The following account is my experience and in no way reflects the right way to do things. It was inspired by a comment Nia made to my New Hope post.
When Dave and I got married I too thought that his suicidal ideation would stop, since he was promising to be with me forever. He even sang “I Will Be Here” during the ceremony with the line “Tomorrow morning when you wake up and the sun does not appear, I will be here.” I convinced myself that lyric line was true but I was in denial and I minimized our problems.
When I disagreed with him or confronted him about issues with chores or how he was hurting me, he pivoted the conversation so that I was now the issue.
In 1996, after his first “serious” attempt, Dave and I went full-time into couples therapy. We were very fortunate to have a therapist who was able to balance the conversations in our couples sessions and bring my voice out, otherwise my voice would probably have remained silenced and I would have allowed Dave to paint me as a mean, nagging, unsupportive wife. We were married about 11 years and I dated him for 4 years prior to that–so we developed and were fully entrenched in a dysfunctional dance. I would raise a problem and he would become silent. If I pushed, he would say that he was now going to be the new unfeeling Dave. Which despairingly I would beg him not to. He would be this robot of a man for a few days. And my heart would ache and I would feel so helpless and hopeless.
Some days Dave would get so angry that he would shout “F— you Kate.” And this stung hard because he never said the F— word to anyone. He never says the F word period. I would think “what’s so bad about me that I could make him say that.”
I had many distortions about myself that developed over the years of living with Dave. He projected a lot onto me. I took his projections and believed that I was all of things he said.
It took the guidance of a therapist to help us work out of the dysfunctional dance that we were stuck in. Intermittent individual sessions helped too. And after his second attempt I decided that I needed regular appointments of individual therapy—because I needed the support.
There were times I felt like walking out. And I eventually learned with the support of therapy that I had to take a stand with him, when he was not suicidal, and voice that I could not go through that again. When he attempted the second time, and after my own individual work—I put a line in the sand and said, “I love you. I want to be with you. But you need to go to individual therapy or we need to separate.” This was not an easy decision/stand for me to make. This stance was taken when I felt ready to live on my own two feet without him and I really felt that I could not go through it again.
Throughout our therapy experience one thing I think that really made a difference was that we were very fortunate to have a therapist who never shamed Dave about his suicidal ideation. He allowed Dave to share his experience and what led him to develop his suicidal thoughts (childhood development of the problem) and what led him to suicidal thoughts/attempts in the present. This allowed Dave the space to feel heard, validate his experience and at the same time work on changing his style of handling challenges in his life. (I could not take that same kind of empathetic stance with him. I didn’t understand why he did what he did.) Our therapist also was able to help us talk through the traumatic attempts at our pace. At each session our therapist helped us to both feel heard, non-judged and accepted.
It’s taken a lot of work for us to get to this place of hope. And for Dave and I it was worth it. We both worked on our part of the dysfunctional dance.