26 November, 2012

Men are from Mars ...

When I was young, a new and enthusiastic feminist in my teens and 20s, the debate was still raging over nature and nurture, and whether the sexes really were that different.  Now I’m in much older, I know that the sexes are different, and increasingly we are finding incontrovertible evidence that this is a result of nature.  Over the years, especially at the forums dealing with loss and then infertility post-loss, I have seen example after example that shows men really are from Mars, and we women most definitely are not.

I’ve often seen women in the grips of grief over pregnancy loss, or in despair as infertility takes its toll, talk about their male partners.  And one of the most frequent sentiments is how much these women wished that their partners not only understood how they felt, but shared exactly the same emotions.  

But you know, our men are different.  Just because they don't react the way we react doesn’t mean they don’t care.  It means they’re experiencing this differently.  They’re distressed at the distress shown by their lovely women.  They feel helpless, they want to solve the problems, and they want to protect us.  And when they can’t, they can sometimes behave in ways that are inexplicable to us.  I’ve seen men who struggle to deal with the emotions of their women decide that the answer is simply never to try to get pregnant again.  Yes, I see you’re all rolling your eyes.  We know that’s not the right solution.  But our  men don’t always know that.

Whilst I didn’t want my husband to feel the grief I felt, I did want him to express his feelings a little more than he did.  He didn’t really know how he felt, because he didn’t explore his feelings in the same way I did.  He shook his head and said to me once, “you don’t understand.  If I don’t want to think about something, I don’t.”  I remember being stunned.  If only I could be like that!  Life would be much easier.

As I started to pull out of my wretchedness, and began laughing, smiling, and loving life again, he felt he could relax, and express some of his own feelings.  Isn’t this what I wanted?  Well, in a word, and to be totally honest, NO!  Because knowing that he was sad, when I was finally not being sad, pulled me back down.  And then it made me feel guilty for resenting him pulling me back down.  Now, so many years later, we’re both comfortable with noting when something annoys or upsets us, or even gloating over feeling child-FREE at times.  But in those early months and years, when I was concentrating on trying to get better – for me and for him - it was hard enough to deal with my own emotions.  To be completely frank, dealing with his emotions would have been an added burden.  It was a burden I could bear once i felt like I was recovering, and I knew I could support him when he needed it.  But had it come earlier, I might have drowned.

So when I look back, I am forever grateful that we are very different.  I can’t imagine we could have gone through that time, experiencing identical emotions, and survived.  The fact we are different complements each other.  So my advice to women who want their men to feel the same emotions is “be careful what you wish for.”


  1. I guess it would work (the shared emotions at the same time) if you were both brooders who wanted to be left alone. My husband was terribly annoying - he would tell me I needed to get over it and get on with life and why was I still moping around. Meanwhile, 6 months to a year later, he couldn't deal with the stress, and (in addition to other things) it's never really let up...7 years later. It would have been easier for him to deal with his feelings at the time, rather than suppress them and have them pop up as something even more destructive. Of course, this only works in retrospect - I probably would have killed him at the time.

    Yeah, you're right - it does seem to work better if only one person at a time is having a meltdown.

  2. This: "Just because they don't react the way we react doesn’t mean they don’t care."
    It took me so long to believe this, but I find it true with any kind of grief.

  3. loved your post! I couldn't agree more!!!

  4. So true. Mr Stinky is usually more expressive than I believe most men are, but I was still surprised at how differently we reacted. I know when I was having a shit time of it, he supported me through it, then when I was having quite a good day, his stuff would come up and I'd be the 'stronger' one. We never planned it like that! Just like a natural ebb and flow.
    But I did feel like it was more acute for me, I always thought that was because it was MY body it all happened to. Its more abstract, I think for the blokes in that way

  5. Reading this, I'm basically thankful that I don't have a partner. It's hard enough to deal with my own emotions with hitting the first anniversary soon without including someone else's feelings. Sometimes I do wish I have a partner (to cuddle, and to hold during grief), it's all perceptive... thanks for sharing your experience!

  6. This is something I struggle with. For me - what really does NOT help is that I have OCD and it's "pure-O" meaning I have obsessive thoughts all.day.long. And so, because of that, when there's something particular - such as our infertility, it is ALL I think about literally all.day.long. I know my husband is very upset that our IVF failed and I know he is hoping and praying that our FET works next month - but he BARELY shows it. He also doesn't understand why I get so upset every time I find out someone else is pregnant...even though I try and try to explain to him, it's not that I'm not happy for them, I am, it's just that I'm overly sad for us. And he doesn't understand that.


  7. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! I also read that book in my early teens and it's been so helpful to me in terms of understanding the differences between men and women. I think in our IF journey, I tended to search for a place to talk through my feelings with others more than with my own hubby, because I don't want him to feel too helpless in my grief. He was more of a "caveman" in his grief, so I let him grieve peacefully.

  8. Very true Mali, I did not see it then but I see it now. It is also recently that the spouse has begun to surprise me now and then with empathic comments and insights. It seems that overtime he's gotten to share a bit of my point of view too.

  9. Well said.

    Men still grieve, we just aren't sure if showing you our grief will help or hurt you...so we clam up.

  10. Emotional dealings are difficult when they happen to a couple together, and equally challenging when they occur at different times. But when they happen at different times, we can take turns in helping the other deal.