Posted by fxckfeelings on July 23, 2009Share This Post
In business negotiations, the best way to get what you want is to offer the other person something they want, respectfully. In families, on the other hand, people negotiate by being emotional, desperate, and needy, which is why the women in these two cases need to learn the business, and fast.
I’ve been a teacher in the public school system for a long time, but in recent years, with this “teaching the test” nonsense, I’ve felt less and less appreciated for what I do. Now that an administrative shake-up has replaced anyone knowledgeable about education with empty bureaucrats who treat me like some uncertified graduate student, I’m desperate to retire and save myself from what’s become a daily indignity. My husband knows how much I want to stop teaching—he’s heard about my deteriorating job for a while now—but he’s facing a lot of restructuring at his own job, so he’s not very supportive of my decision because he’s worried about where that will leave us financially. I know that’s a reasonable response given he might see his salary get reduced (or disappear), but no matter how rationally I assess the situation, I still resent him for not supporting me, and then I feel guilty for expecting his support when he has worries of his own. My goal then, as I see it, is to get him to understand that I’ve really, really had it with this job and that I need to get out and that he should be giving me emotional support right now, because I’m about to lose my mind.
Look at the disaster you’re setting up by going after your husband’s understanding, but, at the same time, scaring the shit out of him about your economic security. There’s the concept of the carrot and the stick—this is the stick and the mace.
Let’s assume he’s much kinder and smarter than the usual hubby, and doesn’t lay a guilt trip on you about who’s been working harder/who most deserves a rest right now/why the hell do you think you can start to ease off when he has to double his pace just to break even, blah blah blah.
Even then, it would take an inhuman saint to be so calm about your troubles (and their impact on your mortgage payments) not to respond with, “well, dear, we need to think this through,” rather than “I’ll do whatever it takes to make you feel safe.” Not the way you’re framing the argument.
As it stands, you come to him with this goal, he responds with understandable worry (instead of unconditional support), and you’ll feel he cares more about your earnings than about you, and he’ll feel that the main thing you value about him is his ability to underwrite your retirement.
Then bingo, stupid feelings make you forget the years of being good partners together and my phone rings with another case of couples misery and enough stupid feelings-based earnings to take the family somewhere warm this winter.
People often tell me that they want their partners to be “good, understanding listeners” and “emotionally supportive,” but if you really need an attentive, blindly supportive audience, leave your husband alone and take it your hairdresser. Your goal with your husband is to make him feel more comfortable about your retirement (and your mutual solvency thereafter) and, to do that, you need to persuade him that you’re strong, smart and flexible, not helpless and broken.
He’s not going to feel comfortable with the notion of possibly supporting the two of you if you act like you can’t support yourself, so you want him to know that, when you retire, you can use your free time to manage a tight budget, contribute to the partnership in new ways, and return to work if necessary, so that your retirement plan is likely to work out well for both of you. And if not, that you’ll work with him to do whatever’s necessary. That may not be the way you feel, but it’s the way to move forward, and my bet is that it’s also true.
I know there’s part of you that wants your special man to hold you and make the fear go away. I’ve seen novels where that’s the whole definition of true love, but they’re written by women for women, and money is not a problem, and somebody’s wearing a corset.
You’ve probably got a great guy, but even so, he has no powers to make all the fear go away, particularly when you and the economy are giving him nightmares. So suck up your fears and use your vast teaching experience to make a good deal; don’t just build pressure about the test.
To protect yourself from over-communicating fear and a need for understanding and nurturing, compose a statement. “I’m panicked and hurting and deserve my husband’s support, particularly because we’ve got a good marriage, but a more rational assessment of my problem tells me that the first thing I need is his financial support and, to get that, I need to stifle the emotion and stay focused on facts and projections. That’s not because he’s unloving or because our love isn’t strong and true; it’s because life is hard, we’re both scared, and negative feelings set off nasty vicious circles unless they’re carefully managed. Allaying his fears about my retirement by putting together a good retirement plan will do more for my feelings in the long run than the hugs and comforting words I crave.”
I recently married an older guy with a daughter in high school. I want a good relationship with her, but she seems to expect her father to buy her anything she wants without taking on any responsibilities, and he really doesn’t have the money, so recently he’s been asking me to dig into my savings. I’ve told him repeatedly that he needs to say “no” to her and not get intimidated by his fear that she’ll get mad and do something stupid, like going out with bad guys and getting drunk. Now I’m starting to hate him, even though he’s a very sweet man, but it kills me that he does what she wants because he’s more afraid of her than he is of me. My goal is to get my husband to grow a spine, because otherwise, I’m going to have to walk away from the both of them.
Even though what you really want to do is help your husband and make your family run more smoothly, your goal is sucking you and your money into a dark, nasty pit.
It’s unfair that your husband’s protectiveness means he uses your money to indulge his bratty daughter while she slacks off, and you have a right to be enraged. But your anger makes him ever more protective, which makes you feel outmaneuvered by a little shit, which makes you look like the witch he needs to protect her from. The more you fight this way, the more you defeat yourself.
Just forget about fairness for a minute (forever, if possible) and think about what’s happening and how to make it better. Your husband will never be a fair judge. The sweetness you married him for also happens to be his weakness. At least where his darling daughter is concerned.
So he can’t control his protectiveness or set good limits, boo hoo. That means he’ll never be strong enough to protect you unless you’re even crazier and nastier than his daughter (not exactly a contest you want to win; that’s like nabbing first prize in a Larry Bird look-alike contest).
But, now that you’ve accepted this sad fact of life, you’ll be amazed at what you can do. Your goal isn’t justice—that’s always a stupid goal—but to help your husband incentivise his daughter to become more independent. Which means spelling out the tasks she needs to accomplish to become more self-sufficient and help the family get through hard financial times, all while stifling your anger with the skill of an international flight attendant. (Believe me, stifling anger is usually healthier than unstifling it—nobody gets punched for keeping their mouth shut).
Use soap to scour your mouth of accusatory phrases like “teach her responsibility” and “get her to think about other people for a change.” (Think ‘em, sure, but don’t say ‘em or even look ‘em). In a positive, business-like way, accept the fact that she’s a kid and will naturally be distracted and drawn to excitement.
At the same time, state your belief that she needs a structure of rules and reminders that will help her stay focused on independent activities, like making money, having a set allowance, and doing her share of chores, all of which will make her stronger and happier with herself. And will keep you from seeking a divorce.
Compose a statement that your husband can use to manage his fear of harming his poor girl and feeling responsible for her pain. Imagine you can use software to formulate this for you, “Microsoft Limits”: “You’ve demonstrated many strengths and capabilities (include any and all specifics, so long as they’re true). You’re ready for real independence and you can also make an adult contribution that will help us through this financial crisis. I propose that, as long as you’re staying here, we treat one another as adult roommates and you carry your full share of chores and payments. I’ve got a list for you to look at that I think is fair. Naturally, if I can afford to, I’ll save your payments and use them for your education; but I may not be able to do that right away. Of course, as your parent, I will always make sure you have food and shelter, no matter what. But you’re doing well, you deserve to be treated as an adult, and these are a fair set of adult commitments.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname