10 Steps to Winning Back Your Estranged Wife

If you’ve committed an offense against your wife so egregious that she’s more likely than not to leave you, do these things. (I wrote this for a friend whose wife had just left him. But of course these principles aren’t relationally gender-specific.)

1. Let her be. Respect her need to process this alone. If she wants your input, she’ll ask for it. Otherwise, let her alone. She’s imagining her life without you now. Let her do that, unencumbered by interference from you, the cause of her despair.

2. Shut the freak up. The fact that you blew it as badly as you did gives you zero talking rights. If she wants to talk to you, she will. If she doesn’t, the best thing you can do is shut up.

3. Be attentive. Right now it is all about her. Reduce your needs to one, and one only: being whatever, whenever, and however she needs you to be. If she lets you, stay near enough to her so that you can summarily attend to any need she might have (but not so near you end up hovering like a loser).

4. Be honest. Don’t try to excuse, explain or justify your transgression. The least you can do is not try to bullshit her about what you did. You blew it. Own it.

5. Keep showing your neck. She’s the boss now. Keep letting her know how much you understand that. Don’t hang around making sad puppy-eyes, but let her know that you understand that in your relationship right now she’s got 100% of the power.

6. Mind your business. Don’t fall apart. Don’t stop doing your laundry, or shaving, or anything like that. Keep your business together. That’s the one thing you can do to seem like something less than the absolute loser she now thinks you are.

7. Start going to counseling. Right now your wife is facing two clear things about you: that you need to change, and that you’re too weak to change. Show her that you agree with her on both counts, by beginning counseling. You do need counseling; and it’s one of the best things you can do to show your wife how seriously you take what’s happened. And definitely let her know that you want to go with her to marriage counseling, if she would.

8. FIX IT. Stop doing whatever it is you did. Change your behavior. If you’re too angry, go to anger management. If you drink too much, go to AA. If you had an affair, shut and lock the door on the other woman. But change. That way, even if your wife leaves you, she’ll leave a better man than the one who trashed her life. And ultimately you becoming a better person is what this must all be about.

9. Listen, listen, listen. At some point (if you’re lucky) she’s going to want to talk to you about what’s happened. There will be a lot she needs to say. Don’t screw up this critical phase of the healing process by interfering with it. Let her talk.

10. Dust off your Bible. If you’ve ever had any relationship with God at all, this is the time to avail yourself of that relationship. Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray. You get the spirit of God moving in your heart and around your house, and your marriage just might have a chance.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Oak Abbey

    Unless you are a narcissist, in which case you may disregard this and carry on in your perfection while your wife and children attempt to recover from the destruction left in your wake.

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      Yes, that. That happened to me.

      • Oak Abbey

        So sorry Barnmaven. Deep Peace and Every Blessing to you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tee-Lynn/100001302512398 Tee Lynn

    It’s often occurred to me that your real name is “Joanna”, not John and the pictures of the male at the top of the page have been stolen from Google Images. Now I’m certain of it. Great article “John”. Chances are though that the very people who would most benefit from the message would probably never do it.

    • Ace

      (As Roger Miller once put it:)

      Two broken hearts lonely looking like

      houses where nobody lives.

      Two people each having so much pride

      inside

      Neither side forgives.

      The angry words spoken in haste,

      Such a waste of two lives,

      It’s my belief,

      Pride is the chief cause and the decline

      in the number of husbands and wives.

      A woman and a man, a man and a woman;

      Some can and some can’t

      And some can’t.

      • jes

        I love that song.

        • Ace

          Miller did have a skill for pithy succinctness, yes. One of my all-time favorite songwriters. :)

    • Anonymous

      I don’t know, man. People tend to get pretty real when their spouses are actually packing and leaving. Yours, Joan.

  • Misty Irons

    Spot on.

  • Susan G.

    The timing on this is absolutely eerie. Good work, John. Hit the nail on the head, yet again.

    I don’t know how strongly I can endorse the “take care of your business” step – how many marriages are teetering on the rocks right now because one of the partners won’t take care of their physical body. I want to SCREAM to him, “Look, Pal – your body belongs to me, too – that was part of our wedding vows – REMEMBER? When you trash yourself you are destroying my love life, my future because I’ll have to wipe your crippled, incontinent ass, and my joy – how can we wander the cobble-stoned streets of Florence hand in hand if you’re a multiple amputee because you didn’t follow the doctor’s orders?”

  • http://gooseberrybush.wordpress.com Gooseberrybushblog

    This would also be the same good advice for a woman trying to win back her estranged husband. Just reverse the gender pronouns and publish this again!

