The Subtle Difference Between Shitty and Non-Shitty Husbands and Wives

Comments 155
Coke vs. Pepsi by Adweek
I don’t drink a lot of soda, but I think I could identify Coke vs. Pepsi in a blind tasting. But since they’re both cola, there are probably many people who cannot. And I think it’s fair to call the differences subtle. (Image/Adweek)

The difference is so subtle that I didn’t recognize it until now.

And now that I have, it isn’t hard to see why so many pissed-off guys stumble on these articles and miss it too. My own inability to tell the difference when I was married is WHY I’m divorced today.

In everyone’s defense, including my own, the differences can be hard to detect. Really hard. If it were easy, therapists and divorce attorneys would have trouble finding work.

It’s not only subtle, but ever-changing.

The shitty behavior of husbands and wives may be healthy and totally acceptable in different relationships with different partners.

What is NOT shitty today may one day become shitty. What is shitty today may one day cease to be shitty.

It’s little wonder we have so many disagreements in our relationships.

I’m accused often of blaming men and husbands for the majority of relationship failures and divorce, and I’ve written sentences so strikingly similar to “I believe male behavior is responsible for the majority of divorces,” that I understand why some people feel that way. One of the best things about speaking these ideas someday as opposed to writing them now is that I think it will be easier for people to more-accurately gauge my meaning when they hear it vs. reading it.


More subtle than the flavor of Coke vs. Pepsi.

Even more subtle than the difference between the words “complement” and “compliment.”

So very subtle.

“You’re a female-worshipping pussy!” some tough guy said.

“This is bullshit!” another guy said. “A wife’s expectations need a reality check in many cases, though others hearing the story are sure to think the husband is at fault due to the false ideas permeating our culture.”

Another guy characterized my ideas as old-fashioned and unrealistic. He said a few things I disagreed with, but then he asked a great question that I’ve been thinking about since:

“What about the seeming double standard—is this fair to men, or anyone, to expect them to be any less human, any less fallible or fragile than anyone else? Is it OK to suggest that men are not entitled to simply be loved for who they are as a person? Or should men be required to constantly earn love—not for who they are—but for what they can do or provide?”

You see, when I was married, I misdiagnosed the marriage-problem symptoms my wife and I displayed, and I was CERTAIN of my correctness in any given disagreement between us. I was right, therefore she was wrong.

Here I was doing or not doing all of these things she wanted me to do differently. And most of the time, I would draw a line in the sand—a boundary, if you will—and stand my ground. I—quite literally—believed my wife was being unfair, or reacting inappropriately to something (like a judge sentencing someone to life in prison for a speeding ticket).

What’s the Difference?

I don’t know that I believed my choices were things I considered to be marriage-enhancers, but I DEFINITELY didn’t consider them to be things that might destroy mine.

Don’t you see the inherent danger there? For me, the scariest things in life are the dangerous, potentially fatal things that we don’t or can’t see coming.

Cancer. Heart attacks. Fatal auto accidents. Terrorism. Sink holes. Asteroids.

I don’t sit around feeling fear over these things because I don’t give a lot of mental energy to them. But I absolutely believe they’re the scariest things.

The things we don’t see coming.

I believe the behaviors that end relationships, lead to affairs, and are ultimately responsible for divorce, are behaviors that MOST people don’t recognize or identify as a danger.

I wasn’t a bad guy. Most guys aren’t bad.

But I WAS a shitty husband. Accidentally. Unaware. Thoughtlessly. Not on purpose.

And because I was trained from a really young age that we treat ACCIDENTS radically differently than we treat INTENTIONAL harm and destruction, I usually defaulted to the position that the “punishment” of my wife’s frustration or anger didn’t fit the “crime” of whatever action or inaction had upset her.

This might sound familiar because I’m pretty sure the vast majority of people can identify with either my experience, or my ex-wife’s.

“But, Matt! You always say that you were a SHITTY husband! How do you know?! Maybe your wife was just being a control freak or an insufferable nag! Maybe SHE was the shitty one!”

You know what, maybe she was sometimes.

I don’t think about things like that. I don’t try to remember every time I felt wronged by her in some attempt to excuse or justify my choices.

My marriage ended and now my little boy has to share homes and CONSTANTLY miss one of his parents, and possibly suffer a little bit socially.

I did things that hurt my wife.

Not her face. Not her arms. Not anywhere on the outside of her.

In her heart. In her mind. In her gut.

I didn’t know when I was married that emotional pain could hurt worse than physical pain. When my wife would talk about feeling hurt, I consciously or subconsciously treated her like she was a crazy person. Like she was a child I perceived to be acting overly dramatic about a tiny scrape. Like she didn’t know how to rank or manage discomfort.

This is what it looks like to not possess empathy nor understand the word’s meaning. When a husband or wife proves incapable of displaying mindful, intentional empathy for the person they promised to love and honor forever, they are breaking their marriage vows.


Shameless Self-Promotion Note About My Coaching Services

I started coaching in 2019. Clients and I work collaboratively through current and past relationship stuff in order to improve existing relationships or to prepare for future ones. Other clients are trying to find themselves after divorce or a painful breakup. We talk by phone or video conference. People like it. Or at least they fake it really well by continuing to schedule future coaching calls and give me more money. If you’re going through something and think I might be able to help, it’s really easy to find out for sure. Learn More Here.


A shitty husband disregards his wife’s expressions of pain and treats her like there’s something wrong with her whenever he would have felt differently.

A shitty wife disregards her husband’s desire to feel appreciated as “payback” for feeling unappreciated herself.

A shitty husband abandons his wife to entertain herself in favor of doing things he prefers to do alone, when the THING she prefers to do is be together.

A shitty wife berates and shames her husband anytime he performs a task differently than she would have.

Where’s the Line?

“Where is the line between being responsive to your partner’s needs, and drawing a boundary around your own?” said MBTTTR commenter Lindsey in a recent conversation that inspired this post.

Is it possible that some husbands are having THEIR boundaries violated by wives who force husbands to earn their love and kindness, rather than give it freely?

“Is it OK to suggest that men are not entitled to simply be loved for who they are as a person?” the male commenter asked.

That question forced me to self-reflect more than almost any question I’ve been asked in the four years I’ve been writing here.

I think it’s quite simple. NOT to decipher. It’s way too subtle and requires vigilant communication and a mindful, willful desire to achieve a high level of bridged understanding with another person whose differences might frustrate you and create discomfort.

There’s nothing easy about it. But it is simple.

There are:

  • Things That HURT. Actions or words that fundamentally cause pain and/or harm to others, and
  • Things That Inconvenience or Conflict with Personal Preferences. Stuff a husband or wife WISHES were different, like how my ex-wife wished I liked skiing and house cleaning, and I wished she liked watching sports and playing poker.

If a relationship’s survival depends on HURTFUL things coming to an end, then I perceive it to be largely on the shoulders of the person causing the pain to stop, or at minimum, to actively seek ways to minimize it because they love and respect the person they married.

If a relationship’s survival hinges on two people finding balance between personal preferences and conveniences, then I think it’s profoundly important that the two people love and respect one another enough to make damn sure these matters of disagreement DO NOT cause damage to one another.

Because here’s what happens.

An event takes place. A moment comes and goes. Maybe someone did or said something. Maybe someone forgot a calendar event or special occasion.

There are endless possibilities for events we experience, and there are endless possibilities for how any individual person might react to that experience.

And it strikes me as being perfectly okay to not sign up for a lifetime together with someone whose preferences or reactions to events do not align with yours. By all means, don’t get married if you believe the relationship is doomed to fail.


It strikes me as perfectly NOT OKAY to promise in front of witnesses, friends, and family; and sign legal contracts, and—most importantly—be assuring one’s partner or fiancé/fiancée throughout the length of an engagement that you’re in this forever to either:

  1. Knowingly bring harm to your spouse.
  2. Knowingly treat your spouse as if they aren’t good enough, and required to EARN your love simply because you want them to think as you think, or do things as you prefer them to be done.

A person who threatens a marriage by treating their spouse as if they aren’t good enough because of a difference in PREFERENCES is every bit as bad as the shitty spouse who damages their partner through intentional or neglectful harm.

Love is a choice.

And when we marry someone, we are to give that love freely for the rest of our lives. But NOT when our marriage vows have been broken by someone who refused to give the love and empathy marriage requires.

How do we get two people to actively choose to love one another, even when they don’t “feel” like it?

Maybe we can’t.

But that’s what a shitty spouse is—someone who won’t give love because it’s inconvenient or doesn’t feel good.

Who’s to blame?

Amidst the chaos of war in the middle of the battlefield, where both sides are firing shots and taking no prisoners, it’s really hard to tell.

No one?


I don’t know.

So, I looked in the mirror and figured out who to blame for my divorce.

Because there’s a better life out there. One I didn’t find blaming everyone else for my problems. But after looking into that reflection long enough and hard enough, I think it might be coming into focus.

155 thoughts on “The Subtle Difference Between Shitty and Non-Shitty Husbands and Wives”

  1. Pingback: The Subtle Difference Between Shitty and Non-Shitty Husbands and Wives — Must Be This Tall To Ride – Unisis

  2. “And because I was trained from a really young age that we treat ACCIDENTS radically differently than we treat INTENTIONAL harm and destruction…”

    This right here is a fabulous bit of self awareness. In raising kids, or even just having friends over, you are quite right, we can and should treat accidents different from intentional harm. When you are married however, those rules change. Intentional versus accidental, do not matter. We are no longer kids or guests. If you accidentally break a window every time you visit, people will just stop inviting you over.

    I’m not blaming men for divorce,it is just that it is so common for them to suffer from emotional entitlement, “she must love me unconditionally like my mother did,” combined with pride and that drive to compete, to win. Women cannot love men unconditionally in the same way we love children and we cannot compete with them either, because both things will hit us on a biological level and kill our attraction. By “compete” I’m not talking about softball or pillow fights, I mean fighting for status,territory, dominance. To expect us to fight for status while also feeling entitled to our unconditional love is crazy making.

    1. Hi, it’s years later but I want to reflect on your excellent comment. I’m raising a toddler and have, in my own life, gone through a rough transition from deeply religious to atheist humanist. In a discussion of intentional vs accidental harm, from a consequentialist perspective they’re mostly the same. The only additional problem with intent to harm is that it may portend future intent to harm.

      If my kid does something harmful, I don’t say he’s a bad kid or anything like that. I focus on how the action harmed someone else. He’s too young for intent to really be something punishable but when he’s a bit older, I want to have that be a separate discipline thing. Framework: accident or not, you need to make amends, clean up the mess, etc. If the harm was also mean-spirited then you are probably losing Fortnight privileges or whatever.

      1. I have a visceral memory of the first time this concept was clear to me. I was young grade school and reading Black Beauty. There is a chapter called ‘Only Ignorance’ and there is a hothouse door that gets open so a bunch of plants die. There may be a horse that colics or founders because a (well-intentioned but unknowledgeable) groom gives grain wrong or doesn’t cool the horse off properly. The damage is done, regardless of intent.

  3. Unconditional love is owed by parents to children, and even that at some point defaults to expecting a child to become responsible, reliable and trustworthy, on escalating levels as they age. I really wish Matt would write a column on exactly what husbands do, or do not do, that erodes a relationship. From what I can tell, it all starts with the basics of life: the chores, the being on time, the completion of a task, the communication of where and what, the equality of work at and outside the home. Adults are not entitled to be “loved for who they are” but for how they act. If you are an irresponsible person, you may be loved for awhile, but love is going to die when your irresponsibility burdens the partner with an unequal to staggering amount of work, worry, and responsilbity.

    Now to entertaining someone. It is no one’s job to entertain someone, and everyone is entitled to some of their own pursuits – just not all of them, just not at a cost to the partner, and AFTER the responsibilities are met as agreed. Just like the kids get to play after they finish their homework. For some reason, lots of people (gender non-specific) seems to equate love with getting away with not being fair, with breaking agreements, with sloppy task performance. Then they turn around and blame the other for being too demanding, for not loving them, for being too picky, for nagging. They make it a power struggle, when at its core, it started by just failing to be a good room mate.

