Are Husbands Really Assholes? Or Do Their Wives Just Think They Are?

Why do some men report that even the attempt to be a good husband is a soul-crushing experience?

There is a conversation that started with some guys in The Good Men Project—in person, by phone, via email—where men were asked to talk deeply and honestly about their marriage. What came out was startling: there is despair in the voices of married men. The refrain heard over and over is some variation of “I want to have a good marriage. I love my wife. But sometimes, all I feel is resentment—from my wife, toward my wife, toward the marriage. I believe my wife thinks I am an asshole, and she treats me as such.”

My first thought was: If an alien came to earth and read this, it would think marriages are a form of torture chambers. My second thought? Wives should know about this. I don’t think they do.

These guys seem to feel that a marital relationship comes down to more than compromise. Some go as far as to say it’s a form of humiliation—“a bitter pill that I have to trust will be worth it.” Often a man will admit that a central issue in their lives is dealing with the irrational-seeming criticism from their wives in a way that isn’t defensive but shows compassion and love, despite the cost to their souls.

There is an obvious breakdown of communication in the marriages where men feel resentful and women are oblivious to that resentment. But the saddest thing, to me, is that the breakdown is destined to continue; many men agreed to be quoted only if they could do so anonymously. They can’t talk openly about their marriages without fear of reprisal. The last thing they want is for their wives to find out.

Not every marriage is doomed, of course, and even where guys talk openly about the problems, there is a ton of love and joy that makes up for it. But others have lost hope that there is a way to solve the problem. Because, as men readily admit, maybe they are assholes, sometimes. We are all human; we are all flawed. Women are equally imperfect. But almost always, the men we talked to start with an intention of trying to understand their wives, get a grasp on what would make the marriage work, and have an intense desire to move toward an increasingly great relationship, instead of one where they feel continually disconnected. And yet, they can’t seem to get there. Despair is the end result of ongoing frustration and disconnection.

Here are some of the responses we received:

  •  “There’s an easy way and a hard way to communicate with my wife. The easy way is to admit she is right, immediately, no matter what. The hard way is to fight now and admit she is right down the line when you run out of steam.”
  •  “Women are constantly trying to control their husbands. If a man dares to critique his wife, she immediately goes on the attack, screaming and crying with the express intent of teaching, so that no good man would ever do it again. Most men learn the lesson well and early and learn to ‘seethe in silence.’ The resentment continues to grow. Men feel defenseless against this kind of attack and don’t know how to have any equality.” (John Wilder, marriage coach)
  •  “Most every problematic marriage I’ve seen has one theme in common. The woman is so busy trying to force the man to attend to her agenda that she doesn’t appreciate, or even notice, all of the things he does for her.”

The reason marriages fall apart is that we don’t communicate. The reason we don’t communicate is fear of reprisal. Obviously, these discussions should be going on, but they do not appear to be, and many men are at a loss for a way into the conversation.

♦◊♦

Communicating is hard when you are always trying to duck and cover.

Difficult discussions are a given in any relationship. But this is different. The men we talked to appear unwilling or unable to displace their animosity and bitterness. Many want to hide behind the cloak of anonymity. The consensus is that the only way to protect the marriage is to not talk about it.

He says: “My suggestion: duck and take cover in an undisclosed location. I do have hope. I have watched my brother-in-law deal with my older sister in a very cunning way. He just ignores her, walks away, and goes to get a beer or smoke a cigar. I guess he is a man beaten down to a slow retreat each time the shit hits the fan. Calling them on the carpet doesn’t work. Countless times, I’ve asked my wife, ‘What’s up? Why so many orders, I am not your personal slave!’ She fires back, ‘I am not giving orders, only making suggestions.’”

She says: “I tried very hard to be the ‘good wife’ when the marriage was young. I think, however, that we women in general expect too much of men—we expect you to be our ‘soul mate’ and the source of all our happiness. Our white knight in shining armor. Whatever. Then reality hits. There is no way any man can live up to what were fed in romance novels and RomComs. So no matter what, you look like an asshole. We can’t handle the disappointment and are too brainwashed to admit that our expectations are just too high. So we lash out.”

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Explaining the forces at work: a list and some details.

A quick, non-scientific survey of self-appointed experts in the perception of husbands as assholes, despite a lack of evidence, turned up a list of potential causes of this phenomenon:

  • “Marriage is hard work. There is no disparity here. Wives feel that husbands order them around. ”
  • “Some kind of Freudian thing that women generally resent their fathers and take it out on their husbands.”
  • “It’s just a hormonal thing.”
  • “Men see the locus of control inside themselves, so when shit goes wrong, they try to fix it, where women more often see it externally, so they blame others.”
  • “It’s about sex. They want to make you earn it.”
  • “The beauty-maintenance-insanity correlation. If you want a beautiful wife, you are going to pay the price since they have other options, always, and will make you aware of that fact implicitly.”
  • “Guys really are thoughtless assholes. We need a woman to slap us upside of our face to get us to do pretty much anything.”
  • “Golf. Too much golf is the source of all problems.”
  • “Every guy secretly wants to marry a stripper, and your wife is just letting you know if you do, it’s really, really going to be painful.”

