Concerned and Confused While Coping
Dear Annie: My husband, "John," and I are dancers, and we give dance lessons. But we are very different in terms of our personal needs for emotional healing, and this has become a problem because we are trying to deal with the aftermath of a tragic accident involving several of our friends.
Not everyone survived; not everyone has recovered; and those who survived are traumatized. All of us are grieving. But John is dealing with this in one of two ways. Either he needs a high-energy crowd interaction, where he is the center of the dance floor or the charming entertainment at any class we teach, or he needs complete silence where he wants to be left alone, as in, "Don't touch me; don't look at me; I'm going to put my headphones in."
I never want to be the center of attention, although I can certainly handle it or I wouldn't teach, and I enjoy being present with people -- large groups and small groups. This has meant that we are often at odds with each other, where he feels like I'm invading his personal time and space, but I feel like he expends all of his social energy on other people and makes no effort to leave any for me.
You can see why his extroverted personality and my tendency to be an introvert are creating a conflict when we should be pulling through this tragedy together.
Both of us lost a friend in the accident, and both of us are trying to support our remaining friends through an unbearable experience. For two weeks now, since the day of the accident, John has spent all his time and effort consoling everyone else, and I have been alone. I work late, so usually he's not home when I return. When he does arrive, he puts his headphones in and vegetates and refuses to even talk to me about either of our days.
I have tried to talk to him, explaining that I appreciate that he's been there to support people who are very dear to us but that I need him, too, and would like us to try to lean on each other rather than each handling it alone. He just reminded me that he's very tired and doesn't feel like it's right for us to have fun together right now, which is not at all what I was insinuating.
Is there a compromise? I feel utterly abandoned and unsupported, and although this is the greatest tragedy our friends have faced, this is not the first time I've watched him rush to the aide of everyone else but leave me to fend for myself. I don't want to pick fights, especially not right now, and I also understand that he does need time alone to recharge, and I don't want to make him feel like he's never allowed to be alone. Is there a way for both of us to get what we need emotionally? -- Grieving in Isolation
Dear Grieving in Isolation: I am truly sorry for your loss and pray that you and all involved find some peace. John seems to be great at comforting or giving his attention to people with whom he is not intimately connected. Sometimes, when we have a fear of intimacy and vulnerability, we push away the people who are closest to us. It is a common defense mechanism against real closeness and connection. With that understanding, I would seek the help of a professional marriage counselor to help the two of you reconnect with each other.
"How Can I Forgive My Cheating Partner?" is out now! Annie Lane's second anthology -- featuring favorite columns on marriage, infidelity, communication and reconciliation -- is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to email@example.com.