I feel used and unappreciated

-- Question for John --

We have been together for almost 20 years now. We have adopted 2 children and I have one step child. My husband has a powerful position and I am a stay at home mom. I get the feeling that staying at home is not good enough for him. My work is not valued at all. I find myself feeling used, not appreciated at all so I then back off and don’t do things that I would normally do.

For example: if I put on a CD to relax, it seems that is when he pops in during the day. He shuts it off and turns on the TV and goes about his business, eats, etc. If I have had a rough time and take a nap it is like a major sin. However, his job gives him lots of time to do what he wants. So I guess I feel like my time is not valuable at all.

His job also has folks calling here a lot and I am very helpful and direct them where they need to be with their problems. We live in a very small town and I really like to help these people. These people don’t know how to reach him or just can’t reach him.

He also dictates what, where and when the family is going to do things without considering that I might have plans. If I explain that I have plans with the kids or had something else in mind, he gets mad. In other words, he tells and doesn’t ask.

I am a strong person and have always been that way, but I can see both sides, he sees only his side. I have tried to go along with his plans thinking, that when I have plans he will understand, but that doesn’t happen. He takes his time off and I never feel like I have time off. Or when I do take the time off, it doesn’t fit his. I have talked it over and over, but what I get is my time just has to wait or is not important.

Through the years it has gotten worse. This leaves me feeling that what ever he is doing is more important than what I might need or just want to do. So as a result I don’t do very much at all because I am so tired of the hurt feelings that I seem to be stuck with. This is getting serious. I am to the point of going back to work and setting my own rules, but I have to consider our children first. I don’t name call, but we do fight over this because I think his behavior is rude. What do you think?

-- Answer from John --

I completely understand what you are saying. I have heard this many many times in working with women and couples. You are not alone. And you can change things.

Basically you are clearly stating that the relationship with your husband as it is currently configured absolutely does not work for you. Period. You need to own that.

You are also saying that as a result of its continual not-working for you, there are a lot of resentful feelings that have built up inside of you. I would not at all be surprised to find out that this ongoing condition in the relationship of unhappiness has also created a pretty big wall between you and your husband… and has probably deeply inhibited your mutual ability to experience joy, passion or satisfaction together… The wall must be pretty thick after 20 years of this… no?

You report that you have spoken up about this, and it has gotten nowhere.

The main reasons you give are: (1) Your husband is neither seeing your side of things nor is he responding in any way to recognize or remedy your complaints; and (2) You are afraid to press your case more strongly because of the possible effects on the children. I am wondering how old these children are?

As an aside here about children…. I am also wondering how great an effect the clearly low quality and seething resentments harbored (probably in both directions) is having on the children. Personally, I grew up in a household where both parents stayed together, despite their seething unhappiness. They did provide a roof over my head. But they modeled for me a married couple who was thoroughly unhappy. Gave me a basic fear of marriage, that. The results in my life was about two decades of avoiding commitment, three major great relationships blown away because I carried alot of baggage having seen my parents marriage (the only close-up model I ever had) Get what I am saying? For me, their divorce would have been a far better contribution to my mental health, despite what many current family-values oriented experts are saying about the importance of keeping an unhappy couple together for the sake of the children. Sorry, but there is ample evidence to the contrary.

Anyway, to my main point. What seems most holding you back (for 20 years, no less) is what? That is a question. It is the question you need to look at within yourself.

Let me give you some pointers or hints for a direction to look in. You say you are strong. This is good and I believe you. Yet there are elements of your email that give me the impression that part of you is still playing the role of a victim. That role is defined by the notion that he has all the power in the relationship. He has the powerful position. He has the right to come in and turn your CD off and the TV on. Because he won’t get your position, you are the loser. Where are you in this equation?

I would recommend that you take a stand, at least inside yourself, that the real point of your life at this time is to maximally reclaim whatever power you have inadvertently and unintentionally (probably for the best of intentions, like the children) given up in this relationship. That is the only… and I mean ONLY… way you are going to affect a positive change in your life.

It is your life, by the way. You are the sole owner of it. His refusal to see your side of the equation is no excuse to abdicate any of your own responsibility for your own happiness. Even the advice I am giving you is quite secondary to your complete ownership of your life and the direction it takes.

It turns out that when you take 100% responsibility for the condition of your relationship, you regain all of your actual power. I mean this is your power anyway, it exists right now. But you are giving part of it away when you make your partner the cause of the unhappy circumstances of your life and love.

Take 100% responsibility for the exact way your relationship is right now — EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE CONVINCED HE IS THE CAUSE.

How do you do this? Relationship is a dance. Each partner is affecting the other. Look at where what you are doing is in fact creating the circumstances. THEN CHANGE WHAT YOU ARE DOING.

Let me give you an example. This may or may not fit your case, but I suspect that to a certain degree it does. If I guessed (and I mean this is a complete guess) I would say that your personality style and his diverge in one important area.

