When “You’re Wrong” Also Means “I Love You”

bride and groom dancing

In our wedding vows, Brian and I each vowed (a slightly personalized version of) the following:

Brian, because I love you, I promise to treat you the way you want to be treated, and give you the respect you deserve. I promise to maintain your trust with my words and actions. I promise to always be your partner in crime and adventure, your lover, your sounding board, your co-pilot, your sous-chef, your copyeditor, and your friend. I will tell you when you are wrong and help you to find a righter way, without making excuses or rescuing you. I will respect your boundaries. I will pack light. I will help you figure out how you feel. I will pay attention and give you time. I will listen, both to what you say, and to what you don’t say. I promise to always share what’s in my heart, even if I am afraid. I will strive to be my best self for you.

The part about telling each other when we are wrong cracked everyone up. I was surprised that it got such a hearty guffaw—we hadn’t planted it for comedy. I think people were laughing because of the common stereotype of wife as Nag. But I knew what we really meant, and how that line was one of the more important roles we could entrust to one another. We were vowing to assume the guardianship of each other’s highest potential.

When I was younger (and more insecure), I was endlessly hungry for affirmation and being called out felt humiliating and threatening. The truth was that inside I was so afraid that I was going to be discovered at any moment for the fraud I really was… being affirmed provided a momentary sense of relief from the fear—until I needed another hit. Having a boyfriend criticize me would have been devastating.

I still like affirmation as much as the next girl (Do you like my outfit? Do you really like it? No, but do you really and truly like it?) but over the years I have gotten more skilled at taking feedback without being gutted and then twisting the knife. Perhaps it has something to do with living longer and making so (very) many mistakes. Perhaps it has something to do with releasing my addiction to arbitrarily determined measures of success and slowly coming to terms with the fact that I am not a fraud after all.

It will always be humbling to be wrong and called on it, but one of the best parts about being married to Brian is that I know he deeply loves me for who I really am (and for the best version of myself that he always sees lurking under the surface when lesser versions present themselves). If he thinks I’m doing something wrong, he likely has a good reason for thinking that, and I need to know what that is. I need him to keep me accountable to my best self. Sometimes that means he doesn’t take my bitchy no for an answer (e.g., when I’m feeling cranky about going to the gym). He’s been known to suggest that I take a “time out” (e.g. when doing homework with my daughter gets a little rough on both of us), or gently tell me that I am doing my best to be unhappy, when in fact, our life is marvelous, and that I should get grateful. In fact, he’s the one who snapped me out of the “I’m a fraud” syndrome when he said (very lovingly), “Honey, if you’re a fraud then it means that deep inside you think the rest of us are so stupid that we could be duped into thinking you’re fabulous… That’s pretty arrogant when you really think about it.” Um, wow… Touché.

In short, I trust him to tell me when I’m wrong, and to help me find a better way.

I respect the way Brian lives his life, the choices he makes, and the person he more deeply becomes the longer I know him. He is a thoughtful one. But every once in a while I think he’s veering off course a bit, and I let him know. And I’m fully committed to helping him find a better way. Better is not necessarily my way, but a better version of his own way.

Once I finished reading my vows, Brian read his, which were pretty much the same. In hindsight, he wishes that he had been quick enough on his feet to replace the planned line with this crack:

“In the unlikely event that it should temporarily appear that you could be mistaken, I will supply further information and allow you to clarify your position, making it obvious that you were, in fact, right all along.”

But I’m secretly glad he stuck to the original. Sometimes, “honey you’re wrong” is the truest and deepest way to say “I love you.”

Featured Sponsored Content

  • My partner calls me out on my shortcomings more than anyone else ever has, and it doesn’t phase me in the slightest. It’s easier to take criticism when you know it comes from a place of love. Sometimes he even figures out why I’m acting a certain way before I know it myself (for example, he’s the one who figured out that I get crazy ass hangry if I let myself go too long without eating. I just thought I was moody!)

    • Mmouse

      My husband deduced this little factoid while we were dating, too, and was completely shocked that no one else made the connection. Nowadays, he quietly slips me a granola bar or starts to make a snack “for himself” & offers me some. I need subtlety when I’m hangry.

      • Bessa

        This makes me laugh, as I am the same way. Partner-in-Crime once walked out of a particularly nasty fight only to return 20 minutes later with sushi and the demand that I please just eat tasty food and stop being so mad…He’s a keeper, for sure.

