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

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black and white puzzle pieces
Puzzle pieces are cool because they sort of police themselves. Even though several pieces might look like they’ll fit together, they usually don’t, and even if they do, it’s easy to spot the problem and fix it. Try to think of having strong, healthy personal boundaries just like that. When you identify your boundaries, and you enforce them, crappy incompatible puzzle pieces don’t get misplaced and mess everything up. Healthy boundaries take the mystery out of dating and good relationships. Either you fail fast, and avoid a horrible relationship, OR you progress in mostly pleasant, functional ways with a romantic partner who is a great match for the long haul. The people who are still around after you enforce your boundaries like a boss? They’re the keepers. (Image/

You’re not going to like this, but you probably shouldn’t marry your girlfriend or boyfriend.


You know how it feels safe to eat bacon cheeseburgers, drink milkshakes, or maybe even smoke something without the fear of imminently dropping dead of a heart attack or developing lung cancer?

You feel that way because you have several years ahead of you, which is awesome.

But, you’re also intellectually aware that eating bacon cheeseburgers and milkshakes for every meal and smoking a pack a day will end with you being a VERY unhealthy adult and will almost certainly rob you of several years of life.

I’m asking you to please think of your dating life in that same way.

Things that feel like no big deal right now will WRECK you in your thirties and forties. Big-time suckage.

And the only person who can protect you from those future shitty things is you. On this particular matter, you’re all you’ve got.

Because I’m capable of not concerning myself with three days from now in the interest of enjoying today, I promise that I understand that some or all of you will dismiss this friendly warning.

That’s okay.

I think maybe most people have to learn life’s most important lessons on their own. That’s how I am too. Every important lesson that stuck with me was learned the hard way.

The reason I’m even talking about this is because I got divorced about five years ago, and it was a WAY bigger deal than I ever realized divorce could be. And I say that as a child of divorced parents who lived about 400 miles apart through my formative years which made me cry a lot when I was a little kid.

Divorce was VERY hard, and I think most people don’t talk about it because they’re ashamed, or because it’s such an awkward and uncomfortable conversation to be on either side of. Divorce is COMMON. Thousands of divorces happen every day.

And common things seem NORMAL. Regular. Not weird.

And things that we think of as normal, regular and not weird don’t scare us. So we don’t protect or prepare ourselves because it never occurs to us that we should.

This is me trying to convince you that you should.

According to a couple of researchers who studied the health impact of major life events on human beings, divorce is the #2 most-stressful life event a person will ever experience.

According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, divorce ranks ahead of things like going to prison, the death of a parent or child, and losing a body part in a horrific accident.

And I’m here to tell you that Holmes and Rahe weren’t playing.

You don’t want any part of it.

So when I say things that offend you a little and make both of us uncomfortable like: Your boyfriend or girlfriend who you currently feel super-in-love with is statistically likely to be your life’s greatest threat at the moment, I want you to understand why.

Let that sink in for a minute before we talk about what you can do about it.

The Boring Word You MUST Prioritize to Avoid a Crappy Adult Life


When I was growing up, if someone tried to talk to me about boundaries, I would have tuned them out like when my gym teacher tried to stress the importance of stretching and eating vegetables.

I’m 17 and can do 25 more chin-ups than you, dude.

And it would make sense to me if you thought I was an asshole for disparaging your relationship that has always felt like a really good and healthy thing, and that it all seems pretty hypocritical coming from some divorced guy.

But I’m totally right about this, so I hope you’ll begrudgingly come along anyway.

Your future non-crying children who enjoy having both mom and dad living in the same house will really appreciate it.

What Boundaries Are and Why They’re Your Best Defense Against Divorce

Your parents aren’t going to like me using this example, but I think it’s probably the quickest way to cut through the bullshit, so I hope they’ll get over it.

I want you to think about being a girl in high school. A junior. Sweet 16.

I want you to imagine walking through the busy, locker-lined hallway, and as you walk by a group of guys, you hear one of them say about you: “Check out the ass on her. Oh man, I would love to tap that.”

