Are You Afraid When the Elevator Doors Open?

(Image/The Belltower – the Mount Aloysius College student newspaper)

A friend of mine—female—was in a work meeting with a bunch of guys. It was a corporate meeting of department heads several months ago discussing how to fairly handle dress code policy surrounding the culture war between the Black Lives Matter crowd and the Make America Great Again crowd.

She was advocating for the company to take an empathetic position regarding experiences other people have even when we, ourselves, aren’t necessarily affected by them. For example, how me, a middle-class white guy in the United States, doesn’t know the first thing about what it’s like to not know where my next meal is coming from. What it’s like to be side-eyed and morally judged because of who I love. What it’s like to have dark skin around a bunch of people who might have been taught to fear me or hate me.

Somehow, these ideas have been politicized. As if they should be about policy and money rather than about human beings.

When I was younger, because I was so comfortable and safe and surrounded by people like me, I didn’t know how to respect all of the things that didn’t immediately affect me.

I took that condition into my marriage. And I didn’t know how to respect things that affected my wife but didn’t affect me. Her requests for help, or “complaints” about the unpleasantness she sometimes felt because of things I did or didn’t do were met with responses not dissimilar from: “Why are you making YOUR feelings MY problem?”

It was all part of the slow, steady march toward the end of my marriage. I just didn’t know it yet.

So my friend is in this meeting surrounded entirely by guys who didn’t necessarily agree with her point of view. Then, she asked them this question: “When you’re in a strange place, alone on an elevator, have you ever been afraid of the elevator doors opening?”

She looked around the room. Everyone shrugged, shaking their head no. None of the guys had ever even considered the idea of being nervous about who might step onto an elevator with them, or who might be waiting for them when they step off.

But my friend knew the feeling. She couldn’t NOT know it. Being stuck on an elevator with the wrong kind of person was very much a threat to her. No one told her to feel this way. Life had taught her to. Cruelly.

“Well, I am. If I’m alone, I’m a little afraid every time the elevator doors open.”

I wrote last week about my new book now available for preorder, which I’m geeking out about because writing a book has been a dream of mine since I was a child. And here we are.

I was excited to tell you about it. And when I did, someone responded in a way I didn’t see coming. While genuinely happy for me (she even preordered the book, she said), she couldn’t help but share a little pent-up anger with me.

She wrote:

“I am in that space of cognitive dissonance, absolutely joyous for you while absolutely fuming because for generations, women have been expressing (screaming) the exact same things you have now been credited for ‘figuring out’ and making what you refer to as ‘life changing’ gobs of money [sic]. I hope the irony is not lost that this is what happens in business meetings, where a woman will put forth a brilliant idea only to have it be repackaged and credited to the guy in the room. But congratulations.”

For as long as I can remember, the implication from so many societal norms and childhood lessons is that women, while not less valuable than men, were somehow beneath them on the human totem pole. The whole: “Quiet now, little lady. The men are talking.” You know, that bullshit.

I’m no sociology expert, but I think some combination of being taught when I was in preschool that God made the first woman from the rib of the first man, combined with watching my mom, grandma, aunts, and other women more or less handle all of the childcare, cooking, cleaning, and domestic household responsibilities might have played a role in my beliefs about the sexes.

Nobody said: “Hey Matt! You should disrespect women!”

But I think the math result of what I was taught equaled disrespecting women whether or not I realized it.

This is how good people with the best of intentions inadvertently hurt people, and then feel totally justified in defending themselves when they’re called on it.

If she’s saying what I’m doing is bad or wrong, then she’s ALSO saying my mom and dad were wrong and bad. That my friends were wrong and bad. That my extended family was wrong and bad. No way can any of that be true!

Therefore, we feel more than justified in trying to set the record straight or defending ourselves—two responses that inevitably invalidate what our partner just said. And if you don’t already know this, 100 percent of the time you invalidate a human being’s experiences, they will trust you just the tiniest bit less moving forward. And if you do that over and over and over again every day for many years, eventually the perpetually invalidated person won’t trust you at all.

And once there’s no trust left in your relationship, the whole ship goes down.

Two Things Can Be True at the Same Time

That’s kind of a Captain Obvious statement, but here’s what I mean.

The natural reaction from someone who genuinely feels happy for me about the book was to also feel anger about the notion that women have been fighting for an equal voice as citizens, as working professionals, as athletes, as artists, as intellectuals, and as romantic partners for eons.

And suddenly, some divorced asshole on the internet (who is a guy) is saying many of the same things she and her fellow wives, girlfriends, and mothers have been fighting for since long before any of us were born. And while the women have collectively felt brushed aside or ignored, particularly by their male romantic partners, suddenly one dickhead starts writing the same crap on the internet and he’s rewarded with book contracts and pats on the back (all after being a shitty husband and putting his wife through the same emotional experiences that they also feel in their relationships).

I totally understand how maddening that must feel to certain people. I hope you do too.

Yet. Two things can be true at the same time. And while everything just covered is totally true, and that angry people are absolutely justified in feeling angry at being ignored, sidelined, hushed, invalidated, and disrespected for millennia, something else can be true.

Me saying it can have a greater impact than them saying it. And I think it has much less to do with being male than it has to do with me not hurting the men I coach, or speak to, or write for. I don’t think it’s fair. I just think it’s true.

Me being male only helps insofar as other guys can relate to the stories I tell about my marriage, and they know that I can relate to theirs. We have similar shared experiences, and that almost always connects people.

But that’s not, in my estimation, the most important component of this.

At the root of men and women having conflict in romantic relationships is the tendency by men to invalidate their female partners. NOT because they’re trying to invalidate them. I don’t think most guys even know how to think about it that way. But because they very honestly disagree with something their wife or girlfriend is saying or feeling. And then they say so during conversation or an argument, and the results are predictably bad.

When we’re not extremely careful in our conversations, we tend to also invalidate others’ experiences whenever we disagree with them.

In most life scenarios this isn’t a big deal. It doesn’t end male friendships very often. It tends to not be an issue at work, or in causing huge riffs with neighbors and family members.

But it DOES damage a romantic relationship—particularly a marriage or cohabitating long-term couple. Because trust.

Consistently, in my work, I see men inadvertently invalidating the experiences their hurt wives or girlfriends are trying to share with them.

And consistently, I am able to have this conversation with guys with greater success than their wives or girlfriends can.

I think wives and girlfriends sometimes feel resentful about this because it feels to them like some asshole stranger who just happens to be a guy is getting more respect than they are. And if I were them, I’d be totally pissed about that too.

But I seriously don’t think that’s what’s happening.

Frequently, when wives or girlfriends try to communicate to their male partners how they feel, the men end up feeling attacked, shamed, judged, criticized, or as if they’re being told they are not good enough. They’re hurt. They’re confused. They’re frustrated. They’re sad. They’re angry. They WANT to be good enough. They don’t want their wives to hurt. And they honestly don’t know how to navigate the situation to an effective, healthy resolution.

And when I try to communicate to these guys how their wives or girlfriends are feeling, the men DO NOT feel attacked, shamed, judged, criticized, or as if they’re being told they are not good enough.

Men don’t try to invalidate the things I say to them in my coaching work, because I am very careful to not communicate that I believe they are bad, or that they are wrong, or that there is anything wrong with them.

I simply communicate that the math result of their actions equals pain for their partner and damage to their marriage. Nothing more, nothing less.

Therefore, the mission is NOT to stop being bad and to become good. The mission is NOT to stop being wrong and to become right. It’s simply about recognizing that sometimes, the result of our actions is inadvertently harmful to people we love.

And if we can have the discipline to mindfully develop the habit of NOT invalidating our loved ones when they tell us something is wrong, and to not fail to consider our loved ones in our everyday decision-making, then trust can thrive in our relationships.

Safety and trust can be restored.

And when safety and trust are present, there is very little conflict. When safety and trust are present, we can get through damn near anything together.