  4. I think the male commenter asked a very good question, and while I have loads of respect for both Shannon and IB I can’t help but think that their response is why men won’t give up their man card (i.e.- commit suicide at higher rates, violent crimes, violent accidents, ect.)
    He is asking “do you really love ME?” And we immediately equate the desire for
    “unconditional love” to be love that accepts slovenliness, or laziness. Or that it is a love we give to children only…
    I don’t know, I think we are missing the point.
    I don’t think he is asking for permissiveness or to be cared for like a child…
    I think he is asking for acceptance. He is asking “is my personhood worth anything to you?” (And if so, can you let me work things out the way I need to? Can you ask me how I am doing? Can you hold me when I’M terrified and lonely and exhausted? )
    “Do you love ME ?”
    We jump to the typical complaints we have about men (they don’t care for the house or themselves) and immediately assume they are saying “we want to behave this way without any consequences.”
    I think those issues can still be dealt with, with them knowing they are fully loved, cared for and accepted.
    This could be a philosophical/theological difference but I tend to believe love and grace creates more of a desire to act in a way that benefits everyone.
    I think a lot of the self protective “I’m not going to listen ‘na-na-na-na'” comes from believing they are going to be shamed or that they have to be correct…
    I think the man asked a legitimate question, and I hope one day women can,without a second thought, answer in a way that can care for the human needs he is desiring. I think if we can get there both men and women will be more satsfied, whole and functional.

    1. “This could be a philosophical/theological difference but I tend to believe love and grace creates more of a desire to act in a way that benefits everyone.”

      Something not addressed is where does your grace and unconditional love come from? It actually should not be coming from a spouse because that is just too much of a load to put on another human. So acceptance, unconditional love, grace,being held when you’re terrified, being seen and known,these are all things that come from a relationship with God and not a spouse. I am already exhausted and over-burdened just thinking about having to try to meet all those needs. I do think men sometimes emotionally pedestalize women,which is what I meant by entitlement. He needs unconditional love,well great so does a wife,the baby, the leaky roof, the car that won’t run. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with his needs, it’s that she is not the one to meet all those needs.

      1. IB,
        I’m not saying anyone should depend on the other to the extent you are describing.
        I don’t think loving someone is exclusive (either it’s God or people)…I don’t want to run too far off into biblical or religious arguments but I do believe we humans have some (a lot of) responsibility while we are on this earth so I can’t say “yep, it’s God’s job to love you, so I’m checking out.” That is the same thing as seeing someone who is hungry and saying “I will pray for you.” When you have the ability to give them food.
        Loving someone like that isn’t necessarily a burden. It’s a connection creating/insulating/ regenerating kind of thing. When you are there and love someone it’s not just a one way thing. It first helps the person who is feeling *whatever* gain hope, feel strong, and recharged so they CAN deal with the other crap they need to. And it strengthens the connection and bond between two people.
        Instead of looking at who we are “supposed” to get it from,at present, I think the MUCH bigger issue is recognizing that what the man is asking for IS an actual human need. And that need is very often denied to men….

    2. My husband knows I love him. He also knows I don’t clean his gross sink in the master (we have two) or put away his laundry (his stuff’s so messy I never know what shelf to stuff things into and it drives me nuts). I do wash laundry, as does he. He puts mine away as he can tell where things belong.

      I have explained my reasoning to him. I have chosen to walk past these things in peace and use the clean sink and be able to find my clothes. He no longer gets upset and thinks it’s a pissing contest when I deliver his neatly folded laundry to him. It’s just my boundary and he respects it as he now understands it.

      We obviously have and have had bigger issues, but in the interest of privacy I use these for examples. The same approach is applied to the big ones too. ?

  5. Pingback: The Subtle Difference Between Shitty and Non-Shitty Husbands and Wives – A Walk with God, through Marriage, Family and Personal Life

  6. Another good one 🙂 I’m an admitted shitty wife who’s not perfect but trying hard to control a basket of triggers after 17 years of somewhat selfish behaviour.
    I’m married to a good imperfect man who’s working very hard on the same things.

    The cola analogy frames it well – sometimes we drink a glass and really don’t enjoy or like it (I’m a Coke person if anyone cares). So my husband could pour me a glass of Pepsi and I could take a sip and say “actually, I prefer coke – could I have that instead? Or let’s walk to the store if we’re out.”
    Or I could drink the whole glass or stomp to the sink and pour it out fuming the whole time – “how could he give me Pepsi when he knows I like Coke? Or why didn’t he buy Coke ?”

    Apply to ANY household situation. Controlling my trigger that my selfish husband never cares what I feel lets me keep a little thing from becoming a pot of boiling resentment at my end. It also doesn’t trigger his trigger of inadequacy or inability to perform and make him feel I’m a nagging bitch.

    Had a bad trigger earlier this week. Called it in the moment. Husband acknowledged, accepted and acted. Spent a couple days thinking he didn’t do it to my satisfaction with enough contrition or attempt to make amends for the degree of upset I felt. That, however, is MY problem, not his. And that is what leads to my shitty wife behaviour and drives the wedge.

    It is the individual’s responsibility to define reasonable boundaries as well as choosing to accept the other’s actions unconditionally. I’m not talking about marriage breaking unacceptable behaviours – I’m referring to the 10 000 papercuts that blot out the good. If I can’t make myself heard in reasonable way and accept that he’s doing the best he can then I’m not playing fair either.

    The rules apply to both the husband and the wife. It’s a daily dance muddled by life and work and kids and all the external annoyances and distractions. But if he and I are going to be a WE – attention and focus and selflessness have to come first in OUR interactions. We have chosen to be the only constant in our lives and our children’s lives. We are obligated to do it mindfully.

    1. PS – my husband is also a Coke person, so the Pepsi question never arises. Wouldn’t have it in the house. Marriage does require some important fundamental compatibilities and I feel strongly the Coke/Pepsi one can be a deal breaker. ?

    2. somecallmejack

      Lots of good thoughts, but this is so succinct and so vital:

      “If I can’t make myself heard in reasonable way and accept that he’s doing the best he can then I’m not playing fair either.”

      1. And because I don’t throw stones in my glass house – I’ll acknowledge that the two days after my “that didn’t quite work for me emotionally” response he heard me, got it and quite specifically did it exactly as I needed. My excessively prolonged rumination about the first sin clouded two perfectly good days. Two steps forward, one step back – we should set it to music ?

    3. Still trying this is an excellent example of learning to judge what is a need or what is a preference. Our emotions tell us it’s a need. It feels strong…we can see clearly WHY thus and such was wrong, so we feel we are right. We want them to see how wrong they are, and not only stop it, but make up for the hurt they caused. .
      all of that could be legitimate, But – there is a question of how much time and energy (negative/angry energy you want to give to that and if it would actually make a difference in the person understanding and reacting any different.
      A similar example could be me and my home depot fiasco. They delivered my fridge to the wrong address, per their policy I have to cancel my order and reorder it. I’m totally inconvenienced. It would seem to me the manager could call the delivery people and make the re-delivery happen sooner. But no. He is kind of youngish and repeatedly tells me throughout the conversation he can’t help me, without telling me what I need to do. (Because, eh- they have my money and the merchandise, I need to get one or the other back). It could be infuriating. I did tell him finally it is never good to enter a conversation with someone who needs help with “No, or I can’t “- always lead with what you can do. It didn’t get resolved the way or wanted, or the way I feel like ” should” have been resolved. But I dont know how much of my complaints, or reasoning and logic will change the situation. And it’s not because he is intentionally being a dick, it’s because he doesn’t really know or understand. He is not emotionally ready to make a phone call and really stress that this lady has been inconvenienced through no fault of her own and to minimize the inconvenience we really need to deliver the goods sooner rather than later. He doesn’t know how to deal with unsatisfied customers- he wasn’t listening to what I was saying, he was telling me everything he couldnt do for was reactive.
      I think the same thing happens a lot in marriage, and learning what is worth the battle, and also really looking at what the other person is experiencing in the middle of the issue is extremely important.

          1. Okay. How do you define harm? [Please consider that a rhetorical question.]

            The difficulty I have is that the definitions of these terms are generally relatively subjective. That is, one person’s need is another’s preference, and one person’s pain is another person’s irritation. I think this is related to this post.

            I have great difficulty accepting that one person has the ability, nay, the right, to deem their own subjective needs, preferences, etc. to be more important than their marriage and choose to divorce as a result. I understand, of course, that people do this, but I philosophically disagree that is the right action or even an acceptable action.

            The following is part of a Bible passage often read during Christian weddings: [Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:7 NASB) The stated behavior seems to be the opposite of what actually happens, for example, one’s response to their spouse leaving glasses by the sink.

          2. And that is exactly why getting to know each other is so important BEFORE making that kind of commitment. Having those tough conversations that might (and I would argue, should) end the relationship if the two people don’t agree enough to make forever work. As Lindsey and I were discussing, lots of people avoid the ‘what if we break up over this?’ kind of discussions because they are afraid of the relationship ending. I would argue that kind of thing sets up a lot of heartbreak later.

            Matt writes in other posts about how partner selection is a huge factor and I completely agree. I don’t believe the soulmate one perfect person for me stuff, but there are going to be degrees of compatibility. Of the people I’ve met there will be one or two that would be the easiest for me to live with. Quite a few that it would be lunacy to even attempt it. And a whole bunch that if we both tried it would be pleasant.

            It is up to each person to figure out what is and isn’t compatible for them. And then be comfortable not committing to someone who doesn’t fit that. And not be devastated when other people do the same with them. Bear in mind, I’m not talking about superficial hair/eye color, height, likes the same sports teams kind of compatibility stuff. I mean what truly takes priority in life, how do they react when under stress, what kind of family do they envision, when they make a promise how much effort do they expend to honor it kind of compatibility.

          3. “And that is exactly why getting to know each other is so important BEFORE making that kind of commitment.”

            Fewer are getting married, but I don’t think it’s because they discuss difficult questions or get to know each other better. Men have little incentive in the current environment. And the women? Well, read this:

            ‘These men will never understand women like us. Women who love with all our heart, mind, body, and soul. Women who refuse to settle for mediocre but hold out for magical. Women who believe that love should never be average or lukewarm or just “okay” but life-changing and earth-shaking and boundary-breaking.

            Women like us may stay single for awhile longer, as it takes a special man to handle everything that we are.’ — Mandy Hale

            She is promoting this attitude in print and speech, encouraging other women to entertain this approach. It doesn’t seem that she is willing to settle for reasonable compatibility. No man in his right mind would want to marry a woman like this. Is it any surprise that she is a 38-year-old, never-married woman? Maybe men are showing wisdom in their partner selection, realizing that a woman with this attitude will never be satisfied regardless of what he does.

            I don’t know who gets the credit, but the following describes the attitude needed for marriage to be successful:

            ‘“A Perfect Marriage” is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other.’

          4. somecallmejack

            Hold out for magical, never just okay? And this is human relationship advice? Oh my. 🙁

          5. I think ‘magical’ being required is a big dose of overexpectations. Personally, I would soften it to waiting until there is a partner who wants the same end goal, is willing to communicate (respectfully) through somewhat uncomfortable conversations, and is willing to work with my human foibles while owning up to his own.

          6. I like your list of expectations, but it’s not my perception that this is what the average woman expects. What’s your perception?

          7. I would guess the expectations aren’t all that different, but the way of expressing them and trying to find them are different. Doesn’t everyone want a partner who’s working towards the same goal? Who listens about things that matter, even if not agreeing or understanding why?

            But the way society goes about relationships has so much getting lost in translation, I think.

          8. I have my doubts that most people actually have those expectations. Especially the men. I suspect people often really want a trophy spouse, another income, a housekeeper or handyman, help with their kids from before the marriage, etc. This reminds me of the marriage theory of Dr. Willard Harley, author of His Needs, Her Needs. In short, the following ten categories of emotional needs are what people want from marriage:

            Affection, Sexual Fulfillment, Conversation, Recreational Companionship, Honesty and Openness, Physical Attractiveness, Financial Support, Domestic Support, Family Commitment, and Admiration.

            At most, you have covered 3 of those categories in your stated expectations. It’s very possible that a spouse prioritizes that list very differently. In fact, here is what Harley writes in The Most Important Emotional Needs:

            I also made a revolutionary discovery that helped me understand why husbands and wives tended not to meet each other’s most important emotional needs. Whenever I asked couples to list their needs according to what they needed most, men would list them one way and women the opposite way. Of the 10 emotional needs, the five listed as most important by men were usually the five least important for women, and vice-versa.

