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Blaming, resenting, nagging, complaining, projecting, rejecting, and withdrawing of love…
Years of doing this dance with my husband did nothing to get me the results I was looking for.
Instead, we both became entrenched in our individual cocoons of woundedness and victimhood.
When I became an observer of my own antics, I finally saw that I had successfully recreated the same dynamic that brought about the end of my parents’ relationship.
Criticizing and complaining was the only way my mother could express her feelings. She did not know how to express love to a man. Raised by her own unhappily married mother, she never witnessed what a healthy and loving relationship between a man and a woman looked like.
Neither did I.
I spent many years trying to understand what happened to my parents. Each of them physically beautiful and emotionally sensitive, each with many gifts, each worthy of love. And yet together they were a painful mess of woundedness, aggression, and miscommunication. The toxic spill that became the end of their marriage still haunts each one of us today.
My father does not talk to me. He stopped talking to me and my sister when he left our mother after 40 years of marriage. I’ve tried to connect with him since and it was sweet and sad and mostly painful.
My mother became a hurt and angry woman. She says she has good reasons for it. Knowing the history of her own abusive childhood and then the emotionally damaging relationship with her husband, I am certainly aware of her wounds.
My mother’s wounds are the wounds of so many women.
Several weeks ago, I was vilified online for an article I’d written as part of my “10 Harsh Truths about Love” series that Elephant Journal posted on Instagram.
Some women who saw the post (and a few who bothered to read the article) were incensed that I had dared to suggest that men were human. That those lying, angry, even violent men who we’ve all been hurt by at some point were once someone’s little boys. That their behavior, even their violence, is a trauma response.
Hurt and angry women called me names and cited statistics of male violence.
I know this pain. I saw it in my mother. I feel it in our relationships. The sadness and loneliness of disconnect, of needing to protect the heart, of needing to release the pain through angry words, projected out.
As part of my work, I speak to many women, and also increasingly to men. I am also an observer of my own relationships. I see both sides. I see the sadness and confusion and pain of both sides.
I observed my mother feeling betrayed for as long as I remember. As a girl growing up in our household, I felt as though my father betrayed me, too. I know the pain.
I know what anger feels like. What humiliation does to my insides. I know how the pain of my father’s anger and unhappiness felt in my body. The deep wounds it left in my heart. I still process his role in the woman I became.
And I let myself feel the anger. I no longer shame myself for it, nor am I afraid of it. Because what comes after I release this anger from my body is I get access to my boarded-up heart.
Inside it, there’s a wish to create fundamental changes in the way we relate to ourselves and each other.
Since childhood I’ve observed profound misunderstanding and mistrust in relationships between men and women.
My father was mystified by the feminine.
He was both drawn to women and judged them vehemently—especially when they were “angry and outspoken.”
My father was a life-long devotee of the feminine mystique, but his only means of pilgrimage was through his genitals. While my mother poured gasoline on his wounds through her judgment and inability to accept him as he was, my father kept seeking nurturance and redemption elsewhere.
My mother was also mystified by the masculine.
Seeking something from men that neither her father nor her husband could provide, she became addicted to critiquing my father for all the ways he fell short of her dream.
And, this way, neither of them could ever find what they were looking for.
Most men look for intimacy through physical closeness. Often, it is the only intimacy they are allowed.
Most women refuse physical closeness when they feel there’s no emotional intimacy. As a result, both women and men often feel lonely and disconnected in their relationships, longing to be seen, understood, and loved.
What I find is that adult men and adult women often relate to each other from their wounded places. From their inner child. Often repeating and reproducing the relating patterns they’ve observed in childhood.
And in relationships, the wounded child part is mostly overwhelmed, focused on survival and self-protection, not intimacy. It is focused on me versus you, not on us working as a team.
So much of what causes us pain in relationships is the way we perceive the intentions of the other.
Raised on the system of reward and punishment at home, in school, and at work, we misinterpret our partner’s “refusal to behave” as a personal affront, rejection, a withdrawal of love. It awakens an old, deeply-buried sense of unworthiness.
But there is a way to change the patterns.
One morning, after a difficult conversation with my husband the previous night, followed by silence, my spontaneous inner impulse was to reach out and be kind. But I saw myself habitually overriding that emotion so I could remain in prideful and superior silence.
Living as a conscious observer, I was able to recognize in that moment that I had a choice: to continue the ancient pattern that kept generations of women in my family stuck in unhappy relationships or do something differently.
In that moment, I consciously chose to return to the open heart impulse. I broke my own pattern.
That moment of choosing differently than my unconscious habit created a possibility for something new. I accepted responsibility for my behavior and how I show up in my relationships.
The kind words I allowed myself to speak that morning, to the man who’s shared my bed for over 30 years and watched me give birth to our children, produced a resulting splash of the most profoundly moving emotion—in both of us.
It made me realize how starved we had both been, how long we had been living behind our defenses—neither of us daring or caring anymore to be the first to be vulnerable.
Breaking a pattern is transformative. I was surprised by the depth of emotion I found within me. My love had been repressed so deeply that I felt none of it over the years. By removing the block to my own love, I released the pent-up abundance. Hiding behind my own gated and boarded-up woundedness was a deep well of vulnerability and warmth.
Suddenly, I was able to see the person in front of me as a human being, just like me. I no longer viewed him as the enemy. I freed myself from emotions unconsciously attached to some old and no longer pertinent stories.
Someone has to be prepared to take the lead if we are to start healing our relationships.
Until now, I have been working mostly with women to break the inherited patterns and take the lead toward self-responsibility in our relationships, and in our lives.
After my “10 Harsh Truths About Love” series, several men reached out to me.
Men who are interested in understanding their own inner child and inherited relating patterns, showing up in their relationships as grownups, and cultivating love from within.
As we come out of codependency and more-or-less clearly defined gender roles of previous generations, we are stepping into uncharted territory, learning to relate from scratch.
And if we want to dance this new dance to music we enjoy, we have to be ready to set the tone.
I wish to create fundamental changes in the way we relate to ourselves and each other.
This is why I am creating a program for men.
(It will start with a small pilot group at the end of November. If you’re a man and this sounds interesting, I invite you to register your curiosity here. Or if you have a man in your life who may benefit from such a program, I invite you to share this article with them.)
I am doing it for my father. I am doing it for my husband. I’m doing it for the men who want to understand themselves and be happier people so they can be better partners and more present and wise fathers.
I am doing it for my children and for all of our children: may they build healthy relationships, outside of the boxes of gender roles and one-size-fits-all formula for happiness and success.
And of course, I am doing it for myself! I personally enjoy and benefit from deep, unguarded relationships with men.
I also know that we will only experience the joys of true togetherness (based on mutual admiration, appreciation, and respect) when both men and women can thrive.
For more paradigm-disrupting insights, join my mailing list here. Safe to Be Me is my signature program for women—to learn more and be the first to know when registration for the next cohort is open, join my interest list here.
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