The crying usually precedes the acting out, although the pout is usually the initial sign something is wrong. If we get to the acting out phase it’s doubly difficult for me to figure out what’s going on inside you, but I’ve found that if I can intercept you at the pout, there’s a chance the rest can be averted.
This time you were quiet on the walk back from the bus, and I could sense the pout starting to form. Your sisters were ahead of us, so I asked you quietly, “What’s wrong?”
“My sister won’t sit with me on the bus,” you say, your pout intensifying.
This again. The dynamic between three sisters is tough enough, but you add the variability of the bus social scene, and the addition of friends (some shared, some not), and it’s been an ongoing issue. It’s not as if your sisters refuse to sit with you, they just want to switch it up between their sisters and their friends. However you seem to get stuck when they choose not to sit with you for that particular day, culminating in hurt feelings and acting out.
I get it from your side – you miss your sisters during the school day, and are eager to reconnect with them. Your sisters, on the other hand, want to sit with their friends on occasion. It’s not a question of strict right or wrong here. We’ve been around and around with this, but it always comes back to your hurt feelings to the perception of being slighted.
What do you do when you want more from a relationship than they naturally seem to want to provide?
Step 1: Ask
Until society is able to identify the gene responsible for ESP and we can factory order that capability in a future generation, people aren’t mind readers. They won’t know what you’re thinking or what you need or want. Ideally yes, you might think that certain actions or behaviors SHOULD come naturally in a relationship, but that type of myopia is self-limiting.
Do you want something specific? Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Even if it seems simple or basic, you won’t get it unless you ask for it. Even if it’s “I need a hug when I come home,” if that’s something you look forward to and expect.
The caveat is that while you have every right to ask, the person you’re asking has every right not to do what you ask. Or do it sporadically, or incompletely. You’ve done that with your sisters with the sitting together, but they obviously can’t (or won’t) do it every day. If so, you have to move on to the next step.
Step 2: Think about Context
So your sisters won’t sit with you all the time, and your instinct is to view that as some sign of their faltering love for you.
It may be that that’s a false equivalence. Different people show and feel love different ways. There’s a concept that there are 5 love languages that people speak in one way or another (or a combination of ways.) While that might be overly simplistic, the key to understand is that your sisters may be speaking to you in ways that you’re not receiving as loving. For example, you might want and express love in terms of time together, while they might show their love by the things they do for you. No expression has more primacy than the other, but it may be that they are speaking to you in their own way and you aren’t hearing it.
Kind of like when Wesley says “As you wish!” when performing errands for Buttercup. She didn’t realize until later what he really meant was “I love you.”
Another way to think about is trying to see where your sisters do meet your needs. You and I sat down one day and I stuck a pile of pennies about three inches high. “This,” I explained, “is the amount of time your sisters spend with you during the day.” Then I put two pennies on top of each other and said, “This is how much time you guys spend on the bus together a day. Which would you rather have? ” I saw the light bulb go on and it worked for a short period of time, but it never became fully internalized. If that’s the case, you can only go to the next step.
Step 3: Adjust your self
If you’ve asked for what you wanted and haven’t gotten what you wanted or if you can’t resolve it internally by finding equivalences, then the only thing you can do is adjust yourself.
The most drastic measure is to change (or even eliminate) the relationship in question. Especially if the relationship is particularly unbalanced or even toxic. You may have to do that if it’s possible – although if we’re talking family or work, that might not be practical or possible. But barring that, the only thing you have the power to change is yourself and your expectations.
That’s much much harder to do than it is to say, I know. We can tell you to ignore the fact that your sisters are sitting with others, and to enjoy the time away from them, or to look at other behaviors as loving, but it’s easy to get stuck on the hurt you feel.
It may be that what you’re expecting is unreasonable or unfair. But our efforts to have you think about it differently can sometimes veer into “You shouldn’t feel that way”, which only serves to add a layer of shame to the hurt. And it really doesn’t matter if what you expect is actually reasonable, because sometimes feelings are unresponsive to logic.
Do I do all of the above on a consistent basis? HA! I actually don’t do it more often than I do it, until I marinate enough in my own self-righteous hurt that I realize what I need to do. Even if that does mean that I need to adjust myself to expect less, or to reevaluate whether that relationship is suitable. It may never get easy, but it does get easier.
As we continue to walk back from the bus stop that day, your one sister must have sensed something was wrong, because she turned around and called for you. “Come walk with us!” she said. At that invitation, the pout disappeared and a smile took over your face, and you let go of my hand to skip up toward them. As you took their hands and walked together in unison, I was reminded of the power of feeling wanted. That energy permeates all of our relationships, both minor and major – and for both good and bad.