Thursday, July 05, 2012

Marriage Counselor Meeting #5 - Listening to the Little Hints

Coincidentally, I had a difficult time remembering what was discussed in our last meeting (the topic eluded me), probably because it was so mundane... but probably also so important.

Okay, short recap.  We got engaged (and married shortly afterwards) after dating something like 12 times back in 2006.  I was a critical S.O.B. and I couldn't stop being critical.  My wife, who entered the marriage with optimism and an open mind clashed with me confused why we we weren't taking on the roles married husbands and wives are supposed to.  My wife didn't act like the typical chassidishe woman I expected her to be -- instead, she was her own person with her own strengths and her own weaknesses on a path of being the best she could be -- like me.  Not seeing this, my comments the first year of our marriage caused her to close off emotionally and not trust me, and now almost SIX years later and FOUR kids later, we are seeing a marriage counselor to figure out why there is little intimacy and closeness (meaning in our daily interactions as husband and wife) between us.

So there are these walls.  My complaint is that my wife does not appreciate or recognize the work that I do on our family's behalf, and that my efforts go unnoticed.  Her complaint is that I do not appreciate or recognize the tireless work that she does in running our family and our household, raising our family, cooking the meals, etc. etc.  In other words, there is this cycle or pattern of fighting which is the same fight we have over and over again -- it is tempting to engage in, and once we get sucked into it, it is so difficult to back away from because the hurt has already been done.  This was the recap of our last session, and the advice of the therapist was 1) recognize when "the pattern" beseeches us and temps us into a fight, and 2) recognize that the fight is simply re-enacting the patterned behavior, and 3) if possible, try to step away from the pattern fight.

Once again, so there are these walls from our first year of marriage.  After that, I pretty much learned to accept her for who she was (or at least to stop expecting her to be what I expected her to be when we entered the marriage), and to appreciate her for who she is.  The problem is that now years later, she is still emotionally guarded and closed to me, and she doesn't trust me that I won't hurt her if she opens up.

The therapist initially stated the point that she doesn't think the source of our patterned fight was each other, but perhaps it has its source in our childhood or our respective upbringings.  Perhaps my mamma or my tatta (I never called them that, BTW) didn't appreciate me or acknowledge my efforts, etc. etc.  I was sure she was barking up the wrong tree, and I cut her off.  I don't think looking into the past to give excuses for the present is an acceptable method of helping us to grow and change.  Speaking to my wife later, I see that we both probably have sources for our fight, but I still think this is irrelevant.

Then came the CRUX of our session.  My wife felt that even when she opens up, I don't engage her in exploratory conversation.  It turns out that she'll say something -- a hint, a comment, or something, and I don't recognize that she is opening up. I take what she says at face value, obviously listening and paying attention to her, but this doesn't make her feel heard, loved, or cared for because I do not engage her in exploratory questions about the subject.  The therapist agreed that I am not a mind reader, and there is no way to know when she is just speaking, or when she is opening up about a topic that is important to her.  AND, moving forward, my wife needs to help me understand when something she discusses is important to her and she wants me to explore deeper and ask her questions about it.  We tried it a few times, and my wife seems to be satisfied with the result.

My experience is that she tells me something is important, I ask a few questions, get some non-descriptive answers which don't give me any depth, and then she's not interested in answering my questions or in giving me anything that I can use to learn more about her on a deeper level.  Well, not really -- I've picked up a few items -- things I've known about her already on some shallow level, but now I know that these items or issues are more on her mind than they are background piece of information I categorized these items or issues as.  In other words, there is more going on between her and her mother as far as a mother-daughter relationship then she has let on in the past, and I never recognized the issues she shared with me.  In short, I expect that this will get us somewhere, one increment at a time.  My feeling about it is that it is a lot of effort to put in to get one drop of water at a time, and I'd rather look for the ocean, the river, or the dam and break it open and see what flows out.  The obvious problem (something I'll deal with) is that it's not going to be that easy.

On an unrelated note, what I like about this therapist is that not only is she willing to take me head on and address a wrong act or a bad way of me seeing something, but I like that my wife trusts her and is borderline in tears with a shaky voice when she speaks to her.  In other words, she is not shutting out the therapist like I feel that she usually shuts me out, so it is good to see the inner workings of my wife's mind, and to be reminded of the many emotions she has brewing just beneath the cool and calm surface.  I also like seeing her vulnerable, because she doesn't let me get her to that state, but it is nice to be reminded that she is able to get to that state -- it gives me something to reach for.

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