What it Means When Your Partner Says You Always Make Everything About You

(Image/Big Think)

I always made things about me in my marriage, even though I would have told you I thought of myself as an unselfish person and valued the idea of selfless love.

Back then, my wife would say things like: “It’s always about what Matt wants,” and I’d think she was being an asshole. Then I’d defend myself, obtusely proving her right.

If you’re someone like me who is accused of “making everything about you,” please consider that you may also have the same blind spots that I had. It doesn’t make you a bad person. You literally don’t know, and I don’t think you should be judged or made to feel awful about it. I just think if you value your romantic partner and aspire to have a non-shitty relationship with her or him, that it’s important to understand that they often experience you differently than you believe they should.

I understand that you feel like a well-intentioned person who has demonstrated sufficient evidence that you love your partner and have made many personal sacrifices on their behalf. So, it feels particularly unfair and gutting to hear suggestions to the contrary from the person you’ve given the most to.

That’s how it felt when I was married and pissed at my ‘unfair’ wife whenever she had the audacity to suggest I wasn’t the world’s greatest husband.

Now I think I get it.

In my coaching work, we hyperfocus on habits. I can’t help anyone with a character defect that I don’t even believe is there. I’m not a doctor and I’m not that smart. I can’t help a bad person become good. That work is well above my pay grade. But also, I reject the notion that I’m working with bad people. (If you’re married to a “bad person,” please consider leaving. There is no compelling argument for subjecting ourselves or our children to the abuses of bad people.)

I don’t think bad people doing bad things is what ends most relationships. I think good people unaware of how much pain their partner might sometimes feel (thereby demonstrating little respect, compassion, or empathy for the hurt they’re experiencing) is the problem.

Let’s talk about the two primary ways that we sometimes “make everything about us” which our partners experience as neglect and abandonment for several years before they stop wanting to be with us.

Making Everything About You, Part I

The first way we make everything about us takes place during our conversations.

Something happens, resulting in our partner experiencing pain somehow. Sadness. Anger. Fear. Embarrassment. Anxiety.

Everything feels wrong, and when things hurt and feel wrong, our top objective is to get back to normal. To stop the pain.

When the pain is emotional, and stemming from a relationship, it makes sense for one partner to say something to the other partner. Unless you’re both psychic telepaths, or prefer written correspondence, actually speaking to one another is the preferred way of sharing what’s happening.

“Hey Matt. That thing that happened earlier? I feel hurt by it,” my wife might have said.

When I wasn’t invalidating my wife by telling her she was incorrect about what happened, or invalidating her by telling her the thing wasn’t as big of a deal as she’s making it out to be and therefore should not be feeling so hurt by it, then I was invalidating her by defending my actions or good intentions.

One of the most common ways we make it about us, is by responding to our partners as if THEY’RE hurting us by informing us that they’ve been hurt.

When my wife would say: “Hey Matt. I’m hurt. Please help me not hurt,” I would reply in ways that eroded her trust in me. In ways that resulted in her hurting even more than before she said anything.

Even though I would never want my wife to feel pain, I did not respond to my wife out of concern that she was hurt.

Even though it would have been useful to understand WHY something was hurting my wife so that I could cooperatively participate moving forward in her NOT feeling hurt by that same thing, I didn’t invest any energy in trying to understand what had happened.

What I did was put my energy into defending myself.

I didn’t mean to hurt you, so you shouldn’t be upset with me. I’m not at fault here.

Or.

Hey. It makes sense if you think about it the way I think about it. Let me explain why this happened because I don’t want you to be mad at me anymore.

  1. Our partner is hurt.
  2. Our partner attempts to let us know.
  3. Our energy immediately funnels NOT toward alleviating their pain, or expressing concern that something is wrong, or demonstrating that we’re willing to understand why this hurts so that we can be trusted to not do this same thing again (because pain is most often caused not by harmful intentions, but by things we never even realized were happening).
  4. Our energy immediately funnels instead to defending our character, justifying our actions, explaining our thoughts and feelings as a means of alleviating ourselves of responsibility for any harm caused.

This is what it looks and feels like when someone experiences pain, and then when trying to recruit their partner to help them not feel hurt anymore, the partner makes the situation about themselves.

That’s what I most often did in these moments. My default setting was to prioritize defending my character or “well-intentioned” actions at the expense of whatever pain my wife might have been feeling.

When someone is hurt, and every time they tell you that they’re hurt and ask for help, you tell them that they should magically stop feeling hurt instead of helping them, or say that even if they are hurt, it’s not your fault or problem, they will always hurt a little bit more and trust you less afterward.

They can’t trust us to not make THEIR pain about US. We rob them of their opportunity to appeal for help. We steal it from them. We tell hurt people to stop being weak, and then we tell them to stop making US feel inconvenienced by their pain.

This is a major reason why—even though you’re pretty awesome most of the time, and everyone seems to like you—your partner sometimes thinks you’re a selfish asshole.

….

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….

Making Everything About You, Part II

The second way we commonly make everything about us in relationships is not about what we do, but what we DON’T do.

It lives under the umbrella of the No. 2 habit I ask my coaching clients to work on: Consideration.

Marriage and romantic relationships often suffer from one person investing infinitely more energy into the relationship than their partner, and if we’re being honest about it, it is—far and away—most common for women to suffer from this condition in male-female relationships.

What I often hear from female clients is that they’re married to, or dating someone, who doesn’t consider them when they make decisions. That might seem petty-ish on the surface. I thought so during my marriage. Imagine complaining because I didn’t bring a coffee home to you, as if I would ever be that petty to you!

This is a big deal. People don’t see it. Particularly men. Husbands. Fathers.

What often happens is that one partner (usually the wife or girlfriend) wakes up every day and throughout each day, all of their decisions about how they spend their time is filtered through the prism of “How will my husband be affected by this?” and “How will my children be affected by this?”

If you think of the decision-making process as a math equation, wives and mothers (often just women, in general) rarely fail to consider how their actions might impact their partners or anyone they care about.

Me + Making a Hair Appointment at 4 p.m. Tuesday = I won’t be able to drive my daughter to basketball practice, and it will prevent me from preparing the family meal, which will require my husband to manage dinner if we’re going to keep our normal schedule.

