Tag Archives: Wife

The One Where I Defend My Ideas Against Charges of Sexism and a Lack of Credibility

defensive

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Mary said:

It’s still an extremely negative piece that includes such statements as decent men ‘trying their God’s honest best … are accidentally napalming their homes and closest relationships.’ You feel that trying their best isn’t good enough, that in order to succeed men have to be selfless and humble.’ Your piece doesn’t take into account that relationships fail for a bunch of reasons and they are not all about what men did wrong to get them to that place. You say you’d like to be a teacher, but except for your experience of divorce and separation from your child, what makes you qualified to? You say that ‘men are going to have a lot to do with humanity’s future.’ If you’re writing from the perspective of the early 20th century, then you’ve got a point. Some women may still be attracted to high status men, but mostly they’re busy out there creating their own high status professions.

Three things about Mary’s comment bothered me.

  1. Mary disagreed with my take, and just like everyone else in the world, I have a very high opinion of my opinions and an immature tendency to cling to my beliefs. Maybe I’m wrong. I never pretend to know for sure. But I do write more confidently today than I ever have, because I keep getting more certain, not less, that I’m onto something.
  2. Mary questioned my “qualifications.” I don’t have any other than my ridiculously large data sample. I don’t claim to be anything other than some divorced idiot trying to help people divorce less.
  3. Mary interprets my request for men to assume responsibility for growing and changing to be sexist, as if the constant invalidation of women isn’t the very thing I’ve identified as the root cause of marriage problems.

So, I responded, and because I’m me, it turned into a post-length thing, so screw it—I might as well share it.

(Apologies for temporarily suspending my Things Men Don’t Know series. There may be a lot of people out there who feel as Mary does, so here’s my take on all of this.)

Why Marriage and Divorce Must Get More Attention

From a blog comment exchange:

In any given 1,000- to 1,500-word post, there is only so much territory one can cover, Mary. I hope you don’t think the limits of my thoughts are all contained in this tiny little collection of words and sentences.

If you’d like me to give you the bird’s-eye view of my general theories and “qualifications,” I’ll be happy to.

Here’s the rundown:

MOST people get married. Statistically, 95 percent of adults 18+ are either married, formerly married, or are planning on marrying one day.

So, that’s 9.5 out of every 10 people. Significant, no?

And of those people, what happens?

Well, statistically, a young man asks a young woman to marry him. He usually spends $6,000+ on a ring, and has spent the better part of two or more years considering whether he should. When she says “Yes,” they plan a wedding, and on average, spend $30,000 on it and invite 300 or more of their closest friends and family.

Two free-thinking adults with no one forcing this on them. They, all on their own, considered all of their options in life and thought: “Yes. I want to marry this very specific human being, and I understand it is a spiritual/legal contract for the rest of my life. I’m so confident about this, I’m going to sign the contract, and publically exchange vows in front of everyone I know, and spend a crap-ton of money on it.”

So, they’re serious, right? Not coerced or anything. They mean this shit.

But THEN. As sure as the sun rises and sets each day, one half of all of those people who did that get divorced. ONE HALF. Even though they’ve been married 5, 10, or even more years, share homes, financial resources, social circles, and children.

70% of those divorces are initiated by the wives.

Of the remaining half of people who stay married, what percentage of them report that their marriages are filled with love and happiness and contentment and mutual partnership and tons of life satisfaction?

I don’t know. But I know damn well there are a TON of unhappily married people.

Regardless of how many divorces actually occur, the MAJORITY of marriages fail.

I think it’s a crisis and not enough people are talking about it.

So we have this thing — marriage. It’s significant because 95% of people are affected by it.

And two people who, let’s be honest and real, are usually very decent, well-meaning people (not secretly masochistic or evil or plotting some huge emotional terrorist attack seven years from now to ruin the lives of spouses and children and extended families)… they’re failing.

They’re failing at the thing that matters the most, hurts the most, is the most significant and foundational thing in our earthly day-to-day lives. The people we live with, rely on, know best, share the most resources with, do the most for, get the most from, etc., etc., etc.

THOSE two people are so unhappy that they choose to end their marriage and go through a really difficult life event. According to the Holmes & Rahe Stress Scale, divorce is the #2 most stressful thing that can happen to a human being, following only the death of a spouse.

Divorce is a big deal. It hurts people and changes their lives PROFOUNDLY.

And I think I know why most divorce happens.

At first, it was a simple educated guess, and I wrote about it in the first-person because MY story, it turns out, is A LOT of people’s stories.

There wasn’t addiction, abuse, affairs, gambling problems, crime, etc. going on.

We were just two pretty smart, pretty decent, totally well-intentioned people who married at 25 and accidentally harmed one another over the course of our nine-year marriage.

That’s what MOST people do, Mary.

How do I know? I don’t. I don’t ever pretend to know anything, for sure. I just believe things like everyone else, but I try to come to these beliefs in a responsible way.

Perhaps second only to the Gottman Institute, I have a MASSIVE data sample of blog comments and emails.

“Oh my God. You’re describing my marriage exactly.”

“It’s like you’re observing my life.”

“Why aren’t more people talking about this? This is it exactly!”

Maybe you don’t think my conclusions are valid. That’s okay. People disagree about all kinds of things.

Wives, women, have PLENTY of culpability in the failing of marriage. Some are married to good guys who DO do the right things, and they’re largely responsible for the marriage failing. Others respond inappropriately and ineffectively to their husbands’ well-intentioned mistakes or misunderstandings.

But, in my humble opinion, MOST of the time, men behave in marriage as I did.

During a disagreement, we believe we are right, which means our wives MUST be wrong.

We constantly deny our wives the right to care about things we deem meaningless.

My most-commonly cited example is a dish left by the sink.

Any woman who would end her marriage over a simple dish left by the sink is an overly emotional, control-freak, nagging, hard-to-please bitch, right? Someone without her priorities straight?

But what about a man who hears his wife tell him dozens, perhaps HUNDREDS of times that something he is doing HURTS her? Causes her pain. Makes her feel unloved, unwanted and disrespected?

And each time, hundreds of times, over and over and over again, he says: “You’re crazy. You’re wrong. Your feelings are stupid. I’m not changing, because I don’t agree that the things I’m doing actually hurts you. It wouldn’t hurt me. So it SHOULDN’T hurt you.”

She can take it for a month. For a year. Sometimes for 10 years, especially when she has young children whose home she doesn’t want to break up.

But sooner or later, the levee breaks.

Sooner or later, when the person who vowed in front of everyone you both knew that he would love and honor you forever, tells you for the thousandth time that he doesn’t give a shit about your pain and suffering, and doesn’t value nor acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, you’re going to go find a better way to live.

Life is too short to have the one person who you committed to for life make you feel shitty every day.

GOOD men, with good hearts do this to their wives. They do it ALL THE TIME.

They struggle so much with the idea that their wives can actually feel pain and suffering from things that don’t matter to them.

A dish by the sink? Who cares, right?

She cares.

And when you tell her the things she cares about don’t matter, and you’re not honoring them, you destroy your marriage, no matter how much you “think and feel” love for your spouse.

It’s a fundamental lack of empathy.

It is a husband’s greatest crime. And the #1 cause of relationship breakdowns and divorce on the planet today.

It just is.

And if men got that shit buttoned up, 80%-plus of the “crimes” women commit in marriage would go away, because most of them are REACTIONS to men’s general lack of empathy and willingness to listen and communicate.

This isn’t about sexism.

This isn’t about blame.

It’s about math and reality and truth.

It’s about living through something painful and life-changing and sharing it with others in the hopes that they won’t ever have to feel the same way.

I hope it makes people uncomfortable. The hard truths always do. If people aren’t a little uncomfortable, I always assume that means they’re doing it wrong.

I’m sorry if you think there’s something wrong with that, or if you think I’m somehow making the situation worse.

This is how I try to help.

I don’t know how to not.

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‘Should I Divorce My Wife?’

man drinking alone at bar

(Image/Improvemant.com)

You two are fighting a lot, sleeping in separate places, not having sex, nor really even talking to each other any more than you have to.

You haven’t felt like yourself—the person you remember being growing up—in months. Maybe years.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how you got here.

That’s probably because no one thing caused this. It was a series of many tiny, mostly undetectable moments over the course of months and years, many of which you’ve forgotten about. There may even be things you don’t realize are on the Reasons Why This Is Happening list.

Maybe one of you had a sexual or emotional affair.

Maybe someone very close to one of you died.

Maybe you lost a job or are having financial difficulties.

Those tend to be the big things that camouflage all the little things.

Maybe addiction problems are driving a wedge between you. (Maybe even stuff you don’t consider to be addictions, like video games or pornography.)

Or, maybe you’re a little bit like me and can’t pinpoint exactly where everything went off-track. You only know you’re several years into this marriage and none of it feels like you thought it would back when you said “I do” in front of everyone who mattered.

There’s no one-size-fits-all diagnosis or a specific One Thing that kills a marriage. But the laundry list of “little” things that break relationships and the hearts of those in them all tend to live in the same bucket, and look and sound the same as everyone else’s story.

In other words: No matter what your particular set of shitty-marriage circumstances looks and feels like, you can rest assured that you’re not the only one.

I Was You Once

I don’t talk about it much. In fact, I don’t think I ever have. The time I considered divorcing my wife.

Maybe because it doesn’t fit the narrative of her leaving me and the gargantuan cloud of fuckness that infected me for a long time afterward because it turned out to be the last thing I ever wanted, and the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

It was, like, bad.

I cried sometimes and felt like a massive loser and failure. Like I’d let everyone down. And to this day, I have significant shame issues any time a life situation forces me to acknowledge my failed marriage to someone new.

My little boy. My parents and family. Her parents and family. Our friends.

And later, any married person.

It’s easy to feel like you’ve failed all of them, or like you don’t measure up to all the people who didn’t mess up like you did.

(It gets better when you realize that they actually DO mess up and simply mask it well, OR mess up at other life things that you have a good handle on. You’re a human being with inconvenient thoughts and feelings, as well as certain fears, anxieties, insecurities and personal vices. Everyone has that same list of suckage. It’s the minutiae that varies from person to person. You’re not a freak or fundamentally different than anyone else. Promise.)

So, yeah.

I totally considered initiating a divorce with my wife.

I was sleeping in the guest bedroom. She wasn’t particularly nice to me. She didn’t make me feel good. She wasn’t interested in doing anything with me. We never touched one another. After several years of marriage, she’d sometimes leave for work in the morning or go upstairs to bed at night without saying a word to me.

It hurt.

I thought she was a cold, cruel, unforgiving shell of a human being who didn’t like nor love me.

I didn’t think it was fair that I felt the way I did because of how she was treating me. I didn’t think it was fair that she had advocated to get married when I was still young and scared only to be acting this way now. And it seemed obvious that being single again, or maybe with someone else, would drastically improve my day-to-day life experience, mentally and emotionally.

If we didn’t share a beautiful son, and I hadn’t spent the previous 30 years vowing to never get divorced like my parents, I’d have walked out like a huge moronic asshole, and spent the rest of my life telling people over bar drinks what a raw deal I got, and how unlucky her next boyfriend or husband will be.

The Hard Questions

It took me a long time and a bunch of misery and depression to piece the mystery together. To be able to tell the REAL story.

And had it never hurt, maybe I’d have never asked myself the right questions: What have I done to cause this? What could I have done differently to avoid having my marriage and family fall apart? How much of this might have been avoided had I made better, less-selfish choices?

Those are hard questions.

Not if you lie to yourself and others like I would have had I kept blaming my wife for everything and feeling sorry for myself like a helpless butt-hurt victim.

They’re hard questions when you’re willing to tell yourself the truth, even if it’s inconvenient.

Those are the answers that gut you from the inside. They’re the ones that make you throw up with tears streaming down your face.

All those times you told her she was crazy or wrong simply because she disagreed with you. All those times you chose video games and poker night to sitting next to her. All those times you chose fun excursions with your buddies and left her alone, yet never invested a similar amount of time and energy to planning fun things for her and you to do together. All those times you jerked off to porn or thoughts of someone else instead of investing that desire and energy into the person you once loved and wanted so much that YOU asked HER to marry you.

They’re the uncomfortable truths.

The ones that keep you up at night and generate all those What Might Have Beens.

A stronger, more courageous, and all-around better version of yourself emerges once you’ve asked and answered all the hard questions.

Because it typically turns out that you weren’t the stupid idiot who married the wrong girl.

The inconvenient truth is typically that you were the stupid idiot who didn’t know that all those things you were doing instead of paying attention to your wife and marriage were a lot less harmless than you’d thought.

All those things you thought were stupid and petty and nagging, yet would have been so damn easy to accommodate with a tiny bit of graciousness and unselfishness, weren’t so stupid and petty after all.

You didn’t know it would all lead to this moment right now. Standing there with puke on your chin, snot dripping from your nose, and salty tears you never realized were trapped behind those red eyes.

And then it happens. Something unexpectedly good in the midst of all the soul-sucking shittiness.

Hope.

Because now you’ve got a real chance.

Should you divorce your wife?

Who can say?

Before we start to guess, I’d ask you to first take off the mask and make yourself really uncomfortable playing Devil’s Advocate against your self-preservation instincts.

You’ll know you’re on the right track once you start to squirm. You’ll know you’re in the right place once you identify the moments that seemed so benign and unimportant at the time, but actually changed the whole world.

The kind of moments that might crop up again, and give us an opportunity to right a few wrongs.

An opportunity to be courageous.

An opportunity to be men.

Should you divorce your wife?

We can talk about it later. Though the truth is, when the time is right, you’ll already know the answer.

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Influence Your Relationship Using the 6 Principles of Persuasion

influence

(Image/justinmarroquin.com)

Most divorce and breakups could be avoided if the partner most dedicated to the relationship could effectively persuade or influence the other to adjust their behavior or communication habits in relationship-strengthening ways.

You know—theoretically.

In real life, the problem often lies in one person believing their ideas, opinions and ways of doing things are right while their partner’s hare-brained ideas, opinions and stupid way of doing things are wrong.

Sadly, it frequently breaks down along gender lines.

It’s good for all of the people who can benefit from the whole Mars/Venus, Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti concept.

It’s bad for all of the people who don’t fit neatly into those molds, and value things like equality and not being pigeonholed by stereotypical labels.

I think most rapists and serial killers are white men. It would be awesome if people didn’t assume I’m a threat to rape or kill someone based on my gender and skin color. I think other people with different skin colors and gender profiles probably feel the same.

Yet, mountains of Gottman Institute data has demonstrated that the top predictor of divorce has direct ties to gendered behavior, and that is: A husband’s willingness to accept his wife’s influence has the greatest statistical correlation to, and is the No. 1 predictor of, whether or not a marriage will last.

Sorry guys.

Understanding What Influences Human Behavior

That’s a powerful word.

Influence.

I like it. I like how it sounds, what it means, and the idea of people being influential (if you’re not an evil dickface planning a poison Kool-Aid® party or whatever).

Setting aside my belief that many men are accidentally sexist because of their Father Knows Best upbringings where they were exposed to women catering to, or being belittled by, men who were the bosses, primary decision makers, and group or organizational leaders by virtue of their stoic manliness and not being slaves to their emotions and menstrual cycles like all those diaper-changing, laundry-folding, lunch-packing women… setting all that to the side for a moment…

Human beings, regardless of gender or any other categorical label, often believe things or react emotionally to things in ways that are radically different than another person. It happens all the time, every day, in every conceivable type of relationship or life scenario.

First, something happens.

Then one person thinks and feels one way about it. And another person thinks and feels something different. It’s common for the two people to debate whose thoughts and feelings are better, or right, or most accurate.

Sometimes the debates are reasonably friendly and/or professional.

Other times, such disagreements can lead to name-calling, or fist fights, or divorce, or homicide, or violent riots and rebellion, or one country bombing another country.

It’s a problem.

An incalculable amount of human misery is generated by the equivalent of someone with colorblindness identifying something as being green (the color they accurately see) fighting with someone who sees the same object as being red.

When we tell people that their feelings and life experiences are wrong, and deny honoring their wants or needs simply because they’re not the same as ours, we end up breaking a lot of things AND being stupid assholes. Because if we had the same eyes and brain as the person we’re talking to, we’d see the color green, too.

The 6 Principles of Influence and Persuasion

The most sensible solution, I believe, is to master the skill of empathy and teach it to our children at home and in schools.

But that’s like saying the most sensible solution to our financial problems is finding hidden pirate treasure or riding our pet unicorns to Leprechaun McGee’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The transformation of the current human race into a more empathetic version that won’t fight and troll one another on the internet at every opportunity will probably take longer than it takes my 8-year-old to put his shoes on before school. (An inexplicably and painfully long time.)

So, we turn to the next-best thing: Persuasion.

We develop the ability to influence those within our influential sphere—the most important being our marriage/relationship partners, our children, our co-workers, etc.

The long-time thought leader in the psychology-of-persuasion space is a man named Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, and author of the classic Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Cialdini spent 35 years studying what moves people to change behavior, and broke it down into six basic principles.

Cialdini wrote the book to help people protect themselves from manipulative mind tricks (from con artists and shady sales pitches), and to help marketers tap into the human psyche ethically to succeed in their profession.

But since only a small percentage of people work in marketing and since I believe marriages and families matter more than product sales, I thought it might be interesting to explore how we could use persuasive behavior to positively influence our partners in an effort to strengthen our relationships.

Principle #1: Reciprocation

We feel indebted to people who give us gifts or do nice things for us. And we are societally conditioned to think of people unwilling to reciprocate favors as assholes. And since we don’t want to be assholes, we are much more likely to do things for people who have done things for us.

“The implication is that you have to go first. Give something: give information, give free samples, give a positive experience to people and they will want to give you something in return,” Cialdini said.

I know what many of you are thinking: “But Matt!!! That’s bullshit!!! I do EVERYTHING for my spouse and children, and they don’t do anything for me!!!”

I get it.

Your partner and/or family takes you for granted. Welcome to the human experience.

This exercise isn’t about what feels fair.

It’s about influencing another human being to do something we want them to do. When we are willing to go first, and give before we try to get, we have a MUCH greater chance of cooperation from anyone.

What nice thing could we do for our partners that they don’t expect that might earn us a kind and empathetic ear when we want to ask them to do something for us?

Principle #2: Social Proof

When people are uncertain about a particular course of action, we tend to look around for cues from others to help guide our actions and decisions.

