The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Woman

It's National Hugging Day (3)Nothing can make a person less capable than getting married. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” But in many relationships, the opposite is true.

Lately, I’ve been paying attention to how my abilities will weaken or even disappear when my husband is in the house. When he’s away on a work trip, I can take out the trash with ease. But when he’s around, walking the twenty steps to the alley feels like a Herculean task. When I’m driving by myself, I have no trouble navigating to a new destination. Put him in the passenger seat, and I might ask him if I’m making the correct turn.There’s nothing “good” or “bad” about relying on another person, like a partner or a parent. We’re social creatures who need to cooperate to survive. And we all have tasks we can navigate better than others.  But if you’re not careful, things you can do while single (or alone) will slowly disappear from your repertoire. The discomfort of a difficult problem will leave you yelping for backup.

Take a look at the list below. Do you lose the ability or energy to complete any of these tasks when another person is present?

  • Navigating while driving
  • Doing laundry
  • Solving a work problem
  • Deciding whether to take medicine
  • Deciding whether food is the oven is ready
  • Taking out the trash
  • Meeting a new person
  • Talking to difficult family members
  • Remembering where you parked
  • Deciding what to wear
  • Using challenging technology
  • Preparing your taxes
  • Finding out information about family members
  • Deciding what to order at a restaurant
  • Deciding it’s time to go to bed
  • Searching for information online
  • Going downstairs to grab something

Maybe you’re thinking, “Kathleen. Aren’t acts of service how some of us show our love?” Sure, but they can also be HOW WE MANAGE OUR ANXIETY. I’m more interested in knowing about people’s anxiety language than their so-called “love languages.” And for many of us, our anxiety turns our relationships into a disappearing act. We quickly plug in the maturity gaps in each other, instead of building up our own capacity to be a grownup.

One of my favorite episodes of the show Everybody Loves Raymond hilariously demonstrates our ability to act helpless in front of our partner. When Raymond and Debra return home from a trip, he leaves their suitcase on the landing of the stairs. Weeks pass, no one moves the suitcase, and their quiet standoff turns into an all-out war. You can watch the clip here.

This is an extreme example, but I think most of us can say that we’ve left a dirty dish in the sink or task undone at work because we know that someone will take care of it. But what is the ultimate cost when we avoid responsibility for ourselves at home, at work, and in our relationships?

No one has to be a jack of all trades in a marriage or other relationship. Some tasks will suit some people more than others. But it can be useful to observe how anxiety keeps you from troubleshooting challenges and becoming a more capable human.

This week, I’d like you to think of all the ways you’d like to be a more capable participant in your day-to-day life. Pay attention to when you “disappear” in anxious situations. Be on the lookout for overfunctioning family members, friends, or colleagues who are more than willing to swoop in and do things for you. And consider how you can step up and function as a more responsible human.


1) What do I ask others to do for me that I can do myself?
2) What have I never learned to do because someone else always took care of it? 
3) When do I rely on the thinking of others rather than my own thinking? 

News from Kathleen: 

Did you know that I’ve written an entire book about calming down and becoming a more mature human? It will be published on NEW YEAR’S EVE and is called Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down. Soon I’ll have news for you about what bonus content you can get when you pre-order as a newsletter subscriber.

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