A Real Man

He’s a Real Nowhere Man

“He’s going nowhere” she told me in a session years ago. I remember thinking: “why not?” She answered the question right then and there: “’Cause he’s a loser.”

I have heard versions of her story throughout my years of practice. Fill in the blank.  He’s a…coward, iceberg, baby, a lazy bum, self-involved, selfish pig. He’s nasty. And the list goes on.

Well, you can’t change anybody. You can only change yourself. Everybody knows that. But your spouse is driving you crazy. How can you “change yourself” about that? 

You are going to change your attitude. You are not going to let anybody drive you crazy. Oh, really? How? Here is how:

Woman number one, let’s call her Bertha, makes a big change in her attitude. Bertha is basically strong and happy in herself, and pleased with her latest decision; she is not going to let her husband get to her. He sits in a chair all weekend watching football? No problem. No help with the dishes? No sweat. Criticizes every little thing she does? Who cares! She’s doing fine. He actually does begin to act a little more considerately towards her because – well…she’s just a lot nicer to be around these days. Feelings are, after all, contagious. They start to talk more and the marriage improves.

Then, there’s Dolores. Unlike Bertha, Dolores is stressed. A few years back, she had asked her husband to fold some laundry and he sighed in frustration. Her mother had died only two days before. His sigh was more than she could handle; she felt so angry and hurt that he could be so unfeeling. She considered telling him, but she just didn’t have the energy for it. So that’s how she changed her attitude. Yes, she gave up on nagging him, and on being angry at him and on criticizing him. She also gave up on loving him. By the time she came to see me she felt quite alone, with no place to run. She had gained a lot of weight, too, and had frequent headaches.  None of this was good. 

And the moral of this fable is: sometimes, it is good to change your attitude, and sometimes…it may be healthier to keep up the fight. Which way should an unhappy, dissatisfied wife turn? 

Couples walk in to my office all the time wanting one thing: to change the other person. There is a very good reason for this. It explains what all people need and want from a marriage, and it is a very, very simple thing: to feel loved.

Funny, when people feel loved, it’s not like the other problems even disappear. Sometimes, they just get dimmer. The laziness, selfishness, thoughtlessness, nastiness, grumpiness and host of other problems that can typically rear their ugly heads in a close-knit family don’t seem quite as painful when people feel loved. It seems that it is LOVE, not CHANGE that conquers all.

How on this blessed earth can couples find LOVE for one another when they are in the thrall of a vicious cycle of neglect, criticism and blame? Well, if it is deeply hidden, love can be found. Is there a place where they sell mental pickaxes to chip away at the solid walls of blame and disappointment? What about hatchets to fell the giant, wild weeds of bitterness and remorse?

Well a therapist could certainly sell you those tools. You could also buy a book. But the tools themselves are usually completely worthless. Unless, of course, they are imbued with magic. Magic seems to make tools work, but usually, magic can’t be bought. Usually, it is locked up in a room in the brain. 

The key to unlocking the door to the magic that can make any marriage work is hope; that shimmering glimmer of hope and desire not to lose the other person, not to be alone. And to feel loved. Without that glimmer of hope, the room that holds the magic will be permanently locked.

How can men and women conjure hope in each other about feeling loved? Each couple seems to find their own way. Sometimes, couples even come to recognize that their intense negative feelings really come from some form of love. They find hope in the recognition that at least, they are not indifferent to one another. Passion is passion.

One thing I can tell you about hope is that it does not usually come from a desire to be together for the children. That is duty. There is no magic there. The real, hard work in a marriage is searching for the key to magic; searching for any evidence at all that can feed the hope that a sustaining love is possible. Not taking things for granted; ignoring evidence that there is no love; deciding that the road is not dead-end.

It is always nice, working with a couple who haven’t reached a dead end yet, when at least one person manages to generate hope in the other about having a good relationship and feeling loved. When hope is generated, the door to magic is thrown wide, wide open. And when that door is open, ladies and gentlemen, there is no end to the gleaming, unforgettable moments of real marital bliss – whether he’s a nowhere man or not.

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