Someone who thinks like this mindfully communicates these logistical dilemmas to everyone involved. Maybe the daughter gets a ride to practice from a teammate’s parent, and maybe her husband prepares the meal, or orders takeout, or whatever.

Often, a wife/mother in this situation won’t do what she wants to do (go to her hair appointment at 4 p.m. Tuesday), and instead schedule it at some super-inconvenient time for her that won’t adversely affect her husband or children.

This is how she lives her life every day. Constantly—all the time—having her Awareness switch flipped to the “On” position. Never making decisions—large or small—without running those decisions through the filter of how the people she loves might be affected by them.

And then there’s us.

You know who you are because you’re just like me. Hi. Sorry. I know it sucks. You’re not trying to make anyone else’s life harder. You don’t FEEL like a selfish, shitty person. You don’t intend to be. You’re just living your life, getting up in the morning, going to work, and trying generally to be cool the rest of the time. You want to do fun, relaxing things whenever you’re not doing what you HAVE to do (going to work and house/family-related chores).

And then you’re hearing about how selfish and inconsiderate you are because you’re playing a video game, or because you forgot to empty the dishwasher, or because she’s acting hurt or angry that you planned to go hunting with your dad and brothers, and waited until afterward to tell her about it. Now, she’ll spend that weekend caring for the kids and pets alone regardless of her plans, and if she dares to object, then she’s the bad guy because she’s “trying to keep you from doing things with your family.”

What a drag and ungrateful nag, my wife is. I never complain to her about stuff like this.

But the truth is, every day of your lives, your partner is perpetually mindful of how their actions impact you. And because you’re loved and respected and cared for, they constantly modify their behavior to account for you and the other people they love.

But, nearly every day, there’s evidence that you don’t do that same thing for them.

It’s not that you’re a bad person. It’s not that you’re doing anything bad or harmful, and even if you did, it was 100-percent an accident. I get it.

The pain isn’t so much from the isolated incidents, or because of the notion that you’re a bad person who tries to hurt your loved ones.

The pain stems from the idea that your partner, and possibly your family, are not even part of your thoughts when you make decisions. No matter how insignificant that decision might seem.

“My partner doesn’t remember me when he makes decisions. I know he doesn’t hurt me on purpose. I know he’s a nice guy. What hurts is that I’m not important enough to remember. What kills me is how little I matter to him. The bad thing didn’t happen because he wanted it to. The bad thing happened because he totally forgot about me.”

Betrayal isn’t required to lose the trust of the people we love. Sometimes, it’s simply our blind spots that we’re not working to eliminate. Sometimes, it’s our habits.

The way we speak. The way we think.

I know you’re not a bad person. I don’t think I’m one either.

But things I did resulted in significant pain and broken trust with my wife, and that’s why we’re not married anymore. She didn’t leave because she’s mean or selfish or wanted to hurt me.

She left because SHE hurt, and every time she tried to recruit me to help stop the pain, I always made it about me.

Every day, she was reminded that the only person I always remembered to care about was myself.

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69 thoughts on “What it Means When Your Partner Says You Always Make Everything About You

  1. Oh my G-d, this brought me back in time. #2 was pretty much my whole marriage. My friends and I would work like hell to get one night when the four of us could get together and go to a movie, and it would end up being 3 or 4 months out because of all the scheduling around kids and family and spouses we had to do. Then my ex would announce a week before that he had made plans to go running with some friends that day and not understand why I was upset. “Just reschedule,” he would say. As if it were that simple. Then when I would get depressed and angry because my social needs weren’t being met, he would tell me how simple it was to just pick a time and go out with my friends. Because it’s what he did.

    Yeah…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Matt says:

      I don’t know what to say other than I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you lived through it, and I’m sorry that so much of my behavior lived in the same category as what you’ve described. It’s beyond unfair to you, and I hope your life now feels healthier, and that you feel seen, considered, respected by those you choose to spend time with.

      Thank you for sharing your story with us.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My life is infinitely better now. I am with a man who appreciates me and my need for ‘me’ time as well as us time. We both had to go through a lot to get where we are now, and I think we are better people for it.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Angela says:

    Hit the nail on the head. I’m exhausted, alone, and stretched thin. I just want peace and a marriage that is a partnership. Instead I feel like I have a rebellious teenager. 😢 I’m running on fumes and don’t know what to do anymore.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Matt says:

      You’re not left with many options. When asking for help results in not getting any, and constantly being accused of being weak, or dramatic, or unfair, or controlling, I understand why you would no longer trust that your spouse has your best interests at heart.

      Perhaps more importantly, I understand why even if he does have your best interest at heart, you feel as if you can’t trust him. Perhaps a well-intentioned person who hurts you as much as an overt abuser is even less trustworthy, because the results of their actions don’t match their words.

      I’m very sorry, Angela.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Rebecca says:

    You’re describing my ex on both points. On my birthday the year before I filed for divorce (with 2 pre-school age kids, after 21 years of marriage), I warmed up frozen corn dogs for all of us for dinner, because he had made no plans, not even takeout.

    When I told him after the kids were in bed that I felt sad and hurt that I was the one who had to make dinner on my birthday and that there wasn’t even a suggestion of any other idea, he told me – I swear I am not making this up – that it made him feel bad about himself when I said things like that, so he would appreciate it if I just kept those kinds of feelings to myself and not make him feel bad in the future.

    Now that we are divorced, he, of course, is the “victim”, and I am the horrible, mean person who broke up our family for “absolutely no reason”, according to him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow… Just wow. You are so much better off without that in your life. It’s good your kids have you if that is how he looks at life.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      That’s a hell of a story, Rebecca. I’m really sorry you lived through it.

      That guy will spend the rest of his life making everyone else responsible for how he feels while depriving those around them of any respect for their wants and needs. His relationships, as a result, will always be toxic, even if he means well.

