This week, HuffPost blogger Anne Vitiello, asked for your questions about marriage and divorce. Many of you responded with personal stories about dating during a separation, dealing with stepchildren and marital qualms. Below, Anne responded to one such question. You can submit advice questions to Anne at any time, as often as you'd like, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and your question may be featured in Anne's next blog post.
Q: Dear Anne,
How do I get my husband of 5 years to be more open to his emotions? He's not the emotional kind of man, but I need some type of emotional feedback from him. Help?! --- Kelly
Congrats on your five year mark, and thank you for sharing. Your need for emotional feedback seems fair and reasonable, and before I go on, I want you to know that I would welcome any updates as to how you are doing.
Your question was nicely focused and concise, though it inspires a world of thoughts about men, women and pitfalls in our emotional landscape. Four guidelines to keep in mind:
- It is not within your power or your interest to "get" anyone to do (or even express) anything. You are responsible for your own happiness, though a spouse is someone who should positively influence, sustain and care about that happiness.
- If you had a deep, expressive emotional connection with him in the beginning you can have it again, but if you are trying to bring something into the relationship that wasn't there in the first place, your prospects are less good.
- Emotions are like wild horses: They need patience, a gentle touch or sleight-of-hand. And when harnessed or out of control they can be incredibly powerful - in both positive and destructive ways.
- We are living in a time of transition. Old conventions of marriage used the work model of homemaking (longer hours, more flexibility, no paycheck other than a share in joint assets) as a natural means for women to get a good portion of their emotional sustenance from other homemakers or taking a moment for themselves during the day. Now, most of us must work outside the house, and both men and women come home drained, needing a "wifey" (Someone available to meet your emotional needs, but who brings very few of her own into the relationship because they have been met elsewhere).
It's not the dilemma that it may seem to be. In my opinion, the old model was less true to human nature. Deep down, both men and women want our mates to be our closest emotional connection. It's just that there is inevitable antagonism between the sexes, and it takes finesse to find that balance.
Now, about the workings of our hearts: Men are complex creatures. For example, a typical man's attitudes about sex and love:
When you are dating, he makes it quite clear that sex and love have nothing to do with one another, right? Hey, it's *only* sex, don't make anything more of it. That "L" word is a precious and well-protected treasure.
However, studies have shown that when couples are coping with infidelity, the men would prefer finding out that their partner has feelings for someone else but has not slept with them, rather than knowing that she had sex with another man even if it was a one-off, and her heart still belongs to her mate. (But if it's *only* sex...?) See what I mean? But I digress. So, be grateful that this is not your particular problem, and back to you:
All human beings are emotional. Your man may be having an earthquake of feelings on the inside, whereas outside it manifests only as that one particularly audible exhalation accompanied by an elevated left eyebrow and a glance out the window.
To underlining the obvious: You have described your husband as "not the emotional kind of man." That's who he is. That's what you chose, and who he always will be, more or less. Apparently his reserved nature had some appeal to you, thus the choice of marriage to Mr. Reticent. Perhaps you thought that he would, in time, grow more expressive?
Welcome to marriage. If anything, his apathy is likely to increase over time. After all, you accepted him for who he is, so from his perspective why should he change? And now that you are married, it's not as if he should have to work to find an emotional connection with you, should he? Isn't that supposed to be one of the perks and comforts of marriage, we just get to sit back and forget about all that wearisome relationship stuff?
No, I'm not in earnest - not entirely. I'm just acknowledging a common mindset. Let's call it pre-divorce thinking. It's like certain "pre-cancerous" conditions that lead to cancer but the doctors tell you it "may or may not" do so. What they don't tell you is that without intervention, in 99% of cases, cancer is inevitable.
It's only been five years. That's good. You seem loving and concerned, not blissful but not resentful or resigned. That's even better. You can shift the emotional dynamics. Are you very young, middle-aged or elders? Are there children involved? Because those considerations would factor into my response too. Anyway, there is plenty to discuss, regardless of your demographics:
How is your timing? Are you choosing the right moments at which to seek emotional interaction? This is possibly the biggest factor. If you want to plumb the depths of his soul, and he was just about to watch a movie or a ballgame, you've set yourself up for failure.
No, the movie or the ballgame are not more important than you are. But, would you respond well if he made you choose between something you were just about to do or enjoy, and a potentially unhappy discussion with him?
Of course we want our partners to express themselves to us, but the key is to create a safe, welcoming space for that to happen. I'm sorry, and it may not seem fair, but I'm basing this advice on life experience not gender research: One of the least effective ways to get what you want from a man is to demand it in full-frontal confrontation mode, and one of the most effective is to give him hints as to how good it will be and space in which to make it happen.
I understand that some men are so stubborn and/or scared that even the most polite request can be misinterpreted as a demand. Of course you should be able to express your emotional needs flat-out. However, be prepared for any such expression to be misconstrued as criticism of him, excessive emotional neediness, or some other scary unpleasantness.
Remember, the wild mustang metaphor. With men, sometimes the best approach is to think and act paradoxically. Who are the women receiving flowers on a routine basis? The ones demanding them or complaining? I don't think so. In fact, the less needy you seem to be, the more likely that a man will step up to meet your needs. Confusing? Welcome to the reality of the sexes.
It's about his anticipated success-to-effort ratio. If he goes out of his way for you, will it pay off? Will you be happy or will it go unnoticed or worse? I mean come on, isn't hope-in-anticipation-of-success one of the best feelings in the world? Almost better than getting the result you are hoping for? Men love that feeling, especially. That anticipation of how pleased you will be, of how thrilling it will feel to have taken a risk and been rewarded with a better feeling than they would have had if they had done nothing. That's the sugar cube. So, he will be back for more.