An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1

Comments 43
danger tape

You’re in danger.

You don’t know you’re in danger because it doesn’t feel scary right now. That’s both good and bad, but it might be mostly bad.

I hope you’ll believe me when I say that being aware of danger so that you can do something about it is so much better than getting painfully blindsided later in life.

I don’t mean blindsided, like when you’re a freshman playing defensive back for the scout team at football practice, and the biggest, baddest senior lineman annihilates you on a power sweep right in front of the cheerleading squad you were trying to impress.

I don’t mean blindsided, like when your boyfriend breaks up with you the week of prom or homecoming and your parents already got you the perfect dress, and now you’re feeling sad, confused, and almost too embarrassed to go, even though you didn’t do anything wrong.

I mean blindsided, like your parents sit you down at the dinner table one night and say “Sweetie, your dad and I feel you’re finally old enough to know the truth about our family,” right before your dad rips off his own face to reveal some creepy robot face underneath.

“We’re not human, honey. We’re creepy robots. And so are you.”

I wish I was kidding.

That’s seriously what divorce can feel like.

Like everything you thought you understood maybe isn’t true or reliable or believable anymore, and that shock can feel both painful and frightening.

You know that you shouldn’t play with guns or knives. Adults taught you the dangers.

You know that you shouldn’t abuse drugs and alcohol. Adults taught you the dangers.

You know that you shouldn’t participate in reckless sexual activity. Adults taught you the dangers.

You understand the dangers of texting and driving. Of drinking and driving.

You know about bullying. About unhealthy eating disorders. About the hazards of social media.

You’ve heard it all.

And all of those things are important, but maybe because you’re so aware of them, they’re not the same danger they would be if no one ever warned you about them. You’re probably bored when people want to talk to you about those things because you’ve heard about them so much.

But you know what you probably haven’t heard about that is just as important as those other things, since it literally affects 95 percent of people?

The REAL reasons that so many people get divorced.

Your teachers, principals, coaches and families are failing you.

They are. It’s harsh, but it’s true. They’re not failing you on purpose. They’re not being negligent intentionally or trying to hold out on you.

The truth is, they don’t know either. Because THEIR teachers, principals, coaches and families failed them as well.

No one told you that you are statistically unlikely to have a good marriage.

And you can’t even conceive of what a good marriage might look and feel like. It’s not because you’re “dumb” or because you’re not around adults who actually do have good, healthy marriages. You may be, and I hope that you are.

But the truth is that we CANNOT—ever—know what we don’t know. We think we know all kinds of things, but we’re wrong most of the time. Even all of the adults instructed with teaching you about all of the important stuff in life. ESPECIALLY me. I’m kind of a dumbass. But I’m kind of a dumbass who accidentally discovered something super-important when I got a divorce five years ago and cried a lot more than a man in his mid-30s probably should.

Also, you don’t know who has good marriages and bad marriages, because people who have bad marriages PRETEND to have good marriages. They pretend all of the time. They do it to protect you, and they do it to protect themselves because they’re ashamed that one of the most important and precious things in their lives has become dysfunctional. They’re afraid to lose the comfort and safety of their home and family. They’re afraid of their friends and neighbors thinking they’re failures.

They’re afraid of hurting you, because when you become a parent, protecting your children (even from bad feelings) becomes one of your top life priorities.

Yes. Adults get afraid sometimes, too. Maybe even often. Very afraid.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but adults are afraid of more things than young people.

The difference between being an adult and a child isn’t the ability to shed fear. It’s the ability to march forward bravely even though you don’t have your parents or older siblings protecting you anymore.

The scariest thing in life might be when we’re in danger and don’t know how to get to safety.

It’s scary when something is wrong and we don’t know how to solve a problem or fix something that’s broken or protect ourselves from being hurt.

That’s what people in bad marriages feel like sometimes. You might think that adults would be able to explain to you WHY they got a divorce, but I think you’ll be both surprised and disappointed to learn that isn’t true.

Because you know what marriage is, right? It’s not that complicated.

It’s a forever agreement to love and be faithful to one another for the rest of your life. Generally, you share money, a home, a bedroom, cars, and often children and pets.

And even you, who has presumably never been married before, understand all of that.

While there are some cultures in the world who still do arranged marriages where people don’t get to decide who they marry, marriage is a volunteer activity for most people.

No one is MAKING us get married.

And no one is MAKING us get married to whomever we choose to marry.


So, why do you think more than half of all marriages fail? (About half of them end in divorce, and then there are all of the people who are still married but wish they weren’t. I’d like to tell you that’s a small number, but it’s not.)

Even though I’m not super-smart, I kind of know why this happens. There’s a good chance no other adults are talking to you about this (because it makes them uncomfortable OR because they never think about it the way they think about warning you about drug abuse, STDs, and creepy white vans with the words “FREE CANDY” spray-painted on the side.)