        • Ambi

          Ha! I LOVE that! I don’t think I have this particular problem (I don’t think . . . ) but my boyfriend sure does! He doesn’t get angry so much as he gets in a funk where he is grumpy and negative and irritable. I can literally see it on his face when he’s like that. And the worst part is, I know without a doubt that he just needs to eat, but when I offer him food and ask him to eat, he won’t (a side effect of the hunger-induced grumpiness, I guess). I’ve actually learned to be really sneaky about it – when he is getting like that, I don’t confront him and ask him to eat, I simply bring out one of his favorite foods (usually just cheese and crackers or something like that), put it in front of him, and start nibbling on it without saying anything at all. He’ll eat it then, and his mood always lifts.

          • mmouse

            Ambi, I can be just like your husband! My husband used to ask me if I wanted/needed to eat and I’d be like, “NO! of course not! why would you think i’m hungry?!”. I can be completely irrational. So now he does the display-food-without-explicitly-offering-it trick. Works every time.

          • MDBethann

            Ambi, my husband did that to me on numerous days on our honeymoon. I kept saying “if you eat something, you might feel better, I know I will” but he often wouldn’t, though on one or two occasions he did and then was nice and friendly and adventurous again. I called him on it once we got back home (and were on a normal schedule) and he acknowledged that I was right, so hopefully in the future he’ll listen when I tell him to eat something so he’ll feel better. You just have to confront them about it when they aren’t hungry so they might be more rational :-)

          • Ambi

            MDBETHANN, I have tried that! And he always agrees and understands. And then when he is in the midst of the hunger-induced-grumpiness, he doesn’t recognize that that’s what’s going on, and he doesn’t think he’s hungry, and basically if I try to reason with him and convince him that he needs to eat it gets nowhere. Just putting out food without saying anything works MUCH better for us. I would press the issue if it was really a problem, but it happens rarely and now I know how to quickly and easily resolve it, so I choose to pick my battles and not worry to much about this one.

        • Dawn

          I’m hypoglycemic so I totally get this! My boyfriend is really starting to be able to differentiate between me being legitimately upset about something and the times when really I just need to eat and then I’ll go back to being my normal laid-back self. Unfortunately he’s not always the most take charge kind of guy so then he’ll spend forever trying to cajole me into telling him what I want to eat (when I have a point where once I cross it, my brain won’t even let me make decisions about what to eat) when he really should just go bring me some tasty sushi. Methinks I will explain that to him clearly tonight, than seeing hangry Dawn should immediately lead him to get up and go get me sushi. Or at least some peanut butter.

          • Bunny figured out early on that once I pass the hunger point that asking me questions and asking me to make decisions about anything, especially what to eat, gets us nowhere and he needs to just make the decision about what to feed me himself.

          • I’m hypoglycemic too. The needing-to-feed-the-hangry, especially at the point where I’m too shaky and irritable to make a rational decision of what to eat (or eat at all!) used to cause enough problems that it was in our vows – my husband promised to feed me when I need to eat instead of getting angry back at my grumpiness. :)

        • meredyth

          Same here! I already knew that about myself (my sister / former roommate helped me figure it out). But our first fight occurred because we were miscommunicating and I was hangry. He walked away and I sat there still eating because I knew if I didn’t I’d still be hangry and the argument would just continue.

          There’s nothing like shoveling a dry Chicken Out sandwich in your face while crying.

      • I always say I’m not hungry and Forrest’s follow up question is always: “Right now but are you going to be mad in 10 minutes?”

    • Lauren

      This is my life. “Hangry” as a term seems to have been invented for me. And yet somehow I didn’t know that until my partner came along! Crazy how people close to us can see things about us that we are oblivious to.

    • Hangry is my new favourite word!!!!!!

    • Allie
  • In our own vows, Ian and I said just the opposite! The line was something like “and I will tell you that you are right when it’s true.” This also seemed to be a laugh line for the guests, but came from the fact that we are both very stubborn and used to being right. Having that in there, and acknowledging that there would be times we would need to step back and maybe step down, was powerful for us in a different kind of way.

