Marriage The Unspoken Realities in Marriage Conversation:
It’s not what you talk about but what you avoid talking about that will make your marriage marginal.
The vulnerability of men and boys and the painful consequences of isolation were vividly captured this week as we all read the Penn State story. A world where invulnerability is touted, playing hurt is idealized, and ‘suck it up’ a masculine mantra – became the stage for an unfolding drama of abuse, deceit and fear. In fact, so comprehensive was the culture of denial that grown, competent men, in position to address a horrific pattern of assault on young boys, were stuck like deer in headlights unable to act decisively or even act at all.
These same men, honored for their ability to lead young men into battle on the football field looked passive, frightened, cowardly. How does that work?
In marriage, we often find that couples contain their arguments to what is safe to argue about – money, parenting styles, communication challenges – but carefully avoid the ‘unspoken.’ While this is a problem for women who are afraid of ‘upsetting’ their husbands, it is an even bigger problem for men. Men live their private worlds in isolation and rarely disclose who they really are to their partners. We can safely say we’re tired, or that we’re under a lot of stress. We can posture about a political point of view – displaying peacock like, our ‘passion’ for welfare reform or the constitutionality of gun ownership. That’s the easy stuff.
What we cannot/ do not talk about is our loneliness, our recurring fantasies, our deep sorrow, our personal losses. We do not share our mother wounds, our father losses. We do not tell of our need for touch, for hugs, for closeness. Most of us are virtually mute when it comes to talking of our fear of women.
The football culture of arrogantly defining what ‘tough’ looks like in a man or boy is a culture that many of us unconsciously (or consciously) accept. Are we afraid to tell our sons that it’s not ok to ‘play hurt’ that, instead, it’s stupid to do so. Are we afraid of empathic relating? Do we really believe that young boys are safe with a coach who isn’t open and transparent? Today it looks to me like a sports culture where denial is the m.o of those in power is a dangerous place to be.
It might be good preparation for the corporate world, but it is a world where men are taught that it is good to be unbalanced, secretive, highly competitive and to accept brutality as a fact of life. It is a culture where boys are at risk and men can’t grow.
So the next time you want to have a good conversation with your partner, don’t ask ‘what do you want to talk about?’ Instead, ask ‘what don’t you want to talk about?’
Stephen W. Frueh PhD is a coach, consultant, writer and speaker. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805 338 4286
“Healthy marriages make the world a safer place for children.”
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