THE FORGOTTEN FATHER PHENOMENON
WITH CARLA CRIVARO
Today, I’m gonna be talking about something that I have not touched on the podcast in a long while, or maybe if ever, around, specifically, how birth and parenthood can affect how men feel sexually about their partners. I know that, often, I’m speaking from the women’s part of view, but I also think it's interesting to listen to some different perspectives as well -- to, perhaps, have more empathy in your relationship, or if maybe you're looking for additional support, know that there are resources available.
Tune in as I talk with certified trauma-informed sex, love, and relationship coach Carla Crivaro as she shares about the phenomenon of “The Forgotten Father.”
Listen below, or tune in via: Apple Podcasts,Stitcher or Spotify.
(full transcript below)
In this episode you'll discover
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Carla Crivaro is a certified, trauma-informed, Sex, Love & Relationship Coach. She works with men and women to experience delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Here she shares more about the Forgotten Father.
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EPISODE 211: with Carla Crivaro
[Fun, Empowering Music]
Amanda Testa: Hello, and welcome to the Find Your Feminine Fire podcast. I am your host, Amanda Testa. I am a sex, love, and relationship coach, and in this podcast, my guests and I talk sex, love, and relationships, and everything that lights you up from the inside out. Welcome!
Hello, and welcome to the podcast! Today, I’m gonna be talking about something that I have not touched on the podcast in a long while, or maybe if ever, around, specifically, how birth and parenthood can affect how men feel sexually about their partners. I know that, often, I’m speaking from the women’s part of view, but I also think it's interesting to listen to some different perspectives as well -- to, perhaps, have more empathy in your relationship, or if maybe you're looking for additional support, that there are resources available.
Today, I’m going to be talking to Carla Crivaro. She is a certified trauma-informed sex, love, and relationship coach, and she is going to be sharing more about this phenomenon of -- now, tell me what you call it ‘cause I really think this is great, Carla.
Carla Crivaro: So, I call it The Forgotten Father.
Amanda Testa: Yes, The Forgotten Father, and I think this is a really important thing to note because, often times (we’ll get into this) when we become parents, yes, it is a total game changer in so many ways for everyone involved, and this will just be an interesting way to just kind of get some different perspectives. So welcome, Carla. I am so happy you're here today!
Carla Crivaro: Thank you, Amanda! Thank you for having me and for giving me the opportunity to speak to your audience as well.
Amanda Testa: Yes, of course.
Carla Crivaro: As you were saying literally a moment ago, we’ll be talking more about The Forgotten Father, but one of the biggest problems that I have working with men is, obviously, trying to speak to the men that need the support to actually come forward and ask for it, and quite often it’s normally the women in their life that say to them, “Hey, do you think maybe you would be best having some support around this, whether it’s health or emotional or mental?” So speaking to women about this -- and they can be looking out for the men in their community to see maybe whether the men in their lives might be, you know, The Forgotten Father.
Amanda Testa: Yes, and so, Carla, as we dive in, I’d love if you wouldn't mind sharing a little bit about why you're so passionate around this particular topic.
Carla Crivaro: So, I would say, probably, one of the reasons that I’m so passionate about it was exploring my own dynamic, actually, with my relationship with my husband when we had children. It’s not something that, really, I noticed initially after having my first or even my second child, but really, when I started my own self-development path and exploring things like my own inner child and my own growth as a mother, my own growth as a wife as well and as a sexual being, did I then start to take a look at, you know, actually, what’s my husband going through, you know? I’ve had people, friends that I can talk to about what I’m experiencing. I have got the midwives, and in the UK, you have health visitors that come and visit you periodically after you've given birth.
I’ve got those people that come and talk to me. When I go for the baby check-ups at the general practitioner -- I know in The States you call them pediatricians and physicians. There was always someone somewhere checking in on me, and I started to actually think about the fact of where are men getting that support.
Then, when I started doing coaching, I was speaking to men and starting to get male clients. I was noticing, actually, that there are quite a few men experiencing something that I felt possibly my husband had experienced, and that is when a child is born, the whole dynamic of the relationship changes. So what that means is, you know, the mother tends to be the one that gave birth. If they're breastfeeding, they're the ones that sort of need to be present for the baby, and a lot of their time and a lot of their energy and a lot of their effort is around looking after the baby. As a mother, you’ll know that when your baby is born and you're constantly having a small child attached to you, you can get a little bit touched-out and a little bit overwhelmed with too much physical touch, you know? That’s something I experienced myself.
