OK, fine, let’s talk about feelings

In Italy they have a saying: ‘Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi,’ which roughly translated means: ‘Christmas with family, Easter with whoever you like.’ Only it rhymes and therefore sounds snappier in Italian.

As regular readers of my whingeing might remember, H and I spent Christmas with family. Therefore, we spent Easter on our own, here in our scruffy little hovel, eating potatoes Dauphinoise (May’s High Holidays Extravaganza Cooking Of Choice), roast duck, and a frankly immoral amount of black chocolate. And I may have had a couple of glasses of red wine, just because I can.

And writing H’s Grandfather’s eulogy (which wasn’t stressful in the least. Not even when H’s father emailed us five times a day each with additions/corrections/don’t mentions. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha). The great big memorial service for everyone who wasn’t at the funeral is next weekend, and it has turned into Rather A Deal. And H will be reading said eulogy, to a crowd of, we now discover, over 100. Yay! Apparently I’m reading part of it too. Yay! FIL has just emailed us another correction. Yay!

Meanwhile, H and I have had three very angry shouty fights in a row (well, I shouted, H pouted (sorry, H, but you did)), which, whatever set them off, were chiefly about the increasingly ludicrous amount of non-communication going on between us.

Yeah, I know. May and H, the wonder team. Look! Clay feet!

H has been in a… I don’t know. H doesn’t get into moods, or strops, or huffs, as such. He just… sidles away. So, H has been in a sidle since before I had surgery in November. It’s a stress thing, I think, from past experience, but it doesn’t normally go on so long. On the other hand, a chap doesn’t normally have seven or eight major stressors happen two a month for months on end (lose job, get new job, mother-in-law is seriously ill, massive public performance to do, wife has surgery, Grandfather is declared terminally ill, BLOODY CHRISTMAS, Grandfather dies, another massive public performance… and then he hurls his guts up). I say this because I want to be as fair as it is possible for such a totally unobjective, partial, involved person as myself can be.

As far as I’m concerned, I know I am a mass of neuroses, anxiety, and misery (my Mum in surgery dramas! I hate my job! I’m still not pregnant! I have RPL PTSD! EVERYTHING BETWEEN MY RIBS AND MY KNEES HURTS! My Dad has stopped speaking to me again! I had surgery and it fixed nothing!), and whenever I try to talk about any of it with H, his response is to remain silent, change the subject, or in extreme cases leave the room.

Oh, he doesn’t storm out of the room, or flounce, or stride, or fling. He sidles. I approach him, I say something – something dramatic no doubt – about being unhappy, and I slowly raise my sad neglected-kitten eyes to his, for maximum pathos, and there’s no H any more. He’s suddenly in the study writing an email, or in the bathroom brushing his teeth, or in the kitchen with his head in a cupboard. I change my tactics, hold his hands (quite firmly, to prevent sidling) and look into his face as I speak, and he somehow, miraculously, the sheer power of his reluctance giving him pre-emptive Bat Hearing, detects a message arriving on his iPhone two rooms away which might be really really important. I tried cuddling up to him in bed before I spoke; he fell asleep. I took to losing my temper and shouting that he didn’t listen and I needed him to; every single time it became a discussion about H’s difficulties with expressing emotion. Every. Single. Time. I’d call him on that, and five exchanges in we’d be back to discussing the wonder that is H. It became bleakly hilarious. It’s been going on for months.

We spent the Easter Long Weekend tantrumical.

It’s all very well saying I can vent on the internet and get all those lovely supportive comments to make me feel better. You, Gentle Readers, do make me feel better. But you’re not very cuddly, and your neck doesn’t smell faintly of sandalwood and citrus, and you don’t make me tea.

And anyway, I like the feeling that the inside of my head is of some interest to my spouse. It’s not a feeling I’ve had for a good while. And I like the feeling that care and consideration of the spouse’s state of mind is reciprocal, not a one-way street.

