“I have been living with my partner for 22 years. He is a lovely man but a negative person, and I don’t understand it. Everything is about mortality and ageing, traffic, too many friends coming over, will we make our flight etc. I love him and he is one of the loveliest men I know, but he can’t seem to live in the moment. I am younger than he is by a few years, but I don’t understand the negativity and the propensity to think that life really is a crock. We have a great life, great friends and family – what’s not to love? I am a positive person, I enjoy life, but sometimes I feel like I’m in a bubble and he doesn’t get me or what I am. Trust me, I try to be the understanding spouse, but sometimes it gets me so down I want to run away.
We both know so many positive, lovely people, and it is a real treat to have them in our lives, but I don’t understand why he feels this way.”
This letter appeared first in The Observer
There is something perfectly formed about this letter. It is a classic example of the ‘I’m fine, but someone else is rubbish’ letter. You end by saying; ‘I don’t understand why he feels this way,’ as though the whole letter really is about him, though these are not his feelings, they are your conscious feelings about his feelings. You haven’t asked for help in understanding yourself and nor do you think you need any understanding whatever – the need is all in him.
This is precisely the function of his negativity – to reflect well on you. If all the fears and anxieties about (by the sounds of it) the whole universe are in him then you can maintain your happy-go-lucky front, never have a care in the world and simultaneously accuse him of being miserable. You have projected your fears into him and he has received your projections, but the result of this is that you are left feeling a bit empty (‘like I’m in a bubble’).
There is a tiny chink of hope for self-awareness here in a) the fact that you have written for help even though you aren’t able to admit that you personally need help and b) the admission that he may not be able to understand you (ie. that you feel lonely) and that you get ‘so down I want to run away’.
The subtext of this letter is that you are unhappily married to someone who you fear doesn’t understand you and that you sometimes want to leave him. So forbidden are these thoughts that you have spun a very odd-sounding story to hide them. You feel, I think, that your life with your husband is so perfect that you are mean and ungrateful for being unhappy.
Instead of allowing yourself to say ‘we are just very different people’, you say instead that there is a big problem in him that needs to be fixed. So, not only have you projected any anxiety about the world into him, but you have also projected The Problem into him such that you can address it in him, solve it in him and never have to face yourself and your own issues.
You hope that if he could be helped to ‘live in the moment’ you would be able to live fully with him outside your ‘bubble’. You state that he is older than you as an attempt to explain his negativity. It doesn’t, but what it may explain is his role in your mind as a father figure. (I do wonder whether you were mainly raised by your father, which might explain why the idea of leaving, of being ungrateful to your husband feels so taboo, but this is a wild guess).
Husband is worrying dad, making sure you are on time for the plane, making sure there isn’t too much washing up to do, fearing for the safety of both of you. This frees you up to be absolutely unencumbered child, skipping about with friends and wondering what he’s so morose about. The trouble is that, having assigned these roles, you find you lack an adult partner and are lonely. I strongly suspect he’s lonely too.
You say you are tempted to ‘run away’, again a very child-like desire – running away from home. (The 22 years is interesting – in a way, if he is a father figure, about time you left home). What this would mean in reality though is splitting up, negotiating a divorce settlement, telling friends and facing the idea of having separate friends and the pain of forging separate lives. However, in your mind you would just run away and leave all the agonising to him.
It may be that you are so different in your world outlooks that you are not right for each other. It may be that you could discuss your loneliness honestly, look at your roles in the relationship honestly and talk about them without blaming and accusing him.
Either way, looking at what you are really up to, why you find it so difficult to face your own fears and anxieties and must hand them over to a father figure, is the only way forward, either alone or with your current partner.
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