I Do Not Care About That But I Do Care About You

don't care

(Image/The Mind Unleashed)

Author’s Note: A very special thanks to the author of “The Secret Blind”, whose post with this very same title inspired this one. The headline so perfectly encapsulates the message I’ve repeatedly, and in multiple ways, attempted to share here. It is my greatest failure as both a husband and human being. My failure to treat things with care simply because they hold so much value for other people, even if they do not for me personally.

My wife enjoyed marching band performances, snow skiing, and white wines.

I like those things much less.

I generally preferred watching the live sports where marching bands often played, and thought of their performances mostly as a sideshow at best, and distraction at worst. I don’t like doing much of anything in snow. And if I’m drinking wine, I’m choosing a dry-ish red more than nine times out of 10.

There are no limits to the list I could produce illustrating differences between how my wife chose to do things, or her personal preferences; versus how I chose to do things, and my personal preferences.

We had many surface-level differences.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that we OFTEN did not care about the same things.

You know, like that dish sitting by the sink.

Or how I would be emotionally affected by the outcome of a football, basketball or baseball game I was watching, and the result—good or bad for my favorite teams—wouldn’t faze her either way.

There was a list of Things My Wife Cared About.

And then there was a separate list of Things I Cared About.

The lists were quite different.

I think it’s TOTALLY NORMAL and INSTINCTUAL, frankly, for human beings to react with passion and interest to events or subject matter that live on their Things I Care About lists.

And I think it’s also totally normal and instinctual to lack interest in any subject matter or event NOT on that list.

Most of the time, this is a non-issue.

When readers pick up The New York Times, some of them will go straight to the Sports page while others go to Business news, or Classifieds, or the Opinion page.

Businesses and entertainers have been catering to diverse audiences since the dawn of commerce. None of this seems weird to anyone.

And that’s why it can be so shocking later in life when your spouse’s or romantic partner’s total disinterest in the things that matter to you can be the thing that stress-fractures your previously amazing relationship, and slowly but surely chips away at its structural integrity until it splits in two or totally levels it in a fiery explosion.

How can these TOTALLY NORMAL and COMMONLY OCCURRING personality differences or differing points of view be THE thing that is causing us to fall apart? How did this happen?

These are the questions some of us are left asking ourselves after our spouses move out, and we’re crying in the kitchen, and we miss our kids, and no amount of alcohol can make the hurt stop.

Two people gave varying degrees of shit about several things, just as ANY two people in human history would. And THAT somehow ended the most cherished and important human relationship they’ve ever had.

Damn.

Competing interests can cause nations or groups of varying ideologists to go to war.

Competing interests can cause supporters of opposing sports teams to treat one another like assholes.

And competing interests can cause two people who vowed to love one another for their entire lives to go back on that promise—and JUSTIFY doing so because it feels like their spouse broke that same promise first.

Maybe It’s Not As Hard As We Think

Teed-up That’s what she said jokes aside, maybe it’s true, even though I’m pretty much in a constant state of Sucking at This.

Maybe we do sometimes over-complicate divorce. Maybe we overthink it. Maybe we overestimate the problem facing us societally, or within our own relationships.

Maybe—just maybe—when we take the time to invest our energy in the stuff on the Things My Wife/Husband Cares About lists (not because we naturally care about those things, but because we mindfully care about our loved ones), those existing stress-fractures can heal.

Maybe when we’re focused on investing in the Things [Insert ANY Person We Value] Cares About list, people won’t drift apart, or feel abandoned, or disrespected, or neglected, or unloved, or underappreciated, or any of the countless other emotions we all feel from time-to-time (even though the people who love us would NEVER intentionally try to make us feel that way).

Our habits and naturally occurring instincts are NOT bad. We’re not wrong or broken or evil for responding in the moment in whatever way is most authentic.

HOWEVER, after vowing a lifetime of love, service and partnership to another, and should it turn out that our habits and naturally occurring instincts cause painful stress-fractures and emotional suffering in their hearts and minds, do we not owe them the daily effort to avoid behaviors that they tell us are hurting them, and invest in behaviors that actually foster good?

