Tag Archives: Marriage

How to Help Your Man When He is Depressed

Sometimes our greatest fears are realized. Sometimes that pit in our stomach actually means a great deal. Yes, we are men. Yes, we can be and are often strong, but many times we are one degree from emotional combustion.

Normal men struggle with confidence more often they will ever let on. We, men, wonder what you wonder about us. We burn out, feel left out, and sometimes when we are vulnerable we lash out. These are things we are not proud of nor do we want to be sponsors of for the next generation.

Men become depressed at rates that are still unknown and baffling to the health care community and the providers educated to treat them. Thankfully, there is a growing movement to better understand male depression, its origin, and proper methods for therapeutic inclusion and treatment. Too often men and their families are unaware of the signs and symptoms of depression. Men shrug off their blue feelings as just another struggle they have to endure alone. They struggle to access the health care community and at best only talk to their primary care physician who either dispels such “nonsense” or over prescribes outdated and temporary solutions. 

I will admit that I am quite tired of the temporary solution-based approach that America has taken with just about every social problem. Makes me wish I owned stock in Band-Aids. The issue of male depression reaches far and wide impacting millions of men and their families.

The solution(s) will not be fast acting, maximum strength, over-the-counter goodies. The solutions will have to start at home. They will have to be identified and approached by the very person who has seen this man at his best and worst.

The signs are there even if communication about them is a bit archaic. We are and have been in a funk, as a country, for a good long while. Many men and women have lost their jobs, homes, and self respect. That’s right self respect…meaning that too many folks have not responded to their adverse situation in the manner they thought they would. They, like the peanut in this ad, are wondering why they can’t get up off the curb and start anew.

And, it is during these times when men need their partners the most. This undoubtedly puts women in a very difficult position because the language used, verbally and non-verbally, greatly impacts the man early on. When tragic news hits or you see a series of little defeats mounting for your man you have to treat him in the first 72 hours. This is, of course, not an official number but it gets the point across that to be effective in helping your partner you need to move swiftly and deftly in the early hours.

Are You Ready to Respond?

Think of it like a legal defense. We have all seen “Law & Order” or the new smash hit which I love “The Good Wife.” We watch as the lawyers and officers strategically plan the response and subsequent actions…all of which have to be done early on if they are to get ahead of the charge etc.

So, in that vein let us look at some things to look out for when you think your husband/man is depressed:

  1. First and foremost know how YOU typically respond to him when he is down.
  2. Prepare yourself for statements that are nonsensical and reactionary because he too knows your typical response style.
  3. Think about how YOU would feel given his stressors and situation.
  4. Take YOURSELF out of the discussion–this is not the time to talk about your needs/wants.
  5. Use physical touch to caress and reassure him–difficult because you may feel inclined to “mother” him.
  6. Remember that, like you, he may not want solutions early on.
  7. Let him know that you love him, believe in him, and will stand by him.
  8. Do NOT say, “Life isn’t easy” or “You’ll find something” or “That’s just the way life is.” Statements like these minimize his current fears and distance you from the solution. The message you are sending is…”I will wait till you figure it out alone and in the meantime buck up, you’re a man.”
  9. Stay connected and engaged. Do not fall the way of so many women who yield to giving him “space.” Men may say they want that, but only for a short time and most often because it is safer. They do not trust their feelings with you.
  10. And last but certainly not least…continue to love and support him…encourage him when his spirits are increasing and support him if and when mental health intervention is needed.

It takes a team effort to assist anyone who is down on their luck. Knocking them down even further because they are vulnerable sounds horrific, but practiced more than your neighbors would admit.

You can be your own best friend if you approach your man in thoughtful ways. These are tough times for everyone not named Palin, Jordan, Lebron, Gosselin, or Steve Jobs…let us all use a little compassion as we support the ones we love.

All the Best!

Dr. Rod
Rod Berger, PsyD The Normal Male

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What Lane is Your Relationship in?

Relationships are comprised of a series of destinations, pit-stops..with a dash of road rage and a hint of irony. Life can move so fast that we are susceptible to potholes in the name of love. We unknowingly hurt one another with our words, our individual decisions, and half-hearted “I love you’s.” Relationships are not easy and sometimes they warrant a check under the hood. A look at the coordinates on the GPS device.

