Tag Archives: Wives

The Taxonomy of Married Men, Vol. 2

loss of self-awareness

(Image/willemgous.com)

First we took Husbands, and split them into two groups — Good Men and Bad Men.

And this isn’t about “nice guys” versus “bad boys.” Non-conformist “bad boys” engaging in mischief with sometimes aggressive, daring and tough exteriors can still be very good men. We’re talking about character. Not personality type.

Women are often attracted to men who do bad things. But good, healthy people are not attracted to BAD people. (Think Adolf Hitler, not James Dean.) I’m comfortable saying that people should NOT marry, remain married to, or have children with fundamentally bad people.

(Read The Taxonomy of Married Men, Vol. 1 here)

So now we have Husbands who are Good Men, and we’re splitting them into two groups — Good Husbands and Bad Husbands.

Lots of good men are lousy husbands. Being a husband is a skill. Just like playing instruments, flying helicopters and performing heart surgery. A very good person can be bad at marriage. It’s an important distinction. Good husbands can’t benefit from anything I ever think or write, so we’re honing in on Good Men Who Are Bad Husbands.

We split them into two groups, as well: The ones who don’t know they’re bad husbands (which I guesstimate to be about 85% of all married men — yes, I’m serious about that), and the ones who DO know and are trying to be better (which mostly include men on the brink of losing their family, and in their desperate search for answers, realized as I did that they’d been accidentally messing up for all these years).

I’m operating under the assumption that no GOOD man could KNOW he’s a bad husband and intentionally refuse to alter his behaviors. Because that would make him a bad man.

Conclusion: Troubled Marriages Worth Saving Only Involve Good Men

I’m probably biased. I — perhaps delusionally — think of myself as a “good” man. I’m not always nice. I don’t always do the right thing. I certainly upset people now and then. But I know who I try to be, and I’ll share a humanity foxhole with anyone else trying to be this way too.

And I’ll go to bat for these husbands and fathers over and over and over and over and over again, if they demonstrate the humility and effort required to evolve on behalf of their wives and children.

And MANY men will.

The powerful influence of simple AWARENESS in our lives can’t be overstated. People are willing to change when they understand WHY change is needed.

Most men who repeatedly hurt their wives simply don’t know why the behavior changes are needed.

A good man armed with correct information changes the entire world for his wife and children.

Beautiful things. Hero shit.

And we should all be doing a bit more of that.

The Things Good Men Who Are Bad Husbands Don’t Know

For the same reason husbands sometimes believe their wives get disproportionally sad or angry over things that would never upset them (dirty dishes by the sink; Bree and Monica at work going to lunch without asking her to join, or simply his laid-back non-committal attitude about upcoming weekend plans), wives sometimes have trouble believing their husbands aren’t fully aware of how hurt they feel.

It makes sense, too.

  1. She’s told him a bunch of times already. Using the very language they both have spoken their entire lives. She doesn’t remember saying it in code, or anything.
  2. She FEELS it. The gross feeling. The feeling that comes when we feel disrespected or unloved or outright rejected. Things happen. She feels shitty because of those things. Those things = Pain. His inability to understand how these things that make her life miserable make just as much sense and are just as valid as his inability to understand how things he considers to be harmless can cause pain in others.

Every Failing Relationship (With Good People) is Rooted in Unawareness

Good people simply do not hurt one another on purpose. We don’t.

We do it thoughtlessly, and our crime is not the thoughtless things we do, but rather our lack of respect for our partners’ expressed pain and our unwillingness to put forth the energy to changing whatever’s required for the pain to stop.

It’s the idea that changes the world. But most people don’t know about it.

Marriages rarely die from big, dramatic things. It’s death by 10,000 paper cuts.

What most married people — OFTEN husbands — don’t know is that what kills marriages, precipitating affairs and divorce, are an incalculable amount of moments pushing two people apart so minutely that we can’t detect that shift. Some cancer and heart disease goes undetected until the symptoms show up and it’s too late to save us.

That’s what marriage is, too.

We don’t work hard to avoid things that end our marriages because they don’t hurt enough to register with us as they’re happening.

It’s The Undetectable Death.

If two spouses find themselves arguing or fighting (without resolution) about these things, then The Marriage Death Watch has already begun:

  • Time spent watching sports and/or managing fantasy teams
  • Time spent playing video games or on their phone
  • Time spent working at a job
  • Time spent tinkering in the garage or in the yard
  • Time spent on any individual hobbies or interests which don’t include the rest of the family

These things are felt and interpreted by the spouse who is hurting as rejection and abandonment.

Men are most often the offending party.

He would rather play video games than play with his children. They miss him so much, and he doesn’t care at all. It hurts me to see my children rejected by their own father, she thinks.

Here’s the other big one:

He’s never romantic. EVER. He never tells me I’m pretty or makes me feel as if he’s interested in pursuing me. I have to beg him to come to bed, and he usually says no. If the choice is between me and watching football, he always chooses football. I don’t see nor feel evidence that my husband loves me anymore, she thinks.

Sometimes fears, anxieties and insecurities start to rear their ugly heads. Very little good has ever happened as a result of the stories we make up in our own minds to try to make sense of why the behavior of people we love makes us feel so bad.

Is he REALLY working late tonight?

Is he REALLY going to the gym?

Is he REALLY “just friends” with Joanna at work?

All the sudden, a decent man who works hard, tried to keep his body in shape, and has a respectful and professional relationship with a co-worker, creates feelings of uncertainty and suspicion.

And then, sometimes another thing happens.

She learns that he’s jerking off to internet porn on the family computer or on his phone. It makes her feel ugly and rejected in ways she’s never felt before.

Oh my God. I ask him all the time to come to bed with me, and he always says no. We haven’t had sex in over a month. And now he’s getting himself off while watching THAT on the internet? He PREFERS strangers on a screen and his own hand to me.

