I know I am doing this out of order, but on Monday, we had our fourth meeting with the marriage counselor.
We went into the meeting feeling good about stuff in general, and we really didn't have anything that we planned to discuss with her. Warning -- this is probably where the worst things come out.
My wife holds the door for me as we walk in, and we're cheerfully discussing a business idea the two of us came up with -- a business idea my wife will never follow through on, and so if we want to do it, it will be on my shoulders -- but snide comments aside, we were cheerful.
After sitting down with the marriage counselor, the conversation floated to our vacation, and specifically, the first few days [which I blogged about here]. We didn't even get to the part of the story where my wife demanded that we turn around, end our vacation before even reaching our destination, and go home. The therapist honed in on the fact that our communication gets messed up (like misinterpreted text messages), and that we immediately assume that the other is our enemy and we imply and inject feeling of malice from the other that may or may not be there.
In short, the therapist didn't like me assuming that my wife was pissed at me based on "the look" she gave me when she came back into the hotel and found me working there. Similarly, she did not like the fact that my wife assumed that I didn't empathize with her because I did not give her the specific signals that she needed to feel as if I was empathizing with her (noting that she ignored every other signal of empathy that I showed her). There's not much space or patience on my part to go into the whole ordeal, but 1) my issue was that she didn't show any appreciation for the work I do to keep us afloat and to pay for all the expensive lifestyle choices she has urged us to make. And, 2) her issue was that I do not show empathy for the tough lifestyle that she lives (which is total bullshit).
I wrote that it was bullshit not because I disagree with her that her life is difficult -- believe me, I appreciate her more than anything for the unbelievable job she does EACH AND EVERY DAY with running our household, raising the kids, and keeping the family afloat with all of her efforts. However, as I explained to the counselor, whenever I notice that she is having a hard time and I acknowledge this to her -- whether it is by buying flowers as a thank you for all the hard work, giving her a hug as a thank you, telling her I appreciate everything she does, or even telling her, "I am sorry you are having a difficult time," when things go wrong -- I get the equivalent of a "FUCK YOU" as a response.
My wife responded that she doesn't feel that my way(S) of showing her empathy are "real," and that she feels as if they are not authentic. This pisses me off more than anything because I cannot explain how many different ways I have tried to show her empathy and appreciation, because no matter what I do (even when it is done naturally according to my style), she doesn't feel that it is authentic. Quite frankly, I have tried so many ways of doing this, that I feel as if the problem is with her on this one (as some psychological issue she needs to work out) and not something I need to do or an approach I need to change.
Her opinion is that if I see she is having a hard time, instead of me expressing my empathy, I should instead ROLL UP MY SLEEVES AND HELP. When she told this to the therapist, I got upset because 1) she NEVER does the same thing for when I need something, and 2) I feel that unlike many husbands, I *DO* help out significantly around the house. Aside from the fact that I pay for a maid which comes pretty much every day for a few hours, I also help out with laundry, various cleaning tasks around the home (whatever is needed at the time), I come home early and promptly from work every day to put the kids to bed, and I take care of many of the household maintenance repairs and chores (e.g., mowing the lawn, taking care of the garden that she planted and decided she doesn't want to water, etc.) that she has nothing to do with. This brings us to the final issue we discussed in our session -- PATTERN FIGHTING.
I told the therapist that the reason I did not help out and jump in there when my wife was having a hard time (this is no longer relevant since I've been kicked out of my home office and now I am never home during the day) was probably because at that moment, my hands were tied up with actual work I was doing at the time for the law firm. I felt that she should have acknowledged that I was working too at that moment and if I could have picked up and helped out, I would have (as I used to when I was working there; when I couldn't help out because I was working, I didn't help out, but rather, I called out from the office that I know she is having a difficult time and that I felt for her).
Well, at this point my wife and I got into an argument in front of the therapist that she doesn't acknowledge the fact that I work for a living, and that everything that she benefits from is based on my toil and sweat which she takes for granted. She turned around and started fighting about her taking care of the kids and that I never help out with them, etc. etc. etc. --- The counselor picked up on this and explained to us the concept of PATTERN FIGHTING.
In short, PATTERN FIGHTING is where we habitually return to an old fight which we repeat over and over again, regardless of the context.