The REAL Reasons Your Marriage Will Suck (That Your Parents and Teachers Probably Won’t Tell You About)

Many of you are smarter than I was as a kid, and 100 percent of you didn’t grow up in the same time and place with the same adult role models as me, so our experiences won’t be identical. Please don’t think that because I thought or felt something that it means I believe that you are exactly the same.

But one of the coolest things I’ve learned since writing things on the internet is that no matter how different our lives might be—no matter what part of the world we live in, no matter our gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation, or religion, or politics, or profession, or education, or personal interests—there are ALWAYS life experiences that someone can identify with or connect with.

We’re never the only ones who think or feel or do something.

We’re never as alone as we might sometimes feel. So if you feel like you do something strange or weird inside your own head, or when nobody’s around, I promise you that thousands of other people think and do and feel those same things. Even the kids at school who seem smarter or cooler than you. Even the teachers who seem like they have it all figured out. Even moms and dads, and pastors, and coaches and the guy behind the counter at the convenience store, and the lady in the car next to you.

No matter what, you’re not alone. Promise.

Anyway, here is the first of several reasons your marriage will suck and ruin your life if you don’t know what to watch out for.

What Causes Divorce #1: Accidental Sexism (Boys vs. Girls Stuff)

There’s a possibility that you’re accidentally sexist and don’t realize it.

You need to either realize it OR stop behaving that way, or you’re highly likely to have a crap marriage or get divorced. It’s worse than it sounds.

When I was younger, the boys played football on the playground. We talked about sports, played with action figures, and a bunch of other fake-macho stuff we thought our dads, big brothers, and friends would approve of.

If we got in a fight with another kid during a basketball or football game, we were usually friends again by the following day.

The girls—not always, but often—did different things. Maybe they didn’t play sports because they were dressed much nicer. They often stood off to the side playing with their handcrafted jewelry, or whispering about the boys they thought were cute, or whatever secret stuff girls do that I’d be lying to claim I knew about or understood.

Girls went to the bathroom in groups. They thought boys were “gross,” even while crushing on some of them. Fights could last for entire school years between two girls in my class who were the best of friends just a week earlier.

There were obvious differences between boys and girls, I thought.

I always liked girls, both in the I-want-to-make-out-with-them way, and in the I-enjoy-hanging-out-with-them way. I’m generally well-mannered and was taught to respect people, so I certainly never acted in a way that I would have considered “sexist.”

I didn’t think boys were BETTER than girls.

I didn’t mistreat or disrespect someone because they were female.

But I WAS sexist, and I just didn’t know it. And because I was accidentally sexist, I did (or didn’t do) things during my marriage that contributed heavily to its end, and the entire time, I NEVER knew I was harming it. Scary.

You ever say or hear a boy make fun of some other kid playing a sport by saying he “plays like a girl”?

You ever say or hear someone say the phrase “cry like a little girl”?

You ever say or hear a guy accuse one of his buddies of “menstruating,” or “PMS-ing” or of needing to “clean the sand out of his vagina”?

I used to hear and say things like that.

Our intention was never to belittle women by saying those things. Our intention was to razz one another in that bro-culture way guys use to bond by giving one another a hard time. It’s just something many of us do, and I wish I could explain why.

But the implications of saying any of those things is that being a girl, or doing things like a girl, is bad. Right? Right.

And if we’re saying it’s bad to be a girl, aren’t we kind-of saying that being a guy is better than being a girl? Aren’t we kind-of saying that men are better than women?

We are.

And it’s a total dick move, so you should try to stop immediately.

Even if you don’t want to stop because it’s disrespectful to every girl or woman you know, it’s a good idea to stop simply because not stopping will lay the groundwork for your future divorce that neither you nor I want you to experience.

Who Does the Laundry?

Sure, lots of guys do laundry.

I used to wash my clothes periodically in college, and even a little bit during my marriage.

I wash my clothes all of the time now because I’m divorced and live alone.

You might think that my bedroom is the most-depressing room in my house. You’d be mistaken. It’s the laundry room.

I hate it there.

But I didn’t hate it there when my wife’s clothes needed washed and dried as well.

So now I’m a guy who does a lot of laundry because my wife moved out a few years ago. There were a lot of reasons why, but probably for NONE of the reasons you might be guessing inside your head.

If you knew why I got—and most people in crappy marriages get—divorced, I wouldn’t need to write this.

I didn’t get divorced because I hit my wife or called her names.

I didn’t get divorced because I did drugs or drank too much. I didn’t stay out all night and not tell her where I was. I didn’t sleep around. I didn’t do any of the things that I believed to be The Reasons People Get Divorced when I was growing up.

One of the reasons I got divorced is because my wife did 80 percent of the laundry. Maybe more.

And so, back to the boy-girl thing.

When I was growing up, my mom always did stuff like that. My mom washed, dried, folded and hung all of the clothes.

My mom cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms.

My mom vacuumed the carpet. Mom swept the floor. Mom dusted.

