When does the switch flip?


By Jason Sinclair

There was a time in my life; a long time, that I wasn’t able to cry, not alone, not with friends not with my wife. I knew it would help, that sometimes it’s what people need just to release the pent up angst from the preceding months or weeks. The every day stresses, the frustration at work, the tire you had to change on the side of the road in the rain, the usual annoyances that come with the day to day, you know?

I knew sitting alone would be the only time it was possible, but I would sit there and try to actually cry, to let it out, decompress. It wouldn’t work. So I would vacate the area, go to somewhere no one could hear me and I would scream at the top of my lungs, I’d punch trees or run as fast as I could until I puked. It helped for a long time.

My wife asked me several times after these odd trips of mine out to the forest where I had gone and I made the mistake of telling her. She is a caring person and cares the utmost for me but she couldn’t understand. She couldn’t understand any of it, Why I couldn’t cry, Why it would be harder to do it in front of her or others. Why I felt the need to cry or shout at all. In general we live a fairly decent life. What reason would there be for me to decompress, from what? Was it her fault? Was our life together so stressful to me that I had these pent up feelings, was our relationship built on trust? Could I not trust her to understand and be sympathetic? What could she do better? Where was she failing?

I tried to explain, I tried telling her it was nothing to do with her. I wasn’t brought up to cry. My Mom didn’t want that from her son. I assume she found it an undesirable trait in grown men and taught it out of me. It was not appropriate to unload on others, it wasn’t appropriate to yell or scream at the top of my lung, after all I was a very tall and big boy and am a tall and big man. People would get scared of me and there would be repercussions. People don’t want to hang around a man or boy that cries all the time. I should do something productive with that energy, Mow the lawn, Shovel snow, clean the basement. These were the things I was told to do when I was upset or angry.

My wife, doesn’t understand these things, she grew up with 4 sisters and a single Mom. My first time meeting that family to me was unbelievable. All of them sat around talking, by the end of the evening all of them had cried or yelled at least once. They emotionally unloaded on each other the whole night. I remember sitting there stone faced watching them, they accepted each other, and they listened past the words and saw where the emotion was coming from. It was amazing and I was and am jealous of that. I’ve never had that.

I’ve been with my wife almost 21 years now. 4 years ago is when I told her about my trips into the forest to decompress. It took her 2 years of constant questioning every time I left the house without a specific purpose, was I OK? What did she do wrong? Why can’t I do this with her, She would be there for me if I needed it. I could trust her not to be scared or judge me, she would listen like she does with her sisters and let me decompress with her.

I was never able to do it, until about 2 years ago.

My Dad died from Cancer, it was a long and painful illness that left him looking as thin as a scarecrow and in constant pain at the end. I was actually kind of thankful when he went. I would never wish that kind of suffering on anyone.

I still couldn’t cry in front of her, or my kids or anyone for that matter, but I was able to cry alone, pretty much whenever I needed to. Didn’t take much effort really. My wife, still bothered that I couldn’t let it out with her, continued to try to ‘fix’ the relationship, telling me she was there for me and wouldn’t judge or be scared, but would listen like she does her sisters.

I had a hard time shortly after Dad died as you may expect, I didn’t miss any work, I still mowed the lawn and folded the laundry as I always did. In this case it was coming on hard, I was in my bedroom folding laundry, mindlessly watching TV and felt it creeping up on me. I just let it come, my wife was downstairs, kids were at school, and no one needs know. So I cried while folding our laundry.

My wife walked in and caught me crying, She was concerned and immediately came over to hug me, but her entrance was like a finger in the dyke. All of a sudden everything stopped. No emotion at all was spilling out, like a door had slammed shut. We hugged, I said thank you and I thought that was all it would be. She was visibly upset that I had shut the door on “an intimate moment”. She came at me with “why don’t you love me, is this relationship going to continue without any emotion?” Why did I not trust her? It was incessant, the door was shut but I could feel the pressure trying to open the door from the inside, it was all I could do to not fall down in grief. I wanted to, I needed to but I simply couldn’t make it happen. She had moved from angry to challenging. A “real man” can show his feelings. It’s a healthy part of any relationship, “just let it out, let it out, let it out, let it out!”

I couldn’t cry, but I couldn’t keep it contained any longer. I yelled at the top of my lungs “ENOUGH!” It was long and loud and I looked directly at her while I said it. Her reaction was exactly what my Mom told me it would be, She was terrified, She had never heard me yell like that, certainly never directed at her. She bolted from the room like a startled animal. Logically she knew she was in no danger, I have never and will never hit anyone unless defending myself. It didn’t matter that she knew logically she was safe; there was a part of her brain way down deep that was simply terrified to see that side of me. Mom was right, no one wants to be around a big guy who yells or cries. Not even the woman who knows me better than any other person on the planet.

