I feel bad about it but at the end of the day I end up in a fight with my husband. It starts with me telling him that I am anxious about the work I am doing… there are lots of things going on and I feel anxious about whether I am doing a good job… but he doesn’t reassure me he just encourages me to go back to work and work harder…
This young woman tells me that she wants her husband to notice that she needs reassurance and she also wants him to help her calm down and get ready for sleep. But he is also in his productive, getting stuff done mode and so he goes into problem-solving mode rather than thoughtful listener mode.
We imagined together what an ideal husband would do – he would be to say, “Oh honey, yes, you are just working so hard, I get it,.” And then maybe later say “It’s OK, you may not get that much sleep but it will be OK, you’re getting a lot done..”
What she is looking for is the validation that she has a reason to be upset… And only then some reassurance.
Of course this is a common pattern in male – female communication. Men tend to jump into problem solving mode too easily.
But this young couple ordinarily is able to manage that tension better.
Part of the problem is that she is angry… and she doesn’t want to be stuck in that emotion. But she is too tired to really figure things out. She feels depleted. This naturally leads to fantasies of a “perfect husband” who will rescue her from her frustration.
And he probably senses that she is looking for something specific, and this makes him more anxious, and therefore less creative, and more likely to get into problem solving rather than empathic mode.
So how to avoid this painful experience of coming home to a thoughtless partner?
- Take care of your feeling of depletion. The first thing to do is to address the physical causes of energy depletion that set you up for a frustrating interaction with your partner. Get a healthy snack. Lie down for a quick “nap” (you don’t have to sleep). Listen to some music. Meditate. Give yourself a moment to recover. Don’t go straight for a drink. Or seek immediate gratification from your partner.
- Seek first to understand. It always works to ask the other person how their day went. And, now that you are not quite so exhausted because of caring for your own needs, you might be able to show some real interest. In the process you are establishing the quality of communication with your partner that makes it more likely that you will get what you want.
- Then be understood. Do deliberately change to talking about your day. The more clearly you make the transition the more likely your partner will get the message that it is your time.
- Keep your fantasy life separate from real life. Realize that we all carry within us a wish, from childhood, of a relationship with some perfectly attuned and loving other… and coming home from work is an unlikely time to expect to get that need met.