Allison Keating answers your queries about life & relationships
Question: My husband has had some health problems recently — he has been diagnosed with prediabetes and it gave him a fright. He is 53. In the past year he has lost weight and become very fit. He started with the gym and during the summer he started cycling with a group of lads he met through his personal trainer. He now spends all weekend cycling — no exaggeration. He no longer goes to the kids’ sports on a Saturday morning or spends any time with us as a family.
He has now announced he is using almost half his annual leave on a cycling holiday. I am a stay-at-home mother so it isn’t even a consideration as to whether it suits me or not. I have sacrificed a lot — I have no discretionary income and it sticks in my craw to see him flounce off in cycling gear that I know costs thousands. He gets defensive if I say anything and says it is all for his health. Can you help me to get some balance back in our lives? How can I get through to him without sounding bitter and furious? Because that is what I am.
Allison replies: Connect with how you are feeling by acknowledging and validating the emotions that are present. Don’t just think about them, write them down. If people realised the transformative power of giving themselves permission to express how they feel, even to themselves, and not shutting themselves down because of outdated beliefs and societal constraints of which emotions are assumed to be OK and which ones aren’t, we’d all be a lot healthier and happier.
Reading that sentence will be easier than putting it into practice as you might notice a lot of doubt or “I shouldn’t feel like this, but I do” coming up. Or you are told that “you shouldn’t feel the way you do” and both will cause communication and connection issues. Use those emotional blockers and see them as important information cues to take note of, as that is where the change is needed.
Let’s take bitter first. If we are specifically female about this, many learned directly or through learned conditioning that being bitter was frowned upon and that it had a nasty correlation with being “old and bitter”.
When we move towards anger territory, consciously or unconsciously, you know or will have learned that it wasn’t an emotion that was accepted in many households, and even more so if you were a woman.
If we scan the surface deeper than the expression of being angry or, as you said, furious, the issue can get lost or hidden under the anger part and your husband might not hear what your real needs that are not being met are, which unfortunately will leave you feeling even more frustrated and less understood, fanning the flame for even more unresolved anger.
That’s why giving “bitterness” some space to express why you feel the way you do will give you the answer you are looking for. Let’s start with some questions.
Give yourself time to think about your answers and remember you can edit and change your mind. Sometimes the first written attempt comes easily, with great speed and lots of expletives. It’s like shaking up a snow globe, and as the emotions begin to settle back down, some parts can look a little different to the initial “he’s this” or “this is what always happens every time” black-and-white thinking.
When did you feel you could express how you felt and be heard? Do you feel hurt? It can feel like an affair in the sense that the cycling has been chosen over you, the kids, and the family.
How we choose to spend our time and with whom is a deep connector. So it can feel disconnecting and painful if the discretionary time of the weekend is given to a hobby.
I’m sure he did get a fright, but perhaps his health may also include the health of his relationships. It seemed the fury has been stewing in the background for some time. Resentment isn’t an overnight process. Can you track back to upsets or pain in the relationship?
Have you been feeling lost or invisible? Do you feel taken for granted? Have you relayed this to him? Has it landed with him? Do you feel close? I know I have asked a lot of questions but to get some balance back, knowing what is off balance first is the key to possible solutions.
When couples get into the same rut in arguments, coming at it with the intent of breaking that cycle (zero pun intended) by depersonalising and getting to what is underneath the frustration is where the work needs to focus upon.
When frustration keeps showing up, it can have couples going around in circles, but damage is being done in that it can be too easy to get entrenched in your own viewpoint with no room for human error.
When relationships feel warm and connected, you naturally give each other the benefit of the doubt. Ongoing unresolved issues break that connection and the person in front of you can appear uncaring and cold towards you.
After you have tried to talk with him again about the core issues in the relationship, from what you feel you have sacrificed to not feeling valued, if things are still stuck, then talking with someone together who can work through the complexities of why you feel the way you do may be helpful.
Allison regrets that she cannot enter into correspondence. If you have a query you would like addressed in this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org