Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Followup to Nonegotiable #1

"They will not leave politely, gentlemen."
-- a U.S. Army captain, Flags of our Fathers
I have been meaning to post my notes on a conversation between my wife and me that took place after I wrote the first non-negotiable posting. This is based on some notes I tapped out the morning after, and it gives an idea of what the battle of the boundaries is likely to be as I work through my crucible.

Soon after completing the post, I had a chance to talk to my wife. I told her that I wanted to set a boundary and then stated my non-negotiable. I told her that if she feels overwhelmed and needs my immediate help, she needs to communicate that to me directly.

Her response was defensive; she said that she thought that from the tone of her voice and the interruptions of the phone calls that she thought I "would get the idea."

She said that I was forbidding her from getting angry at me. I told her she was free to have feelings and express them. What I wanted was clear communication.

I told her that if she treated me rudely like that again, I would remove myself from the situation like I did earlier that evening.

She said all she wanted was some help with the kids, and she said that the phone call to UPS wasn't so important that I could have done that later. I told her that it was important to me. She didn't get to decide what was important automatically and assume that I would do everything in lockstep with that.

I said that if she felt overwhelmed and needed help, I would be happy to help, but she needed to communicate that to me directly. She then said that she wasn't overwhelmed. In other words, she wanted my help for the sake of convenience.

She said that it would be unfair for me to "remove myself" from the situation because that left her stuck to feed the kids (peanut butter & jelly sandwiches).

I told her she had the power to avoid the situation. When she came through the door, all she had to do was say, "I would like your help with the kids."

After all was said and done, all she was willing to admit was that she might have been rude.

I drew two conclusions from this experience:

  1. Setting and enforcing boundaries with my wife is going to be an inch-by-inch battle.

  2. I don't think she respects me.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Notes on Counseling Session II and Some Ruminations on Normal Martial Sadism

I had my second counseling session during my lunch hour today. It went well.

I extracted a copy of the posting on Nonnegotiable #1 from last week and used that as the starting point. In addition, I provided a description of a discussion I had with my wife shortly after I finished that posting. I haven't had a chance to post about that, but I will do so in the next day or so.

The therapist thought the boundary statement was good, suggesting that it could be broadened in scope as sixdegrees had mentioned in a comment. But she thought it needed some further exploration.

She said using the term rude might be confusing because it is subjective. What I interpret as rudeness might not interpreted so by my wife. For example, in the case of interrupting a phone conversation, she might be able to multitask well enough so as to not be thrown off by it.

We started making a list of what particular aspects of my wife's behavior during that incident were rude to me. As a homework assignment, she told me to think about past situations where I thought my wife might have been rude and identify those behaviors.

By dealing in concrete instances, using objective descriptions of behaviors, I can then describe the boundary more clearly. She also said I should think about what my wife could do differently so as to avoid violating the boundaries.

She said that what I was asking for in the situation with the phone and the scissors wasn't even really respect, it was just simple civility.

My counselor asked me if I thought my wife engaged in these kinds of behaviors out of vindictiveness. I told her, no, but I said that I think that her behaviors might have some origins in her relationship with her father. Recalling from my notes of our second marriage counseling session:

She then had us do our first Imago dialogue. Those of you who are familiar with computer network protocols could think of this as the conversational equivalent of TCP/IP, communication with checksums. Each time a message is received by the recipient, the recipient tries to make sure that the meaning of the sender's message was preserved upon hearing.

The dialogue was a role playing exercise where each of us took on the role of the parent we had the biggest problems with acting as the recipient of that message. The sender was to tell the parent what life was like living with them and then what were the biggest frustrations.


She said that I (her dad) was inflexible and controlling. I seemed to view her requests of help as a burden. I sought to get out of those requests by trying to get other people, usually other parents, to do the work for me. She said it frustrated her I would ask her for money that she earned on her job, making her feel like the family would fall apart if she didn't give me the money. I was able to summarize all of these things on the first try, except for one aspect of the money issue, where I assumed he was saying certain things to make her feel bad. Her reaction was fairly emotionless. She said she didn't feel the pain of her frustrations because she had gotten past that years ago.


I noted that from the Imago dialogue it was clear what our disappointments with our parents were and that we got some insights into what we were looking for as spouses. I asked her whether she thought that those unmet needs with her father weighed heavily in what she sought out from me to get her own love needs met. She said she wasn't sure.
In other words, her father ran the show, ditched his responsibilities, and expected others to help clean up his messes. He never self-confronted the abuse he was inflicting on himself and others. The controlling behavior was his means of annihilating opposition, a textbook example of what Schnarch calls normal marital sadism.

I read my notes on this to my therapist and wondered if this had an effect on the way my wife treated me. Sometimes, I feel as if I am an accessory to her existence and that she expects my priorities to yield to hers. My passive nature amplifies this, sending her the message that she can continue to treat me that way without fearing direct confrontation.

While she might quash her anxiety from these actions, it poisons the well between us and makes it impossible for us to be emotionally intimate. I can't express negative feelings within that arrangement.

In Passionate Marriage, there are a couple of cases where Schnarch illustrates how parental sadism influenced the sadistic behaviors of the client. On page 301, he writes:
Masochism is an exceedingly powerful form of attachment. When it is the only synchrony parents offer, children take it. Masochist and sadist -- victim and perpetrator -- are powerful forms of emotional fusion. Children (in masochistic roles) approach future relationships from either side of this sadism masochism coin. It makes little difference which side they're on, although it usually feels better to "dish it out." They acquire a taste for this, and it becomes part of their erotic "map."
I talked about the two-track mental process that I described last week. She said that I need to work on breaking down that compartment, stop worrying about how to preserve short term harmony, and start linking what I want deep down with what I do in reality.

I closed out the session by wondering whether this had something to do with behaviors that I considered disrespectful.

I didn't get a chance to talk about the following, but I've been wanting to blog on it for a long time...

With regards to normal marital sadism, Schnarch uses the story of Peter and Audrey in Chapter 11, where Audrey's mother inflicts sadism by being forgetful and then blaming Audrey for it. Audrey uses a similar tactic to avoid being sexual with her husband Peter, who is passive both in and out of the bedroom.

In Chapter 13, Schnarch describes Joe and Fay, a highly fused couple. Fay used fragility and trumped up claims of invalidation to stifle disagreement. Moreover, she avoided her own unresolved issues by withholding sex and then blaming her husband for the troubles. Since the husband was insecure and poorly differentiated, he bought into the reality she was peddling.

Both women were finally forced to confront themselves when their husbands started to differentiate, saying that they refused to stay in marriages in which they would have to give up sex, or at least deal only with emotionally disconnected sex.

The more I study and ponder Schnarch's writings, the more I believe that a similar dynamic is present in my marriage. Why might this be? Think back to a comment that Drunken Housewife left on my blog a few days ago:
I'd really love, voyeuristically speaking, to hear your wife's side of things. I'm curious to hear what has gotten her to this place. She doesn't seem to be willing to work on fixing your financial straits or your marriage or getting healthier. If she thinks her life will improve if you guys divorce, well, she's probably not focusing on reality (sorry, but overweight women with small children and limited funds do not have an easy time finding new husbands, and running two households takes more cash than one). Maybe she's really depressed and just not thinking about the big picture.

Let's suppose she does have an awareness that her prospects of finding another provider are low, should I leave the marriage. If she senses that I may be unhappy enough to withdraw, that's probably going to cause anxiety in her. To cope with the anxiety, she has two courses of action other than the status quo.
  1. Try to do things that make her more attractive (physically, emotionally, etc.) as a spouse.
  2. Take advantage of my reflected sense of self, distorting that image grotesquely to make me feel bad about wanting better either from her or by looking elsewhere.
Option (1) takes a lot of effort. Option (2) comes almost as easily as breathing because her relationship with her father was an apprenticeship on the craft.

