Richard Nicastro, PhD, through the eyes of “Nina,” explores what it can be like when protective love turns into hopeless frustration.
If you are a woman in a committed relationship, I would like you to think about how your husband / partner reacts to you when you are vulnerable: Do your vulnerabilities bring out the best in him? Or do you react with annoyance, frustration, or even anger?
A woman wanted to share what she learned about her husband after completing six months of couple counseling. As you read Nina’s ideas, check to see if anything she has discovered applies to your own relationship. Sometimes we can find pearls of wisdom in someone else’s journey, even when the details are different.
(Right now I give the reins of the blog to Nina so you can hear it directly …)
My husband and I have our differences and have learned to commit over the years, but overall we have a solid, loving marriage.
He has always been silent. When we met, he was a little more talkative, but even then he paled in comparison to what I need to communicate. I stopped trying to get him to talk more. He was unfair to him (since he has never been a talker) and in all honesty, my failed attempts only made me feel more frustrated with him.
After fifteen years of marriage and a period of couple counseling, I have learned to appreciate the following about Edward:
♦ Dedication and loyalty matter more to him than expressing his feelings;
♦ He “appears” every day to us supporting the family and being a very good listener to me and our three daughters;
♦ When you close emotionally it is because you feel overwhelmed. This is how it is faced. I have learned not to take this personally. He doesn’t escape emotionally, as he always finds his way back to me when he’s less overwhelmed. I’ve learned to give it your space right now.
♦ And the most important thing I’ve discovered about my husband is that he takes it personally when I’m upset (even if it has nothing to do with him). Our couple counselor pointed out this pattern. You see, Edward isn’t necessarily upset or unhappy per jo. Instead, he gets frustrated with me (not all the time, of course, but enough times over the years that it became a problem between us).
This begs the question: why will someone who loves you get angry with you when you are most vulnerable?
It is easy to see your husband or boyfriend as cruel if / when he gets angry with you right now.
But Edward is not cruel. He is kind, loving and wants to make me happy. Yes, it can be argued that he is unfriendly and indifferent if my discomfort leads him to get frustrated with me. And I told him, I’ve never been shy about dealing with it. But I went back to the question I posed earlier. Given his supportive behavior, his reaction made no sense.
Understanding your man: when protective love becomes helpless frustration
Interestingly, I have learned that it is Edward’s commitment to my happiness that helps explain his negative reactions to my unhappiness. When I’m not happy, in Edward’s mind, I’ve been disappointed. He couldn’t protect me. And if he does his best to comfort me and support me (and take away my pain), if he’s given it my all and I’m still worried about something, then he really takes an emotional hit. It feels like a total failure.
As our counselor explained, in those moments the man who loves and wants to protect his wife becomes an ineffective husband who now has to stay on the lookout and watch his wife suffer.
But instead of sharing his helplessness with me and talking about what he really feels, things quickly change in his mind and I become the problem. So now you may be angry with me instead of feeling like a total failure. Our counselor said that many men are not aware that this is what is really happening. Edward said that sometimes I feel like I’m putting obstacles in the way that prevent him from getting me out of what I’m struggling with emotionally. If that’s what you’re thinking, your frustration starts to make sense even though it’s unfounded.
The good news is that in retrospect, he realizes that his frustration is about him and not me doing something to frustrate him. That’s not to say he’ll never feel that way again, but his realization is a breath of fresh air.
So if your man gets angry with you whenever you are emotionally vulnerable (sad, anxious / worried, hurt), could he feel totally helpless in the face of your pain? Could it be that your anger is one of the ways to deal with your impotence?
If so, this is a great starting point for important discussions.
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