Confused, Puzzled and Hurt

Confused, Puzzled and Hurt

Postby desparate » Sun Jul 17, 2011 9:31 pm

I love my wife with all of my heart to this day. I know that if we separate I will not remarry. I am just so tired of my wife's apparent bitterness and hatred towards me.

Shortly before we were married, my wife took seriously ill with fibromyalia. When combined with a serious kidney condition that she had previously, she was able to qualify for and begin receiving social security disability shortly after we were married. This was not a big deal as we had significant income from my work, though it has become more important as my income has declined during the recession, but I'm confident that it will come back fairly quickly after the recession and we're getting all of our critical bills paid.

My wife does not take her health condition seriously (she takes her meds very sporadically) and does things that her doctors tell her specifically not to do. As a result of this behavior and probably the underlying condition as well, she is hospitalized several times a year, normally about a week at a time.

I feel very strongly that my wife is seriously depressed. There has even been one instance (as a reaction to a medication) when she was definitively suicidal. She has all of the classic symtoms: loss of interest in the activities that interested her previously, restlessness, loss of sleep (she cannot sleep at all without prescription sleep meds), weight loss, trouble with memory, headaches, etc. She also has manic episodes from time to time, where she's very happy, excited and engaged in life, they're generally followed by some of the worst depression I have ever seen in a person.

I try to listen to my wife as much as possible, but she very rarely has anything nice to say to me. Recently she has taken to making outwardly cruel comments to me in public environments (in front of others, Facebook, etc.). I believe very firmly that my wife is unhappy, but I don't believe that I am at all the cause. I just don't know how to help her without losing myself in the situation.

About a year ago at my suggestion we started seeing a counselor. It was going well, possibly even helping some as we were able to communicate with one another again; however, a few months into it the counselor suggested that we each come see her separately (and together). She explained to me privately, that she was concerned about my wife and that she wanted to see her several times a week privately (which I thought was a great idea). It seemed to work well for a while (or at least it seemed to do no harm), but then my wife realized that she was seeing the counselor a lot more than me and that (in her words) they were talking about things that had nothing to do with me, the cause of all her problems. They were talking about things that I believe are the root of my wife's depression -- chiefly a very difficult home life as a child, ongoing tensions within her family, her childhood sexual abuse, her own health, and her sister who was murdered in front of her when she was a child. When my wife realized that the counselor was attempting to treat her for these things and not for marital tensions, she stopped going and adamantly refused to go again. I went a few more times and then stopped myself.

Periodically, my wife seems to fly into irrational fits of anger. She screams at me for a few minutes about some perceived offense that I have committed, tells me what a terrible person that I am, and then tells me how I use her. From time to time she sleeps in a different room. In the beginning I would argue back with her during these fits, attempting to appeal to the calm, rational person that I fell in love with and still love. That never worked. Eventually, I got to where I just listened to her scream and respond with affirmations "I understand. I'm sorry you feel that way. etc." That seems to reduce the length of the screaming sessions from many hours to normally less than an hour. She says the most hurtful things during these times and I can feel them changing the way I feel about her and I don't like it. She generally doesn't remember the specifics of what she says during these times, just that she's angry. From time to time she gets so angry that she throws her wedding ring at me, packs up the kids, and leaves town for a few days. (Which I immediately forgive her for, though she still reminds me regularly of one time years ago when I refused to argue with her in the middle of a WalMart about something trivial and went outside and sat in the car, leaving her and the kids inside the store.)

I can tell she's hurting and I have no idea what to do to help her, but I feel like if things keep going in this direction much longer that I'm going to lose any ability that I have to help her and I'm going to lose this person that I love with all of my heart.

Oy. Any advice is welcome.
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Joined: Sun Jul 17, 2011 8:53 pm

Desperate times..

Postby Scott Haltzman » Mon Jul 18, 2011 5:41 pm

Hello Desparate.

