I don’t know where to begin. So I guess I will start with pain, fear, and worry, and end with a little bit of hope, but a lot of concern.
I love my new husband with all of my heart. I believe(d) him and believe(d) in his kindness, thoughtfulness, chivalrous, loving deeds, watchful for “proof” behind the words. And they were there—all along. The simple help of remembering to pick up soy milk or laundry detergent. The diving in to clean up after dinner while I got the girls ready for bed. The multitude tiny notes left for me so that I knew he loved me and was thinking of us. His efforts to bond with the girls and spend time with them, to make them laugh, cuddle, share their favorite show (right now they really love So You Think you can Dance—DD1 has been taking dance for four years now, and DD2 loves everything DD1 loves at this point). That when we have disagreements and he says he needs “alone” time, he comes home with toilet paper or a new bedspread or some thoughtful gesture regarding what we need in our home. Complete and utter swoon, right?
And yet for the last few months, there has been high conflict in the house. That culminated this week end in a screaming match in front of the children (not my best moment, and one that left me devastated), and him packing a bag because he ‘needed some space.’
So it’s time for me to seriously reflect on our actions, behaviors, and words of late. The rise and fall of conflict started soon after he moved into the house. And it surprised me, because I had always laid bare: here is our dirty drama, it’s pretty awful, my ex-husband abused the children and me, and now I have to co-parent with him. It was worse before it was better, and now it’s tolerable (despite the occasional e-mauls and pettiness), but I have a plan in place to deal with it. The girls are in play therapy, our co-parenting counselor, while useless when discussing my concerns about abuse, is helpful with keeping his manipulative demands at bay.
I brought A with me to my attorney, so he could be introduced to the nuances of the case, and what to expect when our engagement was known. (Ex would likely be worse before better, normally it takes a year, in her experience, for Exies to settle down, at least that’s what she’s seen.) I also brought A to the play therapist, to get a better understanding of the unhealthy dynamic between dad and the girls, particularly DD1, and our strategy to deal with it. That in her assessment, it is a ‘concern,’ but not yet a ‘problem,’ as thankfully DD1 is thriving, growing, doing well in school, etc. etc. That our job is to help DD1 find her voice and understand her feelings are separate from her father’s, and to understand that it’s not her job to take care of dad, To help A understand that we must not lay pressure or judgment on DD1, to allow her room to grow and deal with her inner conflict now that dad is putting more pressure on her because of our engagement and subsequent marriage. DD1 has enough pressure put on her by dad, we stay neutral and respond when she brings things up to us, but we do not demand to know what is going on over there, we do not demand that she tells us things, we do not demand that she gives us attention. We give her room and support. No, we do not allow her to be outright rude to A or to me, but yes, if she says she’s “not comfortable” talking about something in front of A, we allow her that space. And no, we are not to get mad about it.
And through my years of experience escaping and then dealing with my Ex, I feel that I’m knowledgeable and able to handle “the art of disengagement,” and I’ve always been clear with A that is how I was to move forward: disengage, ignore, address only the minimal items that need to be addressed.
Except I’m learning that A doesn’t like this and gets very upset. It bugs him no end, and I can see it comes from a good place—that he can’t stand having his new family being harassed and jerked around, especially DD1, by my manipulative Ex, and he feels powerless to stop it. And in his calm moments, he understands and agrees with me that disengagement is best, but then he will get worked up and upset, and it’s like he’s forgotten all about his agreement, and his stress bleeds out onto us: jumping on the girls and me for any minor discretion for not chewing with our mouths closed (they need to learn manners, because lord knows they aren’t getting it over at their dad’s!), or forgetting to put away their toys before a mad dash out of the house to Sunday school (our house is a pigsty and they need to learn to clean up after themselves, dammit!).
And during some of our many arguments, he told me that he “thought” he know what it would be like, but he didn’t “really” know how it would be until we moved in. And that it was completely new to him, and not what he expected, but he did want to have a bigger role with the children, not just be “the guy who lives with their mom.” And I accepted that and respected him and promised to be supportive and patient and understanding. I also owned that I need to let him have a bigger role with the children, and at the same time, for big decisions, I need to be the captain, and he agreed with that.
