Friday, June 26, 2009

The standoff

I have noticed one of the peculiar things about being in recovery is that my control meter has moved into the "below detectable limits" zone. And sometimes this results in a standoff between me and the alcoholic around planning things.

It's not unlike the impasse featured in those old western movies, when two people have their guns trained on each other knowing that neither person can make a move without endangering their life. Our standoff isn't so drastic but sometimes it does feel like a challenge.

Here are some examples:

Say if we have talked about going out to dinner. I will ask, "Where would you like to go?" She will say, "Oh wherever you like." And that puts the control of things right in my lap where I don't really want it to be.

Or maybe we are discussing what to do for the weekend. I want to go out on the boat so I will ask if my wife wants to go along. Sometimes I'll get a definitive answer while other times I might get an answer such as, "Let's wait and see how I feel about it on Friday."

And when these non-answers occur I let them drop like an alien object that I'm curious about but don't want to touch. I may inspect it with my eyes and long to put my hands on it to turn it over and look for an opening, but I make myself leave it alone. It's like both of us are eying this thing that is there in front of us, and each is waiting for the other to pick it up.

So therein lies the standoff. I really want an answer and to firm up some plans, but I'm not going to go into controlling mode to choose the place that we go to eat or force an answer about weekend plans.

Frankly, I'm tired of being in charge. I get tired of suggesting things to do. So after a while, I quit suggesting. And yes, we still go out to dinner and on the boat. Because after a while, one of us will decide to make a move. My solution is to not force that move until the very last minute. And then I will say something like, "I would like to go to dinner at _____. Would you like to join me?" Or, "I'm going out on the boat this weekend and would like to have you come along." If I get a negative then I still go.

I think that this may be some kind of passive/aggressive stuff about control. I'm not sure, but I am much happier with the idea of not forcing my agenda on another. And apparently that makes her a lot happier as well.


  1. I find those kinds of non-answers really really annoying. I find it to be more about not wanting to take responsibility for anything.

  2. what you describe here is a page out of my life. i HATE these stand-offs, and am not nearly as cool about it as you. i don't want to control, but dammit, sometimes i want answers. and i can't drop it like you've learnt. not yet, anyway...

  3. Syd,
    It does sound like a control issue. Strange.

    Sending love,


  4. This is my life also, and I don't live with an alcoholic! I guess a lot of spouses give these vague non answers.

    I have assumed the role of making plans, as passive one (husband) never "gets around to it." I hadn't thought about this dynamic too much, but I'm sure many relationships have it. Good post!

  5. Great post. You've made some great points on a really important topic. I LOVE the image too! :)

  6. You want to know the answers not left in limbo, I know what u mean Syd. I am at work its Friday at last on what has seemed a hot long humid week.
    Just had my fish butty and feel like going to sleep

  7. Ah, the twists and turns of a marriage. I see both sides: Wanting to firm up plans with my partner, but also feeling the need to self-protect, to not be controlled. Without being able to explain why I need that freedom sometimes. All a muddle. I think it is smart to just let it go.

    My mother is the master of a variation of this. She will say, "Don't you want to go to the store?" Or I will spend a hard day traveling to her house and an hour later she will say, "Now don't you want to (drive us four hours through twisty roads) go see the folks in TN tomorrow?" When she wants to go and me to take her. But she won't say that. I used to get worked up about it, want her to SAY what SHE wanted. But as Therapydoc says, she isn't going to change, it will just get worse in fact. And I am working on no longer going "there" with her emotionally.

  8. After decades of the dance you describe, I have made similar accommodations. I look at it as:
    1) If I have a desire, I state what that is rather than a choice
    2) If I have no preferences, I simply ask the question if she has a preference. If she either says no or delays a decision, I understand them both as "no" and make a random choice (mental coin flip, whatever).

    If there's a follow-on struggle (e.g. "...well, what I REALLY wanted..."), I don't participate.

    This is on a good day. Sometimes, there are other days...


  9. this is EXACTLY what Wes and i do, he is the one asking me where do i want to go, and i hate it because most of the time, i really don't know!! i just try to be as direct as possible when we reach a stalemate.
    we get there when it comes to dinner a lot, most of the time i just have it planned out and prepared before he gets home. some days i get so bogged down busy, that i lose track of time and don't have anything out or ready, when he gets home on those days, is when we find ourselves there a lot. i am looking for suggestion and help, he looking for something done after a long day at work. solution- i love him and he loves me and we try to not let it be an argument, mostly me i feel like i fail him when i don't have it done for him, he isn't bothered by it. great post

  10. It's crazy dance that we do. I am slowly learning how to sit them out.

  11. Yah, my husband and son leave me to most of the decision-making and it drives me kind of nuts, especially when they complain or even hint at complaining about not liking my choice. I've been learning about how to not let myself get so caught up in that -- and making them occasionally take some of the load as well. Because, honestly, sometimes I don't want to decide and truly don't have an opinion about what we do.

  12. I was the one who would say I didn't care where we were going, and then would complain about the place that was chosen.

    It took a very thorough inventory and a few hard knocks to see that this was a manipulation effort to control. YUCK! But this is what recovery is all and discard! You have such a deep insight into this matters...

  13. Oh yes this dance we know well. I ask and he would wait...and wait and then when I brought it up again he would respond that we always go where I want to go...Often I go by myself.
    I try to take are of myself and follow through on plans Growing up my father the alcholic would spoil all the plans then my mother the sex addict blamed my father for everything..He was a target
    The Dance Continues
    Detachment for me is important turning it over the HP or HBO depends on the night

  14. My husband and I do the same dance, both of us playing both parts, but the truth is that one of us will finally make a decision and if the other doesn't like it,w well, they don't but they had the power to decide at one point...hmm so interesting, thank you for this most intimate post...

  15. You know I do the wherever you want to go thing to my husband all the time and he recently admitted that it makes him nuts - so now we both come up with one idea and whichever one is the winner is where we go - like they say two heads are better than one - we are learning.,...

  16. I've had to work very hard on the "control issue" over the years. Now I love making a plan but not controlling how it turns out. I've learned that it's a lot of fun to just let it flow...I never know what will happen and it's often really good.
    I love the picture.

  17. I do that nowadays, when there is no forthcoming events or I am feeling "left out" of nothing in particular!! I suggest something I like and invite people along. That way I get to do what I like anyway and if people tag along, its usually becaus ethey want to not because they feel obliged. I prefer people to say no than to come along because they feel they have to. Great post thanks

  18. I never thought of it as a control, but see how it could be. I've especially experienced this with friends, or at lunch time at work. Perhaps it is indecisiveness, maybe a fear of committing to a choice...I need to give this some thought.

  19. As they say, "If it's working, don't fix it." Thank goodness you have found a way that is working with you and your wife.

    I can get into "over-analyzing" and that is so exhausting. I am always happy when I find something that just plain seems to work.

    Prayer Girl

  20. Yeah, I guess we do that. Someone above said it was not wanting responsibility. Maybe so, but I believe it is the fear of my idea being rejected that makes me want to be irresponsible.

  21. I don't know, Syd. I think you are not accepting your wife's personality and getting easily irritated by her.

    My mother and my husband say things like your wife does. My best friend also.

    If she says, Wherever you like, she may really not have an opinion one way or the other. That's what my husband and mother tell me, anyway. So why not just tell her where you would like to go when she responds like that?

    If she's not sure if she want to go out on the boat Friday, that's fine too and not necessarily a power play. It's a non-issue because you know that you will go with or without her (which is a good thing).

    I do that with my husband sometimes....give him a maybe and tell him I'll let him know but I don't see it as a control issue. Just a "I'm not sure right now" issue.


  22. Sorry for the late post. I had the thought that your plan is probably right, to ask as you are ready to do something. It keeps it in the moment for both of you. And changes the dynamic if you have taken on the mantle of 'program coordinator'. Good luck with all that.


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