Facetiously calling it The Men’s Reform School, Chad was one of the first to come to The Marriage Recovery Center solo. He was none too happy about it.
Chad’s cheerful greeting on that late, chilly October evening a few years ago belied the roiling anger he’d held inside his belly for years. His wife, Sara knew about it, however, and it was at her insistence that Chad come to a Personal Intensive. She had given her husband of fourteen years an ultimatum: come for personal work or leave their home. What a choice!
After chatting for several minutes about the New England Patriots, my associate and I began our work, hoping to uncover the years of emotional dust blanketing him.
“How do you feel about being here?” we asked Chad. Away from the comfort of talking about his work and sports, Chad was vulnerable, and none too happy.
“How am I supposed to feel?” he said in a surly tone. “She sent me out here to get fixed. I’m the bad guy. She played a strong hand and won. So, here I am.”
A tall, lean, muscular man, Chad sat back into the couch, placing an arm across the back as if taunting us to get to know him.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“She played the ultimate hand,” he repeated boldly. “She threatened to kick me out if I didn’t come to The Reform School. So, here I am.”
Chad paused, looking out the window.
“No, I’m not happy about it,” he said angrily. “We have three kids, and she knows I’m not going to leave them. So, what choice did I have?”
“You could have told her ‘no,’” my associate said. “It still took courage to come across the country to work with two guys you don’t know.”
“Nah,” Chad said with swagger. “I’ll tell you guys anything you want to know. I’ve got no secrets. But, I’ll tell you one thing. She needs to be here as bad as I do. You’ll find that out soon enough.”
“Maybe so,” I said, “but for now you’re the one who is here, and we need to help you so you can be a better man. We’ve read the letter she sent describing your marriage, and there are some things that need attention if you’re going to save your marriage.”
“Don’t believe everything you read in that letter,” Chad said with obvious contempt. “She has a way of twisting things so she looks good, and I look bad.”
“Chad,” I said. “Let’s talk about what you want to get out of coming here. We get a lot of individuals and couples who are ready to tear apart what they’ve built because it’s not working. You seem to be saying that everything is working fine. From her letter, it sounds like you’ve got to be as unhappy as she is.”
That seemed to stop him for a moment.
“You’re right. I’m not happy,” Chad said in a softer voice, letting us see a glimpse of his hurt. “Sara hasn’t been loving with me for years. I sleep in a separate bedroom. If you guys can help me face my dark side—and I’m the first to admit I have one—then maybe it will be worth the cost to get here.”
“Chad,” I said. “I want to say again, it took courage to come here. You could have fought your wife. You could have made it impossibly hard on her, and it sounds like you didn’t. That takes guts. So, ‘yes’ we can help. Let’s begin to look at some of the wounds your wife talked about in the letter, some of your wounds, and how you can be instrumental in bringing you two back together.”
Chad wasn’t the easiest man we’ve ever worked with, but wasn’t the hardest either. He had built up many layers of protection around his vulnerable self that he had long since hidden away. Wounded deeply by his father years ago, he had become a hard-working man, successful in many ways. Like many men, however, he couldn’t face his sadness, hurt and fears, and any time Sara threatened those feelings in any way, a raging tiger came out.
While Chad couldn’t initially talk about his sadness, hurt, fear and inadequacy, he could talk about his anger. His anger—what we call his Protective Self---guarded against him feeling his pain. His anger was a sentinel standing guard over his more vulnerable feelings. He would get in Sara’s face any time he felt wounded. This, of course, only made matters worse.
In talking to Chad it appeared that Sara had anger issues as well. She was no more capable of sharing her hurt and sadness than he was. When he poked at her, she poked back. When he chided her, she had learned to chide right back.
“If there’s one thing we know how to do well,” Chad had said, “it’s fight.”
We had our work cut out for us, though like most men we work with, once they lay down their tough façade, most really want an opportunity to be heard. Most really want to unload the backpack filled with sadness, hurt and pain. Instead of being a man on emotional fire, Chad really wanted to be at peace with Sara and the countless others he had contended with throughout his adult life. We went through the following steps with him:
First, we took a detailed family history. Most men, and women, long to tell their story. They want someone who cares to truly listen to them. They want to be understood. Chad was no exception.
Second, we explore what feelings have been neglected. Men (and women!) create a Protective Self to help keep hidden feelings hidden. Many have been told to not cry or feel sad. Many have been abandoned and neglected, and have never known true nurturing. They don’t know how to ask for, or receive, true love.
Third, we assist them in giving voice to those feelings. We want to tell our story. We want someone to care. Men are especially hungry for affirmation and acceptance. They seek to anesthetize their pain with drugs, alcohol, sex and work when they really want to be loved.
Fourth, we explore how they have wounded their mates and themselves. Taking a Fearless Moral Inventory is critical to healing, and helps men truly see and understand that living a duplicitous life, hiding parts of themselves that need to brought into the light, is no way to live. “You can’t heal what you can’t feel,” a common psychological adage goes. Scripture tells us to “wash the inside of the cup, and the outside will become clean too.” (Matthew 23: 26) Taking care of his inner life would be a great beginning to having a wonderful marriage, family and work life, not to mention his relationship with God.
Finally, we emphasize acceptance of Self, especially as demonstrated by God. We know that we can have no righteousness apart from God, but with God we receive full forgiveness and acceptance. God loves all of us, even the hidden parts we’ve been ashamed to expose. Men, and women, who are willing to do the deep work of healing can find real freedom.
Chad left The Marriage Recovery Center having a much greater appreciation of his hidden emotions, the origins of his anger and with a more effective ways to communicate with his wife. He left with tears in his eyes and excitement to go home to his wife to share his new Self. It's a Hero’s Journey more and more men are taking with their wives’ support and encouragement.
Please read more about these issues in my best-selling book, When Pleasing Others is Hurting You and explore more about my Marriage Intensives and Wildfire Marriage Interventions at www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com. Send comments to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recovery 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 When Pleasing Others is Hurting You. 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. You can also find Dr. Hawkins on Facebook and Twitter.