Boundary-ignorant husband: part of a bigger problem?
November 20, 2015 11:21 PM   Subscribe

My husband keeps pulling up my clothes and rubbing my belly (not pregnant, not trying to get pregnant, dear god I can only imagine if I was). It's meant to be affectionate but I HATE it. I've told him to stop, but he keeps doing it. I think my problem has less to do with the touching (although I really, really, really don't like it and resent having to apologize or explain it) and more to do with the fact that I explicitly asked him to stop but he has not. This makes me irrationally angry. Am I overreacting by moving out of our bedroom into our spare room?

My husband is a kind and sweet partner. He's affectionate and often sleepily snuggles up to me in bed as the "big spoon." I like this—until he inevitably reaches up the bottom of my shirt and rubs my belly. I don't like that. I never have and I've told him this. It feels embarrassing to me. I've even pushed his hands away and asked him if he would like it if I just came over and did the same, to which he sleepily replied, "I wouldn't mind, at all." Not the response I wanted. However, most recently, when this happened again, I had a full on panic attack which finally got his attention. Full disclosure: I was abused as a child. I've had therapy. Lots. Not that I'm saying that I don't still have issues, but in my 30+ years I've NEVER had this visceral of a response to unwanted touch. Also, until recently, we've had an active sex life with no issues.

I'm frustrated that this keeps happening after I tell him to stop because, as he says, "I'm sorry honey. I was still sort of asleep when you said that the other times, so I didn't remember or realize how much it bothered you until now. I'm really sorry."

As I'm writing this, I'm wondering whether I believe his excuse, though. On occasion, he's done the same thing to me unsolicited (and fully awake) while I was sitting on the couch and while I was at the sink doing dishes only to be rebuffed. It should have been memorable. Maybe I didn't make it memorable enough? He acknowledges that I didn't seem receptive at the time, but "[he] didn't understand why it still wasn't okay if [his] intentions were not sex-driven or meant as a come-on."

Am I overreacting? I know that he is not and will not become physically violent, but this has eroded my feeling of security in our relationship. Being direct with him and hearing his inadequate response only made me feel more humilated and upset. Really? You didn't remember? So you were asleep the other times I said stop, but you just weren't listening the other times you were awake? Oh, you thought it's only annoying if you groped me in a sexual way when I'm not in the mood? So as long as you're 'trying to be affectionate' this is not objectification?

He seems genuinely contrite, but I resent that he's trying to act like everything is okay or that everything will work out because I'm not sure it will. Something has changed for me, and now I don't trust him. I'm scared this can't be fixed. Is our marriage totally f'ed? This is my only complaint about it. Please help. I don't know who to talk to about this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (54 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Your marriage probably isn't f'ed. He screwed up, he thought you were being playful, a major mis-call on his part. As I see it, he probably wasn't doing it to upset you as much as you saw it that way because of how it affected you; are you familiar with the Fundamental Attribution Error? It's very unlikely he could know how much it really genuinely and deeply bothered you and more likely he thought he was ribbing you a little. It's not an excuse he's offering, but an allocution, and I'd suggest you give him a chance to back it up. His contrition will have to show up in his actions, not just his words, and you should do what you can to make him understand what that means. If I were in his shoes, I'd feel gut-punched at the magnitude of my mistake. (Yeah, that requires a big ol' assumption that he's anything like me.)

You say you're being irrational, but I think you aren't as much as you realize that it's maybe not a normal thing to be angry and upset about, but it is your thing. And maybe you need help with that thing.

There's no harm in changing beds for now, but I hope you'll both see it as a goal to stay together, and work to get back to a position of trust. Couples therapy is probably food for that; this isn't just your problem, but a big failure on his part to pick up what you were putting down. That feeling of security can come back, though; no person can know how they're going to feel in the future; it's something we're all really truly horrible at predicting correctly, and since there's no pattern you're identifying to tell us he's a shitheel, well, I've gotta go with him being a good partner who just blew it badly here and appears to want to fix it.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:42 PM on November 20, 2015 [16 favorites]

I don't think your sensitivity to this is very common, but I don't think you're crazy and he does need to stop doing this.

Personally, I would not want to leave the shared bed, because in my relationship (which I want to continue investing in) this would cause more hurt than collaboration. Only you know your relationship. If he continues to behave in a way that frustrates you this deeply, then he is hurting the relationship. However, it is not an uncommon/stereotypically unloving behavior to stroke your partner's belly, so he may need some time to work on changing this behavior. If he is truly asleep, he may simply and truthfully not be mindful that this cuddly action bothers you so much. It's not ok for him to cause you so much trauma intentionally, so please make sure he knows that his actions are impacting you! Please continue to express it, seriously.

If you choose to continue sleeping in the shared bed, is there any option of switching to some clothing item that might mitigate the impact of this behavior while he works on it (perhaps a long nightgown that won't pull up, or a high-waisted legging + t-shirt combo)?
posted by samthemander at 11:52 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

To be honest, it's reactions like this from people who don't quite get that when I say "no" I mean "NO!!!" that causes me to feel doubted and invalidated, so I totally recognize your feelings of humilation there.

I think it would be good to sit down and have a conversation with him, and have a constructive discussion about boundaries that shares why it triggers you so much (if you want to.) Hopefully, his response will be the"Honey I had no idea, but okay I won't do it anymore because I love you and I'm sorry" response, but it's better than it escalating into some really intense negative reactions that would not do well for both of you.
posted by yueliang at 12:06 AM on November 21, 2015 [28 favorites]

Maybe show him this thread, or read what you wrote in your ask me, to him.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:27 AM on November 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

This might be a good situation for a mediator or a couples counselor, because saying things like "my feeling of security is eroded and I'm afraid for our marriage because of how this played out" is really hard. Having a neutral third party to help you two communicate about this might really help.

The way you feel is not so strange. You have asked him not to touch you this way. He hasn't heard you. Of course this is scary. This situation is indicative of a larger issue, but one that is not uncommon nor impossible to work through: your communication with one another. A third party might really be helpful in guiding you two through having the necessary tough conversation about your communication together here and how it went sideways.

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 12:33 AM on November 21, 2015 [24 favorites]

I know that he is not and will not become physically violent, but this has eroded my feeling of security in our relationship. Being direct with him and hearing his inadequate response only made me feel more humilated and upset.... He seems genuinely contrite, but I resent that he's trying to act like everything is okay or that everything will work out because I'm not sure it will. Something has changed for me, and now I don't trust him. I'm scared this can't be fixed.

