Posted by fxckfeelings on August 27, 2009Share This Post
There are some people who, no matter how talented and smart they are in some areas of life, are totally oblivious to their own flaws and, despite their intelligence, are world class fuck-ups (some of them even went to Harvard). In reality, being a fuck-up is a lot like being a psychopath; if you’ve seriously considered whether or not you’re a fuck-up, you probably aren’t one.
When I met my husband, he was a confident, bright, accomplished guy; he was top of his class, recruited to his firm at a high salary with a great contract, hard working, and all signs pointed to someone who would never have a problem making a living. Over ten years into our marriage, however, I’m seeing a different picture and I just don’t get it. This gifted, bright man is also stubborn as a mule and a lousy listener. I could see he was getting into trouble with his boss at work and I tried to help him, but he wouldn’t listen. Then, when he lost his job, he had big ideas about what he was going to do next, but he wound up finding nothing, and when I urged him to see a job counselor and keep busy doing other things at home, he wouldn’t listen. What I see is a guy who checks the job listings for half an hour every day, fills in a few applications on-line, and then gets obsessed with a computer project like synchronizing a new day planner. We’ve got a kid, we’re out of money, he hasn’t worked in over a year, I’m the only bread-winner, and I can’t get over how angry I am. How can I get him to see that he needs to change his tactics, particularly when I can hardly speak to him without ripping off his balls? Would couples therapy help me get through to him?
I wish I could tell you that your husband’s foot-dragging is caused by anger or fear about you or his parents, or having to be a grown-up, or past sexual trauma, etc., because then a good talk with you and/or a therapist could help him get over his negative feelings and move on with his life. But the odds are that it’s not pent-up feelings; it’s the way he is, and, if that’s the case, therapy of any kind isn’t going to change him, let alone get him employed.
I know, it’s hard to imagine how a sincere, gifted, accomplished guy can become so ineffective…at least at first. But it’s not hard to understand if you watch how people think and learn as they get older.
You’ve probably known a couple people who were brilliant in school but didn’t do well in their careers because they lacked a certain common sense, ability to get along with others, or organizational skills. Many people, of course, have weaknesses like these and learn how to manage them.
Some people, however, are not so fortunate. When their teachers or supervisors bring up an issue and offer help, they just can’t respond positively. They insist they don’t have a problem, the problem is that other people don’t understand. They have to do things their way.
Would-be helpers get frustrated and fed up, then feel guilty for being critical, then get motivated to try harder, then become murderous.
It’s a dangerous waste of time to ask why people with great potential can be so damn dense. Mental health professionals call these problems “character disorders” because they’re ingrained, and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the ingraining is caused by a person’s past, brain structure, genes, or all combined. The bottom line is that no one knows how to get through and trying too hard makes it worse.
Accept the fact that you can’t rescue him from himself in order to put the anger aside and think about what you want to do with the partnership. Does he contribute enough as a friend and father and housemate to make it worthwhile to stick together, or doesn’t he. He gets a lot of things wrong, but does he get any important things right?
As for therapy, don’t use it to try to change him. If a therapist is dumb enough to take on that task, you’ll all be sorry. Use therapy to find out if someone else can figure out a way to coach him more effectively. You hope it’s possible; but if not, at least you know you’ve done everything possible.
So if your goal isn’t to change him, it’s to see if there’s some way you can help him and, meanwhile, decide whether you and your child are better off living with him or without him. And if it’s with him, that includes his balls.
Compose a statement to protect you from anger and wishful thinking. “I know my husband wants to do his share, but he doesn’t, and it’s not going to happen. I have a right to be disappointed and to want to help him; but sharing my feelings or pushing him to do what he doesn’t want to do will make things worse. I need to accept the fact that he can’t help himself and respect my own efforts to deal with a devastating setback and overwhelming increase in my responsibilities.”
I know that being an almost-40 single coffee shop manager with roommates would be a bummer to most people, but the fact is, I like my life just fine. I know most people would not enjoy this life, at least at this age, because my entire family is constantly telling me they’re worried about me and that I have to get my shit together. Meanwhile, I make all the money I need, I have no interest in settling down with one woman at this point or maybe ever, my job’s hours allow me to play and teach music, my roommates are chill…seriously, it’s pretty sweet. I know I’m not a lawyer like my sister or a professor like my dad, but I’m a happy healthy guy, and I can’t get them to understand that I’m not a major fuck up who needs rescuing, just a mellow guy who’s happy where he is. My goal is to get my family to accept me for me, roommates and all.
An important question here is, given the way you feel about your own life, how much your parents acceptence means to you. As a general rule, you should never seek acceptance from anyone if their opinion is more important to you than your own self-respect.
Of course, as you yourself know, you have good reason to respect yourself. You support yourself, act responsibly with others, and it’s natural to seek the company (e.g., roommates) of people who accept you. But those who don’t, don’t, and trying to change their minds can be a waste of time and cause great harm.
If your parents believe that you need their approval, it will be hard for them not to use their apparent influence to push you to change. So the harder you try to gain their acceptance, the more they’ll keep trying to make you acceptable by their standards. You’ll get locked into a struggle that will cause you more pain than the non-acceptance itself.
Instead, accept their non-acceptance. You are who you are, a chill dude, and they are who they are, not-chill parents. See if you can engage them in a partnership to make the best of things, despite your differences.
It does no good for you to have a conversation with them about their regrets about who you are, or your regrets about their non-acceptance, so don’t permit such conversations to happen. Just try to enjoy time together, accepting each other less for who you are and more for who you aren’t, and it will truly be pretty sweet.
Compose a statement that helps you accept their non-acceptance and wall off your mutual wishes that things could be different. “I share my parents’ beliefs in the importance of being independent and treating people properly, and I think the life decisions I’ve made reflect those beliefs. I know they feel I’ve fallen short, and I’ve given careful thought to their concerns, and I believe they’re wrong. Assuming their views won’t change, I want to make the best of our relationship by avoiding this area of disagreement and spending our time together as positively as possible.
More advice from Dr. Lastname