I didn’t give even the slightest iota of a shit about some of the things my ex-wife loved and valued.

That’s okay.

But then I actually behaved in ways that communicated how little I valued and respected those things that she cared about.

And THAT response hurt—HURT—her. A little at first. Then more. Then every day was a grind and something to dread, and then she eventually stopped wanting to keep doing that.

How long would our relationships last if, from Day 1, we said things like “Hahaha, that’s so stupid! Everything you like sucks, and all of your opinions are bullshit. You must be dumb like your parents and all of your dumb friends.”

I think, even when we don’t speak—or even think and feel—those words, our actions SAY them when we are constantly dismissive of and inattentive to the Things My Wife/Husband Cares About lists.

You probably don’t think everything on those lists is particularly interesting. Just like if you prefer chocolate ice cream while she/he prefers vanilla.

We all like different things. Seems harmless enough.

But THIS is the thing that’s breaking us.

You don’t care about something, and that’s okay. It would be inauthentic and bullshitty to start faking it now.

BUT.

What if you cared simply because THEY did?

And what if, instead of throwing empty words at them, we actually acted like it?

Tagged , , , , , ,

50 thoughts on “I Do Not Care About That But I Do Care About You

  1. Mike says:

    Yes. It’s so easy to sort-of understand this, because I can remember my partner doing this to me. It take a little stretch to go “oh, maybe I did it too”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Morgan says:

    Matt, I’ve been reading your blog and posts for a long, LONG time now, and out of all the posts you’ve written that I’ve read, this is by FAR the most insightful (in my opinion). To me, this is hitting the nail on the head. You offer many “do-able” suggestions to someone looking to improve their situation, wherever that may be, but- to me- this is Number One. Actions speak louder than words. My husband doesn’t have to like crafting, and is allowed to hate going to Hobby Lobby with me. But he knows they’re closed on Sundays and knows enough to suggest Michaels or Joann’s BECAUSE he loves me… As I strive to be better at doing the same for him. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Christina says:

    This is an accurate depiction of the last 20 years of my life. I have pretty much given up almost everything I loved/cared about before we got married and have replaced it with accommodating/paying for/making possible everything my husband loves/cares about. I make almost 90k a year, and spend almost nothing of it on myself or anything I like doing, and when I try to, my husband yells and screams about how selfish I am. Yet he has thousands of dollars worth of plastic figurines he paints, attends every class on how to paint them, conventions about them, also into photography and has every lens/camera/light/software suite he wants. I have a few things he has bought me for Christmas/birthdays, but if I buy anything in excess of a pair of shoes he loses his mind. I have wanted a 4 wheeler for 20 years but have been told I don’t make enough, yet he spends thousands on himself every month and says his retirement (he is a retired Marine) is his because “you didn’t deploy or work for it”. I am just trying to make it to our youngest son’s HS graduation, then I am out of here. I love the outdoors and when we got married it was my impression he did too, but I think that was just a ruse to get me to like him. I like fishing and hunting and kayaking and camping, but he says he hates those things now. I don’t feel like we have anything in common anymore which happens, but I can’t even do them by myself because he gets mad or there is too much house work or familial responsibilities to take care of, and he hates doing those things too. He hates kids and never wants to spend time with our son and me, so we usually just end up doing nothing while he leaves for the weekend or does what he wants. I am counting the days until I can get away from him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • After reading that, I’m counting down the days for you too. How much longer until your son is out of high school?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Christina says:

        Thank you. He is almost done with his Freshman year so about 3 more years. The thing is, I really love my kids and enjoy their company, and it makes me mad and sad that I even feel this way. Marriage is not supposed to be like this, and married couples are supposed to look forward to spending time together and with their kids rather than count the days until they can escape the marriage. I just want a friend who respects me and enjoys my and my kids’ company. I just married the wrong person. Thank you for your kind reply though and take care.

        Like

        • Monique says:

          Life is too short lovely. Leave now.. everyone will be happier if you do… even your son… trust me!

