(The following is an excerpt from Sarah Swenson’s upcoming book, COACHING SUPPORT FOR NEURODIVERSE COUPLES.)
You have learned how to phrase things in such a way that you are least likely to get blamed or criticized. You have learned to distinguish with fine skills the difference between when it’s okay to speak and when it’s better to wait until another time.
You also know when the only thing you can do is keep your mouth closed. Sometimes, when you do that, tears burn down your cheek.
That’s when you hear, “What’s the matter now?”
And what do you actually hear? You hear the word now. That’s all.
Because, once again, your partner has read your facial expression, come to a conclusion, and judged you incorrectly. Judged you and condemned you with that critical tone and that final word now, as if your emotional life were a continuous saga of assaults against them.
This is when you feel crazy.
You feel crazy, because you know there is no satisfactory answer to this question. If you venture forth into describing your hesitation to bring up a topic, you risk being told you’re being ridiculous. If you actually make an effort to explain the thoughts or feelings you initially resisted sharing and which brought on the tears in the first place, your partner’s critical reaction tells you immediately that you were being smarter when you decided, in the beginning, to keep them to yourself. By giving them voice, you have created precisely the situation you feared: your partner not only doesn’t understand what you are talking about, but also dismisses your feelings, and on top of that, is angered or dismayed by the fact that you had to cry in order to get their attention—which was a pretty pathetic cry for attention at that.
Yes, this is when you feel crazy.
You are caught in a double bind.
You can speak your mind, and you will be judged or criticized.
You can remain quiet, and you will be judged or criticized.
You cannot win.
You’re probably not even sure what normal looks like anymore. You think it may have something to do with getting what you want.
I’d like to suggest that there’s more to it than that.
It has more to do with getting what you need.
Please believe that you are not asking for the moon or the stars when you are asking your partner to listen to you. Please believe that you have the right to ask for this. Please believe that you are hurting yourself by thinking you should expect anything less.Within an intimate relationship, by virtue of the agreement into which you both freely entered, you have a right to expect that your partner will respect you enough to listen to you, to hear you, and to care enough to have your back. To respond to your emotions. To listen to your concerns. To discuss things that are on your mind.
These are not just things you want.
These are essential components of your mental health.
When they are missing in a relationship, and especially when they are replaced with blaming, judgment, or criticism—when you get the message that you don’t even have a right to have such an opinion or that you are out of your mind to think such a thing—those are the times of the deepest pain. Those are the moments of the greatest loneliness. Those are the times when your self-esteem is at its greatest risk for erosion.
Please believe that you are not asking for the moon or the stars when you are asking your partner to listen to you. Please believe that you have the right to ask for this. Please believe that you are hurting yourself by thinking you should expect anything less.
You are not crazy to expect your partner to respect and love you. That’s what you were promised when you entered into this relationship.
It is still valid to believe.
If your partner is not holding up their side of the agreement, that is not a reflection of your self-worth. It is a reflection of their inability or unwillingness to give the person who loves them what they need.
Changes are possible to the extent that your partner is willing and able to enter into conversation that cuts to the root of your not being heard. This may require the help of a counselor. If you are fortunate, your partner will agree to take the steps toward healing.
I leave you with one more thought: you are not crazy. In fact, you’d be crazy to believe you deserved anything less than respect and love from your partner. Unfortunately, emotionally unavailable individuals often convince their partners that they deserve exactly what they get: nothing.
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