Q I have been with my partner for nearly 15 years and we have an 8 year old son. My partner doesn’t ever really show his emotions, in fact the only time I ever remember any emotion was when our son was born and he thought I was dying. He also doesn’t do confrontation of any kind which has become a rather large issue in our relationship. In the last few years I have been attacked verbally on several occasions, including by members of his family. The first time it happened we discussed it and I explained how hurt I was that he didn’t defend me. When it happened again last year I explained how upset I was. His answer was that I am a fighter and will stand up for what I believe in and will defend my family no matter what and he simply isn’t. The most recent time it happened the attack was carried out by his younger brother. He isn’t close to any of his family, but his brother really went for me. Basically I feel betrayed and very vulnerable. Any advice would be most gratefully received.
A Your question is really about how to live with a disassociated man. Typically, but not always, men are the disassociated, independent partner and while independence appears attractive, it has a price. To be in a relationship with an independent man you need to have the courage to take the deep end position which means you get to feel all the emotions. When the emotions are good you get feelgood stuff, but when they’re not, you get to feel the pain in the relationship. Independent people are typically emotional cowards so they either try to dominate situations or withdraw from them and in your case, your partner obviously withdraws. There is a subconscious aspect of relationships, summed up by that old saying, “like attracts like”; any issue that comes up for one partner is also present in the other partner and usually one partner will feel it and the other partner will act on it. You say you feel betrayed and vulnerable after being attacked. It is important to recognise that the reason he does not stand up for you is that somehow he feels the same way but acts in an opposite way.
There are many ways to approach and transform any issue. One way we have found to be most effective is to see that our lives are full of repeating patterns: certain situations and scenes will re-occur many times during our lives until we transform the original incident. Let’s imagine that this scene with his family members and his behaviour is a repeat, it is a replay of a childhood incident. Take some time and sit with your husband; tell him how you feel about what happened. Try not to blame him for anything as this will end communication and the fight will soon start. Then follow this feeling back to any other incidents in your life that remind you of the same feelings of betrayal. With awareness you will discover that this feeling has re-ocurred a number of times and while it has made a fighter of you, it has also created a distance between you and the people around you. If you do this well, at some point he will have the courage to tell his story, which will contain the same dynamics as your story, the only difference being that you chose to respond differently. You now have the opportunity to join with him and discover the healing power of a relationship.
Q My partner and I have been together for eight years and love each other very much. Since we’ve had children however, it has become more difficult. I am an attachment parenting mother. I co-sleep, breastfeed and wear my ten month old baby everywhere. I have two older children aged seven and four. My instinct is to give them the best possible start in life but my partner says that I’m making a rod for our own backs because our children still come into bed at night and don’t want to be left alone with anyone else. He disagrees with many of the ways that I choose to parent. Sometimes, the things that he introduces them to make me really angry. For example, he will leave a newspaper lying around with stories of terror and global destruction for my daughter, who is seven and learning to read, to pick up. Or he will go out with the older two for a couple of hours with his mother and I discover that they have had ice creams and crisps when they were out. He knows that I don’t give them food like this because it doesn’t support their immune systems. Why does he go against my wishes? Why can’t he see how important it is to raise children with love and care? Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
A For a family to be happy and successful we need to create bonding. Naturally if we’ve grown up in bonded families we then pass that on to our children. In a bonded family everyone feels equally loved, and there is a strong sense of inclusion, equality and sharing. It sounds like your husband no longer feels included and now he is behaving in a hurtful way because he feels hurt and left out. When people feel this way they get into a power struggle and try and hurt you back. You respond by trying to control him, which only aggravates the power struggle. As a mother you are the heart of the family, and you have to love everyone in your family equally. Think of the time and energy you lavish on your newborn; when was the last time you treated your partner in the same way? You have made your child more important than him and he feels bad. It is not that you should give up caring for your child but you do need to restore balance to your family otherwise the distance between you and your husband will grow and power struggles will become more intense. True, you will naturally do things with one member of the family that you do not do with others, but we are called to expand ourselves to love and include everyone equally.
Q My partner and I have been together for 8 years and have two children but we have always differed with our libidos and I wonder if this will eventually unravel what we have together. Put simply; I have a much lower sex drive than my other half. This upsets and frustrates him and leaves him tempted to be unfaithful which has happened once. I have made it clear that I will leave if it happens again, however, I do recognise that I need to make a compromise too. But it’s hard to make the change. The more pressured I feel, the more uncomfortable I feel, but if I reject my partner he is crestfallen. While he makes an effort to make me feel confident and secure, I must acknowledge that I had relationships when I was younger which were not positive and nurturing and which I still regret my judgement on, so I assume this is one of my mental blocks. I wonder if you can offer me any advice to help me meet my partner in his wants and needs.
A Relationships are like see-saws: we balance each other out and so the further we go in one direction the further our partner will go in the opposite direction. If for some reason we start withdrawing from sex, our partner will typically become more fixated with sex, and vice versa. You talk about some feelings of regret or guilt from your past concerning how you conducted certain relationships, and you are right that your judgment has caused you to withdraw in the present. Now you’re trapped because the way in which we judge another person is how they will always appear. Plus the way in which we view sex or behave around around sex makes others appear to behave in a certain way. It is essential that you forgive yourself for the mistakes of the past and recognise that you have done nothing wrong, it was just a lesson that needed to be learned. As the woman you are the director of the relationship and the one who can navigate your marriage to a place of happiness and success. You need to take your place and coach your partner in the fine arts of intimate relationships. Reward him when he does well and coach him and encourage him when he does not. Also remember that a man generally experiences love through sex and when he does not receive sex he will feel unloved, and when a man feels unloved he will often not act in a good way.
Q I am 36 years old and a single mum. My son’s dad left when I was pregnant. Since then I have had a couple of brief relationships but they never last longer than a few months. Once we get into any sort of regular routine of seeing each other I seem to do something wrong and these men don’t want to see me again. I just want a normal family life for my son. The men that I attract often don’t have kids or their children are grown up. I think that cosy domesticity might scare them off but none of them has said that outright to me. I don’t understand how to get the right man. Can you help?
A There is an unwritten law in relationships that goes like this: If you move towards somebody and they move away then that is because you were trying to take something. The purpose of relationships is to learn how to give and to receive. If we make our relationships about what we will get it is only a matter of time before they fail. Even when we hide our neediness under a mountain of sacrifice the result is still the same. Often this taking is hidden even from ourselves but the other person’s withdrawal and distancing is a sure sign that subconsciously it is still alive and well. Your powerful need for a ‘normal family life’ and a caring relationship is scaring people away. My guess is that this is a need that started for you a long time ago, and you more than likely have forgotten exactly when or how that happened. But it is coming out as a dynamic that independent men run from.
A fundamental lesson in relationships is that we learn to take care of our own needs and not expect or demand that others meet them for us. It takes a lot of courage, but can you let go of needing someone else to fulfil what you think is best for you and your son? When you appreciate your own contribution and your own qualities then you can attract an equal partner.
Q I have been married for seventeen years and we have three children aged between six and sixteen. My wife and I are good friends and share many hobbies. Physically, however, we have some difficulties. It has been several years since we last shared any real intimacy and we rarely have time alone just the two of us. I would like to share physical pleasure with my wife but I don’t know how to cross this bridge. Any advice welcome.
A It is important for a man to recognise that most women experience love by being romanced and having attention heaped upon them. When you become good at this then there is a good chance you will get what you want. Remember how it was when you first started dating? Maybe it is time to revisit those honeymoon feelings and make time to be together. Where the will is strong you will find a way to have time alone. Your children will wish it for you also, because they are watching you and learning about relationships. What is it that you would wish them to learn?
My advice is to start gently because if you are feeling unloved then so is your wife. Take your time and notice her and what she does for you and repeat the same gestures and activities for her; she will know that you have seen her. You can then take it from there; perhaps a dinner, a dance, but remember to do it all with no expectations. If you expect a certain result you will be disappointed and the bridge will seem even higher. Good luck.
Sue and Jeff Allen are teachers of ‘Vision Works For Life’ and authors of How Love Works - a book about lasting partnership visionworksforlife.com/2011/how-love-works/