It is with great sadness this week that we hear of another power couple Bill and Melinda Gates divorcing after 27 years of marriage. One could say, having been through the painstaking growth season of their marriage, to come to the time when they should be reaping the fruits of their labour, why would they quit now? After almost 3 decades together surely they know each other well enough to navigate the sometimes choppy waters of a relationship!? Well, actually, the real reason for this despondent outcome has a lot to do with Bill being in the tunnel and neither of them knowing how to navigate it.
You are probably wondering what ‘the tunnel’ is?
Well, if you are a highly successful executive male in your 40’s – 50’s it is likely that you are experiencing the tunnel now and have no idea.
The tunnel was first described by relationship guru Alison Armstrong and when I first heard of it at a Tony Robbins Platinum partners event it blew my mind, because it was the answer to so many questions. So many reasons why my man behaved the way he did in each decade of our lives together.
The tunnel is actually part of the life cycle of most men and, given that the phenomenon is so prevalent, it makes sense to try and spread awareness around this. For both men and women to understand!
I believe that every man and wife should understand the cycle and where they are in relation to it. Why?
Because it provides people with an interpretation as to why they focus on what they do in each phase of their life… Just to note there is also a very common life cycle of a woman too, but this will not be covered in this article. Let’s focus on one thing at a time shall we.
Recognising ‘the tunnel’ helps your wife understand that you aren’t ignoring her. If I had understood this cycle at the beginning of my marriage it would have stopped me from believing that my man was having an affair!
That’s right, the relationship strategist – with over two decades of experience – felt she was second fiddle to another woman. But it turned out not to be a ‘who’ that had his attention and focus but a ‘what’. What I was actually insanely jealous of was called ‘The Business’. His work. The thing he stayed away from our home, our children and from me for 12-16 hours a day.
In our own relationship, the tunnel concept gave my man the power to understand his drivers and why his need to provide – at certain phases in his life – was unstoppable and, at times – from my perspective, unbearable. This realisation enabled answers to why he came home day after day at 11pm and then had the drive to get up again the next day and leave for work at 6am.
Understanding that the life cycle changes and pivots and fluctuates and modifies also offers an explanation as to why he no longer desires that level of ‘hustle’ now and why his priorities are different.
Have I expressed enough the importance of knowing where you are, where you have been and where you are heading in your life and relationship?
Good, because understanding the tunnel can be essential to relationships – in some cases saving them entirely.
It is so interesting because when I explained this to one of my highly successful friends (and when I say successful I mean he has sold 7 companies successfully for 9 figures each, that kinda guy!) his mind was blown. He couldn’t believe that he was also in the tunnel – he was on the journey himself!
He actually started to play a game with his new found perceptive knowledge! He could look at another successful executive and name exactly where this man was in his own life. He started to enjoy his new sage-like wisdom so much that he’d start assessing the level of ‘tunnelitus’ (yes, that is a phrase I had entirely fabricated!) when he was having coffee, in the shops – spotting tunnel-stages while just out and about!
So, having teased the fact that ‘tunnel; is the answer to so many questions – shall I now take you on a journey through it… Ok, great, we are you ready, here we go!
Phase One: The pauper – typically below the age of 18. This guy is just curious about the world, takes massive risks and is completely unaware of the consequences. The reason young boys leap off high walls or furniture or, when they hit the teenager years, they play games like ‘chicken’ (you know the one where you run across the highway aiming to avoid the cars) is because they have nothing to lose. They are poor.
Phase Two: The knight – aged 18 to 30 years old – typically they are in exploration mode in all areas of life; work, play, love, growth. A male entrepreneur in this phase would be chasing every deal that comes to them, and usually every girl. They are learning the craft of work and women. If they are in a relationship they are usually restless to explore and do this in their work. If they are single they would be ‘playing the field’.
I remember this phase well with my husband – he was clubbing every night, holding down 3 jobs as well as doing his degree and always on the hunt for the next deal. His work ranged from selling mangos on the market, to designer suits in high-end shops. He was basically having a go at everything. There is usually energy, speed and a sense of rushing – this is normally coupled with zero concern with a lack of not knowing it all.
This phase is very difficult for a wife or partner to live with if she isn’t aware that it is a phase! From my own experience, I didn’t understand it and so, from the outside looking in, I thought he was wasting time and would continually ask myself (and occasionally him!) why couldn’t he just get a proper job? Why does he need to go sell mangos for pennies? I just didn’t get it. The ‘it’ being this urge for him to grow through exploring everything. It is and was a vital part of his development and success now.
