The 4 Ways Women Can Help Save Marriages

Comments 105

Queen chess piece
Someone asked: “I dont have a failed marriage, but I do have a failed engagement. We were together for 6 years, and I eventually called off the wedding and the relationship because, well, we had so many of the problems you describe here. I just couldn’t picture getting married to someone under those sorts of circumstances.

“Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts to women – sort of what can we do in these circumstances? I think a lot of your advice could really go both ways (because, lets be honest, we can be equally guilty of being terrible partners), but are there specific things women can do? I would love to hear your thoughts on preventing issues (since I’m just starting a new relationship) and then how to fix it (if I fail to follow the first set of instructions)!”

Dear Failed Engagement,

In the interest of being the anal-retentive, hair-splitting quibbler over semantics that I am, I would argue that you did not have a “failed” engagement.

Any fatally flawed relationship that doesn’t end in divorce, but still results in a bunch of introspection and personal growth, strikes me as a highly successful one. By saying so, I risk insulting your happy memories associated with said relationship, and disrespecting the emotional fallout following the end of any relationship, regardless of whether marriage vows were exchanged.

But so long as there’s an institution of marriage, public promises to love one another forever, and a formal acknowledgment of said promises, I’m going to draw a personal line in the sand between what happens before marriage, and what happens after. If marriage isn’t something more, then I fail to recognize its purpose for existing.

Thus, I enthusiastically applaud your recognition of a toxic relationship and calling it off, instead of doing the Sunk Cost Fallacy thing where people are too afraid to abandon something because of how much money, time, or energy they’ve already invested in a losing proposition.

Because I’m me and spend most of my life flying by the seat of my pants, I’m thinking about and writing this on the fly, when a lot of reflection and conversation with other thoughtful, self-aware husbands and boyfriends would be in order. But here’s what my totally-winging-it answers look like.

What Can Women Do to be Part of the Solution?

Let me start by saying I think MOST women are already part of the solution, by virtue of demonstrating a much higher level of competence and awareness about relationship dynamics than their male partners. I’m not saying women, by virtue of being women, are “better at relationships.” I’m saying, I perceive women to be more knowledgeable about, and more skilled in, the mechanics of successful relationships than men.

And I perceive MOST women’s greatest fatal flaw to be impatiently marrying their boyfriends (who couldn’t POSSIBLY have demonstrated high-level relationship knowledge or skill up to this point), and perhaps assuming incorrectly that their boyfriends understand things about them and about how to make them feel loved and safe, or maybe believing she can “change him.”

By “understand things about them,” I mean the whole Dishes By The Sink Thing. I mean empathy. I mean that too often we see a wife in a situation in which she thinks and feels one way about it (sometimes quite painfully), and her husband interprets the situation differently. Neither are wrong. And then both fight about it and usually end up feeling like their partner is “stupid” or “crazy,” instead of really understanding on a fundamental level that two people can experience the same event at the same time, and come away describing it differently without either being incorrect.

I don’t know that I believe there to be a more critical concept for young people to understand about their romantic partners. This is NOT taught to any extensive degree growing up.

At least, it wasn’t in my world where I had educated and conscientious parents, an upper-tier high school education, and then spent five years (don’t judge!) getting my overpriced and not particularly useful bachelor’s degree. And at no time between ages 5 and 23 did someone try to explain this worth-more-than-gold life secret to me.

Well, maybe my girlfriend did while crying after a fight, but I probably just told her she was a stupid emo girl before meeting my buddies at another keg party.

In my opinion, women could contribute more positively to their relationships by doing the following:

Enforce Boundaries Early and Often

Here’s what I see ALL THE TIME, including in my own failed marriage. Guy accidentally and obliviously sucks ass at his relationship or marriage. Whenever his girlfriend or wife calls him out, he gets defensive and tells her she’s wrong and stupid, and his evidence is that no one else in his life accuses him of making them feel as she claims he makes her feel. He resents it more than you might imagine because, in his mind and heart, he thinks by virtue of committing to her, and loving her (which he probably believes he’s appropriately demonstrating by not cheating, and supporting her financially or otherwise, and spending more time with her than anyone else in his life) that he deserves more credit and respect than her accusations of emotional neglect make him feel.

This goes on long enough, and both of them start to feel disgust, then a little bit of apathy toward one another.

I have to believe 90-ish percent of affairs begin here. Husband feels disrespected and unappreciated and unwanted, so he bangs a co-worker or the waitress at his favorite lunch spot because she looks up to him and makes him feel like a Man. She wants him and admires him. “Since my wife doesn’t want me and doesn’t fulfill my needs, I’m going to go stick my privates in this other person. I mean, is it really THAT different than when I jerk off thinking about her in the shower?”

Or, wife feels like her husband is doing this on purpose. She’s told him, literally, hundreds of times the exact same thing, but he just keeps doing it. “He doesn’t love me. He doesn’t want me. He doesn’t make me feel safe or desirable in any way. But Brad at the gym? He makes me feel 20 again. He’s always so eager to listen to me talk about my feelings or ask me how my day was. I love his arms and scent. I bet they’d feel good wrapped around me. Since my loser husband doesn’t want me and doesn’t fulfill my needs, I’m going to let Brad do anything and everything he wants to me because he makes me feel so good. I mean, is it really THAT different than when I touch myself thinking about him in the bathtub?”

Even without an affair, shit has totally hit the fan in a relationship and the wife (in two out of three cases, statistically) has had enough and wants a divorce.

She says it out loud, and the husband acts like someone just told him he’s living in The Matrix and nothing he knows is actually real. As soon as the husband realizes she means business, and the previous thousand instances of brushing off her complaints as inconsequential were actually things she was serious about, he tries to transform overnight into Super Husband Mode®.

He’ll start doing a bunch of things she had wanted him to do all along. See! See! I can change!

Maybe he really has. Maybe he really hasn’t.

Most of the time, she thinks it’s too little, too late. When a wife is prepared to end her marriage, she has usually thought about it for a LONG time. It only feels rash to the idiot, oblivious husband who failed to trust her sincerity in all of these previous conflicts.

She often sees his behavioral changes as insincere. The marriage is over.

But if young women would enforce these boundaries EARLY in relationships, young men would have their Come-to-Jesus moments with their girlfriends so much earlier. Are they less inclined to put in the work to change than a husband with shared children and property? Probably. But those who would make sincere changes would make for great husbands and fathers, and those unwilling to probably weren’t worth keeping around and having children with anyway. And if that rejection happens to them enough times, maybe they’ll figure some shit out and more quickly mature into a man capable of being a great husband and father than most of us do.

This has the added benefit of improving the collective self-esteem of women, and reducing instances of children being born to crappy fathers.

Become Near-Experts on Relationships

Men generally respect and respond well to logic-based arguments rooted in demonstrative knowledge and expertise.

Don’t read ONE relationship book, and then the second you find some passage that validates your feelings, sprint to your husband or boyfriend yelling: “SEE!? SEE!? You’re a stupid asshole just like I always say! I’m right and you’re wrong because this one sentence from this one writer says so!!!”

That’s a poor communication strategy.

Instead. REALLY become highly knowledgeable about relationship dynamics. Learn how to make your boyfriend’s or husband’s argument FOR him. Articulate it with precision, proving that you understand and respect it fully, and even realize why he feels that way.

And then explain to him the truth. With love and respect, where he’s not made to feel like a big, fat, stupid asshole for not knowing these things (which MOST of humanity doesn’t know).

That would help.

Take Ownership of Your Emotions

This happens as a natural byproduct of enforcing strong boundaries, but I believe many (I won’t venture a percentage guess) women spend much of their lives showcasing a power-draining You Made Me Feel This! philosophy, and blaming everyone around them when they experience negative emotions.

Certainly, it’s reasonable for us to expect our close friends and family, and romantic partners to demonstrate concern for our emotional wellbeing, and make an effort to respect our feelings.

But to lay the responsibility of our emotions at the feet of another human being? THAT is the epitome of not enforcing our boundaries. That’s giving someone else total control of our lives, and not accepting the all-important job of being in control of ourselves. Remember being little kids? “You’re not my boss!!!”

When we hand over our emotional health to others, we make them our boss. It’s a bad life strategy, and it’s one of the few areas of relationship dynamics where I perceive men to generally outperform their female partners.

Focus On Good and Demonstrate Gratitude

It can’t be said enough times: One curse of the human condition is that you WILL bore of everything sooner or later. It’s called Hedonic Adaptation, and every one of us deals with it. We take our health, and money, and safety, and homes, and cars, and jobs, and whatever else for granted once we are accustomed to having them as a matter of routine.

It happens in love, too. We feel all those lovey-dovey infatuation feelings early on and it’s great. We feel all those lusty, achy feelings early on and that’s pretty great, too.

But then time marches on.

And that stuff goes away. And it’s not because you’re not soul mates, just like having your house and money and health isn’t less awesome than it was when you first acquired them.

It’s because it is a psychological inevitability that you will take things (even really important things) in your life for granted.

There’s nothing you can do about it. It won’t go away.

The only thing you can realistically do is vigilantly combat it. And the only way to do that is to wake up every day (and maybe before you go to sleep at night, too) and express and feel gratitude for all of the great things in your life.

Everyone should do this every day, always, always, always. It’s a prerequisite to happiness. And happiness is pretty freaking important when it comes to whether being alive is a good experience, or a bad one.

Wives and girlfriends are often viewed as “complaining nags” by their husbands and boyfriends. Daily demonstrations of gratitude (combined with strong boundary enforcement) would seem to be a surefire way to make sure a relationship never falls into the too-common cycle of shit so many do today.

Speaking of gratitude, I had no idea what I was going to write today.

And you, Failed Engagement (but not really), helped me think of something.

Thank you.

105 thoughts on “The 4 Ways Women Can Help Save Marriages”

  1. What women also could (and should) be doing is to educate their sons!!!!!!!!
    To teach them to identify and share their feelings. To teach them to be considerate, mindful, empathic and honest.
    I am aware that it is best done by example and if the son’s father does not demonstrate any of these it is a hard fight, but even if it is going to work in some cases – it is going to be worth it. I love my children more than anything. I want them to be happy.
    One of the ways I am trying to achieve that is by making sure that my son is the best possible husband.
    Because I know that if his wife is going to be happy with him, he is going to be happy.

    1. True story, Joanna. Raising our children with awareness of ALL of these things we discuss here is, in my estimation, the moral responsibility of all parents who care about their children’s long-term wellbeing.

    2. That is awesome! I’m trying to do this too. I was recently sick and my teenage son didn’t check on me at all or see if I needed anything but waited to be asked. I explained to him that it is loving and kind to be proactive when someone in your house is sick and to go upstairs and ask them if they need anything. I know this is a common complain wives have for husbands. That they do not reciprocate the care shown to them when sick.

      Fortunately my son is responsive to the lessons and will have been taught to do this when he gets married. I’m trying to chip away at things one small lesson at a time. And of course, he has to hear all my Gottman lessons too poor boy 🙂

      1. Thank you, Lisa G.
        I must say that having a son is also a great and perpetual marital lesson for me.
        Whenever I am tempted to think a generalized bad thing about men, based on my husband’s behaviour, I stop in my tracks, because that would mean I am speaking badly also about my son! Whenever I feel like not being altruistically kind to my husband (because he behaved like a shitty husband) I think how I would want my son to be treated by his wife. On one hand it helps me treat my husband better, on the other it is very very hard especially when I would really like to be harsh. In a way it feels like I am doing it to my son….