Cialdini and a research team conducted an experiment to see what type of messaging on hotel room signs would result in hotel guests reusing their bathroom towels.

Sign #1 cited environmental reasons.

Sign #2 said the hotel would donate a portion of laundry savings to an environmental cause.

Sign #3 said the hotel had already made the donation and asked “Will you please join us?”

Sign #4 said the majority of hotel guests reused their towels at least once during their stay.

When guests were told that most other hotel guests were reusing their towels, they were more likely to comply with the request. Sign #4 got 48 percent of experiment participants to reuse their towels.

I would STRONGLY discourage someone from telling their spouse that “So-and-so does all these great things for his/her spouse! Why can’t you do them for me, loser?” and contrasting undesirable behavior with something that looks more attractive. That will prove counterproductive.

But, how might we use proven, successful relationship behavior from other people to help influence our partners to change a harmful behavior?

Principle #3: Commitment and Consistency

Obviously, people don’t always do what they say they are going to do. That probably includes more than half of everyone who has ever made a public marriage vow.

However, the science is the science. People are more likely to do something after agreeing to it verbally or in writing.

People strive for consistency in their commitments, and prefer to follow pre-existing attitudes, values and actions, Cialdini said.

How might we (with kindness and good intentions) get our partners to reaffirm their commitments to our relationships in ways that might foster more connection and positive love- and intimacy-related feelings?

Principle #4: Liking

“People prefer to say yes to those they know and like,” Cialdini said.

Physical attraction, shared traits, and being paid compliments MAJORLY influences who we like.

People struggling in shitty relationships often love, but don’t really “like” being around, their partners. Try to look beyond that for a minute.

In the context of this psychological principle, something super-subtle like having a similar name nearly doubled the likelihood of someone responding to a survey request by actually participating in it.

For example, someone named Robert James was almost twice as likely (56% to 30%) to comply with a request if asked by someone with a similar name like Bob Ames, than he was by someone named Matt Fray.

The key takeaway for relationships, I believe, is learning how to be knowledgeable about our partner’s existing preferences.

Sales people greatly improve their chances of making a sale by demonstrating that they understand their customer’s personal preferences.

Couldn’t that same principle work in our behavior toward our spouses?

Principle #5: Authority

Most people tend to respect authority figures. Not just our bosses at work or police officers, but even people like the medical office workers checking our insurance cards and asking us to fill out sign-in sheets at our doctor appointments, and others, such as flight attendants.

That’s why con artists commonly pose as company officials via email, on the phone, or by wearing some type of uniform when they knock on doors. It’s to appear “official” and authoritarian.

We tend to follow the lead of real experts.

There are an endless amount of helpful resources on improving relationships and marriage, with one of the most obvious being the Gottman Institute, and their science-based approach using big data to uncover the secrets of happy marriages, and the hallmark traits of relationships that are doomed.

How can we cleverly use an authentic expert to influence our partner to take a certain action?

Principle #6: Scarcity

Ahh. Good ol’ scarcity.

The genesis of all “Act fast! These deals end soon!” messaging and the reason why those brilliant countdown clocks on Amazon and Living Social products sometimes prompt us to click that “Buy Now” button sooner than we might otherwise.

It’s the most basic premise of economic theory: The less there is of something, the more valuable it is.

People are drawn to, and willing to overpay for, rare and uncommon things that other people also want.

Cialdini didn’t need to conduct any new experiments to prove that people OFTEN want what they can’t have.

This bears out in shitty marriages all the time. Husbands frequently demonstrate indifference in their romantic relationships with their wives, and fight with her when she calls him on it, but then freak out and cry a lot when she finally decides to leave him.

That’s kind of how it went for me, too.

While it might be tempting to threaten divorce or withhold sex in a misguided effort to manipulate our partner in a reverse-psychology sort of way, I think any relationship-damaging behavior (which any type of cruel or unloving manipulation would be) defeats the purpose of using persuasion and influence to strengthen our connections with those we love.

But the question remains: How can we use the SUPER-powerful “Fear of missing out” phenomenon to influence our partners in healthy ways to adjust a behavior that might save or strengthen our marriage?

Influencing others isn’t about luck or sorcery. It’s science.

It’s simply caring about something enough to figure out how it functions, and how best to care for it to keep it operating at a high level for a very long time.

It’s simply caring enough about the people we love to figure out how best to care for them in a way that keeps their hearts, minds and spirits functioning at high levels for a very long time.

Like, longer than my son’s putting-his-shoes-on process.

Like, forever.

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Is He the One?: How to Know Whether You Should Marry Him

litmus test

(Image/Broken Bread Club)

I used to leave a drinking glass by the kitchen sink instead of putting it in the dishwasher, and then argue with my wife when she complained about it.

I wrote that story a year ago, and since, more than five million people read it on this blog, and several million more read it elsewhere.

I call it “the dishes post,” even though it’s about a lot more than dishes. When I was asked today in an email whether there was a way to know BEFORE marriage that someone who by all appearances is a good man, might be a shitty husband, I realized the dishes post also serves as an excellent marriage litmus test.

She asked: “But, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a way for a woman to know or predict that *before* getting married? Red flags are obvious (infidelity, abuse, jealousy, etc.) but what about far-less obvious stuff?”

It’s a good question. And a year ago, I wouldn’t have been brazen enough to answer it. But when millions of people read something, share it with their friends and family saying: “THIS!!! This guy gets it!!!” and guys send me private emails telling me that it helped them finally understand why he and his wife or girlfriend always have the same fight over and over again, and that I helped him save his marriage, I feel emboldened even if it’s unjustified.

The Marriage Litmus Test

It could be dishes by the sink. It could be dirty socks thrown next to the hamper. It could be pee dribble on the toilet seat. It could be muddy shoes on the floor. It could be unrinsed shaving cream and facial-hair stubble crusted to the sides of the sink basin.

It doesn’t matter what the Thing is. Everyone has different Things.

It’s the Thing He Does Which Hurts Your Feelings or Disrespects You, And Then Acts Like You’re Crazy or Wrong When You Say So.

It usually goes like this:

Behavior X = The Thing That Hurts. Sometimes there are several things.

But Behavior X does not hurt him. In other words, dirty socks on the floor might bother you, but it doesn’t bother him. Because it doesn’t bother him, he thinks it’s irrational for it to bother you.

Thus, in his mind, the simple and best solution is not for him to stop throwing socks on the floor, but for you to stop letting your irrational emotions ruin your day.

“Why are you freaking out about something so minor and petty? Just let it go, babe! It’s not a big deal! I’ll pick them up later!”

I think you probably get it. So, here’s the test:

Step 1: Identify things or behaviors your boyfriend does which hurts your feelings.

Step 2: Say so. Kindly. Patiently. Honestly.

If he gets it, and says words and adjusts behavior to demonstrate that he gets it, he passes The Marriage Litmus Test with an A+. Congratulations!

This is uncommon. More likely are the following types of responses:

1. Dismissal — Treating your concern as unimportant like shooing away a flying insect.

2. Outrage — Responding as if you’re wrong, even going so far as to blame you for finding reasons to feel angry and start fights.

3. Avoidance — Denying you the opportunity to explain yourself because “Now’s not a good time for this,” and choosing to focus his energy and attention elsewhere.

Which means The Marriage Litmus Test continues. He doesn’t know how much is at stake, just like cigarette smokers in the 1960s didn’t know that smoking caused cancer. He’s not intentionally causing harm. He’s accidentally causing harm by choosing activities he honestly doesn’t know are bad.

Patience must be maintained. If you flip shit on him during the test, the test results will be invalid, because flipping your shit is ALSO not okay, no matter how easily and automatically you might slip into lashing out angrily.

Step 3: Kindly and honestly communicate that the Dismissal/Outrage/Avoidance response ALSO hurts, just like The Thing.

And for the sake of leading by example, kindly ask when a good time might be to talk about it more with him. NOT to criticize. But to help bridge the misunderstanding because you want your partner to understand where you’re coming from, just as you want to understand his perspective. You want to spend the rest of your relationship not fighting over silly things.

If he refuses to ever talk about it because you’re being a stupid, nagging, bitchy idiot, then maybe it’s time to leave. Because, without a major shift, your relationship is doomed.

If he agrees to a later conversation, and honors that commitment, things are looking good, and he may still earn an A.

Step 4: During the conversation, follow The 4 Easy Steps For Getting Your Husband to Finally Listen to You.

Not everyone’s brains work exactly the same. It is common for two people to view the same thing totally differently, which is why you’re having the conversation in the first place. Just because two people disagree DOES NOT make one wrong and the other right. Not all disagreements have an objectively true answer, like whether chocolate tastes better than vanilla.

Chocolate tastes better to me. Others prefer vanilla. The reasons are unique to each individual.

The trick is to understand what HURTS your boyfriend. So many guys mask their pains for fear of losing their Man Cards that sometimes their girlfriends don’t actually know what hurts them.

And it’s truly this simple:

Thing That Hurts Guy = Guy Hurting

And in EXACTLY that same way…

Boyfriend Behavior Being Discussed = Girlfriend Hurting

Each instance of the behavior caused a paper cut. And it just kept happening. Paper cuts. They don’t kill you. But it really hurts and is totally debilitating to get them over and over and over again. And ultimately, too many cuts becomes a fatal wound.

