Thursday, November 08, 2007

Drawing a Blank

Like I told you yesterday I had a post all written in my head but I'm not really in that place today and I need to be in "that place" to be able to adequately portray to you what it feels like to live with an addict. So... perhaps tomorrow, or tonight we'll see how it goes.

Lately I've been having an issue with Jake and since I know how much you guys LOVE to give advice I thought I'd throw it out here. I'm not good at compliments. At least according to him I'm not.

I try to say something like, "It is so nice to come back because I forgot something and not have to worry about what you are doing." Which I read as you are doing a great job and I'm really proud of you. Which he reads as wow you were such a screw up before it's a good thing you're finally getting your shit together.

See the problem? It seems as if when I give the compliments I'm TRYING to compare and contrast so as to say wow things are much better but all he sees is himself feeling bad because of how bad things were before. Make sense?

So is the solution simply to never mention the past ever again. It's over, move on with my life, never to be seen again? Or is there some other way to phrase it in which I can still compare things now (good) to things then (bad) without making him feel bad?


todd said...

maybe he needs to see this just like you are putting it!! Things were bad before, and he was a screw-up, but I'/m willing to bet he didn't realize it one bit! That means that things are now better and he does have his S**t together therefore what you are saying is the straight forward truth and it's hard to take. You never were one for hiding feelings, you have always been straight with your feelings and answers. It's just that Jake may be realizing and understanding and hearing this for the first time. yes you may wnat to try and soften this a bit BUT he put you through A LOT of crap and I know you don't want to hurt his feelings but don't not bring up the past. Ignoring it will never make it go away. Just acknowledge that it is the past and move forward from it

Lindsay said...

Okay here is my 2cents worth whether you like it or not. Stop trying to always protect Jake and his feelings and stop worrying that what you say about the past will hurt his feelings. He is a big boy that needs to learn that life's a bitch and then you die. If you hide his shitty past he will never learn from it.

Laura said...

Heather, I think you just have a straightforward communication style that is great most of the time. But in the context of a compliment, to be honest I think Jake is right, it comes off sounding like a backhanded compliment because you're mentioning how bad things used to be. Yes, he needs to know how bad things were, but if the purpose of your statement is simply to compliment him, then this is not the time to phrase things that way.

But I think this is an easy fix. The problem is that it is phrased with negative wording, such as "I used to worry about what you were doing." Worry is a negative thing and he'll just hear the negative in that statement. But you said it yourself - what you meant is that he is doing a great job and you're really proud of him. So just tell him that instead. "You're doing a great job and I'm really proud of you." There really isn't any reason to compare and contrast that with the past in the context of compliments.

electriclady said...

I agree with Laura. Instead of emphasizing the negative (you don't do stupid things anymore), frame it in a positive way (you're doing a great job, you're such a good dad, I'm proud of how responsible you are, etc.). There's actually been research done about this--negative statements really affect us differently from positive statements. So even if you mean exactly the same thing, the other person will interpret a negative much differently from a positive. Yes he's a big boy, but when you love someone and are in a relationship with them, you do need to consider their feelings.

I don't think it's a matter of ignoring vs. bringing up the past. You can still remember the past (because you HAVE to remember it, so you don't get hurt in the same way again) without constantly bringing it up in a chastising way (not that you are intending to chastise him, just that he reads it that way). If you both keep up with your meetings I don't think there's much risk that either of you will sweep the past under the rug--I don't know much about AA/NA but isn't sharing and remembering your story (so as not to repeat it) an important part of the program?

Anonymous said...

I think you are getting a payoff by bringing up the past before you pay the compliment. Is the payoff: making you feel better, hoping he realizes how bad things really were - I don't know that is something only you would know.

I also think that you thrive on the drama and the "bad", so naturally comments are not going to come easy to you. On the flip side does Jake compliment you in the ways you need?

Why don't you try something? On the bottom of every post you write, weither the post is happy or ranting, try to leave each post with a positive thought. It could be related to what you wrote in your post or completely unrelated. I think this will accomplish several things two of which are: learning to see the positive in things you may have never noticed had you not been looking and learning how to pay a compliment.

The best advice I have ever heard is this: your wife should feel like a better woman, a more special and beautiful woman every time you leave the room. Well I think this can go both ways. What if everytime Jake left for the day, he left feeling like he was a better man, because of something you said or did? Hey - I didn't say the advice was easy, it's not. But I think it will pay it forward back to you.

J said...

I've learned that honest, earnest "I" statements might work best in this situation. Ex., "I feel so confident about what a great job you are doing with your recovery, that my mind is waay more at ease now, where in the past I would have been stressed and worried. Thank you for all the hard work you're doing right now."

"I feel like the efforts you made in responding to my requests about household chores has given me a partner. You're doing what you said you would, and I love that you are working at this."

"I think you're doing a great job with xyz, and I want to thank you. Even though it might sound like a small thing, when I said how much I needed you to be there for me and give me a hand with xyz, you did. Thank you for that."

"You know, I know it sounds dumb and all, but by loading the dishwasher you've really given me a hand where we need it, and that makes me feel like we're a team. A married, parenting team. I love that feeling. Thanks for doing it. It means a lot to me."

