Joe has considerable money in the bank, some stocks and numerous investments. He lives in a two million dollar house. Both he and his wife, Carolyn, drive luxury cars, go on ski vacations in Colorado, and spend summers at their beach house, so money isn’t their problem.
Nevertheless, it all started when Joe went to work one day, and discovered that his bonus, which he anticipated would be 30% of his yearly salary, was reduced to only 10%. His first reaction was anger. His second was, “they don’t appreciate me.” His third thought was, “I’m a failure.” His fourth was, “I’m going to get fired.” He suddenly felt physically sick and went home early. He helped put the kids to bed, ate dinner, and later that night he and his wife watched tv. Well, they were in the same room, but she was on her ipad. At one point, he looked at the screen and saw a page filled with shoes which he knew were expensive because their soles were red. Several minutes later, during a commercial, he patted her on the shoulder and said, “Shopping again?” To his utter surprise, she became vitriolic and hostile. She screamed, “You always find fault with me. Nothing I do is ever good enough. Why do you keep me here anyway?” He replied, “I was only joking. Do I ever stop you from buying anything? You get everything you want.”
Things appeared to settle down until they went to bed. That’s when he reached out to her, thinking sex would make him feel more adequate and less of a failure. But Carolyn turned her back toward him and said, “You can’t talk to me the way you did and expect me to go to bed with you.” He had a fitful night, dragged himself to work, and experienced terrible feelings of guilt, along with fears of rejection. At lunch time, he went out and saw a piece of jewelry far more costly than he wanted to spend, but bought it anyway. It was his way of apologizing and gaining her favor. After work, he hurried home, apologized, and gave her his “peace offering.” She was delighted. So, later that evening, she reached over to his side of the bed and caressed him in an inviting fashion. To her utter surprise, he turned his back and said, “Forget it.” His thought was, “You don’t care for me. All you care about is what I buy you.”
This, vignette, in varying contexts, probably takes place in a myriad of homes throughout the whole United States and, possibly, throughout the world. The question is, why?
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in psychology to understand Joe’s behavior. One, he expected Carolyn to read his mind, to know what he was feeling, and to support him. He felt bad to begin with, and when he saw her buying things, it elicited his feeling that “I’m only as good as my paycheck.” Her rejection of his sexual advances only reinforced his sense of insufficiency and provoked his fears of abandonment. His knee-jerk reaction was to placate her, even though he really didn’t want to spend the money. Lastly, he was angry with her because (get this) he didn’t have the backbone to speak up and share his feelings. But, rather than look at self, he focused on her and assumed that the only reason she was ever nice to him was because of what he gave her.
What I’ve relayed is Joe’s side of the story. But there is always more than one side to every story. Carolyn, saw it differently. “When he arrived home the first day, I asked ‘What’s wrong?’ Do you know what he told me? ‘Nothing. Everything’s okay.” His words, or lack of them, infuriated her. “Because he never tells me anything. He always keeps me unaware and in the dark. So I admit it, I try to make myself feel better by buying something - a new purse or a pair of shoes.” I fully understand her explanation, but I don’t believe it justifies her lack of follow-through. After all, she knew something was wrong. She could have said, “It doesn’t matter what it is. I know you’re upset and I’m here for you. I care. Let me hold, nurture and support you.” But she didn’t.
At the same time, there is some truth to her words. Joe could have told Carolyn where he was coming from and what he needed. By doing so, he not only would have given her the opportunity to feel important, to feel that she had purpose and was needed, but I believe he would also have derived the emotional support he desperately desired.
What really transpired between these individuals was that neither of them used the intellect they possess. Both of them were responding to another person inside them - their emotional little kid. The same one that knows you shouldn’t drink too much, but takes an extra drink for the road: the one that knows you should exercise, but doesn’t want to because it’s cold outside; and the one that feels so emotionally insecure that he or she doesn’t dare ask for what they need, because of their fear of rejection. The sad fact is that when faced with crises or stress, most of us wind up with our adult person totally shutting down and the little kid inside directing us emotionally. Then, rather than look at ourselves or open up, we argue about irrelevant topics with our spouses, partners, lovers or friends, never speaking to the real issue: our own feelings. In many instances, we don’t hear or know what’s truly bothering us. As a result, we can’t share our feelings, because if we don’t know what’s causing us to feel upset or threatened, how can we tell someone?
Why does this occur? Because we don’t give ourselves the right to be weak, lonely, scared or frightened, because we’re not supposed to be that way.
Fortunately, there is a solution. We must always remember to first, look inside to see where we are coming from so we can share us, and give another individual a chance to understand, accept and support us. The lesson we need to learn is that no one can truly know what we need if we don’t have the courage to first, admit it to ourselves, and then tell them, or ask for it. “Nothing” and “Shopping again” doesn’t say it because no one can read our minds.
To learn more about Dr. Reitman, read more of his articles, or to obtain copies for family or friends, please visit his website, dredreitman.com.