A short story by Kim Cooper
You cannot use your intellect to rationalise those kinds of actions when this subject is so emotional for Lisa . . . and to be honest, Craig, I must say that most women who have ever spoken to me about this feel the same.”
John delivered this statement with such confidence and clarity it stopped Craig in his tracks. He opened his mouth and tried to think of something to say in response, but then closed it again when he could not find an answer. The two men were in the middle of what, for Craig, had already been a long and embarrassing phone conversation. Like red wine spilt accidentally across a pale carpet, the implications of what John had been saying began to sink in. How could he have never gotten this before? It was like seeing for the first time that instead of one brain, he actually had two―one rational and one emotional―each working separately, and almost blindly, to the other.
Craig’s friend John, having been the one to call and initiate this conversation, continued, “It would be like Lisa trying to justify leaving you locked out naked in the rain when you’d stormed out the back after an argument in bed. It might not hurt you too much physically, but you’d still feel pretty wretched.” Sadly, Craig could imagine this scenario all too well; it reminded him of an embarrassing incident as a teenager when some bullies had stolen his clothes and towel from the swim centre locker room while he was showering after training. He’d been stuck there naked, in mid winter, for close to half an hour until finally a teacher had come looking to find out why he wasn’t in class.
“And you’d feel even worse if Lisa argued and blamed you when you’d told her how hurt and humiliated you’d felt after being locked out like that.”
Craig felt angry . . . but only because deep down really, he felt ashamed. It was hard to take this dressing-down, and if John hadn’t been an older man whom Craig had a lot of respect for, he would probably have lost his cool and cut him off in the conversation long before now.
Reading Craig’s true feelings, John continued, “We are strong and responsible men, Craig, and we need to face up to the embarrassment of sometimes not living up to our responsibilities at home. Lisa married you trusting you would love and protect her, but now she is feeling it is you who has left her out in the cold.” Craig loved his wife, Lisa, but the truth was that as tension had grown in their marriage Lisa had withdrawn her affection, becoming less open and relaxed in bed. Craig had often tried to talk to her about this but felt frustrated that he was unable to bridge the gap. Whenever he had brought up his frustration in the past, Craig genuinely wanted to be sensitive to what Lisa had to say, but knew that usually he just came across as being pushy. He felt criticised with the explanations Lisa gave for her distance, and helpless in knowing how to deal with her emotional neediness. At those times he didn’t know how to reach out to her, and often became proud and angry instead.
Over time, when the situation wasn’t showing any signs of improving, Craig had used the distance he felt between them as an excuse to begin spending evenings watching other couples online. He was being aroused by other women, sure, but feeling rejected and lonely, in his own mind Craig justified his actions. When Lisa became suspicious and made emotional demands on him to stop, instead of caring about her feelings, he used these justifications to push the blame onto her. After all, Craig reasoned, what was wrong with porn? All men look at it, and Lisa should stop being jealous and start thinking about his feelings for a change.
John, a staunch family man, had once been a Baptist minister who, now retired, spent most of his spare time pottering in his small seedling greenhouse. Never satisfied unless he was learning something new, John had taken part the previous summer in a landscaping course—and that’s where he’d met Craig and Lisa. The three of them had soon become friends, and since then, John often popped over to visit the younger couple to help with whatever gardening project they happened to be working on at the time.
When their fights had begun to escalate, Lisa had let Craig know that if he wasn’t prepared to face facts that his interest in porn was threatening their marriage, John was the only person she felt she could turn to for help. Rather than hearing her concerns, however, Craig had continued to argue, and spent even more time locked away from her looking at his computer at night.
Lisa had been nervous when she first approached John to ask if he might talk to Craig, but having been accustomed to this sort of role in his small parish, John quickly eased her fears. “Not all men grow up quite as fast as they should,” John had remarked, adding, “I’ve had plenty of experience talking to men about subjects like this over the years.”
When, as promised, John went ahead and made the call, Craig was shocked. He’d never believed Lisa would really have the courage to ask for help outside the family about something as personal as this. To be honest he hadn’t truly listened when she’d suggested she might need to call John for help . . . as usual he just thought she was being dramatic and using her emotions trying to control him.
Lisa was always suggesting ways to improve their marriage, but at those times Craig felt she was just wanting to blame him that their life wasn’t as perfect as she would like it to be. There was always some book Lisa wanted him to read or group she wanted him to attend, but in his heart he really just wished she would stop complaining and be more loving towards him instead. He didn’t like it when he felt criticised, and it seemed to him that talking about their marriage only made them fight.
Craig had first heard about Kim and Steve Cooper when Lisa shared a link with him to their online resources. Initially Craig had taken little notice, cynically thinking, “Here we go again”. But now that John was challenging him to work through the Love Safety Net Workbook with Lisa, Craig found himself relieved that there was a path he could possibly follow that might help him out of the hole he now found himself in.
