reasonable people who can’t discuss anything anymore. If I believe that my partner is more to blame, it fuels contempt (he’s my idiot 3rd child, she’s a nagging bitch who’s never happy) that is the single most powerful predictor of divorce (over 90%).

    6. “Successful partners are willing to give and take, regardless of whether they agree with each other or not.” I cannot want to “win” the disagreement, my way is not superior to his way. “People who fail in their relationships are often only willing to give equal regard if they feel that their partner’s point of view are compelling enough to merit concessions.” Your opinions/needs/wants matter even if it doesn’t make any sense to your partner. That is what healthy adults do.

    1. What are these studies you talk of? All the studies I’ve come across suggest that it’s men that overwhelmingly tend to behave in the most unhealthy ways and I’ve certainly read Gottman saying that it’s men that need to do most of the changing (although many of his books are written in very gender neutral language). And the fact that women initiate the vast majority of divorces would seem to back this up. They are unhappier in marriage because they get a worse deal. The studies I’ve read show that men are largely happy in marriage because women pull out all the stops to make them happy (until they get so resentful that he’s not doing it back they can’t).

      That said, I think that’s a really interesting thing about relaxation styles and nervous system calming strategies. I’ve been thinking about that recently too but don’t have much vocab for discussing it. It does make sense though and explains why a glass being left out is really upsetting to one person but not to another.

      That’s also a good way of putting it about the preferences. I think it’s easy to understand that other people have different preferences when it comes to food etc as there isn’t really logic involved; mostly just genetic taste bud differences. But when it comes to preferences that we’ve arrived at partly through logic it can seem that other peoples’ are wrong. We can forget the non-logical component.

  9. My estranged husband and I have had many conversations over the years in which I have explained to him that his failure to call when he is going to be late, for instance, hurts my feelings because it is inconsiderate. His standard reply: “I didn’t do it on purpose.”. “That’s right,” I have explained repeatedly, “it wasn’t on purpose. But you failed to consider my feelings. You were in-consider-ate.”. I expected that the man who vowed to love, honor and cherish me would make a point of considering my feelings.

    1. I know this is hard for me that wrap my head around, but some people never call each other to let them know they will be late and are perfectly happy.

      Like you, I want my husband to call me and let me know, but he doesn’t really need me to do likewise. When I was able to understand it as a preference it was much easier to treat it as no big deal when he would forget. And he was able to remember more often because it was not SOOO morally important. Anyway, that’s my experience.

      1. I would say that sometimes it’s not a personality thing-it’s situational. It really matters if someone is waiting for the other person. For example-spouse A cooks dinner, and waits for spouse B to get home so they can eat. Spouse A is upset because spouse B does not call to say they are running late. Example 2: Spouse A is waiting at home for spouse B, because once spouse B arrives, they have planned to do such and such. Spouse B is expected at 5pm, but does not arrive until 6:30pm.
        Example 3: Spouses agree to meet at a restaurant after work at 6pm. Spouse A arrives, and waits 45 minutes for Spouse B, who is late.

        The common link is that spouse A is always waiting for spouse B, and I think it’s inconsiderate of Spouse B not to call. By the way, this often happens in same-sex friendships-one person is always late, and never seems to consider how it affects the other person. These situations come up fairly frequently in women’s magazine “Ask whoever” advice columns.

        Change the situation, and the feelings change. Spouse B runs a 20 minute errand, and Spouse A is at home. Spouse A is doing a project-gardening, home repair, etc. The errand ends up taking an hour. Spouse A is not sitting there all agitated. Because spouse A is not waiting for spouse B! Spouse A is busy! They may not even realize spouse B is delayed, or they may realize it and they may just think, “I wonder what’s taking so long.”

        So I guess whether someone “should” call might depend on whether someone is waiting for them or not.

      2. I would get upset when he told me he’d be home for dinner and then didn’t show or call, or when he’d tell me that he’d be working late and would be home at x hour and would be 3 or 4 hours late without calling, meanwhile I’m wondering if he’s dead in a ditch somewhere. As long as he was working, I wasn’t supposed to expect to be thought of. Work came first.

    2. The first time, it’s inconsiderate. And maybe it’s simple inconsiderateness on the rare occasion where he forgets going forward. But after you’ve told him, it is now a choice – a decision. He’s aware of it and it’s within his power to consider your feelings and be respectful of them. He can set an alarm to go off 1/2 hour before he’s supposed to be home so he can leave on time or call to let you know. It’s not that hard. He chose not to. Now he’s estranged.

  10. I’ve been reading for a while and I can’t help but come to the overall conclusion that this horse you’ve been beating for quite some time now is dead. Gone. Never to breath a single, solitary breath of air again. You follow? It’s dead. I’d love for you and everyone else in the comments section to bid adieu to the equine and lay it to rest. Then you could put your energy towards recommendations, suggestions, test studies that actually move past and focus on the Next Steps of these damaged relationships.

    If I’m a man reading your posts I don’t need to keep hearing how much I dismiss my wife’s feelings – intentional or not – is hurting her. I need to know how to STOP doing that if I care enough to do so.

    If I’m a woman reading yes, it totally validates me all around that you, too, know how much of an asshole I’m hitched to but it doesn’t help me. Not in the long run unless I was looking for more ‘heading out the door’ ammunition. What I’d need, rather, is to figure out how not to let his insensitivity – intentional or not – be the nail in our marital coffin. It would be beneficial for someone who’s got this all figured out to share with me how to get over the damn sink-side dish and repair the relationship I’m in.

    I understand the need to appeal to new readers on the daily but for the rest of us stuck on the shitty marriage treadmill can we get on with it already? Because more than anything we just want SOMETHING to finally effing change – even if it’s our last name & address.

    1. With all due respect…

      People are getting divorced accidentally.

      They don’t have a clue why. It’s because of all of these super-nonobvious things.

      We need people to grasp hard-to-understand concepts before they can do anything about repairing damaged relationships.

      I submit that a husband and wife who DO understand these ideas have all the brainpower they need to work toward peace and resolution.

      Two people who get this stuff and STILL demonstrate constant neglect? That’s intentional neglect. Which I’d label “abuse.”

      It’s the opposite of what I’m talking about here.

      Gotta be honest here, Dee.

      I don’t have the first damn clue what to do with my hurting spouse to move forward in healthy and cooperative ways.

      I never received the opportunity to try.

      I don’t know anything. I’m just some guy.

      But if I can help a husband understand his wife, or a wife help her husband finally get the lightbulb to go off, or a young person to grasp an idea and never accidentally ruin his relationship in the first place, I can feel like maybe I did something that mattered once.

      You’re talking to the wrong guy about what comes next. I tried one time, and it didn’t work, and it was really hard, and now I have to talk to my little son who feels sensitive about his parents’ broken marriage in the same way I did when I was his age.

      Divorce is bad. I hope people won’t do it. I hope kids won’t have to bear the burden of shit they didn’t sign up for.

      If I knew what was supposed to happen next, I promise I’d say so.

      I’m sorry that I don’t.

      One thing I do know? This horse isn’t dead. Do you have any idea how few people I reach, and what percentage of them reject these idea outright?

      The horse will be dead when this stuff is common knowledge instead of the secret it is now.

      Until then, the beat goes on.

      1. Until then you’re the blind leading the blind. What I’ve sincerely garnered from my time here is that I’m the only one in my relationship willing to try and that I’m like most other women who will probably be divorced soon too. That means that when my divorce is finalized the dating pool will be ripe with other women’s ex-husbands who, like mine, refused to see the issues needing to be addressed and remain steadfastly clueless.

        I’m not trying to steal your thunder I’m just trying to wrap my head around how your knowing any of this and having published it for others to know will actually help in the long run. Short of making your site required reading material on Date #2 and following up on how he’s digesting the information…it really just adds to my frustration over the matter. Maybe I’m alone in this feeling and everyone else is light years ahead of me – it’s possible.

        After each new post I find myself thinking o O (Well damn, they’re all effed up. I wonder how many dogs I can afford to feed because I’m certainly not bothering with any more men.) So, I get that you can’t speak from experience but have you put any thought in to how this blog could get passed the first phase? I mean, what should happen next? Knowing IS half the battle but doing something different is what will really create change. As a distraught wife, I don’t know that knowing things need to change is enough.

      2. Respectfully, I’m with Matt here. I don’t think this horse is quite dead yet (do y’alI hate that expression as much as I do? I always feel so bad for the horsie 🙁 ). And if Matt should feel so inclined, he could always write about whatever else he wanted to, while still writing about this point aswell.

        I know that Travis B is the star of this post so to speak, but I just wanted to make Matt and everyone aware that of the questions you posted Matt, only the first one was by me. I think Wandathefish wrote the other ones. 🙂

        Thanks for your posts Matt, and thank you to everyone who comments. I learn a lot from you all.

        1. SHIT. Great attention to detail, Matt. Swell journalism demonstration.

          Thank you for the heads up. I’ll fix this ASAP.

          (I’m sorry, wandathefish!)

      3. You are so right. Much of the time, one of the partners has NO REAL CLUE why the other one wants a divorce…”really”. (why the partner actually wants a divorce over “small stuff”). And it works both ways, genderwise. This is about the infamous “underlying issues”, which most of us, even the one who wants the divorce, struggle to understand.

        These are learnable concepts and learnable and practiceable (I made that word up) skills. But not too many are interested or even know they might need them until it is too late.

        This is a verrrrrry interesting blog with interesting discussions. Keep writing!

    2. “I’ve been reading for a while and I can’t help but come to the overall conclusion that this horse you’ve been beating for quite some time now is dead. Gone. Never to breath a single, solitary breath of air again. You follow? It’s dead. I’d love for you and everyone else in the comments section to bid adieu to the equine and lay it to rest.”