  • http://gooseberrybush.wordpress.com Gooseberrybushblog

    This would also be the same good advice for a woman trying to win back her estranged husband. Just reverse the gender pronouns and publish this again!

    • Anonymous

      I will! Maybe. Probably. Who knows. I don’t. But I could see that happening. Or not. But yes.

      • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

        Why did you write it gender specific at all?

  • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

    I wish you had written this a year ago. I would have immediately forwarded it to my ex. Shoot, if you had written this before then, I may still be married instead of doing that Oak Abbey says can happen.

  • Susan G.

    @ Oak Abbey & Allegro63: My girlfriend who was married to 2 narcissists in a row finally found this book: Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited by Sam Vaknin. Expensive but really, really worth it because of the material on healing yourself after the narcissist. Of course nothing works without a big dose of God and prayer. Good luck and God bless you!

    • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

      I just finished a book on narcissism, and it was quite interesting how much I could relate to the behavior described the the book. Mostly because I had been on the receiving end.

      Thankfully I am single now and working on fixing what has been damaged. I am a big believer that God and time go a long way to helping put the past firmly behind us and of healing the damage that was wrought. I look back now and see how much time and energy was spent on my trying to bring happiness to someone who just couldn’t be satisfied or content.

      I had to force John’s points #1 and #2 because I wasn’t being given any space. The rest weren’t being handled to well either. I know that I am not completely blameless, mainly because I didn’t set my foot down long ago, and insist that my ex, choose between his family or his liquid mistress, but I know that I needed to change to.

      I am so so grateful for friends and family who has listened, counselled let me weep on their shoulders, and stood by me when I was just being ridiculous. I also knew I needed to make practical changes that I am pretty certain were put into my brain and my path by a very loving God. I barely pay the bills each month, but I am more content and at peace then I have ever been my entire adult life….amazing.

      • Anonymous

        Greatness, Allegro.

      • kikizee

        Wow…I could have written this reply myself. ‘Cept his wasn’t a “liquid” mistress but the “cyber” variety.

    • Anonymous

      That’s a great title.

    • Oak Abbey

      Thank you Susan. I have read the book you mention. Interesting thing is the author is himself a diagnosed narcissist and sociopath. Now he has a rather large following of wounded women sitting at his feet because of his writings. It’s a little scary, really. The good thing is there are now many other helpful resources for those recovering from narcissistic abuse. The bad thing is…those resources are necessary. Thanks again for your blessings…may they return to you, multiplied!

  • http://strelitziamusings.blogspot.com/ Birdie

    Do you speak from experience? Because it sure sounds like it.

    I’ve been with my husband for 39 years, 32 of them married. About ten years ago, I finally had the nerve to stand up for myself and declare that I was done. He then spent the next six years courting me with no sign whatsoever that it meant anything to me. He did all of the things above and more—because I really did quit trying—but I didn’t trust him to stay that way. A counselor (our sixth!) declared it a miracle that I decided to give him a 200th chance. (Apparently when a man decides he’s done all he can, 99% of marriages can be saved; when a woman does, 99% of marriages cannot be saved, because women usually know better how to nurture a relationship.) It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but for the past few years, we’ve never been stronger or happier. Good thing, too, because our marriage was greatly tested by a defiant son (who is now at peace, thank God).

    We have a fine tension of the new trust we’ve found with the shadow of past hurt nearby. We must work every day to shine light to keep the shadows away, and we’re doing a pretty good job. For the first time in many, many years I look forward to growing old with my husband. Once again, he’s the one.

    Celebrate and thank God for who your spouse is and do not bemoan what s/he is not. That goes both ways. And for those who are deeply hurt by infidelity: there are far worse things. The issue is trust. If I give you my heart, can I trust you not to break it? Keep talking, talking, talking until you can say yes.

    • Anonymous

      This is a very encouraging story. “If I give you my heart, can I trust you not to break it? ” That’s so right on target.

      • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

        “If I give you my heart, can I trust you not to break it?”

        Someone once said to me: “Go into love like you’d go into a battle. Accepted beforehand that you will probably be hurt or even killed. If you are not willing to go anyway, you’re not truly there.” (Or something to that effect, he was an old Bulgarian chap, and he said it in broken German, and it was 3 years ago…) Now, he’d really been in wars, I suppose he knew what he was talking about. I have tried to keep that in my mind and heart when I had to deal with love since, and I think he’s right.
        You don’t go into love on the promise you’re not going to get hurt. It’s love, man. Nothing in the whole damn world is going to make you more vulnerable. You go, because even getting hurt is worth it.