H insists he does care, he just doesn’t know how to deal with showing it, and doesn’t know how to deal with me being unhappy and wanting to talk. I’d be sympathetic, if we’d only been married a year. I’d be sympathetic if I hadn’t given him explicit instructions (do not leave the room! Ask questions! Recap from time to time to prove you’ve been listening! You know, like I do for you when you want to talk!) over and over again whenever he’s complained he doesn’t know what to do. I’m sick of only being able to say whatever’s on my mind as part of a dirty great row, in fragments, in between multiple (exhausting, pointless) visits to the planet of H Doesn’t Do Feelings So Please Stop Asking Him To.

We reached a consensus the other day that H is being awkward about sex at the moment because he’s actually scared I might even get pregnant, and given our track record so far have another miscarriage, and go to pieces.

Which is heartbreakingly understandable. And also makes complete nonsense of the H Doesn’t Do Feelings thing. Of course he does. He does them lots and lots. And then he ignores them. Which means he has to ignore mine as well, in case they remind him he has some too. And therefore whenever I insist on having feelings at him, his own recrudesce with astonishing force and derail the whole conversation on the instant into a river cruise in Egypt. At the end of which, we are no nearer finding the source of it all, and I am left with a raging case of Feeling Abandoned And Unloved, while H, lacquered three inches deep with obliviousness, nails the lids back down on his emotional packing cases.

I have to say, that what with H’s severe fluey cold followed by attack of norovirus while we were on goddamn bloody holiday, followed swiftly by the amount of almighty anxst we’ve managed to generate over the long Easter weekend, I think I deserve a refund and do-over on this relaxing lark. I feel as relaxed as a steel girder in the Forth Bridge.


18 responses to “OK, fine, let’s talk about feelings

  • kylie

    Right, I came here to leave a fluffy comment on the food one, and got sucked in (on work time no less).
    I can understand where you are, and about the only thing I can say is that therapy is a wonderful thing. Not that we have tried it as yet (but there is an appointment booked for next week) but I have found it helpful in the past, despite various opinions to the contrary in my family.
    hope things sort themselves out.

  • a

    You know, you can’t change him. I’m a sidler. I don’t want to talk about my feelings. I will listen to other people talk about their feelings. Maybe he could learn to listen sympathetically – I can tell him how in one word. Compartmentalize. But really, when one partner really needs something and the other really needs to not have that something, how do you compromise?

    Marriage is hard, even when you know each other inside and out. I hope you two can find a solution. Maybe it will be easier once the extraneous stressors settle down.

    • May

      It’s because H compartmentalizes that he has such trouble dealing with it all. What’s the point of compartmentalizing if it destroys your ability to empathise, listen, accept other people’s differences? What’s the point of compartmentalizing if it makes you ill with stress, angry, sulky, difficult to live with and down-right mean and yet you don’t know why, because you compartmentalized?

      As for compromise, well, that’s impossible if you’re using coping behaviours that make things worse, both for yourself and your partner. You have to able to understand yourself well enough to tell your partner what you do and don’t need from her so you can make a compromise that helps in the first place. Sidling off and refusing to listen make this impossible. Expecting your partner to just live with it despite the fact that is absolutely not what she wants or needs is not compromise.

      And, very much not least, this isn’t just about the ways I feel abandoned and lonely, despite the rant above. H is hurting HIMSELF with this behaviour. He is miserable. He does it BECAUSE he is miserable. And the longer he does it for, the more miserable he gets, until it starts leaking it out in other ways. Compartmentalizing and refusing to discuss your feelings is not a strategy that has ever worked for us, in our marriage, in all the long years we’ve known each other.

  • wombattwo

    *Identification alert*!!!

    Oh May, I know the phrase “I know how you feel” is one of the least helpful in the English language, but I do. Baby loss and infertility causes such stress on a marriage, on an individual, on a partnership. I don’t know why it isn’t recognised as one of those “most stressful things in life” along with moving and getting married, because this? Far worse. I have people telling me that it’s a good thing because the husband and I “must be much closer” as a result. In reply, I want to beat them around the head with a rusty poker and stab them with it in places that they previously didn’t have orifices.

    My husband doesn’t really like talking. It’s not one of his favourite things to do. I knew this when I married him, of course, and he does try to listen but I fear he has run out of listening ability. The same issues come up time and time again and I think he’s bored. I’m bored, but the same stuff is happening and I can’t make it go away. I have no choice, neither of us do.

