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Overwhelmed and Looking for More from Your Mate?

Life demands a lot of us. A new baby, a new business, a move away from family and friends, a new boss, even a promotion can send us into overwhelm.

Know what happens once we hit overwhelm? Our thinking switches to what Daniel Kahneman call WYSIATI—What You See Is All There Is. This leads us to an ugly place.

Here is the trip as I have been known to take it. I am overwhelmed. Too much to do. Overstressed. Too much responsibility. I want help from my husband. He watches TV or sits down to his computer or heads out on his bicycle for some exercise. What I see is a partner who does not recognize my needs nor even all that I am doing for him. I freak out and mysteriously conclude I might as well be divorced, would be happier divorced. And I know a lot of other people do this, too.

WYSIATI - this day or this month is all there is. That other day when I was able to take a nap while my husband took care of things never happened. That month when his earnings paid for my relaxing vacation never happened. The reality of extra obligations during and after a divorce won't ever happen. What I see right now is all there is.

WYSIATI - I know I need help right now. How could my husband not see this? I forget entirely the last time I was overstressed and asked, loudly, for some peace and quiet or to be left alone. I expect help right now. And I resent his relaxing, forgetting entirely how important his ability to regulate his own stress is to managing mine. From in here, it's very obvious I need a helping hand immediately to relieve my stress. What I see from this side is all there is.

WYSIATI - My husband is a strong man. He can tackle some pretty tough assignments. He used to fight fires and keep people alive until he could get them to a hospital. And that's what he did with his spare time. He would get up after a night of patching up the victims of bar fights or domestic abuse and show up for his day job in the morning. If he neatly steps around cat vomit or puts off removing a mouse from the house, it is so much easier to imagine he takes me for granted than that there might be chores that distress him. What I see in my picture of him is all there is.

I screwed this up once. I will not screw it up again. Relying on WYSIATI stole my first marriage from me.

Now I will Expect Love. Love is what he promised, not cat cleanup and definitely not mind-reading. I will ask for exactly what I want right now. I will ask for it as I might ask for a back rub, without snarkiness or any hint of failing on his part, without name-calling. I will ask for it, and if the answer is no, I will ask for a Third Alternative, something else he feels comfortable doing that will relieve my distress. I will ask not because he owes me, but because he has offered me his love and I trust that he meant it.

I will Expect Love.

I will not let What You See Is All There Is steal any more love from me.


Thank you for the reminder. I hope that many will read this post, get it, practice it, and keep trying until it becomes routine. I try. Sometimes, I slip. And I pick myself up and try again. I will not rely on WYSIATI!

Thanks, Lynne. So true. WYSIATI happens. To look beyond it is our choice.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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