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"I'm so discouraged," Jill told to me during a recent Marriage Intensive. "Look at him," she said critically. "He doesn't even look at me when I'm talking."
Jess, her husband of twenty years, shrugged his shoulders and turned away.
"Can't do anything right," he muttered. "When I hear her say things like that, I just want to quit. What's the point if she's always disappointed in me?"
Jill tearfully reached for a tissue, while Jess looked at me in disgust. Their "dance" clearly wasn't working. Each felt wounded by the other, and the more each shared their discouragement, the more the other backed away. Their distance had grown so dramatic each had voiced considering a separation.
"I can't be doing everything wrong!" Jess continued. "I mean, c'mon. I've worked hard to provide for my family. I go to church with her. I make a good wage. I just don't get it."
Although those things were true, I don't think Jess realized the power and impact of his words. In spite of all the good Jess did, Jill felt he missed the mark in a few critical areas. Let's listen more closely to her story, which she shared with me during an individual session.
"He really is a good man," Jill said. "I love him and know he is trying. But, I want him to care about me in a deeper way. I want him to pay attention to me, to ask me about my day. I want him to care enough about my emotions to listen carefully to them. He doesn't do that. It's like he's afraid to reach in and really touch me. Unless he wants sex, of course. Then I see the tender side of him. It's really frustrating."
Jill's story is one I hear frequently. While some of these concerns can be attributed to gender issues such as men taking arguments impersonally, while women taking them personally, or women needing an emotional connection in decision-making, while men tend to compartmentalize the facts, the issues remain. Many like Jill are desperate for their men to ‘get them.'
Let's look again at the challenge for men:
"Leaning in" to emotional issues, rather than pushing away because of feeling overwhelmed;
Caring enough about what our mate's feel to ask questions gently and accept feedback we'd rather push away;
Not adding insult to injury by exploding in anger;
Helping our mates word their concerns, paraphrasing what they tell us;
Empathizing with their feelings as well as validating their concerns;
Taking complete ownership of the ways we complicate the communication process;
Using the feedback we receive to become better men, better husbands.
Many men reading this will probably become defensive.
"It's not all our fault," some will say. True enough. But some of it falls on our shoulders. We must listen carefully for any truth that exists.
"They exaggerate the problems!" others say. Yes, that may seem true at times as well. But, we still must lean in, listen and validate the ‘kernel of truth' that does fit.
"What about their part?" still others ask. That is a valid question. Women don't get a pass on the change process. They must ask themselves some tough questions too, such as whether or not they are showing their husbands respect in the way they approach them. Are they creating a safe place for husbands to share their feelings? Do they manage their emotions, modify their anger and share their concerns in an assertive, respectful way?
As I've shared in other columns, both partners must work at this dance. Both must create safety to share feelings. Both must manage their emotions, listen carefully and seek solutions together. If couples do this, they will enjoy a vibrant, life-giving relationship.
That said, men—step up! Lean in! Work hard to "really get" your mate. Listen hard, learn more and use that learning to be more available emotionally to your mate. Tune in to her, letting her know how important what she shares is to you.
I'd love to hear your impression of this column. Does your man "get you?" Men, do you feel safe in sharing your feelings? What works and what doesn't? Please send your responses to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com and visit my website at www.TheMarriageRecoveryCenter.com.
Originally published Nov. 16, 2010.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
Also, visit Dr. David Hawkins onLightSource.com.
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