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Session 5: Listening is a Skill

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CaptainRogers posted 4/19/2021 17:36 PM

"Short" session today (1 hour instead of 2) that covered some of those basics of active listening. This week, I was the listener and my wife had the opportunity to speak. Her topic of choice was a statement that I made twice in the last couple of years.

For those who have been through the standard MC work, you know that active listening is all part of that communication work that is done. This is the first counselor, however, that I have seen putting the emotion behind the communication into focus. It isn't just hearing the other person and repeating it back ( like at a drive through), but it is also touching the emotions through the entire process.

So, today we covered the statement that I made to my wife that she was solely responsible for the current dysfunction in our relationship.

As you probably know, active listening does not allow for discussion, defense or debate. It is simply listening to the speaker, hearing their emotional response to an event, and allowing their feelings to be expressed and validated as feelings.

The feelings my wife expressed were those of hopelessness, judgment, and being treated unfairly. She felt that it was unfair that I would lay the dysfunction of our relationship at her feet. She felt that it was being thrown before her as a judgment and that she didn't see how she could be put "in charge" of something (my feelings, for example) that she has no control over.

I told her that I could understand how she felt treated unfairly by having the burden of being solely responsible for an entire relationship's dysfunction placed on her. I acknowledged the feeling of hopelessness at being told that you are placed in charge of something that you truly have zero control over.

No defending. No discussing. No debating.

Next week, we open some wounds and discuss. No, not discuss, but whatever it is we did today. I have some apprehension about it. A lot, actually. This will be a rubber meets road moment. I honestly don't know how she will respond. For four years, she has dismissed, minimized, blameshifted or just flat out ignored whatever I had to say about the A.

I will be interested to see how she responds next week.

DoinBettr posted 4/19/2021 18:28 PM

I never really liked this part.
I did this in an online workshop with my WW.
She had a similar reaction. Feeling she couldn't MAKE me feel better.
Then as you said, you can't discuss it further, you acknowledge it is a feeling.
I hate to say, I then went petty with my response of feeling less special after she was special enough to have sex outside of our marriage then come back. That I felt like the one of 2 siblings who saved up money to go the amusement park, then the parents said only one could go and the other jumped up and ran out. I got to sit in the car and wait. Then my sibling got to tell me they didn't really care for the rollercoaster but they spent the money we had saved while in the park.
She got to acknowledge that, then she broke the listening skill and started to argue. Feel free to use my analogy if you want. It is really hard to refute how you are feeling.
It is the inequality of the feelings that WS don't really get until they have to get it. My WW kind of gets it now, but has to be reminded about thinking about my feelings often. I really want to hear your spouses response. She sounds like my WW who has since started doing Bible studies and accountability groups, but not really addressed the broken parts inside her.
Good luck and thanks for the update.

Tigersrule77 posted 4/20/2021 08:27 AM

Did your WW reflect at all as to what would cause you to make that statement or how she thinks YOU might have felt at that time? Her feelings when you said that are understandable. However, I feel if she didn't spend some time thinking about YOU after that, it is a big signal. If her only concern was herself, this is a big problem.

Or did she spend any time thinking about things she could do to improve the M? Minimize the dysfunction? These would also be positive responses. Just saying "poor me" is not.

CaptainRogers posted 4/20/2021 08:49 AM

Did your WW reflect at all as to what would cause you to make that statement or how she thinks YOU might have felt at that time?

The short version is "no". But we will get to that next week. I understand more about what was going on in her head at that time, for sure. And, it wasn't any different than what she has typically done throughout the entirety of the relationship and, more specifically, since her A.

She uses the 30,000 foot view of things to put it all under an umbrella of the relationship rather than zeroing in on specifics when it is something related to her. That is the point where it is "we" and "for over 25 years" or "since 2010" or whatever large period of time that encompasses enough to draw attention away from herself.

And that was what she had done when I said that she was responsible for the dysfunction. She took it to mean "our entire marriage" and I meant "the last 4 years" because of her steadfast refusal to do anything remotely related to reconciling.

That is what will make the next session interesting. It isn't a rebuttal of sorts, but being able to share the "I feel....when you..." part from my perspective. I am not sure that she is capable of listening without defending or deflecting. I do know that she is incapable of empathy, so I have no hope of that happening. That would be a complete and total shock.

sisoon posted 4/20/2021 11:43 AM

I am not sure that she is capable of listening without defending or deflecting.
That's just another test of your MC's ability. So far, so good, so you have good reason to hope for a good outcome.

