Plan B

We’re not going to the couples retreat. My husband was vehemently opposed and I didn’t try to convince him.

He recognizes that being the one who won’t go, he has to come up with some other plan of action. I appreciated that much.

At one point, when I was trying to sell the couples retreat, I mentioned that if we didn’t go we could always make our own couples retreat, and work through some of the exercises in Gottman’s The Seven Principals for Making Marriage Work. Or we could see a therapist on a regular basis. Last night my husband proposed Plan B.

I was surprised at how vehemently opposed to that I ended up being.

The thing is, I tried to do that years ago, to work through the exercises in that book in an attempt to help us be closer. My husband’s reaction was so negative and ugly–Why would we need to do that? There is literally nothing I’d rather do less. You may like that self-help garbage, but I can’t think of a way I’d less like to spend my time.— and felt like such a vicious personal attack, that I vowed never to suggest it again. That exchange has sullied my feelings for my husband, and our relationship, in lasting ways. I don’t think I realized how much it all hurt me until he suggested it as an alternative to the retreat weekend, at which point I struggled not to break down sobbing.

I said I would participate, willingly, but I refused to execute that plan in any way. I reminded him that I’d tried to work through those exercises with him–I’d even photocopied parts of the book I thought would benefit us–and he threw it all back in my face, without ever reading a word. I told him how hurt I had been by that–perhaps it was the first time he was hearing about the pain he inflicted–and that I couldn’t bring myself to be so vulnerable to his scorn toward this kind of thing again.

He understood, or he understood well enough to concede and accept the responsibility for planning the weekend moving forward.

We talked more about why we need to do this, about how distant we’ve grown. He feels a certain amount of resentment that we have to work so hard to be happy together. He believes that couples shouldn’t have to work so hard, that if we were meant to be together, the being together part should be more effortless. I tried to explain that a lot of couples work hard at marriage, but we don’t hear about it. I suggested that as a man, he probably never heard about it, because when would it even come up? Did he even ask his friends how their marriages were doing? And what of the high divorce rates? Honestly, I still don’t think he believes me. He chalks my insistence that something must be done up to my penchant for embracing self-help and trying to better myself. I told him my own desire to be a better person had nothing to do with what I know about other people’s relationships and my certainty that other couples struggle in the ways we are.

We’re looking at the weekend after the retreat would have been: mid-June. It’s better for me at least, so that’s something. I told him I wouldn’t participate unless he’d read the entire book–no choosing exercises without any context to their purpose or importance. He grudgingly agreed. He also conceded that if he failed to follow through on this I would get to pick the next course of action.

I honestly don’t know if he’s going to pull his shit together and do this, or just unceremoniously lob the ball back to me. I suspect the latter. He has never followed through on this kind of thing before, at least not in our marriage, so my hopes aren’t high, but I’m willing to wait until he’s determined that for himself. And I’ll read the book again, just in case.


  1. Did he explain to you why he picked that option, knowing how much he hates it before? I hope he does follow through and plan something. It’s so hard to trust that something really important to youwill work when youve been disappointed before.

    And yes, of course, marriage is work for everybody!

    1. I think he picked it because it was the lesser of the two (three?) evils. He just wants to avoid the retreat, and this is an alternative, so he’s picking it. When I mentioned that he had to read the book I could already see his resolve wavering. The chance of him following through on this are very, very slim.

  2. I completely and totally get your skepticism here. I really hope he follows through with this, but that would, IMO be really really shitty if he didn’t.
    and YES YES YES…men don’t understand about how hard marriage often is because if you think WE don’t have a frame of reference, they don’t spend the time we do thinking, reading, talking about this. Why does he think marriage shouldn’t be hard work? Because that’s what he wants? Because its easier for him that way? Sometimes I think my husband just wants everything to be easy—marriage, parenting, home ownership, etc… and when its not, he figures something is wrong with everything except himself. Many people just put in the hard work and DO IT because they realize that is just life, he just doesn’t see it. (He’s not lazy by ANY means, but he gets…mopey…and wants to make drastic changes to avoid the problems, but doesn’t want to work on himself or his attitude).

    1. My guess is he doesn’t think marriage should be hard work because his parents probably made it look pretty effortless. They make everything look effortless (and enabled my husband’s “can’t do” attitude on a lot of fronts). I think that is why, though when I asked him that question he didn’t say it. I think it’s just an assumption he has/had, based on what? I don’t know. He has been in more relationships than I have, but maybe he thought they didn’t work out because he and that person weren’t compatible, and that we should work out because we should be compatible. I honestly don’t know, he’s not great at articulating these things. And I’m sure he never talks to his guy-friends about it, even though he has plenty that are married with kids. I think he’s just tired, and pretty lazy, and wants shit to be easy, so he creates that expectation for himself. I honestly don’t know.

