#174 | This is How Your Marriage Ends with Author Matthew Fray

August 17, 2022

Matthew Fray's new book "This Is How Your Marriage Ends: A Hopeful Approach to Saving Relationships" is directed primarily toward a male audience, and asserts most marriages end with a whimper, not a bang. Matthew helps us understand how good people like him "can be terrible husbands" by unknowingly causing harm to their wives. Did you know most divorces are initiated by women? Matthew explains relationships don't tend to end from a single betrayal, but after years of a slow but persistent erosion in trust over seemingly minor marital disputes. Having first-hand experience with a wife who left him when their son was a toddler, Matthew turned to blogging as his outlet for expressing his extreme pain and frustration, initially victimizing himself as a good guy who didn't deserve to lose his family just because he's not perfect. But after hearing from thousands of men and women - particularly after his viral article "She divorced me because I left dishes by the sink" - Matthew experienced a transformation by taking full responsibility for hurting his wife time and time again, having seldom taken seriously her complaints along the way. Matthew says part of the problem is that no one ever taught him how to be a better husband, and he doesn't hold that opinion as an excuse, but as a conviction that men can learn to do better and not end up with wives who'll leave them, as his did. Matthew has been coaching couples for several years before writing his book.

Postpartum is an extremely vulnerable time for mothers and a delicate time for relationships. We hope this episode will shed light on how husbands can best support their wives and avoid the pitfalls of resentment and relationship breakdown over time.  We read Matthew's book and invited him on the show because we believe he understands how to bridge the gap between well-meaning husbands and the wives they unwittingly end up hurting or disappointing.

Matthew - and we - recognize the obvious fact that these conversations don't apply to all men, nor do all relationships follow the heterosexual normative. Nevertheless, we believe this discussion, through all its generalizations, are eye-opening and beneficial for either partner in any relationship.

Send this one to your partner or a friend. We believe they'll thank you for it.

Matthew is the author of "This is How Your Marriage Ends: A Hopeful Approach to Saving Relationships."

Matthew Fray


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View Episode Transcript

My premise is the idea that good people who do not necessarily believe they're causing harm can be terrible relationship partners.

When you speak to most women who have been married 20, 30 years, they will be happy to talk about what that postpartum chapter looked like, because that's when their needs were the least met. And the demands made on them were the highest. And what happened in their relationship is what made the deepest imprint in their marriage.

This conversation will hopefully hit the ears of some new fathers who, you know, will realize how important those actions are in those early weeks.

Why don't you share something that led to the eventual demise of your marriage and why your wife left you

let's talk about the hospital story. It's the worst one, it's subtitled in that chapter, the worst thing that I've ever done.

I'm Cynthia Overgard, owner of HypnoBirthing of Connecticut, childbirth advocate and postpartum support specialist. And I'm Trisha Ludwig, certified nurse midwife and international board certified lactation consultant. And this is the Down To Birth Podcast. Childbirth is something we're made to do. But how do we have our safest and most satisfying experience in today's medical culture? Let's dispel the myths and get down to birth.

First, thank you so much for inviting me. I'm incredibly grateful to be here. My name is Matthew Frey. I am the author of a book that came out at the end of March 2022 called this is how your marriage ends, a hopeful approach to saving relationships. I've been blogging about relationships, marriage, divorce for about nine years, following the end of my marriage, my wife moved out in April of 2013. And in the summer, months, approximately June 2013, I started writing about it. And that that was simply me trying to piece together what for me at the time was the mystery of how things that I've done or not done? Or perhaps because I hadn't gained any sort of self awareness or insight at the time, I was looking for answers around maybe like poor partner selection, or I was looking for anything I could find as to what did I do? What could I have controlled? What could I have done differently? What could I have influenced, that would have led to a different outcome because my divorce was super miserable for me, the end of my 12 year relationship nine year marriage, my son was four years old at the time. And that is coincidentally the same age I was when my parents split in the early 1980s. I was 25. When we got married, she was too. And so our marriage lasted from age 25 to 33. And I should have known I'm not leveraging that as some excuse as to I was too young, too ignorant to know better. I mean, it should have known. I didn't accept, I didn't accept any responsibility for understanding what I didn't understand it anyway, that's my story of I got divorced, it was miserable. I missed my wife and son. I suffered more. And I think I don't say deservedly, necessarily, but it was like my my come up and say it was I had it coming and I didn't know it. But I was like I have to protect myself from having this happen again, I have to protect my son from having more loss in my life. Assuming I don't want to practice the life of you know, being a celibate monk for the rest of my life, I'm more than likely going to find a romantic partner. And I can't poison the well again, I can't do this again. And it very slowly, between books that I was reading between conversations between articles between watching videos between writing but most importantly, writing my story. And then having the feedback from people, husbands and wives alike say that is exactly like my life really started to piece together. I believe what I now understand to be a more sort of accurate, clearer picture of how my marriage slowly eroded. And I think as you guys understand, my premise is the idea that good people who do not necessarily believe they're causing harm can be terrible. Relationship partners. Very good people with the best of intentions can cause enormous amounts of harm and their blind spots.

