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11 months as a practicing sobrietist - rocky, rocky, rocky relationship issues

Old 04-23-2014, 06:14 AM
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11 months as a practicing sobrietist - rocky, rocky, rocky relationship issues

Hi-

Been at this successfully for 11 months now. I enjoy going to my support meetings (I'm very involved with Lifering), I like not drinking or using, and I feel like it's a good time for it in my life. I feel like I've "met my quota" for drinking and using in my life.

Unfortunately, it seems like my relationship with my wife has gotten worse since I've gotten sober. She attends Al-Anon, and has a sponsor (sorry, I have to mention the 'other meeting' here, just to tell the story). I don't, as the rituals and religious stuff don't work for me, and I find I absolutely need to find my own personal power as part of my "recovery," and avoid labeling myself - I consider myself an ex-addict (if I started drinking or using again, however, that would change almost overnight, that's the way I think of it).

As I've gotten off drugs and alcohol, I've become, I hate to say it - annoying to her, or worse. I've found my voice. I speak up for myself. I get this feeling that when I was using, it functioned as a way to keep a smile on my face even when I felt like screaming inside. I was able to say "yes dear," and then go drink and feel like events weren't completely out of my control.

Unfortunately this has been a huge problem for my wife. She finds my self-assertion extremely threatening. She views it as me being "controlling" and "manipulative." The times I feel angry about things and verbalize it (which is extremely rare, but much less so now), she feels threatened, and has even said she feels scared - despite the fact I don't throw things, threaten, call names, yell (she actually does do the last three things at times - particularly in the calling names thing, and it's HORRIBLE).

In short, I feel like although my wife would never admit this, she would prefer me as I was when I was using. She would hotly deny such a thing, but I get a feeling this is where things are.

There's a lot of other stuff going on between us. There's ongoing tension about her 12-Step adherence, and my comprehension rejection of the 12-steps (again, far, far more comfortable with secular approaches - also I don't believe in the disease metaphor for addiction). Sex, which previous to my rebirth as a practicing sobrietist was an issue that caused tension between the two of us (I wanted more, she wanted less), is now pretty much dead in the water for now.

We're in couples therapy and have been for several months now. The sessions have become painful - two out of the last three sessions I've sat there and watched the therapist barely able to restrain my wife while she calls me names and openly threatens divorce. A current issue between the two of us is that I'm supposed to be unqualified-ly "supportive" of her Al-Anon work. I *have* been supportive and I *want* to be supportive - problem has been that I work on Sundays, and with Saturday being our only day where she doesn't work as well, I have been stressing to her I'd like at least a couple days where our Saturdays are completely free of recovery activities (I do my recovery work during the week), but she has insisted on many Saturdays that she should be able to attend recovery groups, work with her sponsor, sometimes be gone for hours, and that I should happily watch the kids while she does so. I'm happy to do this on occasional Saturdays, but it seems like she asks to do this fairly regularly. Currently she wants to be able to leave me with the kids every Saturday so she can meet with her sponsor. Who, by the way, doesn't take phone calls, doesn't have any other time to meet with her during the week, and can only meet with her on Saturdays. The one day of the week that I've made it plain I'd like to (say, twice a month - or even just ONCE a month) have free so that I can spend time with my family.... OR JUST GET A HAIRCUT, WASH MY CAR, MAYBE ATTEND A SATURDAY GROUP OF MY OWN????? But because I have this preference, because I state it - I'm "not supportive."

Currenly I'm in a deep freeze. My wife isn't speaking to me, and it's because I largely haven't backed down off of my wish (e.g., to have at least one or two Saturdays a month that *I* can have to use how I wish). I have said if she feels she needs to take these Saturdays to see her sponsor, she can do so, but I'm not happy when it's an ongoing expectation that I give up that time for her. I'm frustrated that her sponsor isn't at all flexible. Worse, I feel like I have to be "supportive" by going back to the old behaviors that I'm trying to avoid - I'm supposed to smile, suck it up, pretend I don't have feelings or preferences, say I'm happy to do whatever she wants, and just shut up.

