Maybe Your Marriage Sucks Because You Don’t Really Know Your Spouse

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I never really knew my wife even though we were married for nine years and together for 13.

Not because of some crazy spy shit nor from any deliberate attempts on her part to hide her true identity from me. I didn’t really know my wife because I never invested the time, effort and energy to know her in a way that would have equipped me with the information I needed to avoid hurting her in ways I didn’t know were hurting her.

That’s the big defense in our relationships, right? “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to! I had no idea this was such a big deal to you!”

That’s the BEST version of this dynamic and it will still poison your relationships and end your marriage.

The more common version of this story involves one of us (usually the guy in a heterosexual relationship) trying to convince our partner that they’re overreacting—that it SHOULDN’T be a big deal to them. That, if they realize how insignificant the incident was, or how silly the fight is, then they can stop feeling bad about it. No one’s upset anymore! Problem solved!

That’s what I did. I tried to help my wife feel better by explaining how I felt about it, believing, I guess, that she might adopt my version of events, thereby relieving her of the inconvenient pain or anger or sadness she was feeling.

It makes sense when you’re a dipshit who has no idea that you’re a dipshit. (*points at self)

Something that frustrated me in marriage and which seems to frustrate many of the men I talk to in my coaching work is the idea that our wives are constantly “surprising” us with new complaints.

Right? Like, you’re just going about your day, minding your own business, not doing anything that seems harmful to anyone, and—BAM—she’s making the face and using the voice again.

Here we go again. What is it this time, princess?

Honestly, my wife would be hurt and/or upset by something she experienced, and my legitimate mental and physical reaction was to filter everything she was telling me through this idea of her being a petty, unfair, nagging, hyper-sensitive, overly emotional ingrate.

I thought SHE was the one making our marriage shitty. I seriously believed that.

And if you’re reading this and identifying with my wife in this story, and your blood is boiling a little bit because of what a condescending, invalidating asshole I was being BEFORE even speaking to her, I want to encourage you to consider that your partner believes that too.

I say that with zero judgment.

When you think of yourself as a smart, kind, polite person who succeeds at work, has healthy social and professional relationships, and who always got along with family members growing up, and the ONLY person who ever complains about you is your spouse (who you promised to love forever, share everything with, and who you perceive yourself to sacrifice most for), then it’s easy to mathematically arrive at this conclusion.

The sad and angry wife in this example is the statistical outlier. She’s the one who is acting radically different than the rest of his interpersonal data sample. Who am I going to believe? My own judgment plus EVERYONE I’ve ever known? Or this crazy woman trying to make me out to be the bad guy?

So please don’t interpret me as demonizing these men or myself 10 years ago. You can be legitimately decent and well-intentioned and STILL harm your spouse and marriage in your blind spots.

Good people can be bad spouses. Good people can unwittingly destroy their marriages.

And one of the ways that happens is when spouses (usually husbands) are “surprised” by their wives’ expressed sadness or anger. Over and over and over again.

How did this happen? How is it possible that she’s THIS upset about something I never even saw coming?

The Damage Happens Because You Didn’t See it Coming

When you’re a parent—or even just an adult—and you see children running in the house, or next to a swimming pool, or skateboarding in the middle of the street, the dangers are obvious to you.

You can see all the potential hazards. Like a prophet.

It’s probably not because you’re psychic. It’s probably because you’ve ran into sharp corners, or burned your hand on the stove, or cut yourself with a knife, or had some scary close calls while riding your bike in your neighborhood.

It’s the knowledge and wisdom that comes with experience and a nuanced understanding of the situation.

The same things happen in our career pursuits and favorite hobbies.

Whatever you’ve spent the most time practicing, or reading about, or thinking about, or discussing, are the things you have the most expertise on.

All of us have something.

I type fast and can usually string words together pretty efficiently. I know a lot about NFL football, Marvel movies, bourbon whiskey, video games, the newspaper industry, cooking, and poker relative to most people.