Women and men both were quick to jump in with some of the details.

She says: “Look, maybe we don’t ‘nag you constantly’ at all. Maybe we’re just flapping our lips and you’re projecting. Think about how much time we spend on the phone versus how much time you spend on it. Consider that we can talk to our sister/best friend/cousin five days in a row and never run out of things to talk about. We need to discuss and dissect our mother’s insensitivity, our job’s unrelenting pressures, and the nasty look the cashier gave us when we tried to use an expired coupon at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Most of the time we’re not saying, ‘You are such a jerk for leaving your socks on the floor!’ but ‘Oh my god would you look at the socks all over the floor!’ We’re giving a play-by-play of the minutia that is our lives (because that’s what we do), and you’re getting defensive because, well, you know you’re a slob, so you assume our ire is your fault. Sometimes it is, but just as often it’s not. (Tip: When we’re on a rant, the very-best way to diffuse it is some variation of ‘You sure do a lot around here and I am one lucky son-of-a-bitch.’ You should try it!).”

He says: “This ‘male’ training goes back to the built-in insecurity of wives fearing their husbands will abandon them and stop providing and protecting them, and hence to need to keep them on a short leash. I still like being a guy better. Remember—it’s easier dealing with a difficult woman than living as a difficult, demanding woman 24/7. That’s why many women don’t like other women, too. We guys are simple and lower-maintenance on average. We just want women to be in a good mood, give us some positive reinforcement, do fun things with us (such as sex), look good (but not over-the-top perfect), give us some space, allow us our food and sleep, and clear out some other hassles and roadblocks in life. That about covers it. What do women want? Everything. Without having to spell it out first—but then get mad afterward if he doesn’t do it. Because after all, ‘if he really cared about me, then he would have [fill in the blank].’”

She says: “As a woman, we suffer from a behavior which I have named ‘I’m not happy and it is all your fault.’ We have learned that unless we are in “control” of our spouse’s thoughts and behavior (‘don’t fold the towels that way, why did you say that and not this’), then there must be something wrong with our spouse and the relationship. There is a line from the movie As Good As it Gets that illustrates this perfectly. Jack Nicholson’s character is asked how he writes so successfully about women. He states, ‘I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.’”

♦◊♦

One of the scariest things about these conversations, and the reason it’s important to get them out in the open, is that not only does resentment beget resentment, but it starts that dangerous spillover where men and women start to make vast generalizations about each other, based on what they see as repetitive behavior in the one relationship they would like to believe is unique. As some men told us:

  •  “Men want to be good husbands but they honestly don’t know how. And the women they truly adore pound them as a result. Rather than talking it through, they ultimately get to the point where they give up on dialogue and just take the punishment as part of what they have to endure. And what’s interesting is how that enduring punishment comes out sideways over time in terms of men’s true view of women.”
  •  “We don’t have the verbal endurance to match the detail of women’s reasoning, and we cave. Even though they’ve missed the point entirely. Part of the problem is the support they get from their friends. Without that extra inspiration and misplaced confidence they might actually check with us to see if they’re on the right track. Naaaah.”
  •  “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Somewhere along the line, the sewing circle (or whatever the XX version of the boys club is) started telling each other what they would and would not accept from their husbands, sometimes not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. The Elk Lodge, on the other hand, felt like they had to one-up each other with sometimes-apocryphal tales of henpeck-ery. As time marched on, men felt like they didn’t have it too bad at home, women felt like they didn’t have it quite good enough, and an entirely fictional middle ground was met.”

♦◊♦

What if a contract really was a contract?

Perhaps, then, a new framework is needed.

I remember working in advertising with a creative superstar, one who yelled and screamed at vendors, photographers, directors, and colleagues in an effort to get them to buy into his creative vision. One day I was sitting in his office, cowering, and he turned to me and said,

“Hey, you know, I’m not really an asshole when I leave the office. I go home, kick off my shoes, pat my dog, and invite my girlfriend over for a bottle of wine. My assholeness at the office is all a performance. I just need to get shit done.”

And yet, when you look at what guys are saying about their marriages, the reverse is often true. In the office, they are treated with respect and courtesy. They’re listened to, and negotiations happen aboveboard and frankly. But when they get home, all hell breaks loose, the rulebook is nowhere in sight. There’s, at best, a sense of anarchy and, at worst, a feeling of slavery.