Did you tell all of that to him?

Those are some pretty serious issues you're having with your marriage, so I'd hope you could say the things to him that you've already said to hundreds of strangers on the internet. Once he hears all that, I'd think he should really take this seriously and make a change.
posted by John Cohen at 12:40 AM on November 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

Am I overreacting?

Your feelings are valid and you should not fault yourself for having them.

It is worth considering, that as the big spoon, while half asleep, the upper arm and hand laying across the small spoon is going to have to go somewhere and will often end up draped across the small spoon. And flop around and stuff. And humans need to touch and be touched. Which means that when he's awake he's not going to do something that will violate your boundaries now that he understands what they are, but when he's dozing he's not fully conscious or necessarily responsible for his actions.

Frankly, I think many participants in relationships are going to give inadequate and half-assed replies when finally being told firmly and with effect about a form of touching which is common but that doesn't work in that particular relationship. Even the people that are good people and subsequently moderate their behavior; they're being presented with an issue they didn't have a toolkit to deal with and they inadvertently hurt their partner by practicing not contempt but affection. Expect gibbering and ass-covering commingled with the sincere expressions of 'I didn't know I was hurting you' and 'I won't hurt you again'.

Couples therapy with a specialist in treating abuse sounds good.

Also, it might make sense to get a body pillow between the two of you so that you can share a bed without falling into spooning position, so that you can start sharing a bed again.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:15 AM on November 21, 2015 [32 favorites]

Maybe he doesn't realize how serious his actions' effect on you are. IMHO, you are totally in you right to be sensitive and reacting this way, but because he's been a good guy otherwise, you owe him at least a chance at modifying his behavior. Keep in mind, though, that it is not easy to modify behaviors, even when a person knows they should -- they can be tired and not thinking, for example. But he needs to understand this is really, really fucking seriously bad for you, for your reasons, and he needs to understand this needs to stop immediately.
posted by StrawberryPie at 2:33 AM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's always OK for you to have boundaries and it's always OK for you to enforce those boundaries. It would be much nicer and easier and better if we didn't have to do any actual enforcing with our nearest and dearest, but unfortunately they're often the worst offenders. If sleeping in the spare room is what you need to do to feel comfortable, then do it.

You could also try a sit down conversation, with you both dressed, awake, sober, etc and let him know explicitly that you need this behaviour to stop and that if it doesn't, [these are the things that will happen, such as you moving into the spare room]. Perhaps use the example that you enjoy grabbing his balls and squeezing them tightly and how would he feel if you kept doing that? When he comes back with "but that would cause me actual pain and this isn't hurting you", inform him that it's causing you mental and emotional discomfort and that's just as valid as physical pain and does he really want to cause you pain? If he (as he hopefully will) says "no", make him responsible for figuring out a way that he can modify his own behaviour, instead of making you responsible for it. Your no should be enough, you shouldn't have to move his hand away or wear a onesie or whatever to feel comfortable sleeping in your own bed with your own husband. It's his hand, therefore it's his responsibility.

He acknowledges that I didn't seem receptive at the time

So, he was aware of your no but decided to ignore it? That's a red flag. Just a single one, and it might drop down the flagpole if he changes his behaviour and takes some responsibility for where his hands are going. I'm pretty sure there's a term, that of course I can't google right now, for when someone will "test the waters" when they're abusing someone. They'll start out with something small and then escalate to something bigger when boundaries aren't set or can be ignored. I don't know whether or not your husband is doing this. He might just be completely inept at hearing your "no", which is a problem in and of itself.

I don't think your marriage is destroyed, just yet. There are steps that can be taken to rectify this situation, assuming your husband is willing to take those steps (which do NOT include blaming you, shaming you or making you responsible for his behaviour). If it takes you sleeping in the spare room to make you feel safe, then do it. You feeling safe is more important than your marriage.
posted by Solomon at 3:08 AM on November 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

I don't think you're over-reacting. I also don't think your marriage is over.

He wasn't respecting your boundaries or your requests to stop, but it sounds like it wasn't because he didn't care - he just didn't realise how big a deal this was (this is totally on him - you told him several times). He's not trying to defend it by saying that he has a right to touch you, or that you should just deal with it (which would be dealbreakers, I think).

Is it possible to communicate (either vocally or otherwise - sometimes I feel like I can express myself better on paper than in conversation) that you repeatedly asked him to stop, and he continued to do it, and that it made you feel like you couldn't trust him. Then point out that even if he didn't realise, that's not actually an excuse - that just means he wasn't respecting you enough to listen to what you were saying and take it on board.

I'm not sure if sleeping somewhere else is the solution, but I think that if you can find a way to show him that by not respecting your wishes he's making you feel unsafe, and that by not evening hearing your wishes he's making you feel disrespected, then you might be on the right track.

All the best.
posted by twirlypen at 4:26 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Please take a look at the discussion in this earlier AskMe -- or show it to him if he's not "getting it" why this IS a big deal and your reaction is in no way irrational, it's your subconsious lizard brain trying to yell at you "NOT SAFE NOT SAFE" and put you into fight-or-flight mode to protect yourself.

I imagine that one of the hardest things about this situation is the disconnect between "he is a kind and sweet partner" and having these experiences in which he is capable of (and even willing to) ignore your will, your feelings, your needs, and your words in favor of his own desires. What's encouraging is that it sounds like this is an isolated example, not part of a pattern that reveals a more fundamentally selfish/callous mindset on his part. I don't think your marriage is doomed if y'all can close what is now a very big gap in his understanding of the severity of the issue -- what it represents to you -- and backs up his apologies by not willfully doing it again. If it helps, tell him to imagine that you've just had surgery and have pain and fragile stitches in that area. That could realistically happen one day -- would(n't) he be able to stop his urges to do this then, and almost immediately?

(If I were in your shoes, I'd also be wearing a long belly-covering tank top under my pajamas until I felt comfortable again.)

