Solitary Confinement


Day to day life as a married couple brings with it the perennial challenge of figuring out how to show up. For Marcia and I, not showing up eventually results in a show-down. I’m pretty adept at not showing up emotionally or energetically. If I don’t pay attention I can become ghostlike. What I mean is that showing up requires bringing a little vibrancy to the relationship, engaging our partners in our interior world, and actively soliciting an exchange of energy. Instead, the two of us can easily fall into parallel play. This is fine to an extent, but the soul of the relationship cries out for contact when the parallel play lasts too long.

My personality, my character is such that I can draw inward and get lost in inner space. This tendency served me well as a child when I apparently made a decision that contact was not exactly available. As the third of five, my older sibs garnered the available attention (such as it were) and I, being an innate introvert, easily slipped on my invisibility cloak.

Fast forward to married life with a vibrant and magnetic woman who was class clown in her high school years (still is in my estimation). Now my connate ability to not show up gets noticed. Unlike in my family of origin, this is not, I repeat,not an asset in my marriage. Some of our most painful falling-out experiences occur after a protracted period of energetic disappearance. Something eventually pops, and most often it is initiated by Marcia. No matter what the specifics, the essence of the blow-up is “Where the fuck are you! I can’t breath in this relationship!”  While the blow-up can look ugly, it is fundamentally a good thing. Too much “surfacy” interaction eventually leads toward a change in the weather pattern of our relationship. Occasional thunderstorms tend to not only clear the air, but enliven our emotional and sexual lives.

Because I grew up emotionally illiterate, it has taken me a long, long time to appreciate my interior world. Hell, for most of the first half of my life I didn’t even know what my preferences were. (Marcia – “Where do you want to go for dinner?”    Me – “I’m good with whatever.”) My wants, needs, feelings, and opinions took a back seat to my overarching objective of making no waves. Problem is, that strategy doesn’t work. It left me in solitary confinement, no way in, no way out. Marcia wanted (at times needed) to know my preferences and desires.

Showing up means talking about yourself. Your spouse, believe it or not, actually wants to know about your inner life. It’s not selfish to share your fears, insecurities, frustrations, needs, disappointments, sexual longing, and a host of other inner truths. For those of you who are similar to me, apprehending that your life matters to your partner can be transformative for both of you.

Showing up is actually rather simple. It involves taking a pause to check in with yourself and expressing to your partner only that which you are aware of. So it may be as basic as some of the following statements/questions:

“I prefer Thai food”

“ I had a hard day.”

“ Could you show me how to do this?”

“ I missed you.”

“ All I know is that I didn’t like how it felt when you said that.”

“ I’m worried.”

“ You are turning me on.”

“ I feel tense.”

“ I’m scared I won’t say what you want to hear.”

“ I’m curious about what you want.”

Our relationships come alive when we bring forth our simple inner truths. Sometimes all we know is what our bodies are telling us (I”m tense.” “I’m shaky.” “I”m frozen.”  “I’m overwhelmed” “I feel like I want to run.”). These are great places to enter into a deeper connection. My suggestion, if your partner seems more emotionally literate than you — stop trying to figure out what s/he wants to hear. The impulse to try and say the “right” thing is a surefire way to say the wrong thing. No matter how inelegant it may come across, just say what is true for you. I believe it was Woody Allen who once said that 90% of success is just showing up. I disagree, it’s everything.