If you live a secret life, no matter how innocent you consider it since you’re “not hurting anyone!,” your marriage will probably end, and it will totally be your fault.

Spouses SHARE life. That’s the design. And when you deny or hide parts of yourself — no matter how innocent or noble you think it might be — things will eventually crash and burn.

You can’t NOT do the work of the shoveling coal in your marriage every day and expect your spouse to not notice since she/he MUST shovel enough coal to compensate for the deficit you leave.

The Good Men Must Wake Up

Like Neo in the Matrix.

It’s a little bit harder to see the world as it really is. Life is less convenient. But it’s Truth. And good men seek truth.

We are unaware.

We either stay unaware or become aware.

Once we’re aware, we make good choices. Selfless ones, that put those we love ahead of ourselves.

What we see looks convincing enough. It looks real. So when the person next to us reacts differently than we would, we scream: “YOU’RE WRONG!!!”

And that’s what ends us.

The simple, hard-to-detect realization that they’re not wrong. They’re just different.

Wrong is intolerable.

But different is beautiful.

And once we see the beautiful Different instead of the ugly and hate-inducing Wrong, our relationships can thrive.

It’s a story I keep telling over and over again, and maybe everyone who gets it is bored by it, but it’s too important to not talk about.

It’s the idea that changes the world. But most people don’t know about it.

It’s not a secret. There are simply so many people who NEVER think about this, that the idea never spreads far and wide enough to impact the critical mass of humanity we need for this to always be top of mind.

But someday, that’s going to change.

And all of the good men righting their shitty husband wrongs will be the catalyst.

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Why Divorce Hurts Men More Than Women

sad guy after divorce

(Image/The Huffington Post)

First things first: DOES divorce actually hurt men more than women?

I think there’s plenty of researched and anecdotal evidence to back up that it usually does, but I have no idea. I typed it into Google and was greeted with a mixed bag of headlines on the first three results pages.

Does it really matter? I’m not trying to make the argument that divorce hurts men more than women. I’m more interested in sharing my take on WHY it does—in situations where it actually does.

The Obligatory Broad-Generalizations Disclaimer

The following is a broad generalization and should in no way be interpreted as me believing that wives are ALWAYS “better” at marriage than their husbands. Of course that’s not true.

I love the Cleveland Browns even though they always suck. Do they REALLY “always” suck? Kind of. But the Browns sometimes win too, just like there are guys out there who are phenomenal relationship partners struggling with female partners who aren’t.

It’s impossible to write things that encapsulate every mathematically possible scenario in existence, and this post is not suggesting that men or husbands are inherently worse at relationships than women, nor always the “worse” spouse in a troubled relationship.

I am Make Broad Generalizations Guy.

It’s hard to write about this stuff another way.

And since I write about relationships and divorce a lot, I often make generalizations about wives/husbands, girlfriends/boyfriends, and women/men.

Sometimes, people take offense. Sorry.

Men Struggle More After Divorce Because They Lose More Than Their Wives

I believe wives, while not flawless nor without responsibility in failing marriages, are the objectively BETTER spouses on a few fronts in typical marriages.

First, I think wives are better at Life Management (and Emotional Labor).

I think most of the time, wives/girlfriends/women demonstrate more proficiency than husbands/boyfriends/men at things related to family budgets, long-term scheduling, meal planning, organizing academic and extracurricular activities for children, social calendars, sending birthday and holiday cards, running errands for upcoming events, RSVPing, sending Thank You notes, remembering anniversaries, as well as performing routine cleaning and house maintenance, like laundry, vacuuming, changing sheets, cleaning bathrooms, etc.

Second, I think wives/girlfriends/women are better at Relationship Skills which are absolutely CRITICAL to having healthy and lasting marriages, friendships, parent-child relationships, etc.

Skills like:

  • Mindful, active, present LISTENING
  • Humble apologies or admissions of mistakes
  • Empathy (the ability to identify and acknowledge another person’s pain and share the feeling. NOT sympathy. NOT pity. Empathy. “I get it. I’m here with you.”)
  • A willingness to set ego aside for the sake of a partnership, and admitting they don’t have all the answers but want to figure them out together for the long-term health and stability of the marriage/family

I think men, because of the whole Man Card socialization thing, equate FUNDAMENTALLY necessary and critical relationship things such as honest, vulnerable conversation; understanding the link between sexual appetite and physical/emotional labor things at home; being emotionally available for his sad or hurting spouse; with being Candy-Ass Girl Things.

Maybe their grandfathers and dads and uncles and friends growing up all reinforced that: “You’re a man! Men do this!” while totally ignoring that all the “candy-ass girl things” are REALLY DIFFICULT. Like, extremely difficult. The amount of discipline, simple heroism, sacrifice, strength, perseverance, etc. needed to perform these skills at a high level is a lofty and noble place to aspire.

The men who can do it are AWESOME guys.

About the Man Card and Man Stuff

I’m not asking guys to stop being guys, nor am I asking guys to be effeminate or stop doing whatever man stuff they like to do now.

I am asking guys to recognize that they’re accidentally negligent.

I think it is in large part because they feel entitled to do or not do certain things that have everything to do with Man Card socialization.

You can be an alpha-male badass who commands the respect and attention of everyone in any room you’re in, AND also demonstrate a high-level understanding of what your partner requires of you to have a happy, healthy, stable relationship.

Men don’t necessarily need to stop doing things, or stop being things, that are a part of them as much as they need to START doing a few things that would totally change the climate of the modern male-female relationship.

…..

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…..

The problem is NOT that guys recognize that relationship problems would go away if they changed a few simple things, but stubbornly think: “To hell with that! I’m going to keep doing it this Man Way, because I love it when my wife is miserable, and getting divorced sounds awesome!”

The problem is actually that many men truly have a particular belief system, live according to that belief system, and don’t see their actions (or lack thereof) as being relationship or marriage-killers.