The problem is for men, men don't have access as much to physical touch because if you take a look at young men (children and youth), as men are growing up, they’re constantly being given messages that, you know, they shouldn't be crying, they are detaching from intimacy, physical intimacy, emotional intimacy. So they become sort of left as an individual very much by themselves with nobody with whom they can express how they feel or even connect to on a physical level. Then, obviously, the partner comes along, and they have that connection. The issue is, obviously, when the baby comes along, that connection they have with their mother is influenced in a way that the man, more often than not, doesn't know how to ask for what he needs. He feels a certain amount of guilt asking for that. Also, you know, the mother also has her own needs and her own space as well, so it’s trying to understand how to manage that dynamic.
Quite often, what can happen is, because a lot of men aren't able to communicate, they tend to go in one of two different directions, generally. One of them is that they tend to become Mr. Nice Guy. So they will -- and I use Mr. Nice Guy with embedded commas because they will self-abandon and people-please and try and do absolutely everything possible that they can to be that good father because they do really want it, and they want that validation, and they want to be seen, and they want to be witnessed. So the way that they do that is by trying everything possible to make the other person happy but, obviously, in the process they're abandoning themselves.
In the other direction, you get men whose inner child displays as angry and resentful of the relationship that the partner now has with the child, and they sort of, in a way, become disconnected.
What they might do is throw themselves into their work. So they work really, really late at night or they might start doing sports or being out in the evening to be away. They might be more defensive, be a little bit more on the attack (putting their partner down). All of this is actually from a place of being a child, because when you think of children and their behavior when they're not getting attention, they do either act in one of two ways. They try and do everything possible to get your attention in either supporting you in trying to do everything and make you like them or they act out.
Men in the relationship behaving in that way, the problem is, as women -- and the way that I behaved to it as well (I’ll put my hand up there) was with frustration and just “grow up” and “I’m dealing with my problems, you sort your problems out.” Obviously, with the growth that we’ve experienced in our relationship, understanding each side of the story, now I can see the pain that my husband would have been going through and the problems that my clients come to me with and the problems that they're going through and how I support them with coming through it and coming to the other side of it.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, I just want to state, Carla, how this is such a great thing to talk about because anyone out there who’s a parent can probably relate to when you first have your first night alone with that baby, how, just in general, everything is hard, you know? Not only if you gave birth, physically, you're healing. You have all of that that you have to deal with. Your body is maybe in pain. It doesn't feel anything like it did before. You are exhausted. You are, like you say, touched-out, and then from another co-parent -- in this case we’re talking specifically to heterosexual relationships where there’s a man parent (a father) and how they can feel so neglected. I think this is really true because one thing we don't realize as a new parent (as a mom) is that, like you said earlier, we can be touched-out, but we’re getting a lot of that need met (the need of feeling connected), and you get all the oxytocin from your bonding with your baby, and then your partner can be really left out, and they can feel all these things. I think it’s interesting. Maybe if you can reflect in your own relationship what might be present.
The other thing that you said that I think is really important to note is that so often men are conditioned to not show any emotion, right? I love the documentary The Mask You Live In which you've probably seen, but basically, it just goes to show -- it’s a lot of research around how the number one acceptable emotion for men is anger and how much support the mom has. Granted, in The US it’s very poor. I wish it could be so much better, but there are at least some follow-up visits (one), but I think it’s so true. There’s not that same support for men. There are not those same groups, and even if there are, men aren’t as motivated to go out and find those or to know they need them, so they’ll find other ways to maybe stuff what they’re feeling.
Carla Crivaro: Yeah, and it’s exactly that. Yeah, I love the point that you brought to the fact -- anger. The thing is, people express anger in different ways. So you will get the Mr. Nice Guy. They will totally, you know, bury that anger and won’t allow themselves to express it, but they’re really feeling it inside. That can be they’re throwing themselves to be this perfect husband or their vision of what a perfect husband or partner or father is, but deep down there’s that resentment there because their needs aren’t being met as well. Then the anger that’s coming out with the man on the other side (on the attack and the defensive), the anger there is big frustration and probably passive aggressiveness and comments to maybe put down the mother.