Except that A cannot truly let me be the captain of the divorce and parenting ships—even though I made it clear before he moved in that it was how it had to be—has lashed out in loud arguments and nasty texts about how I don’t care about his feelings, that I’m somehow hurting him by ignoring him. That it’s some nasty game I’m playing on him. Even though I’ve bent over backward to include him in discussion with our case experts, incorporating his suggestions regarding protecting our privacy (my Ex is no longer allowed to do drop offs at our house, not that it happens that much, but we now go to a neutral point), even though I’ve explained how much I care about him and have shown him and supported him in having room to be frustrated and upset, just asking him not to suddenly disappear on us, shout or send nasty texts to me.
Except that A is upset about not having control, that any small thing he thinks he can have control over, he becomes rude and demanding, i.e. the bedroom doors WILL be closed at night (I usually kept them open for air flow), that instead of calmly discussing an idea to install fans in the girls’ bedroom, he simply came home late and installed them, and was nasty and rude to us all night, about this was how it had to be and that was that.
Except one night, at the dinner table, DD1 was upset about something, not anything to do with A or with my Ex, but upset, and she needed my comfort, and A forgot the advisement about not pursuing questioning with DD1, that direct questioning would shut her down, and began interrogating DD1, “why won’t you tell us what’s wrong?” “answer me DD1,” “we’re a famiy in this house and we discuss things.” Which, guess what, completely shut her down. And when I allowed him to ask his questions so he could feel like he was an equal parent in this house, and allowed DD1 to answer, “I don’t feel comfortable talking to you,” A demanded that we “leave the table” and “you two go and take care of it.” DD1 was scared and upset by A’s tone and demeanor, as was I. And later when I tried to bring it up to A, he refused to see that his questioning her was the opposite of what our play therapist had advised.
Except that even though I gave up co-sleeping with DD2 so he would be comfortable moving in, he has gone back on his word regarding my compromise (which was laid out before he ever moved in)--every other week end in the mornings, when the girls get up early, as all young children do, that they get to cuddle with me in bed. This became untenable for him, so then I tried to compromise to just 15 minutes and depart. Which was also met with an angry reaction, nasty tones, and raised voice about how we don’t care about him. Then nasty texts throughout the day and accusations about how I wasn’t picking up my phone (when I was taking DD2 to gymnastics), and an email link that he sent to me about top 11 reasons why men divorce. Devestation.
Then take three, I tried to move them out into their bedroom, immediately when they woke up so as not to disturb A, and we were nowhere near the bedroom, but then I failed to stop DD2 from going into the room with her flashlight at 7:15am (we’d been up since 6, and yes it was my accident), he had full on anger explosion, yelled at DD2 to “get out,” pushed her out of the room, slammed the door. DD2 started crying and when I confronted him that it wasn’t okay to act that way, he yelled at me, and of course I started crying because we had done everything I said we would do, and he still had an anger explosion, and then he packed his bag because he “needed some space.”
Throughout these past months, when the arguments and anger explosions appeared, I brought up couples counseling—and was completely surprised at his adamant refusal. One of the reasons that I fell in love with him, one of the reasons that I said “yes” to his beautiful proposal, was because not only was I sure of his kindness and thoughtfulness, but we had discussed prior to all of this that should we ever find ourselves in relationship trouble, that we would seek counseling together. He agreed to that. He said he would do that.
And now it’s being met with a no. And another no, and another no. And profanity plus no.
But this week end—with the divorce link (and he was surprised that I was upset that he sent me a divorce link? With the subject “food for thought”?), I had enough. I called my therapist. I asked her what she thought—she had heard about my concerns for the last three months, along with the good, these are very big concerns, and she was troubled by his need for control and refusal to stick to his word. I asked her about telling him to keep to his word, that we go to counseling or we separate, and she agreed that it might be time to put my foot down. He has made so many demands, that perhaps now it’s time I held him accountable, or seek peace and release from this stress.
To my surprise, he did come home, despite the packed bag. And like many times before, he brought home two cases of soymilk which he knew we needed. He sat with us for dinner and was quiet and reticent, but not rude or nasty. He helped clean up everything after dinner, so I could get the children bathed and ready for bed, and afterwards, he calmly played the usual SYTYCD show for the girls to ooh and ahh over the costumes and the dancing.