Here’s what some men said:

  • “It’s funny how I can go from the office where people seem to respect me—my intelligence, my work ethic, my abilities—to a house where I am more or less treated like a lackey,”
  • “Where men handle their power in the workplace, there is a disconnect with the rules of engagement at home. Men enter into romantic relationships with no concept of the extremely ‘contractual’ nature of all human interaction. The contractual aspects of being at work are apparent and, even if you missed some of the fine points of your offices etiquette standards, enforced by everyone. No one likes to see someone break the rules of behavior in an office. Whenever someone yells, they’re reprimanded and ignored until they can ‘act like adults.’ If someone is condescending, they get called on it, are made to prove the correctness of their position, or labeled an arrogant creep. Threaten to ‘walk out,’ and you get fired. Make a claim you can’t prove against another employee, and you may get a lawsuit along with your pink slip. Even bosses must bend to the structure the company has decreed. Try to break these contractual points, and you are let go. If you are continually exposed to those ‘breaches,’ you will instinctively leave and seek a better job.”
  • “Compare that to the home life scenario. Men are exceedingly flustered by the treatment they receive by their wives. But even though we have plenty of anecdotal evidence to indicate they could have called their spouses on it at any time, they don’t. They hide, they “Yes Dear” to things they know are unreasonable, insulting or unfounded and they just take it.”
  • “Married men treat their wives differently than they do other women. In a well-meaning but unhealthy way, they don’t hold them accountable for their behavior, thinking that they’re doing everything they can to please their wives. Unfortunately, the lack of confrontation fuels the woman’s view that she can do whatever she wishes without encountering any resistance or blowback from her husband. Over time, he does what he can to keep the peace, while she continues to grow ever more demanding, testing his limits. You’d never see a guy do that in his workplace, but he does it at home. Half because he thinks he’s making her happy and half because he thinks he’s doing what he can to keep his home harmonious. Neither works.”

Perhaps, then, the answer lies with both parties—men and women—seeing marriage as the contractual relationship it really is, to explicitly honor the vows to “love and cherish.” No matter how hard it is. To look at those words as action words, not feelings. It’s impossible to commit to “feeling” the same way forever. But it’s not impossible to “act in love” with the person you cherish, until death do you part. You only need to believe that it is possible. And, for the record, I’ve never been to a wedding yet, where one says, “I vow to be an asshole and to let you treat me like one for all the days of my life.”

Out loud

It still bothers me that there’s no real dialogue around this issue. Men feel resentment, women appear oblivious, and conversation around the topic seems nil. Men and women both hope that their spouse will suddenly turn into the magic mind-reader, someone who will wake up and “get” the anger and disconnection that they are feeling. But if we can’t start the conversation husband by husband, wife by wife, then let’s start it together and get some of these issues out in the open.

As one guy mentioned, “I was having lunch with a friend who is about as happily married as any guy I know, to the same women for the last 25 years, and was telling him about this article. He just started laughing out loud and commented, ‘every guy I know can relate to that one.’”

♦◊♦

Poor, Poor, Pitiful Men: The Martyr Complex of the American Husband, Hugo Schwyzer
Being the Man Does Not Automatically Make Everything Your Fault, Jackie Summers

♦◊♦

—Photo klaaspieter/Flickr

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Comments

  1. Love my wife, really do, but I feel like her perception of me is filtered through her overy tinted glasses. Anyone else feel this way?

    • This article is sexist. You can say the same for either sex.
      I only started treating my husband like an asshole long after he started acting like one.
      He broke my heart

  2. Well I know now thing I don’t want a knight in shinning armor, or prince charming. I just want my husband to stop thinking he is king, and the world revolves around him. I work full time, babysit my neice and nephew, take care of my 3 step kids, and cook and clean! And it’s not enough for him! He comes home from a 8 hour shift complaining of being tired, so he wants me to rub his feet or massage him. He also wants me to sit in the room with him and watch whatever he feels we need to watch, while he is playing wow at the same time. He doesn’t like it if I am in a different room for a long time, he whines, complains and acts like a big baby!!! and he never stops talking! I don’t listen to him, I don’t cuddle with him, I don’t respect him, omg he is driving me crazy!!!!!

  3. If my husband would just critique me that would be one thing, but he will go for months without saying a word and then blow up over nothing. He throws stuff and gets really upset, then I am upset for hours or days afterward. He always apologizes, but deep down he really is an asshole.

  4. cornered says:

    I have to take umbrage at the author’s rather ignorant assumption that men get all that so-called deserving respect from their peers and coworkers at work, but get home to a not-so-happy wife.

    I don’t know of any man (and I doubt you do either), who takes that perfect work image home for the sake and benefit of his loving wife. If that were the case, divorce would be nonexistent. I would love it if my husband, who always treats his customers with respect, walks away from conflict, gets the job done in a timely manner, exercised the same traits at home. In other words, wives do not exactly get the same respect and favor from their husbands as do the husbands coworkers. That just blew me away that you could even write such a one-sided thing.

    Men need to learn that the relationship with their wives involves equality, anyone who denies the equality is bound to fail their marriage. Men who seek to inflate their egos at work know they’ll never get away with such a fake image at home because his coworkers and peers don’t know him half as much as his wife knows him. That’s a no-brainer!

