Don’t you hate it when your therapist doesn’t agree with you?
Yesterday in therapy, my shrink asked me about my marriage. “I haven’t heard you talking about him in a while,” she said.
“We got into a tiff the other night,” I told her. “I had been sick with cold, then my back went out, and I was feeling nauseous for a day or two. Andy wasn’t being particularly compassionate. He told me I was complaining too much.”
It wasn’t that he didn’t care. I believe he cared. He took the kids to dinner one night so that I could have some alone time and tend to my aching back. He took over bedtime duties because I couldn’t get out of bed or lift anyone. I’m not talking about absenteeism. I’m talking about lack of compassion.
After I told him how grateful I was that he had been picking up the slack around the house, I said: “I need you to feel a little sorry for me.” I went into a guilt launch.
He didn’t really say much about my request until the next day. “I’ll try to give you more emotion,” he said rubbing my shoulders.
I was glad he acknowledged, it–but we both knew that this wouldn’t be the case. What? You think that’s mean? Part of marriage is acceptance, and my husband’s empathetic skills are sometimes lacking. Not that he’s apathetic whatsoever. He’s just a pick yourself up by your britches moving on whether your back hurts or not kind of guy.
Me, I’m more of a baby. I need a lot more.
So when I told my therapist that he wasn’t exactly giving me the TLC that I needed, say that some imaginary husband might give, she said: “You know what, complaining is really annoying.”
I choked on my coffee.
“I’m just saying that there are other ways to evoke sympathy,” she said. “Complaining–” and she put up her two hands in front of her chest, “just makes you want to push someone away.”
Complaints are a funny addition to a relationship, aren’t they? The mentality that you must deal with life’s lightening storms–and most of the time on your own–is part of the package of matrimony. It’s what David Snarch, author of Passionate Marriage (one of my favorite marriage self-help books), refers to as “differentiation.” It’s about being yourself in a marriage without having to rely completely on the other person for reaffirmation. Snarch writes:
“Growing the feminine and the masculine in all of us is part of differentiation and part of what is needed in our psychology and society.”
The feminine role of “needy complainer”– i.e., me– doesn’t have to define my role in my marriage because I’m able to ask for more empathy while taking care of myself. My therapist wasn’t dismissing my complaints. She was recommending that I do it with more differentiation. In my defense, I was asking Andy to grow his “feminine” side as well by acting with more empathy.
Later that night, Andy was very pleased to hear that my therapist agreed with him.
“Really?” he said, his face spinning a wide grin when I told him.
“Yes,” I said. “Are you happy that she agreed with you?”
He was delighted.
“Good,” I said. “I’m glad I’m paying her to agree with you.”
I did some self-soothing by taking two Advil, told him my back hurt and got into bed. About 10 minutes later, Andy offered to rub my back.
So I took him up on his offer.
Image: Jack Batchelor