Love vs. Respect—Which is More Critical for Making Relationships Last?

Love vs Respect

(Image/Deskgram – chrysalisjewels)

I didn’t respect my wife even though I loved her a lot. And even though my wife loved me back, because she respected herself, she eventually divorced me.

I never considered that my freely given unconditional love could ever not be enough. I never considered that my selective demonstrations of respect toward my wife could impact her love for me—both the emotional love one feels, as well as the psychological love one actively chooses to give to someone else.

Now, I showed a requisite amount of respect for my wife for most people—including her most of the time—to observe, think, and feel Matt respects his wife.

And that’s the big secret in all of these complicated relationship conversations. They’re so dangerously nuanced that most of us are capable of interpreting them multiple ways, or—perhaps more commonly—our interpretation is different than another person’s interpretation, and then when discussing the disagreement, one or both people are horrible at navigating the conversation without damaging the relationship they have with whomever they’re having a disagreement.

Often, that’s a romantic partner or spouse.

Often, it’s just one more paper cut on one or both of them that will eventually cause the relationship to bleed to death and die.

My newest coaching client asked me this morning: “What is your view of the relationship between love and respect? Can you love someone with whom you are inconsistent in showing respect? If you lose respect over time, can you recover and still love that person?”

The following is my answer.

Love is NOT All You Need

“Love is all you need,” The Beatles sang over and over again in their smash hit from 1967 that all of us have heard dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times.

And I think I know what John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney intended when writing the song. I’m not here to quibble with their lyrics.

But I am here to quibble with that idea in its most literal interpretation and in the most anal-retentive way possible, because it’s the difference between whether your relationship survives ups and downs, or slowly withers on the vine and dies.

I love my son. Like, LOVE him. Intensely. And philosophically, I respect him. Like, I think and believe that I respect him.

But I think there’s a chance he often feels disrespected by me. Maybe because of my tone when I say something to him, or because of how I react to some outrageous 10-year-old thing he says, instead of simply RESPECTING him.

I shower my son with praise.

I tell him regularly how much he’s loved and cared for and valued. I tell him how proud of him I am.

And that’s real. I FEEL those things, authentically, when I say them. In Dr. Chapman’s 5 Love Languages terms, words of affirmation are my love language.

I don’t know what that child’s love language is.

Maybe his love language is “Hey Dad, show up on time for the last-ever Cub Scouts event of my life because you respected me enough to put it in your calendar and be sure you wouldn’t miss it instead of forcing Mom to text you after it already started, which is the only reason you even showed up.”

(That really happened. Two days ago. ADDitude Magazine should put me on their cover.)

I FEEL intense love for my son. It’s very real to me. But what good does that love do if my son feels disrespected? What good does it do if my son grows up not trusting me with whatever he’s dealing with because—from his perspective—I don’t show him respect?

Maybe all my bullshitty Dad-talk feels to him like disrespectful, unsolicited advice, or worse—like criticism that I don’t think he’s good enough.

Maybe despite telling my son (and believing it) how smart I think he is, he doesn’t FEEL as if I think he’s smart, since sometimes I think he says bullshitty things, and act like it.

Life continues to humble me, and remind me that no matter how much I learn, I’m still as far away from being a finished product as I was when I was still doling out shitty husbandry like a nudie-card peddler on Las Vegas Blvd.

Romantic Love and Marriage is Even More Fragile Than Our Parent-Child Relationships

Kids don’t really choose their living arrangement. But our adult romantic partners DO choose it. It’s a volunteer activity, and if we want them to voluntarily choose us over every other possible option in the world, we should offer some type of value proposition in exchange for their voluntary commitment to being our partners.

I’m not a child psychologist, but our kids just sort of get born into our homes and families, and grow up without enough information to gauge how good or bad it is relative to other homes and families in the world.

So long as we’re not horribly abusive and sadistic, I think our kids often hero-worship us in a lot of ways, even when we don’t deserve it.

But not so much with our spouses or girlfriends/boyfriends.

The most common story of romantic love dying in a relationship is because RESPECT is absent.

What Does Respect Look Like?

I’m polite. Kind. Nice. Well-mannered.

And because I say please and thank you, and generally behave “respectfully,” I always believed that I was demonstrating respect to others. Combined with that intense love that I felt toward my wife, any suggestion that I didn’t love and respect my wife was met with total confusion.

Outrageous! How dare she! OF COURSE I love and respect her! She’s the person I married and share all my things with and made a child with!

That is the 100% true and authentic (and tragically common) thought and feeling residing in the hearts and minds of one or both married/romantic partners that will paradoxically lead them to a messy and painful divorce or breakup.

Outrageous. That doesn’t make any sense at all. I would have never married them or do X, Y, and Z for and with them for all of these years if I didn’t love and respect them! They’re just mistaken. But that’s okay. All you need is love.

When you believe in your heart and soul that you love and respect your partner, then you’re in no way motivated to change your behavior or mindset. Which leads to the exact same things happening over and over again. The exact same things that are leading to one or both relationship partners feeling disrespected and unloved.

Our INTENTION to respect others in no way guarantees that other people FEEL respected.

The math is simple enough.

When your partner doesn’t feel as if they’re respected, they will feel mistreated. They will feel uncared for. They will feel dismissed and marginalized.

A person in that situation has two choices—continue to feel beaten down and unloved, which often leads to a total loss of positive self-image, and a person who feels shitty all of the time ceases to be fun and attractive, so the PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DISRESPECT AND MISTREATMENT actually ends up having “legitimate” reasons to stop feeling attracted to their partner, commonly leading to affairs or a divorce/breakup.

The other choice a person has—and I’m so glad that my ex-wife chose it—is to stand up for oneself. To preserve your own internal self-respect, self-love, personal integrity, etc.

Because God forbid, my son’s mother have turned into some beaten-down, self-loathing, joyless human incapable of demonstrating the kind of love and respect I wish for any child, but especially my son who I love so much and for who I wish so many good things.

“But Matt! What do you mean you didn’t respect your wife? What does that even look like?”

That’s the tricky part. That’s the scary, sneaky part.

It’s difficult to recognize. So, just in case you didn’t see it above, this is what it looks like.

A semi-famous example from this blog and my marriage is the story of me leaving a dish by the sink, and how my habit of doing that led to my divorce.

I saw a dish by the sink. No big deal. I saw something virtually meaningless. Insignificant, at most.

My wife saw a blatant act of disrespect. A huge deal. And FELT it, emotionally, down where it hurts the most. She saw weekly, if not daily, reminders that her husband didn’t respect her enough to do something SUPER-easy for her. She felt so uncared for, and so unheard, and so invalidated, that her choice was either:

  • Spend the rest of her life with someone who constantly makes her feel shitty through common, frequent acts of disrespect.
  • Choose a different option involving infinitely less pain, more hope, better health, and ensuring that she’d continue to be a person she could look at in the mirror and feel proud of.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t think her concerns were valid. It didn’t matter that I disagreed with her.

Even in some magical universe where I was objectively RIGHT in those assumptions, it STILL wouldn’t matter what was true to ME.

My wife felt pain, down in her gut, because she couldn’t trust me to be her adult partner for the rest of her life.

And major change is scary. And facing a lifetime of pain is scary. Especially when a little boy is at the center of it.

Love is great. Love is paramount to humanity’s survival. Love is a necessary and critical component of making marriage or any romantic relationship work.

But, which is MORE important? Which is MORE critical?

Love or respect?

It’s respect.

Respect is something virtually every human deserves on a basic level.

But love? That’s a choice. That’s something we reserve for a select few for our own reasons.

Love is a choice people will no longer choose to make in the absence of respect.

If you’re in a marriage or dating relationship that used to be full of love, but now feels heavy and empty? And you’re wondering where that love and joy went?

This is why.

I didn’t respect my wife, and now I’m divorced.

I hope you’ll make a different choice.

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123 thoughts on “Love vs. Respect—Which is More Critical for Making Relationships Last?

  1. gottmanfan says:

    Talking about “love” and “respect” is difficult because so many people bring different interpretations to those words (to the point of your blog).

    And there is another layer of difficulty because many Evangelical Christians in the last 20 years have been taught that there is a gender split with men needing respect and women needing love.

    The most popular marriage Evangelical marriage book in recent years is titled Love and Respect: the Love she most desires and the Respect he desperately needs. This book (which I do not recommend) teaches that women do not need respect.

    I say all that because that is an influential factor in how many people in the US think about marriage and your blog seems to have a high percentage of commenters who Evangelicals/conservative Christians. Perhaps that is a factor in the person you are Coaching’s question I don’t know.

    Like

    • Well, I think the point about men and women, love and respect, is a valid one in terms of what we so often see play out. Men tend to perceive “respect” more as, “I respect her ability to do all the housework, all the dishes, all the childcare.” Love asks them to take it to a whole new level, it isn’t about her capabilities, it is about loving her by lending a hand because you believe her work has value. We can actually “respect” people but have no love for them at all.

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      • gottmanfan says:

        I agree that we can respect people but have no love and we can also love people with no respect. Neither of these is the goal of a good relationship imho.

        As I said above people vary in what they define as “love” and “respect”.

        No matter what we call it though I agree with you that being kind and loving and having good boundaries all around end up with the same healthy attitudes and behaviors in a healthy relationship.

        It isn’t important as a hill to die on what people call it as long as it produces healthy outcomes.

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    • Laney says:

      I agree that it’s hard to have a conversation about love and respect when there are so many different perspectives on what they mean. Some of the comments here seem to define respect as polite communication, or treating someone with civility. But Matt’s examples of disrespect are more than a lack of politeness or civility. In his examples, he disregarded what mattered to his wife. My favorite definition of respect comes from the Divorce Cure Challenge, and it simply states “what matters to me matters to you.” (And vice versa.) The dish on the counter mattered to his wife, going to his game on time mattered to his son. He showed disrespect to both when those things didn’t matter to him. That automatically creates a repellent force in the relationship, much like two magnets with the same polar ends pushed together… They repel rather than attract. Respect, or caring about what matters to the other, is huge in healthy relationships. I agree that you can have love without respect and respect without love. But you cannot avoid the repellent force that comes from disrespecting someone. And the more of that force that is in the relationship, the harder it is for those people to connect, regardless of how much “love” they feel for each other. The connection between love and respect is very clear once you learn the 4 laws and 2 bonding forces of relationships. The application is still hard and takes effort, but it greatly simplifies relationships when you understand them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • gottmanfan says:

        Laney

        You said:

        “I agree that you can have love without respect and respect without love. But you cannot avoid the repellent force that comes from disrespecting someone. “

        I agree. A healthy intimate relationship includes both love and respect.

