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Advice needed

Eleanor91 posted 9/1/2019 11:52 AM

I am a WW several months into the R process. I feel (and my BH agrees) that I am still not where I need to be as far as helping him heal from the pain I've caused with my A's. I have not be there for him emotionally in the ways that he needs to me to be. I find that I am still defensive when we discuss the A, and I tend to focus on how what he says hurts me. I know that is absolutely not the mindset that I should be in. He has been very patient and given me multiple chances to improve. Sometimes I improve, but it is only temporary. Most of the time, I find that I start out in a conversation with an open mind and heart, only to become defensive and even argumentative part way through. I'm not listening for the feeling behind his words, and just focusing on how something made me feel or the one thing he said that I disagree with. That is unacceptable and not conducive to healing. This is not the partner I wish to be nor is it the partner he deserves.

I acknowledge that I truly don't get it. I've always had a very selfish outlook on life, and I've never had to really try or put anyone else first in a relationship. There are so many changes that I need to make. I've been stuck in a rut with guilt and shame, and haven't successfully moved beyond that to true remorse. I've let myself become overwhelmed by how much I need to change, and that is part of what keeps me from making progress. I also have had difficulty answering his questions that he is absolutely entitled to. I become overwhelmed by having to look at my actions, behavior, and sitting in that pain that I've caused. During the A, I'd completely compartmentalized everything in order to continue. I didn't allow myself to consider the consequences of my actions the affect on my BS and my family. There are many things that I still need to learn to be a safer partner in the future.

I am looking for honest, helpful advice for 2 things in particular that I need to truly start this process. The first is that I am having extreme difficulty remembering things about the A. I can remember the basics, but not much beyond the surface. I think part of it has to do with not yet figuring out how to get past the shame and guilt and just being able to sit in the pain of what I've done, instead of becoming overwhelmed very quickly by those negative feelings, and then dealing with racing thoughts instead of the answers I'm trying to find. So any advice on getting past that stage would be greatly appreciated. The next thing is sitting with him in his emotions, more specifically his anger. I know that I need to push aside my feelings to be there for him through this. I do not know what it means to sit with him in his anger. My tendency has been to shut down or argue and tell him that he shouldn't be talking to me like that. That is like a slap in the face to him. I always regret my behavior and attitude after the fact, but I keep doing it. I know that regret and remorse are not the same. I'm not claiming that this is outside of my control. I am admitting that I need help to learn how to even start to be there for him. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
(Edited for clarity)

[This message edited by Eleanor91 at 12:26 PM, September 1st (Sunday)]

BraveSirRobin posted 9/1/2019 12:21 PM

Hi, Eleanor. Welcome to SI.

The good news is that you are identifying areas that are critical for change. You're right: the work can't happen if you are mired in defensiveness. I'm also very familiar with the memory loss. In my case, it was a mixture of details I genuinely didn't remember and details that I was trying to hide even from myself. It was a sick, warped version of the philosophical "if a tree falls in the woods with no one around, does it make a sound" debate. If I successfully forgot about details, and BH didn't know them, did they even happen? Sick shit, I tell you.

I can't speak for everyone, but in my case, writing was a godsend. It was just me and the screen. It didn't react back, so I had no excuse for losing my focus. I reread every paragraph, sometimes every sentence, asking myself if this was the actual truth or just the story I wanted to sell. I committed to facing omissions as just a different kind of lie. It was only in writing that I admitted the last and scariest lies. I'm too much of a coward to have said them to my husband's face.

By the time I get this posted, someone else may have said this: blocks of unbroken text are very hard to read. If you can chunk your questions into separate paragraphs, you may get more feedback.

I'm sorry you have to be here, but I'm glad that you recognized it and came on board for help.

Jorge posted 9/1/2019 12:25 PM

The fact that you can clearly articulate your inability to communicate in a way that is healing for your husband, but can't execute what you know is right, suggests you may need a professional therapist help you break through the wall you repeatedly erect.

