There are generally two ways to get someone’s attention, tickle them with a feather or drop an anvil on their head. The biggest factor in which method to use isn’t our gender, age, or intellect – it’s our heart. Wherever our priorities go so goes our focus. The lower we value a thing the more effort it takes to turn our attention in its direction.
Let’s use weight as an example. Women are typically more concerned about weight gain than men. A slight change, even by a pound or two (feather), can cause a woman to change her entire diet and workout routine. Whereas a man, who is less interested in weight and more so in strength or size, cares little if he puts on even ten pounds so long as he can bench-press his max. It may take something so extreme as a medical emergency (anvil) before he changes things up.
How we approach relationships is often no different.
It’s a known fact that women are more sensitive to fluctuations in a relationship. The common responses given by most men upon hearing their wife wants a divorce is, “I didn’t know anything was wrong.” or “I didn’t think things were that bad.” At which point she screams, “I’ve been telling you for years!”
This shouldn’t imply that marriage or relationships aren’t important to men; it’s just the majority of us don’t make it the most important, at least not always. Nor does it suggest this is only a male problem. Women are just as likely to experience the same problem and turn their attention away from a relationship or marriage – especially after the birth of a child.
But the aim here is understanding how this feather/anvil distinction might account for a paradox that baffles women everywhere, when their husband or partner finally becomes the man they always wanted – after the relationship is over.
Data suggests that women file 85% of divorces. This tells me they reach a tipping point – when change seems better than the status quo – long before men do. These numbers also appear to support their heightened sensitivities. But few, if any, of these women simply woke up and decided to destroy a family. There was a ramping up period; it was behaviors and attitudes that remained unchanged over time which ultimately led to, ‘I’ve had enough!’
Most women naturally speak in a language of feathers, especially when it comes to relationship issues. Her concerns often begin with attempts at conversation through suggestions, innuendos, or dropping hints. But if things continue unchanged the whispers turn to shouts that crescendo with ultimatums until her tipping point is reached where she then trades the feather for the anvil – and she files for divorce.
And then she has his attention.
My friend Ray Arata calls this a man’s ‘wake-up-call’ – a crisis (anvil) so psychologically devastating it wakes him emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually from his stupor. Divorce is a man’s most common wake-up-call, but could be a job loss, medical diagnosis, or anything that arouses him to the fact that ‘something in his life has to change!’
When faced with divorce, there are some men who just give in and prepare for the legal fight ahead. While others do an about face and start taking extreme measures to salvage the relationship and save their family. Self-preservation takes hold and they now become so attuned to the relationship the slightest change sets off a four-alarm fire. But in most cases these men find it’s too late and their attempts too insincere. The damage is done, minds are made, ships have sailed, and the marriage ends.
So the man tries to move on with his life but a spiritual concussion remains. Wide awake to the reality of what this divorce now means he starts to look within himself, to think, reflect, and take account of what brought him to this place. And if he’s smart he takes ownership for the part he had to play in the marriage’s demise and begins the hard work of growth. Through counseling, men’s groups, and other forms of therapy he starts a new journey which one day may lead to his ex-wife or partner looking up and realizing he’s become the man she wanted all along – all because she dropped an anvil on his head.