My impression of men, gleaned from the marriages I witnessed and from my experience with other men I knew, taught me that they couldn’t be leaned on for emotional support.
Growing up, it seemed to me that husbands were the head of the household, but they weren’t there to provide emotional support for their wives or children. I didn’t think men could or were willing to give the emotional support the people in their lives needed. When it came to my own emotional needs, it seemed like I just wasn’t good enough to deserve the attention of the men in my life, so I might as well deal with them myself.
When it came to my problems with social anxiety, I tended not to share them with others—especially the men in my life. It’s embarrassing to admit how self-conscious I feel around people I don’t know, how I fear they notice how quiet and awkward I am, how envious I am of everyone else who can so easily walk up to strangers and talk to them, and how horrible all this makes me feel about myself. Because of my past experiences and beliefs about men, my social anxiety is certainly not something I was planning on disclosing to my husband. I figured it would remain something I dealt with on my own without his even knowing. In my experience, men weren’t people you talk to about things like this.
Well, it turns out I couldn’t keep it a secret from him for long. There were a few large social gatherings we attended that were difficult for me. At first I thought it was just the initial discomfort of being the new addition to his family and friends. But as we participated in more gatherings, it became clear to me that it was more than that; it was my insecurities at play.
This would leave me in a bad mood after the social gatherings were over, and I grew snappy with my husband. After I calmed down, I realized I was being unfair to him, and I knew I had to explain to him where the bad mood came from. But that meant opening up about where the anxiety came from—past emotional abuse.
This was frightening for a number of reasons. Emotional abuse is difficult to talk about on many levels: It’s painful to bring up, and it’s difficult to explain to those who’ve never experienced it. And this would be the first time I opened up to a man about something so personal. I didn’t want him to view me as weak, or childish, or—worst of all—just brush it aside as something not worth his trouble.
It took me a couple of tries to get up the courage, to organize my thoughts and words, and to stop shaking enough to explain. Before I did, I braced myself for what I was conditioned to expect: another man who didn’t care about the emotional needs of the woman in his life (never mind that my husband never gave me any reason to believe he was anything like that).
But he listened and asked questions to try to understand what I felt and why. And so, in a mess of emotion and tears, I explained it all. I didn’t know it could be so easy to tell all this to someone. For them to be so open and eager to understand, for neither of us to be on the defensive. When I was finished, this was the first thing he said:
“How can I help?’
In the moment it became necessary for me to discuss a difficult topic with my husband—my struggle with social anxiety—I discovered he isn’t like any of the men I have previously known at all. I knew he was a man I could trust with my most difficult issues and that he would be there for me.
My marriage isn’t a magical cure-all for difficult problems like anxiety, but it has helped to change what I know now was a distorted way of thinking about marriage and men. The unconditional love he has shared has helped me heal my wounds in a way I never expected from a man.