” …to me this is sliding from Clueless Basic Man territory to Actually Toxic.”
One of my good friends has accepted the role of confidant when it comes to the relationship woes I’ve been experiencing this year. She’s good at the role – she doesn’t offer unasked-for advice, she’s sympathetic, and while she admits to being a judgmental person, that’s balanced by also being a pretty objective person.
As someone that tends to get anxious and whose brain will sometimes dive screaming into worst case scenarios at a moment’s notice, it’s always good to have a pair of objectively judgmental eyes to look something over, so I can get a better sense if my reaction to any given situation or conversation is good intuition or anxiety.
The fact that she got angry and concerned for me when I told her about a conversation my husband and I had Saturday afternoon left me feeling heavy. That little fear worming around in the back of my head, that I’ve been attempting to ignore, might be intuition, not anxiety. (That conversation is not the focus of this post, so I’ll remain vague about the details.)
When I first started therapy towards the end of last year, my husband admitted he’d harbored a fear that one day I’d outgrow him and want to leave. He said he wanted me to get help anyway, even with that as a possible outcome.
That had been a comfort to me. We have four children and if our relationship can’t last, if we can’t find a middle ground where both of us can have some happiness and satisfaction with our life, I would want the dissolution to be as peaceful as possible for their sake. I’ve seen how ugly the end of a relationship can get, multiple times, for multiple people.
The more time that passes, though, the more it begins to look as if my husband might have been telling himself pleasant fictions about what he could handle and who he would or wouldn’t become under stress.
I’m sure he wants to believe that he’s a good person that wouldn’t do anything to hurt the mother of his children. And yet it hasn’t taken much to draw out his shadow self, as I’ve come to call it – the darkness I’d sensed there, under the surface, kept on an extremely tight leash.
Perhaps this is why he’s been so concerned with structure and how things ‘should be,’ and having life align with his expectations, because he needs the assurance and security of those constraints.
It’s not really physical violence that I fear might be a possibility if things continue this way – in some ways, that would be preferable. The problem with being drawn to clever, creative people is that they can do so much worse than lash out physically. People have to be alive to feel pain, and psychological and emotional wounds can last a lifetime.
When it comes down to it, I haven’t even come to really fear that he’d purposely hurt me psychologically or emotionally – or at least, not significantly so. He’d probably catch his worst impulses before he let them get out of hand.
We’ve been through a lot together and I’ve seen how he handles stress and how he treats people while stressed, and he does have admirable levels of self-control, generally speaking (though they’ve never been tested at the level of stress that would be involved in an 18+ year relationship ending).
The real problem for me is that all he has to do to screw me over for the foreseeable future is to refuse to go along with our stated plan for the next year. That’s it. He has all the real power in our relationship, but he doesn’t see it that way, and he’s acting from a place of feeling powerless, of wanting to find a way to feel in control again.
When his shadow self takes over, he is unable to see anything but his own pain, confusion, and the fact that life isn’t meeting his expectations right now. He believes I’m being unfair to him and he wants me to put myself in his shoes, but seems to be unable to do the reverse. The current situation is only something he’s had to deal with for approximately three weeks, and it’s already proving to be more than he can handle gracefully.
I spent 16 years not only not getting what I wanted, but also getting a whole lot I never wanted, so that I could be a good wife and do my best to give him the life he wanted. Even when I could finally see that our life as it was would be unsustainable, and that reaching a breaking point was an inevitability if things remained as they were, I still tried to look out for him. I still tried to find a way we could move forward together and arrive at common ground together.
He wasn’t able to see me – really see me, and what I needed – even when the relationship was going well, from his point of view. Now that it’s not going well, he seems to have even less of an ability to see me and understand my needs. He doesn’t understand them – and doesn’t respect them.
You might be wondering what precipitated the current stew: I told him I needed some emotional distance while processing what’s happening during and because of my recovery, and became private about what I was discussing in my therapy sessions. I had realized he didn’t have the right to be acting like the TSA, searching my baggage for bombs.
I deserve to have a private space in my own head. I had to live for years with no physical privacy, no space to call my own, no space under my own control, and that wasn’t enough, he believes he has a right to know what is going on in my head whenever his insecurity rears its ugly head – but he doesn’t even believe that is a reciprocal right.
He hadn’t even told me he was seeing a therapist until it slipped out in the middle of a fight. Then he excused keeping it a secret by claiming it was a private matter – and yet he came to expect that I’d tell him what I discussed in my own therapy sessions, and was unnerved when I stopped.
This marriage has never met my needs in the 16 1/2 years it’s existed, and it took me 16 years to put my foot down and say my needs were important, too. He’s had to deal with being asked to have patience and give me space for approximately 3 weeks and his shadow self was already trying to take the reins 1 week in.
I tried to liken the ongoing process of psychological recovery to physical rehab – you can’t just go from a severe injury to running a marathon the next day, you have to follow the necessary steps for proper healing. You have to have time to heal. If you need rehab you have to get through one stage of rehab successfully before proceeding to the next stage.
It doesn’t seem to have helped. I’m trying to explain that I need time and space to heal, that I need to get through the summer and reach Indiana, so that we can enact our plan for the next year, the way we’d discussed. We’d already talked about how that year might not end the way we’d hoped, that when it was complete and we reassessed our life and relationship, we might find that there was no way to forward, together.
Even though this was discussed beforehand, and agreed on by both of us, all he sees is that his wife isn’t meeting his expectations right now, isn’t matching up to the template in his head for how a relationship should look.
I hadn’t realized how much I’d pinned my hopes on a year in which to try and sleep, exist in a relatively clean and pleasant environment, and regain some psychological and emotional strength. I’m not a functional human being, but maybe a year of improved living conditions would give me enough energy to get back to being a functional human being.
I’d already known my husband could deny me that path towards becoming functional, should he choose. Now I’m being faced with the fact that he’s having difficulty even summoning the patience and grace to survive the bridge between when we devised our plan and when we begin our plan.
We have approximately 5 weeks to go.
Last Wednesday when I walked into my therapist’s office, she opened by asking me how I was and how things were going.
“I’ve been wondering if you’d make it to Indiana,” she said.
“I’ve been wondering that, too,” I said.