Safety and Trust in Relationships: Those Words Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

woman hiding under table



Author’s Note: I think the #1 problem in the world is how poorly humans manage their relationships. Even if you disagree, follow my logic, please. The biggest influence on whether our lives suck or are awesome is the quality of our closest relationships. For most of our lives, that’s the relationship with our spouses or long-term romantic partners. Human conflict is problematic everywhere. But when it’s two people who decided to pool resources and promised to love one another forever, and make and share children? It’s a crisis. The ripple-effect consequences know no bounds. Divorce breaks people, and then broken people break other things.

I think the #1 cause of divorce is relationship-damaging behavior by men who honestly don’t recognize it. Good men with good intentions who damage their wives’ emotional and mental health with behaviors they don’t understand to be as damaging as they are.

How? Why? There are no easy answers. But I think the closest one is: No one knows. Just like people spent decades smoking tobacco without knowing it had dire health consequences.

I think we don’t teach our children the truth about adulthood. That we don’t teach our boys the truth about manhood. Not because we’re liars. But because we didn’t know either.

This is the second in a series of posts about The Things We Don’t Teach Men (And How It Ruins Everything).

Safe – adj. – \ˈsāf\ — secure from threat of danger, harm, or loss

Trust – verb – \ˈtrəst\ — to commit or place in one’s care or keeping; to place confidence in, rely on; to hope or expect confidently

‘You don’t make me feel safe. I don’t feel like I can trust you anymore.’

Safety is probably more important to you than you consciously realize in any given moment.

After basic metabolic functions, like your heart beating and properly working lungs, and the most basic things needed for survival (food, water, shelter and clothing), Safety is the next thing people need to function in life.

The concept of safety, for me, tended to be rooted in physical safety. Wearing a seat belt. Not getting pistol-whipped during an armed robbery. Wearing the proper safety equipment on a construction site or in a manufacturing facility, or during a football or baseball game.

And color young-me as an ignorant sexist rube if you must, but in male-female relationships—including my marriage—I thought of safety in the context of protecting her from physical harm.

I want to sleep closest to the bedroom door.

I want to be the one to check out the strange noise in the house.

I want to be with her walking in a dimly lit parking garage at night.

I want to pay for a home-security system to deter and warn of intruders.

I want to fight and take the potential beat down to give her time to run away.

I want to take the bullet for her.

And I will never physically harm her. Ever.

And because of those things, I thought my wife (and anyone, really) should feel safe with me. I thought all of those true things made me a person who was safe to be with.

But I wasn’t. And this is in NO WAY anyone’s fault but my own—but nowhere, at any point in my upbringing, was I exposed to other ways of thinking about safety or taught the fundamental importance of making one’s girlfriend or wife feel safe and secure in those OTHER ways.

Other safety and security needs people have in addition to not being hurt or killed in an accident or act of violence include:

  • Financial security
  • Health and well-being (mental and emotional safety)

Everyone has different thresholds for what financial security looks like. I think having enough money to pay for one’s family’s needs is a concept anyone mature enough to be reading this already understands.

But on mental and emotional safety?

I failed about as hard as a person claiming ignorance possibly can.

I was mentally and emotionally abusive to my wife without realizing it because I also demonstrate classic only-child levels of self-centeredness, and I hadn’t yet learned that Marriage Isn’t For You.

But I’m not the only one.

I think many men accidentally abuse their wives’ mental and emotional health without realizing it (and it probably happens in reverse, too), and then once enough damage has been done, the couples end up having what feels like the exact same frustrating and familiar fight over and over again.

For men, it often becomes a thing we learn to deal with. It pisses us off sometimes. It certainly stresses us out and makes us feel shitty. But it tends to be a nuisance that we believe will be better after everyone calms down.

However, for many women, every one of these fights tends to slowly and systematically erode her love and respect for her husband/boyfriend, and her faith in the integrity of the relationship itself.

Over time, “lesser” incidents can trigger the arguments.

Maybe five years ago, a guy stayed out too late drinking with his friends, passed out and never told his wife or girlfriend where he was. She stayed up all night freaking out, and then they had a big fight because he thought she was overreacting.

But maybe five years later, he accidentally left his phone in the car during a two-hour business presentation in the middle of the day, and his non-responsiveness triggers that same level of concern and anger in her. And maybe he thinks it’s a gross overreaction because while reacting to an all-night drinking bender seems reasonable, freaking out because of an accidental work-related situation does not.

And once again, they have The Same Fight.

Men—boyfriends and husbands—often are so determined to defend their actions and feelings that they don’t actively listen to their upset girlfriends or wives. They HEAR them, saying words and being angry and stuff. But they don’t LISTEN. They don’t understand. They never figure out WHY their partner is saying and feeling these things.


Shameless Self-Promotion Note About My Coaching Services

I started coaching in 2019. Clients and I work collaboratively through current and past relationship stuff in order to improve existing relationships or to prepare for future ones. Other clients are trying to find themselves after divorce or a painful breakup. We talk by phone or video conference. People like it. Or at least they fake it really well by continuing to schedule future coaching calls and give me more money. If you’re going through something and think I might be able to help, it’s really easy to find out for sure. Learn More Here.


Here’s a guy who works hard and is good at his job. He’s a good provider for his wife and children.

He never complains about his wife’s behavior. And he thinks it’s unfair that he isn’t given the same courtesy.

He would NEVER hit her. He’s a capable protector. So it makes sense to him that she should feel Safe.

He would NEVER cheat on her. He never intentionally fails to do something he says he will. He’s not a liar. He’s a good parent and guardian. He feels like a “trustworthy” person. So it makes sense to him that she should Trust him.

The Thing That Ends Relationships

After dozens, perhaps hundreds of attempts to explain what it is that upsets her, he generally responds angrily. Or tells her she’s wrong. Or tells her she’s just being emotional again. Or tells her she’s mentally unstable. Or simply walks away in frustration because he doesn’t want to fight anymore. Or maybe he’s really patient, and simply walks away confused after the conversation without fighting back, but also without ever understanding what she’s trying to communicate to him.

No matter which of those common responses occur with any given couple, each instance further weakens a wife or girlfriend’s faith in the relationship.

“He’s NEVER going to get it. I can’t trust him.”

The mistrust is not about sexual faithfulness. It’s not really even about his human integrity, assuming he is as unaware of the damage he’s causing as I believe he is. (I believe strongly that the VAST majority of husbands would never KNOWINGLY inflict pain on their wives, and I stand by that belief. I think I know an easy way to determine whether your spouse is hurting you on purpose.)

A wife or girlfriend loses trust in her husband or boyfriend after repeated attempts to explain why something hurts and requests for help in making it stop haven’t resulted in any positive outcomes nor any evidence that he wants the painful thing to stop.

Faced with feeling hurt every day for the rest of her marriage/relationship, and no evidence her committed partner is willing to be a partner in making something painful go away, she stops trusting him.

No matter how good he may be. No matter how perfect his record might be in every other part of his life.

Something hurts her. He either can’t or won’t help her. She knows because they’ve talked about it countless times with the same result.

She knows the marriage/relationship is unsustainable without trust. Its future is in doubt.

The security and well-being of her and possibly children are now in jeopardy.

And now she doesn’t feel safe.

And no matter how much he tries, a man she can’t trust to not hurt her can’t make her feel safe. In most cases, not like how her father used to.

The realization is often frightening: “I no longer believe our marriage will survive.”

I used to believe the scariest guys were the obvious assholes. The guys that punch and cheat and name-call. The drunks and addicts and reckless gamblers.

But red flags are easy enough to spot. Red flags are obvious warning signs that help people steer clear.

Real danger is what lurks undetected.

These awesome guys. Nice. Friendly. Smart. Successful. By all appearances, good men and good fathers.

The guys everyone praises as good husbands and fathers. Guys just like me.

If you leave guys like that, maybe her parents don’t approve or support the decision. Maybe her friends will judge her. Maybe when she feels most afraid than at any other time in her entire life because she doesn’t believe her marriage and family will survive, and she’s feeling guilty for not being able to make it work and how it might affect her children. And the only thing she wants and needs is support. But the ONE person she believed she could count on for the rest of her life to lift her up and care for her in such moments is the very person inflicting all of the pain, fear and anxiety.



Fight or flight?

She has already spent years fighting, leaving her with just one choice: Run.

I used to blame her.

But I see it all so clearly now.

