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October 17, 2012 1:31 PM   Subscribe

My counsellor tells me that I need to stop enabling my wife's anxieties; my wife tells me that my not sharing what I'm talking about in counselling sessions is making her anxious. How do I square this circle?

I've been having counselling for a couple of months after a bad summer (more details here). I think that it's genuinely helping me to understand why I've ended up in the situation that I have, and it's helped me start to see beyond it a little bit.

However, the fact that I'm in private counselling is taking its toll on my wife. She's become increasingly anxious to find out what I'm talking about in the sessions, especially where it pertains to our marriage. This is understandable - after all, I started going because I wanted to understand what had lead me to be unfaithful to her. Now, however, she is making repeated attempts to get me to discuss what goes on in the sessions, even though I've explained that a lot of it is still very raw and I'm not ready to talk about it outside a safe environment yet.

Most recently, my wife told me that she'd considered driving to the counselling office whilst I was scheduled to be in a session to see if I was in fact having an affair with my counsellor.

How can I try and soothe my wife's anxieties without disclosing stuff that I'm just not ready to disclose yet? I've asked my counsellor this question; she tells me that I need to gently but firmly make clear that this is my business, but that doesn't feel like I'm being fair.

Am I being a bad husband by having individual counselling and not sharing the results immediately?
posted by six sided sock to Human Relations (61 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your wife needs her own counselor, too, and you should insist on it in the nicest way that you can.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:37 PM on October 17, 2012 [21 favorites]


Your wife, understandably, doesn't trust you.

You need to earn that trust back. I would hope that part of your counseling sessions is involving that. And that if it is, you speak to that.

I, honestly, happen to think that when there is an affair involved, it's up to the person involved in the affair to do whatever they need to do to get back on track with the relationship, and if that means sharing more with her about counseling, then that means sharing more with her about counseling. I can't fault your wife for the feelings she has. You shattered her trust and faith in you. It stands to reason that will hurt for quite a long time after.

I think you should consider going back to couple's counseling with your wife --- with a DIFFERENT counselor than the one you are seeing individually. And I think your wife should consider individual counseling for herself with a DIFFERENT counselor than your individual counselor and your couple's counselor.
posted by zizzle at 1:38 PM on October 17, 2012 [16 favorites]


You are not. Based upon the question you linked to, your wife has been exhibiting controlling behavior for a long time and this is just another manifestation of that. I would suggest that she seek therapy, too, or that you should find a couples counselor and go together. Part of her anxiety about it may be related to being unfamiliar with therapy as a general idea. Maybe experiencing it for herself will ease some of those feelings.
posted by something something at 1:39 PM on October 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


Confidentiality is the keystone of successful therapy. It is not just unreasonable of your wife to expect you, by default to share the contents your individual therapy sessions, it is also completely counterproductive to the therapy itself. Letting you get the help you need is being fair, and your ability to not have to disclose what you talk about in therapy is an integral part of the process.

Your wife needs an individual counselor as well, because if this anxiety is affecting mending your relationship, there's no solution but to confront her anxiety. Telling her what she wants to know may easily cancel out the benefit of the therapy because you will no longer feel safe enough be honest with either your wife, or your therapist.
posted by griphus at 1:40 PM on October 17, 2012 [19 favorites]


Well, I missed the bits about the physical altercations and controlling behaviors in your previous question.

Scratch what I said except for both of you going to counseling together as well as separately.
posted by zizzle at 1:41 PM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


You walked back from the ledge of an affair. Was the making out inappropriate? Sure, but you stopped it, and you deserve a lot of credit, which you are likely not getting, for diving all the way in.

It is up to you what to share with her, and what not to share.

This sounds like more of a hostage situation than a marriage, to me. I hope that you are dealing, intensively, with the dynamics of your relationship with her.
posted by Danf at 1:42 PM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your wife needs to take responsibility for calming her anxieties. It is literally impossible for you to do it for her. This happens inside her head and no other perso in the world can figure out how to cope with it. Only her.

You are absolutely within your rights to protect your own boundaries and keep your counseling sessions private. My husband and I have had a very rough time in our marriage in the last few years, and each of us respects the privacy of what the other is working through in individual therapy. People do this all the time.

Tell your wife that if she starts therapy herself, the two of you can give your own individual counselors permission to talk to each other, in a professional capacity. Her counselor can talk to yours and give your wife assurance that what is happening in your own sessions is strictly professional, without divulging details. She will also conveniently then have someone that she herself can work with in overcoming her anxieties about your infidelity.

Good luck--this sounds like a really hard situation.
posted by Sublimity at 2:02 PM on October 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


I feel like if the genders were reversed here, people would be telling you to get the hell out and talk to a lawyer/women's advocate about getting whatever version of an order for protection or restraining order is appropriate in your jurisdiction.

This is just another instance of your wife's abusive behavior towards you, and you should definitely not give into it, because it's just giving her another way to control you.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:04 PM on October 17, 2012 [45 favorites]


No, you are not being a bad husband.

I think it's normal to be curious about a spouse's therapy. It is not normal to insist that one's spouse is having an affair with the counselor (!) or to insist that the therapy topics be shared.

If it's a trust issue, I'm not sure what you can say other than "I'm not having an affair with my counselor, nor do I want to."
posted by tuesdayschild at 2:15 PM on October 17, 2012


I think your wife is being quite unreasonable - of course you shouldn't have to tell her what you're talking about with your counsellor, and of course you aren't having an affair with them.

If I read your previous question properly, you almost slept with someone else. I don't think that's reasonable grounds to assume you are having affairs with anyone else - especially not a professional you're consulting with in order to resolve the almost-affair.

I sense from your question that you are getting a lot of stick over this whole thing, but my take on it is that your wife too has a lot to apologise for, and seek help with.
posted by thylacinthine at 2:20 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


How can I try and soothe my wife's anxieties without disclosing stuff that I'm just not ready to disclose yet? I've asked my counsellor this question; she tells me that I need to gently but firmly make clear that this is my business, but that doesn't feel like I'm being fair.

Why not? Not to be unduly challenging. But the whole point of individual counselling is having a place where you can work out what you're feeling without being pressured to censor or temper those thoughts in order to accommodate someone else. Giving you that room is what it's for, and that's a good thing.

You need to be able to communicate honestly with your wife in order to have a healthy relationship, for sure. But that's not all the same thing as your wife being owed a status update on your every thought.
posted by Diablevert at 2:24 PM on October 17, 2012


From your previous question:

I'd been trying to get us into couples therapy for over a year before this but she'd always refused because she doesn't think therapy is effective. My wife has also stated that she thinks personal therapy might help her, but that she's not going to go to a therapist until I've resolved my issues, because she doesn't see the point

You went to couples' therapy. You're going to an individual therapist. If she's even remotely interested in making this marriage work, she needs to meet you halfway. She absolutely needs to be in therapy herself.
posted by Brittanie at 2:31 PM on October 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Another vote for: Your wife needs her own counselor immediately (different from yours) and some joint counseling would probably also be good. You do not owe your wife every detail from your own sessions. It is totally unreasonable of her to accuse you of having an affair with your therapist and threatening to drive over to check.

