Who is Worthy of Your Love?

(Image/loveisrespect.tumblr.com)

(Image/loveisrespect.tumblr.com)

monthemoon asked (read the full comment here): “Hi Matt! I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, just before my partner and I split up. We are still living together due to circumstances, but from summer we will be living separately, and I am kind of looking forward to it. But I am also afraid.

“Apart from developing his empathy, can you think of any other way to make him realize he has to put his son first, specially after separation?”

I might be a bad father.

I don’t know. I don’t know who gets to decide. I don’t think his mom would call me one. I don’t think anyone close to me would call me one. And I’m certain my son wouldn’t call me one.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t so.

The list documenting my failings as a father is long and distinguished. That might not make me “bad.” That might just make me typical. Who can say?

When we fail our families, sentencing our innocent children to lives without both parents at home, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we’ve fallen short as parents.

When we force our spouses to choose between keeping the family together and suffering in masked silence for years, or ending the marriage risking judgment from family and friends, and emotionally damaged children because THAT somehow feels like the better choice, we have failed our children.

There’s nothing inherently gender-specific about this, but I have no qualms about calling out men as the primary culprits here. It’s because — no matter how much we’ll deny it — there are many things men love more than their wives and children.

It’s all psychological, of course. Most husbands and fathers are GOOD MEN. And they think and feel “I love my wife,” and they think and feel “I love my family.” But when it comes time to choose between getting down on the floor to play LEGOs or to cook pretend-dinner in the play kitchen or have a dinosaur battle, and whatever else feels EASIER or MORE CONVENIENT, we often choose the latter.

“Sorry, kid. That sounds like so much fun, but dad is really tired after a long day. You just play alone while I do this thing by myself that I’m prioritizing over you. I’ll engage you in bond-forming one-on-one activities some other time, because I’ll probably have a lot more energy then. We have all the time in the world to build life-long parent-child bonds. We have all the time in the world to make you feel loved and safe.”

If what you do matters more than what you say, then I was divorced for about a year before I actually started putting my son first in my life.

From the moment I learned about the positive pregnancy test, I always said — and actually believed — that I was putting my child first.

I’ll do anything for my family, we think. Because we’re dads and husbands, we take that job seriously. But then we choose other things over dad and husband things because it’s easier or seemingly more fun in the moment. Sacrificing the later for the now. Like the kids whose lives turned out worse after choosing immediate gratification in the Stanford marshmallow experiment.

Sure, we feel blindsided when our wives leave us and file papers.

Sure, we feel surprised when our children question our love for them during future disagreements.

Our brains automatically search for any explanation that will take away our responsibility. We’ll concoct any story that makes something the fault of someone else, and not ours.

Maybe that’s all people. Maybe that’s just mehhhhhhhh fathers who think they’re great parents. Or maybe it’s just me.

But today I know better, and apologize for the finger pointing. We’re NEVER the only one doing, thinking, believing, or feeling anything. There are always others in the boat with you. Knowing that helps me feel better sometimes.

You’re Probably Forgetting About the Hourglass

Don’t be afraid. Everyone is in this global boat large enough to hold every living thing from the beginning of time ‘til the end.

But, it’s true. You have an invisible hourglass attached to your life.

Just like that person standing over there.

Just like your friends and enemies and family and co-workers and the strangers you pass on the street and the people you scream at when they cut you off in traffic.

Just like your children.

We all have an hourglass that is ALWAYS dropping sand from the top to the bottom, and when that last granule falls, we will take our final breath.

Then, gone.

Our hourglasses live in a dimension beyond sight. So we don’t usually know when the sand is going to run out.

As I’m writing this sentence, someone young and who was thought to be healthy is dying unexpectedly. It’s a statistical certainty.

Living fearfully is no way to live. That’s why it helps to be mindful of the boat. How we’re all in it. This isn’t A way. It’s THE way.

But living mindfully of it? I think that might be important.

Two years ago, I learned about a beautiful little girl named Abby with a disease that has no known cure. I was blogging about some personal things with an ungrateful attitude. And then Life saw fit to introduce me to the story of two parents who lose a little bit of their daughter every day.

I called it a Godsmack. That’s what it felt like.

Maybe no matter how long and hard my day was, playing with my son is the best use of my time because of all the parents whose top wish would be to do what I’m taking for granted.

Maybe if I knew the world was about to explode, all I would want is to hold him tight to try and demonstrate my love one last time.

And maybe the things we should spend the most energy on in life are the things we would do during the final countdown. (No. You’re not the only one who just sang the Europe song.)

This is a Parent’s Most Important Job

With the exception of parents with deeply held spiritual beliefs about salvation and an afterlife whose life mission centers around helping their children achieve it, our earthly life-focused parenting has ONE job beyond meeting basic life needs that seems more important than any other.

The thing we must do for our children is help them KNOW they are worthy of love and belonging.

That’s it.

That’s our most important job.

Most of life’s negative experiences are rooted in us doubting our value or worthiness. Because of a million little things that happen to us as children at home and school, and all we observe as others around us succeed, achieve and acquire things we want but don’t have, and all of the rejection and failure we experience in our relationships, and social circles, and academic pursuits, and work lives.

We don’t celebrate failure as the interesting and valuable mistake it really is — another opportunity to grow and change and improve on our pursuit of mastery. We’re terrified of it and what it will make others believe about us. We fall short all the time. And then we assume everyone thinks we’re huge stupid losers because of failures, big or small. And then we tell ourselves stories about those failures and our self-narrative becomes one of failure, and self-doubt.

We’re not good enough to be happy.

We’re not good enough to be accepted.

We’re not good enough to be loved.

Sorry, kid. You’re just not tall enough. And you never will be.

That narrative is believed by a frightening amount of people. The majority, I believe.

Poverty. Crime. Abuse. Infidelity. Addiction. Suicide. Divorce.

These things often happen because someone doesn’t believe they matter. Because they don’t think they are worthy of love. Because they don’t think they belong on any of the boats.

But we are worthy. And we do belong. And that realization eludes many of us for many different reasons.

As parents, we mustn’t let that reason be because we failed our children in a moment that seemed inconsequential to us while not realizing it means the world to them.

She asked: “Can you think of any other way to make him realize he has to put his son first, ‘specially after separation?”

It took me losing my family.

My wife.

And half of my son’s childhood. I estimate AT LEAST seven years, since he was not quite 5 when the marriage ended.

Whatever must happen to ensure he and I stay connected once he leaves the nest? That window is closing fast.

Once this father realizes it, he’ll either care enough to do something about it, or he won’t.

Or maybe he simply doesn’t feel worthy of his son’s love. Maybe he doesn’t feel he deserves that.

Because like so many of us stopped by the Must Be This Tall To Ride gatekeepers, he simply never got the memo: That sign is bullshit.

He’s always been tall enough.

And now his life’s most important work is about teaching his son that too.

Just like you.

Just like me.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

67 thoughts on “Who is Worthy of Your Love?

  1. Jennifer says:

    Beautiful

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you, Jennifer.

      People deserve to feel as if they “belong.”

      Because it’s not about merit. By virtue of being a person, they belong.

      It’s simply a matter of identifying the thing that drives them forward afterward. Everyone has something. And so many have trouble honing in on what that is.

