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Is your relationship in a bad place? What are the signs that your relationship is ending? Here to help you get to the bottom of a dying romance is Matthew Fray. Matthew is a relationship coach, writer, and subbed by the New York Times as “the man who coaches husbands on how to avoid divorce.” He joins host Kimmy Seltzer to share the things he learned in his own divorce journey to help others save their relationships. They talk in-depth about the different behaviors and habits that lead to a dwindling intimacy you might not even be aware of with insights from his book, This is How Your Marriage Ends: A Hopeful Approach to Saving Relationships. Tune in and learn valuable lessons on relationships and the value of communication and self-awareness.

How Your Marriage Ends: Relationship-Killing Behavior And Communication Habits With Matthew Fray

You date someone you’re crazy about. You feel passion, attraction and admiration, eventually fall in love and become a couple, perhaps even get married. Eventually, over time, love fades and you grow apart. What prevents this from happening, maintaining that drug-induced bliss, you once felt for your partner and more importantly, is there anything you can do to avoid that train wreck? The answer is yes. As it turns out in all relationships outside the fairytales, we grew up taking work low and behold. When you do the work and recognize relationship-killing behavior and communication habits, you will be better equipped for a long-term relationship that can lead to marriage if that’s what you want.

One of the things I noticed as a therapist is that we all have patterns that are created that repeat themselves. It’s like a broken record over and over again. When you think you’ve cracked the code, you do it again. It’s almost like Groundhog Day. You might find yourself engaging in these similar behaviors and relationships. Here’s the thing. Our past is connected to the future, the choices we make and the patterns that get created. That’s why I love helping people break those patterns with new strategies that get results. That’s why I call myself a dating strategist more than a coach or therapist because we all need that, especially later in life.

If you want to change your story, you have to go back to the beginning and flip the script. Your patterns start from the minute you say hello to someone. I remember I heard something powerful when I was in grad school, as I was learning to become a therapist. A professor once told me that often the very thing that we are attracted to at the beginning of dating someone is the very thing that does them in the end.

Think about it. Maybe you’re attracted to someone who’s highly flirty, the life of the party, extroverted and social. Maybe that person ends up annoying you in the end because they’re never attentive to you when they’re out and they’re more interested in being the life of the party than your partner. The truth is you can’t change that person but you can look at your reasons for being attracted to them and what you’re doing to attract them. A lot of my clients learn these behaviors and communication patterns while dating, and this is what I love about working with them in the beginning because they are the ones who end up in healthy relationships.

One that stands out, you might have read on my show because she came on to talk about her success story. I worked with her many years ago and she needed help breaking those bad patterns. She ended up cracking the code and now is getting married. I’m super excited about it. Back then, when I first worked with her, she had a hard time setting boundaries, tended to overshare her insecurities and had a strong need to have a boyfriend to gain validation, which affected her selection process.

In her desperate attempt to find it, she would engage in passive-aggressive behavior. She was highly critical of herself and her men and did not express her feeling. She would end up with these narcissistic and self-absorbed men, which would crash and burn. She all realized stem from the critical norm. She was replaying that record by attracting and engaging the same dynamic. As she learned to equip herself with new tools, when she was dating, this is where we had to start with her, she learned how to express her feelings, directly set boundaries, pace herself and lead with higher self-esteem. She landed a great guy in her life who cares deeply about her and now they’re getting married.

What's really tragic is that two people who love each other and want to be together cannot make the relationship work. Click To Tweet

To truly change your relationships for the better, it’s important to look closely at these harmful behaviors. When you interrupt these patterns and actively engage in healthier ways of interacting, you’ll end up feeling close and content with the partner in the end. You can keep the spark alive in your relationships but it does take work. With me to help me talk about some of these pattern behavior busters is an amazing guy who learned through his journey and helps others save their relationships.

He is a relationship coach, writer and the man who coaches husbands on how to avoid divorce. I love that from the New York Times. His writing has been featured in HuffPost, The Sunday Times, The New York Times and many more. His blog Must Be This Tall To Ride has a dedicated following and has reached millions of readers. He has an awesome book out called This Is How Your Marriage Ends, which I’m sure he’ll talk about. Matthew Fray, are you there?

I am.

I was so excited about this conversation because there are a lot of directions. You and I have had similar journeys with our divorce and we’ve learned the hard way. Our past is connected to the future, also our adversity, gifts and disguise. It’s not until we go through it that we’re like, “There’s the gift.” I’d love for you to share your story. It started with the kitchen sink or dishes but I’ll let you tell it.

The way that I tend to begin this conversation is when people say, “Help explain who you are.” Many years ago, my marriage ended. I took it hard. It was at the time and remains, I suppose, the most difficult thing that I’ve ever encountered. It felt bad. I was afraid of a repeat scenario in the future. As this newly single guy, I had to protect my future self from having this happen again. To be fair, I wanted to solve the mystery of how my marriage ended. I wanted to be able to understand what my role and contributions to that were but there were the same. I believe that the combination of reading books, researching online, reading different articles, engaging in conversations with people I knew married and unmarried and then the blog was huge.

I started drinking to numb the pain and all that in one night. This was a few months after I was separated and she’s like, “You need to be writing this stuff out.” She met journal like an adult and a private notebook or something but I just kept drinking and put it on the internet. While that might have been foolish and idiotic at the time, it ended up being this beautiful career starting thing, where a bunch of people were providing critical feedback like, “Your story about your relationship looks, feels and sounds exactly like the stories in my relationship.” We all had the cathartic, “I’m not the only one,” moment, which is healing, valuable and empowering.

TCQ Matthew | Relationship-Killing Behavior
This is How Your Marriage Ends: A Hopeful Approach to Saving Relationships

Once I realized people were paying attention, I stopped making it so much about myself. I started trying to serve something a little bit bigger than myself. This is a passion project for me. My parents split when I was four. My marriage ended when my son was four, my only child. I would like to contribute positively to relationships. It doesn’t have to be marriage but relationships that people want to be in. I’d like for them to not become unhealthy and toxic. I’m perfectly fine with people ending marriages and dating relationships anytime they want for any reason they want but what I find tragic is the two people that love each other and want to be together, not being able to make that work. I believe we can identify these nuanced things that can help us stay connected.

I remember when I was going through it too. I was searching for a blog like you or something because you feel alone and you’re the only one doing it. The fact that you created a community and connections out of this is incredible. It’s helping many people. I wondered when you were going through it, was there a breaking point when you knew that you had to do something different when your marriage was falling apart? I wondered if that was something you thought about, “There’s something that I need to do to start doing the work.” A lot of times, you chalk it up to a bad marriage but at what point was it like, “I got to do and change something about myself?”

People ask me all the time, usually women, about their male partners. These things are not exclusively a male or female thing but mathematically and statistically speaking, this shows up most commonly in this dynamic that I experienced in my life. A lot of women reach out to me and say, “I would like for my husband, my boyfriend or my male partner to have this same experience you had and the same enlightened moment realizations that you’ve had. I feel as if that would help me and our relationship.” I strongly agree with that. My feedback is always, “Near as I can tell the discomfort of not doing anything different has to appear more painful than the discomfort of growth, change and evolution.”

I was comfortable because I always thought it was fine, good enough, smart enough, nice enough and crap that she was suggesting that I was this but she wasn’t. This was just my brain many years ago talking. She’s criticizing me, picking on me, nagging me and “finding new things to complain about.” It’s the way that I processed this in real-time back then. I was not motivated to do anything different until it got so uncomfortable and painful but I had to do something different to not stay stagnant in this awfulness. That’s truly what I believe the story is for everybody.

I was in the guestroom for eighteen months. It’s not that I got kicked out but I chose to go there. She told me at dinner one night that she wasn’t so sure about me and the marriage. I pouted like a child. I made it entirely about me. Instead of trying to get to the heart of what I might be doing or not doing to contribute to that, didn’t even bother with that, I felt slighted and mistreated because she was “threatening” the relationship.

It’s like, “You married me and you’re threatening the end of our marriage after I promise the rest of my life to you?” I had a unique ability to make everything about me. I moved into the guestroom because, in my moral outrage, I wasn’t going to sleep next to somebody that wasn’t sure if she wanted to stay married to me. As you understand on a very expert clinical level, that did nothing for restoring trust and connection in our relationship.