Reading your past question is quite illuminating. You have been in an abusive marriage with a manipulator. I am inclined to agree with sparklemotion, namely that if genders were reversed, I'm sure you'd be getting a lot of DTMFA advice. The fact that you almost slept with someone else does not give her a free pass for all of her years of terrible behavior.
posted by quince at 2:31 PM on October 17, 2012 [11 favorites]


I have an anxiety problem. The first thing that absolutely needs to happen to fix an anxiety problem is treatment. No amount of sharing can fix untreated anxiety; the mind at rest makes up its own things to freak out about. I have woken up from a dead sleep in panic attacks I can't even remember the cause of. It's like having asthma--there are lots of triggers, but none of those triggers are really at fault for the fact that you can't breathe, and you can't just live in a bubble and hope it goes away. And that's presuming it's just an anxiety disorder she has, and not more than that.

So she needs to make some good faith effort, there, but not just "go talk to someone"--she needs a real psychologist or psychiatrist who can diagnose and, if not prescribe, at least refer for prescriptions. She's well outside the realm of just needing someone to talk to, from your descriptions. Is there anyone else you can get to go to bat with her about taking care of herself? You're not in a good, credible position with it anymore, obviously--not because you put yourself in that bad spot, it's just where you are. Someone needs to help get her to the point where she can see that she needs help whether or not you guys stay together. Someone who, preferably, will still be there for you even if you need to go.

But there might be things you can do, too. I know for me, it's not that I need my SO to indulge everything on my bad days when they still happen. If I say, "I'm worried about this totally irrational thing!" I don't necessarily expect it to change immediately, but it's good to have some acknowledgment: "You aren't a total freak for being worried, this is a stress point, even if a small one, and it's tweaking a sensitive spot for you, and it's going to pass." #1 biggest thing for me was learning to get out of the moment and realize that I can ride it out. "Stop worrying" is an impossible task, sometimes, but if she can say, "I had a crazy thought!" and you can start responding with, "Wow, that is a crazy thought," rather than responding to the content like it was a rational thing she really wanted? Not like I can promise it'll help, but it might. If you want it to.
posted by gracedissolved at 2:40 PM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


nthing your wife needs to soothe her anxiety issues, not you. It sounds like you've put an incredible amount of thought and effort into making this relationship work. But you can't do all the work, she has to meet you half way. It sounds to me like you need to stand up and advocate for yourself and your needs, instead of always thinking of hers.
posted by hannahelastic at 3:02 PM on October 17, 2012


You are taking steps to get emotionally healthy. Once you are strong enough, your wife's manipulations and threats won't work anymore. She's become aware of this on some level and is lashing out at the source of your strength.

You are not responsible for your wife's "anxiety", which has nothing to do with your mutual happiness by the way, and everything to do with her desire for control.

I'd say print out this question and take it to your next therapy appointment, but I think if your wife managed to read it before you got there that things would get even worse at home for you.

Your wife is abusive. You can not fix her, and it is not your job to do so.
posted by Dynex at 3:09 PM on October 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


She needs to be in treatment. For a number of things. That level of anxiety - wanting to drive by the counselor's office to make sure you aren't up to no good? - merits professional attention. Like, yesterday. Or years ago, probably.

But more importantly, she's using her anxiety as yet another tool in an already brimming toolbox to control and manipulate you. The fact that you're not seeing that right away, even after the patterns of behavior described in the previous question, tells me this should be a productive topic of conversation for your next counseling session.

You need to figure out where your line-in-the-sand boundaries are. It seems like you don't have any. I would suggest that "the content of my private therapy is private" is a good one to start with. If she doesn't like that, the answer is therapy for her, not to let her redraw the boundary for you.

But more generally, what would she have to do to get you to reconsider this relationship? What you've presented so far sounds deeply unhealthy already. You didn't get married to feel like this all the time, did you? What are you getting out of this?
posted by zjacreman at 3:10 PM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


RE: the couple's counseling that some people have recommended -

Unless you're fully prepared to do it right this time - that is, to deal with the problems in the relationship honestly, not to (in the interest of protecting her feelings) conduct a dishonest charade that wastes everybody's time, like the session discussed in your previous question - expect the same lack of results and eventual brushoff from the counselor.

And even if you get out from under her thumb enough to talk about this stuff in front of her, and damn the reprisals, your wife has to engage constructively too. And she won't. Your wife is fine with the status quo, where everything in the relationship is your fault and she always gets her way.
posted by zjacreman at 3:31 PM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd say print out this question and take it to your next therapy appointment, but I think if your wife managed to read it before you got there that things would get even worse at home for you.

In the case this is a new therapist, I would suggest printing both this question and your previous question; there is a lot of stuff going on in your marriage. Lots.
posted by vivid postcard at 3:33 PM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think you realize that you cannot square the circle. You can't. Because to do so means you could control the anxiety your wife feels, and how she behaves. And you don't have the power. Part of the problem seems to be that at least one of you, perhaps both, are mistakenly under the impression that you do have this power over her.

The first way is to acknowledge that the anxiety is hers - it's emanating from her. You and your behavior aren't the source. You're the witness. It sounds like she doesn't currently have the resiliency to withstand the fears she is feeling. You might cheat on her (yea, you might). You might decide you no longer want to be with her (also a possibility). And it sounds like the fact that she has no control over any of those possibilities is manifesting itself as anxiety and an desire to control.

You might think that telling her everything from therapy is a rational response. But her anxiety isn't rational. So even if you tell her everything, she might still have doubts that you will leave, will cheat on her, etc. But the way she digs out of that isn't to try to reassure herself that it isn't happening (by trying to find out every little thing you are saying in therapy). The way she gets out of it is to reassure herself that if any of those things did happen, she would be able to withstand and survive them.

But this is about you. And I think if there is any squaring of any circles, it's recognizing that you have the resiliency to withstand her anxiety as well, compassionately, and with boundaries. Look, no matter how many times you cheated on your wife, if you were going to cheat on your wife with your therapist, her going to visit that therapist every week would not stop it from happening. She can't watch you every minute of your life. She can't control your thoughts, or your decisions long term. You know that. Her suggestion that she's popping up at your therapist is totally ineffective response, that should signal to you that if it's the best solution she's got, she's not thinking clearly.

Her anxiety has got a hold of her, but you can't both live your lives under her umbrella of fear. It's too toxic, too dark, too oppressive. So you tell her you recognize and understand her anxiety, but don't get under that umbrella - don't make decisions from under it.

Withstand the anxiety she is feeling by acknowledging it, but not giving into it. Don't make decisions that harm you just so she can feel better. That way lies madness, because you both sink. Make decisions that help you, and encourage her to make decisions that help her feel better a well. In this case, it is her own therapist/learning to withstand her anxiety. You can't teach her how to do this. You don't have that power either. (Though once again, I can see how you both wish you did).
posted by anitanita at 4:33 PM on October 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Counselor saying "don't enable SO's anxieties" means "don't make decisions because of SO's anxieties, don't walk on eggshells, be your own person."

SO saying "I want to know what happens in your therapy or I will be anxious" is a manifestation of the above anxiety.

You square this circle by saying "my therapy sessions are a safe place where I can share things with my therapist and work through them there. They are not a shared place with you. That's how individual therapy works."
posted by zippy at 4:35 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


-I wouldn't have stayed. So my advice should have that grain of salt.
-If I had... I would draw a hard line regarding the privacy of my therapy. No exceptions.
-If that didn't work I would leave again, but supposing I'm dedicated to this situation:
-I would tell white lies about the therapy.

Because in my book people who don't respect my privacy aren't entitled to the truth
posted by French Fry at 4:52 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


DTMFA.

No, really. As others have noted, if you were a woman, that's all folks would be saying. And it wouldn't necessarily be wrong.

Your wife has exhibited some incredibly controlling behaviors. Now you're seeking help, and she's looking to undermine this by infringing upon the 'safe space,' as it were, that you've created with your therapist.

She's become increasingly anxious to find out what I'm talking about in the sessions, especially where it pertains to our marriage

This isn't understandable- this is paranoid.

Please- this cannot be good for your mental health. Get out.
posted by Cracky at 5:49 PM on October 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


YOUR COUNSELOR'S ADVICE IS SPOT-ON.

"Honey, the point of individual counseling is to give a person a safe space to explore their emotions. When I have something I want to talk about with you, I'll let you know. In the meantime, I'm going to maintain my privacy, and I have to ask you to respect that."

"Honey, I'm not having an affair with my counselor. We're doing plain old counseling. I know you're upset and worried since I made out with Person X, and I'm sorry for my role in that. Seeing your own counselor might be a good way for you to deal with some of those feelings."

Although the parking-spot-related finger-shaped-bruises episode kind of makes me wonder about your whole relationship, along with some of the other descriptions of your wife's behavior (going out without a coat, stonewalling, threatening to drive to counselor's office). Would you generally describe your wife extremely dramatic and controlling? If so, why are you OK with that? Do you think your non-one-night-stand was a way to try and change the situation and/or get out of the situation? These are all good things to work out in therapy, and yeah, for this total stranger they sound like BRIGHT RED FLAGS.
posted by feets at 6:18 PM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Based on this and the previous question: Your wife is a gargantuan control freak. She's anxious because the counselling sessions are well outside the realm of her control. You're anxious because historically the way you've dealt with her anxiety is to surrender control. Asserting new boundaries is super-uncomfortable but - again, from your questions - absolutely essential to the survival of your marriage. Your wife needs to be in counselling to learn how to cope with letting you control some aspects of your own life (as a couple you sound really enmeshed) and how to manage her own anxiety.

Feeling "unfair" is likely just the start - you are probably soon going to feel secretive, selfish, frightened, and/or traitorous as you learn how to reclaim and withhold the stuff that rightly belongs entirely to you. This is a really uncomfortable, even painful process, and not only is your wife unlikely to express any form of gratitude for it, she is very likely to be so blinded by her own pain that she won't notice much less care that it's pretty uncomfortable for you. But you have really bad couple-habits, habits so unhealthy and intolerably to you, sixsidedsock, that you nearly sabotaged the relationship. At the moment you're the one changing your part of those couple-habits, and your wife either doesn't have a role in changing yet, or isn't ready to do her part. All she can do is respond to your changes, and that means resistance.

In short, if you want to fix the relationship, hold your ground. Don't let your wife steam-roll you to manage her short-term misery, because both of you have long-term goals that require change.
posted by gingerest at 7:16 PM on October 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


You could tell her word for word what you told your therapist and I bet she wouldn't believe you. There's no winning, so you may as well keep your privacy.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:44 PM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Learn to say "no." It's an awesome super power. Later, you can even learn how to say it politely. I realize, reading this, it sounds like snark, but it's not. It's one of the fundamental elements of setting healthy boundaries.
posted by zippy at 7:54 PM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Most recently, my wife told me that she'd considered driving to the counselling office whilst I was scheduled to be in a session to see if I was in fact having an affair with my counsellor.

This is not "anxieties," this is controlling/manipulative/boundary-pushing behavior.
posted by radioamy at 7:56 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is kookoo crazy stuff. No, really - she accuses you of having an affair with your therapist because you won't tell her what you are discussing with them? This is pure manipulation, playing off of your guilt over your (almost) indiscretion.

Your therapist is absolutely correct. You need to stop playing along with this craziness. Stop answering her rationally when she is irrational. Tell her that she's out of bounds and that your business is your own. This is beyond anxiety and bordering on abuse. You may have been living in this reality for too long to see it clearly, but you are being jerked around - big time.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:58 PM on October 17, 2012


Thank you for the answers. I will try to be firmer about drawing a line as far as sharing my counselling experiences is concerned.

A few people have said things that I want to address.
@dynex: Your wife is abusive. You can not fix her, and it is not your job to do so.
@cracky Please- this cannot be good for your mental health. Get out.
@The Light Fantastic: Your therapist is absolutely correct. You need to stop playing along with this craziness. Stop answering her rationally when she is irrational. Tell her that she's out of bounds and that your business is your own. This is beyond anxiety and bordering on abuse. You may have been living in this reality for too long to see it clearly, but you are being jerked around - big time.
@gingerest: Your wife is a gargantuan control freak. She's anxious because the counselling sessions are well outside the realm of her control.
@feets: Would you generally describe your wife extremely dramatic and controlling? If so, why are you OK with that? Do you think your non-one-night-stand was a way to try and change the situation and/or get out of the situation? These are all good things to work out in therapy, and yeah, for this total stranger they sound like BRIGHT RED FLAGS.
No, I wouldn't generally call her extremely dramatic and controlling. She's a sweet, caring woman; I have not hesitation about saying that. But when she's angry she's a different person. She doesn't exhibit most of the really negative behaviours much of the time - certainly the physical violence is very rare. One of the things that I have shared with her in an attempt to appease her fears was that I've been thinking a lot about the past, about all the arguments and the nasty, vicious way that they've often gone. My wife feels that it's unfair of me to judge our marriage now on the past, though my counsellor has pointed out that many of the more bitter arguments were happing just a few months back.

I know that were I looking from the outside at another relationship, I'd be saying the same things that people are here. But I can't see my own marriage the same way. I just can't.

The almost-one-night-stand was partly - as my counsellor has put it - a way of bringing all the bad stuff that was going on to a head. It was also partly as a result of feeling like someone saw and understood me in a way that I've never felt before, which is what led me to get carried away.

The truth of how I feel is this: whatever my wife may have done in the past, I need to face up to what I've done this year. If I didn't like how she behaved in the past I should have left then, not stayed. I stayed, and if I've put up with the physical violence and so on, I can manage to be a good husband to her now, by fixing the things about me that need to be fixed.

That's how I feel. There is, I confess, a part of me that's telling me that that's not a healthy way to look at things, but I'm working on that.

To be clear: those are my words, not my wife's. My wife has told me many, many times - almost weekly at times during the last 10 years - that I would be happier without her, but that she would not feel complete without me. I don't know about the first part, but I don't think it would be fair of me to hurt her this way, try to fix myself and our marriage, and then abandon her completely.
posted by six sided sock at 4:46 AM on October 18, 2012


Also, on the subject of my wife seeing a counsellor: she has repeatedly refused; I've stopped suggesting it because she feels that it's my way of preparing her for me to leave.

My counsellor has said that if she could have one wish granted, it would be for my wife to get some professional support too. I agree, but I can only make suggestions.
posted by six sided sock at 5:05 AM on October 18, 2012


The truth of how I feel is this: whatever my wife may have done in the past, I need to face up to what I've done this year. If I didn't like how she behaved in the past I should have left then, not stayed. I stayed, and if I've put up with the physical violence and so on, I can manage to be a good husband to her now, by fixing the things about me that need to be fixed.

That's how I feel. There is, I confess, a part of me that's telling me that that's not a healthy way to look at things, but I'm working on that.


Let me throw in with the part of you that isn't comfortable with this. I can see why this is easier and more comfortable for you. I think you have two options. The first option is to confront the way your wife has treated you in the past (which does not magically dissipate like mist merely with the passage of time) and deal with the way she is still treating you in the present. This is uncomfortable. It's a big risk, because she may be unwilling to change, and you may find yourself unable to continue in the relationship once you start down that road. And it leaves everything in her hands - and out of your control. She has to participate fully in the process. She has to do things she doesn't want to do. She has to take responsibility for things she wants to deny or forget. And you can't force any of that - it has to come from her. Very, very scary and difficult, as well as new.

Or you can continue to accept the role of the bad guy. It's familiar because it's the dynamic you've always had in your relationship (from your last question: On an emotional level, I've spent the last 10 years apologising for everything in arguments, even if I didn't think it was my fault, because it was the only way to solve the argument.). It gives you the illusion of control. You can apologize and end the current argument. As long as the problems are your fault, you have something you can do to fix them, because your behavior is the critical element. What you're seeing now is that this doesn't work in the long term. There is a limit to how small you can make yourself. There is a limit to how far you can push back your own needs. Even if you make yourself the bad guy so that you feel you don't deserve to have your needs met, even if you make yourself believe you don't have the right to voice your needs, there they'll be.

Your relationship is not in trouble because you almost cheated. Your relationship is in trouble because of the way your wife treats you. The only real control you have is to stop distracting yourself from that with the red herring of the almost cheating. You can't fix your relationship by accepting the role of the bad guy. If that were possible, you would have fixed it over the years that you took on that role. What you've been doing isn't working.

Good for you for being in therapy and being willing to think about these difficult issues honestly and openly. I wish you the best. For what it's worth, and speaking as someone who has made plenty of mistakes and done bad things, you're not a bad guy. And you deserve to feel comfortable asking for what you want.
posted by prefpara at 5:23 AM on October 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Your wife is systematically cutting off every avenue of support you seek.

She controlled what you shared in couples' counseling by telling you you were "cutting her off at the knees".

She's attempting to control what you share in individual counseling by pressuring you to tell her what is going on. How can you share openly if you feel you may need to reveal that to her?

She's asking you to keep your marital problems between the two of you so you can't enlist the support of friends or family.

She is trying to control even what you think about, saying it's not fair to consider the past. The two of you clearly have not dealt with the violence that occurred even if it has tapered off to "very rare".

These are just the things I remember off the top of my head after reading your threads yesterday.

She is trying to keep you from leaving by keeping you weak, unwell and unsupported. This is not loving behavior. This is abusive behavior.

In closing:
No, I wouldn't generally call her extremely dramatic and controlling. She's a sweet, caring woman; I have not hesitation about saying that. But when she's angry she's a different person. She doesn't exhibit most of the really negative behaviours much of the time - certainly the physical violence is very rare. One of the things that I have shared with her in an attempt to appease her fears was that I've been thinking a lot about the past, about all the arguments and the nasty, vicious way that they've often gone. My wife feels that it's unfair of me to judge our marriage now on the past, though my counsellor has pointed out that many of the more bitter arguments were happing just a few months back.
This is a textbook response of the abused to the abuse. Make excuses, say she is usually very sweet. It's only when she's angry. And if you can fix yourself and just stop making her angry everything will be OK.

It won't. Tell your therapists everything. Make plans to leave, but be ready to drop everything and leave at a moment's notice. When you come to terms with what's really happening to you she may note the change in your demeanor and escalate.
posted by rocketpup at 7:08 AM on October 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


She doesn't exhibit most of the really negative behaviours much of the time - certainly the physical violence is very rare.
...
If I didn't like how she behaved in the past I should have left then, not stayed. I stayed, and if I've put up with the physical violence and so on, I can manage to be a good husband to her now, by fixing the things about me that need to be fixed.
...
My wife has told me many, many times - almost weekly at times during the last 10 years - that I would be happier without her, but that she would not feel complete without me.
...
Also, on the subject of my wife seeing a counsellor: she has repeatedly refused; I've stopped suggesting it because she feels that it's my way of preparing her for me to leave.

You're in an abusive relationship so textbook you can ask your counselor to bring one of her grad school textbooks, open it up to the "abusive relationship" section, and read it like a memoir of your life with her.

You are blaming yourself, rationalizing staying with someone who is emotionally and physically abusive, and trying really, really hard to figure out ways that she is the victim here. She's not.
posted by griphus at 7:14 AM on October 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


There is, I confess, a part of me that's telling me that that's not a healthy way to look at things, but I'm working on that.
This is the only part of you that is correct. This is the only part of you that isn't thinking what you know she wants you to think, what will avoid conflict.
My wife feels that it's unfair of me to judge our marriage now on the past, though my counsellor has pointed out that many of the more bitter arguments were happing just a few months back.
She's STILL DOING IT. She's STILL CONTROLLING YOU. Right now! This minute! With that line about unfairness, even!

That's what the whole anxiety trip about your counseling is about! She wants to know the intimate details of your therapy so that she can censor and control your thoughts through judgments and reprisals, the same way she did during couple's counseling. She doesn't want there to be a space where you can think what you think without being told - by her - that you're wrong or a bad person. You're only allowed to think what she wants you to think.
I stayed, and if I've put up with the physical violence and so on, I can manage to be a good husband to her now, by fixing the things about me that need to be fixed.
It's not all on you. She's bringing plenty of emotional problems to this horrible party. Telling a partner for 10 years that they'd be happier with someone else is not something a healthy person does. Is she fixing the things about her that need to be fixed?
My counsellor has said that if she could have one wish granted, it would be for my wife to get some professional support too. I agree, but I can only make suggestions.
That's not true. You can make it a condition of continuing the relationship, and if she doesn't follow through, you can LEAVE.

She has to be willing to work as hard for this broken relationship as you are. She's not, so far, and in fact, she's sabotaging your attempts to get emotionally healthy.

You can't even get through a paragraph without inadvertently describing another attempt at domination and control, and you don't even see them. This is not what caring relationships look like. What you've described, on every level, is abuse.

You need to get away from her. You need space to be your own person, draw your own boundaries, think your own thoughts, and she will. not. give it to you.
posted by zjacreman at 7:21 AM on October 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


The truth of how I feel is this: whatever my wife may have done in the past, I need to face up to what I've done this year. If I didn't like how she behaved in the past I should have left then, not stayed. I stayed, and if I've put up with the physical violence and so on, I can manage to be a good husband to her now, by fixing the things about me that need to be fixed.

I just want to echo what everyone else has said about your dynamic being textbook abusive (yes, you are being abused- emotionally and as you've said, even physically- by your wife).

Just because you stayed in the past when her behavior hurt you or alienated you, does not mean you deserved it then or that you deserve it now.

It is hard to acknowledge these things without blaming yourself; I have been in relationships that were unhealthy that I denied were unhealthy because I thought it meant that I was a fool and an idiot for not acting on it immediately and cutting that person out of my life. What makes those relationships so hard to quit is that the other person invariably is amazing- when they're not angry, or stressed, or drinking. They're not generally dramatic or controlling, just when Things Happen. Things happen that somehow or another you get blamed for. And you know, maybe you can see how your behavior played a part in stressing or angering your wife- and it feels better to be blamed in a way because then at least you have agency- at least there's a dynamic and you have a role in it, even if it is that of whipping-boy.

But the reality is much more dispiriting. You don't have agency. Your wife will always treat you like this, like she always has, (sunny with a chance of thunderstorms) until she makes changes in herself. And that's why you should keep going to counseling, and don't share it with your wife, unless you honestly want to (not because she wants you to and you want to keep her from getting angry) even if you spend the whole time talking about the relationship.

And one last thing: you said you wanted to "fix the things about you that need to be fixed."

