It Doesn’t Jive Because We’d Just Assume Do Things the Wrong Way

Ptolemy's geocentric model of the solar system

Everything revolves around Earth. We can actually “prove” that. Right? (Image/Khan Academy)

Donkey wrote: “Matt has a post about leaving his crying wife in the hospital after giving birth/having a C-section. Lisa said her husband did something similar (he now can’t believe how he could do that, so credit to him and Matt both for having realized the extreme shittiness of that. Grrrr. Honestly, thinking about it just makes me feel some kind of immense primal rage).
“Do you have any idea as to the thought process of a shitty husband (who isn’t a Dick who gets off on abusing his wife) who makes that ok in his mind? That after 9 months (usually) of pregnancy and the woman, really, risking her life during childbirth/ C-section often suffering through a lot of pain, and then is also left alone with their newborn, it’s ok for him to go to get a good night sleep and leave his crying wife who’s begging him to stay alone?
“I can understand that some people wouldn’t be hurt by a dish by the sink and all of that (and we’ve already had the conversation about accepting influence even if you don’t understand), and I remember Matt saying it was hard for him to empathize with people’s physical discomfort that ha couldn’t relate to. I understand that men can’t really get how pregnancy/birth feels like. But still, isn’t childbirth very much accepted as a VERY Big Deal, a painful and stressful and high risk deal in our society, and that the role of the modern man is to support his wife however she needs? I would think leaving your wife alone after childbirth when she’s crying and begging you to stay would be just as obvious a faux pas as cheating (again, for me, I believe I’d rather have the father of my child cheat on me with 10 prostitutes than leave me crying alone in the hospital after having our baby).
“Matt, if you have any more explanations of your thought process you want to share, I would appreciate that too of course. I’m really just trying to understand the (faulty and frankly, like Lisa said, narcissistic) thought process, because I just don’t get it.”

I left my crying wife alone in the hospital like an asshole just hours after she delivered our son via emergency C-section.

It was a long and difficult labor for her. The doctor induced labor 26 hours and 24 minutes prior to the time of delivery, give or take a few minutes or a false memory.

The anxiety, fear, stress and physical discomfort my wife felt after nine months of pregnancy, followed by a long, painful, vulnerably exposed and at times terrifying delivery ending in emergency surgery, is something only a mother could possibly know.

I won’t pretend to.

But I can understand today in a way I did not eight years ago, what a betrayal and moment of abandonment that was for my ex-wife. She was in pain, frightened, and needed someone simply to BE PRESENT with her. To feel loved and supported. And she asked me to stay. Begged, even.

And I made a different choice.

After years of reflection and additional wisdom earned only by living longer, I can see and understand how much that moment damaged my relationship in a way I couldn’t at the time. I think it’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever done.

Not only did I not recognize that moment for what it was, when my wife would bring it up later as an instance in which I hurt her, I’d actually get mad at her for holding grudges and using the past against me. I’d treat her like she was the problem because she had anger issues she needed to work out. Like there was something wrong with her, because clearly there is nothing wrong with me!

After all, everyone else liked me and thought I was a great guy. She must be wrong since she’s the only one saying it!

I didn’t do all of those things as part of some meticulously planned and conspiratorial attempt to inflict maximum emotional damage on my newborn son’s mother—the woman I vowed to love forever—nor did I defend myself in later disagreements as part of a thoughtful strategy to make her feel shitty, push her away and ultimately destroy my marriage, leaving my little boy with divorced parents and a broken home.

What was the thought process? 

There kind of wasn’t one.

I thought my choices were, if not “best,” at least reasonable every step of the way, and at any point in which there was disagreement, I believed I was correct, and that she was incorrect.

I Make Mistakes Like Every Known Human, Ever

For 1,500 years, early astronomers used Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the solar system to create astronomical charts. “Geocentric” means Earth is the center of the universe, and everything in the night sky is orbiting around it.

Today, we know this isn’t true. Nicolaus Copernicus got suspicious and theorized we were actually the ones moving around the sun. Later, Italian genius Galileo Galilei proved it.

But for 1,500 years prior, every educated person in the world believed the sun revolved around Earth. And it wasn’t because everyone was a bunch of stupid morons. Given the mathematical parameters and limited technology of that time, you can PROVE Ptolemy’s model.

