By: Susan Adams M.Ed.
Men and women are having a hard time getting together today for a variety of reasons.
As more women join the work force, more men lose their uniqueness as wage earners. Raised to be competitive and earn a living, men are now faced with women who do this as well or better than they. Women, who have traditionally been raised to care for others, are often struggling with both careers and families. They no longer need men to perform in their old role as provider. Instead, they are asking men to help them; to provide emotional support.
This request causes a new set of conflicts in men. Raised to be independent, they shy away from female emotion. They have no permission to be emotionally supportive. In fact, all this emotion is rather scary; especially the anger. Anger tells a man there is a problem he is expected to solve.
In early childhood, often before the age of five, the basis for response to a woman’s emotional needs is formed. When fathers are absent working, or drinking, or running around with other women, or just watching sports or playing golf, the little boy is faced with his mother’s need for him emotionally. this is confusing—he is the wrong person. He is too young to be a husband to his mother, but he does his best.
During adolescence, mothers try their best to make boys socially acceptable and gentle which often terrifies the young boy. He fears his mother is out to rob him of his manhood so he avoids her or he attempts to appear as if he is giving her her way while secretively learning manhood from other boys. Manhood at this stage may be defined as whomever can belch loudest or use the strongest curse words or any number of criteria your imagination can supply.
This is the stage where avoidance begins. It continues into adulthood where men often define as “unmanly” anything the closest woman in their lives asks them to do.
This frustrates and angers the already overburdened woman. The more frustrated and angry women become, the more emotional they get. Frustrated and angry women can be pretty noisy. The noisier women get, the more intimidated men get and the more they use avoidance or agression to cover their inner feelings.
Relationships just can’t work this way. The following is a case in point.
Herald and Henrietta came to see me. Both in their late thirties, they had been married for ten years. They had three children ages six, eight, and ten. Henrietta stayed home and raised the children as well as keeping the books for her husband’s business. She planned on getting her CPA after the children were all established in school. Herald had built the business over the last ten yers and put a great deal of his energy into it.
Henrietta said she was sure Herald didn’t love her. True, he did take her out every other month if she begged hard enough. He didn’t fuss too much about the money she spent, and if she couldn’t find anyone to watch the kids he would stay home on the week-end and miss his golf game but he resented it and it showed.
Henrietta said she was tired of having to beg to socialize. She was tired of watching Herald watch television every night and of his promises to call if he was going to be late. He never called.
When Henrietta tried to explain her frustrations to Herald, he simply sat in stony silence in f ront of the television.
The change came for Henrietta when some new neighbors moved in down the street. She watched them at get-togethers and saw that Rose and Rosemond had a partnership; something she had always wanted. They noticed each other’s needs and negotiated things. They didn’t treat each other as enemies.
Herald said Henrietta was just like his mother; always asking for something and if he gave in, it would never stop;. Henrietta cried and Herald sat there.
What will work for this couple or for any couple in such a situation?
If you are a man, realize that the woman in your life wants a partner. She isn’t asking you to solve all her problems; just that you listen to her and deal directly with her.
Remember, no one has to be controlled who doesn’t want to be. If “no” is the answer, tell her so. Avoid saying “yes” just to appease her and then doing something else. Improve your skills at describing your feelings and asking for what you want. It isn’t unmanly, I promise.
Try talking to your relationship partner about your own fears and hopes. Men are so powerful when they talk abut how they feel.
Talk to your own father, if you can. Find out how he feels, and has felt about love, marriage, careers, child-raising, and anything else that seems important to you. Look for other men you can talk to, both in the family and outside of it.
If you are a woman, remember that aggressive-looking man often feel over-powered by the women in their lives. They want women to be calm and logical. Improve your skills at asking for what you want. This is especially true in the area of emotional support.
Let the man in your life know that sharing himself with you is more important than anything he can buy for you or fix for you or any place that he can take you. Reassure him that you will care about him because he has been open with you.
Don’t yell at the man in your life. He worries about making you angry and probably wants to avoid it. Sometimes in relationships we must ask for things many times before they are understood and given.
Remember that relationships don’t work if you see your partner as the enemy who is out to control you.
Relationships work best when we ask for what we want, tell the truth, fight to find out what we are doing wrong rather than trying to prove we are right, and do our best to do as our partner asks.