Advice Column: Response to Jane D.

Dear Hailey,

My husband’s ex-wife is planning a Christmas gathering with more households and people than recommended during COVID-19. The day after, my husband still plans on his daughter coming to our house for a few days. I feel this is putting my safety at unnecessary risk. I plan on staying somewhere else for 2 weeks to quarantine from both of them. I am angry at the selfishness and disrespect beyond explanation.

I have kept that to myself and am doing what I need to do for my wellbeing. An argument wouldn’t be worth it. What I don’t know is how to get past the anger. It is serving me no good purpose at all. I know his kids come first, and all the generic advice you can find on-line. I appreciate your time.

Jane D.

Dear Jane,

I am sure that this gathering already happened, but with COVID-19 numbers still where they are, I would imagine this is still a valid concern, and that the anger might still be present. 

Anger is an interesting emotion, because it never exists in isolation. It’s always the secondary emotion to one or more uncomfortable and vulnerable emotions. 

For example, if someone cuts you off in traffic, you likely feel angry. But underneath that anger is often fear, because you almost got into an accident. If you are already having a bad day, you might even feel a blow to your self-confidence because someone discounted your importance, or ignored you. It’s so much more comfortable to be angry, lay on the horn, flip them the bird, and get some use out of a favorite four letter word. And in a situation like a reckless driver, it doesn’t do much harm. However, our personal relationships and awareness of our own emotions are a completely different story. 

Think, what is underneath your anger? Fear? Loneliness? Helplessness? A feeling of unimportance, or of being forgotten? Really think about it. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s gonna suck to really get vulnerable even just with yourself, but it’s really important to this process that you really get down to it. Journaling, talking out loud, drawing out what happened are all ways to help to get there. Mindfulness exercises can also help sort through the noise and help you get into touch with those harder to reach emotions. 

I agree that an argument isn’t the way to go, and won’t accomplish anything. However, an upfront and calm conversation about your feelings is absolutely essential. Once you’ve figured out what emotion or emotions that you are feeling, have a conversation with your husband. The general rule to these conversations is to make it about how you feel. Use “I” statements, such as “I felt lonely and scared”, versus, “Your choices made me feel lonely and scared”. This keeps the focus on what matters: your experience and your emotions. It also keeps your statements far away from the neighborhood of accusatory or confrontational. 

It’s also really important to remember why you are bringing this up. You are bringing it up because this was a really difficult experience for you, and you felt some really raw emotions and didn’t like the way you felt. This awareness of the purpose of the conversation will keep you on track, and motivate you to follow through and actually have the conversation.

Remember to emphasize to your husband how much you love him and his kids. Expressing that love will keep your purpose clear and keep you on track in this conversation.

One last tip: Pick a time of day that your husband is at his best (consider whether he is a night owl or an early bird), and when he is in a good or average mood. You know your husband, and you know better than anyone how to approach this in a way that will be well-received. Trust your intuition. You’ve got this. 

Hailey

PS: Don’t feel bad if the anger doesn’t dissipate right away. It might take some time. And if you have strong emotions you can’t handle on your own, make an appointment with a therapist to help you process and cope. 

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