The discomfort of not doing anything different has to appear more painful than the discomfort of growth and change and evolution. Click To Tweet

3 or 4 months out from her moving out, which would have been the new year transition from 2012 to 2013 for being precise, I finally got serious about it. We start beginning the research process. I found a book called How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. I don’t hold that up as the greatest book ever necessarily. I also don’t want to demonize it. It has a very Mars-Venus dichotomy to it. Not everybody is comfortable with that because they feel as if it’s stereotypes a little too much and there are sexist vibes with the Mars-Venus thing that not everybody likes and I get that.

It’s still the book that did it for me. Regardless of that, it’s the book that flipped the switch. It’s the book that gave me the “I’m not alone” moment because they were able to describe relationship dynamics that looked, felt and mirrored mine. I’m like, “If this is universal where people I’ve never met can more or less describe to a T my relationship, this suggests that this can be extrapolated to almost everybody.”

I had the, “I’m not alone,” experience and the, “My wife and I aren’t beyond saving” experience but I didn’t know it yet. People who feel like they don’t have power, are not understood, loved, considered, validated or cared for in a relationship, check out many weeks, months or sometimes years prior to exiting the relationship. She needed to know exactly what was going to happen next before she could execute her plan to move on. She was trying to give me a little time to sort my stuff out but unexhausted whatever Goodwill I’d had left.

There are so many things I want to comment on what you said. The thing that what you were starting with is that you get to that breaking point where enough is enough. Before that, there’s that fear factor. When people are in fear, it’s that fight or flight. “It’s not me. It’s him. It’s him and not me,” or standing still, not doing anything. To change, you have to be in a state of discomfort. Otherwise, you’re staying the same being comfortable but comfortably miserable sometimes too.

To me, that’s the empowerment when you started recognizing things about yourself because you couldn’t change your wife but you could change yourself to get a different result. That’s what’s powerful. I was curious. You talk a lot about the benign behaviors we do. Don’t you think about what might kill love through your journey? Were there things that you started recognizing in yourself of those behaviors and then you help others with?

The way I normally talk about this is all my bias that I brought to the table. Do you mean it on a deeper level where I identified something that I felt was maybe a little broken or something and the emotional health, psychological world about me?

TCQ Matthew | Relationship-Killing Behavior
Relationship-Killing Behavior: If this is universal where people you’ve never met can more or less describe your relationship to a T, this suggests that this can be extrapolated to almost everybody.

It could be anything because to your point, there are a lot of things we do that we don’t think are killing our relationship. It’s like, “That’s just me. If they don’t like it, forget it.” Were there things you were like, “I need to change this because I see this showing up again and again?”

It’s not during or after. I had to get serious about abandoning all of these sacred cows’ beliefs about my decency. I had this belief that I’d never formulated it. I figured it out in the last many years. I had a belief that because I never tried to hurt anybody, nobody should ever be hurt by things that I’m doing, which made me a defensive and invalidating debug anytime somebody would say, “I don’t like that thing.” I always chalked it up to it being their problem. I don’t want to demonize anybody out there that maybe has the same habit I had but it’s an awful way to be.

I figured out I also don’t want to adhere to sociopolitical tropes that annoy people because people are offended sometimes by this idea of privilege, particularly when it comes to race or gender. I was blind to the female experience if we’re going to stereotype because I don’t know what it’s like. I’ve learned so much about what the average female experiences going out to meet a strange man is radically different than the guy going out to meet the strange woman in the context of safety and the context of all the things that might happen. I never had to even think about something like that but frequently, women have to text a couple of different girlfriends, a sister or a mother and be like, “I’m going to be at X, Y and Z place if you don’t hear from me.”

If you’re reading this and you’ve never had to do that before, that’s a privilege. If you’ve never been scared of getting off an elevator or walking through a parking lot at night, it’s a privilege. If you’ve never been worried about what the police are going to do when you get pulled over going ten over, then it’s a privilege. I spent my whole life in that state of blind obliviousness to the pain and the hardships that other people endure all the time.

I had no respect for it. It truly wasn’t because I was an awful person. Although the math result of that behavior and philosophy is awful, it was not intentionally awful. I did aspire to be good. Once I learned how to see this, I started to do the work. I try to look extra hard to bring some self-awareness and humility to these moments in these conversations.

