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Even the Best Days Skiing Can Be the Worst Days of Marriage

By | Mirror, Partner, Relationships | No Comments

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Three tools that men can use to recover from marital face-plants

I’m pretty sure that my wife and I got to the bottom of the mountain thinking that a divorce was eminent. Okay, I’m being a little dramatic here, but I found the situation ironic because we fell in love skiing. Amazing how unmet expectations can lead to a midlife marital blowup … even after 20 years of skiing together.

It was a blue-bird day and bitterly cold with the wind blowing temperatures down to minus 10 degrees. But we were out for the third weekend in a row backcountry skiing with our two young boys. It was the first time since our eldest was born that my wife and I had been on skis together for three consecutive weekends and we were both giddy.

Our 8-year-old is the weak link in our backcountry adventures. He’s still getting his mountain legs and tires just as the slopes start to get steep enough to be fun. On this trip he soon peters out, hits the deck, and won’t get up. I did my best to cajole him to press on, but he wasn’t buying what I was selling. So my wife was left to soothsay him to a recovery and back on his skis. But even she was challenged because he was headed toward a full-blown meltdown. I had missed out on the luscious higher slopes the week before because I had stayed behind when he was overcome by inertia in this exact same spot.

This time I ski on and catch up with our 12-year old who’s up ahead and has been shredding it on the telemark gear he got for Christmas. He’s waiting patiently but getting cold. So my wife and I agree that I will continue on with our oldest so I can get the turns that she enjoyed the previous weekend.

My eldest and I topped out about 20 minutes later, got an awesome view and the obligatory selfie, ditched our skins and pointed our skis down. Yeehaw! The snow was bliss and I was really enjoying the first true backcountry ski with my son. It was a winter highlight for me.

We soon rejoined my wife and youngest at mid-mountain. My wife was clearly agitated and her first words were a sharp “I didn’t expect that you’d be gone so long …” I heard accusation, disappointment, and blame in her tone. I felt attacked so I parried and the war of words began … it was a major marital face plant. And that’s how we ended up at the bottom of the hill far from the giddiness that started our day. But it didn’t have to go that way.

In my work with men in midlife I help men find ways to increase connection with their partners, kids, and even co-workers. On the drive home that afternoon I recalled the tools that could have avoided that mid-slope disaster. I share them with you here in the hopes that you’ll be successful should you find yourself in a similar situation.

Tool #1: Don’t Assume It’s About You

That’s often my first mistake … I take my wife’s disappointment and unmet need personally and then take responsibility for her feelings. ACK! Then I feel guilty and then I get angry, both at her for dumping her unmet expectation on me and at myself for immediately thinking I had done something wrong. Yes, she was disappointed, but remember, we had agreed that I would go up and get some turns with our oldest.

To diffuse it, I needed to recognize that her disappointment (and more importantly, what was underneath it) may not have even been about me. It turns out it wasn’t. And rather than get defensive or mount a counter attack, I needed to play the name game …

Tool #2: Name what you hear

Instead of taking it personally, I needed to reflect what I was hearing. Something like, “Huh, sounds like you had an expectation that …” Or, I could have named the tone, “I’m hearing a lot of frustration right now.”

Just identifying what’s in the space between the two of us could have diffused the situation by allowing objectivity, rather than defensiveness, to guide the conversation.

Tool #3: Be curious about what you hear

Once you name it, you can get curious about what it might be, and more importantly, what’s underneath it. So instead of defending I could have asked, “How did it go with the youngest?” Then “Oh wow, he had a complete meltdown and ranted for 15 minutes? Sounds like a nightmare! Poor you, I imagine that you must be tired/frustrated/exhausted/etc.”

From a place of curiosity I could have been much more empathetic and much less defensive.

Bonus Tool: The Repair

The repair is another great tool for marriage in midlife (or any phase!). Rather than stew on it (or avoid it), I broached the subject of our face plant during our drive home. I owned up to my part of it (immediately going on the defensive) and she, hers (forgetting to employ a soft start). We also explored what we could do differently “next time.” Thankfully we were able to repair the damages of our war of words and recover so that our family evening was salvaged.

Lesson learned: while repairs can be helpful, avoiding war in the first place is always less painful.

I hope that you found these tools useful! Have you ever found yourself regretting a response or headed pell-mell for a marital face plant? What did you do to recover? Share out in the comment section below!

 

 

Be A Man And Tell Her How You Feel, Damn It! Three Tips That Strengthen Connection and Lead to Better Sex With Your Partner

By | Mirror, Partner, Relationships, Uncategorized | No Comments

 

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On a recent full moon I was in a grumpy mood, sleeping in my home office, unable to connect with my wife. I’m sometimes like that around the full moon, either slightly off and not as outgoing and engaging or sometimes fully disengaged and needing time apart. Whoever says it’s just women that are affected by the pull of that great, beautiful orb should talk with my wife. She’ll give them an ear full.

It’s often the time that the wife and I have our biggest rows too. Not that we have any knock-down drag-outs or anything, but heated words have been exchanged by the light of the moon. Usually, they’re followed by repairing apologies and a warm embrace after things cool off. She’s become a bit wary of the full moon; maybe I’m a beware-wolf.

During this most recent full-moon episode things she would do really agitated me and I found myself pretty annoyed by her. What really drove me crazy though was that I couldn’t figure out what it was that was bothering me. I knew it wasn’t the small things she was doing, they were just the symptom of something bigger. But I couldn’t figure out what that bigger thing was.

 

Tip 1: Sometimes a guy just needs some time in the cave …

So that’s where I went, for four nights, to my man cave. Getting away is an important way to get clarity, and it doesn’t have to be out of the house or out of state. Just sleeping in another room can break some of the bedroom patterns that distract you from focusing on what’s going on inside yourself. You know the old patterns … Are we going to have sex tonight or will she want to be held? Can I sleep any farther away from her without falling out of bed? Can she feel that the silence between us weighs 16 tons?

Sleeping alone can help to get clear of these distracting patterns. It can also help you get a good night’s sleep which helps clarity and mood.

Tip 2: Give the head a break … try out another center of intelligence.

To be clear I’m talking about giving both of your heads a break. The other centers of intelligence I’m referring to are your heart and your gut. Science is confirming what eastern cultures have known for millennia, our guts and our heart are separate centers of intelligence. Both have their own neural networks and are capable of processing information apart from the brain.

And as men, we’ve been given no end of erroneous social conditioning that what makes us men is our logic and a tight reign on our emotions. We’ve been cut off from two important sources of corporeal information. For emotional intelligence, the heart can’t be beat (that’s not really intended to be a pun).

I couldn’t really think about what was bothering me, because it wasn’t something in my head. In fact, thinking about it just made it worse because thoughts would swirl around and the same old internal playbacks about our relationship challenges would come up, play back, rewind, replay. That wasn’t helpful at all.

So I just tried to breath. I focussed on where in my body my angst or broodiness was hanging out. And I found it in my heart. So I asked my heart, “Okay, so, what’s this about?” The information I got back was a surprise … I was frustrated by not being “seen” by my wife.

Whoa, dude, did you just share that on your blog? WTF?! You’re supposed to be a man … men don’t … Yeah, actually men do talk about what’s in their heart, especially with the people that they love. You can look to spiritual sages like Christ or Buddha as guides for how to be a heartfelt warrior.

If men don’t share what’s going on it’s because they haven’t yet developed the tools or because they’re too chicken shit to get real. Just saying.

Yeah, and so I was having this conversation with myself about what my heart was feeling about not being seen by my wife. It was like this, I had been doing all of this work around my transition full-time to men’s work, processing realizations from a kick ass men’s retreat I went to a couple of months ago, doing research for my blog, yadda yadda. Massive change was going on with me. But my wife was totally caught up in her stuff: being in grad school, volunteering, working … and she had stopped asking about what was going on over here, with me. (She’d only read one of my blogs … ouch.)

Tip 3: Just tell her how you feel damn it! (This is where the better sex comes in.)

Well, I am a guy, and it felt pretty awkward to try and have this conversation with her. It sounded a little weird to tell my wife that I wasn’t feeling seen, or that I didn’t feel like she was interested in what I was doing. And that lack of interest and attention was creating distance in our relationship and (ironically) causing me to withdraw. Whoa. How was sharing that going to come across?

I needed to get over my resistance to sharing and push through to a conversation. I had to get over my entanglement with the perceived social stigma of being a heartfelt man (no, I’m not a wuss) … I had to stop listening to my internal saboteurs that were ridiculing me for wanting to be seen and appreciated by my wife (nope, I wasn’t being egotistical or a wuss) … and I had to push through the ridiculous mind trap that “men don’t need,” and that we just have to buck up and go it alone (seriously, I wasn’t being needy or egotistical or a wuss). And after all that, I realized what I was wanting was connection, not isolation.

So with all of that personal heavy lifting done and having thrown off the shackles of isolation, I sat down with her and we talked about what had been going on with me. She listened as I worked my way through what I had been reflecting on over the past four days in my man cave. We both apologized and we laughed about how busy we both were, but realized together how important it is for each to feel seen and appreciated.

In the end we came away with a better understanding of each other, a closer connection, and a commitment to greater awareness of each other’s needs. And yes, totally intimate and awesome sex came about as a result of that stronger connection. Hey guys, this stuff really works!

Have you had an experience where you were unable to communicate a need? Ever felt trapped in your head over something that was going on in your heart? Share it out in the comment section below!

 
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