As I reflect on the challenges facing my clients at present, I am once again reminded of the precious and vulnerable nature of tenderness and I recognize how much men, in particular, grieve over tenderness when it’s taken leave from their partner. Tenderness is one of the 14 Allies detailed in my relationship book “Wanted”, and this week’s events have left me so grateful that I identified this particular Ally as a keystone for relationships that really work. As I saw this week, the absence of tenderness signals decay in a relationship – an outcome that is illustrated, bitter-sweetly in one of my favorite poems;
All I Ask by D.H. Lawrence –
All I ask of a woman is that she shall feel gently towards me
when my heart feels kindly towards her,
and there shall be the soft, soft tremor as of unheard
bells between us.
It is all I ask.
I am so tired of violent women lashing out
and insisting on being loved, when there is
no love in them.
You might ask: If it’s in a woman’s nature to nurture and be gentle, what is it that drives her to the point where she lashes out, becomes demanding and unloving?
Of course the answer is unique to each woman and every couple’s bonding dynamic is different but here are the common triggers that are raised time and time again.
- Neglect – a woman wants to be noticed, cherished and prioritized. Not because she can’t do all that for herself but because it reminds her of her femininity and her value in your life . Pay attention to her wants and to her being – show care towards her emotional, mental, spiritual and mental state. Allow sufficient quality time and thoughtful consideration to show that you are paying attention. Pitch up!
- Betrayal – the loss of trust comes about for so many reasons; From the big gun of infidelity to the erosion of faith when you habitually lie or don’t keep your word. When there’s betrayal, tenderness is replaced by a woman’s defensive armor and it takes considerable evidence of truthful, reliable and transparent behavior, to break down the layers of protection to allow for her heart to be vulnerable again.
- Disrespect – and in its worst form, contempt – look at any relationship that is void of tenderness and you’re bound to witness disrespect. Name-calling, put-downs, dismissing feelings, lateness, talking over each other, being ungracious, ignoring each other, eye-rolling, sarcasm and withdrawal are just some of the ways you message disrespect.
- No empathy – if you yearn for the presence of a feminine or softer heart in your partner, know that an open, vulnerable and tender heart is sown with empathy. Treating your partner as an object by ignoring her feelings, or worse consciously hurting her feelings, will reap a cold harvest indeed. It requires deep listening to hear the feelings behind someone’s behavior. It requires taking responsibility for the impact of your behavior on another and it requires stepping into your partner’s shoes and asking yourself what it feels like to be them, when they’re in relationship with you. And then it requires deeply caring and reflecting what that might be like.
In my next blog, I’ll look at the behaviors that women employ that typically destroy tenderness in men. With comments like “you’ve become so hard” and “I don’t recognize you anymore,” the couples I see for counseling invariably seek the formula to bring back this elusive ingredient but few realize they were partly responsible for its demise.