Last issue we looked at a case example of Bill, whose marriage was going downhill without him being able to understand why it was happening. His wife was threatening to leave - her main complaint that he was holding up a wall against her and hiding behind it most of the time. He couldn't see what she was talking about and was confused by her grievances. As far as he saw it, he was trying the best he could. He couldn't see what would please his wife and felt very frustrated.
Before this crisis, if you were to suggest to Bill that some of the difficulties in his marriage stemmed back to his early experiences with his mother, he would have brushed off the idea without a second thought. As far as he could see it, he had had a good relationship with her, certainly as good as other healthy people had with their mothers. But with his wife threatening to leave him, and one failed marriage already under his belt, he decided there must be something going on inside him that was contributing to the problems he was having in intimacy. Having given most of his attention to his outer world up to this point in his life, he realized it was time to add balance by exploring his inner world.
As he began to focus his attention back on his early family experiences he began to recognize, when the surface layers were removed, that his mother was closer to him emotionally than she was to his father. Part of the reason was that his father was not emotionally present in the family (much like he had been accused of being in his own marriage). Following this idea along, he began to recognize how he was called upon to meet his mother's emotional needs. Bill began to make an honest study of how he coped with his mother's emotions and that opened up other areas of exploration.
When his mother would rant, he learned that he better toe the line and not do anything to set her off any further. When she was in a good mood, things went well in the household and he could relax a little. Going a little further with this, he began to realize he felt a responsibility to make his mother happy. In order to keep his mother happy he needed to learn how to anticipate her moods and then react in a way that would allow happiness to prevail. Given that his mother was the most powerful and formative feminine he will ever get exposure to, he began to become aware of the deep, mostly unconscious, 'decisions' he had made, very early on, about how to relate to the feminine.
Having avoided his inner experience for so many years, Bill had not discovered that his deeply ingrained, habitual reaction to the feminine was one of being cautious and highly reactive. Having carried this attitude to adulthood without much questioning, he was now doing much the same with his wife. He had learned to anticipate his wife's feelings and looked to her wife to set the emotional tone. If his wife was happy, he was. His main objective was to experience peace because he could then relax like he did with his mother when he was successful at giving her what he thought she wanted.
Having learned that it was much safer to react to the feminine, he wasn't conscious of how little of himself, how little of his inner being, he brought forward. He began to understand that this is what his wife meant when she said he was behind a wall. Putting himself in his wife's situation, and imagining himself being reacted to, day in and day out, he began to see how tired his wife was of his reactivity to her. And most importantly he was able to hear his wife's craving for more personal from him as something other than an attack against him.
Doors to new possibilities began to open up for Bill, especially as he learned how to share some of his discoveries with this wife. And it is important to keep in mind that he was only just scratching the surface. If he were to keep up with his inner study there would be many more insights about how his relationship with his mother affected his relationship with his wife. And then there is the even bigger work of translating new insights into action -learning how to express more of his inner self, day in and day out, even after the crisis has passed. And, if he really had a desire to open up the fullest range of possibilities with his wife he would be well advised to embark on an active program of healing with his mother (we can talk about the mechanics of this in a future column if enough reader interest is expressed).
So far we have said nothing about Bill's wife but problems in a marriage are never just one-sided. We can bet that if the husband has left over issues with his mother, to about the same degree, the wife has left over issues with her father. Next issue we'll explore that side of the equation as Bill's wife is inspired to heal more with her father.