I’ve also learned an enormous amount about relationships over the past seven years, because I’ve studied them, thought about them, written about them, and talked about them more than anything else.

Whatever we do the most and have learned the most about are the things in which we develop expertise or mastery.

I had a relationship coaching client in his 70s. Married 36 years.

He was expressing frustration about hearing the same complaints from his wife for nearly 40 years. (Feel free to laugh. I sort-of did even though it’s probably more sad than funny.)

I asked him to grab a pen and paper, and in two columns, jot down the things that mattered most to his wife. One column of positive stuff. One column of negative stuff.

In other words, what are the things that affect your wife in good and bad ways? What matters most to her in a good way, and what matters most to her in a bad way? What are the things that move the needle for her, emotionally?

My client couldn’t name ONE THING. Not one. “I don’t really know, Matt.”

Well. Gee whiz.

“Respectfully, sir. You don’t know your wife.”

Imagine STUDYING poker, playing in live games twice per week, playing online several times per week, and watching several hours of it on TV.

I have poker textbooks that I would pore over. I would study the pros on TV. I would analyze every nuanced decision the best players in the world were making in an effort to be a strong player.

And it worked. I got pretty good.

Now. Imagine being a woman who—in every decision she makes, large and small—factors her husband into the equation.

What to have for dinner. When to broach certain subjects with me. What plans to make for the upcoming weekend. What gifts to get MY parents for the holidays—something that hadn’t occurred to me before she mentioned it.

There were almost no decisions my wife would make throughout the course of the day that didn’t take into account how our son and her husband would be affected by it.

Compare that to me.

I woke up, maybe worked out, drove to work, did work stuff, drove home, and then maybe I’d cook or help clean up the kitchen. One or two days per week, I’d vanish for poker night. When I was home, maybe I was playing online poker, watching a movie or TV show that I liked, or “managing” a fantasy football team.

You know. Minding my own business after a day where I went to work, cooked dinner and cleaned up the kitchen, and then sat down to watch, read, or play something.

So, that’s why I always thought it was bullshit when she’d be upset with me about something.

Because I didn’t do anything.

And I was right. I didn’t do anything. I was SURPRISED by my wife feeling upset or neglected or disrespected by something I either did or didn’t do.

Imagine if I’d given the list of things that affect my wife positively and negatively even HALF of the attention I gave to trying to master poker or win my fantasy football league.

Imagine.

Maybe, if I had a nuanced understanding of the sorts of things that caused my wife to feel pain, it would have occurred to me just how hurtful it must have been for her to see me put so much time, effort, and energy into mastering a game she had no interest in, and which took me away from her and our home several hours per week, while NEVER investing even a fraction of that same disciplined focus, effort, and energy in her. Into our marriage. Into optimizing our home life in a way that helped her feel seen, heard, respected, cherished, desired, and supported.

What if I KNEW my wife? What if I really, truly knew who she was? Her hopes and dreams. The very specific reasons why things I thought were petty or silly created pain for her. What if I—with well-practiced expertise—had developed mastery-level skills for marriage, and a comprehensive understanding of who she was and what mattered most to her?

Someone who KNOWS their spouse with the same mastery they have of their profession or favorite hobbies or whatever they’ve studied the most? That’s a person capable of anticipating his or her partner’s emotional, mental, and physical needs in real time.

Without any surprises.

The “invisible” bad shit doesn’t happen because we can anticipate it. We see the potential danger or potential mistakes and avoid them.

That’s what well-practiced, focused people who are paying attention do. They see problems before they happen and adapt for the best-possible outcome.

Imagine if you also did that for your spouse.

Imagine a life without being “surprised” with another “petty” complaint.

Imagine a partner who never complains because she or he is in a constant state of having their needs met. Of being considered. Of being validated. Of being respected. Of being loved.

I don’t know what you’re best at in life. But I’m pretty sure you were mostly shit at it when you didn’t even know what you didn’t know and were just getting started.

