Spinning our wheels: Getting Real

Bea wanted me to finish filling out the workbook questions from the EFT workbook (emotionally focused couples therapy workbook) that I had refused to fill out. Her thought was filling it out would be a good way to at least start the conversation between Hubby and I regarding my fears of allowing him to be close. She had spent some time in therapy going through the questions with me, helping me work out my answers, so when I sat down to write them, it wasn’t very hard.

Chapter 4 was the chapter I got upset about. It was all about our attachment relationships in the past, and what those relationships have taught us about ourselves. Answering those questions felt way too exposing to me, and I left many of them blank. The entire time hubby and I shared our answers, I had a bad grumpy attitude; I essentially acted like my 15 year old self. It was only made worse in that hubby found the questions easy to answer, and everything he had to say seemed so normal and typical. He clearly had a very healthy, secure attachment style, and I had this broken screwed up attachment style that I most certainly didn’t want to admit to– ever.

I sat down, though, and I answered the questions:

On a scale of 1-10 how worthy am I of receiving help from my spouse or friends?
It really varies depending on state on mind and mood. Bea says I have these frozen in time parts, the traumatized parts that don’t really match up to the grown up parts. So some parts would be very low on this scale, and others would be higher.

On a scale of 1-10 how comfortable am I allowing others to be close to me?
Not so much. I’m afraid of letting people close to me, and don’t like feeling vulnerable. I usually act mad to hide it. That’s why I got so bent out of shape about these questions in the workbook– they felt too exposing to me.

Who was the person that comforted me when I was upset, how did they comfort me and what did that teach me about myself?
My mom, she tried to distract me, and it taught me that my real emotions, and to some extent my authentic self was not acceptable.

Have you been in an abusive relationship in the past? Has this made approaching your current partner difficult at times?
Yes, my relationship in college was physically and sexually abusive.

I gave Hubby the worksheets and told him that he could read them later, but that I didn’t want to talk about them right now. I woke up this morning to email from him.

You’re sleeping now but I wanted to say thank you for sharing your answers. I’ll take every opportunity to know more about you. It makes me feel more connected to you. I love you more and more each day and I think you’re an amazing wife, mom, and person.

I love you and always will because of who you are.

I let him in, and now I need to try not to kick him out. I only hope I’m stronger enough to do it.

Advertisements

Spinning our wheels (with a migraine): Emotions

(Friday)

I’ve had a migraine all day; the kind of pounding, throbbing, ice pick through your eye headache that even prescription medication can’t touch. By 9:00 pm, eight hours after the onset of the worst of the pain, I can finally handle listening to a quiet voice and talking. I’ve been bored, laying in bed with a blanket and heated rice pack over my eyes, doing nothing but thinking. And thinking can be dangerous for me; I’ve been stuck in my own head for hours now, and some of those places have been quite scary. So when Hubby suggests that we do our workbook, I agree.

He reads the chapter to me. I usually find it hard to pay attention to people reading to me, but I’ve been bored enough all day that this is enough for me. Plus, I had read ahead and being familiar with the chapter made it easier to follow along to hubby reading.

The chapter is about our emotions, and what the author’s call defensive or secondary emotions. It’s a concept we are all familiar with in our lives. For me, the easiest example is when I am angry, I’m typically feeling hurt or vulnerable or scared underneath that. The worksheets were mostly about how a different reactions from your partner can cause different emotions, and those emotions can be different based on what we have learned in our past attachment relationships. They gave different examples ranging from when your partner calls your name in an angry voice to when they frown.

Surprisingly, for the most part, Hubby and I have the same responses to cues from our partner. The main difference is that while we both tend to have the same external response, my internal response tends to be about what I’ve done wrong, or should have done better, or how I’m never good enough, or whatever. His internal responses are much more neutral; in a way, Hubby seems to effortlessly practice the mindfulness that so many therapists are suggesting nowadays.

One part of the worksheet was to fill out what you are feeling in your body when you experience these emotions. Hubby was able to do this very well, but when it was my turn, I had nothing. He wanted to know why, but I really couldn’t explain it very well. I didn’t really want to talk about exactly how detached I am from my body or my emotions. I asked him to just let it go, and he did.

We ended up snuggling and talking quietly about our feelings. Hubby told me he worries that he is emotionally dead. He said that until he met me, no one had ever even thought to ask him how he felt about something; that having all emotions while growing up was allowed, it was just that they weren’t talked about. And he worries with his job that he needs to be emotionally detached, and that he brings that emotional detachment home.

“I think I’m emotionally dead sometimes,” he said.

I told him that I disagreed, that maybe speaking in the language of emotions wasn’t his first language, and didn’t always feel comfortable, but that he was far from emotionally dead. We talk about how he doesn’t like anything to upset his equilibrium and emotions can be messy.

