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Doc@DrIrene.com

Second Time Around, But...

 My Story: 2nd Time Around is Better, But...

June 9, 2003
Stimpy's back, an old friend. See her initial email here, and see what she has to say now, over 3 years later. Growth never ends, does it? Doc

Dear Dr. Irene,

Well, I am back again. Thought you might be interested in an update--and the trials of my second relationship, which lasted two years and ended up without getting married. I guess I had trouble recognizing the abuse this time because it was much more subtle and covert.

I met BF after taking a period of time to "get to know myself" and get over my depression from leaving DH and being on my own for the first time in my life. When BF and I were introduced by a mutual friend, I felt strong, independent, and healthy. He was (still is) a counselor--a good sign. I was living 600 miles away, and had come to my home town for a visit, where he lived. My friend knew him well and said good things about him.

When we first met, we liked each other, but there were no "sparks". I took that as a good sign. He was reserved, and asked me a lot of questions, but never revealed anything about himself. After arriving home, I didn't hear from him for three weeks, and then one day I got an e-mail. He remembered every detail about me. The more he revealed about himself (sloooowly), the more I liked him.

We kept up this e-mailing back and forth a while. I went back to visit when my grandma died, and the "sparks" flew then, but I was still on guard. No sex yet--I knew it was too soon. It was two months after we had met. Pretty soon we were calling each other regularly.

Five months after we met, we were in love. We loved everything about each other--we loved to talk, we had similar views on religion, politics and other subjects near and dear to my heart, and he was sweet. Really sweet. He sent me gifts. He told me nice things about myself. He built me up. And he listened to me. So very very different from my ex-husband.

I guess my first sign of trouble was his paranoia. He was just a little too jealous when I mentioned ex-boyfriends, although he didn't put me down. Just asked a lot of questions (like "Who bought you that teddy bear you're talking about?"). He would get worried when I wasn't talking about "us" as much as I had before--was I still interested? He would say I seemed more "withdrawn" lately (did I? I hadn't noticed). He wondered if I still cared about him. He noticed I hadn't been saying as many affectionate things. There was no "change" in my behavior as far as I could tell.

These inquiries would start out politely, but would always go downhill. It would begin with me asking questions (what exactly did I "do" that you perceive as "different"?) or saying that I hadn't noticed I was acting differently. This was intolerable to BF, who perceived it as "invalidating" of his feelings, and suddenly his whole attitude would change. He would become nasty and sarcastic, sometimes drilling me with rhetorical questions, even when I was able to remain grounded and calm.

I always tried to reason with him. But he was cunning. He could take any statement and intellectually challenge it. I know that this was all subconscious for him--he didn't "mean to" do it. But it sure did hurt.

I hated our fights, but reasoned that he was so much kinder than the ex--he could say sweet things to me five minutes after a blow-out fight was over. And even when we were fighting, he was never HALF as nasty as Ex--never called me names, rarely yelled, didn't slam things. But the tone of his voice could slice me in two.

One time he called to talk to me, I asked him how his day went, he spoke very little and got quiet. I started talking about a movie I had just watched. He got "irritated" (his words) because I didn't seem to want to connect with him, I hadn't talked enough about him or "us". I replied, "I asked you how your day was." His response, "Oh, and that's enough for you

huh?" It turned into a huge fight.

I ignored the signs and made plans to move back to my home town. Not just for him (thank goodness), but also to be back "home", where I would be closer to family and some really dear friends. And hopefully to get married (gulp!). I made the move a year ago. I thought that when I moved down, he might be a less insecure and trust me more, knowing that I was REALLY SERIOUS about the relationship.

I kept working on myself, knowing that I still had room to grow. I learned listening skills (BF suggested it, a little too strongly for me), I knew they would help me in ALL my relationships. I practiced them--with him and with my best friend (also a counselor). I kept talking to my faithful individual counselor, who had seen me through my first break-up (we did phone sessions). I read books on relationships and anger. I journalled after our arguments and thought of ways I could have responded differently. I learned to sit through my feelings, and my bouts of depression became less and less severe, until I rarely felt the urge to hurt myself or take pills to numb myself. Today I am alcohol and drug free for a year and a half.

But the problems with the relationship did not go away, even when BF began to see a counselor of his own. He got offended when I offered to "help him" rake the leaves ("You said it like you were a friend offering to help, not like you felt you had shared responsibilities"). He assumed I didn't enjoy being with him (wouldn't give me reasons, because he was "afraid to"). I would try hard not to react to him, not to get defensive, but often I did, and then he would jump on me for "not listening to him." Once, when I was asking him questions trying to figure out where he was coming from (he hated

questions!) he accused me of using "lawyer tactics".

But then it was another matter when I complained of his behavior. I would carefully craft my statements before approaching him, saying "When you said [fill in the blank], I felt [insert emotion]", just like all the resources I had studied said I should. His reaction--"Well what about what YOU did?" or "You do that too!" He saw attacks when I was merely stating my experience. When I would confront him on his little verbal attacks he would say, "I can't promise you I won't react emotionally" or "Everybody gets angry!" He thought I was asking for perfection. I just wanted to feel safe.