The Test Results

Even though a paper cut won’t kill me, I’m not going to choose a relationship with someone who repeatedly cuts me with paper, even after I point out that it’s happening.

My partner may accidentally give me a paper cut thoughtlessly. If she demonstrates clear remorse and pledges to stop, I will respond differently than if she says: “Toughen up, pussy. They’re just paper cuts.”

Everyone will have a different pain tolerance and threshold, as well as different reasons (they might have children together, for example) for grading the Marriage Litmus Test on a curve.

In the end, it’s up to each person to establish their personal boundaries and to enforce them. People who don’t communicate and enforce their boundaries are doomed to a life of other people making them miserable.

In the end, a guy who doesn’t “get it” or refuses to try will make a shitty husband, even if he’s a good guy in other areas.

He’ll just keep on cutting you with paper. Maybe not on purpose. But eventually, through negligence.

In the end, a guy who believes there’s a clear winner in the Chocolate vs. Vanilla debate, and that anyone who doesn’t agree with his opinion is wrong, will ultimately prove to be an insufferable asshole and shitty husband who will purposefully or inadvertently teach your kids to be insufferable assholes.

But just maybe, once your boyfriend understands that something that doesn’t hurt him and that he never intended to be harmful CAN STILL HURT YOU, and it registers with him how dangerous and abusive it is when people suffer that way, everything will change.

He may still paper-cut you accidentally now and then. But when you say so kindly, the moment won’t turn into another fight.

It will turn into a moment that brings you closer together.

Because he knows what he didn’t before, and because he’s a good guy, he’s going to try hard to not hurt you.

And because you know that when you do feel hurt, it will be safe to tell him, and you can trust he will always have your best interests (and those of your future family) at heart.

Sometimes, he’ll disappoint you. And it will hurt. Maybe one day that pain will be replaced by gratitude for avoiding a toxic marriage.

But sometimes, he’ll surprise you. In a good way. Because he passed the Marriage Litmus Test.

Because you found the one for you.

And that’s where Happily Ever After — at least the real-life, non-fairytale version — begins.

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When Your Spouse Dies and You Miss Their Dirty Socks on the Floor

dirty socks on the floor

(Image/The Livingston Post)

After her husband died unexpectedly, the dirty socks and pants she used to find thrown on the bedroom floor became something she missed.

She avoided washing his last load of laundry as long as she could. Savoring this once-annoying moment as she realized how much she would miss it.

Debbie Wilkins Baisden recounts this story and the life lesson it provided in her article “Stop Being a Butthole Wife.”

Everyone who has ever written about male-female relationships could have predicted what happened next.

Everyone in happy, peaceful marriages read it and said: “Amen, sister! Don’t sweat the small stuff!”

Wives frustrated and angry with their husbands who leave dirty laundry on the floor, and dirty dishes next to the sink said: “I know you’re sad your husband died, but that doesn’t mean we should excuse the disrespectful behavior! I’m not my husband’s maid, and he needs to respect me and pick up after himself!”

And then a guy would reply: “Why do you believe you have the right to command your husband to do things your way, or dictate the terms of your marriage when he feels differently? You’re not his mother!”

And then a married or divorced wife would reply: “The person who does all the cleaning should make the rules!”

And then a married guy would reply: “I suppose that’s what you say and feel when your husband is outside shoveling snow, or fixing the plumbing, or taking garbage to the curb! You feminists have ruined marriage!”

And then a woman would reply: “Actually, you misogynists are the ones who ruined marriage!”

And then more people would internet-scream at each other about who is responsible or to blame for their problems, the premise always being that “If only men/women would stop doing (insert ‘crime’ here), we wouldn’t have all these relationship problems!”

If I Blame Everything on Divorce, Then Nothing is Ever My Fault

That’s my life in a nutshell.

I don’t do it on purpose.

I don’t sit around thinking: This is all totally my fault, but I’ll just blame it on someone or something else for public-relations reasons and trick everyone.

But I do often catch myself blaming divorce for things.

I was popular and well-liked growing up. (Or at least, I THOUGHT I was popular and well-liked, which has the same effect on your mind and body even if it wasn’t true.)

I assumed everyone I met liked me, and I assumed everyone I would meet would like me, and that made me mostly fearless.

I made friends easily. Girls seemed to like me. Friends’ parents, teachers, and coaches all seemed to as well.

I had many friends. Both in high school and college. In two different states because my mom and dad lived in different places.

I struggled with the transition to domesticated, couples-based socializing after my girlfriend/fiancée/wife and I started our life together, and everything converted from big-group activities and parties, to small dinner parties and small-group gatherings.

But as time passed and I matured, I found peace and pleasure with the ebb and flow of being married and couples-based socializing as we all began building careers and families.

Then the hits started coming around age 30.

The fight about where we should live and work.

The birth of our son.

The death of a parent.

The near-universal husband/wife clashes over money, household chores, and how we treated one another when things got rough.

It’s the slow march to divorce most people don’t see coming nor recognize as it’s happening, but it mostly looks the same for everyone in failing or failed marriages.

My wife stopped liking me.

Then, stopped loving me.

She’s not big on pretending, so I felt the change. And one day at a time, it started pecking at my insides.

Next thing I knew, I was sleeping in the guest room and freaking out.

Then, she was gone, and I freaked out harder.

Then—I don’t know. That’s now, I guess. “Then” is now. On April 1, it will be four years since my marriage ended.

It’s a big blur in my head that feels simultaneously lightning-fast and like an agonizing eternity.

I only know this: When the story began, everyone liked me, I wasn’t afraid of anything, and life was awesome. And now? I worry about people liking me. I’m afraid of all kinds of things. And life is just okay.

It’s easy to blame her for my life and feel sorry for myself.

It’s easy to blame her when she goes on vacations with her boyfriend and our old couples friends.

It’s easy to blame her when she goes on trips with our son and families of his new friends from school.

It’s easy to feel: She did this to me. She turned me into someone else, and then dumped the person she made me become.

It’s easy to blame all the hurt and shame and fear and anxiety and inconveniences and difficulties on other people.

I think if men can keep blaming feminism and “nagging wives” for ruining marriage, then men will never have to grow and change.

I think if women can keep blaming misogyny and “shitty husbands” for ruining marriage, then women will never have to grow and change.

Growth and change is hard. Like cooking when you don’t feel like it.

Maybe I’ll just order a pizza.

Maybe someone can start a peaceful-relationship delivery service. Delivering harmony and kindness to our front doors for a small fee.

Nothing Changes Unless We Do

I don’t know Debbie Wilkins Baisden. But as someone helping to popularize the term “shitty husband,” I feel uniquely qualified to guess the following:

Debbie labeling herself a “butthole wife” because she used to complain about her husband’s dirty laundry was NOT to excuse husbands who are slobs, nor to label all wives seeking thoughtfulness and respect from their husbands as “buttholes.”

Me labeling myself a “shitty husband” is NOT me taking on all of the blame for my failed marriage, nor is it to condemn all men who leave laundry on the floor or dishes by the sink as “shitty.”

It’s simply a fun writing convention to talk about where I messed up in my marriage.

Maybe my ex-wife believes she messed up sometimes. I don’t know. I know only that I’m qualified to write about my thoughts, feelings and experiences, and NOT qualified to write about anyone else’s, least of all someone with whom I disagreed with so much, that we ended a marriage with a young child involved.

EVERYTHING is Our Responsibility

Guys LOVE to come back at me with: “This is all just theory and conjecture! If guys do all the stuff you say, they’re just going to get run over by their domineering, emotional, bitchy wives!”

To which I’d reply:

Don’t marry anyone who is domineering, bitchy, or whose emotional reactions you consider intolerable.

I’m simply NOT blaming myself or men for failed marriages. Never have; never will.

I am identifying all of the ways I messed up or made decisions which led to divorce, and asking myself the question: If I hadn’t messed up, and had I made better decisions, isn’t it possible that the events leading to divorce wouldn’t have happened in the first place, and that our marriage would have thrived?

Another good question: If instead of waiting for my wife to grow and change, I proactively grew and changed, isn’t it possible my wife would have felt and responded differently? Isn’t it possible most of our fights would have never happened at all?

Single people can point fingers at certain behaviors and decide for themselves that they’re unacceptable and that they’d never be in a relationship with someone who showcased them. Single people are responsible for their own happiness. Single people are not beholden to others.

Yet, single people almost ALWAYS (to the tune of 95%) pursue long-term relationships with other people, presumably because they believe a long-term relationship will make them happy.

However, the entry fee for a relationship is trading in your Single Person card and exchanging it for a In A Relationship one.

And now, in a certain context, you don’t get to be yourself anymore.

Marriages and Relationships Aren’t Two People Doing Something Together

We talk about two people getting married. And now they’re a couple. Two different people. But a team.

It’s kind of true. But as soon as it gets hard and one person feels like the other is a bad teammate, people start looking for another team to join, or to go back to being a team of one.

But I don’t believe a marriage is two people doing something together.

I believe a marriage is ONE thing. And it’s built from two parts.

What makes an airplane fly? The wings or the engine?

Exactly.

Two different parts, which if EITHER stops functioning, the entire thing goes down.

People fight, fight, fight, fight, and fight some more because they want their spouse to admit to being wrong and acknowledge that he or she was “right.”

