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Going to the deep end
September 16, 2019

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The deep end can be scary. What's down there? What if I sink, or get lost? I'm not talking about water, but emotions and relationships. Intimate relationships have a deep end, and if one of you is there alone will the other one be able and willing to go out there too? As a marriage and family therapist, I see a lot of fear of the deep end. This comes in two forms; a fear of emotional vulnerability, or a belief that it's just not important or needed, which is most likely just a concealed fear.

Approximately 70 percent of divorces are instigated by women. Often this is due to the wife concluding that her husband really doesn't care about how she feels, or doesn't care to connect emotionally. Today's women have been brought up to expect that their marriage will provide them with emotional intimacy, companionship and meaning. Some men also have these expectations. However, a large percentage of men have been socialized to expect less from marriage. This is why I have frequently heard the following from men in my office: "I bring home a paycheck, I don't cheat on you and I don't run the bars. Isn't that good enough?"

Apparently not. Those are just the bare minimum requirements on which trust can be built. Using those three conditions (paycheck, no cheating, no running bars) for a good enough marriage do not address real needs for faithfulness, love or friendship in a marriage. This requires being willing to go deeper with emotional vulnerability and real presence in the relationship. This is good for both husband and wife when it happens. But it requires us to be willing to go into the deep end. Then, once we step into that unknown, it's not as deep and scary as we thought. Rather than an ocean, it's a puddle.

Pat Love and Steven Stosny explain how to "step into the puddle" in their book "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It." The goal is healthy emotional attunement in your relationship. This is what makes true intimacy exist in a marriage: the ability to know and understand your mate, and be known by him/her. This will create safety and a sense of acceptance, which will increase and sustain passion and intimacy in the marriage.

The practice of stepping into the puddle will look different for men versus women. For men, it will include practicing empathy. Researcher Theresa Wiseman defines empathy as the ability to take someone's perspective, stay out of judgment, connect with the feeling and communicate that understanding. This means that its important for the man to just BE THERE with your partner. Don't ignore, rescue or fix. Just be there and walk with them through the puddle. For women, the great struggle is often about anxiety. This anxiety is reduced when they know they are not alone. For men, the great struggle is with shame and sense of failure. This is why going to the deep end is often avoided by men, because its a place where a fix or a win is not going to be found. Going to the deep end with males is about affirmation. What helps is a physical gesture that you are there with him - a hug, a turning toward rather than away. Another thing that helps is engaging in an activity with him that he is good at. Shoulder-to-shoulder activity is how he will walk out of the puddle. You know what your man likes to do. Just be willing to engage with him in that (unless it includes a risk of harm to self/others - common sense is required).

We all struggle with fears and insecurities. One of the main reasons we want and need intimate and committed relationships is to not be alone - to know that when life is rough you've got a partner who will have your back. You can't get this without giving it. Both spouses need to prove their partnership by their willingness to go deep.

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