Men aren’t so bad.
We lead nations. Win wars. Build skyscrapers.
We fix things. Protect things. Create things.
We are often calm. Rarely petty. Good problem solvers.
All men want to be heroes.
I’ve written a series of blog posts titled “An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands.” There are four parts so far. I published Vol. 4 yesterday, and it is far and away the most-popular thing I’ve written.
Predictably, unhappy wives are drawn to it. It makes sense that they would be.
Marriage—or at least, relationship—trouble is unquestionably the human ailment that affects more adults than any other thing in the world.
And that makes sense, too. We are attracted to others. We find each other. Pair up. The honeymoon period is always awesome.
Then monotony sets in. And that’s when we learn about ourselves and our relationships.
That’s when we learn whether we’re going to let our feelings dictate our actions, or whether we’re going to let our decisions and resolve dictate them.
Many guys have commitment issues. When conversations involving “love” or “marriage” come up, lots of men run away.
“I don’t like labels!” they might say.
I can’t explain this phenomenon. I can only share my experience.
I was afraid to commit to someone for the rest of my life, too. And then finally, I was in a relationship with my ex-wife, who I met when I was 18 and started dating when I was 21.
She was the first woman toward whom my fear of losing was greater than my fear of losing independence.
I proposed to her when I was 24. We were married a year later.
When men first get married, they have no idea what they’re doing. A small percentage of us figure it out and grow into the role. Most of us don’t. And we end up divorced, or with miserable wives.
When men first get married, they think they’re simply signing up for a permanent girlfriend. That what they’re experiencing in that moment is how it will always be. They’re simply agreeing to never have sex with anyone else again.
They don’t have any clue what is required of them to make a marriage work.
They stand in the reception line at their own wedding accepting little bits of marriage advice from the old timers walking through, smiling and nodding politely, and agreeing to always love and cherish her, but they’re not really listening.
They just want to go party with their friends.
The Ultimate Denial
It’s easy to point fingers at the dicks. The obvious dicks. The guys who physically abuse. The serial cheaters. The guys who go out with their friends and get drunk while their wives stay home raising children alone.
Men see guys like that and think: How bad can I really be!?!? At least I’m not like those losers. My wife is lucky to have me!
We’re in denial, you see.
Because we mean well. We have hearts. We care. We love. We are well-intentioned. We really, truly do love you more than anyone or anything else in the entire world. We would take a bullet for you. Run through fire for you.
You are why we go to work every day. In many instances, you are the very reason we live and breathe.
You give us something every man needs—purpose.
You validate our existence and give our lives meaning.
We feel this through every fiber of our being. Our brains are almost incapable of understanding how you don’t know it also.
Here’s why this is important: We—I shit you not—DON’T KNOW that we hurt you as badly and as deeply as we do.
They are accidental wounds.
I know what you’re thinking, ladies: “But Matt! I tell him over and over and over and over and over and over and over again! But nothing ever changes!”
You don’t want to hear this, but it’s true.
He thinks you’re crazy and overly emotional.
He thinks you’re crazy because he loves you more than anything and you’re suggesting that despite all of his sacrifices on behalf of your relationship, that he doesn’t.
He thinks you’re overly emotional because he’s a man. And men think that overly emotional = chemically imbalanced.
Men think calm is better than crazy.
Men think steadiness is better than overly emotional.
Men think the way they feel and experience the world is the way women feel and experience the world also, only women don’t handle it as calmly and coolly as they do. (I realize I’m making broad generalizations here. I understand there are always exceptions. But I do believe this covers most of us.)
When we love you more than anything and have mostly positive experiences with our friends. With our co-workers. With people we meet out in the world. With our other family members.
It’s nearly impossible for us to understand how we—the men who love you and swore off all others to be with you—can be your greatest source of pain and frustration.
It’s hurtful and discouraging to hear you say it.
And in the end, we don’t believe it. Because it doesn’t make sense to us.
It doesn’t make sense when everyone likes us except you. In our minds, you must be the problem.
Shame, Shame, Shame
The worst thing a woman can do to a man is make him feel ashamed.
In the end, all of the accusations, all of the sadness and hurt feelings wives report to their husbands, cause men to withdraw.
Women confuse this reaction with selfishness. With apathy. As a display of not loving a wife enough to validate her concerns.
It’s shame, ladies.
You have, probably without trying, just made your spouse feel inadequate. Like he’s not good enough.
He wakes up every day, goes to work to provide for you and any children that may exist. And all he wants is for you to feel proud of him. To respect him. To appreciate that he does this for you every day.
But you don’t feel proud of him. You feel like going to work is the bare minimum. You don’t respect him because you don’t feel like he respects you. You don’t appreciate him because he REALLY doesn’t appreciate how much of a load you carry.
In the end, he feels shame. Deep shame.
And all of the chemicals in his body—just as you have chemicals in yours—cause him to withdraw. Survival mechanism we inherited from our earliest ancestors.
Shame is at the root of most relationship problems. A silent relationship assassin.