Anyways, I used to post here under the moniker "DrSober" (lost my email).... but I'm back now. Happy to see you all again, particularly my fellow secular sobrietists and roll-your-own (so to speak) atheist / secular 12-steppers.

-DrS
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Old 04-23-2014, 07:50 AM
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Good luck man. Be honest and true. What a conundrum. If you don't have a disease she has no need to be in a support group for it. Sounds like you have come a long way and you need to catch her up.
Good luck. If you find extra luck send some my way for similar reasons.
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Old 04-23-2014, 08:09 AM
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Originally Posted by BigShoe View Post
Good luck man. Be honest and true. What a conundrum. If you don't have a disease she has no need to be in a support group for it. Sounds like you have come a long way and you need to catch her up.
Good luck. If you find extra luck send some my way for similar reasons.
Thanks. Yes, this is very difficult. I think that my drinking and using really served a purpose to keep our relationship in this sort of dysfunctional, unhealthy, but somehow oddly functional space. But I don't drink or use now - ever, because I don't want to, because it's something I don't do anymore. I also don't suck things up anymore and pretend I don't have feelings of my own. So yes, I'm in a conundrum. Thank you for listening.
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Old 04-23-2014, 12:30 PM
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I know what you're saying about "recoveryism" - however, I can't go there. I don't want a war with her, I'm sick of fighting, but I'm also sick of just sucking it up, smiling, and feeling inside like I want to yell. Know what I'm saying?

I *do* want to find some way for her to feel I'm supporting her, but for @*!!##?! sake she's making it extremely difficult.

Is it possible for a "mixed marriage" to work? She's AA, I'm Lifering. For that matter, I'm a carnivore, she's a vegetarian. I'm a libertarian, she's a socialist (self-described). Are we screwed?

-DrS
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Old 04-23-2014, 12:55 PM
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Yes, but only because you have different political views. That's where I would draw the line. :-)
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Old 04-23-2014, 02:50 PM
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I saw rocky rocky relationship and it caught my attention. Im going to offer my disclaimer straight off: Im a wife. Neither one of us are involved in 12 step recovery but Id like to share what I see in case it could help.

I think youíre on the money with assessment of your wife. She probably developed a set of unhealthy behaviors when you were not sober, and now the balance is all changed and she is freaking out !! I know you said you used Lifering and Im not familiar with it, but the article below is from Smart Recovery and it talks about the change in family dynamics. If you notice it points out BOTH people have to be willing to accept responsibility for trouble in the relationship and be willing to change and compromise.

Maybe your wife if trying to do it with the program she is attending, but is she MAKING PROGRESS? She sounds verbally abusive from what you depicted and I worry you will be inclined to stuff your feelings to keep the peace and I donít think its healthy for your recovery, or for your marriage in the long run.

If you both work, its not fair of her to expect you to spend every Saturday watching the kids so she can leave and spend all day doing her recovery. She may feel like its justified because when you were using she had to carry an unbalanced load? I can understand those feelings, but it cant go on like this forever! Now you need balance, time as a family along with your respective recovery work. She is not seeing this from where I sit.

Can your counselor help?

My husband and I do family counseling together and I love it ! I think your wife is taking for granted the effort you are putting in to make things right. No, donít try to interfere with her program because I think it will only make it worse and probably she will take it as your trying to control her. I would USE the counselor. It sounds like she has seen firsthand how aggressive your wife can be. Maybe you could make an appointment to talk to her alone and express your concerns. Does your wife do any individual counseling? Ill try to make this short, my husband went to rehab and came home for a visit at 30 days, he relapsed and I went crazy with hurt, anger, feelings of betrayal. His doctors then got me into my own counseling, and started us in family counseling and its made the difference. I started last year and stopped my individual about a month ago. I feel better and dont want to be stuck in a perpetual recovery. I have been exploring some at SMART recovery online because I find it filled with rational thought and it makes me feel encouraged reading there. I will go back to counseling if I feel like Im coming unglued again. I needed the 1:1 with someone who is professional, detached, and can set me straight with the facts. Reading your post, it sounds like your wife NEEDS it too.

