When men set out on the journey of self recovery and really begin to connect with their needs and wants and feelings, they are embarking on a journey into the long unexplored and long neglected realm of their hidden selves. The relatively few men in our culture who are courageous enough to take this journey can get deeply immersed in their needs and wants and feelings, so long ignored and possibly screaming for attention. The danger now, if they are in an intimate relationship with another, is to make what they need and want and feel preemptive; that is, more important than their relationship with the other. This is a challenging and often relationship-threatening place for a couple to find themselves.
The work of recovery takes on another dimension. I really begin to get that my needs and wants and feelings matter and are important and yet not more important than the needs and wants and feelings of the significant others in my life. Now I am faced with, maybe for the first time in my life, really being able to negotiate on an equal footing about needs and wants and feelings with another person rather than take entitled positions with them! This is because I am finally getting in touch with more of the whole of me than ever before and more able to be in touch with the whole of you.
But being able to do this is not enough. Now that I am more able, I must choose to do so; indeed to exercise and practice this new ability if it is to be more than just potential. In other words, now that I am truly growing up, I must also show up and know that I won’t do so perfectly. But you, my love, probably knew that anyway, and you may have been waiting a long time for me.
By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Men and women, when behaving badly with each other, are basically “equal opportunity offenders.”
They will each get their digs in and twist the knife a little bit when they get the opportunity.
However, there is a basic difference.
When behaving poorly, men usually scare women and women shame men. Take your choice? Both suck! The difference is that it takes much longer to recover from being scared than it does from being shamed.
Here’s how this seems to work: Men hate being shamed. It reminds many men of how they were controlled as children by parents, teachers or other adults in their lives. Usually when the shaming stops (“Oh no, John, it never stops,” I can hear some men saying), men recover relatively quickly. When women are scared by the men in their lives, the recovery time generally takes much longer. It just takes longer to recover from fear.
This helps to explain why, when both individuals are behaving better, the woman may hold on to her hesitation or reluctance to be close again a lot longer than the man does. It can be very difficult for the man to understand that even though he has ceased his scary behavior, she is still holding him off. She just may need more time to recover than he does.
Hang in there, guys. More often than not your patience will be rewarded, and your changed behavior will be much appreciated.
Chime in with your thoughts: When behaving poorly, do you agree men tend to scare women and women typically shame men?
By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Just yesterday, a client came up with the metaphor of surfing for what it is like to be on the journey of life. Though I’ve never surfed, it makes a lot of sense to me. We really aren’t in control of what waves life sends our way. We do have the choice of whether to fight them, sink, or do the best we can to ride them with as much grace as possible! To ride them, we must be aware and attuned both to the wave and to ourselves, and have the courage to jump into the flow.
AND, we will not always catch it just right. We may frequently get unceremoniously dumped and even beat up a bit – or a lot. Still, we can choose how we react to the experience. We can wallow in self-blame or self-pity, we can sink under the water and refuse to play again. Or, we can swim to shore, find our bearings and say, “Well, THAT didn’t work! What can I do different next time? “ We might need to nurse our bruises for a while, but hopefully, eventually we’ll find the courage and confidence to try to catch the next wave a little more gracefully.
Remember the song that said “For everything…, turn, turn turn, there is a season…, turn turn, turn.” This is a phrase from Ecclesiastes that provides deep reflection on some automatic behaviors in relationships. After the “Romantic Stage” of all relationships there comes a period in which the partners feel hurt and betrayed by each other. This is often referred to as the “Power Struggle”. At this time conflicts are not resolved and resentments begin to build up inside both partners.
Many people handle this stage by turning away from the other person. It just feels safer and less fraught with frustration and grief. The endless repetitions of all too familiar fights are avoided by shutting down, stonewalling the conversation, and turning inward. This can have devastating effects on a love relationship.
Unbeknownst to you, your partner feels lost and abandoned. S/he feels unimportant and unloved by you as you stop talking and control your own reactivity through silence. What you are doing to feel secure and to avoid the conflict feels provocative and offensive to your partner. Obviously this is not going to move the relationship closer.
What is required here feels counter-intuitive. You must stop your retreat and turn toward your partner. You must abandon the security of your fortress of silence and approach your partner with an open hand and a curious mind set. What you say is not as important as making the approach with warmth and a desire to be closer to your friend.
~ Dr. Howard Lambert
Here’s a concept that I’ve been finding really helpful of late. It’s called “The Shelf,” and it’s the place where I can rest my “baggage” when I find that my buttons are getting pushed by something. The best example I can think of is when I’m trying – REALLY trying – to listen to something that my partner is explaining, and I find myself getting triggered. The idea is that I go, ‘Aha! I’m about to fall into the “reactivity trap.” I need to take “my stuff” and put it on the shelf, so I can be truly present here.’ It’s an active decision to not pay any attention to my own internal triggering. Maybe later I can take it down and explain my side of things. Or maybe I can just leave it up there . . . ?
Mike Misgen, LPC
We have probably all had the experience of being in the middle of a fight with our partner and thinking to our self… “That is absurd. How can you possibly think that? You have got it all wrong.” It is my contention that those thoughts are an indication that I have totally lost my neutrality and that my non-verbal behavior is about to become dismissive, invalidating and maybe even condescending.
I generally know my partner to be thoughtful and reasonable. Why do I doubt that now? Well it is probably because she is disagreeing with me. She sees something differently from me. My sense of self is threatened and I feel an urge to fight back and assert my superior knowledge or right to my own opinion. It is actually my own insecurity that is taking command of the ship.
If I presume that everything she says, thinks and does makes total sense (to her) from within her own perspective I would never look down on her and become arrogant and dismissive. If her ideas do not make sense to me it means that I have not taken the time to inquire into her world view to see how it makes sense to her. That needs to be my next job at those moments.
When I say, “You are not making sense!” I am actually saying, “You are not making MY sense.” How pompous I must sound at those moments.
~ Dr. Howard Lambert