To stay [gone] or go [back]?
February 26, 2013 12:40 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I separated a few months ago (which was my choice, not hers) and it seems that many of the things that I left over may have been addressed, but I still feel cagey about it all. How do I square this circle in my head and in my heart? Blizzard inside.

I thought long and hard before posting this question. I know that it will be testing the patience of some of you who have already been great help to me in the last few months. Nevertheless, I'm struggling with this debate; I hope that maybe the hive mind will be able to help me.

The story so far: after a rough couple of years, which included some borderline abusive situations, my wife and I separated at the start of December. (You can find more details in my posting history.) Since then we've maintained minimal contact. I did try to go completely NC But it didn't work; there were too many times when my wife needed to get in touch with me and I just had to be able to respond (the details are probably unimportant).

A few weeks ago we started seeing a therapist together so what was called at the time separation mediation. I went into it absolutely clear - and stating as much - that we were on the road to divorce, and that my purpose in being there was to make the transition as smooth and painless as possible.

I spent the first couple of sessions rather annoyed because it seemed as though the therapist was more interested in trying to get us back together, rather than talking about the issues that we now faced as separate individuals. This didn't entirely surprise me - I was already aware that many therapists' first responsibility is to try and save the relationship at all costs - but given that we'd explicitly asked for separation mediation, it irritated me. I stuck with it though out of a desire to get things over and done with sooner rather than later.

Similarly, though my wife had agreed specifically to separation mediation, she also seemed intent on trying to fix things. She has stated numerous times how she has changed: her temper is now under control; she is more aware of and is better able to manage her anxieties; she no longer feels the need to interrogate me about my every move or snoop around in my emails, text messages, or social media conversations.

At first I was extremely skeptical about all this. Not least because she waited until I had declared that I was leaving to actually find herself a therapist and to agree to go to couples therapy with me. But as time has gone on the truth has become more and more clear: she really has changed. She no longer seems as anxious about things that she used to, or at least if she is anxious she handles it far better than she ever did before. The only exception to this came a couple of weekends ago, when she asked me a lot of pointed questions about a public discussion I had with a female friend on Twitter - nothing untoward, but it stirred up her anxieties briefly. Even then, though, she dealt with her anxieties in a far calmer manner than I'd ever seen her doing before.

The therapist has now remarked several times what a great couple we appear to be; she has observed that we communicate very clearly with each other about emotionally-charged matters. She has, in fact, used the phrase "it would be a great shame if this marriage failed," which is what really gave me a clue as to where her priorities lay.

All of which leaves me wondering: should I be giving us a second chance? It took so much time and energy for me to get to the point where I felt strong enough to leave, as people who are familiar with my previous posts can attest. And I really did need to leave: the levels of drama were through the roof and there were times where I found myself having suicidal ideations during the worst of our fights - later, I worked out that this was because my mind could think of no other way for me to escape. I built myself up and found the strength, with the help of my own therapist (who at the moment is encouraging me not to rush myself or bury my uncertainties) and in no small part with the help of the good people of Ask MeFi, to walk away and into my own space. I don't regret that for a second.

Some of my friends have pointed out that counselling is not a good idea in abuse cases, but I still don't think of my marriage as an abusive one (though I admit it toed pretty close to the line at times). I honestly don't know which way to turn right now. Being on my own hasn't been easy, but I've got an apartment in which I feel at home, I've been spending plenty of time with friends that I haven't seen for years, and I've largely been having a great time. But I still love my wife; she's incredibly sweet and caring, and it seems like many of the things that led me to leave have changed completely, or at least to the point where, had the change come before I left, I would have been much more inclined to stay.

The slight bonus complication here is that my wife is currently undergoing tests for what could, according to her doctors, be either PCOS or - and they're being cagey about stating the likelihood of one over the other - something more sinister. I want to support her through this, but I realise that I can't make a decision about whether to stay with her based on whether or not she might have something life-threatening going on inside her abdomen.
posted by six sided sock to Human Relations (40 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It's been like... 3 weeks, right? She's not with you all the time -- just interacting with you occasionally -- and she's on her absolute ridiculous best behavior -- and she's still gone off the handle once. You say these times when she "absolutely had" to contact you as "the details are unimportant", but I'm hard pressed to think of anything she could have needed to contact you about unless she is still dangerously dependent and manipulative.

Frankly, my opinion is still that she was at best terrible to you, and and worst abusive. I think it is in your best interest to separate and stay separated, and do less and less contact. I don't think this relationship is good for you and I do think there are relationships that are better out there.

I would say, if you are considering getting back together with her, get a legal separation (if applicable in yours state) to underscore the severity of where your marriage is, and give it a hard deadline of a year of only dating and definitely living apart with consistent counseling (i.e., no stopping in a month because things are better) before you will consider anything more. If things are still good in January 2014, if her temper is still under control, if she can deal with you talking to women without questioning it, then you can start getting serious again. But I absolutely would not move any quicker than that under any circumstance.
posted by brainmouse at 12:47 PM on February 26, 2013 [28 favorites]

I agree with brainmouse, with the additional caveat that you should find a different relationship counselor, since this one seems to have a distinct agenda that is counter to your own. (Your counselor should not have an agenda, nor is her "first responsibility... to try and save the relationship" if you've explicitly stated that's not your goal.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:50 PM on February 26, 2013 [12 favorites]

Similarly, though my wife had agreed specifically to separation mediation, she also seemed intent on trying to fix things. She has stated numerous times how she has changed: her temper is now under control; she is more aware of and is better able to manage her anxieties; she no longer feels the need to interrogate me about my every move or snoop around in my emails, text messages, or social media conversations.

I think it's admirable that your wife is working on these things, but you speak of them as if they are fixed and no longer an issue and I find it very hard to believe that is the case considering how short the interval of time has been and how deeply ingrained those kinds of behaviors are. I would be more inclined to believe that now that you (the catalyst) are removed from her, her temper, anxieties, and urge to interrogate you are not being triggered.

You finally got away, why would you go back?
posted by cecic at 12:50 PM on February 26, 2013 [18 favorites]

Your wife has issues that don't fix in a few weeks. Her issues take years. You move back in, it will be the same thing- unless she is really really really really working on it- in which case she will be SLIGHTLY BETTER and you'll only have to deal with gut wrenching drama that makes suicide seem palatable... slightly less often?

don't go back.
posted by Blisterlips at 12:55 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I want to add -- when I say counseling for a year, I mean all of couples counseling, her individually, and you individually -- all 3, for a year, or no deal.
posted by brainmouse at 12:57 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think your therapist is right - you have no reason to leap in ANY direction after a few weeks. You have stated every reason why you're doing ok on your own. If you want to give it a try with your wife, give that possibility a few weeks before you say as much to her. Give yourself time to just Be separate from her. And then, if you're really all for it - for You, not her, not the therapist - ask if she wants to try dating again.

But keep your own separate space for now. Don't make any big moves. Take it slow, and be easy on yourself.
posted by ldthomps at 12:57 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can easily fake a lifestyle change, even to myself, for three weeks. Three weeks is not hard. 6 months? Getting harder! 1 year? I'm not faking it if I can make it that long.

You worked really hard to break free, don't get pulled back in so quickly over a three week change. If she truly has changed she'll be able to keep it going for a year, and she'll understand why you need that.

I'd also be interested to know where you are hearing the information about her health problems. Are you in direct contact with her doctors? Or is it all coming from her? Have you considered the fact that she may be lying or exaggerating in order to keep you around out of guilt?
posted by Dynex at 12:57 PM on February 26, 2013 [20 favorites]

...she no longer feels the need to interrogate me about my every move or snoop around in my emails, text messages, or social media conversations.

Well, except for that time she went ahead and did exactly that. That wasn't some sort of weird exception; it's the same thing that always happened. The fact that it happens less frequently doesn't make it acceptable behavior.

No one gets their temper -- especially a temper that turned into domestic violence -- under control in two months. Same thing with the anxiety, and everything else that led you to get out. It takes long periods of hard work to do that and while she may be working at it, you are under absolutely no obligation to see her through it or deal with her slip-ups.

Also, are you being totally honest with your therapist? Because either she's not aware of the fact that you were in an abusive relationship, or she's a shitty counselor. Her job is to make sure your mental health is preserved and maintaned, not to save your relationship. If she's made it her goal to make your marriage work despite what you've told us (and, hopefully, her), she's not a very good therapist.
posted by griphus at 1:00 PM on February 26, 2013 [13 favorites]

Just piling on here: 3 weeks=NOTHING. Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing.

As Dynex said: 6 months, MAYBE, if you truly see changed behavior that isn't just a thin overlay of faking it.
posted by Melismata at 1:08 PM on February 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'm not sure where people are getting "three weeks" from, but given the timeline in your post it's been less than 90 days since you finally got out of a situation that was causing you to have suicidal ideation.

It should take more than 90 days to get back into it. You say that your wife has "really changed", but if that's really true, the change should stick for more than a couple of months. In fact, she should still be a good person 90 days from now, or even 9 months to a year.

It's way too easy for her to be on her best behavior for such a short period of time (especially when you don't interact everyday). And it's also way too easy for you to want to go back to what had become your "normal" life. Don't be fooled by her, and don't give in.

The PCOS-like problem? Seems like just another way for her to rely on that good part of you that wants to help her -- let her work through this herself, she needs to learn how. If this turns out to be something worse, deal with it then in terms of what you can do to help her with a cancer diagnosis or whatever that does _not_ involve moving back in with her.

Have you shown your relationship therapist the posts that you've made here? I would do that, and see if she still tries to put you two together.

Stay away. You can give your marriage a second chance in a year.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:08 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

The therapist has now remarked several times what a great couple we appear to be; she has observed that we communicate very clearly with each other about emotionally-charged matters. She has, in fact, used the phrase "it would be a great shame if this marriage failed," which is what really gave me a clue as to where her priorities lay.

So, I'm curious: your wife agreed to separation mediation. Did you then leave it to her to communicate that to the therapist? Have YOU ever said the word "separation" to this therapist? I suspect you have not. If you have, you need to find a new one. Or just leave. Just leave this bad relationship AND the bad therapist. Go to your own and work on your codependence.

Print out your previous questions and take them in if you are unable to say out loud that your wife is abusive and you are leaving her.

She hasn't changed, man. She's telling you she's changed because she knows she can talk you into it, while not changing at all and also queuing up a nice cancer scare to keep you hooked. I agree with the other who have said give it a year - and don't just take her lying right into your face word for it either. Give her a year before you reconsider, and then another year living apart so you have time to determine if she's just created a really good facade.

Or just go. This relationship is too spoiled, it's not going to get better, everyone is telling you to wait a year in hopes you'll have come to your senses. There are things that cannot be gotten over, and you just have to put the relationship away and move on because it's ruined and it can't be fixed.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:14 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Don't let people guilt you into feeling like you have to go back. You made the right choice. Please trust your gut here.
posted by something something at 1:18 PM on February 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

A key question I have is whether your wife also has her own therapist and is getting counseling for anger management and the related issues you were experiencing with her that she has acknowledged are problematic, unproductive, and unhealthy. It would seem that having such counseling for some period of time should be a prerequisite for getting back together.
posted by Dansaman at 1:24 PM on February 26, 2013

She solved all of her problems in three weeks?


She may eventually get her shit together, but you can't bank on it, or wait around for it to happen. Your wife had plenty of opportunities to get help, to find out what the problems were, etc, and she only acted when you left. That should tell you as much as you need to know.

Life is passing you by. You gave this relationship a good shot, now it's time to move onwards and upwards.

It's hard to see someone you love, no matter how suited they are for you, to miss you and to be in pain, but that's how it goes. She has friends and family that she can lean on in this time. It will always be something.

So stay where you are, find your own, good therapist, and hang in there.

