I’ll never be confused for a genius or scholar, but I’m reasonably bright in a Get B+ and A- Grades Without Trying kind-of way. And I made all of the same arguments you’re making. I repeated them until I was blue in the face, sometimes in my best dickhead voice while my wife and I volleyed shots at each other in another fight in which no winner would emerge.
I agreed with you so much that I unknowingly bet my entire family on it. And lost.
Maybe some of you guys are really tough and stoic. Maybe when bad things happen to you, you brush it off like it’s no big deal and move on gracefully.
That’s not how it went for me.
I could barely breathe when my wife and little son weren’t home anymore. This isn’t some “evil monster entitled man-hating feminist” I’m talking about, raging uncontrollably over petty things like dirty dishes. This was my wife. We met at 19. We were married nine years, many of which seemed and felt good. This was someone who very much wanted to stay married. And she reached a breaking point. All humans have them.
I cried. I vomited. After more than 30 years of mostly feeling what I can only describe as normal or very good, I experienced what it means to break on the inside. I don’t know how far away rock bottom was, but it couldn’t have been far.
That experience taught me why people commit suicide. Sometimes, it hurts so much that dying and shutting it off permanently feels less scary than the possibility of feeling that bad forever.
I’ve said it a bunch of times: I didn’t want to die. But for a little while there, after a predominantly semi-charmed life, I didn’t really care if I did.
All around me, life went on. The sun kept rising and setting. My friends tried to care, but only people who have been through divorce really understand. People told jokes. Others laughed. People were happy. But I was miserable, no matter how positive of an attitude I tried to keep. I felt like dying every day for months.
THAT is when I learned the lesson so many men complaining about my “dishes” post have not learned: Two people can experience the same thing at the same time, but feel very differently without either of them being wrong.
Maybe all those times I acted like my wife’s postpartum depression was a figment of her imagination since I didn’t get it, were poor, ignorant, and insensitive choices.
Are Our Complaining Wives “Irrational”?
That’s what John, a reader, said after reading She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink, a headline that accidentally hoodwinked hundreds of thousands of readers.
He called it “irrational” for a wife to be upset about a dish by the sink.
Here’s the common male thought process: Because it’s “irrational” for her to feel that way, a husband is not obligated to cooperate on the matter. After all, “irrational” is not so different than “wrong.”
My wife is wrong. I am right. End of discussion, bitch!
It doesn’t even seem crazy to me because that’s exactly how I felt in those frustrating marriage fights, and I’m reasonably smart. This isn’t something that had ever come up in life until my girlfriend and future-wife started upsetting me with all of her “irrational”ness.
If we fought long enough, she would just cry, at which time I thought she was unstable, but had an easier time speaking with her then because Sad is so much easier to deal with than Angry.
In John’s current form, he has no chance of ever finding common ground with a wife or girlfriend. Because any time he considers her opinions or emotions “irrational,” he will simply dismiss them as inconsequential. Once his little argument is over, he’ll never think about it again.
And maybe he doesn’t care.
Maybe single guys don’t care because they don’t want to be married anyway. I’m cool with that.
What I’m not cool with are the guys suggesting their “rational” opinion that a glass left by the sink—innocently and with ZERO malice—shouldn’t be dismissed or deemed less important than their wives’ “irrational” emotional response to it. I’m not cool with people who want to marry or want to stay married doing things I know to be toxic in relationships.
Rational Emotion: Is There Such a Thing?
Emotions are subjective things. The things that make you happy, sad, angry, horny, afraid, ashamed, confident, inspired, etc. are not the exact same things that make other humans feel those same emotions.
I believe, in very general terms (as we cannot pigeonhole every single human into one narrow silo), that men and women—husbands and wives, in this case—have VERY different emotional responses to things.
It’s why a guy can call his buddy an asshole and laugh about it in a male-bonding capacity, but would likely get a different result if he called his aunt one.
A critical lesson of my divorce: We must allow others to have their own individual human experiences, and accept that they’re real even when they react to something differently than we do, or describe a conflicting feeling.