    And, as if women don’t have an equal share of problems, duties, standards to adhere to, workload, pressures etc to deal with at work, we just handle it in a different way then men. At home, both husband and wife need to treat each other with the same amount of respect, leave work at the office! That’s why people have private lives, another no-brainer! Sorry, but you can’t compare a work-related image to an image the partner sees and lives with on a daily basis at home.

    That said, this whole article made it sound like men are whiny, juvenile, forever stuck in the adolescent stage because they just can’t bear opening up to inform their partner of how they really feel. Great, so blame the wife because she can’t mind-read! We’re not your mother, not your maid, not your secretary, and may never be your fantasy, so indeed grow up and recognize your partner as your equal and your soul mate and your best friend (as long as you develop and nurture that relationship, that’s what you both want in the end anyway, and what is only truly attainable in reality).

    • Mr Supertypo says:

      ” Men need to learn that the relationship with their wives involves equality, anyone who denies the equality is bound to fail their marriage. Men who seek to inflate their egos at work know they’ll never get away with such a fake image at home because his coworkers and peers don’t know him half as much as his wife knows him. That’s a no-brainer!”

      Does this also work for women, or only men? if it goes both way, why are you just mentioning men? and btw the male ego myth needs to go. There is no such thing. Women need to learn that men have feelings to, and male feelings is not EQUAL to EGO. They are the same thing as female feelings.

      We need to get rid of this BS of male ego, so long we keep this myth alive, men will forever be infantilized and dismissed. Go away male ego lie, go away…

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  6. lovelysunset says:

    People say, that keeping chidren away from an ex- partner is using the Child/ren as a Bargaining chip, But a child/ren is not a bargaining chip. When both parent/s dont both agree with allowing both ex-partners to have access to those child/ren. But child/ren can be used as the possessions of the parent.. For the parent to use through unsupervised access visit/s. To make a person/s the parent knows happy. with the parent allowing the person/s the parent knows- to spend time with the child/ren during the parent’s unsupervised access visits..When unsupervised access, is about bonding time between the parent and the child/ren.

  7. I have been living for 15 years with a husband who keeps everything a secret.
    I do not have access to any of his emails, bank accounts, family phone numbers and etc. He is very demanding and does not let me having any relationship with my friends and family. I am not even allowed to talk on the phone with my mom on his presence. I have a job and since I am good looking, I have had many of my male colleagues be extra friendly with me but I have always been loyal to him. There has been many times when he left me and his kid for 2 months to live with his crazy mother but he always came back to us. I hate that he has such an over complicated brain…. I wish I could have a happy life for the sake of my kid….

  8. To the idiot who thought that feminism didn’t make women happy in the home in the last few years and it should go back to the man dominating everything, that is called dictatorship and was the time of women living in shame about domestic abuse. There is something wrong with wanting that back. If women are the overpowering one, they are perceived of as nagging shrieking creatures. I find that men see things too black and white. One or the other must be dominant and of course they usually think it should be the man because society dictates that it is acceptable. Life is about balance and a lot of couples don’t have it yet but it doesn’t mean that feminism is the fault, it is the problem of the individual couple. This crap about wanting a prince on a white horse to rescue you is another way for society to condition girls and then they will be disappointed when they get the average man. So nobody wins in that situation, thank you patriarchy

  9. To the author:
    It still bothers me that there’s no real dialogue around this issue.

    Yeah, well, that’s where the “reason and accountability” part in the Jack Nicholson quote comes in.
    I think it’s very difficult to have an evolving dialogue around an issue with someone who’ll say just any first thing that pops up in the head to get you off the case, and then later on deny any recollection of ever having made such a statement….

    • Suzana Alves says:

      The problem is that the phrase says it is a woman thing. Do you even know what not having reason means? That would mean women are not even humans, but just animals with no reason, not rationality. That is what non-human animals are. Dehumanizing at it’s best, and also something most men believe is okay to say about and to women.

  10. Wow, some of these comments are brutal, but then my comment is probably about to be brutal anyway – if you’re not happy or can make such awful comments about your spouse when they aren’t looking, you really should just go get a divorce.

    My husband and I have had some great fights – and we have our issues. I mean, it’s a marriage – you have to WORK at it. That includes both sides. He is an asshole SOMETIMES and I fully admit I’m a total nagging bitch SOMETIMES. But then we get over it and MOVE ON – start laughing and spend the rest of the day having fun. 5 minutes of us being pigheaded vs the rest of the entire day/week/month – our lives? Totally worth it. But ya know, we actually TALK to each other, rather than post awful comments on blogs beyond each others’ backs….just saying. Sure sometimes the words hurt – he gets mad and yells, I get mad and scream and cry. Then we go cool down and come back to talk with rational brains and actually figure out what the real problem is and whoda thunk it? It works out – no resentment, no guilt, no lingering anger. Just a happy couple enjoying the fact that we can work it out as rational, grown up adults. Amazing huh?

    Apparently, my husband and I are the “weird” couple that actually talk to each other based on this article. I think as the article says, people (both sides, in any situation) need to learn how to TALK to each other….and as a little extra..LISTENING goes a very long way too…just a thought. But what do I know, I’m the weird one with a great marriage.

    • Well, I for one think you nailed it, Anastasia.
      Just that there’s not much reason talkin’ as long as there’s noone listenin’.

  11. Did this get reposted?

  12. Someone said that “Love is the delusion that one person differs from any other” or something like that.

    So of course husbands are assholes. Why should they differ from other people…

  13. My husband would be the first to admit he can act like an asshole, but it just came out yesterday that he has felt he never deserved me and that is why he has screwed up on a regular basis. He loves me passionately, I love him passionately, but I have had a hard time understanding his behavior and motivations. I am very straightforward and rational, perhaps more like a lot of men, and my husband is the dreamy-eyed, romantic type. If we argue, he gets very emotional and I walk away. I think if men are married to women who are demanding and controlling, they need to set limits, as I have had to do with my husband when he has attempted to control me. There is a huge difference between trying to control other people and setting boundaries for behavior towards oneself.

    • Fear makes a lot of people do counterproductive things. And often the counterproductive choice seems like the most logical thing to do…

  14. Does fear of some reprisal from wives, even ex-wives, keep men from speaking openly about their marriages? http://bit.ly/QJFna8

  15. “Men want to be good husbands but they don’t know how…”

    So true….things that are obvious to me are infuriatingly outta sight/outta mind for my husband…

    My husband has attended one spouse support group (organized by my doctor’s office), where 5 -6 guys sit around bagels and coffee and spill all their stuff….nothing is off limits…I don’t know everything they say in those sessions but it has helped our marriage tremendously in diffusing my anger and informing my husband in a nice way how to deal with the situation….

    I guess my husband couldn’t learn this stuff from just watching his own parents’ bickering/nitpicking marriage….

  16. I get confused on this topic about the fact that women marry these men who are allegedly assholes. Presumably the men didn’t get married, wake up the next morning and take on all these behavioral traits that are a problem. Really when either gender complains about their married I almost always pose the question of so you’re telling me all of a sudden you’re married and they changed from that person you used to constantly fawn over on facebook?

    Personally I would give anything to find a guy who wanted to have his own hobbies that didn’t have to involve me, who had his own set of friends that he saw on his own (but if we’re together as a group that’s cool too… it just doesn’t always have to be a group thing), who had his own life and interests and opinions and who was ok with me doing my thing like that as well. I make decions all day at work. I don’t want to come home and have all decision making deferred to me there too. I like having someone to talk to about it and who gets when I say I don’t care it’s up to you I really really mean that in a non-bitchy way. What ever happened to two adults having a conversation in relationships? Why do they always devolve into little fits and power struggles?

    • Leave me to do my car audio, woodwork, tinkering in the shed. :P
      I see my friend who has a gf and this particular woman gets shitty if he does too much of his hobby, if he spends both days on a weekend doing it he gets in trouble, or does it one day 5 weekends in a row. They see each other every day though but still she gets annoyed. She hasn’t got many friends of her own and he’s felt a bit restricted from it. People need their own friends and hobbies. I can’t stand having my time taken up fully by someone, I value my peace, I value my shed where I tinker and I don’t mind if she wants to be there n help or watch but don’t distract me too much and don’t get shitty at me having hobbies.

      • Every time I hear one of my female friends talk about what an a-hole their significant other is it comes down to that she is not the center of his universe (excepting the handful of abusive relationships where it’s a different story). But it always comes down to “he should just know” and then the complete lack of communication and lack of the reality that she’s not the center of the universe.

        I had an ex who would go hunting once a year for an extended weekend. I looked forward to that weekend almost as much as he did. He got out with his friends. We had some space in our togetherness and he came back happy, relaxed, refreshed and we were happy to have something to talk about and share since we weren’t together. If he needed to go out there and vent about me as his girlfriend I was fine with that. Everyone needs to vent sometimes. It was wonderful. Same guy had a hobby of tinkering on cars. Other than to pop in on him to see if he needed anything (parts or help) I left him alone. He left me alone to go hiking because he hated hiking and you know i never took it personally or felt he had to involve himself in that if he didn’t want to. We naturally grew apart after some time had different life goals so we broke up amicably and he went on to a very happy marriage.

        My girlfriends make fun of me and my preferences in this realm. Say taht I have to be neglected to be happy. I value my space. I value my “me” time so I can gather my sanity after having to deal with people all day at work.

        • High 5!

        • Another High 5!