            What an insight! It is no wonder that husbands and wives have so much difficulty meeting each other’s needs: They lack empathy. They are willing to do for each other what they appreciate the most, but it turns out that their efforts are misdirected. What they appreciate the most, their spouses appreciate the least!”

            Perhaps you would find it interesting to browse his website. I don’t think he has all the answers, but I do often find it quite accurate and certainly interesting.

          9. Your first paragraph makes me thing of Matt’s article about priorities and being honest about what they are. If people were honest (with themselves and others) about what is truly important to them and picked partners that match that I think there’d be fewer divorces. Honestly, I have a hard time finding sympathy for someone who just wants a trophy spouse and then grumps about a lack of emotional fulfillment, or a similar dichotomy.

            I’ll have to take a look at that site. Seems like no matter the system…that one, the love languages idea, or any of the others, there are fundamental differences between men and women. Go figure, we’re not the same after all!! (Sorry, the sarcasm got loose for a moment there…) If both sides would take a few steps towards middle ground, make a few allowances for human failings, and not make those promises unless they really mean FOREVER I wonder how many marriage would actually find a way through some of those ‘irreconcilable differences.’

            As for the priority differences for expression/reception of affection, how do you think people can get better at shifting expression (at least partly) over time to how the partner feels most loved? Eventually, the effort put in is going to carry less weight because multiple times stated requests are being ignored/not remembered. Our phrase for that is ‘am I painting the house when you want a new kitchen floor?’ Sounds a little ridiculous, but it comes from a two-book set by Gary Smalley that we were given as a wedding gift. Well written, short reads, some good turn of phrase points for discussion.

          10. “… there are fundamental differences between men and women.”

            Almost as if by design. Hmmmmm.

            “… how do you think people can get better at shifting expression (at least partly) over time to how the partner feels most loved?

            First, both parties need to know what accomplishes this for both themselves and their spouse. Followed by a commitment to communicate successes and failures in this arena. Note that communication means that the message was received and understood. Too often, one party thinks they told the other something, but the other party never heard it or misunderstood it. For example, your sarcasm above is not recognized in print without your explanation. There is no body language to provide additional information to improve the communication. It’s my perception that women are better at communication, especially the nonverbal clues, and, unfortunately, do not communicate to husbands as well as they think they do. I do not think men are generally stupid, but they are different.

          11. I am glad someone has benefited from Gary Smalley. I am quite familiar with his work and will avoid it if possible. He is an engaging speaker, at first, but I find him excessively repetitive as well as overly simplistic. His son Greg might be a little better, but I don’t think the apple fell very far from the tree.

          12. I can see where he’d be repetitive if he goes over the same material in all of his stuff. I’ve always thought that the two books were good maintenance-type reads, but probably not great help for a couple in difficulties. A few fun phrases that work well as flags in conversation.

          13. Read a bit on that website…really like his approach. Long enough list to get some nuance, but not so many factors so as to get unwieldy. And at a glance it doesn’t seem to be skewed towards a more or less…emotional, for lack of a better word, approach. I like that there are practical as well as more preferential factors on his list.

          14. I think his needs concept could help many marriages. However, I am not so certain that the entirety of his theory is a great approach. It is a rather objective approach to a relatively subjective relationship. I would think it might appeal to those who find Gottman’s work to be helpful.

            “And at a glance it doesn’t seem to be skewed towards a more or less…emotional, for lack of a better word, approach.”

            From what you write, I consider you to be different from most women in how you think. What is your opinion?

          15. With the introductory reading, I think his approach actually does a very good job translating something subjective into something more objective. Which, if you think about it, is the whole point of any currency. To put the value (or lack thereof) of something into mutually understood terms. Whether a thing would bother you or not, your partner saying ‘that clears your account’ in the love bank concept gives a pretty clear idea of the gravity of the issue. Granted, any system can be misused but I think the approach is sound for a base of communication. I think the love languages concept is nice, but on the touchy feely end of things…not much quantifiable to work with.

            “From what you write, I consider you to be different from most women in how you think. What is your opinion?”

            One of my husband’s favorite things about me! I believe I do think differently than many other women…at least my high school and college friends and acquaintances who were female. No clue as far as the general population.

          16. I find your way of thinking to be refreshing for a woman. I have seen women asking how to make themselves attractive to men. I suspect that many men, besides your husband, would find your way of thinking quite attractive. Do you know why you think as you do? Does your husband have any ideas? Do you suppose other women could be taught how to think like you?

          17. Actually, in my observations/experience, most men do not find it attractive unless the woman is very physically attractive as well. Otherwise it seems to be seen as too much of a hassle to deal with. Because the downside is that this approach requires real conversation in return. Not grudgingly, not as a means to get something from the other, but honest sharing of self.

            In my husband’s words “you’re just you.” He likes that I mean what I say and don’t do mind games, and that I didn’t turn into a different person once I ‘had’ him (he stayed him, too, so we both ‘got’ what we were expecting), and that I am honest (without being nasty) when stuff bothers me. So I’m not sure how much of that can be taught. There’s an element of confidence there, a fair bit of stubbornness, a deep dislike of drama, fair measure of devotion to logic, and a lot that can’t be summed up.

            I think maybe the best way to explain it is I WASN’T trying to make myself attractive to guys. I was committed to being me (not perfect by any measure!), and if someone wasn’t interested in more than friendship because me didn’t fit with him then I was okay with that. It isn’t offensive to me to know that my personality doesn’t mesh in a life goals sense with someone else’s. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be good friends. Why go through the drama of a ‘failed’ relationship if we weren’t compatible romantically? Personally, I’d rather have a friend than an ex. People can be good friends but horrible at dating each other…why is being friends such a bad thing? That may be the part that can be taught (to everyone). Friendship is not a consolation prize.

            PS-Believe it or not, this is more coherent than the thought stream I sorted through to get to this! Willing to clarify/rephrase if I didn’t translate well. 🙂

          18. Ok, just as an aside, I really am too overloaded to have a long conversation. But, I actually was totally anticipating you asking that question.
            Even though it was rhetorical, I am going to answer it because I think it’s important. Harm is not subjective, harm can be measured in outcomes. If you drive your car without changing the oil you are harming it, but you may not realize until later. Then it’s doesn’t work like it used to. It doesn’t perform it’s intended purpose. It has been broken.
            I will go one step further and ask (with good intentions) why you would reach down and ask a question like that? It seems like splicing terms into discreet definitions can strengthen the argument you are already set on, but it doesn’t really lead to better understanding or knowledge.
            I do get there is a question of where is the line between preferences and harm. It can be confounding, but once someone says “this is hurting me”, or even if it is something that gets them ” bent out of shape” repeatedly, you are harming that person- and the relationship. IE- you can’t say that you are elevating the marriage or value it if you are willing to harm one of the two parts that makes the whole. Ignoring someone saying “this hurts me” is denying the relationships.
            If the person can not change the harming behavior even with great (authentic) effort then there could be irreconcilable differences in that case. And the person can love you greatly, but that doesn’t make them obligated to live with constant pain.
            If they can someway see their way past feeling hurt over x,y,or z then that is possible too.
            But it takes effort from both parties.
            Paul was talking about love, not marriage. They are not synonymous. . They just arent.

          19. I hope you will understand that your answering my question using a term that is also quite subjective provided no real insight into your perspective on needs vs. preferences. Since I still didn’t understand, I asked about your definition of harm, but I decided to explain my position without waiting for your answer. For what it’s worth, I don’t know why you consider the question to be “reaching down”, so I cannot give you an answer.

            I am not a believer that psychology can often provide quantitative, repeatable outcomes (results?). In other words, the outcomes are relatively subjective, so I continue to believe that harm is primarily subjective.

            Do you consider it acceptable that one party in a relationship can decide unilaterally what behavior they are willing to accept to continue the relationship? I think you would say “Yes, that is their boundary”. The focus seems to be that the one who is hurting has the right to expect the other to change their behavior. I fail to understand why there seems to be no consideration that the one who is hurting could change and accept the behavior.

            I agree that love and marriage are not synonymous. However, according to Jesus and Paul, they are inseparable in a marriage of Christians. Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” [John 13:34 NASB] and Paul wrote this: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” [Eph. 5:25 NASB] Ergo, I continue to believe the earlier passage I quoted is relevant to marriage, if only to those who are Christian.

          20. I literally just woke up, made coffee and started making plans for the day and THEN looked over and saw what time it was. …so, Good Morning!
            I’m not going to answer everything in your response.
            Overall my thoughts are something like- I don’t get how people can take the premise of the entire Christian religion, that of God coming down in human flesh, experiencing what it’s like to be human, sacrificing himself for the love of us crazy lost souls and declaring every sin ever is paid for and translate that into more rule following.
            We take something like relationship – and try to put rigid “rules” around it. Jesus made everything, the whole law, VERY simple. Love God and Love others (with the self being implied).
            i don’t see how we can say we believe in a God like that and still think/say and act as though we have to earn his love by following rules that ultimately (and measurably) harm us. And yes, staying in a relationship that inhibits or twists who we are is harm.
            I can say with an incredible personal assurance that rule following, rites and rituals, sacrificial offerings- these were never things His heart desired. He is a God of dynamic relation, as are we. When we grasp so tightly to they way things “should” be we lose grip on what is presently happening. We don’t see where He is in the moment. All we have are the rules, and we lose him. ..that’s not a trade I want to make.
            Overall Rickety, there isn’t anything personal I have against you but these types of conversations (assertions over dogmatic beliefs) do not do anything good for my heart or my mind so I’m going to try really hard not to engage in explaining things that and defining concepts that are really obvious to most people for the sake of trying to deconstruct what has been scientifically, and just practically, been shown to have practical consequences in real life.
            Many blessings to you!!

          21. I understand that Jesus said loving God with all your heart was the first and most important commandment, followed by loving your neighbor as yourself. However, there are still rules in Christianity. If nothing else, you must accept Christ as your savior in order to go to heaven. Love is the overarching principle for how the Christian should live.

            Yes, getting started in Christianity is simple. However, there is the need for the babe in Christ to grow and move from milk to solid food. In other words, it doesn’t stay simple or easy.

          22. If ‘harm’ is a word that you are getting caught on because of your associations of subjectivity, suggest another and have a conversation about whether that can find mutual meaning.

          23. It’s not the meaning of specific words that I see to be the problem. The problem is that unilateral subjectivity has become the criteria for determining whether to continue in a marriage. Without an absolute standard for everyone, everything is subjective. I don’t want to live that way, and, if you really think about it, I don’t think you do either.

          24. I think we’re kind of talking past each other. Unilateral subjectivity should be used in the courting/dating/partner selection phase of a relationship. I argue that it is vital at that point, because if you are thinking about joining yourself to a person who does not have the same definition of ‘harm,’ ‘damage,’ or other related words then rough roads will probably be coming.

            Humans are varied enough that there will be a range for what is acceptable/unacceptable behaviour for individuals. Pretty sure there are things that everybody will agree are just not ok, but where this discussion is focusing (as far as I can tell) on that middle ground. Which is why it is difficult to discuss…by nature of the topic there IS a measure of subjectivity to it. The goal would be to find someone who’s acceptable range dovetails with yours. (Which is how I apply the not settling approach.)

          25. Co-sign with this.

            I agree with OKRickety’s general premise, but pragmatism requires that we deal in the gray-area middle ground. This is where ALL relationship- and divorce-related conversation lives.

            Squarely in the gray.

            The entire point we often kick around concerning forced, intentional empathy that is so critical to making a relationship work is to find a way to connect a “benign” or “harmless” thing that our partner says HURTS them with something that HURTS us (that maybe other people don’t think is a big deal).

            Otherwise, this very conversation between Rebekah and OKRickety will serve as a symbolic representation of EVERY disagreement from now through eternity.

            Using subjectivity to debate the merits of subjectivity is super meta and inceptiony. I love it.

          26. Glad to entertain, Matt! Stay at home mom of 4 here…nice to give the grey matter a workout now and then 🙂

          27. I fail at thoughtful, rational debate on so many levels. I get insta- “that’s ridiculous” with a bunch of blood pressure raising emotion. I’m glad to see you are a little more adept at it then I am.

