She’s Irrational, Why do I have to change?
My thoughts on this book completely depend on the audience that is reading it. If you are in a relationship where your partner is unhappy and you feel like the bad guy but you ultimately love your partner, this book has the potential to be very helpful. If you are trying to decide if you should get engaged or break up, this is a very helpful book. If you are struggling because you don’t love your partner any more, because you have fundamentally different values, or you are struggling with boundaries, I don’t know if this book applies to your situation. It is also primarily written from and for the male perspective. Doesn’t mean it can’t apply to a woman or to a same-sex monogamous couple but it will require you to do the work of applying it to your situation. Because while the author, Matthew Fray, is coming from a particular point of view in his book, This is How Your Marriage Ends, it’s a valuable one. I think the best piece of insight he gives comes at the very end of this book and it has to do with choosing our partners. So let’s dig into what is valuable and why I think you might want to read this story.
Funny and engaging
So many self-help books are so crammed with tips and tools that they are incredible hard to read. You just don’t want to even if you know that the information might be helpful. Mathew Fray has a very easy to read and engaging style. He can be a bit repetitive but he is always trying to be clear and funny. The title can be a bit scary but he is not and I appreciate the distinction. One of the common themes that run through the book is how you can be a “good person” and a “shitty husband”. As a therapist, but more importantly, as a person, I really appreciated that distinction. I think one of the hardest parts about relationships is that when we hear that our partner is hurt from our actions or words, we get defensive and frustrated. He repeatedly, with different examples and plenty of compassion, breaks down this defense so that we can really hear that this isn’t an indictment of who we are but are very human actions and reactions.
Loving vs. Prioritizing
The reason I mentioned in the beginning that people who love their partner should read this versus people who no longer love their partner, is that the author’s points and suggestions are hard and require a serious investment. The type of hard work and investment that are only worth it if you love you partner. It is really easy to say, “My wife and family is my number one priority,” but when your tired after a long day at work and they are nagging you over something you feel deep in your bones is trivial, it is really hard to prioritize their feelings and needs over your own. If you can make this mindset shift and apply it, your life will significantly change in ways that I believe are positive. This shift can reduce conflict, reduce nagging, and reduce self-judgement. On the flip side, this can also increase connection and security, increase affection and loving interactions, and increase your own sense of self-esteem. But the road there is bumpy, difficult, and not a straight line. Getting support for the day to day changes is hugely helpful. This can be a friend, a coach like the author, or a therapist. One of the most overlooked but helpful long term support systems is often a support group. Whether this is your basketball group or a therapy group is irrelevant, as long as they are a group of peers who will support your efforts.
Listening and Speaking Up
The author doesn’t explicitly call listening and speaking up out but that is the main lesson I took from his book. Yes, changing your mindset and prioritizing your partner is important but changing how you listen and how you speak up is important. And it is both, not just one or the other. Yes, the author could have listened to his wife better; he could’ve validated and reflected her feelings and needs instead of arguing. Yes, he could have given her values and desires equal weight to his own. But in the end, he also recognizes that she could have not put up with it. She could have spoken up at the beginning when he trampled her boundaries and feelings. She could have walked away if he didn’t listen. And that is a very hard thing to hear, for anyone. It takes years for resentment and frustration to build in a relationship and it takes two people. It’s not just up to one partner to make changes. And often, the hardest change, isn’t to listen and prioritize, it’s to stand up for yourself and say, “This is not okay”.
And that gets to the exhaustion and my criticism of the book. The amount of pain a person has to reach to take this book and implement it without help is incredible difficult. He even addresses this point when he talks about how nobody has grown up with a model of this type of healthy dynamic. So completely rewiring our brain to prioritize a relationship, a family, and a partner is exhausting day in and day out. And asking a couple to do this in the midst of rising uncertainty and strain in the world is even harder. So please don’t throw out the book with the exhaustion. Just take a breath. Take another one. And just start small. Talk to a friend about their marriage. Or talk to your partner about their exhaustion. Just try one strategy in the book for one conversation. That’s it. Because those small steps will help you take the next one and you don’t have to do it alone.