Is Your Spouse Hurting You On Purpose?

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albert einstein the power of asking the right question
(Image/CoSchedule)

Pain sucks.

Some people enjoy the muscle burn after a hard workout because it feels like progress. Others like the achy remnants of vigorous bedroom activities, or headaches the morning after a fun party, as a reminder of the fun.

But we can mostly agree that pain in most forms and at most times is a predominantly negative experience. Hurt someone long enough or hard enough and they won’t even be the same person afterward. It’s a big deal.

My go-to defense when my wife was upset with me in our marriage was to say I didn’t do it on purpose (which was true). To me, it felt unfair for her to be mad about whatever the thing was. Or at least AS mad as she sometimes was.

Inflicting damage intentionally is a universally frowned-upon thing. When your actions result in harm to other people or their property, the penalties in the criminal justice system (presumably everywhere, but certainly in all developed nations) are most severe when the damage was intentional.

Accidents are sometimes punishable as well, but usually with softer penalties. They’re often labeled “negligent,” or “reckless.”

Whenever my wife was mad and I thought she was charging me with murder when my crime was actually driving too fast in a construction zone, I’d get defensive and pivot the conversation to her lack of justice instead of the thing about which she was upset.

My marriage fights mostly consisted of me attempting to invalidate my wife’s complaints under the basic premise that I considered them petty or unworthy. I treated her arguments as illogical. And because, in my mind, her arguments lacked logic and reason, I categorized them as WRONG.

I was right. She was wrong. And since I believed that, she was the real rabble-rouser in the marriage and nothing was ever my fault.

I was either accidentally (and I do mean accidentally) a master manipulator OR an intolerably oblivious moron, depending on how well a given observer understood relationship dynamics as we discuss them here. Since both my ex-wife and I are socially competent, we didn’t have many disagreements in front of others. There were some, but I don’t remember ever being pulled aside so someone could point out my (or my wife’s, if applicable) douchebaggery.

That’s probably because their relationship arguments looked exactly the same.

…..

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…..

I was months into divorce before the truth found me:

  • This is what most marriages and relationships look like. Most couples have the same, predictable fights and outcomes.
  • Holy shit. I WAS hurting her worse than if she’d been smacked in the face. (We all get outraged when people physically strike others, but no one gets outraged by emotional neglect, which actually hurts much worse. Why?)
  • I never knew my actions were literally causing pain because I didn’t believe her when she told me. Did I think she was lying? No. I guess I simply thought she was wrong.
  • The intense pain from divorce was my first real taste of emotional pain. I’m not talking about how we feel when the girl at school doesn’t like us back, or even when our parents get divorced when we’re little. I’m talking about BREAKING on the inside.
  • That experience gave me the ability—for the first time in my life—to consciously empathize with others. While I was struggling to perform basic life tasks, only two things helped—family and friends who knew me BEFORE I was married because we had a pre-existing relationship to fall back on, and other people who had gone through divorce. I used to say “they just get it.” That’s true. But what they were actually doing was EMPATHIZING, which is my new favorite life skill and one I consider to be No. 1 on our Things We Need to Succeed at Marriage lists.

When two sober, healthy and seemingly functional adults love one another and promise each other they will continue to do so every day forever, it seems reasonable to expect that to work more than half the time.

But it doesn’t. Half the time it’s Hindenburg dot com. (That’s code for: crashes and burns.)

I can’t overstate how powerful the moment was when the puzzle pieces came together and I finally understood WHY. My Ah-Ha Moment. Our day-to-day existence is so much easier when we live unaware of danger. There’s nothing to fear or stress over, so you just derpy-derp around all the time, and it feels good. Hakuna-ma-dipshit-tata.

But living life unaware can result in everything you know and love going away, including your very sense of self (the YOU that you’ve known and recognized every second of your life dies). And that’s dangerous. I think marriage is important. I think children growing up with both of their parents together and showing them by example how to love effectively is important. And I think MOST divorce is needlessly wasteful because most don’t learn enough to have any more success in their next relationship than the one they think they’re escaping.

When I had my Ah-Ha Moment, I felt like I possessed the secret to life. This stuff is important. Damn near everyone on Earth, regardless of how they think about it, and independent of romance and intimacy, have interpersonal relationships, the quality of which will determine how good or bad life feels every day.

It’s not like it’s hiding or anything. These ideas SHOULDN’T be a secret. All the fish are swimming in water every second of their existence too, but they don’t know what water is.

It appears most people are born, grow up without the information they need to have healthy, functioning relationships, get married with a bunch of people patting them on the back and congratulating them, bring CHILDREN into their flimsy world, and then even though everyone is pretty good and pretty smart, it all breaks and turns to shit.

And why? Because we were unaware. We just—didn’t know better.

But when we’re in it—fighting with our spouses and feeling betrayed because they don’t seem to be loving us as they promised to on our wedding day—we sometimes feel like they’re deliberately causing us harm. And that hurts more than the thing they’re doing. That feeling that they would WANT to hurt us. That’s what hurts the most.

How to KNOW Whether Your Spouse is Hurting You on Purpose

You ask them.

Don’t roll your eyes. I’m totally serious. ASK THEM. Effectively.

We rarely ask ourselves or others the right questions.

What are the right questions?

The right questions challenge our assumptions and beliefs and force us to consider an alternative.

better way.

Matthew E. May shared this classic story about the advent of Polaroid:

“Back in the 1940s, Edwin Land was on vacation with his 3-year-old daughter. He snapped a photograph of her, using a standard camera. But she wanted to see the results right away, not understanding that the film must be sent off for processing.

“She asked, ‘Why do we have to wait for the picture?’ After hearing his daughter’s why question, Land wondered, what if you could develop film inside the camera? Then he spent a long time figuring out how—in effect, how to bring the darkroom into the camera.

“That one why question inspired Land to develop the Polaroid instant camera. It’s a classic Why/What if/How story. But it all started with a child’s naive question—a great reminder of the power of fundamental questions.”

‘What Question Should I Ask?’

Great question! I think it has a simple answer.

“Do you know why I am upset with you?”

Or.

“When you think back to [insert personal experience] and how that hurt you—on the inside—do you understand that I feel similarly right now?”

Or. (A more cooperative exercise.)

“In an effort to try to understand you and not fight about this, I want to try to make your argument for you. I want to accurately state what you think and feel, and why you think and feel that way so that you know I understand you. I was hoping you would agree to do the same for me. Will you?”

The point of this entire post is this: Until your husband, boyfriend, wife or girlfriend, demonstrates beyond doubt they can accurately articulate your point of view, you can safely conclude that THEY DON’T KNOW HOW YOU REALLY FEEL.

I don’t think the significance of that can be overstated.

I don’t think any of us sensitive to the other side of divorce could sleep at night if we had a true picture of the amount of broken homes, broken families, broken people, broken children, broken spirits that have resulted from this one little notion…

Two people didn’t actually know how the other felt.

What if all the pain and dysfunction is just one, big misunderstanding?

What if looking at the world through the curious eyes of children can save our adult selves?

What if something simple and ironic like asking the right question is the answer we’ve been looking for all along?

352 thoughts on “Is Your Spouse Hurting You On Purpose?”

  1. Bravo. But I ask you this… what if you DO ask those questions? I’ve asked almost that exact same question – “Let me be you for a moment and share with you… and you be me.” And the other person just simply refuses and shuts down, not even willing to go that far.

    1. 1. In my ideal scenario, one identifies such a wretched communicator before agreeing to marry them.

      2. Acknowledging that doesn’t always happen, and that MOSTLY, these things are dealt with once relationships begin to deteriorate, I suppose the question turns toward evaluation: “Should I be with this person? Can this be saved?”

      A person who doesn’t love and respect their partner enough to even answer ONE question?

      The inaction may not be the answer we want, but it’s an effective answer nonetheless.

      Context matters. Understanding WHY they don’t want to have the conversation would be pretty important. If it’s “I’m a selfish asshole and don’t want to talk to my wife about things I don’t consider important, because: Screw her,” then I’m not going to have sympathy for that guy. If it’s something rooted elsewhere, it seems worthy of exploration.

      1. Good idea in theory, but in practice I don’t think it works very well in those types of situations.

        I talked a bit in prior blogs about communication theory. Well, part of *effective* communication is including a feedback loop, so ensure that that the message was intrepeted as intended, and it didn’t break down in the different filters. And the feedback loop is all about asking questions back, and asking someone to paraphrase what was said so we ensure they understand it. We all should strive for effective communication, and not just communication.

        Thing is, it’s really, really hard to have this feedback loop in any sort of emotional situation.

        People often shut down, or feel patronized and get upset. And that has more to do with THEIR filters then it does with the message.

        Personally I think it comes down to us being taught that conflict is bad, so it makes us uncomfortable and we try to avoid it. Changing that mindset of conflict being bad and instead making it a way to improve mutual understanding is probably a big part of improving communication in relationships.

        1. Drew- I agree and disagree. I agree that we absolutely need to be on the same page about conflict being valuable and that it’s good in theory but people can shut down in said situations. However, with loving persistence and conversation that is NOT in the heat of the moment you can create shifts. It really depends on the emotional intelligence of both parties and the willingness to do whatever it takes to understand one another. If the desire to change, question old stories/beliefs and respect is there…mountains can be moved. ? If not, then it may be time to walk away.

          1. I agree that emotional intelligence is key. Emotional intelligence is a skill though, and CAN be developed and improved.

            And I think thats the hard part for many people. As you said, mountains can be moved – but it takes desire and a willingness to work on things. Yet many aren’t.

            However knowing emotional intelligence is a skill, many people hold onto hope that one day our partner will finally “get it”.

            So we stay is relationships that aren’t quite what we want.

            Knowing that perfection doesn’t exist, an internal question becomes “is what I have enough for me?” Am I fine with this, knowing it may never improve?

            And deciding when/if to walk away is a really tough call – one for which there really isn’t any right or wrong answer.

          2. “Am I fine with this, knowing it may never improve?” That is the ultimate question that burdens those of us that are willing to do just about whatever it takes to keep a relationship. For me personally it’s been ” Can I move forward with love and gratitude” and “Can I accept this person exactly as they are, without expectations of who I think they SHOULD be” those two questions have told me whether or not I’m able to keep our relationship alive. You are absolutely right that the willingness has to be mutual and sadly, for many, it’s not. When it is mutual, you see an amazing couple…a couple that can work together and bounce back from stressors. It doesn’t mean the never argue. It means they have the mutual respect and drive to be authentic about what’s important to them and what they are willing to do to always gain clarity for what they want and what their boundaries are. I really feel that a lot of pain from either side comes from a lack of clarity, boundaries and authenticity. I hope that makes sense ? So love these discussions. ☺️

          3. Very well said, gives me clarity on my decisions & chooses I need to make!!

          4. My conundrum is that I love and accept him for WHO he is. I just can’t tolerate his refusal to be responsible and reliable anymore. That’s a behaviour issue. I love him because he’s a great guy but I can’t stand the behaviour that he can change but chooses not to. Then I’m painted the horrible one because I get frustrated.

      2. StillAttemptingLove

        (I hope this lands in the right place – I’m answering Matt’s first comment) Not necessarily a wretched communicator as such. My experience is with a husband who has multiple serious reasons to fear and mistrust, among others, a situation where a female family member asks anything even remotely psychology-sounding of a male family member.

        His whole body-mind system goes observably into alert overdrive in such a situation: “IT’S A TRAP!” – and for his 20+ first years of life, it was. It was a powerplay by the his mother or one of his older sisters who “knew better” than him, his father or his brother what the man or boy felt and why he had said or done something; and that meant that he was in the wrong and she was in the right and that she understood him better than he understood himself.

        In a word, he and other male members of his family of origin have been (and still are) gaslighted in various ways, often under the claim of caring or understanding, about their own feelings and motives for as long as he can remember, by the female members of his family (it’s a VERY dysfunctional family – this is just one aspect of it all).

        And then he went and married an empath who is observant and curious about people in general and wants to know him better because she cares about him (that would be me). He even promised, in front of witnesses, to hold up mirrors for ourselves and eachother and not shrink from what we see but help each other grow as human beings, partners and parents (those three marriage vow were almost exclusively my idea, and across the years I now can appreciate why he appeared so very nervous all through the process of developing our vows – he probably sensed that I would not marry him without vows that conveyed that particular message and dared not acknowledge, even for himself, his wounds around those issues).

        All too late he then sort of realized that Shit! She Actually MEANT That Vow! And She Will Always Have Questions And He Can’t Stand Them! And for the longest time I could not understand why he clammed up considerably within the first year after we married (we had cohabitated for several years and even had a year-long engagement on top of that and had shared quite a bit of our respective traumatic youths during that time). I think I see it now: only when we were actually married, did I become a Real Family Member (TM) and thus, because a woman, extremely dangerous – in fact, a member of a small, select group: The Last People on Earth Who Could Be Safe for Him to Trust.

        They say that everyone is at least uneasy with the possibility of truly being seen as they are – I know after years of working on myself that I still am. My husband may end up an ex-husband because he is so terrified of my interest and willingness to see him that he too often and too fast strikes “back” as if attacked, if I wonder about something – doubly so if I appear emotional about that something and double again if the emotion is in any manner upset. Because he cannot feel safe while a female family member is attempting to see him, and if she is upset, he must be the one she is going to blame, so he had better defend himself preemptively.

        And he cannot admit, to himself or to me, that there are real problems outside of our own here-and-now (and unsurprisingly accumulated) communication and intimacy problems, because then he might need to go to a shrink or therapist about his problems, and the shrink or therapist, too, would try to see him for what he really is. As far as I can understand, everything about actual human recognition and emotional presence is terrible and terrifying for him, and it seems like aiming for a superficially polite and cheerful marriage while claiming to seek emotional connection through couple’s therapy is, at least at the moment, the safest solution for him. The solution he needs to think and feel the least about.

        Yes, I am profoundly lonely emotionally. Understanding his hurt does not hug me in the morning or tell about his day or ask me how my day was or if I need help with anything or if I can help him… Understanding his hurt does not let me feel reciprocally needed, or create meaningful sharing or effective communication or teamwork (for example: our shed has not been cleaned or organized since we moved here, i.e. not in over a decade, because it is a chore neither of us can do alone in a short enough time and not bother the other). Understanding his hurt only marginally helps me help our anxiety-ridden teens to work out their issues (he distanced himself emotionally from them, too, when they grew past the Daddy Is God phase – and of course we ended up having three girls).

        It may be that some human beings are too deeply wounded and too terrified to be able to risk actually loving, who would happily settle for “nice” and “socially acceptable” instead. Alas, after over a decade of individual therapy and support groups, I know that I am not and can and will not become one of those people. It remains to be seen, when all has been said and done, where my husband then will stand.

        Fellow wanderers, please pray for us, if you are so inclined. And if not so inclined, please send good vibes and strengthening thoughts.

        S.A.L.

        1. That’s my wife. Huge family problems between her parents and siblings and her parents’ siblings. So much drama with the aunt’s and grandparent kicking out the her mom and aunt when they were very young children (10-ish). To this day my wife claims everything was great growing up. Well, 1 of her sister’s ran away from home. The other hates their mom. My wife defends her parents to this day and says nothing bad about them. She basically refuses to heal, she’s suffering Stockholm Syndrome in my opinion.

          Everytime we visit her parents I leave feeling that they don’t like me. For the first few trips I would talk to my wife about this. She’d get angry. Sometimes her parents literally shut me down mid sentence. They are very closed off. I hear “oh don’t worry they’ll be leaving soon” as I’m walking down the stairs. HAHAHAHAH, so crazy!
          They are extremely invalidating. It’s sad and it’s also really frustrating that my wife is continuing the cycle. Some people have no grit and can’t face reality.

        2. I am inclined. Sort of, more or less. (to pray) But totally feeling the “how long must I wait” thing. In this boat. Doot doot doot. And I just started.

          Yeah it’s almost as though I might as well have let my toddler type this reply for me. So absurd.

        3. Dear S.A.L.
          I relate. You could be talking about my marriage. I will pray for you. Please pray for me.
          And yes, it is very lonely

        4. I know this was from over 4 years ago, but you described my situation almost to a T! In the middle of a divorce right now…….28 years. I try to own my part in it……

          THIS!: As far as I can understand, everything about actual human recognition and emotional presence is terrible and terrifying for him, and it seems like aiming for a superficially polite and cheerful marriage while claiming to seek emotional connection through couple’s therapy is, at least at the moment, the safest solution for him. The solution he needs to think and feel the least about.

          I understand intellectually, but emotionally, I still want him to “understand”. It is exhausting!

    2. Leslie, I asked this same question of my husband during a marriage counseling session. Our therapist waited until I asked Dave a question and was immediately shut down before asking him the very same question. Much to my surprise and annoyance, Dave responded to the counselor. Turns out, when I ask him a question he feels interrogated and goes into excuse-creating mode trying to determine what answer I’m looking for or what answer will cause the least amount of friction. But when the counselor asked him, he had no reason to believe there was any ulterior motive behind the question and had no problem coming up with the actual answer and then responding.

      Now, I can’t tell you the why behind my making him feel one way and Mr. Counselor making him feel another. Unfortunately, we never got that far in couples counseling.

    3. yes, exactly. The other person has to be willing to be just as honest as you are willing to be. Nine times out of ten they are not. So no matter, how honest you are, how hard you are trying to make things work, if the other person isnt willing to give the same effort, then the battle is already lost.

  2. Ah, you might be on to something here, Matt. What if we could all ask such simple questions. At one of my husband’s do-great-at-your-new-job type of conferences someone gave him this one piece of advice- Assume Good Will. Can you imagine? So many examples of how this is purely foolish (often in the comments section of your blog where big hurts have been perpetrated), but in the day-to-day miasma of marriage, if you can afford it, assuming good will and asking simple questions might be a very good answer. Love this post.

    1. Thank you, Jen.

      I have, at times in life, operated under the assumption that goodwill was always the intention of others, and suffered for it.

      I have also been IMMEASURABLY frustrated and angry when I’ve been accused of doing something that didn’t, at its core, have the wellbeing of those I care about and/or am talking to, at heart.

      I’ve always been an optimist, who is now a little more cautious because of some bad experiences with being wrong about another’s intentions.

      That, ironically, helps me be more patient when others might be not give me the benefit of the doubt to the degree I believe I deserve.

      I suppose the longer we live, and the more good and/or bad things happen to us, the more our expectations of others will too.

      But in the absence of information? Starting from scratch?

      Do we presume someone is out to get us, or that they mean well and may be doing their best?

      I have little interest in a long life if I’m going to be suspicious and assume the worst about everyone I meet.

      Hope — it’s a choice. A good one.

      1. I think people are doing their best WITH the tools they have. Some people have no tools or very very few and as such, act like jackasses. But, at the end of the day, they were doing their best. That doesn’t always mean there’s goodwill. I, too, am optimistic but sometimes people only have their own interests in mind. I find pragmatism to outweigh optimism and definitely pessimism because it’s seeing the whole glass rather than half full or half empty. But that’s just my personal view ?

  3. I can honestly say I’ve never EVER asked my husband if he knew why I was upset with him. Not in 17 years together. Smh
    I can’t imagine it would go well but I’m game for anything that can improve our relationship.
    Thanks Matt. You’re getting pretty good at this whole advice thing you’ve got going on. ?

    1. I don’t mean to be Advice Guy. I don’t think I know enough to be offering advice to anyone who isn’t, like, 16 or whatever.

      But as a matter of practical application, I wrote this down in a comment yesterday when this idea of intentional pain came up as it often does.

      And it occurred to me that if a wife or girlfriend ASKED her husband or boyfriend to articulate (Maybe NOT when everyone’s pissed off. Maybe some other time when the dust has settled.) that would be a pretty solid indicator of whether he KNEW he was hurting her or not.

      I submit that MOST men don’t know they are hurting their wives and girlfriends as much as they are.

      I submit many relationships end because of this, and the inability to communicate it effectively as it’s happening.

      So, simply getting a husband or boyfriend to accurately make their wife’s or girlfriend’s argument for her, in detail, and getting it right, would do one of three things:

      1. Demonstrate they are as ignorant as I believe them to be, or

      2. Demonstrate they are WILLFULLY neglectful and hurting people on purpose (which is a solid reason to leave), or

      3. Help them have their individual Ah-Ha Moment. Because until they can explain how and why you feel what you feel from the other’s perspective, I don’t see how it’s ever going to get better.

      1. Ok I put the ‘do you know why I’m upset to the test and Matt…it worked. It took what would have been a sensitive (on my part) matter and helped to make our conversation one of growth rather than frustration. Thank you?

        1. That’s awesome. I’d be really interested in hearing more about that.

          I love that you tried something I wrote about here and you found value in it. That’s, like, a fantastic thing.

  4. This is perfect, except I’m a wife who is apparently a shitty husband. I’m the one always inadvertently doing the hurting and feeling shocked that he’s hurt. I don’t get it. I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t set out to hurt him, but it happens. Often. We’re reaching our limits, and I read your blog and am reading the book you recommended, “How to fix…without talking..”
    I hope all this stuff works, because I am losing him and I don’t want to.
    Thanks for sharing your story, Matt.

    1. And thank you for your humility, self-awareness, and mostly for just trying. So many people won’t try.

      It’s great that you are.

    2. If you would be willing to elaborate, what are the ways he feels you are hurting him? I’m simply asking because I’m curious, so feel very free to not respond or elaborate.

      Look, I’m just another random person here who does not know everything, but if I could make a suggestion it would be this:

      Schedule a time once a week where you can talk about this. Then he could tell you one of your habits that is bothering him the most (because you can’t change everything at once ), and you guys could brainstorm a solution to what you could do differently, that you honestly think you could learn to do. If you can agree on a solution to try, great, if not, the homewok for both of you until next week is to think about this some more. Then you would work on whatever solution you guys agree to try for the next week, knowing that he’ll hold you accountable, and he’ll know that you’re trying. If he brings the same thing to your attention week after week, chances are that you’ll get what it is you’re doing that’s hurting him. When you have one change mostly down (and this could take many weeks, change is hard sometimes), you can start on the next necessary change. And of course, he could do the same for you. You’ll both have to be patient with this process, you’ll both mess up and get hurt and angry.

      To me, the point isn’t conforming as much as possible to your partner or having your partner confom as much as possible to you. Not at all. People must be able to tolerate differences obviously. But changing the top things that hurt your partner (both ways), if it doesn’t truly clash with your deep values? That seems like a good idea to me at least.

      Anyway, please disregard all of this if it’s not useful to you. I wish you all the best.

      1. That’s a wonderful suggestion Donkey! There’s alot of great words of wisdom here, even great advice! I dont know enough about the day to day frustrations of marriage,( though I picture people needing helmets from all the proverbial head banging on proverbial walls), to offer up anything that is truly insightful.
        I still greatly appreciate the dialogue.
        My thought with your suggestion Donkey, is this may be a great team building sort of exercise. If it can be done together, with shared goals and encouragement.
        I feel like I would be the shitty spouse too, Karin. I am probably more oblivious than I know about things, as you can see I hardly ever ask questions,- and I am a horrible housekeeper. (Though I keep my kitchen clean, vacuuming and laundry are usually the last thing on the list of things to do, so they dont get done…)
        I think the most important thing is knowing and being willing to change.
        Donkey,do you think people need to be at a really good place in their relationship to do something like this successfully? Or do you think that two parties who are wounded (hurt/scared/anxious) would end up re-wounding one another? Do you think a level trust that your partner still wants the best for you needs to be reestablished first?
        Look!! Questions!! I’m so proud : )

      2. Aww, thank you Linbo! 🙂

        I actually admire the brevity and restraint you show in your comments, that’s not a paraticular strength of mine, ehm. :p

        “Donkey,do you think people need to be at a really good place in their relationship to do something like this successfully? Or do you think that two parties who are wounded (hurt/scared/anxious) would end up re-wounding one another? Do you think a level trust that your partner still wants the best for you needs to be reestablished first?”

        Sigh, I think you’re touching upon something important here. It’s easier to work with someone when you have goowill towards them. I would believe that the more people have hurt eachother, the worse off they are in their relationship so to speak, the harder it is to do something like this successfully, and some re-wounding is likely to occur. That’s why I think patience is very important. And people could/should maybe also set a time limit for the conversation, like half an hour and then it’s cool off time and the conflict doesn’t get discussed until next week. It probably will be tough going and slow and frustrating at first, so like Zombiedrew has mentioned before, I think it’s very important to really strive to notice and celebrate any small victories and progress. Eventually the progress reagrding the conflicts and re-building of trust will pick up speed hopefully. 🙂

        I think if someone can establish a level of trust that your partner still wants the best for you, that would help. But how easy is this when the hurtful conflicts are still not resolved and you’ve dealt with it perhaps fo years? Not easy I would think. So I think people just have to start somewhere or other, wherever they can really, be patient, keep trugging along, celebrate small progress and change course as necessary. And I think it would also help if each person, or even if just one person, gets a handle on their emotions on their own, regardless of what their partner is doing (part of differentiation, that Lisa G and I mention sometimes, see David Schnarch if you’re interested).

        Have a nice day Linbo. 🙂

      3. Donkey,
        I think my brevity has more to do with being busy with school, and while I read and really agree with a lot that is being said here, and learn a heck of a lot here, it’s really difficult for me to sit down and write. I actually received an “Excellence in Writing” award in my undergraduate studies, but it was earned by spending about 3 days in my bedroom and not coming out. Painful, but productive. I guess I just want my posts to make a good point, ect. and I don’t have always have the resources for that.

        “I would believe that the more people have hurt each other, the worse off they are in their relationship so to speak, the harder it is to do something like this successfully, and some re-wounding is likely to occur. That’s why I think patience is very important. And people could/should maybe also set a time limit for the conversation, like half an hour and then it’s cool off time and the conflict doesn’t get discussed until next week.It probably will be tough going and slow and frustrating at first, so like Zombiedrew has mentioned before, I think it’s very important to really strive to notice and celebrate any small victories and progress. ”
        I can imagine that it gets discouraging. In some ways I wish we were more like to Bonobo’s that would just have sex in the middle of the conflict. Then- THERE! IT’S SETTLED! (Until the next time…: ).
        But, really, are there ways to bring love and affection back in the process? That makes everything run a lot easier.
        It seems like the best 2 options are either- start the relationship using dialogue, or in the very least, “catching the issues” before they drive all love and affection out.
        The first option is great for people like myself, but I wonder if the offended party in a progressively shitty relationship would ever be able to allow for warm emotions without feeling like they are giving in on boundaries? (I’d love for real, honest responses to that question.)

        ..As far as David Schnarch (isn’t that what they call a nose itch?) – Joking, I don’t mean any disrespect :). ..I know the term differentiation from a friend of mine who uses the concept of differentiation in terms of healthy family dynamics, as well as healthy church and community dynamics. I looked at his website, and I think he is talking about the same thing. Definitely more to continue to investigate there. …but I have to admit “Crucible Therapy” sounds like the complete opposite of my proposed Bonobo therapy!. ..(However, from what I read, yes- getting comfortable with uncomfortable dialogue is really important in relationships of all sorts.)
        David Bohm is also someone who talked about dialogue vs. discussion, and some of the differences between those two things.
        Mostly dialogue invites ideas, and the other persons view point in order to reassess and recreate your own.
        Awesome, awesome distinction.

      4. I love that you mention bonobos! 😀

        From what I can tell, it does seem like your friend and I use differentiation in similar ways. I think Jungians use individuation (probably other folks too!).

        “but I wonder if the offended party in a progressively shitty relationship would ever be able to allow for warm emotions without feeling like they are giving in on boundaries? ” I guess some folks are able to and some aren’t. And I would guess that if there hasn’t been too much hurt, it’s quite possible. But if you feel like your partner has grievously hurt or disrespected you for a looong time? It would at least take some compartmentalizing for a person like that to be able to enjoy some snuggle time or a favourite boardgame. :p

      5. I’m exceedingly late to this thread, but hey, somebody may read it some day.

        Every single word of this thread (including those below) is spot on. When things have gone off the rails, whether in a small way or as a near train wreck, these conversations become both more essential and more difficult to start and conduct. So starting with shared experiences is a brilliant idea. Time-limiting the discussion and celebrating successes are great strategies at any time, but especially when the relationship is already strained.

        But if it is strained, I recommend introducing these regular talks as short sessions which are only about common ground and positive things. This could be a project which both partners already believe to be a good idea (not new projects), or simply recollecting a recent positive shared experience – perhaps the one they have just done together. This will make getting these discussions off the ground much easier and less traumatic, and should ensure that both partners are keen to keep them going. They will even come to look forward to them.

        At that point, problem areas can be introduced and dealt with as described above. But again, I would start with relatively minor problem areas – using “I would love it if you …” and avoiding “I hate it when you …” – and be sure to finish on a celebration of a success so that the relationship goes forward from the discussion in a good state.

        Once both partners feel safe with this process, and have confidence in its ability to improve the relationship, both parties will feel comfortable with more challenging issues being introduced. And hopefully both partners will have developed the tools and the confidence required for dealing with those issues together, in a positive way.

        It’s a bit like exercise – you need to start gently, and build some strength before trying to lift the heavy weights, or injuries are inevitable. Yes it will mean biting your tongue about the bigger issues until the process is sufficiently established and strong, but it should still be quicker, cheaper and a better outcome than divorce.

        Just my thoughts, and my only qualification is experience of trying, failing, persevering, and eventually achieving small successes.

    3. I agree with some of Donkeys comments below and would like to chime in (I hope you don’t mind ?). This particular blog post and ensuing comment thread has been fascinating to me.
      Find something you both enjoy together, something fun and lighthearted. If you can get in that space it will be much easier to lovingly extend an olive branch. You could then say something to the tune of ” I know we’ve been having trouble. I care about how you feel and I’m genuinely confused about what I’m doing. Would you be willing to let me know when your starting to feel hurt or frustrated so I can be less confused? I promise to listen if you tell me you’re feeling hurt or frustrated. I can’t guarantee I will always change something but I would like to hear how your feeling WHEN you’re feeling it so I can begin to understand.” It could give you a clearer idea on where the commitment to change stands-for both of you. It may also open the door of expression for your partner to feel safe on holding you accountable for something you may be unaware of. Just be prepared to be called to the mat when he is feeling slighted and that it may actually have nothing to do with you. Sometimes we just need to know the other person cares enough to listen.

      1. “Finding something you both enjoy together, something fun and lighthearted. If you can get in that space, it’s much easier to lovingly extend an olive branch”
        I think this is incredibly important.
        And it actually fits very well into the concept of differentiation.. When we have been hurt and failed by our partner we stop seeing our partners as people, as individuals. We just know that we trusted them with our emotions and expectations (even when expectations aren’t really thought about or discussed- they’re just expected..), and they hurt us. So we withdraw our emotions to prevent being hurt. It seems like it’s at that point our partners start to loose what was appealing about them in the first place.
        Maybe compartmentalization is exactly what is needed (even though that feels like a betrayal to my feelings that compartmentalization is,in part, a cause of denial and continuing unhealthy patterns) …in that maybe we need to spend more time seeing our partners as individuals , and really learn and appreciate the person as distinct from the role of husband/wife.
        That way we can be engaged in things that brings real life and vitality to one another- we can have fun with one another. Husbands and wives can be friends!…

        1. They so can be friends!? We forget that! Gender aside, we are still human beings. It’s important that we respect and celebrate our differences while trying to find ways to relate. The gender barriers we are taught by society have broken down connection and communication. Rediscovering our shared humanity is essential and friendship is the foundation.

      2. Great suggestions! I believe just doing something you enjoy together will improve most relationships. Some balance is required you know? Both enjoying your time together and working through the hard stuff.

    4. Karin, I read your post and it feels like as if I wrote it. Had things improved with your relationship? Have you been able to stop hurting him? If so, how did you do it? I could use some help…. I am feeling pretty shitty about myself.

    1. pleaase keep writing shizzle like this!! ( that doesn’t even sound/ read like me, but i feel it in my fingersss ( i feeel it in my boooooooooooooones) )

  5. I used to tell my ex when you do/say this I react to it in a negative way. His response, “I love you, I would never want to hurt you in that way, you need to get over it and just not react in that way.” Totally not a productive response and totally invalidating. Also totally counter to his insistence that he believed in open communication and learning together.

    1. Hey Magpie,

      I totally loved this comment. I actually laughed out loud when I read your exes comment because it is so classic! Dude, are you *ever* missing the point.

    2. Yes, people can white wash they’re mistakes. I had a fight with a person about many many things and they white washes it when she started talking to me again. Not helpful!

    3. Whoaaa….that’s painful. You’re a cool pleasant lady….you handled him excellently

  6. I love this Matt, so no complaints at all, but something that really helped me was realizing it didn’t matter whether he was hurting me on purpose or on accident. It makes no difference at all. If you step on someone’s foot on accident it hurts just as much as if they did it on purpose.

    A lot of women will make excuses for men, he doesn’t mean it, he doesn’t know any better, all the way down the line right into abusive situations. Some women will simply spin these excuses until they finally shut down emotionally and just file for divorce.

    So I totally agree with you, “just ask him,” but many men deceive their own selves and can’t even give you a straight answer. So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t ask, “Do you know why I am upset with you?” because the “why” is irrelevant. Also, the question itself sounds a bit like something a Mom would say.

    I’ve had far better luck simply saying, “This is why I’m mad.” It’s not a question, it’s not about him, it’s not a debate, and whether he did it on purpose or on accident, has no bearing on the fact that I’m mad about something. Men tend to do far better with direct communication from women, too.