Point out the forward movement and how it makes you feel trusting, safe, secure, thankful, grateful, proud, cared about, taken seriously, etc. Speak slowly, then let him respond. If he puts himself down, you may have to prop him up some more and get him to see that you're genuine. Take your time with the compliments, and look him in the eye the whole time. That's important.

There's a tendancy for us to use the one-up/one-down stance when speaking (check out Deborah(sp?) Tannen, an author who writes about relationships and stuff). I may speak in such a way that the listener feels inferior, and I'm placing myself above them (in status) just by my tone, words, and message, like a teeter totter. Like in your example, Jake might hear that you're better than he is and FINALLY he's shaping up to be a halfway decent slug, but dang he's got a long way to go. Now, that isn't what you MEANT, but that's what he heard and felt from your message.

So you have to tweak it a bit the other way and use different tones of voice/words to really get him to HEAR what you mean, as well as get him to UNDERSTAND what you mean, on all levels (tone, word choice, attitude).

Also, don't give up - because it may take lots of "atta boy"'s before he really HEARS that you are truly, honestly proud. Right now he may feel like you're just propping him up so he doesn't fail again; like you're praising him for insurance reasons - as in, so he won't wreck your life again - instead of because you genuinely mean it.

It may not make sense to him that you are crazy proud! His brain is so used to beating himself up, that it takes lots of pinpointed arrows of praise to pierce his hard shell of self-hate and self-doubt. HE's learning to like himself, and so maybe it's gonna take lots and lots AND LOTS of reinforcement for him to see why YOU like him, too. He doubts that you still love him, like him, and want him. You're probably gonna have to really focus on that in order to get through to him on this topic of thanks and praise.

OMG, this is a book! Sorry for the long post! :) Keep up the good work!!

stella said...

Seriously, what j said.

Anonymous said...

What "J" said is great and I am not sure if "J" knows you or not but the two thoughts I had come to mind is: If it is hard for you to give compliments then it may be difficult to say all the detail in the examples they displayed and I think if you shorten them they will sound exactly like what you are trying to avoid. Maybe you could try writing these? Get yourself a pad of sticky notes and leave them around periodically. Leave one in the dishwasher telling him "thank you" for loading it, using one of the lengthy examples "J" mentioned. Put on in his vehicle telling him what you appreciate about him that day. Not only will it say what you want it to say but it will start his day off very well.
The other concern I have is....if you are the one shelling out all the compliments you may get frustrated and harbor resentment so make sure (if that it he case-that is) you nip that in the butt right away by expressing to him that you need to know you are appreciated too.

Just some thoughts!

Kbreints said...

i sometimes make similar compliments to drew-- and i can see him cringe when they are said instead of light up (how a compliment is suppose to make you light up)

I realized that the past is always going to be there, and talking about it in the right context is ok- but a compliment should be straight forward-- saying somthing as simple as, "Honney, you are doing great"-- and leaving it at that is enough. No need to drag up how bad he was doing-- HE KNOWS THAT THINGS WERE BAD... that part is implyed in the top compliment.

What you said is backhanded and does not make him feel good. it is a slap in the face. even if that is not how you meant it.

Anonymous said...

How about the two of you going out somewhere together, where the two of you can talk and just say, Hey we've come a long way and I'm am so proud of you. Get it all on the table and then let it go. Get on with your life as the rest of us do. I know you will have your ups and downs. But no need to compare the past with the present.

Anonymous said...

Here's my piece of advice. Try puting yourself in Jake's shoes. He's obviously gone through rehab, he's been through the embarassment, he knows he Ducked up. He probably feels as though he's doing everything he can to get better and probably feels that he's ran the marathon to do what he can to save his marriage, his child, and his life.

That being said, it probably feels, when you elaborate like that and bring it up, it probably feels like your twisting the knife that's in his heart from all the pain he feels from it (not saying you put the knife there, but the addiction and hurt he's caused did, just to end a further argument later!) He's probably reaching that point where things are getting to a normal comfortable place, and to hear it brought up over and over again may hurt more than help...

My suggestion for you is to still give your compliments, but don't elaborate. Instead of, I'm proud of you for earning your trust back because it's nice knowing I don't have to worry where you are...' Stick with the plain and simple 'I'm proud of you' and a kiss on the cheek.

Don't get me wrong, I'm NOT saying to let him off the hook or comletely forget about it, but put yourself in his shoes and see how it would make you feel.


Anonymous said...

This was a pivotal moment for me hearing Dr Phil tell a husband who had cheated on his wife....
It's not over until she her heart....and in her mind...and in her soul that YOU GET IT. If she needs to bring it up every day of every week of every month than that is the price you pay for the decision you made and the decision you are making now which is to stay in the marriage.

I see this in you and Jake too....I don't think it's healthy for you to remind Jake all the time of what he has done but let us not forget who has suffered most (not to make it sound like it is a contest-that is not what I mean)and who really has the most rehabilitation to do here.

OldMotherHubbardSharesAll said...

NO advice.....okay quit looking at me like that because I know I always have advice, but this time I do not.

I read the others suggestions some are good - others.....well you have to pick. Jake is probably more than aware of how things are changing and very embarrassed by how they were so he is super sensative to references to the past. But to the same extent I think you are falling back into the same routine "watching what you say" when you even kick this around in your mind. Say it - if he takes it wrong, state "that is not how I meant it" and move on.
(Okay so I ended up with advice after all - now there is no shock there!)