The ability to provide for those we love is a sensitive thing for men. We often draw a lot of our worth from the lives we can give those we love. When what we provide is put in jeopardy by the loss of a job, or home, or other difficult situation, we tend to immediately carry a burden larger than normal.
The home my wife and I have been renting for the last 10-plus years is being sold. All but the first six months of our marriage has been in this house. Our two oldest took their first steps in our living room, and our baby is currently crawling all over it.
The gravity of losing the place we’ve built our family is great, but it’s compounded with the significant rent increase that’s headed our way. We’ve been blessed to pay below-market price to live here. Looking at our options has brought the reality that we may have to go from a 1600 square feet, three-bedroom house with a fenced backyard and two-car garage, to a 900 square feet, two-bedroom apartment.
As the main provider, I have felt an enormous amount of insecurity and inadequacy the last several months that we’ve sat with this news. My ego and sense of self have steadily dwindled. Much of it is what I’d assume are natural feelings in the midst of the situation. But another part of it was based on comments Lisa made as we’ve discussed what we’re going to do.
Wives probably don’t realize men can be in a fragile state because, well, we usually hide our feelings. They may not even know their comments come loaded with extra ego-punching potency. I don’t think Lisa realized I had her words around my neck weighing me down.
Rather than talk to her about it I took offense and let it simmer, and let it make me feel crappier about myself. I thought about all the ways I wasn’t providing enough and how it’s now going to get worse. My mind would wander into thinking I’m a loser raising children who are currently awesome but are going to be losers because their dad is a loser.
A recent conversation with a friend reminded me of one of my big values in marriage: vulnerability.
As a man, this sucks sometimes. We don’t like to open up and talk about feelings. It’s uncomfortable. There have even been times I’ve been vulnerable in saying how I was feeling and it just turned into a big fight.
The fights seem to happen when I tell Lisa she made me feel a certain way. That causes her to go on the defense, which in turn makes me defensive. Then I pull back into my turtle shell again for the next few months and compartmentalize everything.
This time it went really well.
It goes well every time I approach Lisa gently and humbly. No accusations. Just simple “I” statements about how I feel.
This was the gist of the conversation: “Lisa, when you said, ‘_______,’ I felt inadequate as a provider for this family. I also felt like I was handed the problem of finding a place to live, and it was mine to solve alone. I want this to be our problem that we tackle together.”
Now the ball was in her court. I shared how I felt and that was it. She didn’t make me feel it, it’s not her fault. Now she knows how I feel and can choose to respond or not.
While I prepared myself for the worst, Lisa apologized for the way her words made me feel, and agreed she wanted to be equal partners in deciding where we were going to live and next steps for our family.
Again, I didn’t tell her she did anything wrong and I didn’t ask for an apology. I stated something she said, then said how I felt when I heard those words. Simply being vulnerable and not accusatory allowed her to respond with the same demeanor. What could have been a potential fight in the past was diffused before it even started.
Regardless of Lisa’s words to me, I was carrying around this lie that I’m unworthy because I’m not the perfect provider. I’m unloved by my wife and kids because I wasn’t accomplishing what I needed as the “man of the house.”
There was power in the vulnerability of being honest with Lisa and telling her how I was feeling. I needed to know that she would accept me and love me though I feel I’m coming up short, and that she wanted to go after this problem together. Her response removed the weight I let drag me down and gave me confidence we’d be OK.
In the end, being vulnerable actually gave me the ego boost I needed.
This story was originally published on Medium. Read Adam Hillis’ original post here.