All of us have bad days sometimes…even bad months or longer. I’m having one right now that has to do with my negative feelings about the impact of my husband’s job in our lives. The problem is, my responses are making things worse. As always, you can learn from my mistakes - in this case about how NOT to approach your partner.
The issue is a common one – his job is taking so much time and energy that he has little energy or attention left for his family. This has been going on for a while now, and is starting to feel very urgent to me. Our growing lack of connection and time together is hurting our relationship, and I fear that if it’s not addressed, it will continue to do so. Unfortunately, responding to fear can lead to some bad decisions…and I’ve been responding to fear about where we are going more and more lately.
Last night was a classic. I do have something important to say – I cherish our relationship and hate to see it stressed. But, while my husband isn’t happy in the overall (having a crazy schedule combined with a wife who is complaining can make it hard to feel on top of the world,) he’s not ready to change what he’s doing.
I feel between a rock and a hard place…I can see the damage that’s happening but I’m not in charge of changing it. (A similar lack of power to when you see the toll that unmanaged ADHD symptoms are taking on your relationship, but aren’t the one in charge of treatment.) But to push and push sets me up for failure – the harder I push the more depressed and resistant my husband becomes. This is the exact opposite of the direction I'm trying to go in. Furthermore, the more I restate my concerns, the less flexible he becomes. Rather than saying “I can see you’re distressed, let’s brainstorm some ideas” he responds “I don’t see how I can change that.” Digging in is a reflexive response to too much pressure.
I would do well to follow the advice I give to my seminar participants – understand that your power to change things comes from lobbying…and like a lobbyist you must approach your partner with his or her interests, opinions, and specific situation in mind as well as your own. Rather than focus on my complaint (over and over again) I would be better served to focus on the opportunities and shared dreams we are missing…to remind him that he and I both want the same things. That when we have time for each other we can be great together…I can even serve both of our needs by placing my emphasis on doing, rather than complaining. Rather than insist he listen to my fears, for example, I can insist that he join me for some fun on the weekend so we can laugh together again. There's no better way to reinforce what's out there if we reach for it by making creating more time together a priority.
Want to see what I did instead? Go to this Psychology Today post, Five Ways NOT to Get Your Partner's Attention. And, yes, I did all five last night. You can bet I’ll be apologizing today.