For most of my life I haven’t understood my anger or why it was so often directed at the women in my life. I’ve been married three times. My first marriage lasted 10 years and ended in an acrimonious divorce. My second marriage began with extreme attraction and passion and luckily ended before one of us killed the other. I’m not talking metaphorically here. We often were down and depressed or manic and agitated and our rage was such that I worried that one of us was in danger of killing the other or killing ourselves. Luckily we separated before our anger, fear, and need turned deadly.
My third wife, Carlin, and I have been married for 34 years. We’ve had to deal with my anger, but have learned to better understand the causes and cures, which I’d like to share with you. In order to do that we have to learn about the new science of love.
Two of experts in this emerging field are John Gottman and Sue Johnson. Dr. Gottman is world renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction and has conducted 40 years of breakthrough research with thousands of couples. Dr. Johnson is the author of Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships and is the primary developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) which has demonstrated its effectiveness in over 25 years of peer-reviewed clinical research.
The Four Pillars of the New Science of Love
I’ve learned a lot about the new science of love and share many of my insights in my new book, Stress Relief for Men: How to Use the Revolutionary Tools of Energy Healing to Live Well. One of the key tools is what I call “attachment love.” We used to think that the best relationships were based on two people “standing on their own two feet” and taking responsibility for their individual needs. Now we know that we are deeply connected and true love recognizes how much we are dependent on each other.
According to Dr. Sue Johnson, in her book Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, she describes five key findings of a new understanding of sex, love, and intimate relationships:
1. The first and foremost instinct of humans is neither sex nor aggression. It is to connect.
Based on the research of British psychiatrist John Bowlby, the new science of love demonstrates that that we are designed to love a few precious others who will hold and protect us through the squalls and storms of life. It is Nature’s plan for the survival of the species. Sex may impel us to mate, but it is love that assures our existence.
2. Adult romantic love is an attachment bond, just like the one between mother or father and child.
We’ve long assumed that as we mature, we outgrow the need for the intense closeness, nurturing, and comfort we had as children with our caregivers, and that as adults, the romantic attachments we form are essentially sexual in nature. This is a complete distortion of adult love.
Research demonstrates that our need to depend on one precious other—to know that when we “call,” he or she will be there for us—never dissolves. In fact, it endures from, as Bowlby put it, “the cradle to the grave.”
3. Emotional dependency is not immature or pathological, it is our greatest strength.
Like most of the people in Western society, I believed that “dependency” was something I needed to avoid like the plague. I believed that a “real man” was strong, independent, and self-sufficient. To a lesser degree women are also raised to value independence and see dependence as a weakness to be overcome. Yet we now know that emotional isolation is a killer. Since men to be more emotionally isolated than women, it helps account for the fact that the suicide rate is 2 to 18 times higher for men than it is for women and increases as we age.
4. Being the “best you can be” is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people.
Many of us think of love as limiting, narrowing our options and experiences. Like many men, I grew up being taught that falling in love was a trap. It would mean the end of my independence and ability to explore and adventure. But I’ve found it to be exactly the reverse. The more connected and supported I feel, the more free I feel to move out in the world and be the best I can be.
Overcoming the Male Shame of Dependency and Learning to Let Love Protect and Heal
As far back as I can remember I was taught that a “real man” was strong and independent. He didn’t let others know that he was vulnerable and he kept his feelings to himself. He demonstrated his love by working hard, being a good bread-winner, and being the “rock of Gibraltar” so we others could rely on our strength.
Once I got married I tried to put these early beliefs into practice. Where the women in my life were emotional, I tried to be logical. When they were hurting I tried to be there for them. When I was hurting, I tried to take care of my own pain. Deep inside I felt vulnerable and needy. I hated to even think of being “needy.” I saw it as akin to being “a wimp,” not a man, definitely not someone a woman would love and want to be with.
When I was overwhelmed and afraid, when I’d had a serious setback at work, I wanted to crawl into my wife’s arms and have her comfort me. Even the thought scared me to death. I imagined if I ever did such a thing I would never want to leave. I would forfeit my manhood and became a helpless child. My shame would often turn to anger. I never recognized it, but I was mad at myself for being “needy” and mad at my wife because I needed her and felt I shouldn’t. I was mad when she would try and meet my needs and mad when she didn’t.
It never occurred to me, until I learned about the science of love, that dependency is part of being human, that having our lover hold and nurture us not just OK, but necessary for love to flourish. These are big changes for a culture that has been based on independence and self-reliance.
I had to totally change my concept of what it meant to be a man. But I also learned that women had to also make changes in their own beliefs about manhood. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had women say that they longed for a man to be vulnerable and show his feelings, but when he showed how weak and vulnerable he was, they shamed him. “It’s like I’ve got another child in the house,” I’ve heard from many women.
It’s been one of great gifts of my life that Carlin and I are both learning to let go of the old systems of love, which require men and women to be separate and independent. We are learning how to accept and glory in our dependency and recognize that we truly need each other. To accept each other’s need for nurturing, care, and support is something we all have to learn. In my book, Stress Relief for Men, I call it “attachment love” and I say it’s the best stress reliever a man can ever have. It saves lives and enriches relationships.
Please share your comments and questions below. You can also follow me on twitter for more of a dialogue: @MenAliveNow