From one man to another, make time to talk
I can still remember the evening, more than twenty years ago, when my wife Colleen looked at me and said, “Steve, I don’t just want a bedmate, I want a soulmate.” She went on to explain she was sick and tired of not knowing what was going on in my heart and soul. She was tired of conversations that centered on how the Packers, Badgers and Brewers were doing, or conversations that ended with me trying to fix something! She ended the conversation by asking, “Do you have a heart and if so, what is going on in it?” Then she said, “Welcome home, what would you like for dinner?”
My guess is that I am not alone and that this conversation has been played out thousands of times in thousands of homes across the country. Being vulnerable and sharing our hearts with our wives, much less other men, can be a very difficult thing, especially because of the models we have grown up with.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger – The picture of strength and silence. The man who will not cry, will not display weakness, nor have a need.
- James Bond – The man who uses women but never gets close to any, welcoming them into his bedroom but never into the inner sanctum of his soul.
- Lee Iacocca – The self-made man, standing alone, changing corporations but not connecting with his spouse.
Each one of these examples runs in direct contradiction to vulnerability and communication in marriage. If these are not the examples to follow, then what is? If you find opening up to your wife to be a difficult task, chances are that some of your buddies feel the same way. It never hurts to talk it through with some of them. It might make it easier hearing it from a guy’s perspective first.
Vulnerability for men means complete emotional and spiritual truthfulness. It’s a sharing of your heart with your spouse. It’s giving your spouse the right to know your pain, hurt, failures, fears, weaknesses. It’s dropping the guard from your soul and allowing others in on the deepest part of you.
Vulnerability for men means complete emotional and spiritual truthfulness.
Vulnerability will be seen in a number of different ways:
- A willingness to share your failures – you can make mistakes and you can share them with your spouse.
- A willingness to share your fears – it’s okay to be afraid and to share it.
- A willingness to share your feelings – let your spouse know that you are angry, that you are scared of losing your job, or sad after a death in the family.
- A willingness to learn from others – admit that you are not the answer man, that you don’t have all of life figured out, but there are still things to learn, areas to grow, and places to mature.
I’ll finish by sharing with you two lessons I have learned throughout the past 29 years of marriage—lessons that have allowed me to move from being just a bed mate, to a soul mate.
First, I have learned that for me, as well as for most men that the small talk leads to the significant talk. Openness and vulnerability requires time. You need to schedule a time when you can really talk. One of the rhythms we have built into our marriage is to talk daily, date weekly and retreat yearly. We make it a point to talk for at least 15-20 minutes each day. We also make sure that we have a date every single week when we can talk at length about what is going on in our lives. I know that I need time to open up and Colleen understands that it takes a little time to get there. It usually starts by talking at the fact and opinion level and then gradually going deeper. Make the time!
And second, learn to identify and express your emotions. Most men, including myself, have no idea of what is going on emotionally in our lives. We have learned to suppress emotions from a very early age. Due to a particular situation in my life some years ago, I had to go through the process of learning to put words to what I felt. I can still remember the counselor giving me a three-by-five inch card with a list of six emotions on it that I would carry around in my pocket. Colleen would ask, ‘What do you feel?’ and I would pull the card out and find a word to describe what I was feeling! I was clueless. But over time, I not only learned to identify what I was feeling but then how to express them in a healthy manner.
These days, I don’t have to hide behind what I am doing or try to copy someone else, or fake how I feel, but rather I am able to openly and confidently share with Colleen what is really going on in my heart of hearts. As a result, our relationship has never been stronger and more fulfilling. I wish the same for you.