So…this was a challenge. Maria just handed me her 5000 word blog post (which you should definitely read before reading this) and sweetly said “Honey, can I have the male perspective on this?”
So, here is my side of the story, in a few less words!
It all really started on approach of Maria’s 40th birthday – it was clear that she wasn’t too happy about it. This came and went, as did Maria’s op at the end of 2016. This is when things started noticably changing.
A few things happened in succession. Maria put her back out following a photo shoot, which was really worrying. She quite suddenly decided that a change of direction was in order, and wanted to start winding the photography business. I didn’t really get it – we had spent the last 14 years growing it, and Maria was always booked up. It seemed crazy to throw it all away.
Maria told me she wanted more purpose, to do something more meaningful, and to give something back. She wasn’t able to verbalise what that meant, or indeed what that scenario looked like.
I guess this was really the start of “the Unraveling”. I wasn’t really getting where Maria was was coming from, or what she really wanted. I was used to her being strong, in control, and very independent. I knew her vulnerable side, but she wasn’t one to wallow or moan over anything. She just got on with it, whatever “it” was at the time.
Maria started saying things like she didn’t feel present, and questioning the meaning of life. Not being the type to explore feelings I had no idea about , I glossed over it all. I tried to pacify her with my usual comments of “don’t be silly, you’re just a bit tired” and “it will be fine, it will sort itself out “.
One day Maria announced that she found an article online, that made her believe she had signs of something called High Functioning Depression. I read about it and agreed that she did seem to have quite a lot of the symptoms of the condition. Inability to rest, seeking perfection, irritability, insomnia and feelings of not being good enough, were all things that sounded familiar.
My immediate instinct was to try and make everything ok and “fix” her. I started telling Maria that it will pass, and it was probably a midlife crisis (that did NOT go down well). I was happy when she said she was going to speak to someone. For me, this process felt much like watching your wife give birth – you see someone you love in pain, but you can’t help. I felt like an observer, confused as to what I needed to do, and when I asked, she didn’t know.
There was more and more talk about moving away from photography, and this really worried me. Some years ago we made the difficult decision to swap roles, following the financial crisis in 2008. That transition process was very difficult back then, as Maria became the main bread winner. All I could see was our main income stream being turned off, and us being left with nothing to replace it. I had income as a Personal Trainer as I retrained after my transformational journey, but it wasn’t significant enough to see us through, nor would it be even if I went full time.
The biggest shock came to me was when Maria said that she wanted me to take more of a front seat on the work front, as she was feeling burnt out and “done” with it all. In principle that was fine, but aged 50 plus and being out of the workplace for some 10 years, not an easy thing to address. I continued to encourage her to book photo shoots, and got quite anxious when she turned them down.
The deeper Maria got into her journey of self discovery, the more it felt like she was starting to question our relationship. Half the time I didn’t really know where she was coming from. The Unraveling is exactly what our life felt like for a while. I started feeling like I couldn’t do anything right.
She was consuming information at an almost alarming speed. Her favourite subjects were psychology, mindset and anything business related. Which has always been the case, but this time she was going DEEP on it ALL. She also started working on a couple of online businesses, and was taking part in various training courses. I felt she was taking too much on, without a clear direction, and overloading herself unnecessarily.
I remember feeling pretty helpless, and on some days it seemed that we couldn’t even have a simple conversation without bickering.
It was at this point Maria announced that she thought it would be a good idea for me to go and see someone, to sort out some of my “problems”. The idea of talking to a complete stranger filled me with dread. I didn’t want to, but reluctantly I agreed and saw a couple of therapists to see how it would work.
Unfortunately the two people I saw weren’t able to help. They didn’t really understand what I needed , and frankly neither did I. I went because I felt I had to, not because I wanted to. I was in denial that I had any part in the “unraveling”. The good that did come out of it, was that one of them recommended a couples therapist. This coincided with Maria mentioning it too, so it all came together at the right time.
Once our sessions started, we never really looked back. It was a humbling, hard, emotional experience, and not being much of a talker, it really took some effort on my part.
Before we attended couples counseling, I never even realized what hearing someones emotional needs really meant, let alone be able to explore and be curious about them. I thought just listening was enough. But listening, and really hearing someone is so very different. Maria learned to appreciate the practical side of me more, and understood that often this was my way of showing her I cared. We discovered our true strengths, and areas we need to work on.
I can honestly say it was probably the best thing we could have done for our relationship.
It definitely wasn’t easy and we still work on it everyday, but I feel we are in a much happier place now. I finally understand what it means, when Maria says she is not feeling heard. I see her clearly. I no longer say “ sorry” to make things go away, or try and fix her. Because she was never broken.
She gets the fact that I struggle to communicate at times, and helps me find the words. She has learned to let go of control a lot, which means sometimes when things get done, they are not perfect. But at least they get done. I no longer mutter under my breath, or go to a place where I feel like I can’t do anything right.
So if you are a man reading this – don’t be afraid to listen to your wife when she tells you she is not happy. Don’t be afraid to explore what those feelings of unhappiness are all about, and definitely don’t avoid difficult conversations. Don’t be afraid to get some help, and open up to someone you don’t know. That is what they are there for. You may be forced to confront some hard truths, but if you find the right person to work with, it really helps. Because no one is completely wrong, or completely right. We just all have different ways.
Don’t be so egotistical to think, that you are the source of your partners unhappiness. Because it might not be all about you. You have a part to play, but the chances are, it’s smaller than you think.
I was so relieved to learn that it wasn’t all me, and that we both had work to do. Maria was the first to admit that she was quite shocked, at how much work was hers rather than mine. I admired her honesty.
Turning into a “ modern man” in my early fifties wasn’t something I ever contemplated. I didn’t even consider the changes I could make to make myself feel more peaceful, and more grounded on a daily basis. In turn, both of us so much more connected and happier. It’s been worth every bit of work.
So what is the Next 40?
Maria and I talked at length, about the change process we went through. The obstacles, the breakthroughs, and the growth along the way. The things we have learned and had to work out, and how we wish we had known some of the things we know now, years ago. I get what she says when she wants to give something back, and have more purpose. I now feel that too.
The Next 40 is an initiative that I am really excited about, especially as we are working on it together. It’s about hard truths, hard laughs, and grabbing life by the balls. So you can look back when you are on your death bed, and say ” My life was bloody brilliant”. No regrets. It’s about getting clarity on how you want your life too look like in the next 40 years, and making that happen.
Between Maria and I, we have skills we can use in helping others. When we were at the start of this process, and looked for some help and information online, there wasn’t much going on. All we could find is negative articles, mostly talking about the midlife crisis. Or overly saccharine, unrealistic, motivational messages which just make you feel annoyed when you are not in a good place. Having had experienced the ride, we now know how to make your journey a little bit easier. This will be through a combination of coaching, online courses, a podcast, and eventually educational retreats.
We also both want to be involved on a non-profit basis, in something that will help others.
For me, it’s men’s mental health. It saddens me that that suicide is the single biggest killer of men between the age of 45-49. The rate of deaths among under 25s increased by 23.7% in 2018, and this is rising. The only way this will change, is if we all start connecting. The stigma and judgement surrounding these subjects, is one of the main reasons men don’t speak up.
As part of the Next 40 project, I am running some local groups to encourage men to connect, in a non judgmental space. If you want to check them out, just click HERE. Or if you can’t attend as you are elsewhere in the world, please do join the MANTOR FACEBOOK GROUP.
My lessons from the whole unraveling? It was life changing, enlightening and something I will be grateful for the rest of my life. If it comes your way, don’t be scared, or run from it. Meet it head on, grab it with both hands and be grateful for the opportunity. You won’t regret it.
Nobody can bring you PEACE but yourself.Ralph Waldo Emerson
Wayne is a Nutrition coach & Personal Trainer specialising in the over 40's age group. Wayne also runs The Next 40-Mantor Project, an all male group helping men to alleviate stress and take control of their masculinity. www.thenext40.co.uk
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