      Except that my marriage was a hair’s breadth from death and I started implementing many of the elements of practical advice Matt regularly dispenses here and can now confidently say that my relationship is as strong, vital and healthy as it was in its first year. I’m loathe to speak on Matt’s behalf, but I’d be willing to bet that he’d agree that if his writing’s pull even one marriage back from the brink of dissolution, it would have been worth all his effort.

      “If I’m a man reading your posts I don’t need to keep hearing how much I dismiss my wife’s feelings – intentional or not – is hurting her. I need to know how to STOP doing that if I care enough to do so.”

      I’d opine that you may not be reading this blog consistently enough because it’s rife with practical advice. Also, as a man, I’d say the message we so desperately need reinforced, and at which this this blog is uniquely adept at highlighting, is not so much how to stop dismissing our wives feelings as it is seeing illustrations of which unintentional and unwitting actions of ours are causing the dismissiveness in the first place.

      1. I guess the overarching difference is that you came to this website, digested what was being served and made the decision to try something new. This isn’t really about the difference between myself and my husband as much as it is the difference between the man I married and the one your wife married. It’s nice to know there are men out there willing to try however, it does me no good that they’d already be married. What I’d really like to know – as it’s too late for the marriage I’m currently in and inevitable that I’m going to meet clueless men in the future – is how to keep from making the mistake of picking THAT guy, the one who isn’t like you.

        1. Honest conversation, Dee.

          No masks. No bullshit. Good questions. Being observant.

          Say what you think and feel MINUS all the “Ohhhh I hope he doesn’t reject me” bullshit that so many of us do.

          Half our problem is that we want to be picked. We want to be liked. We want to be wanted.

          Yes. You’re going to feel frustrated out in the dating pool. If you are angry with me by virtue of me being a divorced man on our first date, that will probably not go well. 😉

          But, big-picture? You TOTALLY GET all this. From a mature and experienced perspective. Thus, using powers of deductive reasoning, VERY honest discussions about emotional labor and relationship expectations, and observing his behavior and treatment toward you, I have every confidence you won’t accidentally find yourself with a clueless man like you did when you were young and didn’t know better.

          I wish you didn’t feel like divorce was a forgone conclusion. But since you do? I know it will happen.

          I am rooting for your healing. His growth. And that you find a partner one day who will give you the things you need.

          You don’t have to be afraid. Because you get it now.

          Now, you get to decide. You don’t strike me as a letting-people-eff-with-me sort of human being.

          Once you’re emotionally ready? You’ll do great.

      2. That’s a very fair, understandable and heartbreaking question. I’m not sure many men are qualified to provide a worthwhile answer. But I do think that the more Matt succeeds at turning on his brethren’s proverbial light bulbs, maybe the less polluted you’ll find that dating pool in the years ahead. And maybe some of the conversations happening all across this blog will, at minimum, clue you into the kind of male behaviors you’ll want to remain vigilant about noticing during the dating phase before it moves into the marital one.

      3. Yeah Dee, it sounds like you’ve learned a lot and I think once you’ve healed and grieved and considered what you really need, you can manage to both be open to love and practice good boundaries. Then you can be very clear from the get go about what you need and what your dealbreakers are, and many people who aren’t a good fit will select themselves out. And even if someone who’s not really a good match somehow slips under the radar, you’ll probably figure it out quite quickly. Then you can repeat your dealbreakers once more, and if they don’t shape up you can say “next!” (while playing Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” in the background), knowing that you can’t live with this, and then be on your merry way. I’m sorry for the pain you’ve suffered in your marriage. Best of luck with everything.

      4. But that’s the thing – I married him 5 years ago for the second time, not when I was ‘young and didn’t know any better’. Obviously, having already divorced him I should have known better but I trusted him when he said things had changed. Believe me, there was nothing accidental about going into my marriage this time around. Which is why it really, really sucks that we are divorcing again.

        Insomuch as I’ll be sure not to trust him again, how can I trust any guy who winds up divorced as a result of similar circumstances? Reading your posts and subsequent comments (primarily from women walking around with my shoes on) I’ve come to the conclusions that A.) I’m not as alone as I thought and B.) In the future, I’m going to run into a whole lot more clueless men toting around emotional baggage they don’t even know they have or why it’s in their possession and certainly have no clue what to do with it. While I won’t hold their relationship status against them out of the gate, it stands to reason I’ll be on guard right?

        This has nothing to do with rejection. What is really on the table here is either ‘how do I make sure not to wind up with the same man I’m currently leaving’ or ‘how do I refrain from being the same kind of woman he just divorced’ which are two sides of the same coin. Screw deductive reasoning – just give me a checklist to identify which guy is going to respond like my husband and which one is going to put in the effort.

        I’m left with the notion that unless I love him more/he loves me more than our ex-spouse the ultimate outcome will be the same. If 99% of men do this and 99% of the time women respond like that then how does anything ever get changed?

        1. People make it, Dee.

          They tell the truth. They behave with humility. They love unselfishly. They give more to the other than they take for themselves. They communicate without masks and filters. They derive pleasure from their partner’s pleasure.

          As individuals, they constantly seek to better themselves. They know it’s not about what they get. It’s what they give.

          They work every day. They forgive. They are grateful. They focus on the good and not the bad.

          They practice good mental health through mindfulness and education.

          They practice good physical health with exercise, nutrition, and a positive, mutually beneficial and bond-forming sex life.

          They practice good spiritual health through prayer and/or deliberate gratitude.

          Emotionally, because they do these things, they feel whole inside, and it makes connecting with one another not so complicated.

          Don’t choose cynicism. Choose hope. Because YOU and no one else, decides what happens next.

      5. Hi Dee,

        You are understandably going through some rough times and trying to figure out how to have hope that it can ever be different.

        It is not true that 99% of men or women do this or that. There are many, many, many good men out there. Some, have healthy relationship skills already, some like Matt and Travis have learned what they did wrong and how to be a better person, some are willing to learn before you agree to marry them. The biggest thing I would look for is the willingness to “accept your influence”. If they are willing to do that, everything else can be negotiated to take both of your needs into account.

        You are a smart woman, you can learn what you might want to differently in future relationships. The good news is you sound super motivated and can research what healthy adults do and what their relationships look like (we all can get a little better). There are so many resources out there! Best wishes.

      6. Hey Dee – You and I are in a very similar place with similar questions. I was married for a decade, and during that decade we separated once but then got back together because I believed the promises.

        The hard part is, HE believed his promises too. it took years but eventually things just got back to where they were… and then they got worse. He’s spent the last year making more promises trying to get me back… yeah right.

        I ended my marriage when I finally came to the point where I would rather be single for the rest of my life, rather than deal with any more bullshittiness from a man, him or otherwise. That still stands, and I am rebuilding my life on that foundation.

        A wise woman once told me to treat myself the way I’d want a man to treat me, because I then establish an expectation in myself of proper behavior and am less likely to accept less.

        I’m still not entirely sold on the idea of remarrying. I’m only in my mid thirties and I don’t want to be celibate forever (and one night stands do not appeal to me at all) so I don’t know where the crossover there will be.

        I guess, in my situation (having been separated a year, divorce papers are now signed just waiting on the $$ to file), I’m reveling in the freedom and joy of being single. No more being mired in uncertainty, unhappiness and despair. No more struggling to pull a reluctant manchild along with me in this journey we call life.

        But one of the biggest things is – I’ve spent a year in self reflection and re-evaluation of what is acceptable to me in a man. And you know what? I have extremely, extremely high standards now. There is tremendous freedom in the idea that it’s completely okay to be single if you don’t find someone who is good enough. It’s okay to have super high standards.

        I can tell you right now that when I was in the thick of “still married but holy crap I am so ready to end this ridiculous charade” and then also for the beginning of the separation, I was pretty much convinced that there would never be any way I could ever trust a man again. I was in such a desperation of wanting to get out of the muck that it kind of outshadowed a lot of things.

        And maybe I won’t ever trust a man again. But I guess I feel like that’s okay now. And if I happen to meet a man who is amazing and checks off the requirements on my high standard list, then awesome. But being single is still better than being in my awful marriage. I’ll just keep on working on healing myself and healing me and when I’m fully healed and ready, then maybe I will be ready to be in another relationship. I still don’t know if I’d get married again, though. Still not sure about that.

        But at this point in the game (and I have committed to myself to not date anyone until at least I have been legally divorced for 12 months, if not more), I feel like I am much better equipped to recognize the red flags for what they are. Not only that, but I am much more independent and so I am less likely to justify bad behavior. I think a lot of people look to a relationship to heal them, but that’s the wrong approach and tends to result in compromises and justification of bad behaviors.

        I read an article recently (can’t find the link, sorry!) where it talked about how studies showed that the divorce rate is highest in marriages where the woman has an independent career. And not because they are somehow bad women, but because women tend to put up with less BS from their man if they don’t *need* him vs. the woman who has been a stay home mom for 15 years and has no education or job experience and therefore is actually much more dependent on her husband. I have a friend like that – tremendously unhappy, but no education or work experience and so she feels like she has no options. My intent is to be the first type.

        And, in finishing, I would like to link you to another page that changed my life. I mean it CHANGED MY LIFE. —-> Emotional Labor Metafilter Thread

        Donkey posted it on an earlier Blog from Matt, you may have read it. I cannot even stress how freeing and wonderful it was for the time I spent reading it and I’m really honestly not joking at all when I say it changed my life. Grab a glass of wine and start reading.

        1. (I’ve bookmarked that Metafilter thread. I’ve read large sections of it twice, and will keep going back. A lot of very powerful and eye-opening ideas in there.)