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154 thoughts on “Safety and Trust in Relationships: Those Words Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

  1. Wow, this is a way of articulating a feeling of discontent (or fear) I am not sure I could have explained myself. The repeated wounds/hurts and them not being acknowledged did erode a hole in my relationship with a truly wonderful man. And, I just could not get him to see what he was doing felt like rejection to me (and led to a feeling of mistrust). Anyway, Thanks for sharing! I hope I can learn to communicate better the next time around.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. KidNurse says:

    Thank you!!! I broke several engagements because this behavior started before we were even married…. and I could see what would be coming (a good reason to be engaged for a year). And people blamed me – said I wasn’t “tolerant enough”. No – he didn’t value what I had to say, and think it was worth any possible behavior change. Even when it really had a negative impact on my health. And I wasn’t willing to sign up for a lifetime of fighting about the same thing. You wrote it so well. Thank you.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. It’s as if you’ve looked into my heart and watched the soul crushing experience I had repeatedly in my marriage. I tried for years to explain it to him, how he made me feel when he ignored or dismissed me or my feelings, but I couldn’t connect it to losing trust until the end. If only, if only…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Matt says:

      I understand. And I’m really sorry. I only know what it looks like because I did it.

      And I only recognize it now because NOT divorcing again or ever feeling that horror became a major priority once I experienced it.

      It shouldn’t take trauma to get people to behave appropriately in relationships. But these are NOT bad people. That’s what so insane about it.

      The only solution I can see is to raise awareness so much that education from a young age on these topics take place the same way health-oriented tobacco education has significantly reduced smoking.

      Thank you very much for your comment.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Jenny says:

    I love the way that you ended this. I see it all so clearly now too. Sometimes, I don’t even recognize the person I am; let alone the relationship we used to have. My anxiety was through the roof and I could never figure out why…I’m NOT blaming him for (all of) that but it contributed. Now that I recognize what it is I’m steeling myself for the flight. The fight is too exhausting. It’s sad. But Matt your column is like therapy and I am SO appreciative of your writing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Matt says:

      I’m really sorry you’re in the midst of it. I want to believe two people can come back from this, once the bad thing TRULY stops, and there’s real mutual understanding.

      But I think canyons get too wide to bridge sometimes.

      It’s a hard thing that I don’t wish on anyone. Thank you for saying nice things. I’m glad you think it matters and somehow helps. It’s cool of you to say so.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Marika says:

    I have to say, you are very good at putting into words what so many of us feel, but lack the ability to communicate it. I see so much of this that was present in my first marriage, and after many years of regaining my sense of self and realizing that my self-confidence and belief in my values had been worn thin by that continual fight, I still value the input and descriptive quality of your blog. And it helps, as I am embracing a new and wonderful relationship, to remind myself (with your help) that it is as much my responsibility to communicate my needs and wishes as it is to respect his. Thank you for your bravery in speaking about your past.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Matt says:

      This is nice to read. Thank you for saying it. I’m glad to hear that you’re in a happy and new relationship, and want to use our conversations here for proactive maintenance purposes.

      That gives the convo so much more value. Thank you for saying so.


  6. Yep! Well said,Matt.

    Even when women aren’t fully aware of it,their number one primary concern is going to be emotional safety. A lack of safety creates a low grade fear and I don’t mean to gender steriotype here, but fear makes women act crazy, strike out, or flee. You simply don’t see the same behavior in men very often, for them “safety” is pretty much a physical thing.

    “I used to believe the scariest guys were the obvious assholes. The guys that punch and cheat and name-call. The drunks and addicts and reckless gamblers.”

    This struck me as interesting, because women will hook up with total idiots, actually forgo physical safety in favor of emotional safety. You see this in abused women all the time,on the outside we don’t get it, he looks like a complete louse,but he knows how to meet her needs for emotional safety and therefore keeps her hooked. Women who have been damaged are really vulnerable to this because they are so desperate for emotional safety.

    Liked by 5 people

    • wandathefish says:

      I disagree that for men safety is a physical thing. Most of us are aware of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and it isn’t different for men and women as far as I’m aware (correct me if I’m wrong). Men are just rarely in relationships in which they aren’t made to feel emotionally safe because women are trained from a young age in how to do this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m going to disagree. The emotional safety of men isn’t even on most women’s radar because it isn’t even really a need men themselves recognize having. Their emotional safety is certainly not something we are worried about when rejecting them for a date or insisting they meet our needs in marriage or when we divorce them. Not that some women aren’t kind or compassionate, but creating emotional safety for men is not usually something we do because it isn’t usually a need they even have. Consider a group of guys getting together, or guy friends. I’d say the whole concept of “emotional safety” doesn’t even occur to them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • wandathefish says:

          I have to say I think there’s a mountain of research to prove you wrong and show that women do make their men feel emotionally safe and that they put vast amounts of effort into this task. Read wifework by Susan Maushart, especially the chapter called “The Wifely Art of Emotional Caregiving. The whole book is about the way that women are socialised from a young age to take care of men in every way, including emotioinally and that men absorb all of this care and don’t give it back. There are loads of studies to show just how happy and contented most men feel in marriage (while there are loads of studies that show that women are typically exhausted, lonely and depressed) and this is because their need for emotional safety is being met. They know they can talk to their partners about their problems and that their partners will be there for them and will try to help.

          And I definitely disagree that women don’t consider men’s feelings when rejecting them. That’s why the friend zone exists. Most women I know have felt compelled to offer friendship to a guy they have rejected to try and lessen the blow when in actual fact they don’t really want to be his friend or his girlfriend (sometimes of course they do want friendship). Insisting someone meet your needs in marriage has nothing to do with making a man feel emotionally unsafe. It’s warning them that the relationship will break and they may end up heart broken if they don’t make some major changes. By the time divorce comes around though, I would agree. This is one of the few times women stop trying to look after a man’s feelings. They have finally given up.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Kristi says:

            Totally accurate.

            Liked by 2 people

          • “The whole book is about the way that women are socialised from a young age to take care of men in every way, including emotioinally and that men absorb all of this care and don’t give it back.”

            Well, if we just look at those words alone they make some real assumptions about men, I’d call that emotionally unsafe, as in it implies ALL men are takers and give nothing in return.

            “Insisting someone meet your needs in marriage has nothing to do with making a man feel emotionally unsafe. It’s warning them that the relationship will break and they may end up heart broken..”

            And that too is pretty much the opposite of emotional safety.Warning them, is very close to threatening them with heartbreak.

            So as a woman, if I were married to a man who accused me of just absorbing all this care and giving nothing in return,and than proceeded to warn and threaten me with heartbreak, I would not only feel emotionally unsafe, I’d feel emotionally and psychologically abused.

            Liked by 1 person

            • wandathefish says:

              But they aren’t assumptions. My point is that this is based on research. And of course not all men are like this but the vast majority are. These issues are an epidemic amongst men, as a mountain of research shows. Here’s a paper which is a good start as an introduction to the imbalance of emotion work between men and women and the negative consequences this has for women’s health:


              Why should women put up with this emotional distress, depression and so many other related physical and mental health problems because of her partner’s behaviour? Why doesn’t she have the right in your eyes to tell her partner to treat her as an equal and to let him know that she won’t stay if he is unwilling to do so? Telling your partner you’re unhappy and considering leaving the relationship is not abuse, even if it makes your partner feel insecure. It’s just communication, and relationships can’t be saved without it. If anyone ever tells you that you aren’t meeting their emotional needs, you have to listen to them and change if you value the relationship. However bad that makes you feel in the short term it will save you from god knows how much heartbreak in the long run.

              Liked by 3 people

              • “If anyone ever tells you that you aren’t meeting their emotional needs, you have to listen to them and change if you value the relationship.”

                Actually, I would be tempted to direct them to some place where they can get their needs met. It feels very abusive to me if someone were to demand I change in order to meet all their emotional needs. I wouldn’t do that for a guy so why would a woman expect a guy to do that for us?


                • wandathefish says:

                  Because that’s the entire point of a relationship. To be looked after by someone who you look after in return. Why else would you stay with someone?

                  The women we’re talking about are only asking their men for what their men are already receiving from them. They’re asking for their men to put as much into the relationship as they are putting into it. I struggle to understand why you see asking for equality in relationships as a sign of abuse.


                  • wandathefish says:

                    And meeting all of your partner’s emotional needs is perfectly possible. I’ve done it for all or most of my partners and I’ve met two men who managed to do it for me.


        • Bethany Dasko says:

          Women are absolutely focused on men’s emotional safety. How many times do we have to worry about tiptoeing around a fragile male ego? Or try to blow off stuff that actually hurt us because we don’t want to hurt *their* feelings? We are very focused on the emotional safety and comfort of everyone around us.

          Liked by 2 people

    • Esmeralda says:

      Tell that to every 13 year old boy who wanted to marry a girl they didn’t really know to get emotional safety it happens

      Liked by 1 person

    • I am not sure I can agree with that last paragraph. I think both forms of safety have to come together or we eventually die, its just a slower death. These women are wounded already, pretty soon it just doesn’t matter how someone hurts you it all ends the same.

      They do not know what it feels like to have safety in all its forms, its completely foreign. How to go about achieving something that is foreign is almost impossible. The truth of the matter is that it often takes a lot of work to communicate so that even healthy people keep treating each other well.

