Elaine is a tall, attractive, soft spoken lady who everyone admires and views in a positive light; except for Harvey, her husband of 28 years. In one therapy session he described her as mechanical, lacking in feelings and emotionally cold. He said Aour sex life is a big zero. I’ve told her how frustrated and lonely I feel and she says it’s my problem and that we do have sex. It’s true, but it means nothing to me. I want a physical relationship with someone who cares. I’ve tried telling her that. That’s when I hear what a baby I am and that if I heard what she says to others about me, I’d know she cared. But, I don="t" give a damn what she says to others. I care what she says to me. I’ve thought about leaving, but how do you leave your kids or someone who thinks she’s a good wife, but doesn’t know what a good wife is?"
A week later, Elaine called. She was hysterical and vacillated between tearfulness and anger. She finally settled down and said she discovered large frequent credit card charges Harvey had made at a topless bar. When she confronted him, he didn’t deny it. He explained that he was sorry it hurt her, but he wasn’t apologetic for his behavior. He added, “It was a choice between going there, or leaving home and that seemed the better of two poor alternatives.”
The next day I saw them together. She was more composed, but obviously depressed. She said, “I feel betrayed, lied to, and confused.” Conversely, it seemed as though her discovery opened the door for Harvey to express his feelings in a more open and honest manner. He said, “I work hard and I make a good living. you="re" the beneficiary of that work, but I never see any appreciation for my effort. Quite the contrary all I ever hear is criticism; “I come home late from work, I’m not involved with the kids, and I’m an emotional baby.” There’s a reason for all that. It’s you. That’s why I go to the topless bar? Not because I’m getting sex there, despite what you think. Sure, the gal I see is young, she has a nice figure, and dresses provocatively, but there’s something more. She listens to me and she’s interested. Even more, she’s glad to see me. That’s more than I’m getting at home. All I want is for someone to occasionally pat me on the back, hold me, and tell me that they care.”
Elaine, shot up in the chair and screamed, Awhat a sad commentary, you sneak around; you lie about your whereabouts, and spend our money on a whore with plastic boobs and a cute figure. Well she didn’t have your children and she doesn’t work 24/7 taking care of them. You’re a poor example of a man. I hate you for what you’ve done to me.” With that, she charged out of the office. He looked at the closed door and pitifully said, “In part she’s right, but there is one thing I don’t agree with. I didn’t do this to her, it’s the first damn thing I’ve done for myself in years.” Then he said, “I can’t talk anymore. I have to go.”
When I next saw Elaine, she said, “I can’t understand where he’s coming from. I’m the victim here, not him.” I stated, “I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I don’t condone his behavior; however, I think Harvey is trying to tell you something. If he wanted to leave, he’d be gone. I’m not saying you should stay with him, that’s your choice. What I am saying is that you have to take responsibility for the part you play in this marriage. First, ask yourself; is there any truth to his accusation of only receiving criticism of himself as a man, a father, and a husband? Two, ask yourself, do you want him? Three, question whether you can create the positive relationship you want, by treating another man the same way. To be honest, I have the notion that Harvey is pleading for your love, while you act holier than thou; the suffering party and the innocent victim.”
Once again, she jumped up and headed for the door. Before she was able to open it, I said, “Are going to run again? Please sit down and ask yourself, what you want? If your answer is, I don’t want my husband, fine. I’ll help you through the divorce. If your answer is, you want him; equally fine. I’ll help you to deal with him in a healthier manner. In either case, my advice will be the same, because before you can have a healthy marriage, you need to get healthy.” She slowly retreated to the chair and began to sob. “I know it’s not all his fault. I watched my mother treat my dad that way. It’s the only role I know. I admit sex has never been a high priority. It’s just a way of accommodating him. I don’t know what to do differently.”
My answer, “Maybe you should ask a topless dancer.” She looked at me, wide eyed, and said, “What?” I said, “Figuratively speaking, ask a topless dancer.” You know most of them have their own tragic stories. Many have expensive drug habits, but claim the reason they dance is for money for college or to raise their kids, but you have to give them their due. They are able to communicate with men in a way that appears far superior to most wives. It’s sad, but true. They know how to make a man feel he’s worthwhile and appreciated. When they add sensuality to the equation it contributes to a man feeling he’s King Kong. The truth is that most men are just little boys emotionally. Despite, how much money, success, or prominence they achieve, they’re all looking for a surrogate mother, one who makes them feel adequate. Topless dancers know that. Perhaps you could learn from them.
I know that this vignette seems solely directed toward women and their treatment of men. But let me assure you that in my practice, I have seen just as many women find substitute activities outside their home. Not necessarily involving another man, but they too are searching for something or someone to make them feel okay. That’s what we all want and wanting it doesn’t mean you’re a child, inadequate, or insufficient. Needing love is a human trait, which, when demonstrated openly, with vulnerability, will almost always be viewed by others as a sign of you strength and will result in you feeling you deserve the love you desire.