Sex is the area where my poor differentiation is at its most raw. By avoiding sex or offering only bad sex, she could exert a tremendous amount of leverage on how I feel about myself, keeping me locked in feelings of inadequacy for all time. Moreover, because I grew up with divorce, she could count on my own guilt keeping me from considering divorce an option.

I am now approaching a point where I see the ugliness of the fusion and the need to liberate myself from it. As I work with my therapist, option (2) will become less effective at keeping me in check.

This is why I can't confront my wife directly about the dynamic. Showing her the relevant excerpts from Schnarch and saying, "See, doesn't this sound like us?" would do no good.

The path to resolution is through my own crucible, where there is only confrontation of me and my own issues. I need to stay on this path to learn myself, set my boundaries, differentiate, and then hold onto myself, regardless of the consequences.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sex, Lies, and Marriage Statistics

My anonymous Devil's Advocate wrote:
Here is a thought which I am sharing with you to end on a note of optimism:

All marriages have their ups and downs. Recent research using a large national sample found that eighty six percent of people who were unhappily married in the late 1980s, and stayed with the marriage, indicated when interviewed five years later that they were happier. Indeed, three fifths of the formerly unhappily married couples rated their marriages as either “very happy” or “quite happy.”
Anais followed up with this remark:
The cynic in me thinks that at least some of the formerly unhappy respondents are happier in later years because they meanwhile entered into secret romantic/sexual arrangements with someone other than their spouse. I'm happier these days than I was five years ago for that reason, but this is not how I want to live.
This statistic intrigued me because I couldn't recall having read it elsewhere. Google helped me track it down. It comes from the book The Case for Marriage by Maggie Gallagher and Linda Waite. A summary of some of the book's findings can be found in an article at the Christianity Today website.

I didn't find any websites that tried to debunk the statistic, but I did find a relationship website that called the conclusion into question. Quoting from that website (emphasis mine):

What happened was this. Linda Waite looked at a national survey asking many questions about families and households. She then pulled a very small section out of a very large survey to support her assertion.

The point of the survey was not to investigate this question, and alternative explanations are just as likely to be true. For example, from the data you can just as plausibly argue that people who are in an unhappy marriages will lie about the condition of their marriage if they are still in the same marriage five years later.

Or following this line of argument you might tell your son or daughter unhappy working at McDonald's not to bother with college. Why? Because you saw a survey that said people who said they were unhappy flipping burgers at McDonald's five years ago, now say they are 'happy' or 'very happy' flipping burgers.

In the fall of 2000, Salon ran an amusing interview with Gallagher and Waite. Not only does the author challenge the authors on their interpretation of statistics, but he seems to have some fun rattling Gallagher's cage.

More recently, Gallagher has been subject to scrutiny over the ethically questionable act of not disclosing a $21,500 Dept. of Health and Human Services contract while promoting and defending policies on marriage proposed by the Bush Administration.

In Chapter 2 of The Divorce Remedy, Michele Weiner Davis posits five developmental stages of a marriage, which might be summarized as:
  1. passion
  2. regret
  3. blame
  4. acceptance
  5. togetherness
The 86 percent statistic, if true, probably validates Weiner Davis' thesis, at least in overall progression. I'm still skeptical of that high number and will probably do some more Googling on the topic if I ever get super bored.

Personally, I don't think a "wait out the storm" approach is going to fix this marriage. If changes don't happen soon, it will be a matter of poorer rather than richer, (stress induced) sickness rather than health.

Both my wife and I come from poorly differentiated family backgrounds, and the level of emotional fusion is high. It's going to require something on the order of plate tectonics to set things right, and the only approach that comes near to that is Schnarch's crucible paradigm.

As painful as that sounds, there is hope. Schnarch argues that marriages can be pushed to the brink and bounce back if differentiation develops. In fact, he argues that this process is what makes people grow and mature.

Making My Spouse Her Husband's Wife?

Drunken Housewife writes:
I have more advice for you, 2 AM, and I'm sure many readers will dislike it. Buy your wife a copy of Dr. Laura Schlesinger's "The Proper Care And Feeding of Husbands." I just read it myself (although my politics are diametrically opposed to Laura Schlessinger's, I think 90% of what she has to say in this book is good advice). There's a chapter in there precisely about that failing-to-read-the-mind thing your wife does, 2 AM. I used to be high maintenance in a bitchy way, and now I'm medium maintenance in a loving way, and the stuff I was working on in my own way is written very point-blankly by Dr L. S. in this book. (This is my second marriage, and I'm determined to succeed in it, and so I've worked at being good at being married). Pick it up and ask your wife to read it; it's in paperback and quite cheap.
Thanks for the tip, and I commend you for wanting to make sure that your marriage does well.

I've actually taken your advice to a certain extent. I bought the e-book version last fall from Amazon.com and read it front to back, highlighting a lot of passages along the way. I could identify with some of the calls and letters she cites to make her point. The advice she offers, when put into practice, will definitely result in happier husbands.

The book is something of a Catch 22. I don't know of any reliable way to get someone to read it. The ones who are the biggest offenders in the book's viewpoint would be the last to pick it up on their own volition and the first to dismiss the book as nothing more than a Stepford Wife handbook.

The problem is that Schlessinger's style of communication is blunt and puts the reader on the defensive. It takes a one heckuva person, regardless of sex, to be able to read something that accusatory and not go in full throttle defensive mode. It forces the reader to take a hard look at a side that they might not want to admit. I suspect that most wives who are presented that book by their husbands wind up throwing the book right back at them. Either that or they stop reading at the page where they see their behavior being chided.

I can empathize with that feeling of defensiveness because I had to wrestle with a similar dynamic when I was reading Julia Grey's excellent series of blog postings tagged Why Your Wife Won't Have Sex with You. I'd read a page or so, feel my blood start to boil, take a break to cool down, then come back for more, because deep down I was beginning to realize that I had issues of my own.

Returning to Schlessinger, the book was a mixed blessing for me. It helped me realize that there was a severe imbalance in my relationship, that it wasn't unique, and that it could kill a marriage if left to fester indefinitely. The downside was that it made me focus on her problems, thinking that if I could get her to read the book an understand it, things would improve in our marriage. It also fostered a victim mentality in me at a time when I needed it least.

The problem for me, being a passive type, was figuring out how to get her to read the book in the first place. I read some forum postings here and there where husbands had elicited negative responses when they gave the book to their wives, so I knew that a direct approach would be bad news.

At the end of May this year, my wife and I took our first vacation alone since the kids were born, and the drive would take us across half of Tennessee, where good radio is really hard to find, let alone a steady radio signal. A couple weeks before, I started recording several hours of different XM radio channels on my work desktop and then burning them to audio CDs.

XM Channel 166 carries Schlessinger's show from 3 - 6 p.m. (ET) on weekdays. Since Schlessinger plugs her books during many of her calls, I thought that I'd record a few hours of her show. Many a year ago, when we still lived in Illinios, my wife would listen to her show sometimes, so it wasn't too much of a stretch. That might be a way of easing into the discussion of reading the book.

Sure enough, there were a couple of calls where she made the recommendation. But the calls were about only one dimension of the book (and arguably the most controversial part): giving the husband more and better sex. Knowing that I had downloaded and read the book several months before, she asked me if I thought she should read the book. I said that I would probably be a lot happier if she did.

We didn't discuss it further, until a few weeks later. We got into a fight because I asked whether she thought she had overcommitted herself to outside activities and helping other family members. She then said that I was being insecure and said that I just wanted her to read Schlessinger's book because I wanted more sex. Moreover, she said that if she put the book's ideas into action (bearing in mind she had not read a single page of it), she'd be nothing more than my slave.

