Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where forwards, sweepers and strikers alike sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle. Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening. Today we’re talking about getting mad for no reason.
Do you ever feel like you shouldn’t be having certain feelings? I’ve been thinking that a lot lately, and I need some advice.
I live with my significant other, and I love her like crazy. She’s smart and funny and beautiful and we have such a fun, happy relationship. But, sometimes, I find myself getting mad at her when she’s not even in the room!
Sometimes it’s about the regular, stupid stuff of living with someone: Couldn’t she take out the trash? Look at these clothes on the floor! Why am I the one who always gets the dry-cleaning? I don’t like that I get angry about those things, but I understand why I do.
Other times, I can’t even explain why I’m so mad. Recently, I bought some new flat-pack furniture for my home office. It won’t be difficult, but it needs to be assembled, and I haven’t gotten around to it, so the box is still sitting around. As I was leaving for work this morning, it occurred to me how nice it would be if my partner put it together before I got home (she gets off work before I do). But, because I know (or, I guess, deeply suspect) that it’ll never occur to her to do that for me, I found myself getting mad at her! That’s crazy, right? Am I going nuts?
Anyway, I don’t like feeling this way, but I don’t know how to deal with it, either; how do you tell someone that you’re pissed at them for something that occurred entirely in your own head? It’s like getting mad at someone for something they did in a dream, and I feel silly even thinking about that conversation.
First off, Acrimonious, I think you’ve got to work on the way you approach your feelings. Every part of your letter shows that you look down on your emotions, and consider them something to be handled on your own. That’s not true: feelings are a reaction, not a spontaneous eruption, and they usually tell us that whatever we’re feeling about is important to us. Don’t write that off so quickly! Take some time to hang out with those emotions before you wrestle them out the nearest exit. What are you upset (or happy!) about? When did you start feeling that way? Have you felt it before? Why do you think you’re feeling it, either to this extent or at this time? Accept what’s happening and use it as an opportunity to figure out your own motivations and drives, and you might have a better picture both of yourself and of what’s happening in your life.
Because what you’re doing when you suppress those feelings is subverting your own desires for someone (or something) else. That gets to the second part of my advice, Acrimonious: be honest with yourself about what you want. What you described here wasn’t some out-of-the-blue outburst, it was a reaction to some very real issues in your relationship, and part of you asking for what you need. Your partner, whom you love very much and who is, I’m sure, wonderful and a satisfying, fulfilling part of your life, can be kind of an inconsiderate jerk sometimes! She leaves her clothes on the floor! She forgets to take out the garbage! She never picks up the dry-cleaning! And she would never spontaneously do a tedious manual task for you, just because. The fact that you’re angry about it shows that you need more from her on this front. And there’s something important about that I need you to really understand:
It’s okay that you need more.
There may be a million reasons why your loved one doesn’t do the things on that list. Maybe she really hates stinky garbage and loves that you do that chore for the household. Maybe she feels like she pulls her weight in other ways, like doing laundry, or yard work. Maybe that’s just not her way of showing love.* Or maybe she’s annoyed at you, too! That box of flat-pack has been sitting out, waiting for you to put it together, after all…
But none of that negates the fact that you need her to help you out. And the thing that’s most missing from your letter, A.D., is the part where you actually tell your partner how you feel. You mention feeling silly even bringing these things up, but that’s a trap that can only lead to more of these feelings in the long run. The way I envision this conversation, you need to tell her that you’ve had some irritable or angry feelings lately, and that you want to fix them. You need to tell her what’s been bothering you, and you should apologize for not just asking for what you wanted. And then you need to ask for what you want.
And you need to listen to her, too. She likely has no idea that you’ve been stewing on this, so she might feel a little blind-sided. That’s okay, too: going forward, you’ll be having more conversations about what you need and how you feel, so hopefully she’ll never get a feels trip of this magnitude again. Or maybe she will! Feelings are unpredictable! But if you’re serious about this relationship, and if you love each other as much as your letter shows, that’s an important part of being with and living with and loving another person. You can’t get away with pretending everything’s fine, forever. At least, not for long.
*Side note: I highly recommend doing some research into “love languages;” it’s a simplistic way of looking at how people relate to one another, but using it as a framework has really helped me understand that people show devotion to one another in very different fashions. It sounds like you give (and want to receive) love in the form of acts of service, but your partner may not speak that language; she might be a total gift-giver instead, or someone who loves though physical touch. Look it up and think about how it applies to your situation, and it might help you sympathize with your significant other more than you ever had.
Snark and tipples,
Got a question for Muffle? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.