Guilt or Why Do I Feel Bad? – Part 1


Why does disagreement with my wife cause me such stress? Back in June, I planned a weekend at a friend’s house in Rehoboth, Delaware with my boyfriend. Last week my wife asked me if I would fly to Albany, NY next Friday to drive home with my son in his car after his summer job as a camp counselor ends on Saturday. She feels that he will be too exhausted from the end of camp and should not drive home by himself.

I am of two minds. Beginning when I was 17 years old, I regularly drove from Philadelphia to New York City and Long Island to visit my friends from a summer spent touring Israel. My son is 19 years old and should be more than ready to make this trip by himself. But like my wife, I also worry that he will be too tired to drive home safely, and something bad could happen. Call it parental anxiety and guilt, but I understand my wife’s feelings. But unfortunately, I have long-standing plans for the weekend.

I called my friend Mike to see if we could push back the beach weekend at his home by a week or two, but it was not possible. So I told my son and my wife that I was unable to pick him up. After I spoke to them I felt guilty and it triggered all kinds of feelings.

Last year, when I flew up to Albany and drove home with my son, even though it was a long drive, we had a nice time. It was one of the rare quiet moments where we had time to be alone, with no place to go, and just talk. I feel bad that I am missing that experience with him.

I get to spend so little time with my son that eight hours in a car together, even though it is in ugly summer traffic, is still good bonding time. I would like to spend the time with him. But this weekend at the beach was agreed to back in June. When we checked our calendars this was the weekend that worked for everyone. I would feel like a jerk if I were to cancel the weekend the week before we are set to go.

When I spoke to my son last night and told him that I could not pick him up, he was disappointed – guilt pang #1. Then right after speaking to my son, I spoke to my wife. When I told her that I could not pick up my son, she too was clearly disappointed and annoyed – guilt pang #2.

My wife has a way of conveying, in just the tone of her voice and a few words, not just disappointment, but the clear feeling that you have done something wrong, and that she is disappointed in you. For the whole of our marriage, her disappointed tone has made me feel guilty. And rather than feel guilty, I usually gave in, to whatever the issue is. I am somewhat surprised that we have been separated for more than two years and that the tone of her disappointment still affects me so much.

As to my son, I emailed him this morning with the following message:

I’d like to talk to you about the ride home from camp. I really would like to be with you on the trip home from camp. Last year I really enjoyed the time we had in the car to talk and catch up. It was good bonding time.

Back in June, I was invited to my friend, Mike’s house in Rehobeth for the weekend. We had trouble finding a date that would work for everyone and finally settled on the mid-August weekend.

I tried to see if we could move the weekend back by one or two weeks, but it was not possible since Mike had invited a few other people down for the weekend too. I don’t feel right about canceling this long-planned visit when it is only a week away.

I feel bad that I can’t fly up and drive home with you. I want to make sure that before you go back to college we have some quality time together. I have felt that we’ve had precious little time to connect and I miss spending time together and talking.

I love you very much, and I hope you understand.

Having written my son, I feel much better and more sure about my decision to keep the beach weekend I had planned. In Part 2 of this essay, I will explore the feelings of guilt with my wife in these situations.

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