View this post on Instagram
“The sparkle I used to see in my wife’s eyes all those years ago made me feel like I could do the impossible!”
I am catching up with a male friend over lunch. As usual, we dispense with the preliminaries quickly and delve deep into what really concerns us now.
He tells me how his wife’s admiration and belief in him used to be the elixir, the magic ingredient, the nourishment that propelled him into the world, ready to compete and conquer.
Filled with her nurturing energy over many years, my friend succeeded by many societal yardsticks. However, today he is at a loss to understand what is happening in the dynamic of his marriage. With the children out of the house, he senses that his wife has also been pulling away from him. She’s become withdrawn, solitary, protective of her space.
I appreciate this connection and the safe space it provides for both of us to open up and share some of the things that we cannot seem to talk about with our partners. The absence of emotional charge makes it possible for us to listen and actually hear things that are difficult to accept from or to say to people with whom we share our lives.
My friend cannot understand the change in his wife. After many years of feeding on her love and attention, he takes personally the fact that she now diverts her energy away from him, feeling as if she is turning against him.
Speaking from personal experience, I explain that her need for space is not so much about him, but a way to attend to her own needs after decades of busyness and overwhelm. With the children no longer occupying a huge chunk of her daily concerns, she has finally found the time for personal intimacy, a chance to reconnect with herself and remember who she is as an individual in her own right.
I notice that this need in a woman for personal space and freedom within a partnership is something many men still find difficult to fathom. Many take it personally, unable to fully comprehend a woman’s needs beyond her relationship to them.
For a woman to remain free and autonomous while in a loving relationship is a pretty revolutionary concept for women as well as men.
Most women are conditioned to believe that their personal happiness will come through nourishing and nurturing other people. This belief is pervasive and continuously reinforced by society and women themselves. We are highly attuned in our empathic nature and often become fused in our relationships, allowing the needs of others to become as immediate, as urgent, and as deep as if they were our own.
Although these days there is more transparency about the complexity of our experience as mothers and nurturers, it is not yet part of the mainstream. As a result, many men still think that forfeiting our lives to take care of others is natural for us, that our most important relationship is with our children, and that we do more housework (unpaid work) because we enjoy it. A male reader’s comment to one of my more outspoken articles, “I wonder whether women will relate to this…most women I know find motherhood deeply fulfilling and graceful,” reveals a general trend that I observe: men are surprised by our struggles.
This thinking is convenient, as it allows men to continue deferring parenting and housework to women, because it is more “natural.” It also explains why women find it hard to ask for help: because if we do, we are failing at something that is supposed to be natural for us. Motherhood is attached to an image of ecstatic bliss, because many women are afraid to reveal that it is not always so, for the fear of being judged as “abnormal” or bad mothers.
A woman trying to remain sovereign, with a natural need to pursue her own purpose and mission, is in constant conflict with what society tells us is natural.
The actual fact is that after many years of married life, many women feel not only unfulfilled, but depleted, lost, and confused. I tell my friend that I, too, find myself needing to withdraw and go into my own cocoon to understand these unexpected and puzzling feelings in the middle of what was supposed to be marital bliss.
I am happy to lift the veil on our experience for men who care, in the hope that they can understand us better and become more aware, present, and supportive.
After a day on the battlefield—as men like to refer to their daily grind—they go home to their women seeking acceptance, attention, and appreciation. To paraphrase what one man told me, they need the softer sex to be a form of shelter from the unbearable, soul-crushing pressure—and now blame—that is put on men by society today.
I understand the pressure they speak of, having witnessed it in my own partner for decades. The workaholism, the stress, their lack of presence even when they are physically there is supposed to be excused by this pressure, which they feel they subject themselves to “for us.”
Because most men are convinced that they work so hard “for us”—rather than facing the fact that they need it for their own sense of worthiness as they compete with other men—there is great confusion and resentment when a woman displays signs of unhappiness. Most men take it personally, because if he works so hard “for her” and she is “still” unhappy, well then she must be an ungrateful b*tch.
Contrary to what men think, most women will not be nourished by material contribution alone. We do not care if our man is on a divine mission if it makes him absent, disconnected, and perpetually stressed-out. A man always in battle loses the connection to his heart and his emotions and, eventually, will lose the connection to his lover. The mindset that’s been imposed on men—equating aggression and domination with power, and love, compassion, and generosity with weakness—may have worked for previous generations, but is no longer sustaining modern relationships nor the world we live in.
How we honor women reflects how we treat the feminine throughout our lives: in ourselves, at home, at work, across the world. Viewed and used as a source for nourishment, a woman will not be recognized for the unique spirit that she is.
In just the same way we fail to respect our planet, myopically exploiting its resources until depletion and extinction.
To use women’s language collected by Dr Pinkola Estés, the over-burdened, over-domesticated woman finds herself fatigued, depressed, muzzled, unaroused. She feels frightened, without inspiration, lacking meaning, uncreative, and compressed. Giving her creative life over to others, she becomes powerless, chronically doubtful, and blocked, making life-sapping choices in mates, work, and friendships. Afraid to speak up, afraid to act, afraid to reveal herself, she can only muster energy for anger and seething resentment.
This has become an epidemic and it is one of the biggest problems in our relationships—bad for both men and women.
These wilted, shriveled up, bitter, and unaroused women in relationships with stressed out, impotent, and emotionally disconnected men, in a desperate attempt to re-ignite a long-lost spark, are then told by marital advice experts to have more sex. Telling two people who have lost desire and connection to have more sex seems to me not only cruel, but completely out of touch with the complexity of what awakens erotic pull.
Having sex without desire is what women have done for centuries, providing sex as a way to secure their shelter and survival. We are no longer willing to live like that. We need to evolve the discussion to consider what actually activates desire within a couple: the coming together of two sovereign, self-confident, emotionally mature people, heightened by a sense of being seen and understood.
When we are not present to our own feelings, we sure aren’t going to be present to the feelings of another. When we run around in a cloud of stress and fatigue there is no space for cultivating connection and no energy for eliciting a spark.
And yet, take any woman who’s been sucked dry by a marriage and motherhood and let her have a conversation with a man who actually pays attention to her and talks about more than his job, and watch how she perks up! She may even initiate sex with her own husband when she gets home, because her fantasy is activated: she’s been seen. Suddenly she feels alive, attractive, interesting, intriguing.
So what I tried to explain to my friend is that his wife is taking her time to understand who she actually is and what makes her come alive, outside of her identity as a wife and a mother. And that it is not only healthy and promising for her, but for them as a couple.
Once she understands what fills her, what compels her energy to rise, and makes her heart beat faster, she will come back better than ever and will be more fun as a result. And if, to his greatest fear, she comes back different than the image of her he holds so dear, then that is her prerogative, because we all evolve and change and that is our nature.
And perhaps instead of spending so much energy trying to hold her back, worrying about losing her, or in resentment for no longer being nourished by her, he can take time to understand what awakens his passion and makes his heart beat these days. And then, when he becomes a better version of himself, fulfilled and plentiful, he can come home to her not out of need, but because he wants to share his abundance and excitement with her.
One sure way to reignite the spark in her eyes is to bring that spark home to her.