  • Daynya

    These vows are fantastic! The thing I admire most about M is that he is willing to call me out when I’m wrong. It’s like an out of body experience, watching how I react to that, compared to how I have acted in the past. I used to get defensive, and angry, and really upset. Now, I feel like I can take a step back, and eventually see what he’s saying, and sometimes even thank him for helping me. We both seem to do much better with that kind of thing now, but it’s taken a few years to get to this point! It all just makes my relationship feel so much healthier. Knowing that I have a partner I can trust to be fully and completely honest with me, even when it’s not what I want to hear!

    • Thank you so much… I loved our vows too because they were extremely personalized. He promised things that were similar, but specific to me. We also did traditional “I do” vows in addition to these. So the flow was, These, vows to our children, then traditional “I Manya, take you Brian to be my lawfully wedded husband… etc…”

      • Daynya

        Love it. We are also planning on doing something more comfortable, and personal, then doing traditional vows. I’m so glad to see just how great that can turn out!!

  • KB

    Totally agree with everything about this post – with the caveat that, as the partner pointing out the “wrongs” you have to make sure that you’re doing it from a place of love and not a need to be right. I fully believe in the adage, “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?” for the little things, like who emptied the dishwasher the last time or who played the bad guy in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. For the big things, it helps to remind your partner that they would probably rather be right than wrong as well – hence the need to “supply further information and allow you to clarify your position,” heehee.

  • “We were vowing to assume the guardianship of each other’s highest potential.”

    This is such a great line. This sentiment is one of the reasons I married my husband. In our vows, we phrased it as “I promise to live a worthy life and inspire you to do the same.” But I love the way you put it. It is so great to be in a relationship that encourages–and calls you out–to be your best self.

    • Ambi

      I totally agree, and for me this is the hardest part. It is almost impossible to describe, but for me, in the course of my adult life, I have swung back and forth several times from living in a way that reached my highest potential (for example, during law school, when I was happy and fun to be around and top of my class and running marathons) and “allowing myself” to let go and be nowhere near the top of my potential (just getting by at my job rather than excelling at it, gaining weight and not exercising, not putting much effort into friendships and my social life, etc.). In some ways, on the outside, it can kind of look like depression, but it isn’t. Actually, sometimes I feel like I take breaks – years-long breaks – from the pressure of being my highest self. I have slowly come to realize that neither of these two extremes is healthy. I can’t live in a perpetual state of trying to be perfect and putting that kind of pressure on myself, but at the same time, the solution is not simply to let it all go and give up on everything. I am now trying to reach a balance. And surprisingly (or not surprisingly at all, I guess), my guy figured this out about me long before I did. He has tried to keep me out of the two extremes when I start getting to those points, but it has never really worked in the past. I think now, though, after counseling (see below), we have a much better way to communicate about all this and we are on the right track.

      Anyway, I just bring it up to mention the fact that, for some people, living at your highest potential doesn’t mean becoming more perfect in every area of your life. For me, that is a trap I fall into and a flaw unto itself. For me, living at my highest potential will be when I can find a healthy balance between the pressure to be perfect and just giving up on it all and learn to live in the middle.

      • This comment is really interesting. I have also alternated between different levels of…..well, I’m not sure if I would call mine peak potential because I think at my busiest, I may have gotten a lot done, but I didn’t let myself stop to enjoy too much. I read a bit about will power and it seems it is an exhaustible resource. Which seems to make sense when I look back and see some patterns in my own life. Anyhow, your interesting comment made me think of that.

  • PA

    Manya, you speak (write) great wisdom! When our partners help us to be our best and truest selves, it means that they will step in at moments that we don’t want to push ourselves, or face ourselves, or tell ourselves true stories, and offer the most loving, the very kindest, kick in the pants.

    …and yet, I admit straight up that this is something I am learning to tolerate, and that I manage with varying levels of grace. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous it may be, I find it difficult to shed the instinctive fear that I must “earn” love, and that my fiance clearly seeing times when I am wrong, or less-than-motivated, or purposefully ignorant, means that he will love me less.

    This post reminds me to keep pushing myself to look my fear in the face and accept his help to keep myself on the right track!

    • mmouse

      “my fiance clearly seeing times when I am wrong, or less-than-motivated, or purposefully ignorant, means that he will love me less.”

      THIS is exactly what I felt right after we got married. It’s been hard for me to fight this feeling, because I know it’s all me & my perspective – not my husbands. I know 100% that he sees the best of me and even sees how much more I can achieve. Not only that, he wants to help me be the best as well. I tell myself it’s more dangerous to constantly refuse to acknowledge or work on pushing myself to be better, because *that* might eventually make him frustrated enough to “love me less”.