        “What matters to you matters to me” is foundational to a healthy intimate relationship. I don’t know if everyone defines respect that way, some people call that love. Gottman calls that “accepting influence. The label matters far less imho than making sure the attitude and behaviors from that mutuality attitude are there.

        I agree that it’s something much different than being polite or civil (though that’s always good too😀).

        Like

      • gottmanfan says:

        I think this is part of it too. We have to continually communicate and check in with each other how we are impacting each other. We cannot assume or insist that our “love” or intended “respect” or other x thing is being RECEIVED that way by the other person. And if it is being received differently than we intend we need to care that they care and not insist they are wrong.

        Matt said:

        “Our INTENTION to respect others in no way guarantees that other people FEEL respected.
        The math is simple enough.
        When your partner doesn’t feel as if they’re respected, they will feel mistreated. They will feel uncared for. They will feel dismissed and marginalized.”

        Like

      • gottmanfan says:

        Laney,

        “The connection between love and respect is very clear once you learn the 4 laws and 2 bonding forces of relationships.”

        I am curious what are the 4 laws and 2 bonding forces you are referring to?

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        • Laney says:

          It’s part of a science that is taught in the Divorce Cure Challenge. The 4 laws are 1. All relationships will find equilibrium unless impinged upon, 2. The only alternative to impingement is reciprocity 3. I only have power in my court, and 4. My power is in my contribution. And the 2 bonding forces are the attractive force, which is where the parties face some kind of risk together, and the repellent force, which is disrespect or lack of respect. The work is done in creating a balance between the two forces so that there is a free flowing relationship without resentment. (All relationships will have moments of distance and closeness due to these forces, but in a healthy relationship there is a balance so that resentment doesn’t build.) The work done in the 4 laws is determining where my “court” is (where I have control and where I don’t) and not allowing my spouse to get in it and not getting in his. And I do this through my healthy contributions to the relationship (ignoring foul balls and serving something healthy).

          I’d love to hear your thoughts on this because you have a lot of good thoughts on relationships, and also Matt’s. All of my relationship issues (my spouse, my children, my volatile ex, my co-workers, etc) seem to exist because one of us is getting in the other’s court or serving a foul ball (something that tries to control, manipulate, etc). Or it’s because of disrespect or lack of respect (like I said in my previous post, when what matters to me DOESN’T matter to you, the first is knowing it matters and disregarding it, and the latter is not knowing it matters.) Understanding and living the 4 laws and two forces have helped me stay in my court, respect others, love without expectations of return, allow us to live in the distance knowing if I don’t impinge it will settle, face risks together, and be aware of what kind of ball I’m serving so it’s healthy and not a foul ball.

          It’s like learning a language, but having a system or framework helps my relationships make sense. And I see examples of the 4 laws and 2 forces constantly in Matt’s blog and other places. It really does provide a type of lens that makes it easier to see the tangled web of relationship issues and unravel them.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. gottmanfan says:

    Having said that, it is refreshing to read you write that part of why you divorced was that you didn’t give your wife the respect she needed.

    Imho respect is part of healthy love. You can love someone workout respect. You can respect someone without love. But true intimacy includes both respect and love on both sides.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. gottmanfan says:

    I think in most divorces both people have difficulties in showing respect to each other and ourselves (though one person may be more of the problem).

    I like Terry Real’s goal of “full respect living”.

    “Full Respect Living means making a commitment that, no matter what, you will not drop below the lines of respectful behaviour to another human being.

    You can stand up for yourself, you can be assertive, you can be firm, but there is no reason to do any of that in a way that is disrespectful to the person you are speaking to.

    On the other hand, Full Respect Living also means that you do not allow yourself to be on the receiving end of disrespectful treatment and do nothing about it.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You nailed it for me, again, Matt. Your writing
    inspires me to be a better person. I was just thinking about whether I am showing complete respect to all of the ones that I love. I appreciate your column so much!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. “Outrageous! How dare she! OF COURSE I love and respect her! She’s the person I married and share all my things with and made a child with!”

    I had to smile at this, how very common of so many men! But that is neither love nor respect, that is perceiving another person as an extension of you. Her entire worth and value stems from being kind of like an accessory, like a handbag, she has value because YOU married her, she has value because YOU share your things with her, she has value because YOU gave her a child. And of course, she should be exceedingly grateful YOU gave her such an upgrade.

    Liked by 3 people

    • cj says:

      My ex husband once said something along the same lines. He thought because HE had asked ME to marry him that he had essentially invited me into his life therefore it was up to me to accommodate myself to him. It still boggles me; have to say the divorce was the best thing that ever happened!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I forget says:

    Respect is the most important thing.

    Like

  7. gottmanfan says:

    Matt,

    You said:

    “When you believe in your heart and soul that you love and respect your partner, then you’re in no way motivated to change your behavior or mindset. “

    I think we run into these problems when we think that all we need for a good relationship is emotions like love. As you said love is not all you need.

    As you have written about before, when we understand that being good at relationships and showing love and respect is a set of skills that can be learned.

    The emotions are important. Love and respect motivates us to want to do the hard stuff of learning and changing. Love and respect also flows from filling up “love banks” with our the other person’s love (and respect) language.

    But the emotions alone are not enough. And when we insist they are enough we are sure to make things worse.

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    • gottmanfan says:

      It’s also not enough to say “hey look at what I did in the past” and not be open to constant change and flexibility.

      “I have changed SO MUCH already and if I change more where does it end?”

      Some of this is about misguided self protection because we don’t know how to respond with good boundaries for ourself and the other person.

      Is it hard, well yeah. But if we are rigid it makes it much, much harder.

      Some of it is about entitlement. Expecting the other person to do one sided adjustment.

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    • marilyn sims says:

      Hello… and if you have a few minutes and feel so inclined….HELP!

      I,ve got several thought fragments swimming around in my brain that I know are connected to issues of love and respect yet I,m at a loss as to how to make them fit into some sort of coherent scenario: for instance (1) “as a state of mind, EMPATHY involves resonating with what is going on in the subjective world of another” (2) the rational part of the brain isn’t fully developed until age 25– that being the case– developing empathetic skills will involve more of a conscious effort starting with young adults (3) loving requires that we have a SET OF SKILLS that will enable us to succeed in building long lasting relationships (4) who are the best teachers for that SET OF SKILLS — parents are not usually “trained” to deliver the “goods”.

      Thanks for your thoughts and especially your time!!!

      Like

      • gottmanfan says:

        Hi Marilyn,

        You are right that parts of the brain (prefrontal cortex particularly) which control executive functions are not fully developed until around 22-25.

        I think that can be a factor but since the average age of marriage in Western counties is late 20’s presumably by the time people marry their brains are fully formed.

        I agree that many parents are not usually good models for good intimate relationship skills.

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      • gottmanfan says:

        Sorry Marilyn I jotted off a quick reply earlier and I may not have answered your comment in a helpful way.

        I’m not sure exactly what you are asking. Are you thinking primarily about how to teach kids relationship skills?

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        • marilyn sims says:

          Hi,

          Yes and… isn.t empathy an important component of both love and respect. Yet neither gender seems willing or able to extend their emotional boundaries to include the important existential concerns of the other. imo learning how to “walk in the shoes of the other” may not be even possible.

          Like

          • gottmanfan says:

            I think empathy (at least as it is defined as **understanding** other’s points of view) is very helpful but not foundational.

            What is foundational imho is understanding that people have differing points of view and that relationships are about figuring out how to accommodate differing positions.

            Imho so much time and energy is spent on getting people to see what it is to be a female or male or other x.

            It is much much harder to do that than it is to just teach that people or x group are entitled to have a different perception of a situation. This is plenty hard too but imho not as hard as teaching empathy or understanding of other’s points of view.

            That’s why I agree with Matt that that respect of differing positions was a key fault in his divorce. He operated as if there was one objective more correct answer. I have operated like that too in certain cases.

            Not sure if any of that resonates with your thoughts or not.

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            • marilyn sims says:

              yes and thanks — i think the BIG difference is in how effective the different approaches are in solving everyday misunderstandings and challenges. Matt’s approach seems absolutely more DOABLE( if that’ a word). thanks again!

              Like

          • gottmanfan says:

            I would like to hear your thoughts on empathy as an important component of both love and respect. Have you experienced it that way with various relationships in your life?

            What do you think is the best way to teach or gain more empathy?

            Like

            • marilyn sims says:

              As simply as I can explain it, there had been an emotional HOLE I had been trying to fill for it seemed like centuries and none of my evplanations, pleadings or behavioral adjustments seemed to work to fill it. I must admit I didn’t even know the appropriate word to use to explain my frustrations until a few years ago,..i.e. empathy. The lack was felt as …distance….a gap. I was trying to build a bridge to my partner, (or so I thought) he was trying to “win” the disagreement.

              As I looked back I could see that neither of us understood the concept of empathy. Try as we might, neither of us felt the connection we believed was possible between two intelligent, caring people. There was respect…. just not enough.. There was something we thought of as love….just not enough…. to make the relationship long-lasting and substantive. To me the relationship too often felt fragile.

              I have no idea how to “grow” empathy between two people. I have spent countless hours trying to gain insight into what might be termed the male psyche. I have made enough progress to know that judgmental stances are neither appropriate or helpful.
              I appreciate the difference between knowing something intellectually and not understanding it emotionally, I know that many of us — myself included — have large gaps in our emotional I.Q.

              Like

              • “I have no idea how to “grow” empathy between two people.”

                All in good humor here, but empathy is born mostly of pain. Getting in touch with your own pain.

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                • gottmanfan says:

                  I think empathy can definitely be born by getting in touch with your own pain. Matt is exhibit A for that method.

