Tuesday, September 22, 2009

We Have Got to Talk

If a mother is feeling overwhelmed, under-rested and resentful, I am learning it isn't all that helpful to say, "You shouldn't feel that way," and then proceed to list all of the reasons why her feelings are not valid.

That would be a little bit like telling my three year old, "Anger is bad, stop feeling it right now and stuff it somewhere. Emotions are not to be displayed, discussed or valued - end of discussion. You do not have a valid reason for that feeling, therefore it cannot exist. Even if there is a valid reason, stop it."

There may be a list a mile long why someone should not be expressing a certain emotion. There may be an equally long list of legitimate reasons to feel that feeling. But (and this is a significant "but") not one of those reasons negates the fact that the feeling is real and it needs addressing.

Most often, my logic and intellect are fully aware of the many reasons I should not be feeling a certain way. My daily mantra could become "I should be grateful. I should be thankful. I should be happy". I could repeat this over and over a million times, but if there is a disconnect between my head and my heart - there is a disconnect. I think the only way to connect the two is to let the heart have its way for a while.

What I think is helpful for the mother (and, incidentally, the three year old) is to experience and then release the feeling. Get it out, warts and all. Now, you might assume that I mean the woman should talk to her husband about it, but I'm warning you DO NOT talk to your husband about this! At least not now.

First, I think it is wise for the woman to find ways to release the pressure. Trust me, the worst place to dump the unrefined toxins is on your husband's head! Messy, painful, unproductive.

Write in a journal, exercise while mumbling to yourself, call a girlfriend, meditate, pray or type it out on the keyboard. One thing I like to do is to open a new document, type all willy-nilly and nonsensically just to get the junk out of my head and heart. Then, when asked if I want to save changes, I reply with a firm "no" and I go on my way. That stuff is not something I want to keep around.

If your house is at all like mine, there is little male-tolerance for "wallowing". Me? I like to wallow. I have long ago learned not to involve my husband until I've passed the wallowing stage. I expect a buffalo uses its wallow until the itch is scratched and the bugs have gone away.

For me, wallowing is about feeling the pain, examining the anger, keeping the fear alive and letting emotion breathe and live. If I don't stop at this stage for a while, I can get into the ugly game of stuffing my feelings like a crazy snake into a can. That snake can scare a lot of people when it finally escapes its pressure.

One mistake I hear about in a lot of relationships is that women believe their husband can be their girlfriend. No matter how many times I've tested it, Craig just isn't my girlfriend. I have observed that many women will hear about a friend's problem and commiserate, empathize and listen closely. Many men will hear about the problem and instantly want to fix it.

Playing the "My husband is useless..." game with friends can be dangerous though. There is a very fine line between venting and ranting about issues you are facing and creating a cesspool of poison and disloyalty. That is a line everyone has to find for themselves. There is a way to express your feelings without raking your partner through the muck.

I think being mindful of the language you are using in conversation with someone outside your marriage helps (and inside for that matter). I like to rely on my girlfriends to examine my feelings, but I am clear about some boundaries that protect my personal relationship. I focus on what I need to learn about myself in the situation and try my hardest to take responsibility for my own feelings. Besides, before I share an issue with a friend, I have already done the toxin dumping exercise I talked about above. I do not want my friendships to be landfill sites either. I want them to be places of power and support.

Let's review - I'm suggesting that a woman allow herself to feel what she is feeling, release it all in a way that harms no one and once that happens, I think the next step can be taken.

Am I on track here? Is this the first step when faced with Mommy rage or irritation in yourself or someone you know? Again, I'm on a quest to find the path to a better way. I would love to hear your ideas on what you believe to be the first step for a Mom.


Anonymous said...

I know you said not to change how I feel, but I also know that there is one person out there, male i might add, that will listen to every story and not expect you to change right away; he knows it's hard. That person is Jesus Christ. I know you mentioned praying and I think that's exactly what you should do. Express to Heavenly Father how you feel although he already knows. He truly is the one that can help you in a way no one else can. I'm not saying you have to convert or anything; just try it. I know it works for me and my mother. I also know that sometimes the kid, although being only 3, my feel a little rejected if his mother spends all her time talking to a friend, and I'm not a all saying that that is bad, because I know I do it all the time. All I'm saying is that sometimes, you can go throughout a day with the help of God a lot easier than with the help of a girlfriend. If it doesn't work for you that's fine, but just try it, it will never hurt. :) I wish you the best of luck!!!

Anonymous said...