      It is my greatest wish for you that all of your future birthdays are filled with acknowledgment from people you love and the pleasurable nourishment no frozen corn dog could ever provide.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Still Keeping It On The Down Low says:

      Yea…. my husband wishes that I was more “understanding” and “supportive” and didn’t point out all the selfish, thoughtless or just plain oblivious things he does. It’s amazing how many “victims” there are out there, isn’t it? He thinks that men are continually treated badly by women. I have so far managed to refrain from responding to his rants with “no, only the shitty ones”. :)

      Liked by 2 people

    • Shelley says:

      Classic narcissist move on his part. I’ve been living with that “same” person for over 30 years.

      Liked by 1 person

    • ajsk says:

      The story you shared made me cry. For what happened to you, and what I imagine is not a unique occurrence for many other women, certainly, but also for what happened to me. Then I cried some more because after nearly a year, what happened to me still hurts so much. And then I cried some more thinking about the likelihood of something similar or worse, or different but equally as hurtful, happening again in two months’ time!

      Our 29th wedding anniversary was last August. Shortly after I got home from my office, husband arrived home and then we headed off to a restaurant near the beach for dinner. A few minutes into the drive I realized that he had been drinking. I should have told him to take me home, but I didn’t. For two reasons: I had been looking forward to nice dinner out for a long time (it was Covid-era and we’d not been to a restaurant in nearly 6 months) and sometimes calling attention to his alcohol consumption can turn very ugly very quickly. When we arrived at the restaurant, it became apparent that he had not made a reservation, but instead intended to put his name on the waitlist for a table and sit in the outdoor bar and drink some more until his name was called (estimated to be 45+ minutes). Drinks in hand, we stood on the patio. No longer able to hold my tongue, I told him that it made me feel badly that he’d already been drinking and that he’d failed to make a reservation for our anniversary dinner because it demonstrated a lack of care, that I wasn’t important, etc. After a few minutes of him shrugging it off and generally dismissing my feelings, he tossed me the car key and told me to “fuck off.” I drove myself home. He, as the credit card statement showed, remained at the restaurant and treated himself to more drinks and a nice fish dinner.

      Our 30th anniversary is looming, and I find myself beginning to feel anxious and afraid.

      Like

  4. Debbie L says:

    I’ve recently started looking at your blog again. Congratulations and I am so glad to hear you are now in a better position to help others. I first found your blog post about your divorce over the the dirty dishes left by the sink. It was January 2016. I could see my daughter’s marriage was headed towards divorce unless she and her husband figured out how to communicate. Sadly, it is now five years later and their divorce is final as soon as he signs the papers. It has been a year since the legal separation. Two sons, soon to be 8 and 6. I just sent him this current post and hope it will help him in his future relationship.
    In the meantime, my husband and I were blessed to remarry after our divorce! It was a miracle as you know how hard it is to repair the horrendous damage a divorce does to so many relationships. I’ve written a number of blog posts about it. I will put a link in another comment section in case this won’t post with a link!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ayjaymackay says:

    I feel heard and you don’t even know me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Matt says:

      I understand in a way I never would have in my marriage how meaningful that is. I do see and hear you now in a way I wasn’t able to years ago. Thank you for saying so. Your experiences matter. They’re real and exhausting when you have to beg for someone else to notice. And they’re intensely painful when those people refuse.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Mike says:

    Yeah, I had a similar experience. If I ever said (calmly and quiely) to my wife “please don’t do that thing, I really don’t like it” her reply would be “you’re ATTACKING me, why are you being so UNPLEASANT” etc etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. gottmanfan says:

    There is a very **foundational** thing here missing of how people make it all about them:

    1. Make it all about whether you are a “good” or “bad” person (commonly a good or bad man).

    2. Insist that you ARE a good man and not like those “bad” men whom women mistakenly marry and should leave.

    3. Filter any request for change as a pass/fail for categorizing you as a good or bad man. I have good intentions so *anything* I do makes me a good guy right?

    4. You need to work to understand and reassure ME that I am a good man. It’s really all about ME and prioritizing my acknowledged status as a good man (who doesn’t understand and has good intentions right and therefore I am not a bad man like those bad men.

    5. What defines who is a “bad” or “good” person? It’s clearly black and white thinking that leads to making it ALL about you.

    “I can’t help a bad person become good. That work is well above my pay grade. But also, I reject the notion that I’m working with bad people. (If you’re married to a “bad person,” please consider leaving.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      I speak carelessly in broad generalities because I’m immature.

      Everyone is allowed to tolerate whatever they want, I suppose.

      I think we can demonstrably prove that some things are healthy, others are unhealthy, and maybe there’s some benign shit in the middle.

      What do I think is bad?

      Con-artistry. Criminal behavior. Physically, sexually, verbally abusive behavior.

      Some might make the case for addiction issues. Mental and emotional abuse can be a subjective experience for people. But I have to trust the person I choose to have a relationship with to define the boundary.

      I’m implying that people frequently feel as if they’re married to “bad people who do bad things,” but that they’re not necessarily that. Perspective and context are not irrelevant factors.

      I’m implying that if you’re married to someone you legitimately calculate to be “bad,” I don’t think the self-help space is going to do you much good. Certainly not anything I write or say.

      Liked by 1 person

      • gottmanfan says:

        Yes, I know where you are coming from Matt. And Hello! by the way.

        This kind of black and white thinking of good and bad is not helpful and can slowly destroy relationships.

        It is simply true in my humble opinion that people who have such black and white thinking of whether they are “good” or “bad” are going to be very bad at relationships because their focus is going to be on defending their status not on the relationship or the other person’s needs/wants unless they align with confirming their status as good.

        It is not just men. For example, if a mom thinks in black and white terms of good and bad moms and therefore needs to defend against anything that will not acknowledge her as a good mom she it will negatively affect the relationship with her child. Because anything the kid says or does that is perceived negatively on her status is rejected and the kid must reassure HER that she is *really* is a good mom.

        I have sympathy for men that they think in terms of not wanting to be a “bad” man. It is necessary imho to NOT think in those terms or you WILL make it about you.

        Like

        • Matt says:

          The way I try to help coaching clients on either side of this in a relationship is to stop thinking of things in that way too.

          I think, if we’re stereotyping, wives implying their husbands are bad begets defensive responses (which make sense to me under those circumstances), and defensive responses always invalidate.

