The oft-made claim that a man has an angel for a wife since she puts up with him is actually a serious put down of the woman.


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, June 4, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

Have a Happy Marriage: Marry a Woman Who’ll Put Up with Anything

Listening to commentators discuss the dissolution of the Gores' marriage, I heard several men say things like, "Thank God my wife has put up with me all of these years."

I always wonder what that is supposed to mean. In other words, the guy's such a shmuck, no worthwhile woman would have him except for his wife? But that's not the way life works. Much research shows that people marry mates at their own levels of attractiveness and social acceptability. So, either the men speaking (it is always men who make such statements) are more appealing than they let on to be, or else their wives are fairly desperate themselves.

At the extreme, of course, some women stick with abusive spouses. The psychological slant on this is that the women feel they deserve no better. But research here shows that women who are beaten by spouses tend to have fewer life options - overall they have less education, are less attractive, and so on. (I know - intelligent, beautiful women's husbands sometimes beat them too - but such women tend to extricate themselves more quickly.)

So are the marital commentators who think it is a miracle their wives stay with them beating their wives, or do they feel they are just extremely unpleasant people to be around? (They can't mean their wives put up with their sometimes forgetting where they left their glasses - that wouldn't make the women so notably tolerant or saintly.)

Taking these men at their words about how unpleasant they are, how did they find women willing to put up with them? Did they marry ugly women? Did they marry women who needed to have an American husband to remain in the United States? Or are they just women who regard themselves so negatively that they put up with anything?

Artists and musicians have long contemplated such questions. The great philosopher Warren Zevon, for example, in his "Dirty Life and Times" announced, "I'm looking for a woman with low self-esteem." Harry Belafonte advised men, "if you want to be happy for the rest of your life, get an ugly girl to marry you." These are women who will put up with anything or anybody, don't you see?

So, the next time you're at a party or social gathering, and some man pats his wife and says, "I often wonder why she's put up with me so long," helpfully offer possible explanations, such as, "Well, she isn't particularly good-looking. Does she also have a terrible self-image? Did you extract her from a home where she was being beaten? Do you have a ton of dough? Was she about to be deported?"

If none of these explains the miraculous duration of their coupling, keep going - even if you never guess the right answer, think of the fun you'll have trying. In fact, ask the other partygoers to join in - it'll enliven the whole evening.