The book came up again as we entered into marriage counseling in late July. At that point, she said she might read it if I checked a copy of the book from the library. She didn't like reading books on the computer, which was understandable, and she said that she wasn't sure if she'd make it through the book because she had a hard time sticking with self help books. So, I reserved a copy and picked it up for her. I had it for a month or so, but she never read it.

The avoidance of self help materials is not limited to Schlessinger. During our marriage counseling, the therapist recommended that we read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. She only read a couple chapters of that. She said it put her to sleep.

As we were wrapping up our counseling, I bought a copy of Michele Weiner Davis' The Sex Starved Marriage (SSM). As she started reading that one, she said she thought she would like that book because Weiner Davis's writing style was easier to work through. She nibbled at it for a couple of weeks, maybe getting through a third of it, based on where she left the book opened face-down. Then she resumed reading her mystery suspense novels, of which she's gone through three or four since then. I don't think she'll ever dig it out again.

At about the same time that I ordered SSM, I read her earlier book Divorce Busting (DB), which drove home the point that pointing out your problems with your spouse was a fool's errand. If there were changes to be made, they had to be made with yourself. That would change the nature of interaction with your spouse and start the course toward healing.

Furthermore, Weiner Davis argued that unless you knew what you would spend your time on if you weren't spending it fussing over your spouse, getting out of the marriage wouldn't solve anything because you'd still be stuck with your own dysfunctional dynamics. The next two reads, Passionate Marriage (PM) by David Schnarch and No More Mr. Nice Guy (NMMNG) by Robert Glover, whom I've mentioned a lot in this space, sounded similar themes. Work on yourself to bring about change.

Those who have followed this blog for a long time probably have noticed that there has been a change in the tone of my writings. This blog started out as a hyperanalytic pity party, not much different from many other male-written blogs that chronicle resentful, passive existences. It had progressed into a less regularly published archive what "working on myself" looks like in my life. It's been a slow grind, but I believe that things will pick up pace now that I am seeing a counselor who knows something about the process of differentiating in the Bowenian sense.

One last note about Schlessinger before I close this post. I would also recommend Bad Childhood, Good Life to other who have struggled with family of origin issues. The tone is much gentler than The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. You won't find the preachiness that she exhibits on her radio show.

The book won't solve your problems, but it might give you the sense to fire your therapist if he or she is one of those who has dragged you through years of agonizing rehashes of your past bad experiences. This book, PM, DB, and NMMNG all have one common idea: while past traumas might shape who you are today, you can get back on the path to a happier life without having to fully understand how they affected you. The key is to stop affixing blame and live in the present.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

2am Addresses a Negative Comment

An anonymous person left the following comment on my blog:

Hellloooo... why are u surprised...u have two kids...deal with it... abandoning them because you can't work it out with your wife -- who is just a normal exhausted mom -- is lame.... your kids will suffer.

U won't find it any easier with someone else (esp if they have kids) -- it is a fact of life that taking care of kids is exhausting and expensive.

I applaud your effort to know yourself, but don't fool yourself into thinking that divorcing is going to help. It will make it all worse.
I'm glad to know that the commenter is sufficiently omniscient to know whether my wife is "normal" and "exhausted". I'll leave that part of the argument alone for now.

I'm not sure what the commenter means by "deal with it" in this context. For the purposes of this post I will presume that it means "Accept rude treatment and do what the wife wants without resistance." If I have somehow misunderstood the anonymous commenter, he or she is free to post again to clarify.

Prior to the start of this journey, "dealing with it" is exactly what I would have done. From my experience, this leads to the following problems:
  1. It sends my wife the signal that she is free to be rude with impunity, thereby increasing the likelihood that she will deal with me rudely in other circumstances as well.
  2. It requires that I suppress my feelings at the expense of short term harmony. When this is done repeatedly, it produces resentment.
After 14 years of being with this woman and operating under these conditions, I've realized that (1) has become more frequent (with and without children) and (2) has led to increased stress and instances of acting out behaviors on my part. It creates an imbalance in power and is unsustainable. Eventually something will have to give way. I don't care how stressed out someone is, no one has a license to be repeatedly emotionally abusive.

Schnarch calls this "emotional gridlock within a fused relationship". Weiner Davis would refer to this as "more of the same".

Enumerating non-negotiable principles allows me to state clearly my boundaries based on who I am. By enforcing my boundaries, I develop a greater sense of integrity. My wife knows she stands with me, much more clearly than some fake, "You're fine, honey," and a forced smile. This is the act of differentiation, in Schnarch's terms. Weiner-Davis would file this under "doing a 180".

Finally, I don't know where the commenter got the idea that setting a boundary is targeted toward the goal of divorce. It's quite the opposite. It may be destabilizing in the short run, but it contributes to personal growth for both parties and maximizes the likelihood that the marriage will survive.

As I work my way through my issues, I have become increasingly aware that a fear driven life (fear of my wife, fear of failure, etc.) has resulted in frustration, depression, and anger. I also believe it has fed an an emotionally abusive cycle for so long that my wife no longer respects me. The only way to regain respect is to set and enforce boundaries.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Nonnegotiable # 1

Nonnegotiable: My failure to read your mind is not an excuse for you to be rude.

Inspiration: This evening, UPS tried to deliver a signature required package that I had been expecting, but no one was home. The driver left a note with contact information. I got home a few minutes before my wife and kids did, so I proceeded to call the number on the form to arrange for pick-up at the UPS service counter in town.

As the call was being placed, my wife came in with the kids, returning from dance class, and asked me what I was doing. I explained briefly and continued with the call, but I missed the auto attendant's prompt, so I had to restart.

I get the prompt to enter the package tracking number, and my wife grumpily asks me another question demanding my immediate attention, so I have to restart the call again. She starts shepherding our three year old to the bathroom, and she's directing her there in an bossy, stressed out tone.

I restart the call, and I get interrupted with a yell from my wife to bring her a pair of scissors as quickly as possible. I scramble to find a pair, recalling that I had placed a pair in the dishwasher because they were somewhat messy. I bit the bullet and got them out and brought them to her because it seemed like an urgent situation to her. She needed them to help the three year old get out of her Halloween costume, which she had worn to class.

I then get the call completed and arrange for the pickup tomorrow. I ask my wife is she had a bad day with the kids, she said no. I asked her if she was angry, and she said that she was, admitting that the anger was directed at me. She complained that I had not stopped what I was doing to help her with the kids, something that she had expected me to do without asking.

I would have helped her if I thought that there was some circumstance that was truly requiring my assistance, but at the time I didn't sense that. The subtext seemed to be that I am supposed to be there at her beckon call when I am home, anticipating whatever her immediate needs are. She's free to have whatever expectations she wants. She is welcome to have feelings anger when she feels that they are not met. I will not tolerate rude treatment, whether it be repeated interruption of a phone call or being spoken to disrespectfully.

In nice guy mode, I would have groveled for her forgiveness. Instead, I removed myself from the situation and went to the bedroom to regroup because I could feel the reptile brain kicking into high gear. I pulled back and put my thoughts to writing, distilling the boundary above. I now realize it is moments like this that make me feel like I can't have an existence of my own. If I am not at work, I am an accessory to my wife's universe. It is my responsibility to break free of this.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I Think I Chose Correctly

I had my first individual counseling session today, and I think I've got the right person to do the job.

We did the usual first session intake stuff, wherein I tried to go over as much of my past history and prior counseling experience as possible.

We also talked about goals. I talked about the three books that have provided inspiration:
  • Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch
  • No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover
  • Divorce Busting by Michele Weiner Davis
briefly describing the lessons I took from them and the relevance to my life.

