Emotional Distance and Overcoming the Reflexive “No”

This evening, my husband texted me about wanting to go to the memorial services of one of his closest friend’s dad. The services are being held in a small mountain town about 4 hours north of Albuquerque. The drive is beautiful and the emotional support for his friend, as well as his own closure, will be a positive experience for everyone. His initial inclination was not to go due to preexisting commitments; however, he changed his mind and asked me to help out by driving him to the services (which means participating in the event myself).

My immediate response was “no”. Before everyone thinks I am a horrible person and a worse husband, let me make my case. I work about 60 hours a week and those hours are not restricted to the Monday to Friday traditional work week. Between now and the end of the year, I have two Saturdays with nothing scheduled – the first of which is the day of the memorial services. I don’t think I take much time for myself which has always been a problem in my life. Taking care of other people and an over commitment to work leads to not much time just for me. Include in the mix that I do not do well in emotionally charged events and my “no” becomes a little bit more acceptable.

I am not a “touchy, feely” guy. Emotions have always been difficult for me – from childhood when I plastered a smile on my face and never admitted to being sad to the Army when anger was my default setting. I am very good at empathizing with people’s situations, but I prefer fixing things over simply being a shoulder to cry on. This is a shortcoming I have not been able to overcome.

Another shortcoming of mine has been my immediate “no” response to anything I did not personally plan for or feel I was not given enough warning about. It’s my knee jerk reaction – especially in my personal life. Disruption to my routine – even though I don’t have a hard and fast routine established – results in a lashing out response typically not justified by the proposed change. Thinking back, I have always been this way outside of work; at work, I can be overly committed because of my reluctance to say “no”. Odd. Maybe these things are connected – let’s all ponder on that for a little while.

Several minutes of thinking after my initial (and firm) “no” resulted in a change of heart. He would be exhausted from working all night, he needs some emotional support, his reliance on family and commitment to family events is important, he asked for help, and so on all played into my recanting of the “no”. I ended up agreeing to take him, help him through what I am sure will be an emotional roller coaster, and get him home safely. I love my husband but don’t always understand or comprehend what it means to provide support in such a deep relationship. I never picked up on those subtle queues in life. Remaining emotionally distant is a default setting – even with those I love and have committed to.

Overcoming the knee jerk “no” response is simple: take a moment and think about the situation then make a new decision. Is the person important to you? Have you committed to help them or offered help in the past? Is it important to them that you be with them at an event (good or bad)? And so on. If the questions you ask and the answers you create fall more on one side of the equation (yes or no) than the other then stick to your original decision or overturn it altogether. The choice is yours.

You should not be beholden to other people and if (after further thought) you end up sticking to your guns, so be it. It’s your life and your decisions to make. Never be consumed by the needs of others and never hurt yourself on behalf of another.

How do you overcome a knee jerk reaction or emotional distance?

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