So if I were to summarize what I understand your story to be, you were, by all accounts, a great guy, your wife married a great guy, you're faithful loyal, committed to her you wanted to be married, and she divorced you and you correct me if I'm wrong. You went. I'll never forget the phrase you like vomited from crying and so much stress like you were in severe physical and emotional and mental pain. And it's my Outstanding. You victimized yourself basically like how could she leave me over these? These little things? I mean, where's forgiveness? Oh, my God, I'm human, come on. This is a marriage here and you started writing. And I think you had an article that was a turning point for you. When that completely went viral it was like my wife divorced me because I was it left dishes by the sink or glass or a cup of water. And because she always asked you to put it in the dishwasher. And I think there was a turning point when you got enough feedback and heard from enough men who were I guess, high fiving you over being victims over these difficult women who are complaining over petty things? And then the women like, yes, it's so frustrating that I keep asking my husband to do this. You probably never saw coming, you completely transformed yourself into taking complete responsibility over what happened in your marriage. So we would love to hear about that. Tell us a little bit about your relationship. Where are those that you know, you say, most marriages don't go out with a bang? But with what is it a series of paper cuts or a whimper? Tell us about that. Tell us your stories about your marriage. And sure, since it's down to earth podcast, tell us the story that you I'm sure you're most pained by what happened when your wife gave birth, how that was for her.

Tell us about happy, I'm not happy to call that but I'm happy to participate in the conversation, the theme of my marriage, in terms of my behavior that I that I believe that I've come to understand is that you did an excellent job much better than I did. If so simply summarizing my beliefs about myself my beliefs about you know, my identity and who I was, I thought I was a good person. And I thought being a good person automatically made you a good spouse, I did not associate the idea that becoming good at something developing skills, mastery expertise, was about learning something and then practicing it over and over again, the way we do with various hobbies, with our careers with academic pursuits. It is the combination of skill building and knowledge and practicing those things over and over over time that makes us accomplish that whatever it is that we tried to do in life, and for reasons unknown to me, still, I did not know how to apply that to my interpersonal relationships. I didn't think of my interpersonal relationships as something like a job or like school, or like a hobby, probably because they're not exactly like that. But I just didn't, I didn't associate that really important notion that if I don't participate effectively in that, I'm going to harm it, it's, it's not going to last and then that's going to be bad for like everybody involved. I didn't see that part of it coming. And so when you believe you're a good person, and then you receive criticism from things you perceive to be benign, or I don't know, like, how do you write a? I mean, you get this already, or you probably, frankly, have heard the feedback yourself. i This isn't a big deal.

I am a good person, you seem so ungrateful, right? You, you're always pointing out these things that I'm not doing, instead of giving me credit for all of the things I do do, right? There's all these awful people out there doing awful things in their relationships. You're not married to somebody like that. No, I played the relativism game. Anyway, just felt sort of constantly, like nitpicked. And I get that, I hear that from a lot of my male clients, this, this idea that nothing they ever do is good enough. And that every time because we get so hyper focused on like, one incident, like, like, like that dish by the sink, like that glass by the same, if let's pretend I'd finally was like, Okay, I'll put the stupid glass in the dishwasher, I do it over and over again, I would have resented it, when that's identical behavior was happening elsewhere in our home. And then she was, you know, and that's what all of these guys do. It's like they, they think they should get the pat on the back for like, the one isolated change that they make without recognizing the like, sort of meta theme in the relationship. And here's the meta theme, and most relationships between two decent people that are suffering and that, you know, sort of like paper cut themselves to death over time. It is and I hate to pick on men, I hate it. Because if guys hear this, they feel really attacked and defensive. And it's the opposite of what I want to do. I don't think these men intend any harm. And I think they have wonderful character most of the time. We just call we just cause harm, despite our best intentions, but here's the math I think of relationships as I do something I think is fine. It's fine. I would never do anything overtly harmful, intentionally harmful to my wife. Of course not. That would be insane to me. So everything I do is above reproach in my estimation. And then that gives me license with my decent character and my Positive relationships out in the workforce and with my friends and with my family of origin. That gives me license to suggest that my wife is overreacting or picking on me or being defensive. Right. And we talked about this briefly before we started today, I have this thing that I call the invalidation triple threat. It is, without question in my world, I believe the number one trust killer in relationships. And so I put that stupid dish by the sink. And then my wife wants to come to me and have a conversation about it. Let's not make it about the dish, specifically, right now, let's make it about anything because this is what happens in relationships. This is how very decent people I think, push their relationship partners or their spouses away. My wife would come to me and she would say, Matt, something's wrong, something bad happened, and I feel bad about it. And there are these three ways I believe, men more often than not, in male female relationships are habitually responding to their partners. And then it's just a non starter we never get anywhere we never repair or heal the bad thing that's happening. And I think that's like the genesis of the slow trust, erosion, relationships. But my wife would come and say, Matt, a bad thing happened. I feel bad about it in version one of this. So called invalidation triple threat was, I would disagree with what my wife had believed she'd experienced or it happened, I would challenge her version of events. I would say, that's not even what happened. Here's what happened. I would like to correct her. The math result of that little exchange is that your feelings don't matter, because they're based on something that isn't real. Something that didn't even happen the way you said to happen. You don't need to feel this way. Because it didn't even happen how you think Apple did that all the time. version two, my wife would come to me and say, Matt, a bad thing happened. I feel bad about it. This time, I would strongly agree that the thing occurred intellectually the way my wife believed that it occurred, this time, her brains working just fine. But now our emotions are wrong. She's overreacting. She's hypersensitive, she's being dramatic.