Additionally, when competing against one's own pride and ego, one can lose every battle until you decide you won't lose anymore. Until pride and ego are separated from heart, the competition between the two will stifle any real progress or growth.

Still, though, intensive counseling may be needed before husband reaches the point of no return. If it comes to this, you may look back and greatly regret not having fixed a fixable problem.

gmc94 posted 9/1/2019 12:39 PM

BW here. SI can be slow on the weekends (esp holiday), and I'm sure there will be WS along to give their input.

I recently listened to some podcasts, so they are most definitely coloring my thought processes right now. But the gist is that the first thing is to truly really educate the WS about trauma and traumatic response. Again, I'm a BS, so I don't think I'll ever "get it" from the WS side of the street, but my sense is that the point is getting the WS to understand traumatic response and work to separate his/her feelings from what the BS is expressing. To learn to do with without defensiveness or minimizing, etc.

I've let myself become overwhelmed by how much I need to change
So maybe focus on changing ONE thing? I think it's sooooo important for the WS to stop the defensiveness ASAP. When a BS expresses their feelings, they NEED (not want - they truly NEED this for safety) the WS to validate BS feelings, attune to BS, and show empathy. So maybe the one thing right now is communicating during your BS' traumatic responses, triggers, etc. To start a new communication style that helps the BS feel safer, helps to rebuild trust, etc.

One common mistake with my WH and I was semantic arguments (my WH was a master at this and it did a LOT of post dday damage). This would be when the BS says things like "you loved him more than me" and the WS responds with "that's not true. I never loved him. I always loved you" etc. Just about the worst way to respond IMO. I'm gonna assume as a WS you are thinking: but to say something else would be DISHONEST and I promised to not do that... and that a part of you is also saying something like "but that's not FAIR" (which I'm gonna ignore, but you might want to try and think about when you feel this and figure out how to get over it bc anything you experience as "unfair" today is a gnat on the elephant of "unfair" you have thrust upon your BS).. So- what IS the way to respond? "I can certainly understand why you feel that way, and I am so sorry that my behavior and actions put you in a place where you question my love. I will do everything I can to help you heal from this".

Can you see the difference? What you are saying is still (hopefully) completely TRUE. But what you are NOT saying (or implying) is that your BH is not seeing reality, that your BH is crazy, etc. You are not switching his pain into a conversation about YOU. This can apply to ANYTHING right now. You are 45 min late and BS says "you are an hour late and you know I don't trust you". The response is NOT "I wasn't an hour late, it was ONLY 45 min". The response needs to be something like "I'm so sorry I was late, that was inconsiderate and you have every right to feel angry. I will do x in the future."

Your validating his feelings is also the entry to attuning to him - to (as Gottman would put it) have the "desire and the ability to understand and respect your partner's inner world" . TBH, this definition is pretty close to empathy, but it starts with the DESIRE to understand and RESPECT his world - his PAIN. Do you want to be someone that does that? Or do you want to be the WS who is more interested in "setting the record straight" or "explaining your side of things" or whatever other stories you tell yourself in the midst of those arguments?

And then we come to empathy, which is the capacity to attune to the BS' feelings, based on what the BS has said. Folks differ on how to get here. The "fake it til you make it" really pissed me off in the early months. Now I can see that some folks need more help in this dept (not that I would have been capable of providing it to my WH early on - and even now sometimes). But those empathetic statements are pretty close to the validation - things like "I can see you are hurt" or "I understand your anger" or "I hear you" (and NOT going into your explanation). It's basically saying to your BS that I SEE YOU, I see your pain and I am responsible for it and I am accountable for it. Finding empathy is finding a way to sit with your BS' pain and NOTHING ELSE. Just sitting with it. Let it wash over you without denying or minimizing or justifying or your shame.