“Let Lisa lead in this one, Craig. It takes a wise man to know when his wife will be better at something than he is. I have checked out the programme and it seems to me you are in safe hands. At the very least, the Coopers are not man-haters like many of the people Lisa could have turned to for advice.”
Craig, already dumbstruck, was now terrified. He was glad to hear John’s reassurances about the Coopers, but personally he loathed it when Lisa wanted him to engage in anything remotely like a ‘marriage talk’. Usually this involved her crying and trying to make him feel bad about how disappointed she felt. The two of them would end up spending hours talking and arguing, with little ever being resolved. As he got off the phone he braced himself for another emotionally-charged lecture, but to his surprise this time Lisa made things easier on him.
“I hope John helped you understand that what you have been doing has hurt me―but please don’t worry, this time I am not asking you to help me feel better about this. I am learning from the Coopers how to soothe my hurt without your help. I just want you to know what it is that I need from you if you want us to be closer in bed . . . What you have been doing doesn’t make me desire you or feel that you really desire me. What I would really like to see is us starting to build more trust.”
Lisa then surprised Craig by ending it there, saying, “I don’t want promises from you either, Craig. I need to see actions now instead.”
As she walked out of the room, she added, “I guess you might need some time to think about this . . . I’ll be in the study doing some paperwork, but maybe later we can go out somewhere cheap and easy and get something to eat.”
Craig was stunned. Instead of creating a scene, Lisa had been firm but gentle and kept things simple and to the point. Part of him was angry that Lisa had talked to John, but compared to the emotional scenes she had made in the past, a deeper part of him was feeling a brand new respect for the way she was handling this now.
With such conflicting emotions going on inside him, Craig especially appreciated the space Lisa had just given him to sort through these emotions himself.
Moreover Craig was still feeling frightened, and because Lisa had said she didn’t want promises, he had no idea what to say to her if they did end up going out later to eat. “Just say you are sorry, and let her know you really mean that.” John’s final words on the phone still echoed in Craig’s ears.
A casual dinner out sounded fun, and maybe if he managed not to mess this up, he might get some idea of what Lisa meant by building trust.
In front of Craig on the coffee table were Kim and Steve Cooper’s Love Safety Net Workbook and another book of theirs called Your Blind Spot. He picked up the second. That’s exactly what I need to see right now, he thought. How could I have been so stupid? Of COURSE looking at porn would make Lisa feel jealous, and more distant in bed than she already does. Maybe that has been my blind spot all along!
As he flipped through the magazine-style book, casually glancing at the pictures, Craig thought, Tonight I’m really going to show Lisa how beautiful I think she is.
This thought gave him courage, but the longer he dwelt on how he might accomplish this, the more confused he became, until finally his confidence left him completely. John’s number was still in front of him on his phone and Craig decided to call him back and ask what he should do.
John answered almost instantly.
“How can I show Lisa I still think she’s beautiful?” Craig asked without even saying hello.
“That’s a great question, Craig―you are starting to get the hang of this!”
“Well?” returned Craig, feigning anger to cover how insecure he really felt.
“You have nearly answered that question yourself by saying ‘How do I show her?’ instead of ‘How do I tell her?’”
Craig continued gruffly, “So you mean I shouldn’t use words?”
“Words are okay, so long as they mostly form questions . . . ones which you are genuinely interested in knowing the answers to.”
“Okay, right . . . and what else!?” It sounded more like a demand than a question.
John continued earnestly, ignoring Craig’s tone, “Smile at her, listen to her and try and put yourself in her shoes when she’s telling a story, or just chatting with you.”
“Oh . . . uhh,” Craig stalled briefly, his bravado now fading as his embarrassment returned. I guess it’s obvious really . . . how could I not have seen all of this before?
“Oh, and let her decide when it is time to go home,” John cautioned, with the hint of a smile in his voice.
“You mean, don’t be pushy?”
“That’s right, you’ve got it,” affirmed John. “Lisa loves you―you know that, don’t you? The two of you are going to be okay.”
“Just let her lead and stop trying to make out that you are ‘the catch’ . . . You’re a lucky man having a wife who is as ready to forgive your faults as Lisa is.”
In his current mood this stung a bit, but Craig decided to wear it instead of getting mad. He was feeling deeply embarrassed, but had to admit John and Lisa were both being so nice to him.
“You don’t need to pretend you are any more than who you are, Craig . . . Lisa already knows the worst in you.”
Craig stiffened, and at last let out a sigh . . . suddenly all the tension and fight left his body and he decided to stop resisting the new direction things were taking in his life. He felt tired and sad and had no idea how he was going to manage―but resolved for now just to put one foot in front of the other and let John’s wise words, along with Lisa’s new confidence in herself, lead the way.
Later that night Craig and Lisa enjoyed their time out together more than either of them could remember in a long time. As Lisa snuggled close when she’d decided it was time to go home, Craig thought, Okay, I am going to need to take my time with this, but maybe―just maybe―I can let go of feeling I always need to be the one in control.