Al: Well Hello, Anonymous. Nice to hear from you. Your “question” is kind of long, but so wonderfully full of “meat” that I thought I would make it an article with my responses alont the way. I hope this is useful both to you and to many other readers.
I'm wondering – what's the best way to deal with disappointment? F'rex: My H and I have recently started your Caring Days exercise. Yesterday, it was my turn to be cared for. I listed 6 things, he did 2 of them during the day and 2 more right at bed time. 2 things didn't get done at all. The point of the exercise is not that ALL things should be done, so it would seem that this is an example of a rather decent performance of the exercise.
Al: I’m really happy you are trying this exercise. Caring Days is a terrifically simple to describe, and vastly useful activity. It teaches bunches of different things. I recall doing it very well. There were lessons in the beginning days, middle days, and later days – all different and different for my partner and me. I think it was a great “together” learning. Also, it sounds as if you are both starting out correctly.
Still, I had a hard time keeping myself from feeling disappointed. Of course, the 2 things he didn't manage to do were the 2 things that I wanted most. 🙂
Al: Absolutely right. Now, take a look at your tendency to expect things. This, to me, is a focal part of the “me generation,” and is simply a hold-over from being a kid. As a kid, I believe, you’re entitled to everything from someone (your caretakers) up until about age 8. Doesn’t mean you get it. I just think your body and developing brain require such attention in order to develop healthily. But, a major part of that childrearing process, I think, should include a weaning, a kind of teaching that when older, you have to earn everything you get. Thus one of the dimensions of “adulthood,” for me, is how well a person had integrated the idea that “I have to earn what I get.” One sign for me that this learning is not very well integrated yet in an older (over 8 year-old) is that disappointment or grieving (or rage) when you don’t get what you want. Sure it is frustrating when you don’t get what you want, but the adult tactic that works for me is to find out how to earn things easily. Complaining seems to me to be just an older person crying like a little kid.
I recall in my personal deep therapy being reminded that the “greatest loss in most people is the loss of childhood.” Lots of people are not yet reconciled to having to “grow up.” Well, grieve and move one. In your situation I think the advice is “be disappointed, feel the feelings, grieve the loss, and move on to figuring out how to earn what you want in an effective and easy way.” At least that is the advice I give myself.
My first instinct is to ask him to be more vocal about the requests. I feel fine if he doesn't manage to do all of them, as long as he acknowledges they're there, and hasn't just 'forgotten' them. “Honey, I know you wanted to go out for a walk in the park tonight, but I really have this thing from work and I'll be distracted and stressed if I don't finish this first.” Or even, “Sorry, I didn't manage to get you flowers because I completely forgot about it until I walked in the door.”
Al: I think you are on the right track about getting more clear about what you want, and asking for it. But, it might be better not sound “demanding.” Focus on meeting his needs on his days. See how good you are at “earning.” Then as you get better, help him with being more accurate on his day. One of your requests could be “Before 6 tonight, come to me and tell me which ones of my requests you are not going to do.”
As you may guess, it's a sore spot for me. He often promises things and doesn't come through – either 'forgetting' completely or starting at the last possible minute and then (understandably) finding out that the thing he promised to do won't take that short a time! Then he wants to reschedule, which would have been fine by me if he'd asked me before the promised date, instead of on or after it. Now, I'm still willing to reschedule, but I really want a hug and a 'yeah, I messed up today. Forgive me?' or something like that. He hates being reminded or asked for plans, and he hates apologizing, but I hate just KNOWING that he'll renege on a particular promise and just having to sit there & watch it happen. And still he's frustrated when he gets the idea that I don't trust him! I'm sure that's not a nice realization, and I do trust him with a lot of things, but not always with his word.
Al: Sure, this is all good stuff. You’ve got sore issues (some call these “wounds”) of being neglected, abandoned and disrespected, probably. To my way of thinking, you picked your partner in order to face that maturing in you that got stifled when your caretakers were so irresponsible. He, bless him, probably has issues with people being demanding. He might even be expressing, indirectly more or less, his resentment toward the demanding people in his life by passive aggressive behavior. I think lots of forgetting stuff is just resentment leaking, passive aggressively. Of course, I think he picked you to do that final healing around demanding people.
Is it a good thing to ask him to at least verbally acknowledge things he won't be able to do, or is it counterproductive? I don't want to get on his case for not doing the exercise 'right' (= as I wanted him to do it) because that's not exactly motivating, but I don't want to lie & tell him I'm on cloud 9 either. And I haven't yet been able to work through these disappointments myself.
Al: The exercise takes care of this. Ask him as part of your next day’s list. He is doing it right. So are you. Keep going and learning.
When are you allowed to 'expect' something? When I'm promised something, I want to be able to expect either the fulfillment of the promise or a rescheduling, or be 'allowed' to help him remember or ask for details.
Al: OH, Hey. You can expect anything you want, any time you want. I’ve found it to be a waste of energy, but I don’t stop others from trying. My learning is that “All people are chronically disobedient. Learn to live with it.” That way I am relaxed and happy when people don’t do what I ask. I am prepared for it. I hear (I think this either a Buddhist or Hindu teaching) that living expectation-less is really a good idea. I gather there is a value in knowing, sharing, and earning what you want, but no value in expecting it.
And the other way around: how do you deal with another person's disappointment? One of his requests this morning was for me to make him a cup of coffee. My morning schedule is already really cramped, whereas he does nothing in the morning. (Literally. I get up, have breakfast, feed the cats, do my morning exercises. He gets up approximately half an hour later than I do, has a cup of coffee because he can't eat in the mornings and watches tv until he has to leave.) Which is fine, but making him a cup of coffee that's not too cold to drink when he gets up or too hot to finish before he has to leave would entail me pausing my morning exercises to do this for him. I'd be really uncomfortable with that, because my mornings are already full and I really don't want to have to get up even earlier, since I get too little sleep as it is. And besides, all the parts of my morning routines serve a really important purpose to me. 🙂 So – I told him I wouldn't be able to meet this request. Which is fine, because not all the requests have to be met. But still, he was disappointed and immediately got kinda stressed and distant. Which is normal, I guess – I was disappointed too, even though it would have been less if he had talked to me about it, but still I just hate that! All my alarm bells start ringing, especially when he adds things like 'I thought maybe your morning routine wasn't that important to you.' I immediately feel I have to knuckle under and give up what I want to make sure he's not disappointed, which makes me want to rebel and tell him that I'm important here, too, you know? I'm kinda sensitive to criticisms like that (and he's quite generous with them – he has all these ways that things 'should' be done and has in the past often told me I'm wrong for not wanting them exactly that way) so it's insta-stress for me.
Al: Oh, this is wonderful. You get to look at the other person’s side of the problem. The exercise, Caring Days, is all about learning “appropriate selfishness” and practicing generosity. I find it is very hard to do things for people if I do not feel generous. If I want something from my partner, I find it good to first check to see if she is feeling generous toward me. I’m much more likely to get what I want if she’s positively disposed toward me. In your case, the exercise may be helping you see how little “your cup is filled up,” and how ungenerous you feel. Same may be occuring for him. As you practice the exercise, you get experience filling up “his cup,” because in time of need it makes sense to have a generous buddy around. The exercise starts you in learning this and learning that sometimes a tiny thing to you can earn you lots of points with your partner. “It is not working harder, but working smarter.”
I try to validate his feelings, but so far fail miserably. I think I have the Pre-Validation thing down pat. Of course he makes sense, I believe that with every fiber of my being. But very often when I try to validate him, in the end he'd be shocked that I didn't come over to his position. He often tells me “It's impossible to convince you of anything!” Which is true in a way, I suppose. When I have an opinion, I'm generally convinced I'm right. Otherwise I'd have selected another opinion. When he has great arguments that completely blow mine out of the water, I'm happy to adopt this new-and-improved opinion. When his arguments and mine can happily live side-by-side, I'm sticking with mine, even though his are logical, too – they're just not mine.
Al: I really suggest you take it as a goal to become an Expert at Validation. Don’t give up until you are. Work until validation is utterly simple for you. And I suggest you practice sharing and drop trying to convince. My experience is that “convincing” always involves invalidating someone.
So, when I try to validate him and focus completely on validating him, we'll be in a fight afterwards because I'm 'too stubborn.' When I validate him while reminding me I have a different opinion, it doesn't seem to make him feel validated at all, and we'll still be in a fight. Of course he makes sense, but I want there to be a space for my sense too in this relationship! (And I guess it even makes sense for him to think I don't make sense, but it still sucks.)
Al: Ditto my comments above about getting good at Validation and learning about Master/Slave. Seems you might be right in the middle of the struggle of Master/Slave/Passive Master. By the way, you may want to find a marriage therapist who is an Expert at Validation. Let the therapist validate you and see how easy it is. Watch the therapist validate your partner without invalidating you. See how easy it is, and practice yourself. If the therapist isn’t good at it, fire ‘em.
Well, sorry for this long and not particularly on-topic diatribe. I hope you can offer me a clue or two to make this whole mess somewhat easier.
Al: Thanks for sharing. And remember, it ain’t rocket science.