“Spinning our wheels”

So, Hubby and I have been fighting. We fight about nothing, we fight about everything. I don’t like it. He doesn’t like it. I have been trying to do things differently and talk about the fighting, rather than ignore it and pretend it’s not happening. Hubby doesn’t want to talk about it. He wants it to go away. On Tuesday night (or maybe Wednesday morning, depending how you look at it) I started researching couples therapy methods. I came across Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples, or EFT, thanks to a link sent to me by a good friend. I looked into it. And I liked what I read.

EFT is based on the idea that we all need an attachment figure, a secure base in our life, no matter what our age is. In EFT, the attachment is with your partner. The therapy focuses on changing how the couple reacts and responds to each other on an emotional level, it focuses on creating a stronger attachment bond, healing a severed bond, or perhaps helping to create a secure bond for the first time. I found a workbook, Our relationship: an emotionally focused workbook for creating closeness: the two of us, and Hubby agreed to do it with me. Chapter one was an overview of what EFT is, and who the workbook is designed for. I read and summarized chapter one for Hubby. Last night, we did chapter two together.

I’m nervous. The anxiety I feel is probably more than I should be feeling. I’ve looked ahead though, and read enough about EFT to I know I’m going to feel vulnerable and exposed. Lately, every time I feel vulnerable, Hubby makes me feel worse.

We get comfortable in bed, blankets and pillows, hot tea.

I look at him, and I know my voice is wobbly when I speak. “We can read the reading part out loud, take turns reading, or read it to ourselves?” I feel responsible, like I have to to make this work, and make him happy with it because it was my idea.

“I’ll just read it. I won’t listen if you read it.” In my mind, Hubby sounds harsh, like he is cutting me off, not willing to talk.

“Okay. Okay. Then we can do the worksheets together, and talk about what we read.” I grab the silly putty off my nightstand before I can start picking my fingers because my anxiety is so high I already want to pick the skin off my fingers.

Chapter two is all about fighting patterns. It’s referred to as a “dance” and couples are encouraged to name their dance. Hubby and I name our dance “Spinning our wheels.” Our pattern is clearly protest-withdraw, with me being the the protester, and Hubby being the one who withdraws. There is a list of behaviors associated with each partner, and neither has nice traits listed. The protester has behaviors like criticizing, complaining, following around the house, nagging (which hubby informs me means talking incessantly), yelling to make my point, ignoring when partner tries to rectify the situation, and questioning. The withdrawing person has behaviors like reasoning, appeasing, placating, numbing out, shutting down, leaving the room, not responding, yelling to shut things down and minimizing. The book explains how my behavior triggers Hubby to feel a certain way which leads to a behavior that triggers me to feel a certain way and leads to a behavior which triggers Hubby’s feelings, and….on and on, caught in an endless loop.

We finish reading, and look I look at Hubby. “Well….I um. I guess we would be the protest withdraw dance.”

“Oh yeah,” Hubby says.

While we had been reading, I had written out the behaviors of the protestor and withdrawer, as well as the worksheets. “I thought we could highlight the behaviors we know we do, and what we feel the other does.”

Hubby takes the green highlighter from me. “I’m obviously the one who withdraws.”

I feel like he is being short with me, but I am afraid anything I say will be taken as a criticism or complaint, and, after all, he is doing the workbook. I hand him the list of withdraw behaviors, and the worksheets to fill out.

For my own, I highlight a lot of the behaviors, but not every single one. Before I get started on worksheet, Hubby says, “it’s all of them.” He is gesturing at his list of behaviors.

“Well, then just draw a line down the page with the highlighter,” I suggest.

“Why? It’s all of them.”

“Well, if I highlight not all of them, then we can see the difference in what you and I see,” I say. I don’t know, really, I just think it should just be highlighted, because that’s the exercise.

“That makes no sense.”

“I don’t know. It satisfies my OCD,” I say, and Hubby draws a line down the page to highlight all the behaviors. I don’t understand why I’m always considered the difficult one, and yet he is the one who just made us have a 5 min conversation about highlighting.

