The Cancer of Misunderstanding

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hieroglyphics egyptian
Remember when we were kids?

Afraid of getting on the big roller coasters. Afraid of jumping off the high-dive at the local pool. Afraid of the person we liked at school finding out about it.

We think back now, and if you’re anything like me, you might wonder: Why did I care about all of that lamer crap?

I think the answer is: Because we were entirely different people then. Through the prism of hindsight and years piled on top of years of life experiences, we now laugh at our naïve, immature, foolish selves.

We were mostly doing the best we could. In any given moment, we were mostly just acting on whatever our beliefs were at the time. We still do that today. We believed things based on what we were taught as children, combined with our limited life experiences.

We were just kids.

True story: My son in third-grade lost a tooth a few weeks ago, and I half-expected him to tell me that he no longer believed in the Tooth Fairy. We also just had Easter, and while the words “Easter Bunny” were never spoken aloud, I’m not under the impression he knows I put the candy, toys and baseball cards in his Easter basket.

As an aside, I do question whether we are doing the right thing feeding our children stories about imaginary magical beings they will later learn were totally made-up. I wonder how that breach of trust and shattering of innocence that occurs might negatively impact them in other ways, but that’s beside the point.

My son is just a cute little kid.

How I think and feel about his words and actions are totally different than how I think and feel about the words and actions of other adults who I believe should know better.

Imagine if I talked to my son the same way I might talk to, say, a friend at work…

Me: “Hey buddy! Did you have a good weekend?”

Son: “Yeah! I lost a tooth and put it under my pillow, and the Tooth Fairy came and left me money! Awesome, right? But then it got even better. When I went downstairs Easter morning, I saw that the Easter Bunny had visited overnight and filled my Easter basket with some presents and my favorite candy.”

Me: “You’re shitting me, right?”

Son: “Dad. Language.”

Me: “Right. Sorry. I mean, are you being serious right now?”

Son: “Yes! The Tooth Fairy AND the Easter Bunny both came to my house in the same weekend! Isn’t that amazing, dad?”

Me: “Wait. Just wait. Let’s back up the Sanity Truck to the beginning of this conversation. You’re seriously not messing with me right now? You left a tooth under the pillow you sleep on, and you believe a supernatural fairy magically flew into your bedroom, pocketed your shitty old blood-crusted tooth, and then gave you money for it?”

Son: “Yes. That’s what happens, dad. When you lose a tooth and put it under your pillow at night, the Tooth Fairy comes and leaves you money.”

Me: “Rrrrrrright. A. I can’t believe you actually believe that. And B., I can’t believe you don’t think it’s TERRIFYING that some creeper fairy is buzzing around your head collecting gnarly old teeth and actually paying money for them. It’s pretty illogical, across the board. I can almost understand believing in Santa given how much we’re inundated with Santa stories and images around the holidays, but the Tooth Fairy? Good God, man. You’re like a Cro-Magnon special-ed student. Are you high on drugs right now?”

Son: “What’s a ‘crow magnum’?”

Me: “Don’t worry about it, Copernicus. I’m more concerned with the other thing you said. You think a giant-ass magic bunny that either looks like an actual rabbit, or possibly just a large two-legged rabbity mascot-looking thing ACTUALLY snuck into our house like Santa Claus and left you presents?”

Son: “Yeah.”

Me: “And this doesn’t terrify you, why?”

Son: “The Easter Bunny isn’t scary, dad.”

Me: “Whatever you say, genius.”

I would never speak to my little boy the way I talk to my adult friends or buddies at the office. And that’s because I’m intellectually capable of understanding that it makes sense for my young son’s perceptions and life experiences to be much different than mine, or pretty much any adult.

And here’s where I think it gets interesting: As easy as it is to recognize these totally sensible differences between what’s expected of children’s behavior vs. adults and adjust our language and emotional responses accordingly; we often appear HORRIBLE at recognizing that it is equally sensible for other adults to have radically different beliefs, opinions, and emotional responses than us to any given situation we happen to be in. Others’ unique life experiences can lead them to thinking and feeling differently than us, and that is in no way strange when you go through the mental exercise of how different you would have been had you been born with THEIR DNA, and born into THEIR family, living in THEIR town, going to THEIR church or THEIR school, and being taught THEIR beliefs.

Other people are different than us for various reasons.

The people we marry or have romantic relationships with are among those very-different people.

The Things We Don’t Teach Men: EVERYONE Loses Right vs. Wrong Debates in Relationships

Sometimes I’m smart and know things. Like indisputable fact sort-of things. And I’m capable of getting frustrated or overtly angry if I hear or read someone “being wrong” about this thing I know.

Sometimes I just think I know things, but actually don’t. A false belief like I used to have about the Tooth Fairy, or how afraid I should be of getting on a ridiculously fun roller coaster or of jumping off high-dive boards into swimming pools.

When we believe we are Right or Correct, or that our opinions are Better or Worth More Than, we often argue or debate the point with anyone who disagrees.

And that is often the person we married or have a serious relationship with, simply because they tend to be around the most often.

And I’ve come to believe that these arguments—which often turn into fights—frequently destroy adult relationships. Not only does it erode while we fight, but our poor sense of how to communicate and help manage our partner’s emotions can poison everything further.

I think the things we, societally, are directly and indirectly teaching (or not teaching) boys, and later reinforcing in men, are the primary drivers of these marriage-ending, family-breaking behavior patterns.

Men often demonstrate the desire to be right. Correct. Smart. Reliable. Trusted. Skilled. Best. Respected. (This is not all men all the time, just as there are millions of women who ALSO demonstrate these traits. We’re talking in broad generalities here.)

It happens to me all of the time. In friendly conversations at work, or with friends, or even right here with MBTTTR blog comments.

I still trigger easily into “I Am Right, Therefore They Must Be Wrong” mode, but fortunately I recognize this assholery much faster than I used to.

But most people don’t seem to think it’s an asshole move to debate Right vs. Wrong. About politics. About sports. About music or movies or restaurants. Some people LIKE debating. I’m one of them.

There are others who DON’T like debating because it makes them feel uncomfortable.

And this is where, in my experience, the VAST, VAST, VAST majority of men seem to totally miss the boat.

The Undetected Cancer of Not Understanding Each Other

If a wife or girlfriend is upset about us leaving a dish by the sink, we may spend hours—and even weeks, months or years—arguing the merits of the dish.

And this is a frightening symptom society should treat like cancer because THIS moment is the beginning of The Great Misunderstanding at the root of why couples always have the same fight.

Two people CANNOT get over a fight involving a major violation of trust when neither person actually understands what the other person is saying or feeling.

I wrote that a wife will ABSOLUTELY leave her husband and end her marriage over something as seemingly simple as him leaving dishes by the sink.

And a common reaction to that is: “What a petty, control-freak bitch! Why does HER opinion about where the dish should go rank higher than his? What gives her the right to break up a family over something that insignificant? Marriages are more important than debates about dishes! She’s the one who is wrong!”

Over and over and over again, people (mostly men) read about the dishes by the sink and the countless marriages that ended because of them or some other seemingly insignificant “crime,” and over and over and over again they fail to make the connection I’d hoped for, which is probably because of substandard writing on my part.

So we’re trying again.

I agree with you, Person Who Says Marriage is More Important Than Dishes, Thus Something So “Minor” Should Never End Them.

I’m on your side. I promise.

However. This has never been, and never will be, about who has the most valid opinion. We’re measuring Right vs. Wrong like morons. Like if we tried to measure human weight in Celsius degrees or sound decibels or kilometers per hour. We have bullshit data because we’re not using the right filters.

The Big Secret That Shouldn’t Be a Secret

It will never matter who makes the best or most-convincing or most-skilled argument.

That’s NOT why she’s leaving us.

You couldn’t out-debate her because Correct vs. Incorrect never even came into play.

It’s about this really important secret, and nothing else:

Something you did, said, or are actively doing, HURT her or is HURTING her.

Like if you were throwing rocks at her face, or striking her with a belt. Like if you were calling her vile names and telling her she was ugly and that you didn’t love her anymore.

Something you’re doing or saying is causing actual pain.

And the scary part is that you don’t know. We don’t know because it would never hurt us. Because it would never hurt us, we act like she’s weak. We act like her response is crazy or illogical or out of line with reality.

Then when she tells us about it, we don’t apologize and stop the hurtful behavior like we would if we were accidentally hitting her with rocks or belts.

Moreover, we pile on more hurt in the form of us puffing our chests in all of our “correctness,” defending our behavior, and implying or saying outright that she’s stupid or mentally unstable or a bad or mean person for feeling all of these illogical things on account of our perfectly reasonable and justifiable actions.

First, we inflict pain without realizing it.

Second, we are informed of the pain we cause, and we wave our hands dismissively and tell her she’s full of shit.

Third, we get angry when she won’t let it go, and flip it around into a “This is actually YOUR fault for being such a miserable and ungrateful bitch all the time” discussion.

Fourth, we stay angry that she keeps bringing it up and “nagging” us about something we think we’re “right” about, and make everything about us, and how she’s the unfair person ruining the marriage.

Don’t you see it?

I’m not blaming anyone for this. These aren’t the behaviors of evil people. These are the behaviors of two people who emotionally harm one another over the course of five to 10 years with little to no awareness of it.

We accidentally cut and bruise her with our stones and belts without ever realizing we’re striking her.

Then, not only do we NOT apologize for it, or attempt to change the behavior, but we often defiantly blame everything on her, and tell her that nothing is ever going to change because she’s got this whole thing wrong.

And if you keep saying it enough times, maybe you believe she’ll figure it out too.

Ironically, she feels exactly the same, right up until she can’t take the hurt anymore.

She might be able to handle the metaphorical stones and belt lashes. Because the years have scarred and hardened her.

But she’s sure as hell not going to take the blame for it anymore, nor dedicate the rest of her life to an intimate partnership that rewards her with: “Why don’t you cry about it, you nagging bitch? And by the way, I love you, honey. Wanna have sex later?”

Neither person meant to hurt the other. It just happens, and most of these guys have no idea how it’s perceived by his wife or girlfriend. Not until it’s too late. Not until she’s heartbroken and gone.

It’s one person being hurt and the other person saying through their actions, “I don’t care about the same things you care about. Also, I don’t even care THAT you care. Your stuff doesn’t matter to me.”

Because THAT ends marriages. Thousands of times per day.

And I think it’s tragic.

Because it’s essentially just a big misunderstanding.

And I don’t believe kids should have to cry and spend every night missing one of their parents for the entirety of their childhood because of a misunderstanding.

We can do better.

We must.

109 thoughts on “The Cancer of Misunderstanding”

  1. Oh lost trust over stupid pride. Never realized how much I was doing it until it was staring me right in the face sitting in the shell of a home while my wife is gone to her apartment. Lessons learned late and only those who don’t see will comment how stupid the dish premise is. I know, I’ve been that guy.

    Few things open the doors to closed off men quite like the potential end of their marriage when they were blind to the end happening around them. Again, I’m one of them. Rebuilding of trust may take months or years, but I try. Hopefully my fellow shitty husbands out there are doing the same. And hopefully some of you learned before it was too late, as it has been for many of us.

    As always, another great addition to your blog. One I wish I knew before I was the fool. Keep doing your thing Matt.

  2. I very much appreciate this article. I hope to show it to my partner. I don’t think it will get through, and I believe at this point it is perhaps too late anyway. He is guilty. I am guilty.

    I think what you are doing is incredible. I hope men and women alike can learn from your articles. Miscommunication does exist, and when neglected, it destroys all kinds of relationships, not just marriages. To admit our own blindness to others’ emotions and feelings, and the things we do that hurt them, is a major step forward, in my eyes.

    All the best. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  3. You hit the nail on the head for me. Just this past Thursday my husband and I got into it over a bowel prep for a colonoscopy. I’m a nurse I work in a hospital I do bowel preps with patients all the time. After a while of him arguing I told him he makes me feel stupid when in fact I’m smart. His response “you are too soft, if that bothers you you should toughen up”. What I hear I don’t give a shit about you or your feelings. He refuses to apologize and we haven’t spoken in a week. Thanks for your blog!!

  4. latenightblond

    “Like if we tried to measure human weight in Celsius degrees” – I do love what you can do with words! I hope you don’t mind if I borrow that. And the point you make is so true. It’s like looking at one of those patterned pictures where you relax your focus and see the image behind it (can’t remember the name for it). Once you see it, it’s both easier to see and pick up after that – at home with your beloved and when interacting with family and friends. Moving beyond having feelings to being able to translate and articulate those feelings is deeply satisfying even if the other side of the conversation looks like a closed door.

    1. Oh yeah. Stereograms, they’re called. Had to look it up. But the experience of being able to see it more easily after the first time is my experience, and it’s a great analogy to being able to “see” these interpersonal things more clearly once you’ve broken the seal.

      Thank you for the fun bonus thought there! Like it.

  5. I don’t know, Matt, you always make me hesitate when you say things like, “I’m not blaming anyone for this. These aren’t the behaviors of evil people. First, we inflict pain without realizing it. Because it’s essentially just a big misunderstanding.”

    A misunderstanding? The things we don’t teach men?? Why do we have to teach men not to throw metaphorical rocks at their wives? Are they that stupid? It kind of reminds me of our whole campaign to, “teach men not to rape.” Why? Don’t they already know?

    The truth is, it is not that men just don’t know better, it is that some flat out just don’t care. They are not motivated to care. They are entitled. They do it because they believe it is acceptable and they think they can get away with it.