And I would say, hey, that's what happened. But why are you making such a big deal out of it? That situation is so much smaller than you're making it out to be? Why are you giving it that much power? Why are you making such a huge deal out of this? The math result is your feelings don't matter? Your brain is not wrong this time your body strong emotional calibrations wrong. Something within you is often needs to be fixed is is I think what I'm implying when I respond to my wife this way. And then the third way is defensiveness. And I think it's the most common way. I think it just destroys trust over time. One because it invalidates my wife just said, Hey, man, you did something, it caused me harm pain on some level. And then I would, I would defend it, I would completely, I don't appear to care that a bad thing occurred that my wife feels awful about something that occurred. But I think more importantly, is when we defend ourselves. I think the implication is that we'll do it again. The implication is what I just did, had merit, it was the right thing to do. You're the one with the problem. It's not my responsibility that you're overreacting to these things that I do. And so, for many months and years of our relationships, when people find themselves in the cycle, boyfriends, or husbands relationship partners, but again, if we're going to be honest, it's men more often than not, and male female relationships doing this, and we're listening to our partners say, hey, something's wrong. And we imply something's wrong with your brain, you're dumber, you're crazy. We don't say that we don't have to, though. It's the implication to, it's the implication of the dismissiveness of all of it, is that you're something's wrong with your brain, or something's wrong with your feelings with your body, you're being weak, you're being hypersensitive, and you need to fix that. Or regardless of how you think, or how you feel, I was justified in doing what I'm doing. And I'm going to keep doing it. And I don't think I don't think there's anything wrong with it at all. That is, that's the math formula for because this is what I finally discovered about myself. And what I did to my wife is it if I disagreed with my wife, if she said, Hey, I just had a bad experience, something hurt me. And I didn't agree on some level, meaning I didn't interpret it the same way. Or I didn't feel about it the same way that I always chose me, always shows what I thought and when I fell over my wife. So she learned that Matt has to sign off on my pain for me to feel loved, for me to feel cared about for me to feel seen for me to be understood. And I didn't. I can't express I think you understand that. I did not see it that way. I just thought I was an adult disagreeing with another adult and that I shouldn't be allowed to do that. But I was constantly telling her she wasn't enough and didn't realize that's what I was doing.

So let's just walk through an example of this because I think this is so valuable. And let's say we're talking about a spouse who takes a shower and leaves the wet towel on the floor and she gets sick and frickin tired. Picking up the wet towel. I I just think it's a good example. It's not a great example. Because my 13 year old does this to me constantly. Okay, so yeah, I mean, it's it's a common thing. Okay. So let's say Now this isn't a great example, because the first of the three most common responses doesn't work too well. But when it can be denied, it shall be denied is the first step as I understand what you're saying. So sometimes we can say to our spouses, like, you know, how can we left this out? I didn't do that. And it's so frustrating, because you're like, Alright, I know you did this, I know that child didn't do this, or I know I didn't do this. So that's common. I didn't do that. I don't know how that got there. But with a wet towel, it's there. They can't deny it's on the floor. So then they go to step two, is what you're saying. And step two is just pick up the towel? Why do you have to make a big deal about it, if you dropped a wet towel on the floor, I would pick it up, just pick it up. And then you feel bad, because you're making a big deal about something small. And the third one is, you know what, I was busy. I'm in a hurry, I'm trying to catch the train to work for this family. Like you don't understand how much is on my mind. You make a big deal about everything. So that's the third thing, you defend it. And they argue you defend it, you argue, and then the spouse is left to think terrific. I can absolutely count on this happening again, because I haven't felt heard. So always, the question I always have when I think about those common responses is to say to that partner, because you can make that wife feel guilty. And am I being petty? Am I making too much of this? But you want to say to that that husband? How is this serving you? What did you just gain by defending yourself rather than saying, I'll change this habit? You know what I'm saying? I mean, when I met my husband, he made the bed that he made a queen size, but he was a woodworker by hobby. And when we got together with this beautiful cherry bed that he made, our daughter now sleeps in this beautiful queen size bed. And I remember taking a shower and throwing my wet towel on it. He said, Seth, can you please not put the wet towel on the wood because the towel will damage the wood. I made an immediate change. He had to ask me that once in our lives. And the reason is like I don't want him to not like living with me. I don't want him to ask to ask for and so when you turn it around, you're just thinking like, how does this serve the partner who defends themselves or denies it? Can you talk about that? Why is that such a common response?

No, I mean, I I can talk about it. But I don't think I can necessarily offer any justice. I the way that I think about it is these are very honest disagreements. I would take umbrage with somebody who was doing this when it was something more overt like that, meaning all the science in the world suggests damp towels on wood can cause rate like, this is not in dispute. But But what might be in dispute is does a glass by the sink, or the towel on the floor?

