Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Why is She Crying, Anyway?

In a comment Emily writes:
Did you ever think that your wife is weeping uncontrollably, unable to take in much information, because she knows that you are planning to leave her? Because her marriage is failing? Being distressed and unable to take in and process information is pretty natural in the circumstances.

I don't believe this for the following reasons:

  • She has used crying, along with table turning, to shut down discussion of difficult subjects even when there was no fear of divorce. Over the years, I've seen her mother and father use these techniques to manipulate and crush dissent, so I believe that this is a continuing pattern.

  • Up until the counseling session, this was the first time that I said I was open to dissolving the marriage. I may have thought about it and blogged about it, but I haven't said anything to her that would indicate that I wanted to leave. Over the past two years, whenever discussions got tense, she was the one who would play the divorce or separation card to shut down the argument. In the late 90s when we were in strong disagreement over whether to have children, she was the one threatening to divorce me if I didn't come to see things her way. Late last summer, before we went into marriage counseling, she suggested separation. Finally, when it came down to the decision of choosing a job a couple weeks ago, she said that it was either the local job or separation.

But the thing is, these are problems that you should be working on together. You should be seeing a sex therapist together, to find ways that she can be more comfortable with touch.

We've been through individual and couples therapy on this subject. The couples therapy, which you can find detailed in the July and August archives, didn't get anywhere. The therapist's mindset was "don't violate her comfort zone and just be happy with that". The problem is when the comfort zone is that restrictive, what's the point, anyway?

She saw an individual therapist for a couple months regarding the sex issues for a couple months but then quietly stopped going. It wasn't until mid-December, when I was looking over some insurance statements from my own therapy and asked how her therapy was going, did she come out and say that she wasn't going anymore. She didn't start seeing a therapist again until April, when we had a big falling out over my rejection of duty sex.
You say that you want a passionate marriage. But passion is created between two equal people. It isn't created by sucking up to her for years in the hope that it will get you laid. It also isn't created by one person demanding more passion from the other with abandonment as the consequence of not complying. These are both extremes.

I'm not threatening abandonment as a consequence of non-compliance. By saying, "If you take the job in the desert southwest instead of the local one, we'll just have to have a separation because the girls and I are not coming along," she was the one threatening abandonment for non-compliance.
In trying to resolve very real problems, you are going about them the wrong way and your wife feels bullied and manipulated - just like you used to feel. People who feel that way aren't able to give a very warm response. They get frightened and defensive and even less able to grow.

I have been trying to communicate with her using non-inflammatory language. I've kept my own emotions in check. I've tried to be understanding of her anxiety. I have not tried to force her to do anything against her will. There have been multiple times where she's tried to brush off my concerns by saying that I'm just an unhappy person and need to go on medication. To me, that's emotional abuse.

I also don't believe that people are less able to grow when afraid. The absence of anxiety instills a feeling of complacency and makes a person less likely to change. Anxiety can be a driving force to grow because it forces you to the realization that the price of not changing is too high. That's the basis for Schnarch's writings, and I believe it's a much more realistic picture of how relationships work than most of the standard relationship counseling books.

The key is what drives the anxiety. It would not be healthy for me to demand that she "fix herself or else". Instead I worked on myself on a couple fronts. One was that I tried to be more motivated in doing things in areas where I wasn't the high desire partner.

The other was to face down my fears of inadequacy and take proactive measures to advance a career that was quickly becoming adrift. When I began to realize that I had marketable skills, they just weren't that marketable here, I began to self validate. That resulted in me going through several non-local job interviews. Her anxiety started to kick into high gear when it became apparent that the better offer was non local and would require us to relocate.

By refusing to relocate and demand a separation, she was trying to shut down a growth process. In a way, she needed me to feel inadequate because that would ensure that I would take a substandard job, be it a maintenance programmer, a temporary contract job, or another startup which might go belly up.

The issue of relocation brings to the fore a question of commitment to the marriage. She said she didn't want to give up her "support network" of friends. To me, that sounds like she's picking her friends over the best interests of the family.

The best analogy I can think of is to imagine that we're on a sinking ship (both my current employer and my career within a couple years), and I've been running all over the ship to find a lifeboat. I've found two. One has plenty of supplies to get to land. The other one has some supplies, but it's not clear whether there is enough to live on, but her friends are on that one. She's telling me that she refuses to get on the boat with plenty of supplies because her friends won't be with her.
If you're not careful, 2am, you're just going to become another guy who, psychologising aside, gets rid of his wife because she doesn't enjoy having sex with him and spends too much. If you feel okay about that, then go ahead.

No, that's not just it. She refuses to grow in any meaningful way and will resort to emotional abuse, if necessary, to make sure that she doesn't have to. The only way that system works is if I choose to stay in that system.
But what if you had more joint sessions looking for solutions, with a bias towards staying together? I'm not talking about you just giving in, I'm talking about genuine compromise and joint effort between two equals who have made a commitment to each other and have children to consider.

Unless there is some sort of last minute conversion on her part, I don't see her willing to work on compromise. It's almost been a year since we started marriage counseling, and she really hasn't put much work into it despite many opportunities to do so.
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