And people fight, fight, fight, fight, and fight that EXACT SAME FIGHT until they die or divorce because the husband’s or wife’s goal is to win the fight.

When the airplane’s engine wins enough fights, one of the wings will fall off.

When the airplane’s wings win enough fights, the engine or engines will start to lose thrust.

And then, boom. Fiery explosions and sadness.

The intentions of critical airplane parts should be to maximize the aircraft’s performance, lest they all explode and die.

The intentions of husbands and wives should be to maximize the performance—NOT of themselves, but of the marriage as a unit.

The widowed Debbie missed picking up her husband’s annoying dirty laundry because the marriage was WAY bigger than just her, or just her feelings, or just the laundry, or just anything.

And she shared that experience because it mattered, just as I share mine.

But lost in all the noise, is purpose and meaning. The reasons WHY these stories matter. 

He’s blaming her.

She’s blaming him.

I’m blaming her, and then…

I’m blaming me.

It’s no one’s fault and everyone’s.

And it’s easy to blame, blame, blame, so we all do it some more, even when we don’t need any more blame. We’re totally good on blame now. Quota’s filled.

We need responsibility.

Accountability.

The willingness to serve a thing bigger than just ourselves.

Because that’s where true peace, happiness, love and contentment lives. Or maybe just because you fucking promised. Take your pick.

Maybe we’ll get it right someday.

Maybe even me.

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Commitment Phobia: When Relationship Avoidance Isn’t Dumb

(Image/datingadvice.com)

(Image/datingadvice.com)

I have commitment issues.

The classic kind, like when it’s easy to choose between Chicken, Seafood or Vegetarian at the wedding reception or business luncheon, and hard to choose a meal when perusing massive restaurant menus.

I struggle with committing to future events on my calendar, or choosing which movie to watch, or even committing hypothetically to whether my perfect home is in a city or the peaceful countryside.

Maybe that’s why I live in the suburbs.

I think these commitment issues are unhealthy and neurotic, and do little to help me live my best-possible life.

But there are other kinds of commitment issues, and they often revolve around dating and relationships.

Because I’m single and spend a lot of time discussing relationships due to my writing here, this subject has come up a few times recently, and I think it’s important.

Men often get stereotyped as being afraid of commitment. There are several reasons why—some more noble than others.

But people—especially ones who have suffered emotional trauma from divorce or failed relationships—frequently express fear of commitment because they don’t want to ever feel that hurt again.

It makes sense to me. It’s irrational and joy-robbing, but I get it. We might die from choking or food poisoning when we eat. We might contract the flu from shaking hands with strangers. We might get killed in a car accident during our work commutes.

We fear losing good things ALL THE TIME.

Poor people can lament not having money OR they can feel grateful that they don’t have something they’re afraid to lose or that makes them some kind of target.

Rich people can lament having so much to lose, being targets, and having valuable things to protect OR they can feel grateful for their wealth of resources.

It’s always about perspective.

People who can see and hear and walk could go blind and deaf and become paralyzed from the waist down. Blind, deaf and paraplegic people don’t have those fears.

Parents fear for the safety and wellbeing of their children in profound ways. People without kids rarely think about that at all.

Having something of value in our lives, whether it’s intangible human connection and love, or material possession, often brings with it the burden of being afraid to lose it.

Every moment of our lives involves some kind of tradeoff. To be irrationally afraid of scary future scenarios we totally make up in our heads seems counterproductive.

Therapy. Good discussion. Writing. Deep thinking. All are good tools for overcoming our various neuroses.

But—and I’m admittedly biased—I think there are times when “fearing” commitment is wise and prudent.

People Who Love Hard Should Be ‘Afraid’

Fear is rarely useful outside of prompting us to run from scary things like a fire, or an attacker, or like, a mountain lion or something.

“Cautious” is probably a better word.

Sometimes people tell me they’re surprised I’m still single more than three and a half years after my marriage ended.

But the truth is, I haven’t come particularly close to not being single. Some of that is circumstantial. Some of that is logistical.

But most of it?

It’s because I think I understand what it takes for two individuals to merge their lives into one thing and give it a good chance to go the distance. I think I know what people need to give because I spent a nine-year marriage NOT giving it which predictably ended in ways impossible for me to recognize in the thick of it.

And I haven’t been shy about saying that I’ve been unwilling to give it.

My parenting, life and job responsibilities, and writing pursuits are already more than I can handle. When the day comes, I’ll have to abandon or reshape some of those things in order to give what’s required.

“What’s required?”

Giving more than I take. That’s what. And until a person can do that, I don’t think they’re ready.

I don’t think I’m ready.

This last part is important to me. Because I think it’s—tragically—a big part of what destroyed my marriage and is likely affecting others’ as well.

My friend said it today. She was talking about some of these same relationship fears. She said “I love hard.”

She means she invests a lot of herself into the other person and into her relationships. In the past, that might have caused her to not maintain and enforce personal boundaries as vigilantly as she would today. And when you don’t enforce boundaries, you can find yourself miles down the road with someone and wake up one day like: “Holy shit. I guess we’re, like, boyfriend-girlfriend or whatever.”

And when you love hard in those scenarios, months turn into years, and Like turns into Love.

And when you didn’t enforce compatibility and/or behavioral boundaries early in the process, the relationship suffers, often breaks, and often hurts.

She felt the hurt. And now she’s afraid. But it’s not because she doesn’t get it that she’s afraid. It’s because she does.

I love hard. Or at least, I aspire to.

I loved my girlfriend before she was my fiancée/wife/ex-wife. And because I loved her, I didn’t understand where the fear was coming from regarding my having not proposed after just a year or so together.

We were too young to say the right words. We were too scared to tell the whole truth. She probably felt pressure to get married because some of her friends were, or maybe because of childhood expectations that it should be by a certain age. Maybe she was too afraid to say that she wanted to know whether I was going to propose, because if not, she was going to break up and find someone who would and not waste her time.

Who knows what I was afraid to say. Probably everything.

But I think I was “right”—if there is such a thing—about feeling fear and hesitancy regarding marriage proposal, or even just giving the idea of a future proposal a bunch of lip service.

When you love hard, and Love = Forever, then tell me the difference between promising a proposal and actually proposing. Tell me the difference between proposing and being married.

Divorce was never on my to-do list. I always believed Marriage = Forever.

I would never commit to someone with whom I couldn’t imagine achieving Forever with.

By virtue of BEING in the committed relationship, I was working toward that goal. And when your brain works that way and you love someone with that level of matter-of-factness, it creates the family and marriage-jeopardizing scenario of totally dismissing anyone who tells you they sometimes feel as if you don’t love them.

You start writing them off as “crazy” or “emotional.” Since you think and feel Love, maybe you don’t feel the need to show it. Maybe that seems dumb to you.

I think that’s why many people get divorced. Different interpretations of verbal and non-verbal cues. It seems too subtle to be the reason everything turns to shit. But it doesn’t make it any less true.

Relationships have phases.

“Just dating” morphs into commitment.

Committed dating evolves into engagement or cohabitation.

And engagement/cohabitation often transitions to marriage.

Do you see?

When Marriage = Forever in your mind and heart, THEN engagement ALSO = Forever. And if committed dating = engagement, then you’re left in the funny little place I, along with many who love hard, or have lost much, find themselves.

If committing to dating someone feels essentially the same as engagement, and engagement is essentially the same as marriage, then—as insane as it might sound to some—committing to dating can FEEL pretty close to promising someone Forever.

After divorce? Children? Hard-earned wisdom?

That manifests as commitment phobia. As being “afraid,” or again, “cautious.”

Maybe some people will tell you that’s irrational. That you’re being “dumb.”

But when our hearts and minds are in the right place, I don’t think so.

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The Times When Wives Owe Husbands Sex

wedding rings wifely obligation

(Image/lessonsfromtheendofamarriage.com)

I haven’t read the statutes or consulted an attorney, but it’s conceivable to me that a wife could owe her husband sex if she is employed by a brothel in a place where prostitution is legal, and her husband is a paying customer.

But even that’s debatable. Panera Bread once gypped my son and I out of the cookies we ordered and paid for with our takeout sandwiches. That was, like, three months ago and I’ve probably been back a dozen times since.

Does Panera owe me cookies? Do they?!?!

But seriously. The question of whether married people are obligated to have sex with their spouse is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.

Because the word “owe” isn’t limited to legal, enforceable or contractual obligations. It’s also defined as “to be under a moral obligation to give someone something.”

The most-fair question I can think to ask is this: In instances where two people marry in good faith, sincerely pledging sexual faithfulness to one another for life, could it be said that they have a moral obligation to fulfill one another’s sexual desires?

About Wifely Duties and Submission

The concept of “wifely duties” is rooted in the Christian idea of wives submitting to their husbands. There’s a better-than-average chance you’ve attended a wedding or church service where you heard it. It gives every champion of human equality heartburn. And I imagine it’s incredibly uncomfortable for women (and possibly some men) who’ve been abused at one time or another by a domineering tyrant. I grew up attending church on Sundays, have never been abused by a domineering tyrant, and it STILL makes me uncomfortable.

We should talk about that.

There are two things to deal with before continuing.

The Two Kinds of Sexism

There is overt and intentional sexism perpetrated by men who truly believe they are better than women, and actively work to raise male power and status at the expense of women.

