""Come on John, I don't know what's going on anymore. Why don't you let me in? You never tell me anything anymore." John was about to speak when he paused, thoughts flooded through his head. Instead of sharing what was going on with his wife Louise, John made his usual hasty retreat to his study. What was going on here? Why does John shut down and retreat when his wife asks him some simple questions? Would a simple response "I'm okay dear, don't worry about it" do the trick?" Was this a classic case of the pursuer-distancer cycle I often see with couples? In this case, the more John is pursued by his wife Louise, the more distance he creates? The real reason is not so much about the questions or about the courtesy of simply answering his wife. The real reason is in what his wife is asking him to do. "Come on John, let me in. Tell me what is bothering you." By letting his wife in, John has to be vulnerable. That doesn't sound too bad most people may say, but what if we were to dig a little deeper, we may ask, what does vulnerability mean to John? Well, as it turns out, vulnerability to John means, weakness. I can't let my wife know that I'm weak again. "The last time I told her something that was bothering me, she threw it back in my face by saying that I needed to deal with the person I was upset with. The truth is that I afraid to confront them, which made me feel ashamed and left her feeling disappointed." Brene Brown in her book, Daring Greatly, shares how men feel great shame when they are afraid, fearful or vulnerable. The message society or in their upbringing is, CAUTION, Do Not Be Perceived as Weak. Man up. Suck it up. Be a man. Some men deal with this shame through outward behaviour like anger, rage and frustration. Other men like John choose to withdraw and shut down. Brene Brown eloquently calls these, Pissed Off or Shut Down.
There is of course a solution to this dilemma which we will share in the next blog.
Re-Connection - How a couple who was on the verge of separating salvaged their relationship within a few weeks
Matt and Julie who were together almost 12 years and two kids, came to see us as their marriage was in crisis. Both were bitterly unhappy, and the only way forward that they could see was to separate. In a last ditch effort, they came for marriage counselling although both did not expect much to happen. Their biggest problem they thought was in their communication as both had taken to criticising each other, where there was contempt as both felt angry and disgusted with each other which also showed in their body language. There was no connection and no unity and both were living separate lives. What had gone so wrong?
After much probing and trying to get to the heart of their problems, it appeared that the major problems in this marriage seemed to be situations outside of their marriage such as Matt's recent job loss and Julie's parent's who were interfering and seemingly destroying their marriage. Instead of both unifying and getting through this together, both had tried to deal with things on their own, where they would blame each other and take out their frustrations on each other which was crippling their marriage.
The breakthrough for this couple came after our second session where both had started to realise that their problems wasn't so much with each other, it was with the situations that they faced and how they each handled these situations. Matt was bitterly disappointed in losing the job that he loved which he had been doing for the last ten years. On the other hand, Julie was angry with her parents for interfering and putting pressure on them and criticising them for their financial situation. Both Matt and Julie were about to throw away their marriage (once full of love and hope) over situations that were not even part of their marriage. Instead of protecting the very thing that they treasured the most (their marriage) they were destroying it.
Tears of relief came after this session as they could see how much they did love each other and how they had let outside problems creep into their marriage. From that day on they both vowed to protect their marriage and no matter what happened, they would stick together and love each other (unconditionally) even though at times they may not feel happy or get annoyed with each other. They promised that they would not withdrawal their love for each other in these times.
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