The 95 Percent

95 percent

“Hey, Matt! Why are you always talking about divorce!?!?”

Because next to things like air and food and water, I can’t think of anything else affecting so many people. (And because I got divorced less than a year ago, and it’s totally shitty.)

According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 54 percent of adults (18 and over) in the United States are married, 20 percent used to be married, and 21 percent desire marriage.

That’s 95 percent.

That’s 95 out of 100 people.

That’s damn near everybody.

It’s hands across America for childhood obesity, and anti-bullying measures, and animal adoption, and blood donation, and prostate exams, and hundreds of other causes you already know about. To be sure, those are important causes. I’m not dismissing them as inconsequential.

But marriage affects 95 PERCENT of all people. It affects where we live, how much money we have, our mental and emotional health, our relationships with friends and family. The stats related to children are even scarier. Crime, poverty, education, and sex-related issues like disease and unwanted teenage pregnancy all increase dramatically in children raised in single-parent households.

My point? Marriage deserves more of our problem-solving attention than it gets. I don’t think this is a conversation enough people are having.

I guess you could say I really care.

The Moment You Realize Everyone’s Kind of the Same

My wife and I were sitting across from the marriage counselor who I didn’t think was very good at her job.

She was dispassionate. And I’m sorry, if you’re trying to save marriages, you better also be in the give-a-fuck business.

Because you can’t help people when you don’t care about the outcome.

But she did have one shining moment I will never forget. My wife was answering some of her questions. Then the counselor directed a few questions my way. The entire time we were answering questions, she was drawing something on the back of a sheet of paper.

When I was finished speaking, she held up the piece of paper.

It was a drawing of two stick figures. She’d drawn a comic strip of sorts, minus all the funny.

The two figures were happy and connected. Then conflict was introduced. The male figure withdraws. The female figure chases. And it happens repeatedly. Until one day, the female figure stops chasing. She withdraws. Then the male figure gets confused. And becomes the chaser.

It was a reasonably accurate depiction of what my wife and I had experienced in our relationship. And it was so generic that I knew this counselor had drawn that very thing dozens, if not hundreds, of times.

Holy shit! EVERYBODY does this, I thought.

Months later, I read my favorite book on the subject of male-female relationships—How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It—and so many things I’d been confused about for years suddenly started making sense to me.

I finally get it!

Like a real-life epiphany. A genuine ah-ha! moment.

I finally understand why she responds the way she does! I finally understand why she gets so upset! I can fix this!

It made me feel better knowing so many other couples were experiencing the same problems. It wasn’t just us. It was everyone. We weren’t cursed. Or doomed. Or singled out. We were just another typical couple. And I saw that as a very hopeful thing.

I felt empowered.

If this happens to everybody, then we can make it work.

Well, it didn’t work.

But that doesn’t make it less true, and it doesn’t mean I didn’t learn something. I’m right about this.

And I legitimately think it’s the key to solving the marriage-and-divorce crisis we’re having:

We need men to have the same “ah-ha” moment that I did.

The reason my marriage failed even after I figured so many things out is because I’d already caused so much damage. Sometimes years of smoking simply causes too much lung damage to overcome by quitting later. You get cancer and die.

I wasn’t a bad guy. I was a bad husband. And I broke us.

It was all too little, too late. Our marriage died.

But what if we got to guys earlier? You can’t save everyone. People still smoke even though they know it’s bad for them. But every little bit helps. Right?

I want to believe it.

This Blog Cemented It

After she left, I started writing. I had to get the pain and anger out, and writing was the only way I knew how.

Because I make bad decisions, I decided to publish it. Like an emotional train wreck for anyone willing to watch.

It became clear right away: People everywhere—men and women—feel just like me.

First, I saw the marriage counselor’s diagram. The one I was certain she drew for most married couples.

Second, I read an amazing book which introduced me to chemical, emotional, and instinctive gender differences between men and women, and how those differences (which our ancestors needed to survive the tribal hunter-gatherer days) drive wedges in our modern-day relationships, and ability to communicate in healthy ways.

Third, I started writing honest stories about what my life was like and how I felt about it. Just one guy whining on the internet. The comments came flooding in:

“Thank you! That’s exactly what happened to me! I’m glad I’m not the only one!,” hundreds of people—both male and female—said.

And now I know it. In every fiber of my being. WE ARE THE SAME. Sure, we’re different. Individuals. Unique. We are.

But we have some universal humanity coursing through our hearts and minds that unites us all. And we really can learn from one another. And we really can make this whole human experience better than it is.

Just a few minutes ago, I heard a co-worker say she was never getting married, and a travelling sales guy (who’s married) say: “Good for you.”

And that’s fine! I don’t begrudge anyone making the choice to not marry. But the reason they don’t want to marry is because of all of the negative stigmas now attached to it—the general belief that half of all marriages are doomed to fail, so what’s the point?

And I’m not here to advocate for the institution of marriage. People will do what they want.

But I am here to deal in reality.

And in reality, 95 percent of people are going to get married.

Pretty much everyone.

And we have two choices: Keep doing the same crap that has gotten us to our 50-plus percent failure rate. Or we can commit, as rational adults with functioning brains, to care enough to start getting this HUGE part of our lives right.

Because it affects all of us.

Because it matters.

Because it will change everything.

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55 thoughts on “The 95 Percent

  1. Awesome! I’m different! I’m in the 5%!! This makes me really happy! :) But, I’m still happy for the rest of you 95%’ers and wish you all well!

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  2. mjmsprt40 says:

    I was married– twice– and divorced as many times. Probably messed up communications really bad, but made bad choices in my case before ever saying “I do”.
    I read enough on a forum I visit to know you’re onto something there. Men are really good at beating themselves up after a marriage fails, sometimes it’s a well deserved beating and sometimes it’s not, but we beat ourselves all the same and try to win our wives back by groveling. It doesn’t work, she doesn’t want a groveling crying wreck, she wants the man she fell in love with. I wonder if something can be done to stem the self-flagellation divorcing men are so good at.

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    • Matt says:

      You’re absolutely right. She wants the guy she met. Not some whiny groveler.

      I’m not talking about how to save a marriage. You don’t know of anyone less-qualified than me to write about that. I’m talking about how to keep it from breaking in the first place. Preventative measures.

      We can do that. We can.

      Like

  3. Kelly says:

    I write about struggles with motherhood for the same reason, even though many accounts are not very flattering: it helps all of us, writer and reader alike, to be able to relate. We all seem to be going through the same things, but some issues– like marital problems and depression and qualms with new parenthood– are not discussed, and consequently we all feel simultaneously alone, on identical isolated islands of struggle.
    Thanks for bringing us together.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you so much, Kelly. We all have things we care about because of our particular circumstances. Motherhood just about all of us, too, because we almost all have moms, partner with moms, or are moms.

      Making you particularly important. :)

      Like

  4. Amen, Brother! You keep writing. Men and Women all over the world need a fanatical message to save marriages.

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    • Matt says:

      Men are missing key pieces of information. Angry wives are not the right people to deliver the message. I’m not sure I am either. But somehow, we need to figure it out.

      Like

  5. Sarah says:

    Well said!

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  6. jgroeber says:

    I realized the other day that over half of the weddings I wore ugly coordinated taffeta dresses for have ended in divorce (or are well on their way.) It’s one thing to believe something is statistically true and another to actually peel back through the photo albums of hideous taffeta and realize that these are fragile things. Perhaps the mistake is in believing that marriages are like those solid metal rings we wear that never go away when really, they’re more like those trees in our yard. Drought, sun, lightning, random tree rot, a gorgeous spring. Most tress can can practically live forever, but then again…

    It’s difficult to talk about more or less the same subject while continually adding new insight but you’ve done it yet again. Well done.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I took everything for granted, Jen. I just thought I was essentially agreeing to be boyfriend-girlfriend forever. No way were we going to ever break up.

      Then life happens.

      People need to work harder. It’s worth it.

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  7. I admire your honesty in taking responsibility for your half of your marriage (the good and the bad). However, I do not believe that is the same thing as therefore having to take the blame for the divorce. Making marriages work and preventing divorces are not the same. Too often when the going gets tough some people just leave. From what I have read in your blog-posts, it was not you who ran when the going got tough.

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    • Beautifully written and great food for thought for the next generation. Your strength is an inspiration and I wish you luck and joy

      Like

    • Matt says:

      I did not run. But once it’s that bad, maybe it’s too late anyway. I’m not talking about a shitty marriage that everyone grits their teeth and hangs onto in the bitter end.

      I’m talking about a happy, vibrant marriage that never gets bitter in the first place.

      I think it can be done with much greater frequency than it is.

      Like

  8. mewhoami says:

    Love this post!

    “We need men to have the same “ah-ha” moment that I did.” – Yes! *Before* it’s too late. The counselor’s drawing was right on target. For many people, that’s exactly what happens. The woman is chasing the man, working on her end of the marriage, all while trying to open his eyes in the meantime. But, he’s blind. From his perspective everything is great and the problems that he is aware of, are small and nearly insignificant – simply because they are not important to him. (You said that once, and you were right.) Eventually, as you said the woman gives up. What’s the point. He’s not listening. Obviously he doesn’t care… That’s how men make us feel with their lack of concern. It’s very disappointing. All we want is to be loved and appreciated, just as we endeavor to love and appreciate them.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      You get it, exactly. Thank you. You can’t wait until it’s all broken and ugly. The point is to institute best practices early. To maintain a healthy relationship throughout. Never poisoning it.

      I submit that most men don’t know they’re poisoning it and if they did, and understood how, a lot of them would adjust their behavior.

      Like

      • mewhoami says:

        What I don’t understand, is that when we, women, tell them that there’s problems and even describe what they are, the men blow us off, as if we’re just blowing smoke, pms’ing or having a mood swing. Why do they do that? If they would just listen, then they would know.

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        • Matt says:

          Because it doesn’t sound true to us.

          Because there’s a million-mile disconnect between how most men respond to situations versus women. And when you respond in a way that seems far out there to us, you come off crazy.

          And when we aren’t empathetic and sensitive about it, you think we’re selfish, mean narcissists.

          Until men and women take the time to truly understand WHY we act and communicate the way we do, the divorce rate will remain.

          Like

          • mewhoami says:

            I’m so glad you replied to this, as I really wanted to hear your answer.

            You are exactly right about what we think when men aren’t empathetic to our feelings. It’s offensive to be treated as though our feelings are meaningless.

            The more you and I go back and forth, the more tempted I am to get the book that you keep recommending. It wouldn’t hurt to understand better, but it will hurt not to. Thank you, Matt.

            Like

            • Matt says:

              I do think that book is wonderful. I think it does an incredible job of explaining WHY men and women are the way we are. There is no “fixing” that. Men are men. Women are women. We can’t change anything. All we can do is understand, respect our respective triggers, and learn how to speak one another’s languages.

              It’s not easy. But broken homes and hearts are infinitely less easy.

              The effort is worth it. And if everyone was aware of this, it would change the entire world.

              Like

  9. One thing to remember, of the 95% some of them will simply marry for the wrong reasons. There are a whole host of wrong reasons out there. When you break it down, strip out all the wrong reasons, I am going to bet the number gets smaller. Not that I am against marriage, truthfully I am not. I simply think it isn’t for everyone, lots of ways to partner and partner well without the ‘formalization’ of marriage, the whole living together day in and day out.

    Just a thought.

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    • Matt says:

      I am NOT advocating or cheerleading for marriage. I’m just saying most people will get married. And regardless of how many, I want people who do it, to do it right.

      I don’t necessarily know what “right” looks like. But I’m pretty sure I know what wrong looks like. And that’s a pretty good start.

      Like

  10. Nothing new and witty to add to my already professed love for your writing- but again, well put.

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  11. elbrookman says:

    My opinion…..Reading the back of a cereal box of Lucky Charms is more enlightening about marriage or divorce …. people are not the same……damn there is a bad taste going on here ….. and you said you began to write honestly?……. This writing is no more honest then a yellow moon or pink heart dried marshmallow bit. Prose made of cardboard sugar…..yum.

