Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Know How to React and How You WILL React in Crisis If You Value Your Relationship or Marriage

A tornado ripped through my neighborhood, destroyed a lot, and taught me a lot about my neighbors, some of which can help you if you pay attention.

I’ve been offline for almost week now because a tornado tore through my neighborhood and several others demolished the surrounding areas, leaving us without power, Internet service, cellphone service, and in many cases, unable to leave because of roads being blocked by literally hundreds of falling trees and downed power lines. The power is now restored, the sound of chainsaws is in the air from dawn until dark as hundreds of tons of brush, logs, and trunks are removed (removal ground to a halt over the weekend because we literally ran out of places to pile more and couldn’t reach to stack it any higher, and resumed yesterday when public works trucks and crews arrived to start loading it up and carting it off), and what was once a very shady, almost resort-like subdivision is now stripped of nearly all trees over 50 feet tall (and there were well over 100 of them downed on my street, which is only 0.4 miles long) and the open sky-line has diminished its charm to the point that some have said they don’t know if they will be staying.

As I mentioned earlier on our forum,, there is nothing like a disaster to show you the “real” side of the people you live near. There are several on my street who try to act all alpha with their tattoos, motorcycles, hot rods, talk of when they used to be a police officer, etc., but when the fecal matter collided with the wind machine, where were these people? They weren’t out with me and the two other real alpha males who live in my neighborhood immediately looking for survivors, injuries, etc., and coordinating signaling to the first responders, nor were they even attending their families. They were cowering, shaking, some crying, and being as dramatic or more dramatic than their wives and daughters. Why?

No, it’s not fright response. Everybody has fright response, myself included. I stood in my front yard less than a hundred feet from the edge of the vortex – less than fifty feet at one point, and had to duck some flying debris – trying to get a read on the direction of travel and which end of my house would be safe to hole up in, since it has no basement, vaulted ceilings, and a lot of big windows. My pulse and blood pressure were up just as much as when bullets were whizzing by my head in combat. But I was still cognizant, alert, and engaged while these other people were deer in the headlights.

The difference is that while these other people had been working at putting on an alpha male image, I was developing as an alpha male. I wasn’t talking about cars and motorcycles and football, but engaged in challenging situations and learning how to triage a situation and respond to it instead of succumbing to fright response and knee-jerk reaction. These men I’m talking about are good men, of good character, but the challenges they sought were to entertain themselves, not to better themselves, especially in their role as husband, father, and protector.

Shelley McMurtry speaks of how important it is for a man to be what she calls “a whole man,” and her premise is solid as a rock: if a man’s life is out of balance, he’s doing himself a disservice. You can’t spend your life just seeking entertainment any more than you can spend your life only trying to become the best protector. You have to be “Jack of all trades and master of a few,” so to speak. You have to have things that you enjoy and that enrich your life, but you also have to have necessary survival skills, and those skills are not present in most of us at birth, other than to struggle if someone is trying to choke us to death.

Have you ever spent time at any kind of boot camp, or at a gun ranch like the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute where you train not only to perform, but to perform under pressure? Being able to perform under pressure is a HUGE deal when things start going sour, and the only way that you can know if whether you can even do it, let alone develop the skill to do it competently, is to challenge yourself with pressure under controlled circumstances. You can also hedge your performance by having a plan in place to deal with adverse situations, like tornados, a home invasion, a heart attack or other medical emergency, or in the case of your marriage, the threat or discovery of an affair or divorce proceedings.

So many of the men I coach come to me absolutely blind-sided and utterly unprepared. They’ve never had to deal with a really bad situation, they never took the time to learn how to talk with their wife, or especially to listen to their wife, and never had to think on their feet. Why? Does anyone really think they can just muddle through day after day, and spend a whole life never experiencing a crisis? Well, yes, I guess that was a stupid question, because one doesn’t have to look very far at all to find a large number of people who have reached adult age without becoming a functional adult and who constantly whine for some surrogate parent to protect and provide for them, but I’m talking about reasonable people here, like the vast majority of my readers. Why do otherwise good, sensible people who in all other ways seem to take personal responsibility for their life and household not do something to prepare, at least at the most basic and general level, for the most common of crises, the ailing marriage that is reaching critical mass?

Nobody ever thinks their home will be the one mowed down by a tornado, and the odd of it happening are indeed quite long. But when over half of all marriages are now ending in divorce, I dare say that no matter how good things are today, you can and should expect to have to deal with potentially marriage-ending, life-altering problems. Break-up and divorce so different from a tornado or lightning strike in their statistical probability of affecting any one individual, but they can actually be more emotionally devastating and have longer-lasting pain in their aftermath.

What’s sad is that in the case of natural disaster, there is no way to manage the disaster itself; you can’t stop an earthquake, tornado, or hurricane. You can only clean up the destruction they cause and try to move on. Marriage problems can be proactively managed, often by doing nothing more than talking, but just like the man who doesn’t know what to do during or after a tornado, not knowing how to talk about difficult subjects with your spouse will make you a deer in the headlights if it hits you suddenly, and make you shy away from trying to do anything proactive if you expect the conversation to be stressful because you don’t know what you’re doing. The ultimate outcome of that scenario is that you avoid talking until the emotional stress causes an explosion, nothing gets resolved, and everyone gets hurt.

Repeating that process causes divorce. In contrast, repeating the process of talking with your partner about difficult things helps to build the confidence that you are truly partners who can work things out. Having a plan for gaining privacy (getting kids out of the house and taking a vacation day from work on short notice, for example, and having a stash of cash to pay for renting a hotel room if that’s the only way you can get away from everything and everybody) on short notice and knowing how to talk to each other, especially when emotions are running high, can be just as valuable as knowing how to perform CPR, apply a tourniquet, or do a fireman’s carry, and will make you feel prepared and able to dig in and work something out instead of being that deer in the headlights.

So the short version of all of this is that men aren’t usually born crisis managers, and certainly aren’t born “whole.” It’s something you have to work in small frequent doses, plus an occasional big dose, and if you do so, instead of cowering and wondering what’s going to happen to you next, you can make things happen and get through the crisis quickly. It’s simply a question of you deciding that survival – your life AND your marriage -- is a priority and you want to be prepared to do so, and then following through.

The alpha male isn’t fearless. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the determination to take action in the face of fear. Anyone who is truly fearless is a psychopath or has a terminal illness and feels they have nothing to lose. Being prepared, and experienced at performing under pressure helps to mitigate fear and keep it to a manageable level while you handle the crisis. Prepare for natural emergencies by thinking through what you will do and acquiring materials and skills to deal with reasonable contingences. Prepare for relationship emergencies by learning how to talk with each other, gaining experience, and making sure that if things get really intense and you need to isolate yourselves for a few hours while working through something, you have somewhere to go.

I can provide a lot of help with that preparation, and I do mean A LOT. I have a large number of unsolicited comments from readers asserting that my book, The Man’s Guide to Great Relationships and Marriage, should be required reading in high school because it does prepare you so well. You can grab your copy at, and you can further develop your skills by participating in our forum at Or you can just ignore the possibility that you could ever have a problem, ignore the fact that maintaining a happy marriage requires exactly the same skills as managing a marriage crisis, and settle for being a deer in the headlights when trouble comes to visit. It’s your call. Make it a good one.

In the meantime, live well, be well, and have a wonderful day!
David Cunningham

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