I am a single mother and have been for eight years. I work full time and go to graduate school. I can only imagin the blessing of having a dedicated husband that so many complain about. The stress of providing and mothering is a double role is stresful. Want to talk urested. Laundry at 1am. I wold love to be able to turn to my husband for a blessing, but I have to call my home teacher.

If you serve one another, chances will be you are to busy losing yourself in others to complain about yur home life.

Lilybeans said...

I agree that a person should honour their feelings Catherine. People have emotions for a reason. I think it is thoughtful of you to consciously not blow up at your husband. I'm a bit more hot-headed myself, and I'm O.K. with that. But, I do know I should not play the "my husband is useless game" because I really know he isn't. I like some of your ideas on how to process your emotions.

A couple of comment on the other comments: Anonymous 1: I hardly think that a child will feel rejected if his/her mother has a conversation with a friend. If so, perhaps the child has some deeper rejection issues? Anonymous 2: I really don't care much for the thought of "losing yourself in others." I do see the value in serving others but why would I ever want to lose myself? I happen to like myself.

I try not to get to the overwhelmed and resentful point. Example: if my husband and I both worked (whatever that work may be) all day and if he wants to chill out all night, I will do the same. If there is too much to do, I guess we both better do it together. Fair's fair.

joycoach said...

I really like how you deal with your emotions. Thank you for sharing that. I have learned a lot through the years, although divorced for 13 of those years. I've raised 5 children with a little help from people and a lot from God. Doing what you suggested would have helped me tremendously. Thanks again.

Catherine said...

Thanks so much for leaving comments and considering my ideas. I don't know the exact way to walk through this issue and I'm a grateful for each and every bit of input I receive. Clearly, if I'm sifting through and considering many different approaches, I may be able to lay out a method that is truly useful for me and others.

Kami said...

I was once very sad and lonely when my husband was gone on a deployment. Instead of yelling at him for not being here,(he could not change it.) I told myself I should be happy I have a good husband a good son a good life what is my problem? That made things worse. Then I discovered if I allowed myself to cry and get it out it helped. I told myself I could cry. I could be angry. I allowed myself time each day if needed but after 10 min. it was time to be done and move on. I found myself happy one day. I was smiling then I thought I am not allowed to be happy my husband is gone away to war! I can't be happy-what if......Then I decided yes I can be happy and it is okay too! When I allowed myself to cry and allowed myself to be happy I was a better Mom, wife, sister and friend. Now my husband is home. I have found that I have arguments with my husband in my head. I really blow up and scream and vent. I let it all out. Then when I have let out my emotions examined every thought, and felt my feelings and "listened" to my own venting sometimes I come to the conclusion that some of it was valid and some just plain ridiculous. But I allow myself to feel it. By the time he comes home, he has no idea I had an argument or nasty thought. Then if I need to, I call one friend that we both agree we can say certain things without fear of poison toxin etc. Then sometimes I can more rationally talk to my husband and resolve things. It is a great method for me to allow myself to feel. Sometimes the problem goes away just by being able to let it out in a way that does not dump on him or my friend. I also pray, write and read. I am a better Mom when I allow myself to cry or be angry or whatever in a controlled way.

Megan Davenport Cannon said...

Good post. I definitely agree that spilling your frustrations to a girlfriend is a better idea than to your husband, until you are in a place where you are *ready* for him to try to fix rather than just listen.

I personally am very cautious about how much I share with whom. My best friend is someone who I can tell absolutely anything to, without fear of judgement or misunderstanding. Most importantly, she is someone who I trust implicity. She is an amazing Christian woman who is dedicated to her husband and family. I know that in any advice she offers she would never lead me astray. I don't lay it all out like that for other friends who I still love dearly but lack my best friend's clarity and good judgement. The faith and confidence I place in her is also valuable to me in that she can call me on unrighteous attitudes/behaviors. Not in a condemning way, but in a compassionate way. To quote the Hymn "Each Life that Touches Ours for Good":

What greater gift dost Thou bestow,
What greater goodness can we know
than Christlike friends whose gentle ways
Stengthen our faith, enrich our days

Anonymous said...

If you are using "I should be grateful. I should be thankful. I should be happy" as your self-talk then I would suggest you stop right now. What you are actually saying to yourself is "I should be grateful (but I am not). I should be thankful (but I am not). I should be happy (but I am not)."

There is a great book on this from Shad Helmstetter called "What to Say When you Talk To Yourself" that you can get from Amazon for about $8.

Giggles said...

Cu2 - Are you sure your not Dr. Phil?
IMHO that kind of advice works about as well as his mustache!