It sounds like you know your shame isn't helping. It's really just another manifestation of total selfishness. I really hope you aren't saying things like "I'm sorry, but can't you see how much pain I AM IN bc of the pain I see you in" or something like "why are you even with me when I've ruined your life" (something my WH has said more than once) . This kind of thing is simply redirecting your BH's pain (that YOU created) to YOU. Do that on YOUR time - do not do that with your BS.

So - these strike me as relatively simple (not necessarily easy) things a WS should be able to focus on. Maybe a bunch of WS will come and tell me how clueless I am, but from a BS perspective, this is kind of basic trauma help 101.

As to the timeline? I'm gonna give you a 2x4 on this front - so ignore this paragraph if you aren't up for it. Think of it this way, every minute you avoid doing it, is a minute you are twisting a knife into your BS's heart. EVERY SECOND is a twist of pain to him. Every time you tell yourself you will do it and then don't - you might as well just go punch him in the face... hard. If he's asked for it and you are stalling you are telling him that he doesn't matter. You are telling him that you are still more important than him. You are telling him that you value your own emotional comfort more than his healing. For me, a punch in the face is more respectful than making promises you won't keep. My WH and I are about 2 months S - one of the major sticking points is his repeated promise to do a timeline and then no follow through. TBH, I can envision recovery and forgiveness for the LTA before I can imagine forgiving him for the 18 months of avoiding a timeline. If you aren't going to do it, then just divorce him. Yes, it's THAT bad.

I'm going to assume you've read how to help your spouse heal. If not, do it - TODAY (Im told you can find it free online).

and when your BS lashes out and is acting crazy? Remember that this is TRAUMA. His executive brain has probably pretty much left the building, and it's normal. But it also means his lizard brain may be running the show. He is probably totally freaked out by it and I'd bet it scares the shit out of him. But in those moments, it may help if you can put your emotions aside and realize that this is the most base, primal part of him that is lashing out. It's our body's way of protecting ourselves. Its our body saying that you are not safe and I need to do something about it. TBH, a lot of the response post dday (not "just" the lashing out) is governed by the BS' lizard brain. It took over pretty much everything in me for at least 6 months. I guess the hope would be that the WS finds a way to separate the BS from their trauma brain..

Anyhow, just the $0.02 from a BS who is S bc her WH has been unable to do this stuff.

ETA: I see some others have posted, which is great. I agree that IC should be helpful.

when competing against one's own pride and ego, one can lose every battle until you decide you won't lose anymore. Until pride and ego are separated from heart, the competition between the two will stifle any real progress or growth.
This is spot-on. During the immediate aftermath (and "immediate aftermath" can be a year or two) the BS trauma must be triaged. I described it as being shot repeatedly by my WH and I'm on the ground bleeding out, while he is concerned about the scratch he got from the gun's recoil from him SHOOTING me. Having a loved one bleeding out is NOT the time for you to worry about your pride or ego. That does not mean that you are destined for a forever life w/o attending to your needs. It does mean that his bleeding is more important right now.

[This message edited by gmc94 at 12:50 PM, September 1st, 2019 (Sunday)]

FearfulAvoidance posted 9/1/2019 19:11 PM

The first is that I am having extreme difficulty remembering things about the A. I can remember the basics, but not much beyond the surface.

If you've found your way out of the fog sometimes it is difficult to remember what things looked like while you were in it. It is also easy for your brain to discount things that happened and file them away into the dark recesses of your mind to be "forgotten". But they aren't gone, just buried. They will come back up eventually on their own over time whether you are wanting them to or not.

You say you are several months into R. How long has it been since your Dday? This process is a marathon, not a sprint. I was rememebering things and making connections after a year of thinking I had it all worked out. And then I'd realize again and again that I hadn't. There are layers upon layers to all of this. Someone above mentioned therapy. If you don't have an IC, and can afford to, go see one. Talk therapy is good for untangling what actaully happened versus the lies you told you BS versus the lies you told yourself.

If you can't get into IC, then I second the suggestion of journaling. Just sit down and write. Start with something you do remember and let your mind go. Write down details about the room you were in, what was said and done, what your body felt like, what was going through your head. Don't think about it, just write and see what happens.

