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Fair' is a 4-letter word.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Imperfect Union

Posted by fxckfeelings on May 14, 2012

Marital nastiness, no matter how harsh and unfair, should never make you a victim. Even when your partner is an overbearing jerk, you have a right to leave or stay and an ability to judge for yourself whether you’ve done less than your share and deserve less-than-loving treatment. As long as you remember your choices and exercise your own judgment, even the most painful marriage won’t control your mind.
-Dr. Lastname

Six months ago, I had my husband arrested for domestic violence. I was pregnant at the time. It was a wake-up call for both of us—there were many unspoken resentments between us as I have a very high stress job and he stayed home with our first child. We are both in therapy now, because, while I know I’m not responsible for his actions, I absolutely had some emotional messiness to clean up on my end. Somehow, we have recommitted to truly working together, but I am still so angry at him for putting me through that ordeal. We do love each other, but personality-wise, we are probably not the best match, and if there were not small children involved, I would have divorced him after this. My family, with whom I’ve always had a strained relationship, hate that I’m giving my husband another chance and are punishing me for it, telling me how I am being controlled, putting my children at risk, etc. I had my child 2 months ago and I’m already back at work, working like crazy (someone has to support the family), but I’m so overwhelmed, unsupported and just failed by everyone when I have 2 small children depending on me and a career to manage. The pace that I am keeping is ridiculous. Help! I need to figure out what I need to do to feel less overwhelmed. And if my husband and I are going to have a chance, I need to let go of my anger.

I wish it were possible for everyone to let go of anger and be happy in this life (but for this breakthrough to occur only after I’m retired).

Unfortunately, the unfairness of life, together with the unfairness of the worst personality traits we’re cursed with, make it impossible for many of us not to feel lots of chronic, steady anger on top of whatever one experiences for especially lousy events. For such people, being calm is just being quietly pissed.

So, for members of this club, as much as they wish they could get rid of it, the question isn’t how to let go of anger and feel peace, peace, peace; it’s how to manage one’s daily anger without turning into an emotional Hulk.

So, after putting your anger on the back-burner for a second, re-assess the pros and cons of your marriage partnership, particularly in terms of its safety. If your husband uses crack, has been arrested for A and B, and/or has neck tattoos, then maybe your family is right and he’s not a good bet for long-term safety. If he’s sober and has never lost his temper except in the context of one particularly nasty marital argument late at night after being prodded by someone who knows him too well, maybe the risk is manageable.

If your anger was perhaps as intense before this incident as after, and if you expressed yourself too freely on that occasion, then there’s additional good news. Your ability to restrain your own negative feelings—without compromising your assertiveness—may add another element of safety to your future. That doesn’t mean you’re to blame for his hitting you; it just gives you added incentive to learn how to be assertive without putting him down.

If you’re waiting for your anger to disappear, you give it more power over your relationship. Instead, remind yourself that you stay with your husband by choice, for reasons you value, and you’re being assertive, not a sucker.

So ignore your family and your simmering rage, because your goal isn’t letting your anger go, forgiving your husband, or getting new relatives. It’s accepting that, despite assistance that is sometimes sub-par and irritating, you’re trying hard to prevent your anger from making things worse.

STATEMENT:
“I feel my husband’s violence destroyed a basic trust between us and estranged me from my family, but I believe I have good reason to stay with him and not fear for my or the kids’ safety. I may be angry, but I’m not at anyone’s mercy.”

After everything I’ve put my husband through, all the times I’ve disappointed him, I can’t blame him for how much he resents me and wants to leave. I was a drunk for several years, only managing to get sober three years ago. Then I got laid off from the really good job I used to have, and after almost a year looking for work, all I could find was waitressing, making a fraction of what I used to. My husband is so tired of my failures. He can’t forgive me for anything, from my drinking problem to losing my job (though it wasn’t my fault), and he keeps saying there’s not much point in staying with me since I’m always at the restaurant, working long shifts to make ends meet. I know I’m a loser, but I still want to make it better.

If you define abuse as the dishing out of undeserved punishment, then it becomes clear how important it is to decide for yourself whether you did anything wrong. Some people are so eager to stop the pain of punishment and/or conflict that they’ll accept blame for the sake of peace; others feel they must counterattack to prove their independence and even the balance. Either way makes abuse worse.

You’ve done many things right, even if it didn’t make you or your husband happy. You got sober, worked hard, and had the courage to accept a less prestigious job when you couldn’t find something better. You have good reason to be proud of yourself, even if everyone’s miserable.

What’s wrong is not that you’ve burdened your husband or failed to maintain the family’s standard of living; it’s that you’ve put his happiness and opinion ahead of your own values and judgment, which is one of the many dangers of being empathic and sensitive. Empathy is a nice trait, but you need to learn to manage it carefully. Otherwise, you’ll fail to defend yourself properly while indulging your husband’s bad behavior.

Assess your own conduct as objectively as possible. Ask the opinion of neutral parties, consider how you would judge someone else in the same position, and use AA meetings to reject responsibility for what you can’t change. Remember, your standard isn’t what you could have done that would have worked out better or made your husband happier, it’s whether what you did was good enough, given what you have control over.

Whatever you decide, stand up for it. You can’t change the past or your husband’s feelings, but if you’ve been a good, responsible partner in the present, then his criticism is not your problem and it’s your job to shield yourself from it.

If he can’t stop verbalizing, you have a right to be elsewhere and an obligation to speak up, particularly to yourself, to counter his negative statements with your own positive beliefs. Your goal isn’t to change his mind; it’s to protect your own.

STATEMENT:
“I can’t help feeling that my husband’s criticism echoes my own feeling of failure, but I’ve managed alcoholism and unemployment successfully according to reasonable standards, and I have a right to be proud of myself. I will stand by my own beliefs and let him know that, if he has criticism to express, he can express it alone.

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