I have read your post and given it some thought over the last week before posting my reply. Your loving concern for your husband is admirable I agree with Jeremy about the importance of communication. Much of what he has said is very insightful for 27.
At nearly 40, I have been married to the same woman for close to 20 years myself. I also brought the effects of threefold abuse (8 years sexual & 19 years physical and verbal/emotional abuse) from my childhood into my marriage.
Like your husband, I subjected my wife to years of verbal/emotional abuse before recognizing it about 8 years or so ago.
I would like to start by explaining to you, as I did my wife, that alot of the "abuse" was behavior that is not uncommon in many relationships today and I did not really understand the seriousness of it. I personally acted out of ignorance rather than malice and thought that she still "knew" that I loved her. I assumed, for example, that she ought to know better than to leave a sink full of dishes or something trivial like that and therefore it was both "normal" and understandable if I fussed her out for it. Oh sure, she was upset at the time, but I figured she had "deserved" it for her "failure" and she would have to "get over it". Her family life had been so loving and peaceful compared to mine that I convinced myself for years that she just had unreasonable expectations. I had an especially difficult temper and although I prided myself in never beating my spouse, I was not above dispensing a particularly cruel tongue-lashing.
In addition, in trying to deal with my past, I had "normalized" the abusive conditions of my past and tried to convince her that all "normal" couples fought and called each other names. I told her that her family was "abnormal" because they never even had an verbal disagreement and never fought. I even went as far as to suggest that they had "crippled" her conflict resolution skills by subjecting her to such an unreachable standard! :rolleyes:
After a short time, she began taking the course of least resistance by feigning compliance and acceptance with everything rather than risk a conflict. She would bury her feelings to avoid the real possibility that her thoughts and feelings would be summarily dismissed with a potentialy angry response.
When it came to the bedroom, I was always looking for new things to "spice it up a little". With little exception, she was willing to acceed to my suggestions to keep me "happy".
All of this seemed "normal" to me and my wife had already reached the point where she had given up trying to communicate her needs.
Things went on like this for about 10-12 years while I went around cluelessly thinking that I had a "happy" and "perfect" marriage!
But you can only keep adding heat to a covered pot for so long before steam starts wisping out under the lid!
It had gotten to the point where realistically she couldn't keep it in any longer. Little by little I began to sense an emotional "cooling" and a distance forming between us. My formerly adoring spouse seemed more and more "bothered" and disatisfied with me. I at first thought that she was fighting back when in floods of pent up frustration she began releasing her pain on me and pointing the finger squarely at me.
I found it inconcievable at first and tried again to discount or dismiss it. However, with time, I began to realize that I needed to give greater attention to being considerate of her feelings. I gave great efforts toward and was able to stop nitpicking and demanding perfection and making accusory remarks. But that was only the tip of the iceberg; I really did not know
all of the things I was doing that caused her grief. I have had a real struggle in determining what things are matters of personal preference and what are really issues; recognizing what parts of my personality I needed to yield to her needs and which I needed to retain to still maintain some control over my own identity.
Unlike you, Blue, my wife has had real struggles with setting boundaries. She has often still repressed her feelings and needs until she explodes and then "puts her foot down" on issues rather than communicating her preferences so that I could modify my actions toward compliance. What she refers to often afterward as "going about it the wrong way'. She goes from the extreme of saying nothing and accepting something as completely "her problem" to setting off the "it's all your fault...I'm not going to take it anymore" bombshell without any communication in between.
I do not (have never) considered my background an excuse; I plead genuine ignorance and a measure of denial in subjecting my beloved to this pain. When I became more aware, I began to modify my behavior. Yet, neither I or my wife realized how deeply-rooted the reasons for my actions were. The progress has been too slow for her at times and she has given way to frustration when she feels that she can still see "evidence" that "nothing has changed". I have sunken into deep despair at times because all of my efforts seemed to be too little too late for her. I sucumbed to frustration when she appeared unable to recognize the amount of effort I was really exerting to improve.
What I did not realize at the time, was that her behavior toward me was triggering all those old childhood pains and insecurities.
This is probably what your husband was dealing with too. As she vented and accused me and told me off, I began to hear all the old words that had been used to hurt me back then. Since I cared how she felt, the suggestions that I "wasn't trying hard enough", "cared only about myself", "was responsible for her suffering", "thought too much of myself"....could not be dismissed as the words of an abuser. It made me feel like the boy who was told that he should be able to do anything and succeed; if I had failed it was because I wasn't really trying. I was told from an early age on that I was responsible somehow for every shortcoming of my younger sister in that I "made her that way" by being jealous of her! My wife's words were painfully familiar and all I could get out of them was that all of the childhood lies were true!
I really was unlovable and it really was all my fault! I ..."had no one else to blame"...but me! I "deserved" to be the object of her righteous wrath because it was my shortcoming that had driven her to it. If I had any behavior to reoccur that reminded her of some past "pattern" of behavior, I was deemed hopeless and wilfull. All I wanted to do was to just die rather than to continue to be seen in the eyes of the one who meant the most to me in life as some kind of unlovable monster. Even then, once in a fit of despondency when I confessed that I had considered taking my own life, the response was that such a course of action was the kind of "coward's" reaction she would have expected. I was crushed:(
In the course of the past few years, the bedroom also became a field for boundaries. After a while, she stopped initiating sex, started wearing frumpish clothes to bed and became more or less an unwilling participant sexually. Eventually, my wife began realizing a need to redefine what she was comfortable with in terms of intimate expression. In its final and present form the only overtly sexual options are hand caresses and genital-genital contact; period.
After trying to get her to change her mind, I reluctantly attempted to operate within these newly unilateral rules. I found this excrutiatingly difficult; especially in the heat of passion. Although sometimes months apart, my failures to comply were met with rage and accusations of being uncaring, selfish, and wilful. I was again reminded that "nothing had changed". Against the backdrop of a strong religious connection; my failure was repeatedly brought to the attention of church counselors and I had to account for my "deviant" behavior. Even if this qualified under the heading of being spiritually necessary, I found it excrutiatingly
embarrasing and demeaning in spite of the atmosphere of genuine "concern". I was greeted with what I must do to comply to her morally justifiable needs but my requests to her to work toward being less "evasive" and at least occasionally initiate intimacy were met with, "You don't understand"... and ..."It's not that easy for me." I was not permitted the same latitude in the context of my inability to 100% dismiss forms of intimate expression that had been acceptable for 15 years with perfect restraint.
Not feeling the "satisfaction" I needed, I mistakenly tried to regain control of my sexuality by becoming involved in heavy browsing of internet porn sites. My wife was at least aware of the practice and examined a sample of pictures I had downloaded into my computer. I approached her on the matter and asked for her feelings. She advised me that it was at least unwise if not potentialy harmful. However, she stated, she was not my Mother and was not going to tell me what to do. However, she consulted with church counselors and concerns were raised for the teenage children in our home. It was suggested that she check my computer for trails of what material I had been viewing while not "tipping" me off since I might hide my tracks. Thinking all was well, I continued browsing for several months. All the while my "dossier" was accumulating condemnatory "evidence" against me.
Meanwhile, I continued to suffer lapses of "restraint" in abstaining from other than the genital-only method. After noticing that my wife's mood indicated that she was concealing something big, I pushed for the answer.
That set off the "bomb"that she was going to leave and to take my kids that weekend if I didn't agree to get counseling for my "addiction". She said I made her do it; she had no choice and it was again all my fault. My repeated violations of her boundaries was treated like a rape and I was told that she had "reason" to be justifiably afraid for her and the children's safety.
I was flatly refused any explanantion because she was already prepared for my "lies" and "justifications". I was forced against my will to submit to a very serious breach of what I consider my right of self determination. I saw this as blackmail and felt a wierd failiar sense of powerlessness again; either submit to psychological counseling.
After a few counseling sessions, my son's "exploratory" experiences with a neighborhood girl were divulged by my wife to a counselor whos response was to demand that all the children be interviewed for counseling as well. I felt that the matter had been resolved between ourselves and the parents and that the situation had been "handled". Since childhood "therapy" was an aspect of and not a protection against the abuses I suffered in childhood, I tried to refuse to agree to this. It was taken as a "sign" that I was trying to conceal something. I was again blackmailed and forced to comply under the threat of having child protection intervene if I continued to resist. I was under suspicion and my wife was at the head of the witch-hunt! In the end, it was proved that my son acted out because the older son of a trusted family had exposed my son by exposing himself and masturbating in his presence when he was only 11 not because my recent porn-browsing and difficulty accepting my wife's new restrictions proved that I was a pedophile!
