Sent: Friday, September 10, 1999 12:35 AM
Dear Dr. Irene,
I was recommended to your site, and have read through
many letters and various descriptions of Co-Dependent people. I
found myself finally being honest with myself when I read some of the
tendencies of the categories. My eyes were opened, and at the
same time, I became scared.
I am glad you are experiencing some
fear, not because you are hurting, but because your fear is about
questioning yourself. This is a wonderful opportunity to identify
and modify ways of thinking and behaviors that don't work for you...
I posted a message on the board last night, rather long
(this email is probably headed in the same direction), but the meat of
my situation is as follows: I have been married for over 13 years.
Five years ago my wife attempted suicide. She recovered, and we both
adjusted. Recently she had a tough time with postpartum depression.
A few weeks ago she was admitted to the hospital again because of
suicidal thoughts. She stayed for a few days before returning
This is what I am wondering....
After the first episode 5 years ago, there was a lot of
stress and pressure in our lives, (new baby, new job, other family
issues, financial issues.. you know the normal stuff). Yep. She was postpartum then too, it sounds...
I felt like things were getting out of hand! After about 6
months, I made up my mind to regain control of my life. I thought if I
could control my life and fix the stressful things or at least ease
her pressures while she tried to get her life back on track, things
would eventually fall back in place. Though
you had the right idea in setting out to control your own life, you
fell into the trap of trying to fix your wife.
Time went on, my wife went back to work - basically to
interact with adults during the day. I handled the finances and most
of the so-called stressful events. It would kill me when I would
tell my wife something that was not pleasant ('money is tight this
month', etc.). A bad look would come over her. Your empathy is understandable and loving. But why so
strong that it would "kill" you? Are you are assuming that
she can't handle it emotionally? YOU are the one who can't handle
it! Moreover, you have put yourself in the position of sacrificing
yourself to take care of her - without being asked to! I
could see her get down right before my eyes. Now she has been
diagnosed as bi-polar depressive. I felt like a heel or that I
had failed when this would happen. Wow! You
sure think you have a lot of power over your wife's depression! In
time, I shielded her from as many negatives as I could. Ouch! I believe now that I formed bad habits or
behaviors in doing this. Yes. I was
just trying to protect her and /or spare her from getting down about
anything. Yes, I know. Remember, we
had children. I did not want them to see mommy always unhappy. Again, understandable and loving, but destructive in
many ways. When you sacrifice yourself, you typically have
expectations of what other should do in return. But, these are your
expectations, not hers. It is unlikely she will meet them,
therefore you inadvertently set yourself up to experience resentment
towards her. After all, you work so very hard for her...
Destructive since she is likely to pick up on your resentment and feel
angry towards you, yet your kind acts create a confusing
double-message. She may buy into your stuff and feel guilty for
feeling angry with you! Destructive since you send her and your
child the message that you think she is unable to cope. Destructive
since you do not respect her right to feel sad or down. Destructive
since you rob her of the opportunity to practice coping and build up
her coping skills and self-confidence.
Here's why I am hurting... While she spent time
in the hospital, I visited with her as long as I was allowed, and we
talked and talked. We had talked so much that I can't remember
when we spent so much time just talking. Methinks
I detect a tad of anger at staying so very, very long... Anyway,
my wife mentioned some of the reasons she was depressed. The one
thing that kept coming up was, " you are controlling!" Most
of the conversations revolved around thing: I did not treat her as a
50/50 partner. She felt excluded, mostly with the household bills. She was excluded. I was only trying to spare or
shield her from those pressures to allow her to have time for herself,
go out with her friends, deal with the depression, etc. I understand. I also know you are upset that your good
intentions were not appreciated. Nor were your self-proclaimed
expectations of her met. That's why you feel gypped in a sense. Be
grateful that she was able to identify and express what was going on
inside her. She's begun to identify real stuff.
When she told me about the way she feels about me and
how she views me , I thought that she was using me as a scapegoat. In one sense, she was since she was incapable of
telling you to knock it off. That is her job whether, depressed or not.
