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Family of origin reminders/triggers in marriage

MIgander posted 2/24/2020 15:14 PM

So, if you've figured out that your issues in your marriage stemmed mainly from your reactions to your husband's reactions (I would lose my temper and he would retreat, withhold and list things for me to work on), where do you go from there?

I grew up in an emotionally abusive home. My father was largely absent and usually lectured me on all the things I was doing wrong socially that would put me in the situations I was in (I was heavily bullied in middle school). That taught me that it was my fault they were bullying me (I guess I fed into it by reacting to it at all?? I mean, WTF? I was 12!). Since it was my fault I was being bullied, I should just learn to accept being treated like garbage, or learn to defend myself (with anger and defensiveness). Especially since he never stepped in to do it for me.

My mother would play favorites to the extent that I was the golden child and my one sister was "evil". That told me that if I didn't do JUST as she said, I would be considered "evil" too. People to her are pretty binary, either good or bad. I've spent some time on her "bad" list for marrying my husband and becoming Catholic at all, so I know first hand now how it feels to be the "evil" daughter. Watching her fawn over me and reject my sister taught me that I had to be perfect or else I would be deprived of love, affection and all the other things I wanted in life (attention, not being grounded...). Talk about anxiety inducing. I was also her emotional comforting blanket for when my dad cheated on her too.

My one sister would take the abuse she received at the hands of my mother and turn it on me. Calling me fat, ugly, worthless piece of shit. I was fed on a steady diet of this as a middle schooler, along with the occasional physical abuse from her too (cigarettes stubbing out on arms). That taught me that women can't be trusted to be friends and that you can't rely on anyone (especially family) to treat you well or support you. Also taught me to think of my self as she described me... worthless.

Fast forward to our marriage, and I come into it sensitive to criticism, anxious with perfectionism, and with low self esteem. How does husband respond when I lose my temper or act unreasonably? With criticism, withdrawal and withholding. Criticism, because he wants me to know better how to be a loving wife to him and pleasing to him. Withdrawal because of my underlying anger hurting him all the time and with holding of affection because I exhausted him with my arguing and demands for affection that never seemed enough.

Which all fed into my emotional reflexes of anxiety over being perfect (who can be???), abandonment from my father (who never stuck up for me- I mean really, be a dad and call the other kids' parents! Show up at school! Talk to the principal for crying out loud!), and the terror of losing any affection and support from him for not pleasing him (ala my mother's modus operandi- she takes away her affection until she sees you are fit to receive it). That all just confirmed to me that I was the piece of shit my sister always said I was.

Sigh. So, hubby really only wanted me to get better as a spouse for him, did the withholding and withdrawal as a coping mechanism to deal with my anger. Never did it because he despised me or thought I was a piece of shit.

Only, his with holding and withdrawal mirrored those of my mother's and implied he thought I was unworthy of him. His criticisms just piled up and told me that the problems in our family were all my fault (like my dad would tell me) because I just did things wrong all the time. Meanwhile he would withhold his affection and withdraw his kindness from me (depriving me of any positivity to counter the criticisms).

No wonder I was vulnerable to an affair- I was so angry at him for being like them.

Only I didn't have to choose an affair- I could have chosen to divorce instead.

So, knowing all that, how do you work through your reactions to your husband's reactions without expecting him to change for you? How do you make it ok to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't intend to emotionally abuse you like your family did growing up, but whose behavior patterns put you right back in that situation every time something goes south? I've tried detaching my sense of worth from his validations and have been going to God to get more support from Him, but that's only going so far- in Catholic marriages, we're supposed to be living examples of God's love for us. So does God want us to be emotionally abused, even unintentionally? I don't think so, which is where all my anger and rage came from.

How do you make peace with a marriage to a well intentioned but emotionally clumsy person with limited resilience in the face of strong emotion?

hikingout posted 2/24/2020 15:46 PM

I have a couple of general thoughts for you.

First, I think that Whys and FOO can be misunderstood early on. It sounds like you have done a lot of good digging about where some of your interpersonal issues come from and I think overall there will be benefit for you there.

In terms of FOO, it's really to help us learn where our patterns come from, rather than a why we cheat. The whys are what you need to fix in your character. Discovering our patterns through exploring foo is the beginning of understanding how to fix it, if we know the origins you can change your self talk. That's my way of saying, that you didn't cheat because he reminded you of your father.

