My ninth-grade math class was geometry, and I loved proving theorems. With each homework assignment, our teacher gave us a few really hard ones for extra credit, and I would stay up late, squinting by the little light from my desk lamp so I wouldn’t wake my sisters, attacking the theorems from every angle until I figured them out. The crowning glory was being asked to put a proof up on the board the next day, particularly pleasing if I was the only one who did it correctly. The accolades were intoxicating. In real life, my analytical skills have not won me quite so much praise, at least not in my relationships.
Last night my fiancé, Jeff, asked me to stop analyzing him. I know it’s annoying, but it’s such a challenge, such a great puzzle! It’s hard to be smart, and curious. I have the faculties to recognize and solve the unanswered questions up ahead—and I’m just supposed to let them go by, unopened and unlocked? I know I should, but it’s hard! Anyway, I realized that there is no deep, dark family secret in Jeff’s past, no hidden trauma denied in the recesses of his memory; in fact, he’s already given me the answer to his current depressed state. I’m not a psychologist, and I don’t understand all of the dynamics, but I think I might understand the core problem. (And I might be completely wrong, but it makes me feel better to have something I think I understand in front of me.)
Jeff’s father was a yeller. When he was angry, he would yell and scream at Jeff. Since the terrified little Jeff couldn’t answer his father back or defend himself, he swallowed his own anger and rationalized that he must have deserved to be yelled at. Because he messed up. Because he was bad. A little child couldn’t understand that the father may have had a bad day or might have his own issues to deal with. So now when I lash out at Jeff (did I mention that I was a yeller?), his inner child gets angry. Little Jeff doesn’t want to believe that I’m mean (after all, I do love him), but he can’t accept that he is bad, either. He’s caught in a pickle. When my trigger-happy tongue lashings reach the point of no return, I can see his eight-year-old manifest, withdrawn, whimpering like a puppy. My eight-year-old wants to throttle him for being such a wuss.
This would all be fine, really, except that in his understanding, I’m the one upsetting him. The anger turned inward to depression, the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach, the bile that he dry heaves many mornings—he believes all of that would stop if I didn’t yell at him. I try and explain to him that wonderful and amazing as I am, I don’t really have the power to make someone depressed. Even years of unhealthy relationships did not enlighten me on how to make a man throw up. And if I did have the power to make him depressed, wouldn’t I just as easily be able to make him un-depressed? Shouldn’t his depression end if I haven’t yelled in five or six days? Wouldn’t the unknown in front of him—marriage, a family, this union for the rest of his life—still terrify him?
It took me a long time (and a lot of therapy sessions) to realize that when I got angry at Jeff, I wasn’t really mad at him; the feelings being triggered were old ones. If Jeff bought a store-made pie to my Easter dinner when he knew I had slaved over a triple-decker homemade cake, it wasn’t because he didn’t trust me to make a good dessert, or worse, hadn’t noticed that I made one. He simply wanted to make sure we had enough third course to go around. (Or, more likely, saw a cherry pie that looked good, and sweet! It’s on sale!) Even now when I’m caught in the throws of a tantrum and unable to extricate myself, the logical, adult part of me does poke through and recognize that it’s not Jeff’s fault. It’s that part that needs to step up these next three months.
At any rate, I’m happy now, more positive with my new blog underway, a purpose, a goal. I was well-behaved last night—we’ll see how tonight goes.