Don Wilkins has 14 years counseling experience. He left the structured environment of providing that support and finds sharing that same support through casual conversations over a period of time to be better received, acted upon and transforming. He helps many people in situations at work and in their personal lives in the Treasure Valley as his network grows. Through these casual conversations, he offers suggestions on how to take action and empower the individual to make needed changes.
In each issue, the Idaho Women’s Journal will print a conversation’s origin and beginning, and continue it as a blog online.
As he talks with others, Don’s biggest hope is to pass on the lessons he learned losing his 13 year old son to cancer, and those are, to make better choices, make the best use of the time you have, it’s shorter than you think, if something isn’t good, make honest hard work of fixing it, and if it can’t be fixed after a reasonable time, then make the change to something better.
His biggest dread is “dead-end people”—people who talk and talk, and yet nothing happens. They never make any changes. “It’s insanity, the literal definition being, they keep on doing the same things over and over, and expect something different to happen. Nothing ever happens and they don’t understand WHY!”
Kathy works in the medical field. She is the mother of 3 children, and in her second marriage. Her 2 oldest children she had with her first husband who died in a drunk driving accident several years ago. She is in her second marriage to Bill, with whom she has a 2 year-old son. They have been married for 5 years.
Bill is an excellent provider for her children. He is a competent father, helping out with the children in practical ways. He does a lot of the housework, and takes care of the garden. They are in a sound financial position, with no money worries.
Bill is also a heavy drinker. Kathy had considered leaving him, but changed her mind when she discovered she was pregnant with their son, and for other reasons. Kathy is also trying to stop her affair with another man and decide whether to be honest about it with her husband. Below is the entire Part 2 of their conversation, followed by Part 1.
Don’s Conversation With Kathy, Part 2, printed in the IWJ May/June 2011 issue.
Don: Do I want to ask how are things going?
Kathy: I would say better in many ways. Though I’ve had a rough weekend. I’m feeling very contemplative right now.
Don: This effort is about compassion and understanding, so if you just don’t feel like talking, that’s OK. You look like you are hanging by a prayer.
Kathy: Well a little. Well, actually, by a lot of prayers.
Don: This was a stressful weekend with your family?
Kathy: Well my cousin is visiting and though we are close, she is very opinionated. I don’t really share things with her because in my family it spreads like wild fire. I just find myself at a crossroads. Interestingly enough, I went out with a friend and my cousin for drinks, and when alcohol is involved, I do not discuss emotional issues. Well my they just started to lay into me, almost yelling at me. What I should, shouldn’t be doing. How I’m screwing up my kids. And I know my friend has been in a similar situation, and she got out.
I know my cousin loves me, but she is not someone I want to take advice from. I try to look at the bigger picture. But anyway, it was tough. Part of me was thinking, they’re right. I have done damage to my children, more so to myself. My biggest problem now is that they see that on a really big level, I want to give my husband the opportunity to be a different person because he has made huge attempts and continues to love me even though I am completely shut off from him. I’ve made it difficult. I wouldn’t be surprised if he found someone else, because I pushed him to that, but at the same time I’ve been very hurt, and mistreated and abused at times. It doesn’t excuse what I’ve done, the choices I’ve made have broken me, have humbled me. I don’t ever want to have it happen again. I think right now I need to get my self back to a place I feel good about me—I don’t know if this means being honest with my husband about the choices I’ve made. I have to make the choice of risking losing my family, of hurting people even more.
Don: It’s probably wiser to choose a time where there won’t be heated exchanges.
Kathy: Right now, I just don’t feel strong enough. I feel weak and vulnerable and sad, especially today. I don’t know what to do next. It’s affecting me in every way, I feel myself getting lower and lower. I’m trying to keep my head above water, not let it get to me. Everyone knows something is wrong. My family knows something is wrong, my husband knows something is wrong. I’m really depressed.
Don: This is different than where you were 2 months ago. It really is. Is it because… I know I was really direct with you? Have you confided in anybody else?
Kathy: Yes, I have confided in a couple of other people, and I’m surprised my husband doesn’t know. I think he suspects because he knows something is not right with me.
Don: Oh, he knows. Generally, in this kind of situation, an individual does not want to create problems, does not want to create confrontations, stir things up. And deep down you know, that if you continue to do what you are doing, it will just fall apart on its own.
Kathy: Yes, I realize that. That’s why I’m not doing that.
Don: But, It is the most painful way to end it because it does not dignify you, does not dignify him. In the end, it’s a huge waste of time.
Kathy: I’m trying to start opening my heart again. It’s kind of been a challenge. Forgive him all of the past. I can forgive him, but can I forgive myself?