I see quite often in Facebook groups in the parenting groups (and they're specifically for mothers and the breastfeeding groups) how often women say, “You know, my husband doesn't want me to breastfeed ‘cause he wants to connect to the child,” and things like, “I’ve decided that I’m going to introduce solids like this, and my husband just doesn't get it all.” “I’ve tried to explain to my husband why I don’t want to smack our child, and he just doesn't get it.”
I think, you know, one of the problems for the fathers is because the mothers are so involved with the child-rearing, they tend to also take a lot of decisions without actually involving the father at all. Really small things like presenting information, asking them what they think, and suggesting, “Do you think this is something interesting that we could try,” rather than bringing information and saying, “We’re doing it like this.” You know, enabling them to feel a little bit more involved in the child-rearing can actually really be supportive of them to feel like they have a role. One of the reasons being is so many men feel on the side lines. They feel like they're not actually part of the family anymore, and that they are just literally there to provide financially.
One word that I hear used really often is loneliness because, you know, previously (pre-child) they would have that companionship, that physical part, they were able, probably, to talk a lot more than they ever have before. Then, all of a sudden, that’s gone, and it sort of can feel like it’s being taken from them as well.
Not that it has, but that’s obviously the feeling. There is a huge amount of loneliness that men will experience and a great weight of responsibility. Responsibility of being, you know, more often than not, the breadwinner and also a huge responsibility of being the good mother and father because we talk so often now of what it means to be a good mother or a good father, you know? We’re given lots of information. There’s lots of messaging from media as well.
So there’s so much pressure coming, also, at mothers. I want to make sure that people listening are aware that I am fully aware of the problems that mums have, and it’s not to take away from them at all. Obviously, today, we’re highlighting the fathers and what they're experiencing and the support that they might need as well.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, you know, and it’s interesting too, I think I read somewhere that a fifth of couples break up in the first 12 months after having a baby, and so, I think what would be so amazing was if there was a lot more support given to parents around here’s what to expect when you have a kid and here’s how to make sure that your relationship can go through this period of a transition and hardship.
And so, I’m curious for you, what are some of the ways that you feel like couples can move through this or what can they do to feel like both parties are being supported when they both have such huge needs at this time?
Carla Crivaro: Well, I work with men as individuals on this issue so what I can do is talk about how I would support men in the coaching, and women that are listening, I would say that if they recognize that their male partner might be experiencing this, then maybe invite them to listen to this podcast or seek a professional to support them (somebody like myself), or if it’s something that they need to process through, we go into things like trauma or therapy to get a suitable person that can help with that.
Someone that they can explore independently, I think ,as well, is quite important just because a fear, for a lot of men, would be to talk really openly about how they feel and not feel judgment from their partner because they really do need to express what they’re saying because the men that come to me and talk to me have talked about things like feeling on the sidelines, losing desire for their partner after seeing them give birth, and I can talk a little bit about that a bit later.
What I tend to do with clients is work a lot on their inner child. Amanda, did you want to explain what the inner child is? I imagine that you work with the inner child with your clients.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, I mean, I think this is a great concept because the inner child -- basically, we all have kind of the order of how we come into the world. Typically, when we are in the womb, no matter the relationship with the birth mother or whatnot, you are in that state of receptivity, right? You don't have to do anything. You're just receiving. Then, as soon as you're born into the world, you cry for your needs, you cry for things, and you maybe got that need met and maybe you didn't, and so, there’s all this attachment stuff that can come up. But also, we have these childlike aspects of ourselves, right? These childlike aspects of ourselves can often run the show, right? It’s a part of our subconscious, and it can pick up a lot of messages before you're even a verbal, before you’re even a verbal human, right, when you're a baby or when you're really young, but it can hold all kinds of things from the past. It can hold memories and beliefs and emotions and all kinds of things. Sometimes these pieces of us can get triggered in certain situations, right?