      The high ground or sound bytes are difficult to find when you have actually been in a marriage for decades. Life has a way of not always giving you a rose garden, even when you start off with a Prince! Yet, at the end of the day the “beast” can often be worth loving. Life is messy, half the battle and the beauty of it all is finding that someone who wants to brave the messiness of life with you!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. tonifoverby says:

    Love it. Can’t even begin to say how much.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. clgratias says:

    You read my mind. I literally used those exact words with my husband in a conversation a while back: I can’t trust you with my heart and you’re not a safe person for me. Sixteen years of trying to communicate WHY I hurt and we were still going ’round in circles. Lol. It’s very rare to find a man who gets it.
    My solution has not been fight OR flight. I’ve learned to just be true to me…with very strong boundaries and a good sense of self I can identify what’s my stuff and what is his…and let it be just that. I can only take care of my stuff and keep my side of the street clean. It’s more like a partnership in parenting, I guess. And I may change how I feel about staying after all the kids are gone, but probably not (They’re 22, 15, and 5). Right now we have a general affection toward each other that works. The intimacy and connection will never be what I wanted it to be, but he is who he is, and I am committed to loving him right where he’s at. I have wonderful girlfriends, a supportive family, and a strong faith to rely on.
    Thanks for your willingness to look in the mirror, see what you contributed to the issues, and actively move toward doing it differently. I daresay it’s not a common trait, particularly in men. Kudos!

    Liked by 6 people

    • Kristi says:

      I admire you!!! Do you know what your MBTI personality type is by any chance? I would guess you are not an NF …

      Liked by 1 person

      • clgratias says:


        Liked by 1 person

      • Donkey says:

        Kristi, I’m just curious if you want to share, why would you guess that clgratias was not an NF? :)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kristi says:

          Sure! I’ll play. Thanks for asking :) Well…being an NF myself (ENFJ), I have chronically struggled with letting go in situations in which I perceive the person I love “not caring” or “not feeling as I do.” It’s a weakness that I haven’t developed into something more useful I suppose. That’s why I probably admire your attitude – you seem to have found your balance. Kudos to you :)

          Liked by 1 person

          • clgratias says:

            Thanks Kristi. It’s taken a lot of hard sometimes painful personal work. I have struggled with depression one and off again for the last 15 years. Besides counseling, meds for awhile, and grappling with my faith in God, one of the most helpful things in helping me find my balance was a personal growth workshop I did. It was life changing. I’m happy to share if it’s something you’re interested in and want more information on. :-)

            Liked by 3 people

          • Donkey says:

            Thanks to you both, Kristi and clgratias for elaborating. :)

            Liked by 3 people

          • I’m an INFP. And I too have struggled pretty terribly with letting it go when I perceive the other person not caring. I did better in the first several years of my marriage in several ways, but I think I still had significant room for growth in that area. Then after twelve years it was like something broke inside of me and it took me years to regain any sense of equilibrium, much less to be able to ever let anything go. Now that I’ve had to be learning to recover and heal for the last year and a half since he chose the ultimate end, flushing our family down the toilet, I’m beginning to make a lot more progress on realizing what I need to do to rely on God and not on people and to get along better with the one or two people in my life who I love but with whom I struggle with various constant challenges with how differently we operate. And the only people I have had to let go of completely (and really keep massive brick walls of boundaries up with) are my husband/not-really-my-husband-anymore and my dad. The two of them are basically disallowed from wandering in and just screwing with me and manipulating me. Since to be frank they both might as well be malignment narcissists, as not, given the way they have treated me and how little clue they have or responsibility they’ve ever taken, it’s just one of those sad but valid things. I can’t own any responsibility for them. They never ask for, accept, or need anything from me but narcissistic supply. And I need to protect myself from their abuse.

            Now, on the one hand, I have a much greater sense of how I can adapt and be good for others even when it’s not easy even when something feels incredibly painful to me, as well as how I can spot abuse and avoid it better rather than always giving men the benefit of the doubt just for being men and knowing they really do think and operate differently…therefore macho and stupid enough to be assertive and make demands without ever giving real and ongoing cooperation and sacrifice back in return…those guys are OUT. Those who assume I’m shallow or whatever other asinine thing many men think of all women are out. I’ve finally arrived at a point that I genuinely have very little fear of falling once again for one of the millions of unhealthy and unkind people in that exist in this world. And beyond that there seem to be millions who don’t honor the concept of marriage as a genuine lifelong commitment so for me that type is totally out too. There’s all kinds of toxicity in this world and I have tons of experience to know better than to engage on any level with men when all they offer is machismo and assumptions and unjust accusations or even just strong and stoic. But on the other hand, I still fear: What if I’m just too damaged after that much use and abuse to ever be good in return with a truly good guy and not hurt too much because of all the triggers from the past abuse that may always be there on some level? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll ever meet one of the rare good guys, whose actually available and a decent match for me, but if I do I hope I am even a lot further healed by then.

            Liked by 1 person

    • I love your comment. I too stayed. I did unfortunately hope he’d someday choose growth and healing. And he did eventually choose very differently and finally. But I know that staying and honoring that person for the position you put them in when you made a lifetime commitment to them can work out great in some homes. I’ll be praying for you!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. TheOriginalPhoenix says:

    Your writing is haunting but so beautiful and important. :) Keep it up.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Kristi says:

    No Inigo Montoya photo for this one?! You need to hire a web designer! ha ha

    Seriously this is spot on. Thank you so much. Shared.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Thathotmessnurse says:

    This is EVERYTHING I’ve been feeling for the past 2 years. Everything I’m thisclose to done. I’ve quit expressing any thoughts or feelings due to the repetitive information that I’m ridiculous, wrong or nuts. This is a good man but I can only take so much and I’m tired of trying.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Tim says:

    Matt, how could you have possibly described my relationship so vividly without meeting me?

    This entry is so true and very fitting, for my own relationship. I am currently residing in the divorce danger zone. I’ve finally figured a lot of these things out, with some credit due to your blog.

    Hope I can make her see the changes I am making are real and more importantly, enough. It’s tough to heal old wounds though. I’m going to continue the fight I’m on until we get it straightened out, or it’s formally over though!

    Keep up the good work, Matt.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Kristi says:

      Tim – you have my respect. I hope you win her heart back. I hope she heals from the wounds – and that the two of you grow into something more beautiful than ever thought possible.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tim says:

        Kristi I am trying to figure out how to use the commenting/liking feature. Ha! I’m not very good at this sort of thing. Thanks for the encouraging words!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Rebekah Verbeten says:

      A book my husband and I were given as a marriage gift is ‘If He Only Knew’ by Gary Smalley. It is part of a pair written by a husband/wife team, and a very good starting point. One way to show you’re honestly working to change would be read it and ask her to as well. Point out parts where you recognize you’ve screwed up and ask the best way to go about fixing them. It would provide some good places to start and sometimes using someone else’s phrasing can take some of the accusation/sting out of a discussion. The companion, ‘For Better or for Best,’ is written for the wife, and could help her better communicate with you.

      Old wounds can be very difficult to heal, but sometimes figuring out why they happened can help in the process. The tenacity of ‘you are worth fighting for and proving that I’m serious’ may be the determining factor, depending how long she’s been hurting. Don’t let go of that. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Maddy476 says:

    Matt, this is my all time favourite post of yours. This was my situation exactly. I may send to my ex in hope that he sees his error and can teach our sons. Regardless, I will ensure that I teach pur sons.

    Thank you !!!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Jenny says:

      That’s just it, isn’t it? Teaching our sons. And daughters. That’s kind of why I can’t continue dealing with this in my marriage…I’m a role model for what SHOULDN’T be happening. You hit the nail on the head. We have to insure that we teach our kids.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. (I know I made a comment earlier. I guess the internet ate it? Well, if you find another similarly worded comment from me, that’s why.)

    After nearly two decades of marriage, in which my thoughts, needs, and feelings have been treated much as you describe and being expected to be responsible for almost all of the details of our life without his help, I seriously considered leaving my husband last year. I found your blog via the Open Letter series (of course), and I devoured the entire series! You made me feel sane, validated what had been the majority of my marriage experience, and earned my only blog subscription.

    I’ve come thiiiiiiis close to replying to other posts of yours. But this time, I just had to.

    You’ve discussed this sort of thing before, but this blog post… it just… well, I cried at the end of it.

    Back when things started going sour in early marriage, I tried talking to him. I had boundaries. I just didn’t know how to enforce them. (And I would have felt “mean,” anyway, so I probably wouldn’t have done it anyhow.) So when he just kept ignoring me or minimizing and blowing off what I was saying, I eventually gave up. Words did nothing to reach him. So for another 10+ years, I slowly trusted him with less and less of me. It hurt more to share and have him reject the validity of my feelings than it hurt to say nothing.

    And then this last year happened. I realized that I couldn’t live like this one more moment. So I got my boundaries back. And I’m learning how to enforce them. And this time, the pain isn’t just mine to be felt. He’s finally feeling the discomfort of his own choices. Is he waking up yet? No, so far he’s just blaming me for rocking his boat.

