She Said, He Said: Be honest with spouse and friends, don’t try to make everyone happy
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
I’ve been invited to go on a guy’s bike trip this spring, but it’s the same time as my anniversary when my wife had planned a weekend getaway. I was trying to figure out a way to overlap the two events by having my wife meet me right after the bike trip, but I also would have to leave the bike trip a day early, which means they would have to change the route a bit to get me back in time. I know it looks like I’m tweaking things so that I can do it all, but I’m really just trying to make everyone happy. My wife says I’m trying to manipulate the situation and everyone involved so I can get what I want. What’s your take?
Am I Being Selfish?
Lori and Jeff: Yes, you are trying to manipulate the situation to avoid disappointing yourself and everyone else. It’s the signature move of someone who tries to get everything they want while avoiding any blowback. It may be helpful to look at where else in your life you massage boundaries, sweep things under the rug or minimize other people’s feelings to make things “work” in your favor.
Lori: Who would really be happy in your best-case scenario? In no way are you creating a win-win, so stop deluding yourself. What’s most concerning about your question is how self-directed your whole process is of trying to find a resolution. Spouses should work as a team but, for some reason, you’ve chosen to go at this conundrum alone. There’s no mention of problem solving with her, which makes me curious about whether a lack of real communication is creating challenges in other aspects of your relationship as well.
Healthy, strong marriages are living, breathing entities that need to be nourished through consistent small efforts. If you were to take stock of your contributions, how would you feel about your efforts as a husband? Have you really shown up? If the answer is yes, then it’s not unwarranted to share with your wife how much this bike trip would mean to you and to give her the opportunity to nurture the marriage by collaborating on a compromise. However, asking your wife to negotiate with you would be selfish if: she has given significantly or consistently more, has put an immense effort into creating a unique experience for your anniversary, or the guy’s trip is somewhat commonplace and easy to replicate. Under any of these circumstances, the adult move is to take responsibility for your decision to have married your thoughtful, generous wife and spend a lovely anniversary weekend with her.
Jeff: Trying to “make everyone happy” is not an act of generosity — it’s a neurotic pattern of trying to get your needs met while escaping any responsibility for the outcomes. The reality is that you can’t have it all, and you’re going to have to choose between the guys and your wife. You must make these kinds of choices based on your values and by setting boundaries with everyone involved, including yourself. If you disappoint your wife because this bike trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, your job will be to help her understand how important it is to you and then to make up for the disappointment in other ways. If you disappoint the guys on the trip and yourself (because in truth, you’re the only one who is really missing out) then you will be doing it because you deeply value your wife and your marriage, and you can feel good about your choice and let go of any resentment that may occur as a result.
Your passive-aggressive approach, focused solely on your own agenda, will only end up leaving all parties feeling manipulated and resentful. Unless you lack a moral compass, this neurotic pattern also will have a negative impact on you, where it may feel like you’re always looking over your shoulder and trying to avoid getting into trouble. All choices involve some kind of disappointment, compromise and loss. To handle these dilemmas responsibly, you need to make clear decisions and learn to self soothe when you feel like you’re missing out.
Lori and Jeff: Your wife and your friends clearly care about you. Whatever choice you ultimately make will be OK if you start by being honest with yourself about what is important. Next, you will have to include your wife in the process and make a decision that has clear boundaries, while being fully transparent with your intentions.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.