You feel embarrassed, but you just keep moving. You kind of know who the guy is. He’s a cliché high school jock that you know is dating one of the cheerleaders. You know that he routinely harasses some of the less-popular kids in the hallway. He’s a jerk and a bully.

His comment made you feel gross, but it’s not as if you’ve never heard things like that before or even heard your guy friends say them about other girls. So, you leave it alone.

I want you to imagine that you have three rules for dating:

  1. You don’t go out with guys who have girlfriends.
  2. You don’t go out with guys whose only objective is to have sex with you.
  3. You don’t go out with cocky dickbags who intentionally bully other kids for a cheap laugh.

And now, I want you to imagine that the new semester has started and that same guy is in one of your classes. He approaches you after class one day. He smiles and asks you if you’d like to hang out sometime. At first, you’re like ewww, but you don’t say anything right away.

You look him in the eyes, studying them. You think he’s cute, and you secretly feel flattered that a popular kid wants to go out with you.

He seems nice right now. He’s so different when his friends aren’t around. Maybe I should give him a chance.

So, you say “Sure. Why not? Let’s get together soon.”

Fast-forward to your first date.

You went to the movies, or grabbed dinner somewhere. Maybe you went to a house party where someone’s parents were out of town.

And somewhere along the way, he kisses you. You like it. You kiss him back. Everything is great.

But then his hands start going to places you didn’t want them to go. “Oh man, I would love to tap that” is on repeat in your head. All of the sudden you don’t want to be there anymore.

You tell him to stop.

He finally does, but he’s got a surprised look on his face as if you’ve wronged him somehow.

“I thought we were having a good time,” he whines.

You make it clear that there’s no way that’s happening tonight.

Now he looks wounded. You’ve bruised his ego. What you don’t know is that he told a few of his friends he was going to get into your clothes tonight.

He doesn’t want to go back and have to explain to them how he failed.

Maybe he calls you a tease.

Maybe he calls you a stuck-up bitch.

Maybe he—inexplicably—calls you a slut.

Maybe he makes up a story about you to his friends, and maybe some people start talking about you at school, and maybe the entire incident is pretty horrible.

The girl in this example has good dating rules, I think. Reasonable ones designed to protect her from bad things happening.

But then, even though she had evidence that Captain Dickface was bad news, she still got caught up in a moment of weakness and rationalized why she should break her own rules just to feel good.

Then everything turned into a big shit-festival.

Because she broke her own rules.

Because she didn’t enforce her boundaries.

The girl wasn’t honest with the guy when he first approached her. Maybe she didn’t feel comfortable telling him how it really felt to hear him say that. The guy wasn’t honest with the girl about his true intentions. There are a million reasons, some noble, most not, for why he didn’t want to tell the truth. Predictably, in the end, it didn’t work out.

You might believe this scenario has little in common with married couples, but I would argue that THIS is largely why so many people end up divorced.

Not because of bullying and unwanted sexual advances, certainly.

But because of people being dishonest about their true intentions, and people failing to communicate and enforce their boundaries—probably because they’re afraid of rejection, or of being alone, or are afraid of what others might think about them.

Let’s Get Even More Real

Married adults sometimes have crappy marriages and get divorced. And you know who all of them were before they got married?

The same people who wouldn’t have liked hearing me say that they shouldn’t be marrying their boyfriend or girlfriend. They would have felt offended just like I would have, and maybe you do.

But now here they are, pissed off and resentful and full of regrets about wasting their life, hurting their kids, and being afraid of what might happen next.

And here’s the No. 1 reason that happened: They tolerated things that shouldn’t have been tolerated, they failed to communicate and/or enforce their personal boundaries, and ultimately lied to themselves and one another about what their long-term relationship with this boundary violator (or victim of our violations) would look like.

If your boyfriend or girlfriend (or better yet, someone you’ve dated a couple of times) does something that HURTS you, and after talking about it, there’s no evidence that he or she is going to stop doing that hurtful thing, you should cut them out of your life.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t forgive. Forgiveness is an awesome thing.

This doesn’t mean that all people who violate your boundaries are BAD.

Some will be good people.

They’ll just be bad marriage partners. They’re not the same thing.

I think that might be the worst part. Very good, very decent, very fun, very awesome people will violate your boundaries—either because they’re a flawed mistake-prone human being like the rest of us; or because they legitimately don’t SEE or FEEL the same negative consequence you do from something that happened.

You won’t want to cut all of them out of your life.

But please don’t marry them.


It’s okay for people to disagree. It’s okay for people who love each other to have their differences.

But it’s NEVER OKAY for the person we are considering teaming up with for the rest of our lives to HURT us.

Never, never, never.

You will accidentally be hurt in life. I don’t suggest walling yourself off from every person who wrongs you.

But I AM suggesting that your marriage will NOT succeed if you spend every day of the rest of your life with someone unwilling to honor and respect your personal boundaries.

Maybe you won’t get divorced, but you won’t like your life or your marriage.

You’ll be miserable.

Because people who have boundary issues are miserable. That’s just how it works.

How Do I Know Whether I Have a Boundary Issue?

Here’s a good start, from one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson, who uses even more bad words than I do:

“Let’s do the ‘You Might Have A Boundary Issue If…’ list so you know where you stand:

  • Do you ever feel like people take advantage of you or use your emotions for their own gain?
  • Do you ever feel like you’re constantly having to ‘save’ people close to you and fix their problems all the time?
  • Do you find yourself sucked into pointless fighting or debating regularly?
  • Do you find yourself faaaaar more invested or attracted to a person than you should be for how long you’ve known them?
  • In your relationships, does it feel like things are always either amazing or horrible with no in-between? Or perhaps you even go through the break-up/reunion pattern every few months?
  • Do you tell people how much you hate drama but seem to always be stuck in the middle of it?
  • Do you spend a lot of time defending yourself for things you believe aren’t your fault?

“If you answered ‘yes’ to even a few of the above, then you probably set and maintain poor boundaries in your relationships,” Manson wrote.

“If you answered a resounding ‘yes’ to most or all of the items above, you not only have a major boundary problem in your relationships, but you also probably have some other personal problems going on in your life.”

OMG. I Totally Have Boundary Issues. Can I Still Have a Happy Marriage?

Probably not.

But I have excellent news. You can absolutely fix your boundary problem. You can fix it right now, but it will probably take some practice before you get comfortable telling people to pound sand whenever they try to take advantage of you if you’ve spent most of your life not realizing that’s what was happening.

Boundaries are about your emotional health, which might be more important than you realize.

Emotionally healthy people have and enforce strong boundaries. And ALSO, having and enforcing strong boundaries makes you emotionally healthier.

Having strong boundaries means you don’t take responsibility for other people’s crap, and you ALWAYS take responsibility for your own.

I believe we must vigilantly enforce our boundaries (and respect others’ vigilantly enforced boundaries) in order to have high-functioning, healthy, mutually beneficial, and ultimately successful, human relationships.

And what that means is, when people knowingly violate our boundaries, we need to be willing to walk away and cut them out of our lives, which is a really hard thing to do. Because sometimes it’s your spouse, or a parent, or a sibling, or an old friend, or a co-worker, or someone you share children with.

The Bottom Line

When you don’t break your own rules—when you enforce your boundaries (while honoring other people’s)—you know what happens?

ONLY emotionally healthy people with a clear understanding of how to NOT hurt one another (or tolerate hurtful behavior) ever end up together.

It reduces the probability of divorce by probably 90 percent.

When you start tolerating behaviors that your mind and body are telling you not to tolerate, a bunch of bad things happen afterward, and tend to repeat themselves until everyone is miserable and gets divorced or stops being friends.

When you NEVER tolerate behaviors that you know you shouldn’t tolerate, maybe bad things happen once, but you can be sure they will never repeat themselves.

And the people who are still around after all of that filtering? After all of those strong and courageous and confidence-building demonstrations of self-respect?