Maybe you’re accidentally shit at various aspects of your relationship. Maybe you’re regularly confused by your partner.

And just maybe, putting in the work of understanding and knowing things about them that you don’t currently know will mitigate much of the conflict and discomfort in your marriage.

Just maybe, when we are tuned into our partners and have expertise on the things that affect them—both good and bad—we are able to anticipate and meet their needs in real time. Without surprises. Because these things are no longer happening in our blind spots.

The pain- and conflict-producing situations are no longer sneaking up on us.

We see the sharp corners. The boiling pan on the stove. And we’re just a little more mindful and cautious.

Maybe that’s how we help prevent a lot of pain, and more effectively soothe it when it happens.

Maybe that’s how we turn frustrating, unhealthy, and disconnected relationships into ones we want to be a part of.

I didn’t know my wife. But, if I’d chosen to, I could have.

And that would have changed everything.

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39 thoughts on “Maybe Your Marriage Sucks Because You Don’t Really Know Your Spouse

  1. frankiecoeur says:

    Many thanks… I needed to hear this today… it is my birthday and my life is a mess! I didn’t even know anymore that I had signed up to you vlog, but it did me a lot of good!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      Thank you for the kind words and for spending time here on your birthday. I’m so sorry that things are a mess. I hope something surprising in the best way possible helps the rest of your birthday be the best it can be.

      Happy birthday to you. Cheers.

      Like

      • frankiecoeur says:

        Thanks for congratulating me on my birthday, Matt. It was a really sad day. I passed your blog on to my husband, not sure he understood what you meant but I wish more men would speak out about the problems they encounter in relationships and how to solve them! We all would be far happier… For some reason so many men close themselves up to the woman they share there lives with! It almost feels like something genetic, or learned through the generations? My husband does not respond well to talking, things go in one ear and out the other. He professes his love for me in words and does not understand that there is a more to it than that, there are actions, there are feelings… Maybe one day he finds someone who suits him better than I do! I wish he had given it a better try…. nothing ever changes, not even his broken promises! As far as I am concerned… I have been married a few times, always attracted the same kind of men… never again!

        Like

  2. leslidoares645321177 says:

    Nailed it as usual. You know I would make the same argument that women often don’t know their men, but it all boils down to the time and effort put in to the relationship for both spouses.

    Like

  3. DLR says:

    I read your posts but, don’t usually comment but this one hit the nail on the head for me and my spouse…roommate…acquaintance…whatever you want to call him at this point. We have been married for 27 years. TWENTY SEVEN! Over half of my life. He does not know me nor has he ever cared to. He doesn’t know what kind of flowers I like, he cannot identify my style of jewelry, the size clothes I wear, my medication allergies, my medical history, my social security number, the list goes on and on. The other day, he actually asked me to confirm how to spell my middle name!! It’s not a normal name but, still…twenty seven years! I identified this issue of knowing nothing about me quite some time ago and brought it to his attention but nothing changed. I know all of the important and non-important things about him, he just does not care to know anything about me at all. He interrupts when I am trying to talk to him thus further confirming that I am not worth investing time into. I gave up on this marriage 10 years ago and we just kindof co-exist at this point. He’s not mean or abusive. Right now, I will just keep riding the wave until the time is right for me to re-start my life again. In addition, he (I guess) decided about 7 years ago that we would no longer have a physical relationship. This was a unilateral decision. I was not consulted. No, he is not cheating on me. I can only suppose that after this amount of time, he grew bored of “the same old thing”. My life has been spent, as you said, essentially catering to his needs, likes, dislikes, providing a comfortable home, raising the kids, working full time, managing the finances, and running this whole ship while he went to work and came home. This is not necessarily meant to be a rant. It is meant to validate your observation. Gentlemen, if you have any interest in keeping your partner, get to know her, truly know her. Know what kind of flowers she likes, know what to say to the doctor if she were ever in a situation that she could not answer for herself, listen to her without interrupting. It’s really pretty simple. She likely already does these things for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      Thank you so much for sharing this, DLR. I’m grateful for you giving us a vulnerable peek into your life and I’m sorry for all of the pain, sadness and anger that accompanies it. Everyone deserves better. Certainly you.

