This Is How Your Marriage Ends

 This Is How Your Marriage Ends: A Hopeful Approach to Saving Relationships, by Matthew Fray

This book comes out tomorrow, and I was given a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

 Matthew Fray went viral a few years ago with a blog post about how little things had -- um -- frayed his marriage until it broke.  There were some big things too, but what it had come down to, he finally figured out, was that he had consistently not respected his wife's feelings.  He had, without ever really meaning to, thoughtlessly ignored what she tried to communicate.

So this is a relationship book that is very definitely written to men.  Fray writes with kind of a dude-bro voice, a very 'I'm just like you' attitude.  This is not to say that there's nothing here for women to benefit from (I think I did), but really this is a guy writing to other guys, trying to give a different perspective.  

Fray feels that most 'ordinary' breakups (sans abuse, etc.) come from a lack of relationship skills.  These skills are practically never taught, and as a result we all crash around breaking things without meaning to.  It's not that people are bad, or actively trying to make life difficult for their partners -- it's mostly cluelessness.  For this reason, it's very important to a) seek out and learn these skills and b) pay attention and resist defensiveness when our partners tell us that they're hurting.  Marriage is a team effort, and when your partner tries to tell you something is wrong, it's an attempt to improve the team, not an attack.

Fray's tone is casual and personal; he talks a lot about his own experiences and usually sounds like he's hanging out with the guys. He does tend to be a little repetitive, but I think that's a function of him trying to get the message through.  It's a message that a lot of people are very resistant to hearing, and I think he gets a lot of pushback from the very ones he's trying hardest to reach -- the ones who are just like him.

The book covers a lot of ground, but I think the primary theme is that Fray eventually figured out where his actions had contributed to the result he'd never wanted -- his divorce.  He spent a long time blaming everybody but himself, but he eventually realized that if he could see where he'd gone wrong, maybe he could ensure it wouldn't happen again.   And he realized that he had spent a lot of his time ignoring and dismissing his wife's feelings and thoughts, and attacking her in defense when she told him she was in pain.  He'd always reflexively put himself first, and he hadn't even known he was doing it, because he was so busy ignoring all the information that could have told him that.

So, here are a few bits and pieces:

I remember my wife saying how exhausting it was for her to have  to tell me what to do all the time. It’s why one of the sexiest things we can say to our partner is “I got this,” and then take care of whatever  needs taken care of.  I always reasoned, “If you just tell me what you want me to do, I’ll gladly do it.” But my wife didn’t want to be my mother. She wanted to be my adult partner, and she wanted me to apply all of my intelligence and learning capabilities to the logistics of managing our lives and household.   She wanted me to figure out what needed to be done in order for our lives to function effectively, and then devise my own method of  task management without making her responsible for orchestrating everything.  I wish I could remember what seemed so unreasonable to me about that at the time.

Maybe my assessment that I was ill-­equipped to perform certain domestic duties was spot-­on. But the answer was not to check out, forcing my wife to do everything, but rather to expand my knowledge base and skill set to eliminate whatever I was missing.

It occurred to me later that I didn’t have to understand WHY my wife cared about the things that she did. (Though I think digging for  that “why” is always a worthwhile exercise.) The only thing I needed to understand was that my wife did care.  I needed to understand what was important to her and what was not important to her. And then demonstrate respect for things on her This Is Important to Me list.

It was about this idea of consideration. About the pervasive sense that she was married to someone who did not respect nor appreciate her. And if I didn’t respect or appreciate her, then I didn’t love her in a manner that felt trustworthy.

My wife’s aim was NOT to complain about me or attack my character, though I usually responded in a defensive, invalidating manner indicating that I thought that’s what she was unfairly doing. She wanted to feel loved. Cherished. Respected. Desired.  My wife wanted her husband to think and act as if she were worthy of being considered—­that she was important enough for me to remember, and respect, and think about when I was making decisions, no matter how inconsequential I might have believed these decisions to be.

The most common story of failing relationships involves a wife or girlfriend who loses trust in her husband or boyfriend after repeated attempts to explain why something hurts and asks for help. But none of the requests for help result in positive outcomes or evidence that he’s willing to cooperate in stopping the painful behavior.