  3. This is really frustrating to read, so I can imagine how much worse you feel. Of course marriage is hard work and no, it isn’t talked about. Forgive me if this comes across as rude, but what does your husband work hard at? It seems like he has this expectation for what his life should be like that isn’t realistic and ends up sandbagging all of your efforts to change things.

    1. Ha! You’re not being rude. At all. What does my husband work hard at… hmmm… I do think he works hard at work, especially when he cares about the cause. I think he works hard at the organization he founded. But honestly, I don’t think he’s a person who is driven to work hard, just to work hard. He’s all about finding the easy way out, ignoring it and hoping it goes away, that kind of thing. At least that is how he is at home. He gives me a fair amount of shit about all the work I do trying to feel/do/be better. It’s actually kind of demeaning sometimes. I don’t know.

      1. I’m sad he gives you shit about self-improvement. I get that it’s not his thing. But why give you a hard time?

  4. I’ve been told, by men here in my office, that women tend to make more about how bad their marriage is than they think. I tell them, over and over again, no, it’s not that it’s bad…it’s just that you’re (the men) sort of clueless what’s going on within their marriage to realize what the deal is. Seems like all men, not all, but most, schlep the hard stuff off to the women and take the easy stuff.

    I have NO room to talk to you about Husbands and marriages (as I’m at my wit ends with mine) but it seems like he’s off the hook…yet again. It sort of seems, to me, that he believes nothing is wrong with your marriage? Nothing he can do to change his attitude within the marriage? Maybe I’m wrong but seriously guy, you’ve got a gem and you don’t even know it. Sorry for the rant.

    1. Ha! I was seriously going to write the same thing on your blog. Seriously dude, what are you doing?! I could ask both our husbands that.

      I will say that he does recognize that something is wrong with our marriage. He said it’s the one part of his life that isn’t where he wants it to be. So he does acknowledge it, but I think him realizing that something is wrong might also mean that he things something is INHERENTLY wrong with our marriage, something that can’t be fixed. He went so far as to articulate, multiple times, that he doesn’t think we should have to work this hard at it, that if we were really compatible it wouldn’t be so hard. So I guess if he thinks that, then he must also think that something is inherently incompatible between us. He hasn’t said as much, specifically, but I’m getting the feeling he feels that way. I think for him it’s either, it works or it doesn’t, you shouldn’t have to work, so he doesn’t want to work.

      1. You know, there is a part of me that feels similarly to your husband — that f we were more compatible, we wouldn’t disagree on so much (what neighborhood to live in, what to name our kids, how to spend time on weekends, and also occasionally on how to spend money). Or, that if we disagreed, it wouldn’t bother me and lead to fights because we loved each other so much. My parents always seemed to have a great marriage, as does my sister. And my recently engaged brother seems so crazy about his girlfriend (and she certainly returns the affection) that I think, maybe it should be easier. But I know people really value marriage counseling, so I’m sure I’m wrong. But I do relate to where he is coming from.

  5. His response sounds very typical of men… ‘I don’t want to do that, but if you turn this over to me, it won’t get done because I don’t care.’ The amount of things husband need help with that wives just are capable of doing on their own is unending. Here you went and found a viable option and all he had to offer was, “no, I’m not doing that.”. I’m with keanne in that I’m frustrated just reading this.

    He’s lucky you care, because a wife who didn’t care about the marriage would have left him by now. I just want to scream at him, “show some effort, asswipe!”

    I commend you for keeping on with the effort. Wow!

    1. What I can’t understand is how the hell have men, for the most part, been directing humanity since the dawn of time?! They are so inept at so many things!!! Drives me crazy.

      The good news is that I don’t think I’ll be that disappointed when he doesn’t manage to read the book, let alone set up the weekend. One thing I can say for my husband, he is REALLY good at cultivating LOW expectations, so that those around him are easily pleasantly surprised.

