by Grant Porteous, LMSW
She looked hurt and sad. She was anxious. She was trying to figure out what to do. He looked frustrated, stuck, and trapped. He said he felt controlled. She said she was lonely and hurt. And, like so often happens, by the time this couple comes for help they’re already right on the edge.
For several years now, to find time for himself, any chance he got he’d go riding bikes with a friend or two on the weekends to escape the pressures of his job. Since getting married there’d been a couple of kids, a mortgage, and a pressure-cooker of a job. Rarely, he felt, was there time for him. He needed that time.
For her, the romance of their early days was exchanged for the ongoing duty of motherhood and a fairly demanding, though enjoyable, part-time job. She was tired a lot, but it was mostly a good tired. She admitted neither of them had much time or ‘space’ for themselves or each other. And it was time with him that she had wanted desperately. Time for herself, she said, she could sacrifice – if only there was some time for them.
Over a couple of years she watched weekends come and go with no real time with her spouse, and eventually she discovered that she could count on him to spend time with her if she planned their weekends out in advance… dinner with a large group of friends, or boating with her family. Whatever it was, she found he’d be there for those sorts of things, so while what she really wanted was time with “my husband and best friend,” what she wound up settling for was sharing him with groups of people. It wasn’t great, but for her it was something.
For his part he just wound up exhausted and sick of the whole thing. He didn’t like large groups of people like she did, but he would fake it so no one was offended. He certainly didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings in her family, which he liked doing things with on occasion, but eventually he felt totally controlled and burned out from never having any time for himself or with his wife – and ironically, he resented her for it.
How sad. Neither of these successful, competent, and all-too-familiar people was saying what they really wanted. Neither just spoke up. “I want some us time.” Or, “I need to get out in the woods on my bike Saturday, but can you find a baby sitter for later that night?” That doesn’t sound that tough, does it? But it is tough for a lot of us. It’s hard to risk disappointing someone or, worse, risk being rejected.
It seems that the answer is simple, but at least from what I see – personally and professionally – I know that it can be really, really hard to just say what you want. Go ahead. Try it, and see.