How not to cook a frog

how not to cook a frog (image is of a frog sitting on the handle of a pan that is heating up on the eye of a stove).
Image via; some rights reserved.

I had a bittersweet talk with my husband this morning. Bittersweet because I love him, and he’s trying, but I don’t think he can or will really hear me.

I finally mentioned that I had been thinking for about a week off and on about an aspect of his affair.

I recalled how he feared his affair partner’s husband would kill him if I spilled the beans, yet my husband had still managed to convince himself they were “just friends.” Nope. He knew, deep down, that he was doing wrong. Otherwise, he’d have felt no need to hide their relationship from me or fear her husband’s anger.

He acknowledged that he’d just been fooling himself.

While we were talking, he described the affair by saying he wandered. (That’s true, I think.) I asked him why he wandered. I knew the gist of it, but I wondered if he’d had more insights.

Nope. At least not as far as I can tell. He was quick to say that it was because he felt abandoned. He was almost eager to say that to me. Not meanly — but like it was a message he felt had not been fully expressed and he was glad to get that out.

That worries me. Maybe I’m just missing something and I need to clue in. But I think he does too.

I get that it was horrible for him when I was clinically depressed, lethargic and turned inward. Since I began healing from that (and also from his affair on top of it all), I’ve told him more than once that I don’t make him responsible for my mental health, emotions, or overall wellbeing, but I worry because I have no reason to believe he will hang with me if hard times arise in the future. We could have money troubles. I could get depressed again. I could get physically very ill or incapacitated. We are in our mid-50s and not getting any younger. Bad things could happen. And he’s not ready.

It would be helpful and comforting to me if I knew he’s likely to respond differently. One way he could do that is for him to have a clear, tangible plan in place of things he could do if I should become depressed or withdrawn or seriously sick again.

He hasn’t done that work. I have asked for it, offhandedly, a few times. I also have asked for it clearly a few other times. He still doesn’t get that I have no reason to believe he could restrain himself from “wandering” again just out of sheer white-knuckled willpower. That fact that he knows how much pain he caused me the first time is not enough preventitive for my peace of mind.

I’ve done things to help myself, and I hope they are also things that give HIM some peace of mind about my depression: I went for in-patient care when I was at my lowest. I have seen a therapist for a long time now. I’ve been on anti-depressant medication. I even dragged my depressed ass back to my therapist after a hiatus, when I realized all on my own that I was slipping again. And I’m much more likely to speak up about the difficult topics in our marriage than I used to be. These are better things than I’ve done in the past.

What is he doing?

A reasonable safety plan

One of the ways my depression manifested itself was that I spent too much time on my computer, engaging intellectually and sometimes emotionally with people other than him, often on topics that were less painful than the distance in our marriage, all with people who were at a safe distance and in an environment I could totally control. I spent a lot of time horizontal on the sofa, either online or sleeping, instead of upstairs in bed with him at night. He felt totally shut out, and I understand that.

So what I mean by a “plan” is that he might today list three things that we agree are typical signs of my depression that I slip into without realizing they are problems when I’m in the midst of a downwards spiral: (1) excessive time online, (2) excessive time on the sofa, and (3) not bothering to walk to the bedroom to sleep beside him. Those are concrete things. We could decide how to measure that. For example, we could say a tipping point for concern might be if I spend more than two hours online three nights a week, if I spend both weekend days essentially horizontal on the sofa, or if I sleep on the sofa two nights in a row. Then we could decide what an escalation of healthy responses might be in each case so he could communicate his concerns with me, attempt to help his spouse, and also get his own needs met.

Such responses might include a list like this: Subtly invite me to another activity. Try to talk directly about the distance between us and/or my inactivity. Gently insist on having such a talk. Find concrete ways to show me that there’s a problem I’m allowing to persist and that he wants to help. Get advice from his own counselor in ways to engage with me and what his steps should be if I’m still unresponsive. Insist that I see my own therapist for my talk therapy and my own psychiatrist for an evaluation of my medicine. And finally, take serious steps and have the most serious conversations with me, saying that he’s not being punitive but that he is going to have to take steps to take care of me and/or himself — whether that is an agreement to seek in-patient care for me, moving out temporarily for him, or moving out permanently for him. We all have to draw boundaries for our own good. Those are all rational choices that could be made. None of them involve having an intimate romantic personal relationship with someone else.

That is just an example. It could be a lot more detailed, or a lot simpler, depending on what we agree.

He doesn’t get that it would be immensely comforting to me to KNOW that he has a structure in place to deal better with whatever in my depression overwhelms him. (P.S. I am trying to remain depression-free and not relying on him. I just don’t think he’s prepared if I relapse.)

Since he’s not participating or supporting me in a healthy way about this, than I have to be on my own about monitoring my mental and emotional health. I am doing it. It’s difficult to manage on my own. It’s like asking someone with vision problems to notice a gradual decline in their vision.

And what if I fail him in some other way and he just silently seethes about it too instead of talking to me? That doesn’t give me a chance to consider whether I do or don’t want to change.

What if I don’t even notice he’s seething like I usually do — must I be hyper-aware of his moods to draw him out, since he’s not willing to do that work myself? I am tired of being a private investigator to sleuth out what is bothering him. He needs to shoulder that load. I’m willing to help him get there. But he needs to live his own emotional life. I can’t carry it.

Irritation unexpressed

He mentioned another incident that happened at the end of last week, when he was in the middle of doing an important errand for me (which he had volunteered to do) when I texted to remind him of it. All he texted me back was, “I’m in line right now.” He never said, “I feel frustrated that you checked up on me, irritated that you didn’t trust me to get it done, and unappreciated for giving up part of my lunch hour for something that matters more to you than it does to me.”

But today he brought that incident up as an example of how he’s trying to be a good husband who doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He said he was really mad for a minute during that errand before he decided it wasn’t worth stewing about, and he realized later that I hadn’t seen an earlier email from him where he’d said he was on his way to do the errand, so that made him less mad.

He didn’t address the fact that he sometimes forgets to do things he has promised to do, and this was one very important errand to me.

I am going to have to stop relying on him to do things, because I can’t trust he will always get them done, and he gets pissed if I check up on him, and then he doesn’t mention that he’s pissed.

Why sweat it?

Because it matters. One of the things that fueled his affair was all the irritations he had stuffed down over the years because “they weren’t important enough to bring up.”

He *still* does not understand the problem with “stuffing feelings” is that he doesn’t let go of them. They linger, fester, and add up.

My analogy: You don’t have to use big pieces of gravel to fill up a vase; you can fill it up to overflowing with pebbles or grains of sand, if you keep them all in the vase and pile up enough of them. I feel like he makes it my responsibility to watch his vase and remind him when it’s time to express things before they build up. He needs to take care of his own damned vase. My only job in that should be to communicate with him about it. It’s complicated by the fact that he will deny, deny, deny there’s anything in the vase, meanwhile he just hunkers down and hopes it blows over and accumulates more sand.

It’s a strategy that has not worked in the past, and yet he continues to believe it will in the present and in the future.

“It’s just not that bad — I don’t want to bring things up,” he protested.

I pointed out that by waiting until something is “bad,” he may be so frustrated or angry by then that he can’t deal with it effectively. My example: The frog in the slowly heating pot of water may think it’s a little cozy at first, then a little warm, then pretty damned hot. By then he’s missed a chance to do something about it without suffering.

And I’m tired of being surprised by scorched frogs suddenly leaping out of my pots. [That was a weird analogy of how he he reacted to my depression by having an affair when our relationship was uncomfortable for him, and how shocked and unaware I was, if you didn’t get that, lol.]

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