Monday, April 26, 2010

Marriage Counseling

DH just texted me that he has the name of a local psychologist who can provide us with marriage counseling. I have to admit I am a little scared - that our confidentiality will be breached in our little town, that when people find out they will think we're on the brink of divorce (we're really not - this is a very proactive step, as things fortunately have not gotten ugly thus far), that the psychologist will hate me for being an atheist, and if it ever comes up that it will quickly get around town, that it won't be worth the money, that the therapist will be podunk and dr.phil-like... perhaps many of the usual things we fret about when meeting a new therapist.

Why now? I know we're in Survival Mode (with a 6.5 mo old girl and a 2.5 year old boy).. but the thing is, we need more of a structure to our conversations, and a scheduled time to truly work on things. Instead of me going through what I feel the issues are, I'm just going to copy and paste some emails between me & DH from this morning (one upside to anonny-blogging?). Oh boy....

Email from DH to me this morning:

You asked me in the last email why I was upset and not seeming like I gave shit. Rather than hold things in and be passive aggressive, I'm going to try and be more direct.

I feel last night was an example of why, at times, I feel like I'm alone in our marraige.

Between 5:00 and 10:00 pm last night, when DS was awake until he fell asleep, here is what I did:

- Cooked dinner
- Cleaned the majority of the dishes (you did put the detergent in the dishwasher)
- Showered with the kids
- Cleaned and dressed DS
- Played with DS
- Booked flights
- Made dinner reservations
- Starting booking rental property
- Took DS in bed and took an hour to get him asleep

During this same time you did:

- Dress DD
- Hold both children, mainly DD, while watching about 5 hours of TV (including TV watched while I cooked).

This is not meant to be a "scoreboard" to see who's a better spouse/parent etc. But it illustrates my frustration at times when I get home and I don't feel our marraige is a partnership. I loved it yesterday when you came out and helped me pull weeds. We had time together, we talked, it actually meant a lot to me. (I'm actually crying right now as I write this email to you thinking about us to illustrate my sincerity).

When I have to ask you several times to turn off the TV to eat dinner with me, that really hurts my feelings. When the opportunity presents itself, both kids asleep and/or playing, and you choose to watch TV or read on the internet, it makes me feel like I'm not very important to you.

I empathize that there are times when we both need "me time" but I just want to feel like I matter to you. You'll find that my mood improves greatly the more I feel like you want to be a partner with me. Whether we like it or not, as parents, there are daily responsibilities that we need to take care of EVERYday: walking dogs, feeding dogs, cooking/buying dinner, cleaning the dishes, making bottles, getting the kids asleep.

Email from me to DH this morning:

I'm flabbergasted.

What do you do when your spouse insists that you in fact did only 2 things in a 5 hour period, and totally ignores and minimizes at least 15 other daily chores you did after he went to bed that he routinely takes for granted? And then uses that as a bizarre rationalization for his unexplained bad behavior for the last 2 weeks, including his 5-day vacation with his buddies?

Do you respond by cataloguing the things you did? Or do you just stop doing them until he finally gets it?

What is your issue with saying you "help" in your own home? Do you get how patronizing and inaccurate that is? And why are you so obsessed with who does what around here anyway? Why do you feel the need to control and micromanage these things that don't even matter in the grand scheme of things? It is as though there is a part of you deep down that gets off on discrediting what I do.

I just don't know what to do with you anymore. You are really not getting it.

God, I hate how cold I sounded! DH really is a wonderful husband - sometimes a r'tard and sometimes unbelievably selfish, but mostly really, really good. I think this is worth working on.

Any words of wisdom for us?


Jac said...

I think it's great that you are going to marriage counselling and you are both on board with that. That really shows that both your hearts are in the right place.

Marriage is SOOOO hard sometimes.
At one point, when we were in the trenches with a newborn DS, we had a really difficult conversation where we just agreed that we didn't like each other very much, neither of us thought the other was pulling their weight. And we simply couldn't see eye-to-eye on it. Our resolution was just to accept that as part of the deal with a newborn, to give it 6 months, and then re-evalute to see if we liked each other any better in 6 months. And we did. And the years since then, though decidely full of ups and downs, have on the whole been the best of our marriage.