And when I went to visit my grandparents, my grandma did all of that same stuff.

So, you see, my mom learned that those things were her job from her mom. And I learned that those things were “her” job from my mom.

And that means that when I got married, and my wife didn’t do things exactly as my mom did them, I thought she was doing it wrong.

She was AWESOME at home-care. But she didn’t just silently take care of everything like my mom always had. She told me that I wasn’t pulling my fair share.

I thought that was a load of crap.

But I’m not the world’s biggest moron either. Even I could see that my wife working as many hours per week as I did made her and my situation different from my mom, who spent several years keeping a pristine and well-run home during the hours my wife had to be at work just like me.

So, I tried even harder to help around the house than I perceived my stepdad to do with my mom, or that my dad did with my stepmom.

I cooked a lot. Went grocery-shopping. Did a fair amount of dishes. And made an effort to help her clean the house on weekends, even though I was a whiny jerk about it whenever I didn’t want to spend a few weekend hours cleaning, which was approximately 100 percent of the time.

And this is the part I’m going to leave you with because it’s the most important lesson I can offer you in this first entry:

It’s not so much the amount of physical work one does that creates the anger and imbalance that will end your marriage. It’s more about the amount of MENTAL work one does to make sure that the things that need done, get done.

When you get married, and you just keep acting like you do when you live at home with your parents, where they always take care of everything so that you don’t have to—when you force your partner to do the same things your mom did for you—she (or he, potentially) is going to get tired.

Really tired.

And strong people keep going when they’re really tired, but even the strongest people have to stop and rest at some point.

And when the person holding the marriage together needs to rest, it’s all over.

It’s not about how many dishes are washed or towels are folded.

It’s not about how often someone goes to the store or how many meals get cooked.

It’s about the mental strain of being RESPONSIBLE for making sure the dishes get washed, laundry gets folded, groceries get bought, the food gets defrosted for dinner, the birthday gifts and Christmas cards get sent, etc.

It’s pretty hard for people even when they don’t have kids.

But when they do have kids, it becomes impossible to spend every day being RESPONSIBLE for EVERYTHING that needs done—not just for yourself, but for your spouse, AND your children.

Kids aren’t hard on marriages because kids are inherently difficult as much as kids are hard on marriages because they push people on the brink of mental and emotional exhaustion OVER the brink.

Not because of the children. But because of the lack of support for providing care for them.

Some people fall and never get up again.

Some people break when they hit the ground and never get themselves put back together again.

And your job—your solemn duty as a husband or wife—is to make damn sure they never fall or never break in the first place.

And there’s a good chance no one told you that house chores—House chores! How stupid does that sound?!—can be the reason your marriage will end and that your whole life can fall apart.

But, as God as I my witness, you better believe they can.

You better believe they will.

And then do whatever you must to make sure you’re never letting your spouse carry too much. Don’t try to pick them up after they fall. Don’t try to piece them together after they break.

Just do the work of LOVING them enough each day to carry whatever needs carried so that they never fall or break in the first place.

We’ll talk more about this idea later, but you’ll need it in your long-term romantic relationships and/or marriage: Love is a choice. A choice you must be disciplined and courageous enough to make every day.

So that our loved ones never break.

Because, maybe then, neither will we.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 4

43 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1”

  1. I’m rather newly married. And hopefully we’ll stay happy and together forever. 🙂
    But yes it’s important to think about the “little” things and how we treat each other.

    1. Hey! Congratuations on your recent nuptials.

      That’s a big deal.

      I think it sounds deceptively simple: Being mindful of the “little” things. It sounds easy. Or rather, the little things maybe don’t sound important enough to prioritize.

      And then, incrementally. As the weeks and months and years, and these teeny-tiny incidents pile up, the little things are this gigantic mountain.

      A gigantic mountain that actively works against important things like intimacy and connection, and safety and trust.

      And then the gigantic mountain squashes you and you die.

      Metaphorically. But some might tell you that’s even scarier than actually dying, because you have to FEEL the metaphorical death every day, until you don’t anymore.

      Just over five years later? Haven’t got there yet.

      It’s not just important.

      It’s EVERYTHING, because all of the crap that we daydream about, and pursue, and covet mean squat when the gigantic mountain is suffocating us to death.

      But of course there’s a flipside to this, too. One that’s infinitely less cynical and gloomy.

      There’s the option to build something strong. Robust. Unbreakable.

      Something that serves as an example to friends and family and future children. Something good. Thoroughly good and steady and beautiful.

      Something that inspires.

      It’s not just about avoiding the shit.

      That’s just the Cigarette Pack Warning version.

      There’s also the Light Up the Darkness version.

      And I hope that’s exactly what you two do.

      Thank you very much for reading my typo-ridden article.

      Cheers to you and your bride. To many years.

      1. Thank you! ?

        And yes, the little things can pile up… for better and for worse!

        I usually end up with lots of typos in things I write too haha.

        And all well and a bright future to you too!

