Candle treeDear Readers,

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? Check this out: My new advice column! I’ll answer questions every week,* so if you’d like to send me one, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, comments, and suggestions below. 

 

Dear Maria,
My husband and I have been together for five years, and he is a good man. As of late, his stressful job has changed the quality of our life together. He is committed to staying at his position to acquire his pension, and yet the man I love is systematically being emotionally destroyed by his supervisors. He is a team player and well-liked by his equals. His stress level is so high that he shakes in the evening, and dreads returning in the morning. I have suggested counseling to no avail, I have distanced myself from his pain, but find myself getting angry that he will not pursue help from anyone. I have tried physical exercise, planning fun things together, but he has to do the Inner Work, and refuses. Got any ideas?

Worried Wife

Dear Worried,

Your husband is not alone in the pressure he feels at work. It’s my understanding that employees in this age bracket are likely to get laid off. There’s lots of anxiety for someone who’d just like to get through to his pension, and put his showing-up-at-the-office-years behind him. What you’ve described, however, is a concern regarding his physical health. His stress level has to be managed in a way that minimizes the collateral damage to himself and his loved ones. Is he open to seeing a doctor? (Sometimes spouses are more receptive to advice from an outside party.) Also, a tactic that helped my husband during a stressful job was writing out his frustrations before he came home. Perhaps your husband can take a personal journal or tablet with him every day, and take a few minutes before he leaves work (or stop on the way home) to unload his thoughts? The intention is to clear his head, leave the stress where it came from, and keep him from dumping this junk on you.

I’ve heard it said that our actions give us a payoff of some kind. For your husband to continue this behavior, despite there being healthier ways to manage the situation, suggests that he finds some satisfaction in staying stuck. Perhaps he believes that this is “just the way it is,” and there’s no changing the situation? Maybe he saw his dad stuck in a similar way and thinks this is what men do when they’re close to retirement? Maybe he’s “in” with his co-workers for braving the supervisors’ tyranny, and doesn’t want to abandon them, or appear weak if he left?

We could go on and on speculating about his mindset and not land on an answer. You are a loving wife to try to alleviate his pain, but frustrated that he won’t get help. Perhaps you’ve done all you can for now. You only have power over how you respond to him, and to take care of yourself in the midst of his pain. The best response to his complaining may be to acknowledge his feelings and not try to solve or fix things. A simple, “Oh, that must have been hard on you,” or “I bet you had a long day,” might be enough. Let him know he’s heard without giving him something to argue against. Create “gripe-free zones” in your home that are off limits to work-related conversation. First and most importantly: your bedroom. Don’t lie in the muck before you go to sleep. Do you really want his awful bosses in bed with you? And, how about some time limits? For example: We’ll talk about work over dinner, but after the dishes are done, no more! Gently enforce these boundaries when the work drama threatens to plow over them.

Lift your thoughts to the qualities that made you fall in love with this good man, and hold that intention for him. At bedtime, each of you say three things you appreciate about the other. In time, hopefully, the clouds will lift and the situation will shift. You want to be there to celebrate with him when they do!

 

Dear Maria,
My quandary: I am adopted and did a search for my birth family a few years ago. I located my half-brother and half-sister; we share a mother. All were overjoyed to meet me. My “new” sister Susan lives near the east coast and my “new” brother lives not far from me in the Midwest. We went on a two-week family vacation together, and to a family reunion over Christmas. Family members from many states wanted to meet me. Everything was good, and I was excited for this new chapter to my life. My brother and I get along so well it is as if we were together forever. It is my sister that is the problem.

Everything was going well with her until my Mom passed away. Susan flew in to be with me and attend the funeral. The evening of my Mom’s wake, several of my friends and new-found family were at my home. Susan, out loud and with no warning, said to me in front of everyone, “Every time I look at you I see my Mother’s pain.” I was shocked. We exchanged words, and she walked outside and stood for 30 minutes alone until our brother left. Two months later, Susan sent to me what she probably thought of as a letter of apology, but the letter defended her actions more than actually apologizing to me. I called her on the telephone to accept the apology, but because she was walking out the door, our conversation lasted only a couple minutes. I didn’t hear from her again until my Dad passed away one year later and she called me to extend her sympathy. Now, a year and a half has gone by, and I never hear from her. I don’t reach out, either. I pray daily for her and pray that God puts in her heart to want me as her sister.

Unfortunately, this has strained my relationship with our brother. This upcoming Christmas the entire family is getting together again, including family from many states, and I am not invited. Do I let this go on, or reach out to Susan? I don’t want to, as I don’t want that rejection. Yet, I would love to have Susan in my life. My friends tell me to “let it go.” Ugh, I hate hearing that! My brother says, “I wish you two would fix this.” My closest friend tells me I should be the bigger person and reach out to her, but I don’t want to be the bigger person with this problem she created. I don’t understand how we vacationed together and had a wonderful time, shared a room for two weeks and really got to know each other and then BAM. What happened here?

Confused and Angry

Dear Confused,

Grief does funny things to people. We do and say things under the weight of grief that we wouldn’t on a normal day. I have no way of knowing what Susan meant by the words she spoke to you in your home. I do know that they have to do with her own pain, and not something you’ve done. I suspect emotions are particularly charged with the situation you’ve described. Everyone is trying to function as family, yet do not have the shared history of growing up together. Add to the mix the loss of a significant family member, and everyone grieving in their own way, and things get muddy pretty quickly.

You feel wronged by Susan, and I understand your feelings. You had the welcoming embrace of new family, and budding relationships with siblings. In your hour of sorrow, your sister said something confusing and inappropriate. Talk about BAM! The scenario you’ve described is wrought with stress, fatigue, sadness, and all kinds of emotions that cloud a person’s thinking. Sometimes, we just need to put such a scene behind us, and look forward to better times under calmer conditions.
It seems that, in her own way, your sister has tried to reconnect with you. She may not have said the exact words you’d like to hear, but she has reached out. Perhaps you are holding on to some feelings which are preventing you from accepting Susan as she is? You have a right to your feelings, and you’re justified in them. The question now is: Does holding on to those feelings serve you? What feels lighter to you: maintaining your distance from her, or releasing the feelings and moving forward? Forgiving her does not mean you condone her hurtful behavior. Forgiveness means you release any claim you have to be angry at her for doing it.

I, too, hate it when people tell me to “let it go.” Catch your breath, and don’t expect yourself to be any certain way. You need time to sort through what’s happened. Ultimately, though, I think you would like to let it go and move on. Writing this letter, and confiding in trusted friends, are great steps toward doing that. Be patient with yourself. You’ve experienced huge changes over these last few years. As you work through the feelings, they’ll lighten up and you’ll find your way. Welcome the feelings as evidence that you’re alive, and have loved.

The answer you’re working toward is in your letter: “I would love to have Susan in my life.” You might take this statement to prayer. Simply say, “God, I would love to have Susan in my life. Show me the way.” Perhaps you aren’t yet ready for that prayer, so you might start with, “I am willing to be made willing to have Susan in my life.” Grace, it has been said, is that moment when you become aware of new possibilities. Be gentle with your precious, broken heart, and trust that healing will come.

Thanks for your questions, dear hearts. Send me yours!

*Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.