I think I’m faced with possibility that he might find out from other people. I don’t check his Facebook. He has access to all of my things though. He wanted to read all of my texts and I let him. And then I was like, you know what, I don’t really text that much, I don’t go anywhere. You know everywhere I go, what more do you need from me? Sometimes it just feels like it’s never enough because I’ve been at that place where I’ve given and given and given. I’ve always given above and beyond. When we were first together, I felt like I had never in my life given so much in a relationship. Now I think I swing to the very opposite. I think I’m very selfish, not giving at all. Like, I checked out of the marriage, checked out of the family, checked out of everything, I was so angry.
Like I mowed the lawn for the first time in what seems like years, like 2 years. I thought, wow, I have really removed myself from being involved in this home. And so we have been working out a lot more together. We are doing some things together. You know he is really a good man.
Don: Are you still seeing the other guy?
Kathy: We talk occasionally, but it’s one of those things that need to stop right now. I need to make a decision that is best for everybody, it’s not for me, or for him.
Don: That’s what I mentioned last time. You have your kids, your husband is the provider, and this other guy is your emotional support. And you were spread out all over the place. My opinion was to get out… end it with the other guy. Get your own place and tell your husband to get better. It would shock him. It’s a lot harder for guys to be motivated and do something if you are running around with some one else. There is no incentive, no reason to change.
I did hear you last time, you where very clear that he is a good guy. But not a good guy when he drinks. But there are some red flags in your relationship that if you took them out of context are earthquakes. Tsunami, Tokyo flooding, earthquakes! Even in context, it’s a pretty big deal. Those problems are huge. He does need to be rid of them completely.
Kathy: Well, things have been much improved though. Last year we did have very bad problems, several things happened back to back. I don’t know if they have been addressed, but these problems have not happened since. I know he has been very giving.
Don: Has he been drinking?
Oh yes. But not to…. Well I guess we both do. He drinks more than I do, obviously. But 4-5 times a week.
Don: It depends on the person.
Kathy: Well it’s better. We are not having the long fights at night that we used to. Though last week he did try to start something. We had had some drinks, and he wanted to talk about personal things, and I said, I’m just not going to do it. I’ve told you before, I’m not going to talk about these things in the middle of the night. If we do, then he is angry the next day. Those are things just not good for us. I just have to set that boundary.
Don: There is a proverb that expresses the core of health in the bond between a couple; that is not to let the sun set on you in a provoked state. Basically the advice is to resolve anything before you go to sleep, because it’s not good to sleep that way, or wake up that way.
Kathy: And he knows it; he wakes up angry. And if we argue till 3 in the morning, then I wake up feeling awful. So I had to set this boundary years ago. “We have had 3 glasses of wine, this is not the time to have discussions.” He has trouble sticking to this boundary. I have to enforce this because it is not good for me. They are not good discussions.
Don: And also at the end of the day you are fatigued. And maybe he wakes up angry because he is mad at himself for having the discussion. He thinks “I know she hates that.” You get tired, that is when you make mistakes. And if you’ve been drinking and you are tired, it gets worse. It’s not a good setting. I have to say that even though you seem sad, you do seem a lot more centered. Calm
Kathy: Really? I don’t think so. I feel like I’m falling apart.
Don: But maybe it’s because you’ve thrown all these balls up in the air and trying to do some kind of performance.
Kathy: Yeah, I have no time to be distracted. I’m taking courses for certification, working 30 hours a week, building in time to train, and raising a family at the same time. Can I fit anything else in?
Don: I wasn’t joking when I said trying to meet with you was like trying to see the President!
Kathy: I try to talk to my friends somewhere in there; I’m so scattered. Maybe I’ve had too many things I’ve been focusing on. I’m getting to feel like I’m not enjoying where I’m at, I’m always somewhere else.
Don: Have you had a chance to talk to your kids about what they want?
Kathy: Well I’ve talked to my son a little bit. He didn’t really want to talk about things he doesn’t want to hear. I told him I was worried about him. He said, “No Mom, I’m fine.” He seems happier—he is in school. Though I think something is going on with him. Maybe it’s his age, he’s 22, he has pressure to get a job, he’s in school and doesn’t know what he wants to be—it’s all normal stuff. I really feel I need to make it right with him. Did I tell you that they know about the affair?
Don: Your children know about the affair?
Kathy: Something happened, and it came out, and they were given information. I should have lied. My better judgment was not there.
Don: Wait a moment, you say you should have lied and you didn’t? Ah, you can’t hide from who you are.
Kathy: I agree.
Don: It’s a lot of work to keep up something that is not true.
Kathy: But for my own children to know that about me has created a lot of problems. My son is very upset with me, very angry. They blame me a lot for marrying, and having a baby, and taking time away from them. You know, when Bill is drinking, he is very unkind to them. So me having subjected them to that, then I go off and do that. And also they have to keep this secret, because at times they really like Bill, and they really do care about him, and they know he loves them. I feel like they are forced to keep a secret that isn’t right.
Don: A secret they shouldn’t be asked to keep.