Its all I wanted to say. I donít know if you will be compatible going forward, but you have to be who you are, authentic self. No more yes dear and stuffing those feelings to keep the peace. Ask yourself if you want a marriage where you cant be YOU.

A look at how changes can affect a family.

The human being is a social creature. We have families, we have significant others, we have friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Once we have initiated and begun to make changes in ourselves it will have an effect on the "others" in our lives. These "others" will, in turn, have an effect on us as they respond to the changes we make.

Change will almost invariably create anxiety to some degree. How best to help, how best to minimize conflict and anxiety, how best to keep together the "good" in our relationships without allowing the natural "anxiety of change" to pull it apart?

This is a complex issue. This essay is intended only to bring to light a few of the factors involved and prompt further study and effort.
What follows are edited excerpts from "Chronic Anxiety and Defining A Self ó An Introduction to Family Systems Theory", by Michael E. Kerr, published in "The Atlantic Monthly," September 1988. Dr. Murray Bowen, a professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center, seeing that the family is not a collection of autonomous entities but rather an interlocked emotional unit unto itself, developed the concept and perspective of "Family Systems".

One aspect that led to his conclusion of emotional interdependence and the family as a unit, was the observation that family members frequently function in "reciprocal relationships". For example, one member will act "strong" in the face of another's "weakness". This process was frequently played out with one member becoming anxious about what he or she perceived as a problem or potential problem in another. This anxiety then would tend to exaggerate the demeanor, appearance, and attitude of the anxious family member and further escalate a "Problem-Anxiety-Caretaker" cycle. This then results in a greater "caretaker" role which further enhances the "weakness" of the other. Each person becomes an emotional prisoner of the other, while giving a pseudo sense of togetherness.

Because of this and a number of other reciprocal relationship systems, it is suggested that it is important when making personal changes to also focus attention on the family unit and have strategies in place to address their needs. When one person makes a "change" in the family system it will have an effect on the other members' roles. Those effects may be subtle or intense and will create "stresses" in the others. If these stresses are not addressed in healthy ways, the family unit may break down or the personal change may not be successful.

Intense feelings when one family member is actively making changes are normal.

To navigate through the emotional challenges experienced by all members of the family when one individual is making a significant change (such as working on recovery from addiction) a well thought-out direction and tolerance of intense feelings is necessary. Otherwise, the individual making the change may well be inclined to give up the effort and restore the relationship to its previously uncomfortable but familiar state. The intense emotional challenges for the family members are fed by anxiety, the "fear of what might (or might not) be". The more people's responses are based on anxiety, the less tolerant they are of one another and the more irritated they are by their differences. They become more controlling or demanding and are less able to permit one another to be who they are. Feelings of overload, overwhelm, helplessness and isolation increase ó along with feelings that are accompanied by the wish to have the responsibility removed. For example, the "problem-person" may wish to seek escape by resorting to substance use; the anxious "care-taker" may wish to seek escape by ending the relationship.

With these aversive possibilities people become more intent on getting others to do things their way. Frustration when others resist often leads to disappointment and anger, further increasing the likelihood of giving up or withdrawing.

Efforts to get others to change can result in escalating the "problem-person's" feelings of being criticized, becoming defensive, and resorting to counterattacks. The flames are fanned when each party blames the other for the conflict. Projection of one's feelings and attitudes onto another may also be used to relieve anxiety by allowing one to view the other person as the problem.

When people have difficulty dealing with family or other relationships, contacts are frequently kept brief and superficial to reduce the discomfort.
However, when people deal with difficult emotional situations in this way, they are prone to become so emotionally invested in the success of any new relationships that they easily lose perspective and recreate problems in the new relationships that they thought they had escaped.

In addition, when people use distance or denial to manage their anxiety, they may lower their own anxiety level, but this may raise the anxiety in the other. So one may become more comfortable with oneself but increase the level of anxiety in the other. Such an outcome is a mixed blessing.
So, how to break this natural cycle?

