In Marriage, He Refused To Change — and That Cost Him Everything, Starting with Trust
He expected her to adjust to his “correct” way of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
By Matthew Fray
My wife felt unsafe because she could no longer trust me.
She didn’t feel unsafe because she thought I would physically hurt her or because she thought I couldn’t protect her if someone else tried.
She didn’t stop trusting me because she worried I might have sex with someone else.
My wife stopped trusting me because she determined that I could not be counted on to be the partner she needed. As a parent. As a housemate. As a lover. As a financial partner.
It wasn’t the big things that brought her to that point. There often aren’t big things in marriage.
It was the little things. Often, it is the little things that scratch and claw and chip away at the integrity of a marriage until the union and its participants look nothing like they did when first formed.
She was a youthful, fun, vibrant, happy, joyful young woman.
She grew tired, weary, anxious, frightened, sad and angry.
I begged and pleaded for the girl I knew to come back once I stopped recognizing her. I grew sad and angry when she couldn’t or wouldn’t. I blamed her for not trying.
But I think maybe she wanted to. I think she wanted to feel like her old self again. But she simply couldn’t.
Because she couldn’t trust me.
So she kept her guard up.
Because she didn’t feel safe.
Men (I) Have a Problem
And I think maybe women have this same problem but because of the state of the world in which we live (where men sometimes literally believe they’re better than women), I think the male version is worse.
Men think and feel and experience the world around them in certain ways. We experience things, see things, hear things, digest information, and come to what we consider to be very rational, very logical, very sensible, very correct conclusions.
When you think you’re right, everyone who doesn’t see things the same way must be wrong. Thus, your wife or girlfriend is “wrong” A LOT.
For example, despite loving our wives, forsaking all others, being willing to die for them, and spending every day trying to earn more money and respect and admiration for and from them, our wives often FEEL unloved.
And because we don’t think it makes sense for them to feel unloved based on all the things I just listed — because we think it’s crazy, irrational and unreasonable — we pretty much ignore all suggestions to the contrary.
I am mocking and sarcastic. It is a brand of humor my friends and I have enjoyed for as long as I can remember. When I call my male friend a name or laugh at him about something, it is understood that he is my friend, he is loved and respected, and that by virtue of me wanting to be around him and wanting him to be part my social circle, that the comments and laughter are in fun and not mean-spirited.
My wife did not appreciate my mockery and sarcasm directed toward her. She was my wife and deserved a higher standard of treatment, she said.
She was right.
I accidentally hurt her feelings a lot. I NEVER did it on purpose. So I always got pissed when she’d get mad at me over something I did unintentionally.
The “intent” argument only works the first time.
If you’re out hunting and you fire a shot that accidentally kills someone in a nearby home you didn’t realize was there, you are unlikely to be charged with murder or homicide. Because it was an accident.
But if you go out hunting again to that same spot and accidentally kill a second person due to negligence? Have fun in prison.
My crime wasn’t hurting my wife’s feelings the first time. An accidental one-time offense is almost always forgivable. My crime was hurting my wife’s feelings repeatedly, even after she explained why it was happening.
Because I don’t respond to things the same way she does, I never really changed, and expected her to adjust to my “correct” way of thinking and feeling and behaving.
Go ahead and keep that up guys and let me know how it works out for you.
She’s going to fall in love and have sex with someone else, and she’s probably going to tell him and her friends what a chump you are.
You’re not going to like it.
The Thing About Trust
I don’t like to sound like I know everything, because I don’t know anything about you or your life or what you think and feel.
But what I think I’ve learned is that when I feel and experience something, I can feel confident that MANY others have felt and experienced it too. Because we’re not so different, you and me.
I think most men think about trust in the context of infidelity.
I think one of the major hang ups guys have about committing to a relationship or to marriage when they’re young is that by doing so, they’re effectively promising to never have sex with anyone else again. I don’t know whether men like variety or options or freedom or what, but that’s a big deal when we’re younger.
I thought of marriage mostly as agreeing to a permanent girlfriend. By agreeing to marriage in my early twenties, I thought I was agreeing to have an exclusive relationship with my girlfriend forever and to not have sex with anyone else.
