In the discipline of project management, we talk a lot about lessons learned. One of my favorite sayings when dealing with students is “OK, what did we learn?” The task of learning and applying new skills can feel like learning to smile underwater, which is somewhat unnatural. When learning anything new there is a certain amount of unlearning that may need to occur. Depending upon the experience of the student, the unlearning (if required) is often the most difficult part of the learning cycle.
Life is no different.
I stopped by the house last evening to drop off my oldest son after a trip to his doctor for an ADHD med check. H was sitting on the couch, messing around with his new shoe stretchers [because he somehow lost the other set] and was in a generally pouty and pissy mood. I was going with the flow because the whole week had been a series of plans that didn’t quite turn out as intended. I mentioned my self-defense class that I was supposed to attend for the whole of today and heard THE manipulative phrase: “What’s that going to cost? And what about this other thing? How much is that…” In true, learned behavior codependent style, I ultimately rationalized that I couldn’t attend the class because I didn’t have this and I didn’t have that and I didn’t have time to…WHATEVER. The details don’t matter. The behaviors matter.
The money trigger is a very common manipulation technique that H has used consistently over the years to control my behavior. On the face of it, because H is the financial department for our family, he sure does have the right to question expenses. However, the way he asks the question is not about gathering information but rather it is steeped in criticism. The implication is that whatever it is I am considering spending $$ on is being challenged and the message is “what stupid thing are you spending $$ on now?”
So my boys – especially my oldest – see this manipulation and learn that:
- Manipulation is a means to control someone else
- Their mother is weak and needs “permission” to spend $$, despite her having a perfectly good-paying job
- Mom therefore has a lower power position than dad
My oldest got frustrated in the middle of the conversation and left the room because H threw out the “Oh I’m *sorry* I didn’t mean to upset you” with full-on sarcastic tone and the environment became a bit tense. (Son #1 has been frustrated by the perception of my having no control over the $$ in the house before and has expressed this to me a few times. He’s right.)
H continued to mostly ignore me and pout, playing with his shoe thingy while I stood there. I finally told him I wasn’t going to sit there and watch him play around and turned to leave. Then it was a volley of passive-aggressive low-key exchanges that were absolutely confusing and disorienting [as designed]. The kids were confused and so was I. The only one who wasn’t was H.
All night I tossed and turned, trying to make sense of this weird chain of events. I woke up with a sour stomach. I determined that I had allowed myself be manipulated and started to beat myself up over it. That quickly passed as I realized a few things:
- I need to unlearn a few behaviors so that I can learn and apply new skills.
- I have all the power I need, if I don’t give it away.
- I don’t need friggin’ permission for anything.
- I should have attended the class anyway because I believe I need these skills for when I am on campus late at night.
- No matter how much time we spend apart, the dynamics of the passive-aggressive relationship can appear any time we interact.
- It is entirely possible that the dynamics will never change between us and that the relationship is, in fact, toxic.
- In this type of relationship, a simple question that can be cloaked in a desire to “understand” is really a manipulative move and I need to start seeing as such.
After I gave my power of choice away, in true codependent style once again, I stuck around and we chatted a bit. My Inner Child really hates leaving things in that high-school-romance-abruptly-leaving-the-room sort of place so my unconscious goal was likely to smooth things over.
There were some victories though: I told him I don’t want to be around his negativity. I told him that when I come over and he is pouting and trying to appear busy with something else that I feel ignored and that I won’t stick around for it in the future. I told him that I am more aware of his negativity because I am not around it all of the time anymore. [This admission seemed to surprise him and it seemed to hurt a little.] Of course he apologized, saying he was just tired, etc., but aren’t we all? We’re all busy. We’re all juggling. We’re all running. That’s life.
The final thing I told H was that his career has taken first place [again] at a time when it was agreed that my career was to be the primary concern with regard to priority and development. I explained that I am back to taking the kids everywhere they need to go and that no matter what he *says*, that’s the reality. I told him that in order for me to sincerely act upon my dreams to take my career in the direction I want it to go that I would have to wait until our youngest is more self-sufficient. He disagreed with all of this, of course, but the reality is the reality. I’m back to being the front line because his job as a Sr. VP requires him to be there and that the flexibility he imagined, simply does not exist.
I’m moving on to the analysis necessary to act upon the lessons learned. Everything I teach is, after all, applied. Time to apply and develop a plan to act upon the lessons learned.
Learning to smile while underwater takes a lot of practice.
- Toxic Relationships (psychologytoday.com)
- The Dance Between Codependents & Narcissists (psychcentral.com)
- Teach Your Child To Respect Women. (soulreviving.wordpress.com)
- Assertive Communication, Part 2 (recoveringgirl.com)
- Are You Being Influenced or Manipulated? (psychologytoday.com)
- Learn. Unlearn. Relearn. (janidarakdruck.wordpress.com)
- 6 Relationship Habits That Are Toxic (lifehack.org)