          28. Thank you Lindsey! LOTS of (sometimes painful) practice! The whole ‘yes that is my knee jerk response (which doesn’t ever completely go away, btw), but I’m choosing to set it aside’ is exactly what we’ve built into our communication framework/touch phrases/vocabulary. We’ve also worked on gently letting each other know when a particular phrase rubs the wrong way so the other can try again to better communicate without the connotations getting in the way. Figuring out how to express pain without lashing out is particularly tricky, I think. (And much easier for us than for many couples because we don’t have years of resentment muddying the waters.) But he’s willing to listen, I’m willing to set aside the ‘grr,’ and over the almost 11 years of being an official couple (9 years married in a couple of weeks!) we’ve hammered out a system that works for us. Lots of stumbles, deliberately laughing at ourselves, interesting detours along the way. Pardon our dust, construction ongoing!

          29. And voila!


            Thank you, Rebekah. I’m so grateful that you’re here sharing your experiences, wisdom, and demonstrating a workable model.

            It’s, literally, everything.

          30. Not gonna lie, Matt, hearing ‘wisdom’ kinda makes me chuckle! 😀

            I hope I never come across as preachy…anyone feel free to ask for a rephrase if something sounds weird!

          31. We’re all a little messy, I think. No one does it “perfect.” There is no perfect.

            It’s all of the love, forgiveness, fortitude and constant recommitment to one another amidst all the imperfection and messiness that is beautiful.

            THAT is marriage. It just is.

            People are certainly free to choose something else. But since 95% of us choose marriage, it’s awesome to have real-life examples (and not the stuff on TV) of how it’s supposed to work.

            You don’t sound anything close to preachy.

          32. My husband and I snicker a lot at TV/movie portrayals…

            Glad I don’t come across that way. You can lose so much when the words are just on the screen. Especially if someone has added nasty connotations to a specific phrase for the person reading.

          33. “It’s all of the love, forgiveness, fortitude and constant recommitment to one another amidst all the imperfection and messiness that is beautiful.”

            Well said. Unfortunately, the last three behaviors seem to be undesirable, and there may never have been love, only infatuation. The result is not a pretty sight.

          34. My Grey matter is sputter at the moment…Matt, what exactly is the premise that you agree with rickety about? ..Just to clarify. I promise I won’t ban you from my top ten bloggers on the planet or anything…

          35. P.s.- just to note, my Grey matter is sputtering because you agree with Rickety, Matt. It’s sputtering independent of this conversation.

          36. The idea that if everyone just follows their feelings all the time, and there’s no concept of commitment or premanentness can ONLY create more divorce, not less.

            The reason our grandparents’ generation didn’t divorce much is because they fundamentally believed (and it was widespread across the culture) that marriage was forever.

            People can call that “old-fashioned” or “out-dated,” but to them I’d say: Why even HAVE marriage?

            To me, there can only be two philosophies:

            1. People are casual and non-committal, and they never marry, because they don’t know when their feelings will change, but they want to keep their options open, just in case.

            2. Someone chooses to make the forever-promise to love, honor, cherish, serve just one person for the rest of their lives (and is totally serious about it, and then follows that up by trying their best to live up to that promise).

            Otherwise, what’s the point? Why even talk about any of this?

            OKRickety and I share plenty of disagreements, but his commitment to marriage ACTUALLY, literally, meaning FOREVER — and then not leaving a lot of room for constantly changing “feelings” being the reason we divorce half the time — is absolutely what I believe marriage is supposed to be.

            When two people value the marriage more than themselves (and I really believe that’s what we’re called to do), then this isn’t a problem.

            The breakdowns happen when someone chooses themselves OVER what’s best for the union.

            And THAT is where OKRickety and I will find our differences. Because marriage can’t, shouldn’t be, (and practically speaking, won’t be — no matter how much someone might not like it) a permanent prison sentence for someone who wakes up every day lonely and miserable because of the actions or inactions of their marriage partner.

          37. Ok. I can totally amen to all of that. I don’t think commitment is the problem, or that its just a matter of “feelings” when there is that disconnect between partners. Feelings are just information. Should we take the info from our emotions and run with it? No. That’d be silly. But we shouldnt discount the value of what they are telling us because “they’re just feelings”. Some feelings will change, true. But just because we don’t walk around in a permenant state of happiness or anger or whatever doesn’t mean the same issues don’t cause the same emotions. that way there can be consistency in emotions and those can be fairly reliable measures that something needs to change.
            And of course, ” something needing to change” doesn’t automatically mean divorce.
            The commitment shouldnt just be to the marriage license, it should be to the relationship. So, there would be a willingness to work on whatever is going on.
            …and back to the unilateral thing, yes- if the relationship requires two people to be in it then it just takes one to saw no. ..but it definitely takes two to say (and keep saying) yes.

          38. somecallmejack

            Feelings – yeah, tricky to figure out. You can’t be ruled by them – but you can’t ignore them, either. I’m trying to figure out how to process and learn from my own.

            Typing this, maybe there’s a difference between “I feel unhappy in our marriage” (generalized, unspecific conclusion) and “I feel disrespected and criticized when you go on at me about [how I felt after a specific behavior or incident: for example, “your belief that I exercise too much” or “your assertions that I should eat better” or even “how I fold the towels”].

          39. Learning from them is good, but hard, work Jack. 🙂 and, yes.. I think the more specific the better. …but hopefully with a willingness to listen to the other person. I mean, this goes back to the original problem… If your missing time with the family because you would rather exercise, if you are neglecting other things because you are exercising, or if there is some underlying insecurity because of the exercising all of these things need to come out, and hopefully a solution found. Exercise could be something you feel you need to keep emotional balance, then that should be heard, too. But, with most things there are priorities and those need to be aligned in a marriage.

          40. somecallmejack

            Oh, the exercising is clearly driven, and I do mean driven, by a pile of childhood traumas. In the world falsely-medicating behaviors, though, it’s relatively benign. I get up at 3:30…so the rest of my day looks more or less normal.

          41. If it’s really causing difficulty between you two, it’s not really benign. Have ya’ll talked about what would be preferred? Maybe a shortened routine and grab breakfast for the two of you?

          42. somecallmejack

            No, we bitch and moan, or criticize, act passive-aggressive, or just flee. (:-\

            Actually, I don’t think any part of my exercise actually gripes my wife. It’s just something to complain about. Sort of something she thinks I’m stupid for doing and points that out regularly. As far as I can tell there isn’t really a request hiding under the complaint. But then, I’m pretty dense. (Actually, not being facetious.)

          43. Aren’t you missing the most common philosophy? The one where people choose to marry, but rather than be totally serious, are casual about it?

            “The breakdowns happen when someone chooses themselves OVER what’s best for the union.”

            Which is exactly what I think is happening in the scenarios you commonly describe. However, I am unwilling to unequivocally suppose that the one who is claiming the hurt is the innocent party. They are certainly responsible for their feelings. I also do not consider their hurt to be proof that their perceived need is more important than the marriage. There continues to be this assumption that the other party must be at fault because the other party is experiencing pain. The squeaky wheel can get the grease, but the other wheel may have greater need of attention.

          44. This is fair commentary. Totally.

            I’m approaching this through the prism of my experiences where I feel strongly that I didn’t do a bunch of things optimally, and that had I, life would have turned out differently.

            I probably don’t do a great job accounting for, or conveying, the idea that a human being must still ultimately be responsible for their emotional health, and that at least sometimes, might be applying an “inappropriate” emotional filter to a particular happening.

            It’s pretty hairy territory for me to venture into because it dabbles dangerously close to pointing fingers at other people and excusing my own behavior. That’s not a compromise I’m willing to make.

            No matter how jacked someone else might be, I still have to own 100% of my things (while accounting for human fallibility, of course, and acknowledgment of the need for forgiveness/mercy/grace).

            Gets complicated, as every person is going to have a unique set of circumstances and experiences.

            I appreciate you participating in these philosophical conversations and challenging things I say, even if I don’t always seem grateful.

            If we’re not thinking and asking good questions, this is all a big waste of time.

          45. “I appreciate you participating in these philosophical conversations and challenging things I say, even if I don’t always seem grateful.”

            Thank you. For me (and maybe most men), I strongly desire my input to be valued.

          46. ” my Grey matter is sputtering because you agree with Rickety, Matt.”

            I’m not sure if that’s really what you meant to say, but it wouldn’t totally surprise me.

          47. No, it’s not what I meant to say. My ‘nt ‘s seem to get auto corrected a lot. I disagree with a lot if your views, but that’s not to say they don’t hold value for others, including yourself. And,I’m OK with that.

          48. I agree with the idea of unilateral subjectivity being important before marriage. However, as far as I can see, almost everyone here wants to allow it to continue into marriage. (Note: The primary criteria for the importance of these problem behaviors seems to be the perceived degree of hurt.) If the two have become one, then almost everything should be mutually agreed to.

          49. Actually, the way I read it, they are arguing AGAINST unilateral subjectivity. The comments are that one spouse is bothered/hurt by something and the other spouse says ‘that’s ridiculous’ or ‘you shouldn’t be’ or something along those lines. And that side unilaterally makes the decision about what is (not) discussed. Speaking from my own experience, a change in behaviour isn’t always necessary…the act of giving my feelings/opinion/viewpoint the respect of being heard may be all that is needed. The marriage trouble comes from being told their feelings don’t matter, are wrong, are not worth the energy of consideration.

            “(Note: The primary criteria for the importance of these problem behaviors seems to be the perceived degree of hurt.)”

            The message coming across from phrases like this is ‘I don’t think that should be a problem, therefore you are wrong/are just trying to control me/are having a fit over nothing/need to grown up and get over it/I don’t have to waste time listening.’

            Which, to be blunt, is exactly what these women are saying they are already hearing from their husbands. If you’re trying to say something else it is getting lost in translation.

          50. I think I am seeing the unilateral subjectivity from the other direction. I see the hurting spouse to be the one who is unilaterally being subjective.

            Maybe men are guilty of not communicating the hurt they experience. They are responsible for that. In that situation, is a wife who wants a better marriage responsible to ensure that communication does occur?

          51. Rickety I think the absolute standard us where we get off track.
            First there are maybe 2 absolute absolutes in the entire natural world, and I do t even know what those would be at the moment.
            We needs absolutes because we need certainty, we need THIS to be the answer always, and reality just doesn’t function that way. That’s not to say there aren’t elemental truths, but even those truths do not amount to concrete absolutes.
            You keep saying it is a unilateral decision, and here are the two thoughts I have on that. Because we are human and we fall and live and we WANT things to work out I don’t see it often being the case that a unilateral decision is made lightly. MOST people try to cooperate, they try to find a solution/resolution the person has every right to unilaterally say I don’t want this anymore.
            I guess a question I would ask you is does the person who is causing pain unilaterally have to right to refuse and not listen to their partner? Do the unilaterally have the right to say “No, that doesn’t hurt” or “No, that doesn’t cause harm.”
            If you answer no, then their duty is to empathize with their partner. If you say yes, then it’s a double standard.
            And just to note, if harm is subject so is illness or injury and I don’t buy that for a second.

          52. I posit that there are far more absolute truths than you believe. This provides the basis for an unchanging standard. And, yes, I believe this because I believe there is one God who is all-powerful and all-knowing. This is the actual reality.

            However, the prevalent worldview today wants to make everything relative. Absolutes are unacceptable. This is perceived to be reality.

            A spouse should care about the pain of their partner. They should listen to them. But this does not mean they are correct. Perception is not reality. Consider the case of a hypochondriac who believes they are dying of cancer, even experiencing pain, although all medical testing shows they do not have cancer. Should they be told they are wrong, or not?

            What do you believe about responsibility? Do you believe that we are responsible for all of our own actions and emotions? It is my understanding that each individual has full responsibility for their own emotions. In other words, the hurting person is solely responsible for the emotional pain/hurt that they experience. Note: This does not mean that others have no fault in the situation.

    4. “If I can’t make myself heard in reasonable way and accept that he’s doing the best he can then I’m not playing fair either.”

      Sooo true! There are quite a few times when we say we need to let something sit so we can both ratchet down the emotions a bit and be capable of listening to each other. We also have come up with ‘help me wordsmith this’ when we don’t have the right phrase and we volley phrasing back and forth to get to what one of us wants to say.

      “But if he and I are going to be a WE – attention and focus and selflessness have to come first in OUR interactions.”