We talk about how I go between overwhelming emotions or numbed emotions but really nothing in between. I don’t have a lot to say about it, except that is what therapy is for. Hubby laughs at that, and says okay.

I tell him I’m ready to be done and try to sleep or at least put a show on and listen to it. He says okay. I tell him that I had finished the worksheets from the last chapter, and hand them to him as he is getting ready to play his game. I’m amazed when he sets the controller down, and asks me if I want to talk about them. I tell him no, he can just read them. He says okay, but if I did want to, we could. I smile and give him a kiss, telling him to play his game.

I put Friends on, and listen to Ross and Rachel, Monica, Joey, Chandler and Phoebe play out the drama of their lives in the coffee shop while I try to fall asleep and forget about exactly how much I have just let Hubby in. It’s a scary thing to let someone close.

“Spinning our wheels through the lens of Attachment”

Last night, Hubby and I did some of our workbook. This time, the focus was on looking at your relationship through the lens of attachment. The entire atmosphere felt different this time. Hubby wanted to do the workbook with me, and was engaged and participating right off the bat.

I read through the chapter quickly, because a lot of it was review for me, after reading “Hold me tight.” It discusses John Bowlby and attachment theory, between mother and child. It goes on to explain that having a secure base, a safe haven, to turn to is something that we all need, even as we grow into adulthood.

As he read, Hubby turned to me. “This is what you were talking about; me being your attachment figure, and you being mine, and us not having a secure attachment right now.”

“Yeah. That’s exactly what I was talking about.” I’m surprised. He was listening.

“I want us to change it. I want to create a secure attachment. I want to be your secure base.” Hubby grabs my hand, holds it loosely. He really means what he is saying.

“Me, too.” I squeeze his hand.

He goes back to reading, and I fill out my worksheets. They end up being really easy to do. I think if this was 6 months ago, even 3 months ago, it might be harder, but today, they are easy. The questions all relate back to the A.R.E — emotional presence.
Accessibility: I can access your attention, love and support when I need it.
Responsiveness: I can count on you to tune into my feelings and needs, to empathize with me, and to comfort me.
Engagement: you will keep me close and cherish me as someone who holds a special and unique place in your life.

Hubby finishes up his worksheets, and we share our answers.

“I said that a time you were recently accessible to me was when I talked to you about needing to be perfect Alice for my parents. You really listened, and understand. You responded by saying you understood, telling me that you didn’t have a list in your head and didn’t need me to be perfect at all. You told me you loved me for me. I think we were really engaged with each other then. I was being really open and honest, vulnerable, and you were here, really here and really getting it, hearing me.” I look at him, hoping he likes my answer.

Hubby smiles. “That was a good moment. I did good. I liked you talking to me, telling me how you really felt.” I nod at him, I agree. “Okay. Mine was when I was leaving for that work conference, and it was making me stressed out. You listened to me, and told me that it was different now, I wasn’t a kid anymore and I could just leave if I wanted to because I’m an adult and would have my jeep there. And then you sent me text messages to let me know you understood how I was feeling, that I wasn’t alone there, you were ‘with’ me. It really helped.”

My heart feels really big and warm; I did help him through that!! I had tried so hard to help him through that, and hadn’t been sure if I had made a difference. “I’m really glad I helped, babe. I know that was really hard for you, and I wanted to make it be okay for you.”

“Well, it was hard….” Hubby trails off, looks down. The way he is acting is nervous making. I put my hand on his arm, but I don’t say anything. I just wait. Finally he takes a deep breath, and in that slightly withdrawn tone, starts to speak. “I had separation anxiety when I was a kid. It was severe. It started when I was maybe 4, I went to more funerals that year, I think it was maybe 7 or 8. I realized mom and dad could die, could leave me. So I got this separation anxiety thing. It got worse as I got older, mom and dad tried to work with me, it didn’t get better. They put me in counseling. It didn’t help. It got better when I turned 16, got my license. I decided then, I would be independent, not need anyone ever. So I withdrew, developed a shell. That’s the story. That’s why I have a hard time connecting.”

Wow. Wow. Holy crap on toast. I don’t know what to say. Hubby had a secret of his own. Not huge and crazy making like my secrets, but still, a secret. I move my hand over his arm, reach for his hand, squeeze it. “I’m sorry. That had to be really tough. I can see why you would find it easier to withdraw, push people out.”

“Leaving for the work conference….it brought up a lot of those feelings. Mom and Dad, they worked with me, but they still made me go to camp, go stay at the grandparents for a week in the summer. They didn’t stop life because of me.” He sounds almost robotic, but there is hurt in his voice, under that robot tone, and I want to go back in time and hold the little boy who got no understanding from his parents. I don’t hear how his parents worked with him, or showed empathy and understanding. They made him separate from them, gave tough love. And for what? So they could get a week long break? I want to go back and tell that little boy it’s okay, and give him what his parents couldn’t. I think to myself, if they had given him love and empathy, understanding, a true safe haven, a secure base would have developed and he wouldn’t have had severe separation anxiety until he was 16 and decided to withdraw to keep from hurting. I’m no expert, though. I’ll have to ask Bea about it, to be sure.