One might wonder…”Why?” The answer is quite simple…which is that before you know it both of you will be racing down the highway of life without a clue where to go or how to get there. And, that doesn’t take into account our individual comfort levels. Some of us might like the Sunday afternoon drive while others enjoy the bumpy NASCAR ride while others still yet like the ole’ cruise control approach.

So I will ask you this…do you know what speed your relationship travels at…where your relationship is going and whether or not your co-pilot in life agrees? These questions sound mundane, but they can really be quite scary.

What if your partner disagrees? What if they really don’t like the direction and/or speed? What then? Fixable? Worth it? What about other couples….how do they deal with all of these questions?

I know people who sputter down the road so cautiously that their family and friends are nauseated. You know the ones…the couple that never wants to officially commit yet they have lived together for years. They never want to go further than two steps and one checking account withdrawal from gettin outta dodge.

Then there are other couples that are traveling so fast down the road that you wonder how they can honestly enjoy the journey. These folks met, got engaged, married, had 2.5 kids, got the house, moved up in their careers, AND got their 2.5 kids on the waiting list of grade-A preschool everybody wants in at…and all within a 3 year time period! Whew! Exhausting to even think about it…

Now of course these couples represent the outer edges of society…which leaves the rest of us. Many Normal couples go through ebbs and flows often changing directions and itineraries at a moments notice. There are couples who change seats, drive for a little while until their partner is ready and then re-assume previous roles and directives. Flexible you might say.

The challenge for all of these couples remains the same…can you honestly and with great humility check the particulars of your relationship? Can you evaluate what is and is not working well while traversing through life? You can, but many of you won’t. Harsh? No. Honest? Yes! Status quo and even contentment can be descriptors for a well-oiled machine or they can be indicators of apathy…a relationship that is on life support with no end in site because neither person believes it is worth it to change it up.

Am I describing you? Go ahead…check and see if you are alone in the room…no one is looking over your shoulder….so be honest. Are you apathetic to the current state of your relationship and its growth in the future? Are you emotionally hurtful? Are you limiting the potential of the relationship though manipulative means?

These are important questions even if you are not sabotaging your relationship. Never forget that relationships veer off course not because of the big potholes, but more often from the little ones. Those day-to-day interactions that point to confusion not coherence. Remember the days when doing the little things for our partner was fun? When we actually thought about what they wanted…even needed to thrive.

Tempted to Veer Off Course?

We did all of those things because we wanted our partner to feel loved…to feel special and unique and cared for even when we weren’t around. But, sometimes we forget our collective purpose and even direction. We forget why we chose each other and worse yet we forget that love takes effort…conscious effort.

If we don’t make a point of planning our collective road-trip we run the risk of glancing over into other more desirable lanes. Chevy Chase might have discovered Christie Brinkley in the movie “Vacation” while driving with his family cross country, but we all know who he ended up with in the end.

Images Appearing More Realistic in Your Mirror?

Don’t set a trap for your relationship out of pure fear. Ask the tough questions that will yield growth over time. I, personally, have had great results when I queried my partner on the mutual direction and satisfaction of our relationship and you can too.

If you scoff at this then maybe you already know the destination your relationship is headed for. A wise business man once told me that you never go into a deal unless you are prepared to lose or leave the deal.

Your relationship and its success depend on continued calibration and assessment. No successful relationship ever endured with an approach that celebrated ignorance.

We are all human and it IS Normal to have a change of heart, a change of direction and/or purpose. That doesn’t mean that our relationships have to suffer or end. Don’t be the couple that holds each other down out of fear.

Give each other a chance to drive the relationship and who knows…you might actually find your relationship accelerating in new and exciting ways.

Afraid to Ask for Directions?

All the Best!

Dr. Rod
Rod Berger, PsyD The Normal Male

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Can You Trust Your Husband To Travel Alone?

"You will not bring your husband along!"

Alright fine…you caught me. Yes, I did watch The Real Housewives of Orange County last night. How could I miss it? I mean this was the “cage match” fans had been waiting for…the reunion show that had the wives AND their husbands! Call me shallow. Call me bored…but don’t call me sucker.

Yes, the show and its premise are relatively absurd, but the infighting and topics displayed with all the glitz and glam of a red carpet shindig actually provide some interesting talking points about our society. You know that I am all about the redefinition of Normal and this very concept was on full display last night.

One of the original Housewives had previously scheduled an all-girls trip to Florida. No husbands allowed! Well, this was quickly shot down by a number of the women who felt that it was Normal for them to always travel with their spouse. Arguments and whispering ensued…one side felt that it was Normal to have your partner with you at all times and the other ridiculous and wrought with trust issues.

It wasn’t a coincidence that the women who were for their husbands traveling were also the women who are portrayed as subservient to their men. Is this a real issue for your marriage? Do you have concerns when your partner isn’t with you? What are the fears one might have?

Well…let’s look at it from each gender and then…like NBC’s The Marriage Ref we can decide. I will start with the obvious…and I know you’re thinking it…The Men…because those in fear are probably insecure—right?

Men’s Top 5 Fears when Spouse Travels Alone

  1. Women cannot protect themselves
  2. Women cannot spot danger ahead
  3. Women together spell sexy clothes, alcohol in excess, and flirtatious communication
  4. The OTHER women will talk poorly of me
  5. My spouse won’t think about or miss me!

Women’s Top 5 Fears when Spouse Travels Alone

  1. All men are tempted by the Siren at the airport bar
  2. All men want freedom and when they sense it they make bad decisions
  3. All men are secretive in some form or fashion
  4. Is he really going to sleep or is he going back out…and where? With whom?
  5. Will he think about all of his responsibilities before he makes a bad choice?

Ok…so we have looked at some stereotypical fears. We have looked at fears that have either been supported by real life experiences from our own world or situations we have heard about from our friends. Either way, it is safe to say that we have all been burned by trust. We have all felt that indescribable pain when trust from someone we care about has been shattered. It could have come from a significant betrayal like infidelity or it could have been that teeny weenie trip-up that sent trust down the drain.

They both hurt. They both leave a residue for yourself and your future relationships to clean up. More often than not we act surprised when the big failures hit. We cry out, literally and figuratively, for support. And really what are we doing? We are actually acting like lawyers…detectives if you will. We lay the groundwork so that we garner ALL of the support from our inner circle. We never let on that we had ANY idea trust was sneaking out each night for a metaphorical smoke on the roof. Oh no…not us! Who can blame us? WE CAN!

We are all so deathly afraid of contributing to our own demise that we become proficient in cover-up scams…and we cast ourselves as the lead character. The mere thought that we could have contributed to the series of unfortunate events that killed our trust goes against our very fabric.

Trust can be a very fickle and elusive element in the modern relationship. We watch television…we watch movies like Up in the Air…laughing and crying with our spouse at the overall entertainment value…all the while wondering if what we are seeing on screen is merely art imitating someone else’s life…or hinting at our own.

Can you Trust the Friendly Skies?

The next time your partner wants to go Orange County on you think about the benefits, for you both, of traveling without the other. We could discuss Attachment Theory in the context of child development, but why not apply that to our own…adult worlds? To see a young child thrive with the supportive guidance and trust of a thoughtful caregiver is truly magnificent…no fear…just trust that if I fall I know who will be consistently by my side to comfort and reassure me. The same holds true in marriage—trusting yourself means trusting yours spouse. You can help each other celebrate the wonders of life and marriage without control…without submission…and without the fear that you will be forgotten.

Growth comes in stages for kids and adults. What stage are you currently in and how can you reach the next level?

All the Best!

Dr. Rod
Rod Berger, PsyD The Normal Male

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Jake Pavelka…Just Followin His Heart

Jake and His Special Lady

Well, he did it! Jake Pavelka made his decision. He went out on a limb and chose Vienna Girardi over Tenley Molzahn. Of course life will go on, birds will sing, and our politicians will still be arguing over health care reform as they go in for their annual prostate exam.

Life will get back to Normal. But…I would be cheating the both of us if I didn’t take the time to recap “…the most DRAMATIC season yet!” (Host Chris Harrison’s voice)…And, why shouldn’t we? You and I know that you watched it. You were glued to the drama, the intrigue, and probably even had your favorite “horse” in the race. Mine lost. I will admit it. I thought Jake would choose Tenley. He didn’t and now I wait in purgatory…waiting for another rendition of roses and champagne. Which brings me to the small, but irritating rash Jake gave me that just won’t subside no matter how much cage wrestling I watch to cleanse myself of the romantic hit show—which is this notion that he was just following his heart.