They’re the keepers.

You May Also Want to Read

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

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

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

62 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2”

  1. I too learned the hard way. I was married for 20 years but divorced four years ago. I agree that boundaries are very important. Mine were way too flexible which is like having none at all. Firm boundaries are essential in any relationship.

    1. Truly my pleasure. I’m so glad you don’t think it’s trash. Thank you for reading it and sending this note.

  2. For the record, I think stretching is highly overrated.

    Great post as always!

  3. I suspect that a big part of the problem is not knowing what our boundaries are. Or not even thinking that we can have some.

    1. No doubt. I probably should have at least dedicated one sentence to that effect. Some people are chameleons, constantly adapting to whoever they want to like them, or whichever group they’re trying to be accepted into.

      So people maybe don’t have a rooted identity, or a set of values on which to form healthy boundaries.

      Moreover, they change and evolve as we age and evolve, so in marriage, what is true on the wedding day won’t be true on the 10th and 20th anniversary, under the best of circumstances.

      But I believe if a person/couple can get in the mindful habit of communicating these things effectively, that those changes and evolutions will never be the dealbreakers that rest of us experienced (or will, if we don’t get this right).

      I don’t know if I’ve expressed my gratitude for you reading things here and being part of the conversation, and I apologize if that’s the case.

      Thank you. Very much. Because it’s awesome to have your input.

  4. I really liked this. I can almost imagine you in a highschool auditorium talking to a bunch of 10th graders. And, I mean that in a good way.
    I am still trying to figure out boundaries. (Like your puzzle picture I’m sometimes trying to figure out how my piece fit together with other peices, when really it just doesn’t go there…even if I really wanted to be friends with those peices..).
    It takes practice and it takes respecting your own needs to finally get it right with the peices you for with. (Ohh- but it was just soooo close!!) ;).

  5. I’m not quite in agreement with you, Matt. You’re not wrong, it’s just that the biggest challenge to my marriage was that my husband had too many boundaries,too many walls up. Me too! I am a huge boundary enforcer. It wasn’t until we were able to let most of those boundaries fall away, that we could build trust and intimacy.

    When I look at what little I know about your marriage, and it is very little so I could be quite wrong, but I see two people who could not let their guard down, their boundaries. Your ex was in fact, enforcing her boundaries by filling for divorce.

    1. Just my opinion, but boundaries are not the same as guards or “walls up”. It’s actually difficult to build trust and intimacy with someone who says “just tell me what you want and I’ll do it”. You never know what THEY want. Boundaries is telling the other person, clearly but nicely, what you will and won’t do. It’s not the opposite of “opening up”.

      1. I totally agree with you, Mike. People need boundaries, but in the context of marriage, telling your spouse what you “will and won’t do,” sure seems to slip into a need for control and putting up walls.

        Women for example, shouldn’t have to tell men what “we will and won’t do,” because they already perceive us as full human beings and they are grown ups who have some respect for other people. If you have to constantly set boundaries with a man, he’s not a man, he’s a child.

        1. Well, I guess I would agree that there are some boundaries that should hardly need to be said. However, many people (and couples) have quite different boundaries even though they are all full human beings.

        2. I just want to reiterate that the intended audience here is young, never-married people.

          The entire conversation changes dramatically with people who promised to love and honor one another forever.

          1. How young? I’m 41 but have never been married so not sure how to relate to this or to your other articles (which are for married or divorced folks), as fascinating as they are hence why I read! Had one common-law in my 20s and that was the closest I got to marriage.

          2. This is an assumption I’m pulling completely out of my ass, but I assume that never-married people about my age would be infinitely less likely to fall into the trappings I perceive to be most common.

            Those usually crop up when people in their 20s get married because they think “that’s what you do next after completing school!” and then wake up 35 with two kids thinking “WTF happened to us?”.

            I assume that much of the growth and maturation, and dating experiences (co-habitation mimics marriage dynamics — I just generically say “marriage” for efficiency’s sake) that most people will experience by age 40 would largely insulate them if they decided to exchange vows.

