are some of the most alarming and confusing words you can hear in your
marriage. Today I want to help you decode them.
What Is He Really
your husband says that he needs space, or if you notice that he’s been
distancing himself lately, a lot of thoughts might race through your mind:
He doesn’t love me anymore.
He’s keeping a dark secret.
He’s having an affair.
what does “I need space” really
let you in on a secret: It means he needs space. Yep, guys are pretty literal
most of the time. And this need for space is not necessarily a signal that
something is wrong in your marriage.
Why Does He Need Space?
Speaking very generally, “space” is a more confusing word for women than it is for men. As a result, when your husband doesn’t want to collaborate, you might quickly assume the worst.
However, men in the U.S. are usually socialized very differently than we are. They’re taught to be stoic and deal with problems and issues on their own. So when he says he needs space, here a few things that might be going on with him:
He’s working through a
challenge or a problem, like a tough time at work.
He’s exhausted. Men will
more readily take some time to themselves to recharge. This is one area where
we should follow their example!
He’s experiencing a difficult emotion, such as grief, that he needs time to process.
I’m not saying that taking some space is the best way to handle any of these situations. But it’s his way, and it probably doesn’t reflect on his feelings for you.
When the Need for Space
Is a Red Flag
however, “I need some space” really does translate to “There’s a
problem in our marriage.” This is especially true if you typically have a
very close and collaborative relationship and he suddenly wants more space.
Don’t rush to conclusions, but do realize it’s time to open a discussion about
what’s happening with him.
This is just one example of how navigating the differences between your husband’s emotional needs and communication style and your own can be tricky. For more proven strategies that can help, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new blog posts HERE and get a free report, “10 Easy Ways to Get Him to Listen.”
In my last blog post, on emotional labor, I cited the work of renowned couple’s therapist, speaker and author Terry Real. Real’s work is important, and it has the potential to change your marriage, so I wanted to tell you more about him.
This is an intense read. The couple, Peter and Jenn, struggle with problems that affect many marriages. Their early passion for each other has fizzled. She’s tired of trying to build intimacy, while Peter seems incapable of it. He feels she’s undercutting his authority with their children, while she worries about his toxic temper, especially with their son. To top it all off, Peter has also been unfaithful.
Take a few moments to read and reflect on this case study. As you do, here are a few key points I especially want you to take to heart.
In our culture, we still raise boys to be “hard, logical, independent and stoic,” as Real says. This creates men who are “emotionally distant, arrogant, numb to their own feelings and unconcerned about everyone else’s, as well as contemptuous of vulnerability and weakness.” Real points out something else important here: Men who were raised this way are the norm, not an aberration, especially when we look at older generations.
It might be easy to interpret Real’s work as man-bashing, but that’s not accurate. He emphasizes that men struggle with intimacy not because they’re bad people, but because of the way they were raised and cultural messages. Real believes that, with hard work and bravery, men can change what they bring to relationships. He’s been through such a transformation himself.
Real is not saying that women are perfect. In this case study, he’s clear that Jenn has her own issues to address, but that the most urgent need is for Peter to make changes.
Real believes that what looks like men’s fear of intimacy is really the fear of subjugation. “Many men read emotional receptivity as an invitation to be run over,” Real says. This comes from raising men with an overemphasis on being strong and competitive.
Nurturing and understanding, whether from their partners or through therapy, won’t change men like Peter. Instead, Real believes such men need to “feel proportionately ashamed for (their) bad behavior and yet still manage to hold onto (their) essential worth as an imperfect human being.” Appropriate shame isn’t spending the rest of your days in obsessive self-loathing. It’s about realizing who you have hurt and doing your best to make amends.
Real breaks from the common practice of the therapist not taking sides. “I side with the woman,” Real says. Again, he’s not against the man. He just believes that “business as usual” in therapy doesn’t work. This is because the skills and expectations men and women bring to a relationship can be extremely different.
If you’d like to delve further into Real’s work, there’s a great archive of articles on his website. You may also want to check out recent media coverage of Real in Forbes and AlterNet. To further your understanding of how your relationship is affected by the way you were both raised, enjoy this complimentary chapter on gender expectations from Strong Women, Strong Love.