    3. Hi Dee,

      I can totally understand your frustration at wanting to find solutions!!

      I don’t claim to have figured it out but I am a researchy person and I have posted a couple of comments (and many other too long comments in other posts 😉 about research based ways to rethink these situations. They’ve helped me so maybe they will be helpful for a few other people too. There are relationships skills that I either did wrong or didn’t know that contributed to his lack of relationship skills that caused the mess we were in (which I used to think was all or mostly his fault). I hated learning that I was also to blame (not saying you are!) but at least I can have control over learning new research based skills and attitudes that ARE successful. We are still working on it but we are SO much better and at least I know what to work on.

      Best wishes, I understand it is hard to live in an unhappy marriage.

    4. Matt,

      Not only is the horse not dead, he’s pooping all over the yard!

      Thanks for your hard work on this blog, there’s just so much pain involved all around that frustration pops up here and there at wanting to find relief. (not that I ever do anything like that 🙂

      This blog has some of the smartest posts and comments I’ve read about relationships.

    5. …and if you still want to try to be married, maybe research and decide what practical actions/boundaries you can state and reinforce. He’s supposed to do the dishes and you’re supposed to cook? If he doesn’t do them, you don’t cook for him. He leaves his stuff everywhere? Tell him that everything that isn’t picked up before 10 pm goes in the trash, and follow through. And so on. I have no idea if this is relevant to your marriage of course, but I think practical boundaries is a blindspot for many women in general. Lisa R seems to know a lot about boundaries. 🙂

      1. No, it’s not relevant at all. Maybe the first time around it would have been but this time around there’s some major resentment bordering on hate going on and it’s probably why the majority of the population doesn’t remarry their exes. But, thanks for trying to help – it is something to keep in mind if I ever find myself living with another person again.

    6. This reminds me of my kids who would be watching something on the history channel that they really didn’t like. They’d watch the entire program and then when the next show came on, it’d be another episode of the same thing and they’d groan in displeasure. I walked in and flipped it to PBS where they were like, “YEAH!!!”

      I’d just shake my head.

      The internet is a big place. If you don’t like what’s “on,” change the channel. If you need solutions for your marriage, there are a million books on the subject. There are marriage counselors. There are studies and workshops and retreats. This is not that. This is a bunch of people down there in the mud with you trying to figure out what the hell is going on and hoping to help one another “get it” in some way.

      From what I’m seeing there are some lively conversations happening and Matt has brought together a rare community with his caring attitude and willingness to be open and vulnerable – which is helping a WHOLE lot of people have life-changing (and often quite healing) realizations.

      We’ll keep watching and if you don’t like the blog – or a particular post – you’re free to do something else. We wish you well. But if you want to add to the conversation, we’ll look forward to that too.

      1. Dee, I think some people are learning a great deal and others aren’t. It’s not a panacea to be sure. It’s just information. Like pretty much everything else in life you are free to take what works and leave the rest. But I’m not sure why you seem upset that you’re not getting something that was never promised.

    7. Beating a dead horse by telling inconsiderate and immature people to grow the…up. This website is amazing and I wish I could send it to people I have had to cuff off cold turkey, people who I adored but had zero consideration or thought for my perspective. This blog is virtually the only blog which could fix marriages, fix men, fix narcicism, fix immaturity, fix unbalanced friendships, fix laziness, fix entitlement, reverse the insane Red Pill/Rad Trad theories which wreck relationships everywhere.
      Basically long story short, this blog would help a lot of people, from age 15 up, skills for relationships, skills for helping around the house, skills for not stealing energy and not being a hypocrite.

      1. I feel my head getting bigger. Which is never good.

        Thank you for that incredibly flattering overstatement.

  11. Let me throw out a possibly controversial thought:

    I shouldn’t have to be in pain for you to take my needs into consideration. The partner doesn’t need to prove his actions were “unintentional”.

    These are some of the keys to happy relationships in my humble opinion. (in marriage and other relationships)

    1. We are different people with different needs/preferences.

    2. Each of our needs/preferences are equally important.

    3. I do not need to prove the logic or superiority of my needs for them to be equally valid. I also do not need to prove that it causes me pain for them to be equally valid, maybe I just prefer them or maybe it is the most painful thing ever, they are valid either way.

    4. It is perfectly normal to not want to give up my needs/preferences and to see my way as better. It is even understandable that there will be some resistance to sacrificing any part of my needs to accommodate you, especially under stress and/or if what I are asking from you is the opposite of what you need to calm your nervous system.

    5. When they are resistant, I must not see it as a huge moral failing but normal understandable resistance. Giving them the benefit of the doubt as a person who loves you but likes their way better and is finding it hard to understand your preference or doesn’t want to sacrifice their needs. It doesn’t make them human not evil.

    6. Each of us needs to be flexible enough to find common ground to accommodate our different needs that are seen as equally valuable.

    7. I must have skills that enable me to confront the resistance is a matter of fact way that makes it understood that both of our needs/preferences MUST be treated as equally valid. This escalates until we can work together on a solution.

    8. I cannot judge my partner as “selfish” or “needy” because that leads to contempt. I have to develop good relationship skills so I can effectively deal with any normal resistance to mutually accepting influence. I cannot allow myself to blame my partner but concentrate on what I need to do to set up healthy boundaries to make it easy for them to give me what I need.

    9. I do not give in or ignore it if they continue to dismiss my needs/preferences. That leads to contempt which leads to divorce.

    10. When they do agree to take my needs/preferences into account, I am happy to focus on remaining open and flexible when we negotiate without being angry or making him grovel in apologies for his previous dismissal. We are all human and want our preferences and find it hard to sacrifice. I see this as a normal part of “standing up for myself without making a big deal of it”

    1. I cannot express how much I love your opening statement! If your partner says, “Hey, please clean up after yourself by putting your glass in the dishwasher” the answer is “okay” and then do that. Or if you have some phobia of the dishwasher or something, let her know.

      Why is it that you need to listen IF your partner is sobbing uncontrollably and losing her shit, but otherwise just ignore her?

      I believe that if partners heard one another and responded, when on rare occasion they forgot, it would be forgiven.

  12. May I add that just as a “man is capable of accidentally hurting the woman they love”, women can be guilty of accidentally pushing their man away.
    Some statements can put men on the defensive, deflate their egos, make them disconnect. (yes,I am guilty as charge). Although my s2bx cheated many times, and continued to put us in financial debt (all of which I did not know about), it was the “failure to put the dishes in the sink” which was the start of the end. I take equal responsibility for my upcoming divorce.
    We think we are communicating effectively, but we’re not.

    Divorce. What an incredible heart-wretching, learning experience. I hold no ill-wills to my ex. Only thanks and gratitude as I move forward.

    Thank you Matt for your blog. You are bringing such incredible conversations and thoughts to the table. Keep beating that drum.

  13. Maybe this is too harsh, but it sounds like simple mysogeny to me. She tells you how she feels, but you know better. She can’t possibly feel that way because that’s not the way you feel. Allow her the agency to define her own feelings on every subject.

    1. It’s not too harsh as long as it’s defined as misandry when a man tells a woman how he feels but it’s not acceptable because it is different than what she thinks. It is a human thing to do this!

      1. Both mysogeny and misandry do exist. But the gist of the article is why men accidenally hurt their wives over and over again. I’m suggesting it’s because the men in the article don’t accept their wives assesment of their own feelings, denying her agency. When it happens in reverse, it’s a problem as well. Author is suggesting it’s a common male problem, and I would agree.

      2. Louise,

        I agree with you and I definitely think that there is some part of the reasons why men who dismiss their wife’s complaints or opinions might be based on our history of treating women as less worthy of respect (she’s emotional, illogical, hormonal or whatever) Because we see it in both men and women and in same sex interactions (mother in law daughter in law for example). I think a lot of it has to do with not being able to seperate what the other person wants/needs/thinks from what you want/need/think. It is just HARD to be able to relate that something that is not important or painful to me can be so for you. Even if the person tells you over and over. As I said in an older post, I did the same thing to my husband because I just could not understand his point of view. I really think that is what each side does although there is mysogyny and misandry (men are dense idiots or all men are selfish jerks etc) mixed in there too sometimes. I don’t think most men are any denser than most women, they just have different points of views and different relationship skills. I am working on being flexible in my opinions so let me just say that I could be wrong. ?

    2. I think it’s a cultural thing. In other cultures, we don’t see this as much. In some, we see it more. In our culture, it’s not macho to “let your wife tell you what to do” or to even allow her to suggest you do something differently. Think about our language – “the man of the house,” “wearing the pants in the family” – not to mention the phrases used to describe men who are kind and respectful. It’s a disservice to men as well as women.

  14. That Squirrel Again

    “Humor me.”

    Wow, do those two words go a long way toward ironing out differences – just acknowledging that what one partner sees as vital the other is going to see as a foible and occasional irrational behavior is well within what counts as being human.

    But if you’re the one who sees the dishes as a vital thing, and your thus-far-unmet goal is to get your partner to see the dishes as a vital thing as well, because you do care about the slob you married, perhaps some persuasive jiu-jitsu is called for to break the pattern of negativity, not to mention kitchenly grossness.

    What you’re looking to employ is the long-forgotten skill of tact, as described by Winston Churchill as telling somebody to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. Tact will often work when nagging doesn’t – and really, how effective is nagging in the first place?

    The trick, in other words, is to get the partner to change their ways in such a way that they think it was their own idea. Everybody wins.

    “Do you want your pie on a dish with last night’s gravy on it, or without?”

    Your mileage may vary, but I’d be elbows-deep in the suds in no time flat after that, and I don’t care WHAT game is on.