Best of luck to you.
posted by argonauta at 4:35 AM on November 21, 2015 [13 favorites]

Nthing the sentiment that a) you are completely justified and valid as well as b) your marriage is reparable.
In fact, I'd even say it's common in marriages to get into some version of partner 1 makes a clear & reasonable statement, partner 2 doesn't understand how important it is and doesn't take it too seriously.
However your body is not a dishwasher that's been loaded incorrectly, so anything you say about how you want it treated should be taken very seriously by your partner.
I'm also not opposed to sleeping in the spare room when my husband and I are having serious fights because if I'm in the same room with him I get too mad to sleep so then I'm angry AND sleepy. If the erosion of trust has you in a place where the quality of your sleep is suffering, that's a big deal, and having a big reaction is warranted (in my opinion).
posted by dotparker at 4:46 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

In a perfect world he would have heard and understood totally the very first time (or ideally, before the very first time, so that wrong touching never happened). We don't live in that perfect world, but at least he is not being defensive, or denying what he did, or trying to make you feel bad for it. But it also isn't clear that he has fully heard (or even been told?) all of what you said here about how much this matters to you and has impacted your trust in the relationship.

This is a classic case of calling for therapy, both joint therapy (to help with communication and trust) and for you individually. Therapy now, when things are probably still fixable, is a lot better than waiting until things are fully broken, and his willingness to engage will tell you a lot.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:54 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am an abuse survivor. I went through nearly exactly this with my husband. It all turned out okay.

My husband grew up in a home where boundaries were not often respected. I grew up with none. It took us some time. He was a boundary buster but he was not a jerk. It can be hard to tell the difference. The point where I started to feel more safe so I expected him to listen but we hadn't worked it all out yet was the rough time.

So general advice...this is a bigger discussion in your marriage and it's worth investing in how to communicate about it. For me, Harriet Lerner's books, especially The Dance of Connection but also The Dance of Intimacy and The Dance of Anger helped a lot.

I encourage you not to care if belly rubbing is normal. You don't like it, it's decided. He's not a bad person for having done it but he needs to stop. If that means there 'a nowhere for hands in the spoon then yah, find a new cuddle. But it's probably deeper.

Specific advice: communicate super clearly about this...even if really you shouldn't have to. I mean super, super clearly.

The classic frame of "when you...I..." is awesome. "Hey I need to talk about something important. (Sit down together.) When you rub my belly, I feel tense, sick to my stomach, and my heart pounds and suddenly I am so turned off and feel like I just need to get away from you. I hate feeling that way. When you continue to do it, I feel unheard, disrespected, and bordering on violated. I need you to stop."

It may take a few rounds. For later boundary enforcements personally I went for terser and terser explanations. "Stop that right now. I hate it and I have told you so." This is the degree of clarity you may need to have. If that doesn't stop it then yes, switch beds and be super clear why.

If that doesn't put an end to it, you do have a big issue. But it probably will.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:57 AM on November 21, 2015 [76 favorites]

Maybe he tapes oven mitts to his hands if/when you are ready to share a bed again. You shouldn't have to change your sleeping attire, reinforcing the Not Safe My Fault alarm bells. He needs to show you he understands how messed up he's been behaving toward you.
posted by deadcrow at 5:01 AM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry you're experiencing this. I don't think your reaction is irrational; I think many people get frustrated when their boundaries are disregarded. But I do think that your reaction is a bit strong. A lot of people might be at "dude!! I've told you ten times that I hate being touched there!!!" But to be at "now I don't trust him. I'm scared this can't be fixed," along with your mention of your first ever panic attack, suggests to me that this has connected with something very deep in you. To me, that means there's a significant piece here that you would do well to own and explore. (There are also pieces that you guys need to explore together.)

I definitely think you should sleep in the guest room for a night or two at least of that's something you viscerally want. Avoiding unwanted closeness is probably crucial to reducing your sense of violation and anger, and helping you feel safe and relaxed again. Think of any animal that feels threatened; it isn't rational, and having its own space is valuable in allowing that fear response to subside.

But I'd do it in a kind way. "Honey, I need my own space to begin to feel better. I know you have apologized, but I have to let myself calm down before I can even discuss this." Even though you're angry and want him to know how serious this is, I would also be kind.

I don't think your marriage is f'ed. I think you're having an understandable reaction to the level of panic that was triggered (just my guess, as a stranger on the internet). It makes sense you'd want to never feel that panic again. If it helps, I do tend to believe that he might perceive various instances as situational (not right now / not in the kitchen / I'm not in the mood) or not absorb the message if he was almost asleep, and back down for the moment but not grasp that your point was "please never touch me there." How serious of a communication / listening failure this is would depend to me on exactly what you said. But if your relationship is good otherwise, and given his level of contrition, I am hopeful that you two can get through this.

Then, tomorrow, I'd give serious consideration to finding a couple's counselor to help you work through this. It will suck going through the counselor-finding process while you're already in a crisis, but just be prepared for some of the counselors to not be good.
posted by salvia at 5:11 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Warrior Queen has an awesome response, and I just wanted to say that I'm a bit horrified at people who are telling you are overreacting.

You are NOT overreacting. You need to impress upon your husband that as an abuse survivor that you need certain things to feel safe and loved and that his refusal to stop touching you in a triggering way is jeopardizing your relationship.

This is a conversation that needs to be very solemn and scary to him. Sit down with him, at a table, and using the words Warrior Queen has scripted tell him just how upset you are and how disappointed you are in him that he continues to invalidate your feelings and requests.

Our partners do not have rights unfettered access to our bodies, no matter what relationship we are in. You should not have to tell him more than once to be heard and respected.

I too recommend counseling for you both, because your husband is not sufficiently impressed with how seriously he is over-stepping boundaries and he needs a wake-up call.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:38 AM on November 21, 2015 [48 favorites]

I don't think your marriage is over; this is totally salvageable. Weird story time: Earlier in our relationship, my now husband liked to make this joke where he touched my nostrils and pretended like he was going to pick my nose. I ABSOLUTELY hated it. The first time or two I kinda laughed along and said, "Ewww, no!", but when I realized that this was going to keep happening, I said VERY CLEARLY, "Don't do that. I don't like it and it really squicks me out. You need to stop." He apologized . . . but then after a while it was like he forgot and started doing it again. Every time it happened I was visibly put out and sometimes upset to the point of tearing up. Finally I had a sit down with him and asked him, "Is this a compulsion of some sort, you touching my nose like that? If it is, I can see what I can do to work with it, but honestly this is really upsetting to me, and I don't understand why you keep doing it after I clearly asked you to stop, so compulsion is the only thing I can think of." It probably wasn't the nicest thing ever to say, but I was fed up. He got a weird look on his face and said, "No, it's not a compulsion" and he hasn't touched my nostrils since. Like, ever since, not at all, no nose-picking jokes.