    1. C’mon now. You’ve been discussing this with me for years, IB.
      I’m not going to waste my time and limited brain capacity on EVIL people. If you’re married to an EVIL person, your marriage and family are totally fucked. And God knows I’m sorry, but it’s true.
      I’m talking about guys like me. Always always always. Guys like me.
      We WANT to have our marriages function well and feel happy for both parties and last forever.
      The thousands of divorces that happen every day, IB are not all full of a bunch of scheming, evil people who masterfully manipulated and conned another adult into marriage for nefarious purposes.
      That’s just an insane thing for someone to believe.
      MOST marriages are comprised of two people who mean well. Who actually think and feel “I love my spouse and family.”
      Thus. YES. Yes, yes and even more yeses.
      The only alternative is to believe these men are INTENTIONALLY abusing and neglecting their wives, and jeopardizing the health and wellness of their entire family.
      And the day I believe MOST people are evil, or intentionally horrible to their “loved ones,” is the day I stop wasting my time here.
      I’m here for the good people who don’t know better.
      Not the sadistic shitbags. Those people SHOULD be left to marinate in their own filth.

      1. “We WANT to have our marriages function well and feel happy for both parties and last forever.”

        Matt, I love you, and I don’t mean to sound judgmental, but you left your wife in the hospital after she had a baby, you left that glass on the sink,you signaled complete disinterest over and over again. You did not want to “feel happy for both parties,” you wanted to feel happy for yourself.

        It’s like the words just don’t match the actions. You say, “We WANT to have our marriages function well..” Okay, so did you do one single thing to make that happen?

        “MOST marriages are comprised of two people who mean well.”

        No, Matt. Most marriages are comprised of two deeply flawed people who recognize their own propensity for evil. The road to hell is paved by people who “mean well.” We’re conning our own selves if we believe that.

        1. You don’t sound judgmental. I volunteered those stories as part of this macro-level discussion I hope most people are having one day.

          I’m telling my story and thoughts the only way I know how.

          Maybe we have different definitions for “evil.”

          Human beings feel hurt by things other people do all the time in several walks of life, not just romantic relationships or marriage.

          And I’m saying many men don’t recognize that the things they do quite naturally and to them feel benign, are all part of a marriage-killing puzzle that will destroy their family five to 10 years down the road.

          And I say that IF THEY DID know, most would work hard to curb their behavior, and at minimum, would exercise self-awareness and be able to communicate more effectively with their wives/girlfriends as — for the first time ever — they would FINALLY be having the same conversation, instead of one arguing about the importance of a dish while the other feels ACTUAL pain.

          And if you don’t think that’s true? If you think men are inherently selfish and evil? Then I think you should openly protest men and the act of marrying them.

          If men are mostly EVIL, then we should rally the troops and burn them at the stake.

          If men are mostly just flawed and human? Then I think maybe we should have the conversation we’re having right now.

          1. “If you think men are inherently selfish and evil? Then I think you should openly protest men and the act of marrying them. If men are mostly EVIL, then we should rally the troops and burn them at the stake.”

            Well actually in faith there’s this idea that we are all inherently evil which is why we need to repent and avail ourselves of Salvation.

          2. See? We’re just calling “evil” two different things.

            I understand you, as broken and flawed, am I.

            I just am particular about what I’ll label “evil.” And it’s something well beyond your run-of-the-mill shitty husband thoughtlessly hurting his wife’s feelings.

          3. Hmmm

            Different definitions for evil? I’m not sure how that works. It seems that it is more along the lines of your wanting to weed out the uncomfortabole synonyms that have to do with the harm caused being premeditated. The first definition on Google reads:

            1. profoundly immoral and malevolent.
            “his evil deeds” synonym: wicked, bad, wrong, immoral, sinful, foul, vile, dishonorable, corrupt, iniquitous, depraved, reprobate, villainous, nefarious, vicious, malicious; malevolent, sinister, demonic, devilish, diabolical, fiendish, dark; monstrous, shocking, despicable, atrocious, heinous, odious, contemptible, horrible, execrable

            I can speak personally, after leaving my husband to raise our children in a broken home, that he is exactly the type of man of which you speak. The kind of man who thoughtlessly caused damage and to such an extent that he destroyed our family and altered the course of our lives forever. And he did all of that without ever hitting me. Without cheating. Without gambling away our savings. And I believe he did it because he never thought I would leave.

            Suspension of disbelief is the true problem plaguing our society. It is defined as “a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of relalism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.”

            I hate to break it to you, but if you are willing to sacrifice everything and everyone you claim to care about in an effort to make your own experience in life more enjoyable, then “evil” applies to you. Specifically if the person you have involved yourself with did not agree to participate in that type of relationship and especially if the person is someone who trusted you not to do any such thing.

            Malevolence? That definition reads “having or showing a wish to do evil to others.”

            My understanding of your position is that you don’t believe men sit up at night hatching a plan to make their person (spouse, significant other, partner, girlfriend or the labelless person they engage in a romantic and or sexual relationship with) and their wants and needs secondary to their own. It seems that, in your mind, it is just a byproduct of coexisting with humans with penises. That they just thoughtlessly meander throughout their lives and happen to inflict pain and anguish unknowingly and therefore it isn’t evil? Because they weren’t taught how to be a compassionate, unselfish and honest partner.

            I will give you the “having a wish” but what about the “showing a wish” part? Actions speak louder than words, after all.

            It is just thoughtlessness? By definition it is “lacking in consideration for others, inconsiderate” or is it really an inherent desire to elicit the maximum amount of enjoyment from any given situation at any cost? Even if it means decieving people you love. Even if it means decieving yourself?

            I think people finally get it when they can no longer suspend their disbelief because the landscape has deteriorated to such an extent that their internal subterfuge will no longer allow for it. the “lightbulb” moment. Followed closely with reality based thought processes, communication and action. But more often than not it is too late. All is lost.

            Snap. Back to reality.

            Or just an alternate reality? Because there seems to be some suspension of disbelief still in play… even on the other side among the enlightened.

          4. For what it’s worth, here’s my current understanding of this. I’d love to hear others’ opinions too:

            Shitty husbands consciously think and feel:
            “I want this marriage to be happy for both of us!”.

            But then the unconscious thought and feeling is something like this:
            “But obviously when we disagree I’m right and she’s wrong (it’s just not possible I could be wrong, I’m so smart and everyone likes me). Any hurt feelings she may have as a result of our difference of opinion will be due to faulty thinking on her part. Like kids who think there’s a monster under the bed, or a person on drugs who think they’re seeing Jack the ripper. So I should just continue telling her that I’m right and she’s wrong (aka the truth) over and over and she’ll snap back to reality (again that I’m right and she’s wrong) eventually.”

            I think most of us are significantly biased and self serving when it comes to our beliefs, our perspectives. But what I am still not able to wrap my head around is how extremely deep and seemingly all compassing this self serving tendency is within shitty husbands (and shitty wives, but more common among shitty husbands, as the Gottman research show). If your wife has been crying/yelling/talking about the same thing for months or years, I would think that should be enough to challenge a shitty husband’s belief of the ultimte rightness of his perspective. Not even completely, just enough to go “ok, this must really bother her, lets try and do something about it”. But it seems like the leap into understanding that his opinion isn’t the ultimate truth, that someone who sees it differently could be as right as him, or that he could be wrong, is just so extremely far away. I don’t get how this happens.

            If a shitty husband can’t fathom that his wife *could* be as right as him when they disagree, even if they don’t consciously harbour active thoughts and opinions of disrespect or contempt towards her, my working conclusion is that the entire way he sees her is disrespectful. And that disrespectful attitude is so pervasive and subtle that he’s not even aware that it’s there, yet it’s fundamental to how he’s functioning. Like how a fish is the last one to know it’s swimming in water. Her needs, values, thoughts and opinion (while certainly not in and of themselves anymore a measure of truth than his) are just inherently less valid than his. It’s like she’s not fully real to him, or that she’s kind of a lesser form of human.

          5. I think “a lesser form of human than him” is a bit much, but otherwise, I completely agree with this breakdown.

            I’ve tried to write this a hundred different ways, but here’s how I perceive this:

            A husband or boyfriend in these moments, is HURTING his wife or girlfriend but he doesn’t know it.

            He sees cotton balls. He feels cotton balls. He experiences throwing cotton balls.

            She sees stones. She feels stones. She experiences him throwing stones at her.

            When she describes this, he thinks she must be bat-shit crazy because cotton balls don’t hurt like stones.

            He spends the vast majority of this and all future conversations trying to sell her on this cotton ball idea, but she’s like “F you, asshole, you’re doing it right now!,” and he’s totally dumbfounded, but he’s also PISSED.

            The conversation steers away from cotton balls vs. stones rather quickly as the verbal sparring generates new ideas and hurt feelings.

            No one bothers to pause, rewind, and find a way to speak the same language from the beginning.

            He just keeps hurling cotton balls, “knowing” full well that cotton balls DO NOT cause significant pain nor damage.

            But her experience is being pelted by stones, so eventually she breaks and leaves him because, who wants to be married to someone who hurls stones?

            The missing piece is EMPATHY. The missing piece is whatever effective communication or life experience that needs to happen for him to FULLY UNDERSTAND that under the right circumstances, another human being can experience something in a much different way, and that it is not necessarily “wrong.”

            I think the best thing a wife or girlfriend can do is find the comparable situation in HIS life, and help him make the connection.

            He probably complains sometimes about something she does or something he experiences at work or with his family of origin or whatever. Things that don’t upset her at all.

            That connection is so critical. And I just think many people, often men, struggle with intentional empathy. And intentional empathy is required (in my opinion) to have a satisfying and healthy relationship or marriage with another person.

          6. “A husband or boyfriend in these moments, is HURTING his wife or girlfriend but he doesn’t know it.”

            He knows it, Matt. He’s not throwing cotton balls. He’s trying to be top dog by completely annihilating her. He is in battle mode. I’m not sure why it’s so hard for some guys to admit this. It’s okay, it’s just human nature,especially guy nature,and we don’t love guys any less because of it.

            But it is absolute bovine poo to be throwing rocks at someone with the clear intent of winning,while claiming they are just cotton balls and it’s not your fault anyway because you just don’t understand what you are doing.

          7. You think the average husband would throw rocks at his wife even while knowing what it feels like to get hit by rocks?

            I’m sorry, IB, but I just can’t and don’t agree.

          8. Well, yeah. Why do guys throw rocks in the first place? To hurt people, right?

            Why than when guys throw rocks at their wives are we supposed to suddenly perceive it as benevolence or ignorance? You ever throw a rock at a guy thinking, I have no idea if this is going to hurt him or not? If it does hurt him, then it must just be some kind of communication failure?

          9. As you’ll see in the comment I just wrote, the guy doesn’t know it feels like a rock. No clue. He sees, feels, believes cotton ball.

            And every life moment from childhood through today tells him that cotton balls DO NOT HURT.

            He hasn’t yet learned that to an entirely different human with different brains and different life experiences, they actually can.

            How you can possibly not know this has been my main point I’ve tried to make in all these posts for the past four years is giving me serious doubt issues about my ability to communicate thoughts.

          10. Yes! That is the honest answer. He doesn’t care enough to choose not to throw something, regardless of the damage done, at the person he loves.

            noun: care

            1. the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.
            2. serious attention or consideration applied to doing something correctly or to avoid damage or risk.

            verb: care

            1. feel concern or interest; attach importance to something.
            2. look after and provide for the needs of.

            It takes effort to give serious attention to doing something correctly. It requires a person to be somewhat selfless because it isn’t always convenient or all about the their wants and needs at any given moment.

            Men would rather exert energy to deal with the result of the damage inflicted from throwing a cotton ball than have to have to deal with the consequence (the upset partner) which takes less effort than the giving of serious attention and consideration in the first place.

            Over time the pain inflicted is increased in relation to the amount of pain vocalized by the person getting hit in an effort to combat their response to their feelings being invalidated, to their needs not being met and to being treated badly by someone they love.

            What begins as cotton balls then progresses to stones. To go from a cotton ball to a plastic Easter Egg (the kind you use in egg hunts) doesn’t cause a significant difference in pain caused, right? That isn’t as jarring an increase as going from a cotton ball to a kiwi fruit. The increase in damage is so slight it often isn’t even acknowledged.

            It is a slippery slope, to say the least.

            You think you would never hurl a stone at someone you love but if you had just been pelting them with golf balls and they didn’t leave you or stop loving you then there can’t be much risk in it. You condition yourself to believe, over time, that it is acceptable. You allow yourself to believe that the damage being done isn’t severe and increase your assault to combat what you consider an unwarranted reaction to being hit. You suspend logic and reason and lie to yourself and continue to choose to hurt someone you love because you would rather THEY feel pain than YOU feel pain.

            And the initial pain, the pain of the cotton ball, seemed an insignificant amount for them to endure. And each step along the way their tolerance increases and so does the their assailant’s with regard to their behavior and treatment. Both parties have been conditioned.

            Perhaps in their mind the object in their hand still a cotton ball. Perhaps the suspension of disbelief that had begun in the first place in an effort to justify the cotton ball never allowed for the progression of the size and density to register.

            Perhaps if they had never thrown the cotton ball to begin. How about that?

            But to say that men don’t know what they are doing is wrong and causes damage? I call BS. I am sure that your response to your wife when she was upset upon finding a dish by the sink was markedly different in the fifth year of your marriage than it was in your first. I’m sure the slow and steady progression from cotton ball to stone happened.

            I guess I don’t see the point in calling a stone a cotton ball. For what purpose? To ease your conscience?

          11. I think these are all totally fair points and questions. I wish I had time to engage right now. I don’t, but feel the need to clarify just one part of this.

            I’m not calling a stone a cotton ball. And it’s not about how guilty or innocent me, or anyone else, is to a negative outcome.