    1. I’ll spare you my gigantic-mountain metaphor I just spammed the previous commenter with. 😉

      Thank you so much for reading and taking a minute to leave this comment. The simplicity and directness of your comment might disguise somewhat just how true and significant it is.

  2. When I reached my breaking point 2 and a half years ago, I honestly couldn’t explain why. When someone asked me what happened, all I could say was “After 20 years, I just broke. I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

    Similar to what you said about your marriage, he didn’t beat me. He didn’t yell at me. He probably did more laundry than you did, and he’s involved with the kids. There are absolutely parenting things that he’s better at than me, no doubt about it.

    So why did I break? After 2 years, a lot of therapy, even more reading, and some testing on his part, it turns out that just like it’s important for both people to mentally participate in the marriage, if one person is responsible for doing all of the emotional participation in the marriage, that will eventually break them too. My STBXH has an extremely Avoidant attachment style. Neither of us knew it, neither of us recognized it – we didn’t know what we didn’t know.

    1. That makes a ton of sense to me. It depends on how I look at it as to whether I consider that good or bad.

      I’m sorry, Rebecca.

        1. Your entire comment and description.

          What you shared.

          I get it, whereas, seven years ago I wouldn’t have. I’d have secretly judged you for quitting. I’d have secretly thought it was “wrong.”

          And now I know better.

          Now, at least on some levels, I think I more clearly see things as they actually are.

          I know why you couldn’t keep going.

          It’s a real thing happening to millions of people, and no one is formally teaching young people to NOT do the things that cause it.

          It’s a danger that fundamentally harms people, yet few people ever are given the information and resources necessary to prevent it from happening.

          Which is tragic, obviously.

          And frustrating because I know I’m not equipped or skilled or influential enough to do anything to change that.

          I also hastily publish poorly written and unedited articles because I’m hurrying during whatever moments of the day I can write about this stuff which is much less than I’d prefer. (I’m really sorry that I sometimes publish a bunch of terribly written and edited stuff. Super-embarrassing when I notice it later.)

  3. I have often tried to tell guys that forcing their wives into the position of Mom (as in, coordinator of all things chorey) is a super-bad idea. Women don’t want to be your mom, and they don’t want you to be their kid. They want you to be a partner. Forcing your wife to be your mom is a good way to not get laid very much, also.

    1. I wrote a thing very specifically about the negative impact on intimacy, but in the off-chance young people actually read this, I was trying to keep the mature-ish content to a low roar. 🙂

      But yes. Agree with you completely.

      Premise is simple enough. As a general rule, people are not physically attracted to their parents and children.

      So when you create a parent-child dynamic between romantic partners, attraction dies.

      That usually ends very badly.

      That little spiel was for anyone reading, and not because I was trying to inform you of something you already know better than I do.

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting, Jean.

  4. Matt,

    You already know bits and pieces of my situation, so I’ll pick up where we left off…the other day my husband and I had a similar discussion, where I couldn’t believe or rather process what he meant by he didn’t understand how unequal things were in our relationship. I stood there almost in disbelief, not because I think he is lying, but because I cannot process what he meant by that. Of course this is not the case anymore, but I still don’t understand- so maybe you can shed some light on it. I argued to him that if he made a list of everything I did in relevance to our marriage, he could see it was not equal and given his evidence based nature, how that didn’t calculate was just astounding to me. I even said, but I told you that they were, did you not take that into perspective that what I said held any merit?

    So, I guess my question to you is can you help me figure out how this is the case. I believe you and my husband when you say that you really didn’t know. What I am missing is the how? So, I suppose maybe explaining the following would really help to shed light on it.

    1) “But I WAS sexist, and I just didn’t know it. And because I was accidentally sexist, I did (or didn’t do) things during my marriage that contributed heavily to its end, and the entire time, I NEVER knew I was harming it. Scary.”

    2) One of the reasons I got divorced is because my wife did 80 percent of the laundry. Maybe more. But I’m not the world’s biggest moron either. Even I could see that my wife working as many hours per week as I did made her and my situation different from my mom, who spent several years keeping a pristine and well-run home during the hours my wife had to be at work just like me. It’s not so much the amount of physical work one does that creates the anger and imbalance that will end your marriage. It’s more about the amount of MENTAL work one does to make sure that the things that need done, get done. It’s about the mental strain of being RESPONSIBLE for making sure the dishes get washed, laundry gets folded, groceries get bought, the food gets defrosted for dinner, the birthday gifts and Christmas cards get sent, etc.

    Did she express this to you? That the mental load is unequal? That she is burdened by this? I mean I feel like I said this word for word and it still took another two years before the lightbulb finally switched on. I don’t know sometimes I wonder if it’s sheer stupid persistence that has made me this resolute at sending him the message.