        Good for you for raising not only a good man but also a not-shitty-husband 🙂

    3. For a number of Matt’s posts now I’ve seen people asking how to get men to change, and to approach things differently. And while I do wholeheartedly believe that people CAN change when/if they truly want to (and see value in doing so), at the same time I think that a lot of what women are seeing in men is due to so many years of socialization and cultural notions of masculinity that the changes will be fairly small.

      As joannainamsterdam has stated, women can and should be educating their sons. Not just women of course, fathers need to do this as well. But we really need to break some of these cycles with the next generations.

      Not saying it’s too late for current ones, but if we are wanting men to change their approaches while we are still teaching our sons the same things about what it means to be a man, then we are just perpetuating the problem.

      1. Yes. Thank you Drew. The only ones we can change are ourselves and give our children the tools to be emotionally developed members of society.

      2. Does it EVER cross a woman’s mind to look in a goddamned mirror and maybe, just maybe, realize that THEY, and not their Husbands, just MAY be the source of most marriage issues? Pretty sure I know the answer here….

    4. I’ve been working on my brother so he doesn’t make the mistakes I did as a teenager and is pleasant, not sexist and able to help out in the house!

  2. Thank you for this post. It is exactly what I needed to read today. After years of me telling my husband to help more with the kids and pay attention to me, I finally told him I wanted a divorce. As you described above (perfectly and scarily accurate) my husband was shocked (despite my YEARS of pointing out we would end up here if he didn’t listen and change) and then immediately launched into “Super Husband Mode” and as you also predicted, I am done and left with a feeling of too little too late. However, we have 3 children and I know how rough divorce can be on them so I am trying to give it another try. I don’t know if it will work or not since I’m not in love with him anymore, but I am going to try for the kids sake. Also not sure if that’s better or worse for them. But I loved him once so maybe, just maybe I can love him again? I am going to try to work as hard on our marriage as I expect him to work, so your post today was excellent and perfectly timed for me. I wanted to say thanks and I really appreciate your intelligent insight into relationships.

    1. Lisa,

      You are so brave and courageous to fight for your marriage despite the pain you must feel from being ignored all those years. I don’t know if this applies to you but when we finally found a good marriage counselor and program, it made a huge difference for me to be hopeful that the changes would be permanent.

      Best wishes and good luck!

      1. Lisa, I applaud you and envy your husband and your family. I think very true to what Matt has said about gratitude and CHOOSING love vs FEELING love. I cannot speak to your case but I am ALMOST positive, that if your commitment is to do what you describe, you will succeed. I think its a must that you see the positive and take that to heart (avoind hedonic adaptation?!?). I wish you the best of luck. If your husband is receptive, share these posts with him. Go to counseling (again) for assistance through this process. I think if you and your husband can work through this together, there is no better example of all of this that you could show your kids.

        You will be living and demonstrating learning it each day! I also have no doubt that daily choosing love, having patience and acknowleding those oh so important small victories and gratitudes, will at some point morph back into feeling love. It may not be the same butterflies and ennui (sp?) of early love but it will likely be better.

        Best of luck to you. Feel free to keep me posted should you wish!

    2. latenightblond

      I was told from a young age that “love is a doing word”. I do believe it’s a choice – in how we think, what we do, what we focus on. It sounds like your husband has seriously overdrawn the relationship account the two of you share and that’s an awful, empty, lonely place. I’ve been there. It’s hard to come back from that when your trust is gone. Trying again, putting yourself out there is brave and it’s got to be real. It’s got to be for him, for your kids and, most importantly, for you. It’s go big or go home – or, in this case, go away. No easy choices. Staying is hard, leaving is tough but only one of those has the potential to save your marriage. So – dig deep, focus, set goals and go big.

    3. Hi Lisa, can you help me understand what you mean by “I’m not in love with him anymore”. Often I hear people say “I love him but am not IN love with him”, and I’ve always struggled to understand that.

      There are things I suspect it to mean, but I would love to hear in someone elses words what it means to them.

      1. Zombiedrew2 – before Lisa has a chance to respond I can tell you how it feels for me. It is like I lost my pink glasses I used to look at him through. Things that I used to find goofy, I see as stupid now. Things that made me think of him as smart and wonderful I find barely redeemable. Things that I would let go because I would focus on bright sides instead I see very sharp and clear now. I no longer have the light in my eyes when I see him. I do care about his wellbeing but I don’t mind if he is not around, I am not excited to spent time with him anymore. The bitterness set in.
        It feels very sad by the way. I liked pink glasses. Even if I knew they were pink glasses.

        Just like latenightblond wrote “relationship account has been seriously overdrawn” and everything now is being charged with a very high interest rate.

      2. Hi Zombiedrew2,

        I’m not the Lisa you asked the question (I’ve renamed myself as the fantasy adopted daughter of my beloved John Gottmsn ;)) but I’ve gone through it so I’ll tell you what it was like in my experience. This is based on a true story though partly fictional.

        A lot of relationship books talk about a love bank or relationship bank and I think it’s a good metaphor (as other commenters have mentioned). So you meet someone, start dating and fall in love. Many deposits have been made to cross the point of feeling “in love” with him. I have to be physically attracted with all the hormones attached (lots of deposits in the bank). I have to really like the guy with a deep friendship to be able to talk about meaningful stuff. I have to trust him physically and emotionally. Ok. Now we get engaged, the love bank account is at maximum 100,000. The stress and in law craziness of planning a wedding knocks some points because he didn’t follow through with some of the items he was supposed to take care of but we’re still at 90,000. The first year of marriage is pretty good but the dishes by the sink issues start and each time he dismisses my needs it subtracts some points. Each time each chooses his own needs over being willing to compromise some points are lost. If we are able to work things out well enough we stabilize at 70,000 for a while. When we have our first child and I am left alone in the delivery room crying, I subtract 10,000 points because that is a trust issue, are you going to be there for me when I really need you? When he kind of apologizes but really doesn’t that’s another loss of 5,000 points because now I can’t trust you to to be there when you wound me. (If he would have apologized in a genuine way a substantial deposit would have been made because trust is restored.)

        Because you are a very involved fantastic Dad, deposits are made because I can trust you to love our kids. But points are lost each time you leave the emotional labor work to me, each time I am left with an unfair amount of grunt work. Each time your attitude and choices say your career and dreams matter more than mine. I try and talk with you about all this but you dismiss me like with the dishes. You now even get angry with me that I don’t appreciate everything you do and all the sacrifices you’ve made for me and I’m never satisfied. This is the point when the bank balance drops below the minimum level for “feeling in love” even though we don’t realize it yet and we now start to see each other as being in a zero sum game because we can’t trust each other to take each other’s needs into account and we can’t even work out small things. It’s no longer enjoyable to be around me anymore so you start to spend more time at things that make you feel good. Work, friends, hobbies. I start to get anxious and depressed that I can’t trust you at all emotionally and read a lot of marriage books while eating Doritos and chocolate to figure out how we can fix it. You withdraw every time I pursue now. Our only positive commonality is our kids. You do even less of the grunt work and I feel more resentful. At this point the love bank is very low and I start to wish I had married my college boyfriend instead of you. This is the point where women think about divorce seriously. You feel some love for him because of your shared memories and children but you’re no more in love with him than you’re in love with your chronically underemployed annoying brother that lives in your parents basement whom you will love because you’re family.

        I try to get you to read marriage books and you say you will but you never follow through. The passive aggressive stuff subtracts more points and now the love bank is overdrawn. I start to have contempt for you and think you are a selfish, sexist, lazy husband who treats me like his maid. But then the hate transforms into indifference. I don’t care any more and I especially don’t care when you are so shocked to hear I’m leaving you. How could I have married such an incredibly stupid human being?

        1. Hi Lisa, I completely get how the breakdown happens and I think it’s a sad yet common story.

          While you (or this quasi-fictional person) is going through this, the husband is probably going through some similar points of disillusionment and frustration.

          As joannainamsterdam has put it, the rose colored glasses have come off and you are now seeing the other person as they truly are, warts and all.

          Ego, selfishness, insecurities. We all have them, and over the long term they will show through with anyone. And often those things aren’t attractive, and we feel a bit duped by our partners. Like they were putting on the face they wanted us to see (in order to “get” the relationship), but once in they stop wooing, they stop putting in the effort. And what we are left with is somewhat lacking.

          I totally get all that (I think).

          I think a big part of that is human nature. I hadn’t heard the term hedonistic adaptation until Matt used it a while back, but I’ve been thinking/writing on that exact thing for years now (just without knowing what to call it).

          You mention the college boyfriend, and I think maybe that’s where a lot of us get in trouble. We think these things that are happening are indicative of something wrong with our partner, and we create a fantasy scenario where “things would be better” with someone else.

          Which leads to affairs, and divorce.

          And sometimes things can be better with someone else, especially if boundaries are set and enforced early. Thing is, I also hear just as many stories where someone ends a relationship, gets in a new one and is happy at first (because everything is new and exciting). But around 2 years down the road they find themselves in exactly the same spot they were in before.

          Which is why I have always held to the notion that when possible it’s better to rebuild with the person you are already with – especially if kids are involved and there hasn’t been terrible things done (acknowledging that terrible is open to interpretation).

          So back to the thought of not being “in love” with someone…

          The scenario you describe seems to be a situation where love has completely broken down.

          When that happens, do you think it’s even possible to rebuild it? Or do you think that once it’s been broken, it is too late for that relationship?

          My take has always been that once the rose colored glasses are off, you will never look at things the same way again. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a happy loving relationship.

          I read a lot of comments from people who seem to be “staying” in relationships even though their hearts aren’t truly in it, and they aren’t actively working to make things better. And that’s something I can’t understand.

          1. This is strikes at the heart of everything I’ve come to believe about making marriage successful.

            I know you don’t always agree with a particular point or belief, but we really do have super-similar stances on most of this.

            Thank you very much for being here and sharing it. These ideas are really important, and a lot of people simply never think about them until they’re years into adulthood and finally hear someone ask the right question or finally get around to asking it themselves.

          2. Well, no one will agree on everything. And differences of opinion are a healthy part of what allows us to grow. But on the whole I agree that we have very similar stances on what it takes to succeed both as individuals and in a relationship.

            And we’re both basketball fans too!!!

            Seriously though, it’s been fun being in the blog world with you the past year+. We seem to be thinking of and trying to figure out the same things at the same times, and you’ve helped steer and reinforce some of the things I’ve been thinking about.

            There have actually been a few times that I’ve been working on a post about something, and then I read something very similar here – so I shelve my post for a bit as I don’t want you to think I’m copying!!!

            As you said, these are important ideas that not enough people seem to think about (well, not enough men anyhow).

            Great work

          3. Please don’t ever let the anything you read here adversely affect what you’re doing, Drew.

            1. I don’t think that highly of myself that I believe you need my subject matter to write intelligently.

            2. Even if I DID think you were somehow influenced by stuff here, it’d be flattered, not offended.

            I love that you show up to participate in these conversations. You, and a hundred other writers, deserve the same from me.

            I’m not proud that I’m not active in other places. My stretched-thinness/ADHD overwhelmed feelings are at the root of most of the things on my I Should Be Doing This More Often list.

          4. zombiedrew2 – by pink glasses I did not mean blindness. I did not mean that I did not see his warts and all before and now I suddenly do. When I was what I would describe as “in love” (not to confuse with the early-stages-of-infatuation-blindness) I did see his warts all right. Only I would think “He has warts. Poor thing. I now where they came from. It must be hard on him. I get that. I am ok with it. I can handle it.” or “He has warts. It’s ok. Not that I am ecstatic about it but we can do this. I don’t really mind. And I have warts too and he is dealing with that. We are good. I love him.” Pink glasses were like Xanax not like blinds. Now, once they are gone it is more like “He has warts. How on earth am I going to survive it? More importantly – WHY? Why am I doing this to myself? I thought it was worth it, but I am not sure anymore that it is…. The price became too high. Breathe. Just breathe. You can do this. You can do this. Ok. Ok, I got this. He is the only person on earth other than me who would die for my children. Ok, That’s it! That will do. See? I knew you could do this. Good girl. Just keep breathing and it will do.”
            It is kind of like love for your children. They poop. They vomit. They stink. They sleep-deprive you. But you do everything for them and you keep loving them and you keep thinking “it’s all worth it”.
            So pink glasses come off when you begin to doubt if it is all worth it. When the amount of poop, vomit, stink and sleep-deprivation exceeds your ability to cope because there is not enough return on investment.

          5. I think maybe we mean similar things by pink glasses then. I didn’t mean blindness in the sense that people don’t *see* things, but rather in the sense that they are willing to overlook them. In the early more idealistic stages we understand that yeah, they aren’t perfect – but they still seem perfect for us. Our pink glasses act to smooth out the rough edges and allows us to look past them. I guess maybe we focus more on the good qualities, and as a result the bad ones don’t seem as bad.

            Here’s something I question though – not to you specifically, but to anyone who sees it as relevant:

            When the pink glasses come off, is it really that the other person has changed that much? Or is it a case of hedonistic adaptation (love that term, need to thow it in wherever I can :)), where those good qualities start to become overlooked over time as they are now are “the norm” and instead the bad starts to stand out more and more.

            I really think that there’s a lot of the latter going on. I think both sides of a relationship tend to take each other for granted over time, and I definitely understand questioning if it’s all still worth it. Depending on the issues though, I think that maybe the pink glasses come more from ourselves, and from our frame of reference. I’m optimistic that they can come back again if and only if we start to focus on the good again. It’s easy to get caught up in the bad, focusing on the good and learning to appreciate it again can hopefully make the bad start to recede and smooth out.

            Doesnt’ always work, as both sides need to start to buy in. But we can only start with ourselves. I’m not saying we look at our partners and take the approach “well, there’s a lot worse out there”, as that’s a form of settling and peoples hearts aren’t in it then.

            But maybe we accept that there is both better and worse out there. There are better and worse matches, and all relationships will have challenges. Then make a judgement call on whether or not we have is “enough” for us. And if so, we put our hearts into it as best we can.

      3. Fromscratchmom

        Zombie, I believe it is possible and valuable to stick it out past the point of not loving anymore. I came back from it myself to learn to love in better and more mature ways. Sadly, im also an example of the fact that it doesn’t always work because it takes two and sometimes the other person chooses to not change or work to repair it or value the commitment enough to stick it out to get to the other side. But nevertheless I think it’s the better choice and I do know people who stuck it out and both came out a lot better off for it.

        1. I’m with you on this one. I’ve come through it myself, and as you said I feel I am now able to love in better and more mature ways.

          Nothing really bad happened in my relationship that I’m aware of. Just too many years of focussing too much on the kids and not enough on each other. Taking each other for granted over times and not realizing our relationship was breaking down until we were in a bad spot.

          I thought I was a pretty good husband before, but in many ways I knew nothing (you know nothing John Snow). I feel like I’ve learned a lot, and no matter where the future takes me I think I’m a much better person then I was a few years ago.

          I guess my pink colored glasses were broken, and now they’ve been replaced by ones that have a stronger prescription. Unfortunately my wife’s still seem to be broken, and I’m not sure if she will every see me the way she once did.

      4. Hey Zombiedrew,

        You said:

        “Which is why I have always held to the notion that when possible it’s better to rebuild with the person you are already with – especially if kids are involved and there hasn’t been terrible things done (acknowledging that terrible is open to interpretation).

        So back to the thought of not being “in love” with someone…

        The scenario you describe seems to be a situation where love has completely broken down.

        When that happens, do you think it’s even possible to rebuild it? Or do you think that once it’s been broken, it is too late for that relationship?

        My take has always been that once the rose colored glasses are off, you will never look at things the same way again. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a happy loving relationship.”

        I absolutely agree with you and am even more optimistic based on my reading. I like what Julie Gottman says. Your first marriage failed and you need a second marriage but you build it with the same person. In fact, the second marriage can be much better than the first marriage if you learn the relationships that you lacked when the first marriage failed. I know it’s possible because I am living it now.

        You are right that the mostly true story I told about falling out of love has a companion story of disillusionment for my husband. His point balance was higher than mine for the first part of our marriage because I made too many dysfunctional adaptions and so the life we lived was a little more of his preferences (he cleaned far less toilets die example) but after a while his points declined rapidly with his being about feeling constantly criticized and that I did not accept his point of views and needs as equally valid (guilty as charged) so we “fell out of love” around the same point and then it got really miserable for both of us. The fictional part of the story was that while I did at that point think he was stupid (no pink glasses and contempt) he was no surprised I was miserable and although I was two words away from accepting his offer to move out and I was so sick of him I wanted him to leave but I said no please stay. Why? Because I had read a lot of books by that point and knew that our issues were like the common cold of marriage and could be fixed with the right help and effort and we could be happy again in our second marriage with each other. I think so many people don’t stay together because it FEELS so hopeless and feels like you’re already tried everything. But like one of my favorite books Talent Is Overrated says you must have the correct directed thing to build a skill. I tried over and over to explain and discuss in ways that made sense to me but not him. He tried to give in and ignore. Neither of these things are healthy relationship skills.

        We struggled to find a decent marriage counselor but made progress just based on my new understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like: two healthy well differentiated adults who know both know and state what they want in healthy ways and also make accommodations for the needs of the completely seperate person I married who had different needs and wants and opinions. I have been humbled at how immature I was in many ways. But it all can be learned and I am a better healthier person because of learning all this stuff. Still learning every day.

        I am so happy to be in my second marriage with my first husband. He is a great guy who like me just needs to learn better relationship skills. These are things that ideally we would have learned early in our marriage but in some ways I appreciate our marriage now in a deeper way because I know what it feels like to be in a deeply unhappy marriage. It’s like getting a terminal cancer diagnosis and aporeciating your life with new gratitude when you miraculously survive. Our love now is not like it was before being disillusioned but is more mature. We chose each other again when it would have been easier to walk away. I KNOW he loves me if he made that choice because he was miserable and it is hard and painful to look in the mirror and accept responsibility for all the mistakes and misery you caused. Hey I think my glasses are a little pink again!

        1. I like the fact that you use the term “relationship skills”. That’s the area where people seem to really mess things up – not recognizing that relationships are truly a skill, and can be developed.

          Instead, issues become about the other person, and about incompatibility. And when you decide it’s a matter of incompatibility then the solution is to leave and find someone else who is more compatible. One of my biggest pet peeves in relationships is the notion of “the one”, and I think this is something that is sold to women more than it’s sold to men. Not saying all of them buy into it, but I’ve definitely seen a number of women (and some men) who do.

          Hmm, things aren’t working – I guess he/she isn’t “the one”. That sort of thinking just completely absolves us of all any blame for the failure of our relationships. And it’s not that I’m looking to blame anyone, but until we can take good hard looks at “why” our relationships are failing we can never get better.

          I believe in continuous improvement in life, and think this is something that is super important in relationships.

          I was the guy who left my dishes by the sink. Well, I didn’t actually because I can’t handle messes. But I had my own failings that I didn’t think were a big deal, while she apparently did. Almost losing my marriage and breaking up my family became my “come to jesus” moment, and since then I’ve worked hard to grow and improve.

          I would like to think my marriage is better, but even after a few years I’m still not sure if my wife is fully invested the way she was before. Not sure if she ever will be, and if that doesn’t improve I don’t know if the current state is enough for me (I don’t like feeling as though someone is only half here). But I’ll keep at it, and keep loving they way I feel is right, and hopefully that’ll break down the walls.

          If not, I’m still a better person then I was before so it will all have been worth it.

      5. Zombiedrew2,

        You said “Ego, selfishness, insecurities. We all have them, and over the long term they will show through with anyone. And often those things aren’t attractive, and we feel a bit duped by our partners. Like they were putting on the face they wanted us to see (in order to “get” the relationship), but once in they stop wooing, they stop putting in the effort. And what we are left with is somewhat lacking.”

        I think this is a part of it but most of it for us was that we just each lacked certain relationship skills to move to the next level once you the real people show up. We had a very common pattern in heterosexual marriages. Because of our childhoods (normal parental screwing up) we both are insecurely attached in relationships. I am somewhat “anxiously attached” meaning I tend to feel insecure that he really loves me in a way that prioritized me and he is “avoidantly” attached meaning he is sensitive to feeling controlled and smothered in a relationship. So if he doesn’t call me when he’s going to be late, I see that as a form of rejection and am angry, he sees my anger as a form of control. It sets off a very bad cycle that gets worse over time because each of sensitivities cause us to act in a way that triggers the others sensitivities.

        So I think a lot of marriage troubles are more about things like that. You can’t figure out why this person who loves you keeps choosing to act in ways that don’t make you feel loved. Once you see the cycle, you can see it as a relationship dynamic that can be understood and changed as opposed to seeing your spouse as “needy” or “selfish”. Once you cross that line it leads to viewing and treating each other with contempt which is deadly poison to marriage and by far the best predictor of divorce.

        But it’s like a medical issue you must get s correct diagnosis of the problem before you can figure out the cure and recover.

      6. Zombiedrew,

        You said:

        “One of my biggest pet peeves in relationships is the notion of “the one”, and I think this is something that is sold to women more than it’s sold to men. Not saying all of them buy into it, but I’ve definitely seen a number of women (and some men) who do@

        Ah the dreaded “the one”. Along with the Jerry McGuire “you complete me. Totally terrible ideas I agree. I think that is part of the job after the rose colored glasses come off to realize what adult relationships really are.

        Now I’m sure you’ll agree that there are some people that would just be incredibly challenging to be married to perfectly nice wonderful people but that I would have very little in common with and don’t relate to. In my case I am someone who enjoys debating ideas and problem solving. I would absolutely not be happy in a marriage with someone like my brother in law who thinks that is “wasting time talking” and who prefers taking random action rather than “theorizing all the time”. I equally disdain his preferred methods. We can be pleasant to each other at Thanksgiving but I am quite confident we would be miserable very quickly should we have ever been married.

        Most of the time we marry someone we like and are reasonably comparable with. Some women dream of the day they will marry someone who will cherish them. That is how many women think of “the one”. It’s usually more about an idealized version of a man who loves her so much he will want to listen to her and be interested in her dreams and sadness. He will prioritize her over everyone and everything else. He will make her feel loved and safe because she is able to trust him physically and emotionally. Now a lot of that is good. You should able to trust your husband but the bulk of it requires a LOT of work on the husband’s part because he has been trained his whole life to not process his emotions and often is subsequently uncomfortable with strong negative emotions. You should expect him to work with you to get your needs met in a reasonable way but it also requires patience and understanding for how hard this is for him to learn new skills.