Meanwhile, I for a while had deleted all pornography from my personal computer but saw no harm in revisiting and browsing sites. After about three months, I noticed another dark cloud hovering over my spouse.
Another bomb; this time I was threatened with being abandoned again and having my kids taken if I did'nt immediately confess and get help with my porn problem.
Once again I was put in a position of powerlessness to determine my own course. Considered too incapable of making my own decisions, I had to be forced to act in the best interest of myself and my family. Once again, I had to divulge details of my private life to half-strangers because someone else demanded it. I complied immediately. As a sign of good-faith I am no longer "allowed" on the internet alone; I have to be logged in and monitored like a child.
Recently, I purchased a classic car after refinancing the house. Since the refinancing underwent a lot of modifications over the 5 month period, I wound up with a car worth less than 1/2 of the original cost that my wife and I had agreed upon when we initiated the loan. I thought to understand that I was allowed to use the credit card to buy parts/accessories/modifications and pay it off gradually over time. I even agreed to pay $200-250 monthly to see this done. My wife held to the conviction that I had "promised" to sell my other car to pay for any purchases over the car's sale price. What I had said was that there was no need to worry about the added balance on the card since, if a need arose (an emergency), the sale of my other car would be sufficient to cover the balance. Over a period of 4 weeks prior to a big car-show I was entered in, she cheerfully made trips and phone calls buying my needed items for the car. When 2 weeks after the show, I asked her to buy 2 additional rear tires to correct for a sizing error I had made earlier, she assumed I had embarked on a non-stop spending spree. In addition, I had now made it clear that I was not going to keep my "promise" to sell my car. So she passed the matter by some respected counselors for approval before she dropped another of her by now famous "bombshells" again !
Again, I had to pry it out of her because she wasn't "ready" yet and once again it turned out that I had to be forced to act in the best interest again. She had decided to take her name off of the joint account credit card and close certain accounts and she was not making any more phone calls or running any more errands for my car; period!
She was supported by the counselors who agreed, based on the "facts" she had supplied, that the economic welfare of the whole family was potentialy threatened by what was seen as my reckless and irresponsible behavior. :rolleyes:
I had to further deal with the knowledge that once again, she had exposed details of my private (financial) life to others to get help making a decision; I can't help but feel demeaned in their eyes as a selfish, Godless, pervert who would sink his family into poverty to follow his childish obsession and had to have his wife put a stop to him AGAIN! The fact is that I have never jeapardized my families'welfare and they have always had what they needed. The facts are further that in addition to years of providing the sole financial support for this household, I invested over $20,000 in pre/non marital assets and another $40,000 valued manual labor over and above the usual husbandly/fatherly duties when I nearly doubled the size of the family home with my own construction. The charges were unfair, unfounded, and thoughtless.
The reason I am telling you all of this Blue, is that my wife also feels that she has been tactful and reasonable and gentle in establishing her own needs and boundaries.
She dismisses the traumatic effects these drastic actions I have mentioned above have had on me with the thought that she did what was necessary and that I only brought these thing upon myself. I think she is only beginning, as am I, to see how much her extreme "solutions" to things have triggered patterns of abuse from my past. (Since I got a new Therapist in July who wasn't up to speed on our prior history, even my T* is only now coming to know of some of these things and has expressed notable concern over violation of trust and other issues here. T* has also indicated that the pedulum of his/hers has to stop swinging and we need to meet each other half way instead of taking turns at each other.)
What I would want her to take to heart and empathize with is how devastating it has been within one year's time to have been actively working on this relationship while having to deal with all of the following:
Threatened with loss of spouse twice
Threatened with loss of children three times
Private intimate matters exposed to outsiders
Blackmailed to seeking counseling through threat if abandonment.
Blackmailed into confessing percieved (5month) "porn" addiction in spite of any prior history.
Submission to restricted internet access by turning passwords & e-mail over to spouse;
spouse has to log-on to enable.
Reversal of initial encouragement to pursue enjoyable hobby by spousal enactment "non support" policy.
Joint-decision making status in household financial decisions/spending revoked. Wife permitted to take any action without my consultation or agreement if she "feels" it is in the greater best interest.
Repeatedly told (in anger) "there's something wrong with you", "you need help", "(you)this is not normal!" "It's not just me! Others have noticed it too." "That's your problem; you just don't care!" "It just proves that you don't care", "You brought this on yourself!" "Who's fault is that?" "I'm sorry if this hurts but it's what I had to do"...
What I am hoping my T* will be able to help my wife to see, Blue, is that we are both going to have to work on is setting boundaries together and communicating our needs in the process. I agree with Jeremy when he says that our background is no excuse to run roughshod over others. However, I am hoping that my T* will be able to guide my wife to an understanding that even those without a history of abuse would have a hard time dealing with the "roughshod" way that she has pursued her own needs after supressing them for many years. It is not fair to suggest that it's just my PTSD that's causing me to "take it all wrong". I cannot help how her severe actions make me feel emotionally. I had no idea why I was acting out the way I was or that I have not dealt with it until now. I'm not asking for dismissal of my problems as a result of SA or PTSD but to illustrate, I don't want another counselor (from church/ not T*) for example getting "irritated" when I explain that I cannot help my son by talking to him about my own SA experiences. I need to be believed , in light of the SA and PTSD, that I know that a potential "reversed role" SA encounter by discussing the past with him would be potentially triggering and I cannot do that yet. Instead I get the suggestion that I just don't care enough about him. I am asking my wife to understand my phobias and actions in the context of a survivor and not add to the trauma.
I feel it would be wrong for any spouse Blue to stop looking further than SA or PTSD to blame for a former victim's response to marital problems. I sense my wife's numbness too and it makes me question why I want to continue to put either one of us through any more. I can only supress myself so much to meet all of her ever inceasing needs and added boundaries without feeling like I'm losing myself. I am having a difficult time with all of the forceful and intrusive controls that have been and are being exerted. It is recreating the drowning feeling I had with my "beloved" abusers when I was a kid. Every aspect of my personality was open to criticism and often verbally and physically violent forces to change them to conform with the wishes of the abusers.
You may have entirely different motives, Blue, with your setting boundaries in your relationship, but if your husband is an SA survivor and suffering PTSD, he may not be able to reason away his feelings. In my case, my wife is dealing with PTSD issues as well because of the trauma that my acting out has subjected her to. Her traditional way of handling this is to supress out of love for me until she can't take any more and then counter with the opposite extreme to attempt to "balance" things.
When we brought the money thing up before the T*, the T* agreed that it was just as wrong for my wife to just bomb me with a unilateral decision as it would have been if the roles had been reversed and I had done it; (The old two wrongs don't make a right idea.) She will have to avoid the risk of a "now it's my turn (to be wrong?) approach to handling things by going to extremes just to make her point. We are both going to have to grow and make a recovery and that means that both of us are having to let go of comfortable cherished but inappropriate/damaging ways of handling marital issues. She will have stop ignoring making her own changes and adjustments and focusing strictly on mine. My PTSD and SA are not proof that the "whole problem" with our marriage is me. She will have to realize that we can each do much to contribute to or hinder the progress of each others recovery.
I can believe there are times that your husband would like to chuck it all and run away; me too. It is more difficult to work on recovery when your relationship is adding seemingly insatiable demands on you at the same time. (But if you force him to take some time alone, you will have suceeded in triggering the abandonment issue. So if he decides that he needs to check into a treatment facility that's different than if you leave him to give him "space".) It will not be helpful to your husband if you were to zero in always on the negatives;the times when you say you "note improvement and then ..." I find when my wife does this, it actually generates feelings of hurt (for a lack of acknowledgment for the sucessful efforts) and anger (due to the hopelessness that come from constantly being "slapped" with the reminder that I haven't "suceeded" yet, coupled with the accusation that this proves that I just dont care/am not trying hard enough.
You have a difficult road ahead with your husband and your recoveries as have I with my spouse and our recoveries. Remember, communication is still the best key to progress. Not just "comunication" to validate your own feelings/conclusions/concerns but be willing to really "listen". Learn to assert your "boundries" in more progressive non-"threatening" ways. Just because you have a "right" doesn't mean that the best or only way to express that right is a direct frontal attack. Ask yourself, if the roles were reversed, would you consider what you are about to do "abusive" if he did it to you? How would you rather that he got his point across?
I wish I had easy answers for you, but the more I learn about these things at 40, the more I realize I will likely still not understand if I live to see 80! The human mind is a far more complicated thing than shortlived mankind can figure out in it accumulations of observations for people who have personally only observed it 80-100 years at a time!
I wish you contentment on your journey!