          Like

          • Roberta Plant says:

            Seriously, I remember that same feeling — my husband hated me or did a great job acting like he did. Infinite amounts of money could be expended on Irish Whiskey or the liquor of his friends’ choices, but when I spent money that I earned to go to my grandmother’s funeral, he brought that up REPEATEDLY — how it was such a waste, etc. etc. I had planned to fake it and stay married for my childrens’ sake — and then leave when my younger son left for college — but SURPRISE! he was so mean and nasty and told me to get out of his house so many times and upset our children so much with his nastiness that I ended up leaving right after my younger son turned three. Funny, how that worked out. I am lonely at times. I wanted a love and marriage that would last my whole life more than I wanted anything else, and I love male companionship, but overall, the peace and happiness in our home is worth any and every sacrifice I made. It has been ten years but I finally feel like I am okay despite all his criticism. I wish you every good thing. It is so hard. I grieved so much for so long — and for what I never even had! It will be hard, but it will be worth it. Truly. It is so much worse being with someone who doesn’t deserve your love and light than it is to be alone.

            Like

            • Christina says:

              Wow are we talking about the same man??? I can’t even talk about spending money or planning a purchase that exceeds the cost of a pair of shoes and I’m selfish! Nothing as bad as going to a funeral (that is just outrageous!) but mine has told me he hates my mother so much he wishes she would die, so it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened eventually! He apologizes later on, but like you say, you hear nastiness for 20 years and it just tears you down. He has PTSD from the Marine Corps, so I try to deal with the meanness and understand, but it is just so hard after so many years of being treated like I don’t matter to keep forgiving him. I am just taking it day by day at this point. So glad you are happy now though, good for you for having the courage to break free!

              Like

    • julie3344 says:

      I agree with the other posters in that you shouldn’t wait for your son to be done with HS. In fact, it would be devastating for him to experience a huge change like college and his parents’ separation at the same time. Start putting the wheels in motion now if you want to leave.

      Like

  4. Walter Hollander says:

    IMHO, your analysis of this little understood or appreciated issue could well be the most significant factor in the whole subject of divorce. it is very rare for me to hear a husband or a wife refer in any positive manner to a subject that their spouse is extremely interested in. Most of the time both husbands and wives refer to those items held dear by the other spouse as “his stuff or her stuff” i begrudgingly learned how critically important it can be when you let your partner know that although you personally do not appreciate or care for certain issues, as long as they are important to my partner, then you better believe that those issues are now important to me. AND MY WIFE TRULY LOVES ME MORE…JUST BECAUSE OF THAT! go ahead and try it—you will be pleasantly surprised at the response you will get.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Katia says:

    We weren’t married, but when I finally started seriously thinking about leaving my ex, it was because I’d just described to my friend a somewhat lonely but otherwise enjoyable weekend of hiking and wine tasting, and the friend I told said, “Sounds like you guys had fun!” and I responded “Oh, no, it was just me.”

    “What? Why didn’t [Ex] go?”

    “Oh, he doesn’t like those things.”

    “So? You do.”

    It was a powerful statement that pushed me from occasionally looking at rentals wistfully to actually looking for my own place. I was powerfully lonely, and sure, maybe I’m still doing activities alone, but it is by choice and that’s a big difference.

    Like

  6. Kai Jones says:

    I’ve tried both adopting as many of my spouse’s interests as possible and having an explicit agreement that we don’t have to share interests and I don’t think either worked, because of what you write here. What matters is being interested in the other person, and showing it. I managed it with my kids: you can be interested and excited and enthusiastic about them, and about them being interested in something (even if you are not interested in that thing). But you can’t disparage their favorites, you can’t demean them for liking those things, and you can’t disagree with them about what is important to them.

    You have to care. You have to care about that person, and by extension you have to care about what is important to them.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. gottmanfan says:

    I really like this post.

    In my experience the really challenging things are when the Things S/He Likes That I Don’t like because they cost me something.