I said that I believed the core of my problems had to do with a lack of self knowledge and the ability to maintain a sense of self in the presence of others. I live a two-track existence.

The first track is the self I present to others, optimized to complement those with whom I interact. This includes my wife, my friends, my family, my coworkers, and my superiors. When I deal with these people, my mind is focused on making sure I keep them happy. Seldom is there energy spent on checking how all of this relates to what I might want.

The second track dominates when I am alone. You could call it my hidden track. It reflects on recent events and tries to make sense out of them. When you read my blog or forum postings, you're hearing this hidden track at work. The process of deriving meaning is very focused, sometimes overemphasizing what are probably insignificant events. When I am anxious, this process kicks into hyperdrive because I derive security from understanding.

The hidden track has a dark side. If the working narrative turns negative, it can yield resentment. The resentment is fertile soil for cultivating acting out behaviors. Because these behaviors either violate my integrity or result in shame, I have to compartmentalize them, usually by some form of obfuscation or deception. This is the kind of dishonesty that Glover really rips into when defining Nice Guy Syndrome.

Note that neither side is responsible for regulating my behavior in accordance with what I need and want. It is purely reactive and outward directed.

My therapist seemed to lock in well to these ideas. She said that a core requirement was that I had to be truthful about what was going on inside. I told her that I needed someone to challenge me and not let me slide into a comfort zone. This needed to be a process of learning and growth. She said that she would be glad to call me on bullshit. This is exactly the kind of therapy I need.

The big question she posed for me, saying that she didn't expect an answer next week, was this:
What are your non-negotiables?
That's a good starting point, because without knowing this, you couldn't set up meaningful boundaries or develop a sense of self that results in differentiation. She said that from what I had told her, it sounded like I didn't have a good grasp of where my core is.

My next session is on Monday at noon next week. We plan to meet weekly initially, with a falloff to every other week to make sure that my insurance session allocation doesn't get depleted too quickly.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I Should Just Hire this Guy as My Therapist

User sixdegrees leaves this bit of wisdom in a comment:
I think that your flirtations with the edge represent an important part of your life that your therapist should know about. I think full disclosure to your therapist is the way to go. Your purpose of going to the therapist is to help you with your crucible process. An essential element of the crucible process as I understand it is being completely honest with oneself - and to realize ways in which we are NOT honest and true to ourself.
Quoting Schnarch from Passionate Marriage, page 340:
Own your projections as an act of integrity. Recognizing your distortions and expectations from the past -- disentangling inner and outer "realities -- is important and difficult work. It both requires and yields a kind of moral integrity that is severely limited in some people. Openly acknowledging your projections, especially when your partner is ready to blame everything on you, requires a deep breath and a leap of faith -- not faith he won't try to use it against you sime time (he probably will), but faith you will hold onto yourself when he does. Also remember, it isn't the end of the world when your self-disclosures are used against you. Relax. Hold onto yourself: stop being outraged or "wounded." It will raise your differentiation. Your partner is likely to stop abusing your self revelations when he sees it doesn't work to his advantage anymore. If you won't disclose your distortions because your anticipating your partner's response, you are still dependent on a reflected sense of self. Acknowledging your projections embodies tolerating pain for growth and maintaining a clear sense of self in proximity to your partner.
In Schnarchspeak, my anxiety over this is a symptom of emotional fusion with a therapist I haven't even met in person yet. I have to take a hit before I take the hit. I have such a long journey ahead.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Continuing the Crucible with a Guide

Since I've committed to staying on with my current job until the end of the year, I will continue to have health benefits that includes counseling. I have set up an appointment with a therapist not too far from my workplace to help me through the crucible process that I started about a month ago and got bogged down with when job and finance worries added to my stresses. We will have our first session at noon this coming Monday. A recent thread on PF made me wonder just how much I should disclose about my flirtations with the edge. Is this a time when full disclosure does more harm than good, or is it just me letting anxiety rule my ways again?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Why Doesn't She Work More Hours?

Trouble in Shangri-La asks in a comment:
Can't she pick up some hours at work to help out?
Not at her current job. A few months ago, they downgraded her hours to the current level because they are running out of projects to keep her busy. At one point, they wondered whether they would be able to keep her employed at all.

Since that downgrade, she has mentioned two employment alternatives:
  1. part time at FedEx during the night shift. She brought this up soon after she was made aware of the hour downgrade. I was reluctant since that meant we would barely see each other at all. She would be napping during the early evenings when I would be home.
  2. part time at Gymboree. She brought this up about two weeks ago, soon after she learned that they would be opening a store on our side of town. I know this would be a disaster because she would just plow her earnings back into buying clothes from the store. We'd lose money on that deal.
He hour downgrade also meant a change in department. She now reports to someone who is more of a hands-on manager and expects her to be available to answer questions in a timely manner. This has made her grumpy, griping about how much she doesn't want to work at all.

In a different time, I would have been more supportive of her being a stay-at-home mom. I'm still reluctant to put pressure on her to change jobs because she has made commitments to our kids' preschool co-op for the academic year. Forcing her to get out and get a job right away would mean that she would have to renege on them, and that could make things very difficult at home. I don't think I'm ready to fight that battle yet.

Monday, October 16, 2006

2am Answers Some Comments

Anais writes:
Have you asked to see your wife's credit card statements so you can analyze exactly what she was spending all that money on?
I looked at the complete list of charges for the past year. She used it in two different ways:
  1. To purchase more expensive items to avoid tapping into savings. This included our hotel for our vacation in May, tickets to a show during that vacation, large batches of digital photo reprints for scrapbooking, and a large wooden swing set for the kids.
  2. To purchase smaller items when she thought we might be short of funds in checking. This includes trips to grocery, fuel, fast food, and Starbucks.
When I talked to her on Saturday, her recollections of the expenditures reflected what I had seen.

My bigger worry is the eBay activity. Unlike the credit card, I don't have access to the PayPal account that she and her best friend share for their eBay sales.

When I asked her whether they were turning a profit, she was murky about her answer. Although she brags on occasion about making large sales on brand name children's clothing that they've bought at consignment shops, she said that she probably only has made $100.

She then added that they still had a large stockpile of clothing that needed to get listed and they would make more money. I'm not sure if they just keep plowing their proceeds right back into clothing sales or if it is a way of money laundering. I've wondered if her best friend might not be moving some of that PayPal money into an account to hide for my wife.

Drunken Housewife offered these ideas:
Cancel the cable. I don't have cable myself, so I'm not preaching what I don't practice.

Another thought: is it possible for you to get a second mortgage on your house & use that to pay off your other debts?
The cable television wouldn't be a problem for me since I watch very little television, but pushing for all out cancellation would be tantamount to asking for a divorce.

An IM exchange from this morning should give you an idea of how delicate a subject this is in our household.