  5. A topic of conversation in our house of late with me, my husband and my 17 year old daughter and two 13 year old sons. It came out of my husband proudly saying “I’m trying really hard to help you around the house” I waited till the sadness went away before I said anything – sad, because my husband really sincerely thought he was helping me around the house when I work 50 hours a week and have supported our family for more than 18 years. He has worked part time for the last 4.

    Did I really marry someone who thinks like this ??

    Once I could speak again I pointed out it wasn’t 1975 and he didn’t take the train to the city every morning while I put on my apron and tended the home. That would result in him helping me around the house. We had this conversation with a few jokes thrown in with the kids involved. Daughter understood my reason for addressing it, boys were thoughtful and husband, well, there’s no question he got it. More effectively than hitting him with the frying pan I was washing when he first said it.

    1. OMG that “I’m helping you around the house” comment makes me feel all horror film psycho killer every time I hear it. “Helping me”? Like its MY JOB but some how I’m so incompetent I just cant manage it so you have to help me. How exactly did taking care of OUR home, OUR kids and YOU become MY job? I work just as many hours outside the house and make more of the money that supports us – but all the “stuff that keeps OUR life going” is MY job. I simply do not get how this makes sense to guys.

      1. I don’t think it makes sense to guys as much as young men are conditioned (by example) to believe that’s “the way.”

        I mean, do you know anyone, anywhere, or have you even heard of anyone, anywhere who grew up with adults who DIDN’T model the wife/mother doing the lion’s share of household management and childcare?

        Has anyone every in history met or heard of someone who grew up visiting friends and family, and watching movies and TV, and saw the husband/father serving that role?

        It’s NOT okay. Indefensible.

        But to me, it makes complete sense why the vast majority of men and women slip so comfortably into these roles that will more than likely damage or break their relationship once children come into the picture.

        It’s hard to watch once you see it all playing out over and over again with people you meet and know.

  6. Excellent article, I think you really captured exactly what the problem is with a lot of relationships. Marriage really needs to be a shared partnership where both parties are responsible for getting things done, both are engaged and invested in being partners and neither one is basically ‘the boss’ or a surrogate parent.

    1. Appreciate that, Cherilyn. Awesome of you to read it and take a minute to send this note. I’m glad you liked it.

  7. I think it’s interesting that we have an extensive list of “Do Nots” (Don’t cheat, don’t beat, don’t drink (to excess) ..) as criteria of how to be a good partner, but a limited amount of “Do’s.”
    I think that may lend to the belief that relationships don’t require much of us.
    Stay in the safe zone, and you’ll be fine. But as your article states, that really isn’t the safe zone.

    Work is work is work. We all have to do it. There should be a fair division of labor, but I believe it’s the emotional engagement and connection that gives all the crap we have to do meaning, and makes it rewarding.

    Nobody wants to work without reward.

    Those are the “Do’s” we should be doing for our partners and friends.
    Time, attention, recognition, connection, reflection…and maybe a back rub, too ;).
    It makes people feel human again, loved and cared for.

  8. Thanks for this article (and the other stuff you write, too).

    It helps to have someone else put into words what you already know somehow, but can’t really wrap into a concept… It leaves you frustrated and you start to doubt your own perception, especially when you try to explain your frustration to somebody else.

    I always struggled with getting more and more frustrated in my relationships. Loss of attraction towards my partner, feeling exhausted and misunderstood… all that crap.

    I could never put my finger on it but I would normally reach my “breaking point” about 3 to 4 years into the relationship (since I was 16 years old, until now, with 31 !!).

    My problem is that I was raised to be as pleasing as possible!
    Like a lot of women, I guess.
    I never complain. Until I finally feel so disrespected by my partner that I end the relationship. Leaving them completely startled and angry how I could leave without a reason.

    After my last relationship I just gave up. No marriage or family for me. I am obviously broken.

    Of course most people think about themselves as not being sexist. Most of us condemn blatant sexism and so on…
    But I am convinced we are all so incredibly sexist that we can’t even reflect upon the whole mesh of stupidity we depend on to judge other people. Choose our partners, etc.. And even how we think about ourselves. (The same goes for all -isms, I guess).

    When you start noticing it, it’s scary!
    it’s everywhere… Starts in school and just gets carried over… And I don’t mean “Mimimi it’s so hard to be female”. I mean the general way we attach concepts to an individual. And how we constantly try to bend to fit into these concepts ourselves.

    It’s just human I guess.. The way we work. Depressing. 😀

    1. Appreciate this comment. Thank you.

      I spent years not seeing it. Most people don’t see it. And yes. Once you notice it, you see it everywhere. Once you know it, you can’t un-know it.

      I don’t know any other way to help than to keep writing and talking about it.

      Thank you very much for being part of the conversation.

  9. Ypu said “It’s about the mental strain of being RESPONSIBLE for making sure the dishes get washed, laundry gets folded, groceries get bought, the food gets defrosted for dinner, the birthday gifts and Christmas cards get sent, etc.

    It’s pretty hard for people even when they don’t have kids.

