Did I Marry the Wrong Person?


Some people manage to marry a skunk. The rest of asking this question keep mistaking guinea pigs, ground hogs, and even rabbits for skunks. Here’s the difference.
A few spouses, male and female but usually male, congratulate themselves on acquiring a slave without the usual financial, social, and legal costs of such an arrangements. Instead of the lash, they may use misappropriated lines from whichever religious text you hold dear to justify their domination of you or threaten you with harm to your children to keep you doing their bidding. They may also punch, burn, or throw things at you. They are firmly convinced you are their personal property, never their equal.
Your money is theirs. Your time is theirs. Your talents are theirs. Your body is theirs.
These are bona fide skunks. Your time with them is not marriage. It’s bondage.
Then there are the skunks whose stripes emerge only after you’ve been married a good while. They become famous or wealthy and convince themselves it’s all due to their own personal talents. The benefits are theirs to bestow on you or keep for themselves. They feel entitled to use the bodies of men or women impressed by their success for their own pleasure, oblivious to their marriage pledge of fidelity to you. You become nothing more than another part of their career to be managed.
They are too blinded by their own gleaming capped teeth to notice they achieved what they did because they chose a partner with different ambitions, one who took care of day-to-day problems with the house or children that could have grown into career-interrupting bigger problems. They forget who made it possible for them to get the education or take the financial and emotional risks that started their snowball of a career or bank account rolling. They forget the dips in fortune when their spouse’s income was what allowed them to try again.
These are skunks, too, but they are possibly salvageable as spouses if the two of you, or even just you, get help bringing them back down to earth.
But you know what? These two categories make up a very small slice of all the spouses accused by their wives or husbands of being bad people who must change because those wives and husbands are desperately unhappy in the marriage. The rest are not skunks.
Here’s how to tell if you’re just seeing a shadow on a groundhog or guinea pig when you think you’re looking at (and married to) a skunk.
First, pretend your husband or wife died yesterday. How many of the things that have been bothering you got better? If you’ve been demanding more help with the yard work or the kids, do you have it now? Is picking up the dry cleaning or your prescriptions any easier? If you’ve been pushing your spouse to work more hours or ask for a raise, do you have more income coming in? Are your kids getting more of the sort of attention you’ve been asking for?
Notice that if you’ve been under someone’s thumb, bullied or hit or raped by your spouse, things get better, not worse, when it’s over.
If that’s not the case for you, you do not have a marriage problem. You have a life problem. If you’ve been infusing your marriage with resentment as a result, you’ve created a marriage problem.
This can sound harsh. When we’re frustrated by a problem, the first place we look, the first place we ought to look for help is our spouse. But if it’s also the last place we look, we create our own unhappiness.
When you’re deciding what to expect of your husband or wife, Expect Love. It’s the thing you were promised, and it comes in many forms. Some people feel loving while running errands for their spouse; others don’t. Some people feel loving whlie choosing gifts for their spouse; others don’t. Some people feel loving while they spend quality time with their children; others don’t. Some people feel loving while they’re encouraging you and acknowledging your achievements; others don’t.
Second, if something happened that alarmed you and made you worry you might have a skunk for a spouse, you need to know something. Your thinking is seriously constrained by the very fact that you’re alarmed. Once alarmed, your brain focuses almost exclusively on assessing the threat level. It turns off access to a lot of helpful information you’ve stored that would help you determine whether you’re dealing with a skunk or not.
When this happens, it helps to Assume Love. Again, it takes a bit of temporary pretending, but the pretending is not the point. What it frees your brain to do is the point. Pretend you know for certain you’re not married to a skunk, that you are still well-loved by a good person, and make the effort to find another possible explanation or two for what happened, explanations consistent with loving and respecting you.
Just by setting aside the question of whether you’re in danger, you’ll remember a lot more about who your spouse is, what motivates him or her, and what’s happening is his or her life. And you just might figure it all out and breathe a sigh of relief as you understand what happened.
And this will keep you from doing or saying something alarming to your innocent and baffled spouse.
It might even rekindle your love for the wonderful person you chose as your partner in life. Try it.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Great thoughts on skunks and others.
    BTW, the female version of a skunk controls her husband by granting or denying (mostly denying) access to sex. The she probably tells her girlfriends he’s a pervert with an out of control sex drive.
    And honestly, I see more women like this than I see male skunks. Of course the men married to such women seek me out, just as women married to skunks seek you out.

  • Great to hear from you, Paul. Hoping lots of men (and women) seek out your XY Code blog, as well as the Marriage Bed, the Generous Husband, and the Generous Wife.
    Both types of skunks I described come in both male and female varieties. Some of the bona fide female skunks use sex and shaming and embarrassment about sex to keep control over their man slaves. Some of them even get their sex elsewhere, feeling entitled to call all the shots.
    But some of the women who do this are definitely salvageable spouses. They actually love their husbands and treat them with love in other areas besides sex. They have gotten themselves locked into a miserable loop where she’s not able to enjoy sex (usually for reasons that have nothing to do with him, sometimes for reasons that have to do with his sexual preferences or skills) and he’s not able to do anything to change this without getting a heap of shame dumped on him by the woman whose respect he needs as much as her half of their sex life.
    These wives stake out the same “better-than-you” higher ground as the ones who find fame or make a ton of money. And a healthy marriage is always between two equals able to trust each other enough let themselves be influenced by the other’s strengths.
    Thanks for adding sex-wielding skunks to the conversation, Paul!

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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