      Like

    • Kimberly says:

      @ DLR …. Your post is so sad to me. I was in the same boat …. except mine cheated on me. You have a RIGHT as a human being to be happy. Never forget that. You can be someone’s 1st & last thought of the day, or you can settle for being an afterthought. The choice was taken from me – my ex divorced me, no matter how much I tried to salvage it – & I can honestly say I’m better off. He was never going to put in the work to KNOW me. He’s not a bad guy. He’s a good guy, good provider …. but after 21 years of marriage I can honestly say he did not know me. Or even cared to know me. There are men out there who would LOVE to be your significant other & strive to fill every space left by this less than marriage. All you have to do is LOOK. I wish you ALL THE BEST. And I toast your upcoming happiness when you decide to claim it. 🤗

      Liked by 1 person

      • DLR says:

        Thank you, Kimberly! I am not sad about it anymore. It is just who he is, I guess. The irony is that he will think it came “out of left field” when I decide to move on even though we have been on the brink of divorce twice in the past. As long as I am not bitching or whining, he thinks everything must be fine. The truth is that complaining never got me anywhere with him. Part of the problem is that I married someone who is just not a person who is tuned into himself or others. I won’t be crass and call him dumb, he is just not very introspective. What you see is what you get. The funny thing is that if I felt that he had the least bit of interest in me personally, I would be fine. If he would just ask me. Ask me anything! Ask me about my goals. Ask me about my childhood. Ask me to tell you about the movie I watched. Ask me what I think about global warming! lol. Hell,I don’t care! Just show some kind of interest that I exist in your world!

        Liked by 2 people

        • Kimberly says:

          @ DLR ….. You are SO RIGHT. Men – listen up men! – think when we stop bitching or complaining, that we are FINALLY happy. Never realizing that once apathy sets in, we are done. I guess it goes both ways though. My ex used those words once “I just don’t care” & I didn’t hear it. Didn’t know that it meant he was mentally checked out. Once I had the chance to save it, there was no saving it …. he’d found someone else younger & more exciting than me. That bothered me at 1st, but I’ve come to see he gave me a gift. A chance to find someone I’m much more compatible with. I hope with all my heart, that he chose wisely. All that to say I completely understand where you are. Not angry anymore, just sad. Again, I wish you all the best. I pray you spend the next 30 years of your life being so happy you can’t stand it. 🤗🤗

          Liked by 1 person

        • frankiecoeur says:

          Same here DLR… I married a man who is not a bad person, highly educated but socially inept. He can be a great friend to some people though… especially women…. but not to me. And he is amazing at saying one thing today, another tomorrow, always fitting what he said to what suits him at the time, so you never know where you stand and then gaslighting you because it is you who did not understand things well. At my age, 63, married before a few times, you would think that I would have learned my lessons? I hope now I did!!! Never again!!!!! He has destroyed my life. Still he had an amazing older lady in his life… I looked barely 40, talented, upbeat, cheerful, trying to build an amazing future with him, lots of dreams, which brought together some of our passions…. I suppose what he wants (68), is a life as a pensioner…. but why lie to me to start with????? And any time we had a fight in our hands, because we are tenants and a lot goes wrong in the Rental Sector.. he would always leave me to get on with it! Not the man of my dreams, sorry! Best of luck…

          Like

      • Hank Hill says:

        “You have a RIGHT as a human being to be happy.”

        Really? Even the Founding Fathers only believed one has a right to PURSUE happiness.