Every time you post about your session, I learn something. This week it's the necessity of hearing words and emotion. That's something I should know, and it's something we all do automatically, but the reminder may get me to listen to emotion mindfully.

IOW, please continue to post your thoughts about your MC sessions. Some of the unintended consequences are pretty good.

HowCouldSheDoIt posted 4/20/2021 11:56 AM

Cap, I don't believe there is a way to search the forums... Can you share who your marriage counselor is? I don't want to break any forum rules if it isn't allowed, but I would like to know and would take a PM if you could.

Very good to hear that you're making progress.

CaptainRogers posted 4/20/2021 13:46 PM

Have shared with a couple individuals, but not in any forum specifically. So, here goes: (apologies to Mods if I'm not supposed to say this).

We are seeing no soliciting. She and her husband have written a number of books and do marriage intensives across the country. For those who fall to the religious side, her father in law was No Soliciting (he passed a couple of years ago). Her husband works at No Soliciting as the VP of Marriage (what a title, right?)

We went through a video series a few years ago on conflict that she and her husband had done. When I knew she was who we would be seeing, I had hoped that it wasn't just all sunshine and roses with her books and that she actually worked that way in her practice. So far, I could not have asked for anyone better. She has done this for over 20 years and it certainly shows.

[This message edited by SI Staff at 5:19 PM, April 20th (Tuesday)]

CaptainRogers posted 4/20/2021 14:26 PM

That's just another test of your MC's ability. So far, so good, so you have good reason to hope for a good outcome.

That is certainly true, sisoon. So far it has all been very good indeed.

...please continue to post your thoughts about your MC sessions. Some of the unintended consequences are pretty good.

I certainly will. Even in a "skills" session, there are things to be shared.

humantrampoline posted 4/20/2021 15:41 PM


CaptainRogers,

I'm glad to hear that you are so hopefully with your new MC.

It sounds like this is the part of MC where you would be listening to the cycles created by experiencing your marriage through your individual childhood wounds and coping patterns and learning to re-create more healthy patterns and communication.

That would be much easier without the wound of infidelity. Your WW was maybe communicating what that abandonment cycle she keeps experiencing feels like to her. I'm not saying it's justified or you are inflicting it on her, but she's describing how she experiences it.

I'm wondering about this:

I do know that she is incapable of empathy, so I have no hope of that happening.

Have you considered the implication of this statement? You are saying she is incapable -- unable to achieve or do. Is that really what you mean? If so, MC itself and discussing your feelings with her seems without benefit. Maybe you mean something like, "My WW has yet to show me the empathy needed to become a safe partner and teammate. But I am have a small amount of hope now that she is capable based on a small forward movement in that area." I am hopeful for you both.

DaddyDom posted 4/20/2021 15:44 PM

The feelings my wife expressed were those of hopelessness, judgment, and being treated unfairly. She felt that it was unfair that I would lay the dysfunction of our relationship at her feet. She felt that it was being thrown before her as a judgment and that she didn't see how she could be put "in charge" of something (my feelings, for example) that she has no control over.

I just want to note this passage, as it really called out to me. This is exactly where I was stuck for ages. It is "Shame Spiral 101" in a way. And getting past this one concept is what opened so many doors for me, which is why I want to point it out to you.

In my opinion, she still feels as if she is being "blamed", actively, currently, targeted and blamed, judged, and handed the burdon of living her life defined as someone who single-handedly destroyed the relationship. It is a "I am a POS and don't deserve to live" kind of attitude, and it is selfish by nature. "Woah is me" and all that.

If I were to say to you, "The batter struck out in the last inning, and the game went to the other team as a result", would you think I was telling you that the batter was a bad person? Or that he sucks at his job? Or that the team should kick him off for losing the game? Of course not! You would just hear me stating how the game went. Yeah, sure, the batter did lose the game, but that is in the past and part of the team's story, and now we're just talking about what happened (maybe so we can improve the situation in the future?). She needs to to see her part in this story as just that, one part. She doesn't yet seem to grasp that something else can exist instead.

