My daughter is going off to college this fall and I’m having a hard time dealing with it. She’s been the main focus of my life for 18 years, even though I have a busy career. The worst part is that my husband cannot understand why I’m so sad. He says that now we can have more time for each other, to travel and do other things besides being parents. He’s almost relieved that she’s leaving! I’m furious with him for being so non-emotional about losing our only child. I don’t want my marriage ruined over this, but I’m having a hard time with the resentment that’s building toward him.
You’re angry because you want your husband to empathize with your feelings. You seek his compassion and understanding about the grief you’re experiencing. But you’ve taken it a step further – you want him to feel exactly the way you feel, and that’s not possible.
As with all things relational, you must give what you seek. If you want acceptance for your feelings, you must give it. But first let me give you a framework to help you let go of the resentment over the fact that he doesn’t feel the way you feel.
You have every right to feel what you’re feeling. But so does your husband. The same event can feel very differently between two people, even a husband and wife, and even about your child. We all have different interpretations about what’s happening, and those interpretations drive our feelings.
Your interpretation of your daughter going off to college is probably along the lines of one or more of the following themes:
• My baby is leaving!
• Who will take care of her? Will she be okay?
• What will I do with my life now? I’ve lost my sense of purpose!
Your husband’s interpretations of the same event are probably more along the lines of these themes:
• I’m so proud of my daughter – she worked hard and got into the school she wanted!
• My daughter is on her way to a great life
• I’m really looking forward to some quality time with my wife – now we can travel and do things that we couldn’t before as full time parents
It’s the same event, but with different interpretations and different feelings. You are both right to see it the way you do and to feel the way you feel. Step one if you want your marriage back on track is to accept that it’s perfectly normal for him to feel the way he does and for you to feel the way you do. Affirm this thought over and over until you feel the resentment subside. (If you don’t get relief within a couple of weeks, it’s time to seek professional help. Sometimes an intense grief reaction can turn into clinical depression, which is often characterized by anger as well as sadness).
Once you feel the resentment subsiding, go to your husband and ask if he’s willing to just listen. Share about what you’ve been going through, minus any hostility toward him. Share from ownership and accountability – “I’ve been feeling this way. I realize you have different feelings, and I’ve been resenting you for that.” Express understanding that you feel differently and it’s okay for him to have his experience.
Reaching out to your husband with an intention to heal the breach will restore normalcy to your life, something that you badly need right now. The last thing you need is a marital problem in the wake of grief. Though it may seem strange at first, follow your husband’s desire to spend more time together, to create new interests and activities as a couple. Your marriage will improve and your daughter will be relieved that you are happy.
It’s vital that you not let your reaction spill over into your relationship with your daughter. The risk is that you might taint her joy with guilt about the fact that you’re feeling so bad. Remember that this is an exciting time in her life, and she deserves to thoroughly enjoy it.
Nina Atwood is a licensed therapist, executive coach, and author of three published self-help books. She writes a blog for singles on the hit web site www.singlescoach.com. Her newest book is Temptations of the Single Girl. Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.