Friday, April 28, 2017

To Be a Good Listener, Empathy is Key

One of the most compelling lessons I learned around how a man survives in a long-term committed relationship centers around communication. Specifically a man must be a good listener. That means he must a) hear what his woman is saying to him, and b) recognize that sometimes she just wants you to listen and not solve the problems she's telling you about.  Even if the subject matter holds little interest for you, it's sufficient if all you say in response is, "OK," or "I hear you," or "I understand." The little snicker you hear inside your head right now, dear reader, isn't the wrong response. There is definitely an element of "give her just enough to satisfy her" -- but I've learned that this element rarely appears.

When I say that a man must hear what his woman is saying to him, you should not default to the minimum level of listening.  This involves active listening. Your woman is trying to get her idea, her thought, her concern, across to you, and if you aren't actively listening, you will miss a detail.  This matters a lot when her idea, thought, or concern is about you and/or her relationship with you.  If you're not careful, your "listening" will be perceived as dismissive.

Sitting in a therapist's office in couples therapy, it's extremely difficult for me to give only minimal attention to what my wife is saying. Every word is important, and I've learned over the past 14 weeks that giving her the space to get out what she wants to say saves me having to hear that I'm not really listening to her, but only waiting to say what I want to say. Repeating back what she's said sometimes works, though if I do it too often she thinks I'm condescending to her. I make eye contact, make sure my arms and legs are uncrossed, and that I'm sitting up straight and looking attentive.  But that's only the superficial stuff. I can do all of that stuff perfectly, but if my response doesn't show her that I've heard her then none of it matters.

I used to think I was really good at listening; what I've learned is that I am only good at showing that I am a good listener. I'm good at looking the part, but I have never really gotten that I haven't been fully invested in the listening process.

During one particular moment this past week, DW and I were having a tough time reaching each other. At one point when I was stressing something to her that was important to me, she put her hand up and asked me to stop. She looked over at the therapist and said, "I want you to notice this."  Then she turned to me: "I asked you to stop not because I disagreed with what you were saying, but because you have 'The Tone' in your voice."  "The Tone" is her way of describing how I speak in a way that really gets under her skin. Rather than get defensive -- I had heard her complain about "The Tone" for years -- I just decided to take it in.  "I was beginning to tune you out the way I do when you get that tone in your voice," she said. "At my age, I think I've come to know a lot about life," she continued, "and when you speak to me that way, I feel dismissed, as though I haven't learned anything on my own, and that your perspective on things is all that counts. And I know that your heart's in the right place, but listen to me, Porter -- I have been listening to you speak to me this way for years." She was tearing up now.  "I don't want to tune you out, but I also don't want to feel dismissed anymore."

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, aware that DW has in the past criticized even this response as dismissive. I opened them again, fidgeted in my seat, scratched my chin, and looked up and away, as I tried to think of what to say, and how to say it in a way that didn't have The Tone. I thought about how many years she'd been telling me this and how it'd made her feel. And I wondered why I hadn't ever gotten what she was saying to me. I'd always said, I hear you," and "I understand, honey," and had sometimes said, "I'm sorry you're feeling this way." I then imagined myself being on the receiving end of a stream of empty words, only to be disappointed when the thing that had bothered me had come back to sting me again.  How frustrating and how demoralizing! I put myself in DW's place, and I finally could feel what she was feeling.

I leaned forward, put my hands on hers, and said, "I see how hard this has been for you. I'm so very sorry."  She nodded, wiped away her tears, and thanked me.

For the remainder of this week, DW and I have had a great time together. Even if what we're doing is mundane, and it frequently is, we are making the best of it, and using the time we have alone together to be loving and caring.  More to be revealed, I'm sure, but for now we're in a good place.

To be a good listener, which is an essential part of survival in a long-term committed relationship, a man must be empathetic toward his woman. Empathy completes the connection, creates intimacy, and builds trust. The end.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Dealing with Setbacks

In our first therapy session in two weeks, DW and I got into some heated arguments. It started over money. As I've written previously, income has been tight lately, and I'm now looking for a new gig. There are some opportunities on the horizon, but it looks like I will be at least four months without an income.  That's why we have an emergency fund -- to cover us when the bills are greater than what we take in.  I never really sweat things because I've been in far worse situations than this, and I know it's just a matter of time before things right themselves again, so long as I keep plugging away.

DW, on the other hand, positively freaks out when money is tight. She seems to believe that we'll go from where we are to zero TOMORROW and we'll be on the streets.  This, when selling our house alone will put close to a million bucks in our pockets.  That's a long way from homelessness, but there is where she goes in her mind.  I simply can't understand that fear, that inability to keep a positive attitude. It's not about a shift in her mindset, it's her wiring. But it's just in the area of money. When her dad passed away, she and the rest of her family told each other, "We got this."  Then knew things would be OK, despite the fact that they all hurt terribly and missed him a lot. But with money, there is no "we got this," there's just a short spectrum between "We're broke" and "we're OK, but it's not enough."

The therapist kept putting the brakes on our conversation, because DW kept going to personal insults rather than dealing with the issues I was raising around trust and teamwork. All she kept saying was, "Stop being such a dick," and "You're talking to me like I'm a child."  Even when I wasn't, which suggests to me that she knows deep down that she's uninformed and behind in her knowledge of how the world works, but she lashes out rather than admits she doesn't even know what she doesn't know.

On top of that, she's dealing with a close relative in the hospital and the upcoming one-year anniversary of her father's death. In other words, stressed to the limit. I feel fear, and I feel stress, but I know it's all going to be OK.  For some reason she can't or won't go there, especially around money. "You and I just see money differently," she said more than once. Well, babe, that's fine, but one of us is less realistic than the other, and I'm pretty sure it's not me.

As we neared the end of the session, the therapist asked me to ask DW a question about what she felt ready to discuss.  DW had nothing at first, but eventually she said she wanted to talk about sex, but there was no time.  I asked if she'd like to talk about it at home, but she said she wasn't really ready after all. So I made dinner while she relaxed and got one of our kids from sports practice.

This was a setback in our counseling, but it's temporary. It's a blip.  I'm not going to blow this out of proportion, and I hope that DW doesn't either. You deal with setbacks by staying mindful of the arc of the whole process.  We are five months past her discovery of my sleeping with Mel, and there has been a lot of progress made in communication, intimacy, and healing. One uncomfortable hour in front of our therapist isn't going to derail that process.  This is how I intend to keep showing up with DW.  In a month, when we're at the six month mark, we will have begun the process of resolving our sexual differences, and a plan will at least be discussed about where to go from there.  She'll have a crystal clear understanding of where I am by that time, and some clear choices to make. I can only hope she makes the right ones.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sexuality is Like Food Choices

It's been three weeks since my last post.  Not much going on.  DW and I are still talking, still working things through. I've basically backed off the express train to OpenMarriageVille for the time being, content to take care of myself daily (and to get a little help from DW once a week).  Counseling is still on, though our therapist is out of town this week, so we'll pick things back up next week.

Business is way down and I'm about to make a move again, as I sense some economic changes that are going to affect my employer, so even if I could fuck other women, I don't want to invest the cash right now when I have big bills to pay.

My life is intentionally boring right now.  I figure that when we hit the six-month mark since the discovery of my infraction (which will be mid-May), I'll resume with some gentle pressure to move into the next phase, which would be the solution to the incompatibility problem.

How would I describe our problem with incompatibility? Well, let's say DW and I have a favorite restaurant that we go to all the time.  And let's say that, nearly every time we go, DW orders the same dish.  Not a bad dish; I even like it myself, and have sampled it from her plate from time to time. But it's the only thing she orders when we go there.  I, on the other hand, love nearly everything on the menu.  Each time we go, I'll either order something on the menu that is different from what I ordered last time, or I'll go with a special that's not on the menu. DW doesn't like most of the things I order, mostly because they have red meat (which she doesn't eat) or some sauce or spice on it that she doesn't like.  She's content with her one dish, and while I like that dish, I couldn't be satisfied ordering it every time.  In fact, I'm like this at most restaurants; I typically try new things all the time, whereas DW will stick to something tried and true.

The same is true when I cook at home.  I am always looking for ways to tinker with dishes I prepare, especially if they're from a  recipe I'd found online.  DW has just a few dishes she prepares, and she does them the same way every time.  A lot of that has to do with our kids' limited palates, but even that goes to how she defines herself: first as a mother, second as a wife.

Staying on the food theme for a little longer, I fully accept the fact that when we go to our favorite place for dinner, she'll order the same dish.  I will likely have a bite.  But it won't ever be enough for me.

This is how our sexuality is. If DW wants to be celibate for the rest of her life, or if she realizes that she likes some things about sex but dislikes most everything else, that's fine. At this point I've accepted her for who she is. But it goes both ways. If she wants to be married to me -- and I am pretty sure she does -- she can't require that I be celibate as well, or limit myself to what doesn't satisfy me. It's not who I am, and she needs to accept me for who I am.  Those are my terms.  She can work around it, work with it, or reject them.  Each of these choices has a consequence, one of which is divorce. We will get to a discussion of these terms, and it will be soon.