      This. Exactly this. Working on assuming lack of ill intent (if not assuming good intent) and understanding what the other person is trying to say, not just the words being used. My husband and I started out as friends and that has played a huge factor for us over and over to step out of the lover/spouse mindset and into friend mindset. Makes it easier to think about what will help the other person instead of focusing on my hurt. Choosing to keep loving the person you chose.

  7. Just the other day we were having a sensitive conversation and he didn’t respond well to something I said. Like we usually interact, I didn’t say anything for a few moments to frame a response without being nasty. Before I could come up with something, he said “I was an insensitive jackass just now and I’m sorry.” So we moved on.

    It has taken a lot of discussion and self awareness on both our parts to get to a point where we recognize, acknowledge, and move on from ‘shitty spouse’ moments. We’re human, so they are guaranteed to happen from time to time (hopefully less as we get better at being good humans). But that underpinning of ‘I can hurt the other person EVEN WHEN I DON’T MEAN TO’ helps so much, especially when paired with ‘yes, I’m hurt, but it wasn’t malicious so express that hurt without looking to draw blood.’

    I love Lindsey’s point about the general reaction to the man’s question. I think we need to be careful to not turn around and be shitty wives by not listening to the ‘please just love ME’ the way he was a shitty husband by ignoring the ‘this hurts me’ stuff. May comment later on that if some thoughts coalesce into something grammatically coherent

  8. I feel the same way at the moment Rebekah, there have been a few pints that make me think-tank A-ha, we are close to “THE” issue, but I’m trying to grasp it and form words to express it completely.
    I think a lot of it has to do with the fact we are not just talking about two people, but the third entity- the couple.
    While you can have a separate identity (absolutely) there needs to be a realization that when we are fighting for ourselves we can end up fighting against the connection, and the 3rd entity.

    1. Your three entities comment…

      That’s what the ‘can you love me for ME’ comes from, I think! Maybe with a ‘even if I screw stuff up for you, can we talk about my needs as well?’ And that may be where some of the hen-pecked husband stuff comes from for some guys, because they would have to hand in their man card as far as society goes if they say they want something other/more than just sex. And if we ignore that he also has emotional needs, then the couple is damaged just as much as him ignoring when something he doesn’t care about hurts us.

      Though it is much easier to take those things into consideration if he’s at least listening to your stuff and trying. Like I tell our kindergartener…I don’t care if you’re wrong; I care if you don’t try. Obviously in a relationship there are some ‘wrong answers’ that REALLY don’t work, but ballpark concept.

  9. Over 40 years ago I owned a 1973 Dodge Charger ,beautiful green metalic paint job ,a new fangled crank moon roof, 440 Magnum engine with a 4 barrel carborator , mag wheels the works . One of the fastest cars in town . I loved that car…it was a chick magnet, I could win nearly every drag race I got into I only used “high test” gas (a whopping $.58 per gallon then!). I was really impressed with myself owning such a car. It’s demise came at my hands as I spent weekend after weekend attending to the ego boost that car gave me and not the fact that I was beating the shit out of it. I just assumed that it was a machine and should do my bidding . The first engine blew while I was racing a car on the open highway . Hey no problem , I went to the junk yard and found a similar engine got it running the way the old one did and I was back in business . That engine blew trying to impress a young lady with my ability to pop “wheelies”…back to the junk yard . Well the new new engine was not the same . I should have been more attentive to the first one. The glamor of owning such a car was over shadowed by the cost is time ,money , and too late herculean efforts to bring the car back to its original grandeur . I traded it in. My time in the sun of ego fulfillment by motor vehicle was over at 18 years old . I could no longer afford on my $63.00 per week salary this type of fantasy . A man in his 30 s bought my charger. He got it running beautifully and proudly strode around town with it his wife by his side , they enjoyed that car very much . I once talked to them and told them that I was the owner of that car once. They were gracious but pointed out that I had not treated the car well. The wife asked me if I would like to buy it back . I said no , I couldn’t trust myself to ever get behind the wheel of that car again . They kept the car and bring it to local car shows and it always draws a number of ooo’s and aaah’s. It was cared for and respected . Now in my 50’s I would love to own that car again . I’m sure if I had the chance now it would be different , I would be far more responsible , I would be better as an owner/driver I would love another chance! It’s not for sale ,the couple is going to give it to their granddaughter as a graduation gift. This is a very true story . How we conduct ourselves in our most cherished relationships is so much like this story and what the outcome of not doing the proper maintenance can be… wish you all love , happiness , and peace

  10. I apologize for being a story teller but so much of what I read here hits to things locked in my memory and in some cases soul. I feel them being relevant to some of the struggles many are experiencing. But here’s a true to my current life one. I’ve been married to my beautiful Anne for over 33 years now and in that time we’ve kind of grown to know what each other likes and dislikes….we try to share what we like with the other from time to time. We work crazy opposite time shifts. Rarely do we get to share a meal together. On weekend mornings we generally have breakfast together. There is a great bakery nearby and the bead is fantastic. One morning last month I got a loaf and sliced a few slices for our morning toast. She is a middle slice person and I like the heals. Well this particular morning I gave her one of the heals….she said why did you give me a heal ? That’s your favorite….. I sad no, you are my favorite. That whole day she floated that I reminded her of that.. I floated too knowing she was happy with me

  11. Matt,- and everyone else…
    In your Facebook response about attending to the marriage/partnership ect. You said “the tragedies no longer tear us apart and highlight our weaknesses.”
    I re-read it and now I’m not sure if you meant the marriages weaknesses or the individuals.
    But if you meant the individuals, I’m not sure I agree completely, and it makes me think of what I wrote originally.
    I guess I want to ask everyone the question “why did you get married?” … or at least say that is a good question to ask yourself.
    Because when you are dating someone there is the thrill of being liked, and there is fun doing things together and some might like being the focus of someone’s attention, and the money spent on them etc. etc.
    But at some point you like *the person*.
    Their sense of humor, their intellect, the way they solve problems so on and so forth.
    But even these are qualities of a person, … even deeper would be a recognition of this person in their weaknesses. You recognize the person as an individual that will have their own individual struggles and lessons and purpose in this life. (So I guess I can understand somewhat of what you mean,Matt. ..something along the lines of the weaknesses don’t have so much of an impact?) ..but moreover, I don’t think having weaknesses are a negative thing.
    Maybe we don’t get to this too often? Maybe we are so taken by the emotional thrill, and the imagined picture of what the marriage/partnership is supposed to look like that we dont view our partners as people, but as someone filling an assigned role. …and for men that is often to be “strong”, “reliable”, ” “steadfast.”
    Again, I respect Shannon and have thought her past comments have been very insightful, ( not to say this time is any different) but almost everything she lists as the behaviors that erode a marriage seem to be preferences to me. They sound like they are absolutely musts for her, but that still doesn’t make them more thanks preferences.
    Does having a partner being late, or unreliable or irresponsible make it extremely hard to function in the day to day life of running a family/household- yes.
    I’m really not trying to say it’s OK to be a bad partner.
    But, (this is where “unconditional love” comes in) I don’t think we marry our partners because we want efficiency. We marry them because we believe in them, and they are someone who we will always want to know how their story ends. That’s how I sum up unconditional love. It’s love for the person, and their “story” , even outside of my own.
    Being a bad partner can make the relationship difficult, true. And (most?) marriages do break up because of that.
    But at the same time who gets to say what a bad partner is? It is different for different people at different times.
    In child raising years efficiency and time management is huge. But that is potentially only 1/3 of a couples years together.
    I don’t mean to downplay or disregard anyone’s real struggle and frustration, and I’m not giving a free pass for men to not realize how their actions/non-actions effect their wives and significant others.
    I’m just saying that there should be equal respect and acknowledgement of how our responses affect they’re responses.
    Rebekah mentioned “men who feel hen-pecked” , and that even seemed to be said in a slightly dismissive way. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Please!!)
    I think this (expectations and preferences) are the cotton balls we are throwing, and guys are feeling boulders. ..because they WANT to fulfill that role of string, steadfast and reliable.
    Sorry that I seemed to take an especially long route to get to what I wanted to say- but u think I finally got there. …I think…:)

    1. Sorry, I didn’t intend hen-pecked to be dismissive…wanted to bring up how society does, though! That’s where the whole man card crap comes in, too. A guy who takes his wife’s requests (no matter where they fall on the need/preference spectrum) into consideration is whipped, but if he doesn’t then he’s just saddled with a naggy female. And of course he isn’t allowed to talk about whatever small things undermine HIS…personhood, for lack of a better word at the moment…or he gets labeled as too emotional or whatever. Which would further reduce any respect he ‘ought’ to get.

      To by crystal clear…I believe his concerns should be given as much validity as mine so long as they aren’t an excuse to avoid mine. And the man card/real man garbage can take a flying leap…

      1. Lol. I like the flying leap comment. :).
        Certainly no need to apologize, I wasn’t offended. I was making an observation, and asking if it were correct…and you clarified – it likely isn’t unusual for women to dismiss a husband feeling “hen-pecked” with some justification that “if he just did what I asked I wouldn’t need to nag.”
        And I agree with you statement. “As long as his concerns aren’t an excuse to avoid mine”, because unfortunately I believe that happens a lot.

        The guy that was quoted, though- he seemed to be asking for the thing that men seem to be so afraid to ask for. He may have all sorts of what I would consider whacked out beliefs, but if he was sincere in his question I want to have hope that more men may be willing to lose their man card to become better people, partners and men. ..
        I believe Brene Brown is currently doing more shame/vulnerability research about men.
        One of her talks mentioned how the women in men’s lives ” would rather see (them) die than fall off that white horse”- talking about men performing in theory duties/roles as leader/provider, etc.
        The comments made just seemed to reflect that to me.
        In a way saying “No, you don’t get love until you meet your role requirements, or my expectations of you.” And just, ugh!, that is a never ending fight against shame.
        If you listened to the Jayson Gaddis podcast he talks about people not having boundaries because of the fear of loss of relationship…and that is a way a lot of people live and it just seems like what a lot of women feel like they have to use that in order to get what they need.
        In the end its destructive though. We’ve got to (probably individually) find a better way.

        1. somecallmejack

          I can tell you from personal experience that what Lindsey mentions Brene Brown mentioning happens. Women can pay lip service (and beat the snot out of a man) over the vulnerability thing, only to turn about like a swarm of angry hornets when a man tries to do that.

          Clearly some people make this work but how has been eluding me for many years, no, decades. For most of those I was “unconscious” but waking up has increased the pain and frustration without providing any measurable gains.

          1. So, do you think men would want to give up the man card (the unfeeling persona) if women were more accepting? Do you think most men feel that way?…Or do men, especially before they really mature or have life beat them up , really don’t experience the depth of emotion or need for connection?

          2. somecallmejack

            Oh my…I think it’s wicked complicated. 🙁

            I’m afraid that at least at the moment I think probably the latter.

            It’s freakin’ hard to break through and break out.

            The socialization patterns are so, so strong.

            And breaking out of your (my) “primitive” or “low” brain is so hard but until we do you’re just so unaware. Unaware of yourself, unaware of your spouse, unaware of everyone around you.

            I am temporarily (I trust) in a funk. Breaking out of this is so hard and takes so long.

            Isn’t there somewhere I can order some Maturity and some Growth and A Good Relationship and have them delivered overnight????????

          3. Aww, Jack I’m sorry for the funk. I had one recently, too…Even when I stepped out of the circumstances I was in, that didn’t really change my mood and my mind. I was still on this sort of hunker down mode. But then I realized that this hunker down/withdrawal thing I was/am doing is really only exacerbating the mood. I’m not sure exactly what is causing your funk, but I’d like to encourage you to defy it. Go do something you enjoy tomorrow. Go watch a funny movie and laugh. Have you seen u practical jokers on Tru TV? I don’t know if that is your thing, but they have me rolling most of the time. ..
            I know that is harder said than done at times. But my thoughts are prayers are with you. I really enjoy your input and commentary and am really proud of you that you are doing this work. <3.

          4. somecallmejack

            Thank you. 🙂 I love this place and the people here! Merci mille fois!

          5. Sorry to chime in, but Impractical Jokers is one of the only things that keeps my anxiety on check. I watch it so much, my daughter asked if her punishment for something was going to be jumping out of a plane.

            They are the opposite of nature, but they are hilarious.

