How to Change Your Shitty Husband

Comments 62
Change Ahead by Ed Myers
Image/”Change Ahead” artwork by Ed Myers

“I fucking hated you,” she said.

“I hated you because you’re the guy who made a damn name for himself because he was a self-proclaimed ‘shitty’ husband, which he was. The adoration and praise you would get from women for telling the damn truth about your ignorance in your relationship nauseated me.”

Today would have been my 15th wedding anniversary. If I wasn’t divorced.

Instead, it’s the sixth anniversary that isn’t.

Things changed. I changed, even though the angry reader might not think that’s worth anything.

“Just asking for you to evaluate me based on today instead of yesterday,” I replied.

“I can’t evaluate you based on today,” the reader said. “You don’t understand—I might as well be your wife. I am every woman whose husband prioritized himself or things over his wife. I am every woman who worked her ass off to helper her husband heal only to be met with his criticism, judgment, or dismissal.

“I am every woman who sacrificed for the wellbeing of the family until she realized that she’s wasting away to nothing and no one was going to notice.

“I might as well be your wife—because you might as well be my husband. Can’t erase the pain of being mistreated, as much as I would like to.”

I didn’t make a name for myself. I’m just the guy a handful of people know about who learned how to see that which was previously invisible, and now people want to know the secret.

Men afraid of losing their wives or girlfriends ask me to work with them because they want to learn how to see it too.

Women afraid of being forced into the same situation I forced my wife into—having to choose between mental and emotional health, and divorce—ask me to work with them or to at least help them understand how they can help their husbands or boyfriends to learn what I’ve learned.

People don’t care about me, necessarily. They care because sometimes things I write or say about my failed marriage sounds just like what is happening in their marriage.

People are just trying to save their families. Their lives.

People will do anything to save those things.


‘How Do I Get My Husband to Change?’

That’s the million-dollar question. The one I’ve gotten the most in various forms over the past six years of writing here.

Seth Godin, perhaps the world’s thought leader in the field of marketing, wrote:

“People don’t change. (Unless they want to.) Humans are unique in their ability to willingly change. We can change our attitude, our appearance and our skillset.

“But only when we want to.

“The hard part, then, isn’t the changing it.

“It’s the wanting it.”

The answer is you DON’T get your husband to change.

Your husband either will or won’t change in any number of ways for the rest of his life, and most if not all of those changes will come about because of his desire for them to.

“Why didn’t you get it when you were married?” people ask me. “Why did she have to leave you for you to get it?”

Because I didn’t want to change until it hurt.

It’s common for people to be surprised by the idea that I didn’t know that I was a shitty husband, while I was being one during my nine-year marriage. People, I think, struggle to believe it, because it seems so obvious to them.

The English language seems obvious to me. Driving in the right lane (as opposed to the left as they do in the United Kingdom and Ireland) seems obvious to me. Wearing shoes in buildings seems obvious to me (as opposed to removing them as they commonly do in Japan).

There are 7.7 billion people in the world, and each of us has our own version of ‘normal.’ And this is the source of all human conflict, from schoolyard arguments, to political disagreements, to marriage fights, to terrorist attacks, all the way up to wars between nations.


The nature of conflict is one person or group believing they are right, while another person or group is wrong.

That’s all relationship fights are. Sometimes, these are fact-based arguments that can be settled quickly.

Usually they’re not, which is why long-term committed relationships fail more than half the time.

I Changed Because I Wanted to Change

I changed because I thought I was going to die, and I knew I never wanted to feel that hurt and broken again.

I changed because I was motivated to protect myself and my son—and later, others—from the negative consequences of my previous thought and behavior patterns.

I didn’t change when my wife asked me to because I didn’t want to, and because I didn’t know it mattered. I’m not going to hear that EVERYTHING your spouse tells you is a thing you accept as gospel. Something they say either feels important and credible to you, or it doesn’t. And then you respond accordingly in a very natural, organic way.

Husbands don’t dismiss, judge, contradict, or otherwise invalidate their wives as part of some master-planned strategy from the playbook we were all handed in Patriarchy School.

Husbands do these things because they have no idea—absolutely NONE—that what they’re doing amounts to literally abusing and neglecting their wives, and certainly not that after it happens enough times, the marriage and family are going to fall apart when it’s super emotionally, and financially, and logistically inconvenient to do so.

I tried to help my wife solve her work and social problems when she’d talk to me about them. I thought I was being helpful, but I was accidentally, blindly, being an insensitive prick, and a bad emotional partner.

I treated my wife just like I treated EVERYONE I loved the most. I’d use playful banter to mock and tease when the situation seemed to call for it. My wife didn’t like it. Sarcasm pointed her direction caused unique invisible pains due to things she’d encountered years before I knew her. These weren’t ideas that I was intellectually mature enough to grasp. I just knew that sarcasm was fun, and all my best friends and I laughed at and with each other constantly because of it. Laughing and fun are GOOD things. Thus, my wife was ‘wrong,’ and I was right.

These are the same types of thought processes and blind spots that everyone has. Everyone’s blind spots are just different.

Just like everyone’s family customs, and traffic laws, and native tongues are different depending on where they’re from and what they’ve experienced.

What Does That Change Look Like?