I forwarded your query to a man who has taken Marriage Education classes from me. Here's his response based on his experience (I took out all the parentheses and bolds because I didn't have the patience to reinsert them throughout the post:

Poor man. Glad I don’t have his kind of problem. Oh sh*t, I do. Ok, so what advice to offer him? Here are my 5 principles for this madness in which this man presently lives:

1. First do no harm. Someone who is disturbed and volatile is more easily angered than soothed, more often exacerbated than helped. So continue instincts like (a) saying affirming things rather than locking horns or (b) sitting in the car (even if later criticized) rather than arguing in public. These instinct will not restore sanity to your marriage, but they may avoid exacerbating your problems while your wife, perhaps with the help of others, may improve. No guarantee she will, but in time she may. So by doing no harm you preserve or accelerate the possibility of improvement.

2. Second, recognize the limits of your powers. Your wife illustrates that we humans often hurt the ones we love or who love us. Not sure why that is in our DNA as humans but it so often is. You may be less able to help her precisely because you are so close to her and she is so invested in rejecting your help, your patience, your love. That is not about you. It is about her. But it does mean you may have limited ability to help her. (Of course it is also possible that you may help her but the fruits of your good work will not be visible until later on in her life – whether or not you remain in her life. See points 3 and 4 below on what is meant by that last comment; you and she are going to decide, individually or as a couple, whether you are there for the time of her improvement, of harvest, if it comes.)

3. Since this is about “Time” and “Possibility of Improvement and Renewal,” Solve for the ultimate irony – her guilt masquerading as demonizing and your need not to demonize her (even though she has been an abuser).

a. When a woman abuses her husband, she often demonizes him precisely to reduce her own guilt. This defense mechanism will likely crumble in time as many do, and when it does she will be overcome by the guilt she was repressing. If you have any hope of achieving that period of honesty, you have to not fuel her guilt since there is a limit to how much guilt anyone can hold without going mad altogether (see Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth).

b. There are moments of madness and moments of reasonableness. You are dealing with someone who is sometimes unstable, sometimes more lucid; sometimes crazy, often reasonable. If in her worst moments you rub her nose in her emotional crimes, you reduce the possibility that she can stop demonizing you and start dealing with her guilt. If that sounds like you need to be a saint, welcome to the club. Call me. Happy to discuss.

4. Take care of yourself and be prepared to mean that in the near term and ultimate sense.

a. Near term you need a professional and social life, health, friends, family, meaning while your wife is not a proper wife.

b. Long term, if you cannot wait for her to improve or believe she will, then you need a different wife. That is not what you want – you keep speaking about your love for her – but the “her” you love may or may return in a form that represents any semblance of a loving wife.

c. Ethics – you to know your ethical compass to get through these two time periods. It is unethical to leave a wife with cancer. It is not unethical to leave a wife who cannot stop demonizing her husband after you have given her a chance to evolve as a person. Indeed, our ethical duties are not only to others but also to ourselves, and we need to find balances between self and other throughout life. This is one place where finding that balance is especially hard because one often wants to help the one we have loved. But time and circumstances will ultimately dictate whether wisdom is to be found in trying forever or for some reasonable period.

5. Now that you have read this playbook, throw it out. There is no playbook for this mess though the above may contain a few signposts along the way, a few useful precepts for how to think about what it means to be in a marriage with someone who is disturbed and turns on her husband. It is not a pretty scene you are in. You will have many moments of doubt, hope, exasperation, agony, and all the rest. You will rehears the seven stages of grief as though she has already divorced you and then open a conversation with her as though that might lead you on the road back to love. Do the best you can. Keep your core principles as clear as you can. And make it up as you go along, since once the therapists and friends and other advisers have blessed you with their wisdom, you’re the only one in the room when she shrieks and throws the ring or the finger at you. Good luck and God speed.
Scott Haltzman
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Joined: Fri Jan 20, 2006 9:30 pm
Location: Barrington, RI

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