            I use the cotton ball metaphor for one reason alone — to illustrate WHY the “average shitty boyfriend/husband” seems so dense and out of touch with his girlfriend/wife’s pain.

            It’s the only way I could think of to show a person observing something that — to them– seems like a benign and completely non-threatening thing, but that causes real, actual pain for a spouse, YET he doesn’t change the behavior.

            Until this guy experiences his own version of “cotton balls” thrashing his world and feels the significant pain they can cause under certain circumstances, it’s as if it’s almost impossible for him to accept on faith that getting hit with a cotton ball can hurt the same as getting hit with a rock.

            I’m not excusing any behavior. This is BAD. This ends families and alters lives, and it’s devastating for children, friends, extended family, and for the couple themselves.

            I have no idea how to help. But I think the one thing I might be able to do is maybe help some guys out there come to terms with the disconcerting truth:

            What seems innocent and safe to us can feel horrible and painful or dangerous or any other negative experiences to someone else.

            It can’t be Right vs. Wrong.

            It has to be two equal things that are simply different. Equal value.

            If the end goal is to make a marriage last forever and preserve a unified home for children, then I believe that armed with better information and awareness, men will more frequently demonstrate a willingness to choose selfless love and empathy over whatever he’s doing that causes her pain and heartache.

            I think a man who has vowed to love and serve his wife, and who values her, and their children and family life together above all things WILL be in a position to contribute positively to his marriage if he can get over this initial blindness.

          12. So, here is this other aspect,also – what if your significant other IS aware – he sees your anger and frustration, but just doesn’t know how to change. I see this behavior in all sorts of addictions, even and including food. I see this behavior in almost every client I see (I guess that’s why they are coming to see me) – It’s the cycle of I screwed up, and everyone is mad, I’ll try this and this to fix it – Crap, that didn’t work. Fuck if I know how to fix it! I must have been born this way,
            this is just how I am..etc, etc.

            A lot of people continue ineffective and harmful behavior because they don’t know how to change, or feel like they cant change and they give up in a way and sort of revel in the bad behavior.

            These people aren’t bad people, nor are they completely unaware or oblivious.

            But, they don’t know what is actually needed and they don’t believe they could actually do it even if they did know.

            I think Matt is telling the truth about his experience, and I think there are many men who would agree with him.

            His experience isn’t the whole of all men’s experience and he doesn’t put his thoughts out there as if they are.

            There could be some who hurt people intentionally, there could be some that are aware it’s causing problems but don’t have the tools, or trust themselves to change, and then there are some that genuinely don’t understand the damage they are doing because it wouldn’t hurt them.
            That may even be the majority of instances around conflicts. ..And it isn’t isolated to men.

            It seems like maybe your assertion that they HAVE to know is sort of a similar cotton ball/rock situation.

            I think it is much more likely that one person is responding to some behavior, and the other person doesn’t understand that person’s response, but of course reacts to the negativity by defense, or deflection…which hurts the other person – ad nauseum, ugh!

            If you look at it in that light, could you see how they could be oblivious?
            They aren’t oblivious to the hurt, but are oblivious to WHY it hurts – they don’t understand.
            And, yes – every single persons natural gut reaction is to defend themselves from perceived harm, even just a negative response.
            (Until you learn to look at it differently).

          13. Hmmm…. It seems like we mostly agree Matt. 🙂
            But not all the way, and I’ll try to explain why:

            He sees cotton balls. She feels stones, and she tells him this. Where the disrespect/disregard shows itself, the seeing her as a lesser form of human, is the very fact that when the two of them disagree/see things differently, he automatically assumes he is right and she is wrong. (Now everyone does this, but research tells us men do it way more, and they often keep on doing it pretty much until their wives divorce them.)

            So this is how he approaches all of her thoughts and feelings and perspectives: When they are different from his, they are just wrong, end of story. Often, seemingly, it doesn’t even occur to him to consider them, his mind just goes “different than me = wrong” lightning fst. That is, really, how little he values her thoughts and feelings and opinions and experiences when they differ from his.

            And my opinion is: How is this not seeing her as a lesser form of human (and I’m both making my point and honestly being curious about your thoughts) Or to use other words, the kind of human who isn’t worthy of being respected/taken as seriously as he is, who isn’t inherently as capeable and reasonable as him? When so much of what makes people who they are is what they think and feel and value?

            I agree with you that intentional empathy is important. In my opinion, this intentional empathy will come from a place of respecting her as his equal partner – the default position is that her opinions and feelings and thoughts are as important and valid as his (and he must know he doesn’t have access to the ultimate truth any more than her), and he must act and speak from this place, even when they disagree.


  6. Another excellent article, Matt. I think your blog should be required reading in schools. You could change every bad relationship in the world for the better with what you say here. Truly.

  7. Great as always. My ex is a great example. Used to get in my face and yell the most vile and disgusting things and then say sorry and want sex.

  8. Matt, quick question. Please forgive me if you’ve answered this elsewhere. Have you, or do you plan to, write a book? (I checked Amazon and Google before writing you to ask. Didn’t see anything in either place.) If the answer is yes, yay! I will buy it!

    1. Thank you. 🙂

      It has been my intention for a few years to, yes. I struggle with the process on a few different levels, though thanks to a friend’s gift in the form of a really awesome and comprehensive book, I think I have a good resource for getting from A to Z.

      I have a a full-time job, a son who gets as much of my attention as possible, a consulting business the rest of the time, and then tiny moments of thinking about the unfinished book.

      But I promise I want to and am taking steps in that direction. It means a lot to me that you’d like to read it. Thank you for saying so.

  9. Absolutely! It would be a great gift book, too. I see how incredibly busy you are, and it takes the time it takes, but it will be awesome to have. You unerringly get to the heart of the matter. That takes a special blend of insight, wisdom, and truthfulness. It also takes a willingness to be open and a little bit vulnerable, inner strength, honesty, and lovingkindness. Your book, when it is completed, will be one to savor. Thank you! 🙂

  10. When I discussed my partner and I having petty arguments with my counselor, he said the issues really is a lack of respect and that is what creates distrust. If your partner doesn’t respect your feelings, wishes or opinions, you begin to feel disconnected from them, then you stop sharing your feelings and opinions and you grow apart. So very sad, really. But I did not see that the lack of respect is what was making me feel bad, not the argument itself… I wish I had known sooner, how to communicate this to him.

    1. “If your partner doesn’t respect your feelings, wishes or opinions, you begin to feel disconnected from them, then you stop sharing your feelings and opinions and you grow apart.”

      Yes, this makes total sense. If you’re interested, I wrote a comment about disrespect further up.

  11. Well first, to answer your question, “Why did I care about all of that lamer crap” because jumping off the high dive at the local pool is scary! It still is for me. And the risk just isn’t worth the reward for me. As I get older and more comfortable with myself and more secure with my self esteem (thanks in part to a husband who is NOT evil) I am getting clearer on what I’m willing to risk and exactly what I need to be happy. Here is the problem, I am willing to risk an awful lot for my husband. I’m willing to put in the time. I can let him see that I am wrong. I am able to show him my fears and vulnerabilities and back track on opinions that I felt right on because I wasn’t aware of all of the facts. When I am debating with someone it’s not to BE right, it’s because I believe I AM right but if they bring up points that I was unaware of (hopefully in a calm and respectful way), then I still feel like I’ve won even if I technically lost because I’m more informed than I was before. Unfortunately my husband doesn’t always see things that way. I think some men are raised to be more results based. If we debate and he can’t disprove my points or prove his own, he likes to leave things by saying, “Let’s agree to disagree” I struggle with this, because if his points are wrong, then why is he ok with holding on to them, and more importantly how am I suppose to look him in the eye and respect that. He doesn’t like how it feels to be proven wrong and feels it’s damaging to his self esteem and he wonders why I can’t be more supportive, as he is towards me. Marriage is a tricky tricky thing. I think that it’s pointless trying to look at where you went wrong, because we’re all going to make mistakes. It’s far more important to ensure you are still doing things right. Every day, even after 17 years of marriage, because it shouldn’t end with the vows. I don’t look at it that I made my bed so now I have to lay in it….I want to jump in, stretching like a cat, rubbing my face in the duvet and blissfully sighing. I want to choose my husband every single day. I don’t want to agree to disagree.

  12. Something kind of interesting, respect is huge, especially for guys. They tend to perceive respect as love. When women can respect a guy, than we have trust. Early in my marriage I did not respect my husband at all and one reason for that was this idea, “I’m a good guy,” while the actions,behavior did not match that at all. So all I could read was you’re a liar, therefore untrustworthy, not someone I can respect.The intentions may have been good. but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Healthy marriages don’t happen just because you’re a good guy, entitled, you just sit back and let her bask in your goodness. It’s also really crazy making. You feel confused, all this alleged goodness doesn’t feel good at all.

    My husband actually finally said, “I’m a jerk, downright evil really, self centered, I just want what I want without any effort on my part and your feelings really don’t matter to me.” It was soooo validating. A whole dam broke, everything suddenly made sense. It was so honest, I began to trust him, I respected his truthfulness,his willingness to be vulnerable. So eventually it turned out that my feelings actually do matter to him, but simply acknowledging that the reason he often ignored them was because he simply didn’t care was huge. He wasn’t “good,” he was human.

    Men can be really good at trying to tell us what they think we want to hear, at what they want to believe about themselves, but there is no vulnerability there, no honesty, no intimacy. Look at some of Matt’s appeal with his simple title about being a crappy husband,and people flock here going “hallelujah,he gets it.”

    So that is one reason why I always object to this idea of “good guys who just don’t understand.” IMO, it’s that aspect of guys pridefully insisting they are good, not evil, not the one with the problem here,that destroys so many marriages.

    1. I think we’re getting hung up on semantics.

      My “good,” or “evil,” or “shitty,” or “awesome,” or “beautiful,” or “delicious,” or “funny,” or “sexy,” or “interesting,” is going to be different than yours and many other people.

      This is an unfortunate side effect of trying to write stories for the masses, which is why I just try to stay in my lane and write based on my experiences which I perceive (rightly or wrongly) to be super-average and typical.

      I’m not disagreeing with anything you said.

      I’m just perhaps more lenient with my use of “good,” and more restrictive with my use of “evil” than you are.

      And I think that’s perfectly okay.

      1. “And I think that’s perfectly okay.”

        LOL! With all due respect Matt, when I do something to really offend my husband I am not the one who gets to define how evil, hurtful, or pathetically degenerate I was being. It’s not the semantics at all, it’s the fact that it really doesn’t matter if someone backs over your foot because they’re stupid or they’re evil. Either way your foot is broken.

        1. I can’t do better than the cotton ball analogy.

          You’re denying that that is our (grouping myself with the shitty oblivious husbands here) experience.

          You believe that I’m either wrong or lying. If you think I intentionally hurt my wife OR even carelessly did it with the full understanding that cotton balls CAN feel the same as stones, then you believe I’m a liar.

          80-90 percent of the content here is rooted in THIS one point. So it surprises me to see you take such umbrage with it.

          And I’m standing my ground and forcing you to decide whether you believe I’m lying about it. Whether all these other guys are lying about it.

          I don’t know of even ONE man personally who would throw something at his wife if he KNEW when it hit her, she would feel — literally — the same physical pain of a stone hitting her.

          He doesn’t stop NOT because he’s an abuser. He doesn’t stop because he has NEVER felt or heard of cotton balls causing actual pain.

          If couples struggling with this very dynamic at home want to achieve mutual understanding and healing, they would do well to accept this.

          The reason no one can figure it out is because two people LITERALLY experience the same thing totally differently, and can’t get the other to make sense of their side of it.

          Thus. Everyone needs to work harder at finding an appropriate frame of reference to help each other understand this difficult-to-grasp thing from one another’s perspective.

          No one ever has the healthy adult version. It always breaks down into petty, emotional fights (I know because I did it wrong a thousand times just like most other people).

          This is a significant thing, and the very core of my beliefs about marriage and divorce.

          I’m really surprised you’re challenging it so much.

          The only way I can reconcile that fact is to believe you and I have different perceptions of what words like “good” or “evil” mean. Because those semantics differences would explain the disconnect.

          If you fundamentally disagree with everything I believe, then I’ll remain confused about why you invest so much here (which I really appreciate by the way, independent of how much or little we agree on any given subject).

          I agree with you that the offender doesn’t get to DEFINE the victim’s experience. Of course not.

          But I’m trying to fill in the HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN? component.

          It can happen because neither person SEES, FEELS, EXPERIENCES, or BELIEVES the same things as the other.

          That MUST be okay because it will always be true for the remainder of human history.

          What must change is placing VALUE on one over the other.

          Once men collectively understand that their wives aren’t WRONG. That, to them, a cotton ball impact can truly simulate the sensation of a stone, THEN the two can have productive conversations.

          Because the man DOES KNOW that getting hit by stones hurts. And he’ll cut that shit out in a hurry when he finally realizes that’s what he’s been mindlessly doing all this time to people he loves.

  13. It feels like some of you have been hurt so deeply by your spouses or exes that it’s now hard to give men any benefit of the doubt that they aren’t inherently evil. And I understand that better now unfortunately. Buuuut, here’s some of my perspective. I’m an emotionally closed off man. I was closed off with my wife. It affected her deeply. You know why men are emotionally closed off? Because we are taught that way. Man up. Boys don’t cry. Suck it up pu**y. Quit acting like a girl. And so forth. Women handle emotions better because you’re not necessarily ridiculed from childhood about it. That makes you way stronger than we are. We thought the whole time we closed off that we were being strong. Don’t show emotions because if we do then we can’t be the rock we think y’all expect us to be. We are to be the strength and anything less than this is to be weak.