For 1,500 years, every scientist, navigator, educator and thought leader in the world knew how the sun, moon and stars would move in the sky. They could “prove” it convincingly by accurately predicting what would happen next, even though EVERYTHING about their prediction model was based on something completely untrue.

(Note: The following is NOT directed at you, Donkey. I genuinely appreciate your question, and it’s my pleasure to write more about it, because it’s important. I’m simply trying to illustrate my point further.)

You’d just assume your husband or boyfriend cheat on you with 10 prostitutes as opposed to leaving you alone at the hospital after giving birth?

No.

You’d just as soon have that happen.

That doesn’t jive with your expectations of a husband and new father?

No.

It doesn’t jibe with your expectations.

Because I’ve had some wonderful editors through the years who have taught me things, I no longer make the common mistake of saying or writing “assume” when I mean “as soon,” nor do I make the even more-common mistake of saying or writing “jive” when I really mean “jibe.”

I learned the “assume” one in my early twenties when I was the editor of a semi-large university newspaper and working as a summer intern for a daily newspaper. I learned the “jive” one in my late twenties after more than 10 years of being paid to write things.

I didn’t use the two phrases incorrectly on purpose. I remember feeling quite a bit of embarrassment when I realized how many times I must have used each phrase incorrectly up to that point, and how some of the people who heard or read that from me knew I was an ignorant dumbass.

Until I was in a very specific, focused moment in which someone with more knowledge and experience than me corrected my mistake and helped me learn from it, I never even had reason to question the legitimacy of my word usage.

I KNEW I was correct. You know? Even though I was actually incorrect?

You Are Biased and Selfish Without Realizing It

That’s the first of eight reasons Why You Can’t Trust Yourself, according to one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson.

He writes:

“There’s a thing in psychology called the Actor-Observer Bias and it basically says that we’re all assholes.

“For example, if you’re at an intersection and somebody else runs a red light, you will probably think they’re a selfish, inconsiderate scumbag putting the rest of the drivers in danger just to shave a couple seconds off their drive.

“On the other hand, if you are the one who runs the red light, you’ll come to all sorts of conclusions about how it’s an innocent mistake, how the tree was blocking your view, and how running a red light never really hurt anybody.

“Same action, but when someone else does it they’re a horrible person; when you do it, it’s an honest mistake.

“We all do this. And we especially do it in situations of conflict. When people talk about someone who pissed them off for one reason or another, they invariably describe the other person’s actions as senseless, reprehensible, and motivated by a malicious intent to inflict suffering.

“However, when people talk about times when they inflicted harm on someone else, as you might suspect, they can come up with all sorts of reasons about how their actions were reasonable and justified. The way they see it, they had no choice to do what they did. They see the harm experienced by the other person as minor and they think that being blamed for causing it is unjust and unreasonable.

“Both views can’t be right. In fact, both views are wrong. Follow-up studies by psychologists found that both perpetrators and the victims distort the facts of a situation to fit their respective narratives.

“Steven Pinker refers to this as the ‘Moralization Gap.’ It means that whenever a conflict is present, we overestimate our own good intentions and underestimate the intentions of others. This then creates a downward spiral where we believe others deserve more severe punishment and we deserve less severe punishment.

“This is all unconscious, of course. People, while doing this, think they’re being completely reasonable and objective. But they’re not.”

What if We Assumed the Best About One Another?

I don’t pose the question as any sort of defense of the behavior I now believe to have been emotionally abusive.

But the validity of the question remains: How much better might our relationships be if, when something happens and we’re missing too much information to KNOW why it happened, we tell ourselves the most generous, best-possible story to explain it rather than the most cynical, or worst-possible explanation?

One of the most famous and important scenes in the Harry Potter saga takes place near the end of the sixth (second-to-last) book. You either know the story and what I’m talking about, or you should start reading the Harry Potter books right now. Yes, adults. Even you.

Seconds before death, a beloved character faces his killer and says “Please.”

It seems like a man begging for his life to be spared. But his life isn’t spared. Other characters in the book are horrified, as are the emotionally invested readers.

In the absence of information we later learn, the killing seems like the malicious work of an evil murderer. But once the story is told fully, we realize the killer was actually GOOD, and the dying man’s “please” wasn’t a mercy plea, but rather a request for his secret ally to kill him in order to protect a confused teenager from becoming a murderer or from suffering punishment for refusing to.

