Desperately seeking stability
September 22, 2012 7:30 AM   Subscribe

How do I get a handle on what I've uncovered in therapy outside the therapist's office whilst my therapist is unavailable for a few weeks?

I'm currently in therapy after cheating on my wife of 10 years. I nearly had a one-night stand with a friend, and although I stopped before we'd got further than the clothes off stage, it's still infidelity and it still very nearly torpedoed my marriage.

We have been going to couples therapy and recently wrapped up things there after six weeks of seeing the therapist (she felt that we could achieve more outside her office than inside it).

As part of the therapy, our therapist recommended that I get individual therapy to help me deal with what I'd done, since it was massively out of character for me (this is the first time in 16 years of being with my wife that I've ever been unfaithful). I knew that things had been bad for a while before I cheated - 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 (she thinks there's a strong chance I'll walk out on her, and thinks therapy before that is a waste of money).

I've been seeing my therapist for four weeks now, and it's clear that we have a good working relationship. However, some of the things I've uncovered in therapy are worrying me, and I'm struggling to deal with them. My therapist is now away for a few weeks for personal reasons (a family emergency in another country, FWIW), and I'm confused as to how to deal with the stuff that came up most recently, including:

- About 8 years ago, my wife and I went through a rough patch. Although I'd remembered that, what I'd forgotten was that during that time she took to pushing or hitting me. She once grabbed my face after a fight over parking the car and left finger-shaped bruises. I found this when I went back through old online journal entries, and had completely forgotten it until then.
- My therapist observed that I've basically been a caretaker to my wife for the last 10 years or so: On a practical level I do all the cooking, most of the cleaning, make her lunch for work, make sure she gets up on time and so on. 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.
- My therapist said that it sounded like my wife was exhibiting controlling behaviours, such as:
- Stonewalling me during fights
- Threatening to leave and then not leaving
- Walking out of the house late at night in winter (we live in the countryside) and leaving her phone, keys and coat. If I didn't try to follow her, she would accuse me of not caring about her, and would repeatedly assert that I wanted her to be raped or murdered.

These are all pretty nasty things to be remembering, and I can't reconcile them with the woman I know and love. She hasn't exhibited most of these behaviours for several years (though some, such as threatening to leave and stonewalling she still does reasonably regularly), so it feels a little unfair to judge her on any of it. Should I just be judging her on the way she behaves from here on in?

I'm also struggling to deal with the level of hatred and anger coming from my wife about the woman with whom I cheated. Although I have cut off contact with her, and I'm not going to contact her again under any circumstances, I'm finding it hard to handle my wife continually calling her a whore, or a slut, or saying that she hopes she gets cancer and dies alone. I know that my wife is entitled to feel these things, and I don't really have any reason to complain - after all I caused those feelings - but as I'm the only one to whom she's saying them, hearing them daily is starting to wear on me. Walking away just causes a larger row.

To make it absolutely clear: I do love my wife, and though I'm finding things hard at the moment and occasionally wondering whether it's time to call an end to things, I don't want to give up without fighting damn hard first. I'm fighting a low-level depression (without meds, though that may change if things get worse) and have had a couple of episodes of intrusive suicidal thoughts during arguments with my wife (my counsellor and I agree that this is more my brain offering me an escape route, albeit an extreme one, rather than an actual desire to end it all).

Can anyone suggest coping strategies to deal with everything that's going on to avoid it overloading me over the next few weeks?
posted by six sided sock to Human Relations (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I would keep a journal, and write down what you are thinking and feeling. I think this will help in two ways: it will provide a bit of an outlet for you, plus it will be a good record that you can share with your therapist when s/he returns.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:40 AM on September 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm surprised your therapist didn't recommend a colleague in the interim that she took leave, especially given your situation. If she's part of a private practice, can you call the office and ask for another therapist? I know that's easier said than done because all therapists are different, but if you're really on the rocks then you might need to find an alternate. If your current therapist is available to take a work call, perhaps you can still ask her/him.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:54 AM on September 22, 2012

That sounds really difficult. I would like to give you advice but honestly I don't want to make your situation worse. Having interacted with abusive people, I know the feeling of walking on eggshells and thereality that well intentioned attempts to make things better can literally become seriously unhealthy or dangerous fast.