    1. I agree somewhat with most of that, however, the entire point of this is to ascertain whether a partner is intentionally or accidentally causing pain.

      It might not be a worthwhile exercise for someone who didn’t care either way.

      I think it’s important. INTENT is a huge deal to me.

      Secondly. I think people (often men) demonstrate a lack of awareness about their partner’s experiences and feelings. And I think it’s the primary driver of divorce.

      I think MOST husbands and boyfriends (and sometimes wives and girlfriends) wouldn’t be able to accurately articulate their partner’s feelings, opinions, argument in, say, a dishes-by-the-sink discussion.

      IF a husband were to accurately make his wife’s argument for her, and THEN continue to hurt her while demonstrating he understood that doing that thing was hurting her, I think most morally ambiguous gray area about divorce disappears.

      We SHOULD divorce people who INTENTIONALLY hurt us. That’s abuse.

      Since I don’t think most people want to be abusive or neglectful, if we could get both partners to be able to make one another’s arguments for them–just to prove they “get” what the other is saying –I think most people would have powerful epiphanies by going through this exercise.

      Maybe I’m oversimplifying it.

      I realize that things in my head don’t always look like actual conversations between strangers who are angry with one another. 🙂

      1. I think it’s normally a virtue to give people the benefit of the doubt….But when a spouse is continually inflicting “accidental” or “unintentional” emotional and mental injury, it’s important for the victimized spouse to reassess whether it’s healthy to stick with an emotional klutz.

        My spouse continues to insist, “It was an accident,” but we’ve been to too many marriage counselors, couples-retreat weekends, etc., for it to be much of an accident– we’ve been given too many tools to achieve a better marriage, he’s just to lazy and narcissistic to pick them up. That is an intentional choice.

        Want to know if it’s an “accidentally on-purpose”? Here’s an even better exercise.

        After they say, “I didn’t meeeeean to!” say “But how did you mean NOT to do it?” and see what their face and their words tell you about their intention or lack-of.

        Most “accidents” can be prevented through pre-emptive action or pre-consideration of consequences– if a spouse values another spouse. But if a spouse is carelessly and negligently hurting you “unintentionally” on a regular basis, you need to get out quick and don’t look back.

        If “accident” and “unintentional” is their trusty fall-back, they’re probably doing it on purpose because they’re clearly not trying to PREVENT multiple injuries. That’s when it’s abuse, and that’s when it doesn’t matter whether it’s “intentional” or not.

        1. I agree completely. And I think you did an excellent job of explaining the difference.

          I have to trust people to, as fairly as they possibly can in the midst of pain and relationship troubles, identify the difference between legitimate ignorance/thoughtlessness, and at whatever point that evolves into NEGLECT.

          If a person truly understands that Behavior X is causing legit pain for their partner, the “it was an accident!” excuse is only good the first time, possibly the second.

          After that, the only logical conclusion can be that the “inconvenience” of adjusting behaviors harmful to one’s spouse is a greater motivating factor than one’s desire to never cause pain.

          There’s still a subtle and nuanced caveat to this, though.

          Let’s pretend someone had an undiagnosed medical condition that caused them to experience the pain of being struck by stones every time they were hit by cotton balls.

          I KNOW what being hit by a cotton ball feels like. (For me.) I KNOW what being hit by a thrown rock feels like. (For me.) And they are two radically different sensations. (For me.)

          If, hypothetically, I was throwing cotton balls at someone, and they were complaining that it hurt the same as being hit by a rock, my default position (***in the absence of the correct information about their medical condition, and the inability to physically experience it the same as they do***) would be to assume they were bat-shit crazy. Irrational. Exaggerating. Dramatic. Making a mountain out of a mole hole.

          I am NOT defending this reaction that people in relationships (men, more often) demonstrate during disagreements with their spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend. HOWEVER, I can understand it, and that’s because this was me.

          In my experience, many people (often men) showcase a fundamental lack of empathy about any painful situation someone else is feeling that they can’t identify with by having experienced something similar.

          For me, I NEEDED to feel like dying after my wife left to truly understand how it feels to be a human being hurting profoundly beneath the surface.

          I still suck at empathy sometimes, but I am much easier to get into the proper mindset today after having lived through something that I experienced as trauma.

          While I felt like dying, the world kept spinning and everyone around me kept living, and the ONLY people who understood what I was going through were the people who had lived through something similar, or were incredibly skilled at empathy.

          That was what I needed to understand how throwing a piece of clothing somewhere in the bedroom, or leaving a dirty dish by the sink, or making a sarcastic remark that I considered funny could HURT — legitimately inflict pain in my ex-wife — all while seeming totally benign and innocent to me.

          I thought she had an emotional control deficiency. I thought she had an improperly calibrated “This Is How Important Something Is” Meter.

          But today, I get it. Today, I understand that things that seem harmless enough — like gently tossing a cotton ball toward someone — CAN, under the right circumstances, feel profoundly painful to the person being hit, regardless of how the rest of us might feel about it.

          I believe this fundamental lack of empathy is the #1 cause of dysfunctional relationships, break-ups and divorce.

          And I believe it’s so difficult for the average person to detect (because our first-person experiences are so profoundly true and real for us), that the relationship problems and high divorce rate we experience today is much the same as the early days of linking tobacco use to cancer.

          People smoked because they wanted to, and thought nothing of it. And a bunch of people got sick and died without ever realizing the cause.

          A bunch of relationships get sick and die because people don’t realize these thoughtless habits that don’t trigger our personal “This is Dangerous” alarms are the actual cause of fights/resentment/affairs/divorce, etc.

          But it is my great hope that one day, like the successful “Smoking is Totally Dangerous!” public-awareness campaigns of the past, we can raise enough awareness about these things to change hearts and minds, and have highly functional and successful marriages be the norm.

          The positive trickle-down effects our society will experience as a result cannot be overstated.

          Thank you for reading and contributing so thoughtfully. Really appreciate it.

      2. I think that intent is important for a while. I can accept that my husband isn’t hurting me on purpose…..until we’ve talked about it a hundred times, and I’ve told him how hurtful it is- a thousand times, but he’s done the same hurtful thing over and over and over again, anyway. At some point, isn’t that intent of some sort? I get you’re not trying to hurt me. I choose to believe that. But at this point I need you to TRY NOT to hurt me. And I’m willing to explain and dialogue again to increase understanding… even though it feels like an exercise in futility at times. I do love the idea of having him explain back in his own words what I’m feeling. But, honestly, I’m just so exhausted.

        1. Understood. You’ve just summed up the majority of every convo I have with coaching clients who are couples.

          Exactly what you just said.

          At some point, some has to feel as if they’re being neglected. Everyone’s boundary line is different.

          One of my couples just crosses the 29(!)-year mark.

          It took this long to snap.

          Others, like my ex-wife, leave much sooner.

          And in my 30s, I finally learned why.

          Wishing you the best, of course.

          It’s hard to find the right words when you hurt, and it’s hard to hear the intended meaning when you’re feeling attacked.

          Emotions are messy things. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with them.

    2. I’ve discussed this with Matt before, and I believe we may have reached a somewhat uneasy agreement, so I won’t repeat my points. :p

      I just want to say that I love your points Insanitybites22, both that it doesn’t matter at all (to me it matters somewhat, I’ll just repeat that particular point of mine) whether or not it was intentional, and that some men deceive themselves and can’t give a straight answer. I would just add that women are also capeable of this self deception. Whenever someone has low integrity (whether or not it’s mostly a momentary thing/specific issue thing or a long term/more systemic thing), people are very capeable of deceiving themselves, and burying their knowing of a (perhaps painful and humbling) truth behind thick walls of “I’m right, this is how it is!”, to the point that they believe their own, pardon my French, bullshit a lot of the time. They just keep investing in their walls so to speak, making them thicker and thicker.

      1. Fromscratchmom,

        Your comment about gaslighting was brillant! I riffed off as well as ib’s comments in my theory about boundaries and gaslighting and why women prefer “aholes” to nice guys sometimes.

        I think women experience a LOT of gaslighting in their lives. I don’t think men experience it as much so don’t relate to it. What do you think?

      2. Fromscratchmom

        LisaGottman,

        Yes, I do think that gas lighting is a very common experience among women! Maybe it’s partly because they are trying to adapt and take men seriously, trying to give credit and respect, trying to see his point of view while a lot of men are just bumbling about entitled and thoughtless and in effect couldn’t care less what happens to her psychologically over the long haul, when his words are regularly dismissive, derisive or unfair/unrealistic in characterizing her.

        That’s what gets me so much of the time when the nice guys, several of whom really are nice guys give credit to the majority of guys as also nice but clueless and then they draw a kind of line in the sand to say abuse is a whole different category. I think there is a lot more emotional abuse out there than they realize. And it runs across a spectrum from the almost non-existent and the recoverable situations to the horrifying and the obvious. Then there is every point along the way in between.

        And I think a lot of emotional abuse is hard to figure out and label and call it out, across all the blurry lines that women already create for themselves naturally and asking them to further credit men with being great regardless of years long repetitive bad behavior is pushing them to go further and further toward blurring those lines of never holding any man accountable for his choices but instead always giving him credit whether it’s due or not, whether it’s changing her into a less and less emotionally healthy person or not.

        I’m all for men having enough self-esteem to face it and fix it if they are guilty of emotional unintelligence and its damaged their relationship and let’s be frank if it has then it has damaged their lover. And I recognize that beating themselves up for it can sabotage that. But I still think they have to go a few miles further in accepting not only the responsibility to face it and fix it but also in allowing her to have been changed by it and not blaming her for having tried to adapt and to respect him during the time he was doing it. If he can go that far and they can get good help then they can learn and grow together and the end result is most likely going to be two amazing and healthy people in an amazingly healthy relationship. But if he can only face it if she can adapt some more to pretend that it didn’t change her and that the healing phase is easy for her, then she’s still in a position to have to be unhealthy and disingenuous for his sake for the rest of her life.

      3. Fromscratchmom,

        You said

        “But if he can only face it if she can adapt some more to pretend that it didn’t change her and that the healing phase is easy for her, then she’s still in a position to have to be unhealthy and disingenuous for his sake for the rest of her life.”

        YES! You’re on fire girl to explain this! Sadly, probably because you’ve had to go through it.

        I wrote a couple of comments below about gaslighting (real abuse) and the gaslighting effect (unintentionally caused by clueless husbands). If he never acknowledges all the damage he has done through the gaslight effect (as damaging over time as the true abusive gaslighting), then he is unintentionally CONTINUING the gaslight effect.

        Insisting that his lack of abusive intention makes it better than if he had intended to abuse her. Insisting that if she will not acknowledge he is better than abusive men because of his cluelessness, she is wrong and not treating him fairly.

        That INTENTION to harm trumps all else. His insistence on this point prevents him from fully healing the relationship in my opinion.

      4. Lisa- I always appreciate your comments and glad to see you here today!
        FromScratchmom,
        “That’s what gets me so much of the time when the nice guys, several of whom really are nice guys give credit to the majority of guys as also nice but clueless and then they draw a kind of line in the sand to say abuse is a whole different category. I think there is a lot more emotional abuse out there than they realize. And it runs across a spectrum from the almost non-existent and the recoverable situations to the horrifying and the obvious. Then there is every point along the way in between.”

        This statement is exactly why I dont like posting! …I just wrote a nice, hopeful, kum-ba-ya, sort of post saying if us women could but view our men as individuals and turn away from the hurt they have done we would all be alright! (Extremely simplified interpretation).

        I still think the point is valid, but it has to among people who are actively working towards health.

        I know what you say is true, FSM, there is alot more emotional abuse out there than we realize. I am a nurse, and I’m training to be a psych NP. The people I see are pretty ill by time they get to me. Alot of times they have been “acted upon” in ways that have really twisted them up emotionally, mentally and physically.
        Sometimes there is untwisting. We all hope for the untwisting.
        But the thing about it is that the victims stories and abusers stories are so, so similar.
        I want to suggest that even though what I see are extremes, these are behavior patterns that ever-single-one-of-us has.

        We react emotionally to triggers that had nothing to do with present circumstances, we block and defend ourselves in desperate need of self preservation, we lash out in pain and injure those close to us, we numb because we really dont know how to handle everything that is thrown our way, we check out because again, we have to self protect in the face of criticism. ..this is how we have learned to defend ourselves- its mankind’s instinct towards survival.
        All of these things, and probably some others, are going on inside of people as they try to manage life.

        I think there is alot more emotional abuse out there than we realize, because we all do it at times.
        Men may have a tendency towards specific defense mechanisms because of socialization, or whatever, but I’m convinced that it is the defense mechanisms that allows for continued offenses, even after being told it is an offense.
        We, as a society are not accustomed to being real with our emotions, talking about our emotions or being allowed to feel our emotions.
        Men and women both grow up knowing they have to mask themselves certain ways at certain times in order to accepted, to be appealing, – and again, to survive.
        We carry this over into our personal relationships.
        And even then, when we accidentally reveal ourselves too much and we made someone one uncomfortable, we are reminded that we have to put our mask back on.

        This is all going back to vulnerability for me. Especially vulnerability in the core relationships. If we can be vulnerable with one another, and accept one another. If we can admit our mistakes, admit our misconceptions, admit our failures it’s so much easy to empathize with others. And its in that space that healing and growth can happen.

        If this has veered off subject, I’m really sorry. I agree that in reality there is alot more miscommunication that leads to contempt and can be acted on as abusive out there than there is not.
        The vulnerability/empathy thing is what can bring us back to one another and show us how to have healthy relationships.
        UGH! I’ve got to start getting to work over here!!
        I hope yall have a good day, sorry if this seemed like just one long ramble-fest.

      5. fromscratchmom

        Linbo, you may be surprised to know that I actually agree with most of what you wrote. We are not far apart in our perceptions and understanding at all! At least I think we are not. I think that turning away from hurt and just letting it go and focusing on my husband’s good qualities and trying to offer him an environment where they were more likely to come out was absolutely the right thing for me to strive for in my own personal healing during the last several years of our marriage. But it still takes two and either both people are in it and healing and making progress or they are not. He proved he was not, maybe partially with his use of excessive amounts of alcohol and his emotional withdrawal plus still having wildly hostile outburst occasionally, both growing in intensity and lessening in frequency, but mostly by his ending the marriage and walking away. So my perceptions of other marriages and of many men are colored by that although I’m working to contain and manage any unintentional damage that I could do as a result.

        I’m always hoping when I see the “nice guys” here that even though they are on the internet saying, “see I’m not really so bad, that was really mostly her perception”, that within their marriages they are actually owning their stuff and working to fix it rather than demanding that their wives agree that they are totally OK and that its just all the men married to all the other women on the internet who are screwing up and deserving of being tossed on the other side of the line into abuser-land.

        But yeah, abusers and victims are often nearly the same people with nearly the same stories. People who are hurting, hurt other people. It is only a generalization, but it has a pretty fair level of validity. It is significant and should be considered. At the same time its worth considering that no one is perfect and everyone sometimes hurts other people or acts out inappropriately based on their own issues. The only differences are to what level their faults take them and to what level do they face it and own it after their faults hurt another person. And it is why I’m struggling to learn and grow even as I’m struggling to also face the faults of a man who was just a bad guy and who just really did crap all over me. Nothing justifies his mistakes, And nothing makes his “I’m a good guy” perception of himself accurate. He was a good guy when he chose to be a good guy and a crap guy when he chose to be a crap guy, which sadly became a pretty easy default setting for him, from pretty early in our marriage and after a brief time working to fix things his twenty-four seven default for several more years.

        I’ve mentioned these things before but I just want to repeat them here. I did become a person who was nearly worthless to my husband and children after several years of bad marriage. and for that matter I was, of course not perfect to begin with. He and I both had some stuff we brought into it with us. I make myself own a lot less from those earlier years because it is fair and valid and I need to know reality about it rather than the distortions he has tried to force on me. Then I fell apart emotionally, spiritually and physically and I was a definitely part of the problem for a time, a huge part. Then I clawed and scraped my way out of the abyss. I have been through over 4 years of EMDR therapy mostly facing childhood stuff that I never knew was still effecting me. I have been through massive amounts of prayer and meditation and healing. I had let go of a ton of tangled up mess and yet its not totally possible to let it go as if it never happened. You have to acknowledge that you are both changed by what you have been through and work with each other where you are now… or maybe I should say with your current reality.

        Its not that you can’t be vulnerable and therefore have to put your mask back on. It is that you have to be even more vulnerable and at the same time even more strong so that you CAN face owning your stuff and allowing for the other person’s hurts and finding ways to get both people’s needs met so that eventually, as you both get better at it, you find that you have been building a mutually loving and supportive marriage.

        I was once offered some wise advice which was that my husband and I should both enter individual counseling with a view to going into couple’s counseling when we were both a little stronger. I think that was brilliant. And the fact that he took it as a great insult and a serious offense against him for me to ask him to agree to that plan just became an insurmountable issue between us as I was healing and he was growing in resentment and weaknesses of all sorts.

        Now he still thinks that he is fine and that he and I are just very different, totally unsuitable for each other…except on days that he is wildly angry with me. So a lot of pretty crazy contradictions come out between his insistence that we’re just incompatible and his determination to have the courts label me with some pretty harsh terms to say that his leaving me and grabbing himself a new sex toy to get some validation out of is pretty much all my fault. But I know the ugly truth and I only have to let go of worrying about his future health and happiness because he has forced me into that necessity. That makes it his final decision to wear the label of abuser. He is choosing to never face himself and to forever cement his legacy as a father and a husband as the guy he chose to be in all his gloriously huge faults.

        The back and forth, contradictory stuff leaves me with some pretty natural and justifiable fear that what I’m about to face in court is going to get incredibly nasty even though he says that is not his intention and that its only more of me being determined to perceive him badly. To that I say, “own it”. Because you know, it is going to be pretty easy to see what happens when it happens. And until then its all speculation and not worth him worrying about if I am unnecessarily prepared for defending against a lot of gross crap in court. I can be prepared and that end up having little to no effect on him. If he wants to be seen as doing the right thing, then he can do the right thing and it will be seen and everyone will be glad that it turned out that way and credit him for it. And if he does stuff contrary to what he should do and what he has sometimes claimed he will do then that will be seen too and everyone will know that it was a good thing for me to be as prepared as I was determined to be.

      6. FSM,
        Hi :). Yeah, I think we are on the same page. I’m speaking more in generalities- in concepts. You’re, right now, in the middle of something that is terribly painful and exhausting, and so, so very real and particular to your life right now. I think your points are valid, and I should likely clarify mine.
        Vulnerability is only healthy when its with safe people. There’s is no point in continuing to be vulnerable, or try to empathize with someone who is not putting in the same work that you are. That’s asking to be damaged further.
        He is making a crappy choice to default (your word- and a good one!) into falling headlong into cease pool of his own stink. He is making a life choice by not addressing his stuff. (You are making a life choice by addressing yours- YAY!!)
        I’m not trying to justify anyone’s actions, I am just trying to assign a rationale. I guess that’s my need to find “the why” that has been discussed recently.
        I think people make that choice to die (emotionally,mentally and spiritually- and yes, eventually physically) in their own created cease pool hell’s, mostly because on some level they view themselves that way. Shame, from whatever source it comes, keeps us quiet, it keeps us from seeking help because we have to first speak of our inadequacies. The more shame you have, the harder it is to do that.
        He has made and sounds like continues to make very poor choices that hurt you, and ultimately will hurt himself. The sad, sad truth is that people make this choice all the time because “it’s easier” and really, they dont believe they can change.
        Keep doing what your doing. The view is alot better from the mountain top :).

      7. FSM,
        I forgot to mention I am a big fan of EMDR. It’s amazing how it works and that it works at all- but yes, study after study- it shows its validity.
        And believe me, I have made appointments several times myself, but haven’t gone through with it. I don’t know why. Probably the same reason nurses don’t go to the doctor when they’re sick. I guess things have been going good, so haven’t sought it out. But- there are moments when I think I still need to go do it.

      8. Fromscratchmom

        Limbo, I do highly recommend it. I grew and changed so much, and all for the better. It’s kind of funny because I ended up working all on stuff I’d thought I’d totally processes already. I had no idea that I’d apparently just adapted in unhealthy ways. And the stuff you’d think I’d need therapy for was never a need in therapy! LOL

        Now I use a lot of what I learned in therapy all the time. So I’m still growing and learning and changing, which I’m so thankful for!

    3. As someone who has been in relationships with both kinds of men – those who do intend to hurt me with their words/actions and those who do not – I find myself wondering if asking the question matters at all. Now, hear me out. When I think of the man who was intentionally hurtful and consider asking him if he was doing it on purpose I’m at a crossroads with his potential response. On one hand I can totally hear him saying “Yep, I like seeing you in pain” and knowing him that wouldn’t have surprised me at all if he’d said that. But then I could also hear him saying “No” without any further explanation. Now, obviously the fact that I know he was abusive negates putting any more thought into him period (and since he’s not even alive anymore there really is no point) but it does make me think – in regard to this question if what I believe is true is more important than what is actually true.

      The guy who doesn’t intentionally hurt me has said repeatedly that he is not intentionally hurting me. I’ve asked. He’s answered. And then he’s gone right on to continue the hurt. So, does it matter what his intent is? It’s hard not to assume at this point that he IS intentionally hurting me even if he says he isn’t. According to your response Matt, I’m totally vindicated in my choice to file divorce papers. But he still doesn’t think what’s going on is his fault. Because he isn’t actively wielding knives at me.

      Maybe the conversation that needs to be had is about what true abuse is. What real hurt is. How real pain happens.

      I can only speak to my personal experiences and as morbid and upside down as I know this is going to sound to many who have not been in my shoes I rest easier knowing that the guy who intended to abuse me did so and owned it than the accidentally-oblivious guy who assumed to responsibility in my pain. I respect the former guy so much more than the latter. I believe the second to be much more dangerous than the first.

      1. “I can only speak to my personal experiences and as morbid and upside down as I know this is going to sound…..I rest easier knowing that the guy who intended to abuse me did so and owned it than the accidentally-oblivious guy”

        Well, we can be morbid and upside down together then, because I feel the same way. I much prefer dealing with the deliberately hurtful than the vague and confused who claim they have no responsibility because they don’t know what they are doing or because you’re just crazy and perceiving reality wrong. Even in healthy relationships, we sometimes do things to hurt our spouse, on purpose, deliberately. Perhaps we need attention or we’re frustrated, but owning up to that truth and acknowledging it makes all the difference in the world.

      2. Gender aside, I think there are three types of people. Those who want to hurt you. Those who don’t want to hurt you but do. Those who don’t want to hurt you and don’t.

        The slippery slope is in the second kind – once they know they are hurting you do they actively work to stop doing it or are they passively hoping you’ll change your mind about what hurts before they have to make any changes to how they do things.

        In an attempt to explain to people what my life is like I’ve equated it to having a benign tumor. I’ve never actually had one but I imagine it would be frustrating. Not life-threatening initially but uncomfortable. If it’s located in a manageable spot I’m sure you could live the rest of your life without regard to the tumor but if it’s say, on your foot, not doing something about it would have to eventually get in your way.

        I’d rather have a malignant tumor. There’s no question what the course of action would be to deal with a malignant tumor. There’s no waiting for it to resolve on it’s own. There’s no hoping it will get better with time. You get in there, you cut the thing out and you get on with your life. The course of action is swift.

        Living with a benign-tumor of a husband is painful longhaul. Does it matter that the tumor isn’t intending to kill me? No. What matters is that I can no longer walk without it getting in my way.

      3. I’m with you Deanna, I’m getting no comfort and I’m assigning no justification to the abuser who takes zero responsibility and has never repaired anything. He has the free will that he can choose to do what he wants but I hope to be forever able to avoid having anything to do with anyone remotely like that in the future. Obviously I also don’t want and would never intentionally choose a malicious abuser but just like you and IB I see all people has making mistakes and even lashing out sometimes. So in future the only healthy option in choosing a partner is someone who understands a lot of these things and is committed to owning their own stuff and learning and growing and improving as an individual and together if and when they enter a serious relationship.

      4. Hi Deanna,

        You said “I think there are three types of people. Those who want to hurt you. Those who don’t want to hurt you but do. Those who don’t want to hurt you and don’t.”

        I don’t really think the person who doesn’t want to hurt you and doesn’t actually exists. I’m pretty sure I’ve hurt everyone I care about and who cares about me at one time or another. I think that’s just part of what it means to be a human.

        What matters to me is, how does someone react when they have done it? And how does it affect future behaviour?

        Even the idea of “wanting” to hurt you is a nuanced one. There’s the “I am going to intentionally hurt you as a show of power to put your in your place” kind of hurt. To me that’s bad news, and a relationship people need to get out of asap. Then there’s also the “I am hurt because of something you have done, so I going to take my toys and go play in the corner by myself”. Also intentional, though in a passive aggressive way. I see this as a case of emotional immaturity on the part of the person who is hurting someone out of retaliation. Also bad news, as passive aggressive behaviour will put strain on a relationship over time.

        I’m not sure what other forms of intentionally hurting someone exist, but I can’t see how they can ever be good.

        For people who don’t want to hurt you but do, as noted I think we all do that at one point or another. And as I said, how someone reacts to that hurt and how it affects their future behaviour is pretty important. People have good and bad days, and on bad days are more likely to be a bit mean so that’s kind of expected (not excusable, but understandable). So frequency is pretty important to me too.

        If they’re pretty great usually, but have bad days sometimes I think I’m cool with that. If those bad days are the norm, then I have bigger issues.

      5. I have to say, I’m staggered and flummoxed to see so many women here state that they would truly prefer a spouse be intentionally hurtful than unintentionally. That thought process runs so completely counter to everything I hold true about what adult love and commitment to one another should look like. As I mentioned to Donkey in a different thread, if I bend my mind a certain way it isn’t comfortable going, what your ladies are saying does make a kind of twisted sense, but as a lifetime way of conducting a marriage, a lifetime way of refreshing and recommitting to the love I would have for such a spouse, I just don’t understand how it’s a viable paradigm at all. Perhaps I’m just a fool prepared to fall on his own sword of pride, but I don’t think you could ever convince me that a man who actively seeks to wound his wife is fundamentally a better, more preferable husband than someone who simply suffers from unintentional disconnections between his intentions and his actions.

        All that said, ladies, please continue the discussion. It is pregnant with value and has shined a bright spotlight on something that makes zero sense to me, but is nonetheless important for me to be aware of.

        1. The husband who intentionally hurts his wife on a regular basis and admits to it is better because you know where you stand. You can then make a judgement about the relationship ie whether to leave or stay and/or everything in between. But you now have concrete knowledge.

          The husband who doesn’t intentionally hurt his wife, but does it repeatedly is stringing his wife along and using his ignorance as a shield. If he keeps doing it, how is he really any different from the first husband? All he does is create more ambiguity and allowing his wife to give him more chances.

          Having said that, knowing the first must be absolutely devastating. It must be easier to live with a husband’s professes ignorance, at least in the short term.

      6. I did not say that I’d prefer to be married to the intentionally abusive man. I said I sleep better at night knowing he did it and owned up to it. I have more respect for him.

      7. Some of this is getting lost in translation.

        I write poorly sometimes.

        I’ll try to be clearer:

        If someone looks at their partner, and can ACCURATELY and IN DETAIL make their partner’s argument for them, for example:

        Husband: “You are upset because you have repeatedly asked me not to leave my used glass by the sink, and then I did it anyway, and it feels to you like a powerful act of disrespect in a way I don’t understand because things like that don’t bother me.

        “You’re upset because it seems exactly like when you ask me to grab three things at the store, and I tell you I will, but then I only grab two of them. It feels like when you leave town for a night and then the kids don’t get their homework done, even though you left a note I ignored on what they needed for the school day.

        “It’s all one big theme of you carrying the load of responsibility for the entire family, and me obliviously dumping it all on you. And then when you want to talk to me about it, I shut down or retreat, or worse, I tell you that your feelings are wrong and that you it’s not reasonable for you to feel hurt in the first place.”

        Wife: *jaw drops* “Wow. That’s exactly right. So why do you keep doing it?”

        Husband: “Because I actively despise you and want to bring misery to your life. I’m hoping we get divorced because I don’t want our kids growing up with us together, and I don’t love you or care about your feelings or happiness.”

        I’m kidding about the latter half of that. I don’t think there’s any chance the average husband of a frustrated wife can articulate why she’s really angry.

        That’s my point. HE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND.

        From there, people can make whatever choices they want.

        I submit that a husband who can accurately tell the story of WHY his wife is angry about things that don’t anger him will be able to have a happy and awesome marriage.

        I’m not asking wives to ask their husbands for an answer to a question because they don’t know it.

        I’m asking wives to discover for themselves whether their husbands TRULY conceptualize and mentally grasp why they’re in pain from his behavior.

        If he doesn’t understand, helping him understand is an option.

        If he does understand, then he’s hurting them on purpose, and in my estimation, INTENTIONAL abuse is one of the very best reasons to end a marriage.

        Since I believe most pain in marriage (like more than 90 percent) is caused UNINTENTIONALLY, there’s value in A. The wife KNOWING beyond doubt that he’s not hurting her on purpose, and B. The husband going through the mental exercise and discovery process of trying to empathize with his wife and explain how she feels to himself.

        I think that, done effectively, that might be enough for some guys to have their Ah-Ha Moment where it all becomes clear.

        That’s a big-ass deal when that happens. The lives of every single member of a particular family can change FOREVER because of it.

      8. Just throwing this one out there (you know how I do love a monkey-wrench). How many of us wives/women really know what the problem is? How many of us can articulate our hurt the way Matt just insinuated that our husbands would do well to be able to?

      9. Hi Deanna,

        You said “How many of us wives/women really know what the problem is? How many of us can articulate our hurt the way Matt just insinuated that our husbands would do well to be able to?”

        I think that really gets to the heart of some of our gender differences and the problems that arise from them. This difference is wonderfully illustrated by the video It’s not about the nail (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg).

        I know this is an issue for me. It may be due to my training, but I truly believe that until you actually understand your problems you can never resolve them. Often I see people trying to deal with their problems, and from the outside looking in to me it looks like they are dealing with the symptom of one of their problems and not getting to the actual problem itself. So I place huge value on trying to really get to the root of an issue, and then trying to do something about it.

        If there’s an issue I’ve always taken the approach that if there is something we can try that sounds like it may help, lets try it. Worst case, we waste some time/effort. Best case, it actually helps. I always need to feel like we are actually doing something, and trying to improve things.

        This is a major disconnect between my wife and I, as she generally has no interest in trying things. When she’s down, or unhappy about something she’s more likely to dwell on it and not actually take actions to potentially address the issue.

        It’s a mindset I’ve never been able to get. To me it’s a completely foreign concept to be unhappy about something and not be willing to do anything about it. Yet she feels the same about my mindset.

        Sometimes I think it’s alright to accept that we will simply never totally “get” each other. That means we’ll always have certain conflicts, but hopefully the good outweighs the bad enough that overall we are still in a pretty good place.

      10. ZombieDrew said,

        “If there’s an issue I’ve always taken the approach that if there is something we can try that sounds like it may help, lets try it. Worst case, we waste some time/effort. Best case, it actually helps. I always need to feel like we are actually doing something, and trying to improve things.

        This is a major disconnect between my wife and I, as she generally has no interest in trying things. When she’s down, or unhappy about something she’s more likely to dwell on it and not actually take actions to potentially address the issue.”

        I’m totally thinking out loud here, going off nothing except an uneducated gut-reaction guess, but I wonder if it’s what I’ll term the “through or around” principle. I equate it to driving through heavy rain. During that kind of weather, when I come to a giant puddle in the middle of the road, my first unthinking reaction (which I often act upon) is to plow right through it, to persevere over it by force of will alone. Usually, my passenger, in alarm that someone recovering from a previously unapparent lobotomy is behind the wheel, screams at me to go around it, or at least slow down as I move through it. Why would I risk flooding the engine and stalling out?! Sure, it might take a bit more work to triangulate an alternate route, but isn’t it ultimately the safer option? Perhaps you prefer this “safer” option, this option that requires more time and investment and creative thinking, but which (according to the intellect) yields the maximum potential for success. Your wife, on the other hand, perhaps leans to the option that is (according to the heart) least likely to cause new stresses, disappointments, emotional flux and draining work. Besides, the quickest way between any two points is a straight line, right? So perhaps you cope by adaptation, while she copes by endurance. Or maybe these postulations are useless because Prince died, and it’s made my thoughts erratic today because I’m so not okay with that.

      11. One of my friends once said “I’d rather deal with a friend who’s kind of an asshole than someone who’s oblivious. You’re going to get hurt either way, but at least with the asshole you’ll see it coming.” and I thought it was pretty wise.

        1. I want to reply to this because it’s fascinating, but I have to run currently. To be continued. Thank you for this thought. It matters. I hope Travis B. sees it.

      12. Ok, I just can’t resist repeating myself. I like that I’m not the only one thinking along these lines.

        To me:
        1. Intent can matter, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.
        2. But at some point it can hardly serve anymore to lessens the gravity of the offense. If someone didn’t mean to step on your foot, it’s easily forgivable once in a blue moon, and that is better than if someone intentionally stepped on you every now and then just to be a jerk. But if they say, and even believe, “I didn’t mean to step on your foot and hurt you”, but then they do it over and over and over? Your foot will still get hurt even if they didn’t *mean* to. At least the asshole who knowingly steps on your foot knows what’s going on! They know they are hurting your feet! In a way, there’s less mind f*cking that way.