            Yes? No? I don’t know. No one’s asked me that before. 🙂

          3. I think people who marry later just have a slightly different set of problems in adjusting to how to be in a healthy relationship. (5-15 years more of habits to change).

            But most of it is the same shit that you talk about. Learning things no one taught us or being in a shitty relationship and not knowing why or how to fix it.

          4. So much of this stuff is learning how to be in ANY kind of close relationship. Not just marriage.

            Or even how to think about yourself. How to be in a good relationship with yourself. Instead of saying cruel things to ourselves all day.

          5. This is such a good point. I was shocked to hear about the negative tape reel that people play in their heads about themselves! I don’t understand it, but I now know it happens.

          6. Fair point about having a different set of problems when marrying later. However, with age comes life experience (of all kinds) and I think at this age—I’m 41 as mentioned—you’d be far more unlikely to marry for the wrong reasons.

    2. I agree with this statement, wholeheartedly. I felt like I was dealing with a person who just learned “no” as his favorite word. It halts the conversation right there when this happens. I am generally much more open as my baseline. But I probably also shut down quickly and somewhat permanently when that trust line is violated.

    It is our way of communicating to others that we have self-respect, self-worth, and will not allow others to define us.

    Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others.

    Unfortunately, these can be crossed many times over a course of a marriage. Sometimes you are not even aware that someone tiptoed over the line. Life keeps us busy, makes us tired of dealing with it and we accidentally leave the gate open.
    When you’re “inside the box” you can put the lid on it and only those outside can see it.
    Maybe you have lived with a “Narcissist “ as I have and they have no clue about boundaries and don’t care either. No matter if you set them they ignore them, which makes you feel as if you have no self respect or self worth. It really makes you feel as if there are none, kinda like the rain washed away your sidewalk hopscotch as if it never existed.
    Those popular boys that were bullies in school just become bullies as men. Don’t date them and better yet don’t marry them!
    It takes some longer then others to realize it and when you do hopefully you can selvage what’s left of your self respect and self worth.
    And maybe even realize the you are relevant and what you say really does matter!

    Well written! Very relatable! Hopefully someone will listen!

  7. Really liked this one Matt . If someone reading this piece doesn’t get it…well what can you say?
    I would like to add that an enormous amount of courage needs to be catalytic in the whole boundary discussion . The girl in your example (I realize was still at an impressionable age) needed to be courageous in telling the jerk that she heard his comments and frankly wasn’t going to get a sniff of her perfume let a lone dance in her dainties. We as parents try to arm our children with extrordinary defense mechanism s which seemingly have weak spots in terms of social acceptance and romantic discovery . Many of those citidels are completely breached in young adulthood and therein lies some of the problem . We forget our boundaries and how they were forged only to scurry to shore them up in times of relationship crisis . It works very sparsely and fails mostly . From my experience having come back from hell courageously standing hand in hand with all expectations notions requirements boundaries and deal breakers vetted is the way it should be and should be cemented sooner rather than thinking there might be a later

  8. This frightens me, I have been married for 4 years now and I know what things I am doing wrong. But I do feel as though we are both learning from each other, what the other needs, and trying to accommodate that. I think that is so important. What you said about boundaries is also important, but within all of this, where does compromise step in?

    1. This might sound like I hold people to a double-standard.

      It’s because I do.

      I don’t think unmarried people owe their partners what vow-makers owe their partners.

      I don’t think younger, single, childlless, non-resources-sharing people have as much at stake as married people who share children, homes and money, do.

      I’m asking people to NOT promise FOREVER to someone they identify as a boundary violator.

      I would ask something entirely different of a married person.

      One of those things I would ask is to try to give more to their spouse than they take for themselves everyday.

      That might seem unsustainable.

      But I believe if their spouse is ALSO giving more to their spouse than they take for themselves, that energy and investment “imbalance” rights itself.

