Emotional Work

In relationships, who does their emotional work these days? The woman? The man? Both partners? I figure men and women must work together to make any beneficial and lasting changes toward harmonious living. Conceivably, they’ll find some common ground and heal relationship aspects that ripped apart our respective worlds in the first place.

As a result of men and women having been taught such different and conflicting harmful beliefs about one another, they must come together to heal disparate parts before much healing could occur between the sexes.

Women and Fertility

Psychiatrist Karen_Horney_1938 posted in Emotional WorkI’m not absolutely sure, but looking back at my first marriage, as near as I could tell, Jerry started cheating on me during my first pregnancy.

There is something about women’s fertility — the mystery of pregnancy — that really threatens a man’s ego. Maybe it’s as simple as “because a man can’t get pregnant”.

Apparently, there is such a thing as womb envy[1]  which could explain the change in Jerry toward me at that time. Psychoanalyst Karen Horney (yes, that’s her real name) considered womb envy a cultural, psychosocial tendency, like the concept of penis envy, rather than an innate male psychological trait.[7]  I take that to mean the tendency is more related to relationship aspects than psychological ones.

Dr. Horney believed that womb envy arises when men think they are not in control nor as powerful in their lives like they thought they were. By the way, the irony of her name is not lost on me.

Above-right is a photograph of psychiatrist Karen Horney, taken in October 1938. Collection of Renate Horney Patterson. Courtesy of Renate Horney Patterson, who holds the copyright. Permission granted by Mrs. Patterson on 5th June 2006 under GDFL license.

Is this Feminism?

No, rest assured I am not a feminist. Dr. Horney is considered a feminist, whereas I don’t consider myself one. Furthermore, I never viewed men as my enemy. If anything, I’m curious about what makes men think so differently than women, even if raised in the same family. From being the only girl among seven male siblings, I also understand without equivocation. As a result, I believe good communication helps a couple to find way through any of the mystery between the sexes. My love of men helps me to remain optimistic about healthy resolutions to relationship issues.

Men in Matrilinial Cultures

In matrilinial cultures — relating to, based on, or tracing descent through the maternal line — it was the women who gave the baby it’s name, women owned the property, women raised the children. Often, women had multiple partners, and it was of no relevance who the father was.

Today, it’s the opposite. Men give the child their surname, claim property rights, and care for their children financially. Certainly I realize there are exceptions, of course. Interestingly, I know some “house husbands” who stay at home and raise the children — and do a great job of it!

In some paternity cases, men may make the claim that the baby isn’t theirs and even go to court to dispute the charge. In those situations, men don’t wish to accept their share of responsibility.

Men’s Emotional Response to Fertility

Some men experience a mix of emotional responses to their wife’s pregnancy. When I first mentioned to Jerry that I might be pregnant, he turned mushy and tears filled his eyes. Then I watched as his eyes grew wide. Apparently, he next became frightened of his own deep response. He tried desperately to hide it. After that he attempted to find ways to avoid any future shows of emotion. Why was he afraid? How come he couldn’t say, “I’m afraid. What happens now?” But no.

Was he overcome with joy and elation? If so, why couldn’t he cry out or dance for joy? Or perhaps he felt a sense of dread, or overwhelming sense of responsibility. Frankly, I don’t know, because my then-husband revealed none of that verbally. Try as I might to encourage conversation, there was very little communication.

He shut himself down and it hurt our relationship. He became gloomy and sullen, and spoke very little. Meanwhile, I tried harder than ever to have meals ready for him on time. I tried to be cheerful and include him in all my activities. Yet, the only time he approached me was for sex. He seemed to bury himself in sex. Lots of sex. It wasn’t until much later, after getting into therapy, I learned he was also a sex addict.

Moving Forward with Motherhood Plans

Well, when I confirmed my pregnancy, my world changed too — not only Jerry’s. I had some hard choices to make because I wanted to be a good mom. I quit smoking at that time — cold turkey. Really, I wished for him to quit as well, but sadly, he refused. Also, I stopped drinking. Sure, I’d still have the occasional glass of wine, or I’d have a beer at the family barbecue, but no more drinking to the point of drunkenness. And never would I partake in illegal drugs.

Not so with Jerry. He would make his escapades regularly, and especially on weekends. He just didn’t bother to come home after work on Fridays. On those occasions, he would stumble home after I was in bed, asleep. I found his drunken bouts extremely upsetting. Must he “escape” from the relationship? Why couldn’t he deal with his emotions and feelings, or go for some therapy and sort out his issues? Whatever happened to him as a child that he was so repressed?

Nevertheless, life carried on as my belly continued to expand. I moved ahead with preparations to become a mother. Our relationship was undergoing a massive transition, and he couldn’t see where to step in and join us. Where he used to be the focus of my attention, now it included my growing belly. Why was I the only one making adjustments? Couldn’t he adapt? Wasn’t he going to be a father? Wouldn’t that be of any significance to him? Were there no preparations for him to make? The choice to become parents was a joint venture, wasn’t it?

The “Divide-and-Conquer” Strategy

Neither of us knew that having a baby could create extra emotional work and unforeseen upheaval which could potentially upset our relationship. Were we up for it?

Jerry didn’t feel equipped to make the shift into fatherhood, apparently. He separated from me in the emotional sense. Worse, he sectioned off his own emotional response, like a type of “emotional castration”. Was that a healthy choice? Self-destructive much?

It seemed to me he carried a lot of fear and he just couldn’t face his perceived failings. Too bad he judged himself so harshly. I really loved him at the time, yet now he had a feral look in his eyes. Never did I view him the desperate way in which he viewed himself. I longed for intimate conversations about how we were each doing, as we moved ahead with our lives together.

I supposed men were “damaged” in one way — women in another — in the “program” to divide humanity against each other in all ways possible.

  • Men vs. women
  • Religion vs. other religion
  • Public vs. private schools
  • Educated vs. uneducated
  • Rich vs. poor
  • Race vs. other race
  • Culture vs. other culture
  • Religions vs. secular, and on, and on.

Religion and Relationship Hazards

Religion is the cause of much upheaval in relationships, especially if the husband and wife believe differently. Many a marriage breaks up due to a religious divide. My father took a harsh view, naming himself as the only head of the house. We were to listen to him and he was the final authority on all decisions. After all, he was the biblically-identified patriarchal head of the house. God himself would not be pleased if any of us questioned his position in the household. That edict included his wife!

I remember hearing a talk from the kingdom hall platform about “divide-and-conquer” strategies being implemented to make it easier for governments to conquer and topple another country in times of unrest.

Much later, after I left the religion of my childhood, I began to realize that religions were being used by governments as a front to divide populations. At the same time, they used religion to establish their own power. For example, Zion’s Watch Tower calls itself a religion, and they teach about theocracy, meaning “government by God”. Everything they utter is “in the name of god” — or so they claim. It seems to get them further ahead in their political sphere, in a covert fashion — because theocracies claim to be apolitical. They’re not. Even though the religion publicly claimed itself neutral where politics is concerned.

Zion'sWatchTower_Oct1,1907 from wikipediaZion's Watch Tower, October 1, 1907 from Wikipedia

Castration—Have Males Gone Mad?

At some point during matrilineal times, the practice of male castration became a literal thing, usually when his relationship as consort and lover ended. Yes, this is more than “emotional” castration. What I’m referring to is literal now. Reference to eunuchs can be found in ancient Sumer, Babylon, Canaan, Anatolia, and other areas. After castration, the eunuch males donned female clothing, as if to deny their masculinity. That action would assure the female ruler that no child born in the community could possibly be theirs. According to Merlin Stone,

Ms Merlin Stone explanation of castration posted in Emotional WorkLiteral self-castration? What a horrendous “solution” to anything! 

As I mentioned in a previous article, Osiris, Uranus, and Attis were at the receiving end of such brutal treatment — even if self-induced — just to prolong their own lives after the goddess no longer required their services.

Men’s Logic for Castration “Solution”

Ah, but there could be an alternate reason for the males to engage in self-castration. What if some of the men wished they were women instead? Or, what if some homosexual men found themselves competing for male attention by an attractive female?

Another possibility, is the man might become so jealous of his wife that he falls victim to womb envy. That is the mirror to Freud’s theory that women suffer from penis envy. Readers may wish to research more as to how he came up with his theory — and the connections to this essay.

Or, what if men castrated themselves in order to infiltrate the matrilineal cultures with the intent of toppling them? Perhaps, men had their own hierarchy and could induce men of their “lesser order” to gain a reward by following the orders of their “handler”, as they might be described in today’s language. That way the faux men could then become privy to the internal secrets of how the women’s cultures gained and retained their successes, via this Trojan Horse tactic, pretending to be one of them.

Toppling Matrilineal Cultures

Eventually, the men were able to dominate and destroy the women’s peaceful culture that was in play for thousands upon thousands of years. Will men be as successful with their patriarchal rule? I doubt it because I don’t believe in creating divisions between the sexes. I prefer harmony.

Ironically, it wasn’t that long ago in recent history that boys in a religious choir would accept castration thinking it would prevent their voice from changing as they grew into puberty. Castration would enable the boys to continue singing in their beloved choir. Sometimes, remaining in the choir even meant furthering their education. Seemingly, the choice to castrate did not seem too great. These castrated choir boys became known as Castrato singers.

Personally, I would be horrified if a son or man I loved could behave so brutally toward himself, as to commit himself to castration. Nevertheless, some strange agendas enable men to make some equally strange choices. Why can’t men make healthier choices?

But I digress.

So Why Won’t Men Do Their Emotional Work?

My biggest complaint about the failure of my first marriage has to do with communication — or lack of it. I’ve since many studied books about the dynamics of relationships where men won’t — or can’t — communicate with their partners. So, why do men suppress their emotions? Not all men, but certainly too many do exactly that.

One explanation is that showing emotion was ridiculed by a parent, or even both parents. If Jerry cried as a child, his father might have shamed him for being a “cry-baby” — or if he showed a display of anger and then something bad happened. Children often connect the two events and blame themselves for the tragic incident. There are many potential scenarios. It’s impossible for me to know at this late stage.

