By Ramona Zabriskie for GalTime.com
guy wearing a tool belt had just delivered a certified threat from the electric company. With deep foreboding, I took the envelope to my husband at his desk. He slit it open and stared at the contents. The red print bled through so that I could make out the numbers, even from the other side of the desk. Our eyes met. He looked at me intently, in a peculiar way, as though he was torn between crushing me to his chest or hiding behind his desk.
Then, the strangest thing happened.
My husband fell forward, his forehead to his arms, and wept. And wept. And wept.
“My big, burly, confident, fix-anything, know-everything-man is scared,” I thought. He’s really, really scared!
I had never thought before that HE could be afraid. Probably not fair, but it had never occurred to me.
Suddenly, I comprehended, like never before, the immense burden my husband put on himself—just because he was a man, and a family man, at that.
That eye-opener (after I caught my own breath) established a new kind of approach to my relationships with men, a more empathetic approach—especially with my husband, of course. It also spurred me into another of my research projects: What frightens men? I wanted to understand that vulnerable part of my husband, a part I knew he would never, could never, verbalize to me.
Through my research, here are four things that neuro-biologists, psychologists, psychologists, social observers, and family professionals taught me frightens men the most:
The yearning for success and recognition is so deep-seated, so biologically and culturally ingrained, that a man’s sense of self is completely tied up in demonstrations of strength, physical or mental. Any contest of strength is potentially hazardous to the ego, however, because the possibility of failure is a real and present danger. Behind all the bravado, you can bet there is a boy who cringes when he’s laughed at, trembles when he’s bullied, and shrivels when he’s scolded.
Relinquishing independence keeps many men from progressing in their relationships—even with their wife. Independence is a crucial form of male confidence—a belief in himself that he’s fought hard for: that he can and will be just exactly who he is or who he wants to be, no matter what. To replace that precious autonomy and courage with the prospect of confinement, even if it is at the hands of a relationship with a woman he loves, can be scary.
That being said, as much as he may shun over-attachment, he’s also scared to death of feeling alone. Most men paradoxically need and fear emotional connectedness, meaning he may feel uncomfortable whenever you focus on a person or project other than him for any significant period of time. If you are unavailable or drifting from him, anxiety sets in because, unlike a woman, experts say many men cannot easily communicate neediness without feeling ashamed of it.
Closely associated with feeling neglected, a man may feel unneeded. His compulsion to prove himself plays into his hunger to be useful and needed; it helps us to understand his long hours at work, his relish for problem solving. Your man is saying to everyone, but especially to you, his wife, “Do you still need me?” If he thinks the answer is no, a man will lose momentum, becoming increasingly passive and depressed.
Of course, men differ just like women do and not all men’s fears will be those stated above. But, it is true that men get afraid and how they deal with fears can be foreign to their partners.
By the same token, don’t let the revelation that your man can be afraid make YOU afraid. Clueing into my husband’s heart all those years ago actually empowered me and still does. Though our insecurities differ somewhat (feeling unwanted as opposed to feeling useless, for instance), my four decade effort to soothe his worries rather than stir them up, has been well worth it. Just like that electric bill from long ago, this wife has been paid-in-full many times over by a grateful man who has matured into his best, most loving, most courageous self.
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Ramona Zabriskie, a wife of 38 years, is the multi-award winning author of Wife for Life: The Power to Succeed in Marriage and founder of the highly acclaimed Wife for Life University, a one-of-a-kind virtual school for wives that transforms marriages through a step-by-step, principle based approach via live mentoring, classes, and community. Watch Ramona’s free information-packed webinar, “Your Power to Succeed in Marriage” on demand at ramonazabriskie.com.