And that’s dangerous because a girlfriend isn’t that important and is reasonably easy to replace.
In some respects (if you meant your vows) is irreplaceable and a piece of your soul gets poisoned and dies when you lose that fundamental part of you.
You take it for granted. You take her for granted.
Like your eyesight. Or functioning legs.
But they’re really important.
And you figure it out when they’re gone.
The trust is rarely about whether she worries about you cheating.
It’s more about whether she can trust you to not hurt her emotionally. About whether she can trust you to help her by not sabotaging her efforts to keep your house clean, or to plan activities with family and friends, or to be a reliable parenting partner.
We had this little stand in our bedroom. I have this thing — especially with jeans — where I wear them once or twice and consider them too clean for the laundry basket, but too dirty to fold and put away. Laundry limbo, if you will. I used to throw them on this stand in the back of our room.
She didn’t like it because it made the room look disorganized and she prided herself on a clean and tidy home.
She’d get mad at me because I kept thoughtlessly doing it even after repeated attempts to get me to stop.
Men think: Why’s she making a federal case about this? Is a pair of jeans sitting out somewhere in my bedroom where no visitors come really THAT big of a deal?
We rationalize it with our sensible, logical brains. And we don’t necessarily work very hard to change the behavior because: “She’s not going to leave me over laundry!”
No. She’s not going to leave you over laundry.
She’s going to leave you because she can’t trust you to be her partner because you don’t even respect her enough to put your laundry-limbo jeans in a different location.
“If I can’t trust him with this little teeny-tiny thing,” she thinks, “how can I ever trust him with my heart?”
You’re Like a Child
And in EVERY other situation in life, I’d tell you that’s a good thing. Kids laugh 200–300 times a day and love life and are happy and innocent and free. Adults are miserable.
We must never stop playing and laughing and dreaming and seeking fun and adventure.
But in a marriage? Being like a child is bad. That’s why children can’t and don’t get married.
Your wife used to be a girl.
The girl you fell in love with because she was beautiful and fun and playful and wanted you and made you feel good.
And now she doesn’t act like that anymore. She’s worn out. Angry. Short-tempered. Frustrated. Disinterested in your penis. And seems to not even like or respect you anymore.
And now you’re angry and resentful, because your mom never treated your dad like this, or because you thought she was just going to take care of you the way your mother always did.
You’re angry because you haven’t changed that much, but she has, and you feel cheated because she said “I do” and now she’s acting like the man she married isn’t good enough.
You feel unwanted, disrespected, and ashamed.
But, probably without realizing it, you did it to yourself.
Because you have a home, and finances, and maybe children or pets or possessions of significance. You’re not kids anymore. But you still act like one. When you playfully mock your friends or your wife. When you leave your pants out, or a dish in the sink, or forget to do that thing you promised on your way home.
And all these little things add up.
Why are you making such a big deal about this! you wonder.
And now she CAN’T be a kid anymore. She can’t play and laugh and live carefree anymore. Because you are. And if she does it too, nothing will ever get done.
The clothes will never get washed. Meals will never be made. The kids will never have what they need.
You refused to take the next step.
So she HAD to.
And now she’s angry, resentful, sad and afraid.
Because you’ve left all the adult work to her.
But, more importantly?
You left her with no choices. And now she doesn’t get to be who she used to be.
And you want that girl back.
But she can’t come back.
Because there’s no such thing as time travel.
But the clock’s still ticking.
You might like — also by Matthew Fray
My 9-Year-Old Accidentally Explained Why His Mom Divorced Me
The truth was always hovering just a little over my head.
The Dream of a Healthy Marriage — an Open Letter to Husbands Regarding His Attention for Her
I know a birthday girl. I just met her husband. I don’t know if they’ll make it…but I really want them to.
About Matthew Fray
Matthew Fray is a relationship coach and writer who leans on the lessons of his failed marriage and divorce to help others avoid making the same mistakes he did. He got divorced because he left dishes by the sink. Fray writes about that and more on his blog Must Be This Tall To Ride.
This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.