        • CatChester says:

          I couldn’t agree with this more. Women are taught from infancy that their only goal in life is to find and marry Prince Charming. That’s it. End of story. If you fail to make a good marriage, you have failed as a woman. No fairy tail or romcom continues on past the wedding.

          On top of that, Prince Charming is supposed to be all things to us, our soul mate, our best friend, our counselor, our protector, our provider and 101 other things. That’s why so many women give up their friends after marriage, because they shouldn’t need them any more, aside from some double dating with the husbands.

          Of course, no one can be all things to someone else, it just isn’t possible. So women browbeat and try to bully their men into at least appearing to be Prince Charming, even if they aren’t because to many people, appearance is more important than reality and they don’t want to be seen to have failed as a woman.

          We need to change our preconceptions on marriage. For a start, that is is the happiest day of a woman’s life! F*** THAT! It’s the beginning of the rest of your life and a party, that’s all. If women spent as much time and effort making their marriages work, as they often put into making the wedding day “perfect”, many couples would be much happier.

          I doubt I’ll ever marry. I like being single (despite the sigma that I have failed as a woman) and it will take someone very special for me to give it up. I wont settle for someone who is not right, then try to turn him into Prince Charming. Like you, I want him to have his own life (and one of the problems with many men of my acquaintance, is that they expect their wives to become their whole social life), his own friends, and i don’t care if he bitches about me to his friends because everyone does it. I’ll be moaning about him to my mum and sister on occasion too. I don’t want the illusion of perfection, for other women to go “Wow, look at her man” when we pass, or to find their relationships wanting because mine looks so perfect from the outside.

          I want a good friend who I’m also sexually attracted to. Like my other friends, he wont be expected to be all thing to me, nor I to him. I will not try to change him, and he will have to accept me as I am too. We will both have to compromise on some things. If he doesn’t like one of my friends or family, I will see them without him, rather than forcing him to endure the company of someone he doesn’t like. I will seek advice from multiple sources including him, and decide for myself what is best. I will fight my own battles (but a comforting hug before and/or after would be nice). If i ask him how something looks on me, i expect an honest answer, same as i do from my girlfriends. I’m asking his opinion because i value his judgement, not because my ego needs boosting with lies. I won’t stop him going out with his mates (married or single) I’ll even encourage it, and i expect to be able to go out without him sometimes and be happy that he can entertain himself for a while. I won’t abandon my single friends, or only see them when hubbie isn’t around because I’m afraid they’ll run off with him. I expect that he’ll find some of my friends attractive, just as I will find some other men attractive. As long as he isn’t obnoxious about it (which I wont be either), that fact will not crush my ego or wound my self esteem. We got married, we didn’t have our eyes removed and i am not so arrogant as to assume I am the only attractive women in the world.

          Husbands (and wives) are just people and all people are flawed. No relationship is as good as it looks from the outside and we need to stop striving for the image of perfection and instead try to communicate with our other halves, both before and after marriage.

  17. I was at a party last week and upon learning that I was divorced an asshole asked me, “Do you still have his balls?” As long as this is the view of marriage we might as well abolish it all together.

  18. Mr Supertypo says:

    interesting

  19. wellokaythen says:

    This is a great start to a conversation that really needs to take place about how spouses communicate with each other. Unexamined assumptions can take on lives of their own. The biggest one is assuming that your partner sees the world the same way you do, or sees the relationship the same way you do.

    It’s amazing, and surprises a lot of spouses out there, that two people who are so intimately connected on so many aspects of their lives can have totally different perspectives on the same relationship, and that this disconnect can go on for decades. Huge things that you thought you would have been aware of? Totally invisible. You thought things were going great, but your partner was living a nightmare. Surely he must know that he’s acting like an asshole – except he doesn’t think that at all. Surely she must know how unreasonable she’s being – except she doesn’t see it that way.

    Great stuff here about the unreal expectations people put on their spouses, and I’m glad to hear recognition that these things happen on both sides. Thank god there’s a woman who can publicly admit to the existence of the “I’m not happy, and it is all your fault” neurosis. It makes a great dance partner for the “I have to fix it” neurosis that lives in the brains of many husbands. This often goes hand-in-hand with the “She’s complaining, which means she’s asking me to do something about it” assumption.

    I was in a marriage for a number of years that had all the bad stuff mentioned here. We resented each other, she nagged me but didn’t see herself as nagging me, I avoided her but didn’t see myself as avoiding her, the whole runaround. Going along to get along is a really bad long-term strategy. What surprised me was how little I accomplished by just caving in most of the time. It didn’t make her any happier, and it made me miserable, so what was the point of all that?

    That was what my wife and I call our “Old Marriage.” Before a very painful time in our relationship and then a year or two of some roll-your-sleeves-up therapy. We essentially had to start over from scratch and build up a different kind of a relationship from square one. We can even laugh about it now, but sometimes the joke comes with a little shudder of bad memories. It can be done; you can start a marriage over, but man, it’s gotta be so much better to start it off well from the beginning.

