The Beginning of Something Else

On June 1, 2007 I found out my husband and partner of almost two decades had been unfaithful to me since before our marriage, and had been having intercourse with prostitutes for 3 1/2 years. This is what happened next.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Can't you hear what I'm THINKING???!

Husband is hard to talk to. He gets defensive, and I have to choose my words very carefully or we get off track as he tries to invalidate some aspect of what I'm saying. (I think I do the same to him when I get defensive, so I have compassion for his use of this frustrating tactic.)

I'd decided that I wanted to tell him that I'd felt kind of pissed off that he was a jerk to me about not being able to get an iPad. That would be something new for me, because in my head I had a thousand reasons why that conversation didn't need to happen. I saw an opportunity for contrary action and took it.

During the course of the conversation he told me that one of the things that had triggered the depressed feelings he was having this weekend was saying what he wanted (the iPad) and me saying I didn't think he should get it. He said this was part of his attempt to set boundaries and express what he wants.

But I was confused about what getting an iPad had to do with boundaries, and I tried to ask him about this. We went back and forth. As he's done so often over the course of our relationship, he accused me of not letting him have his feelings. (I have to admit that's been true in many cases - I was raised in a family where any expression of upset was met with attempts to fix or "helpfully" invalidate it.) But I was getting flustered and he was getting pissed, and things were getting a little ugly. Not really bad for two people who avoid Confrontation, but we were doing Confrontation pretty clumsily.

Finally I said, "I'm not saying it's inappropriate for you to want an iPad or to be upset if you can't get one, but something inappropriate is going on here. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but something's not right for me, and I'm not going to back away from this because you're getting upset and telling me that I never let you have your feelings. There are lots of things that I want that I can't have right now, but I don't get upset about it because that's just the way it is at the moment. We can't afford it. I don't get upset about it. And I think that's a healthy, adult response. When we're in such a bad financial position it's inappropriate for you to feel okay about being pissy toward me about not being able to get an iPad. And I don't understand what getting an iPad has to do with setting boundaries!"

He considered for a moment. I could see he was struggling with feeling righteous, resentful and pissed off on one hand, and trying to really consider what I was saying on the other hand.

Then he told me that he has in his mind that I think a lot of things he wants are silly. And I've no doubt I've contributed to that feeling by questioning and being skeptical about a lot of the expensive gadgets he's interested in purchasing. If we had the money, I wouldn't care. But when we don't have the money, I think I have the right as a partner in our financial life to express my doubts and concerns. (There've been many times over the course of our relationship where I should have questioned him and didn't because I have in my head that he's right about me being silly to question expensive purchases.) And as an expert absolutist I'm sure I have the "end-of-discussion" tone without realizing it.

For any flies on the wall, his entitlement banging up against my absolutism must be a thing to behold.

I think part of the problem is that he's so disempowered himself in some aspects of our relationship that if I question or push back he takes it as a "no," disengages from discussion and just sinks into resentment. I didn't realize this until today.

A bit of history: Husband plays pickup basketball every weekend. He'd asked if it was okay if he went out to play on Easter Sunday. He typically goes from 9am - noon-ish, and we had a lot of plans for that day, so I said I thought it might be better if he spent the day with the family, or at least asked Son if it was okay with him. He chuckled and said, "Oh, Son's already let me know it's not okay with him!"

On Easter day, he was feeling down. Son had already gotten his basket of candy and done a little egg hunt, and it was still a few hours before we had to leave for other events of the day, so I told Husband he should go play basketball at least for a little while if he wanted to, and he did. (Although once he got there, locks and fences kept him from getting in the game so he didn't actually get to play.)

So today, as we continued our conversation about the iPad issue he said to me, "I'm not good at saying what I want." He went on to say that it was only because I've been so kind and supportive of his request to play basketball every weekend that he's been able to carve out that time. He was trying to give me credit, but I told him that I didn't want that credit. I wanted him to take responsibility for having made that happen. I was really surprised how entirely he credited me with "letting" him do that. It's weird. I don't look at our relationship that way at all.

I think there's still a lot that I don't know about that goes on in his head. And I guess that's probably true of most of us. I know I'm continuously surprised by the insecurities and self doubts of people I have great respect for, who seem so confident and sure to me. And I know all the unexpressed craziness that goes on in my own head!

So today I re-learn this lesson: Dialogue will always result in better communication than a silent monologue in my head.

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