Phase Three: The prince – aged between 30-45. Or, alternatively known as ‘the settling down phase’. This is when his brain can switch suddenly, like a light bulb – overnight; he realises what his gift is, what his genius is, where he excels through all the trial and error of the knighthood. He has clarity in his goals at work and home. It is usually the time when children come on the scene and this is a huge motivator to ‘provide’. It is a period of focused and ‘directed’ expansion. It was the time when my husband realised he was gifted in the world of finance, doubled down his attention and made this area his main focus – which translated into it becoming his biggest area of fiscal benefit. Thank God he gave up selling the bloody mangos on a Sunday at an ungodly hour for pennies. Although I say that in jest (mostly!) it is really important for a wife to (try!) not tell him what is the ‘obvious’ thing he needs to do during phase two. The reality is that he will come into phase 3 much quicker if there isn’t too much pressure from the partner in that regard; he has to have the realisation himself, that the mangos aren’t going to make millions!
However, what he learnt with all the jobs through the initial phases was how to finance and structure every industry going. It was his ‘apprenticeship’ in readiness of finding his true passion, which is structuring deals and finance for large organisations. What I considered to be time wasting was the foundation to understanding the nuances of each industry. Nothing is wasted time. Boy, I wished I had known this then – it would have saved me so much time and heartache… for both of us.
The third phase is usually the building phase where he is honing his craft and is growing his empire. It requires a lot of focus, time and energy. Usually, slap bang at the same time the wife needs exactly that too, because during the midst of the growth phase is usually where the pitter patter of tiny feet kicks in. This is the phase when the 3 S’ that I talked about in my previous article occurs. It is a very challenging time for a lot of couples; 50% survive but only a very small percentage of that 50% actually thrive!
Business is growing and the family is growing which usually means responsibility is growing and pressure is growing – it’s no wonder that households can sometimes become a tinderbox at this point!
It is so sad because if people knew that the drive and determination to work so hard was to provide and the overwhelming, unstoppable urge he has to give the family security is something he can’t help, then maybe those fractious conversations at home would subside. I know for sure I would have given far more grace, I would have looked at his behaviour very differently and put different meaning on it, which would have therefore created different responses.
Having said all the above, hang in there fellas, because it gets even ‘better’ for you guys in phase 4 – so much empathy for you beautiful men now.
Phase Four: The Tunnel
I am actually shaking writing this phase. And here is why, having witnessed a man going through this phase and knowing the pain that he endured, you would not wish this on your worst enemy. Only through understanding was I able to support him out of it.
This phase is from age 45 and last decades!
Yes, you read it right, for decades. This is where a lot of men stay and die. This phase is commonly referred to as the infamous ‘mid-life crisis’, it’s a time in his life where he has made his ‘millions’, he has everything material he needs. His life looks so good on paper, but he is not happy.
He feels something is missing, he is lacking something. He is lost. He is searching for his ultimate ‘why?’. He usually, at this stage, starts doing crazy things like buying sports cars and wondering if his wife of 20 years is the right one? Is the grass greener? This is the phase where he potentially commits the cardinal sin of the all too common extra marital affair.
He travels or takes up strange hobbies. He seeks adventure and a mission-based legacy. For the first time in a long time, he has all the resources but is very confused regarding what life is all about.
This phase I like to call it ‘the darkness’. He can see the light at the end of the tunnel but doesn’t know how to get there. Often feeling like a failure or unsuccessful. Usually this can – unfortunately – coincide with the wife going through menopause and her finding her voice and deciding that the years of neglect and loneliness have to come to a head.
A time in their lives when they have everything and they should be happy; they should be enjoying the fruits of their labour and instead he is disconnected and she has had enough.
To her, he is disinterested and she feels after all these years she is still not enough, especially if he has an affair with a ‘younger model’.
There is only one way to come out of the tunnel and very few couples make it.
Phase Five: The King – this is what is at the end of the tunnel; the light!
During this phase, the man has his established kingdom, his people come to him for advice. He usually has a queen who has helped him out of the tunnel and they work in partnership to support the kingdom aka family, business etc. The energy behind a King is calmest, self-assurance and respect. The work is humanitarian and for the collective. Very few men ever reach this!
The final phase – The Elder. We all know an elder, he is in his 70’s and is a man who is not concerned with status. He is grounded and everyone comes to him for advice. He is so comfortable pottering around his home crafting and nurturing the things he loves to do. This phase is for him and who he chooses to let in.
The question is which phase are you currently in?