    1. Gotta love a comment that has a Churchill quote and a call for practical boundaries! All I can conclude is that the trip to hell for you must include some pie. 🙂

    1. This relationship resembles a Domme and her submissive.

      One thing I’ve discovered by research “the Lifestyle” is that communication is the key to everything. Being up-front and honest about everything — “I would like to do this” rather than hinting and hoping — allows for information to be heard and, hopefully, understood.

      As Matt says, this is how we learn.

      However, while we can discuss with our partners our known differences (you left your dirty socks on the rug again), it is the “unknown unknowns’ that hit hard.

      This is the stuff we grew up with and assume will continue. The things that lurk in the back of our head, the voices we hear telling us how we are not good enough unless we do x, y, z, etc.

      Say your father expected your mother to have supper on the dining room table at 6 pm, where the family would all sit together. You might have enjoyed this, or you might have hated the tension because your mother resented this demand.

      As an adult you unconsciously fill the role as “wife” or “husband” that you’ve inhaled and expect the same — good or bad.

      Having dinner on the table is a “thing”, so you can say whether you want to do it or not. It’s what went with that dinner which you may not be aware of, and may be sending signals you don’t pick up but which affect how you feel about it.

      Perhaps each night was filled with tension (will Dad hit brother again tonight?) so dinner in the dining room makes your stomach upset. Or maybe love and laughter was shared each evening. If one of you had positive and the other negative, yet neither of you discuss it, there is an issue.

      In a Dominant/submissive household each person in the relationship speaks up for their needs and wants. That means first looking into yourself and thinking, which requires turning off the TV/ computer/ Smartphone/ e-book reader often used to hide from yourself.

      Knowing yourself, and not liking what you see, implies doing something about it, which many fear. The rewards, however, are great.

      Dominants and submissives discuss who does what, when, and how, and what result might occur if it is not done. If something comes up they discuss that as well and come to an agreement. (The agreement may be the sub chooses to follow the wishes of the Dom, but it is a choice not an obligation.)

      It’s all in the open, where everyone knows what to expect.

      I note that (unlike in 50 Shades) a true Dom/ Domme does a lot of thinking about their sub and their relationship, is in control of themself (so does not react while upset), and considers their sub’s needs before their own (while making the final decision).

  15. This is not an accusation, just an observation, but sometimes I wonder what percentage of women who are married to accidentally shitty husbands have codependent tendencies.

    Am I the only one that resonates with?

    (Oh god please tell me I’m not the only codependent in the room…)

    1. Oh, the codependence is real. I acknowledge it in my own first shitty marriage.

      When i left my shitty exhusband, i didn’t feel like i was leaving a husband. I felt like i was “cutting off” an adult child.

      TBH, that dynamic was there from day one, but it didn’t become destrucitve until much later in the marriage when the second kid, stress from careers and basically full on adulthood caused him to crater and revert to 16 year old

    2. Co-dependent as in you feel your partners feeling, so that you get upset when they get upset? I think that’s our (women’s) empathy in auto drive. Nothing to be ashamed of- it’s REALLY easy for women to do that- kind of because we are wired that way. I know in ala-non, the spouses who choose to stay married to their alcoholic spouses are strongly encouraged to to do the things they need to do live their life. That means doing things the spouse doesn’t want to do because he/she wants to stay home and drink. Otherwise the one who isn’t an alcoholic is chained to this persons emotional state (which typically (always?) is not well). It means creating a dividing line and separation, but it also allows the “survivor” to continue their life. They don’t have to pay the consequences for their spouses actions ( or non-actions). I think it’s common to be co-dependent. But- remember this that is just a description of a current behavior, it’s not a declaration of who you are. If it is a negative thing in your life, creating that space for youself is work, but well worth it.

      1. Actually, I was thinking “codependent” in the broader sense. Codependents are caretakers; rescuers; fixers; and we allow ourselves to take on responsibility for others; even that which others can and should be responsible for themselves. We anticipate the needs of others and become resentful when others don’t do the same for us.

        I don’t know…it was just an observation I was throwing out there. I don’t really have a fully formed argument for it or anything, I just noticed a few superficial similarities and got to wondering out loud…

    3. Oh yes it is totally real. I don’t know if I’m codependent or not, but I certainly behaved that way.

      To expand on that… about 6 months ago I stumbled on an article where the author talked about the unhealthy dynamic when a narcissist marries an empathic personality. It rang a big huge bell with me – the empathic personality thing. I hadn’t ever heard it talked about before.

      In the months since then, I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject because it’s,, to be honest, very eye opening to me. I’ve always been very empathetic – not in a weird woo woo way, but just in the sense that I was always so in tune with the feelings of others who are close to me, that they overpowered my own feelings. I’m pretty good with strangers, but with people that I care about… it is SO easy for them to take advantage of me because I practically sense their own emotions as my own.

      I have always put others before myself and considered others in my actions and reading this article it was like someone smacked me over the head. I had always expected other people to behave this way too… it was a huge awakening to me that not everyone is that way!

      Because I can look at my enabling/codependent behavior with my ex, and say yes – a huge part of why I acted that way was because I was literally SO sensitive to his feelings, wants, desires, etc. that when we were together, mine were completely shadowed out. I realize I’ve been that way with one of my sisters, also. And, in hindsight, he has apologized for taking advantage of me because he knew I’d always say “yes.”

      To be honest, this is one of the reasons why I’m unsure I’d ever want to get married again… because I don’t know if I could trust myself in the moment to be able to differentiate between my actual feelings vs. my spouse’s. I know it sounds weird, but it is just completely true.

      1. Yes! You’re right. I’ve spent the last year deprogramming myself and really looking at the ways that I played into that role.

    4. Had a great conversation with a colleague about this. He’s a forensic psychiatrist. We concluded that narcissists have a nose for co-dependents. They’re really a perfect fit. The narcissist feeds off the co-dependent until the co-dep is empty and then moves on to the next one.

      Unfortunately, in our society it’s not hard to find co-dependent women. In fact, women are groomed to “take care of our man.” We may be modern women, but we’ve got tap roots right down to the 1950’s and it’s informing the way we interact with men.

  16. The whole “they don’t understand that [insert pet peeve here] is important to me” is largely a universal HUMAN trait. Yes, ladies, you will declare it loudly that it’s only the fault of men, but it’s the “fault” of everyone. As Matt pointed out, a lot of women don’t understand how important vehicle upkeep is, and I believe those women should be ashamed of themselves, because the next fight will be about finances directly or inversely related to a mechanical repair.

    I live with my sister. Dishes are hugely important to her. They are not, in fact, important to me. After working 50+ hours, my important list starts with preparing food, getting rest, and enjoying some leisure time. Dishes, laundry, and a clean house are very low. But I’m a woman, so shouldn’t clean dishes be the ultimatum? Shouldn’t my sister and I be living in harmony? If this (dishes, laundry, cleanliness) was solely a male disorder, then hardworking women like myself should not be letting the chores slide.

    Now, as I’ve lived with my sister for a few years, I have realized a “timely manner” and a verbal or written assurance that “yes, I will get to the dishes” has helped tremendously. I’ve gone so far as to set a day in which I will get to the dishes. But I still don’t understand why it’s so important to her. If she gets so bent out of shape, why doesn’t she just take care of it herself?

    Now on the flip side, her DOG…. My God, I could really get on the side of men right now. Her dog has destroyed much of my expensive or irreplaceable stuff. And she sees no reason why she should have to pay for any of it. True story.

    People. You have your strengths. You have your weaknesses. Communication is key in all relationships, whether romantic or platonic. Two working people can share household duties. Two working people can share yard work. Two hard working people can learn to share a conversation.

    1. I think all humans exhibit some similar behaviors but that men and women are different.

      It sounds like you heard your sister and set aside time to do dishes. You don’t get it, but you know it’s important to her, so you respect that. Her dog chews up your expensive stuff and she doesn’t get it, but you’ve discussed it with her and she’s heard you. But she disagrees.

      My guess is that if you could not put your expensive things in a place where the dog can’t get at them and he kept chewing your stuff up for 30 years, eventually you’d move out. You just wouldn’t be able to handle it anymore.

      Similarly, if you cooked an elaborate meal for yourself every night and left a sink full of stuck on mess for her to clean up every morning, eventually the relationship would be impacted – no matter how much you love her.

      I think as humans, we often don’t understand other people. Frankly, I find that sort of charming and endearing. I love the variety my friends bring into my life. However, the “Oh, I didn’t hear you” thing – after being asked a million times – seems to fall more on the shoulders of women – dropped there by men. Not always, but it seems a typical issue we’re wrestling with and trying to sort out.

  17. Just an aside- I wanted everyone to know I appreciate and applaud all the incredible insight here. I haven’t quit reading- it just takes a lot of time and energy to write for me,so my post’s may be limited to things like “down with that”, “uh-huh” or “Wait a minute- damn are they right?” Just want ya’ll to know so if /when I do comment at any greater length, it won’t seem so random. Peace! Keep up the good work! 😉

  18. Pingback: Husbands Are Negligent Criminals, Wives Are Flawed Judges | Must Be This Tall To Ride

  19. I am sitting in a fast food restaurant checking e-mail. The trailer where I’m currently living doesn’t have wifi. It will be three months tomorrow since my wife of 20 years asked me to move out. I am sad, tears well up when I read your blog.

    I found your website and it’s brought me great insight. My wife said “open letter to shitty husband #6” describes our marriage perfectly.

    I didn’t take her words seriously. All those “little” things don’t bother me. Why would they hurt her?? I’m a good guy, a good husband, WRONG. I have made her feel unloved and un respected for years. Like she was alone in this union.

    I have learned so much from the blog. I came from a disfunctional family with an alcoholic father and a mother and grandmother who coddled me. I’m not blaming them but I have been left with a lack of feeling, a void when it comes to showing a deep love and respect for my wife.