Most guys have lived their entire lives without anyone having EVER said anything like that to them, except for his sad and angry wife he thinks is overly emotional, or outright WRONG during disagreements regarding her feelings and opinions concerning their relationship.

It’s a sad state of affairs.

Men Often Have More Life Skills to Develop Post-Divorce

I think when men and women divorce, wives (especially mothers) move on and get along pretty well once the emotional pain subsides.

And I think that happens because they were so accustomed to doing all of the emotional and logistical life management work anyway, that not much changes for them in terms of the day-to-day rhythm of life. They were always doing all of this Life work, anyway.

But, men?

Sometimes they’re shitty at laundry, dishes, meal planning, keeping track of the calendar, and knowing when and where the kids need to be, or what they need for those events.

Men often learn the hard way how difficult it is to manage all those things competently while juggling work responsibilities and whatever social life might remain once their wives aren’t there to plan that either.

Throughout the marriage, she had been meeting his emotional needs by virtue of being there in the house, and taking care of Life things for him, and relieving him of many of the child-rearing stresses.

But he wasn’t doing the same in return, which in addition to being exhausting for her, also made her feel like his mom which is why she stopped wanting to have sex with him.

If he has a kick-ass job, maybe he provided financial security, some of which went away for her after divorce. And maybe if he’s former Special Forces, or law enforcement, or a champion kickboxer, and she doesn’t feel comfortable with the idea of self-defense, maybe she loses some sense of safety and security when she’s home alone or with children.

But mostly?

Men lose more in divorce than women and it’s because (in my estimation) they didn’t give enough during the marriage.

And the scariest part of this pattern of neglect and emotional abuse is that the vast majority of guys are NOT bad men, or abnormally large assholes.

They’re just guys who didn’t know better. But hopefully now, they do.

Because now, we have choices.

At least one of them is heroic.

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Of Course It Was About More Than Dirty Dishes

But that ain't the truth. The truth is, you are the ignorant. And I am the tyranny of shitty husbands. But I'm trying real hard, guys. I'm trying real hard to be the shepard. (Image/Miramax)

But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is, you are the ignorant. And I am the tyranny of shitty husbands. But I’m trying real hard, guys. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd. (Image/Miramax)

I thought it was obvious that my wife didn’t—literally—want a divorce because of some dishes left by the sink.

I assumed no adult could possibly believe that. I was wrong.

Because many people gave the post the TL;DR treatment, or I did a lousy job of writing it, or they lacked the intellectual capacity to understand it, or never bothered to ask themselves the right questions because life is more comfortable when we’re secure in our personal beliefs, a frightening amount of people missed the point entirely.

My post “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” spent time as one of the most popular things on the internet over the weekend. As of this writing, it has been read more than 2.3 million times.

For context, my previous most popular post had been read about 100,000 times. Over the course of 2 ½ years.

As a writer, you’re like Cool! People are validating my work! But then the comments start rolling in.

“Be a man. Pussy.”

“Your wife was a nagging shrew and you’re better off without her if she would leave you over something petty like a glass by the sink.”

“You’re STILL missing the point if you think she left you because of dishes!”

“You’re a sackless fag.”

“You’re sexist because you wrote that ‘Men are capable of things’ as if women couldn’t do those things, too!”

“You’re sexist because you write about how horrible men are, but never talk about how women can be the problem too!”

My personal favorite was the Canadian high school girl who tweeted that my wife left because I write like “a whiny teenage girl.”

That was discouraging.

Things the Post Wasn’t About

It wasn’t about me.

It wasn’t about Men Vs. Women.

It wasn’t about encouraging men to be subservient husbands.

It wasn’t about propping up wives as the all-knowing and wise queens of how to structure relationships.

It wasn’t about complaints suggesting my wife nagged me over inconsequential things.

And for Pete’s freaking sake, IT WAS NOT ABOUT THE DAMN DISHES.

The “dishes” post has a thousand comments to the contrary, and each time I approved one of them I wanted to set myself on fire just a little bit more, because THAT—along with reading another new asshole call me a “mangina”—would feel infinitely less frustrating than all the people screaming on the internet while the entire point sailed a thousand miles over their heads.

Things the Post Was About

Understand something, please. Until five seconds ago, a thousand people AT MOST, were reading my posts. This “dishes” one? It was read 236 times the day it was published. And all of them “know” me, in that they’ve read dozens, maybe hundreds, of my posts, so they recognized the metaphor immediately.

Here’s my entire thing: I’m a child of divorce, and a few years ago I got divorced myself. I think divorce is very, very bad.

While I was trying and failing to save my marriage, I began a journey of introspection and self-discovery. I wanted to understand what I had done to help break the marriage, and discover tools to repair it OR at the very least, to make sure I wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes in a future relationship.

I read books. I read articles. I spoke with married people. I spoke with divorced people. And I started writing down ideas and publishing them.

More and more and more, people were saying: “Yes, this! You GET it!”

And if you read through the comments in the “dishes” post, you’ll see that the vast majority are echoing that.

I’m no smarter than anyone else. I’ve simply heard the same divorce stories so many times now that, combined with my not-too-distant memories of my marriage, I’ve been able to identify terrifyingly common behaviors by husbands and boyfriends that mirror my own that I now understand to be marriage and relationship killers.

As someone passionately against divorce, I feel compelled to share these ideas.

I am NOT a “Get Married” advocate. It’s clear most people are doing a terrible job in the partner-evaluation process, and overestimating their abilities to function as marriage partners, which mostly has to do with how we can’t know what we don’t know when we’re young.

And the adults shelter us from the ugly truth.

Mom and dad don’t tell you how they fantasize about running away, or sleeping with someone else who makes them feel desired and respected, or just how much more sad they feel today than they did when they were young. It’s because they want to preserve our innocence.

Our education system, shamefully, avoids the topic altogether.

But I am a “Stay Married” advocate. Unless we’re going to ban marriage or eliminate long-term monogamous relationships altogether, I think it behooves us to improve an institution that affects 95 percent of people AND fails more than half the time.