    But when they do have kids, it becomes impossible to spend every day being RESPONSIBLE for EVERYTHING that needs done—not just for yourself, but for your spouse, AND your children.”

    This – this right here is why I just stopped trying and once I stopped trying everything went to shit.

    1. Right.

      I think if we polled every divorced wife in history, it would easily be the most commonly cited reason for ending a marriage.

      Of course, sometimes guys end marriages. They say their wives are nagging shrews and aren’t fun anymore. They say their wives never want to have sex with them anymore. They say their wives changed or stopped paying attention to him or stopped respecting him.

      So THEY leave their wives. And tragically, they never actually identified the root cause.

      Their wife was responsible for everything in their adult lives, and then children maxed out or exceeded mom’s capacity for managing everything for multiple people, and she HAD to change just to keep the children cared for, the home in order, her job not being neglected, etc, etc.

      So the guy goes on to his next dysfunctional relationship, having never learned the important life lesson, having never modified relationship-killing behavior, and always feeling justified in blaming his ex-wife for abandoning their marriage and being a joyless hag.

      It’s truly one of the most toxic things that happens to families and children, and NO ONE talks about it.

      No newspapers, cable news, magazines, or anything.

      This super-common cycle hurts so many people and makes the world a shittier place to live, it’s very frustrating to me that it goes unnoticed as the plague that it is.

      1. Yes. Trying to manage all the doctor appointments, finding childcare, making sure dinner was on the table at a reasonable time, keeping the house clean, keeping track of birthdays and anniversaries was exhausting. After a number of years, I wasn’t his wife, I was his housekeeper/nanny. And, no, I wasn’t fun any more. I was too tired. And had lost myself in the details of trying to keep the house going.

        The relationship I have with my boyfriend is completely different. He sees everything I do. And appreciates how much work it is. It’s such a difference…

  10. “joyless hag” yup – that was me and the worst part is he was right I was. I didn’t even like being around me. But I couldn’t find any way out from under the crushing weight of it all. So he left and guess what – just taking care of me and the kids is easier. So I’m happier. And that is kind of sad. But better than what I was living with before.

    1. Oh, I agree, because I think I understand it all now. But there’s a better-than-average chance he doesn’t understand the role he played.

      And that means he’s doomed to repeat it a second time, AND it means he’s ill-equipped to teach his children what NOT to do, or what shouldn’t be tolerated from their romantic partners.

      The whole thing is quite disappointing. (The all-too-common scenario. Not you specifically, Tina. Hope that was obvious.)

      1. Eh – some days I am disappointing. Others I am positively radiant. Aren’t we all? I appreciate your writing Matt, not only because it is validating but because it makes me think. I don’t want to rewrite history in my head so that there was nothing good in our relationship and I was just a sap who fell for a crappy person. I think too many people do that after a divorce. He did crappy things but so did I. Some were just mistakes we didn’t even know we were making, some were intentionally hurtful, after all the built up hurt of the unintentional started rotting everything it touched. It sucks. There isn’t any fixing it at this point. But keeping a more realistic than fictional view of it is the only way I know to keep from repeating it – and to help my kids avoid it.

  11. Matt, I really appreciate what you’re trying to do with this, but I think you might be one generation too late. Your target audience for this is probably not asking, “How can I cultivate personal traits that are conducive to future marriage?”, they’re asking, “Why marry at all?”

    And I don’t think any of us has a good answer to that.

    There is something transcendent about marriage that we’ve lost. It’s become pragmatic. I’ve been chasing down marital “best practises” for nearly three decades now, and in the end it always comes down to a mutual spirit of self-sacrifice. Of doing what is in the best interest of another without worrying about how it may diminish ME.

    We can teach this generation how to “do” marriage, but we can’t tell them WHY they should even marry in the first place.

    Today, marriage is simply one among many lifestyle options to choose from. We pretend that they’re equally valid, but they are not. The proliferation of broken families over the past 40 years has NOT been a good thing for society as a whole.

    Marriage has lost the honorable place in society that it once held. We no longer value it as a societal good, as something to aspire to. Seriously, ask any 5 year old what they want to be when they grow up. Not one of them will say, “A good spouse”. Sure, maybe as they get older some of them might want to HAVE a good spouse in their future but nobody’s really telling kids that marriage, and being a good spouse, is something to aspire to for themselves. In fact, we teach them to prioritize everything BUT marriage, to put it off until they’ve acquired a degree, a good job and a home overflowing with stuff. We’ve reduced marriage and family to mere accessories to our lifestyle that we can cast off when it no longer suits us, because above all else, we value *ourselves* first.

    We can tell our kids ’til we’re blue in the face how to get married and stay married, but until we can tell them WHY they should, it isn’t gonna resonate.

    And the truth about marriage – that it’s transcendent purpose is not to bring us personal fulfillment but rather to breed the selfishness out of us, one small act of sacrifice at a time – is a pretty crappy sales pitch. Who’s gonna find value in that proposition?? As long as we continue to view marriage through the lens of “what’s in it for ME?” (which is basically EVERYBODY’S default position), marriages will continue to fail.

