The Beginning of Something Else

On June 1, 2007 I found out my husband and partner of almost two decades had been unfaithful to me since before our marriage, and had been having intercourse with prostitutes for 3 1/2 years. This is what happened next.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Insidious codependency

I am terrified of my husband's resentment. Most of Husband's resentment has been toward others, but that resentment is what allowed him to justify his infidelity and betrayal of my trust. He "deserved" something to compensate him for the injustices and disappointments in his life.

The other day we were in the car and I asked him if he was beginning to be unhappy in his job. When he replied yes, I said I was sorry to hear that he was feeling unhappy. And then I proceeded to "speak from my own experience" (as I've learned to do in my 12-step group)about finding that life is not what you thought or wished it would be.

I was surprised when he seemed angry, and I thought I'd hurt his feelings because I'd been speaking to him about my experience with him in a way that may have been hurtful.

We talked about it in therapy, and it came out that Husband actually felt like it wasn't okay with me for him to be dissatisfied in his job, and that was what upset him.

As we talked I realized that, because I'm so terrified about Husband's resentment because of what it might mean for and about me, I do a lot to manage his happiness level. I get anxious and terribly uncomfortable when he's unhappy because I feel that this leads to resentment, and try to "help" him. Or if I think he's upset with me, I try to correct what I think are misunderstandings he has with respect to me. I need to fix misperceptions immediately lest they result in unwarranted resentment toward me. And this dynamic is something I never recognized. And I do this because I feel threatened by his resentment on a very deep level.

So we worked out a code. When Husband really just needs me to be there and listen, he'll break through my advice by saying, "I really need your help." I'll know that I need to get a grip on my own anxiety, with the understanding that we will talk about what I need to talk about, but not just at that moment. And I can do the same.

We have yet to try this, but discovering this pattern is a great breakthrough for me.

I was reminded by a woman from my therapy group about how much opportunity there is in leaning toward what is uncomfortable and scary.

What will happen when I stop trying to control Husband's feelings, stop trying to manage against resentment, and allow for the possibilty that he'll develop those feelings? Who will I be when I have to face that head on, instead of resisting it?

I look forward to finding out.


Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

I, too, find myself really anxious and scared about my husband's resentment. I don't like when people are displeased with me, and one of the things I always liked about my husband was that he rarely seemed to get upset with anything about me. He seemed to totally love and accept me, and that failure to ever disagree with me made me comfortable.

I found in recovery that there were plenty of things he disagreed with and resented, but he had hidden it out of his own codependency. It has been hard and very uncomfortable to accept his negative feelings when they arise. My impulse is always to want to fix them and make him happy so that I can feel comfortable and safe.

woman.anonymous7 said...

MPJ - I had the same feeling about my husband - total love and acceptance - so it's been especially hard to allow for his negative feelings. I'd come to depend on his acceptance as my safe harbor, something I could count on when the rest of the world was scary or uncomfortable; a place to rest with my considerable defenses down.

So of course now I'm trying to develop that core self that serves those functions so that I'm not depending on Husband or anyone else to provide that foundation of self-esteem for me. But it's definitely a challenging pattern to change, and I expect it will take years to get facile and comfortable with.

MargauxMeade said...

Like your husband, mine has always kept his resentments to himself. However, I've always sensed them bubbling below the surface and tried to coax them out--pisses him off to no end. Anyway, now that he's been in recovery for almost five months, he's all of a sudden letting out his anger and overwhelming me with everything he resents and despises. It's hard to be understanding. I feel like saying, "Well, asshole, whose fault is it that this is all coming out now? Have some integrity and tell me as these things come up."

woman.anonymous7 said...

Margauxmeade - I often have that same reaction. If you'd have had the balls to talk to me instead of going off and f@#&ing prostitutes it would have been a lot better for both of us.

In calmer moments I remember that I think he would have if he could have. His family of origin issues and my own issues created a dynamic between us that made it feel unsafe for him to share his anger, fears and anxieties; and to make matters more complex, neither of us were aware of this.

Now he's trying to express his feelings and I'm trying to be able to be with upset, anger, and anxiety and not fix it. That's scary for me, and probably for him, too. But it's progress in the right direction.

mkr said...

i was not betrayed during our marriage but during our courtship. And stupidly I married him anyway, thinking I could just ignore all the resentment, etc. and that it would just go away. Hah. I could not have known how many years upon years it was going to take me to move on. I am so impressed by your strength and your desire to really learn from this and move forward. I'm also heartbroken that this happened to you and wishing you strength as you trudge forward. You didn't deserve this crap.

woman.anonymous7 said...

Thank you MKR. I'm sorry to hear about your experience, and hope you're on your way to a more peaceful place now.

As I face all the feelings I'm learning so much about myself and growing in ways I didn't expect.

I'd never say I'd do this again if I had the choice, but I'm consoled somewhat by the fact that there are positives coming out of the experience along with all the pain and confusion. I wish the same for you.