    H himself will be able to tell you (if he wants to of course) why he sidles. It’s all very well respecting his right to be a sidler, but where does that leave you? Should your needs take second place to his? Where does that leave him when his stress and worry and heartbreak emerges in other ways?

    I don’t know what to say in terms of trying to get him to listen. You’ve done all my normal tricks. I’ve just started counselling, and am finding it helpful. I’m not telling you to go, or that you need it (only you can decide that) but just saying that I am finding it a place to be listened to and accepted and empathised with and where things that I didn’t care to admit or didn’t know come tumbling out. It’s a bit of an eye-opener. Complete acceptance for every part of you, and above all how completely shitty this process is, somehow lessens its power slightly.

    Most of all, the thing that stands out for me is how sad you both are, and I really want to make it better for you. But I don’t know how to, and I just want to give you both a big hug and NOT say “this will bring you closer”.

    I fucking hate infertility.

  • MFA Mama

    Oh, lady. I have nothing at all helpful to say, except that I am here, and reading, and you are one of the very FEW people I’ve recently seen fit to grace with a comment seeing as I’m up to my eyebrows in the Slough of Despair over here myself. Life is so unfair, so much of the time. Oy.

  • valeryvalentina

    Does H write? I know you told me you sometimes leave him a note…maybe he could write back?
    I’ll just go and make you tea. Lemon and ginger maybe?

  • Mel

    Nothing helpful except that if you do discover how to unlock the compartments that compartmentalizers place their feelings inside, let the rest of us know.

    And sidler is a perfect term.

  • Chickenpig

    You have coined the perfect term. “Sidler” describes my husband to a T. I have found that I have become “that wife”…the one that fires nasty parting shots over his bow before he goes to work or whatever, because getting him angry is better than him constantly sidling away. I feel like a dog widdling on the carpet because any attention is better than none. Counseling is a nice idea…but how can you go about getting a sidler to sit down with a counselor when you can’t get a sidler to stay in the room long enough to bring up counseling? I just keep pushing him to go out with his buddies. I do this in the hope that if he isn’t talking to me, at least maybe he can get out stress hanging out with the guys. Because he needs to unleash the stress somehow. *sigh*

  • Womb For Improvement

    Have you considered handcuffs? (For the keeping of him chained to one place not the sex thing … although).

  • mackiewalker

    I have nothing useful except lots of sympathy for you both. As I have a bit of a horror of talking about feelings myself I can’t see how a counsellor could help to get someone reluctant to talk about feelings with their very best bud and partner talking to a total stranger but perhaps I am wrong about that. I just want this all to get better for you both.

  • Betty M

    One day I’ll work out new WordPress….

  • Peg

    Oh how I can relate. My husband and I have had a rough two years and whenever I try to talk real about it he sidles down to the basement or the computer to hide. Hang in here!

  • bionicbrooklynite

    i apparently don’t do responding to posts about feelings very well. i’ve had this open for days, and haven’t managed to think of anything helpful, but i did want you to know that i am here and listening and thinking warm thoughts about you and h and your lovely, clay-y feet.

    also, the italians get no credit for rhyming in my book, since their whole language rhymes, but i will give them credit for “inverno é inferno.”

  • Hairy Farmer Family

    Just wanted to wave a paw and say that I have been 3 days writing a comment. Stuff has intervened, and I ain’t finished yet. You’re not forgotten, both.

  • Hairy Farmer Family

    Ehh, Gods. Evidently, cogitating about this is not going to help me become erudite. I’ve had to open a blasted word document to hold all the little Bon Mots I’ve come up with the last couple of weeks – all of which, having re-read, I ditched, because I was the epitome of Patronisation and Assvicery. I think it probably still might be, despite this being the second *hollow groan, pause to bash laptop* time of typing this. In fact, the only positive about waiting so long to chime in, is that I am commenting in relative obscurity if I pitch this horribly wrong, because this is armchair psychology from a not frightfully clever armchair.