And still yet, the tension was quite thick, I was so hurt and upset, and his reappearance did not make any of these concerns disappear. So after I put the children to bed (all bedroom doors closed), I put it out there: we go to couples counseling, or we separate. That due to arguing and fighting with him and experiencing his hurtful and painful words—instead of being able to enjoy my precious week end time with my children, I’m unable to be fully present and loving and patient with them, and this has been going on far too long. Further, the children and I were supposed to skype with his dad yesterday—the girls love him and call him ‘grandpa’—but he shouted at us in his morning rage not to do so, so of course we didn’t. Which hurt the hell out of me.
And again, that I am not perfect, yet I am always willing to accept and own up to my imperfections, but when he explains his behavior away as—it’s too hot, I’m stressed about work, I’m on a diet and I’m hungry all the time, I’m mad at your ex—that it is not accepting responsibility for his actions, behaviors, yelling, etc., nor is it any indication that I can trust he will change his behavior. That it is so painful when he acts this way, and then sends me a divorce link on top of it, that I would rather be alone and able to care for my children and have that peace, then to continue forward like this—unless we can work this out with a counselor. That I didn’t trust we could handle it ourselves anymore because of all the pain and heartache and fighting.
He asked if I had anything else to say—and so I said I loved him. I explained to him that over the last few months, I accepted that I am no angel and not perfect, especially in responding to his behavior, but his anger outbursts and blow ups were destroying my peace with the children. That when I did respond quietly and without reaction, I was accused of not caring about him or the situation, and when I responded in anger and being upset, that obviously and of course would only make things worse.
Which he responded that it was my right as his wife to ask him to go to counseling, but for the record, he would go only as an unwilling participant because he ‘wasn’t ready,’ that I was forcing him to go because of the ultimatum. (which if you are a proponent of counseling, you know is pointless, only people who are open to it will benefit from it).
And I responded, fine, then, this will not work. I’m sorry, I can’t live like this anymore.
To which he responded: with a calm and thoughtful apology—that he was sorry. That he can see he has been overreacting in all these little areas (like the week end morning time), and that he shouldn’t do that and it’s not right. That because of those big things he wished he had control over (dealing with my ex, dealing with responding to my ex’s manipulations with the children), that he overdoes it everywhere else, and he’s sorry and that isn’t right.
That he promises not to yell or argue with me in front of the children. That if he feels like he is getting upset, he will calmly get up and walk away. (I asked that this also included no parting, nasty comments, which he admitted that he does, and he promised not to do).
He went on to explain that he loves me and can’t imagine a life without me and the girls, who he has come to love, absolutely adore, and wants to be a part of their life, that he knows it’s a big responsibility and cherishes it, because he will likely have more time with the children than their own father. And that maybe one day, if/when we go to counseling, he wants to be ready, but he knows he overreacted now and the last few months and he is sorry. That he is used to his high powered job that when there is a problem, he solves it, he’s a closer, he makes it happen, and he needs to understand that the problems we face are not problems that can be solved in a mere few hours, that it will take a lot longer than the less than four months that we’ve been married. Not even a 120 days.
And weirdly, I think exhausted by arguing, but noticing that we weren’t raising our voices and he had been talking calmly all night, we started laughing about the fact that I lost my very expensive glasses that he bought for me over the week end shuffle of the fan installation (I since found them). And agreed that of course he should help in disciplining the children with time outs if they’re misbehaving at the dinner table, but no, he shouldn’t take the big lead in the big co-parenting decisions such as how to handle the ex’s machinations. That he wanted to have special time with the girls, especially DD1, and that he was committed to making it a good relationship for all of us.
So we shall see. I love my husband, I want to believe in him. These blow-ups lately have me concerned. My therapist is worried about his continual need to have “control,” i.e. still refusing to go to counseling until it’s “his” decision, yet she also said that he responded appropriately and that is encouraging.
He has been calling me today, to tell me he loves me, and he is considering talking to the children tonight about his behavior. Something small, like, “yesterday, your mom and I were arguing and shouting, and that’s not right, and I’m sorry,” because my girls were clearly upset. I already told them that shouting was wrong, and that arguing like that is not normal. That no matter what I will take care of them and be there for them.
I hope he considers saying something like that tonight. I hope he says it.
So I remain hopeful, but watchful. I love my husband, I love my children. I hope I don’t have to choose between them.