        It is also partly unrealistic on her part too. I am responsible for my needs and emotional regulation. It’s not his responsibility to provide those things externally. It is a mutual responsibility to care and love each other as two separate healthy adults. It is hard to give up that dream of “the one” whose job it is to make you feel loved and to whom you can rely on to regulate your emotions unconditionally.

        I personally don’t believe in soul mates. I think there are any number of healthy reasonably compatible people we could be happily married to. The key is that you are both emotionally healthy and have reasonably mastered healthy relationship skills. I do think if you don’t have good relationship skills it’s easier to be married to someone who does and you can learn their healthy ways perhaps and it’s also easier to be married to someone whose sensitivities don’t trigger yours in key areas. I read somewhere that only 30% of marriages are really happy and I think a lot of it has to do with not understanding that marriage requires “growing up” and hard looks in the mirror to recognize what you are doing wrong and being brave enough to fix it.

        The first hard lesson is that there is someone out there who completes you and is “the one”
        I think it’s like your kids. Some kids are easier to parent than others because they match your style or don’t push your buttons. But my job as a parent is to work my butt off to “grow up” and not think my kid should change his personality to be “the one” that makes me feel good as a person or a parent. To have an adult love for both my spouse and my kid that doesn’t ask rely on them to reflect admiration and warm fuzzies all the time. Its really not fun to grow up but it’s good.

  3. wow….failed engagement got you to write to the women which I believe is something you generally have tried to stay away from since you didn’t want to speak out of turn…good on ya!

    the famous Love chapter of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13) say: “love does not keep a record of wrong” which is a virtue but in the NSVB (New Sarah Version Bible) I translate it “love does not keep a record of wrong but instead, intently and conscientiously keeps a record of right!” That Bible translation hasn’t taken off yet (wink) but It’s something I intend to practice, should I ever be blessed with marriage again. Thanks for the reminder and the nudge for women. We have to own our junk!

    1. Yes! I have learned (repeatedly!) that you find what you look for. This relates to a lot of comments on this thread, rose-colored glasses et al. Ever buy a new car that you think is cool and unique? Suddenly every other car on the road is the same model. Expecting a baby? You start noticing pregnant people all over town. Think your spouse is disrespecting you? He or she will give you proof over and over again.

      You can repair relationships with this knowledge, and looking for evidence of what you once liked about your partner can put deposits in the bank, even if he or she isn’t working as actively on it as you would like. Look for and notice how often he makes you laugh. Look for and notice how often she is kind to you and others. Look for and notice how diligent he is about X. Look for and notice how curious she is. Whatever the case may be.

      And since another favorite metaphor is the two sides of a coin, you can also find a mountain of evidence that your partner is a loser, not compatible, doesn’t care about you, etc. Both of these are true, all day, everyday, in healthy relationships and sick ones. You find what you look for.

  4. I’m a 38 year old single mom in a relationship now for almost a year and a half. I stumbled upon your blog about 4 months ago… I LOVE IT. You have amazing insight, and more to the point, I have no idea how you understand women so well, but you do. Not only that, but your glimpses into the male persona are nearly life changing. You make me think and laugh every day! Thank you!

  5. Hey, awesome post about what women can do! Love it! I also love to quote Gottman (had to change my screen name to Lisa Gottman because story of my life, too many Lisa’s) so here is today’s Gottman quote that backs up scientifically what you are saying about the importance of setting boundaries early. I agree with you Matt that women should set boundaries when dating but Gottman research focuses on married couples.

    The quotes are from John Gottman’s book The Marriage Climic summarizing his research. The non quotes are my commentary (reposted from a previous comment to Donkey)

    “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.

    1. Very interesting comment. I kind of sense there is a lot of wisdom (took me 5 years, instead of 6 you mention lol) but I am not sure I can clearly identify it. I imagine women wait that long because they hope their husbands will listen to them and understand what they are trying to tell them. But they don’t. So what is the right way to go according to Gottman?
      We get married. My new husband leaves so called dishes by the sink by herds. I keep asking him to put them into the dishwasher or at the very least into the sink because it hurts me and makes me feel unloved. He ignores me. My well being deteriorates more and more. I keep telling, he keeps dismissing. Finally as a last desperate step before divorce I take us to marital counseling. Earlier he doesn’t want to go because he doesn’t see the need because according to him we are good. He is happy. What, according the Gottman, I should have done? The only way of setting boundaries I see is threatening with the divorce (if not then this…) and going through with it if need be. So the only difference is that you get divorced after 3 years instead of 12. How else do you set boundaries?

      1. Hey,

        My understanding of the better response (which by the way I didn’t do and am learning now) is to set practical boundaries if something is truly bothering me and I can’t get my husband to take it seriously.

        So in the first year of marriage, when chores are not equally divided, I should stop talking after a couple of failed attempts and DO something that could be marriage counseling, or calmly not cooking dinner or whatever. Not with a judgemental attitude, but to demonstrate the seriousness of the issue. Not to adapt but to Press the STOP button. Most women, including me, adapt because it’s small things at first but that is the strategy that leads to divorce.

        Does that make sense based on your experience?

        1. Sadly no. This is why I feel that the only real boundary I could set is leaving. He wouldn’t see others seriously enough. They might give a temporary gain but nothing permanent. AND it made me feel petty. You know, kind of tit for tat thing. Though I must admit that I am enjoying putting secretly his used tissues (that he leaves lying around everywhere) into his things. I imagine myself as being a little mean gnome and it makes me laugh so overall I feel better. At least about myself if not about my marriage, lol. Secretly because I don’t think he has even noticed I have been doing this. So it is simply my mean vent (not to be confused with boundaries). Sigh.
          I do sense that you are up to something with this adaptation thing.

      2. This comes from someone who has quite a bit to learn about boundaries in life in general, so be warned. I think Lisa Gottman explained it as a sort of escalation (sorry if I’m not remembering it accurately Lisa) where you don’t accept the status quo as it is (which is what has been happening I’m guessing, you’ve complained about it, sure, but other than that you’ve just more or less kept on as usual).

        So, these are just my thoughts:

        1.You explain to him that not putting the dishes in the dishwasher hurts you (like you’ve done).

        He does it again.

        2.You say to him that you see that even though you’ve told him that it hurts you and what he needs to do, he’s still not doing it. This is not ok with you. You can suggest, for instance, that once a day before bedtime or whatever, he must put all the dishes in the dishwasher. You can accept nothing less than this. Explain to him that if he doesn’t do it, you will need to have a 20 min talk every day right after dinner about this problem until it’s solved (I bet he won’t like that!), because the way it is now is not acceptable. Then follow up. Every time he doesn’t do it, the next day you call him out on it and have a special talk about this problem. He’ll probably give you hell for quite a while, but maybe eventually he’ll start to realize that you mean business and it’ll just be easier for him to put the dishes away.

        Another suggestion: You tell him that he needs to put the dishes in the sink every day before bedtime, or you can’t do x y z anymore (hopefully something related). You can’t cook dinner for him for instance. So every day where he doesn’t do it, there’s no dinner for him the next day, no plate for him at the table. Or that if he refuses to put the dish in the dishwasher, that is in fact an extra burden on you, so you can no longer do something else that he relies on you to do (although it’ll hurt that he won’t just do it, it’ll help you if the thing you decide to no longer do will genuinely lighten your load so that you’ll feel less resentful about needing to put the dish in the dishwasher).

        Or maybe combine the two? Everytime it happens, a special 20 min talk and no dinner/other thing he relies on you to do?

        If it’s a dealbreaker to you that he won’t do it, and it doesn’t help for you to not do something else instead… maybe the only option left is to explain to him that he either shapes up or you’ll need to go to marriage counceling/he’ll need to create a concrete and practical plan on how to save your marriage, or you’ll leave. But that should come after trying practical boundaries first, I think.

        And try to keep showing him love and gratitude in other ways even while enforcing these boundaries, like Matt says.

        Jack Ito (I have not worked with him and I am not affiliated) is a coach that deals alot with practical boundaries. There are probably others aswell.

        Maybe someone who has done the dishes by the sink or something similar has some ideas on what practical boundaries would have worked on them.

        1. Yeah, no worries. I have done all that and then some. Nothing worked long term. And it is really not about the dishes and lightening the load. Many things I don’t even mind in terms of load itself. It is exclusively about feeling loved. I worked with a guy once, whose girlfriend (both physicians!) would make a bubble bath for him every morning. I was young and very revolutionary then so I was a bit appalled and told him that it should have been him preparing a bath for her!!!! He responded that the key is to treat a woman in such a way THAT WOULD MAKE HER WANT to make him a bubble bath every morning…… I was officially rendered speechless. Wise man.

      3. Sorry, I posted before I saw the other replies. The practical boundary must be something that he notices. :p

        I’m sorry you’re struggling with this. 🙁

      4. I agree with Matt that boundaries should be set in dating and that serious premarital counseling should precede marriage. But since most people don’t do that, the real work begins after marriage. Here’s what I should have don when we both were wearing our pink glasses (like your term). I’ll use bathrooms as my example. So when we got married, my husband had never seen equal distribution of chores modeled or expected. I grew up doing chores and we both theoretically believed in an egalitarian marriage.

        The typical patterns started early, my standard are pretty low so I have it easier than a lot of women ;). But at some point toilets must be cleaned. My husband didn’t do it voluntarily and would wait to be asked and then do it grudgingly like he was doing me a favor. It continued to be a problem and discussing it didn’t help. I should have pressed the STOP button there and said this is not about bathrooms this is about our taking each other’s needs into proper account and being willing to compromise.

        If he was willing to do it then, great. If not, I should have said I am moving into the guest room until we can take this seriously. Not to punish you but do that you understand how serious this is. It is NOT about the bathrooms.

        I am not trying to manipulate you only trying to get you to see in a physical form how serious this issue is. If he is willing then great. If not, proceed to asking for marriage counseling. If he’s not willing then I would consider separation as another STOP signal. The point is not to make him the bad guy but to get him to understand how serious it is and treat it accordingly. I can look back and feel confident that my husband wound probably have understood when I moved into the guest room because he still had the pink glasses on and he wanted to make me happy. He just didn’t understand the talking part (a la Matt’s dishes posts).

        Now if he didn’t respond to any of those things in our first year of marriage and was not willing to go to marriage counseling, it would be important for me to know that and be able to make a decision on staying married before I had children.

        Anyway, just my take based on what I’m learning and what I wished I had known then.

      5. (…I have bought a book by Ito once, just to be clear). And I just want to say, it’s always easier to solve other people’s problems. 😉 Boundaries have been a struggle for me in several ways, and I think many people struggle with it, and not always related to partners but with family, coworkers, friends… I’ve been the one having my boundaries violated and not doing anything about it, and violating other people’s boundaries.

      6. Lisa I agree, like Matt says it’s better if this is figured out before marriage kids and so on. For sure. David Schnarch though, says something like “No one gets married for the right reasons”, (implying that people however can stay married for the right reasons) and I like that kind of cynical but optimistic attitude, and I do believe that with proper boundaries, patience and communications many marriages/relationships can be saved and be happy, even if one or both of the partners would have screened each other out had they known what would happen some years down the road.