          6. Absolutely Molly! They are hilarious. I was sort of trapped in a hotel room with my two dogs for a few days so it was kind of sucked but I genuinely laughed (with tears, a time or two) at some of the stuff those guys did. I totally give them credit for keeping me sane! (I’d trade hilarious for mature most days of the week!)

          7. somecallmejack

            I think at least some of my funk is coming from my most recent reading, _Getting the Love You Want_ and _Receiving Love_, both by Hendrix and Hunt.

            _Getting the Love You Want_ was bad enough…in a good way…because among other things it made me realize how distant the goal is and how mired I am in my reptile brain. One particularly distressing thought is that I really have to accept responsibility for stating what I want in our relationship. Risky. Needly. Pushy. Insecure. Exposed. And lots of other things. I wonder: can I do this? I’m really not sure.

            _Receiving Love_, which I just started, gets off to an immensely troubling start in at least two ways. First, I totally suck at receiving even small gift and graces, let alone real love. Second, it’s chilling, and I really mean chilling, to read H&H talk about how after developing and using the Imago doctrines for 20 years they found themselves at the very brink of divorce. I mean, if those two can know what they know and do what they’ve done and do it for two decades and still nearly make a long red smudge on the highway…well, fill that in yourself. 🙁 I’m feeling very Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and I don’t mean the movie. Or maybe I do. Maybe I should go to Kabul, shake things up a bit…

          8. Jack,

            Though I am saddened by your pain, I love this comment of yours.
            (Let me guess, your emotional defenses jutted up, in a sneaky way, reading even this compliment from an internet stranger?)

            Hang in there, Jack. You’re doing such good and worthy work, whatever will happen with your marriage. Keep taking whatever baby step you can in whatever your best guess tells you is a good direction.

          9. 🙂 lol (go to Kabul to shake things up…).
            Re: reptilian brain: Yeah, we don’t stop feeling. A few things people that have experienced trauma are taught is to think about/recognize what it physically feels like when they start to get anxious. Know what is happening as it is happening. Then gradually, you can recognize the physical sensations and be aware, and start deep breathing, or ask for a time out, or just exit what ever situation is triggering you. When you get stronger you can learn to stand in the discomfort – whether it’s anger, or sadness or whatever. It becomes less overwhelming, and more your friend.
            I’ve not read either of those books, they do sound interesting, though.
            It doesn’t matter if your an “expert” or not – their reptilian brains jump in, too. It’s a difficult task – to endeavor to be partners with and love one person for life. But I think it can be done.:).
            Sorry if this isn’t making too much sense I’m maxed out and overloaded and should sign off.
            Peace to you!!

          10. I apologize for jumping in, especially at a late moment, but I am kind of reading up on this.

            I am a man, and regarding the “man card” vs. “depth of emotion”, I just want to quote a woman’s view on the subject, as she once expressed it over on, that kind of stuck with me.

            “Honey, I love you dearly. But when we wake up at night and hear strange noice from the kitchen, the last thing in the world I want to hear is that you are just as scared as I am.”

            Everyone, every single person, has to have someone who drop their “wants” to take care of their core needs. And if you don’t have someone else to do it for you, you have to do it yourself, or suffer the consequences for it. (Excuse my perhaps bad analogy, but I somtimes suck at written language.)

          11. “… waking up has increased the pain and frustration without providing any measurable gains.”

            I’m sorry to hear that. I expect it is difficult to remain motivated toward growth in that situation.

        2. And if many of those women who want him to stay on that white horse at all costs get any inkling of a ‘you should make an effort to stay attractive for him’ vibe they probably flip. I see it as the same pressure, differently applied, for men. ‘Be a man’ instead of ‘be sexy’ and it doesn’t do anyone any good.

          For me, the requirement for respect is act with honor and honesty. Which sometimes requires emotions and vulnerability. We (as society) keep talking about men needing to want more than sex, but then stomp on them when they try to communicate other needs. Granted, the case-by-case difference of earnest vs. avoiding shortcomings would come into play, but talk about a good way to get them to not say anything and quit listening to requests! ‘Yeah, right, not gonna catch me in that trap again!’

          I can’t fathom telling someone you supposedly love that you won’t respect them if they don’t keep ON a mask. Personally, that isn’t love. That’s manipulation and power play games. Avoiding shame is not going to be a solid foundation for a relationship. Changing who you are just to keep a relationship is also something I’ve never understood…I imagine that’s where a lot of the ‘I married a totally different person than whoever this is’ comes from because an act is never going to last forever.

          I’ll have to take a look at some Brene Brown stuff…sounds like she probably says things I think more eloquently than I could.

          1. Brene Brown is the schiznit. She accidently started researching shame, and what she found was sort of freeing for me. She also is a really great story teller so presents it in ways that can be understood and she’s just plain fun to listen to.
            I’m not that eloquent myself. I really appreciate the commenters here that can state things in such a clear, concise way. For me I’m trying to figure things out, and so sort of bumble my way through ideas. But, I think I walk away with a clearer understanding of things, and how I want to be able to respond to them as I recognize them in real life. ..
            I think even beyond the putting on the masks to make the other happy, there are more subtle things that can happen in a marriage….let me re-read the two categories and write back..I started writing it, but u want to make sure what I was thinking makes sense and actually applies. 🙂

          2. Ok, so this is what Matt said in regards to finding “who is responsible for what when some request is being made over and over again and it is not being met”..(my original question was what if the spouse legitimately can’t meet that need?)

            ” It’s way too subtle and requires vigilant communication and a mindful, willful desire to achieve a high level of bridged understanding with another person whose differences might frustrate you and create discomfort.

            There’s nothing easy about it. But it is simple.

            There are:

            Things That HURT. Actions or words that fundamentally cause pain and/or harm to others, and
            Things That Inconvenience or Conflict with Personal Preferences. Stuff a husband or wife WISHES were different, like how my ex-wife wished I liked skiing and house cleaning, and I wished she liked watching sports and playing poker.
            If a relationship’s survival depends on HURTFUL things coming to an end, then I perceive it to be largely on the shoulders of the person causing the pain to stop, or at minimum, to actively seek ways to minimize it because they love and respect the person they married.”

            I think Matt is an exceptional writer and thinker, but after reading this again and reading Shannon’s list (sorry to keep bringing it up, Shannon) it still seems to be confounded.
            Because those things that look like preferences to me can still cause pain in a marriage.
            But the constant bringing up of the subject causes JUST AS MUCH pain, …or can.

            So, to bring it back to what we were taking about, Rebekah, the belief that asking for “unconditional love”, or just being cared for as a person (“Hello! I’m drowning here! I’m exhausted, I am stressed about money and impressing my boss and if I screw up and am late again I’m going to hear about it for 45 min, before we don’t have sex, and I just can’t take it emotionally!”)… OK, so maybe not those exact words, but kind of sort of my drift..
            Basically, I would just hope that we could look at each other and see a human being. I don’t think people maliciously disappoint each other, at least not before a lot of resentments and contempt has set in.
            Rebekah, I think you and your husband are a lucky couple that you did take time to know each other as friend’s- without the romantic expectations.
            When you fall in love and believe this person is going to fulfill your wildest dreams and meet your every need you may feel duped when you find out who they really are.

          3. Ok, this turned into a kinda long post…didn’t start out this long but the ideas kind of got on a roll so some of this applies in response, some was sparked by thinking about all of this.

            The whole basis, as I understand it, of Matt’s blog is the idea that there are a few million metric tons of non-maliciously generated hurt/disappointment/sadness floating around. But unintentional doesn’t do anything to heal one tiny bit of it. And it is so difficult to step out of the emotions and frustration of having the same conversation for the millionth time and praying that the right combination of words and tone and body language finally sparks understanding. To continue to hold back the desire to retaliate rather than respond (may be splitting hairs there on usage/meaning). To take a long hard look in the mirror and ask ‘am I being reasonable about these things I want my partner to do/not do?’

            “requires vigilant communication and a mindful, willful desire to achieve a high level of bridged understanding with another person whose differences might frustrate you and create discomfort”

            So so so so true. One of his other articles talked about using discomfort as a red flag for ‘I need to think about this more.’ Your comment about lots of people behaving how they do because they fear losing the relationship ties into this, I think. ‘Avoid the tough conversations because what if we break up’ rather than ‘let’s figure out if we approach things similarly enough that we are compatible in life (not just bed). As you said, simple, but not the least bit easy to actually implement. No human likes to set aside self (especially when already hurt), and ask ‘what can I do to not cause hurt to this person I care about.’

            We were definitely lucky, but it wasn’t intentional to be friends before dating…we kind of stumbled into the romantic side of our relationship! We had an amazing friendship, discussed dating, decided not to because it wasn’t a good time for either of us, then became an official couple less than six months later. And the crazy thing is, even with that strong friendship as a foundation, there are things that are longstanding issues. Conversations that happen for the couple hundredth time. Things we each prefer the other would/n’t do. I can’t imagine how couples that don’t have that friendship deal with sex/parenting/job stress/extended family/fill in the blank!

            Other than choosing love. Over and over and over again by the week or day or minute if needed. Figuring out a way to express (and hear) frustration without being nasty or taking offense just because the other is frustrated. Learning to have the knee jerk response be ‘please clarify’ rather than ‘you don’t care.’ Coming to the table again and again with effort and empathy and honest emotion. Life is not a place where a sparkly-butterflies-in-your-stomach-type feeling is going to get you through any of the tough events. Those require a WE’RE choosing US, however much sweat it takes, kind of action.

          4. somecallmejack

            Me, too, esp this:

            “Figuring out a way to express (and hear) frustration without being nasty or taking offense just because the other is frustrated. Learning to have the knee jerk response be ‘please clarify’ rather than ‘you don’t care.’ Coming to the table again and again with effort and empathy and honest emotion. “

          5. ‘Other than choosing love. Over and over and over again by the week or day or minute if needed.”

            In other words, commitment for a lifetime. This may sound strange, but it is the same mentality used in addiction recovery: “One day at a time”.

      2. And actually, I should apologize if me mentioning it offended you. I wasn’t reading what you wrote correctly.

        1. No worries, reread it and I can see it wasn’t obvious if it was *my* view or *a* view the way I had it.

          Case in point…assume lack of ill will and ask for clarification. I love the comments area on this blog for exactly these interactions!

  12. Thank you for taking us on this journey of self-reflection of such a highly personal subject. It is really refreshing to read something so honest and thought-provoking. Especially for those who are married. I’ve read countless tips, do’s and dont’s throughout the years on marriage and there have been a few that have truly stuck that completely fall in line with this post.

    The subtle things REALLY DO matter way more than you realize, and things said in anger/with the intent to cause emotional harm are incredibly damaging to a relationship.I think anyone in any relationship can take these core concepts and apply them to their daily lives with their partner.

    Have you ever read anything by the Gottmans? They conducted a decade long study of marriages and were able to collect sufficient data to suggest that couples who fight isn’t a determinate of how long a relationship will last. All couples fight. What they found was a correlation with HOW the couples fought, with how long they lasted. The ones who were verbally abusive towards each other, said hurtful and hateful things, never lasted.

    Possible overshare… but I think its relevant here. Just as a test- me and my spouse decided to try to start giving each other compliments whenever were really annoyed with each other. And I cannot tell you… how hilarious it has been. For example: When my husband is cranky in the morning and doesn’t want to talk… rather than say “Leave me the **** alone” “He says…. “YOURE REALLY BEAUTIFUL!! ::eye twitching:: “I’m going to drink my coffee now”
    But strangely enough…. however silly it seems, it seems to work.
    Because I really think, words mean so much more than we realize. Once you say something truly hurtful, you can never take it back. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I love that! We have our ‘on notice’ and ‘help me out please’ phrases too and I think that is where the communication gets to a level where both parties can feel safe expressing AND hearing frustration without worrying about major problems coming just from the fact that one person is upset over something.

  13. So, just thinkin’ – if we replace the word spouse/partner with friend – do these difficulties and interactions change their flavour and personal intensity ? We all have these challenges with friends and coworkers and strangers. Does the fact that we can lock the door or ignore the phone and avoid the difficult places with others make them easier ?

    Imagine if life were like “Groundhog Day” – we get to start over, see the negative ripples we cause by our words and actions and try again the next day. And the next day. And the next day ? – oh, wait ….. we can ? or maybe I got a little too much sun today ?