      I believe love is a choice to be made every day. And I believe the ONLY responsible choice of a married person is to wake up every morning and very mindfully choose to love their spouse, and then do things that demonstrate that, like expressions of gratitude, a legit effort to not do things previously reported to cause pain, and that the vast majority of someone’s words and actions toward the other person are intended to lift them up and help them be the best human they can be, instead of tear them down and communicate how disappointing and inadequate they are.

      Compromise steps in everyday in a good marriage, because nothing is ever going to be perfect.

      But if we know, or at least think we know, what a husband or wife’s “best” effort looks like, how do we not owe our marriage partners and ourselves THAT, at minimum?

      I think we do.

      I just also think some people do crappy things that are incompatible with us long term, and when we are dating and identify that, we give them the opportunity to adjust it and/or GTFO, pronto, because that’s not going to end well.

      1. I get this so much, thank you for taking the time to explain! This homed it in for me, ‘I’m asking people to NOT promise FOREVER to someone they identify as a boundary violator.’ Everybody should know this, and it is so important to know it before you embark on a ‘forever’ journey.

  9. I am curious what parents here have taught their kids about relationships.

    Or what could someone have told you or modeled for you when you were a teenager that would have led to healthier relationships?

    1. I liked the part in this post about the “accidental sexism”. I think that applies to “accidental sexism” against boys and men too. It applies to a lot of other things.

      It takes work to be aware of all the messages we receive that are “in the air we breath”. Why we do and say what we think is “normal”. To not think enough about how it affects people. To bristle at being asked to change. Expecting to be comfortable leads to all kinds of problems. Expect to be uncomfortable is a better message I think. Learning to tolerate discomfort is a key to so much in life I think.

      I talk to my kids about that. And myself?

      So much of how we interpret things is based on messages we don’t even know we have absorbed. Or certainly haven’t thought through enough.

      I come here partly to hear others points of views that challenge me. To practice skills I wish I had learned as a kid or teenage that I am having to learn now. Like a foreign language it’s easier to learn it young. ?

      So I think that’s a good message to kids. Be open to challenge and hearing how others perceive things. Learn to be non defensive. Be open to change based on feedback.

      That will serve them well in relationships and life in general. I am trying to model it as best I can as I learn it. (Modeling apologies and acknowledging imperfections is good too I tell myself on the many days I get it wrong.)

      1. Yea, it’s absolutely pervasive. My life coach termed it benevolent sexism…I wish I had paid way more attention to what it truly meant.

      2. Hello gottmanfan,

        It’s me again liking so much reading your some of the other readers who also realllly know about know about boundaries…i.e.relationships and marriage at the worse and best of times. You mentioned Matt’s reference to accidental sexism. I then think about the way patriarchal themes re-enforce the worse behaviors and result in what we have labeled “toxic masculinity”.( I think about Terry Real) As a result, I’m asking everyone who has a moment to read an article in today’s NYTimes titled”What Men Say About #Me Too in Therapy”> IT’s written by psychotherapist Avi Klein.

        The young men in this story remind me so much of Terry’s clients — especially those suffering from “Toxic” shame. The emotional crippling of our sons is still at plague level.

        1. Hi Marilyn,

          I saw that article yesterday! We have similar reading habits and share an appreciation for Terry Real’s work. ?

          I love that Terry Real points out how this stuff affects both men AND women in our expectations for ourselves and others.

          The “accidental sexism” I am thinking of is not “benevolent sexism” as Astrid said (though that is certainly an issue too) but the subtle ways we reinforce “hostile sexism” like telling men to “man up” or often expecting men to be invulnerable as Brené Brown points out without recognizing the cost of that to them.

          Or culturally expecting men to be the initiators in romantic first moves but not giving clear guidelines in how to acknowledge and handle the vulnerability of rejection. The NYTimes article touched on that theme.

          These messages aren’t a universally true of course for specific individuals (I don’t relate to wanting invulnerability but I know it’s pretty common as male commenters have pointed out)

          It is in the air we breathe culturally.