        Like

    • Maddy476 says:

      This is a terrible way to live. Why are you waiting to leave? Don’t stay because of the kids. Teach your kids that you respect yourself enough to recognize you deserve better. It will help them in their own relationships. My therapist said it’s better to have two happy homes than one miserable home. I started over 5 years ago at 49. Best thing I ever did.
      I’m now 54 and have no parents. My Dad just died. Life is short. Be happy NOW!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. zelmare says:

    What you are saying makes so much sense, but I wonder how many men will feel that it is worth the effort? It does sound like an awful lot of work to do from the husband’s side, although it’s not, a man mostly has to listen and observe, and care. Just wondering how the men feel when they read this… I know it was too much to ask of my ex…

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I think men think it’s worth the effort when they BELIEVE the same things I believe. That modifying the way we think and the way we speak can result in less pain for our partners. And as our partners experience less pain, and feel more validation, love, support, cooperation, etc., THEN all of the shit men commonly complain about in their marriage is non-existent.

      If men believe they’re being asked to change simply to appease their irrational, overly needy spouses, then I 100% agree with you.

      If men believe they’re being asked to consider that they’re accidentally harming their partners and their marriages/families, and that with a little work, they will NOT harm their marriages/families, thereby eliminating the conditions at home that feel bad to them (conflict, “nagging”, stress), then I think they will sprint toward doing the work.

      They must:

      1. See the pain. (They usually don’t.)
      2. Understand how to mitigate it, by learning why it’s happening in the first place, and how they’re sometimes accidentally contributing to it.
      3. Accept responsibility for changing certain habits so that these pains and invalidations don’t continue to repeat over and over again in their blind spots.

      If they can do all of those things, and put in legitimate practice?

      Beautiful things happen.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Marion says:

      I don’t think we teach men relationship skills or the need for them. Being a good man is deemed enough. It’s sad really for everyone. We all just want to be seen. And I don’t think anyone truly feels cherished unless they are also cherishing.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Shannon says:

    Matt, I am showing this to my husband when he gets home today. DLR, the last line “She likely already does this for you” hit home. Oddly, my husband would curl up and die if I left him. There is no question that he wants and needs me – just not enough to put in the energy to make me content, rather than overwhelmed, overworked, and overly responsible for him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maddy476 says:

      Then find somebody who will put in the work. It’s not your problem that he would die if you left. It’s your problem that you’re dying by staying.

      As much as Matt advocates to save marriages, I advocate to leave them. I honestly don’t believe 90% of the men have the capacity or desire to change. It’s not a simple problem with a simple solution. Women have to start ensuring their own needs are met. That’s because we are the “caregivers” and most men are selfish.

      Like

      • Matt says:

        I’m with you, Maddy. And I totally understand why you feel that way.

        But what about those 10%? And what about the kids in those 10%-of-the-time scenarios? The ones who will see love, and fortitude, and courage modeled for them as two people fight their way back to one another.

        Not in a feel-good romantic-comedy way. But in the real-life, gritty, often uncomfortable way that reflects what actual human relationships look like.

        I don’t mean for this to sound as if I’m challenging you. I guess I’m selfishly channeling 4-year-old me and rooting for the “happy” ending for all of the kids out there who didn’t ask for any of this, and are learning entirely too little about what it will take for their adult relationships to flourish in any sort of meaningfully healthy way.

        Women MUST know their worth and not allow themselves to choose mistreatment over and over and over and over again, no matter how decent and/or “innocent” her partner might be.

        But sometimes — sometimes they’re married to partners capable of delivering the best kind of redemption story. Sometimes these people simply don’t know what they don’t know, but when they DO know, they instantly change their behavior accordingly.

        What if 90% of the men WOULD change if only the message was being delivered to them in a way that landed? In a way that connected and made sense to them?

        What if instead of interpreting his wife as unfairly complaining about him and attacking his character, he was hearing those ideas shared not so differently than the way he learned anything in life (how to be a better student, athlete, employee, etc.)?

        I know we haven’t given you a lot of reasons for optimism or the benefit of the doubt. But I talk to a lot of guys that are DESPERATE to show up in their marriages in ways that reflect the love they feel for their spouses.

        Sometimes, very good people blindly hurt those around them while they’re busy not paying attention, and they will adjust course as soon as they realize that’s what they’re doing.

