I’m thinking about several things today: Why my husband had surges of anger with me during and after his affair, how I felt so much of my self-esteem sapped by his infidelity, and how bad marriage counseling made things much, much worse. Near-lethally worse.
This article rang true, loud and clear like a clap of thunder. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/200905/emotional-abuse-why-your-marriage-counseling-failed
The article explains that therapists may be focused on keeping the offending partner engaged and try to work on ways for that person to feel more comfortable. That may work great when counseling two relatively normal, stable, flexible adults. But in the narcissist’s mind, this means the therapist is saying the narc is right and it’s all your fault. That’s a problem if you’re trying to work on the root problem, not on the excuses he’s eager to peddle.
Here’s a key quote from the article (speaking to the unfaithful about the betrayed spouse):
“Your partner’s resentment, anger, or abuse has nothing to do with the way you set boundaries or with what you argue about. It has to do with his violation of his deepest values.”
Yes, motherfucker. YES.
The next paragraph is so awesome that I’m reproducing it in whole:
You will protect yourself, not by setting boundaries that he won’t respect, but by reintegrating your deepest values into your everyday sense of self. When you no longer internalize the distorted image of yourself derived from your partner’s behavior, a powerful conviction will emerge; you will overcome emotional reactivity and return to the person you were before the relationship went bad. Then your partner will get it: He must change the way he treats you to save the relationship.
Here’s a quick summary of my experience that made this article ring so true for me: I had such a horrible experience with our first marriage counselor. She didn’t focus on his issues that made him feel so angry and insecure that he chose to work off his wounded ego in an affair. Instead, she decided that I was “too dominant” because we were sitting close on the sofa in her office and I had ruffled my husband’s hair (putting my hand literally on the top of his head — an affectionate gesture after his super-short very new haircut). Her prescription was for us to enhance our communications by holding a weekly couple’s meeting, and he was to set the agenda and direct the meeting; this was to build up his confidence and reduce my dominance.
I went home alone and tried to kill myself, because she was telling me that the very essence of my personality, my intensity, even the way I touched my husband were all wrong. Not good enough. It was too much after the previous 3-4 weeks of reeling from discovering his affair. Despair and rage were knocking around in my head like ball bearings in a pinball machine. It was suddenly clear to me that I could not live with this pain, and equally clear that I didn’t have to.
I’m glad I failed at suicide. When I got through my intensive therapy, I insisted that we go back to The Awful Asshole Marriage Counselor for one last session to express my anger and concerns. She listened soberly at first and then while she was speaking dismissively about how I must have misunderstood her, she chuckled. That’s right. The fucker LAUGHED.
I really don’t remember what we did for the rest of the meeting. I may have looked at my husband and said, “I think we’re done here” before stomping off. That’s what I *hope* I did.
I relate this story to say that my self-image and identity were severely damaged by the revelation of my husband’s affair. And his own seemed to take massive hits when he had to openly admit his behavior violated his own stated values.