People thought the “dishes” post was about me and wanted to critique my marriage based on a headline they misinterpreted.

The “dishes” post is about trying to help husbands get from oblivious to enlightened RE: Why Their Wives Seem to Care About “Little” Things We Don’t Care About. Men don’t understand how a stupid glass by the sink could actually hurt. That sounds insane to him. Until he figures out how to believe it’s happening anyway, and then care about the glass BECAUSE he cares about his wife, these totally cliché and annoying Man Vs. Woman, But That’s Not Fair!!! whine festivals will continue.

People accused me of sexism.

I only write for husbands and about being a husband because that’s what I know. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, wife or mother. I’m going to leave the role-reversal writing on these topics to the people who do know what it’s like.

And OF COURSE sometimes wives are the dish-leaving culprits in a marriage! But that’s just not relevant to me writing for guys like me.

Husbands who are frustrated with their wives’ cleanliness habits are not likely to identify with my marriage whatsoever.

People accused me of preaching submission.

Hahahahahahahaha!

I’m the most stubborn mule I know. It’s a damn shame you can’t hear my high-and-mighty Piss off, you’re not the boss of me! voice. That was my ex-wife’s favorite. (Not.)

The most important lesson I’ve learned post-divorce is how critical it is for human beings to have well-communicated, strongly enforced boundaries. Boundaries which are ideally discussed and mutually respected during the dating process and long before anyone agrees to marry.

No, men. Your wives should never be domineering tyrants. But there can be no question that if you’re married to one of those, it’s because you allowed it to happen AND failed to demonstrate competence—either in the life areas which she now must control, or in the preservation of your self-respect or enforcement of your boundaries.

Wives are not better than husbands. Women are not better than men. (Nor the other way around.)

But I see a hell of a lot of men getting marriage wrong, and this is my way of trying to help.

All the evidence in the world that men are getting marriage wrong lives in the comments section of the “dishes” post.

The “dishes” post that wasn’t really about dishes at all.

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Try Something Else

Author and food systems expert Anna Lappe said that. Probably about food systems. But it could have been about marriage.

Author and food systems expert Anna Lappe said that. Probably about food systems. But it could have been about marriage.

I was 15 minutes early for the church thing.

My ex-wife lives close so I expected her and our son to show up soon. The church thing was for him and other kids his age.

His mom and I are good about going to events together to support him. It’s the kind of thing that was uncomfortable in the early months of separation and divorce, but I now find totally okay and occasionally pleasant two and a half years later.

I asked a guy if he knew where the kids and families were sitting. He pointed to a spot on the far side of the large church. I recognized a few faces. Whenever my son and his mom showed up, we’d sit over there.

But the minutes ticked by. And everyone filing in for the 9:30 a.m. start time wasn’t my son and his mom.

At 9:26, I finally sent a text: “Are you here?”

She replied at 9:29: “Walking thru parking lot now. Where are you?”

I told her to go through a back entrance. There are two of them. I stood by one while I waited, guessing incorrectly that she would choose it. It was 9:31 and church was starting. I sent a text describing a lady passing out things our son would need to grab.

She asked again where I was sitting, but instead of answering, I told her where the kids and families were sitting together.

Because I’m divorced and feel shame easily, particularly among the school and church parents where it seems like all their families are still intact, I didn’t go sit with them, electing to wait for my son and ex to arrive.

For that same reason, I also chose not to walk across the front of the entire church in front of hundreds of people to meet them after the Catholic mass started.

Long story short: My son wasn’t sitting with his parents together like we’d planned. Mission: failed.

My non-Catholic ex-wife spent the next hour with our son who was upset because he didn’t know where I was, and was forced to do a semi-ceremonial Catholicy thing with him that she might have felt some discomfort doing.

I was a little pissed because she arrived late and perceived her lack of punctuality as a sign she didn’t respect this Catholic thing she wouldn’t have to worry about if it wasn’t for me (which isn’t true).

She was a little pissed because she felt I didn’t try hard enough to sit with them and didn’t like that me not being with them upset our son.

She lives close. So I assumed she just didn’t try hard enough. But what actually happened was they spent the night at his grandma’s house much farther away, and when they arrived with what would typically be enough time, they found no parking spots and ended up having a long walk to get there.

She thought I was being unhelpful not telling her where I was sitting, instead telling her where our son was supposed to sit with his classmates.

OF COURSE I wanted to be next to my son. But I thought him being with his classmates for this special occasion was the bigger priority.

That probably seems like a typical misunderstanding.

But that’s exactly my point in telling it. THIS RIGHT HERE, is how divorce happens. She didn’t do anything wrong and tried her hardest to make the moment special for our son. I didn’t do anything wrong and tried my hardest to do the same. With limited information about one another’s thoughts and feelings, we were both a little bit pissed at one another, even though NO ONE DID ANYTHING WRONG.

That’s How Your Marriage Ends

Sometimes he’s a drunk or an addict.

Sometimes she’s financially manipulative.

Sometimes he’s a degenerate gambler.

Sometimes she’s sleeping with a guy at work.

BUT.

That’s not usually what happens. Usually, two well-meaning people get married with the heartfelt intention to love one another forever, and raise good kids, and enjoy backyard barbecues with friends, and holiday gatherings with family, and trips together to Disney World and the Grand Canyon.

And then slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, little moments like the one I described above start to invade and infect our psyche and emotional chemistry.

She thinks he’s thoughtless and irresponsible.

He thinks she’s unfairly bitchy and never happy.

She thinks he’s selfish and that all his decisions revolve around self-interests.

He thinks he’s already changed so much of his behavior and lifestyle for her, he doesn’t understand why she’s always so dissatisfied with him.

She decides he’s never going to change and eventually grows exhausted by him. Because there are only two possibilities: He’s a childlike moron incapable of being a responsible adult partner and co-parent, OR he’s as smart as she thinks he is and cares so little about her feelings that every day he chooses all the fuck-you-I’m-going-to-do-things-my-way stuff that she’s been pleading with him to stop.

