If your experience of 2020 and early 2021 feels like the above image, you’re not alone! No matter what side of the political fence you’ve embraced it has been a year of loss, constraints, hopelessness, helplessness, hatred, anxieties and extreme division, often among members of the same family, or among friends. Not only have most of us faced differences which have felt toxic and relationship-breaking, but a daily onslaught of information and news about catastrophic events, happening now, or about to unfold. I think there has been a collective experience of trauma in this country, and probably in many places around the world. Covid 19 illnesses and deaths, loss of income, loss of faith in the System, violence, racism, uncertainty.
To that point I’m encouraging everyone to pause and reflect on a few things:
How have you been coping and how well has it served you?
- Over-drinking or drugging?
- Reviewing the horrors frequently with peers who get it?
- Over-eating or over-indulging in comfort foods or sugar?
- Targeting your loved ones with rage-outs?
- Overspending on Amazon?
- Denying anything unusual is happening and proceeding without any cautions or adjustments?
- Over-working and sacrificing sleep / self care rituals?
- Over-thinking and going to catastrophic conclusions?
In my psychotherapy practice I’ve seen how people’s responses to the trauma either exacerbate or alleviate some of the stress, bring people together for support and meaningful action or tear them apart. Depression and anxiety are off the charts now as people struggle with feelings and thoughts that can become runaway trains in response to such triggering events.
So, instead of going through a long list of more functional coping mechanisms I’m encouraging you all to begin by examining the strategies you’re already using and taking an honest look at how well these strategies are serving you. If they calm and energize you, at what cost to yourself or others? If they provide relief, how momentary or enduring is it? Do your coping mechanisms give you any sense of meaning, agency, or connection to others whom you respect and trust? Are you finding any joy amidst all this madness? Are you protecting your mental and physical health, or has that been one price of how you’ve tried to manage?
All meaningful change begins with Contemplation, so give that it’s due. Then, if you decide to seek out different coping tools you’ll be readier to use them intentionally, creatively and effectively.
Calling all lazy husbands! You (should) know who you are: you leverage your wife’s need to keep the peace, her need for order, her need to please, to take care of everyone, her guilt, her less than terrific self esteem, etc. You cash in on it with lots of napping, watching TV, drinking beer, puttering in the garage, puttering with your car or motorcycle, yakking with the neighbors (also remiss husbands), checking your email, looking at porn, and just being a couch potato with the dog or cat.
Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of loving, generous husbands who do their fair share of the work on the home front. There are also lots of wives who drop the ball on their husbands, letting them do 80% of the work, while they work out, play tennis, have lunch with friends, and shop, or read, or putter around. Right now I’m focusing on husbands who cop out, because it’s probably a more common complaint wives have, than husbands have, and because I can’t talk about everything at once.
If you’ve heard your wife complain with some frequency about your lack of participation around the house, you can either discount her as a chronic, unprovoked nag, or you can do some soul searching about the possible kernels of truth in her complaints. If you choose the latter, you might want to examine what you’re trying to accomplish with doing less. Maybe, it’s your way of flipping her the bird, because you feel resentful about things the two of you don’t discuss. Maybe you feel unappreciated for the other things you do in your life together. Maybe the two of you have set up a “parent-child” dynamic, with you playing the part of the lax child, needing to be scolded by a parent, a scenario which might mirror your family of origin dynamic. Maybe it’s your way of getting attention, feeling short-changed by your wife’s attention to the kids and relatives. Maybe you were just trained by your family to expect others to wait on you, and feel it’s your entitlement.
Whatever drives your under-functioning, be aware that it always has consequences. Don’t expect her to be warm and fuzzy in the bedroom, when the context is one of disparate contribution to the work load.
Don’t think she’ll forget it and be available for fun and lightness, with time and distraction. Don’t expect to feel good about yourself, down deep, when you know on some level that you aren’t carrying your own weight. Do expect resentment, a disengaged, cold shoulder, more nagging, and a buildup of contempt.
The good news is that if you use your words about what bothers you or what you need, instead of acting it out through under-functioning, you can open up potentially constructive dialogue about who needs what, and what to do about it. It’s far more constructive and mature. You’ll also avoid the unpleasantness of life in the dog house. It’s your call……
Good night and good luck,
I meet with clients in my coaching and psychotherapy practice fairly often who talk about the deeply held resentments they carry toward their spouses. Wives, especially, are often increasingly silent, opting instead to voice their anger by acting out in various ways toward the husbands they feel have stopped listening to words. Recently, I met with a woman who chronicled years of stonewalling by her preoccupied, dismissive husband. Until our work began, she had given up trying to talk to him about her needs and concerns, and pointed to the elaborate, designer boots she was wearing, telling me in a conspiratorial tone, that this pair had been purchased in one of her rages toward him. Apparently, she had accumulated closets full of boots, her “weapon of choice”, costing up to $1200. a pair! She had even bought mis-sized boots, just for the “thrill” of spite and revenge against the man whom she felt had so violated their marriage with his disregard, disrespect, and entitlement. She felt that a clear sign of hope, and progress in her work with me on assertiveness and appropriate limit-setting, was the fact that boots were now being returned, no longer being bought! We laughed sadly about how the increased closet space could be seen as such a clear indicator of psychological progress – her ability to re-engage and speak up with her mouth, not her feet.
It made me think about the issue of “silence”, and not only my own arsenal of “weapons”, but also the weapons of choice others use — booze, shopping, smoking, affairs, food, gambling, pornography, drugs, internet, work, etc. Then there’s the issue of who ultimately gets wounded in the process, and what, if anything, is gained at what cost?
So, I invite anyone in a marriage marked by disappointment, frustration, and resentments, (everyone’s marriage at some points?), to think about this: What is your weapon of choice in your marriage?
PS. For more of my thoughts about relationship issues, and tools for change, go to my webpage and subscribe at How To Be A Better Couple