I remember being one of those emotionally bankrupt men. I remember how painful my experiences with women were then. I remember how helpless I felt because I didn’t know any better. I remember doing everything I could to make my woman happy. I remember how frustrated and unhappy we both ended up being. I was married for 8 years while things progressively got worse and worse.
I was a “good guy,” I loved my wife and it was important to me that she was happy. I had no idea what it meant to really contribute to her happiness though. I made my happiness conditional on her being happy. The more I tried to fix things or make her feel better the more frustrated and upset she got. It wasn’t until after my marriage was over that I started to figure out what had gone wrong.
By the time the papers were signed and my marriage was officially over I was devastated. I was relieved that my marriage was over. What was devastating to me was who I’d become during my marriage. I’d spent so much time focusing on her that I’d gotten lost, I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted anymore.
Then I met a woman who loved me enough not to enter into my dysfunction. She refused to rescue me from my own pain. She wasn’t interested in me making her happy. She was even less interested in making me happy. One of the best things she ever said to me was, “It’s not my job to do anything differently so that you feel better. It’s your job to figure out how to feel better no matter what I do.”
That floored me at first. I couldn’t comprehend how someone could be so inconsiderate. I felt like I was being manipulated and I didn’t like it. It felt like all she was saying was, “I can be a bitch if I want, you just need to deal with it.” I was so hurt and so mad and I was left with no choice but to sit with those feelings.
Just to be clear, this doesn’t excuse abusing or being abused by another person.
I’m not going to go into trying to define abuse. In cases of abuse do what you need to do to keep yourself safe physically, mentally, or emotionally. This is tricky because sometimes having our expectations broken feels like abuse. When that happens follow these steps.
-Stop and feel the emotional response, while doing your best not to act out, and move through it.
-Find clarity after the emotional response by looking at the situation, both your side and theirs, in terms of “as is” instead of “should have” or “shouldn’t have”. This may take a little practice but it’s important, it’ll help with forgiveness later.
-With clarity make a decision that doesn’t involve controlling or manipulating the other person at all. Then follow through with it.
-When you’re ready, forgive them. This is important for you not for them.
If I had loved her any less I would have left. After I moved through my emotional reaction I began to see clearly what was happening. I was reacting because I had expectations about how I wanted her to show up and she wasn’t showing up that way. I’m not saying that we should put up with being mistreated. I’m saying that even in the times that we feel like we’re being mistreated there is an opportunity for us to grow emotionally.
I felt the truth of what she had said and I used the opportunity to grow. What she was really saying was, “I’m going to be myself no matter what, even if that means that you decide to leave.” For the first time in my life I felt what it felt like to really be trusted by a woman. She trusted that I could handle her behavior regardless of what she did and that I could handle my own emotions. She trusted that being herself was the best thing she could do for herself and for me, even if it didn’t feel that way at the time.
That’s what it took for me to start to understand the value of authenticity and emotional expression. The more I learned to trust myself to handle my own reactions no matter what she was feeling, the faster I began to grow. I began to see the way she challenged me as a gift instead of a burden. The more challenging the emotions she was feeling, the greater the opportunity for me to feel myself more deeply.
I had never felt the complete trust of a woman before. She gave me permission to trust myself. She gave me the space I needed to change my life. I am continuing to grow and become more able to remain clear and present with the women in my life no matter how they’re feeling. I am experiencing deeper and more fulfilling relationships with everyone in my life and it just keeps getting better.
If I had to define one piece as the most important when it comes to becoming the man I know I’m capable of being it would be emotional stability. Emotional stability doesn’t mean that we’re cold and emotionless, it means that we can feel deeply and still remain unshaken through the emotional storms we face. This is where women can be our greatest teachers whether they intend to be or not.