      But if they did, they’d experience little wins every day, and eventually shed all the baggage they don’t even know they were allowed to set down and leave behind.

      I appreciate you taking time to read and comment.

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on Kelso Kids and commented:
    I apologize for my temporary absence in posting and promise to remedy that soon. In the meanwhile, please read this post by a humorous and insightful writer that I admire. As he says, “The thing we must do for our children is help them KNOW they are worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. That’s our most important job.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bygeorgeithinkyou'vegotit says:

    This made me cry Matt… I needed the reminder.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      After divorce can be one of the hardest times to feel worthy of love.

      I think we say to ourselves: If the person I’ve promised everything to for the rest of my life can reject me, then I mustn’t be worthy.

      I think when our lives don’t turn out as we thought they would, and we observe others around us appearing to succeed because we’re watching their Facebook highlights while being shielded from all their real human messiness, we start comparing ourselves to others’ best shareable life moments. I think that takes a toll.

      When we finally figure out that simply not feeling broken on the inside is a pretty great way to live, we stop caring so much about [insert thing we really care about until we experience a life trauma event, and then stop caring as much about it].

      It’s okay to hurt. It’s a perfectly rational human response to what you’re going through.

      It won’t always be this way. And I hope you take time once in a while to look forward to that. Be excited about your future when you put the bad in the rearview, and move into the good.

      It’s going to be awesome.

      Like

  4. jcirak says:

    Matt, I’m 65 and I wish I was half as wise as you are at your age. Every blog of yours I’ve read so far touched me deeply because not only is it beautifully written (I’m so jealous of that skill) but because it comes from that Bull-shit Free Zone that you found within you and are willing to share with us. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Lively Life says:

      I tried to like your comment but I couldn’t see how, so here’s a comment on it instead. I grinned and felt good for Matt. And then you, for being a tuned and aware 65 year old. Or at least, making me feel that way about you. :)

      Liked by 1 person

      • jcirak says:

        Thank you, Lively Life. Believe me, at 65 I still feel I have a long way to grow. I have a saying… My birth certificate tells me I’m 65, my mirror tells me I’m 55, my mind tells me I’m 45 and my heart knows I’m 25. Thanks again, you made me smile.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Matt says:

      This was pretty awesome to read. I promise I’m not all that wise in any sort of observable day-to-day behavior kind of way. You’d laugh if you saw my disorganization and how NOT-stoic or calm I can be in the face of adversity.

      But on some of these — I don’t know what to call them; “human” topics? — I feel like I’m learning how to prioritize conceptually the parts that matter most.

      Always trying.

      It means a lot to me that you read it and think it has merit.

      You’re being entirely too kind. Because at 65, I know you inherently understand MANY things I simply can’t know for another 30 years.

      My mom always spent a lot of time touting the merits of experience and wisdom through the prism of life lived.

      I used to discount it because I was an ignorant know-it-all teenager who didn’t know crap.

      I was 30+ before the truth hit me: I don’t know — not with certainty — ANYTHING.

      And when you live life (paradoxically) KNOWING that you don’t actually know anything, you get to spend a lot of time asking questions, and a lot less time being an idiot rube.

      It’s truly the great pleasure of aging.

      Letting all of that settle in.

      Thank you very much for reading.

      Like

      • Shrub says:

        I agree with jcirak. You said, “I promise I’m not all that wise in any sort of observable day-to-day behavior kind of way.” but I can’t believe that. We all screw up, but with all that you write inside you, I’m almost positive it has to show on the outside, too, and more often than you’ll lay claim to.

        I love reading what you write. Such a gift. This particular post is where I am now. Not a comment or judgement on those who choose to end their marriage, I just know that for me, as long as we can “keep it together” enough to have a home with both parents present, that is what I intend to do for the next several years. I wonder sometimes what it might be like to go off into the great big world, but none of that is as important as providing those “you are loved and worthy” messages to our last child at home.

        Thank you so much for your blog.

        Like

      • jcirak says:

        Matt, what you write about and the way you write about it has soooo much merit. I coach divorced men how to live and love again and try not to stuff it up the next relationship. So many men don’t learn. They get back out there and continue to behave just as they did when they were shitty husbands and become shitty dates and shitty boyfriends. You have learned and that’s why your posts have become such a great resource for me. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linbo says:

        Told you so. Just Sayin…

        Like

  5. Matt, sometimes I feel quite qualified to comment on your posts-other times not so much. I think I might do okay today.
    We have seven kids between my husband and I, the oldest two from a previous marriage. The three oldest kids pretty much despise us, and it’s because they don’t understand why our relationships with our younger kids are so much more personal, hands on and have a ‘there for you no matter what’ mindset. They only remember the weekend visits with their parents or the bickering between us. Our fights tore apart more than our marriage-it wounded our our beautiful children. Yes our oldest kids love us but we can’t undo the damage we caused. Our ‘almost divorce’ taught us both a lot about what we’d missed, screwed up, left out.
    I remember constantly trying to force my husband to be one with the kids, put the phone down and make eye contact. It took being separate from them to realize how much he was really missing and how badly he wanted that in his life. It’s not the reason we chose to remain married, but it’s something I praise God for every day. We had an unexpected surprise while looking for a urologist for husbands vasectomy. I was pregnant. That baby is 13 months old now, and his bond with his father is all I had ever hoped it would be. He is present. That baby will be his ‘buddy’ forever. And I feel wonderful as I watch them grow together.
    I don’t recommend separation. I think it allows the world to get into places in our hearts it just shouldn’t be. I know the immense pain it caused me, some of which still hurts, but falling asleep next to my husband and our little boy…makes it worth every bit of sacrifice and pain.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Matt says:

      “It took being separate from them to realize how much he was really missing and how badly he wanted that in his life.”

      The importance of swallowing medicine instead of simply being told about it cannot be overstated.

      At least, not for me.

      My separation was never an almost-divorce. It was the day of reckoning.

      But had things gone differently, one assumes I’d have responded as your husband has.

      It’s such a great story for you and your children.

      I’m so glad you’re being rewarded in very observable and non-subtle way for the sacrifices you’ve made.

      Thank you for sharing that story.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. zombiedrew2 says:

    Hey Matt,

    good topic.

    You talk about what really matters in life, and sadly I think a lot of people have what to me is a broken view of what matters.

    This makes me think of the “You only live once”, or YOLO phrase. I don’t hear it as much these days, but I used to hear people say YOLO for behavior that most would consider immature. Calling in sick for work because you were out drinking with buddies during the week? YOLO. Cheating on your partner because a “better opportunity came along”? YOLO. Going into debt to live a lifestyle you can’t afford? YOLO.

    The way many people use YOLO, it has become an excuse for being a selfish asshole, or having a lack of personal responsibility.

    Thing is, there is an important idea behind it and you touch on it here. It is true that you only get one life. Even if you believe in an afterlife, the life we have and know is finite – once its gone, its gone. But that doesn’t mean you should focus on yourself. I don’t think that’s what life is really about.

    The most important things to me are my wife and my children. My family. The people who matter to me. They are infinitely more important than the car I drive, the house I live in, or what I did last night.

    Yeah, I have goals and dreams and things I want to accomplish in my life. For example, I love travelling. I love seeing new places, trying new foods and experiencing new cultures. There are a number of places in the world that I hope to see during my life. But to me, the experience means more when I share it with someone I love. What is the point of doing any of that if I lose the things that matter to me in the process?