      • PA

        I am trying to cultivate an attitude of, “Well, this is a sucky feeling, but so it goes, best to get over it,” and in the meantime, use it to make sure I’m pushing myself in the right directions and actively seeking advice when I think I might have gotten off-track. That delicate balancing act of, “try to take the good parts of having fears without letting the fears dominate my brain all the time”!

  • Kess

    Isn’t impostor syndrome wonderful!? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

    I’m still working on accepting the “you’re wrong!” statements. I think it’s often because I just nearly always was right growing up! (Having older brothers that taught you everything beforehand made for a somewhat smug kid) But I’m getting better about it.

    • I struggle so much with imposter syndrome, down to convincing myself my good grades were due to grade inflation (and not due to me working harder!). It is still a challenge for me, and I really appreciate this part of the post above all else. I especially love the quote from Brian, except my twisted mind would occasionally worry that duping people was what I really was good at.

      Manya, as always, thank you for the fabulous thinking material!

      • Kess

        Ugh, me too! It’s pretty much required if you’re in grad school, I think! I’m also a female in a heavily male area so I also have to fight back the “oh, they just needed a girl so it doesn’t look like they’re discriminating”.

  • Ambi

    Oh hell. I checked APW this morning as usual, expecting a nice thoughtful distraction from my mundane work day. Maybe some lively commeraderie and support and love. Maybe a kick-ass craft or pretty photos. And what I got was basically an exact surgical incision directly into the deepest depths of my heart. Seriously, I may need to just pack it in and go home after reading this because I’m not really sure I’ll be able to function for the rest of the day.

    Manya, you have just said, in a few short paragraphs, what it took me years of anguish and months of counseling to figure out – my partner (kindly) calls me out on things because he loves me and wants us, together, to be our best selves, and not because (as I had previously assumed) I am lacking and unloveable and he is fed up with my flaws. As long time readers probably remember, my guy and I were at a pretty miserable place a few months back (and for a few years before that, honestly), and a lot of it had to do with him trying to help me deal with a few big issues that I had let spin out of control, namely credit card debt and my weight/fitness/health. He was always kind and loving about how he broached these topics, but to me, the fact that he saw these problems and wanted me to fix them (wanted us to fix them, I should say, or maybe it was that he wanted to help me and encourage me and teach me how to fix them . . . ), anyway, the fact that he noticed them, thought about them, and ultimately wanted us to do something about them made me feel like shit. It made me feel like he was finally seeing the “real” me and of course he didn’t love it after all. Maybe that’s the whole “fraud” thing? I don’t know. I just know that I spent a lot of time feeling like I was unloveable and assuming that, deep down, even though he said he loved me and he kissed me and hugged me and wiped away the tears and even though he had stayed with me through all this for years and years – even despite all of that, I would fall into this really deep pit of self-hatred and feel like he must actually be disgusted or repulsed or angry or embarrassed or all of the above.

    Well, long story short, we went to counseling (best decision ever). And through several months of very difficult discussions, I finally started to understand what he was saying when he said that he did want to marry me and spend our lives together, but that he wanted the best for us and wanted to know that I was committed to that, too. It really hit home when he phrased it as “doing everying that each of us can do to move our baby family forward” – yeah, “baby family” is a phrase he’s picked up from me thanks to APW! It took a really long time, but I was finally able to see that (1) he does love me, and he’s not going anywhere, (2) him telling me that I need to address these problems came from a place of love and caring, and (3) my insecure feelings came from within me, not from him. After almost 8 years together, I can honestly say that figuring out the truth that Manya writes about – that telling each other when you are wrong is a part of love and respect and caring and adds to it rather than takes away from it – figuring that out has been a huge turning point in our relationship.

    • Daynya

      Ambi, I love that you guys found that through therapy – so did we! I think before that, I felt so defensive and hurt about things when he pointed them out, from a loving place. I also think he needed to learn how to be slightly more compassionate in his delivery. Through work in both areas, we’ve come to such a more healthy place, where I now know that this is a secure and happy relationship, and I can let go, and know that it will all be okay. Congrats on such hard work, it’s totally worth it!!

      • Good for you guys… delivery style is HUGE!

    • I’m no good at taking criticism either. I think it was that super successful wonder kid background. My parents never questioned me because they never had to. I used to get frustrated in English class because I didn’t get useful feedback. And then I met my lovely fiance. And he wants me to be better. And I fight him on it and fight him on it.

