Toward the end of 2012, I made a decision to do something that I’ve always aspired to do … train in the ground fighting art of jiu-jitsu.
Back in the early 90’s, Royce Gracie, one of the living legends of the Brazilian Martial Art, consistently defeated men of a much greater physical stature. (Just type “Royce Gracie” in Youtube to see what I mean.)
He set a standard for modern UFC fighters.
Being a small guy with average athletic ability, I was inspired.
But it took me twenty years before I would take up this unique system of self-defense and to realize the surprising benefits I would receive from it, in my marriage.
The timing couldn’t have been any better — and I couldn’t have planned this accidental leap into enlightened Husbanhood if I were a Tibetan Monk.
Tapping out the Affection Distribution Differential.
In 2004, I married my Barcelonan Beauty (my wife from Spain) — gorgeous, compassionate, and a genuinely loving person.
Being from Europe, she was raised in a hyper-affectionate home where everybody hugged, kissed, and where there was always some sort of physical contact with each other.
In my household, back in New York, we weren’t that touchy of a family.
That’s not to say I wasn’t raised in a loving family.
I had a great childhood and my mother and father loved my siblings and I, but we weren’t nearly as affectionate with each other as my wife’s family was.
It became clear that our social conditioning determined how much affection we had expected (to give and receive) from one another.
It is what it is.
I call the outcome of these differences in our expectations the Affection Distribution Differential.
The disparity between the levels of affection I gave (and wanted to receive) and the levels of affection that my wife gave (and wanted to received) surfaced during the first five years of our marriage.
She wanted me to show more affection. I resisted.
And I wanted her to stop touching my face when I was driving in Los Angeles traffic. (Which just aggravated her — to her it was affection, to me it was just distracting.)
It’s this type of imbalance that could create a wedge between any married couple, one that harbors resentment and defensiveness.
The Affection Distribution Differential needed to be tapped out.
But first I needed to protect myself from another looming threat to my marriage.
Department Of Complaints: On getting beat into submission.
Every husband has his very own Department Of Complaints.
This is when your wife lets you know where you have “room for improvement.”
If you’re the defensive type (like I was at the time) you’ll ignore these requests.
But if you’re smart, you’ll pay attention to them, with the intention of making your weaknesses your strengths.
As our relationship progressed, after we were married, one of the most persistent complaints that my wife would make was that I wasn’t affectionate enough with her.
She wanted more kissing, holding hands, hugging, and the “cuddling” type of action that most women do.
For some reason, this made me uncomfortable, unless my intention was to have sex — in that case, I had no problem kissing and hugging her.
I wasn’t keen on the non-sexual affection my wife kept asking me for.
This went on for a couple of years.
In truth, I really didn’t know what to do about it. But my Department Of Complaints was getting backed up, and it was severely understaffed.
She’d say, “You’re so cold” or “I wish you would hold me more” and “You don’t know how to be affectionate, unless you want sex.”
As true as these statements were, each one of them felt like a hammer fist to my face –
all working together to beat me into submission.
When you’re defensive, that’s how manning the Department Of Complaints feels.
Outwardly, I’d feel the need to defend myself, and would respond to her with “Stop trying to force that ‘lovey dovey’ crap on me, would ya?”
Looking back, I can see why she became so frustrated with me.
Enter my jiu-jitsu career.
Hand-to-hand combat leads to more affection?
On the first day of my jiu-jitsu training, there I was … uncomfortable, confused, and intimidated.
We worked on three beginner techniques and afterwards started to spar (not the ideal process for a beginner, by the way.)
All I could think of, as complete strangers (guys for the most part), pressed their bodies against me, trying to choke and joint-lock me into submission, was “Oh man, what did I get myself into?”
I was miles outside of my comfort zone.
But that’s what needed to happen in order for me to release the floodgates of affection onto my wife.
And boy did it work.
For about a year I trained consistently and as I became more comfortable rolling around with strangers, in the closest thing to hand-to-hand combat that I’ll ever experience, I became more comfortable dishing out the affection my wife so desired — and deserved.
All of the sudden, I’d find myself coming home and hugging her, kissing her. When we were watching a movie I’d put my arm around her.
I was even less reserved when it came to public displays of affection.
I genuinely wanted to be affectionate with her — and not always for sex.
These forms of non-sexual affection were overwhelming.
I never once said to myself, “Today you’re going to kiss and hug your wife because that’s what she wants.”
That would have never have worked for me.
It was too deliberate, too obvious.
This transformation began naturally; because of the change in physiology that my body experienced every time I trained.
It wasn’t forced. It just began to happen.
Before I knew it, I was overwhelmed with affection toward my wife. I had a classic shift in paradigm.
When I signed up for jiu-jitsu, it wasn’t so I would become a more affectionate husband.
It was for self-defense.
But what I got out of it has contributed greatly to my role in marriage, as a husband, and to the overall relationship I share with my wife.
Every once in a while, my wife and I will go to the park and we’ll train jiu-jitsu together.
There I am … going from “all thumbs” when it came to affection, to rolling around in a public park with my wife.
My Department Of Complaints is no longer swamped with affection issues and the Affection Distribution Differential has been closed — maybe not completely, but it’s narrow enough for both my wife and I.
I’m not patting myself on my back here. I discovered true and unabashed affection on accident.
Either way, it’s made me a better husband and I owe it all to jiu-jitsu.
From one husband to another,