Is that really Yeah. Is that really harmful? Is it truly something that warrants you feeling a measure of pain about that you feel bad enough where you've now elevated it is what I used to say, I can't believe you're elevating this to a marriage problem. Because in my mind, you said it already so beautifully, that if the talent fallen and I walked in the bathroom, I would have picked it up and put it there and not. The truth is I do give my son a little bit of grief about it. But I you know, the thing is, I would have felt as if I didn't say to my wife, the things that she said to me, I always thought I was like not critical of her. That was kind of the way that I thought about it that if I disagree with something you do or I don't necessarily approve, I don't like give you a bunch of crap about it is like the way that I would have thought of it. And I feels like you're constantly giving me crap about things that are so like minor and petty, the dish by the sinker, that's how on the floor or whatever. It's not it's not even really about like the isolated incidents. It's about this failure to calculate for another human being this failure to consider I share space with someone and when I do things or when I don't do things they are affected by them. And the absence of I think calculating for that person is I think the genesis of the pain. We call it we reference it as the invisible load of motherhood and this is probably in part why it's a male female issue in a household where you know the mother is taking on more of the home. Responsibility and maybe the husband is doing more of the outside work. And it is these little things all day long. That mothers are responsible for that nobody sees that they're doing the picking up of the towel they remembering the sign the permission slip for you know the kids classroom, the making sure the pantry has the right thing for the lunch boxes. You anything that anybody in the house does, especially if it's another adult who should know better, to make that more complicated for them more complex or adds another level of effort for them adds to that burden of the invisible load of motherhood. And then when the mother asks the partner because we get frustrated with our children in the same way, but their children, and we forgive them, but when it's our spouse, who continues to do the same behavior over and over and over, it feels so painfully, like you don't get how hard I work, you don't get how much responsibility I have, you don't get what it takes to make this home. Beautiful and comfortable and wonderful for you. And I'm any, then you become the nagging wife, who just keeps complaining about the thing that's bothering them. But it's all it's all because it's just adding to that invisible load of her of her responsibility. And he's not, he's not sensing that he's not being counted. He's not aware of that he just keeps contributing to that burden.

This is the example that I I've been giving lately, in my coaching work in regards to this notion of, I need to mindfully consider my relationship partner and I make decisions that it's Monday night at dinner, and a wife asks husband, hey, Thursday night, can you please be here be present with the kids, because on Friday, I have a business presentation that I have to give, and I've got to do some preparation for so I need like two, two and a half hours of like a clear schedule in order to prepare for that. And he comfortably casually, somewhat thoughtlessly says, of course, he thinks about Thursday, and he's like, there's no reason I won't be here. Have a My pleasure. And then Thursday rolls around. And a couple guys from like a foreign sister plant or something with the company works at is coming into town and they're all going to go out for dinner and drinks after work. He gets invited. He's like, of course, I'm coming with you guys. Just forget, right forgets about his commitment to his to his wife. And he sends her a text or gives her a phone call and says, Hey, I'm going to be a couple hours late because you know, we're taking the guys from Germany or wherever they're from out, you know, for dinner and drinks today, and just wanted to let you know. And then she gets upset with them. And she says, You promised you were going to be and then suddenly he remembers and he's like, oh, man, I'm really sorry. I'm, you're right. I absolutely did that. And then he's got to like, cancel with like, the people that he works with, he gets home. She's upset with him. And suddenly he's mad. Because she's still punishing him for forgetting. He's there with the kids, she still has all the time in the world in his mind to go do everything. So she, in his experience, his wife is getting everything originally promised to her. She's getting everything she wants, and she's still upset with him. And he doesn't think that's fair. And I'm trying to help these guys understand the betrayal happened, the moment you made the phone call or sent the text without a probably Monday, when you failed to take the necessary steps to prevent any sort of thoughtlessness or forgetfulness from taking place in the first place. It was like a hallmark behavioral trait for me in my marriage. And it's what I really want. The guys that I'm working with, to understand is that your wife hurt. We, we broke a promise, is it a massive promise. Maybe not, I guess everybody gets to decide for themselves. But it's it's that absence of reliability. And I think more importantly, guys that have been married 1520 2530 years, and I have a shocking amount of those that are coming to me having these conversations. Incidents like this have piled up over two to three decades. And so each incident sort of more painful than the last it is this. Another reminder that this is how little I matter to the opening a wound, it's reopening a wound every time and again, I do not want to pick on man I just want to say in a mathematically observable way, man exhibit this sort of lack of consideration what might be perceived as thoughtlessness or or quasi selfish behavior. Not necessarily selfish in that intentional way. But just selfish by default. It was I only thought about myself, and then made a decision. I wasn't trying to hurt anybody. But it's this absence of calculating for the people we love that causes so much pain. But I want the husband in that situation, or at least the human I'm working with to accept responsibility for the pain. The relationship partner feels for not mattering enough, that that this dinner, and that this thing happening at work just mattered so much more to you. And it could have been anything right? It doesn't it doesn't matter what it is and it doesn't actually matter how small it is. And this is the key point. I hear is that is not the huge things, the huge, sudden explosive betrayals that necessarily rip apart marriages, although they certainly can, but so much more often, and so much more damaging, and so much actually harder to recover from is this pile up of tiny, tiny, little ways in which partners are unreliable to one another, or apologize for things, but don't actually change the behavior. I mean, if you fall, if you even say you're sorry for something, but you don't actually ever change the behavior, the apology becomes worthless.