For some, this feels a lot like some sexist, patriarchal bullshit that they’ve been battling their entire lives. And that is undoubtedly woven into the fabric of many male-female relationships, romantic or otherwise.

But I think it’s mostly about our habits. About loving someone enough to not allow the math result of our actions to hurt them.

For men, that often shows up as a lack of emotional intelligence, a lack of investment in shared domestic responsibilities, a failure to consider their wives/girlfriends when they make decisions, and a tendency to invalidate them anytime their wives or girlfriends dare to ask for help to hurt less.

And for women, I think maybe it shows up as a failure to consider what it means to allow your words, actions, or tone of voice to communicate that your husband or boyfriend is intentionally trying to ruin your life. That he’s bad, or dumb, or weak, or lazy, or worthless, or some horrible, unlovable thing.

And I think there’s a bit of magic in communicating our pain in a manner that does NOT suggest that we think someone’s bad or shitty or out to get us.

Men bear a ton of responsibility for the awful state of male-female communication in relationships. The majority of it in my estimation.

But the key to breaking through isn’t about sex or gender. It’s as subtle and nuanced as accurately calculating the impact of our words. Because words have power. Because words and ideas matter.

I understand why the men in the meeting had never considered an elevator ride a dangerous or uncomfortable experience. They’d never had reason to.

But then my friend nudged them. She shined a little light into a shadowed corner and asked them to look.

We don’t hurt the people we love because we’re bad.

We hurt the people we love because we fail to consider how subtly, but somehow also radically, different their experiences are while we’re all so busy trying to navigate all that life throws at us.

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62 thoughts on “Are You Afraid When the Elevator Doors Open?

  1. I have had my share of “foot in the mouth” moments…lol

    Like

  2. soilandsawdust33 says:

    If I had more male friends like you, that realized, were humble about they’re faults, and worked towards validating others (of both genders), I probably be better off in my mind about men. I guess, even reading your articles as I do, has helped me realize that there is a possibility of finding a man who not only commands respect, but also respects women as well as other men. So thank you for your transparency, as this time in my life is riddled pain with a husband-soon-to-be-ex-husband. Reading your articles, as well as knowing that there are compassionate and respectful men out there, has helped me get through these months. Just the simple act of reading your articles has made me feel seen and heard. Thank you.

    Like

    • Kevin Crawford says:

      We’ve all picked partners who weren’t good communicators that way (or, in my case, we both weren’t). But we live and learn (well, some do, some don’t) – but just knowing that the next man (or woman) isn’t the same as the failed relationship we’re thinking about right here is a cause to have hope and try again – a little bit smarter, we all hope.

      Like

      • Becky Malecki says:

        I am off to work but, in a nutshell, this is a fantastic topic and one I fully appreciate. Your willingness to look at this and, I am confident, to discuss it in future interviews, is a breath of fresh air.

        Like

  3. Jessica Kaufman says:

    I think one issue with this is that it’s still true that men will listen more often to men than they will women, regardless of how nuanced and supportive the women might be. How many years of being ignored and dismissed does one have in them before they realize that as much as the man might feel like he loves and supports his woman, that ignoring her is not caring? I still see some of that attitude in this post. I didn’t start out blaming my bf for his ignoring me and his dismissive nature, but after years of it it stops feeling like love, no matter what he SAYS he feels. Who cares, when his ACTIONS we’re not loving? I put in YEARS of kind, supportive, nuanced conversations before I began to get truly frustrated. And after one talk with you, things are different. I doubt very much that I said much that was different than you, Matt, because I was saying EXACTLY what you say in your posts. And yet he still listened to you when I had to break up with him multiple times to get him to even talk to you. So it’s still taking a man to get through to men. Until men learn to simply take women at their word without a male interpreter, then nothing’s really going to change. And blaming women, even as indirectly as is done here, for men simply not listening is demoralizing and frustrating and perpetuating the problem. And I’d be beyond frustrated if I were your ex wife lol, watching you get life changing gobs of money for simply realizing and telling others about the things she desperately wanted you to listen to from her lips. Women shouldn’t have to be more understanding and more supportive than they already typically are to get their men to do the simple work of just listening to and believing them. This feels very much like victim blaming. It’s still taking a man to get through to men. I’ve had that elevator conversation with men, been kind and understanding in explaining it, and I’m still disregarded. When I shouldn’t have to be the bigger, more understanding person. Men need to learn to listen, which is not something they are raised to do typically, as you’ve often pointed out in your blogs. No amount of talking on my part got my bf to listen. I had to leave multiple times, leave someone I love, in order for him to do the simple work of just believing me. That’s really what society needs, as highlighted by the #MeToo movement. Women are just not listened to, it’s not that I acted like or told him that he was bad or shitty. But it IS kinda shitty to constantly disregard the feelings of the person you say you love. Love is as much or more an action than a feeling. Cuz I can’t FEEL what he’s feeling. But I can absolutely see how he truly thinks of me when he ignores what I say. And it’s not love. It might be ownership or selfishness, or more of the “if they only she understood me better things would be fine” attitude. It’s not love just because you, or he, says he FEELS love. That’s kinda some bs, Matt.

    When someone constantly dismisses you….honestly, that’s NOT love. Women don’t start out accusing their men of being bad or stupid when they don’t listen. But what can you do after years of being dismissed? It IS bad and unloving to constantly and consistently dismiss the concerns of the woman you supposedly “love.” Because that’s NOT love. No matter how much it feels to you from your side that it is. Women start sounding hurt and unloved and angry when they are constantly dismissed. How could you ever expect anything else? That’s the direct cause of how women end up sounding at the end of these unhealthy relationships. It IS bad and shitty to constantly ignore the things your partner says to you.

    How can you think that because *you* don’t think you’re unloving (despite being shown by your actual behavior of ignoring and dismissing your woman that you don’t love them the way an actual partner loves their partner), that it’s the woman’s responsibility to constantly bend over backwards emotionally for the assumed intentions of the man? Proof is in the pudding. If you act in a way that is unloving, no matter how much you FEEL like you love that person, you are being unloving. That IS a definition of bad behavior. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, you know. So men need to learn that intentions are nice, but what matters is what actually happens. And you can’t expect a woman who has been constantly dismissed for years to be, once again, the bigger person in the hopes that THIS time things will be different. Men need to take responsibility for their actions instead of expecting women to be emotional superwomen to their fairly typical male behavior.

    Liked by 4 people

    • CR says:

      Came here to say basically the same thing, but you already said it perfectly. I know I tried so hard to say things in a non judgemental and kind way, and was shut down at every turn. He just didn’t want to hear about my unhappiness until it affected him (I left and all of a sudden he wants to try?). Nah. I’m finished begging men for basic decency when they don’t even care about what I have to say, because at the root of it all they don’t care about me. I shouldn’t have to beg and plead for the basics.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Prospect says:

        The thing is men don’t listen to words, but respond to ACTIONS, so you asking, begging and pleading just goes on deaf ears.
        Save your energy and start looking after yourself first. Prioritise your self care in terms of rest, diet etc and ensure that you do things that make YOU happy, without reference to him. Get dressed, go out and don’t tell him where you’re going. Meet up with friends, go to galleries, spas, long walks etc whatever floats your boat.
        Women are too much into the verbal communication thing and keep banging their heads against a brick wall. Stop talking. Start doing and being.

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        • CR says:

          t h a n k y o u f o r t h a t h e l p f u l c o m m e n t

          I already did and do those things. I go out and on vacations with friends, have hobbies, am in school, exercise on a regular basis, and am pretty independent. I do NOT want someone around me all of the time, but I do want basic decency and consideration, and the insinuation that I don’t do any of the things you listed is presumptive and kind of insulting.