Once she can mentally/emotionally get over that hurdle, and I am hoping she is close, then I think you'll really feel the clouds part and the sun come through. At some point, she'll be able to say, "Yeah, of course I destroyed the marriage, because comitting adultry is pretty much the definition of ending the marriage, and I did that. The burden is on me because I made it so. Cap isn't saying those things to punish me or make me feel badly about myself, he just wants me to acknowledge how it hurt him, and show him the respect, remorse and empathy he deserves, and that I should have given him in the first place. Doing so would make me a BETTER person, and I would stop feeling so shitty about myself".

I know it might not sound like it, but making that mental hurdle is like turning yourself inside out. It is no small feat. She can do it. I am really hoping, for both of you, that this new IC can take her the rest of the way.

This is all good news Cap! It is progress in the right diretion. I'm glad you are finally seeing some movement and change, you both deserve it.

CaptainRogers posted 4/20/2021 18:14 PM

Have you considered the implication of this statement? You are saying she is incapable -- unable to achieve or do. Is that really what you mean?

I certainly have. And they are her words, not mine. She has told me that she has absolutely no empathy and doesn't know where to even start. Counselor has hit on that multiple times the last couple of sessions, being very "hands-on" with explaining what empathy is, how it is expressed, and then calling attention to the times I have shown it in the sessions.

So, could she, maybe, possibly, some day demonstrate empathy? All things are possible. Is she capable now? Highly doubtful, but we will see next week.

If I were to say to you, "The batter struck out in the last inning, and the game went to the other team as a result", would you think I was telling you that the batter was a bad person? Or that he sucks at his job?

You've obviously never heard me speak when Kris Bryant strikes out with a runner on second. Or when Javy Baez swings at a fastball at his eyes or a slider 2 feet off the plate. 🤣

Cap isn't saying those things to punish me or make me feel badly about myself, he just wants me to acknowledge how it hurt him, and show him the respect, remorse and empathy he deserves, and that I should have given him in the first place.

Brother, that brought a tear to my eye.

humantrampoline posted 4/21/2021 01:27 AM

CaptainRogers,

Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I'm trying to challenge you to consider what you truly believe and act accordingly or change your inner dialog.

These two statements are not the same.

1.

I do know that she is incapable of empathy, so I have no hope of that happening.

2.

She has told me that she has absolutely no empathy and doesn't know where to even start.

I don't want to belabor a point, but the actually words being used do matter because they portray different meanings.
The second statement implies a lack of skill or knowledge; the first means unable to do or achieve.

As an analogy, a person may not know anything about baseball or how to hit a single. They might not know where to start. It's possible to coach them unless they have severe physical limitations. In that case they would be incapable, and there would be no reason to coach them.

Your WW used the word hopelessness. You used the words "so I have no hope".

I understand if that is how you feel. You have every right. However, MC and discussing your feelings with your WW make no sense in that case. What would the point of doing it be if she were incapable?

CaptainRogers posted 4/21/2021 07:44 AM

I don't want to belabor a point, but the actually words being used do matter because they portray different meanings.
The second statement implies a lack of skill or knowledge; the first means unable to do or achieve.

I see where you are going, ht, but let me set that analogy of hitting all the way through to the current situation. If I have a kid who has never played the game before, doesn't know how to hold the bat, doesn't know where to stand in the box, etc., then sending that kid up against the best, hardest throwing pitcher in the league, the kid would be incapable of getting a hit because they totally lacked any skill. If the game were on the line and the one without any training or skill were summoned as a pinch hitter, I would see that as a situation without hope. It would take a miracle (figuratively speaking) for the kid to hit the ball.

That is the same hopelessness in a situation where one has said they have no empathy, don't know how to have it, and wouldn't know where to start, but they are put in a position where displaying empathy is a part of a "successful" outcome.

[Not that I believe it is a requirement, but that is the final "step" in the process]

Ultimately, for someone who does not possess empathy, who has never really shown empathy, and who doesn't even know where to begin to find empathy, demonstrating it would be a miracle. And I haven't seen the same type of work ethic that the 1980 Olympic hockey team used to beat the Russians in the semi-final game.

We can discuss and debate the intricate definition of words until we are dead, but in this situation, it doesn't add anything of value.

humantrampoline posted 4/21/2021 08:45 AM

Ok. I'll take that analogy. I'd say if a coach put up a kid without experience against the best pitcher and told him/her that they needed a homerun to win the game or they failed outright, that would be foolish. That sounds like a bad coach.

Does your WW need an immediate homerun to succeed or is any other outcome ok? I guess if that's how you're looking at it, it does seem hopeless. It seems like a form of torture for you and your WW, as well as a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Waywards lack empathy. A BS may believe they are capable of acquiring it to the level it takes for a healthy marriage or not. It's understandable that a BS would see a lack of progress after a certain time and decide it's not an achievable goal.

I do have hope that you don't. You want to do this. Your WW wants to do this. I don't see why it can't happen, but it may take work and time.

hikingout posted 4/21/2021 09:30 AM

I want to echo Human Trampoline and Daddydom here for a minute:

Once she can mentally/emotionally get over that hurdle, and I am hoping she is close, then I think you'll really feel the clouds part and the sun come through. At some point, she'll be able to say, "Yeah, of course I destroyed the marriage, because comitting adultry is pretty much the definition of ending the marriage, and I did that. The burden is on me because I made it so. Cap isn't saying those things to punish me or make me feel badly about myself, he just wants me to acknowledge how it hurt him, and show him the respect, remorse and empathy he deserves, and that I should have given him in the first place. Doing so would make me a BETTER person, and I would stop feeling so shitty about myself".

I think in many ways, while both posters approached it differently, they are telling you the same thing I am seeing.

You have understandably built up a lot of resentments towards your wife over the last few years. Those resentments have led you to a narrative that you have had a pretty closed internal feedback loop on for the last few years.

It's just obvious in many of your posts that if your wife goes through and continues with these mini-breakthroughs you are going to need to think about your narrative from different perspectives because the constructs of it will have to be recreated.

I have full confidence your counselor will get to that part at the right time. What is happening would be completely normal.

I personally think your wife is not incapable of empathy but that it's uncomfortable for her to have it when it relates to her having a negative impact on someone. She sees all of you as a reflection of herself (due to lack of self worth(, and because of her shame she can not handle the negative parts of the reflections. I am going to guess that's where the controlling and criticizing comes from.

Because she has cheated, shown no remorse, and then on top of that has been critical and controlling most of the marriage...I think it's understandable why you have resentments and lack some empathy around some of her issues. I think Unhinged is right in calling you Job. I just also think that people in general are capable of evolving if enough desire and effort is there. As she rises to this, you are going to need to work on evolving your narrative. Human Trampoline is pointing at your language because it does matter. I know if the Wayward side we spend a tremendous amount of taking about language because it lends a lot of clues into what thinking goes into that language.

Anyway, I say that with gentleness because it's not like this comes out of thin air, but I also think we can be unaware of just how much resentment is really there. I know personally I like to feel like I am balanced and even handed, to realize that wasn't completely true was a lot of work on the other side of that. I personally think that you aren't there yet because more has to unfold here.

I just wanted to point at both of these posters are picking up the same thing, and I pick it up too. I think it's because you are feeling such relief of seeing some true progress that you are celebrating that your wife's eyes are opening but just be careful not to discount her experiences of that abandonment. She is attaching those feelings to examples that do not stand up, but you have abandoned her. FOR GOOD REASON - you had to detach in order to survive since her affair. She is unable to see it or express it in that way because her thoughts are distorted. But, what she is feeling is really there, she just sounds silly when she is showing how she assigns meaning to things she shouldn't.

I hope that makes sense. I tread lightly because I am not sure at what point you start dealing with that aspect. It feels like to me maybe not yet, but do realize her abandonment feelings are correct, they are just not for the reasons she is pointing at. They are natural consequences she has been unable to tie together.

[This message edited by hikingout at 9:52 AM, April 21st (Wednesday)]

CaptainRogers posted 4/21/2021 10:47 AM

Does your WW need an immediate homerun to succeed or is any other outcome ok?

Now that is a wonderful question. I don't think that she needs the homerun. I'm pleased that she is even willing to get in the battery's box. I see her continuing to come back to MC each session as massive progress, especially given that the counselor is holding her feet to the fire and not giving her the opportunity to spin anything.

The "homerun" in my eyes would be her actually following through the process without being defensive, without a "but you..." or without minimizing & dismissing my feelings. That will be a homeowner.

It feels like to me maybe not yet, but [you] realize her abandonment feelings are correct, they are just not for the reasons she is pointing at. They are natural consequences she has been unable to tie together.

No need to tread lightly, hiking. I do see that her feelings are real, that she absolutely does feel abandoned. And I see the counselor helping her to see that the abandonment isn't from my actions, but from her beliefs that turn into her isolating herself.