When a family member can become more aware of his own part in whatever problems exist, become willing to assume responsibility for that part, and become more able to act on that basis, improvements in his functioning will no longer be contingent on someone else's "absorbing" his share of the family's immaturity.

It is a change in functioning that does not lead to the seesaw effect.
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Old 04-23-2014, 03:09 PM
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Since you've openly supported her program, maybe you could ask her to read some testimonials written by people who've left 12-step programs due to problems similar to the ones you've outlined. There are a lot of websites out there that might get her thinking, whatever she may end up thinking.

I'm sorry you're going through this and I wish you the best.
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Old 04-23-2014, 04:37 PM
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So talked to the wife earlier today, very briefly, on the phone. We're apparently going to have a brief chat after the kids are in bed, to go over scheduling for the next week - a necessary talk. I'm going to table the business of Saturdays, if she needs to see her sponsor this Saturday, fine - again, not against doing this on any individual Saturday, but the idea of ongoing Saturdays as an expectation, well, that's another issue. But I'm going to save that for the next couples session (Monday).

After the talk, she agreed we could "hang out" for a little bit, which means watching a TV show and when we're doing OK - cuddling a little. Don't know if that would happen tonight. I'm thinking of just saying, "look, we don't need to resolve any big issues right now, but we (you, I, and the therapist) all agree we need more pleasant events together in our lives. Can we try and start now, and table everything else for later? I'm willing if you are." I think if she can accept that, it would be a good first step towards a reboot from our current crisis.

Anyways, I'll keep everyone posted.

-DrS
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Old 04-23-2014, 06:00 PM
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Doc.....reading over your post and the responses, I'd have to say you received some great feedback !
I like your last post @ tabling things/problems and spending some time with your wife in "the here and NOW"....just attempting to let your different ways of dealing with your separate lives be different , but finding some positive ground upon which you can both sit TOGETHER....not as enemies, but as two people who care about themselves first, and then for the love/companionship you can share.

Last edited by raku; 04-23-2014 at 06:02 PM. Reason: mis-spelling
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Old 04-23-2014, 06:19 PM
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I have to ask, is your wife in any why dangerous? Do you have firearms in your home?

If she continues to "throw things, threaten, call names, yell", I suggest recording her, just in case you need it for legal reasons. At the very least, record in a journal the nature, time and dates of these incidents.
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Old 04-23-2014, 07:08 PM
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Doc - if the shoe was on the other foot and you needed to work with your sponsor on Saturdays how do you think she would react? Also, is her working with her sponsor really going to take up the whole day?

If that is the only day that her sponsor will meet with her and it is important to her then I don't think it is that unreasonable of a request. It would be completely different in my mind if her sponsor would meet with her on other days, but she choose Saturday against your wishes. Could you get a babysitter to watch the kids on Saturday while she is gone if you need the day to yourself?
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Old 04-23-2014, 08:02 PM
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Originally Posted by OpioPhobe View Post
Doc - if the shoe was on the other foot and you needed to work with your sponsor on Saturdays how do you think she would react? Also, is her working with her sponsor really going to take up the whole day?

If that is the only day that her sponsor will meet with her and it is important to her then I don't think it is that unreasonable of a request. It would be completely different in my mind if her sponsor would meet with her on other days, but she choose Saturday against your wishes. Could you get a babysitter to watch the kids on Saturday while she is gone if you need the day to yourself?
This is all correct. It *would* be completely different if her sponsor would meet with her on other days, supplement with phone calls, etc. - I would be the picture-perfect "supportive" spouse.

The babysitter I've considered. Not always a completely straightforward affair, but it's do-able. Also could drive 'em to my parents house and drop them off.

-DrS
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Old 04-23-2014, 09:17 PM
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I don't know if this applies to you or not, Doc, but sometimes booze is the only thing holding a failed relationship together. Now that you're healthy you and she might need different thing. No one wants to call it quits but sometimes it's better to walk away from something that has no other solution.

Best of luck whatever you decide.
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Old 04-23-2014, 10:43 PM
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I don't know if I'm healthy. That would be nice.

