There’s an interesting, confusing dynamic that happens for some men and their wives in the recovery process. It’s about disappointment. Specifically, when the past comes back up; when a wife is triggered, or when something on tv or radio or at church reminds us of how badly we’ve hurt the person we love the most on the planet. We feel disappointed with ourselves for causing our wives’ to feel disappointed in us.
It’s actually an empathic response, but it has a threshold where we can’t handle it anymore. Many guys, when they hit that wall, will shut down. They’ll sulk and mope, and sometimes even move into a space that looks victim-like. It’ll become a pity-party of one. Others, once at critical mass with the disappointment, will get angry and defensive. This can feel like punishment to an already hurting wife. And for those men, it’s like they are so in the “bad box” (thanks to Bob for that word picture) to be present with anymore of it feels like torture. Their shame has piled up and they can’t see straight, much less actually feel meaningful empathy.
What we want to shoot for is expressing the empathy in a tender and gentle way. To let our wives know that we hurt for them feeling disappointed, not just for ourselves feeling like a disappointment. It can’t be a patronizing, “aww I’m sorry you stubbed your toe” kind of communication either. It has to be connected to the heart. Say what surrounds it. Try to put to words what you wish your wife could know. A client recently said to his wife in one of these moments:
I hurt that you hurt. I hate that you hurt. I hate that I’m the cause of your hurt, because you don’t deserve it. It’s cruel and unfair. You shouldn’t have to endure this.
And he meant it. You could see it in his eyes, hear it in his words, feel it in your bones. Even as the words came out of his mouth you could tell he desperately wanted her to believe it.
She didn’t. But he still needed to feel it and communicate it. For his sake. And because one day she will.