    When I look at YOLO, I have a different approach. To me it means:

    – Do something that matters
    – Live how you want to be remembered
    – Make the most of it

    I’m just one person and have limited influence. But I still hope to leave the world a better place than I found it. The thing I can influence the most is my children, and hopefully raise them to live their lives with integrity. I try to involve myself somewhat in my community. Nothing major, but enough that I feel I have made some sort of mark.

    That’s what YOLO is about to me. Its not about doing what I want when I want. Its not about avoiding responsibility. I only have one life, and I want to live it in a way that I can be proud of.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tina says:

      Awesome! – do something that matters!! Do it for the people that matter to you and for your community and the world. That is like the reason for living in a nutshell.

      Liked by 1 person

      • zombiedrew2 says:

        As Matt talks about, when someones actions don’t match up with their supposed priorities, on a fairly consistent basis – it really seems like something is wrong.

        Everyone has their selfish moments, and some “me” time is important to mental health. but the sands in that hourglass are running out. There are no guarantees for tomorrow. So what REALLY matters?

        I think peoples actions show what truly matters to them. And sometimes those actions make me shake my head.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      YOLO

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Tina says:

    Matt – you had me at “there are many things men love more than their wives and children.”

    Monthemoon
    I firmly believe that some people just need the right wake up call and some – well – some are too self obsessed to ever hear the ringing. What is the right wake up call? For some it’s a health scare. For others, the end of a relationship. I don’t consider myself qualified to determine which people are capable of waking up and which are not. I hope my ex-to-be is one of the former but I fear he is one of the latter. Only time will tell I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Monthemoon says:

      Hi Tina, thanks for your words. I agree with you maybe the right wake up call would work. Maybe for him it will be realizing he will not see his son every day and having to REALLY take care of him without any help at all when they spend time together. But a part of me is afraid not even that will do. As you say, that he will not ever hear the ringing. And that simply hurts in so many ways.

      And thanks Matt for writing about this. Hope this post works as a wake up call for many people.

      Like

      • Tina says:

        It’s early days for us yet and sometimes I see my ex-to-be stepping up for the kids and other times I see him ignoring them in ways that make my heart hurt. I still hope that he will get it and become the dad they deserve. Only time will tell. As Matt has said on many occasions – these kind of changes are not easy and you don’t change the patterns of a lifetime overnight. I’m trying to stay patient and hopeful for the positive. In the end all I really can control though id what kind of parent I am to them. So Keep my focus on making sure I am being the best mom I can.

        Like

  8. Fromscratchmom says:

    I’m crying. I understand if you think I have a pretty low threshold right now. You’d be right. But this seriously touches so many things… There are no words.

    Like

  9. Ash says:

    Nice thoughts, Matt. I hope more men come to think as deeply and rationally as you.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lovely, Matt. My parents divorced and my mother ran with me, so there were many years stolen from me and my Father, years we can never get back. It impacts your life forever, not just mine, but his too. We reunited in my late 20’s and spent time together, rebuilt that relationship until he finally passed away, but there will always be a hole there, time lost and memories not made.

    Fathers are so important, even their absence makes a profound impact on someone for their entire life. What’s amazing to me is that there are men who do not realize that, who don’t understand how important they are.

    Like

  11. Linbo says:

    “Living fearfully is no way to live. That’s why it helps to be mindful of the boat. How we’re all in it. This isn’t A way. It’s THE way.”
    <3!
    This is one for the records.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Kristi says:

    Thank you!

    ” Each of us is prone to fall out of balance in our own way. To maintain balance requires that we value balance. It also requires intention, mindfulness, and self-discipline.” – Wisdom Commons | http://www.wisdomcommons.org/virtues/12-balance

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve always explained to my kids that the hardest, most difficult thing for us to do as people is to learn to accept ourselves as who we are and be happy with ourselves…knowing it’s necessary and knowing how to make it happen are not one in the same.
    Satisfaction. In ourselves. For ourselves. And I’m not talking about ego or arrogance. I’m talking confidence in who you are and what you do as being good and worthy. We all are capable. We were created as such. Yet we fall short daily and doubt creeps in and fear takes up residence. So often we fail to forgive ourselves more than we fail to forgive others. And we hide ourselves in shame and complacency because it’s easier than looking in the reflection with the light shining in judgement.
    Just my opinion of course…

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Lisa Gottman says:

    Matt,

    Your son is lucky to have you as his Dad. You understand how important it is to make him feel loved and secure.

    Here’s my question. Before your divorce, did you think you were a good dad? I think there are some men who are pretty good dads even if they are shitty husbands. And the there are other men who are equally shitty at both.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Lisa – I think sometimes the shit piles up so slowly people don’t even realize how deep they’ve sunk into it until they get out. When I talk about life with my Ex-to-be people look at me like I’m insane. Some of that I think has to be because my view is biased, and I tell them that. But some if it – I just didn’t realize how bad it had gotten. I feel a lot more light and happy now that I’ve decided to let go. It’s like I’ve been dragging him into every family situation or pushing him into every parent child interaction. And that was a lot of heavy lifting (metaphorically speaking – I’m not making physical digs here) Now he will have to either rise to the occasion or sink on his own. I am sad for my kids that he may sink – but I can’t let us all drown trying to keep him afloat. (oi how’s that for horribly mixed metaphors)

      Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Tina,

        I can totally understand what you mean by the accumulation of shit that is so slow your brain doesn’t even register what is happening. Sometimes, if the conflict between the parents is removed from the equation, it’s easier to see the relationship with his kids more clearly. I hope your ex steps up for his kids!

        Like

    • Mike says:

      Lisa,

      Obviously I can’t speak for Matt, but I think my thoughts are probably shared by many.

      Since us “Nice Guys” think we are good husbands, we also think we are good dads. In reality most of us “Nice Guys” are shitty husbands and average dads. Some catch on, some do not. A lot of us do a little better at being dads because we don’t think our kids are crazy when they cry because we left a dish by the sink. We can see that they are melting down about a dish because they are over tired or hungry or didn’t get the part in the school play they really wanted. So, we respond more empathically. (Is that the right way to use that word?) We talk to them with love and care and we ask them to help us understand why the dish matters so much.

      Also, we look more objectively at our own dad’s and/or mom’s shortcomings and we pledge to not do that. To be better than them. Since we were on the receiving end of our parents mistakes we often have good insight as to what not to do. However, in the marriage relationship there often isn’t that insight for several reasons. One – we aren’t privvy to the entire relationship between our parents. Two, we can’t really know how mom feels when dad ignores her or whatever it is that he does.

      However, for me specifically, when I had the lightbulb moment about my marriage a lightbulb moment about my parenting skills soon followed. I believe I was a good dad, but I will no longer accept “good” as good enough. If anyone is worthy of love it is my children. I want them to know this, feel this and live it every single day. One of the best ways I can help them believe in their worthiness is to always strive to improve myself as a father. Always. Always. Always.

      Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Mike,

        Thanks for your reply. You bring up a great point! It is often easier for dads to respond to their kids needs because they can empathize with their position as kids and try to give them what they needed as kids. But it’s harder to understand and empathize with the wife because we don’t experience that directly.