        1. I have done just that with my first marriage. Did not work. Though no, it kind of did. I did not choose to have children. Left him instead. So perhaps yes after all 🙂

        2. That’s a great line, if it is meant as you interpret it. One I totally agree with. Most of us are completely ill-prepared for what marriage (and accompanying adulthood things) really requires, but that doesn’t mean every struggling couple should divorce.

          The reason I’m so passionate about the Hedonic Adaptation stuff is to dispel all those fantasies of leaving a marriage and having some kind of magical soulmate experience with someone new.

          Now, OF COURSE that can happen if you’re escaping a horrible and neglectful spouse and pairing up with an awesome one.

          But if it’s just a “we fell out of love” thing? I have a really hard time with some of those divorces because so few in them learn any lessons about what actually broke. Then they go repeat the process assuming it was their ex’s fault only to discover the same shit is happening all over again.

          The Grass is Greener mentality MUST be squashed. There is so much of that. And when you combine it with the emotional ruts couples find themselves in, it becomes pretty clear why so many of the affairs and marital splits happen.

      7. Joanna,

        You said:
        “Though I must admit that I am enjoying putting secretly his used tissues (that he leaves lying around everywhere) into his things. I imagine myself as being a little mean gnome and it makes me laugh so overall I feel better. At least about myself if not about my marriage, lol. Secretly because I don’t think he has even noticed I have been doing this. So it is simply my mean vent (not to be confused with boundaries). Sigh.Joanna, ”

        I am sorry for your painful situation but that is the funniest thing I’ve read in a while. Lol

      8. Joanna,

        You said:

        “I have done just that with my first marriage. Did not work. Though no, it kind of did. I did not choose to have children. Left him instead. So perhaps yes after all :-)”

        Yes, I agree with your final assessment. Divorce is horrible but it’s infinitely better to do it BEFORE there are children involved. So that’s why women have to not adapt early to figure out if you have a partner or not. Because all the grunt work and stresses get worse after children so the adaptation requirements just get higher and higher until 5 years later (or 7 or 18 depending on the adaptation required) you can’t take it anymore.

      9. Donkey,

        You said:

        “2.You say to him that you see that even though you’ve told him that it hurts you and what he needs to do, he’s still not doing it. This is not ok with you. You can suggest, for instance, that once a day before bedtime or whatever, he must put all the dishes in the dishwasher. You can accept nothing less than this. Explain to him that if he doesn’t do it, you will need to have a 20 min talk every day right after dinner about this problem until it’s solved (I bet he won’t like that!), because the way it is now is not acceptable. Then follow up. Every time he doesn’t do it, the next day you call him out on it and have a special talk about this problem. He’ll probably give you hell for quite a while, but maybe eventually he’ll start to realize that you mean business and it’ll just be easier for him to put the dishes away.”

        I have been thinking about the Jack Ito style boundaries. I’ve never read his stuff and I know your said you were just throwing out thoughts so I’m using the points here to pick your brain for learning how women can set boundaries in the most effective way.

        The steps listed here are good practical boundary steps in a certain way but I think would be more applicable in my life for boundaries with my kids. Where I am clearly in charge (or trying to be 🙂 ) Awesome examples for clear consequences for not following my rules. One of my mistakes was thinking that I had the right to determine the rules with my husband. Not in a super controlling way but more in a “this is what makes me less anxious to have an organzed house so if you loved me you would do this”. I didn’t put enough thought into his equally valid “I want to spend my time doing other things so if you loved me you would care about what I want”. Of course we didn’t express our true needs like this but argued about cleaning toilets.

        In my own case with my husband, the issue is more about getting his attention to take imy needs seriously while ALSO challenging my own entitled sense that things have to be done in the way that make me comfortable. I like that you quote David Schnarch. What I like about his differentiation approach to marriage is the focus on each person “growing up”. Learning both to have a strong sense of self and expressing your needs clearly AND recognizing your spouse is a separate person from you with different thoughts, needs, wants, opinions and points of views. That is what healthy adults do. Proper boundaries and compromise help to learn differentiation and also flow naturally from a well differentiated person.

        If you’re lucky, you grow up in a super healthy family that models and teaches it but many families struggle in this area to some degree. So another great Schnarch quote is something like nobody is ready for marriage. Marriage makes you ready for marriage. I’ve had to learn (and still learning) how to become a healthy well differentiated adult.

        What do you think? I know you said you’re still learning about boundaries too.

      10. Lisa Gottman,

        A few points:
        Thank you for giving me an excuse to keep “talking”. 😉

        I have to say I don’t know Ito’s stuff well, so I’m not sure what I’m saying would be Ito-approved or not. :p I stumbled across his website, and he was very boundaries-orientated in a, I thought, clear and insightful way, so I mention him in case someone will find his stuff helpful.

        I see what you’re saying. The neat person can’t just decide that their way is the right way (or that isn’t very mature at least), and part of growing up is definitely tolerating that other people have different opinions and ways and all of that.

        In the example I wrote (he needs to put all the dishes in the dishwasher before he goes to bed), I had kind of already made that the compromise for both people in my head. I probably wasn’t clear on that. Like, Mr. Messy wants to leave his dishes wherever he pleases, Ms. Tidy wants him to put them in the dishwasher right away, each and every time. So the compromise I had formed in my mind was that he can leave his dishes wherever he wants, all day every day, AS LONG AS he puts all of them in the dishwasher before he goes to bed.

        That seems like a reasonable compromise to me. Of course, there are many ways to compromise regarding chores and level of cleanliness/tidyness. One can tidy after both people, if the other cleans. Some rooms can be designated as always tidy, other ones can be messy. One can do bathrooms, the other can vacuum. Mr. Messy can have his own clutter zones where he can make messes to his hearts content. Win win situations are always best, but when those aren’t possible I think it’s only fair that people meet in the middle some way, somehow (and that can be accomplished in many ways, and I think many people could do with some growing up in this department).

        If both partners are willing to discuss this until a decent compromise is reached (and then respect the agreement that is made), then great. If Mr. Messy is unwilling to do that, Ms. Tidy (or Mr. Tidy, sometimes it is reversed as we all know) can draft up a few possible solutions and have Mr. Messy pick one. But if he isn’t willing to discuss and comrpomise, isn’t willing to pick a solution that Ms. Tidy suggested or isn’t willing to stick to whatever they agree on/he picks, then yes, I think it’s ok for Ms. Tidy to “decide the rules” (reasonably fair rules, where she considers his needs aswell) so to speak, because Mr. Messy hasn’t been willing to be a part of the work of finding some common rules that take both their needs/preferences into account.

        I think that is part of what David Schnarch talks about also. Sometimes the work really is to understand that our way isn’t the right way and to be able to live with that. Maybe Ms. Tidy decides that she can live with all of this. But sometimes our integrity demands us to stand up for ourselves, when we, after much consideration, have decided that we ARE right in expecting something different, some accomodation from our partner, or wether we’re right or not, we at least aren’t willing to tolerate the status quo any longer.

        I don’t think it’s right that Ms. Tidy alone gets to decide how things should look and operate in their home. But I do think she’s right in expecting a fair compromise with her partner, in expecting him to work with her to figure it out, or at least cooperate if she has done the significant amount of emotional labour necessary to come up with a few solutions (but she’s the one botherd, so perhapsit’s ok that she bears that intital burden) which he can pick from. Failing all of that, she has at least my blessing in going ahead and establishing some boundaries and consequences when Mr. Messy hasn’t been willing to cooperate and compromise. All easier said than done of course. 🙂

      11. Donkey,

        Ok now I see what you meant. That seems reasonable to take those approaches under the scenarios you painted. The one part I struggle with as I’ve said before is not getting totally pissed off when Mr Messy doesn’t follow through. To be effective the boundaries need to be set and followed through on with a mature sane attitude (not my strong suit 😉 )

        I’m working on it though and getting better at understanding why he doesn’t follow through. I find David Schnarch’s concepts of high desire/low desire helpful. I have a higher desire for clean toilets than he does. So it makes sense that he doesn’t care that much as the low desire person and resists my request as the high desire person. This is normal and requires understanding and persistence. If I think of it that way it doesn’t make me angry that he is trying to make me the maid. He’s just the low desire person for clean toilets. There are other areas like moving where the situation is reversed and I am the low desire person.

      12. There are many ways to approach this, but a really good book on setting boundaries is called: “Boundaries in Marriage” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It is written from a Christian perspective, which may be off-putting if you’re not religious. However, I’m not esp religious and found it helpful.

        On the other hand there’s Laura Doyle author of the “Surrendered Wife”. You may baulk at her approach (or worse), but a lot if it is to do with looking after yourself and making yourself happy, taking care of “your side of the road”.

        Listen to some of her podcasts, she’s full on in promoting her work which is annoying, but there’s some very useful info there as well as to how some women have turned round failing, unhappy marriages. And no, I’m not connected to her in any way.

    2. Yeah, the tissue thing was very funny. 🙂 You explicitly stated that it wasn’t to be confused with boundaries, sorry I missed that.

      1. Donkey,

        The mean gnome might make an appearance in my kids rooms tonight. Like an awesome passive aggressive elf on the shelf. 🙂

  6. I actually owe you, Matt. Matt are you reading this? Your Dishes post and Letters to Shitty Husbands (LOVE THOSE) seemed to have gotten to my husband a bit. Baby steps, baby steps. Keep writing please. I need more Letters to Shitty Husbands! They are the best!! 🙂

      1. HE HAS BEEN MAKING OUR BED EVERY SINGLE MORNING FOR CONSECUTIVE MANY (35?) DAYS!!!!!!!! Never happened before! I asked for just one thing. Just one thing but reliably and always being done and without me having to thank him for it. I am actually beginning to believe it might stick! I think Matt’s pain scared something big enough out of him.

      2. You know that’s an awesome sign that he is willing to change after he read Matt’s posts! Who know he might even become an overachiever and read the comments and solve the mystery of the mean gnome leaving tissues in his stuff 🙂

        1. LOL, Lisa G. I know, right?. This is why I am still here (marriage, not Matt’s blog). Though I do think tissues are going to remain my little gnomy secret. I really don’t think he has noticed (I suspect he thinks he left them there himself). Which is fine by me. The point was to make myself feel better without nagging (which makes me feel worse) and it worked.

      3. Today it’s making the bed, if he keeps reading and making progress you’ll soon be drawing him a bubble bath. Lol

  7. Hearing some of this makes me sad. The tissue’s make me laugh, but then it makes me sad. I know that the rose colored glasses come off and what youre left with is frustration. I can completely see how that could happen (I am marriage naive, so take anything I write for what its worth..:) . But, it still makes me sad. The thing I am thinking is that we have to remember we’re just human beings. We default to what is easiest, we strive for comfort (not even true contentment, just comfort and ease.) That’s not to say being lazy in relationships is ok, it’s just what happens. Our life, with all its responsibilities drives this forward even more. We all just want to come home and it be easy. I want to say, if we can withhold judgement of the lazy parts and engage each other in the things that make us feel alive, bam! You just sparked life and affection back into each other. Ideally this would be a part of the relationship along the way, but so often life drives us into a rut of work and struggle that we forget how to have fun, we forget that there is life beyond the grind. We forget how to laugh with each other. I am hoping this for everyone in marriage relationship, whether its good, bad or ugly right now 🙂 ..Because also, when youre feeling good most people typically are more engaged- its completely cyclical.