    It takes a significant emotional upheaval to break that. I haven’t let a tear break the surface of my eyes since I was probably 9. Been to war and back. Friends have died. Family has died. Shitty things have happened in all those years. The day my wife moved out I broke like a dam. And it’s all been coming to the surface. Because it takes something that strong sometimes to break years of behavioral conditioning. I never once understood why my wife was hurt by me blowing off some of her work problems and other such issues…they didn’t seem big in the scheme of things. I get it now. Maybe I never would have without our marriage coming to a brink of divorce. I may have gone on living life inside of my shell. The shell we good husbands who are shitty happen to have. My wife has applauded me many times for taking care of her in every conventional sense of the word. Never yelled, payed bills, food on the table, told her i loved her often. I just never opened up for her or myself. And that’s where I was a shitty husband. I did not hurt my wife because I wanted to. I thought I was being strong for her. Instead I was making her feel weak when in reality I was the weak one.

    Yes, some men (and some women) maliciously choose to be horrible people. But the average…no, we just happen to be fools.

    1. Thank you for this. I really appreciate you chiming in. Very much.

      To you and your family, sir. Cheers.

  14. I have a question, I get that there is a huge misunderstanding when someone unknowingly hurts their significant other. But when does the time come for that person to take responsibility for repeatedly doing so? Although a pretty bad example, I have this one: Let’s say that there is an offender that repeatedly breaks the law, and no matter how many times they get ticketed or even go to jail, where he would be arraigned and asked whether he understands his charges (which I guess could be somewhat compared to having the same fights over and over again with his S.O. explaining and “nagging” about what is bothering/hurting her OR him getting banished from the bedroom and made to sleep on the couch for a while) he just DOES NOT see his actions as being wrong because he does not understand the severity of them, the “unjust” consequences, or because he does not see them as being wrong the way the law says they are. And instead feels that the “law” (S.O.) is out to get him. At what point is he made to take responsibility for breaking the law and does it make it alright for him to continue doing so just because he doesn’t understand? After going through the system repeatedly they go from not understanding, to believing that they are above the law or that the laws are just too “illogical” for him to agree with and follow. After a certain point isn’t that person just being willfully ignorant? Is he not wrong then? they were made aware of the situation and were advised of the consequences ahead of time, yet they willingly and knowingly continued to break the law repeatedly. That is the example I’ve TRIED to use but the response I got was “you’re comparing apples to oranges”, which okay I see it’s not exactly the same but I wanted to try and put into different words hoping for some general understanding but got nothing… It’s extremely hard to not give up. Did it not help get ANY of the message across? Or is that an example of someone who does not even want to try to understand?

    1. Sometimes we don’t. Let’s be honest here….sometimes we just don’t. I didn’t for the longest time. I do now and that sucks. I only do now because my wife had to leave for that to happen. That’s not why she left of course, not to jolt me into action. She left to protect herself. She did what she needed to do. Me, I never understood. I didn’t understand until I sat down and started to get away from myself and see myself in her shoes. And even then I fought it, fought the understanding. I broke multiple times and still break on a daily basis trying to figure out who I am and who my wife is and who we are as a couple. I didn’t even hint at that break until the day she moved out. Some men learn before the worst….I’m personally a little jealous of that ability and wish I had listened in the past. Some of us need the most drastic of measures to learn. And then…some of us will never learn. Never. It sometimes is what it is.

    2. Judith, I have used a very similar example as you on this blog. I don’t accept the excuse of a shitty husband not knowing, because his wife gave him the knowledge over and over (when you do x, I feel hurt, because y) but he didn’t accept it. Why? Because he didn’t respect the source, aka the wife and her opinions/thoughts/needs etc. In my opinion (and I do recognize I don’t know the ultimate Truth), the (often unconscious) disrespect/disregard of her is the problem, which causes him to disregard her, which causes him to not know. The not knowing is just the symptom.

      I likened it to someone not knowing they shouldn’t be driving drunk. (Granted, I could have used a more netural example for legitimate differences like a dish by the sink, but this was about husbands leaving their wives in the hospital after labour/c-section, even when the wife cried for them to stay.) And then the expert, a police officer (like the wife is the expert of her own feelings/needs/experiences) comes over to the shitty husband and tells him “you can’t drive while drunk”. And yet he keeps on driving drunk. In court the drunk driver defends himself by saying ” I didn’t know I shouldn’t be driving while drunk!”.

      No, not going to fly. If you didn’t know, it was because you disregarded/disrespected the thinking and feelings of the person giving you the info, to the point where you’re absolutely shocked later on to find out that the info that person gave you was correct. The problem is dsrespect in my opinion, not seeing her needs/thoughts/preferences as inherently as valid as his own.

      Granted, we all have strong self serving tendencies (not the most attractive thing about humans), and when people get triggered and defensive and hurt, people often need someone else to tell them that what their partner is saying makes sense too. But with the majority of men (again, Gottman and his research show that only about 1/3 of men accept influence) it’s to such a pervasive extent. Women will more often than not eventually accept influence and seek a compromise.

      1. I’ll play devils advocate here Dorothy. Maybe your husband or ex or whomenver, maybe he did hear and do try but you didn’t see the trying. Maybe you didn’t see him doing little things for you because he knew he was messing up other things. Maybe you didn’t see him trying to make changes but he was struggling because it wasn’t the norm for him. Maybe he was trying to be better for you, but you were too closed off that you didn’t see because you made the choice to assume he wasn’t trying. Maybe he is a shitty husband who was trying. But…I’m not trying to be offensive…but, were you a shitty wife? Doesn’t make you bad…but maybe you also weren’t noticing the things he needed as well. Maybe he was guarding himself against you. Two sides to every story. I know for mine it wasn’t all me, and I know I didn’t sit at home and maliciously choose to hurt my wife…still did it anyway. That’s my story. Don’t disregard men trying to show that we don’t know…and then accuse us of always thinking we always know. We’re trying here to show we don’t know. That’s a big step in and of itself. We…don’t…know. Slap us in the face with it and we’ll ignore it. We don’t know. We don’t…until we have to. Is what it is….

        1. Hi Lindsey, hi Mike

          I don’t actually know if you Mike were talking to me or not as you addressed your comment to Dorothy, and that’s not the name I use. Possibly you just got the name wrong.

          Anyway, for arguments sake, it doesn’t really matter.

          Yes, I agree, many different things could be going on. If the jump always goes from “he’s not listening” to “he doesn’t respect hwe” that would often miss something. Mike, like you said, someone’s trying but we don’t see it, because we’re closed off. Or we don’t care that much about the areas where someone is trying so we don’t notice. Or we’re distracted for other reasons, there’s negative overload… Yes, I believe all of this often plays a significant part.

          Do women in the average hetero marriage also hurt their guys and fail to give them what they need – aka they are shitty wivs? Yes, no argument from me there. I think humanity is sorely lacking in emotional maturity and differentiation, women included, myself definitely included.

          But as the research show – the vast majority of women accept influence from their husbands (aka they listen and take his needs/feelings/opinions into account. Only 1/3 of men do the same. In this significant area, they are not shitty. Even when the relationship is distressed, the research show women continue to accept influence. Are there many exceptions to this? Yes. But statistically speaking, at the end of the day the vast majority of women accept influence from their husbands and therefore give them more of what they need, than the 2/3 of husbands who don’t return the favour.

          To sum the research about hetero relationships up: Women suck. Men suck significantly harder. (Both gay men and women treat eachother pretty well in romantic relationships, they are way ahead of their hetero brothers and sisters)

          Lindsey, Mike, you and anyone else are free to disagree, and I know I don’t know the ultimate Truth about any of this. But I am going to hold my ground on thinking that disrespect (often subtle and unconscious) often plays a big part of why men “don’t know”.

          To be clear, I believe that many of the shitty husbands/boyfriends didn’t know. That’s not where my argument is.

          My argument is that I think that the leap from “he didn’t listen to her” to “because he just didn’t know” is missing something. I think (ex)husbands and (ex)boyfriends telling themselves over and over “I just didn’t know” are missing something. By giving themselves that out, the out of ignorance, they are avoiding breaking down a particular ego wall. An ego wall protecting a room where some deeply uncomfortable realities are stored.

          After all – she told him, she gave him the knowledge, over and over and over and over: “I feel hurt when you leave a dish by the sink!” And then when she divorces him, he’s shocked! “I didn’t know that me leaving dish by the sink hurt you!”

          So the question then becomes – and the answer reveals part of what’s hiding behind the ego wall – *why* did the shitty husband not know? Why did the shitty husband/boyfriend not believe the words coming out of her mouth? And I think a large part of that answer is a (often ubconscious) lack of respect/regard for her.

          1. I wrote two comments further up about the disrespect part, if you’re interested. Here’s some of what I wrote:

            “He sees cotton balls. She feels stones, and she tells him this. Where the disrespect/disregard shows itself, the seeing her as a lesser form of human, is the very fact that when the two of them disagree/see things differently, he automatically assumes he is right and she is wrong. (Now everyone does this, but research tells us men do it way more, and they often keep on doing it pretty much until their wives divorce them.)

            So this is how he approaches all of her thoughts and feelings and perspectives: When they are different from his, they are just wrong, end of story. Often, seemingly, it doesn’t even occur to him to consider them, his mind just goes “different than me = wrong” lightning fst. That is, really, how little he values her thoughts and feelings and opinions and experiences when they differ from his.

            And my opinion is: How is this not seeing her as a lesser form of human (and I’m both making my point and honestly being curious about your thoughts) Or to use other words, the kind of human who isn’t worthy of being respected/taken as seriously as he is, who isn’t inherently as capeable and reasonable as him? When so much of what makes people who they are is what they think and feel and value?”

          2. Donkey,I may be splitting hairs here but, is it possible he knew it hurt her without realizing they damage the hurt caused?
            Like thinking you have indigestion, but it’s really a heart attack?

            I agree that trying to justify your actions after you hurt someone IS disrespectful, but I don’t think it is born out of malice. Their explanations are part defense/ part trying to get the other person to change their negative response.

            I know research shows that men by and large are the ones to not accept influence, to not empathize. I’m not arguing that.
            And, I know that there comes a time when more empathy from women is not the answer to changing the behaviors but it IS the answer for guiding how we respond.

            I think we are saying the same thing. Many men have an issue with defending their current behavior instead of taking in information about how it is affecting their partner.

            But I don’t think it is meant as an offense, it is meant as a defense.

            If it’s an offense, then maybe that person shouldn’t be in a relationship.

            If it’s defense, while its the individuals responsibility to accept their part, (what they are bringing to the relationship), and make efforts to fix it,
            It is still work for both parties to make it a place where defenses can be let down, and a constructive partnership can begin. (Where people grow together, and do good for one another, etc.)

            I don’t know if any of that was helpful or made sense to what you were saying.

            My thought is the social conditioning around protecting our inner selves, because it will be absolutely annihilated if allowed to roam freely, is tremendous for both genders, but maybe more so with men.

            I think the defense reaction is part of that issue.

            Again, that doesn’t mean : therefore men have no responsibility in understanding that and maybe hoping for a different way to function.

            But, I think conversations around these things that don’t directly have to do with issues in the relationship could allow men to gain insight without it being directed at them personally.

            That’s all I’ve got. Lots to get to today.
            Have fun. Peace out 🙂

      2. Donkey, I’m kind of with Mike here – and I noted something similar up above…I think going from he’s not listening to he doesn’t respect me is a jump that misses something.
        He’s not listening because it’s a defense response- it’s threatening to tell someone they are wrong or making you unhappy.
        That doesn’t mean that forever more men must be coddled, but I do think it means we have to understand how the other is perceiving our assertions.
        It’s likely very true that men have been and are “entitled” and that could be the very reason men tend to hate being wrong.
        I’m not saying their reactions are right…but didn’t this post talk about this stuff not being about right vs. wrong, but just about understanding the other? …
        Another side note – I saw a longhorn (Cow) today with an impressive set of horns – I thought maybe those things maybe were even too heavy and could be painful for that guy. Then I kind of wandered why the hell a herbivor needed horns to begin with? Ah- yes, to fight off rival cows during mating- to protect himself.
        Some female longhorns can also have horns, but my point is they are built in protective devices, that are more of a dominate trait in males than in females.

      3. Donkey, I think I replied to wrong under Mike’s response..
        (And I was going to note that now you have insite into my deep thoughts during my morning commute…kind of scary, no?- Lol 8 )! )

    3. Judith, I think I can help a little with this…but please be open to what I am saying and know my advise always comes from a place of love and understanding.

      What you first have to do is stop turning it on the other person to take responsibility. You, unfortunately, cannot MAKE someone take responsibility for their actions. A lot of people don’t and a lot of people would rather live a life of suffering than accept that they are the one’s who need to change in order for a better life.

      What you can do is work on you. I used to have the same problem with my Ex husband. How could he not change when I would tell him in plain English “the things you say and do hurt me.” He actually told me once that he could not change. I still tried…but there is a saying that goes “the sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

      The problem was I wanted him to take responsibility for his actions, but was not really taking responsibility for myself. By that I mean, I wasted all my energy trying to change him instead of working on making myself better. Which, long story short, made it ok for him to stay the person he was and for me to walk away from him and start a new life.

      So…work on you. Read a lot! Find compassion for him instead of hurt. There are a few things that can happen. You may find out that you are the one with the problem, not him, and you can fix it. You may find that the reason he does/says/is whatever is because of something he’s filed deep inside (this is having compassion for him). You may find that once you are ok with you, the things he does won’t bother you. He may decide that if things don’t bother you, he’ll start doing better. He may decide to ramp things up, cause if he is hurting (which is what is usually the case) then you will have to hurt too, so he may get worse. You may (like I did) finally decide that enough is enough and if he doesn’t want to work with you on a better relationship you can it’s time to go your separate ways.

