I am a man.
I am also a man of a certain age, with a certain number of years of tread on these earthly tires, and that has given me perspective. I have been in relationship much of my life, giving me even more material from which to write.
It is from this perspective that I’d like to tackle a ticklish topic: how to connect to a man. Not only do I want to tackle this topic in today’s column, but at the end of the column you will see an invitation to join in an ongoing dialogue where once a month I’ll entertain questions in a feature article—He Said/ She Said: Come Together. More about that later. Back to connecting to your man.
Men, as most of you women and men know, are not the easiest creatures with whom to make a connection. We have many peculiarities, idiosyncrasies, and even, dare I say, character issues, that make it challenging to form a healthy connection to us. Don’t, however, let that stop you from trying.
Just this past week we had an “older couple,” having been married over thirty-years, who came to see us because their relationship was in significant turmoil. The couple, who happened to be in Christian ministry, had actually been in trouble for many years, but the wife finally decided it was time to take action.
“I’ve lost myself in this marriage,” Debra said. “I’ve been twisting and turning myself, trying to raise our children, trying to be ‘the perfect wife,’ and somewhere along the line I’ve lost myself. I don’t feel connected to my husband.”
I could see the sadness written on her face. I asked her to continue, in spite of the fact that her husband, Charles, was in obvious distress, wincing at her candor.
“I hate saying this,” she said. “I’m supposed to be madly in love with him, but I’m not. I don’t like his temper, he seems more interested in his work than me, and I sure don’t feel cherished. I don’t really like him.”
Charles stared at her in disbelief.
“Why haven’t you told me these things before?” he said in a sharp, piercing tone.
“Because you’d react just like you’re doing right now,” she said.
“I’m reacting now because of what you’re saying,” he countered.
“Now I feel like I’m wrong, like I better be quiet,” Debra said softly, beginning to cry. “I feel terribly guilty for having the feelings I have.”
“No,” Charles said. “You need to say them. I don’t really want to hear them, but they need to be said.”
“I really do want to learn to connect to you, Charles,” she said. “I can’t do all the work, but I’m willing to do my part to heal our relationship. What can I do?”
Debra and Charles are like many couples who have drifted over time. Thankfully, both wanted to heal the rift between them. Both would need to work on their issues.
Debra asked a specific question many women ask—how could she connect to her man? While it is certainly not all up to the woman—in fact, there are many things a man can and should do—there are specific things a woman can do to help connect to her man. Here are a few ideas:
First, help your man feel safe. We are easily emotionally overwhelmed. When you are upset with us, challenged by us, discouraged by us, be careful with your emotions. We tend to be ‘single-track’ thinkers, and if you throw too much emotional information at us, we’re likely to retreat or erupt—neither being very good choices, incidentally.
Second, help your man feel respected. No matter how upset you are with us, talk respectfully to us. Don’t sneer, shame or scold us. Don’t talk down to us or make us feel small. Speak to us candidly, with emotion, but without shame. Share your truest emotion with us, but without accusation or ridicule.
Scripture clearly tells us we are to pay “respect to whom respect is owed” (Romans 13:7). Even when hurt or angry with a mate, we owe them respect. There is never a time when disrespect is warranted or helpful.
Third, help your man feel encouraged. Like dogs, we like to be petted. We want to be caught doing things right. We’ll swim the English Channel for you if we receive enough encouragement. If, however, we believe ‘we can’t do anything right,’ we’ll withdraw. Let us know that you appreciate our efforts.
Finally, help us with emotions. We often struggle at knowing exactly what we feel. You can gently encourage us to share our truest feelings by sharing your true feelings. Help create an atmosphere of safety where we will risk sharing who we are, what we think and feel.
I promised to offer a new opportunity to interact with me. Once a month I’d like to share two different points of view, one from the man, the other the woman. You can send your story to me in a forum called He Said/ She Said: Come Together. Please send your information about your situation to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Share your story, from your two different perspectives, and I’ll respond with my opinion about how to handle your particular situation.
Please also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com and YourRelationshipDoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
Publication date: August 20, 2013