When Chaim proposed to me, it was a no-brainer to accept. He was the nicest, kindest, most easygoing guy I had ever dated — and believe me, I dated a lot! He was so different from everyone else. He always had a smile on his face, ready to laugh. He never seemed to get put off or insulted. He took everything in stride. I was so charmed by his qualities and felt that I could learn a lot from him, because I can get ruffled, angry, resentful, and hold a grudge. So I figured that marrying a wonderful guy like Chaim would serve me well in every which way. He would be a role model for me.
We’re now married for over a year. All those qualities I mentioned about Chaim are still true. I have never heard him yell, he almost never gets upset, and he gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. These are all great qualities and I’m still thrilled about that. But here’s the problem.
I’m realizing that there is something simple about Chaim. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but I realize now that what he is lacking is depth. True, I probably go too deep and I’m too intense, but there is a level of deep thought that he lacks. Perhaps that is why nothing really gets to him — because he doesn’t take things seriously. It’s almost like everything is a joke. Mind you, I realize that I take too many things too seriously and have been trying to lighten up and let go of things that ultimately don’t matter, which has been a great improvement in my life. But Chaim never goes deep at all! He never takes an idea to the next level. When something is going on in my life that I would like to get his input on because I need help in understanding what is happening and how to deal with it, Chaim seems unable to go there. For me, it goes from frustrating to crazy-making.
Just recently, I had an issue regarding my mother. I felt that she was favoring my sister and treating me badly. I didn’t know how to respond or what to say to both of them. I was hoping that Chaim could help me get a handle on the situation and that by talking it through with him, I could move forward and resolve it properly. Basically, Chaim responded the way he responds to everything. He just laughed, didn’t take it seriously, and basically told me it was no big deal and couldn’t understand why it mattered to me. Frankly, it mattered to me very much and Chaim just couldn’t see why.
This is popping up more and more lately as I turn to Chaim for support and guidance. Yes, he is always supportive in that he tells me he loves me and that everything will be OK, but he doesn’t get why I would be upset and why I can’t just let things go with no resolution. Even when we disagree occasionally and I would like to have a meaningful conversation with him about how I’m feeling, he is so quick to give in and move forward that I’m left feeling frustrated and like there is no closure.
At this point, I’m wondering if something is wrong with him emotionally. It’s like he can’t allow himself to feel anything contrary to what he’s feeling, so he just gives in and forgets about it. I have to wonder how this will play out as our lives become more complicated, with children and bigger issues to deal with. I feel like I’m on my own and don’t have an emotional partner, just someone who will always smile and agree with me but offer no insight into anything.
As I find myself getting angry at Chaim for these reasons, and seeing that he absolutely doesn’t understand what my problem is with him, I am pulling away. I feel guilty for getting angry at him for the very middos that drew me to him in the first place. How crazy is that?
Is there any hope for Chaim? For me?
I think we can all agree that moderation is one of the secret ingredients to a life well-lived. Too much of anything, no matter how great it appears at the outset, can become a serious issue when it is without boundaries or nuances. Basically, life is not black or white; it should be shades of gray. This applies to personality traits, emotional reactions, and, generally speaking, how one engages in one’s daily life.
It sounds like you’ve struggled with intense emotions during your lifetime. What better soulmate could you possibly find than someone like Chaim, who is the complete opposite of you? Yin to your yang. A calming voice. A reassuring smile. The message that all will be good. What a find! Particularly after probably dating many young men who took themselves very seriously, perhaps had some ego issues, and did nothing to lighten up the mood.
On the surface, Chaim offered everything you felt you needed. Life is hard, it gets complicated, and we often get pulled into too much drama and chaos. The ability to just laugh everything off must have felt like a gift from G-d. However, the problem with that approach to life is that is reeks of repression, denial, and an inability to deal. Although so many “problems” we meet up with are actually not important enough to invest in, there are certainly times in our lives when critical thinking and discussion is called for. Not everything just goes away by laughing it off. Sometimes we have to process that nudge or even pain that hits us in the face and requires us to go deep, figure things out, and work it through — very often for the better. Such moments are often learning opportunities that allow us to know ourselves more fully as well as know “the other” in a more significant and nuanced way. All this is part of the journey of life that requires occasional conflict, push-and-pull, and self-discovery.
Not having spoken to Chaim, it would be impossible for me to say what is going on with him and whether in fact he is a simple man, one who has never gone deep in his life and isn’t missing it, a man who keeps his relationships and issues, as I sometimes say, “stupid and happy.” When I say it, I usually mean it in a good way. These individuals sleep better, have fewer wrinkles, and seem to glide through life on a soft cloud of ease. But like the clouds themselves, you can’t really grab onto them in a solid way.
The other possibility is that Chaim experienced certain challenges early in life and handled them by shutting down and no longer being able to get in touch with his deep feelings — of anger or maybe even rage — which were probably too scary to touch.
Either way, you are presently left with a husband who has many fabulous qualities that initially drew you to him and will still serve you well. Let’s not forget about the beauty of being with a spouse who will always support you, adore you, and try to distract you with a smile and maybe a silly joke. But don’t expect to be able to get water out of a rock. Unless Chaim wakes up one day and decides for himself that he is missing out on something important and chooses to get help, he is not the person with whom you will be going on any deep emotional dives. That’s not why you married him in the first place and that should not be entirely shocking or disappointing to you. Chaim is who he is: a wonderful man who stood out from all the other men you dated for very good reasons.
Few of us are able to successfully navigate this challenging world we live in alone. We often need to talk things through with someone who can hear us, validate our feelings, and also offer alternative ways of looking at situations. That can be found in good friends, family members, mentors, spiritual leaders, therapists, etc. You shouldn’t feel alone — and you’re not alone — despite Chaim’s inability to fill this specific need.
Work on developing other relationships in your life. That’s a good piece of advice for anyone. Putting all of our needs in one basket is never a good idea. We all need our own personal cheering squad of numerous people who offer us different ropes to grab onto at different times. Certainly, Chaim is a big part of that and has much to offer you. But it’s important to fill in the blanks so that you don’t have to feel alone, particularly when it comes to figuring out some of life’s most stressful puzzles.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther is presently offering phone, Zoom, and FaceTime sessions. She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.