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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Men and Emotions

Do you know anyone who seems "stuck" in another decade?

That was one reason why I divorced Jerry* in 1997. Throughout the 23 years of our marriage, his hairstyle stayed the same, his mustache stayed the same, his tee-shirts and jeans—the only clothes he would wear—were worn to a frazzle, yet he would not shop for himself. It was my job to "look after him" along with my two children—effectively, he was my third child. In fact, I had more intelligent conversations with my children during those years than I ever had with my then husband.

Why talk about that now, years after the fact? What's past is past, some might say. Admittedly, it came up again after my attendance at a recent conference in which women called upon men to take a position to end violence against women. With six men in attendance, the effectiveness of the conference is yet to be seen. I have learned that men's blocked emotional issues can erupt in unexpected and unrelated ways. At the conference, it was said that men often rage at their wives and children, those closest to them and who they supposedly love. Yet, their anger has little to do with their wives and children. The source of anger is rooted in men's childhood.

Women discussing violence at men's hands seem to reinforce their victimization mode. The majority of men are absent from such discussions, so have little awareness or interest about owning their part of the problem. Not terribly effective. Meanwhile, violence against women continues. So just how can women let go of their victimization? By getting supports in place? The subject was raised. Admittedly, women do have some supports in place, but these are floundering because of funding cuts for women's groups.

Governments consisting mostly of men would rather divert funds to cut corporate taxes instead of investing in programs to help families who need help with mental health issues. People who have some level of awareness have been writing letters to governments, newspaper editors, and posting on blog sites. Who reads any of these? If you are one who has actually read this far, congratulations on your focus and interest in this most important issue! While publicity is important, who is really benefiting from the publicity? More women? I am really impressed if you are a man who is reading this far down a blog!

So yes, Jerry had a growing anger that was eating away at him. Just because he didn't hit me did not mean he was "nice" to me. For example, while traveling one time, we rolled up behind a car at a stop sign. The car ahead paused as if caught in indecision. Jerry impatiently rammed its rear end once — then again — as if to say, "Get out of my way!" The shocked people in the car must have recognized Jerry's "road rage" and sped off immediately. The jolts were more than physical for me. That action woke me up to just how much anger he had seething inside him. It was about to burst forth.

Only after I divorced him did I discover qualities I had not seen while in the marriage. It became glaringly obvious: he was addicted to alcohol, drugs, and sex. I felt somewhat foolish for having not seen it until after the fact.

Now I understand that addictions are attempts to bury emotional pain. By that time, I had been receiving therapy for my unresolved childhood issues for about ten years. I understood the need to talk things through in relationships by then. Yet sadly, Jerry was incapable of talking about his past. He simply WOULD NOT TALK! Any attempts on my part to communicate turned him into a little boy who disappeared into his cave (the garage) or a bar or some other woman for his solace. Communication was just too painful. He lived in such agony that he could not bear to speak about it. And I, being the "submissive" religious wife, was expected to just "be happy." All the time.

Divorce was my way out of what became a dangerous existence for me. As I was gaining my health through counseling, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis-C. He is dead now, without ever seeking help for his festering rage. So sad.

After the conference I realized that men are being called to deal with the emotional issues of their childhood so that they can function healthily within their current relationships (marriages, parenting, etc.). While most men appear functional in jobs, their careers are often the only area of life where they actually have it together — maybe.

Many women feel blamed when they have outgrown the marital relationship. The only way to "survive" in such dysfunctional marriages would be to go on anti-depressants or other mood-altering drugs. At yet another conference, I learned that women have been diagnosed as sexually unresponsive (pdf format) because they are no longer attracted to the emotionally unresponsive men they married. Again, the responsibility appears to get shifted onto the women. Blame is such a useless and irresponsible stance.

I agree, it's not all men, but many men.

Do you personally see a need to grow?

This is the tip of the iceberg: Men need to start growing their emotions in order to be men that their women can respect.

My son appears to carry a similar mentality as his dad. Before the religious Shunning Order against me took effect, as a passenger in his car, I witnessed how he sped down the city's main drag when an unsuspecting car made a right turn in front of him. My son was forced to slam on his brakes or change lanes. He yelled, "Hey, get out of my lane!" — apparently, he had an effective teacher.

Lately, I have wondered how he treats his wife. Like father, like son? Since I am being officially shunned by the religion, I have no way of knowing the answer to that loaded question. It doesn't stop me from wondering: how much emotional work is happening in his marriage?

I realize I have many failings and imperfections for which to apologize. I had past religious ideals which I now believe destroyed my family. Nevertheless, here is a call to my son (still in the family religion) and my brothers (two of six still in the religion) to begin dialoging about their efforts at emotional work.

*  Not his real name.

Visit website "Phoenix of Faith" the memoir. Follow on Twitter: _Phoenixoffaith Copyright © 2011.


  1. Great post, Esther.

    I hope your son and your bothers feel your pain and hear your call.

    Life is far too short to "shun" people. I know of a woman who seems to be holding a grudge against me for no valid reason. It is because of a misconception that happened 8 years ago. I tried to clarify the misunderstanding but she did not want to listen, much as what you are experiencing with those who will not listen to you.

    All we can do is live our lives to the best of our abilities, not hurt anyone intentionally and be as happy as we can be. Those who have grudges/crosses to bear will have to walk their own path and answer to the ultimate creator as to whether they lived a life in good faith to all.

  2. Hi Doreen,
    I am sorry to hear of the misunderstanding with your friend. I agree sometimes people are not hearing and do not take into account there may be many views and many perspectives in any situation. I'm not sure how people can live life with blinders on which prevent a rounded perspective. Sadly, the narrowest of worldviews are often religious in nature.

  3. Yup. Lots of guys remain stuck. They don't/won't deal with their pain, or guilt stuff, or other pressures, so they booze it up, or get stoned, or do violent things to act it out. A lot of it has to do with their perception of a man's role in society, a role that does not allow displays of emotion. Gotta remain strong, keep a "stiff upper lip", endure abusive crap, be super productive, do not be a shit disturber, look sharp, never admit failure, and, don't complain and be a cry baby.
    I suspect some women are stuck too.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. I'm guessing you are a man, based on your last sentence. Dare I ask, how many men do you know who have actually gone for therapy? It seems to me that women go for help, then the man thinks: "Oh good, that PROVES SHE IS THE SICK ONE. And life goes on as before, until the woman outgrows the relationship. Perhaps that is why our family religion frowns on therapy. Elders would "lose control" of their flock if the "sheeple" got well. There would be no end of chaos! But my belief is that chaos is part of re-creation. The Chaos felt healthy to me! I'm glad I experienced my "chaos" and got out of the dysfunctional relationship I called a "marriage."
    Ultimately, I believe that my situation was more complicated than most because of religion thrown into the mix.

  5. Yes I am man. I have known several men to attend Gestalt group therapy sessions. Men were always in the minority in the groups, ranging from 20% to 40% of members. There were always 2 therapists, one man and one woman.
    Good that you worked your way out of the dysfunctional marriage and religion. I am sure it was very hard.

  6. Now I am curious about what the turning point was. What "made" you go to therapy?