    1. Absolutely I think the issues change. In part because we don’t spend as much time with a friend as we do a spouse. But also because a) sex adds messy emotions and b) as a society we tend to think of love as a feeling that should be easy if it is ‘real.’

      I think any relationship will remain superficial to the degree we avoid uncomfortable topics/discussions. Because that is when we are vulnerable and can really connect with another human. Intimacy IS sharing and discussing those vulnerabilities.

      We kind of do have Groundhog Day opportunities…every time a conversation comes up that covers ground for the millionth time! 😛

      Love being hard work is, I think, one of the biggest problems with how our society approaches relationships. ‘It should just happen,’ ‘real love is easy,’ ‘you shouldn’t have to force it.’ And there is some truth to these ideas…there should be some kind of connection that wants to happen. ONLY at the start. But cultivating that, forging a connection that will last through the tough, nasty stuff life throws at us? That is going to take grit and communication and sacrifice from both sides. To rephrase part of my comment in the discussion with Lindsey, sparkly butterflies are going to get pancaked when the rubber hits the road. Floaty feelings aren’t going to get a couple through anything. But knowing you’ve got a teammate who will put their shoulder down and work as hard as you, will take up the slack for a bit when you have to take a breather, will hold on with everything they’ve got and trusts you to do the same…that relationship will come through anything. Easy? Hell no. But well worth it.

  14. I’m going to tell ya, I think marriage is probably the hardest thing I have ever done. Married my husband after 5 weeks of dating, august will be 10 years. But most of all we have learned to be nice to each other

  15. True enough. But. It takes Two. If both partners adopt this approach, yay! If only one does, it’s hell. The way to be abused and lose your self-respect, which makes you useless.

  16. “If a relationship’s survival hinges on two people finding balance between personal preferences and conveniences, then I think it’s profoundly important that the two people love and respect one another enough to make damn sure these matters of disagreement DO NOT cause damage to one another.”

    If the survival of a relationship depends on finding that balance, then it’s little wonder that divorce is so common.

    “And when we marry someone, we are to give that love freely for the rest of our lives. But NOT when our marriage vows have been broken by someone who refused to give the love and empathy marriage requires.”

    I totally agree with the first sentence, but not the second. It makes the giving of love conditional, and, more importantly, it places the giver in sole control of determining the conditions, the acceptable behaviors, the judgment, and the sentence. If that’s the current understanding of marriage (and I think it is true for the vast majority), I’ll remain single and encourage others to do the same.

    The traditional(?) wedding vows are something like “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part”. I don’t see any conditions (except death) that must be met by the spouse. In fact, I see unconditional love explicitly stated, for example, “for better for worse”.

    As long as marriage is viewed by almost everyone as a relationship of convenience, then divorce will be common. Any proposed solution which does not address this core issue will be limited in its impact. Including, of course, husbands and wives ceasing to be shitty. Marriage depends on commitment for a lifetime, not the constantly changing feelings of the individuals.

    1. I wanted to respond above to “need” and “harm,” but that thread won’t hold anymore comments. What is missing in marriage isn’t unconditional love, but rather sacrificial love. We sacrifice everything for our marriage, finances, health,youth…mental health. I’m j/k.

      But seriously,we speak so much of our own needs, how the other person must meet our needs,and I keep wanting to ask,why are we so needy? And “harm” becomes another vague concept. Getting pregnant is a type of harm. Working a second job is a type of harm. Caring for a sick spouse is “harm.”

      It sounds appalling, but marriage is to consent to forgo your own needs and to endure harm. With any luck you can make it fun, it can be glorious, but our culture tends to approach marriage as if it were a net gain,a benefit,and than people get into it and realize it’s actually going to cost them rather than pay them, and we bail.

      1. “This just isn’t making me happy” kind of approach. Totally agree. But that won’t change until it becomes socially acceptable for guys to be emotionally open. So much of the discussion here talks about the giving, giving, giving of the wife, small requests being ignored or laughed at, and the well just running dry. If the other person isn’t signing up for the same thing you are, there is no team, no partnership to save.

        So how do we have a shift to where people ARE picking people who think of marriage the same way? Do have the uncomfortable conversations and end relationships with people where the long term just isn’t going to work? And stop thinking about divorce as the easy way out if ‘irreconcilable differences’ that were there from the start become too big to ignore?

        1. “So much of the discussion here talks about the giving, giving, giving of the wife, small requests being ignored or laughed at, and the well just running dry.”

          I’m always trying to figure out why the wife is so busy “giving,giving,giving?” I think that is one place where women go wrong,both the busyness and the endless giving. Where does a husband fit in if she is doing it all? Also,the very act of “giving,giving,giving,” puts your eyes on yourself rather than on receiving what another person has to offer.

          I actually don’t believe guys are ever going to be “that” emotionally open, because I’m not sure it’s even healthy to be that emotionally open. I know I can’t meet someone’s emotional needs to that degree and I know I’d go completely insane if I had to live with someone who just ran the well dry with all their giving. How do you compete with that? How do you fit into it? Why would you want too? It feels exhausting already and a bit neurotic.

      2. “It sounds appalling, but marriage is to consent to forgo your own needs and to endure harm.”

        For what?
        What is the “higher purpose” of marriage that you are supposed to forgo your own needs and endure harm for?

        If it is for the betterment of the relationship, and/or the family as a whole to strive, then yes, I can agree that one must forgo *some* of their own needs. But not all of them, because what relationship is served by a person who is expected to work themselves to unhappiness and/or bad health?

        But, as it sometimes sounds around here (in the comments and sometimes even in the articles) is it really a requirement of marriage that one is supposed to forgo their own needs and endure harm, for the sole happiness and prosperity of their spouse?
        I most certainly think not!

    2. I think that’s fair.

      It’s hard sometimes to write as precisely as I should have here.

      You’re right. I completely agree with you, BUT I’m trying to account for the situations where one spouse gives and gives and allows themselves to be abused or taken advantage of to the detriment of their mental (and sometimes physical) health, or their children’s.

      I can’t possibly covet ever imaginable abusive scenario, but I believe spouses have a moral obligation to remove themselves and their children from those types of relationships.

      Yes. We have to rely on the inviduals’ subjective judgment. And we’re not always going to agree with that conclusion.

      What I think “breaking marriage vows” looks like might look totally different to you. I get that.

      I’m mostly with you on this. But we have to account for the abused spouses who SHOULD leave. Those may be rare situations. But that second sentence you disagreed with was merely attempting to account for them.

      1. “But NOT when our marriage vows have been broken by someone who refused to give the love and empathy marriage requires.”

        “But we have to account for the abused spouses who SHOULD leave. Those may be rare situations. But that second sentence you disagreed with was merely attempting to account for them.”

        Thanks for providing the clarification. I am also opposed to abuse. Unfortunately, the definition of abuse is quite subjective, and has, in my opinion, been broadened excessively. When unilateral subjectivity becomes the standard for determining needs, harm, abuse, etc., it becomes extremely difficult to maintain, much less improve, a marriage. However, commitment to the marriage provides a foundation that does allow the marriage to continue. In other words, commitment is the key to successful marriage.

  17. “But that won’t change until it becomes socially acceptable for guys to be emotionally open. So much of the discussion here talks about the giving, giving, giving of the wife, small requests being ignored or laughed at, and the well just running dry.”

    So, the men are the only ones at fault? Yes, much of the discussion here does support that perspective. (It’s rather like a mutual admiration society; those who disagree are told that they don’t understand, they’re ignorant of the truth, etc. Not surprisingly, this leads to a rather one-sided view.) As long as that mentality persists, I doubt that there will be much change in society’s perception of marriage, or even in the perception of most of the unmarried men.

    As to your questions, I am quite confident that marriage will not magically become generally attractive to men if they are told that men are at fault for almost all marriage problems. I think moving to Christian beliefs and opposing feminist beliefs would be a good start to positive change, but I doubt there is any likelihood of that happening.

    1. I’m not sure I’m with you on ‘men are totally at fault’ being the attitude here. I read it as Matt saying his behavior is what he could change so he focuses on what he did wrong. I think it is honorable to not bash his ex-wife, though he does acknowledge she wasn’t perfect. In the comments, there is a lot of ‘how can I be HEARD?’ and how to communicate better kind of discussion.

      Regarding your comment above on the ‘nobody wants to marry someone like that’ expectations…I was a woman who wouldn’t settle. I wasn’t going to commit to someone who wasn’t committed to the same thing. I didn’t walk around shouting that, but it was an underlying factor for me.

      I would think guys would like women who have a clear idea what they are looking for and communicate that. No surprises. Now I’m sure there are some women who have a three mile long checklist for a ‘perfect mate’ that they want, and you can easily stray into unreasonable territory. But most approaches can be used well or unreasonably when talking relationship stuff.

      Exactly which Christian beliefs and feminist beliefs are you talking about? There are quite a few differing representations for both of those concepts.

      1. On the “men are totally at fault” idea, I ask that you keep your eyes open on what is written in the posts and comments here. If you do, you might come to agree.

        Maybe you didn’t settle, but I’m supposing you did not have the expectations Mandy Hale has.

        I’m not sure that men care if a woman communicates what she wants. That’s because actions speak louder than words, and it’s not unusual for women’s behavior to be contrary to what they say they want.

        Christian beliefs? Marriage is a lifetime commitment with extremely limited divorce possibilities.

        Feminist beliefs? Being a wife is less important than a career. Being a mother is less important than being true to yourself. “I don’t need no man!” A wife’s career is just as important as a husband’s career. A woman should get a college education and establish her career before getting married, and have children only when all of the above criteria have been met. A wife is absolutely equal to a husband in the marriage.

        1. I agree with you on marriage being for life. Sorry for the repetition, but that is why expecting the same thing from marriage is so important and it is vital to find a partner that has the same view.

          As for the commenters here, healthy people don’t go to the doctor. I stumbled on the blog and ‘there but for the grace of God…’ definitely applies. If my husband weren’t willing to listen and discuss issues that come up, he wouldn’t be upholding his vows. Also, I wouldn’t be upholding mine if I made a big deal over every tiny thing that bothered me at all.

          But a women feeling unheard (and acknowledging she isn’t perfect either) will be attracted to a blog like this because, per his posts, Matt did a lot of the same things that she may be dealing with from her husband. It is an honest seeking for how to communicate that he is not doing what he promised to do. Of course there will be people who just want to complain, but those aren’t names that show up repeatedly.

          Feminist stuff. (Here’s where I hate typing…no voice inflection/tone/body language for additional meaning. So this is neutral body language and calm tone…no snark/sarcasm involved.) Why would a wife’s career be not as important? There are couples where the husband stays home and the wife works (for many reasons). What is wrong with college/career before marriage and delaying children? When you say a wife is equal to a husband in the marriage, but those other things are less important I’m seeing a mixed message, at least how I’m reading it.

          1. On the mixed message in “feminist stuff”, I think you misunderstand something. All of those items are what I consider to be feminist thinking; I do not agree with any of it.

            As to the husband and wife being equal in the marriage, I am thinking of the egalitarian concept. In my opinion, husbands and wives are equal in value, but have different roles in the marriage.

            As to the rest of those ideas, I don’t want to get into details at this time. It is too far from the general topic of the post.

          2. I get that you disagree, I was asking why. But I can see where we’re wandering a ways off of the original topic.

          3. For some of those, it’s because I think the behavior contravenes biblical commands and principles, and, for others, because I think the consequences are either non-biblical behavior (sin), or the consequences are undesirable or unwanted.

            An example of the last: It’s my understanding that the likelihood of a child having physical problems from genetic issues increases with the age of the mother at birth. So, having children later leads to a greater probability of these issues. That is undesirable for the child, and, I believe, increases the likelihood of divorce.

            I presume you believe that almost all of the changes effected as a result of feminism are completely positive. I disagree, believing that, while there has been some good resulting from feminism, there is much that is detrimental both to women and to society. Outcomes may seem good on the surface, but the full impact is often actually negative, especially in the long term.

          4. You would actually be wrong in that presumption. For me, and I’m getting the impression for you as well, the reason for an opinion matters. If someone doesn’t like feminism because they think a woman’s place is in the kitchen then I have zero interest engaging because it would be a waste of energy. But I’m willing to chat all day with someone who has a reasoned argument, whether or not I agree.