Kathy: Not that they would ever tell him that, they would never say, here… that would feel like a betrayal to them. I don’t know if they would feel better if they didn’t have this secret to keep, that it was out. And you know that my relationship with my kids is great. We are open and honest, we talk about things. I adore them. I was honest with them about it. I’ve told them “I screwed up, I made a mistake. I am trying to rectify that without ruining everything the best I can.” How do you do that? What do you tell, and what do you keep to yourself? I had someone tell me once that sharing something like this transfers all of your pain to that person, it absolves you of guilt, but now you are laying it all on this other person who has to deal with it. If you don’t want to end the marriage, then keep it to yourself.
Don: I don’t know. I think the heart of that argument is our culture’s way to dodge accepting responsibility when you do something wrong. When you do something wrong, you need to say you are sorry. That is what makes something better. Yes, there will be problems. Yes, he will get upset and there will be drama. Unless you have that though, there will not be healing. You can’t have made the choices you have made without some kind of toxic residue being left. You have to come clean. The problems that come from letting the affair die its own death are far greater than sharing the truth.
I am carefully considering what I am saying here, because I understand the gravity. But also it’s OK to be human, even horribly human.
Kathy: It doesn’t feel like it though. It terrifies me. It feels so big—like the world will come to an absolute end. I don’t know if I can do this. It scares me to death. I will lose my family…. (Kathy begins to cry).
Don: Sometimes looking at these things and imagining that you are somebody else is helpful. How would you react? What would you feel about these characters? Usually what we fear in reality is not even close to what reality ends up being. Here, let me take the focus off you for a minute.
Kathy: That’s OK…
Don: The guy that brokers my company called. His wife is dying of cancer. He is beside himself, they don’t know what to do, it is in her liver, and they cannot get a liver transplant. I end up talking with her on the phone… she is sobbing, and I say, “Ann, you don’t know if you are going to live or die from this. That is the worst thing that is going to happen. And what will happen along the way is having a profound effect on you and your husband. If you don’t make it, it will permanently change your husband. He will be a bigger, better, more enriched person if your course ends. And so will you.” I never thought I would say this. But when Matt was so sick and near death I remember sitting in the hospital believing that it could not happen, my life would end. It would stop. It would be a disaster. I didn’t want to think about it… I shut if off, shut it off. But I did have to think about it as his diagnosis got worse. For the rest of my life I will want it to have ended it differently.
It has been 5 months now. There are lessons I have in my life because my son died. It sounds horrible. But what is more horrible? To not allow these lessons to transform my life.
Kathy: When I started this thing, this affair, I just wanted to be loved. But you don’t think about how it will hurt others, all the damage it will do afterwards. You just don’t.
Don: You weren’t “probably” looking for love—you were! You are in an abusive relationship. You see other people’s happiness and you want to be like them. You watch shows, movies, and you want your life to be good. We make choices.
A guy who is dying of thirst in a desert will drink motor oil. It’s not smart, but when you are desperate, when things are bad, it’s difficult to second-guess these kinds of decisions. Of all people, you understand the mechanism of how people make these kinds of decisions. The only expensive mistake here will be if you don’t learn from your mistake.
It’s going to be OK. Your kids won’t go away.
Kathy: My husband might. And I’m willing to let him go if that is what he wants to do, but I am just not there yet. And I can’t say I blame him. I have made his life very lonely. I feel bad that I have pushed him to that point. But… I feel like I’ve been hurt too…
Don: Yeah, wait a minute! Who pushed you where first?!!!
Kathy: Right, right.
Don: He hit me first is not an excuse. But if he keeps hitting you over and over again? If you don’t deal with him directly, then you WILL deal with him passive-aggressively. If he is not playing nice in the sandbox, then you will go find another sandbox.
Kathy: That is true, and I did. And part of me started thinking, what if I don’t want this, what if the good parts are worth keeping. It got me thinking there is never a perfect relationship. All relationships have problems.
Don: That is a convenient concept for you right now.
Kathy: Why is that?
Don: Because as difficult as we make relationships, they are surprisingly simple. Commitment to the relationship, and commitment to growth and change. Love is defined. How do I love her? “Love is patient, love is kind, doesn’t look for its own interest, doesn’t boast. Does not get jealous.” All of those things. If you have the ability to do that, you have the ability to have a wonderful relationship. But the problem is having both people do this at the same time. They have to be committed. And you can identify something as simple as “that was not very nice.” Or, “I didn’t like that.” It is that simple. If you over-complicate it… you feel like you have all of these problems… He is not a nice person!
Bad associations spoil useful habits. I don’t think that in a different situation this would have happened. I don’t think this is who you are.
Kathy: It’s not!
Don: Then why did it happen? One bad decision led to another. When a relationship is bad, you end it. If you are not compatible, and compatible means to fit, then you end it. It’s that simple, do you fit? Do you feel more comfortable with him, or as comfortable with him than you do when you are by yourself?
Kathy: I’m probably more comfortable by myself. I don’t know.
Don: He or she “enhances my life, fills my life, fills my heart.” All those lame things you hear when you are younger, does your heart go “pitter-patter”?