In that example, too, I can imagine being the wife in that example. And I would actually feel so bad about it, because it's like, Great, now I want to work on my project. And I feel guilty that you could have had a nice evening out now I have to bear the guilt that I robbed you up this nice evening out, and it would have been a much better evening for me if I if you said, Don't worry, I have nothing on the calendar. I got nothing to do tonight. Go enjoy, go get your work done. But it's like, oh, well, I could have gone out with these people. But I'll come home to you since I committed to for me as the wife, I would already feel a little guilty. You got two things were happening on one night.

I mean, I think that's sweet of you. But it's complicated. If you'd come to me to talk about relationships, I would, I would

I don't mean it. I'm just saying it's complicated. It's like right now I feel guilty.

But that means you have this foundation, you have this foundation of not wanting to do things that negatively affect or adversely affect your relationship Barner. Like that's your default.

You know, I one thing I love so much about my dad is that if there was like a little bit of something left, and you could tell like one of the kids wanted it, or Oh, does anyone want the rest of the salad? Or Did anyone want to finish the mashed potatoes, he would always say, you should see the lunch I had, are you kidding, I couldn't eat another bite. He didn't just give you the food. He convinced you. He didn't want it. And it was like this other level of generous and that I feel like this is a very important distinction in a loving relationship. You don't let the other person feel guilty when you give to them. You make sure that that you didn't inconvenience them, you didn't make them feel guilty, it was just such a better level of, of giving, not like, Oh, I was gonna have it but you have it. Like they're so noble. It's like I couldn't eat another bite, please have it, you'll do me a favor. If you have it, then you don't have to throw it away. There are ways to give where you indicate to your partner, they're taking something from you. And there are ways to give where you're like, Oh, please, this has nothing to me. It's just for me, it's it's a very subtle difference in what true generosity looks like, well eliminates that variable of the other person having the guilt just like you said, it just takes away that piece of it. So you now you have your you're fully enjoying doing your two and a half hours of work because you feel no guilt that your husband is missing out on his night with the boys because really, he didn't want to go anyway, like so happy to be home. I need it at night home, but the kids and maybe it doesn't have to be like that all the time. But in the really, you know, in certain moments when it feels really important that you do tell you, it's not just what you do. It's how you do things. I think that's part of it, too. Matthew Rio wrote something down. So I think you want to say something when I was writing down your anecdote because it was beautiful. And I want to think about that and talk to people about it. Because that's gonna show up in certain relationships.

Well, I was gonna I have two things I want to say one, you've made a couple of comments about how you don't mean to throw men under the bus. And I just want to I just want to explore that a little bit. Because what I feel you are doing is having enough love and respect for men to know they can do better. Yes, we're not talking about every man. Of course, we're not talking about every relationship. Of course, everyone knows that anyone knows we're not anyone who's literally taking this conversation or your book personally is just somewhat crazy. But it's big. It's kind of like when you're teaching your child to do something, you say, Okay, you came in, you dropped your coat on the floor, please pick that up and put it away. Is that don't the child under the bus? No, it's I respect you and I'm going to teach you how to be your best. How know is that is that victim is not a situation where you could victimize yourself. So I think you're coming from a very loving place of holding men who you obviously respect as your equals to a higher standard. Your book is about understanding and that a key point you make that I think is so important is you don't have to agree with your wife. If it's important to her, just do it.

I think that most of the guys that would hear that I would interpret it in a way that would be really selfish and defensive. And they would think so I have to just be my wife's errand boy. And yes, man for the rest of my life. That's what I'm signing up before. They feel like they're giving up some semblance of like autonomy or independence. And I would just think that's like this really cynical, like awful way to think about it. And it's like, no, that's not it at all. It is something matters to your relationship partner. It could be anything. But let's say in this case, it's this drinking glass that he used to sit by the sink, which I thought was stupid that my wife made like a thing out of it. I did. At the time, I thought it was ridiculous. But what the glass represented every time that she walked into the room to find it there, because we'd had multiple conversations about it was evidence of one of two things. I either didn't listen and take seriously anything that she'd said prior. That was maybe the best case scenario. And the worst case scenario is that I was going to intentionally do whatever I wanted, even at her expense and choose me over her. Like, that's the message we leave. And it's a choice. If the guy wants to be like, I'm not going to do what someone else tells me to do. I think what he might learn about himself is that maybe marriage isn't for him. Like, it turns out, it turns out, this is not a relationship model and the lifestyle conducive to you just having one all the time. Yeah. Yeah, just it's a choice. It's an honest choice people had to make.

I always felt The Five Love Languages book missed the mark. And I know most people love that book. But I really read it and thought, come on, like this is just like, and I couldn't quite figured out why. And I feel like your book hits the mark. Because no matter what your quote, love language is what every human being male or female child, would every human being needs in a relationship is to feel seen and heard. I just felt the love languages was a little bit of an oversimplification. Like you might like gifts and your love languages get I mean, come on, what everyone needs is to feel seen and heard. And if receiving gifts is a part of that, then yes, that also should be taken seriously. But you can't Oh, you might like affection. And that's your love language. Really? Do I have to choose your so

it is it is an oversimplification, most definitely is.