Another thing that happens when men bottle up their emotions is that his wife will try to cover for him. Perhaps I became overly emotional if he was stopped up. Or when I didn’t receive validation of the seriousness of some issue, I got more insistent, in search of being acknowledged or supported. Sadly, that communication style never worked for us. Maybe he was emotionally damaged and dissociated when I became emotional. Looking back, I could have done some things differently — undoubtedly.

Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

The main lesson I learned way past the expiry date of our relationship is to never attempt to do my partner’s emotional work. Now, in my current relationship, I try to explain my feelings and my perspectives, and leave it at that. My new partner is left to see a need to carry his share of the relationship load by doing his emotional work. We have a much better communication style than I had with Jerry, as a result of our shared efforts at harmony.

In order for open and honest communication, both sides must avoid judgment long enough to calmly accept the self-disclosure of the other. Also, there is the issue of trust or confidence that a sensitive disclosure will not be betrayed to the wider world. Usually the responsibility to help with a failing relationship “defaults” to the woman, who seems to be more sensitive to the issues. Men do need a measure of support from us, but still their emotional work must remain theirs to sort out.

Empathy Goes a Long Way, Ladies!

There were many issues Jerry would never discuss with me. One time he got as far as revealing that something bad happened when he was learning the electrical trade under his father’s tutelage. Someone died. For all I know, Jerry felt responsible, as he was still young. His father was very strict with him, being a military man. True or not, apparently Jerry felt the work-related death was all his fault. On one occasion, he disclosed this information to me while he was drinking, but he never brought it up again for us to delve deeper. It’s possible he wasn’t even aware he told me.

Worse — and I hate to admit it — he may have feared disclosure for whatever reasons. It is true, I can be a bitch sometimes, but not then. At that time I felt a deep empathy for Jerry because of his father’s harshness. My own father was extremely harsh, too — and that severe attitude is brutal for a child to bear unsupported. When men disclose their misery, I allow it to touch my heart. Women, if you’re anything like me, the goal is helping them to end their suffering, on our way to relationship harmony.

Roots of Unhappy Childhoods

If men fear confiding to their wife, I suggest seeking therapy. Some problems could be made a lot simpler if only men could seek counseling from a professional therapist. They could ease a lot of their suffering by unburdening themselves and discovering some new tools to manage their distress. Many problems originate in our childhoods and carry forward into our adult years, without us recognizing it. Therapy would help men to connect those dots. Life could be much more pleasant for all concerned.

Drinking toward Divorce?

Men often give each other bad advice that could complicate an otherwise simple problem. I know a man whose wife recently left him. He’s filled with rage, yet refuses to get help — real professional help. Instead he drinks with his buddies. What’s that going to solve? Those men have wives and children at home who are being neglected by trying to solve their friend’s marital problems. Meanwhile, their marriages are suffering, too. That “drinking buddy” solution only makes it worse for his friends. Sometimes men really dig themselves in deeper. Like the castration issue. How did that even become a “solution” to anything — anything? Maybe men thought up that solution over too many beers.

I know another man who drinks too much and whose marriage broke up. Instead of trying to understand the reasons why she elected to divorce him, he began “preaching” at her, quoting scriptures such as “Jehovah hates a divorcing!” — in his typical patriarchal tone. The message was “Obey me! Obey god! And get back together with me, woman!” Need I say the divorce is now final. Another epic fail for men.

Dear Men,

Women aren’t your enemies. Instead of going to that dark place, you might choose instead to work toward a resolution in some more civilized fashion than your self-destructive approaches up till now. As an alternative, you might want to get some therapy and analyze your relationship while sober. A therapist is a good choice because they would stay neutral. They are trained to leave their personal opinions out, while listening to your story objectively, since they’re professionals. They would consider your options in a rational manner. You might even choose a woman therapist and practice communicating with her first. Learn to look at your emotional baggage and deal with it from a balanced standpoint. Then try out the suggestions with your partner.

Be assured that good mental health is achievable by soothing extreme emotional states through self-acceptance. In other words, accept yourself just as you are. Also, avoid self-deprecation steered by idealism, ego-driven comparisons, and perfectionism. Religion directs a lot of this by convincing their members they are all “miserable sinners”. A good therapist will understand the concept and will help you to overcome the compulsion to be so harsh with yourself.

You might surprise yourself, gentlemen. Women love knowing you’re honestly making an effort to communicate with them. Here’s to your happy and harmonious future!


References from Wikipedia

[1] Horney, Karen (1967). Feminine Psychology. W.W. Norton Company, New York.

[7]  Hockenberry, Lindsy. “How Womb Envy Has Caused Men to Control Women’s Bodies”. A Medium Corporation.

Related Reading

Have we lost our humanity? Atrocities committed In the Name of God

Read this story of a new dad who decided to communicate with his wife after three years of marriage. It may have saved not only his marriage, but his sanity. Commendable.

Here’s a story about a modern-day castration, if anyone thinks this doesn’t happen anymore. My Life as a Eunuch.

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