        Travis/anyone interested, to build on the man slaughter analogy:
        If someone commits involuntary manslaughter by say, drunkdriving, that’s a lesser offense and not as evil of a deed as if someone were to intentionally kill someone by running them over with their car. But let’s say the person who unintentionally killed someone by driving drunk is made aware of this. “Hey, you killed someone by driving drunk last night” the victim’s family says. And he responds, “Well, I certainly didn’t mean to kill anyone, I would never want to do that!”, and the family say, “well, you still did it, be more careful in the future”. And then the guy get’s drunk again! And kills someone unintentionally while driving drunk again! And this victim’s family also tells him, “hey, you killed someone while driving drunk!”. And he says “Well I certainly didn’t mean to kill someone, I would never do that on purpose!”. And they say, “well you did kill someone anyhow, make sure it doesn’t happen again!”. And repeat this a hundred times.

        At that point, is the involuntary manslaughter drunk driving guy still a lot more innocent than the intentional murder-by-running-people-over-guy (let’s say the intentional murder guy has also killed 100+ people, but on purpose)? Perhaps a little bit. But it hardly lessens his crime at this point, I would say. To the rest of the world, the intentional murder guy makes more sense in a way. He’s a psycho, he wants to kill people!

        But the nice involuntary manslaughter drunk driver guy who claims to really love people and has pledged his life to serving human kind, and never wanted or meant to kill anyone while driving drunk? Ok, we can perhaps understand the first time. But why the eff does he keep drunk driving if he cares so goddam much?! Why doesn’t he see/expend the mental energy (because unintentional guy doesn’t have a mental handicap) to see that “when I do x, y happens. I don’t wan’t y to happen, so I must not do x anymore. I must find something else than x to do”. Possibly, he could also think: “It’s true, one time x happened to me and yet y didn’t happen to me (pehaps the drunk driver was going very slowly or unintentional guy landed on soft grass and was fine.). But people have told me that when I have done x, y has happened. They are not lying. So even when y didn’t happen to me when someone else did x to me, it’s still true that y happens to other people when I do x”.

        (OBVIOUSLY leaving a dish by the sink is not as serious as killing someone. And women do these things to, absolutely, but yes, I believe men do it more often than women in hetersexual relationships because of social conditioning. I’m truly sorry if I’ve offended/hurt someone with my violent analogy.)

        I hope this was helpful to someone.

      13. Sorry, Donkey, but this time, your analogies don’t hold up for me upon closer scrutiny. If I step on your foot, I can’t claim ignorance of the pain because I feel the exact same pain when someone steps on mine. I can’t claim ignorance of the destructive effect I will cause if I run over someone with my car because, even without direct experience, I have an abundance of evidence at hand what sort of destructive effect will happen to me if someone runs over me with their car. In these cases, the male/female experience is unvaried and tantamount.

        The point that seems to get missed here (or is it comprehended but then dismissed out of hand?) at MBTTTR by the female readership more than any other, no matter how hard Matt beats on its drum, is that oftentimes, the experience between the husband and the wife is not shared equally. Shitty Husband Behavioral Crime X would not cause a negative effect/pain if done to him like it would to his wife. He has zero context to comprehend her experience. I equate it to someone telling a man who has been blind since birth, “Please don’t ask me to stare directly at the Sun. It causes me great pain.” The blind man would likely think to himself, “How the hell would facing the Sun cause pain? Assuming you don’t stare at it long enough to cause a skin burn, all it does is provide a wondrous warmth. This is some straight up crazy talk here!” Has the blind man committed a moral crime because he is missing some key clarifying context? I would say it’s quite arguable.

        Now imagine the light bulb moment that might occur for the blind man if he was told, “You know that feeling you get when you have to get a shot at the doctor’s? Well, for sighted people, the bright light of the Sun makes us feel like our eyeballs are getting shots.” This is where Matt’s recent emphasis on empathy comes in. Now the blind man has the missing context he needs to understand the disparate perspective. He is able to tie an experience to which does not relate directly to one to which he does relate. Only at that point, if he were to say, “Tough shit, Ms. 20/20. You better keep staring at that Sun or else!” would he be unquestionably guilty of committing a moral crime. The argument of “but it becomes a crime when he’s told over and over not to do it and he still does” sits on rocky ground if the message conveyed over and over to the blind man remains simply “Please don’t ask me to stare directly at the Sun because it hurts.” No matter how many times he hears that message, it can’t hold meaning to him until it’s tied to an experience to which he can relate. Only then does it move from ephemeral to concrete.

        1. We use a shit-ton of examples and symbolism and metaphor around here. Maybe that annoys certain readers.

          Once in a while someone crushes it so hard, I’m reminded how much I love illustrative examples as an explanation tool.

          Maybe I’m just overreacting to the validation felt when another human so thoroughly demonstrates a total understanding of my position.

          But this is it EXACTLY.

          This is how married couples push each other apart ACCIDENTALLY, telling each other the same things every disagreement for 5-10 or more years, and then finally losing their shit because no one can figure out why or how they married such a stupid moron, even though neither are stupid nor morons.

          Two people. Fundamentally different. Minus empathy, the CANNOT put themselves in the mind of the other, so every opinion of the other sounds wrong and ridiculous.

          This is important. I share Travis’ frustration when it seems so easily dismissed. This is AT THE VERY HEART of most divorces.

          In other words, MOST people, despite loving one another and not wanting to ever be with anyone else, and sharing property, children, and friends, end up divorced because of a multi-year MISUNDERSTANDING.

          This should scare the shit out of people.

        2. Travis-a million percent agree. My ex-boyfriend and I spoke entirely different languages. I speak a lot about feelings, shame, what are internal critic is telling us and how are beliefs shape our behavior. I might as well have spoken Chinese. It was frustrating, because to me it was as clear as seeing the sun, but he was the blind man. So I racked my brain, thinking how can I explain what I mean?? How can I explain it so he doesn’t feel clueless or intimidated and I feel like he’s hearing me. Well, he was very mechanically minded and had also built his own house. So one day when we were discussing how to communicate more clearly I used a building analogy. I asked him ” can you build an entire house with just a hammer?” He laughed and said ” of course not”. I said ” you need lots of specialized tools right? You also need blueprints-an outline of what it will look like- and professionals to help pour the foundation and do the framing right?” He replied ” Of course, you can do a lot on your own but you need more tools or more professionals”. We were FINALLY speaking the same language so I happily said ” Exactly! Our relationship is the house and right now all we have is a hammer and a staple gun with no professionals. That’s why I talk about beliefs and the internal critic. Those are my tools that I’m bringing to help build. You don’t need the same tools. We just need more. The professional framers, roofers etc are my network of mentors that are more skilled in these areas and are helping me to build the house.” His eyes lit up and he understood! Atleast in that moment. It was an exhilarating exercise that taught me how sometimes we need to meet people where they are. It helped us to connect more than we had previously but by the end I realized he WANTED to build the house alone, with limited tools whereas I wanted as many specialized tools as possible with a small army of professionals ?

        3. I very much enjoy these postings, and this one in particular… moving from ephemeral to concrete is well put. I still can’t help but wonder why it is that it is being left up to women to make this shift happen; it is up to her to explain herself adequately, why is the onus not instead on the man to do this work. If you love someone, and they tell you that something hurts them, something you are doing or not doing as the case may be, isn’t that enough to move you to stop it? Forgive the presumption of man woman here… strange how strong that bias is.

      14. fromscratchmom

        Well, this thread is going a bit complex so I’m not sure you’ll see this, Travis, or even exactly where it will show up. But I wanted to reply to you that I don’t think I prefer or want an intentionally abusive man. I truly don’t. But I also truly refuse to pretend that my husband was any less of an abuser just because he has himself convinced that he’s a nice guy who never meant to be such a terrible husband. With a more obvious and intentional abuser I would have no where I stood and called the police. I would have never put up with the evil of him and lost twenty years of my life and my son’s childhood to it. The intentional abuser has the one “advantage” if I can call it that or maybe I should say the “lesser evil” where he is someone I can spot and address and nearly everyone on the planet would be likely to agree with my assessment of him. But my soon-to-be-ex mixed in some good times and some genuine nice guy stuff occasionally and the qualities he had that I really valued and respected and thought of as rare. He spoke in cruel ways and cut deep into my heart over and over and over for many years on end, sometimes maybe simply because he grew up in a foul-mouthed, sarcastic, harsh family dynamic and truly thought that his words could never hurt anyone even though a fair percentage of other women and mental health professionals too would certainly agree that they were indefensibly mean, nasty and even cruel…and sometimes intentionally but with his own ways of manipulating the situation and somehow turning it around on me and making me doubt my own clarity or even take on guilt that I was somehow the cause of his abuses.

        Have you ever heard of gaslighting? definition: 1.manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity

        It can take very obvert forms and include complex intentional plans. But it also exists as a serious problem in many marriages and also sometimes parent/child relationships where someone feels justified claiming that they were only oblivious…or basically in some way can be said to have never owned their own stuff. I think of it every single time I read a blog post or comment here that mentions that apparently a ton of guys are still “nice” even though they drag their wives over the coals for years, dismissing her and convincing her she was wrong or crazy to feel the way she felt to experience what she experienced and to have real thoughts and opinions of her own. As far as I am aware, I have never had anyone set out to gaslight me in the way that it happened in the movie by the name. But I can identify four perpetrators in my life who have done it to me nevertheless, one of whom truly unintentionally contributed and even in my own estimation never deserved to be characterized as an abuser in the way I think of the other three. That person could have used some relationship skills intervention between us possibly, but hey no big deal everyone makes mistakes. The others all seriously needed to get a clue and own it that they were destructive and horrible and wrong.

        To this day, my husband owns so little of his own stuff that he is deeply entrenched in convincing himself and everyone else that he and I are just different and that his personality will be better for his current new toy and that my personality while terrible for him is possibly going to be great for some other guy somewhere. And the dirty little secret of men gaslighting women is that a lot of what they say has a kernel of truth in it but they manipulate it into something pretty far out of bounds from what they should have ever pushed on others. Yes there are some differences in personality between us that he is thinking of having been hard on him. But no, none of it was ever going to have been fatal to the relationship if he had wanted to gain any reasonably healthy relationship skills and actually feel the commitment he had made to continue to intentionally love me because of or as an after effect of all the emotional love he felt when he made the commitment in the first place.

        There may well be a lot of guys who are nice in a lot of ways that come here. I’m sure of it for some of you. But I think there is a serious problem with simply believing most guys are like that and giving them all a pass to dismiss and belittle and not be called on it. But on the other hand, I can own it that part of that is me and my issues and sensitivities! 😉

      15. Your description of your ex-husband, as well as your definition of gaslighting, do not correspond to my conception of a unintentionally harmful, clueless husband.

      16. Yes, and that’s OK that we all come from different experiences and different perceptions. But maybe it’s worth noting that a lot of guys are claiming to be nice guys and/or claiming to not hurt people intentionally and they aren’t all the same in what stuff they are doing in that’s hurtful or in how serious it is, they’re just all the same in their eerily similar claims telling their wives that it’s really only about her skewed perceptions and her being wrong and perhaps in having other guys who think they’re great guys viewed from the outside looking in rather than from the inside of a serious relationship.

        I think it’s just a natural fact of life that we’ll all be accidentally at cross purposes sometimes because our personal experiences color our world, but we can’t crawl inside each other’s heads and live it and then really get it.

        It’s OK if something that’s written by a woman whose known emotional abuse is hard for you to understand or agree with. It’s maybe just a really good sign that her issues and thoughts don’t fit you and you don’t need to try to wear them, which is great.

      17. “It’s OK if something that’s written by a woman whose known emotional abuse is hard for you to understand or agree with.”

        fromscratchmom, I very much hope nothing I’ve said reads as any kind of dismissal or minimization of any emotional abuse to which you feel you’ve been subjected. My heart hurts for your suffering. I only mean to say that I would not define the man you are describing as unintentionally harmful or clueless. In fact, I believe you left many clues in your post as to his knowing complicity in what he was doing. If you and I are speaking about different types of men, who operate from entirely dissimilar motives and degrees of self-awareness, then our dialog can offer only very limited impact.

      18. Fromscratchmom,

        Your comment about gaslighting was brillant! I riffed off as well as ib’s comments in my theory about boundaries and gaslighting and why women prefer “aholes” to nice guys sometimes.

        I think women experience a LOT of gaslighting in their lives. I don’t think men experience it as much so don’t relate to it. What do you think?

      19. Travis-I will try to explain.

        If you know someone is intentionally trying to hurt you, you have clarity. You are not left scratching your head and wondering what the hell is going on-you know. He, for whatever reason, knows he is hurting me and doesn’t care. “This is what it is-now what will I do about it?” You can then decide to stay or leave, and that decision is based on truth and reality.

        Contrast that with a husband who “unintentionally” hurts you. You tell him a million times. He doesn’t get it. And each time you tell him and he blows you off, it hurts more. The actual offense is compounded by the offensive response when we bring up that we are hurt. It’s like a kid who starts crying after getting slapped by a parent and then being told to “shut up or I’ll give you something to really cry about”…

        While we might not understand why people enjoy hurting others, we know the world is filled with jackasses who do. We expect a jackass to behave like that. What is baffling is a “nice guy” acting like this. It’s more frustrating and confusing. You don’t know what to believe. He says he loves me, but does X, Y, and Z even when I have asked him not to. What do I believe? His words or his actions?

        Maybe I am unique, but I’ll take clarity over confusion any day.

      20. The idea that Deanna and Drew addressed about if a woman doesn’t really know what she wants is an important one. And it’s actually not just about women. Men and women both suffer from it. And both the sort of people who want to understand and address things head on as well as the people who are fairly opposite of that suffer from it, although clearly not to the same degree. In fact, I’d say that both the sort of people who have been working and learning and improving in the area of emotional intelligence and the people who still choose to be emotionally and intellectually lazy suffer from although once again not to the same degree. It’s part of the complexity of humans and relationships.

        Personally, I just boil it down to the need to commit to do the work and to persevere, maybe to get help and persevere until you find ‘helpful help’, and even to be willing to let things go sometimes when you can’t understand them yet.

        After my husband walked and I was for two or three months hoping he’d reconsider, he and I spoke about our first fight, over 18 years earlier. It was about money even though I’d thought myself immune to the crazy of why do people fight about money so much? I now know that he felt like I’d come at hi with disrespect and greed and told him that he didn’t provide well enough. I truly can’t own that for him. It was the furthest thing from my mind at the time. BUT I can own that some flippant stuff I’d said while we were dating helped to set the stage for him to be so overly sensitive to that issue, which fills me with regret. I wanted and needed a sounding board in my mulling over some thoughts on budgeting choices related to food and setting up our first kitchen and my love of cooking. But back then I’d never have been able to articulate that that was what I was doing with that conversation. So his knee-jerk tendency to dismiss and belittle my ideas hit me right between the eyes and truly shocked me and scared me for what was I facing that he could do that and the whole thing set me up to not know how to react other than with hesitation when he tried to apologize by buying me an expensive cookware set on credit which I sort of saw for how it was meant but further upset me because I’d been trying to be wise and a good partner budget-wise and he essentially told me that my idea to save a little for as long as it took was stupid but then did the unwise/budget destructive thing of throwing a few hundred dollars on a credit card because he could and for him that could replace having to be a good partner to me to let me talk my stuff out in my overly verbal ways. Sadly, he nurtured resentments and unfair judgements and built on them for all the years afterwards. And in divorce he feels totally justified in blaming me for our debts and trying to deprive me of support despite my giving nearly twenty years of my life the the marital roles we both agreed to and benefitted from of having a dedicated homemaker and mom of three as part of how our life was intentionally worked out. I’m not ever going to own his resentful bitter way of operating, or how it worked out to build into terrible emotional abuse. But I am going to keep working to be able to be a better person and to have more and more emotional intelligence.

      21. LONG THREAD! 🙂

        I want to respond to the question of why women would rather an overt abuser than a nice guy who unintentionally hurts/harms/abuses you.

        The Bible talks about this. In Revelation: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

        I could give you a million examples. It overwhelms me even to think about. So I’m just going to say this.

        I would say out of all the relationships I’ve had in my life, since high school, I’ve been with three abusers.

        One of them was emotionally abusive, controlling, and a gaslighter. I was with him for three years in college. He was always considered the “nice guy” of the group. It took me six months to get enough self confidence to end things.

        One of them was neglectful to a huge degree. Everyone who knows him loves him and thinks he’s an amazing great guy. I was married to him for 10 years. He still loves me emotionally and never intended to hurt me. He also spent thousands of dollars and a huge amount of his time and energy every year on his hobby and “passion” when we didn’t have basic necessities (and when I say necessities I’m talking about running water in the house, hot water heater, refrigerator, etc).

        And the third was physically abusive. I dated him for several months when I was 18. My brother and parents both told me he was no good, to end it, I didn’t. The first time he tried to hit me, I hit him back and walked out the door and never looked back.

        AN overt abuser, an intentional abuser, they are easy to spot. And therefore, easy to get rid of. I gave years of my life – YEARS – to the ones who “unintentionally” hurt me. The ones who loved me and never wanted to hurt me. The one who intentionally (tried to) hurt me? I left immediately.

        Because you can’t sit there and pretend that a guy who hits a woman didn’t intend to. At least, not me. But it is really easy to excuse away the other behaviors, and think “oh but he didn’t MEAN to do something hurtful!”

      22. For what it’s worth, the friend said it in the context of my complaining about an oblivious friend who had just said something really hurtful to me, yet again, and it definitely does not apply to dating, as it was cited below. The bad thing about oblivious people is they don’t understand that they hurt you, in my experience. I had to drop the oblivious friend for many years but we’ve reconnected to a degree and are friendly acquaintances these days; she did some growing up in the intervening years though, for sure.

  7. Empathy ✔️.
    Do you think this is an emotion you can learn? I’m not sure it is. My ex pretended to have it but his actions always told a different story. Do you now put yourself in some one else’s emotional shoes with ease, or is it a struggle?
    The road to divorce has deluted my God given, natural ability to “feel” the emotions of others. Sad but true. Maybe it’s temporary.

    1. I don’t think empathy is an emotion at all.

      It’s a skill. It’s “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

      I can understand how the pain of divorce would numb you and maybe deaden the energy you have to empathize with others.

      But I bet in a room full of people in the exact stage of divorce as you, you’d have an empathy festival.

      It’s okay to hurt. You’re not making it up. It DOES hurt. And when we hurt, we become more selfish for a while. We need to put on our oxygen masks first before we help the person next to us with their’s.

      Allow yourself to heal. And your energy levels will rise. And your ability to empathize intentionally just to be there for others will reemerge.

      It will be awesome for you and those you care about when that day comes.

      Wishing you well.

      1. I just noticed something and I’m seriously not trying to argue with you AND I really appreciate your caring words, but the way men and women communicate is a huge problem. I’m sure you agree. See, I asked you a question and you replied back the definition of empathy. I took that (briefly) as an insult and as arrogant (again briefly) but these types of conversations happen all the time. Weird actually. Something so simple causing so much misunderstood negativity.
        To me to have the ability empathize with another is to feel what they’re feeling like I’m a sponge of their emotion. I’m sad and often cry with others when they talk to me about their pain, I feel their happiness when they’re happy, and I’m angry when they tell me something they made them mad. I don’t control it. It just happens. To you it’s a skill.
        No, I don’t need he definition of “ability” ?.

        1. I was actually going to write you back and apologize for not answering your question which I didn’t realize I hadn’t answered until I stumbled on our exchange earlier.

          Let me do that first:

          You said: “Do you think this is an emotion you can learn? I’m not sure it is. My ex pretended to have it but his actions always told a different story.”

          My brain honed in hard on you calling empathy in an emotion because it’s been my mission in the past week to help people (namely oblivious husbands who don’t know what it means) understand what empathy really is.

          I think if they believe it to be some softy, feely emotion, that they’re going to tune it out as some bullshit.

          I think if they understand it IS an ability (that’s how it’s defined in the dictionary), that they will be more apt to want to cultivate the skill once they understand what an amazing tool it will be to A. Not fight with their wives or girlfriends, and B. As a result, divorce or break up much less (which I believe most men truly want.)

          I wasn’t trying to educate you. I was trying to educate any dude scrolling through this stuff who has never thought for even a few minutes about what empathy is and how it affects his life.

          But the answer is YES. I absolutely think it’s something that can be learned and wrote about it last week in a post which included the name “Hitler” in the title, which began an interesting trend over the past week of people getting upset with me in the comments because of misunderstanding one another (combined with a HEALTHY does of my ADHD — which is why I can hone in on Emotion vs. Ability and ignore the heart of what your asking about. I know it’s something that bothers people, and if I was conscious of it happening as it was happening, I would upset people about 90 percent less often than I do).

          I think a lot of guys empathize with each other often, but don’t understand that what they’re doing is empathizing.

          Here’s the example I used in the “Hitler” post:

          “…guys already do it! They sit next to each other at the bar, or on the patio table after a round of Saturday golf, and one says ‘Betsy is all over my ass right now to repaint the half-bath in the basement and she got all pissed off last night and this morning about us playing golf today,’ and his friend says: ‘Ha! Join the club, brother. Val wants me to help her plan a Disney trip for us and the kids next summer that I don’t really want to take. They’re always complaining about something, right?’ and then they clink their beer bottles together at 11 a.m., delaying their return home by ordering another round.

          “THAT. IS. EMPATHY.”

          My take is that men (I’m not trying to make this gendery — it could be anyone) empathize EASILY with their friends and peers who share a lot of common interests and life experiences, but STRUGGLE EPICALLY with empathizing with people who have radically different interests and life experiences, often because those people’s goals will conflict with his goals, big and small. And that often includes his wife or girlfriend.

          I think EMPATHY is the answer to why guys get along so well with their buddies while sometimes struggling to get along with the person they love more than anyone else in the world.

          THAT, to me, is a major explanation for why we have so many problems.

          You also asked: “Do you now put yourself in some one else’s emotional shoes with ease, or is it a struggle?”

          Relative to myself before divorce, absolutely. My eyes are so much more open today than they were back then. I’m always thinking and evaluating and trying to apply what’s discussed here into my real-world experiences.

          But, in a general sense, is it EASY? No. It’s HARD for any human to empathize with people whose interests and desires and opinions and goals conflict, or in no way match, our own.

          I think that’s why like-minded people band together in all the observable ways like-minded people seek each other out. We all empathize with one another, and have very little conflict in our relationships with each other. It feels natural and easy.

          People don’t like doing things that are hard.

          But I think if I want to succeed in my relationships (and I think if others want to succeed in their’s) that they MUST learn to be mindful of the role empathizing in very intentional ways with people of different interests is to our success in romantic relationships, business transactions, friendships, family stuff, parenting children, political negotiation, etc.

          In that “Hitler” post, there are some links to some Brene Brown materials. I view her has the world’s current thought leader on empathy. I own two of her books, but haven’t read them yet.

          There’s a short video from her (4 minutes) in that post (https://mustbethistalltoride.com/2016/04/13/empathizing-with-hitler-how-being-aware-of-this-one-thing-can-save-the-world/) which I think showcases and explains empathy VERY well to anyone who confuses it with “sympathy.”

          This is a very important conversation, and I’m so glad you followed up and asked me about this.

          Furthermore, I apologize for making you (as I did in a separate blog exchange this morning) make you feel dismissed or disrespected as a result of my scattered and oft-unfocused communication style.

          I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you that was wholy unintentional.

          Hurried thoughtlessness is something of a calling card for me.

          It causes a lot of problems, including things like me getting divorced.

          I think maybe your ex and I aren’t so different.

          I think maybe MOST ex-husbands aren’t so different from me, which is why I care so much about these conversations hopefully helping the light bulb click for some of them.

          Thank you again for writing back and recognizing the analogy of our exchange and the common miscommunication fight in relationships. Because it really is the same phenomenon. And it really is all a couple needs to ignore in order for divorce (or a MISERABLE marriage) to be a virtual certainty.

          1. Haha LOVE it! We are a wordy bunch ?. I agree. I agree. I agree and thank you to both of you. I think the definition may have been a trigger that I didn’t recognize until this afternoon. I’m sure my ex is extremely different from you as he is surely personality disordered (whether he knows it yet or not). He could learn some things from you. If I could figure out why this app keeps posting my comment from the sight I don’t use anymore (and can’t delete because I’m afraid delete the wrong thing) and actually post from my real blog (ifonlymommy) you could read and see why I can be a little defensive. I haven’t been able to have an emotion for years! Whew…so exhausting.
            Thanks again for taking the time to reply.
            You’re doing good work out there in this big bad world ???!

          2. Thank you for the kind words.

            I think I’m probably the wordiest person ever in the history of all the world, if you consider everyone who is wordy and then compare me to those other wordy people who always use way too many words to say things when they could have gotten the message across more simply and efficiently though thoughtful writing and editing of their paragraphs.

          3. Editing….who does that anyway. I love my long winded, punctuationless, emotional word vomit. It makes my world go round (and me sometimes dizzy).
            ?

          4. The sad part is, I tried REALLY hard to make that last paragraph as obnoxiously wordy as possible, and it didn’t read all that differently with my usual crap.

            There’s a great book by William Zinsser, called “On Writing Well.” I haven’t read Stephen King’s writing book yet (though it’s in my stack), but thus far, Zinsser’s is my fave.

            My key takeaway, BY FAR, has been…

            Use fewer words.

            As an editor and proofreader, I’m actually pretty good at that. In my blog posts and comments, I do so little editing, everything comes out all blahbittyblahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

            Cool of you to read it.

          5. Your wordy last paragraph was exactly how my thoughts run around in circles in my head. Felt like home to me. Haha!
            I’ll check out those books. Improving in any area of my life is always a good idea.
            Good day to you, sir ??.

          6. There are different kinds of empathy. Fillingtheempty was referring to one particular kind. As a fellow Empath I get where she is coming from. In my current situation, I find myself numbedout and empathy is in short supply right now, which is a protective measure.

            But I digress.

            Yes, empathy is mostly reserved for those most like us in some fundamental way. Your point about empathy causing potential conflicts in relationships isn’t something I’ve considered before, but it makes total sense. Sometimes it’s NOT in our interests to have too much empathy. You can be easily manipulated when people know which buttons to push.

            This is taken from: https://takealtus.com/2020/06/empathy-1/

            Three types of empathy

            Cognitive: “Simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Sometimes called perspective-taking.”

            If you imagine yourself in your friend’s shoes, you know she is likely to be feeling sad, as well as anxious because she relies on that income to pay her student loans. However, having only cognitive empathy keeps you at a distance from your friend. To truly connect with your friend, you need to share their feelings. This is where emotional empathy comes in.

            Emotional: “When you feel physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious.”

            This type of empathy can also extend to physical sensations, which is why we cringe when someone else stubs their toe. In this case, you would look inwards to identify a situation where you were similarly anxious about the future. The situation itself need not be identical, as each individual is different. What’s important is that the emotions resulting from the situation are the same.

            So, you’ve successfully understood what your friend is feeling, and put yourself in a similar emotional space. Now what? Well, you can use the insights gleaned from Cognitive and Emotional empathy to have Compassionate Empathy.

            Compassionate: “With this kind of empathy we not only understand a person’s predicament and feel with them, but are spontaneously moved to help, if needed.”

            It is the balance between Cognitive and Emotional Empathy that enables us to act without being overcome with feeling or jumping straight into a problem solving process.

            Putting it all together

            Empathy doesn’t just happen naturally for a lot of people. Our fast-paced society does not often encourage us to take a moment to connect with others. It is therefore a conscious choice we have to make, but the more we practice empathy, the more intuitive it becomes.

            The benefits cannot be overstated, especially in professions such as healthcare and teaching, where you are responsible for the wellbeing of many individuals, both young and old. In healthcare, a 2016 study from Massachusetts General Hospital found empathy to be the distinguishing factor in medical care satisfaction. Empathy enables clinicians to connect on a deeper level with patients, and hence act in their patient’s best interests.

            Past studies have shown that empathy can also affect healthcare outcomes – it can reduce the length of hospital stays and even make the common cold go away faster.

    2. Fromscratchmom

      Fillingtheempty, I’m sort of totally with you and sort of ‘not’….well, just ‘not’ to enough of an extent that I can maybe offer some alternative perspective. I can relate 100% to what you said about your ex and your experience with him. Additionally, I too have “felt empathy” for many years. It’s been a part of who I am for most of my life to see and feel and reflect a lot of other people’s emotional states.

      But now with a lot of personal growth I’m learning that I can also choose to pursue empathy within myself and with my choices (words, reactions, behaviors) even when it’s hard to feel it, or would never come naturally for a certain person or a certain situation. I’m also learning that my feeling empathy didn not always lead to healthy and productive choices on my part.

      Naturally feeling other people’s emotions deeply like some of us do, those special people I call empaths, can be destructive to the empath doing the feeling and can then lead to destructive results outside of the empath.

      Matt tends to nearly always address and focus on intentional empathy and choices that are involved. I usually manage to accept and understand that is what he is addressing and therefore learn something or expand my personal meditations by paying attention to all the discussion here.

      You are absolutely right that the widely differing views points that come into play can and do lead to some weird (and sometimes very destructive) communication problems. People can be at cross-purposes and not even understand how or why or how to address it in order to move into healthier and more productive communication.

      I am never again going to feel enough empathy for my soon-to-be ex to make excuses for him or feel bad about his struggles and hurts in a way that negatively impacts me. I’m going to choose to recognize his part in our past, his choices in destroying so many things, and not only recognize those things but place them over my need to love or help or honor and stay committed. He hates that result of dumping me, that I am further away than ever from thinking that the harm he’s caused with his choices was or is ‘no big deal’. But it’s reality. His emotional unintelligence, laziness, defensiveness and his natural reactions and instinctive selfish choices were really all just a classic example of a hurting person hurting other people. He doesn’t need my empathy. He needs to own his own stuff like adults should always do. And I certainly do not need the destructiveness to myself of trying to own part of it for him. I need the opposite. I need to heal.

      1. “He hates that result of dumping me, that I am further away than ever from thinking that the harm he’s caused with his choices was or is ‘no big deal’”.

        Well, I’M pretty happy your further away than ever from thinking it was no big deal. 8) I’m very impressed with your healing.

        “He needs to own his own stuff like adults should always do”.

        Preach it sister girl! I’ve been in the process for a few years now of owning my stuff (does it ever end?! I’m not done yet at least, I think I have a big hurdle in front of me, sigh and gulp). It’s hard. It’s very very hard. But you know what? No one (at least very very few, and I’m talking people who are very poor/sick/damaged so they literally don’t have the resources, I can hardly believe your ex is one of those people) is that special of a snowflake that they should somehow be exempt from the adult imperative of owning your stuff, because it’s hard for them. It’s hard for everyone. Yes, everyone messes up, but at some point the excuses have to stop and the true changes have to begin (and honestly, I’m probably in a preachy mood because there’s sh*it I’m avoiding right now).

      2. Thank-you, Donkey! And no, I don’t think it ever does end. But I sure could use a short rest break from it! 😉 😉 😉

      3. I am not surprised to hear you are an empathic personality type! I am also. I think so much of what you are going through resonates with me as well.

        Your ex doesn’t need your empathy. Mine doesn’t need my empathy either. That was a huge, giant revelation to me. In hindsight, it almost seems like my ex fed on it. He thought we had a great “epic” love. But I’m hard pressed to even think of a time when he practiced empathy or consideration towards me, it was pretty much a one way street.

        One of the hardest things for me is the empathy bit – and not the learning of it, but understanding and learning that not all people have it. And understanding that there is such a thing as too much empathy. It’s one of the reasons I’m terrified of marriage, because I am just so frightened I’d be in the same place again.

        I don’t know how to have empathy for myself, although I’m hoping that just by being single hopefully it will ingrain some habits in me that won’t be broken if I do get into a relationship again.

      4. Fromscratchmom

        Ruralbethany, I’m with on being scared of getting back into a relationship! A part of me really believes that I can keep growing and doing better and becoming better for other people…such that I believe on my side of a potential relationship I have hope. But the last vestige to overcome is asking if there would be a good guy who is really and actually a good guy, and the related questions of am I healthy enough to trust that? And to appropriately follow through with being open and honest about everything and with premarital counseling before commitment?

        And I definitely believe that you can grow and build yourself up a LOT in your single life! You can do this!

  8. This is another good post. You’ve written about husbands becoming aware of what they are really doing to their wives and this post speaks to the wife becoming aware of what her husband really means. If two people can do this it can be really powerful.
    Unfortunately, many couples start off on the wrong foot and it makes everything going forward quite jaded. In many cases the hurdle is higher than the capability of one or both spouses to get over.

    1. Thanks, Mike. I agree.

      The Ah-Ha Moment works both ways.

      I submit that wives are equally confused on their husbands’ behavior as their husbands are about them.

      But I think a husband having the light bulb go off can have a greater impact on a marriage or long-term relationship, than the other way around.

      Thanks for taking time to read and comment. It’s much appreciated.

      1. You said that the Ah-Ha Moment works both ways.

        Exactly! I once told my wife, during an argument, that I feel like my own home is laced with invisible EMOTIONAL landmines that I could ACCIDENTALLY set off at any time.

        She seemed confused. She was SO certain that her anger and pain were NOT an overreaction, that she didn’t know I was feeling that way.

        I suppose to her, I’m merely PRETENDING that she’s overreacting, to try to get her to shut up, or something of that nature. (Note: I don’t actually tell her she’s overreacting, even though I honestly think she is. I take her pain VERY seriously; it’s just that I get too DEFENSIVE, in the moment; as you’ve experienced, yourself.)