Truly, every time we've gone through a real downer spot in our marriage, it seems like we've come out a lot stronger on the other side. And, although we are both (cafeteria) Catholics, we don't actually believe that marriage is forever. It's a constant evaluation - which means it is constant effort - first you decide that it is worthwhile, than you decide what you are going to do to make it contiue. Like all good things worth having, it doesn't come easy.

I think you are really brave posting about this - even if it's anonymous. I never told anyone on those couple of occasions when my marriage was really suffering. What's really funny - despite everything that I've just typed, DH and I have a great marriage over all - we're a real partnership, we're friends who make each other life, we're physically attracted to each other, and we have shared values and a vision for our future. We really like and admire each other. So if our marriage has suffered on occasion as it has, I can't help but feel that everyone goes through these trenches sometimes, and the trick is just to recognize when you are in there and then try to get to the other side together. It can be easier to pretend that the nastiness doesn't exist and to just let the status quo continue until the love shrivels up and dies, but it's so much more helpful to face it head on when the love is there to find bridges over the the difficulties.

nej said...

What @Jac said.

The first six months of both of our children's lives have almost annihilated our marriage. Luckily, we recognized early on in baby #2's life that it was happening again, kissed and agreed to see each other on the other side. B is 6.5 months old and things are better...most of the time.

Whenever I start to feel like my DH is a "r'tard and sometimes unbelievably selfish" (because really, sometimes he's a fucking r'tard and UNBELIEVABLY selfish!) I peek out from my life and (gasp) compare him to other husbands. And every single time I throw my head back and look to the heaven's above and wonder how I got so lucky.

mom2boy said...

What they said.
I remember a time when I posted about my struggles in my relationship you commented on your issues post-first baby. That things were really crappy but as he got older and you guys made a concerted effort to focus on each other (sooooo much easier as the kids get older) things got so much better you decided to have #2. Going on that limited information, I'd say it's another round of being in the trenches.

As far as counseling the best part of advice/information I got was to look out for the four horsemen: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling when you communicate. I saw them and we were too far along with too many issues to turn it around. It stuck with me. It made sense that these things are destructive and can go unnoticed.

blue said...

Wow. I am really impressed with you for posting this and both you and your DH for being brave enough to begin facing it head-on. It sounds like you are both in the right place for counseling. You both know you have a good thing, but you need some help communicating about the separate issues that are rising to the surface for each of you.

I'd like to think my DH would be as proactive about addressing issues and communicating (and even finding a counselor) as yours, but I don't think he would.

We've never been to counseling together, but I have been going to someone for about 6 months myself in my weird little town and, you know what? It's better than I thought it would be. Here's a caveat, though: if you don't find the right one, keep looking. Don't assume it's because of the town or area you live it. It sometimes takes a little while to find the right person. And when you do, you won't worry about being judged or people finding out.

Both DH and I held tiny babies yesterday (different ones) and, lying in bed last night, had the inevitable conversation about a third child. We both agree that we really don't want another and that a third child might destroy our marriage.

Advice I've received and will pass on....
Take care of yourselves and each other. Make sure you're both getting at least the bare minimum of sleep to function properly, even if it's just an extra hour somewhere, it can make all the difference for your sanity and ability to see clearly. Drink plenty of water. Eat well. Set aside time for you as a couple.

This is not to minimize the issues or oversimplify. Just some things that have helped me.

I will be thinking of you and hoping for the best for you guys.

Claudia said...

Props to you both, and I mean it. You are expressing yourselves, no matter if it's fair/accurate/head-up-ze-ass. You're saying stuff.
Props for agreeing to counseling. As with the father who needed people to speak up for him and his daughter, screw the peanut gallery. Little minds will be little. You need to live your life.

Me-n-DH did counseling, too. We recognized that we were not so talented at sorting out our own problems, yet just making the decision to go was our turning point. I agree about the search for the right counselor. If at first you don't succeed and all that.

Good luck. I'm sure you'll both be glad for the effort.

Cloud said...

I think it is great that you're going to counseling. And of course you're nervous about it. You're going in to tell your innermost thoughts to a stranger!