But there’s also what I call Accidental Sexism. I think it’s secretly a major root cause of modern-day relationship failure. Accidental Sexism is what happens when men assume their wives will pick up after them, fold their clothes, cook them dinner, plan family and social activities, etc. because that’s how they remember it working in their childhood homes.

These men are NOT mindfully trying to demean and disrespect their wives. Bad people do that. Most people are not bad. These men are thoughtlessly replicating behaviors modeled for them in childhood, and then feeling unpleasantly surprised when their idea of being a good husband isn’t actually good enough for their spouses.

These men are good men. They care. Their sexism is unintended. They don’t even think their behavior is actually sexist, because “sexist” = “bad guy,” and they know they’re not bad guys.

The Perversion of Christianity

There are huge numbers of Christians who believe the public backlash against Christianity by non-Christians is tantamount to persecution.

This is happening because the actual meaning of the word “Christian” means different things to different people.

There’s the Christian label. A person who was baptized in a Christian church. They check a box on a form, and categorize themselves as Christians. People wearing the Christian label sometimes say and do asshole things. Something evil on colossal levels like drowning children in a bathtub or bombing an abortion clinic, or something on a more Everyday Asshole sort-of level like when I’m behind the wheel and mutter AWFUL things at other drivers that would make Jesus and my grandmother sad.

People see and hear these things and might understandably think: Ugh. Christians are assholes. That’s easy for me to understand because I also think people who do those things (including me and my non-Jesusy driving language) are assholes.

But there’s also what it ACTUALLY means to be a Christian, which at its core is basically: Act like Jesus.

Jesus was solid, across the board. And I’m certainly biased here, but Jesus is hard to pick on. I can tell you things about myself, my son, my parents, and my best friends that I think warrant criticism. But Jesus? I don’t have even one thing. I’ve known plenty of people with major hang-ups regarding Christian churches and faiths, but I’ve still never heard anyone say: “Jesus? That guy was just awful.”

Two dictionary definitions for Christianity:

  1. Treating other people in a kind and generous way.
  2. Being commendably decent or generous.

We’re not discussing theology here. We’re discussing “wifely submission,” and whether it has merit.

The PROBLEM here is that ignorant, sexist men co-opt Bible passages to suit their personal interests and justify spousal abuse.

The Bible doesn’t tell men to MAKE their wives submit.

The Bible tells women to submit to their husbands. The ball is 100 percent in the women’s court.

But there’s more to it than that, and lots of men like to ignore it because the truth is inconvenient.

The Bible ACTUALLY says: (Ephesians 5:22) “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.”

Let’s deal in reality, because I like it better than Bullshit Land.

  1. Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians between 62-80 A.D. That’s at least 1,932 years ago for those of you counting at home.
  2. The assumption being that everyone paying attention to Paul’s writings were going to be “godly” people. People taking seriously the idea of “serving the Lord” in their personal lives.
  3. So, all of this submission talk was rooted in “serving the Lord.” The cultural norm in the year 72 was for women to follow their husbands’ lead. But the culture norm (and ultra-specific Bible-based expectation) ALSO was for these husbands to be GODLY men. Men of profound character whose family leadership was rooted wholly and completely in humbly serving God and “treating other people in a kind and generous way” or “being commendably decent or generous.”

The men who play the “wifely submission” card in 2016 are not humble. They are not “commendably decent or generous.” They are selfish and abusive, or at the very least, profoundly ignorant.

Conclusion #1: EVEN IF what Paul wrote nearly two millennia ago is the ACTUAL, not-to-be-ignored-lest-ye-be-damned Word of God, the instruction was not: Hey Women! You’re supposed to be your husband’s slave and do whatever he says no matter what! He’s the boss!

The instruction was: IF you marry a godly (holy, not god-like) man, follow his humble and loving lead.

Anything other than that set of conditions renders the agreement null and void.

Conclusion #2: EVEN IF those suggestions are culturally relevant in 2016, they only apply to two people who are married, practice Christianity together, and who entered the marriage with the understanding that, so long as the husband behaves as holy men do, that his wife will defer to him on familial matters. And just so we’re absolutely clear, “bring me a sandwich and give me a blowjob” cannot be even loosely connected to the Christian God of the Bible.

Conclusion #3: Virtually every person playing the Wifely Submission card either: A. Has a great marriage consisting of two people in complete spiritual and philosophical alignment with one another, or B. Is a HUGE, disingenuous, sexist, and profoundly stupid asshole.

So, When Do Wives Owe Husbands Sex?

Maybe the prostitution scenario in a business-agreement sort-of way. I’ll let legal experts weigh in on the legal definition of the word “owe.”

How about in the general sense of the word? I suppose if a wife promised to have sex with him in writing or verbally (and ideally while wanting to, and not out of obligation), then maybe she would “owe” him the way I “owe” my mom a phone call because I didn’t call her over the weekend like a good son.

But the real heart of the matter is this: Do wives owe husbands duty-sex by virtue of their marriage?

Are wives “morally obligated” to sexually relieve or satisfy their husbands’ urges?

If while attending a large holiday gathering with family and friends and children, a husband wanted to have sex on the living-room floor in front of everyone, would his wife be dutifully obligated to?

If during a business trip to New York a husband wanted his wife home in Chicago to have sex with him, but she couldn’t because there were 790 miles between them, would his wife be failing in her dutiful obligations?

If during hospitalization after being involved in a car accident which left his wife in a coma, or body casts, a husband wanted his wife to have sex with him, is she dutifully obligated to?

Too extreme?

What if she has the flu?

What if her best friend died that day?

What if the family pet needs taken to the emergency vet?

What if she ran a marathon in the morning and says she’s too tired?

What if she didn’t get much sleep because of a sick child and says she’s too sleepy?

What if she had a rough day at work and simply isn’t in the mood?

Or. What if she just doesn’t want to?

What if after years of feeling neglected emotionally and frustrated by constant invalidation, she doesn’t feel sexually attracted to him nor safe engaging in physically intimate acts with him?

Where does a proponent of Wifely Submission draw the line between Good Enough reasons and Not Good Enough reasons?

And who gets to decide? The man? Because he was taught growing up that being “in charge” at his house is his birthright by virtue of having a Y chromosome?

Sorry, Guys. You Must Do Better Than That

Nope. Being male does not, and never has, grant license for the sexual decision-making of another person.

The Bible doesn’t say it, and neither does anyone you’d want your daughter going out on dates with.

Remember the famous JFK quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?”

Great quote.

Applies to marriage. Marriage is NOT about what it can do for you, or more specifically, what your wife can do for you. Seth Adam Smith said it best in his fantastic Marriage Isn’t For You, which you should totally read if you haven’t.

Marriage is about what YOU can give to your marriage. It’s about how YOU can make your spouse’s life better. I feel comfortable saying that unwanted sex NEVER makes someone’s life better.

I can help you guys out with the whole sex thing, if you’re struggling.

The solution is amazing, because it benefits EVERYONE involved—you get to have more sex, you get to have sex with a wife who WANTS to have sex with you, your marriage is fantastic, your kids have an infinitely better shot at happiness, and you get to live a fulfilling life which benefits your Mind and Spirit, every bit as much as your penis (or Body, if you prefer).

Because you do not want your wife to have sex with you nearly as much as you want your wife to WANT to have sex with you.

It’s the difference between marriage and divorce. Between happy and miserable.

All you need is a little Magic Sex Potion. You already have the ingredients needed to make it right there at home. You just need the instructions for how to make it. (You’re welcome.)

Do our wives OWE us sex?

The question is totally irrelevant. Because if you’re even asking it, your marriage is a trainwreck.

YOU owe your marriage energy and effort.

YOU owe your spouse love and respect.

YOU owe your family humble, selfless leadership.

When you do these things, there’s rarely a lack of sex in your relationship.

Do our wives owe us sex?

As is too often the case, we’re asking the wrong questions.

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How Colorblindness Can Destroy Your Marriage

(Image/ewao.com)

(Image/ewao.com)

What’s more damaging to relationships: Inventing problems that don’t actually exist, or denying the existence of those that do?

I felt like I was on another planet, sitting next to my wife in front of the marriage counselor.

Hearing her tell it, you’d think our marriage was a trainwreck.

Hearing her tell it, you’d think I neglected my wife, constantly choosing other things over her and our family.

Hearing her tell it, you’d think I was a shitty husband.

I knew she was wrong.

But I can’t be a shitty husband! Those are the guys who drink excessively, hit their wives or call them names. Those are the guys who gamble away the family savings account, are never home, sleep around, and do a bunch of drugs or whatever.

Right? If a bad guy showed up at the house, pointed a gun at us and said: “It’s either you or her,” I’d be terrified, sure, but I’m standing in front of her.

NEGLECT! That’s insane. What about all those guys who go out drinking with the guys every night? THAT is neglect. I don’t do things like that. So I can’t possibly be neglectful.

Our marriage couldn’t possibly be a trainwreck.

If our marriage was a trainwreck, SURELY I would want to get out of it, too. I mean, I don’t want anything to do with trainwrecks or subjecting myself or a child to anything horrible or dysfunctional.

After more than 30 years of living, I thought I had a decent handle on reality.

I had a clean bill of mental health. There was no reason to assume I was crazy or delusional. There was no reason to assume I was evil or out to cause damage.