        My wife is doing damage to me, too. It’s not fun living in the “invisible emotional landmine” house. (My home is supposed to be my refuge.) It’s exhausting for anyone who cares about their partner’s feelings. (I’m frequently exhausted.)

  9. This post started off strong but veered off course at How to KNOW Whether Your Spouse is Hurting You on Purpose. I would prefer to know whether I’m hurting my spouse (wife) on purpose. Can you give me tips on how to know that? If I don’t think I am but she is getting hurt then I probably am. I would like to know what to do to stop that.

    1. Hey Joe.

      I’d reverse-engineer it.

      The day you can explain to your wife, in detail, why she is upset about the thing you currently don’t realize she is upset about, and how it relates to all of the other times she gets upset with you and you don’t always consider it rational…

      When you can look her in the eye and make her argument FOR HER, and she says: “YES! You FINALLY understand me!” Then you’ll be playing with a full deck.

      And moving forward, you will still accidentally hurt her, but about 90 percent less frequently than before AND she’ll know you’re actively trying to not hurt her in a way she doesn’t currently understand.

      She thinks you’re a dunderheaded moron for not understanding her despite her million and a half attempts to explain it.

      Instead, BELIEVE she’s telling you the truth. And start putting the puzzle together yourself.

      My life changed profoundly and positively once I was able to see how the breakdown occurs.

      Yours will, too. Please reach out anytime if you want to discuss further and/or less publicly.

    2. Can’t I just ask her if I’m hurting her and what it is I did to hurt her? I’m not sure how I’d explain in detail why she’s upset if I don’t realize she’s even upset. I guess I don’t follow.

      1. Right. This isn’t an easy thing. Because of how nuanced and confusing it is between two people whose brains sometimes operate radically differently, it’s really hard to bridge the gap.

        What will help is if you think about it like a foreign language translator.

        Assume (when discussing emotion and beliefs) that your wife speaks Portuguese and that you speak Russian. And the reason things she says don’t always register with you is because you have no clue how to interpret Portugeuse. Similarly, she doesn’t understand your Russian responses.

        If you were to both have properly working foreign language translators, you would be able to understand each other. There are MANY amazing books out there which help couples do this.

        This blog, on a much more amateurish and probably less-effective level, attempts to do the same.

        Let me ask you this:

        What do you think the odds are that when you ask her whether you’re hurting her and HOW you’re hurting her, that she’ll answer you, and instead of agreeing with her, you’ll explain to her why you do all of those things and how none of them were intended to cause her pain?

        What do you think the odds are that after she explains to you the problem as she sees it, you won’t reactively conclude that she’s letting emotion cloud her judgment, and that she’s being hurt about things that don’t make sense for her to feel pain from?

        Here’s what usually happens:

        Husband is alive and does things never intending to hurt his wife.

        Wife eventually starts to feel pain and frustration from some of those things, and tells him about it.

        Her explanations make no sense to him, and here’s why: The thing she’s saying is hurting her would NEVER hurt the husband. So he’s like: “Ummm. That makes no sense. That action doesn’t cause pain, so you’re wrong and crazy and attacking me for no reason.”

        That continues for 5-10 years, and then affairs and divorce happens.

        THAT is the story of more than 50% of all marriages in 2016.

        And it’s tragic.

        Here’s what your wife (and marriage) will need from you:

        She’s going to tell you that you do something and that it hurts her.

        There’s an excellent chance you’ll think it’s a pretty petty thing to feel actual pain from. Like she’s weak or flat-out wrong.

        I’m begging you to assume she’s not.

        I’m begging you to assume that whatever Thing That Upsets Her is, that it’s like a peanut allergy. If you’re not allergic to peanuts, then eating peanuts is a positive, or at worst, neutral experience.

        If you ARE allergic to peanuts, eating one can send you to the emergency room and/or kill you.

        Just because YOU are not allergic to peanuts does not make it unreasonable for other people to be allergic and afraid of and hurt by them.

        She may describe something that sounds to you like someone throwing a dry sponge at you. Harmless.

        But when that dry sponge hits her, it feels like an 80-miles-per-hour fastball.

        Please believe that to be true.

        Once you believe that something that doesn’t hurt you CAN and DOES hurt your wife, then you can have meaningful conversations instead of always disagreeing about whether she should be “allowed” to feel hurt.

        Pretty cool of you to ask, Joe. Again, you can reach out anytime.

        Thank you for caring about your marriage and wanting to avoid hurtful behavior. It’s life-changing stuff, sir.

        I wish you the best as you try to figure out how to speak to one another in ways that both of you understand.

      2. I’m making an assumption here that you can feel something is off or maybe you can tell she’s unhappy? I disagree about apologizing. I personally never think you should apologize unless you really feel like you did something wrong and you’re genuinely sorry. It sets the stage for the husband always apologizing and the wife never looking at her shit…take it from a woman that said “I’m sorry” everytime someone was upset and expecting men to give blanket apologies whenever my feeling were hurt. My feelings are my feelings, no one else is in charge of them. HOWEVER, it’s also been important for me to set my own boundaries so that I’m less likely to feel hurt about things.
        Back to whether or not you should ask her–you should put out what you see and let the chips fall where they may. For example ” I’ve noticed I’ve tried to engage you in conversation but you’re not giving me eye contact. Is something bothering you? Does it have to do with us or something else? In my marriage of 9 years (which didn’t end at all due to our inability to communicate) I learned questions can lead to lots and lots of clarity. But you have to ready for difficult and sometimes confrontational answers. That’s what it sounds like you’re looking for-a way to open the dialogue and find out what’s going on. ?

    3. Ack! I’m sorry – can I chime in here?
      Yes Joe- ask her how you are hurting her. And Listen. Even if you don’t immedietly agree. Apologize. Tell her you love her. Tell her you will try to do different. Then really try to do different. Keep talking and try understand where she’s coming from.
      Just a woman’s perspective.

  10. Interesting thing about empathy – it breaks down in times of stress.

    There’s lots of science behind it, but the stress response makes peoples worlds focus inward. They start to only see issues in terms of how they impact THEM, and often become oblivious to impacts to people around them.

    People with anxiety disorders often struggle with empathy as part of the primal fight/flight response that takes over.

    Managing stress is hugely important to being able to have empathy.

    1. “Interesting thing about empathy – it breaks down in times of stress.”

      This is something I’m not certain of? For men perhaps, but women often become even more tuned in during times of stress. Empathy can be like a survival skill for women. We have to intuitively read the situation for our own safety. Men don’t do this as much, they don’t have to, so they will pull inward when stressed.

      One reason I often talk to women about softening your tone, the dreaded word submit, is because men will often stop withdrawing emotionally and become more empathetic, the gentler you are. Men do go into flight or fight mode, and if you trigger their battle mode they become resistant to empathy.

      In general, not all mind you, but for many women battle mode involves intense empathy, while we try to judge the safety of the situation, fight or flight.

      1. I had thought the idea of stress breaking down empathy was universal. But after reading your comment I read up a bit on it and see some research showing this as being different between men and women. That makes me curious about the research, and how much of it supports which idea, as well as how sampling was done.

        Part of me can believe empathy isn’t as affected by stress for women – but I know I’ve seen instances where it completely breaks down whether it’s women or men.

        1. Well, I know that empathy can become completely distorted for women, that our intuition can fail us, that stress certainly impacts our ability to empathize properly, but where men tend to withdraw and compartmentalize, women will tend to just turn the volume up. We often become hyper alert, hyper tuned in. Ha! Maybe that’s why men learned how to withdraw, compartmentalize. Self preservation 🙂

    2. I agree here with ZombieDrew’s comment that stress can and does break down empathy. I don’t think it’s universally understood how this occurs but stress certainly does have a destructive impact on many elements within a relationship dynamic.

      I just recorded a Henry Cloud quote into my journal a few days ago about this.

      “Here’s an annoying truth: When we’re dealing with emotional or physical pain, we can’t deal with much more than the pain. Our brains need a lot of love, safety, and good feelings to be able to handle and use negative inputs.”

      Conversely I also agree with what IB is saying that women are often able to still empathize under stress, however I think that is far from universally true AND I think that even when a woman under great stress still experiences emotional truths of empathy, compassion, respect, esteem, and/or love the stress often still warps her reactions and her perceptions in ways she may or may not be aware of. It’s in the complexity of human emotion and thought and action that some illuminating differences exist between the two seemingly contradictory truths.

      So we women still have need of intentionally being in control of ourselves and striving to always own it, face it and improve on it, rather than resting back on our previous good intentions or our understanding of all the good of all our efforts, which by the way, IB has shown many times that she practices in her marriage, much to my edification!

  11. Katia way above says, “I’d rather deal with a friend who’s kind of an asshole than someone who’s oblivious. You’re going to get hurt either way, but at least with the asshole you’ll see it coming.”

    I so agree with that. Passive/agressive men can be very hard to deal with and they tend to annoy me. I think it is the mind games. They make you doubt yourself and your feelings and they make you feel as if it is all your fault, since their intentions are somehow noble.

    So I would much prefer to deal with a complete jerk who at least knows he’s a jerk. And we all are, aren’t we, jerks at some point in our lives? Those who are aware of it, those who admit it, are far more pleasant to be around than the oblivious ones.

    1. Boy, I’m really having a viscerally negative reaction to all these assertions that (if a choice must be made) intentionally harmful spouses are preferable to unintentionally harmful ones. I can’t fathom what positive end goal could ever be hoped for in such a pairing. How does love ever have a chance to grow and prosper when the husband is putting dedicated effort into killing it? How can the types of behaviors associated with cruel, vindictive people who actually get their kicks hurting people who open their hearts to them rank over simple issues of translation with men who are missing certain relational skills? As Donkey said just today, is not the uphill climb to achieve behavioral change with the former far more steep than with the latter? To prefer the willfully damaging man flies utterly in the face of my conception of love. You mention at least not having to deal with the uncertainty of mind games, but I don’t see how that accusation can possibly apply to ignorant husbands. The very term “mind games” implies intention. It infers strategic movements. I assert that mind games are solely the weapon of the intentionally abusive man.

      Speaking in the grossest of stereotypes, only because this revelatory discussion makes me wonder if there’s some kernel of truth to it, I wonder if the perspectives being debated here factor into why “women always go for the bad boy” and “men always go for the dumb bimbo”. Perhaps it’s most important for the woman to know exactly what she’s getting, no matter how distasteful, and it’s most important for the man to feel secure that he isn’t with someone capable of launching an intentional mission to make him into a toilet for the shit in her soul.

      1. “Perhaps it’s most important for the woman to know exactly what she’s getting, no matter how distasteful, and it’s most important for the man to feel secure that he isn’t with someone capable of launching an intentional mission to make him into a toilet..”

        Yes! I think that’s a big part of it. Men and women are simply different, so women must be sure they know how a guy is going to behave at his very worst. For a man, he would be far more interested in knowing she won’t make him into that proverbial toilet.

        I actually wrote a post a few days ago about divining intent, so I think I am in agreement with Matt.
        https://insanitybytes2.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/speaking-to-the-heart/

        However, I too had a “viscerally negative reaction,” to the idea of “is your spouse hurting you on purpose.” It is because those are the words of every thug, abuser, bad boy, on the planet, “but I don’t intend to hurt her,” as if that makes it all better or as if that actually means something. So why do women hook up with complete losers? Because we’re often so busy trying to make excuses for him, trying to convince ourselves his intentions are good, we can no longer even see the forest for the trees.

        It is often preferable emotionally to be with a complete jerk than a nice guy who doesn’t even know he’s a jerk. It is the arrogance, the self-righteousness, the pride of a man who obliviously believes he is good, that really takes its toll on women. You simply cannot communicate with such a man, he is incapable of even hearing you.

        It is crazy, but given a choice, a lot of women would rather deal with an outright thug, than the psychological abuse of someone oblivious.

      2. “I too had a “viscerally negative reaction,” to the idea of “is your spouse hurting you on purpose.” It is because those are the words of every thug, abuser, bad boy, on the planet, “but I don’t intend to hurt her,” as if that makes it all better or as if that actually means something.”

        Ah, now we’re getting somewhere, but again, I think you and I are talking about two different kinds of men. You’re talking about men who play mind games. Men who are insidious orchestrators of dehumanization. Men who can only fulfill something deeply broken in themselves by shattering another person they’ve come to despise because that person is “foolish” enough to see the man as treasure when he knows he’s really trash. Men who are misanthropes who don’t mind sending you to hell because living as themselves is a kind of private hell and, well, misery loves company.

        I’m talking about men who are simple lunkheads. Men who are a real life riff, to one degree or another, on Homer Simpson. Men who are simply trying to shove the square peg of their love into the round hole of their wives’ needs (dear heavens, that sounded nowhere near as perverted in my head).

        “It is often preferable emotionally to be with a complete jerk than a nice guy who doesn’t even know he’s a jerk.”

        Really? So, to offer up an analogue, you’d prefer to have a son who is Damien Thorn rather than just an average kid? Because as a parent, I say the same shit over and over and over and over until I can’t stand the sound of my own voice and it goes in one ear and right out the other. Not on one thing, but on dozens. Don’t leave your dirty towel on the floor, son. Okay, dad! (*ten minutes later, I see the dirty towel on the floor*) Please put the water pitcher back in the refrigerator when you’re done with it. Okay, dad! (*ten minutes later, I see the pitcher sitting out on the counter, getting warm*) Please stop playing Minecraft and start on your homework. Okay, dad! (*ten minutes later, I stop by his room and, yup, there he is, still building crap out of shitty graphics*) Is my son an abuser? A thug? A bad kid? Is he intentionally trying to cause me to question my sanity? No. He’s just kind of blindly selfish and has no real context for what his actions or inactions have on my well-being. He’s just a “dumb” kid who probably looks at me standing there in my insipid business casual clothes and my talk of bills that need to be paid, and housework that needs to be done, and adult responsiblahblahblahs and thinks, “Dad’s so weird.” It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me. I’m sure he loves me very much. He just doesn’t get me. He hasn’t lived life through an adult lens. He’s not yet even equipped to, mentally or emotionally.

        “You’re talking about a child!,” you’re probably saying. “We are talking about grown men here.” But you see, what separates a child from an adult (other than biological changes, of course) is a combination of education and real life application. However, they don’t teach the shit we’re all struggling with at MBTTTR as we grow up. We get unrelated bits and pieces from all kinds of sources–our parents, our extended family, parents of friends, TV, etc.–but actual formal, scientifically grounded and supported professional education? No, in that regard, I’m afraid we’re all still children, especially men (when factoring in cultural trends regarding how natural they’re made to feel with their emotions and the emotions of others). We’re just kind of blindly selfish and have no real context for what our actions or inactions have on our wives’ well-being. I’m not talking about bad men who knowingly fuck with your head and heart, then try to twist your perspective to perceive them as good. I’m not talking about men who get off on breaking you. I’m talking about men who would be ashamed and disgusted at the very idea of knowingly fucking with your head and heart. I’m talking about men who don’t have the first clue that they’re doing any damage. I’m talking about men who feel like they’ve been violently ripped out of the Matrix when their wives one day say, “I can’t live like this anymore.” We’re talking about two different kind of men here. They are both real. They both exist. The former is probably someone you should run as fast as you can from. The latter offers at least a possibility of hope, a possibility for an improved marriage, a possibility for his growth of character.

        “It is the arrogance, the self-righteousness, the pride of a man who obliviously believes he is good, that really takes its toll on women.”

        If you are willing to concede that there are men (and I’d argue there are mountains of them) who do not seek to do damage, who do not get off on doing damage, who would feel profound shame to discover their contribution to doing damage, who want to be proud of themselves as husbands and fathers, who want to believe they are here to protect you from harm, not to deliver it to you, then I ask you where they have arrogance? Where do they have self-righteousness? Where do they have pride? They have blindness. They have a lack of relationship skills. They have a dearth of context. When my wife was threatening to leave me, she told me, “You’re a wonderful man, a good father, the best husband I think I could reasonably hope for, but I’m not experiencing what I believe I deserve to feel happy, to feel fulfilled.” Even in her worst moment with me, she knew her unhappiness did not stem from any agenda on my part. It was simply a lack of my due diligence. It was a lack of empathy on my part that she either didn’t know how, or didn’t feel responsible, to teach me.

        “You simply cannot communicate with such a man, he is incapable of even hearing you.”

        I’m living proof that this line of thinking is in error. The strength of my marriage now is a testament to the fact that some men can and will save themselves, as soon as the empathy connection is made for us. As soon as we come across the education that informs, embellishes and contextualizes our real life experience.

        “It is crazy, but given a choice, a lot of women would rather deal with an outright thug, than the psychological abuse of someone oblivious.”

        That’s perhaps the single most depressing thing I may have ever read here. It certainly reads like a choice other than hope. It reads as defeatist, fated, misanthropic. But again, I truly feel like we’re talking about two different kinds of men here. You closed your statement about men using the word “oblivious”, but very nearly everything else you wrote about the men to whom you’ll give no quarter (quite rightly, I’d say) sound a long way from oblivious.

        But maybe you still doubt. Maybe you have no context for the kind of man I’m talking about. Maybe I just sound like I’m talking crazy.

      3. Travis,

        I’m coming out of my hockey penalty box because I have some new theories and I can’t resist. Why would women prefer assholes who intentionally hurt them vs nice men who unintentionally hurt them? It has to do with boundaries and gas lighting.

        “Katia says:
        One of my friends once said “I’d rather deal with a friend who’s kind of an asshole than someone who’s oblivious. You’re going to get hurt either way, but at least with the asshole you’ll see it coming.” and I thought it was pretty wise.”

        1. Ok, now you remember that according to Gottman’s research (collective groan from the crowd), men are worse at accepting influence (being non defensive and willing to compromise). Women are worse at setting boundaries early in the marriage. Instead they adjust to their husband’s not accepting influence. This combination is what leads to stupid divorces a few years down the road.

        2. Speaking in broad gender terms, because of nature/nuture women are not very good at setting boundaries. We are trained to be nice and accommodating, nurturing, and empathetic from childhood, putting keeping the peace above our needs.

        3. Most women who are not from completely dysfunctional backgrounds are healthy enough to recognize and avoid a truly abusive man who treats them like crap. Some women are unfortunate enough to marry a psychopath who seems normal but is not.
        Most women marry the bigger group of average men. These are the ones you and Matt call the clueless unintentional husbands.

        4. But I think that group needs to broken down further into the zero sum husbands and the clueless husbands. They’re both reasonably “nice” guys, pretty good dads, takes the trash out, etc. Here’s the difference translated into a work setting. Bill the zero sum co worker is ambitious, he knows it and you know it, and you both know he wants the same promotion you do. So you know you have to watch you back. Make sure you are in the important meeting so you are given credit for your ideas and not let him let everyone assume they’re his. Make sure you ask the secretary directly for the list of meeting dates so he doesn’t have a chance to not include you on the email list. Because your dreams of promotion are zero sum. This is a coworker you KNOW you have to set boundaries with. And so you do. In a way, you respect it because we both know we’re competing against each other and you both know it and treat each other accordingly.

        5. Now Steve is the clueless, unintentional coworker. He’s very friendly, brings you coffee when he’s out. You trust him because he’s a good guy and so he’s gonna have your back. You don’t think you need boundaries with him like you know you do with Bill so you don’t set them. But Steve unintentionally forgets to tell you about the important meeting that only he knew about. During the meeting during the discussion about your joint idea, he unintentionally forgets to give you credit for the critical piece of whole thing so they think he’s the awesome guy who came up with it.
        You walk by the conference room on your way to the bathroom and see everyone coming out slapping Steve on the back and telling him what a great idea he had. You are shocked.

        6. You ask Steve how did this happen? How could he go to that meeting without you? Steve seems genuinely surprised and says “i was wondering where you were the whole time.” “Oh no now I remember I totally forgot I was supposed to tell you.” You’re understanding after all Steve is your buddy not like zero sum Bill. Steve says, “They loved the idea too, I’m flying to Dallas next week.” “Wait, what about me, I came up with the critical idea, I should be there.” Oh man, Steve says I am SO sorry, you weren’t at the meeting and the boss invited me to go.

        7. So that’s why women prefer assholes over clueless nice guys. It’s much, much easier for women to see that they need to set boundaries to protect themselves with
        someone who owns the zero sum game. Because of nature/nurture it is incredibly hard for women to set boundaries with Steve because he didn’t mean to cause her harm so she adapts to his cluelessness and keeps on not setting boundaries. But he keeps on forgetting and inadvertently not giving her credit and getting invited over and over and over. And because he never will admit there is any intention, she enters the gaslight phase.

        8. Women are very prone to be gaslighted. Because of nature/nurture men dismiss women’s perspective of reality as illegitimate if it doesn’t seem reasonable to him. This is a critical relationship skill he is often missing, the ability to understand that you must take another person’s perspective into consideration IRREGARDLESS of it being the same as your or being in any way comprehensible to him. That is the very definition of accepting influence. Women more often have this relationship skill on one level but not to the level of understanding that he does not have it. She thinks he has it because doesn’t everyone have it? So that is her lack of relationship skill, adapting and not setting boundaries because she doesn’t realize she needs to.

        9. She is told over and over and over that her perspective in invalid, her emotions invalid, and that her biggest flaw in perception is thinking that her husband is anything other than a nice guy. You are wrong to even be unhappy. Look at what a nice guy you are married to, I work hard, I gave up my single life for you. If anything I’m the one who is unappreciated. The nature/nurture tendency for self doubt creeps in when added to the male nature/nurture tendency to dismiss women’s perspectives as illogical or invalid. She starts to think that maybe she is a little crazy and she needs to be more grateful for the good things in her life, after all it is just a dish by the sink, so she adapts to his dysfunctional dismissal of her perspective in addition to the previous adaptation to his not accepting influence.

        10. But eventually the clueless husband repeats the forgetting and the not accepting influence and the gas lighting until she wishes she married the asshole because at least she would have KNOWN she should have protected herself with boundaries. And she can’t figure out how to get her clueless husband to say he’s anything but a nice guy that forgets things now and then but does so many other good things that should be balanced with those minor things. She starts to not care anymore and then eventually tells him she wants a divorce.

        What do you think of my theory? It makes sense to me and it explains women’s choice of asshole over unintentional clueless guy in a way that is rational from her perspective of nature/nurture not being good at setting boundaries which the research shows in the key female balance to males not accepting influence. It’s not that women prefer bad boys it’s ironically they’re safer.

        1. There trail markers on my journey I can look back on.

          The big breakthroughs that help me see the world more accurately.

          From the “I’d rather have an asshole than a nice, clueless dude” commentary of yesterday to this easy-to-digest real-world-like example illustrating it in action…

          This realization is a new trail marker for me. Another milestone.

          Important things, Lisa. Thank you.

          I’m not entirely sure how I could ever overcome this, except to simply be as forthcoming as possible with the way I am.

          People don’t always believe it, though.

          I seem smart and competent when you have a conversation with me, so it seems hard to believe I could let my auto insurance lapse and then drive around for a month.

          But I can (and have) done that.

          Self-awareness, and a willingness to be honest about it and feel potential rejection would (in the selfish, first-person application of this for me) seem to be the only way.

          The one thing I would never do is not give credit to another person, so that part of it doesn’t apply to me, but outside of thise illustrative example here, you’ve explained very well, I think, why someone might perfer unpleasentness they can see coming as opposed to the stuff that can blindside them and live in the shadows in the eyes of all their friends and family.

          Thank you, Lisa.

      4. Deanna,

        Yes you’re right, good point. I was thinking of in this example of the more “nice guy” everyday version of what most people mean when they say gaslighting so I should have written “the gaslight effect.”

        “Gaslighting refers to a specific, deliberative, and extremely abusive manipulation tactic – make the person who’s getting a clue about your true character, your true intentions or your nefarious behavior believe they’re crazy for thinking or suspecting as they do,” Dr. Simon clarified.

        True gaslighting is somewhat rare. However Simon said that it’s possible to cause a “gaslighting effect” without malicious intent, which may explain why the phrase is so colloquially used.

      5. Here’s the other quote about the similar consequences over time from real gaslighting and unintentional “gaslighting effect”

        “Although this unintentional behavior can be viewed as a form of gaslighting, he noted that that’s not exactly what the term means. Still, over time it may have similar consequences, even without the same abusive intent. Both concepts overlap and differ, but neither is good for the other person.”

        Forgot to include the link if anyone is interested. It has all the cool gifs I’m always fascinated by.

        http://www.mtv.com/news/2168875/gaslighting-facts/

      6. Lisa, thanks for everything you’ve written. It’s clear you put a lot of attention to it. I have to admit that the sheer dark and forbidding enormity of what you’ve written means that I really need to process it before I feel qualified to speak about it. I will say this–the topic has steered itself into the most depressing and deflating area I’ve ever come across at MBTTTR. For now, I will offer up the following knee-jerk reactions.

        1. Okay, my head is able to absorb, in a clinical, dispassionate manner, most of what you’ve written, but my heart (so far) can’t embrace or make sense of any of it. In my opinion, it paints a very unflattering portrait of both women and men, and my sensibilities shy away from things that bear the scent of cynicism and misanthropy.

        2. I’m still struggling with what a woman’s end game would be with Bill. I get that with Bill, a woman knows what she’s getting right upfront, but what it the actual worth in “what she’s getting?” What attracts a woman to Bill in the first place? What would her love for Bill be founded upon? What hope could she have for a partnership with Bill to be fulfilling and productive and beneficial? What value as the other half of her heart could Bill ever hold? At least Steve, despite all his dunderheaded failings, offers some kind of hope for a light bulb moment of clarity. He offers a possibility for change, understanding, healing and self-growth (and if you ladies disagree, then you must hold my gender in shockingly low regard). As opposed to Bill, he’s a person who wouldn’t want to be the cause of his wife feeling the way she does. Yes, with Steve, you know what you’re getting right out of the gate–you’re getting nothing. So how does he even register as a viable option for loving?

        3. If assholes, in spite of their hearts of darkness, represent a preferable option for a relationship (shame on you for this, ladies) and clueless, unintentionally harmful husbands truly represent (save for out-and-out psychopaths) the worst that my gender has to offer (shame on us for this, guys), then I truly don’t understand why you haven’t collectively thrown the male species on the trash pile and all gone lesbian. When I look at the perception or, and portrayal of, men in this thread, I don’t see a single virtue for my gender being posited. I don’t think, as a majority, we’re anywhere near as vile as what I keep reading in this thread, but that doesn’t really matter if the wives of the world do, and have already decided that the acceptable norm is setting boundaries with the lowest common denominator my gender has to offer.

        4. I have studiously avoided holding women accountable for any part of marital failings in my discussions here because I feel, as a husband, I have far too much crow to eat on my own plate before I ever try to serve it up to wives, but I’m going to make a rare exception here and say shame on you women. Shame on you for offering your love to men you know right out of the gate are worthless. Shame on you for respecting yourself so little as to think you are deserving of such treatment. Shame on you for rewarding assholes for their moral crimes of intention by offering your hearts to them anyway. Shame on you for not holding assholes accountable. Shame on you for reinforcing for assholes that their way of thought and behavior holds legitimacy. Shame on you for making the phrase “nice guys finish last” a well-known cliché. Shame on you for willingly being part of the problem instead of forcing us men to commit to our part in the solution. If you can’t bear the thought of enduring the growth process an unintentionally harmful and clueless husband must go through to see the light, I can’t judge you for that, but women of the world, you deserve so much more than to accept the asshole as he is. Shame on you for collectively thinking so little of yourselves.

        5. Lisa, you used the non-existent word “irregardless”. When you use words that aren’t actual words, it hurts me. You know that feeling when you stare directly at the Sun? Like needles being stabbed into your eyes? I feel that pain inside my brain when you use “irregardless” when you mean “regardless”. Do you really wanna hurt me? 😛 😉

        All this said, let me please make something very clear–this has been the very essence of a “dishes by the sink” moment for me. In the final equation, it doesn’t matter if I agree with anything you ladies are saying. It doesn’t matter if I can make the slightest sense of it. It doesn’t matter if I think it’s all so much crazy talk. The only thing that matters is it’s your truth. Not one of you, but a LOT of you, so it probably indicates a societal commonality. And what it means is that the pain I caused my wife throughout last year must have cut her much more deeply than I ever realized, even after her threat of divorce, and I need to know that. I need to absorb that. It will help me grow further as a husband who loves with intent. You ladies have given me a painful gift by opening my eyes to this, and I thank you.

      7. Hey Matt!

        Glad you liked it. I always find it helpful for me to translate relationship stuff into work setting where things are more clear. That’s why one of my favorite posts was the one about your work bosses and his you thought “this is his my wife must have felt”

        You said:

        There trail markers on my journey I can look back on.

        The big breakthroughs that help me see the world more accurately.

        From the “I’d rather have an asshole than a nice, clueless dude” commentary of yesterday to this easy-to-digest real-world-like example illustrating it in action…

        This realization is a new trail marker for me. Another milestone.

        Important things, Lisa. Thank you.

        “I’m not entirely sure how I could ever overcome this, …

        Self-awareness, and a willingness to be honest about it and feel potential rejection would (in the selfish, first-person application of this for me) seem to be the only way.”

        I wonder if you related to the gaslighting (effect really). I think that is the CRITICAL piece for self awareness. Moving from the focus on intention or unintention because that in my opinion is part of the gaslight effect problem.

        There are different ice cream flavor variations on the dysfunctional “dishes or vulnerability cycle”. Your and Travis’s version of the unintentional clueless husband is chocolate. Pretty common but lots of other flavors. My marriage started out like yours as chocolate but (because of variations in attachment styles etc) morphed into zero sum. John is a nice guy just like you and Travis seem to be. He’s a fantastic Dad, hard worker, nice to people. But in our marriage, he turned into a zero sum guy like Bill in my example. (Because of the dysfunctional cycle he felt he had to protect his interests not because he is abusive in any way).

        I much preferred the zero sum style, because at least I didn’t feel the gaslight effect anymore. I hated that. Not knowing why he kept doing things that hurt me like Steve. Was I ungrateful? expecting too much? not explaining things in ways he could understand?

        Clueless men who focus on their good intentions damage you further than zero sum men. I know. I’ve experienced both. They’re both nice guys but at least you don’t doubt yourself all the time with the zero sum guy. And you KNOW you need to set boundaries.

        So if I could offer one piece of unsolicited advice for you to ponder it would be the Gaslighting effect. Even Travis, example yesterday about the blind guy and the sun still misses the critical understanding in my opinion.

        The relationship skill missing in clueless husbands is knowing that to be good at relationship

        1. I MUST accept that everyone has different filters and perspectives.

        2. I MUST work with them on win-win solution respecting that.

        3. Understanding their perspective is helpful, being empathetic is great but both are OPTIONAL.

        4. Just like in diplomacy with hostile nations, we don’t have to understand or agree or empathize at all to with out a win win agreement for both sides. The skill is at its core ONLY 1 and 2. To be good at relationships 1 and 2 are required, 3 is optional.

        Just my take, it’s a new understanding because I used to insist on 3 before I would agree. I relate to the clueless men a lot there. I’m in the process now of figuring out how to create win-win solutions with my husband that are not in any way conditional of number 3.

        1. If you can reconcile this fantastic comment with Travis’s most recent “Shame on you” fantastic comment, I’ll feel really good about what I’ve learned here today.

          Is there even a way to?

      8. LisaGottman, I Love your illustration straight out of the workplace AND your adding the better clarity of “the gaslight effect” in place of just calling it gas lighting when it’s unintentional! Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.

      9. Make that, when it’s at least partly or possibly entirely unintentional…because there’s a whole spectrum out there of damage going on differently in different relationships!

      10. Matt, I totally agree that the two together make something golden.

        I think where they meet in the middle is understanding that women do NOT want the intentionally abusive man at all. By and large it can be said that most don’t. The woman who really wants that is as rare as the psychopath that has no other interest in a wife beyond hurting her and destroying her. But the words here that feel as if they are saying that women prefer a thug are coming from a place of rejecting the notion that the nice guy who never meant any harm can’t do just as much real harm psychologically and emotionally as to take his need to repair it that seriously and make it that complete.

        Obviously I can’t speak for all women in all marriages. I’m sure they have a range as to what level of distress and harm they’ve suffered.

        As I’ve tried to point out a couple of times, there’s a whole spectrum of many different aspects within the human relationship experience. But generally speaking the more the guy who is a good enough guy to want to choose love and to repair damage takes the past effects and his responsibility seriously and the less he asks for his wife to agree with him that it really wasn’t so bad after all, the more successful he will be in repairing damage and building a beautiful future. And it’s true in other human relationships too. If a sibling owns their stuff and/or at least completely gives up pushing the button of saying, but I never really did all that to you, it may well help them develop an strong and enviable adult sibling bond. If the guy at work who was a dunderhead does finally have a lightbulb moment and really owns the responsibility and change then hasn’t he opened the door for a potentially beneficial working relationship, maybe even the kind of partnership that’s rare but inspiring to others?