        I have to try to advocate for them too. The guys trying hard to do the work and be part of the solution.

        It feels dangerous to ask men to change and join the fight on a macro level, but then advocate for their wives to leave them, and write them off as hopeless.

        Some are. And that’s the only way they’ll learn.

        But some are warriors. And they’ll surprise and inspire all of us, and help raise sons and daughters to do the same.

        I don’t want to quit on them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • DrK says:

          Agreed – I think there are the men who don’t care to change and are set in their ways, but I think many more men are just clueless and have never had an example to model, or an awareness of what needs to be done. It’s only a relatively recent trend for men to take responsibility for the emotional side of life – generations before us (my parents for sure and they’re boomers) had strong gender roles where men provided and women kept house and took care of the kids. Men would scoff at the request to get to know their wives, take on the appropriate share of the mental load, and/or be asked to help with housework. Our first understanding of relationships come from our parents, whether we realize it or not. Society reinforces what boys and girls are ‘supposed’ to do and how they’re ‘supposed’ to behave. So, today’s men are blindly trying to navigate this new role for men, and with communication barriers being what they are, are just not getting what their wives are telling them. They feel like they’re trying, but they’re not understanding the problem. That’s why Matt’s blog is SO important and I pass it along to most of my married patients. He explains it in a way that men understand (finally). The hope is that men read it or come to understand it before their wives are too sick of explaining it again and again to them..,

          Liked by 1 person

        • Maddy476 says:

          Matt, as always a beautifully written response. I got a bit choked up because I believe and agree with everything you said. I think the men who are willing to try will only listen to another man because all of us are “batshit crazy”. I’ve been following you for a while and it seems you are the only one that gets it and can explain it so clearly.
          I could go on and on. Don’t give up on them. Please keep counselling. Start a speaking tour. I will come and work for you :).
          I told my therapist I was going to write a book about all the crazy stuff I went through and she said “book?, it should be a movie”.
          I definitely regret splitting up my family but once I lost respect for my husband, it wasn’t salvageable. We tried. One of us lived in reality, the other through rose coloured glasses and sweeping everything under the carpet. I think that’s what men do. They don’t know how to deal with their emotions or communicate so they just sweep everything under the carpet.
          And yes there are good guys out there who are trying. They need you. I love your articles. Keep writing.

          Like

          • Matt says:

            And I’m so sorry that you were put in a position to choose between marriage/family and your health.

            Your choice was between two things no spouse or parent should ever be put into the position to have to choose.

            You were. You chose you. And you HAD to. It was courageous and difficult.

            You were forced to do that because of someone who promised you forever but then spoke to you and treated you the same way I treated my wife.

            I’m so sorry that he didn’t see you and hear you, figure it out, then show up for you.

            I can’t apologize enough times for you being made to feel as if you’re crazy simply because you hurt all over and when you asked for help and tried to communicate it, you were met with: “Umm. You’re not actually hurt. Stop being needy and ruining our good time.”

            Every time. Some version of: “But I’m NOT hurting you.”

            I don’t know how many times it would take me to lose my shit if someone did that to me, but I bet you held it together infinitely longer than I would have.

            Thank you for being part of these conversations and for wanting to help your sisters escape mistreatment.

            I wish for that too.

            But for all of the men who are better and braver than I ever was, I want to ask them to be part of it too.

            Like

            • Maddy476 says:

              Thanks Matt. That’s what I needed from my husband -and didn’t get – compassion, empathy, someone to hug me and listen instead of eye rolling and walking away because he didn’t have the capacity to be there for me.
              The saddest part is the impact to my kids. I have peace in my life and I’m happy, although I’m ready to meet a new man. This time I will know what to look for.
              Thanks for listening. Maddy.

              Like

              • Matt says:

                Thanks for having the conversation with me. I’m so glad you know precisely what you deserve and are demanding it. I suspect that will weed out a whole lot of people upfront, but that those you let in will be both feel-good and healthy with your strict no-bullshit policy. I’ll be rooting for you forever.