I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes people are dense and truly think they are being funny/affectionate/whatever in the face of all evidence to the contrary, but you have a right to be touched or not touched however you want. He cares for you and you say he is sweet and kind, so he will get it eventually. You did a good thing being clear with him, so just be very clear each time, and he will get it.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:44 AM on November 21, 2015 [15 favorites]

So everyone has really good advice here, I just wanted to say as someone who has a litany of weird sensory dislikes, not liking things and having those boundaries respected is really important no matter how weird they are to other people. And asserting them is totally right.
posted by KernalM at 6:08 AM on November 21, 2015 [11 favorites]

Have you told him that you've been abused previously?
posted by d. z. wang at 6:48 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't think you're overreacting, but this really feels to me like an abuse trigger. Especially the way your feelings about this situation of disrespecting what seems like a non-major boundary have ratcheted up into the adrenaline panic zone of (summarizing my own mental processes when this happens here) "oh God, if this person wont respect my No on this totally petty thing how can I trust him to respect it at all? He could do ANYTHING to me and now I don't know if I could make him stop." You know your husband isn't a violent person, but you're finding yourself wondering if he could be, because you suddenly feel like you don't know him anymore because he's become this person who responds to your serious distress with halfassed excuses and stonewalling.

I think your marriage is salvageable, but your husband ABSOLUTELY needs to understand how serious this is for you, and he needs to change his behavior accordingly. If you guys haven't talked about this when you're both awake and sober, like someone said above, you need to, and going to counseling about both this issue and improving your communication about boundaries in general might be a good idea too. It doesn't sound like your husband really gets what is going on here (and sounds like he actually was half asleep in a few of the cases) but he can't keep doing things that have this kind of effect on you. I think moving to another bed until your panic has dialed down, and giving yourself some safe space to breathe, might be a good idea. I know people are talking about what a big deal it is to abandon the marriage bed or whatever, but this is a legitimate mental health reason, like a partner sleeping on the couch for a couple of nights because they threw out their back. Take care and good luck.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 7:01 AM on November 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

I understand how frustrating it is when you repeatedly tell your spouse something and he just doesn't listen or doesn't care or both.

What are you in charge of?

1) stop spooning.
2) Tell him. "Next time you rub my belly, I'm going to do X." And X is something he really doesn't like. For example: scream loudly, rip all the covers from the bed, and turn on all the lights (in the middle of the night). Or, go into the kitchen and pour all his beer down the kitchen sink. Or, whatever the heck you know bugs the crap out of him. Just keep doing it to show that YOU MEAN BUSINESS.
posted by Piedmont_Americana at 7:36 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

It may be helpful to ask him to read information for partners of survivors of abuse. This essay seems fairly good, and has links to other information, but if it doesn't ring true for you, you could find something else, or ask him to do that research. It might help in making the problem seem less like some sort of personal, unique failure.
posted by jaguar at 8:00 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

No. No. No. NO.

This has to cease.
It has to cease NOW.
It has to happen NEVER AGAIN.

Not because you're an abuse survivor and therefore can't tolerate "normal" belly rubbing that other "rational" people just love all to flinders, but because for him to continue to do this stupid thing when it makes you feel terrible is the same level of insanely inappropriate as the forced nose picking described above.

This: "close what is now a very big gap in his understanding of the severity of the issue" has to happen and HE HAS TO DO IT.

HE has to close the gap.

You stop talking to him and trying to explain why it's wrong and ya ya ya. You've talked and talked. It hasn't worked. You didn't "say it wrong;" you said it in the language he speaks in words he can understand. No "honey, let's go to therapy." No "dearie, this is why I'm wearing Spanx to bed." Nothing. He's been told. He heard. Now he needs to remember what he heard and do the thirty seconds of rumination that will allow him to make the simple simple behavioral change that will save his marriage. Doesn't want to do that? Can't figure out that it's important to do that? Then he either does not want to or can't stay married to another human person. The. Fucking. End.

If it happens ONE MORE TIME while he's awake, that's the end of the marriage. He can't help what he does while asleep, so he gets a pass, but you probably want to disengage from big spoon after he falls asleep or not do big spoon anymore or not sleep in the same bed anymore.

There. NOW tell his clueless ass to read this thread.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:21 AM on November 21, 2015 [11 favorites]

Now that you've made it clear that you hate it, maybe you can figure out why he keeps doing it. There could be some odd intense reasons to keep wanting to do it that he doesn't even realize are there. It might just be thoughtlessness, but maybe it could help him to cut it out and make you guys closer if you explore what's potentially going on with him too.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:23 AM on November 21, 2015

You have a right not to be touched, or a right not to be touched in certain ways, as you decide. No explanations or equivocations are necessary. Your rights regarding touching are not dependent on being an abuse survivor. I don't think people meant to imply that, but it kinda reads that way, so please don't fall into that headspace.

Nthing it sounds like your husband is clueless, not malicious. I bet he'll be horrified when he finally gets it.

I think there's this tendency to treat females (and children, too) as though they are cute little toys to be touched and handled on whim. Things are changing now, but these attitudes are so deeply ingrained in us, it sometimes takes a while to untangle all of the reasons and reactions. I do believe (and know first hand) that out of these ingrained social mores around touching, abusers find free reign to commit crimes. People like your husband aren't looking to abuse others, they're just copying what they saw as children or young adults in their homes or on tv or whatever.

Anyway. I know being an abuse survivor isn't much fun. I wanted to share with you that this isn't one more thing that makes you "damaged." You could object to this vociferously without having experienced abuse, because it's just generally wrong to touch anyone without permission. Sometimes a person feeling desire and affection for you forgets this natural boundary regarding touching and personal space. You don't have to be a special snowflake to get these boundaries respected, rather, some folks need direct reminding these boundaries exist in every circumstance because they forgot or were never taught.

You're both still good people married to each other in a good marriage. You'll work things out.
posted by jbenben at 8:29 AM on November 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

The defining feature of a lasting marriage is the willingness of each spouse to accept that there are things the other does that (s)he doesn't like, and which the other will NEVER stop doing no matter what is said about it by either spouse.

The question for you is: is this one of those things that will never stop, and if so is it one of those things you can accept?
posted by MattD at 8:38 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm on the WTF side.
This reminds me of husbands who respond to a divorce with, "but she never said that anything was wrong! Totally out of the blue!" And you just know that she's been telling him what was bugging her often, in all the ways she could, perfectly clearly and he just never took it seriously.

You've been more than clear stating your boundaries so yes, it is time to enforce them. If sleeping apart will help it hit home for him how serious you are, then do that.
posted by Omnomnom at 8:41 AM on November 21, 2015 [16 favorites]

I don't think that your right to not be touched in an unpleasant way is contingent on you being an abuse survivor, at all! But I do think that if you explain to him that it is triggering to you, he will be horrified and take care not to do it again.

I'd sit him down and say "babe, I was getting ready to make up the guest room bed to sleep in tonight, because I am literally to the point of being scared to get in bed with you, but I decided I ought to try talking this out with you one last time. I need you to listen now to what I am about to say." Like, Big Scary Talk time. And then lay it out.

It may mean he needs to not spoon you anymore, because the upper arm does need to go somewhere. You should point this out in the conversation specifically too.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:41 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

My DH used to come up behind me and grab my breasts, usually when I was cooking or washing dishes. I asked him many times to stop and he kept doing it.

Finally one day when he was passing me, I grabbed his testicles really hard and told him I'd do it once for every time he grabbed my breasts. It stopped quickly. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.

It felt really juvenile doing it but it put a fast stop to it.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 8:50 AM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

He's not ignorant; he's abusive. I'm sorry.

ANYONE doing ANYTHING to your body without your permission - much less your explicit request to stop! - is wrong.

You are NOT over-reacting. You don't trust him, because he's behaving in an untrustworthy way.

If he doesn't stop, then the relationship will continue to be an unhealthy one. Also, I'd be very surprised if this is the only area he's acting out boundary violations in. I'd suggest you assess this, on your own or with an informed therapist, and then take action accordingly. (I'm trained in the field, which informs my response.)
posted by dancing leaves at 9:23 AM on November 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

Okay, so his need/desire to touch you in a way that makes you very unhappy is more important than your need for him to stop doing it? I think that's the message he's sending you loud and clear: he wants to keep doing it, so he keeps doing it, regardless of how you feel about it. At best he's making up lame excuses and hoping you'll get over it because "he doesn't mean to," whatever.

I don't know if that's a marriage ENDER, but jeebus, that's ... not a trait I want to see in people and it outright scares me when someone says something like that. Hell, I don't like being "Pillsbury'd" (poked in the belly button), and an ex of mine did that to me once when we were hanging out and presumably I was annoying him. He darned well knew I didn't like it, but he did it. That should tell you something, right?

I think you're gonna have to go with RichardHenryYarbo's suggestion: do something to him back, because nicely asking no is not doing it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:23 AM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

A thing that was kind of a breakthrough for me and my partner about things kind of similar to this, was one time when I said sharply to him, "Why can't the fact that it matters to me be a good enough reason?" We'd been sort of unconsciously hung up on this idea that he had to understand why a thing could be a problem before he took me seriously about it (and there were other things where this was true for me as well). This idea that we should just take each other's word for it sometimes was eye-opening for both of us, I think. We are both really good people who are, overall, good at being in a relationship, but for a long time this was kind of a weird blind spot for us.
posted by not that girl at 9:35 AM on November 21, 2015 [51 favorites]

but "[he] didn't understand why it still wasn't okay if [his] intentions were not sex-driven or meant as a come-on."

You're not overreacting and it is totally 100% normal to be triggered by stuff that seems harmless to others. For me it is the attitude of his that i've quoted above that would make me a combination of furious and scared, because IT SHOULDN'T MATTER IF HE UNDERSTANDS WHY OR NOT. He doesn't need to fully comprehend every single nuance of your emotions and reasoning to STOP PHYSICALLY DOING TO YOU A THING HE WAS ASKED TO STOP DOING. If sleeping separately is something you need to do right now to help you guys work through this then you should do that without feeling guilty about putting your own needs first.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:29 AM on November 21, 2015 [18 favorites]

I don't think you're overreacting, but I do think you should cut your husband a little slack and give him some time to work on this if he does now seem to get it and be trying to work on it. With some types of cuddle behavior, I think it can become almost autopilot, especially in a long-term relationship like a marriage (and especially if the person is semi-asleep). I know that ever since we started talking about having kids, my husband is constantly rubbing my belly (I am not pregnant!). I don't mind, but I will often tease him about it, especially if he does it when we're out in public, and say something like "You know, there's no baby in there yet!" Half the time he doesn't even realize he was doing it - it was sort of an unconscious thing. Now, obvioulsy because of the fact that this really does bother you, your husband needs to make a serious effort at stopping the habit. That said, it is REALLY FREAKING HARD to break unconscious habits (take a look at the state of my fingernails on any given stressful day and ask me how I know!), so I would be gentle and forgiving with him as long as he's taking it seriously and taking real steps to stop the behavior.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:35 AM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

2nd that it's probably the FAE. He doesn't have the same reaction you do to that same touch, probably experiences it as a nice thing, and maybe hasn't seen others have that response (because for a lot of people, I guess it is a benign or affectionate gesture), and because his intentions aren't to hurt you (probably, they are along the lines of "want to feel closer to anonymous"), just really can't fathom this at all.

He acknowledges that I didn't seem receptive at the time, but "[he] didn't understand why it still wasn't okay if [his] intentions were not sex-driven or meant as a come-on."

Sounds like he just really doesn't get what's going on, imo; seems like his assumption is that it's the sexual intention + gesture & not the movement itself.

Not excusing, but musing - maybe he thought he was actually helping, in a way?? Like now that you've told him you don't like it - in a sexual context, as far as he understands - he's thinking of it as something he'd like to help you "overcome"? As in, maybe he thought that by doing it in a non-sexual setting, he could sort of encourage you to "get over" it, and get to liking this thing he thinks is really nice? Some people prefer and rely on non-verbal communication or "teaching" or "testing out" like this, when it comes to physical intimacy… Which is far from ideal, because of the huge assumptions and grey area in there, especially when there is a history of abuse.

Are you in the habit, as a couple, of talking out preferences during sex, or are you more in the "show vs. tell" camp?

I know you've already told him directly that you don't like it, but another explicit and more detailed conversation about why that is might go a long way, by the sounds of it.