It's just obvious in many of your posts that if your wife goes through and continues with these mini-breakthroughs you are going to need to think about your narrative from different perspectives because the constructs of it will have to be recreated.

And that's why I am working with an IC on my end. Over the last couple of years, I have given little, if any, grace. Not just to my wife, but to most folks. I have been jaded. I don't trust anything that anyone says or does. I get amazingly frustrated by people in their own little bubble, no understanding of things happening 3 feet away from them. [Side bar: Costco used to be VERY stressful for me with people parking carts sideways in aisles, had my cart taken 2x in 3 weeks and had to start all over again...because I took 2 steps back from it, turned my head, and boom...someone will be checking out with my groceries...good luck on that!]

I have started giving more grace the last few weeks. Had a man that I have a boatload of respect for call me to account and offer to continue the accountability on having more grace. I needed that (not that it is a surprise to you, hiking).

So Iam working to reconstruct the narrative through the lens of today rather than theblens of the past 4 years. It isn't easy, but it will get done.

hikingout posted 4/21/2021 14:59 PM

No need to tread lightly, hiking. I do see that her feelings are real, that she absolutely does feel abandoned. And I see the counselor helping her to see that the abandonment isn't from my actions, but from her beliefs that turn into her isolating herself.

I think that her feelings of abandonment right now come a lot from your detachment and walls you talk about. I think that's been so isolating and has triggered her abandonment more fully. But, when asked to give examples she is talking about things that happen that she looks at with her confirmation bias lens. I think those feelings are so big and real that's how you even got to this counselor. I have said it a million times, a WS will not change unless the pain of staying where they are is greater than the pain of doing something else.

I do think it's distorted thinking as I mentioned, because it's really just the consequences of her own actions. It took me a long time to realize the reason I didn't feel seen in our marriage was because of my own issues with distorted thinking. I identify a lot with that aspect of how this works.

I only called you to task to take a deeper look at what human trampoline said about the language because I do think that those nuances do become important, but I did feel you brushed off the comment. I just wanted to underline it a bit.

Not really because I think you owe anything to anyone. Honestly most people would have divorced your wife by now. Just as a mirror, that's all.

CaptainRogers posted 4/21/2021 16:19 PM

I think that her feelings of abandonment right now come a lot from your detachment and walls you talk about.

And that's where I would have to get into her mind for thw true thinking process. I say that because when she had mentioned feeling abandoned because I didn't pick up her ear drops at the pharmacy, when the counselor asked if she had asked me to do it, she said she hadn't asked because asking made her feel guilty. Then the counselor asked if she was afraid that I'd say no, she said that she knew I would say yes (which I would have), but that she didn't want to bother me.

So, I don't know if it is my detachment that is the issue with the current abandonment as much as it is a cell of her own making at times (which we all do on some level).

a WS will not change unless the pain of staying where they are is greater than the pain of doing something else.

That REALLY seems to have been some sort of catalyst for the last several months. My statement last summer that I had no doubts that, given the opportunity, I had no doubt that she would throw me under the bus again and walk away, caused her to stop and evaluate things, caused her to seek out her new IC, and eventually, to start MC again.

Definitely a true statement there!

sisoon posted 4/22/2021 13:03 PM

I think that her feelings of abandonment right now come a lot from your detachment and walls you talk about.
I'd bet that her fear of abandonment is a FOO issue, and CR's behavior in the here and now is triggering the FOO issues. MrsCR is probably reliving something from childhood or youth, not living her life as it is today.

The deep-seated fear is probably keeping her from seeing today's reality - 1) abandonment is extremely unlikely, given CR's behavior so far, and 2) she can reduce the likelihood even further by getting authentic.

IMO, she has to either a) learn to put her fear aside or b) deal with the fear directly, and that means dealing with the FOO issue. BTDT.

[This message edited by sisoon at 1:05 PM, April 22nd (Thursday)]

grubs posted 4/22/2021 13:18 PM

I'd bet that her fear of abandonment is a FOO issue, and CR's behavior in the here and now is triggering the FOO issues.

That was a question I asked in an earlier CR post. His WW's mother died of C when she was a teen. Her Father detached emotionally and used overwork to self medicate. CR was there for the end of that. So FOO abandonment issues resurfacing or more likely never really left. They just hadn't hit CR personally until now.

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