Come Back My Heart! Come Back!

I am not sure if you noticed, but Mr. Pavelka made it his mission to tell the world that what he was really doing all season was chasing after and following his heart to its desire. So much ABC saturation has given me an image of Jake chasing after his heart like it was a little gopher on a golf course. You know the character—the little #$%# that pops up for just a second and then burrows far beneath our reach…snickering along the way.

Put Your Champagne Flute Down Jake...NOW!

Jake said it so often that I really wondered who was making the final decision? Was it his family? Was it his friends? Was it his flight crew or was it even Chris Harrison (Host of The Bachelor)? It couldn’t actually be this elusive organ running around Malibu…Could it?

I even found myself digging through old nursery rhymes like “Where O Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” I just couldn’t understand the lack of personal choice with such a significant decision to be made. I actually think Jake is fooling all of us. I think that he actually thought of this strategy to avoid persecution from the viewers and the 24 spurned lovers. Think about it–you can’t blame Jake for not picking you…you must blame his rogue heart. Brilliant! Brilliant!…as a couple of Guinness guzzling gents might say! Brilliant!

All joking aside…the show captures all of us because of the fundamental question it tries to answer–How do we all find and select a mate? What is the secret? Is there true happiness? Let’s face it–there were more people watching The Bachelor who are in lukewarm relationships and marriages than those in passionate, supportive, team oriented ones. “Just the facts mam…just the facts.”

This is precisely why the show is casting the next two seasons with Allie already booked to be the next Bachelorette. People want to see others struggle with the love game…while others want to see what romance under the lights looks like. Some of us wonder how we would fare on the show and some of us scoff at the notion that love can be found on a dating carousel.

For the Love of the Game...

According to Jake he found it. I just hope that he can control his heart when Vienna isn’t lathering him up in a sulfur pool with mud from the Gods. When she is Normal and not waiting for him at every terminal will that little weasel of a heart race off to another port of call. Here’s to Jake and Vienna—I wish you all the best with your relationship, Jake’s gopher-heart, and your golf game. You just never know when you’ll shank your tee shot off the 18th tee.

Best of Luck!

Dr. Rod
Rod Berger, PsyD The Normal Male

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Does your Relationship Have a Hidden Agenda?

Have you ever stopped to think about your marriage or relationship and the original motivations for becoming a pair? Have you ever stepped back and said, “…hmm what was I thinking or why was my spouse appealing to me back then?”

We would all like to think that our nuptials signify purity and above all else–honesty. I, though, want to talk about relationships in terms of walking, breathing agendas that we all carry around—it is just that so few of us are willing to share them.

Maybe you began your relationship to spite your history of train wrecks or maybe you chose your partner because they were the opposite of your parent’s choice. Some of you might have had a list…and a man with a job, a spare tire and an excuse for every domestic request was just a part of that bucket list.

So many of us are sly. That is right…sly. We act one way during courtship and then do an about-face somewhere between the “I do’s” and, “What…we’re having a baby?” Agendas do not have to be wholeheartedly bad or negative or manipulative. Your agenda could be to be the best spouse, parent, friend, employee or boss there is. Others will present their agendas using morse code, winks, growls, uniquely placed books and do-dats that spark curiosity from their partner.

Sometimes agendas come from society, your friends, or television. Sometimes agendas can feel like they are closing in on you with no escape route in view. The pressure can be daunting to say the least. It can feel like no one understands the pressure you feel and nobody, especially your spouse, understands the long-term impact of such pressure.

Whose Agenda will Win out?

Men and women can often feel pressure to meet an agenda that the other has absolutely no idea exists. A man may be absolutely oblivious that his partner’s agenda includes kids at a certain age to meet her girlfriends requirements/peer pressure…she may be in the dark about his agenda at work that includes trophy-wife expectations and expensive suits to land the management position.

Agendas can kill a marriage. Agendas can make us feel less than. We can feel cheated by our spouse, our family, and friends. We can become accusatory and hateful when wronged by a perceived agenda and we can walk away wondering if we ever really knew our spouse.

So why is it that we hold our agendas so close to the vest? Because we all want to maintain a certain level of control for our current and future circumstances. If your spouse told you that you fit a need or a check-box on a list you might be mortified. Ben Stiller’s character in “Along Came Polly” wrote a little cost-benefit or should I say risk analysis to see which woman was better suited for his agenda which was to play it safe in life. Sounds corny when Hollywood tackles a very real-life marital issue, but the fact remains that agendas are a mainstay for most relationships.