“I’m sure that brought up so many feelings. I’m glad you were able to tell me what you did,then. And I’m more glad you told me this, tonight,” I whisper it, not wanting to upset Hubby, but wanting him to know how thankful I am he has shared this with me. It fills in another piece of the puzzle in our relationship, for me.

“Leaving for hunting camp with my dad and uncles, cousins…..I wanted to go, be there, see my family. But it was really hard this time. I had a lot of separation anxiety feelings come up.” Hubby is still looking down, not at me. I recognize this as what I do when I’m in Bea’s office. It’s scary to face the person you are being vulnerable with, and even more so when it’s a new experience for you.

“I felt it, too. I think things changed between us, that night of the first workbook session.” I grin, because it sounds cheesy, but it’s true. “I felt like you really understood me better, why I behave like I do. And I believe I understood you better, why you react to me the way you do. So we had a new way of connecting. And hearing how we effect each other….that was hard. It hurt me, to know how I make you feel. That changed something between us.” (It’s cheesy, maybe, but true. It really, really did.)

“I felt it, too. There is something more between us, I don’t know.” Hubby looks at me now, it’s the way I peek at Bea– questioning, worried, what will I see when I look at this person?

“I love you,” I tell him, and lay my head on his chest.

“I love you, too.” I hear relief in his voice. “I never told you, I didn’t want to seem weak, or something to you. When I met you, you were so perfect, but you weren’t very independent, and you seemed fragile, like you needed someone to protect you, help you learn to be independent. I tried….I didn’t want you to think I was weak and couldn’t protect you. And I wanted you to know I was strong enough, you could trust me to help you learn independence.” I smile. My Hubby is such a good guy. He’s the knight in shining armor who wants to rescue the princess and then teach her how to save herself the next time. It’s one of the things I love most about him.

“I think knowing this about you….it helps me. It explains some things. Like, we were both closed off emotionally, for different reasons, but closed off. It’s one of the reasons why we worked so well together….we fit. I don’t know if I’m saying this right, we loved, and love each other, but we didn’t connect emotionally because we were both scared for our own reasons. But no emotional connections means no safe haven, no secure base, and we end up in this spinning our wheels dance. And now, I want more than surface. I want it all with you. Because I love you. Because I don’t want my crap to ruin our lives forever. We don’t deserve to be broken forever. I want us, our marriage fixed, I want a secure attachment, emotional connection with you.” I talk for a long time, but Hubby listens, lets me talk.

“I get it. It makes sense. I want all of that for us, too. We will get it. When we are together, nothing stops us, you know this.” He sounds determined, strong, and then, sad.”Your PTSD, your past, you had your own wall. So, you were safe. But that’s why it feels like you are pushing me away for most of our life together.”

“I think, well, I know…when you get too close……if I share something and you don’t…um, well, react, I don’t know….the way I needed…or even if you do, um, you get too close, I get scared. It’s scary to me. I don’t know how to handle having you be close. It really scares me sometimes. I get afraid you will decide I am not good enough, or you hate me, or I’m bad, gross, I don’t know, you’ll leave. So…..I can, just….um…you know…I push you away first.” I stumble through an explanation. My heart hurts. I’ve really hurt him, and I never knew, nor intended to do so. I had no idea he even felt me pushing him away at times.

He hugs me tighter. “It hasn’t felt like that lately. It’s different. You still push me away, but you come back. I can wait you out. I told you, I’m a patient man.”

He is patient. All this time, he has known, on some level, anyways, that I’m not really okay, and he may have wondered, or not, why his partner wasn’t normal. But he loved me anyway, and he waited until I was ready. I complain about him a lot. I get mad, and think he is awful. And when we get stuck in our dance, we are both awful. The truth of it is though, I married the right man for me, even if I didn’t exactly realize it at the time.

I married my own personal Prince Charming; he’s the one who saves the princess and then will protect her while she learns to protect and save herself. He’s patient, and he will wait until she is ready to save herself, because he’s also smart, and he knows this is something he can’t do for her– he can only walk alongside her and offer support; she has to want to save herself. He can handle the needy princess who clings to him, and wants reassurance at every turn. He is learning to understand the princess who wants reassurance but pushes him away because she is afraid to ask for it. He isn’t afraid of independent princesses, he encourages it, and builds the princess up every chance he gets. He loves her flaws, even when she is actively hating those very same flaws. He somehow sees the best in her, and is willing to wait for all of that to emerge. He is a prince who claims he is honored to have the opportunity to help and to watch his princess finally have the chance to grow up.

“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.