      And just like you Ambi, this post cut right to the hear of what I’ve been thinking lately. Manya, yet again, you hit the nail on the head.

      P.S. MANYA. Your vows are incredible. (I was sort of shocked when I got to the laughing part…I totally saw how real and important that is!)

    • mmouse

      I had similar feelings of feeling unworthy with my husband, but what prompted me into counseling was working in an environment that cruelly pointed out all of my faults 24/7. In counseling I was able to work out how to identify constructive, loving comments on my faults and accept those into my life (vs mean-spirited and sometimes even completely fabricated attacks on my character that I need to ignore).
      My husband used to get on my case constantly about eating healthier. It drove me crazy. Then he said, “I wouldn’t care what you eat, but I love you and I want you to live for a long, long time. So, please have some vegetables.” I try to pull that comment to mind every time I get defensive about a “wrong” he’s pointed out to me.

    • meg

      AMBI! I didn’t have this update. HIGH FUCKING FIVE GIRLFRIEND. And you’re totally on the hook to pay it forward with a post about why counseling is so worth it. Love, love, love, love, love (to you both).

      • Ambi

        Thanks! And speaking of updates, did you see the one a few days ago talking about the fact that, due to counseling, we have made HUGE progress in our relationship, and (EEEK!) we have scheduled a trip to see my parents so that we can talk to them about us getting married (my personal preference rather than my guy talking to my dad). We’re ring shopping and looking at dates next spring! So, credit where credit is due: Meg, you pretty much fucking saved my relatioship when you recommended counseling. And yes, I absolutely do owe you a post because I have become a counseling evangelical. I want to sing its praises from the rooftops.

        • Daynya

          That is awesome!! Counseling can help in so many ways, that is just fantastic news, congrats!

  • Class of 1980

    I love this post because it models what I think romance is. The most romantic thing in the world is someone who really knows you, and loves the real you.

    I especially loved … “”Honey, if you’re a fraud then it means that deep inside you think the rest of us are so stupid that we could be duped into thinking you’re fabulous… That’s pretty arrogant when you really think about it.”


    • meg

      Exactly. This post makes me a little swoony. It’s clearly written in one of my love languages (that, and doing the laundry, for serious).

  • Class of 1980

    Also my idea of romance. Favorite wedding reading of all time —

    Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

    The young couple first married on August 5, 1744, when Joseph was eight and Sarah six, and first ended their marriage six days later when Joseph refused to believe, to Sarah’s frustration, that the stars were silver nails in the sky, pinning up the black nightscape.

    They remarried four days later, when Joseph left a note under the door of Sarah’s parents’ house: I have considered everything you told me, and I do believe that the stars are silver nails.

    They ended their marriage again a year later, when Joseph was nine and Sarah seven, over a quarrel about the nature of the bottom of the riverbed.

    A week later, they were remarried, including this time in their vows that they should love each other until death, regardless of the existence of the riverbed, the temperature of the riverbed’s bottom (should it exist), and the possible existence of starfish on the possibly existing riverbed.

    They ended their marriage one hundred and twenty times throughout their lives and each time remarried with a longer list of vows. They were sixty and fifty-eight at their last marriage, only three weeks before Sarah died of heart failure and Joseph drowned him self in the bath. Their marriage contract still hangs over the door of the house they on-and-off shared – nailed to the top post and brushing against the welcome mat:

    “It is with everlasting devotion that we, Joseph and Sarah L, reunite in the indestructible union of matrimony, promising love until death, with the understanding that the stars are silver nails in the sky, regardless of the existence of the bottom of the river, the temperature of this bottom (should it exist) and the possible existence of starfish on the possibly existing riverbed, overlooking what may or may not have been accidental grape juice spills, agreeing to forget that Joseph played sticks and balls with his friends when he promised he would help Sarah thread the needle for the quilt she was sewing, and that Sarah was supposed to give the quilt to Joseph, not his buddy, ignoring the simple fact that Joseph snores like a pig, and that Sarah is no great treat to sleep with either, letting slide certain tendencies of both parties to look too long at members of the opposite sex, not making a fuss over why Joseph is such a slob, leaving his clothes wherever he feels like taking them off, expecting Sarah to pick them up, clean them, and put them in their proper place as he should have, or why Sarah has to be such a pain about the smallest things, such as which way the toilet paper unrolls… putting aside the problems of being fat-headed and chronically unreasonable, trying to erase the memory of a long since expired rose bush that a certain someone was supposed to remember to water when his wife was visiting family, accepting the compromise of the way we have been, the way we are, and the way we will likely be. May we live together in unwavering love and good health. AMEN.”