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    • Sara Waller says:

      I just want to lend support to this comment. I was the kindest, least blaming person I could be for YEARS, genuinely lovingly explaining how X had hurt me but I don’t hate him or think he’s a bad person, that I love and adore and respect him and could he please just do not-X instead of X. I was told I was stupid and wrong and that my thinking was bad and that I was overreacting. For years. Now I’m sure I do sound like a railing virago when I confront him. And I do not believe he loves or respects me. I have to say though, he did this. I fought for the relationship and read books on communication and went to therapists to try to communicate with him better, and he just dismissed everything as silly. He honestly did not differentiate between “This bothered me I would love it if you could do this instead” and “You are horrible for doing X and I think you are a shit.” So, if he isn’t listening to me carefully enough to know the difference between a really loving approach and a really accusing and condemning one, what is a gal to do?

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      • Prospect says:

        I don’t think men listen to women, unless the women are complimenting them and/or being respectful. Anything else just gets blocked out, esp if asking (perceived as being demanding) him to understand your situation or do something for you.
        Men mainly take notice of action.

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  4. gottmanfan says:

    I am sure this is not your intention, but this post ironically imho *dismisses* the experience of many women who say it’s sexism that is the difference in why men will listen to you and not another woman. There have been many women (that aren’t in relationship with the men) who have written the same info as you Matt in well written non blaming ways.

    There have been countless women in relationships who use soft startups and non blaming and ask for tiny steps and do ALL the things-who are dismissed. There is actual research on this to back up
    what women tell you. Please reconsider.

    Also congrats on the book. I am glad you can reach some men. But it’s clear that your maleness is a big part of *why* they find it ok to listen in ways they don’t to a woman saying the same things in the same way.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jessica Kaufman says:

      Thank you for this, it echoes my feelings quite closely. Are women really to blame, in any way, when men don’t listen? I don’t know a single woman who started out being angry and harassed and frustrated. In my experience, we started out kind and patient and understanding. But we end up somewhere else, or we leave, or something. You can’t MAKE someone be listen who won’t, and it’s a simple fact that men dismiss what women say A LOT, and not just in the context of relationships. This feels isn’t a two way situation. Men don’t listen, period, unless a man says something.

      Liked by 1 person

      • gottmanfan says:

        My take: women do a lot of things that are “bad” in terms of relationships. Lots of skills that females don’t learn because of family modeling, culture etc.

        Where it IS unbalanced is in “accepting influence”. According to Gottman’s research, women in a heterosexual relationship will take the other person’s opinions/wants etc into account and adjust. And the majority of men in heterosexual relationships do not-No matter HOW you say it. This is not true in gay and lesbian relationships that share power more equitably according to the research.

        This MUST imho be acknowledged that *part* of the reason that men don’t “hear” women is sexism. (Women are not logical, women are hormonal, women want to control/emasculate you etc, etc etc).

        There is no question imho that Matt is helpful and talented. But his being a “guy” is important to this whole thing.

        Liked by 2 people

      • gottmanfan says:

        And frankly I am surprised that this is the framing of the post that all women have to do is just nicely explain about the elevator and then men will “get it.”

        This imho misses the point of that women can explain things over and over in the most skilled ways and it will be dismissed by MANY men. It is discouraging, to be honest, that on *this blog in 2021* that is not the understood. How is that possible? I find it puzzling.

        (And yes, Jessica, I agree that it’s not just relationships where this happens.)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jessica Kaufman says:

          I know, right? Like…. I just didn’t say it right the MILLION TIMES I said the same stuff. Reminds me of my bf wanting to go to a couples counselor….so he could better explain to me what he was going through and how badly I made HIM feel because I couldn’t live with his dismissiveness anymore. That was when I was like, talk to Matt or don’t move out here. Of course, that somehow helped or “gave him a better perspective,” the convo with Matt. Well, I guess we’ll see. We haven’t had a real challenge yet since he talked to Matt. I’m still hopeful, but this post….makes me wonder if this is going to end up like every other time. It being about HIS needs and making sure I understand HIM better, or figuring out a better way (more subservient maybe?!) to express the things I’m experiencing since clearly I’ve been doing it wrong for 8 years. Shit.
          :/
          Make be men need to learn to just listen…. I was going to add “better,” but, really, it can be a full stop right after listen. They need to learn to listen *at all.*

          I have to say, this was a very disappointing post. Like…. Is that what you’ve been thinking all this time? Women just haven’t been using the right words?! We’re just too…bitchy by asking that our partners actually hear our perspective? Ugh, and tomorrow’s Monday. Great start to the week lol. I hope to God my bf didn’t read this or he’ll think, geez, yeah, it IS because she’s not nice enough when she begs me to think about her perspective instead of making it all about me all the time. [Insert emoji of a woman shaking her head with her eyes closed and her hand on her forehead]

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          • gottmanfan says:

            I’m so sorry to hear of your experience with your boyfriend. Hopefully Matt will respond to your comments here and clarify his thinking for you.

            It’s great you set a boundary with your boyfriend. I hope he makes changes based on his new perspective. If not, boundaries at this stage are imho are the way to respond. I’m
            sorry things are so difficult. 😥

            Liked by 1 person

            • Jessica Kaufman says:

              I’ve come to the recent existential realization that life is struggle, but I really appreciate the sympathy, gottmanfan. Without struggle, you’re not really living. I’ve spent 20 years in a delightfully sleepy Colorado (heh) haze, which was great….but it wasn’t really living (and led me deep into a relationship with someone who consistently ignored me, though I do think he feels like he loves me, and I’m often happier having him than not, cuz I do really love him). Things are more challenging now…not just in relationships…but I’m grateful because the alternative is….a kind of living death. And boundaries are a large part of what I’m learning is critical to existing, and being who I am. No more just….smoking away my irritation and pretending tomorrow will just magically be different. But part of that is I have to stick to my boundaries, and if that means I end up alone, as terrifying as that might be, well…that’s better than never actually having been an independent *real* person.

              But to think that Matt is saying something new …. is possibly part of the problem. He’s saying great stuff. But it’s not new.

              It’s just new sounding coming from a guy. :/

              It would be disheartening to think people don’t realize that, and this post makes me think people don’t realize that. Cuz if Matt, as “enlightened” as he seems, seems to think that’s still part of the problem…..how f’ing depressing. Or maybe just…. a letdown.

              But I’ve had a bunch of those lately, and I’ll survive just fine :).

              Liked by 1 person

  5. Jessica Kaufman says:

    I have to say, the men’s reaction to you, Matt, IS about you being male. And I bet you anything that the men listening to your female friend at work had the same reaction that men always have…… “Meh.”

    You’re right that you saying it has greater impact. But it’s not because you are somehow kinder. It’s because you are male. Period.

    When a dude says stuff, it will have impact. A woman saying it? She’s angry, she’s a bitch, she’s hormonal. This has been THE male reaction since the beginning of gender.

    Like

  6. Jessica Kaufman says:

    And invalidating another’s experience DOES affect relationships at work. It DOES affect familial relationships. I think you are really way off on this one, Matt. I think most hetero cis men are less nuanced emotionally because of how they are raised, and that even affects MALE-MALE relationships. I’ve heard my bf complain about that stuff regarding his male friends not being there for him or ignoring him, they’re all just socialized to stuff their emotions down so they are hurt by it but don’t look at it directly or want to think about it. They don’t talk about it so they can’t get a handle on it. Not healthy. And it might be a contributing factor to how they handle their relationships with women.

    Like

  7. Jessica Kaufman says:

    I’m thinking this topic and thread is a great basis for an arrested development like sitcom.

    I expect some royalties from the show you develop with Ron Howard, Matt.

    Like

    • Prospect says:

      There was a popular TV show in the UK in the 90s called “Men Behaving Badly” (subtlety clearly not a strong point here) which covered two couples. The men were emotionally immature and childish and so of course the women were the grown ups.

      Like

  8. S.O. says:

    Your theory probably does account for some. Therapists, coaches, etc. have a benefit from being a neutral third party where there is no emotional investment, so we can all operate a bit more logically.

    However, women do get put in a catch-22 woth communication, and in general get far more “tone policing”. If she’s too kind, too passive, then she’s “unclear” . If she’s direct and exact, she’s “too aggressive/nagging/attacking”.