She went and stayed with her sisters for a couple of days, she knew it was illogical and she was safe but she went anyway; she took our kids too. The message was clear, where she goes the kids will go. The message I hear now is ‘I can take your kids from you whenever I want.’ At my whim I can take it all. You will be left with nothing. I know it wasn’t the message she was trying to project but it is the message I heard. It’s the message I still hear. Now when I’m alone I don’t need to try to cry, a switch has been flipped, I need to try not to. I try not to even now. I’m terrified. She moved back in after a couple of days, we still have a strong relationship, I still want to be with her, The dynamic however has changed, now I know I can’t leave her if I wanted to. I will do whatever she says when it comes right down to it. She has my entire life in her hands. Everything I care about…hers to take. What do I do with this realization? How do I come to terms with it? Ignorance truly is bliss. I love her; I have no interest in leaving her. I fully meant the death do us part in our vows. Still do, but now, in the back of my head I know the truth. If for whatever reason she decides to leave, she stands to lose nothing but the guy she no longer wants to be with and I stand to lose everything that matters to me. She can take every reason I get up in the morning; whenever she wants for whatever reason she wants at the drop of a hat.

I don’t think it’s likely. We still love each other. We still want to be together but I am not an equal partner in this, I am when all else fails, a subject to the will of my wife. I am pretty sure I would endure anything to not lose my daughters. I saw what every second weekend visitation did to my dad when we were young. He finally checked out of the picture for years rather than have to give us up after only one night together every 2 weeks.

I couldn’t do it. I’m not sure how to deal with it, I can’t drive out to the woods and scream whenever I want to now, because to her it means our relationship must be falling apart and I can’t afford for her to start thinking that way, I have certainly learned I can’t scream in front of my wife, so now the switch has flipped, I sit alone in my garage and try not to cry, most of the time I fail, sometimes I don’t.

I don’t know what to do, it shouldn’t consume my thoughts but it does sometimes, there’s no pushing it down or forgetting about it.

Is it just me that feels like this? Do other fathers feel the same? Am I being paranoid? Maybe I’m sick in the head?

I don’t know what to do. I am so scared.

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<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="156513 https://www.honeybadgerbrigade.com/?p=156513">8 comments</span>

  • In the Navy I was the Masterhelmsman. The stress was unbelievable. I use to go to the fan room and try to cry and get it out, no luck, so I would curl up in a ball and just hold myself for a few minutes. Then I’d head up to the bridge and man the helm and I heard someone say once, he’s so brave. Ya right. I’ve become a little bit more emotional since I’ve gotten older. The Testosterone levels drop. It’s all normal. But we don’t know what normal is, as we are always expected to be something we are not.

  • I think it’s also that women are also conditioned that ‘men are stoic and dont cry and are here for you’ so when we just ‘break’ they basically don’t know what we are anymore. This and us males being confitioned to be stoic does nothing to help anyone at the moments when it’s all too much. Just remembering my ex wifes face as a the tears fell down my face as she walked out with the children with the retort ‘be a man for gods sake’…. she has no idea just what she asks entails. Beautiful moving article by the way.

    • At 46, it was only last year that that switch was tripped for me.
      To the writer, Jason, I would suggest it is ‘normal’ to be this way even though it is not understood.
      Previous to last year, the last time I remember crying was at about the age of 5 or 6 when I hit a car head on while riding my bike. That was from fear more than pain.
      Last year, stress and back pain finally got too much and I made a big mistake at work. Left my job that day and broke down in front of my wife. She was compassionate at the time, but told me to leave about 5 weeks later. To be fair the relationship was already strained due to multiple stresses, but that for her was the final nail in the coffin.
      Even now, if I’m watching a stupid fictional movie that has a sad part in it relating to kids, I start to cry. – Watched the movie Lion last week at the theatre, had to stay behind after it finished to recompose myself.

  • Perhaps you can join an organization for men, like a male bowling team, a board gaming group, or a hiking group (I don’t know where your interests lie, but I’m sure there’s something that you would enjoy in your area). You would likely meet others who could understand your position and help you to deal with it in a non-destructive manner.

    Sometimes it’s good to just know that they are there, even if you don’t feel like talking about it. Or, if you feel like talking about it, it’s good to know that they’ll listen. It also helps to keep you grounded to help prevent you from being unreasonable.

    Truth be told, I have never been in a romantic relationship, but I can certainly sympathize with your situation and imagine it happening to me.

    Similar things happened to me when I was in my early teens. Both of my parents loved me, but I often found it difficult to talk about things that bothered me. My mom would ask me what’s wrong, but I hated talking to her about such things because it usually seemed to make me feel worse. I was always glad, however, that they were there to listen to me if and when I ever needed to talk to them (even if what I wanted to talk about was embarrassing or frightening).

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