Not unlike the scientific community during the Ptolemaic period of astronomy versus the scientific community today, we believed one thing under one set of facts, and as more information was gathered, we came to believe something else, which turned out to be the truth.

I left my wife alone in that hospital because I didn’t know better.

It wasn’t my fault. It was simply my responsibility.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

We make choices, learning things along the way. Stuff happens, and we are all constantly interpreting the things happening around us with limited information. Sometimes we’re right. Much of the time, we’re wrong.

In this case, I was wrong, and am deeply sorry for the damage I caused. There are millions of guys out there doing these exact same things. Hurting their spouses accidentally, even when they are told their actions are hurtful. They STILL don’t know. It’s the Secret About Men Most Women Don’t Know.

But I can’t do anything about yesterday. I can only do something about tomorrow.

Life’s too short. I want to live it well.

That jibes with who I want to be. Because I’d just as soon be part of the solution.

By actually doing things the right way.

…..

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229 thoughts on “It Doesn’t Jive Because We’d Just Assume Do Things the Wrong Way

  1. […] Matt is a wonderful blogger, a divorced dad over at Must Be This Tall to Ride, who quite bravely has been trying to tackle explaining why he left his crying wife alone in the […]

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  2. shannon says:

    I want to clarify a few things. One, my Hulk analogy was to show that it is not the bad thing someone did that is the problem, it is doubling down on it by defending it. Recently, two very good friends divorced. He did something bad. She and I sat for 3 weekends figuring out a pragmatic fix and trying to save the marriage. He, however, never accounted for and apologized. That was it for her. After they signed the papers, they stood hugging and crying outside the bewildered lawyer’s office.

    Two, I do not have a “technique” and I was very upfront about saying how absolutely horrible I was. I was a relationship suicide bomber. Here is why it “worked”.

    1. I did indeed try every conceivable way to get my husband to understand over the years. I love the guy but he just could not get it.

    2. and probably most important though I do not recommend you try this at home. He watched his cheerful, competent, industrious wife, the one that can beat City Hall, figure out 5 solutions to almost any problem,go through cancer with aplomb, pull together a fund raiser for the neighborhood in 3 weeks – he watched that person, due to the family situation, dissolve into a person who wept quietly for hours, who avoided all social circumstances, including the grocery store, in case someone asked “how are you” and created a public meltdown. He saw a woman who did not sleep an entire night for a year and a half, and walked the house in the am for hours. He saw someone who was never depressed fight the urge to follow in her mothers’ footsteps and end it all. And there was nothing he could do about any of it. It took that for him to lower his defenses, put aside his ego, be ready to face some pain and put in some work.

    3. the afore mentioned divorce

    4. running into a good friend who was just divorced by his lovely, sweet, submissive wife of 30 years. Devastated husband said over and over that he did not understand, while mine said to himself “I do – finally”.

    And last, reading Matt’s blogs. Which is why this particular thread is so important. Can you all see that tensions are building, people are getting raw and real, and we all have a chance to actually rehearse how to maintain our current or future marriages without penalty of divorce?

    Regarding my comments about sympathy. What I actually said is “that I think great pain is needed to grow and I do not have much sympathy for people who try to dodge pain.” Here is why.

    Pretend I am your wife and you are my beloved husband. I have sympathy for you. I want our lives to be good and our relationship to be good. As problems come up, I talk with you about them. You don’t really like what I am saying or the way I am saying it. You back off a little or get defensive. I am sympathetic to that so I back off a little. I pick up on the expression you make when you don’t want to hear what I am saying. I hear the sigh that says “there she goes again, making a big deal of nothing”. So I leave off the real issue because I don’t want to upset you – because I am sympathetic to you. Things don’t get better for ME, though, so I push a little harder. You get more annoyed and push back. I feel I am making you feel bad about yourself and despite the fact that you kind of should feel bad , I am sympathetic to you and really don’t want to hurt you that much. So I back off again. Over time, my sympathy for you creates a situation where you don’t hear when I bring up something yet again how much it bothers me, because you don’t have sympathy for me. You hear some version of nagging. I die a little more each day until one day, I say the most painful words of all to you “I want a divorce”. My sympathy for your feelings, my desire not to hurt you, your wish to avoid painful discussions or avoid my pain, means that all along the road, we paid the pain forward, in the name of love and sympathy, until the bitter, painful, too late to fix it end.

