Stone Man

It was a revolutionary marketing campaign.

To this day, any time I see a truck commercial with a Marlboro man in the bed tossing a hay bale into his truck as if he were superman, I hear Bob Seger's husky tenor in the background...

I was strong as I could be.  Like a rock.  Nothing ever got to me.  Like  rock.

What a perfect image of what every man wants to be. Solid. Hard. Like a rock.

Ninety percent of my couple's therapy has to do with this problem.

Most of the couples I see have a male partner who has bought the conspiratorial lies of companies like Chevrolet and singers like Bob Seger who have convinced the world that American men must be impenetrable, cold, and stony.  

What I've learned, however, is that the harder, more unreachable a man is, the less flexible, less emotionally available he becomes...usually correlates with how afraid he is.  And it usually has something to do with failure.

We are petrified, horrified, run to the bed with our heads under the covers, scared of failure.

Now, we'd rather you did not know this about us.  When it comes to failure, we'd rather you bought the lie, comfortable in your certainty that behind our foot-long beards and stony glare, we have it all together.  That way, we stay safe behind the Jericho walls of our invulnerability.

Well, isn't that a comfortable little lie?

Maybe you know someone like this.

Maybe he sits across from you at the dinner table. Maybe he snores a little too loudly at night. Maybe he glares back at you from the mirror, dreary eyed and insecure.  

Women and men alike fear failure.

But men have honed this fear to an art.  That is partly because the cultural pressure placed on men to succeed not to fail arguably matches the pressure we put on women to sexy, but not too sexy, skinny, but curvy in the right places, etc... If you are a woman, chances are you've felt this pressure at some point in your life.  What do you do when the pressure becomes too much? For women, it is socially acceptable to cry, to be soft, to be real (to a point).  But for men? Absolutely not.  Men must be hard.

 Men must be rock solid ready to take on any challenge the worlds brings us, always certain, always knowing that we can carry the load, heft the burden. 

We are complicit with our culture in creating stone men.

Now what is a stone man? Chances are you already know, but I'll describe him with a story. A few years ago, I was living in Southwest Virginia and working as a family therapist while I was finishing my doctorate.  I got a call from a woman who described her husband as an emotional rock.  He was never there for her when she needed.  He was about as expressive as a stone.  It was a familiar tale, and her phone call was an exercise in her own vulnerability as she was certain that he would never be what she needed, but figured she'd call a therapist anyway.  

So here we are in the first session, and I quickly discovered that the stone man sitting in front of me was not poorly described by his wife.  She was scared. She was alone. He was unresponsive, hard, and cold.  I'm going to spare you all the details and just say that over time, what we discovered about this man's stony character, was that it was in fact the result of his belief that his wife would leave him, or worse, be ashamed of him, if he let on that he was in any way scared that his marriage or his job would fail. 

More than anything, he longed for connection.

But so scared was he about his failing job and his failing marriage, that he that he retreated into emotional apathy and emotional armor.  If you are a person who thrives on connection, and your partner is a stone man, then this is extremely perplexing.  You may find yourself clawing and scratching at the stone to get its attention.  Yet nothing happens, not even a crack. 

Let me assure you, that you are not married to an emotionless rock incapable of connection.  He may even try to convince you that you two are just different.  He's not as emotional as you are.  He's not as expressive as you are. 

Blah. Blah. Blah. 

If this was the case, all I'd need to do is teach him to throw you a bone now and then by listening to you talk and not looking at you like you are a museum display when you start to cry.

No, you are not married to a stone man, but are witnessing the crucible of American manhood.  You are with a man who is deeply afraid and fearfully alone.  He is deeply afraid of failing you, failing himself, his legacy, and his family.  He does not know what to do.  But unlike you, he does not have the freedom to share that fear with he hides behind the comfortable lie of stony stubbornness.

This takes time, patience, and courage to change.

But don't be dismayed.  Your relationship is likely more resilient than you think.  Here is a resource that can help you along the way.  If you are in the area, and you still want help, you know where to find me.  Don't lose hope, there's always room to grow and change.

Dr. Mathis Kennington