An aerospace engineer rocks it all day at work. But when he comes home, his wife makes it clear that he is not rocking it with her.
Before he even lays down his shoulder bag, she says, “Did you take care of the credit card issue?”
F*#k, I spaced. What do I tell her?
She sees the look in his eyes and says, “You didn’t, did you? You said you would. Why didn’t you do it?”
Underneath, he hears, You’re not reliable, I can’t trust you, that’s why I never have sex with you. Why did I ever marry you?
Have you ever felt like you’re in trouble with your wife or partner?
If yes, then you can relate to my client. For confidentiality purposes, I will call him Rick.
In the moment, Rick gets hooked. He feels his wife’s charge and tries not to escalate.
“I told you I’d take care of it. I had a long day at work. I’ll get it done.”
“You said you’d do it earlier? Why didn’t you do it when you said you would? Now I can’t charge…”
“Please! I said I’ll get it done. Stop freaking out!”
The last sentence slips out of his mouth before he can take it back. He wishes he could retract it.
And things escalate from there. A full-blown fight.
Rick and his wife are too heated in the moment to address the bigger underlying issues of trust and safety.
Afterwards, Rick is upstairs sitting on his bed, wondering, How the fuck did that happen again?
Do you ever wonder – “How’d we get here again?”
For Rick, the cycle felt like rinse and repeat, over and over.
Through the years, he’d tried therapy and working on better communication strategies. But still, he struggled to halt the cycle.
In a few months, Rick and I got to the bottom of things.
“You take on your wife’s emotions as a way of trying to be a good guy,” I said in our first conversation. He nodded.
If she was upset or troubled, he’d feel it like a punch in the gut. Taking the punch was his badge of honor, as if saying, See, I’m a good guy. I empathize.
Do you try to be a ‘good guy’ for your partner?
For Rick, it was his unconscious way of believing a good man fixes his wife’s problems. But the problem was that when he failed, he got resentful.
When we talked further, he spoke another relevant truth.
“At the same time, it’s almost as if I want to be unreliable with her. It’s almost as if I want to get in trouble and let her down. But yet that makes no sense.”
It made lots of sense. A part of Rick was rebelling against the ‘good guy.’
And in our work together, I held him accountable to act differently, to defuse his inner war between the ‘good guy’ and the rebel.
Taking on his wife’s emotions created the crucible for these two characters to do battle.
I coached him to stop taking on her emotions. And from there, we were able to shift him into a new and more productive strategy.
Do you take on your wife’s emotions?
It’s a shadowy version of “serve and protect,” as in protect her from upset. As a result, guys mistake rescuing their partner for authentic empathy.
Once Rick got clear on that distinction, he learned how to do things differently.
To not take on his wife’s emotions. To not let her upset get him upset.
In time, he learned that when his wife came at him with a problem, he could do something different.
Stay open to being caring and aware of what was important to her, without saddling himself with the weight of her emotions.
Like anything, it took Rick some practice to get it right but once he did, he found things didn’t escalate and he could be a better partner to his wife, without needing to fix or rescue her.
And as a result, he became more trustworthy and solid to his wife, feeling confident and bold to defuse the dynamic of answering to her. And that resulted in more freedom and playfulness in his marriage.
“Holy f*#k! I can do that!” Rick said when he shared his most recent win, not taking on her emotions, and remaining in his confident self.
Do you take on your wife’s emotions to be a ‘good guy’?
Discover if that is true for you in the video below.
Rick was successful with his wife because he was willing to:
- Be responsible for himself instead of expecting someone to save him.
- Not trade his self-confidence for his wife’s approval.
- Do the hard work to take action instead of hiding out in shame
What about you? Are you willing to do these things to create change in your marriage?
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