I just commented on your latest blog entry and as I clicked the submit button I felt a great loss.
I can talk about my fears with my husband, but only to a certain extent. He is totally into all our simplifying and gardening and tinkering with sustainability, but out of principle (not to take what you don’t need, not to waste, to be responsible for future generations, etc.). He does not “believe” in Peak Oil, and Climate Change will be very slow, and the economic recession will soon lift.
He is an optimist: whatever problems will arise, technology and science will save us.
I wish I could be like him, rather carefree yet still doing everything to live more lightly on the earth. Sometimes I think his motivations for living so carefully are purer than mine, because my motivation is largely fear. I’m a pessimist, a Doomer, I guess, of the Do More kind, and of the kind who always smiles, you know? Forge on and tally-ho and all that!
The one time I wailed to my husband, at that terrible beginning of the ”awakening”, he understood (not the awakening, but my distress) and he immediately followed on our new path. But on most days I am combative and resourceful and there’s no time or inclination for wailing. And I find that on those days I can’t talk to him about what underlies my actions, my preparations, and it’s like he has forgotten, or can no longer believe it. Stocking up on water? Peak Oil? I don’t believe in that nonsense.
Do I *have* to cry out in order to be heard?
My other dialogue is a monologue, really, to the largely anonymous and somewhat mysterious (i.e., unresponsive) audience on my blog. But there it is the same: I talk about the actions, and only once in a while about the motivations, and only very rarely about the despair.
So my last resort was a family friend whom I trusted and looked up to. A good listener and concerned friend. I’ll never forget my first talk with him about this, when I was suddenly inspired (or rather, so hard pressed) to just lay it on the table, the raw fear in just a few words and not too many tears, and how he got it, how concerned he was, that I should live with this, and how did I, really, live with this, and please take care, take heart…
Several weeks ago he was at our house with his family and we had just installed our rain barrels. Besides the obvious opportunities for the garden I also touted our plan to do some sort of rain water purification. Why? he asked. In case the water supply fails, I said.
He rolled his eyes.
Not only do we live with the crippling fear of nothing less than the destruction of our children; we live also with the daily belittling of it by our loved ones. As long as there’s no wailing, no physical, unmistakable, forceful expression of our utterly wrecked hope… how serious could it be? How easily can it be ignored, denied?
On my resourceful days I often find myself amazed at the contradiction between my behavior and calmness on the one hand and the knowledge (or belief) I carry inside. There are many reasons for it – I can do more here with my daughter than in a psychiatric ward or drugged on prozac - but isn’t it something? What, I don’t know. I like to think of it as a feat of strength, though sometimes I suspect it is a belittling itself, even a drugging, like that strange “becalming” you speak of…
Well, this turned out longer than I had planned, but one thing is clear to me at the end of it: that you should know how important *you* are as the only active and respectful and concerned listener available to some or even most of us.
Hi Tally ho,
Thank you for your kind words. I really appreciate you for acknowledging the hard work I do, and it helps me feel connected to you.
You need that same acknowledgement, but not just from me.
Being emotionally ‘strong’ is great in most situations, but not defensively so in our most intimate relationships.
Your letter expresses the feelings of many of my readers. I hear your words echoed in the consultations I do, as clients express pain about the way they are treated by close friends or intimates.
Some of my readers will consider you a lucky woman to have a spouse who at least cooperates with your preps. But none of us want to be married to a willing “hired hand.” We want and need our intimate relationships to be much, much more. We need to be known to those we love. We need to feel heard by them. We need to feel understood, trusting, and safe to be ourselves when we are with them.
It is painful when, in our most important relationships, we feel discounted, mocked, or trivialized. It is a daily wound that does not heal, and it leaves us insecure and uncertain. We withdraw, become depressed or feel chronically angry and embittered. We stop being responsive in sex with our intimates, and stop having fun with our ridiculing friends. We live like strangers in our own homes, or with our buddies, needing to hide our deepest fears, and keep our opinions to ourselves, instead of turning to our loved ones for relief, comfort, and reassurance (or even lively debates!)