Because it’s a little bit semantics, right?

Am I REALLY a different person? Not entirely. My personality is more or less the same. My likes and dislikes are more or less the same. Many of my habits and base chemical emotional reactions to various circumstances are the same.

What is different is my ability to INTENTIONALLY seek and find what I was previously blind to and not looking for.

I’ve changed the way I think. Drastically.

Seven years ago, if someone wrote me a note that said they “fucking hated me,” it would have made me very sad, angry, or both.

Today, it makes me nothing. The woman doesn’t hate me. She doesn’t know the first thing about what it’s like to be me or to be around me, no matter how much I try to explain it on these pages.

She’s hurt. Badly. Just like I was when my wife chose to leave.

No one has a monopoly on pain.

I was the problem in my marriage, but that doesn’t mean I still didn’t suffer mentally and emotionally as victims do. When my wife left, and I still didn’t understand why. In my reality, I was being abandoned and betrayed, and it wasn’t until years later when I finally realized: Holy shit. She totally did the right thing by divorcing me, did I finally achieve the mental and emotional maturity needed to navigate all of this messy human stuff that most of us struggle with.

Change isn’t wholesale change. It’s modification. Enhancement. Evolution.

Change means “to make different.”

You don’t have to give up who you are to be the person your romantic partner or children might need you to be.

You just have to decide you want to know and do things you didn’t previously know or do. Like learning a new language.

It’s very difficult. Particularly as an adult. Because, whether you’re writing, reading, speaking, or listening, nearly everything about the process is fundamentally new, different, unrecognizable, and uncomfortable.

Our brains crave the comfort of efficiently and effectively communicating the way we always have, because “it just works.”

To become fluent in that new language, you have to WANT it.

When life is comfortable, and nothing hurts, and there’s not just misunderstanding, but a literal blindness to how ones thoughts and actions adversely affect others? Who would choose uncomfortable change, and why?

We choose to restrict our diets and exercise when we WANT (health, strength, endurance, physical attractiveness, skill, etc.) what those uncomfortable sacrifices will give us.

People change when they understand the tradeoff involved. People change when they realize what’s at stake.

I realized what was at stake when she drove away with our son in the back seat, and then I sobbed in my kitchen and threw up over and over again in the sink next to which I usually set that drinking glass.

I realized how I was responsible for so much of what had gone wrong when I finally committed to understanding WHY my marriage had failed, which I did because I needed that knowledge to feel secure that it wouldn’t happen again.

People change, but only when they want to. So it’s not about the changing it. It’s about the wanting to.

In this case, 15 years too late.

The reader used the word “hated.” Past tense. So maybe not anymore. Change.

She continued.

“And yet, your divorce taught you something. Something important about yourself, but also your wife. Some men never bother to look,” she said.

“The adoration and praise you would get from women for telling the damn truth about your ignorance in your relationship nauseated me.

“Then you wrote this—which is my damn story.

“The jury is still out.”

Indeed, it is. Such is life.

62 thoughts on “How to Change Your Shitty Husband”

  1. as usual, on the button! I wish I could print this and put it in an envelope and stick it inside the screen door of a guy whose wife just left him after 18 years and he has no clue why.

    1. One feels bad for both of them. It’s sad that this is more or less the predetermined outcome when this blindness exists. Either a divorce, or a super-unhappy marriage.

      There tends to not be a third option.

      1. leslidoares645321177

        Actually, there is. Make it better. This requires the change that is so difficult for most people. It means moving out of their comfort zone. It means learning what works in a relationship and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, most people have no idea that there are skills that can be learned to make their relationship better. They see counseling or coaching as punishment instead of seeing it as an opportunity to learn to make it work.

        But you and I know this and that’s why we do what we do. The challenge is in getting people to see the value before it’s too late.

        1. I’m still trying (and failing) to find the right combo of words that will effectively communicate this ignorant blindness many of us have, and the degree of danger it presents to the health and wellbeing of several people in the future if left unaddressed.

          I appreciate you being here, Lesli.

        2. “They see counseling or coaching as punishment” – sadly true. One can only imagine what their life has been like to lead them always to expect punishment.

  2. Wow Matt. It’s amazing what keyboard warriors do, isn’t it? I can’t imagine walking up to someone I don’t know, but I’ve read (think Stephen King, Dean Koontz, etc) and saying something like “I fucking hated you”.

    I love reading your blog, and you help give me hope that while I’m married to a shitty husband now, one day I might not be. I might get lucky to find someone who knows how to be a good husband, not a shitty one. I might get lucky to find peace with the divorce I’m going through, and help my children cope with it as well.

    Keep doing you, buddy. Keep sharing here for all of us to read too!

    1. I wasn’t picking on the woman. I just thought it was a relevant and attention-grabbing way to start the story.

      I understand her emotional reaction. She’s not unique in having it, but I appreciated her taking the time to explain it even if I disagreed with some of what she’d said.

      The thing people lack most that leads to all of this conflict is empathy.

      So it’s a bit difficult to have healthy, productive conversation with someone unwilling to return it.

      I really appreciate the support and kind words from you. Thank you, Mary. Wishing you much success in healing as you move forward.