    But I’ve come to realize – this isn’t about me. He’d have this problem no matter who he was married to. It’s about him. He isn’t a safe person. And the thing is – he isn’t emotionally safe for the kids, either. If a man can’t be a safe place for his wife, then he isn’t a safe place for the kids, either. (IMO)

    Thank you for all the work you do – not just the time you give to the blog, but also to the personal and emotional work on yourself that makes this blog possible.

    Liked by 7 people

    • I echo your experience. When I first started “rocking the boat” he accused me of being defiant. I replied – in counselling – that applied to dogs and children and refused to accept it. I remain “defiant” but I call it firm and strong in sense of self and my needs. He’s getting to know this person who was there before we married and disappeared somehow to keep the peace. I don’t start issues but things don’t roll over me as they did before. I keep myself safe and offer him the opportunity and help him see what that entails. His choice what he does with that.

      Liked by 7 people

      • clgratias says:

        This where I am too. Although I do start things sometimes, if I’m calling him on his really helps to see a counselor too…to keep me sane, even though he doesn’t choose to go.. ;-)


    • Lissy says:

      On the topic of kids-one of the problems can be that the guy who dismisses/minimizes/deflects often does it in front of the rest of the family. After years of observing this, the kids then follow the dad’s lead, so by the time they are in high school, the entire family treats mom like shit.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I can say that does NOT apply in my house of 3 middle and high schoolers. My kids engage and help and see how hard I work and the joy I get from it and they get same. They sometimes view their father with disdain – he’s the guy they watch tv and play video games with. I’m the one they talk to and ask for advice.
        Makes me sad for him.

        Liked by 3 people

        • clgratias says:

          Keep up the good work. It’s SO important for our kids to see healthy, functioning adults…and to see them live along side a dysfunctional person could be a great learning experience for them. :-)


      • Donkey says:

        Ugh, how absolutely terrible when that’s the case. Glad that’s not what’s happening in your household STH.


      • Kristi says:

        Very very important. A horrible problem.


      • Molly says:

        This happened with my stepmom and dad. My dad treated my stepmom like crap for years before she ran out of money and he left her. My sisters are so mean to their mom it’s physically painful to be around them and their mom. Like, i get sick. I’ve told them i think its wrong but i know it didn’t do any good. 2of my sister’s are in their early 20s and one is in her mid teens.


    • Kristi says:

      Matt is my one blog subscription, too!
      Your comment is so very good and indicative of this horrible problem.

      “But I’ve come to realize – this isn’t about me. He’d have this problem no matter who he was married to. It’s about him. He isn’t a safe person. And the thing is – he isn’t emotionally safe for the kids, either. If a man can’t be a safe place for his wife, then he isn’t a safe place for the kids, either.”
      ^ Couldn’t agree MORE.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Matt says:

        Really? The ONLY one?

        1. Beyond flattered. Thank you.
        2. Mark Manson is better at everything than I am, and if someone asked me whose ideas and storytelling provide more value to humanity, I’d be doing everyone a disservice if I didn’t say him. (

        I’ve come to believe (only from all the nice feedback) that I do a solid job of explaining, you know, all the things we talk about here.

        But Mark does that on a higher level about EVERY aspect of the human experience. Sure, our relationships are stupid amounts of important, but there are all these other things to think and care about in life, too, which also influence our hearts and minds, and trickle down to our interpersonal relationships.

        I wish everyone would read that guy.

        But thank you so much for this, Kristi. Hope you and your family are well.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kristi says:

          1. YES! Technically I have one other one, but it is a subscription I set up to test a web client to make sure the functionality with the WordPress plugin is behaving as expected. Ha. What really creeps me out is the subject matter of each post normally coincides with something occurring in my world at the time for which I benefit tremendously – if that isn’t Law of Attraction in pure Jungian form, I don’t know what is!

          2. Agree – I do read Mark and glean much – also agree that your style and detailed delivery based on your personal story adds a unique existentialist dimension that so many of us need. Thank you for the well wish, too – I can’t comment much on that because I try to keep my details off the screen – unfortunately there will forever be attorneys and paralegals who may quote and question. Another reason to fight for your marriage, I say….

          Cheers <3


    • Yes. Yes. And yes. I too had one who was crap both as a husband and as a father because other people’s feeling only matter in so far as they reflect his or what ways they should be punished for not reflecting his. And as he continually modeled it, the older two children, despite being abused by him were becoming just as abusive, the oldest abusing both me and the middle child and the middle child abusing both me and the youngest. Now that he’s left the oldest and the youngest want nothing to do with him unless they vent a bit as if they would attack him. They both seem to be healing amazingly well and turning into the kind of people who can be super for someone else in a meaningful relationship. My poor middle child is struggling to recover without cutting ties to the narcissist. She has the roughest road in a way. She still attacks others emotionally sometimes. She cannot grasp how wrong he has been in training her to believe that my having negative emotions was proof that I’m a trainwreck and was the real problem that was destroying everybody and everything…and that anyone (mostly me but not limited to me) who she can see in recovery must have a victim complex. I pray so hard for her. She is trying. But she has a long way to go before she can ever become good for others and be able to ever enter into a healthy intimate relationship. I love her but I have to put up a lot more boundaries than there should have to be between mother and child just because it’s not healthy for her to let her attack me and accuse me and keep getting herself more twisted up in rebellion against human emotions and efforts and healing. God will help her. She will eventually be OK.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interestingly when we separated kids wished him well and hoped he could find what would make him happy and life went on unchanged in the house – but with more music and less mood. They pitched in, worked the schedule and routine as they knew if I was doing it all there’d be less time to play. Never complained and always jumped up when I asked for help.

        It tells me that despite the hard I’ve been able to show them the joy. I’ve taken responsibility for my behaviour in past, held myself accountable to them and committed to being different. They are compassionate and embraced that. They remain wary with him, as do I, as we see change slowly and inconsistently but we have not abandoned him (his biggest fear is being alone). They have, however, seen me set boundaries kindly and model the same.

        Liked by 2 people

        • StillTryingHard, what a wonderfully helpful reply. We have some differences but we also share some very similar experiences here, with me owning my mistakes and trying to move on, trying to heal, trying to model healthier ways of operating and my kids showing how amazing and compassionate and wise they are in response to my growth. (Although with significantly more bumps in the road with my middle child.) It’s taken me an year and half to acknowledge as fully as I do now that he is a narcissist and totally toxic and to begin to figure out how to respond to his toxicity in ways that give him the least narcissistic supply and yet at the same time create boundaries to protect against the current and future harm he is doing… AND YET at the same time deal with all the “joint business” the courts are still holding me hostage to. Some things are beyond my control and cannot be protected against and sadly, the courts do participate in the abuse because they have no clue to recognize or handle such extreme and dangerous toxicity or to even recognize a true narcissist for what he is. They still haven’t stepped and allowed any litigation on the 6000 dollars in child support he stole back out of a bank account after he was credited by the CSEA with having paid it last fall.

          So I’m sure I have a distance to go in learning to respond in better ways! God help me. I really appreciate knowing I’m not the only one and hearing how you are managing to do just exactly that thing!!!

          Liked by 1 person

    • mo says:

      So what is the woman’s responsibility to get him to understand. I feel like I am beating my head against the wall. He has no comprehension that what he is doing is causing a problem. I cant get him to get that lying and getting caught is a problem. Yelling is a problem. Im tired of rocking the boat! all he can say is that I don’t get it!! It will be seen by him that it is me breaking up the marriage and wrecking the kids. He really doesn’t get that he is doing anything wrong. He openly accuses me of causing all the issues.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Alice says:

    This is fantastic as always Matt. Thanks so much!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. anitvan says:

    “The mistrust is not about sexual faithfulness.”

    But over time, it is every bit as destructive to the relationship.

    Anybody who has recovered from infidelity will tell you that in order to heal and for trust to return, the unfaithful partner must be willing to be the healer, and some very specific actions must take place for trust to return. He or she must acknowledge and take responsibility for the breach, turn away from the affair partner forever, be completely transparent with the betrayed spouse, allow them whatever time they need to process…the list goes on and on…and if the partner who fucked up and cheated now really wants to save the marriage, he or she will gladly do what is required. If s/he’s lucky enough to have a partner who’s willing to give them a second chance, you’re damn right they’ll work hard (presuming that they actually care about restoring the marriage).

    I sometimes wonder what the marriage landscape would look like if we took the “little” breaches of trust as seriously as we do the “big” one. If we saw them for what they really are – the gradual, but inevitable, erosion of the foundation of one’s marriage. The beginning of the end.

    Having personally recovered from infidelity and the near breakdown of our marriage, I can tell you this much: Never again. I will NEVER go back to that place where we didn’t take the “littles” seriously. They are signals and warning signs that we are in danger of getting off track, and in these situations we must deal with it for what it is – a breach of trust – a betrayal, really – that must be healed and restored. The “betrayer” must now become the “healer”.