And so, when these inner-child pieces come up, usually it’s because they're unmet needs that these younger parts of us need and didn't get met. And so, when we, as an adult, can consciously give those pieces what they need, then they're more likely to come into integration, and just like you were talking earlier about how a child behaves, this is true for our inner child, right? It can show up when we don't want it to, and it will really let its presence be known. [Giggles] But if you give it attention and love and care, then it’s going to be more calm and more integrated, right? I’d love to hear anything else you want to share about that. Please do!
Carla Crivaro: Yeah, so exploring the inner child, the relationship with the inner child, and how the inner child actually, quite often and more often than not, is the one leading the behavior and leading the thought processes and stories and also that reaction from the nervous system that’s automatic.
So we tend to, as well, when we’ve been with somebody in a relationship for quite a while, we make assumptions on their behavior before they’ve even done it. Like, we create our own stories about the other person which means that it makes it difficult for them, in our eyes, to be able to change because you put them in a box, and this is the sort of person that they are. So you make assumptions. The moment that they say something to you, your inner child reacts and behaves automatically in that way. It responds, and then your partner, she will then come back at you from her inner child, and then you just end up both of you in this play of being triggered.
So being aware of the inner child and where it’s showing up in the relationship means that the client is, then, able to observe it and also stop it from actually moving forward and stop it from being in the relationship, basically. Also we invite the men to also observe their thought and observe their ego. So what are they making situations mean? That could look something like I am not considered in the relationship, I’m not good enough -- those words themselves might not be the specific words, but the general idea of the general theme tends to be things like I’m not considered, I’m not good enough, I’m not loved, I always do things wrong, that type of idea.
When we have those stories about ourselves, we, then, have shame and we have a lot of shame around how other people are going to view our behavior and the way that we’re acting, but because it’s also automatic, it can be almost, in a way, embarrassing to notice that that’s what we’re doing, but also not being able to stop it as well.
So it brings an awareness to thoughts, to stories. Also, something that I have taught men who were being, in embedded commas, Mr. Nice Guy, things like boundaries and just being able to say things like, “No, don't speak to me like that,” ‘cause I do tend to get quite a lot of men whose partners will get really frustrated because they're not doing things the way that they should be doing or how they want them to do. So a lot of it is teaching them boundaries but also how to put boundaries into play in a way that’s non-confrontational which is supportive so it’s less likely to create the trigger of being a child from their partner.
Another thing, also, that I look at with men is embodying how they want to feel in their relationship, how they want to feel being in the relationship with their partner, what sort of ideas and sensations and high-vibe emotions would they like to bring into their relationship, and then behaving from that place instead of a place that’s wounded or laced.
So yes, those are sort of the main ways that I would support and help a man through that process, and I imagine, Amanda, when you're supporting women in their sexuality, those are the similar themes that women will be looking for support in as well.
Amanda Testa: Exactly, and, you know, one of the things, too, I just want to make sure we loop back to, because I think this is interesting, obviously, the birth process itself can be an amazing thing. It can also be quite traumatic for all parties involved sometimes too, and sometimes in those experiences, that can cause a lot of problems too, but I know you mentioned earlier around how sometimes men can be traumatized in witnessing birth, and so, I’m curious if you would speak to that.
Carla Crivaro: Yeah, sure. So what I want to share here -- I really want to make women aware that it’s not about them and it’s not about their bodies or about who they are. So, you know, here, we’re looking at trauma and how the body itself reacts to a situation, and it’s not sort of a cognitive behavior. It’s literally the nervous system that is behaving from a primal place, a reptilian place almost. So I just want to set the scene a little bit just to give people an idea of what the mum might be experiencing.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Carla Crivaro: So if you imagine that a man is stood there. He’s watching everything unfold. He can see his partner in pain. She’s in labor. He really wants to do something, so he wants to help her in some way, but he’s not sure how or what because the medical professionals are talking to her, he’s never seen her like this, and he’s frightened. He doesn't know how to help her. His heart’s pounding, and he knows that this isn't about him, so he knows that he can’t ask for anything because he’s not the one giving birth, it’s his partner that’s giving birth, but all of this is happening to him as well, you know? He’s thinking to himself, “She’s the one that’s carrying the baby. She’s the one that’s going through the labor. I need to be here for her.”