When Hubby and I argue, it is almost always about chores, too, and who is or is not pulling his or her weight around the house. I think adding kids to a household just multiplies the chores by so much that it is hard to believe that the other partner is doing his or her share. If he was, surely I'd get more time to myself, right???? Anyway, we've got our chores schedule, and our periodic discussions of what the chores are (it seems to me that a lot of men have some sort of weird blind spot and can't see the amount of work that goes into maintaining a family's schedule and the like...), and our Friday night beers to get some down time together. And still, from time to time, it flares up. So far, we've been able to handle it ourselves, which is a good thing, because I don't think my Hubby would be nearly as open to counseling as your DH is.

Good luck with it.

paola said...

I used to have a bad habit of keeping everything that bugged me about DH in. I didn't want to sweat the little things but eventually these little things became huge, insurmountable. When we finally argued there would be kitchen-sinking from my side and because my hubby gives as good as he gets, arguements were pretty nasty.

I have finally learnt to get things off my chest the moment they appear, just as hubby has always done. Ok, so we are both nags but at least we know exactly where we stand with each other and there is no escalaltion on trivial matters. In fact, there is rarely much escalaltion at all these days, unless I revert back to keeping things to myself.

caramama said...

I'm another who thinks its great that you guys are seeking help to work on the issues. And we all have our issues, don't we? I have a truly wonderful husband and a fantastic marriage... but sometimes... URG!!!! Like lately? His PMS has been worse than mine!

So often it's the chores or the childcare and the fairness and equality of it all that gets couples bickering. I remember reading a book about differences between men and women (written by a married couple who are couples counselors) that not only do we keep "scorecards" in our heads for all the chores, but men and women assign different values to the chores, which means that it is really hard to ever feel things are fair!

For example, men might put 40 points for going to work each day, while women give it 5 points. Or men would put 5 points for changing a toilet paper roll, while women don't give any points for doing that but will SUBTRACT points if it's left undone.

The authors had many couples over the years write out lists of what they did in the relationship and assign values to them, and then write out what they see their partner doing and assign points to it. Then they compared the lists, and it was apparently very eye opening.

So while your husband says it's not a scoreboard... well, it really is, isn't it? And I don't necessarily thinks it's a bad thing, except you have to consider all the things the other person does and what their values for things might be compared to your values. Hope that makes sense.

I'm sure I'm rambling again, but one last (long) thought (for now). There is a different between being fair and being equal. IMO, the key is to take into account the other person's needs as well as desires. Different needs can include different amounts of sleep required to function well (I need at least 8 hours total regularly, while my hubby does fine with 6 hours regularly, so long as they are not too disrupted), time to unwind and ways to unwind (especially considering how introverted/extroverted each person is). Different desires can include how you unwind (computer, TV, reading, going out with friends, having teh sex, etc.) or what is more helpful for you around the house (I need the kitchen clean so that my mornings go smoothly, while hubby prefers the family room picked up to enjoy the evenings).

So to be fair to everyone, the different needs have to be meet regularly and the desires need to be considered regularly. That may mean that you need 5 hours of down time before you do your chores, but maybe you are sure to do a few chores that more important to him than they are to you. Or you trade chores because one of you needs a break from putting one kid to bed or another of you is simply better at cooking while juggling the kids.

Is it obvious I've given this a lot of thought over the years? Maybe I should just write my own post. Ha! Anyway, I hope that something here in my comments and others help you guys. I think you are totally on the right track by wanting to talk (or email) about it and work out the issues. Good luck to you guys!!!

Cloud said...

I was thinking about this post more last night, while I was getting Pumpkin to sleep (this involves lying on her bed with her and trying desperately not to fall asleep myself, because I still have other chores to do).

I couldn't remember if you stay at home or work outside the home? Because I think that may be key. After a full day alone with the two kids, you probably need some time when no one is making demands on you before you can contemplate doing any chores. And if your husband has never stayed at home alone with the kids, he may not really get that. I certainly wouldn't have understood that before my first maternity leave.

@Caramama said some smart things in her comment. Hubby and I actually did something similar to the exercise she described, and that helped A LOT with the silent resentment due to perceived injustices problem. We didn't actually assign points, but we talked through our chores lists, and tried to understand what each other thought about them. I recommend it highly- we both learned something from it. (I was undervaluing the work he does keeping out photos organized and online for family members to see and he was undervaluing the work I do keeping track of doctor's appointments, birthday parties, etc, etc.)

hush said...