                Like

        • Lori says:

          I have some questions in regards to this response. Shouldn’t a focus be on saving the individuals who make up the marriage not saving the marriage itself? If you help the individuals, wouldn’t they then have the tools they need to best communicate and decide on how to proceed with their relationship in a healthier way for everyone involved? Shouldn’t a question be why a man would be more willing to listen to a stranger over his wife? What is it that is being said that would be so different? Also, I’m not sure if you see the confusion your statement might create that women MUST know their worth and not allow themselves to choose mistreatment over and over and over and over again but men need help with interpretation and don’t know what they don’t know. Would the plea you give to women to take responsibility for themselves not also apply for the men? Would the defense you give for the men not also apply for the women? I don’t believe you meant it but this could be very frustrating and demoralizing for some men and women while encouraging the very thing you want to discourage in some of the men. Empathy can bring about understanding and change but requires patience, effort and time. There may not be an issue with what the person is saying or how they are saying it but with the person who is unwilling to receive the message. Accepting when someone is not willing to listen or change is one of the hardest things to do. Quitting and letting go are not the same thing. Letting go might be necessary not only for your own change but theirs as well.

          Like

          • Matt says:

            Hey Lori.

            I take no exception to anything you said here. I hope you’ll forgive me, but I just don’t have the bandwidth to tackle each of these questions one by one. Like most relationship conflict, it’s subtle. Nuanced.

            Please don’t interpret anything I write or say to translate to: “People who don’t want to be married, should stay married anyway.”

            I can’t come up with a reason why a person suffering in her or his marriage should continue to subject themselves to it. And I can’t come up with a reason why a person on the other side of that could benefit from being married to someone who doesn’t want to be married to him or her.

            I write in generalities sometimes because I know no other efficient way.

            If I were to make broad generalizations that tend to be true (but are not always), I would say that women in marriages are frequently hurt (in a very literal, unhealthy, unsustainable way) that their husbands — literally — do not understand. They have a blindness to it. The simplest explanation, I think, being that the same sort of life circumstances that led to that hurt do NOT hurt them. It doesn’t compute.

            And I would say that in order to bring about positive change, safety and trust must be restored in the relationship.

            And I would say that in order to do that, the husband’s actions would have to change, and that usually involves two steps:
            1. Learning how to see the pain and damage being caused in order to empathize with it and avoid causing it.
            2. Changing habits from ones that inadvertently contribute to the pain and damage to habits that contribute to restoring safety and trust.

            “What is it that is being said that would be so different?”

            It’s not what’s being said. It’s who is saying it.

            I can tell a man that he’s hurting his wife in the context of a story about how I hurt my wife, and I can tell him how I used to think and feel exactly like him, but now I think and feel much differently. And sometimes that helps.

            But his wife can tell him he’s hurting her, and the very first thing he’s going to do is get defensive, and feel attacked, criticized, belittled, inadequate, etc.

            We probably aren’t saying things too differently.

            But I make sure I talk to these guys without judging them or implying they are “bad.” Their sad and angry wives (justifiably sad and angry) in their hurt tend to communicate judgment and the implication that their husbands are “bad.”

            In my experience, marriages aren’t built from two bad people doing bad things. But rather two very decent people who hurt one another over many years because of benign or neutral actions that mathematically result in damaging their partner or marriage.

            It’s invisible because the people “doing” the painful things never calculate them to be harmful. We hurt people when we’re not taking care to avoid hurting people. And we don’t take care to avoid it when it doesn’t compute that it’s a threat in the first place.

            This is how we slowly destroy our marriages. Paper cut after paper cut after paper cut.

            It’s awful and I’m so sorry.

            Like

  6. Still Keeping it on the Down Low says:

    Matt, of everything you’ve written this encapsulates the problem for me more than anything else. My husband and i have been together for 11 years, married almost 10. I would not say that he knows *nothing* about me, but what he does know is superficial, like that purple is my favorite color. Guaranteed he would tell you that I am constantly complaining about ridiculous things and expecting too much from him. As I get upset about the same handful of things over and over and over again.

