My 9-Year-Old Accidentally Explained Why His Mom Divorced Me

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Oh the Places You'll Go Dr. Seuss book cover art
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“What do you want to have for dinner tomorrow?”

My wife asked me that a lot and I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like it on two levels:

Level 1 No-Likey: I have enough to worry about. Whether I have serious things to do, or perhaps am simply unwinding from a day at work, there are SEVERAL things competing for my time and energy, and what we’re doing for dinner TOMORROW was extremely low on my priority list. Maybe I’ll want pizza. Maybe I’ll want tacos. Maybe I’ll want seafood. I don’t know. Also, I’m not hungry, so almost nothing sounds appealing. This doesn’t matter right now. Can’t this wait until it does?

Level 2 No-Likey: This conversation often didn’t go my way. I don’t want to invest time doing something I don’t want to do, only to be told why it’s a bad idea or why it can’t or shouldn’t be done. I don’t want to say something that will require either of us to have to stop at the grocery store when we previously weren’t planning on it. As a general rule, I am against decisions that create more work when an alternative is available that doesn’t.

I’m sure she agreed to ordering a pizza a bunch of times when she probably didn’t want to. I bet she even went to the grocery store a bunch of times just to accommodate whatever dinner idea I’d suggested.

But my natural state of being—generally—is to worry about things when it seems like I need to. You know—“cross that bridge when we get to it.”

I wasn’t shy during my marriage about saying or behaving in ways that communicated how insignificant I considered the Future Dinner Conversation to be.

“What do you want to have for dinner tomorrow?” she said.

“I truly don’t have an opinion, babe. I kind-of don’t care. Whatever you want will be fine with me,” I said.

I thought I was being cool and accommodating my wife’s preferences.

It took me several years to realize just how incorrect I was.

The Little Things That “Don’t Matter” in Marriage

I don’t remember it being a big deal in our first few years together, but somewhere along the way, it evolved into a full-fledged “marriage problem.”

I eventually came around on the dinner thing.

I was certainly imperfect, because I don’t default naturally to Person Who Thinks About Future Meals, but I improved quite a bit through the years at being helpful with dinner. I’m a competent cook who seriously considered culinary school before choosing a writing career. My wife never seemed to figure it out, but I totally cared about her opinion of me. Me getting better at meal planning, volunteering for the grocery buying, and cooking most of the time seemed like a way for me to contribute positively and be a “good husband.”

It was easy for me to do it when I thought it was something she valued that I could take care of.

But it was hard for me when viewed through the “Do I seriously think this is important?” prism.


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Five years post-divorce, I almost never plan meals for my son and I, and even less often for nights when it’s just me.

I don’t value planning future meals unless I’m going to be cooking for other people, like friends or a date. Otherwise, I just don’t think it matters. There are many important things in Life. Many. Planning meals for three days from now doesn’t crack the high-priority section of my list.

My wife seemed to get irrationally upset about this lack of concern for tomorrow’s meal. In my mind, she was “overreacting.” In my mind, she was blowing things out of proportion. This was another example of my wife having mixed-up priorities in our marriage.

Our marriage = Important.

Tomorrow’s dinner = Not Important.

According to my math, my wife was willing to damage our marriage by “starting a fight” over something that didn’t matter.

I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with her emotional calibration.

I thought she was irrational, which I thought made her wrong.

But because I would never let something silly like that outrank our marriage, I loved her anyway.

This “selfless” act showed that I took my marriage vows seriously. I was a “good husband” because I had my priorities straight.

If I can move past my wife’s crazy and irrational responses to little things that don’t matter, why can’t she chill about silly stuff like me not wanting to plan for tomorrow’s dinner, or me leaving my drinking glass next to the sink to use again later?

Kids Say the Darndest Things

I was feeling a little frustrated with my 4th-grade son this morning.

First, I had to remind him to hang up his bath towel the way that I’ve showed him at least a dozen times.

Then, I had to take away his iPad that he’d inexplicably started playing with in the middle of breakfast, which was slowing him down.

He was intentionally making noises to annoy me while I was trying to hear a conversation on talk radio, even after I’d asked him not to a couple of times.

I gave him three tasks after breakfast: Brush his teeth, put his packed lunch inside of his backpack, and put his shoes on.

I don’t remember which incident of non-compliance finally made me snap, but my response made it clear that he’d finally succeeded at pissing me off.

To which he responded: “Dad, why do you get mad about dumb stuff?”

Zoose, the ironic god of sky and thunder, had just face-blasted me with a bolt of ironic lightning.

I wasn’t pissed anymore, even though he was totally being a dickhole again. (Sorry, lupushope.)

I wasn’t pissed anymore because this was funny.

My son doesn’t know enough to know WHY it was funny, and I wasn’t going to get into it with him right then, but I did try to teach him something important that he clearly hadn’t learned yet.

(I’m probably not quoting myself with 100% accuracy. Sorry.)

“Listen, kiddo. I understand why you think I’m getting mad about dumb stuff that doesn’t matter. I really do,” I said. “I’m giving you a hard time about how quickly you’re putting on shoes or eating. I’m angry because you’re making silly noises, or not hanging up your bath towels in the way I’ve asked you to. I get why that seems stupid. Those are all things that don’t seem very important.

“But I’m not really upset because you did a less-than-stellar job hanging up your towel, or because you’re making weird mouth noises for no apparent reason, or because you don’t have your shoes on yet.

“I’m upset because I’m your dad, and I’ve asked you to do a few easy and simple things this morning, and then you didn’t do them. You chose to not help me. Not only did you not help me, you kind of sabotaged my efforts to get us ready so you can get to school on time. Towels and school shoes and you making noise are NOT important. But you obeying your mom and dad IS important. I’m not upset about dumb stuff. I’m upset because you’re not listening to your parents.”

Flashing Neon Sign: I Was a Child Throughout My Entire Marriage

The irony wasn’t lost on me, and anyone who has read anything I’ve written probably knows that I figured out much of this long ago.

But this still felt like a breakthrough moment with my son.

I get comments from people who read She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By The Sink and then accuse my son’s mother of being a control-freak nag because she was making a big deal out of a dish.

I get comments from people who read An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1 and tell me that I’m better off without my wife, because at least now I can watch The Masters golf tournament on a Sunday without anyone giving me crap for doing so. “All you wanted to do was watch a little golf from a tournament that only happens once a year! What’s wrong with that?”, they ask rhetorically, believing they see the world as clearly and correctly as I used to believe I did.

I just wanted to watch golf and football instead of work on some home-improvement project or go to an event at the in-laws. What’s the big deal?

I just wanted to let my wife choose what to have for dinner, because I didn’t have a preference. Why is that a problem?

I just wanted to leave my jeans that I wore one time on that little bedroom stand because it seemed more efficient than hanging them up again, or putting them in the laundry before they actually needed washed. Why is she acting upset about this silly crap?

Our marriage was effectively over long before I was capable of behavioral change in this arena, and was logistically and legally over long before I could see the WHY underneath all of the frustration and sadness my wife had expressed during these disagreements that seemed so insignificant to me at the time.

I spent my marriage kind-of acting like my 4th-grader: Why is she always getting mad about dumb stuff?

The truth was always hovering just a little over my head.

Just a little out of reach, kind of like I wasn’t tall enough.

Some people grow until they’re tall enough to see and understand.

Others find a way to climb up, sometimes because they’re crawling out of the darkness after hitting the floor.

I love my son so much, but if I can’t find a way to effectively communicate and help him understand the WHY underneath my requests or expressed frustrations over “dumb stuff,” he may spend the majority of his life believing that his father treats him like he’s never good enough, or that his dad is always looking for reasons to criticize him.

Can you imagine a son carrying that with him his entire life? As if his father doesn’t think he’s good enough? All because of a little nuanced misunderstanding?

But what if he learns all the things I didn’t know?

Oh, the places he’ll go.

86 thoughts on “My 9-Year-Old Accidentally Explained Why His Mom Divorced Me”

  1. My ex husband would call me a control freak (but to be fair, I have been diagnosed with OCD and anxiety, I was in therapy for 5 years and I ended up taking meds because my husband would push me that far) so a lot of things I want a particular way.

    He’ll tell any and everyone that it’s MY fault the marriage didn’t work. That I was “controlling” just because I’d ask him to pick up his clothes (off the living room floor) or that I would ask him to tidy (after he’s left several piles of mini chip bags scattered across the apartment) or that I would tell him to put his dishes IN the sink (after leaving piles of them ON THE KITCHEN COUNTER). In my mind it’s like he didn’t care if the place was trashed he just cared about his games, working out and impressing other girls.

    He frequently would tell me he PREFERRED hanging out with this girl he met at work that I wasn’t allowed to ever meet because she “made him feel normal” all because of my OCD. To the point where he wouldn’t tell me where he was. Or he’d come home at 5am after leaving to hang out with her at 9am the previous day. And for a VERY long time, I believed him. I believed him years later when he told me my OCD made it so that I didn’t deserve love and that no one would want to “put up with my crazy”.

    But I’m thankful that now, years later, I do have someone who understands I want their clothes put up. I want the dishes IN the sink (and he’ll even get up early on his day off to do them before I wake up so I don’t freak out). And all these other things that my ex husband would shame me for.

    When it comes to marriage or relationships or divorce I figured that you need to find the person who GETS you and not just because they’re “dealing” with you. But someone who truly understands where your frustrations and anxieties are coming from!

    Just wish I had learned that earlier in my previous marriage to save me the time lol.

  2. Good post Matt! It’s so funny when our kids change the table on us isn’t? I’ve had that happen to me. Poof! Suddenly I’m on the OTHER side.

    So in your dinner example, if a wife asks “what should we have for dinner?”

    That is what Gottman calls a “bid for attention”. It doesn’t matter at all if you care or not about meal planning.

    Why? Because that is using appropriate rules for a different game.

    In lots of cases it would be fine to use the “do I care about this?” rule. Just like in singles tennis it is all up you to decide when you want to return a volley. What you think is the only thing that matters in individual sports.

    But when you are in a relationship, you need to use a different set of rules to play than being by yourself.

    You don’t use the “I don’t care rule” for this game. You use the “responding to bids” rule like passing a ball to a teammate in basketball.

    So if the spouse asks “ What do you want for dinner?” You’re playing basketball! They have just thrown you the ?! You take a shot – “Lasagna sounds good to me” “What do you think about Lasagna?”

    Or you don’t have a good position for a shot and you pass it back “hmm I can’t think of anything, are you ok with pizza or should I check online for ideas?”

    But you never use say “I don’t care” in a dismissive way. Because then the ball ? drops to the ground and rolls sadly away.

    And the spouse will “overreact”. They are not really overreacting but upset you dropped the ball. They threw you the ball and you used the wrong rules and let it drop.

    You DO NOT play individual game rules in team sports. Perfectly great rules for one sport are losing strategies in another sport. You have to know which game you are playing.

    1. Also the wife (or husband) who has given a “bid” and gotten a “I don’t care” has to know the right team game rules to respond correctly.

      You don’t pick up the dropped ball ? and throw it hard in your teammate’s face. That’s an individual sport rule of doing what you want.

      Team rules apply even when the teammate sucks. The goal needs to be getting back to playing well together. Not punishment.

    2. Love this analogy. I remember reading about a study that they used couples’ interactions to predict how well the relationship would last and it involved the ‘bids.’ Don’t remember if it was Gottman. Active positive, neutral positive, neutral negative, and active negative I think were the classifications for a partner’s response to a bid. Vague details here, but sound familiar at all?

      “You don’t pick up the dropped ball ? and throw it hard in your teammate’s face.”

      But it is a REEEEALLLY tempting option sometimes! 😀

      1. Rebekah,

        Yeah how one responds or doesn’t respond to a bid is critical to the happiness of a marriage (or any relationship). I think often, like Matt before, people don’t recognize them as bids for connection so they don’t respond using team sport rules. Because they are such little moments and some people incorrectly think they don’t count. Or shouldn’t matter. But it’s like a bank balance analogy. You make many many many dime and quarter and dollar ? deposits or withdrawals every day.

        That accumulates to either a positive or negative balance over time. Keep dropping the ball over and over or throwing it in their faces and you will have a negative bank balance and a shitty marriage.

      2. Here is a list from Gottman’s blog of minor bids that can sometimes be missed as a thrown ball ? unless you know you are playing with team sport rules. Asking about what to plan for dinner is an example.

        “List Of Minor Bids

        1. Pay attention to what I say. “How do I look?” “Did you see that squirrel?!”

        2. Respond to simple requests. “Could you take Pooh for a walk?” “While you’re up, can you grab the salsa?”

        3. Help or work with me. “Let’s help Grandma outside.”

        4. Show interest or active excitement in my accomplishments. “Do you like my drawing?” “How were the cookies?”

        5. Answer my questions or requests for information. “Phoebe’s on the way, can you give her our address?”

        6. Chat with me. “Let me tell you what happened when he came back…”

        7. Share the events of your day with me. “What’ve you been up to?”

        8. Respond to my joke. “Did you hear the one about…?”

        9. Help me de-stress. “I’ve been cooking all day, I’m so tired.”

        10. Help me problem solve. “Greta wants to go on a walk but my foot hurts.”

        11. Be affectionate. “Come cuddle with me while I read.”

        12. Play with me. “Let’s get the chess board!”

        13. Join me in an adventure. “Do you want to explore the woods tomorrow?”

        14. Join me in learning something. “Let’s go to that ice-skating class!”*”

        1. Also responding to bids does NOT mean doing what they want. Only in listening and trying to “get” what they want. Then you make clear what you want and work together as a team for a win/win.

          “*Note: A response to the last bid does NOT have to be: “That sounds great! Can’t wait to skate!” if you actually can wait potentially forever. A positive response to the bid simply shows that you “get it” and can sound like this: “You want to learn ice-skating? Cool! Where did that come from?””

          1. Rebekah Verbeten

            Engagement with positive tone. That was what I liked about the neutral designation. An acknowledgement of hearing but nothing more would be a positive neutral response vs what you offered being a positive active response.

            We’ve had a few discussions about how much/little conversation there is when I bring something up and how that affects my willingness to share my day other than ‘nothing new with the kids.’ Thankfully, we’ve developed our own internal phrases and keywords that tend to work better than a line drive to the forehead!

          2. ha ha “line drive to the forehead” Baseball ⚾️ analogies work too!

            Yes I agree it really takes just a small adjustment to make a big difference in how it comes across.

            Body language, eye contact, integrated phrases. Makes a big difference in emotional connection and a positive deposit.

      3. Rebekah,

        Not sure if the classifications you were thinking of came from Gottman’s original research or maybe someone else’s.

        In their general public material it’s classified as turning towards or away.

        “Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

        The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.

        People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

        These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.”

        “By observing these types of interactions, Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples—straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not—will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”

        1. Forgot to list the bad response. Three general categories in response to a bid:

          1 Turning towards (positive)

          2. Turning away (negative)

          3. Turning against (really negative)

        2. I have a question about responding to bids. The life of a toddler’s parent is difficult b/c the kid is always bidding for attention– they have not yet learned self-regulation and respect for other people’s boundaries b/c, you know, concentrating on not pooping in their pants. So we forgive them, answer their bids as often and as positively as we can, coach them on how to read situations and wait their turns, and look forward to getting our brains back when they reach elementary school. That’s all appropriate given their developmental trajectory.

          It does not seem appropriate for a grown person in an ostensibly grown-up relationship. This compulsive bidding behavior in adults can be written off as being “attention whores” (for women) or being a “mansplainer” for men. But what if you are interested in being in a relationship with such a person, rather than just writing them off? what is the best way to teach another adult to respect your boundaries, and to convey that doing so will likely improve the response they get to their bids when they, more carefully and selectively, put them out there? It seems hard to do this without seeming like, you know, you’re talking to a toddler!

          1. ttravis,

            Well, aren’t this just excellent questions on big topics? Yes, they are.

            Ok well, it would take a long time to figure out how to give a concise answer to your question “what is the best way to teach another adult to respect your boundaries, and to convey that doing so will likely improve the response they get to their bids when they, more carefully and selectively, put them out there?”

            I will just throw out a few random thoughts and maybe others can add theirs.

            I think it’s important to start with asking yourself some questions at the top of the flow chart to get the right answer. Let’s start with the premise that the goal is for full respect living as Terry Real would say. To treat everyone, no matter what they do, with reasonable care and respect as a fellow human being.