                  Imho think empathy skills can also grow by learning the skill of perspective taking.

                  First step of which is learning that there isn’t one right way of seeing the same situation. Our brain and eyes and much of our cultural teaching defaults to thinking there is a “right” perspective. Even about a dish by the sink.

                  I think empathy can be learned and acquired and grown by several methods. What works best in one person isn’t necessarily what works best in others.

                  Some people use getting in touch with their own pain to seek revenge or helplessness etc rather than empathy for example.

                  Do you see it differently? I am just speaking from my own perspective of course.😀

                  Like

                  • I think a real problem with that idea is that there really IS a right perspective. Dishes at the sink is not just matter of subjective perception, it is an act of deliberate disrespect. Far too often we act as if all views are valid. They are not.

                    Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I agree with you that not all views are valid. I was thinking of things that are more everyday style differences and how we handle those. The disrespect usually comes in HOW we handle differences.

                      Imho it is just as valid to want the dish left out than to put it in the sink. Different people can think about that in all kinds of ways depending on a lot of factors.

                      I agree that what is disrespectful is defaulting that OUR point of view is valid.

                      And that the other person has to convince us somehow that their point is valid. And if they don’t somehow convince us we can disregard theirs.

                      The way I see it we disrespect when we *do not default* that both people in a relationship have different points of view to be seriously considered and work together to honor both people.

                      I think that is what Matt often describes. He thought he was fair because he did do what his wife wanted some of the time. And he thought of himself as a fair person. Where he got into trouble was assuming that if it was something he thought was dumb or small or he didn’t find compelling based on his perspective he did not have to find a way to “accept influence”. That resulted in disrespect in how he handled it with defensiveness.

                      Not to pick on Matt because it is a version that I have done many times to screw up my own marriage in the past.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Matt says:

                      Exactly this. Exactly.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      The more I read and think and write, the more I can see that this is MY primary problem too.

                      It’s funny how clear it is once you are finally able to see it.

                      I think it can be harder to see if you do accept influence some/most of the time in some/many cases as many people do. We all like to think of ourselves as fair people.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      And I think many women think of their husbands as the problem when they do not see how THEY are not accepting his point of view as valid in some cases.

                      We compare and if we do accept influence more than than the husband does we “pass” the test. But being better doesn’t mean you are good enough at the skill to have a healthy relationship.

                      And the one up superiority attitude of thinking you are better and they are the big problem makes things worse for the relationship.

                      Hypothetically of course 😜

                      Like

                    • jeffmustbeleast says:

                      Insanity, may I propose a hypothetical situation that could be seen as deliberate disrespect but might not be? Lets say a husband is eating lunch by himself, and he realizes that the trash can is overflowing and the garbage truck will be coming by any minute. He realizes that his wife would much prefer the trash can be emptied then the dishes be cleaned, so he decides to place the dirty dishes next the sink and run out to take out the garbage. In this hypothetical situation, lets say he intends to come back in and clean the dishes, but before he gets back his wife sees the dishes and feels disrespected. I admit this hypothetical situation is unlikely. The reality is most husbands who leave dirty dishes by the sink are just being lazy and disrespectful. However, in this case, if the wife could actually understand his perspective in this particular situation, do you think she would change her mind about being disrespected?

                      The reason I ask is things like this can happen all the time. I can think of multiple times in my marriage where my wife did something I found disrespectful. However, once I understood why she did what she did, I realized she wasn’t acting with disrespectful intent, and in some cases, I no longer even felt that it was disrespectful. Admittedly, most of the time a spouse will still feel that the action or non-action was disrespectful, but understanding the other person’s perspective goes a very long ways to helping diffuse any anger.

                      Unfortunately, once one spouse feels disrespected long enough, it can become very hard to not assume intentional disrespect in many cases. I realize that I’m walking a fine line here. It is not ok for a husband to continue to act in ways that makes his wife feel disrespected or vice versa. However, it is very important for both spouses to clearly state what makes them feel disrespected and how it makes them feel. Speaking as a husband, I think most husbands will likely get defensive as soon as this is brought up. I know this is something I have to fight constantly. If you can bring this up when emotions are not high (please don’t bring this up in the middle of an argument), and if you can state it in a way that doesn’t sound like an attack, it is much more likely to be accepted and sink in. If you can say “When you do this, you probably don’t intend disrespect, but it still makes me feel disrespected and I feel _____”. This takes the attack out of the statement, and should help your spouse from being as defensive. Also, be blunt. I’m getting into generalities about men and women, and I know this is dangerous, but many men need their wife to be very clear and blunt. There are a lot of wives who will hint at an issue thinking their husband should pick up on what they are getting at. Please don’t do that in this case. Be very clear on exactly what your husband is doing/not doing that is making you feel disrespected. Does that make sense?

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Ha! Well, this is going to sound very merciless, but a wife should not have to explain to a husband what disrespect is! I’m not going to be clear and blunt, while at the same time also walking on eggshells trying to endlessly dodge male defensiveness. Like, it’s your job, yours not hers, to get to know your wife and to be sensitive to her needs!

                      Also, you said, she “feels” disrespected as if disrespect is just some vague, subjective feeling. No way, she feels disrespected because she WAS disrespected.

                      Over and over again I’ve watched husbands miraculously, mysteriously, somehow just know how to treat their friends, how to show respect towards their coworkers, but when it comes to their wives they act like it is some big mystery.

                      Like

              • gottmanfan says:

                Marilyn,

                You said:

                “there had been an emotional HOLE I had been trying to fill for it seemed like centuries and none of my evplanations, pleadings or behavioral adjustments seemed to work to fill it. I must admit I didn’t even know the appropriate word to use to explain my frustrations until a few years ago,..i.e. empathy. The lack was felt as …distance….a gap. I was trying to build a bridge to my partner, (or so I thought) he was trying to “win” the disagreement.”

                Thank you for explaining it so eloquently. It’s hard to know how to describe the “missing key” in one word for why two well meaning people who love each other can’t connect in a way that both people feel intimately connected and supported.

                Lack of empathy is certainly part of it I agree.

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              • gottmanfan says:

                Marilyn,

                You said:

                “I know that many of us — myself included — have large gaps in our emotional I.Q.”

                Yes! I think that’s a big piece of it.

                I also think some of it is neurological. We have these unconscious reactions to other people that “freak us out” and a lot of the cognitive stuff goes out the window.

                Some of the answer is finding ways to calm ourselves so we can get our prefrontal cortex back online and respond with emotional intelligence instead of defensiveness and other ways that damage relationships.

                This has been a lot of what impeded my inability to respond maturely anyway.

                Like

                • marilyn sims says:

                  You said,

                  “This has been a lot of what impeded my inability(ability?) to respond maturely anyway.” Those words really, really resonated with me in a powerful manner — especially.. “inability to respond maturely”.

                  I am an adult child of an alcoholic parent. I know that on a certain level I am living with the emotional realities and perspectives of an angry, confused 7 year old. I have avoided intimate relationships many times because I did not want to face the humiliation of a failure “to respond maturely.” when things became heated or challenging. I know how debilitating “feeling like a 7 year old” can be.

                  Anyway, these days I find myself feeling more compassionate toward young men who say, “I don’t feel like a man” I am almost certain they mean they somehow “lack the sense of that quiet confidence that comes from moving from boyhood into MATURE MASCULINITY”. Acquiring a stable sense of MATURITY whether for men or women seems to be a process more fraught with pain, discovery, discipline — and probably requiring a certain type of committed mentorship — than I was willing to admit.

                  Thanks again for all your well reasoned and helpful contributions to the ongoing dialogue.

                  Like

  8. cj says:

    I think, everyone makes mistakes, such as forgetting the occasional appointment or event or (insert occasional thoughtless thing here), we’re all human and it doesn’t mean we don’t care about, love, or respect someone. It’s the consistently and wilfully ignoring our partner’s request to “stop hurting” them as you’ve written about before, that shows lack of respect. And unlike some other points of view being shared, I don’t think you can love a romantic partner without respecting them. If a person can’t bring themselves to show respect for their partner then their “love” is just motivated by selfishness and that’s not love. At least not the kind our partner deserves or we ourselves deserve. Basically what you already said.
    Big fan of your writing, thanks for your words.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. […] I checked my email and saw the latest post from a blogger I’ve been following for years. In fact, I just searched my email and the […]

    Like

  10. robynbird says:

    What a beautiful and poignant post, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. FlyingKal says:

    I can’t recall the “5 languages of love” off the top of my head.
    But I think that if you’re a person whose love language is words, and you are showering your loved ones in appraisal but more or less commonly fail to pull through or “put your money/action/effort where your mouth is”, then I think most people over time will come to regard this as neither loving nor respectful.

    Raising kids is another beehive altogether. If you have the wits, time, energy and resources (which not all people possess enough of) you can most often be both loving and respectful while at the same time being firm when neccessary.

    Like

  12. The Guat says:

    You are on point. As I read it there was a lot of nodding going on on my end and you totally gave a perfect example by reminding us about the dish on the counter. Everyone is aware of blatant disrespect, such as name calling, putdowns, and profanity. That’s pretty obvious disrespectful behavior, but it’s the small actions everyday that add up and just kill the spirit. I really appreciate you posting this reminding everyone about the TWO choices they have, that is SO IMPORTANT. Sometimes we’re unsure of ourselves and self-doubt starts to creep up that you forget the two choices are always there. What a GREAT question. Love vs. Respect. I hope A LOT of people get a chance to read this because it will help so many relationships and make people aware of what their partner may be feeling. Plus this is also a good way to check on parent-child relationships too. Great post

    Liked by 1 person

  13. jeffmustbeleast says:

    Insanity,

    Sorry it wouldn’t let me reply to your last message above, so I jumped down here. I agree that a wife shouldn’t have to explain what disrespect is to her husband. I’m not always the best at getting across my meaning. I think everybody understands what respect is, but there are situations where a spouse might be doing something without meaning any disrespect, but the other spouse feels disrespected. Dishes at the sink is not the best example for this since that is almost always an act of disrespect, but if there isn’t good communication in a marriage, it is possible for a spouse to be doing something that they believe is in the others best interest. However, the other spouse might feel disrespected. I know, I said “feel” again; but please hear me out. Lets say a wife notices that the oil in the car hasn’t been changed and is well over the due date. However, she knows that her husband is under an extreme amount of stress at work; so she decides to take the car and get the oil changed without mentioning it to her husband. She did this because she didn’t want to add anything else to his plate, and she didn’t mention it to him because she knew he would feel like he was failing if she pointed out that it was overdue and she took care of it for him. I would argue that her intentions were good, and I don’t believe this was showing any intentional disrespect.

