She was irritated with and disappointed in her husband.
For her birthday she wanted to try a new place in town. She set them up to go – reservations & a sitter – even though she knew he wouldn’t enjoy it.
Then she got stuck in her head with a huge story about what the night would be like.
- he’d rather stay home and watch an important ball game on TV that night.
- he’d be distant when they got there – watching the game over her head at the bar.
- he’d have a negative ‘tude about it – going only to appease her.
Many of us create stories about what someone close to us wants – or doesn’t. Will enjoy – or won’t.
We imagine this person showing up with a puss on his face. Maybe with a ‘tude.
Or being checked out – watching the game over our heads, at the bar, while we’re having a celebratory drink.
Our brains create stories to protect us – to avoid reliving a past disappointment.
But her stories weren’t serving her – and here’s why:
She walked around the topic/problem and suggested that they “just not go tonight. Let’s just stay home and watch the game.”
He said, with trepidation, “Really?! Are you sure?” And she said, – you guessed it – “Yep, I’m sure.”
You can write what happens next, folks. Of course, she got pissed!
She can’t believe he took her up on her offer!
Didn’t he know how much she wanted to go to this place?
How much she needed a night away from the kids?
Away from home? Just with him? Alone?
I asked, “So you gave him an out and he took it. And you were pissed when he didn’t push to go?”
Exactly! It was my birthday!
“What made you give him an out?”
Eh, I knew he’d rather watch the game. And I knew he’d be looking over my head. And I figured I might as well not bother.
“What would happen if you went anyway? If you sat at the table and watched him look over your head?
Oh, I’d be PISSED.
“But what if – what if you expected it, and didn’t react? Like, what if you knew it was coming and were just real non-emotional about it? And just watched him do it?”
Oh, he’d be so uncomfortable. He’d be like trying to watch it without me noticing. Like sneaking it. And he’d feel so…I don’t know. Uncomfortable.
“And it’s not ok for him to be uncomfortable? It’s not ok for him to do something he doesn’t like to do?”
That’s when it hit her. The dance they’ve been doing for over 20 years.
Oh. My. God. I always protect him from feeling uncomfortable!! Ohmygod. I don’t let him be uncomfortable. I am always the uncomfortable one.
Holy shit. He just keeps being the “bad guy” and I get to be pissed all the time.
Jesus. I keep him safe and I stay PISSED. This is crazy!!
My sweet friend is not alone in her ‘protection’ of a loved one.
When we tell ourselves we’re putting someone else out by asking for what we need, it creates a pattern.
Our behavior is a pre-emptive strike, making us feel a little bit better – like we’re looking out for our people, taking care of them, not bothering anyone.
It makes us feel good.
Though it works for a while, after many years it results in deep resentment. Anger. Frustration. Isolation. Loneliness.
You deserve to have the things you want and need.
If someone can’t show up for you, that’s something to deal with…however you want to deal with it.
- Are you putting someone else first so you don’t have to have a hard conversation?
- To avoid a difficult moment?
- To buffer against an uncomfortable emotion?
It may not bother you today, or this month, or this year. But when it catches up, it will be that much more difficult to overcome because the pattern has been so long-established.
- Having the hard conversation now is UNCOMFORTABLE.
- Having it after years of habits & patterns are in place is PAINFUL. And more difficult than you can imagine.
I’m watching this play out in numerous relationships my clients (and friends) have. And I’ve dealt with it myself, of course!
Choosing comfort is the easy button. And the easy button is a ruse. It rarely turns out to be easy.
Need an ear? I’m here.