    Thank you for all the insights. I continue to learn and hopefully put into practice what I have learned from you and all the contributors. I would love to have my wife and daughter back and feel loved again. Perhaps it’s not too late.

    1. I wish you success in rebuilding your relationship with your wife and daughter. After 20 years, I bet there’s a lot there worth fighting for. I hope you and your wife are both willing to do the work it will take to get back to a marriage that works.

  20. Hello! I have been working non-stop and was therefore unable to comment before now. I have also started so many conversations on this blog I have lost track of them all and I hadn’t even read all of Travis’ answers to my questions (sorry Travis – I really appreciate you taking the time to reply; I have about 20 tabs for this blog open at the moment and was fully intending to return to the conversation along with 10 others but I am struggling a bit – no idea how you cope Matt, I just have my own conversations to deal with!) I’ll also point out that I’m replying before having read the comments for this post. I’ll get to them in a minute! And there are plenty of things to comment on so I’ll maybe try and split them between several posts. I should point out that I’m not married and I’ve never lived with anyone but that I’ve ended almost every relationship I’ve been in over this issue (not being able to solve problems because you’re never listened to).

    The main thing is that I am bemused to see that my comments (and Donkey’s comment) have been interpreted as suggesting that women see men ignoring their pleas to be listened to as active maliciousness. I don’t think that any of our questions suggest that at all (and I don’t think this way myself). I think we tend to see this as negligence, more of an indifference to our pain but we think that that in itself can be callous (like watching someone drown in shallow water because you don’t want to get your feet wet rather than actively holding their head under the water; one is more awful than the other but they are both still pretty awful).

    But it is interesting to find out that men don’t even believe that we’re in that much pain which is a big eye opener and something which is both comforting and alarming. I think it suggests that an equal relationship even in this day and age is going to be very hard to find. I knew that some men thought women are all hysterical drama queens who overreact to every little thing but I didn’t think most men thought this way about women. How can you possibly have a relationship that works with someone who doesn’t understand that “that really hurt me” meant that something really hurt you? There is almost no way for a relationship on those terms to work.

    That said I do understand how the dish by the sink thing could be seen as trivial (I am not a tidy person myself so it certainly wouldn’t matter to me). And maybe that’s where it gets complicated because Matt and Travis are focusing on the dishes thing and similar scenarios whereas I’m thinking more about the bigger things, that most people wouldn’t see as insignificant, like Matt telling his wife she just needed to get over her father’s death when most people do understand that dealing with death is not trivial and that there is no time frame you can put on grief.

    I see a lot of my own experiences as being things that most people of either gender wouldn’t see as being trivial. But maybe I’m wrong. A lot of my own experience with not being listened to is when I ask for emotional support over something and the conversation is immediately shut down or the subject is changed. And I tell him exactly what I need again and again but I am just repeatedly ignored. Usually I just want to talk about something (often not even something that my boyfriend has been in any way involved in so it’s not about defensiveness – something horrible that happened to me before I met him for example) and get a nice hug but so many men seem to react to these requests by just ignoring them, getting up and leaving the room and then acting like the conversation never happened. What I still don’t get is how they can then be surprised when you end the relationship. Surely not supporting your partner through tough stuff is kind of failing in your main task? And if she brings the same thing up repeatedly then it must register as being a big deal to her.

    1. Fromscratchmom

      I think you are spot on Wanda. Whenever Matt writes dishes by the sink, I read a big blank that any male female reader can fill in with something from their own experience. I tend to see literal dishes as trivial more often than not especially when they make it all the way to the sink and just not an inch further as opposed to being left in the growing man of glasses and beer bottles on the desk in the man cave or next to the bed I have to sleep in. But a lot of what fills in the blank on various days is stuff that is on a spectrum from significantly more important than the glass is to me all the way up to a clear and present danger zone that very few humans would excuse or fail to see as significant. One day I may be thinking of my own personal struggles with a certain dismissive sounding phrase. It’s significant to me but only to very few others or to the rest of the world perhaps if they believe me when I explain why it’s a real button pusher for me. Another day I may be thinking of my husband refusing to ever see our grandson after he was born….well I guess I should say my grandson since my soon to be ex has steadfastly refused to meet him over the last year and I think between that and his dumping me and about a million other details we might as well remove from him the credit for having stuck around for 18 years having had a positive impact on my son…which it did, but now after the events of the last year my son has changed from respecting him and hoping for more of a relationship to deciding to never interact with him ever again. And there are a lot of wrongs all along that spectrum, not just a lot down at the personal harder to understand level. Love and relationship success cannot exist in the same place where a partner (or just other humans outside of oneself) is so totally inconsequential as to not be able to impact one’s heart, one’s thinking, and one’s choices or behaviors except in the ways one volunteers after coming up with their own ideas about what that other person ought to want, benefit from and accept.

  21. Actually, having reread one of my comments I do use the term “deliberate cruelty” and I am getting a bit tied up in knots trying to figure out who is referring to what and where (and often we’re all talking about our responses to imaginary scenarios or real life scenarios from our own pasts that we haven’t actually set out further confusing everything!).

    I think the reference to deliberate cruelty here was because I felt what Travis said implied he sometimes understood that his behaviour was hurting his wife but he ignored this and kept doing it anyway, feeling she should “persevere”. Which does to me sound deliberately cruel, not in the sense that he was behaving in this way with the aim of hurting his partner but that he was consciously doing something he knew hurt her, expecting her to endure it and I felt this was cruel. Probably an imperfect choice of words on my part. But I don’t know the full story and it isn’t really that important given that Travis has genuinely moved heaven and earth to right these issues and now seems to be reaping the rewards. I don’t mean to sounds like I’m giving anyone a row, especially when they’re trying so hard to help further our collective understanding here on this wonderful blog!

    1. “I think the reference to deliberate cruelty here was because I felt what Travis said implied he sometimes understood that his behaviour was hurting his wife but he ignored this and kept doing it anyway, feeling she should “persevere”.”

      Wow, let me please hit the brakes there and clarify that I’ve been profoundly misinterpreted on that front. I want to categorically insist that I never meant to imply, directly or indirectly, that ever understood I was, or would have been okay with, hurting my wife. I knew I was dismissing her complaints and concerns out of hand, yes. I was being passively disrespectful, yes. I was practicing a lot of problematic and even unintentionally cruel behavior, but I would NEVER, EVER be okay with intentionally, knowingly hurting my wife, and I’m offended at being tied to such behavior (mind you, not at all offended that you interpreted me that way, wandathefish, because my writing skills, or lack thereof, may have been to blame, but just at the thought that I’m actively and proudly an asshole through intention). It’s vitally important to me that you and everyone else reading my thoughts here understand that about me. If you still take value from some of the discussion this misinterpretation has wrought, by all means, continue to learn from that dialog, but know that I never have been, and never would be, all right with causing my wife pain and emotional or psychological dismay. When I referenced husbands’ expectations of wives persevering in their marriages, I meant that only insofar as those wives enduring their husbands’ flippant disregard for the importance of things like a tidy house, choice of music in the car, watching a “chick flick” vs. an action movie, etc.; those types of “death from a million paper cuts” things. The discussion around husbands who are completely emotionally cold to their wives, who call them foul, derogatory names, who belittle their deepest fears and beliefs, who willfully demean, deride and indignify them I don’t think apply to this discussion, or frankly to any of the types of husbands Matt is trying to reach through this blog. Those aren’t simply bad husbands, which can be fixed, but Bad Human Beings, which more often than not, can’t be. They’re shit, and if they’re who you’ve found yourself partnered with, I encourage you to cut and run now. Matt, me and the few other men you see here fighting to improve ourselves as husbands by making meaningful, positive, consistent contributions to our marriages are men who have been blithely ignorant of our crimes. The men who know they are committing marital crimes and feel entitled to/delight in doing so, as far as I’m concerned, aren’t welcome here.

      1. I think this is all based on the lens we see the world through which is, to me, the reason I’m here. To try to get a glimpse through a different lens.

        I can’t speak for all women, but to me, it IS deliberately cruel to continue with a behavior once your partner has said, “YOU ARE HURTING ME WHEN YOU DO THIS” unless you have no control over it. If your wife says, “It hurts me that I can’t max out the credit cards” that’s one thing. For her to do that would hurt her, you, the entire family. And you can discuss that. But to put your glass in the dishwasher, hang up your wet towel, put your socks in the hamper? You can do that. And the rewards are going to be SO great down the road.

        When I’ve seen couples that respect one another from the first request, I can’t tell you how great it is. The couples that have been married 50 years and from day one they’ve respected each other and heard their partner? Wow. They have what we all want. It takes work, but you can get there. And a WHOLE lot of it is getting those socks in the hamper.

      2. I’ve finally got round to responding – sorry for the mammoth delay! I hear you Travis and I’ll take on board your explanation; sorry for the misinterpretation and thank you for your efforts to explain. I am heartened by all male participation in these discussions. 🙂

  22. TODAY I paid the bills.
    1. balance 3 checking accounts
    2. sort bills into piles by appropriate checking account
    3. list of bills/money available per account
    4.transfer as needed from one account to another
    5.figure out which bills need to wait until more money comes in
    6.hold off check from one account to health savings account until deposit clears
    7.write/pay bills online
    8.file away receipts payments on business spreadsheet for taxes
    10.wait 2 days for deposits to clear
    11.finish paying bills from HSA
    12.get more money in
    13. finish paying monthly bills
    14. total time – parts of 4 days

    TODAY I changed the bed
    1. fold clothes in dryer
    2.put clothes away
    3. strip bed
    4. put sheets in wash
    5.put all blankets and pillows in dryer (6 loads)
    6. make bed with new sheets
    7.get blankets etc out of dryer and back on bed
    8. wash old sheets
    9. dry old sheets
    10. fold old sheets
    11. put away old sheets
    12. total trips 20 ish-counting back and forth

  23. One other thing I wanted to address (although I’m aware the conversation has kind of moved on now there’s a new post up) was this comment:

    “But, nevertheless, we do think that way, because, when similar behaviors are practiced against us, they don’t typically wound our sense of dignity and internal equilibrium the way they do for most women. We simply do not relate. Not even close. It’s a very alien perspective to us.”