    2. My parents are quite kind to one another, so I would say that is one thing that I think is modeled with one another that is a positive. My dad is also quite emotionally expressive, with affection and with his own feelings. What I think they don’t discuss openly is the meta-conversations/sociological perspective of why marriage is the way it is for the majority of couples. And that there are simply female/male dynamics (which I know I will get slammed for making that comment, but I am making it anyway), that one has to be ready for to enter marriage. Many of the patriarchal themes, of the halving of masculine vs. feminine qualities and the denigration of the feminine in the society and its pervasiveness was something I had to learn outside of my family.
      My mother is also a lot more traditional, and I think it becomes more difficult to compare and contrast when the life of both spouses differ drastically. My marriage is much more egalitarian in that we don’t have a strict division of labor, so unevenness is quite obvious. But because I don’t have that as a model, I feel like having to make an uncharted path has been quite the challenge.

    3. I come right out and tell my son: These are the things that make a relationship work — communication, trust, listening AND paying attention, following through. These are the things that make relationships not work: not listening or paying attention, ignoring what your partner tells you, treating your partner like the household servant. I do this because I don’t want my son to wake up one day after 25+ years of relationship to find his partner announcing he’s done. I want his future relationship to make it for the long haul.

        1. Hard to say. He’s good with boundaries, doesn’t give a rat’s ass about peer pressure. The only person I see him having communication troubles with — unsurprisingly — is is father. My ex tends not to listen closely to things that don’t affect him directly. Like the feelings of those close to him…

          He hasn’t found anyone he wants to be in a relationship at this point (late bloomer, like his mom), but I am hoping our talks give him a good foundation for one when he meets the right person.

  10. This was definitely me. I tolerated behaviour I shouldn’t have, thinking it wouldn’t matter but in the end it did. I married the wrong person and am now getting divorced. I stuck to my principles in previous relationships and got hurt (though they probably weren’t the right guys for me anyway) and now I believe I compromised with my choice of husband as I knew he wouldn’t leave me. Stupid of me but true.

    1. I’m sorry you’re going through this because it’s the worst.

      This message is for people who have the opportunity to not make the same mistakes we did.

      It is NOT so you can feel any extra pain or regret. You made the best choice you could given everything you knew at the time.

      That’s all anyone can do.

      Thank you for sharing your story here. It matters.

      Side note:

      When everything was dark, and heavy, and totally effed, only one idea lifted my spirits.

      Someday, as you’re walking along life’s path, you’re going to encounter the best thing that will ever happen to you.

      Something amazing.

      And that’s waiting out there for you to run into someday.

      Only time lessens the hurt. Nothing makes you feel normal.

      But you deserve to have something to look forward to.

      So please look forward to that.

      It will be beautiful and change everything in the best of ways. And every morning is an opportunity to wonder if today’s the day that amazing thing happens.


      Because you’re worth it.

  11. Cyndi Hauptman

    This. As. Usual. Was. Absolutely. Amazing…

    I relate to every word.

    You are brilliant.

    1. Aww, shucks, Cyndi.

      Thank you very much.

      I wish I was super-cool and unfazed by flattery, but I’m not either of those things. So I really appreciate you sending the nice note.

      It’s been a while. I hope things are well. 🙂

  12. Is it lame for me to admit that I’m 38 and I really, really learned a lot from this? LOL.

    1. Nope. It’s courageous, humble, and awesome.

      Thank you for saying so. I’m flattered even if you weren’t trying.

  13. Matt,
    Sorry about the lost words. Anyway, you said, “…This is largely why so many people end up divorced…because of people being dishonest about true their intentions, and people failing to communicate and enforce their boundaries.”


    Long ago I read some feminist literature that was asking about men’s seeming confusion about the meaning of manhood, Johnathan Stoltenberg answered, “The problem with men is the judgments of other men.”

    “I have something I need to talk about and I’m afraid you’re going to judge me,” he said. He told me that he had been thinking about women he had slept with and that he felt terrible about some of the encounters. I didn’t rape anyone or anything like that, but I think I made them pretty uncomfortable.”