Of course, the natural life-cycle of an agenda means that it will surface at some point in the relationship. Whether one is caught or openly shares their agenda…the couple can be impacted for the better or as agendas are publicized–for the worse. Infidelity is the most common of “dirty” agendas for the guys out there. Women, on the other hand, are often accused of having agendas that:

  1. Create a Domesticated Spouse
  2. Provide Children at a Specific Age
  3. Position the Family for Social Prominence

Now, of course, these are rooted in stereotypical renditions of the American Family this side of “Toddlers and Tiaras” on any reality network in this country. Do they have merit for either gender? Your guess is as good as mine. What I can tell you is that when I worked with couples…what would come up the most were their individual agendas and the failure of the other to lend credence to their wishes.  So many of these couples wanted the other to take part in what we call “2×4” therapy. They wanted the agenda “beaten” out of the other…figuratively speaking that is. They were tired of the game playing. They were tired of feeling like they were a mere character in their spouses self-written and directed play about themselves…I mean a narcissist…I mean themselves.

The news isn’t all bad…nor should it ever be when we think of the motivations and agendas that permeate our lives. Do our spouses and partners serve a purpose in our lives? Absolutely!

Hopefully for yourself and your relationship you have both grown and become better people because of the one you share your life with. Maybe your agenda in the beginning was borne out of a reaction to your family or life in general…but now it is a mutual agenda…dare I say plan…for mutual growth and admiration for the partners you have become.

Here’s to couples who aren’t afraid to share their hopes and dreams, their reality and their faults along the way without malice. If there ever was a human on this earth who would “cut you some slack”…let’s hope it is the one you call “Dear”.

All the Best!

Dr. Rod
Rod Berger, PsyD The Normal Male

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Has Your Marriage Become Boring?

Fearing the Inevitable?

We are an ADHD society. Admit it! Don’t be scared! Put the Red Bull down. Throw out your “5 Hour Energy Drink.” Go easy on the B supplements and give your back an ole fashion stretch. Let out the anger, the frustration, the exhaustion. That’s right…you are a married person.

You have put up with the ebb and flow of life and your partner’s wishes. You have learned to love or tolerate activities your other half adores, and you are still coming up empty. You proudly display your addiction to coffee and thanks to the commercialization of it you actually look pretty trendy with your latte in-hand. Problem…it isn’t working. No amount of caffeine can resuscitate you back to the old you…the version of YOU you never wanted to leave behind.

You love your partner and wouldn’t want anyone else. You might even love your job, your kids behavior, and the way your spouse communicates their admiration for you…but there is still something missing. That special ingredient that came abundantly to the both of you during the courting stage and is now only represented by late-night cable specials and People Magazine. Where is the excitement? Where is the commitment to never being like your parents? Where is the commitment to try and do different activities with your partner…not even caring about the actual activity, but spending time with your loved one. The answer can be a bit mystical just like the origins of love…often snatching you when you least expect it…Exhilarating during courtship—Painful during the day-to-day routines of relationships.

And…unbeknownst to you…your life has gone the way of a chain gang on I-75 (Please insert your favorite boring stretch of local highway). Your life went, without your knowledge, to the hardware store…purchased various sized shovels and proceeded to did a trench a mile long and a 1/2 mile wide!

Wishing You Had Your Claws for Life Back?

How could your life go and do something like that? It is almost as if you are living your own personal Shawshank Redemption only this time Andy’s behind-the-poster dig-out wasn’t for your freedom. It was more like someone declawed you and you are stuck pining for the tree tops. You want out of this rut NOW!

For some of you…boredom may gently take your hand and steer it in another’s direction. For others you will go into a slow and painstakingly long coma. You won’t veer off course to see if other pastures offer renewed excitement…no no…you are in it for the long haul.

You are committed to understanding yourself, your partner and the path laid before you and your marriage. You remain curious to life’s idiosyncrasies and actually don’t consider your marriage to ever be in a rut…rather in a different and evolved space.