(I don't think your marriage is fucked; also don't think you're overreacting. Just talk more, some differences there.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:38 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you have some communication problems compounding the issue. You might need third party intervention to help sort that piece out. If you can sort that out, you may be able to work things out. If you can't, things will just go downhill from here.

Communication problems are not a case of one party refusing to listen. When that happens, that is not a comunication problem. That is a bigger problem.

As a general rule, for my own life, I don't pull out the big guns until I am sure that either they heard me and understood and disregarded my wishes or there is just no hope of them understanding. First, I make absolutely sure communication happened or simply will never happen.

From what you describe, I would likely have a come-to-Jesus, heart-to-heart with him and read him the riot act and see how that goes before deciding what to do next. If he didn't on his own state clearly that he gets it now, this is a big deal and he will stop, I would spell out that "I need you to understand that this is a big deal and it needs to stop." If his response at that point was still dismissive and minimizing and not taking the issue seriously, I would start sleeping elsewhere and start a two track process of 1) trying to resolve the issue and 2) start quietly (without telling him) researching and making arrangements for a path out if it cannot be resolved.

Sometimes, people really are just that clueless. It can be a kindness to give them the 2x4 to the face level of Here Is A Clue, Stupid. If it still doesn't sink in, you can move on without all the self doubts and second guessing. There comes a point past which it doesn't really matter if they are clueless or abusive, it is a dealbreaker anyway.
posted by Michele in California at 11:38 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

He's wrong and you're right, absolutely 100%. But, realistically, the number of perfect partners out there is limited, and most relationships involve some compromises or issues you have to work out. If he doesn't change, you are 1000% justified in leaving. However, I think he can change with the correct impetus to change. (Which you shouldn't HAVE to provide. He should already have listened to you. Let me be clear. But you may CHOOSE to not give up just yet.)

In a psych 101 class, you learn about Pavlov's dogs. (Worth Googling it if you haven't heard of this.) One of the ways people and animals learn is through negative and positive reinforcement. You need to create in his brain/neurons a huge correlation between touching belly and BAD NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCE he doesn't like or want at ALL.

Your plan to sleep in a separate room is actually a form of this negative reinforcement. It may work. However, it may not be IMMEDIATE enough for him to truly make this connection. For it to work best, you need something IMMEDIATE and VERY UNPLEASANT.

-a foghorn on the bedside
-you jumping up and screaming and yelling and going to sleep elsewhere in that very moment
-putting something across yor belly like that fake scratchy grass stuff, or tin foil, or something unpleasantly textured, to be used like a shield.

Etc. Yes, this is treating him like a cat or dog. But he forfeited the right to calm discussion which is the human and civilized way to modify behavior.
posted by quincunx at 11:41 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have the same kind of reaction to tickling. Lots of people seem to think that 1) everyone enjoys it, and 2) if you don't, you're just pretending, because, who doesn't like getting tickled?

I just have to be absolutely straight up and to the point - "Don't do that! There is never a situation in which I enjoy that!" The first time is at a normal speaking voice. The second time is LOUD.
posted by chaotic at 11:43 AM on November 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

"your husband needs to make a serious effort at stopping the habit."
Two problems: one, he doesn't need to make an effort to not do it, he needs to not do it. Two, it's not a habit. If your practice involves your own body or inanimate objects, it's a habit. But if you're unconsciously manipulating a living creature other than yourself, especially over protests, that's not a "habit." That's something pernicious. If the belly being rubbed were the cat's and the question were, "the cat doesn't like it and is afraid of him now, I've asked him to stop, why does he keep doing it," would people be recommending therapy and unpacking the reasons he has for teasing the cat? This issue really is not complicated. He's been told to stop; no more need be said. Fucking stop or GTFO.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:47 AM on November 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

This is a different issue but I taught my husband to stop completing my sentences by charging him a dollar every time he did it. I told him it was a problem, he said he would stop, and he didn't. So every single time he did it after that, I would say, calmly, you owe me a dollar. And I would stand there and calmly insist he go get the dollar right then and there. I think it took fewer than 14 days for him to stop that behavior. I mention this because getting people to stop annoying behavior is possible without going ballistic. You have reasons why your husband's behavior is especially triggering to you but he will never understand that the way you do. So consider trying something like a small fine that you invoke every single time he touches your belly. It's a non-nuclear option that may allow you to get back in bed with him sooner. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:51 AM on November 21, 2015 [12 favorites]

I am unclear on his current status. Does he now understand that this behavior needs to stop, and is he taking steps himself to stop it? That is the reaction I would expect from a caring lover.

If he is clearly trying to stop but a bit forgetful, then I agree with the suggested methods above on how to help retrain him into a better action pattern. I also have one more suggestion- is there another behavior you would be ok with (eg resting his hand on your hip instead while spooning, touching you on shoulder/back/hand; or if physical touch isn't ok a verbal expression of affection could also work)? If you can choose a redirect, then every time the behavior happens, move his hand and say why.
But if he isn't already on board with stopping this behavior right now, then I find that pretty worrying. You could try stating it like talking to a young child (no, under no circumstances is this ok, not if you are sleepy, not if someday I am pregnant, not if you are sad and really want to, no, never, the stomach is always off limits), but I think having to do that itself isn't a great sign.
posted by nat at 12:31 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes, you can get over this. It is going to take longer than he thinks, and he needs to be 100% committed and ok with doing what's necessary. Have him tell you how he respects your bodily autonomy and how your body belongs to you. And demonstrate it. And for your part, you are going to have to make a leap of faith. Make sure you tell him that it's a leap of faith and how devastating it will be if you're wrong to make it. And memail me if you want a success story.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:47 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

This isn't going to be a popular response, but find something he doesn't like in the same sort of way and do that for like, two weeks.

Then ask him why it's any different when he's pissed off or distant or whatever.

I've had this sort of problem in EVERY relationship I've had.

This works. It's sort of rubbing the puppies nose in the poop*, but it works. It led us to the "why is me saying I just don't like it not a good enough reason" point when that hadn't had any impact before.

*and I'm aware that's a terrible analogy because it's animal abuse and does nothing. People are not dogs and can connect the dots
posted by emptythought at 12:50 PM on November 21, 2015

I never experienced any type of abuse, but certain types of touching make me feel very bad physically and can even make my skin hurt, though the touch is gentle. My husband KEPT ON DOING these things for too long, even though he knew I had a problem with it. It felt like a nightmare to me. Even though he's an extremely caring and loving person, we had to have a more than one non-angry talk about it before he realized the "I can't help it" and "it's kind of a reflex" weren't fixing it. He said he was determined to stop, and asked me to yell at him right away as soon as he went for it. I refused to yell, and instead just said a couple of words. It worked -- I had to remind him 3 times. A few times after that he would catch himself right away...then the bad touching just stopped. It pops up a couple of times a year now.

