Dave and I through the years have both struggled with the question –Should I stay? Should I Go?
There have been a few critical pieces that contributed to us staying together, 1) our Christian faith and values 2) engaging in couple’s therapy and 3) engaging in individual therapy. By engagement I mean taking to heart what we learned about ourselves, each other and our relationship style; applying strategies; taking risks to do new things; bottom line–doing the hard work to change things for the better.
I just wish we got help sooner. By waiting until we desperately needed help, our marriage had deteriorated to the point where we were critical, resentful, and hostile toward each other.
I had become so fearful of bringing difficult subjects to Dave, fearful of voicing concerns that I developed a style of holding things in until I couldn’t anymore. By the time I spoke up–all my hurts and resentment built up and I expressed it to Dave in very negative ways and the outcome wasn’t good.
I held things in because I feared triggering an attempt or another type of scary coping strategy from him. But my own coping style of not speaking directly, of giving hints—left him to guess what was wrong and increased his anxiety. He also held things in to avoid conflict and would act things out like slamming cabinet doors, burning out as he drove angrily away, not talking to me, and saying things under his breath. Both of our styles of handling our hurt feelings or concerns about the other person was getting us what we didn’t want—escalated anxiety, confusion, hurt, frustration, and other negative feelings.
Dave and I went through stages. In the honeymoon stage everything was going well, and we didn’t want to say anything to set the negative interactions into motion. But because we didn’t say anything tension built up (tension stage), leading to our negative interactions/ deterioration stage , which would lead to an attempt, or other negative coping strategy. I would placate him, shower him with attention, then everything smoothed out. The cycle would start all over again.
Years into our marriage–there was no honeymoon stage. There was just the tension stage—we coexisted in the tension stage where I had a constant lump in my throat, and walked on eggshells as I didn’t want to do anything to tip him.
Ultimately it took Dave’s first attempt for us to realize that we needed help. That we needed couple’s therapy.
We needed an objective third party, a therapist, to help us communicate, help us develop healthier coping strategies; help us gain insight into why we did what we did, why we felt what we felt. Our therapist skillfully handled the fragile state we were in, helped us decrease defensiveness, balanced the sharing, and helped each of us to hear the other person’s experience/perspective.
I learned that Dave holding the suicide card—off set the balance of power his way. Throwing the suicide card down—silenced me. And then I would try to make everything better, to placate him, to try to convince him to stay with me. This may have been subtly reinforcing his attempt behavior because I was now showering him with positive attention and care that he longed for.
We learned that we had developed a very dysfunctional interactional dance.
With the help of 6+ years of couple’s therapy–6+ years because we were really entrenched in our ways and both fearful and cautious of trying out new behavior; and we both had a lot of baggage to work through that we brought into the marriage–I can say that today, we are in a much better, hopeful place. And we couldn’t have reached this place without professional help.
The individual therapy piece helped me to process some of my own self-esteem, self-growth issues that have helped to make me a better individual, which helps me to be a better partner.
Looking back I can say that therapy was a challenging road. Dave and I had to face difficult things as a couple and as individuals. But it has been an awesome journey.
6+ years later after starting therapy and one-and-a-half years after his last attempt, my fears have decreased as Dave has been increasingly growing through individual therapy. Dave and I are finally feeling more secure and happy. Beth said recently, “we’re a happy family now aren’t we.” I smiled. “We are, aren’t we.”
Note: This post was drafted on December 13, 2012. Revisions completed today.
Each person’s situation is unique, this post is one snapshot of my 6+ years of couples therapy. Not all of the nuances, dynamics, therapist interventions could be captured in this one post. If you need help about your situation meet with a mental health professional in your area. If you’re in a crisis call the crisis hotline (National 1-800-784-2433/1-800-273-8255) or call 911.
I share my experiences but my way is not THE way. It’s what worked for me/us. Having an understanding/empathetic therapist, supportive/encouraging friends, and a strong church group has gotten me through the toughest times.