      1. Sure, I can understand being angry, or being hurt. But I don’t understand the reasoning behind taking it out on someone else. I wouldn’t take it as you picking on her or blaming her. I just can’t understand the desire to send that kind of a message in the first place. Was it therapeutic for her? I don’t know. I don’t know that anyone ever will.

        I’ve had friends ask me what can they do when I post various things on Facebook to help my healing. I tell them they can do nothing. I need to heal in my own time, in my own way, and there are things I will need to do and get out to achieve that healing. If I snap, lash out, shut myself in… Those are all things that point to my need for healing. It’s nothing they’ve done, it’s just me. But I wouldn’t dream of doing anything like that to someone I don’t know! Maybe it’s the security of knowing that I know these people and they don’t/won’t judge. Maybe it’s the security of being behind a keyboard that they will never have to face the person they are talking to. I don’t know.

        I just cannot even imagine behaving that way.

        1. Do don’t behave this way. But judging her for expressing herself doesn’t make you better.

          Since you apparently cannot relate to her expression, maybe then just thank your lucky stars that you’re not married to her husband.

  3. Change is hard, even when you want to. But, I have found that changing to the better is definitely better. I see it in how most people I know react to me as well as total strangers.

    Making the change to remind yourself to pause your inner voice long enough to try to see events and situations through someone else’s viewpoint is tough to do and requires you constantly be aware of how you are processing your inner selfish voice.

    But, once you make that a habit…you’ll see how selfishly blinded you have been keeping yourself. Then you get the “AH-HA” moment and you learn how to change internally.

    Once you realize that you are really doing this whole “shitty” thing to yourself and rationalizing that being an asshole is “ok” you can make progress. Real progress.

    I have had this same discussion with several divorced women over the past two years and they are amazed that I get it. Thanks for helping me with that Matt. I never would have got to the “AH-HA” moment without your blog.

  4. Matt, I first came across your posts when a woman in an online forum for stepparents posted a link to one. In the stepparenting world, a whole lot of the problems are caused by the bioparents. I’m not trying to imply that ALL the problems are, but we as parents often are too quick to jump in feet first to defend our kids, when sometimes, especially in so-called blended families, maybe you are too quick to defend your kids and throw the stepparent under the bus. In this particular forum, a whole lot of venting against the bioparents was how we kept our sanity and stayed in the relationship another day. She posted a link to your posts because, she said, you are a man who “gets it.”

    At the time, I was not only a stepparent. I was a stepparent in a marriage where I was being abused on a near-daily basis. This post about change really prodded me to respond here because I finally learned, after 15 years, that I simply couldn’t change him. I thought I could magically find the answer to stopping his behavior and his abuse and change him into a loving husband who honored and respected me. I spent hundreds of hours scouring the internet to find that answer, when all along, it was simple. He had to want to become that loving, honoring, respectful husband. There was no therapy, no support group, and no communication technique that could make him want it; the ball was entirely in his court. Figuring that out set me free.

  5. Your writing is soo great!!! It IS about the feelings men don’t have, like the glass by the sink. Thank you for your posts.

    Sent from my iPhone


  6. I totally get her hurt. But I just wanted to let you know that a few of your posts have really helped my marriage. Because you went through what you did and you were willing to look at it in a different light, my husband is now able to see things he didn’t before. And I’m able to see things about what he needs that I wasn’t meeting before. So, thank you!

  7. Always great when you post! Thank you! This is really a good one. Okay, they are all good and this is my favorite right now!

  8. Nice post. One of the things I often advise couples is “stop trying to change your partner”. Character change, I mean.

    A lot of what you say (and what the woman wrote) applies with the genders reversed. I know you’ve heard this from a number of men in the comments section. Many men feel they work their ass off to support the family and are met with criticism, judgement, or dismissal. Many men sacrifice for the well-being of the family and are emotionally wasting away to nothing and no-one notices. It’s not about finding the bad guy. As you said: The nature of conflict is one person or group believing they are right, while another person or group is wrong. Just saying.

    But the thing that’s on my mind today is where you said “The thing people lack most that leads to all of this conflict is empathy.” A hard thing to define, empathy. A bit like seeing things in colour: if you’ve never had it, you can’t imagine what it is. What sometimes bothers me is not an email that I received; it’s an email that I didn’t receive.

    People will contact me for help. I write them back an email referring to what they’ve said, and offering them an appointment, if I can. I am expecting basically a “yes please” or a “no thanks”. But half the time I get silence. No reply. And the email they had from me was not spam: it was in response to their enquiry, not cut and pasted, but typed by my fingers on my keyboard after a certain amount of thought about what they said. Now, it may be relevant that I am of the older generation, in my 60s, but that seems rude. And I often wonder if that failure to respond at all is, in any way, connected with their relationship problems.

    I don’t know if you ever get the same thing, in your coaching. People just dropping their end of the rope. But it does make me think they are missing some vital capacity, the ability to grasp that I actually exist and am actually a person. The basic foundations of empathy. “Oh, I get it, you too are actually having an experience”.

  9. How do people change?

    Imho people change when:

    1. It is clear what needs to be changed– either a clear request (hey put the dish in the dishwasher) or other internal/external feedback (relationship tension) specifics help a lot.

