One of my cousins has been particularly taken with this blog and we have passionate conversations about gender imbalances. I always saw her as a pretty tough woman who knew what she wanted and would not settle for any less. We grew up one house away from each other and our dads were always very close so I would consider her my sister, rather than just a cousin. She married a great guy whom I see as my brother in-law. He’s fun to hang out with and fits in good with our family. He, at least in my eyes, is a pretty traditional guy that grew up within the rural culture where men are tough, can fix anything, and don’t talk about their feelings.
For almost two years they have been experiencing difficulty having a child. She has had three miscarriages which have been very hard on her body, mind, and emotions. The last one just occurred yesterday. I am so sad for them. They both desperately want children so these losses and the subsequent difficulty getting pregnant again and carrying it to term have been hard on their relationship. He thinks she focuses too much on the loss and she wonders how it seems to not bother him. He can’t handle her emotional ups and downs and she wonders if he has emotions at all. He thinks she is irrational and she thinks he is cold. She has difficulty being around other women who are pregnant or have babies; he doesn’t get it. These many polarized experiences of the same event add up to a BIG disconnect. She cries; he doesn’t know what to do and whatever he has tried has usually ended up in an argument. As the days, weeks, months, and years go by the “not getting each other” pushes them farther and farther apart. I know they love each other a lot and want to be together and work through this. These moments can be a huge opportunity for growth in the relationship or….the nail in the coffin.
So what changes need to happen and who needs to make them in order to move towards growth? Should she stop being so emotional so he’s not uncomfortable? Should she get over her feelings about being around pregnant women and babies? Maybe she should go to a counselor to process her grief. Will those things get them through? Sure, probably for a little bit and I’m sure he would be pretty happy about it, but what would that mean in terms of the long term health of the relationship. If that were the solution and probably the one that most people think about – the message sent is that emotions are bad for the relationship and create distance and she should accommodate to make things easier for both of them. The problem with that solution is that I think what she is experiencing is completely normal in these circumstances. Her responses and emotions may seem exaggerated, but that’s only because he is not responding to them. When we have to keep our emotions bottled up, feel like we’re crazy for having them, deny their presence, or have others deny them or make you feel crazy for having them — they fester and grow stronger than they originally were = her seemingly “flipping out” over nothing and him holding stronger in his position that she is not acting normal. He also felt a strong urge to get away from her when she was being emotional – this is normal for men, they experience an adrenaline rush (fight or flight response), but luckily we can retrain our bodies not to fear something that really isn’t dangerous.
Every time one of these interactions takes place, each of them holds on to their respective positions, which makes them feel like they are a world apart. So how do we stop doing the things that are clearly not working? And who makes the first move?
Well…I think he should and I told him that. She’s been through a lot in the past couple of years and she needs him right now in ways that may not feel familiar to him. He might feel uncomfortable, but if he can sit through it and hear her cry, hear her words, hear her pain, hear her hurt, hear her thoughts around this traumatic loss and her body turning against her…eventually she will need to talk about it less, cry less, hurt less, her pain will ease, and they will ultimately become closer. They can take this on together, rather than being pitted against each other in the process. They need each other so much right now and I think he needs to talk about it too, but doesn’t know how, doesn’t want to feel weak, or feels he needs to be strong because she seems so weak.
I really admire both of them for putting their story out there and talking to me about it openly and honestly. It probably took a lot for him to sit there and be really honest about what he thinks/feels about this situation, especially to a feminist! I think that is a really good sign and I hope he took in some of what I said about trying to understand her more and will use the courage I know he has to push through his own negative physical reaction to her pain. I also think she is really brave to put her vulnerability out there so that others can know what she is going through and hopefully learn something useful about her, relationships, miscarriages, and/or grief.