No wonder I was vulnerable to an affair- I was so angry at him for being like them.

I picked this sentence of yours because this statement says you are partially blaming him and the marriage for "making you vulnerable" to having an affair. And, I think that it's accidental and not intended that way, but I think it's also important to point out to give you something to think about. I think that you have found a good behavior to examine, but I don't think this is why you had an affair.

Because your interactions were a certain way with your father, it's enforced a pattern of behavior that has made you more disconnected rather than connected to your husband. I am sorry, I had to reframe it, because this is not a why, this is more of a how. I hope that makes sense.

So, you say he withdrawals because you have become angry at him? What does angry look like? Are there ways you can still express yourself but in a loving way towards him?

Can you provide an example of when you feel he was sort of punishing you by withdrawing?

Also, Dr. Gottman has some excellent reading about conflict management with couples. I think it would benefit you to review some of that material.

As I read the rest of your post, I see you carry a lot of shame from your FOO, and I think that's a good thing for you to look at more closely. I think of shame of feeling we are inherently "bad". I did the same coping mechanism with my own perfectionism to "cover up the bad", so I understand how those things correlate very well.

We can not love ourselves or be compassionate with ourselves for who we are and not our output if shame is the root of what we do. There is much to explore there and what that means more specifically to you. But, I think that's good digging that you could maybe examine even closer in IC. I also like the book "Rising Strong" by Brene Brown because she talks about perfectionism and how it really is caused by shame, and how it impedes the vulnerability we need to have in order to breed true intimacy.

I hope this helps. I think if you could provide a little more insight on the questions I just asked we may be able to coach a different behavior that you could try. Some of that for me has been trial and error but for sure when we give something different to react to sometimes we can encourage a better reaction from the other side.

cainsite posted 2/25/2020 17:34 PM

WS Only

[This message edited by SI Staff at 5:55 PM, February 25th (Tuesday)]

Zugzwang posted 2/27/2020 18:15 PM

Everything Hiking Out said. With focus on the

"No wonder I was vulnerable to an affair- I was so angry at him for being like them.
Nope. You made you vulnerable. Your character. Which you chose. Thing is about FOO...many come from the same backgrounds and turn out differently. Regardless of FOO, we still have the choice of what to incorporate into our character. You knew right and wrong. You knew there was injustice in how the treatment was handed out. So, you really can't just say...see how I was raised no wonder I was going to cheat. Wrong. How you choose to respond to stimuli is the focus. Not the stimuli. My wife was raised in a horrible childhood compared to mine along with sexual abuse by her stepfather and her mother knew. Her youngest sister committed suicide. Despite all the shit she went through...she came out the complete opposite of me and is a nurturer, selfless, strong, and speaks out for others. Trying to find sources of where we picked up behaviors is great. Just always remember no one forced us to choose them. We decided to either be selfish or selfless.

Empathy too is a good start. You are so focused on your hurts and your injustice. Your sister sounds like she had a world of her own as she chose to do what?/..... Hate you for being the golden child and staying on your parents good side regardless of it was right or wrong for what they were doing to her? Just saying...I too was that Golden Child and I could have spoken up like my sister but chose not too. I could have spoken up to the injustice I saw my sister being treated with by them. I chose not to. I am sure my sister resented me for being a suck up. I envied her bravery while I chose to be a coward just to stay on my crazy mom's good side. I chose selfishness instead of what was right. Though I have also come to accept I was a child and had little control regardless. My sister and I weren't close growing up. We are now, and our mother hasn't spoken to her in 4 years because my mother is entitled, prideful, and narcissistic. Your sister although did hurt you in her pain, was a child too. Maybe you should take apart your resentment for her.

MIgander posted 3/2/2020 08:35 AM

Thanks Hiking and Zug for the responses. Been a busy week, but been thinking about your responses in the background.

"So, you say he withdrawals because you have become angry at him? What does angry look like? Are there ways you can still express yourself but in a loving way towards him?"