In either case, she can’t trust him anymore. He’s no longer SAFE.

Not because he had sex with someone else.

Not because he gambled away their money.

Not because he’s an unreliable financial provider or not physically capable of protecting her from harm.

But because when she bares her soul to him, nothing changes. So she must not matter enough to him. She loves him in theory, but the feelings go away. It’s hard to stay in love with the person who hurts you every single day. Because he’s no longer safe and behaves like someone who doesn’t love her, she stops being sexually attracted to him. Sex becomes super-infrequent or dries up altogether.

All this time, her husband thinks she must be a little bit crazy. She’s hormonal and imbalanced. SHE MUST BE. Because he does love her. Very much. Of everyone he has ever known or currently knows, she’s the one he chose to spend the rest of his life with. She’s the one he was willing to forsake all others for. If he’s a father, there’s a secondary layer of love and protection he feels. He loves his kids a lot and he knows how amazing she is at caring for them. He could NEVER do what she does, thus her safety and wellbeing become even more important to him.

He spent his entire life going to school and hanging out with his friends.

Many of his best memories are Friday nights on the football field, or up in the stands at basketball games, or playing golf or soccer or poker or video games, or watching MMA or boxing or pro wrestling with his friends.

He has this loyalty he innately feels to his friends. They’re like brothers. Either because they played sports together, or roomed together in college, or served in the military together, or worked together, or any other bond-forming activity guys often do.

Now, he spends maybe 5-10% of his social time with them, or participating in hobbies ingrained in him from all those years. He thinks it’s REALLY unfair that even though he gave up the vast majority of those activities and hobbies for his marriage, she still complains about what little time he spends on all those things he has always loved.

She didn’t sign up for this. Not a life where she constantly feels invalidated because he either offers a hundred reasons why she’s being an unreasonable, nagging bitch, or he totally withdraws and doesn’t communicate with her at all.

He didn’t sign up for this. Not a life where he is constantly disrespected and made to feel inadequate even though his PURPOSE in life is to provide the best life possible for his family.

She stops sleeping with him.

He starts jerking off thinking about the office receptionist or that waitress at his favorite lunch spot.

She gets huge crushes on any man who appears to show genuine interest in her because her husband hasn’t talked to her or looked at her that way in years. He really gets me, she thinks. I want to sleep with him.

He gets his kicks from the female friend or coworker who listens to him complain about how unappreciated he is at home. She feels bad and wants to help so she puts his penis in her mouth, and he justifies it because his wife hasn’t slept with him in several months. What did she expect me to do!?, he thinks.

The guilt and shame pile up for everyone.

The shoulders are just a little bit heavier every second of every day.

Quiet moments alone are no longer peaceful because those are the moments the skeletons rattle loudest.

No one feels peace or innocence anymore. Not like when you were kids. You miss it so much, and it’s amplified by watching your kids. Because they’re pure and innocent and you want them to stay that way, but you can’t protect them from all the shit. There’s just way too much of it.

You feel like you’re constantly failing them because how can a broken, flawed person like me ever expect to raise children to be great people while protecting them from every danger?

What You’re Doing Isn’t Working

Two things:

  1. The above example is a fictional hypothetical situation that is NOT autobiographical but I believe is one super-common example of how marriages break and deteriorate into tar pits of shit.
  2. Your marriage or relationship has some element of all this going on in it. The reason it’s so easy to write this off-the-cuff example that will probably resonate with a kajillion people is because I read and hear the same stories over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. It’s totally frustrating and depressing.

You’re doing the same things everyone does, and when you do that, you get divorced and often end up sad and angry and hurting with sad and angry and hurting kids. It’s a real shit show.

A suggestion: TRY SOMETHING ELSE.

Hey Husbands: Your wife is going to leave you, and may or may not start sleeping with another man and take your children away. It’s horrible, and you and your family deserve better. If your wife tells you there’s a problem, and you don’t agree because you don’t think it’s as big a deal as she does? I have bad news. There’s a problem, and she’s going to leave.

Hey Wives: You’re not wrong that your husband who pledged to love you forever is a little oblivious and thoughtless, and should absolutely be prioritizing your feelings on all matters related to your emotional wellbeing so you can feel safe in your own life and trust that it will be here tomorrow. But you are wrong about your husband not loving or caring about you. And you’re doing a piss-poor job choosing WHEN, HOW and in what TONE OF VOICE to tell him how dissatisfied you are.

If I knew how to cure marriage problems, I’d have already written the magic-bullet bestselling book of all time, and currently be enjoying the spoils of commercial success while also kind of saving the world.

Every couple, and every individual, is different. Unique. Nuanced. Special.

And when we pledge to love and cherish and serve one another for as long as we live, it is our solemn duty to figure out what we can do to make our partner’s lives better.

Guys, marriage isn’t for you. It’s for your wives. You don’t need to agree with her. You simply have to care that the person you love most feels serious pain and fear. And if you put your mind to solving that problem—alleviating her pain and fear—you’re going to be much happier.

Ladies, marriage isn’t for you. It’s for your husbands. You don’t need to agree with him. You simply have to care that the person you love most in the world feels seriously unappreciated and undervalued. And if you put your mind to solving that problem—making him feel respected for all of the positive traits for which you originally fell in love with him, and valued for his many contributions to your life—you’re going to be much happier.

My ex-wife had a choice: Be pissed because I wasn’t with them during the church thing. Or appreciate that I tried my best at the expense of my own happiness to make sure our son was getting the most out of the moment.

I had a choice: Be pissed my ex-wife didn’t make a better effort to arrive sooner. Or appreciate that she—a non-Catholic—goes out of her way to support and participate in things she doesn’t always understand or agree with.

The moment passed.

Later that night, I had to run a pair of our son’s pants to her house. We do little favors like this all the time.

