Jerry was a well-educated professional. Tonya pursued her degree part-time and took care of the kids and the household. One event which triggered Tonya’s anger occurred when Jerry arrived home from work. He would quietly avoid talking to her, even when she repeatedly asked about his day. To be fair Jerry was generally tired and stressed out with both his work and with dealing with his colleagues. He just wanted to be left alone so that he could relax.
Tonya wanted to reach out at those moments. She was eager to see him and connect. She also she felt concerned for him. It was obvious to her that he was so stressed out. She really was reaching out to him.
At those moments, Jerry almost always became irritated and lectured her. He said that he did not want her sympathy and that she could keep it to herself. Tonya ended up feeling offended and distant from him.
Jerry placed a premium on being strong. He pushed his children to excel in sports, to never give up, to keep endlessly trying. He also pushed them to excel in all aspects of school. He explained that he had to overcome many obstacles in his life to reach the professional position he currently held. He spent years and exceptional amounts of energy to get through school and training. One had to be strong and entirely focused to succeed.
Jerry saw himself as a strong person who could solve problems. When Tonya expressed her sadness and concern about his stress, he took it to mean that she thought he was weak. He reacted with anger and ended up pushing her away.
He does not want to admit to himself or to his wife that he feels weak, at times. Jerry has this idea that he must be strong. So he ignores the times when he feels vulnerable or unsure or, maybe, dependent for help.
Lastly, Jerry reacted strongly to his wife’s sadness and offering of closeness. Anytime someone reacts like he did, it is a big clue that they have a hot button that was pushed. There is something inside that they are reacting against. In Jerry’s case, in the context of his life as explained in his lecture, it was weakness. He feared letting himself and other people know that, at times, he felt and was weak. He saw himself and presented himself to others as strong, with no room for anything else.
So when his wife offered comfort and tenderness, he felt that he could not accept it. He had to believe in and put up an image of strength. It is no wonder that his wife felt distant from him. The “safe haven” aspect of their relationship was missing.
In attachment love relationships, couples are “safe havens” for each other. A child will loudly run to a parent when they are hurt or are frightened. The parent offers comfort and the child quiets down and goes back to play. We do an adult version of this in our attachment relationships. We turn to our spouse for that help.
Many guys don’t want to appear vulnerable or weak. So they don’t want to tell their spouse about it. They don’t even want to admit it to themselves.
Jerry could only be strong. Likewise, he could only demand strength from his wife and children. It was impossible for him to accept his wife as a safe haven. He could not bring himself to depend on her. He judged his wife and kids using the criterion of strength. They must measure up.
It was equally impossible for him to be a safe haven for her. Her attempts to turn to him only frustrated her. He completely ignored this side of himself. As a result his marriage suffered. He could not be a friend to his wife.
Jerry believes that people, including himself, can always be strong. It is simply not true. Everyone who ever lived sometimes has felt weak. If Jerry can accept this about people, maybe he can come to accept this about himself.
Everyone feels weak, at times. Real strength is accepting it and getting the help you need from someone close to you: your partner.
Copyright by Joseph Dragun