I think I've mentioned this one that I speaking with this morning that she just regaled me with all these interesting little stories. They live on a golf course, and they have a golf cart. And the dad takes their seven year old son golfing all the time. And they also live near a highway that I assume is like maybe like a 55 mile an hour thing. And he on more than one occasion has taken the golf cart out there with the young child in the passenger seat of this golf cart. And mom's like, hey, what if we didn't take our seven year old son out near the highway on a golf cart? Like, which it just takes, you know, one like awful accident, I don't feel safe. And they've had this conversation like four or five times. And I think that she'd come to believe that it was understood and that it was respected. And then just like a couple of days ago, they come home on the golf cart, and the son has like a largely like soda or some like treats type of thing. Mom says, Hey, where'd you get that? And he's like at the gas station, which as you can guess they had to take this like highway route to get there. I don't know what that looks like. I don't feel like driving on the shoulder. And I have no idea. But here is here is we've had the conversation about five times. And he defended himself. He said that the golf cart needed needed fuel and needed gas. And so we can always he's supposed to do and she's well could have done a number of things you could have brought her son home, and then drove by yourself. You could have come and picked up like a gas can and drove it over there in a vehicle that has safety harnesses, and things like that. And I betrayal absolutely a betrayal. I think a lot of people would challenge me on the idea that that's a betrayal, because they think of betrayal as like a lie as cheating and infidelity, something like that. And I'm like, no, no trust has been broken again. And it's just another example in a 20 plus year relationship of how I cannot count on my partner anytime. Anytime. My husband doesn't agree with me about what should or shouldn't happen. He always chooses what he thinks and what he feels over me, which is again, that's that's me. I did that in my marriage. So I don't want to sound like I'm preaching from the mountaintop and judging everybody. It's exactly what I did. And I that's where I think everybody has to decide whether they crave partnership and whether they crave this idea of providing safety You trust. And this experience of I am loved by my relationship partner, I just like to think of it as the sum of my actions. In math terms, the sum of my actions equals my partner feeling loved, they experience it. Because again, if I'm screaming, I love you in Russian, over and over again. But you don't have any idea what I'm saying. I have to accept responsibility for tailoring the things I do. And the things I say, to my relationship partner, so that she knows she's respected and valued and cared for, and that I can be counted on. And right, I may be with somebody someday, that doesn't care at all, about a glass by the sink, I think that's really the most powerful point there is, she will not maybe care even a little bit, she really leaves she might leave more dishes laying around than I ever would, there's a chance that happens. But I still have to do the work of considering because there'll be something else.

I think the key, I think the key point is we remove whether we agree with or disagree with our partner, when they make a request of us, we remove whether we agree, it's like if your partner makes a request of you, you don't have to come up with a case. And you're not going to go to a jury and say let's have a raise of hands, who's being reasonable here. You if they make a request of you, like just do it, I mean, you you talk in your book about how the most likely person to file for divorce later in life is the wife. And when you speak to most women who have been married 2030 years, they will be happy to talk about what that postpartum chapter looked like, because that's when their needs were the least met. And the demands made on them were the highest. And what happened in their relationship is what made the deepest imprint in their marriage and what they'll retain over a long time. Why don't you share one story from your own marriage? We asked you to at the beginning of the episode and got into the conversation but share something about when you're No, no, we there's so much to talk about. Why don't you share something that led to the eventual demise of your marriage and why your wife left you.

Let's talk about the hospital story. It's the worst one, it's subtitled in that chapter, the worst thing that I've ever done. I didn't think of it that way at the time, obviously. But like looking back, I think I have a sense of what my wife must have thought and felt in that moment in a way that I was completely oblivious to at the time. And I calculated to have been just so so harmful. And so our son was scheduled to be induced, like to induce labor. And so we went like 8pm. And then it just went so much longer than anybody had anticipated. And so we're nearly 24 hours later, whatever we spent the night in the hospital that first night, and then you know, and that's like a crazy time. I can't even fathom what it was like for her. But it got to a point probably approximately 24 hours later. I honestly don't remember, it's just surreal blur. When they said okay, we've got it, we've got to go to surgery now. Because we've got to do like an emergency C section that was like a little bit terrified and didn't know what to do. And, you know, they give you scrubs, and all of that. And anyway, he was born. And then I got it. I want to give you the backstory, but I want to be damn careful about not sounding defensive about it. Because I promise you, I don't think any of this is okay. I had been advised by like coworkers, other dads, other people, I don't honestly remember if it was mine or not. But probably probably given what I know now. I'm saying, Hey, listen, after your wife gives birth. She's exhausted, understandably, she's not thinking as clearly she's not as rested. She's not her best self. So it's critical that you be well rested. Because you have a bunch of really important decisions to make medically and naming your child. There's just a lot of stuff to worry about. It's really chaotic hospital. And that made sense to me. And so I was like, Okay, I need but but I did not have one, not one conversation with my wife about any of this about like managing expectations and things like that. That's what I would have done today. But on that night, when one in the morning are so hit, and I was completely wiped, and I'm telling you we lived really close, like, like, six, seven blocks away. It seems so harmless to like go home, and sleep and shower and come back the following day. There was nothing I could do to like help. It literally that's I thought of it as like a task, like what tasks could I ever do to help that like the doctors and the nursing staff couldn't do? And I was missing the point and she was asking me to stay. And I write about it in the book that my understanding today is that my wife was the most afraid that she'd ever been. She was suffering medically and chemically and she was tired and just felt horrible. And all of a sudden, we have this new baby that were responsible for like keeping alive and raising into like a functional adult someday. And I think she wanted to know that I was going to be somebody who was always going to be by her side, like for those moments that I was somebody that she could say, hey, what if you stayed here with me? Because I'm scared, because I'm afraid because I'm hurt. I cannot believe I looked her in the eye and gave her the whole, everything's fine. You're overreacting, this is the right thing to do. It was just just the most egregious decision of my life to leave my wife in the hospital, a math result of my actions are, I matter more to me than you matter to me right now. Even though you just did the most difficult thing human beings do. Like and under like more duress and stressful circumstances than is even like common. And I'm gonna ditch you to go do what I want to do to sleep comfortably in our bed and take a hot shower and change clothes and things like that. And, you know, she'd already experienced probably some of these like, subtle invalidations, about difference of opinion about music or what to do on Friday night, or maybe something that I'd said to her that she didn't really like it. Who knows what we disagreed about, I can't honestly remember, like me as a person in my mid to late 20s. But this would have been the first time that I had established this sort of, I honestly don't know, if I'm married to somebody I can trust to be there for me when life is hard.

