On my blog entry entitled Marital Issues after Healing from Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:
in some ways aren’t your roles just reversed? he stayed when you you “messed up” or in crisis most of the time, and now he seems to be in the same place. isn’t it only fair that you try to help him? ~ iwannadie
I don’t think there is going to be a “one size fits all” answer to this question. I think the bigger question is whether a marriage works and whether the growth of one spouse makes the marriage no longer functional.
Some people are very supportive when their spouses go through crisis while others are not. Hub’s reaction was “have your emotional breakdown on your own time and don’t let it inconvenience me,” which I would not classify as “being supportive.” So, my choice to invest in this marriage is not going to be based on doing for him as he did for me. I have already put forth much more effort and support than he ever did when I was in crisis. I support him because I love him, not because I “owe” him.
I don’t think marriage is held together by keeping track of what each did for the other, whether what was done (or not done) in the past was positive or negative. Instead, it needs to be based on love, commitment, and working together toward making a marriage work. That’s very hard to do when one person chooses to grow and the other resists growth. The one who has grown needs to be patient, and the one who has not has to make some effort to grow enough to make the marriage continue to work.
For most of 2011, hub was unwilling to grow. He was clearly very unhappy and depressed in his life, but he was not willing to grow or make changes to minimize his unhappiness. By following my therapist’s (T’s) advice, I engaged him emotionally and made it clear that I have minimum standards for what I need in a marriage. Hub has risen to the occasion and is making some effort now to grow. Things between us have actually been much better for the past couple of weeks. That’s what will keep us together – his willingness to try and his loving me enough to make an effort combined with me learning how to express my needs. I have never been good at expressing my needs or even being able to identify them — only that what we are doing now is not working.
Contrast this with what hub’s parents modeled for him. His mother struggled with depression, and it was everyone else’s job to cater to her depression. Everyone else’s needs were put “on hold” until she pulled out, whether that meant everyone catering to her emotional state for months or years.
It took hub and me over four years to become parents, and we were so incredibly happy when our son joined our family. When our son was still a baby, hub’s brother battled depression. Hub’s mother made it clear that everyone else’s needs were to be put on the backburner while we rallied around my brother-in-law, who was making no effort to grow, heal, or work through his depression. While I felt badly that my brother-in-law was suffering, I was unwilling to live in a depressed state until he pulled out of it – I had a child to enjoy!
In any relationship, whether it is a marriage, family, or friendship, there needs to be space for both people. It is not OK to ask one person to ignore his or her needs repeatedly while the other stays mired in depression or other challenging state for months or years on end. While we need to support one another, we cannot put our own lives on hold and stay mired in another person’s drama indefinitely, especially if the person is unwilling to make changes to pull out of the challenging state. Relationships needs to be interdependent with the needs of both people being met over the long-term.
Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt