Friday, February 1, 2013

Sulking: What's Wrong With Him?

Sulking: What's Wrong With Him? -sad couples
Sulking is the ultimate passive aggressive ‘poor me’ behavior, and it really gets ladies where it hurts because, as women, we are natural communicators.

One of my best friends is an avid ballroom dancer.  An internationally award-winning ballroom dancer, in fact (I love to bring that up—she won third place in Canada once or something like that).  As it so happens, her seemingly otherwise perfect boyfriend of two months was not a ballroom dancer.  Sure, he’d go dancing with her, but would sit and sip his drink with a sour look on his face if another guy asked her to join him in a Cha-Cha. Then the new boyfriend would make insinuating comments about her dance partners on the drive home, and he’d top it off by sleeping, that night, on the far end of the bed, with his back to her.  She was distraught.  She really liked this new guy, but his sulking got so poisonous that she stopped going dancing altogether, which made her miserable. Finally, she was so desperate to dance, but so afraid of her boyfriend’s passive aggressive behavior, that she started lying about where she was going. And yes, he caught her doing the Hustle with another man. Not in that way - the actual Hustle! Not a great way to start a relationship.  A decent way to end one, though, as she discovered.  But how else was she to deal with all this sulking?

Sulking is the ultimate passive aggressive ‘poor me’ behavior, and it really gets ladies where it hurts because, as women, we are natural communicators.  In the presence of the general foul mood that emanates from a sulker, in the absence of communication as to what the real problem is, our minds begin to race, coming up with all sorts of scenarios as to why he’s doing it, what did I do wrong, how can I stop it from ever, ever happening again?  And guess what, if your greatest fear is that it will happen again, if your strategy is to simply appease the sulker, then it will absolutely happen again.  I mean, it worked in his favor the first time, right?

I’ve got no patience for sulking.  The first time I saw hunched shoulders and a dirty look I would have used a line my mom used on me when I was a pre-teen who whined because she didn’t have the latest style of Guess jeans: shape up or ship out.  But, I assume there are people out there with a little more patience and determination, and for them, I offer up advice my friend garnered from her other, more praiseworthy, friends.

Determine The Core Issue Behind The Sulking
What the hell is his problem?  No, really, that’s not a rhetorical question this time.  If you can, take a closer look at him, his upbringing, his past relationships.  Why does he attack conflict in this way?  In the case of my friend’s boyfriend, she later told me that she’d once met his older brother and that he seemed so confident and gregarious, she couldn’t imagine him ever pulling this kind of sulking jealous boyfriend routine.  Through further conversation it came to light that his older brother was routinely referred to as ‘the good-looking one’ and that he ran his own very successful communications company.  I thought to myself, this guy has probably been biting his tongue in the face of ‘no fair’ all his life.  This may be his coping mechanism for his inability to confront feelings that he finds hard to face, feelings like jealousy of someone he loves.  Envy of his brother’s success.  Jealousy that other men can whirl my friend around in a Venetian Waltz.
Of course, this is no excuse and no reason that my friend should have to lie about doing something she loves, something she does well and has done years before she hooked up with him, but a little understanding can go a long way.  Then, sulking can feel like less of an attack.  The knowledge and understanding you’ve gained can be used to help the person you love open up and maybe even communicate in a new way.

Recognize Why YOU React To The Sulking So Strongly
This is a touchy one, and I only bring it up because often, in my relationship, I realize an hour or so after a conflict that perhaps I might be a tiny bit culpable. Tiny bit.  Just to clarify, I did not marry a sulker.  In fact, the opposite.  We argue, then he is usually the first to apologize.  We kiss and make up, then I, with poorly veiled triumph, disappear into another room and think, and eventually realize, maybe just maybe I might have been a tiny bit to blame.  I did say tiny, right? 

Oh my God.  Am I the sulker?

My point is, sometimes there might be an ounce of truth to why your partner is upset, even if he is not demonstrating his feelings in the most constructive of ways.  It’s worth taking a look at the issue beyond the bad feelings his poor behavior elicits.  I notice, at least for me, it’s usually the conflicts that I realize on some level are at least partially my fault that really piss me off.  And no matter what my partner’s reaction, sulking, apologizing, even kissing and making up, I’m going to be incensed until I step back and look at the whole situation.

Speaking of arguments:

Make Peace With Arguments
Sulking may be the way your partner avoids the more tangible manifestation of a conflict, namely, an argument.  Sadly, we are led to believe through all kinds of syrupy marketing images and romance novels and television programming from the 1950’s that if a couple argues, it means the beginning of the end. In fact, studies show that arguments are good for a relationship, if they are handled properly.  There are rules in love and war after all, for instance, no physical fighting, no walking out in the middle of an argument and never go to bed angry.

Attack the sulking with humor and vulnerability: If none of the above works, or if you simply can’t deal with any more of the heavy stuff that comes with sulking, do something to make you both laugh. One of the reasons sulking is so hard to deal with is that there is simply no defense for it.  What are you supposed to do with a cold shoulder and a blank face?  But, say you’re at dinner and your partner is moping around, picking at his plate…what if you reach across the table, stick a fork in his steak and finish it in one bite?  That oughtta make him mad.  For a second, until he sees you with your mouth full.  It’s hard to eat a steak in one bite!  Just an example.  Maybe not steak, that’s pricey.  But do something to break the ice, look silly, exhibit some of the vulnerability that your partner must be feeling when he pulls this childish routine of sulking.

At the end of the day, it’s just not worth it to surround yourself in a negative environment. The key to any relationship is communication, and a sulking partner mocks that in a very basic way.  If it continues, it actually can become a form of abuse.  But, before you give up, or start telling your sullen sweetheart that you are tutoring your nephew when you are actually going out for cosmos with your girlfriends, maybe give the above a shot.

And a personal note to my friend: Come on, if you’re going to say you’re tutoring your nephew when you’re actually going dancing, make sure you have a nephew!

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