Me (10/16/2006 12:01:04 PM): To cut back on our household costs, I've been thinking about switching from Comcast's internet service to DSL from AT&T. It would push the bill down from $45/month to $15-$20/month. We wouldn't have as much bandwidth, but you wouldn't notice anything from your end, unless you were doing hundreds of megs of photo uploads to Snapfish.
Wife (10/16/2006 12:02:15 PM): do we still have dvr
Me (10/16/2006 12:02:31 PM): DVR is independent of the cable modem service.
Me (10/16/2006 12:03:02 PM): I've also looked at what cable packages are offered below our current level.
Me (10/16/2006 12:03:19 PM): It's hard to do a side-by-side comparison.
Me (10/16/2006 12:07:18 PM): How much of the current cable service do you think you could do without?
Wife (10/16/2006 12:10:15 PM): how much are you talking
Me (10/16/2006 12:11:20 PM): I haven't gotten that far yet. I wanted to know what your comfort zone was before sifting through all the options in greater detail.
Wife (10/16/2006 12:11:21 PM): i don't think i can live without dvr anymore
Me (10/16/2006 12:11:34 PM): What about channel lineup?
Me (10/16/2006 12:11:57 PM): What channels do you watch regularly and would believe that you wouldn not want to give up watching?
Wife (10/16/2006 12:21:44 PM): i don't know right now, i have (my best friend's daughter) and she is being a toot crawling under the chairs and getting stuck
Me (10/16/2006 12:22:11 PM): And probably getting angry every time she does it.
Wife (10/16/2006 12:22:38 PM): and she is fast, i didn't even get turned around and sat down before she was stuck again
Me (10/16/2006 12:23:06 PM): Ech.
Me (10/16/2006 12:23:15 PM): Do you want some time to think about that?
Wife (10/16/2006 12:23:19 PM): yes please

The idea of a second mortgage is possible, but may not be as helpful as one might expect. We've lived in our house for six years, and the housing market in our area has been stagnant, so equity has been slow to accumulate. There was no real estate bubble in this area like there was in other metro areas. Combine a high foreclosure rate with newer subdivisions and you wind up with a housing glut that makes for a buyer's market. An elevated crime rate throught the county isn't helping things, either.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

How She Responded

In my last post, I provided a redacted copy of the letter I gave to my wife on Saturday morning. I didn't have much time to provide information on the events that led up to the delivery and what happened afterward. This posting attempts to fill in some blanks.

I woke up sometime before 5 a.m. on Saturday morning with a sour stomach, so I decided to make the most of my time alone by composing the thoughts that I wanted to express to my wife. I had planned on discussing them with her verbally on Sunday when the kids were down for nap. I finished up the text, a five page document with graphics, just before 7 a.m. and then went to lie back down.

I got up with the kids, my three year-old waking up sometime between 7:30 and 8 a.m. and my 20 month-old waking up just before 9 a.m. Fortunately, my older daughter tolerates snuggling on the couch, so I was able to rest some. My wife woke up after 10 a.m.

Shortly after getting out of bed, she asked me what I had been doing in the middle of the night. I told her that I was writing something that attempted to express my feelings to her. I didn't want to dodge the topic any more, so I told her that she could read the text herself right away if she wanted to. She asked me whether it was going to ruin her day or make her cry. I told her that I didn't think it would.

She also asked me whether I was asking for a divorce. The thought of divorce must have been on her mind, given that the best friend who set us up on a date over 14 years ago was separating with her husband of 12 years starting this weekend. I told her "no", and handed the papers over to her.

She took between five and ten minutes to read the document, with a couple of distractions from the kids. After she finished, we discussed things further. In retrospect, providing her with a letter was probably a better move because it allowed me to deliver my thoughts without her trying to turn the table on me in mid-thought.

On the bright side, she admitted that our finances had been in bad shape, that she had hidden the credit card activity from me, and that she was willing to talk about boundaries. She even volunteered the idea of setting up a separate checking account for paying bills and ceasing to charge on the big balance credit card.

On the down side, she faulted me on several matters:
  1. I shouldn't have held in things for so long. She said she felt like we had regressed since our last joint counseling session because I wasn't as involved with the kids and on the computer more.
  2. She said that she hid the credit card transactions from me because of the fragile state of our relationship in the summer and my sour mood in the fall.
  3. She thought I was using my ambivalence over my job as an excuse to avoid finding a therapist so that I could work on my own issues as I had said I would at the end of our marriage counseling.
  4. She said that the disparities between pay deposits and total debits in the checking account failed to tell the full story, making things seem worse than what they appear. I then brought out the large stack of statements and showed her how I pulled the numbers from a given statement. She cited as a counterexample an $881.88 sum that passed recently from her PayPal account through our savings and checking accounts to pay off charges made on the credit card that she and her best friend use to purchase children's clothing from consignment shops. To her, that should not have counted in the total debit pile since it was a zero-sum transaction.
  5. She also argued that using a pro-rated monthly income as a baseline for a budget wasn't fair because there were usually only two paychecks per month, which occur on alternating weeks.
  6. She said that I didn't have to go to the trouble of gathering all the statistics and writing them up for her in a big report like that, saying that it almost seemed like I was trying to shame her.
Her description of her credit card transactions reflected my observations: occasional big ticket items and smaller purchases when she knew we were short on money in our checking. One of those items was the $376 swing set that she purchased in late July. She said that she wanted to purchase that at the time because she said I had agreed to it earlier in the year and didn't think we'd getting around to do it until next year if we didn't do it right then then. I could tell that she was basing that purchase on emotions, which raised a red flag for me.

Giving in to the temptation to take her personal inventory just a little, I asked her whether she thought that she sometimes bought things to make herself feel better. The motivation was to get her to consider whether she might have a compulsive shopping problem. She said she didn't think so, arguing that she tried to cut back on her shopping immensely, relying more on consignment shops for the kids' clothes than new purchases at Gymboree, which is her favorite.

I asked her whether the topic of money had come up in her private therapy sessions. She said that it had in the context that our finances were tight but not because she was overspending. She argued that little things just add up more than what I expected. She offered to dig up her old credit card statements and go over them with me. I told her that I wasn't interested in rehashing the past. I wanted to learn from it and avoid running into the same situations in the future.

She also told me that while she would pare back on purchases for friends and family this Christmas season, she would have have a meltdown if she was not able to buy for the kids. She said that she would try to keep the costs down and asked me to go with her to Wal-Mart on Sunday to pick out items and put them in layaway.

I asked her about her and her friend's eBay activities, since it involves making large purchases from the consignment shops on a credit card and then attempting to sell them at a profit. I wanted to know whether they tracked closely how much money that they were spending and whether they were making any money off of all of it.

She said that they did keep close track and that all costs associated with the activity were restricted to a dedicated credit card. I didn't get a straight answer about whether they had turned a profit. She said that they were not losing money and that they were putting their earnings toward the purchase of new clothes. She said they had a lot of clothes that they still needed to list on eBay, but they were holding off on some items for seasonal reasons.

I apologized for having been withdrawn over the past few weeks and said that it was a struggle for me to summon the courage to express my negative feelings.

I think I have her buy in on increasing austerity, but it sounds like I will have to be the one to draw the boundaries, set up the infrastructure, and enforce accountability. She realizes that we are spending too much money every month, but she thinks that I am exaggerating the severity for recent account activity.

The thing that struck me through all of this conversation was the absence of remorse on her part. While she apologized for hiding the credit card information from me, she didn't want to own the possibility that she was overspending either consciously or compulsively. Ultimately that is her problem. There is nothing further I can do to raise her awareness. Hitting rock bottom may be the only thing that jars her back into reality.

I am faced with the challenge to summon the courage to leave the marriage if she continues to hold on to that slice of denial. I don't want to hit the bottoms of bankruptcy with her.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Laying It on the Line

I had some indigestion last night, so I got up from bed and worked on preparing my remarks that I planned to give to my wife on Sunday. She asked me this morning why I was up so late on the computer, and not feeling like covering up any longer, I presented her with the full text of the five-page letter. Here is what it said, with a few redactions for discretion's sake.

Begin Text of Letter

I am facing a choice between two anxiety laden courses of action:

  1. Have a frank discussion with you about our financial situation.

  2. Go bankrupt.

In the book Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch devotes the better part of a whole chapter on these kinds of problems. He calls them two-choice dilemmas and says that avoiding the choice is one of the things that undermines marriages. Biting the bullet, confronting the anxiety, and making a choice is what contributes to personal growth and improves the marriage, he says.

After having looked at our present financial situation and past spending behavior, I have decided to choose the first option. This letter attempts to give you clear statistics, my interpretation of those statistics, and my emotional reaction to them.