    However, her husband later finds out what happened, and he feels disrespected. He is upset that she didn’t tell him about the oil needing to be changed, and he explains to her that taking care of the car and making sure it is running properly is one way that he shows love in the marriage. By not telling him, she didn’t give him a chance to correct something that he felt he had failed on.

    In the above situation, the husband can legitimately feel disrespected because his wife did something behind his back that he felt was his responsibility to take care of. However, I would argue that the wife genuinely did not intend to show disrespect to her husband, and I think most people would agree that she was trying to do what she felt was best for her husband at the time, even though in hindsight it was probably better to just tell him.

    I probably get too caught up in intentions, but that is very important to me. However, communication in a marriage is critical; and I would argue that without good communication, it is very possible and even likely that both spouses can be doing things that cause the other spouse to feel disrespected unintentionally. I think it is important to let your spouse understand clearly what they are doing or not doing that makes you feel disrespected as soon as possible so they can see it from your viewpoint. If your spouse genuinely loves and cares about you, they will make the changes needed to make sure they aren’t making you feel disrespected.The reason I focus on intentions is I believe if a spouse is showing unintentional disrespect (and yes, it is still disrespect even if it is unintentional), they are much more likely to change their behavior once they understand how it makes their spouse feel. At least they will if they care about their spouse. If the disrespect is intentional, there is a much deeper problem going on. Does that make sense?

    As for having to dodge defensiveness, I understand what you are saying. I agree that you shouldn’t have to dodge defensiveness, but just speaking from my own experiences, I believe approaching this with a husband in a way that doesn’t come across as an accusation of intent would go a long ways to him understanding what you are saying and responding positively. Honestly, you are correct in that you should be able to just say it like it is, and he should respond in a positive way to that. I personally struggle in that area, and I think most husbands do. I only meant that as a tip on how you might be able to bring it up in a way that might help minimize the defensive responses. A husband acting in defensiveness is never right, and I don’t mean to imply that it is ok for him to respond that way.

    Just one more thought, I have a hard time comparing a work environment or even a friendship relationship with a marriage. As I said above, I think everyone basically understands what respect is and how to act respectfully to other people. However, in a marriage you are supposed to be completely open and vulnerable with your spouse. You also are around your spouse and interact much more than you do with your coworkers and friends (at least in most marriages), and your spouse will see you and interact with you at a much deeper level and over the whole range of emotions, both good and bad. I think this brings up a lot more opportunity for disrespect, both intentional and unintentional (and yes, unintentional disrespect is still disrespect). I don’t typically have close personal relationships with my coworkers, so just being courteous and polite is enough to show them respect and make them feel respected. That would never work in a marriage. Even with friendships where the relationship is closer, we have some control over when we see them. If we don’t feel like seeing them because we are not in a good place emotionally, we can typically avoid meeting them that day. However, in a marriage your spouse will see you in both the highest highs and the lowest lows.

    Like

    • Well, I think a big issue with me is not being a guy’s mom, not carrying the weight of all of his emotional labor around. That’s what bothers me the most in your scenarios, the wife is being burdened with all of the emotional responsibility. Not only does she now have to pick up his slack and get the oil changed herself, she’s supposed to also take care of his feelings of disrespect and failure?

      So this poor woman is trying to make her husband’s job easier, trying to respect his time, trying to get her own oil changed, and on top of all that she’s now in trouble for failing to remind him about it enough, and for failing to enable him to correct his mistake, and for triggering his own feelings of being disrespected? Then she’s supposed to walk on eggshells while at the same time communicate even more, and in addition, clean up his feelings of being disrespected?

      That wife is probably now emotionally and physically exhausted and feeling as if she cant win for losing and this guy is just a huge energy drain.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jeffmustbeleast says:

        Yeah, I get what you are saying. I can see how many wives feel that they have to be their husband’s “mom”, and I’m sure my wife felt/feels the same way many times. To be fair, you are correct.

        I honestly think a lot of husbands are relatively immature when it comes to emotional connection. I know my friendships growing up were more focused on common interests, and there was very little if any discussions about our deep emotions or feelings. My wife had a very different experience in her friendships, and I suspect that this is not uncommon between men and women. This is admittedly over-simplifying the issue, but I do think many husbands come into marriage not prepared to have deep, emotional conversations like their wives are. Speaking from my own experience, I was admittedly immature in this area.

        This is an issue with many husbands, but I do think it is something that can be learned and they can grow in. It requires understanding and the desire to grow however, and that is where I think the communication between spouses often breaks down. The wife gets frustrated at the husband because he doesn’t want to connect that way, and worse, he often pushes back and/or avoids it altogether. Please understand that I do believe in these cases, the husband has a major relational issue that needs to be addressed, and I can understand why many wives feel hopeless after years of no change. Imho, it is an immaturity issue with many husbands, but it can be overcome. The husband has to get to the point of understanding how he is hurting his wife and get past being defensive. This is on the husband. My suggestion on how to approach the husband was only meant to try and help avoid the triggers that often cause husbands to get defensive.

        Sadly, in many marriages that end up in divorce, I think the husband does care about his wife and doesn’t want to hurt her; but he gets so caught up in being frustrated with his wife for “attacking” him when he thinks he is a good guy. It tends to spiral in that case. I think many husbands do eventually realize what they did wrong, but unfortunately it is after their wife has hit a point where she is unwilling to be vulnerable anymore. I can’t blame the wife for that, but it is still sad for both in that case. In some cases, the husband genuinely “gets it” and is willing to change but it is too late. In those cases, I believe the marriage could be rebuilt and turn into a healthy, happy marriage, but the wife has been too hurt to trust him anymore.

        Sorry, just kind of thinking and typing, so not sure if I’m making a lot of sense. I do believe that many husbands do truly care for their wives, but don’t see just how much damage they are doing by avoiding being open and vulnerable with their wives. They don’t do that with their other relationships like many women do, so this is not something that comes naturally. However, I will say that I believe every husband does understand that he needs to. Saying that, this is not an excuse for husbands, but it might help for the wive to understand that this is a common issue and trying to gently address it with her husband early on in the marriage before the hurt and pain build up to unbearable levels might help prevent a divorce and a lot of pain later. A lot of the responsibility still lies with the husband and his response to that. I do understand that. I just feel that the way many husbands and wives try to communicate to each other fails to get through. I always believe two people who genuinely love and care for each other can get through almost anything if they can communicate effectively.

        Please understand this is coming from a husband who is struggling to communicate effectively, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

        Like

        • I think I agree with you, Jeff. I think men and women are just different, but we are socialized different too, so girls tend to deal in relationships and feelings far more. What seems so obvious to us is not always so obvious to guys and vice versa.

          Like

    • gottmanfan says:

      Jeff,

      Maybe a helpful way to look at this is in terms of how to repair “unintentional disrespect.”

      In any relationship, there are constant things that we get wrong. The difference between a good marriage and a bad one is knowing how to respond what we get it wrong.

      Knowing how to respond when we think it wasn’t wrong but our spouse is giving us feedback that it wasn’t helpful or experienced it as x bad thing to them.

      Instead of trying to figure out who is “right” and who is “wrong.”

      Instead of figuring out if it means you are a failure or a good person.

      We should focus on repairing the connection. What do I need to do to restore the connection that has been disrupted?

      This does not mean doing whatever the other person wants. It is just the first step in focusing on the correct thing.

      Like

    • gottmanfan says:

      Jeff,

      In your oil change example the wife was trying to do something to ease the husband’s stress. Best of intentions.

      When he got upset and said he felt disrespected she didn’t tell him, she needs to not get defensive but focus on repairing the disconnection.

      It doesn’t matter at that point that she did it with the best intentions. It doesn’t matter at this point that the husband is tying his sense of being a success or failure to an oil change.

      It’s a dish by the sink and she should *at this point* seek to see his point of view as different than hers and not argue it is wrong.

      She should “care that he cares.”

      What should she do?

      Apologize for not telling him and giving him an opportunity to come up with a decision together and try and see it from his point of view of why he found it hurtful.

      Is it “right” that he feels hurt by her action? Again wrong question.

      After the connection is restored they can consider the other factors involved and perhaps work out a new way of looking at things.

      Or maybe this will be one of the issues where there have very different perspectives ongoing and have to learn how to navigate that in a way that honors both.

      This goes both ways in a marriage. Wives and husbands. Husbands have their own versions of dishes left by the sink.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jeffmustbeleast says:

        Good point. I will admit that my natural tendency is always to look for who is “right”, and that is dangerous.

        Like

        • gottmanfan says:

          Jeff,

          I do it too. I think that is pretty common. It takes practice to keep asking ourselves “what is the real goal here?”

          I have to practice focusing my attention on the relationship connection to stay on track for the attitudes and behaviors that flow from that.

          What are ways you found helpful to stay out of “who is most right?” focus?

          Like

          • jeffmustbeleast says:

            Mostly just trying to focus on how my wife must have felt. In a word empathy. Wasn’t very good at that before, but trying to get better at thinking that way instead of getting defensive. Always a struggle though to be honest.

            Like

    • gottmanfan says:

      Jeff,

      I agree with you that showing “respect” in a marriage can be more difficult than in more causal relationship. It is a deeper more difficult thing when the other person represents ALL kinds of things from your family of origin, cultural training, different biological defaults etc etc

      I think IB has a good point that it isn’t just some weirdly new alien thing though. Mysterious and unknowable.

      The skills that are used in other settings like work, friends, and neighbors are similar if at at lower level. Many people have deficits at that level too.

      But it shows up large when a more advanced version is needed at home. Made worse when people think they don’t know the rules or can’t win so they just give up trying to see the other perspective.