          Invalidation always erodes trust. In time, they won’t get to have a relationship anymore.

          On the husband side, if we’re still stereotyping, I encourage them not to think of a “fix” for their relationship woes to be trying to absolve sin, fix something broken, or take something bad and make it good.

          I ask them to consider that regardless of their intentions, and regardless of whether they believe it their actions are harmful, that radical validation and consideration builds trust. And building trust is the path.

          I think if someone refused to acknowledge that pain or do that work, and someone wanted to call them “bad,” I wouldn’t take exception at all.

          (Hello! back. It’s nice to be able to write here again. It’s awesome to see you.)

          Liked by 1 person

          • gottmanfan says:

            Interesting to hear your process of coaching! I agree that it’s a system and it feeds off each other. I am happy to hear you can find a way to help people improve the way they think about and do things.

            The hard thing imho is that most people marry people who have similar levels of relationship skills. For example, wife says something in a less than skillful way her husband is unlikely to have the skills to respond to that non-defensively. And then she doesn’t have the skills to know how to respond to that and it builds from there. And, of course, it works the other direction. And gets worse over time because the skill demand increases with no change in skill level.

            A person with good skills from a family with good skills is likely to marry another person with good skills because that is what is normal to them and how they expect to be treated so they breakup with people who don’t exhibit that in dating.

            Many of us though aren’t fortunate enough to have had these skills in our family and friends so we enter relationship with a off kilter expectation of what “normal” is. And both people put up with stuff too long because they don’t know how to deal with it well. And we think of the other person as weird that they can’t see what you think is normal (which often isn’t). So you do battle over who is right or good or normal etc.

            Anyway, my take on it. 😎

            Like

      • gottmanfan says:

        Most women who get divorced are not married to con men, criminals, or “abusive” behavior. But many would **not agree** (from what I have read) that the husbands are “good men”. “Good” men **do not insist** they are not like those “bad abusive guys over there.” They know it is not mature or helpful to do simple categorizing with ourselves as better than THOSE bad people/behavior and don’t think in those kind of black and white terms.

        “Good” men don’t care that their intentions are acknowledged as good. They recognize relationships depend on giving up that kind of self protection so dissent can be navigated.

        That is my point.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Matt says:

          Agreed. But maybe you’re failing to consider the blind spot part of it.

          *raises hand*

          Many people like me will modify the way they think, speak, and behave when they understand and see things they previously did not understand nor see.

          I believe most married men will make that choice once they learn how to.

          Like

          • gottmanfan says:

            I was adding this step as imho a *necessary addition* to the blind spot 2 you emphasized in the post.

            Imho (and experience) having the final 2 is not sufficient if people hang onto the black and white good/bad thinking. It can improve things but imho it will not correct the relationship.

            PS this is something I personally have to do to work so while I definitely think there are often gender expressions of this in marriage it is not only a male thing.

            Like

            • gottmanfan says:

              Part of the other side is that women after some time of frustration women often begin to think in terms of they are “good” and husbands are “bad” and as that’s when contempt creeps in.

              So imho trying as hard as you can to stay away from thinking of yourself or anyone else as “good” or “bad” categories is necessary for healthy relationships.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Matt says:

                I think that’s fair analysis. And I promise to think about it more. This is simply the language I use to try to convey ideas efficiently.

                Good People Can Be Bad Spouses is one of my foundational ideas. I trust the people reading my stuff to guess pretty damn accurately what is good vs. bad.

                I’ve adjusted beliefs before because of ideas you’ve shared. Perhaps, in time, I’ll do it with this too. ❤️

                Liked by 1 person

                • gottmanfan says:

                  I appreciate your willingness to consider new ways of thinking about things. I am constantly trying to find better ways of understanding and changing and your blog has always been a rich source of thought.

                  To me (and perhaps my comments are not expressing clearly what I am trying to say) I am not disagreeing with the crux of your “good people can be bad spouses” theme.

                  Here is what I am trying to say: this is not the *final level* of the game. This is a level but not the end level.

                  This “good people” approach can be highly useful (and perhaps necessary for some defended people who can’t get there otherwise). It can advance things a lot to beat this level of the game.

                  Imho it’s important to acknowledge there is another level at some point and advance to the *next level* of getting rid of the “I am a good guy” frame to think about yourself with a more solid and complex sense of yourself for how we are all human mixtures of good and bad. When we think like that it’s not so threatening when someone one acknowledge we have good intentions or we are “good” or not like those really “bad” people.

                  When our self image isn’t built on being a “good” person we can see and acknowledge the ways we are selfish or hurt people without making it about us having to have good intentions or be a good person.
                  That really elevates the relationship skills to a new level imho.

                  I hope this makes more sense of what I’m trying to say. 😀

                  Liked by 1 person

  8. Beth Ann tryon says:

    I remember my ex was removing a dead tree and replanting it with another. He selected the tree and replanted it all by himself. While maybe I should have been grateful he took the initiative to complete this task, I was upset. I was upset that I wasn’t consulted on the kind of tree to replace nor was I consulted on the placement of said tree that was going to be a permanent part of our landscape for many years. He got mad that he had to run all decisions by me first, felt controlled and generally flipped out because I made a big deal out of a tree in the front yard.

    As you point out, it wasn’t about the tree, it was about being included and having my opinions matter. I never would have planted a permanent tree without consulting him. And the fact that this lack of consideration from him upset me made me a controlling wife instead of someone with hurt feelings.

    I could go on and on and on with examples like this….

    Glad you are back to blogging!

    Beth

    Like

    • Matt says:

      That is such a picture-perfect example of how trust erodes in a subtle way between two people who, I imagine, didn’t want eroded trust, hurt feelings, or conflict of any kind.

      Thanks for sharing it, Beth. I’m glad to be back too. Thank you. :)

      Like

      • gottmanfan says:

        The idea of leveling up is helpful to me. When you start playing a new video game you don’t have a lot skills yet. Understandable that you are a bad player. But if you focus and learn and play cooperatively you level up. You can’t succeed by having your teammates have to spend their focus on reassuring you that you really ARE a good player even though you made a move that got everyone killed. That takes their focus away from upping their own game skills and the skill of the team to advance because focus is having to be diverted to reassuring you when you screw up.