I’m still prone to defensiveness. When someone says, “What about X, Y and Z?” I feel a little bit attacked or criticized. I’m inclined to be defensive because I’m never trying to upset and hurt anybody or do anything harmful but I need to stop, listen and understand where whatever the feedback is coming from. Maybe it isn’t about me at all but if it is, I’d like to eliminate another blind spot when I’m accidentally hurting somebody. That’s a healthy way to show up in the world and more specifically poignantly in our interpersonal relationships.

The average female experience of meeting a strange man is radically different from the guy going out to meet the strange woman. Click To Tweet

I see that play out a lot. One of the behaviors you got to change was thinking outside yourself and being empathetic to women and other people and how they’re feeling instead of how it should be for you and it’s just her like chalking it up to not blame but circumstance or whatever it is. You mentioned this nice guy thing. That shows up with many people, even women too, thinking, “I’m nice. I’m doing the right thing. This shouldn’t happen to me.” Do you want to talk a little bit about that? Another behavior is that can be a relationship killer sometimes.

There’s an attractiveness level if we’re talking about single people dating. I’m uniquely aware of that. This is more or less how I show up. I’m fine with it. I’m fine being rejected. I’m not insecure about that. I’m insecure about a million things. When you talked about your client that wanted to share insecurities, I’d like to learn that lesson from you in this conversation, if possible. I like the idea of not hiding things that we’re afraid of. I spent my marriage and my life up until I felt bad that I wasn’t afraid anymore.

I’d spent the first 33 and 34 years of my life afraid sometimes to tell the whole truth for fear of judgment, rejection, to be judged as weak or anything. If I was sad, afraid or felt bad because somebody did or said something, I might act tougher than I am. I like the idea of a fake tough guy that wears the mask. He’s not affected but seemingly is. His job is to present strength.

We do this in our relationships. There’s some dishonesty and the pretending to be strong, even though it doesn’t come from this evil con artist he plays. I believe strongly in if we’re to have trust and intimacy, we need to be as honest as possible. It doesn’t just mean telling the truth. It means not withholding truth sometimes, specifically, in the context of marriage and long-term togetherness but I’d be so interested in where that dividing line shows up for you, where my desire to be uncomfortably honest with somebody so that she, they or whoever, the person you’re interested in can decide. They need to have all the information. Why would we want somebody to choose us by representing a fake version of ourselves?

Once I had that realization, I’m like, “I wouldn’t want that. How could a relationship ever lasts if I have to pretend to be this fake version of me for the rest of my life? I want to be myself and somebody to reject or accept me on those merits.” Part of that for me is like, “This is a thing I’m afraid of or insecure about. I feel like that’s not such a horrible thing to share but I trust you more than I trust me.” I’m interested in what you mean on the spectrum of honesty and disclosing things that we’re insecure about because I might have offered the right alternative advice. I want you to put sent me straight so that I can help people be better.

The answer is we’re both right. I’m so glad that you extracted that from what I said. I call it the pendulum effect with vulnerability. What you’re talking about is being vulnerable and real. When you do that, you come across as authentic and you are authentically you. You attract more authentic relationships. That is 100% true. This is why I love this conversation when I work with people in those beginning stages. As I’m polishing them up, getting ready for marriage and equipping them with the tools so that they’re successful later, much of it is pacing. What I find happens and this is where the pendulum comes in is that a lot of times people have a hard time regulating how much is too much with the vulnerability.

TCQ Matthew | Relationship-Killing Behavior
Relationship-Killing Behavior: If we’re to have intimacy, we need to be as honest as possible. It doesn’t just mean telling the truth. It means not withholding the truth sometimes.

In the instance of my client, she was throwing out all her insecurities right on the table from the minute she said hello to someone, almost as if it was a test like, “Can you handle me?” It was almost like in a manipulative way. She didn’t even realize she was doing it but she was doing it to try to ward off that pattern that was happening. It was almost like it backfired on her. She would throw out all these things and the guys would eat like the good guys and be like, “Too Much Information, TMI.” The ones who wanted to manipulate her back loved it because they were like, “I can save you.”

On the other side of the pendulum, we have somebody who doesn’t share anything, is highly guarded and is all focused on the other person. What happens is they attract a lot of lopsided relationships because they’re a great audience for someone who likes to be in the limelight. That person never gets their needs met because they never expressed them in the beginning.

