My Wife was Married to a "Little Boy" and Needed a "Man"!
Without realizing it, I carried a LOT of emotional baggage into my marriage! A bunch of traumatic experiences as a kid caused me to develop some intense "self-protection" strategies. One of those was becoming VERY effective at "shutting myself off emotionally." I could "detach" from my true feelings in an instant and put on a "stoic," solid-as-a-rock exterior. While this survival tactic worked fairly well as a kid, when I brought it with me into my marriage, the results were a disaster!
We Long for "True Intimacy"
Even when we don't want to acknowledge it, we ALL need close, human CONNECTION to be truly healthy and happy. This connection is also known as "human intimacy." Unfortunately, we live in a culture that tends to narrowly interpret "intimacy" as "sex." This physical aspect of human connection, when HEALTHY, can play an important role in being intimate. BUT, sex is only a small part of the Intimacy Puzzle. True intimacy is about so much more than two physical bodies coming together.
True intimacy means—into-me-you-see and into-you-I-see. Making a connection at this deep level requires courage, vulnerability and transparency. It requires that we let down our guard, take off our masks and facades and DARE to be "real"—just the opposite of what I learned to do as a kid! The LAST thing I wanted was to let down my protective shell and allow people to get to my "soft-chewy-center"!
How my old "Little Boy" Survival Strategy
Manifested in my Marriage
In my marriage, this old survival strategy showed up as me often being stoic, hard-to-read, closed off or not fully present. When things did get emotionally uncomfortable, which is a normal part of a marriage relationship, I would get quiet and shut-down. I would also avoid and escape through various methods like working long hours, watching sports, engaging in isolated hobbies, etc. When I did show emotion, it usually came gushing out in anger, frustration, silly arguments, etc.
You see, the problem with emotions is that NONE of us can press them down and make them go away as if they don't exist. Emotions buried alive NEVER die! They ALWAYS find a way to manifest! They can build up and eventually express themselves through a heart-attack, stroke, cancer or some other health crisis. They can show up as moodiness, being distant and detached, anger outbursts, being dominant and intimidating, always-needing-to-be-right, etc. And, when we press our emotions down and shut ourselves off, we can become "needy" and "whiny."
"I Need a Man!"
The rock bottom for me was the night my wife looked me straight in the eye and tearfully said, "I feel like I'm married to a little boy and I need a MAN!" She wasn't referring to my physical toughness, my role as a provider or my "macho-ness." She was courageously and honestly telling me that she could no longer endure my closed-off emotions; my periodic "silent treatment;" my unwillingness to open up, be vulnerable and CONNECT to her at a deep, emotional level! She was tired of the only attempt on my part to be intimate in some way was in the bedroom.
I will NEVER forge that night! I was SHOCKED! And it took me several days of introspection to get to the place where I was ready to admit, confront and starting changing my old ways. It was NOT remotely close to easy! That "little boy" inside me FREAKED OUT—"You can't let your true feelings show! You can't get all touchy, feely, mushy! You can't let people in like that! You'll just get hurt!" Here's an excerpt from the PBSE podcast where I talk about this experience—
Becoming Comfortable with the Uncomfortable
It took years of practice and daring to take the RISK. And I couldn't do it alone! I had to be willing to seek professional help, gain new information and understanding. And MOST especially, I had to DO THE IN-THE-TRENCHES-WORK and PRACTICE with my wife and let me tell you—IT WAS UNCOMFORTABLE! One of the most terrifying aspects of this process, was letting go of ALL my SECRETS!
Today we have a beautiful, open, transparent and truly INTIMATE relationship. Yes, there are times when I still find something in me trying to go back to those "little boy self-protection strategies." But, I recognize those old tendencies and SHIFT to the BETTER WAY—to the INTIMATE WAY. And my wife no longer feels like she's married to that little boy—well, she almost never feels that way. ;-)