Andy’s dad thought he was being instructive when he said, “I told you to mow the lawn and look at it. You have to learn that you don’t do things halfway. You either do things right or you don’t do them at all. Andy shrugged his shoulders and walked off saying, “Whatever.” His father shouted, “Young man, when I’m talking, you don’t turn your back and walk off. You listen and answer, yes sir. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Ralph, you can’t just sit there and stare off in space. I know it was years ago, but I just found out, and ‘I’m sorry’ is not enough. I worked, took care of the kids and the house, while you were taking her to lunch, having secret rendezvous, and I don’t want to even think what else. Then, you shake your head as though something’s wrong with me. You’re a dishonest immoral human being.”
Jonathan spent most of his therapy time maligning his wife. His list of her shortcomings included, “she’s lazy, the house is cluttered, she’s constantly on the phone with her mother and spends too much, but never there for me. So, why should I put up with her when I can live with me alone darn well. I’ve told her that on countless occasions, but it doesn’t change her behavior.”
In each of these scenarios, it’s apparent their counterparts didn’t hear what they were saying, because they weren’t clearly saying it. They shouted about irrelevant issues; were verbally critical or complained to others, while thinking, “There’s lots of things I’d like to say but it would be devastating, so I’ll keep it inside.” They were too fearful to say what they really felt because they were reluctant to, emotionally, expose themselves. The reason being, allowing yourself to be open, transparent and vulnerable requires that you be courageous enough to face your own failings and shortcomings. The very fact that so few individuals do it is testimony to how difficult it is.
If it were easy, Andy’s dad would’ve said, “Andy, I love you, you’re a great kid, and I don’t tell you that enough. The fact that you mowed the lawn is evidence of that. Yet, here I am being critical and putting you down. For that, I’m sorry. You know my dad wasn’t around or involved with me when I grew up. My mom tried to compensate for that by spoiling me rotten. She allowed me to get away with murder. I’m not blaming her, but I realize now that it was hurtful to me. I barely finished anything. I dropped out of junior college and now I’m an unhappy depressed man, who hasn’t lived up to his potentials. That’s why I’m so hard on you. I want so badly for you to be the man I wish I could’ve been. The job you did on the lawn isn’t one you should be proud of, but I could have conveyed that with more respect and love for you.” Had he been able to say that, Andy’s response might have been “Dad you’re a far better man than you think. When I’m grown, I’d be proud to be the father to my kid’s that you are to me.”
Similarly, Ralph’s wife needs to recognize that what she’s doing isn’t working. It’s only driving him further away. That isn’t to say his affair was justified or acceptable. Instead, what I’m saying is that if she still wants her marriage, her present behavior isn’t helping her to reach that goal. Therefore, she needs to change how she acts. An alternative approach might be for her to say, “Ralph, I feel angry, hurt and betrayed by you. At the same time, I love you and I truly want our marriage, but I’m afraid to open up and trust you. Maybe, I’ve been too frightened to do that throughout our entire marriage. From the time I was a little kid, I got hurt every time I let myself care and love someone. That’s why it’s so painful to discover that you don’t care for me either. I’ve heard all my life that if you have to ask for something, it isn’t worth having, but I think that if it’s worth having, it’s worth asking for. That’s what I’m doing now.”
Jonathan consumes himself with his wife’s shortcomings, so that he doesn’t have to focus on his own issues. The things he complained about were valid but they weren’t the problem. They were only the facts. Thus, fixing them, though somewhat constructive, would in no way resolve the real problem. To do that, he has to focus on himself and share what he discovers with his wife. However, sharing, emotionally, has never been Jonathan’s strong suit. His outward demeanor has always been intellectual, logical and pragmatic in nature. If it weren’t, he might have shared with her what he told me during a recent therapy session: “I lost my cool this weekend and said all the things you encouraged me to say before, but I wasn’t kind. I know I hurt her. She cried and locked herself in the kid’s bedroom. Later, she came out and said she really did love me, but showing emotions wasn’t her forte either. That wasn’t a problem in the beginning of our marriage. She devoted her attention to the kids, and I buried myself in work. That changed a year ago when the company went bankrupt. Since then, I’ve felt like a failure, but was too embarrassed to tell her how weak I feel. When I finally did tell her, even though it took me getting angry, we wound up crying together, and none of my complaints mattered. All I needed was to know she cared. I’ve spent my life professing to the world that I didn’t need anyone, but the truth is opposite.”
I believe that when you get down to it, everyone needs to feel they matter, that someone cares, particularly when they mess up, make mistakes or perform less than perfect. The problem is that most of you can’t accept your imperfections, which disallows you to believe that anyone else can. As a result, withdraw, criticize or find fault, rather than openly saying what you feel, think and mean. The solution, however, is that you need to communicate honestly. When you do, your relationships will improve exponentially. That being the case, you need to recall that no one can hear what you’re not clearly saying. So, look inside; see what is in your heart, share it with pride, not with a sense of embarrassment or weakness, and allow others to love you for who you really are, because you deserve it.