      Like

    • gottmanfan says:

      Jeff,

      Is arguing about whether something was “intentional” or not something that happens a lot in your marriage?

      Like

      • jeffmustbeleast says:

        More so lately. My wife will point out things that I did that hurt her, but she also insists that these things were done intentionally to hurt her. This is where we get bogged down many times. I can understand how what I did hurt her, but I can’t admit to intentionally hurting her.

        This doesn’t take away from the fact that I did something that caused her pain, but I do think there is a big difference between intentionally hurting someone versus unintentionally hurting someone. Intentional hurting signals a major issue that needs to be addressed. Unintentional hurting can usually be resolved with good communication and understanding of the cause and effect between the husband and wife. If the husband and wife truly care for each other, the understanding should lead to a change in actions. In my marriage, we did not have good communication. I genuinely believe that was a big part in the pain in our marriage. Admittedly, I bear the lion’s share of the blame since I was not completely open and vulnerable.

        Like

        • gottmanfan says:

          Jeff,

          You have a lot of strengths to be able to see and acknowledge that “I bear the lion’s share of the blame since I was not completely open and vulnerable.”

          I can imagine it is very difficult to feel that your wife won’t be satisfied until you agree with her that you intentionally hurt her.

          I wonder if some of her insistence would be softened if you didn’t insist that there is a “big difference” between unintentional and “intentional”?

          That is a discussion we have had several times in the blog comments. Intention matters of course in certain ways.

          Focusing on your actions being unintentional and therefore not as bad as “those abusive guys” is the same trap as focusing on who is more right. It is the wrong focus.

          When I focus that things I did to hurt others were unintentional I am fighting to not feel unfairly accused of being a bad person.
          The result of which puts the focus on defending ME instead of repairing the connection. This stance inevitably produces more insistence from the other person. It worsens things to focus on intention.

          Does that resonate with you at all?

          Like

          • gottmanfan says:

            Sorry about the bold ^^ it was unintentional 😜

            Like

          • jeffmustbeleast says:

            Yes, what your saying makes a lot of sense. I try not to get into this argument of “intentional” versus “unintentional”. However, this usually means that I end up shutting down. Obviously this isn’t good either. We seem to fall into this loop often lately.

            Like

        • gottmanfan says:

          Jeff,

          Why do you think your wife thinks you intentionally hurt her?

          Like

          • jeffmustbeleast says:

            Not sure how to answer that without going into a lot of detail, and that is something I won’t do. Your asking a lot of good questions though, and I really appreciate it. You seem to be able to quickly get to the root issues. You would make an excellent marriage counselor.

            Like

            • gottmanfan says:

              Jeff,

              “You seem to be able to quickly get to the root issues. You would make an excellent marriage counselor”

              Thank you for the kind comments. 😀

              I have had to be my own marriage counselor to research and figure this stuff out. So the questions I ask are versions of ones I have asked myself to improve my marriage. It makes me happy that someone else might be helped. A silver lining to all the pain and suffering you know?

              You seem very motivated to change and honestly that is the biggest piece most people are lacking. So I see that as a huge, huge plus for you. If your wife is still motivated to work hard too things can start turning around just with your changing first to change the status quo. It takes a lot of work to examine our years and years of habits and assumptions of what is “normal” and build it up again from the foundation.

              Definitely doable though. And better off for it. 😀

              Like

            • gottmanfan says:

              Jeff,

              You mentioned in another comment that the difference between good and bad marriages is good communication.

              I think interpersonal communication is often downstream from the communication in our individual brains and bodies.

              We think “if we could just figure out a way to communicate with each other using “I” statements and more clarity for better understanding.”

              Those things can be helpful tools but imho don’t work if there isn’t good communication is within ourselves.

              When we don’t know what is causing these cycles it feels so confusing and we automatically go into defensive mode. Which then often results in becoming critical and angry or shutting down. Neither of which is helpful.

              So part of what helped me was

              1.figuring out what was causing the marriage cycles. Most couples have very common pattens that are predictable and understandable. Maybe you and your wife have the most common pattern of wife pursuer/husband withdraw? If so that is good news because there is a lot of info on that.

              2. Once you understand you can figure it can give you a little distance for seeing what you need to change. Instead of feeling like it’s all inexplicable it becomes predictable. Your own reactions also become predictable. And predictable things are easier to change with the right interventions.

              3. We get emotionally disregulated. Either up or down. Up looks like criticism or angry defensiveness. Down looks like withdrawal or shutdown.

              Awareness and the right interventions can change those in a new direction too.

              The good news to me is it is all understandable and with a willingness to learn and practice and change a whole new pattern is possible. Within your head and between both people.

              Like

              • jeffmustbeleast says:

                That is a very good point, and right on target with me. One of my issues in the marriage was an unwillingness to not only recognize what I was doing wrong, but also a lack of self-reflection on my part. I had to get to the point where I was willing to take a hard look at myself before I could even have an “intelligent” conversation with my wife on the issues. It was much easier to see my wife’s issues and focus on those. While I didn’t bring up what I thought my wife was doing wrong to her, I did focus on it in my mind, and by doing that I never looked hard at my own issues. It is amazing how quickly I can place blame for any issue on the other person even if I am only doing that in my head. Much easier to do that than deal with my own part in it. I’m sure this is very common, and I believe we were both doing that to a large degree. To be fair to my wife, I think she was doing that a lot less than I was early on in the marriage. I was pretty immature in this area when we got married.

                I do think our pattern is very common, and there is a lot out there on it. I agree that is good news, and learning the predictable reactions has helped a lot; both to help me to recognize and hopefully avoid some negative predictable reactions on my part and to not feel so blindsided when my wife has a negative reaction that can be predicted. It does help, but often hard to keep that in focus “in the moment”. Emotions can quickly derail me, but I’m getting quicker at realizing when I’m heading the wrong direction and diverting. Wish I could catch it more often before I start down the wrong path and react negatively, but slowly getting better.

                Liked by 1 person

                • gottmanfan says:

                  Jeff

                  You said:

                  “but often hard to keep that in focus “in the moment”. Emotions can quickly derail me, but I’m getting quicker at realizing when I’m heading the wrong direction and diverting. Wish I could catch it more often before I start down the wrong path and react negatively, but slowly getting better.”

                  Excellent progress!

                  I am right there with you with practicing to improve the “in the moment” emotional reactions that can derail things.

                  Sometimes I get discouraged when I fall back into
                  old defaults but I can look back and see that I am so much better I am now than when I started.

                  Still working towards the black belt ha ha but at least I am not a beginner belt anymore.

                  Like

            • gottmanfan says:

              Jeff,

              You mention you have a tendency to shut down. This is a common response when we feel overwhelmed or hopeless and/or we don’t want to do more damage to the relationship.

              The withdrawal is not a problem. The problem is when a person withdraws without connecting with the other person to explain why and to give a time when they *will come back.**

              Terry Real has guidelines for responsible taking time out to re-regulate. The gist of it goes like this:

              You recognize within your body that you are shutting down. (This takes practice to be self aware).

              You say to your partner “I want to hear what you have to say and work together to figure it out.

              My brain and body is getting overwhelmed right now so I need to take some time so I can respond in a helpful way.

              I will check back in (20 min or 1 hour or x time).

              And then you COME BACK. If you need more time you check in and say “I need x time, I will check back in at x time.

              The key to this is to learn to recognize the building of disregulation in your own body and mind and learn how to calm it down again.

              The second critical thing is to make yourself predictable and trustworthy again to your spouse. The connection is maintained when the pursuer knows you want to maintain contact and you are reliable they will predictably pursue less and the cycle softens.

              Like

              • gottmanfan says:

                Here is Terry Real’s guidelines for taking time out responsibly.

                https://www.terryreal.com/10-commandments-for-taking-a-time-out/

                Like

                • gottmanfan says:

                  Here is one piece I was paraphrasing above. Lots of other good stuff in the link.

                  “3. Take distance responsibly
                  – Time outs are obviously a form of distance taking, and like all forms of distance taking there are two ways to do it – provocatively or responsibly.

                  Responsible distance taking has two pieces to it: 1) An explanation and 2) A promise of return. “This is why I am seeking distance and this is when I intend on coming back.”

                  Provocative distance taking, by contrast, has neither – you just take the distance without any explanation or taking care of your partner’s anxieties about your leaving.

                  I also speak of provocative distance taking as incompetent distance taking since it tends to get you chased.”

                  Like

  14. Roberta Plant says:

    Matt,

    Just read this for about the fifth time since it was posted.

    This article nails it; of the many many wonderful, insightful and thoughtful articles you have written — I feel as though this one sums everything up – that this one distills everything you are trying to explain and convey about your marriage and your experience and it holds the fundamental truth about relationships. Really! And as an added bonus, it makes me feel orders of magnitude better about having left — because it was indeed a choice between:

    * Spend the rest of her life with someone who constantly makes her feel shitty through common, frequent acts of disrespect.
    * Choose a different option involving infinitely less pain, more hope, better health, and ensuring that she’d continue to be a person she could look at in the mirror and feel proud of.

    I was never able to articulate it but this does.

    I wish my former spouse could read this with an open mind because this would explain it all so perfectly — but regardless, I do not think he would agree that I made the correct choice.

    THANK YOU.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      I understand, Roberta. Thank you for the generous, affirming comment.

      I’ve said it quite a few times: If I eliminate my own emotion from the conversation, I 100% support my ex-wife’s decision.

      In the context of the decision the faced, and given the information she had at the time, she made a sensible, boundary-enforcing, healthy choice.

      To recognize that staying in a relationship is essentially giving in to the idea that you’re going to hurt and feel shitty, disregarded and mistreated for the rest of your life, and then knowingly, intentionally CHOOSING it?

      Seems foolishly masochistic to me.

      The difference between then and now is my ability to recognize her reality today whereas I could not when we were married.

      Things often only make sense when we have enough information.

      Sadly, many of us don’t know what we don’t know during some of these high-stakes life situations.

      Part of me would rather have learned the hard way than to have never learned at all.

