If you follow my blog at all, you know I tend to write about whatever crosses my path – especially if I’m seeing a lot of it. It’s almost life’s way of saying, “Hey! This is a thing. Maybe you should mention it?”
So, I’m mentioning this latest relationship dynamic that is jumping out at me from both my own professional work and that of my colleagues and supervisees. This dynamic is by no means applicable to all my clients, but I am seeing enough of it around me to constitute a pattern of sorts. In fact, it came up again just today in one of my supervision groups, across multiple cases belonging to the therapists I supervise – so hence, this blog post.
The dynamic is that of a couple, in which both the husband and wife are very nice people, and the woman has the majority of power in the relationship. The husband is quiet, sensitive…and completely avoidant of anything that might incite his wife’s anger. In fact, I’m seeing a whole crop of these “modern men”; they work together with their partners on all things, including domestic duties, careers, and childrearing. They dutifully execute the tasks their wives have laid out for them – or at least intend to. They try to successfully navigate the tightrope between being sensitive to their wife’s feelings and still be enough of a “man” to handle “manly” tasks like regularly taking out the trash without being reminded and dry-walling the cracks in the hallway ceiling.
The problem is: they’re pissed off. Or a ghost. They’ve committed to peace to such a degree that they believe they have to sacrifice their own ideas, input and opinions (particularly divergent ones) just to make life work with their spouse. And from the outside, it looks like it’s working really well…only it’s not. These couples are not having sex, not talking about deep things, not connecting on any level except who needs to buy milk and who’s going to pick up the kids from aftercare.
This is the middle ground, the place where I first meet many of my clients. It’s not the beginning, where they are so in love that their vast differences in communication styles and life desires yet worries them, but not so far gone that therapy is just a polite check-off mark on the list that ends in divorce. This is the battleground, where everyone still has some skin in the game but is too wounded to try to have the same argument again without outside help. It’s my preferred field on which to work, because when things are exploding new opportunities are born; when the concrete is broken up, new life can push through the cracks. It really does happen – I see it every day.
But it needs participation. And the men in these couples are dialing it in. Don’t get me wrong – they may be dialing it in for good reason. Maybe the woman really is scary when she’s mad, or sarcastic, or abusive, or mean, or cold. Maybe he’s had this before – from mom, girlfriend, previous wife – or maybe he’s just peace-loving and conflict takes too much of a toll. I get it. But, avoidance of the issue is a guarantee it will not only continue, but get worse and fester. Avoidance – like lies – only makes things worse…always.
What do you think? Want to hear more about this dynamic, or do you recognize yourself in one of the roles I described? Share this post or comment and let me know!