Monday, Oct 8, 2012 12:00 AM UTC

I’m an alpha female

I don't have time for my husband's emotional outbursts; I wish he'd just get a grip

Cary Tennis

 (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

Wanted to get your advice. I’m stuck.

A few things on me, should they prove to be helpful: Female in my late 30s. Highly educated, C-level executive in male-dominated field. Financially responsible and pretty much extremely responsible otherwise. I take pride in my ability to get shit done, as it has served me well in life. In good health. Pretty much checked-the-box on most things middle-class folks would consider important in life, and in the “right” order.

I married young when I did not know what I wanted in a partner. I am an alpha female. I am attracted to alpha men. The confidence, really. I am deeply and utterly attracted to extremely confident men. Right now, I imagine the ones I have been privileged enough to have known and have admired. As I type this, the adrenaline flows.

As we’ve grown into adulthood, my husband has become a super-emotional type. And he is angry often and in general seeks external validation for his self-esteem. I eat my emotions. I specifically see anger as a sign of weakness, and in general I work extremely hard at everything I do in life without much thought. That is what I am comfortable with, and that is how I am able to survive in this world. I own my life and take full responsibility for the confident, hardworking, minimalist nature of my communication style.

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly disinterested in dealing with my husband’s anger and his constant need for reassurance. I find it very draining and quite frankly not what I want in life. It distracts me from work and the accomplishment of my own goals, it is difficult to be the parent I want to be when I am preoccupied with this topic, and I find myself triaging his emotions more often than I deal with my own. We’ve had some flash points in the past few years that have brought us to marriage counselling, individual counselling, and anger management for my spouse. But I largely find myself lonely, pulling away from my husband, not interested in his daily narrative on his graduate program, the activities of his decade-plus younger peers, the conversation he had with the Starbucks guy, how great the hamburger was that he did not think he’d get for lunch with this really cool guy he met at the library, and the great deal he got on the <whatever> at the <insert store here>.

I do not want to kick a guy when he is down. He is struggling greatly at this stage in his life, as am I. I am not all that interested in ending this long-term relationship for reasons that I can’t understand. I also am not all that interested in staying in this relationship for reasons I completely understand. Fundamentally, I believe that I cannot change people and honestly I am not wanting in any way to change my husband. I wish wish wish wish wish he would change, but I am not wanting to change him myself. While important to me, keeping up his self-esteem is not my responsibility. It sounds cold, but we’re nearing 40. I grew myself up, and so should he.

There seems to be no question in here for you. It seems to me that I fear the wide repercussions of unwinding our 20+ years of common history, yet I fear for my own health and sanity should I continue to work toward something that I am not sure I actually really want in life. Or maybe it is something else entirely.

Best,

I’m Stuck

Dear Stuck,

Here’s the executive summary: You have projected your repressed emotions onto your husband in order to disavow them.

You have three choices: You can divorce your husband. You can stay with him and continue to project your emotions onto him. Or you can change your relationship to your own emotions.

In this regard, you say something revealing. You say that you know the reasons you do want to end the relationship. But you also say, “I am not all that interested in ending this long-term relationship for reasons that I can’t understand.” That could mean that you only want to end it if you can end it for reasons you understand. Or it could mean that you don’t know why you don’t want to end it. I think it’s a little of both, frankly, but most important, you genuinely don’t know why you don’t want to end it.

You don’t know your reasons for staying with him because you have repressed those reasons. The reasons are that you love him and are emotionally dependent upon him. You have a vulnerable side just like everyone else on the planet. But you have repressed those reasons and projected them onto him, where he can voice them and you can disavow them.

You say you eat your emotions. It’s more like you chew them and then feed them to him and he throws them up, which disgusts you. Your disgust is a tool of repression, of non-recognition. You don’t recognize what he vomits up as your own emotion because how could you have such disgusting stuff inside you?

Anyway, since you’re a busy person, that’s my quick summary. Honestly, I had to look up what a C-level executive was. I didn’t know. Now I understand. You’re very busy. So, as if standing in your doorway sensing your impatience, I’ll leave it at that.

It’s your move. Ask your therapist for details. I’m just stating the obvious.

OK?

Don’t hit me!

Array