    Maybe that sounds a little over the top, but something beautiful happens when each partner is willing to be accountable to the other in this way. Instead of diminishing trust, trust grows.

    Sexual fidelity isn’t enough. It isn’t even the benchmark – I need to be able to trust my husband to take care of my whole heart, not just a piece of it.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Rebekah Verbeten says:

      “I sometimes wonder what the marriage landscape would look like if we took the “little” breaches of trust as seriously as we do the “big” one.”

      “Maybe that sounds a little over the top, but something beautiful happens when each partner is willing to be accountable to the other in this way. Instead of diminishing trust, trust grows.”

      The big one never comes along. I was blessed to meet and marry a good man who has his ‘derpy’ (LOVE THAT) moments, but backs up good intentions with actions. He is man enough to recognize that he screws up and works to fix it when he does. I do my best to patiently and lovingly point out when he does since I know he doesn’t do it on purpose even if my knee jerk reaction is ‘AGAIN?!?!?’ He listens because he knows that will show he cares and because WE have been able to come up with a way to communicate so that I am heard and he understands to the degree he needs (which varies by topic). We have hammered out phrases over the years that let each other know where we are emotionally and recognize knee jerk reactions, but don’t attack each other.

      Do we still have the same…or near enough to make no difference…conversation over and over and over again? Yes. But it doesn’t kill me piece by piece every time it happens because he is trying, and while he goofs it up and forgets again and again, he still listens, and because eventually, maybe, I’ll stumble across the formula to turn the lead of frustration into the gold of comprehension. (It has happened that on the 3,782nd time we have a conversation the particular amalgam of words, tone, context, and phase of the moon flips a switch and a light turns on.)

      The validation of where I am coming from gives me the tenacity to keep talking while making it worth my while to use the effort needed to present it in a way that recognizes the lack of ill intent. And the recognition that any ‘assholery’ (again…love the wordsmithing Matt!) is both unintentional and regretted gives him the tenacity to keep trying to understand without feeling attacked. After respect and love and trust is enforced for years (13 as friends, 11 as a coouple, 9 married this July!), you can have a situation where he can ask why something is a big deal without it being dismissive because he knows I don’t bring it up unless there’s a reason, and he’s simply asking what that reason is.

      And you have a situation where, when stressful things happen in life, there is no question whether we have each other’s backs. Whether that is me encouraging him to leave a not-so-great work situation halfway through a pregnancy or him doing everything he can to give me what I need from him (which changes daily when there are 4 kids aged 6, 4, 20 months, and 6 weeks in the house!). I have to ask, because I do my best not to expect mind reading, but when I do he does his best.

      I’m new to reading this blog (kind of binge reading the last few days, tbh), but so much of what Matt writes (exceedingly well) could easily be us. If we hadn’t been friends first and figured out how to communicate with each other. If we hadn’t continued to have the uncomfortable, awkward conversations to figure out what each of us needed/needs from the other. If he had chosen to write off my rare frustrated outbursts as due to a long week rather than honest hurt and emotion. If we hadn’t both grit our teeth and decided to choose love day by day or minute by minute if needed on occasion.

      Matt gets it…he came to the knowledge in an extremely painful manner. We somehow fumbled our way into it hand in hand. Either way, it works. (Sorry for the novella!)

      Liked by 5 people

      • anitvan says:


        “maybe I’ll stumble across the formula…”

        😀 Ah yes, those magically moments when all the planets come into alignment and something clicks!

        Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a formula? With predictable results every time?

        My situation is a lot like yours. I have a lot of patience, and hubby never stops listening and striving. The striving matters more than the actual results.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Rebekah Verbeten says:

          “The striving matters more…”

          Exactly! And striving together, towards a common destination, rather than against each other trying to figure out who is ‘right.’ Thankfully our guys caught on early that it is easier to be more patient/calm/understanding when one is HEARD.

          I know I’ve read or heard somewhere that we tend to listen in order to respond rather than listen in order to understand/empathize. I think that gets as close to summing it up as possible. Sometimes the words matter, sometimes the emotions matter more (back to that darn formula quest…). I suppose if we always knew it world work, would it be worth so much when it does click?

          Liked by 3 people

  17. […] wrote a great post called, “SAFETY AND TRUST IN RELATIONSHIPS: THOSE WORDS DON’T MEAN WHAT YOU THINK THEY MEAN” He’s speaking to mostly men here, men who may not have realized how important emotional […]

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Karin Backstrom says:

    You are very wise for your age.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Shawn says:

    Thank you. You completely understand how I feel as a woman and how my husband treats me. Excellent insight. Maybe you couldn’t save your marriage but you might be able to save mine. Praying …

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Shazam says:

    Wandathefish: “There are loads of studies to show just how happy and contented most men feel in marriage (while there are loads of studies that show that women are typically exhausted, lonely and depressed) and this is because their need for emotional safety is being met. They know they can talk to their partners about their problems and that their partners will be there for them and will try to help.”

    I was wondering how that can be true, when virtually every single woman I’ve known has wanted to find a husband and marry (some desperately so). So I did a bit of research and discovered, to no surprise, that not only is it NOT true…it’s pretty much the OPPOSITE of the truth. Since studies show that married women are not just a bit happier than their single counterparts, but MUCH happier.

    To whit:


    After reading the University of Virginia’s study of nearly 3000 people to evaluate what makes marriages work, I was delighted to get validation for most of my theories that I espouse on this blog.

    Among the highlights of the comprehensive report:

    Women who are married are twice as likely to report they’re very happy than single women. 50 percent of married women say they’re “very happy” vs. 25% of single women.

    Liked by 1 person

    • wandathefish says:

      Yes, of course we want to find a husband and marry, because when we’re young we aren’t aware of the ways in which male socialisation will make marriage a one way street in the man’s favour and when we’re older and understand what’s going on (some of us understand any way), we still know that there are exceptions and we want to find one of those exceptions. I’ve had two boyfriends who were fully competent partners (out of twenty or so) and I know these men exist but are rare. Of course I want to find another gem and eventually marry him.

      And one study doesn’t prove your point. There are dozens of studies that contradict your study. Read Wifework, it summarises a mountain of academic work on the matter. Or read some of the stuff by the Gottman institute. The Gottman Institute does more and deeper research into relationships than almost anywhere else and John Gotttman is on record as saying that all the research they’ve done points to the fact that the majority of problems in marriage are caused by men (and obviously it’s women who are unfairly left to deal with the consequences).

      Wifework was written in the 90s and some things are likely to have got better since then (sadly some things may have got worse) but there hasn’t been any massive relationship revolution. All of my married friends and those in LTRs are still dealing with all or most of the issues detailed in the book which all come back to male entitlement and a lack of understanding of what makes relationships break. When I have time I’m going to compile a new list of the most recent research on this issue but there is a lot of it and it will take a while. But I will read the study you posted in full.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Shazam says:

      Also of note is that recently completed large studies showed that women who are housewives report greater life satisfaction than those in any other profession. Which is quite interesting, for many reasons.

      We can discuss why this is so, but I like how one of the women summed it up. With a lovely sense of humor, she said “Being a housewife is the best job in the world because I can set my own hours, work from home, get tons of fringe benefits, and best of all, I get to sleep with the boss!” lol

      Anyway, here’s the source:


      • Esmeralda says:

        Who did the survey? did they have an ultiorior motive? are they of the BiblicalXenderOles blog circle? Does it have substantial people in the survey?


        • Shazam says:

          The source is a well-respected British newspaper, “The Daily Mail.” From the article:

          “The survey, carried out for insurance group LV=, asked more than 3,000 to say whether or not they were satisfied with their lives. The ratings recorded are the percentage who indicated they were not unhappy with their lot.

          The report said: ‘Homemakers are happier than people working in any other occupation, but they work double the hours most people think.’

          The findings reinforce the results of large-scale research on well-being carried out by the Office for National Statistics, which has shown that stay-at-home mothers believe their lives are more worthwhile than their counterparts in work.

          Government surveys have also shown that more than a third of mothers who go out to work would like to give up their jobs and stay at home with their children.

          But women who stay at home to bring up families are under heavy pressure from the Government to find jobs and send their children into childcare.”


          • I don’t think it has to be either/or, as the exchange between you two is suggesting.

            I’m a housewife. I have a teaching degree, taught in school setting, and now homeschool my children. So I’ve been the married working woman (with no kids), and I’ve been the housewife (with lots of kids). At no time has my husband made any significant contribution to the housework.

            Am I happy with the dynamic of our marriage? No. For years, in terms of the relationship, I’ve been lonely, overworked, and depressed. So my experience echoes what Wanda has been saying.

            However, my experience has also been echoing your points. I do not wish to be anything other than a housewife. I enjoy being a homemaker. Because it is about more than just housework. Goodness, I still have a full-time teaching job. It just doesn’t pay money.

            Why does it have to be either/or? They aren’t mutually exclusive, are they?