    I think this is kind of unfair given the biggest issue most women are actually dealing with and trying to communicate is an enormous lack of equality and respect, and historically, if not within romantic/sexual relationships, men have tended to get pretty upset when they haven’t felt they were being treated as equals (and rightly so).

    Women don’t just feel that we are being treated as the less important party in the relationship. There’s a lot of research that shows that we are actually routinely treated as the less important party in the relationship in as much as most relationships do largely revolve around the man, his preferences, his tastes, ambitions, opinions etc. I think that living in a relationship where your partner treats your wants and needs as being less important than their own time and time again would wound anyone’s sense of dignity and internal equilibrium and the only reason this is alien to most men is that they’ve never had to live in a relationship where their partner routinely put their own needs before their partners’.

    1. “I think this is kind of unfair…”

      Not “kind of”. It unquestionably IS unfair.

      It unquestionably is wrong.

      Unquestionably, I cannot defend or support it.

      My statement is not to champion it, or give it a free pass. It is merely to explain the truth of it. You don’t have to like it. You shouldn’t like it. You shouldn’t allow it, or endure it. But you do yourself service by recognizing the reality of it. This is the common male mind set. Knowledge is power. Or, to coin an ’80s kid pop culture reference, knowing is half the battle.

      1. I hear you, Travis. Men and women are just very different. Unfortunately our culture doesn’t help either and this is also unfair. Men are not portrayed very positively on TV, the culture, the media, so this too messes with a woman’s “internal equilibrium.”

      2. What I was saying was unfair though was the idea that many of the things that wound women just don’t affect men in the same way, something you seem to still believe today. My point was that while there are some things that can be put down to differences in personality (different mess tolerance levels for example), I don’t personally believe that women as a group are so very different to men in that we are routinely bothered by things that just wouldn’t affect men. Most of the things that wound us would wound you too were you in the same situation.

        I’m posting this waaaaaay after the conversation has moved on though so not expecting a reply!

  24. The first time it’s a mistake. The second time it’s a choice. If you do something and your partner says it bothers them, you can apologize because you didn’t know. You made a mistake. The second time you do it, it’s not a mistake. You have made a choice to willfully ignore his/her feelings. At that point, you are purposely doing something that hurts your partner because now you know.

    1. I feel like I might be coming off as picking on you a little bit today, so my apologies, if so. Certainly not my intention, but again, there’s a particular choice of words you used that I feel needs to be addressed.

      “You have made a choice to willfully ignore her feelings.”


      “At that point, you are purposely doing something that hurts your partner because now you know.”

      Aaaaaand, that’s where you lost me, at least in respect to the implication that men should simply know better. All too often, when a man (yes, willfully) ignores or minimizes his wife’s feelings, he does not expect or intend for it to cause actual hurt. Many, many, many times, it actually DOES cause hurt, hurt that often mounts up into suffocating accretion layers of pain over the years. However, the male who honestly believes he is a good husband and wants to be recognized as one, yet is unknowingly failing miserably, causing mental/emotional anguish to his wife is not the choice he wants or believes he is making.

      I could equate it my own marriage. I adore seafood. Friggin’ obsessed with it, but my wife thinks it’s the most vile edible on the planet. We could not be more diametrically opposed in our opinion of the virtues of seafood if we tried. Therefore, when the nightly discussion of where we’re going to eat dinner comes around, and I throw out the name of a seafood restaurant, how many times do you think my wife willfully ignores my wishes and says, “Gross! God, no! How about Mexican/Italian/American, etc.?” Try 99.5% of the time. Does that delight me? Not one bit. I want some damn shrimp and calamari, dadnabit! But is she HURTING me by dismissing my wish out of hand? No. I never build up some kind of resentment about it. She’s not wounding my dignity or sense of self-worth. She just thinks seafood’s gross. Bummer. Guess no lobster bisque for Travis tonight. Well, okay let’s go for Mexican/Italian/American, etc., then. I’m just hungry and wanna eat.

      If it’s important enough for my wife to have that dirty dish put away, she’ll do it herself, just like if I want seafood bad enough, I’ll go eat somewhere different from where she eats. This is the male thought process. Again, I illustrate it not to defend, support, champion or give a free pass to it but to simply put it out there in the hopes that it well help some women go, “Ah ha! So that’s how this stuff plays out in their inscrutable little heads!” Then, they might be better armed to meaningfully comprehend where some of the holes in the dyke of their marriage are coming from.

      I cannot beat this drum loud and long enough–there’s a world of difference between men CARELESSLY and UNWITTINGLY causing their wives pain through flippant dismissiveness (which happens billions of times a day throughout the world) and men WANTING and INTENDING to cause their wives pain (which I fervently believe is a much smaller subsection, practiced exclusively by men who are not simply Bad Husbands but Bad Human Beings).

      1. This is SO SPOT ON and important. You really do a killer job of explaining this hard-to-explain dynamic, Travis. Thank you for that.

        When I write about accidental wounds. Or accidentally neglecting our wives, this is precisely the mental process I’ve experienced that causes the problem.

        I’ve described it previously as the husband speaking Mandarin and the wife speaking Portuguese and then wondering why everything always gets lost in translation.

        That’s not an exaggeration to me.

        Often, a wife speaks super-plain English to her husband, and vice versa, but through their respective foreign language translators, it just doesn’t compute.

        People should accept this reality instead of guessing incorrectly that the people they’re arguing with are out to intentionally hurt the other.

        It would change a lot of relationships. That one, simple truth.

      2. I don’t feel picked on, but thanks. I appreciate the consideration.

        I think we’re talking about two different scenarios.

        You like something your wife doesn’t. You can go out to get seafood whenever you like and she never needs to be around it. Problem solved. You are not making your problem her problem.

        I’m talking about a husband who adores seafood and regularly picks up shrimp, crab and fish and leaves shells and fish guts all over the counters and in the trash for her to smell and clean up afterwards – repeatedly.

        Then when the wife explains that this is really disrespectful to her, he feels she’s being unreasonable. If the wife is frustrated to tears after cleaning up this disgusting mess dozens of times, he feels she’s trying to control or manipulate him – or change him (LOVE that one!)

        Sidebar: It’s likely if he’s not cleaning up after himself in the kitchen, he’s leaving all sorts of messes for her to clean up elsewhere.

        So she continues to feel crapped all over until one day she says, “That’s IT!” And the guy is blindsided and shocked that she’s THAT upset. It’s just a little seafood for heaven’s sake! But she’s told him a million times. He thought she was just being a nag and tuned her out the minute she said, “Can we talk.”

        What I’m saying is this – if you leave a seafood mess the first time, that can be seen as a mistake. The second time, it’s inconsiderate and thoughtless. But after she has told you or shown you how much it upsets her (tears, yelling, flipping out), if you continue with it, you’re purposely hurting her.

  25. I should also say that I think it is totally unreasonable to expect anyone to read anyone else’s mind. When my marriage ended we did a debriefing which was exceptionally helpful and my husband admitted that he expected me to read his mind AND do (or not do) what he was thinking and when I couldn’t do that, he assumed I was purposely choosing to hurt him and subsequently felt justified in punishing me by being jerky. It was pretty messed up but I think it’s a common dynamic.

    I’m referring to situations where one partner has clearly stated “This hurts me. Please stop.” and the behavior continues. At that point you are choosing to hurt your partner.

  26. There’s a delicate point here in what Reed has been saying, one I keep trying to make too, but I can’t quite put my finger on it and explain it properly. While many men don’t intend to hurt their wives, don’t fully realize how disrespectful they are being, there is still this thing called male pride and arrogance where disrespect of women is so normal, so ingrained, they really can’t see it anymore. It is so routine as to be invisible.

    And I don’t mean that disrespectfully at all, it is that same kind of pride that often attracts us to men in the first place! But there is often this ingrained attitude that suggests it is somehow okay to not listen to her, to leave glasses on the sink, to ignore her feelings. Respect is a really hard thing to teach men because it is actually a heart issue, a feeling. So many men will in all honesty declare of course I respect women, when in their heart of hearts they do not. We used to teach men how to be gentlemen, to respect women, and to some extent we still do, but the very fact that it has to be taught, speaks to the nature of the problem. My husband, sweet guy, is kind to me, not out of a sense of respect for women, but because of his own honor, his own integrity. That’s where I think we keep getting it wrong.

    1. Yes. I’m glad that Travis B says that a husband’s disregard for his wife’s feelings (aka he doesn’t believe her when she says him not putting the dish away hurts her because he can’t fathom being hurt by that so she must be overreacting ….even when she says it over and over and over and over and over and over) is quite possibly sexist. Women do it too, like Lisa R explained so honestly with her not believing her husband when he says over and over how much her yelling during arguments upsets her (and I can think of similar things from my own life), but I definitely think male privilige (or privilige of any kind) can make this very human problem worse, a lot of the time. Like you say, it’s just so ingrained that he doesn’t realize that is what it is.