Our financial situation has been on my mind for the past month or so, ever since you revealed to me that we had only about $400/month to live on once our bills were paid and that you thought we had been in this situation since February of this year.

I Statement: When I heard you say this, I felt shocked because I wasn't aware that our financial situation was so tight.

I spent several weeks wallowing in this and the uncertainty of whether to stay in my job. I admit this was the reason that I have been more withdrawn recently, and it wasn't a healthy thing to do.

Last week, I finally started to snap out of the gridlock and went to work trying to get an accurate picture of where we are financially and where we have been the past year and a half. I started with our checking account, since both work income and expenditures touch that account. I looked at the total deposits from our paychecks and the total debits for the month, plotting them to make a chart.

The chart covers activity from early March 2005 through early October 2006. The debits are squares connected via blue lines, and the deposits are diamonds connected by red lines. Ideally, you want the diamonds above the squares, but there are times when that's not possible. However, when you go for a year and a half with more debits and credits, you've got an unsustainable situation.

During that time, we deposited $67,941.15 in pay and spent $110,923.87, an excess of $42,982.72. To put that in perspective, my current annual net pay at my employer, after taxes and insurance, is $40,800.

I realize that during the spring and summer of 2005, we spent large amounts money. Some of that was due to remodeling work, and we agreed to set aside some money for you to help your family out after your dad had his stroke.

If we change our focus from early November 2005 to early October 2006, so that these expensive months don't figure into the calculation, I find that we spent on the average of $5,453.21/month against $3,681.23/month of income, a shortfall of $1,771.98/month. That's a ratio of 1.48:1, or $3 spent for every $2 earned.

This tells me several things:

  1. The spending patterns that gave rise to our tight financial situation have been in play for a lot longer than since February 2006.

  2. The spending pattern persisted far beyond the spring and summer of 2005. In fact, they continued up to this very day.

  3. While it's likely that me eating out for lunch contributes to our costs, this is probably no more than $175/month (21 - 22 workdays a month at a little over $8 per lunch). That's less than 10 % of our average shortfall. Brown bagging my lunches may be a good start, but it is nowhere near the amount we need to achieve a balanced budget.

I Statement: When I first looked at the checking account graph, I felt inadequate because I felt like I was not providing for my family.

I have examined myself, and I don't believe that I am the primary cause of the shortfalls in the checking account. I can count on one hand the number of large purchases I have made for myself during this time, and the only other things I spend money on regularly are lunch food, fuel, and runs to the grocery.

Shortfalls in checking were covered mostly by transfers from our savings account, so I took a look at our deposits, withdrawals, and closing balance over a similar time interval, obtaining another chart.

In this chart, total deposits are shown as squares, connected by blue lines. Total withdrawals are shown as diamonds, connected by red lines. The closing balances are shown as downward-pointing triangles connected by yellow lines.

In addition to your $150/pay period deposits, we had two large deposits:

  1. A deposit just under $20,000 from my late grandmother's estate.

  2. Our state and federal income tax refunds for the 2005 calendar year, totalling around $2,000.

The account's balance closely tracks the progress of our checking. More than half of the $20,000 deposit was spent by the end of October 2005, most likely on remodeling, furniture purchases, assistance to your parents, and roof repair.

That doesn't bother me so much as the trend for the rest of the time period. When we zoom in on the period from early July 2005 through early October 2006, and plot just deposits and withdrawals, there continues to be a pattern of large withdrawal totals. In fact, whatever respite we may have gotten from the tax refund in March 2006 was offset by a spike in withdrawals that same month.

I Statement: When I first looked at these charts, I felt perplexed and distressed, because I could see just how badly our savings cushion had deteriorated.

Out of concern for our financial well being, I took a look at my credit report to see whether our bills were being paid in a timely fashion. To my relief, things seemed to be in good order, but then I saw an item that caught my eye, an entry for the Discover Card that is your name. I knew that the card existed, but I was not aware that the balance was so high ($5,460). I then took a look at the closing balances on this card's statements for the past 12 months and obtained this chart.

It shows a steady growth in balance from November 2005 through July 2006.

I Statement: When I saw this chart I felt betrayed because you were choosing to spend money we didn't have without my knowledge.

I Statement: After reflecting further on these numbers, I have been experiencing some very difficult emotions. I have been feeling anger toward you and ambivalence toward this marriage.

I have struggled to figure out how to bring this up with you in a healthy manner. I know that you have been on the other side of this situation before, so you know how it can hurt. I don't know what your motivations were, and the temptation of focusing on them rather than my own issues has been very strong. I'm going to do my best to let go of that concern and let you choose how to deal with it. In the future, this degree of overspending will be unacceptable to me and a dealbreaker for this marriage.

I'm going to focus on my side of this. I need to own up to how I contributed to this situation. Back in early 2005, when you expressed a desire to spend money on remodeling, I recall saying that I wanted you to take over payment of the bills so that you could experience the frustrations of trying to watch where the money was going.

In No More Mr. Nice Guy, Robert Glover talks about how men with Nice Guy Syndrome try to manage their anxiety rather than confronting it. They do this lots of times by making what he calls covert contracts. This is where the Nice Guy does something or makes a concession with the expectation that the beneficiary will do something nice in return. The fact that the first option of my two-choice dilemma above causes me so much anxiety is indicative of how badly I've suffered from Nice Guy Syndrome.

In retrospect, my surrender and avoidance of the checkbook was a covert contract designed to help unload the anxiety of financial responsibilities. I realize that this was the act of a martyr, not a man. It certainly isn't the kind of behavior that inspires respect or fosters confidence in a spouse. I am sorry for having behaved so immaturely. I want to help us figure out a sustainable solution to our budget crisis by asserting leadership of our family expenses.

If we look only at my monthly net income (pay after taxes and health insurance), and then we subtract off obligations for insurance, utilities, and non credit card debt, we can create the following table.

Net Pay 3400.97


Minvan Payment 210
Auto Insurance 89.53
Life Insurance 106.16
Electricity 94.49
Natural Gas 133
Water 35
Land Line Phone 63.23
Wireless Phone 67.88
Cable 117.25
Replacement Window Loan 130
Flooring Loan 200
Installment Loan 400

Total Left


Some explanatory notes on the figures in the table are necessary:

  1. The loans are estimates since I didn't have access to the actual payment values, but they should be good upper bounds.

  2. The electricity bill is based on a 12 month average of previous statements.

  3. The gas bill is based on the current levelized billing plan. This should go down somewhat this winter since we already have an account surplus and market prices are expected to be much lower.

The bottom line amount is much more than the $400/month you initially estimated. It also doesn't figure in the $350 that you bring in every month from your current job. I believe that if we watch our expenses closely, we should be able to live on this in the short term and have some left over to save.

In both the short term and long term, we need to bring sanity back into our financial activity. This means we need clear goals, boundaries, and accountability. I am willing to work with you on drawing up a plan on how we can accomplish this, but I need your full commitment and cooperation if we are to make this work.

This process will not be easy, and it will probably require some changes on your part that may be unpleasant to you. You, too, will face one or more two-choice dilemmas. It will be your job to identify them.

The question to which I need an immediate answer from you is: Are you with me on this?

Since my job leads appear to be dead ends, and since my employer has enough funds to operate for rest of the year, I am going to recommit to working for them until the end of the 2006. I will set up an appointment with a counselor this coming week (10/15 – 10/21) and get moving on my own therapy. I will be using the ideas of Schnarch's and Glover's book as a basis for the therapy because they focus on self confrontation and personal change. At the end of the year, I will reevaluate whether I should move on to another job.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Foray into Forensic Accounting

UPDATED on 10/11/2006 at 11:08 a.m. Added recollection of why there was a spending spike in the August 2005 checking account statement and a statistic on the ratio of checking debits to net income.

