Definitions for maelstrom include a situation in which there are a lot of confused activities, emotions, and also a powerful often violent whirlpool sucking in objects within a given radius (taken from merriam-webster.com).
That’s how I felt trying to survive a serious conversation with my passive aggressive husband last night. Another term I’ve learned in the online support community is the mind-‘f’ (yes, the f word), referring to how you can feel the dizzying, confusing effects of gaslighting while simultaneously feeling your mind is going through a spin cycle.
I’m no slouch at communication, or being able to hold my own in a conversation, but when my husband is spewing anger, resentment, and accusations in full blown passive aggressive mode, it’s difficult to keep up.
He’ll always say something particularly upsetting (a vulnerability) to pepper the rapid fire accusations with, and if I try to hit a slow or pause button to respond to it, he’ll glare (in an almost triumphant way) and say something like, “See! This is why I can never talk to you! You interrupt me, you never let me finish what I’m trying to say! I’m sick of your double standards!”
Now I’m darned if I do, and darned if I don’t. Taking inner note of this hasn’t slowed the pace or intensity of the conversations. By the time I’m trying to make a mental list of the last few things he’s thrown into the mix, he’s on to more accusations and resentments. It can feel like he’s waited months or years to tell me just how upset he is, just how awful I am, and just how mistreated, unappreciated, and put upon he is. By the time he’s finished, I wonder to myself why in the world he ever wanted to be with me, and why he is with me at all.
But you see, this has been going on forever. In the early years (and for far too long), it would break me down. I’d end up in a kind of emotional shock, numb with pain and depression. Once I was broken down, it was the typical turning point where he’d eventually throw me a crumb, or make an overture. This would elicit such immense relief within me, and seeing, observing or sensing my relief, he would then turn more kind and attentive behavior on me. Making up beyond that point required me to behave in such a way that signaled free, clear, and unconditional emotional space that we could ‘be close’ again in. If I didn’t do that, the cold war would drag on.
He’s been ramping up awhile now. The withdrawal, self-pity, and resentful hostility have been brewing and escalating. Why? As an old farmer friend of my father used to say, “Who knows? Who cares? What’s the difference?“
Last night was just as confusing as any other time in regards to tracking the conversation, and being able to rationally and coherently respond to it. It’s impossible… impossible… to respond to specific topics, because there were far too many.
Some of the things I heard from him were the same old, same old, but there were a few special gems from him.
I brought up counseling. I said, “Every time we went for professional help, each and every time you were singled out and focused on as needing help. If we go to another counselor, and if the new counselor says the same, and says that your behaviors didn’t seem loving or respectful, what would that mean to you?”
He said, “That it would be a misrepresentation. This time, I’d make sure that it wasn’t just your side. I’d make sure I was able to talk about my feelings and my reasons for things.”
Misrepresentation? He was not only present for all sessions in past years, but it was him that had the bulk of individual sessions. Typically we would see a new therapist or psychologist, and after a few sessions as a couple, there would be a request to see him individually.
Misrepresentation. That’s how he explains the observations from professionals about his behaviors lacking love and respect?
I said, “Okay… if you have the first few sessions all alone, and then I come to talk to that counselor, and if the counselor then says the same things other counselors did in past years, then what would that mean to you?”
He said, “I don’t know. I’d have to think about it.”
When I told him that all I’ve ever wanted from him is love and respect, and also not to lie to me, he responded by saying that he didn’t feel loved by me.
He says it’s been years since I’ve behaved like I loved him, and that from my behavior, he had a hard time believing that I loved him.
hmm How convenient. The very words I’ve used to try to communicate my hurt are once again used by him towards me. This has happened too many times to count over the years. This is a part of the identity vampire dynamic that makes it difficult for me to know what he’s stealing and projecting, and what’s authentically originating from him.
I listened to him saying that he felt like I didn’t love him. So many visual memories began to flash through my mind; images of real memories that certainly looked like loving behaviors from me towards him. Apparently, those behaviors and actions must not be worth much. At the same time, I remembered many of his terrible words and behaviors, and my willingness to forgive him and keep trying. Listening to him last night made me think he doesn’t value being forgiven, but then perhaps he never felt he had that much to be forgiven for. In reality, I think he did, but a passive aggressive tends to feel entitled to hurt you, feels justified to hurt you, and that way when he sees the impact of his hurt, the underlying thought is that somehow you deserved to be hurt by him. Top that off with a lack of empathy and compassion, and you’ll have a man that can see your tears and pain and be seemingly unmoved by it. It’s no more meaningful to a passive aggressive than some kind of emotional white noise in the room.
On the other hand, I also had to think of my growing unwillingness to mother him, my enforcement of boundaries, and my not backing down when I hold him accountable for some specific thing. Perhaps to his mind, those are unloving things.
I told him that I was trying to express my sadness and hurt to him. His response to that was to start telling me how he cries all the time because he’s so sad.
I was almost flabberghasted. I asked him, “You know me well enough to know how hearing that would affect me. When do you cry? Where do you cry?”
(I’m not blind. I’m not heartless. I haven’t seen evidence of this.)
He yelled back that he was sad all the time. He went on and on about it actually. Then at one point, he kind of boo-booed. He said, “I’m sad when I hear my daughter tell me that she feels like no one cares about her because no one was interested in watching Ella Enchanted on netflix with her.”
whoa… whoa nelly
This was a boo boo because of a conversation our daughter just had with me. Not long ago, I saw that Ella Enchanted was on instant play, and told her we should watch it together sometime soon. Two nights ago when I watched Fiddler on the Roof with her, her sister and oldest brother, my husband was into sulk-withdraw mode and chose to sit back at his computer and watch a movie alone. After he did that, she asked her father if we could all three later watch Ella Enchanted, and whether he thought he and I would be willing to sit on the couch together to watch it with her. Shortly after, she recounted their conversation, puzzled because he told her, “Oh, I don’t think your mom is very interested in watching that movie. I’m pretty sure that I care more about watching it than she does.” My daughter asked me if that was true. I told her that was not correct, and I wouldn’t have suggested watching it with her if I wasn’t interested. My daughter asked why her father said that then. I told her that I didn’t know.
So when he made the comment, “I’m sad when I hear my daughter tell me that she feels like no one cares about her because no one was interested in watching Ella Enchanted on netflix with her,” I responded by asking him if he remembered the rest of the conversation about that with her.
Instantly, he gave me a knowing and resentful look. Then I knew he did remember. He said, “Yes, I told her you weren’t that interested because you said that you weren’t.”
I asked him when and in what context he remembered this supposed comment, and of course he couldn’t answer. He didn’t like being caught out on that movie conversation with our daughter.
His response about lying to me? “I don’t lie to you as much as you think I do!” That statement was followed with barely taking a breath by many others, but the first part of it stuck in my head.
I said, “Did you hear what you just said to me?”
He just kept the rapid fire stuff going, but by now he was openly mocking and using sarcasm.
I repeated my question, “Did you hear what you just said to me? Even if you don’t lie as much as you say I think you do, you’re still lying, and you’re upset at me because I suspect you of lying?”
I asked him if he would want to try to keep this house if we divorced. He went on to tell me that he used to feel differently about this property, but not anymore, so probably not. I asked him if he’d agree to financially supporting me to stay in this house until our youngest graduated from high school, and at that time, I could either buy him out, or we’d sell it and split. He said, “Maybe… I don’t know… I have to think about what I’m willing or not to do.”
He continued to tell me why he was unhappy being married to me. I shook my head and said, “Well, if what you say about me and about how you feel is true, then you really will be so much better off without me.”
He replied, “Well, I don’t know about that…”
I had slept on the couch the night before this conversation.
I told him it was his turn, and I was sleeping in the bed.
This morning he started sending tentative sorry puppy signals.
You know what I did? Exactly what I promised myself last night that I’d do. I started Algebra with my daughter, and had a great first lesson. I’ve eaten healthy.
Now I’m going swimming.
My promise to myself was to love and take care of me. To give myself a chance…