At our recent Hart In-house conference, David Wexler talked to us about what he called “Male Relationship Dread”.
Here’s some of the kind of fears that can be stirred up in a man when his female partner wants to bring up an issue:
“Nothing good is going to come out of this…”
“There’s not enough structure in here. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do..”
“She is so much better than me at this…”
“I don’t trust myself not to get aggressive…”
“I’m feeling a lot of blankness right now…”
“I’m really trying hard to be the man you want me to be. I’m just freaked out that I might fail at this. That’s why I shut down.”
So, why is it more difficult for men to talk about relationship issues?
It can come down to the Man Code that is instilled in many boys and men culturally from many sources from as early as primary school.
The Man Code includes some of the following:
- Having emotional control
- Risk taking
- Dominance of the situation
- Being a playboy
- Self Reliance
- Disdain for homosexuality
And there is much shaming of boys and men if they don’t comply with these “Male norms”
Shame is huge in men’s culture. And this almost phobic reaction to being shamed is why men can be supersensitive to criticism.
Hence a man’s negative reaction to his wife bringing up a problem in which he will probably feature in.
Its’ so easy for a man to misread and take personally what she is trying to say, and it’s even more difficult when you don’t have enough words for your feelings to know who to express them clearly.
The Broken Mirror
David uses the term “Broken Mirror’ to describe what happens to a man when his partner brings up a problem that he is featured in.
We all want and need validation that we’re a good person, and most of the time we can get this good mirror validation from our partner. But men can mistake the flood of good feelings that comes from his partner with the promise that her good mirror will always shine.
But inevitably of course, this is not always going to be the case. Sometimes she will have a problem and want to talk about and resolve it. This is the situation when, for a man, the mirror breaks, shattering his positive sense of self, and then what comes naturally, is to get angry and blame the mirror (his wife).
So much of what goes wrong in relationships has to do with men’s experience of this broken mirror. A man can therefore take a mildly negative problem that is brought up by his wife, and without knowing he’s doing it, turn it into something catastrophic.
What can help?
The best antidote to this for a man is to understand that your partner is not deliberately trying to break your mirror and make you feel bad.
It’s not actually all about you at all. It is not an act of disrespect at all.
It is that she has her own reasons for bringing up an issue, and she is acting from her own independent centre of initiative. Bringing yourself around to understanding this can really help you not take it so personally and react in this way.
We at the Hart Centre can help assist you if you are having problems with your communication. For relationship counselling in Sydney and all other capital and large regional cities in Australia please contact us.