I was honest with myself Good. when
reading the descriptions, and it was scary. Yes.
Your job is to stop trying to control her internal experience and
instead spend your energy dealing with your inability to deal with her experience
of pain. What are you running from in yourself? I was never
directly verbally abusive (never calling her names to degrade her),
but maybe in trying to get back our lives, I might have done more harm
then good. Yes. Ask yourself how your anger
and resentment towards her not meeting your expectations of her
slipped out? Sins of omission? Insinuation?
Contempt? But what was I to do?... do nothing? Sort of: nothing to fix her head; everything to fix
I have been described as a "sensor" type of
person, and under pressure I am even more of a 'sensor'. As
husband and father, it was my duty to pick up the pieces and carry the
load for the weaker, if you will. Of course it
was your "duty" as husband and father to carry the load to
some extent...and you did. You just went too far and switched the
tasks around. Not only did you carry the necessary tasks, you went
overboard neglecting yourself, focusing instead on what you had to do
so she would do what you wanted her to do. See how twisted? You simply
don't have the power the make another person's internal life more OK.
Nor do you have the right to dictate how they should go about making
themselves OK. You just become a pain in the neck to live with. Sounds
like you have some difficulty with boundaries: knowing where you end
and someone else begins.
We are getting counseling together, but I don't know
how many of these feeling to divulge, at least at this early junction. All of them, as soon as you feel reasonably
comfortable. Not only will this expression help your wife understand
you, but you will help yourself. Feelings of vulnerability are
wonderful feelings; they are part and parcel of the human experience.
Vulnerability is a necessary ingredient of trust and intimacy. Try it!
Feeling out of control is
something you need to learn to tolerate as well, for your own sake.
Even though you feel out of control, you are not out of
control. You cannot be out of control. The only one who controls
you is you. Take the time to sit in this uncomfortable zone -
until you no longer feel the urge to escape. Stop controlling your
sensory input and find home base. Sitting with yourself is so scary
and difficult for you that you focus instead on her. You effectively
block your intuition from speaking to you when you impose control on
yourself at the level
of sensing. We came to some agreements during her stay in
the hospital, one was to get marriage counseling, another, was to get
family type structure back in our family. Eat dinners together,
keep the house orderly, etc..
Since coming home, for about 2.5 weeks now, I find
myself, doing the cleaning, cooking, bathing the kids, feeding the
kids, and earning a living. So stop. Listen to
your body! The world will not fall apart if the house is messy
and the family eats McDonald's for dinner. You will feel
uncomfortable. Your job is to deal with your feelings of discomfort by
sitting with them and tolerating them. You are not dealing when you
relieve your discomfort by doing for her. I do not see
any light at the end of the tunnel. Am I not being patient
enough? Too patient. Listen to yourself:
your resentful thoughts and tired body are telling you
"Stop!" Control your thoughts and behavior and do that
which nature is calling for you to do.
I see myself controlling her by getting irritated
when she doesn't do things that she certainly can do for herself,
petty things. Yes. Excellent observation.
For example, if I don't put some dishes that might be in the sink into
the dishwasher and leave for work, the dishes along with the daily
accumulation would still be there when I got home. She needs to fix her inertia. Let her! You need
to tolerate that she has the right to her inertia until she decides
otherwise. I would have to do it. No. Don't do it. Let it pile up until she does it, and
don't nag her to do it. Control yourself to accept what is (being
married to a lady with inertia) as opposed to trying to fix her
inertia. To kind of keep peace during the adjustment period
with her meds, I should just do, and not say anything. Do little, just the basics, and say little. Let her work
out her own problems. I am killing myself, with all that
is going on. So stop. I find myself
not being able to 'sit down' until 10-11 pm. Listen
to your body's message. I am burning out!! No kidding!
I truly enjoyed the information on your site, and I am
able to see where I fit, but how do I get out of these
habits/tendencies? As per above, all you have to
lose...is your control. Regards Danny, -Dr. Irene
Best Regards, Danny