      The two most important relationships in my life, my mother and my ex husband, were both one’s where they could not/would not see how much they were hurting me, no matter what I did or said. I took control of me and found the courage to walk away from both of them to save myself. I still love them both (differently of course) but I am forever grateful to not have them in my lives. As sad as it is, it is for the better. There is space for them if they are able to be better people…but they will always have a place in my heart if they don’t.

      Again, the focus has to be on you. The outcome is completely up to you. The path you choose is yours but choose one. I started with Eat, Pray Love (long before Oprah read it 🙂 and then A New Life…they opened me up to changing my perspective and showing me that I was not insane for feeling hurt. I was normal, but I had to change me.

      I hope that helps a little.

  15. One more piece…after the same argument, the same hurt, the same minimizing of my “crazy” or “too-sensitive” concerns, I then get a nice topping of guilt slathered on for good measure: I have now somehow ruined HIS day.

    I know I’m not crazy. I’m relieved that I’m not alone. And 18 years is a long time. That is all.

    Thank you, Matt. Your blog is much appreciated.

    1. Yeah, neat.

      The world is going to be sooooo cool when we’re mass producing children in test tubes, raising kids without mothers and fathers, and half or more of the men are banging androids in between their software updates.

      Imagine how well adjusted all the kids will be. Instead of men becoming kinder and growing their character and raising boys to do the same, they’ll become more socially detached as they form “relationships” with a computer algorithm.

      You’re something else, man.

      Yes, I know it’s you.

      1. Don’t shoot the messenger – just saying, the technology is coming. You’re not gonna stop it. From watching the video with the article, all I could think is “If this hipster in San Diego has already pushed the technology this far, just imagine what will happen when well-funded Japanese corporations get into the act!”

        Matt, I would actually like to post my thoughts on the subject, but I hesitate. Because I don’t want to spend the time and effort to compose a fairly lengthy, thoughtful, comment only to have you block or delete it. And maybe you think it’s off topic?

        So I’ll just stand aside for now. Unless you say you’re cool with me adding such a comment… Your call.

        Hey, at least now we know how to fund our retirements. Go long on sexbots! LOL

        1. I’ll certainly concede that point. Investing in the companies building them, or even the companies making auxiliary components (outer shell or processing unit) for them strikes me as a super-smart long-term financial play.

        2. An incredibly disturbing concept that I feel compelled to say does not belong conversations about marriage and relationships.
          Someone had to say it out loud ?

  16. I could not locate an option to reply to the above thread but feel compelled to do so…

    I wanted to say, to you, that I do believe that what you are doing here is important. I can see how there are people, regardless of gender, wandering through their relationships completely, totally and absolutely unaware that they are wreaking havoc and causing damage to someone they love. I agree that in order to have any hope to sustain a healthy, beneficial and lasting relationship that both parties must be aware of the differences in how they individually are affected by the words, actions and inaction of their partner. Your mission to enlighten the masses is much needed. You sharing your story and knowledge in an effort to improve the lives of complete strangers is noble and commendable.

    I have no doubt that you have impacted many relationships in positive and meaningful ways causing those who have found your blog to be more mindful of the damage they are able to cause their loved ones. Hopefully, the outcome is understanding, forgiveness and progress going forward for those who are struggling with deteriorating relationships that lead to the dismantling of homes and families.

    Awareness will go a long way towards improving the overall quality of life for many families, I have no doubt of that and I hope you continue your efforts. I believe that you do much good.

    . . .

    Perhaps my threshold is somewhat diminished and my ability to discern intention with regard to harm is somewhat skewed due to my own set of life circumstances. I can admit that I am sensitive to certain things just as a war Veteran who has walked war torn streets that potentially contained IEDs. As they, on some level, will always be aware of the potential threat long after the war has ended.

    That may be why I take such offense to having been pelted with objects by men who were aware of that fact and exhibited behavior that was previously discussed as causing harm. And that they continued to do so while claiming to care about me.

    I see it as the equivalent to someone who is in a relationship with a war Veteran walking down the street hand in hand doing something that would trigger them or give them cause to believe there was a threat. Yeah… it’s on that level. (Imagine the cotton ball in that scenario being saying something to cause the Veteran to be suspicious of a person appearing to be of the nationality from the country that they were deployed and the stone to setting off fire crackers on a street.)

    Then claiming that they didn’t know it was upsetting and causing harm and further still getting angry at the Veteran’s negative reaction.

    . . .

    The utter failure of my marriage and the aftermath that followed combined with the very different landscape that will be the lives that I must assist my children in navigating as a result was devastating. So not what I ever intended for them. And even though there was extensive communication with regards to the offensive behavior, including engaging the help of a therapist, there was behavior exhibited over the course of it all that I cannot reconcile with your belief that it was done unknowingly and without intention.

    That coupled with the fact that I have been open and honest with any man that have allowed myself to entertain forming a bond with regards to boundaries, expectations and desires. And still… they have exhibited what you would categorize as unintentional harmful behavior. They know it is harmful. They know I do not find it to be acceptable to cause harm to someone in such ways. I have had actual literal conversations specifically to ascertain whether or not they fully understand what caused me to feel the way I felt and why.

    They get it.

    If an issue was encountered the cycle would begin. First there is communication regarding whatever the issue was then them acknowledging their understanding and then their stated intention to correct and improve. Closeness and deeper connection ensues to be followed by more transgressions in increasing magnitude. Cotton balls upgraded in size and density, confusion, distrust and pain ending with a perfect 10.0 landing right back at communication… the vicious cycle.

    I must acknowledge that it is entirely possible that I have just reached the point where I have no faith left because in my experience it is across the board. And I recognize I may have simply been hurt too much, too deeply on too many levels to continue to believe in anything other than the grim fact that human instinct will prevail when it comes to behavior.

    Every man for himself.

    Perhaps I care too much. Perhaps I give too much. Perhaps I had too much hope. Perhaps I am naive and have been too transparent about my “things” and have simply made myself a walking target, I don’t know. I do know that I would rather refrain from sharing something with someone if it involves being repeatedly hurt. It seems that is what relationships in our society have come to. And I refuse to participate in a situation where I stoop and respond in kind. It isn’t in me to disregard anyone, let alone those I hold most dear.

    A quote that has stayed with me since I first saw the movie. It is, IMO, what it takes for a relationship to work… putting someone else ahead of yourself and them doing the same. THAT is how you keep things from breaking.

    “I would walk through fire before I would let someone I love feel like they were nothing.” – Hope Floats

    I’ve rambled! I do appreciate your entertaining my comment it if you have arrived here. I can only speak for myself but I just can’t see how you can walk hand in hand with someone if your hands are full. And it matters not if they are laden with cotton balls or stones. How can you hold someone’s hand if yours are full of ammunition?

    1. Hey I just wanna say I really like and appreciate your comments here on this post. I think you and I come from a similar history in some ways (perhaps our husbands did the same sort of thing) because the things you say really resonate with me.

      1. Thank you. I have found somewhat of a release by vocalizing my thoughts here.

        There have been comments I have read, including yours, that have helped me in gaining an understanding and a certian amount of peace. Certian aspects of my situation has been eating away at me.

        I must admit that part of me has considered that I just desperately want to find some alternate reason to explain why I have endured what I have in relationships I have had with men. In the past the only logical conclusion I have reached is that they truly just didn’t care about me.

        How could they have cared, treated me they way they did and then allowed for the outcome have been what it was?

        It has slayed me.

        To have opened up and trusted myself in the ways that I have in and of itself was exceptionally difficult. Then to have done so and been hurt on the levels I have been hurt. It can push me to the brink of sanity.

        I have been unable to identify it happening for any reason other than they did not actually care about me. Having no understanding that what I felt was shared had actually been experienced alone has been one of the more difficult things for me to handle. Having to come to terms with it, that what I believed to be true was a lie has cut me to the core.

        I realize that I may just be finding comfort in a possible alternate viable explanation that removes some of the pain involved. I mean who really wants to deal with the reality that they cared so deeply about something and someone and found that it was all false.

        Anyway… thank you for your perspective. And the clear and nonthreatening way in which you approach and present your view. I have no doubt it goes a long way towards actually being heard on the other side of the walls that some reading your comments have in place to filter out potential attacks on their preconcieved conclusions.

        I’m off to bed to lay awake wondering just what it says about me now that I have found relief and comfort in the possibility of being disrespected in the worst way as opposed to being unloved and not actually cared about by people who assured me it was so.

        1. I came to a good place when I finally realized some people are just dumb and weren’t raised to put anyone ahead of themselves. I have compassion for that place as it’s a lonely place to be. Keep being who you are and doing what you do. They either see it or don’t. And that’s okay. I was ready to end my marriage, I stayed kind but stuck to my values. I never expected the switch to flip for him. I think it has.

        2. Seisup,
          Hi there. You spoke about changing your understanding of why they do what they do..STH’s remark that she didnt expect the “switch to be flipped” reminded me that the truth of the matter is we cant take someones behavior towards us and make it qualify us. We cant take their actions on as representative of our value. Even when they are significant others. STH’s husband could have chosen differently and STH would have been the same person.

          There are so many reasons why people fail to show us the love we need. I dont think it is always about them not caring about us, or even about them disrespecting us.

          Every individual is an amalgamation of all our experiences…I picture two outlines of human figures that are filled in with all sorts of colors and images. We tend to think everyone else around us has somewhat similar internal contents, and we view the world around us through these same contents. But the only thing that other’s can really see is our outline and our behaviors.

          It’s the work of relationships to become aware of those contents, and understand how they all fit together.

          You would hope that the people close to us would treat things gently, but really- if someone opened up their insides and showed me something that I wasnt familiar with, I wouldnt know what to do with it.

          Just like if I were to open up the hood of my car, and tried to work on it. I know some parts- the most obvious parts, but I have no clue as to several other parts and I could probably do alot of damage if I tried to tinker with it.

          I think that is how we are with each other. (The universal “we’s” and “each other’s”..) We dont know each others parts, we’re afraid to approach each others parts, we’ve probably been hurt by other people carelessly tinkering, etc.etc.

          I dont think men or women are really given alot of instruction, or permission, to understand their own mechanics, much less understand someone else’s.

          Is there anything else in life that we are given charge over without any instruction more than our emotional lives?
          We are told to control them, and thats about it.

          Then we get married and we dont really know how to love or care for each other at all…

          People shut down, give up, lash out when they are faced with things that seem overwhelming, when they feel like they cant.

          I’m not writing this to say that we are then responsible for “making it easy” for them (though, mutual understanding is nice), because I know most of the time women are willing to accommodate in most situations.

          I just wanted to reassure you that how someone reacts to you (caring or not caring) really is just an indication of their own mechanics, and you just happen to be the one next to them. It doesnt even mean they dont care about you. It just means they dont know how. (Or, at least that is my take.)

          I hope you are having a great day!

          1. I should emphasize the “you” ..
            “It doesnt mean they dont care about YOU, it just means they dont know how. “

          2. You said, “There are so many reasons why people fail to show us the love we need.”

            I can understand that.

            I can not fathom a reason that people fail to show the love they say they feel.

            When ones actions do not match their words and there is discrepancy, that is what I struggle with.

          3. Lindsey, your human outline analogy is a good one. I like it. Very fitting for me.

    2. My heart goes out to you. I so know exactly what you mean.
      Truth: sometimes they don’t know. sometimes they do know and do it anyway.
      My mother loves me. I know she loves me (not just because I am kick ass awesome either), but her love is destructive. In order for us to have a relationship I must submit to her, without compromise. I must tell her what she wants, listen to her give me advise about how I am fucked up. To be with her means to give up myself. I did that for a lot of years. Not any more. But I do not think her behavior is because she doesn’t care about me. She cares too much maybe, but she doesn’t know how to love without hurting. She has her demons that she needs to work on, I can’t do that for her. I love her…but I will not be her victim. She wants me to accept her as she is.

      I divorced my husband even though I knew he loved me. I also knew he was doing the best he knew how. Still I could not stay with him without losing myself. He cared, a lot, I know that. He did not want to change, take responsibility, be a better husband. He wanted me to take all that on and accept him as he was.

      Both of them wanted to be loved and accepted as they were. Which is exactly what I have done. Unfortunately, in order for me to do that without destroying my life and the lives of my kids was to let them go. I love them and accept them 100% for who they are…what I do not do is allow them to abuse me in the process.

      It’s not easy. Not at all. I miss my mother. I miss being married. I do not miss the abuse and the person responsible for their bad behavior, or their happiness…or their lack there of. They love me…but I love me too.

      1. I realize, and am able to own, that a large percentage of the conflict I experience (both internal and external) has to do with expectations.

        My expectations.

        I expect for the people I care about to be capable of caring about me without causing harm to me. And when they have demonstrated their inability to do so I struggle when it comes to disengaging. It goes against everything in me when it comes to what you do when you care for someone. Walking away isn’t in me, and yet I must. I can not make a conscious decision to participate in something that ultimately is to my own detriment.

        And after going through the process that I can’t not be angry. How is it that I have to force myself to not actively care and they struggle to exhibit behavior that affirms words they have spoken and intentionally convinced me was true?!

        It’s maddening, emotionally confusing and causes a considerable amount of self doubt.

        Followed by a fair amout of resentment at the fact that often things that chip away at the foundation are known trespasses. And they are done willingly with little regard for how it impacts me.

        I appreciate your kind words… it is comforting where there is little comfort to be found.