    You are very empathetic and in tune and it’s clear you are doing the work. But perhaps consider a bit more how consistently in conflict we find something about the woman to criticize. I suspect if you push back on that a bit with your clients, you’ll find that it’s often quite deliberate. It’s a very effective way to avoid engaging any of the content of her argument, in every situation, individually and corporately. No matter what we are talking about, women can’t get the microscope to focus on anything but women’s behavior.

    It’s not fair or feasible to figuratively slap someone in the face and then refuse to talk about it unless the slapped can be calm and polite to the satisfaction of the slapper.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. gottmanfan says:

    I wonder if thinking that it’s not really about being male but being kind serves a purpose. Less guilt? What is the need to not acknowledge it? And also to blame women in the process?

    To me this is analogous of the fact that often white people will hear things about systemic racism they won’t hear from all the many Black voices saying the same things.

    It is not imho accurate or helpful to frame it as Blacks are too angry and not kind enough and that’s the reason that the white person got a best selling book explaining racism in 2020.

    Imho it’s not a “fair” thing that men listen to you more than they do women. But it is the practical reality. Imho as long as it’s acknowledged that you have a book *in part* because you’re a man it is helpful. It’s adding the gaslighting of saying that it’s your kindness and not your sex that is the difference that is problematic imho.

    But of course I am not making much of an attempt to be “nice” here so perhaps a man can say the same things I just said later😜

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I don’t think I made my point very well in the blog post.

      What I’m saying is that MAJOR emotions are at stake when husbands are talking to their wives and literally believing that she’s saying he’s bad or mean or dumb or not good enough. He believes that. And he defends himself, fights back, or withdraws.

      When he talks to me, those emotions don’t play out like that.

      I can say the same thing his wife says to him without him feeling betrayed or unappreciated or disrespected.

      Sure, I work hard at how I word things.

      And sure I think deep culturally rooted sexism is at play.

      But I believe it’s about the math result of what is said and done. And when I say things, he doesn’t feel hurt. But when she says things, he does.

      This may not account for every married couple in history. I wouldn’t pretend to speak for everyone. Just for the people in my world who I routine work with or speak with. I count myself among them. The kinds of guys who would do things differently if they only understood why it mattered.

      The word “blame” is a shit word. I never use it.

      It’s not about blame. It’s often not about right or wrong.

      It’s about: “What can I do differently to serve my marriage or relationship?”

      On the whole, men, if we’re making broad generalizations, have most of the work to do.

      One of the things I believe would help them do that work is if when their partners communicated something was wrong, that it was done so in a way that eliminates the possibility of him concluding she’s saying he’s bad, or dumb, or a shitty person, or unlovable, or not good enough.

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      • gottmanfan says:

        The problem is what you are saying is not really acknowledging what the research shows about many men not accepting influence in heterosexual relationships and HOW best for women to deal with that.

        You deal with that by setting boundaries. And you have to have leverage to do it so the man recognizes he will loss something he values as a consequence if he doesn’t accept influence.

        **The issue is not about being kind when a man won’t accept influence from a woman***.

        Of course, soft startups and good and polite communication is helpful in many ways but it WILL NOT solve this particular issue. That imho is critical to acknowledge.

        Like

        • Matt says:

          Of course. That’s the conversation I have with every guy I speak with.

          This isn’t really about being kind.

          I’m NOT his wife. So I can’t trigger those emotions in him. I don’t matter enough to him. I can’t hurt him.

          His wife hurts him not because she’s trying to. His wife hurts him because he genuinely loves her, and is maddeningly frustrated because he can’t figure out how to do or say the things she needs from him to not feel invisible, or disrespected, or unloved.

          He doesn’t listen to me because I’m nicer or more kind. He doesn’t necessarily listen to me because I’m a guy, but sure, maybe that’s a factor sometimes.

          I think he listens to me because I’m not his wife. And it has less to do with respect than it does me not triggering The Same Fight conflict pattern.

          I believe a woman in my role could easily accomplish that same thing. I don’t think it’s a sex thing. I think it’s a Who Can and Cannot Hurt Me? Thing.

          Nothing hurts more than perceived rejection from the person who promised to love you forever.

          And in marriage, both people are inadvertently triggering that feeling in one another.

          Do the men do it more often, and usually first? Damn right, they do. We’re shitters.

          But would it help if the information we needed to know was delivered in a manner that landed? That connected, and made a difference? I think so.

          And I think it can be done between the partners when handled with care.

          Like

          • gottmanfan says:

            Many female therapists would *strongly disagree* with your assessment that it’s only because you are not in relationship with him that he listens to you. I read a lot of this stuff and female couples therapists have to deal with men assuming they are “taking the wife’s side” all the time. Or can’t/don’t really understand. Or are telling him to “be a woman.” Etc

            I find it really interesting that it seems difficult to acknowledge that sexism may be part of this.
            I wonder why it’s hard to acknowledge this?

            You think a Black person might get a different hearing of certain messages than you as a White person? I wonder why it’s hard to see that being male is impacting this? 🤔

            Liked by 2 people

            • Matt says:

              I’m respectfully bowing out.

              If a failure to consider that a different way to do something because the current way isn’t working is a big ask, then I would encourage people to not work with me or talk to me.

              All I ask for is radical self-reflection and personal responsibility which I lay at the feet of myself and men — in 90% or more of the things I write and say including in this very blog post?

              I want people to not hurt. That’s it. I want people to not hurt.

              The way we’re doing it is not working. And if you’re in one of these relationships where the same way isn’t working: Try something new.

              I’m fine with that being ending the marriage. It’s often the only viable option. But considering how many people don’t want to do that, I want to offer alternative things to think about.

              I don’t know what’s in the hearts and minds of every man. But I know how I feel about other people regardless of sex or color or creed or lifestyle.

              A lot of the people sitting on the other side of my video calls are also like that. People just trying to find a lifeline and figure out how to unfuck their relationships, as well as their own minds and hearts.

              Like

              • gottmanfan says:

                I respectfully will tell you you still *aren’t listening* to what Jessica and I are saying-proving the point we are making. But it’s ok since we aren’t in a relationship so it’s just random people on the internet so not a big deal really to me personally.

                I sincerely wish you well with your book. 😀

                Like

            • jeffmustbeleast says:

              gottmanfan, I am questioning the research that supposedly says men don’t listen to woman period. While I don’t doubt that there are plenty of sexist men out there who don’t listen to woman in general, I feel like a different dynamic is at play in at least some of the marriage counseling scenarios.

              Based on what I’ve heard, many husbands are slow to attend marriage counseling with the wife often starting counseling on her own. I am willing to bet that many of these wives are seeing a female counselor. In these cases, a husband who starts attending the counseling later is likely to question whether or not the wife has already convinced/biased the counselor to her side. That is why I would be careful arguing that point. I’m not sure how fair that “research” is given how often the scenario above seems to play out, and to be fair, if it was reversed, I’m pretty sure the wife would question that same thing.

              That being said, I’m sure sexism does play a role in a lot of situations. I just think we need to be careful about jumping to that conclusion to quickly. There could be very understandable reasons why the husband or wife is having a hard time accepting criticism from a counselor. Particularly if they feel the counselor was already won over by their spouse before they even had a chance to explain their side.

              One other note, I do think men in general have an easier time accepting criticism from other men based on the feeling that they “get them” better. It is likely the same with women in general. However, I do agree with Matt that the biggest hurdle for men to accept any negative feedback from their wife is taking the feedback as an attack. I do believe this is an almost universal struggle for men in general. I really do think many men have a hard time accepting any negative feedback from their wife because of this dynamic, and it is easier for them to hear it from someone else (man or woman). However, if the husband feels the other person/counselor is already biased, good luck getting him to listen. That is a serious uphill battle. Probably better to start marriage counseling with a new counselor so both the husband and wife are starting from level ground. Does that make sense?

              Like

          • gottmanfan says:

            But anyway, I wish you great success with your book and I hope it impacts a lot of relationships.

