In my clinical practice, I have spent the bulk of my career doing grief work. There is a saying amongst practitioners in the field that goes, ‘women grieve, men replace.’ I do believe that is true for some men. Men and change simply just don’t get along sometimes. In my experience, women have more anticipatory grief than men do prior to a loss and aren’t nearly as shocked as their male counterparts when the loss actually occurs. My experience has also shown me that most men have an ability to compartmentalize things in their life better than most women. If something goes wrong, they can decide to focus on something else, whereas women seem to lack the ability to put it in a box and are more likely to be consumed with the problem until they can find a way to problem solve it or develop a method of coping with the issue. Scarlett O’Hara can say she will think about that tomorrow but most women have a hard time actually delaying their worries about a stressor.
Men and Change: Can it Happen?
My ex-husband appeared shocked when he finally noticed the fact that I was unhappy in our marriage. I don’t know why. I had been telling him for years.
There were clues everywhere. For instance, I cried. A lot. I begged him to talk to me. My knees were jagged and bloody from holding up cue cards. I’m not hard to figure out. I’m not cryptic. I am honest and open to a fault most of the time. I even said to him the words, “My next husband is going to talk to me.” He turned over and went to sleep. I cried myself to sleep. But the next day, I cared a little less. On another occasion, I sat up in bed and said the words, “I’m concerned about the state of our marriage and I can’t seem to get your attention about it. We should see a marriage counselor.” He said, “Hmmph” and turned over and went to sleep. Again, I cried myself to sleep. But the next day I cared a little less.
After many years of this, I cared so little that I stopped trying to make it better. I ignored his advances in bed. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think I stopped making eye contact somewhere along the way. My disinterest in him was actually what finally got his attention. I didn’t consciously make a decision to ignore him, I think I just accepted that he wasn’t interested in engaging with me or working on our relationship so I quit trying. I stopped caring. One night, as we were getting ready for bed, he said, “I feel like you don’t care about me anymore. Maybe we should see a counselor.” Gee, ya think?
I agreed to find someone and make an appointment, but to be honest, I had given up at least a year before. My heart was not in those sessions because I had already grieved the relationship. He was still my husband but he was not my friend. All those nights of crying myself to sleep was me grieving the loss of my marriage and the realization that our relationship, as lovers, as real partners, was over. There is a limit to the number of times a person can be shut down and shut out before they wrap their heart in cold steel. I grieved, then I wrapped it up.
The therapist asked him if he knew I was unhappy. He said no. I said, “I told you! I told you over and over. I even said the words, ‘my next husband is going to talk to me’!” The therapist said to him, “What did you think when you heard her say that?” He replied, “I thought she was kidding.” The therapist recommended since I was half checked out anyway, that he initiate conversations with me, and even suggested that he ask me to go on dates. She advised me to take a back seat, not to rescue him, and let him show me that he cared and wanted to work on our marriage.
Very late that night, I heard him crying in the bathroom. I had never heard him cry before. I almost went in there to comfort him but remembered that I wasn’t supposed to rescue him. He was supposed to come to me. I made myself stay in that bed. But really I was angry. All the nights I had cried and he had never made an effort to make me feel better. It was too late.
He made some vague attempts to talk to me more but he never did get around to asking me on a date. He told the therapist that he could tell that I didn’t really want to go. She said to me, “Do you want to go?” I said, “I don’t really care.”
He started grieving then. As our marriage was in its final death throes and we were mediating and making plans separately, he suffered. It was sad and hard to watch. He lost weight, had trouble sleeping and started drinking too much. I wasn’t much better but my worry was for children and the logistics of our divorce. My hard grief was over although I will be honest and say that it still rears it’s ugly head on occasion and I grieve all over again for my marriage back when it was good.
Unfortunately, by the time he was ready to work on it, I had buried it already. Too little, too late.