My husband and I have been through stressful life changes. He lost his job after 19 years and we had to move away for him to find work. I’m still having issues with being angry at him and he feels terrible about everything that’s happened How do we get past this? We both had therapy while this was going on, but not since we’ve moved.
Dr. Chalmer answers:
A418, thank you for your question. You’re dealing with a significant loss—19 years is a long time, and the fact that you said you had to move away (rather than just noting that you found opportunities elsewhere) says you wouldn’t have moved if it had been a viable option to stay where you were. So a lot of what you’re feeling is grief.
It’s common to feel anger as part of grief. That’s true even when you realize, rationally, that whoever or whatever you’re angry at isn’t at fault. Most of our mental process has no sense of time or logic, and when we experience loss, we just want to change the world so the loss didn’t happen. Anger is an internal message that says, loudly, “Make this threat go away, now!” When we’re feeling angry, part of us is still hoping to avoid the loss, even though it’s already happened. And that protects us from the deep sadness that comes with accepting the loss—the prospect of accepting the loss can seem like standing at the edge of an abyss.
Your situation is complicated by the fact that you weren’t the one who necessitated the move—it was your husband’s losing his job. You said he feels terrible about everything that’s happened, so it sounds like he blames himself, at least partly. But even if both of you knew that he was doing the best he could, and that the job loss was beyond his control, you’d still probably be feeling some anger at him, if only because you’re in a relatively powerless position when it comes to his employment, and your anger could be a way of protesting that.
So how do you get past this?
Let’s consider what it will feel like when the two of you have gotten past it, because that will point the way forward.
Getting past it means that you won’t be holding onto the anger anymore. In other words, you’ll have forgiven yourselves, each other, and the universe in general. That means you’ll have accepted that what happened was, all things considered, what had to happen—because that’s what happened! You won’t be insisting that reality be other than it is. Instead, you’ll be working with it, changing what you can and accepting what you can’t (yes, the Serenity Prayer for you 12-step folks out there). You’ll have accepted the losses involved, which means you’ll let yourself feel what you’re feeling. As you probably know from other life experience, grief can be deep, but it’s not bottomless. We’ve evolved to feel grief—it’s the flip side of love—and we’ve also evolved to recover from it. And you’ll accept that you’re both valid people, doing the best you can with what you know when you know it.
To get to that level of forgiveness is to embody faith. Here’s a shameless plug for my forthcoming book, in which I devote one of the four main sections to forgiveness and faith. [Editor’s note: The book is available to order–follow this link.]
How can you develop that faith? Faith isn’t a particular set of beliefs–instead, it’s a skill you develop. You start by choosing faith, rather than despair or anger, and practice that choice repeatedly. And like other skills, you can find teachers: people who show acceptance, humility, wonder, appreciation, gratitude–these are attitudes of faith. When you’re around people like that, and open your heart to them, you foster those attitudes in yourself.
Therapy can provide an experience of faith, if you find someone who’s not freaked out by the concept. You mention that you were both doing therapy before the move, but didn’t indicate if it was individual or couples therapy. My own inclination in a situation like this is to work with the couple, so that’s one recommendation.
Readers, please share your experiences. What’s been helpful to you?