The anger and frustration from earlier was gone.

Despite her annoyance, she had sent me a video in the afternoon of our son riding his bike like a big boy. I appreciated it.

Despite my annoyance, it was my pleasure to bring clothes to her that he needed for school. She appreciated it.

Gratitude.

It’s the baseline emotion necessary to achieve happiness.

And just maybe, while you’re searching for answers on what to do next? On how to get through to him? On how to get her to respect you or sleep with you? On how to save your marriage? On what else you can try?

Maybe you can start with something you learned before entering kindergarten.

Saying thank you.

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Lift Him Up

Image by Imajali at Deviant Art.

Image by Imajali at Deviant Art.

Maybe I was wrong.

When I said that men have the most power to save their marriages or long-term relationships.

The thinking was, men have so much room for improvement, that if they can get some of these little things right—these little things that make their wives or girlfriends feel unloved, unsafe, and insecure—that men can collectively make incredible gains toward a future where divorce occurs much less frequently.

And while I still believe that to be true—that men wield a lot of power in the fight for marriages—I’m questioning whether men actually have the most responsibility.

Bear with me for a minute, please.

Divorce is bad, I think. Worse than most people give it credit for. It’s the second-most-stressful thing that EVER happens to you, according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Marital separation is No. 3 on the list. It is only behind the death of your spouse, and ranked ahead of things like going to prison and the death of a close family member or friend. When it happened to me, I FREAKED. Hard to describe, but I don’t think I have to. I think most people understand what freaking the hell out feels like. It’s worth avoiding. (Free life tip!)

I repeat: Divorce is BAD. And it affects 95 percent of us.

We are not arming young people (or ourselves) with the information we need to make good marital choices. It ends up with a whole bunch of broken homes and broken hearts and economic hardships and children growing up in more-challenging environments than we’d all prefer.

It’s an epidemic.

People collectively freak out and band together to fight all kinds of worthy causes in this world. Causes that impact barely a fraction of the people that divorce does.

It matters to me.

It affects me every day in one form or another.

And I believe as we collectively become more enlightened in the information age, it’s something that can get incrementally better as we move into the future.

Boys vs. Girls

I have no idea how girls (and women) experience the world. I won’t pretend to.

But I know what it’s like to be a boy growing up in a reasonably typical environment in small-town Ohio.

Political correctness keeps a lot of people from being honest with themselves and others about differences between boys and girls that are generally true. (I KNOW there are exceptions.)

Here’s how I remember it:

Boys liked to play sports. Roughly. And with trucks and action figures and watch superhero shows on TV.

Girls liked to play with bedroom vanity and kitchen sets. Much more orderly. And with dolls and watch Jem and Strawberry Shortcake.

Boys were generally stronger and faster and got in more trouble during school, more prone to fighting, but also pretty good at getting along with other boys.

Girls were generally better students, stayed out of trouble, would go to the bathroom together in groups (I still don’t get it, ladies—totally weird!), and were generally less successful at getting along with other girls not in their immediate social circle.

Boys wore blue. Sports t-shirts. Air Jordans and Reebok Pumps.

Girls wore pink. Pretty things. Jewelry.

I think it’s important to admit that boys and girls are different. If you think your husband or wife thinks and feels exactly like you, then it’s no damn wonder you communicate poorly and get so frustrated with one another.

But. If you acknowledge the differences. Respect them. Understand their complementary value. Then you can understand why conflict and misunderstandings are taking place. You can learn empathy. You can attempt to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. THAT’s where compromise, balance and peace live.

Ladies: You Can be the Superhero

Depending on your individual chemical makeup, I understand that you want—check that, need— to feel supported, loved, respected, cared for, protected. It’s necessary security and I can appreciate now more than ever how important feeling secure really is.

I also understand ladies that when some of your critical individual needs aren’t being met… (you feel alone in your marriage, he doesn’t touch you or look at you like he used to, he chooses other things over spending time with you, he seems oblivious to all you do for the household—thoughtless and insensitive, he repeatedly does things that hurt you even though you tell him over and over and over again that it does. He tells you that you’re acting crazy. Like you’re making it up. That how you feel ISN’T what’s real. He just doesn’t get it. I understand.)… that it’s really hard for you to exert the energy to carry the responsibility of the relationship on your shoulders as well.

You already do feel that way because the vast majority of the time, you’re WAY better at performing the functions of married life than your male counterpart.

You just are.

At the risk of sounding like I think my ex-wife wasn’t supportive, an honest look at my adulthood yields the feeling that she didn’t have much respect for the things I was (and am) good at because I fell short in her eyes in so many other areas.

In the interest of fairness, perhaps that wouldn’t have been the case had I gotten my husband duties right. I did not. The net result was a broken marriage. It takes everyone pulling in the same direction. Always has. Always will. No cheats or shortcuts.

My ex grew up around tough guys who fixed and built things with dirty, calloused hands. Guys not unlike my father (who I was rarely with throughout my formative years). Men who fought in wars. Men who fixed cars and broken water heaters. Men who chopped down trees and repaired household appliances.

I am not like those men. And I’m fucking tired of trying to be.

I write. I read. I talk. I like watching sports on TV. And playing poker.

I find joy in cooking. In laughing with friends.

I can’t build you a car. I can write you a book.

I can’t fix your furnace. I can cook you a five-course meal.

I don’t think working all the time is nearly as valuable as living all the time.

I think my wife, in conjunction with all of the typical husband failings I committed, really tired of me not being the kind of man she respected and idealized.

And I’m very much done worrying about not living up to expectations in that regard.

I will be judged on my behavior. And you’ll leave the who-I-am part of it the fuck alone. Thanks.

Ladies, I think men need your help.

Because I do believe strongly that you are, just, BETTER, at relationships and marriage than your male partners. Not always. And not about everything. Just most of the time about most things.

And those with the most power to do something, in my humble opinion, have the most responsibility to.

You know things. You feel things. You inherently understand things that he does not.