With that done, we can trade pages to highlight the other person’s behaviors. I’m actually really afraid to see what he highlights. I have this deep fear he is going to highlight every single thing on the pages. I don’t want to have to face that my husband thinks I’m this awful person. I don’t have to mark all the behaviors on Hubby’s sheet, even though he thinks he displays them all. The work sheet is harder for me, because filling it out makes me feel like crying. It’s really rough. All the hurt and fear is right there as I’m writing about what behaviors Hubby does that make me feel threatened. The second step of the worksheet is to write out how I respond to that behavior. I fill the sheet out honestly, but it makes me feel very exposed to do so. And, I wonder if this will be the time Hubby loses it on me (Bea has assured me that given my trauma history, it is absolutely normal for me to have this fear of Hubby losing it).

Hubby sets his worksheets down, next to me. “I’m done with my sheets, too,” I tell him, “Should we maybe look at the behaviors first?” I want to put off the actual worksheet as long as possible.

“Why? We know what we do.” He holds them up anyway, regardless of his words. I look at them. We marked a lot of the same ones, but some different. We each marked more for ourselves than our partner marked for us. I breathe a sigh of relief over that– he hasn’t marked everything, and so he at least doesn’t see me as this completely awful person.

“Okay. I guess it’s just maybe helpful to have them listed out, and to realize that when you are displaying any of these behaviors, you are actually quietly protesting conflict, or trying to avoid disappointing me, or trying to protect yourself. And you can maybe try to realize that when I am displaying these behaviors, it is because I am feeling a disconnect between us.” I shrug, and put the lists in the mini binder I made to hold our workbook stuff. “Do you want to share your worksheet first?” I’m hoping Hubby says okay, because once again, I’m putting off sharing my worksheet.

“I wrote, I feel threatened when you criticize or nag and then I shut down and don’t respond to manage.” Hubby reads it off, no problem. I sigh. I don’t think he is really emotionally involved.

We talk. He clarifies what he feels is criticism or nagging. It turns out, it’s not what I say, or even how it’s said. It’s the fact that after I say it once, I keep talking. That’s what he sees as criticism. He explains to me that nagging is just talking incessantly, for the sake of talking; essiantially, in his view, it’s talking at him. I think of nagging as more of the wife with the “honey-do” list ans trying to get the husband to do everything on it. But this is about his experience, not my vocabulary definitions.

Then, my turn. “I wrote….I feel threatened when you look at me and say ‘I’m done.’ because I ..” My voice breaks and I hand the paper to Hubby. It says, I feel threatened when you look at me and say I’m done because I hear “I’m done with you.” When you shut down and refuse to respond or walk away from me, this reinforces that, and then I yell to make my point, follow you around or purposefully push your buttons because at that point any reaction is better than no reaction at all.

Tears fall down my cheeks now, and Hubby looks at me, “Im sorry. I don’t mean I’m done with you. I never would be done with you, with us. I’m sorry that is what you hear.”

We’re able to talk through this, too. It feels scary to talk about this, but like a relief, too, to be getting things out in the open and working towards an understanding of each other. We talk about the fact that Hubby doesn’t think I’m a mean person, he doesn’t think my behavior is meant to be mean. I tell him I’m hurt or scared under the criticizing, or complaining.

We fill out a few more worksheets together. On one, I notice that when Hubby is shut down from me, actively tuning me out, my response is to talk incessantly. “I can trace that all the way back to childhood. My mom always says that all I did until the year I turned 5 was follow her around the house talking non-stop, and she would just ignore me and tune me out. Bea told me the fact I needed to follow my mom around and talk like that was probably me searching out a connection; that even with a most likely secure attachment, I sensed the emotional distance from my mom and that’s what I was responding to.”

“I can understand that. That’s sad to me….I’m sorry. I’m sorry for now and for you then. I can understand why you talk a lot to me, it makes you feel safe,” Hubby says.

Tonight, before Hubby goes to bed and I read my book, we snuggle together and talk. We talk about the workbook some more, but also about everyday things. I feel safer talking to him and more truly connected and understood than I have in a long time.