Ask Naomi

Lack of Feelings

Dear Naomi:

What do you do when people around you avoid telling you what they like, want or prefer?
When I ask my husband about his opinion about making a certain purchase, his favorite response is "do what you want". When my mother comes to visit and I ask her what she would like to eat, her frequent response is "it does not matter, what ever you serve is OK". When we suggest to friends to choose the movies or a restaurant, often they say that they do not care and that it does not matter to them. Again and again I find myself making the decision for everyone. This would not be so bad if people accept my suggestion. However if my choice is not to their liking they do not hesitate to complain and show their disappointment which is upsetting to me.I keep feeling like I failed. I am tiered of playing the role of the one who makes the decisions. How can I get out of this? FZ

Dear FZ:

Your frustration with the people around you makes a lot of sense. It is not unusual for individuals to take charge and make decisions when others around them refuse to take a stand and declare what they want or would like. It is a way of filling the void created by others passivity. When you "rescue" others from the need to express their likes and dislikes, you set yourself up to the possibility of being criticized for the suggestion or decision you made. Persons stay uncommitted when they are fearful of being criticized, rejected, or are uncomfortable with allowing anyone to get to know them more closely. It is by communicating of our likes, dislikes, and preferences that we educate others as to who we are and allow closeness to develop.

I assume that your impulse to jump in and rescue others from the need to take a position you are responding to your own difficulty with feeling the discomfort of silence and sensing others discomfort. In fact your quick response, enables others continue their avoidance on your expense.

Practice containment. Take a deep breath and stay quiet. Insist on others stating their wish by refusing to make the decision for them.. Make clear that you do not read minds and that you appreciate knowing what they like or dislike. As you learn to maintain better boundaries you will help others take better ownership of themselves.

Dear Naomi:

“I am not afraid of conflicts. As a matter of fact I think that occasional fighting can be helpful. I enjoy the challenge of debating, sharing my feelings and hearing what my partner feels and thinks. This is a real turn on for me. The problem is that my wife hates conflicts. She avoids conflict at all cost. When I raise an issue with her she shuts down, becomes distant, walks away and avoids me. I find this most frustrating. My wife accuses me of “being “picky” that I do not get her and that I want everything my way. I do not understand her position. I feel angry and turned off and not understood. The fact that we cannot discuss our issues makes our relationship feel empty. I love my wife and do not want to lose the marriage, How can we learn to communicate?

Dear HD:
Healthy communication is important in promoting a healthy and loving connection between partners. Such communication occurs when each partner feels understood validated and empathized before contradictory points are introduced. Positive communication requires a relaxed and safe atmosphere where no one feels pressured, criticized or blamed. Instead, there is a feeling of being heard with interest and open mind.

Your letter seems to imply that your wife might feel pressured to participate in a dialogue with you where she is not certain that her feelings or opinions will be “heard”. In fact it might be that she is intimidated and threatened by your love of debate. Debating involves a win-lose experience. Participants focus on proving that their position is superior or that it represents the “truth”. The investment is in proving the other wrong, disqualifying, negating or denying the other’s thoughts, feelings or experience. This type of dialogue between partners contributes to creating a disconnect and being alone in the relationship.

You might want to focus on being truly curios about your wife’s feelings and thoughts. Find out what she needs from you to feel safe to engage in a dialogue with you. Try to soften your approach and practice listening rather responding. Instead of arguing with her, practice staying quiet and listen to what she says. Practice “putting yourself in her shoes” and see the situation from her point of view. Remember that healthy communication is not about agreeing or deciding who is right but rather it is about understanding each other. I tell my couples who share similar struggles, that one can either be “right” or be in a relationship. Winning results in sleeping with the pillow. That can be quite lonely.

Dear Naomi,
I married my wife after we found out that she was pregnant. In fact we decided to break up the night before this discovery. Four years have passed since and we now have two children. The problem is that I do not love my wife and I do not think that I can give her what she needs. My parents divorced when I was young and my mother remarried to a man who was very abusive to my siblings and me. I definitely do not want my kids to experience what I experienced as a child. I married my wife because I thought that that was the right thing to do at the time. I want to keep the marriage for my kids’ sake. I am willing to support my wife financially and emotionally and help raise our children but I cannot be a loving intimate partner to her. Do you think that we can work this out? T.H.

Dear TH,

Separation and divorce is a traumatic experience to all persons involved especially the children. Leaving a marriage is greatly complicated when there are children involved as their well being might conflict with parent present needs and desires. Since children are dependent on parental care for their survival, their needs and well fare should be a priority in a situation of marital conflict.
Children tend to be very sensitive and perceptive of the dynamics between their parents. They will recognize distance and suppressed anger and resentments and will be affected by it. It is not unusual for children to develop psychological difficulties as a response to their parents unresolved marital stress. In short, children will get hurt whenever the adults in their life do not act maturely and responsibly.

So while I commend you on your concern for your children, your proposed solution to your situation will not spare your children from being wounded. Further more, your wife needs to agree to this arrangement. Withdrawing and distancing from her, while at the same time insisting that nothing is wrong will greatly hurt and confuse her.

Was your wife aware of your lack of feelings for her when you decided to marry her because of the pregnancy? Did she know that there was no change in your feelings towards her when you conceived the second child? Is she aware of your dilemma at the present time? Your children will not be protected if their mother is wounded. Thus my suggestion to you is to look carefully and honestly at your situation. If you want to save the marriage for whatever reason, you need to work on becoming the partner your wife deserves to have. Creating a marriage like situation without fully participating in it will only work if both partners agree to that arrangement. If your true focus is your selfish needs, than you would not, most likely, be motivated to share your honest truth with your wife and you will not most likely, be giving her a chance to have a voice in determining the quality of her future life and that of her children.

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