            First box of flowchart:
            ”What is my role and level of responsibility I have for this person?”

            If it’s a nosy cousin at Thanksgiving who asks boundaryless questions about your dating life then you stay regulated and say “I would prefer to not talk about that” How is your new job?”

            That bid was like a wild ball thrown that hits you in the head. You catch it, say “ouch” pause, and toss it back to them with a good throw restoring the teammate rules. You just keep repeating that process instead of both playing individual team rules and you responding angrily or passive agressive ly or other bad throws.

            Of course, this is hard to do. Requires a lot of self regulation.

            Imho this applies to all kinds of situations with a distant or medium relationship.

            For a mansplanner or an adult with toddler level bids it’s the same thing. They used individual team rules in throwing a bad ball ? too hard at you.
            It is your goal to return the game to team rules.

            For a mansplain situation, curiosity can be helpful too. “Yes, we agree on that point. You may have missed the point I made saying that a few minutes ago. I’m curious how you think we agree or disagree?”

            The point is to stay regulated and keep redirecting to healthy interaction skills. Staying not defensive. Neutral tone of voice and body language.

            With other people empathy can be helpful. Some people use “excessive” bids because they feel anxious overall or insecure in the relationship. If you can access the WHY the person is doing it it can lead to a softer response in catching their thrown balls.

            Reassuring their anxiety as you explain that you are going to hold the ball for a bit to catch your breath before you throw it back. But you will throw it back. This again encourages good interaction skills and team rules for normal amount of bids.

            The key to not treating people as childlike or toddlers is to not frame it that way no matter what their behaviors.

            They are adults lacking skills. Or adults overwhelmed by circumstances so they can’t access their skills.

            If you maintain that framing and stay self regulated and keep responding in your team rules adult way it can change a lot of interactions. If they can’t change or don’t choose to change you can feel good you have treated both yourself and them with respect.

            I think more effort is required for “deep family” relationships (could be literal family or friends) but will write another comment for that.

            Any one else have ideas to answer ttravis’ question?

          2. The general concept I use here is from Stan Tatkin’s framing. If a person has an anxiously attached or avoidant style this can lead to too many bids or insensitive bids. But a secure functioning person who models good skills can pull people into secure functioning.

            You don’t want to get pulled into insecure functioning with them with leads to a bunch of shitshow drama.

            It’s amazing how quickly things can start looking like Lord of the Flies.

          3. ttravis,

            So if the answer to ”What is my role and level of responsibility I have for this person?” is deep family it requires more effort and even better skills and self regulation.

            When people become deep family to us and we become interdependent on them for our emotional and sometimes physical safety our brains ? have a heightened sense of threat.

            So that requires knowing that our brains are going to easily see small things they and we do as threatening and respond in seemingly irrational ways.

            That can exhibit in toddlerlike behaviors from either you or your person.

            So that’s my second box in the flowchart for deep family.

            Has something triggered a threat to you or your deep family member?

            If the answer is yes, as it often is, you lead with relief as Stan Tatkin says. You don’t tell an anxious or angry loved one that they are throwing bad balls at you as the first stage.

            You see they are threatened somehow and speedily seek to soothe the threat.
            How do you do that? Well it depends on the threat of course. But it helps to ask. “You seem upset, is something bothering you?” You apologize if you have inadvertently or consciously caused that threat. You reassure of your interest and concern.

            You restore safety. Then you can discuss how to throw the ball.

            If it’s you that threatened you speak up. Ask for change. Ask for restored safety. So you can discuss how to throw the ball.

            You never argue with people about what they should feel. They feel what they feel. They think what they think.

            As much as you can you catch bad balls and throw back good balls. You ask for less bad balls and more good balls.

            You seek to add secure functioning.

            I had to do this a couple of weeks ago with a family member who was throwing lots of balls at me. Lots and lots of balls. I tried to reassure that I cared deeply and wanted a close relationship but had to pause between balls. It did produce positive change towards a more normal rate. More secure functioning.

            This stuff is hard to do well in real life. I fail regularly and throw wild balls too hard. But you can’t do it at all if you don’t know what the goal is and keep practicing to improve.

            I don’t know if this resonates or answers your question in a helpful way. Hopefully others will add their thoughts too.

          4. (Hopefully this one is easier to read.)

            So if the answer to ”What is my role and level of responsibility I have for this person?” is deep family it requires more effort and even better skills and self regulation.

            When people become deep family to us and we become interdependent on them for our emotional and sometimes physical safety our brains ? have a heightened sense of threat.

            So that requires knowing that our brains are going to easily see small things they and we do as threatening and respond in seemingly irrational ways.

            That can exhibit in toddlerlike behaviors from either you or your person.

            So that’s my second box in the flowchart for deep family.

            Has something triggered a threat to you or your deep family member?

            If the answer is yes, as it often is, you lead with relief as Stan Tatkin says. You don’t tell an anxious or angry loved one that they are throwing bad balls at you as the first stage.

            You see they are threatened somehow and speedily seek to soothe the threat.
How do you do that? Well it depends on the threat of course. But it helps to ask. “You seem upset, is something bothering you?” You apologize if you have inadvertently or consciously caused that threat. You reassure of your interest and concern.

            You restore safety.

            Then you can discuss how to throw the ball.

            If it’s you that threatened you speak up. Ask for change. Ask for restored safety. So you can discuss how to throw the ball.

            You never argue with people about what they should feel. They feel what they feel. They think what they think.

            As much as you can you catch bad balls and throw back good balls. You ask for less bad balls and more good balls.

            You seek to add secure functioning.

            I had to do this a couple of weeks ago with a family member who was throwing lots of balls at me. Lots and lots of balls. I tried to reassure that I cared deeply and wanted a close relationship but had to pause between balls. It did produce positive change towards a more normal rate. More secure functioning.

            This stuff is hard to do well in real life. I fail regularly and throw wild balls too hard.

            But you can’t do it at all if you don’t know what the goal is and keep practicing to improve.

            I don’t know if this resonates or answers your question in a helpful way. Hopefully others will add their thoughts too.

        3. Rebekah Verbeten

          That’s it!

          I think I’m importing the 4 categories from something else, but they do differentiate the towards/away responses a little. Like Kal’s experience of ‘I’m only doing this because you want to’ stuff. It technically is turning towards, but sure wouldn’t feel like it.

          1. I found this way of classifying bids on Gottman’s blog. Maybe this is what you remember?

            “Nearly Passive Responses

            These are one or two word comments or mild shifts in behavior with no verbal response – your partner may not stop what they are doing, but you know that you’ve been heard, e.g.

            Sam: “Do you want to go out tonight?”
            Mia: [Continuing to get the kids ready for school] “Mmmm”

            Low Energy Responses:

            These involve a few words or a question to clarify a bid, e.g.

            Jamal: “Do you want to go out tonight?”
            Ava: “Sounds fine. Where?”

            Attentive Responses:

            These involve opinions, thoughts, and feelings, e.g.

            Gabrielle: “Do you want to go out tonight?”
            Liam: “That sounds great. You like that Thai place down the street?”

            High Energy Responses:

            These involve full attention with good eye contact. High energy responses may be enthusiastic, include humor or affection, and/or sincere empathy, e.g.

            Rosie: “Do you want to go out tonight?”
            Wiley: “Hooray! Oh, hold on a sec while I cancel my date with the couch…””

          2. Rebekah Verbeten

            I specifically remember the 4 I mentioned earlier. Just can’t for the life of me dig the source out of whatever dusty brain attic corner where it currently resides!

    3. This was mind-blowing for me. *POW* I played team sports my entire childhood, but being a writer and bachelorette as an adult has definitely made me a one-woman-band.

  3. Ahhh, what a sweet post, Matt. I enjoyed this.

    My husband is the meal planner at our house. He wants to know what we’re planning for dinner next Thurs and trust me, I don’t care. In fact, it’s extremely irritating. But I have to care, because it’s important to him. He needs to know there’s a plan for dinner next Thurs and so attempting to gracefully comply is a way of signaling his importance to me, making him feel loved and valued.

    Something I’m always trying to present to men, when you act like a child, you will also totally kill intimacy. It surprises me, a lot of guys don’t seem to get that. Being a grown man doesn’t look anything like being a defiant child, and yet in our culture we have really blurred those things. I can hardly watch TV sitcoms anymore because the guys are downright infantile, bungling, or else bratty and defiant.