Help him.

If he’s not successful at whatever he’s working on, his inclination is to stop doing that thing and to find something in which he does succeed. It might look like quitting to you. It might look like giving up. Like he has no follow through. But he’s NOT quitting. He’s simply chasing success. And it’s because he WANTS you to be proud of him.

Help him.

Maybe you don’t respect him because you feel unloved. He craves the respect, though. Needs it. Like water and air. Having your respect is every bit as important to him as having your love. It’s true.

Help him.

You’re not crazy. You’re not psychotic or delusional. It really happened. When you met him, you were totally smitten with him. Desire. Love. Respect. And you HAPPILY and WILLFULLY entered the relationship with him based on all the evidence that he was every bit the man you could ever want.

But now he’s changed, you say.

But now you’ve changed, he says.

He’s got work to do. I’m not saying he doesn’t.

But… maybe you do, too?

What if you just believed in him like you did back then? Encouraged him? Told him you were proud of the things he does well? Of all the things he takes care of so you don’t have to?

Believe in him.

Because that’s the same man. There’s more guilt now. More shame. More stress. More… just… life and baggage and bullshit piled on all those shoulders.

But he will carry it to the moon and back for you if you can find a way to love him and lift him up even when you don’t feel like it. Even when it’s inconvenient.

Maybe you feel like you’ve been the bigger person all this time and just don’t have the energy or desire to do it anymore.

I can’t save your marriage or relationship and would never think otherwise.

But I know that we all meant it when we said “I Do,” and most of us do a really shitty job with follow through years later when life and love stop being easy.

You loved him once.

He loved you once.

And you probably both still do.

You probably just don’t feel it. And sure, that’s important.

So maybe don’t wait for him to “get it.” Because maybe the way you’ve been trying to get through to him doesn’t work very well.

We all learn differently.

And maybe if you’re the strong one—the superhero—you’ll lift him and your relationship to places you didn’t know it could go.

Maybe if you believe in him, he’ll surprise you in ways you didn’t think possible.

Maybe if we choose love even when it’s hard, we change the world.

But there’s really no “maybe” about it.

Choose love.

Change the world.

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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5

mrmom“So what you are saying is, I need to help you around the house and with the kids whether I want to or not?”Husband, searching for answers after wife left him yesterday, taking their two children

Now you’ve done it.

I told you it was going to happen. And I was right.

Not because I’m smart. Not because I’m psychic.

But simply because I’ve been where you are and tend to learn from my mistakes.

You didn’t think she was going to leave.

We’ve got kids!, you thought.

We have the house!

We have our friends!

She’ll snap out of it!

She loves me!

Surprise, asshole! Love isn’t enough. And neither is all that other crap.

Maybe some people will take the beating forever. I don’t pretend to know everything.

But most won’t. Once life really turns to shit and there’s nothing left to lose, a person sheds a whole bunch of fear. They rise up. Fight back.

Your problem is you only see the world through your narrow little prism.

You don’t realize that she doesn’t think like you. She doesn’t feel like you. And the radical changes taking place are under the surface. On the inside of her. Invisible to anyone not paying attention or unwilling to listen.

Invisible to someone just like you.

And now she’s gone.

Shit Just Got Real

Writing these Open Letter to Shitty Husbands posts, I always have a few specific men in mind. Guys I have met or know in real life. Guys I know are guilty of the EXACT same crimes that doomed my marriage.

Because once you get divorced (and publish your life on the internet) people have a tendency to start sharing private details of their lives with you.

Well, one of those shitty husbands just got left yesterday.

The results were predictable.

After untold hours of conversation, marriage counseling, and repeated warnings of discontent and requests for change, he was still in total shock when he came home to find his wife and two children gone.

Even though this is an untrue generalization, it often seems that only a man could be capable of such dense, negligent behavior.

Believe me. I know.

Every marriage is different. And the marital sins of a husband are going to vary from relationship to relationship, depending on a million different factors.

Some men travel for work. Others don’t.

Some men make an enormous amount of money. Others don’t.

Some men cheat on their wives. Others don’t.

Some men know how to be good fathers. Others don’t.

Some men satisfy their wives’ sexual desires. Others don’t.

This particular husband’s marital sins seem to mostly revolve around doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants, with no regard for how his decisions might affect his wife and children.

You’ve heard it, seen it, done it or experienced it all before. It looks something like this.

Wife: “Hey, I have to get up early tomorrow and take our daughter to her doctor’s appointment. So, you’ll have to make sure our son gets to school on time.”

Husband: “Yeah, sure, no problem.”

Wife: “That means you can’t stay up all night watching football or playing video games with your friends. Every time you do that, you sleep in all morning.”

Husband: “I got it, Mom. Thanks. I’m trying to watch this, okay? While I appreciate your concern, I’m perfectly capable of making my own big-boy choices.”

Wife: *deep breath* “Would you please put the dishes that are in the sink in the dishwasher and start it before you come to bed? I’ll take care of the rest when I get home tomorrow morning.”

Husband: “Yeah. I’ll get it.”

Wife: “Thank you. I love you. Goodnight.”

Husband: “Sure. Night.”

Morning comes.

Wife leaves to take daughter to doctor’s appointment. She notices the kitchen is exactly the way she had left it. There is an open bag of chips and two empty Dr. Pepper cans on the floor by the living room recliner.

That lazy sonofabitch, she thinks.

Husband watched football until 11 p.m. Then he played Madden and Call of Duty for four hours.

Tired at 3 a.m., he forgot to set his alarm.

Wife comes home at 9:30 a.m. after dropping daughter off at school. Six-year-old son is in living room watching television and eating a Pop Tart—totally not at school. Husband is still asleep, oblivious.

Fight ensues.

…..

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…..

About Helping Around the House

“So what you are saying is, I need to help you around the house and with the kids whether I want to or not?”

This kind of thinking still surprises me, even though it shouldn’t.

