Recently I received another excellent Reader’s Question:
“What is the best way to handle feelings of anger – followed by feelings of guilt about being angry? My wife is constantly postponing or cancelling our plans in order to cater to her parents’ demands. I have been tolerant most of the time, but this has now been going on for years, and I see no end in sight. They are not even all that elderly, but my wife has been their go-to helper forever, and she is unable to say no to them. I am now feeling angry and resentful of my wife and my in-laws. I really love my wife, and I feel really guilty for my resentment. I wish there was some way I could help her say no to them and put our relationship first. But as upset as I am, I hesitate to say much of anything for fear of causing a huge fight between us and having her then resent me!”
~ Grumpy and Guilty
…and here’s My Response:
Dear Grumpy and Guilty,
Let me first tell you that your feelings of resentment and anger are very normal. No one wants to feel dismissed, neglected or ignored. We all want to feel that our needs and feelings matter (…and we breathe!). Guilt is also quite understandable, because we don’t like to feel anger and resentment towards a loved one. However, guilt is a feeling that’s appropriate when you are doing (or feeling) something “wrong” (wishing to hurt someone or feeling hateful, condescending, arrogant, vengeful, etc.), and your feelings are not wrong – they are just your honest reaction to the situation.
So in this case, guilt can be relieved by processing what is actually going on and then handling the situation and feelings that arise differently.
Let’s use one of my favorite, easy-to-remember process for “reframing“ things – which I will customize to this Q&A so you can see it in action…
In an Emotional Situation? Take These CUES:
- Curiosity: Ask your wife how she feels when her parents call, making immediate demands, and sounding like everything is urgent. Your mission at this point is to simply listen with understanding, compassion, and curiosity – no judgments or assumptions. If you have the opportunity, take her hand and sit close to her. Allow yourself to feel your love for her.
- Understanding: Start with understanding the dilemma your wife is experiencing. If she has always been the go-to person for her parents, then this habit feels normal to her, even with the upheaval and discomfort it causes. Also understand that changing that behavior, for herself and/or her parents, is the challenge she faces if the situation is ever going to change. It can be done – but only if it’s something your wife really wants to do.
- Explore: Ask your wife if she’s willing to talk about options with regard to dealing with her parents going forward. And there are always options, even when you feel absolutely certain at first that there aren’t any! If she’s not willing right now, honor that – and let her know you are ready and willing to support her when she feels up to talking about it. Also let her know about one way to discover some good options quickly: my complimentary Caregiver’s Step-By-Step Guide to Take Back Your Life. If you don’t have a copy yet, be sure to download it today so you can use it together when she’s ready.
- Share: Even if you’ve done so before, it’s time for you to share your feelings (not your thoughts) with regard to this situation. This means being able to say, “I feel hurt, sad, rejected, abandoned, ignored, ______ [choose the words that most accurately describe your feelings] when you drop whatever we are doing to run to your parents. When you do that I feel like I don’t matter, and that’s very hurtful…then I feel angry, and I know as a result I lash out at you sometimes.” Then take a slow, deep breath and just allow your feelings to be present. NOTE: This is the tough part, because most people are used to either covering up our messy, vulnerable feelings or acting them out in anger.
The Ultimate Goal: Identify Your Mutually Agreed-Upon Desired Outcome
Now it’s time to explore together what your desired outcome is in this situation. Ask the question: “Is there something we can do together to handle your parents’ constant demands on your time and energy, that will help us both going forward?”
If your wife is not open to new ideas right now, express your concern for her, and compassion for the added stress this brings into your lives…and we breathe…. Remember that this is not about forcing a change, but about opening up a new way of discussing situations you both experience that are stressful – for you as the spouse of a caregiver, and for your wife the caregiver as well.
When we are able to change the focus of the conversation, one of vulnerability and compassion rather than anger and guilt, you create a deeper and more connected relationship and this can help to lead to changes.
As always, reach out and ask for the support, guidance and encouragement you need and deserve….
Hit “Reply” to this email to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation, and let me help you begin the process of releasing anger and guilt. That one call could well lead to you developing a new ability to make the changes you are looking to create.
Start to move forward in a positive way that makes caregiving feel both more compassionate and more reasonable – for everyone involved!
Yes, you can take back your life! And we breathe….