    Like

  12. Dawn says:

    I agree that we need to talk more about this. Girls dream of the wedding since we’re old enough to hold a barbie. We don’t know the truth about what it takes to actually sustain a marriage. What’s worse, we don’t know how to chose the right partner.
    We need to talk more..on a whole about relationships.
    People don’t want to talk, until it’s too late. Then we go…WTF??
    We need, also, to realize we are not alone. You’re pain, will help someone…someone who wants it.
    95%. Wow…for once I’m in the majority. :)

    Like

    • Matt says:

      It’s an extraordinary number, I think. Really hit me when I saw it. Regardless, I think it’s a really important topic and I’m glad you and others agree it’s something worth thinking about, talking about, and working to improve.

      Thanks for writing, Dawn. :)

      Like

  13. tracey says:

    Favorite line…..”you better be in the give a FUCK business”, brilliant and so true. I have also had therapists like that. I’m in the 95% and love that you keep writing about divorce. Keep writing about it, many of us relate. Including me:)

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you, Tracey. I think anyone in a profession designed to help others should really want to help.

      Otherwise it’s like wanting to be a pastor at a non-profit church for the financial opportunity–the wrong reason.

      Like

  14. JujyCakes says:

    Matt? Do you remember the breaking point in your marriage? Just wondering if you had some signals from your wife before it all fell to pieces.
    I don’t think a marriage counselor is going to be the hero in fixing a marriage, the two people in the relationship need to make a concerted effort to fixing their broken hearts. The counselor is there to be a referee, a buffer board, a facilitator for 2 people who can no longer communicate because along the way they’re the ones who broke it all.
    Marriage is work. Relationships are work. It can be passionate work or it can be drudgery.
    It’s all how you see it.
    Say “I love you” to someone special like you mean it as if you may never see them again.
    Point of view is everything, no matter if your relationship is hours old or 30 odd years young.
    Wishing you happiness that you seek.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Yes. I remember the breaking point.

      And I agree with you. Counselors shouldn’t be looked upon as marital saviors. I don’t believe a counselor can teach us anything we can’t figure out for ourselves by reading and talking to others.

      But maybe once in a while they can get through and create the ah-ha moment for people who didn’t previously understand.

      Like

      • JujyCakes says:

        I’d like to think that marriage counselors have some very good practical experience in being in long term relationships. I’m not sure if they do, but some empathy would be helpful is what I’m hearing between your lines.

        What would you like to change? And how do you keep having a good relationship with your ex-wife for the sake of your son? What re-mapping have you come up with? I can tell you’ve been kicking some things around in your head and heart.

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  15. Vince says:

    I’ve thought about what it would be like if I could go back in time and do the right thing from the start. Instead of being lazy, indifferent, angry, distant and lousy at listening; perhaps things would have been different. The problem is, Matt, I knew all along I was being all those things but I didn’t change. Instead I was proud and foolish. I can’t blame her for leaving, I really can’t. I totally failed at the husband thing. That sucks.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      You strike me as a very decent human being, Vince.

      When your wife “bitches” or “nags,” you don’t hear it. Sometimes you don’t even hear when she reminds you to pick up detergent or orange juice. But you definitely don’t if she’s telling you you’re not good enough.

      If, without bringing negative emotion and shame to the conversation, you were able to understand how alone, and isolated, and AFRAID (genuine fear) your wife felt during those moments of emotional abandonment, wouldn’t you have done things differently?

      You “heard” her. But you weren’t listening. You didn’t know. You projected how you feel in a given situation. And when she responded differently than you would (as a logical man with his emotions in check) you thought she was crazy.

      If you’d known then what you know now, everything would be different.

      That’s a redeeming truth.

      Like

      • Vince says:

        If I’d known years ago I absolutely would have done things differently if I knew what and how to do them. My intentions were good I was just bad at listening.

        I have a clear memory of her crying years ago and thinking I must be causing that but how and what can I do ? It was then she was building up the wall I could never break down. I tried hard to maintain but my feelings would be hurt from her lack of response to my efforts and I would in return shut down , become angry and distant. That went on for a long time. I knew it wasn’t right but I didn’t know what else to do.

        I know my marriage could have ended five years ago because I think that’s when her love for me died. Just before she left she said she really tried but she couldn’t continue. I tried too but it was just too late.

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        • Matt says:

          I get it, sir. Different timeline. Same story. And it’s happening everywhere, all the time.

          And I think we all deserve better and can do better.

          You know we have home ec classes in school where kids learn how to make instant lemonade and bake boxed brownies, but no one EVER talks about the fundamentals of human relationships?

          It’s really insane when you stop and think about it.

          Like

  16. I have felt this way my whole life but I’ve never been able to put it into words–I absolutely agree that we need healthy marriage to be a conversation as commonplace as abortion or feminism. My parents separated for a few years when I was eleven and it was just heartbreaking. Pretty sure I’m still dealing with trauma from it since I’m terrified for the future when I fall in love and realize it’s time for me.
    As a side note, your blog is one of my favorites. You’ve touched my life and made me optimistic for the world in general. Maybe you’ll never win a Nobel prize or write a bestselling novel, but you’ve made my life a little brighter with your open and thoughtful and uplifting writing. Thanks.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you very much for this. I’m so flattered anytime someone likes it or thinks it’s relevant. It means a lot to me.

      I really do think we, as a society, have a long way to go to combatting the crisis. I hope people will continue to think and talk about it.

      Like

  17. stvrsnbrgr says:

    Great stuff, Matt. But I don’t think that marriage is the cause/solution to all the social ills. Especially where kids are concerned. One hard-working, committed single parent is worth a million miserable couples who stay together “for the kid(s)”. After all, your own son is now being raised by single parents – one at a time. While the failure of your marriage and the pain of your divorce has been difficult, wouldn’t you say that you are a better father now? You’ve obviously always been a responsible and committed parent who’d do anything for his son. But now you can be present and available to him in ways you probably weren’t able to before. You’re also a much better role model for the it’s-not-1950-or-even-1980 world he lives in. I’m guessing. But I do know that miserable marriages make miserable kids. And to whatever extent you and your ex-wife are happier, then so is your kid. If I had to choose between saving a relationship or saving the people in it, I’d choose the people.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I think you’re right. I’m not suggesting a crusade to save marriage would create some sort of societal panacea. I promise.

      I just think, as a society, we’ve done a pretty nice job progressing in our understanding of several aspects of people and health and social issues.

      As much as the old fuddy duddies dispute it, things ARE much better today in MOST ways than they were 50 years ago.

      “Marriage” is important to me. But, really, it’s just a word. If two people don’t get legally married but choose to co-habitat, they will still experience the exact same dynamics of a married couple.

      The dynamics of a homosexual relationship is outside of my area of experience, but (I’m totally guessing) there are even some overlapping commonalities there, in terms of understanding how the other person responds to conflict and various life events.

      I’m not a shill for marriage, and I never intend to be. BUT. If so many people are doing it, doesn’t it behoove us to work harder to get it right?

      I don’t think 3 out of 4 as a success rate for marriages between two people who promised FOREVER is too much to ask for.

      And I think with more meaningful conversation (and perhaps at younger ages–junior high/high school?) we can achieve that.

      I submit, good sir, that two people doing it right will never get to “miserable.”

      Like

  18. Being a woman, I don’t think you’re placing enough responsibility on us. I have so many friends who choose to marry Ken so they can have the Barbie doll wedding of their dreams. The amount of time, effort, energy, work and yep LOVE, that goes into the planning of those, what ? 5 hours? is truly sickening. I think I’ve commented similarly before – – women are still trying to fulfill the expectations from their childhood fairytale books and the man simply plays a reoccurring character role in their show. Sometimes he’s not even that lucky….sometimes he’s just a prop.

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  19. […] is important to me. It affects 95 percent of us. That’s damn near […]

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  20. […] I repeat: Divorce is BAD. And it affects 95 percent of us. […]

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  21. […] I’m just trying to understand! Plenty of people care about this. It’s impossible for us not to. Divorce affects 95 percent of us! […]

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  22. […] about had an aneurysm when I learned that divorce affects 95 percent of the population. That seemed high. But the numbers bear […]

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  23. […] monogamous relationships altogether, I think it behooves us to improve an institution that affects 95 percent of people AND fails more than half the […]

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  24. […] I repeat: Divorce is BAD. And it affects 95 percent of us. […]

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  25. […] single people almost ALWAYS (to the tune of 95%) pursue long-term relationships with other people, presumably because they believe a long-term […]

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