I agree with those who say that HE should figure out a solution. I disagree with those who think he's bad, selfish, etc. I don't think that it's weird or a result of abuse if someone abhors touching that's meant to be affectionate or comforting.
posted by wryly at 1:22 PM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

He acknowledges that I didn't seem receptive at the time, but "[he] didn't understand why it still wasn't okay if [his] intentions were not sex-driven or meant as a come-on."

This post is not clear about what you said. If you repeatedly said "touching my stomach makes me very uncomfortable and I'd like you to never touch me there. I'm serious about this. Please don't ever rub my stomach" then I would agree with those who are coming to harsh conclusions about your husband. If you just brushed his hand away or said "don't," then I think there is a lot of room for him to misunderstand what exactly not to do. He might perceive the problem as "she thought I was trying to seduce her and she wasn't in the mood." If he misunderstood the problem as "don't try to seduce Anon while she's doing the dishes," he might think he's been heeding your request while actually missing the point.

I don't want to put all the responsibility on you or imply he can keep doing this until you communicate 100% perfectly. It's hard to say without additional info on what was and was not communicated. But what's described in the post seems to leave some room for misunderstandings, especially if people are half asleep while much of the communication is occurring.

I don't say this to minimize your feelings or to tell you not to feel that way. Take care of yourself. (In your shoes, I'd definitely sleep in another bed until I felt like being next to him again. I would not do it in the spirit of punishing him, just "i need some space now.") I say it to reassure you that there might be another option besides deliberate disregard or an unwillingness or inability to hear boundaries, ie, that your marriage is very much fixable.
posted by salvia at 1:46 PM on November 21, 2015 [12 favorites]

There is a lot of good advice here that makes sense if your husband is doing this while awake. But in reading your question I am still unclear if this stomach-rubbing is 90% happening when he is partially asleep and 10% when awake or if it happens all the time whether awake or asleep.

If it's a sleepy-time mostly issue: my husband and I are both bad sleepers and get angry at each other for sleep things a lot (we've been together 13 years). From my experiences with crappy sleep I think you are 100% in the clear for sleeping in the guest bedroom forever if you want! Sleep is important.

In order to permit us to sleep in the same bed, we have created what we call "sleep selves" and we refer to them as "sleep-holyrood" and "sleep-husband's name" aloud. Sleep-selves kick in when you are sleepy and go away when you are fully awake and out of bed. They are totally separate people from awake-holyrood and awake-husband, and we can laugh at their foibles.

Our sleep selves are assholes. Sleep-holyrood hogs the covers and has nonsensical conversations where she is very demanding (once sleep-holyrood wouldn't let awake-husband into bed until he agreed that she was the boss). Sleep-husband is also an asshole who has a tendency to pinch my belly and chest skin randomly very hard while being big spoon -- hard enough to wake me up and leave bruises.

Sleep-husband does not wish to pinch but he cannot stop himself, much like sleep-holyrood wishes she could stop demanding absurd things. We know we cannot really control our sleep actions but having fake names for these sleep personalities gives us a way to talk about it and develop answers without it getting personal.

I get angry about someone telling me to not do something while asleep. I can apologize, but I can't really control it though, they should probably just get used to it! (this seems a lot like your husband's reactions to your very reasonable requests to not touch you in this area/this way.) But being told while 100% awake that this separate person, sleep-holyrood, needs to change? Yeah, I can objectively realize that she sucks when she steals the covers, and while I cannot guarantee that I can make her do things, awake-holyrood can make amends on her behalf and come up with a solution that sleep-holyrood will just have to live with (in our case, getting more blankets so sleep-holyrood can't possibly hog them all).

I am always grumpy upon waking and being pinched awake makes that even worse. When it happens the #1 thing I want to do is lash out at my husband. Instead of saying "stop doing that!" I can say, "Sleep-husband is pinching me again! He's such a shitbag pincher jerkass and I hate him so much right now!" Husband can then say, "Sorry about sleep-husband being terrible. When sleep-husband does that, wake him up and tell him to roll over, and even if sleep-husband is upset about that in the moment, awake-husband will be OK with it, because I don't want to hurt you." And then even though sleep-husband will likely pinch sleep-holyrood the next night, at least awake-husband has apologized on his behalf: I got my anger out, my feelings are assuaged, my husband doesn't feel like I am attacking him personally, and we have a plan for how to handle it next time.

It's not an answer for how to get him to stop doing something while awake. But reframing our sleep problems to blame these mysterious sleep versions of ourselves has let us get positive communication occurring without our egos getting in the way.
posted by holyrood at 2:16 PM on November 21, 2015 [12 favorites]

It's meant to be affectionate but I HATE it. I've told him to stop, but he keeps doing it.

I don't like that. I never have and I've told him this.

I know that he is not and will not become physically violent, but this has eroded my feeling of security in our relationship.

Something has changed for me, and now I don't trust him.

Physical actions don't have to be violent to be abusive. And that's what he's doing at this point. He's abusing you. You told him you don't like this physical act. You've asked him to stop performing this physical act. Him performing this physical act has eroded [your] feeling of security in [your] relationship. Him performing this physical act has changed something in you, to the point that you now don't trust him. Him ignoring your feelings is abuse. Him ignoring you telling him to stop is abuse. Him ignoring that your feeling of security and trust in him and your marriage is gone is abuse. Him physically touching you in a manner that makes you feel unsafe is abuse, and more than that, it's assault.

It doesn't matter that your husband is a kind and sweet partner. It doesn't matter that he's affectionate. It doesn't matter that you were abused as a child. It doesn't matter whether you still have issues. It doesn't matter whether you've ever had a visceral reaction to unwanted touch. It doesn't matter whether he was asleep or awake. It doesn't matter whether you were receptive. It doesn't matter whether his intentions were sex-driven or meant as a come-on. It doesn't matter that he's not physically violent. It doesn't matter if he's contrite. It doesn't matter if this is your only complaint about your marriage.

What matters is that no means no. Don't touch me like that means don't touch me like that. Stop means stop.

