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As the owner of the only Y-chromosome around here I appreciate your acceptance of me into this community. Please, for simplicity if nothing else, don't go to the trouble of saying, "and Joe" continually for fear that I will be offended if you don't explicitly acknowledge me. Bookgrrl calls me the "honorary sister" and women I've told about my involvement on this board say that's a compliment so I'll take it and others you've sent my way and be grateful at how much God has changed me from the scumbag Alethea married seven years ago last Sunday (see, I've gotten to where I remember). Yeah, I skip a few gyn threads, but what do you expect, and would you realy want my input? The emotional aspects of infertility cross gender lines, although they certainly don't affect each gender in the same way, and it is in this area I have found this board to be a singularly helpful resource. I have learned a lot from you all about how Alethea is reacting to our fertility struggles, and occasionaly see myself in you as well. I hope too that I can be a resource for you in how your husbands are responding and help you understand them.

With that in mind, let me talk about something that I've been learning again for the first time: men compartmentalize their experiences, whereas women assimilate their experiences. This means that I have a Caleb box, a infertility box, an emotional caregiver box, a relationship with this couple box, a job box, a hobby box, etc. When I move from one role to another I leave the emotions and thoughts for one role in its box and they may or may not affect the other boxes, usually not. I can literally forget what I was feeling about one thing if I get involved about another thing, until I go back to that first box and pick up where I left off. I'll say it again, this is an essential concept in interacting with your man: I go to work, and for 9 hours I'll be lucky if I even remember that I had a son die or that we might never have kids, unless I strike up a conversation with someone that brings it up, then it's like, "Oh, yeah" and I remember it, drop the job box, pick up that box, and go with it--and then I forget what job-related thing brought me to that office! So ladies, you think about this crap every 5 minutes or more often and it tears you up, and your hubby can go a whole day and never think about it once--yet he does care about it and is grieved by it too. In tech-speak, he is incapable of multi-tasking emotions, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have them.

Now that's the easy explanation, at least for me, because it's me. Here is how it appears to me that that Alethea reacts: everything that happens goes into one big stew pot. One bad ingredient can ruin the whole stew; in the same way when a bad event happens in her life it affects everything, even things that to me (either logically or merely from the compartmentalization viewpoint) have absolutely nothing to do with each other. For instance: we had a half-hour conversation recently about how Caleb's death was affecting her sex drive. On the one hand it was an extremely fruitful conversation, because I became aware of the reasons for some of the things I'd been noticing and learned some ways that I could act accordingly, yet on the other hand it was a completely fruitless conversation because I was more baffled at the end of the half-hour than I was at the beginning.

I never understood why she reacted this way, but it was sufficient to know that she was reacting this way and to learn from her the best way to respond accordingly. Sacrificing my innate male "need to understand first" increased oneness between us, whereas demanding an explanation in my terms would have only harmed oneness. The quality of oneness in a marriage is I believe the key factor in determining whether a crisis such as infertility is going to break the marriage or make it stronger. It is well worth sacrificing one's perceived rights and conveniences for one's spouse since service to one another is the currency that purchases this precious commodity.

There are advantages to each gender's wiring that can be strategically utilized for a succesful response as a couple to the situation. For instance, I take on the responsibility of interacting with people who have been insensitive in the past or with people such as insurance companies that bring back painful memories because I can file that experience in the "jerks" or "sad reminders" box and forget about it until the next time, thereby protecting Alethea from what would be enduring and encompassing pain. She on the other hand has had many insights into why we or others feel and react the way we do that I would have never seen. She is processing our experience wholistically, and this has enabled me to change my behavior and attitudes for the better in ways I would have been completely incapable of without her.

Bottom line: Compartmentalization/assimilation is one way that understanding gender differences has helped Alethea and I respond positively to this ordeal. I can definitely say that our marriage is much stronger now than it was a year or even six months ago and this is one of the reasons why - and she agrees with me so I know I'm not just fooling myself. If you are ever wondering why your hubby is acting the way he is, please ask, I'll be glad to say what I can. Rants about that insensitive #$^%$@ are okay, too, I won't be offended because I've done my share of it and more. You'll be doing me a favor even, since writing a post like this forces me to put concepts into words and I end up teaching myself about myself.

- Joe
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