YOUR STYLE: You are either a natural mediator type of person or you are a natural people helper. These two styles are close in many ways. You see other people’s points of views and you respond to how the other person is feeling as much as being interested in how you are feeling. If anything, you probably fall short on paying close attention to how you are feeling and what you need. You probably hold back on expressing your needs clearly. If you are a mediator type, you probably have some real trouble with the emotion of anger… either getting to it inside yourself and expressing it easily… or experiencing it coming from your partner. If you are the people helper type, you may explode from time to time… but you basically hope that the other person would be as sensitive to your needs as you are to theirs. This is your view of how life ought to be… we all should be slightly psychic about what is happening in the other person… and we all should be sensitive and just naturally know that pleasing the other person is a good thing… and this kind of silent contract would ultimately result in your getting your needs known and met by others. There is a shortfall, however, in this approach. You tend to hold back clearly expressing your needs. Dare I say, forcefully expressing them? You tend to hold back on setting clear boundaries for yourself…. maybe even considering it selfish and bad to do so.

THE LIFETIME LEARNING LESSON OF THIS STYLE: It is called self-remembering. Knowing that you are as important as everybody else. Knowing how to constructively and positively integrate the emotion of anger into your repertoire… so you can get the results you want in relationship. Knowing how to make clear requests and set very clear emotional and behavioral boundaries in your relationships.

HIS STYLE: I will guess that he is either the boss type or the perfectionist type. He believes that most other people are pretty incompetent and that only he knows the truth and what is truly right. He tends not to really look very deeply into other’s points of view and may seem to lack empathy and compassion. He is a take-charge kind of guy and many of his values have to do with what is proper and what has integrity. He has no problems with anger. If he is the boss type, he easily expresses anger on an emotional level and frequently cows people around him (because, in fact, most other styles have problems with anger). If he is the perfectionist type, he converts anger into negative criticism and judgment and it comes out as name-calling.

THE LIFETIME LEARNING LESSON OF THIS STYLE: In a word, compassion. For himself and others. Learning to get beyond the mental constructs that keep the heart in jail. Learning to trust others. Learning to be strong enough to see others’ points of view and value them. Opening to love… and fully accepting it into one’s own heart. Embracing the other emotions of pain and fear, and not just covering over them with anger.
Interestingly, in a mature and growth-oriented relationship, each of the above styles has something important to teach the other. Such a relationship is based on the model that we are all in the process of becoming more whole inside, and this is what will enable us to reach a state of inner peace, acceptance and true love and joy. This model asserts that it is our own lack of wholeness, and not our partner’s shortcomings, that trap us in unhappiness. Because we are not whole, we cannot experience deep joy in love with anyone (because we will ultimately bump up against our own lifetime learning lesson no matter whom we are in relationship with, even someone sharing our own style).

The wholeness model encourages each partner to look at their own lesson and move forward on it, regardless of where their partner is at. While I cannot say for sure that the above analysis is a direct hit on the mark for you and your husband — (this is only a quick email response, after all, and not a real counseling session) — I give it as a simple example of how you are 100% involved in keeping things exactly the way they are in your relationship. In the example, if you were either of the styles I indicated, your life lesson is about reclaiming your own power, integrating anger in a positive and effective way into your personal repertoire, and actually showing up and setting very clear boundaries for yourself, indicating very clearly what works and what doesn’t work for you, and backing that up with actual consequences. Doing this is what gives you 100% of your power back and complete ownership of your life. You can do this in the context of staying in the relationship. Or ultimately, doing it may put at risk the relationship. Which is what you also have to look at: your own fears.

Yes. Fear. It is what ultimately holds us all back from learning our lifetime lessons. And that is yet another big thing to go into and look at… but I think I have given you enough right here. Usually, to really implement the kinds of self-generated changes you are seeking, it requires some counseling or coaching. You need not just the flash of insight, but an ongoing source of emotional, intellectual and loving support that a good counselor can provide, on a week-to-week basis, which assists you to move through your fears and more fully integrate the changes inside yourself that you want and need to make the outer changes you want in your life.

You may notice here that I am not recommending that you get you and your husband into couples counseling. While if he were motivated to do so, I would recommend it, I have had alot of experience working with his style of personality (if it is anything like what I guess it is) and I have come to deeply respect that such a person will only make changes when they are good and ready to do so themselves… and they actually do make some of the most dramatic and growth-filled personal changes when they are ready to embrace that process. But they pretty quickly and totally reject the ideas or inputs or even the notion of needing assistance from someone else, especially a guy (there can be alot of alpha-male syndrome here)… until they themselves are ready and want to do it.

Interestingly enough, also, and you might try this one out, if he is the boss-type, then he more appreciates people who show up and confront him with the kind of anger he so easily doles out, and he does not at all respect the sensitive, non-angry type of person, whom he considers weak and without merit in their point of view. If this were the case for you, then showing up with clear and present anger would be your strongest move.