    When women are confronted by a bratty child, we tend to yell louder, to nag, to turn into “mom.” What’s so tragic about this dynamic is that many people can’t see it. It’s instinctual, it’s biology. She has to nag more often and louder, he has to get even more petulant about it, until somebody stops the crazy ride and lets the passengers off.

  4. Understanding,acceptance and application. Three of I’m sure a flurry of other traits that speak of maturity. Getting it wrong is on different scio-psychological plans for most men and women of the approximate same age. I have to admit that even being 3 years older than Anne was not enough of a span for our matruristc parity. I was ( and some times still am) as goofy and obnoxious as a 9th grader. But be sure that wives , kids, mortgage companies , car loans ,utility companies and host of others are therapy for the congenitally irresponsible. We learn how we learn however. It is for sure a process that needs both members of the union to actively participate in. Walking hand in hand for a lifetime with someone takes courage, the kind of courage to open your mouth about what’s bothering you and what you need to have to be able to carry on…its also a courage that needs self examination and reflection and the courage to recognize that its not who you are that needs the kick in the ass but the how you are that does. It also takes the ability to be understood and to understand this is where true empathy is brewed. There is do much. We can empathise with what Matt’s wife was dealing with and I can’t judge as I don’t know was she tried and didn’t try
    I know I been of Matt’s mindset in the early stages of our marriage and it nearly ended tragically but through the grace of God lots of love and hope and of course understanding hard work and willingness to fight we made it. It needs vigilance care and maturity.

  5. Matt,

    I don’t think it’s fair to say you were acting like a child.

    I think you were just an adult who was thought marriage was about two people playing individual sports together.

    This is common. I am right there with you although perhaps with different skill deficits.

    As opposed to being a team and using playing the game on the same side.

    I really think most people men and women don’t know the right skills to be in a successful relationship.

    It’s not really imho about being a child but in not knowing yet the skills needs to be in a successful relationship. Or in not knowing when and how to apply which skills in a particular circumstance.

    1. But if we are going to go with men acting childlike because they don’t have good skills I guess I will cop to being a wife who commonly acted childlike in my lack of skills. Pretty common I think.

      I see my previous (and sometimes current) childlike behavior reflected in my daughter.

  6. Rebekah Verbeten

    Kids say the darndest things, don’t they? Another good post (and great comment additions started).

  7. This is awesome! It so is the little things in a relationship. Mine was why do i always have to come to your place! It’s the gesture isn’t it? No matter how small. Lessons are important, especially a bit of give and take. Even fully fledged adults can still learn that! Again, this is dope, thanks for posting! 🙂

  8. So, I’m trying to imagine what “Zoose the ironic God of sky and thunder” looks like…:).
    Maybe he’s tiny and sneaks up on you when you least expect it. Lol.
    Great post!

  9. They were being amenable, polite, thoughtful, so my daughters (aged six and nine) did not understand why I went “ballistic” when they said, “I don’t care” when I asked whether they wanted grape, orange or berry juice for dinner.

    After all, that’s what was said in the home of a neighbor and good friend who had invited them to lunch the day before. And no one seemed offended. (Information I found out later)

    My tirade lasted only a few seconds — it was, however a doozie!

    “You two are intelligent girls who know how to express yourselves. You know what it means to have an opinion! Neither of you have ever been punished for saying what you really mean. I am almost certain that you do have a PREFERENCE, if you do not, say exactly that!! Say, ‘mom, at the moment, I don’t have a preference'”. Whereupon, in high dungeon, I left the room and went to the bathroom to try and cool off. .

    I returned almost immediately and apologized. Both my daughters remember that day and can recall the words. They are now adults, I have heard them say to their friends, “Please, have an opinion, or at least help me by stating a preference!”

    I have found that some folk take as much offense to being told that they “must have an opinion or at least a preference” as I upon hearing an adult “respond like a six-year-old”.

    Suffice to say, I have had to change my approach — my friends have told me/hinted that I am sometimes perceived as a judgmental jerk.


    However, for some reason, there seems to be a misunderstanding here. The rules of the game that I am playing say that a ball MAY NOT BE RETURNED COVERED IN SPIT AND CONTEMPT. Problem is I don’t know the name of the game.

  10. Matt,

    You said:

    “I love my son so much, but if I can’t find a way to effectively communicate and help him understand the WHY underneath my requests or expressed frustrations over “dumb stuff,” he may spend the majority of his life believing that his father treats him like he’s never good enough, or that his dad is always looking for reasons to criticize him.

    Can you imagine a son carrying that with him his entire life? As if his father doesn’t think he’s good enough? All because of a little nuanced misunderstanding?”

    This post really resonated with me. Partly because a HUGE amount of my shitty marriage is because of my husband not responding to my bids and my critical and/or hopeless resentment-filled responses to that.

    Over and over many times a day over years leaves your love bank account overdrawn.

    But also because it also matters in parenting as your quote says.

    I screwed that up too for a while. You know what got me to “get it”? When my daughter said to me “why don’t you like me, you are always angry at me” “you would love a different kid more than me” and she was right.

    Because of my own lack of differentation, I was unconsciously trying to change her into a kid that would be easier for me to love.

    I think many people do that in their marriage. You want the other person to change to be easier to love. To give you love in ways that are easy for you.

    (Maybe that’s what Nate is talking about when he says his wife wants more change than him. Still trying to figure that out.)

    In all my attempts to teach her responsibility the message I was REALLY sending was received as “you aren’t good enough”

    That was my wakeup call.

    Parenting is also a team sport. And I was using too many individual sport rules. Now, we all know parenting is not like marriage exactly but the general relationship part is.

    The skills of being good in a parenting relationship has a lot of common elements. Even though you’re the coach, it’s a 2 person thing. You have to notice the effect on the other person.

    And I wasn’t doing that at that phase of my kid’s life. And she suffered because of it for a while.

    After my wakeup call, I woke up.

    Apologized. Read a lot of books to figure out relationships so I could treat my kids in ways that don’t leave them feeling not good enough.

    I studied my kids to learn how to love them. Still studying and adjusting. But things are different now. I make sure they are different. Trying to teach them relationship stuff too. How to be good at relationships is just a bunch of skills you can learn.

    Our relationship is very different now. Warm. She knows I love her but she also knows I think she is good enough even when she makes it hard for me to love her.

    Now, if I could only master that same skill set with my husband. I’m studying him now. ?

    1. Gottmanfan, could you share suggestions for books on parenting that you found useful? I always love your comments, so think I’ll dig your bibliography too!

    2. Awesome! Before you mentioned me I said to myself, “she gets it”! The problem (in summary) remains as you accurately state in your closing sentence, how do wives apply this to husbands? We all agree that we must do so for our children…but so must we do for our spouses.

      1. Nate,

        That captures what you meant by your wife wants you to change? That you feel she is often unconsciously wanting you to change to be easier to love or have less anxiety or whatever?

        You are so right that it’s easier for many people to see the need to adjust for our kids than our spouses.

        Of course many, many parents never do get it right and want their kids to change to be easier for them to love or be proud of. Very common.

        So yeah, this all goes back to basic misunderstanding of how relationships are supposed to function.

        In how the brain and the body as well as our history can sabotage our cognitive choices if we don’t understand that and put effort into working around them.

        Based on the feedback from you and Matt I am engaging in an experiment this week. To be focused on giving my husband lots of positivity and “you are good enough” type of feedback. Haven’t told him about this just gathering data. ?

        So far it’s gotten a very good response. I have limited my requests for change to keep it to one variable change.

        It takes a lot of self regulation to respond this way. He misses bids and I must still respond positively or at least neutrally.

        But in the interest of our science on this blog I gather the strength.

        I think it would be amazing if you did an experiment on your wife for something her position usually wants and see what the outcome is.

        Many people on this blog ask “what are the answers to solve this?”

        That’s the phase we are in.

        1. Sometimes this stuff is overwhelming to me.

          But if I frame it as small steps it gives me confidence things can change.

          Everyone must figure out a process that works but here is mine:

          1. I start with figuring out how things SHOULD work. Like understanding how the healthy body works or your car engine or whatever.

