What to do if your partner is unhappy

Here’s the scene:

My wusband (husband, past tense) and I are in my new Pontiac Aztek.

An aside – I loved that car (you either loved it or hated it). I had wanted one for a long time and then I got her! I kept her clean and smelling good. She had a beautiful mandala sticker on her back window…

He’s driving. And he starts raging – which was not unusual. He had road rage, self rage, and several other varieties of rage pretty well-nailed. Obscenities fly out of his mouth. The other driver is depersonalized and targeted. He’s handling Aztek with force and aggression.

So, I slowly move my right hand to the door, find the electric switch with my finger, and roll down my window half way.

He notices and looks. “What are you doing?”

“Letting your bad mojo out of my car,” I say.

We both start laughing.

(Mine wasn’t yellow… but I like the image.)

A year before that the same scene most likely would have ended in an argument between us. I would get mad that he was mad and being mean to some innocent person and driving aggressively. I would point that out. He would get mad at me for taking the other driver’s side and telling him how to drive and adding to his stress.

What changed?

DETACHMENT. Al-Anon‘s golden nugget. The single most life-changing, relationship-changing, freeing lesson that I took into my heart and my being that year.

I learned that I could have whatever kind of day I wanted to have whether he was miserable or not.

I saw how getting angry that he was angry only added to the anger… and made me just like him. Byron Katie says that you can not judge someone for something without becoming that yourself. Damn it if it isn’t true every time!

I practiced noticing my options (i.e. hang up the phone if he was yelling rather than continue to hold it to my ear), and having backup plans and escape routes when we were going to do something together (in case taking care of myself meant leaving the situation or calling a friend).

I started focusing on myself and my energy and taking responsibility for THAT.

This is from a PDF I found on the Seattle Al-Anon website… I embellished with the blue words  :

Detachment is neither kind nor unkind. It does not imply judgement or condemnation of the person or situation from which we are detaching. Separating ourselves from the adverse effects of another person’s alcoholism / anger / moods / behavior can be a means of detaching: this does not necessarily require physical separation.
Detachment can help us look at our situations realistically and objectively.
Detachment allows us to let go of our obsession with another’s behavior and begin to lead happier and more manageable lives with dignity and rights, lives guided by a Power greater than ourselves. We can still love the person without liking the behavior.
• Not to suffer because of the actions or reactions of other people
• Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by others 
• Not to do for others what they can do for themselves
• Not to manipulate situations so others will eat, go to bed, get up, pay bills, not drink, or behave as we see fit
• Not to cover up for another’s mistakes or misdeeds
• Not to create a crisis
• Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of events
By learning to focus on ourselves, our attitudes and well-being improve. We allow the alcoholics / people in our lives to experience the consequences of their own actions.

Aaaahh. Detachment.


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4 Responses to What to do if your partner is unhappy

  1. heidi says:

    Thank you,Lisa, for posting this reminder. I lived in a very similar situation with my wusband,and found al-anon to be soo helpful. We have a child together,so this is an ongoing situation in which i have to remember to pause and breath often,and practice non-attachment.Also,taking a few steps back to gain a more global perspective helps me to realize that his rants/moods are not personal,not my responsiblity. Thanks!

  2. Allison says:

    Loved this post! I wish I had known about these detachment principles years ago, but at least I’m learning them now. I like how you state that you can have whatever kind of day you want to have, whether your loved one is miserable or not. I’ve struggled with feeling like that was an unloving way to respond to someone, but I see now that by making myself miserable I’m not being loving towards myself, which is just as important!

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