    2. They must see and agree that the status quo is causing a “legitimate” issue that merits a change. (A dish is just a dish except it also represents a lot of underlying stuff that may be “legitimate”)

    2. The cost/benefit of the change is judged “reasonable” and not too much. (Loss of autonomy as a individual to do what you want vs reasonable adjustments to be in relationship). Leverage/pain jacks up the cost.

    3. They feel they are able and know how to make the change. (How much adjustment is reasonable, how do I even go about changing long standing attitudes/habits?)

    4. The environment and the person requesting change is set up to encourage the change either by adding positives or reducing negatives to encourage continued change. (Avoiding criticism and changing the environment to work with each other quirks) Divorce often prompts change by changing the environment.

      1. Hey Matt,

        I really liked this post. Have to add other comments later to up my average to my usual 122 ha ha)

        Figuring out how to encourage others to change and get myself to change is imho the key to the whole thing in life. Still working to figure it out ?

        PS I screwed up my number points again – kind of a tradition at this point.?

        1. Figuring out how to encourage others to change and get myself to change is imho the key to the whole thing in life.

          Some experiences with hypnosis, and some experiences of failing to get myself to change just by wanting to and applying rational argument to myself, convinced me that the unconscious is part of the answer here.

          1. My conscious wants to disagree ha ha

            But I definitely agree that a big piece of change is in changing the biology/unconscious/automatic responses through various means.

            Our conscious “willpower” to change is imho a small part of successful change.

          2. Mike,

            One of the things I have found helpful about attachment therapy is how much it emphasizes emotional safety on an unconscious level.

            Ideally, we must FEEL we are safe in order to lower our defenses and risk change.

            However we can best assure our body and brains that we are “safe” imho is critical to change.

            On a conscious level there are also things we can do to provide emotional safety to ourselves and others. (Warmth, encouragement, physical touch, challenging distorted thoughts, loving assurances, a specific game plan etc.)

            I agree that it usually requires both.

          3. How do you find hypnosis helpful? Are there specific situations or people that it works best for?

            It works for situations where a person really wants to change but “willpower” isn’t working. Like stopping smoking.

  10. Imho each of those steps can be the cause of the breakdown of change.

    So many people get stuck on points 1 and 2 in and endless loop of trying to convince the other person of the “legitimacy” of the change. When the other person doesn’t agree.

    The lower point are necessary (but not necessarily sufficient) to move on to instead of years of trying to adjust/conjole/yell etc. to get the other person to “get it.”

    They won’t ever “get it” until there is increased cost to them to not get it.>

    So many people (women particularly) waste years rather than knowing that THEY need to change to give their partners the best chance of changing.

    1. That, in my opinion, requires women to have a **correct** understanding of how relationships and change work.

      And empathy for what is preventing change from both them and their husbands.

  11. Horsewhisperer87

    I am in the process of divorcing. I have written here before how I just shook my head in agreement with tears streaming down my face wondering how I could’ve gotten my husband to read this an “get it”. Obviously it was too late for my marriage but the thought of what might have been nagged at me. Then a simple four line post from someplace made me realize it would not have mattered. Your post reminds me of the essence of the post (only with more details!). The four lines were:
    1. If they wanted to they would.
    2. No response is a response.
    3. Timing will not always be in your favor.
    4. Not everyone has the same heart as you.
    I think these hit on all the points you made, namely having to want to change and empathy. These helped me realize no amount of therapy, pleading for understanding or change on my part was going to change him. I have these on my fridge, but I have them memorized now. Thanks for the further articulations!!!

  12. It’s funny how one comment can inspire an entire post and ignite a conversation about projecting feelings and the real story behind the anger. Some readers may feel just like her, angry because their dude isn’t “getting it” and you’re someone who already “got it” after losing it all. It’s her story. And I understand her anger, but it’s interesting because I had a different perspective on your posts, I wasn’t angry at all with your discovery. I was trying to understand the steps that got you there, so that I could pass them on to my dude, before it was too late. Your advice is on a subject that draws intense emotions and raw feelings. And sometimes you’ll get different perspectives. Thanks for sharing, your posts always make me stop and evaluate things.

  13. “Husbands don’t dismiss, judge, contradict, or otherwise invalidate their wives as part of some master-planned strategy from the playbook we were all handed in Patriarchy School”
    But they do. It’s institutionalized prejudice that shapes all of us. As women, we think we’ve found shelter from that storm. But after it’s official, the man’s training kicks in and he can become the eye of the storm. Then both-sides-ism kicks in and women think “this wonderful man who vowed to cherish me is invalidating me at every turn – there must be something inherently wrong with me.” And of course we aren’t doing everything right (relationships need to stop depending on women holding them together), but people need to focus on cherishing one another. We have to send a different message to men and I’m glad you’re doing it. Thank you

    1. “Husbands don’t dismiss, judge, contradict, or otherwise invalidate their wives as part of some master-planned strategy from the playbook we were all handed in Patriarchy School”
      But they do. – Maion
      And here lies the problem men face in a struggling marriage. The perceived and/or assumed notion that men are the root of all relationship problems. How is one to fight this notion that men are handed a losing playbook in the game of marriage? If, whenever conflict arises, men are deemed “lacking”, where is there for us to go?