Kathy: Not always.
Don: Well, if you can compare the standards of when you were young to what they are now…. It was a great feeling. Now we say, “I guess I feel that way sometimes.”
Kathy: I’ve given up hope that it exists.
Don: Everyone knows at least one couple that has a good relationship. There are some people who fake it, hide it, but there are some people who have really good relationships. And sometimes we over complicate it. Really good relationships—are “You let him be him, he let’s you be you. And you like who you are together.” That’s what compatibility is. The freedom to be yourself, and there are things about you that they love. The difference between staying together, and falling apart is how we view those little habits we each have. Though what happens sometimes is those little quirks you first loved become later those things that drive you crazy.
Kathy: Hmmm. I wouldn’t say that. I think I’m pretty tolerant, pretty patient. I think it just got to be too much. The meanness and putting me down. The cockiness. But that doesn’t happen any more. Now he has made a lot of changes. He really has and I have to give him credit for that.
Don: But he hasn’t made all of the changes. You have also shown to him what is acceptable and what isn’t. I’m guessing that in the past you used to engage him till 2 or 3 in the morning. The dynamic of your relationship hasn’t changed. I’m guessing the chance for you to stay up till 3 in the morning is still there tonight. What I’m saying is– has there been real change? The change is in YOU. You are refusing to argue. Is that really change? You have made your environment better because you have eliminated the arguing. You haven’t eliminated the recipes for the arguments. All you have gotten better at doing is managing the disaster.
Kathy: Like I said, the changes started last year.
Don: Well, I’ve got a couple things I want to ask you. When I talked to you last, I suggested to you to get out. Get your own place, start hanging out with your girlfriends. Start establishing your own life. Tell him you want some changes to take place. Tell him to stop drinking. Don’t lay out a road map for him. I suggest getting rid of the guy you are seeing. You just can’t do that. It hurts you when are trying to have a normal relationship…
Kathy: No, I realize that just creates more problems. It prevents me from thinking clearly, from making hard decisions anyway.
Don: It sounds like you are not ready to make decisions yet, but you are at least thinking about them.
Kathy: Umm… I am contemplating how to have this conversation with my husband. I know things are always better when you speak to people up front, than if they just find out on their own. So it is something I know I need to do. I just need a few days or weeks to sort this through. I am so tired right now. I don’t want him questioning me about my affair, asking me questions. I am really afraid of how he will react, what he will do.
Don’s Conversation with Kathy, Part 1, printed in the IWJ March/April 2011 issue.
Don: You’re situation interests me because it seems there is more there than most people are aware of, being a medical professional and seemingly ‘well put together, educated’. SO, what is going on with you right now?
I’ve been on a spiritual quest to try to figure things out with my relationships. And in the process of this quest, things have been turned up side down. I’ve told you something of my past, my life before. It’s been very difficult. Right now, I am dealing with a lot of guilt.
Don: Your husband has been an alcoholic for how long?
For most of our marriage. He can be paranoid and abusive. I was never around alcohol, though my dad was mean, I was familiar with the anger piece. When I met my husband, there were red flags, and one of them was the drinking. I should not have stayed, but because my kids had lost their dad, I didn’t want to put them through losing a second one. So I sucked it up and stayed. Because with him, I could give them a better life than just the 3 of us.
Don: So you see this as staying and sucking it up? OR supporting a bad decision?
Well since their Dad is gone, deceased, and I’ve been doing it on my own which is really difficult, I thought I would have some support. I won’t have to do it on my own any more. Well even when I was pregnant I realized it was a mistake.
Don: Was the baby planned?
Yes, by then we realized it was too late, but yes it was planned.
Don: Why are you still there?
Hmmm, that is a good question.
Don: Is it financial?
He is a very good provider, so yes, very caring and tries very hard, and he has made changes since a year ago when I said I was leaving. That was when I was at the hospital for my daughter, he was so drunk, I could not leave our 1 year old with him—I had to drop him off at my mother’s. Then I had to go back to the hospital for my daughter then later pick up the baby. This has happened so often, it’s normal.
Don: How do you justify this with your professional life, you KNOW it’s not only not normal, it’s abusive and toxic.
When clients come in and I see what is happening in their lives, I ask me why are they allowing themselves to be treated this way? I have to ask myself the same question, I tell myself, “I’m in a fog. I’m afraid of being alone again, having the experience of being on my own again.”
Don: But your kids are older now, you have experience. It’s like you need a kick in the pants. Losing my son @ 13 has taught me that we have a very limited amount of time here. We are not generally aware of this… our finite amount of time. You always think you have a lot of time with your children. But the truth is it can end much quicker then we think and even the natural course of time goes SO fast, we must make better choices to set a standard for our kids to reach for. Right now if your daughter were to marry a man who didn’t beat her that would be an improvement from what she see’s in your life example to her!
I do have these dreams and hopes. I’m not ready to settle for a mediocre relationship.