        I think it goes beck to the conversation in the comments about the lack of healthy adult relationship skills for so many people (including me). The easier it is to empathize with someone either through direct correlation to my experiences or because I can at least conceptually understand their needs, the easier it is to meet their needs.

        But truly mature people don’t need to empathize or understand at all, they just listen to the other person express their needs, and work with them to work it out in a reasonable way. They can even do this when the other person presents their need in a less than ideal way like crying or criticizing. I think so many people don’t understand that is the goal. I know I didn’t.

        Some parents can be pretty good parents to kids who are more like them so they can empathize with the kid more. (I read recently a study that dads were more likely to stay around if they had a son and not a daughter.)

        I failed at this. It was far easier for me to be more empathetic to my son who is more like me than my daughter, I was a shitty parent for a while there even though I was trying because I was using the wrong end goal. I wanted her to learn to respect my authority. Nothing wrong with that as long as you can also meet their needs and make them feel secure. I was not mature enough yet to figure out the real skills of healthy relationships. No empathy required, no understanding required. No nice way of presenting needs required (especially for kids of course it doesn’t mean anything is acceptable but I believe in grading on a curve as their brain is immature).

        They have needs, as the adult I need to figure out how to meet them in reasonable ways while also showing healthy boundaries. I was eventually able to figure it out and correct it enough. I’m doing penance for my sins as a Dance Mom too ;)

        I think many parents are better as parents even though they are shitty wives or husbands. But there are people who are just so emotionally immature they are shitty at both. It doesn’t necessarily make them bad people (although in some cases they are) but mostly they never fully grew up and developed healthy relationship skills.
        They still see the world through how everyone and everything affects them.

        If you make it easy for them, they are able to give you more love, if you make it hard for them, they feel justified in withholding love because in their warped view that is healthy cause and effect. Most people like this are just so wrapped up in their amygdala calling the shots its not a conscious choice. They say they love their kids but their amygdala causes them to reject them and be shitty parents.

        Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Mike:

        You said: “However, for me specifically, when I had the lightbulb moment about my marriage a lightbulb moment about my parenting skills soon followed. I believe I was a good dad, but I will no longer accept “good” as good enough. If anyone is worthy of love it is my children. I want them to know this, feel this and live it every single day. One of the best ways I can help them believe in their worthiness is to always strive to improve myself as a father. Always. Always. Always.”

        That is so great to read! Good for you for understanding and following through to show your kids love!

        Like

      • Donkey says:

        Mike (are you the same Mike I’ve “talked” with before? i don’t know how this blog works, if different commenters can have the same name.

        You said:
        “A lot of us do a little better at being dads because we don’t think our kids are crazy when they cry because we left a dish by the sink. We can see that they are melting down about a dish because they are over tired or hungry or didn’t get the part in the school play they really wanted. So, we respond more empathically. (Is that the right way to use that word?) We talk to them with love and care and we ask them to help us understand why the dish matters so much.

        Also, we look more objectively at our own dad’s and/or mom’s shortcomings and we pledge to not do that. To be better than them. Since we were on the receiving end of our parents mistakes we often have good insight as to what not to do. However, in the marriage relationship there often isn’t that insight for several reasons. One – we aren’t privvy to the entire relationship between our parents. Two, we can’t really know how mom feels when dad ignores her or whatever it is that he does”.

        This is very interesting. I don’t have kids, but I have the impression that many wives and moms, while thrilled that their husband is a pretty good dad, are also hurt that he can be empathetic, considerate and kind with their kids, but not with her. I believe that many wives feel that this means that while he loves their kids, he hardly cares about her at all. At least only very very very little, or else he would treat her as considerately as he does their kids (of course taking into account that she’s an adult and all of that).

        So, I’m basically asking you to confirm or oppose this (any other guys reading, feel free to chime in): that even though a man might be considerate and empathetic with his kids and not with his wife, he can still love her very much, maybe, for some men, even as much as he loves his kids.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Matt says:

          (It’s powered by magic hamsters running on creaky metal hamster wheels. Which doesn’t solve the mystery of Mike’s identity. Sadly.)

          Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Donkey,

        I’m not Mike and hopefully he will chime in later but I can answer for myself.

        A lot of people can be better parents than spouses because you understand that a child needs your adult love in an unequal way. If you’re halfway mature you understand your kids are not there to meet your needs but you are there to meet theirs.

        So my husband could respond empathetically to my daughter even when she was screaming at him in ways that he could not to me when I spoke to him in a “bad tone of voice”.

        It frustrated me even more because I would see him do it for my daughter so I knew he was capable of it. But he explained to me later that he was trying to give our daughter extra understanding because he didn’t want her to suffer from our marriage difficulties.

        But he, in a healthy way, he saw parenting as a one way street of love. And with our adult relationship he expected a two way street of love. When he felt he was being treated unfairly by me, he felt no responsibility to accept my influence or respond empathetically because he didn’t understand then that accepting influence does not require understanding or being talked to in a sweet tone of voice at all times.

        And that’s how you can be a good dad but a shitty husband.

        Of course, I was a shitty wife too (and sometimes a shitty mom).

        Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Donkey,

        Another thought. I think because there is a gender difference in more women than men being accept influence.

        It will be more common to see men who are good dads and (because they understand they need to “accept influence” from their kids) but are shitty husbands, because they don’t accept influence from their wives.

        In another sense, though women often create a triangle with their kids and exclude the dads and push the marriage to a lower priority so in this sense they might be good moms but shitty wives.

        Like

      • Donkey says:

        Hamsters are cute!

        Thanks for chiming in Lisa. I think you’re right.

        And since many shitty husbands are Steves, they think that the love/respect/effort/work traffic they are are sending in their wife’s direction is about the same amount as what she’s sending in his. Accepting influence, responsibilties, paying attention and all of that. When in many (not all and sometimes it’s reversed) cases it’s just not.

        You said:

        “Another thought. I think because there is a gender difference in more women than men being accept influence.

        It will be more common to see men who are good dads and (because they understand they need to “accept influence” from their kids) but are shitty husbands, because they don’t accept influence from their wives”.

        I’m not quite sure what you mean, maybe you’re just making your point in a different way? I would think that if a husband understands he needs to accept influence from his kids and at the same time doesn’t think he has to do that with his wife, he’s basically saying that love is more of a one way street from him to his kids, and with his wife, love is a one way street aswell – from her to him. That seems very shitty. :S

        But maybe you’re saying the same thing I was, that in many cases he thinks the two way love traffic with his wife is about equal, so he doesn’t feel the need to do any more/be more considerate/accept more influence from her?

        Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Donkey:

        You said: “I’m not quite sure what you mean, maybe you’re just making your point in a different way? I would think that if a husband understands he needs to accept influence from his kids and at the same time doesn’t think he has to do that with his wife, he’s basically saying that love is more of a one way street from him to his kids, and with his wife, love is a one way street aswell – from her to him. That seems very shitty. :S”

        I probably am saying the same thing, I don’t even understand what I am typing half the time. I read my posted comment and I sometimes think, yeah that’s good and often, what am I talking about here? ;) Let me restate just in case I might say something in a better way.

        I think average shitty husbands and wives think there are two different kinds of accepting influence.

        Good moms and dads understand that accepting influence from your kid is a one way kind of thing. It doesn’t require your needs to be met before you will agree to work with the kid to get their needs met.

