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|Case Studies Mar/Apr - Page 4|
"In the therapist's office, he can do it just fine," said Sherry. "He can listen and open up about himself without resentment or anger—everything I want. It's worse to know that he can do it and just won't when we're home."
"I did it already!" Carl said, implying that he'd said the words, paid his dues, and shouldn't have to repeat the performance over and over.
I asked Sherry to think of a time when she'd felt that Carl was understanding her and communicating more openly. It took a few moments, but she came up with a time when they'd been walking by a lake near their house: he'd talked about feeling vulnerable at work; people who'd been with the company for less time than he were getting promotions, while he was stuck in midlevel management.
"I said it'd make me nervous if he was thinking of quitting his job when we had all those bills. And he heard that. He put his arm around me. And we felt connected."
"What did he say," I asked.
She looked surprised. "He didn't say anything, but I knew he'd heard me and wasn't thinking about quitting his job."
"And did she say that you're a loser at work, and that's why you're not getting promoted?" I asked Carl.
"She said the other people getting ahead of me were ass-lickers, and it was more important to have integrity—something like that."
"You reassured each other," I pointed out. "Carl didn't say anything, yet Sherry felt reassured and said something in return that reassured him. Those are different styles of connection, and you made them fit together."
Fitting Different Styles
I mentioned to them that men talk more freely when they feel emotionally connected or when they're doing something, like walking, driving, or playing. The connection or activity eases the transition from their sense of inadequacy to a gut-level compassion for the women they love. It's often said that women need to feel close before they have sex, while men want to have sex to feel close. But the opposite is true when it comes to the verbal communication of feelings. Women expose their vulnerabilities to feel close: they typically call girlfriends and say they feel bad, or they complain about bad things that have happened to them. These gambits interest their girlfriends, who then share similar experiences. But men have to feel close before they can expose their vulnerability. Carl felt close enough on his walk with Sherry that he could express his self-doubt about work and reassure her when she expressed concern.