My marriage is in the crapper these days. It’s been there for awhile but I tolerated it much better when my stress level wasn’t through the roof. Once upon a time, I had a lot of grace. These days, I need it more than most.
There’s really three roads you can take when this happens.
1) Take advice from men hating divorcees who claim you’d be better off alone
2) Take advice from conservative Christians, doormats, and conflict avoiders who convince you the problem is all you
3) Get professional help.
I’ve tried door number 2 first and hated myself. I listened to door number 1, but decided that door was not for me. They advised me against door number 3 stating that my husband would just manipulate the therapist.
I entered door number 3 well aware of the fact that it might end in disaster. I was the one who dragged my heels into counseling when he asked me to go. I didn’t want to meet with another male who could possibly blame me for everything again and I didn’t want my husband, who is the better conversationalist, to make me into the bad guy.
But I went. It was my last try, I told myself.
The first meeting I walked out mad but wasn’t sure why. Maybe because I felt like the advice he gave was too simplistic: go home and take turns discussing our feelings. I thought that was stupid considering the entire problem was that my husband refused to actually communicate with me, shutting down every time I had a negative emotion. I felt as if I wasn’t allowed to feel. He felt as if my feelings were too out there for him.
But we tried. We attempted to communicate. And things got a little better. But in the midst of the weeks between our next session, more stress happened. And when I tried to express my feelings, he said I was abusive (later apologizing for using that word) and shut me down again.
So I dragged my heels into counseling again. I didn’t expect much really. But the counselor got to the root of things, surprising even me. He talked about how I’m more reactive and how my husband is more logical. He said I’m logical too but emotions usually win. And it was my husband’s job to make me cry. Not by insulting me but by getting to the heart of what hurts. And instead of running away, he needs to embrace my feelings and validate them. He also talked about how my husband personalizes how I feel when he shouldn’t. My feelings aren’t judgments against him, but my own feelings. I own those, not him.
My husband, confused as to how talking and validating would help, asked the counselor what the point was if he couldn’t fix it. The counselor said because then I’d feel less crazy and less angry (i.e. abusive) and would feel understood. So we were to use “I feel” statement. It was my husband’s job to “pick a fight” or draw out the emotion. I was supposed to not say “I feel like” because “like” masked the true emotion. “I feel like crap” instead would be “I feel angry” or “I feel depressed”.
I will admit this is awkward. For years, I’ve not been able to truly say how I feel for fear of him calling me overly sensitive or telling me I’m wrong. So it is foreign to say how I feel out loud to someone I don’t trust emotionally. And I still feel hurt by the things he has said.
But working it out with expert help is better than the alternative. Granted both of us are trying. If you have one who gives up and won’t try, then door number 1 or 2 might be better.
I’m still not sure where all of this will lead in the end but at least it’s progress. It’s slow but it’s moving forward.