Can you call a domestic abuse shelter in your area? Many such places offer 24/7 phone lines that you could make use of, even if all you get out of it is a listening ear and some calm reassurance to get through it until you meet with your therapist to create a more comprehensive strategy to make this better (and by "this" I mean your life...with or without this relationship).

You literally can call these places every day if you need to. I mean, they are going to try to get you connected to real counseling and might work with you to create a better solution than calling the hotline every day-- but if you just need someone with a good grasp of abusive situations to talk you through making it through these next two weeks, a few phone calls to the hotline would be totally fine.
posted by xarnop at 8:05 AM on September 22, 2012

Why not take this time to try new behaviors, mostly in standing up for yourself. Tell your wife that from here forward you two will each be responsible for half of the household chores. During arguments, express your opinions instead of walking away. When she says that the other woman is a slut, say "Perhaps, but at least she treated me better than you do."

If the almost-cheating was because your marriage is miserable (and it sounds like it is), then your marriage won't get better by you letting all the miserable things slide. It's long past the time that most people would get indignant (at a minimum) by this treatment and call her out on it.

It's ok to stand up for yourself!
posted by Houstonian at 8:07 AM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also if your wife screens your phone calls, you can go somewhere and use a payphone.
posted by xarnop at 8:07 AM on September 22, 2012

That is an extremely complex situation but I do not think AskMe is the place to try to resolve these issues. I actually thikn the well-intentioned advice of other members that have only part of the information is actually rather dangerous in your sitution.

Can you contact the previous couples counsellor, explain that your individual therapist is legitimately unavailable and see if you can have a few sessions together with her to devise coping strategies for working as a team together until you can get back to your regular therapist.

she thinks there's a strong chance I'll walk out on her, and thinks therapy before that is a waste of money

Since that is impeding any progress together you need to address that with the couple's counsellor.
posted by saucysault at 8:29 AM on September 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Why not take this time to try new behaviors, mostly in standing up for yourself


Also, under no circumstances have kids.
posted by rr at 8:49 AM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

If a stop-gap therapist isn't an option, or one you don't want to exercise right now, finding another place to stay for awhile could be a good option. You have a lot to think through, and your wife isn't helping--her behavior about the woman you had the affair with, for instance, would not be OK with me. Sure, it's OK for her to be angry. But the kind of language she's using is not appropriate, in my view.

The best option for you might be to get out of the situation to think, or simply to not have new interactions piling on while you're busy trying to think through all that has come up for you. I'd guess your wife won't take such a decision well. But if you were a friend of mine and we were discussing this over coffee, I'd suggest that you tell your wife you're staying somewhere else until your therapist gets back and you have a chance to discuss the situation with her.
posted by not that girl at 9:08 AM on September 22, 2012

Another reason to reach out to the couples counsellor is that all of the issues you are dealing with relate to your wife's behaviour. The issues you should be dealing with an individual counsellor is your own part in the couple's dynamic and your own actions; she would pull you back from the blaming and judging of your wife from eight years ago you are focusing on towards taking responsibility for the here and now.

I actually had missed the sucidal ideation the young rope rider mentioned which indicates you are under an incredible amount of stress. Your regular health care provider should be able to prescribe something for you to take when you are feeling overwhelmed to avoid rash words and actions. I strongly suggest you look into that a temporary measure until you have a stronger support network and coping skills.
posted by saucysault at 9:26 AM on September 22, 2012

Is there a group therapy that's available? I'm in Al-anon and one of the great things about it is the support you get when you're trying new behaviors. You call someone in the group up, tell them "I'm going to try this". Get feedback. Do the new behavior. Then call again and debrief. (All steps optional, of course.) Sounds extreme but it's awesome. Nobody is professional but they're all trying out new stuff and trying to better themselves, for lack of a better phrase.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:18 AM on September 22, 2012

What you describe is an abusive relationship - all of those behaviours you describe her engaging in are controlling and manipulative.

You need to find someone to meet with NOW. What you're feeling is normal for what happened in your marriage, and it's impossible to walk through this by yourself. You need someone to help you process what you're feeling and then figure out how to change your behaviour in a way that will be as non-confrontational as possible, but as loving as possible as well.

Do not wait until your counselor gets back. Also, do you have a friend you can confide in, and who would be more available on an immediate basis when you're struggling between appointments? Like a lightning rod, almost - someone who can take those intense feelings and help you get them out, then move past them.

I have some personal experience that I'd be happy to share with you over memail if you want. It's really tough to live in that kind of environment and to feel so alone and trapped. Good luck. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:56 AM on September 22, 2012

I am so sorry - you sound like an incredibly compassionate and giving person. The key now is to try to start being compassionate and giving towards you.

Journaling (password-protected file) and mindfulness meditation can help in the interim. I also suggest talking to your couples counsellor and your GP ASAP. If you are ever in a crisis, please call a hotline.

I know that my wife is entitled to feel these things, and I don't really have any reason to complain - after all I caused those feelings

She hasn't exhibited most of these behaviours for several years (though some, such as threatening to leave and stonewalling she still does reasonably regularly), so it feels a little unfair to judge her on any of it. Should I just be judging her on the way she behaves from here on in?

You are as entitled to your feelings about the past as much as your wife is entitled to hers.

Just as one should not cheat on one's partner, one should not hit, push, grab, threaten, or stonewall. Loving someone does not mean allowing them to do or say whatever they like to you.

Further to that, there are constructive ways of dealing with problems and there are destructive ways of dealing with them. In a healthy relationship, the onus should always be on working together. One person cannot solely be responsible for everything.

You sound like you've spent a significant portion of your life affixing an oxygen mask to your wife before you - whilst very noble, please start affixing your oxygen mask to yourself first before attending to others.

You are entitled to be loved, you are entitled to be happy.
posted by heyjude at 11:06 AM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In addition to the above, such as call a crisis hotline if you are feeling overwhelmed, I would re-visit the couples counseling. Cutting you loose after 6 weeks after 16 years of what seems like a very unhealthy relationship pattern sounds more like an insurance issue than a reality-based solution (i.e., some insurances only pay for short-term therapy if it's deemed a crisis based on an incident, as opposed to a long-term mental illness).

When I was in couples therapy, a lot went into asking us both to examine ways we were trying to escape or exit the marriage. That could be an affair, avoidance by say, being on the internet all the time, or any number of ways (we had to examine and write down our own personal exits).

The other thing was de-escalation. We were told that if a conversation got to the heated argument level, walk away and cool down. It sounds like your wife is crossing boundaries of calm communication and expecting you to sit there and listen while you have your own issues to work out. One thing you could do is say that your therapist said these heated discussions have to wait until they get back from vacation, or say, "these arguments are making me want to leave. I know you say you don't need therapy, but I am going forward with it, and if you keep harping on the same points over and over, I'm going to go for a walk until you've calmed down." That's what my therapist called "doorknob communication." In other words, setting boundaries for the argument/discussion itself.

We were also handed a thing called a Bill of Rights, and it was to the tune of, "I have the right to change my mind, I have the right to be spoken to in a decent manner, I have the right to feel safe in my own home," and then a list of things like, "it is never my obligation to sit and be screamed at," stuff along those lines.

In my experience, people either want to change or they don't. One of the worst revelations in my life was when I was talking to a therapist about my ex, and she said, "He is not going to change." Because that was what I was pouring my energy into, if I did X, he would change and stop being hurtful. He also thought therapy was a waste of time. And he thought I had all of the problems. When he found out I was going to therapy on my own, he yelled, "well it sure isn't HELPING you!" Because I was getting a different perspective and some validation that everything was no A-okay or normal. It can seem normal after a while and your self-esteem drops, because there might be a grain of truth in what the other person says, so you buy into it. It's easier to let it slide than to argue, because then you are opening yourself up for further abuse.

Frankly, if she walks out like that again, let her. She is an adult. And most adults, even in the heat of the moment, will eventually realize they can either go back home and sulk because their ploy didn't work, or go find a hotel somewhere. That's very immature behavior, that's the kind of stuff I did when I was 13 and I had a fight with my older brother and my parents weren't home. The healthier thing to do would be to say, "I'm really ticked off and I'm going for a walk/drive." But she's not going to do that, because manipulating you into being responsible for her behavior is working so well for her right now.

So I'd say journal and write out your goals. The first one has to be healthy communication with boundaries. And of course, if you ever feel threatened or suicidal, call someone. We have a warm hotline here, where you can call and talk to someone, and 24-hour crisis centers. Often hospitals will have a crisis center off the ER if it gets to that. The only person you can control is yourself: if you've had too much, listen to your body and brain and go for a walk, retreat to another room if you feel it's safe, but do not sit and engage in pointless arguments, because if her feelings are that bad that she's escalating to the point of walking out into the cold, she might just realize she needs her own help in dealing with her anger & control issues. Let her snipe at you about wanting to see her raped or whatever, that's childish behavior. Just say, "I'm not going to listen to this. When you've calmed down, we can talk, otherwise, you have to either agree to more couples counseling or wait till my therapist gets back into town." Then walk away. Doorknob communication. Works with in-laws and gossips over the phone, too. I wish you well.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:52 AM on September 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

For a temporary measure, Mabel take a mental vacation from it all, if you can, and do 4 weeks of many meditation or yoga classes. Or sign up to learn mountain climbing. Something that will give you relief and a break from it all.

Although I do agree that an interim therapist would be a priority.
posted by Vaike at 2:28 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your responses so far; I'm going to see if I can find an interim therapist, though the thought of having to re-establish that trust with another person seems quite a large hill to climb right now

@Marie Mon Dieu:
Cutting you loose after 6 weeks after 16 years of what seems like a very unhealthy relationship pattern sounds more like an insurance issue than a reality-based solution.
It wasn't that - we're in the UK and attended marriage counselling sessions at Relate, a relationship counselling charity. No, what I've realised is that how we behaved in the sessions was different from how we behave outside. The issues with long-past violence never came up (because I'd forgotten that it had happened). The other issues were talked about, but only in vague terms - a couple of times that I brought them up directly, my wife said afterwards that I'd "taken her legs out from under her." I didn't like making her feel as though I was attacking her, so I didn't bring it up again.

In hindsight, I should have.
So I'd say journal and write out your goals. The first one has to be healthy communication with boundaries. And of course, if you ever feel threatened or suicidal, call someone.
I've been avoiding journalling because I write a journal longhand in a Moleskine, and I know that my wife will read it if she finds it. However, setting up a password-protected journal on my laptop is absurdly simple, and I don't know why I hadn't thought of that before.

@the young rope rider:
It concerns me that you feel like you have no way out to the point that you have considered suicide, however briefly. Remember that you absolutely have the right to be by yourself or stay with friends, if that's what you need to do.
I've avoided leaving home, though I was very close to doing so, because my wife tearfully begged not to go and I don't want to burden my family. My close friends who would offer a couch know nothing about the problems right now because a) my wife has asked me to keep this between us and b) they're female, and I'm trying to minimise the time I spend around them at the moment for obvious reasons.

I have the Samaritans' phone number in my phone now after reading this thread, just in case. Thank you.
posted by six sided sock at 3:41 PM on September 22, 2012

You are not going to delve deep with the interim therapist, rather they will just help guide and support you until you get back to your regular therapist. I don't imagine they would even get into specifics and details, just help you with coping mechanisms until you can get back to your own, so the trust issue won't be such an issue.
posted by Vaike at 8:49 PM on September 22, 2012

Yeah - just ask them about coping mechanisms in the interim - life at home is stressful at the moment, it's bringing up a lot of old issues, my usual therapist is away, what can I do about that right now?

Also ask your usual therapist when they get back about resources/other therapists you can use should they be unavailable again.
posted by heyjude at 9:52 PM on September 22, 2012

Best answer: In my own hierarchy of awful-deeds, taking your clothes off with someone else when you said you wouldn't is somewhat-bad, but it barely registers next to hitting your partner in the face, monitoring their communications, reading their journal, threatening them or trying to control them.

I think this is probbly over AskMe's head and I'm not a professional therapist. In your shoes I'd avoid confrontation or journalling and try to just get by on a combination of stopgap therapists, crisis lines, activities/hobbies outside the home, male friends and such until your therapist returns.

But I also hope you realize that to the ears of many people you'll meet and discuss this with, you're in a very scary domestic-abuse situation, so establishing your safety and autonomy is the main concern. I think you'll find even total strangers are quite sympathetic to helping you out in that. Unsafe homes are rough.

Good luck. If she tries to control your movement or communication with sources of help, get out.
posted by ead at 12:29 AM on September 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

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