His heart will be racing, but, you know, even though he’s experiencing all this emotion, it’s likely that his feet are bolted to the floor almost in shock. “What do I do? I don't know how to behave,” and he will probably feel trapped inside his own body as though he’s watching everything through someone else’s eyes, you know, almost like detached. Then, he probably, if it’s a vaginal birth, might see the baby actually coming out, and all of these emotions that he’s feeling in his body at that time all of the stress that he’s under, all of the fear, and all of those sensations and emotions that he’s feeling as he’s watching the baby being born, what that can do is it can -- his body needs to connect that experience to something, and his body needs to connect the experience to something because the body needs to remember what the situation was so that the mum doesn't enter into that situation again.
So this is sort of, in a way, what you would consider a trauma response, and the body’s learning a behavior, learning a situation that it doesn't want to repeat. So it doesn't want to feel these emotions and these sensations again, so it attaches to the scenario and it could be the partner, it could be her vulva, it could be the baby, and he will, not always, but he can attach that trauma to the situation.
So what happens is, the baby’s born, everybody’s happy, and the guy’s there feeling all of these things. A few days pass, maybe a week or two, and he struggles to look at his partner in the way that he used to. Maybe a month or so down the line they try and have sex, and he’s unable to keep an erection or maybe he’s unable to hold his baby.
What’s happening in those situations -- because the body has connected those sensations and that trauma, let’s say, to either the partner, the vulva, or the baby, what can happen is, the father is still in that trauma response and unable to pass through it because it’s a nervous system response, it’s a somatic response to the situation, so that requires, obviously, working through and releasing all of that somatic tension and stress to be able to pass through and get to the other side. That’s why I say it’s really not about the woman at all; it’s completely about the man and how his body has reacted to the situation.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, and, I mean, I think that’s important to name that everybody’s unique experience is valid, and it’s just to realize when these things happen there are solutions, right? That’s the beauty. Once you're aware of something, then you can do something about it to bring your goals to fruition, right?
The last thing I’ll ask -- and then maybe if there’s time, one more question -- but I do want to know if maybe there is a tip or two you might share? Obviously, if one is finding this kind of residual traumatic experience in their body, feeling that they can always reach out to professionals like yourself, but also something that I do feel like you mentioned earlier that I think happens often, because often there is a -- I don't necessarily like the term mismatched libidos, but there’s that difference in desire in couples. Oftentimes, it is not the woman who doesn't want to have sex. It can be the man that loses desire, and I‘m wondering if you might speak to that, and maybe if there’s a tip that you can recommend for them to get that back.
Carla Crivaro: Yeah, of course. The very, very first thing that I would say is recognizing that your libido has dropped and just, first of all, giving yourself a massive hug and accepting that that’s happened, and that is perfectly fine, and it’s not forever. It doesn't need to be forever, and just sort of being with it and accepting it -- not accepting it in the sense of okay, I accept it, and I’m not going to do anything about it, but just being okay with that, okay with where you are at this moment in time. Then, with regards to returning to the libido, my feelings on this is returning to a self-pleasure practice that is really tuned into the body.
So the way that a lot of men tend to self-pleasure is, you know, goal oriented, ejaculation is the key, let’s get it over and done with as quickly as possible to get that release. So returning to the body, slowing everything right down, touching different parts of the body as well, and I know a lot of men feel uncomfortable doing this type of self-pleasure because they can feel it’s a little bit gay to touch themselves in that way, and they tend to use that term in quite a derogatory way.
You know, there’s that fear of touching themselves that they might be considered homosexual, but my invitation is one, it doesn't mean that you're gay, and even if it does, that’s also not a problem, but when you're touching yourself, that you experience the touch that you're receiving. So, you know, if you're touching your arm, for example, that you’re feeling your arm being touched rather than your hand touching your arm.
And so, bringing yourself back to that, slowing everything right down, what that will also do is when you begin, just start to feel certain emotions, maybe being with your partner, because you’re taking everything really, really slowly, any sensations that come up of discomfort, you're able to notice them rather than blocking them off or shutting them down.
