Bob Livingstone is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCS 11087) in private practice for 22 years in San Francisco, California. He holds a Masters Degree
Ron was driving home from work and the traffic was an absolute mess. He was tired from dealing with his boss who was impossible to please and very difficult to get along with. He was sick of having to hold back from telling him how much he hated his guts. Cars on the freeway were either going too fast or too slow. The vehicle behind him had its bright lights on blinding him in his rear view mirror. He wanted to immediately stop his car, get out and hit the driver in the back of his head with a tire iron until the cows came home.
Cars cut him off left and right. Ron yelled at them through rolled up windows and would frequently honk his horn at cars going too slow in the passing lane. Why were so many people so insensitive to others and were they just plain stupid? He sensed his exhaustion as the rock and roll on the radio was turned up to both heighten and validate his rage.
He pulls up into his apartment parking space and turns off the car, finally. He sighs and is relieved that the evening commute is over. He greets his partner Melinda at the door with a less than passionate kiss on the cheek. He and Melinda have lived together for almost ten years now. They have had some rocky spots during that time, but he loves her very much. He is thirty five and she is thirty four. They don’t have any children yet, but are considering it. Ron works as an engineer for a high tech company and Melinda is a graphic artist.
She cooks him dinner every working night and he is thankful. She then tells him that she would prefer that he bought blueberries that were fresh rather than moldy ones. That is when Ron went off. All logic escaped him as he fired back, “I work hard every day and try to do the best I can and all you can do is criticize me for buying moldy blueberries? They didn’t look moldy to me. I can’t believe that you are attacking me for this. What about all the good things that I do? You are thoughtless and insensitive. How could you possibly even get your lips around these words? Why do you hate me so much?”
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Melinda responded, “Ron, you know that I appreciate all that you do. I tell you that all the time, but you get so mad when I make a simple suggestion. You think I am attacking your character when all I am asking is that you pay more attention when you buy produce.”
In the back of Ron’s mind, he knows that Melinda is right and this only serves to make him feel ashamed for his outburst. He chooses to turn into the self-pity mode and he says, “I can never do anything good enough. I am just not a good person. I say these mean things to you all the time and I can never seem to change this behavior no matter what. I should just go.”
He picks up his car keys and Melinda says, “No, I’ll go stay with my friend Judy. I am so sick of you playing the victim card. You always do this whenever I make a suggestion. You say I’m mean and cruel or that I have bad timing. When the hell am I supposed share my feelings about your behavior? I walk on eggshells all the time not knowing when you are going to explode.”
Ron treats Melinda’s comments as an act of domestic terrorism. He doubles down and says, “You are sickening and have no idea what it is like to be me. I try so hard to always do the right thing, but you don’t care about me. You never really have. I have no idea why you want to be with someone who is as despicable as me. You are selfish and a terrible listener. I don’t know why I bother. My work is so hard and my boss is the biggest jerk that ever lived, but you never listen to my problems.”
There is a voice that Ron hears in the far corners of his being. It says, “None of these bad things you are saying about Melinda are close to being true. You are an asshole and don’t really deserve such a caring woman. You have tested this woman’s resolve and her commitment to staying since the very first day you met here. You truly believe that you don’t deserve her and believe that it is your destiny to be alone. You are so afraid of being abandoned by her, yet your words have the potential of pushing her away for good. How much sense does this make?”
This is a scenario that has played out over and over again during the course of Ron and Melinda’s relationship. This verbal and emotional abuse Ron has inflicted on Melinda has caused her to have low self-esteem and decreased self-confidence. It has made her anxious and led her to question if she is a decent person or not. She has continually walked on eggshells and scans Ron’s facial expressions and body language searching for signals that he is about to go off on her. She devotes much of her time taking care of Ron’s emotional needs while he selfishly ignores her. She is never clear if he really cherishes her or wants a substitute mother to wipe his butt.
She realizes that much of her energy is spent trying to calm him and help him get through his day. She is really tired of this routine and doesn’t know how much of this she will continue to put up with. He is a good provider and will do whatever she asks of him. He is funny and supports her work. When they are not arguing, they have a good time together, but his whole anger/victim routine has exhausted her.
Ron knows that he has hurt his wife deeply and is now searching for ways to fix this problem. He knows the first thing he needs to do is to take responsibility for these difficulties with his relationship. His lack of patience with Melinda and his hurtful comments are not her fault. No, she is not to blame for any of this. He is responsible for making her afraid and leery of him. He is at fault for unjustly and cruelly criticizing her. If he has a problem with her, he should tell her in a calm way and acknowledge that she has a right to her feelings. He needs to stop being defensive and attacking her. Being reactive has to end.
When he is enraged, he believes that Melinda has to take his emotional violence and that it is a woman’s job to sacrifice herself for her man’s needs. When he is not angry, he knows this is distorted thinking and that he is being narcissistic. When he is angry, he takes on values that he really doesn’t believe in. He is ashamed when he thinks about how much he has hurt her over the years and begins to cry. He says to himself, “I have no right to feel sorry for myself now. I need to focus on how I can make Melinda feel better about herself, me and our relationship.”
He knocks on the door to her study and asks if he can talk to her. She says that he can and he takes a deep breath and says, “Melinda, I know I have devastated you with my words over the years and I want to stop that behavior and do whatever it takes to make it up to you. I know that I have told you that I would try to do better before, but that was really only lip service. I am going to give this all I have to give. Please tell me how I have hurt you and I promise not to get angry or defensive. I want to be a better man and I want to show that I truly love you. While you are speaking, I promise not to interrupt. When you are finished, I will tell you what changes I will make for you, me and our future.”
To be continued next week.
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