This is, literally, what the husband said to the wife who left him. He promised to change and she told him she didn’t know if she believed he was capable. So, he asked THAT.

I wish it was weird that so many men think like this. But so many do.

Dishes. Cleaning. Child rearing. Laundry. Cooking. School stuff.

That’s women’s work!

So many men feel this way.

And I think I know why. I think it’s because these men used to be boys. And when they were boys, one of a few different things happened:

  1. Their mothers coddled them. Did their laundry. Did all the cooking and cleaning. Waited on them hand and foot, much like they did to their fathers.
  2. Their fathers had this chauvinistic mindset which THEY learned from their fathers. And because sons almost blindly hero-worship their fathers, they took on this same philosophy.
  3. Or, both, which REALLY validates this way of life in the mind of a son during his formative years.

It’s classic old-school thinking.

I’m actually reminded of it every day. I live in a suburban neighborhood that was developed during the 1950s. Some houses, like mine, have two-car garages because of later modifications or new construction. But most? They have a one-car garage.

And that’s because in the 1950s, families only had one car. They only needed one car. Because the father went to work in the family car while the wife stayed home and raised children.

And even in 2014, there is still much of society that shares that mindset.

Men are hardworking breadwinners away from home.

And women take care of all that easy stuff—EVERYTHING else. And don’t forget the blow job before you get back to ironing my shirts, sweetie!

While I never shared this mindset—ever—I am a product of a mother who coddled me.

My laundry was always folded and in my drawers or hung up in my closet.

The house was always very tidy.

Breakfast and dinner were always on the table. Mom did all the cleaning, too.

Making my bed in the morning was my only chore until I was old enough to help rake leaves and mow the lawn.

My mom is the oldest of eight kids. She has been taking care of others for as long as she can remember.

While I have stepsisters who I grew up mostly apart from and a half sister 14 years younger than me, I was essentially raised as an only child.

I didn’t have to do anything except homework, then whatever I wanted.

That’s the math formula for creating me—a guy who had a very difficult time adjusting to the responsibilities of a full-time relationship, and eventually, marriage, because I had never been asked to do those things before.

I would encourage parents to think about this when raising children. Might be the difference between raising mature, responsible people with successful marriages, or immature, negligent people whose marriages are doomed to fail.

Guys: You must help your wife with the responsibilities of raising children, which includes the tasks of keeping a house in order—laundry, cooking, dishes, grocery shopping, bill paying, etc.

Don’t? She’s going to leave.

She will, man.

Love in the Time of Selfishness

The answer is: Yes.

You have to help around the house and with the kids even when you don’t want to.

But here’s the REALLY important part you need to be thinking about.

You don’t need to help around the house and with the kids just because your wife doesn’t have time to do it all. In truth, she probably can figure it out. A mother’s multitasking capabilities are unparalleled in the world.

What she does need is to have her wants and desires validated by you.

She needs to feel safe.

She needs to feel loved.

She needs to be able to trust you. Not in a don’t-have-sex-with-other people sense. But in a I-can-count-on-my-husband sense.

She doesn’t just want you to do laundry.

In fact, she may literally not want you to do laundry because you’re apt to mess up her clothes by drying things you’re not supposed to, and do a lousy job folding everything.

What she wants you to do is observe, appreciate, and respect the enormous amount of effort she puts in to making your lives what they are.

She doesn’t even need you to thank her and buy her stuff, though that would be a very nice, thoughtful thing to do.

But when you can’t even do the little things she asks you to do, she’s not angry because she has to do that work also. She’s angry because you don’t respect her enough to perform such a simple task, even after saying you will.

THAT’s why she feels unloved. Because she can’t trust you. You’re unreliable.

Because every chance you get to SHOW her that you love her, you choose yourself over her or your family.

She’ll eventually have an emotional reaction. Maybe she’ll yell. Maybe she’ll cry.

You’ll think she’s crazy. You might even tell her so. Maybe you’ll tell her again that the things she thinks and feels are stupid.

Please don’t do that.

She doesn’t like yelling.

She doesn’t like crying.

She doesn’t like feeling alone.

She doesn’t like feeling abandoned.

And she is not out to get you. Or make your life worse. She knows that you two are currently living in ways which are unsustainable. She knows that this can only keep up so much longer, and then it’s all going to break. She knows your marriage is in grave danger.

And you just keep choosing to play golf.

Or to go to the bar.

Or to play video games.

You just keep choosing everything except your marriage.

It might be too late already. Sometimes wives check out. And there’s no turning back.

I’ve seen that play before. It stings.

But maybe you still have time.

Maybe she’s still in the house. Holding on.

Or maybe she left but you still see a glimmer of hope.

Use that fear of loss. Channel it. And use it to fuel your personal growth.

Because that’s the only way this has a happy ending.

If you grow. Not necessarily change. But evolve.

Ask yourself: Am I really happier without her?

Maybe! I don’t know how you experience the world.

I only know my life got infinitely shittier once my wife and son left.

Seriously.

And if you’re like me? If you, deep down where it counts, want to keep your marriage and family intact? Then it’s time to do the hardest thing we do as human beings.

Change.

  1. Stop deflecting blame. Accept responsibility for your role in the breakdowns. Big or small, you have some.
  2. Apologize. Mean it.
  3. Learn about your wife. There are great resources out there.
  4. Pray. If you’re not a believer, just look to the sky and say: “Please help.”
  5. Choose to love. Vow to give more than you take in your marriage, every day, forever.

I know you’re selfish. I get it. I am, too. I know this is intimidating. I know you’re so selfish that you’re asking yourself whether divorce might be easier than putting in the work.

Maybe you’ll need to learn the hard way, like me.

But maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll realize that divorce is not easier than putting more effort into your marriage.

And I’m telling you, you can do it.

You still have time.

To be a soldier.

To change yourself.

To do something heroic.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 6

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 7

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 8

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 9

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 11

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 12

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 13

…..

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