    I can tell you from years of personal experience that the duck-and-cover “yes, dear” husband strategy is very tempting. It has a lot to recommend it in the short-term. As an immediate tactical peacekeeping policy, it is extremely useful at times. It can’t be a lifestyle, however, and there’s a good chance that you think this is what your wife wants when deep down it really isn’t. Combine the self-negating aspect of caving in all the time, your wife’s resentment at you, a decline in your sex life, and throw in a little midlife crisis, and ka-boom! End of bad marriage.

    A really big disconnect, filled with deep resentment, is really just a time bomb.

  20. wellokaythen says:

    There is a very important difference between “resignation” and “acceptance.” I think that’s one of the keys to having a good relationship based on some degree of compromise, because ultimately it may be more important how you feel about the compromise than whether the compromise worked objectively. Feeling resigned to something, or just giving in, is not really the same as accepting. For years, when I ducked my head and acted accommodating, I thought I was just “accepting reality,” but that’s not really what I was doing. The difference is in how the result makes you feel. Resignation usually carries resentment with it, while acceptance does not.

    It’s a lot easier for me to accept a mutual decision if I feel like I was part of the decision in some way, like my opinion gets at least a minimum level of respect. If the final decision wasn’t my preference, but I consented and felt good about the larger negotiation, then I can accept it. What I realized about myself and my relationship was that my “letting her decide” did not necessarily mean that I accepted the choice. Being a relatively equal party helps lead to acceptance, but caving in out of resignation leads to resentment.

    If you think your husbandly resignation is working, I ask you to think again. Really, honestly, how well is that working for you?

    • I really honestly believe that above just men and women issues that there is a societal issue (at least in the US) where compromise is a largely untaught skill. We are taught regardless of gender to go for the kill and go for the win. If we don’t win we lose, period. There’s no such thing as win/win. And there certainly is no such thing as agree to disagree or a civil disagreement. Because, after all, the goal is to drag you to my point of view. There can’t possibly be a middle ground can there? Women and men are both pretty guilty of this. Women are reinforced when men go to the less traumatic mode of resignation. Not that I think there should be all out fights over stuff, but I think learning how to communicate would be a good thing for every couple.

      I also don’t think we are taught how to communicate effectively either let alone how to communicate for the purpose of compromise.

      • wellokaythen says:

        I think you have a very good point. We don’t get a whole lot of behavioral models showing us how to negotiate effectively. Instead, we’re taught a lot of the “one-up/one-down” way of looking at our relationships. You’re either the dog or the fire hydrant. Even people like legislators, who have compromise and discussion as key part of their job description, don’t show us a lot of good communication skills. Meanwhile, we are encouraged to wallow in our own pain louder than the other people wallowing in theirs, in a sort of race to gain the most attention based on who has it the worst.

    • @Wellokaythen:
      I think you raise some very good points with “resignation” and “acceptance.”

      I don’t think that any kind of “resignation” generally earns any favours to you.
      But also that compromise requires true, unbiased communication on both parts.
      If you find your partner more often than not is resigning instead of accepting in a discussion, maybe it’s time to also ask *yourself* in what order you are really taking your partner’s opinion into consideration?

      I think that resignation often is a clear sign of someone feeling that their opinons isn’t being listened to.

      • wellokaythen says:

        “If you find your partner more often than not is resigning instead of accepting in a discussion, maybe it’s time to also ask *yourself* in what order you are really taking your partner’s opinion into consideration?”

        Wait, are you suggesting that wives may not be good listeners!? Why do you hate women so much? ; – )

  21. When women get angry about “little” things and “fly off the handle” we need to listen carefully to what they are saying. When we shut down we have no opportunity to hear whats really going on. My wife laid into me big time because I had failed to put some things in the basement back in their proper places, thus making it impossible for her to find something she needed for a project. The project was getting some stuff together for a painter who was coming the next day, so it was not time critical. What would be to me a minor inconvenience (I’d just wait to ask where it was if it were me, no big deal right?) was something huge to her.
    1. She had to rely on me, which made her feel helpless and dependant.
    2. She felt like I didn’t care about keeping the house in good order, which is very important to her, so thusly I am devaluing her, and not respecting her.
    When these feelings come into play, they can turn a mountain into a molehill real quick. I find that these feelings of devaluation and disrespect can apply to damn near anything that seems to be blown out of proportion to a man. I think a lot of it comes from the fact that women are often judged by others on how the house is kept, so when you leave dirty dishes in the sink, or forget to pick up your socks, you expose them to judgement from the world. That would be enough to piss off anyone.

  22. Yes. Husbands are really assholes. They only make you the center of their universe when courting but after 6 months of marriage they treat you like crap. You can talk and talk but they don’t listen. They only care about themselves.