It’s somewhere in between. What you said is true. It’s being able to share something that’s authentically you at that moment. In those beginning stages of courting, it’s not like, “Let me tell you about my mother and why I hate her.” It’s about, “I love this soup. It reminds me of my grandma when we were young,” and something endearing to you that’s more personal. There’s a time, place and content that gets shared that’s appropriate to that phase in dating.

The word pacing was brilliant. I wrote it down and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. That makes so much sense to me. Everybody can have the same values to be on the same page and want the same thing but pacing still is relevant. The idea of walking side by side, hand in hand and not letting one person get too far ahead or too far behind. That will also disconnect people. Even if you’re trying to head to the same place, staying in lockstep is useful. That’s interesting.

When you do that, you’re able to check in with yourself on what’s right for you, what’s wrong for you and how are you feeling because many people get into relationships like a tornado. It’s either too much, too soon, too fast and they have no idea how they got there and then lose themselves in the process or it’s fragmented or disconnected and never moves or progresses. That pacing is crucial not just for the partnership but for you as the dater to say, “What do I like? How do I feel?”

This is such a juicy conversation. I’m curious too. What is your philosophy about what’s realistic and romantic? There’s almost a difference between what can we think about in terms of how our relationship should go and what are the normal things that couples go through that we can control and the behaviors that we look at versus isn’t that taking away the romantic part of it? What’s your philosophy?

Trust is more important in the power ranking rather than love for making relationships last. Click To Tweet

When I was married, the idea of planning a date night and formally having a conversation about, “Let’s engage in physical intimacy later,” I thought was stupid. I believed in this idea of passion, spontaneity and all of that but in real life, when you have 40 or 50 hours a week in an office, both of you, bring a child into the world and you’ve got other competing interests that you have at night, you go a long time without connecting in that way and doing anything thoughtful or “romantic” for somebody else.

In my estimation, it’s dangerous to believe it should organically happen. There was another facet to that. You understand way more about psychology than I do in your work and academic career, certainly in your professional career but I encountered very early in this personal growth process the idea of hedonic adaptation. It is commonly thought of in the context of financial wealth and material wealth, where they talk about the hedonic treadmill on how we always want more. We get a raise, a new car or a new house and it feels great. You then get used to it.

Hedonic adaptation is the phenomenon of our brains adapting to positive life changes and then normalizing them. We do it in negative stuff too, which is how we get used to awful things that happen to us and we are able to cope. We have this process where we get used to things and then it doesn’t seem as cool anymore like the good thing, the new car, new TV, new house, new paycheck or new anything. “I have my dream job now.” The thing I dreamed about, not the relationship part of it but being a published author was all I ever wanted to be when I was ten years old. A very small percentage of people get to do exactly the thing that they dreamed about. It’s nothing. I don’t feel cool at all but I’m also intellectually aware of why.

We get used to everything and then it doesn’t seem as neat anymore. I used to pick a pet hair from the carpet in my brand new car and then it’s crap all over it. It’s terrible. This is what happens to people. Some people might take exception to that phenomenon happening in our interpersonal relationships with somebody we love. I get that because people are not things. Breathing is so important. We do it 23,000 times a day on average. It’s one of the most valuable things we do. It is also the thing mathematically we’ve done more than anything else in our life, aside from maybe a brain neuron firing or something. We don’t know that we breathe most of the time.

It’s not even on our radar. Things that happen all the time over and over again become sort of invisible. They show up in our blind spots. The common way to talk about it is we take it for granted. We take our health, the use of our arms and legs and the fact that we can breathe for granted. Sometimes we take our romantic partners for granted. It was a long way of saying we need to be aware that this happens in long-term romantic relationships and get intentional about doing things that inspire feelings of romance, “I love you,” chemistry, dopamine, serotonin and all of these feel-good chemicals that happen. There are ways to do it. Guess how many times I flirted with my wife while I was at work while she was at work? Not yet.

The concept is yet. How many times have I done it when we weren’t together? It never happened. How many times we were at a bar or a party or we were having people at our house and I whispered something in her ear about how excited I was for when everybody else was going to leave? Never. I’m ashamed, not as part of my shyness and my insecurity to be fair. That was the reason. It wasn’t like I was intellectually against that but these are little things that we can learn to attach to, “This positively impacts the person that I’m with and I love.”

TCQ Matthew | Relationship-Killing Behavior
Relationship-Killing Behavior: Everybody can have the same values, be on the same page, and want the same thing, but pacing still is relevant. The idea of walking side by side, hand in hand, and not letting one person get too far ahead or too far behind.