  8. What if we made vows to cultivate and protect each others vitality? Kind of protecting each others love of life. We, as a culture, don’t pay very much attention to that.

    1. kirstencronlund

      I had the same feeling that you had when reading the comments here, Linbo. I am a fan of healthy boundaries, but I remember those moments I was faced with in my marriage when my husband wouldn’t follow through, wouldn’t step up, couldn’t take my feelings into account. And in those moments I had a choice – a choice to hold a boundary and make a point or a choice to exercise my own empathy. For many years my husband and I were in therapy and we would talk through these issues and I would feel like a broken record. It never made me feel any better, even when I was “setting a boundary” by perhaps doing something reciprocal to him in order to make my point. I remember after the birth of our first or second child – I can’t remember which – I clearly laid out to him, in the most calm tone I could muster, that I felt like we were out at sea. He was in a speedboat racing ahead and I was in the water being dragged by a rope behind him. I was almost drowning, and he was creating enough noise and distraction that he couldn’t hear me from up in the boat. And he wouldn’t look back because if he saw the state I was in he would have to do something to help me. I still remember that feeling and I remember the conversation. His response was less than empathic, and I felt terrible after I told him. What I was asking for was empathy and help and what I got was coldness. We stayed married despite these feelings, and I was expecting my third child four and a half years later. I wasn’t feeling desperate, probably partly because there was a gap between my second and third children, but also because I had been doing mindfulness work. I practiced meditation and I recognized that I would be happier, my husband would be happier, and all of my children would be happier if I embraced what I knew my husband would be offering after the birth of this third baby – which was no different than what he offered after the first two. I was the primary caretaker in every way. And instead of fighting it I accepted it and saw any small offer of help from him as a gift. My attitude completely shifted and the aftermath of the birth of my third child was so much more peaceful and lovely than the first two.

      So was I being codependent during my third pregnancy and after that birth? Or was I healthily choosing to concentrate on the gifts in my life, including the good things about my marriage? Either way, I wasn’t changing my husband’s behavior towards me. I don’t know the answer to this question, but I do know how I felt in each situation, and I’d much rather be the woman in the scenario surrounding the birth of my third child.

      Ironically, but perhaps not coincidentally (I’ll never know), my husband declared that he was done with our marriage within two years of the birth of our third child and he did some things that made it clear that I needed to file for divorce. It felt out of the blue and like a terrible shock. I still periodically wonder if my letting go of expectations of behavior from him actually led to the imploding of our marriage. Maybe he somehow wanted or needed that constant prodding from me. What do you think?

      1. He is his life own person, that’s what it was all about, if as his own person who was a bit slack needed out, he would and did leave

      2. Kirsten,

        You ask some really good questions. I like how you worked on your own attitude and practiced being grateful. That is so important because there’s always things in life that we can’t control of fix and we have to be grateful for the good things in our life.

        About the codependency question, I wish I knew. It’s one thing to be grateful for your husband and another to accept another persons unwillingness to treat us fairly. I am not smart enough to know the difference most of the time 🙂

        I was hoping your story would have a happier ending because you seem to have learned such maturity in your attitude but I guess it takes two people to be willing to learn in a relationship.

      3. That’s amazing and bizarre to me. You never know what someone is thinking, or what is motivating them (especially if they are unwilling or able to have honest conversation). I do think you were doing the right thing for you. You’re a bit of amazing in my book to be able to find your footing behind that speed boat. That is what you did. You found your balance, you used your strength to stand. For some men, that could be frightening. It’s still sad that there wasn’t connection in the end. I think, would want, and hope for marriage to be a place where you can be your self. That you have a friend that loves you enough, and you know you are loved and known enough to address the places that need to grow. Shame wouldn’t have to grow…that is my honest impression of this man- I can be completely off, but what happens with most men that don’t seem to really know how to love, is that they have been cornered off behind a wall of shame. It defends them, but it also keeps them from growing and connecting. I feel like I am sounding like an idiot to talk about the real struggles of marriage with such sugar coated ideals.
        I think Matt is right that the best thing to do is make sure you are committing to the right person, for the right reasons, ect.
        I am not for selfish living, but some of the realities of marriage can seem so stifling and defeating. Being married to the wrong person wont help with selfishness, it will just make you have poor self worth, and can make you feel like life is miserable.
        I hope you and your babes are doing ok. Thanks for sharing with me 🙂

      4. kirstencronlund

        Thanks for all of your comments to my post, everyone. I really appreciate it.

        I realize I didn’t circle back to my original point, which was that the reason why I decided to change was because, like someone else said in their comments, I was turning into a nag with all the boundary setting I was doing and I didn’t want to be that person. And, as the old saying goes, the definition of insanity is trying the same things expecting a different result. So because I didn’t want to divorce my husband, my best option was to just stop expecting anything from him in the way of help and to be grateful when he offered anything. It’s not like I never asked him to help me with anything, but my response was different when he declined my request.

        I wonder how much women setting boundaries within a marriage works. Seems like the time to do that is while dating/engagement and if he doesn’t respond with love and respect and generosity then it’s time to move on?

      5. Kirsten:

        You said:

        “I wonder how much women setting boundaries within a marriage works. Seems like the time to do that is while dating/engagement and if he doesn’t respond with love and respect and generosity then it’s time to move on?”

        You know I’ve been thinking about this a lot.
        In my own case, I did do a pretty good job of either not dating or breaking up with men who showed signs of being controlling, or sexist, or just had very different personalities that I knew would cause lifetime conflicts.

        The challenge is that I knew I would never find someone completely compatible with no baggage attached. At some point you have to figure out which particular set of problems you want to be married to. Dan Wile says you marry a particular set of perpetual problems. If I marry Joe, we get along great but he is has a very crazy involved family that cause conflict, if I marry Tom, his family is awesome but he is tends to be a workaholic so that’s our conflict, John has a great family and good work life balance but is super messy and so that’s what we argue about.

        All of these issues require huge amounts of maturity on both sides because they trigger whatever your own issues are in him. That is often why you can’t completely figure out your stuff until you’re married. I am studying Ellyn Bader and Pete Peterson’s model of marriage that make sense to me. There are stages almost like the process a child goes through

        Assuming you’ve chosen a kind, reasonable person who loves you but have eliminated the people who are just not willing to change at so. You are appropriately in the first stage when engaged and in the first year of marriage. It is mostky about being in symbiosis and togetherness and accomodating. The next stage is when the self definition and difficult boundary setting apply when you need to start dealing with your differences in a way that acknowledges you are different people. I actually think planning a wedding with the groom is involved is a good way to get started in this. It should NOT be all about the bride so that you can start the process early and figure some of it out before you’re married or if there are red flags about the person you’ve chosen so you.

        This is a normal process to go through this stage but the mistake many women make (as I did) is just adapting to the negativity rather than learning to effectively deal with the differences.

        Can you look back and see what you might have done differently before you were married or shortly after? I wish I knew then what I know now 🙁

      6. Fromscratchmom

        Kirsten, there’s a lot of parallel between what you went through and my experiences in the marriage I am now dealing with the end of. I’ll tell you about the concept that two different health coaches have told me that I think fits for me and possibly for you too.

        Healthy people attract and attach to healthy people, generally speaking. And generally speaking unhealthy people attract and attach to unhealthy people. In my case the further advise they were offering was for me to continue healing and growing and I’d be healthy enough for a healthy relationship at some point maybe even soonish. (From the perspective of the counselor I’ll be there soon. From the perspective of the one helping me with some physical and biochemical issues it’s hard to say if it will take a few more months or a few more years.)

        For me and perhaps you a critical piece of why he left might be that you were presenting him with a healthier you and a healthier dynamic and he could not handle that/did not like that. He’s perhaps comfortable in dysfunctional dynamics. They are his norm.

      7. kirstencronlund

        Lisa Gottman – you asked “Can you look back and see what you might have done differently before you were married or shortly after? I wish I knew then what I know now :(”

        Sure. I can look back and see the warning signs. I broke up with my husband 5 times while we were dating. It’s embarrassing to admit that because the obvious question is “Well, why did you keep getting back together with him?” I guess it’s for all the typical reasons: he came back and promised me things would be different, I really did love him, etc..

        By the way, I attended a conference at which your idol John Gottman (and his wife, Julie) were presenting. I also love John Gottman’s work, and I was so excited to corner him and his wife at the meet and greet after their talk. I walked right over to them and said, “I understand everything you said about how to make marriages work, but what advice can you give me about choosing a partner?” I had been divorced for a few years and had done pretty much dating and was not finding what I was looking for so I was excited to hear what they would say.

        The first thing they did was sigh. They said people ask them this all the time and they don’t have any great advice. I stuck around, though, and Julie eventually said, “Look for the outlier. Date a lot so you can see what’s out there and then choose the outlier – the one who makes you feel good.” They said it’s less about common interests, but more about whether the person listens and responds in a way that makes you feel good.

        I guess what they said wasn’t rocket science, but it has stuck with me. I have used it as a litmus test when dating. I have also used my kids as a litmus test. When getting to know someone I would do a thought experiment and think, Can I picture him interacting in a life-giving way with my boys? If the answer was no then that would be the end of that guy. Sometimes I think that having my boys has forced me to raise the standards that I would accept in a partner. Maybe my standards are too high, but I know for sure that the last thing I want to do is to bring a man into the lives of my boys who is going to be bad for them.

      8. Kirsten,

        I am so jealous you met my fantasy parents, John and Julie Gottman. 🙂

        You know based on his personality in videos I’ve seen, I’m not surprised he just sighed and didn’t give you any advice but I can see why Julie’s response of looking for an outlier was helpful especially with kids to consider. If I could go back in time I would change a lot too so don’t feel bad about the breaking up and getting back together. They don’t teach this stuff in school and sometimes we have to learn the hard way and try to teach our kids so they do learn relationship skills.

        I wish he would do research on dating skills. I think it is so needed. The advice I’m going to give my daughter is to look for a man who will accept influence from you because then you can work out anything else that needs to be changed. Also look for the outlier who is comfortable with negative emotions and doesn’t withdraw in conflict. And get intensive premarital counseling.

  9. I’m afraid this turned out really long… But I have 31 years of history with my husband, we are both 50 this year, so I guess there’s a lot to say…

    I would like my husband to read your articles, Matt, because after 24 years of marriage, of me adapting and becoming totally codependent to his undiagnosed ADD and his entitled dishes-next-to-the-sink-behaviors, and all the ways that he told me I was being ridiculous, I actually left him a year and a half ago and went to Poughkeepsie.

    I know. Poughkeepsie? Really? Who the hell ever left her husband and went to POUGHKEEPSIE?

    Don’t ask me why. I just needed to run away. And they had an inexpensive Hyatt and history nearby (FDR’s home st Hyde Park!).

    I would have gone to my family’s houses but they live 3000 miles away. And I didn’t feel comfortable going to friends houses here, because we’ve always kept this stuff pretty private. I’m kind of an introvert so I have friends but nobody that I felt like I could really go to, which I guess is kind of sad. My best friend is 2000 miles away.

    Anyway, so over the next couple of days in Poughkeepsie, via phone conversations, he promised to “change”, and a friend of ours, who sent me this article (thanks Sue!) coincidentally suggested that our relationship sounded a lot like an ADHD marriage. She was SO right!

