We expect those in our closest relationships, our family and our friends, to care about us and how we feel. But do we have a right to expect that they will be responsible for our feelings? And what does that mean?
Amethyst is expecting her first child. Her husband, Tom, likes to play darts in the pub with his buddies. Amethyst doesn’t play and since her pregnancy, the smell of beer makes her sick so she stays home. She feels lonely when he heads off twice a week. Her hormones have her feeling weepy and nauseous a lot of the time. Tom is feeling the strain in the marriage and is glad to get out for a while.
Amethyst is confused. When Tom was laid up with a broken leg for six weeks, she stayed home in the evenings to be with him. She is hurt and disappointed because he isn’t doing the same for her. Tom is irritated by Amethyst’s request to him to forgo his darts, and points out that if he HAS to stay home, he’ll feel resentful. Amethyst doesn’t want him to feel resentful, she wants him to want to stay home and be with her, and he doesn’t.
Underlying this relationship issue is the assumption that we are each responsible for how other people feel and should adjust our behaviour accordingly. In giving over that responsibility to someone else, we handing over control over own happiness, because if the other person is unable or unwilling to behave in a way that pleases us, then we are going to be disappointed.
No one can be there all the time for another person. Even if they are willing to forgo their own desires or wishes in order to fulfil the needs of the other, there will always come a time when they cannot be there because something else takes their attention away, work, children, their own illness or the illness of a relative, and so on.
Perhaps a better solution might be to find happiness within themselves, regardless of the behaviour and actions of others. Of course it’s lovely when other people behave in a way that pleases us, but perhaps we could see that as a gift they are free to give, rather than our right or entitlement?
Jude Fay MIAHIP is a counsellor and psychotherapist at AnneLeigh Counselling Psychotherapy, Celbridge and Naas, Co Kildare, Ireland. Jude works with individuals and couples aged 18 years and over.