This is Part 3 of a series. Click here to see all posts.
"There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good she was very, very good. But when she was bad she was horrid!!"
My mother and grandmother used to tell me this rhyme, and say that it was written about me. Perhaps. I’ve been thinking about it lately though as a description for us. Friends, I’ve tried in the past not to dwell on it here, but D and I have a bit of a… fiery relationship. When it’s good it’s incredible. But when it’s bad… oh man.
My Love, I told you the other night that your strength and masculinity drew me to you from the beginning. It opened a vulnerability in me that I’d never felt. It made me feel feminine in a way that was new and unfamiliar and delicious. That vulnerability was easy in the beginning. It’s not easy now. I’ve built up old familiar walls to protect myself. My guard is up. As I’ve really thought this through over the past few weeks, I’ve realized it’s something I’ve done my whole life. I was raised to be a strong independent woman. In my earlier years, I was drawn to laid back men who let me lead—wanted me to lead. I learned it as my role, and learned vulnerability equals weakness. But looking back, I didn’t really like leading my men. And when I found you, I knew immediately that you were different. You were the man of my fantasies, in more ways than one. You opened up that vulnerable part of me that I had never allowed out. But when things got rough, that was the first part of me that I shut down. I got bossy and controlling to protect myself, and you turned to the familiar patterns that have allowed you to tolerate all of the other bossy and controlling women in your life. You got passive, quiet, and resentful. You backed down and allowed me to lead, not just our household, but the tone of our relationship. I’m not blaming you. I understand why. You’ve spent your life having to choose to either go with the flow or live alone. I don’t want you to have to make that choice anymore Babe.
Thanks in part to those same women, you are very sensitive to criticism, so much so that you see it often when it doesn’t exist. It’s been a great source of frustration for me, but one that I’ve come to understand completely as I’ve gotten more acquainted with these women. You are so accustomed to being nagged, criticized, blamed, berated, and put down, (and to seeing other men get the same treatment), that it’s hard for you to hear anything else. I keep telling you that I’m different, that you take me wrong, that you think the worst of my words and actions when they’re actually well-intentioned. But at the same point, I realize now that I bear a responsibility here too. We had an argument over the weekend where I was hurt and frustrated by what I thought was you overreacting to a small comment from me. After talking it out, we both realized that it wasn’t so much what I said, but the fact that I didn’t say what you were expecting. You were expecting “Good call, Babe!” because you’d had a good idea (and yes it really was a very good idea)… and when you were met with a question instead, it stung you.
That’s made me think very hard about how much a kind word from me must mean to you, and in turn, how rarely I offer one up. I realized that I don’t separate kind actions from kind words in my mind. I shower you with affection (I often wonder if it’s too much affection) and, particularly on days like that one, I take care of a ton of household duties that make a day run smoothly. And I feel like those things go unnoticed or unappreciated. But in reality, I think it’s just that the things I do don’t outweigh the rarity with which I give you a voice in our home. And so to you, it just feels like my efforts are controlling rather than loving, and makes you feel picked on and beat down by yet another woman.
So I’m asking you to stand up to me. Help me be a kinder, softer person. You told me once, very long ago, that being with me made you want to be a better person. It’s still one of the most wonderful things anyone has ever said to me, and I’m humbled by it. What I’m saying here is, that being with you makes me want to be a better person too, and in particular, a better person to you. I’ve been saying for months that I want us to be a team. But I don’t think I backed it up with my own behavior.
I know this will be scary for both of us. A woman baring her vulnerability is like an animal showing its belly. Here is my throat, I am trusting you not to slit it open. Here are my insides, please do not trample them. Here is the real me, please do not reject it. But it’s scary for the man too, knowing that if he displays real confidence and leadership, that it may be mocked or ignored. That it will be tested and he will have to either back down, or see what happens when he pushes back. He fears failing at leadership, or becoming a leader with no followers. Babe, I know I will test you, but I promise it won’t be intentional. Please push back. And I know I’ll feel exposed and alone at times as we work through this too. I believe we’ll overcome it, but I don’t expect this to change either of us overnight.
For some couples, this kind of relationship is about changing behaviors. But for many more, it’s simply about changing the tone, which is what I’m talking about here… at least to start. So for now, we can start with respectful communication. Here is what I want from myself:
- Hear you out without judgment or interruption
- Respond to you with gentle kindness, sweetness, and grace
- Give you credit for good ideas
- Make sure you can tell that I value your opinion, even when I don’t share it
- Tell you plainly when you hurt my feelings without snapping, being accusatory, or withdrawing into silence
- Communicate when I feel needy or down or out of sorts, rather than hoping you’ll read my mind
- Ask you for help when I need it rather than expecting you to know I need it automatically
I have thoughts on how this may change you too, but I’ll share those with you privately. But know this: This type of relationship doesn’t mean that you can’t turn to me for help with the things I’m good at. It doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for my input or opinion, or that you are supposed to ignore it when it’s offered. It absolutely does not mean that you can’t lean on me when you need to… I still want to be needed too, and I’m not abandoning you or my responsibilities in this. I’m partnering with you.
I’m trusting you to push back—to not let me walk all over you. I want to show you the respect that you deserve, I really do. I just need practice. I need you to consistently draw my attention to it when I lapse. And I told you the other night, I know you have it in you. You don’t see it, but I see it all the time, right under the surface. Just know that I love you, and I would not ask something of you if I didn’t know you could do it.