We are creatures of attachment, and we attach profoundly to only a couple of important people in our lives. The way (or style) of attachment we form have deep roots in the attachments we learned early on, but these aren’t childish needs. Strong attachments make us able adults. Psychologists have learned that with strong attachments, adults do better in the outside world. When our home base is secure, we feel more powerful, and are more resilient and effective in our interactions with others and in our working lives.
All over the world people experience and display at least seven basic emotions (anger, sadness, disgust, contempt, fear, interest, and happiness). They are deeply ‘hard wired’ into us, and extend back to our primate ancestors. You’ll notice love isn’t among these emotions, because it is too powerful and complex a set of feelings. Intimates do a “dance” in the way they interact and use emotions to securely attach to another. They want to answer for themselves the following types of questions:
- Do you love me?
- Are you a safe person to love?
- Is your love conditional?
- Can I depend on you when I need you?
- Will you place me above others in your life? Do I matter?
- Will you be there for me if I show you this weak and fragile person that I hide from other people?
Maintaining a long-term relationship depends on your partners’ feeling and expressing respect, admiration, and gratitude to you (and the reverse is also true). Commitment and intimacy flourish in a climate of trust, appreciation, friendship and forgiveness. These are not just “nice ideas.” They are backed by solid longitudinal research which have studied both successful and divorcing couples over several decades.
In this safe environment, couples build a vision of their partner’s inner world, hopes and dreams. They don’t only know WHAT they hope for by WHY they want it- the underlying meaning. I can’t stress enough how important this is. Gottman calls them “love maps.” They are a roadmap you create in your mind of your partner’s inner psychological world.
It is the most basic level of friendship… It’s about feeling like your partner is interested in knowing you, and your partner feeling that you are interested in knowing her or him. What are your partner’s worries and stresses at the moment? Do you know? What are some of your partner’s hopes and aspirations? What are some of his or her dreams, values, and goals? What is your partner’s mission statement in life? The fundamental process in making a love map is asking questions and remembering the answers—keeping them in working memory. These should be open-ended questions that you want to know the answer to, not closed questions like “Did the plumber come?” People rarely ask questions. But when they do, it’s an invitation, as opposed to a statement, which is like “take that.” Again, there are three parts to love maps: (1) ask questions you’re interested in, (2) remember the answers, and (3) keep asking new questions.
Trust evolves as a relationship matures. Attributions are made about the partner, who is seen as reliable, dependable, and concerned with providing expected rewards to the partner; and trust implies “a willingness to put oneself at risk, be it through intimate disclosure, reliance on another’s promises, sacrificing present rewards for future gains, and so on.
Peak Oil Relationships
An awakening to the realities of the 3 E’s during an ongoing marriage have a profound impact on intimate relationships and close friendships, because they tear away that shared future vision, and replace it with something dramatically altered and often frighteningly grim or anxiously uncertain. For the spouse, I ask the Peak Oil aware person to imagine their plans to move with their family to a lovely house in delightful surroundings. Then I ask them to imagine that without discussion, your partner has sunk your money and your future into a falling-down shack in a dangerous ghetto. The experience is disorienting and confusing. How could I know so little about them? How could they change our plans so dramatically?
When gridlock happens in a relationship, the presenting ‘issue’ is seldom the whole story (even if it is TEOTWAWKI). Lurking beneath the “presenting issue” is something deeply meaningful, something core to that person’s belief system, needs, history, or personality. It could be a strongly held value or a dream not yet lived. No one compromises on such a strongly held issue. Compromise is impossible and feels like a ‘sell-out.’ Only when partners feel safe with one another can they talk about these issues, and express interest in knowing about them.
Grieving Lost Dreams
Sometimes we, in the Peak Oil community are so insistent on arguing for what we know to be true, that we, as you describe, aren’t grieving for all our own lost dreams that we believe are impossible. We have to be able to open up and talk about both our fears and the lost dreams we felt forced to set aside in face of a “new normal.” We have to communicate that we really care to know about the underlying meaning of the other partner’s position. This isn’t the time for persuasive arguments or problem solving. The goal is for each partner to understand the other’s dreams behind their position on the issue.