      Like

      • Nate says:

        Another good post Matt. And you know I enjoy your writing as well as fall into the category of male readers who feel an overwhelming need to “defend” myself, actually all guys, when reading the comments section. Your statement about agreeing with your wife’s decision, sans your feelings, seems only applicable if your ex was blameless. Otherwise, you were two people who made mistakes and couldn’t find a way to reconcile. I have a hard time accepting, except for extreme cases of emotional abuse, that one partner is mostly or entirely at fault. I tend to agree with Jeff regarding intentional vs. unintentional disrespect (or hurt). I try to empathize with my wife’s feelings of hurt even when I don’t agree that she “should” be hurt. But, and its a big but, I refuse to indulge every perceived slight as a need for me to apologize. Sometimes feeling slighted is our own problem to work out. I’ve stated 100 times before in this blog that leaving a dish by the sink is not a sign of disrespect, UNLESS, one does it intentionally to piss the other person off. We all do something that annoys our spouse, but that doesn’t mean its disrespectful. I honestly think males are more apt to move on and not get hung up on such annoyances. Blatant acts are an entirely different story of course. Insanity Bytes seemed really upset/stern that a husband should know when his wife was disrespected. My question is, do you feel people can be overly sensitive? Or should the partner who feels disrespected/hurt always be “owed” an apology?

        Like

        • “But, and its a big but, I refuse to indulge every perceived slight as a need for me to apologize.”

          Well, another name for that is actually empathy. “I’m sorry you had a bad day at work, I’m sorry you’re tired, I’m sorry you’re upset.” It’s not about fault and blame, it’s about coming alongside someone with some love and respect. When you speak of “not owing an apology” it just sounds really stingy and disrespectful. I mean just the words, “move on and not get hung up on such annoyances” is extremely disrespectful. Is that all your wife is to you, “an annoyance?”

          Maybe I do sound stern, I’m just really tired of all the excuses I read from men who engage in blatant disrespect for their wives and then try to claim that it’s either justified or they don’t know any better or she’s overly sensitive. So what if she is? You’re the one who married her, so now accommodate her sensitivity.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Nate says:

            I accept…so long as it’s a two way street. My reference to annoyances is synonymous to “choosing your battles”. Example, my wife works nights. Every night that she works, she leaves her dirty clothes on the bathroom floor after her shower as she runs out to work. I of course think it would be quite easy for her to walked 12 feet around the corner to place in the laundry basket. But, I just pick them up and place in the basket. No big deal. No need to pick a fight. I do not feel disrespected…just slightly annoyed and then it passes. The opposite is not true in my personal scenario and I suspect in many others…see dish by the sink argument. I never said my wife is an annoyance, and if you wish to have a battle of words, just let me know

            Like

            • gottmanfan says:

              I think it is quite variable what some people find “annoying” or “disrespectful” depending on the meaning we assign or overall stress levels or relationship context.

              It doesn’t bother you in terms of disrespect to pick up her dirty clothes while it would bother her in a disrespectful way.

              It does bother you that it bothers her while it would not bother others that it bothers her (if that makes sense 😀)

              So what meaning are you giving it that it bothers you?

              You give a meaning to her being bothered

              Like

              • Nate says:

                I kind of follow…I just don’t think this is a level playing field. If my wife leaves her dirty clothes (dish by the sink), so long as its not a deal breaker like adultery or abuse, I move along and don’t pick a fight. I just accept as an annoyance that resolves 30 seconds after me putting her laundry away. If I did the same thing it would become, “I’ve asked you a 100 times to put your clothes away, etc., etc., etc.” Now I’m labeled as disrespecting my wife and contributing to the 1000 paper cuts. If I don’t accept her disapproval as totally valid then I’m labeled as not being empathetic. The problem also becomes that it’s never just a one dish by the sink scenario. I don’t leave my clothes on the floor but if I did, and my wife asked me to put them away, I would. This is not the problem. The problem comes in to play when the list of requested behavior changes seems to be never ending. Ok, I fixed this behavior all is well. Oh wait, now this other thing is a problem that wasn’t an issue before. Rinse and repeat. So, while some behaviors really need addressing, maybe, just maybe, as an adult, I have the ability to determine a level of validity to such requests.

                Like

                • gottmanfan says:

                  Ok so if I understand what you are saying

                  1. It bothers you because you think there are a “never-ending” number of requested behavior changes.

                  2. This bothers you because you think that it is (to paraphrase “unnecessary and unfair” that you should be expected to adjust to things that bother your wife. This is an unlevel and unfair playing field

                  4. It is unnecessary and perhaps unwise to cater to your wife’s inability to regulate her emotional responses to various issues.

                  5. You should be able to triage them as an adult and respond to those that are reasonable and reflect an adult level of relationship give and take.

                  6. And she should also work on her side to regulate her emotional responses and challenge the meanings she gives to things that cause her to find small things problematic.

                  7. She should “pick her battles” to be more fair to you in a give and take of inevitable differences so there is less focus on negativity.

                  3. And it seems unfair that you are characterized as unempathetic, disrespectful, and contributing to her pain of 1000 paper cuts when you are just trying to find a way to a reasonable balance for both of you.

                  Is this close to what you think/feel?

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Matt says:

                    Side Note: You just nailed how I more or less felt in my marriage, and how 100% of my male coaching clients feel about their marriages.

                    This conversation continues to give me trouble. There’s a line somewhere and I don’t know where it is.

                    You’re treading in super-relevant and super-important waters right now. But I think you already know that.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I think there is a LOT of validity to both points of view.

                      They are not mutually exclusive.

                      It is true that there needs to be an attitude of caring that we care about whatever. And a willingness to adjust in ways that we would not if we were single or paired with someone with a different perspective.

                      And there also needs to be a flexibility and willingness to challenge ourselves to change so that WHAT we request to change and care about is reflective of our partners point of view and what is “healthy”.

                      I think it is the ATTITUDE of both people that is critical. An attitude of caring about ourselves and the other in healthy ways.

                      And of focusing on challenging ourselves to learn to be more mature. Willing to be vulnerable that we need to change continually.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Attitudes come from the meaning we give things.

                      Which is why it’s critical to understand what meaning we are assigning and what our spouses are assigning.

                      Why we are assigning these meanings.

                      Challenging these meanings.

                      Being flexible to learn new meanings etc.

                      Most of us have some reasonable and unreasonable meanings mixed together. And we have to figure out which are which.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Matt,

                      What do you think is the best way to communicate how to balance both valid perspectives to couples?

                      Like

                  • Nate says:

                    Yes I basically agree with this. I also recognize that taking any one or two of these points by themselves seems petty and not indicative of a loving/caring husband. My feelings stem from the combination of all the listed points creating a never ending cycle of blaming the husband and not taking any responsibility as the wife.

                    Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I think change is required from BOTH sides in these patterns.

                      Sometimes that is challenging what you find “disrespectful” by giving the benefit of the doubt to the intentions of the other person.

                      Sometimes that involves HOW you request change so that it is communicated with the best chance of maintaining relationship positivity based on caring about your spouse’s sensitivities like feeling it is “unending”.

                      Sometimes it is not putting up with your spouse ignoring what you consider important even though it doesn’t pass their test of “pick your battles”

                      But knowing how to do that in an effective, “respectful” way that also considers their perspective.

                      So yes, I completely agree that maturity is required on both sides of communication giving and receiving.

                      That is why this stuff is so challenging. If we have an attitude though of seeing it as a way to level up our maturity levels so we can help the other person succeed it makes a big difference.

                      Like

            • Yes, but everything you say is phrased in terms of battle, of war, and of cost effectiveness and what is owed to you as in, “so long as it is two way street.” That is just not the nature of love, generosity, and sacrifice. It sounds very stingy, self absorbed, and disrespectful to me.

              Like

              • gottmanfan says:

                If they are like an average couple stuck in this pattern for a long time, I would guess that his wife would also sound equally focused on her own perceived needs to defend herself if she commented here at this point in their relationship. And probably use strong emotional language (though maybe not battle language 😜)

                Imho both sides usually need to do some adjusting. (Though not always 50/50).

                It is so hard to see a way out when you are stuck in defensiveness. It all seems so stacked against you and your partner seems so inflexible. I have been there.

                It is hard to change what the other person doesn’t seem willing to change their point of view.

                I agree with you attitudes must change to move towards more generosity, love, and sacrifice.

                Like

                • I guess my pet peeve here is that no, all things are not equal and no, both sides don’t need to change. Flat out, we have men indicating by their words and tone that they do not respect their wives. So the solution is, start figuring out why you have so much disrespect for your wife.

                  Like

                  • gottmanfan says:

                    I do not disagree that some of the attitudes expressed by some of the men here are disrespectful towards their wives point of view. And that they would benefit greatly from understanding and changing what is going on with those attitudes.

                    It is always hard to hear one side of the story here as people are venting frustrations to get a picture of both sides.

                    I think there are some relationships where both sides don’t need to change. Where one person is the problem. I think often men block with defensiveness more than women do.

                    Imho most couples have some issues on both sides to co-create these patterns. Maybe it is that one person doesn’t know how to stand up for themselves effectively when they feel/are “disrespected.” That imho is also something that needs to change.

                    Criticizing and attacking or being passive aggressive or complying resentfully for too long is not effective either.

                    Like

                  • Nate says:

                    IB – So I hope you are not talking about me. I do not buy into the mantra of every TV sitcom where “stupid husband messes up again and eventually apologizes”. It is not disrespectful to disagree with my wife. It is not disrespectful to believe that she could actually be wrong about something. Wouldn’t you have to agree that a wife who always thinks she is correct and requests/demands change is being disrespectful? My stating this does not indicate through words or “perceived” tone that I do not respect my wife. I respect her without doubt. But I do not agree with everything she says or wants. We need to be able to sort through this act accordingly. If I did all things my wife asked without question or complaint, while asking for nothing in return, I would be no more than a Stepford Wife/Husband.

                    Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Nate,

                      You said:

                      “But I do not agree with everything she says or wants. We need to be able to sort through this act accordingly. If I did all things my wife asked without question or complaint, while asking for nothing in return, I would be no more than a Stepford Wife/Husband.”

                      I do not think that Matt or anyone here is suggesting that husband’s do “all the things my wife asked without question or complaint”.

                      Is that how you are hearing the message? That husband’s need to comply like Stepford husbands?