    How do we handle those things that are differences that result in a zero sum situation is the difference in staying happily married and divorce.

    For example, s/he wants to work a lot of hours or spend a lot of hobby/friends time alone and the other person wants more family or couple time.

    Or one person wants a very tidy organized house and the other wants it cozy cluttered.

    Or one person wants to live close to extended family and the other wants to relocate.

    Or one person wants to have sex several times a week and the other wants it much less.

    The attitude we use to approach those kind of differences is critical.

    Do we make it mean the other person is WRONG? Or do we look for common ground with an attitude of caring that each other “wins”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • gottmanfan says:

      This is what went wrong with my marriage.

      It wasn’t the “dishes” or styles of music kind of differences.

      It was the stuff that we differ on that cost something. We each felt the other wasn’t treating us “fairly” and weren’t able to resolve certain things but put on temporary patches.

      Put enough patches on a tire and it isn’t going to stay road worthy.

      After we lost trust in each other on the bigger things, the smaller things became symbolic of not being treated fairly. So we started making each other wrong about little things like “dishes” too.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sue says:

    VERY insightful post …

    I ‘see’ both my ex husband and I in it …

    And I am DETERMINED not to let the same thing happen again with my new husband and I …

    THANK YOU for the head’s up!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. My husband stopped coming to family meals and events because he didn’t like my family. We rarely saw my friends as couples because he didn’t like them but I spent many a Saturday or Sunday afternoon at the pub with him and his friends which was not my activity of choice.

    Like

  10. benleander says:

    This post was a real eye opener! Never thought about that before bit there’s something to it. I guess some things don’t really matter as much eg if you prefer red or white wine. But u should have at least some common interests.. If political and religious thinking overlaps it sure doesn’t hurt as well.

    Like

    • Hi Ben.
      I think it’s more about respecting the differences. Not necessarily that you need to be the same. And more than respecting the differences, supporting your partner in them.
      You know, asking about her quilting ideas because it shows interest in her , even if you don’t have any interest in the activity yourself.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Michelle says:

    This is my favorite post, ever!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. gottmanfan says:

    “They can manage conflict constructively. That means they can arrive at mutual understanding and get to compromises that work. And they can repair effectively when they hurt one another.

    They honor one another’s dreams, even if they’re different. They create a shared meaning system with shared values and ethics, beliefs, rituals, and goals. They agree about fundamental symbols like what a home is, what love is, and how to raise their children.

    Expect that. You deserve it. It’s not unreasonable, and it’s achievable.”

    https://www.gottman.com/blog/truth-expectations-relationships/

    Like

  13. gottmanfan says:

    One of the most helpful things is to REALLY accept that when we are paired with someone there are inevitably going to be perpetual, unresolvable differences.

    I am still working on accepting some of ours sigh.

    “People should not expect to solve all of the problems in their relationship, either. My Love Lab studies found that almost ⅔ of relationship conflict is perpetual. As Dr. Dan Wile says, “When choosing a long-term partner… you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems.””

    Like

    • gottmanfan says:

      Some differences are more stylistic things like music or morning/night person or introvert/extrovert etc.

      Those are hard enough since they affect a lot of everyday choices.

      Some things are even more difficult because there are different ways of managing our sense of safety and our bodily regulation.

      Those are even more likely to cause huge marital problems because they feel so “wrong” rather than different.

      Like

  14. gottmanfan says:

    So the interesting and pertinent questions to me are

    1. Why do people get into relationships expecting there to be few differences?

    2. After that hurdle is cleared, how can we deal with difficult perpetual differences?

    3. Once you intellectually know how to deal with them, what is blocking following through with that?

    4. How do you get unblocked?

    Like

    • Good Morning 👋
      Saturday morning empty house doing laundry thoughts 🙏
      1. We get into these relationships because we marry “dating” person – we shave our legs regularly (or the male equivalent), we put our best face forward and we truly seek proximity to another because, well because that is what we want. Alone is nice when you know everyone will be coming home later, but truly alone is not what we were meant to be.
      3. We deal with differences by either showing them early and accepting them (the brave and confident) or we gradually show or question the other in unskilled and ineffective ways. ie “I didn’t think because you were a slob in your own space you’d continue to be so when we shared one because my need for order is more important than your need to be able to see everything you own.” And “Because I act tough and cool doesn’t mean that I REALLY am deep down and I CAN get stressed and cry and get my feeling hurt cuz I’m just a gurl deep down.”
      I think the challenge is navigating the two situations above skillfully, compassionately and with the same end goal – NOT BEING ALONE AND BEING WITH THIS PERSON IN FRONT OF ME.
      3. I think the answer to #3 is very well laid out in the Mark Manson piece Matt posted on Facebook recently. Because we’re humans whose masks hide a scared being inside whose deepest fear is not being good enough and the piles and piles of turtles under that – I kept seeing Yertle the Turtle from Dr Seuss in my head as I read that. See Brene Brown – we ALL have stuff. We just hide it differently.
      4. We get unblocked by being both kind to ourselves and others. (Except psychopaths and truly evil people who have shit too but it needs professional help – the challenge is seeing that early enough). I acknowledge my feelings, take responsibility for them, and try to communicate them effectively. And when his response is distressing to me I look at how my words stir up his stuff and have compassion that he has stuff too. I say sorry for sounding like a dick but that’s how I feel. And he says sorry for being a dick and even though he doesn’t say it he knows I know he has shit too that makes upset scary to him.
      It gives us something in common again and then we go plant the garden.
      It’s happening less often now 🙏
      This is all reflected in my experience and may have no application to the realities of others. However, I apply these concepts frequently in my work with people and I have to say I’m getting much more effective and seeing positive results there too.

      Like

      • Ps “just a gurl” is our code for “you were being insensitive and clueless dickhead” – it is in no way minimizing the female gender or power, it just sounds better in front of the kids and is very much the opposite of how I see myself and how he sees me hence it’s comic flavour in a moment to lighten things up.

        Like

        • Oh, and in case you think we’re modelling stereotypes – my kids roll their eyes and snort when I say “just a gurl” because they get it. But they also know I’m standing up for myself, kindly because they also know their dad has stuff too – they live with him.

          Like

      • gottmanfan says:

        STH,

        Thank you for your response! When I have a bit more time I would love to pick your brain more.

        Like

      • gottmanfan says:

        STH,

        I am glad to hear that things in you family are improving!

        I agree with much of what your wrote.

        I guess for me I need to understand the mechanics of it better in order to change. I can’t changed by just trying to be kind for example.

        I have to understand what does it mean to be kind. The small steps of that both in insight and cognitive and behavioral steps.

        And then how to understand and change in detailed ways what is blocking me from doing that.

        This, as you said, may not apply to other people. I don’t know.

        Like

        • Saw this and want to do the question justice. Life however doesn’t always make that easy. Don’t know if this answers your question as the “path” is a little convoluted. Happy to send you some references if you want though :)

          By “kind” – in my head it is the “loving kindness/metta” buddhanature type not the hearts and flowers, pat on the head type. It is sometimes an iron fist in a velvet glove and sometimes a true gentle hug and nothing else. It is mindfully seeing the situation for what it is, not what I want it to be or not to be, and taking the right action or saying the right thing.

          Some days “kind” is bursting someone’s selfish bubble and saying “snap out of it – do you really think it makes me feel good as a woman to work all day and come home and clean up after you?” and some days “kind” is coming home after a long day at work, seeing how crappy he looks and saying “what can I do for you?”

          Kind is being present, being in the moment with no judgement (good/bad/or indifferent) and trying to say the right thing or do the right thing whether it benefits me or not. (ps – it always benefits me ….. and him, and us, and the kids). “kind” is stopping and breathing and knowing when inaction is the best action.

          And I mess it up all the time. But I notice when I do, acknowledge it to myself and other if necessary and try harder next time. And I hope that when I set the example of the tone and the actions I want in my marriage I will get them in return.