    • Nice bit of misandry in the morning, and wives lie about their sex drive so after the wedding cake is cut they stop having sex with their husbands right? ZOMG the wives are bitches!11!1. Or you know…men n women are individuals, some are assholes, some are bitches, so please don’t generalize about a gender as it’s pretty fucking insulting.

  23. Valter Viglietti says:

    Great article, Lisa! (as always :) )

    And a discussion of the utmost importance. Really something people should be openly talking more and more.
    Personally, I think “Lack of clear communication” and “Women’s too high expectations” are the topmost source of relationship’s trouble.

    My actual girlfriend is so sweet and accepting and grateful for everything I do/give her; I feel I’m a “gift” for her (just like she is for me).
    In comparison, I can see how much my previous partners were so demanding and critical, and thus how much the relationship became sour because of that.
    But we weren’t married, so when I had enough I could always leave. ;)

    It’s (tragically) funny, that women cannot realize this simple truth: the more you’re demanding, the lesser you’ll be loved. :!:
    You know that saying, “you catch more flys with sugar, then you do with vinegar”. ;)

  24. whereishe? says:

    For some reason, as our relationship progressed, my husband saw fit to begin speaking to me in a condescending manner, second guessing how I do things and insisting I do things his way (like not using foil for certain purposes, not spending time on the internet for anything except what he deemed “important,” dropping anything I was doing to look at the cat or read some article at that very moment just because), or otherwise treating me like a child through incessant lecturing if I for instance forget to do something. Sh* like that. When I push back and ask not to be spoken to in that manner, oh my God! The fury would come out and indignant “I’m just trying to have a conversation,” and then “oh you just think I’m an asshole!”

    Now what the hell kind of conversation consists of basically berating the other person letting them know how wrong they are? Is that a dialogue??? I have become so frustrated at times that I burst into tears and/or just went smooth the f** off on him in a rage. Now he’s afraid to “speak his mind,” I swear to God I feel like he’s deliberately mind f** me and trying to drive me crazy.

    Now, for the most part, I just turn off my ears when he has a lecture and bite my tongue. Sometimes I do forget. This morning, for example, we have seconds to get out of the house. He’s taking the garbage to the curb, but I notice there’s another bag in the inside trash. I decide well I’ll grab that, but I see he’s practically to the curb and I ask is the a trash bag in the one he’s carrying out. He says yes. I am still on the porch and inches from the inside trash so I just put the bag back to save time.

    I get to the car and he asks why didn’t you just bring the other bag? I wanted to save time. But did you take it out? I was still on the porch, I say. So I just put it back to save time. Well he goes off about that. Did you take it out? He asks pointedly. I concede yes, I took it out but you were already putting the other on the curb so I just left it to save time because we were already running late. Well he has a problem with that because of the way I said it. Basically in the same tone with which he was addressing me. Now, mind you, this is a very typically argument we have.

    I apologized by text when I got to work and have not heard back from him for hours now. Oh well. I think men are basically asserting dominance over the wives and DO NOT think of us as equals. That is the problem. How else can he expect to get away with talking to me as if I’m a little girl and raising his voice towards me and expecting me to fall in line and do everything his way? What else can I call that? He wants to be king of his castle and king over me.

    For the record, I do not think my husband is an asshole. I want to know where is that kind man that I fell in love with?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] of frustration that I read Lisa Hickey’s piece on straight men’s views of their wives: “Are Husbands Really Assholes?“  Hickey, who heard from a number of men and women in lasting marriages, paints a grim [...]

  2. [...] Are Husbands Really Assholes? Or Do Their Wives Just Think They Are? Lisa Hickey [...]

  3. [...] sense of frustration that I read Lisa Hickey’s piece on straight men’s views of their wives: “Are Husbands Really Assholes?“  Hickey, who heard from a number of men and women in lasting marriages, paints a grim picture. [...]

  4. [...] Are Husbands Really Assholes? Or Do Their Wives Just Think They Are? — The Good Men Project. [...]

  5. [...] TweetIn this week’s guest post, Hugo Schwyzer responds to Lisa Hickey’s article, “Are Husbands Really Assholes,” where he muses on the idea of what constitutes a “good” husband and what [...]

  6. [...] Are Husbands Really Assholes? Or Do Their Wives Just Think They Are? [...]

  7. [...] anticipation of my next piece on The Good Men Project, I hope you’ll read Lisa Hickey’s Are Husbands Really Assholes? Or Do Their Wives Just Think They Are? This piece was originally published some years ago but it’s ever-relevant, especially as I [...]

  8. [...] what wrong idea can that be? A few years ago, Lisa Hickey wrote about men who felt their marriages had stripped them of something essential to their masculinity, even their identity. It had to do with a perceived loss of equal [...]

  9. [...] men’s right’s activists, and even women with feminist leanings, like Lisa Hickey, who writes that many men feel despised by [...]

  10. [...] This is a comment by wellokaythen on the post “Are Husbands Really Assholes? Or Do Their Wives Just Think They Are?“ [...]

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