How does one practice detachment in a codependent, anxiety-rich relationship? How can I be the husband my wife needs me to be whilst also getting what I need?
I've been trying to avoid writing this post for the last few weeks, because it's the third or fourth time that I've posted about my marriage on AskMeFi, and I rather feel like I've failed somewhere if I keep having to come back.
Let me say up front, because I want it to be clear: I love my wife. She's one of the sweetest, funniest, most loveable people I've ever met. We get along very well for a lot of the time, and we're seen as inseparable by our close friends (even those who knew that we separated have said that things didn't seem right without us together). I don't want to leave her again, but I also don't think I can carry on with the status quo indefinitely.
"Put on your own oxygen mask" is oft-given advice here on the green, and I want to find a way to do that whilst also supporting my wife through some difficult issues. It's fair to say that we've fallen into a codependent relationship (at least as far as I understand the term).
The brief summary (you can see some of my posting history for more details):
- My wife and I have been together for 15 years, married for nearly 13. We're both in our late thirties. There's never been any infidelity.
- At the end of 2012 we separated; I chose to leave because my wife refused to get counselling about her anxieties and anxienty-driven behaviours that were hurting both of us.
- She eventually got a therapist, and we saw a couples therapist; her personal therapist said it would be better if she didn't see both a personal therapist at the same time, so she stopped personal therapy.
- We worked through a lot of stuff in couples' therapy, though we didn't have as many sessions as I'd expected (8 weeks with the option of coming back if we needed to). Eventually, around the start of April '13, I moved back in.
- Things started to get steadily worse again; my wife's anxieties around abandonment became a very powerful force in her life (understandably, since in her eyes I'd abandoned her).
- She refused to get therapy again, saying that it was her job to work through things. (The subject of my first question about all this, in fact).
- Eventually, she did start to see a therapist of her own again. This lasted for about six weeks before her therapist said that there was nothing more to be done in sessions, and that my wife had all the tools she needed to continue on her own. (Needless to say my own therapist and I were very surprised about this).
Whilst the second batch of therapy did seem to help my wife, and helped her handle her anxieties, they're now coming back again with a vengeance.
Some recent examples:
- Some nights she won't phone me to say she's coming home because she's scared that I'll have left her without telling her. This means that if I run errands around the time she's arriving home from work (quite often only the time that I've got available in my day to do so) I need to tell her first... Except that I can only do that by SMS (her job has a strict no cell phones policy for various reasons) and she doesn't accept that as evidence that I won't have left; "You could," she once said, "tell me that you were just going to the bank but instead you'd be packing up to leave."
- If she thinks she's done something to upset me she'll often try to make things worse rather than better, in order to show me that I really shouldn't be with her. A recent example of this was angrily talking about cancelling an activity we were both looking forward to (because she thought I didn't care enough), then telling me she actually had cancelled it (because she thought she'd upset me and she wanted to prove how terrible she was) and then, when I found out that she was lying about having cancelled, telling me that she knew I was going to leave her and she was just trying to show me how it would be the right thing for me.
- In the mornings she often sends me an SMS to say she's arrived at work; she's taken to questioning me in these SMSes ("Swear on my life that you've never taken illegal drugs," "How can I be sure that you won't leave me again?" "How can I be sure that you're not having an affair?". I always answer the questions, and without letting how much it hurt come across in the message, because I know that if I don't she'll be fretting about it all day, and then we'll fight about it in the evening. When she gets home she always apologises for the questions — she can't help them bubbling up during the commute, and she needs to ask them rather than stew on them. Sometimes they stop for a while, but they always come back.
- I need to go to bed early because I get up for work at 5:30am. My wife hates being the last one to bed, and will refuse to come to bed if I go to bed without her, even if I'm exhausted. Often I'll end up staying up until 1am so that she doesn't have to be the one to check that the doors are locked and so on. This leaves me drained, but it's better than waking up in the morning to find that she's slept on the sofa and had very little sleep.
- On a similar note, if I'm too tired for sex (which happens often when I've had only 4 or 5 hours sleep several nights in a row) my wife will either toss and turn in bed, muttering to herself (and so keeping me awake) or take this as evidence that I'm having an affair and use it as fuel to start a fight. I'm always too tired for this, so we often end up having sex even when I'm too tired to really enjoy it.
- Finally, on the subject of sex, my wife has a specific kink that I don't share (or rather, it doesn't turn me on in and of itself, but her reaction when we indulge it does, so I'm happy to bring it in to our sex life). However, whenever we indulge that kink, my wife will, after sex, spend a lot of time telling me what a slut she is for having that kink, and saying that I should be ashamed of her and that she knows that eventually I'll leave her for someone normal.
Once again, my wife won't go and see a therapist. She didn't like the second one she saw, and although she asked me to ask my therapist for a recommendation, she said that all the recommended therapists were too expensive (they weren't, given our combined take-home pay) and that she just had to "deal with it all herself." When I told her that I needed her to get whatever help she needed to deal with these issues, she told me that I was bullying her, and made me promise (after pointing out that all this was my fault for leaving in the first place) never to bring it up again.
My wife has suggested returning couples therapy (Relate in the UK) a couple of times, but when I agree with her she takes that as a symptom of our failure and evidence of my desire to leave, and it becomes a massive stress point, so in the end we don't go.
I've come to the conclusion that she simply doesn't "get" therapy — she says herself that the majority of her sessions are just spent with her or the therapist trying to make small talk instead of actually talking about what's going on. She doesn't see that it helped her at all. As I've said before, she says that in couples therapy she puts on her "best face" for the therapist, because she hates to be judged, which means that issues stay hidden because she won't talk about them.
My therapist, whom I've been seeing for nigh on two years now, has said that sometimes my wife sounds like she's exhibiting symptoms of BPD, but that it's not consistent enough to actually be
BPD (and anyway, she can't diagnose that kind of thing from a distance).
What do I do to get through this period, MeFites? Yoga, meditation, mindfulness...? I have no intention of leaving again; it was hell the first time around and I can't face doing it again. The good times are really, really good, and I need to support my wife as she goes through all this without feeding her anxieties and whilst looking after myself too, and I don't know what that looks like.