I guess the turning point for me was around Christmas of last year. I was getting excited about marrying him (which he swore profusely that he wanted so bad!-and I wanted to have kids before I got "too old"), and I sent him links to web-sites with pictures of diamond rings on them as a hint. He got the hint, and asked if I would like to go look at some rings, and also made the comment, "Well, I guess I should get you a ring by Christmas, huh?" I wanted to scream "YES!", but I was being polite, and said, "Well, you don't have to." But we went and looked, and I found a ring that I liked, and told him it was the one I wanted. He even bought me a small gift in a square box, wrapped it, waved it in front of my face and said, "I bet you're going to like this one!" But Christmas came, and no ring, and no talk of a ring. I hadn't said anything because I thought he was trying to surprise me with a romantic proposal (something I had said I wanted). So imagine my surprise when he said, two days before Christmas, "Are you disappointed that I didn't get you the ring?" Disappointed? I was devastated! So I laid in the bedroom and cried quietly, not wanting to make him feel bad. But he came in and asked me what was the matter, and I told him that I had thought he was going to get me the ring. He asked me with contempt, "So, do you want to EXTRACT it from me?" Things went downhill fast from there.

We went to couples counseling, but the counselor focused on the perceived "issues" ("Do you see the leaves as his job, or are you willing to share

responsibility?") rather than the behavior, or communication skills. I began to toss and turn at night, thinking through our arguments. Not long ago I started noticing I was tip-toeing around certain subjects with him, like finances (he often questioned my motives around money, wondering aloud if I was "taking advantage" of him). I still wanted to be around him, but I wasn't comfortable being myself, wondering if I was "listening" enough, or sounding like I was "interested" enough. It started to bring back feelings from the bad old days, my days with Ex-husband.

I gingerly approached him a few weeks ago and said I had been feeling afraid recently of his emotional reactions, especially since he said recently he "couldn't guarantee" he wouldn't have them. He snapped back at me, "Well then go marry a statue!!" He began to raise his voice at me, and I raised mine higher, saying, "YOU CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. YOU DON'T HAVE TO TALK TO ME IN A MEAN WAY!!!!" I saw it was going nowhere and told him to stop, I didn't want to hear any more. He followed me around, criticizing me and telling me this "attack" was not okay with him. I left the house to get him off my tail.

I decided a few days later to call it quits. I should have seen the signs earlier, but he was really kind and thoughtful in so many other ways. It is a lesson that abuse comes in all forms. The abuser really doesn't have to be Saddam Hussein to make the relationship unworkable.

To this day, BF still asks me--"Why do you think all the problems in the relationship are my fault?" First of all--the assumption is wrong. (That's something that drove me crazy--he assumed he knew what I was thinking or how I felt, and didn't want to check it out with me.) Because I KNEW I still had things to work on, like setting boundaries and not getting defensive. But I couldn't tolerate his outpouring of anger when I screwed up. And it didn't look like things were going to improve fast enough, if at all, for my already wounded psyche, because he didn't see anything unhealthy about his behavior (although now, of course, he is admitting to bad behavior and claiming he is changing...a little too late though, because now I don't trust that he won't hurt me).

So what else did I learn? I learned that I still have work to do in recognizing when my boundaries are being crossed-it seems like I don't see it until I replay the argument in my head later. I have gotten much better at avoiding flying off the handle when things are going bad, and ending the arguments before they get too heated (I only had two door slamming incidents with him!). But I still need more work on staying grounded. And most importantly, I have learned that I DESERVE RESPECT, AT ALL TIMES, even when someone else is angry at me. That is what I keep repeating to myself now, so hopefully it will sink in for good. Yeah! Sink in. Sink in. Sink in!!!

As always, grateful for you and this web-site,

Stimpy

P.S. I have written a Bill of Rights for myself:

Good stuff! I'm renaming:

Everybody's Basic Bill of Relationship Rights

bulletI deserve to be treated with respect, even when you are angry.
bulletI deserve to be listened to when I ask for what I want in the relationship or express a concern about your behavior in a respectful way. I do not deserve to be attacked full force when I point out specific behaviors of yours that are disrespectful.
bulletI deserve an acknowledgment from you when you say something disrespectful of me, and an apology too.
bulletI don't need to be perfect to deserve all of the above. This is not a competition, it is a relationship. I will not play the game of "who is the worst offender." If you have a valid complaint, you can express it to me in a respectful manner. I don't have to listen to your barrage of all the things I am doing wrong, and correct them all, before you take responsibility for your own actions.
bulletI work on improving myself no matter how bad YOUR behavior is. I deserve the same from you.
bulletIt is not my responsibility to bear the brunt of your emotional reactions.

No it's not! Good work!  Thanks, Doc.