      1. I mean, I think we often ARE lacking. And while I think assigning blame is rarely useful, if you had to, I think it’s MOSTLY “our fault.”

        To me, the answer is to NOT be lacking. There’s an awful lot that goes into that. Kind, compassionate, empathetic support from our romantic partners would undoubtedly help more than put-downs and accusations.

        I think if everyone tries really hard to be the best human they can be, and the least shit-baggy — especially toward people they share addresses with — we’ll all make a lot of progress.

      2. Nate said

        “How is one to fight this notion that men are handed a losing playbook in the game of marriage? If, whenever conflict arises, men are deemed “lacking”, where is there for us to go?”

        I find this point of view puzzling.

        If you are playing a sport and your teammate or coach etc gives you feedback that your skills need improving.

        Or even that YOU are the main problem the team is not playing well and losing the game.

        The thing successful athletes do is to pay attention to that feedback. And then take corrective action. Defensive reactions are not productive for winners.

        Don’t fully trust the feedback you are getting from your wife? There are well-researched “playbooks”
        (See Gottman and Atkinson and Johnson etc) to consult to get objective information for what you need to change and how.

        Just like sports, relationship success is habit and skill dependent. Things you can learn and unlearn.

        Refusing to change because you think men are unfairly accused of being the “root of all relationship problems” is short-sighted of the goal of what YOU may be doing that can and should change for a successful marriage.

        1. If you change, it makes it easier for your wife to change.

          And even if she doesn’t change and you have learned from research-backed playbooks how to be a healthier person in relationships that is still in your best interest.

        2. Gottmanfan & Matt,
          My problem with this line of thinking is not that I don’t want to accept criticism and get better. We should all be willing to do this…SHOULD. My problem is that men are deemed deficient before we even get started, i.e. handed a losing playbook. At the first sign of relationship problems, focus shifts almost (if not entirely) to the man. Matt you even echo this in your reply to me: I think it’s MOSTLY “our fault.” – Matt.

          Going with this line of thinking it is only really the man who needs to change in order to better the relationship. I’m not even saying that the wife is not willing to change…it’s just that the assumed dynamic is that the man is/was more at fault and therefor needs to learn and correct his poor behavior. If the man protests and says that the wife is the one who needs to change, he is labeled defensive and unwilling to accept criticism. It’s a no win situation…and before anyone jumps in to say that it’s not about “winning”, I only use that word to convey a legitimate feeling of hopelessness. Accept my wife’s criticism and work to better myself and hopefully my marriage even when I feel I’m acting appropriately, or “stand my ground” and continue a lousy marriage. I hear people say, “would you rather be right or be happy”? This is a bullshit question, because people deserve to be both “right” and “happy”. And I fully understand that we are not always right…but why are men almost always deemed “wrong”?

          1. Nate,

            I actually agree with you for the most part (other than that it is a no-win situation with two binary choices.) I agree it FEELS no-win but there are action points to take imho.

            I agree It is exceedingly difficultto be presumed to be the one at fault by virtue of your sex.

            Although I don’t fully agree with Matt that men are MOSTLY at fault-I think it’s more equally distributed although men on average tend to be worse at certain things like stonewalling and defensiveness and women others like harsh startups and presuming they are superior at relationships).

            I agree that in common dynamics men are presumed to be more at fault in the way their wives frame the problems. Of course there is TWO sides to the story.

            But since women tend to be the one who is bringing up the problems and requesting change it is going to be framed as you are the one who is “wrong” and needs to change. That’s just the nature of who starts the game.

            To keep the game analogy of the wife says hey we are supposed to be playing basketball and you are doing it wrong. You need to pass me the ball.

            You think SHE is doing it wrong because you want to play golf.

            The person who starts the complaint is going to be the one to frame it as you are wrong. Understanding that imho is helpful.

            I agree it never makes sense to me the whole “do you want to be happy or right?” framing.

            The issue is to understand you are each arguing because you both are playing DIFFERENT games with different rules.

            You would be happy and right when you get on the same page of what game you both agree to play and agreements of what the expected rules are.

            How to do that? Well imho there are a lot of resources out there to answer that. I am continually working to get better at the game.

          2. If you want practical things to get out of the no-win dynamic imho it works to lean into the OPPOSITE of your normal pattern.

            So if you tend to be defensive you practice finding as many things as you can to agree with.

            “Hey you left the dish by the sink again! You are so selfish!”

            Instead of getting into an argument you say “hey yeah I did leave the dish there you are right. I know this is upsetting to you and we need to work out a plan to handle.”

            If you care and want that dish out you say

            “How about I leave my dish in this spot out of sight?” Does that work for you? “

            Or “how about I load the dishwasher every night before bed? Or some other abc plan

            Proactive – non-defensive-but also speaking up for what you would like to happen. ( my version of “right and happy”)

            Most women would LOVE proactive ideas. Progress of some sort rather than withdrawal or arguing she is wrong to care. Those are losing strategies.

            (Ideally, you would add an empathetic response before problem solving but imho it’s harder to pull that off initially rather than a more behavioral approach.)

            Then, like a good curious scientist you wait and see how she responds to this NEW GAME.

            You need to do something different to get out of the no-win failing by the rules of her game. Change the game!

