The Idea That Would Have Saved My Marriage and Might Save Yours

relationship algebra

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The reasons more than half of all romantic relationships (including marriage) fail are not obvious to most people.

If you need proof, just ask your current or former relationship partner to share their beliefs about what you experience—good and bad—in your relationship, (or your reasons for wanting to leave your former partner).

I’m willing to bet that eight—probably nine—times out of 10, their answer will fall well short of accurately describing your experiences, highlighting all of the ways they don’t quite understand what matters to you, and what doesn’t.

Unless you can tell the story of your marriage (or any romantic relationship) challenges in a way that results in your partner nodding their head and saying: “Yes. That is exactly right. That is exactly how I feel,” then you can safely dismiss the idea that you know and understand your partner well enough to avoid conflict and communicate effectively.

So, if you’re in the kind of relationship where either you or your partner cannot accurately describe your emotional experiences on a day-to-day basis, when you read this next sentence that might seem too obvious to take seriously, I hope you’ll dig just a little bit deeper before moving on because this is the idea that would have saved my marriage.

“I want to feel like the person I married considers me when they make decisions.”

I frequently did not consider how my decisions, words, and actions affected my wife, and after several painful years of being on the receiving end of that lack of consideration, she chose to leave.

Many of you have heard all of this before.

How I used to leave a dish by the sink and then treat my wife as if she was wrong or crazy for elevating it to a marriage problem.

How I used to leave a pair of jeans on a piece of furniture in our bedroom. Jeans that weren’t dirty enough to throw in the laundry. She hated it and asked me not to. I treated her as if she was wrong or crazy for always needing HER preferences to win over mine.

How I would sometimes make jokes at her expense in front of our friends and then defend it because I wasn’t trying to hurt her feelings. I treated her as if she was emotionally weak when she would mention it later. As if she was wrong or crazy for reacting to what I perceived to be harmless jokes in ways that I would not.

My wife was married to a man who frequently made decisions that would directly or inadvertently affect her—sometimes in substantially negative ways.

And my defense was that it was an accident. That I didn’t mean to.

And I FOUGHT for that recognition. I really believed that things were never as bad as she made them out to be. I’m a good guy! I seriously love you! I’m NEVER trying to hurt or upset you!

And she always acted like that didn’t matter, and I always acted like she was unfair.

I was always missing the point.

It’s not that I considered my wife, and made a decision that hurt or inconvenienced or disrespected her afterward.

It’s that I NEVER CONSIDERED HER AT ALL.

I made decisions where my wife wasn’t even a factor in the math equation my brain used to decide something.

THAT is what hurt.

That my wife was seemingly so inconsequential to me—so unworthy of my care and concern—that I would blindly or thoughtlessly make decisions without factoring in how she might be affected or how she might feel about it.

Underneath EVERY one of these little arguments that I believed were such a waste of time—that I was in such a hurry to end—I always focused on whatever disagreement we were having. I was always so perplexed and offended by how she could be making such a big deal out of whatever the next “little thing” was, that I never recognized the idea that would have saved my marriage and family.

My wife wanted to feel loved. Cherished. Respected. Desired.

My wife wanted her husband to believe and act as if she was worthy of being considered—that she was important enough for me to remember to include in my decisions, no matter how inconsequential I might have believed them to be.

How dare I deny her that.

I always had it coming. My inevitable comeuppance. I was simply too blind and ignorant and stubborn to know it.

How Do You Feel When It’s 65 Degrees?

My friend, Cary, N.C.-based couples therapist Lesli Doares, said to me in a recent podcast interview that we can objectively know that it’s 65 degrees outside. (That’s 18.333 degrees Celsius, all of you non-U.S. folk.)

Everyone can agree that it’s 65 degrees when we see 10 different thermometers telling us that it’s 65.

Where couples get in trouble (any two people or groups, really) is when discussing whether 65 degrees is warm or cold.

It’s common for two people to experience air temperature (and literally everything else) differently.

It’s common for one person to feel comfortable in 65 degrees while another person could feel chilly—uncomfortably so—in those air temps.

Something I’ve spent a lot of time discussing with coaching clients recently is this 65-degree framework for thinking about how we can more effectively consider our partner’s experiences when we make decisions.

For example, can we adjust the temperature? Or, could we choose to go somewhere warmer than 65 degrees on our partner’s behalf?

If we must or agree to go somewhere that’s 65 degrees, how might we consider our partner’s experience beforehand?

Could we communicate ahead of time that it will be 65 degrees when we get there so that they can factor it into their clothing choices? Can we acknowledge that we are aware that it’s a temperature that’s uncomfortable for them and that that matters to us? Could we offer any support or assistance to help them be more comfortable in 65 degrees?

Might we grab a sweatshirt or jacket for them? An extra blanket? Might we sit near a heat source, or somewhere out of the wind?

We are so good at being stuck inside of our own heads and bodies. We are so good at defaulting to all of our beliefs and opinions being ‘normal’ or ‘good’ or ‘correct,’ and we are often blind to how things we never considered impact others because those same conditions don’t impact us or cause us any pain or discomfort.

This happens all of the time, every day, in our beliefs and conversations that extend well beyond our romantic relationships. But that’s a conversation for another time.