But no matter what...DON'T GO BACK!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:26 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I understand your desire to "make the transition as smooth and painless as possible"--and that's a common theme throughout your questions--but I'm not sure what you hoped the therapist would help you accomplish. My understanding is that "separation mediation" is a negotiation process to finalize the legal and financial specifics of the divorce decree, similar to arbitration. It's not usually therapeutic and isn't handled by a therapist.

I think, again, you're sending mixed signals to her. You say that the decision to divorce is final, but then you agree to go to couples therapy. And she learns that you don't really mean it when you say that the relationship is over because you continue to engage with her. For her, getting you to keep in contact and postpone the decision is a win.

There is no way that she has changed in three weeks. And in fact, the signs are there that she hasn't changed at all--the questions about your twitter conversations, the sudden veiled threats of cancer. I think you should discontinue the couples therapy immediately. You both should continue seeing therapists of your own; if she's committed to making this work she will do that.

I think it's also a good idea for you to stop speaking to her about things that aren't essential--exceptions being financial or legal matters that you have to make joint decisions on. You're kind of vague about why your wife has needed to get in touch with you so much, and I imagine that whatever the pretext it was because she was anxious and wanted to talk to you.

Your instincts told you that you had to get out and it took a lot of strength to do that. Stay strong and put some distance between yourself and your wife. If she really has changed, she will be even better and healthier in a year. And you will be too. It's scary to leave a relationship you've been in for 16 years, but it was making you suicidal. Give yourself (and her) more time to heal before walking back into it.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 1:28 PM on February 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

you are enjoying your time alone more than you enjoyed your time with her. be painfully clear that your goal in therapy is to ease the separation process, not to save the marriage. realize that your doubts are all coming from improvements catalyzed by your departure, which means your departure was the right thing to do, and so you should stick with it.
posted by davejay at 1:35 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You don't need to make a decision today (or tomorrow, or next week). You're in a nice place right now! I agree entirely with your therapist. You can feel some uncertainty, without doing anything at all. The therapist you and your wife are seeing together doesn't sound actually all that helpful. Can you get a new one?

Maybe, in the fullness of time, you will feel that it is right for you and your wife to get back together. I think I understand that she has been seeing a therapist outside your joint sessions - that's really great for her, but I'd still be very sceptical of any of her claims of having made any massive changes to how she does things. I think if she had a real, genuine desire to work on her stuff, she'd have sought some help way back when you first brought it up, not at the end, as a last ditch effort to keep you in the marriage. I think it takes longer than a few months to make real, lasting change to how we interact with the world.

I said this one other time, and I think I still want to say it: she sounds so manipulative! I think she has a very clear vision of what you want, and is perfectly happy to act that out to reel you back in. I'm very sorry to say this, but unless I myself had actually seen test results, I'm not sure I would believe any of this PCOS stuff. Unless she has literally no close friends or family, you shouldn't necessarily be her go to comfort person for whatever medical issues she may or may not be having. And you certainly shouldn't change your mind about leaving her based on them.
posted by thylacinthine at 1:40 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

No, no, no, no, no. People with personality problems like your wife's do not just get all better in three months with a few visits to a joint counselor.

The kinds of behavior she has exhibited can take years to work on. She has not changed at this point - she's just managed to dredge up a little impulse control, which she doesn't usually bother with.

Does your wife have her own personal therapist? Is she going a minimum of once a week? No? Well, she should be.

Call your joint therapist and tell her, clearly and succinctly, that separation is your goal and you feel she has a bias towards keeping you and your wife together. Ask her if she's able to keep seeing you from a more neutral viewpoint. If she's not, find someone else or consider letting your wife take care of all her shit by herself for a while.

You are still incredibly emotionally enmeshed with your wife. You still feel responsible for coddling her and defending her and saving her. Please talk about these feelings with your personal therapist.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:43 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

People are getting three weeks from this statement, I think: "A few weeks ago we started seeing a therapist together..."

I was in a similar situation, although I'm more inclined to call what I went through abuse. (I'm also a woman, and was with my ex for three years.) Getting to the place where I can say "I was abused" has been hard, and that's a journey you may or may not make, but that's not your question.

I asked the same thing that you did about three weeks after I left, too. No one said that I should go back.

I still struggle every day, but I know I made the right decision by leaving and staying away.

People don't change overnight. I guess it could happen, hypothetically, but you know what? If she's really changed, she will understand that you're going through trauma and that you need time to process it and to get to a better place before you can be with this new, improved her.

Give it a year, and then re-evaluate then.
posted by sockermom at 1:45 PM on February 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

The rule of thumb is a year of separation. I am not saying your marriage isn't worth saving; I am saying that it is worth a lengthy separation to make sure you aren't going right back into a mess.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:58 PM on February 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

If the changes are permanent, then there is no harm in waiting six months to reconcile while you BOTH work through coping mechanisms that were developed under the old, dysfunctional way of doing things and which will be badly maladaptive in the absence of that dysfunction. If, as I very much suspect, the changes are not permanent, then that six months will be a lifesaver.

Either way? Nobody goes anywhere before six months are up. Even if you want to reconcile, be clear about that. Her reaction will tell you loads.
posted by KathrynT at 2:00 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'd say to wait a year and see if the changes stick before making this decision. She can probably fake it for a few months to lure you back if it's not a sincere change here and then you end up in the same situation again.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:01 PM on February 26, 2013

It looks from your history like you're basically asking this same questions over and over again: Am I responsible for her? Should I leave? Really? Is it going to be okay? Really?

The answers continue to be: No. Yes. Yes. Yes. YES.

Abusive partners and just plain bad partners are often very quick to change once you've genuinely threatened to leave. It doesn't last. She is who she is. Who she is is not a person you want to be with. If she manages to make lasting change, she can find a new person to build a new relationship with. You will not know if it's lasting change for, not just a few more weeks, or a few more months, but a few more years. I have been through this. I only recently got out of it. Don't do what I did.

Second chances are for people who've built up a balance of good deeds with you. She has not given you enough to be worth a few more years of your life just to wait and see when there's like a 90% chance that it's just going to turn out exactly like it was before.

You will be fine on your own.
posted by Ex-Wastrel at 2:02 PM on February 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

Some folks suggested bringing in the posts you've made here. I would HIGHLY recommend that you sanitize both site and user name if you decide to do that. If she has a history of tracking your online activity and then confronting you about it, that is probably not something you want to introduce to your MetaFilter world.

My thoughts on the issue itself have been pretty well covered by the other responses.
posted by HermitDog at 2:02 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a big fan of the notion that people can change, that hard work and love and communication can patch a lot of problems. No, this is not the time to decide to go back to your wife.

Like a lot of people have said, the patterns of thinking and behavior that she has to change in order to be a good partner take a long time to break, and it's more likely than not that returning to the marriage will bring them back with a fierceness. But also, it doesn't sound like you've been away from the marriage long enough. You're still looking for external cues; your wife's been on her best behavior, the joint counselor seems to want you back together, and that's enough for you to start second-guessing your own feelings. It's okay to still want to leave the marriage. It's okay to want more time to figure out if you want to leave the marriage. But it sounds like you still need more time away before you can assess your relationship with your wife clearly.

Oh, and it's probably a good idea to actually go no contact (or minimal contact) for at least a few weeks. Unless it has to do with your joint therapy, or shared legal/financial responsibilities, don't talk to her. If she presses, use a neutral put-off: "I'm sorry, this isn't a good time."; "No, that won't be possible.", etc.
posted by kagredon at 2:10 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm going to sound like the shittiest shit ever, but do you have any info on the PCOS/possible cancer that comes from a party other than your wife? I mean, are you getting this information from your wife's doctors, or from your wife's doctors, via your wife?

Because frankly, given her - and your relationship's - history, I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility, not necessarily that the PCOS is made up, but your wife is misrepresenting the chance of cancer or something "sinister" in order to provoke an emotional response, support, and feelings of guilt in you. The "cageyness" rings a few alarm bells for me.

Given that it's only been three weeks, and your wife has already interrogated you about a commonplace interaction with a friend, I submit - however much she has changed - she has not yet changed enough.
posted by smoke at 2:19 PM on February 26, 2013 [9 favorites]

Did you find the couples therapist, or did she? If she did, I'd be curious to know whether you had the opportunity to speak to the therapist alone before you began sessions as a couple. Did you ever get to tell the therapist your goals, in a situation without your wife's presence possibly influencing how you speak?
posted by ocherdraco at 2:43 PM on February 26, 2013

This sounds like a text book scam. This is a soap opera plot, not real life. (hint: it's not real)

Change on the level your wife needs to become a real and stable partner takes years of self-work.

Fire the current therapist and get a lawyer to help mediation along. Start the process again.
posted by jbenben at 2:51 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Don't go back and nthing getting a different therapist.

Stay strong!
posted by commitment at 3:25 PM on February 26, 2013

If you want to give it a second chance, you need to finish the first chance first. You have not yet done that. Your head is not clear, your heart and identity are not separate, your patterns have not been reset, you have not escaped her influence.

Going back now just puts you back where you started but on the hind foot because you will owe her, somehow, for leaving. None of the old patterns could possibly have shifted in a sustainable way by now -- not hers, and not yours.

Sometimes the only way we can imagine life without someone is by experiencing it. Go experience it, get it in your gut, and don't reconsider until then. It's the only way to have the perspective you need to make this decision. And restart no contact! You're allowed!
posted by heatherann at 3:50 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've been following your posts, and you seem to be in a much better place now. However, I have a few suggestions:

Get a trained mediator (NOT a therapist) to do the separation mediation.

It's not a couples therapist's first obligation to keep the couple together. It IS her obligation to help you toward your end goal - in this case, a relatively smooth divorce. I'd still drop her and get a trained mediator instead.

You need to go no-contact for a few weeks. If she needs support during that time, she can go to friends, family, or her own therapist. You are not her rescuer and you don't need to be her sole emotional support.

I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety. It sucks. I've been working on it for 3 (4?) years now. It's better now, but I still have relapses and still occasionally have to go back to the basics that I learned in CBT to keep myself relatively normal. This isn't something that goes away quickly, and you really have to work on it. Also, for what it's worth: I've never hit my husband, I've never gone batshit over him talking with other women, and when he said, "I'm having a hard time dealing with you, maybe you should see a therapist" - I did that thing instead of denying it, causing drama, and waiting until he left to address it. Her behavior can't solely be explained by anxiety.

You might want to consider talking about boundaries with your therapist. Yours are starting to creep - that is, you're letting them get fluid and you're letting her back in again, without making the conscious choice to do so. I found learning boundary techniques from my therapist to be very helpful, especially as I have a tendency to be codependent/enmeshed/whatever you want to call the thing where I take other people into MORE consideration than myself.

Also - yes, she is hurting right now. BUT - you are not responsible for her or her emotions. You're not responsible for making it smooth for her, or making it nice, or easy, or pleasant. You're just responsible for not being an overt asshole, and there's a big gap between being an asshole and making her path smooth and nice and easy.

Every time I have gone back to someone after breaking it off with them, I have regretted it. Why? Because when I broke it off, I was responding to the situation with my own truth, with my own knowledge of the situation and how it wasn't working for me. But when I went back, I was operating from a place of guilt and wanting to fix the hurt that I saw in a person I cared about. It's ok to love her still; you don't need to go back to her based solely on that fact.

Also, if you go back I bet you dollars to doughnuts she'll grill you about the women you talked with while you were separated.

......That feeling you got in your gut when you read that sentence? That was your true self trying to tell you something. Listen to it.
posted by RogueTech at 4:41 PM on February 26, 2013 [17 favorites]

New therapist for you. Quit the couple's counseling.

You do realize that abused spouses quite often end up going back with their abusers multiple times before they realize their situation, don't you?
posted by BlueHorse at 7:14 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should read the book Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. What you'll see is that the problem is not behaviors or habits; the problem is beliefs. Beliefs are quite resistant to change. At a minimum, ask some questions about whether she was responsible her behaviors and see if she's willing to deny having a sense of entitlement to treat you the way she used to. Maybe right now she knows she can't, but if she could, does she think it's acceptable?
posted by salvia at 10:47 PM on February 26, 2013

Hmm, my comment above might not have made sense. The basic idea is that she may be acting differently, but inside, she might still believe that it would be fine to treat you in the bad ways she was. If she still believes that, then when her stress rises, she'll behave the same way again.

You say that things seem better because her anxieties are lower. Well, what happens when they're not lower? Will she act out again? I tend to think yes. The book I recommend above says it better than I do.

In my own life, I was able to get out of a bad relationship in part by finding a question that focused in on the other person's beliefs: he believed that he did X to me "because" I did Y. He essentially acknowledged no choice in the matter. Once I could see that he'd never believe "it's not okay to do X to people, regardless of how I'm feeling, regardless of what they do," it was super-easy to realize that the relationship was permanently over.
posted by salvia at 11:42 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've developed as a personal rule in life for employment and relationships. Suppose that I've asked for something (therapy, a raise, whatever) and the other person has refused, even after I've stressed how important it is. If I then look to leave (divorce, or give my notice), and the other side is suddenly all "woah, look I can change," don't buy it, don't accept it, and keep moving on.

The other side will only do the minimum to get you to stay now. Going forward, they will know that they don't really need to give in to any of your requests/demands unless you threaten the quit card again. And since they've talked you back, they'll be thinking that you are just threatening, as opposed to actually doing it.

On my side, I develop resentment that they were willing to make the change, but they just didn't care when I said it was really important, they only cared once it was to the point where it would affect them. It's a giant statement of their selfishness, and of how little I matter to them. The relationship is poisoned; at work, one will never be motivated, and hate existence there. In a human relationship, trust is poisoned; and all conflict resolution (see above from their side) will be that much more difficult.

Did you separate so that you could both try to grow while apart, or did you move out of the marital home as a start to ending the mariage. If (as you've written) it's been to end the marriage, then I think that move out ended it. Sure, maybe she's really not just doing lip service to therapy and anger management - but that's for her next partner to test out.

(Note, that none of my above even touches on abuse, which just raises the severity of everything more so. Seriously, she hasn't had enough time to work through her anger issues, and it's her next partner than she should be practicing on. Do you know how adults suddenly start behaving like kids around their parents? An abusive spouse will tend to behave abusively around their abusee. Fixing such anger issues on it's own is a big task (not something fixed in weeks) - fixing it while being with you will only make it that much or a larger task for her. (NotAPsychologist, DefinitelyNotYourPsychologist))
posted by nobeagle at 9:08 AM on February 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I agree with mostly everyone. Yes, you aren't really even separated from her - you've only just begun. You're still reallly involved, which is fine, it's just not a good place to be making decisions about the relationship, because you really don't have a clear perspective on how harmful the relationship has been to you. You're not on the outside yet.

The thing is, both of you have these well-practiced dysfunctional behaviors to each other - the caretaking, the manipulation, the guilt-tripping, etc.

You have to be on your own, to relearn healthy ways to act. Healthy ways to respond. New habits. You don't know how long it's going to take to get to a good place where you can see things for what they were and say "Pff, I'll never put up with that again!"

She hasn't changed, obviously. Perhaps she's taking your complaints seriously for the first time in years, but all she wants is for you to come back. She's not working on herself, she's just going through the motions hoping you'll come back.

Think of it this way: if you were to start seeing her again, or move back in ... within a month things would go back to the way they were. And you will both be miserable. And it'll be even more frustrating, painful and difficult to get out. You'll have to go through the whole process again, all the while thinking to yourself, "This was too soon, I was already out! Why are we doing this AGAIN?"

So save the both of you the trouble. Work on yourself. See a therapist. Release yourself of the responsibility of taking care of her, and take care of yourself!

I just broke up with my boyfriend, because of similiar reasons, and I have to have little talks with myself "Yes, yes, but that's not your job. That's HIS job, he can worry about that himself. Meanwhile, you have THIS, THIS and THIS to work on and those things are YOUR responsiblity."
posted by Locochona at 11:38 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all the great advice.

Truth be told, I'm torn between the me that's happy in my own space and getting a lot of kicks out of living my own life, and the me that wants everything to be just normal and happy...

My wife sent me a long email this weekend, telling me that she'd been reading through all our old love letters from years ago, and that doing so had made her realise how much I really did love her and that she was a fool to ever have doubted it... And I felt a combination of "aww, that's really sweet" and "well, maybe if you hadn't been asking me if I really loved you every week for the last 8 years..." And I don't know how to deal with that.

I genuinely have a hard time believing that she's consciously trying to manipulate me. And I know people may call me naive for that, but conscious manipulation just isn't her style - at least not in what I've seen in her dealings with others.

This week I'm going to have a word with the counsellor / mediator (whom my wife booked, not me). I explicitly mentioned separation in our first session with her, but I wonder if that message got lost - by the same token, when I've mentioned the suicidal ideations in front of the counsellor, I rather felt as though they weren't being given much weight. I guess the key here is to remember that I do have the right to say that I'm not happy with a particular counsellor.
posted by six sided sock at 6:12 AM on March 4, 2013

A few things to think about:

1) She may not be consciously trying to manipulate you, but it doesn't mean she isn't still doing it.
2) There will come a point where happy in your own space, living your own life is normal.

You tried working with her when you were still there. She didn't want to work on things when you were still there. If she's the sort of person where you have to leave in order for her to realize you're serious, that's a bad pattern to get into. nobeagle had some good things to say about this.

Really, I don't see any good of you going back to her. Sure, she misses you. Sure, when she stops to think about it, and has to face the consequences of her poor behavior, she realizes she was wrong and you really did love her. That doesn't change the fact that she abused you. It doesn't change the fact that she needs a LOT of therapy - more than she can get in a few weeks, or a few months! - to stop being so angry and abusive. It doesn't change the fact that you're happy and enjoying living your own life away from her abuse and craziness.

There's nothing wrong with feeling sad that you're apart or that it's over. But - and this sounds a little melodramatic - I'm sitting here in my cube, at lunch, truly and sincerely hoping that you - a stranger I've never met, who I'll probably never meet - continues down the path that gives you happy in your own space, living your own life, away from the path of screaming and abuse and bruises and suicidal thoughts. You deserve to feel safe and happy, and I don't think you'll find that if you go back to your ex-wife.
posted by RogueTech at 9:54 AM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I forgot two things.

And I felt a combination of "aww, that's really sweet" and "well, maybe if you hadn't been asking me if I really loved you every week for the last 8 years..." And I don't know how to deal with that.

Well, you can ignore it, or you can say something like, "I wish when I had told you how unhappy I was, and that I loved you anyways, that you would have listened at the time." You can just say it in your head if it makes you feel better. Honestly, you don't have to react to it at all.

I guess the key here is to remember that I do have the right to say that I'm not happy with a particular counsellor.

Actually, at the risk of sounding really cold - you could just stop seeing the therapist with her altogether, serve her divorce papers, and move on. You don't owe her visits to a therapist to try to keep the marriage together or make the divorce super smooth for her or whatever.
posted by RogueTech at 9:58 AM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Most of the time manipulation is not really a conscious - I'm going to make x do x by doing x because it will make me happy. We know we want to be happy but we often don't understand how we're getting it - we just want to be happy and will do whatever it takes to make it happen (or not even happy but the status quo - change is difficult).

With that in mind, your brain links happiness and normal with situations that, to us outsiders, seem really bad for you. That normal has been built through repetition - but now you can teach yourself a new normal that brings you happiness and you seem to have achieved that as per the words you've used. Now you just have to get comfy with it.

Your wife can experience regret - but that doesn't automatically mean she can have you back.

If a guy hits on a girl she doesn't have to say yes just because he asked. You have the power in your own life. You get to decide.

The other thing is - the couples counsellor is crap. Good therapists listen to their clients - good therapists do not promote their own agenda.
posted by heyjude at 3:02 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

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