One of the cool gifts that comes with interviewing folks for a podcast is a peek behind the curtain of their lives. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in that virtually every interviewee I’ve spoken with has been remarkably open and transparent. To a person, they have willingly – and vulnerably – invited listeners into their worlds, including the dark places.
We’ve heard a range of stories, from the mundane to the terrifying, from laughably ridiculous to deeply painful…
Of all that I’ve gotten to hear so far, the ones that have been banging around the loudest in the kitchen have been tales of child marriage.
Not the kind of child marriage, by the way, that involves pre-pubescent girls married off to older men. Nor am I talking about arranged teen marriages.
The stories I’m bringing up today are those about men who’ve been unknowingly led to the alter by their own Inner Child.
Without getting too psychoanalytical, the men who’ve shared about their own child marriage experiences have been clear that they were indeed “looking for love in all the wrong places.”
Sometimes it was taking a failed shot at healing a mother-wound…
Sometimes it was chasing after the love they never had as a kid…
Sometimes it was a decades’ old hunger for any attention and affection they thought they could get…
But one thing that connects all the stories is that these marriages were unsustainable.
For starters, there are few people genuinely thrilled by the prospect of catering to (or re-raising) the child inside the man they may eventually be having actual children with.
There’s also the – shall we say, challenging? – dynamic of the parentification of a partner who’s not exactly signing up for the role.
Then, because children, including Inner Children, are incapable of conscious, adult levels of responsibility, there is the added performance pressure that will inevitably fall on one’s spousal unit.
Last on this partial list: The hungry neediness that comes with leaning hard on someone else to heal wounds we have yet to take full ownership of. This bit is vital, because the Inner Child is developmentally incapable of the complex, nuanced levels of ownership necessary to even begin to address old wounds.
I mean, would you want a six-year-old doing surgery on you?
There’s more to it, of course, but I think this is enough to begin to see that, despite sincere vows of “’til death do us part”, there’s something about finding out one’s husband pulled the unconscious equivalent of a “bait and switch” that lands well short of desirable or sustainable.
And in the case of the men I’ve interviewed, it was unconscious – until it became so obvious as to be unavoidable.
By the way, this sort of thing cuts across the entire gender continuum. My focus just happens to be on men.
So what’s to be done?
Well, another thing the men I spoke with had in common is that they’d all done the rigorous work required to face and heal the wounds their Inner Child had carried. They also took responsibility for the messes they’d created in their earlier marriages – and all had moved on to conscious relationships in which they continue to work with their partners… as if they are, in fact, partnerships.
Because that’s exactly what they are.
In some cases, the work took place in a therapeutic context. In others it was done in one or more men’s programs…
Once they saw the writing on the wall, every single one of them sought the help they needed.
None of them went it alone.
Funny thing is that, to a man, each made it a point to say that their healing really began only once they were willing to ask for help…
Asking for help… you know, that thing the culture still somehow tells men not to do, lest they be perceived as weak.
Might just be me, but I’m of the opinion that the time has come to toss that tired old nut in the dust bin.
After all, given a choice between repeating patterns of child marriage versus a few moments of discomfort that lead to a life of rich, fulfilling, sustainable relationships…?
It really ain’t much of a choice, is it?
Note: There’s no single “one size fits all” path or modality that’s going to work for every man who knows it’s time to seek help. Therapists, men’s programs, men’s groups, coaches – they all have their place. (Including my IAM program, which includes a section specifically focused on the Inner Child.) What’s most important is taking the first step of reaching out and trying different things until you find a good fit.