Being able to notice them means that, then, you can sit with them and allow them to move through you and to be expressed if they need to. If you’ve already explained to your partner what you’re doing and why, they will, I’m sure, be very, very supportive of helping you work through that, but yeah, that would be the way that I would suggest with regards to libido. Coming back to the body, slowing everything right down, then returning to pleasure and removing the goal of ejaculation or if they’re with the partner, removing the goal of orgasm and just really returning to the body and pleasure.
Amanda Testa: I love that, and I think it’s so key for everyone just to really tune into their sensations and be present to whatever is happening, right? So, so good.
So I’m wondering, Carla, if there is maybe a question that you wished that I would have asked that I didn't ask or anything else that you want to make sure to share?
Carla Crivaro: I would say, Amanda, that we have covered everything. I would like to let men know that I do have a community that I will be launching at the end of April that will be a space where we meet every week for 30 minutes, and then we’ll have the opportunity to meet other men and talk about their own experiences, and any men that come, they don't have to talk if they don't want to. They’re able to just be there, present, just to feel the support of other men in the same situation or similar situations ‘cause, obviously, we all have nuances to our own life situations and what we’re experiencing. Finding men in the community (the local community if possible, and if you're not able to find that, then obviously I have one that will be starting), will just make huge, massive shifts. It will make massive shifts in yourself, and also talking about it will enable other men to talk about it as well. I’m hoping it’s a conversation that gets started among men and not just sort of me having to speak to women. [Laughs] It’s a message to sort of filter through, so that’s my invitation to create that community because we heal best in community as well with the support of other people around us.
Amanda Testa: Yes.
Carla Crivaro: So, yeah, I definitely recommend that.
Amanda Testa: Yes, and there’s one last question that I have. For those who are listening and are thinking, you know what, I would love if my partner would get some support, and I’m not quite sure how to bring that up -- and I know you alluded to this quite a few times. You gave some tips, but maybe, you know, to have this conversation with your husband, what can they say? That’s always something I always hear, right? I’d love to hear your perspective about it ‘cause I’ve got some thoughts, but I’d love to hear how do you bring this up or how do you share this information for them to determine if they want to act on it or not?
Carla Crivaro: Yeah, so I would ask them how they feel. So how did they feel during the birth of the baby? What were the emotions that they felt? Do they remember how it felt in their body? Just taking a moment to close the eyes and going back to that scene can sometimes be enough for them to remember what they felt in their body and how they were feeling at that time. Asking them, you know, “How do you feel about your role as a partner?” “How do you feel in our relationship?” “Do you have any needs that you feel need to be met?” Working to understand what the emotions are and how they feel, and inviting them to tell you what they're feeling and experiencing, then I would say, “Okay, what you're feeling’s really normal,” because I has a woman from the UK talking about this concept of The Forgotten Father, and I think that that way would be so much more invitational rather than trying to diagnose.
It would be so much more supportive, and it would give the man the opportunity to actually start expressing himself which is where the growth is gonna come from and also the bond in the relationship as well being able to communicate exactly what we feel and the needs that we have.
Amanda Testa: Yes! Also, where can everyone connect with you and find more about you?
Carla Crivaro: Yeah, so my website is www.carlacrivaro.com, and that’s the best place to find me. Instagram and Facebook don’t really like me too much, and I’ve been shadow-banned [Laughs] for talking about sex. So I just stay with my website. I do blogging, and I appear on podcasts. That’s the best way to find me is by my website.
Amanda Testa: Beautiful, and I’ll make sure to add all that info in the show notes so that people can find you and connect with you. Thank you so much, again, for coming on. I really appreciate this perspective of The Forgotten Father, and I think it's so important to have these conversations. Also, if you are concerned about how to communicate, that’s always something that you can work on as well. I’ll make sure to put in the show notes too -- I have a great little three-minute video about how to have a good conversation about something like this if you need a script. Sometimes people like that. That will be available as well.
Carla Crivaro: Thank you.
Amanda Testa: Yes, you're so welcome, Carla. Are there any last words you’d like to share?
Carla Crivaro: No, just thank you for giving me space in the women’s container for us to be able to talk about men and what they might be experiencing too. It’s really appreciated.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, and I think it’s important, too, to bring that empathy in, and so, when you can just see things from another’s perspective, that you might not have thought about before can just be very eye-opening. So I appreciate it, and thank you all, too, for listening. I so appreciate you all, and we will see you next week!
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