          There IS a framework for how healthy adults are both independent and interdependent in healthy ways. It’s knowable. I use books. Others use other methods.

          2. There are different common patterns within the range of healthy and unhealthy patterns. This is where this blog and comments are helpful to me. It’s helpful to hear the personal stories of what people think and feel. The common ways relationships become shitty and how to get out of it. Louis is great at comments like that.

          3. Once I know 1 and 2, I can then study and experiment to see which changes may help or hurt the cause of getting to a healthier place with my own individual marriage.

          Most shitty relationships like mine at its lowest point are past the point of being able to discuss things productively. And many people don’t know how to answer “what do you want?” in terms of restoring a healthy relationship. They know what they don’t want. Or what would make things easier for them. But that isn’t the full answer.

          4. It requires changes in ME and also changes in how I interact with my husband. To make it as easy and possible for him to choose to change too.

          5. In almost all cases BOTH people have to change to some degree because there are things each of them are doing to wrong push for things to either change or not change to make things easier for themselves without tolerating the spouses different needs.

          6. But once one person determines to figure it out and works hard in specific ways it can pull the other person into healthier more secure functioning. Like gravity it pulls you in without as much effort as working against gravity.

          Or flipping a magnet. Hard to push against it, but flip the magnet and the other one pulls towards it.

          7. It’s hard to be the only one to change. Hard to go first. To make changes to yourself while living in an environment that makes you feel not goof enough. But that’s the job.

          8. So many shitty marriages CAN be changed. But people don’t know how to change them. Or aren’t willing or able to make the changes necessary because it is hard. It takes a lot of energy and dedication and courage to see what you are doing to screw things up. It’s a hero’s journey.

          9. I recognize this isn’t describing all marriages. In some cases the person is more on the codependent side and has to do work on themselves to feel more self entitlement. In some cases, people need to just leave abuse. Or are married to a spouse who just won’t change no matter what you do. Or who says “I’m done.”

          10. But that isn’t my situation. Or yours, as best I can tell. I think I deserve better and my husband does too. But I have done wrong things to respond to things. Things that I can change.

          11. Which is why I loop back to number 1 to change it.

          What is your process? Is it similar or different?

          What is something you’ve done that made things better?

          1. Good question and I wish I had a better answer for you…but we are in the stage of moving robotically through our days with simple niceties spoken at best. Past attempts to discuss anything relationship wise devolve into arguments that accomplish nothing. So the process becomes avoidance.

          2. Nate,

            Oh well the good news is this is a predictable part of the pattern of shitty marriage.

            Would you describe it now as avoid on both sides?

            Avoidance, while understandable, only leads to more hopelessness that things can be different.

            I agree that trying to discuss at this point isn’t helpful.

            It’s experiment time!

            Cross over to the dark side of mad scientists! ??‍???‍???‍???‍?

            Cross over from avoidance and hopelessness!

            Honestly, my marriage is better now because of mad science. This is where things can start to change.

            Still working on it.

  11. My wife is a gifted cook but still turns to me to ask my thoughts about dinner tomorrow night.

    I get that she’s got the good grace to take my opinions into account, but I am massively not up to the task of coming up with an intelligent answer. It’s like walking up to van Gogh in his studio and being asked “So, what should I paint next?” I dunno…haystacks? “(sigh) We did haystacks last Tuesday.”

    Obviously “I don’t care” doesn’t fly, but I also get the side-eye when I use “Darling, whatever you make will send me into a blissed-out drooling haze of ecstatic twitching, so use your superior judgement and I’ll do the grocery run and grunt work.”

    So now what?

    1. Brian,

      You said: “So now what?”

      First of all I love that you are asking that question.

      Part of your answer is in my comments above about bids as a form of throwing the ball to your partner.

      You wife is making a bid for connection when she asks your thoughts about dinner. It’s a way of wanting to be close to you.

      I’m guessing she wants to have both of you be involved in the creative process. I love your Van Gogh analogy.

      Van Gogh’s brother supported his artist brother in many ways.

      It’s not about answering a specific question about dinner it’s about sharing the process of something she loves with you. For her it seems to be more about the artist side she wants to share with you rather than logistical help or words or appreciation which you have kindly offered already (good job there!)

      So I would ask her in an interested and curious way “what is it you are looking for when you ask me for ideas? What is underneath that?”

      If she wants literal ideas then one way to engage with her would be to pick a website or book or style of cooking and pick one you think would be a good one to try. Then say “what do you think about this one?” Just some thoughtful effort.

      People who make bids are throwing the ball to you hoping for interested engagement. Looking for you to return the ball to them with active interest,

      Yes! This is important to you. I care!

      1. Gottmanfan– just saw your reply to above after I posted mine. Brian, you’ve got two different perspectives now, best of luck!

        1. ttravis,

          You brought up some excellent points too about often “what you should we have for dinner?” involves wanting to share the mental and physical load of meal prep that many wives shoulder. So Brian has lots of things to consider ha ha

          It’s hard to say what Brian’s wife means when she asks “what do you want for dinner?”

          I emphasized the curiosity and sharing part more because Brian offered to do some of the logistical help and that didn’t seem to be preventing the side eye. So I am guessing that maybe Brian’s wife is wanting more than logistical help. Or maybe she wants both. Or neither.

          The only way to find out is asking Brian’s wife.

          Often the exact same phrase can mean very different things to different people. Or even different things at different circumstances by the same person.

          Better to ask than assume. We humans tend to assume we know what others mean. Or imho we assume we can never know what people mean.

          So we don’t ever just ask.

      2. “but I am massively not up to the task of coming up with an intelligent answer”

        It’s not just the intelligent answer she is looking for it’s sharing her passion in small ways. The effort of giving thought to an answer.

        It’s like the best interviewers don’t have to have to be a great athlete or artist or musician or politician to interview one.

        They have the skill of being CURIOUS about the other person’s passion. And do enough basic research to be able to ask questions about their passion.

        So I would think of it like that. You are a journalist assigned to cover a great chef. What kinds of questions would you ask to get what drives this passion for great cooking. What is the creative process they use? What inspires them?

        How does food transform people, cultures, etc?

        If you are curious about your wife’s passion that can lead to the connection I’m guessing she is looking for.

        You can also show that curiosity by thinking about what are dishes she makes you love? Now google that and find a new similar dish you can suggest to her. It’s not a lot of effort with the internet available. I would bookmark a website you find helpful and then when she asks “what do you want for dinner? and you blank you can look up your list and say “what about X? That might be fun to try.”

        Be curious why is she, a great cook, asking you for ideas? She loves you and wants you to share things with you.

        Show your love for her by showing curiosity. Catch that ? Brian and take the shot!

        Think about it as an opportunity for curiosity not pressure on you for an “intelligent answer” you feel ill equipped to answer.

        Try an experiment and try it out and see what happens. Let us know how your wife responds?

        What do you think?

    2. Dinner is a loaded issue in almost every household I know– and I say that as someone who used to be a professional cook. Dinner involves enormous labor– planning, shopping, storing and rotating the inventory, prepping, cooking, safeguarding health and nutrition, and cleaning. Oh right, and creating and enjoyable experience for everyone, b/c if your family doesn’t have a meaningful, nutritious, emotionally connected experience over food every night, your children will flunk out of school and become crack addicts. Dinner is, in short, a lot of mental, physical, and emotional labor for the person who is in charge of it, and that labor has to be performed almost EVERY DAY at a time of day when energy and patience are in short supply.

      I would say that when someone asks “what do you want for dinner?” they are rarely asking “how may I meet your dietary needs?” In fact they are– or at least, I often am– asking for help. As in “my limited creative resources are draining away quickly– can you loan me some of yours before I die here?” You may genuinely not care what you eat- -though I imagine if your wife replied by saying, “okay, sounds like dinner’s not very important to you, so let’s just skip it!” your mind might change. If that’s the case, I recommend that you keep a small mental file of meals that you and your wife/children have enjoyed together and that you know are not difficult or time-consuming to prepare. When asked what you’d like to have, name a meal from this file that you have not had recently and that you know your pantry can easily support: “how about that chicken and broccoli thing we had when your mom came over; that was delicious!” or “it’s a chilly day– how about the french onion soup we had last time it snowed?” or “we have half a chicken in the fridge– can we put it on nachos?” Immediately follow up your suggestion by volunteering to check what ingredients you might need to purchase, and then volunteering to go get them, or to do some other labor that will free the cook up to do the same.

