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The Thick Of Things. Insight Needed!

If this post is long and tedious, well it reflects an experience that was long and tedious. I don't usually talk about the day to day but I am really interested to get an outside perspective on this snapshot of a long term marriage, entirely sexless for over 2 years. I'm feeling the need to think it through to hopefully understand things better.

It happened on halloween. I was having a good day, feeling good about things. Then I got bad news about a project I've been working on for a year. I felt really frustrated about it and vented my feelings to H. 

We then had to run an errand together. On the way back in the car, I was quiet, thinking about how to best approach the problem with my project. My H breaks the silence by saying "wow you sure have had a mood swing today. This morning you were happy but now you are really grumpy". I say that I'm thinking about how to solve the issue.

A little later I notice I'm feeling anxious and think Its because of the project. So I go sit outside in the sun to breathe and try to let go of any anxiety. As I sit in the quiet, I realize that it's not the project that is bothering me. It's his comment about the mood swing. I felt it really lacked understanding, and it hurt. Another hurt on top of years of hurt. Small, maybe, but enough is enough.

So, in my new effort to always speak my truth, I decide to let him know how i feel. Little did I know what I was starting... It has been so long since I stood for myself...

I say "I want to share with you my feeling about what you said earlier. I know to you it might have felt like an off-hand comment, but when you said that I was having a mood swing I felt really unsupported. What I would really like from my partner if they can see me struggling with something is a kind word, an offer of understanding. If you don't feel you can offer that I would have preferred you just didn't say anything at all."

He is immediately defensive. Turns his back on me, and says with his back turned, walking away and out the door "I'm sorry for whatever I said that offended you".

I guess he thought that was that. But I thought about it and you know what? That was no apology. He didn't even give me the respect of looking into my face. Accepting that as an apology means I am accepting being treated without respect. So...

For the first time in a long time I decided to not let this lie. I went after him (he had retreated to his office) and this is when the fun really began.

I say "I don't really feel like that was a real apology. When you don't feel the apology in your heart I don't feel it either. Your back was turned to me and I don't feel listened to."

So then I he goes on:
- I'm sorry but you are so sensitive
- I'm sorry but you are so grumpy today
- I'm sorry but you are volatile
(I didn't accept any of this. I said that I am a reasonable person.)
- he starts getting really frustrated and is now yelling. I am calm.
- omg why are you so crazy!!???!
(I say I am certainly not crazy. You don't get to call me names. He says "I never called you crazy! I said this is crazy." I said "you don't get to just deny what you said one second ago. If you had said this situation is crazy, I would have agreed with you. It is crazy!" he says ok but doesn't apologize for calling me crazy.)

He goes on...
- ok I'm sorry for anything I said that made you upset
(this didn't feel genuine either. Especially when being yelled into my face.)
- omg it was just a grammatical mistake why are you so picky
- I'm so supportive of you in general why are you bringing this up?
(I say yes, you are supportive in so many ways and I appreciate that about you, but that doesn't mean I have to accept other comments or actions that don't feel supportive.)
- omg you are making me yell
- you are going to make me cry
- what the hell do you want
- I might as well just die might have a heart attack
( this really shocked me. What? You would rather have a heart attack than just apologize? At this point things were just blown way out of proportion. I felt like I was in a bizarre pantomime.)
- I've apologized 50 times and you won't accept it what do you want?!!

He storms off to the bedroom and hides under the covers. I give him a while to cool down.

Then I go in and say "look schools nearly out, we've got Halloween in two hours, I would really like to resolve this before our child gets home so we can have a nice afternoon. But if you don't feel like you can then that's ok too." We try to talk and we are calmer but we are still not connecting. 

I ask him if he would speak like that to anyone else (tell them they are having a mood swing). (I have never heard him do so). He says yeah he would. I don't buy it.

He says he is not going trick or treating. I say no way are you missing this family moment to stay at home and sulk over this. He says he feels terrible. I say no way. I say that this situation shows we really need to build a new way of communicating as i really want to understand him and i really want him to understand me. 

He continues to sulk while I get the kids ready.

For me the sulking really sucked. I just felt exhausted, and had to go to the bathroom for a few minutes to breathe and pull myself together for the kids. 

We went trick or treating and were both exhausted. He warmed up after a while and finally he said to me quietly - I really want things to be better with us. Which was nice. But omg we have a long way to go!!! We enjoyed the night for the most part.