My wife just stormed out, probably to go get a hotel or something. Said she'll see me tomorrow, I can apologize to her then. For getting angry. Which I did. I didn't really yell - I growled at her, then she started packing her things (I tried to make her stop), and she stormed out with her handbag. It wasn't pretty.

The evening started out going mediocre.... we had an OK time putting the kids to bed, although it was chilly between the two of us. Then when the kids went to bed, we agreed to talk for about 10 minutes (ostensibly about scheduling). I couldn't help myself, I tried to talk about a bit more than that, when is she going to stop the stonewalling and the silent treatment stuff, what's happening between the two of us, and her repeating "I don't want to talk about that," etc. I finally asked for five more minutes and she said, "I hate you."

I told her that was inappropriate and then finally saved things for at least a little bit by telling her even though I was unhappy about the whole Saturday thing, if that was the only time she could meet with her sponsor, I would help to make that happen for her. Also reminded her I was trying to be supportive in other ways, said some other nice things, asked her if that sounded OK, she nodded, we watched a TV show.

Just before we were heading upstairs, I asked her, "can we talk more tomorrow"? She sort of grumbled at me, "if I have to," and I said, "what's the alternative?" She said, "you tell me." I said, "I don't know. What's the alternative?" She looked at me and said, "no." And I got mad - because this is exactly what the therapist said we weren't supposed to do - she's supposed to agree on times to talk - doesn't have to be tomorrow, but it has to be sometime, and that way I don't have to feel the pressure to sit her down and talk to her RIGHT NOW or else feel like I'm being frozen out completely and will never have a chance to speak (this is our pattern, you see). Of course, we just went ahead and promptly recapitulated our old pattern - she refused to even entertain talking to me further, at all, at any point in the foreseeable future (not before the next couples session) and I got mad and growled in her face, "YOU'RE BREAKING YOUR AGREEMENT." She got indignant that I growled in her face, "No one can ever talk to me like that!" (Forgetting that I've tolerated, quite unwisely, over the years, multiple sessions of her screaming at me, calling me terrible, awful names, the worst in the book). It's a terrible sight after that - me following her to the car, pleading for her to stay, finally, she leaves. I unfortunately obstructed her in getting her bag packed, but I thought better of things after she left and packed her bag and her medicine bag, and left it outside locked in my car, so she can grab it without having to face me.

So I'm still in extreme rocky-ville. I can pretend that I'm the hugely evolved one here, but I'm not. I'm not using, I'm not drinking, I'm not gambling, I'm not porn-ing, I'm not doing any of the bad things I used to, to numb the pain and regain feelings of control when things were out of control. I'm wallowing in the helplessness currently. It's OK - it won't kill me. Unfortunately this is starting to get to the danger zone where the kids might start getting affected directly.

Help

-DrS
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Old 04-24-2014, 01:35 AM
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Doc...
I had a friend, Cecelia, and when she found her husband had been fooling around with "Frankie", a woman singer in a band her husband was part of, for an extended period of time...and Cecelia even caught clamidia thro' this "singer"....it was more than problmatic for their marriage (with 2 beautiful young boys). They sought Christian counsel, and one thing they did to help resolve the communication rift (anger, hurt) was to instead of talk directly with the intense emotions involved....they left notes for one another to express feeling that were probably so powerful that to talk back and forth directly would prove too "activating", whilst the objet of the hostility staring them in the face. It helped alot to difuse the stuff slowly...it worked.....the relationship survived, the family stayed intact ? A possibility for you and your wife ???

Miso & me
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Old 04-24-2014, 02:32 AM
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I'm not sure what "healthy" is the context of a marriage! Little about mine was healthy, although I can only see that in retrospect. Certainly though her stonewalling isn't helpful at all, and her contempt is a very dangerous sign; research has repeatedly shown open contempt to among the most toxic things to a marriage and the best predictor of divorce. Again, I'm not a shrink nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. I'm just spitballing from what I've read an from a couple decades of relationships.

What is the alternative? Pity she doesn't answer. If the answer is no answer, that too is an answer. She probably doesn't really "hate you" but no matter how angry that's something you'd expect to hear from a ten year old, not a grown woman.

