I do what you want, but you never let me do what I want!
Duncan had his heart set on the new BMW sports car, but Estelle wondered whether it was the best way of spending money at this point. There were other more important priorities like her business start up, the kids school fees and house repairs to consider.
Duncan blew up. “You never let me have what I want! When you wanted to go to Peru I agreed because I knew what that meant to you. I let you choose the living room furniture even though I hated it. Yet when something is important to me you pour cold water all over it, and make me feel selfish.”
You just want to stack up points to use against me!
“I’m sick of your whining. You have the money. You can buy whatever you want. I don’t know why you bother asking for my approval. You’re going to do what you want anyway. If I don’t agree I’m a spoiler, and boy do you punish me for it afterwards! You make me pay for all the times you did things my way. You just do it to stack up points that you can beat me with when I don’t agree with you.” Estelle retaliated with fury to being manipulated.
Duncan wanted his wife’s permission, so he didn’t feel guilty.
Duncan was independently wealthy. The BMW wouldn’t hurt his financial portfolio, and he could take it as a business expense. But buying the car just because it was possible wasn’t satisfying to him. He was hungry for something much more valuable- permission to want things just for himself, and just for the fun of it. That was the real prize. He was mad as a hungry bear that he couldn’t get a loved one to okay his wishes. He wanted to rid himself of the guilt that washed over him whenever he wanted something just for fun. He was fed up with always having to justify it as worthwhile.
Duncan was torn between feeling selfish and being a burden.
Duncan had been angry a long time. As far back as he could remember his mentally challenged younger brother Trevor got all the free passes at home. His father gave into Trevor’s tantrums to keep him quiet and manageable. His mother was torn between trying to anticipate Trevor’s moods and erratic behavior and keeping her marriage together. Duncan was expected to be the good son who never needed nor wanted anything other than the basics. If he ever wanted a new game, a special restaurant for a treat, or a trip to Disneyland he felt like he was adding to his parent’s burden.
There was little room for him to have his childhood wishes without shame, guilt and a belief that his needs were illegitimate. That’s when the anger started. Why were his needs less important than Trevor’s.? Why was it wrong for him to want his mother’s approval and his father’s attention for being a normal healthy son? Why couldn’t he be spoiled just once?
Duncan became furious when his carefully thought out plan failed.
The injustice of his childhood kept the anger smoldering on a bed of hot coals that was constantly stoked up. Each time Estelle didn’t gush with enthusiasm and give him the green light to get what he wanted he relived the torment of his childhood. He got more and more furious that even when he didn’t have to compete with a needy brother, he still didn’t get his wishes accepted and nurtured. Duncan made a deal with himself. If he let his wife have what she wanted even if he didn’t like it himself, then he would be entitled to expect the same from her. He bit his tongue when he agreed with her suggestions, waiting for his turn to get his wishes approved.
Duncan’s plan didn’t work. Estelle didn’t buy into his scheme. Duncan’s rage grew fiercer and the relationship became a battle ground. Duncan refused to give himself permission to enjoy things he could get for himself, and Estelle refused to be put in the role of the bad guy who spoiled his life.
How can Duncan and his wife stop getting mad at each other?
How can Duncan and Estelle stop the cycle of anger that interferes with their intimacy?
• Duncan needs to get clear on what his anger is really about. His anger is not about the car. It is about not knowing where he stands with Estelle and trying to figure it out. He used the car as a way of testing his wife. Would there be enough room for him on her priority list, or would he get shoved to the bottom just as he did when he was a kid?
• Duncan should share with Estelle his feelings of guilt, unworthiness and rage at never feeling secure enough to be able to legitimize his own wants and needs.
• Estelle should try and hear it as part of Duncan’s issue rather than take it personally and strike back. She can then share her hurt when he puts her in the role of judge and jury.
• Estelle should encourage Duncan to do what he wants from time to time so that he can develop a sense of pleasure and legitimacy about his wishes. He will become more comfortable with his decisions and less dependent on Estelle. It will also help her avoid being put into a no-win situation.
• When Duncan and Estelle feel and hear each other’s hurt, anger and frustration, they have begun to take a new journey together towards satisfying the hunger they both have to be seen as good, worthy and loveable people.
© Copyright 2009 by Jeanette Raymond. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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