At what point did she communicate those feelings to you? Because oftentimes, postpartum moms are not sharing this stuff. They're holding it, they're burying it there. That's when it comes up. Later. Really good question.

Yeah, it did. And it did. And, um, forgive me that I can't remember exactly. But it come up in like little fights, the first six to 12 months of the relationship. And as you might imagine, I was I don't want to say absentee. I thought of myself as being present and available. But I didn't do the thing where I mindfully worked to identify all of the things that needed done, and then actively participate as like an equal parenting partner. Yes, she was responsible for figuring out right, all of the plans and the logistics, medically speaking, and how to, you know, like, where his clothes go, and where we're going to start, like every little thing, bathtime routines are things I waited for her to, you know, teach me how to do everything right. And, and I could sort of do all of that stuff. I was okay. But I was just the kind of guy where if she left with our son, when he was 18 months old, to go visit his grandparents for like the day, you know, about 45 minutes away. And she'd leave me at home. And I'd be watching college football or something. She'd come back, and everything would be exactly as she'd loved it, except maybe I'd gotten out a drink or something. Maybe I've made it slightly worse. If I left and she stayed here, she would have identified everything that needed done. And she would have done some or all of it. 90 would have gotten done.

Right. And I was so I, it didn't I don't want people to think and I don't think anybody would. I think everybody gets this already. It wasn't as if I saw dishes or I saw laundry or I saw all of these things that needed done. And, and then chose intentionally not to do it because it didn't feel like it. It's like it never ever even occurred to me because I was so just absent in the active participation in the marriage, not necessarily the interpersonal relationship part of it, I was always decent at that aspect of it. To a certain extent, it probably got me a lot further than I otherwise would have. But I was so lousy at like the shared domestic partnership responsibility. But everything is just another example of failing to calculate for how someone else will experience you or something that you did or didn't do. And that is what I think the average wife and mother is extraordinary at doing. And what the average husband father is sometimes just so clueless about how, what he doesn't do or doesn't say, or perhaps what he does do and say results in just total feelings of being invisible and misunderstood and unloved. And if we're going to talk intimacy and desired and relationships, I would bet also that each time your wife looked at that glass of water left on the sink, subconsciously, if not consciously at times she that feeling of when you left her in the hospital was true. Eggert and I think postpartum moms are so we're so vulnerable. And that time we're we're, we're so we're in such a different space of needing to feel safe and connected to our partners. And if husbands could only understand how their actions in those early weeks and months and probably the first year really after having a baby how critical their decisions or their decisions are during that time, and how much influence they have on what happens later. Because if we, if we get hurt deeply in that really vulnerable space and time, it just comes up over and over and over and over again throughout small things later in life. To your defense, though, Matthew, we must say that postpartum for women, the postpartum experience, and postpartum emotional journey in our society is extremely under discussed, underrepresented, disregarded. So it is not just you, it you men don't know they don't necessarily know what women go through in that time. And women don't even get the support they need from other women or even their health care providers. So don't beat yourself up about that too much. I only bring that up, because this conversation will hopefully hit the ears of some new fathers who, you know, will realize how important those actions are in those early weeks. And actually do think men are getting a lot more attentive and becoming a lot more aware, I see it all the time in my clinical work, how involved the fathers are, and it's, it's really refreshing to see, that's really nice to hear, I think we have to appreciate also, and we have to cut ourselves all, we all have to cut ourselves a little bit of slack. The fact of the matter is that almost all learning in life is unconscious, almost all of it. And culture has an incredibly powerful effect on who we become. If any of us were born and raised on the other side of the world, we would be very different people, we behave very differently. We don't even think twice about most of our behaviors, because it's just so ingrained. And what you and most husbands and wives learn about parenting and about being a spouse, we've learned without realizing it, yes, from our parents, from about casual conversations, from jokes, from movies, from television shows, that's all we've learned. So what most of your behavior probably was just all of this unconscious learning. So you're bringing a consciousness to it that our society needs, you're bringing consciousness to it that your son will benefit from, you'll break the chain and your family. I mean, this is this is what has we have to make this learning intentional unconscious, yes.

And you know what it takes to break that family, that ancestral wounds or like, you know, the the passing on of the same behavioral patterns it takes, that often takes what you went through, it takes some sort of implosion, to set us free to hit to like, go through that spiritual transformation, so that you can be the one to change the tide and change, change it for everybody who comes after you.