        (PS. And in my case I was unwilling to label him an abuser and give up hope of his good qualities winning out until three months after he made the final decision to give up and permanently choose destructiveness, adultery and abandonment. Right up to that point I lived my value of believing and loving and giving credit to him in his good qualities and owning my own faults, holding out hope, working towards a future with him when he’d have joined me on a path of healing and triumphant ownership and responsibilities for his own stuff and jointly owning our joint/dynamic stuff. It was after he’d gone far down the road of saying that was never going to happen that I had to learn to reintegrate all the past issues and hurts that I’d already ‘let go of’ so to speak into the whole experience of marriage to him and into my understanding of him and who he has chosen to be. I KNOW Travis wasn’t fussing at me personally about not giving a guy a chance. I’m definitely not upset with Travis. I appreciate his comments! This is just a thing I am doing in my life right now, pretty much of necessity, that I make myself say it, know it and affirm it that I did live my values and I did love as an action, even to the point of great personal sacrifice and that contrary to my ex’s viewpoint the failings that are evidenced in him or evidenced by our divorce are not any of the stuff that’s been projected on me. It’s totally mine and about me and my recovery to feel the need to say so.

        And here’s an anecdotal tidbit: Over 90% of the lesbians I’ve known openly admit/tell that they have issues with men and the how, why, when and where of some form of emotional abuse leading them to adapt their entire person into one who avoids men and gets needs met in other ways.)

      11. fromscratchmom,

        “But generally speaking the more the guy who is a good enough guy to want to choose love and to repair damage takes the past effects and his responsibility seriously and the less he asks for his wife to agree with him that it really wasn’t so bad after all, the more successful he will be in repairing damage and building a beautiful future.”

        As Lisa knows all too well (and probably would like to scratch my eyes out over if she hears me say it again), all the discussion, theory, banter and analysis only goes so far with me before I start triangulating in on “From all of this, what can I actually put to practical use in my own situation?” These words of yours I’ve quoted above represent that essential take-away for me. Thank you!

      12. Travis,

        I think you are anchoring on a point because of the asshole concept that is not the point I am trying to make so let me try and clarify.

        Ok. I do not want a zero sum game OR a clueless unintentional husband. I did not marry my husband thinking, oh I hope he’s a zero sum guy and not a clueless guy because I choose that minty brand of shit and I can’t wait to eat shit. I deserve shit!
        No man, I did not have self esteem issues that made me think I wasn’t worth marrying a guy to treat me well. I thought I was getting a guy who would be in a partnership with me. I worked hard to eliminate all the toxic people and married later than normal because I was fine being single rather than being married to a guy who treated me like shit.

        But I finally found him, unicorns and doves cried (RIP Prince). I fell in love with him because he is a man of good character, a kind and funny man, a highly intelligent man and, my special sauce, a man who loves to talk theories! Podcasts, politics, books, ideas…aah my heart! He’s great with kids, he’s a heartbreakingly good Dad (I sneak pictures of them snuggling with him even as teenagers because there is no fear, only love and respect and fun, makes me cry with joy to see them loved in ways I wasn’t). I say all this so you understand, he is a genuinely good guy, a nice guy with sadly common relationship skill deficits because of nature/nurture.

        You’re going to make me do it Travis. I’ve gotta trot out my Gottman stats.

        100 women and men get married. After the honeymoon when shit gets real. 35% of lucky women find they are married to men who are willing to accept her influence. When they have the fight about the dishes, he is willing to work it out with her in some win-win way that is not dismissive. To keep it simple lets’ assume all the women reciprocate and they can work out win-win solutions and they go on have a happy marriage. Lucky them!

        That leaves 65 women who are married to men who will not accept her influence to work out win-win solutions. Let’s assume 10 of them are abusive, or severely mentally ill or somehow just not in our definition of normal “shitty husbands”.

        That leaves 55 women who are married to men who won’t accept her influence. A MAJORITY of people married do not have the relationship skills they need to stay married. They just don’t know it yet. They start the dishes cycle, and the 55 people separates into different categories. Cluesless husbands who will only work out win-win solutions if he can tell she has a different perspective AND if it makes sense to him in some way. Since it doesn’t, he won’t work out a win-win solution. This is his relationship skill deficit that will lead to divorce if combined with hers.

        Of the 55 women, there are 10 that know how to set good boundaries in this situation. Because of nature/nurture, women are not good at setting boundaries over small things choosing to keep the peace over just adapting. So 10 women do know how and lets assume her husband responds to the boundaries and they go on to a happy marriage.

        So thats 45% have happy marriages, 10% are abusive or severely disturbed. The other 45% are the shitty average husbands who just lack certain relationship skills. Their wives also lack certain relationship skills that cause her to adapt. A few years down the road they divorce.

        Ok, now there is a spectrum of niceness among the 45% of shitty husbands, but we’ll just assume a bell curve and assume they’re the people you know at work and neighborhood that are “good enough”. So we’ll cut it down to 40 to cut out more of the assholes if you like.

        40 “shitty husbands” that lack relationship skills to be happily married. 40 “shitty wives” that lack relationship skills to be happily married. Not really there fault. They weren’t modeled it, taught the skills, read about it. They’re doing the best they can. And it works ok for a while but the wife is the one doing most of the adapting and accommodating and getting less of her needs met so she will be most unhappy in most of the 40 marriages.

        A vast majority of the dysfunctional marriages here have a version of the dishes cycle or interlocking sensitiveness cycle or EFT cycle same thing. It just means that your natural way of behaving and responding is the opposite of hers in many critical areas that make you feel loved and respected.

        The flavor of the ice cream depends on the combinations of attachments styles, personalities etc. I am not conflict avoidant, my husband is so we morphed in the zero sum game because he felt he had to to keep his sanity. But he wasn’t doing it in a “screw you, here’s your shit to eat”, it was more of a I have to advocate for my needs because I don’t trust her to have my back way. If we are both conflict avoidant it will look more like the clueless husband shocked when his wife asked for a divorce. Nobody is an asshole in these scenarios in the sense you’re thinking about. We’re all “nice” people who just don’t have good relationship skills and that makes us act in ways that feel shitty to the other person.

        1. It can’t be overstated how NOT deficient in communication skills you are, Lisa.

          I see all these macro-level percentages in a pie chart sort-of way already. But this fantastic conversation today fills in a lot of the “Why?” which people desperately crave.

          I don’t know what percentage of readers read comments. My guess is less than half. Which is a tragedy for some of this stuff.

          This is master-class, life-secret stuff dished out in easily digestible ways.

          I think most people inherently recognize truth when they see and hear it. It’s because it makes you squirm a little.

          Like: “Oh shit. You mean, to look how I want, I actually have to move around and do things I don’t want to do, and NOT eat whatever or as much as I want?”

          It MAKES SENSE that it takes work to be in amazing health, to have great financial success, or…. to have great interpersonal relationships.

          It makes sense that it’s HARD to have these GREAT things, and the reason so many people don’t have, but want, for these things is because, for various reasons, choosing the easy way seems more appealing, damn the costs of that lazy, undisciplined choice.

          We all do it in some form or fashion in pretty much all walks of life.

          And I don’t think I’m setting the world on fire with this brilliant analysis:

          Lazy = overweight and low-energy and sickness

          Lazy = financial struggles (without unearned good fortune)

          Lazy = shitty relationships and marriages

          1. And I will add that a lazy person isn’t likely to be lazy in just one area of their lives. And at a certain point, all of them feed into one another. One serious blow to my marriage is that my husband permitted himself to get sick enough that his hydraulics are permanently compromised. Because eating right and exercising is harder than double cheeseburgers and movies on the couch.

      13. LISA! Amazing response and example (the office scenario). I, like Travis, have to digest this a bit.

        Which illustrates one big thing that I deal with… I can feel something for years, being happy/unhappy/whatever about it, and not even know how to articulate it. But you just did it. I love your posts.

        And Matt – I come here probably more for the discussion than anything! You should start a forum… I think that every time I come here.

      14. Ruralbethanny,

        You said: “LISA! Amazing response and example (the office scenario). I, like Travis, have to digest this a bit.

        Which illustrates one big thing that I deal with… I can feel something for years, being happy/unhappy/whatever about it, and not even know how to articulate it. But you just did it. I love your posts.

        And Matt – I come here probably more for the discussion than anything! You should start a forum… I think that every time I come here.”

        Thank you for your kind words! I am so glad my random musings help someone even a little. I felt like I post way too many comments but it’s very helpful to me to think out loud with other people’s smart dialogue. So it helps me at least!

        I relate to your not knowing how to articulate your feelings. I have to read lots of stuff to so I can understand what I’m feeling. Thats why I love this blog and commenters.

        I love your idea of a forum. Yes!

    2. Travis,

      Irregardless of your insistence that regardless is better because it’s a real word, irregardless has more letters and therefore carries more weight 🙂

      1 Ok, Let me clarify. I am defining asshole in this case as a “shitty husband” A nice guy as I said. Just as nice as the clueless guy as I’ve said somewhere in my long comment. I am separating your and Matt’s category of clueless husbands into two categories. The ones who screw you over and don’t know it (your flavor of ice cream) and the ones who screw you over but do know it (still ice cream but cookie dough not chocolate).

      2. Over and over you and Matt insist intention matters. That we are “wrong” to think it doesn’t matter. And of course it does sometimes like a murder trial but the point of this comment section is to help you understand why you are “wrong” to insist it is better to be married to a clueless unintentional shitty husband who hurts us in the exact same ways as the shitty husband who knows he’s hurting us.

      3. Of course my work example wasn’t very precise, I was throwing it together at the last minute. But in my mind, both Bill and Steve are equally nice guys. Good dads, hard workers, nice guys. But one is upfront that you are competing with each other to get your needs met, and the other just does clueless things that don’t get your needs met. The end result is the same, you don’t get your needs met unless you do it yourself.

      4. With Bill, I understand I have to set boundaries and look out for myself because it is not set up as a partnership or win-win relationship. Even though he’s a nice guy at heart. It’s not personal, it’s business. So we have a reasonable respect for each other as intelligent competent people who must look after our own interests because the other person is looking after his.

      5. With Steve, I don’t understand that I need to set boundaries. Because I think we’re a partnership, that he’s looking out for my interests. But he doesn’t on a consistent basis. But because he insists that he really is looking after my interest, I doubt myself. I don’t understand what it happening because I keep getting screwed over by this person I’m not supposed to be in a zero sum game. I start to doubt my judgment of people and the situation. He screws me over but insists that my perspective of it is all wrong. That he really is looking after my interests. But that doesn’t line up with what’s consistently happening.

      6. So that is the difference, with both nice normal shitty husbands, I get equally screwed over. But with the clueless unintentional guy, he ADDS the additional injury of the gaslight effect. Of making me doubt myself and my judgment and over time my sanity. I don’t understand the world of cause and effect. I don’t know who I can really trust. It’s a very, very damaging dynamic. Which is why women can hang on for a while, but eventually disassociate to preserve their self-respect and mental health.

      7. As I said in my comment to Matt. I have lived with both types of shitty husband in my marriage that started out like your clueless husband and morphed into the zero sum guy. He was still the same nice guy. But I FAR, FAR preferred it when we switched into zero sum hunger game mode, because at least then I didn’t have the gaslight effect and question my judgment of the how the world works and who to trust anymore.

      8. The bitter red pill is hard to swallow Travis, I know. I have had to swallow it so, so many times over in the stages of realizing what an asshole I have been even though I’m a nice girl. Ironically, I’m the one who used to insist to my husband that my intentions were what mattered and he would tell me they didn’t so I have experienced all sides of this thing. I was hanging on to that intention thing because I wanted to believe that it mattered, that it made me a little bit less bad than the ones who do intentionally inflict harm. But in normal crappy relationships, intention really doesn’t matter. And I finally had to agree with my husband and swallow another red pill of how much of a shitty wife I was/am.

      9. But, once I did that, we didn’t argue that point anymore and could focus on healing our marriage. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more bitter red pills to swallow as I keep working. I had to swallow an especially large one last week.

      10. But I think of it as chemotherapy, swallow the poison to get rid of the cancer and heal.

      1. I’m reminded of a scene from Breaking Bad.

        Quick fairly spoiler-ish recap for those who haven’t seen it – Walter is a dying high school chemistry teacher turned drug lord in order to support his family. Skyler is his wife, who no longer really seems to love him but stays with him to keep the family together – at first not knowing he’s turned to crime. Hank is Skylers brother in law (married to Sklyers sister), and is also a DEA agent who has just found out his brother in law is the drug kingpin he’s been trying to bring down.

        There’s a scene where Hank meets up with Skyler and asks her to turn on Walter. He tells her that Walter will go to prison, but he can get some sort of protection for her (can’t remember the details). He also tells her that after many many years with the DEA, what he is recommending to her is what is best for her and her family.

        Sklyer turns him down and walks out saying something like “is it really, or is it really what’s best for you?”

        My take, Hank truly believed that what he was telling Skyler was what was best for her. He thought he had her best interests at heart. Things get complicated though when someone has a vested interest in the item they are advising on.

        That scene hit home with me, because a similar thing was played out in my own life.

        Almost 4 years ago my wife pretty much walked out on our marriage. She wasn’t happy, and had been trying to figure out “why” she was unhappy. After having doubts for years (that she never told me about), she decided our relationship was at fault and decided she wanted out.

        I was stunned.

        Was I a shitty husband? Maybe. I knew she had been searching for a while, but we had gone through a few personal tragedies and I truly believed that her unhappiness was fallout from that (partially because she never gave me any reason to think it had anything to do with me).

        So the day she blindsided me with the news that she wanted out, I immediately went into damage control mode. Those who have read anything from me know I’m fairly analytical – so I tried to understand what had happened. What was so wrong that she was willing to throw away 15 years and a family together over?

        Maybe there was something else going on? Maybe it wasn’t “us”, and instead was still fallout from the tragedies we had been through?

        I knew people who had gone through similar situations, where the person who left woke up one day about 2 years later and said “what the hell have I done”. I had this fear that something like that was going to happen, and I didn’t want her throwing away a life that I believed was pretty good.

        Thing is, I wasn’t exactly unbiased. Did I believe that because I ACTUALLY believed it? Or did I believe it because it was what I wanted and what I felt was best for me?

        I would like to think the former, but given how close to the situation I am how can I actually say it’s not part of the latter?

        I thought my wife was “wrong” in what she was thinking. I mean, I believed that SHE believed it. But I thought she was in a mode where she was self-destructing and in the process perhaps not acting in her own self-interest. But how can I really say that? Who am I to say that what she was feeling was wrong?

        On the flipside though, when you love someone and you think they are making a mistake that has far reaching implications, how do you just sit back and watch?

        This is where I struggle with some of the talk here on “intention”. Yeah, I think intention is actually fairly important. But intention can be fairly nebulous. And when we are close to something, it can be hard to even know yourself well enough to understand intention.

      2. Drew,

        I AM the knock at the door!

        I agree with you that intention can be nebulous and it can be hard to even know my own thoughts and feelings sometimes.

        I don’t know your story but the little bit I’ve heard sounds like yet another different flavor of ice cream even though it’s a variation on the general theme.

        The idea that intention matters and men can be separated very starkly into good men who are shitty husbands and bad men who are assholes is a theme of this blog. (If I understand it correctly).

        I and many other women do not see it in these terms and disagree that it is better to be married to a clueless husband who hurts us unintentionally. So I have been using the stark frames just to stay on the same page.

        But of course you’re right that it’s all much more nuanced. By the way, that’s so interesting that you were a philosophy major! I wonder if you get told you think too much?

      3. I know this thread is getting old now, but I just want to underscore everything you’re saying here. You’re nailing it so hard. Especially Point 6. The thing that I think ppl don’t understand about the clueless husband is that his hurtful behavior, over time, feels like such a betrayal. Especially because he *does* love you. He loves you, yet he hurts you, and then he REFUSES to see it, refuses to change, and maybe even claims that you’re saying he’s a bad person and the issues are your fault, because he doesn’t see anything except him loving you and yet you keep making up problems and saying he’s not enough. And so then you’re left trying to see how long you can endure loving a man that loves you and yet can’t stop hurting you in pretty significant ways.
        The thing is, in the end, you probably end up leaving both the clueless and the up-front husband, but with the clueless one it breaks your heart, you break *his heart*, and the whole thing takes so much longer.

        1. A tragic story told every.single.day. Thousands of times over.

          That so many don’t see it coming is what frightens me most.

          Raising awareness and teaching children properly are the only two ways I can think of to fight it.

          Thanks for reading and sharing here, Ashley.

          You’re right. Lisa does a fantastic job of breaking this stuff down into digestible pieces. I hope people pay attention.

    3. Matt:

      You said:
      “If you can reconcile this fantastic comment with Travis’s most recent “Shame on you” fantastic comment, I’ll feel really good about what I’ve learned here today.

      Is there even a way to?”

      Yes, as I responded to Travis, The shame on you from Travis assumes (based on my unclear comment) that these are assholes in a different sense than I meant it.

      I meant asshole in the everyday shitty husband sense. Shitty husband is ice cream, zero sum is mint chocolate chip, clueless husband is strawberry. Just different flavors of the same thing.

      They are both equally nice guys, My husband is a truly nice guy, fantastic father, helps people at work, etc. He was a “nice guy” when he treated me in the zero sum intentional style and he was a “nice guy” when he treated me in the clueless unintentional style. Just different flavorings to the same shit.

      I prefer to eat my shit with a the minty fresh flavor of intentionality because I doesn’t add an extra helping of marshmallow flavored gaslight effect shit on the side. Less shit overall with nice guy zero sum. Now judging from the comments, the ladies seem to agree with me. Not a lot of takers for strawberry flavored unintentional shit with the added marshmallow gaslight effect shit because overall it’s two quarts instead of one.

      1. Lisa and Travis y’all are slaying me today with the humor added in on top of the amazing discussion!

      2. Lisa, there’s so much more that you’ve written that deserves a response, but for the moment, since I’m reeling, I can only muster one for this:

        “The shame on you from Travis assumes (based on my unclear comment) that these are assholes in a different sense than I meant it.

        I meant asshole in the everyday shitty husband sense.

        My husband…was a “nice guy” when he treated me in the zero sum intentional style and he was a “nice guy” when he treated me in the clueless unintentional style.”

        We may be talking in terms of semantics and degrees here with how we intend the word “asshole” to be presented (I’m using it to label a certain kind of man as something distinct from those to whom I would apply the label of “shitty husband”, whereas you use it as an umbrella term that incorporates a spectrum of “shitty husbands”) but all that aside, I flat out do not understand labeling the so-called “zero sum intentional style” husband as “nice”. Maybe to co-workers, friends, extended family, children, but I don’t care about that. None of that is a point of interest to me in the discussion of husband-wife dynamics. In regards specifically to his thought process and intended end game, how is he a “nice guy” to his wife? It’s the difference between the clueless unintentional style wanting both himself and his wife to succeed, but only on his terms, and the zero sum intentional style not wanting his wife to win at all. Returning to what you said about Bill (“With Bill, I understand I have to set boundaries and look out for myself because it is not set up as a partnership or win-win relationship.”), if we look at him through the lens of a spouse rather than a co-worker, what is the wife’s love for Bill founded upon? Why would a woman ever seek a Bill as a spouse?

      3. Lisa said,

        “I’m laughing at my own ice cream shit jokes!”

        Funny, I was actually thinking about something similar last night. I was like, “It’s like these women as equating life with clueless husbands with being served the infamous pie in THE HELP (they thought it was going to be delicious chocolate but it turned out to be…not chocolate) while equating life with intentionally armful husbands with being sewed ass-to-mouth like in THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, and then arguing the latter is somehow preferable. It’s still dining on shit! Just stop eating shit and asking for seconds, ladies!

        1. Bringing it with the shit-eating movie references today. Toss in Ron Burgandy’s poop eating, and we’ll have a work of art.

      4. Lissy, in fairness to myself, I wrote this earlier today, although with all the mounting posts, it could easily have been missed:

        “All this said, let me please make something very clear–this has been the very essence of a “dishes by the sink” moment for me. In the final equation, it doesn’t matter if I agree with anything you ladies are saying. It doesn’t matter if I can make the slightest sense of it. It doesn’t matter if I think it’s all so much crazy talk. The only thing that matters is it’s your truth. Not one of you, but a LOT of you, so it probably indicates a societal commonality. And what it means is that the pain I caused my wife throughout last year must have cut her much more deeply than I ever realized, even after her threat of divorce, and I need to know that. I need to absorb that. It will help me grow further as a husband who loves with intent. You ladies have given me a painful gift by opening my eyes to this, and I thank you.”

        And this is why my continued commentary has quickly dried up here today. The discussion here is BIG. The concepts are WEIGHTY. I am, quite simply, overwhelmed and flooded. There is so much here I have to process, so much that demands I spend more time mulling it over than throwing out a knee jerk, emotionally driven response to it. This point of “given a choice, Bill is superior to Steve” sticks in my craw, yes. It doesn’t feel right or healthy in my gut, and I’d like to think I can trust my instincts. But I also recognize that my brain may be processing all it’s absorbing with the amygdala and not yet the cerebral cortex. This deserves nothing but my silent, focused consideration at this point. But yes, I very much recognize it as a “dishes” moment for me. That’s why I’m shutting up and listening for now.

      5. Travis,

        You said:
        “And this is why my continued commentary has quickly dried up here today. The discussion here is BIG. The concepts are WEIGHTY. I am, quite simply, overwhelmed and flooded. There is so much here I have to process, so much that demands I spend more time mulling it over than throwing out a knee jerk, emotionally driven response to it. This point of “given a choice, Bill is superior to Steve” sticks in my craw, yes. It doesn’t feel right or healthy in my gut, and I’d like to think I can trust my instincts. But I also recognize that my brain may be processing all it’s absorbing with the amygdala and not yet the cerebral cortex. This deserves nothing but my silent, focused consideration at this point. But yes, I very much recognize it as a “dishes” moment for me. That’s why I’m shutting up and listening for now.”

        I really respect that Travis, that you’re willing to hear our point of view and try and absorb it. I can understand why my Bill and Steve example was confusing because I was using the asshole quote while also thinking in my mind that Bill was equally nice to Steve so it WAS confusing. So let me add a couple of characters to the office to make it clearer.

        Dick is an asshole, the kind you think of when you say men are bad men and assholes. At work he hogs the credit, sabotages your work etc etc.

        Jason is the ideal coworker. He accepts your ideas and gives you credit and works with you in a true partnership.

        Now if I was going to choose who I would want to work with on a long term project, I would of course pick Jason first, then Bill, then Dick and then Steve. WHAT????

        My criteria is trustworthiness and predictability. I want to know that I can understand and count on what they are doing. Then it is clear what I need to do in response. Dick is predictable, he’s a clear asshole, I can plan around his assholeness. AND he doesn’t do the gaslight effect of telling me that he’s a nice guy and shouldn’t be upset.

        Steve is not reliable. He tells me he has my back but then consistently doesn’t. This confuses the hell out of me, I don’t know when to set boundaries or not. I don’t know if my judgement is crazy or not. So he is my very last choice.

        Now I have to be honest that in a relationship, Dick would be my last choice because who wants to live and have children with an asshole? But Steve is still my second to last choice because he is unreliable and unpredictable. I would far more likely to want Bill over Steve because he is reliable and predictable and doesn’t make me feel like I’m crazy via the gaslight effect.

        Here’s my gratuitous Gottman reference. The number 1 thing women want in a relationship. TRUSTWORTHINESS. I need to know that when you tell me you are a certain way that you act consistently. That is predictable. That makes me feel safe. Then it is clear what I need to do in response. Then I trust my judgement and I trust myself to feel safe. The world is predictable and safe. I cannot emphasize this enough. Steve makes me feel VERY unsafe. Bill makes me feel unsafe but he is predictable so I know how to take care of myself. Jason, is of course, what we all want and would choose. What we thought we were choosing.

        This is why it is logical that I prefer Bill over Steve. Women are logical, you just have to know the criteria.

    4. I might be able to resolve the Lisa and Travis (shame) comments. Bear with me as I’m not the best at getting my thoughts in written format.

      I’m dealing with this exact situation right now. I’m Steve and have been unintentionally hurting my wife for years and years. She’s to the point of being done with me and the marriage. I know that right now she feels she needs to move on and if she does she wants Bill. In her experience the “nice guy” is a wild card that she can’t take another chance on. She’s learned that I was a nice guy and then hurt her again and again and again. She was fooled. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice – there is no way in hell she is going to get fooled again. (Insert a windmilling Pete Townsend here.)

      Add into that – she is beaten down, hurt, angry, exhausted and a shell of who she wants to be at this point. Do you think she wants to experience that again? In her mind she is thinking, “Give it to me straight. I can deal with a known quantity.” It’s the bait and switch you get from the Steve’s of the world that many women can’t deal with.

      Essentially she has learned that nice guys = long slow painful death of a thousand papercuts. At least Bill will keep things exciting and she can hopefully dodge some bullets because she can see ’em coming.

      1. (I had the same marriage.)

        I wish I had a response that was more than that. But it’s what I’ve got.

        “Me too.”

      2. Mike said,

        “Essentially she has learned that nice guys = long slow painful death of a thousand papercuts. At least Bill will keep things exciting and she can hopefully dodge some bullets because she can see ’em coming.”

        Then I still say shame on us for contributing to the first sentence and shame on them for accepting the second sentence.

      3. “Do you think “shame on them” is fair? How could you blame them?”

        How can I blame them for discarding a shit sandwich that they’d been led to believe was a burger in favor of a shit sandwich that they are well aware is a shit sandwich? I would hope the answer would be self evident. Don’t eat shit. Don’t reward shit in any of it’s forms. Don’t legitimize shit simply because it’s forthcoming as shit. SHAME ON THEM FOR EATING SHIT. SHAME ON THEM FOR NOT INSISTING ON NOTHING SHORT OF AN ACTUAL BURGER.

      4. Sorry, more accurately, I should have said, “SHAME ON THEM FOR LEGITIMATELY COMPLAINING ABOUT HAVING TO EATING SHIT, BUT THEN ASKING FOR A SECOND HELPING.”

      5. Mike,

        Great comment! I hope you keep commenting here. It must be horrible to go through this in your marriage. If I could throw out a random unsolicited female piece of advice to you as a “Steve”, it would be to take full responsibility for all your mistakes and the pain you’ve caused her without any defense at all. Hard to do but necessary, especially as a “Steve”. Sorry if this is annoying in anyway I just feel for you.

        Anyway, I wish you well in your marriage.

      6. Mike, bingo! The only thing I would add is that she really doesn’t want Bill, either. If she had to choose all over again, knowing what she knows now, she would choose someone else-let’s say, Dave, who is not only a nice guy but a mature, caring life partner. But right now, the only options are Steve, Bill or divorce. 50% of marriages end up in divorce, and many women feel Bill is the emotionally healthier option if you stay married.

        I wonder if that’s why it’s so hard for guys to believe a woman would choose Bill-it blows to hell the belief that the unintentional nice guy is actually better than the one everyone can see is a real jerk.

        And I know Travis isn’t meaning to do this, but the fact that he is so incredulous reminds me of the man who can’t believe a women is getting upset by a glass on the counter,-and then when she says, you know, I would rather you say you just don’t care how I feel than what seems to me to be this farce where you keep saying you are innocently clueless so I should cut you all this slack-says shame on you for asking for a second helping of a shit sandwich.

        I am not trying to be unkind to you or attacking you, Travis. As far as your marriage is concerned, I know you are not longer clueless and are doing the hard work of becoming the mature, caring nice guy. I guess it’s not even so much what you are saying, but how it makes me feel…

      7. Thank you everyone, so so much.

        Mike, I commend you for realizing and admitting that you’ve been Steve. Bravo.

        “How can I blame them for discarding a shit sandwich that they’d been led to believe was a burger in favor of a shit sandwich that they are well aware is a shit sandwich? I would hope the answer would be self evident. Don’t eat shit. Don’t reward shit in any of it’s forms. Don’t legitimize shit simply because it’s forthcoming as shit. SHAME ON THEM FOR EATING SHIT. SHAME ON THEM FOR NOT INSISTING ON NOTHING SHORT OF AN ACTUAL BURGER.

        “Sorry, more accurately, I should have said, “SHAME ON THEM FOR LEGITIMATELY COMPLAINING ABOUT HAVING TO EATING SHIT, BUT THEN ASKING FOR A SECOND HELPING.””

        My take:
        Women are to some degree taught to defer to men, to accomodate men, to somehow believe, maybe even mostly subconsciously, that men are smarter, saner, more competent and more able to be in charge.

        So we get married to Steve, who we thought would give us burgers, but what he’s giving on sure tastes like a shit sandwich. After getting really tired of eating shit, we confront Steve. And he says we’re wrong, he’s not serving us shit sandwiches. What he’s serving us is a burger for sure. Were crazy. We’re emotional, we’re ungrateful. And because of social conditioning we think Steve must be right. Our beloved burger provider would never serve us shit sandwiches, or lie to us about it, or not realize he’s serving us shit after we’ve told him! He loves us (doesn’t he?)!

        So we wonder, maybe what we thought was a burger is wrong. Maybe what Steve is serving us are really what burgers taste like. We have watched to many romantic comedies which inaccurately present burgers. But again and again, what Steve gives us does taste like shit! And each time we confront him (and mostly we don’t, we just swallow the shit sandwich to avoid the confronation and the disappointment and the possibility of one more episode that will eventually contribute to our whole marriage, the view we have of the world and the one we thought was the love of our life, exploding). Each time he tells us we’re wrong, he’s giving us burgers. How many times must we nag about him giving us shit?! It’s not shit, it’s a burger, he has already told us this! We chose to believe him, again and again, for years. Maybe there’s something wrong with our tastebuds? This self doubt that happens when a man we love tells us we’re wrong, and how very much we want to believe our man is treating us well, it goes so very deep. But eventually, there’s just no doubt. What Steve is giving us is a shit sandwich and not a burger. We can no longer eat shit. It’s killing us. (Even if we are wrong, we think, even if he really is giving us burgers, they sure feel and taste like shit so we just can’t eat what he’s serving us anymore.)

        Why would we chose Bill who we knows gives us shit instead of Steve who insists he’s giving us burgers but really is giving us shit aswell? Why chose Bill at all?

        Well, as has been so eloquently explained here, there will be no gaslight-effect, no mindfucking, no self doubt, no long slow painful death. And we may want company, even of somene who gives us shit over no one at all. And Bill is living in the same reality as us! He knows he’s giving us shit! So while Bill won’t give us deliscious burgers like we so very much at some point in our lives hoped we would get, since we are prepared for the shit, perhaps we can make some use of it. We can use it to fertilize our yard and scare away racoons. We can prepare for his shit sandwiches and not live together so it’s easier to just get the shit when we can handle it and/or have use for it. Bill feels a lot more sane and reasonable to us (agan, he knows he’s giving us shit). As Lisa has explained, Bill can even be a pretty nice guy a lot of the time. So if we live together, Bill may even agree that if we put up litter boxes, he will only put his shit there (you know Bill will screw you over in the competion for a promotion, but he can be pretty nice to have lunch with/watch a game with, brainstorm with).

        Hypothetically, couldn’t we use the shit Steve gives us the same way we can use the shit Bill gives us? I don’t know, but practially, we can’t. We can’t take the mind fucking, we can’t take the long slow painful death, the not knowing when or where the shit will be served. At least with Bill we can mention the shit and he will agree, “yes, I just gave you a shit sandwich”. That’s impossible with Steve. So Steve’s unintentional shit fucks with our heads and health, he’s unpredictable, and we also can’t possibly respect or love Steve who doesn’t know after all these years and all these conversations that he’s not giving us burgers, he’s giving us shit, and we’re the mean, irrational, crazy, unforgiving ones. No thank you Steve.

        – Hello Bill, you know this shit sanwich you just gave me?
        — Yes, I do know that shit sandwich. It’s right there, where I put it after making it.
        – I’m glad you know. It sure is smelly and nasty like your shit sandwiches always are, but since I know it’s not a burger, I will not it eat it, I will put on my gloves and go and spread it along our fence. Then I can go read my book knowing that I am sane and that I am not eating the shit my man serves me.
        — Sure thing.

      8. For sure, we would rather have Dave than Bill.
        But Dave and Steve can appear so very similar! And we can’t risk another Steve. So sometimes we chose Bill for that reason, or we just don’t think Dave is available to us.

      9. (And to the conversation with Bill, this could also be added

        -Hey Bill, let’s watch a movie together afterwards. I know you sometimes give me shit sandwiches about my favourite actresses, but I can see them coming and I can safely handle them, so all in all it’s usually nice to watch the movie together anyhow)

      10. (Sorry, choose not chose. And all kinds of other spelling and grammatical errors and typos. Again, English as second language over here. ;))

      11. Thank you Lisa! 8) I hadn’t seen your expanded character list in the work place, that was very helpful!

        It seems like so many shitty husbands believe there are only Jasons and Dicks in the world. They believe they are Jasons, and when we tell them how they are giving us shit sandwiches instead of burgers it’s like, no, I did not give you shit, that’s impossible, only Dick gives people shit sandwiches and I’m Jason. How dare you accuse me of being Dick, you know I’m not Dick!

        And the women here are like, well actually, there’s Jason, Steve, Bill and Dick. The first three we think of as nice guys. And sorry, you’re not Jason. I thought you were, but you’re not. You’re not Dick either, we’re not saying that, but you are Steve. And in some cases you actually do more damage than Dick. Definitely more damage than Bill, who I guess you’d sometimes categorize as a Dick and sometimes as a Jason. But from where we stand? Bill is certainly no Jason either, but Bill is still a nice guy just like you Steve, with the added benefit of being a straight shooter.

