You are right ? this can destroy a marriage. So don’t let the possibility of failure cause you to opt out or name the game as ‘stupid’. The encouraging thing is that although you have partially split off from this part of your brain due to the boarding school experience, there is a neuroplasticity to our brains, which means that they can learn and develop new skills (neural pathways) at any age. Boarding school may have taught you to move on quickly when emotions surface, and not to explore them. Early separation from your parents can create a psyche that has learned to fend for itself and not find strength through attaching emotionally to others. These patterns of response need retraining to create an intimate marriage relationship.
I’m going to set you ‘brain development exercises’! Please do the following, with eye contact (that is very important) four or five days a week. Keep it up for a month:
Step 1: Ask your wife how her day was (not what she did). If she needs drawing out, think of some more questions, such as, ‘Were there any special moments today?’ or ‘What did you most/least enjoy about today?’ Then follow on with a pure ‘empathy’ question such as ‘How did that affect/impact you?’
Step 2: Reflect back to her what she has just told you about the emotional experience of her day, eg ‘that sounds frustrating/sad/draining/exciting/fulfilling’. Pick the main ‘emotions words’ you have heard or sensed, even if she did not say them.
Then repeat the steps describing your day. Emphasise how you found it, rather than just listing what you did. Identify even one emotion you felt at any point in the day and let her in on it.
Be aware that the male brain has a more active temporal parietal junction than the female brain. This is the solution seeker part of the brain, which rallies the brain’s resources to solve distressing problems while taking empathy into account. During emotional conversations, this is more active in the male brain, which means men might be prone to look for ‘quick fix’ solutions. Women usually want more space for a non fix-it response first, unless they have specifically asked otherwise. Try to stay in listening mode, reflecting back the emotion you have heard from her first. You will think this sounds patronising but give it a try! Simply say, ‘that sounds very…’ then fill in her emotional words eg ‘aggravating/insulting/stimulating/creative’ etc. Once you have connected over her fully telling the story and feeling you have understood how it affected her emotionally, move on to ‘Would it help to talk about what you can do?’
My answer this month may sound unusually gender stereotyping for me! Galatians 3:28 exhorts us that we are all one in Christ. Male and female are equal in status and value, yet we are biologically different; also, every human being carries the effects of a different upbringing.
Be brave enough to look at your own emotional patterns too. What makes you shut down and pull back from intimacy? Marriage is a commitment to push through these barriers that we all have different triggers for, and to grow into deeper consistency in intimacy. To conquer these triggers, we will usually need to share them with each other so that the other person can grow in their understanding of your sensitivities and vulnerabilities, and you can find a joint way to navigate them.
Beyond all of this, remember you have a sex appeal, a ‘sweep her off her feet’ appeal; hours of female sharing will never shift her emotions like you can. Be free to give her whatever your love instincts want to give her. That won’t come from Christian or psychological teaching. It will come from your testosterone-filled male brain and heart instinct, which should be regularly expressed, not repressed, in whatever is your own inimitable, most genuine way. This is the bond of love between you that if regularly poured out will make up for a multitude of weaknesses.