Do you ever feel lonely in your relationship? Do you crave a deepened connection with your partner? This is an important topic for all of us. I’m going to share an intimate conversation that I had with my mentor, in order to shed light on this topic.
It began with a phone call to my mentor as he lay in a nursing home, reflecting on his life. It was his 85th birthday. During our conversation, Walt shared with me that he had been feeling down and had been reflecting on his marriage of 50 years. His wife passed some years back. This was part of our conversation:
Walt: Did you know that my wife loved the French language?
Me: No, I didn’t.
Walt: I wish I had taken French classes with her. She would have loved it… I would have enjoyed watching her love it… and I would have enjoyed it as well.
[I was beginning to tear up at this point in our conversation, partly because I could feel his pain and regret, but also because he was tapping in to something that I was feeling in my marriage.]
Me: Why didn’t you?
Walt: I spent too much of my life “self-actualizing”
Me: What do you mean by that?
Walt: I was trying to find my purpose in life, how I was supposed to add value, and what I was meant to contribute to others. But now I regret that I was not more present with my wife. I didn’t know it at the time because I was so focused on meaning and purpose.
[His expressed regret brought tears to my eyes. I could feel his pain. Additionally, I recognized the similarity in my marriage, meaning that I see my husband struggle to find purpose and meaning in his work. I understood clearly how that affected both of us in our relationship.]
I wondered aloud if this was common for men. I spend much of my time studying and trying to learn as much as I can about the challenges that people go through in their relationships, so I had to persist in this conversation. I think that many women wish that their partner would be more present, that they would want to take a French class (well, whatever it is that is important to you). But this was a painful conversation for Walt; he was feeling his regret as he shared it with me but at the same time I knew that he was trying to understand his part in why he was more self-focused than relationally focused.
I want to interject here and say that this post is not about blaming, shaming or bashing men or anyone. It is about trying to understand the experience of men and women individually and relationally. It is the only way that we will come together as partners.
I persisted in our conversation:
Me: I believe that women are more relationally minded than men.
Walt: What do you mean when you say relationally minded?
Me: Well, my husband is outside weeding the garden and I know in part he does it because he believes that it will make me happy. And when I come home from work he asks me if he can get me a glass of wine. All of this is wonderful and I appreciate his hard work in the garden and the thoughtfulness of pouring me a glass of wine. However, I wish that he would ask me to garden with him and ask me to sit down with him for a glass of wine.
Men have shared with me that they want to make the woman they love happy and feel discouraged when the woman they love is not happy. But weeding is not relational and pouring me wine isn’t relational. It is “doing for rather than doing with”. And this is not wrong; it is nice when someone does something for you, however ‘doing for’ needs to be balanced with ‘doing with’. I don’t believe that men feel a deepened connection to women when the woman works in the garden or pours them a glass of wine. They may appreciate it, but it doesn’t deepen their connection with each another.
Woman express to me that they want men to partner with them, although this may mean different things for different women. At this point Walt said “but women can sometimes be punishing and demanding.” I was a bit taken aback by this comment because Walt is a bit Yoda-like and I’ve never heard something like this come from him. I told him that I needed to think about it for a moment. Upon reflection, I said to him that women grow weary of thinking relationally, craving partnering and not getting it in return, so they withdraw because they are hurt and angry. At this point they often express to men “why don’t you…..?” This may sound demanding but it comes from frustration and a desire for a deepened connection.
Walt agreed and then said that he needed to think about how to defend men. I said, “NO! Not defend – support”. Today’s men, as little boys, were taught that it was wrong to be relational, even shameful. They were called “mama’s boys” and “sissies” if they were close to their Mom. Men are also discouraged in adulthood from thinking relationally because they will be referred to as “whipped” or “hen pecked”. Walt agreed and we continued our conversation.
Me: What can women do to encourage men to be relational?
Walt: Men need to know how they will benefit.
[I was frustrated at this point because I wanted a concrete answer. What do you mean ‘benefit’? That sounds selfish!!! In part I was asking for myself and my marriage and all the men and women I work with who want a deepened connection and yet struggle to do so.]
I persisted in thinking about how men would benefit by being relationally minded. It occurred to me that men want women to be happy and they want to feel appreciated and they want affection, not just sex but affection. These are just a few of the benefits a man will experience in his relationship with his wife. And if they are relationally minded, their relationships with their children will deepen because they will experience the vast benefits of being relational and they will be better bosses and employees, as they will learn to be more relational. BUT, men do have to experience how this will impact them. Being told is one thing, but the experience is completely different.
I am convinced that:
Men crave partnering just as much as women
I heard something interesting on NPR (National Public Radio) about the rise in biker gangs when men return home from the military. In part, it is because they crave the comradery and shared mission. It occurred to me that perhaps many men re-enlist to active duty in the military because they crave that same comradery. Shortly after I heard this discussion, I heard a general talk about the comradery in war. He said “It is sometimes hard to explain to others about the bond formed between the soldiers in combat, the shared commitment to mission, the unspoken reliance on each other, the indefinable trust that is forged. It is a brotherhood that only a few understand.” I thought to myself – it’s true – men do crave connection.
And then it hit me………
Men would benefit if they recognized the value of the comradery they could experience in their marriage.
I have shared this story with my clients. Women tear as I share this with them. They tell me that I am describing their life. Men agree and want to know more.
One more important story, I was working with a man who shared with me that he had recently spent a day doing heavy gardening because he knew that his wife had her hands full. At the end of the day he showed her the garden. He was proud. He had worked hard. His wife said it looked nice and she appreciated all of his hard work. He shared with me that he thought to himself “really, that’s all you got, I just spent hours busting my ass and that’s it?!” Later that week he talked with her about an idea he had to make more money. He told her that he wanted her to be in it with him, he needed her and he thought that they would be a good team. He told her all of the ways that he thought the two of them would benefit, more time together and more time with their children. She lit up and was on board with him. I told him that the gardening, while thoughtful, kind and helpful, is only a step toward partnering, but not one that provides a deepened connection that both of you crave. Both of you have important tasks to do. But when you asked her to work together with you with your idea to earn more income, it was relational. He understood, and it was beautiful!!
Keep in mind; it isn’t that women want to be glued to the hip of men. Women enjoy their alone time as well. And it isn’t that women are always thinking relational. Remember, men need connection just as much as women need connection. And women need to understand that relational thinking will not come easy to men – so patience and understanding are needed from both of you!
Thanks for reading!
One more thing… I really would love for you to share your thoughts with me. I know it is not easy to do! I understand because it took me a long time to work up the courage to begin blogging! But I want to get to know you. When you feel ready, please feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comment section.
About commenting on my blog – I am reminded of when I taught in the College classroom. I encouraged conversation. HOWEVER, I always let my students know that I wanted them to feel emotionally safe in the classroom. The same is true for the community that I wish to create with my blog. You will be safe. I am passionate about protecting those who are willing to open themselves up and share with all of us. Everyone should feel that they can express their thoughts and opinion without the worry of being criticized, attacked and hurt. Disagreement is fine, of course, as long as it is respectful of the other person. We can all learn from one another with love and respect. I want your comments; I want to learn from you just like I learned from my students. But only when you feel ready to do so. Like I said, it took me a very long time to find the courage to blog. So I don’t want to push you, only reassure you 🙂
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Details of any stories told in my blogs have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.
Photo Credit Always RachelSamanyi@flickr.comShare