      The key here is knowing that the question of “what do you want to have for dinner?” is not an invitation to make (or abdicate) executive judgements about a menu. It’s a request that you take on part of the deep, hidden labor of running a family: remembering what people like to eat, knowing the inventory in your kitchen, having a sense of how much time and energy other family members have, putting in time to demonstrate care in tangible, material ways. Women perform this labor all the time, not because it’s “natural” but b/c it’s how we are brought up. It’s exhausting and in many ways unrewarding. Women need to do a better job of saying “I’m not going to do this.” Men need to do a better job of saying “Yeah, you shouldn’t have to– I’ll take it on.”

      1. My greatest error of my entire adulthood was foolishly not recognizing how a lack of engagement in the decision-making process for “small” or “unimportant” things like a meal later in the week, or ideas for a weekend activity, can suffocate someone’s partner.

        The best (in an unpleasant way) thing about being a single father and sole homeowner, is that it removes any and all ambiguity regarding how much energy is required to maintain a balanced life and functioning home.

        It makes sense in my case, because I am the only adult. It’s fine. Whatever.

        But I can clearly see now how maddening is must be for the adult that all of that shit falls to while the other ignores it, all the while saying they don’t have an opinion, and acting like I’m the asshole for being upset that I’m not getting any help.

        I had to see that I was THAT guy before I could reconcile my wife’s decision to turn the page on our marriage.

        If I take emotions and bias out of it, it’s not hard to make the argument that she did the right thing.

        That truth hides just beneath the surface of daily life for most people.

        The danger and pain exist in a place that’s so easily mistaken for being safe, innocent and inconsequential.

        I hope people figure out how to “see” that danger and pain sooner than when it’s too late.

        1. Matt,

          I agree wholeheartedly. The mental and emotional labor is a burden.

          I used to ask my husband “why am I the project manager on this?” I don’t want to be the project manager.

          But I think it’s important to keep it as a system. It is ALSO the spouse’s job to make sure they don’t just continue the status quo in situation that they consider imbalanced. To just keep shouldering the burden until it becomes unbearable.

          Doing that is ALSO a lack of skills that lead to a shitty marriage. It’s the common story of many shitty marriages that both sides are missing key skills.

          I hate to cook and this is an area I don’t exactly relate to but I’ve resentfully maintained the status quo in other areas. Which combined with my husband’s skills deficits to co create a shitty marriage.

          You have to do something different if the message isn’t getting through the third time!

          Have the courage to risk asking for change in both words and actions. “Stand up for yourself without making a big deal of it.” (See my usual Atkinson ebook recommendation for specifics on how to do this.)

          That will either prevent a shitty marriage or waste far less of your time in getting clarity for what your spouse is willing to change and what your next step is with this clarity.

          So many people do the same stuff for YEARS and complain that their spouse’s don’t “get it.” (Raises hand here)

        2. Matt,

          Again, you have written and given “voice” to the confusion and pain a lot of us experience as we slog through the processes necessary to become fully functioning, accountable ADULTS!….let’s not even get started on achieving enlightened PARENTHOOD!

          The story I told (above) about my daughters and their “I don’t care” comment has NEVER– until now — found a place of resolution/peace.

          You said, “My greatest error of my entire adulthood was foolishly not recognizing how a lack of engagement in the decision-making process for ‘small’ or ‘unimportant’ things like a meal later in the week or ideas for weekend activity can suffocate someone’s partner”.

          I did not mention that it was during this time that my husband and I had filed papers for a legal separation. Talk about suffering from a lack of engagement from one’s spouse….WHEW! And of course the awful dawning realization that now you are responsible for EVERYTHING!

          Matt, please know and understand that as long as you keep writing from your heart and from your perspective as a man, husband and father, you will give to the world wonderous things. Blessings to you and all those you love!

          1. This is exceedingly kind. I’m grateful for your encouragement, Marilyn. Thank you very much for reading and sharing some of your personal life in return. Many people, but especially me, appreciate it.

    3. Rebekah Verbeten

      Bahaha! ‘blissed-out drooling haze’

      We joke about whether a dish is ‘hit the knee worthy’ (good enough to be worth proposing on its own).

      I enjoy cooking, but sometimes nothing sounds particularly good to ME. So if he doesn’t have any specific suggestions, I’ll ask if there’s a category that DOESN’T sound good. A good followup back in her direction might be asking for a couple of choices…continues the interaction but takes into account whatever mental calculus she has going on.

      I also will ask him now and then for a list of 5-10 dishes that sound good at some point in the near future. That way I can make sure I have things on hand and work them into the menu, but I’m not standing there tapping my foot waiting for a suggestion that I can get on the table in and hour.

    4. Brian,

      This is random but your comment had me thinking about Van Gogh and if he ever asked anyone for ideas of what to draw. Any bids for ideas from Vincent?

      Indeed, he did throw out bids!

      “In his letters to his brother, he described his training and asked for advice:

      ‘I feel the need to study figure drawing . . . What do you think of the croquis? Does the idea seem good to you?’

      Vincent to Theo from Cuesmes in Belgium, 20 August 1880

    5. I don’t see how you don’t understand that there is no difference to her between “I don’t care” and your fancied up version. When I’m asking that question, I’m not looking for an entire menu, just a place to start.
      You could try, “How about chicken?” or “Spaghetti sounds good.” Meal planning is a ton of emotional labor and even the smallest bit of help is nice.

  12. I truly believe that if a man thinks his wife is being irrational, they can have a calm conversation about it. Two people can disagree and still have a happy marriage. It’s when the man thinks he is doing her favor by “loving her in spite of her irrational behavior.” From the mouth of a child, we can see that sometimes, we all be a little irrational. In marriage, so much if making life work is finding middle ground and giving each other the benefit of the doubt. You are a man who realized after the fact that you could have yielded more ground in your marriage. But how much would have been enough for the both of you to still be happy with the marriage? Balance is a lot harder to achieve than we realize

    1. This is true, I think if someone throws out a “bid” like others here have been talking . about, their partner doesn’t really have to agree with the content or premise of the bid. But they do need to demonstrate that they understand the content and premise of the bid and respond in a way that’s helping to resolve whatever underlying thing is going on there. There are often multiple ways to skin a cat, you just have to be sure that the suggestion you’re making actually amounts to skinning the cat or at least comes off as a genuine attempt at devising a cat-skinning method. And if your suggestion is that you don’t think the cat should be skinned at all, you should understand what your partner’s reasons are for feeling differently and try to address those.

  13. I really liked this post and I truly appreciate your honesty with your child. I think that parents often blow stuff like that off, but I see that you’re trying to do better for your kid.

    I wish parents everywhere had that same honesty and sincerity with their kids. It takes a lot of humility to accept responsibility for things and own up to mistakes.

    I struggle with a lot of the things you mentioned in my marriage. Fortunately, we have become very good at communicating over our 5 years, and I think I had to learn a lot of the things you talked about here. Thanks again for your post!

  14. Curious, in your blogs you seem to beat yourself up about your failings at recognizing her needs and her emotions. Don’t you feel like she deserves some of the credit for your divorce for not recognizing your needs and emotions? Stop taking responsibility for a divorce which CLEARLY resulted from you two not being good partners not just YOU being a shitty husband.

    Don’t get me wrong the cup by the sink thing (other blog about being divorced because of dishes) is a bit of a dick move on your part. But THIS? You’re wife KNEW you didn’t care about tomorrow’s meal and you even said you would be fine with her decision yet she continued to ask. Assuming you didn’t actively sabotage her plan to execute tomorrow’s meal, her pestering you about it IS her being controlling and picking a fight over stupid shit AND not recognizing your emotional needs to not be bothered by this particular thing.