  21. Brit says:

    How? How can I get my husband to understand all of this before it’s too late? Is there nothing I can say or do? Because telling him it hurts isn’t enough…


    • Tim says:

      My wife and I would often only talk about ‘the hard stuff’ when necessary- for example, during or shortly after fights/eruptions/friction. If you can present yoru feelings at a time when things aren’t so unstable, it could help. And maybe you do already, but I know that we didn’t. I might have been more receptive if my wife could have approached me at a different time/ in a different way.


    • Donkey says:

      Brit, for whatever it’s worth, my two cents would be to check out:

      1. Brent Atkinson
      2. Jack Ito / Cloud and Townsend / someone else who appeals to you and deals with practical boundaries you can implement, even if the other person isn’t working cooperatively with you.

      If telling him it hurts isn’t enough (and it totally sucks that it isn’t), I’d say it’s time to look into asserting yourself in a different way.

      Best of luck to you!


  22. You’re use of the word “abusive” is insulting to women who are genuinely abused. There’s a huge difference between, “You’re overreacting,” and “You’re a psychotic whore.” The two are not comparable.

    Whether you intend to or not, your blog encourages women to passively wait for their husbands to change rather than take steps to improve their marriages themselves. You paint women as helpless victims who are pushed into divorce, rather than human beings who are capable of making a difference in their own lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      That’s your takeaway? That I believe women are helpless victims?

      That sucks. I really suck at writing because I don’t believe that at all.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kristi says:

        Nope. Definitely do not suck at writing.

        We can all grow in wisdom and benefit from stepping back and realizing that none of us lives 24/7 inside the homes of everyone else here. We can all (I know that’s not grammatically correct – wink) grow in wisdom from stepping back and realizing that people are not stagnant objects and that points made in many of Matt’s posts are not mutually exclusive.


    • As a far from passive woman I can say thIs big shook me OUT of lack of action and gave me a perspective and tools to help enact real change in my marriage when I had given up. I hated feeling powerless but didn’t know what to do when I’d said it a million times. I now feel heard and have seen more insight and responsibility for self on his part than I have ever seen in the last 17 years. My sense has been that Matt understands what drives a woman to choose divorce and is trying to help the hapless husbands understand why.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not insulting at all. Every person’s story is different. That is true of abuse in all its forms just as its true in every area of life. As others here know I stringently object to misappropriation of the word ‘rape’ for people just to validate their own feelings (which should be considered perfectly valid without it anyway) and to try to force others to feel the same as they do about their story even though it is not actually about rape.

      But the word abuse actually applies to people who are being used and hurt repeatedly in a relationship for years on end by someone who never cares to take ownership of their faults to or to stop hurting their partner. We all abuse others at times. But patterns of mistreatment at whatever degree need to be recognized as what they are rather than downplayed as not serious enough to matter. To attempt to deny people who have been emotionally abused their reality is cruel. And it makes no more sense than to pick out certain type of rape stories such as those where no one’s face was beaten in and no nose was broken and say “well that’s not really rape if you didn’t suffer all the same physical assault injuries that I did.”

      Any rape victim and any abuse victim is likely to face troubles in discussion whether various instances of it make sense or not. There are just millions of complex emotions at play and triggers happen. The trick is to work through them without having to deny your own story (as when a non-rape victim has to demand that others see a rape analogy and agree with it for them to feel their pain is valid) and without denying the pain of someone else’s story (as when you try to convince others that the abuses they have suffered aren’t really abuses or valid because they don’t measure up to your story.

      If you are a real victim then I’m sorry for your pain and for what you’ve been through. But I still must encourage you to own your pain and your triggers and to do whatever it takes to work around someday to a point that you do not need to invalidate other people’s pain in order to work on your own.

      Liked by 1 person

    • ladyinthemountains says:

      Abuse isn’t always physical. I was emotionally abused. I didn’t see it until I started healing. What is abusive to one person may not be to another. Our histories make a huge difference. A lot of my issues came from not feeling good enough for my dad and that carried into my marriage so when he acted like I was’t good enough, it was a lot more damaging than it would have been for my sister who was always favored by our dad.
      I disagree that Matt sees us as helpless victims. I love that he has grown enough to actually try to understand his part in his divorce. It is unfortunate that he learned too late as I think he really did love his wife.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Esmeralda says:

      Undermining someones legitimate emotions by saying that they are “over reacting” is how you shut a treasured person up, because their feelings and reactions aren’t validated, “you’re over reacting I can’t relate to that”, bam, not talking anymore because conflicting, uncomfortable reactions are banned in this situation, and this goes both ways, “Your over reacting” is one of the least validating things you could say to a spouse or friend.
      Also this blog is very affirming and is just a hint at the problems that happen in close friendships, marriages and unwed living together situations, any time you see the dark/apathetic side of a person. If anything this blog says women are less able to tolerate mediocrity (which is what not looking after the house you own is) and more able to leave things which don’t feed their souls, even at personal cost, for little things which are big. Besides most of the women he is discussing have tried to be more tolerant of mess in their house, and tried to bring up their “over reacting” feelings and tried to be as small as possible and tried to have the hard conversations. Its a mischaritisation to say he has ever said that, he always says he’s pro marriage, for those who want one. (Which is not everyone, see various society s on the internet)


  23. Kallie says:

    Dear Matt,
    Your writing is a lifeline for me. Thank you so much for continuing to write about your thoughts and experience. You are absolutely right on about how husbands make wives feel. Sometimes I am just amazed how you capture exactly what has happened in my marriage. You put into words how I feel and why when I can’t get the clarity to see it. It helps me so much to understand why and how our marriage is gone. I can’t thank you enough. It’s the highlight of my day/week when I get your email and new post.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. ladyinthemountains says:

    I am curious, Matt, as to what you have done to achieve your growth? I am sorry it was too late for your marriage. So often it is. By the time so many men realize how bad it is for the wife, she is done. I kept hanging on for dear life. I wonder how long I would have done so. I was so unhappy for so long.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      Simple answer that began about a year prior to my marriage ending.

      I slept in the guest room for 18 months. Every night and every morning is hard in that situation.

      Six months to a year in, I had to understand why this was happening. I started reading things. Talking to married and divorced people.

      It all came together in my head when I was reading a book called “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It.”

      It’s very male/female, Mars/Venus, and that turns off many people. Regardless, it’s what made my light bulb go off. It’s the thing that triggered me from clueless to “kind of getting it.”

      As you said. By the time you “get it,” it’s often much too late. And it was. She’d been long gone, and I just hadn’t known it yet.

      But to your primary question: What have I done to achieve growth?

      I didn’t know how much something like a divorce or loss of even just half of your time with a child could hurt.

      Pile that on the radical shift from a busy home to a silent one. And being a happy-ish, confident person to a depressed, anxious, self-doubting one.

      It just HURT. All over. In my head. In my chest. In my throat. In my stomach. In my bones.

      I hurt more than I realized a human body could. Obviously not in a classic burn/cut/bruise/bone-break way. In a way I’d never conceived of.

      A person CANNOT live like that. There’s no good reason to. Life that feels like that is more of a curse than a blessing. Even when you’re doing something “fun” or “distracting.” You can’t outrun things that hurt on the inside. You can’t hide from them. You carry it with you no matter what.

      It terrified me.

      And since I’m not a masochist, the math is simple enough. I needed to understand what I had done, so that I could NEVER hurt that much again, and so I could teach my son to avoid that hurt someday.

      I read. I listened. I conversed. I thought. I wrote.

      Do that every day for 4-5 years, and you just accidentally get smarter and wiser.

      In an act of self-preservation, I learned perhaps life’s most valuable lesson:

      Love is a choice. An action. And when we willingly give it to someone, and give more to them than we take for ourselves, the byproduct is a life-giving, joy-giving partnership comprised of two people trying to out-kind one another.

      Trying to give more to one another than they take for themselves.

      And then, you always have your people. Your rock. Your foundation. Your inner circle. Your anchor.

      When you always have something steady beneath you and behind you, THEN you can live a life free of overwhelming stress and anxiety. Because you’re on a team. Because you’re never alone. Because someone chose you, and you chose them, and you never NEED because you’re both always giving and getting.

      Without agenda.

      Just “I love you, and you’re always going to know it because I’m always going to do these things that signal you are loved, and not do these other things that send different signals that make you feel shitty and abandoned.”

      It’s so much easier to say than to do. So much.

      But if you’re going to promise to love and honor someone forever, and pool your resources, and have children together? I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument for doing ANYTHING other than what I just wrote.

      Wake up. Say, think, feel, do: “Thank you and I love you.”
      Partner does the same.

      Repeat tomorrow.

      Then, again. And then again.

      Liked by 2 people

      • ladyinthemountains says:

        Well done. I know that book and that pain. I read the book too late for us. I just wanted him to love me again. He couldn’t do it. Now I know he wanted me to be what I couldn’t be and I am happier now than I have been in 15 years- only divorced 4. I don’t know if you have ever heard of the mankind project but you might like it. Every man that I have met involved in it is a good man that is trying to grow and learn.


