Dear Harry and Louise,
I’ve got this new asshole boss. He’s young and cocky, and he’s making all sorts of big changes at the firm. I’m working longer hours, and since I’m not a roll-with-the-punches sort of guy, it’s becoming a consuming thing for me—and for my wife. She listens, to a point, but she’s increasingly tired of hearing me vent about the office and my bastard of a boss. At first she would empathize and help me come up with solutions, but now she seems to be frustrated that I’m not solving the problem after all this time. Lately, all she says is, “You really should talk to a therapist.” I can understand the impulse, because there’s somewhat of an imbalance here—I have a hard time focusing much on her problems these days. But what the hell? Every time there’s a real problem in my life, I’m supposed to take my conversation to a shrink? My wife is always touting the importance of talking—well, this is what talking is for. Solace, understanding, working through a situation. This is what I need from her—my lover, my friend, my partner. Is this unreasonable to ask?
• • •
This one hit close to home, so let’s get personal.
I have been the consumed, venting one, and I have been the listening, understanding one. I’ve tried to recall how I acted in both roles so I could determine what made a difference, and hopefully my experience will provide you some relief.
As the venting one, I was monotonous, insufferable, and unyielding. My partner remained steady and unflappable in his support. The only thing that helped me gain perspective was time by myself: walking alone on my country lane, reading alone, even just sitting alone. While I appreciated my hubby’s support, I needed to regain my perspective on my own. The most valuable change a great therapist can provide is not an earth-shattering life epiphany but simply an enlarged view of your day-to-day life—otherwise known as renewed perspective. You may be married to the most loving wife out there, but she may not be the one to help you find your way back to center.
As the listening one, I was solicitous, patient, and encouraging . . . until I wasn’t. I thought for a long while, trying to determine why I shut down, and it finally hit me: I was doing absolutely, positively NO GOOD. My listening garnered no effect, so I decided to stop taking it on, to recoil, and to lighten my load by dropping his trying situation back in his lap.
This could be exactly how your wife is feeling. It will go a long way if you remind her that the mere act of listening to you is helpful. Remind her that you look forward to seeing her each evening because you need to lean on her at the end of a frustrating day. Tell her that this tough time will not last forever, and that you realize you are taking much more than you are giving these days.
I predict your wife will gladly provide that warm place to come to if she believes she is being a help to you. I believe it is normal and fine to expect her to be patient even though you are not at the moment the most adorable teddy bear.
The caveat: If you remain impervious to her support and kindness, then it is time to take some weight off of her shoulders and talk to that third, impartial party.
• • •
Sounds to me you are becoming a bore. No one likes to live with constant whining. Your wife has a point. It’s time to seek help.
I say this not because your wife might find your complaints tiresome; it’s the way you describe the problem. Many of us have had to deal with a lousy boss. The question is how you handle it, and in your own words, you are doing badly. You are not a “roll with the punches” kind of guy, and it’s become a “consuming thing” for you. Therein lies the problem: You are obsessed with work and hence consumed by the boss.
I would give your wife a break and seek help for your obsession. Work less and treat your wife to a weekend away—with you or alone. Otherwise, you being consumed by work is going to gobble up your relationship.
What’s more important—wife or work?
Everyone experiences times when their scope tightens and their burden bears down too heavily on a partner. This does neither a bore nor an obsessive make.
Give your wife some relief. It might relieve your burden, as well.