I used to lose my temper, yell and scream and become extremely emotional with him. I was able to restrain myself, usually, to not calling him names or making my temper personal (from my own experience growing up- ad hominem attacks are about the worst thing you can do), but the sheer force of which I expressed my anger was incredibly overwhelming to him. He grew up in a family where you were not allowed to be angry (not made to express it healthily, just not allowed at all). So... my explosive temper did not do anything good for him. It was normal for me to yell and scream when angry- that's what we saw growing up and that was considered "normal" in my family. After his withdrawal, in our early marriage, I learned to just repress my anger so we could continue to get along. After my post partum depression though, the energy was not there to handle the repression and I resorted to yelling again. Never learned the coping mechanism for calmly discussing my upset and working through what brought it on and had no energy to suppress it.

So, my husband had good reason to be withdrawn.

Lately, I've been working with my counselor to express my upset/anger in healthier ways, take breaks from arguments when they become heated and stand firm on things that matter to me so as not to build resentment in the first place. It's been a bit confusing to my husband- he's accused me of being too calm- that I can't care because I'm not getting worked up anymore and that I just want to avoid hard discussions because I put the brakes on if we get to a point where we're not really discussing anymore and just reacting. I've told him that there's a lot more going on beneath the surface, only I don't want to lose my self respect by losing my temper. So that's helped.

"Can you provide an example of when you feel he was sort of punishing you by withdrawing?"

Well, there was the year after our daughter was born where he would not sleep with me or touch me. It was difficult because we were practicing NFP (we're Catholic) and I got pregnant 3 months earlier than intended with my daughter (amoxicillin can make you double ovulate in a cycle... it was a real education!). He was upset, terrified at the lack of discipline on my side (I thought I was done with the ovulation portion of my cycle from reading the signs earlier and the signs I did have I read were a side affect of the amoxicillin). I decided it was ok to have intimacy since I already ovulated and, well, we were considering a 2nd child in a few months anyhow. So, after that, he didn't trust me on the method and I experienced such awful post partum depression (didn't even identify it until my daughter was 9 months old!). He withheld physical touch for a year- both because he didn't feel affection for me (who could? I was yelling all the time) and sexual intimacy. He did this because he couldn't handle the uncertainty around my fertility and the way I handled it, and wanted a vasectomy. Through all of this I felt rejection, shame and neglect. In addition to betrayed since he was going against the Catholic church I had joined (and believed) at the cost of losing affection and gaining abuse from my mother and aunts.

I think I've always been a bit jealous of him- his loving family, his financial security, his confidence in himself and even when I was at home with the children, his professional outlet and lack of isolation (when I was at home with the babies). I felt like I had lost everything to be in our marriage- my family, my financial security, my career and now I had lost even the simple pleasures of physical intimacy. It was a dark pit and he didn't seem to understand, or care. He did care, just didn't understand where it all came from. And really, with how I was acting, why would he want to understand?

Zug, as for my sister, we have worked through things together and are relating much better. She still acts very much like my mother at times and is difficult for me to be around in large doses, but I do have understanding and compassion for who she is and why. I didn't understand her abuse (where it came from) until my mother rejected me after my conversion to Catholicism. Then the full brunt of her displeasure came down upon me and I really did see her as she was. My sister didn't speak out for us- she acted out her own anger by being promiscuous and drinking and drugs. Not judging her, just describing her coping mechanisms. She was way more damaged from getting her abuse from my mom than I was by getting my abuse from her.

As for my mom... None of us are really speaking to her. She's in a different state, and blames us for the move down there. She moved there after all 3 of us (my sisters are twins, and one had abused me while the other did not) were finally living within 30 min of her and all had babies to be around. We had the audacity to want our beliefs respected (she openly laughs about subverting my children someday!! ), medical needs respected (my son and nephew are autistic, son has been hospitalized multiple times for asthma and she still feels we are making up these illnesses and will smoke in front of kids unless we lay it out for her each visit!!!) and general wishes for how they are treated respected. She can't play by our rules, claims being the victim and blames us for not wanting her around. It's really like having another child to deal with.

I feel bad for my husband and the family he's had to be tied to with our marriage.

Between the lovely mother in law, the unfaithful wife and all the associated mental illness and crap he's been through, I'm not really sure what he gets out of our relationship. Not really sure if it's selfish of me to want to work things out.

Sometimes I think it would have been better if I weren't born.

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