        • jes

          So very, very true.

        • kikizee

          But, there comes a point when love is not enough. Sad, but true. Love dies if it’s not nurtured. And when only one person is trying, it can’t work forever. I’m glad for Birdie. But in my case, after doing what she did, I eventually found out he still wasn’t really healed at all, and still did the same things again. And again. And again. I finally had to face the fact that he didn’t care about our marriage enough to change. He has never done John’s 1-5 above, nor 9. The rest he did to, or claimed to. But he uses it against me to this day, as “proof” that I should have trusted him “one more time”.

          • http://strelitziamusings.blogspot.com/ Birdie

            You’re absolutely right, kikizee. Had my trust been violated, I would have been talking to a lawyer. I had put up with far too much for far too long, and the flame was a dying ember. I am worthy of respect and I expect it. My husband realized the truth of the matter, and he changed. It’s amazing and I suspect far too uncommon.

            Allowing him access to my heart was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was equally frightened at leaving him or staying, and I told him so. I gave him one last chance. Had he violated that trust, I would have been burned to the ground. Just ashes. I had to defend my sense of selfhood.

            Today he celebrates me and easily forgives my transgressions, as I do for him. He accommodates my way of living, as I have always done. We compromise for each other. We talk calmly when we disagree, and we listen to each other. We love being together again and say so. Our kids have commented on the difference, and they say that now they know real change is possible. I call the man I married my first husband; he is not the man I’m married to today. This man is the one I want by my side for the rest of my life.

            The past is not gone, and it always lurks close by. We have to be very careful not to resurrect old behavior patterns, and we accept gentle correction when it happens. It’s hard work, but it’s worth every effort. It takes two to make—or break—a relationship. I wish you the best.

  • RoeDylanda

    I’ve been lurking here for a while but had to step out and agree with this post! I was ready to throw my husband out the door seven years ago after a serious and ongoing betrayal of my trust that had been happening since before we were married (~4 years). As far as I was concerned it was just a matter of how fast we could untangle our finances, and trying to refrain from assault in the meantime. I have never been so angry.

    My husband did *all* of the things you listed, even though I kept telling him that it was pointless and that there was nothing left to save. He did some incredibly hard work in a very short time. He kept saying, “I understand why you want to leave me. I would too. I know my words are useless. I just have to show you.” He put the decision, and the power, in my hands (after taking it away for years by selectively releasing information). He offered financial and technical assistance if I chose to move away. By the time my work commitment ended and I was free to go (7 months later), I felt that he had earned one last chance. He has been an incredible husband since. By putting the choice fully and meaningfully in my hands, going to counseling, keeping his promises, and not getting defensive, he’s salvaged a marriage that I was ready to toe-tag. We both feel very blessed.

    Anyway, hi to you all, I’m enjoying this blog and your conversations so much!

    • Holly

      This is a fabulous and hopeful story. I’m just loving it! :)

    • Erika Allen

      welcome to the band!

    • kikizee

      Good. Now THAT is a man who “gets it”.

  • http://www.onefleshmarriage.com Brad

    John,

    This is a great list I want to add one item… Be ready to listen and accept her anger without lashing back! As a counselor I see quite a few men who are exactly in this position. The ones who make it can accept her anger without dishing back their own. At least for a time till they can work on the issue and get to forgiveness.

    Thanks for the great list!

  • Budcny

    I agree 100%! It all goes back to america deciding to make a cultural shift and start making people being held accountable for their own actions. We have moved away from this expectation

  • Anonymous

    I realize that statistically it IS usually the husband who fouls the marriage bed…but those stats are changing.

    • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

      Got a source on that? (On either that, actually?)

      • jes

        No idea how reliable this site is, but you might start looking here for more info: http://www.menstuff.org/issues/byissue/infidelitystats.html

        Toward the bottom there are references to books and studies they pulled stats from. A diverse set of sources, some of which will necessarily be more reputable than others, and all of which are sadly several years out of date.

        • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

          Thanks for the numbers, Jes. They seem to indicate that, if there is a difference in the behaviour of men and women, it is slowly but surely disappearing, if it isnt already gone.

          For 2 years I’ve lived off being a thief and a con man. I’m glad that I don’t anymore, and I have no intention of re-visiting that lifestyle again, but there is a few things I learned about human nature that way: One thing I learned about lies is that they are almost always cooperative. The lied-to must consent to believe the lie, because doing so is less unpleasant than losing his/her illusions. It is the job of the liar to find out what these illusions are, that are too dear to give up, but the liar can only offer a lie. The lied-to always has to take it up. It is only later that we pretend that it was actually believed. (Hence the saying that you can’t cheat an honest man. At least I have never met one who didn’t have some self-deception that he was willing to cling to at all costs.)