            I believe wholeheartedly that it is a good thing for women to have a choice whether to get an education. Marriage not being the only option is a good thing, for those who don’t want to marry and have children. I have mixed feelings about couples who both have a career and put children in daycare…it can be a loving situation, but I personally feel it is probably better for kids to be with family.

            At first glance, it doesn’t make sense to me for women to build a career (during her most fertile period of life) only to put it on hold for children later. But I’m not going to take that choice away. Especially if I can’t do anything about underlying reasons for why that situation is appealing (get to a high enough position that she has a paycheck/a flexible enough job to be able to have a family and the job she loves). The mentat side of my brain (Dune reference if you aren’t a sci fi fan) says the biologically sensible thing to do is young 20s female marries career-established male, has kids, then gets training for whatever career interests her. But it is too easy to say there’s no point in her getting an education then…which we only recently moved away from. So I’m not sure what the solution is, other than society shifting to make it easier for fathers to be involved too (just being a paycheck is a crap way to treat someone) and valuing the work that child caretakers do so that moms who stay at home (even, or especially, if they are college-educated) aren’t given the ‘just a mom’ lines.

          5. Somewhere along the way, humans decided to invent currency, and then convinced everyone that acquiring as much currency (and/or possessions) as possible is goal of the Game of Life (thanks, Hasbro!).

            The state of marriage and family in 2017 was always INEVITABLE if the way we measure our self-worth or life success is in terms of financial or material wealth.

            Because, let’s be honest. The majority of people who pursue education are not pursuing knowledge for the sake of knowledge (because we can all get that for free on the internet and from the bookshelves of our public libraries).

            People pursue education because that’s the perceived ticket to careers that reward us with the most money.

            Until the day comes where humanity chooses to value health, family, shared experience, and the quality of their relationships–romantic or otherwise–more than the pursuit of wealth, I think we’re likely to keep having this problem.


  18. This is ridiculous.

    I think it shows that Matt is grasping at straws, becoming shaken in his perspective and desperately trying to hold together his belief.

    Why is he so determined to blame himself? And to blame men?

    It’s like he wants to know for certain what the problem was, so that it doesn’t happen again in the future. If he takes the blame for the failed marriage, then it’s in his control. He can prevent it from happening again by just fixing himself.

    The public blog is a need for validation. Agree with me that it’s my fault. He needs to convince himself of this entirely, so that his anxiety about future rejection will go away.

    I think he wasn’t a shitty husband.

    And I don’t think accepting all blame and placing women above him will help future relationships either… probably, they will be just as likely to fail.

    Counseling? The blog is not the answer. It gets him further from the truth. It’s like when women talk to their girlfriends about relationship issues. It generally goes like this: They offer a skewed perspective. Their girlfriends want to make them feel better and also want to complain about their own situations (and not accept blame), so they support the woman in justifying her behavior. They blast their husbands to one another and have a big pity party. So much of the time it’s complete bullshit. And I think it helps ruin marriages. I’ve seen spoiled, domineering wives complain about what a victim they are, while they snub their husbands, talk down to them, deny them sex for months and months, belittle them in front of friends, guilt-trip them, etc.

    Matt goes on here and gets all the validation e needs. All these women seeking to justify their own behavior and tell themselves “yeah, it’s all him!” are more than happy to agree. Girlfriends gabbing. Matt is not helping marriages. He’s contributing to women digging in their heels and refusing to compromise or find common ground. Not everyone, of course, and some men are awful, but in general I believe this is what Matt is doing.

    1. Sort of in response to Ella, and just becasue I am still awake…why does it always feel like there are a group of kids on the playground playing with frogs and rocks and stuff, then here comes a group of bad-ass big wheelers breaking in to tell us we’re doing it wrong, and that their way of playing with frogs and rocks and stuff is the right way?

      1. I think Matt is really on the right track here. Let’s imagine he were the victim of say emotional abuse. Even in that case than the best thing he could do is “to take the blame for the failed marriage, then it’s in his control. He can prevent it from happening again by just fixing himself.” Because that’s how you heal,that’s how you set yourself free, that’s how you avoid the trap of perpetual victimhood.

        Even if we are a saint, a perfect spouse, we are still a saint who chose a really crappy spouse. That says something about who we are and the kind of decisions we make and how we may have sold ourselves short.

        But speaking of “harm,abuse” being somewhat subjective,I really believe it can be.
        I know a woman caring for a husband who has had multiple strokes, dementia. He’s a real jerk, and yet it’s not his fault, and he’s not going to change. We’ve finally managed to convince her she needs some respite care, that this is abuse. She couldn’t accept it because he’s ill, so no malevolence no abuse. But it doesn’t really matter, she’s still being abused. Conversely however, there are other people who perceive every little thing as abuse,like failing to praise them properly. So even “harm and abuse” can live in this very subjective place. We as people tend to have knee jerk reaction to the very words, because we want people safe,we want to steer off danger. But we have to find a way to stay somewhat objective about it all.

        1. I get where your coming from here. But, I still think the results can be measured. It doesn’t matter what you call it – when a person becomes unable to function, knowing they functioned/viewed the world/ has a greater sense of we’ll being in different circumstances, you can say the present circumstances are cause a disfunction. And that to me is harm.

          1. “…you can say the present circumstances are cause a disfunction..”

            Perhaps I just have a more jaded sense of humor than you, Lindsay. Circumstances are often a cause of disfunction. I do wish people would just point me to this easy street where well being rules. 🙂

          2. I am assuming some level of previous functioning (relatively…no one “masters” life, I don’t think)..and I know there is large population that grew up in disfunction (I know I did), and I likely do still carry a lot of those issues with me. I have worked through enough that I do feel good about my life, my self, the world etc. That I think I have fairly steady sense of well being. Unless of course I have to do things that are scary and challenging..(I had to tell a potential.employer my honest boundaries around work. That was anxiety producing, then I had to face all the self condemnation when I didn’t get hired at that particular place. …I mean, there was a lot of condition and second guessing myself. But I got hired at a place that does accept my boundaries, so it worked out. )
            There will always be things that can cause us to flip back to old stories/dysfunctional patterns ect. But wellbeing really is a practice that gets easier and more constant with time.

          3. “I had to tell a potential employer my honest boundaries around work.”

            That reminds of a cartoon that I found funny. It went like this:

            Interviewer: Tell me about your greatest weakness.

            Jobseeker: I’m too honest.

            Interviewer: I don’t consider honesty to be a weakness.

            Jobseeker: I don’t care what you think!

    2. You have some interesting thoughts. Some of it I agree with, some of it I don’t.

      “I think he wasn’t a shitty husband.”

      Maybe he was, but I don’t think he was nearly as shitty as he seems to believe. For some reason I cannot determine, he seems to think that any amount of shittiness is sufficient to justify divorce.

    3. Ella – I think your comments are little too harsh but I see and relate to many of the themes you mention. I like Matt’s writing style and his choice of topics. I get that he is taking accountability for his actions and inaction. I have posted a few times without much response and all go something like this; “where is the wife’s responsibility in all this?” For 15 years I have been trying to work at being “better”…a better husband, better father, better person, etc. My wife is a nice person and does a lot, but she refuses to see that I give and do a lot as well. She does not think she does much of anything “wrong” and so the only changes to be made have to come from me. This is a common theme on this site and Ella is correct, the fault is almost primarily put on the males for not fulfilling the wives wants and needs. And this is not to say the wife’s wants and need are not 100% legit. I agree that most are. I just do not see all these nearly perfect wives (as portrayed in these comments) in my marriage or that of any of my friends and families. Why are a husband’s wants and needs not in consideration, at least not nearly to the same degree as a wife’s?

      1. Nate. Thanks for the comment.

        I’ll say this as simply as I can. I’m writing about ME, and very specifically what I think I know based on experience, observation, and conversations.

        I can only deal in that universe. I cannot get inside the hearts and minds of others.

        I think I see a laundry list of “Common Male Behaviors” that are largely responsible for negatively affecting a relationship, and are fundamentally a part of the cycles that break marriage.

        These are NOT character attacks.

        These are observations about what’s happening. I’m sure most of the people are doing it by accident, and I write that all the time.

        I was doing it by accident.

        My conclusion is that if I DIDN’T do those things, I would still be married today.

        My conclusion is that if these other guys out here doing all these same Common Male Behaviors were to achieve a level of awareness about their negative impact on marriage, most of them would stop doing them. They’re not doing them to be assholes. They’re just doing them thoughtlessly.

        But thoughtless negligence destroys love and families.

        I’m totally confident that women and wives do all kinds of shitty things too. Some of them are quite obvious, and I’m comfortable talking about them. The subtle stuff? The “thoughtless” stuff they might do? I have incomplete data.

        I’m of the opinion that most of the Common Female Behaviors that are happening in the average divorce scenario are REACTIONS to these thoughtless things men are doing.


        If we ever get to a point where men are collectively kicking ass in marriage, and we can’t make a laundry list of 10 things the average derpy-derp husband does that drives his wife insane and/or hurts her emotionally… THEN I think we can fairly evaluate how the average wife might damage her marriage, and hurt her partner.

        I think if we all simply take responsibility for our own shit (no pointing fingers or making excuses) and work to be the best we can be at OUR THINGS, personally and professionally, then we’re going to be able to make a bunch of progress.

        If people want to be victims and point fingers at others for their life problems, then we’ll continue to struggle advancing toward a place where we’re collectively better at navigating these life situations, and achieving better outcomes than shitty divorces.

        1. Matt,
          “I think if we all simply take responsibility for our own shit (no pointing fingers or making excuses) and work to be the best we can be at OUR THINGS, personally and professionally, then we’re going to be able to make a bunch of progress.”

          You do your thing. But I’ve read some of your posts about “I was a shitty husband” where most if not all of the comments were from different women pointing out how they got fed up by their husband or XH behaving shitty in different orders of magnitude.

          And I think that was kind of Ella’s point, regarding the finger pointing.

  19. somecallmejack

    On the theme of spouses hurting each other, I would like to note that even two incredibly loving, committed, evolved, “conscious” people who live together are going to hurt each other, and probably fairly often. It just happens. Mostly unintentionally, but even this pair will occasionally do something hurtful on purpose.

    The difference is being committed to doing and being better, to promoting and nurturing the “we” between us, and to growing in love and repairing the tears and ruptures quickly and effectively (and, I suppose, learning from them).

    And there are two sides to every interaction of this type – there should be a commitment to assuming that your partner (or anyone else, by the way – people at work, people at the grocery store, people on the road) acted with a positive intention rather than the intent to hurt or harm you.

    All far easier said than done…

    1. Yup. Human. Imperfect. Therefore sometimes the hurt/frustration/exasperation hijacks your tongue and something stupid/hurtful comes out. Then you take a breath or ask for a couple minutes to get yourself under control and try again.

      For the ‘derpy’ stuff, the verbiage we’ve come to is ‘When you do x, the reaction I have to fight is y’ or ‘my kneejerk to that is ___ so let me set that aside before I respond.’ That way you actively recognize the message received was probably not intentional, but still alerts to the fact that miscommunication is happening and mental energy is being wasted.

  20. Sydney Mathis

    Wow. So many good thoughts and points brought up in this post. Favorite line, “And because I was trained from a really young age that we treat ACCIDENTS radically differently than we treat INTENTIONAL harm and destruction…” I actually brought up this topic to my relationship adviser at Wekaw Advisors and we had such a good conversation about my marriage and just life in general. Always love these thought provoking posts!

  21. Matt, Have you heard of Emerson Eggerichs? His claim to fame is the book Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs. Based on Ephesians 5:33, he teaches that a key to a good marriage is that husbands love their wives, and that wives respect their husbands.

    If you should look into it, I’d be interested in your perception of the concept.

  22. Yeah, finding out when to listen and when to kind of do the least is a struggle, and you can never know when someones at their last ebb of amore, agape, warm feelings, for you, as the person often on the other end of this (the person ignored, dismissed, not helped, presumed to be able to do all the heavy lifting, expected to plead for love), my advice is to listen to when someone says “This is a problem” and maybe probe for more, or even get them to get help outside of you (if the problem is emotional, or mental). I 100% would’ve been okay with people in my past telling me to go else where for help if they couldn’t deal with it, and if its “helping around the house” it’s as important.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Matt Fray

Get my latest writing!

Sign up for my free weekly email newsletter as I continue an on-going exploration of love and relationships.
%d bloggers like this: