Last week I saw two couples who were both having their wedding anniversaries. The younger couple was celebrating year 4 and the older couple was celebrating year 40. They had two more things in common. They are both in marital crisis caused by unfaithfulness and they both stated in a matter of fact way that "everyone knows that men are from Mars and women are from Venus". As if to say, because they are so different something bad was eventually going to happen.
I responded that I saw it differently. I suggested that perhaps their stereotypic assumptions about men and women helped create the distance that then lead to an affair. Trust me there is plenty of evidence in their marital history to support this belief. The response from the young couple was almost instantaneous as they cried and said no one had ever explained their affair this way. The older couple responded differently with looks of doubt and smirks. They verbalized that they wished they could see my point but years of living together had taught them that the opposite sex could not be understood or trusted. Two very different responses to say the least! But the truth is it's not too late for either couple to change their faulty thinking. Yet, I must admit my job seems easier with the two who just had their 4th anniversary. Old habits don't die easily for couples who have been married a long time and grown synicall.
So what do wives and husbands have in common you ask? We are both human with real emotions that must be identified and expressed in order to feel close. It is this emotional intimacy that both men and women desire.
I believe this basic assumption must be recognized if a marriage is to be healthy. Having hobbies in common are helpful but not necessary. Wives don't need to watch football on the weekends with their husbands and husbands don't need to be excited about how the house is decorated. These things help but they aren't essential. It's something much deeper.
Men tend to internalize their emotions. They often aren't aware what to share since they haven't even taken the time to identify how they are feeling.
Women tend to externalize their emotions. But just because they think out loud doesn't mean they know the feeling that is causing them to react a certain way.
But to complicate things this can be reversed as well. Husbands can be externalizers and wives can be internalizers.
So what we have in common is that both men and women are often unaware of the feelings behind our reactions. This is because most of us were never taught to examine what is happening on a heart level. Growing up in dysfunctional homes we were taught instead to deny our feelings as a way to cope with life's difficulties.
In a perfect world we would learn how to identify and express our feelings from our parents. They would be our psychological mentors. Instead those of us who are aware of our emotions usually learned how to identify them after leaving home. We became conscious as the result of some kind of psychological or spiritual education. This is why both therapy and mindfulness practices are essential for so many today. Gratefully both are becoming a normal part of living as many young adults in our culture see the need to become healthy before marriage.
In order to build intimacy in a relationship both men and women must accept that they come from the same planet. We are both human with emotions. When we learn how to identify these feelings and express them to each other the result is intimacy. This is what we both desired all along but were too afraid to believe it could become a reality.