When I first started life coaching, I was taken aback that almost every client had some core struggle with their spouse. It was a pervasive issue that affected both their careers and family life, and was a definite barrier to “mama bliss.” But it felt like a hard area to coach others in, given that I was quietly struggling in my own marriage.
But after requesting counseling for over a year, I’ve finally been getting the counseling that I/we need. And while it hasn’t been all roses, it feels really good to get those pent up emotions to the surface. It’s not that I want to “air our dirty laundry,” but it’s more about need to connect with others as I find my peace, and hopefully, resolution. In turn, I hope my sharing will help you in whatever way you may be suffering in your partnership.
The irony is that our biggest struggle is in how differently we parent (which is why I have hesitated as a life coach). I’m the openhearted, listen-to-each-child, and go with the flow kind of mama, who will do anything to keep the peace. He’s the reprimanding and demanding Dad, whose booming voice makes it sound like he’s always yelling, and whose OCD tendencies can trigger deep anger and frustration.
Yesterday, as if on cue, completely unprovoked, little Teagan turned to me and scrunched up her face and said “My Daddy’s angry!” It was as though she was letting me know that, yes, she too feels our struggles in marriage and parenting. And, it’s honestly for her sake that I’ve been standing up for myself and demanding counseling.
Thankfully, since moving to Astoria, those angry episodes have been dramatically reduced, since he again enjoys his work and isn’t taking his stress out on us. And, gratefully, he’s never been physically violent, though it’s felt dangerously close as I’ve tried to defend the kids against his verbal tirades. There have been threats that have crossed the line.
Recently it feels more like a thousand paper cuts. It feels as though I’m continually questioned, judged and criticized. Instead of deep love and acceptance, I often feel as though nothing I do is good enough.
I know that I’m not perfect, and it doesn’t help that I feel as though Kevin has this uncanny ability to bring out the worst in me. And at times, like now, I’ve become emotionally exhausted from trying to defend every little choice. Maybe even worse is that the kids and I are happier without him lording over us.
I’ve come to describe it as living with a “benevolent dictator” or “unintentional tyrant.” He doesn’t see it this way, which is the problem itself. In his own mind, Kevin thinks he deserves the father of the year award, and on a material/practical level he does. His intentions are almost always very thoughtful (although often selfish), and, in his mind, he’s perfectly rational.
Sadly, watching the #FreeMelania coverage, I couldn’t help but see myself reflected in her saddened face. Blessedly, I’m not married to true dictator, but since some major awakenings this past fall, I have come to see how emotionally abusive our relationship has become. I realize how co-dependent and complicit I’ve been, and how much I’ve done to appease/please, simply trying to keep the peace. I’ve also been the one to perpetually smile through the pain.
We’ve now had five counseling sessions together in the past few months, and I’ve had about the same amount myself. Our counselor is really gifted (if you’re in Astoria, I highly recommend Michael Olson), and he’s helped bring a lot of emotions to the surface, which is a task for two people who have learned to get along by burying our feelings.
He first tasked us to each read The Five Love Languages (which deserves it’s own post), but for me it only seemed to magnify the engrained disconnects and vicious cycles of withholding our love to protect ourselves. It made me realize just how lucky/spoiled I’ve been in love, in that I want/expect to be fulfilled in all the love languages. My most primary love language is word of affirmations (and body language), which clearly doesn’t work with Kevin’s critical nature.
I also realized that my second love language is physical touch, which wasn’t at all getting fulfilled because I need the positive validation and affirmations in order to want to be physically intimate. After kissing an Australian man (which is story I’m not quite yet ready to share…), I became spiritually turned on in a way that I had never felt. That experience sparked a deep passion and self-love that has become like a well I go to when I want to feel loved (in tandem with practicing kundalini yoga every day, I am definitely finding my bliss again, regardless of my marriage struggles).
One insight for me was that I need to look at love as another form of self-care, and make sure that I’m keeping my own cup filled up. Even though I’ve attempted to “fill up his cup,” it feels like he’s always a needy child who I can never fully satisfy. In the past, I would have felt that was somehow my fault and need to try to fix.
My biggest aha from our first marriage counseling sessions was that I had/have to stop trying to fix Kevin, and I need to instead focus my energy on my own inner work and learning from our struggles. And struggle we have. Bringing up a great deal of painful emotions has been deeply healing. I feel that forgiveness is the key to us both moving forward.
Last week I sent the most heartfelt and difficult letter I’ve ever written in our almost fifteen years of marriage (via email). While it felt cathartic to put my deep frustrations in writing, it was clear that has his own interpretation (which spun around his own frustrations of feeling like he’s trying, but can’t seem to change fast enough). I honestly don’t know how things will go today or in the future, but I am glad to get this all off my chest.
While it isn’t easy to share my struggles publicly and I don’t want to “throw Kevin under the bus,” I also know that struggling silently is no longer an option. I dearly hope that however I survive this chapter of strife that it will become a place of strength, where I can confidently coach other mamas toward your own true mama bliss.
Peace and love,