    My husband reads everything I write and this blog. When he read your last post, Travis, in which you said I said something that was just inaccurate enough to change it, and when you add that I “seem to be saying “I don’t care who he is….” when in fact, I did not “seem” to be saying anything but what I ACTUALLY SAID, he said this. “This guy doesn’t get it. His ego is in the way.” He also said, re: your comment about losing your cool, that you at least are “honest about your limitations.”

    Please do not do those things. Please do not rewrite what your wife actually said. Please work to listen to what she really means by listening to what she actually says. Please do not shut down or lose your cool when you don’t like her presentation. Please do not unknowingly steer her to back off because you are getting impatient or defensive or hurt. When you kind of shut down your wife, she is going to follow your lead, out of love and sympathy, until she cannot anymore.

    Thank you, Zombiedrew, for putting it another way with your comments about being hurt.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Travis B. says:

    shannon said,

    “when you add that I “seem to be saying “I don’t care who he is….” when in fact, I did not “seem” to be saying anything but what I ACTUALLY SAID, he said this. “This guy doesn’t get it. Please do not do those things. Please do not rewrite what your wife actually said.”

    It isn’t rewriting. It’s paraphrasing. It’s deriving meaning from what you’ve written. Words alone hold no weight if they do not communicate. Now if I misinterpreted what you wrote, please feel free to set me straight because I don’t want my comprehension to be built upon a fallacy, but simply reposting your exact word choice does not demonstrate I’ve understood your meaning.

    “Please work to listen to what she really means by listening to what she actually says. Please do not shut down or lose your cool when you don’t like her presentation.”

    I’ve gotten much better with this, but I think it’s a fair boundary to set that I won’t be treated, or spoken to, like I’m a child and my wife is my mother. Again, if that worked for your marriage, I’m proud of you and your husband, but to Lisa’s point about varied relationship dynamics and the lack of a one-size-fits-all approach to repairing them, I don’t feel that approach would work for me anymore than the way your husband’s former presentational style worked for you. I certainly am struggling with what I read as a directive that the wife should be allowed to express her frustrations in any manner she sees fit, but the husband shouldn’t.

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    • Travis B. says:

      Sorry, shannon, just in case it wasn’t clear, I’m not saying you’re talking to me like a child, only that the dynamic you and your husband worked through seemed to take on a mother-and-child quality.

      Like

    • Emilia says:

      The second you stop listening because the tone the person took was patronizing or irritated or soft is the second you lose, my former, used to not listen to me for the exact opposite reason and you can only imagine how that wrecked what we had. Tone policing makes people stop talking to you and can end up making people even more frustrated and irritated.

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      • Travis B. says:

        Emilia said,

        “The second you stop listening because the tone the person took was patronizing or irritated or soft is the second you lose, my former, used to not listen to me for the exact opposite reason and you can only imagine how that wrecked what we had. Tone policing makes people stop talking to you and can end up making people even more frustrated and irritated.”

        I would counter that if your spouse can’t speak to you with the level of respect they feel they should be afforded in return, it is at least worthy of consideration that “what you have” isn’t what you deserve. It’s not just my opinion–recent high-profile studies show that condescension is the number one indicator of likely divorce. Love dies without respect.

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  4. amommasview says:

    I think you learned, you matured. You made a massive mistake there. Maybe it’s keeping you from making other mistakes now or even kept you in the past. Who knows. Everyone is fast to judge. I admit, I think it was pretty bad of you. But you seem to have truly realized it. You would not do it again. And that’s what counts.

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  5. Reading this brought back a very painful memory, because my ex did something similar. His cult-buddies and their pet-project-of-the-week were too important to stay with me after giving birth to our second child. That really broke my heart badly, that and so many other things like it.

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  6. I have an ex who was very emotionally abusive towards me for 5 years. We’re still friendly, and we’ve talked about what a real dickhead he was. He even admitted that the real reason our relationship didn’t work out was because of him, and is own insecurities about being with a person who he thought was too cool for him. His claim is the same as yours; I didn’t know I was being an ass hole dear. That’s just like saying, I know I murdered your child, and I’m sorry, but God will forgive me. Men can realise that they’ve been horrible people to their partners, but it doesn’t give us women our self esteem back. It doesn’t give us back all the time we wasted with stupid men. The hurt remains forever.