        Hope this analogy makes sense 😀

        Like

        • gottmanfan says:

          Not sure why this comment ended up in this place 🤷🏻‍♀️

          Like

          • T Clark says:

            Hmmm…interesting. I think sometimes comments get mixed up here, which sometimes leads to confusion. Such is the world.
            Anyway, I’m assuming u werent replying directly to Beth. But I found her comment re: landscaping decisions, getting upset/invalidated, etc revealing. We all get it: its never about trees, or glasses, or where the toothpaste goes, et al. It IS always about validation/invalidation and all the emotional feedback that then manifests, and that in turn results in how we end up ‘interpreting’ our relationships. In Beth’s case, its one thing to FEEL invalidated, etc. But that isnt necessarily the reality. Its the same with the current ‘culture war’ re: being offended vs actual offense. Impact vs Intent is the current theme. Where does one end and the other begin? Where is the balance? Where and how does the Principle of Charity come into play? Beths example hit home with me (literally): I’ve done numerous things similar to her husband, and my wife has reacted as Beth. My intent is true. The impact is open to interpretation. Of which there is no end. This is what frustrates husbands, stereotypically. If we are in an ADULT relationship, and are in the business of ‘leveling up’ as GottmanFan points to….then Beth needs to SEE that a landscaping decision, etc is NOT in bad faith! Provided that her husband is being truthful in intentions, ofc. And further, that her assigning invalidation is a CONSCIOUS CHOICE on her part. She is assigning ‘bad faith’ to a situation where THERE IS NONE! Same with the glass on the sink!
            I dunno….i dont see where stuff like this will EVER end…and its the why so many folks are saying the hell with marriage, etc. It becomes a soul-sucking endeavor when ppl are so hyper-focused on all these psychological states and how they come into conflict with one another. GottmanFan is really on to something here with the ‘leveling up’ metaphor which entails putting all the childish BS aside and focusing on Adulting.

            Like

            • gottmanfan says:

              You are right my “leveling up” wasn’t intended to reply to Beth’s comment but to the thread where Matt and I were discussing good/ bad people and focusing on intentions. We need imho to level up beyond that way of thinking.

              IMO the point in Beth’s example was the husband didn’t consider to ask a quick question about what kind of tree would be there. Which is one of the points in Matt’s post about not considering the wife and family but just doing things unilaterally-leveling up is seeing a habit of consideration of others as a reasonable relationship skill that must be mastered or the relationship will deteriorate. Focusing on intentions is imho the wrong focus. The “bad faith” you mention is not on his intentions but on the lack of the relationship skill of considering the people affected.

              I agree that it’s also important to have a skill of defaulting to choose a generous interpretation of our spouses behavior. This applies to the guy planting the tree too. If the wife is upset a generous rather than a defensive response is leveling up. The generosity cannot consistently be one sided or things go downhill over time.

              Like

            • gottmanfan says:

              You said: “It becomes a soul-sucking endeavor when ppl are so hyper-focused on all these psychological states and how they come into conflict with one another.”

              I agree Adulting is necessary. I think people can increase Adult skills in different ways depending on their strengths.

              I find it really helpful to understand what is happening in more abstract theoretical terms so that things become predictable for why I do x and they do y. If I can’t understand what is happening it makes it less threatening and easier to make a different choice to change the dynamic.

              Other people approach it from emotional terms. If they feel x then the other person feels y and the goal is to feel understood and acknowledged. I think often this is what men are doing when they want to feel it acknowledged that their intentions are good for doing or not doing x. They want long feel safe and not attacked. So they defend what they feel is unfair characterization. I understand that move but it’s the WAY you respond when you feel this way that is the leveling up thing that is adulting imho.

              Where does it end? Imho it ends by understanding what you think and feel (which may require upleveling) and your default moves and trying to also understand the same about your spouse (which also may require upleveling). Then you learn what other moves are available to you and learn how to do them (also more upleveling).

              Ideally both will do this but if you choose a new move at least it disrupts the defaults for the spouse to be presented with a nee option to respond.

              Like

    • T Clark says:

      Flip this around Beth: imagine if your husband felt invalidated every time you made dinner without ‘consulting’ him. Or picked out bath towels? Or bought shoes for the kids?

      Like

      • gottmanfan says:

        Most wives would LOVE for their husbands to be interested and involved in determining if the kids need new shoes and buying them. Ditto for household supplies like bath towels and the daily grind of determining each family members needs and preferences and what to make for dinner.

        These things are often the things wives want more involvement from their husbands.

        Like

        • T Clark says:

          My point was not to engage in a ‘1 up-1 down’ type situation. It was more to point to the need for Adulting to occur in these matters in order to avoid a never ending cycle of validation/perceived invalidation, et al.
          No one can survive that!

          Like

          • gottmanfan says:

            Can you clarify what you mean? I don’t follow why you frame it all as a cycle of validation/perceived invalidation rather than relationship skills for what to do when feeling invalidated of the other person saying they feel invalidated.

            But maybe I am not understanding your general objections.

            Like

            • T Clark says:

              Ive been unusually busy of late, so my communication skills are likely compromised!
              What I’m trying to get at is the topic you point to re: being an Adult in these situations, which entails being secure enough in your own skin that you have ‘leveled up’ from the validation/invalidation scenario we so often mire ourselves in. IE: Beths scanario with hubby planting a tree. She feels ‘invalidated’. He thinks hes doing something ‘positive’, ie good for the home,etc. and is not invalidating anyone, least of all his wife. As I noted, the same scenario can easily be imagined from the angle of Beth making lasagna on Tuesday w/o consulting hubby, and he feels ‘invalidated’ cuz he wanted chicken caccitore. Now…i get that a tree (20+ year thing) isnt the same as a 1 time meal choice…not the point. At all. Other examples are abundant. Point is: if both folks are Adulting, have ‘leveled up’ so that they are co-existing beyond good/bad, the relationship works. And grows. And flourishes. Otherwise…pffft. One, or the other, or both, remain adolescent.

