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“Why is it that men are always responsible for what women do or think? Do women have any responsibility to correct their own misbehavior?”

Why is it that men are always responsible for what women do or think? Do women have any responsibility to correct their own misbehavior?

A male reader asks about women’s responsibility in marriage –

I just finished reading your article on “Why women leave men they love”, and I have a major question. Why is it that men are always responsible for what women do or think? Do women have any responsibility to correct their own misbehavior?

I raise some ancillary questions. Why are most women incapable of recognizing their own failures? Whatever happened to women accepting their responsibilities? Whatever happened to “for better or worse,” or “forsaking all others,” or “in sickness and in health”? Women seem to have a very difficult time with loyalty or fidelity. It seems to me that a major element in their makeup is narcissism. Is there, anymore, any moral dimension or constraint that married women accept with regard to marriage?

It will be interesting to read what a postmodern marriage counselor has to say.

Thank you!

My response –

The content of your letter appears to be founded on certain beliefs. I hear these beliefs as something like this – “Lifelong marriage as an institution is intrinsically right and natural. Remaining married in spite of changes in circumstances and personal values is the goal and the moral imperative. People who can not or do not remain married despite their unhappiness in marriage are flawed. These people are mostly women.”

While I do not personally share these beliefs, as a counsellor I am accustomed to working effectively and compassionately within a variety of belief systems.

The term “postmodern” implies a deconstruction of meaning, and aptly describes the state of marriage and relationships for many men and women today. Not long ago we remained bound to social structures that dictated the terms of marriage and relationships. Today many people are re-assessing these institutions, along with the “moral dimension or constraint” that you ask about.

Women especially have been deconstructing their roles and exercising the new choices they have in postmodern relationships (though men too are increasingly rising to this challenge). I’m not at all convinced that women cheat more than men, although perhaps the double standard on fidelity is crumbling and so women are becoming more free to do what has previously been a male privilege.

As for recognizing one’s failures, this appears to be difficult for many of us, men and women alike; perhaps because the social, family, or internal consequence of failing has been so punitive. It requires a certain kind of maturity to confront our own failure. This maturity, for men and for women, is mostly discouraged in our culture. The very notion of failure (and success) is rooted in a system that rewards winners, punishes losers and fails to see the value of those experiences unconcerned with either.

In my practice I see many women and men struggling to preserve a marriage in challenging times because they value it, and each other, to the depths of their soul. I also see women and men make themselves literally sick or insane from the misery of staying in a marriage that they don’t want, that they have rejected but cling to for a variety of reasons. But mostly I see women and men trying to make sense of themselves and each other in a world where old rules no longer fully apply.

Many men are hurt and confused as women challenge conventional views of manhood, womanhood, family, marriage, sex and relationships. I get numerous messages from men that essentially say some version of this – “I work at a job I hate to provide for my family. I’m loyal. I make sacrifices. My wife has a duty to loyalty and sacrifice as well.” And so there is rage and bewilderment when a wife chooses loyalty to herself and leaves a marriage rather than continuing to sacrifice according to terms set by others.

If men are feeling comfortable and secure (or just sufficiently trapped) in their own dutiful sacrificial role, then they are probably going to forgo taking the life journey that may be calling. This causes additional stress, internal conflict and resentment. These men will see women who choose to take their own journey at the cost of their marriage as narcissistic and irresponsible.

It’s up to each of us to determine what sacrifice means, its role in our lives, and what an acceptable level of sacrifice might be. Sacrifice can be an important task that calls us to develop maturity, and it can be a tool of oppression that we use to crush ourselves and each other. My job is to help people discern these differences for themselves.

I actually endeavour to be a post postmodern (metamodern?) counsellor; I encourage flexibility of perspective depending on context. This requires an ability to sometimes resist the reflexive postmodern dismissal of traditional values, AND also to sometimes question the blind adherence to convention.

If I took for granted the “naturalness” and moral superiority of conventional marriage, with its views on fidelity, loyalty and responsibility I would impart this bias into my client relationships, which is precisely what many marriage counsellors do.

Who am I to say that someone is bound to remain in relationship with someone else for their entire life because they made an extreme but socially encouraged pact when they were twenty years old? Come to think of it, where else do we find such contracts in our culture? Where else do we say “No matter what happens for the rest of your life, you are bound to this agreement that restricts who you love, who you have sex with and virtually every other aspect of your life.” Even the most extreme business arrangements typically have a renegotiation clause, or some mechanism to ensure ongoing mutual benefit.

Whatever the benefits of toughing it out through an agreement we made two or twenty or fifty years ago – and there are many – there can also be benefits to changing or ending the agreement. When a woman comes to counselling and says “My marriage is a misery. I want to change it but my husband refuses to even discuss our relationship with me. We haven’t had sex in six years and he won’t talk about it. I don’t want to die without being held again…” shall I remind her of the vows she made twenty-five years ago and give her a pep talk on loyalty and fidelity? Do I know better than she about her experience? Does marriage?

