About once every 6 months this situation will rear it's head, so it's worth asking about to me. Yesterday was another one of those times - almost like clockwork. I believe it's probably tied to situational depression, as it usually comes up in one of two situations: (1) within the first couple months after my wife gives birth, which should now be over, as our last kid is over a year old and I'm snipped, and (2) within a few weeks after she finishes a busy season at work, as she works 80-100 hours/wk during these times and there are 2 busy seasons a year spaced about 6 months apart. She just finished one on October 15.
Unfortunately, the stress of her busy season work life pales in comparison to the level of stress she experiences at home, dealing with the kids. She does not handle motherhood well at all. Yet she's dead-set that she wants to be around the kids more and more and that she hates working. This is part of the "conscious craziness" that she experiences - knowing that she prioritizes motherhood above her career, but that she hates the way she feels when she's around the kids for longer than 2 hours, yet can be at work for 16 hours and be happy. I could get into a lot of psychology about why I believe this is the case, but it's not worth it.
Moving on: on the way home from church yesterday she says she wants to talk about her work hours. I said "OK," knowing that she most likely wants to ask me for permission to shift from a 100% load down to 85% or 50% (I usually prefer her at 50% post-busy-season). She got upset that I just said "OK" and didn't follow-up with more. [She later said, "All you needed was to say, 'Okay, let's talk about it soon.' But no, you just said 'OK.' And that means you don't care."] I set a boundary: "The kids are in the car. I don't want to have that conversation in front of them. Let's feed them lunch first." We enter the driveway and just sit in silence for 2 minutes (I was answering a work e-mail). I ask if she's ok and she doesn't answer, so I get the kids out of the car and start cooking them lunch.
She comes in 5 minutes later screaming her head off about how I'm not supportive of her. Now, I knew she was upset, but at the time couldn't discern why (and didn't really care to), so I use some negative inquiry to avoid making assumptions: What did I do that was unsupportive? Her answer: "You just said OK." NI again: What's wrong with agreeing to have a conversation with you about your hours? She had no answer and spits back: "I know I'm being crazy and I have no rational basis for feeling this way. I just know I don't feel like you're supporting me right now." I fog and self-disclose: You're right, I'm not supporting you right now. I have no intention of supporting bad behavior.
Of course, she got even more heated after that, so I just STFU for about 5 minutes and let her talk. It's all "you this" and "you that." The last one was, "You're so mean!" That one actually made me laugh, so I put a hand on her shoulder and said, You're right, I'm the big bad wolf. Want me to start huffing and puffing? She rants for another 2-3 minutes about her feelings and that I'm not doing enough to coddle her. I STFU, smile, and nod. That set her off: "You're so manipulative. You have this power over me. It's all one big power play and you're just flaunting that you have all the power. I hate it. You know I have no power over you, but when you just stand there like that, it's like you're waving all your power in front of my face."
Now that was bizarre to me, as I hadn't said anything in something like 3 minutes (the wolf comment). So, I employ some more negative inquiry: What did I just do to manipulate you? Her: "That look. You just act like everything's normal. This is not normal!" Me: I'd be happy to smile some more to brighten the mood. Her: "No way. I know that smile. I hate it when you smile while I'm feeling like this." Me: I shrug and say, Fair enough. But I'm not going to yell and scream at you either. That wouldn't help anything. And apparently having a positive attitude or just being normal are manipulative. So, there's no way to win. Conclusion? I smile: If I can't win, I'm just going to do whatever I want and you can come back whenever you're ready. Then I went back to making the kids lunch.
She storms out of the house saying she's heading to the mall to buy some new work clothes. I don't chase after her. Note: I used to chase after her when she did that. Then I stopped and she'd get furious that I didn't chase after her anymore. Now she knows this as the norm.
Literally two minutes after storming out, she comes right back in, acting much softer. Her vernacular changed gears. Instead of "you ... you ... you" it becomes "I ... I ... I." Once she started describing how she was feeling (comfort tests), I walked over, held her in my arms, kissed her forehead, and said, "Everything's going to be fine. Just trust me. I got this." Honestly, I have no idea what "this" is that I said I "got," other than life in general. It didn't matter. She just needed to hear some catch-phrase that sounded emotionally uplifting. That was the end of it. She was happy and fine the rest of the day - cuddly even (though she had to get on a plane to Chicago, so no sex that night).
She made a comment later on about how she knows how frustrating it can be to deal with someone who is emotional without any rational basis. She cited her mom as an example: "Everyone knows my mom is crazy except for her. It drives everyone up the wall, but she doesn't have a clue how ridiculous she is. I know that I'm crazy sometimes. I make a hard effort to be conscious about when I'm acting crazy and not. But even when I know I'm being crazy and totally absurd with how I'm feeling, I can't stop it and I just keep feeling it anyway, whether it makes sense or not."
I know I probably didn't handle the situation ideally. Suggestions?
What's the best way to deal with someone who consciously knows that she's acting crazy and irrational, but continues to do it anyway? That is: maintain frame and let her emotions run wild for a while, or treat the fitness tests as if they're comfort tests in an effort to calm her down?
"Watch what they say, not what they do" notwithstanding, is it at all problematic if my wife has caught on to the notion that maintaining frame and playful banter in the midst of her emotions is a "power play" and that she perceives it as "manipulative"? [I recognize that she may say she hates it, yet her behavior and attitude toward me ex post facto may indicate otherwise.]
Any other thoughts on dealing with this 6-month recurrence?