Or so Diana thought. But one day when Brandon was at work, Diana stumbled upon a condom, which they didn't use, in the bathroom. She was furious, and so she set out to see if that was the only place he'd left them. It wasn't. She found them in the bedroom, in the closet and in the dining room. As soon as Brandon got home, Diana sat him down. And she explained to him, using words she'd learned during her therapy sessions, that this was hurtful to her and that it triggered her old fears. Brandon understood and was incredibly apologetic, and the two of them disposed of the rest of the condoms. Crisis averted.
But then a couple of days later, Diana opened a drawer in the kitchen and saw another condom. This time she wasn't calm or patient. She didn't use therapy words. Instead, when Brandon arrived home, she went ballistic. She accused him of lying. She said she couldn't trust him. And she asked him, "Don't you care how much this hurts me?"
"Brandon turned white. He looked down at the table, then back at Diana, then found whithin himself the capacity to speak wtih compassion, "Yes, honey, I do care how much it hurts you -- but that's a tea bag."
Now, it might seem easy to laugh at Diana -- to judge her for being "so crazy" or not giving the benefit of the doubt to Brandon or for crying wolf so that next time he'll be a little less compassionate and sympathetic. But that's not what the book has to say about it. Love and Stosny are not interested in shaming or defending either Diana or Brandon, because that will get no one anywhere. Rather, they're interested in understanding exactly what happened -- in digging below the surface to grasp what was really at work in this situation.
It should be painfully obvious that the answer to the "what is really going on?" question lies in Diana's fear of infidelity. But it goes deeper than that: neuroscience tells us that once we make associations (i.e. condoms = infidelity, or marriage = vulnerability to infidelity), then not only are we more likely to associate condoms with infidelity or marriage with vulnerability to infidelity, but we are also less likely to see it any other way. In other words, "when you are wired to see condoms, you will see condoms! Even when you are looking at a tea bag, your prior experience will decrease the probability of seeing a tea bag and increase the probability of seeing a condom."
In essence, the aforementioned situation has nothing to do with Diana being crazy or not giving Brandon the benefit of the doubt or crying wolf and being insecure. It's how Diana was wired. And until she understood that, she couldn't see the need to rewire her associations (though she eventually did). Moreover, none of us would. All of us are limited by our associations. We simply have to dig deeper in order to understand them.
My therapist is great at walking me through this process. During my monthly session with her I have a habit of giving her a chronological rundown of events that seem poignant and then diving into complaining about what bothers me at that moment. This week it was a lack of consistency, care and communication from Mr. Wonderful. I juxtaposed this week with last week and tried to (1) come up with a reason for this, (2) figure out how to process it, and (3) determine how to resolve it. But, like any good therapist, when I said, "I'm just so irritated and hurt by the fact that he hasn't called and that he canceled our dinner plans," she dug deeper.
"I think it's fair to be disappointed that he hasn't called you and irritated that he canceled your plans. But I don't think your feelings are limited to that. I don't think this is about whether he has or hasn't called in a few days or his need to cancel your plans. And I don't think this is about your relationship. I think his silence is indicative of the fact that his mother died a week and a half ago and that he hasn't caught his breath or learned how to move forward yet. And I think your feelings about that silence and inconsistency are based on your history of abandonment and rooted in fear."
She was right. This inconsistent spurt isn't about our relationship; it's about him and what he's going through. And my frustration isn't about this inconsistent period; I recognize that this is an unusually difficult time and feel love, compassion, sympathy and sadness toward him, not irritation. That my feelings are hurt is indicative of my fear. When I don't hear from him, I am more likely than not to assume that something is wrong with our relationship and that I will eventually be abandoned, and I'm less likely to attribute it to how much is on his plate or anything else.
Just like Diana, my associations have to be rewired. And, according to Love and Stosny, that begins with understanding the signals of anxiety and fear. Or, as they said, "If Diana had understood and 'owned' her anxiety about the condom, she would have considered approaching Brandon in this way: 'I'm just so sensitive that things like this send my anxiety through the roof and I overreact.' Then Brandon could have soothed her anxiety rather than defending himself against the anger it triggered."
In other words, if you coopt the underlying feelings of anxiety and fear (or shame, in men) you can address the surface level issue (for me -- day-to-day consistency with Mr. Wonderful; for Diana -- the "condoms").
There's more, of course (including making an effort to view things from his perspective), but this is what's on my mind today. That giving the benefit of the doubt should be rewired to become associated with discomfort and pain, and that understanding the signals of and owning my anxiety about our relationship ending will calm me down and help me to better communicate about the surface-level issues that trigger it.
I'm so grateful for their wisdom and humbled by the knowledge that I'm not perfect in my assumptions (#126).
Just thought I'd share.