If you want to give him a chance, to give your marriage a chance, then sure, go the marriage counselor route. But this internet stranger's advice is to DTMFA. If he can't grasp a simple concept like "don't do that," he's not worth hanging on to.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 2:34 PM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think there's a bit of both sides here. It's totally valid for you to not want to be touched like that. And it's not okay for him to ignore you. At the same time, it may be difficult for him to relearn how to approach you physically. This may especially be difficult if he doesn't clearly understand how upset it makes you.

So, I think you need to have a clear discussion about just how much you hate it, why you hate it, that when he ignores you how much it bothers you, etc. (Good scripts above.)

At the same time, I think as a couple you can facilitate him changing this habit, too. At this point it seems like this is just his habit of expressing care. So, can you replace the stomach touching with him giving you a hug? Or rubbing your shoulders? If there's a physical action that can replace it, then I think it will be easier. I agree that a rolled up blanket or big pillow between you can help with nighttime snuggling. I also agree that I'm not sure where his arm would end up if he's spooning you, too. So maybe you need to be the big spoon or face him if you want to cuddle.

So, yes you need him to keep your boundaries and respect them. But I also think there needs to be communication and a group effort as a couple such as replacing this touch with something else. Unless there's something I'm missing or you've been telling him this clearly for years without improvement, then I don't think your marriage is doomed.

As an anecdote, my husband used to give me raspberries (blowing on my tummy) and while it was kinda fun it's also painfully ticklish. It goes past giggle to like, "I'm laughing and squirming but it also really hurts." I didn't have as strong of a reaction as you seem to have, but it did take a while to let him know I'm serious. Especially because it seemed "fun" because I would laugh but it HURT! So he finally understood that it really wasn't fun and over the years we've understood each other's squeals of fun or squeaks of "ouch!" We've also understood when it's a "Eeek! No!" (fun) or a "seriously please stop" (not fun right now.)
posted by Crystalinne at 3:50 PM on November 21, 2015

Lots of good advice upthread, but there are two issues here: 1. The belly-rubbing and 2. Your current feelings. Since I think it's clear your feelings and reactions are valid and your husband needs to stop this behavior immediately, I will address what jumped out at me, "He seems genuinely contrite, but I resent that he's trying to act like everything is okay or that everything will work out because I'm not sure it will. Something has changed for me, and now I don't trust him. I'm scared this can't be fixed."

Even if this never happens again, it sounds like something has changed for you, and you no longer trust him. This is HUGE, and the only course of action I can recommend is talking to someone, hopefully a professional, about it. Maybe there are other issues you aren't conscious of that are also feeding this, perhaps this relates directly to your abuse, or it could be something entirely different altogether, but your feelings have shifted drastically. The only way to determine what this means for you and your marriage is to examine it from multiple sides and see if this is a permanent shift or something more transient, solely related to this issue. I hope it's the latter, but it sounds like there is a bit more happening here, and, even if he does exactly what he should do (stop this behavior), you are still grappling with emotions attached to this issue. Best of luck and please know that feeling safe, heard, and loved are all reasonable expectations and crucial elements of a fulfilling partnership.
posted by katemcd at 7:55 PM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

To answer the question you posed: Is this part of a larger problem? Only you can make that call.

For me, it's hard to get my head around what kind of relationship you have in the first place. If I touched my husband in a specific way and he said "EW ... I hate that!" I would be so horrified that I had gotten that response that I would try very very hard to never hear that again. And I know it would be the same for him. When we want each other to change something, we go to great lengths of phrase it gently, because having someone you're intimate with go "EWWW" is so awful. Evidently that's not true for you; he at least doesn't have that reaction. It's always tempting to give advice about marriage, but NOBODY ever knows what goes on in somebody else's marriage.

So I'll wish you good luck, and happier days soon.
posted by kestralwing at 2:19 AM on November 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

This is so interesting; we're talking about two things, one, the bellyrub folly, mindlessly simple, and one, the marriage, so complicated as to be a mystery even to the people in it. The mindlessly simple thing is getting all snared up in the complicated thing and is therefore looking complicated, itself. But it's not complicated. No free creature will remain in a situation where it's being physically tortured. This guy is going to break his marriage if he keeps this up, even if his wife loves him and he loves his wife and even if he doesn't intend this idiocy as anything but loving and even if she understands that. None of this intellectual veneer is going to make any difference in the end because her response to the bellyrubbing is autonomic: she can't change her physical response to a repulsive stimulus: nobody could. If he won't learn to quit it, he will end up alone.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:06 AM on November 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ugh, I reread my comment and I owe the original poster an apology. OP, that REALLY was not supposed to read as "you need to go to therapy to learn how to communicate boundaries better because you, person with an abuse history, are messed up and don't know how to act right." If it takes a full blown panic attack for your husband to register something he's been told about in a way that "should have been memorable" HE needs some serious help with communication. It shouldn't take a meltdown or need to be justified with triggering past abuse for someone to hear "I don't like that, don't do it again" and LISTEN to them. I also saw the "childabuse" tag and interpreted that as partially asking whether or not this was a trigger situation, and I'm sorry if that was way overstepping. I honestly can't tell from your question if your husband is being well meaning but harmfully oblivious or if this is part of a bigger pattern of disregard and disrespect, and I'm sorry I sent you a dismissive comment.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:08 AM on November 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sorry I am compelled to keep yacking about this, but it's continuing to drive me nuts and I can't stop thinking about it. I hope this final comment will release me from the compulsion.

Your flinching away from this thing he keeps doing is not under your control. It's a reflex. "The local contraction of the abdominal muscles to an abdominal sensory stimulus was to protect the internal viscera from damage."

As someone who has unintentionally tripped the abdominal reflex in a beloved person, I do have a tiny spark of sympathy for your husband. When the dear person startles and flinches, there's an instant where you think, "But of course I'm not trying to eviscerate you! Why do you recoil from me? You don't trust me! I, who love you best in all the world!" The trick is to move ON from that first, unconsidered thought and realize that it's a reflex. It has nothing to do with you. Would you keep whacking somebody in the knee with a hammer and then objecting when they kick? "But I love you and I want you to respond differently to my loving ministrations to your knee! Why doesn't your autonomic nervous system recognize me? Why didn't evolution reverse itself and this hardwired neural response dissolve in every human organism across countless centuries when you and I said 'I do?'"
posted by Don Pepino at 8:02 AM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

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