A girlfriend of mine phoned for a heart-to-heart last night. She'd had a big argument with her husband the day before and things had not improved. “I am so tired of feeling like the bad guy here. Why am I always the one in the wrong? He's mad at me, and he is in his cave... and he's been there for over 24 hours.”
What is it with some men? Needing to go into their cave and all that? Is it me or is this cave idea of John Gray simply another name for sulking and punishing by angrily withdrawing? When a man simply needs to be alone (as indeed, when a woman needs to be alone) it would never occur to anyone to call it “going into his cave”, would it? My friend's husband could have smiled at her and kissed her and mentioned that he felt the need to be alone for a while. Instead, he looked daggers at her and stonewalled her and withdrew, leaving her feeling hurt and frustrated and punished. It's all very well to give that a fancy name and make it sound good, but let's call a spade a spade and see it for what it is: punitive sulking.
Don't get me wrong: I think there is a lot to be said for ending an interaction when it has gone bad and starting afresh a little later, rather than letting it spiral down into even greater ugliness. But this is not that. When the man is in his cave, he is exuding silent anger, punishing the woman every bit as effectively as if he were shouting at her.
Admittedly, another friend of mine has said that she finds John Gray's cave idea really helps her not to get upset when her husband is in a mood (now he is just “in his cave” and she doesn't take it personally so much) but in many cases, women are not quite so able to feel great when their husbands are “in his caves”, and when I see men behaving like this, I feel like telling them to grow up, and come out of the damn cave!
One man I know who recently left his wife said that his wife left him in his cave, and he stayed there so long he forgot that his wife was outside! How many women bravely wait outside the damn cave, even though they would like to feel close again... while all the time their husbands ache just as much as they do for connection but are unable to express it?
This whole cave thing is as typical of the average relationship as it is destructive. One of the benefits of the sort of relationship described on Taken In Hand is that there is a better way to handle such problems—one that draws the two people together instead of pulling them apart. Here's how one woman described it to me recently:
“In the days before my husband got smart about the kind of relationship I want, our life together was a lot less peaceful. He would get angry and sulk for hours or days, and I would be frozen out. Then I would get angry and freeze him out in turn. It was hell. It wasn't easy getting through to my husband about what I want. For some reason he didn't believe I was serious when I first told him. What I like is for him to be in charge. I like to feel his authority and power on a daily basis, and I like him to discipline me if he feels I've stepped out of line. I finally got through to him after we had a major row and he stormed off and shut himself in the bedroom. I decided to act. I grabbed a wooden spoon and followed him to the bedroom. Handing him the wooden spoon, I told him that if he felt as angry as he seemed, he should put me over his knee, and that it might make him feel better. Initially, he refused, and sent me away, but later that night, he called me back to the bedroom and had me lie face down on the bed, and he gave me the beating of my life. At first he was still angry and silent but after several blows, which made me cry out in pain, but which I submitted to, he seemed to start to relax. I thought he would never stop, but still I submitted. Without going into too many details, let's just say that this ended with highly charged emotions, tears, and extreme passion. That was followed by an intimate talk which resolved our issues with ease. Now he shocks friends by joking that he firmly believes that a good beating is the answer to many a married man's problems.”
That man may have been joking but there is some truth in what he says. Obviously, it would be wrong for a husband to do something like this if his wife prefers an ordinary equal relationship with no control and no “discipline”. But for women who like the idea of being taken in hand, it is often infinitely preferable to receive a sound beating than it is to suffer the destructive punishment of the man “going into his cave”. Consensual physical discipline brings the couple together. It is an intimate act, and often leads on to another kind of intimacy. Going into your cave puts up barriers; getting out the wooden spoon breaks down barriers and makes you feel close, which then makes it possible to talk with understanding and resolve the issue in a way that is not possible when tempers have flared and you are in fighting mode. So you could say that putting your wife over your knee is a way of getting the fight over and the talking started.