  6. (Hugs)

    Ugh…I so get this. With me my dh hates reading any kind of self help book so much that he would probably have picked the retreat. That’s how I got him to go to a parenting class recently. I was so fed up with his refusal to read any parenting books. Of course I had to find the class, register, etc…

    1. Mine does too! He has never read a parenting book, and it drives me crazy because he doesn’t know how to handle our spirited kids, but he refuses to read anything on the topic. It’s like he thinks he should just know what to do. Why would he?! It’s hard! And the only experience he has is being a kid himself, and he was a VERY different kid than our kids are. It’s just so crazy to me that he thinks he doesn’t have to learn anything about this stuff. It’d be one thing if he didn’t want and he just admitted that was it, that he was lazy, but he insists it’s something else. I was actually surprised when he refused the retreat because I know how much he hates reading books like this. Honestly, he’s probably just in avoidance mode, and he’ll stay in it indefinitely. And I’ll get increasingly frustrated and annoyed.

  7. This sucks. Does he know about your blog and, if so, does he read it? Does he care about how unhappy you are?

    My own spouse grew up in a household of supreme suppressors. Negative feelings or problems simply were not discussed, they weren’t even mentioned. That means he grew up thinking that 1) his parents had absolutely no relationship problems (HA HA HA) and 2) that relationship problems should just magically work themselves out. He has no conflict resolution skills as a result of his upbringing.

    My parents are divorced and my own father was equally clueless until my mom left him. It wasn’t until he was forced to live on his own, to completely care for his own household and children, that he really “got it.” Hoo boy, it was a tough lesson for him, but he really grew and challenged himself in ways that he probably never would have if he had remained married to my mom. It was one of the good things that came out of their separation.

    For me, I have low expectations for my marriage. I would prefer to be in a marriage with high expectations, but I don’t think that is possible for me. And, my marriage isn’t terrible, it has it’s good parts. It really has gotten easier now that both of my kids are school age and I do get a lot of freedom to do the things I want. It’s not all bad. Hang in there.

    1. I don’t think he realizes how unhappy I am. I don’t think I really did until we talked last night. One of the things I don’t do much anymore is share my feelings, because it became clear a long time ago that he didn’t really want to hear about them. I am also a “sharer,” so I accepted that maybe I talked about my own shit too much. And I think I’m better for keeping some stuff in. But there is plenty that I probably should be sharing. I haven’t found a happy medium yet.

      My husband’s parents are… not at all like mine. I am frequently flummoxed by them and how they deal with each other (and my husband, and our kids). I don’t think my husband learned much about conflict resolution or even that people have conflicts, from them. They are very conflict averse people, and my husband takes after them in that respect. But I think he takes it to the extreme of thinking that there shouldn’t be conflict at all. I don’t know. I’m feeling increasingly dejected about the whole thing. I’m just so tired of dealing with it, you know?

    1. I actually really loved that book, and we didn’t have a negative experience with that book in particular–I don’t think my husband ever even saw it, or read a word in it–he didn’t take issue with that book, he took issue with reading or doing exercises in ANY book.

  8. I suspect what your husband really means is that you should be happy totally letting him do or not do whatever he wants, when he wants, and his way. That would be the two of you being compatible… because that is being compatible to who he is. This is a very old-fashioned idea and it is super deeply ingrained in even the most modern of men. In the bottom of his mind where he doesn’t even think about it, a compatible marriage would work around him and a wife would be supportive totally of him. And, since you said his parents are conflict avoidant, I bet he never saw them disagree and I bet they pretty much worked their married lives in support of how his dad saw and wanted things. That he really does not understand that being compatible doesn’t involve compromise on two people’s parts, that being in a compatible marriage does not mean everything goes his way because to him being really compatible would mean you were happy with everything being his way. What else could compatible mean? Compatible means you agree with me and your interests/opinions are the same as MINE
    I don’t think that helps you. I have no idea if he could even look at that idea; it really might be too threatening; it is very very threatening to a traditional long-held male assumption about the world. It is a privileged point of view most men have no idea they hold; but it is also a very common world view among men, and many women also subscribe to it because they have never known anything else.
    Good luck.

    1. This is so fascinating for me to read because when I look at my parents and my sister and many of my good friends, it seems like the marriage completely revolves around the wife’s desires! My mom was really in charge when I was growing up and I get so resentful that my husband doesn’t let me just decide everything. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing to have the wife in charge? I don’t know. But I find that most of the women I know are in charge in their marriages — they decide where to live, when to have kids, how to decorate their homes, where to celebrate holidays, which restaurant to eat at, etc. And my marriage doesn’t work that way and it is really hard for me – I think always assumed that he would just come around. I am wondering if I’m just in a unique subculture (I really think it may be related to being jewish).