Do you ever make quick, thoughtless decisions that your spouse or relationship partner indicates is an inconvenience or pain point for them?

Like me, are you quick to dismiss them, because you ‘know’ just how unimportant those minor inconveniences truly are?

And if so, is it possible that these “little things” aren’t the actual problem in your relationship?

Could it be that what our loved ones actually crave is to be considered in our decision-making? To be worthy, in our minds and hearts, of always being important enough to include in our calculations—no matter how deceptively minor or inconsequential we might believe these calculations to be?

Maybe you can ask them.

And just maybe, having that conversation can change your life and relationship in beautiful and meaningful ways.

Only one way to find out.

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12 thoughts on “The Idea That Would Have Saved My Marriage and Might Save Yours

  1. H says:

    Man! If there is one post that I would point to that hits the target with absolute precision and clarity, it is this one. I was so guilty of this. And the worst part is, that I never did it out of malice or to hurt her. I was just inconsiderate and disrespectful – not outwardly, but through actions.

    I think that if I hadn’t done this, my marriage would’ve probably survived or at least we would have gotten to a place where we could’ve worked on it. There were other things on her part that also contributed to this, but I can only look at my side of the lane to see what I could have done better and how I could have created a better marital environment for her to feel secure to voice her feelings.

    Lesson learned big time but with such dastardly consequences.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      You just summed up my experience succinctly, which was the impetus seven years ago for the writing and coaching work I do today.

      Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry you get it so well.

      Like

  2. J says:

    Yes, yes, and yes again! This sort of thing has been constant and relentless for the last 11 years of my life. For example, he thinks it’s freaking ridiculous that I expect him to do things like replace the milk in the house fridge (with one from the garage fridge) if he uses the last of it. How could I be so lazy that I would not just go get it myself??? These self-centered behavior patterns tend to go along with a lack of ability to compromise and a need to always get one’s own way, both of which are quite evident around here.

    The way I explained it to both of our therapists is that I feel like both of us are overly focused on his needs and no-one is paying enough attention to mine. Because I do consider him in everything I do; it has taken a concerted effort for me lately to do less of that. It wasn’t serving me, and I have finally come to see that by his behavior he doesn’t deserve it.

    Both times I said that he laughed, because he sees life with me as being just chock full of having to suffer through things he doesn’t want to do just to make me happy. We’ll see how much he likes it when he no longer has to do that…

    Like

  3. CheaperbytheHalfDozen says:

    Absolutely 100% spot on! Lack of empathy or lack of consideration is the reason I am now reluctantly yet inevitably requesting a therapeutic separation from my husband of 14 years. If just one time he would have considered me or thought of me instead of acting like a single man this past decade and a half, we would not be at this point. The funniest thing is, I read an article that was dead on from your site about 3 years ago. I forwarded it to him and… I’m pretty sure that email sits unopened in his inbox.

    Like

    • J says:

      Same here, except we’ve only been married for 9 years (together for 11). Right about this time three years ago the therapist we were seeing at the time forwarded Matt’s article about the dishes by the sink to my husband. I only know about it because my husband told me. I found it, read it, told him it was good and he should take it to heart. He mumbled something indeterminate and that was the end of it. I’m pretty sure he did read it, but he is way too deep in “the best defense is a good offense” to hear any of what Matt had to say.

      Like

  4. I’m really proud of you for figuring this stuff out. I’m sorry it was too late for you, but it’s still really great that it happened at all.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. very insightful. Im also divorced and a relationship coach which was probably fueled from all my failed relationships. I was on the receiving end of this behavior in my marriage, never felt heard seen or considered! Thank you for sharing. cheers

    Liked by 1 person

  6. H says:

    Looking back, this just makes me feel like such a crap human being. I thought I was showing love and consideration in so many other ways, but not in ways that mattered to her.

    She was also very meek and never said anything until things blew up and there was no way back for her. It was like a pressure cooker blew off. Part of me is still pissed off that I was expected to just ‘know’ and mind read, which is an expectation that is always going to fail. I can’t read anyone’s mind, even if I know them well enough.

    I know where I went wrong and I know I did the best with the awareness that I had, but it is also challenging to take full ownership of everything when I would’ve moved heavens and earth if she had just told me. I’m in a good place emotionally now and I can see things with more clarity, but for all the support that I didn’t provide her, I also didn’t get the same from her. And I’m also guilty of not communicating my needs. So, I exhibited the same behaviors she did and we went of the cliff.

    Like

  7. When you marry, it’s supposed to be two lives that become ONE. We treat it more like two lives lived side-by-side instead of the one flesh it is meant to be.

    If you are one flesh, you can no more make decisions without considering the cost to one’s partner, than you can make decisions without first considering how they will affect YOU. Well, I mean you CAN, but it’s a pretty foolish way to live!

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I have! I share it a fair amount too. So I’m glad you shared it here. She does a wonderful job of illustrating and explaining this dynamic that is largely invisible to a terrifyingly high amount of people every day.

      Like

  8. […] didn’t understand how my failure to respect my wife’s feelings over my selfish desire to change them over thousands of these paper-cut incidents had set the stage perfectly for a major life event to […]

    Like

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