              Like

              • gottmanfan says:

                Thanks for clarifying 😀. I agree with your general point that this pattern is frustrating for all and that “adulting skills” are needed.

                What I am trying to add is that the adulting skills necessary is first recognizing WHY it is happening.

                Is it about validating and invalidating? Sure on some level and yes it is important to have adult interpersonal skills to not invalidate people when they are frustrated. The invalidating/validating is downstream from the root issue imho. That is commonly the WHY answer.

                Brent Atkinson has a very helpful summary of the 5 root style differences that cause relationship issues. One of them is differences in styles of *independence-first* and *interdependence-first* each person prefers. That is the root issue here imho. In your scenario the independence-first guy has good intentions of getting a tree planted and job done for all to enjoy. The dependence-first wife looks at that tree in a dependence-first style with good intentions too as “this is a permanent job and we should decide together what kind of tree is in our yard for years.”

                These are both legitimate styles and have pros and cons depending on the context. Both styles agree that interdependence and dependence are necessary and good. The conflict at root is usually about which things require interdependence-first and which independence-first in attitude and decisions.

                If a couple shares an understanding of which style is the default it’s easy and everything is good. If both can work out a system where categories are agreed upon to use interdependence (like big financial decisions or what to have for dinner or what to plant in the yard) and categories for independence (like one person handles the finance, one the cooking, one the tree planting decisions) then it’s all good too.

                It’s not the *size of the decision* that matters it’s being on the same page about how much interdependence and dependence is to be used in the relationship that can cause the conflict. And how to be able to discuss differences productively.

                It often incorrectly imho gets seen as the root cause being about adulting in terms of intentions or that it’s crazy to get upset over a glass by the sink or a tree or a chicken for dinner (contempt for dependence-first style). It can also be problematic that a dependence-first person thinks their way is the ONLY legitimate style and that leads to contempt for the independence-first style

                It is at that point that the validating/invalidating stuff comes in play imho. To not think and invalidate the other person as crazy or wrong in their styles. Necessary but *not sufficient* to validate. But that not the *real thing going on* imho.

                Until the root disconnect of the different styles is seen and worked through it happens over and over on small and big things. And people get divorced.

                Like

                • gottmanfan says:

                  Typos the styles are independence-first and interdependence-first (left out the “inter” part in the tree scenario with the wife POV)

                  Like

                  • gottmanfan says:

                    Should have written togetherness-first and independence-first as the categories. Much easier to type correctly and I think it makes the style differences clear of why it’s difficult to navigate.

                    Like

              • gottmanfan says:

                I don’t know it as the root is style differences and then invalidation too later is helpful but to me it makes it all make sense.

                If two people have really good skills differences are hard but doable without the constant invalidating and not changing your style to accommodate.

                It’s when people combine the style differences with insufficient relationships skills that it’s really a problem. And when you add on a wrong understanding that what is happening requires the other person to change to *your style* it is destined to spiral.

                Like

                • jeffmustbeleast says:

                  Gottman, thanks for posting about the style differences. I never really thought about it that way, but makes a lot of sense. I do think many men enter marriage with the idea that they are supposed to lead and make decisions, and they tend to make these without getting input from their wives. I can tell you that in business, we are expected to make decisions based on what we believe is best, and it is perceived as weakness to constantly be checking with others before making a decision. Not sure how much of this plays a factor, but probably doesn’t help.

                  I believe a lot of husbands are often seeing a problem, analyzing it, coming up with a solution, and making a decision/addressing the issue without the wife even realizing that he was thinking about the problem to begin with. The decision does affect the wife, so she feels like her thoughts are considered unimportant and she is ignored through the entire process. In reality, the husband is likely trying to make the best decision, and may even be considering what he thinks is best for his wife. However, he fails to talk about this with his wife, so she doesn’t get a view into his thoughts on this.

                  I do understand Clark’s frustration though. If the husband is doing what he thinks is best for his wife, he can quickly feel like he is being attacked. His wife is likely only trying to convey how she feels hurt/ignored by his failure to talk to her and consider her feelings/thoughts. The husband is frustrated because he feels he is trying to take initiative and do what is best for everyone, and he feels like his intent is being questioned. In reality, the wife probably isn’t questioning intent at first, but once he gets defensive and starts invalidating her feelings; she starts to question his intent and whether or not he cares about her at all. This can quickly spiral as the husband feels attacked even more, and the wife feels completely invalidated. Now the husband feels disrespected, and the wife feels unloved. Not a good combination for a marriage.

                  I tend to put more focus on the husband on this since he can prevent the entire cycle by being more considerate and communicating his thoughts before unilaterally making a decision on something that affects everyone. If the husband can do this consistently, the entire cycle can be largely avoided. There are things the wife can do to help prevent the cycle also, but often more difficult since there is already hurt involved. If she can start by pointing out that she appreciates her husband taking initiative and dealing with a problem and that she knows he did that with good intent (assuming that she believes his intent was good) before stating that she feels hurt that he didn’t consult with her on the decision, that could go a long way to preventing the husband from feeling defensive right off the bat. Sadly, some husbands will still feel defensive if anything negative is said (looking at myself here), but would definitely help with keeping that to a minimum and hopefully being able to talk through that quickly.

                  Just my simple thoughts and two cents on this. I really do appreciate your comments on the style differences though. Actually makes a lot of sense to me. Also appreciate this blog Matt. Really hits home.

                  Like

                  • gottmanfan says:

                    Thanks for your thoughts Jeff, I think you describe it well. I do think most people aren’t *trying* to do things in a way that would make things bad for their relationship.

                    The one thing I disagree with is framing it as husbands feeling disrespect and wives unloved.
                    (I know this is a popular Evangelical book with this frame which is a whole ‘nother convo 😜).

                    Imho it is helpful to not have that kind of dichotomy thinking particularly by gender. Of women want love and men respect. The assumption isn’t supported by research.

                    It feels *quite disrespectful* to have a unilateral decision made for you without your input I can assure you. 😀. In fact that is part of the problem with these style differences. It is often imho for *both sides* really a struggle about respect for recognition of the validity of your style.