    “I’m a psychotherapist who works largely with men in New York City. Before last fall ( i.e #Me Too) I can’t remember hearing a statement like that — a voluntary admission of coercive or manipulative behavior with women.” “….Why did they(men) so misunderstand the women in their lives? Why were they often being accused of hurting them”

    Matt, you,ve always tried to keep men focused on the unintentional consequences of their behavior. You’ve done an excellent job of describing the cost of ignoring “the little things.” But I think there is just so much women can do to make change happen and become permanent. I think men decide, early in their lives that they prefer POWER/DOMINANTION …LOVE can come later!!!!

  14. Maybe I am missing something…I’m not sure if the point of marriage is about finding someone who is not a boundary violator, because I think in marriage, that is unavoidable. I personally don’t know one marriage (even ones I would consider good marriages) where boundary violation has not occurred. I agree having strong boundaries is really critical, but I almost feel that if you are going to get married, you are going to have to encounter boundary violations (within reason) and to not think that that is a catastrophic indication that you are not matched well. Marriage is messy- it isn’t wrapped up and packaged in a nice neat bow. And I think that’s the part people have to be ready for (myself included) and to not turn around in contempt when it fails to be as “clean” as one expected it to be. Adding to the fact that there’s the sociological environment we find ourselves in when we enter marriage, it’s hard to to imagine that I would have thought it would be anything but messy.
    I vacillate between wondering if this is the inevitable state of living with another person vs. the idea that it’s not a match. I am slowly coming onto the side that it’s the former or that marriage is not for that person to begin with, than it is about finding a better match. The problem is that as our sunk cost gets larger (mortgage, joint finances, children), the harder it is to justify reversing course.

    1. Astrid . ..that was perfect . The boundaries themes are critical in the manner in which marriage should look. Sadly and all too often marital partners play the boundaries like a baseball player leading off of 1st base. The importance of keeping those boundaries hinges on the maturity of the individual and their ability to recognize and accept the outlined limits …constantly testing those limits will seriously erode trust

      1. Yea I agree. I think it’s more that I struggle with the idea that somehow if we do the due diligence that we’ll end up with a person that doesn’t violate our boundaries. I think that’s a tall order to ask. Do I think we can discern a bit more, of course, but to think that all the prep work on the front end will get us amazing results without grueling amount of work during marriage? I think I’m beginning to think it is not possible. Believe me, it’s what I wanted. It’s what I envisioned as well. But I don’t think it actually exists.

        1. I fully understand that. My view changed when 28 years ago I was told she was done and wanted out. Thankfully we were able to move forward and fix most of our problems . I guess I just started to look at our relationship as I would anything I cared to last. Checking myself daily and picking her brain about her troubles and how we can work as partners to find solutions was key. Of course we don’t see eye to eye on everything but we now know what makes one another happy and what irritates each other . Hey its working

          1. Hey Louie. I honestly don’t know. I even had to approve these last two comments of yours, so something’s acting up.

            If you recently deleted your computer’s cookies or history, it’s possible that could be a factor.

          2. Hmmm. Something tried to take over my tablet and I had to have my son unspook this gizmo …could be that. Funny though everything else is working . ..notifications etc….oh well

          3. Anything with a username and password tends to get silly anytime any resetting or data cache clearing is involved.

            It’s a little above my pay grade, to be honest. 🙂

          4. I imagine I’m probably your partner 28 years ago. I’m struggling to reconcile the staying despite your seriousness to move forward and fix it. I only hope my heart catches soon enough with my mind. Right now, its a constant battle of feeling like I had risked too much to keep going, and that had the shoe been on the other foot, he would not have done the same. It’s a sobering realization to want to stay knowing this.

          5. All I can say is that you sound far stronger than your partner. Know that you deserve happiness but only of your own making. No one can create happiness for someone else. You will find your way. You have grit and courage..All the best to you

          6. Thanks Louie. I appreciate this vote of confidence. I’m trying to come around to the idea that even if things aren’t “evenly yoked” that it’s still good. And that in the future, that imbalance will become less drastic.

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

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Matt Fray

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