A couple of weeks back, a reader made a comment about her marriage that really struck a chord with the Peacefulwife and I. The part that really hit home with us went something like this, “I never knew that I was hurting my husband. If I would have known that I was hurting him I would have tried to change sooner.”
As a passive husband with years of experience I can totally understand this situation. A passive husband pursues the path of least conflict when it comes to his marriage. He is willing to accept the hurt or disappointment he feels internally in pursuit of what he perceives as peace or happiness with his wife. We will call this the “hiding” phase.
In the “hiding” phase, a passive husband literally hides his real feelings from his wife. In essence, he doesn’t allow his wife to see his true emotions. She will begin to look at him as not even having feelings. Of course, this progresses on and his wife begins to feel alone, not needed, and even not desired. She needs her husband to be someone that she can connect with emotionally. Whereas the husband is hiding his feelings, his wife is trapped without a good way to express her feelings.
Back several years ago, our marriage was suffering. Days before Christmas, the Peacefulwife had her part-time hours cut in half. What was going to be a nice Christmas with big dreams for the new year suddenly came to a halt. While many people were out doing there last minute shopping, I was out returning a good portion of our gifts. I didn’t blame the Peacefulwife, but this really got me down. I felt like a failure as a provider and father for our family. The Peacefulwife had taken the circumstances in stride and really had made the best of the situation, but I had not accepted the changes very well. I didn’t want to complain. I didn’t want to let her know that I was struggling with accepting the new status quo. I didn’t want her to know that her acceptance of the problem actually pushed me further away and made me more depressed. The issue challenged how I viewed myself as a man. After I had hidden my emotions for some time, we had the opportunity to have a rare date night together. At this point we were both frustrated. She was frustrated because I was so detached and seemed uncaring. I was frustrated because I had been hiding all of these feelings for so long.
Somewhere during the time we had together, we were able to connect enough that we began to talk openly with each other. It was during this time that I was able to finally express that I was hurting. I was hurt from the struggles. I was hurt by how she looked at it as a positive. I was hurt about how I had not been able to provide the way I wanted to. I was also able to express that beyond all of that, I still truly loved her, wanted her to be happy, and wanted to see her have joy.
I will call this the “hurting” phase. I hurt for several months before this, but in reality my wife did not truly know that I was hurting until this time. It is kind of like the old thing about if a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound? It took a while before we were both miserable, but we couldn’t start getting better until my wife was able to know that I was feeling hurt. She had to know that I felt pain. She needed to know that I cared enough to have feelings for our marriage. While I had spent a long while “hiding”, my wife was paralyzed because she was not able to decipher my heart. She had no choice because I did not let her in. If I had been able to express myself much earlier we could have been able to work at addressing my feelings and work together through the problems.
My approach of not wanting to rock the boat and not wanting to face the problem only prolonged and fed the dilemma. Women deeply desire to care for their hurting husbands. Pain is a feeling that women can deeply relate to and they understand how to respond with great empathy. While men sometimes like to solve problems by steering around the problem, women tend to come to answers by steering directly through the issues. By not expressing my feelings openly and communicating with my wife, she was left to reason that I may not love her as much now because of how much she was able to work or how much she made. Hiding only created misunderstanding and weakened our trust in each other.
Once my wife and I were able to talk openly to each other and express our hurts and emotions we were able to start healing. Let’s call this the “healing” phase. We were able to go beyond communicating with words and start communicating with our hearts. We were able to intimately face our struggles together again. In retrospect, the things we were struggling with were pretty minor in the scope of things. The strength of the two of us working as one and as a team helped us to see that some of those struggles were just idols we had on the pursuit of the American dream. It was shortly after this that the Peacefulwife started her journey to learning about love and respect. We look back at this date as a huge jumpstart to our marriage becoming fruitful again.
I know there are many passive guys out there that are still trying to hide their hearts. They are trying to protect themselves from letting on that they are hurt or have feelings. They think that carrying this hurt and pain is better than weighing someone else down with it. If they expressed how they felt they might have to change some things. The weight might involve dealing with emotions and feelings if it was taken off of your shoulders. So, we keep piling it on. I am here to tell you that this doesn’t work. Your wife needs you. Your wife needs all of you and that includes your feelings. Get with your wife and start unloading some of the baggage. Let her know that you can hurt. Let her know that you can feel. If you can do this, healing will begin.