Don: Get one thing clear, this isn’t a relationship. You are getting your lawn mowed and bills paid by one man who abuses you in return. Earlier you said you were working on your relationshipS. Are you having an affair?
Yes, I am.
Don: So you are getting your emotional and physical needs met by your lover. You are trying to have one relationship and it’s health with two people. This will never work.
You mean with Bill?
Don: Yes! A relationship is between 2 people who are able to selflessly care for the other person. That quote, “being heard is so close to being loved that most people don’t know the difference.” When was the last time you were heard by him?
I can’t remember ever feeling truly heard. …… I’m not allowed to be who I am with him, and I’m partially to blame because I’ve allowed that. I’m really soul-searching… what do I want, what am I afraid of? I don’t know what I am so afraid of, why I can’t step out of this place?
Don: Not partially to blame, you are to blame, people treat you how you let them treat you. My thought is you think you can’t step out of this because you haven’t. That’s all. You can. You could tomorrow. Instead of thinking how GOOD IT CAN BE, you spend your energy thinking how BAD it ISN’T.
What if that’s a mistake?
Don: How can it be a mistake? Put in on paper, If you created 2 columns showing the good and the bad, I don’t think it would take much time to see the answer.
But then I look at how my husband has been working really hard, how he has reduced his drinking, he works hard at being kinder, at not fighting with me, and I see all of these changes, and I think well, you have to forgive people and allow them to step into those changes they’ve made, and let them be different. He has more changes now and stuck with them than he has ever before.
Don: That sounds like more justification for continuing to support a bad decision. Again, Instead of thinking how GOOD IT CAN BE, you spend your energy thinking how BAD it ISN’T.
Our daughter went through a hard time exactly 2 years ago– I had to take her to the hospital because she had injured herself.
Don: Does she not like him?
She hurt herself because of boy trouble at school, but yes, she has fought with him a lot. It’s been tough— it’s been really difficult.
Don: I need to ask this… being abusive verbally can mean other kinds of abuse.
Well, a while ago he made a really stupid mistake, he got so drunk one night he accidentally got into bed with my daughter.
I don’t think he would willingly touch her, but he allowed alcohol to take control. She felt very afraid as he was lying in bed, she felt very violated. He doesn’t get that. She’s always kept him at a distance. She says I don’t need another dad. Yet he tries to be a good parent
She ‘s heard the fights, him badgering and yelling at me. It was less than a year ago after she heard our fighting, and he left in the middle of the night, and she came in the room and said, we are saving up money, and leaving him, it’s not your fault, he blames you for everything.
Don: This sounds like a good thing, that she is not feeling passive, and actively trying to solve the problem.
Just because you leave, doesn’t mean you can’t go back. It gives you power. It gives you the luxury of saying no. Everyone says it’s too hard to evaluate a situation when you are in it. You can’t, so, you get out of it. You don’t say I’m leaving forever. You take a break. If nothing else, you get to be by yourself, and look at yourself alone. Considering who you are, what you want, and also who he is when he is around you. It gives you space. Then when you have a “dose” of him, it may be so foul, that the best version of him may not be what you want at all, or what you are worth, or how you want to spend your time. Right now, you are trying to justify so many things.
Right now, I think it’s my guilt that keeps me staying there. My guilt keeps me tolerating things, because I feel like I almost deserve that. I feel like I owe it to him. I feel like I am turning the tables, because he is trying, and I would be the bad guy if I left. At the beginning, it was me tolerating bad behavior, and now the behavior has improved, and it’s not enough. I am judgmental of myself. That is my fight every day, to love myself unconditionally and to not judge myself.
Don: You’ve got to end that, because the perfect example is what I am doing with you. I’ve been told for years that I should counsel people, that I am good at it. I didn’t believe it. I don’t know about being good at it, but well, maybe I will just try it, and see what other people be my judge, and what comes of it. But what are your friends saying?
I don’t have the independence and the freedom to do what I want. I almost feel like an abused wife, because when I’m out or away, he’s going to be mad because I didn’t text or call him. He’ll tell me that he is not important to me, my friends are more important. We don’t spend enough time together. Oh my god, we spend most of our time together! I don’t have my own space. He is very insecure… because I have become so independent. I want to live life to the fullest. I have all these dreams I want to do, I’m not going to wait. Anything I thought I couldn’t do, I’m doing it.
Don: Your going full speed ahead, and it’s like your dragging an anchor, that’s dragging you to the bottom of the sea.
I have to detach, and if I want to do something on my own, and he throws a fit, then I have to take responsibility for not letting it affect me.