In an effort to overcome the stagnation I described in my prior posting, I requested from our bank reprints of monthly statements for our checking and savings accounts going back almost a year and a half. I also obtained online versions of the last year's worth of statements for my wife's credit card. Using this data, I generated some charts to get an idea of how much we spent each month. The picture is not pretty.

The first graph is for our checking account, and it compares total withdrawls with money deposited from our paychecks.

(click for larger image)

The date range on this graph covers the months that my wife has held primary checking account access and bill payment responsibility.

The big gaps in April and May of 2005 don't concern me too much because they were months that we paid for remodeling work on our house. That was a mutually agreed upon expense.

The gap in the August 2005 statement is driven partially by the purchase of a couple pieces of expensive furntiure that my wife wanted: an entertainment center and a computer armoire.

However, the spike in the April 2006 statement is disturbing because I can't recall why this month may have been more expensive than others.

The spike in the November statement can be attributed partially to about $1,800 spent on roof repair and a replacement privacy fence. The latter was covered by our insurance, so that's not a big deal.

This chart tells me two, very important things:

  1. The shortfalls go back a lot farther than February 2006, as my wife claimed in a prior conversation.

  2. They are so large that one cannot blame them solely on me eating out for lunch. Spending on the average of $8/day for 20 work days a month isn't going to add up to thousands of dollars.

When we exclude the big expenditure months prior to November 2005, it turns out that our checking account was seeing withdrawls on the order of 1.48 times that of what we were depositing from paychecks.

The shortfalls in checking were covered by routine transfers from our savings account. I remember doing this a couple times, but well over 80 percent of these transfers were authorized by my wife. During this time, there were two large deposits:

  1. A check I received from the resolution of my late grandmother's estate, just shy of $20,000. It was deposited in June 2005.

  2. Over $2,000 in state and federal income tax refunds, received during the month of March 2006 in the form of direct deposits.

My wife earmarks $150 for every two week pay period to be direct deposited into the savings account, which accounts for the steady stream of deposits.

The other interesting statistic is the ever shrinking percentage of my wife's contribution to the checking account deposits. From April - July 2005, her contribution was about 15 % of the total. From there it becomes a gradual slide from 10 % on down to 3 % for the summer of 2006. This tracks the pullback in the number of hours she's working.

As you can see in the second graphic,

(click to view larger image)

the account balance took a steady dive after the deposit of the $20,000 check.

The sheer size of the gap for each month can be better seen by comparing deposits and withdrawals from 7/31/2005 onward, which isolates off the large deposit in June.

(click to view larger image)

There are several months where the gap is over $1,000.

The large deposit on the 9/30/2006 statement is a transfer from my wife's eBay PayPal account to the savings account. Soon thereafter, it was transferred to checking to pay the balance on a credit card that she uses to purchase items for resale on eBay. She and her best friend have been reselling children's clothes purchased at local consignment shops with the hopes of making a profit on certain high end brand names.

The final graph contains another disturbing picture.

(click to view larger image)

My wife has a credit card in her name only. Within the past couple of weeks, I found out that there was a large balance on it, in the mid $5,000s. I went back through a year's worth of statements and found that her usage really took off in the spring of 2006, just as our savings was starting to get dangerously low.

I've looked at the itemized listings of purchases, and there are several items that I thought she had paid for in cash, including our hotel stay in late May, some tickets for a show we saw on that vacation, and a $376 swing set for the kids. She's also used it to purchase day-to-day items like Starbucks coffees, fuel, and groceries. I suspect she is using this card when she thinks our checking account may be low and she doesn't have a chance to transfer funds from savings to checking.

I haven't gone through the checking account statements to see if there are any really suspicious expenses. I will start with the ones where we had the largest shortfalls.

It's pretty clear we can't afford to live like this, and I need answers as to why she's been letting the red ink flow. The challenge for me in the days to come is this: How can I raise this issue with my wife in a manner that is both healthy and effective? How do I avoid falling into reptile brain mode and hold onto myself?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Feeling Adrift (or: Wake Me up when September Ends)

I haven't felt much motivation to write, but a lot has been passing through my mind.

I am feeling ambivalence over work and home, so I can't flee to one to seek refuge from the other. A paralysis has set in place, leaving me feeling powerless, hopeless, and unable to take action.

Let's start with the home front. Not quite a month ago, my wife, who has been in charge of bill payment since the spring of 2005, revealed to me that our income is barely covering what is being spent. She claims that we have $400/month to live on after all our bills have been paid, and that doesn't cover groceries or things like the kids' preschool tuition.

I asked her how long she had known that this was the situation. She said it was since February of this year. I asked her if she thought it had to do with her cutting back from 15 hours per week to 10 hours per week. She said she thought that might have something to do with it. I asked her why she didn't bring this to my attention sooner. She said that she didn't want to, given the rocky situation of our marriage this summer. However, it didn't stop her from making two trips to the riverboat casino and spending over $100 per trip during the same time period.

When I received my next paycheck, I took a look at the net amount after taxes and benefits had been paid for. Then I took a look at the bills for which I knew we had payments and subtracted those off. I arrived at $900 per month left over. Moreover, this was with my pay alone. This did not include the money she was bringing in from her job. I then took a look at the online billing facilities for our accounts. I didn't see anything odd in our utilities, but she was starting to defer payments in some situations so that we were in essence operating on a two-month billing cycle.

I did find one big surprise on one of her credit cards: she had run up a balance on one of the cards in the mid $5000 range. When I took a look at transactions, I saw several items from our vacation that we took in late May, stuff that should have been paid for out of money she said she earned through eBay sales. She had also charged the new freezer in the garage for approximately $400 and the kids' new swing set at over $370.

I also took a look at our savings account, which had seen deposits of over $25,000 in the past year and a half, most of it money I inherited from my grandmother's estate. There was around another $5,000 in tax refunds for the past two years. The amount was abnormally large due to an adoption tax credit from 2003. All that was left of that was $700.

I know that we spent several thousand on remodeling work she wanted done in the spring of 2005, and she had my consent to spend up to $2,000 to help out her parents with their finances after her dad had a stroke, but there's still a lot of money to be accounted for, and I don't think it's just because we've been going out to eat too much. I will need to do some forensic accouting, getting reprints of prior bank statements.

What makes even less sense to me is that my gross income went up by over 20 % when I started this current job in late November 2005. Whatever her hourly cutbacks took away, we still should have been ahead of the game with my pay increase.

Add to this complaints that my wife is unhappy with her job and wants to quit working, and I'm feeling some pressure to push for a raise at work.

Things aren't much better at work. I have been losing confidence in the discipline of the management at work. They seem to be pinning their future on the ability to secure venture capital financing, and to their credit, they have been getting positive vibes from a local VC.

When they're not busy romancing the VCs with presentations and paperwork, they seem to be channeling their energies into implementing features for certain customers, almost as if we are a consulting firm rather than an independent software vendor with a shrink wrap product. This has created foggy development priorities that seem to change from day to day. A lot of code is being churned out that won't be easily generalized or reused. Moreover, things that I had worked on with serious intensity in the winter and spring seem to have moved into limbo.

About seven months on the job, I asked the COO, to whom I officially reported, whether I would have the six-month review that was described in my offer letter. He wrote back saying that he would defer that call to the CTO, to whom I reported on a day-to-day basis. In an e-mail to the CTO, he wrote this about me:
he faithfully executed his duties and responsibilities in his position and is deserving of a performance review immediately

and then he added:
It is also my opinion that (his) performance has been exemplary and that he should receive a favorable review and that this favorable review be reflected in some positive monetary fashion as you deem appropriate

I never got a followup from the CTO. Within a month, the COO was no longer serving in his role, and they had the locks on the office changed. Soon thereafter, the CTO sent out a memo to the developers that said:
I just want to re-iterate that we are REALLY in a crunch mode right now. I am working an average of 12-14 hours a day trying to keep my head above water on all of our development and support task. Customers and revenue are waiting on your projects to be completed. If we can't get projects completed, we can't get revenue and that's a bad thing for everyone.

and further on down he wrote:
I really need your help in getting the projects that you have on your plate completed. We have customers who want to give us money and who are starting to get impatient about our lack of ability to deliver.