    • Ah, I looove that book!
      And Manya, I love those vows! This shows such a deep understanding of loving each other despite our crazy natural states of humanity.

  • mmouse

    This is such an area of work for me! When my husband points out mistakes, faults, or makes suggestions for a “better way”, I can get my feelings so very hurt. The rational part of me knows that he’s never being spiteful, he’s always saying things from a place of love, and he’s usually 100% right. But still…it hurts me. I work on being more objective (because I do *want* him to freely tell me when I’m wrong & help me become my best self) and he works on adding more unsolicited compliments to my life (because I’m a Words of Affirmation gal).
    When we started dating it didn’t bother me. After we got serious and especially after we got married, I started getting upset and self-conscious about his words. I’m not sure what changed. I know I felt more pressure to be “good enough” for this wonderful man who choose to love me. This is odd, because when we started dating I was very much “Say what you will, I know I’m fabulous! Anyone would be lucky to have me!”. I think some of it is maturing as well and the not-so-easy process of making real changes to my character for the better. (Ah, I kinda miss 20 year old me, who didn’t give a damn. Not being so self-centered really isn’t as much fun, is it?)

  • Umpteenth Sarah

    I heart this.

    I would like to point out that this is good-lesson stuff for situations outside of marriage as well. I find that people (women?) have a hard time saying to people “you’re wrong,” and there’s all of this culture built up around trying to find nice ways to “sandwich” criticism. One valuable thing I learned from when I was a manager was that we complement too infrequently for complements sake, and are too quick to say things like “thanks honey for doing the dishes, but YOU DID THEM ALL WRONG, but you did a good job of rinsing out the sponge.” This applies to work, too — I find that the people I respect the most are the ones who will tell me when I’m doing something wrong, rather than try to not “hurt my feelings.”

    Now, see, I have a tooootally different problem from that — I took the “give real criticism” thing to heart, and now I don’t complement enough! This applies to my husband, who I rarely thank for anything (isn’t getting groceries for when I am suddenly inspired to make a 3 course Thai dinner in our marriage contract? Line 15, section 2? So why should I thank you for doing your job, husband!? I’m a treat, I swear), as well as to my employees, who I rarely give specific examples of praise. General stuff like “you’re doing a good job at life, intern” is less helpful and meaningful than “I really appreciate how you skipped lunch to finish on that project.” So, like with most things, I see two sides of the coin: saying “you’re wrong!” is important (and can be, I agree, a sign of love and respect) but saying “you’re right! That was genius!” is just as important.

    • Ambi

      I think this is so interesting, especially regarding work. I agree that I have a hard time telling a coworker that I think he or she is wrong about something. I also think this really sheds light on why it can be hard for spouses or partners to do this for each other (or to hear it from each other). For good or bad, right or wrong, I work in an environment (a field, really) that is very rigid in terms of hierarchy and authority. Lawyers generally don’t tell other lawyers of equal stature how they should be practicing law. There is an element of personal autonomy and responsibility associated with the law license, so even where I would think it absolutely essential and necessary to do X,Y, and Z on a case, it isn’t my place to tell a coworker that they need to do the same. It’s their name signing those pleadings and their choice how to handle the case. The exception comes in the form of a power heirarchy in the office (generally in terms of senior and junior partners and senior and junior associates in private practice). So, I think in a way, I resist it when my boyfriend tells me I’m wrong because it automatically brings up power issues for me. Who the hell does he is to think he can tell me what to do? – that kind of thing. It has taken me a long time to get over that – to realize that we are true partners – in my law firm analogy, we would be the two managing partners of our own firm (family), and we each have the authority and really the responsibility to tell each other when something’s wrong. So, sorry for the law firm example, but what I mean is that I used to immediately assume that, if he was telling me I’m wrong, he must subconciously feel like he is in a position of authority over me. Of course that isn’t true, and it helped to realize that even in a heirachical power structure, the people at the very top answer to each other.