        1. I don’t know how old you are but I was well into my 30’s and had a few years of counseling before I realized that the behaviors of my loved one’s had nothing to do with me.
          Still, at 47, I wonder how a mother could be intentionally hateful to her only child.
          It is not easy, but you will be a lot better if you accept that they act out of pain, it’s rarely “intentional” and that they are doing the best they know how. If you haven’t already, read A New Earth, it explains these types of people in a way that will help you have more compassion and take on less on yourself.

  17. Okay I’m popping back in to leave my perspective. It’s been a while.

    Anyway here’s my thoughts – Matt, you seem to have a perspective that it’s all just a misunderstanding, basically. And as you can see, some of us have a hard time understanding that because honestly it seems like a little more than that. So here’s my question/thought/whatever and I’ll even use your cotton ball analogy.

    Husband throws cotton balls at his wife. Wife feels stones, and reacts accordingly. Husband thinks she’s overreacting, being ridiculous, and pretty much ignores her reaction. He’s throwing cotton balls, for crying out loud… she shouldn’t be such a whiner.

    But let’s say Husband’s friend Buddy happens upon Husband throwing cotton balls at his wife and reacts accordingly. “Hey, man, that’s not cool, your wife doesn’t like that, you should stop.”

    OR even – Husband is throwing cotton balls at Buddy. Buddy feels stones, and reacts accordingly.

    I guarantee that Husband will take Buddy’s reaction more seriously than he will Wife’s. When Buddy protests, he thinks twice. Because he takes Buddy seriously.

    Why? Because I think while YES, there’s definitely a lot of misunderstanding/I didn’t know it was really that big a deal” going on, I think the root cause is the aforementioned disrespect that Donkey was talking about above, as well as a very culturally ingrained refusal to accept influence from his wife. So in the sense that yes you are right, and those who are calling it disrespect are right as well. Because how can it NOT be rooted in some form of disrespect?

    I can’t sit there and pretend men are so dumb that they could literally listen to the same gripe for YEARS and genuinely think it’s not important. That misunderstanding has got to be based on a failure to view your wife’s opinions as important as yours.

    So we can debate what “evil” really means, or perhaps we need to look at perhaps that a guy who does this and yet views himself as a “nice guy” is perhaps not as nice of a guy as he thinks? Maybe not evil in the sense many think of it (you know, like rapist or child molester evil) but still not really as good of a guy as he thinks he is.

    Because, in the end, he prioritized his own wants and desires and comforts ahead of what his wife was telling him. That’s not ignorance, because she was TELLING him. That was disrespect, because she told him but then he flat out disregarded what she had to say.

    1. Actually I’m going to add on a bit here.

      First off I realized my Husband/Wife/Buddy thing was a little open ended. The point of THAT example was mainly to reflect that men tend to take each other seriously and often times not the wife. I hear this a LOT from women – they feel like they can tell their husbands something and it goes in one ear and out the other, but if their buddy was telling them the same exact thing, then by george, it’s gospel. I think it’s a respect/influence thing and not so much a misunderstanding thing.

      Matt, you said above:
      “I don’t know of even ONE man personally who would throw something at his wife if he KNEW when it hit her, she would feel — literally — the same physical pain of a stone hitting her. ”

      But that’s not really what we’re talking about. Think of it more like – a man who is throwing something at his wife because it adds to his comfort for him to throw it at her (because remember what we’re talking about, we’re talking about husbands doing something like leaving dishes unwashed or ditching her for his friends or refusing to change diapers which adds comfort to his life and discomfort to hers).

      He has, in a sense, a reason to continue throwing things at his wife because it increases his own comforts.

      So my question is, for example, would your comment remain true if the circumstances were by throwing The Thing at his wife, the man experienced immense pleasure and all she said was “hey stop that, it stings.” You really honestly can tell me that most men wouldn’t want to continue doing it? If her perceived hurt (in his opinion) was far lesser than the pleasure it gave him?

  18. Have you ever had the person tell you, you think you’re right when you are only stating your opinion? In all honesty, their choice really is their choice and ultimately you respect their position as being their own. It seems like people need you to agree with them or AUTOMATICALLY you are calling them wrong! Very slippery slope just stating your opinion sometimes.

  19. “So we can debate what “evil” really means, or perhaps we need to look at perhaps that a guy who does this and yet views himself as a “nice guy” is perhaps not as nice of a guy as he thinks?”

    I’ve spent about five years trying to figure the psychology behind that one out. So many men think they’re a “good guy,” just an ordinary guy, not evil, just misunderstood or foolish. It’s not their fault because, boys will be boys. This idea of being perceived as a good guy is very important to men.

    One reason why I think it really starts to annoy me, I can’t think of a single woman who has ever existed in that state. Not one. From the moment we are born there is failure, fault, blame, evilness attached to us. That is like a female state of being. We bear emotional responsibility for every wrong doing in the world, including mens, even their sexuality, their mental health. And we’re always going to be doing it wrong too, too fat, too thin, too aggressive, too passive,too seductive, not seductive enough…..

    1. You keep making these grand assumptions on us men and that’s just as demonizong as men assuming your hurts are just you being crazy or that they don’t matter. We are trying to learn. I suggest you try putting yourself in our shoes the way many of us men here are trying to place ourselves in the shoes of women. Otherwise you may just continue harboring hate..and that will not be healthy for you.

      1. Well, I happen to adore men, flaws and all. So the fact that men are “not good,” doesn’t lessen my love for them at all. In fact, it makes them much easier to relate to.

        I’m trying to recall when I have heard a woman called “good, just trying to learn.” See, even in your comment you accuse me of “demonizing men, harboring hate, making assumptions.” It’s not even possible to be female observing the behavior of men without being labeled evil in some form. No grace for me, no calling me good, no assumption of innocence what so ever, no “she’s just throwing cotton balls because she has no idea they hurt.”

        That’s just a riddle I’ve been trying to figure out culturally. Why are women always the demonizing haters who make false assumptions but guys are mostly good, or at their worst, just ignorant and don’t know any better?

      2. Hi Mike, I suspect you and I may be in similar situations in terms of our relationships. Perhaps not though. In any case, I think that when Insanity is wondering when us guys make such egregious errors and then proclaim what ‘good guys we are’, how we can believe ourselves, I think she may have a good point. It’s funny I read this because I was just telling my estranged wife a couple days ago how I’m such ‘a good guy’. Me personally, I will admit that although generally a good guy, I haven’t been for at least part of the last few years.

        You too are correct, IMO, in that some of us men, in spite of those screw ups, are trying to learn to engage in a better way. If you are like me, you are willing to do anything it takes at this point to keep things from slipping out of reach, if it’s not already. (mine is teetering on the edge) Stepping out of ourselves to try to understand the un-understandable (a woman’s mind!!!) now becomes part of this process and at least speaking for myself, I forfeited most of the legitimacy I had in saying that during those times, I was a ‘good guy’ to my wife. Whether I thought I was being a good dude or not, her perception is clearly that I was not. And now I must convince her that although the ‘good Tim’ hasnt been around for awhile, he’s still in there somewhere. And she has the right to question if Tim is good, or not.

        Either way, keep working hard Brother, and try to make yourself a little bit better of a person each day. I have my own struggles, nearly everyday. Everyday sucks for me, some just suck more than others. I try to remind myself that real, lasting change is hard, but the reward will be great if us men can achieve and maintain it.

  20. So, here is what is going on in the back of my mind as I should be attending to other things…: P
    I cant, and dont want to discount anyone’s personal experience at all.

    I can see that not listening is a part of not respecting the women in the relationships. (I think I have even commented recently about men more easily agreeing with other men, or men taking other peoples ideas (ones that have been dismissed) and putting them out there as their own- and not realizing they are doing it. ) ..And I get that last part is the issue.

    It looks like what is being said is Matt is saying- “hey guys, brighten up, will you?! That shit you’ve been doing that you think is harmless, is really killing her- and will end up killing you!”

    He speaks like this to other guys, because that is his experience as whe understands it, and he believes that most average men, like him, also have this experience and do the same things…

    What Matt, and the research and what many commentors have said in the past is the same thing-
    “Men- there is alot of evidence that your actions as it relates to your wives is harmful.”

    What you guys seem to be taking issue with is Matt’s assertion that he didnt know, and you are proposing reasons for the behavior (disrespect…but you could also add malice, laziness, selfishness, low IQ- whatever, to any given relationship.)

    You are saying “That’s an excuse”…that he is somehow not wanting to own up to his behavior.

    I’m curious as to why that matters.

    To me and in my limited mind it seems like there are two major reasons why there is such an insistence that he/men in general are making excuses.

    1.) You want to make the point,and for others to be aware that what is being done is being done out of disrespect. Totally valid.

    I get, and agree, and I think Matt (and other men) have conceded that yeah- sexism is a part of the equation that makes it toxic, oppressive, a frickin living hell for women.

    Matt is making a call for guys to wake up to that (in part), or at least that is how I understand most of this.

    But it kind of begs the question…if you need to make the point, cant it be assumed that it isnt known, or consciously addressed to begin with?


    2.) By saying “you are just making excuses” to Matt, or other men in your lives you are saying there is a debt that hasnt been paid, and what you are doing isnt enough to pay it.

    Will it ever be?

    Saying “you are wrong, and you knew you were wrong, but you did it anyway= malicious intent” doesnt give a full account to human behavior.
    Like the David Brooks talk I posted said- we are not mostly rational beings. We arent.
    We have rational minds that are highly influenced by emotions.

    Matt has paid for his actions/inactions, by losing his marriage, and continues to “pay” for it by his often noted remorse of not being able to be with his kid as much as he would like to be.

    What would be gained from him saying “Yes, I did it on purpose”, or “I did it and I just didnt care” …So we could say “see- I always knew men where contemptible ball-sacks that arent worthy of snot” ?

    …it seems like a way to place blame.

    There comes a point in every situation where things arent working effectively that issues need to be addressed.
    Becoming conscious of them, and taking responsibility for our actions is crucial to change.

    Some people wont do that. That is painful for their partner, and causes damage. It is usually at this point that it is up to one party or the other to say whether they are willing to stay with the situation like it is, or not.

    Continually telling each other where they did something wrong, or that their motives for their behaviors is wrong, doesn’t really lend itself to promoting change. Its a way to discharge pain. Which is perfectly “reasonable”, and understood.

    Addressing issues that really have a bearing on people understanding the situation is definitely important- and I may be over looking the importance of understanding why it is important to differentiate whether men know their behavior is harmful or not. Id like to understand…

    From my perspective- we know that there needs to be work on a societal level. We know men have a large burden of “fault”, I just dont think we should spend our time denigrating them for screw ups when they have acknowledged them as screw ups, when we could spend more time addressing ways to make things better.

    1. “What would be gained from him saying “Yes, I did it on purpose”, or “I did it and I just didnt care” …So we could say “see- I always knew men where contemptible ball-sacks that arent worthy of snot” ?

      …it seems like a way to place blame.”

      I think it comes from a desire/felt need for validation from the man himself. Because at first, women find some comfort in finding blogs like Matt’s. That is a piece of the validation picture. Having other women and professionals is a piece of the validation picture. But the final piece of the puzzle is for him to say it aloud. Because until he comes face to face with the root, and says it to her face, she still gets “crazy-making” feeling. In order for that crazy-making feeling to go away, he has to say it to her face. She knows she’s not crazy, but she has to reassure herself through those other sources that she isn’t crazy until he says, “No, you’re not crazy. I did it. On purpose. I was wrong.”

      When the “I didn’t know” thing is said, even if it is 100% true, it can come off as, “You don’t have the right to be quite so angry. A little angry, but not quite so angry. Because I didn’t know.”

      I think some of it is we women have to give a little and extend some grace. We want him to believe us that it hurts. Even if he doesn’t really understand *why*, we still expect him to apply the fact that it does. So if he says he genuinely didn’t know, then we need to accept that fact, just as he has to accept our assertions. But he should never rest on “I didn’t know.” It should continue with, “but my ignorance is no excuse. I’ve damaged you and damaged you really badly. Now I have to work hard to fill up that deficit.” Because she does have that right to be so angry, even if he didn’t know. But again I come back to the grace part. We can’t stay in that anger stage. At some point, we have to stop resenting, extend the grace to him, and move onto working to heal.

      1. Gmah-
        Thank you for responding so kindly, and answering my question.
        I forget about little things like validation of feelings, etc. 🙂
        I hope you are enjoying some nice spring weather today!

    2. This….this. Yes. I can’t discount what’s happened to other people, those things are helping me learn parts of me I didn’t know. But if I’m trying to learn and get better…but some of these fellow commentators never ever seem to want to give any of us men hope of learning…then why should we waste our time learning? If you’ll never believe us. Never give us the benefit that we are trying to learn. Never accept that we are pouring ourselves out here in that attempt to learn. Then we will never have a chance to prove what we’ve learned to those we’ve hurt. And I refuse to accept that. You’re wounded, i get that. This’ll sound heartless…I don’t care about your wounds if they halt my progress with my wife. I choose to learn and choose to understand myself and choose to become better for us and for her. I’m sorry that didn’t happen for you. But I won’t be what happened to you.

      1. Hey Mike,
        “This’ll sound heartless…I don’t care about your wounds if they halt my progress with my wife. ”
        I think this may be a point that women will clinch their jaws. ..
        But, I think you are just being honest about your priorities.

        I think there is a huge difference in men and women- whether it is socialized or not, in that women are taught to give of ourselves, and you guys are taught to assert yourselves.

        It ends up being a dynamic of all give and all take, and no expectation that it should be any different.

        I dont think anyone here wants you to pay for their wounds, or anything.