Perhaps we’re being called to rethink this institution of marriage that we’ve inherited. I recently met someone who agreed to a five year marriage with a renewal option. They’ve been going for twenty and are now adding some unconventional clauses.

Thanks for responding to my article and for asking the questions that are on your mind. We live in a world of vast choices and infinite paradox. I lay no claim to “the truth” in all this, but I’m committed to exploring these complex topics.

All My Best,

Also read –
The surprising role of conflict in relationships – How the arguments that tear us apart also hold us together (Part 1)

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4 replies on ““Why is it that men are always responsible for what women do or think? Do women have any responsibility to correct their own misbehavior?””

Whether intentional or not, you dodged a major element in the question. When most couples marry they intentionally choose vows (promises, verbal contracts) that he specifically references: Whatever happened to “for better or worse,” or “forsaking all others,” or “in sickness and in health”?

It is a valid question. Society, culture, and men do not force those on women (as you argue for so many other things), they enter into those commitments of their own volition. What then excuses them from keeping those commitments any more than the husbands?? You are quite willing to excuse and argue in favor of their renegging on those solemn vows, widely held to be the most significant vows any human will take. Most men and women repeat the same vows.

So if the only rationale required for a woman break those vows is that she is unfulfilled or unhappy etc, then what complaint do women have with men?? At all???

One cannot appeal to equity/equality and the sufficiency of nebulous alleged feelings in order to rationalize unilateral dissolution of marriages by one gender, but then turn around and brow-beat the other.

Marriage vows either mean what they say, or they are meaningless. Women have voted en masse (either pro actively or tacitly), it is past time for those same women to accept thd very thing they championed.

To do anything else, or to continue (as you do, coyly and subtly) to lay the blame for the failure of marriages is both disingenuous anf hypocritical, for in fact there is no blame to be layed because there is none. Wedding vows are empty and subject to whim, so how can there be blame for not honoring meaningless words???

And btw, my advice to men in this brave new world of justifying divorce based on whim is to develop feelings of deep-seated unhappiness and lack of fulfillment about the time your earning potential takes off in your thirties, dump unapprecitive the ball and chain, and find some young thing who will actually appreciate what you offer.

I mean, that is the new world order in marriage, right??

Or better yet, dump the ball and chain, dump all the money you save into an early mid-life-crisis car, and live the lifebof Riley.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander…

Why would anyone want to be married? It’s a set up for failure. You give government rights to your relationship in exchange for measly financial benefits and property rights to the other person… Breeding is a further entrapment.

My friend is not perfect, but I love him. Since I know him, I think of him constantly. I want to spend every second with him. I do not care what we do, the main thing is he is with me. But we constantly have strife. We have already several times separately.

The reason is that we both have different expectations. I have no idea where it comes from. I sometimes say things that I can not explain. I expect sometimes things that do not make sense.
I often think, he is not the right thing for me. And then he gives me the proof.
But sometimes I’m just happy. I think full of love to him.
In these moments, the love comes back. Indomitable, honest and true.

Because you are abusive. You assume women are chattel, but cannot be trusted to act like chattel. True we aren’t any more and we don’t because we no longer have to. File this under natural consequences.

My husband, like you, thinks he has license to do anything and everything short of physical violence or infidelity. I think being in a marriage requires mutual respect, unity, privacy and confidentiality within the marriage, mutually pleasureable sex, refraining from using one another as a verbal punching bag, spending time alone together without the kids outside of sex, having difficult discussions and making joint decisions, and being a financially independent household. My husband doesn’t agree with any of these things. (He doesn’t withhold sex, I can have it any time I want as long as its painful and boring.)

If you want objective, but gender specific data look at Dr Gottmans research. If want equal responsibility you won’t get it. You alone are responsible for yourself and your life married or not. Your wife will do what she can to repair the marriage and give up and leave. Your life doesn’t belong to her, and it’s not her job to fix it for you or continue ignoring the problems indefinitely so you can pretend everything is fine while she is dying inside. She is also not going to do what you think she should do because her life belongs to her and she should do what SHE thinks is important and right for
herself and children, not what you think she should do.

Your contempt loathing and hatred already broke the marriage vows. As the gender specific objective verified repeatable research shows men’s unwillingness to be influenced by women usually causes divorce. Women are almost universally willing to be influenced by men, but there is a significant minority of men who are not willing to be influenced by women. This, and it is gender specific, is the male cause of divorce. This is why Dr Gottman wrote a relationship book for men, not women because men, not women, are usually the deciding factor. Go google it. His research is quoted everywhere and his website is easy to find. Again this is scientifically verifiable repeatable, done in a laboratory research, not anecdotal evidence or personal experience.

You might be interested to know the number on predictor out of all the four horsemen is contempt.

So women leave men because the men:
1) Treat them with contempt.
2) Refuse to be influenced by their wives.
And yes contempt and refusal to make a joint life completely destroyed the marriage vows long before anyone filed, and yes, your actions are your fault.

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