 But when I think about my behavior—­and others’ behavior—­not as some genetic fatal flaw I’m stuck with but as a habit I can practice changing to something positive and healthy, I find my sense of direction. A North Star.Over and over and over again, I choose to be someone who mindfully speaks and acts in a manner that builds trust and promotes feelings of comfort and safety with the people I love. My relationships with these people are what I value most in this earthly life.
On my default setting, I remain a threat to judge and subsequently disagree with people and vocalize my opposition in ways that invalidate their experiences. I might gauge their beliefs to be wrong. I might consider their feelings to be inappropriate given the situation.  Maybe sometimes, I let them know in ways that inadvertently chip  away at whatever amount of trust exists between us.

 It is useful for someone to recognize that they might be habitually, and accidentally, harming a person they love and care about without  realizing it. It is useful for someone to recognize just how critical the conversations we have about this harm are to the success of the relationship. We don’t have to drown in shame because we’re not good enough.  We don’t have to wonder What the hell is wrong with me? We don’t have to worry about being a hopeless asshole incapable of ever having healthy, loving, pleasant, connected relationships.
We must simply recognize that we have habits that inadvertently harm others, and then practice new habits until they take hold, replacing the accidentally harmful ones. It’s a choice we make because the  people we love deserve that from us.
And on the flip side, it’s useful to look at our partners and think of them not as assholes doing asshole things but as people with different  beliefs and different emotional experiences. It’s useful to interpret the pain we feel not as the intentional behavior of selfish, narcissistic sociopaths (though I understand that a small percentage of the time that’s what people are dealing with, and that it’s not okay) but as the unintentionally habitual behavior of someone who hasn’t yet learned a skill.

 What is so dangerous about the world failing men is that we’ve created billions of very decent human beings who unknowingly walk around every day trying their God’s-­honest best but are accidentally napalming their homes and closest relationships.

Lots of good men are lousy husbands. Being a husband is a skill.  Just like playing instruments, flying helicopters, and performing heart surgery. A very good person can be bad at marriage.

 We have got to get serious about not being so sure of ourselves all of  the time. No matter how “smart” we are. We’re wrong entirely too often  to trust our own judgment as much as we do, and this affects both how we feel when things happen and how we treat other people. Making a wise and disciplined partner selection in our romantic relationships begins with BEING someone a wise and disciplined partner would choose to be with. And hopefully we can be people who evaluate potential partners on the traits consistent with achieving durable, healthy relationships.

 After a lifetime of mostly blaming others when something went wrong  because it was so much easier than accepting responsibility, I finally started asking the right questions:
How did I get here? What could I have done differently to prevent this?
The answer is simple enough: I didn’t always live my values, and I didn’t always enforce healthy boundaries.

So as you can see, it's a guy talking to guys.  But I do think I got quite a bit out of this book anyway.  I can be reflexively dismissive too, so I need to pay attention to when I'm doing it, and quit it.  The principles are general, through the voice is more specific.

It's a very interesting read, and I think a worthwhile one for lots of people.  Also me.




  1. It does sound interesting. Someone who is not self-reflective becoming so is sort of a miracle. I'm fascinated by this process.

  2. I'm in favor of people being introspective about their behavior. In particular I'm a proponent of getting the beam out of your own eye first. However, I found this line a little concerning, "I wish I could remember what seemed so unreasonable to me about that at the time." For two reasons:

    1. If this book is hoping to help people change their behavior, it can really help to try to find common ground before brow beating them. People are much more willing to appreciate advice coming from people who understand their current position. Now, perhaps I'm making too much of this line. It might not represent the tone of the book, but saying, "I don't understand the position of the person whose behavior I'm hoping to change" is a bad start.

    2. There are two common couple behaviors I've noticed that may have contributed to why he found it so difficult. There's no guarantee that they are the root of this marriage's problem, but it would be pretty normal if they were. So I feel pretty confident I could tell him why he found it hard. They are "punishing good behavior" and how men work together in hierarchies.


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