      12. Lisa said:

        “The relationship skill missing in clueless husbands is knowing that to be good at relationship

        1. I MUST accept that everyone has different filters and perspectives.
        2. I MUST work with them on win-win solution respecting that.
        3. Understanding their perspective is helpful, being empathetic is great but both are OPTIONAL”

        Yes! Travis is right that the blind man can’t know how it hurts seeing people to stare at the sun and so on. The ability to understand that someone else can experience the world profoundly differently than us is very important. And we all have these empathy fails on our conscience, women and men, absolutely, and not just when it comes to intimate relationships.

        But the shitty husbands say: well, I wasn’t able to do empathize, so therefore there’s no pride and arrogance involved in us not doing number 1. and 2. for our wives. (you wondered about that Travis).

        And that’s where I disagree. Women, although we ALL fail at this, do number 1. and 2. to a larger degree than men in heterosexual relationships. Women know we all have the CHOICE to do number 1. and 2. even if we aren’t able to empathize and understand. If we don’t do number 1. and 2. women have internalized that we’re selfish and prideful. So this is where women recognize/label the selfishneSs, the meanness, the pride and arrogance inherent in our shitty husbands’ failings to accomodate us.

        To take a very stereotypical example, do you think the typical suburban wife really *understands* why her man finds it so fun to tinker around in the garage with a old, dirty car? That same thing would probably be awful for our stereotypical suburban housewife! But most women do accomodate her man’s wishes even when she doesn’t get it.

        But lets pretend the man says “honey, I want some space in the back of our garage to tinker with an old car”. The stereotypical suburban wife could say “No, I just don’t want an old car there, even if we have the space”. Not very nice of our suburban housewife. And when he complains about her lack of accomodation? She can accurately say “well I would NEVER be hurt if someone denied me space to tinker with an old car!”. After a come to Jesus moment, like the shitty husband sometimes has, she could also say “Ok, now I get it, this was important to him, he should have been able to have his hobby, just as I have mine” (let’s assume that was the case in their marriage).

        But if the wife continues, in typical shitty husband fashion: “but you see, it was really innocent, I just didn’t understand that I hurt him because I would never be hurt by not having the space to tinker with my car, so that’s why I didn’t accomodate him. I’m still a nice girl, a female Jason, I’m much better than the female Dick down the road who takes pleasure in denying her man space in the garage, or the female Bill who straight up tells her man that she will claim the entire garage to herself for her ceramic equipment and if he wants space to tinker with an old car he’ll have to rent a space, tough luck! It was just ignorant, it wasn’t prideful or arrogant or selfish, because I wasn’t mean on purpose”

        …I would have to disagree with the wife, like I disagree with the shitty husbands who claim the same thing. No she didn’t understand, no she wasn’t mean on purpose, but she should and could still have accomodated him (like most wives do according to Gottman), and a failure to do so is not morally innocent. At least not if this failure to accomodate him is a *recurrent theme* in their marriage , and not just a once in a while thing.

        (I use “shitty husbands” for brevity’s sake here, and again, we all fail at this stuff! But yes, husbands more often than their wives.)

        1. This is an excellent breakdown of the thing I didn’t used to know, but do now.

          And today it’s just about recognizing the moments for what they are, hopefully before pain is inflicted.

          Important, important, important things.

      13. A few more points:

        1. When the shitty husband says “well I would never be hurt by a dish by the sink!”, it’s already been established that that is often true, and also that it isn’t even necessary to understand to accomodate your spouse.

        I would like to add though, that I would guess that if the shitty husbands had been in the typical positions of their wives, of having to be mentally and emotionally and logistically responsible for everything, while his wife derpy derped realxed around while listening to her stupid Beyoncé album and drinking her stupid chai latte, getting pissed when he confronted her about the unfairness (because she had presented herself as wanting an egalitarian relationship), saying “I’m such a nice girl, if you’d just tell me what do do” (= she can relax and not THINK about anything because the husband is the one doing all of that and he can’t even complain about it), his wife’s laundry on the floor and her dish by the sink might mean something different to him. Although of course, people will still just be different.

        2. Fromscratchmom, you mentioned that 90% of the lesbians you know had had bad experiences with men? That’s very interesting. I do not doubt you are telling the truth at all, however, my experience is the oppisite. Most of the lesbians I know have very relaxed and enjoyable relationships with men. My take? They haven’t felt forced to eat the shit sandwiches prepared by Steve who insists we’re crazy and that he’s really a Jason who’s serving us burgers . They’ve been eating, well, something else. 8) (I know you’re religious Fromscratchmom, I hope I didn’t offend you with this, I’m sorry if I did!)

        3. Travis, the “shame on you” thing. I hope I’ve been able to explain a bit further why women keep eating the shit and sometimes want the shit served straight up. But honestly, this what I think Lisa is talking about when she’s saying that women are missing the critical relationship of enforcing boundaries! The Steve’s of the world are serving us shit (their most blatant relationship failing) and we keep eating the shit and believing Steve when he keeps insisting it’s a burger (our most blatant relationship failing).

      14. Fromscratchmom

        No, Donkey. I’m not offended at all by getting your take or your humor! knew it was merely anecdotal. I tend to feel other people’s emotions and respond with support. I tend to just naturally be a very verbal/oral person in a lot of different ways. (Although it means a lot more too, anyone who feels the need can read that as I talk too much and they won’t be wrong.) But I’m also a person who doesn’t usually do small talk and I have far too few boundaries.

        So I end up talking to anyone about anything and then people tell me their stuff,whether I can handle it or not. Most of it I can. Once in a blue moon I really wish they’d sought professional help instead, lol.

        Rape, molestation and many forms of emotional abuse just happen to be areas that I have a lot of experience talking to people and trying to offer some comfort and support. In fact, I currently have a new loved one/former lesbian staying with me temporarily. So I’m aware that my sample is always inherently skewed in one way or another. Otherwise I’d see nearly every man I meet as a violent offender. It also leaves me with a sense of humor about a lot of stuff that I suspect wouldn’t have had otherwise. But oddly the humor thing doesn’t work nearly as well with humor from men. Men when they are coarse and not also actively showing that they have understanding and empathy for women creep me out like no one’s business. Like, don’t let them near anyone drink! Watch out, typical man in the mix! Honestly I think if nice guys understood more about women’s struggles, about how common abuse is, and about empathy, (and if there really are all that many nice guys) male culture would change overnight into a far more respectful and polite thing rather than our society’s goofy rejection of manners.

    5. Fromscratchmom.

      You said

      As I’ve tried to point out a couple of times, there’s a whole spectrum of many different aspects within the human relationship experience. But generally speaking the more the guy who is a good enough guy to want to choose love and to repair damage takes the past effects and his responsibility seriously and the less he asks for his wife to agree with him that it really wasn’t so bad after all, the more successful he will be in repairing damage and building a beautiful future. And it’s true in other human relationships too. If a sibling owns their stuff and/or at least completely gives up pushing the button of saying, but I never really did all that to you, it may well help them develop an strong and enviable adult sibling bond.”

      YES! This transcends gender and marriage. This dynamic is true in lots of other relationships. I have experienced it with my mother for example. I used to try and talk about some damaging things that happened and she would INSIST that because she was doing her best and didn’t understand and it was all unintentional it was all good. I should be grateful that she was not an abusive mother who intentionally caused me harm.

      Well of course she’s right in a certain way but it adds the gaslight effect of not fully acknowledging the harm that was done to me. Of minimizing it and suggesting I shouldn’t be as upset as I feel. And it’s easy to doubt myself because it’s not child or sexual abuse or anything easy to identify as damaging. And so it prevents my healing by causing me to doubt myself and the pain I feel. Maybe I am ungrateful? Maybe I shouldn’t really be in as much pain as I am? Maybe I want to be a victim?

      She does this because it’s just too painful to admit that despite loving me and doing her best, shit happened. It’s too hard to let go of her notion of being a great mom and downgrading to “good enough” because she’s human. Ironically, I would think she was a great mom if she was able to let herself be vulnerable and fully take responsibility for being human and failing despite good intention because then I would have a model to do it for my children. But because she can’t and won’t be vulnerable she gives her burden to me and now I have the original pain and her pain too because she won’t take the red pill.

      I’m empathetic because I resisted the red pill on many, many occasions with all kinds of people and am tying to learn how to “own my shit” and just swallow the damn pill so I can have healthy relationships instead of the perfect ones I only have in my head. I’ve swallowed so many pills in the last year, I rattle when I walk. And I see a giant bottle on the table for me to swallow in the future.

    6. Matt,

      You said:

      “It makes sense that it’s HARD to have these GREAT things, and the reason so many people don’t have, but want, for these things is because, for various reasons, choosing the easy way seems more appealing, damn the costs of that lazy, undisciplined choice.

      We all do it in some form or fashion in pretty much all walks of life.

      And I don’t think I’m setting the world on fire with this brilliant analysis:

      Lazy = overweight and low-energy and sickness

      Lazy = financial struggles (without unearned good fortune)

      Lazy = shitty relationships and marriages”

      Im sure based on you blog that you would agree that most of life is random crap happening to you combined with how you respond. So with each of your examples, some people are lucky enough to win the genetic lottery and then declare that everyone else is lazy. People born to a middle class family underestimate the challenges a poor family has to do the same things. You get the idea.

      If you have won the genetic lottery and have a body that is very sensitive to insulin it will be much, much easier for you to stay slim. Someone born with insensitivities to insulin will have strong cravings to fight, will feel tired, and will just genetically be more likely to store fat when eating the same stuff. But it looks like they’re lazy. Of course it doesn’t remove all personal responsibility. Of course it matters how you respond. i know you believe all this I’m just craving Doritos and I’m trying to be strong so forgive the rant just randomly typed not at you because I’m sure you agree.

      But I would like all those genetic lottery winners to get off their high horse and recognize all privileges they have been given instead of assuming everybody else is lazy. I have privileges in some areas and not others. I have to challenge myself constantly to not be judgmental in my areas os easy strength because I want others to not be judgmental of me in areas where I am fighting biology or crap that has happened to me that make it harder to achieve my goal.

      So it is for relationships.

      Some people win the genetic lottery and are born with optimistic, emotionally regulated brains and bodies(50%) It is much easier for these people to be successful in relationships really with no work on their part at all.

      People born with genetic tendencies toward anxiety and depression are going to have a harder time staying out of fight or flight mode. They will have a harder time being successful in relationships even when they know what to do and work hard on mindfulness and other techniques to calm their brain and body.

      People who have experienced trauma, or have grown up in a dysfunctional family are going to have to fight their brain and bodies to stay calm and regulated.

      People who grew up with loving “good enough” parents but didn’t see or experience a happy marriage are going to not have the model for relationship skills that someone who grew up with one will.

      People who marry spouse who develop chronic mental or physical illnesses are going to have it much, much harder than those who don’t.

      All of these things are not their fault. It doesn’t at all remove personal respsonbility. But it will present extra challenges that the genetically or enironemtnally lottery winners need to acknowledge. And if I know I am challenged in these ways, I need to know that so I can figure out the right information to best be able to be successful. First thing is to reject all the books from the lottery winners that think they are successful because of hard work.

      1. I can’t go deep because I’m on the go, but yea. We for sure agree. I’m the Captain of the Broad Generalization Squad when I write things on the internet not knowing how few or many might read it.

        I know that it will apply to most people. And I trust those in the minority with the intellectual capacity to know they are (in a SUPER-loose mathematical definition) exceptions.

        Everything I do and write here is done in good faith.

        I wrongly assume people will give me the benefit of the doubt on common sense things, but that’s not always the case (you do, when we’re on the same page, and it’s appreciated).

        So. Yes. Some people who have “Life’s Good Things” can also be lazy.

        This wasn’t an attack on victims of circumstance.

        It was an admonishment of myself. And by proxy, people who make similar choices.

        Because sometimes people make hard choices simply because they said they would and I want to be like them:

        https://mustbethistalltoride.com/2015/02/06/the-unknown-soldiers/

      2. Matt,

        Oh yes I know you know everything I was writing! I hope you didn’t think I was disagreeing with you. Although I’m sure it read that way since I was talking to myself really.

        I agree that even people who win the lottery still have to work hard to be successful. People who lose the genetic lottery can be lazy and not even try even when they know what would help.

        I just had a conversation recently about this about someone who thinks people with depression just don’t work hard enough or can just get better with a happy attitude. That’s why they aren’t as successful as other people. That’s the kind of attitude I was ranting about to myself. :). That’s the kind of attitude that makes me want to go all Bobby Knight on them. But I’m still in the penalty box so I just wrote you a random comment instead 🙂

        1. You are not in the penalty box. I’m always in the penalty box, but I just keep writing crap anyway.

      3. Hi Lisa, I’m glad you wrote this. This may be the only point (So far) that I have disagreed with Matt. And, it looks like from Matt’s response he has a better, broader picture than the simple “If you’re lazy- you suffer”.
        Balance is good, I like the opportunities to be lazy :). They make life worth living.
        Life gives us plenty of work in order to improve ourselves, we don’t have to go looking for it, we just have to make the choice to do it when it comes.
        And I’m thankful that if we didn’t choose the first 1000 times, we will have another opportunity at 1001 to make a different choice.

      4. Linbo,

        One of my biggest flaws is that I get all wrapped up in abstract ideas and forget I’m talking (or writing) to people. I forgot to make clear in the opening part that I was not directing it at him at all. (sorry Matt). When I wrote that comment, I wasn’t thinking that Matt thought any of the “victim blaming” things I was railing against. Ive read enough of his blog posts and comments to know that is not what he thinks at all but was writing the lazy language to spur himself to action and intentionality.

        I was just writing to the internet in general while thinking about some particular people who say “victim blaming” things. Which make me angry as i’m sure it does for you since I think you said you work in mental health. Smug genetic lottery winners are some of my favorite people to hate!

      5. Linbo,

        I forgot to acknowledge that I can see the lazy language gave the response it did.
        You’re studying to be a a Psych NP? Very interesting!

      6. Lisa,
        I get the “musing” without really an intended audience.I do that, too. :). I agree, Matt is one of those rare breeds that really authentically cares and refrains from judging others, so I didn’t really think he was directing it at others, either. (I only know 2 other people that seem as genuine and caring as Matt and they are both in their 50’s and 60’s. So, if Matt continues “faking it until he makes it”, I am confident he will indeed make it. : ) That is an incredible goal (loving well) , and really the best thing you can do with your life.
        All the other self improvement- meh? That’s what I was thinking when I mentioned disagreeing with him.

        (Yep, mental health is my element 🙂

      7. Linbo,

        You said “All the other self improvement- meh? That’s what I was thinking when I mentioned disagreeing with him.”

        Now that is very interesting! What do you mean you’re meh about self improvement? You mean certain kinds or that you think personal growth happens in a particular way?

        I’d be very interested in your thoughts if you have time.

      8. Hi Lisa-
        A far as all other self improvement being- meh?,
        (Maybe I was being too broad when I used ALL OTHER) …, but this is how I see it:
        The definition of health that I was taught was “being in a state of homeostasis”- which implies balance. Things are stable and a relative constant because of equal forces pulling in the opposite directions, or there’s a counter reaction to a reaction.
        I tend to read words like “self improvement” as the work side of things which isn’t bad in and of itself, but I think the word has a negative connotation for me because we live in a society obsessed with bigger,better,faster- a society that is afflicted with tons of hedonic adaption that we tend to glorify and constantly seek after the next, better thing. This CAN (I wish I had italics here instead of all caps..) lead to what we both said was not the original intent of Matt’s summation. That being putting blame on people who didn’t find some level of success, that others did. Remember Howard Jones’ song “No one is to blame”? ” You can look at the menu, but you can’t eat, you can feel the cushions but you can’t have a seat. The doctor says your cured, but you still feel the pain…aspirations in the clouds but your hopes go down the drain. …?. ” This is a big deal in race issues right now, and has shown up in my own life a few times. You can’t blame others for not measuring up to your own standards when they are dealing with a whole different set of issues.
        And also what is so common for women, and is becoming more common for men, is a drive towards false images and of false perfection. Seeking after what really isn’t attainable- in a need to feel good about themselves. Thats what happens when we hear the message that we aren’t good enough, or that we are somehow faulty or different from the rest of the world.
        I’m all for making efforts to improve who we are. I’m not saying being lazy and doing nothing is just fine. Matt’s equations were correct- if there isn’t some movement forward, things will degrade. I think that is one of the first laws of physics- that everything tends towards chaos, so we have to be active in bringing it into balance. (We do have to exert ourselves in pulling the opposite direction).
        I guess the difference for me is I think the goal should be to become more of who we already are, and not to become more of the images that are given to us as who we should try to become.
        This whole thing may be completely irrelevant to what Matt was saying, and especially irrelevant to the broader context of the thread conversation. But you’re letting me muse, Lisa- so thank you ! 🙂

      9. Linbo,

        Hopefully you are at the park enjoying yourself. But thanks for the link for the David Brooks piece. Very interesting and I think I know what you mean now.

        “Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.”

        I liked this quote especially. Turning moments of pain and suffering into radical self-understanding and you are not the person you thought you were.

        Yes! That’s what I mean when I talk about swallowing the red pill. Seeing yourself as you really are warts and all.

        This quote sums up my “self-improvement” goals.

        “The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be.”

        Thanks for sharing your ideas. I’m glad that you take the time to comment. You have a lot of great things to add!

      10. Lisa, Especially this: ” As Paul Tillich put it, Suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.”
        That’s what I mean by life gives us plenty of opportunities at self improvement.
        It is a painful process, but recognizing that you have a need to grow can allow you to better become the person you thought you were (The Steven into a Jason, I suppose : ).
        Most people ignore this stuff-and go for the fitness/money/success and sports cars kind of self improvement, but they really haven’t made any improvement in their actual “self” at all.
        So, to answer your question (am I meh about certain kinds of self improvement , or self improvement that comes about in a particular way?) I think the answer is yes to both- that certain kinds of self improvement are vastly more important, and those usually do come about in a process of self understanding (and yay- is usually painful because changing feels like death!)

  12. Well said Matt. I, personally, love questions, so my own internal battle has been the opposite since I’m usually attracted to introverted men. I tend to question often and clarify regularly, having been through divorce and a subsequent painful breakup, I understand how important these kinds of questions can be. I’ve had to learn how to prioritize and ask the most important questions that will clarify things in the most disarming way. The downside to being so curious and fiercely loyal is knowing when to walk away. Knowing when there is no amount of compassion, love and curiosity that will make someone, who doesn’t want to communicate, open the gates. You’re blog opens the the floor for a topic many people-especially men because of all the social conditioning telling them talking about feelings is a waste of time – don’t know how to address. I’m grateful that you are so articulate about something we all have experienced or are currently experiencing in a way that is simply a discussion. There’s no blame, just tools. I hope we can all learn how to communicate more clearly, effectively, and lovingly so we can teach our children and future generations how to experience authenticity and connection ?? Kristina

  13. I love how some people have mentioned Gaslighting, Ingrid Bergman, 1944. That’s a movie that everyone should watch before they get married. Gaslighting has gone on to become a term used to describe psychological abuse. I think what’s so useful there, is that the bad guy is a loving husband, or at least he presents himself that way. He doesn’t mean it, he acts oblivious to his own behavior, but his goal really is to drive her insane and he does it with velvet gloves.

    It can be an eye opening movie because it reveals how we all, men and women, can deny others reality, can cause someone to doubt their perceptions, can abuse one another as a matter of routine, as par for the course. Many of us insist on believing we are good people, we would never do such things, abusers are in one category and we are in another. The thing is, we are all capable of hurting our spouses, and most of us will do it a lot. Marriage, a healthy one, than becomes one act of forgiveness after another, but before we can get to that point, we have to have enough humility to see one another as we really are, which is not always so pretty and good.

  14. I was up half the night a couple of nights ago with emotional work for the sake of my son and daughter-in-law. I worked today. I’ve been pushed to my limits physically every single day for ages now. I took my 18yo down to the Gateway tonight to see “April and the Extraordinary World”. It was actually an important mom-daughter date which we rarely get to do. But even feeling as exhausted a I do and needing to get up and go to work tomorrow I had to look back and browse for missed comments. Y’all are all amazing. And this discussion rocks.

    1. Fromscratchmom,

      You’re the amazing one to keep on every day doing what you do. And on top of that coming here and sharing your wisdom for our benefit. Thank you for that!

  15. Okay, I’m just going to reply here at the bottom because a) the blog architecture has completely fallen apart, as Lisa already noted–I recently posted a response to something Lissy said that ended up populating nowhere close to her original statement, ugh, and b) so many people have responded to my statements and questions that this will have to operate as a catch-all for all of them. Also, I expect that it will be my last comment on the issue at hand because I’ve gleaned the essential value from it that I can use in my own marriage, and trying at length to convince those of you who don’t see it my way to agree with me takes me further away from what I’ve learned. For men, it seems we often continue to bump up against “dishes by the sink” moments more than once.

    So after several hours of consideration, here’s where I find myself vis-a-vis this discussion of the intentionals vs. the unintentionals. I am an unintentionally harmful husband (a Steve, if you will). Everything that has been said about Steve, I totally get, do not take issue with, and fully empathize with my wife and all others who are married to a Steve. I feel nothing but shame and remorse that I settled for being a Steve. I can totally see why being married to a Steve is untenable.

    Where the case still has not been made for is why an intentionally harmful man would be seen as a superior option for women. In a discussion about men practicing moral crimes, I have to draw my own boundary here and say that I do not question the morality of loving a man who should know better, but I do question the morality of loving a man who does know better and still doesn’t care. There’s a very dark and dangerous element, in my estimation, in placing such a man, someone who has neither his heart nor his actions in the right place, higher in ranking from someone who does have his heart in the right place, just not his actions.

    Some of the analogies in this thread leave me cold (such as men as co-workers) because they don’t equate to the unique, special and specific relationship of a husband and wife, but they nonetheless do manage to retain some illustrative virtue. When I think of marriage as life-long construct, a life-long process of learning and evolution, then one of the most critical takeaways for me is it will be much easier for Steve than it will be for Bill or Dick to become a Jason. I made an analogy to parenting earlier that went unaddressed. I believe Steve equates to the normal paradigm of child rearing. A Bill child is probably going to grow into someone without much of a close bond with his parents. Not a useless adult, but a clinical, detached one. An emotionally closed off one. A Dick child will grow up to be a danger to society. A Dick child represents the worst of our kind. But a Steve child is going to aggravate the living shit out of us parents for 20 years as he makes one dumb ass decision after another, scaring us, hurting us, being blind to how his actions affect us, but we’re never going to pull away from him like we might a Bill child, or give him up for adoption like we might with a Dick child. We’re going to keep at it and keep at it because we know that, with sustained effort on our part, along with his accumulation of education and life experience, our Steve child has a real chance to become a Jason.

    Would every woman want a Jason right out the gate? Hell yes! But I don’t think there are very many of those out there at all. Maybe a few more of them than unicorns, but not by any great number. I know Lisa posted a statistic that 35% of men accept their wives’ influence. I would be willing to wager that if you further parsed that down to men who accept such influence while at the same time setting clear boundaries that they will not allow their wives to take advantage of, or steamroll, them with that influence, the percentage would drop precipitously. So the chances are vast that the women of the world are going to end up with a Steve, Bill or Dick. Now again, of those three, regardless of which one makes you hurt the most now, which one offers the best opportunity to become the Jason you want and need? For me, there’s absolutely no question it is Steve because Bill and Dick are already self-aware of the negative effect of their actions and yet, even armed with that recognition, THEY DON’T CARE. This is why, even after all the reams of very well argued and supported points here about why, in many ways, Steve represents the worst of the worst, I stand by the assertion that intention matters. Because that intention means that I will not be satisfied with the gap between what I intend to happen and what I actually cause, and once I recognize the existence of that gap, I can work to close it. There is no gap in intention and result for Bill or Dick, so therefore, no impetus for them to ever change. And, for me, therein lies the certain death of marriage.

    Here is my most critical learning from this entire discussion, and why it is the very definition of a “dishes by the sink” moment for me. I don’t understand the points being asserted, at least not in their entirety. As I’ve said, the Steve stuff I embrace 100%. The Bill stuff, not so much. BUT I DON’T HAVE TO. Would a wife feel the most satisfied if her husband shared her distaste for a dirty dish being set out? Yes. But will she be perfectly satisfied if he doesn’t share it, but recognizes that it is distasteful to her and is, therefore, willing to cater to her emotional need? Based on everything I’ve read here from female commentators, the answer is a resounding yes. So I don’t share your perception of the Bill > Steve ranking and I hope I’ve been able to make a compelling case as to why, even if the women of this thread are still not prepared to agree with it. BUT I DON’T HAVE TO SHARE YOUR OPINION. I HAVE TO RECOGNIZE IT AS YOUR TRUTH. I accomplish nothing by saying it is faulty thinking, illogical thinking, crazy thinking. It is your truth. It is your reality. And knowing that allows me to evolve. It allows me a critical insight into how to be a better husband to my beloved wife. Because, when broken down to brass tacks, here’s the thing:

    Who gives a flying fuck if Steve is better than Bill, or Bill is better than Steve? They both suck. Steve shouldn’t try to “improve” up to Bill’s level. Bill shouldn’t try to “improve” up to Steve’s level. The only improvement is to become Jason. I want to be my wife’s Jason. I want it so bad I can taste it like blood in my mouth. I’m not Jason yet. But I’m a lot less Steve now than I’ve ever been. I’m becoming Jason. I WILL ACCEPT NOTHING LESS THAN BEING JASON.

    1. Travis,

      Your takeaway to relentlessly work to be your wife’s Jason is the only thing that matters. If we have given you a little bit of guidance in this discussion towards that end, then it’s all good.

      I was going to respond to you kids and parents comments but I didn’t have time. Now I have a little personal experience with a “Bill” kid. I still think you are making Bill out to be much meaner than I and everyone is saying. That is not Bill, Bill is not an asshole like Dick. He is just as nice and kind as Steve.

      Anyway, my daughter is a Bill. I will beat anyone up who says she is an asshole because she is not. But she approaches life waking up and saying “what do I want today?” point of view. And then she tries to get it. She does not try and screw people over intentionally, she is not saying “how can make this person feel like shit?” But she prioritizes her needs first and she knows that and acknowledges it.

      She is a very kind and nice girl. Empathic to others pain, helpful. A nice girl just like Bill is a nice guy. But she prioritizes her needs first as her default. She has been this way since birth, she’s a teenager now so I get the teenage version and I hope when she’s 30 she’ll still have it but in a mature version that balances it with wisdom and self sacrifice like a Jason.

      She’s already shown so much growth and it’s my job to help her celebrate her “Bill” personality (because especially for women prioritizing your needs is healthy) with adding more focus on others needs and to become a mature Jason. She is open to that because she recognizes she is a Bill and not a Jason.

      If she had a “Steve” personality my job would be much harder. Because I would have to help her learn to develop into a Jason while she insists she is already a Jason. One of my best friends has a Steve son like this. And it has been impossible to get him to see he even needs to change at all. And he keeps telling her that she is wrong to even think he’s Steve and not Jason.

      So no, I don’t agree with you that Steve is closer to becoming a Jason. In fact, he is one step FARTHER away than Bill from becoming a Jason because Bill knows he’s not Jason and Steve thinks he is Jason.

      As I said in another comment. I have experienced this dynamic with my mother so it’s a relationship dynamic not just a marriage dynamic. My mother is a Steve who insists she’s a Jason. My Dad was a Bill who knew he wasn’t a Jason. I would have preferred that they both be Jason’s but since I didn’t get that choice, I choose Bill over Steve EVERYTIME.

      Because there’s more hope for Bill to change because he knows he isn’t Jason. And Bill doesn’t feed me shit sandwiches and insist I’m crazy and ungrateful to think they’re anything but delicious.

      So you think of Bill as an asshole but he’s not.

      1. It may confuse you how my daughter is a Bill but a nice girl. So here’s an example. She’s not old enough to drive and so she will make these all day plans that require me to drive her around and wait for her. All day, all different places.

        Because she wants to do these fun things and mom has a car so why shouldn’t she be able to do these fun things today? it’s a zero sum game because she knows this would not be joy for me. But she wants them.

        So it’s my job to set the boundaries with her and decide what is a reasonable amount of soul sucking driving and waiting I should do and say this is what I am willing to do

        I know I need to set these boundaries with her because I know she’s a bill and she is not yet a Jason. It’s a zero sum game right now so I know the rules.

        If she were a Steve. She would make plans that include both of our needs and I would expect a pleasant day ahead with a reasonable amount of driving. But then she would forget to tell her friend to arrange a ride, forget to tell me I had to buy a bunch of crap to bring, add a surprise necessary trip on the end. So because she’s a Steve, I would have spent my whole day driving around and doing nothing I wanted to do. And she would tell me it was no big deal she just forgot and why couldn’t I just chill and not be so upset all the time about small stuff.

        I’m grateful I have a Bill and not a Steve kid.

      2. I agree with this.
        – Bill is not bad, Bill is as nice a guy as Steve.

        – Bill =/= Dick!

        – Bill is closer to being Jason than Steve is, because he knows he’s not Jason, he can see and acknowledge the shit sandwiches he’s serving people. He has already passed *that* hurdle.

        – Dealing with a Steve partner, child or coworker who serve you shit sandwiches and still insist they’re a Jason, that’s a much longer and more frustrating road.

        – However, I would prefer a Steve child and a Steve partner over a Dick child and a Dick partner. There’s a lot more hope for the Steve child and partner than the Dick child and partner.

        – It feels good to believe you’re Jason, whether or not that’s true. Steve’s belief that he is Jason is not as innocent as if he had believed that Madonna was originally from Iceland. (I’ve already written a lot about the selfishness/pride inherent in not accomodating people whether or not you understand them, so that’s not what I’m talking about here).

        1. It would be painful and humbling to realize you’re Steve and not Jason when you’ve thought and insisted for years that you’re Jason (perhaps you also confuse not being Jason with being Dick, and that would be extra painful and confusing).
        2. Realizing that you’re Steve when you want to be Jason would also mean you would have to start giving people burgers instead of shit sandwiches, and that is a lot more work than than Steve is used to and probably prefers.

        So Steve has much more self serving investments in believing he’s a Jason than he has in believing that Madonna is originally from Iceland. If Steve’s wife showed him a few articles regarding Madonnas heritage, he would probably believe pretty soon that Madonna is not in fact from Iceland. Now, when Steve’s wife or parents tell him he’s Steve and not Jason? That takes a lot longer for him to believe (the red pill is hard to swallow!).

        Travis says he knows he’s been Steve and desperately wants to be Jason. From that Travis, it seems like you are pretty close to being a Jason to me!

      3. Lisa, I really like the comparison between a Bill child (your daughter) and a Steve child. 🙂 Very clarifying!

        You said: “If she were a Steve. She would make plans that include both of our needs and I would expect a pleasant day ahead with a reasonable amount of driving. But then she would forget to tell her friend to arrange a ride, forget to tell me I had to buy a bunch of crap to bring, add a surprise necessary trip on the end. So because she’s a Steve, I would have spent my whole day driving around and doing nothing I wanted to do. And she would tell me it was no big deal she just forgot and why couldn’t I just chill and not be so upset all the time about small stuff”

        Going off that example, do you have any ideas as to how we could set effective boundaries with a Steve child to prevent ourselves from being forced to eat a similar kind of shit sandwich in the future? Because I agree, it would be much easier with Bill.

      4. Donkey,

        You said:
        “Going off that example, do you have any ideas as to how we could set effective boundaries with a Steve child to prevent ourselves from being forced to eat a similar kind of shit sandwich in the future? Because I agree, it would be much easier with Bill.”

        Well, I can tell you what my friend did. Talking and trying to convince him does not have any effect at all. He’s more of an action person than theoretical so the most success she has had was to try and surround him with people who model Jason characteristics in the areas of his interests. His dad is very mature but his interests are very different.

        He was very involved in boy scouts and wrestling where he was exposed to mature Jason men with similar “action” interests. He has shown a lot of growth this way but still has a lot of denying he is anything less than a Jason. But, he’s only 18 and is entering the US Army Ranger program in a couple of months so I have no doubt that will give him a lot of maturity.

        The other thing my friend did was to encourage him to try some of his wild ideas in real life. He would look on youtube and declare he knew better than they did. So she would let him do it so he could learn humility when he couldn’t figure it out on the first try like he thought he could. She always says her primary role is try to to teach him humility.

        Just a guess, but I think that is what the Steve’s struggle with at their core, is a certainty of their goodness because they really do have good intentions. As my husband can tell you I relate to that struggle with a sense of moral superiority. That is what prevents having good relationships though. The Bills struggle with balancing their needs and wants with others, learning more self sacrifice. That is what prevents them from having good relationships. Anyway, that’s my take.

        My son is more of a Jason, has been since birth. I think a lot of this has to do with our genetics. As I said in a comment to Matt, a lot of our relationship success is determined by our genetic lottery. The rest of us have to work harder at it.

      5. Donkey,

        I realized you wanted Steve driving around boundaries and I don’t have a lot of great ideas there other than more traditional consequence boundaries. That’s why steves are hard for me. The gaslight effect thing drives me crazy even in a kid.

      6. You’re right I did want the practical boundaries, but the other stuff was good too. 🙂
        – Jason role models with similar interests
        – Teaching Steve humility by letting him do stuff he thinks he will be so great at from the start.

        After having mulled it over, I do have a practical boundary suggestion:

        1. Steve child didn’t intend to, but because he hadn’t planned and remembered all the things, Parent had to do a bunch of extra driving.

        2. Parent tells Steve that they knows Steve didn’t mean to, but because Steve hadn’t remembered all the things, Parent had to do more driving than was really ok for Parent. Steve needs to plan better next time.