          I am somewhat troubled by the post and many reactions to it, mostly because… hmm… how to say that? There was a study (summed up in this Salon article) recently, comparing teen sexuality in Holland and the USA. The whole study is quite interesting, but what struck me most was that in this comparison Americans tend to see the genders much more in conflict than in cooperation. And I get this feeling very often when chatting with Americans (and to a lesser extend, when talking to Brits, as compared to continental Europeans) – that for them the distribution of labour and blame attributed in relationships is somehow a constant tug-of-war.

          Personally, I am bothered by this, I think, because it is one of those things that keep the old gender roles in place, and I have a strong hunch that this in turn has a lot to do with homophobia, and why it is stronger in societies with more rigid gender roles, like Islam or the USA.

          Do most of you really think this is about us and them, no matter if by dominating one another, or by submitting?

          • jes

            I don’t know about most, but I certainly don’t try to wage my life like a war… My relationship with Bruce is not at all defined by stereotypical gender roles; for instance, he’s a FAR better cook than I am, so the kitchen is almost entirely his territory.

            I haven’t actually put much thought into how strict adherence to gender roles would foster homophobia, but it certainly makes sense that it would. I had been aware of the trend for women’s sexual “indiscretions” to match men’s as the work force evens out and gender roles become less strict. One of those unintended consequences of employment equality is that other things become equal too, I suppose. Though really, despite the supposed sexual liberation movements of the 60′s, 70′s, and feminism, there are still so many hang-ups surrounding sex in so much of the population that sometimes I find it frankly amazing that anybody manages to make babies! Do you know that I’ve had clients who make a living breeding dogs who cannot force themselves to say the words “vulva” or “vagina”, let alone “penis”? It’s astounding to me. They make their living based on the correct functioning of those parts!

            I can’t help but think there would be quite a few aspects of society improved by losing some of the hang ups about sex, even if it does mean that women don’t get to rest comfortably on their moral high ground looking down on those silly, straying, pitiful men anymore. For me, the most disturbing thing about cheating is the lie. People want sex–that’s a nearly universal given. We are, as a biology prof I had phrased it, very elaborate mechanisms for the transportation of gametes. I have no problems whatsoever with people having honest open or polyamorous relationships. I have mighty da** little tolerance for being on the receiving end of lies.

          • Anonymous

            Good luck with the open polyamorous relationships being free of lies. Lies are unavoidable EVEN if the other partner knows about and allows the polyamorous affairs. First, the philandering heart, like any heart, desires at least one stable relationship. Let’s call that relationship Home. The stability and security of that Home has to be protected. The Home must never be allowed to feel vulnerable or at risk. So the philander will maintain deceptions to insure that the Home remains stable and secure. Even if the philanderer prefers the love of another rlationship, there will be a period where the philanderer will decieve the Home relationship to maintain that security. At least until the philanderer decides that the time has come to leave Home behind and make that newer more preferable relationship Home. It’s sort of like job hunting. It’s not smart to let your current employer you’re not satisfied with the work or the pay, until you have secured the promise of another more preferable position somewhere else. Same is true in relationships. The truth is, philanderers are self-seekers. And selfishness and lies are inexorably tied to one another. An honest philanderer is about as common as a pacifist commando.

          • cat rennolds

            Lies are still avoidable. Whether we tell them or not is up to us…but it might also have to do with how much we can trust the person we’re communicating with.

            I’m sorry you apparently had a bad one, but not all polyamorous relationships are like that. Polyamory is not always equal to philandering any more than marriage is always equal to cheating. Unfortunately, there are far too many philanderers calling themselves polyamorous because the perks are better.

          • Diana A.

            Oh yes. The gender wars are still alive and well and going strong in the good old U. S. of A.

            “Personally, I am bothered by this, I think, because it is one of those things that keep the old gender roles in place, and I have a strong hunch that this in turn has a lot to do with homophobia, and why it is stronger in societies with more rigid gender roles, like Islam or the USA.”

            I think you’re right.

      • Anonymous

        Crapo! I can’t find it now. The article I read indicated that women, while still behind in the infidelity race, are gaining ground because as more of them enter the workforce, they greater exposure to available men. Add to that, more parents abdicating at-home-parenting to childcare or nannies, supposedly weakens the familial bond and presents less of a psychological deterrent to engaging in behavior that risks splitting up the family on both sides of the equation. The kids are the ultimate losers.