Either way, individuals and couples will find themselves having to evaluate, place judgment, and make plans accordingly. In a perfect world that is. You see…so many of us are terrified of conflict, of hurting others, and of placing ourselves in the throes of abandonment. So what we do is repress. We repress our feelings, our thoughts, our concerns, and wishes. We go into protective mode and actually find a degree of comfort in our personal bunker or behind our personal electric fence. We really don’t want to bring up our dissatisfaction with the marriage for fear that we will not be able to hold up our end of the New Deal.

And…what if, after you try to put a bit of spunk into your marriage you actually find no real bump in your marital stock? What if your bailout plan struggles to show anything more than inflated credit card statements from dinners and movies neither one of you enjoyed? The short answer is…you will never know unless you try. You will never know why it is that your marriage has put up shop in the village of Boredom U.S.A. and you will never know or understand your role in its current state.

How bout a game of penuckle?

In fact, the only real method of understanding whether or not you are experiencing full fledged boredom is to honestly and accurately evaluate what YOU are contributing…both to the good and the bad.

Are you in the middle of a mid-life crisis? Are you feeling regret for career missteps? Have you put the time and effort in to better understand your spouse? Can you honestly say that you communicate your wants and needs to your partner? Can you honestly say that you are proud of your commitment to your spouse? Have you given as much thought and attention to your marriage as you have of your career?

If you can honestly say that you have given the effort, communicated your wants and needs…and those of your spouses, spent the time participating in their activities and you still feel a sense of boredom…well then you need to put on the detective hat for yourself and maybe even seek out professionals who can help guide you along the path of self-reflection.

Life is not easy and to expect that marriage will save the day is foolish. Yes, the beginning can be magical and guess what…so too can the middle and the end. The problem most people have is that they focus on their partner of yesterday, set up expectations and patterns, and then expect them to never change. We all change our likes and dislikes. Our energy levels wane throughout the years as our mind and body meet up with ole Father Time…but that doesn’t have to mean our marriages have to wither up and die. We can find out new and exciting things about our partners and even more importantly…ourselves!

What it truly says, for those of you still looking for a mate, is that you want to find someone that celebrates your imagination, your creativity in all of its forms of expression…because days will come when what you loved or were stimulated by suddenly change for another hobby, job, or hair style and you want someone that roots you on along the way.

Reclaim Your Youthful Passion for Life!

If you can do that you will feel closer to your partner, younger than ever, and vibrant for all of the wonderful adventures ahead. Spirited love doesn’t have to mean rock climbing or co-ed volleyball or even displays of affection that channel champagne and jazz music from yesteryear. Love that is spirited can be as simple as a crossword puzzle, coffee and CBS Sunday Morning on in the background. It can be walks in the park, holding hands in the mall or even silence as you each read your favorite book. Sharing your life with someone is just that…sharing. The ups and downs, the exciting, the scary, the unknowing, and the quiet of life.

Branch out, reach out, and ask out your spouse. Remind them of the person you were, are, and want to be. Share your fears, your enthusiasm, and ultimately your passion for watching both of you grow. If that is boring then I don’t know what fun is!

All the Best!

Dr. Rod
Rod Berger, PsyD The Normal Male

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Avoiding the Pink Elephant in Your Marriage?

Come on…you know you want to read on, but you are a bit afraid that your spouse will see you and ask, “What do you think is wrong with us?” So with that in mind I will “allow” you to channel your inner 8 year old, grab a flashlight and sneak under the sheets to read today’s post. Or, I guess you could be like Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle when she goes into the closet to hear Jonas talk about his lonely and grieving father played by Tom Hanks.

Either way…you do what you need to do because the Pink Elephant in your marriage is sniffing you and your issues out like a hot bag of peanuts on Opening Day. And, if I might ask, what is your interest in today’s post? Have you recently gone to sleep wondering why it is that you and your spouse can’t talk about the things that really matter in your marriage? Is it that you have been avoiding a topic for so long that you fear the dire consequences if it ever saw the light of day?

Has your love changed for better or worse? Have you gone in circles with your spouse without really bringing up the topic? Avoidance behaviors are learned early on in life and honed throughout to provide us with sample-sized packets of oxygen in a world full of smog. A quick breath and back to real life. Right? Does it have to be that way? Didn’t you and your spouse share everything with each other during the dating phase? Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t—what matters is that the Pink Elephant rarely lies dormant for too long. As human beings we are bred to speak out, act out, live out, and shout out our thoughts and feelings. Now, many of us struggle to communicate the elephant in the room and as a result we play silly games with ourselves and our spouses.