For us, the context used to be 1) [when we got married] me studying all day and night for the patent bar exam vs. her working a job and paying the bills, or 2) me working from home all day and night at a low paying job vs. her leaving her job and raising our newborn son while being pregnant with our second, or 3) me working hard at a real corporate job vs. her home running the family of two kids without any help, or 4) me starting and running the law firm in our 6x6 closet vs. her running the family of three kids on a tight budget with no help, or now, 5) me running a successful law firm outside the home in my office space vs. her running our entire family (4 kids). It is all the same fight, but the contexts have evolved.
We both have worked hard to bring us where we are today, and me bringing in over a quarter of a million dollars a year just on my work and sweat alone and buying her everything she needs (including a house, remodeling the kitchen, paying for a maid, paying for yeshiva tuition and camp for three of our four kids, going on vacations, paying for her to bust through and explode any budget we ever set for ourselves, just to name a few [and not mentioning the overly expensive decisions which I have disagreed with, such as hundreds of dollars for each curtain, an expensive bunk bed, a remodeled kitchen [okay, I'm mentioning it again], etc.]), and her raising our family and successfully running our home with our four children (including driving them every day, preparing lunches, clothes and bathing them every day, babysitting our youngest and then all of our kids after school, cooking dinners, cleaning up spills, changing diapers, shopping for food, shopping for everything we need (diapers, etc.), doing some laundry, and cooking and managing every Shabbos and every holiday), etc. etc. etc. -- we both work crazy hard, and we both are quite exhausted.
Anyway, apparently we have this ongoing fight where 1) I do not feel appreciated for the work I do or for my contributions to our lifestyle or the benefits she enjoys every day, and 2) she does not feel as if I empathize with the difficult life she lives and toils with every day.
While our hour with the marriage counselor ended before we resolved anything, in short, she told us that we must 1) acknowledge that we have this pattern of fighting that we fall into, and that it acts as a magnet and draws us into the same fight each time we are pulled into it, and 2) we need to recognize what "triggers" the pattern, and then step back and break the pattern before we jump into the fight yet again.
Obviously she triggered the fight on the way home, and I wasn't so good at stepping back. Similarly, we have triggered the fight multiple times almost every day since, and neither she nor I break away from it. The problem is that once the trigger happens, the wound has already happened as well -- so it is difficult to step back when she hurts me, and probably vice versa.
[Personal Note: Not necessarily for you [the reader], but more for my own diary and recollection, what I want by having my work acknowledged is that I want my wife to appreciate and be grateful for the work I do for her and OUR mutual benefit. There are so many things I can do that are far more selfish (I don't have to work all day; I can slack off; I can say, "okay, we've made $75K, $100K, $150K -- let's take the rest of the year off," and yet I devote myself to her and our family, and I feel that I should receive some kind of "reward" or "thanks" or gratitude for all the work I do that is BEYOND the duty of a husband merely providing for the needs of his family. Yes, of course it is my DUTY to work based on the decisions I have made in my life, but still, if I do all this (when I could have easily done far less, or, for example, just taken some job as an employee and made some meager salary), I want to be appreciated and rewarded for the extra strenuous work that I have taken on for our family's own betterment. More than this, I want to be CARED FOR, and I want to feel loved. I want her to know that I contribute my fair share and then some and that my wife is lucky to have me. And I don't want all the work I do to benefit us in the dark. I want my wife to know what I do for her, and I feel that unless I mention it (probably incessantly over and over ad nauseum), she won't know what I do. That sounds stupid and illogical, but it is how I feel. I feel used and taken advantage of. I also feel neglected, and I feel that I am ignored because somehow everything I do is expected of me without thanks or appreciation.
On the flip side, going back over that paragraph above, flipping what I said around, I feel that I have fulfilled my obligation as a provider. I feel as if the work I do is not appreciated, and that I do not get any benefit or reward from my wife for continuing to toil even though I technically can take the rest of the year off if I wanted to because I have made more than most people in the community make, and they get by fine, why shouldn't we get by on less? I don't feel that I benefit from making the extra income for our family, and there is certainly little reward, because no matter how much I make, it is never enough. I don't feel cared for. I don't feel loved by my wife. I don't think my wife thinks I contribute equally to the family. I don't think my wife is in love with me. I don't think my wife is happy that she married me versus someone else. I don't feel special, I don't feel important in her eyes. I feel as if the work I do goes unnoticed. I don't think my wife knows or acknowledges the work I have done for us. Wow, sucky life.]