I just don't want to accept anymore that I am volatile / demanding or whatever just because I want my voice to be heard. Now I remember why I gave up mentioning issues years ago. It just doesn't feel worth it to go through all that hoo ha over something so small!! But if anything this makes me feel even more determined not to let things slide anymore. How come he gets to call me all those negative things during the argument? I never call him anything at all. 

It seemed like he was just escalating things further and further to try to get me to back down and just accept the situation? Or am I really crazy? Help! 
Greenwings Greenwings 31-35, F 12 Responses Nov 1, 2012

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I am inclined to agree with Petrushka. You might have handled it better. If you are being kicked by life and someone (anyone) is in no position to help, sitting on their chest wringing out "support" from their clammy fingers is hardly the way to go about it. Be stronger alone. I should know. I have been in your position, kicked around by life and not finding any support in my wife. I treated myself to get better and stronger as an individual.

You are not crazy.

Oh, and really, if he wants to sulk and make a big deal of it, let him. You are not responsible for making him "put on a happy face" for the kids.

Point of fact, once I gave up ensuring H was always happy, I had much more quality time with my kids WITHOUT him, and WITHOUT so much tension. He gets to sulk at home, you get to spend time with the kids. Win-win.

Hmm yeah I guess that's true, it's not my responsibility to make the happy face happen. And in some way, though I meant well, "making" him do anything at all is probably not a good idea. It's probably just a good way to set myself up for resentment.

In other words - "Pick your battles carefully".

I know nothing about you, your husband, your history. I'm just going at this from a Paul Watzlawick/R.D.Laing communication analyzing angle.<br />
<br />
He makes an inappropriate statement: re: moodswing. So he doesn't connect your mood with your venting earlier. <br />
<br />
You - nothing.<br />
You - some time later, decide to pull him up over his infringement. You chastise him and label his comment as unsupportive and demand understanding from him.<br />
<br />
*** interjection from me: you had the chance, when he made that inappropriate comment, to set him right. You could've told him that your bad mood (or your apparent absence due to deep concentration) was related to what you had told him earlier. In fact his comment may have been an attempt to inquire if you _needed_ support.I'm not saying it was, but I'm saying that that's how some people would fr<x>ame it - badly.His comment certainly did not SOUND supportive, but he may have been looking/asking for understanding.***<br />
<br />
So now, by labelling him as unsupportive, you've basically taken his options away from him. Because he did not understand the situation correctly in the first place, he's confused now. He tries to pacify you with a general apology and leaves because he feels attacked, doesn't know what for, and tries to flee. <br />
<br />
You follow and demand a better apology ...<br />
... the rest is predictable. <br />
And that's how it played out. I dare say by the time your husband was hiding under the covers he was feeling that you're as crazy making as you see him.<br />
<br />
*** you(plural) had several chances to turn this around. <br />
When he made that initial comment you might've filled him in: I'm in a different mood because this problem has come up and it's one big problem as I told you ; that's why my mood changed significantly. I'm disgruntled over this.<br />
<br />
He might've fr<x>amed his statement about your mood as a question to be more supportive: "you seem to be in a very different mood now from this morning, why is that, can I do anything?" (not making assertions about your feelings, and asking for understanding/background info)<br />
<br />
One thing I note is you slap labels on each other that rob the other person of their validity and autonomy. "You are grumpy. You are unsupportive. You are volatile. Your apology was not sincere." <br />
All of these serve to rob the other person of the opportunity to react in a genuine, open, and friendly way. <br />
They are certain to cause strife and anger.<br />
<br />
I personally get really grumpy if somebody tells me what I feel, or what I mean. The only thing that they can say with validity is what they hear and how that makes them feel. NOBODY tells me what I feel. I damn well know already! <br />
You call mi a LIAR after I just opened myself up and told you my innermost feelings by contending I feel something else or I'm misrepresenting myself? <br />
Whoa!<br />
Also: I am the judge of what I REALLY meant when I said such and such, even if I may have used the wrong words or grammar. To deny me that much of a benefit of a doubt is invalidating me as a person.<br />
<br />
And my take is that that's what the two of you are doing to each other. Driving each other crazy - merely from an analysis of the flow of mis-communication as you describe it in your story. <br />
I have on various occasions resolved a fracas with my wife by expounding this and asking that each explains what they thought they heard the other person say. It can be astonishing what happens to your words between leaving your lips and arriving at the other person's auditory cortex. Nobody is proof against this, but bad communication style can sure make this in to a disaster area.<br />
<br />
The vexing thing is: he MAY be a/p -- I wouldn't know from this scene. He may indeed be misrepresenting his intentions and feelings, like some controlling people do. I guess if I read other stories by you I might have more of a feeling about that.<br />
For all I know you may be a/p for insisting that he conform to something that he didn't understand the rules of (here: apologizing in a way that made you feel it's genuine - but more generally: keeping people in the dark about rules and expectations and then going off at them for not conforming). Also a common tool in the a/p repertoire.<br />
All possibilities are open in that respect and I sure won't call it ba<x>sed on this story.<br />
<br />
Sending the both you you a warm and consoling hug, -P.