@Jac - Thank you for that. You expressed the basic goodness of my marriage exactly, when you described your own. Why is it that we are so afraid to tell people IRL that we are in the trenches/going to marriage counseling, etc? I feel like it is one of the last taboos.

@nej - Thank you for the honesty. "Annihilated" is the right word indeed. (Also very glad you use the word r'tard like I do!!)

@mom2boy - How sweet of you to remember that. Thank you for the reminder of the 4 horsemen. Amen!

@blue - Great advice, thank you! It gives me a lot of hope that you found a good counselor in podunkland. I'm also impressed that you had the 3rd child convo and kept it real with each other, because lots of folks I know with even rockier unions than my own have been jumping in on purpose and I'm like 'did you even think it through?"! My head would totally explode - not ruling it out yet but we're about 80% there on the NO. There is a reason those empty nesters are the happiest of the bunch!

@Claudia - "Little minds will be little" & "Screw the peanut gallery." Can I tattoo those across my belly, please? I have a lot of extra skin there right now. Seriously, I am so comforted to hear that you, too, have done marriage counseling! All of these smart, awesome couples are doing it!

@Cloud - Thanks for both of your wonderfully insightful comments. Yes, what is it about resentment over silly chores? So I work from home 3 days a week and contribute less than DH does to the family income. It did not use to be that way, and perhaps not coincidentally we didn't have these chore fights. I think DH is projecting on to me some shit from his childhood - his mom stayed home and was a horrible housekeeper, and so I think in his mind he has this notion of an unclean house = a shitty, checked out mom. Whereas I have no ego about my house and don't see it as any reflection of me personally. For my part, I think I am projecting on to him my grief that I never had a mom who spent much quality time with me; even though she stayed home, she spent nearly every waking hour cleaning. So you can see why we don't agree on what things in a home with kids ought to look like!

@Paola - Thank you for your perspective, because it sounds an awful lot like my DH who is the king of kitchen sinking! That really helped me to understand him.

@Caramama - I agree about the scoreboard mentality - if we're honest, we all do it to some extent - or we at least think it. I have seen that chore exercise in one of Gottman's marriage books and remember doing it when we were first married. As I recall, DH was surprised at all the things I did then that take a lot of time - like opening & sorting the mail for example. I'd love to read a post about how you & Londo work it all out.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

In French, there's this great expression: "When we love, we don't count." Except it's a big fat lie, right? Because I don't know anyone who doesn't have a scorecard (except perhaps some really clueless men, who don't get that they're supposed to be contributing in the first place).

I feel like my husband and I have a pretty natural way of sharing tasks, and it just kind of flows most of the time... which doesn't stop me from barging in on story time to complain bitterly that he only did half the dishes before going off to put le Petit to bed. Which is totally obnoxious of me, I know, because it isn't like he went off to the neighborhood bar to shoot pool or something -- he's putting his son to bed. And on the weekends I get in a toxic mood over the chores I have to do, which are rightfully mine by convention and he'd probably still do if I asked nicely.

I think caramama's right, the problem is in the different value we assign to different tasks. Also, different standards of "done": I was the clean-obsessed one before I left my standards seriously slide after a few months of motherhood. My husband saw my constant vacuuming as some strange sort of hobby, not Something That Must Be Done. I, on the other hand, didn't at first appreciate all the time and effort he put into grocery logistics; it was just magic that we never ran out of paper towels (left to me, we'd be constantly out of everything, except the sort of scary leftovers that can crawl out of the fridge on their own). I'm learning -- slowly -- to not assume that we value things the same way.

It's so great that your talking about it, and finding a counselor to facilitate communication.

Other than that, I've got no advice, except the old strategy of neutral "I" statements and parroting back what you understand he's saying in as nonjudgmental a fashion as possible (even if you think he's full of crap in the moment). Which I'm hardly ever good at in the middle of an argument myself. When I do manage it, we actually do make progress understanding each other, and rarely rehash the same fight later.

At the moment, with only one kid, I can only imagine the wrench in the works that having two small children represents to a marriage. But it's only a few years, right?

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

"let," "you're" -- clearly my brain is elsewhere at the moment (folding the laundry that I've put off for the last two days, surely)