And what you've changed is your thought processes, we can change our thoughts, you've changed your behaviors, your patterns. What is the ultimate reason you wrote this book? What's the big takeaway you want? Men to have? Especially men, since that's your primary audience? What do you want to say to them about how they can take charge of a situation where they they're suffering, and they feel powerless? What do you want them to know?

Yeah, I mean, that's really it. I do, I think, come across, like, I'm completely beating myself up. And I do that, but I do feel that because the greatest loss of my life was the loss of my family. The greatest, quote unquote, failure of my life was failing to succeed as a husband. And I don't know, father is debatable. It's like, depends on how you want to slice that conversation. I think I'm pretty decent Father, in the context of a divorced father. But I think if I was an amazing father, I wouldn't have done things that would have jeopardized his family in the first place. It's how I think about it today. So it's just such a big deal to me. And this is ultra personal because again, my parents split when I was four. And it was sort of exacerbated, like pain wise, because they live 500 miles apart from each other in my childhood. So I lived with my mom most of the year. And then on school breaks over summer break, I go live with my dad 500 miles away, which must have been terrifying, by the way for my mother. This was like pre cellphones, you know, this is the 80s I can't even imagine because I see my son like every two days, you know, it's just 5050 we see them constantly. And it's about as great as it can be in a shared parenting situation. And then, you know, I'd see my father for a couple of weeks over like the holiday break with school, and that was it. That was my wife and And it was difficult. And then, uh, you know, it becomes normalized for you, we adapt, and we're resilient. So we get used to damn near anything. But it was still very hard to like, be a little kid waving goodbye to like one of your parents and not seeing them again, for several months. And in many cases, that was always, I don't know, that was a really stressful experience as a child. So that combined with the sobbing and vomiting in the kitchen sink while she drove away, and just the loss of you know, I always talk I talked about how divorce, it doesn't just like, rob you of your past, because it just feels like, like you've wasted like so much of your life, even though I don't think that's fair. It's just a thought they think and a feeling that goes through a lot of people. But it takes away like, what you imagine your future to be. If you're married, and your philosophical intention is to remain married, your default assumption is that you're just always going to be together, every time you imagine the future, you default to this idea of you're with your spouse, and your kids are going to grow and you guys are going to be together. And he used to think about chi and I sitting, you know, stupid, but like sitting in rocking chairs on a porch watching like grandchildren playing a yard, I don't know that we would have ever literally done that. But it was like a thing that I thought about. And boom, it like goes away. And there's this tragedy, there's this like grief and like losing this imaginary thing that you'd thought of that you'd anticipated that you'd expect it to happen. Anyway, it all means so much to me. And I think it means so much to a lot of people. I care about the children that are crying in the backseat waving to their parents that they're not going to see even if it's only for a few days. For me, it's it's a series of like small, invisible things, I felt like I didn't cover the secret. They felt like things that nobody taught me are the difference between whether I get to keep a family intact, or whether I don't whether it keeps a marriage intact right now, whether I have to have uncomfortable, stressful, on the verge of crying and or screaming conversations in the kitchen. These are these are very, very subtle acts, how we respond to folding the blanket or the towel on the floor or the dish by the sink, literally is the difference or not not one isolated incident. But the trend over many months and years together. How we respond in those moments, to our capacity for repairing whatever disconnection or whatever pain is felt, is the difference between whether we make it or not. And I think so many of us fail to adequately repair the small things because we dismiss them as so inconsequential. And I say we are mostly talking about the man who don't feel any pain other than my wife's always on my case.

Can the repair happen? Yeah, because it's not about character. It's not it's about practicing new habits and skills. It's about learning something that you don't currently know. In the same way that you learned how to play a sport, or you learned how to excel at whatever it is that you do for work professionally. It's not a foregone conclusion that your wife's gonna feel sad and angry and disrespected. Because of some minor inconsequential thing. You absolutely can learn how to practice mindful consideration and how to repair conversationally and then behaviorally follow up for people who didn't have the model to talk for them in their youth. I'm certainly one of them. You have to put in like a little time you have to have the conversations and you have to read the books or watch the videos or do something to go outside of like your little bubble of everything you think and feel and once you break through you're on a position to never accidentally hurt the people you love again and that's how relationships can grow.

Thank you for joining us at the Down To Birth Show. You can reach us @downtobirthshow on Instagram or email us at Contact@DownToBirthShow.com. All of Cynthia’s classes and Trisha’s breastfeeding services are offered live online, serving women and couples everywhere. Please remember this information is made available to you for educational and informational purposes only. It is in no way a substitute for medical advice. For our full disclaimer visit downtobirthshow.com/disclaimer. Thanks for tuning in, and as always, hear everyone and listen to yourself.

That's a wrap.

This was such a good conversation.

You guys almost caught me a couple of times. Meaning what I was just I was close. I was fighting tears yeah a little bit.

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About Cynthia Overgard

Cynthia is a published writer, advocate, childbirth educator and postpartum support specialist in prenatal/postpartum healthcare and has served thousands of clients since 2007. 

About Trisha Ludwig

Trisha is a Yale-educated Certified Nurse Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Counselor. She has worked in women's health for more than 15 years.

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