I just want to suggest to you, that the only things about you that need fixing, are those you deem to be making you unhappy. Not making you unhappy insofar as they make your wife unhappy and she then makes your life unpleasant, but the things that will make you a happier, more content person. Nothing else needs to be "fixed." If you try to "fix" yourself to accomodate someone else, you will end up broken.
posted by Aubergine at 9:22 AM on October 18, 2012


You cant change your wife. Let me repeat, with bold, because its 100% true. NOTHING YOU CAN DO WILL EVER CHANGE YOUR WIFE. I understand that you have a lot invested in your wife- time, energy, frustration, etc, etc, etc, and especially love.... but she has an illness. She won't go see a doctor. This illness has bad, bad consequences for you. She does not seem particularly trustworthy. Or safe to be around (mostly mentally) Your wife has a great life- shes got a Mommy, someone whos buttons she knows and can push at whim... I know it can be hard, but I don't think 80% safe is ok. You are in control of your own life; and though you gave up most of that control to your pretty-unsafe wife, you are still responsible for you. I know what I'd tell you as a friend..... and that is 'when is too much, too much? When do you admit the impossible is impossible? Why aren't you worth taking care of?'
posted by Jacen at 9:42 AM on October 18, 2012


I say this out of love and compassion: if you have to qualify your description of your mate with "except when they're angry," then I'd like to suggest the following thought experiment.

Imagine a Metafilter user came here to ask a question about a co-worker, let's call him Tom. They describe Tom as someone who only hits them, or is abusive to them, when he's angry.

Now imagine that you were asking that question, would you say "Tom is great except when he's angry" or "Tom hits me and is abusive to me."

When an adult is abusive to someone, it's not the recipient's fault, it's the abuser's fault. Abuse, physical and mental, doesn't have to be continuous. The fear that the abuse could come again is enough to shape us and make us miserable. To self-censor because we don't want to trigger the abuse. But here's the thing, no one deserves abuse! No one deserves to feel they should explain the actions of an abuser.

I'd tell the person working with Tom to either get Tom fired, or leave that job.

What would you do?

Be considerate to your self. Be kind to your self. It's hard to have perspective on a situation when you're in fear of the next time the hammer drops. But you're here asking questions, and I think you're on a path to doing right by yourself.

Think about the job question, think about your own situation. You deserve happiness and a freedom from the fear of abuse. No matter what you've done, no matter what your partner says, no matter what your partner imagines you might do, you deserve better.

Give yourself that. You deserve it.
posted by zippy at 10:14 AM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I stand by what I said. Your wife is abusive. You can not fix her, and it is not your job to do so.

That doesn't mean she's not also a generous and kind person. People are complicated, we have many facets. She can be kind and sweet to you one day, and abusive and controlling the next. You know she can, you've stated yourself that she does both.

"I can manage to be a good husband to her now, by fixing the things about me that need to be fixed."

So let's say your wife has a broken arm. She refuses to see a doctor. Some days it seems fine, other days it is obviously hurting her very badly, but she still refuses to see a doctor. Your solution is to put a cast on your own arm. How is that going to help her? It's not.

There's nothing wrong with you to fix, you don't have a broken arm. YOU CAN NOT FIX HER. You can not fix her by "fixing" yourself!

And it is not your job to do so.
posted by Dynex at 10:27 AM on October 18, 2012


I'd like to request a moratorium on further caps lock in this thread, because the questioner is asking about an experience with shouting and abuse, and caps don't read so well in that context.
posted by zippy at 11:25 AM on October 18, 2012


This is a textbook response of the abused to the abuse. Make excuses, say she is usually very sweet. It's only when she's angry. And if you can fix yourself and just stop making her angry everything will be OK.

It won't. Tell your therapists everything. Make plans to leave, but be ready to drop everything and leave at a moment's notice. When you come to terms with what's really happening to you she may note the change in your demeanor and escalate.
This is scary advice; I have no idea how to go about getting ready to leave, I really don't (you'd think that, being the one that's responsible for making sure that things happen, I would).

One moment that did make the hairs stand up on the back of my arms today was my wife saying that if she saw [the woman I nearly slept with] in the road, she wouldn't hesitate to run her down. When I asked her later, she assured me she was joking, but there was a moment when I did wonder whether I should drop everything and go. And yet here I stay...
Be considerate to your self. Be kind to your self. It's hard to have perspective on a situation when you're in fear of the next time the hammer drops. But you're here asking questions, and I think you're on a path to doing right by yourself.
My therapist keeps telling me to be kind to myself. I don't know exactly what that looks like.

Without wanting to thread-sit, I'd like to say thank you again. Having this many people give me the same kind of advice is very powerful, and I need to think about it hard.

Today, after reading some of the replies here, my wife and I were talking about an upcoming business trip of mine - two weeks in another country. She became very tearful and told me how scared she is that I won't want to come home to her after everything that's gone on. Two days ago I would have thought that maybe I should postpone the trip (though she would have encouraged me not to, even though I also know that when I leave for the airport she'll be making jokes about me breaking my leg and having to stay at home). Now I think that two weeks away are going to do me some good.
posted by six sided sock at 12:29 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tell your therapist you are considering leaving your wife, but that you are anxious, scared and completely ignorant of the logistics of doing this. She will help you with all those things or point you to resources that can help. This is not a jail sentence. You are not locked in a cell.

Please, please, please pick up some literature on abusive relationships and read it on your business trip.
posted by griphus at 12:33 PM on October 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


My therapist keeps telling me to be kind to myself. I don't know exactly what that looks like.

Imagine a little boy is standing in front of you. He is crying. Just the two of you are in the room, so there's no one else who can take care of him. What would you do? Maybe you would talk to him and ask him what's wrong, and he would tell you about how sad, stressed, anxious, and ashamed he feels. Maybe you would make him a nice cup of cocoa, or he might tell you his favorite food is actually not even chocolaty but in fact it's lox (fill in with your favorite food, though)! And you would go to the store and get lox for him and you would take him to a quiet room where no one else was so he knew he was safe and the two of you would eat lox and maybe you would read to him.

So then having imagined that, you would go buy some lox and find a park or a coffee shop or any place where you felt safe and alone or sufficiently invisible, and bring some good chill music or a book and sit there and just eat your lox and breathe in and out and give your hands a soft squeeze.

Just think of something nice that makes you feel warm and good and then do that thing. Like taking a hot bath or watching your favorite movie from when you were 12 or spending a few hours with your best friend. Do something nice for yourself that is a bit out of the ordinary like splurging on a really warm and soft sweater that makes you feel snuggly and cared for. Do for yourself what you would do for someone else who was struggling.

The other part of being kind to yourself is harder and takes longer and is about forgiveness and acceptance and saying to yourself (and meaning it) that you're good enough just as you are.
posted by prefpara at 12:58 PM on October 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


Be kind to yourself:
Trust that you have good intentions, and forgive yourself when you err.
Believe in your own pain and count it equal to that of others.
Do things for yourself that you would do for others.

Put yourself first.

That sounds selfish and wrong. It's not: it's selfish and right. It doesn't mean don't be generous or giving or caring. It means that you should be generous and giving and caring to yourself first, and then to others. The support you give others shouldn't weaken you.

You don't expect anyone to ignore their own needs and cater to you instead, right? Extend that courtesy to yourself. Decide that any allowance you would provide to all of humanity, you can have too.
posted by Fretful Porpentine at 1:05 PM on October 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm sure that there's a lot that's great about your wife. That's why you married her; that's why you've stayed with her for years.

This situation, though, it's fucked up. Like other people said, she wants to know what you're thinking about in therapy so she can argue with it (like the "you're talking about things that happened ten years ago? you shouldn't be!" thing).

The thing that's sad is that you guys splitting up doesn't have to be the only possibility. In theory you guys could see a couple's counselor, she could see her own counselor, and the two of you could work out some new agreements -- some new ways of dealing with each other. Only, right now she's blocking that avenue by refusing. You say all you can do is suggest, which is true, but you can suggest with different degrees of firmness. If I were in your shoes, I would suggest it very firmly, i.e.

"I know you're really concerned for our marriage right now. I am too. I'm finding the therapy a great way to sort through my feelings, and if anything is going to save our marriage, it will be the therapy. With that in mind, I really want to go to couple's counseling with you, and I want you to get your own therapist also. This is a dealbreaker issue for me. You don't have to go for the rest of your life, but if you're not willing to go for six months, I'm moving out."
posted by feets at 2:04 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know that were I looking from the outside at another relationship, I'd be saying the same things that people are here. But I can't see my own marriage the same way. I just can't.

Except, your wife has said:

- She would break your leg if she could so that you don't have to go on your business trip.
- She would run down the woman you almost slept with.
- She thinks you're having an affair with your therapist because you won't talk about what goes on in therapy.
- She will drive to your therapist's office to see whether or not you're having an affair with your therapist.

Your wife has also:

- Physically assaulted you.
- Threatened to kill herself.
- Verbally abused the woman you almost slept with via you.
- Manipulated you into having to come home to her after your business trip.
- Repeatedly baited you into leaving her, almost on a weekly basis, for 10 years.
- Repeatedly walked out the door in the middle of the night without her coat/keys/phone in order to make you worry about her.
- Demanded to know what's going on in your private and confidential therapy sessions.

And here's what you've done, according to what you've told us:

- You almost put your penis inside someone's vagina.
- You've gone to a see a therapist.
- You are your wife's caretaker.

I will put significant money on the table that the only reason you won't leave is that you're worried about what will happen to your wife if you do. You've looked after her for so long - how could she survive without you? And, likewise, how could you survive without looking after someone? Except, you would look after yourself (and start actively volunteering somewhere as well) and if your wife is able to hold down a job, your wife will cope if she wants to.

I think this fear we have of letting go of people and situations is a survival mechanism, from when the tribe members were completely dependent on one another in order to survive - literally. But, that is far less apt nowadays - we have many more options, we're not as locked into situations that are not in our best interests purely so that we can eat, have shelter, and reproduce.

You are not getting any younger and life is not meant to be lived this way.
posted by heyjude at 2:56 PM on October 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


@gryphus: Please, please, please pick up some literature on abusive relationships and read it on your business trip.
Can you give me any recommendations? The idea of thinking of my wife as abusive induces massive cognitive dissonance in me, and indeed when I was searching for literature about this last night and saw a review of a book that said "this book calls 'abuse' that which normal people call 'partners with baggage'" (I paraphrase), I immediately felt myself thinking "that's all it is; I should stop worrying."

I'd rather not let my own biases steer me away from something that might help me, though.
@feets: The thing that's sad is that you guys splitting up doesn't have to be the only possibility. In theory you guys could see a couple's counselor, she could see her own counselor, and the two of you could work out some new agreements -- some new ways of dealing with each other. Only, right now she's blocking that avenue by refusing. You say all you can do is suggest, which is true, but you can suggest with different degrees of firmness. If I were in your shoes, I would suggest it very firmly, i.e.
The thing that I find upsetting about my own feelings here is that I almost feel tried-out. Like I just want to walk away and get myself back and start over. Which is grossly unfair to my wife, since I've never really called her on the behaviour I'm finding it so hard to deal with (i.e. I've brought it up, but when things have slid back to how they used to be, I 've never complained or set any ultimatums). As someone said upthread, I have no lines-in-the-sand.
@heyjude: I will put significant money on the table that the only reason you won't leave is that you're worried about what will happen to your wife if you do. You've looked after her for so long - how could she survive without you?
You'd be mostly right. The idea of having to deal with the logistics of moving isn't one I enjoy contemplating, but mostly it's the idea of my wife having to come home to a house empty of all my things, and knowing it will break her heart, that stops me cold.

And I know that if I were to come back from my trip away and say "I've had some time to think, I need some more time to think and I need some space to do it in; I want to live separately for $time_period" we'd instantly get into an argument about who should move out - I'd be willing to, my wife would argue it should be her, and so on, until I ended up going nowhere (you may have gathered that this has happened before).
posted by six sided sock at 7:05 AM on October 19, 2012


Can you give me any recommendations?

Unfortunately not. However, there is some information on the MetaFilter FAQ, and you can always call your therapist and ask her for recommendations. Please don't be embarrassed to do that. It is, literally, asking her to do her job and she will be able to help.

Abusers and the people who suffer their abuse are both more than willing to rationalize the behavior by giving it other, less dangerous names, assuming that it is just a totally ordinary part of the relationship experience, and figuring out ways that it could be worse and working their way backwards from that. "Abuse" and "partners with baggage" aren't remotely mutually exclusive. In fact, they tend to easily go hand-in-hand.

...I'd be willing to, my wife would argue it should be her, and so on, until I ended up going nowhere...

You could always move out first and tell her after. You don't need to take every precious belonging, but just enough stuff that coming home won't be a requirement for you to be able to get a night's sleep and go to work in the morning. If that means taking your toiletries and a few suits over to a hotel or a friend's place, so be it.
posted by griphus at 7:14 AM on October 19, 2012


The thing that I find upsetting about my own feelings here is that I almost feel tried-out. Like I just want to walk away and get myself back and start over. Which is grossly unfair to my wife, since I've never really called her on the behaviour I'm finding it so hard to deal with (i.e. I've brought it up, but when things have slid back to how they used to be, I 've never complained or set any ultimatums). As someone said upthread, I have no lines-in-the-sand.

Of course you feel tried out. But you need to recalibrate your feelings on what's fair to your wife. You haven't drawn any lines in the sand because you have been manipulated and abused into not doing so.

You'd be mostly right. The idea of having to deal with the logistics of moving isn't one I enjoy contemplating, but mostly it's the idea of my wife having to come home to a house empty of all my things, and knowing it will break her heart, that stops me cold.

The way your wife has been behaving these years is not normal and not healthy. She is sick and it is making both of your lives miserable. Your own behavior is enabling her to keep doing it. It is simply not possible for you to change your own behavior while continuing on under this situation.

So, if you love your wife and you love yourself, you need to leave.

Ideally you make arrangements to assure access to important documents, your bank accounts or at least sufficient funds to keep you going for a couple months.

But, ultimately leaving is as simple as walking out the door and going to a hotel or friend's house instead of coming back. Or working on getting an apartment during your business trip and checking into a hotel when you get back and quickly signing your lease. You should already have 2 weeks worth of clothes and necessities in your bag when you land so that's a pretty good start.

We don't know where you are, but there are certainly local resources available to you. Your therapist or a temporary replacement can certainly help you with that. If they seem surprised, remember, you haven't told them everything. Tell them that, then tell them everything.

You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE or 800-799-7233. Remember, violence is not strictly physical and helpful resources are not just for women.

Once you are out you have two choices.

1) Begin divorce proceedings.

2) Demand your wife enter individual therapy and couples therapy with you again. She doesn't get your new address. She doesn't get to see you outside of couples' therapy until such time as your therapists think it makes sense.

Then you muddle on from there.
posted by rocketpup at 7:40 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


PS: I am not a therapist, I am not your therapist. The above advice is what I would give to a friend who described to me those things you've described in your two posts. You ultimately need to make your own decisions.
posted by rocketpup at 7:53 AM on October 19, 2012


You say:

grossly unfair to my wife, since I've never really called her on the behaviour I'm finding it so hard to deal with (i.e. I've brought it up, but when things have slid back to how they used to be, I 've never complained or set any ultimatums). As someone said upthread, I have no lines-in-the-sand.

and:

I know that if I were to come back from my trip away and say "I've had some time to think, I need some more time to think and I need some space to do it in; I want to live separately for $time_period" we'd instantly get into an argument about who should move out - I'd be willing to, my wife would argue it should be her, and so on, until I ended up going nowhere (you may have gathered that this has happened before).


You've brought up problems in your relationship and you've gotten to the point where you were discussing the possibility of someone moving out. You've communicated. This is not grossly unfair.

I just want to point out that when you don't bring things up and draw lines in the sand, you're being the bad guy because you're not giving your wife enough notice or enough chances to fix things. But if you bring up problems or draw lines in the sand now, that would make you the bad guy because of all the reasons you've listed above. Do you see how lose-lose that is? That's because you've taken on 100% of the responsibility for the relationship.
posted by prefpara at 8:54 AM on October 19, 2012


Please also remember that when she says that you are better off without her, and starts crying about being afraid you won't come back after the business trip is also manipulation.

If she were willing to do the work (go to therapy, etc.), then that would be one thing, but the fact that she is expressing her emotions this way without stepping up to help fix the situation is manipulation.
posted by Vaike at 10:07 AM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


"And I know that if I were to come back from my trip away and say "I've had some time to think, I need some more time to think and I need some space to do it in; I want to live separately for $time_period" we'd instantly get into an argument about who should move out - I'd be willing to, my wife would argue it should be her, and so on, until I ended up going nowhere (you may have gathered that this has happened before)."

The way to break this cycle is to refuse to engage in arguing. You say you need some space and will be moving out, when she throws back at you that no, she will move out! you simply pick up your bags and leave. I would highly recommend not telling her anything until you know where you will be staying and potentially have your bags already there.

I'm not going to tell you to move out, or take a break. I think you've been buffeted around by other peoples desires for a long while now. Two weeks on a work trip by yourself could be some excellent thinking time. What do you want. What would make you happy.

From your posts, I really don't think trying to "fix" yourself and doing everything you can to ease your wife's anxiety is going to lead to happiness, but I am not you. I've learned a lot about myself reading books and speaking with therapists, and I have a much better idea now what makes me happy then I did then. I'm hesitant to recommend Patricia Evan's book "Verbal Abuse" because she couches it all as a male problem on women (which is total crap, as a woman it taught me to stop recreating my parent's messed up relationship, it wasn't my boyfriend with that problem), but the issues you have been having are reflected in it.

I do urge you to not think of this in terms about what would make your wife happy. She is responsible for her own happiness, you for yours. You're not a life buoy, if she's drowning and you jump in to save her, she's just going to take you down with her. If she only needs some help and care, put on your own oxygen mask first!

All the best, sincerely hoping things work out for you.
posted by Dynex at 2:58 PM on October 19, 2012


Baggage: I have difficulty regulating my emotions and my fears about losing control cause me to act out to those around me through aggressive and manipulative behaviours. I recognise that this is wrong and I take responsibility for those feelings and my reactions that I recognise are destructive to my marriage. I will get help by talking to my doctor and by going to see a therapist. I know it will be difficult regaining my husband's trust and feelings of security but I will work towards finding better ways to deal with my emotions and to communicate these to my husband because I am committed to spending the rest of my life with him.

Abuse: My behaviour is not wrong and I will not take responsibility for it. My husband is to blame for everything. I will not go and see a therapist until he has fixed himself. Because I will not get help our relationship will often be a constant roller coaster of emotions and my husband will need to walk on eggshells and strictly monitor his behaviour and feelings so as to not upset me. When I feel out of control, I will demand to know what goes on in private facets of his life, accuse him of things that aren't true, threaten to leave, and bait him into leaving as often as possible. Because I will be upset during these times, he will feel tremendously guilty and will not leave. Because our relationship is fine 90% of the time, he will constantly doubt himself.

If either of you had abusive childhoods, this will largely explain the malleable boundaries you both have. Perhaps you had an alcoholic parent who you had to look after and if you did the wrong thing you'd get beaten. Perhaps your wife had a parent who had to act out in order to be listened to. You haven't said, so I'm just guessing.

But, really, both of you just need to heal.
posted by heyjude at 3:11 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is very sad! To answer the question, a way to stop enabling her (something that rests only on you, not on her or her reaction) is to not tell her what you talk about in the sessions. Draw a line and hold to it. See if there are other things that can be adjusted to help her be more comfortable, perhaps; for example, would it help if you saw a therapist who is not a gender you are attracted to? Or agreeing to share at a certain date or agreeing to talk at a monthly meal? These could be appeasing, or they could be honest ways to let her know that you take this change seriously; I present them not as things definitely to do, but paths that may lead away from "this or that" thinking regarding sharing.

One thing that can happen if you share a little bit, inconsistently, is that those times you don't share things start to stand out and seem suspicious. It might be better to establish your boundaries and know where you are you are willing to be flexible, keep working on you, and allow or invite--but not pressure--your wife to understand and accept the way things now are. This may take a while!

This sounds very difficult and I wish you well. It looks like some people are advising you to leave. I don't know if that is right for you, but encourage you to remember what is important to you and take actions that align with that.
posted by ramenopres at 10:08 PM on October 21, 2012


Do you know any women or girls? A niece, A sister, A mother, A close friend of the family?

Pick one you love. Imagine them saying this to you

my husband tells me that my not sharing what I'm talking about in counselling sessions is making him anxious

he is making repeated attempts to get me to discuss what goes on in the sessions, even though I've explained that a lot of it is still very raw and I'm not ready to talk about it outside a safe environment yet

my husband told me that he'd considered driving to the counselling office whilst I was scheduled to be in a session to see if I was in fact having an affair with my counsellor.

The idea of thinking of my husband as abusive induces massive cognitive dissonance in me

He's a sweet, caring man; I have not hesitation about saying that. But when he's angry he's a different person.

He doesn't exhibit most of the really negative behaviors much of the time - certainly the physical violence is very rare.

I also know that when I leave for the airport he'll be making jokes about me breaking my leg

Although I'd remembered that, what I'd forgotten was that during that time he took to pushing or hitting me. He once grabbed my face after a fight over parking the car and left finger-shaped bruises.


What would you say to this woman? Would you be interested in learning about how this dud was honestly a really great guy if only you could look past all this?

Should the woman above just work on herself and try and fix things?

Or would your plan involve a shovel?

My point is I think you are letting gender blind you to want is going on here. Abuse is not about who is bigger or stronger. Do you think that teenage boys beaten by their mothers are not really abuse victims? What about women who are taller or heavier than their husbands, are they immune from abuse?
posted by French Fry at 5:38 AM on October 22, 2012


OP, I'm struck, on re-reading this thread, what seems to me to be a really large difference in what you and your wife mean when you say 'love.'

