After performing marital therapy for many years, I am often asked, what are the secrets to improving relationships for married couples. Two very distinct relationship dynamics come to mind almost immediately. When understood and used, they can result in a tremendous improvement in the quality and emotional intimacy of the marriage. We must start with the assumption that men and women are neurologically wired differently. This difference displays itself in several distinctly unique behaviors.
One of these two processes I call “The Cave” and the other “Bonding”
The Cave is almost purely a male activity while “Bonding” is traditionally a female dynamic.
The Cave refers to the strong need men have to retire from an issue or heated discussion by walking away or going inside of themselves to process the information and formulate a game plan. For the man, this seems like the natural and right thing to do. His intention is to deal with the issue but in his own male way. To his female counterpart this smacks of shutting down, withdrawing and even abandonment. A mistake women often make is to follow the man into his cave and continue the discussion as he is emotionally trying to take a time out to think about the issue. Sometimes she even let’s loose with criticism of his avoidance-like behavior, further escalating the conflict as he moves toward the cave.
Women would do well to understand this almost universal male need to sequester to process the issues. However, the husband must also be aware that as he starts moving to the cave, he needs to inform his wife that her feelings are important to him, and let her know he is going in the cave. At that time it is important to reassure her that he will be back to further discuss the issue and feelings. It might even be smart for him to set up a time to deal with the conflict after his taking the time out to process his feelings and ideas.
What is not ok is for the man to emerge from his cave with the issue resolved in his own mind and not reconnect with his wife. Unfortunately, this is often a route men take.
The “Bonding” dynamic is almost purely a female activity. It is important for women to understand that there are few more distressing four words a man can hear than, “We’ve got to talk”. This is because when women are trying to deal with or resolve an issue, they have a strong need to talk about it, and talk about it, and talk about it some more. This is very confusing and seems redundant and at times very annoying to men who more often are trying to logically address the concerns. Men are usually more narrowly focused and would like to hear the problem one time and find a solution and move on with a “There that’s done!” mentality.
Men would do well to understand that the repetition of an issue by their wife is aimed much more at emotional bonding and ventilating feelings and not at finding a solution. Moving to his cave at this juncture can impede the bonding process and in fact result in an escalation of “painful” continuation of his wife’s need to talk. There is a tendency for men to think of themselves as problem solvers and they are often mistakenly focused on a solution to the problem rather that to just bonding and ventilating the concern. Males can make a large improvement in their emotional relationships with their wives if they focus less on the issue and more on the feelings. In a sense, don’t listen to what she is saying- listen to what she is feeling and embark on mutually sharing the feelings.
Very often the issue is not the issue the relationship is the cure. Sharing the feelings and thereby bonding is the glue that strengthens the relationship. If in the end you find some agreement or agree to disagree but respect and accept each others position, the
relationship is enhanced.
Love is the encouragement of growth in each other not the demand for agreement. As romantic as it may sound, the premise that the two shall become one is not a sound psychological basis for a marriage relationship. This leads to, is that one going to be predominately me or you! A better emotional basis for the marriage is the doctrine of “Free and yet Close”. That can result in being free to each have your own identity and yet maintain a high level of emotional authenticity and intimacy with good conflict resolution skills.
If you be you and I be me we can have a better us.