How hard should reconciliation be?
July 24, 2013 12:40 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I separated at the end of last year for a three-month period. We've now ended our separation and have moved back in together. Whilst things are often wonderful, they're equally as often stressful and hard work. My question is: how hard should it be? Snowflakes, wall-of-text inside.

Our separation, after 12 years of marriage, was my choice. I decided to leave because my wife continued to refuse to address her anxieties with a counsellor, and those anxieties continued to bubble up in our day-to-day lives, leading to controlling behaviours on her part, like:
  • wanting to check my emails, phone records, SMSes, etc. to make sure I wasn't cheating (I wasn't)
  • Getting scared if I took longer getting back from the store than expected (wondering if I was out seeing someone else, even if I was only 10 minutes late back)
  • Going through my old journals and trying repeatedly to guess my email passwords; when I switched to using 2 factor auth for work and personal gmail, she assumed it was to prevent her from gaining access to my emails (it wasn't).
On top of this, I had my own issues to contend with, mostly a stubborn refusal to let anyone help me do anything (which stems from deciding, early in my teens, not to be a burden to my dad after my mom died). This meant that I could get drawn into a deep pit of despair, especially when trying to pursue my work as an artist. That work was also at the time feeling uninspired, and I ended up almost a cliché of a struggling artist (not monetarily; creatively), wanting to destroy every piece of work I created almost immediately.

By the time I left, we were both a mess. I was uncommunicative and found interacting with anyone really hard, and my wife was convinced that this was because I was planning to leave her (it wasn't, but it ended up being that way, because I couldn't figure out how to talk to her). As my therapist puts it, my wife's reaction to pain is to reach out for comfort whilst mine is to pull down the shutters and withdraw into my shell.

I handled the whole situation badly - we both did - and when I left I broke both of our hearts. Once I left my wife started seeing a counsellor; I'd been seeing a psychotherapist for six months or so at that point. I found an apartment in a nearby city - close enough to travel to our marital home but far enough away to avoid chance encounters - and I started to rebuild my life.

We spent 8 weeks in relationships counselling (that was the maximum allowed by the counsellor, which I found weird, but I'm from the US and this was happening in the UK, so I don't know if that's standard or not) and finally agreed to move back in together in mid May. We never really cut off contact (I tried over Christmas and New Year, spending both with friends, but couldn't manage it completely), so it was more of a gradual drawing-back-together.

Now that we're back together, I find myself feeling mixed emotions. I'm happy a lot of the time: when we're good, we're great (we always were). I've addressed my issues in therapy and, though I'm not perfect, with the help of my therapist I'm getting much, much better. My art has started to make sense to me again, and I'm doing okay.

Except that the going for me and my wife still seems really, really hard sometimes. And I don't know how hard it should be, or whether trying to answer that question is a fool's errand in itself.

Some examples of hard times:
  • My wife stopped seeing her counsellor after 6 weeks, saying first that she'd addressed all the problems she needed to address (and therefore didn't need the counsellor any longer) and then later that the counsellor had told her that she couldn't be in personal counselling and relationship counselling at the same time. She now says that she stopped seeing her counsellor because "[counsellor] can't fix me; it's up to me to do it, and if I can't remember what [counsellor] said then that's my problem."
  • She still occasionally freaks out and wants to check email, phone, SMS records. At first I was content to go through this to try and show her that there was still nothing to fear, but gradually I've been trying to talk her through the anxiety rather than just giving in to it.
  • She's started assuming that I want to leave her again (I really don't, but I don't know how to prove it). She's made me swear on her life (a deliberate choice of words; she was brought up to think that saying "I swear by/on " means more than "I promise" and that breaking an oath means forfeiting the thing on which you swear) that I'm not going to hurt her, that I won't cheat on her, and that I won't leave her again.
  • When I said recently that I need to buy myself a car so that I don't have to rely on her for rides everywhere, she said "I wish you wouldn't; you could just leave me whenever you wanted to then." when I pointed out in as loving a way as I could how controlling that sounded she insisted that it was a joke and then started fretting about how she was going to drive me away from her.
My wife refuses to go back and see a counsellor every time I ask, no matter how gently I try and make the request or how I try to phrase it as "I need this from you" (though I'm not being particularly forthright about saying "I need" in this case; I don't want to drive her to despair). Equally, when I've talked about going back to relationship therapy (which would be our third stretch there; we went last year before things got really bad, as well as earlier this year), she says that we don't do well in relationship therapy and that it's our problem to solve.

From a personal standpoint, I don't want to have to leave again. I've moved everything back, we've recombined our households, and moving out again would mean me needing to set up a new home all over again. I can't face that (besides, I racked up some debts setting up a new home the first time round and can't afford to buy yet another bed and so on). More importantly I really do love my wife; we can be amazing together and we have some amazing plans for the future.

I guess what I'm looking for here is advice and guidance from people who have separated and reconciled a few months later. How hard was the reconciliation? How did you get through the hard times when last time things got really hard it broke you?
posted by yasp to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The thing is... she has to be putting more effort in than she is now. That means seeing a different counselor, none of the "I should do it on my own" stuff. Also, find a different marriage counselor. It seems like you were doing OK then once the counseling stopped things started to fall apart again.

To be honest though, if she's refusing to see a counselor and going back to her old ways I would consider leaving until a long, long time has passed. She has to be willing to put in her part too, and right now it seems like she's letting the anxiety take over. Which is a very easy thing to do, granted, but it also tends to end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I haven't separated legally, but I've had relationships where we broke up and got back together a short time afterwards and after a few months all the old problems started popping up again. I've also done the thing where we'd both make a lot of changes, things would be going well, then we'd slowly slide back into our old habits and things would go down the drain.

In every single one of those relationships, we ended up breaking up years later and I'd look back, think of the first time we broke up and realized we were now breaking up over the same damn issues. Only this time there was a lot more heartbreak, a lot more at stake (moving out etc) and a lot of regret feelings like the time was wasted.

So really... you both need to stay on top of the counseling, self-improvement, whatever if you want to stay together. If she isn't holding up her end, I would leave because it isn't going to get better.
posted by Autumn at 1:16 AM on July 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

Basically here are your options:

1) Learn to deal with her craziness
2) Leave for good.

You probably think you have a third option:

3) Convince her to get therapy and work on her issues.

Based on your description of her behavior, I think it's probably illusory.

Forget all the financial stuff right now, because that is a terrible reason to stay together, isn't going to last long and is only going to make the inevitable breakup worse in the long term.

Just focus on figuring out if you can put up with her 'issues' for the rest of your life. Because that is what you are looking at here.
posted by empath at 1:30 AM on July 24, 2013 [17 favorites]

I've never had to respond to an unfounded fear of abandonment that extreme, but I understand how exhausting it can be on any scale. When it's someone's foremost thought, there's very little you can say to make it go away, because there is no promise you can make that can't be doubted. And yet you go on and on trying to offer direct reassurances, because it seems like the thing to do.

What's not clear to me is whether you're also doing the meaningful daily work of a relationship that could help any partner (self-esteem/abandonment issues or no) to avoid negative thoughts. Do you express admiration and praise at every reasonable opportunity? Demonstrate honesty in small ways fairly often? Spend focused time with your partner on recreational activities on a weekly basis or better? Provide oxytocin-producing physical affection on as constant a schedule as possible? Ask about stuff going on in their life every day to show you care? Handle all your chores and other responsibilities that show you're committed on a practical level and care about her time?

If you feel like you're spending a minimum of 15 hours a week engaged in personal, thoughtful, and positive contact with her (not necessarily focused on her, e.g. talking happens over dinner, chores, and so on), then I would expect that to have a positive effect--eventually--on limiting your partner's occasions for invasive thoughts of abandonment or betrayal. That's stuff you can actually do and that probably matters more in the long run than time spent on plugging the holes of meaningless desperation.

Of course, it's up to her to work on her insecurities to meet you part way.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:34 AM on July 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

This is an anxiety problem and no amount of assurance from you will make it better. At a guess (and only a guess!), the root of those anxieties is so overwhelming to your wife that after 6 weeks, the therapist got enough to whatever is the root that your wife ran rather than confront and resolve it. It is easy to say that this is an anxiety based problem but that barely describes the bone deep terror she is experiencing at all these imagined out comes. The best method outside of therapy that ive seen for this is mindfulness. @lum villag or the EIAB in cologne both do immersive workshops where you get tools and support. I suggest you both go but you will get a lot out of it even if she does not join you.
posted by zia at 2:13 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you're in the UK and your wife was seeing a therapist on the NHS, it is possible her individual therapy capped out after X weeks. Regardless, you should never have moved back home without making a continuing therapy a condition, but it's too late for that now :(

But that aside, six weeks of therapy is not enough to address an acute anxiety... disorder, or whatever she's carting around. It just plain flat out is not. And for the record, the "I'm not seeing a therapist, but then you leave and okay, look, I'm seeing a therapist now, it will all be better, come back!" is a total classic. It never works because she's not actually committed to therapy, she's committed to getting you back.

She needs help. Seriously, that "swear on my life" thing is beyond fucked up and it is fucked up in a way you cannot fix and that she probably can't fix on her own, either.

I'm not being particularly forthright about saying "I need" in this case; I don't want to drive her to despair

Dude. Put on your own oxygen mask first. You are not helping her, yourself or your marriage with that approach. Sit her down and tell her "I am doing the work I need to do to bring a whole and functioning partner to this relationship, and I NEED you to be in therapy so that you are doing the same. That's it. I need you to go."

And then stop trying to protect her from her own brain. She can wail and cry and pace and freak out, but that's fine. You know that Miss Manners thing where you just keep repeating "I'm sorry, that won't be possible"? Just keep saying "I understand, but I need you to go."

Because honey, you really really do.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:30 AM on July 24, 2013 [29 favorites]

Short answer: yes, it is going to be really hard. What you are hoping will happen is growth away from deeply, deeply ingrained patterns of thought and action and yes, that is very difficult and painful.

If you two can't have direct personal guidance from a counselor, can you at least agree upon using some books as a model of what you should be aiming for? Terry Real's New Rules of Marriage would be really helpful to you two, I think... Lots of good thoughtful approaches to dealing with conflict, navigating closeness and distance, asking for what you want in an emotionally articulate way. I think you. Oth would benefit greatly by rreading it and using it as a guide.

Good luck--I know just how hard this is.
posted by Sublimity at 3:39 AM on July 24, 2013

Her greatest fear was that you would leave her and you did. It's going to take a long time and a lot of work to reassure her that that won't happen again. Do get a car. Drive away every day and come back every day. Let her read your emails and mail. Insist that you get to read hers as well. People who accuse their spouse of cheating are usually cheaters. You need to rule that out, make certain that she isn't feathering her nest with someone else's attention.

It should be hard. Life is hard. If it becomes so difficult that it changes who you are as a person, then it is too hard.
posted by myselfasme at 6:11 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm really interested to know what conversations you had both prior to your separation and prior to your moving back in. What was the aim when you left? Did she understand why you were leaving and what you needed in order for the relationship to resume? If these conversations were not had then it was probably confusing, painful and fodder to all of her abandonment issues At the same time it was probably not productive in prompting permanent change.

Your wife sounds like she has very serious anxiety issues while you struggle to communicate your needs clearly. Resolving problems like these and building a relationship where both of you can thrive is a process. Often quite a long and difficult one. It will not be solved by a 3-month separation with no clear outcome nor by 6 weeks of therapy for your wife. If you both want this to work you both need to be in therapy, probably individual and couple, for a while so you can learn to express yourselves clearly, to set aims for what you want and need and to do the self work needed to get there. It won't be comfortable but it's your only shot at a happy outcome for your marriage.

If your wife won't commit to working on herself and really changing this stuff then it is your choice whether to live like this or move on. You can't change her.

As a couple's counsellor working in the UK I'm really surprised to hear the timeframes you are talking about. I normally start with six sessions but will work with people for up to a year if they have more work they want to do. I am also very happy for my clients to have individual therapy alongside our couple work if they need it. My focus is their relationship but often individual stuff comes up that people would like to address with an individual therapist outside our sessions. Seems sensible to me.

Perhaps you should consider a different therapist with fewer rules?
posted by Dorothia at 6:48 AM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Was she abandoned as a child?
posted by Dansaman at 7:09 AM on July 24, 2013

Sweetheart, I can promise to love you and care for you, but i can't promise not to leave, because things happen. I'm doing my best to stay in our marriage because that's what I want. I want to be married to you. Your anxiety and suspicion harm our relationship. If you don't see a competent therapist, our marriage is in danger. I wouldn't be so gentle about insisting she get therapy; her anxiety is really severe and affecting both of your lives.
posted by theora55 at 7:12 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

It can be this hard, yes, but it shouldn't be hard in the same way the relationship was hard before you left. The challenge in reconciled relationships should be learning how to relate to each other in a different way. If you're still trying to relate to each other without trust, boundaries, or openness - which seems to be what drove you to leave in the first place - then, well, I'm afraid you can't really expect anything but a repeat of what drove you apart already.

I'm a firm believer in therapy but, based on your description, is sounds like your wife just doesn't get it. Even though your pattern of relating to one another is destructive, it's familiar to her and she's too fearful to take the risks necessary to learn a new way to relate. She doesn't trust you. She doesn't really seem to view you as a separate person who has an inner life that exists independent of your relationship to her, or else she would view your private spaces - your e-mail, your journal - as off-limits. These, by the way, are kind of hallmarks of codependent relationships, or "can't live with him/can't live without him" type situations. Unless you both see the problem with that kind of relationship, feel suffocated by it, independently develop the ego strength to set proper boundaries with each other, and do the individual work, then you're right back where you started.

If you want to stay with her and she keeps hiding from the work of therapy by making excuses, then, rather than being more indulgent and trying harder to be empathetic and understanding of her issues, I would try instead to validate her pain and her issues while setting a firm boundary for yourself. Rather than thinking to yourself, "Yes, I am guilty of breaking our hearts four months ago, I must now indulge Miriam's paralyzing fear that by leaving the apartment to go to work I am actually leaving her forever.", you might instead say to her, "I hear and understand that my leaving causes you anxiety. I'm sorry that you're in this kind of pain over something that is a necessary part of our lives. I will be back at 6." And then you have to leave. You have to go on about your business. You have to be truthful, consistent and direct, and you have to be kind but firm. In other words, you have to set the example of doing what you say you're going to do and accepting responsibility for what part of your interactions is yours, and leave it to her to handle her part. You have to change the conversation. This, by the way, is really exhausting work, takes a long time to implement, and might actually bring you around to feeling differently about continuing your relationship with your wife.