We bring up issues that other couples are having in hopes that our spouse will then examine our relationship under the same lens. We get books, read books, and place books in strategic places hoping that SOMEONE in the family will see our silent cries for help. For years I wondered what the heck was going on with cherries! My mother had Erma Bombeck’s best-selling book, “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries What am I Doing in the Pits?” I knew my parents struggled to communicate…I just didn’t know what cherries had to do with it and why it sat on our bookshelf. My mother is not alone by any stretch of the imagination. Human beings love to lay a crumb trail to be saved or to lay a trap for their relationships. I will leave it up to you to decide whether or not you have been laying traps or maps for you marriage.

Elephants Like Cherries Too

For so many couples the issues are real and devastatingly personal. For many individuals the issues we avoid are often found in the following areas:

  1. Sexual Intimacy
  2. Family Finances
  3. Children
  4. Individual Health for Vanity and Longevity (Weight Gain/Drinking etc.)
  5. In-Laws

Whether we avoid talking about our mother-in-law, how many children we really want to have, how to spend our incomes, or how many times a week we expect to be intimate is ultimately irrelevant to the larger issue in the relationship…which is..Why do we feel slighted or ignored by our loved ones?

Why is it that she can’t notice how hard I am working for the family? Why is it that he always assumes that we are going to be intimate when I just want a hug? Why can’t she protect me from her mother’s meddling? Am I not important? Do you not love me? Are you picking them over me?

We have all been there during moments of vulnerability. We both want to feel as if our spouse can read our minds and act accordingly, and do so in terms of love and mutual growth and not spiteful retribution. We want to go to bed each night feeling thought of and cared for by our partners. And, for men out there that say otherwise they are just fooling themselves and their spouses. Men and women do not want to feel judged or ridiculed for their attempts to navigate life—they want a partner that catches them when they stumble and alerts them when they are about to.What we do not want is to approach life in fear. We should not approach our marriages with an, “I told you so” attitude. We should not our marriages assuming we know or can predict the manner in which our partner will respond. It may be funny for Dilbert, but not for our day-to-day interactions…especially with our loved one.

Avoiding Something?

So…what to do…when to do it….and what can you expect when you try to communicate? The answers to these questions are fundamental and yet require a healthy dose of originality from you. Talking about the pink elephant in the room will not be easy, but it sure will be fruitful for decisions made down the road. Remember this…when you can come to a point in your life and marriage where you can let the chips fall where they may…well, you will feel a sense of personal empowerment. So…without further adieu here are the basic steps to communicating those issues that gnaw at you more than you care to acknowledge…

  1. Choose a time that both parties are at their most relaxed and non-defensive state. Do not attempt to discuss sensitive and possibly shaming issues when emotions are running high.
  2. Begin with a statement about all of the things you love about your spouse, your continued commitment to loving them and the marriage and YOUR desire for continued growth for yourself first…the relationship second.
  3. Provide an acknowledgment of your role in the issue and any back-story as to why you believe your sensitivity levels are possibly higher than expected.
  4. Talk about how you think your behavior or avoidance has impacted the marriage and your partner and ask them if they have been feeling or suspecting the same issues.
  5. And finally…share with them your ultimate fear. Tell them the root fear you have if they reject your feelings (example: When we aren’t intimate I think that you don’t find me appealing and will ultimately look elsewhere).

These are but a few strategies with which to approach your partner. If your partner scoffs at your attempt…let it be on them. Maybe they need time just as you did to muster up the courage to speak in the first place. Don’t take an initial “No” as a long-term deterrent. If, after repeated attempts you get the same song-and-dance then you have the information to make decisions accordingly. Let’s be realistic here…the pink elephant may be very large and significant to the success or failure of your marriage—all you can do is be honest about your role, your commitment to the relationship and partner, and hope for a shared renewal of the values that brought you both together. If your partner continues to tease you with attempts and/or changes before resorting back to the original…then you can at least feel confident in the effort you gave the relationship. Some succeed and others choose to move on. Here’s hoping that you allow yourself and your partner the time to know the household pet you have been avoiding for so long.

All the Best!

Dr. Rod
Rod Berger, PsyD The Normal Male

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