    Don’t get me wrong, I admire what you’re doing here. These are truths that we all need to hear and think about. But I think it needs to be grounded in the bigger context of “why?”. Why should anyone choose the harder option of lifelong marriage when there are so many other attractive (not to mention more flexible!) choices available?

    Don’t ask me what the answer is here. I got nothing. But I can’t help but think that it’s a crucial part of the narrative that needs to be told.

    1. I agree with everything you’re saying.

      I have a few responses to your totally salient observations.

      1. I am 100% okay with people choosing to not marry. It’s a GREAT way to avoid divorce.

      2. However, statistically speaking (in the U.S. at least) 95% of people 18 and over are either married, formerly married, or are planning to marry, according to Gallup. So even if kids are muttering about not getting married, the math says they will anyway in 9.5 out of 10 instances.

      3. Even if people choose to not marry, what are the odds that they won’t be in a romantic relationship somewhere along the way where the interpersonal dynamics pretty much mimic those of a marriage?

      4. Children.

      Even if more people choose a more self-centered lifestyle and ultimately decide to never have kids (which is a perfectly acceptable life decision from my standpoint), we’re still dealing with a world where nearly 9 out of 10 people will become parents (that’s combining biological and adoptive) at some point in their lives according to this fascinating data analysis:

      I don’t get hung up on the Why.

      People will get married for religious reasons, for financial reasons, for cultural reasons, for family and social pressure reasons.

      Even if that 95% number plummeted in our lifetime to 75%, we’d still be talking about six billion human beings.

      I’ve always said I’m NOT pro-marriage. (Though I think it’s fair to say that marriage is consistently demonstrated to be the best model I know of for raising children effectively, which is really important to me.)

      What I am is ANTI-divorce.

      I am against people — GOOD people — who genuinely love one another and get married on purpose; I am against the idea of them mostly not liking each other or themselves in 7-10 years, and breaking up and making their kids cry, and creating a bunch of crappy life situations with their extended family and friends.

      It just sucks all the way around.

      If people are going to consciously and intentionally get married, then we should be supporting them with the actual knowledge and tools they need to not accidentally grenade it while they’re innocently just fumbing around trying to figure out Life.

      Which is what most people do.

      It’s the worst.

      They need help. I’m not sure I can help. But I figure if I can just make people aware of the idea that it’s worth their care and concern, then that’s 80% of the battle.

      At least they won’t go through their entire marriage clueless as to why everything turned to dust and blew away.

      That’s the real tragedy, isn’t it?

      Two sad and broken adults. Innocent kids caught in the middle. All of the severed relationships with extended family and friends.

      And after ALL of it, there are adults who truly have no idea how any of it happened.

      We can’t let that be the end of the story. There’s too much at stake.

      Appreciate you reading and thinking about this more than I can say. Thank you very, very much for caring and for your thoughtful comment.

    2. Anita,
      I know that it can seem like we have lost need for or desire for marriage. I think there is alot of “chatter” about not needing marriage. But while the red pillers are spreading their fertilizer, and the younger crowd are feeling as though there are limitless options in the dating pool, the physical and social sciences have and are exploring ideas of human interconnections.
      Maybe our idea of what marriage will change (as it has in the past). I think maybe the expectations of one person being another persons everything is almost destructive. But, I still deeply value knowing and loving the same person for, like, ever. It’s funny, but in order to maintain a relationship with someone we have to be flexible within the roles and dynamics. I am not talking about polygamy here, either. That is really another matter, what I am wanting to say is that one reason for the “Why” is the human need for connection and family.
      We do better in families. We feel better, function better, understand better when we are closely connected with one another.
      Our neuro-biological tendencies wont go away…At least not for several thousands of more years. We will still have dopamine to get us intrigued and keep us coming back. we will still have oxytocin to create empathy and bonds.
      We will still love and fall in love.
      I agree that at times it can seem like the whole idea of love is some momentary insanity, and that people can look at relationships like a plant that continually drops its blooms,.. something temporary, but all of that is a symptom of not knowing how to have relationship.
      When we know how to have relationship, when the love is less about excitement and about the deep fulfillment of knowing and loving someone, when there has been so many obstacles overcome together that you have a deeper understanding of how this current obstacle is affecting your partner, when you can safely be more real with yourself, and with your partner-that and alot more, that is what is missing.
      I dont think it’s too late. I think there are many still foolhearted enough to try, and I think if people start getting what it takes to get to the place of having a fulfilling relationship then we wont be seeing the futility of it.
      We are looking at the problem and saying “Well, that is just the way it is.” and so, agree that marriage cant work.
      But what we need to see if that it isnt marriage that is failing , it’s how we’re doing it. ..
      Close personal relationships are going to exist as long as mankind does. Even if marriage as we know it changes, even if the name goes away, the issue of how to have relationship with each other is not going to go away. It will just crop up in some other social structure.