    It took another year plus of his promises to “change” before we actually saw a therapist. He also promised to read and follow the information in the ADD marriage book that our friend sent us, but that didn’t go well either. He would start a medicine and decide he didn’t like how it made him feel and stop it, and then he said he was “trying” and what else did I want.

    So we have been seeing a counselor now for half a year or so, and HE ordered testing the verified that my husband is very ADD, but he’s also a total genius, top 98th percentile for intelligence (no surprise), and he’s impulsive due to the ADD (no surprise) and disorganized due to the ADD (definitely no surprise). And he has processing issues which means he doesn’t always understand what I’m saying (no surprise, I made him go get his hearing tested once), and he has short-term memory issues, so he not only does he NOT always understand what I’m saying, but he doesn’t remember it, either (also no surprise, he cannot go to the store for four things without a list).

    Try working that one out–he doesn’t process what I say well, and then he doesn’t remember what he DOES process.

    We’re still working on the communication piece. Here’s the highlight:

    Very. Short. Texts.

    I wish I had gone to counseling 20 years ago, because our counselor has been telling my husband the VERY same things I have been telling him, and that Matt says in this article!! But hubby is actually paying attention now because it’s not just me saying it.

    Totally unfair, but least he’s hearing it!

    Matt, you’re brilliant. It’s NOT just about the dishes on the side of the sink! It’s about the fact that I need the kitchen to be clean when I go downstairs because otherwise it’s a stressor and it adds to my feeling of being overwhelmed.

    Our counselor has also repeatedly explained that I don’t feel safe when my husband gets angry. And he is NOT abusive and would never ever hit–I would’ve left years ago if he was that type of person. But he gets angry when I get upset (he’s very defensive), and will say he doesn’t care what I think.

    The counselor explained to him that I don’t feel safe when he says that. The trust is not there. And when he’s telling me he doesn’t care, he is telling me he doesn’t care about ME. He also got my husband to understand that when he says that things don’t matter to him so “why should it matter”, he’s saying that he doesn’t care about what matters to me, which means he doesn’t care about ME.

    Again, trust issues.

    His impulsivity and defensiveness did backfire on him, because a month ago my husband got mad and decided he was going to move out, because I finally mended my codependent ways and grew a backbone, and I told him that he was going to do what he needed to do and stop giving me excuses, and he needed to be fully in the marriage or out of it and it was time to make a decision.

    So he up and left.

    Unfortunately, ADD does come with that impulsivity problem, and by that night he wanted to come home.

    And I said NO. So he moved in with his mother. And he wanted to come back, and the counselor and I BOTH told him no.

    After three weeks, we had a long, huge, non-argument talk, and we decided that being apart meant that we were learning how to BE apart more than we were learning how to be TOGETHER.

    This was a problem because, crazy enough, we both do still love each other.

    Amazingly, that was never the issue. You can love someone but not want to live with them.

    The issue is I could not continue to live with the massive imbalance that even our counselor was telling him existed, and which he refused to see.

    Anyway, after three weeks apart, we realized that we would like to stay together, but that it will NEVER be the same as it was before. I won’t go back And he gets that, and he said that he understands that this is IT. If he leaves again, we’re done. Or if I leave, we’re done.

    So we are trying “different”. He is making the bed and putting decorative pillows on it, which makes me feel relaxed when I come in, because I cannot stand a mess or clutter. And he is the messiest, pack-rattiest, clutter bug you would ever see! Yet all of a sudden, after 25 years of marriage and six years of dating before that, and two children, my counters are no longer sticky and filled with crumbs. I can run my hand over the top and they’re clean. The sink is always clean and empty and he and my daughter deal with the dishes. He’s mopped the floor several times. He’s putting away his things and he started to clear the mounds of crap in the attic.

    When he gets angry, he says he needs to take a walk or take a timeout, and when I’m getting frustrated with him or he gets defensive, I say I need a timeout to go and think. Sometimes I take myself out to dinner. That’s all new. Taking a timeout is critical, so we don’t get into an argument.

    And he’s thinking differently and realizing that I’m not attacking him so he doesn’t have to be defensive, and I’m realizing that he is getting confused and can’t understand what I’m saying at the moment so there’s no point in talking about it.

    He’s doing different. I’m doing different. We both get that the stakes can’t get any higher than this. It’s got to be different from now on, or it will be over.

    Amazing how that can change a relationship.

    One more thing that really helps: I’m telling him all the things he does that I appreciate, and I’m telling him that I need these things to feel settled and relaxed, and that I can’t do these things without him. And he responds to that.
    So despite my telling him for 25 years how much those dirty counters drove me crazy, despite having him run his hand over the top to feel how sticky or gritty it was, it wasn’t until he had to live with his mother for three weeks (and he wasn’t allowed to live here when he wanted to come home) that he actually realized that I NEED the house to be different, which means HE needs to be different.

    He saw how relaxed and settled the girls and I were when he would come to pick them up for something or other, and he saw how different the house felt, and he actually liked how nice it felt. He said it didn’t feel chaotic. It took him having to leave and me getting to have the house the way I wanted it, and setting up new rules and procedures without him, for him to realize what I actually needed.

    Will that be what it takes? I don’t know. But it’s a good start.

    Matt, I wish I had read your articles years ago. Where were you all my life! LOL!

    Ladies, don’t do what I did. I adapted too much and lowered my expectations and “dealt with it” and tried to look the other way without setting boundaries. You can’t do that without ending up at a counselor or in divorce court.

    You won’t be surprised to hear that the first thing the counselor said was that we basically had no boundaries whatsoever. NONE.

    Codependency sucks. Ladies, if somebody tells you you’re being codependent, get help! Listen to them! Establish boundaries, early and often! Matt is totally right.

    So there’s my LONG story, it’s a different wrinkle when you’re a sensitive person, and you’re living with a genius with ADD and processing and memory problems. How in hell we stuck together so long is a miracle, because just about everything ADD people do drive sensitive people like me completely bat-shit crazy. LOL. But there is something to be said for love, I guess. He’s a kind man with terrible habits and he loves his girls and me dearly. And it really took him back when he realized he NEVER never wants our daughters to have a husband like he was for the past 25 years. He said he would deck anybody who treated our daughter the way he was treating me, and that went a long way to making him realize that HE had to do better.

    Makes a difference when he’s a dad of daughters…

    Good luck ladies, and thanks Matt. It really helps us feel like there is a man out there “gets” us. THANK YOU.


    1. Wow! Just wow. I still can’t quite fathom why it must take so much pain and the willingness to leave, before some people will start respecting their partner.

      I totally believe that ADD is real, and that people can have processing problems, memory problems and so on. Absolutely. But like you said, he believed, paid attention to and understood your councelor, so really, it seems like willingness and respect is truly the bottom line. But now he is willing and does respect you, so that’s good.

      When ever I hear Poughkeepsie (which isn’t often) I think about Miranda, hihihi:

    2. Fromscratchmom

      I can certainly relate to a lot here! Why do the super intelligent present us such extra diary challenges instead if being smart enough to know better and why am I attracted to them?! I will be praying for you!

      1. Fromscratchmom

        Sadly, not the kindness part. I’d love for all the praying folk to pray for me in the newest new low in my ordeal. Someday I’ll come out on the other side!

  10. Great wholesome advice!
    Neither sexist nor hanging it all on the woman nor limiting.

  11. Love this article! I swear communication and relationship advice needs to be taught in school!

    Sent from my iPhone


  12. I did not want to be a nag. I was not as firm about my boundaries as I should have been. I thought it was part of the compromising both sides do in a relationship. He felt the need to test all the time, to test my boundaries, to test my beliefs, to test my love…When I finally had enough he engaged “Super Husband Mode®”, but he was unable to maintain that for long. Sigh. Wish I’d listened to myself and been firm on those boundaries. Thank you for your words.

    1. Me too, I quit hard after they kept pushing and maybe six months later they started sucking up and I was already so done!

  13. Fromscratchmom

    Thanks for this, Matt! I’m still around reading even though I’m having to work an awful lot of hours right now in divorce survival mode. You handled this very well and we are all benefitting from having this consider, all of us committed to learning and growing personally, that is. 😉

  14. In my marriage pre-almost divorce, I never EVER showed gratitude for the small things, let alone a kiss for nothing, a back rub just because I was walking by my husband as he sat doing bills. It goes SUCH A LONG WAY, right to the heart and mind of a man, to be acknowledged for the small things. And that is great, as it gives us wives an opportunity to lead by example and show our husbands how to give affection in a way ‘outside’ of sexual intercourse.
    I am glad you missed ‘whatever’ you missed too. I think this post is a great one, maybe my top three faves of your blog.?

  15. I believe if more people would only appreciate what they have instead of what they don’t have, their life would improve enormously.

  16. Great post Matt – I think there’s a lot of useful ideas in there. I’m trying to work out how to apply them to my own less common situation of trying to find a relationship that feels like an equal partnership on the basic interactive level in the first place.

    What I really want to find is someone who can balance a conversation and engage me in the same way I engage him, so I get as much attention as he does and of the same high quality. But I’m not sure how to apply the boundaries thing there or if it even applies. Since balanced conversation actually requires more skill than putting a dish in the dishwasher how much time do you give someone to learn it? And if they know they are being assessed every time they open their mouth then I’m not sure if that’s conducive to making improvements? But then if you’re just chilled and relaxed about it it never changes and you are always the one doing 90% of the work while he gets all the rewards. If someone consistently hogs the conversation or doesn’t work to engage you in what they’re saying, or doesn’t give you positive feedback in terms of facial expression or comments do you punish them somehow? If not, what do you do?

    1. Ooohf, I don’t know 🙁

      Screen for people who’re educated in talking professions, social sciences or liberal arts? Though actually, that’s no guarantee at all. I’ve met so many people both having and lacking in social skills from all kinds of backgrounds.

      You’ve probably thought of this, but if you’re sitting across from someone and you have this annoyed/impatient/anxious energy *will THIS ONE be able to have a converation?! Doub i!t* (even if you haven’t stated you’re looking for a good conversationalist), many people will sense something is off and clam up because they worry you’re in a bad mood or you won’t like them or whatever.

      Have you tried being very relaxed and just sitting there in happy silence, focusing mostly on yourself (with someone you think should be able to have a conversation), and wait for him to take initiative in the conversation?

      I’ve found that how much I like talking with someone doesn’t necessarily indicate a good match. As I heal and grow as a person, this is less of a problem, but if interact with someone who triggers some childhoold issues, I can project all kinds of crap on them, and *feel* that we have an amazing connection, that I like talking with them, but really it’s just because all of these old unresolved (but again, working on it and getting better!) feelings are being activated and my subconscious sees someone it thinks can be daddy or mommy or sibling 2.0, and it just goes wild. 8)

      I did read about a woman who had similar dating woes as you. She wrote that she was just tired of dating guys who didn’t show HER any interested, he was just talking about himself or whatever, So she wrote in her online dating profile that she wanted someone who was curious about her. And then she got repsonses from people who contacted her for the first time who wrote stuff like… “I’m curious about you”. :p SIgh. Getting closer I guess, but not quite what she had in mind. 😛

    2. Isn’t being a skilled conversationalist a bit like being any “good” or “bad” through the eyes of a potential partner?

      An obsession with country music and reality TV is NOT fundamentally “wrong” or “bad,” nor is it universally unattractive.

      But I can choose to not pursue serious relationships with people who only listen to country and watch “reality” television.