You say:

You'd be mostly right. The idea of having to deal with the logistics of moving isn't one I enjoy contemplating, but mostly it's the idea of my wife having to come home to a house empty of all my things, and knowing it will break her heart, that stops me cold.

Certainly the logistics of leaving a marriage are daunting (I've done it). It is a really extraordinarily complicated thing, emotionally; not to mention all the boring housekeeping aspects. But it is absolutely doable, and like Lao Tzu's thousand mile journey, it begins beneath your feet.

And further, you say:

My wife has told me many, many times - almost weekly at times during the last 10 years - that I would be happier without her, but that she would not feel complete without me.

I think your wife feels something very, very strong about you, but I don't think I would characterise it as 'love', if we can agree that to love someone is to find joy in their company, to wish for them to be healthy and happy, to create a life between you that is sustaining. I don't think you nearly had an affair out of some complicated bringing-things-to-a-head reason, I think you were seeking intimacy and affection. Every single thing you describe your wife doing and saying sounds deeply unhealthy and unloving of you.

People stay in relationships, and feel unable to let go of relationships for a lot of different reasons, and mostly, it isn't anything to do with feeling 'love'. It is about guilt, or pride, or duty, or habit, or comfort. But we all are deserving of relationships that are truly mutual and truly nurturing and loving. Everything else is illusion. If we cannot find safety and warmth within the arms of our partner, then what is any of it for? Does someone who 'loves' you harm you and manipulate you?
posted by thylacinthine at 11:22 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm on my business trip now, and feeling very conflicted. A couple of days before I left, my wife and I had a conversation that turned into something of a confrontation. She said she was feeling fragile, emotional; that not knowing what I wanted, how I felt, was upsetting her. We talked about how I'd been working in counselling on my side of things; I suggested she should get counselling.

At some point I said "I have been getting counselling and it's helped me. I think it would help you and I thing we should get counselling together... I think you should meet me halfway on this."

That was the point that she said she was going to leave: "I'm tired," she said, "of giving everything and getting nothing back."

Later on, I confronted her about the things from the past that I was struggling with, and she apologised for all of them, saying that she'd been a terrible wife to me, but that she'd changed (she pointed out, rightly, that many - though not all - of the bad things that had happened had happened when she was on hormonal birth control, which she's now stopped).

The day after all this happened was wonderful. We spent the day doing something outdoors-y that we love doing together, and we made love a great deal. She told me later on that she'd never actually meant to leave when she'd said it the night before, but thought that it would have been the right thing to do.

We've been talking on the phone every couple of days, and each time I've said that I've missed her (which I do) she's become tearful, asking "really?" She'd said before I left that I should only tell her that I missed her if I actually meant it.

And so here I am feeling as though I should feel that everything is going to be okay, that apologies have been made and that everything will change now. Except I'm not wholly sure that it will. But I don't know whether I should just give it yet another chance.

I'm aware that I've long been the person who forgot the bad and remembered the good, only to let the bad cycle round again. I don't want to be that guy again, but I don't want to break my wife's heart. I know that I love her; I'm not certain that I want to spend the rest of my life with her.

Am I being maniupulated, controlled? I don't know. I don't like those terms as they're applied to my marriage.

To answer some specific comments:
@French Fry: My point is I think you are letting gender blind you to want is going on here. Abuse is not about who is bigger or stronger. Do you think that teenage boys beaten by their mothers are not really abuse victims? What about women who are taller or heavier than their husbands, are they immune from abuse?
Were this some on-going campaign of abuse, I would agree. Most of the stuff over the last six months has been of a low-ish level - stonewalling and urging me to leave, along with some aggression when asking questions about my almost affair, have been the worst of it. I don't think gender is blinding me, I think I don't have it as bad as people think I do.
@thylacinthe: I think your wife feels something very, very strong about you, but I don't think I would characterise it as 'love', if we can agree that to love someone is to find joy in their company, to wish for them to be healthy and happy, to create a life between you that is sustaining. I don't think you nearly had an affair out of some complicated bringing-things-to-a-head reason, I think you were seeking intimacy and affection. Every single thing you describe your wife doing and saying sounds deeply unhealthy and unloving of you.
I like to think that my wife does love me. We genuinely do enjoy each other's company for the majority of the time, and I know that she wants me to be happy and to succeed in what I dream of doing (though I have said to my counsellor before that I don't always feel that she backs me in that in quite the way I need, despite me having stated my needs plainly).

I would agree with your characterisation of why the almost-affair happened, though, at least to a certain extent. That person and I connected on a very deep level - or at least it felt like we did - before what almost happened almost happened.
posted by six sided sock at 4:37 AM on October 26, 2012


How do you know if this time is different? You know if she agrees to get individual or couples counseling. Words are just words. She's said lots of things before she didn't mean. Actions tell the truth more reliably.
posted by prefpara at 5:00 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


1) This did not all happen in the past. Threatening to run the other woman over with her car, joking about you getting your legs broken on the way to the airport, threatening to drive to your therapist's office -- all that happened recently.

2) You asked her to see a therapist. She said she would rather divorce you.

3) Then said she'd been a "terrible wife." This sounds like classic bad-relationship behavior, where the person who's behaved badly feels so bad about it that you have to let them off the hook -- maybe even comfort them.

4) Apologies, as prefpara notes, don't magically bring change. Your wife has a controlling and dramatic streak. Apologies won't change her emotional patterns; therapy might.

5) If you were my friend, I'd say try again. Say "I need you to go to counseling; it's a deal-breaker issue for me." (And it would be a deal-breaker for me. Even if she thinks it's stupid/ineffective/whatever, it's something super important to you that would only take one hour out of her week. If she's not willing to do that much, she's not a willing partner.) And if she then says "No, I'd rather divorce you," then say "OK, then let's get a divorce."
posted by feets at 2:43 AM on October 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you haven't already, do up your lists in a password-protected file:

- I married my wife because...
- I love my wife now because...
- My marriage makes me happy because...
- My marriage makes me unhappy because...
- I need these things in order to be happy in my life... (mark which ones you are currently getting)

A complete outsider's perspective is that:

At some point I said "I have been getting counselling and it's helped me. I think it would help you and I thing we should get counselling together... I think you should meet me halfway on this."

That was the point that she said she was going to leave: "I'm tired," she said, "of giving everything and getting nothing back."


Means that she doesn't love you enough to put her fears re: counselling aside in order to help your marriage. I mean, jeez, she could just make an appointment and go and talk to a therapist about bees for an hour. But her statement was a martyr/deflection one. She will not do it at all. And again, you are to blame here (she's given you everything, she's getting nothing back). Again, you will accept that role because you've done so in the past.

When she said that, that was your cue to say: Well, if you're not getting anything out of this marriage, then I guess we should end it.

Later on, I confronted her about the things from the past that I was struggling with, and she apologised for all of them, saying that she'd been a terrible wife to me, but that she'd changed (she pointed out, rightly, that many - though not all - of the bad things that had happened had happened when she was on hormonal birth control, which she's now stopped).

She took responsibility albeit with a caveat - it wasn't fully her responsibility. Replace the Pill with 'alcohol', 'heroin', 'cocaine', 'meth'. There's always a convenient third-party who will take the bulk of the responsibility, y'know.

Am I being maniupulated, controlled? I don't know. I don't like those terms as they're applied to my marriage.

No one does. That doesn't mean it's not happening.

That person and I connected on a very deep level - or at least it felt like we did - before what almost happened almost happened.

So maybe you need more? This will come back to whatever your lists wind up saying.
posted by heyjude at 2:36 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


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