“My wife has an important and reasonably high-profile job which she enjoys, but it is causing her a lot of stress. Apart from lying awake at night fretting about things, her confidence has taken a knock and often basic situations become difficult. She worries about what to wear and is frequently late for work because she stares at her wardrobe for ages trying to decide. Her ability to shop has suffered and she often ends up buying something that is not right and so suffers even further. Packing for a business trip sometimes has her in tears. She can be short tempered it’s difficult to discuss things rationally. I am worried about her, as I cannot see how this state can be sustained.”
This first appeared in the Observer.
You are fascinatingly absent from your own letter. The only thing we know about you is that you are worried, not about yourself, apparently, but about someone else. How are we to find you in there? Where are you? You are observing this rather powerful, rather glamorous, but obviously unhappy woman. You feel helpless. Perhaps we have found you – a little boy, possibly brought up by mother alone or, at any rate, mother very dominant in the home, and feeling lost and unable to help this big, grand woman. Feeling castrated.
You are so unable to have needs and desires of your own, it seems, that if you are feeling worried you must express is at as anxiety on behalf of someone else. I agree with you – I cannot see how this state can be sustained. You are projecting all your anxiety into her.
You describe your wife’s issues in a way that makes it obvious that you are there as witness, observer. It sounds as though her misery is paramount in your mind, that you stand watching helplessly as she gets dressed and shops and packs. Again, the idea of a little boy watching is extremely strong. She is dressing and shopping and packing – she is preparing to leave you and yet she is distressed, you are only unhappy for her. It feels as though there is nothing you can do. You can’t find a way to speak to her because she, you say, is so upset that she won’t respond properly.
You are trying to speak rationally to her rather than trying to comfort her. I wonder why. I suspect it is because you know you can’t comfort her, you are a small child (in your mind) with little understanding of what is going on with her. You just want her to speak rationally to you so that you feel safe. It sounds to me as though you are an Oedipal child without a father to step in and set things straight – the Oedipal situation is real. You feel you really are supposed to be lover and protector of this powerful and adored woman but you do not have the equipment on any level, being only a child. The woman is deeply unhappy about this. You are, therefore, utterly helpless and desperate.
The letter is fascinating as regards your state of mind and your absolute denial of it, inability to see it. And yet you have written. So there must be a chink of understanding that what seems to be going on is not what is really going on. Your wife sounds as if she is indeed facing a crisis and needs your support and perhaps also some professional support. However, what you are writing about is, I think, your own feelings of castrated helplessness which stem, I would guess, from a childhood in which the situation you describe with your wife was very familiar. In reality you are now a grown man who can help. But you need to find that out somehow.
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