To add to this, I found it helped improve my performance to regard W as an alien - because familiarity leads to presumption about what the other person says or means. If you question what you are ascribing to them, and their motivation (which is most likely unknowable even to themselves) - then it can prevent miscommunication.

What Petrushka said. That is what I meant, but I was not smart enough. When we are pent up with emotion and seek to "Win" or to "Get Justice" we have to attack. But then no one is listening or connecting.

When this happens I have tried to think over and over again "What is my objective here?" If it is to hurt the other one, or win the argument (ie back them down) then my objective is wrong. Understand that no one in this situation will ever say -- not even a saint -- "You're right, I am an inept jerk, please teach me to be a human being like you are."

Ha love it! Thanks for some food for thought. It's great to get another angle on things very useful. We both describe talking to the other like talking against a brick wall. I see now that while I was so busy trying to honor my feelings I wasn't really allowing him to express his.

Wow it seems like we have pretty poor communication skills :(

We don't get into these communication traps in a vacuum; they don't happen overnight. Picking through the message minefield takes effort and goodwill on both sides. And if only one partner is going to make the effort, then the other partner gets to sit back like a petty potentate and be "understood," continuing the imbalance.

I've never bought into the just-so notion that the problem was only communication. Because in the SM, it's mainly about will and empathy. And I wouldn't beat yourself up about communications skills, it helps to improve them to be sure, yet real communication (leading to understanding in your bones) is formidably hard - if you think about how complex our feeilngs and motivations are - and often they're not even known or expressible to ourselves!

Agh sometimes I feel like its one step forward two steps back. I'm on the road to learning how to be me again after disappearing into the walls. So I'm starting to speak my feelings again - even just starting to have feelings. The idea that every time I bring up feelings I'm going to have to go through that again is just defeating. Am I going to be able to find a way of being, of speaking, that will enable him to speak back in a balanced way?

I don't know where to begin. I would have thought couples therapy would help, but he says his therapist says it would be counter productive? What does that even mean? His therapist is not the one having to get into this cold bed every night.

So what are you doing by way of practicing good communication skills outside of the spousal relationship?

As was mentioned above, the problem is not communication. The problem is love, empathy, and objectives. It just happens that these conflicting objectives manifest themselves in the communication -- in the fights.

By yourself, consider what YOUR OBJECTIVES are, and then do your best to never do anything that is counter productive.

If I had to guess, I would say your objective is to have a loving, mutually supportive marriage with someone with similar objectives. Healthy, hot sex is probably not the objective, but a side benefit of the real objective.

So, you have to remember that arguing, sarcasm, getting even , or punishment are not consistent with your objectives. AND this is difficult or for some even impossible when a sarcastic spouse is deliberately pressing your buttons and being a jerk to you.

But you have to develop a habit of whenever your blood starts to boil to think: "What is my Objective?" Then act accordingly.

In the end, this will help you to PERSUADE your spouse to genuinely consider his objectives and act accordingly. NOBODY really wants to be a Jerk, have no intimacy, and destroy a marriage. They only do these things trying to accomplish short term goals they have never really considered and have no way to change unless they become at least a little introspective.

Again, none of this can be worked on in the middle of a fight. It has to be worked on well after the fight when everyone is calm. And when everyone is calm, you (the leader here like it or not) have to make sure you both stay calm. No sarcasm, no hurt, just calm explanation of your objectives. Once he understands that your objectives are consistent with his -- if they are, he will begin to operate consistently with them. If they are not, then you have other problems.

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There's a reason why they call passive-aggressive tactics 'crazy-making behaviour'. If you were in a normal relationship here's how it might have panned out.

Him: "You seem a bit down and you were so happy this morning, what's up?"
Him: same mood swing comment he made, you accept it as just a poorly phrased and tell him what's wrong.

Instead you ended up nursing resentment and then hectoring him. My husband makes at least one but usually more passive-aggressive jibes at me every day. It's shaken my confidence. Occasionally I say something, but usually I don't. I just go into avoidance mode.

I don't blame you for snapping. This kind of behaviour is corrosive. His non-apologies are infuriating. These are the kind of responses you get from faceless institutions who will do anything to deflect blame. My husband will not accept responsibility for anything - even things which are obviously his fault, but not that big a deal.

Elk, this is a very valuable observation - I found it works much better to react immediately to issues rather than build resentment. I think you did well in the phrasing (the good old I-feel etc), yet the impact can be much bigger if it's immediate and proportionate. If you can get to a place where you do not react to the way he reacts, and you judge "success" by reacting appropriately yourself not his reaction, that can be helpful. I also like a judo type of approach with things like asking questions or for clarification. Or even a physical signal like a raised eyebrow. But it's not you, his reaction was poor and lacking in empathy and seeking to put you down (the mood-swing thing would be a red flag for me for example).

Ok, so in general it's better to react right away, in a calm way, focusing on my own responses, and without an agenda of righteousness... I'm not so good at the immediate reactions after years of not reacting at all and just allowing the snide comments, but I'm sure I'll get better at this. Probably persuing him was pointless.

It was pointless, because in HIS head he's done nothing wrong. I'm not sure how aware PAs are of their behaviour (sometimes the defo are, sometimes not). And by the time he's stewed on it a bit, YOU become the unreasonable one in his head.

I totally hear you about not being able to react quickly because you're used to letting it slide. We train ourselves into numbness. I'm not sure what the answer is, as I can only provide my observations from my very similar situation. The only time we've made any progress was after one counselling session. I did the old 'raised eyebrow' thing and he actually realised. Since then if I call him on stuff it becomes a massive fight. He's not passive aggressive in the face of complaint, he just becomes aggressive/aggressive.

When we are in a sexless relationship we all to often put with so much hurt and build up so much un recognized anger and when something triggers it and then everything is a problem. We fight over the small stuff as well.

Your voice needs to be heard by him.

His needs to be heard from you.

Sounds like he does not want to hear yours. He needs to be told that.

I would tell him that he decided to throw your feelings under the bus when you approached him about it! If he does not have anything good for you to say then he is just best to say nothing at all.

You really don't need his input if it is not supportive.

It's not time to deal with what he feels and he should know that as well. If he has something he wants to add to the mix then it can wait for a different conversation.

I hope for your sake he is not passive aggressive. They will turn things around on you so quickly that your feelings end up in the trash and you both will be arguing about what he wants to bring up.

Tough deal and it will get a lot harder.

Can you see a therapist? If so run that course for yourself. Good luck!

Thank you for your support :) I have been taking a break from therapy but am considering going back. Have been reading books and posts here instead. Honestly I've learned probably more here than from therapy lol!

Well good for you! This site does have a lot to offer. I am a solid believer in a good psychologist as well. To learn how and why we become who we are is so valuable.

Keep doing yourself the favor of taking care of you, does not sound like your H is willing to participate in it so much.

Yeah, am starting to think, after this argument in particular, that I'm going to have to haul myself back to that ol couch... In the least it will help me stay focused on my own progress in moving forward. Might also show him I'm serious about things changing around here.

Yes and good for you!

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Thankyou to everyone taking the time to respond you guys are awesome!

Wow, did I marry his sister?
...My wife used to slap labels on me like she was about to mail me to Timbuktu. She would have labeled my change in mood a "mood-swing," also, and had no clue what caused it...
I get exhausted more easily than you, I guess...I find it amazing now that we've separated that exchanging more than a few words with her can exhaust me to the point of going to bed for hours. We're stuck living together due to finances, and I hate it.

Wow that sounds really hard. Yeah the label thing really sucks I hope that now that I am questioning the labels that H will reduce the use of them. I'm rocking this row boat!

I heard no apology at all in his comments. They are all of the "I'm sorry you're an idiot" non-apology. You feel that he does not hear you. You could, without paying a couples' therapist, jointly embark on exercises in reflective listening (alternate search term: Rogerian listening). It's a Kabuki-style verbal dance that requires each party to the conversation to first paraphrase what the other person has said. Only if the paraphrased content is accurate does the person get to respond to it. Just agreeing to practice such deliberate conversation, however, would require an mutual act of good will and the patience to agree on the messages being sent back and forth.

As a sidebar, I met my H while we both were training for a profession in which such a skill would be mandatory. Ironically, he holds great disdain for this kind of conversation. He's employed in a completely different field--go figure.

Hmm interesting have not heard about that listening technique I like the idea of it. Is the idea to do it when disagreeing or all the time ?

Language is so malleable, we often speak the same words but mean different things. It's always a good idea to check in on what another person means by what they say, particularly if it seems questionable. But in the midst of our SMs, we are so turned and twisted that it's all emotion-laden. Try it out on something small and see how he reacts. I see you've been in therapy. Think about your sessions--I'm willing to bet that you've experienced it there.

Ok I like this idea, it gives me some place to start because I can try it out on something small, like you said. The emotion laden thing is right on. Even when I try to respond in a neutral way it's so hard to avoid the emotion in my tone of voice :( there are just so many years and layers of hurt. It's especially hard that he doesn't yet understand or recognize that there even are years of hurt! Ha! So what if I've rejected you for years? Omg.... Whatever lies ahead it ain't going to be easy....

And yes I've been to years of therapy! I am a therapy veteran. And self help book expert. How many times have I tried to fix myself over the past 15 years? Only this year have I realized the problem is not just me....

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Greenwings, I am going to take a different tack on this than bassar. After the initial foolish comment your husband made, was there any way he was going to get out of that without a significant argument? Only you can say.

I noticed that after the initial incident you ruminated over it for a while and forced the issue on him. I am not saying he is right -- he may be a selfish child, but forcing him to apologize does not seem particularly productive either.

You sound like you were defending yourself from an from a perceived injustice. But is seems like a very small injustice. Sometimes we have to take some ****.

The touted benefits of arguing are overrated. Let it out lest it build up. Arguing -- especially constant arguing -- is like putting a relationship in a grinder. It just tears it up. It puts both parties on egg shells and that is nowhere for a relationship.

Maybe try overlooking the offense next time. It may keep your blood pressure in check.

Thanks for presenting the other side, I totally understand what you are saying. Actually I would usually let it slide, and have let much bigger stuff slide. I guess this time I wanted to say what I thought for a change.

So it was the first argument we have had of this kind for some many months. I agree about arguing - it is exhausting and consuming - and having grown up with plenty of it I do my best to avoid it.

All the same, should I have let this go? Maybe so. It was an offhand comment, thoughtless but not malicious.

Sister G, I don't know you, you don't know me. So I've got no axe to grind, and no reason to lie to you.

What I am hearing in theses exchanges is blame deflecting, avoidance, and petulance when pinned down and attempted manipulation.
What I am hearing is classic passive aggression.
What I am hearing is a story of an entirely self centered person.

Dysfunctional marriages **** with your head. Get you thinking weird ****. Get you making uninformed choices.

But it seems you are coming out of the fog and starting to see things as they are. This is a good thing.
Even better if you start making choice(s) based on observable fact - not promises or hope.
INFORMED choice is your ticket to a greatly enhanced future life. Finding your truth(s) and choosing accordingly will carry you there.
Your marriage might survive the journey, it might not. The truth will determine that.

YOU AIN'T CRAZY !!!!!!

Tread your own path.

Baz - thankyou! That's what I was thinking too. I just read a book on PA which was totally awesome and helped to lift the fog. That's what helped me stay calm while his antics just got crazier. Now he's being all nice but no apology, no discussion of the argument. I feel like he wants to get forget it and pretend like it didn't happen. I'm not going to forget it and I'm not going to let him scare me into staying quiet any more.

Thing is, he is refusing to go to couples therapy. He is going to his own therapist, which seems to be great for him, but he thinks we can work out our issues by having more fun. I'm like ???? That is not going to be nearly enough. So I've been focusing on just getting my own **** together. Not sure how to fix a marriage on my own lol. And the months sneak by. And no real intimacy. Any closeness is just so awkward now. I know he is terrified of the marriage ending, but I don't think he sees how close it is to ending, or conversely, how much would have to change for it to work...

Personal opinion. I'd forget couples therapy altogether. He is obviously not invested in any joint resolvement of the situation and would likely just use said therapy to **** about and waste your time.
However, some individual counselling for YOU could be extremely valuable for YOU to help you gather information, and thus make informed choices.

Nope, not crazy. It's all about power and how insane some people get trying to have all of it.

Thankyou redwaterlady :) these conversations have done my head in over the years.