Don: Well drawing from some experience with Matt, He would start wondering how much time he had left, and I would ask him, you need to ask yourself, if things ended Friday, what are some things you want to do between now and Friday? What do you want to absolutely get done? If you look at your life that way, if you live by this principle on a week-to-week basis, you may make different choices
There is a saying to not worry about what you are going to wear or eat tomorrow, because today has it’s own stresses. So how much of your stress are you compounding if you worry about the end of this week’s unhappiness, and next week’s unhappiness? You are managing this situation, by texting, by jumping through hoops–when will these actions become something you regret? How is it contributing to your kids in a positive way, and how is it contributing to him and his happiness? Don’t you think he deserves better? You are working to make him happy. You are working to make him happy, and he is not happy with your best efforts!
I’m not putting my best effort forward any more. I used to…
Don: OK, so now you aren’t even trying. You were at a peak, and now you are on a downhill performance. Pull the plug. Kill this thing for his sake. Don’t judge yourself now. You are not in a position to judge yourself rationally. When you get out of it, and you can step back and look at the things you’ve been doing, and think about why you have made the choices you did. In the counseling I have done, many people have come to me over infidelity. Infidelity doesn’t just happen. It is someone looking at someone else and choosing to betray. Betrayal, the seeds of it, fester. He betrayed you when he came home drunk from the hospital. There have been multiple betrayals on his part. That doesn’t say you can go and do what you want, but when you are in a bad situation, not being cared for, when your emotional and physical needs are not being met… are you having sex anymore?
I do it to appease him.
Don: That doesn’t count.
I mean sometimes I do it not because I want to make love to him, but for gratification, but it’s not how it used to be. But I just shut off, that emotion has just been turned off, and I don’t know how to turn it back on.
Don: Aside from the occasions when you do it because you both want to, then it’s just like a text message. You are managing him. No matter how effortless it feels, it’s a job. Management as a job is hard. It’s work and you need to eliminate the jobs, and find more of your discretionary time. Like I asked Matt, how do you want to spend your time? I asked him “whether this takes you or not, when you are 80 years old, and you are laying on your bed, what would you say? I wish I had done more of X and less of X?” When you are 75 years old, can you imagine asking yourself, I wish I had stayed in this marriage longer?
No, I wished I had loved myself more, I wish I had demanded respect, and not settled.
Don: The answer is almost always there. We know what it is.
I meditate and I read only self-help books and spiritual books, trying to undo patterns in my life. My dad was a jerk, my adopted dad. I never met my biological dad. He was always angry, we could never do anything right. Mom always gave in to him, cowered from him, they never had any intimacy. She always wanted a friend, she always wanted a lover, but she was too afraid. And I detested that about her.
Do I have realistic expectations of marriage? Do I have too high of expectations. Maybe what I have is great. Maybe my expectations are unrealistic. Maybe I should I forgive and forget like everyone else. These are thoughts that go through my head. These are obstacles that go through my head. I know it is crazy talk. How much more do I want? How crazy am I?
Don: I have been in 2 very good relationships. We ended it after 19 years, they were 19 good years, but we were not close companions, it was not warm and fuzzy. It lacked that home run out of the park. In the 2nd relationship, I found it, and everything else that I had in the first. It was fantastic on all fronts. Unfortunately, there were issues from her abusive child hood that she had not settled, and she became very self-destructive, and our relationship ended. But, now I have a model. I have an idea of how great it can be. When someone really carse about how you feel, and you care. Sometimes they win, sometimes you win, but the goal is to be is happy as you can be, and fight as little as possible. It’s not a dream, it can happen, and it’s wonderful, and it’s wonderful for your kids.
I’ve really done a disservice to my kids. But you just don’t plan for certain things to happen. It just baffles me. I don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like! I married so young, and then now I’ve made this decision to stay with Bill for the good of my kids.
Don: Would they agree with you that you made a good decision?
I think at one point they would have. They have gotten tired of all of the fighting, of being in this unhappy household. But like I have said, I have gotten so used to the fighting, I’m used to it. It seems normal. They probably love him. They know that I’m not as happy as I could be. There are times they know I don’t have the freedom to be me, when I don’t bring up something to avoid a conflict. My real self is dormant. The real me comes out when friends are around, then I’m really sassy and a good dancer. Who loves everyone and is really kind, I want to get back that. I want to get back to integrity and being honest.
Don: It’s a struggle to balance the things that we need to do with those things we want to do, and who we are. Not being selfish. On this front, it sounds like the things that you feel that you have to do, are things you should be doing, I don’t think you have to worry about going over board in being selfish. I dare say that you satisfied your obligations a year ago, a year and half ago.
I gave it my all, I continued to love and forgive, over and over again.
Don: You realize you are speaking in the past tense.
Because now my tolerance level is not there.
Don: Why are you still there? If you laid out what you just said, and analyzed it, “I continued to forgive him,” it’s in the past tense. Has your forgiveness stopped?
There is another part of me that forgives, but not forgets. Otherwise, you open the door to be treated like that again.
Don: Do you think, the possibility that you tolerate this poor relationship, is there something that you feel you are doing wrong, and forgiving him, excuses it? In other words, he can be bad and I can be bad? I get what I need, do what I want, and he gets what he needs. Striking a deal? People say so many revealing things, that they don’t mean to reveal, and your use of past tense of forgiveness says that.
