If you ask a man to be more open about what he feels, beware the possibility that you might not like what he has to say.
I am posting here about an article that appeared this morning on The Good Men Project titled Sex, Marriage, and the Silent Treatment. Whether you are a man or a woman, I encourage you to read it. I also encourage you to read the comments that follow it, along with the voluminous comments that have appeared on Facebook when the article has been shared; they are nearly as informative as the article itself.
The article is a powerful, vulnerable statement of how author Clint Edwards felt at one point and, by his admission, will likely feel again. He describes how he feels when he and his wife don’t have sex for what feels to him an extended period of time. Basically, when he is unable to get his wife’s attention he begins to doubt himself, to feel less attractive, less interesting, less self-confident. He pouts. He pouts, and then he hates himself for it. He doesn’t like what he feels because he thinks he doesn’t have a right to feel it.
I admit it: I have felt what he describes. There, I said it.
I am guessing that many men have felt the neediness he describes, that many have pouted as a result of those feelings, and that many – maybe most – have hated themselves for pouting and feel as though they have no right to their feelings.
I find remarkable the certainty with which some people in their comments judge the author, and by inference or direct statement other or all men. Some commenters seem to see what I see in the piece: a real man in a real marriage to a real woman, struggling with feelings that are difficult to discuss and take courage to expose. I see the story of a married couple, told from the husband’s point of view, working through issues of intimacy and sexuality and shared responsibility, drifting away and trying to reconnect.
Others see a man who is acting entitled, who needs to take more work off his wife’s plate, who needs to define himself and his worth apart from his wife, who needs to learn to seduce his wife, who needs to not need his wife in order to feel confident … the list goes on. There is plenty of advice in the comments, along with occasional vitriol and only episodic or partial compassion.
You will have your own reactions, and come to your own conclusions. I ask only this: before you react, give yourself a couple of minutes to breathe, and let the piece and your reactions simmer just a bit. See if you can feel and hear and see and taste the nuances of the piece and your response to it. Consider that connecting with someone intimately, with or without sex involved, is complicated, subtle, nuanced.
I am married to a remarkable woman. Her name is Maddie. She has over the course of our marriage birthed and taken the brunt of raising and educating our six children. She works harder than any three people I know, and now runs her own business on top of everything else. She has been challenged by the hormones of pregnancy and breastfeeding, and of creeping menopause. She gets tired, sometimes narcoleptically so. Despite all that we have a very active, loving, exciting sex life. Let’s just say we are together more often, and longer, by far than the national averages.
And yet I have felt what the author of the article describes. I have felt pouty about not having sex at times. When that happens I notice how much less confident I am in myself if I question my wife’s desire for me. I have felt the need to hold back my consuming desire for my wife because I was afraid I was “bothering” her, and then resented her for it. I know it’s unreasonable. I know perfectly well it’s not her role in life to make me feel whole, that only I can do that for myself, and yet …
And yet there’s more to it than that.
Because to me, two people in a strong marriage are neither dependent nor independent, but interdependent. Maybe more precisely they move through all three of those states. No, Maddie and I don’t need each other in the sense that we need air and food and water, but we make each better. And sometimes one of us needs from the other the reassurance that we are desirable, and sexy, and whole, and loved.
Yes, sometimes I need sex in order to feel better about myself. Men do that sometimes (so, I suspect, do women – but that’s a different post altogether). It doesn’t make me a pig, or entitled, or mysogynistic, or anything other than, simply, a man.
Your turn. Take a minute to digest, then please tell me what you think.
Dr Les Kertay, Awakened Moments
And, if you think frank conversations about sex and intimacy are as important as Maddie and I do, you can go to www.adaringmarriage.com and sign up to receive notices about the site, currently set to open in March.