          3. Everything Lisa just wrote.

            I hate words like “fault” and “right.” Because they mean different things depending on context.

            Nate, I don’t know you’re personal situation, but I spend a lot of my time talking to individuals about their relationships. Both men and women. All the time.

            I listen. I seek to understand their experiences, and I ask a lot of “What if?” questions.

            It always comes back to: Everything you think and feel makes sense through the lens of your life experiences, genetics, belief system, personality, education, etc.

            And the same is also true for your wife.

            One of you is not “wrong,” necessarily. I’m being fast and loose with words, and if we were speaking it wouldn’t be a word to get hung-up on.

            Lisa said it. You’re BOTH right when you explain the rules of the game you’re playing to one another. Your wife is right about the rules of the metaphorical game she’s playing (basketball), and you’re right about the rules of golf.

            And it makes sense that applying golf rules to basketball, and vice versa, is going to create some disagreements and frustrations and misunderstandings.

            People fouling a guy during his backswing, or a basketball team asking for a mulligan on a missed last-second shot.

            You’re not “wrong.”

            I think both you and your wife (and the common husband and wife) have totally normal and understandable blind spots that keep them from treating one another in ways that avoid pain.

            I think you’re “mistaken” as opposed to “wrong” occasionally when interpreting what your wife is saying to you.

            It feels like criticism and attacks and suggestions that you’re not good enough.

            But what they ACTUALLY are, are emotional bids for connection, requests for help in avoiding feeling hurt, and her seeking reassurance that you love, desire, respect her because she would like to feel safe and comfortable regarding who she’s agreed to live with and share resources with for the rest of her life.

            That’s a really big deal. A really big commitment. So it makes sense that if one of the partners feels hurt, and then every time they tell their partner about something hurting, it’s met with every response except “I love you. Of course I will help you stop hurting,” that the hurt person would exhibit signs of fear, mistrust, and sensitivity when similar situations arose.

            EVERYONE can do a better job loving and communicating.

            But I think it’s very useful to think of a “complaining” wife not as some angry, unfair adversary; but a wounded human who we’ve accidentally hurt many times, and who deserve our effort to understand what’s causing the pain and taking meaningful action to rectify the situation moving forward.

            The alternative is the death of the relationship.

            Only the individuals in a relationship can know whether it’s toxic and unhealthy for everyone, or whether it’s beautiful and worthy of our daily effort and focus.

          4. Matt,

            I agree with what you are saying (especially the part about agreeing with me ha ha)

            As I’m sure you’ll agree from Nate’s side it completely understandable that he is wounded and frustrated that all his efforts are criticized and he is never given the benefit of the doubt.

            Understandable to defend against that.

            The hero’s job is to dig deep and rise about the deeply felt need to defend and take the first step. Make the first change.

            It’s very hard. It takes courage to change without the usual defenses. But men do hard things ALL the time for their families.

            That’s the job here.

            (Same for women but just using men here).

          5. I have been taking my own advice by the way. Leaning into the opposite of what I normally do.

            It is very difficult-so much of what we do is automatic habits and decades long ways of defending ourselves.

            But I just keep plugging away at it. And it gets somewhat easier over time.

            Since I tend to be the harsh startup person I learn hard into bringing things up in very gentle appreciative ways. (So frugging hard sometimes!)

            And I practice NOT bringing things up and just rolling with whatever no matter how much it bugs me.

            And I practice seeing his side of things. What is the GAME he wants to play by default, what are the rules?

            It’s always a good exercise to be able to understand and even argue the other side to really see the whole picture.

            If we want to be “happy and right” we have to practice NEW skills and habits.

            Over time I am getting better just like I got better. Relationships skills can be learned just like getting better at golf or basketball. Focused practice based on good information.

          6. “The perceived and/or assumed notion that men are the root of all relationship problems.” (Because patriarchy). Yeah. I can see how the “just try to be better” reply kind of misses the point. I think the analogy with feedback from a sports coach can help. At least, it does for me.

            If a sport coach said to me, “hey, you’re not connecting with the ball properly, it’s because you have long arms, so you need to move your arm slightly differently. You long-armed guys have a particular problem, your long-armedness is kicking in here, and so here’s what you need to do.” I think I would not have much trouble taking that feedback.

            On the other hand If they said to me, “hey, you’re not connecting with the ball properly, it’s because you’re black, so you need to move your arm slightly differently. You black guys have a particular problem, your blackness is kicking in here, and so here’s what you need to do.” I think I would have a big problem with it.

            So which of those is it more like, to say “your maleness kicks in” ? To me it’s more like the second example. Blackness is a deep part of a person’s identity; maleness perhaps even more so; whereas long armedness is not. I don’t really think of myself or others in terms of arm length, but I do think of myself as male, and blanket statements about “men” can cut pretty deeply. I find it not surprising that men react pretty badly to those sorts of statements.

            The good news, I guess, is that if you think of it in terms of “patriarchy”, or our culture, or whatever, that makes it clear that it’s not your fault. You didn’t choose those things, and it’s not an inherent character flaw. In fact, both genders (yes, okay, all 37 genders) are harmed by it, if you look at it that way. If men are getting “training” that makes their marriages fail, then as Matt can attest, they too suffer badly from it. (I guess this is what someone called “both sides-ism” as if that was a bad thing).