Don: Your daughter is 16. So for 5 of her formative years, this has been her relationship model. How empowering would it be? What’s going to happen… so seldom do we take a bold action! As in, “damn it,” I am going to make a change.
I did that, about a year ago. I was so angry I was getting a divorce. My family supports me…I could move in with them if I had to. But please God I don’t want to do that. I love my family, but no. But his family came down on me. They said I better keep it together. They said I was the enabler—because I finally let everyone know about the drinking, and stuff. I said I’m not doing this! It’s ridiculous! They had no idea–He is very private.
His family told me I was an enabler, that I was contributing, that it was my fault so to speak. I had all these people saying I should stick with it, so I did. I felt like I couldn’t do it.
Don: Let me paraphrase: what you just said: So you got to the point a year ago that you made a decision, You said, I ‘m done, its over, and everyone talked you out of it. So you didn’t make a decision. You made a lot of saber rattling, a whole lot of noise. I think you fell back on your old fears. The time for action was then. You can’t ask his family, they have a vested interest. Are you an enabler? Of course you are. Did they make you feel bad? These are not people you can listen to because they have a conflict of interest. So they are the wrong people to listen to.
Part of me doesn’t know if I am mad at him or mad at myself!
Don: O you know you are mad at yourself….
I’m angry with myself for putting my kids through this, for allowing this to happen…
Don: Put it on the list. Bill is almost not an active part of this. You are tolerating this. You don’t expect him to get any better. You know you’re relationship will always be medium to poor. That’s decided and you are tolerating it. You’re mad because you are having an affair, and putting your kids through this. You are taking baby steps, but no real action. Choose a time limit, and a specific day, I know this needs to end.
What if this is not better for them? What if they end up hating me because we struggle?
Don: How can this not be better? How many hours of your day that they witness when he’s there are you genuinely happy?
Well we are not fighting like we used to. And caring, and love, and happiness, we have it to some degree. We can co-exist fine. And some days it’s nice. We get along fine at times. He takes care of everything for the kids.
Don: And if your daughter was co-existing with someone, and sometimes he’s nice, then she has done miles better than you.
If all of you died a month from now in a car crash, god forbid, is this the environment you would like to go out on? Totally work for something better. Actively choose something better when you have the ability. Sometimes you can’t.
So look at your situation. Is it over the moon happy for your kids? Do they look forward to coming home?
I’ve lost sight of what is good. I have a lot of doubt and confusion about my feelings, are they true and right? Is my perception skewed? Maybe my situation IS good, maybe I’m just a negative person.
Don: Really? Generally, that’s a good way to check yourself, but you sound like Palestine and Israel, they get along OK right now, but an explosion is just about to happen. The potential is there for violence, the history is there. There are bad ingredients, Crap in, crap out.
That makes me think of something… it was in November, down at a BSU game. He got trashed, and started shoving me around. I ended up walking home from down town, it ended up being a horrible mess.
Somehow, I don’t how it happens, I allow him to take away my right to be angry. He smothers me. That was my golden opportunity.
Don: It’s hard to draw a pattern from 2 situations. But last year, you almost made a decision then got persuaded out of it; he pushes you around; he got into bed with your daughter, What’s it going to be next? And how much higher can he go to defuse you like that? Do you commonly avoid decisions? Or maybe you make one, but is it a watered-down one of the best version you should have made?
Hmmm, I do make decisions but it takes a lot to push me to the point. When I do get there, I can make it. I think one of the biggest is financial. Being self-employed. I can’t afford health insurance for my kids, or finance their cars, or any of that kind of stuff. I can’t afford college expenses, or all of things that they do now.
Don: How old are your kids?
The youngest is 3. The next oldest is 17. Then 19 and a half.
Don: Then, you have an adult conversation with them. I think they would like to have a chance to have some input into your decision. You say, “Guys I want out. This is what would happen.” Let them have a say. I bet they would say, “get out.”
Don: Then it’s noble that you want to live with this for them, but… Kids put themselves through school every day… though I’m not trying to minimize the difficulty.
I want to believe they are being honest with me. Then I see my son doing video games, and going out… I had a discussion with my son, he brought it up, he said, “Mom, if you’re not happy, then we shouldn’t be here.”
Don: See they know what is right. You want them to see you make smart, sharp decisions to make your life happy. This could have ripple effects in other areas. There is no substitute for you being in a happy, positive frame of mind.
Is there a way to get that back with somebody?
Don: Not with someone who has a chemical dependency. No. But, why is it over if you moved out? Move out, and you make the rules, have your own space, text when you want to, be intimate when you want to. Do people make dramatic changes in their lives? People don’t generally change until they have to. It usually takes a catastrophic event, something huge. Even then, they sometimes slide back into some version of themselves 6 months later. If he doesn’t uphold standards for himself, how can you expect him to uphold standards for yourself?
