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|Case Studies Mar/Apr - Page 7|
"She's right about that," I said. "What she doesn't get is this: your work, and everything else you do, wouldn't mean the same without her."
I told them I thought Sherry provided the meaning of life for Carl: without her, he'd carry on his routine, I said, but he'd do it as a shadow of himself. Like many divorced men, he might start drinking heavily, driving more aggressively, getting depressed, neglecting his health, and barely going through the motions of living. He nodded emphatically. The image of desolation without his wife resonated with him; he said he worked with a couple of divorced men who'd "lost their spirit" after their wives had left them.
"That's what you believe?" Sherry asked him, a bit incredulously. "If I left you, work wouldn't mean the same?" She gave him a moment to find the words.
"You and the kids," he said softly. "Without you, nothing makes any difference."
I asked Carl to come up with some brief, nonverbal acknowledgement
of Sherry's importance to him that he could do at the four major transitional times in the day: waking up, leaving the house, coming home, and going to sleep. (Rituals done at transitional times tend to carry over into the rest of the day.) He chose to touch her hand for a few seconds at those times, as an unspoken gesture of her importance to him.
One problem of trying to fit men into a feminized, tend-and-befriend ideal of attachment is that the male attachment style is generally more protect-and-connect: if a man can feel protective of his family, he'll connect with them; if he feels like a failure as a protector, he'll shut down or hide behind a wall of aggressiveness. To our great misfortune, our culture defines male protection almost entirely in financial terms, which tragically devalues the emotional support most men would like to give to their wives.
The strategy at this point in treatment was to expose opportunities to protect and connect.