The Jump Up, near Itjinpiri in the Pitjantjatjara Lands

Hard Partnering

At times of hard partnering I struggle:

  • How do I survive this woman whose moods remain a humiliating and debilitating mystery to me?      
  • How can I love her and support her when she speaks and feels and lives a different language to me?  In the face both of her anger and her struggles I am impotent and humiliated.  I often feel abused.  I resent her.  I am useless to us both. 
  • How can I survive my own emotions which often rage in me but which I can barely even name-  especially the fear and guilt that I am the cause of the problems, or at least some of them?
  • How do I escape the deadening depression and incipient despair  of middle age that a struggling partnership intensifies?
  • Is there glory in an ongoing partnership, or does it all fade and degenerate into grays, or separation?

I need to be realistic about me.  To say I am not part of the problem is to denigrate my partner.  It projects my problems onto her and leaves me at the mercy of emotions I cannot control because I will not admit they exist. My sometimes burning anger at her, and my sense of her unreasonable attitudes and desires, will be fanned by refusal to see that I am part of the problem in my relationship. 

But neither will I allow the lie which instead of justly and wisely recognising my emotional wounding simply says I have no good in me. I am alarmed at the weight of this accusation that echoes in my mind.  It is fed from child hood traumas.  It is fed from my experience of failure to support this woman.  It is fed from the very air of this culture which says men are buffoons (at best) and generally useless in relationships.  It is neither true nor fair.

Manly pride is appropriate.  It is no small thing to be up all night in the firestorm of a woman's rage or distress or despair, or even all three, and still go to work in the morning.  It is not good to use work as an excuse to flee, but to swallow one's pain and humiliation and despair to feed one's family is courage. It is an act of honour to suffer temper, or illness, and be faithful to a promise.    It is not easy.  It is even harder if she scorns honour and committment and duty when one feels no love, but remains faithful.  This carries a couple to a time when feelings can again be true.

It is heroic to sit through a night's worth of emotional gales, with little to say, reaping abuse for not having the answer, and then bearing anger for making a suggestion rather than remaining silent.  It is heroic to keep on going and not flee or give up when you know you have been making things worse, and it is rubbed in your face.  It is heroic to work all the next day, with no one to listen, and then come home to the continuing saga.  And when the storm is over, and she has a kind of peace and reconciliation, sometimes for no discernable reason, it is a knightly hero who still continues to honour and cherish while left alone with unseen and untended wounds.

The pathway of an enduring relationship must contain the stepping stones of such heroism.

It is a lonely path.  We do not live at a time when male roles are well defined or understood.  We are scratching out the mud-map. And my mud-map  will be different to yours.  Your partner has not suffered the childhood abuse of mine.  I have not struggled with the particular pain of your life.  We are charting much of our own course here, with the guiding principal of compassion: respect and honesty, and love for the woman.

June 25 2001


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