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PhotobucketI apologize in advance if this blog entry steps on any toes because I really do not mean for it to. My therapist told me not to beat myself up over my marriage because at the time I was deciding who to marry (I was 23 and straight out of school), I had nobody in my life telling me what to look for in a marriage. After 20 years of marriage, I still don’t understand what marriage is supposed to be, and I don’t want to drive both hub and me crazy by having some skewed understanding, so I am hoping you readers can help me out with this.

I don’t intend this blog entry to be specifically about **my marriage.** Instead, I want to explore what marriage is supposed to be – I guess what the “goal” of marriage is supposed to be. Is it supposed to be the coming together of soul mates? A contractual relationship that is negotiated between two parties? If so many married people are so miserable, why is this an institution that society keeps encouraging its children to enter into? Is our culture (at least in the United States) responsible for setting up men and women to drive each other crazy in marriage?

My understanding of marriage as a girl (and I do think this is a common perception in the South in the United States) was that I would grow up and marry a man who “loved me for me.” He would be drawn to the person I am on the inside (primarily my soul/spirit over my physical body) – pretty much be a soul mate.

However, my observation of many marriages (both those that continue and those that end in divorce) is that many of the men were looking for the hottest woman to have regular sex with who would also take care of their other physical needs, such as cook, clean, and rear children. In return, they would pay the bills. As long as the wife keeps her body up, has regular sex, and tends to the household stuff, he is happy even if there is no emotional connection with the wife at all.

Are men and women really that different? Or has the fact that I live in the South in the United States and mostly interact with women who used to be emotionally damaged and are now healing skewed the sample I am viewing? If “I love you” means “I want to have sex with you” to a man and “I see and am attracted to your soul/spirit” to a woman, no wonder the U.S. divorce rate is so high!

What are your thoughts on marriage? Other than not driving you crazy, what is the purported goal and point of marriage?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketOn Tuesday, I wrote about the four different options couples have when a spouse’s needs are not being met: Four Options for Unmet Needs in Marriage. Yesterday, I built on that topic by talking about needs and compromise in marriage. Today, I will finally get to the difference between asserting your needs and trying to change your spouse.

As I have already shared, I entered into marriage not knowing that I had needs, much less what they were, so hub and I built a marriage modeled after his own parents’ marriage with some tweaking to meet hub’s needs. I am not blaming hub for this – I was the one who had no idea that I had needs and just went along with whatever hub proposed.

That being said, were a few areas over the years where I did identify needs and did what I had to do to meet them. A big one was adopting a child. Hub and I had agreed we wanted children, but after we learned we were infertile and spent thousands of dollars on infertility treatments to no avail, hub would have been OK staying childfree. That wasn’t an option for me, so hub agreed to adopt a baby with me.

Another area was my need to work. Both my mother and hub’s mother modeled that moms don’t work outside the home, but that arrangement did not work for me. I needed the validation of hearing I was doing a good job, which I get from bosses but not from family. I also needed to have “my” money that I did not have argue with hub about. Hub wants to save every dime, and I want to travel with my son (hub doesn’t like to travel). I found a flexible part-time job working as an online college instructor, which provided me with the validation and money I needed that did not affect hub’s savings account.

Both of those areas were huge deals to me, so I was willing to fight the status quo to make them happen. Throughout most of our marriage, I was passive and didn’t assert my needs. However, as I have grown and healed, I am becoming more aware of my unmet needs, and I need to meet them. That’s where my current marital situation comes in, and, as I have previously shared, hub is making an effort.

I can understand why child abuse survivors are averse to the thought of “trying to change” a spouse because they had abusers trying to “change” them as children. I don’t see asserting my own needs as trying to “change” hub. I am saying, “This isn’t working for me,” and we need to figure out a way to meet those needs as a couple. As Shen shared and I built upon here, there are four ways to do this.

I think it helps to address one unmet need at a time versus the entire marriage, and you have to look at the marriage as a whole rather than at only one area. Is the marriage working more than it’s not? It’s easy to lose sight of what is going well when you are fixated on a particularly difficult unmet need. The goal is not to “change” your spouse – the goal is to work together as a couple to figure out how to meet the needs of both spouses.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketYesterday, I wrote about the four different options couples have when a spouse’s needs are not being met: Four Options for Unmet Needs in Marriage. Today I am going to focus on needs and compromise in marriage. Finally, in tomorrow’s blog entry, I’ll get to the difference between asserting your needs and trying to change your spouse.

