You Are Not My Enemy
by Grant Stenzel, MS LCPC
Sometimes in our sessions at Stenzel Clinical, it’s not unusual for us to ask couples to stand in front of each other and say this phrase:
“You are not my enemy.”
It’s not just a mantra but the beginning of trying to get each spouse to show greater fragility. Not to be stereotypical about it, but generally when we counsel couples, the female in the relationship has little issue with showing herself at her most vulnerable.
Men? Is that ever a different story. I can tell you that males are generally horrible at showing their vulnerability. Hurt feelings? Crying? Having a shoulder to lean on? What are we, cream puffs?
The stomach sticks out a little more, the jaw is held high. What, me hurt? Nah. I’ll shake it off.
But don’t let the façade fool you. And by the way, it’s not entirely their fault – they were brought up this way.
Think about it.
Men have been taught since age 5 years old that we’re tougher if we don’t cry. But in reality, that goes against what we want to feel. There’s a mentality that men have to be tough.
We’ve been getting the “suck it up and be a man” speech our whole lives.
We get it when we’re little and skin our knee.
We get it when we’re teens and break up with a girlfriend.
We get it when we play a sport in High School like football and have to power through pain.
We get it when we graduate and have to leave good friends behind.
Before long, we’re turning right around and giving that same speech to our kids.
The problem with “sucking it up” and not showing emotion is that we’ve become so good at it that we often seem aloof or angry from outside. And that’s how we send a message to our spouses that we have seemingly uncaring feelings.
Of course, deep down, we do care very much. But we don’t want to show too much emotion.
Really, what’s a guy to do?
Let me offer this suggestion to husbands – a funny thing happens when you show your vulnerability, gentlemen. It breaks down walls of communication and that’s a good thing for all parties.
Your wife sees that you’re not a robot. And do you want to fight incessantly or would you rather come to a conclusion you can both feel good about faster?
I take it that you prefer the latter. By opening up more, she opens up more. You both communicate where the hurt is coming from. You learn things about what the other has felt that you may not have realized. You explain. You talk.
When a husband and wife argue, are we necessarily talking about two evil people who wish each other the worst kind of physical and emotional harm? Of course not. They both have good intentions at heart, but they still end up hurting each other.
“Don’t be the growling dog. Be the puppy.”
I share this phrase with men and as you can imagine, at first they don’t love the idea of being portrayed as a puppy dog.
That’s when I ask them another question – “No matter how logical you try to make your argument, how well has that worked out for you? In fact…have it EVER worked out for you?”
How well has being stubborn worked out for you? When you think you’re giving a good argument, do you honestly think you’re “winning”?
Nope. You’re not winning. Nobody is.
So where’s the logic in taking the same approach to conflict all the time then?
Just like the dog has two options when encountering another dog – showing their tummy to one they want to be friends with or their teeth to one they want to mark their territory against – people in relationships have two choices as well. Showing our teeth gets us nowhere. It’s time to roll over a bit, expose our bellies and show we are not the other’s enemy.
Let’s come at the argument from a new perspective – and stay with me on this. What’s underneath the anger the two of you feel? It’s not unending anger. In truth, we often become angry to make our true feelings of hurt. Shame. Deep issues that need to be explored and uncovered.
The key here is that you don’t play the victim. Heck, you don’t even have to apologize right now. But what I do want you to say is, “I felt hurt when you _________.”
I want you to show your vulnerability and explain why you hurt and what you were feeling. Let them know why it was important to you. Bring down the walls you’ve been trained to put up and be honest with your partner about what you’re actually feeling.
Anger is no longer the “manly” emotion.
This may have been the way for many men for many years. But it takes courage to show fear and hurt. And when you show it, everything changes. For the better. Try it and you’ll be amazed.