      As for compliments, I think I tend to compliment TOO much. This is a habit I picked up in high school when I noticed that a good friend (and very popular girl) always had a nice word or compliment for everyone. I started the habit and it has served me pretty well, but now I realize that my compiments don’t mean quite as much as they would if I weren’t telling every single person how much I liked their new haircut or cute shoes or how great their presentation was.

      • Umpteenth Sarah

        The power discussion is an interesting one. My organization is extremely flat, so I have little formal power over anyone, but in order to function we need to constantly be policing everyone else’s work. So, it’s not a matter of telling a same-level colleague how they should be doing their job, but rather pointing out potential issues or areas of difference and letting interested parties decide how to deal with them. With subordinates, I’m more inclined to just offer criticism. But that’s me.

        In a relationship, I think the power question is fascinating. I don’t really know what the “right” way to think about this is — you can tell someone “on the same level” as you that you think they’re wrong, and perhaps fighting and/or mayhem ensue, but I sort of think that’s Manya’s point. In a partnership of equals, people need to be able to both give and take.

        On the complements thing, I have mixed feelings. I absolutely do NOT complement enough. I’ve been told this by many people. I don’t know if anyone can complement too much, but I just think that complements should be meaningful rather than just words to fill up space.

    • meg

      1) I totally agree on the job front (and the life front). I love a boss who will just directly tell me when I’m wrong, and let me fix it, then be vague and wait till it’s a huge problem. Similarly, I became an employee (and now hire employees) who will say “I’m sorry, I fucked up, I’ll try to make sure it won’t happen again.” right away when something goes wrong. No excuses, no bullshit. SO MUCH LESS DRAMA this way, y’all.

      2) My parents taught me the ‘constant verbal gratitude’ rule of marriage, and boy does it help. David makes dinner every night (bless him) and I try to thank him every night. It’s so much easier to do a job when you know you’re appreciated.

      • Class of 1980

        Good for your parents, because there is nothing more poisonous to a relationship than feeling like your efforts are invisible to the other person.

      • R

        While I definitely feel appreciated when my guy tells me than you, I find that the act of saying “thank you” really helps me to feel more grateful. Just saying “Thanks for making breakfast” makes me feel all warm and tingly inside because someone loves me enough to make me toast and coffee. For me, saying “thank you” keeps me from taking his work for granted- and because I appreciate the effort, I feel more loved.

      • Marisa-Andrea

        Bless you, Meg. I make dinner almost every night, my husband thanks me everytime and it’s truly a PLEASURE to prepare meals for someone who is so appreciative.

  • Beautiful vows and fantastic post!

    I consider myself pretty good at taking criticism, but I also think of myself as really having my sh*t together so I don’t really expect to be criticized too often. Moving in together and dealing with his flaws also meant dealing with my own and that has been HARD. I feel like women are often sold this idea of “You’re perfect, guys are assholes, so we must nag/fix/etc” and it’s like…well, sometimes women are assholes too. It can be really hard to hear that when you’re told your whole life that 1. You’re a special snowflake and no one should make you feel bad and 2. You’re should please people and everyone must like you. Finding a partner who can tell you what you need to work on with love, and who you can do that for in return, is crucial. But damn, it hurts at first.

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      My parents were pretty conservative on the “special snowflake” treatment, and I think it made me quicker to learn how to take criticism, but I didn’t even begin learning how until my twenties because American culture is so YOU ARE SPECIAL AND DESERVE (A break, more money, the best job, a perfect wife/husband, ALL THE THINGS) and so those first criticisms, especially related to your private life, are hard.

      New mantra: I deserve nothing (except for, of course, “equal footing” so that I can achieve whatever I want)

      • This cracks me up. Yes, we are all special snowflakes, in our way, but none of us are superior snowflakes in every way!

  • Last night we agreed that we are both jerks, but very determined jerks (as in, determined to be better, to make this thing work, to do good). This post is quite timely!

  • Oh man, haha, David and I are working on this. And it’s getting much, much better, but I confess freely that we still struggle with it. Just the other day, David turned to me and said, “You know, it’s frustrating that the laundry has been piling up lately.” The laundry is my responsibility, and I HAVE been letting it pile up lately. But it took every ounce of restraint that I have not to retaliate with an “Oh YEAH?” As in, “Oh YEAH? Well you haven’t been taking out the trash/emptying the litter box/doing your fair share of dishes/or whatever he’s been slacking on lately. My immediate defense mechanism is to retaliate. SO HARD NOT TO. But I didn’t! I accepted that David had pointed out a place where I’d fallen short lately, and I acknowledged that doing so had made things difficult for both of us. Then I did some laundry promptly when we got home. So I’m working on it. David needs to work on bringing this stuff up at the appropriate time and place, because, man, we had this conversation as we were getting out of the car to shoot our ENGAGEMENT PHOTOS! I wanted to claw my face off!

