Posts Tagged ‘marital issues after child abuse’

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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PhotobucketYesterday, I shared the history of my marriage. Today, I am going to talk about what it is like today.

In 2003, I started having flashbacks and entered into therapy. It has been a long and painful process that has unlocked my capacity to enjoy and savor life. Sadly, hub has not come along this healing journey with me, even though I did invite him into it twice. Hub married such as messed up woman for a reason – he has his own issues. To have chosen someone as messed up as I was gives you an indication of the level of his own baggage.

Hub does not want to deal with his own stuff. He wants to stay in denial with me playing the role I played for so many years. Our dynamic was this – He would be miserable unless his environment was completely predictable in the way that he wanted it, and it was my job to shelter him as much as possible from the unpredictability of life. His mother did this for him as a kid, and I took over as his wife. Above all else, hub was not to be inconvenienced. Life must go as he expects it to go, and it was my job to mitigate any circumstance in which it did not.

I’m done playing this role, and hub cannot handle the “messiness” of life without me shielding him from it. Also, his biggest trigger is money, and the stock market and economy are things I cannot control even if I wanted to. That has kicked off depression in him (his mother suffered from depression, so there is likely a strong genetic component involved) that has been getting worse and worse. He is disengaging from life, including my son and me, more and more.

Meanwhile, I am in a place where I am ready to embrace life. I have worked very hard to reach a place where I can experience my emotions, and I am working toward staying more and more present. I am married to a man who is becoming more and more absent, sleeping 12 hours a day and living in his head or working when he is awake. This is not a good combination.

Most of the stories I read, whether they are in books or personally shared online on a message board, etc., tell of couples splitting up after one person heals from child abuse. That used to stress me out and depress me. I have endured enough loss in my life – I didn’t want marriage to be added to the list of losses. Also, I meant my wedding vows, and I also have a 10-year-old child who I don’t want to have to bounce back and forth between two homes.

However, the question becomes how does a marriage stay afloat when one person is reaching out and embracing life while the other person is shutting down and fleeing life? How do you keep a partnership going when you have grown so different? I have no answer to these questions.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketThe Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is on Saturday, and I have been slammed with more tutoring requests for Wednesday and Thursday. I want to pound out at least one blog this week, so here goes…

One of the harder issues for me to deal with after child abuse is marital issues, specifically dysfunctional marital issues. As my therapist has pointed out to me, I had nobody modeling or telling me what to look for in a spouse when I made a decision about who to marry.

I grew up in an abusive household, and my parents’ marriage was completely dysfunctional. They led separate lives – my father worked and/or traveled for work all the time, and my mother was obsessed with her version of religion. (My father was an atheist.) My sister and I grew up in two different families – the version when my father was actually home and the version when he was gone. He was mostly gone during my teen years up until his death.

I was raped in college, so I latched onto a boyfriend to protect me. I then transferred colleges, where I was raped again and then latched onto another boyfriend to protect me. The only requirements I had for boyfriends was that they didn’t rape me and seemed interested in me. That’s pretty much it.

I met hub in law school, my next stop at a school. We started dating a month into school, and I was never raped there. He was very mature/responsible compared to our peers, and he was the most predictable person on the planet. After a lifetime of having to be hypervigilant about what was coming next, this predictability was a relief. We married straight out of school despite the fact that we had next to nothing in common other than a law degree. Marrying him kept me from having to move back in with momster since I couldn’t find a job.

Now, my conscious reasons for marrying hub were not this calculated. I did love him. In fact, my host personality was absolutely crazy about him. Other parts of myself – parts of which I was unaware at the time – tolerated him as a means to safety. Hub never, ever pressured me for sex. He completely respected that I was not interested in intercourse until marriage, and we were together over 2-1/2 years before we married. So, he definitely has some good qualities about him.

Here’s the problem – I am no longer an abused little girl willing to make any sacrifice to stay safe. Our relationship was built upon me doing whatever he wanted, however he wanted, with no objections because I wanted him to stay and keep me safe. The one exception (which came as a shock to him) was my insistence that we have a baby and, when that didn’t work biologically, that we adopt a baby. Other than that, for well over a decade, I was a Stepford wife, always giving him his way in every area other than in becoming a parent.

More tomorrow…

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