Maybe I was wrong.
When I said that men have the most power to save their marriages or long-term relationships.
The thinking was, men have so much room for improvement, that if they can get some of these little things right—these little things that make their wives or girlfriends feel unloved, unsafe, and insecure—that men can collectively make incredible gains toward a future where divorce occurs much less frequently.
And while I still believe that to be true—that men wield a lot of power in the fight for marriages—I’m questioning whether men actually have the most responsibility.
Bear with me for a minute, please.
Divorce is bad, I think. Worse than most people give it credit for. It’s the second-most-stressful thing that EVER happens to you, according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Marital separation is No. 3 on the list. It is only behind the death of your spouse, and ranked ahead of things like going to prison and the death of a close family member or friend. When it happened to me, I FREAKED. Hard to describe, but I don’t think I have to. I think most people understand what freaking the hell out feels like. It’s worth avoiding. (Free life tip!)
I repeat: Divorce is BAD. And it affects 95 percent of us.
We are not arming young people (or ourselves) with the information we need to make good marital choices. It ends up with a whole bunch of broken homes and broken hearts and economic hardships and children growing up in more-challenging environments than we’d all prefer.
It’s an epidemic.
People collectively freak out and band together to fight all kinds of worthy causes in this world. Causes that impact barely a fraction of the people that divorce does.
It matters to me.
It affects me every day in one form or another.
And I believe as we collectively become more enlightened in the information age, it’s something that can get incrementally better as we move into the future.
Boys vs. Girls
I have no idea how girls (and women) experience the world. I won’t pretend to.
But I know what it’s like to be a boy growing up in a reasonably typical environment in small-town Ohio.
Political correctness keeps a lot of people from being honest with themselves and others about differences between boys and girls that are generally true. (I KNOW there are exceptions.)
Here’s how I remember it:
Boys liked to play sports. Roughly. And with trucks and action figures and watch superhero shows on TV.
Girls liked to play with bedroom vanity and kitchen sets. Much more orderly. And with dolls and watch Jem and Strawberry Shortcake.
Boys were generally stronger and faster and got in more trouble during school, more prone to fighting, but also pretty good at getting along with other boys.
Girls were generally better students, stayed out of trouble, would go to the bathroom together in groups (I still don’t get it, ladies—totally weird!), and were generally less successful at getting along with other girls not in their immediate social circle.
Boys wore blue. Sports t-shirts. Air Jordans and Reebok Pumps.
Girls wore pink. Pretty things. Jewelry.
I think it’s important to admit that boys and girls are different. If you think your husband or wife thinks and feels exactly like you, then it’s no damn wonder you communicate poorly and get so frustrated with one another.
But. If you acknowledge the differences. Respect them. Understand their complementary value. Then you can understand why conflict and misunderstandings are taking place. You can learn empathy. You can attempt to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. THAT’s where compromise, balance and peace live.
Ladies: You Can be the Superhero
Depending on your individual chemical makeup, I understand that you want—check that, need— to feel supported, loved, respected, cared for, protected. It’s necessary security and I can appreciate now more than ever how important feeling secure really is.
I also understand ladies that when some of your critical individual needs aren’t being met… (you feel alone in your marriage, he doesn’t touch you or look at you like he used to, he chooses other things over spending time with you, he seems oblivious to all you do for the household—thoughtless and insensitive, he repeatedly does things that hurt you even though you tell him over and over and over again that it does. He tells you that you’re acting crazy. Like you’re making it up. That how you feel ISN’T what’s real. He just doesn’t get it. I understand.)… that it’s really hard for you to exert the energy to carry the responsibility of the relationship on your shoulders as well.
You already do feel that way because the vast majority of the time, you’re WAY better at performing the functions of married life than your male counterpart.
You just are.
At the risk of sounding like I think my ex-wife wasn’t supportive, an honest look at my adulthood yields the feeling that she didn’t have much respect for the things I was (and am) good at because I fell short in her eyes in so many other areas.
In the interest of fairness, perhaps that wouldn’t have been the case had I gotten my husband duties right. I did not. The net result was a broken marriage. It takes everyone pulling in the same direction. Always has. Always will. No cheats or shortcuts.
My ex grew up around tough guys who fixed and built things with dirty, calloused hands. Guys not unlike my father (who I was rarely with throughout my formative years). Men who fought in wars. Men who fixed cars and broken water heaters. Men who chopped down trees and repaired household appliances.
I am not like those men. And I’m fucking tired of trying to be.
I write. I read. I talk. I like watching sports on TV. And playing poker.
I find joy in cooking. In laughing with friends.
I can’t build you a car. I can write you a book.
I can’t fix your furnace. I can cook you a five-course meal.
I don’t think working all the time is nearly as valuable as living all the time.
I think my wife, in conjunction with all of the typical husband failings I committed, really tired of me not being the kind of man she respected and idealized.
And I’m very much done worrying about not living up to expectations in that regard.
I will be judged on my behavior. And you’ll leave the who-I-am part of it the fuck alone. Thanks.
Ladies, I think men need your help.
Because I do believe strongly that you are, just, BETTER, at relationships and marriage than your male partners. Not always. And not about everything. Just most of the time about most things.
And those with the most power to do something, in my humble opinion, have the most responsibility to.
You know things. You feel things. You inherently understand things that he does not.
If he’s not successful at whatever he’s working on, his inclination is to stop doing that thing and to find something in which he does succeed. It might look like quitting to you. It might look like giving up. Like he has no follow through. But he’s NOT quitting. He’s simply chasing success. And it’s because he WANTS you to be proud of him.
Maybe you don’t respect him because you feel unloved. He craves the respect, though. Needs it. Like water and air. Having your respect is every bit as important to him as having your love. It’s true.
You’re not crazy. You’re not psychotic or delusional. It really happened. When you met him, you were totally smitten with him. Desire. Love. Respect. And you HAPPILY and WILLFULLY entered the relationship with him based on all the evidence that he was every bit the man you could ever want.
But now he’s changed, you say.
But now you’ve changed, he says.
He’s got work to do. I’m not saying he doesn’t.
But… maybe you do, too?
What if you just believed in him like you did back then? Encouraged him? Told him you were proud of the things he does well? Of all the things he takes care of so you don’t have to?
Believe in him.
Because that’s the same man. There’s more guilt now. More shame. More stress. More… just… life and baggage and bullshit piled on all those shoulders.
But he will carry it to the moon and back for you if you can find a way to love him and lift him up even when you don’t feel like it. Even when it’s inconvenient.
Maybe you feel like you’ve been the bigger person all this time and just don’t have the energy or desire to do it anymore.
I can’t save your marriage or relationship and would never think otherwise.
But I know that we all meant it when we said “I Do,” and most of us do a really shitty job with follow through years later when life and love stop being easy.
You loved him once.
He loved you once.
And you probably both still do.
You probably just don’t feel it. And sure, that’s important.
So maybe don’t wait for him to “get it.” Because maybe the way you’ve been trying to get through to him doesn’t work very well.
We all learn differently.
And maybe if you’re the strong one—the superhero—you’ll lift him and your relationship to places you didn’t know it could go.
Maybe if you believe in him, he’ll surprise you in ways you didn’t think possible.
Maybe if we choose love even when it’s hard, we change the world.
But there’s really no “maybe” about it.
Change the world.