        I. I must understand that everyone has different needs, perspectives and filters.

        2. I must work with them to get their needs met while also taking into account my needs.

        If your kid is afraid of monsters under the bed, you help them with their fear even if you don’t think monsters are really under there. But you don’t just let them call the shots, your needs matter too. You take their monster fears into account and maybe let them have a nightlight or something. You don’t let them sleep in the bed with you every night as an example.

        This is the correct understanding of accepting influence and many adults can be good parents but shitty husbands because they have a different definition of accepting influence from their wives.

        Extra requirement 1. He must understand and empathize with her need before he will accept her influence to change.

        This is incorrect and leads him to dismiss her needs rather than working on a win-win solution together.

        Extra requirement 2. He must be asked in a pleasant tone of voice with expressed appreciation for all he does before he will even consider accepting her influence. If he doesn’t feel appreciated and respected, he rejects the need to even consider her request.

        This is also incorrect, although, of course, healthy boundaries need to be set when someone is treating you disrespectfully. But this has nothing to do with accepting influence. It is a separate process.

        Just like I would say to my kid who is yelling, “Don’t yell at me, if you ask in a normal tone of voice, I will work with you” You don’t not accept influence because you don’t like how they ask you. You ask them to restate the request respectfully.

        So many men get this part wrong with their wives. They feel disrespected and unappreciated so they won’t accept her influence. Of course, the wife should strive to treat her husband politely and respectfully (and vice versa) but it is not a requirement for accepting influence. As I said the boundary for healthy respect is a separate process. I ask and expect to be treated with respect and I also ask and expect to have my influence accepted and accept the other’s influence.

        So, good dads that are shitty husbands often add 2 levels of extra requirements for his wife before he will consider accepting her influence. Even if the wife can jump the first hurdle and say everything in a respectful and appreciative way, he will still not accept her influence unless he understands and empathizes with her need which he so often does not. This is incorrect and leads to being a shitty husband and stupid divorces.

        And, of course, there is plenty of errors on the shitty wife side. Not setting boundaries early and often setting the kids needs above her husband’s or even her own needs and the marriage’s needs. Good moms but shitty wives and stupid divorces.

        Is this kind of what you were thinking of when you asked the original question? Do you have any thoughts on my analysis that might be different? I’m trying to figure this stuff out so anything you might add would be helpful.

        Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Donkey,

        Let me add on a bit here with my monster example

        Extra requirement 1. He must understand and empathize with her need before he will accept her influence to change.

        He must agree there really are monsters under the bed before he will help his wife with her fear of monsters.

        This is incorrect and leads him to dismiss her needs rather than working on a win-win solution together.

        Extra requirement 2. He must be asked in a pleasant tone of voice with expressed appreciation for all he does before he will even consider accepting her influence. If he doesn’t feel appreciated and respected, he rejects the need to even consider her request.

        If she is freaked out by the fear of monsters and screams or cries at him to “you don’t care that I am going to be eaten by the monsters, you never care about me. You are a shitty husband” He must not argue the point about all the many, many times she is discounting his helpful responses to her in the history of their marriage. She is not talking out of her cognitive brain at that point but her primitive amygdala. That is the brain that must be soothed first. “I am so sorry you are freaked out, of course, I will help you.” Then you can add “but I need you to not call me a shitty husband when you ask for my help because that makes it harder for me to help you.”

        Something like that.

        Like

      • Donkey says:

        Lisa, now it was really clear to me, thank you. :)

        I find it aggravating when some shitty husbands (people really, but I’m talking about heterosexual relationships here and as we know, women are better at accepting influence in heterosexual relationship) protest against even a hint of disrespect in her tone of voice when she’s bringing something up. I agree with you, of course everyone must strive to be respectful, not show contempt and name call and so on, absolutely, but still.

        A lot of the time, the reason she is bringing something up in the first place is because he has, perhaps unintentionally (but if it happens a lot Steve can no longer claim moral innocence), treated her with disrespect (by not doing his fair share, not doing what he promised, not accepting influence from her the same way she does with him and so on).

        It’s such a double standard. Maybe even a tripple standard, if that’s a thing (you’re good with numbers, fell free to figure this out if you wish, hehe). It’s ok for him to treat her disrespectfully, but if she has a hint of disrespect in her voice while bringing his disrespectful treatment of her to his attention, THAT is somehow both worse than what he did, AND something that he feels is so serious that it must be adressed? Her smaller bit of disrespect is both worse than his bigger bit of disrespect, and he’s not willing to stop (maybe not even acknowledge) the bigger disrespect he’s showing her, but insists that she must stop the smaller disrespect she’s showing him?

        You know what, that is a shit sandwich right there, not a burger, and it is not safe for consumption! 8)

        Of course, if the first time a husband leaves a dish by the sink, the wife calls him a worthless piece of shit or just seethes with contempt, then I absolutely believe her disrespect is much worse! But in my opinion, many typically shitty husband behavours, like not doing what you promised, not accepting influence when your partner does it for you, not being responsible for your fair share (all of this x1000 as the years go by), is a worse form of disrespect than not having a perfectly loving and 100% appreciative tone of voice when you bring unfairness/a problem to your partner’s attention. And even if someone doesn’t think it’s worse (believe it or not, I’m not the absolute moral authority on everything in the universe so I could be wrong :p), it’s still disrespectful. And it’s just not fair to insist that your partner treats you respectfully if you’re not willing to be respectful to them.

        I’ve seen similar things happen between women (a double standard when it comes to who’s “allowed” to disrespect the other and to what degree), so I definitely think this is a human thing that often happens when there’s unacknowledged entitlement of some sort going on. I believe I behaved somewhat like this with a female friend when I was younger. :( I have owned up to a lot of it with her (but not all, because I’m so ashamed and I’m scared she’ll hate me) and tried to make some meaningful amends.

        Like

      • Donkey says:

        Lisa, you said: “Do you have any thoughts on my analysis that might be different? I’m trying to figure this stuff out so anything you might add would be helpful”.
        I don’t have anything more to add at this moment. :S

        A couple of non-related things Lisa:

        I remember you asked in another post about how you could talk with your daughter about sex, since she runs screaming from you. :p I was thinking, how about you write her e-mails? With clear (perhaps numbered, hehe) points you want to make? You can including other resources (public resources you can agree with, books, hough I remember you said you’ve given her some already).

        It’s probably not as good as honest and trusting conversation would be, but frankly, sometimes perfection just isn’t possible and we have to go for option B, which can still be pretty good! Of course, there’s always the chance that she’ll delete the emails, but it’ll probably be less embarassing for her to read them alone than having these conversations with her mom face to face. 8) You say your daughter is a Bill, so there’s maybe a good chance that if you can get her to promise to read your emails that she’ll do it?

        I also heard something I thought was a very good suggestion by one of the many therapists Oprah has had on her show (I think it was Gary something, but frankly, I’m too lazy to find out right now). He suggested (if I remember correctly):

        1. You pick another adult (or adults, maybe if there’s a couple) you trust to make very wise choices and make an agreement with them.