    My wife wants laundry done a certain way AND she doesn’t feel like conveying those particulars to me. I frequently offer to help and to learn how she wants it done, but she doesn’t get mad that I “don’t do laundry”. When she says, “Hey the washer is ready can you put x,y,z in and close the lid,” I jump up and get it done with quickness because I’m “a good husband.” Even though I know I could have washed x,y,z perfectly fine on my own and probably the previous day (I do know how to do laundry, just not her way). I KNOW that “helping out” and doing the laundry for her would cause her more stress than you can possibly imagine. On the flip side my personal pet peeve, which my wife lovingly accommodates, is changes in plans while running errands. For example we’re going out to drop something off at the kid’s school, do some grocery shopping, and go to the dentist for a cleaning. If, on the way to the dentist, my wife would say “stop by the dry cleaner I’ve got a sweater I need to pick up” I would experience the beginnings of a personal meltdown. I fully admit, it’s stupid and petty and when it happens we still go through with the changes but it sets me on edge. She’s a smart woman and has figured out ways around my stupidity but she respects my irrationality enough to do it.

    We don’t dig our heels in at each other’s irrationalities we work with them. She works with mine and I work with hers. I know these glimpses into your life through a blog are one sided and filtered but in the few I’ve read you seem to be shouldering a lot of the blame. I’m not saying you should dump on your ex. I’m saying the blogs in which the credit for the divorce is shared amongst both partners sure don’t get shared as much on social media as the ones that are more misandrous.

    1. The purpose of writing here is to share stories based on personal experience in order to accept responsibility for what is mine, recognize past mistakes and learn from them, and share them in ways that maybe other people can relate to and connect with in their own lives.

      And just maybe, afterward, they can accelerate their personal growth quickly enough to avoid some of the mistakes in adulthood that I made which led to the worst experiences of my life and changed the trajectory and quality of my life (and my son’s life, and a bunch of other ancilliary people’s lives around us).

      I think reasonable minds can assume that my ex-wife was not a perfect, flawless human being. That she share some of the same messiness and complications that all of us do while we’re fumbling around trying to figure shit out.

      The question here would be: What purpose would it serve, and what value could be gained, from me telling stories about things my wife did that I perceived to be wrong back when I was a dumber, less-mature version of myself?

      What would I, or a reader, have to gain from me going out of my way to rain criticism on my son’s mother?

      Once in a while, I share a story of something she said or did that I thought was bullshit because it’s a relevant component of a larger story I’m trying to tell.

      But by and large, this blog is an exercise in looking internally to ask oneself better questions on how we can grow more, learn more, give more, be more, and NOT an exercise in excuse-making or exploring all of the reasons why we were blameless victims in something bad that happened.

      I appreciate you reading and sharing this personal, and funny comment. Your marriage sounds normal and awesome. And you are invited to challenge me any time you think I’m writing bullshit things, just as you did here.

      I seriously appreciate it.

      I have a long and distinguished history of thoughtlessness, but in this instance, I am quite mindful of the purpose these stories can serve.

      Me going out of my way to pile more shit on my ex-wife does not serve that purpose.

      Somewhere out there is a man that’s KILLING IT at being a husband and father. He’s awesome. Hi marks across the board. And he happens to be married to a shitty wife, and he’s going to have to leave her for his own sake or the sake of their children.

      THAT guy seems like a candidate for writing the things you’re mentioning. About her share of the blame.

      So long as I’ve identified fundamentally bad things I was doing as a husband, how can I–with any sense of integrity or intellectual honesty–cast blame her way? Who’s to say that if I’d been an epically badass husband that any of those things would have happened?

      I appreciate you looking for the other side of the story. But frankly, I just don’t think it’s relevant unless it’s a story she decides she wants to tell some day.

  15. ttravis,

    Someone asking me for book recommendations? Be still my ❤️!

    This requires a long answer but I will attempt to condense.

    I honestly didn’t read a lot of parenting books per se. I read a lot of books about how to be a healthy adult in healthy relationships which by default includes parenting. That’s a different bibliography.

    But since you asked for parenting books these would be the ones I would tell people to start with.

    1. For new parents Gottman has a book “And Baby Makes Three”

    2. After that phase, there is “Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child”.

    3. Dan Siegel has many excellent parenting books that includes neuroscience and emotional regulation. I haven’t read it but heard him discuss his latest book “The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child” and if sounded really helpful.

    Below is a list of his other books.

    4. It’s simple but often helpful so I recommend “The 5 Love Languages” to help understand each other and how to show love to each other. Finding out my daughter’s love language is gifts was a game changer for me to get her.

    5. Another way of understanding each other is through personality type books and Youtube videos. One of them I used was the Myers Briggs based “Type Talk”. I am an INTJ nerd, my daughter is the exact opposite, an ESFP fun loving extrovert.

    This validated the disconnect we sometimes felt in understanding each other’s point of view. And it helped me see her strengths and what motivated her. I use this type of framing with a lot of people including my husband who is an INTP.

    I like Myers Briggs better for this purpose more than the OCEAN personality classifications used by researchers.

    1. “Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Mind” is Dan Siegel’s book about understanding teenagers which helps in parenting.

      The teenage brain often shows up early too (before turning 13) depending on the hormones.

  16. In reading this, especially regarding Chris Beckett’s comment, I do wonder if what we need to find compatibility with our mate choice is around having alignment on the course of action to take when something is more important to one person and the other person doesn’t give a crap about it. In other words, how much influence should we have in convincing our partners that what one person thinks it’s important should become now a “we” think its important. Is exerting influence a form of control or a negotiation?
    This reminds me of Gottman’s concept of metaemotion and that couples can be stable even while being avoidant on one spectrum or volatile in another spectrum. What matters is that you’re both on the same page with when to exert those influence and when not to.

    “Don’t get me wrong the cup by the sink thing (other blog about being divorced because of dishes) is a bit of a dick move on your part. But THIS? You’re wife KNEW you didn’t care about tomorrow’s meal and you even said you would be fine with her decision yet she continued to ask. Assuming you didn’t actively sabotage her plan to execute tomorrow’s meal, her pestering you about it IS her being controlling and picking a fight over stupid shit AND not recognizing your emotional needs to not be bothered by this particular thing.”

    I’m curious Chris, what part of Matt’s dishes in the sink to you is being a dick, but his wife’s wanting his involvement in the cooking choice process is not? I’m having a hard time delineating between the two.

    Also, I am pretty sure this is why I am avoiding children and or further irreversible decisions in general. I’m not convinced my husband and I have the same influencing function and I think that will be exacerbated with the presence of children.

  17. PIP…this post shows your good intelligence..great empathy
    ..and awesome love of your friend. You wisely stated our need to take care of each other and therefore take care of the relationship….you show your depth of compassion for your friend during this tumultuous time in his life….and merely by sharing show your deep regard for him. You are a truer friend to this man than he may know…bless you for sharing

    1. Sorry guys…I didn’t refresh my phone to see the original post had been deleted…scratch mine if you need to

  18. I’m thinking this morning that we get marriage wrong, because we get relationships wrong in general.
    We tend to focus on our romantic relationships as THE relationship we wait our whole lives for. That *that relationship*, or person, is going to be the thing that makes us whole and secure.
    Yet in our day to day interactions with people we are often very superficial, mostly interested in not looking bad as opposed to having any real sort of communication.
    We think that there will be one person who accepts us completely (a natural desire), but we hardly practice that with ourselves and with others in our day to day lives.
    I’m not saying the marriage relationship shouldn’t be considered sacred in someways, and I’m not talking about “letting it all hang out” authenticity and transparency.
    But what I am talking about is the fact that we often run after image and relationships that somehow elevate our status. We often chase after excitement. We are often very self centered and chase after what gives us a thrill. When their excitement matches my excitement, well- we call that love. When the excitement is over, well- there is always something or someone new.
    With everyone so “me” focused, we hardly have any time, or desire for that matter, to slow down and have any deeper relationship with the people we see on a day to day basis. There is no instant “me” reward for hearing about other peoples troubles or triumphs, or in joining them in their grief or celebration. But it does build relationship and trust and makes life a little less lonely for everyone.
    Maybe that isn’t the experience for everyone, but I don’t think it is uncommon.
    I think if we knew how to do those kinds of relationships a little better we wouldn’t be so quick to pursue the wrong relationship in order to get those “togetherness” needs met, and we would know how to be in, and still appreciate, our romantic relationships even when our partners are a little less exciting to us.

  19. I wonder- did your ex-wife ever respond to your belated enlightenment? How did things play out after the divorce- what was the time-frame, or “closure” like? Link me if there’s a post about it please.