It increases the amount of trust, connection and desire on their part. If we want to talk about this notion of showing up in a way that mathematically results in people being attracted to us, seduction if you will, we need to bring that to our marriages if we value monogamy that doesn’t suck. I’d love to find out what your take is on this but it sure seems like this idea of open relationship polyamory is becoming a much bigger and more out in the open, much more talked about thing. It’s a fascinating conversation that I don’t know what to do with because I get it in a mental-emotional way. I feel it can be hard to be aware that this person that I was in love with is being shared with somebody else.

I believe strongly that monogamous relationships are the healthiest way to raise children. It’s the best model we have for raising healthy children. It’s critical for our world to be a decent functioning place. I’m going to sound like a moralist or anything. I’m not against people doing whatever they want to do but raising children in a healthy, secure and stable environment, polyamory doesn’t play nicely with one another. That’s fine if nobody has kids that do that but a lot of people do.

That could be a whole other show because that’s a whole other off-spin to what we’re talking about. Going back to what you said about realizing and knowing that drug wears off, in the beginning, is a normal thing. I don’t know what you feel but I almost feel like it’s intensified because we’re used to instant gratification that it wears off even quicker. I’m seeing that because we can just have the next thing. Like Bumble, Tinder and all the dating apps, speak to that. If you get sick of something, swipe to another. How that plays out in the brain and there’s been a lot of studies on this is the same dopamine hit that is found when you’re doing the jackpot. You keep winning in the courtship phases when things are amazing.

To your point, you go in knowing that it will wear off, that’s part of life, but how can you keep the spark going by dating your partner over and over again? That’s why I love teaching just dating. I’ve done shows and worked with couples like, “How do you date your partner again?” Ladies, put on the red dress. Guys, don’t let your acid-washed jeans and pleated pants overtake you and not go shopping for ten years. If that is you, please call me because that’s a relationship killer right there. These are little things that we can do and should do. I want to talk about your book because some things can help you move forward and change some of these behaviors. Can you talk about your book and all that?

Forgive me, all the people that want to be single, date and think about it in that way. This is specifically for people who want to make long-term committed partnership work, whether that is choosing to be with one or to be married. That is the focus of my work. Although I think that this has applications for all human relationships, even non-romantic ones. I focus on my coaching work with the people that hire me to work with them on habit formation because they don’t want people to think they have a character defect. They’re bad and they need to become good. They’re weak and they need to become strong. They’re dumb and they need to become smart. That’s not it. You have habits.

They accidentally, in my estimation, erode trust in your relationship. I have this belief that trust is more important in the power ranking than love for making relationships last. They think that people are in relationships with people they love all the time. Trust can be the thing that combined with love makes you go the distance. There are all the obvious ways we erode trust through betrayal, lies, infidelity and all that. It’s bad but everybody intellectually gets that. The things that we miss are the way we erode trust and our blind spots, these sort of small paper cut moments. I have the tiniest bit of internet fame for this idea of she divorced me because I left dishes by the sink.

The magic word is validation. People confuse it with agreement, but it’s not. Click To Tweet

That’s a conversation around what’s allowed to matter to somebody else. These little tiny, what most people would call petty, inconsequential or benign things that cause arguments in the average relationship all the time. That’s a breakdown of trust in my estimation and that happens. Whether we intended to cause harm or not, the mouth result is somebody who hurt and they’re coming to the other person. We might experience that as being nagged or complained to. The best-case scenario is somebody we love is asking us to cooperate with them and help a bad thing or a painful thing go away. It’s experienced differently depending on the tone and word choice.

I want to be somebody and encourage everybody to be somebody that has a successful conversation around that because the idea of repairing a moment of disconnection or broken trust is so critical to longevity and the glue that keeps people together. That seems silly maybe to a lot of people, particularly guys that maybe are a little bit like me many years ago. When she would talk about a dish by the sink or I would do something playfully like giving her a hard time in front of her friends, she didn’t like that very much.