        2. The agreement will be that your kids can come to them if they have problem that they just don’t feel that they can talk to you about, because they’re too embarassed or ashamed and so on. Of course you’ll encourage your kids to come to you with anything and everything, especially the “bad” and embarassing stuff, but if they just can’t, they can go to this other adult. (I remember my mother saying something like I could never bee too drunk/drugged/messed up too come home, that was nice to hear as a teen, even if I was reasonaby well behaved.)

        3. You agree with this other adult (or adults) both that they can give your kids advice/help your kids with their problem, and that they will keep this secret from you for as long as your kids should wish it. Even if that means forever and ever and ever, and that you’ll never know what happened, or indeed that anything happened at all. So it’s extremely important that you pick someone you trust will give good advice that aligns with your values! If i had kids and they hit someone while driving drunk, I would not want the other adult to advice them to keep quiet about it for instance.

        4. You tell your kids about the agreement, and provide contact information and everything for the other adult(s).

        Lisa, in the Magic Sex potion post (hehe), you said (to Marilyn Sims I believe):

        “One of the reasons I like to read this blog and comments is to be challenged to understand which of the things I am absolutely sure of at the moment is a pile of shit”

        “One thing I have learned along this painful process is to constantly question what I and anyone else thinks is absolutely true. So much of what I was convinced was true two years ago was absolutely dysfunctional”

        Yes!!!! I too want to understand what, at the moment, I’m sure of is a pile of shit (made by me or by someone else). I can be wrong of course, but so can anyone else, no matter how sure they (we) are of their (our) own interpretation of reality. We are all capeable of being Steve! But then again, I must start somewhere, and figuring out what I’m convinced of, as of now, is definitely in my reality a pile of shit is a good place to start!

        Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Donkey: Quoting me “One of the reasons I like to read this blog and comments is to be challenged to understand which of the things I am absolutely sure of at the moment is a pile of shit”

        “One thing I have learned along this painful process is to constantly question what I and anyone else thinks is absolutely true. So much of what I was convinced was true two years ago was absolutely dysfunctional”

        Donkey said Yes!!!! I too want to understand what, at the moment, I’m sure of is a pile of shit (made by me or by someone else). I can be wrong of course, but so can anyone else, no matter how sure they (we) are of their (our) own interpretation of reality. We are all capeable of being Steve! But then again, I must start somewhere, and figuring out what I’m convinced of, as of now, is definitely in my reality a pile of shit is a good place to start!

        Yes I agree you have to keep learning to keep shoveling the shit out and bringing the truth in. It’s like shoveling shit behind a bunch of horses. It keeps on coming!

        Here’s a quote I live by:

        “My students dismayed when I say to them:
        “Half of what you are taught as medical students will in 10 years have been shown to
        be wrong. And the trouble is, none of your teachers knows which half.” (Dr Sydney Burwell, Dean of Harvard Medical School).”

        I have to learn all the stuff the experts (or general public sentiment) have available knowing half of it is wrong. And they don’t know it’s wrong. And I don’t know which half is wrong. But it doesn’t mean it’s not worth learning because half of it is right! It’s my job to figure out which half helps me to be a better healthy adult. And whatever I can use to get me to the next level of maturity is helpful even if it’s not exactly right.

        And, at least half of the stuff I am sure of because of my personal or anecdotal experience, is probably wrong too. And even if I do figure things out, life happens to shake up the kalidescope so the whole thing is different and I have to start over.

        It doesn’t mean there is no reliable base of knowledge only that I have to constantly question my certainty and everyone else’s at what we know. But I also have to be certain enough of what I believe to change and take the next step. Shovel in hand.

        Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Donkey. You said: “It’s such a double standard. Maybe even a tripple standard, if that’s a thing …It’s ok for him to treat her disrespectfully, but if she has a hint of disrespect in her voice while bringing his disrespectful treatment of her to his attention, THAT is somehow both worse than what he did, AND something that he feels is so serious that it must be adressed? Her smaller bit of disrespect is both worse than his bigger bit of disrespect, and he’s not willing to stop (maybe not even acknowledge) the bigger disrespect he’s showing her, but insists that she must stop the smaller disrespect she’s showing him?

        You know what, that is a shit sandwich right there, not a burger, and it is not safe for consumption! 8)”

        Yes! I totally agree and it’s one of the things that drives me crazy about a lot of marriage books and counsellors. They focus on the woman’s harsh start up as the beginning of the cycle and it’s not really the beginning. She is responding to something he has said or done.

        Ok, it’s been a few days so I am breaking out some cool Gottman stats! In heterosexual marriages, the woman brings up an issue 80% of the time. I would venture a guess that it is closer to 100% in the common anxious female/avoidant male pattern. Why wouldn’t it be closer to 50/50?

        Well, lots of reasons but we will focus on this one. Her husband has done something she finds disrespectful. In Gottman’s research harsh startups to conversations are toxic to relationships. And since 80% of the time women are the initiators they are the ones guilty of harsh startups.

        “Harsh Startup (from Gottman’s blog)

        The most obvious indicator that a conflict discussion (and marriage) is not going to go well is the way it begins. When a discussion leads off with criticism and/or sarcasm (a form on contempt), it has begun with a “harsh startup.”

        The research shows that if your discussion begins with a harsh startup, it will inevitably end on a negative note. Statistics tell the story: 96% of the time, you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the interaction.”

        Is it all her fault then as so many books and therapists will tell you? She is starting the whole thing by not whispering sweet nothings into his ear and telling him how awesome he is for no good reason? Is she too emotional, too hormonal to bring up things in a rational way?

        Just for fun, let’s consult the research.

        “Remarkably, harsh startup by women in the conflict discussion was predictable by the male partner’s disinterest or irritability
        in the ‘events of the day’ discussion.

        This revealed that the quality of the couple’s friendship, especially as maintained by men, was critical in understanding conflict.”

        Ah, it appears women who use harsh startups ARE rational after all. She is responding to her husband’s disrespect towards her. That is the beginning of the cycle. She is just continuing disrespect with disrespect in her harsh startup.

        Now obviously, this is not going to solve the problem. As we learned in preschool, two wrongs don’t make a right but let’s at least correctly understand that there are two wrongs involved and not just the wife’s harsh start up.

        And often, what men think of as their wive’s irrational responses are very rational. But because he doesn’t understand that, he continues the cycle by dismissing her and that cycle leads to stupid divorces.

        Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Donkey,

        I can’t let the women off the hook for their harsh startups though. All healthy adults should know how to respond effectively when someone treats us disrespectfully. Is it hard?

        Yes, yes it is. But, sadly for me cause I suck at it, it’s not really optional to know this skill, use it appropriately, and apologize when I fail cause I’m human. So what is a poor girl to do when her man does something she finds disrespectful?

        1. Set healthy boundaries early. Do not adapt. I’ve talked about this in a lot of other comments. Brene Brown said that the healthiest people are the MOST boundaried. Setting healthy boundaries allow us to feel safe enough to be vulnerable.

        2. Recognize that you are now in the David Scnarch high desire position in asking for change. Ok this kind of sucks but so does adulthood. If I want my husband to change his behavior to treat me fairly, I cannot afford myself the luxury of as satisfying harsh start up in response to his disrespect.

        I must make it easy for him to give me what I am asking for. The biggest piece of this is non-judgment. I must thread the needle if calling out the behavior and asking for change but also treating it as an understandablly human reaction.