                      I can see how it certain parts may come across that way.

                      But it is not about doing what a wife wants all the time.

                      It is about listening non-defensively to what a wife is saying “all the time.” And repairing it when you fail.

                      It is about not having an *attitude* that you are just “too much” and I will only give you x amount cause that’s all you get. That’s what I deem is enough for you.

                      And yes this goes both ways. But it always puzzles me why people think the only way to protect themselves is by rationing connection. That only makes the other person request more because they can’t trust you will be there.

                      Like

                    • You know Nate, I have a saying, “my hubby is always right, about everything, always.” Bit tongue and cheek perhaps, but it reminds me, who cares about “being right?” A relationship is not about being right or agreeing or disagreeing with someone, it is about connection, relationship, intimacy, and coming alongside them while they do life.

                      Like

        • gottmanfan says:

          Nate,

          You said:

          “I honestly think males are more apt to move on and not get hung up on such annoyances. “

          “And you know I enjoy your writing as well as fall into the category of male readers who feel an overwhelming need to “defend” myself, actually all guys, when reading the comments section”

          It seems somewhat ironic that Matt seems to be “unintentionally” causing you to feel hurt and defensive on his various posts and it seems difficult for you to “move on and not get hung up on such annoyances” since you post various comments expressing your dissatisfaction.

          I honestly don’t see that men are able to move on any better than women. They may be less expressive on average but there is plenty of not moving on on both sides.

          Like

          • gottmanfan says:

            Or perhaps it is the comment section that unintentionally hurt you and it’s hard to move on from. Either way.

            I think it’s better to just own that it is difficult for anyone to move on from things we don’t think are resolved fairly.

            Like

        • gottmanfan says:

          “But, and its a big but, I refuse to indulge every perceived slight as a need for me to apologize. Sometimes feeling slighted is our own problem to work out.”

          I think this is a problematic attitude for an intimate relationship.

          It’s not that there isn’t some truth to it. Of course we are responsible for regulating ourselves.

          The problem is when we are in an intimate relationship with another person we are also regulating each other.

          “I care that you care” is an attitude associated with more successful relationships than

          ”Prove to me that I should care that you care”

          That attitude is associated with unsuccessful relationships.

          It’s not about unquestioningly doing what your spouse wants.

          It’s an attitude of CARING that they are upset and being curious about WHY they are upset. And how you can work together to figure out something.

          Like

        • gottmanfan says:

          “My question is, do you feel people can be overly sensitive? Or should the partner who feels disrespected/hurt always be “owed” an apology?”

          If we are going with gender stereotypes than I guess I will throw out that men can be incredibly sensitive to “feeling” disrespected/controlled/emasculated/etc.

          It’s a common thing that a request by a female is met with defensiveness because of an “overly sensitive” male.

          Sensitivity is not the problem per se. Though we need to be able to regulate ourselves in reasonable ways.

          Imho it is how you react to each other that determines if it is problematic.

          Like

        • jeffmustbeleast says:

          Nate, I agree that intent matters, particularly when it comes to deciding whether or not a marriage is worth saving. However, one of the biggest mistakes that I made in my marriage was taking the stance that if my wife’s hurt feelings didn’t make sense to me, she was wrong for feeling the way she did. Honestly, it is very easy for me to feel attacked when she was hurt and to get upset with her instead of trying to understand why my actions or lack of action hurt her. I quickly got caught up in whether or not it was intentional, and used that to defend myself.

          There is no question that I married someone who is more sensitive than me. Things that would roll off my back easily don’t roll off of hers. However, if I genuinely care about her, I will try to avoid hurting her even if I don’t understand why she is hurt by whatever the action is. I wish I had been better early in the marriage at reading my wife’s feelings. More often than not, I didn’t even realize that she was hurt until she came to me and told me. My immediate reaction in that case was defensiveness, and we would quickly spiral. Whether or not my actions were intentional, she was hurt as if they were intentional. It would have been a thousand times better if I had responded by saying “I’m sorry. Please help me understand what I did or did not do that hurt you so I can avoid that in the future.” Rather than immediately saying “I’m sorry, but I wasn’t trying to hurt you.” The latter just made her feel like I was justifying my actions and would continue to do them in the future. Does that make sense?

          I guess in short, if we genuinely care for our spouse, we will try to understand what we are doing that is hurting them and make changes whether or not our intentions were wrong. In my case, I did a poor job of showing my wife that I cared by responding defensively all through our marriage. While intentions do matter, focusing on that in an argument with my wife caused more damage than good. It was more important that I show her I cared and wanted to change whatever was causing her hurt than defending myself by arguing over intentions. If I could first show her that I cared and communicate that I was willing to make whatever changes I could to prevent hurting her again in the future; I think she would have been more receptive after that to accepting that my intentions weren’t bad.

          Liked by 1 person

  15. marilyn sims says:

    To everybody:

    A reader, cj, left this link in her response dated 3/19: the quote below was part of a blog titled, “My Journey to Clarity” I thought it was worthy of a note in case you missed it.

    ” LOVE IS A CHOICE PEOPLE WILL NO LONGER CHOOSE TO MAKE IN THE
    ABSENCE OF RESPECT”

    I think this is a poignant affirmation of what Matt emphasized in this post.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. marilyn sims says:

    Nate,

    It wasn’t about the glass left by the sink! It wasn’t about the clothing left on the floor or the times Matt’s teasing in the presence of guests at a party that left his wife feeling bruised and hurt. It’s about CONTEXT, and FREQUENCY! These were some of the “thousand paper cuts” that Matt talked about, it was Matt’s dismissal of his wife’s request for understanding that he ignored and described as just plain “bitchiness that eventually led to his wife’s decision to divorce.

    Don’t you remember Matt described how he left his wife in the hospital after giving birth to their son even though she tearfully begged him to stay!!!! His reasoning was that he needed to rest to be prepared for the challenges of the next day! Matt has described how his inability to give credibility to his wife’s complaints and concerns that left her convinced that he really did not really love her.

    It was Matt who said it was a lack of EMPATHY that cost him his family and a kind of arrogance that convinced him he was right and his wife was wrong that was the final straw! It seems to me that you have missed hearing/understanding essential parts of Matt’s explanations.

    Like

  17. gottmanfan says:

    Nate,

    “It is not disrespectful to disagree with my wife. It is not disrespectful to believe that she could actually be wrong about something. “

    Absolutely agree!

    The disrespect comes in our attitudes and HOW we respond when we disagree.

    Like

  18. FlyingKal says:

    Hi, I’m sorry I’m barging in late in the argument (as usual?), but I kinda got hung up on the intentional/unintentional debate that was touched upon earlier.

    I think it was Jeff who mentioned that his wife often got hung up on his behaviour that hurt her was intentional, and Gottmanfan answered:

    I wonder if some of her insistence would be softened if you didn’t insist that there is a “big difference” between unintentional and “intentional”?

    That is a discussion we have had several times in the blog comments. Intention matters of course in certain ways.

    Focusing on your actions being unintentional and therefore not as bad as “those abusive guys” is the same trap as focusing on who is more right. It is the wrong focus.

    I get stuck with this, because in my little pond there IS a world of difference between intentional and unintentional, at least in most cases.
    Say that she expects me to be at home from my job at 6 o’clock, to do X.
    Say that in 299 cases out of 300, leaving my job at 5 o’clock will see me getting home at 6 with plenty of time to spare. but once in a blue moon I will be late because of traffic, or a flat tire, or any random mishap. Does this mean that I do this to spite her, that ‘m intentionally hurting her because I’m not leaving my job each and every day with an extra half hour margin?

    I agree that focusing on the actions being unintentional and therefore not as bad as “those abusive guys” may more often than not be the wrong focus.
    But then I have to ask why she is putting so much focus there, why is she so insistent on the actions being intentional? What is there to gain?

    Like

    • gottmanfan says:

      Kal,

      “Why is she putting so much focus there, why is she so insistent on the actions being intentional? What is there to gain?”

      Now there is a good question to ask instead of arguing about whether about intentional vs unintentional.

      WHY does it matter to her? WHY does it matter to him?

      Like

      • gottmanfan says:

        To give you a specific answer it is usually about frustration that x thing is not being taken seriously.

        Focusing on an insistence that someone is doing something “intentionally” is usually a protest that they interpret that the other person isn’t considering them in their behavior or attitude or decisions. In their mind, Intent has the meaning of considering or lack of considering the effect on the other person.

        It may not be accurate from the other person’s perspective. Or the other person gives a different meaning to “intent.”

        Which is why both sides get into arguments about whether it was “intentional or unintentional.”

        You will seldom resolve those kind of arguments. The first step of resolving them is for both of you to have a clear sense of the WHY for each other.

        Like

        • FlyingKal says:

          Gottmanfan,
          “You will seldom resolve those kind of arguments. The first step of resolving them is for both of you to have a clear sense of the WHY for each other. ”

          That’s pretty much what I mean. And in my mind I think that’s something that anyone should be aware of before venturing down the road of starting such an argument, because there’s basically no way out of it that spells healthy for the relationship.

          You wrote in an earlier comment
          https://mustbethistalltoride.com/2019/03/19/love-vs-respect-which-is-more-critical-for-making-relationships-last/comment-page-1/#comment-68652
          I care that you care” is an attitude associated with more successful relationships than

          ”Prove to me that I should care that you care”

          That attitude is associated with unsuccessful relationships.

          It’s not about unquestioningly doing what your spouse wants.

          It’s an attitude of CARING that they are upset and being curious about WHY they are upset. And how you can work together to figure out something.

          But from the other side, arguing that a hurtful action was intentional basically says
          I can prove that you don’t care that I care
          and where do one go from there?

          Like

          • gottmanfan says:

            Kal,

            Maybe I am not writing my thoughts clearly.

            I am not saying that the person who protests by arguing that the other person does things intentionally is using good communication and relationship skills.

            In fact I am saying the opposite. They are being ineffective by doing this. It just leads to defensiveness on the other side and useless arguments.

            Both sides need to figure out what is going on underneath the surface content and learn to respond effectively. Care that they care on both sides.

