IF YOU WANT TO CONTROL YOUR WORLD, YOU HAVE TO CREATE IT
Amy and John had just returned from a vacation with several other couples. During their vacation, they arrived at a new city far later than they had anticipated. Most of the restaurants had closed and reservations couldn’t be made for the others. Each couple decided to make arrangements on their own. One ordered room service. Another got take-out from one of the open restaurants. Amy was still undecided. John accompanied the couple going for take-out and returned to tell Amy that he had picked up his dinner and would be in their room, leaving her to make arrangements for activities the following day. Several days later, one of the other wives took Amy aside and asked, “Weren’t you hurt by John’s behavior the other night?” “What behavior?” Amy responded. “You know, when he went to the restaurant and got his own meal, but didn’t get anything for you. It hurt me to see you so discounted.” “I wasn’t hurt by that”, Amy said. “That’s a “John” behavior. His whole family’s that way. He learned it growing up. In his family, if you wanted something, you had to get it for yourself. He wasn’t taught how to be sensitive or aware of the feelings of others. Anyway, I want to have a good vacation. Why would I look for something to be angry about? I’m enjoying myself and I know that, if I had said ‘On your way to the room, why don’t you double back to the restaurant and get me something’, he would have done it in a minute. Besides, I was so tired that I wasn’t hungry, so I couldn’t have told him what to get for me.” Amy related this story to me to show how well she was doing and I agreed.
Several days later, in therapy, another patient who was in the midst of a divorce told me a similar story, with a radically different ending. She and her husband were trying to see if reconciliation was possible. Both individuals intellectually desperately want a loving, nurturing, intimate relationship with a partner. But, like so many of us, they’re frightened to death of being vulnerable, letting their feelings out and/or risking the possibility of emotional rejection. She and her estranged husband had also just returned from a trip. As they were preparing to go to their separate residences, he said, “I was invited to dinner by Harry and Trish, but I didn’t ask you because I didn’t think you’d want to go.” Her immediate thought, not expressed, was, “The hell with you. I don’t need that kind of back-handed invitation. If you really want to get back together, you’ve got to show love and care and you’ve got to take the risk of saying ‘Harry and Trish invited me to dinner tonight and I would love for you to come along. And I hope, even though you may be tired, you’ll accompany me.’” Her retort was, “You assumed right. I’m tired and I want to get to bed.” But, inside, she felt hurt and unloved. His behavior, for her, was one more indication of his inability to show love. No wonder she wanted a divorce. And no wonder she had doubts about even trying with him in the future. After she finished relating the incident, I told her the story about Amy. I suggested that her behavior actualized her fears. She expected, anticipated and feared she wouldn’t be loved and she interpreted and reacted to his verbalizations in a fashion that supported her expectations. That’s not uncommon. Most people do the same thing. They fail to ask themselves, “What do I want and will my reaction or behavior get me what I want?” Instead, they interpret the other person’s behavior in terms of how lacking it is, how insufficient, hurtful or demeaning it may be and act in ways that wind up hurting themselves and, in most instances, a person who may want to be close to them.
There are any number of other responses this woman could have given her husband. For example, “I’d love to go. You assumed wrong. Nothing would delight me more than being with you.” Or, “God, it’s late, I’m tired. I don’t know if I can go home and get dressed and be ready on time so, if you don’t mind taking me as I am, let’s go, because I want to be with you.” Conversely, “You know, I really am tired. The only thought I have is going home, getting in the shower, climbing into bed and going to sleep. It’s been a wonderful weekend with you. I enjoyed it thoroughly and I’m sorry about tonight. But I’d love to do it another time.” Or, “I’ve never had such a wonderful invitation.” (That’s facetiousness, people.) “The way you told me how much you wanted me to be with you so impresses me that my answer is a wholehearted yes. I’d love to go along.”
Any response would have sufficed, as long as it suited her style of behavior and indicated what she really desired and put her at emotional risk. But you cannot act defensively. The sad part is that, in most instances, that’s what people do. You react to perceived hurts with retaliatory hurts. You don’t create the world you want. Instead, you react to the world you erroneously perceive as though your perceptions are truths. As a result, you wind up feeling hurt, getting even and thinking you’re strong. In the process, you undermine the possibility of obtaining the relationship you desire. In the future, you mustn’t react to your hurts. Indeed, you need to tell other people what you think, but you must also tell them what you honestly need and feel. Above all, it is imperative that you be vulnerable, because exposing your underbelly and displaying your emotions isn’t a sign of weakness. Hiding your feelings, retaliating and attempting to demonstrate that you don’t care is. It takes courage to be real, to show yourself and to share you, but it’s the only way to create a relationship that can provide the love, nurturing and support you desire. Even more, creating the world you want according to the way you wish it to be will not only help to put you in control of you and your relations, but will elevate your sense of self worth and lovability..