Are You Over-Responsible With Those You Love?

In this marriage Lynn is always the one who comes up with ideas for entertainment. Al, being more passive, goes along with Lynn’s suggestions. And, nine times out of ten both of them enjoy whatever they do together.

But, earlier on this Sunday, Lynn suggested a concert for early evening at one of the local universities. They went. At the intermission, they walked out to the lobby to stretch their legs and have coffee.

Lynn had noticed that since they left home, Al looked “unhappy,” (her interpretation). So, she asked him why he didn’t play golf that afternoon. Knowing Lynn, she probably already felt a little guilty about him missing golf. He responded with “Life is full of compromises.” Lynn, a Pleaser, is a “feeling” person so her feelings come up first and then her “head” begins to work. Her feelings were surprise and sadness and then anger; she took his remark personally. Her “head” went right to: he thinks he has to be with me; he’d rather have played golf today.

The exchange between them takes place at the intermission. Lynn over-reacts to her feelings, says “I’m leaving,” (this marriage has been in trouble for a while), leaves Al in the lobby and goes to sit in the car. Al goes out; they talk some and then go home. In the conversation she accuses him of having to compromise what he really wants (golf) to spend time with her. She doesn’t want to be his “compromise.” What’s going on here?

1. Lynn takes too much responsibility: one, for setting up their social life (Al should be contributing ideas, too) and two, for him feeling unhappy (again, her interpretation). Whatever Al is feelings, it’s his feeling; which he must handle himself. Instead here, Lynn feels responsible for his mood. She thinks she must provide an enjoyable time for him. No; that is his task for himself.

2. Lynn has the idea that if there’s anything wrong in their relationship or in any relationship of hers, it’s her fault. No again; it’s a wrong idea.

Of course, if we deliberately set out to make another person unhappy, we’re responsible for that. But, we cannot assume that it’s our job to “make sure, no matter what” that others are taken care of. For every one of us, that is an individual, personal responsibility.

3. Al responds to her with his thoughts instead of paying attention to her feelings. So, he’s the one who is not responsible in the relationship at that time. Here, when she asked him about looking unhappy, he could have reassured her that he was handling his own mood. And yes, he was glad to be at the concert with her.

So, Lynn engages in this silly conversation about “life’s choices,” when it has nothing to do with her original comment. Sadly, her original feelings of anxiety never get resolved. And, Al doesn’t understand that he wasn’t a caring husband when he responded to her until he and I talk later that week.

Homework.

1. Another person’s feelings, facial expressions, posture, and other non-verbals belong to him; they’re not anyone else’s responsibility. It would have been okay if Lynn had said something like, “You seem unhappy today; can I help?” Or, “If something is bothering you, we can talk about it.” Otherwise, let others work out their own moods.

2. This couple has been married for thirty years; Al has had more than enough time to realize that Lynn feels neglected. He should be reassuring her that he does want to spend time with her. If he needs to give up a golf game to do it, that’s his issue to deal with. But, he shouldn’t let it interfere with their relationship and certainly, not use language that’s probably going to pull up sad feelings in Lynn.

3. Al should step up here at least half of the time with offering social plans together. Lynn has had this responsibility for as long as they’ve been married. Lynn’s a Pleaser. They’re always trying to please others so when she suggests something they can do together and Al seems unhappy, she feels responsible. She has to work at giving up that idea. Whether Al enjoys the activity or not is up to him.

Are you taking responsibility for making those you care about happy?

Warmest wishes until next time,

Joan

Thanks so much for reading. And, I’d love to hear your comments.

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