        And, I dont mean to say that anyone is speaking our of sheer bitterness…
        but even if they are, as a woman who has experienced trying to talk to a brick wall, I can say the feeling of frustration, turned to contempt, turned to bitterness could be easily justified.

        As Givemeahammock said, and I do get that, acknowledgement, validation is incredibly important.

        Validation that our experience matters.

        Hopefully, it will matter to you not in a way that heaps on the guilt, but maybe one that can broaden your understanding of what a womans experience is like.

        I dont think anyone should be endlessly punished for the harm they do- whether intentional or not.

        I applaud you for the work you are doing to repair the harm, and maybe even start to “do good” by reinforcing the connection and healing,…start being for the other before being for yourself first…

        Additional thought, here…do you think you tend to view your wife as an extension of yourself? As though she is a part of your life, but that she doesnt have an experience of her own?

        I think this happens in close relationships of all sorts, its as if this person entered your story so they matter, and it impacts you, but you really have no idea they have a story of their own that you impact and are a part of…does that make sense?

        1. Your experience darn sure matters. Many of my advice givers are women I trust who are helping me open up. And it’s because of their experiences that I personally have evolved. I take the advice of my wife when she gives it because the dam broke and I finally see. Because when It boils down to it…what’s going on in our minds will never truly be explicable to women and vice versa, no matter how well we attempt to write it out or how much research is done. We can’t read each others minds. Which sucks because no matter how hard I try, I’ll never fully understand what hurts my wife. I can only try not to be the hurt. But just as I’ll never truly know…then it should also be known that you’ll never truly know if we are saying the truth when we say we didn’t know we were hurting you. But if we say it…don’t disregard my lessons because of what’s happened to you either. ( not you personally of course).

          Oh my wife definitely has her own life and experiences. I didn’t meet her till I turned 30 and she was 26. She is quite capable of living without me if it comes to it. And admittedly so am I. But I we also complement each other in many different little ways. My personal issue was over complimenting her and truly ignoring myself. I closed off myself to her thinking I was doing the right thing for her, thinking I’m just supposed to make her happy. But that’s not how it works. She takes care of me too. And I personally didn’t realize that until I got broke in half. I gave what I thought I was supposed to give. Not the right give. And she couldn’t take what was needed because I wasn’t giving it.

      2. Hi again Mike,

        First, I think your priority of making progress with your wife is the appropriate and healthy one. I don’t think you’ll be making that progress however if you avoid the concerns and questions that come up time and time again from the female commenters here.

        “But if I’m trying to learn and get better…but some of these fellow commentators never ever seem to want to give any of us men hope of learning…then why should we waste our time learning? If you’ll never believe us. ”

        I do believe you are trying to learn. I don’t think that intention is alway a 100% pure and unwavering one, free from ego (and I doubt I’ve ever had a 100% pure intention in my life, so no judgement from me). I for one *believe you* when you say you didn’t know, and I have also stated this earlier.

        But as has been established again and again, the wife of the shitty husband more often than not said what was bothering her time and time again. (Even if it went the other way too, research show us that it was most likely heavily skewed in the direction of her considering your input a lot of the time, and much less often you doing the same for her.) If you do want to learn, you cannot allow yourself to discount this fact. It’s like doing math but ignoring one of the numbers you’re supposed to factor in.

        I’d argue that I am giving you hope of learning. By asking you to ask yourself the relevant question of: “Yes, I didn’t know it was a big deal, but why didn’t I believe my wife when she said the same thing over and over and over? Why did I expect her to take what I’ve said several times seriously, but I didn’t do the same for her?”

        I am now asking you, with respect, to attempt to answer the questions above, without giving yourself the out of ignorance. Even if you want to just do it privately (though I think many would find what you come up with helpful)

        Having taken the time to respectfully (I hope and believe) and honestly respond to your concerns twice now (in addition to my other comments) I shall ignore any further descriptions you make about some the female commenters being unhelpful, as at the very least not relevant to me.

        Best wishes

        1. “I am now asking you, with respect, to attempt to answer the questions above, without giving yourself the out of ingnorance.”

          Ladies and gentleman, may I have your attention! You have arrived at a fundemental layer of the actual problem. At this time please unfasten your seatbelt and remain seated until the ride has come to a complete stop. When it does you may lift up on your sholder harness and exit carefully to your right toward the exit ramp.

          Thank your for riding Oblivion Is A Copout and enjoy your stay here at Accountability!

          Donkey… I admire your ability to calmly and effectively say exactly what it is you need to say without a hint of anger or bittrness with a clear desire for undrstanding. It has made me realize the amount of pain that seeps out of my words. Anger and bitterness reside in them. I don’t write much and hadn’t realized that was the case before. It does make me wonder and queston, what other ways is my approach and choice of words being influenced by pain? It clearly is affecting how I approach things in my communication with people. I aspire to come from a similar place and position as you seem to be. I do appreciate your approach and views very much.

          1. I really appreciate the compliment of my communication skills, attitude and views Seisup, thank you so much!

            It’s the result of a lot of practice and learning and growing. I’m now able to respond pretty effectively and with respect a lot of the time (definitely not always)… writing with strangers over the internet. In real life, in real time, especially with people close to me… it’s much much harder. Sigh. Though I am getting better.

            I think of this blog partly as my sandbox where I prepare for real life in terms of respectful (to myself and others) communication and attitude. To let you in on a practical “secret”, often the first few paragraphs that come out as I type are not very respectful or effective. Then I go back and edit. 🙂 It gets easier with practice.

            ” what other ways is my approach and choice of words being influenced by pain”
            Oh yes. I hear you. I think pain has influenced so much of my approach and choice of words and still continue to. Though it’s improving as I grow and learn and heal.

            Take care Seisup!

        2. I wrote this huge response agreeing with you but disagreeing in some respects and the site lost it when I tried to log in. How frustrating.

          1. Hi Mike,

            Yes that is very frustrating, I hate it when that happens (I’ve become pretty good at copying stuff when I’ve written quite a bit to avoid the helpless rage I feel when something like that happens, heh).

            When/if you’re up for writing it again, or a shorter summary or whatever you may choose, I’d be very interested in reading it.

  21. Hello IB

    I am so very glad that you are STILL here insisting that we look deeper into what confounds us (as women) as we try to establish real,meaningful connections with the men we choose to love. I love it that you are not content with the facile, well worn explanations. We’ve been over some of this ground in the past and I’m offering it now to some of the new contributors. The quotes are from Terry Real’s book ” How Can I Get through To You?”

    “Psychological patriarchy is the dynamic between those qualities deemed “masculine” and “feminine” in which half of our human traits are exalted while the other half is devalued. …it is a.. “dance of contempt, a perverse form of connection that replaces true intimacy with complex COVERT layers of dominance and submission, collusion and manipulation. It is the UNACKNOWLEDGED paradigm of relationship that has suffused Western civilization generation after generation, deforming both sexes and destroying the passionate bond between them.”

    “Before we can bring men back into true intimacy we must understand that coming to occupy a position somewhere along the spectrum of CONTEMPT IS SYNONYMOUS WITH LEARNING TO BE A MAN.”

  22. To Matt and everyone who comments: I just want to say a general thank you for these conversations focusing on what men in our society aren’t being taught. My husband is from a family of messed up views of men, women, relationships, and emotions. And if my sons have any hope of being any different, it will be through my voice. Your posts help me think this through from many different facets.

    1. I just want to say it’s not just what men aren’t taught. It’s about the people, people !! We’re all shitty in one way or another. We just have to meet in a neutral corner, step out of our own stuff (on both sides) and connect on the important stuff and put the “US” ahead of the “ME”.
      I just think somewhere along the line too much other stuff has gotten in the way. But that is a topic off topic for another day ?

  23. Donkey, your responses are so insightful. You’ve often given me words to express my frustration. It’s like living behind a veil and not clearly having the words to express my feelings. But you help give me insight and words. And mostly, as you often describe my situation almost perfectly, you help me feel that I am not crazy for feeling the way I do. I am not crazy for feeling confused when my husband pleads ignorance to my feelings and blames me for our problems and my aloofness. Despite my YEARS of asking to be treated more respectfully, even after I pulled up 4 years worth of emails saying practically the same thing–treat me better, you treat me with contempt etc. He told me today he has no idea why I am so emotionally unavailable to him and have not intention of asking him to save our marriage. He says he is trying. But in reality, trying means do it his way and everything will be OK.
    If I had not withdrawn emotionally, things would have never changed. He was happy and therefore, I must be happy too despite me telling him I wasn’t. But waiting for the wife to withdraw emotionally is a dangerous prospect because sometimes (like me) they may not come back.

    1. Christine,

      Thank you so much for the compliment, I am so glad to hear that I’ve been able to give you some words and insights to help you make sense of things! I really appreciate it when someone does that for me, so it’s nice when I can pay it forward in a way. It really is so helpful to be able to name things.

      No, you are not crazy for feeling confused, confusion is a rational response to what you experienced. I’m so sorry things have been/are so painful.

      All the best to you!

  24. We keep having the same conversation here.

    No one is disputing the basic facts. A woman tells her man that he is doing something that hurts her. He doesn’t get it, and usually thinks she is the one with the problem. She tells him the same thing 1,000 times. She finally leaves. He is stunned. He finally realizes she was serious and then he figures out he needs to change. When asked why he blew her off over and over, he says he’s actually a nice guy who honestly was just ignorant and never intended to hurt her. The explanation uses words like mindless. Ignorant. Unintentional. Nice guy.

    To be fair, some guys never even “get it” and for the rest of their lives will blame her for ruining the marriage. But others do.

    The process we find on display here is for the guy to realize there is a problem. He reflects on the past, and begins to see things differently. Unlike the times when he “promises to try to do better”, this time he knows trying isn’t an option-there must be concrete results.

    Sometimes it’s too late (Matt), sometimes he gets that second chance (Travis), and other times he’s in the middle of it and doesn’t yet know the outcome (Mike, Tim).

    The ladies always express some variation of, “Please explain how I told you 1,000 times how unhappy I was and now you are surprised? WTF?” And the guys are peeved when the ladies don’t accept answers that included “I didn’t realize”, “Unintentional”, “Ignorant”.

    Let’s face it guys, it’s just not logical. I wonder if it’s a self-preservation kind of thing. Because if we really dig deep, we will find some ugly things. Things like:

    I am lazy.
    I am self-centered and only cared about my comfort, not hers.
    I didn’t respect her feelings.
    I am cold-hearted and really didn’t care.
    I really do think women are here to serve men.
    It’s not that I didn’t love her-I just loved me more.
    I was angry that she said I needed to change.
    I didn’t want to change-I was comfortable the way things were.
    I felt that her faults were more obvious than mine.

    This list is not exhaustive, and the things on it do not apply to everyone.
    Like I said, ugly stuff that only the brave can look at.

    And lest you think I am saying that only men find this stuff when they dig deep-I have had to self-examine in certain relationships and had to face the painful truth.

    But there’s good news! If you know what the real, bottom line problem truly is, then you can start to fix it. Really fix it and change, not just a short term surfacey change. It’s not a comfortable place to be-I can attest to that. Ask yourself the hard questions, as Donkey says, without giving yourself the out of ignorance. And if you really don’t know? Keep at it. Keep examining. Sometimes it takes awhile, especially if you have never taken the time to really get to know yourself. You will eventually figure it out. Once you do, then you can make real and lasting change.

    1. Two things:

      1. This is fantastic.

      2. While there are several other conversations to be had, THIS is the one I perceive to be most significant. I recognize the redundancy, and I recognize how it might get annoying or bore people who more than understand this dynamic already. But in the context of the thing I think I can help with the most (trying to explain this common relationship hurdle in a way guys might “get”early enough to NOT get divorced due to ignorance), I feel compelled to keep finding different ways to tell the same story, because while one way may not for a particular person, another way may.

      This is the thing I’ve felt called to do. It’s been criticized before as not enough (which I don’t think you’re doing here, Lissy — I don’t get the impression you’re being critical of the writing). But there is a What’s Next? component that needs to be addressed here.

      There’s a: What Actionable Things Can I or We Do to–to not only AVOID shittiness– But to Actually Thrive and SUCCEED in Relationships?

      I’ve never pretended to know how.

      I only know guys don’t have a chance if they don’t see nor understand this Hidden Damage Thing so many of us do.

      Nothing can get better if people don’t first accept that it exists.

      1. Not only am I not critical of your writing-I think you have done an outstanding job of bringing out and examining the real issues couples are facing.

        “The same conversation” I was referring to was after the guys recognize there was a problem in their marriage. It’s the “how could you not realize when I told you a million times”-“I just somehow missed it” conversation. The women can be quite relentless in saying that doesn’t make sense, and the guys respond by saying we are bitter or harboring hate (like Mike’s recent comment).

        You seem to regularly get a lot of heat for saying you unintentionally hurt your wife. But I am guessing there was something motivating you. Like the time you wanted to watch a game on tv instead of going for a walk with your wife. You now know it was the wrong choice, and if you had known the end result you would have chosen differently. But what was behind that choice? Were you just too lazy to exert yourself to get off the couch? Did you feel entitled-I work all week and now deserve to relax? Were you self-centered and thought what you wanted was more important that her desires?

        I am not asking you to publicly answer these questions. But have you pondered it?
        Can you see what I am getting at? It’s not tv vs. going outside-it’s a maybe unidentified life philosophy that drives you to make the decisions you make.

        I just think that once you can pinpoint the basic issue, then all of the back-and-forth goes away. It’s no longer needed. The actual situations are not the real problem-they are just a symptom of the problem.

        1. Of course I see what you’re getting at. And thank you for the supportive comments.

          Oh, I’ve pondered it all right.