        3. Annoying extra driving happens, even though Steve didn’t mean it to.

        4. Parent says: “You’re not doing the planning you need to, so I must take that into consideration when I plan how much I can drive you. Normally I could drive you to 2 activites and wait for you while you do those, but because of all this unexpected emergency driving that happens because you didn’t plan all the things, I can only drive you to 1 in the future if this happens again.

        5. Annoying extra driving for Steve child happens.

        6. Like Parent says, Parent does. Because Steve didn’t remember all the things that were his to remember and Parent had to do extra driving, Parent can now only drive Steve to 1 activity (*cue screaming and crying “I hate you Parent, how can you treat me as if I’m not a Jason, if I had a different Parent they would be a Jason and drive me to all the things because they loved me!”*)

        7. But Steve could earn the 2 activities privilege back. If he plans all the things so there’s no extra driving after his now 1 activity (basically learns to behave like a Jason) 5 weeks in a row (let’s say this driving thing happens every Saturday), Parent can drive him to 2 activities again. If unexpected meregency driving happens again, back to 1 activity.

        I think/hope this has good chances of helping a Steve child to learn to behave more like a Jason in this regard, and also to *get that he wasn’t behaving like a Jason*, and that his actions/inactions, intentional or not, affects Parent and ultimalty Steve himself (I think that last part is necessary) so he needs to consider things. At least it would let Parent show Steve that his actions/inactions have consequences, and Parent could protect their own time, stress levels and self respect in this regard.

        (And I’m sure the practical consequence could be different, maybe Parent could only drive Steve around one Saturday out of three or something like that.)

        What do you think? 🙂

      7. Donkey,
        I like your analogy. But, my first question is what if Steve has ADHD, or something along those lines, and truly is unable to focus enough in order to remember all the things he’s supposed to be responsible for? I don’t think the behavior will change with consequences.
        I mean there are a lot of things that may be able to assist him, and he may try implementing them more, but likely he will still have issues, and it isn’t that he is intentionally trying to make more work for his parents.
        As long as Steve accepts that he will only be going to one activity, or has to plan for his own transportation to other ones, and doesn’t turn it around to be the parents fault that they wont (cant) make up the difference for things forgotten, then I think Steve is fine as Steve.
        At this point he may even be more of a Bill because everyone will see it coming, and can be prepared for it.
        Thoughts?

      8. Donkey,

        I like your suggestions. Obviously, it would vary by kid but those ideas would defintely help the behaviors.

        I was trying to remember what my friend did when her son was younger. And I think she did quite a lot of these type of smart behavioral stuff. In later years, she was trying to focus on the Steve attitude of not acknowledging the harm by focusing on learning humility and seeing his effect on others. Of course, there’s going to be a lot of variation of personalities.

        I was just using him because I am really familiar with his story. And I have to add he is a really fine young man in many ways, but that Steve gaslight effect attitude would drive me crazy. I’m just not equipped to deal with it very well because I think and talk about things in fact based theoretical ways. And so I don’t even know how to talk and compromise with someone who won’t even acknowledge the reality of shit sandwiches.

        Really, I think I do far worse with Steves than the average woman. I think it is why I chose Dick over Steve in my ranking for work assignments. I am not conflict avoidant so I know how to deal with assholes directly. I don’t even know what to do with Steves, they’re my kryptonite.

        But I can see now that i think about it that many women might choose Steve over Dick in a work setting because they’re more conflict avoidant or know how to handle Steves better than I do. Would you choose Steve over Dick?

        In adults, Steves attitude of good intentions can be a protective defense mechanism against the pain of accepting responsibility for the harm they have done. You had a really good comment about that. Also, I think of Drew’s comment on another blog about levels of accountability.

        Steves get stuck at a lower level of accountability. They can acknowledge harm that has been done but can’t acknowledge that their good intentions don’t make it better than Bill.

        And so they add on the additional harm of the gaslight effect injuries which drops their accountability level lower. Because it pushes accountability on you that they should own.

        That’s what I was talking about in the comment about my mother. Because she won’t swallow her red pill and take full accountability for her mistakes, she shoves me HER pill and wants me to swallow it.

        “Here take this pill and acknowledge that I am so much better than Bill and you are ungrateful to even ask me to swallow this pill.” I get served shit burgers because Steves are too afraid to accept responsibility for their shit. And so they put the shit they should own into sandwiches that they feed to us. With a side of gaslight effect fries.

        All this stuff is relationship 102 stuff like you said. So it applies to all kinds of relationships. Often I find it helpful to apply the concepts to same sex relationships like my mother or sister because it eliminates the complicating gender differences. The same rules apply though. Both my mother and older sister are Steves. Drives me crazy!

        I got served a big load of shit sandwiches last week and got told how delicious they were and how ungrateful I was to say they smelled like shit so I want going to eat them. Didn’t eat the gaslight effect fries that were served either. 😉

        I’m doing my best to be loving and mature but loving Steves are hard for me without getting wounded with limited accountability of their part so I have to set boundaries. Trying to learn to do it with an understanding and loving attitude. It has helped me tremendously to come here and hear everyone’s comments so I can at least understand I’m not crazy that Steves drive me crazy. Do you have a lot of Steves in your life?

      9. Linbo,

        To me the critical difference between the Steve and the Bill is the lack of accountability – the gaslight effect.

        If Steve has ADHD and everybody knows it, then it’s just a matter of trying to figure out the best way to manage detailed tasks in the best way possible. There will be lots of things that fall through the cracks but as long as ADHD is not used as an excuse for lack of accountability for harm done, it’s all good by me.

        Steve might not have ADHD, but just be naturally less organized and spontaneous by nature. Here the same things apply. As long as accountability and reasonable efforts are being made to minimize harm to others because of these tendencies, I’m good.

        I think the goal should be to accept your basic personality along with any genetic variations like ADHD or anxiety or whatever else make it more challenging to respond fairly to another person.

        But also work to make as many changes as possible to minimize the effects of the cards we’ve been dealt. Part of which is accepting the other person quirks and all but also not eating any shit sandwiches.

        Both my husband and I have anxiety issues. No question it makes it harder to stay out of fight or flight biological attack or withdraw when things gets real. But we both acknowledge the harder climb for the other person and also expect each other to own our shit and do everything we can to minimize it so we can treat each other fairly.

        I hate when people say “this is how I am, you just need to accept me” when they really mean they aren’t willing to own their shit and do the hard work of changing to be more mature and treat other people fairly.

      10. Reagarding Steve’s potential ADHD:

        Like Lisa says, it becomes a matter of dealing with it. Regarding the practical consequences I stated, it would probably be necessary to some degree to walk a kid through what needs to happen to plan all the things, and a Steve or another kid with ADHD would require more hand holding and probably simpler more clearer systems. They’re kids in any case, you wouldn’t want to leave them hanging if they really don’t know what to do. We’re not born with many life skills after all (I’m not a parent, I’m in awe of parents, so no high horse here, I’m just thinking out loud).

        So Parent would walk Steve through for instance (and maybe come up with some general check list):
        – The appointments are Saturday, Wednesday would be a good day to call your friends and tell them they need to arrange rides *Parent waits while Steve clumsily calls his friends*.
        – We must think about what activites you will be doing and what clothes and equipment you need for them *Parent waits while Steve thinks about it, helps if Steve forgets anything*
        – Since we now know what clothes/equipment we need, we will go and check if the necessary clothes are clean/ the equipment is ready, and if so, put them aside for Saturday *Parent waits while Steve checks this*. If the clothes are not clean/equipment is not ready, we need to do laundry, this is Parent’s job (if that’s true) l will do that, you must go and make the equipment ready.
        – Is there anything else we need to bring? *Waits while Steve thinks, helps if he forgets*. If so, write a list *waits while Steve writes list* and make plans to arrange that, Parent will arrange it. If you don’t know, who can you call and ask? *Waits while Steve thinks about who he can call and waits while he calls*.
        – If we will be gone for more than two hours and one of the activites do not involve food…what do you think we need to think about? *waits while Steve figures out we will need food*. *Parent lets Steve know that Parent will take care of this*.

        OMG, it sounds exhausting to be a parent! That’s why it’s important that it’s shared fairly! 8)

      11. Lisa, I agree with what you say about Steve’s lack of accountability (that ZombieDrew talked about before the whole Bill Steve thing). He has something invested in not realizing he’s Steve.

        And I definitely agree, there are Steve’s of both genders! I also agree, it can definitely be helpful to remove the weird extra gender stuff. I’ve been Steve in some cases, and I probably still am. I think we can be Steve with our adult kids for instance (like your mom is, ugh, I’m sorry 🙁 ), Jason with our friends, Bill with a spouse and Dick on the golf course or even with a sibling. Or any kind of combination. Sometimes I’ve knowingly been Bill, but wanting and knowing that I should be Jason and lacking the courage/integrity. I’ve been Dick in some of my worst moments (aren’t we all when we’re really triggered or really really damaged in som way?). And I am Jason on some ways.

        Would I prefer Dick or Steve to work with (and I’ll use he because of the names, but they could just as well be women)? Hmmm… hmmm…
        I’m more conflict avoidant than you I believe. At first I thought Steve, because at least he won’t go out of his way to screw me over. And it makes a BIG difference if you know that Steve is Steve and not Jason or Bill, then you’re more protected from the gaslight effect, which we both agree is huge and damaging. Then I was thinking you can basically treat him as Bill, you’ll know you need to be present at the meeting and so on.

        …but it’s not so simple, because you can’t really trust him to do anything that he says or be accountable for it, even simple stuff like follow up with a customer or whatever. He will keep his word a lot of the time, but you won’t know when. Bill will probably be more likely to tell you straight/or let you know in some fashion when and where you can’t trust him, and he’ll own it if he didn’t send a follow up mail I imagine. But Bill could also consider that part of the zero sum game and screw you over, not out of pleasure, but for his own gain (he’ll probably admit to that later though),

        With Steve comes the added emotional labour. The Steve’s of the world (and that includes me when I’m Steve) are usually quite or very defensive, so you will have to perform a buttload of emotional labour to make it seem to him as if you’re treating him as the Jason he believes that he his, while you really consider and plan for him screwing you over in similar ways as Bill would, with the added gaslight effect and lack of Bill’s honesty. So if you insist on being in the meeting with him, Steve would say offendedly “why, I are you scared I’ll screw you over? I would never do that, how could you think that!” To avoid having him be mad at YOU, and treating YOU as if YOU’re the bad one (basically letting him know you think he’s Steve and not Jason), you (or maybe I, the more conflict avoidant one) would say something like “ooh, I’m sorry Steve, it’s just that I really got screwed over by a Dick once in that situation, so I just can’t sleep at night if I’m not present on meetings like that, it’s just this silly thing, it’s nothing to do with you, you’re great, hehehe!” *Donkey then excuses herself to go vomit with self disgust and Steve disgust in the bathroom*.

        I believe that this actually reinforces to Steve what a great Jason he is. He:
        1.) Feels great that HE doesn’t have these silly fears and overreactions.
        2.) Feels great that he’s suh a great Jason to not be mean to Donkey because of her obvious insecurities and foibles in this area, he’s so nice and understanding!

        With Dick I would feel less obligated to perform the emotional labour of making him think he’s all that. But then again, I am a bit conflict avoidant, so it would be tough.

        …again at least Steve doesn’t go out of his way to screw you over. So my final answer, Steve or Dick at work? I honestly don’t know.

        How would you, as less conflict avoidant than me, handle Steve and Dick? Very interesting discussion!

        (I posted this in the wrong place first, so I posted it again here. I hope you find it somewhere Lisa, and anyone else interested 🙂 )

      12. Donkey,

        You said “With Steve comes the added emotional labour. The Steve’s of the world (and that includes me when I’m Steve) are usually quite or very defensive, so you will have to perform a buttload of emotional labour to make it seem to him as if you’re treating him as the Jason he believes that he his, while you really consider and plan for him screwing you over in similar ways as Bill would, with the added gaslight effect and lack of Bill’s honesty. So if you insist on being in the meeting with him, Steve would say offendedly “why, I are you scared I’ll screw you over? I would never do that, how could you think that!” To avoid having him be mad at YOU, and treating YOU as if YOU’re the bad one (basically letting him know you think he’s Steve and not Jason), you (or maybe I, the more conflict avoidant one) would say something like “ooh, I’m sorry Steve, it’s just that I really got screwed over by a Dick once in that situation, so I just can’t sleep at night if I’m not present on meetings like that, it’s just this silly thing, it’s nothing to do with you, you’re great, hehehe!” *Donkey then excuses herself to go vomit with self disgust and Steve disgust in the bathroom*”

        Yeah, Steves are SO much extra emotional labor! Good point! And I just can’t deal with the cognitive dissidence of saying stuff I don’t believe to get them to be less defensive. Just can’t do it. Or more accurately won’t do it. Because to me it feels like I’m lying. Outright saying things I don’t in any way believe.

        And I’m not to do that except under very rare circumstances. Maybe to save someone’s life or help them die in peace, something like that. Defintely not going to violate my conscience for a random Steve at the job or even a Steve in my family.

        Not saying other people couldn’t do it a way that didn’t violate their conscience or was more consistent with some other good thing like helping Steve see new ways of looking ar things. I just know that’s not my gift or calling.

      13. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve done this kind of dishonest emotional labour thing, and, like I said, it makes me want to puke. It’s not healthy or sustainable (again, if there’s risk of life or limb, that’s another thing. I probably could also do it, without it being a problem, if I was in a good mood and needed a favour from a grumpy customer service person or something like that, and then I could roll my eyes and laugh afterwards).

        How I’m I handling it now? Not well. A lot of straight up avoidance to be frank.

        So I’m trying to find *some* effective way that can work with my current level of skills/emotional maturity. The healthier I become emotionally, the more easily/naturally I’m able to come up with and practice effective ways. But I just can’t wait around for an excellent level of maturity. So again, must figure something out that can work well enough for now. 🙂

    2. Ok,I’m probably just talking to myself now in these comments but hey it’s better than therapy where they tell me I think too much!

      Travis, the Gottman statistic of 35% of men accepting influence represents the Jasons. These are men who have good relationship skills, they know how to not be defensive and willing to compromise and set boundaries when necessary.

      The one piece in all this that seems underestimated or at not commented as much is the gaslight effect. That is a big piece if why women hate Steves. Many comments have elaborated how and why this is much more common for women to experience and why it is very, very damaging. This is the piece indict hear you acknowledging in your Steve vs Bill calculus. And it is a critical piece.

      Understanding how to not gaslight effect your wife will be absolutely essential to becoming a Jason. So that’s the only reason I’m writing this because I know how much you want to change even more to be her Jason.

      Do you think you have a tendency to gaslight effect her? If so, how can you become aware of it and stop it? Just some unsolicited advice free with every Steve’s Shit Sandwich Shop combo of Gaslight Effect Fries. 🙂

    3. Hi Travis! I did see your comment about raising children, and wanted to comment, but didn’t want to distract from the Steve vs. Bill discussion until it played out. So if I may direct the conversation to a totally different place…

      A few posts ago (don’t remember which one) someone in the comment section spoke about NOT having unconditional love for your spouse. It was only a comment or two, but it really struck me. Because that’s what we all generally think marriage is, right? For better or worse, in sickness and so on. And I got to thinking, maybe that’s NOT what marriage should be about. I don’t think it should be so conditional that small mistakes or one time things should be cause for divorce. (Don’t ever burn the dinner, baby, or it’s all over!) Part of marriage is figuring out life together, and accepting each other, warts and all.

      However….isn’t at least some of the problem that you never thought your wife would ever leave you? So you felt you could safely keep leaving the dish by the sink, or blowing her off and saying the things she was upset about wasn’t really a big deal? (Asking this in general, not to anyone in particular).

      Maybe always having that small niggling thought in the back of your mind that your husband or wife actually would leave you if you weren’t careful could actually help keep you on your toes? And lessen the chance that you act like such a jerk, so your marriage is actually better? (And please don’t take this to the extreme-you should be reasonably secure in your spouse’s commitment, just not unconditionally secure)

      The main different between your wife and your children is that your children are your CHILDREN. I think everyone would agree that you should love your children unconditionally. It’s expected that you are going to have to “raise them” so they successfully transition from being children to being responsible adults. But even though you might love your children unconditionally, you are no longer obligated to live with them when they turn 18 if it’s not a mutually enjoyable experience-you can love them from afar. Especially the ones that did not accept your influence or did not respect you…so even here, unconditional love does not equal having to live forever with someone who refuses to change.

      I know spouses should bear with each other in those areas where they still need to grow, but if a husband is so immature in so many areas that his wife feels like his mother, and he responds to her like a teenager, and she feels like she is the only adult in the family, then he needs to read Mat’s most excellent post on mothers not wanting to have sex with their sons. (February 10, 2016)

      1. YES!

        That may have been me in the comments… it was one of the first things my ex retorted with when I told him I wanted a divorce. “I guess you never DID love me unconditionally!”

        I also agree that marital love is never and SHOULD NOT be unconditional. Parent child love, however, is a different story. I have told my kids many times there is nothing they could ever do that would ever make me stop loving them, no matter what.

        But with parent/child, it’s parent/child. Marital love should be a love between equals, so not one person should have the dominant role in it the way a parent is probably usually dominant in the relationship with their child.

        — HOWEVER —

        I really wanted to highlight this comment you made:

        “However….isn’t at least some of the problem that you never thought your wife would ever leave you? So you felt you could safely keep leaving the dish by the sink, or blowing her off and saying the things she was upset about wasn’t really a big deal? ”

        this is really the crux of this blog. This is the #1 thing that my ex did. Even after I told him straight up I didn’t particularly want to be married to him anymore.

        It’s like teenagers. They do dumb stuff and even though they KNOW there is a good chance of negative consequences, they still do it because they think the bad stuff won’t happen to them. Unprotected sex will often lead to pregnancy. Drinking and driving. Or even just stupid showoffy stunts.

        Because of the “it won’t happen to me” mentality. And I think that’s where this comes from. No, my wife wouldn’t leave me, I love her and I’m a good guy! it won’t happen to me! I’m special!

        I think if a man (or woman) can really OWN the idea that it CAN happen to them, that’s where things can really begin to change for the better. To understand that just because your spouse has been with you 5, 10, 50 years, whatever – doesn’t mean that you couldn’t potentially drive them away with your actions.

      2. fromscratchmom

        I think I have a slightly different take on the “unconditional love” theme that our modern culture seems to screw up so badly. I think that either partner expecting unconditional love, taking it for granted, or feeling entitled to it is a recipe for disaster. But on the other hand either partner refusing to work around hard times or just be there for the other when the other is in need enough that their own needs go wanting for a long time is wrong on their part and similarly a recipe for disaster. In sickness and in health is real to me. Had my husband been in an accident and become a quadriplegic for example I would have chosen to love him with actions for the rest of his life still. That is a nice clear cut example of the concept of in sickness and in health but many modern marriages face a lot of dysfunction from health problems even in the fact that depression and anxiety disorders make things very hard on both sides and some of the reason is from the toxicity of our lives and lifestyles. So there is a ton of challenge to try to be there for each other in some way when people are barely hanging on to their sanity by their finger nails. And then they may have kids whose special needs are also emerging because of that same toxicity, adding exponentially more stress into the mix.

        I think that love in marriage is a daily choice. No one does it perfectly every day but they need to choose to get up again the next day and try to renew that choice because that is what they committed to. Unconditional, never-ending warm-fuzzies for a spouse are a totally unrealistic ideal and not even remotely intelligent to expect. I made the commitment so getting back to it and honoring it or sticking with it in the first place were the only real options for me. It was not unconditional in the sense that he could crap all over me for years and my emotions would never feel the pain and destruction he was inflicting. But my love was unconditional in the sense that I was going to choose love as an action whenever I could.

        Our children are a different matter. They are at once perfect little lessons on unconditional love and at the same time totally flawed analogies. We have biological instincts and mechanisms that contribute to our ability to bond with them and love them emotionally and with actions. They do challenge us later when we may have somewhat less of the biological contribution still effecting us depending on circumstances. But as it turns out women have some biochemistry that bonds them to the men in their bed over the long term too that also helps, which is one of the things helping me to not beat myself up over believing in and thinking well of my soon-to-be-ex. I had my own deeply held commitment plus that and choosing love was not wrong. Now that he has forcibly rejected that on a permanent basis its good that I can recognize what he has done over all the years of the marriage and in the end with his ultimate betrayal. But I guess, I’m just as glad that I benefited from the chemical bonding when I needed it. And in the case of a guy who is also going to get on board at some point with real love as a choice and an action having me able to keep going when it was hardest until he did and him able to keep going when it was hardest for me would have been awesome.

        Since my oldest had some unique special needs and added significant stress to life over the long haul. But had I been married to a good person I believe we could have faced that better and together. Being married to an inherently selfish, contemptuous man, it was almost an unsurvivable thing. My two daughter’s also are having some special needs in their teen years with the biochemistry going awry like it is with so many people. Depression and anxiety suck. And having those tendencies at the same time as the brokenness and stress of a home and family being broken in half is making life pretty difficult for them right now. But I am bonded and I do love them and they are worth it, no matter how hard it gets.

      3. Fromscratchmom,

        You are such a wise and loving person. I read your posts and they just fill me with awe. Your daughters are so lucky to have you as their Mom.

        Will you adopt me? 🙂

      4. Fromscratchmom

        Aww. You are too sweet. And honestly the kids and I pretty much think the more the merrier. So you’d definitely be able to blend right in! I get so much out of your posts too. And I need some more of emotional intelligence like you have going on in my life!

      5. FSM,
        “And then they may have kids whose special needs are also emerging because of that same toxicity, adding exponentially more stress into the mix.”
        I’m just now reading your comment here. Early this morning I was reading about group therapies and their effectiveness. The thing that is sticking out to me is that it was cited that people come in for a goal to control their anxiety and depression, but these goals turn into interpersonal goals (“I want to learn how to communicate better”, “I want to learn how to empathize better”) after being in the group for a little while. The author, Irvin Yalom, even goes so far to say that alot of times the anxiety and depression that we experience is due to feeling of poor interpersonal connection. So, it makes sense that they are experiencing some of these symptoms if there is that level of toxicity in the house.
        Safe and sacred group space can help. (Kind of like here :). Is there a University where you live? Alot of them offer free or very low cost groups therapies of all kinds.
        It’s just a thought. I know its hard for everyone.

      6. Fromscratchmom

        That’s a great idea, Linbo! Funny thing:when I chose the word toxicity I was actually thinking of myriad contributing factors in the physical environment that effect human biochemistry. But the interpersonal toxicity fits perfectly with what I said and is certainly also a factor in my own story. I love how that worked on multiple levels and garnered a helpful tip!

    4. Lisa, I agree with what you say about Steve’s lack of accountability (that ZombieDrew talked about before the whole Bill Steve thing). He has something invested in not realizing he’s Steve.

      And I definitely agree, there are Steve’s of both genders! I also agree, it can definitely be helpful to remove the weird extra gender stuff. I’ve been Steve in some cases, and I probably still am. I think we can be Steve with our adult kids for instance (like your mom is, ugh, I’m sorry 🙁 ), Jason with our friends, Bill with a spouse and Dick on the golf course or even with a sibling. Or any kind of combination. Sometimes I’ve knowingly been Bill, but wanting and knowing that I should be Jason and lacking the courage/integrity. I’ve been Dick in some of my worst moments (aren’t we all when we’re really triggered or really really damaged in som way?). And I am Jason on some ways.

      Would I prefer Dick or Steve to work with (and I’ll use he because of the names, but they could just as well be women)? Hmmm… hmmm…
      I’m more conflict avoidant than you I believe. At first I thought Steve, because at least he won’t go out of his way to screw me over. And it makes a BIG difference if you know that Steve is Steve and not Jason or Bill, then you’re more protected from the gaslight effect, which we both agree is huge and damaging. Then I was thinking you can basically treat him as Bill, you’ll know you need to be present at the meeting and so on.

      …but it’s not so simple, because you can’t really trust him to do anything that he says or be accountable for it, even simple stuff like follow up with a customer or whatever. He will keep his word a lot of the time, but you won’t know when. Bill will probably be more likely to tell you straight/or let you know in some fashion when and where you can’t trust him, and he’ll own it if he didn’t send a follow up mail I imagine. But Bill could also consider that part of the zero sum game and screw you over, not out of pleasure, but for his own gain (he’ll probably admit to that later though),

      With Steve comes the added emotional labour. The Steve’s of the world (and that includes me when I’m Steve) are usually quite or very defensive, so you will have to perform a buttload of emotional labour to make it seem to him as if you’re treating him as the Jason he believes that he his, while you really consider and plan for him screwing you over in similar ways as Bill would, with the added gaslight effect and lack of Bill’s honesty. So if you insist on being in the meeting with him, Steve would say offendedly “why, I are you scared I’ll screw you over? I would never do that, how could you think that!” To avoid having him be mad at YOU, and treating YOU as if YOU’re the bad one (basically letting him know you think he’s Steve and not Jason), you (or maybe I, the more conflict avoidant one) would say something like “ooh, I’m sorry Steve, it’s just that I really got screwed over by a Dick once in that situation, so I just can’t sleep at night if I’m not present on meetings like that, it’s just this silly thing, it’s nothing to do with you, you’re great, hehehe!” *Donkey then excuses herself to go vomit with self disgust and Steve disgust in the bathroom*.

      I believe that this actually reinforces to Steve what a great Jason he is. He:
      1.) Feels great that HE doesn’t have these silly fears and overreactions.
      2.) Feels great that he’s suh a great Jason to not be mean to Donkey because of her obvious insecurities and foibles in this area, he’s so nice and understanding!

      With Dick I would feel less obligated to perform the emotional labour of making him think he’s all that. But then again, I am a bit conflict avoidant, so it would be tough.

      …again at least Steve doesn’t go out of his way to screw you over. So my final answer, Steve or Dick at work? I honestly don’t know.

      How would you, as less conflict avoidant than me, handle Steve and Dick? Very interesting discussion!

      1. Donkey,

        Great points about how we inadvertently reinforce their reality disconnect when we try and handle the steves.

        How would I handle them? We’ll not very well. I’m trying to learn maturity. I tend to view Steves with contempt. Because I find their lack of accountability as either a result of stupidity of unwillingness to face reality.

        So, once I’ve been treated poorly by them a few times and they won’t take true accountability, I think of them contemptuously as idiots, either intellectually or emotionally. But idiots. I don’t say that but it comes out in body language or tone.

        Which, of course, does absolutely nothing but make them more defensive and make it seem like I’m the one with the problem. Which I am because it’s never acceptable to treat people contempuously. It’s the most toxic thing in relationships as you know. So maybe they’re right that I do have the bigger “sin” in responding the way I do.

        That’s what I did wrong in my marriage. He was Steve in the earlier part and then switched to Bill when I started to be contemptuous of Steve. Although it did improve things in a certain way because I am far less contemptuous of Bills. And I didn’t get the gaslight effect any more.

        I like your insight that we can be Jasons or Steves or Bills with different people or roles in our lives. Very true. I can be quite mature in certain areas and a toddler in others. I like Internal Family Systems for this kind of idea. Are you familiar with it?

        Anyway, I would deal with the Dicks very straightforwardly. I am actually pretty good with them in a workplace environment. I joke around with them and just am very direct about both of us knowing they are assholes.

        For example, I had a boss who was an asshole. He would take credit for other people’s work. So I would just put his name on my stuff and joke that I was saving him some typing. Stuff like that. He actually loved me.

        Now that I think about it, I used to get assigned all the asshole clients too. Apparently assholes are my natural constituency. :)I really think it is because I am such a direct person and I value honesty, that any style that is honest is preferable to me then passive aggressive or Steve people who say one thing but do another. Can’t stand that. No respect for that.

        But I’m realizing that my contempt is worse so I’m trying to change. Getting a little better with the steves but they’re still my kryptonite. So far distance is the best thing I’ve found but obviously that is not ideal.

  16. This has really been a fascinating discussion. Travis above says,

    “There’s a very dark and dangerous element, in my estimation, in placing such a man, someone who has neither his heart nor his actions in the right place, higher in ranking from someone who does have his heart in the right place, just not his actions.”

    That is really very sweet, as is Matt’s concept of how your spouse may not intend to hurt you. I don’t wish to burst any bubbles of to rain on that sweetness, because it is not entirely wrong, it is just an example of how different men and women’s brains, needs, desires, focus can be.

    Travis is right, it is a very dark and dangerous element for women, but it helps to keep in mind that we aren’t even speaking the same language. Travis speaks of placing such a man as being higher ranking, which is a totally masculine way of viewing the world. Men expect to be rewarded according to their “ranking.” So a guy with good intentions should be entitled to more respect and admiration because his intentions are good. In general women don’t view the world that way at all, we need actions, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Women can be far more practical than men that way. Good intentions are just like empty promises, love is a verb, an action. You don’t get extra credit points from women for having good intentions.

    All in good humor here, but in fact, a man with bad intentions is far more attractive, although potentially harmful and rather unwise.

  17. Ok,wow. I don’t know how I missed the whole shit buffet menu that started yesterday 🙂 And I haven’t gotten half way through yet, but It did start me forming a few questions..maybe pretty rudimentary, but (for me) worth asking.
    1.) What is a practical picture of boundary setting for women? – So say I meet Mark, who is really a Bill but has decided it is better to be a little bit like Steve (Maybe a little like your hubby, Lisa?). So are you guys talking about boundary setting as boundaries around my own expectations, or around “Mark’s” behavior?
    An example. Mark hates taking out the trash. He absolutely hates doing it and it makes him bitter every time the issue is brought up. Is boundary setting me saying “ok, I wont ask Mark to take out the trash because I know it would make the relationship so much more complicated.” or is boundary setting saying “Mark, you have to take out the trash, otherwise I don’t feel like you love me.” The first sounds like typical women behavior, and is definitely my tendency, and the second brings up a different question.
    2.) If setting boundaries on Mark’s behavior is the boundary setting being talked about and we are talking about setting boundaries early in the relationship so things don’t get so shitty, I’m a little bit at a loss of how to do that. Early relationship boundaries and marital boundaries are two totally different things. If I’m in a dating relationship my expectations of the person are completely different than if I were in a committed relationship with a person and even more different if I were married to the person ( I think…:) ) . I mean some things are obvious- if the guy stands me up, or is habitually not calling when he says he’s going to call, he’s not worth my time. But a lot of the issues don’t crop up until later, so how can they be addressed early?
    Unless it’s that we women have a boundary saying-“we cant really get close until you get comfortable with your shit and I’m comfortable with my shit, and we can both own our shit, and dispose of it properly by talking about it and working through it, without serving it up to one another or wallowing in it.” …would you call that a boundary?

    I’m also thinking about expectations, about why we are in relationships to begin with. What is it we really want out of it and what is the purpose of it. If we can accurately asses those things, and have a partner in agreement of those things, and keep those things as due north on our relationship compass then maybe that could help us get to where we are wanting to go.

    1. Hi Linbo,

      Here’s my view. It’s about relationships skills.

      The boundaries are about relating healthy relationship skills.

      1. Expecting that I give and receive respectful consideration of your different perspectives and needs.

      2. Expecting that I give and receive respectful non defensive willingness to compromise even when the other persons petsoecrive and needs make absolutely no sense to me.

      3. When the other person doesn’t do 1 and 2 is when I the other person needs to press STOP and do something that makes sure that 1 and 2 happen.

      4. If they will not change their behavior and agree to 1 and 2, I have to decide if I want to continue in an unhealthy relationship of not.

      5. Because steps 1 and 2 are foundational for a healthy balanced relationship of any kind but must especially marriage.

      6. Without steps 1 and 2 you will not be able to be treated fairly. And you will become unhappy and possibly physically and mentally sick until you probably divorce.

      7. Your trash example is like the dishes example. Because it’s not about the dishes or the trash. It’s about the relationship skills to not dismiss each other needs and be able work together for reasonable solutions for how to handle the dishes or the trash.

      8. It’s about when I ask Mark about the trash, does he dismiss me and tell me I’m making a big deal out of stupid trash (Steve) or it’s not important to him so he’s not going to do it but I can if its important to me (Bill). Both cases are not going to result in a happy marriage. But response is more easily dealt with because it doesn’t add the gaslight effect.

      9. Setting boundaries is often written about in terms of practical if you don’t take out the trash I won’t cook dinner. But that’s not what I’m really talking about.

      10. Because it’s not about the trash or the dishes. I am talking about setting boundaries to get my husband to recognize the importance of accepting my influence and it’s extremely critical role in the happiness of our marriage.

      11. So when I talk to him it needs to be about the underlying relationship skills not the superficial content of trash or dishes. Steps 1 and 2 that are not optional for any healthy relationship.

      12. I’ve written before about the practical ways to do that. But it involves talking and asking for steps 1 and 2 first. If that doesn’t work, taking an action like moving in another bedroom while you tell him it’s not a punishment but a physical way to get his attention of the importance of the issue. Not to manipulate or control getting him to do the trash or the dishes in whatever way you want. No not those kind of boundaries.

      13. But the kind of boundaries about not allowing him to treat you with disrespect by thinking he has the option of not taking your perspective into account and working together to find win-win solutions. Setting boundaries to force a Bill or a Steve to see they are not a Jason.

      14. Because that relationship skill along with setting boundaries when someone won’t, is the difference between a happy marriage and an unhappy marriage and getting divorced.

      15. Just my take based on my experience and readings of the research. What do you think?

      1. Linbo,

        My comment had so many typos because I’m typing on my phone but hopefully you understood what I meant.

