Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Feeling Important

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 12, 2012

Nile and Shoshi, both fifty, have been married for twenty-five years. Their two children are both in college, so their empty nest is unevenly empty for Shoshi, but less so for Nile. Nile seems to appreciate that Shoshi can focus on him more now that the children have sprung loose. Shoshi, by contrast,  at first felt lonely when her last child went to college a year ago, but over time, she has come to appreciate her freedom. She never saw herself as a caretaker for Nile, so it did not occur to her that Nile would become more emotionally needy when the kids went to college. Shoshi plans the family trips, for the four of them. She recently planned a trip to the Caribbean, and as she booked the plane flights, she signed up for miles for herself and one of her two children. She did not take the extra step to find out the mileage number for her husband and older child. She figured that they could add the miles on the back-end of their trip. As she thought about it, she could see that this might be insensitive, but she was still stunned by Nile’s reaction. “I am tired of feeling like a second class citizen,” Nile tells Shoshi, which Shoshi then relates to me. Shoshi explains that it seems like Nile let loose about years and years of feeling like the children came first. Nile, according to Shoshi, never stood up for himself, but at the same time, he gets mad when he does not feel important. Shoshi feels that Nile does not understand this dynamic, so he is constantly feeling victimized by Shoshi.

  “Did you explain to Nile that he is important to you?” I ask, wondering if Shoshi does not understand her role in their dynamic. “No, I got defensive, of course,” Shoshi laughs at herself. “I can see how Nile got his feelings hurt, but at the same time, I am very busy and I planned the trip, and I did not do one detail, and I feel like it is not fair to get down my throat about that.” Shoshi explains to me her pent up resentment about feeling misunderstood with regards to the work of trip-planning. “Yes, but if Nile needs to feel important, taking the time to do these details might be important symbolism for him that you care about him,” I explain. “Yea, I see that, but I wish he would talk to me that way, rather than being fixated on the miles. Nile does not explain himself very well and he does not know how to create an environment where others treat him like an important person.” Shoshi says, throwing the dirt back on to her husband. “That may be, ” I say, “but the issue for us is that you could understand that he needs to feel like he matters, and taking care of details, is one way for him to feel that way.” I say, bringing the conversation back to Shoshi’s insensitivities and away from Nile’s inarticulateness. “I see that now, but I did not see that last night,” Shoshi says, with a feeling of regret and dismay. “Maybe you should tell Nile how you feel now that you have the benefit of distance from your argument,” I say, stating the obvious. “Maybe,” she says, with characteristic arrogance in that it is hard for her to apologize, especially to Nile, where she seems to need to feel superior. “Think about it,” I say, encouraging her to slowly change the dynamics of their long-standing marriage. “Everyone needs to feel important,” I say, reminding her that Nile’s needs are understandable and sympathetic. “Yes, but I also think it is Nile’s responsibility to assert himself in a way in which he commands respect,” Shoshi says defensively. “That may be, but you can still deal with your side of the equation,” I say. “Of course, that is true,” Shoshi reluctantly agrees.

3 Responses to “Feeling Important”

  1. Shelly said

    Does Shoshi do most of the planning in this family dynamic? Does she usually involve Nile in the decisions involving the vacation, or does she plan the vacation herself without asking him? If she had planned the vacation with Nile, then Nile could have taken care of his frequent flyer miles himself. It sounds to me like Shoshi is angry at Nile for some reason (she takes care of the miles for one child only and not both, for herself and not her husband) and cannot tell him directly and Nile is angry at Shoshi for not focusing on him. Neither partner can talk directly to the other. Nile may be angry at Shoshi for constantly making decisions for him; Shoshi may be angry at Nile for being so passive as to not be able to make a decision. Neither partner is willing to change, and the dynamic continues. Sure Shoshi can be sympathetic, but unless she decides that she can live with her partner as he is, she isn’t going to be satisfied.

  2. Shirah said

    Yes, Shoshi does the planning by herself. Your astute comments are on target in that this issues with the frequent flier miles highlights long-standing dynamics in this family. Little issues like this often shed light on much deeper issues. Shoshi and Nile need to examine their dynamics, so hopefully they will see this row as an inspiration for deeper exploration. Thanks, as always.

  3. inspired minds…

    […]Feeling Important « Shirah Vollmer MD[…]…

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