Gerald, a thirty-five year old PR executive came home after a business trip and announced to thirty-year-old Beatrice that he wanted a divorce.
The shock of it made Beatrice stop breathing for a few seconds. She froze in a state of complete disbelief. For a moment there was no reaction, until Gerald started talking again. Then a sharp pain and rage swept her up and made her go on the attack. That was the only way she could shut down the unbearable words that rocked the ground under her feet.
Gerald was talking about all the times he had wanted an expression of love and tenderness and never got it.
He told her about all the efforts he made to show her his love that was not reciprocated. He was faithful, whereas Beatrice had cheated on him at least twice that he knew of. She had never felt sorry , Gerald was describing his loneliness and feelings of not being wanted, of just being a duty. Beatrice didn’t hear his pain, only unfair accusations and suspicion that he must have another woman.
However Gerald had been agonizing over this decision for the last few years. He had never been unfaithful. Beatrice or tried to create a more satisfying marriage. She blamed him for her needing to get her sexual fulfillment elsewhere. He didn’t want to hurt his wife and grown up children, his friends or his close knit community members. He had tried, and hoped and prayed that the hints he gave his wife would be heeded and that she would be more responsive. He had wanted to save his marriage. It was a sacred institution to him and ending it went against his life long principles. Putting up with this conflict had made him feel depressed and even less worthwhile than he did before his marriage.
Men care about relationship quality while women care about having a relationship
Beatrice never got the hints. She took Gerald’s loyalty and principled attitude for granted. So long as they kept up appearances of being a well respected couple in their community that’s all that mattered to her.
As reported in the 2010 Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Gerald like most men was more affected by the quality of the relationship, while Beatrice like most women, was more concerned with having a relationship per se. Men react to the everyday quality of interactions, looking for signs of being valued and loved as a means to maintaining their self-identity and self worth.
Men’s primary source of intimacy is their partner, while for women it is their family and friends. Not having the intimacy he longed for made Gerald angry and stressed. The anger gave him fuel to take action that would make Beatrice ‘get it’ at last.
Unsuccessful Old way : Gerald believed that if he focused on his partner and anticipated their needs, making them feel wanted, then his partner would do the same for him.
Successful new way: Gerald should do things for a new partner only if he feels like it and enjoys doing it, not because he expects something in return. That way he isn’t disappointed and his partner enjoys the interaction because it has no hidden strings attached.
Unsuccessful old way: Gerald would feel hurt, bad and unloved and brush it aside. He would make noises here and there hoping that Beatrice would ‘get it’, but she never did because it came across as unimportant. Gerald treated his little feelings as unimportant, so that’s what Beatrice did too. Until those thousands of little feelings built up into a massive one leading to his protest and declaration of divorce. That made Beatrice sit up and attend!
Successful new way: each time Gerald has a feeling of discomfort, of unfairness, of being brushed aside, of being ignored, including a sense that he isn’t worth being thought of and wooed, he needs to put words to it and speak it in the moment. He can’t expect it to be heard and acted upon if he himself pushes it away.
Unsuccessful old way: Gerald never told his wife how much he looked forward to sharing his day, his business trip experiences and his vision for what they would do when he got home. He waited for Beatrice to ask and show an interest. It never came. Gerald was hurt and felt unwanted.
Successful new way: Gerald should invite the intimacy he wants by communicating his need to share and include a future partner. That sets the tone and a rhythm of intimacy that becomes mutually looked forward to and enjoyed.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.