The alternatives are to divorce your wife, continue the work your doing on yourself, and get on with your life, or to accept the dynamic of your marriage and muddle through. That probably sounds harsh. Unfortunately, in my experience, it is very hard to change the core dynamic of a relationship if one person isn't willing to accept responsibility for themselves and try something new. I wish you good luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 7:51 AM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: DarlingBri's answer is good and worth paying attention to.

Brief, because I closed this window previously and can't psychically process writing it all out again. Please feel free to memail me if you want clarification!

To wit: your wife is protecting her brokenness by feeding her anxiety and control issues, because they are familiar, and that is what brokenness does: it seeks familiarity, not happiness.

Your wife is choosing those ills over the happiness of your marriage by leaving counseling; note that she lied to you a number of times about why she left. Thinnk about how crazy it would sound to you if I said, "yeah, my car is broken, but I took it back from the shop before they fixed it because it's my problem. If I can't take care of it it's my fault" or "I'm not going to physical therapy anymore for my broken leg; if I can't replicate the work my therapists were doing at the hospital while at home, I deserve to have my legs stay broken".

What your wife has done is equally nonsensical, and she has done it because she would prefer to live in a world that conforms to her broken legs than to go through the difficult and scary process of learning how to walk.

"Putting up with it" is, I think, bad advice, both because you should not have to do so, and because it is cruel to your wife to enable this kind of behavior. Without knowing more about your relationship, here are some thoughts.

You are going to have to be the adult here. You can't enable her brokenness anymore: no more message checking, and trying to crack email passwords is so obviously over the line as to be absurd.

You need to find a counselor who will help you communicate the inappropriateness of your wife's expectations and behavior, as well as help you determine how to become a better husband, and work on what you bring to your marriage while allowing her to figure out what she wants to bring as well, given that you are not going to help her feed her fear and need to control, in order to make your marriage an awesome one as often as it possibly can be.

Learning how to respond to her manipulative statements, like driving away because you have your own car, without placating them or being cruel, will be enormous.

If you wife decides she can't be in a relationship in which she can't control you, manipulate you, or have you laid out on a spreadsheet (because of boundaries and tools you find with a counselor), then she will be the one who leaves, not you.

Please, please, please don't let your wife limp on with a broken leg out of fear. It's awful for both of you, and you both deserve better.

And man, I'm sorry for souding terse. You sound like a good guy who's trying really hard.
posted by Poppa Bear at 8:56 AM on July 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

...she says that we don't do well in relationship therapy and that it's our problem to solve.

It seems that she doesn't quite understand that going to therapy and actually doing the work of therapy is you solving your problem. It's not someone else magically fixing things for you -- therapists can only really guide you through the work of managing/solving whatever it is that's causing you trouble. This applies just as much to individual therapy as it does to couple's therapy.

I agree with other posters that it sounds like she needs to seek more treatment/support outside of your marriage for her anxiety, and that couple's therapy is probably warranted. Temporarily soothing the anxiety by, say, reading your emails and texts is not a fix -- it's a band-aid. She needs to find long-term coping mechanisms for this.

I also agree that the best thing you can do right now is to clearly and openly communicate your needs, and to ask her what she needs from you to help reestablish that trust. You can't reasonably promise never to leave again, but you can make it clear that this is fixable if everyone contributes to the fixing of it.
posted by dryad at 8:56 AM on July 24, 2013

I like Poppa Bear's comparison to having a broken leg because it sounds like your wife is legitimately sick. You can encourage her to go back to therapy with the ideas suggested above and thinking about it in terms of treating an illness. And when she wants to check your email or texts, say to yourself and possibly her, that's not her, that's her illness talking. Letting her see your email is giving in to her anxiety. Develop a mantra, perhaps with the help of a therapist, that you can say to her when she asks to see your email: "I love you but it's not appropriate to ask to see my email and it hurts me when you make requests like that" or something.

It might help you also to consider your wife as sick because it's easier to be compassionate towards someone who's sick than someone who is abusive and controlling. And it might help you explain to outsiders what's going on in your relationship. I agree that it sounds like you're really trying here and I'm sorry that you're struggling. I hope that your friends and family are being supportive. While reading this, I asked myself what people's responses would be like if your genders were reversed and if that was the case, I imagine that a lot of people would be saying DTMFA. Best wishes.
posted by kat518 at 9:26 AM on July 24, 2013

I was abandoned in a really really brutal way (by an ex) and I have abandonment issues that make me needy and questioning. It's not as bad as what you described, but it's similar.

How hard should reconciliation be?

Pretty damn hard, I'd wager, for the majority of couples. But especially in a circumstance such as this.

The problem I think when issues arise in a relationship, that it's always harder to undo damage that has been made than to start again. It's kind of like un-stitching a blanket that has a wrong stitch somewhere in the middle. It's always easier to just leave it and make another blanket. Fixing deep-seated relationship problems are hard, and ultimately, everyone has to ask themselves what they want out of it and if it's really worth it to try to un-stitch the whole thing, fix the snag, and re-stitch it all, because in doing so, they may just miss another stitch, or be left with... something completely unraveled in the end.

For me and my ex, he wanted me back-- but the damage ran too deep for me. I could never see myself trusting him again. And sometimes you just can't fix things.

So, yes, it's difficult to reconcile. But the underlying factor is 'fixing' things is this: progress needs to be made. It needs to feel as if things are improving. If it doesn't, you're simply sitting there spinning the wheels. It appears to me progress is being made in your situation, so that's good. I think the progress needs to be sped up a little-- this only works if both parties are on the same page. You seem a few pages ahead of her.

As I said, I also suffer from abandonment issues. For me, they are trust issues, stemming from my ex. He shattered my trust, and as a consequence, it overtook our relationship. The person I am (kind of) interested in now, I trust though. He's had to be really reassuring, and every once and a while he triggers issues, which we work through. It's helped that I've explained what my issues stem from, and I can pinpoint them. I am not sure I understand what has triggered your wives anxieties.

I trusted my ex to never forsake me, to always be there, and offered me reassurances thereof, until he wasn't-- in an extremely cruel and brutal way. It made me fear a lot of things, and it was very hard to trust again. What helped me was:

- People meaning what they say (I'll check in with you in x days means just that)
- Honesty at all times even if it wasn't always positive/what I wanted to hear
- Constant reassurance (I'm going out with friends but you're still my best bud)
- Demonstrations I wasn't 'forgotten' (nothing major, just even a small message on waking, or something sweet as he got to work telling me I was thought of)
- Realizing x person isn't the person who hurt me and the source of my issues and re-iterating to myself the way they have shown they are trustworthy instead of dwelling on the 'what if there's a girl right now giggling at him' scenarios.

IANAT though so I'm not sure these will help. But they helped me. But, my case, I feel wasn't as bad as you described -- I never cajoled or pleaded or felt the need to check messages. I never made him promise to not leave or became a mess around him-- although I confess, there is a part of me that wants to ask him never to leave me, precisely because I was left by my ex. However, I internalize my anxiety, and I rarely take it out on him.

Unfortunately, leaving probably set her back somewhat. She needs therapy. And she needs to stick to it. And you need to insist. And she needs to want to do it. You need to ask her, "do you want to change this? If this (another therapist) could help you change, would you do it? Are you happy when you act this way?" Also, "It makes me unhappy when you act this way, and I need you to do this."

Don't give in to her anxieties, because it doesn't sound like a good idea-- they sound obsessive. She has no right to check your SMSs, and giving her access to these things does not fix anything, they kind of make it worse. The compulsion to check should not be there-- trust should guide her through her day and make her not give in to insecurities. Trust won't be gained by giving in to her anxieties, even if it seems like it will. She will be placated for a moment (oh there's nothing there, phew) but soon the dirty thoughts will resurface, and she'll compulsively check again. She needs to break that pattern and her best bet is probably CBT, frankly. I'd look into that for her.

You love her. You want this to work. You need to insist on therapy. Don't issue ultimatums or anything, but, as others have said you need to be firm. At the end of the day, you have to feel as if it's difficult, sure, but ultimately things are moving forward and becoming more and more positive. If they aren't, then, maybe it's better to move in separate directions.

Best of luck.
posted by Dimes at 9:26 AM on July 24, 2013

Oh, something I forgot to mention-- my abandonment also made me question my own self worth on some level, and this also triggered a lot of the anxieties. It made my self-esteem drop significantly, and triggered negative self-talk. "He did that, so I'm terrible, I am easy to abandon, I am easy to forget."

If your wife's self esteem is low, and she thinks she is unworthy of you, then it could be adding to her anxiety and her 'certainty' that you're there temporarily and you will leave her again-- especially since her worst fears came true once already.

In my case, I need a lot of positive reassurance about who I am as a person and my merit, because without it, I tend to question things. So, for me, affirmations help a lot. Being told how much I mean to the person, and how special I am.

Also, positivity. When I get into my "I suck so bad, it's so bad to be so needy," to be told, "It's fixable, and you don't suck and we'll get through it, and I want this to work," helps me to work through my issues. I can't really stress this enough, how much of a difference attitude makes.

You have to explain that her behaviors are becoming like a self-fulfilling prophecy for her and she risks losing you -- for the very thing that she fears the most. If you truly want to fix this (and she does too) you absolutely need to get clear about your wants and needs, and ask her to do the same, maybe in letters to each other. I would go about making sure everyone is doing their part in that way, and that each issue outlined is addressed evenly.
posted by Dimes at 9:41 AM on July 24, 2013

It should be hard. Life is hard.

I see it differently. Life is hard enough without a partner who is hell-bent on being divisive due to her own personal anxieties, and who is unwilling to get outside help with those anxieties.

Many people enjoy partnerships where the couple acts as a team, and where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There's no reason to suffer in a relationship dynamic that is anything other than supportive and collaborative.

OP, your wife is being controlling and manipulative. No one wins in this situation. I think it is time for you to walk away. If she somehow, someday puts in the effort, on her own, to find a way to be strong in herself and not so pathologically needy, then you can revisit the *possibility* of getting back together. But I wouldn't bank on it.
posted by nacho fries at 11:44 AM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

I will be the first to be open and tell you that I am young, and haven't been married for very long. But from my barely-over-a-year of being married: Marriage IS hard and is a lot of work, but shouldn't be this hard.

Now, I haven't reconciled with anyone, but you barely even had a chance for me to honestly think of it as a separation and coming back together. You hardly spent time apart. Some people take out-of-state jobs and spend more time away from their happy relationship than you seemed to spend away from your bad relationshop. I don't mean to be harsh, but that is why the problems are the same, there was no time to deal with them.

She is saying she doesn't need to go to therapy. That is like an alcoholic saying they don't have a problem and will quit drinking on their own. It rarely, rarely, rarely happens. That's because both addiction and anxiety are deep-rooted problems that need professional help and a LOT of personal work to overcome.

She will not go back to therapy if she has you. You are her drug. You need to be healthily and happy with yourself, and as others have said, set up boundaries - and go to therapy to do so or leave.

You are making promises you can't keep. You can't promise to never leave her because, well.. you may have to leave her. She is manipulating you horribly by freaking out, and thus you stay.

If I were to see more improvement in the after-you-came-back section, then I would be more hopeful but from an outside perpective these things are exactly the same behaviors. I feel that right now she is testing the waters. She is only occasionally freaking out and crossing the line, until she knows she has you again and will be doing it all the time again.

I hope you realize that it's not okay. I hope you go to therapy and get help. I hope you consider leaving. I don't think that this can get better, especially without her wanting to change on her own.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:26 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

She needs help. Seriously, that "swear on my life" thing is beyond fucked up and it is fucked up in a way you cannot fix and that she probably can't fix on her own, either.

I can't echo this enough. I have a friend who was dealing with a significant other who was making these sorts of comments, along with some of the behavior you've mentioned, and _she_ ended up cheating on _him_ by making out with someone on a trip she took. On returning, she was unable to deal with the fact he didn't want to immediately discuss the behavior and needed space and tried to commit suicide in their shared apartment.

You need to both determine what it is that you need in life, with the relationship being a small piece of it, rather than the center issue, and things will probably resolve themselves. It sounds like you're unable to have a successful relationship or career and this stress is making it unable to resolve either situation.
posted by mikeh at 12:41 PM on July 24, 2013

Just be careful. As others have mentioned, deflecting behaviour is more common than you think. E.g. Someone I know who wouldn't let his wife get her licence and possibly sabotaged her birth control was the one who was having the affair. Many people who are anxious about abandonment are often ones who are having affairs themselves or who will leave you for someone else (they will meet a white knight who will save them from their fear of abandonment they have with you).

An interesting experiment would be when she asks to see your SMS, email, etc is that you ask to see hers in return. If this is pure anxiety, it might be a lightbulb moment for her and she might realise what she's been doing is quite wrong. If she gets very defensive, I would suggest something more is up.

I'm with those who think that a relationship is about being a team - not one person against the other. It makes life harder and the relationship harder when you're not on the same team. By refusing counselling, your wife is not on 'your team'. This makes things more difficult. If your marriage was hard before and it's hard now, it's probably going to remain that way unless your wife gets help (books count as help, y'know). If your wife doesn't get help, it's going to continue to be hard.

we can be amazing together and we have some amazing plans for the future.

If this is true, I would focus on this then. What are those plans? Can you bring them up as often as possible when your wife is feeling insecure about your relationship? Can you bring up good times that you've had together, particularly wonderful moments that reflect those amazing times? Don't give in to her anxiety - buy your car, don't show her your texts, emails, etc - instead, counter her anxiety with concrete evidence of the positives within your marriage and the potential positives in your future together.

Develop your love language so that you reach out to her verbally more. Tell her specifically words that reassure your future together. This does not have to be about feelings, if that is difficult for you. Instead, it's about concrete evidence that you have a life together, that you appreciate that life, and that you're willing to build more of a life together.
posted by heyjude at 2:36 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We've reconciled, and it was hard. It was a years long effort. I think from the singular moment of "I can no longer deal with this" to full repair was about 3 years. It's hard to say in hindsight if I would do it again. I love where I - and we - are at now, but it was really, really hard, and full of a lot of hurt.

I have anxiety issues. I understand some of the places your wife's brain is taking her, but - you can't promise you'll never hurt her again. That's a fact of life. We unintentionally hurt one another sometimes. Hopefully not often, but it will happen.

I would set some boundaries. Whether that's "you don't get to read my email" or "I love you, I'm going to work now, I'll be home at 7", or what have you, you need boundaries.

We had a lot of codependency issues. A lot of the 3 year slog was learning where one person ended and the other began. Learning what is an is not appropriate: "You have to apply for this job. Why haven't you applied for this job. OMG I spent ALL THIS TIME looking for jobs for you, why haven't you applied for any?!?!?" versus, "hey, I saw this job, and thought you might be a good match. (end of discussion)".

As another person mentioned above, the therapist isn't doing the work - you are. They're just there to help you get to the answers sooner, or in a more direct route.

We were in therapy for about a year, in several 8 week bursts. It was usually work REALLY HARD on one thing for 8 weeks, 2 week break, work REALLY HARD on the next thing, etc. We still go back occasionally if we're wrestling with a particular thing and really stuck.

One other thought - we were both committed 100% to working on changing things - REALLY changing things - because we knew they were unteneable as they were, and that even if we did split, we needed to get our major issues under control if we were to have any hopes of being a decent partner to anyone. I guess what I'm trying to say is, we both knew with all we were that things really had to change, because neither of us wanted to continue in the path we were on - even if we were single, we didn't want to live with ourselves as we were.

So I guess I'm trying to say yes, it will be hard, but it should be a different hard, and the landscape should start to change, instead of just rehashing the same ground over and over. And like I said, I'm glad we did it - we are in a really great spot now - but I don't know if I would make the same choice if I had it to do over again, because that was a ROUGH three years.

I wish you both the best.
posted by RogueTech at 7:05 PM on July 24, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for your helpful comments. I want to reply to just a couple of them, but it seems to me that I need to focus hard on setting and maintaining boundaries for myself, and learning to put on my own oxygen mask, if I'm going to have any chance of this working out. I also need to work hard at stating my needs instead of always worrying that it'll hurt my wife to state them plainly.
Dorothia: I'm really interested to know what conversations you had both prior to your separation and prior to your moving back in. What was the aim when you left? Did she understand why you were leaving and what you needed in order for the relationship to resume? If these conversations were not had then it was probably confusing, painful and fodder to all of her abandonment issues At the same time it was probably not productive in prompting permanent change.
The conversation when I was leaving was definitely had. It was long, painful, heart-rending for both of us. I made it clear then that she had to get counselling, and that she had to start being responsible for her own anxieties, before I'd consider moving back.

She found, and started seeing, a counsellor two days after I left. We agreed to start going to Relate about a month after I'd moved out. It was at this point that her counsellor told her that it would be better if she didn't see a personal counsellor and the Relate counsellor at the same time (in our first block of relationship therapy our then counsellor expressed discomfort about me seeing a personal therapist, too, so that didn't entirely surprise me).
As a couple's counsellor working in the UK I'm really surprised to hear the timeframes you are talking about. I normally start with six sessions but will work with people for up to a year if they have more work they want to do.
I overstated the situation in my original post; apologies. We were encouraged to stop after eight weeks. In fact we did six weeks, then the counsellor asked if we'd like to do more work. We said yes, but at the eighth week she said "I don't think there's anything else we can achieve in these sessions; it's up to you now; feel free to come back if you need to." That said, we were always very good together in counselling sessions - we both listened to each other and hear each other very well. It was inbetweeen sessions that we had problems. My wife sees this as "putting on our best faces for the counsellor" (hence her assertion that we don't do well in counselling, because she sees it as a lie. I've pointed out many times that I was being absolutely genuine in those sessions, but she still comes back to this point when we discuss it).
posted by yasp at 3:39 AM on July 25, 2013

My wife sees this as "putting on our best faces for the counsellor" (hence her assertion that we don't do well in counselling, because she sees it as a lie. I've pointed out many times that I was being absolutely genuine in those sessions, but she still comes back to this point when we discuss it).

People with attachment/abandonment/boundary issues can often be spectacularly good actors, to the point where everyone you know thinks that you are the cause of their problems. She might even be able to convince you of that, yourself.
posted by empath at 3:50 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

So, you told your wife she had to go to counselling in order for the reconciliation to happen? And she feels she doesn't do well in counselling, because it's a lie?

She's not acting in good faith here. She's trying to manipulate the situation. Establish and maintain your own boundaries.
posted by RainyJay at 10:20 AM on July 25, 2013

Response by poster:
DarlingBri: Dude. Put on your own oxygen mask first. You are not helping her, yourself or your marriage with that approach. Sit her down and tell her "I am doing the work I need to do to bring a whole and functioning partner to this relationship, and I NEED you to be in therapy so that you are doing the same. That's it. I need you to go."

And then stop trying to protect her from her own brain. She can wail and cry and pace and freak out, but that's fine. You know that Miss Manners thing where you just keep repeating "I'm sorry, that won't be possible"? Just keep saying "I understand, but I need you to go."
I tried exactly this approach tonight, even using the words "I need you to go…" and then I failed to enforce that boundary. My wife said that I was being unfair and "not giving [her] enough of a chance to manage her anxieties by herself." She also said it was unfair of me to make it all about what I need and ignore what she needs in all of this.

I admit, the way she fell apart got to me, and so I backed down. I love her and I don't want to cause her more pain. How do I move past this with compassion? All she can see when I say these things is me saying "I'm going to leave you if you don't get counselling" (she actually said that the conversation gave her deja vu since it was similar to the conversation that we had before I left last time around).
posted by yasp at 3:43 PM on July 26, 2013

My wife said that I was being unfair and "not giving [her] enough of a chance to manage her anxieties by herself."

What is enough of a chance? That is an honest question. Is another three months of insanity and suspicion and manipulation enough to say "OK this isn't working for us, now back to therapy as we agreed?" Because by my count we've had 12 years, or 7 months or 3 months of "managing her anxieties by herself" and yet still there you are with a woman who's abandonment fears are, at best, infantile.

She also said it was unfair of me to make it all about what I need and ignore what she needs in all of this.

Nobody needs to not go to therapy.

I admit, the way she fell apart got to me, and so I backed down. I love her and I don't want to cause her more pain.

Two things: one, how much pain are you willing to live with to spare her pain, and why is your pain less important than hers anyway? Two, nobody ever died from crying. Get over it. If you don't, this is just going to repeat: you state a need, she cries because it's uncomfortable for you, you back down. Wash rinse repeat blah blah blah.

If nothing else, clearly you guys have insufficient conflict resolution skills and should be in joint therapy to address that.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:19 PM on July 26, 2013

My wife said that I was being unfair and "not giving [her] enough of a chance to manage her anxieties by herself."

Okay, what is she doing to manage her anxieties by herself? Concrete examples. Meditating? Exercise? What? Because she needs to be doing something if she says she's taking care of it.

I love her and I don't want to cause her more pain.

Noble. And yet she's causing you pain. DarlingBri is right - why aren't worthy enough of being spared pain?
posted by heyjude at 2:21 AM on July 28, 2013

Still open, I see!

Your wife is *completely* holding you hostage with her "pain", and you are allowing her to do that because it is axiomatic in your relationship that your pain is worth so, so much less than hers.

Been there brother. I get it.

Like I said, you have to be the adult. What is she really suffering here that isn't of her own making? She's constructed a world where it is *your fault* if you do anything she doesn't want you to do, no matter how sensible or appropriate it is.

I'd guess that you probably, because in your secret heart you believe the reality she has set up, were not very calm about "I understand but I need you to go". I'd bet that you probably bought into an emotional drama-bomb, one that led to you being the bad-guy caretaker, and her being the arbiter-victim.

And that's because you two are co-dependant. Get your Google on.

There's only two ways out of this yasp: one of you grows up, or you split.

That's it; there's no way for co-dependency to become healthy. Someone intentionally kills it within a relationship, or you destroy the relationship it exists in.

So, let's talk about the growing up option. Should you persue it: You will learn to differentiate between "pain" and actual harm. You will learn to not associate "pain" with moral evil, or with you being a bad person for causing her "pain". You will learn to identify manipulative behaviors and resist them instinctually. You will learn to prefer long-term wellness and happiness over short-term satisfaction and safety. You will do that because you love wellness and happiness, and hate anything that gets in the way of it.

Are you ready to do that? If not get out of Dodge, buddy.

And, you should be talking to someone about your need to be valuable by "saving" and "taking care" of people (note the quotes!), and how to break out of cycles of co-dependency.

Three follow-up questions:
- how is it possible that your snoopy-snoop wife (hi you!) is not reading this whole thread?
- are you with this kind of person often, or is this a new experience for you?
- why are you not talking to people IRL about this? is it because you don't have anyone to talk to, or because they've already given you answers that you don't like? Both bad signs. Because what you seem to be asking us here is, "how can I satisfy my wife's insanity?" (repeatedly!), and oh man, that is the wrong question.

Man, just do this. Get help and get out of the situation you're in (preferably by learning how to be with someone who is sick like your wife is). It's crappy and bad and you are being controlled and manipulated by your big heart. There are better options out there, but you have to be willing to take them.
posted by Poppa Bear at 5:56 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

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