Women and Men in the Modern Divorce
Since the 1960s, women have been working in greater numbers and are thus less economically dependent upon men. During this same period, women have sought divorces much more frequently than ever before. The most recent data show that the majority of divorces today are initiated by the female, and, according to a 2004 survey by AARP, after age forty, the number jumps to two-thirds. While economic and legal changes have allowed more women to consider divorce, there are other, strictly emotional dynamics that may be pushing more women from simply considering taking this step to going through with it.
Women have a deeper sense of what is possible in an emotional relationship, and with greater independence many are less willing to tolerate inadequate, emotionally unsatisfying marital relationships. Men on the other hand seem generally more content in marriage especially if they are physically cared for by the female whom many have unconsciously come to relate to as mother replacements. Also, in many cases men who are unfamiliar with feelings — now called having a low emotional intelligence — permit the female to carry the emotions for both of them, a burden that can become very difficult for the woman in a marriage.
At the most simplistic level, one which women often find offensive, many men tend to see marriage as an exchange of services. They take out the garbage, take care of the cars, and mow the lawn, while the woman tends to the inside of the house, offers sex, and takes care of the children. For these men, this set up feels like an equal exchange, while women tend to see this as too much giving on their part and not enough receiving.
When June and Stan came into therapy, June summed up the problem in the marriage in these strikingly simply words. “There's just too much giving and not enough getting.” June and Stan were in their forties, had three school-age kids, and both worked full time, yet June felt the burden of the housework and caring for the children. As the unconscious assumptions of this relationship were further exposed, it appeared that, at first, June gave these gifts to Stan without resentment, and he was only too happy to receive them. With the passage of time, June began resenting the imbalance and, as her resentment grew, she began to close down emotionally toward Stan. With this emotional shutdown, their physical intimacy ceased, and Stan began to store up resentment toward June for withholding sex.
This is the stalemate June and Stan had reached when they began marriage therapy. And this is exactly how the marriage would have stayed if June had not issued an ultimatum to Stan. “Come with me to marriage therapy or I'm leaving you and taking the kids.”
Stan, who professed to having had “some awareness” of the problems in the relationship but figured “they were normal in long-term marriage,” had to be shocked into seeing the problems as serious enough to threaten the marriage. Since Stan did not want a divorce, June's decree that they either enter therapy or separate worked to move the relationship toward healing.
The process of marriage therapy eventually helped Stan realize that the shutting down of sex in the marriage was his responsibility as much as June's. Stan learned this only after the two had some painful and revealing exchanges. With encouragement June made the “I” statement, “I need to be touched without immediately having intercourse,” and then explaining that she craved emotional satisfaction and without it, she could no longer open up to Stan sexually. In order for Stan to hear her, June had to move past her anger and reveal the hurt she felt underneath. Although confused at first, Stan eventually became emotional too, saying, “I'm sorry, I just didn't get it. The last thing I want to do is starve you or hurt you.”
Slowly Stan learned the even harder lesson of how to find and honor his own feelings, which allowed him to be more receptive to June's. As he became more knowledgeable about emotional connectedness, June became more available to Stan for sexual activity. She felt loved and reassured that Stan cared for her emotionally. With these changes the marriage began the healing process, with all the richness that is available when each takes responsibility for his own feelings and then opens up to care for his partner's, too.
Stan's ignorance of his internal emotional life is very common for males. Men often have to learn about emotional connectedness after they get married, while women understand these principles naturally. It's also true that some women feel too much; they can find themselves flooded with emotions. For a marriage to work harmoniously, this imbalance has to change. If each is aware of the need to rebalance heart and head within the relationship, a wife can teach her husband about emotional satisfaction, and a husband can teach his wife about controlling her emotions when it's necessary to do so. Many men tend to be dismissive of emotions in human beings, and this attitude can make a man unwisely see his wife's emotional display as manipulative and then harden himself toward her, which is the very thing you do not want to have happen if the marriage is going to improve.