And if I can sell unhappy wives on just one teeny, tiny thing, I hope I can sell you on the idea that you can help change your entire marriage by doing just ONE thing.
Always phrase your frustrations and fears in such a way that can’t be interpreted as: “You are the reason my life is shitty. I blame you for all of my problems. All that you do is not good enough.”
Because you simply can’t save your marriage communicating with him that way.
If you do, his shame will grow. He’ll withdraw further. And maybe that girl at the office that makes him feel sexy and brilliant and tells him so will poison your relationship even more, just as your fantasies about the other men in your life who don’t make you feel shitty like your husband does, poison it also.
I feel shame in ways I can’t articulate.
That I don’t make more money. That I’m not more attractive. That I’m not in better shape. That I’m not smarter. That I’m not funnier. That I couldn’t make the woman I love happy. That I have to tell people I’m divorced. That my five-year-old son has a fractured family because of my choices. That I don’t manage my life responsibly. That I procrastinate. That I do a poor job communicating with friends and family. That I’m selfish.
It’s darkness. On the inside. Potent darkness.
And it makes my daily pursuit of inner peace and happiness an incredible challenge.
Ladies, Men Are Not Your Enemy
Besides infidelity (which I believe happens mostly because people don’t know how to treat their spouses in the first place), the worst thing a man can do to a woman is abandon her emotionally.
I’m going to repeat this for any guys who might be reading.
Gentlemen, your greatest crime is leaving your wife alone in your relationship.
“But Matt! I’m home every night! We have dinner together and sleep in the same bed every single night!”
She feels emotionally detached. I know you don’t understand that. It’s not your fault. You’re a guy. You won’t know what that feels like until she turns into Robot Spouse and completely shuts you out before starting her affair or leaving you. Please believe me when I tell you that you won’t like how that feels.
Being physically present isn’t the same as being emotionally and spiritually present.
Does this sound dumb to you? Like girl talk?
This is the difference between having a happy and satisfying life and marriage, and being a grumpy old man who lives sad and alone.
Basically, in terms of your time on Earth, this is the most-important lesson there is.
You need to treat your relationship with her as you would a project at work, as you would a strategy session on the football or battlefield, as you would any of the many problems you solve all the time. Because that’s what you are. A good problem solver.
And if she says your relationship is in trouble, I implore you to believe her. It’s so easy for you to believe everything is fine because your emotional needs are fewer than hers. So, you shrug her off. Everything’s fine! you tell her. Everything will work itself out! you tell yourself.
Everything WILL NOT work itself out.
FIFTY. PERCENT. DIVORCE. RATE.
You don’t think it’s going to be you. But it is. It is you.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Because you care. You DO love. She does matter to you.
Love your wife enough to admit you hurt her by accident. Believe her when she says it hurts. Then adjust. Adapt.
And ladies, I’m begging you to accept the truth that your husband loves you and—literally—is oblivious to the pain he causes. His chemical makeup prevents him from feeling what you feel, until he gets a taste of it himself.
I did. I got a heaping spoonful of it.
Changed my life.
But usually, once you go down that road, there’s no turning back.
I don’t know how to help you make him understand the pain he causes. To help you convince him to adjust his behavior in ways that will enhance and fortify your relationship.
I’d essentially be able to print money if I could solve that mystery.
But I do know this: You can be part of the solution. Part of this effort to make the world a better place by keeping families together.
And you can do so by believing the following:
- He loves you. Perhaps not how you want and need him to. But in his mind and heart, he loves you.
- He doesn’t understand that he hurts you. All the pain he’s causing is purely accidental. It’s NOT intentional. It doesn’t matter that you’ve told him 14 million times. You might as well have been speaking a foreign language. He doesn’t know. Please operate from that place when you’re talking to him, or about him.
- You can be part of changing your marriage and communication overnight by working REALLY hard at not making him feel ashamed. He doesn’t have any inadequacies that every other man on the planet doesn’t also have. Our DNA is all remarkably similar. Our shittiness just looks and feels different from guy to guy. But we all lack something.
- There is no human on the face of this Earth with whom you won’t have conflict. The hot guy at the coffee shop. The co-worker who flirts with you and makes you feel good. The guy writing on the Internet that really seems to understand how you feel. They are all human. Flawed. Selfish. Prone to mistakes. The grass is not greener over there. It’s not.
I believe in men.
We have exceptional guys in this world who don’t need help. And we have some guys that will never learn.
But the 90 percent in the middle?
They’re just human beings learning life lessons every day like the rest of us.
I don’t believe in unsolvable problems. And part of that reason is because I’m a man.
The man in your life probably doesn’t believe in unsolvable problems either.
Please fight for him.
Because underneath all that shame is a man who wants to do something heroic.
What’s a better story?
The one about the unhappy wife who ended up remarried to a divorced guy who’s only a better man because he experienced the agony of divorce also?
Or, the one about the unhappy wife who found a way to reach her husband? To touch his heart. His mind. And helped him grow. To become enlightened. Who watched him grow into the man she believed she was marrying in the first place.
The one about forgiveness. The one about redemption. The one about hope.
The one with the happy ending.