What that means is, some people can be called an asshole and it’s funny, and some people can be called an asshole and it REALLY upsets them.
One is not rational while the other is irrational. One is not logical while the other is illogical.
It’s simply two separate people experiencing the SAME thing two DIFFERENT ways.
It’s not right or wrong. It just IS.
I used to believe my wife was irrational. Because I believed my wife was irrational, I never took seriously her requests for me to more assertively participate in our marriage on MANY levels—not just dishwashing, which I actually did reasonably well.
I predict that any man who doesn’t understand the dish metaphor, OR feels offended and reacts defensively to it as if I believe wives’ or women’s feelings are somehow more important than husbands’ or men’s, also doesn’t participate actively in his marriage.
It likely means that when his wife tells him that something he does or doesn’t do hurts her, he dismisses it as her being “irrational.” And because he does that, she feels abandoned and alone in her marriage. Wives who feel abandoned and alone in their marriages will eventually do one of three things: Have sex with other men, leave their husbands, or both.
Deny that at your peril.
Maybe You Could Just Believe Your Wife
When your wife tells you something hurts her enough to bring it up to you in conversation, knowing it will likely create conflict, you should try to believe her.
If you’re a smart guy (and if you’re still reading this, I KNOW you’re smart, because the mouth-breathers stopped more than a thousand words ago), then you are statistically likely to be married to a smart woman.
I KNOW that it doesn’t make sense to you, when she talks about how something you consider minor and meaningless hurts her. That’s basically why EVERY divorce happens. You’re not strange. You’re just like most guys. You’re just like me—the me before I broke and had to start over again.
And Then the Entire Conversation Changes
I hope I’m safe in assuming no man still reading is the kind of guy who would slam his wife’s head against the kitchen counter, or crack her ribs with a baseball bat, or throw her against a wall and scream what a stupid worthless whore you consider her to be.
I hope that you’re the kind of guy who genuinely values her, and would prefer to stay married because divorce is shitty. I believe you are.
When you think of “hurting” your wife, you might think about physical pain, or how she might feel if she discovered an affair or another betrayal.
You don’t currently equate Another Meaningless Fight! with painfully wounding her. It’s not your fault. Your brain doesn’t naturally connect those dots any more than you’d feel afraid of someone throwing a sponge at you.
That’s why YOU NEED TO BELIEVE HER. You need to step outside your own mind for five seconds, and see the world as it really is: That person over there was hurt by something I did. Even though that same thing would never hurt me, it’s still true that it happened. If I care about that person, I need to make sure I never do that again.
Hundreds of men said it.
And five years ago, I would have agreed with them: “Why does it always have to be the man changing for the wife? I’m pretty sure the wife could also show love and respect by just putting the glass in the dishwasher and not complaining about it! I hate that men always get blamed for this stuff even though it takes 50/50 to make it work!”
The answer to that is: You’re NOT changing for her.
You’re not going to tell her she’s a crazy, nagging, complaining shrew AND also not help her with things she pleads for help with for the same reason you wouldn’t hit her with a baseball bat.
Because it hurts her. And you NEVER want to intentionally hurt her. And once the truth dawns on you: Holy shit. Now I understand why she gets upset about me throwing my socks on the floor, and that it causes her pain in ways I don’t experience. Then, the light bulb can go off.
Ohhhhhh. Because she has told me this 18,000 times, and I always dismiss her as crazy and tell her that she’s wrong, I can finally understand why it FEELS to her like I’m hurting her intentionally. It all makes sense now.
A lot of men think their wives shouldn’t be allowed to feel hurt by things because that same thing would never hurt them. The man makes the conversation about the thing they disagree on, instead of how bad it makes her feel.
But if they had the conversation they could both agree with—the one about how neither of them want to feel disrespected or see their marriage end in divorce—just maybe something really good could come from all this.
Just maybe, when we give, we get.
Just maybe, when we make the first move and are leaders in our relationships, we are treated well in kind.
Just maybe, marriage doesn’t have to suck at all.
This essay first appeared on Must Be This Tall To Ride.
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