Sunday, January 7, 2018

Weaponized Stubbornness

She calls herself “Annoyed and Confused” but the woman who wrote in to Carolyn Hax is completely full of herself. She is self-centered and self-involved, in the independent and autonomous mode. She does not function as a member of a team, as belonging to a couple, so she has put her coupledom under serious stress.

And she is also confused about her ill-defined role, she calls herself a “partner.” We would like to know whether she is a wife. If she is not, she is heading for ex-partnerdom. If she is a wife, she is heading for divorce.

Her problem is simple: when her husband is excited about something or is looking forward to it, she does not share his joy; she is not happy for him. She does not cheer him on. She tries to rain on his parade. She undermines him. She demoralizes him. And he naturally gets angry. She acts like a competitor, an enemy, and not a trusted companion. I cannot tell you how common this attitude is, but it is surely toxic.

For the record, here is her letter:

My partner often feels I don’t react to events in his life as a supportive partner.

He believes that when he is excited about something or happy about an upcoming event, I should be just as happy as he is, and express myself that way to support him.

I am more of a glass-half-empty kind of woman, so it is difficult for me to express myself otherwise. I always seem to want to talk about the what-ifs and my concerns and my personal outlook on things, which always differs from his.

This upsets him very much and usually causes him to lash out at me, saying I need to stop this and start thinking about how it ruins the moment for him. He tells me no one else who loves him reacts this way but me.

I feel this is controlling behavior on his part: “If I share something with you that is good to me, you have to say only positive things about it as well, or otherwise I am going to get mad at you.”

So what am I supposed to do? Give in and stop being me and only say what I know will make him happy? Or say what I am really thinking at the time, which I know he does not want to hear and will get angry with me for saying?

I really need an outsider’s view because we have been going around this for too many years.

How many years has this been going on? Enquiring minds want to know. Happily for all of us, Hax calls the woman out for her self-centered, selfish attitude… and her hostility toward her partner.

Hax explains:

About this “give in” thing — is it possible? Can you in fact “stop being me” (which we’ll get to in a bit) and “only say what I know will make him happy”?

If it is, then yes, try a loving “That’s great, [partner’s name] — I’m so happy for you.”

Because that’s not caving, and asking you to check your pessimism is not “controlling.” His lashing out is childish, certainly, but the frustration it expresses is legitimate. You keep doing what you “always seem to want” without regard for how that affects him.

Really? Why?

If I had to speculate, I would say that Annoyed and Confused has gained this character flaw from a therapist. If so, she should get a refund. 

Among the first relationship rules, one that should not even need to be taught, is: When you care for someone you share his or her joys and sorrows. Where is the empathy now that she needs it?

Hax continues:

Choose to honor your partner’s wish. “Hey, that sounds great.” Your outlook works for you but doesn’t for him, so why keep pushing it? How do you expect him to benefit — and how has he actually benefited — from your popping all his balloons? Meeting his needs doesn’t automatically mean denying your essential self.

If her essential self is to be a witch, then she would do better to rectify it.

Besides, Hax points out, pragmatically, her approach is clearly not working. We all find it bizarre that this adult woman persists even though her attitude is not working:

Even these cases, though, don’t justify your insistence on citing what-ifs, for the simple reason that it’s not working. He doesn’t appreciate the reality checks. He doesn’t embrace your counsel as a welcome counterweight. Who would, really, relish anyone’s reflexive negativity?

So find a way to be sincere in sharing his joy. Forget looking for happiness in a potential outcome, since it’s not in your nature; look instead for the happiness in him, in his face. Find the happy in seeing him happy. Consider a formal depression and anxiety screening if there’s zero joy to be found.

Hax calls it “weaponized stubbornness” and attempts to suggest that they are both being stubborn. In truth, the letter writer's stubbornness is a character flaw. Annoyed and Confused should change her ways. If she doesn’t her relationship is doomed. She will undoubtedly blame it all on her partner's hostility, on his inability to accept her as she really is. I hope that that will count as sufficient consolation.


Sam L. said...

I said yesterday that I'd given up on Hax. I have to say I agree with her here.

Sam Vimes said...

The thought of a partner of one kind or another not enjoying the simple matter of the other's happiness is depressing. Even when I'm in a foul mood or otherwise burdened by the weight of my own problems, any joy experienced by my wife or kids is a source of great strength and satisfaction for me. I would keep my personal life far away from people with these kinds of character flaws.