When Washington Roebling, builder of New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, became permanently disabled in the execution of his dangerous duties in 18__, his wife, Emily refused to give up on the project. She assumed several important roles: constant companion, nurse, private secretary, emissary, and unofficial aide-de-camp. When the bridge was finished nearly ten years later, Washington honored Emily with these words: “At first I thought I would succumb, but I had a strong tower to lean upon, my wife, a woman of infinite tact and wisest counsel” (The Great Bridge, p. 452).
How wonderful for a bridge builder to talk about his wife as a “strong tower,” because the towers on either side of a bridge are exactly what supports the superstructure. When completed, the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge stood 278 feet above the East River and rested upon 3,000-ton caissons—a foundation that has lasted about 130 years to date.
Because your man’s confidence will fluctuate for the rest of his life, you may, like Emily Roebling, have to step up repeatedly to help him battle his fear of failure. Peaks and valleys will test the strength of his convictions. Contests between heart and fate will challenge his masculinity. The world will throw down the gauntlet again and again as if to say, Come on then, let’s see what you’re made of. But it’s not always what he’s made of—it’s often what you’re made of. As a former student of mine wrote to his wife in the dedication of his Ph.D. thesis: “To my wife, Kira, thanks for your love, understanding, and support through these years, and for keeping me going the many times I was close to giving up.”
When a man’s life’s dream or work (his quest) is in question or jeopardy, a wife becomes an indispensable asset to the twosome when she uses her power to dispel doubt. Singlehandedly, she can often reignite his fire just by adding a little fresh kindling. As the flame spurts to life and gains momentum, she can judiciously add more fuel until she’s got her man roaring again. Here’s the process of reigniting that I’ve taught hundreds of students and have used myself over and over throughout a nearly 40-year marriage.
- Reassure him of your devotion. The truth is, what you think of him is more important to him than anyone or anything else. A well-timed look, touch, sincere question or word of praise may be all that’s needed to give his dwindling fire new hope.
- Review the positives. If you can help your husband look beyond his unfulfilled expectations to his accomplishments, you will be reminding him that a quest is about living his truth—no one else’s! Notice and point out what he’s learning or how he’s growing along the way, as well as the people he influences and inspires.
- Restructure the vision. When a man’s passion is declining, he needs a partner who will help him regroup. That may mean restructuring the vision in order to approach the quest from a completely different angle.
- Recommit yourselves to the dream. Don’t give in to his despair. Like a fresh wind, your foresight can lift his ship of dreams out of the doldrums and help you both re-commit.
- Reenergize his masculine zest. Kick start his sputtering engine by encouraging him to spend several hours (or better yet, several days) concentrating on something that excites him, that challenges him, that reaffirms his masculinity outside of his work or quest.
If your man’s afraid that he doesn’t matter or that he can’t do it, instead of becoming a fear monger yourself, think of the crisis as a prime opportunity to strengthen your position and your relationship. Respond to him with Emily Roebling’s brand of “infinite tact”, and you will become the strongest, most powerful partner in the world: the Keeper of his Dreams.
Vision, Grit, and Love: What It Takes to Become a Dream Keeper
The Example of Russell and Dantzel Nelson