Breaking through the marriage code

Over the years I’ve used this column to share whine about having to actually participate in my marriage. Isn’t it enough that I contribute to our bank account and our dirty clothes hamper without being asked to contribute to meaningful conversation as well? Sheesh!

Until recently (by recently I mean the last few weeks), it never occurred to me that my wife might require more than the sound of my belches and the smell of my post-burrito exhaust to stimulate her interest in me. Who knew?

It turns out that women in general and intelligent women in particular feel the need to continually learn and grow with time and, here’s the tricky part, they expect the men in their lives to learn and grow as well. What’s worse is that they expect their relationships to evolve into more than taking out the trash and the occasional slap and tickle; for the life of me I can’t figure out why, but they do.

For years now I’ve resented her expectation that I would learn, grow and participate in an evolving relationship. I didn’t sign up for that and nobody ever told me that was what I was supposed to do. She claims that’s she’s talked to me about it all along and, to be fair she may have; my mind tends to wander a bit when she talks about relationship stuff.

I think these unreasonable expectations are why there are so many frustrated and disappointed middle aged women. They knew we were emotional dwarfs when they married us but, in their youthful innocence, they expected that we’d grow into emotionally reliable relationship partners during the “happily ever after” phase of the marriage. Like that’s ever happened!

It’s my theory that most women are sleep deprived from their late teens until their mid-forties because mating, nesting, career building, house breaking husbands, having kids, raising kids, watching Dr. Phil and reading relationship books can be exhausting business. When the kids are grown and the distractions fade they become acutely aware that the cretin sitting on the other end of their couch is still the emotional dwarf they married all those years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, men are equally (well at least partially) at fault for this problem. I can’t speak for my gender but most guys I know work from two basic romantic philosophies; find a woman who will put up with your crap, and if it’s not broke don’t fix it. That’s it, no homework, lengthy discussions or evolution required. If she’s still there and she’s still willing to make that gravy you like, things must be OK so whatever she’s yammering on about can’t be all that important.

While women react to subtle nuances in behaviors and want to know how you feel and why you feel that way, men respond to physical urges and action verbs. That means men will open that pickle jar when you ask us to but we don’t understand why you get upset when we pass gas while opening it.

When a woman says, “We need to talk about the future of our relationship because we never share emotional intimacy; I don’t understand why you never want to just be together and do things anymore.” Her husband hears, “Blah, blah, blah … relationship …blah, blah, blah … emotional … blah, blah, blah … stop watching so much football.” He reasonably responds, “Can we talk at halftime?” She emotionally replies, “Why don’t you ever want to discuss our relationship?” then he says, “Are you making gravy later?”

After over 28 years of marriage I finally figured out that if I actually pay attention to what my wife is saying it’s not all that hard to translate what she means. Who would have thought that was possible? “We should do more things together” actually means “Let’s go snorkeling” and “We need to talk about the future of our relationship” means “Let’s discuss buying a house near the water so we can get a sailboat.” I’m not even going to tell you what “we need more intimacy” means … but it is awesome!

I really don’t know if I pay attention now because she’s more fun to live with, or if she’s more fun because I pay attention (it’s the first one) but it doesn’t matter. I enjoy participating in our relationship these days, and I’m really glad that my wife finally figured out how to have a good time. Wait … is that gravy I smell?

Rick Seley is an award-winning humor columnist. He may be reached at


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