    Let me start by saying that I am drawing this directly from the experiences J & I had, and that your mileage will vary hugely OF COURSE. I know, for instance, that you seem a more… cerebral, say we say… couple than we are, and as such, more likely to find a route to resolution in that direction. Discussion is still not a place we are naturally led to under pressure. I visit the place of the Hurled Plate first, for example, followed by the plateau of Get Yourself A Lawyer and only eventually find the valley of Reason.

    I am without opinion as to the input of nature vs. nuture in men and women growing into the people they do. People vary, and generalisations are always odious to someone, even that one. But there is enough evidence, I suppose, that men and women have evolved into beings that process emotion differently, and that that evolution had a purpose. Whether that purpose is still entirely relevant now, I dunno. Absence of woolly mammoths, etc. But I reluctantly conclude that the Sidling (and well, WELL do I know that of which you speak), whatever purpose it originally served, is so widely distributed among male mankind, as to be rendered essentially ineluctable. And, further, if it is that deeply instilled, then one assumes it is for a purpose beneficial to the individual.

    Not necessarily for the individual’s mate, alas. And I am viewing with a sympathetic yet cautious eye, your statement that H isn’t happy like this. Happy – no. Functioning – maybe better than you think. You certainly aren’t happy with H’s behaviour, and H loves you, and perhaps thinks he sees in you a degree of superior aptitude and skill in terms of expressing and processing emotion, ergo: H learns to feel dissatisfied with his processing techniques and nailing-down-the-packing-crate behaviours, too – they are inchoate to express and are being heavily criticised, after all – and yet he is not able to switch to another behaviour that pleases you more.

    H’s ‘ill with stress, angry, sulky, difficult to live with and down-right mean’ness might, I postulate, be coming directly from the fundamental mismatch between his aspirations to Talk About Things with the ease and fluency that you do (you are effectively telling him that acquiring that skill is a non-negotiable term for your future happiness, so he naturally urgently wants to be the Articulating Person that you are asking him to be) – and his intrinsic unease in actually becoming that person.

    Anyone might exhibit signs of anger, suppressed or not, by ‘getting defensive or silent/dumb’ when they are repeatedly asked to deliver what they just may not have, ready, or even in existence, to give; especially when they can see – feel – hear -read ‘stunned and crestfallen’, the urgent need of the beloved asker. That’s a shitty place to be, and I felt so miserable and unhappy for H reading that.

    The behaviour you find difficult to tolerate (and, my sweetest girl, I have ground that particular set of exasperated teeth many a time. I am, to use a detested phrase, feeling your anger.) may be arising as a direct result of the conflict between your asking, and H’s fruitless search for a response you want, as opposed to the soundness or not of his mental processes per se. The situation could easily be self-referential, self-perpetuating, and exponential by now. You sound as if you might be setting – and controlling – ‘…given him explicit instructions (do not leave the room! Ask questions! Recap from time to time to prove you’ve been listening!’ a single rigid emotional route to marital catharsis, on your discussion-terms, ‘his own (feelings) recrudesce with astonishing force and derail the whole conversation’ which is perhaps why he might be unconsciously choosing to disengage – ‘trying to escape’ – with the process. And if so, ultimately, my own experience indicates there’s no success to be had, doing what I think you’re doing. I have so many fucking t-shirts that say so. If I am in any ways right, you have to explore, in tandem, other ways to achieve emotional détente.

    And so I am led to wonder if, hypothetically removing your needs from the equation altogether, H might not be happiest dealing with things in the fashion he already does. Broken is as broken does – and is he really and truly, viewed objectively, so very much more unhappy and struggling emotionally than you, with all your undoubtedly emotional agility, are? The crap has rained heavily upon you both these last 5 years, and you have both suffered accordingly. Or might you possibly be projecting your own concepts of what you would feel onto H, and concluding: broken? And robustly generating the conversational process that would assist you, were you in that situation?

    I think H exploring the actual origins of H’s stress, wherever they emanate from, as opposed to your perceptions of the issues H is having processing emotion (I know you are Usually Good At Unpicking H, but it is because you are Fundamentally Very Much Not H that this post was written) might be worth considering. Working with a counsellor may establish where H’s heart and mind really want to sit on the bottling-to-sharing spectrum, if that’s the topic he feels would be useful to explore, but the real sticking point here, of course, is how his coping strategies, at this point, and your profound dislike and mistrust of them, engage with you, the articulate one, the one bristling with *emotional* intelligence as well as the ordinary intelligence you both have in abundance,.

    I know it seems fundamentally wrong to you that H’s take on this may, on considered balance, be more right for him than it is wrong for you. It did to me, too, at first. But our counsellor basically refused to try and alter J’s internal workings one jot, as it wasn’t John who was expressing unhappiness with said workings, but I. (J was then, and is now, non-aspirational in terms of acquiring emotional articulation, which I suspect is what sets our cases furthest apart.) All she was essentially prepared to do (she wasn’t there, after all, to rebuild our individual emotional construction along more *ahem* positive lines) was help us to co-exist with each other, and she would not ascribe to any suggestion of brokenness or superiority implicit in presence/absence of aptitude for emotional expression. Eloquent articulation of one’s emotional angst, in short, did not equal correct psychological practice. Which was damn annoying, frankly, but I was eventually forced to recognise some truths: it’s unrewarding, in every sense, to set a preferred agenda of expression of feelings to and from, and for, one’s spouse. Sidling occurs, because otherwise one would have to Cognitively Reject, and Cognitively Rejecting the efforts of one’s beloved, beleaguered and well-intentioned wife just isn’t cricket, and therefore only happens when one is arguing.

    It may be that if you seek counselling yourself, it will relieve H’s psyche of a little of the unrelenting solo pressure he must feel at many levels to buoy your spirits up (a thankless task if he feels, or is being told, he is failing at it – and that is possibly why you are sensing disinterest, which I would imagine might actually be a fervent feeling of profound disqualification ‘ fear of saying the wrong thing, as I have far too often’ for emotional articulation at May’s standards, coupled perhaps to some subconscious irritation at being pestered to Do It This Way: I Am GOOD At This Shit And I Know This Way Is Best. Which it is, says me, and says you – but maybe not for H, on this day, in this life, under these stressors.) and that in itself may result in a slackening of the digging-in rope, by bringing down pressure levels on both sides. H could plausibly be cognitively quite happy to soldier on, subsuming his feelings (however much you feel it’ll bite him on the repressed bum later on), wanting only for you to be supported in a way that meets your specific needs by someone who understands you. He may not feel a need for that role to be entirely fulfilled by himself, however much he knows that you have a desire for him to fulfil it.

    I’m not sure what strides you can make towards one another, but decent counsellors will help you find where they can be made. Your needs do seem, from what you both say, to be quite divergent; it may be the (unfortunate, because my sympathies are squarely with you, having Been There) case that you have more work to do here than H does, that you have more in-built flexibility of thinking within you, in coming to accept, not only that your needs may not be entirely fulfilled at this pressuresome extremity (a spouse cannot be all things, but only their own, best, wonderful, sandalwood and citrus-scented self) but also that there are other emotional altars than the ones of Erudition and Expression that you and I both worship at. They are, allegedly, also valid. Apparently there is only a certain amount we can do about it.

    But, having pontificated for PARAGRAPHS! – really, your marriage has bowled along splendidly for years and years, and it is only now that it is running a little aground, which is entirely unsurprising given the immense pressures that you are both under. Counselling (the RIGHT counsellor is a MUSTMUSTMUST. How I do wish I could export you from there to here and lend you mine) may relieve you both of some of the innate internal stress that comes about from being mutually unable to hold a discussion that brings any degree of comfort to your spouse, as well as giving you both an outlet to vent. The nature and the timing of the problem do suggest to me that H’s coping mechanisms as they currently stand are not where your need for help is greatest, although it is where you are feeling the rub the most.

    I am troubled by your plight, on both of your behalves, not only because I adore you both in copious measure, but because I have such sympathy for your situation – having been in it – and I understand a little of the misery, even if I have completely misunderstood the internal dynamics between you. And if I have bowled a complete wide here, forgive the all the armchair-psychology presumption and put it down to the affectionate dimwittedness, of which I possess a great deal.

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