      • Rebekah Verbeten says:

        The only thing I disagree with you on is the accidentally becoming wiser part. You very deliberately said ‘never again’ and went about finding the tools you needed. It takes courage to look in the mirror and truthfully evaluate what you see. Even more so to put in the work to change what you see.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Matt says:

          That is the most significant difference between me today, and me five years ago.

          I — quite literally — SEE human behavior and interaction differently.

          It was always right in front of me. But I didn’t notice. I was unaware. Truly.

          And now I see it.

          The nuance of communicating that is really something.

          I think the common “guy” reaction is the EXACT SAME ONE I would have had 5-6 years ago: “What a bunch of emo, psychobabble pansy crap.”

          This isn’t something most people think about or care about until it’s poisoning their personal lives.

          Yet, all along, it was hiding in plain sight.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Donkey says:

            Matt, I find this very interesting! Do you have any idea as to why the earlier you felt the need to denigrate relationship info etc as “What a bunch of emo,psychobabble pansy crap”, even if only in your own head?

            (I remember feeling extremely bored learning about the human body etc in high school – and that changed when I faced some health problems. But I don’t remember thinking that the material was in and of itself worthy of contempt. Could be I’m remembering myself in a light that’s more flattering than reality though. :) )


      • Amy G Dala says:

        Thanks to your recommendation, Matt, I read that book. It also opened my eyes. Between the information in that book and learning about attachment theory (avoidant, anxious, etc.) I feel I have learned more in the last two weeks than I have in a long time. I shared the book with my avoidant boyfriend, but I fear it’s too late. I’m learning much about me, though, so for that I’m eternally grateful. I look forward to a time when my partner and I can put in place that love action sequence you outline above. It really sounds wonderful.

        Liked by 1 person

  25. So good! “Real danger is what lurks undetected.” I have encountered many men like you in my research. The honesty after the fact is great, but before is always better it just takes courage!

    You all might enjoy my blog…

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Does your ex-wife read this?


  27. lauriejoyeltahs says:

    Well said and very true. Mentioned this post in one of my own!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I've been seeing 333 for the last 28 years. Yes, it means something. Write about that. says:

    333 indicated once, that is to say, for the first time, expresses the mystery of the unity of God. 333 indicated twice, that is to say, for the second time, indicates the two natures, that of the divine and the human, united in the divine Person of Jesus Christ. 333 indicated thrice, that is to say, for the third time, indicates the mystery of the Three Divine Persons, that is to say, it expresses the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Thus the number, 333, expressed one, two and three times, expresses the principal mysteries of the Catholic faith, which are: (1) the Unity and the Trinity of God, (2) the incarnation, the passion and death, and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. pansyass says:

    I love your writing Matt! Like many posters before me, I am sitting here in tears because my marriage is coming apart. My husband is a shitty husband – in his defense, I guess I can be a shitty wife:

    We were both married before (he was divorced and I was a widow). In the beginning, everything was rainbows and unicorns. Even though we both brought baggage to the relationship, we were determined to be the first couple ever to “not let baggage bog us down.” That was our first mistake. The rainbows began to fade and I started to see the man I fell in love with slowly riding away on a unicorn – back to that imaginary place where only unicorns and true love exist.

    I always considered myself a happy-go-lucky laid back type of person. I never got too angry and went along with the flow. I guess you could say I thought I was a pretty “easy to live with” wife. However, with time, I found my anger could rear its ugly head BUT ONLY when I was pushed. And does my current husband push (although, I’m sure if you ask him – he doesn’t).

    His moodiness didn’t show up until I was already head over heels and still believed love can conquer anything. There are times he doesn’t talk to me for hours – which, every so often, turns into days. I would rack my brain trying to figure out what I did or said to deserve such treatment. Most of the time, it wasn’t me – he is just moody. And he doesn’t feel one bit bad about it (that sentence right there is the key to why our marriage sucks – he doesn’t give a shit how he treats me). This is when I started to feel bitterness. Bitterness then turned to resentment which turned into anger.

    Bitter resentful anger is an ugly, ugly thing. I would lash out at him because frankly, he didn’t “hear” me unless I yelled. I sometimes say nasty things and I would be a fool to think that doesn’t erode some of the loving feelings he has toward me. I admit that freely. But sometimes I don’t feel I have a choice. Not trying to make excuses, but when I get exercised and start raising my voice, at least I am trying to communicate – whereas, he stops talking and stonewalls me. That frustrates me more, so I get even angrier. Very vicious cycle of a merry go round we can’t get off.

    We had a huge fight (surprise) a few weeks ago. Finally, in tears, l told him that I feel like such a joke. He never tells me he loves me – he stopped touching and kissing me – he never makes passes at me anymore – we haven’t made love in weeks. He says he will try to do better (I’m learning that he says that to just shut me up). Does anything change? Nope. It’s like we never had the discussion. It’s like our promise to communicate better and take time for each other never happened. I tried to initiate intimacy recently; however, he turned me down, saying his back was sore. This normally wouldn’t have bothered me, but the fact we haven’t had sex for several weeks, just goes to show how far our relationship has plummeted. In his pre-unicorn riding days, he would have never turned down sex!

    Today was another stellar example. My husband left for a 5-day business trip (yes, it truly is a business trip – there are no signs he is having an affair). Yesterday, we had a great day together. We took a road trip and enjoyed each other’s company. I was hoping (and planning) on a romantic evening. I waited patiently for him to pack his suitcase. He took a shower and went to bed TO SLEEP. No discussion about the possibility of getting romantic or even just snuggling for that matter – I would have even settled for just lying in bed talking for a while. He just went to sleep. This morning, he had to meet his coworker so they could ride to the airport together. He got out of our car, loaded his luggage in his coworker’s trunk, looked at me through the windshield and said, “see you on Thursday.” No goodbye kiss – my mind is just screaming “how can you be so freakin callous!?” I asked him to come back to the car and he had no clue what I wanted with him. NONE! So, I got a quick peck on the lips and he was gone.

    I have determined my husband is a self-centered loner type who has very sterile emotions – he probably shouldn’t have gotten married again. There are times I regret getting married again (as I’m sure he does too). It’s gotten to the point that my caring about saving our marriage is non-existent. Unfortunately, we live in my house with my 3 sons, so my leaving is not possible. He should leave, but he won’t. When I ask him to, he says what he thinks I want to hear to get back into my good graces. And because I’m such a weak person, I drop it and hope for the best. No one should have to live like this.

    So very sorry for this long drawn out post. It’s hard to put years of hurt into a short paragraph. Thank you for listening.

    Liked by 3 people

  30. Wow! An enlightening article indeed, Matt! One can learn so much about preserving marriage and valuing relationships by going through the comments as well. Thanks for all the wisdom. X

    Liked by 1 person

  31. ej725 says:

    Perfectly and simply explained. Brilliant as always. Thank you!!! I wish so much my ex boyfriend would read your blog…

    Liked by 1 person

  32. LostandAlone says:

    I must admit I find the article depressing because I know this is why I lost my wife. The realization that there could have been a sustainable, loving, nourishing partnership instead of utter despair and loneliness (for me and this is due to guilt and remorse) with just a simple (yes simple) change of behavior to acknowledge the needs of another human being who entrusted her life to me. I never accepted nor even considered that this was my responsibility!!! Please could someone explain why this was not clear to me from the day we were amrried?


  33. Julia Grundling says:

    wow – thanks for this. very well said …

    i had this amazing husband as you described above, but i now realise i felt like you describe above. in spite of it, i stood by him 100%. he turned into a cheater and liar overnight – probably realising the aforementioned, but unfortunately the change left a path of devastation, which i think is worse, in my opinion.


  34. […] Your physical appearance. No matter how physically attractive you are, no amount of rugged good looks or a chiseled physique can overcome feelings of mistrust and danger she feels as a result of relationship insecurity. […]


  35. 3dd13 says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about this post or most of the comments I read through. I find some truth in your post to my situation and I take ownership to my faults and attempt to make the changes but the changes I make appear to only be for me. My situation is odd and I thought it was unique but I have found similar men who share similar emotional prisons they fall into. I love my wife and I use to tell her that all the time. I use to tell her lots of things but those things were never repeated back, validated, or endorsed. Very rarily do I get a return goodbye, have a good day at work, or good night eventhough I make those phrases regularly along with other nice pleasantries that we all love to share with our significants as small chat to fill our day to keep us going. We have been together for almost two decades and for the last decade she has strongly questioned me why I was still around. Without giving too much info into her she has not had the greatest childhood and was plagued by abuse that any girl or women should ever endure and unfortunately was never dealt with by her parents to help her work past these awful atrocities. She is an emotional person but she allows those emotions to build a wall that rejects anyone elses emotions to come inside and try to protect or to empower or comfort. This type of behavior was not present until after we got married which apparently was rushed into more so than I originally thought and did not find out how bad until years later. After years of being pushed away in my effort and not really getting the emotional “protection” I might of cared for I did fall into a pattern in which Matt describes but it was not because of being a “man”. It’s my depression that I fell into and I allowed myself to stay there and allowed my pit to get deeper. As my pit got deeper and just let her be alone allowing her to still be and live her side of the life (which is what she kind of wanted) actually made her pit deeper. We ended up being in a race to dig a hole to China where there will be no winner. During this whole race I allowed and listened to my wife vent about anything she wanted. If it was about me, I would try to change things but the changes had to be immediate and a slow process was never good enough. Things could go well for a month and if one little thing faltered everything had to be pounded back to the stone age. Yes I closed myself off from her emotionally but can you blame me? Same reason I wouldn’t blame a woman for doing the same thing. I even told her when she asks me why I do not open up to her about things like fears and emotions. It is a trust issue as Matt said. Why should anyone try to open up when they feel they can not trust the other with this type of information? I am sorry for the rambling and I almost did not comment but a few commenters here seem to believe that men do not require emotional protection which I find completely bogus. Sure a vast majority may be that way or just appear that way but there are plenty of fragile male souls out there that fit into this mold that Matt discusses but we end up having to look at from across the street. I hate to agree or label that I am in an emotionally abusive relationship but it has felt this way for too many years. Sometimes she outright admits it to me and tries to get me to lash out in anger of what she has done to my life but I cry more for the fact that she feels she doesn’t deserve anything good in her life because she thinks she is a horrible human being which I know she is not. As I sit here just staring at my drivel wondering if I should share it because A) its more emotional outbursts than any friend or family has seen from me this century and B) some people will just want to poke holes and point fingers. Remember this is just a small part of our issues over 20 years and is not the worst that I endured. Plus I know I am not perfect and stated that earlier but you can only turn the other cheek so many times since we only have a limited amount of cheeks. What you should take away from this is we are all humans and all humans do need a level of emotional protection and all humans can provide all forms of protection and all humans are capable of being abusive and all humans can ruin any form of trust.


    • 3dd13 says:

      I’d like to modify my first sentence and understand that Matt can not write for both sides as switching man/women throughout the post would make the readers confused. But some of the comments I’ve read make me feel like people think only one side is capable of either feeling a certain way or capable of acting or not acting in a certain way.


  36. Scott says:

    So now what? I think this is my marriage. I am trying to correct it, but how do I get the trust back? Is it possible?


  37. […] Sure, I know you just forgot, sometimes! I’m the freaking king of forgetting. But when you don’t create a system to not forget anymore (that you have that thing on Tuesday, or your wedding anniversary, or to pick up the dry cleaning, or whatever) so that your wife knows she’s loved and respected enough for you to take care of things and demonstrate you can be counted on, you reinforce feelings of mistrust that make her feel afraid and insecure about her entire life. […]


  38. […] via Safety and Trust in Relationships: Those Words Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean […]


  39. chrissy says:

    Omg this right here is how my 4 year relationship ended with the love of my life. We’ve been a year apart and it still kills me that now I have to spend the rest of my life without him only cos he didn’t listen to me, let me fall deeper into depression cos I didn’t know how to fix the problem on my own without his support, I had no choice but to leave :( I am so devasted I don’t know how to make him understand this and how we can give our love another chance. 2 months ago after a long period of not speaking, he told me he doesn’t trust me, he doesn’t have faith in US anymore. How can I speak to him without him getting defensive?


  40. Kevin says:

    I came across this superb article, and it was the only narrative (among the seemingly millions I read trying to understand my partner) that so precisely mirrored my experience. Kudos, very well done.

    Unfortunately I discovered it a mere EIGHT HOURS before she dropped the hammer on me.

    My advice: if you’re reading this article now one or both of the following things are true:

    1. It’s already too late and what you fear is coming, is coming, and/or
    2. You yourself want out but are afraid to drop the hammer on her for one reason or another

    If you’re dissatisfied and you are fully unable to give the extra 10%, get out. You’ll both be better off. If you’re the deer in the headlights as in #1 above, brace for impact.

    Thank you for the great article!


    • Matt says:

      I appreciate the kind endorsement, and fear this mirrors the experience of MOST guys but so few would ever speak about it let alone write it down.

      I’m really sorry you’re living it as I did so many others are. The world isn’t full of evil men. The world is full of uninformed men who seriously don’t know better. Their imperfect human partners are not the ideal people to guide them, and no one else is talking about it, so our relationships break. Often and painfully.

      I wish there were obvious answers.


  41. Obie0829 says:

    Thank you for your article. I am in a pretty severe point in our marriage where my wife is throwing this stuff at me. We are just recently separated and trying to take a breather from each other. I had an affair 3 1/2 years ago and we have been trying to heal ever since. It has been hell. Shift changes, career changes, residence changes, and everything else under the sun has taken place since. I have tried to learn this method, find out from her, how she specifically needs me to protect her, but I guess I am just not grasping it. I am giving it all I have though. In our situation, to me, it feels like no matter what I do to help her feel safe, even according to her own descriptions, I am damned. It just seems that the only way for her to feel “safe” is for me to do whatever she tells me. Anytime I resist a demand, I am not safe. This is one of the most frustrating situations. Any thoughts?


  42. Katie says:

    So…. you just spelled out my whole world right now, lol. I googled ‘should I tell someone i dont trust that i dont feel safe with them’, and this post came up a little ways down the list. I’m glad i read it. I’m sorry for the pain you went through to learn this. It may be selfish of me to say, but thank you. I’m grateful someone gets it. I felt very validated as a woman who has gone through this for 7 years of marriage and has three babies 5 and under to consider. I have failed as his wife over the years so i dont expect perfection. And we, like everyone else, have our story of how life has been hell and we stuck together through it all. It’s not the hell i minded- I signed up for that. It was the feeling emotionally abandoned during it and the guilt of turning to others for help that got me and still does. I did fall into an emotional affair that did start to turn physical, I’m not proud of it or trying to justify myself. I’ve turned from that source of comfort and safety in order to be open and authentic, but I feel like I’ve just opened myself up to more finger pointing and judgement. I talked to a Christian counselor who suggested we separate for a time, but my husband is strongly opposed to the idea. Lol, he said I have confirmation bias because I haven’t listened to his reasons about why that isn’t biblical and therefore a horrible idea. But soon I will be able to provide a home for me and the kids and will feel safe again. We can see where things go from there. Thanks for posting, and thanks for reading. It brought me great comfort. Be well. Lol, I sure will be, one way or another…

    Liked by 1 person

  43. […] there are other elements to safety, and I think it’s common for men—young and old—to have the wrong idea about safety and trust in their relationships that will inevitably lead to divorces that neither they nor their wives actually […]


  44. Cat says:

    Thank you for this. It is heartening to know I am not alone in these experiences.

    Our 18 year marriage is approaching the point where we’re probably going to be having the separation conversation. I know, from my perspective, that it has stemmed from the reasons you write above. Little things that erode emotional trust, to the point where ‘happy’ is a distant country. And it is so sad, because he is a lovely man. It isn’t fair to expect him to stay in an unhappy relationship – he doesn’t get it and I don’t want to make him feel like it’s all his fault – of course it isn’t. But the very fact that I no longer trust him enough to even try and tell him – again – what’s affecting us means, I suspect, that the relationship is headed for the crash site. What a waste. I truly never thought we would be these people.


    • Matt says:

      You just wrote—beautifully—but very sadly the perfect description of how all this looks and feels and happens.

      And I’m so sorry, Cat. It’s the saddest story I know. How happy people become unhappy in a way that would be avoidable if only they could find the right words along the way.

      Everyone deserves better. Certainly you and your husband.

      Thank you for sharing your story here and helping people feel less alone.


      • Cat says:

        I wanted to add to my above comment here, and update. Short version: we sorted it out. It took time, and some life changes. I quit my more-than-full-time job, thereby removing one of the huge stressors on us; we figured out, through constant reiteration in behaviour and speech, how to converse and act in honest and humorous ways to communicate with each other. Sometimes it can be the external factors (e.g. job) that will help the hammer to fall – if you’re under so much pressure from outside influences that you cannot see straight, figuring out how to consider your own well-being, let alone that of others, is well-nigh impossible. Finding your blog gave me some hope that all might not be lost, and encouraged me to look for ways to change things up. And we did. So there’s a win all around :D


  45. […] NOT connecting with his wife emotionally often causes her to feel unsafe having sex with him, or simply so hurt and turned off, that she can’t want […]


  46. Joshua says:

    Reading this was satisfying and took my breath away. Just as it stated I felt as if they were talking about my marriage. Besides that point; What can a person do once there is no trust or the feeling of safety? Do you just start fresh again? More importantly how do I help my wife get that closer she looking for. Before some beats me to it 😥 Thanks for the info🔥


  47. […] We talk about safety. We talk about trust. And people think they know what that means. But sometimes it takes on different meaning in romantic relationships. […]


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