As abused children, we were taught that our needs didn’t matter. If you were like me and did not go through the healing process before marriage, you likely brought this dynamic into your marriage. At age 23, it never even occurred to me to think about what needs I had, much less express them to my spouse. Fast-forward roughly 20 years and post-therapy … I now know that I have needs and am in the process of learning how to identify what they are. It shouldn’t come as a complete shock that, in a marriage where I never expressed any needs, many of those needs are not currently being met.

From what I have observed with couples who grew up in healthy homes (believe it or not, a few of those actually do exist!), couples begin a marriage asserting their needs and reaching compromises. For example, a friend was working full-time when she married her husband, who was also working full-time. She was clear from the beginning that she was not going to be responsible for cleaning the house, so he could either do it himself, or they could pay a maid to do it. As a couple, they decided to hire a maid.

This couple also agreed from the beginning that they were each in charge of cleaning their own cars. He wanted to save money, so he would wash his own car. She did not want to spend her time washing a car, so she would drive to the car wash while her husband was washing his car and return with a clean car before he was finished. It was a joke between them – he saved the money, and she saved the time. Neither tried to change the other – they were clear about their needs and compromised on ways to meet those needs as best they could.

This process did not happen in my marriage because, quite frankly, I did not know it was supposed to, nor did I have an inkling of what my needs were. At the time I married, I needed hub to keep me safe physically and financially from my abusive mother, and I needed him to want me. (I had a hard time believing that anyone would.) That was pretty much it.

Meanwhile, hub assumed that all marriages aligned duties in the way that his parents’ marriage did, so that’s what we did. His mother cooked, so I cooked (even though I had to learn how). His father worked full-time while his mother was a stay-at-home mom, so that’s what we did. Hub did appear to change a few things around from what his parents did to meet his own needs, but that’s pretty much how our marriage came to divvy up the family responsibilities.

I have gone on too long again. More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketBased on some of the comments I have received, it appears that some readers are equating asserting your own needs in a marriage with trying to change your spouse. I see these are two different things, which is why I would like to blog about it.

On my blog entry entitled Marriage after Child Abuse: How Much Do We Owe Our Spouses?, Shen posted a great comment about how there are four directions a couple can go when he and she aren’t in the same place. It’s a long comment, so I won’t repost it here, but be sure to read it if you have not already done so. I would like to build upon Shen’s comment in this blog entry and then move onto the difference between trying to change a spouse and meeting your own needs.

Shen’s comment focused on the big picture, but I am going to focus on specific needs within a marriage. In a nutshell, Shen said that when a spouse’s needs are not being met, the couple can go in one of four ways, which are summarized below. I have purposely chosen four neutral examples from my marriage so we can keep the focus on how unmet needs can play out within a marriage without getting into one being “right” and one being “wrong.”

  1. He adapts to meet her need: Hub needs to save money, and I need soft toilet paper for my sensitive skin. Hub let go of his need to save money buying cheaper toilet paper to meet my need for more expensive, softer toilet paper.
  2. She adapts to meet his need: Hub is a night owl and has trouble getting moving in the morning. As a result, he goes into work late (he is the boss) and stays late, resulting in a later dinner. I am an early bird and eat breakfast and lunch early, so I need dinner earlier than hub gets home. I adapted by building in an afternoon snack so I can wait to eat dinner with hub.
  3. Neither adapt – they proceed with the situation not working for either of them: Hub and I have a child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who has a difficult time sitting through a church service. My compromise with our son is that he doesn’t have to go to worship service as long as he goes to Sunday School (until he is older). Hub needs to sleep in on Sundays and does not join us for Sunday School. Hub and I both need us to worship together as a family, but, while I need to be going to worship service (I do miss it!), I also need not to be spending an hour telling child to “sit down and shut up.” So, child and I go to Sunday School only, hub goes to worship service alone, and neither hub’s needs nor mine are really being met.
  4. They go their separate ways to meet their needs: Hub loves to watch sports, which bores me to tears. I like to watch dramas, which bores hub to tears. We have two TV’s and DVR’s so we can each watch our own preferred programming and have chosen not to make TV viewing a couple activity.

This blog entry has gotten too long. More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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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

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PhotobucketI have recently written three blog entries about marriage after healing from child abuse:

Those three blog entries have generated a lot of comments, and many of those comments are very strong ones. Marriage after child abuse appears to be a hot topic that sparks a lot of emotion, and I am curious as to why. I have written about numerous difficult issues on this blog over the years, but few have gotten such a rise out of readers.

