Monday, May 10, 2004

Taking responsibility.


I read several women's journals over at TLC. The past few days, there have been a couple of entries that have kind of piqued me. I even went to the effort of composing a lengthy comment to one but I decided not to send it, since it was pretty clear to me that the writer might not be very receptive to the idea.

The central theme that keeps coming is that people refuse to take responsibility for their own happiness, and continue to behave like children -- or, in fashionable psychobabble, "engage in passive-aggressive behavior."

One woman was upset because she didn't get any special treatment on Mother's Day. She recounted that her husband left on an all-day trip on Saturday. She knew that would leave him very busy on Sunday, and yet she still let him go. It's hard to say exactly what did happen, but given the facts she presented, it's her own fault she had a miserable day Sunday. She knows that her DH isn't very keen on "Hallmark holidays", but she has been going through a really rough time lately. Would it have killed her to tell her DH, "look, I could use some pampering on Sunday"? When presented with the all-day trip, couldn't she have said, "Well, that will just screw over the whole weekend. How about a half-day?" Maybe her DH would've ignored her anyway, but then she could justifiably be pissed at him. As it is (or seems), she told him that it was OK to go, so IMO the only one she should blame is herself.

The second birthday I had after DH and I got married was a disaster. He had no idea what I wanted or expected, and so he did pretty much nothing. I'm sure there was a gift, but I don't remember what is was. But he didn't do anything else, it was kind of like, "Happy Birthday, I've got a ton of stuff to do this weekend, see ya Sunday night." Not that he physically left, but he just DID have so much to do, I felt abandoned.

Of course we had a huge fight but we really learned something: if one or the other of us has some expectations or even impulses about what we want to happen, we need to bring it up and talk about it. Now, years and years later, we're in a really good routine. About mid-week, we ask, "Hey, what's going on this weekend?" At the end of the weekend, we review what's coming up during the week -- dr's appointments, special things going on at school, etc. It really helps keep us on the same page.

Of course, since we figured this out and it is working well for us, I don't see why everyone else who has this problem can't try it, too. It really does work -- but you have to be willing to make it work. When one partner brings something up, the other one has to be willing to listen.

That's why last week, one source of my frustration was my irritation with myself, for letting my bad feelings just fester instead of discussing them with DH right away. I consciously decided to hold on to my anger for days longer than I should have. It accomplished nothing.

It has taken me years to believe that DH really loves me and wants me to be happy (residual damage from previous relationships...). At this point, though, he has put up with so much crap from me, and has never once even spoken the word "divorce" even though when we fight I always tell him I have the urge to run away -- I believe he'll be here for me. That trust lets me reveal to him everything that's making me miserable, and sometimes he just listens and that helps, and sometimes he works with me to try and figure out a way to help me feel better.

The main thing is, though, if I feel horrible, I have to tell him. He's not going to guess. And I can't go around the house acting all mopey and stupid like a teenager, I have too many responsibilities, and that's such a waste of energy, anyway. That's the thing with my DH: since I'm always talking to him about other stuff, he figures that I will tell him what he needs to know. If I don't bring something up, it's because I have decided it's not important, and that's my decision and he respects it.

I'm sure if I couldn't get out of bed in the morning or something similarly serious, he'd ask what was going on. But if I am apparently functioning normally, he's going to trust that I'm capable and leave it at that. Too many times, people get overly involved in other people's lives, and decide for them what they should share. Each of us needs to make that decision for himself...

Similarly, if I actually bring something up or talk about how I'm feeling, DH is going to take that at face value. He simply refuses to play the passive-aggressive game. You know, the one where you say, "No, really, I'm fine," with pronounced sniffles, which is supposed to elicit the "Tell me what's wrong!" reaction. If I'm miserable, I'll say I'm miserable. If I say I'm fine, even if I'm still upset, it means I would really like to deal with it myself, thankyouverymuch.

The worst game like that people play? "Oh, it's OK, you can go on without me..." sounding wistful, and really wanting him to stay. If you want him to stay, SAY SO! I hate that manipulative bullshit, and I'm working very hard with our kids to see that they don't engage in it. At least DH and I give them a very good example of clear communication in a marriage.

Another side of this same problem came up in another woman's journal. Her mother, now widowed and living alone, is a master control freak and complainer. Everything has to be done just as she says, but she's constantly preventing people from doing things ("not today!") so she can complain about nothing ever getting done. So this woman went with her own children and grandchildren on Mother's Day to her mother's house, and they did major cleaning and work that needed to be done. Her mother was having fits all day.

I feel a great deal of pity for the mother. The only control and happiness she has in her life is her ability to inflict guilt on her children and grandchildren, and they just handed that back to her on a platter. They all met her at her church and spoke, in company, about what they were going to do -- so the entire congregation got to see what a loving, supportive family they really are. Then they went and did major work on her house, even though she protested, because these things really needed to be done for keeping the house safe and livable (not to mention, nice). So they took all the woman's power away from her, at least for that day, and she was miserable.

People like that are deserving of pity. Imagine how much love and joy she could feel, seeing her children and grandchildren all working together to make her house nicer. Imagine how proud she could feel, how happy to see them all working together as a team, how nice it is that they are all productive members of society. But no, all she can see is the negative. What a miserable way to live.

I have a ton of admiration for the daughter who arranged all of it, the one who wrote about it in her journal -- what an accomplishment. But how sad, too. To make such a huge gesture, to arrange such a wonderful gift of love and honor, knowing in advance that it was going to be spurned, disrespected, unappreciated? Wow. In an ideal world (or made-for-tv movie), this would mark a turning point, the mother would begin to recognize her negative world view is poisoning everything around her. But this isn't a Charles Dickens story, and sometimes Scrooge never reforms.

We can always hope and pray for people like that, and let them serve as a reminder to us that our happiness is our sole responsibility. We can choose, we do choose, how we respond to our lives' events.

1 comment:

sparayno said...

I was from the Phils when Pres. Reagan won the presidency. I was just a kid in grade school back then. Did not know what he stands for or his party for that matter but somehow I was filled with joy when the 52 American hostages went home. My spirit jumped within me when he asked Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." I just somehow admired and probably adored the man who asked Mr Marcos to conduct a snap election which paved the way for democracy in my native land.