Linda: When Charlie and I met 50 years ago, it was inconceivable to either of us, that this relationship could go anywhere. He was an introvert, a real loner. I was an extrovert who loved to make contact with people. He was the quiet type who didn’t like to go to parties. I’m super social and love to talk. His life was chaotic; mine highly structured and organized. Charlie was always up in the clouds, a dreamer, impractical, while I’m down to earth. Practical is my middle name. He liked baseball; I didn’t. He drove a motorcycle; I was petrified of them. I believed in the work ethic and personal responsibility. He believed in fun and play. Even our styles of working out differences were different. He came from a very expressive family and was used to yelling insults freely and frequently. My family had taught me to be a good girl and to keep my mouth shut as much as possible. Like many of my friends at the time and since, I was conflict-phobic.
Charlie: We were SO different, in backgrounds, personalities, world views, and styles of relating, that it was unimaginable to me that there would be any way that we would be able to bridge the gap sufficiently to create anything long term between us. Yet our connection was obviously “intense”, and the passion that we shared (sexual and otherwise) was a hell of a kick. Though it looked unlikely to me that this would be a very long ride, it would definitely be a gas while it lasted.
Charlie: One of the ways in which Linda and I differ is in the ways in which we process information. I, like many men, tend to be an introvert. That is, I find it easier to come to an understanding of my experience by being with myself and directing my attention inwardly. Although I often find it helpful and interesting to use a relationship as means of coming to a deeper understanding, my natural inclination is to look within myself first.
Linda: My tendency is exactly the opposite. I need to connect, to talk a lot. The degree of frustration that we both experienced was probably enough to destroy our relationship and most likely would have had we not found a means of working with our differences and the conflict they engendered. In the unconsciousness of our early years together, Charlie and I played out a number of gender issues through the stereotypes that we had each adopted. Rather than try to become more open and understanding of each other’s stylistic differences of relating, we each became more deeply entrenched in our own defensive and reactive patterns These battles took a great toll on each of us. We spent years blaming, manipulating, vying for control, intimidating, making threats, guilt tripping, and seeking revenge and self-justice. Why and how we managed to stay together, I don’t quite know. Sometimes I think that it was so we could help others survive the hell that marriage can be.
Charlie: Eventually, we discovered that if we didn’t come up with some way of working things out, our marriage would die from the poisons of resentment and self-sacrifice. The challenge that presented itself to us was: to be responsive to each other’s needs, as well as our own. One of the things that made this difficult was that my skillfulness in the art of manipulation had accustomed me to having the expectation of getting my way. I wasn’t particularly anxious to give that up.
During the first several years of our relationship Linda had indulged me in this area, causing me like a spoiled child, to want and expect more of her accommodations. She had been giving in on this and many other areas in hopes that if she gave enough that eventually I would filled up or satisfied and then it would be her turn to receive whatever it was that she was wanting from me: time, attention, closeness, affection, whatever. Of course, her continual accomodations only fueled my appetites and her resentments more. Eventually things reached explosive proportions and I realized just how close to the edge we were.
Linda: The crisis, which to me felt like a “near death experience” of our marriage forced us both to learn some new ways of relating. Fast. It was that or else we were finished. Fortunately the core of our connection hadn’t yet been destroyed, otherwise I have no doubt that we would have taken the same route that many of our friends took when things had gone too far. But then the really hard work began. Letting go of deeply entrenched male and female behavioral and attitudinal patterns that have been in place for most of our lives and have been reinforced by our friends, family and culture, is probably one of the most difficult things that any of us will ever do.
Linda: It takes so much more than we think it should, so much more time, effort, and PATIENCE. It’s so easy to blame either ourselves or each other when the same old reactions keep happening again and again and again. Probably the most important thing that either of us have learned in this process is to have compassion for ourselves and each other in the process of trying to free ourselves from these restricting gender expectations because they are so much more deeply imbedded we want to believe. Essentially, our work had to do with learning to develop what we refer to as loving self-care (something that our parents would have called “being selfish”). For the first time in either of our lives, we were learning to accept the validity of our own needs and wants as well accepting responsibility for getting them met legitimately and directly.
Stay tuned for Part 2 to see how we made a huge space for the many differences to peacefully co-exist and how we learned from each other.