In fact, there was every reason to assume I was a really nice guy who people mostly enjoyed being around. Given all of the horrible things that happen in the world, one might say my wife was lucky to have someone like me.

I had a hard time sitting there listening to her tell the marriage counselor all of the ways she considered me to be a substandard husband.

I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the really huge assholes out there, and how I wasn’t like them, and just how unfair it felt to sit there listening to her indict me in front of this stranger who doesn’t ever get to see what it’s REALLY like at home.

I was certain I wasn’t certifiably crazy.

I had ample evidence of people liking and trusting me.

It seemed clear by every measurable standard I knew of that I was a “good” and competent human being.

So if she’s saying there are relationship problems, and I’m saying there aren’t, my conclusion was that she must be mistaken. She had to be wrong.

Hearing her tell it, we had a lousy marriage. I took that personally, and spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself about it.

When I was asked about the marriage, I only had good things to say. We were two good people who loved one another and could count on the other to always be there.

“In fact, the only things we ever fight about are these little things she wants to turn into big problems,” I’d say. “If she’d stop finding new things to be upset about, everything would be perfect.”

Thought Exercise: Guilty or Innocent?

Imagine being accused of murdering 30 people. Or of being a Columbian drug lord. Or anything really that is so far outside the confines of your reality that when someone accuses you of it, you can just laugh.

When people accuse us of legitimately outrageous things, we don’t generally get angry. You can’t say “Hey Matt! You’re an asshole because you tried to release a poisonous gas in that shopping mall in Berlin, Germany in 1973!!!” and get any kind of rise out of me.

I’ve never possessed poisonous gas (nor tried to harm anyone). I’ve never been to Berlin. And I was still six years shy of being alive in 1973.

It’s laughable. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t hurt to be accused of outrageous things.

So, what might it mean that when my wife accused me of being a shitty husband, that it did hurt and cause a bunch of discomfort?

I’m Going to Say This As Gently As I Can

You’re probably colorblind and it’s probably damaging your relationships.

Imagine the world before vision specialists were able to prove colorblindness is real.

How would two people looking at the same colored object ever come to an agreement on what they were experiencing?

Person #1 says it’s orange. Person #2 says it’s green. Person #1 says it’s yellow. Person #2 says it’s pink.

They’re both correct.

AND they’re both incorrect.

Because as much as some people don’t want to admit it, perspective, context, and frame of reference DO impact how true or false something is from time to time.

Maybe the reason you and your partner are both so certain of yourselves while you continue to have The Same Fight over and over and over again is because you’re BOTH right.

It’s frustrating when you know something is green but the other person insists it’s orange. But I think reasonable people can question whether those disagreements are grounds for breaking up marriages and families.

But what about when the “colorblindness” is about more than just identifying color?

What if the person who sees green is being hurt?

I’m not talking about bullshit hurt, either. I’m not talking about crying over spilled milk. I’m talking about situations where someone takes damage on the inside.

Is it really so hard to imagine a scenario where the person who sees orange ignores the person seeing green’s cries for change or help over something they can’t see, feel or experience for themselves?

When You Talk: Do You Want to Win, or Understand?

Another thing people don’t always like talking about is the topic of behavioral traits by gender. Some traits are prevalent in men. Others are prevalent in women. It creates arguments when people are jerks about it. I’m not trying to be. I’m just saying someone smarter than me noticed how men and women tend to communicate during conversation and it’s worth thinking about if you dislike divorce, missing your children, and frequent sobbing.

I was trying to read about football when Football Perspective’s Chase Stuart introduced me to communication concepts I’d never heard of before: The Rapport Dimension and The Status Dimension. In short, the “rapport dimension” is about using conversation to connect with the person you’re speaking with, and the “status dimension” is about looking awesome by sounding funny or smart or whatever.

As you might have already guessed, women more often use conversation as an attempt to build rapport with the person they’re speaking with. And men? Men often use conversation as an attempt to prove how brilliant and desirable and successful they are. Men often use conversation to increase their “status.”

Pardon the Inceptiony nature of this, but Stuart’s article references a Vox article about presidential campaigning which included a linguist’s observations that caught Stuart’s attention. From the Vox piece:

“’Listening is something women value almost above everything else in relationships,’ says Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown linguist who studies differences in how men and women communicate. ‘The biggest complaint women make in relationships is, “He doesn’t listen to me.”

“Tannen’s research suggests a reason for the difference: Women, she’s found, emphasize the ‘rapport dimension’ of communication — did a particular conversation bring us closer together or further apart? “Men, by contrast, emphasize the ‘status dimension’ — did a conversation raise my status compared to yours?

“Talking is a way of changing your status: If you make a great point, or set the terms of the discussion, you win the conversation. Listening, on the other hand, is a way of establishing rapport, of bringing people closer together; showing you’ve heard what’s been said so far may not win you the conversation, but it does win you allies.”

Just like the people we love who are diagnosed with colorblindness, maybe we need to learn how to trust that some of their experiences are fundamentally different than ours.

We don’t say: “Haha, you stupid moron!!! Of course it’s orange and not green!!! Dumbass!!!”

We understand that they literally see a different thing. We have context for the disconnect.

We don’t assume we know what it’s like to see what they see.

So we ask good questions. We listen.

Not to “win” and look awesome. Simply to understand. To build rapport. To connect.

Maybe there’d be a lot less brokenness that way.

Maybe then it would seem like we’re all living on the same planet.

Maybe then it wouldn’t matter so much what colors we see.

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Diagnosing Relationship Failure is Not for the Self-Assured

check engine light

(Image/carriagenissan.com)

The white hair and calloused hands with a couple of missing fingertips darkened by sun, dirt and every type of automotive oil imaginable gives him away.

The mechanic.

A seasoned one, having spent fifty-some years wrenching under lifted cars, and lifted car hoods.

He owns a little shop downtown, and anyone with a classic antique or high-powered muscle car knows he’s the guy to see for repairs or new speed parts.

He’s brilliant. And every 70-hour week through the decades has taught him something new.

That’s why my father, a car enthusiast who started racing later in life than most drivers in motorsports, trusts him to build and tune his racing engines.

After winning a big race a couple of years ago, part of the prize was a brand new engine block.

In artistry terms, that’s a bit like giving Michaelangelo a 20,000-pound block of solid marble sourced from a Tuscan quarry and asking him to get to work.

A bare engine block is to the skilled auto technician what a blank canvas is to the talented oil painter.

Leaning on five decades of mastery, a not-particularly-restrictive budget, and the best performance engine parts available, this experienced and capable mechanic built a new one from scratch.

The goal: A 1,000-horsepower, fuel-injected engine designed to eclipse 150 miles per hour in a quarter of a mile, and cross the finish line consistently in less than nine seconds.

The engine builder and my dad succeeded.

The longtime mechanic built an engine using best practices he’d learned over many years.

And dad, the skilled driver, piloted the car using best practices he’s picked up through the years.

The guys did everything they knew how to do. They did everything “right.”

By all appearances, the car was bulletproof while performing better than it ever had before.

The car clocked its’ highest-ever speed and lowest-ever time on the run where it experienced catastrophic engine failure, requiring the master mechanic to pull apart every engine component, and start another long, tedious, expensive rebuild.

That’s what has to happen now.

Why?

Because, despite all of the knowledge and wisdom and expertise and experience and best practices and best efforts and highest-quality parts and tools to work with, something was missed or overlooked.

No one knows what.

But it wasn’t black magic that blew up the engine.

It was a miscalculation or a festering problem too small to notice, until everything fell apart, even when everything seemed to be functioning perfectly to the only people who could have done something about it.

You’re Misjudging a Situation and Doing Something Wrong

But, what?

I have a life-long history of being good with people.

I am pretty nice. I am pretty friendly. I have good intentions.

I loved my wife.

I loved my son.

I valued our family and our home and our future more than I valued all other things.

I think most who know me would tell you that they perceived me to be a good husband and father.

When I wrote the first Open Letter to Shitty Husbands post, I wrote about declining a spring-day hike with my wife and young son in favor of staying inside and watching The Masters golf tournament.

Most people seem to get it. Most people seem to understand that it was just one moment that was representative of a macro-level pattern of behavior and decision making which I’ve lovingly dubbed Shitty Husbandry (which you can read about here).

But others don’t get it, or simply disagree with the premise.

It seems like once a week, I see the same note: “But Matt! That’s NOT being a shitty husband! All you wanted to do was watch a golf tournament! She was wrong and selfish and bitchy to make a big deal out of it!”

Being nice isn’t enough.

Being friendly isn’t enough.

Having good intentions isn’t enough.

Being a reliable financial partner isn’t enough.

Avoiding criminal activity or substance abuse isn’t enough.

Not cheating isn’t enough.

Being home every night isn’t enough.

Not being verbally, sexually, or physically abusive isn’t enough.

Avoiding pornography and/or ogling attractive people in public isn’t enough.

Not sucking as much as that other husband or wife you know isn’t enough.

Being a good parent isn’t enough.

The hopes and dreams you think you share aren’t enough.

A fatal flaw or shortcoming or too-small-to-notice crack or untightened bolt flies easily undetected when things appear to be functioning—maybe even well.

But the truth is the truth, no matter what you want to believe.

