lonelypilgrim, I read and re-read all your posts. I’m a BS. My story is not very similar to yours. However, what you are describing hits close to home. I recognize my husband in your words, I recognize myself in what you write about your wife.
First, I’d like to thank you for posting. My husband mentioned stuff you’re writing about, but not so eloquently. Your posts helped me to understand what he might be going through. I’m gonna share your posts with him, in hopes of conversation to understand our situation better, and possibly finding a way out of this limbo. Please, keep posting. Also, thank you for allowing BSs to comment.
Second, I’d like to add my +1 on what Wiseoldfool, Stolenpast & Bulcy wrote:
A) initiating discussions about the betrayal – yes, yes, yes. You say you are afraid. My husband also used fear to explain his reluctance to do stuff that I need. I’m struggling to understand that, as it seems so irrational. If that is something a BS needs, what’s there to fear? I guarantee you it might make things worse – in the short term. Meaning, your BS might cry, might say some nasty words, might "criticize" you, you might end up fighting… However, your BS might actually react positively. In any case – long term is what matters here. In the long term, it is so much worth it, I promise!
When my husband is reluctant to do what I need, that tells me yes, he just hopes I’ll get over it and we won’t have to discuss it anymore. Also, it tells me he is still in the avoidant mindset. And that kind of mindset very much contributed to the betrayal in the first place (if it’s not the biggest contributor – if I’d have to single out one "why", it would be his avoidant personality). You also wrote it – betrayal allowed you to avoid difficult things. And now, you are afraid to initiate discussions, so you rather avoid to do that. Mate, avoidance has to go. Do not give in to fear, do not allow it to control you. If I read you correctly, you are afraid of failure. Guess what - the real failure is not to try at all!
In my book, as long as my husband is exhibiting avoidance, he hasn’t changed. He can do 99 other changes, but this is the change I need to see. This is the most important change as I feel it would have a huge effect on many other issues. I understand it’s scary, I understand it is not something you can change overnight, especially if you’ve been like that your whole life. But you can do it, and it will be worth it.
B) It is ok to talk about yourself and the changes you have done / experienced. It is ok to make it about yourself. It is ok to talk about your struggles. This is how you demonstrate vulnerability to your spouse. She might appreciate that. You and your wife are in this together, you are a team, and both of you matter. Talk to her, and together find a balance in addressing her feelings and your feelings.
C) About doing ABC when she needs XYZ – it’s not that ABC don’t matter, it’s just that quite often ABC are things one should be doing in a marriage / relationship by default. At least that is what pisses me off with my husband. When he says stuff such as: I spend more (quality) time with you; we communicate more often; I no longer harbor resentment; and many other things that to me are the default, the way things should be in a marriage. I understand those are changes, I understand those things were absent in our relationship prior to the betrayal, I appreciate and welcome those changes, I don’t take them for granted. But I also don’t feel I should give out special stars for them. Bulcy is spot on – talk to your wife, understand what she needs and do that.
Third, about criticism and defensiveness.
As a BS, I struggle a lot in expressing my feelings about something without sounding like I’m criticizing. Even when I apply Gottman’s advices, my husband too often still hears criticism. Then he gets defensive which prevents him from really hearing me. Then emotions get high, and all hell breaks loose. Then I just don’t care anymore whether I’m criticizing. It’s frustrating.
Please keep in mind that your BS is not a perfect communicator. No one ever taught me how to communicate effectively. I’ve re-read Gottman’s chapter on constructive conflict (from the book What makes love last?) many times. It is great, but it just doesn’t come naturally. And to be honest, his example dialogues don’t sound human to me at all. Sometimes they are just ridiculous – I mean, who on Earth communicates like that?!!
My advice here to both of you is to work on communication skills, accept that it takes time, and until communication improves focus on the content of what is said, not on how it is said. Also, guess what – not everything is about you, even when it looks like it is. Yes, hearing stuff like
"You’re a stupid, selfish shithead, and I wish I never met you. I’ll never forgive you"
repeatedly (something I constructed based on your earlier thread) is disheartening, I understand that. I’m also guilty of saying stuff like that (repeatedly). How do you hear this?
i) I’m stupid, selfish, and a shithead. I’m worthless, I don’t deserve forgiveness. I hurt my wife so much, it’s all my fault.
ii) My wife would rather live without me = I bring no value to her life. She doesn’t see I’ve changed. Perhaps I don’t try hard enough. I can’t do anything right.
iii) She’ll never forgive me, it will always be like that, what’s the point of trying then? There’s nothing I can do.
iv) This is just her pain talking.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Not wrong, but misleading.
If you hear this as i) or ii), you are making this about yourself. You switch your attention from her to yourself. This will prevent you from really hearing her. This will prevent empathy, understanding, validation, and providing support.
i) is a negative self-talk and wallowing in your own shame and guilt = not productive.
ii) will lead to defensiveness. You feel you have no control over things, it’s scary. Fear leads to anger (thanks, Yoda), as anger is a way of regaining a sense of control. You get frustrated and feel the urge to defend yourself – what you are really doing is regaining control. You might even get pissed at your wife for not recognizing your efforts (remember, anger leads to hate).
If you hear this as iii) you are again switching the attention from her. Also, you are demonstrating signs of avoidance, and allowing your fears to take the best of you. This shit is hard, I want easy. There’s nothing I can do, so might as well give up / escape.
If you hear this as iv) you are probably right. However, you are also minimizing and not validating her feelings. That’s why I believe it is misleading to think like that.
Let me try to decipher these sentences for you (the way I see them):
"You’re a stupid, selfish shithead" = "I’m frustrated"
This is equivalent to her standing on the top of the mountain and screaming her lungs out. This is not about you. At worst, it is about the guy you used to be. Most likely it is just her frustration, and her attempt to regain control (remember, anger is a way of regaining control)
"I wish I never met you" = "You hurt me, and I’m sad / frustrated about it"
She’s doing the bargaining phase of healing, negotiating with herself to try to undo the loss. If you two had never met, she wouldn’t be hurt now. As simple as that. Again, this is not about you!
"I will never forgive you" = (most likely) "I’ve already forgiven you (as shown by the fact I’m still here), but I will never admit that, as I’m scared you'll do it again"
This is a threat, as she’s scared you will hurt her again. This is her trying to protect herself from future pain. In her head, if she makes it clear to you that you will not get another chance – she will not forgive another betrayal – that somehow lowers the chance you’ll betray her again. Once more, all about her, not you!
Alright, I’ve written more than I intended to, I apologize for the long post.
To conclude, it would be awesome if all of us could communicate in Gottman’s kinda robotic, but constructive way in all circumstances. But this is real life, not a textbook, and none of us is perfect. Sometimes our emotions get the best of us. It would be awesome if we could just mindmeld. But we can’t. Keep your eyes on the prize (successful reconciliation), and don’t let anything distract you!