                    I think some men raised with certain theology believe they should be “leaders” in their marriage I agree. That idea again can be problematic in terms of respect. Also many women are also used to making decisions in their jobs/careers so it’s not one-sided gender based there either imho.

                    Like

                    • Elle says:

                      Gottmanfan, one way to view it is it’s not that men need respect and women need love, but that men are shamed related to respect (being independent, strong, yada yada) and women are shamed for lack of “loveliness”, or love-ability. (Being attractive, being “giving” (insert eye roll.)
                      It’s totally a social construct, and not in line with the reality, but it is something that both genders have been saddled with. It’s more fear driven vs. need driven.
                      The real need is to be socially safe and accepted.
                      I do believe that there is movement towards changing this for both men and women.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Yeah I don’t agree that the shame is that black and white by sex. It is not according to the research either from my reading.

                      It is part of the whole dysfunction to keep this false dichotomy going-seeing it in terms of men needing “respect” while women do not feel the need for “respect” in the same war because they are female (however the language frames the concept).

                      Like

                    • Elle says:

                      I’m not saying the shame is inherent in us. Shame is something externally given. I do think this dichotomy exists, but not for any other reason than we are told this is what it means to be male and this is what it means to be female.
                      Not saying I agree with it. Just saying the reason that whole trope exists is due to shame, not a real need.
                      And of course everyone’s shame is much broader than just gender based shame.

                      Like

                    • Elle says:

                      I should say the dichotomy HAS existed…I do think the needle is leaning towards more fluidity in gender roles, and makes room for the person vs the gender. Like most things that happen socially the pendulum swings wide one way, then the other until it settles into its Rhythm.

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      We agree to disagree 😀

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Elle says:

                      Agreed. But honestly, I’m not sure what we are disagreeing about.
                      I agree that the differences are not as black and white as some narratives hold up.
                      My intent was to give an explanation as to why they exist at all (shame).
                      If you have time and energy I would be interested in understanding what you can’t agree with (I know you have a highly analytical mind and appreciate your reasoning skills.)
                      If you don’t have time and energy- totally understand.
                      It’s Tuesday. I have about 12 more hours this week before I get to E.
                      :)

                      Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Sure I will try. Jeff wrote a very nice comment but included language that I am all.too.familiar from the imho book Love and Respect about men feeling disrespected and women unloved coupled diametrically. According to this premise, women don’t really care that much about respect but care about feeling loved.

                      I know the survey that book is based on is flawed and in research women and men *both* want to feel respect and love. So I am responding and rejecting the entire *premise* of men want respect, women want love as incorrect.

                      Your comment imho sought to add to why I should think about that premise as social conditioning. But imho the *whole premise is wrong* so I agree to disagree on the relevance of conditioning that you mentioned that of course imho applies in other ways.

                      Hope that is more clear. 😀

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Elle says:

                      Ah. I see.
                      What I was positing was not meant as a reason you should accept the flawed premise.
                      But more a rationale of why it existed in the first place. Wasn’t supporting its relevance at all.
                      I was pointing out more evidence to support the premise isn’t accurate, but a redundancy in an error.

                      But I can see how it may have come across as a way to excuse it.

                      Helllooo, yourself! So glad to see your words here!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Hope you are doing well!😀

                      I shot off a quick reply to your first comment and should have explained what I meant more.

                      That whole “men need respect and women love premise” is so damaging towards the goal of healthy relationships imho. It drives me crazy how prevalent it is.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Elle says:

                      Nodding.
                      However, being in a more liberal community and working with people who have a wide range of life experiences and self expression I don’t run into that as much.
                      I know it still exists.
                      My hope is that what I see in my community is a reflection of what will be considered socially “normal” in a more wide spread and consistent way.
                      I do believe the generations that are coming up have a different take on a lot of socio-political thoughts.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      Also HELLO! 😀😀😀😀

                      Liked by 1 person

                  • T Clark says:

                    Thoughful comment. But the ‘back & forth’ has the potential to be never ending. Again: ADULTING!!!
                    The deal is, is that what you outline here (along w/Matt and countless other therapists, relationship gurus, and the like) is true. Its also adolescent. The story we tell ourselves (the narrative) is often a distortion of sorts. And that works both ways, as it were. The defensiveness, the invalidation, the incompatibility, et al….they are largely mostly BS. If 2 ppl enter into an ADULT (mature) relationship (family, finances, etc), then that mutual trust/safety/validation is most likely there. It ends up eroding largely, I think, because rather than growing tf up and working on Adulting, we embrace extended adolescence and its attendant confusions. And this isnt some half‐assed endorsement of stoicism or anything even remotely akin to that. We can ALL engage in empathy, altruism, and plain ol’ diplomacy all while still upholding boundaries and maintaining values. And lets get real here and cut to the chase: women/wives dont dictate the boundaries of a relationship. (And visaversa, to be crystal clear, before the eye-rolling, or worse, even starts). This isnt about invalidation and/or defensiveness, et al. Its about being an ADULT, which entails not only maturity in any given moment, but a tacit (at the very least) yet firm commitment to embracing that maturity, now and as any interpersonal relationship develops.

                    Like

                    • gottmanfan says:

                      I agree with your general idea that it is about adulting. I like to think about it less in terms of adolescent/adult than about skills. The issue is that most people don’t know they don’t have the right skills.

                      You can have great “adult” skills at work or with friends but it requires different set of skills in a marriage especially if you have style differences that don’t match. So you don’t know you don’t have the skills you need because you are not acting like an adolescent but just don’t yet have the right skills for *this*. (Assuming reasonable adults here)

                      It’s like having a lot of skills as a golf player but the game here is basketball. If you don’t know the situation requires different skills you blame the other person and don’t change your skills either.