    • Ambi

      Wow, I relate to your comment SO much! Whenever the discussion about housework comes up, I have the exact same reaction. And I think, honestly, it stems from insecurity on my part. The truth is, I know that my guy does more around the house than I do, so when he calls me on it and asks me to do something get defensive and try to find a way to make it seem like he’s also not pulling his weight. It really isn’t about the actual chore, I guess, but more like “don’t judge me – you are just as bad.”

  • Carrie

    I’m hearing a lot of women here talking about how they react when their guy partners call them out. Personally, I have a ton of trouble working up the courage to tell my husband when he’s wrong or there’s something he could do better — or if something’s just bothering me. I’m petrified of falling into that nagging wife stereotype — and I have a deep-down sense that my job is to make him feel good, and criticizing him (even constructively) scares me because I don’t want to make him feel bad. So I don’t.

    I mean, I’ll contradict him on provable facts if I have evidence (like “That restaurant’s closed on Sunday.” “No it isn’t” [pulls up website]). But stuff like “You need to exercise more” or “You haven’t been doing your chores”? God no, I’d feel like the world’s biggest bitch. Like I thought I was better than him or something.

    Does anyone else have this experience?

    I don’t know. Maybe this just does not align with my love languages at all. Maybe I’m still too insecure. God knows the last time he criticized me, for oversleeping too much, I went on a daylong crying jag and wanted to walk out in traffic because I was sure he’d figured out that the “real me” was lazy and useless and a failure and he was going to leave me. He did not leave me, he still loves me, but I’m still hurting and scared from that (and he wasn’t mean about it or anything). I can’t imagine doing that to him. So this post is really hard for me because I can’t imagine criticism not being hurtful, no matter how lovingly intended. This is probably just my own personal package of issues, though.

    • Daynya


      I can relate. I used to (and sometimes still do) feel that defensive, and be terrified of speaking up. However, and this is huge, counseling – both personal and couples – has helped enormously. I learned that my feelings are valid too (JUST as valid as his), and that in order for me to be truly happy, and feel truly secure, I need to speak my truth, just as much as I need to accept it when he speaks his. So, I went from feeling super guilty and defensive about every single thing he might point out, no matter how nicely he said it, to (more often) being able to shrug my shoulders, and figure it out. If he would say, I don’t have anything to wear, when are you doing laundry? I would have gotten so upset, and thought he was pretty much calling me worthless. In turn, if he hadn’t taken out the trash and it was overflowing, I would angrily storm around the kitchen, and passive aggressively taken it out myself, because I didn’t want to inflict that kind of feeling on him. So, through working on our communication skills, and me working on being secure and happy with myself (that was my issue, I’m not saying it’s yours!), I learned that this is all okay. It’s all a part of our partnership, and it’s a constant ebb and flow, that we will need to adapt to. Now, he can say, hey, when are you doing laundry? And I can very nicely say, Saturday, but feel free to do it before then if you need anything desperately, without blinking an eye. I can also say hey, I’m making dinner, do you mind taking out the trash? And more often than not, he does, and it’s fine. For us, it’s all about the intention I think. I realized that his intentions were good, it was just a practical question. When will I have clothes? Not, hey, you lazy ass, when the hell are you going to get up and do something for once?! Anyway, it’s a work in progress, and it’s tough, but you can move through it all!!

  • dragonzflame

    I LOVE these vows. There’s something so honest about wedding vows that aren’t all mushy and call it like life is – with people being wrong, having boundaries, and having adventures.

    Something I love about M is that when he disagrees with me on something it’s always respectful – he doesn’t make me feel like I’m wrong, just accepts that our opinions are different, but it’s not a bad thing. It took me a long time to get used to that, because the guy I was with before him always somehow made me feel like I had to agree with him. And how is that possibly human?

  • lucy

    I need to speak my truth, just as much as I need to accept it when he speaks his. So, I went from feeling super guilty and defensive about every single thing he might point out.