    I am divorced over a year and used to crave closure in the form of my ex becoming a bit self-aware. But he’s nearing 40 and dating a 20-something, sharing “fun” videos that show the hilarity between dating and marriage, and pretending I never existed. I don’t love him, I definitely don’t miss him and am relieved he’s not in my life- but a part of me is sad he never felt like he did anything wrong. I shouldn’t feel invalidated without the apology I never got but that’s something I need to work on.

    I used to think he was intelligent but he’s just a chameleon; changing to suit his environment and pretending.

    1. I’m not divorced but I was abused as a child and unfortunately, if you are waiting for people who’ve wronged you in the past to figure it out on their own and repent, in most cases you’re going to be waiting for a long time. I used to be really hung up on the idea that every problem I had was 100% my fault unless other people agreed it was otherwise, and I actually believed for a long time that my abuse was my own fault because I was a bad/strange child. After entering therapy I realized that a lot of the things my parents told me made me a bad/strange child were completely normal child behaviour, and most of the other things were symptoms of untreated trauma. Because my abuse started at a young age I didn’t realize that the cause/effect was totally backwards, as it had been going on as long as I could remember; because I was already displaying trauma symptoms then, the abuse likely started well before I developed persistent long-term memory. My father has developed a small sense of self-awareness but not enough to acknowledge or apologize for what he did, and my mother now suffers from a degenerative neurological condition which basically guarantees that she’ll never reach any self-awareness for her role in my abuse either. It’s frustrating but it’s very common for people who do a lot of damage to others to go to the grave without ever apologizing. I think even if they manage to become better people, the bigger the wrongs you’ve done the harder it is to acknowledge that you’ve done them. “Oh jeez I was an abusive dad/crappy spouse and now I have to apologize for it” is a much scarier prospect than “Oh jeez I stepped on this stranger’s foot and now I have to apologize for it”. If you let your ex’s willful ignorance stop you from moving on and developing as a person then you’re mostly hurting yourself. You don’t have to forget or even forgive, but you do to clean up the mess he made in you as best you can and move on because otherwise he’s going to be off enjoying life while you’re still feeling stuck and miserable.

  20. I’ve read some of your blog with interest, and I think you’re on the path to growth–from my perspective you’re just one step away from what I would want either of my ex-husbands to know, if they’d really wanted to keep our marriage.

    What I’d want them to know is that you don’t have to have empathy. You don’t have to understand why something hurts me, you don’t have to understand why I want something. There’s two things you have to have: trust and compassion. You have to trust that I am telling you the truth as I live it: that something hurts me or bothers me, and that I want a change in your behavior. And you have to have compassion: you have to want to take care of me. Neither trust nor compassion require empathy, so you’re off the hook on understanding anybody’s feelings!

    You don’t have to understand that I feel hurt when you leave your dirty socks and stinky shoes in the living room (they don’t smell bad to you, after all), but you do have to trust that am telling the truth when I say they bother me, which is why I asked you not to do it. And you have to want to take care of me by not leaving those socks and shoes in the living room, just because you want to make my life better, regardless whether you empathize with my feelings.

    And if you don’t trust me (which is exactly how it feels when my partner tries to convince me that my feelings are wrong–what, do you think I’m lying about my feelings?), of course I won’t trust you. And if you don’t show compassion (if you don’t want to take care of me), I don’t want to be in a relationship with you. And if you don’t trust me, and you don’t want to take care of me, I don’t feel safe with you, and I don’t trust you with my future.

    1. Hey Kai. Thank you. I think a lot of these conversations are largely semantics because many of us use imprecise words when we speak.

      I’ve written a couple of posts that cover Trust in the way you’re describing (which is very important, obviously).

      Hopefully, you think I’ve taken that step. 🙂

      1. I’m still catching up, having only found your blog last week. But the growth you have shown and the effort you put into analysis is encouraging.

  21. That last line is perfect. All we can hope for our children is that they do a little bit better than we did and break the cycle. You say you were coddled by your mom (which is probably even easier to do to your child as a single parent), but instead I think your kid will learn valuable life advice. And hopefully will be a damn good husband one day!

  22. Thank you so much for your blog, Matt, and also to @gottmanfan for commenting. That string of comments have been totally eye-opening to me, and have helped to specifically answer a “why” I have been feeling (and I’m not crazy or imagining it) particularly ignored, generally neglected, and definitely not anywhere close to a priority in my husband’s life.

    I do 95% of the cooking, 90% of the meal cleanup, and 90% of the shopping. I love to cook, and I’m a damn good cook. I cook mostly from scratch, toss in homemade bread a couple times a week, and I don’t even mind doing the clean up. What I DO mind is feeling like it’s my job, my place, and unappreciated. I don’t think it’s asking much to want my husband just to show up during the process. Sit at the breakfast bar, engage in some conversation, occasionally grab something from the fridge or put the carton of eggs away. Just be my companion, show me some appreciation, bond with me.

    I’ve asked him for this thing so many times. He may respond by showing up for a few days—he’s smart enough to know he’s being somewhat of a dick. Give him a few days and any excuse, and he’ll be in the other room doing anything but appreciating the person who is filling his belly. Even when he does show up at my (I’m sure he feels it’s a demand) request, he is never engaged with me long before he’s scrolling through his phone. Email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, texting, news… Until I want to shove that effing phone up his nether regions.

    I’m doing something loving. For him. I’m depositing in the bank of our marriage, and he’s the only one make no withdrawals. Even when he’s there physically, he is ignoring me, actively engaging with people and things who are apparently far more important to him than I am.

    Anyway, thanks for the enlightenment. I’ve been having trouble putting my finger on what to say when I complain that I feel like I’m just the “wife appliance,” not a person he loves and adores. Truth is he is missing ALL the bids, but even worse, he is actively responding to everyone else’s bids, even engaging where there are no bids. Pretty much, he’d rather be anywhere but with me.

  23. “My wife seemed to get irrationally upset about this lack of concern for tomorrow’s meal. In my mind, she was “overreacting.” In my mind, she was blowing things out of proportion. This was another example of my wife having mixed-up priorities in our marriage.”

    You considered yourself so fantastically important and of high priority that you could not even think to be considerate of another human being taking their time to make sure you were adequately fed, with adequate nutrition, on a budget adequate to financial needs, with barely any input from yourself.
    You then proceeded to demonstrate to her through your actions and attitude that her time, her care, and her many investments (emotional, time, etc.) in you were worth not only **nothing**, but were worth your scorn, your contempt, your combativeness, and your casual dismissal of her ability to prioritize.

    It’s absolutely amazing to the point of absurdity to read some of these blog posts and watch you pat yourself on the back for succeeding in the minimally strenuous quasi-task of approaching something closer to a mature functioning adult. The fact that you are parenting a child scares the other shit out of me. That poor, poor child.

    Additionally: The idea that you are now launching a podcast to spew your “enlightened” sexism-tinged and condescending attitudes and anecdotes makes me physically ill. You are a former abuser. I’m not going to bother reading more of these blog posts to see how far the Abuse Rabbit Hole goes — it’s enough for me already that you couch the emotional and psychological abuse of your former spouse in terms like “her perspective” and “how I think / how she thinks” instead of bothering to do the emotional growth work it takes to man up and realize that the problem is You, always was You to a far greater degree than you realize, and will continue to be You for the foreseeable future as long as you continue this cutesy nonsense of pretending that this is a perspective disagreement cut along gender lines and not what it actually is and always was: you abusing your spouse because you were too entitled and contemptuous to bother to learn to be otherwise.

    1. This is your last character attack I’m publishing. You know precisely dick about me.

      You’ve had your two punches. Awesome. You hate me and think I’m worthless and a horrible person. We get it now.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

    2. What the (*#%&(! kind of comment is that?!

      If your reading comprehension were worth anything, you would see that Matt repeatedly says that the way he looked at things was WRONG. There are quite a few commenters who take issue with his blog overall because he almost never comments on anything his wife did wrong beyond a vague ‘she isn’t perfect’ now and then.


    3. You seriously have zero clue. Try reading the English version not the Russian translation. By far the one person on this blog post who actually HAS grown is Matt. I imagine you and the rest of the comrades have nothing better to do than attempt deflection. You poor soul. Could it be that you didn’t get the support you believed you deserved only feel you were entitled to but never gave in return?. Wow…you are hearby the winner of the MBTTTR asshole of the quarter

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Matt Fray

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