        He is your friend and lover not your enemy. The goal should be to help him treat you respectfully. And I will predictably cause him to be flooded with stress hormones and he will stonewall and withdraw if I use a blaming harsh startup (85% of stonewallers are men).

        It’s all very predictable and I must know that. I most work very hard to respond to disrespect with respect. To have humor and goodwill in the mix. To calm amygdalas so we can be reasonable.

        It can’t be just the wife though. Very few humans are zen master relationship black belts to be able to sustain a one sided respect to constant disrespect. Even if you could, it’s not healthy to allow that pattern.

        He must be willing to accept influence and compromise when good will is shown and it’s all good. If not, you gotta level up.

        This was not at all brief, but I’m killing time quoting Gottman waiting for my daughter. ;)

        2.

        Like

  15. Mike says:

    Lisa and Donkey,

    Yes, same Mike as before. The one with the crumbling marriage.

    This is a really good discussion. Really makes me take a hard look at how I react and proact with my kids vs. with my wife.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Donkey says:

      Mike,

      Hello again! :) Crossing my fingers for your marriage! I may sound all airy fairy, but I believe that even should your marriage fail, every time someone *gets it*, owns their shit in some situation, recognizes the shit sandwiches they’ve both served and been served and tries to deal with them, our collective human consciousness grows just a little bit healthier. So hopefully, in a few generations, healthy relationships will be absorbed through osmosis by kids growing up.

      I don’t want to stereotype men as being all the same or to underappreciate all the great female commenters here, but it’s almost always useful for me to hear a man’s honest point of view, since that is less accessable to me.

      I remember you said you were not good at putting your thoughts in writing or something like that? I disagree, at least from what I’ve read by you here. I feel that I understand what you’re trying to say with your comments, and you say it with fewer words than me, for instance. :p I must admit, brevity is more often than not a good thing!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      Mike,

      Can you see any differences between how you responded to your wife vs your kids?

      Like

      • Mike says:

        Lisa,

        Yes, big differences. If my wife complained or threw a temper tantrum, I would get defensive. If she continued to push it, I would withdraw (stonewall). When my kids complain or throw a temper tantrum I try to figure out why or what is the deeper issue. Then I try to validate their feelings and find common ground to unite with them. I have caught myself starting to withdraw from my kids when things have turned into a meltdown. I have put a stop to that. (my withdrawing)

        Like

  16. OK, I love “Godsmack” – going to borrow that one.

    But – Mothermoon? To answer your question a bit bluntly – you CAN’T. You cannot make him realize what he “should” do. And neither is his role your responsibility.

    Sure, you can talk, nag, suggest, cajole, bribe…you can solicit help from family, friends, and the internet. But it won’t MAKE him DO it. Like a kid facing a plate of steamed broccoli, it’s his job to pick up the fork and actually EAT it, no matter how appetizing it looks or how much cheese sauce you poured on it. (And, being his ex, he might not truly trust that what you’re dishing up is in his best interest to digest, either.)

    The good news? That isn’t your job.

    Your only job is to make your son #1. It’s impossible to steer the carriage you’re not riding; your near-ex will need to pick up the reigns on his own cart. You take care of your boy and of you, and the rest will be whatever it is…and you’ll both be OK.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Monthemoon says:

      Hi KatieComeBack! Thanks for your words. I think you are absolutely right. I can’t make him realize it and neither is my job. It’s his. And his responsibility. I simply want the best for my son, and I will always try to be a better mom for him. Now I just need to learn how not to feel guilty about the other half of his parenting that is out of my control.
      My ex just doesn’t see he has never taken real care of the child. That’s one of the many things that I used to complain to him about when we were together. But a few days ago, he said he wants our son to be half of the time with him and the other with me when we start living apart. I think he just wants to prove (the world?) that he is a superdad and that my complains were nonsense. I have taken care of my son almost all the time since he was born. There are so many things of the childcare he has never done (because he was not interested), and that he doesn’t even know about, that I “fear” he is going to be negligent with our son. I do not mean mistreat him, let me stress that. But negligent. The same way he was a negligent partner with me.
      Maybe I just have to accept it’s out of my control and can’t do nothing about it. But at the same time it’s just so difficult to see something that my hurt my son coming and being unable to do something about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tina says:

        Monthemoon

        I am in much the same situation. My son is special needs and while my near ex “loves” him in a feelings sort of way he has never put in the work to love him actively or be involved in his care. It’s not an exaggeration to say I’m terrified for him every time I drop him off. But so far while my near ex has not necessarily done things well – there’s been no harm done either. I’ll give you the same advice I was given. Hope for the best but document the hell out of everything that happens in case of the worst.

        Like

      • A lot of it IS out of your control….You actually have very little say in what happens with your kids when they’re at the ex’s house. I hear this from newly separated folks frequently – don’t make yourself crazy over it because unless there is abuse THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO. He can have a new girlfriend over every time and let your son play video games and eat nothing but Doritos and that’s just a “different parenting style.” As maddening as it is, it’s wasted energy to focus on it – and that part isn’t your job.

        All you can do is be the best Mom you can be. Part of that job is supporting the relationship between him and his dad, who will either step up or step back while you watch. Just be there to catch your son; it’s truly the best you can do….

        Hugs. This is so hard.

        Like

      • Monthemoon says:

        Thanks Tina and KatieComeBack.

        Tina, I’ll do as you say and were advised, “hope for the best, document everything that happens in case of the worst”. I absolutely believe you about being terrified when you drop your son given your circumstances. I really hope both your near ex and mine step up for the sake of their children. Somehow it makes me feel better to see there are other people fearing for their children when being with ex partners out there. At least I feel a little less alone.

        KatieComeBack, I kind of feel terrible for what I’m about to say, but you are absolutely right. Anything that is not abuse is indeed “different parenting style”. So from now on I will try to use that ‘wasted energy’ for other purposes. I have barely had a life of my own since my son was born, because I had to look after him all the time. I’ll try to shut down my ‘mom’ side when my son is with his dad and put all my energy in myself. Thanks a lot, really.

        Like

  17. Tina says:

    Lisa- I think you just delivered a godsmack to me. I was a shitty wife. I was a very good mother but that is NOT the SAME as being a good wife. And my near ex (stealing that from you KatieComeBack) being a shitty husband and a shitty father does not excuse me being a shitty wife. I instinctively want to push back against this and say yeah well he was shittier – at least I never cheated on him but you know what? Even his adultery does not excuse my being a shitty wife who always put the kids over his and the relationship’s needs. Neither of our shittyness excuses the others. We each have to own our own shit. Meaning I have to own mine. I think I need to crawl away and meditate on this awhile. Shit!

    Like

    • Lisa Gottman says:

      Tina,

      I don’t know if it helps, but I was a shitty wife too in a lot of ways.

      Like

    • Mike says:

      Tina and Lisa,

      How did you figure out you were a shitty wife? Mine accepts no blame for our crumbling marriage. I figured out I was shitty, thanks to Matt and I immediately admitted it to her and started to change. She did nothing. Still hasn’t. Now she is doing even shittier things and accepts no responsibility for any of it. I realize I can’t make her see the light and if I tried to it would backfire anyway. But what did it for you?

      Like

      • Lisa Gottman says:

        Mike,

        Well obviously I don’t know your wife and everyone’s situation is different. I think you said in another post you were a “Steve” for a long time in your marriage?

