I promised more on the idea of sharing grief in your marriage. How is this type of grief a different case from learning to handle loss and pain when an individual experiences a tragedy? Vulnerability plays an important role in this situation. When it is your own pain there are many ways of dealing with it. Some are good and some are not so good.
With any type of shared emotion, women have the advantage when it comes to grief. In general women are more empathetic. Women are also more practiced in developing a network of support to help sustain them through difficult and rough times. There is generally support of one another over their shared experiences.
As I mentioned in a previous post, men have been conditioned by society and their father’s to follow a rather fixed set of rules. These rules held to a certain stereotype that believed that men should grieve alone and if you get hurt, you just walk it off. If you stuff your feelings long enough and often enough then you’ll never have to feel them.
“You never saw John Wayne cry, don’t be a baby.” Sound familiar?
Hypertension, heart issues, overeating, alcohol/drug abuse are some of the health issues that men have face from chronic stuffing of emotion. As the Grief Recovery Method states, we are not meant to be pressure cookers. Contrary to what happens in the kitchen when you pressure cook meat, It doesn’t make us tender. it doesn’t work that way with humans. Our blood pressure soars, we lash out in aggressive behavior, in short we fail ourselves and our marriages suffer.
I did this. I thought I knew how to handle the grief that broke my heart when my daughter died. I was too quick to return to work, attempting to shoulder my burden and try to pick up the pieces of my life. I couldn’t or wouldn’t talk to anyone and my wife was grieving her daughter.
That’s the thing, I had come to rely on my wife, Nancy to share my pain. I didn’t have anyone else. When she was deep in her own grief, it was hard for me to try to open up. I did what I knew how to do, I compartmentalized and stuffed the grief in a box to be dealt with later. Meanwhile, I tried to deflect the pain I was feeling by over drinking and zoning out on television. Attempting to “get through” each day only to pick up again and do it all over again. It worked for a while, until it didn’t. I could see the marriage getting stuck and before it broke apart I knew I had to act.
That is where vulnerability comes in. I had to break open the stubborn lessons I was taught and share my pain with Nancy. One of the hardest things I have done was to admit that I needed help and that I couldn’t do this on my own. I had help from several sources, a therapist and the Grief Recovery Method. But it wasn’t until, I could open up to my wife tell her the brokenness that I felt that my healing truly began. More on this in future reflections.