Oct 152013

kisssmallAbout five years ago, I was among several men waiting in a conference room for a meeting to begin. First, the conversation was a little work. Then it was a little football. It finally settled on talk of wives. You know, they’re balls and chains. They whine. They nag. Nothing’s ever good enough for them. They just don’t get it. Marriage is a trap.

After the meeting was over, a guy I’ll call Neal waited around, which was good, because I had something to say to him. (Turned out he had the same thing to say to me.) We had each noticed that the other didn’t participate in the wife-bashing. We shared a word about how much we thought of our wives. We started becoming friends that day.

Now if you’re having problems in your marriage, it might well be appropriate and helpful for you to discuss it with a friend.

But we all know “this ain’t that.” This is a category of guy talk that is supposed to be something we can all relate to, so it’s a good standby. Moreover, this was the milder version. If there’d been beer, or isolation (boat, camping), or both, it might well have been much more vulgar, with talk of “the ol’ sperm bank” or even that c-word which is one of the only words you’ll never see on BoWilliams.com. It’s just settled into the narrative as something men do – certainly not all men, but too many men – when they’re on their own.

And that’s appalling.

Most of the time I say something pretty direct now when I encounter it. “Yeah? Wow, that sounds terrible. Why are you still married?” That usually shuts it down quickly. Sometimes I even get a “what are you, one of those?” kind of look. Yeah, I am one of those. I’m one of those men who loves his wife.

Are there bad wives? Of course. My long observation is that there are many more careless or even downright disrespectful husbands.

I told a younger professional not long ago that she was someone’s exemplar. “What do you mean?” she asked. I told her that if you do something for a while and you get good at it, someone is almost always watching you to see how to be. Most of the time you won’t know it. But if you’re a professional of any accomplishment whatsoever, someone is modeling behavior to some degree based on yours. Someone is using decisions you make as input into his/her moral compass.

I believe that about personal relationships, and particularly marriage, as well. Look, I know it’s a slog sometimes. If it were never difficult, then the divorce rate wouldn’t be at 50%, and I would never have written a ten-post series on it. If I’m out there for even one person who decides not to quit because I haven’t, then I’m very grateful for that. And God bless every husband and wife making it work and passing on the bashing sessions. If you wouldn’t say it in front of her, then don’t say it to anyone else either.

Who else are we modeling behavior for? Gee, any future wives or husbands living at your house? If I ever get cocky (which, believe it or not, is not often with this), then all I have to do is consider that every time I interact with their mother, I’m showing them how a husband treats his wife. That’s heavy. That straight-and-narrows me in a hurry.

(Of course, Lea is also showing them the kind of woman they should select. But she just has to be herself, so surely that’s not as stressful. Heh.)

Whether they’re doing it consciously or not, our boys are thinking “OK, Daddy tells Mommy he loves her, and Mommy tells Daddy she loves him. And this is how they act. This is what it means to be married. This is how people who love each other treat each other.” That’s what we’re carrying. If you have little folks living at your house, then that’s what you’re carrying, too. The future of the institution of marriage is there. If we are ever to save it, it will be with sending well-equipped, sensibly taught young people into it.

Now tell me how critically important it is that you bitch about the dishes again.

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 Posted by at 6:37 am

  9 Responses to “BoWilliams.com On Marriage, Part X: The Story You Tell”

  1. I make a point to tell my daughter over and over again, “Do not ever settle for a man who doesn’t treat you as well as your father treats me”. She sees every day how giving, selfless, and devoted he is – I try to be that as well, but he’s much more consistent – and I’m hoping one day it will sink in. One day, when she’s with a man who doesn’t *quite* measure up and she has to make a big decision, she’ll remember both my words and what she witnessed firsthand for so many years.

    • Jenny, it surprises me not at all that you describe Brian as the more consistently good in those ways, because Lea is the more consistent of the two of us. And you and I have discussed before some common wiring we have—definitely for better and for worse.

      It also doesn’t surprise me that you aspire to what you see in your spouse. Me too.

      Demonstrably, sometimes it’s not gender roles. Sometimes it’s personality traits.

  2. Males who talk about their wives like that, disrespectful, are just lazy and immature. They are little boys. I find it hard to believe that most men would talk about their wives like that, but then again, I am a woman and don’t hang around the boys room. So I’ll have to take your word on it.

    • Carol, have you never heard women bash their husbands? I hear it All The Time, so if you don’t get peppered with it, I want to know your secret!

    • Carol, I wouldn’t say most men, but it definitely happens enough to be a thing. It happens enough that I have an “oh, wow, again?” sort of reaction to it.

  3. Sadly, it’s not just the men. Everytime I find myself trapped near a conversation of the “Oh, you know how MEN are” variety, I want to run away screaming. No. I do not. My husband is sweet, generous, thoughtful, intelligent, kind, and hardworking. If your husband really is the idiotic man-child you paint him to be, then why did you marry him?

    And yes, I hear it from the men too. One of the “joys” of working in a male dominated field is that you become “one of the guys” and get to hear the wife bashing. (And if you are really lucky, they tar you with the same brush!)

    There are some folks whom I have never, in years of knowing them, heard them say a positive word about their spouse. It’s remarkably depressing.

  4. It really does go both ways, as MrsDragon points out. I don’t know when it became a thing to point out how terrible your spouse is in front of friends and co-workers, but how bizarre is it to paint such a negative image of someone you choose to be with?

    • I can’t even start to go there in my head. I can’t imagine what perceived negative about Lea I would ever share to a group at large. She likes ham for dinner more than I do? She’ll run past the corded phone in the kitchen to answer the cordless one in the living room? She doesn’t like Stanley Kubrick movies?

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