            You asked “what do they have to gain?” so I was trying to explain why people argue about intent. It is a way to protest perceived poor treatment in an attempt to get the other person to change. It’s not an effective way to do it but that’s the motivation imho.

            Like

            • FlyingKal says:

              “Maybe I am not writing my thoughts clearly.”

              Well, that makes at least two of us :)

              To be fair, you are so much more clear, well-thoughtout and to the point then I could ever hope to be.

              I think you mosty if not always do an excellent job explaining your point, and more often than not your answers leave me feeling like a nuisance for ot thinking things all the way through before jumping on the keyboard in the first place…

              I can only thank you for your patience.

              Like

              • gottmanfan says:

                more often than not your answers leave me feeling like a nuisance for ot thinking things all the way through before jumping on the keyboard in the first place…

                Oh no!

                I value your questions and our dialogues help me think things through from different angles then I would otherwise.

                Like

          • jeffmustbeleast says:

            Thanks for joining in Kal. You did a good job of summing up how I’m feeling most of the time. I’m finding that we only end up going in circles when we start talking “intentional” versus “unintentional”, and it could very well be that my definition is different than my wife’s. However, I don’t think that really is the case in our marriage. In my case, I think my wife is really struggling with the thought that I might not care, and she is too afraid to let go and trust in case it is true. Because of this, she has taken the position of assuming that I don’t care and looking for proof constantly to back up her case.

            I wish I had the answer to your question, but not sure I do. In my case, my guess is it has more to do with self-protection on her part. I believe she got to a point where she became convinced that I was hurting her intentionally, and trusting again puts her heart at risk again. Does that make sense?

            I get your frustration because I am frustrated that my wife seems to be convinced that intent was there when it wasn’t. If I focus on that though, I get caught in the same cycle that Gottmanfan mentioned where I’m trying to argue that I’m not a bad guy. As she pointed out, this doesn’t help. I decided to try and focus on why she feels the way she does and to the best of my ability understand it. At the same time, I try to show her I love and care about her as much as I can and go out of my way to serve her. It is very difficult for me not to get caught up in what I feel is an unfair view of me and my intentions; I try instead to focus on the fact that I do love my wife, and I want her to see that. Honestly, that is probably the hardest part of all of this is knowing that she believes I don’t love her when I really do.

            Most of the time I feel like I’m swimming against a rip current and no matter how hard I try, I don’t make any process. However, recently I’ve started to see some signs that my wife is at least struggling with the idea of trusting again. She at least appears to be questioning whether or not her view of me was correct. Ultimately though, I can’t control whether or not my wife decides to trust again. All I can do is try to understand where I hurt her in the marriage and make changes to prevent that in the future. Hopefully she sees enough change that she decides to trust again and I have a chance to demonstrate with her what I’ve learned over the course of the last few years.

            Continually focusing on my issues and areas that I failed in can feel like I’m putting too much blame on myself at times. Believe me, it is easy for me to start pointing the finger at my wife in my head and point out what I believe she did wrong in the marriage. To be honest, my car ride into work often turns into a personal vent session where I’m thinking about all the things my wife is “wrong” about. However, I have to be careful because I do think I tend to justify my own actions pretty easily, and I can honestly say that I was blind to a lot of the damage I caused in the marriage due to justifying my actions as reactions to things I perceived my wife was doing wrong. It was easy for me to justify withdrawing in conversation when I perceived my wife was “attacking”. However, it doesn’t change the fact that my withdrawing did a lot of damage, and if I care about my wife and our marriage, I have to take steps to change my pattern of withdrawing. The way I see it, if I truly love my wife, I will work to change areas that are causing her pain even if I don’t agree with her on the intentions or whether or not she should be hurt.

            All that said, I have to admit that you did a good job of summing up how I feel much of the time. When I just look at everything from my own perspective (which I’m honestly not good at looking at anything from other perspectives most of the time), my frustration quickly builds.

            Like

            • gottmanfan says:

              Jeff

              “Continually focusing on my issues and areas that I failed in can feel like I’m putting too much blame on myself at times. Believe me, it is easy for me to start pointing the finger at my wife in my head and point out what I believe she did wrong in the marriage. To be honest, my car ride into work often turns into a personal vent session where I’m thinking about all the things my wife is “wrong” about. However, I have to be careful because I do think I tend to justify my own actions pretty easily, and I can honestly say that I was blind to a lot of the damage I caused in the marriage due to justifying my actions as reactions to things I perceived my wife was doing wrong”

              I don’t know if you relate to the way I think of things.

              I used to blame my husband because I could only see my half of the equation. And I think I had some good evidence on that side so it just reinforced looking at my side as right and focusing on him changing. So I had to change how I think about it as a system of both people influencing behavior on both sides. To some degree I am “causing” the behavior I don’t like in him. How am I doing this is the interesting question I have found helpful to focus on instead of focusing on what I don’t like about him.

              I developed an equation in my
              mind that diagnoses it as “his shit” and “my shit”

              So I can see how x things on his side have influenced how I responded incorrectly and vice versa. It isn’t a justification model, it is an explanatory model.

              My husband did X behavior, I thought he was doing it “intentionally” because of Y (my memory and interpretation) and responded by Z (insisting I knew his intentions or that they didn’t matter).

              Y and Z influenced my husband to respond with A, B, and C which then influenced me to respond with Y and Z and him to respond with A and B again. We are both desperate to get the other person to see the “error of their ways” and change their side of the equation.

              But we keep repeating the same stuff over and over.

              None of it justifies the behaviors but it explains the relationship between X, Y, and Z and A, B, and C. Or as I like to call it “my shit and his shit”.

              To change it one of the variables must change to get a new equation.

              Simplistic but I find it helpful to give some emotional distance. Recognizing the interacting nature of it all helps for me.

              Like

            • gottmanfan says:

              Jeff,

              You said:

              “In my case, I think my wife is really struggling with the thought that I might not care, and she is too afraid to let go and trust in case it is true. “

              I probably didn’t write my comment about the meaning women in these patterns usually give intent well.

              I think the fear that your wife has of not being able to trust you is the common one most people who protest about intentionality have.

              It’s the one I had for sure.

              I cannot trust that the other person “has my back” consistently. Cannot trust that they care enough about me to consider my needs equally important as their own needs.

              You are right it is about self protection. If you don’t trust your spouse it turns into a zero sum framing and self protection is part of it.

              And the husbands also respond with self protection.

              Like

            • gottmanfan says:

              Jeff,

              I admire your self awareness of your strengths and weaknesses.

              You said:

              “When I just look at everything from my own perspective (which I’m honestly not good at looking at anything from other perspectives most of the time), my frustration quickly builds.”

              Like

          • gottmanfan says:

            Kal,

            You did a great job of summing up the error of the person insisting on their spouse is hurting them intentionally.

            “But from the other side, arguing that a hurtful action was intentional basically says
I can prove that you don’t care that I care
and where do one go from there?”

            Which is an ineffective response to you shouldn’t care about this

            Like

      • FlyingKal says:

        I can’t reallly answer that, that’s why I’m asking.
        Because personally, I wouldn’t feel safe living with someone who was intentionally trying to hurt me (psychologically, emotionally or physically), so for me that would be a very strong incentive to get away from that.

        But arguing about it in a “YesYouDid-NoIDidnt-YesYouDid!” kind of way, I can ‘t really find anything to gain from it, other than possibly as a crowbar or an “YouOweMeOne” o win the next argument?

        Like

        • gottmanfan says:

          “But arguing about it in a “YesYouDid-NoIDidnt-YesYouDid!” kind of way, I can ‘t really find anything to gain from it, other than possibly as a crowbar or an “YouOweMeOne” o win the next argument?”

          I agree it isn’t an effective way to argue.

          The reason people do it is to protest what they consider to be fill in adjective (unfair, disrespectful, unloving, rude, hurtful, etc) attitudes and behaviors.

          But they don’t have the right skills to communicate it effectively. And the other person doesn’t have the right person either.

          So the other person protests what they consider to be fill in adjective (unfair, over emotional, disrespectful, not picking your battles, etc) attitudes and behavior.

          The surface content is about intention. The why is what is important to figure out. And figure out how to respond effectively instead of debating who is right.

          Like

    • FlyingKal says:

      Addendum:
      I realise that even if the hurt is unintentional, it is still real.
      My goal is not to come to this debate to try and prove that “Since I didn’t mean to hurt you, you’re not really hurting.” Quite the opposite.

      Like

    • gottmanfan says:

      Kal,

      “Say that in 299 cases out of 300, leaving my job at 5 o’clock will see me getting home at 6 with plenty of time to spare. but once in a blue moon I will be late because of traffic, or a flat tire, or any random mishap. Does this mean that I do this to spite her, that ‘m intentionally hurting her because I’m not leaving my job each and every day with an extra half hour margin?”

      Imho few reasonable people would get upset at your example. If there is a pattern of being able to rely on behavior as trustworthy 299/300 times that isn’t a common pattern for typical marriage arguments imho.

      The typical pattern is more about a pattern perceived unreliability.

      Say 99/300 getting home late because there isn’t a cushion built in and the other person has asked repeatedly to build in that cushion.

      The 25th or 50th time will get the “you are intentionally hurting me” response because the person defines “intent” as considering how showing up late because they haven’t built in a cushion will effect the other person who has explicitly asked repeatedly.

      Like

      • gottmanfan says:

        Although to modify my comment. If there is a perceived pattern of unreliability in other areas, the 1 time out of 300 showing up late could trigger a “you always do this to me” response.

        The fast thinking brain focuses on patterns not strict accuracy.

        Like

  19. gottmanfan says:

    Jeff,

    You said:

    “In my case, I think my wife is really struggling with the thought that I might not care, and she is too afraid to let go and trust in case it is true. “

    I probably didn’t write my comment about the meaning women in these patterns usually give intent well.

    I think the fear that your wife has of not being able to trust you is the common one most people who protest about intentionality have.

    It’s the one I had for sure.

    I cannot trust that the other person “has my back” consistently. Cannot trust that they care enough about me to consider my needs equally important as their own needs.

    You are right it is about self protection. If you don’t trust your spouse it turns into a zero sum framing and self protection is part of it.

    And the husbands also respond with self protection.

    Like

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