      1. I dont think I was very articulate or clear with what I wrote above.
        Ill sum it up with this:
        Even if we turn our back on marriage, we are wired for relationship so we are going to continue to try to be in relationships (you can call them whatever you want.)
        We are saying marriage doesnt work, because we dont know how to have happy, healthy, fulfilling relationships.
        I dont think learning how to have good relationship is going to be something we can avoid indefinitely. (Or maybe it will be THE thing that ends the human race! who knows?)
        So what we are seeing when we are seeing so much relationship failure is really just us seeing that there is a need to change what we are doing.

        I still dont feel like my brilliance was properly articulated. (; ) )
        Maybe I’ll think on it, get those nails fully in focus, so I can hit them squarely on the head. ..

  12. Matt, I love reading your blog. So much truth and every time I’m reading, I just sit there and say “He understands, why can’t my husband?”

    You see, I’m also going to be divorced not because my husband beats me or cheats on me, or does drugs or is an alcoholic. I’m going to be divorced because my husband is an overgrown child who only thinks of himself. He can’t be bothered to pay attention to our children, 2 and 4 years old, so they color on the walls. Then I’m the one who has to clean it up and wash it off the walls or worse, paint over it. He falls asleep at 8 pm because he’s had a long day and I’m left to entertain the kids until bedtime at 930 or 10 pm. He thinks that because he goes to work 4 days per week, that his 3 days off are for him to rest and relax. Meanwhile, I work 5 days and my 2 days off per week are spent unearthing our home and cleaning and scrubbing and doing laundry, that he doesn’t help me with. If I stop cleaning, our home would be overcome with bugs. I know it.

    As an anecdotal message to how long it has been this bad… 3 years ago while pregnant with our youngest, he was working in Chicago while we live in Detroit. We were planning to move, and considered moving to the Chicago-land area. I researched a real estate agent, started looking up good school districts, and even started interviewing for my own new job in the area. But then I got sick. I had pregnancy-related issues and needed to go to the ER in the middle of the night. I asked my best friend to come sit with our older children so I didn’t have to drag them with me in the middle of the night. I asked my parents to relieve her…. They did. But at the time, it scared me to my core and I told him that if we were moving, it wasn’t until after the baby was born, because “If this happens there, I have no one to help support me”. That was 3 years ago.

    We’re still married. I’m still miserable. I’m still bearing 80% (or more) of the daily load to our lives and our family. But yet, I can’t seem to bring myself to actually file that paper to begin the dissolution of our marriage and our family. I can’t bring myself to truly finalize that ending because some part of me deep down thinks he’ll change. He’ll wake up before it’s too late.

    I know he won’t. He doesn’t even realize the damage he’s done or how far gone I actually am. I wish I had noticed this much earlier, before we married. Before we had our family. Because now the thought of “failure” to my marriage and family is debilitating.

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  14. Another epically perfect post. Hits the intergeneration elements that we are exposed to and may never question. I think we are inherently drawn to partners that in some way reflect our childhood experiences and role models (as in Imago therapy, Imago being: an unconscious idealized mental image of someone, especially a parent, which influences a person’s behaviour). So it’s very important to understand what your own Imago might be and that of your mate. That takes some willingness to know thyself and communicate honestly, intimately and deeply with both yourself and another human being… scary, terrifying even, but ultimately worth the risk.

  15. I have been married to my husband for 25 years. For the first 20+ I told him my resentment was building because everything was optional for him. No one ever walked in our house and saw mass and thought to themselves wow Greg should really clean the house but plenty would walk in and say wow Sheila should really clean the house . For far too long all the housework child rearing grocery shopping and meal planning and preparation holiday giftgiving birthday planning fell on my shoulder simply because I was the one who was the wife. Once I reached my breaking point I’m glad to say he stepped it up. Is the perfect, no!! Is it better yes. Culture has changed, society is changing. As parents it’s our job to adopt the next generation to those changes. And it takes conversations and honestly if people truly looking at what works and doesn’t work for those changes to occur My grandson is three he loves the color pink he’s been teased for his liking of that color, his father made fun of him for playing with the baby doll, and for liking to cook. I called it out for what it was his own insecurities as a man being projected onto a little child Sadly though my three-year-old grandson will tell you my favorite color is pink and that’s OK even though I’m a boy And his Grammy always says yes it’s OK if you like pink. And if I have any influence in his life he will be a great partner for some lucky girl one day because he is sensitive and caring and I vigorously protect those qualities in him.

    1. Keep doing what you are doing with your grandson. My son is 17, likes to cook, knits better than I do, had all kinds of stuffed animals he liked cuddling when he was young, and said pink was his favorite color. (It no longer is, but he still likes it.) He will make someone a kick-ass partner some day, and he will be a great dad.

  16. Pingback: An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3 | Must Be This Tall To Ride

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