        And let me just say I am far from having figured out all this stuff so this is just my random musings on what I think makes sense. But I have learned a few things along the way.

        Mostly all the stuff I have done wrong :). So I’m hoping that kicking ideas around might help someone else not have to go through pain and I learn so much from everyone’s ideas here as I try and figure out what a healthy relationship looks like and how I can get me one of those delicious burgers obsess of shit sandwiches. 😉

    2. Ok, keep in mind that I’m not an expert, but here’s my take on you questions.

      1. You would have to decide wether or not it’s ok for you that Mark doesn’t take out the trash. Maybe he grocery shops and you don’t, so it would be fair if you dealt with the trash and you just decide you can live well with that. Or maybe you could negotioate some other sort of happy deal where it’s ok that Mark doesn’t take out the trash, then that could work too. If however, you’re not fine with Mark not taking out the trash, the boundary setting would be both to tell him this, *and to provide consequences that you’re in control of for if he doesn’t do it*. You can’t just tell him what to do. So you could tell Mark and follow through with, that if he doesn’t take out the trash, and if he’s not willing to negotiate some other fair deal, you will move into the second bedroom (thank you Lisa for this example) to make him realize that you’re serious. If this doesn’t shape up then, you can tell him that either he takes out the trash/negotiates another deal with you, or you will have to go to marriage counceling. If he’s not willing to do this, you have to decide if you can live with this, or wether you’ll now decide to leave Mark, or whether you can decide to still be a couple but not live together for instance.

      2. Yes, early dating vs living together/marriage boundary setting would deal with different things a lot of the time. But like you say, if he stands you up, and doesn’t call when he says he will are things to look out for, and not accept. Say, for instance, you’re out eating. He calls you something degrading. You have a personal boundary that you won’t tolerate being called degrading things. So now it’s enforcing time. You say “I will not tolerate you calling me something degrading like that, so I will now pay for my half of the meal (if it wasn’t clear that he invited you) and leave”. Then you take a taxi home. *You* must be able to enforce the boundary, or else it’s just words. You could still give Mark another chance, and go out with him again. If he belittles you again, you do the same thing. There’s a good chance he’ll understand pretty quickly that you’re serious, and he will start talking to you with respect. Great. If he doesn’t? You need to decide if you want to be with someone who calls you degrading names.

      If you move in with Mark and as soon as you notice him not taking out the trash and that it annoys you, that would be a good time to sit down and divide the chores and responsibilites (it would probably be even better to do this before moving in together and make it clear that whatever responsibilites you guys end up having between the two of you, you expect a fair deal, or you’re out). If you do that and you both now follow through, excellent. If he doesn’t follow through, or isn’t even willing to sit down and divide the chores, you start enforcing some boundaries (guestroom, marriage therapy, moving out, paying less of the shared costs and using that money for a housekeeper who can do Mark’s part if you’re ok with that and so on). If this is the same Mark who remembers you left in the middle of a meal because he called you a degrading name he’s maybe likely to know he won’t be able to mess with you.

      There are many books about boundaries. 🙂

      1. (I learnt about some of the different relationship approaches from Alison (or Allison) Armstrong. She has some very interesting and detailed thoughts about the masculine and the feminine, which sort of explain some of the shitty husband type of behaviours. I was …. a bit too close to being convinced by her stuff, but not quite. After a while, I encountered too many inconsistencies, too many very serious things that are blatantly false and harmful, too many omissions, too many excuses and thoughts along the line of “men are great but they shouldn’t be expected to [something completely fair, something they used to do for themselves but don’t do in a relationship, something they’re completely able to do in a professional or friendship setting or in the military]” and I had enough. Of course, there’s always the possibility that I’ve misunderstood her, and I’m sure I have in some cases! Many people swear by her stuff, and I think she means well. But even so, just no. Some, even many, of her observations have still been very useful to me though, she can be very perceptive and has given me many lightbulb moments. I’m grateful for that. So with this comment, I’m just trying to be honest about my sources here, even though I don’t agree with a lot of what she’s saying. With some of her stuff, I think I may understand better what Lisa feels as a type 3 person when people don’t always deal with the actual data. :p

        Personally I don’t wish to have a discussion about her stuff or all of this, so feel very free to ignore this comment. If this evolves into a discussion I probably will not participate.)

    3. Linbo,

      The same thing applies to setting boundaries in dating too. If I was dating now I would be looking for a partner who will treat me with respect.

      Who will understand that we have different perspectives and is willing to work with me to come up with win win solutions even if my needs and perspectives are different and make no sense for me.

      After giving a guy I was dating a few shots at this and he was not willing to see he needs to have these critical skills. Time to break up and move on.

      Because, it is absolute essential for being in a happy long term relationship of any kind.

      Any kind, including siblings, parents, friends, neighbors, etc. Some of these people we can’t choose although we can choose how much they are in our life. But we have complete control over who we date and marry.

      So if I were dating now, I would be ruthless in culling out any man who does not show a willingness to learn and practice these basic relationship skills.

      Because otherwise I WILL end up eating shit sandwiches with or without a side of gas effect fries.

      1. Yes, Ok. Lisa (And thank you, too, Donkey!) – I think #11 is what I was thinking “THE BOUNDARY” should be. If when ANY issue is broached both parties need to be able to (Realistically) rely on having their thoughts/feelings/needs respectfully considered and to rely on knowing that both are willing to compromise to make a change when needed.
        These things need to be in the conversations leading up to any sort of serious commitment or relationship.
        I have to be honest though, my knee jerk reaction to showing them we’re serious- like moving into the spare bedroom, or leaving the table (which I would do in a heartbeat if someone called me a derogatory name, and I wouldn’t even consider paying for my own meal- shoot yeah, I’ll stick him with the check in that case.) is that it would seem exactly like some kind of blackmail, or manipulation- and that moves people into defense mode.
        Is there no other way?
        Donkey- I really appreciate your analogies, and the concept of “what are you willing to live with”. NO relationship is perfect, no person is perfect, ect. ect. ect.
        That’s why I’m questioning why we have those close intimate relationships at all. That sounds almost negative, but I mean really assigning meaning to why these relationships exist. Is it just mutually meeting each others needs?
        Is it convenience? Is it history? Is it the enjoyment of being together? Is it a mutual agreement and desire on becoming our best selves and a commitment to “walk each other home” in that?
        I guess this is a way for me to really assess what I hope for and what I am seeking in a partner.
        (OMG not one poop reference!!) : )

      2. Linbo,

        My take: I guess people have different reasons for wanting to be in a relationship.. Some want to mutually meet eachother’s needs, some want to grow and evolve, heal their childhood stuff, some just want to hang out because they like eachother, some want to be a couple as a basis for raising a family, some want the steamy sex, the stead friendship…. and all kinds of combinations. It would be great if we could match up with someone who wanted similar things, but I don’t think it’s always necessary either. You can work with what you’ve got in many cases (not all!) and find some way to compromise/create win-win situations in many relationships (and that would be part of the growth that I think is good for most people :)).

        I think what we’re talking about here is more 101 stuff, sadly. No actually, maybe 102 if we consider 101 to be don’t cheat on, steal from, hit your partner or be a drug addict. If the basics aren’t in place, if both people aren’t having their feelings and needs respected and accomodated (whether or not that was intentional) then that needs to be dealt with first to a large extent. Through that a lot of growth and reconnection can also happen I think. And after that? A couple could do a great many different things both together and apart that would be fun or interesting or exciting or whatever else they wish. 🙂

        My opinion stated more briefly: You’ve got to crawl before you can walk, and you’ve got to walk before you can run. So we’re maybe at the walk part here. 🙂

      3. Limbo,

        You said:
        “I have to be honest though, my knee jerk reaction to showing them we’re serious- like moving into the spare bedroom, or leaving the table (which I would do in a heartbeat if someone called me a derogatory name, and I wouldn’t even consider paying for my own meal- shoot yeah, I’ll stick him with the check in that case.) is that it would seem exactly like some kind of blackmail, or manipulation- and that moves people into defense mode.
        Is there no other way?”

        Well, hopefully if things are good in the relationship and he is a flexible open guy it can be resolved through discussion.

        But often this kind of thing will be alien to many men because they haven’t seen it modeled or experienced it before. So it make take more dramatic escalation.

        By the way this principle is from Brent Atkinson’s work based on Gottman’s and other marriage research. This is what successful people in relationships do.

        The part I fail at is the attitude. People with good relationship skills escalate but with a very understanding attitude. Like “its natural for him to resist my influence”. “We all want to do what feels better for us.” They don’t put a black hat on the guy to make him defensive and resist even more.

        They are understanding of the natural desire to not compromise but they also do not accept the unwillingness of the guy to compromise.

        And they non-judgementally escalate until they are willing to compromise or go to counseling or or something else productive or decide they need to break up.

        So hopefully you will not need to leave the dinner table or move into another bedroom to get him to compromise. And,of course, none of this should be done when you are in the heat of battle and full of stress.

        How you set the boundaries will vary to what makes sense to you. I just threw out the bedroom thing as an idea of an escalation from just talking.

        I am working hard on reducing stress levels and not making him the enemy in my mind. That for me is the hardest thing in setting boundaries. Not making a big deal of it.

  18. I think that the first few times you talk about the dish or the trash. But once you recognize it’s going to be a long term issue, then you need to say to yourself, what’s this really about? And the sit-down discussion needs to start with “Hey, I have asked you several times to do X, or you have agreed to do X and don’t follow through. When this happens, I feel like you are telling me that watching TV is more important to you than I am. Do you realize that’s what your actions are communicating to me?” Because the real issue isn’t the dishes or trash-it’s what leaving the dish means to the wife.

    I would think that a threat to move into the spare bedroom just because someone doesn’t take the trash out would only reinforce the husband’s feelings that the wife is just nagging about small meaningless things. And maybe this time he starts taking the trash out, but eventually slides back into the not-taking-the-trash out mode again. Because in this case, as far as he knows, the issue is the dish by the sink. And to him, leaving a dish by the sink isn’t a big deal….

    But the “I am doing this as a physical representation of how serious this is to me” is great!
    And when ladies ask what they can do to help their husbands “get it”, I would say that the best thing you can do is figure out the deeper issues of what you are feeling and why, and then make the conversation about that.

    These are just my thoughts-can Mat, Travis, Drew, Mike, and any guy reading here that has had the “aha” moment can share whether their wives were able to talk about the deeper issues or just kept talking about the dishes? If the conversations were just about the dishes, do you think you would have responded differently if the conversation shifted to feelings of disrespect, etc.?

    1. Lissy,

      Good points! I didn’t do a good job in saying that I was assuming that the escalation only happens after you’re done common sense things. I like the way you said the “you said you’d do X conversation”

      Clearly, you only want to have this escalation process after it’s clear the normal common sense ways aren’t working. And when a pattern has developed of not being able to work things out in a reasonable way.

      The tricky thing for me is to figure out the difference for not making a big deal out of every little thing but also not accepting a pattern of just adapting to him not working things out with you. Even little things. Because if it’s a pattern it’s not about the content anymore.

      I think the fear of being labeled a nag keeps a lot of women from setting boundaries. We just adapt and load the dish because we don’t want to be labeled or see ourselves as a nag.

    2. Great input, Lissy.
      I know a lot of times people don’t state what is obvious to ourselves, thinking it is obvious to the other person.(I think I am learning that is why I am not a great writer!!) So speaking up about feelings of respect ect. really needs to be done. But, I think part of what the guys here are owning up to is the fact that they regarded their wives feelings as illegitimate because those feelings didn’t make sense to the men, even when she brought them up. That is why empathy (for the men) is a huge revelation, and was one of the big A-ha moments for Matt. (Hope its ok to speak for Matt here. But, I think he has said this about himself, soo…)
      When empathy doesn’t show up, and the guy says “you’re crazy” – that’s when the gas lighting effect starts happening.
      So there is the instigating issue (the dishes by the sink) and then there is the exacerbating issue (the gas lighting effect of being told they are wrong for feeling what they are feeling) that slowly wrings the life out of the woman.
      It reminds me of traumatic brain injuries in car accidents. Theres coup and contrecoup. The coup is the initial injury that occurs on impact, then there’s the contrecoup injury that occurs from the rebound force after impact. Both are significant injuries.
      Would that be a fair, though simplified- (I don’t think I included intentionality), summary?

  19. Ok, maybe people are getting sick of this, but I want to make a few more points about Bill, Steve. Jason and Dick.

    1. Steve doesn’t just serve his wife unintentional shit sandwiches. He probably is serving her burgers aswell! He can be giving her burgers when it comes to finances and housework, but shit sandwiches when it comes to parenting, emotional labour and their sex life. The problem is, he will be insisting the he’s serving her burgers in all areas, or that since he didn’t mean to give her shit sanwiches that she should get over it, it’s not a big deal or that since he’s giving her all these burgers she is ungrateful to complain about the shit sandwiches.

    2. Bill could also be giving his wife burgers when it comes to finances and housework, but shit sandwiches when it comes to parenting, emotional labour and their sex life, just like Steve. But he will acknowledge and be straight about this. And just like there could be hope for Steve, there could be hope for Bill. Bill’s wife could say, “You know(!) these shit sandwiches you keep giving me, they are no longer acceptable to me. You must start giving me burgers in this or that area, or I will no longer be able to do x y z for you/I will straight up dump your ass”. And it’s possible that Bill would change.

    3. I know people have different deal breakers and opinions, and again, I can’t know for sure what I’d really feel either. But maybe it’s now clearer to people why I believe that I would prefer a Jason who serves me burger after burger in all important areas of our lives for years (and even Jason is allowed the occasional shit sandwich, no one is perfect), except that one summer seminar where he did the McNasty with a co-worker, but in true Jason fashion he confessed and was remorseful and made meaningful amends and was understanding of my deep hurt and anger and never did the McNasty with someone else again, than a perfectly sexually faithful Steve who has been giving me shit sandwich after shit sandwich (granted, with many a burger too) for years that I had to eat or else the family would blow up and our kids would not have clean clothes, and has made me doubt my sanity and unintentionally damaged my emotional and physical health from both the shit eating and the gaslight-effect (I say effect to make it clear that I’m not talking about the intentional gaslighting that Dick would do).

    1. Matt,

      You said:
      “This is an excellent breakdown of the thing I didn’t used to know, but do now.”

      I’m putting this comment at the bottom for no good reason other than its easiest 🙂

      You said that quote about in response to Donkey’s excellent car in the garage metaphor comment. I just wanted to drop this comment to acknowledge your very Jason like mature way of being open to learning new ways of looking at things. I think that is awesome!

      Sometimes you write things about how you doubt you can be in a successful relationship partly because if the challenges of ADHD. I can only imagine how difficult it is to manage everything in life when your brain makes it hard to remember and process details.

      But the thing that matters more than any of that is your willingness to be flexible and open to learn new things. To respond non-defensively the vast, vast majority of times you respond to people who disagree with you on this blog.

      That’s the real stuff that matters. I’m working on it too. Sometimes we misunderstand each other in the comments here. Often I forget to respond and acknowledge all the nice things you say about my comments. So thank you! For all your kindnesses here. You have no idea how much I appreciate your skill in making people feel seen and acknowledged.

      That’s one of my blind spots, forgetting to say out loud or write positive things or say things in a way that aren’t in a know-it-all style because I forget in my rants about various ideas that there’s a human on the other end. I’m learning here to do better. You and Donkey and Fromscratchmom and many others here are helping me by seeing it modeled. So I thank you for that too!

      I put myself in the penalty box when I fail. Not because you do because you never do that. But because when I fail to treat others in a mature, respecful, kind way, I need to own my shit, take a timeout, get up and try again. Because as you and I both know, it’s all a skill that can be learned.

      So I appreciate you Matt! You’re in the arena daring bravely as Brene Brown would say.

      1. Thank you very much, Lisa. This was really nice to read.

        I’ve been out of town this weekend. I haven’t seen the past 50+ comments yet.

        Derrrrrppp.

      2. Matt,

        WHAT, you are not monitoring each and every one of the 197 comments? You mean you have a life outside this blog?

        I write about 98 of the 197 comments because I spend so much time in my car waiting for my daughter. You know I’m a Dance Mom, Matt?

        That’s a special kind of ironic shit there, that I am Dance Mom if you knew me. There is some weird DNA science going on here that I am her mother. She just auditioned for the special high school team. Is it wrong that I was praying she wouldn’t get it in?

        I was perfectly willing to set aside extra future therapy money for her because I’m such a shitty mom to want to crush her dreams. Just so I don’t have to be a Dance Mom for two different teams. Isn’t one enough, God, to atone for whatever sins I have ever committed? Can’t I go to India and clean toilets instead of being a Dance Mom. Have you NO mercy?

        Alas, my prayers went unanswered and she made the team. This is why I empathize with Satan. Or maybe it’s my punishment for empathizing with Satan. I don’t know.

        Either way, it’s why I drown my sorrows in Doritos and blog comments. In my car waiting for my daughter in one of her TWO dance teams many, many practices or shows or meetings or competitions or special rings of sparkly hell.

        PS. My daughter is awesome! And obviously a great dancer which comes completely from my husband’s DNA. The comment is not a reflection of my lack of love for my daughter but just a confession of my shitty mom thoughts.

    2. Matt,

      “But the thing that matters more than any of that is your willingness to be flexible and open to learn new things. To respond non-defensively the vast, vast majority of times you respond to people who disagree with you on this blog.”

      I left out one critical word. . I was trying to type. “The way you DO respond non-defensively…
      because you respond so well to so many people that write testy disagreeing comments (not mentioning any names but Lisa G. might be on the list 🙂

      1. Gosh, I’m glad I made it to here in the comments! I tried to leave this comment earlier and I kept getting the, “Sorry, this comment cannot be posted” line… Anyway, it’s funny to me because within my comment, I was referring to exactly the post which included Lisa G. and I somehow got tangled up in that with my first comment on Matt’s blog. So, this is not where I wanted it to be placed, but here it is anyway, in response to Donkey and Lisa Gottman way up yonder…

        Commenting here (or rather THERE, where I first tried!) and hoping it ends up in the right place (it hasn’t.) My husband and I had counseling and I was called out for my contemptuous behaviour (rolling my eyes), and rightly so. But my husband got the “gold star” from the counselor (why, you may ask? Because he was a Nice. Guy.) Twenty years of Steve can do things to a person, but I guess the counselor had not been schooled in Steve.

        Lisa Gottman said, “That’s what I did wrong in my marriage. He was Steve in the earlier part and then switched to Bill when I started to be contemptuous of Steve. Although it did improve things in a certain way because I am far less contemptuous of Bills. And I didn’t get the gaslight effect any more.”

        Just when I’m thinking I’ve become pretty Zen in serving my term, I come across this blog and these wonderful comments and the thoughtful, compassionate people behind them, and I’m crying all the way back to the day I thought I married Jason.
        None of that “bad boy” stuff for me. I avoided that. I chose carefully. I expressed myself clearly, early on in our marriage, etc. No “shame on” me for doing this or that. And yet, here I am thirty years later. Jason was actually Steve, who turned to a Dick after I became contemptuous of Steve. To the outside world, to our marriage counselor all those years ago, and to at least one of our children, I am the bad guy in this picture. To my husband, I am the bad guy in this picture. Now that I have this blog to come to for my sugar water, I am hoping to learn more from all of you and not think of myself as the bad guy.

        So many years, so much to feel sad for my young self. Things I have been thinking and feeling for so long that I didn’t have words for–emotional labor, accepting influence. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

        Matt, if you read this comment, I want to say thank you directly to you for being brave enough to start all this. Many thanks to Lisa Gottman, Donkey, Travis B., Fromscratchmom, ruralbethany, ttravis and others. There is such a wealth of information here…I came to this particular post late and it has taken me awhile to get this far in the comments…yes, Matt, I try to read them all…

        Matt, as an aside, you and I started off on the wrong foot because I BELIEVE (see how I did that?) you may have inserted a word (mentally) in my first comment that completely changed what I actually wrote. Except to express my distaste at the person who described all the women reading your blog as like rats to sugar water, I’ve been silent here. However, I’ve been reading nearly every day since then and now see I have been gaslighted (if that isn’t a word, it should be) for so long that even in the outside world of people who don’t know me, I doubt myself and my ability to communicate what I mean to say.

        Thanks again to all who contribute here.

      2. Shrub, I don’t know if you’ll see this, I didn’t see this comment before now (I rarely visit old posts).

        I’m so glad you’ve found some solace/help here, and I feel flattered and glad that things I’ve personally contributed with have helped you too. I’m sorry for all the pain and gaslighting n your life. 🙁 It definitely seems like some version of your story is quite common.

        Virtual hug should you want it! It would be great if you commented now and then, though of course you should do what’s right for you. 🙂

  20. Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we need to add another character to our ensemble.

    There’s also Alan. Alan is partnership oriented, kind and considerate just like Jason, but he lacks Jason’s healthy boundaries and healthy self esteem. Alan would never screw you over (if he unintentionally does he would for sure own it and apologize). Alan wants eveyone to be Alans or Jasons (Alan is a bit confused because Jason seems just as sweet as Alan, but Jason gets treated much more respectfully than Alan).

    Alan gets treated well by Jason. But with Steve, Bill and Dick? Alan becomes a doormat a lot of the time. He eats the unintentional and many of the intentional shit sandwiches and suffers from the gaslight effect and doubts his own sanity. The typical wife of shitty husbands, the one who eats the shit sandwiches and doubts her own sanity instead of enforcing boundaries and being willing to leave if they’re not respected is an Alan.

    Alan will often be somewhat bitter and anxious. Maybe he doesn’t know how to practice healthy boundaries, or he’s scared that people will reject him if he does. He worries that he won’t be able to cope with that, and he thinks it’s very unfair that he would need to be able to face rejection and anger from other people, because he’s really only wanting people to treat him fairly. He definitely thinks it should be enough to tell people what Alan wants or needs, or how Bill, Dick or Steve served him a shit sandwich, but it never is, no matter how many times he tells them. That makes him feel very hurt because when they tell Alan what they want/need, he tries his best to accomodate them every time. And they often don’t even acknowledge that.

    1. 🙂 . I appreciate the analogy, but we also have to remember in real life people have a wide range of personalities and experiences and intellect that makes them all individuals. Don’t mean to ruin the fun, Donkey- just want to pipe in that when we deal with people, in order to really demonstrate empathy and compassion and have a good connection, we need to look at them as individuals, we cant look at them as “Steve’s” or “Alan’s” or “Bill’s” or “Jason’s”, We have to look at THE Steve (ect), in front of us. As long as we operate on the level of “how do we manage” the person, (and I think that is what we set ourselves up to do when we categorize them) we miss the real point (empathy, connection, ect. ) that can make the relationship so much more worthwhile.

      1. Linbo,

        I think these categories are archetypes not real people. You’re right we need to treat people as complex individuals with a variety of responses depending on the situation.

        Donkey and I were just commenting about how she said we can act like a Jason in one situation and be very mature and a Dick asshole when triggered and not at our best self in another.

        Like in the Internal Family Systems model these characters are not your true self but parts that are trying to protect you perhaps in dysfunctional ways.

        These examples are just to provide simplistic characters to understand why we act in less than ideal ways even when we want to. At least that’s my take.

      2. Linbo,

        And when I talk about handling a Steve on these comments, I’m using simplistic language. I called my mother a Steve in another comment because she behaves in the Steve archetype way when confronted with accepting herself as a less than perfect mother. Of course, this is just one aspect of her personality. In other areas she’s a Jason or Bill or whatever.

        So I am talking about how difficult that behavior is for me in particular because of how much I prefer a direct, honest, non-conflict avoidant style. Donkey would handle a Steve behavior differently because of her style. She would naturally handle that behavior type better because of her skill sets.

        As I said in another comment, I actually handle Dick assholes pretty well. I’m guessing Donkey added the Aksn character because we were talking about being conflict avoidant. So we all interact differently with different parts of ourselves and different parts of others.

        Anyway, hope that makes some sense.

        Of course, it’s important to understand that this is a real person in front of you.

      3. Yep. Everyone (me and my 2 “boys”- read: dogs) is much happier now.
        I get that the characters are archetypes, or it may be more fitting to say that the situations are archetypes. This person, in this situation, acted this way.
        And, it does make it easy for everyone to understand what is meant because most of us have surely either been in that situation ourselves, or have seen it in someone else.
        I’m really not trying to down Donkey’s contribution at all- It just made me think.
        It brought me back to the what may be an important issue.
        We humans do to tend to respond to archetypal situations, in our own archetypal ways. ..we figured out how to address mom’s complete denial of culpability and continue to have a relationship (I feel ya with this!!: ) , we learned how to side step the shit bombs Steve left behind, or that Bill threw directly at us.
        But, that’s kind of my point.
        We learned to identify these things pretty early the next time we can see them, so we can know how to respond. THAT is a defense mechanism.
        We have them to survive, so they are healthy in some situations, but I think that those people with that “inner light” tend to operate differently.
        Maybe they are willing to not get credit, or aren’t so focused on “winning”, they aren’t so interested in defending themselves- or more at least aren’t focused on getting for themselves.
        I’m not sure what it is. I know that all the examples I can think of right now sound more like someone without boundaries, and I don’t think that is the answer.
        I don’t have the answer, and right now I don’t even have the question, but I do think that when we see a situation we gear up to respond to the archetype, when we could change the situation by responding to the person.
        Make any sense? Any sense at all?
        Thank you guys for some interesting conversation this weekend.
        Lindsey

      4. Lindsey,

        Yes it makes sense and I agree with you that that is the ultimate goal. To treat people in a loving way out of our own strong sense of self.

        But speaking just for myself here, that is some advanced black belt shit.

        And I am but a humble yellow belt. Learning and memorizing the forms In a very rudimentary way so that eventually they are so engrained in my brain and body that movement flow naturally.

        So to me all the archetypes and theories I use are like that. I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do in a healthy way. I don’t even understand what healthy looks like. Much less how to respond to an unhealthy neglect or attack on me that leaves me reeling.

        I can tell you that these are not defense mechanisms for me. They are simplistic understandings that help me understand how and what a relationship black belt knows.

        Simplistic understanding of how to deal with various dysfunctional situations. Practicing loving people even when they are hard to love. Practicing setting boundaries when that is the healthy thing to do. So I struggle and I practice over and over so it can eventually look effortless.

        Just my take 🙂

      5. Lisa said:
        “Yes it makes sense and I agree with you that that is the ultimate goal. To treat people in a loving way out of our own strong sense of self.

        But speaking just for myself here, that is some advanced black belt shit.

        And I am but a humble yellow belt. Learning and memorizing the forms In a very rudimentary way so that eventually they are so engrained in my brain and body that movement flow naturally”.

        Agreed. 🙂

        As Lisa mentioned that I said, I believe we all have a bit of everyone inside uf us, in addition to our own fundamental worth on a soul/human level if you will, which I of course we would do well to remember.

        But the Steve, Dick, Bill, Jason and Alan discussion has been very clarifying for me. It has helped me rid myself of some of the gaslight-effect and it has clarified things in my mind. It can be clarifying in similar ways as any other category we use to describe personality types or whatever. It will be WAY too simplistic, but it can still be helpful, if we remember, as you say Linbo, to remember the person inside and not just thinking about how we can handle them. Ugh that does sound awful. 🙁 But on the other hand? I honestly really do need to learn better how to handle/deal with/work with people’s difficult aspect, in addition to getting a handle on these aspects of myself of course, until I’m naturally a strong loving person.

        However clarifying this discussion has been, I do personally think these types can also function as defense mechanisms for me, as you say Linbo..

        I ‘ve had a long standing appearance as Steve in an important relationship to me, by the way.

        And I do believe Alan was missing. 8)

        A few last point:
        – Lisa, yes there are some Steve appearances in my life.

        – I think we all have these tendencies in different situations, but the more and more we become Jason (or more of ourselves if you will Linbo), the harder it will be to be Dick or Steve for instance.

        – Linbo you made a point earlier: “As long as Steve accepts that he will only be going to one activity, or has to plan for his own transportation to other ones, and doesn’t turn it around to be the parents fault that they wont (cant) make up the difference for things forgotten, then I think Steve is fine as Steve.
        At this point he may even be more of a Bill because everyone will see it coming, and can be prepared for it”. Yes, I agree.

      6. Good morning Donkey :). (I’m really thinking that in Shrek’s pseudo-Scottish accent- in case you wanted to know.. : )
        I can see how it can be clarifying. I’m not saying its wrong by any means. I get how laying it out you can “put it all together”- it makes it more real and tangible. I think I get that.

        I was probably just looking at it from a different angle/perspective.

        Hope everyone has a great day today!

      7. I think we are all on a journey. And right now, we are trying to deal with the Steves and Bills and Dicks that are currently in our lives. I suppose step 1 is to figure out WTF is actually going on? And I believe that’s what we are doing as we comment.

        Once we have a fairly accurate idea of what’s happening, we can better define the problem and then can put some thought into how to handle whatever the issue really is that we are dealing with in our relationships.

        And once we can figure out how to do this in a way that is effective yet not assholey on our part, then maybe after a while we will start to notice life is slowly changing.

        And once responding this way becomes part of us, then I am hoping we become less of a jackass magnet and life becomes easier because we have learned what to avoid and more importantly what types of people we let into our lives when the possibility of new relationships arises, whether it be romantically or just on a friendship/work level.

        So we screen new people carefully. As far as the people already in our lives-I think as we become more boundary oriented, it’s less satisfying for Steve, Bill and Dick to remain close to us, so they tend to move on and not waste their time with someone who doesn’t meet their needs (not using us as a doormat, no longer able to gaslight us, can’t get away with serving those shit sandwiches without being called out).
        It’s a win-win!

    2. We have a whole village now!

      What made you think of Alan? I’d also nominate Passive Aggresive Pete.

  21. http://giphy.com/gifs/funny-gif-lol-LAJG1dXSyzy3S

    Here’s a goal for our future:)
    For right now, I will say “Namaste : I bow to the divine in you”.
    And -that’s it. For real this time. Over and out.
    Thanks again for the convo! : ) ..
    I hope the gif shows up as a gif. I will have to learn the right way to post them, if not.

  22. Geez, take a weekend without reading/commenting on anything and suddenly it’s impossible to keep up.

    Back to the whole intention thing, while I can understand how it’s beneficial to be able to tell when someone is intentionally hurting you (because at least you know what to expect and there is no pretense), I just can’t wrap my head around ever being accepting of someone intentionally hurting me.

    Some people do it thinking they are “teaching the other person a lesson”. In my mind, whether it’s physically striking someone or intentionally withholding something from them it’s a form of abuse. And emotional abuse is just as damaging as physical.

    A lot of abusers don’t see their actions as abuse unless it’s physical, and I see that as really broken. It’s like emotional affairs where someone says they didn’t do anything wrong because they didn’t actually have sex with the other person. Sorry, an affair doesn’t need sex to be an affair. And abuse doesn’t need to be physical to be abuse.

    The crazy part is, a lot of people who employ emotional abuse as a go to weapon in their bag of relationship tricks truly don’t seem to think they are doing anything wrong. Likewise people having emotional affairs sometimes seem to think it’s alright as long as there is no sex. They have convinced themselves they haven’t done anything wrong, and I don’t think it’s just gaslighting.

    I see gaslighting as an intentional thing. But a lot of people are just completely oblivious.

    It’s tough, because I think these are the people that their partners are more likely to spend a lot of their lives with, while at the same time being frustrated. It seems like maybe they “could” get it. They ARE pretty good people overall, just with what appears to be a really broken world view.

    And I think maybe it’s an issue of empathy. People pulling this kinda crap on a regular basis REALLY don’t seem to get how it impacts those around them. Or listen and understand the viewpoint of their partners. What they want, and what makes them happy is what matters.

    Maybe it comes down to intimacy. There are really different views of what intimacy is, and what it means. And people go into relationships with different intentions. In any relationship, we go in because of what it does FOR US. How WE feel, how OUR needs are met. And we meet someone where those needs/wants match up enough that pursuit of our own needs feels fulfilling for both parties. And we will go out of out comfort zone a bit, because in giving to the other person WE feel good, and it often makes the other person more likely to give in return.

    In successful relationships I think a shift happens, and it becomes less about us. We start to want to do things for the other person because we care about them, and we want them to be happy. Not necessarily because of what it does for us. I see that shift as a shift in the level of intimacy in a relationship – it’s gone to a deeper level.

    For many people in unhappy relationships and for a lot of the commenters here, I suspect we are in spots where the level of intimacy we are looking for is different from our partners. We’ve hit that level where we see the relationship as being about more than just us. We are part of a “we”, an not just a “me”. But our partners are still in me land. And over time when you want to be in “we” land but your partner isn’t there with you, it’s easy to start resenting the effort you are putting in and the things you are doing.

    Guys have a reputation for not understanding intimacy, and equating it with sex. It’s not just a guy thing though – women can sometimes have issues with intimacy as well.

    I think maybe the type of relationship people are looking for in terms of intimacy is really important. There will always be gaps, and when those gaps are fairly pronounced a lot of the issues we talk about here arise.

    Btw, I happen to like all sorts of flavours of ice cream, and you guys are ruining ice cream for me!!!
    🙂

    1. Drew,

      This is all part of my new diet plan to associate ice cream with shit. Next I’m going after Doritos!

      1. Hey Matt, I’m sorry but Lisa has just ruined your blog for me.

        Ruining ice cream gave me some discomfort, but I can handle it.

        Doritos though? And especially when NBA playoffs are on? Sorry, I’ve got to draw a line somewhere.

    2. Lisa Gottma