I wonder if the explanations are that marriage is about today (if you are married) versus childhood and that many child abuse survivors have really struggled in this area. What are your thoughts on this?

One reason I am so surprised by the comments is that I never asked for anyone’s opinion about what to do. I never said that I am planning on leaving hub or planning on staying. My goal was to explore another area of healing from child abuse as I was going through conflict in that area of my life.

I shared the process that I am going through, which included talking through the issue with my therapist. My therapist asked me to write a list of minimum requirements for feeling loved and supported in my marriage. I have not done anything with that list since my therapy session, but it helped me get an idea of what my needs were. (I am not good at identifying what my needs are, only that what I am doing now is not working.) Without hub even knowing about the list, he has been making an effort on his end doing things on that list. By having the list, I am more aware of the efforts he is making, which shows me what a good guy he is. Without the list, I might not notice some of the positive things he is already doing.

I also never said that I am a perfect wife and he is a terrible husband. I am painfully aware of my shortcomings as a wife, most of which stem from having been abused as a child. Nobody modeled for me what to look for in a spouse. I grew up in so much chaos that I chose a man who is very stable and predictable. The same characteristic that drew me to him at age 20 (doing the same thing the same way every single time) is the same characteristic that drives a wedge now. I have changed too much for things to stay the way they were when I was 20.

Perhaps readers are reading more into what I wrote than what I intended. My goal was to explore the challenges in marriage after healing from child abuse because there are many. Hub and I have been married for almost 20 years, so we have already beaten many of the odds. Enough has worked for almost 20 years to keep us going. I have yet to meet a couple that feels 100% great about the marriage every single day. It is normal to go through periods of distance and periods of closeness in marriage. That’s where the commitment comes in.

If you consider that roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce and that most books on healing from child abuse include a mention of the author divorcing after healing from child abuse, I think marriage after child abuse is a very important topic to discuss. I tried to find statistics online for how many couples divorce after one goes through the healing process but was unable to find this information. Based upon the numerous mentions of divorce in books on healing from child abuse, my guess is that the number is sadly far greater than the national average.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketIt took seemingly forever for me to sort through well over 200 emails for this blog. I receive an email for each comment posted, which was most of the emails. I noticed that I had a ton of comments on my marriage blog entry, so I thought I would give you an update.

Without going into too much detail, the source of friction for hub and me over the past two months has been me working nights and weekends for a job that I really enjoy. I had only committed to one 4-1/2 week class to see how things would go (and we had talked about the schedule ahead of time), and I had already conceded that two weeknights was too much in a week for our family. The weekend it all blew up, hub backed me into a corner where I felt I had no other choice but to discontinue teaching future classes. I was angry because I have taken care of our child for 10-1/2 years while he works, and he couldn’t support me for 4-1/2 weeks even though multiple friends had helped out. (Constant b@#$& about being inconvenienced is not “being supportive” to me.)

The morning after the argument, hub tried to “bring it in,” saying that he loves and values our son and me more than anything else in his life. I followed my therapist’s (T’s) advice and was honest. I replied, “I don’t believe you. Other than financially, in what ways do you show me that you love and value me?” This question really upset hub, and I felt like a real $#%& for saying it, but my therapist assured me that I needed to pull hub into emotions if things were ever going to change.

I saw my T the next day. He told me to bring a list of my minimum requirements for feeling loved, valued, and supported in a marriage. We used my list as a basis for a list of things hub can DO to show me that he loves, values, and supports me. The plan (which I have not done yet) is for me to show hub this list of things he can do to show me that he loves and values me and then focus on two at a time. Here is sample of things on the list:

  1. Show interest in things that matter to me (even if they are not interesting to you).
  2. Notice what I do as I frequently feel under-appreciated and taken for granted.
  3. I want to feel that you want to be with me – invite and arrange for a special dinner, initiate a date, etc.
  4. Tell me one thing that went well in your life each day.

I felt much better after talking with my T. I do believe that hub wants to please me but truly does not know how. In fairness to him, he grew up in a dysfunctional family and was not taught how to connect emotionally or express his emotions.

Meanwhile, hub has already been making an effort not to drain me with his negative energy. Not having to hear a constant stream of negativity out of his mouth combined with him caring enough to make an effort has made a HUGE positive difference.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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