            I have no doubt that it can help many people and that’s an amazing thing😀

            Like

          • Jessica Kaufman says:

            “His wife hurts him not because she’s trying to. His wife hurts him because he genuinely loves her, and is maddeningly frustrated because he can’t figure out how to do or say the things she needs from him to not feel invisible, or disrespected, or unloved.”

            Yes, this. But it’s not because we haven’t told him how in a million different ways. We have.

            He just doesn’t want to hear it, so he doesn’t.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Jessica Kaufman says:

            “I think he listens to me because I’m not his wife. And it has less to do with respect than it does me not triggering The Same Fight conflict pattern.”

            One of the things we’re saying is that YES, you’re right. You DON’T trigger the same conflict pattern. But the things we say are not the triggering thing. It’s WHO WE ARE. It’s not possible for us to succeed in this situation most of the time because he’s always going to be triggered by us. No matter what we say. There ISN’T a thing for us to say that’s not triggering. Partly because of the relationship aspect. But also partly because of the gender aspect. And to ignore that is to avoid facing the actual problem, which in turn prevents it from being addressed and fixed.

            We’re not attacking you, we’re trying to show you a significant component of the problem so you can help fix it. Because we are unable to, because he won’t listen to us when he will listen to you.

            Liked by 1 person

      • gottmanfan says:

        What women do wrong is not setting boundaries early enough. Ironically it’s being “too nice” that is often the problem of these common patterns. After all it’s just a dish, right?

        But usually women don’t start off with “you’re an idiot” kind of attitude that would result in natural defensive response from husbands.

        That usually is only after a while, her tone and ways she expresses her complaint become more problematic on the surface but that isn’t where the problem *starts* at all.

        From my reading and experience, the root of the cancer isn’t about not saying things in kind enough ways that the husband won’t get defensive. Many men will not really accept influence *no matter how you say it* or how little you ask but defensively reject it as control or judge it as not convincing as something that should be cared about.

        It is imho important to acknowledge that as part of this whole thing.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Matt says:

          I agree wholeheartedly that women not more vigilantly enforcing boundaries early in the dating relationship is a huge factor in all of this.

          Unfortunately, that’s only useful for young people or people in between relationships, and most of the people I encounter are desperately trying to save or improve the damaged one they’re already in.

          Like

          • gottmanfan says:

            Matt said: “I agree wholeheartedly that women not more vigilantly enforcing boundaries early in the dating relationship is a huge factor in all of this.

            Unfortunately, that’s only useful for young people or people in between relationships, and most of the people I encounter are desperately trying to save or improve the damaged one they’re already in.“

            This is where we disagree.

            Boundaries are useful and often *necessary* in a damaged relationship in order to save or improve it.

            Many people don’t know, though, how though to do healthy boundaries and wives not knowing that is a big factor why relationships deteriorate or fail in a relationship where accepting influence isn’t the default (2/3 of husbands). But it’s possible to learn to force change (either towards a better relationship or a towards a quicker breakup).

            See my other comment for my personal experience in learning to use boundaries to improve and save my marriage. This is not an uncommon story. It is not imho the usual story that new perspectives are obtained by husbands as a result of skilled communication and explanations by the wife or a coach/therapist. If this is the case, that man was already open to some change by agreeing to participate so is not in the group of men who refuse to accept influence.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Jessica Kaufman says:

        I think that what we feel you’re missing here is that we HAVE done that. And it didn’t work. Because the guy is simply not going to hear it. And it’s true to say that a neutral third party can say things that someone in the relationship could also say, but it’s heard differently. Which adds up to …. There isn’t anything that we can say that will be heard. And yeah, hearing it from a guy makes it mean more. Because in large part it hurts less to hear it from someone you identify with.

        But a large point I want to make is that after a certain point, usually very near the beginning of the relationship, men stop hearing what their women say and instead hear what they think is being said. And nothing we say can change or affect that. There isn’t a way to get more nice about it that will be heard. We’ve done that already. *Nothing* we say is going to be heard, there is literally no way for us to be heard the way that you are heard by them. And to a certain degree that’s because you’re not part of the relationship, and to a certain degree that’s because you’re a dude. But again….there is literally nothing I can say and no way I can be heard that will make any difference.

        So I’m very glad you’re there to talk to guys. But please don’t tell me to smile more, or be nicer somehow. Cuz I’m already doing that. And it sounds like you’re just one more guy that’s not listening.

        Like

        • Matt says:

          Hey Jessica. I don’t know how this conversation turned into anyone believing kindness or niceness or politeness had anything to do with what I was advocating (although to be fair, I would always advocate for that as a default state whenever possible by anyone and everyone). But now you’ve said it too. Just like Gottmanfan did.

          So I think maybe women have been told for years by sexist d-bags to be “nicer” and then maybe they’ll listen to them, or something, and I’m totally unaware of it because I’ve never been on the receiving end of that one (though, I undoubtedly said shit like this to my wife a gajillion times).

          I promise you, I don’t think you should have to be nicer. ESPECIALLY after so many times of being unheard, invalidated, disrespected, minimized, ignored, etc.

          You surely have every reason in the world to feel angry, sad, stressed, betrayed, etc.

          I think the dynamics between two people who promised to love one another forever (or who say “I love you” and live under the same roof — shared lives) is an emotionally complicated situation totally circumvented by a third party. In this case, me.

          I am really sorry if my post implied somehow that I didn’t believe sexism was a factor. I thought I’d said so. I even re-read it and found where I said it.

          And I’m really sorry if you took my meaning to suggest that I think you and millions of mistreated wives and women everywhere are to blame for relationship problems because you’re simply not nice enough or kind enough.

          I don’t think that. I’ve never thought it or said it or advocated it in the nearly nine years of this work.

          I work with men on their habits. And the biggest one we work on is Validation.

          I ask men to validate their wives/partners even when they disagree with them. Because validation helps foster relationship trust.

          And this doesn’t come easily or naturally to most of the guys I work with. They have a nasty invalidation habit just like I did. They think they’re disagreeing with their wife. They fail to consider that they’re ALSO invalidating her and inadvertently eroding her trust in him and in the relationship. Again, as a general rule. Nothing is all of the people all of the time.

          And in this article, I meant to imply that wives/girlfriends on the other end of this conversation might benefit from the same mindful communication habits.

          And it’s truly not to be nicer, necessarily, though I definitely think being non-adversarial ALWAYS helps in communication.

          The way I think about it, is that I have to choose the right combination of words and ideas, so that they result in the desired effect. The information I’m sharing connecting with that other human.

          Obviously, I fail at this a ton. This blog post being the most recent shining example of it.

          Many men operating on their default settings will invalidate their wives whenever there’s a disagreement.

          Many women operating on their default settings will inadvertently communicate “You’re a bad person,” “You’re a mean person,” “You’re a shitty husband,” “I don’t respect you,” “I regret marrying you,” “You never do anything right,” “Being with you is the worst decision of my life,” and other things that hurt to hear when they’re coming from the person you promised to love and honor all the days of your life.

          And I KNOW — I swear — that it’s the sum of this guy’s actions for many years that has resulted in her feeling the anger and sadness that drives some of those comments. His shitty husband behavior is 100% the first domino to fall most of the time that begins the slow decay of trust and connectedness and intimacy in the relationship.

          But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to continue to think about all of the ways for people to try to heal themselves. To try to close the trust deficit they’ve built between one another.

          And one of the small ways I think wives/girlfriends in this situation can contribute to relationships healing would be to say and do things that can in no way be interpreted as any of the above statements.

          There’s a way to tell a person that the result of their actions has hurt us WITHOUT implying that they have a character problem or without outright accusing them of intentionally hurting us.

          “Hey. That thing. It hurt me. A lot. And I don’t mean to suggest that you knew it, or that you feel it too, or that it even makes sense to you that it hurt me. However, it did. I’m not implying that you’re bad, and that you need to stop being bad. This is simply me trying to recruit you to help me not hurt anymore. Please.”

          I have no doubt you’ve tried to have that conversation. What I think is possible is that even though you tried he still experienced it as “You’re not good enough. You’re an asshole. You are the worst thing in my life.”

          And when people hear those things, they will invalidate and defend themselves. And the conflict cycle never ever ends.

          Another thing to consider is the age of the people having these conversations.

          Many relationships blossom in our teenage years and early to mid twenties.

          It’s really damn hard to bring this level of emotional intelligence and situation awareness to the table when no one has ever taught you the importance of doing so.

          The vast majority of young people are not armed with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate this stuff effectively. I think it’s a real tragedy.

          I’d love to be a small part of reducing the number of people who never think or talk about these ideas in the beginning stages of their relationships. It would save a lot of heartache.

          Like

          • Jessica Kaufman says:

            And I think you’re not hearing what I’ve said. We AREN’T saying those things. We aren’t calling them bad or stupid or evil. I literally cannot say anything that will not be interpreted as me NOT being negative.

            The problem here is that men hear what they hear, and I can’t change that AT ALL. There is literally no way for me to say anything that isn’t interpreted that way.

            And this is why I feel you are not listening:

            “But I believe it’s about the math result of what is said and done. And when I say things, he doesn’t feel hurt. But when she says things, he does.
            ….
            One of the things I believe would help them do that work is if when their partners communicated something was wrong, that it was done so in a way that eliminates the possibility of him concluding she’s saying he’s bad, or dumb, or a shitty person, or unlovable, or not good enough.”

            We aren’t communicating these things in any way that seems like it could possibly be interpreted as me saying he’s bad or dumb or unlovable. I have literally told my bf over and over, “please, stop, I LOVE YOU, I’m not saying you’re bad, I love…. [insert a long list of things that I adore about him]” and he will still respond, and keep saying, “why do you hate me, why do you think I’m bad? I love *you*!” What else can I say except what I’m already saying? That I love him, that I want us to be together, that I absolutely do not think he’s purposely trying to hurt me.

            BUT…..

            The second I say anything along the lines of “I have needs too” or “I know you don’t mean to hurt me, but I just want to talk about the fact that I’m still being hurt” the litany of oh I’m so bad and you think I’m so evil starts up again. And I have to spend another 30 minutes reassuring him.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Matt says:

              I hear you, Jessica. I promise. And I get it.

              And what’s so striking to me about what you’re saying is that the same thing is true for the guys I talk to.

              They are 100% honestly perplexed by the notion that their wives/girlfriends could ever interpret their words and actions as they do.

              It’s the failure to calculate for what actually happens — not what we intend to have happen, and not what we hope to have happen — that people struggle with.

              We’re so sure of ourselves we discount elements of what others are saying. I’ve surely done that a handful of times in these comment exchanges.

              Men DESTROY love and trust and safety and intimacy in their marriages.

              And if you asked these guys, they would say EXACTLY what you just said. Seriously.

              “I’m not communicating these things in any way that seems like it could possibly be interpreted as me saying she’s stupid or crazy or weak or undesirable or unlovable.”

              Like

              • Jessica Kaufman says:

                And yet….it seems like, even from your words, that men are the main issue here, that they are the ones not actually hearing. It’s not like both sides are equally confusing and hurtful. There is a truth to the fact that women listen more, they compromise in relationships more, they do more as far as mental effort, than men. They do more mental work in relationships and families. That’s simply fact that we can look to research to support.

                So when men say they are confused as to why their partners end up feeling the way they do, it’s for different reasons than why women do and its….more the problem. The reason women feel poorly in the relationship is often because they’re dismissed even after sacrificing for the good of the relationship. The reason why men feel poorly in the relationship is because they keep asking for more and eventually women can’t keep sacrificing, so men feel attacked and belittled when …they weren’t attacked or belittled, they just think they were because they’re not used to doing the work or being as responsible for things. They’re just being asked to give as much as their women and it makes them feel attacked. I don’t know how to solve that but I know the start has to be men actually listening to women. Women DO listen to men, and change a lot of the time. But men aren’t willing to do that because they feel…what? Attacked? Belittled? I don’t know why they feel that way, but asking me to give even more of myself isn’t going to actually solve the problem. And it just feels like that’s what you are suggesting. Women can’t change men, and men rarely change themselves for women, yet women often change for men. They accommodate men more than men accommodate women. And that’s a large part of the problem.

                We just want someone that’s as willing as we are to accommodate the relationship. And we find that men simply aren’t. And you’re right to say that divorcing isn’t necessarily the solution. But the solution ALSO isn’t making women even more accommodating than they are. And that’s why we react so much when we’re told once again to change up what we’re doing. Women, frankly, feel the way they do for good reason. I honestly don’t think men feel the way they do for as good a reason, and it’s because their perspective is so skewed. We hope their perspective changes after talking to you. Because they won’t listen to us and so won’t change their perspective based on what we say. Even when it’s the exact thing you are saying.

                Liked by 2 people

          • gottmanfan says:

            Just to push back on the idea that Jessica and I are not reading you fairly but instead are bringing our cultural baggage into this: This is your into to the article on the Facebook page-note the final line where “you are not convinced that sex and gender particularly significant part of why that happens.

            “Sometimes, women — mothers, wives, girlfriends — feel frustrated by the idea that when I share the ideas with their husbands that happen to be the same ideas they’ve been trying to tell him for years lands more effectively than the way they share it.

            Also your line about *the way* we try to communicate having major implications isn’t about the relationship factor but is about the manner which combined with your article language about your kindness is where we got the message of being “nicer” in delivery as a major factor here.

            I think super-nuanced aspects of the way we try to communicate with one another have MAJOR implications for how effective the message is transferred.

            Today’s post outlines the reason I think husbands and boyfriends sometimes listen to me instead of their wives, and I’m not convinced sex and gender are a particularly significant part of why that happens.”

            Liked by 1 person

          • Jessica Kaufman says:

            I have never implied or stated that it’s a character issue. I have, in fact, gone out of my way to tell him that’s NOT the case.

            He DOES NOT HEAR ME.

            I cannot reshape how he experiences things. That’s something he needs to work on, cuz there’s literally nothing I can do about that. There is nothing I can say to convince him. He does not hear it. Can you understand that? Can you hear me when I say, I am not doing anything to make him feel that way. Please hear me when I say: There is nothing I can say that will get through to him.

            Honestly, I’m not sure what else to say. How else can I say this in order for Matt to hear me? What am I missing here?!

            Liked by 1 person

          • Jessica Kaufman says:

            And here you make my point for me:

            “Hey. That thing. It hurt me. A lot. And I don’t mean to suggest that you knew it, or that you feel it too, or that it even makes sense to you that it hurt me. However, it did. I’m not implying that you’re bad, and that you need to stop being bad. This is simply me trying to recruit you to help me not hurt anymore. Please.”

            I have no doubt you’ve tried to have that conversation. What I think is possible is that even though you tried he still experienced it as “You’re not good enough. You’re an asshole. You are the worst thing in my life.”

            There isn’t another way for me to approach this. Because I haven’t just *tried* to have the above conversation. I have had it exactly. In many forms, tried different ways of saying it.

            What you aren’t hearing is that there isn’t a way for me to say it that will prevent him from hearing what he thinks he’s hearing.

            That’s why we need you. Because he simply WILL NOT hear it coming from our mouths. There is no way to get him to hear anything except what he thinks he’s hearing.

            That’s at least in part where the sexism comes in. It means something different when he hears those exact words from you than when I say them.

            I have quoted your blog to him almost verbatim, without him knowing I was doing that, then down the road he’s read your blog, and suddenly it means something when he blew the same words off when I said them or wrote them. And it’s not my tone, it’s not my body language, he literally doesn’t hear what I say.

            I need you to hear that.

            He does not hear what I say.

            He hears what he thinks I’m saying.

            Liked by 2 people

            • Matt says:

              I do hear it. I guess I was defending the notion that not ALL men value the thoughts and opinions and influence of men more than women because that seems like such a repulsive idea to me.

