Learning to Support Each Other Without Having to Change
At the seminar Sandra said, "I have spent twenty years trying to get Larry to talk. I wanted him to open up and be vulnerable. I didn't realize that what I was missing was a man who would support me in being open and vulnerable. That is what I really needed. I have shared more intimate feelings with my husband this weekend than in twenty years. I feel so loved. This is what I have been missing. I thought he had to change. Now I know nothing is wrong with him or me. We just didn't know how to support each other." Sandra had always complained that Larry didn't talk. She had convinced herself that his silence made intimacy impossible. At the seminar she learned to share her feelings without expecting or demanding Larry to reciprocate. Instead of rejecting his silence she learned to appreciate it. It made him a better listener.
Larry learned the art of listening. He practiced listening without trying to fix her. It is much more effective to teach a man to listen than to open up and be vulnerable. As he learns to listen to someone he cares for and is appreciated in response, he gradually will open up and share
more automatically. When a man feels appreciated for listening and he doesn't feel rejected for not sharing more, he will gradually begin to open up. When he feels as though he doesn't have to talk more, then naturally he will. But first he needs to feel accepted. If she is still frustrated by his silence she is forgetting that men are from Mars!
WHEN A MAN DOESN'T PULL AWAY
Lisa and Jim had been married for two years. They did everything together. They were never apart. After a while, Jim became increasingly irritable, passive, moody, and temperamental. In a private counseling session, Lisa told me, "He is no longer any fun to be with. I have tried everything to cheer him up, but it doesn't work. I want to do fun things together, like going to restaurants, shopping, traveling, going to plays, parties, and dancing, but he doesn't. We never do anything anymore. We just watch TV, eat, sleep, and work. I try to love him, but I am angry. He used to be so charming and romantic. Living with him now is like living with a slug. I don't know what to do. He just won't budge!" After learning about the male intimacy cycle-the rubber band theory-both Lisa and Jim realized what had happened. They were spending too much time together. Jim and Lisa needed to spend more time apart. When a man gets too close and doesn't pull away, common symptoms are increased moodiness, irritability, passiveness, and defensiveness. Jim had not learned how to pull away. He felt guilty spending time alone. He thought he was supposed to share everything with his wife. Lisa also thought they were supposed to do everything together. In counseling I asked Lisa why she had spent so much time with Jim. She said, "I was afraid he would get upset if I did anything fun without him. One time I went shopping and he got really upset with me." Jim said, "I remember that day. But I wasn't upset with you. I was upset about losing some money in a business deal. I actually remember that day because I remember noticing how good I felt having the whole house to myself. I didn't dare tell you that because I thought it would hurt your feelings." Lisa said, "I thought you didn't want me to go out without you. You seemed so distant." Becoming More Independent With this new awareness, Lisa got the permission she needed not to worry so much about Jim. Jim pulling away actually helped her become more autonomous and independent. She started taking better care of herself. As she started doing the things she wanted to do and get more support from her girlfriends she was much happier,
She released her resentment toward Jim. She realized that she had been expecting too much from him. Having beard about the rubber band she realized how she was contributing to their problem. She realized that he needed more time to be alone. Her loving sacrifices were not only preventing him from pulling away and then springing back but her dependent attitude was
also smothering him. Lisa started doing fun things without Jim. She did some of the things that she had been wanting to do. One night she went out to cat with some girlfriends. Another night she went to a play. Another night she went to a birthday bowling party. Simply a Miracle What amazed her was how quickly their relationship changed. Jim became much more attentive and interested in her. Within a couple of weeks, Jim started to come back to his old self again. He was wanting to do fun things with her and started planning dates. He got his motivation back. In counseling he said, "I feel so relieved. I feel loved ... when Lisa comes home she is happy to see me. It feels so good to miss ber when she is gone. It feels good to 'feel' again. I had almost forgotten what it was like. Before it seemed like nothing I did was good enough. Lisa was always trying to get me to do things, telling me what to do and asking me questions." Lisa said, "I realized I was blaming him for my unhappiness. As I took responsibility for my happiness, I experienced that Jim was more energetic and alive. It's like a miracle. "