          7. Mike,

            It is exceedingly irritating for some (including me) to read generalities about men and women when there are so many exceptions for individuals and particular culture.

            And you are right most of us feel a lot of identity in our sex/gender so it’s easy to feel defensive to whatever is declared about us as a group.

            And yet, it can be helpful sometimes to think about common patterns in generalities to see trends.

            If everything is too individualized it can lose the information of differences by group. Of the direction the correction needs to go and why there is a certain starting point for many people.

            Why are men more often stonewallers than women? Why are women more likely to file for divorce? Just a couple of examples.

          8. Mike,

            In terms of fault, I think of it like Schrodenger’s cat that was both dead and alive at the same time.

            It is both our fault and not our fault we are full adults without enough relationship habits and skills to co-create a healthy marriage.

            There are a lot of factors for why we are better or worse at relationships. Some nature, some nurture. Some people are biologically gifted with an easy going, optimistic, happy personality that is going to have an advantage as much as being tall is an advantage at basketball. The rest of us have to work harder at our habits and skills.

            Other people have family and friends that modeled good relationships so they are absorbed as normal and learned year after year. Those people have an advantage in relationships.

            Others are trained and rewarded in their culture (small and large) to be able to respond non defensively and cooperatively in a win/win partnership. Those people have advantages in modern relationships.

            It’s not our fault that the rest of us didn’t have those advantages.

            It is our fault that we bring damaging habits and inept skills that inevitably create shitty relationships.

            It’s our fault in the same way an accident is our fault if we run a red light because we mistakenly thought it was green. It’s wasn’t malicious but still our fault.

            Where it turns darker imho is when we KNOW our relationship is shitty and we do not seek out all the available information/resources/help to diagnosis and change to get better at the habits and skills we are terrible at.

            If we just blame or are defensive or interminably confused. Then it really, really is our fault as much as an athlete who keeps losing but won’t do anything different.

          9. So imho it’s not many men’s fault that they didn’t get the nature/nurture advantages to be in a successful marriage.

            And at the same time it is many men’s fault that they have habits and skill deficits that inevitability make them a shitty husband.

            And it is really, really their fault imho if they knowing their marriage is shitty, they continue to use the same losing strategies, habits and skills because it’s hard or unfair or confusing or “men can’t win”.

            The job is to acquire the habits and skills you should possess as an adult. If you weren’t given full advantages by nature/nurture we just have to focus, learn it and grind it out. Just like learning a foreign language takes more work as an adult.

            PS same goes for wives they just tend to have some different things to work on but the general idea is the same.

          10. I’ve known to say I’m not trying to win, I just want to stop losing.

            Because that’s what the women better man bad trope drives home.

            It’s not about winning, it’s about stopping the losing.

        3. The athlete has a coach demonstrating the moves. Giving SPECIFIC feedback, not subjective feedback.

          Two scenarios – told to set a pick in basketball. Told to be more romantic by ex-wife.

          In the first scenario, I asked the coach, what do you mean “set a pick” and he showed me what a pick was and how to do it. That’s coaching.

          Second scenario, ex-wife asked me to be more romantic. I asked for examples. I.E. was there a time where I nailed it on being romantic. No feedback.

          Years later, when she was in her affair, she shared with me this gem of logic, “If you loved me, you would have known what to do. Uh, no, because I loved you, I asked you to coach me or remind me of a time where I got it right so I could give you what you asked for.

          A man (or woman) can be trained, but the coach has to be specific and not speak in general terms or have expectations that you would magically know what to do.

          Many of us are walking around clueless not because we refuse to get a clue, but because when we asked for a clue, it was expected that we just know.

          If one expects that we just know, which playbook do you think gets used? Answer: not the one that meets her needs.

          Don’t assume there is ACTIONABLE feedback. Sighs, sulking, or getting up when he sits next to you is feedback, that’s for sure. The question is, is it ACTIONABLE feedback.

          Odds are, some of the feedback you think is crystal clear is not so to him.

  14. From the post:

    “Your husband either will or won’t change in any number of ways for the rest of his life, and most if not all of those changes will come about because of his desire for them to.”

    I think, as Nate alludes to in his comments, wanting to change is necessary but not sufficient.

    Husbands (people really but the post is about husbands) change when they 1) want to change and 2) have the ability to change.

    They are related. I want to change what I feel able to change.

    I may want to change my height to have an advantage in playing basketball but I am not able as an adult to be taller. So I may conclude as a 5 foot 8 man I will not win at basketball against 6 foot 8 players no matter how hard I try to improve. So why even try?

    Many men are not going to want to change if they feel (as Nate expressed) they are playing a losing game. Because they feel they can’t “win” i.e. condition 2 of not being able to change.

    What happens when husbands feel they can’t “win”? They don’t try to change because it feels hopeless. So they avoid or stonewall and defend.

    It makes sense if you think about it with certain framing-why humiliate/emasculate myself and take a beating at a game set up so I can’t win?

    Logical behavior using that framing.

    So how does a wife “get” her husband who thinks like this to change?

    You have to change the approach so it feels less like he “can’t win.” Change the game dynamics. That you CAN control on your side of behavior.

    1. So the logical question is:

      “how do wives change the environment/relationship dynamics so it feels less no-win hopeless emasculating? To remove the barrier of the husband thinking/feeling “ I can’t see a way that I am ABLE to do this?”

      You start by removing the common barriers many men say cause the “no-win.” setup.
      The first step in the most common heterosexual pattern. (This is not for emotionally abusive husbands etc.)

      1. You ask for changes in a non-judgmental non-critical attitude/tone (bonus for humor/playful).

      Many men feel so demoralized because it seems that **no matter what they do** it’s never good enough for his wife. Think about how that must feel. Have some empathy for that. Empathy for him.

      Wives have to counteract that by appreciating effort and progress and giving the benefit of the doubt.

      This requires huge growth in wive’s skills and self-soothing because being in a shitty marriage and showing positivity is HARD.

      Kiss of death is the “I am SO much better at relationships so that gives me the right to tell you what to do. And critique you critically.

      If wives were SO much better at relationships we would know that coaching well is not the same as demanding control and micro-management.

      Women often THINK they are better at relationships. But imho women are better at certain parts of certain types of relationships.

      Humility is also helpful. Generally speaking wives have a lot of deficits in their adult relationship habits/skills too. I know I did/do.

      Lots of other steps too.?

      1. This advice is not good advice for women who have a hard time asking for what they want. Women who think they are the cause of everything wrong etc. Those women need a different approach.

        But in the most common heterosexual pattern, the woman is ANGRY and CRITICAL because of legitimate concerns/frustration. The husband also has legitimate concerns/frustration but WITHDRAWS as his response.

        She there lies the problematic cycle.

        You want him to change. But what if he can’t figure out how to change so he then isn’t willing to change?

        Are wives willing to change? SOMEONE has to change to change the pattern.

        Since many wives tend to have more nature/nurture advantages for more habits/skills for the kind of relationship wives are seeking it is logical for wives to change to make it easier for the husband to defend/withdraw less.

        To change the pattern by expressing less anger and criticism. To make it feel safer and less “no-win” so the husband can risk change for her.

        It’s HARD, like exercising is hard when your out of shape. Like being patient with your kid is hard when you are exhausted.

        But that’s the job. It can be done.

        And you will be a healthier person with better skills to apply to your kids and other relationships too.

        1. The husbands “withdrawal and defense” can look like arguing you are wrong.

          He wants to make it go away by insisting you are wrong to care about x thing.

          He wants to make it go away because otherwise it’s an endless stream of no-win requests. Emasculation by having to agree and comply.

  15. Hi, do you believe that you woyld have changed and become the better man you are now without her divorcing you?

    1. Tricky question.

      This is hard stuff, as evidenced by the divorce (and crap relationship) statistics across billions of people on virtually every continent (and outer space, if you count the astronauts).

      My wife leaving me is what hurt really bad, which kicked in my self-preservation instincts hard enough for me to take action to figure out what happened to protect myself from a future repeat scenario. I needed to fully get it to avoid feeling that way again, and to help people I love — namely my son — avoid it too.

      But let’s not discount possibility. Sometimes, it simply takes the right person/book/life lesson saying the right things to the right person in the right way at the right time.

      I’m not in jeopardy of turning into some renowned marriage saver any time soon, but I can tell you that in my coaching work, I occasionally come across the guy who benefits from my way of storytelling and reframing the husband/wife, romantic partner conversation in ways that help them arrive at the same conclusions without all the painful fuss and brokenness that commonly results from divorce.

      I try to be the right person. I’m not always. Just sometimes.

      Everyone learns how they learn, and everyone is open to receiving information only when they’re open to receiving information.

      I didn’t have a me to talk to.

      I’d like to believe if I had, things could have been different.

  16. Pingback: Must Women Leave Men to Get Them to Change? | Must Be This Tall To Ride

  17. I respect the way you take “hate mail” and turn it into a learning/teaching moment. It’s a good attribute to have, because as long as you put yourself out into the world, you will continue to receive “hate mail.” And that’s okay. Because it means you’re reaching more people than you realize. ?

    1. Detractors. Non-believers. Opposition. These are necessary for people who have a creed. It’s more difficult to know who you are and what you believe when you don’t have people challenging you, calling you names, or telling you that you’re wrong.

      I’m legitimately grateful for everyone who has invested time and thought on things I’ve written here.

      Two days in a row from you. Thank you for that.

  18. Pingback: How to Change Your Shitty Husband – A Walk with God, through Marriage, Family and Personal Life

  19. What ever happened to the words vowed, “For better or worse”? I’m in the same boat, but faith and hope, and many prayers are what I focus on along with dusting myself off and trying again and again. One day sooner, or later, or even maybe it never comes, I will keep my head high and my heart open no matter what my way comes. Blessings to you all.

  20. Matt, your thoughts are extremely enlightening. Thank you. However, I’ve read 1,000 pages about how shitty husbands are and what they do wrong. How about more content about how husbands can turn things around, especially when their wives are preparing to leave. I dont see much mentioned on this. Thanks.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Matt Fray

Get my latest writing!

Sign up for my free weekly email newsletter as I continue an on-going exploration of love and relationships.