              But I promise I believe you and your experiences, just as I trust (highly) Gottmanfan’s thoughts, feelings, insights, and experiences.

              Only a small percentage of my clients are women, but I always ask the question sooner or later:

              If being with him fundamentally hurts you, and you have no reason to believe these dynamics will ever change, what compels you to stay?

              Everyone has a different answer to that question.

              But the point of asking it is to learn whether the person I’m talking to loves themselves, respects themselves, and values themselves enough to NOT subject themselves to hurtful or shitty behavior from others.

              I have no reason to think you have a problem with valuing yourself.

              We certainly don’t have to have this convo publicly so please ignore this if you want, but if this is who he is all of the time, and how he makes you feel, is making a change there the thing that might be both best for you, and communicate effectively to him just how not okay it is to allow his actions/inactions to harm you?

              Like

              • Jessica Kaufman says:

                Well, he’s not always shitty and hurtful. Much of the time he’s not…. And I do wonder why I feel like I love him so much when I feel this way about him. Some of those answers probably shouldn’t be out out there publicly. He does seem to get it sometimes…. But only when I leave. Then he’s receptive. But maybe what I’m interpreting as being receptive is actually something else. And it’s probably true that while I do value myself…I’m also lonely enough to feel less bad with him than without him. I certainly feel like when he’s seemingly receptive that we can be happy. But maybe I’m fooling myself?

                And to another of your points…. It does seem replusive that all men might value men’s thoughts more than women’s.

                And yet women still make less doing the same jobs. When a male dominated industry becomes female dominated, it becomes less valuable socially and financially. Those are just facts. So while the idea might be repulsive, it’s still …. true.

                These issues are so complicated I don’t even know how to articulate them sometimes. But if I don’t struggle through and try, I don’t see the point of anything.

                It’s also significant to realize…. sometimes there’s no perfect answer. It’s not like I think there’s some perfect person out there that will fit me exactly, or even closely. There’s not. I’m trying to see if I can get this person who I’ve spent so much time with, so much that I’ll feel a bit lost without him, will stop hurting me. I don’t want to give up because I’m not sure there’s anything better out there, and I want us both to be happy. And we can’t be unless he starts hearing me. I keep at it because I don’t think anyone will necessarily be better. So why not try to get this one to hear me, this person I’ve spent so many years with–the only other person I’ve met who likes and does similar things to the things I do in a way I seem to stay with for some reason…I’m not sure leaving would make me happier. And that’s probably sad.

                But it’s not like there’s some perfect life out there waiting for me if I only got rid of this person who seems to hurt me. I’m just hoping we can figure out a way to make each other happy while not making each other sad/hurt.

                Liked by 2 people

                • Matt says:

                  You’ll hear no arguments from me about the existence of systematic oppression and disrespect of women (and many other groups).

                  And I hear you about all of this. Don’t mean to suggest that I think there’s a better person out there for you.

                  I want the sum of a person’s actions to result in you feeling loved, respected, wanted, considered when you share a life with them.

                  I’m confident he wants you to feel all of these things. He just sometimes fails to accept responsibility for the times when you do not. He might think you’re blaming him for something he believes is your problem. That’s kind of what everyone I’ve ever talked to feels.

                  I think if he changed a couple of his habits, much of what hurts you would stop hurting you.

                  It’s not okay that he doesn’t hear you when you say this. That he doesn’t honor you when you ask for this. But I really hope he finds whatever he needs in order to notice how what he does and doesn’t do DOES affect you, and then choose to do everything he can to help you not experience some of the shit things you do now.

                  I’m really sorry that he doesn’t listen to you. And I’m really sorry that for much of this conversation, you might have felt that same way because of me.

                  Like

                  • Jessica Kaufman says:

                    I appreciate that, thank you. Because I just want to actually be heard. That’s all I’ve been looking for. And not getting. But at least he hears you, or seems to. I wish he’d hear me, and unfortunately there’s not much I can do about. There isn’t a way to get him to hear me unless he decides to.

                    And I really think that’s the main point we’ve all been trying to make with you regarding some of the things you said in this blog. It’s not up to us. We can’t make someone feel less attacked when they believe, no matter how wrongly, that they are being attacked. And the simple fact is that many women are attacked in this way, and their men aren’t despite what they say. The perspective that needs to be changed is primarily his in this scenario. So telling us to reframe what we say is both insulting and futile. Because it’s not the actual cause of anything. It’s a smoke screen to shield men from taking any responsibility in a relationship. And maybe hearing that won’t fix a relationship. But maybe saving one that can’t get fixed this way is pointless.

                    I think
                    it takes that final futility to either change the guys perspective, or help the woman see it really is futile.

                    Liked by 1 person

              • gottmanfan says:

                My experience is that I had to learn to set boundaries before my husband would “hear” and change.

                I said it in ALL the ways before. Believe me I’m a researcher so I did my research on how to say things. And I practiced a lot to say it in super non-threatening and affirming ways. But it didn’t “work”. I think it can work early in a relationship and it can work with men who have decent skills overall but just need extra and it definitely can work with the 1/3 of men who do default to accepting influence. My husband didn’t fall into any of these categories then.

                It was only when I did the boundaries with consequences and put the choice to him “you choose if you want to stay in this marriage or not, status quo isn’t ok for me.”

                When I did that, **willing to get divorced if he wouldn’t chose to take significant steps to change the status quo*, (and it was a process for me to get there) that is what made the difference.

                I am not saying my story is every story. But from my research think it’s common.

                Also many men would choose to say “status quo” works for me to my boundary so then the choice is the woman’s to have to decide if she can live with it or get divorced. Many choose option 1 for the kids for a while, others go with option 2 once the choice is clear.

                I am fortunate in one way that my boundaries“worked.” I certainly don’t think that all women using the same techniques get the same result. It’s necessary but not sufficient. The other person has to want to want to change for it to work.

                Liked by 1 person

  10. shannon says:

    It’s easy to be calm and nice and not blame/criticize/verbally attack anyone for dumping a part of their responsibilities on you, on top of all the ones you bear, when you are not the one suffering for it, or when it is new and you think that both are on the same page regarding sharing the load equally and solving each problem fairly. After hundreds, if not thousands of repeated dereliction of duty occur, and every one of them creates more work for the wife (mentally, physically and emotionally) more disappointment, more loneliness, more exhaustion, more stress, the calm escalates. Asking, stating, reminding, repeating, writing, sobbing, exasperation, sharpness, rage. Eventually not caring about someone who has demonstrated thousands of times that not only does he not care about you, he doesn’t care how hard you work. His “reasons” for not picking up his fair share are 1. he forgot 2. he “helped” 3. he’s tired 4.you are too picky 5.he doesn’t know how 5.he “can’t” do it well enough to satisfy you, (aka not thoroughly”) Almost every mundane, exhausting, never ending household chore is simple work, things any adult can do thoroughly and well. But somehow, we, the wives, are supposed to be grateful for any attempt, no matter how subpar, and if we don’t like it, do it ourselves. Apparently, the husband cannot see with his own eyes how much we do. I have tried breaking it down.

    Doing the laundry – 3 little words, how hard is that? 1. collect 2.schlep 3.sort 4. wash,wash, wash. 5. dry, dry, dry with probably some line hanging for delicates 4. fold/hang 5.schlep 6.put away. If he did not do all 6 steps, he did not “do” the laundry.

    Grocery shopping. 1. take inventory 2. make a meal plan 3.check fridge/freezer/storage space 4. make list 5.haul your tired self to store/stores 6. shop 7. load car 8.unload car 9.put away. If he is not doing all 9 steps, he is not doing the grocery shopping – she is doing half of it.

    Bathroom. 1. empty wastebasket 2.colllect used towels 3.vacuum 4. clean toilet entire toilet, inside and out. 5. put away toiletries on sink. 6. clean sink, mirror, shelves/counters 7. clean tub/shower. 8. wipe down cabinets if necessary 9. mop If he is not doing all 9 steps, he did not “clean” the bathroom.