          And for me, the answer is simple enough: Selfish.

          And I’ll even defend it. I am not the LEAST-BIT regretful nor embarassed nor do I feel something is “wrong” with me because my personal interests were different than my wife’s.

          Our problem, as is MOST people’s, was communication.

          The part that so many people miss completely is that, if my wife and I had been communicating openly and honestly, and I had NOT been blind to the painful invalidation thing I’d been doing in virtually every disagreement ever, THEN me wanting to go do A while my wife went and did B would have been a non-issue entirely.

          In my first Open Letter post, I wrote about wanting to watch the final round of a golf tournament instead of go for a hike with her and our infant son.

          And I expressed regret that in that moment, I took her as well as even HAVING THE OPTION to go spend an afternoon outside with her and my son together.

          So many people think I’m a big, sissy moron who is advocating husbands giving up everything they love in favor of catering to their wives’ preferences. And that is not, nor has ever been, the case.

          The real lesson for me in the stupid golf-tourney story is that I’d give up watching golf for the rest of my life to be able to magically rewind to that moment and start doing the right things early enough so as to right some wrongs, and start building things correctly.

          It’s why I always ask guys to go first on this issue. You hear them piss and moan about being “nagged” or having to “give up” their things to placate their demanding wives.

          But the rock-bottom thing I believe is that when you’re NOT constantly hurting your wife with every disagreement, whne you’re NOT making her feel insecure about your relationship because she DOES feel that you value her more than TV or video games or sports or beer or whatever, then a husband and wife can pursue their individual interests without feeling disconnected or abandoned, because trust, respect, and love is built and effectively communicated the rest of the time.

          The common guy complaint is that “Nothing I ever do is good enough” without realizing that if he just buttoned this Accidental Pain thing up, she would actually ENJOY time alone or pursuing her own hobbies. It’s just often the case that his wife or girlfriend doesn’t like it when she feels unloved, unwanted, like he’s disinterested in her, abandoned, or like the relationship is falling apart because he’s choosing other things over her.

          Once these guys “GET” (as in understand) that she’s hurt and afraid rather than crazy and “wrong,” then things can be truly seen as they really are, communicated truthfully, and acted on accordingly.

          We just have to flip enough switches from Blind to Aware, and radical changes (positive ones, I’d like to believe) will begin to take root.

          1. Matt,


            Ok, I know I don’t know the ultimate. But just like I did with Mike, I’m going to push back on communication being the problem.

            It seems to be as if you’ve gotten it, with admitting that selfishness was why you didn’t accept influence.

            But then it seems like you don’t get it after all, when you say that communication was the problem. Ok, I don’t doubt that things would have been easier if both you and your wife had better communication skills. But after all, she said several things (that were reasonable expectations she had) clearly to you, several times. That is good communication right there. That she wanted you to stay in the hospital. That she wanted you to figure out your own systems for handling your share of necessary life tasks. You just didn’t do it, because you didn’t have enough regard for her opinions in these areas.

  25. “But the rock-bottom thing I believe is that when you’re NOT constantly hurting your wife with every disagreement, whne you’re NOT making her feel insecure about your relationship because she DOES feel that you value her more than TV or video games or sports or beer or whatever, then a husband and wife can pursue their individual interests without feeling disconnected or abandoned, because trust, respect, and love is built and effectively communicated the rest of the time.

    The common guy complaint is that “Nothing I ever do is good enough” without realizing that if he just buttoned this Accidental Pain thing up, she would actually ENJOY time alone or pursuing her own hobbies. It’s just often the case that his wife or girlfriend doesn’t like it when she feels unloved, unwanted, like he’s disinterested in her, abandoned, or like the relationship is falling apart because he’s choosing other things over her.”

    Good stuff. No need to apologize about having different interests. You are absolutely right-both can happily pursue their individual hobbies when they feel loved and valued. But sometimes that only comes about with purposeful action-actually choosing time with her instead of tv/video games/sports/beer. Actually skipping the game once in a while and spending the time with her, to show how much you value her, instead of just saying it.

    In some ways, we are talking about the same thing. Her saying “You never spend time with me” isn’t the issue, and him listing all the things he did with her isn’t the solution.

    I wonder how many men realize what an incredible gift it is for their woman to want to spend time with them and share fun activities with them. Yet for so many, it’s just an interruption.

    1. “I wonder how many men realize what an incredible gift it is for their woman to want to spend time with them and share fun activities with them. Yet for so many, it’s just an interruption.”

      Right. Same as spending time with your kids.

      These are the things people take for granted. These are the moments that mean the most on our death beds, and we ignore them while we’re young and healthy because we’re distracted by a bunch of shit that doesn’t actually matter at all.

  26. “And I’ll even defend it. I am not the LEAST-BIT regretful nor embarrassed nor do I feel something is “wrong” with me because my personal interests were different than my wife’s”

    This is interesting, Matt, because I do not think anyone should feel bad, ashamed,embarrassed about who they are, but it still begs the question why not? Why were your interests different from your wife’s? Why did your interests take precedent? Why were they more important?

    You then say it’s a communication problem, but I don’t think so, I think it’s a foundational problem. I can look at my husband and know with certainty that every thing he does revolves around my best interests and the best interests of the family. He’s not perfect of course,but this idea that his personal interests are different from his wife’s isn’t even a part of the equation. Neither are my own, I mean my personal interests are his, his happiness,satisfaction whatever.

    So,communication is not going to fix something like that. It simply says, “I put my own needs above yours.” Or, “you’re just failing to understand that my personal interests take precedent over OUR personal interests.” But she isn’t failing to understand at all! He’s not failing to communicate either. He is quite clearly saying, there is no “us,” just a me and my needs and interests.

    1. I would say that you’re limiting the word “communication” to speaking.

      I would tell you that when you’re unaware that certain behaviors very specifically communicate unintended messages you don’t mean nor would ever say to your wife, that miscommunication very much comes into play.

      I would also tell you that I’m about as textbook ADHD as ADHD gets, but I had no clue that was even a real-life condition until two years after I was already divorced.

      Care to take a guess how many ADHD moments contributed to her FEELING uncared for, because it appeared I wasn’t thinking of her, or wasn’t focused on her, or wasn’t managing tasks in such a way that communicated to her that she mattered to me?

      I don’t know if you mean it this way, IB, but lately it seems as if you’re suggesting that in any given moment in my marriage I was faced with choices, and that I KNEW that if I chose X, that it would result in my wife feeling hurt/neglected/abandoned, and that I had a fundamental empathetic understanding of HOW she’d feel, but like a total sociopath — chose me and my interests over her every step of the way, and that I didn’t give a shit about how she’d feel about it, nor that I valued my marriage and family over every other thing in my life.

      I don’t want to take it personally, but I’m starting to.

      1. “….that in any given moment in my marriage I was faced with choices, and that I KNEW that if I chose X, that it would result in my wife feeling hurt/neglected/abandoned, and that I had a fundamental empathetic understanding of HOW she’d feel, but like a total sociopath — chose me and my interests over her every step of the way….”

        I’m sorry, Matt. I don’t think you’re sociopath. What you wrote above is exactly what I believe to be true about my own self. In any given moment we are faced with choices. Love is a choice. I have chosen to not be loving many times, but I just can’t fathom saying,hmm, I had no idea this would affect him. A few times I did not value my marriage or give a crap about his feelings.

        Is that bad? I jest Matt,of course it’s bad,but it’s real too.

        1. I think it’s important that you’re honest about your feelings, and I think it’s brave and awesome that you own them and share them.

          I think most people DON’T and I think that dishonesty via camouflage can wreak just as much havoc as outright lying.

          I wasn’t dishonest with outright lies. I was dishonest by omission, and I just got done writing about that.

          Indeed, Love is a Choice. We choose it even when we don’t feel like it.

          And I admire you very, very much for walking the walk.

  27. Yep. Spot on. Liked the analogy of the Easter bunny. Something that I continually try to train myself to do better is to stay calm through frustration. To realize that while it is OK to be frustrated from time to time, it is usually what is said or done in frustration that leaves scars that may not ever heal. It takes a long time to actually transform oneself from thinking in the black and white mode of things to understanding the nuances of human interaction and actually incorporating that in your daily dealings with people, but it is a worthwhile journey. Like it or not, we’re stuck with each other (LOL)… might as well get better at relating with one another. Thanks Matt.

  28. First let me say…I’ve missed reading your posts.
    Second…as for the “fairy-tales” we tell our kids…well, it’s just plain fun. Oh I knew my son was on to me long before I was ready to give up the fantasy. Even still, my kids are older (20 and 17) I still like to have fun. It’s not wrapped up in the fantasy of the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus…but there is still a thrill to putting something together for my kids, even if they know it’s me.

    Ahhh…the dish in the sink. That was my marriage for 90% of us being together. His dish or my dish…there was always a dish to argue about. I find myself now, with a man I am just bonkers about (and fortunately he feels the same for me, but that’s another story) who still takes everything the mother of his children does and says personally. In other words, he still thinks it’s the dish. I, being of much more experience, keep trying to tell him that what she does (well they do since there are two mothers) has nothing at all to do with him. Sometimes he says he doesn’t care, sometimes he says he just want’s to be angry. Over the last few years I’ve seen him go from angry all the time and wanting to fight everyone who looked at him sideways, to softening up and not letting them get to him so much…to actually crying over the poor treatment of his daughter on her birthday by her selfish mother.

    It’s a process…and lucky for him I’m not bringing all my baggage with me, only the many lessons I learned along the way. I can NOT approve of the way these women treat him, or the kids, and still try to help him see that it’s not the dish…but what the dish represents to them. I advocate for those women, not because I think what they do is right, but because I understand why they do what they do. My effort is all in to lessening the pain for him and making sure he knows that the dish today, if broken, will be the wet towel tomorrow.

    1. Dawn! Hi you!

      It’s been a long time and I’m really happy to see your name pop up. Hope you and your family are well. 🙂

      Secondly, thank you as always for sharing thoughtful, personal stories to contribute to the big-picture conversation.

      Thank you very much for taking a minute to write. Feels like bumping into someone I haven’t seen in a couple of years.

  29. Pingback: You weren’t there…. | See, there's this thing called biology...

  30. Hey Matt and other guys I have a question. I keep mulling this over in my mind. Not because I think it could have saved my marriage but perhaps because I’m so horribly terrified of repeating the same situation if I ever do choose to get involved again.

    If, let’s say, a wife has a husband who is in this cycle and she keeps telling him his actions hurt her and he doesn’t really understand/believe/whatever, would something like this work? Would he understand it?

    If she pulls him aside and just openly tells him “I need you to understand that X hurts me. I realize you wouldn’t be hurt by X yourself, but please don’t assume that it shouldn’t hurt me, because it does. This is having a very negative effect on our marriage. It makes my heart want to distance itself from you. When you do X, even though it seems like a minor thing to you, it makes me feel unsafe and unloved in our marriage. I’m not telling you what to do, but I am trying to be honest and open and help you understand how it affects me when you do X. I would really like you to stop, but you are an adult and can make your own decisions about what you do. I’m just telling you that it really, truly, actually does affect me badly when you do it.”

    And I realize this is all theoretical, in a sense. I’m still trying to come to terms sometimes with the fact that the idea of marriage still terrifies me close to three years after the split and a huge part of it is because this sort of thing is SO common that I’m positive I’d run into it again. I just think there has GOT to be a way of dealing with this sort of thing without separating or sleeping in separate bedrooms or divorce (or, of course, just putting up with it, which would not be an option for me).

    1. So, I read something like this and think “Yes, of course. This makes total sense to me, and I would take it seriously.”

      But it all goes back to two people viewing, hearing or experiencing the same thing and reacting to it, or describing it differently.

      Happens between couples. Happens also between two different guys in two different relationships.

      There are things I’m going to do “better” than other guys, and there are things I’m going to do “worse.”

      I think what you’re talking about and worried about is VERY valid in a “Maybe I’ll never find another partner. Maybe I’ll always be alone.”

      That scares me too. But I always feel better when I realize that is so much better than being in a relationship destined to end because the fundamentals aren’t in place.

      That’s where I find comfort, and where you should too.

      Our marriages fail mostly because we’re all young and ignorant when we marry.

      If there is an advantage to divorce, we tend to be less young and less ignorant the second time around.

      There is only ONE excuse for a shitty marriage the SECOND time.

      And that is getting conned by someone who blatantly lies to you. Period.

      There is no rule that says you can’t go through all of these exercises as two people dating. That you can’t talk all this shit out way in advance. That you can’t have the philosophical conversations we have here.

      Wouldn’t a guy WANTING to marry you and love you forever be willing to read a book or two and talk about them?

      And if he’s not, isn’t that all anyone really needs to know?

      I may be alone forever.

      But I don’t think I’ll ever find myself in a toxic marriage again. But unlike you, I’m not protecting myself from others. I’d be protecting them from me.

      I don’t know what it’s going to look and feel like when everything aligns. But I feel really confident I’ll recognize it when it’s there.

      Or maybe I won’t. Maybe we wander the world alone.

      Pros and cons to everything in life. And if that were to be the case, I’ll choose to embrace the pros.

      When all of you is spilled out onto the table, and the other person says, “yep, I want that,” and the same is true in reverse, that’s when I think two people can know.

      And I think fear and rationalization prevents two people from doing that most of the time.

      But you don’t have to. I don’t have to. We can be brave and make sure we’re having the uncomfortable conversations and being brave enough to feel rejection or disappointment if the results aren’t what we’d hoped for. It’s hard. Every time.

      But in the end, if Forever isn’t on the other side of the equals sign, there’s only one responsible choice.

      Math is brutally cold. But it’s always true.

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Matt Fray

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