  • Holly

    Copy.Paste.Send.

    I wish man.
    Some people insist that they don’t need to learn anything.
    Entitled entitled entitled.

    I gave my husband a second chance and gave him everything I had in me. He took advantage and had fun with it, which ultimately resulted in me having to leave.

    I learned a TON. Good God I hope the lesson sticks. So far so good.

    <3! Thank you John for posting this.

    • Oak Abbey

      Your situation sounds a lot like mine. Stay strong Holly, and I pray you will experience deep healing and joy!

      • Holly

        Thank you so much, oak. And ditto.

  • Aurie

    You attract people to you that are at the same level of emotional health that you are – it takes two to tango, even if one person is doing the only thing they have ever known their whole life – being co-dependent or enabling the other to behave the way they do. Seriously. And this is coming from the viewpoint of a divorcee who had an addictive, abusive spouse – I taught him how to treat me!
    The stuff I’m hearing here that rings true to me is recovering and learning your own worth – elevating your own emotional health – so you don’t continue attracting the same person over and over again and wonder “why me?” YOU have everything to do with it and can change that if you choose to!

    • Oak Abbey

      YES! It was my maturing and becoming emotionally and spiritually healthy that he absolutely could not abide. When I was no longer compliant and willing to tolerate being demeaned, diminished, and disregarded…all his fun was over and that was the end of the marriage. The only thing more absurd than his treatment of me, was how long I allowed it.

      • Holly

        Right. I started a path of healing (both my own issues AND our marriage) and it almost seemed like he both enjoyed my efforts, and hated them, all at the same time. During that time, I felt like I was trudging through mud, uphill, with him on my back. Ugh. Thank God it happened like that though because it brought so much to light that otherwise would have gone unknown. Having an encouraging and supportive “other half” is so important. It’s so nice to read all this from everyone right now. (sigh)

        • Anonymous

          So, Holly…it kind of sounds as though the efforts failed? He wasn’t able to carry his part of the load, so to speak?

  • Actionman2go

    Smashed a rose. I couldn’t help it grow again. She’s doing well in someone else’s garden. I can but admire.

  • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

    Okay. You are so totally my hero. You rock, John. ROCK!

  • RMH

    The premise here is the spouse leaves in response to a pattern of unwanted behavior on the part of the other. (icing on the cake this perpetuates the abusive man/weak woman stereotype). Oh how convenient it is to pigeonhole people.

    The truth is, as in my case, a wife may leave due to pressure from others outside her marriage. Or perhaps she defyingly would not submit to being married because her want of control or avoidant type character would not permit it. Or a myriad of reasons. But certainly not is it always an alky and/or skirt chasing and/or deadbeat man which caused the woman to rebel and take flight.

    ‘Boundaries’ are nothing less than barriers in such a schism.

    • Anonymous

      RMH, I sort of felt the same twinge of disparity in the article as though it just goes without saying that the man is the one who needs to restore the marriage. Women throwing away husbands and families is becoming more common as more wives enter the workforce. I believe my wife’s “new girlfriends” at work encouraged her to cheat on me with a horny co-worker. They had never met me or our kids. Whenever my wife had a “girls night” with her co-workers, she had me take the kids out to dinner and a movie so they would never have a chance to see what a decent husband and father i was. That way, she controlled how her cheerleaders perceived me and insured that they would continue to be on her side in the affair.

      Men are ruled by their dicks. Women rule by deception. Thank God for redemption and forgiveness in Christ. We’re all in need of clemency.

  • Donwhitt

    The whole contrition thing is insulting to both parties, IMHO. It assumes that the infidelity “just sorta happened”, which is complete baloney unless your philandering spouse has only a small remnant of brain stem left in their head. Affairs, infidelity, don’t just happen. They are a willful, in your face act of marital sabotage.

    • Suz

      Interesting point, and true if contrition is the only thing being offered. This list does address “willful, in your face act(s) of marital sabotage,” usually committed by people who don’t much care about staying married. However I think the list is intended for men who have managed to realize that they REALLY screwed up, and who have a renewed (or first-time-for-real) appreciation for their marriage. I think the contrition you mention isn’t sincere, and would certainly be insulting. But true contrition, deep regret, is the first step, and the only motivation for doing what it takes to save a badly damaged marriage. Why would you bother to do anything on the list if you don’t regret your actions? In real life, few marriages can survive broken trust. It can only happen if the untrustworthy party sincerely wants to become trustworthy. And I don’t mean conning his wife into trusting the same old “him”; I mean CHANGING and becoming worthy of her trust. I think contrition is an integral part of that. Does this make sense?

      • Donwhitt

        @John and @Suz: I understand what you’re proposing and maybe it works that way for a few.

        I’m trying to imagine a man/woman who has an affair without understanding exactly what he’s/she’s doing and the associated risks. In my opinion and experience, the person who has an affair WANTS to destroy the marriage. That may be where I’m wrong.

        • Anonymous

          I don’t know what happened to this comment thread, but, yes, as you suggest, contrition as any sort of emotional “play” is … useless. But that’s hardly what I’m proposing; I’m simply suggesting ways of putting true contrition into action. I’ve said nothing whatsoever about an affair—which, as you suggest, is a good deal complicated. At least, I think it is. Depends. Sometimes a person is seeking to do not much more then drive the final nail through their marriage. Sometimes they’re responding not to their desire to end the marriage, but to their inner conviction that it’s already over. As I know you know, these kinds of matters are rarely, if ever, terribly simple.

          • Don Whitt

            I’ll buy that. The difference is hope.

          • Suz

            Absolutely! This advice is for people who want to save their marriages, not end them.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think true contrition for a true wrong done can be insulting to anyone. I mean … don’t you think?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    (Sorry: I just included note in intro addressing this. Thanks for reminder to do that.)

  • mike

    Well, another option is “say goodbye”.

    In my case it wasn’t infidelity, it was refusal to cooperate with a self-destructive act.

    And the compassionate answer, the healing answer, was “goodbye”. I am happier now, and I think she is too, although her happiness is no longer my problem except as everyone’s is. If God has a problem with that, He’s got issues that aren’t my job and aren’t within my ability to help.

  • charles

    John, are you going to start walking on water next?….. Jeez- talk about SO getting it….

    love you!

    C

  • Elizabeth

    Gender roles in the United States are still quite present.

    When I worked in a call center full of mostly women with the occasional man, all the women told me ‘all men’ cheat on their wives, all men don’t pick up around the house, all men expect dinner when they get home, all men watch the sports game and ignore you when you talk to them, and you’re lucky if you can get two words from them… and it really stressed me out.

    I assured them that my man was not one of their men. They attributed it to me being young and ‘newly wed’, even though I’d been married for several years, and told me it would wear off. I worked there for years. I kept trying to tell my coworkers that I had a wonderful artist who was not all men, but they didn’t believe me. Until one day, he sent me flowers. “Happy Wednesday” the card said.

    Now, as I am just as much ‘all women’ as he is ‘all men’, I was squashing anger that he spent money on -flowers-. I had no sense of smell (for the majority of my life), so I didn’t value them as anything and though I knew the value that culture has assigned flowers as a sign of love- (which still baffles me – it’s dead before you even get it! Why can’t we have a symbol for love that isn’t?) Still, we were poor, and we didn’t even know if we were going to lose my grandma’s house (we did-it’s an incredibly long story- but I’m sure you are all familiar with the housing mortgage musical chairs game), and he was wasting money on something that was pretty but would be on my desk, dying slowly in my face, and showing me my own mortality, as the flowers wilt and get papery, and eventually have to be thrown away.

    In addition, as one of the things we’d discussed when we were dating, I felt that he’d forgotten that I’d told him specifically to not ever waste money on buying me things like flowers and candles because I could only see their colors and touch their textures, but the rest was lost on me-that I just didn’t see the point. I looked at those flowers, and made the conscious decision to not be angry, to not take it as a betrayal, to not make it an issue, because even if he had forgotten, hey, we’re both humans, it’s not like I’d never made a mistake or forgotten something. I’d actually caught something in the microwave -on fire- without knowing it (I was attempting to prepare food and had forgotten something), and he had rushed into the room to find out what was burning. To me, it was as if he had a superpower: I had no idea it was burning because I couldn’t see the smoke in the poor lighting. (Before we moved into my grandma’s house and taken out the mortgage to buy it so that the money from the sale could pay for her hospital bills and care needs- we tried to be smart about it, we didn’t do the variable rate thing, because I knew that our situation could change, but even with that, paperwork mixups with mortgage juggling tacked extra fees and things on, and the mortgage company wouldn’t take partial payments-you probably have heard these things, but unless I win a substantial amount of money and can buy a house outright, I’m not going to attempt to own one again. When I say I was upset at him for wasting money on flowers, please understand the money stress did not come from me just being stingy, there was a ridiculous amount of stress.) Anyway, I decided to not make an issue over the flowers, and put the flowers on my desk as though they were not unwelcome. I touched them from time to time to try to feel that I was getting something out of it. But then something odd happened, that I didn’t expect.

    Oddly enough, even though -I- couldn’t smell the flowers, I noticed that their presence actually made people around my desk about two shades -nicer-. They asked me whether it was my anniversary or birthday, and as I told them no, they started to get suspicious, and assume -he’d done something wrong-that he needed to buy me flowers to apologize for, but for several weeks people were just nicer in the area of my desk, so I learned that even though I didn’t start wanting flowers, I grudgingly had to admit that it finally shut people up about how all men are the same. Because when I told them again, that no, my man is an artist and talks to me-a lot-, and doesn’t order me around, and has more survival instinct than to expect me to have dinner on the table ready for him when he gets home (yes, my cooking is actually that bad), this time, they actually believed me.

    I was the breadwinner for 7 years, he had several jobs during that time, but some jobs were inconsistent, but most were retail and paid minimum wage or just a tad over. Occasionally he’d sell a painting or assemblage and we’d be so happy, he’d be able to afford to get more art stuff or quick pay something that was about to be shut off. But over all, he seemed to feel that the fact that I was making more money than him was a moral failure on his part.

    Our society tells our men they have to be the big man and the breadwinner, and bring home the money for their family or they are less than a man. Also, our very strict gender roles means that he had to cut his hair to get a job at a supermarket (only two inches below the ear max), and I should mention to you that my hair, when it’s “long” is ragged and at it’s best, it looks like hair, and at it’s worst, the consistency of the hair is the ravaged back of a mullet. It’s just not pretty hair, and I don’t really care, because otherwise I’d have to spend too much time on my hair and not as much time on things like water coloring or writing or reading the bible, or more recently, being social, but his hair, his hair was so pretty and shiny it could have been on a hair commercial swishing back and forth, except that he’s a male. They don’t seem to do that kind of commercial for men’s hair. (though I think I’ve seen roughly two hours of tv in the last 4 years, so I have no idea if that’s changed.) He was constantly teased by people for looking like a woman, until he cut his hair.

    Now, we’ve been happily married for 13 years and we were engaged for 3 before that. I’ve heard terms like ‘battle of the sexes’. A very common trope in western love poetry is that love is a battle. That assumes that one person wins and one loses. It assumes that love isn’t a goal that you work towards together, or a bond that helps steady you through your life, or even an oasis where you can come to feel safe and secure in a world that values you less than the next chipped porcelain figurine.

    Both me and him come from divorced families where alcohol has been involved. And incidentally, abuse, and in some cases drugs. Now, I know that sometimes, it’s better to get a divorce. If your spouse tries to strangle you, for example, or someone draws a gun. However, we went into this marriage with the intimate knowledge that sometimes things can go horribly wrong. Seriously wrong. We both have quirks left over from childhood, and we both understand that these are things left over from basically not being able to trust the adults to tell us the truth, keep their promises, not hurt us, or not abandon us. We have more in common that I would assume most couples do- so it might just be easier for us because we don’t have to bend too much. However, it might also help that we don’t see marriage as a competition of man vs woman. That is against the cultural grain.

    What makes marriage very hard is that their is cultural baggage that gets loaded onto it. There is the assumption that all women go shopping or know how to put on make up or can tolerate having a sticky layer of acrylic stuff on their nails and not be driven crazy like a cat with tape on their paws. There is the assumption that women want flowers and ‘girls nights out’-and seriously, when I hear ‘girls night out’ the phrase is like screws being dragged down a chalkboard to me, because it’s either that they are trying to lure uptight me into something involving males wearing very little clothing (I literally have no interest- none- in that particular situation, and they don’t believe me-had I any interest in this action, all I’d have to do is tell my husband and he’d be on it, and it may be that I love him, but he’s far better looking than anyone else I’ve seen- as long as he keeps his face shaved he’s boyishly handsome-nice for me, but it gives him a lot of trouble interacting with men who assume he’s a teenager that they can treat like crap because they are older and he shouldn’t be such a pretty boy), or they want to go shopping or go to a spa, and uptight me, the only person I want a message from is my husband, and that is -very rarely-. So, girls night out is a sign to me that I need to refuse to go. Over time, my work’s attendence policy got stricter and stricter and more computer based, and harder to understand. They moved me back and forth on different shifts, morning and night. I started to have health problems and sleeping problems and got myself fired. We couldn’t keep the house, I ended up cashing out the retirement package 501k early to try to keep it, and that gave us about half a year or so more but in the end, I realized that we were going to either fight a losing battle and lose it after another half a year of not being able to afford any kind of upkeep on it, or we could short sell it at that time and someone could take care of it, so there was no chance my grandma’s house would be a wasted shell of an abandoned house with the glut of houses on the market after all those foreclosures. So, we short sold it, and a rental company bought it right away, fixed it up and the house is still standing. We moved back into an apartment complex, and I went back to school, because I was literally fired one day, and the next my friends were going back to college, and convinced me that it would be bright idea with the crappy economy, wheres I could get student loans nearly right away if I went right then. He switched over from another job to being in the construction industry- because he had friends that convinced him that it was good pay and that it was guaranteed work while he trained on the job. He went through several years of digging ditches and drilling through walls, and things, it’s hard work and he came home sore, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to come home with a new purple bruise or a cut or having burnt something, or torn his pants up. Now, he’s the one coming home telling me all the crap that the men are telling him ‘all women’ do or should do. He’s having to tell them that no, I don’t- he can go days without showering without me saying anything if he wants and no, I shouldn’t have dinner on the table when he gets home because frankly, even though I have hundreds of cookbooks I have not yet mastered unburnt toast. If that were a requirement, all he’d ever get to eat would be sandwiches and cereal. He, on the other hand, is brilliant with marinades and cooking meatballs and roasts and twice baked potatoes, and if something catches on fire- he knows. We both look a lot younger than we are, but because I’m female this is usually an advantage to me- because he’s male, it’s a burden to him, because people are so disrespectful to young men to harden them up. “Be a man,” they’ll say.

    I think it might help if people understood that men are gender stereotyped too, and because those stereotypes have been ground in good and hard, and there has been no sexual revolution for men- all of the traditional gender roles are beaten into them- if they don’t make big bucks, women won’t love them(because stereotypically women are all only after men who make big bucks, don’t you know?), or it shows they don’t love their women, despite that they do, if they put themselves out there, they aren’t being ‘manly’.

    And because of the homophobia- men who aren’t masculine enough to fit nicely into that role- men like my husband- get systematically told that they can’t show the parts of their humanity that they share with us- they too can love, cry at emotionally powerful movies, or emotionally powerful times, they can miss their dead cats, they can like the color purple, or flamingo pink even, they can sing along with songs on the radio, they can like bath salts, or enjoy scented candles, or not want to kill spiders, but gently put them outside. All human attributes are human attributes, we have, as a culture, assigned women certain things, and men certain things, but it is not all they are, they have to hide a lot of it, or someone might try to kick their {donkey}. And this repression of half of who they are as human beings, they should be able to share with you, their wife. But if the enculturation is strong enough, they can no more do that (without serious therapy) than they can decide it might be fun to wet themselves and then play in the puddle in public- they learned the roles young, when people screamed at them for trying to play with their sister’s barbie (I’m using an example of another person I know) or touched anything that someone might have thought meant they would be gay.

    The demonization of the gay community has social consequences, serious consequences to every gender. At the very least, gay marriage might teach our straight couples to value marriage, because the culture can’t approach a woman and woman couple and say ‘all women’ to either one of them, nor can they do that with ‘all men’ in the other and use the culturally designed ways to devalue the other half. Of course, I’m not saying that’s the only reason I support it, but I’m saying that any culture that commonly refers to marriage as a ball and chain is not exactly examining it in a positive way.

    • key

      thats the most amazing thing ive read all day, and ive been reading this blog.

    • Mike

      That’s beautiful. And needs to be said.

      Disrespecting each other for who we are – women, gay, brown, whatever – harms and diminishes every human being. Even straight white men like me. The consequences to people like me are more abstract and easier to survive, but they still are a loss.

  • Cardenas Naida

    Sometimes,Life can be very displeasing especially when we loose the ones we love and cherish so much. in this kind of situation where one loses his/her soul mate there are several dangers engage in it. one may no longer be able to do the things he was doing before then success will be very scarce and happiness will be rare. that person was created to be with you for without him things may fall apart. That was my experience late last year. but thank god today i am happy with him again. all thanks goes to Dr. EDIONWE, i was nearly loosing hope until i saw an article on how Dr. EDIONWE could cast a love spell to make lovers come back. There is no harm in trying, i said to my self. i contacted him via email: //edionwesolutiontemple@yahoo.com. words will not be enough to appreciate what he has done for me. i have promised to share the good news as long as i live.


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