I've been seeing a therapist since March of 2014. I started doing this because my marriage was extremely rocky; Jared and I were fighting almost weekly. Conflict is hard for me, it scares me to death and makes me miserable, and I don't engage in conflict well. Those months were hell.
Therapy appears to be helping me, but it appears to be making my marriage worse. I'm told that happens, sometimes, and yet knowing that it's a thing doesn't make it any better a thing to experience.
In the early weeks, my therapist gave me a consistent message: you are too concerned with what Jared thinks, feels, and wants. You never talk about what you want. You are seriously codependent and are trying to take responsibility for Jared's emotional state rather than figuring out what you want and asking for it (and then you are resenting Jared for the situation).
Jared's emotional state in those days was bad. My emotional state was bad. It's been almost two years and things still suck shit.
Moving to New York hurt Jared, badly. He was immediately uncomfortable in the environment of our apartment but shut down any attempt to improve it. The school we were renting from should already have taken care of screens, so we shouldn't have to provide them, etc.
He hated New York; the noise, the business, the expense.
His program was a massive stressful clusterfuck.
He was far from his friends and family and not living near home for the first time ever.
All of this would be hard for most people, but for Jared, who eventually got diagnosed with high functioning asperger's? The disruption of the routine and the discomfort of the immediate environs made him borderline nonfunctional, and the stress of the program and the loneliness caused him to more or less shut down.
So for the first 6-9 months we were there, I picked up the slack. Not 100%, but most logistical things, most planning, most getting things done, I had to initiate and drive. He was miserable, and he was leaning on me - which was perfectly reasonable.
Me? I loved New York, almost from the moment we got there. But I felt guilty for loving it. How can I love a place that is making my husband miserable? How can I enjoy being here when that enjoyment basically comes at his expense?
At some point I started to blame him, and resent him. That was fundamentally wrong; it was a betrayal, of sorts. An understandable one, perhaps, but still one.
What made it worse was that Jared has always viewed conflict as clarifying and beneficial, and I have always been afraid of it. Historically conflict has made me shut down and disengage. For that matter, people being angry at me can cause me to shut down and disengage, or it can cause me to flare in defensive anger - I do not have good tools for dealing with it, because it terrifies me.
I had a fucked up childhood.
My mother was married four times, as far as I can tell to absolute assholes every time. One of them left a hole in our kitchen wall because my mom had only brought home a six pack of beer, not a twelve pack, from the grocery store. One of them had the emotional sensitivity of a doornail (and is, I'm reasonably certain, loathed by my brother to this day). She also had a string of short-term boyfriends; lack of constancy was a major issue in my childhood, and it feeds into this incredibly strong fear of loss.
One of her husbands was described, when a distant relative reached out to my brother a few years ago, as the most argumentative, unpleassant man the relative had ever met.
He and my mother were married for two years.
I have virtually no memory of those two years. What I do know of most of it was that it was constant fighting. Every night, after I went to bed, until I fell asleep. Loud, emotionally charged, hostile arguing. I was convinced that it was my fault.
I was between the ages of 7 and 9. My mother was married to an emotionally abusive jackass and fought with him constantly, and the lesson I internalized was: this is my fault. I am supposed to keep the peace and have failed, and that has destroyed their marriage.
Writing it down it sounds irrational and crazy.
That doesn't make me believe it any less.
I do not like conflict. I do not like arguments. I do not like anger. They scare me, and they make me think I've done something wrong and I have an overriding responsibility to fix it - no matter what the actual cause is.
Jared can be very particular, and he can be very critical. He's gotten better over the years, AND in my experience he has an idealized view of how things should be and when things don't match that impression, he is easily upset. I don't remember what kinds of things would upset him in 2012; it's too long ago, and too much has burned through. But I know we had conflict, here and there, about things - and I know that when that conflict arose, my responses were almost always to (a) shut down in fear (CONFLICT CONFLICT SCARY SCARY) or (b) simply agree to whatever Jared was saying or wanting, even if I didn't agree with it, even if I didn't want to do it, just to keep the peace by ending the fight, rather than standing up for what I thought and wanted and risk prolonging the fight.
This is a terribly destructive habit. It undermined his trust in me. It undermined my sense of emotional security. It left him feeling like I was breaking promises, it left me feeling like I was being bullied into doing things I didn't want to do and that my emotional safety didn't matter.
I wish I'd worked on this issue a decade ago, to be honest.
But I didn't.