That’s a good point. I haven’t seen much desire to change on his part.
Don: Does he still drink to excess?
Half as much. He drinks every day, I still drink, maybe 2 glasses. He has 1-2 bottles.
Don: Did he binge drink?
Yes, 6 glasses of whiskey a day.
Don: He has found a high level of maintenance. He has found a sustainable level to maintain control, and still have his addiction. Instead of that 160 screaming buzz, he’s found a level at 70, where he’s got his alcohol, but can maintain control. It’s what dependency requires.
I used to keep a record.
Don: Why don’t you do it anymore?
No, It’s not my problem. I won’t have sex if he’s drunk. He’s really bulldozes through though when I set up boundaries for him like that. He just pushes them over, and I just cave for peace. He complains, why can’t I be like I was when I first met him? Why won’t I make out with him, and love him like I used to. Maybe I turn the volume down and tolerate it because that’s just what he does.
Don: Sounds really romantic!
He used to call me names, then feel guilty and text me all of these compliments, how I’m sexy and a wonderful mother. Then he would drink, and then call me names, then apologize, and it’s the classic cycle. It’s classic… I’m wondering why I’ve become complacent with it?
Don: Well part of it is financial. Then you are worried about your 3 year old.
Oh my little guy.
Don: I think you would probably get the larger portion of taking care of him.
Oh no, I don’t think so. He would get my 3 year old. He has threatened me numerous times that he would fight.
Don: Is he really involved?
Yes, Bill is very involved. He’s a very good dad. Very involved. He takes care of the house, garden. He takes care of the cars. He does cook and clean. He used not to as much as he does now.
Don: Then I say, there is hope, you break and you go.
I need time to think, do I want to stay with him?
Don: Does he know about your friend?
Well he read all of our emails, but they were just flirtatious. I shut all of that down. So he thinks it’s not going on. I don’t go anywhere so he would think, “where is she, where is she at?”
Don: Well you go somewhere once a week!
True. If he found out, it would scare me, his reaction.
Don: You know, I don’t want to see a particular outcome for any particular reason. So with that in mind, you are being lazy, and you’re procrastinating, and the stakes are huge. You don’t know what is out there for you. By tolerating this mess, you don’t know what golden opportunity you are missing. The chances are you will land in something better, not a bull-shit drunken relationship, than if you let this erode away. He’s not trying anymore, so someone who just listens to you will be better.
You don’t have to say I’ll never see you again. You can say, I am leaving until… you’re drinking, that has to stop. You need to go to AA. You’re a good dad with the booze—you’d be a great dad without the booze, a great husband. He needs something to strive for. And don’t cut him off. Give him something to work on, and give yourself something to work on. I don’t know what to tell you… about this other guy… he’s not going anywhere. You are probably getting an emotional need met through him that you should be getting from your husband.
You are getting all of the elements of one committed relationship from several relationships. This other guy you can put him on the back burner. You’re being lazy. And saying you are afraid is just justification for being lazy.
I don’t want to hurt people…I’m really afraid of that.
Don: That’s an excuse, you are hurting people… your kids, him—by enabling him.
I know I’m hurting my kids, I know I am.
Don: Some people can’t make decisions for themselves, they don’t feel they deserve it, so what would be right for him, for your kids? Think of him, he might be some kind of saint without the drink.
I guess I don’t know if there is something good here.
Don: You won’t know because you are in a pattern… remember, the insanity goes on because you are doing the same things over and over again. I have no motive here, except I want people to be happier. .
A good place to start–talk to your kids. Find out how devastated they would be. Set a date, talk to your kids. Guys, I have and I have for a long time. What would it be like if you co-existed separately. Tell him it’s the drinking. Praise him, give him something to work for… Men love to feel like they are good men. We don’t want to be neutered. Make him feel like there is something to him.
The problem is not you and him, not if there is alcohol. You can’t have successful counseling if there is a chemical dependency. Do you run the risk of it?
Umm… it’s never been a big problem for me.
Don: Could you go a week without thinking about it?
Well, I would think about it. But I can go a couple of days without it.
Don: After my loss of Matt, club soda with lemon has become my best friend. But alcohol, even small amounts you have become accustomed to, has an effect on you. It makes you less patient.
I’m a happy drinker. I don’t fight.
Don: But in this situation, if he’s abusive, and tends to push over those walls you set up, then hello, it is contributing. Because it lowers your will, you smile through it.
Tell him you are going to stop it. It’s good to do.
Yes, but I’ve already sacrificed enough for him, I’m not willing to do anything more. Don’t ask me to change my life style for your problems.
Don: Well, do it for yourself.
Talk to your kids. Set a date. Relive some of those old experiences, get pissed off, and take action. Whatever you do, you’ve got to support it. Mothers know what is right for their kids. Don’t procrastinate. You know what is right for your kids as a mother. Talk about it, set out some dates, then do it.