    Take out the trash. 1. empty all household trash cans. 2. go through refrigerator for spoiled food 3. take out trash, on time, on the designated trash day, without being reminded. 4. clean trash cans as needed, both inside and out. 5. reline trash cans as needed. If he did not do all 5 steps, he did not take out the trash.

    Appointments. 1. keep on top of what is necessary 2. make appointments that work with existing calendar or 3. change appointments that conflict with calendar 4. appointments cannot conflict with other necessary at or outside chores that are time sensitive 5. If an appointment conflicts with another daily chore, such as dinner, make arrangement to replace the making of that dinner.

    House maintenance 1. constant picking up and putting away of all the things that people tend to leave lying around (part of life, but it still eventually needs to be picked up and put away by the house fairy) 2. constant cleaning 3.laundry 4.beds changed 5.groceries bought 6. food prepared 3 times a day 7. bills paid 8. car/appliance maintenance 9.trash/recylcing 10. reorganizing messy fridge/freezer/cabinets/closets/storage areas/ 10. cleaning same 11. washing the washer (greasy ring discolors clothes, mold can grow and altogether yuk) 12. washing stinky trashcans 13. cleaning grout 14. filing paperwork 15. inventories household needs. 16. buying household needs 17. thank you notes 18. dr apps’s 19.social life 20. dry-cleaning 21.prescription 22. planting, watering outdoors 23.lawn/gardening 24. cleaning/polishing sinks and drain maintenance. 25. ironing, if you do 27. stove/oven cleaning 28. dusting.

    There is not one of those 27 that my husband does exclusively/consistently/without being reminded. And I have met one husband that does, but only one. There’s a contract out on his wife.

    There is nothing on this list that any adult can and should do half of. And if they, overall, do not, they are not the one who deserves empathy, sympathy and a whole load of pulling their own weight. Not dulcet tones so their “feeling” won’t be hurt. You know the saying “it’s not that you are an asshole, it is that you are acting like an asshole”. You get a pass from actually being one, but not forever. And that is when calm turns to what i guess we refer to as a “bitch”.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. cj says:

    If my partner does something to hurt or me or that triggers an attachment wound, and I react poorly with criticism and blame, he will then counterreact defensively and dismissively. I can work on not reacting poorly when he hurts me, that is my part of the deal.

    His part of the deal would be to listen and accept when I tell him he’s hurt me, apologise, and stop the hurtful behaviour. And – here’s the kicker – he should do it regardless of how well or how poorly I reacted to his hurting me. Sure, it may be easier for him to do those things if I communicate clearly and without blame (and I should always work on that as it’s my responsibility), but he shouldn’t need to use that as a red or green light for how he treats me. The onus for his behaviour and treatment of me is not on me and my reactions, it’s on him. It’s his part of the deal to take responsibility for himself. If I can learn to control myself and be understanding of his occasional mess up, then he can learn to control himself and be understanding of my occasional poor reaction to his mess up.

    Obviously this is only going to be fair if both people are working to do their part. And the roles can be reversed as well but in my experience this way is more common.

    On a separate note about your friend in the boardroom. It was a nice story but we didn’t hear the ending. My immediate thought was to wonder how many of the men in that room took her message to heart or brushed it off. The cynic in me thinks it was probably more of the latter. Because the message, no matter how clearly and kindly conveyed, came from a woman. Hope I’m wrong.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Matt says:

      I’m delighted to bring you a smidge of hope. They absolutely went with her policy suggestion. Her question about being afraid when the elevator doors opened moved the needle.

      I’m sure there wasn’t 100% buy-in. Major division in the U.S. about that subject matter.

      But empathy won the day. I perceive that to be a good thing.

      Thank you for sharing your story here. I couldn’t agree more strongly with the notion that trust can only exist in a relationship in which both partners are moving toward one another. Working on themselves on behalf of the other and the marriage.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Rodney says:

    Wondering Matt, if all of this advice you are giving has worked for you….if you are still single??

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I respectfully reject the framing of your question. This isn’t a PR campaign for everyone to attract a mate. This is an honest personal-growth assessment as to whether we can develop new habits to avoid accidentally hurting our partners and ourselves in our blindspots.

      I have not remarried. It’s been a very intentional decision up to this point. It’s not as if I’ve tried a bunch of times and failed, or have been rejected after a number of marriage proposals.

      People like me. My dating life has been healthy and free of conflict and dysfunction.

      People can practice mindful habits of validating and considering their spouses and romantic partners, and measure the amount of trust and cooperative functionality that exists.

      Or, they can NOT mindfully practice validating and considering their partners, and they can measure how far that gets them. I don’t offer anything that can’t be tried and tested in one’s personal life.

      I trust people to decide for themselves whether the way I talk about things can help them. Nothing is for everyone.

      There’s a lot of relationship conflict out there — a lot of mistrust between people — and the individuals involved often don’t know why. They don’t understand how their relationship slowly and subtly eroded to whatever shittier thing it is now.

      Sometimes (I’ll argue most of the time) the ideas I share explain how and why this happens to otherwise very good, smart, well-intentioned couples who wanted to be together forever, but are now in various states of pain, stress, anxiety, and conflict every day.

      I think people deserve better than to stumble into that mountain of sadness in their 30s and 40s with a handful of children who are going to grow up and model nearly identical behavior.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. wilsonlydia says:

    Getting into into the elevator trigger some imaginery memories that I won’t forget for some they are excited to get in there

    Liked by 1 person

  14. dangermom says:

    Men will just listen to other men say things they won’t hear from women — any women. We’ve struggled for years, because of several factors, and at the beginning of this summer something happened that had me seriously considering asking him to leave if he couldn’t agree to a short list of changed behaviors. I said to my friends that I wished some guy would come along and tell him the things I keep trying to tell him. (Actually I’ve been wishing that for a long time!) Well, he went out to lunch with a guy we know whose family has been going through a couple of the same issues. And guess what, the guy said exactly the thing that I’ve been saying over and over, which is a very simple thing. And he did (after a day or two) tell me about it and that he recognized I’d been saying the same thing — but it obviously hit him completely differently. He actually heard it.

    I’m not at all sure that we’re going to survive. It’s iffy at best. And here is a question I have: the articles I read say over and over that women do this thing where they talk and try and talk and try and then they give up, go quiet, and plan to leave. And the guy only notices when she actually leaves, because men really only notice actions. OK, well…what on earth ‘action’ is there that women are supposed to take before they get all the way to walking out? I would really like to know. Because I have spent much of this summer thinking about walking, and I’ve been pretty close to giving up.

    Like

    • Jessica Kaufman says:

      There doesn’t seem to be one, not in my experience.

      Like

    • Jessica Kaufman says:

      All because can say is, the sooner you leave, the sooner you’ll know–either he listens, or you are free.

      Is it possible to ask him what it was about his friend’s comments that made a difference to him? I can imagine that it might not be, so no worries if you can’t.

      Like

      • It seems to have been a couple of things. 1. It’s a guy saying it, 2. who started with the same opinions my husband has. The fact that they share a lot of opinions really was a big part of it; he never would have heard it from, say, this one other guy we know who has also had the same thing in his family, who husband dislikes and disagrees with. (Sorry, I’m trying to be vague for privacy, and boy howdy it’s hard!) But he wouldn’t have heard it from a woman; some part of his brain would have simply discounted it before it got far enough in there to be heard.

        And that’s not to say that he never listens to me. And I did manage to get through to him with one of Matt’s explanations a while back (thanks Matt!). But if it’s something he doesn’t like, that part of his brain kicks in with ‘irrational woman’ or something to let him off the hook of having to think very much about it.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Prospect says:

      You might still want to walk, but not before listening to this podcast. They get a mixed press and seem to be harsh. They’re not and only have women’s interests at heart. They basically cover everything you’ve mentioned in your post with practical advice and strategy.

      Like

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