    An example – when we go upstairs to bed, I am often the one turning off the last light. He goes up the stairs while the downstairs lights are still on, which leaves me walking in the pitch black to the bottom of the stairs. Every single time, I ask him to turn the stair light on and he does, but he never does it on his own. A few months ago I finally said to him “I’ve probably asked you to turn on that light hundreds of times by now. What would it take for you to remember it on your own?” He looked at me blankly and said “It’s not my job to remember that”. Well alrighty then! This is the same man who says he fell in love with me because I “anticipate his needs and meet them”. Sigh.

    A few years ago I took us to therapy, which he did semi-willingly but he just sat there like a lump, expecting the outcome to be *me* changing so that I would be happy with his lack of effort. We tried twice; the first one neatly summed up the problem as “You want a partner, and right now you don’t have one”. The second one didn’t have much to say, but whenever he got the chance to see me alone he would encourage me to move on, saying he didn’t see much hope of progress here. It took another couple of years for me to finally acknowledge that, but we are finally separated and he will be moving out after social distancing is over (if it’s ever over!). He hasn’t told any of his friends, and he makes comments that make me think that he’s hoping that I will somehow forget about it and let him stay. Not a chance, buckaroo!

    You would think after a total of 16 months of therapy, consisting mostly of me talking about how and why I was unhappy, this would not be a total shock to him. But yep, totally blindsided when I finally told him. Which just confirms the correctness of my decision.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I don’t really know how to respond to this. I appreciate you sharing. Very much. And everything you’re saying makes perfect sense to me. And I’m so glad that you know your worth and are not going to continue to allow yourself to feel hurt and disrespected every day because that’s no way to live. But, also, I’m just sorry. For you. For him. For the millions of people whose marriage looks and feels exactly like yours.

      We didn’t even know what to look out for. Wishing you only good things.

      Like

  7. SLM says:

    Just had a conversation like this with my husband the other night. I told him I am constantly curious about him and express my interest by asking him questions, what do you think? How do you feel about ____? He replied with “yeah sometimes I don’t even mention things because I know there will be questions” and he was honestly SHOCKED that his statement upset me. After some more discussion I tried to explain everything you just wrote. But I am a female, so I don’t think my explanation worked as well as the way you have it written, so yet another wife will be forwarding this post to another husband in hopes that he gets it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hanna says:

    I haven’t read everything on this blog so this may be addressed elsewhere… in the moments you were unaware of your wife’s feelings, what could she have done to get through to you? It is great if a husband eventually realizes our point of view, but many of us women don’t want to have to get to the point of divorce for change to occur. Any tips?

    Like

  9. ouidanielle says:

    It’s sad to me that people need so much behavioral training to care about their partner’s feelings.

    Like

  10. schwinn says:

    Thank you Matt! I think there is a lot going on here. Something I have thought about is knowing or learning how to engage with your partner in a way that fosters connection and might lead to your desired outcome. Ex. I might get angry at my spouse and speak to them in a disrespectful manner when I’m hurting, which is my default way of communicating, but only hurts them too. Unfortunately, I’m not going to get what I want by engaging with them in that way. All too often, I feel that using your default way of engaging or acting repeatedly, does not get you to your desired outcome and may even create further disconnection. You have to do something to balance out the disconnecting behaviors with connecting behaviors. I realize that many of you have tried to communicate to your spouse in ways that you think they would understand and respond, but maybe you didn’t know them well enough to engage in a way that would get their attention. I’m sure that many will say they have tried everything, yelling, begging, pleading, asking, etc, and when you get no response, well maybe you are dealing with someone who is checked out or lazy or just doesn’t care, idk. Anyway, I have rambled a bit as this is my first time posting. Hope to add another data point to this ongoing conversation about marriage.

    Like

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