-- Question for John --
My husband and I had a huge fight a few days ago, because he wanted to go fishing with his buddy. He works away from home 4 days a week, and I feel like we never have enough time together. The past three weekends in a row he has spent one entire day doing something with his friends. I have a very extreme reaction and I don’t know how to stop it when that happens.
First I get really, really mad and I stop talking to him — most times couldn’t tell him why I am mad anyway. Then I get really, really sad. (this process takes hours). By then he is mad because I am mad (seemingly, to him, without reason, because I haven’t told him why I’m mad yet). It’s a cycle.
At this point I want comfort and to talk things out — he is always willing to talk, but doesn’t want to even hold my hand — he doesn’t push me away, just doesn’t respond. After we have talked, I start to feel better but then I have the exact same emotional reaction when he next spends too much time away from me.
I am very worried, because this last time I cried for hours and got very depressed, I really think I was over reacting. Even now, 5 days later, I could just bawl my eyes out thinking about our fight. I tried to rationalize when I knew I was getting mad, but nothing seemed to get rid of that anger.
I love him, I don’t want to control him, I understand that he needs time to do his own thing, but I miss him so much when he is away working and it hurts when it seems so easy for him to spend hours away from me. When he is only gone for 4-5 hours or so, it is not an issue.
-- Answer from John --
This situation obviously brings up strong reactions in you. By their very nature, when we have such reactions they are disproportionate to the circumstances and are fueled by things within us that are calling out for healing. We experience this as a reaction to something in the present, but perhaps only 5% of the emotional energy that comes up is useful for the present situation. The rest, the major portion of the emotional energy that comes up, is our own past wounds being reactivated.In other words, your husband is unwittingly stepping on an emotional landmine that sits within you. This is not an uncommon one, so please do not feel you are all that different.
Everyone has some of these unhealed parts of themselves, and usually couples cross-trigger each other. For instance, some people are very sensitive to too much distance in a relationship and it brings up old feelings of abandonment from childhood. They then get very nervous and anxious when their partner creates too much separation. Their reactions to this often cross-trigger their partner’s old feelings of being controlled as a child. And the here-and-now issue gets lost in the fireworks of exploding landmines within each person. I’m not saying that is necessarily what is happening in your case, but I am using it to illustrate where that other 95% of the emotional energy is really coming from that fuels the bulk of emotional reactions when we have them.
Sure, there are reasons for you to feel he may be gone too many weekends in a row, and at a 5% emotional energy level, you would be able to use that energy to conduct a constructive negotiation with him about this here-and-now issue and possibly agree to instituting some changes. However, at your full 100% emotional level, with 95% of that energy pure unconscious reactivity coming up from your past, you not only lose the chance to deal with the real here-and-now issue, but you also alienate him. You already know all this and I am not saying it to make you wrong. I am saying it to highlight the importance of your realizing that the bulk of your emotional reaction is originating from past unresolved things within you. And the importance of you owning that 95% part of your reacting and dedicating yourself to healing it within you.
And you already realize that trying to control him is not going to work (it never does).
The good news (I’m getting around to that) is that you CAN heal these old wounds and reactive sensitivities. To do this you change your focus from him and what he is doing — to focus instead on yourself and the feelings that are coming up in you. You change your idea of what needs to happen from getting him to be different — to instead see that what needs to happen more than anything is for you to heal these old wounds in yourself. Change your focus. Change your idea of what needs to happen to improve your life. Then commit to doing the work to get that healing inside yourself.
The natural result of this change of attitude and intention in yourself is that you will back off of pursuing him to change. And ultimately you will feel better about yourself. You will feel more complete and less needy of him changing. Remarkably, this will eventually result in him wanting to be more present around you more of the time. In other words, because you will become more focused on your own personal growth and less dependent on him, you will create a balanced space between you that he will want to fill more often.
It is amazingly counterintuitive, but often we need to let go in order to get what we want. As long as we try to hold on tight, instead of drawing the other person to us, we are only creating a condition in which they want to flee. Our unconscious reactive part does not know this, and instead tries to hang on and control the other person, to avoid feeling the fears and other negative feelings that result when there is the distance. But this strategy absolutely does not work. You know this thoroughly by now. And your only hope is to consciously choose and commit to transforming these old patterns within you.