Believing you are a good spouse DOES NOT make you a good spouse (just as someone else telling you what you are doesn’t necessarily make it so).

All I know is that the race car broke. Somewhat dramatically. While appearing to do well the very thing for which it was designed and built to do.

And that’s what our relationships do.

They break with one or both of us asleep at the wheel. Because we didn’t pay attention to a tiny detail, or because we have a higher tolerance than our partners for some discomfort or inconvenience, or because we didn’t know how to interpret the warning signs.

It doesn’t matter how skilled or smart or wise or experienced or certain you think you are.

It doesn’t matter whether something functions, or meets our expectations, or performs adequately to our individual set of standards.

Under intense pressure, something we didn’t notice, nor ever knew to be aware of can cause catastrophic failure.

It’s hard to care when you don’t even know to be afraid of it.

It’s hard to be vigilant when things feel comfortable and convenient.

And it’s hard to have your life blow up in your face when you never saw it coming.

Should we have seen it coming?

Are we responsible for breaking something when we think we’ve done everything correctly, even if we haven’t?

Are we willing to pull it all apart and put it back together again with even more thought and care and effort than before?

Decisions.

…..

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Poor Meal Planning Can End Your Marriage

(Image/quickenloans.com)

(Image/quickenloans.com)

“My DH (Darling Husband) makes me want to kill him over dinner. Kill him. I don’t know why 30 minutes that occur exactly the same way each day can drive us to such rage. Marriages would be so much better without dinner.” – A wife, speaking for many

Before my wife and I were married, we sometimes fought about dinner plans.

I thought it was stupid and wasn’t afraid to say so. Like: Just eat food! Who cares?! I thought.

Figuring out what to do for fun, making sure I was getting to class or work, keeping my schedule clear for Cleveland Browns football games—now THOSE were important.

Having a conversation about what we were eating later that night, or God forbid, later in the week? Who in the hell could ever know what they might want? Why would someone subject themselves to that? And why does it matter?

I didn’t care. It’s because I was 21, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, pasta with canned sauce, Hamburger Helper, fast food, pizza, Chinese takeout, and boxed macaroni & cheese weren’t just acceptable—they were awesome.

But she cared. “We can’t eat the same three things every night. People eat dinner, Matt. Eating dinner requires a little thought as to what might be needed from the store to make those meals.”

It all came back to me while reading this comment on an internet message board:

“My H seems to think that dinner is magic and just shows up. No planning, no groceries required, etc. When I ask him on Sunday at 8 a.m. what he wants for dinner, he gets all annoyed. Um, I have to defrost or go to the store. Thanks,” she wrote.

I remember getting annoyed about things like this, too. I’d be watching or reading or playing something, and then my girlfriend/fiancée/wife would have the audacity to ask me what I wanted to eat for dinner.

Sometimes the easy and delicious path of least resistance like ordering pizza would win the day. Other times it wouldn’t because she wanted to, like, eat vegetables and stuff.

On the list of Common Marriage Domestic Disputes I perceive wives to be “right” about that accidentally selfish shitty husbands should come around on if they want to stay married, Dinner was the first one to rear its head in my relationship, and one of the few I actually did a decent job of adjusting to through the years, but maybe that’s only because I have a legitimate passion for cooking.

Dinner is one of those things that starts the long, slow, nearly imperceptible fracturing and eventual breakup of marriages.

It seems like such a harmless and innocuous topic. An argument about dinner? DINNER?! That’s one of those topics boyfriends/fiancés/husbands get pissed about once it transitions from Typical Disagreement to Actual Fight.

Ummm. I LOVE you. LOVE. Stop starting fights over stupid crap like food! Your warped sense of reality is really disturbing!

We do love them, us oblivious guys. But we also think anyone who would FIGHT over what to have for dinner has serious issues. We think we’re cool for giving her a pass. We think we’re loving for staying with her even though this is one of those “batshit-crazy” moments.

Because someone linked to one of my posts in a message board thread, and I clicked on it to discover what it was about, I stumbled on this GBCN (Goodbye Cruel Nest) thread where the original poster asked the community if she was overreacting to a situation with her husband.

The quick-and-dirty version is that she does most of the domestic heavy lifting around the house, mostly taking care of their daughter, and mostly always taking care of housework and dinner prep. For a short time, their routine was interrupted when on Tuesdays, she couldn’t get home until 8:30 p.m. instead of the typical 7 p.m.

When she’d come home and there was no food prepared or thought put into dinner, she asked if he could do that moving forward, and was surprised he hadn’t thought of it on his own. For a few weeks after, he did.

Then, another Tuesday rolled around, and when she got home—no dinner. He forgot, he said.

“It just seems very ‘clueless husband’ to me to be all ‘oh, dinner? you don’t say!’ especially after I have laid out my expectations to him in the past,” she said.

I started reading through the thread.

I was struck once again by how common these Shitty Husband traits seem to be. I thought it was interesting how many wives reported “We’re married to the same husband!” but it didn’t really surprise me because these patterns emerge in divorce story after divorce story to the point where it all starts to look depressingly predictable.

Five different wives (speaking for many!) said essentially the same thing:

“I would be annoyed but that sounds like my husband exactly.”

“I would be mad, but this is totally something my H would do.”

“In short, yes it would drive me crazy, because I’ve seen it happen in my house before. But I’d probably just remind him (‘nag’) over and over in the future.”

“My husband is lovely, but spacey sometimes, so I find it most effective if I articulate expectations.”

“If I don’t spell it out, he’s clueless. He admits this and welcomes a list so he knows what to do. Why stuff that is so simple to us is so difficult for them, I’ll never understand.”

This is hard for wives to understand sometimes, and I don’t know how to explain it, but I’ve tried. I don’t know why it’s so common for men to be oblivious, thoughtless and clueless about things like this.

Probably some combination of parental enabling while growing up and poor boundary enforcement from their partners early in relationships.

Divorce. It’s What’s for Dinner.

Will she REALLY leave you, break up your family, and start a new life because you leave dishes by the sink?

Yep.

And she’ll do the same thing over your failure to help with dinner.

“It would bother me immensely. IMMENSELY.” – A wife, speaking for many

And divorce is so much shittier than meal planning. It really is.

The original author of the dinner post asked whether her anger was justified. Like, borderline-divorce-level pissed.

82% said yes. 93% said yes or maybe.

“The helpless husband act makes me rage. A grown man should be able to use his own brain and realize dinner is a thing that he needs to take care of.” – A wife, speaking for many

When husbands blow off their responsibilities around the house, no matter how innocent the inaction was, nor how irrational they consider their wives to be, they make her feel one of two things: Rage or Like His Mom.

As those experiences pile up, things tend to end badly.

Bad News—You Don’t Get to Dictate What Matters to Other People

I don’t know whether it’s because I was smart, but immature and unwise; or because I was a monumentally huge asshole with zero self-awareness; or because I was actually a dumbass moron, but I used to think my opinions about things were a fair metric for evaluating situations and how I should treat people.

I think I still do this, but tend to recognize it much faster than never, as was the case back then.

My wife was upset about DISHES. How petty! I’m right and she’s wrong, so now I don’t have to care about the thing that’s upsetting her!

My wife was upset about DINNER. Her capacity for love is smaller than mine, therefore SHE is the one who sucks! I know how to really love in marriage and she doesn’t as evidenced by her valuing silly things like meal planning!

The crash back to earth is painful and embarrassing, but I’d encourage everyone to try the life strategy of not automatically assuming you’re right about everything, which forces you to assume the worst about the intellectual and emotional capacity of everyone who disagrees with you.

It’s not a good thing, especially since you’re probably wrong.

My wife wasn’t REALLY upset about the dishes.

“Guys, the point isn’t that [she] and her H could eat a quick dinner. It’s that she cooks on ‘her nights’ (i.e. every night they don’t eat out) and he doesn’t even think of dinner if she doesn’t remind him. It is not on [her] to come up with quick easy meals because her H can’t/won’t cook.” – A wife, speaking for many

My wife wasn’t REALLY upset about the dinner thing.

“I feel like we are giving the H all these excuses for why there was no dinner. We are giving him an excuse that maybe dinner isn’t important to him or not something he cares about.
It doesn’t matter. It was important to [her] that she eat. So even if she came home and he said ‘here honey, I made you a bowl of cereal’ at least it showed that he considered that she may want to eat. He didn’t even consider her needs. She got home and mentioned dinner and he acted like she suggested they paint the living room
Sometimes I make some dinner for my [daughter] and I and I know it won’t last for reheat but I always ask my H when he will be home or I suggest he get something at work because I didn’t make him anything. I always consider his empty stomach.”
– A wife, speaking for many

My wife was upset because when I had numerous opportunities to demonstrate—not even GOOD partnership—but simply EQUAL partnership which would have almost kind of-sort of come close to giving her as much as I was receiving, I didn’t.

It wasn’t intentional.

That was always my defense. Accidental neglect.

Accidentally killing people isn’t nearly as horrible as intentionally murdering them, but the result for the innocent victim is always the same.

A husband must learn to see past the dirty dish, and see past the forgotten or neglected dinner.

A husband must learn to anticipate needs, and actively care and empathize enough to take action, no matter how inconvenient.

That’s what it looks like to shovel the coal necessary to keep the train moving.

Unless, of course, he really misses eating those peanut butter & jelly sandwiches alone every night.

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