  9. Traditionally women manage homes and do the interior work and men run the ‘real world of working men’. But the general theory remains that compatible means ‘You agree and follow My preference’. In this blogger’s world that would mean she would like his movies, his interests, his friends, his foods, his furniture arrangements and would prioritize his job needs, and keeping their world revolving around him. Some couples do it in reverse and she rules, however generically men rule around the world in most cultures and religions support that male is the superior power role.
    It is deep unconscious theories about how decisions are made and what compatibility really means. Some people do not care about home arrangements so they default to their spouse but only because they view that default as being about ‘unimportant things’. I doubt that it is Jewish given what happens in Hasidic communities, but it IS part of Annie’s lived expectation just as the blogger’s husband’s ideas about how much work should be part of living with another person is a product of his lived experience growing up with his parents (and his privilege as a well educated white American man).

    1. Yes, it is absolutely not the reality in hasidic communities! But it may be the reality in more liberal Jewish communities. I don’t know. And maybe I’m projecting based on my own frustrations and jealousies, but in my circle, I see a different dynamic than what is traditional. And I don’t think it is a form of egalitarianism or anything — it’s just the way marriages play out.

  10. I’m unbelievably and insanely angry for you about his response. It would be one thing if he brought the self-help books to you and suggested working through the exercises, but to give the answer that “it shouldn’t be this hard” and than suggest a do-it-yourself weekend (especially after rejecting such an idea not long ago), leaves me fuming for you.

    Marriage is hard. There are many days most couples don’t like one another. The trick is figuring out how to get through those periods and communicating in a manner so that you can get back to a place where you do like one another. Ideally as soon as possible. But the idea that it just magically happens? Either it’s a fairy tale or things are not what they seem.

    May you be pleasantly surprised. But have your own plan B in place too.

    1. I am trying to formulate my own plan B, and I expect to have a conversation with my husband too about how disappointing it will be if he fails to follow through on this. I actually just wrote him a long email about a couple things, these points among them. We’ll see where we go from there.

  11. I’m so sorry. Like so many others, I am supremely frustrated just reading this, so it must be insanely infuriating to actually be living it. I have no advice, but I’m here to support you and to listen if you need to vent. I miss you!

  12. The incident a few years ago when he was so dismissive of the marriage exercises sounds very painful. I’m sorry you have to carry that with you. I’m glad you were able to recognize it.

    1. I don’t think I realized how much of that I was carrying around until he actually uttered the words and this anger immediately welled up inside me. I was truly surprised.

  13. Marriage is so hard. My spouse reports there are other males who do discuss marriage and its challenges out there, and also if there’s one thing people are good at, it’s hiding problems from everyone else. I am curious about how MiVida can be opposed to self help but also opposed to going to a retreat to have someone else help. It seems contradictory, or like embarrassment is preventing him from allowing for change (i.e. it’s embarrassing to admit needing help/that marriage is hard/imperfection). I hope you’re pleasantly surprised and get something out of your couple retreat. Even in the face of low expectations, there is room for hope.

    1. I think there is some embarrassment there. And honestly, I think the main reason he doesn’t want to do the retreat is the other couples that are involved. If it were an intensive weekend away with just us and a therapist (ha! can you imagine how much that would cost?!) I think he would suck it up and go, but the group atmosphere makes it untenable for him. I think we will end up having to make individual therapy appointments work, because I don’t think we’re going to be able to do this on our own, even if he does read the book.

  14. KeAnne’s question hit the nail on the head for me. And I’m sure he does work hard at work but in everything else he seems to let others take the lead and do the work. I’m curious why he never reads your blog? I wonder how many significant others do – mine isn’t regular about it by any means but he’ll pop in from time to time. I think it would be eye-opening for him (and also probably damaging to your relationship so I’m not suggesting it).

    1. He used to read my blog, but I think it got old (and overwhelming) for him. And I think it would probably damage our relationship. I actually appreciate that he is doesn’t read my blog, that he doesn’t “check up on me” here. At least, that is what I think most of the time. When I realize he doesn’t read it, ultimately, because he’s just not interested, then I feel kind of bad. I don’t really know how to feel about it, honestly. šŸ˜‰

      1. Maybe the blog did get old for him and he couldn’t keep up, but also maybe he wants to give you some space to yourself. It would be a really different blog if you knew he read it all the time.

        1. It really would be a different blog if I knew he read all the time, and I definitely prefer the writing I’m able to do when I know he’s not reading.

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