The next thing is sitting with him in his emotions, more specifically his anger.

This is tough. I was, and still can be, the queen of defensiveness. What about his anger makes it hard to sit with? Is it that you don't like hearing the truth about how he sees you now because it conflicts with how you see yourself? Is it that you think if you can correct something in his narrative it will change his feelings and you can fix it? Is it that his anger forces you to sit with what you've done and the shame and guilt hurts too much? Once you figure out what is blocking you from sitting in it with him you can start to figure out how to change your perceptions of his anger.

Anger is a tip of the iceberg emotion. There is ALWAYS more underneath it. What primary emotions are being masked by his anger? Hurt? Fear? Abandonment? Grief? Try and see if he will talk about what is underneath with you, and when he gets angry, remind yourself of what is underneath it for him and focus on that instead of the anger.

Many a times in the beginning I would have to sit on my hands and clench my mouth shut and take slow breaths while my BS expressed her anger. It is hard not to bite back out of self preservation. But that's the thing, there is nothing of your former self left to preserve. The person you thought you were before your A is gone, and probably never existed in the first place. Once you realize you can't defend something that isn't there it becomes less impossible to sit with him in humility and compassion. Because the you he thought he knew is also gone. And so is the marriage. He has to grieve the loss of both things, and so do you.

All of that being said, if anger crosses the line into abuse you should not be expected to sit in that with him. Yes, you deserve to get everything he feels no matter how ugly, but abuse is not ok.

Iamtrash posted 9/1/2019 21:55 PM

Defensive and shutting down, I feel like I am reading a chapter of my own life. This is common, but know that you are able to learn from it and change. (Slowly, but surely.)

Letís start with the memory piece. The affair is very traumatic for all involved. Mostly your BH, but you too as you deal with the aftermath of your decisions. Youíve set off a bomb in your life and now must try to mend a million pieces. Itís a lot to take on and can make it hard to remember all the details. Have you written a timeline out? Literally everything about the affair. From day one to the present (hopefully ending with a no contact letter to the AP and anyone else involved). Take your time. Make sure you are getting it all out, as accurately as possible. No cutting corners or skipping details. Even the most shameful parts need to come out. He canít heal unless he knows, in full, what he is healing from. It sucks, itís embarrassing, itís hard, but it needs to happen. No lies, no trickle truth, no skipping anything. Take your time and get it right so you donít have to revisit and change your timeline.

Anger is to be expected. A lot of it. In waves. Then add about 45 other emotions cycling through at different times. Itís a lot to take on, especially when youíre also trying to deal with your emotions, too. You recognize his needs need to come first, but itís a juggling act between healing him and changing yourself. The defensiveness and shut down have been the toughest habits for me to break. Iím literally trying to work against the defense mechanism Iíve utilized my entire life. Old habits die hard. But let me tell you, they need to die. By getting defensive, you are justifying your actions and/or minimizing his feelings. Heís allowed to feel as angry as he needs to. As depressed as he needs to. As sad as he needs to. If he isnít feeling these emotions, he isnít healing.

Now, anger is a tough one to deal with. And while he needs to feel it (and you need to see it and what it does to him), it is also ok to try some different things to keep conversations effective. In my BHís case, anger led to some other issues that need resolved. (Still completely separate from my decisions and what I need to fix.) We were getting in these viscous text wars. Those would turn into him spewing all sorts of anger and hate with no end. That progressed into verbal anger. (You get the picture, the progression was not seeming to find an end. It was hurting us more and more.) We finally, during a time of calm, had to set some rules for ourselves. For us, texting important conversations is a no. It was too easy to misinterpret text and tone. We were getting upset or misreading and making things worse. We can still text, but stop if the conversation gets too involved. We decided to email if there are things we need to get out immediately while the other is at work. This gives time to give thought out messages and replies without impulsivity. Talking in person is most effective. We tend to be calmer and more rational. He is able to say everything he needs to while I can offer touch (hugs, pats, holding his hand, if he desires. Sometimes he needs that physical feedback), I can also provide meaningful responses to what heís saying, even if itís just acknowledgment and apologies. We have a notebook. I can write about my feelings. He can write about his. We can respond to each other. It is for the purpose of us both reading it. It can also be read when each of us are ready to read it. We have both agreed that when things get heated, we are both allowed to request a break from the conversation. We always have to return to it once we are calm and ready, but stopping the conversation before it gets out of hand prevents unnecessary or untrue things from being said. (We can even respond in the notebook, if thatís the better option.) It allows us the chance to think before speaking and/or the opportunity to clarify what we need to say. Sometimes this can be harder in the moment, but we are learning. Healing is a process and the heated battles are a step back for us, when they happen. We know our old habits and what hasnít worked for us in the past, itís so easy to fall back into the same pre-affair patterns. We really have to make an effort to do different things to help us succeed.

If you havenít started, I strongly recommend IC. It is a great way to get help from someone thatís not emotionally involved. Itís your opportunity to work through your issues so that you are available to help him work through his. Fixing a relationship, post betrayal, is like climbing a mountain. You wouldnít climb Everest without the right tools and supplies to stay alive. Allow therapy to help you gain the tools you need to be a better person.

Eleanor91 posted 9/2/2019 13:32 PM

I really appreciate all of the advice so far. I think I'm beginning to grasp things a bit better.

As far as IC, I agree. I do need therapy. It's not currently an option for financial reasons, so for now I'll work on writing everything I can think of.

DDay for us is Feb 19th. It's been less than a year, but I should still be further along in the process than I am. I have been working on the timeline off and on since then. I know that there should be no off and on. I haven't been willing to truly sit in the feelings and memories that come up. I let myself become discouraged by the fact that there are still so many things that I can't remember. I used this as an excuse to not continue the timeline for way too long. I'm done with excuses, and now I'm trying to completely immerse myself in this.

As far as sitting with my BH in his anger, I think it's a mixture of things that bother/hurt me the most. I think it's mainly that it does make me sit with what I've done. I've never had to really look at myself before, and my mind goes into panic mode when that happens. The other part that bothers me so much is accepting that this is how he sees me now. He's always seen me in a better light than I have myself, and that is no longer the case. I should have put aside my feeling a long time go, because his pain is so much more important and urgent now.

I've been struggling with accepting that the person he saw and I saw is gone. The person he used to be is gone. Our marriage that we had before is gone.( I know that this is exponentially worse for him.) I've been resistant to accepting that we'll never get that back. This will affect the rest of our lives whether he stays or not.

I am hopeful that we will be able to make our new marriage work, and I know that it is my responsibility to make that an option for him. If I don't do the work, that will never be a safe option for him.

There's still a lot that I need to learn and change, so I welcome further help and advice.

assjack posted 9/2/2019 21:28 PM

I wish I had read this book early on. The journey from abandonment to healing. It has simple exercises that helped me connect to myself so I could connect to others especially my bs.

Trdd posted 9/2/2019 21:59 PM

Good thinking from GMC94 above. This is generic but might help.

You need to listen and empathize instead of getting defensive. GMC94 gave good guidance on how to respond with empathy "I can certainly understand why you feel that way, and I am so sorry that my behavior and actions put you in a place where you question my love. I will do everything I can to help you heal from this".

I would add that when you hear him say something and want to add your perspective or details that might sound defensive... first thank him for sharing how he feels and then ask him a question so he feels comfortable sharing more. This shows him you are listening and want to hear his perspective. So it might sound like this " thank you for sharing how you are feeling.... can you tell me a bit more about it?" Then you can empathize as above.

While you are asking him to say more... take a deep breath or three. That helps you clear the fight or flight chemicals out of the brain so when you do decide to share your perspective, if it is appropriate to do so!, you will be a bit calmer and less defensive.

Does that help?

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