Your emotions drove you to dare to reach out to your husband and share some of your fears. You dared to ask him for comfort, acceptance, and love, to move into that future with you. In response, he was reassuring and cooperative, but you suspect that he hardly understands why you changed your fundamental beliefs so drastically. I suspect you are right. And there is part of you that wants him to understand you totally, but might be fearful about exploring it yourself. Living constantly with fear is exhausting and wears us down. You already live with your fear of the future. However, you also live with the fear of showing your most vulnerable self, the part of you that is motivated by fear, reactivity, and probably, at times, a puzzle even to yourself .
Do I Have to Cry Out?
Now you ask “Do I *have* to cry out in order to be heard?” I hear that “crying out” is hardly something you want to have to do. It sounds like you frame your fear, your sadness, your despair as vulnerabilities that are better hidden away from him. Maybe it seems easier to show him the “strong, certain” side. But is it?
You imagine that your partner is somehow better than you, for his cheerful optimism and willingness to do things “just because.” Your fear keeps you weak in comparison. Do you imagine that he sees it as his responsibility to help you become a better person? Is he ‘humoring you’ by doing these preps, so you don’t show to him the same vulnerability you did during your awakening?
The “Flawed Spouse’ Syndrome
For many of the couples I work with, one partner acts as if they believe that the problem in the relationship is because they ended up with a flawed spouse. It goes both ways, with those of us in the Peak Oil community feeling like we ended up with someone foolish enough to believe TPTB, and our ‘resolute mate’ who believe that their intimate partner ‘went off the deep end.’ In either case, the view is that we’re with someone who isn’t as perfect as we are. We try to point out the idiocy of their beliefs, opinions, or actions, but they just don’t listen. We’re showing them how they can be better, but they insist on being the way they are. Therefore, it is our job to point out their mistakes, and we expect them to be grateful for all of our efforts to improve them. When they aren’t, or they actually get hostile towards us for being critical, we are righteously annoyed. It’s our right to be, we claim. After all, if our partner would just ‘come to their senses,’ they’d see that we are right. Even worse, they’d see how miserable they are making us for being so ____ (stubborn, ignorant, arrogant, gullible, etc).
These are legitimate fears, Tally ho, because you feel them deeply. But you are afraid of having these attachments and needing him the way that you do. You are frightened that if you really open up, he will mock you, dismiss you, trivialize your concerns as “crazy”or “groundless.”
Emotions as key Organizers
Emotions are a key organizer of our inner experience and in love relationships. Emotion, we’ve come to learn, aren’t erratic intrusions into our otherwise calm relationships. Emotions shape our attachments. They have the power to move our partners and evoke new responses, just as your expression of distress did during your “awakening.” And, as my readers will no doubt notice, your husband responded to that distress. While he may not have agreed with why you were upset, for him, the pain you voiced was enough to change his behavior. You two have a strong foundation.
And over the years of living together, couples develop a “dance,” that repeats around emotional communication. In the face of emotional expression, partner’s begin to respond in predictable ways. The response is a form of communication, and a cycle develops where emotions, and the dance itself become the organizing force.
Try this during your next conversation:
(1) Notice negative emotion before it escalates.
(2) See the emotional expression as an opportunity for intimacy.
(3) Validate or empathize with the emotions your husband expresses.
(4) Help your husband give verbal labels to all emotions that he is feeling.
It is interesting to note that Gottman’s research showed that dads who follow the above strategies, called ‘emotional coaching’ were better dads and better husbands. Their children felt closer to them, and moms appreciated them more. During conflict with their wives, emotion-coaching dads were respectful, not contemptuous. They knew their wives well and communicated a lot of affection and admiration to them in the oral history interview. Apparently, good marriages and good parenting are made of the same stuff. And both are vital in hard times…
Good luck and thanks for writing.