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  7. shannon says:

    Matt addressed wives feeling like their husband is another child, and Travis talked about his response to his wife treating him like a child as well as partners speaking with contempt in their tone. Here is what women have talked about to me and what I have observed over and over; 1. they have a hard time actually saying what they mean, because directness makes them sound aggressive/bitchy. So they imply and the husbands don’t get it. 2. They sympathize, as I explained before, so they back down at cues from their husband that he does not really want to go there 3. the husbands have no idea that their wives are treating them like a child. The wife gathers a huge amount of patience, the husbands feel nurtured and humored, and the wives then exchange “that look” that is less an eye roll and more a sigh. 4. the wives fail to get their point across in strong terms, aka tones of anger, resentment, frustration, contempt, so the husband is blind sided when she finally has had it. In other words, she keeps her tone and her words respectful enough that he has no idea of the seething resentment underneath. As bad a tone that can be described as contemptuous is, at least it is a clear harbinger of how bad the marriage has become for the wife, and a huge red flag that the end is coming unless the husband begins to truly get it. I agree with Travis and all the studies that condescending tones and lack of respect are harbingers of divorce, but I dispute that contempt comes first and the marriage fails second. Contempt /lack of respect is the grave of the sick marriage, not the disease of the marriage.

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  8. genepavlovsky says:

    Matt,
    Not patronizing, just curious? What was the reason you didn’t stay there when you wife begged you to? My wife gave birth to our daughter in Thailand, where public hospitals don’t allow husbands to be present during birth. I was really trying to get IN there, not out of there. Luckily, right after birth she and the baby had a private room and I was allowed to stay there, even overnight. So we spent 3 nights in there, I just went out to buy some food and baby stuff and back.
    –Gene

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  9. L Nelson says:

    This story and overall blog resonates with me because I was (am) on the other end. After 6 years of happily dating, and a couple years of marriage, my husband gradually seemed to stop caring about by feelings, and being the helpful, considerate person he used to be.

    He left the hospital a few hours after our first was born, with my blessing, but then didn’t come back for 10-12 hours, and didn’t answer his cell. I was scared shit-less by then that something had happened to him, and now I had a baby that wouldn’t stop crying, and the lack of sleep for over 30 hours caught up with me. He went to a BBQ. He gave me a cursory apology, but didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. It was a huge deal.

    Life with a baby that didn’t sleep was tough. I was tired and cranky from the constant lack of sleep. He was kind and present, but barely changed a diaper, or helped me when I asked. In fact, he started asking me for more help than ever, even after I went back to work full-time.

    We accidentally got pregnant again a year or so later, and he went ballistic. He barely talked to me for a while, and never seemed close again. I was working full-time, tired and pregnant, and taking care of a toddler. He wouldn’t help with cooking, cleaning, kid stuff and would take off to go to concerts, networking events and more. He started complaining about everything. He started losing his temper and screaming about petty things. I was horrified and hurt. I’m sure I wasn’t perfect, but he eventually became extremely negative and hurtful, most of the time. He picked fights with me the whole time I was pregnant, and even in the hospital. I cried for a day after our 2nd was born.

    Fast forward several years of trying to make it better, counseling, ups and downs, and it’s still horrible. I work full time, and he’s been working barely part-time for a couple years. We are struggling financially, and can’t get along. He is completely inconsiderate now. I’m dying to leave him, but the kids and finances make it tough. I’ve given up hope that anything will turn around. It’s just a matter of time & money before I leave. Every time I save enough for a rent and deposit, we have some huge expense. Meanwhile, he says rude comments, doesn’t help much, doesn’t work much, complains all the time, and we sleep in separate rooms. It doesn’t have to be this way. He’s a jerk.

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    • Matt says:

      Goodness. I’m so sorry this is happening to you two and your children.

      All of our stories look and feel a little different, but so many of the core elements are the same.

      These are hard days, and you have my sincerest best wishes trying to work through them.

      You have a shitty husband.

      I don’t mean “bad” or “evil” or “abusive” or anything like that.

      I just mean he is (I hope) obliviously thoughtless and me-first, and I’d like to think it’s a sense of entitlement he inherited honestly. (That’s how it was for me, and I assume, many others.)

      Shitty husbands are not always bad men. I think they’re often decent guys. But they just suck ass at all of the skills one needs to properly foster healthy relationships.

      I hope he figures it out.

      I hope all of us do.

      Like

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