You’re Right, Guys—You Can’t Make Women Happy

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unhappy wife
(Image/Moldova Christina)

Listen to audio version of this post here.

A common complaint among married men is feeling like their wives are always complaining about something—that they’re never happy for long and that nothing he does ever seems to be good enough for her.

I remember feeling that way for a few years before spending the final 18 months of my marriage sleeping in the guest room until she finally left for good.

I’m a pretty nice guy and most people seem to like me, and because of that, I always believed and acted as if she was the one with the problem.

I know how frustrating it feels to exchange your bachelorhood for a lifelong commitment to love someone else, only to be told over and over again that you’re doing it wrong.

I know how much it hurts to want your spouse to want you back when they clearly don’t.

I know what it feels like to want to die when they move out and choose some asshole stranger over you after a dozen years together.

Those are honest and real feelings I experienced in the months between her driving away permanently with our preschool-aged son in the backseat, and a court magistrate nullifying our marriage.

Because I hadn’t yet learned the critical life lesson that we can’t and shouldn’t always trust ourselves, I was confident that my interpretation of my marriage and wife’s choice was accurate. That, for whatever my marital shortcomings and mistakes might have been, in the final analysis she was MORE wrong for quitting on our family.

After all, I was happy being married to her. If she would have just stopped finding stuff to get pissed about, it would have been awesome.

But she was hard to please. She was ungrateful. She was the one with the problem.

It’s Not Your Fault, Guys—No One Taught Us Differently

The notion that “girls are crazy” or that women are “stuck-up bitches” or “hard to understand” or “always finding something new to complain about,” isn’t something me and my friends invented. We heard men and older boys and TV telling us these things.

Collectively, men are FAR from innocent victims in all this. But I have no doubt that MOST guys grew up believing this narrative—because situations with crying girlfriends, angry mothers, and stories from their guy friends about their experiences with girls/women seemed to reinforce these beliefs.

That girls/women are too emotional.

That they’re crazy and irrational.

Thought exercise: If you honestly believe a person you’re talking to is capable of temporary moments of insanity where they become hyper-emotional and their judgment becomes clouded to the point where they’re “wrong” or “misjudging” a situation, how do you handle a disagreement with them?

Most guys are set up from childhood to not only believe (as most everyone does) that our first-person experiences and emotional interpretations of them are a reliable guide for determining right and wrong, but many of us also believe that our girlfriends and wives are WRONG when they react emotionally to something we say or do, and during arguments.

I thought my wife frequently overreacted to something she was upset about.

I left a dirty dish by the sink, and she decided she wanted to argue about it. I thought it was irrational to elevate a dirty dish to a marriage problem.

And because I believed my wife to be irrational, I believed she was wrong.

Because I believed she was wrong, I was never really motivated to change.

She’s the one with the problem.

The Danger of Not Recognizing the Difference Between “Trying to Make Her Happy” and “Not Hurting Her”

A lot of people read my most-popular articles—either “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” or “An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands”—and sometimes afterward men will tell me what a stupid dumbass moron I am because of whatever I wrote.

They think I’m advocating for men to start selling out and doing whatever they can to placate their wives so she won’t want to leave. To “make her happy.” They think I wrote that all men are dicks who deserve to be left and all women are victims who never make mistakes in their marriages.

I recognize these guys right away now—the ones still wearing the blinders they inherited from childhood. The ones that taught them that women are often crazy and wrong. The ones that might have even taught them that men are somehow better than women.

They confuse my message of “Stop hurting her” with “Do whatever the little missus wants and worship her no matter what,” and it’s sad because they and their families will inevitably suffer for it, but it makes sense to me because maybe I would have had a similar reaction back when I was still blaming everything on my wife.


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Let the record show that this isn’t intended to be gender-specific. This dysfunctional conversation/argument dynamic can just as easily exist in a role-reversal scenario in relationships that look differently than mine did. But this is generally the kind of relationship I see and hear about most, and the kind I lived through.

The one where husbands and wives get caught in a Man vs. Woman vortex, and slowly hurt one another repeatedly for many years until their marriage fails.

Not from any one moment. In isolation, none of these past arguments seemed like a big deal as they were happening. Certainly not marriage-enders.

None of these moments were scary enough to trip the emergency alarms. Marriages have fights! You just get over it and move on! No big deal!

Until one day the pile of No-Big-Deal arguments gets so big that the floor collapses beneath you, and everything falls apart.

Most marriages don’t end because of something big and dramatic like a gunshot or bomb explosion.

Most marriages end from bleeding out after being paper cut to death. One, even 10, paper cuts aren’t that scary. But after tens of thousands, maybe you bleed so much that you die.

The #1 Thing That Ends Relationships

I believe, when you strip away all of the bullshit and psychobabble, that one idea sums up why more than half of all relationships fail:

Men frequently demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to recognize the pain they cause their wives or girlfriends and then fail to intentionally adjust the behavior to stop hurting them.

Empathy can often be hard for people to exhibit when we don’t relate to nor understand what someone else is going through.

His wife is telling him that something he is doing HURTS her—not unlike him punching her in the face or stabbing her with a knife.

Only the smallest percentage of men would ever actually punch or stab the woman he loves. The VAST majority of men take seriously their role as “protector,” regardless of whether his wife or girlfriend needs protecting.

“I would never hurt you,” men say to their wives or girlfriends.

He says it over and over again, and believes it with all of his heart. He’s being totally serious and genuine.

This situation his wife or girlfriend is describing during this most recent silly argument is too ridiculous to be taken seriously.

She’s overreacting again. Making a federal case out of something that doesn’t matter. She’s saying this HURTS her? No way.

I don’t care when she leaves a piece of laundry on the bedroom floor, so how could it HURT her when I do it?

I don’t care whether she gives me a gift for our wedding anniversary, so how could it HURT her when I forget to do it?

I don’t care when she forgets something at the grocery store, so how could it HURT her when I do it?

I don’t care about Valentine’s Day and think it’s stupid that people make a big deal out of it, so how could it HURT her when I don’t agree to treat the day the same way she wants to?

I felt like my wife was getting lightly hit with a pillow but responding emotionally as if I was swinging a bat at her.

And I thought that was CRAZY.

I thought she was wrong.

I thought she was hard to please.

I thought she was acting like an ungrateful bitch for acting like nothing I did was good enough for her.

My wife thought I was either hurting her on purpose, or cared so little about her that I was refusing to change any of my behaviors that might help her.

When you tell someone that something within their control is HURTING you, and they not only demonstrate an unwillingness to stop, but also are telling you that you’re too dumb, too crazy, too WRONG to know what’s real and not real—what do you do?

Stay calm?

Put on a happy face and pretend everything is okay?

Decide to carry on as an intimate partner to the person who hurts you more than anyone else, and seems unwilling to stop?

Bad news, guys: You CAN’T make your wife or girlfriend happy no matter how hard you try. Not because they’re hard to please, but because all people must make peace with themselves before they can ever feel content and comfortable in their own skin. Until then, we’re all just fumbling around in the dark breaking shit.

But you CAN stop hurting her when she says “Hey. When you do that, it hurts me.” You can stop hurting her by treating her as if she’s insane for feeling hurt by something just because that same thing might not hurt you. You can stop hurting her by continuing to do whatever the thing is that she says is hurting her because you don’t respect her enough or take her seriously enough to eliminate the pain-causing behavior.

I’d like to see what happens when a sad and angry wife or girlfriend tells her husband or boyfriend about something that’s hurting her, and instead of telling her she’s dumb and crazy, he apologizes sincerely, and moves forward giving his best effort to not let that happen again.

I want to know how many of THOSE wives and girlfriends go “looking for something else to complain about.” I want to know how many of THOSE husbands and boyfriends feel disrespected and mistreated by a wife who never makes him feel like he’s good enough.

When you reduce your wife or girlfriend to a stupid, nagging bitch while she’s privately bleeding from hundreds of papercuts you’ve already forgotten about and never apologized for, maybe it makes sense for her to try a dramatic, emotional outburst to get your attention.

When you dismiss her plea for help repeatedly, maybe it makes sense for her to remove herself from the relationship in order to preserve her health and wellbeing.

And just maybe, when you take responsibility for the pain you might have accidentally caused, respect your partner enough to listen and believe her when she tells you about it, and LOVE her enough to make sure the painful thing stops happening—just maybe that’s where marital peace and healing live.

Just maybe that’s how you get to ‘Til death do us part.

I wouldn’t know, because I never actually considered that I might be wrong about her, and that I was not only capable of hurting her, but that I actually was.

I wouldn’t know, because I never actually took any responsibility during our marriage for hurting my wife. I never apologized, then followed it up with a behavioral change that would allow her to trust me again.

I wouldn’t know, because my marriage and family fell apart despite my insistence that nothing was wrong. My marriage and family fell apart long before I ever developed the humility necessary to ask the right questions.

If my wife repeatedly hurt me and every time I told her about it she blew me off and told me I could expect her to keep doing so, would I really agree to stay in the marriage?

Is it possible that the same situation can hurt one person, and not another?

If I was hurting my wife and she couldn’t trust me or feel safe with me anymore because I told her a hundred times that she was crazy and mistaken instead of believing her, wasn’t she SMART and WISE to reluctantly end our marriage?

It took many years, but the truth eventually hit me hard.

I’m not divorced because my wife was hard to please or that she felt I was never good enough for her. I’m divorced because when my wife told me something was wrong, I treated her like a second-class mental patient and all but promised to never change.

Sometimes I wonder what might have happened had I not.

Instead of wondering, maybe you can actually find out.

Isn’t she worth it? Aren’t you?

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465 thoughts on “You’re Right, Guys—You Can’t Make Women Happy”

  1. very true… my daughters tell me all the time how their husbands don’t take them seriously when there is an issue, such as that dirty glass he always leaves by the sink or the other husband that always leaves his empty soda bottle on the counter instead of in the recycle bin that is only two feet away no matter how many times she asks him too!! I can see this all very clearly, hope their husbands do to before it is too late!! Thanks for this writing, wonderfully done!!

    1. I can see it pretty clearly now too, and I think it’s the scariest thing in the world.

      This kind of thing seems so common and innocuous that the majority of people — especially the guys leaving a soda bottle on the counter or whatever, never recognize the danger.

      The most dangerous things aren’t things that look dangerous. The most dangerous things are disguised as stuff that doesn’t matter and that no one needs to worry about.

      That’s what this is.

      1. you are so right!! I hope other guys really pay attention to your words! both of these husbands in question do not see the problem, they, as you did, think the girls are just being bitchy….

        1. There is a terrifying amount of similarity among troubled relationships. It’s shocking how little it’s discussed publicly, and how little we are collectively doing to teach young people how to do it better.

      2. “The most dangerous things aren’t things that look dangerous. The most dangerous things are disguised as stuff that doesn’t matter and that no one needs to worry about.”

        Oh, man. Scary true.

  2. I’m in the exact same boat. Mediation starts on Wednesday. I did many of the same things and when I finally figured it out, due to the word “divorce” it was too late. Not only that, but I got emotionally unstable as we lived together for the last 11 months: begging, pleading, apologizing. Not a good look. Then, she overheard me saying things to people that caused her lack of trust in me to erode to nothing. I failed to protect and cherish her. Now, she’s said some truly ugly things to me over the course of the last year; things I never thought I’d hear from my beautiful wife’s mouth. Personal things. Hearing how badly you’ve hurt someone expressed in such a manner is difficult to take. No amount of empathetic listening and validation is going to right the ship at that point. I took my lumps at first, assuring myself that it was penance and that she just needed to let go of that anger to find the love underneath the pain. Surely, she still loved me after 18 years? Well, she never found that love again. She moved into the spare bedroom in September and took off her ring in October. Told me to find someone else in November and here we are starting the divorce in February. Exactly one year since the time the “D” word was first mentioned. To say I am devastated is an understatement. Sometimes it seems like she is not the same person; like she’s been taken over by an alien who has no compassion for me. But maybe, she lived with the same alien in me for years…

    1. You’re describing my life five years ago.

      And I really did feel like dying (slight hyperbole), so I can appreciate how much worse you actually feel than just a word like “devastated.”

      I felt like I couldn’t breathe and like I’d never feel like myself again.

      I’m very sorry you’re going through this right now. For many of us, it’s so much harder than most people around you realize.

      Ironically, THAT is what taught me empathy. Hurting that bad while everyone else carried on. They acted normal and laughed while I secretly fought angry tears.

      And now I understand that a single moment or incident can be experienced so differently by two different people.

      Just maybe, the worst thing that ever happened to me actually saved my life.

      Wishing you, when you’re ready, the same experience. Thanks for reading and commenting, Damon.

      1. Matt,
        I’ve said it to you before; I believe, had I seen your site years ago, I probably wouldn’t have seen myself in your story. Despite the lack of intimacy and the distance that begin to grow between us. The way I would retreat into video games, Twitter and politics. The way she would go to our room alone, kept company only by our cats. Neither of us were meeting each others needs, and resentment and contempt began to grow, although it was imperceptible at first. I still look back at Christmas and birthday cards and old emails and texts: they look like they were exchanged between two individuals very much in love. However, to hear my wife tell it now, she was long gone at least 5 to 6 years ago. She only stayed because of our daughter. I’ve even seen in a few of those emails the possibility to turn this around, IF I HAD ONLY LISTENED. My point is: if you are a husband lucky enough to find yourself here and you’re not in the horrible position that is being described, take a good, hard look at your situation and yourself. It’s too easy to pass by sites like this and think “That’s not me.” But it could be. And you can avert disaster if you recognize it before it’s too late. I loved my wife. I loved marriage. I loved us as a family. I allowed myself to become complacent and selfish, concerned only with my own hurt and unmet needs. Never did I consider that my needs were unmet because hers weren’t being met. Why did I wait until the end to educate myself on all the great knowledge by the Gottmans? Why did I wait until the end to find a site like this? I would give anything if my wife would allow me to show her what I’ve learned. Instead, I will need to use it in my next relationship, even though she was the one who deserved my full attention, sacrifice and protection. Again, if you find yourself here, and you aren’t in the black hole created by the absence of emotional connection from the most important person in your life, heed everything that is being said here. You will NEVER want to go through this traumatic experience. The regret of knowing it could have been averted is even worse than the process of experiencing it.

  3. I relate to this so closely that it could be MY husband writing it, but sadly he’ll never understand until I am gone.
    Even then, I’m not sure the doof has the capacity to think beyond himself to see it.

    1. I’m sorry, Jane. I understand why you’d feel that way and I hope for his sake that you’re mistaken about what he’s capable of.

    2. Jane, I feel like we are in the same place. I’m doing all I can to bring it to his attention, but he thinks he’s ‘fine’, ho why should he do any work, right?

  4. This!

    As my first marriage was disintegrating, I insisted that we go to counseling. I was desperately unhappy and my husband’s response was to tell the counselor, “Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s fine. She’s crazy!”

    Okay … let’s posit for a moment that I actually was crazy. Don’t you think that constitutes a problem?! I moved out a month later.

    1. I don’t mean to “Like” what happened to you. I just appreciate when people can relate to similar experiences because I think it can sometimes influence someone in a position to fix something that’s broken.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. “I’m divorced because when my wife told me something was wrong, I treated her like a second-class mental patient and all but promised to never change.”

    You’ll get no argument from me, Matt. I am “insanitybytes,” the avatar of a thousand paper cuts, the lament of so many women labeled crazy, silenced, not heard

    My marriage is pretty good today, but the few times it’s gone into crisis that was always it, the sheer powerlessness and frustration of not being heard, of being dismissed as crazy.

    I’m going to suggest that this goes a bit deeper for women, that biology drives us to turn to men when we’re in danger, especially a spouse. When they refuse to see the giant mammoth attacking you, it’s kind of like, “wait… do you actually serve any purpose in my life?” Too much of that will totally crush women and it literally becomes a choice between going crazy or getting out of the relationship.

    1. Your words about danger and seeking protection put me in mind of something I said to my husband not too long ago. During our vows, his passion behind speaking the parts associated with protecting me could be felt physically. I reminded him of those words and followed up with ” I know in my heart that you will protect me from others, but who will protect me from you?” I don’t believe he understood what I was saying but it made me feel better for having said them.

      1. “I don’t believe he understood what I was saying but it made me feel better for having said them.”

        That’s intense, Katy, but you’ve nailed it. Men often don’t understand but the choice sometimes becomes go insane or get out of the relationship. To leave someone who is genuinely harming you becomes an act of self defense, self preservation. That’s extremely painful for women to confront because we generally love men, but their behavior towards us can sometimes be dangerously destructive. Many men understand physical abuse, but they don’t grasp the emotional abuse they sometimes inflict.

      2. I hear you, and your concern is completely reasonable and valid, but do you imagine that husbands do not need protecting from their wives as well?

        I am leaving aside as a general matter purely physical threats or acts.

        1. Jack,

          Yes, men can be quite vulnerable to be hurt by their wife’s responses to them. (see my response to Shannon).

          It’s not uncommon for women to inflict emotional abuse. Or physical abuse as well. The statistics were surprising to me when I read them but women often hit men first in physical altercations.

          Of COURSE women are in more danger in most cases because men are generally much stronger and seriously injure or kill their spouses much more often.

          But this stuff is not as simple as men are bad women good. And there is a lot of shame given to men who are abused by their wives since it is often seen as emasculating.

          1. uniballer1965

            From what Lisa wrote, I was thinking how it can sometimes seem to be one way.

            I’m getting tired of trying to address her complaints not because I saw/see them as invalid. Instead, it’s because she invalidates MY complaints.

            It is to the point where the other night, she asked if the trash was good. I had just taken it out, so I knew the can was empty, and a new bag was properly installed. Then she said, will there be room for this (holds up item.) Again, I said yes. But I’ve noticed this sort of her not believing what I’ve said, or second guessing.

            So I’m getting tired of being the one treated as crazy, or incompetent, or whatever.

            Besides, it’s her 25 year old son’s job to take care of the trash in the house. So I’m doubly resentful when I have to take it out because he’s not done it, and she’s second guessing me.

            Any time I bring up something, it’s always, “You can choose to feel that way….”

            Maybe, but right now I do feel that way. Maybe I should just say OUCH, that didn’t make me feel better. I usually just withdraw. I’ve experienced it’s not worth the effort to have that conversation/argument. She’s right, I’m wrong, I shouldn’t feel that way, no amount of sharing emotions or reason seems to change that viewpoint. Seems to me an approach that absolves the person of any part they play in your pain.

            Maybe I should just ask, if you think I’m crazy, incompetent, or whatever, why did you agree to marry me?

            It would be one thing if I was an unemployed, video game, or otherwise addicted, unproductive husband. Well, I’m an engineer, so I’m probably romance impaired. But she knew that going in 🙂

            I think from time to time, everyone goes off the deep end. Temporary insanity. Not the kind that makes you a serial killer, but the kind that makes you a difficult or painful partner.

            The problem or danger is when you only believe the other person does this and you never lose it or cause them pain. Which means you never consider what you have to do to not cause that pain again and heal the hurts you’ve caused.

          2. Uniballer,

            Just saw this comment full of good stuff you wrote a few days ago. (My comments show up as either gottmanfan or Lisa Gottman).

            You said:

            The problem or danger is when you only believe the other person does this and you never lose it or cause them pain. Which means you never consider what you have to do to not cause that pain again and heal the hurts you’ve caused.

            Well said! It takes SO much effort to see our part in the pattern. Partly because it seems so “obvious” to us that the other person is treating us unfairly and needs to change. Of course the other person has their own “obvious” things we need to change based on having a different personality, family history, cultural messages and usually biological gender etc.

            As you pointed out, conversations about trash are FULL of meaning and underlying expectations of how we think things should happen and how we want to be treated.

          3. Uniballer,

            It would drive me crazy and I would feel incredibly invalidating if my spouse said, “You can choose to feel that way….” when I brought up something bothering me so I get why you are so frustrated with that.

            Women often respond without empathy to their husbands “complaints/concerns”.

            As you said it’s hard to get yourself to validate your spouse when you feel they are invalidating you.

            Problem is we all have to know how to “stand up for ourselves without making a big deal of it” (see Atkinson ebook) to be in a successful relationship. So that when our spouse’s aren’t treating us fairly we can respond to that to get things back on track without shutting down or criticizing or saying dismissive things like “you can choose to feel that way.”

            Most people who have unhappy marriages are missing key skills like that.

          4. I was excellent at the first part of the skill “standing up for myself”, sadly horrible at the second part of it. I made a BIG deal of it in my mind which lead to a lot of angry, judgmental and sometimes contemptuous responses. Not the road to a happy marriage obviously. ?

            Other people like my husband make a big deal of standing up for themselves by withdrawing and shutting down while thinking angry, judgmental and sometimes contemptuous thoughts. That too is not the road to a happy marriage. ?

            Lots of variations to how to respond incorrectly. Some people say dismissive things like “you can only make yourself happy” or “you choose how to feel”.

            Some people aren’t good at the first part of the skill. They just do whatever the other person wants. That doesn’t work long term either.

    2. Exactly! And every time they minimise the ‘danger’ that we see, no matter the source, it tells us we are not important to them. And if I have to defend myself each and every time, I become stronger and more likely to leave you. They defeat themselves.

  6. Okay, this hit on a thought I have been having this week. I’ve been reading numerous posts by men who are angry and bitter at wives who stay home to raise kids instead of working and earning an income to reach the goals the husband has in life. Many men measure their worth and achievement by money and the things it buys and feel their nonworking wives are parasites, not partners. They become unloving and disrespectful because they feel disrespected and let down. Well, if you can relate to that, here’s a heads up…there is a pretty good chance a wife is measuring her worth and achievement by creating a beautiful, well functioning home and family. And when a husband fails to participate in reaching his wife’s goals, when he whines, moans, complains, passive aggressively refuses to participate because it is not as important as his work and hobbies are to him, there is a pretty good chance that his wife will see her husband in that same unloving, disrespected, goal thwarting way.

    1. Well said, Kathy. I’m a working outside the home mum and gosh do I struggle at times to manage it all. Hubby just changed jobs and wanted to make a particular purchase prior to doing so because of the saving that could be made (the purchase was an item solely for him). I switched a lot of things around financially to make it happen (he opts to let me manage our money) because I knew it was important to him. Since the job change (initiated by him – no pressure whatsoever from me as I was happy with him in his previous job) I’ve had to manage and work around him with his inflexible new schedule and am ever so grateful that my employer has been considerate of me needing to start later etc because he is suddenly not available to things that he previously did like assist with school drop offs. Do you think I’ve had one word of a thank you?

  7. Oh I wish all men (and women, for that matter) could look at themselves in the mirror and see this as clearly as you do.

    Let this also be a cautionary tale. “Behind every crazy woman is the man who drove her there” isn’t too far from the truth. I keep this in mind when listening to guys talk about their past experiences with women. If I hear “she was crazy” as the reason for past break ups, I run. Guys need to own their part.

    1. Not always true – there are a lot of crazy females out there. Some estimates say as many as one out of twenty young women in this country suffer from boderline personality disorder (BPD) alone. I ended up seriously involved with one, and was lucky to escape in one piece. And yeah, “crazy” would be an apt descriptor for her.

  8. “And just maybe, when you take responsibility for the pain you might have accidentally caused, respect your partner enough to listen and believe her when she tells you about it, and LOVE her enough to make sure the painful thing stops happening—just maybe that’s where marital peace and healing live.”

    Yes it does live there. I’ve written before that my husband and I have meandered and stumbled our way into ways that work for us to communicate some of these difficult things. He still stuffs up from time to time and we definitely have our thousandth repeat of whichever conversation, but he cares enough to listen and try. And that makes all the difference.

    It still isn’t easy by any measure, but from what you describe it is orders of magnitude easier than what you went through. Maybe one way to present it to men is like insanitybytes just said about turning to the spouse for protection. Here’s a situation where the guy can be a protector, a shield, and avert harm. How many guys would willingly curl around her to take a fly ball because it would hurt him less than her? How about walking on the street side of the pavement to catch any gravel? ‘I’ll do it because it might hurt her but it won’t hurt me,’ right?

    Except this is emotional. Offer guys all the physical hurdles you want but in this society emotional stuff is not. for. them.

    I imagine for some women it must be like having a food allergy and being told that they’re crazy for getting sick or being scared that they’ll be exposed. How do we raise men who are willing to acknowledge that accidental harm doesn’t make them assholes, but refusal to acknowledge that the harm exists does?

    1. I take screenshots of certain passages to share with my 13 year old son. He is still quite innocent, so I will wait until he’s older to turn him loose with the whole blog, but these conversations are finding a place to grow in his brain.

      1. Flattering. Very. It means a lot to me that you think it might be able to help him make better choices as he grows into his dating years.

        Thank you for sharing that.

      2. I love this! We have all girls, but we talk a lot about how to show them that our relationship isn’t magical. Balancing appropriate exposure with showing that a good marriage takes work is an interesting work in progress.

  9. My husband never said I was crazy or insane when I would ask him to do the simplest things as you describe above. He would say (and I quote) “Find something more important to complain about!” To him unless he cheated on me, had a drug or alcohol problem, nothing and I mean nothing was enough for me to complain about! I also would hear multiple times, how great I had it and to look around and see how others had it worse. Always comparing, never taking blame. He constantly dismissed me and my opinions. I was never RELEVANT! So……after 37 (yes, 37) years of marriage I divorced him (just final Jan 22). He was the only one surprised by it, yet told me he would never change. I didn’t want to get divorced. I don’t think a lot of people do. However I felt I had nothing going forward with him. Funny thing he told my adult son that he gave me everything and that when he tells people he knows that I divorced him that they are so surprised and my son replied, “Obviously if she divorced you after all these years, you failed somewhere!” His response “We just grew apart!” Matt, maybe you should write something about that!

  10. I can’t make my husband happy no matter how hard I try, and now it occurs to me that maybe he wants a completely different set of things from what I want….

    1. This would take a book to explain, but one of the things I’ve realized is that we can’t make each other happy, or unhappy, for that matter. This has been really hard to learn (still is, it’s an ongoing work). Check out Byron Katie’s stuff on The Work, or more practically, Winifred Reilly’s _It Takes One to Tango_.

  11. Another well thought out and articulated article. I really like your emphasis on personal responsibility. Isn’t it crazy that we try to argue our way into being ‘right’ thinking that will make the spouse behave the way we want them to? From personal experience I know that making a relationship even more difficult is one growing up in a home where addiction or abuse is prevalent. For me it created a survivor mentality that would not allow me to believe that I could be the one who is messed up (really ironic if you look at my childhood). Some of us just have to learn the hard way which usually is the divorce and loss of the kids living with us. Hence my tag line.

    1. Interesting comment about the survivor mentality that you have mentioned, Ron. I find my husband to be the same. Have been through marriage counselling and only now am I seeing that it was all just playing the game for him. He feels he is ‘okay’ and doesn’t need to get any help personally, while I’ve been for many sessions on my own because I accept that I had some issues that I needed to deal with. So sad when the writing is on the wall but the other person refuses to read it.

      1. I tried very hard to fix myself. I saw at least a dozen different counselors both with my wife and on my own. I had a master’s degree with lots of psychology and counseling. I grew up with 2 violent alcoholics so I spent 18 years under great duress, but learned to hide as much as I could and become a very high achiever. For guys like me what makes us survive is to push down all the fear, anger, and shame and move forward. We could not allow emotions to come into play for fear of being overwhelmed. When my wife divorced me I couldn’t hold back all the bad stuff and you have a breakdown. It is scary and messy and mine lasted over 3 years. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me and the best thing. Maybe a PTSD counselor could get someone to deal with all that bad stuff, but unfortunately I think most guys like me have to let the flood hit them. Hopefully after that happens you stay alive and then begin to heal. I’ve been remarried for 20 years and am an above average husband but I spent years doing the work while single. I hope things work out for you because that is always the optimal outcome.

  12. Excellent post Matt. As you said this can also be true of women too. It’s very hard to ge truly mature enough to see other people as not thinking/feeling/valuing the things you do.

    And when their difference is on certain thing it disregulates our nervous system. It FEELS wrong. That is partly why I think so many men fall into the cycle you describe (in addition to cultural misogynist messages that paint women as irrational and ruled by hormones).

    One thing I do is to seldom describe my feelings as “hurt”. I describe it as angry. Why? Because men can relate to that. It’s one of the few emotions men are culturally allowed.

    1. Yes. Among the many things that can go wrong (on both sides):

      – the need to be right (and therefore make your spouse wrong)
      – the inability to appreciate that it’s ok if our spouse is different from us
      – the need for our spouse to validate us and calm our personal insecurities by agreeing with us

    2. This remains one of the most important and illuminating things I’ve ever read. Can’t be shared enough. Thank you.

  13. Gottman’s book A Man’s Guide to Women talks about how disregulating it is to men when women express negative emotions.

    Shutting that out is a way of defending themselves to maintain their emotional regulation to feel safe.

    Womens criticism makes them feel unsafe. Not good enough. So it’s better for them to just declare her wrong to restore his safety. Of course a lot of this is not conscious.

  14. It helps me to try and understand why men respond the way they do. It’s complex but so often the man’s side is not about trying to put the woman down or maintain control even if that is the effect.

    And certainly I am living proof that women have their stuff too. Not being able to see the other point of view. Not standing up for yourself without making a big deal of it as Atkinson puts it. That too is a lack of differentiton. As much as the man’s.

    But for a variety of reasons it’s often the man that blocks progress per Gottman.

    1. “….how disregulating it is to men when women express negative emotions.”

      It’s really true! I had a revelation when hubby almost, kind of, admitted that both my disapproval and my unhappiness were actually scary. It caused me to soften my tone, to be far more patient about stating what I needed. When men are scared, (even when they don’t know they are scared,) they tend to just attack or withdraw. You can’t communicate with a man in that state.

      The sad thing is that the one thing men do often fear is losing their loved ones. Not being able to actually say that, leaves a lot of women in the dark as to how we unintentionally can trigger them. I’d say, “listen I’m tired of tripping over the garbage” and he’d hear, “she doesn’t think I’m worthy and she wants a divorce.” Of course he’d never just admit that, instead he’d grumble and complain, accuse me of nagging, declare I was making a big deal out of nothing, and attack. They attack too much and you just stop asking for help. It’s in that silence that real resentment builds.

      1. IB you said:

        “It’s really true! I had a revelation when hubby almost, kind of, admitted that both my disapproval and my unhappiness were actually scary. It caused me to soften my tone, to be far more patient about stating what I needed. When men are scared, (even when they don’t know they are scared,) they tend to just attack or withdraw. You can’t communicate with a man in that state.”

        I think this is something that most women don’t understand about men. Sort of the compliment to “you can’t make women happy” is “you can’t say anything to a man without him getting defensive”.

        I am STILL trying to wrap my head around how unsafe I make my beloved husband feel when I am attempting to express my dissatisfaction and asking for change.

        It can feel as mystifying to women in my experience as the often stated confusion for men over women’s reactions.

        1. I told my wife recently during one of our many “here’s why I’m divorcing you” conversations, when she asked why I never did anything to change after one of our past relationship conversations, that I always found them extremely scary and threatening, and once they were over I gladly retreated from their memory and meaning and went right back to status quo. I assumed letting her get it out and vent was sufficient. I’m finding out, to my regret, that I was sorely mistaken.

          1. Damon,

            Thank you for your honest reflections. I know this is small consolation at this point but what you describe a very common reaction.

            Both the

            1. understandable avoidance of things that made you feel emotionally threatened

            2. and the assumption that women just want to “vent” and are not serious about what they are saying.

            When combined with women not knowing how to handle, these result in inevitable relationship destruction.

          2. Regarding the venting vs. something to fix…

            One of my husband’s work trainings (he supports sales people with technical information) regarding communication touched on clearly outlining the ‘ask’ in a conversation or situation. Sometimes a work phrase gets overused and starts to drive me a little nuts, but this is a really good concept. He can find out if I just needed to vent or if there is actually something I’d like him to do with ‘Do you have an ask here or do you just need me to listen?’

            There are times where I think I have freaked him out a bit. I’m generally a pretty put-together person emotionally, so when I, on occasion, do have a meltdown he tends to be a bit at a loss. He used to just back away slowly and assume I’d talk when I was ready, but that made me feel like he either didn’t notice that something was wrong or didn’t care enough to help me figure out how to communicate the issue. He’s gotten a lot better at asking me if I need to be by myself or if I want him to hold me/listen/just sit in the same room. That lets me know he cares but reassures him that I don’t expect him to read my mind. I imagine it would be tough to do this if there isn’t a history if trust and validation and good communication. Hard enough as it is!

          3. The question is: can it be learned before one or both partners give up, bail out, throw in the towel and call it quits…

          4. It takes a lot of tenacity and patience. Thankfully we didn’t have years or decades of bad communication to overcome. I imagine it is still possible, though much, much more difficult when that is the case.

          5. Rebekah:

            You said: “Thankfully we didn’t have years or decades of bad communication to overcome. I imagine it is still possible, though much, much more difficult when that is the case”

            You are absolutely correct. One sad statistic is that an average couples who begin marriage therapy have been in relationship distress for six years.

            Of course that doesn’t count the ones who just suffer through for years and then get divorced.

            I think so much of it is that most coupled can’t figure out what is really going on. And try various things to improve things but it’s medicine for the wrong problem. Like a man may try very hard to avoid fights by ignoring his wife’s outbursts. A woman may follow advise to not put up with his avoidance and escalate or conversely to not speak up anymore. Lots of things.

          6. Rebekah,

            You said:

            “He used to just back away slowly and assume I’d talk when I was ready, but that made me feel like he either didn’t notice that something was wrong or didn’t care enough to help me figure out how to communicate the issue”

            Oh wow that image makes me laugh in recognition. My poor hubby literally backing away like in a movie with a person with explosives strapped on a vest.

            You raise an excellent point. It is very helpful to let the person know if you want to vent or problem solve or want a hug or whatever. If the other person doesn’t know and isn’t told it’s better to ask as your husband does.

            I understand it is a common problem for women to want validation before problem solving. I love me some problem solving so I might be an outlier here. But humans ALL want validation.

            It’s often I think a style difference too. Some people like to be alone when upset others like to talk the problem out. When you are married to someone with the opposite style it can be feel “wrong”.

            So nice to hear your husband and you have found a way to communicate clearly to support each other.

          7. Yeah, not easily, and there are still quite a few ‘WTF just happened?!’ occurrences, but we’ve learned to check our egos at the door and try to listen to what’s being said rather than just the words being used. Code phrases help a lot with that.

            And within style there’s still variation dependent on topic! I like what you say about validation first. Just help me get through being upset, then we can be teammates taking on the world again.

            We’ve talked a ton about how we’d both probably be up a creek if something happened to one of us. We met at the beginning of college so we had a big role in the formation of each other as adults. Can’t imagine trying to find someone who’d put up with me/him now! All the specially developed communication quirks and strategies and whatnot would be quite the tangle for someone else to try to navigate.

          8. Just want to say…from personal experience and what is almost revelation…that these are things of real and deep beauty, even if only a small number of people can see it and are touched by it. 🙂

        2. My husband and I have just gone through a year of marriage counselling. At this end, I feel it was a waste for him, where I did a lot of work personally to make changes in my life. I know I have issues – what adult in their 40’s gets to that point without some baggage? But at least I realise that I have them and am willing to do the work.
          I’ve come to realise that when he asked me three sessions in as we left the session, if I was there for the long haul, this was the point that he let out a silent emotional sigh of relief and said to himself that he didn’t need to worry or do any work. The rest of it feels like it was a total waste. We still go round and round on the same issues – exactly what Matt describes and I fail every time in getting him to remotely see that he is cutting me with a thousand paper cuts. I’m still being blamed for the same stuff that he would use a year ago to point out what a bad person I am, yet I haven’t done this things for some time because I’ve recognised that they bother him and stopped. I don’t know how to get through to him other than leave. And I honestly think if I did, I’d be blamed for being over-emotional and crazy.

  15. Very well written and relevant article Matt. I imagine I’m going to sound like one of those guys you referenced that refuses to take accountability (to drastically paraphrase your article). And, as much as more than one poster noted that the gender roles can be reversed, the commentary does not echo the sentiment. So, I will try to use “I” statements and hope there are some others that can and will relate. First off, I do NOT leave the dish on the counter, but I’m sure my wife has a comparable “dish” that mimics this scenario. My own experience and correlating complaint is that once I fix my behavior, i.e. putting the dish in the dishwasher, there comes the next “dish” complaint…a complaint that wasn’t present, or at least articulated, until the first “dish” was corrected. So I fix my behavior regarding the next “dish” and the process repeats. And while I do not call her crazy, most of these complaints are generally minor issues. And before commenters jump in with the inevitable “they’re not minor to her” retorts, I question why such matters are worth the fight. I question why once I fix one behavior there is instantly another problem to address. I question why it’s worth it to her to be constantly upset. This is why guys feel like there is no pleasing women. Sorry, this is why I feel like there is not pleasing my wife. This is why I feel like I’m blamed for everything wrong in our marriage. Can you all guess my one major complaint about my wife? Well it’s that she is never happy with me. That’s it! Of course, her not being happy with me leads to all the accompanying problems…i.e. constant fighting, growing resentment, lack of intimacy, etc. Rinse, lather, repeat. Guys need to own their faults…but women need to be less aggressive in finding fault. I asked my wife to marry me, not some future “me” that she had envisioned, but the me who got on one knee and asked. If I was good enough then, why am I not good enough now?

    1. Hi Nate!

      You bring up some good points.

      As I have said women are IMHO and per the research I have read contributing to a lot of relationship dysfunction.

      Using me as an example, I absolutely suck at “soft startups” (asking for change in a non judgemental way) which is necessary for a productive conversation. I’m getting better but no question it’s a weakness many women have. Just one example of many I could list.

      I don’t know your situation but in my case the thing you mention about playing whac a mole with problems is something my husband would have related to. In our case the foundational difference was different styles of how much togetherness first vs independence first we wanted (see Atkinson link for detail).

      So if foundational differences exist that have not been addressed, there will be one thing after another pop up as symptoms of the underlying disease. Focusing on the symptoms make it appear that the other person is insatiable when really it means the problem is not being correctly diagnosed IMHO.

  16. Very well written and relevant article Matt. I imagine I’m going to sound like one of those guys you referenced that refuses to take accountability (to drastically paraphrase your article). And, as much as more than one poster noted that the gender roles can be reversed, the commentary does not echo the sentiment. So, I will try to use “I” statements and hope there are some others that can and will relate. First off, I do NOT leave the dish on the counter, but I’m sure my wife has a comparable “dish” that mimics this scenario. My own experience and correlating complaint is that once I fix my behavior, i.e. putting the dish in the dishwasher, there comes the next “dish” complaint…a complaint that wasn’t present, or at least articulated, until the first “dish” was corrected. So I fix my behavior regarding the next “dish” and the process repeats. And while I do not call her crazy, most of these complaints are generally minor issues. And before commenters jump in with the inevitable “they’re not minor to her” retorts, I question why such matters are worth the fight. I question why once I fix one behavior there is instantly another problem to address. I question why it’s worth it to her to be constantly upset. This is why guys feel like there is no pleasing women. Sorry, this is why I feel like there is not pleasing my wife. This is why I feel like I’m blamed for everything wrong in our marriage. Can you all guess my one major complaint about my wife? Well it’s that she is never happy with me. That’s it! Of course, her not being happy with me leads to all the accompanying problems…i.e. constant fighting, growing resentment, lack of intimacy, etc. Rinse, lather, repeat. Guys need to own their faults…but women need to be less aggressive in finding fault. I asked my wife to marry me, not some future “me” that she had envisioned, but the me who got on one knee and asked. If I was good enough then, why am I not good enough now?

    1. I wonder if this Terry Real quote resonates with you?

      “Women are unhappy in their marriages because they want men to be more related than most men know how to be. And men are unhappy in their marriages because their women seem so unhappy with them.”

      1. We are our own worst enemies… 🙁

        At the risk of metaphorically pouring five gallons of diesel fuel around myself and then striking a match, I want to say –

        – that marriages really are a two-person system and most marital problems have two actors; one person can really eff up the relationship, but one person can also alter the system quite a bit; waaaaaay too often (I know this first hand) we blame our spouse and think “if only my spouse would change…” rather than asking: “what’s my part? what do I contribute to this?”

        – if altering your system inputs doesn’t work, marriage is ultimately a choice. If you’ve change your own inputs and don’t get any reciprocating change, or at least interest in change, either figure out what you need to do wto find some peace and happiness within the marriage, or fire your spouse. Choose to stay if you wish, but don’t stay miserable.

        1. Jack,

          I absolutely agree that good relationships are a two person system.

          As I’ve said before women (in general) add ALL kinds of dysfunction to a relationship.

          As you know Terry Real’s thesis is that women are asking intimacy skills that men are generally not equipped or trained to provide.

          That includes understanding WHY a dish left by the sink should be treated seriously IF the wife asks to be considered.

          Men who don’t understand why that is important are NOT operating in a two person system. That is the problem.

          They are operating in a one person system. I don’t care about the dish why should it matter to her, why should I change? The answer is that is what people in TWO person systems do.

          Not doing everything the other person asks. But yes considering seriously what the other person asks and seeking to find a reasonable compromise that takes BOTH people into account.

          That in my opinion is what most men who don’t get that don’t understand why the dishes post Matt wrote is not saying you hand in your man card and just do whatever she wants. They are operating in a ONE person system where only what makes sense to them is considered worthy.

          (Of course women can also display this but usually women are culturally trained more to operate in two person systems.)

          1. “As you know Terry Real’s thesis is that women are asking intimacy skills that men are generally not equipped or trained to provide.”

            Totally agree. And men need to pull the plugs out of their ears and arteries and butt, let down their guard and confront and let go of their shame.

            At the same time…it’s HARD. And it takes a lot of time. And it’s messy. Mistakes happen. And partners seldom advance or growth at the same time or pace.

            I didn’t choose this culture, I was involuntarily born into it. I can choose to try to shed these bonds, but realistically it is the work of a lifetime, destined to be incomplete.

          2. Jack,

            I agree with you that women need to be empathic for how HARD this stuff can be to change for men raised in a culture that often made fun of a guy who is emotionally intelligent. Many men understandably learned to avoid “girly” emotional skills.

            Even knowing that, I have to work HARD to be patient with my husband’s efforts. Empathy for how hard it is for both side.

            As Terry Real says praise progress and praise your 15% glass full.

            All of which I can do as long as I see honest effort and willingness to change.

          3. “That includes understanding WHY a dish left by the sink should be treated seriously IF the wife asks to be considered.”

            ‘When x happens, y kinds of thoughts are what I have to fight’ is how we work with those situations. Works with the intent (or lack of) problem, addresses the why is this a problem stuff, and can help soften the approach like someone mentioned earlier. Takes a bunch of self control on the part of the offended party, but considering the alternative is a fight/nothing changing/stewing in resentment the effort is worth it.

          4. But when it gets to the point of feeling like you’ve tried everything to explain, and the other party is totally unwilling to remotely consider what you are saying, it becomes overwhelming and borders on too hard.

          5. Yes! I totally agree about your statement – men operating in a ‘one’ person system where only what makes sense to them is considered worthy.
            It’s so deflating to the partner to try to explain again and again why it’s important to them, but to be treated like you are an absolute nutter for making what they perceive to be a big deal out of something minor. Never do we want a man to ‘hand in his man card’.

        2. Jack,

          Maybe I’m not understanding your response?

          I wrote that Terry Reak quote in response to Nate saying he was fine with the marriage and didn’t get why his wife was unhappy all the time.

    2. I get this, and I hope you can tell that I get this. I felt that way EXACTLY.

      I don’t want to project my bullshit onto you and start suggesting things about your marriage or your wife that has no basis in fact-based reality.

      So, like you, I”ll try to keep this to “I” statements. Random thoughts to follow:

      1. I believe it’s a combination of “safety, trust and respect” issues that exacerbate the problem. It’s not JUST the dish by the sink. It’s the dish by the sink in conjunction with her feeling letdown because I ADHD’d our last anniversary, and feeling disrespected because I left so much of the newborn childcare to her, and questioning my love and desire for her because I hadn’t made intimacy with her (emotional and physical) a priority for whatever length of time. This is a hypothetical, but one rooted in a whole bunch of first-person reality.

      2. So, when I reflect on my marriage, and remember moments of feeling like she was ungrateful, focusing on the negative, or seeking out something new to complain about it, I NOW view it as my wife being highly stressed and afraid. She was stressed because she was literally doing more and giving more to our family and relationship than I was. And she was afraid because she’d just had a baby with me, and now she’s afraid of being in a lifelong marriage where everyday feels harder and more stressful than she expected, OR having to eventually make the choice to end the relationship and suffer the reality of being a single 30-something with a child, and reseting your life again. There’s so much mental, emotional, financial, and spiritual uncertainty that comes along with contemplating divorce and such a significant lifestyle change and loss of normalcy.

      I think it’s dangerous to view the dirty dish, or the piece of laundry, or whatever the argument/complaint may be in a vacuum. Because any ONE of those things will always fall short of being important enough to end a relationship and break up a family over. Viewed that way, someone feeling hurt and afraid in a relationship could NEVER justify speaking up about what they were experiencing. They’d simply have to suffer in silence for the rest of their lives to “keep the peace” and MANY women do that, and every one of them should be canonized a saint, but also questioned for teaching their daughters that a permanent Grin-and-Bear-It strategy is somehow a path to a good marriage and stable family.

      It’s little more than a path to joyless sex, mountains of regret and resentment, and spending a lifetime being inauthentic and completely sacrificing self-respect and real love to “keep up appearances” on behalf of kids, or family members or friends, or whoever we’re so afraid of disappointing.

      In other words, if I’d totally gotten the dirty dish by the sink thing “fixed,” there’s ZERO reason to assume my marriage would have gotten better.

      The dish by the sink fight is a symptom of the REAL problem which is a fundamental emotional disconnection and lack of safety/trust/security — which can be physical, financial, emotional, mental, etc. It can be ANYTHING.

      But when a person feels unsafe, and can’t trust their partner to help them achieve Life Security, it MAKES SENSE for them to want to run away, or toward a place that provides what’s missing.

      And until I was honest enough with myself to admit that’s the position I’d put my wife in, I was bitter, angry and confused.

      Thank you for being part of the conversation, Nate. Appreciate it.

      1. Matt:

        You said:

        “The dish by the sink fight is a symptom of the REAL problem which is a fundamental emotional disconnection and lack of safety/trust/security — which can be physical, financial, emotional, mental, etc. It can be ANYTHING.

        But when a person feels unsafe, and can’t trust their partner to help them achieve Life Security, it MAKES SENSE for them to want to run away, or toward a place that provides what’s missing.”


        Or it makes “sense” to feel like your husband is your enemy instead of your lover. Zero sum game with each dish scenario escalating the negative response.

        1. This is also a reason why a signification percentage of women don’t want to have sex with their husbands anymore. They feel like a competitor or even enemy not a lover.

          1. I didn’t touch on that in my response, but yes. Totally. A huge thing in failing marriages is the sexlessness, and it’s a vicious cycle that I don’t believe either partner interprets accurately.

            It’s the shit-covered cherry on top of the dysentery sundae.

          2. It’s a whole big topic in itself for sure. It always puzzles me why some men will not seem to get why it is related. I guess it’s the same reason they don’t get why the dishes by the sink request matters.

            And there are many men who do not have sexual desire when the relationship is not healthy so it’s not just women that don’t want sex.

            Also I am aware that some women often don’t respond correctly and will “cut off” a man as a way to retaliate hurt or anger. This of course is not the healthy way to handle things.

          3. I don’t know what other women experience, but sex, for me, is an experience which is based on an enormous amount of trust. Think of the physical act of sex between what is generally a smaller and weaker person and a bigger and stronger person. If you don’t trust/respect/feel equal to/feel loved, sex becomes, with that person, not something that you want to open yourself to, literally.

            So let’s talk about what is sexy in a man. A man who, however briefly, articulates his feelings directly is sexy. A man who says what responsibilities he is assuming because it balances those of his wife is sexy. A man who carries out his responsibilities without being reminded, without excuses, with out dragging his feet, is sexy. A man who takes care of himself and his environment is sexy. A man who discusses life goals with his wife, from a more or less orderly house to which chores each of them is responsible for, and then does them FIRST before anything else, finishes them as agreed upon, and does this in a consistent, everyday way is scorchingly sexy. A man who looks at you directly and who you can look at directly is sexy. A man who sees every part of a shared life as a standard he meets for himself is sexy.

            I bet those traits are sexy in a woman, too.

          4. Shannon,

            I think a lot of women relate to your definition
            of what a woman desires in a man.

            I think most men and women want the same thing. A partner who has your back that you can trust. Men and women IMHO define that somewhat differently based on the burdens they carry and want a partner to soothe.

            I read an article recently that expressed some ideas my husband has said to me about how he defines what he desires. Maybe some male commenters can give their insight if they agree or disagree.

            “The world of men is a world of competition…
            By the time we become adults, we’ve already been battered and bruised by the world of competition and rejection.

            We long for that safe harbor where we don’t have to pretend to be something we’re not in order to be chosen. We long for someone who sees us for who we are and wants us anyway, who can hold us and touch, not just our body, but our hearts and souls.”

            “Getting taken into her body gives us a sense of peace and homecoming that goes way beyond simple sexual pleasure.”

          5. Lisa, one word: home. I don’t think it’s possible for a woman to really understand that, but that’s ok. Trust me on this, though. Home.

          6. Jack,

            Let me pick your brain if you’re willing to elaborate.

            What do you think about it is not possible to understand?

            Obviously I’m not a man but I’m trying to understand. What do you think “home” means to a man that might be different?

          7. Lisa, trying to reply but there’s no “reply” button, maybe because we’re so far on the right margin of the page…anyway.

            On the first point, I could be totally wrong, but I think I male/female differences, wholly apart from culture and society and history – just focusing on our natural physical differences and the impacts on how we move in the world, are so different that I believe it’s not possible to really understand the sexual experience of the other sex. I don’t think I can really understand being smaller, weaker, being penetrated. Even if you sent me to prison and I were raped by huge thugs, I really believe it would not be comparable. Anyway…to a better question and answer.

            Home. I have been trying to think about this. And I don’t want to get too-too explicit here. To me, there is something about being taken in by my wife, welcomed in, being inside her, that signals acceptance and security and reassurance in a way that nothing else does. (Disclaimer: I am very anxious/preoccupied personality – if I were avoidant/dismissive, the experience might be different – or it might not, I have no idea.) There is a very powerful interplay between being more powerful, being the penetrator, and being sheltered and admitted and taken in. Both/and.

          8. Shannon, what a keen insight and gift of expression. I am going to find something to do like printing that and sticking it on the mirror. I won’t actually do that, because we share a bathroom, but I’ll find something equivalently prominent to do with this! 😀

          9. So true, Shannon. When my husband and I first started marriage counselling, it felt like he was willing to make an effort for the sake of our relationship. Boy, that was sexy! Yet he can’t see the correlation……

          10. Matt,

            @It’s the shit-covered cherry on top of the dysentery sundae.”

            Aptly put though not happy that image is embedded in my mind now.

          11. Ha ha I applaud your use of that image to correctly convey it.

            Having lived that experience in the past it felt like I imagine that ice cream would taste like.

          12. Ewwwww. Really. But it is – part of the downward spiral that leads to relationship death, even if divorce is avoided.

          13. This really is a serious problem in and of itself. While I agree that most women are more emotionally intelligent than most men, I can’t help but feel some glaring double standards. In my post above I mentioned how I acknowledged my wife’s complaint about the dish, and I fixed my behavior regarding the dish while also NOT calling her crazy. Now, I don’t think the dish is a big deal but again, acknowledge it is to my wife, so I therefore make it important enough to me to take action. This then leads to more dish complaints and the inevitable fight about me not listening/doing what she tells me. Here lies one of the problems and double standards. I have listened to her complaints and taken action to address them, but the list never ends. How can my wife continue to complain that I don’t care about what she says or wants when obvious action has been taken? And, if I need to accept that the dish is important to her because she says it is, doesn’t my wife need to also accept that it is NOT important to me because I say it isn’t? Are we not driving down a two way street?

            As far as withholding sex, don’t get me started. How emotionally intelligent is using sex as a relationship currency? And again, before I get attacked for this, I recognize that when things aren’t going well, and/or when my wife doesn’t feel loved/appreciated/etc., that sex isn’t going to happen. I don’t expect it to. The problem stems from my first example where no matter how many dish complaints I acknowledge and fix, another dish example pops up. Queue another argument and another withholding of sex and as Matt said, the vicious cycle continues. Wives/girlfriends – if we as men can accept that sex isn’t going to happen when you are not feeling happy/respected/safe/etc., can’t you accept that by withholding sex, men are not going to feel respected/wanted/worthwhile/etc., and therefore withhold the very intimacy YOU desire.

            These two examples are why the double standards in relationships seem to set men up to fail in marriage. The commentary on this website (in a nutshell) indicates that men are not as emotionally intelligent as women largely in part to never being taught how to be. The commentary goes on to say women are much, much better at this than men. I can accept this. What I struggle with is the general acceptance that what a woman wants and feels is more important or worthy that what a man wants and feels. i.e. dish is important to wife because she says so, so husband MUST acknowledge and fix dish behavior to improve marriage. But, what happens when husband says dish is not important? Husband accused of not accepting his wife’s feelings as valid and accused of operating in one person system. Huh? In this scenario the husband’s feeling were blatantly brushed aside.

          14. Hi Nate,

            Thanks for your reply. I think some of what I was talking about was generally about men and women and may or may not apply to you and your wife.

            Ok let me try to address your issues specifically.

            YES I agree there are often double standards. I do not think it is accurate that women are “better” at relationships. I think they are generally better at certain parts of relationships. I think men are better at certain other parts. Both are bad at a lot of similar things as well.

            My take on what you describe is you are doing a LOT of things right. You are listening to her concerns and making behavioral adjustments accordingly.

            If I understand your previous comments your concern is that she just comes up with more requests that feel endless to you without any obvious change to her perception that you are validating her concerns or care enough. I can absolutely understand why that would be maddening and feel very unfair since you are expending a lot of mental energy to make her happy by addressing her concerns.

            I don’t know exactly what is happening but my guess is that there is something foundational that is not being addressed. As I said in my other comments it could be differences in how much decisions are made together or how much each of you think should roll off your back without a big deal.

            Or none of that may be true and your wife may have a personality disorder or childhood trauma or depression/anxiety or whatever. All of that can create distorted thoughts.

            If you are an average couple it’s more likely to be foundational differences you both are having a hard time accepting.

            So YES you both need to validate and acknowledge each other’s concerns in a win win 2 person way.

            I could write a lot of comments about common things women do that make it difficult to get out of this pattern. The key thing in my mind is to understand what is going on and what you can do to change the pattern.

            You clearly love your wife to be willing to work so hard to try and please her. You are on the blog trying to understand. Honestly you are much farther along than most people. But more work to do to change the pattern IMHO.

            And I am right there with you Nate. We have made a lot of progress but I have to work hard to see it as both of our problems. I do plenty wrong.

          15. I’d be very interested to hear more about the common things that women do that make it difficult to break the pattern. I’m very keen to change the pattern in my own relationship, but find it very hard to convey the issue to my husband, so if there is anything at all that I could do to work toward that, I’m in!

          16. Awesome Lori! I will respond later when I have more time and happily share all the things I did wrong with some things I have found that have helped to change our pattern. And lots of common stuff women do in general per the research.

          17. Lori,

            I could write a whole companion shitty wife blog but I will just post a few highlights.

            Here’s where I went wrong that I think apply to many women.

            I did not have full relationship skills. I expected my husband to operate in “accepting influence” mode during conflict.

            Why? Because he often accepted influence in everyday stuff. He’s not s controlling guy. I was used to operating like that in my personal relationships. We disagree. We go back and forth and figure out a compromise.

            Now, like many women, I did develop better ways to deal with this is in a work or competitive environment.

            But I just was not expecting to do it at home. I was expecting “partnership”. Full partnership in my definition included each person’s requests being taken seriously and addressed.

            It mystified my when my kind, generous husband would just brush off certain things I found important to address. Avoid. Stonewall.

            I didn’t have the relationship knowledge to identify what was happening much less the relationship skills for how to deal with it.

            So at that point, like many women I thought there were a few possible things causing him to act this way:

            1. He didn’t understand what I was saying. So I said it again. (80% of requests for change are brought up by wives.)

            2. He still didn’t respond the way I was expecting in my idea of a full partnership.

            3. So I increased the intensity. Voice louder or maybe crying. Expressing my anger or dusappontment (many women use “hurt”).

            4. This caused him to increase double down on his response. More avoiding, stonewalling. Maybe anger.

            5. Well now like many women I know longer think he doesn’t understand, I think he doesn’t CARE. He is now crossing over into competition or even enemy status or for some women childlike status because they think he is incompetent in relationships.

            6. Now we start to go into contempt. He’s either an idiot and I must manage him like a child or a new employee. Clearly he has no idea how to be married in a the full partnership definition that “everyone” should use. Or he’s an enemy who is sexist or trying to make me his doormat.

            7. Because I think these things, it’s impossible to do what a person skilled in good relationships would do. They would use a combination of “soft startups” with the benefit of the doubt of his intentions. And healthy boundaries. Research shows women commonly are not skilled in these during marriage conflict. That was part of my shitty wife profile.

            What would that look like?

            One example, we had was the job of cleaning the shower. He did not automatically take turns cleaning the shower. This made me angry because it was not what I thought “should” happen.

            Because I combined that “should” with lots of memories and meanings I assign to sharing shower cleaning, I asked him to clean the shower the second time in an tense tone, the third time in an angry tone.

            That shower represented ALL kinds of stuff.

            And that’s another common error people make. We assign great meaning to things without seeing the bad effect of that.

            A soft start up would say “hey the shower needs cleaning on a regular basis, can we figure out a method that works for both of us? If a shower is just a shower it’s easy to treat it with humor and common sense.

            What if he just refuses to work together even after a soft start up? Well in the past I would have escalated to lots more anger and contempt. Many women feel defeated and just keep doing it all even though they resent it.

            That’s the point you need healthy boundaries. I, like many women, aren’t trained in that. Women are trained to accomodate and adjust or conversely get fed up and blow.

            So I am having to learn healthy boundaries. The Atkinson ebook I’m always referencing is great at detailing that.

            You set some practical concrete boundary. To get his attention. Not to punish. To communicate that you need this addressed.

            Many women include myself don’t know how to do this without making it mean a lot of things that you are having to do it. You think he is terrible or lazy or whatever.

            Atkinson calls this skill “standing up for yourself without making a big deal of it”. It is I think the skill I think that most women need to make or break a marriage. If you don’t know how to do it you will most likely have a shitty marriage.

            Why? Because you will end up in endless cycles of not being listened to about showers and dishes and you will not respond correctly.

            And then you will make that mean terrible things about your husband. And eventually yourself. Because you are then “crazy, or a bitch, or a doormat”.

            This is way too long so I’ll stop there. I am improving the skills I mentioned above and it has made a big deference in changing the pattern.

            Do you relate to any of that?

          18. Thank you, yes, I do relate. You mentioned an Atkinson eBook – are you able to please give me the name of the book so I can get a hold of it? I feel very much like it’s always me doing the learning in order to change things, but hey, if that works, then I’ll give it a go! Thank you for providing me with all of that.

          19. Lori,

            You said: “I feel very much like it’s always me doing the learning to change things”. Yes, this is again part of being in the pursuer/withdrawer pattern. It’s frustrating to feel you are alone in working on things.

            I like the Atkinson book because it summarizes a lot of what you can do without having to depend on him learning. You can learn to change what YOU do that can affect the pattern. It gives me a sense of control back.

            And it helped me see how much of what I was thinking was the right way to do things was only one legitimate way. Which I had to work a lot on by myself. Still have to work on that one ha ha but it’s s BIG one.

            The Atkinson ebook is called Developing Habits for Relationship Success. I link to it so often here people I get a commission ha ha (but I don’t). You order it off his website and they email it to you with your partners name repeated to reinforce the ideas in your brain. Like “you may think John’s style …)”

            I think it’s one of the most useful money spent (I think it’s $20 now).

            Here’s the link:


          20. Lori,

            Here is another book (it’s an audiobook only) that was incredibly helpful for me to understand the pursue/withdraw pattern we were in that you seem to be in too.

            It explains how to handle an avoidant person. And why they act that way to remain safe even when they aren’t consciously aware.

            There are certain things you can change that are small but make a difference. And it explained to me why I act the way I do especially paired with an avoidant person. (It drives me crazy is the short version!)

            It’s all about neurological safety cues. (For example I no longer say “hey John” (but can use “hey honey” to get his attention when he’s in another room. The name in that context feels intrusive neurologically to an avoidant person and adds to associating you with danger. It’s sounds crazy but it has made a difference making these small changes.

            And the book explains why the stuff I was doing was freaking him out just like he was doing stuff to freak me out like walking out the door without saying goodbye that made me feel abandoned unconsciously. Knowing that stuff helped even me soothe myself when he didn’t change his behavior. “Oh yeah he just left without saying goodbye again, that’s his brain it’s not personal and it bugs me so much because of my safety cues”.

            Highly recommend. This book along with the Atkinson book were the most directly helpful to me with practical advice on how to understand and change what **I** do.


          21. Another big thing women do wrong is to not realize that when a man “shuts down” and withdraws its often a sign of physiological overwhelm. Gottman calls this “flooding”.

            In general, women don’t get flooded as easily or as much in marital conflict so the wife just keeps talking when her husband is showing signs of overwhelm. And interprets his need to disengage with disinterest.

            There is a LOT of stuff going on in relationships that is happening in the “fast unconscious brain”. And men can be overwhelmed by criticism quicker than women.

            Wives need to use soft start ups and not keep pushing for more interaction when it’s clear he’s flooded in order to maintain emotional safety.

            I’ve screwed this stuff up big time but I’m getting much better now. It makes a big difference.

          22. This is something that I find frustrating but also understand. He’s not good at conveying the feeling of overwhelm with the conversation or the ‘flooded’ feeling and expresses it as anger and walks away. He’s also not good at coming back to a conversation if he’s not willing to engage at the time, in order to discuss at a better or more convenient moment. Perhaps I need to get better at learning to leave it then and ask at a later time if it’s good to discuss because it feels like I’m butting up against a brick wall at the moment.!

          23. Lori,

            I know, believe me, I know how frustrating it is to be stonewalled!!!! And for him to walk away and not come back. It’s very painful and maddening.

            It is so hard to not want to keep pursuing at that point. I have had to develop a system to notice the physical signs of him getting “flooded” (or me getting flooded) and stop at that point. Leave the room and put on Netflix to stop myself from ruminating on how irritating he is.

            The point is to break the pursue/withdraw pattern. So he is given a better opportunity to respond in a different pattern. And I don’t get increasingly frustrated with his non responses and think contemptuous thoughts about him as I used to do.

          24. Nate,

            The topic of women withholding sex is a worthy one. Its complex but the short answer is IMHO it’s not to be done in a resentful way. It could be done to set a healthy boundary but that’s completely different.

            I think couples get into these difficult patterns and hurt each other with the things they know matter to the other person.

            It’s clearly not a sign of maturity or a healthy relationship.

          25. I write and speak in generalities because the math says what I write about is generally true.

            Mostly, men get this stuff wrong, and the negative cycle toward divorce begins.

            However. It’s not 100%. It might not even be 75%. Sometimes, inevitably, the onus falls upon the “typical” wife to adjust mindset or behavior in order to achieve a healthy, loving marriage.

            I don’t write stories about that because I don’t have any experience being a wife, and have no way of knowing how much of my wife’s perceived “wrong” behavior would have ever happened had I not made so many of the mishaps that I did.

            Until I can 100% rule out that something I did didn’t trigger something the other person did, then I think it’s flawed and irresponsible to point fingers.

            Other people’s relationships—quite possibly yours—can be totally different than mine.

            The only person in this instance capable of looking themselves in the mirror, and challenging their own beliefs about how much they can and are giving to their marriage, is you.

            And if you do that and are genuinely giving all you can, only to have your best efforts met with a lack of gratitude and resentment, etc, then I’m sorry.

            I spent a short time in the end feeling that way too, and it was brutal.

            I ultimately concluded that some things can be broken beyond repair, and that’s where she’d ended up. Wanting to reset but never able to shed the wounds of our relationship.

            I’m not going to blame someone else for changing on account of years of enduring less than she deserved from the one person who vowed to love her forever.

            Causality is a thing.

            But there are other guys out there who are awesome and who have NOT accidentally neglected and emotionally abandoned their wives for several years of marriage.

            Those wives have some soul-searching to do, but someone more credible than me will have to write about it.

          26. Overall, in terms of contributing toward dysfunctional or malignant relationship systems? I would guess it’s close to 50/50. It’s just illogical that it should be otherwise. I *do* think that some areas trend very far away from 50/50, however, and I think your post above is one such area.

            We are all damaged by our culture, including its long (and I mean really long, as in millennia) history of patriarchy. We are all damaged by our upbringing. We are all damaged by our partners and friends and children and bosses and the people in the checkout line at the grocery store. Our job is to get some self-awareness and grow out of those injuries and burdens.

            Matt, your blog suggests a lot of good things to men. Judging from the comments, the audience that reads it most may not be the audience that needs to hear the message most, though. :-\

          27. More men than you think see this stuff. They’re just, on average, infinitely less inclined to leave comments and discuss this stuff.

            That said, you’re right, of course. Women read and discuss more than men.

            Until we mainstream these conversations by normalizing vulnerable, personal conversation and teach people the basic tenets of healthy interpersonal relationships (romantic or otherwise), I expect the average guy won’t be volunteering any thoughts and feelings around here.

          28. That’s actually great news. I have come to believe – and I know you are an advocate for this – that we should seriously reevaluate our state and federal budgets and really put some investment in emotional and relationship education and development.

            The COST, in dollars, ignoring all the other costs, is HUGE. It’s almost as if we were giving people cigarettes for free and promoting smoking, in terms of the impact on both emotional and physical (yes, physical) health in this country. We are like the Fifth World in this area.

          29. Jack,

            You said:

            “Overall, in terms of contributing toward dysfunctional or malignant relationship systems? I would guess it’s close to 50/50. It’s just illogical that it should be otherwise.”

            Since I know you are a fan of Terry Real I wonder how you reconcile the 50/50 idea with his main ideas.

            I will confess the 50/50 idea drives me crazy. You know why? Because it along with the idea that couples therapists should be neutral and never assign blame more than 50 percent prevents correct diagnosis.

            Do I think it’s mostly the man in general who has dysfunction? No I do not.

            As I have said many times men are better at certain relationship skills than women and vice versa.

            And there are plenty of women who are mostly at fault for a bad marriage.

            But here is where, in general, I absolutely agree with Terry Real. It is NOT the man in the relationship who is expending most of the time and energy and emotional labor to FIX the relationship. It is more often men who resist the idea of a 2 person system. Let me once again trot out my Gottman statistic that 65% of men do not accept influence from their wives while their wives do.

            Terry Real says that 90% of relationship books are bought by women, MOST relationship resources are sought out by women not men.

            This blog also seems to fall into a similar pattern. Even though it is written by a man to help men.

            This may not apply to you Jack and other male commenters here since you are clearly interested in fixing your marriage. You are outliers from the general pattern.

            But the WORK to maintain and improve a relationship is not 50/50 for most couples.

            I can tell you it is not 50/50 in my marriage either and it makes me incredibly angry.

            I get why culturally men are not raised to do it and all the reasons why it is resisted. I get that. But I was culturally raised to do very different things than I am learning to do too.

            For me I would like the 50/50 fantasy to die.

            It’s partly why I like Terry Real’s straight talk on it. He acknowledges the imbalance. Sometimes it is 50/50 in the making sure. But it is not 50/50 in trying to fix it.

            I wonder if you think about this differently?

          30. Well, yes and no. 😀

            I don’t think neutrality is necessary and I think in a lot of cases it’s not good – I have read not just TR’s books but a lot of professional commentary and advice and I accept and agree with his perspective.

            I also think you’re right (it’s basically irrefutable?) that women are more attentive and vocal about relationship quality.

            But…I do believe that in a lot of cases, one person – either partner – can disrupt the system significantly. Maybe, in many cases, enough to bring you to a place of happiness. And I do believe that ultimately, we make ourselves happy, not our partners. [But this can be a real mind-bender…can make, say, Inception (the movie) seem like a Beatrix Potter story.]

            And if, for whatever reason, we’ve tried – or even if we haven’t! – and are tired of the wear and tear (or worse), marriage is a choice and you can leave it. I recognize that there are emotional and practical and family (esp. child) and economic issues, but in most cases in the US the decision to marry was voluntary and the decision to divorce is the same.

            And, sigh, yes, it is possible that my point of view on this comes from the fact that in many ways I think my wife and I are gender-flipped as far as the stereotypes go. But equally, I don’t think I’m a freak or even a rare case. Maybe what’s rare is that I reached the breaking point before my almost infinitely stoic wife. 🙂

            There are more things to say in response but I’ll send this now and hopefully circle back!

          31. Jack,

            You said:

            “But…I do believe that in a lot of cases, one person – either partner – can disrupt the system significantly. Maybe, in many cases, enough to bring you to a place of happiness. And I do believe that ultimately, we make ourselves happy, not our partners. [But this can be a real mind-bender…can make, say, Inception (the movie) seem like a Beatrix Potter story.]”

            Its clear you have thought a lot about this stuff. I saw in another comment you have been reading Byron Katie recently. Are you finding that helpful to lesson the frustration of living with an avoidant spouse?

            I tend to lean more towards the Stan Tatkin more attachment based goal. That it is our goal to make each other feel secure. So from my perspective it’s my job to make my husband feel secure and vice versa.

            I’m not sure about “happy”. Depends on how it’s defined. I don’t think it’s my job to do everything he asks.

            My husband says he needs to feel accepted to feel secure. Currently trying to Sherlock Holmes that one out from my avoidant spouse.

          32. This format so much doesn’t work for these great exchanges!!! I feel so…marginalized. (Wink/laugh – punning.)

            Byron Katie – going some way back. She makes my head explode. Which is useful. This one I keep coming back and back and back to. It’s a session with a woman who’s mad at The Work. Put me in a black dress and I could be Amanda – watch this and see:

            The thing that, in very general terms, is helping me most is really just getting to an adult level of differentiation with a woman I have a long history and friendship with and love for, when she’s not driving me crazy or, as I think I’m coming to understand it, when I’m not driving me crazy. She just is who she is: my exasperating, lovable wife. Both. (CBT!!!)

            Now, I could get to the point where I accept that she is who she is, and accept that I am who I am, and that it just does NOT work, but that would be because I had come to understand that I could not love the person who she is, not because she hadn’t changed to become the person I wanted to love. There is a universe of difference there, though I’m probably not getting the point across.

            Your husband’s happiness. Not your job at all. That’s HIS job. There are certainly things you can do to make him less happy or even unhappy (and vice versa). And there are certainly things you can each do to enhance each other’s happiness. We give because we choose to, not because it’s our job. Because we love and want to give, not because we need love and want to receive. There’s another universe of difference.

            Tatkin/Johnson. Sigh. I read and listen to their books and it feels so good and I believe it so much…and maybe for some couples it works. But I don’t know how that can be reliable over years, in thick and thin, good and bad, hard and worse. I wish someone would make my well-being (which is not the same as happiness, I think) their primary job, but I know I do a pretty poor job of that so I don’t know how likely someone else is to be able to do that reliably for me. It makes so much sense and it is so comforting, but at the end of the day I’m not sure it’s the ledge I want to get out onto.

            I used to think Schnarch was a crazy Teutonic male who talked a lot of logical stuff that was mumbo-jumbo in the end. I would still believe that if I hadn’t read (I keep plugging this book) _It Takes One to Tango._ To me, it’s a lot of the same insights (not completely, but the important ones) expressed in a far more practical, understandable, livable way. And, I think very importantly, illustrated not just with vignettes from clients’ lives but also from the author/therapist’s real life with her husband. Maybe it’s a case of the teacher appearing when the student is ready, but I have found this book incredibly and very concretely helpful. But my kinks and wounds are not the same as yours or anyone else’s.

          33. Oh – one other response right now. 😉

            I do agree with you, absolutely (as in no reservations, never saw an exception) that women are ALWAYS the ones who mind the, what is the right word?, “familiness” of the family. Not necessarily the husband/wife relationship, but the “are we working and connecting and feeling like a family” thing.

            I do a whole lot more of the household stuff (hate the word “chores”) around here and not because I’m Mr. Nice Guy. I would do it anyway without scorekeeping, but at one point when I was thinking about that, I realized that my wife puts a ton of energy into thinking about how the four of us (now with a daughter-in-law added, five) plus all the in-laws and out-laws “work.” She does it really beautifully, and really well, and I realized a while back that I really value what she does and how she does it. I really value the history and I really desire to be part of it in the future. So when I think about all that involves, even if I were scorekeeping, the score wouldn’t be as lopsided as a casual observer (or at least a causal *male* observer) might think – because I think for the most part, it’s just not in our DNA at all. 🙂

          34. Jack,

            I will respond to other comment later. But I think that is awesome that you acknowledge your wife’s energy into the family stuff and do more things to help balance it out.

            I guess my issue is I don’t WANT to do the family stuff either. It mystifies me why I am supposed to just because I am female.

            I am sure there are people out there that enjoy it but I have never come across a woman who loves to manage their inlaws.

            But really that is a separate issue that what I really mean which is:

            What happens when your marriage gets screwed up by cycles of arguments of where the dish goes.

            It’s not usually the man who tries at that point to figure it out by buying books, reading blogs, or scheduling a couples counselor.

            The man often (to Matt’s post here either thinks she is wrong and works more or focuses on hobbies etc.).

            And the cycle escalates because of that.

            I am not saying this applies to you but to most.

          35. somecallmejack, I love your assessment of your wife’s ‘work’ that she does in terms of making the familial links flow and work well.

          36. Mulling this over still…I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that TR thinks men are >50% responsible? I’m going on recollection, so forgive me if this isn’t accurate, but I think it’s more like he says that mens’ issues are sort of the first barrier that has to be dealt with – that most women have issues to be dealt with as well, but until you clear out the toxic legacy of patriarch you can’t really deal with any of the other issues, for men or women. I have definitely been known to mis-remember things, though.

          37. My understanding is that Terry Real says that in the average case we talk about here the man is the one who resists a more intimate depth of relationship that restore full range of human emotions.

            He says that women often screw up in RESPONSE to that unwillingness by either responding in angry contempt or in shutting down until they divorce.

            This agrees in my opinion with what Gottman’s research shows in slightly different framing.

            This doesn’t mean that women don’t have all kinds of relationship skill deficits, lack of differentation, insecure attachment etc.

            So that’s why in my opinion both people usually bring dysfunction to the relationship that needs to worked out in the marriage crucible as Snarch says. BUT it is usually the man who blocks progress because he operates in a zero sum framing and is resistant to learning intimacy skills.

          38. Jack,

            I may be an outlier here but I prefer to have a correct diagnosis even if it means I am 90% responsible for the problem area.

            For example, I find it helpful to have it pointed out to me that I am terrible at soft start ups and I need to improve that. My husband is much much better at that skill. So in that case I am more of the problem.

            In other areas he is much more the problem like stonewalling.

            It’s a cycle of dysfunction but there are certain areas where it is not 50/50 and when you add up all the subsections it is not 50/50 for most people IMHO. Often the tie breaker is the man who won’t budge on seeking help of even recognize the need to change.

            My husband for example doesn’t call my request “crazy” instead he used to label my requests a unusually “needy”. Because if you are avoidant a 2 person system seems needy.

            There are clearly women who are the block so it’s not always the man. But we are talkng averages.

          39. Agree on correct diagnoses!

            Point(s) accepted on 50/50 – but, query: does it matter? It seems like I’m treating it as if it does, which is something I need to reflect on.

            Semi-tangent: do you think men are more likely to think about relationships as one-person systems?

            Returning to the topic (I hope) – at the end of the day I think it’s really down to this: can we accept and love our partner as they are, while hoping for the best for them? And can we accept ourselves as we are, but seek growth for ourselves and our partners and family members and the others in our lives, giving from abundance rather than scarcity or with the hope of quid pro quo?

            I think I see over the horizon a world where I can give without needing a response and be whole in myself – and then the next step is for the two of us to celebrate our togetherness as a choice and a gift rather than a duty or a need. I am rambling. (And I am *not* drinking!)

          40. Jack,

            You said:

            “Point(s) accepted on 50/50 – but, query: does it matter? It seems like I’m treating it as if it does, which is something I need to reflect on.
            Semi-tangent: do you think men are more likely to think about relationships as one-person systems? ”

            I don’t think it matters to identify if it’s not 50/50 if both people are sincerely working on their own issues.

            But so often one person is not owning their shit fully and working to change as much as the other person. And that is when I think it matters. Because it is necessary to get a correct diagnosis of what is going on.

            For example my husband used to tell me he thought that I was pretty much ALL of the problems. I used to ask him you mean you don’t think you are 1% at fault?

            Honestly that was so ridiculous it amused me (which I tried to hide). As things improved he was able to accept a higher percentage of the shit. But still never 50/50 much less a majority. And thus was after we had therapists tell him otherwise.

            He still thinks I am mostly to blame but now I just see it as part of his defensive mechanism and I can tolerate it as long as he is working on improving.

            It’s interesting to note the better relationship skills he develops the higher percentage of shit he is able to own.

            To answer your tangent question. Yes I think in general that men are more likely to think about relationships as one-person systems.

            I think we raise boys to be fear being controlled and being put in a one down position. They tend to think in hierarchies. I want to be the boss and not be told what to do. If you tell me to change you must be trying to be my boss. Zero sum etc if you win, I must lose.

            Women are raised to be more in 2 person systems. This in my experience is not utopia either. It often means I must have the group or others needs more important that mine as a negative. But most women are used to thinking in terms of the give and take of relationships.

            I don’t think most women know how to be in a healthy relationship though that’s a different thing. Many women learn to give up their needs for the needs of other people as I said above. Or they try to control others.

            What do you think?

          41. Jack,

            You said:

            “I think I see over the horizon a world where I can give without needing a response and be whole in myself – and then the next step is for the two of us to celebrate our togetherness as a choice and a gift rather than a duty or a need. I am rambling. (And I am *not* drinking!)”

            That is awesome you can see that future!

          42. Jack,

            No idea at this point where this reply will end up but it’s in response to the comment that includes this:

            “Your husband’s happiness. Not your job at all. That’s HIS job. There are certainly things you can do to make him less happy or even unhappy (and vice versa). And there are certainly things you can each do to enhance each other’s happiness. We give because we choose to, not because it’s our job. Because we love and want to give, not because we need love and want to receive. There’s another universe of difference.”

            I agree with your point that what works to get people to a healthy individual and relationship depends on the starting point and the persons history, personality etc.

            Like you I read a lot of stuff to get a wide perspective of ideas and possible solutions. As you know there are people who put more focus on differentiation (“you can’t make other people happy, it’s each person’s job to make themselves happy”)

            There are people who put more focus on secure attachment ( “you need to create a safe relationship where you meet each other’s needs. It’s your job to take care of each other.”

            Obviously both are true and that’s the tension. You need to both live in a two person system but also each person is responsible for themselves.

            When I read Tatkin that’s the message I get so that why I like his approach. I also like that he focuses a lot on the unconscious mind and the body responses that are a big part of correcting my relationship issues. That approach is close to the medicine I need to fill my gaps. I also like it because I have spent years being told my requests are “needy” and Takin’s approach disputes that notion so it’s healing to me that way too.

            What you find helpful sounds like more of a differntiation message from Snarch and Katie Byron. Makes sense to me since what helps is different from person to person. I like a lot of what Snarch says snd find it helpful.

            I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never found Katie Byrons or similar Buddist kind of ideas helpful. I don’t find the “there is no objective truths” models helpful. I get what they are trying to say. I get why so many people find this transforming. It just isn’t helpful to me based on my particular point of view.

            But hey that’s what differntiation is about. I think it’s awesome there are so many voices out there for people to find the ones that are helpful and effective for change.

          43. First, Lisa, thank you. I love these dialogs. There aren’t too many people who want to geek out on this stuff. 🙂

            Byron Katie – complicated in lots of ways. I very absolutely believe in objective truth, but I believe (and I think human history proves this) that if you get too insistent about your ability to perceive and determine and articulate that truth, you wind up with hatred, harm and, ultimately, people like Hitler. So I walk very gently in that area, and I take to heart all the things we know about not needing to be right in relation (and in relationship) to another person or group. But her model can be useful in clearing out my mental crud. And the woman in that video, Amanda, is wrestling with exactly one of the things I wrestle with in my marriage.

            Tatkin/Schnarch/Etc. I think there are shades of meaning here and probably a lot of what something that someone writes or says means to someone depends on how they hear it. What I hear Tatkin saying is that we have to make it our jobs to make the relationship safe and healthy for our spouse. I “get it” but I hear that a half step or so off key. I don’t think I could do that reliably for my wife. I’m going to foul up. And I don’t think it works as a, what, sort of a contractual obligation? But it does work as a gift, and I believe two people who act with love toward each other can build a mostly reliable upward relationship cycle with each other.

            But I agree with you that we all come from different backgrounds. We have different injuries and different strengths and different spouses, and – just as we know this with respect to our marriages – it isn’t a case where things are black and white/all or none. It’s OK to be different, including thinking differently. 🙂

            Maybe my focus on differentiation comes from my history. I grew up in a family comprised of four one-person systems. I accepted that as how the world works, the exclusive way that the world works, for 58 years or so. The first time I remember reading that phrase, in one of Tatkin’s books, I had literally no idea what he was talking about. I have come a long way. I don’t think my wife has any idea how far or how hard it has been, but I don’t need her to. 🙂 I can give myself enough appreciation and validation there.

          44. Jack,

            Thank you for the dialogue. It is great to talk to someone who processes through books.

            It absolutely makes sense to me that Tatkin would strike a discordant note from some one raised in 4 one person systems. My husband agrees with you. As I said what we find helpful/healing will.

            I find a lot of commonalities with Atkinson, Gottman and Tatkin. As you know Atkinson says we have to become experts at knowing our partners so that we can know how to deal with them kindly and not freak out them out. (My paraphrase ha ha).

            That is also in my mind what Gottman and Tatkin among others say too. To KNOW how to soothe your partner. Attune is the phrase Gottman uses. In order to do that you have to know how to soothe yourself when the inevitable freak outs come from your partner. It’s a chicken and egg thing in my mind. You need both. Which comes first. Both.

            In my mind what you need to focus on first probably depends a lot on what you are most unskilled at. My husband has a hyper differentation default. So his work is to focus on staying in a two person system by soothing himself so he can FOCUS on soothing me. He is instinct is to withdraw to soothe himself and ignore me. So HE needs to lean into focusing on the attachment part.

            I have more of an attachment focus. I think in terms of togetherness first. All great if I was fully differentiated and skilled. But I’m not. When me husband withdraws from me this freaks me out and *I* go into a one person system. I am focused on soothing myself so I try and get him to soothe me. Which of course escalates his freak out and the pattern continues.

            So to correct that I had to focus on learning more differentiton skills. I read a lot of that stuff. Took a one year training from Ellyn Bader etc so I could STAY in a one person system when he freaked me out but going into a one person system.

            My husband doesn’t “like” attachment theory. He likes differentiation theory. Vice versa for me. Why? Because we like things we are better at more then things we suck at.

            Since my husband is the usual reluctant avoidant male in many ways I have tried to find interventions and therapy systems that focus on differentiation. To give him the home field advantage. That seems to feel safer for him to risk more change.

            We are currently taking a DBT couples class whose premise is “you are responsible to soothe yourself no one else is” sigh. I have to work hard to stay regulated in that environment. Why? Because I have had a lifetime of people telling me they don’t need to be in a 2 person system with me and I’m weary of it.

            But in my view it’s my “job” to make my husband feel safe as much as I can pull off without freaking out and making things worse. So that’s why I am applying my attachment model to suggesting we take a differentiation model class.

            And I am working on my own differention and self soothing. As Gottman, Tatkin, Atkinson teach me you have to have both. Chicken and egg.

            For what it’s worth I think Johnson doesn’t focus enough on talking about self regulation. But from what I read she says you need to be reasonably self regulated for EFT to work.

          45. Jack,

            You said: “Byron Katie – complicated in lots of ways. I very absolutely believe in objective truth, but I believe (and I think human history proves this) that if you get too insistent about your ability to perceive and determine and articulate that truth, you wind up with hatred, harm and, ultimately, people like Hitler. So I walk very gently in that area, and I take to heart all the things we know about not needing to be right in relation (and in relationship) to another person or group. But her model can be useful in clearing out my mental crud. And the woman in that video, Amanda, is wrestling with exactly one of the things I wrestle with in my marriage.”
            I didn’t present my Byron Katie thoughts well. I am sure she and you and others who relate to her work believe in objective truth. That was a dumb way to explain my thoughts about it. (See I told you I suck at soft start ups ha ha).

            I wanted the video link you provided and I can see how that approach could be quite helpful. It’s questioning your thoughts in a particular way to loosen up the idea that they are “absolute truth”. And in that woman’s case to point out the idea that SHE could ask for what she wanted through words or action.

            Absolutely I can see why that’s helpful.

            Do you know Daniel Kahneman behavioral economics approach. His book Thinking Fast and Slow details how the brain is organized into creating certain thinking errors.

            System 1 as he calls it is fast thinking where our defaults formed by memories, cultural knowledge etc live. It’s useful in that it doesn’t require much effort to run but it is full of errors because it runs on patterns.

            So when that woman was chopping vegatables and she saw her husband “ignore her” her fast thinking correctly correlated that with lots of associated convos and experiences of being disappointed and rejected. So she responds in a predictable way based on that.

            It’s not “wrong”. It’s just not complete. My block to many approaches that focus on thoughts alone is that they don’t focus enough on the underlying emotions in the fast thinking. That is what Atkinson and Tatkin do that I find helpful. You have to change the underlying fast thinking because that drives the MAJORITY of how you respond. If you don’t you have to use willpower to try and overcome it and that inevitably fails.

            System 2 is our slow thinking and that is what Byron Katie is mostly focusing on. Defintely helpful. But in my mind not complete for me to change. I’m sure others can.

            But definetly insight is important to change.

            My model of change is profoundly influenced by Daniel Kahneman’s and similar approaches.

            I think focusing too much on system 2 thinking is why marriages don’t change even when you are trying hard.

            You aren’t addressing why you feel THREATENED by your spouse similar to a tiger in the bed next to you.

            Using all the I statements in the world won’t fix that. “I would appreciate if you would not eat me tiger” ha ha

          46. Oh – something else that was on my mind, relative to the 50/50 discussion.

            When I started this, I (unsurprisingly) thought all the issues were my wife’s responsibility. If she would just change and start acting “correctly,” we would have a great marriage.

            Well, you know how that goes. (:-/ But it took me probably a year to really figure that out.

            My position for a while has been that I actually don’t care how much is her stuff and how much is my stuff. Very honestly, and I really believe this and mostly think I act this way but I know I slip up, I know that I have so darned much crap to sort out that I don’t have time to try to assess relative fault.

            So I just ask: what’s my part? When it comes to her, I try to focus on the good stuff, which sometimes is harder than it should be, but that (again) is my problem to fix, not hers. 🙂

          47. “For me I would like the 50/50 fantasy to die.” I could not have said this better. This is to me the most harmful fantasy that couples counseling has bestowed upon females (generally). I’m a huge fan of Terry Real and I too believe in the blatant vs. the latent partner and that the blatant partner needs to be addressed first. I too share your sentiment that “But the WORK to maintain and improve a relationship is not 50/50 for most couples. I can tell you it is not 50/50 in my marriage either and it makes me incredibly angry.” I am working through this resentment, and this urge to say since this is your problem (mostly), you need to fix it. I am however trying to come around to the idea that if we know we’re further along in the emotional development (i.e. second consciousness), and we allow our partner’s adaptive inner child to drive our relationship bus, we’re the idiots since we know better and threw a child to drive that bus. It may not work for you, but realizing that actually helped me at least come to terms with the idea that it’s in my best interest to make sure that I drive this bus while my partner figures out how to get his inner child in check. I share your sentiment, it isn’t fair. If I solely think about the hours, maybe weeks, months, years wasted checking him into one counselor after the next, knowing full well most of this bs isn’t mine to work out, I could probably just write up the divorce papers in my sleep and sign it without any doubt. However knowing that if I want this to keep going that I need to set the sail in that direction, bc my partner isn’t able to, somehow helps me get through this bitterness.

          48. Astrid,

            Interesting to hear your process on how to successfully deal with having the drive the bus.

            My main issue is having to drive the bus throughout the night without it being acknowledged.

            I can do lots of “unfair” imbalanced work without much resentment if it is at least acknowledged by professionals who should be able to correctly diagnose it. That is what really annoys me. You EXPECT that the other person is going to default to only see their part.

            But paying money to therapists who insist it’s 50/50? Yeah no. It’s not even logical that all relationships can be 50/50. Clearly there is variety in the billions of people. The concept is stupid to me.

            Unlike you I don’t think I am much further along in my emotional development than my husband. Lots of skill deficits on my part too. Which make the bus driving even more precarious. Like a driver with a learners permit driving through the fog down a mountain road. It’s scary to be driving like that since I KNOW I am not mature enough to do it well. It calls on my weak areas to drive the bus in the necessary ways.

          49. Why don’t men buy relationship books? Because 90% of them are about what men are doing wrong and how we can fix them.

            Men and women are, in the aggregate, different. If we were the same, would people really couple up?

            The impression, right or wrong is that men need to be fixed, like we are some sort of relationship home improvement project. That our needs are carnal and base, and we express all the “wrong” emotions, such as anger or joy that our team won the championship.

            Compare and contrast the typical Mother’s Day sermon in a church to the Father’s Day sermon. Mother’s Day summary, Mom walks on water, all forms, solid, liquid and gas.

            Father’s Day summary, men are failing and need to step up their game.

            The smart man will not walk into an ambush.

            Others will call it stonewalling, but doing so is no less dismissive of him being a person with his own mind, feelings, desires and preferences than what men are accused of doing to women.

            I can’t speak for all men, but I can speak for myself. If you are on my case for leaving out a dish, but our shared closet looks like your suitcase exploded, and you won’t hold yourself to the same standard as you hold me, I may think you are crazy or at the very least are not consistent in your standards. If I have to be neat, but you give yourself a pass to be a slob, this will not work for me long term.

            Are men not engaging or disengaging because they don’t care, or is it because they perceive little or no value in this dialog? Are they protecting themselves as others have suggested?

            People do things when there is perceived value.

            It may be a cold calculus, but if I pick up my dishes, but the closet never gets cleaned out, I’m not going to be very motivated to pick up my dish the next time.

            Now maybe it’s just me. Maybe others are ok with what appears to be a double standard. But I’m not.

            And bringing this back around, I think many marriage books and resources come across just like that, a double standard.

            In practice, it may seem like a moving goal post. OK, I’ve picked up the dishes, maybe she’ll take my complaint about the lack of physical intimacy seriously? Or, I’ve asked her about her day every day for the past month, maybe she will take my complaints seriously.

            And if she doesn’t respond, acknowledge, or address a complaint I’ve brought up, it seems comes across as a one-sided ambush. Like negotiating with North Korea. Lots of promises, very little action (double entendre intended.)

            Marriage resources have to bring value to BOTH parties in the marriage. If 90% of the books are about what your husband is doing wrong and here is how to fix him, don’t expect many men to buy these books.

          50. Uniballer,

            You said:

            Are men not engaging or disengaging because they don’t care, or is it because they perceive little or no value in this dialog? Are they protecting themselves as others have suggested?”

            Glad to see your comment! The more men give their perspectives the better for us to all understand and learn and improve our relationships.

            I think you are right that often a husband does the “cold calculus” and determines engaging in a conversation that will lead to the same old fight or with his point of view being judged as “wrong” just isn’t worth it.

            Or they may use a calculus to protect themselves from feeling like failures as was discussed in an article and comments below.

            Or there is just a frustration and tiredness and the lack of consideration of his concerns as you stated about the closet and physical intimacy.

            My premise is that both men AND women often don’t understand how healthy relationships work and how to respond to our spouses when they are not taking our needs into consideration in reasonable ways. And we just keep expecting the other person to figure it out and adjust. But instead we get locked into intensifying patterns of the more she does x, the more he does y over and over until we don’t know what is happening.

            I didn’t know how to healthily respond to my husband’s responses to me so I am exhibit A as a wife. My husband also didn’t know how to healthily respond to my responses either.

            We just didn’t know that we didn’t know so we ended up in these repeating cycles of each feeling the other is using a “double standard.”

            Until we could see what skills we were missing and each address them to get to a more “secure functioning” relationship.

            Do you agree with that premise or do you see it differently? I love it when people disagree with me in ways that get me to think so I sincerely hope you respond if you have time.

            I would like to hear more about your view of what types of books or other materials would be seen by men as treating their interests fairly and with respect without blaming them.

            Have you read a relationship book or other material that you found helpful?
            What do you think men require to find relationship materials helpful and not blaming them unfairly?

            From my perspective, books and materials that see things as an interlocking system are most helpful to me. I try to post comments to add the wife’s usual dysfunction to add to Matt’s posts so that we can see it as a system.

            Usually both sides are doing things “incorrectly” based on how healthy relationships operate. I don’t think it’s usually 50/50 (could be either side on a specific topic (like withholding sex as one example several men have posted here. ) but it’s a SYSTEM. How does the person correctly RESPOND to it to get the relationship back on track rather than shutting down or criticizing etc.

            I have some thoughts about your (in my experience correct) observations about mother’s/father’s sermons too that put weird emphasis on a mother’s sacrificing herself too much which is as damaging as beating up fathers. Just different sides of the same unhelpful coin IMHO. It “seems” like the mother is seen as better but in my experience it’s just reinforcing a woman not knowing how to stand up for herself in healthy ways. I agree that bashing men and fathers is reinforcing a lot of bad messages too on men’s side.

          51. Uniballer,

            You said:

            Others will call it stonewalling, but doing so is no less dismissive of him being a person with his own mind, feelings, desires and preferences than what men are accused of doing to women.

            Would you please explain this more? I would like to hear a husband’s perspective on “stonewalling.” Is it the terminology of the word you find dismissive? Or did you mean something else.

            What is your advice to wives to best respond to their husbands so they don’t feel dismissed as a person with his own mind, feelings, desires and preferences?

          52. I’m on-call this week, which is why I’m writing at 2:45 AM…

            So I am not going to give a detailed answer now, but am letting you know that I’m not ducking the question.

            I just need to make it through the next few days/nights and then I can give my brain some rest and then a chance to make a cogent reply.

          53. Uniballer,

            That’s great!

            I really appreciate you taking time to let me know you are willing to reply later when you have time and energy.

            I look forward to hearing your perspective. It’s so helpful to hear from men to explain how they think and feel about things.

            I really do think women often don’t understand men’s experiences and frustrations in marriage very well.

          54. “Do you agree with that premise or do you see it differently? I love it when people disagree with me in ways that get me to think so I sincerely hope you respond if you have time.”


            Is it the lack of healthy responses or just the lack of the response we want to see?

            Oh sure, there are unhealthy ways to respond. To just flat out lie for example. Or to belittle, I.E. “don’t be such a baby” or “you shouldn’t feel that way” or I’m sure if I thought about it, I could come up with some more.

            Or there is the put it back on the other person. I recall my ex-wife answer my question, “What would your ideal relationship look like?” with, “If you loved me, you would know what to do.”

            Can’t or wouldn’t say something like, “I really don’t know, but it doesn’t look like what we have.”


            “I would like to hear more about your view of what types of books or other materials would be seen by men as treating their interests fairly and with respect without blaming them.”


            Frankly, I’m mostly a fan of Dr Willard Harley. He speaks of the emotional needs of men and women and the lovebusters we can commit that destroy romantic love. He doesn’t judge needs. He does note that men and women have a typical set of needs but we are all different and some may have differing needs and sometimes women have needs more often associated with men and vice versa.

            Some examples would be Physical Attractiveness, Sex, Recreational Companionship, Financial Security and IIRC, Conversation. (It’s been a while since I’ve read, so I reserve the right to be wrong.)

            Some needs can only be legitimately met by your spouse. For example, it may be OK for me to go with the boys for a 60 mile bike ride this coming Saturday. But it wouldn’t be proper for me to go outside of my marriage to have my sexual fulfillment needs met. However, when it is all said and done, the healtiest of marriages are where each spouse is the primary meeter of needs for the other. Not in some sort of unhealthy co-dependent way, but in a way where each person is still a person with their own needs. Most of which are met by their spouse.

            So while I may spend 3-5 hours on a Saturday riding the with boys, it’s not an everyday thing. I spend time with my wife so that we are meeting one anothers needs.

            He also has the concept of Love Busters, or behaviors that destroy romantic love. Things like angry outbursts, independent behavior, dishonesty, and so on destroy romantic love.

            Meeting needs makes deposits in the love bank. Love Busters make withdrawals. If you overdraft your account, your relationship is in peril.

            I like it because it doesn’t judge the needs. It doesn’t say that the need for Sexual Fulfillment or an Attractive spouse are base or inferior. It just takes the needs as a given, they are, and you either meet them or you don’t. If you choose to dismiss your spouses needs, you do so at the peril of the relationship.

            Compare and contrast that with authors such as Ken Nair, who all but says if a wife is misbehaving, is sick, or whatever, look to her husband and he is to blame. My former pastor much have followed his approach, as his question to me when my ex-wife was having an affair was, “What did you do to force her to have an affair?”

            “Have you read a relationship book or other material that you found helpful?
            What do you think men require to find relationship materials helpful and not blaming them unfairly?”

            See above. I think about 90% of the stuff out there (impression, not actual research) is like what Ken Nair writes and 10% or less seems to follow the Willard Harley model.

            “What is your advice to wives to best respond to their husbands so they don’t feel dismissed as a person with his own mind, feelings, desires and preferences?”

            Seems as if the default is we must talk about it, or at the very least we must talk about it in the time, place and manner of her choosing. I’ve described it as being run over. There is this conversational train, one that perhaps she’s been on in her mind for sometime, and it’s just arrived at my station, and either I get on it, or I’m run over by it.

            I think some of the suggestions have been made. See if it’s a good time. If not, negotiate for a time to discuss the issue. And then it has to go both ways. If it’s a one-sided conversation where she just offloads what is on her chest, heart or mind and there is no similar opportunity for him, then it’s going to be something he dreads rather than fondly anticiipates.

            Ranking right up there like a registered letter from the IRS is the wife who says, “We need to talk.” Because, often the unstated following phrase is, “about what you are doing wrong.”

            Sometimes, it’s just not a good time to talk. And what if he doesn’t want to talk about it? What if it is painful to him? She wants to talk, he doesn’t. So one imposes their position is better than the other? I.E. it’s better if she imposes her desire to talk over him imposing his desire to not talk?

            The problem isn’t the desire, it’s the imposition, or the supposition that their method is the superior method. I.E. her method of pursuing the coversation is better than his method of avoiding it.

            Ideally, NEITHER would happen. She would say she wants to talk, and he would eagerly be a participant in the conversation. I suspect that is how things were when they first met. He could listen for hours.

            What changed?

            Reminds me of the story of the older couple, driving their old sedan home from the restaurant after dinner. They stop behind a young couple at the traffic light. The young man is driving and the young lady is practically sitting on his lap in the middle of the car, kissing him at the red light. The old lady turns to her husband behind the wheel and asks, “Why don’t we do that anymore?”

            The old man looks at her and says, “I haven’t moved from my seat, I’m still sitting in the same place I was when you used to do that.”

            So what changed?

            And I’m not suggesting that it’s only the wives that move to the far side of the car and stop necking with their husbands at the traffic light…

            What I am asking is what changed? If he was willing to talk before and doesn’t anymore, should we assume that it’s a defect in him, or his relationship skills? Likewise, for her.

            I’m not sure there is any advice there. Maybe just that what is the goal of the conversation? Is it to get your way, or to have a better marriage? Not always the same.

            I’m not saying you can’t have needs and want some things. After all, Dr Harley is against sacrifice in most cases. It cannot be sustained. One can sacrifice for a short time, but eventually they will become resentful if they’ve been sacrificing. Especially if their needs have gone unmet.

            But if the goal is to negoatiate where you both win. Where you advocate for you needs AND you understand that it is just as likely that your spouse ALSO has unmet needs.

            This is why I bristle at questions like my former pastor met. Now I don’t doubt that my ex-wife had unmet needs. However, she chose a hurtful way to have her needs met. She decided to have an affair.

            We BOTH had unmet needs. The question is, do we go about getting those needs met in a kind, healthy way, or a hurtful, destructive way?

            Sometimes I’ve been heard to say, “I’m not trying to win, I just want to stop losing.”

            If what you are doing leads your spouse to feel that he/she is losing, are you really winning in the long run?

          55. Hi Uniballer,

            Thanks for your thoughtful reply. A lot of good stuff and food for thought in your comment!

            I will reply more later when I have more time. But here is a fist bump ?? of agreement with you on William Harley’s approach and books. I have read quite a few of his books and have found them quite helpful and generally consistant with what research says are the foundation for a healthy marriage.

            I love his key idea of happy marriages consisting of building in win/win behaviors, habits and choices to meet each other’s needs and fill up the love bank.

            Also the idea of not proceeding until each person can be in “enthusiastic agreement” and not sacrificing which leads to resentment. I learned a lot about what and how to change my “love busters” from his stuff too. (Still working on it, sigh).

            Of all the Christian marriage books (and I’ve read a lot) his are by far the best imho because they detail how to build a true partnership.

            I am not familiar with Ken Nair’s books but based on your descriptions I wouldn’t like his approach any more than you do.

            And your pastor asking you “What did you do to force her to have an affair?”

            is just unacceptably stupid and bad and wrong on so many levels!!!

            I know it’s hard to do couple counseling well but the incompetence and insensitivity is so ridiculous!

            Maybe you are right he was following the Ken Nair approach or maybe he just has NO idea how to counsel people. Probably both. It was defintely not fair to put the blame for her affair on you in that way.

            More later. Love that train analogy, I’m going to think about that more.

          56. Should have said “Willard” Harley not William. Since these authors are my imaginary friends I call him Bill like his wife does on their radio show ha ha. Willard reminds me of a creepy rat.

          57. “broken beyond repair”

            Sigh. That’s so hard. I suspect people often give up before they’ve really gone to the end of the rope – but it’s impossible to blame anyone for that.

            I don’t know why either of us is still at it. I myself have come so close to just giving up quite a few times in the last couple of years. The light sort of came up over the horizon around Thanksgiving 2017 for me, though, and I’ve found some new insights and determination, and I’m glad I did. Not sure where it came from, though. Maybe pure stubbornness…not usually viewed as a relational asset…

    3. I wonder if part of what you are navigating is a difference in slow to upset vs readily upset styles?

      Here is an excerpt of the Atkinson link above.

      “A fourth difference involves how your nervous system reacts to things you don’t like. Some people have internal mechanisms that generate upset feelings quickly and intensely while other people have mechanisms that dampen upset feelings as soon as they happen. If your nervous system is wired to diffuse upset feelings, you probably pride yourself in your ability to let frustrations roll off your back, and in your ability to avoid making a big deal of it when things don’t go the way you want. You probably believe that the world would be a better place if everybody were more accepting of the fact that life can’t always go according to plan, and if people didn’t get so bent out of shape when things didn’t go their way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re always willing to “go with the flow.” In fact, you might be a powerful agent of change and feel that the secret to your success is precisely in your ability to remain calm. On the other hand, if you’re a person whose nervous system generates upset feelings quickly and intensely, you create change in almost opposite ways. Your emotional intensity may be the primary vehicle for change. Your upset feelings provide internal motivation, and also they motivate others to take notice.”

  17. What a great post. I also believe that a lot of women never fully grasp what men go through, in my case, the stress of being successful, unemotional, strong all the time. We need to understand each other better. What happened over the years in my marriage was my husband deciding what my needs were – always material, being a provider etc., while ignoring what I actually asked of him – emotional support that cost nothing. It became the dance we did. Over time, my needs were ignored and invalidated, so I stopped asking and became disconnected from him, and he viewed me as ungrateful, spoiled and never happy because he worked his ass off and I wasn’t connecting and asking him for what I really wanted – him. What needed to happen was we both needed to really listen and get the connection back. What happened was “she’s never happy, she stays home while I bust my hump, I’m giving her everything and it’s not enough.” So he started screwing a co worker. That’s when I became (to him) irrational, unstable, overly emotional and too sensitive. Which I was since the distance between us was confusing and scary and I was in the dark.. Unsurprisingly, that girlfriend secret didn’t solve his problems or help his businesses. Because always blaming others for your unhappiness never works. Taking a hard look at yourself is icky and emotional and hard, but the good-feeling payoff lasts much longer than any hotel blow job ever will. Live authentically, genuinely and sincerely. And mindfully. Focus on the prize: your spouse and family, not all the things you think might be the golden egg you’re afraid to miss. Cheating doesn’t make you a man, it makes you a mark, the low hanging fruit. Facing the hard stuff and staying true to yourself and loved ones, standing up for them, is sexy as hell.

    My husband has done a ton of work on himself, and we are a work in progress, but he will tell you that showing others you love them as opposed to showing others how awesome you are multiplies happiness infinitely. And that attracts more good into your life. Lying, blaming, cheating attracted a lot of crap, problems, stress and anxiety. He put himself in situations to deceive, get used, use others and his personal and business life went in the shitter. He’s focused on what really matters and his life has gotten better in all senses. It’s a shame these realizations happen after a trauma, or too late to make a difference.

    1. Lemondrop,

      I didn’t realize to what extent society’s expectations of men has damaged them emotionally until I started hearing excerpts from Terry Real’s book about covert depression in men. That this emotional cutting off that happens as we raise boys makes it extra difficult for them to repair this missing piece in relationships later in life. Men additionally are still taught to the zero sum game, and in marriage, that zero sum game, well the loser becomes your partner.
      I do still hold adults responsible for fixing the damage society has done unto them esp by their own parents. All parents damage their children to a certain extent, and it is up to us as adults to provide to our inner children what we didn’t get from our parents, but it’s the way in which boys are damaged that makes it even harder for that to happen. I still think that it’s really hard for me to hear it from my husband personally because as much as society has damaged men, the subjugation of women in patriarchy is largely unidirectional, not bidirectional. So I’ve asked him to understand that it does feel like blaming the victim when the explanation is we’re so damaged by society that makes it inevitable that men subjugate women. We’re working on that still.
      To Matt’s point on his entry, what is doubly insidious about what men do when they react to women’s emotion “calling them crazy etc” to me is their display of contempt. Judging people esp. your own spouse for having the emotions they have, suggest already a power imbalance with men judging women on what is considered appropriate displays of emotion, courses of action etc. At that point any semblance of equality in your partner’s worth in your eyes disappears, and the effect that it has on your partner is that they feel insignificant. Do this too many times, and most people would leave.

      1. Is it worse judging someone for the emotions they have, then judging someone for the emotions they DON’T have?

        I don’t know, but it struck me as some kind of essence of the whole discussion.

        It’s also possible that I’m just tired, since it’s half past midnight here.

        1. Flyingcal,

          Yes I agree with you that it is equally toxic to have contempt for not having emotions. I struggle with that one myself. Any contempt (judgment) is toxic.

          The problem is usually in the lack of effort to deal with the emotions or lack of emotions. That is what stops progress. If a person later comes back and apologized and tries to work to solve it in a win win way that is totality different than a person judging and then that’s it.

          1. I didn’t know my husband didn’t have emotions, frankly. He was either happy or mad, busy, tired, excited, pumped up about work. I truly believed I was needy emotionally since I was always dismissed, had been my whole life. I didn’t judge his lack, I was too busy dealing with being blamed for feeling too much. No coincidence I married who I married, I was raised by unfeeling parents. The message always was that feelings show weakness and lack of control. If you’re stoic, you have strength and control. I’m not too emotional, certainly not needy, but I feel deeply. Therefore I was the weak one. It’s all bullshit. The people who feel and who process and accept their feelings are stronger than the ones who stuff them down. I’m stronger than my husband and he’s always known it, it’s why he’s projected everything onto me – he couldn’t face or handle certain things. We need to teach our children, esp boys, that weakness is NOT crying, NOT being expressive. They will be better partners and happier people. My husband works on this daily and his stress level has completely diminished. It’s enabled us to work as a team. I always say that when the house burns down, the only thing left standing is the truth, so you may as well always start with the truth. It will out eventually, why waste everyone’s time denying it.

          2. I, too, feel deeply.
            I was raised in an environment that, I wouldn’t call it unfeeling, but perhaps a bit uncaring or un-empathetic. I wa often questioned or shut down for airing the feelings I had (mostly of being inadequate, fear of not living up to expectations).
            As an adult, i thought a committed relationship would be a “safe haven” to express feelings of love and mutual strength, but also for doubt and uncertainty, fear and weaknesses. But I feel I was wrong. Also as an adult I’ve usually been shut down, not for trying to express my feelings but for expressing them in a way that doesn’t align with her experience, or her expectations of me, or even for having feelings that doesn’t align with her expectations of a man in the first place.

        2. I think judgement is different from discernment and I think this is a really important point to make because I think discernment is really important. One is a process used to elevate oneself as being intrinsically better as a human being, and the other, is to evaluate as being more adept at a particular process…
          By and large, I don’t think women judge men for not having emotions, I don’t even think women judge men for not being able to respond to their emotions constructively. It is true however that most women are more relational, and tend to have developed these relational skills because we haven’t been thwarted by society to lose our emotions during our childhood.
          I think there is a roadmap to being more mature in relationships, having more relational skills etc. and I think this is what psychologists like Gottman and Terry Real speak of when they talk about developing second consciousness. I’m in the camp that I believe boys have emotions probably more along the lines of girls. But culture has taught them differently with what to do with those emotions, which unfortunately moves them away from relating with one another, which is often why we do find men being a decade behind with regard to their emotional development.

          1. Excuse me if I’m wrong, but if I’m reading the indentations correctly, I think this was a reply to my post so i will try to answer. I aplogize if it is somewhat incoherent.

            And on the subject of discernment, what I tried to say in my post was that I don’t really think that women judge men in relationships for not having emotions, but for having “wrong” emotions.
            As you say, women are (sometimes?) judged as being “crazy” or demanding the unreasonable.
            I think, and have quite a lot of personal experience about being judged for having the “wrong” emotions, when my emotions didn’t align with her emotions, didn’t align with her expectations of my emotions, or simply for expressing them the wrong way. (And I don’t mean in any kind of violeent or demeaning way.)

            Now, I don’t doubt that women have better relationship skills, as surveys have shown differences both in the ways girls and boys are treated, and also in the ways they react to “authorities”.

            Now, I personally only have a single data point or two to add to the pot. But part of the problem, the way I have experienced and what I’ve seen quite a lot, is that because women are better, we tend to view it as a matter of black-or-white, that women are right and hence men are wrong. Both in the way they feel and in the way they express themselves.
            We have been given a whole different set of tools (if any at all?), but we are still interpreted or judged, by women, and by the same yardstick as them in the way we express our emotions.
            (And when push comes to shove, we’re rarely given a benign interpretation either.)

            Side note about the 50/50 fantasy. I went to therapy once. Walking out from the very first session, where we’d mostly been introducing ourselves and our situation to the therapist, my then-girlfriend commented that it would be fruitless going back because the therapist had been somewhat persistent in also hearing my side of the story instead of not immediately siding with her.

          2. FlyingKal – thank you so much. I post on this blog occasionally and always to advocate from a husband’s point-of-view. I realize this may be the wrong blog to do so but I really appreciate and enjoy Matt’s writing because I truly want to be a better husband. Now, a great deal of the commenters talk about the struggle of getting their husbands to understand their (the wife’s) feelings/wants/needs/etc. Often times the husband is labeled as “not participating” or “not caring” when what I really feel happens is this: the husband DID try to participate, to be present, to show emotions, etc. And I fully acknowledge that is not done perfectly (or even really well) but working under the assumption of giving an honest effort, not a husband who was absent from day one. Anyways, as Flying Kal stated, when a man shows emotions (or has ideas about family, commitment, intimacy, etc), he is often told how those emotions/thoughts/feelings are wrong. This isn’t usually received very well but things proceed. However, after years of being told “we” are flawed and don’t contribute (or whatever other complaint) you end up with a self-fulfilling prophesy.

            This does not make the behavior correct, but at least helps explain where a man is coming from. I hear a lot of commenters here say something like, “I know I’m not perfect, but…(insert a litany of complaints about their husband)”. I have to say, this sure sounds like the wife is accepting NO blame/participation in the dysfunction. Now please, understand that I know full well that there are a lot of shitty husbands out there. I make all kinds of mistakes and try to be accountable to them. Can you (wives) honestly say that you take accountability for all your own flaws. Can you honestly say that you don’t belittle or critique your husbands efforts, points-of-view, actions, etc. based on thinking your ways are better? You can often hear me say to my wife, “as much as you feel you are correct, I also feel I am correct.” Well, the only way to end a fight like this is for me to accept blame. If and when I don’t, the cycle continues.

            Thank you all for listening. Again, I realize this is probably the wrong blog to post this on. Wives – please know that most guys really want you to be happy. We want to be the ONE who makes you happy. We just want to be treated as equals, and not have our efforts belittled. You only have to whack a dog on the nose a few times to alter its behavior…but know that while the negative behavior may stop, the dog’s behavior hasn’t actually substantially changed. Whack the dog enough times and it shuts down. Keep whacking the dog and it eventually lashes out! (I am not advocating violence in any way. Lashing out in terms of destruction relationship behavior).

          3. Hi Nate,

            I am never quite sure if your comments are on response to one of my too numerous comments here. It seems so sometimes since you reference phrases in my comments.

            I think our great you comment here to give your point of view. It’s absolutely helpful to get a diversity of male commenters here to give their feedback.

            Your said the husband really “DID try to participate, to be present, to show emotions, etc” and is “often told how those emotions/thoughts/feelings are wrong.”

            This is such a critical point. I think most husbands want to make their wives happy.
            I think you are right that their wives tell them they are not responding the “correct way”. This is understandably frustrating.

            The difference between a happy marriage and an unhappy one is what happens next. Does he “stand up for himself without making a big deal of it?”

            If so, he is doing the right thing to get it back on track. Like I said in my comment to Lori, many women including myself don’t know how to correctly “stand up for yourself without making a big deal of it”.

            If a wife tells her husband he must do it HER way or she is harsh in her responses to him, the incorrect response is to avoid. Or collapse and do less.

            And, again, if the husband ignores your requests, the incorrect response is to get contemptuous or harsh or insist he must agree.

            That’s how you end up in these cycles.

            Let me repeat, absolutely many women, including me lack key relationship skills necessary for a happy marriage.

          4. Flying Kal,

            I am glad you had a therapist who heard your side of the story. Absolutely there are two sides to each relationship.

            It’s hard to write these comments to communicate clearly.

            I DO NOT think a therapist should shame people. I don’t mean that.

            From your description, your girlfriend was doing a lot of stuff wrong. I’ve been there too.
            She was wanting you to have the same opinions and emotions as her and not letting you be you.

            That I would put on her side of the “not good relationship skills”.

            Maybe you might have some items you are unskilled at. That would go on your side. They may or may not be 50/50. The math is the math.

            There are plenty of women who are more than 50 percent of the problem. Your girlfriend sounds like SHE was the one blocking progress in therapy since she wanted it to be all your fault.

            As I said, I don’t think women are that much better at heteosexual relationships than men. They usually though are trying harder to work on it.

            These are averages and you may very well have been the more emotionally mature one in the relationship more than your girlfriend.

          5. Gottmanfan,

            Precisely what changed was just that…we found a Terry Real therapist that understood problems aren’t 50:50 and pointed it out to him and held his feet to the fire. And yes, sometimes as Terry says, the latent’s problems are just that they’re there as has been the case in my marriage in many of times. Even my husband has stated that 70% of the things we fight about do not have anything to do with us (it’s him discharging his shame as he’s come to realize), 20% is his exaggeration (probably would not have been a fight), and only 10% are legitimate. This is what I mean by feeling like you’re insane when being told that marital problems are 50:50, knowing fully well that the other spouse doesn’t even agree with that statement. There’s however a difference between self awareness and knowing what to do with the information from being self aware.
            And for us, luckily this new therapist is a no bullshit person. My husband responds to neutral comments with utter contempt to a point that his own sibling said if you wouldn’t talk to your dog like that you probably shouldn’t talk to your wife like that. Again, I am in no position to ascribe anyone’s relationship to be anything like mine, however there are people with spouses that are (emotionally disregulated) like that, and I suspect the number of those is much higher than an isolated one or two. I’ve come to realize that Gottman provides tools for two functional people in a marriage (those with good boundaries and self esteem). Terry Real provides a real way to deal the disregulation of either of those items, especially from a male perspective and especially from men who discharge their shame through grandiosity. Brene Brown probably does something similar for women who come in from an outward shame state.
            Additionally, the biggest contrast that I see is that Terry Real’s philosophy puts self accountability first, and acceptance second. Gottman to me relies on acceptance first. This is where I think why I prioritize Terry’s philosophy more. He has placed much more emphasis in calling us to be adults first and then to make room for our inner children, not the other way around. I tend to believe this is true. It’s better to not have done something to then result in having to ask for forgiveness for, than to have to repair.

          6. I think most of these models for both differentiaton and attachment. As I said to Jack it’s a chicken and egg thing you need both.

            I like lots of them like different types of ice cream ha ha. Gottman is mostly useful for diagnostic purposes for me. He does focus on self regulation in the weeds of his stuff.

            I am focusing on the biological, unconscious stuff that hinders feeling safe and staying regulated so Stan Tatkin is my favorite flavor of ice cream lately.

            But I love me some Terry Real. I am so glad you found a good therapist trained in his model to get things in the right focus.

          7. Gottmanfan,
            Hi. Yes it was a pleasant surprise to have someone want to hear what I had to say (for a change). But as I implied, we didn’t go back there.

          8. “didn’t align with her expectations of my emotions, or simply for expressing them the wrong way. (And I don’t mean in any kind of violeent or demeaning way.)”

            Can you expand on this further? What does she mean by wrong way? What would be a routine “dance” in this scenario? In my experience most men are dismissive of women’s emotions, but I am sure the opposite happens as well.

      2. “…because as much as society has damaged men, the subjugation of women in patriarchy is largely unidirectional, not bidirectional. So I’ve asked him to understand that it does feel like blaming the victim when the explanation is we’re so damaged by society that makes it inevitable that men subjugate women. ”

        Oh boy. One of those.

          1. It seems pretty obvious that you view men as your enemy. They erected this horrible “patriarchy” apparently for the express purpose of “the subjugation of women”. So why would I or any other man want to marry someone who views me as the enemy?

            Further, why would you as a woman want to marry one of the enemy? Either he will be loyal to his gender and remain your enemy, or will turn traitor to his own kind…in which case, that doesn’t speak well of his character (no one respects a traitor).

            P.S. I wonder if you demonstrate your contempt for “patriarchy” by refusing to avail yourself of its ill-gotten fruits. You know, little things like modern medicine, cars and jet airplanes, indoor plumbing, television and the internet, climate control heating and a/c, industrial farming that feeds the world, IPads and compact discs, etc. I could go on and on.

            I would hope you don’t use any of those things, otherwise you are benfitting from “patriarchy”. Because, as feminist Camille Paglia once admitted, “If men had never existed, and all humans were women, we’d still be sitting around campfires, wearing grass skirts, next to a mud hut.”

            As a man, I’d just rather you said “Thank you.” And allow me to say, “You’re welcome”.

          2. Funny, I don’t think it’s obvious that I view men as my enemy. I don’t think once did I ever say that nor did I ascribe any intention to why patriarchy was erected. I’m not sure where you got that from because none of that was actually spoken.
            The fact that something exists does not mean it was erected for the sole purpose of it being there to target women. That also does not negate that it doesn’t exist. Again, this is not a blanket statement for what happens in all marriages- the statistics however by many male therapists will say this is the general dynamic of most heterosexual marriages.

            Most of us didn’t really understand that patriarchy exists to the pervasiveness that it extends to. Most of the women our age were told that we would be able to have the opportunities to have equality for the first time in our lives. That’s why most of us bought it hook line and sinker. Most of us shirked and looked at our college professors as crazy when they talked about gender studies and problems as if it were something we would still be encountering today. Then we get into the real world, where not only in the work place but also at home are we still expected to carry out certain gendered norms without discussion of whether or not that’s the most appropriate party to assign those tasks to. We also realize we don’t have influence, we have mostly husbands who treat relationships like zero sum games because that’s what they were taught in childhood…that winning and being adversarial is a reflection of your worth. In the context of spouses, that means your spouse is the loser. This sets up an intrinsic imbalance of power. The emotional labor, the logistics of the household, etc. still fall on women without much regard for discussion for what is really expected. On top of that, generally men are intolerant of experiencing shame, they’ve suppressed the feeling of inadequacy and then they redirect it as soon as they can to their bystanding partners. I have heard too many of the stories and experienced too many of these where one partner has done absolutely nothing wrong…ie is standing there, and is then the recipient of some external stress that the other partner experiences. And it’s palpable and it’s clear as night and day who the blatant partner is at those junctures.

            Believe me the feeling is mutual. Women who are aware of this don’t want to marry- we’re not grateful or even begging for it. Like I’ve stated before most of us do the exiting. Again this may not be your scenario, this is many women scenarios. Women tend to not have such ill effects post divorce. Why psychologists like Gottman and Real are pushing for men to change is because they also are aware that the state of marriage is in real jeopardy because women are no longer going to have any motive to want to marry if this type of relationship imbalance continues and that they can live without needing assistance from men.

            Additionally, if we’re going to list patriarchy’s accomplishments, we can also list the effects, genocide, world wars, crusades, etc. I am not arguing at all that patriarchy is 100% bad or even 100% good. It is what it is and it’s a moot point to figure out what could have been because we’ll never know what a society that isn’t based on patriarchy would have turned out. Even Dr. Puglia’s assertion are mere presumptions and unknowable. And again, just because patriarchy had some benefits does not mean it didn’t bring harm, why can we not acknowledge both?

          3. Patriarchy was a light-year of a leap forward for the whole human race, but really benefitted women and children the most. As a matter of fact, one useful definition of patriarchy would be “the harnessing of male initiative, drive, and effort, for the benefit of women and children.”

            People who go around clamoring to dismantle patriarchy have no idea what they’re asking for. Patriarchy is what took us from caves to the stars. It built civilization, pure and simple.

            We need more patriarchy, not less.

    2. I keep reading your post and want to tell you I find it so uplifting and encouraging, though at the same time I have at least a little feeling for the struggle and tears and loneliness and despair that go with what you two are doing.

      Not too long ago, I finally realized that my idea, my myth, that a great marriage is one that works smoothly without harsh words or hard feelings or hurtful acts, was nonsense, simply mythical. I think I now know that a great marriage is one where the partners can deal with these things together and stay together. Not a like-new stuffed rabbit but the Velveteen Rabbit. Which is a terrifying thought, to me.

      Anyway, my heart goes out to you both and thanks you for your post.

      1. “Not too long ago, I finally realized that my idea, my myth, that a great marriage is one that works smoothly without harsh words or hard feelings or hurtful acts, was nonsense, simply mythical.” curious…what made you realize that?

        I’m starting to get the impression that my husband is actually learning that a great marriage is one in which we take accountability and prevent on the front end the harsh words perhaps some hard feelings, and certainly hurtful acts, because having to be forgiven for these things is much harder than not exercising them in the first place. I agree it won’t be zero, but the more we take care of the front end, the fewer repair attempts we will have to make with the aftermath.

        1. Honestly, I think it was reading what may be the book that is most responsible for helping me figure out how to turn around my thinking, _It Takes One to Tango_ by Winifred Reilly. That was fairly recent, but I had been trying to get a grip on our marriage and, I later realized, myself, for more than two years.

          I think what you wrote works. I had this idealized, conflict-free, very intense idea that was probably driven mostly by my screwed up childhood and wounds I need to heal. I think I began to understand what it means to be an adult in a relationship.

  18. If I can share. Reading some of these responses made me think of this. Husband’s and wives both have responsibilities, both can unthinkingly hurt each other.

    Not long after my divorce my sister told me a story that explained huge parts of my marriage. She’d come to visit one day and my husband apologized to her for not having pulled any beer out of the fridge to warm. She was totally confused. She didn’t like warm beer. Finally figured out he’d seen her grab warm beers before, like she’s done when she had lived in Thailand where they stored it at room temp and fixed it by popping ice cubes in. He’d been pulling the beer out of the fridge for her for years because he wanted to be a hero but he had only paid half attention when he made this choice and had failed to asked her what she actually wanted. This was my marriage on so many levels. He’d been metophorically warming beers for me for years and instead of me telling how awesome he was for thinking of me and doing that, I had been getting angrier and angrier because I hated warm beer, did not want it, and he kept shoving it at me. I felt unseen and unheard. He felt unvalued because I didn’t respect and treasure the effort he was putting out for me. Eventually, he had an affair because she always told him he was awesome. Don’t know if he was paying more attention to what she really wanted or if it’s easier to flutter your eyelashes when given something you don’t want when you are in the infatuation stage and not 16 years and 4 kids in. If I could reset time, I would go back watch for all the the efforts he made on my behalf and thank him effusively for thinking of me and ever so carefully explain to him what I really liked and wanted so he could be the successful hero he wanted to be and not a disconnected, clueless dolt.

  19. I’ve been married for almost 24 years with 3 children under the age of 14. For years I have told my husband that the things he says to me are hurtful and have asked him to stop. Never once did he stop until a few months ago when I told him that I’ve been to see an attorney and have had separation papers drawn up. Now all of a sudden he has decided that he can change and that I should give him another chance. He thinks that once those words have left his mouth that he’s going to change that all the hurt should just go away because he “didn’t mean it the way I took it”. Unfortunately it’s not the case. I honestly don’t see him changing for any extended period of time and that once he gets “comfortable” again he will revert right back to the same behavior. I’m just done and no matter how hard I try to give him that “another chance”, I just can’t seem to do it.

    1. Sounds like he’s at least trying, and wants to fight for your marriage.

      That’s something.

      1. Perhaps, but a lot of times, he is just doing stuff to avoid divorce. That’s not the same as genuinely making a change to take her and her concerns more seriously.

      2. That’s true, however it’s kind of like his behavior at the end of summer. He tries to jam all the things he wanted to do, i.e., boating, going to the beach, etc. but didn’t have time to do into the last few days of summer. Now, after years of my asking him for us to take some time just for us, either date nights or trips, he’s all about it. I, on the other hand, am just thinking to myself, why now, why couldn’t this have been important enough to you before now? Why does it take my telling you I want a divorce to matter? Sometimes it’s just too little, too late.

        1. “I didn’t mean it the way you took it.”

          That in and of itself tells me that he is just trying to avoid divorce. He did nothing wrong, you were the one at fault for taking it wrong.

  20. Oh the things we are really saying, and asking, and the things we’d rescue if we could just learn to come out with it. This was the best thing I read this week, and I’ll be sending my own readers over here to check you out. Thanks for your insight, and honesty and all I know you’re doing to make people think.

    1. Thank you, Susan. That’s very kind. And totally agree. I don’t know what we’re so afraid of, but in our own bizarre ways, all of us are.

  21. My husband and I have been married for 14 years. We met in our mid thirties, had four daughters before we turned 40 and life is pretty darn good. I finally learned after a few years that if he is in his recliner on the computer after dinner while I am doing dishes, helping with homework, organizing baths and getting frustrated . . . it does absolutely no good to let myself get so frustrated that I can no longer as for his help civilly. No man responds well to that. I learned that I need to seek his help long before I reach the end of my rope, and you know what – when I speak in words that trigger his protective instincts (“babe – I need your help with this – i am getting swamped”), he is WILLING to help. I have told him that I married an “A” husband, and that he doesnt get to perform like a “B” just because other husbands do. I know what he is capable of and encourage him to continue to be the great guy he is.

    My sis has another problem entirely. Her husband is the guy to whom you refer in your article. He does just enough to keep her around. They have been married 20 years and he turned around after she filed for divorce 2 years ago but after she called it off he went right back to being completely uninvolved. She has tried really hard to praise him for little things but when you refer to papercuts; she has suffered thousands. I don’t know how to help her, or him other than sending the link to this article, however I suspect she has exposed it to him already. No idea what their future holds right now.

    1. But remember, you’re only hearing your sister’s side of the story. A lot goes on in a marriage behind closed doors. Try not to judge.

    2. I can’t say how much I love this:

      “I learned that I need to seek his help long before I reach the end of my rope, and you know what – when I speak in words that trigger his protective instincts (“babe – I need your help with this – i am getting swamped”), he is WILLING to help. I have told him that I married an “A” husband, and that he doesnt get to perform like a “B” just because other husbands do. I know what he is capable of and encourage him to continue to be the great guy he is.”

      All of us, both sexes, every age, respond so well to encouragement to be our best selves, rather than to complaints or criticism. I learned that many decades ago, working with kids when I was in college. I think this is as close to a universal truth as you get in human relationships! Particularly in marriage, it’s a great way to avoid truly toxic downward spirals.

  22. Looking back on my most recent relationship I think this greatly sums up a lot of the problems we had. After 3 years together I eventually had enough, he never heard me. I think you can avoid a lot of heartache by looking for the traits in a partner ahead of time.

    Marriage is a stress all it’s own, but hopefully you can gauge in the pre-marriage stage, how your partner will react to these kinds of situations.

  23. After almost two decades the words of Terrance Real still resonate in the titles of his best-sellers, “I Don’t Want to Talk About It (Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression) and “How Can I Get Through to You? (Reconnecting Men and Women).

    We all, as members of a patriarchal society, still unwittingly participate in the profoundly unjust and soul-destroying process that wounds us ALL! Terry Real is one of the few male advocates for men who consistently and LOVINGLY challenges them to live beyond the punishing strictures and mandates of patriarchy. Yet with all his wisdom and loving kindness, and guidance I still do not see much progress in the behaviors of men. They who have invested so much in the process of becoming successful still do not see what kinds of losses they endure if patriarchal life lessons are the ones they follow.

    Audre Lorde – feminist, poet and activist once said “The masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house!” So my question remains, What are the tools we must find and use in these tumultuous times?

    1. When I was young, I thought I might save the world.

      For most of my nearly 60 years I thought I could fix those around me, especially my wife.

      I know in my bones now that I can’t even fix myself. I can strive to change -some,- as much as I find the light and strength and grace to do, but fully fixed is beyond our power and most days keeping myself pointed in the right direction is a close call.

      So, my answer is – change starts in our hearts and is a gift we can give ourselves and others, but I am sadly skeptical about reaching much beyond arms’ length.

      1. what an absolutely wonderful perspective — I can only hope that men who want to see change can find the COURAGE to BE THE CHANGE. It is only in these recent years that I understand the immense challenge that is, — even with guidance and support it can be a painfully discouraging journey. Thank you for being among those who at commit to that path.

  24. Though the title is a bit misleading, “For a Better Marriage, Act like a Single Person”, Stephanie Coontz has suggestions about extending our social networks in order to lead longer, happier lives. It appeared in the NY Times on February 10th.

  25. One thing that goes a long way in marriage is an attitude of gratefulness for each other. My wife will often tell me (and surprise text me) how much she appreciates how hard I work to provide for her and our children. She has even started to have the kids text me when I’m at work to thank me for providing them such a nice life.

    And that’s a wonderful feeling. I think many husbands are starved for that. In my experience, if a man truly feels his wife appreciates him and his hard work, and respects his leadership and headship of the family unit, then the man will truly feel valued and loved. And in return, will be very likely to treasure his wife, and shower her with love and consideration. And making time for physical intimacy is so important too.

    Marriage is so beautiful when it works in this way. I wish everyone could experience it. There’s so much pain out there…

    1. Explain this men and leadership and headship in a family unit? What woman wants a leader?? Women want partners, real-life, full partners. If he needs to be the lead something or be the boss of something, he can go do that at work.

      1. Start by checking out the etymology of the word “husband”. I’ll wager that most have no idea what the word means, and why it was applied to a married male. Part of our heritage we have lost.

        I’ll give you a hint…perhaps you’ve heard of someone “husbanding their resources”? Yep, that’s right. The word itself denotes someone with responsibility, who manages resources. Like a manager.

        So that’s what you’re literally calling your marital partner when you refer to him as your “husband”. You’re literally calling him the one who has the responsibility to manage the family’s resources. If you don’t agree to that, you should just stick to calling him your spouse…because if you make all decisions equally, then he isn’t actually the “husband” of the family, now is he?

  26. Forgot to add:

    Wives should also keep in mind how incredibly risky and dangerous marriage is for men nowadays. In the West, the laws and courts are now so stacked against the husband that a young man has to be almost recklessly self-destructive to marry. Young women should be glad ANY men are still willing to marry at all! (of course, there are fewer all the time)

    I don’t think wives really understand this very well. That you should appreciate your husband just for his willingness to take such a massive risk as marrying you. Think about it.

    1. I think in the future…women won’t want to marry men. We regret what we thought we got ourselves into, this is a common theme. If men were equally disappointed, we’d see higher numbers of them exit. Women already initiate 2/3 of divorces. Among college educated couples, that number goes up to 90%. Most of us have figured out that given the hours wasted to solely being the person somehow designated to fix and work on the relationship (finding therapists, reading relationship books, blogs, etc. being the emotional barometer for the relationship), that marriage wouldn’t be worth it.

    2. A man takes a massive risk to marry a woman? Women often end up giving themselves up, not their paychecks, to marriage.

      And just what does a woman get out of a marriage to a man today. We earn our own paychecks. We can hire daycare and convenience food, so we don’t have to be home to do it ourselves. We can buy power tools or hire help for the heavy jobs. We can buy and own land on our own. We can hire someone to fix our car or repair our water heater. We can buy sperm. So what young woman in her right mind would marry a man and give up all her freedom, free time, and self respect. Maybe the husband should appreciate her choice to bind her life to his and not the other way around. Women do it because they want to be loved and love someone, they want to share their life with a man. If he can’t meet any of her emotional needs, then why bother?

    3. Sorry, I should have made it more clear that it is now established fact, not merely my opinion, that young men are opting out of marriage because they see it as very risky for a man. Here are some stats for you on this from Pew Research:

      “Fewer young men in the US want to get married than ever, while the desire for marriage is rising among young women, according to the Pew Research Center.

      Pew recently found that the number of women 18-34 saying that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things rose from 28 percent to 37 percent since 1997. The number of young adult men saying the same thing dropped from 35 percent to 29 percent in the same time.”

      Hope that helps.

      1. Yes, I completely understand. Women have been sold on marriage as this egalitarian partnership with a kindred spirit who is their best friend. You can debate the legitimacy or how realistic it may be- but again that’s what is happening there. Men have lots of hesitation prior to marriage, women are more gung ho…again I believe this is because of the stories we tell young men and the stories we tell young women prior to marriage.

        What I believe is more telling is the number of women who initiate divorce and then this also from the Pew report:
        “Remarriage is more common among men than women. Some 64% of previously married men – those who were ever divorced or widowed – took a second walk down the aisle, compared with 52% of previously married women, according to our analysis of 2013 Census Bureau data. One possible reason for this disparity is that women are less interested than men in remarrying. About half (54%) of previously married women said in our 2014 survey that they did not want to marry again, compared with 30% of men.”

        I don’t have the split between widowed vs. divorced…but this is worth further investigation.

      2. Astrid,

        The scary thing is, the trend (of young men deciding to pass on marriage) hasn’t showed any signs of stopping yet! If it continues, it may well cause a lot of havoc in the marriage market. While I personally think that the majority of men will always want to marry, the problem is that prices are set at the margin. Once it gets to a point that young women cannot count on there being men willing to step up and take the plunge into marriage once she feels she’s ready…panic may well set in.

        But to reverse the trend will, I think, take changing a lot of laws and govt policies. For example, to make it no longer the case that a man can be arrested and have his life ruined just because his wife calls the cops and tells them “I’m in fear”. And so on, esp regarding alimony and child custody.

        Problem is, I see no evidence of this happening (with the sole exception that many states are starting to phase out lifetime alimony, and are setting firm time limits on it. So a bit of progress there). And until it does, more and more men will take the view that marriage is for suckers. They will either play the field, or have a succession of long term girlfriends. Family formation will suffer greatly.

        It’s a mess. Or if it isn’t, it’ll do till the mess gets here.

      3. Astrid: “Women have been sold on marriage as this egalitarian partnership…”

        And yet women are happiest as housewives! They want to stay home and take care of the house and kids, and rely on hubby to “bring home the bacon.” Who is selling whom here, and what exactly are they selling?

        This study was done in the U.K., but it confirms consistent results from other studies. So I assume the results would be similar here in the States:

        “It is confirmation of what many weary commuters have secretly suspected. Research has found that stay-at-home mothers are happier than those who go out to work.

        The survey said that if staying at home with the children were counted as a job, it would rank as having happier workers than any other trade or profession.

        The survey, carried out for insurance group LV=, asked more than 3,000 to say whether or not they were satisfied with their lives. The ratings recorded are the percentage who indicated they were not unhappy with their lot.

        The country’s two million stay-at-home parents – the great majority of them mothers – were recorded in the report as ‘homemakers’.

        They scored 87.2 per cent in the happiness ratings. The others in the top five were those working in: hospitality and events management – 86.3 per cent; creative arts and design – 84.4 per cent; the charity sector – 83.9 per cent; leisure, sport and tourism – 83.7 per cent.

        The least satisfied were working in marketing, advertising and public relations, with a happiness rating of 53.8 per cent.

        The findings reinforce the results of large-scale research on well-being carried out by the Office for National Statistics, which has shown that stay-at-home mothers believe their lives are more worthwhile than their counterparts in work.

        Government surveys have also shown that more than a third of mothers who go out to work would like to give up their jobs and stay at home with their children.

        Read more:

        1. I think the type of marriage I’m looking for does not apply in this instance bc neither one of us wants to have children. I also think that stating stay at home mothers are happier than working mothers does not fully explain the happiness of working without children, which I think is probably the more likely scenario.

          1. Also, the study does not include whether or not women are happy as singletons as well. Ultimately I believe that the evidence is much stronger to determine if women are happier married or not, when given the opportunity to remain as one, they choose the opposite. It’s easy to imagine to want something and then to turn around and say nope I changed my mind because the conditions there were worse than expected. It’s stronger evidence when you see those who are married that are then choosing to reverse that process.

          2. Your assertion doesn’t make much sense to me, given that the Pew Research paper and other studies show a steep drop-off in interest in getting married among young men, while at the same time young women are becoming ever MORE interested in marriage.

            If something isn’t done soon to turn around young men’s conviction that marriage is a bum deal for them, we’re gonna have big problems. At the rate the trends are moving, shouldn’t take more than another decade or two.

          3. Because unmarried people do not know what married life is like. Ummarried men are fed different stories about marriage than unmarried women. It’s great to be optimistic about being married…just like I think chocolate is the greatest thing on earth having never tried it but hearing it from a ton of people who tell me so.

            The reason why i believe that it’s majority women that initiate divorce statistic, is more powerful is that once you get to the married land, most women initiate the leaving…that’s an indication of a dissatisfied marriage, on the woman’s part. So to finish the analogy, if after trying chocolate, I say nevermind I’ll never want it again, that to me indicates that chocolate wasn’t that enjoyable to begin with. That what I conjured up about the taste of chocolate wasn’t as much of a gustatory experience as I hoped it would be.

          4. “Ummarried men are fed different stories about marriage than unmarried women.”

            Again, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Young men are bailing on marriage not because someone told them a story. They’re bailing because they can see the experiences of their uncles, cousins, older brothers, friends, even their own fathers. They’ve seen these guys put through the wringer, railroaded in court, often false accusations, etc…and want no part of it.

            And it’s strange that young women’s interest in marriage is INCREASING, while men’s are plummeting. Has there been a huge change in the “story” women are told about marriage just since 1997? And furthermore, women too would go by the experiences of marriage they would be familiar with from their friends, aunts, cousins, older sisters, etc. And what they’re hearing from them must be marriage positive, since women’s interest in marriage has climbed so appreciably just since 1997.

            Again, let’s be clear and specific: the problem is the trend of young men bailing on marriage. Respondents said things like “women aren’t women anymore”. I think this means that the men believe today’s women are becoming too masculinized and don’t possess the kind of femininity that wives in prior years did. Because I’ll let you in on a little secret – men tend to be attracted to feminine women, and repulsed by masculine women.

            It’s a problem for sure. We’ll have to wait and see how bad the problem gets. It could lead to panic among young, marriage-minded women if this trend keeps going,

  27. Lori and Nate,

    Here is what I am referring to about “standing up for yourself without making a big deal of it”. I think it is the most critical skill that BOTH men and women are missing that make things miserable.

    How to maturely respond to a spouse who is not accepting influence or insists its their way only for example.

    “1. The ability to react effectively when your partner says or does things that you don’t like or agree with is not optional. It’s a requirement for anyone who hopes to have a partner who is responsive to his or her wants, needs or opinions.

    Study after study suggests that the way people react when their partners say or do things they find objectionable is a powerful predictor of the rate of future occurrences of their partners’ objectionable behaviors.”

    1. Can you do THIS ^^^^ not this below?

      “Researchers have identified 8 predictors of poor relationship outcomes:

      jumping to negative conclusions / failing to give one’s partner the benefit of the doubt;
      putting your partner down;
      unwillingness to compromise;
      acting “high and mighty;
      shutting down, walking away prematurely, or unwillingness to talk about an issue;
      failing to stand up for yourself and instead acting like your partner is selfish or controlling.”

  28. Here is Atkinson talking about the two parts of the skill:

    “There are two parts to the skill, Standing Up for Yourself without Making a Big Deal about the Fact that You Had To.

    The first part involves a willingness to rock the boat.

    The second part involves not resenting one’s partner for creating the conditions that put one in the position of having to rock the boat.

    For people who are emotionally healthy, rocking the boat isn’t that big of a deal. They have accepted the fact that life sometimes requires it, and they don’t think badly of their partners when they have to “put their partners in their place.” They believe it’s normal for their partners to be selfish and to “cross the line” at times, and rather than “crying foul,” they simply “stick out their elbows and make room for themselves.”

    They don’t blame their partners for attempting to disregard their opinions or preferences; they simply don’t allow them to do it – at least not for long. For them, “standing up” is all in a day’s work. It’s no big deal.

    Less skilled people lack this attitude. They stand up for themselves resentfully. Because they feel that they shouldn’t have to stand up for themselves, they do it with an attitude of indignation or disgust. This only fuels more closed-mindedness and rigidity in their partners.”

    1. Gottmanfan,

      Do you have articles on this?
      “For people who are emotionally healthy, rocking the boat isn’t that big of a deal. They have accepted the fact that life sometimes requires it, and they don’t think badly of their partners when they have to “put their partners in their place.” They believe it’s normal for their partners to be selfish and to “cross the line” at times, and rather than “crying foul,” they simply “stick out their elbows and make room for themselves.””

      Would love to read more about it.

        1. There are some articles linked on his website but I think most of them focus on try mindfulness stuff but could have thus stuff I can’t remember.

          The ebook summarizes various research (including Gottman’s The Marriage Clinic book) to explain it in actionable form.

          I found it very clarifying even if I had some quibbles. It intentionally makes it degendered which has some pros but can also leave out issues.

          But it is awesome in my opinion for giving a good “how do healthy people behave in a relationship?” blueprint.

          He puts a lot of emphasis as Tatkin does on ways to soothe your body and unconscious assumptions to be able to then respond maturely.

          1. And it’s in general a 50/50 kind of framing. Which as you know I’m not a big fan of. But overall it’s been very helpful to me to point out my errors to adjust.

        2. Yes, this is where I am more definite…”closed-minded, inflexible, overly-critical, defensive and/or dismissive. People sometimes lie to their partners; they are sexually unfaithful; they fail to keep agreements; they badmouth or undermine their partners; they violate their partners’ privacy; or they make unilateral decisions in spite of the protests of their partners.
          These things are wrong by almost any standard. Why should you be thoughtful about
          your reactions if your partner is undeniably wrong?”

          The public humiliation I experienced while he made a snide comment at customs, the being blamed for his own faults (losing his own pair of sunglasses), not to mention the contempt, after simply repeating what I think he said because I didn’t hear it well enough the first time…yea, these marital issues are not gray matters. If these things were something my good friends would do to me I would have left a long time ago without any intention to reconcile.
          We’re not having arguments about whether one person wants to go out Friday night…and the other one wants to stay home. We’re having marital spats of “something is clearly going wrong extrinsically outside of our marriage, job, family whatever else.”- and he brings that into it with me as the scapegoat. It feels insane. Honestly I resent it, I resent all of it and couldn’t care less if Atkinson would deem that as not being mature or accepting that people are selfish to this extent.

          1. Astrid,

            I can totally understand why some of those things go beyond normal differences. It must be maddening to be scapegoated.

            The stuff I was quoting was not addressing more egregious offenses. I was running with the “dishes” theme.

            Atkinson would NOT say you should accept bad treatment. Particularly for obvious serious offenses. Those require strong boundaries. That is made clear in the ebook.

            From what you have described your husband has some individual issues he needs to address that are taken out on you.

            That’s in a different category than disagreements about dishes.

            I’m sorry if my posting that offended. I meant it only as general information.

          2. I do think there are a lot of things that people think are “undeniably wrong” that are subjective. That’s the big message I am trying to learn. It doesn’t mean I have no standards or values. Only that I was too rigid in what I thought was “wrong”.

            He makes a lot of points about style differences can feel “wrong” because they disregulate our nervous systems.

            This may not apply to your marriage or your circumstances.

            I know I have had to change a LOT of my rigidity in what I thought was right and wrong ways of doing things. I’m not at all implying that is the same as your marriage.

          3. No offense taken, Gottmanfan. Simply airing grievances that the resentment comes from having to put up boundaries that are well to me, and seems to Atkinson, just basic levels of respect. This is what I would expect from a normal interaction with another human being…not to be held culpable for something I have nothing to do with…that’s the resentment and bitterness. I would settle for the days where I can just argue about the effing dishes. I am told discharged shame/stress is a common occurrence in most marriages…I don’t understand why this is even close to being acceptable.

          4. Astrid,

            Yeah it’s frustrating to have to do a lot of work just to get to neutral. I get that completely.

            My theory is that there are so many people who are not fully mature from bad modeling/cultural training/mental disorders or whatever it’s hard to even know what “normal” is in a marriage that is IMHO the most challenging relationship type.

            Pârenting is incredibly hard to get right, no question, but at least for me it is easier than the marriage relationship to stay in adult mode. To even KNOW what healthy is. That’s why I like that Atkinson ebook.

            IMHO Marriage brings out every insecurity you have even had in your life. Tatkin says your partner unconsciously now represents every relationship you’ve ever had, every gender cultural learning, etc. every vulnerability.

            And so you’ve got to navigate all that. To get to a healthier more mature version of yourself. First by starting with what normal is. That’s what people jostle about in these comments. It’s often gendered here because of Matt’s focus but really it’s about what is normal.

            People who are privileged enough to come from healthy mature families and communities have a much easier time knowing what is normal because they have absorbed how mature people operate and have an intrinsic sense of safety.

            Those people tend to marry other people like them. Sigh. My theory is those are the people who say marriage isn’t hard. Like rich people who don’t get their privilege.

            The thing I relate to in Matt’s blog is he was a guy who got along with people just fine but he didn’t have the skills to be married and he didn’t know he didn’t have the skills. It just spiraled out of control and he couldn’t figure out what went wrong. He’s always admirably reluctant to blame his wife but I am sure his wife did some key things wrong too. They were two well meaning people who didn’t know what normal was or how to get there.

            This is why so many people relate to it. “Nice, well meaning people who can’t figure out how their marriage went wrong”

            I put myself and my husband in that category.
            But we are arguing about much more than dishes when we argue about dishes. After the pattern gets escalated there is discharged shame/stress over stupid stuff because it’s now about arguing about safety and fighting to not be treated the same way you were treated by someone in the past.

            Maybe you are in a different category I don’t know.

            It’s a spectrum I think. There are couples where abuse, addiction, severe mental illness etc dominate on top of the stuff I was talking about.

          5. Let me amend my comment.

            “Those people tend to marry other people like them. Sigh. My theory is those are the people who say marriage **is hard but really it’s about being grateful and good communication**. Like rich people who don’t get their privilege and think it’s about working hard. Well of course it is but some people start with things that have to be overcome to get to the same place.

            The mountain that must be climbed when you are already know how a good relationship feels, you unconsciously KNOW it’s not right and that you need to address it in a certain way, is much much lower than the many who come from families that may have loved each other but didn’t function securely.

            We don’t KNOW it’s not right at the very early stages where it’s easier to fix. Or we think it’s not right but we’ve been conditioned to adjust to it too softly or too strongly.

            Of course it’s about gratitude and good communication but those are just the outer symptoms of what is already a securely functioning relationship. If you have that as a foundation it’s far far far easier to stag regulated when discussing the dishes.

          6. Gottmanfan, I’m replying to your comment, but will start a new thread because we’re so far to the right. I’m titling it continued part 2. I love your comments. 🙂

  29. Here’s another big style difference that I think is often gendered. Those with a

    Collaborative style (often women) and those with a Expander style (often men).

    THIS is another reason we get stuck in those dishes cycle. Collaborators (similar to Gottman’s accepting influence) who don’t know how to deal with those with an Expander style.

    I think it also can vary by topic. Many women have an Expander style around traditionally female domains like the household and pârenting. Which is why it can seem like only HER way is the right way.

    This is what often women don’t know how to do and they feel stuck. And they will think the man who has doesn’t have the same style is “wrong”.

    “Expanders are capable of and willing to compromise – they just rarely volunteer for it. They compromise only when they know that their partners feel strongly enough to rock the boat if their feelings are not given equal consideration.”

    “Expanders who are paired with healthy Collaborators get the benefit of having partners who don’t think badly of their tendencies to expand, and who will throw cold water in their faces when needed. Not all Expanders get this benefit. Some have the misfortune of pairing with Collaborators who stand up for themselves while resenting that fact that they had to – or they fail to stand up for themselves and then blame the Expanders for being selfish or controlling.

    Some Collaborators who feel controlled or victimized by their Expander mates have tried standing up for themselves, but believe that it doesn’t make any difference because in the end, their Expander mates always win. But a closer look at these situations usually reveals that the Collaborators have engaged in just part of the standing up process.

    Asking for compromise is the first step of the standing up process; effective people use up to six distinct skills, the last of which may involve respectfully drawing a line in the sand, refusing to continue their relationship normally until they feel more respected by their partners.

    If your partner has the heart of an Expander, the correctness of her point of view will often seem so self-evident to her that it will be hard for her to believe that you could really feel as strongly about the validity of your point of view. For this reason, she may not become flexible and receptive until you show the strength of your conviction by respectfully drawing a line with her and making it clear that you won’t tolerate being disregarded.

    Sometimes the only way to do this is to Refuse to Continue Business as Usual — the final step of the six-step standing up process.
    The bottom line is this: If your partner is an Expansive-type person who will compromise only if you stand up firmly and draw a line with her, this does not mean that she’s a relationally-impaired person. The world is full of people like her who have good relationships.”

    “Consider for a moment that there are two kinds of people in the world: Expanders and Collaborators. Expanders tend to have “Type A” personalities. They are often spirited individuals and successful leaders who accomplish much in their lifetimes. They are usually decisive, and they have a lot of confidence in their decisions. They usually think they’re right – and they often are right.”

  30. Actually, I know this is off the topic of respecting things that are important to your spouse and not treating them like they are insane for not seeing the world the way you do. But I would like a man to explain that concept of “making a woman happy” to me. I rarely hear women say they want to “make [their] man happy.” I hear women say they want to please a man or want to do something special for a man, stuff like that. Is making women happy about men thinking they can control women into happy? Is it men seeing women like a video game where if you maneuver through the obstacles you will be rewarded with a level up to happy wife? Is having a happy woman some big achievement? Do men need their woman to be happy? Like are we failures as women if we don’t always have a big grin on our face? I seriously don’t get it, and apparently it was a big factor in my marriage for my husband, though he didn’t tell me about it or ask me about it until it was too late.

    1. Ok, I’ll take a stab at it.

      For myself, no…I def don’t see it as my job or role to make my wife happy, and I told her as much before we even married. Basically, if you’re a generally happy person before getting married I think you’ll be happy in marriage, and vice versa if you’re generally a miserable person. You don’t become a different person or get a personality transplant just because you took wedding vows!

      I view my job as husband as a role of providing for, protecting, and leadership of the family unit, primarily. If I fail at any of these three items (through culpable negligence), then I have failed as a husband/father. Secondary goals I pursue are to make my wife feel loved, pretty, sexy, and desirable. And to give my children a proper upbringing that will instill good values in them, put them on a good path, and hopefully give them lots of happy memories of their childhood when they are older.

      You do what you can. And funnily enough, the wife says she is very happy! She can focus on the domestic side of things, the kids, the home front, etc….and feel secure that I’ve got everything else covered, and I take responsibility for all the big decisions. I know she appreciates this very much (as she tells me often), and I appreciate her support and love, and being the glue that holds the family together. Teamwork, you know?

      Anyhow, that’s my 2 cents on your question. Hope it helped.

    2. As for myself, I’d rather enjoy my life than be miserable about it.
      And since I can’t be happy if I’m surrounded by people who feel miserable about THEIR life, I want to make an effort to make their life a little bit better, a little bit more enjoyable, too. And of course the amount of “little bit” often correlates with the closeness of the relation I have with each person.

      So in short, trying to make someone happy, trying to please someone, trying to do something special for someone, etc, etc. All the same, just different words.

      It’s when you feel your efforts always fall flat to the ground, you’re always doing the wrong things, you never do quite enough, you’re constantly met with irony, that’s when you start feeling that you’re maneuver through an obstacle course or a maze without a map. But I reckon that feeling is rather similar for men and women.

    3. Kathy – I try not to be inflammatory but your comments wreak of contempt for men. But, I thank you for proving my earlier theory that a contributing factor to marriage dysfunction lies in the wife’s refusal to accept a husband’s honest efforts, words and actions…that when a wife expects and insists on “more” while also insisting that her husband’s actions are not only flawed, but also come from a negative place, the fighting continues.

      You see, I mentioned on a global level that decent men want their wives to be happy. You can call it pleasing another person or doing something special for them, but it’s all the same. Men generally want their wives to be happy while also wanting to be the one to make them happy. This is a positive feeling and/or want of men. Why do you turn it into a negative action by asking if men want to control their wives like a video game? Why do you say that men think that women are failures if they don’t always have a big smile on your face? Can’t you just accept that a decent man wants his wife to happy. If I said, I want my kids to be happy I’m sure you would nod your head in approval and NOT turn it around to something sinister. So why do it when I say I want my wife to be happy? And to answer your other question, “Do men need their woman to be happy?” Well I think that answer is blatantly obvious….of course I do! Any spouse who doesn’t want their husband or wife to be happy shouldn’t still be married.

      I think it’s obvious that partners should want their partners to be happy. What is disheartening is when statements and actions intended to cause some level of happiness are belittled or flat out refused. What is the offering partner supposed to think and feel? I know it makes me feel worthless. And as I stated earlier with my dog analogy, there are only so many times you can whack a dog before its spirit is broken.

      1. For all of my marital failings that I recognize and own through the prism of hindsight, I hope people will take seriously what Nate has written here.

        I wrote a post once called “The Worst Thing Wives Do,” and I think you’ll find mountains of commonality between what Nate said here, and what I perceive (in broad-stroke, general terms) to be thing women do that absolutely contributes to broken relationships and broken people.

        1. Okay, so let’s wind this around to your original topic. I was pregnant with out first kid and I asked my husband to attend prenatal classes with me: He laughed at me. Later that week he brought home a surprise puppy I didn’t want and hadn’t asked for and would be forced to take care of alongside my new infant, and it was a breed groomers charged double for because they are known to be violent. It was upsetting for my husband that I was not happy with him. He was trying to MAKE me happy. His words. I wanted him, his presence in my life, wanted not to be the only woman alone in prenatal class, and he gave me a dog. I think this happens every day, day after day, in marriages all over the world. It was pretty much my marriage. I needed to find a way to tell him he was awesome for his efforts, but he for his part needed to actually listen to me and treat my wants and concerns with a modicum of respect. I do not think he was capable of seeing a woman that way back then, You cannot make another person happy. You cannot expect another person to be constantly happy with you, we are all just too different. Women cannot be treated like windup toys men buy because they are cute and smiley and will tell you are awesome and have sex with you at a push of a button. But truth, the vast majority of women want to be happy with you. It is why we got married in the first place. We wanted to be happy together, with you. But you have to listen, actually listen, not control, if you want to give us a fighting chance.

          1. Kathy,

            Well said!

            I think it requires understanding that many men feel like failures when we are unhappy ( see my link and excerpt to an article st the bottom). Which doesn’t make sense to most women so we have to be differntiated enough to be sensitive to that link even though we don’t share it.

            But yes, you are absolutely right that it also requires men to be aware of and uncouple that linking of their sense of self on an honest expression of request or differences of what he thinks “should” make you happy with what you are telling him is what you want.

            No, I do not want a puppy. I asked you to attend prenatal classes.

            I am sorry he laughed at you for asking that. I am sorry he didn’t listen you.

      2. Nate and Matt,

        I think what Kathy is saying at heart is what Gottman says I interacted with IB above.

        Men in general have a hard time dealing with women’s negative emotions.

        Men in other words have a hard time dealing with their wives being unhappy.

        Their wives unhappiness is seen as a reflection of THEM. The focus is wrong. That’s what Kathy is trying to say that I and Gotrman agree with.

        I understand and agree that men want they’d wives to be happy just as parents want their kids to be happy. But some parents want their kids to be happy because it’s a bad reflection on them (they think) if their kid is depressed or anxious or whatever. They are concerned about THEM. the focus is not on the unhappy kid.

        Of course it’s complicated. It’s not a ALL that is going on with husbands. But the research shows its common. Men perceive their wife’s unhappiness and somehow about their worth as a man.

        And let me state again Nate that wives do ALL kinds of things wrong in how their unhappiness is presented and in responses to their husbands response to them.

        This is not as simple as man bad, women good and I wish we could give Kathy’s genuine question as something “sinister”.

        1. Restated to make sense.

          “This is not as simple as man bad, women good and I wish we could ** respond** to Kathy’s question as something genuine and not something “sinister” as you said.”

          1. I understand what you are saying…but if want my kids to be happy because of how it reflects on me, then I have no business being a parent. I want the best for my kids because I love them. This is the same rationale used in why I want the best for my wife. Once my actions become based solely (or mostly) on how I am perceived, then I have lost the true meaning of what being a husband and parent means.

          2. Nate,

            I agree we ***shouldn’t** care that our kids behavior/failures/achievements are often seen and commented on as a reflection of our worth as parents or as people.

            I think even the best parents struggle to maintain that. It’s far easier to think you are a good parent and person if your kids is well behaved, attractive, popular, mature, accomplished or whatever. You get ALL kinds of internal and external pats on the back.

            If your kid fails at school, is addicted or in prison etc you get all kinds of internal and external whacks on the nose of your worth as a parent.

            I think all that is human.

            I think men because of how they are raised are more likely to see their wives unhappiness as a reflection of them as a good husband. Do they either resist it by saying she shouldn’t be unhappy and he is still able to think about himself as a good husband.

            Or they try to do things to make her happy and feel unworthy when its doesn’t solve the problem to restore a happy wife. He feels unfairly accused of being a bad husband and by extension a bad wife.

            You can tell me of this feels close to your experience. My husband has explained some of his feelings which agree with the general research so I’m feebly trying to understand it.

            It’s the performance based aspect that many women don’t get that I think Kathy was asking about.

          3. Hi,
            I readily assume that I am not always the center of attention of the people around me, and that they have issues concerning things other than me. With that, I don’t always presume that their (occasional) unhappiness is a direct reflection of myself or my actions.

            However, if said person express a dissatisfaction that comes as a direct result of an action or a failure to perform to a given standard from me. Then yes, right or wrong, but in that case I WILL assume that their unhappiness in fact IS a reflection of me…

            Of course, this could be made philosophical ad infinitum, but isn’t this to some extent the foundation of this whole blog? Like, Matt’s (in)famous article about the glass on the counter. Is it or is it not a reflection of Matt, that his now ex-wife was hurt and felt he was neglecting her by his actions in this case?

            I apologize if it is an inappropriate parallell, but it’s the most obvious I could come up with…

          4. Flying Kal,

            I appreciate your thoughtful response.

            You are right that often a wife will request a husband to make a change. So in that sense it’s about him. Let’s assume she does it with good skills (which is not always the case).

            What I am trying to say is that many men will make her request for change as saying something about HIM as a man.

            He interprets negative emotions and requests for change as a pass/fail on him as a person.

            Maybe I’m not expressing this clearly. So let me try the dishes analogy. We will assume the wife is using good skills just to keep it clear.

            Let’s use these facts:,

            She is the one who is bothered by clutter and is judged by others for not having a tidy house. She does more of the daily chores.

            She is the one who is therefore bothered by the dish consistently left by the sink.

            She uses a soft start up in a neutral or pleasant tone of voice like “hey I really would appreciate it if you could put your dish in the dishwasher instead of leaving it on the counter, is that workable for you?”

            A guy with good skills will respond in a neutral/pleasant tone of voice and say either “yeah that’s fine” or “I really prefer to leave it out for use later, how much does it matter to you?” Or suggest an alternative like paper cups or whatever. They can go back and forth until they reach a solution acceptable to both.

            Both sides are taken seriously and their positions acknowledged as important EVEN IF IT MAKES NO SENSE TO THE OTHER PERSON.

            It is not personalized either. The request for change is not seen with deep meaning to the others character. One person is unhappy with the status quo and requests change. The other person engages in an effort to produce a win/win outcome.

            I real life, many women don’t use soft start ups of course especially after previous attempts have failed. So I get the man’s difficulties in responding maturely when feeling “attacked”.

            Bu what many women will tell you is that even when you use a soft startup many men will not be wiling to engage in a dialogue to change the status quo that works for him.

            Of course these are generalities that may not apply to you but it’s common for men to:

            1. Hear negative emotions coming from their wife with dread because it “floods” them and they feel the need to escape instead of dealing with it.

            2. See the dealing with it as inevitably leading to a fight so they will shut it down before it starts instead of trying to deal with it. They do this thinking it’s preferable to prevent conflict.

            3. Being sensitive to criticism because of the ways boys are raised to see requests for change as being put into a one down positions. Many men fear being controlled by endless requests from their wives. Of being emasculated.

            4. Different things that “having your back” often means to a man and woman. Men often see it as accepting them for who they are. Not asking for change. Because that implies to them that he is not good enough as he is. This is perplexing to men since she thought he was good enough when they got married why all the complaints now?

            5. He feels unappreciated for ALL the changes he has already made. It seems they are never acknowledged and she just keeps asking for more and more with no end in sight. That leads to resenting the requests.

            6. So I think men, in general, because of the competitive, rejection filled culture they are raised in see a wife’s request for change as saying something about HIM as not good enough. Like being constantly told he needs to improve his skills to be good enough for varsity. If he was good enough she would be content. Since she’s not it means she thinks he is a shitty husband.

            7. Women, in general, see collaboratively seeking change from each other as inherent to a good relationship. It doesn’t mean at all you are a shitty husband. It means we love each other enough to change to meet each other’s needs. What does make you a shitty husband to most women is shutting down requests for change unless it makes sense to you. Or for you.

            8. So when a husband receives the message that her request for change or negative emotions means she is saying something about HIM it’s weirdly confusing. She is requesting change to strengthen the relationship. But in his mind he is requesting less change requests to maintain the relationship strength. That’s the perspective conflict IMHO. They are both trying to work towards what they perceive will help the relationship but their methods are in conflict.

            Of course women often don’t use good relationship skills let me reiterate.

            But I think it’s the difference perspectives clashing about what asking for change MEANS that is the beginning disrupter.

            Don’t know if I explained my thoughts clearly. I welcome your feedback.

          5. And let me add another thought.

            I think women can often feel like their way is the right way in certain areas. I absolutely acknowledge that is common.

            So it’s common for a woman to see it as her right to tell the man to put the dish in the dishwasher.

            This is not demonstrating good skills. If he decides it’s important for him to leave the dish out and they have discussed it in good faith she may very well have to deal with the discomfort of living with another adult who does things in ways that make no sense to you.

            As I said I think it’s common for women to be undifferentiated especially in areas of pârenting and how the house runs.

            But that’s another big area of conversation.

          6. Gottmanfan
            we’ve run out of nesting below, so I write a new answer to this one.

            Frankly, in my humble experience, I think you are overthinking it.
            I think that the disconnect often comes from presenting the problem in black-or-white, (Or perhaps that’s what you’re saying and I’m reading you wrong?).
            The thing is, you can’t argue about feelings. Especially not when the deck is stacked from the get-go that one person is always “better” at this type of conversations.

            The problem within this discussion of “dishes on the counter” is that people seem to conflate the “There’s a situation I’m not happy with, are you up for a discussion who we can do better?” type situation with a “I have to do everything around here and you’re never bothered!” type situation, and often looking to resolve both of them using the same methods.

          7. FlyingKal,

            It’s quite possible I’m wrong about a lot of things. Though not sure about overthinking. Ha ha I’m prove my me guilty of underthinking.

            Which part are you disagreeing with? I’m sorry I got lost which comment you were replying to.

          8. FlyingKal,

            I agree that people conflate issues. That’s why you have heated arguments over silly things like dishes.

            Can you argue with emotions? Yes you can. People do it all the time.

            Should you? Well not in the sense that there is a “right” way to feel about things. That is what everyone argues about.

            But IMHO you should fight for emotional safety for both. So if someone is treating you in a way that you find disrespectful you need to “standup for yourself without making a big deal of it”.

          9. FlyingKal,

            You said:

            “The thing is, you can’t argue about feelings. Especially not when the deck is stacked from the get-go that one person is always “better” at this type of conversations.”

            This is where I think the premise that you need to spend long periods talking about things should be challenged. I don’t think it should be like that.

            Men are “better” often at setting boundaries then women. They are more likely on most topics to just refuse to do something they don’t see the need to do.

            But usually both are not talking about emotions or setting boundaries in a helpful way.

            So that goes back to the idea that you get in these cycles because both are missing skills for a healthy relationship.

          10. Gottmanfan,
            I appreciate your long and detailed and obviously thought-out response, especially considering the short amount of time it took you to write it. I am truly impressed with your way with the words. 🙂

            To try and give an answer, I suppose you are right on most if not all points. As long as we’re talking about averages. I just feel that we’ve moved away from the “woman’s unhappiness is a reflection of the man’s character/abilities” part, so I don’t really know what else there is to add?

            Perhaps, one point to your points 7-8?
            If, as you say, the husband is requesting less change to strengthen the relationship, he is perhaps less inclined to actually see her (more frequent) requests for change as “collaborative”?
            If he feels he’s always fighting an uphill battle with no “haven” or “safe” place to recharge, or “just be”.

            “I’ve been grateful every day for her presence and what she does for us and for me, but she just keeps demanding, new changes, more work. If I comply to this today, there will be another thing around the corner. She’s never satisfied, not even the least bit grateful. I might get a peck on the cheek before going to sleep tonight. If she’s in a good mood, that is. The cycle will just keep going so I might as well stop now, sooner rather than later.”

          11. FlyingKal,

            Thanks for your kind words since I seldom think I can articulate my thoughts well in this format.
            I am waiting around for the dentist so I will dash off a quick reply to your excellent points.

            1 you are SOOO right about me wanting to have a safe haven and he sees constant requests for change as the opposite of that.

            2. I fear I didn’t do a good job of connecting Gottman’s point about men not knowing how to deal with s woman negative emotions to the “woman’s unhappiness is a reflection of the man’s character abilities”

            3. They are directly connected in my mind. He sees her negative emotions like a performance review of HIM by a boss or a coach. That is at least what my husband has said and I have read is common.

            4. So that’s the link. Negative emotions are like a bad job review or bad score at golf. You get a bad score a few times and you think you are not good at your job. It can lead to thinking globally as a score about you as a person. That’s the inclination with this setup.

            5. Women, when using good skills, are not thinking about it like that. They think it’s about how can we work together better? It’s a postive thing not a negative in their mind.

            6. Of course you must understand how each other is receiving the message to be effective. I have changed my messaging a lot to try to accomodate this.

            Does that make the link better? Or do you just think there is no link?

          12. FlyingKal,

            You said:

            “Perhaps, one point to your points 7-8?
            If, as you say, the husband is requesting less change to strengthen the relationship, he is perhaps less inclined to actually see her (more frequent) requests for change as “collaborative”?
            If he feels he’s always fighting an uphill battle with no “haven” or “safe” place to recharge, or “just be”

            Yes! That’s exactly right that men don’t see it as positive collaberation. They don’t buy into the style methods women use because it disrupts their longing for a safe haven free from critiques.

            Did you happen to read the comments I quoted Atkinson on the tensions between Collaborators and Expanders?

            I think that might factor in too.

            1. Women are often expecting a collaborative style and get disregulated when they don’t get it. They interpret it that he doesn’t care.

            2. Men want to chill and have a rest from the Expander style they have to use at work and in the world. Of having to prove himself and his manhood constantly.

            3. When they don’t get that rest at home they get disregulated. Because they interpret it that she’s never happy with who he is. As he is.

            4. If you have an Expander style you jostle your way to individual needs. And I think many men use this style a lot so when they get home they want to feel safe from having to prove themselves over and over.

            5. Atkinson makes the point that Collaborating is not an inherently superior style. There are people who do fine operating with either style. It’s a disconnect between expectations that causes the problem.

            6. When you get a man used to seeing the world through the Expander style home should be a place he is safe to be himself and to recharge in peace.

            7. Then when the wife comes towards him expecting Collaberation it can feel very much like he is forced to reengage his Expander style he thought he was free of in his home refuge. Of having to prove himself worthy. And that there is NOWHERE he is safe.

            8. In that style a man has to constantly be wary of proving himself and his position. So that in my mind is the link to with her unhappiness in asking for change from him and him feeling as if he is deemed unworthy as a husband by that constant seeking of Collaborative changes.

            9. I don’t know if that makes it clearer or not. I think it’s important to understand these things in terms where the man is not cast as the villian but understand that most of this is not understanding each other’s style and miscommunication.

            10. As well as each person needing to be differentiated enough to tolerate that your style may not be shared. That each of you have to figure out win/win solutions that take each other into account.

            11. The woman’s collaberation style has to be adjusted to not overly tax the man. Anxiety of a dish left by the sink might very well have to be tolerated without resentment as long as good faith effort is there. Praise his progress and efforts even when it’s not ideal.

            12. And men need to work on not seeing her requests for change as an soul sucking exercise designed to emasculate.

            At least that’s how I think about it.

          13. FlyingKal,

            You said:

            “I just feel that we’ve moved away from the “woman’s unhappiness is a reflection of the man’s character/abilities” part, so I don’t really know what else there is to add?”

            I just posted an article that outlines the link between a wife’s unhappiness making men feel like failures. Hopefully it can outline it better than my comments did.

        2. To be clear, I didn’t mean to cast any negativity on Kathy’s comment. I just wanted to second what Nate said about his experience of little rejections and how they pile up for husbands just like they do for wives and girlfriends.

          The problem, as always, is that they commonly look very differently and people tend to only place importance on things that organically feel important to them.

          Many people don’t realize that “unimportant” things will indirectly become super-important after it’s too late and they finally recognize how much those “inconsequential” things actually mattered.

          I apologize if it seemed like I was being critical of Kathy. I most certainly was not.

          1. Oh I’m sorry to imply that you were negative to Kathy by putting your name in there. I don’t think you were. I meant that part for Nate.

            It’s so hard to write comments to get intended meanings across. (That’s why I write so many!)

      3. Nate,

        Let me run with your dog analogy to make Kathy’s point.

        Its like a dog whacked for not wagging it’s tail because the person wants a “happy” dog who is “happy” and makes him feel good.

        He doesn’t like it when the dog seems sad and sits in the corner and doesn’t jump up to see him when he comes in the room.

        He just wants to relax at home with a happy dog after a hard days work. And now he has to deal with this unhappy dog who has no seeming reason to be unhappy with all the guy has done for the dog.

        The focus is on the guy not trying to figure what’s up with the dog.

        1. And just to continue with the dog analogy (it’s weird that it’s human to animal but it does capture the inability to communicate) this is a well intentioned guy who loves his dog.

          He wants that dog to be happy and have fun times together. He takes her out to the park, buys her nice dinners, nice collars. They live in a comfortable house with a nice bed.

          He just can’t fathom why the dog is unhappy. And seem unhappy with HIM.

          It frustrates him because he genuinely wants her to be happy. He thinks if she could just chill out on the couch former good times are possible.

          And so he tries to do things to make her happy when she “whines”. He can’t quite figure out what it means because her communication makes no sense to him.

          He puts a lot of effort into doing things to make her happy and yet still she is not wagging her tail happy to see him.

          After a while that gets really annoying and he starts to think that damn dog is mentally crazy. After all he has done a lot to try and make her happy and she is still whining and not wagging her tail.

          She now starts to growl at him. And now we are in a whole new situation. That dog now feels unsafe. And he has to block the aggression.

          He doesn’t like the dog anymore. It’s not pleasant to come home anymore.

          I have cats now and actually have gone through some of that scenario. couldn’t figure out why one cat wasn’t happy. It would ignore the things I did or bought for it to become happy. It would irritate me and I started to not like the cat.

          So I did some research on cats. Lots of variety of cats. But cats like and dislike things in ways dogs and humans don’t. Once you can speak cat it is easier to make a cat happy. I applied my new cat knowledge and got a happier cat.

          1. I am now trying to learn to speak male in certain areas where gender matters. Specially my husband.

            I could not understand why my unhappiness was somehow taken personally even if it was a topic that had nothing to do with him.

            That’s when I started researching and found the stuff on men in general responding differently to negative emotions. It’s like learning to speak a foreign language since we are raised in different cultures that often impact how we view things.

            Understanding the underlying meanings make it easier to give a different reading of puzzling responses and ask for change in a way that makes allowances for HIS meaning.

            I now try to reassure him it’s not about him not being a good husband. I appreciate his efforts to validate and help because I me know this is harder for him than me.

  31. “My theory is that there are so many people who are not fully mature from bad modeling/cultural training/mental disorders or whatever it’s hard to even know what “normal” is in a marriage that is IMHO the most challenging relationship type.”

    I came across this research article lately stating that secure people are actually more likely to experience greater volatility even in the humdrums of marriage, and even moreso when with an insecurely attached individual, than it is for two insecurely attached individuals. They’re not accustomed to experiencing the up and downs and this is probably where I stand.

    I’ll have to find it sometime. I think for the longest time I was more convinced that I was more anxiously attached or at the very least somewhat insecurely attached than I really am and only after years of hearing what other people have gone through did I come to realize that perhaps, what I experienced was normal, that fighting is normal. So being secure to me means you know what’s not your norm, but not necessarily what is actually supposed to be tolerable in relationships. Also, being secure makes you think that other people are also just as secure and so you don’t do enough of the due diligence to think otherwise.

    And I do know partners who do insecurity buffering, I am not one of them, most likely because I am also allergic to being a mother-like figure. I don’t want to be a parent, and that includes parenting my spouse. I tend to be in general not a very emotional female at least when it comes to the harsh startup. Years of being in front of clients has taught me is that you need to take the space to convert your reaction to a response. What I’ve described to friends however is that while I don’t have kindling, I also don’t have much water, I only have wood, so if the argument starts harsh, there’s really only one direction it’s going to go. I suspect this is related to my being allergic to being a parent as well. I have not been able to consistently mitigate my spouse’s negative attacks on me (not venting mind you about something else unrelated- that I can handle), that starts off harsh and emotional.

    And I feel (as I think other posters have even asked), absolutely guilty when I can no longer respond to situations and instead become reactive. It’s one thing for me to be in chaotic environments, it’s another thing for me to become chaotic.

    I’m reminded of this great quote (which I know I’m butchering), I long for the days in which I were responsible only for paying the mistakes I made. I have felt tested day in and day out of the patience I have. I usually have three or four incidences in which my husband is making some negative comment about the hotel he’s staying at and then another one in which he doesn’t want to do something, and then another one where he’s ornery because of the food let’s say…that by the fourth time, I’m just done for.

    In my experience, even the secure women are not lucky enough to marry secure men. This is why we feel blindsided…on average men’s development are several years behind. We know this because these antics are things we perhaps pulled back in our younger dating selves. What my husband pulled, is what I did in my teens to my parents perhaps or to my ex boyfriends, nearly verbatim situations, but you learn you learn that your actions matter and that no one should be the bare recipient of your uncontrolled volatile emotions. No one is deserving of the unbridled self expression.

    I agree that these are all unintentional, but I guess my argument is more along the lines of we choose to not treat our spouses as gently and as kindly as we treat those who are not as close to us. I was at a Gottman seminar, where Julie said, if your neighbor spilled red wine on your white carpet, would you chastize him in front of everyone else? no, you’d say no big deal you get the carpet cleaner, and then you nervously pour him another glass and you hope he doesn’t spill that one. We do not grant our spouses that level of courtesy. We treat them far worse than we would people we are not attached to…and I fundamentally believe this is because we do not treat ourselves well enough. Again, if we at work ran into a situation in which our colleague wanted our files to be organized in a certain way on the server, first, our colleague wouldn’t scream at us and say you idiot why is it done this way, and b) we don’t immediately jump on them telling them they’re wrong, we at least internalize that ask, we weigh it against our boundaries, we say hmm i like a idea but this b idea I’m not so hot about…what do you think about that? We barely give our spouses the dialogue of that courtesy. We barely acknowledge that what they have to say is important and worth our valuation and assessment. That’s what the dishes are about.

    The part that is so mind boggling to me is well summed up in what my sister in law uttered…if you wouldn’t talk to your dog like that you probably shouldn’t talk to your wife like that. Replace dog with whatever noun you want, but we often forget who it is that we’re speaking to…we’re often forget that this other human being doesn’t deserve the treatment that you bestow upon your own self.

    1. You’re extrapolating your experience of your marrriage onto everyone else. This is a logical fallacy.

      Your husband is immature (according to you), becomes in your mind “husbands are immature”. Doesn’t work that way.

      Would you agree with a man who said “My wife is crazy, so therefore all wives are crazy”?

      Just say “MY husband is immature”, or “I feel blindsided”. Speak for yourself (which you are certainly entitled to do – your experience is valid for you). Don’t assume all men are like your husband or all wives are like you. If you’re going to make generalizations, you need data to back it up.

      For example, I said housewives make for the happiest wives because studies and scientific polling (which I linked to) have shown this to be true. I didn’t say “Well, my wife is a housewife, and she’s happy, so therefore housewives must be the happiest wives.”

      You see?

      1. Didn’t use a logical fallacy. I also did not say the word all, so I am not sure where that assumption came from. I specifically said “on average”. Also, I’m not writing from solely my own experience, yes it’s a select number of close girlfriends some whose professions are in psychology. Gottman’s study also indicates that only 35% of husbands in the study are considered emotionally intelligent. I don’t think I’ve uttered the word “all” in my statements.

        As for your housewives make the happiest housewives, I didn’t refute your statement. I am saying that the study is incomplete because it doesn’t include the experience of women who are in general not either of those two. Of course there are happy housewives and that many would prefer specializing in one job vs. juggling both. You also misinterpreted what I meant by egalitarian. That to me means men take equal responsibility for the emotional labor that is often assigned to women without much discussion. Men on average do not do much to assess the emotional temperature of the relationship.

        1. “Men on average do not do much to assess the emotional temperature of the relationship.”

          LOL! And there you go again.

          OK, and with equal authority I will say that on average women tend to be illogical and emotion-driven. So there ya go.

          1. I would absolutely agree with you. And I do not think that’s a logical fallacy for you to admit that or to even say on average. Emotions aren’t logic…so for you to say illogical, that’s true. Did you think I was going to disagree with you on that?

          2. Yes I did, because you’re being inconsistent. You said earlier you think marriage should be egalitarian. But if you admit that men are logic-driven and women are emotion-driven, then logically you would draw the obvious conclusion that the man should make all the big decisions. Because it’s self-evident that giving an equal say to the person who is illogical and emotion-driven is a bad, bad idea. It would be like giving an equal say to a person who’s been hitting the wine bottle and is a bit tipsy.

            Hmmmm. Interesting, that. Could it be that THIS is the reason the husband was always considered the head of the household? You mean it wasn’t some nefarious plot by “the patriarchy” to subjugate women? Instead, it was a simple recognition of the emotion-driven nature of women…and a confidence in the more logic-driven husband to make the decisions that would benefit the WHOLE FAMILY.

            Imagine that!

          3. No, to do that you need to prove that being driven by emotions is universally bad. You also need to prove that being emotionally driven then also results in being emotional in your decision making process. You cannot simply say it is self evident that giving to the person who is emotionally driven and illogical (in their internal locus of control) is then the same thing as someone who then drives themselves to make illogical and emotional decisions. Emotions and behaviors are two separate things. I can still have strong emotions and direct my behavior as you call coolly “logically”- these are skills we learn and why we don’t get fired from work even when our coworkers piss us off. How I take in information and how I choose to respond to those things are hopefully different (that’s the cultivation of response). So for you to assert you have several assumptions that you’d need to back up.

            Additionally, there’s such a pedestal put into logic and logical decision making, that people overestimate their ability to be logical. Kahneman’s whole book in decision making Thinking Fast and Slow alludes to this. There are more than several different scenarios in which people’s “logical decision making” when tested, including those in the field studying this, have failed to adhere to pure logical terms.

            No, I don’t believe this is why husbands are considered the head of the household. It doesn’t benefit the whole family to be purely logical. Human beings are feeling beings. You can do both have emotions, take in emotions, process emotions, and still make a “logical” decision. Unfortunately and if you ever read Terry Real’s book I don’t want to talk about it about the experience of men and their education as boys to lose their emotions, there are many ramifications to this, including the undermining of those who experience emotions and yet still are capable of making rather good choices.

    2. Astrid,

      You said:

      “We barely give our spouses the dialogue of that courtesy. We barely acknowledge that what they have to say is important and worth our valuation and assessment. That’s what the dishes are about. ”

      I absolutely agree with this. Why do we do this ? is the question.

      Some people say it’s because we get too casuals with each other, take each other for granted.

      Some people say it’s because your spouse threatens your sense of safety in ways no friend or coworker can.

      I’ve been in business/church/neighborhood/friend/school/parent situations where people were incredibly rude and disregulated so while I agree with Julie Gottman’s General point I think people react in disregulated ways in lots of places. Often recreating family dynamics in business environments even. Daddy issues anyone?

        1. Several theories on this…for the wine situation (when someone else makes a mistake), I think it’s a reflection of how you see yourself and how you treat yourself internally when you make a mistake- that’s my hypothesis on it…it’s a disregulated attachment that you view your partner as an extension of you (which treats yourself cruelly for making mistakes).
          For the yelling and harsh startup- it is essentially a perverse feeling of being completely safe. Philosopher Alain de Botton, believes this is the resultant response of an adult who did not receive enough compassion as an adult to be freely recalcitrant, obstinate, rude, obnoxious etc. as a child. Essentially someone who was expected to grow up too quickly.

          “As for the barely giving our spouse the dialogue of that courtesy?” I think fundamentally it comes from a place of disrespect and contempt, which is also why Gottman places high priority on this through the influence dynamic. The people whose opinions we disregard outright are people who are not worth being listened to. And when that’s your spouse, well there’s that power struggle that we often see in heterosexual relationships.

          1. Astrid,

            You said:

            “Philosopher Alain de Botton, believes this is the resultant response of an adult who did not receive enough compassion as an adult to be freely recalcitrant, obstinate, rude, obnoxious etc. as a child. Essentially someone who was expected to grow up too quickly. ”

            This reminds me of a Terry Real intervention where he asked the guy how old he was when someone emotionally injured him. Because “you defend yourself like a 5 year old would”.

            Are you familiar with Internal Family Systems? I find that helpful to explain how we can act very mature in certain areas or circumstances but react like children or crazy or cold people in others.

            We all have “parts” we develop to navigate our early lives. The more we can see and acknowledge them for what they are trying to accomplish the more the adult part of us can soothe them and be in charge.

            I think of them like my rowdy kids in the backseat fighting while I try to drive the car. Ha ha.

            That’s been helpful to me to understand why I do ridiculous things sometimes. And also to help me see those parts of my husband with empathy.

            The parts that act like a kid or get icily cold or the fragile part that fears rejection.

          2. Are you familiar with Internal Family Systems? I find that helpful to explain how we can act very mature in certain areas or circumstances but react like children or crazy or cold people in others.

            No, would love to read this! Can you send me sources?

            Yes, I think Alain and Terry are on point in their observations. Alain seems to lean towards putting up with it, Terry calls out the behavior and corrects it.

            And yes, I “talk” to my inner child when I’m getting worked up…I talk to her first before I allow myself to respond to the situation. That’s most ideal scenario obviously.

    3. Astrid,

      My understanding of attachment styles is we can operate differently in different relationships and it changes over time.

      I’m anxiously attached in the dance to my avoidant husband. I am avoidant with someone else who is very draining to me. I am secure in many other relationships depending on the circumstances.

      When I am avoidant I think of that person as “needy” and not able to keep calm like I am etc. it’s funny how predictable the roles are.

      So maybe in your relationship you are pushed more to avoidant attitudes in response to your husband’s reactivity? In other relationships you are more secure? No idea of course.

      I do think secure people are generally able to handle more reactivity in either hyper or hypo direction and maintain their stability. They have a wider window of tolerance. That’s my goal.

      We all have different triggers that destabilize us which is why I can be very secure in certain environments but swing out into insecurity with a particular set of Lisa kryptonite. Unfortunately my husband has a pocketful of that special kryptonite blend and vice versa.

      And in general men’s kryptonite and women’s kryptonite are slightly different. Which makes heterosexual marriage even harder.

      Those in a relationship that destabilizes them can either provide more stability to the other partner or it can pull the secure functioning partner out.

      1. Yes, I agree with that. I’m definitely avoidant to deal with my husband’s reactivity. I’m mostly secure in majority of circumstances.
        I can’t remember if you’re the person who has read Terry Real, but that’s what he speaks to as well. When my stability is threatened, it’s the boundary changes that I experience more so than the esteem fluctuations, whereas others experience esteem changes (shame to grandiosity).

        Ha my goal is to deal with adults who don’t regularly fluctuate in hypo and hyper directions… ;). I’m kidding but not fully kidding.

        1. Oh yeah I relate to you there Astrid in having the goal to damage to those who don’t go hypo or hyper. It’s exhausting dealing with the extremes. It would be nice to get a vacation!

        2. And yes I have read a lot of Terry Real among many others. Yet another reason I am exhausted now. It’s paid off in making progress but I honestly would have loved to have been able to find a good therapist who could have guided us without me having to learn enough to become my own couples therapist.

          It’s hard to perform surgery on yourself but sometimes you don’t have a choice.

          1. Did you find a couples therapist? We didn’t get much traction with a Gottman therapist until we switched to a Terry Real trained therapist that got my husband to read “I don’t want to talk about it”. Things changed like a gestalt shift from there (it has only been a month, but I sense it). My husband is no longer blindly buying into the men are stoic by nature and it’s really opened his eyes to the behaviors he thinks he doesn’t have a choice to, but ultimately does. I highly recommend them. I think Terry is right on in the whole men (on average – again to qualify myself) tend to go from the one up position rather than the one down position and that one up ness requires a different strategy than one down (which most therapists are trained in). That therapist has had to work his own shit out because grandiose people can sense other grandiose persons from a mile away. And my own husband said after our first joint session: “Yea I feel like I couldn’t even bs my way out of this even if I tried.” Now that’s someone who has command of the therapy room.

            Most of my venting now is that it’s been too effing long…and I’m still bitter and resentful inwardly, bc of all the time wasted, but outwardly it is finally looking better.

          2. Astrid,

            I am so happy to hear you are working with a good therapist who is able to know how to effectively help your husband! That must be such a relief even though I can understand your residual negative feelings for having gone through it

            Have we found a good couples therapist? Sigh
            It’s harder than dating ha ha

            We are currently taking a DBT class which has more of a differentation focus to give my avoidant hubby the home team advantage. It’s been useful in that the information is broken into short exercises where you navigate difficult conversations. Unfortunately the therapist we were paired with is not skilled with us. Sigh.

            The disadvantage of reading and taking all this training is I now know what good therapy looks like. And what bad therapy looks like.

            We did work with another therapist when ours was out of town that was much better so we might get individual sessions with her since they won’t let us switch. Sigh

            It’s a long comment for my adventures with couples therapists. That’s why I like that Terry Real acknowledges most couples therapy sucks. It really really does for most couples.

            We used a Terry Real trained therapist briefly but she was too harsh. To pull off the Terry Real style you have to combine directness with empathy.

            I will say that I am more in the one up mode along with my husband so I relate to a lot of men who don’t think therapy as constructed is helpful.

            You need different interventions for analytical one up types. And most therapists do the wrong thing. And then blame you.

            It really bugs me when they tell me things I absolutely know are incorrect. Things a quick Google search can verify. But I’m getting better at staying regulated.

          3. Lisa Hi! Yes, it’s been all good news since early January…it feels like a shift truly..and one I can finally be satisfied with. Our Gottman therapist alluded to EFT as being a possible solution for rough patches in the future, not sure if you’ve tried that. What do you ideally want in your therapist? I don’t need as much of the empathy as someone who can be objective with what needs to happen. What kinds of things do they tell you that’s incorrect?

          4. EFT is very effective per research. But it’s demanding for a therapist to do well so many therapists that claim to do EFT are not skilled.

            EFT was my preferred style. We worked with a therapist who was certified in EFT but he really operated more as a Gottman therapist in practice. Although he didn’t really use structured Gottman approaches.

            That is what happens frequently in our experience. No matter what method they are trained in, no matter what they tell you that they will have a structured approach it invariably ends up with a “chatting” style.

            We don’t do well with a chat on the couch telling each other what we hate about each other.

            Often they throw in Mars/Venus gender shit which doesn’t apply to us.

            We ask for more structure. We asked specifically for the Gottman guy to use Gottman exercises. He reluctantly would give us but then revert to his “chatting” style.

            A skilled therapist can get away with that. But most therapists are not skilled at couples therapy.

            I could go on and on but essentially we are looking for a structured model of therapy. I’ve given up hope of finding a therapist who is skilled enough to handle us in the “chat” style.

            That’s why we are taking the DBT class. Although our therapist reverts to the “chat” style as much as she can. Sigh.


          5. Astrid,

            When I was talking about empathy I mean the kind Terry Real advocates for. He will be straight up with the guy that he needs to change but then be empathetic for how he got there and give tell him he will help him figure out how to change. The second part is similar to what EFT does.

            That’s very different than harshly telling an avoidant person they need to change things. It’s missing the critical second piece.

            We don’t require hand holding that’s not the kind of empathy I mean. I would take couples therapy from Satan himself if he was skilled. But I would like to have someone who knows what the hell they are doing and is skilled in the model they claim to be following.

          6. Interesting, I read an interview between Terry Real and Sue Johnson and I have to say I think I would “vomit” in Sue Johnson’s therapy. It’s too much focused on pain and hurt and not the behavior. When I read New Rules and see how Terry speaks, it’s quite more pointed at the behavior. It’s accountability first, then generosity second. I agree with that. I think the concept of understanding first, making the safe space first would not have worked for our relationship. I’m very much focused on the behavior irregardless of the emotion.
            What I mean is that Terry isn’t afraid to say, that’s because you’re defending yourself like a five year old, or come sit down, or this is why you’re ruining your marriage. I think it takes so much courage for therapists to be able to accurately say this first, and then say let me help you. I feel more therapists sit around acknowledging things are painful etc. and that isn’t productive nor efficient use of the time I’d like to spend on.

            Here’s the transcript in case you’re interested:


          7. Astrid,

            Thanks for the psychotherapynetworker link!

            I found the discussions between Dan Siegel and Jerome Kagan debating attachment significance and Dan Siegel and Michael Yapko on the framing of mindfulness fascinating. I have a LOT of thoughts on both but I’ll save that for another time.

            On the Terry Real/Sue Johnson debate you said:

            “I read an interview between Terry Real and Sue Johnson and I have to say I think I would “vomit” in Sue Johnson’s therapy.”

            Wow, that’s quite a strong reaction. Dr Freud would find that very interesting ha ha.

            I’ve read/watched videos/taken training/etc etc from both the attachment and differntiation approaches. From both Terry Real and Sue Johnson.

            I agree that Sue Johnson tends to talk about her model in very sentimental terms which is not my favorite style so I agree with you there. I like Terry Real’s straightforward way of explaining his model.

            EFT is a very detailed, complex model though. It’s very structured (if done well) even though it appears that it’s soft and fuzzy talking about emotions. There are specific stages and specific interventions done at each stage.

            Sue Johnson has done a lot of work with the same type of men Terry Real talks about too. Soldiers who come back from far unable to function with a full range of emotions with their wives. Firefighters after 9/11 etc.

            So the EFT model can be very effective with men with shutdown emotions. Johnson’s book LoveSense details the science behind it and the studies that demonstrate its effectiveness.

            I say all this to agree with you that I often don’t like the way Sue Johnson presents her model. It seems sickeningly sweet to me. But in practice, she can be quite directive and active with bad behavior. EFT is a model where the therapist is very much in charge.

            Having said all that, it takes a LOT of skill in my opinion to pull it off with a grandiose man (or woman). I don’t think most therapists, even those supposedly using EFT can pull it off.

            And different models will appeal and work better with different people. I like certain models better than others. Some models make no sense at all to me but others find useful.

            I am a big fan of David Burn’s Tools not School motto. I am wary of people who are so fixed ok one model it almost becomes cult like. Though I do think you need to be skilled in one or two practically speaking so that you have a base of foundational methods to default to.

            I have my favorites that work for me based on my personality and need. I try to expose myself to a huge variety of approaches and ideas to shake myself up and get a better sense of the spectrum of thoughts and tools.

            I need lots of different types of screwdrivers to loosen up the certainty of my “rightness”. Ha ha

          8. Astrid,

            You asked what kinds of things that say that are incorrect.

            Here’s an example. The current therapist who is using a Gottman book in the course she is teaching said that there are no gendered patterns in marriage dysfunction.

            I found that mind boggling. It’s foundational to the Gottman Classic research that there are differences in how men and women respond. How could a professional supposedly teaching Gottman make that statement?

            I said well certainly there are individual variations but Gottman clearly shows differences in accepting influence in conflict, initiation of requests, physiological flooding etc.

            She said there are no typical gendered patterns.

            Alrighty then. This is NOT what Gottman says. Anyone who Google’s Gottman’s research would see that in 5 minutes.

            Last week she said Gottman defines perpetual problems as solvable. This is not what Gottman says. Sigh

            This matters because she does interventions that are not correct per the therapist training I have taken. The Gottman stuff is just an example.

            I’m sure she means well and is trying hard but she doesn’t know what she is doing with us. One example is she told both of us we were “intellectualizing”. She told me my way of analyzing emotions cannot be effective to change. Even after I gave examples of many things I have changed.

            Honestly it takes all my energy not to go one up on her and tell her she doesn’t know what she is doing. But I try my best to ignore a lot and be polite.

          9. I have purposely not read a lot about DBT so I can roll with the information presented in the class without knowing how much is not correct.

            These therapists I am describing are fully trained by the way. I live in a major city. We have teleconferences with people in other cities trying to find someone who is skilled. I know they are out there. But it is a lot like dating.

          10. Yea that is frustrating, esp bc she’s supposed to be a fully trained Gottman therapist. I would have argued with her esp on his more salient points. She should know there are gender differences, whether or not they’re cultural or biological, that’s another debate. I agree with you it is like dating, and I got really good at dating, but I felt on equal footing at dating, and with therapy that isn’t there. I expect the therapist to be intrinsically much better than I am so I tend to at least give that benefit of the doubt…but then many in the end turn out not to be compatible with us. just need to trust ourselves we know when it’s a fit right?

          11. I have a lot of faults but one of my strengths is I am like Wiley Coyote. I am absolutely relentless when I think the outcome is possible. I just try and learn from each failure and get a little smarter next time. Get new Acme schemes.

            But it is an incredible waste of time. That is what I am frustrated about. It’s like having to teach myself to be an pulminoligist instead of being able to just hire one who can give me professional guidance.

            We have made a lot of progress though so that’s encouraging. Once you reach a certain point things become much easier to continue the work since you have developed better regulation and you understand what the goal is. So we have passed the hardest parts.

            I absolutely understand why people get divorced though when you can’t seem to make progress and you can’t find a therapist to dig out of the hole. And when you get stuck spinning in “dishes” cycles each cycle digs a deeper hole you need to climb out of. After a while you can’t see the sunlight anymore.

            What saved me is I researched stuff and that’s when I was able to understand what was going on and the goal of how a healthy relay infill should function.

            So now we have a correct diagnosis and are seeking someone to help up with physical therapy if you will. It’s hard to do physical therapy on yourself after an injury. It’s helpful to have a professional who knows how to push towards enough pain to make progress but not too much pain to compound the injury.

            Many therapists want to spend a lot of time diagnosing. Which for us is a waste of time since we know what the issues are. That’s another frustration. Like going to the doctor with a correct diagnosis and the doctor wanting to repeat diagnostic tests over and over.

            We KNOW the diagnosis is a ruptured appendix. Now we need the treatment. Not another CAT scan that says “hey your appendix has ruptured” yeah no shit. How about we get the antibiotics going and surgery so we can get well.

            No, let’s talk about the diagnosis some more. Sigh

  32. Lisa you said “I am absolutely relentless when I think the outcome is possible. I just try and learn from each failure and get a little smarter next time. Get new Acme schemes.” Ha this is me too. I’ve been absolutely relentless, esp given that it’s so early in my marriage and the sunk cost investment isn’t years. As we chatted before, I’m only three years into marriage, and so it’s a bit easier for me to say “see ya” if this doesn’t change. I’m not interested in having a husband who doesn’t have the gumption to develop a second consciousness, or depth in the relationship, because my friendship world is filled with women and a smattering of men who do.
    Is your husband at this point doing his own active research or is it still you guiding the ship? I mean you both have a ruptured appendix as you say, but does he realize the extent of the ruptured appendix?

  33. Question for the collective, but especially Astrid and Gottmanfan – for this question I will set the scenario as exactly as you both state, i.e. all you have posted is accurate and that your respective husbands wouldn’t disagree with you on any of your points. Anyway, in this scenario, my question is, “are your husbands now this much significantly different from when you agreed to marry them?” I ask because I just can’t understand marrying someone who has so many fundamental relationship flaws. What percentage of yourselves kept quiet when and if these problems surfaced prior to marriage? How many of your husbands’ “flaws” were present but never addressed prior to marriage? Sorry, this is more than one question. I do not understand the practice of overlooking relationship faults to just bring them up at a later time when so much more is at stake. For example, if the “dish” didn’t bother you, OR, if you chose not to mention the “dish” when dating/engaged, why is then automatically okay to mention the dish after married? Few things are more maddening and saddening than the expression, “men get married expecting their wives to stay the same while women marry men expecting them to change.” F me!

  34. That’s a really good question Nate and one I’ve been absolutely wracking my brain over and over again…and have asked this to him point blank during session…

    To answer this in the most succinct way, I am reminded of this quote by philosopher Alain de Botton

    “Marriage: a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully omitted to investigate.”

    I think it is a combination of these. I think we didn’t have the challenges of married life during courtship and I also think that he didn’t feel safe enough to show these things until we got married. I also think I didn’t do enough to probe to what extent we would encounter these issues

    The “dish” during our engagement was that I wanted him to be more active in the relationship aspect of emotional labor, that we had differences in interest and the level of influence even in what we think should happen when those differences occur..I’ve been very forthcoming about that, but that was workable. i.e. as long as I had access to my other philosopher friends, I could handle at least the gap in emotional growth that we had. We also agreed for the most part to pursue our own interests and meet where we can overlap.

    What did not surface until after I married him however was the utter contempt, the level of childish behavior (the things I described up there were things that happened after marriage)- I could even dig deep and say they weren’t about me, I could say his mother passed unexpectedly, he switched jobs/teams at least three times trying to find his niche, etc. these were not challenges that were present during our courtship. My point is that attacking your partner during mourning or during stressful times that has nothing to do with said partner isn’t going to help and I have to honestly say we did not have these particular challenges during courtship.

    So here are my hypotheses:
    1) I carefully omitted to investigate the various aspects in which we were going to deal with stress

    We didn’t travel internationally until our first year of marriage. We didn’t travel together during our honeymoon (he flew in from the US, I flew in from Eastern Africa), heck I don’t think we traveled domestically except for the first time when I met his parents and that one was fine. We would travel to see each other. When we first met, I flew, M-Th as a consultant, and he lived where I worked, not where my home base was. We got together when things were good and we didn’t have the normal relationship challenges, in a way it was inevitable that we would get married because we had in general very little issues comparatively and I thought great will be particularly smooth sailing from here. We lived together for about nine months before I moved on assignment to East Africa shortly after we got engaged. Ironically (hmm is it ironic?), we do not have actual dish problems, issues with housework/chores, etc.

    2) He gave me stories that should have led to more questioning, but I assumed it to be similar experiences to mine.
    Early in courtship he said oh yes my parents fought and of course in my trying to be relatable, I also said yes, so do mine…ha our parents are so crazy…what I again omitted to investigate is to what extent did they fight and it became clear to me only after counseling that the extent to which my parents fought were nowhere close to what he experienced. I hold myself responsible for not asking more questions. As I said above, you can postulate what normalcy is, when you have an idea of other data points.

    3) Marriage does change you and you are on your best behavior during courtship
    This is his own admission- that there are only certain parts of you that you choose to show to someone when things don’t feel utterly secure. And marriage is that ground in which you can finally reveal your true self. I have my own theory on why I think the kindest thing you can do for your partner is to edit yourself, but this is from his perspective. He wanted me and he wanted to highlight the best parts of him so that in the end we would be married. Good intention, wrong steps.

    To be fair, my husband has been quite aware of his shortcomings, and it’s one thing to be aware and another to do something about it. He’s moving away from a paralysis mode, to an empowered mode these days thanks to our work in counseling. He understands deep down that this isn’t okay, and now he feels he has the strength to work through it himself.

    Hope that helps.

    1. Also Nate, if you’re comfortable, would you mind sharing what you mean by repeated dish problems? I’m curious to understand your perspective.

      1. I don’t mind sharing but want to make sure I understand fully what you are asking. The dish in my posts represents whatever relationship behavior/problem is currently present but doesn’t fit into the major character flaw type thing, i.e. mental or physical abuse, drugs, infidelity, etc. If I literally left a dish on the sink prior to marriage and my then girlfriend/fiance never said a word about it, why is it okay to then turn the same behavior after marriage into a major fight? But even here I don’t love this example because putting a literal dish in the dishwasher is super easy and should never cause a fight. Maybe this – when dating and engaged and even actually still to this day, we each kept separate bank accounts. Now, we have access to each other’s account so nothing sneaky was going on. We just paid bills out of different accounts, me paying some and her paying some. This was never a stated problem or stressor until after marriage. Soon after marriage my wife would start paying the bills I usually would by just writing a check from my check book. She said it was just easier. I didn’t protest. This controlling behavior continued to the point that my wife handles all aspects of our finances…and she’s good at it too. I NEVER asked or assumed she would do this. In fact, I put up a little protest at first but it wasn’t worth the argument because this wasn’t a sticking point for me. If she wants control of this, she can have it. None of this sounds like a problem yet. The problem arises when my wife gets stressed about the finances, or stressed about something else she is doing, and starts lashing out with the “well you don’t take care of the bills” or the “I have too much on my plate” rhetoric. This is still maybe not a great example. My point being that prior to marriage my wife didn’t NEED to have control of everything and seemed to enjoy when I would plan dates/trips, etc. Through our marriage her feeling the need to take control of most things grew and grew. Mind you, not because there was an actual need (i.e. financial trouble or my lack on doing housework) to take control. She took control and then uses it when fighting to say that she does “everything” and I do “nothing”. I realize this is utter rambling and apologize. It’s just that to me, this is a drastic change from when I proposed and I can’t help but feel a victim to a bait and switch.

        1. That is really difficult position to be in. Are you at this point discussing this with her regarding the level of control she has on the marriage? Have you asked her what changed? I have been on your wife’s side years ago in a relationship, not in my marriage, and it stemmed from my own projections that I felt the world rested on my shoulders. So it was I who had to really work on this aspect of letting go control. This feels very familiar. It’s an overburdened reaction and my first response is that for you to do things, she has to be able to trust enough that “the world will continue to run itself” without her. If this is truly that one sided (i.e. an issue of hers with you being the bystander, she will need the help to undo this mindset).

        2. Nate,
          Even though I haven’t been married, just co-habitating, I can SO MUCH relate to this.
          You know how men are constantly picked upon because it is said that we leave most if not all the work in and around the house to thew wife/girlfriend.
          Well, I don’t have kids so the “stay-at-home” situation has never been an issue, so this applies to a household with two aduts both working full time.
          I’ve often felt that whatever I’ve done to try and do my part (=my half) of the work around the house, she would often try to step up the situation. Like you say, she would assign some duty to herself that I’ve usually done, without hiccups and without complain, and then she would complain about “having too much on her plate” specifically because of this.

          1. FlyingKal,

            How do make sense of that? Is she able to explain it? It does seem weird to me.

            I am not at all doubting your accounts (and Nate’s) to be clear.

            Just curious about this subset of women and what taking on your tasks and then complaining she has too much to do is caused by.