I had 50,000 other people, that’s hyperbolic but a lot, in my entire life that I’d done that same thing too. Not one of them ever said anything about it. Nobody ever acted wounded because of the identical behavior. The statistical anomaly in my life and the outlier was my wife. For me, it’s easy to dismiss her but as this hypersensitive over-emotional person, it’s bad for trust in the relationship. I’m not a marriage advocate or even a long-term romantic relationship. People get to do whatever they want but if they want to be together with somebody forever, I begged them to take seriously this breakdown and repair process over the little things. The magic word is validation.

People confuse it with an agreement and it’s not. I don’t have to agree that the dish by the sink matters or the toilet seat being left up, hypothetically, even though that was never a thing that I did. They all agree that that’s a big deal. It’s not about that. It’s about a person feeling as if the stuff that matters to them is something that their romantic partner is going to take seriously, that they can trust that person to support them and have their back. It’s not safe so much and I’m in physical danger.

It’s safety more in the context of, “Is this a reliable thing? Is this relationship healthy, consistent and sustainable? Is this person healthy, consistent and sustainable? When I think about being with this person for 3, 5 or 20 years, does it feel like that’s going to get better or worse?” When the guys that are blowing her off about the dish by the sink or the toilet seat being left up, we project to be somebody they can’t count on years from now. No matter how inconsequential we think these little isolated incidents are, it’s evidence that we’ll always choose what we think and feel over what they think and feel. It makes sense to me that somebody would not want to be with somebody who perpetually caused them to feel that way.

I left evidence for my wife for twelve years that I would always choose the thing that I believed, wanted and felt over her. I didn’t think of myself as somebody doing that but it occurs to me in hindsight that that’s precisely what some of my actions were. We have to consider people when we make decisions. That’s a habit. 1 of the 2 habits is we have to validate people when they come to us and say, “Something’s wrong. I’m hurt.”

TCQ Matthew | Relationship-Killing Behavior
Relationship-Killing Behavior: The most valuable thing is to question whether you might actually hurt people, even if you didn’t mean to. Exploring that idea is very useful whether we’re dating, co-citizens, or married.

All I did was tell her she shouldn’t think what she thought and feel what she felt. I would defend myself on the merits that I didn’t try to cause any harm. Those are the three invalidating response habits that most people have when they disagree. It erodes trust in a way that will end you years from now. That’s what’s scary about it. It doesn’t feel like a big deal now but it ends you later.

I love it because you’re ending where we began with the toilet seat, kitchen sink and all that in the dishes. It’s not the dish or the toilet. Those are symptoms of the bigger problems. It’s very gestalt of you. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s what gestalt is. All these little things that happen can grow into a big monster. I love that validation piece. It’s like having that deeper respect. You don’t have to agree with someone or have the same opinion as someone but if you can respect your partner, then you can go pretty far. Any parting words of wisdom? Where can everybody pick up your book? Share where everyone can find you.

I don’t think I have any parting words of wisdom. I encouraged people to challenge their beliefs and assumptions. The most valuable thing that I ever did was start to question whether I might hurt people, even if I didn’t mean to. Is that possible? Exploring that idea is very useful, whether we’re dating, co-citizens or married.

My home on the internet is All the social channels can be linked from there. My book came out at the end of March 2022 in North America and the United Kingdom. It’s coming out in Australia and some other languages, This Is How Your Marriage Ends: A Hopeful Approach To Saving Relationships. Try to deep dive on all of the things that we talked about and then some other things as well.

Thank you, Matt. It was awesome. I could go on and on with you. Maybe I’ll have you back and we can continue the conversation.

I’d love it, whenever you want. Thank you so much.

Thanks for joining me, readers. Remember, you can build confidence, make connections and find love from the outside in. If you want to know more, make sure you go to my site, Also, remember to pick up Matt’s book, This Is How Your Marriage Ends. If you would like help busting some of these behaviors that might be causing you to attract unhealthy patterns later on before you get to the altar, schedule a free call with me. I would love to help you map out some strategies to change that. Who knows? That one call could change the entire course of your life. Working on you is working on your dating life. That’s all for this episode.


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About Matthew Fray

TCQ Matthew | Relationship-Killing BehaviorMATTHEW FRAY is a relationship coach, writer, and “the man who coaches husbands on how to avoid divorce” (New York Times). His writing has been featured in HuffPost, The Sunday Times, the New York Times, and many more. His blog Must Be This Tall To Ride has a dedicated following and has reached millions of readers. He now has an amazing book out, This Is How Your Marriage Ends

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