      I recognize how superficial those examples are. But isn’t being a “good conversationalist” a tiny bit in the eye of the beholder?

      I’m a fairly fantastic conversationalist in my opinion, and the opinion of those who talk to me.

      But some women probably find talking to me annoying and taxing, as I’m am the world’s master of taking conversations from one topic to another and then struggling to remember what the hell led us here.

      Isn’t someone allowed to decide for themselves whether I’m a good or bad conversationalist for them?

      And to that end, can’t you simply decide to only pursue relationships with men who pass your internal That Guy is a Great Conversationalist test?

      That seems as valid a compatibility metric or judgment as someone’s height or weight or religious beliefs or income level or smoking habits or whatever.

      I guess I’m saying, I KNOW that it sucks to wait for that HIGHLY compatible person to come along.

      It also sometimes sucks to pay taxes and work out regularly and care for pets and children.

      But shouldn’t we do it anyway?

      1. “I guess I’m saying, I KNOW that it sucks to wait for that HIGHLY compatible person to come along.

        But shouldn’t we do it anyway?”

        I agree mostly, but think that’s a difficult balancing act. You don’t want to just jump at the first person who shows you attention and makes you feel special, but at the same time you don’t want to set unrealistic standards of what you want out of a relationship and then hold out for that. Holding out for too much starts moving into the realm of perfectionism – which is something I think does a lot of harm.

        A big thing I’ve been thinking about lately is coming to terms with what is “enough”, in all aspects of life. Not that you don’t always want to improve, as doing so is always a good thing. But what is enough? In life, in love, in everything.

        As you’ve said, with hedonistic adaptation there is always going to be more. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you have, there is always something better around the corner. So find this “enough”, and then striving to appreciate it each and every day seems key to me.

        1. I agree.

          Home shopping is a good analogy. Unless you’re designing and building your own home with unlimited funds in an insanely gorgeous and presumably rare geographic location (that ALSO happens to have super-convenient food, fuel, medicine, emergency and municipal services nearby, etc.), then you’re ALWAYS going to have to choose what “trade-offs” work for you, since everything in life IS, in fact, a trade-off.

          I read this yesterday, and I think it’s freaking perfect, and applies VERY MUCH to relationships…

          “The Most Important Question of Your Life”

      2. I agree with so much of what you write Zombiedrew2, and I agree with this aswell. Thanks. 🙂

    3. Hey Wanda,

      I can only imagine how discouraged and frustrated you must be. Obviously I don’t know you but from reading your comments I have a little bit of a feel for your personality. So here are some questions.

      1. Have you ever taken the Myers Briggs personality test? You might an intuitive type. They crave deep conversation about books and ideas and what makes each other tick. If you are an “N” person the numbers are stacked against you to find someone on 75% of the world are sensors who enjoy conversations of a more factual, action oriented nature (who did what when) They often find N style conversations too theoretical and a boring waste of time talking about things instead of just doing something or focusing on the positive.

      So assuming you’re in the N 25%, it’s important to know that so you EXPECT that the vast majority of people are not going to be a match for your preferred style of conversation. It’s quite possible that the people on might be more Sensor than the general population because of self selection for action oriented people. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try online dating but that the odds of your finding a match there for your N style is low. So what you experienced is consistent.

      The other piece you’ve mentioned in your comments is wanting someone empathetic and who matches your care and consideration for them. There you run against the typical male who has been trained from childhood to suppress his emotions and has not been taught to empathize in the way females are taught in conversation (eye contact, nodding in agreement, moving toward sadness) So the outliers for your wanting that are again reasonably small compared to the general population of men. And the older they are the longer these patterns are ingrained.

      So it is quite reasonable quantitatively that you have not found the conversation partner you want. You’re like a left handed person. Perfectly normal but living in a right handed world. You’re looking for another left handed person in a right handed world.

      I’m sure you’ve already done this but the best way is to go where there are the highest concentration of “N” people. Book clubs, academic lectures, writing workshops, museums, science classes etc. Rewrite your online dating profile to be VERY idea, abstract, non fiction oriented to attract the small number of N men out there. When you do find some N men then I would focus on finding a man willing to accept influence (not defensive, willing to compromise) because if he has that the conversation style can be altered.

      Maybe none of this applies, if so please ignore. Just some thoughts to consider. I wish you well and hope you can find a man you will enjoy talking with.

      1. You wrote:

        “I am so happy to be in my second marriage with my first husband. He is a great guy who like me just needs to learn better relationship skills. These are things that ideally we would have learned early in our marriage but in some ways I appreciate our marriage now in a deeper way because I know what it feels like to be in a deeply unhappy marriage. It’s like getting a terminal cancer diagnosis and aporeciating your life with new gratitude when you miraculously survive. Our love now is not like it was before being disillusioned but is more mature. We chose each other again when it would have been easier to walk away. I KNOW he loves me if he made that choice because he was miserable and it is hard and painful to look in the mirror and accept responsibility for all the mistakes and misery you caused. Hey I think my glasses are a little pink again!”

        (April 7, 2:58 pm)

        I want to say thank you so much for that. I think that might have been the magic touch that just rescued my wife of almost 35 years and I from a sad divorce. I didn’t think we were going to make it to 35, really. I think/hope/even pray that maybe we have struck the spark that will reignite the love we lost. 🙂

        1. (*slow clap* to you Lisa G.)

          And to you and your wife, Jack. 35 years is remarkable.

          Here’s to many more.

    4. That’s an interesting point you make me in what you want. Is that need of yours being met elsewhere? With friends, colleagues. Or is it something that can only be met within a relationship?

  17. Fromscratchmom

    Matt, you linked a Manson article in one of your replies. And reading it was another in the many light-bulb-like moments I’ve needed along my journey toward healing and understanding. I’m s a real struggle to find balance in healing. Life is far to complex for simple. For example, I need to learn more about boundaries but plenty of people err in their boundary setting and enforcing. They need to sometimes respect their partners boundaries and needs more rather than only their own. I’ve also struggled to understand where’s the balance between recognizing how dysfunctional and co-dependent I became in my marriage versus knowing it was right to love sacrificially and knowing I could not force change on anyone but myself. I had to wait for him if he were going to ever decide to participate in learning and growing together with me.

    So anywho…about my light-bulb, here is what I wrote in my journal after reading that (very slightly edited to remove the first name of my soon to be ex, but still totally raw as it was journaled for my own emotional release.

    “Oh. Wow. This guy asks the right question or mighty close! What do you want badly enough to sustain the pain to get there. I wanted a good marriage badly enough. And I wanted __Him_ badly enough. And I was willing to work for it, wait for it, suffer for it, and endure anything, because that’s how highly I valued it and how highly I valued _Him_. I would have never done this. From the day I met him I’ve not so much as held another man’s hand. I’ve done some chores for other people a few times, given people advice and even emotional work, babysat, and cared as I am a caring person. But I’ve devoted my entire self and exclusive rights to my body, my heart, and my willingness to be hurt and to struggle for someone to _Him_.

    But _Him_ did not.

    And then he says this:

    “If you find yourself wanting something month after month, year after year, yet nothing happens and you never come any closer to it, then maybe what you actually want is a fantasy, an idealization, an image and a false promise. Maybe what you want isn’t what you want, you just enjoy wanting. Maybe you don’t actually want it at all.”

    That’s _Him_.

    I’m the person who valued love and marriage and _Him_. _Him_is the person who wanted the ideal, easy fluff that can never be real and can never last and that _Him_could never get from me because I’m not fluff; I’m real. I’m important. I have value, integrity, a personality and needs.

    I was willing to endure pain. I was willing to forgive. I was willing to fail and to be vulnerable and seek forgiveness. I was willing to do the work. I was willing to learn and grow and change. I deserved a real man. I deserved someone who knew how to value a real woman. …and who knew what forever meant and why it’s as valuable as it is.


    And from the angle this guy addressed it from I wanted to do the work. I wanted to be the nurturer, the emotional negotiator, the woman who had to endure some pain and make some changes to be valuable enough to be worth it to _Him_. Obviously I did not want to get dumped or have a man whose response to that was to shit all over me for 18+ years. But I did know ahead of time that it’s hard and it requires insanely hard work to have a marriage. And I wanted that. I was as prepared as I could be which is to say both totally prepared and totally unprepared because you can’t know ahead just what “really hard” is going to look and feel like and really comprehend just how bad it might get along the way, but you can have a true sense of what true lifetime commitment means as well as what it means to endure hardship in interpersonal relationships. But I still wanted it. I still chose to do it and never walk away from it and forsake it. I still chose to see _Him_ as my husband, the man who I owed it to, who deserved it, and who would prove worthy of it and would love and grow and improve in return…a man so valuable no one should be able to look at him and comprehend that anyone could be willing to devalue him by cheating and breaking him in half, or by throwing him in the trash (divorcing him).

    But _Him_ never wanted the work. _Him_ despised the work, the very notion of the work and despised me for being the reason he had to refuse the work and feel guilty about it and lash out in his defensiveness and anger. _Him_ wanted ease and orgasms and should have thrown himself on the trash heap rather than get married in the first place.

    1. Many people believe love should be easy. They only think of love as a “feeling.”

      And it’s love!!! EASY!!! It just happens, we think, because that’s all we’ve ever known (except for the people who didn’t even know that, and those poor souls sometimes have it harder than the rest of us).

      Our parents and families just love us. We love them in return. It’s generally not all that difficult to do so.

      Then when we’re kids, we feel crushes and it’s easy.

      It’s hard when we’re adults and shit starts hitting the fan.

      And so many people interpret “hard” for “wrong,” or “we shouldn’t be doing this.”

      Marriage is work. Most people don’t know. The work is the hardest kind. The kind where you have to face yourself, and accept responsibility for whatever happens next.

      Where you put the needs of another ahead of yourself.

      The people who can do that change the world. The rest of us get divorced.

      1. “The people who can do that change the world. The rest of us get divorced.”

        Location is not destination. 😉 You know that better than most, Each day is a new day – carpe diem. Or not. It’s a choice.

        A particular shout-out to Lisa “Gottman” for her posts in this comment thread.

  18. What do you do when it’s too late to “enforce boundaries?” I’m 5 years in and my husband decided that it’s somehow okay to help less in the house now, after 2 kids, than he did when it was just us. He sits on his phone from when he wakes up until he leaves for work and comes home after bedtime, zero help with housework. We recently had a night out with another couple, started talking about travel with kids and he interjects “oh by the way, my friend is coming this weekend and he and I are going camping in mexico.” The wife asked how I felt about it, husband puts his arm around me and says I’m so cool, I let him do whatever he wants because he told me I couldn’t change him before we got married, so I’m the best. What am I supposed to do with someone who gets worse and worse every year?

    1. What have you done during your marriage to communicate your displeasure? And how has he responded?

      It’s never too late to enforce boundaries. The way I see it, before you were married, he was your boyfriend. And when he got married, he agreed to be your husband. You weren’t supposed to change him. He was supposed to change himself to adapt to his new role. To me it sounds like he is communicating clearly that he will not change and for five years has not changed. Based on what you are saying, he is highly skilled at manipulation, selfish, and is used to doing as he pleases with no consequences. You have to decide if you want to stay married to someone like that. Your boundary might be either he goes to counseling with you or you separate. I may be totally mistaken, but my guess would be that he is going to do all he can to refuse to change and then blame you for all of the problems.

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

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Matt Fray

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