Relationships develop their own dynamics over time. Certainly when one party stops drinking/drugging it blows up the existing dynamic. In many important ways you're not the person she married. Even if you're a better person that doesn't change the fact that the whole "deal" has been altered.

Having kids means of course that the issue isn't just you and your wife. Still, I think the prevailing professional opinion now is that "staying together for the kids" is not helpful to them at all.

I wish I could offer better advice, but there it is. Once you had little control over your life and marriage, basically just staggering drunk through whatever she wanted to do. But now sober you at best can control one half of the equation. Just as I would say to the wife of an active drunk, you can't change that person. If she's not willing to do the work or even meet you half way by discussing things I don't know what you can do.

Of course, in life things also tend to blow over and rages burn themselves out. Maybe she's just having a bad day/week/month.

Whatever happens just be sure to take are of you and your sobriety. Nothing else you try to do matters without that.
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Old 04-24-2014, 02:46 AM
  # 17 (permalink)  
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DocSobrietist, 11 months sober is FANTASTIC, congratulations, rootin for ya.
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Old 04-24-2014, 09:36 AM
  # 18 (permalink)  
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A message of hope & strength...
Love you first, your strengths & your weaknesses...partners come & go...be they wives or husbands, or business partners......in weakness & in health they say at the marriage ceremony...the only
one whom I found to be worthy of that true total commitment ...was myself, and IS myself....not selfishness, not arrogancy...not,"I'm right and you are wrong", but inner strength and conviction.
It is , in a way, self-love......which, in my book comes first !
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Old 04-24-2014, 10:03 AM
  # 19 (permalink)  
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As M.o.S. stated contempt is a very toxic element in a relationship, there is a well known psychologist who has documented this extensively if you google it.

While many of us are often in denial about alcoholism, active alcoholism is usually very obvious. It is a tangible thing with direct physical results and consequences that can be pointed to. In short, when one is ready to acknowledge they have a problem there is usually a lot of evidence to support that view. Active alcoholism and its behaviors can have serious effects on a marriage, but it doesn't make us solely responsible for all the problems, or give the other partner license to treat us poorly. Behavior like you have described is really unhealthy, not just for you two, it also doesn't teach kids that conflicts can be resolved without engaging in a zero sum game. (I grew up in that sort of house). If you read the F&F section here there are tons of members who belong to Al-Anon who carved out their own happiness, this happiness was not predicated on trashing their partner. Getting well should not be "against them" it should be "for you".

Other issues in a marriage aren't quite as easy to label or pin down. Being unwilling to even set a time to talk is a very controlling and diminishing way to treat a partner. It sounds like you are locked in a power struggle. Perhaps your wife is easily influenced and hearing all of these terms for the first time in striking a deep chord. Perhaps she is identifying and doesn't feel so alone, you are just seeing overkill as she acknowledges her own power. Or perhaps she has her own set of issues. Just like they speak about on the F&F forum, your option is to set boundaries, not ultimatums. Boundaries dictate what your parameters are and how you will respond to protect yourself.

There is a very good book called "Dance of Intimacy", it talks about the struggle we become involved in…. pursuer, distancer. Refusing to speak, silent treatment, all power games. Chances are she isn't behaving that way because she doesn't care, but somehow hurting you keeps her feeling connected.

It sounds like you are getting punished…maybe your wife is releasing years of pent up rage. And while I do believe that we need to own our pasts, I don't believe we need to wear sackcloth and ashes. It sounds like your wife is pretty easily influenced, the pendulum may be swinging widely in the other direction, chasing her is only going to reinforce the idea that punishing you gets your attention.

I hope you read the book. It is empowering to know that we are part of the "dance" and that we actually help to proliferate the ongoing struggle. I've been there. I have learned that the healthiest relationships are those where two individuals who have their own feet firmly on the ground come together and enhance each other. Not against her, for you.
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Old 04-24-2014, 01:45 PM
  # 20 (permalink)  
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Getting a hotel room of my own tonight - I'm setting my *own* boundaries. She can do the freezing out routine to a wall. I feel better in making this decision. More later.

-DrS
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