        If so, your wife may he feeling years of frustration and resentment that make it hard (or maybe even unhelpful at this stage?) for her to see any part of it. It might all be on your for a while until she trusts you a little bit more.

        Having said all that I am an unproud member of the shitty wife club who for many years thought it was all my shitty husbands fault with me having a minor piece in it here or there. What changed my mind?

        Well in my case, I started being a shitty mom to my teenage daughter. As I started reading and soul searching about what healthy love really looks like I discovered all the shit I thought ones doing right was really a manifestation of an anxious attachment style and a whole lot of dysfunctional ways of trying to makie people love me.

        A whole lot of lack of relationship skills in certain key areas. And I considered myself to be pretty good with people. But you can be good in some areas and fail in others.

        The more I read of Attachment theory and Gottman’s research of healthy love, the more I realized that I was guilty of shitty behaviors and that I lacked true understanding.

        I then read a lot more stuff to understand what healthy relationships look like. But as I said in one if my other comments I am a researchy person, other people do it differently.

        Now the next part may be applicable to you. I couldn’t see my part clearly until I understood the big picture cycles involved. It is a dance of dysfunctionality. Usually it is two people responding and triggering each other’s interlocking sensitivities. An under functioner marries and over functioner, an anxiously attached marries an avoidant etc., A harsh start up causes stonewalling and withdrawal.

        The more one side triggers the other the more exaggerated the differences are. The more hopeless it seems. The more incompatible you seem even though it’s not the differences that matter, everyone has differences, it’s having the skills to deal with them in healthy ways.

        Understanding all this is what made me realize my part but my husbands willingness to admit his shitty ways and really commit to change was also a critical piece. I am so done putting up with shit sandwiches!!! I have to be convinced the shit sandwich stand is condemned and closed. I was done with pushing the rock up the hill by myself.

        I know your wife is in withdrawal so your situation is different but is she aware if the big picture cycles? is she just past the point of caring right now?

        Have you changed your behaviors and attitudes so she can be convinced that shit sandwiches are gone forever?

        I wish I had better insight. I know you said you are working hard on your marriage on your end. I am glad you add your insight here.

        Like

      • Tina says:

        Mike-

        How? Well I’m still figuring it out so its kind of hard to answer that. I’ve been in counseling which helped me start to see the larger patterns and see my part in them. I read a lot. Here as well as books etc. That also has helped. I have some good friends that will commiserate with me on how shitty my ex is without letting me off the hook for my parts. People who will tell you hard truths are hard to find and good to keep around. But the truth is I think I’m still just starting to see the ways in which I was a shitty wife. And trust me I don’t like to look at it – I’d much rather enumerate the many ways my near ex was shitty. I could spend days expounding on that topic. But in the end I don’t think that would help me much. We are done, over, the fat lady has sung. So looking at my own shit is the only thing that might help me moving forward – so that I don’t make the same mistakes again.

        One thing I will caution you on – nothing shuts down my introspection and efforts to improve myself faster or harder than my shitty near ex telling me how shitty I was. That may be because he has never acknowledged his shit or apologized for any of it but it may be more than that too. I do have to say that after the mountains of shit I put up with (poor boundaries being just one of the ways I was shitty at marriage) I’m not sure I’d accept the first or maybe even the 5th apology. I don’t know how many it would take and he is not interested in offering any – he’s too busy with his mistress. Hence the over, done, put a fork in it.

        Like

  18. Mike says:

    Lisa,

    That is us – right now she is resentful and I believe she has just made up her mind to be done with the marriage. She can’t see the big picture cycles. For us it was her harsh start ups and my stonewalling/withdrawal. It played over and over, year after year. Now that I’ve figured out my part, I so want her to figure out hers so we can enjoy the marriage we had dreamed of. Unfortunately, she isn’t one to examine herself or her role. She has told me several times – good relationships just happen, no one has to work at it.

    I have changed my behaviors, but right now there is no opportunity for her to see that. We are physically separated and there is very limited contact. I know I need to be patient, but that is very tough.

    Thanks for all your contributions.

    Like

    • Donkey says:

      You said: “I have changed my behaviors, but right now there is no opportunity for her to see that. We are physically separated and there is very limited contact. I know I need to be patient, but that is very tough”

      In our previous exchange it became quite clear to me that you were truly seriously working on saving your marriage, so maybe I can’t add anything helpful. But I do have a suggestion that perhaps could help with this problem, if you haven’t already done it.

      You can tell her, maybe via email, what you’ve learnt about the cycle. I would advise you to include another heartfelt apology and responsibility taking, even if you’ve done it before – Steve probably owes his wife some more of that. Definitely focus on your part and not hers, and VERY importantly, what steps you are taking and have taken to adress it, and suggestions for how things could be different were she to accept you back! Like the weekly talk to deal with problems I suggested. Maybe you can also suggest half an hour of couple time each day, (make a specific suggestion that would have worked with your schedules when you were still living together, if nights were busy, why not a morning bonding time instead) where you just focus on eachother, talk and snuggle.

      That way, even though she can’t see your new behaviours in practice for herself, she can still know about them, and see that there are actions and realism behind them and not just talk of “I’ll change, I promise”.

      Like

      • Donkey says:

        And Mike, please be sure to take care of yourself as best you can. Even though you need to stay strong and patient for this, you can also take care of your health, give yourself small pleasures every day, reach out to people and so on. Even if you can only manage a few things regarding your self care, that’s way better than nothing. Virtual hug if you want it!

        Like

  19. Donkey says:

    1. “She has told me several times – good relationships just happen, no one has to work at it”
    Ok, that is just wrong.

    2. I remember Zombiedrew wrote something to you about healthy boundaries, and I do think that’s very important. In the long run, you can’t carry everything and fix everything alone, just like she can’t.

    3. But like Lisa says, if you’ve been Steve for many years, it needs to be you who work at things for a long while. If she is working towards resolution, she has a big initial job of her own in overcoming the hurt and anger she feels, in being able to trust again.

    4. If you were to get back together, you probably hold a lot of power in being able to stop her harsh start ups just by changing your own behaviour, whether or not she is intereted in working on that herself. I’m quoting Lisa here, who’s quoting research by Gottman (further up in the comments section of this post):

    “Remarkably, harsh startup by women in the conflict discussion was predictable by the male partner’s disinterest or irritability in the ‘events of the day’ discussion.

    This revealed that the quality of the couple’s friendship, especially as maintained by men, was critical in understanding conflict.”

    The beginning of the cycle isn’t the woman’s harsh start up (although people are responsible for their own part of course). The beginning of the cycle is the husband not showing interest or being irritable when he’s talking with his wife about neutral, everyday stuff (that can feel very hurtful to her, like he’s rejecting her and doesn’t care about her). Maybe he was tired or bored or hungry, or there was some other reason, I don’t know. But the research shows that when husbands show interest in the conversation, the wife uses a soft start up. Apparently in happy couples, wives still bring up difficult topics the majority of the time. But because of the quality of the friendship, they start the discussion nicely, probably because they trust that their man cares about her and that he’ll take her concerns seriously.

    Of course, that’s not to say that this is always the case or that it is the case with you. And it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t share a par of the responsibility. But it really seems like the male withdrawer holds a lot of power in making the relationship good.

    Like

Join the Conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: