Insights For Marriage Counselling
This article describes a common relationship pattern where men have closed down their “ability to feel’. The origin of this pattern is the man attempted to fill his father’s role when he was a boy. He attempted to meet his mother’s needs at the cost of his own. Emotionally he was asked for more than he could give resulting in a closed heart. Many men suffer from this today.
A boy learns about relationship with women primarily through his relationship with his mother and through observing his parent’s relationship. If there was much conflict or emotional distance in his parents relationship his emotional bond with his father can be distant and his bond with his mother overwhelming.
If the mother is emotionally unsupported by the father she may unwittingly use her son to meet her emotional needs as a substitute for her partner. The disappointment she feels in the father is felt by the son. In response the son aspires to be perfect “little man” that won’t let her down like his father did. The son’s heart is open and it’s natural for him to want to be the apple of his mother’s eye and fill her up with his love. He learns how to please his mother. He suffers from not being emotionally close to his father.He enjoys his special relationship with his mother but it comes at a cost.
The boy is unaware that he has been setup for an impossible job that he will fail at. It is too much for a little boy to fulfill the emotional needs of his mother. She needs an adult man. The boy is in an emotional bind. He can’t be himself and be what (he imagines) his mother wants him to be. He unconsciously chooses to fit in with her needs at the cost of his own. The father is remiss in not providing a healthy parental relationship alongside the mother to allow the son to develop a healthy male identity. Often the boy cuts off from his male power to fit in. A distant or closed-hearted father, an emotionally needy mother combined with the cultural images of masculinity encourages the boy to close his heart and disconnect him from his feelings.
Relationship Attitudes from “Rape of the Heart”
The boy develops into as a grown man with the following kind of attitudes:
He doesn’t feel he is enough. Deep down he feels he wasn’t enough for his mother so as an adult man he doesn’t feel he is enough for his partner. He is sensitive to criticism as it challenges his male identity which he needs to protect. He feels he needs to be perfect and it’s hard for him to admit when he makes a mistake in his relationship.
He is fearful of women getting upset. He can’t bear it when his partner is upset, partly because he feels he is responsible for his partner’s happiness. As a boy he felt he was the cause of his mother’s unhappiness. As a child he believed he was responsible and in control of his mother’s feelings through pleasing her.
He pleases women to avoid conflict. The man haslearnt the strategy of pleasing women at the cost of his own needs. Women pick up straightaway when a man is pleasing them to avoid conflict. It feels inauthentic. The woman feels shut out from the man as his true feelings are hidden. She can’t feel his authentic male energy which frustrates her. She feels rejected and abandoned as he hears the message ,’You are too much’ . This is often how she felt as a child.
He feels overwhelmed by her needs. He feels burdened by having to meet his partner’s needs. He is unable to express his own needs as he unconsciously learnt not to listen to his needs in order to meet his mother’s needs. It may seem like he has very few needs.
He resents her needs. The man has an unconscious rage and resentment towards meeting his mother’s needs and he sees all women as his mother on some level.. He believes he is working hard in the relationship to do the right thing, yet he finds no matter what he does, he slips up. He forgets to tell his partner important things, or finds a way to rubbish his partner or the relationship in someway. If he is asked why he ignored her he probably isn’t in touch with his resentment.
He feels guilty. The man feels ambivalent about the relationship because of the unresolved feelings he had about loving his mother and feeling she wanted too much from him. He experiences his current relationship with the unresolved feelings he had as a child. It was too much for him. The man finds it difficult to hold both his “love” and “hate” towards his partner. He has repressed the hate which also represses his loving feelings. He may feel unworthy of his partner’s love and want to leave her in order to protect her from his dark feelings.
His life Energy is blocked. He represses his feelings and energy or he directs all his energy into work. Men push their feelings down yet keep going in a particular kind of hidden depression.
The Healing Process for ‘Rape of the Heart’
I would like to give some indications of how a couple can work with this dynamic in marriage counselling. The first thing to say is that we take the perspective of looking at issues as belonging to the relationship dynamic rather than the individual. So we look at the both the man and woman’s attitudes , behaviours and relationship patterns and how they fit together. We look at why a woman has been unconsciously attracted to a man with a closed heart and what she needs to heal from her past family experience . We ask what is being attempted to be worked out by both partners in the relationship? We find that working with the relationship dynamic with both partners together is much more effective that individual counselling alone.
For the purposes of this article let's focus on the man’s side of relationship dynamic. Here are some of the challenges facing a man to work through “Rape of heart” issues.
He Recognises The Current Behaviour Patterns Were Learnt In The Past
Attraction between partners in part comes from an unconscious fit of “unfinished business’ from each person’s early family. Both partners recreate their early family situation in a romantic relationship. Hopefully the man will see that working on his relationship as an opportunity to work things through in order to become emotionally whole.
He might see that his is unwittingly blaming his partner for not being ,’the perfect parent to him’ and become aware of how his relationship with his mother is projected onto his partner. Developing awareness stops him being controlled by the past.
For many men it can be difficult to even conceive that there is a connection between his partner and his mother. There might be an investment in protecting the image he has of his parents. He needs to balance that his parents did the best they could and their lack of relationship had an impact on him that is worth looking at to the extent that it affects how he relates now with his partner.
He Manages His Fear
He learns how to manage his fear of being emotionally overwhelmed. He discovers his partner is much more emotionally robust that he imagines. As an adult he doesn’t need to placate her for his survival. He discovers how he has felt over-responsible and maybe that he has failed when his partner is upset.
He Receives His Partner’s Emotional Flow
He learns listen to his partner's emotional flow without taking what she says too personally. He is able to discern what he needs to take responsibility for and what belongs to her past. He discovers how to hear what she is saying on a feeling level rather than get caught in rationality disconnected from feeling.
He Is Wiling To Make Adjustments To His Attitudes And Behaviour
He realises that his partner isn’t really wanting to criticise him or undermine him. What she is seeking is for her feelings to be received . She feels what needs attention in the relationship and needs him to make an adjustment.
He Strengthens His Male Identity
He learns that his partner can’t 'make or break him', or take away his masculinity. This enables him be present and receive her when she is upset. He doesn’t need defend his male identity as it’s not under threat. He uses the support of other men to strengthen his male identity.
He Reconnects To His Feelings
He discovers how to express his feelings and needs. He notices when he disconnects from his partner and learns how to manage his emotions intelligently so he can take a time-out without abandoning his partner. He learns how to manage his vulnerability.
He Integrates His Dark Side
What is emotionally repressed controls him. He includes his male wildness/ dark side constructively in ways that brings life energy and passion into the relationship. He expresses more range of feeling so there is room for love and for hate. He opens his heart. In effect he chooses to be in relationship and comes from his core in his actions rather than acting in reaction to his mother.
It takes time and work to work on deep patterns. It’s a process rather than a quick fix. Relationship counselling provides a good starting point as safe place to gain insights and explore what is going on in the relationship. It’s a powerful process of recognising patterns learnt from the past, detoxifying resentments and gaining a new perspective on what the relationship is about. The felt experience of attending sessions and working things through leads to the couple feeling more loving and appreciative of each other.
Richard Cole is a Relationship Counsellor who works at St Pancras Relationship Counselling in London .
Richard specializes in Marriage Counselling focusing on two areas: working with couples to heal breaks of trust and supporting couples to argue less by learning to emotionally connect through expressing their feelings and needs directly.