      Maybe this article is relevant (the author mentions dishes not being important though, so he loses some points there, heh):

      The author mentions race, and I think the mechanisms are very similar (forgive my whitesplaining, I’m sure I’m revealing my own ignorance somewhere in this post)). In my country (not the USA), there’s been a discussion going on for quite a few years whether or not our language’s rough equivalent to the English word that’s spelled “n” “e” “g” “r” “o” is ok to say or not. The official stand point is that while people maye have used that word in the past without being racist or ill-intending, in this day and age, because of all the connotations to other words and history and on and on and on, it’s no longer ok to use, and I agree. But many people, who I have no doubt believe (or at least think that they believe) that black and white people are of equal worth and deserve the same opportunities and respect, just keep on and keep on and keep in insisting still insists that THEY MUST be allowed to say it. “I don’t mean anything mean by it”, “it’s just a word”, “it’s just such a quick way to say what I mean”.

      Good golly above. I can’t even… In my opinion, even though you believe you aren’t racist, you are. You’re not a clan member kind of racist, but a racist none the less. You’re not willing to examine your white privilige, you’re not willing to change ANYTHING about your behavior or language to make a still today marginalized group feel more included and respected. You’re not being asked to be an activist or donate money, but you can’t even stop saying this one word?! WT actual F?! Everyone with privilige, white, male, heterosexual, pretty, or whatever, can claim that they didn’t create the unfair system. But you’re still part of it and benefit from it (in ways invisible to you most often), and if you’re not willing to see and own that, and if you’re not willing to make even small adjustments where necessary, you’re just recreating the unfair system. Innocence is no longer something you can accurately claim.

      1. And I just want to be clear, I am NOT AT ALL saying that every time a man disagrees with a woman and/or stands his ground he’s being sexist! I just believe that even though we all do it, it’s even more ingrained in men that women are crazy/wrong and not to be taken too seriously. Again, see Gottman and men accepting influnece (or rather not) from their female partners.

      2. Hey Donkey!

        I’ve been sick with a delightful stomach bug and am catching up a bit on the comments. I saw you mentioned my example with my husband to demonstrate that women do the same stuff. One small correction though. The reason why it was hard for me to “hear” my husband was that I was NOT yelling. Yelling, I could understand but it was my “tone of voice” that was the issue. I think it’s the small things like dishes by the sink or tone of voice that are easier to dismiss because they seem minor particularly if you wouldn’t be upset by the same thing. I would not have been upset if my husband spoke to me in the way I was speaking to him so it was seemed unreasonable to me and I chalked it up to his thin skin.

        Here’s another example, my sister often does not return my phone calls or texts. Even when I need information from her to plan for Thanksgiving etc. I have talked to her over and over about this, how hurtful and frustrating it is. How a 10 second text is a reasonable thing to expect etc. etc. It has made no difference because to her it’s no big deal and she cannot relate because she would not feel the same way. Here’s another one, I’ve asked my mother in law many times to not rearrange the kitchen and cook extra stuff when she comes to our house. She thinks she is “helping” and is coming from a good place for the most part, (think Everybody Loves Raymond) she just doesn’t understand where I’m coming from because she doesn’t relate to my sense of boundary violation. I had to level up because she would not adjust her behavior based on my requests. Here’s another from work, I had a contact who would just drop in my office without calling, I asked her many times to call to set up a good time etc. I had to level up there too and set some boundaries.

        The point I am making is that these dismissals are common. It is HARD to understand things you don’t relate to even if the other person tells you. It is absolutely critical that we both work on both sides of the equations, being aware that it is easy to blow off people and working hard to not do that AND setting boundaries when people aren’t able to listen to you the second time.

      3. Hey Lisa! I’m sorry that I didn’t summarize the issue correctly, my bad. I definitely agree that we all have these blind spots. DEFINITELY! It makes me nervous just thinking about all the blind spots I’m enacting and annoying/hurting people with. :p I just also believe that privilige of some kind can enhance them you know, and make it even easier for someone to dismiss and continue to dismiss someone else.

        “It is HARD to understand things you don’t relate to even if the other person tells you. It is absolutely critical that we both work on both sides of the equations, being aware that it is easy to blow off people and working hard to not do that AND setting boundaries when people aren’t able to listen to you the second time”. I agree all the way. 🙂 Hope you feel better soon!

      4. Hey Donkey

        I totally agree that privilege makes it even easier to dismiss people! Often, privileged people (including me) don’t even know all the ways the world is set up to be easier for them.
        I liked how you mentioned bring pretty as a privilege. I had a friend who was pretty and had the X factor, I can’t tell you how many men would buy her gifts, want to fix her car, buy her drinks or dinner etc. She was a nice girl too so she didn’t take advantage but she had no clue how the way she was treated was not the way other girls were treated. She was privileged and took it for granted because that was her “normal”. There is no question that men often are privileged and it is easier for them to dismiss women because of the thousands of years of history of practice. That was their “normal” While it is still a factor in marriage, particularly in things that are traditionally considered “women’s work”, I really do not think that is the biggest factor going on.

        As I mentioned in my other post, these dismissals are common between women as well and women dismiss men also (exhibit a here). This is really a human thing. The problem becomes toxic when the other person doesn’t know to not adapt to being dismissed. You know what I’m going to say next 🙂 Women do not set enough boundaries maybe partly because in history they didn’t really have a choice. But now we do and we need to act accordingly. BOTH sides have to learn to fully treat women with respect.

        Thanks for the interesting discussion!

        I liked the example you gave about offensive language.

    2. Here’s another fascinating thing I learned recently. And this partially answers Wandathefish’s question on some other thread about men and women making relationship mistakes in roughly the same amount for non abusive relationships.

      Gottman’s research does show that 65% of men do not easily accept their wife’s influence. However, in Gottman’s book The Marriage Clinic he balances the equation. “In marriages that wind up happy and stable, newlywed wives notice lower levels of negativity. I call this effect the marital “poop detector”. In other marriages wives adapt to and try to accept this negativity, setting their threshold for response at a much higher (more negative level). “Our research shows this kind of adaptation to negativity is dysfunctional.”

      Why do people wait 6 years after problems surface to get marriage counseling, until it’s almost often too late to fix? They’ve raised the negativity level they tolerate too high. And here the WIVES are the critical player.

      “Our finding also suggests that wives in ailing marriages play a key role in fostering the delaying process by adapting to their husbands negativity. In marriages that work, wives don’t make these adaptations.”

      Bottom line- two pieces to the equation in our typical dishes example 1. husbands not accepting influence, 2. wives adapting to it and delaying boundary setting too long. Both are dysfunctional and lead to divorce. We all need two relationship skills accepting influence and setting boundaries when partners don’t or won’t. Both sides need to do their part to make a relationship work.

      “Our findings

      1. Very interesting! It’s good to get some power transfer and responsibility back to the wife who’s husband won’t accept influnce (or vice versa). But to exaggerate and simplify it: His fault is that he’s bullying her, her fault is putting up with his bullying. Maybe I’ll change my thinking on this, but his (in this case, I’m sure it varies) faults seem much worse, much more mean than hers.

        But seen differently, they’re both doing the exact same thing – treating her as less than. I really, really, really do believe it can vary both between couples and on a case by case basis within a couple, but I can’t help myself, I need to go there: Externalized and internalized patriarchy.

      2. I agree with you Donkey that part of the not accepting influence by husbands could be sexism. I think there are many factors at play, it is quite reasonable to think that unconscious sexism is one piece of the reason. I told my husband one time that I thought he was sexist. He was quite offended until I told him that I was sexist too. We both have absorbed messages and images that tell us that women have to just deal with the fact that the world is set up for men. It shows up in subtle ways like men seeing a wife do WAY more of the toilet cleaning and not seeing it as unfair. Of dismissing it when it is brought up as unimportant. And the way that women (including me) have learned helplessness and give up too easily to INSIST it be more fair early in the relationship.

        I am one of those wives that adapted to too much negativity. I consider myself a feminist and I swore I would not end up doing the unfair amount of grunt work I saw my mother do. I married a modern man who is committed to women’s equality. And you know what, I ended up in the same sad spot. Not because my husband is unusually selfish or sexist or that I didn’t speak up many, many times in my infamously bad tone of voice. It was because I made the mistake of not realizing very early in our marriage when things were positive to not adapt to small little things just because they were small. To ROCK the boat and INSIST that things be taken seriously, small and big because it is really a fight about accepting influence not bathrooms. To insist on marriage counseling early so we could learn to accept influence from each other and also set boundaries. I didn’t know these things even though I am a very optionated outspoken woman. Why didn’t I know how to do that? Well, it’s a healthy relationship skill and it was not taught or modeled to me so I’ve had to learn it the hard way. And my family dynamics taught me to put up with way too much crap.

        He also did not set enough boundaries early which is why it was easier for me to dismiss the “tone of voice” complaints because it was the same tone of voice I have used for years that he tolerated even though it bothered him immensely. Why didn’t he do it earlier? Because he didn’t fully have good relationship skills either. Why is it hard for him to accept my influence? Because in “boy culture” that’s how you lose respect. It is expected that everyone looks after their interests and that’s fair. He just expected me to set boundaries if things bothered me too much like he often does (though not with the voice thing). He grew up with a controlling mother (you remember the one who rearranges the kitchen!) so he learned to ignore her as a defense and it’s easy to keep doing what you know. Most of us, even if our parents did their best and loved us a lot, didn’t grow up with models of healthy relationships. We are trying to unlearn a lot of bad skills and learn some new ones.

