I’ve noticed a pattern. It’s staring me in the face. I have no solution to it. I don’t know what its root cause is. All I know is that it exists. It is the Turning Away.
This is something that I see in my heteronormative clients, usually over a certain age but not always. The kids are growing/grown. Maybe they are out of the house. Maybe not quite yet. Sometimes there never were kids. Most of the time there are.
The wife has reached menopause. The most challenging years of her mothering are complete. No more boo boos to kiss, meals to prepare, or playdates to arrange. Her body has shifted. She is touched out. Her life force drained. Reduced to a vessel of frustration, exhaustion, and disconnection. She has put so much of herself on hold in the journey of raising her children. Sometimes she has reached the precipice of reclaiming her identity. Sometimes not. She wants nothing from her husband. In fact if he never touched her again she would be happy. She is done.
The husband is in a place of rejection & confusion. He doesn’t know exactly when he lost touch with his wife but he knows there is a palpable void deep within him. He is unseen. He feels loss. He figures maybe she’s just tired. He doesn’t know what to do. His role as provider has also shifted. Now it’s just him and her in a home that is empty. Empty of touch. Of laughter. Of connection. When young children are in the picture he functions from a place of distraction & disconnection. His wife being unavailable he turns to his phone. To social media, to porn, to seeking external validation through the virtual.
Here’s what happened when the kids were little. She was consumed. By children. By housework. By kin keeping. By career. By expectation. She desperately wanted help from her partner. When he tried though she didn’t give him the space to mess up & try again. Ironically, this is what she has had to do over & over & over & over until she had a vague idea of what she was doing. He wasn’t given the space to discover his strengths in fathering. He didn’t assert himself enough to say, “let me try again, let me keep trying until I figure this out or will you help me figure this out.” Equity in parenting is non-existent. Modern parents are scrutinized, judged, & held to near impossible standards. Is it any wonder that we exist in a constant state of angst about our children?
I keep going back to this concept…neither are at fault while both are responsible. It is easy to fall into the dance of unsustainable gender normative roles when you are a dumpster fire of stress & overwhelm.
I know this dance because I’ve done it myself. I was the touched out, emotionally drained wife who had too many expectations put upon her, from herself & from others. I was drowning in mothering, house projects, career, & homesteading. Looking back I’ve identified that I had two husbands. The workaholic man I was married to and his career. I was the uncommunicative wife who assumed her husband would eventually get it. Guess what? He didn’t. Because no one can read my mind. No one can speak for me. In the end we were both guilty of complacency, assumption, resentment, lack of communication & empathy, amongst a host of other behaviors. Reflecting on this I keep going back to the phrase “you’re not responsible for your trauma, but you are responsible for your healing.” I have adopted this as my personal mantra. However, my marriage did not survive.
I don’t know the solution. And I’m not a therapist. But for the husbands & wives who come into my practice all I can do is offer support in the only way I know how. Listen. Affirm. Witness. Touch with the deepest source of love.