                      Like

                    • jeffmustbeleast says:

                      Clark, I agree that adults should be able to deal with things in an adult manner. Speaking for myself though, I need to be careful not to use that as an excuse to ignore things that I’m doing that hurt my wife. It is very easy to point at her and say she isn’t acting like an adult. However, if I’m doing something that is hurting her; arguing that she needs to act like an adult while continuing to do the very thing that is hurting her is not going to end well. Instead, I need to examine myself and make sure I’m not in the wrong or dealing with a blind spot on my end. If after examining myself, I still think she is in the wrong, then an honest open conversation needs to happen to resolve it. I can tell you from personal experience that I almost always (if not always) felt like she was wrong and overreacting in the moment. However, after finally taking time to look back on things from her perspective, I started to realize just how much damage I was doing. I may not have “intentionally” hurt the marriage, but by immediately assuming my wife was over-reacting and shouldn’t feel the way she did, I intentionally ignored by own issues. No matter how you look at it, it wasn’t a caring/loving way to act.

                      Again, this applies in a major way to myself. I spent years in our marriage rationalizing that my wife was over-reacting to things that I did or didn’t do that hurt her instead of taking an honest look at myself. Best to look at ourselves first before invalidating the pain our spouse feels. Does that make sense?

                      Liked by 1 person

  9. gottmanfan says:

    For me, it was a breakthrough to understand what happens in terms of default styles that need to be navigated with good adulting. Hard but doable when the right goal is now clear.

    Like

  10. zelmare says:

    Wow, so well written and explained. To be fair, you do get the ‘odd’ selfish woman as well! But it is a mind set, and I think socially one that girls are taught from a young age, not boys. Maybe it should start from the cradle?

    Like

  11. Kristin Carapucci says:

    Hi Matt
    Like ten years back I was communicating w you n we hung out a few times. I really liked talking w u but well u were obsessed w ur ex wife so nothing became of our interactions other than a nice time n good conversation.

    I’m married now n have a four year old son at age 48 n m doing well romantically n w family life. For whatever reason u popped in my head tonight. I find myself wondering if u ever found love again. U struck me as someone who deserved a happy healthy relationship :)

    Anyway I hope u have n that u currently r using ur growth n learning in a loving productive coupling – ya know reaping the rewards of the time spent analyzing your brain your life your relationship ups n downs n getting that well deserved second chance at true love :)

    Kristin – Lakewood

    Like

  12. The Copeland says:

    I swear you must have a camera in our house. He literally hurt my feelings. I told him. He said he had a rough week at work and gave me excuses to why it’s basically ok he hurt me and a sorry should take care of it. Not fixing what he did. Not trying to amend. Not a hug. Not even eye contact. Just a sorry as he watched the Astros play. 2 days later I’m hearing him snore by me. Wondering why I’m still here.

    I read these and I send to him. And I want to have hope. But it’s getting hard. I sent him this. And it’s like no impact.

    My feelings are an inconvience.

    My dog just died of cancer. He was my world. I asked my husband to get me an angel dog pin from vet hospital. They forgot to give me. I reminded twice. And the. Let it go. And two days ago I brought it up and said don’t bother. I’ll order one online.

    And for some strange reason. I’m the bad guy. I didn’t nag. I asked for soemthing to aide my grief

    And I was forgotten.

    I’m loosing hope fast. I asked him to separate.

    You’re articles always gave me hope. But I like to learn and do better.

    But not the case for everyone.

    Keep up the good work. I wish he would have used you. I truly do. I love him despite his flaws but I need emotional support too.

    Set your mind on things above. Not on earthly things. Colossians 3:2 Alisa Copeland

    Like

  13. Kiki says:

    Thank you for this post and your thoughtful responses to the comments. I’m recently out of a relationship with someone who reacted defensively no matter how I brought up an issue, whether big or small. I would try to explain that you can validate someone’s feelings without agreeing. Didn’t penetrate. I observed that it seemed he wanted to be right and what I wanted was to be heard, that it was not about right or wrong, and that this seemed to be where we were getting stuck. Didn’t penetrate. After recognizing that defensiveness was his go-to reaction I asked, “How can I bring things to you so you can hear me?” I kid you not, his response was “You should only bring me valid concerns.”

    When my dear old dog was dying and I asked for more support, he told me that he’d hugged me in the kitchen and suggested that should be enough for me. If I told him a particular comment hurt my feelings, he would deflect and say that’s no different than when you said/did xyz. When he was caught lying about some very big things, he repeatedly offered justifications and no real remorse.

    And so I’d routinely get spun around into defending my needs and feelings while fending off accusations that I was trying to control him, or wanted him to “grovel and cowtow.” It took me a while to really see what was going on. Your posts articulate the issue so clearly and simply – I only wish I’d seen them sooner. Despite already being familiar with these concepts, I never thought of it in terms of trust and emotional safety. I feel lucky to have gotten away after just 2+ years and without getting married (not surprisingly, his first wife left him and I never heard him acknowledge any role in that). Many thanks!

    Like

  14. Prospect says:

    “One of the most common ways we make it about us, is by responding to our partners as if THEY’RE hurting us by informing us that they’ve been hurt.”

    But actually, they ARE hurting them (inadvertently) When a woman talks/cries about her hurt and upset, what her husband hears is: “I can’t do anything to help her”, “She thinks I’m inadequate” “Nothing I ever do is right”. It physically HURTS them to feel this or hear her and so they deflect, stonewall, get defensive and then focus on THEIR hurt.

    John Gray of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” said his wife was home after a very difficult birth which she was still recovering from and then the baby became very fractious. She was in a great deal of pain and (understandably) became very emotional. He got very upset at HER and threatened to leave. In fact, he was about to storm out of the house until she said: “Don’t leave, I need you” And that changed everything.

    When I heard that story I thought he was a douchebag. I still do in fact, but I understand the scenario more now.

    Men need to feel needed. So many women in the comments section in the blog (and maybe Matt’s ex wife?) beg, plead, cajole, cry to show their husbands how they’re feeling and it gets them nowhere, in fact it’s worse than nowhere. The husband’s whole physiology changes so not only does he feel inadequate, but he also feels ATTACKED for BEING inadequate. His blood pressure goes up hence the stonewalling, walking away, deflection etc.

    Maybe, even while crying, it’s best to invoke that need a husband/men generally have to be needed. And also to say that you can’t cope anymore and you need his help (I got that from Laura Doyle and it does work btw).

    Like

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