      3. Hey I’m on a roll now, you said it’s hard not to think of it as bullying. I understand that point of view but it helped me to understand the normal way that “boy culture” teaches men relationship skills. I’ve said it before but indulge me, each side is expected to represent their interests. It’s not bullying, it’s negotiating. It is a very good skill to know. The problem is that is not what “girl world” teaches women. We are taught that each side gives to each other. This is a good relationship skill too. The disconnect comes when the man is using what he knows to do and the woman is expecting him to respond the way she would. Then it’s a problem and he doesn’t accept her influence because he hasn’t learned the good “girl world” skill. It works out ok if she know how to use the boundary relationship skills that boys are taught. Balance is restored. It really sucks if she doesn’t know that skill, and she just waits for him to learn “girl world” give/give skills. He is waiting for he to demonstrate “boy world” boundaries so that he can understand she us serious about the stupid dishes. That is the setup for disaster. It may look like bullying but it’s really that each side is missing crucial relationship skills to be successful in any relationship. He is not bullying he is thinking it must not be that big of a deal or she would set boundaries like he would.

        We have a clue that the disconnect is because of these cultural differences because Gottman has demonstrated that in both lesbian and gay relationships the power sharing is MUCH more equal than heterosexuals. They are speaking the same language so it’s easier.

      4. I forgot one thing. The ideal is that both men and women know both skills. Since in heterosexual couples women bring up the issues, it usually would work like this.

        The wife brings up the thing and requests change. The husband listens and works with her to find a solution that works for both. This is girl world give/give and they both know this skill.

        If they are in gridlock, they use negotiating skills to stand up for what they each need. They don’t give in too easily. If the other person won’t accept influence, they set boundaries and don’t accept it as it is now. (This is boy world skills and they both know this)

        If they still can’t figure it out, they level up and seek counseling to get a third party to help them work it out.

        This is why both sides need both skills.

      5. Thanks Lisa!

        I hear what you say about “girl world”, “boy world”. Where did you learn that by the way? And I remember you’ve mentioned Brent Atkinson a few times, do you have a book to recommend by him?

        Regading one of your points, in this link (I would guess you’ve already read it), Gottman says gay and lesbian couples are 200(!) years ahead of heterosexual couples. OMG! That is a lot. :p

      6. Donkey, I will answer the first part about books a little bit later but I just wanted to jot this question for you down quickly because I find it fascinating and puzzling and need your insight (or anybody else who can help).

        Thanks for interesting link about gay and lesbian couples! You know what’s puzzling and sad though? With all the 200 years ahead skills of more positive things that Gottman found in their relationship, more positivity listed here, direct talks about sex, power sharing from other Gottman stuff I’ve read, they divorce at the same rate as heterosexuals! 20% in the study projected to be 64% over 40 years vs 67% for heterosexuals and the lesbians FAR outnumber the gay couples that split. The gender divide with women being the ones to file for divorce seems to hold regardless. Any theories on why that would be?

      7. Lisa:
        I found it very interesting that it wasn’t just in regards to power sharing that gays/lesbians are further along. But yes, I’m baffled by the same thing you are!

        Here are some thoughts of mine, but they’re just speculations:

        1. I think the norm of being a comitted couple for life is a lot stronger for heteros, so gays/lesbians will have an easier time splitting up for whatever reason.

        2. They more rarely have kids to motivate them to stick it out/work it out.

        3. The stresses of living in a heteronormative society takes a toll on the couple. Feeling uncomfortable taking vactions in most places, feeling uncomfortable being a couple in public, not feeling like their union is supported by society, facing judgemental healthcare professionals, judgemental religious leaders, problems with unsupportive family of origin, job discrimination…

        4. Seing as their relationships are generally better than heteros, maybe they have very high expectations?

      8. Donkey,

        Yeah, the more positivity in general was very interesting. Also there are even different physiological responses! Weird.

        I just noticed the date these studies were done before gay marriage was official so I wonder if that makes a difference. It will be interesting to see how getting officially married changes the numbers because I do know that hetero couples are more likely to split up if not officially married even if they have kids.

        The gender difference really interests me. The fact that women file for 2/3 of divorces has been consistent for many years. I’ll see if I can find the link but I think it was over 100 years. In this small study, it’s even more unbalanced with only 1 gay couple splitting. Do women just expect different things than men out of relationships that are harder to achieve and are not willing to settle for less? No idea. But it can’t be explained here with the men are insensitive clods theory because there are two women. I know many women form lasting friendships so it often works on that level. Something about the romantic element that makes it more complicated? Again, no idea.

      9. …and I think gay women and men are subjected to a lot of the same cultural indoctrination as hetero women.and men. So I think maybe gay women aswell expect a lot from romantic love and when they’re disappointed for too long they call it quits, because they don’t want to settle in an area that’s very important to them? Again, I’m just speculating. I like talking with you, Lisa. 🙂

        Regarding emotional labor, gender roles and so on, I read something very interesting by a gay woman. If I remember correctly, she said something about, (because of internalized gender norms) both feeling obligated to give and sacrifize and take on a lot of the work in a relationship, but ALSO feeling that since she had a WIFE (or someone in a wife-like position) aswell, that her wife should be doing all of that.

        But of course, and I feel stupid just saying this, lesbian women are just as much individuals as hetero women so I obviosuly can’t conclude that this is a general thing.


        Here’s one link about the gender imbalance in filing for divorce.

        Thanks for batting this around with me Donkey. My husband is a good sport but his eyes glaze over after my third theory of the day! I am thrilled to find smart internet people like you who are equally interested in these topics. For me, it is both generally interesting and part of my quest to make sense out of how two nice, well meaning people can end up in an unhappy marriage and how to get to happy again. So many different factors go into it. Everyday I discover new things that hasn’t even occurred to me before like this lesbian split up rate being consistent with heteros.

        That is funny about the lesbian who said she still expected a wife to do all the wifey stuff. That sadly kind of makes sense how we all internalize a lot of messages we aren’t even conscious of.

      11. Here is the link for the Brent Atkinson ebooks that I am reading now. I have read a LOT of marriage books but if I had to recommend just one, this is it. It’s like the Cliffnotes for relationships. They take Gottman’s research from The Marriage Clinic and break it down into very simple concrete steps/guidelines/flow charts etc. It tells you what people in successful relations specifically do and don’t do. Because I can’t implement any of it if my primitive brain is hijacking me, it focuses on learning how to understand what sooths and triggers neurological responses and how to change them.

        Finally, it’s all about daily practice. One small example is the book is personalized so my husband’s book says things like “but what if Lisa is so extreme that I can’t find a reasonable to talk to her?” And then it tells you what research has shown that successful people in relationships think and do in that circumstance. It uses your partner’s name hundreds of times so your brain hears it in a very specific way and starts the brain transformation.

      12. Thank you Lisa!

        I posted my previous reply before having read yours, so I can see now that we were basically saying the same thing. It seems that, whatever else is going on in the relationship, there is also be something about women’s expectations in our culture regarding romance that contributes to them initiating divorces more often.

        And yes, it’s always nice to discuss whatever you’re interested in with someone who’s eyes don’t glace over. 8) It kind of reminds me of dog lovers talking enthusiastically about their pooches. I was taking a walk the other day and asked a stranger if I could cuddle with his dog. We ended up having quite the lengthy conversation about her age, breed, fur, skills
        and general cuteness. He seemed very appreciative. 8)

    3. Interesting point insanity. Yes, to all of that. I just posted in another spot that if a man has a female boss, he’s able to hear her the first time and respond to requests appropriately, thoroughly and in an on-going way. But when it’s a wife, they can’t understand it, didn’t hear what she said or they don’t get why it’s important so they don’t do it. I’d like to understand why that happens.

      To me, it doesn’t sound like a language thing. It sounds like there’s a good enough “why” at work (I don’t want to get fired) but not a good enough reason at home (my wife will be miserable and upset). And that makes me really sad to consider.

      1. That sometimes makes me really sad too, but than I go back to brain chemistry. Men and women are simply very different and the way our brains work is different. Men compartmentalize, so work is one aspect of themselves, while home is another, and women, or at least “their woman,” gets filed in another box. I don’t see it as sexism so much, as just a totally different avatar they are operating as. When this happens it is not as if they do not love us, it is almost as if they love us so much, the idea that we may not be there doesn’t even enter into that compartment. That’s a tough one not to take personally, but I honestly don’t believe it’s personal, it’s more chemical and biological.

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  28. Thank you for writing this. There have been many times in my marriage when my husband has neglected to do something that to me, seemed so entirely obvious that it’s really difficult to convince myself that he somehow didn’t know.
    For example, the year my husband gave me nothing for Valentine’s Day. I gently informed him that, actually, Valentine’s Day was kind of important to me and in the future I would appreciate some sort of token or gesture. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was important to you,” he said.
    This blew my mind. We’ve been together for about 10 years. I have given him a Valentine’s Day gift every year, and almost every year he’s given me one as well, for which I have always expressed appreciation. Usually we would go out to dinner or something as well. Back when we were dating he would give me lavish gifts and take me out for picnics. Suddenly he thinks I don’t care about Valentine’s? Where did that come from?
    Then I log onto Facebook and see the photos my friends are posting of the flowers or candlelit dinners they received. And it just seems to confirm that, yes, men are capable of remembering and doing something special on Valentine’s Day. They don’t forget these things.
    So if my husband didn’t forget, I guess he just chose to opt out because he doesn’t care about me that much, right? From my vantage point, it seems like the logical conclusion based on evidence!
    But I believe that my husband loves me. I choose to believe that he didn’t intentionally, thoughtfully neglect me. It’s good to read an article like this to remind me that men’s minds are just really different. It helps me think the best of my husband.

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  34. I have read many of your posts and forgive me but I don’t remember, did your wife explain to you how something like leaving the dishes by the sink made her feel or was it not communicated? I am asking because I have said things like I’m overwhelmed & having to ask all the time is tedious and makes it seem like you’re a tourist in your own house, and it’s still not understood. That’s what contributes to the feeling that this behavior is deliberate.

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