And so that interaction pattern sat on top of the "I shouldn't be happy when my husband is unhappy / why is he refusing to be happy and hurting me" resentment pattern.
They meshed really well together, you know? Unfortunately really, really well.
Things started coming to a head in the spring of 2013, when two things happened.
[a] Jared was considering dropping out of his graduate program
[b] we were starting to develop friendships with a local social circle.
Jared's program had gotten bettter in many ways, but it still wasn't quite what he wanted, and he still hated New York. So he seriously considered dropping out, which - given that I was still working for a company in California and had no strong ties in NY - would have meant moving back to CA at the end of the spring.
This was hard for me. I loved NY. I loved the fact that I was developing friendships in NY. (My family, later on, when I did move back to NY, almost unanimously expressed disappointment that I was doing that - because NY had really caused me to blossom and come into my own, in their view, and they were sad that I was losing that). I did not want to go.
But I wanted Jared to make the choice that was right for him academically and professionally, NOT to choose to stay in his program because I wanted to stay in NY. So I gave him the space to make the choice on his own ... leaving me spending 6 weeks or so in limbo: am i going to stay or am i going to go? do i invest in these nascent friendships or let them wither (because they'll just wither in the summer anyhow if we move)? do i look for a local job or do i keep treading water at this job?
It's a great kind of uncertainty when you have no idea at all what your life will look like in five months and the decision is entirely out of your hands.
I wanted to let Jared make the decision for himself, because I believed that was the right thing, and it was one of the most difficult things I've ever done.
One of the side effects was that I decided that I would not let the friendships wither. I was going to do what I could to strengthen and deepen them, even knowing that they might be taken away from me, because that way I would get the joy of having them now. And that happened - the core of my cadre of friends in NY dates to that time, when I was uncertain if the friendships could survive but wanted to pursue them anyway.
Jared decided to stay in his program, but because he'd been caught on that for a while, he was way behind in work, and then when he wasn't behind in work he travelled to visit his family and then to do his summer job in NOLA, so he was largely emotionally and physically unavailable from when he decided in mid-March until mid-June.
But that was (mostly) ok: i had these cool exciting new friendships that were developing. All of them were with people we'd met jointly; all of them were with people he knew and nominally was friends with too - but he wasn't available and I was, and so my friendships with them were deeper, and more intimate, than his friendships with them were.
There was precedent for this. In the four years immediately before moving to NY, I was working full time and going to school 2/3 time. I had no time for anything, really - one day a week for social stuff, one day a week for homework, nothing else. My relationships with most people atrophied; the ones I kept were kept alive on limited time slices and massive advance planning. (Meanwhile, my classmates, who were not working and were around each other all the time, developed friendships that I was almost entirely outside of - inevitable! understandable! logical! and yet still painful). In this time, Jared's friendship with his best friend deepened; they hung out 2-3x/wee and talked to each other all the time. Jared on multiple occasions would be upset about something that happened during his day, tell his best friend, and then decline to tell me because he'd already told the story and didn't want to get into it again.
I was glad he had someone there for him to support him when I couldn't be around. I felt left out, sometimes, and yet at the same time, I believe in strong friendships and I was happy that Jared had that strong friendship.
So as I developed closer friendships in the context of a social circle Jared was nominally part of and he didn't, I was sympathetic; I'd watch my law school classmates do that and it sucked. And yet: I couldn't find Jared's friends for him, right? And this was really the first time in my life I'd ever been able to form a strong circle of friends - in the past it had always been small handfuls, or a bunch of acquaintances I couldn't actually be emotionally open with. And just as I wanted to support Jared's close friendship with his best friend, Jared (while sad) wanted to support these.
Jared said he wanted to support them. But I was afraid. All of February-March I'd been afraid that his decision could take this away. That his choice might end this development before it really took off - just like every time I got close to a stepfather, my mother's decision took it away.
Of course I didn't have the skills to see the connection, then, or even to identify the fear and assess it rationally. I was just afraid. Afraid of loss. Afraid of being forced to give up something important to me. Afraid that my husband - who I was already unhappy and resentful towards, for reasons that were not his fault - would take them away.
So I started to become very defensive of, and protective of, the relationships, and hostile in my discussions around scheduling and such. That was a mistake. That was a failure. That lack of trust in my husband's intentions was a betrayal. A much less understandable one, and one that I deeply regret; it wasn't based on him, it was based on my own unexamined and ununderstood fears which really had nothing to do with him.
He detected the defensiveness and protectiveness, of course. How could he not?
[to be continued]
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