There’s a social construct that men fix things, are do-ers, and take a pragmatic approach when obstacles arise. Problems are to be analyzed and solved. In relationships, this often works, for a while. An attentive husband/partner may say: “What can I do to help? Tell me what’s wrong? Have you thought about trying this instead?” Linearity feels good and certain, until it doesn’t. “Why didn’t that work? She didn’t really take my advice…now what?”
Often, their wife/partner didn’t get quite what she needed–to be heard and seen in her distress. While the problem-solving effort felt okay for a little bit, it didn’t really address the underlying emotional bid for connection and she slips back into a funk. It’s at this point that men often start to feel isolated. He had really tried! Unsure of how to be helpful anymore, he too slinks off to another place–the computer, garage, video game, gym, work, etc.–where he can immerse himself in something else. That’s his coping mechanism and it’s often done in a more solitary fashion. Distance gets created.
And here is what we often miss. Men don’t like being in that distant space. They want to connect to their partner. They thought they tried. The internal dialogue that emerges goes something like this: “I’m letting her down. I’ve failed her. I’m inadequate. Nothing I do matters.” They feel lonely. Sad even. Because at the heart of this is also the fact that she is so important to him–she matters so much–that he stays in retreat so as not to hurt her or do the wrong thing anymore. In that withdrawn place, longing is always greater than solace.
But how many wives/partners are even aware that their husbands are experiencing these feelings of being lonely, sad, isolated and longing to connect? Not too many, because it is not usually expressed. To her it looks like he’s just off doing his own thing, seemingly okay, choosing to avoid and withdraw. What she doesn’t see is that the self-soothing of this activity wears off and longing takes its place. What’s a man to do?
To all the guys out there, you need to find a way to tell your woman how much she means to you. That you leave and take cover because you don’t want to hurt her anymore. That it bothers you that you can’t just fix it for her. That you miss her when you go to that distant place. Tell her that you want to listen to her, really listen, but you might need a little reassurance that you’re getting it because this move is new and different.
Our coping response is a solitary thing, but it doesn’t provide sustained emotional benefit because connection is missing. That’s why men often feel isolated in relationships. We all need connection for healing, sustenance and growth. Not just as babies or children, but throughout our lives. When we can be vulnerable with our partners, come out of the garage or put down our phone, and show up with our pain, fear, worries, needs or desires, a remarkable thing happens. We start to bond emotionally. Tentatively at first. Because we still want to get it right and fear rejection. But over time, by taking bigger risks to reach for the other in a deeper way, there is less distance. More safety. And soon we can move out of isolation and loneliness into the loving space that each offers the other.