The thing that struck me as odd was that the project I was working on supposedly was a distant wish list feature that had been requested by a company that wasn't even a paying customer yet. To the best of my knowledge, there still isn't anyone just chomping at the bit for that feature.

I also was waiting for the CTO to implement portions of a client/server interface that had been done on my end for over a month. If anything, he was holding up features that I already had in place. After several promises to get around to working on it, he finally decided to task me with the larger problem of making a general, self-describing communication protocol.

The memo's disconnect with reality, combined with the lack of recognition for past work and uncertainty over future projects made me wonder if I should start looking elsewhere. I posted my resume on the major job boards and got a mix of nibbles. Most of them were for contract positions out of state. Since relocation wasn't a viable option, I nixed those.

One of the local positions is with a consulting company. I'm not sure whether they will match the pay, but the health benefits beat the tar out of the over $700/month I'm shelling out right now. Plus the office is located about 20 minutes closer to my home, which would cut out commute time.

Another position proved to be more problematic. It was for another startup in town that had just gone live with an alpha version of their software. It had gotten some national press just after it went live, and things were supposedly in chaos. The recruiter talked up the company, saying the head of the company was really successful in past ventures, and that they were looking for the best of the best. To get in the door, they required you to pass a programming test. He also said that they were working long days because of the technical problems they had been running into.

I told the recruiter that I'm not sure that I would be a good fit for the company, given the longer commute and my family life demands. I said that I would need some time to consider the opportunity. He also brought up a newer startup that the same guy was heading up. It was something a little less chaotic, and it involved some things that I had some knowledge of. I told him that I would be more open to that possibility. After taking a weekend to think about it, I responded, telling him that I didn't want to be put inf for consideration of the first venture, but I would like to be considered for the second.

The next week, I find out that my current employer has gotten in touch with the crazy busy startup regarding their problems. Our CTO makes several trips to their offices trying to troubleshoot things. He makes some basic diagnoses and they start talking up a bigger consulting arrangement. Eventually, the discussion turns to code review, and since they needed someone with expertise in C++, the CTO thought that I might be well suited to the task. The catch was that the mangement at the other startup wanted to make sure the reviewer met their standard for C++ knowledge, so they had me take the programming test they give to their prospective hires.

I had a few days to prepare for it, and I had a feeling it would be a test over esoteric aspects of the language, and I was right. With the exeception of a question about the difference between two aspects of the language, the test questions were of the "What would happen if you tried to compile and run this snippet of code?" The code blocks were mostly toy pieces of code involving pathological situations that no sane programmer would be caught doing. However, if you were one of those standards savants who knew the ISO C++ specification backwards and forwards, the questions would be child's play.

I scored 5/10 on the test. Supposedly, most hires are lucky to get 3/10 right, but they want someone who can score at least 7/10. Whether I will be allowed to review code remains to be seen. If that is their screening process, I can see why they are having so much troubles. At the high level, they probably have someone who is a real wiz at the language, but doesn't have much sense when it comes to engineering scalable software or designing someting so that it can be debugged easily.

Visiting the site of the startup to take the test made me feel a bit weird, like a scene in a bad sitcom. I placed a followup call to the recruiter to have me withdrawn from consideration from the other startup, just in case there is crosstalk between the two companies.

The close call I experienced with the startup made me want to take a breather from the job search scene. I am still following up on leads that I've already applied to, but I have taken my resume off line for now.

So, there is a financial crunch at home and discontent with work. What does that mean for me? That means there is less money for me to spend on myself, so that severely limits things that I can do to "make myself happy" for a change, as Michele Weiner-Davis puts it in her book Divorce Busting. Because I may change jobs, I have been hesitant about seeing a therapist because a change in health plans may mean that my choice won't be covered under a new plan.

I've found myself having bouts of anger and sadness. I try to do as much as I can in my daddy role. I do things for my wife, but no more than what I'm feeling inclined to give. This helps me avoid feeling like a martyr. I feel like my life is slipping away. I feel trapped at work. I feel trapped at home. Today was a severe low. For the first time in a long while, I began to think it would be easier just to give up on life itself.

Maybe this is a midlife crisis. Still, it's hard to go to work at a place where there is no focus, and it's hard to come home to a woman who doesn't want to cook, clean, or work at a job so that she can help us afford all the things she wants. I have noticed a change in sentiment since I found out about the money problems, I'm no longer pursuing this marriage. I feel like I have what Michele Weiner-Davis calls "Walkaway Wife Syndrome":
After years of trying unsuccessfully to improve things, a woman eventually surrenders and convinces herself that change isn't possible. She ends up believing there's absolutely nothing she can do because everything she's tried hasn't worked. That's when she begins to carefully map out the logistics of what she considers to be the inevitable, getting a divorce.

While she's planning her escape, she no longer tries to improve her relationship or modify her partner's behavior in any way. She resigns herself to living in silent desperation until "D Day." Unfortunately, her husband views his wife's silence as an indication that "everything is fine." After all, the "nagging" has ceased. That's why, when she finally breaks the news of the impending divorce, her shell-shocked partner replies, "I had no idea you were unhappy."

Or perhaps this passage from a rant on craigslist.org:
Dad gets sick of this shit. Like the mom, Dad doesn't have so much time to run around with friends. His routine is pretty much composed of family life at home, which he understands and accepts. But, he still wants to have a little fun with his wife now and again. This is impossible to do for two reasons. First, she doesn't want to have any fun that doesn't involve the children. Adult pleasures were dispensed of in the delivery room.
Many married moms, 10 times out of 10, would rather have a marathon cookie-baking section rather than do something spontaneous or fun with just her husband. OK, 8 out of 10 times is fine, 9 out of 10 times is understandable, but 10 times out of 10 for the kids? Nothing for just you and your husband, or even just for yourself? There are women who are that slavish in their devotion to making sure their children are entertained at all times. But don't they realize that it will create side effects and eventually repercussions to their marriage?
No, they don't realize it, and even if they did, they lie to themselves about it. Women repeatedly try to fool and outright lie to themselves with the aid of self-help books, magazine articles and daytime television into believing that sex is not really an important marriage component to their husbands. Generally speaking, a woman will never hesitate lying to herself to maintain the belief that she's on top of it all. They honestly think (subliminally or consciously) that they can hold a man's sex life hostage.
The most disciplined of men, those who are planning their escape from sexual Alcatraz while his wife is orchestrating another backyard sleepover, knows why, when and how he is going to bail from his marriage. He waits until the lawyers are done before sending himself into new female company. Women continually fall for this crap, thinking they can get away with having a husband who's satisfied with a dormant sex life.
And when these good men break and leave, her defense of her own negligence is that "you don't understand how I really feel". As if to imply that if he did understand how she really feels, that he'd rightly throw his own feelings out the window (which is what she'd really like him to do), because Mom is so beleaguered and overwhelmed with all this parenting that she insisted she do all by herself.

I don't like feeling this way. It isn't productive. It isn't helping me deal with the long term. It certainly isn't appropriate for Schnarch's crucible, where you're supposed to let "the best in you" guide the process. I'm surprised I was able to churn out a blog post on it. Maybe this will help me overcome some of the inertia that has plagued me a good deal of September.