“I’ve had it.” Lori said. “I can no longer live with him and I finally realized I don’t have to. I don’t have to have my heart broken and my emotions acting as though they’re on an elevator that’s bouncing from the basement to the penthouse.”
“I can understand why you wouldn’t want to live that way. But I don’t understand why you’ve had to.”
“Simple. Because I can’t depend on anything my husband says. It’s always a case of building up my hopes and having the rug pulled out from under me.”
“It sounds as though you’re letting his actions directly affect you, emotionally. I can’t help but believe you might be able to deal with his behavior in a far less disturbing manner to yourself. Tell me, what was the straw that broke the camel’s back? What brought you to therapy and caused you to think you had no other alternative but to leave a twenty-eight year marriage?”
“You’ll laugh. It seems crazy to me, particularly when I think of standing in front of a judge, saying, ‘I want a divorce because of the way he acts before every vacation’, but that’s the basic truth. We’ll be at a dinner party and people will say, ‘why don’t we all go on a trip?’ Guess who stirs the group up, initiates plans and seems excited about the event? Irving. And what an idiot I am. I get excited, I make plans and the week before we’re ready to leave, all hell breaks loose. I’m not exaggerating. These are his words, ‘I don’t know why we’re going on this trip. It’s going to cost a fortune. I can’t be away from work that long. If it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t have considered it. But do you care? No. You’re out buying clothes for the trip. It’s expensive enough and you’re doubling the cost?’ Anything I say that pertains to the trip elicits an explosive tirade. Do you think it ends then? No! The day before the trip, he starts in again. I’m packing too much. I’m taking my whole wardrobe. Who do I think is going to carry all those bags? Before we leave, ‘We’re going to be late. Can’t you hurry? You know how long it takes to go through security.’ By then, I’d rather stay home than hear his harangue. He’s a crazy man and the older he gets, the worse it gets.”
“Let me try to explain. Men have, for centuries, been brought up to feel that it was their job to protect and assume responsibility for their families but, most importantly, their wives. As a result, when you go on a trip, unconsciously, he begins to feel, ‘I have to take care of and make sure she’s happy.’ Consequently, the trip’ that initially sounded wonderful, in actuality causes him to feel increased responsibility and obligation that he fears he can’t meet. These thoughts are unconscious and cognitively unavailable to Irving. He is, nevertheless, controlled by the fear that, if anything should go wrong, if any problem should arise, he’d have to resolve it in a manner that reflects his adequacy and masculinity. It’s understandable that, as your husband grows older, these fears are augmented, often to the point that couples stop traveling altogether. He becomes more stubborn, controlling and reluctant to travel, justifying it by health and financial problems, or even by creating conflicts that mitigate his wife’s desire to go anywhere with him.”
Lori can’t solve Irving’s problems. But, she can empathize with him. She can explain that, ‘whatever happens, we’re in it together. It’s not your fault, or of your doing.’ But, if something goes wrong, she forfeits the right to blame, criticize or view him with contempt.
Please note that I’m using Lori’s words to illustrate a problem that’s far more widespread. In the course of sharing a lifetime together, traditional role models and positions change. It often becomes more difficult to live up to the expectations that were there when you first married. When it comes to feelings of masculinity, men are particularly sensitive and threatened by the changes that occur physically, due to age, technological advances he’s unfamiliar with and cultural changes such as the liberated role played by women. I can’t count how many women I’ve heard say, “When I make dinner, it means I make reservations. The kids are gone and I don’t feel my old sense of responsibility.” Or, conversely, “I work, too, I have a career. I put out as much energy as you do. I don’t want to take full responsibility for the home. We have to share.” In most instances, they say it with little compunction, guilt or feelings of obligation. In fact, quite the opposite.
Women today tend to feel more empowered. They have a new sense of entitlement and a feeling of adequacy that doesn’t depend on or stem from their spouse. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case with Lori. On the one hand, she lacks understanding of where her husband is coming from. On the other, she blames him for what she feels and then wants to run from him. Perhaps she needs to feel sufficiently entitled and empowered to have her own feelings. Even if he’s griping, she can be happy about the trip. She can say, “He’s scared. I understand. But I don’t have to react or be angry.” At the same time, I’m not telling her to stay with him. I am, however, suggesting that there are many men who share his problem and that, with some understanding, she can stay and have a loving but newly defined relationship. One which allows her more independence and the freedom to be who she is. It would also require that Irving admit when he feels frightened, inadequate or insufficient. To do so, he would have to learn that every man doesn’t have to be Rambo in order to be a man.
You see, it’s a new age. One in which you have to recognize that gender is only an indication of physical genitalia. It has nothing to do with a role that someone has to live up to. To live life to its fullest, men and women must learn to bend with the changes that are taking place in their world, realize that they’re okay, whether or not they fit old stereotypical roles, and need to be loved for who they are, not what they do or how they feel. Because, sometimes, what you feel isn’t necessarily real.