          Liked by 1 person

          • gottmanfan says:

            STH,

            You said:

            “Kind is being present, being in the moment with no judgement (good/bad/or indifferent) and trying to say the right thing or do the right thing whether it benefits me or not. (ps – it always benefits me ….. and him, and us, and the kids). “kind” is stopping and breathing and knowing when inaction is the best action.”

            This is so good! Thank you, I needed to hear that today.

            Liked by 1 person

  15. Kcat10 says:

    Dear Matt,

    Thank you for this latest article. You are a genius at making lemons into lemonade. Seriously. It brings another delicious ray of light and clarity to what you are teaching us.

    Question: Did you contribute to this 5/30/18 Huffpost article: “10 Divorced Men On The Moment They Knew Their Marriage Was Over”?

    This section below was signed by “Matthew”. There are many Matthews in the world, but the poignant way this was written brought to mind your blog, so I wondered if it was by you. This went straight to my heart. If it was you, I’m so sorry for the anguish you suffered. If it wasn’t you, I am still sorry, because it feels like the searing pain you’ve described. It reads:

    “1. When my son mentioned ‘mommy’s new friend.’

    “I should have known it was over when she said at dinner that she didn’t know whether she loved me anymore. I should have known it after 18 months of sleeping in separate bedrooms. I should have known it when she stopped demonstrating any positive or negative emotions toward me. I should have known it after spending a holiday weekend with our young son on a road trip that she declined to take with us. I should have known it after I saw her missing wedding ring upon returning home from that trip. I should have known it when she moved out the next day, driving away with our little boy in the back seat. But I didn’t. Still, I hoped. And then, two weeks later, my son innocently mentioned a dog and some little girls he had been playing with. They belonged to ‘mommy’s new friend.’

    ‘Did you have a sleepover at mommy’s new friend’s house?’

    ‘Yes.’

    I never knew a one-word answer from a child could be so lethal and life-changing. I thought I might die, right then. That’s when I knew.” ― Matthew”

    Like

  16. marilyn sims says:

    Hello All:

    There is an article in today’s Washington Post entitled 5 Myths about Marriage, authors are John Gottman and Christopher Dollard.

    #1 Common interests keep you together
    #2 Never go to bed Angry
    #3 Couples Therapy is for fixing broken marriages
    #4 Affairs are the MAIN cause of divorce
    #5 Marriages benefit from “relationship contracts”

    The authors explain why none of these elements are TRUE. I was really surprised by #1!!!!

    Like

  17. julie3344 says:

    As usual, a lot of great points in this blog. I will point out that even just one generation ago, a lot of husbands were not expected to share their wives interests. Some wives were expected to go along with their husband’s interests. But that era is over. In the modern era of equality in marriage and fluid gender roles, a husband and wife must work together to ensure a lasting marriage. And being open to each other’s passions is a bare minimum.i had an ex-be in college who always tile me how much he loved me but his actions were the exact opposite. He showed zero interest in things I liked. I left on a graduation trip to Asia and realized that there was a whole world for me that he would never be interested in. Even before I came home, I knew it was over. He made last ditch attempts to learn Asian languages and stuff. Too little, too late. Modern men enjoy many luxuries that their ancestors never had. But an egalitarian marriage is a unique modern challenge. It’s a true test of the survival of the fittest.

    Like

  18. Matt,
    Just sort of a random note….
    I’d sum up what all (and by all, I mean the MBTTTR message) of this is about in two words: Personal responsibility.
    Personal responsibility in marriage, but also personal responsibility as a single(widowed/separated/divorced/ never married.)
    I’m hoping you include a chapter or two on values, understanding your blue print (both the necessity of it, as well as the knowledge that it isn’t the same for everyone), mindfulness and integrity.
    It seems like those things are necessary for not only having a full life, but also a good marriage.
    And, by the way, all of this of course reflects your own work in taking personal responsibility for your marriage and growth. It has been an immense blessing to countless individuals. Thank you for sharing your gift of story telling with us.
    You is kind, you is smart, you is important. :).

    Liked by 2 people

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