Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's Mostly his Stuff

On her excellent blog, "Rebellious Thought of a Woman", Laura recently wrote about the ways in which her husband took over the physical space of their home, crowding her into one small area without regard for her needs: When a House is not a Home

Coincidentally, I had just created a draft for an entry along similar lines. I had not heard of this "taking over" the house, as a feature of abusive relationships, but perhaps it is. Consideration for the other in common areas and allocation of common and private space, may mirror the dynamics of the relationship. I lobbied valiently for an equal say in the use of our house, but I finally dropped my appeals to the wisdom and benefits of joint decision making and focused on maintaining the minimum necessary toe hold for myself.

In some common areas of the house, I keep some "defensive clutter". I call it defensive clutter because it serves as a placeholder to block him from occupying 100% of the area. For example, most of the dining table is covered with his papers. I won't cede the entire table because I want to sit there to eat. I keep two piles of books on the table. When I want to eat, I move the books. When I finish, I replace them. If I were to put the books in a bookcase, he would overrun my little area.

In some areas of the house, I long ago relinquished any claim. My husband is a pack-rat and his stuff goes wherever he wants it to go. Often, he dumps it in the first room through the door - the living room. And it stays there. Even though I asked, coaxed, and bargained, the mess remained and proliferated. I could either clean it up myself or live with it. I chose the latter. I took out the few things I had in there out so they wouldn't be lost in the chaos and learned to avert my eyes from the disturbing mess upon entering the house.

From time to time, Bob inexplicably becomes suddenly upset by the presence of clutter that has been there for months. He gets frantic, as if clearing the clutter were now a matter of life and death. When he gets the impulse to deal with a longstanding problem, he expects me to be instantly available to jump in and help him, despite months of ignoring my repeated requests.

This time, it was the condition of the living room that he was suddenly obsessed with. He assumed, that it was our stuff clogging the room. Or more accurately, since there is no "our" in this so-called marriage, that it was a 50/50 combination of his stuff and my stuff.

In the old days, I would have helped him. I have helped him go through mountains of his stuff. This time I told him that I had other priorities, but if he found anything of mine in there, let me know and I would put it away.

A few hours later, he had things pretty well put away. Some of it was my stuff after all - a lipstick and an earring.

As with the living room clutter, Bob is fond of saying that that the problems in our relationship are 50/50, both overall and in any given incident. He says he will own his 50% of an argument, (like calling me a bitch), if I'll my 50% (not doing what he told me to do). So silly.

My point of view is that in a healthy relationships, each person owns 100% of their own stuff. In a particular incident, there are often joint contributions, but sometimes it really is one person's stuff. There have been incidents when it has been my stuff only, and I don't have a problem with acknowledging it. But that concept is totally foreign to Bob. He thinks the mess is always at least half mine.

It takes two to make a relationship work. It only takes one, to make it not work. One person cannot create a relationship of mutuality with a win/win orientation. If it is not a shared orientation, the person acting as if it were win-win, will lose.

Our marriage is like the living room. It's a mess. It's not half my stuff and half his stuff. It's mostly his stuff. And I can't clean it up for him.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Teddy Check

PhotobucketI am doing much better at ignoring his craziness. For months, I felt tense and on edge around him. I don't anymore. I've come to expect that he will become unexpectedly and irrationally angry from time to time. (Irrational because he is angry about what he makes up about what I'm thinking, implying and intending rather than the truth of me). I pretty much just ignore it now. I decided I will not be afraid. He is merely annoying to me now. I am so emotionally distant from him that I simply don't care. But I am still thrown off balance by the "Teddy check"

In her book Controlling People, Patricia Evans uses the analogy of how a child relates to his teddy bear to describe how a controlling person tries to create a pretend relationship with a spouse.

A teddy bear is inanimate and compliant. A child plugs his thoughts and moves into the teddy making it "do and "say" what he wants. Teddy is comforting. A child talks to Teddy, and responds for Teddy. Teddy always appreciates you and never minds if you leave her sitting around for a while. Teddy gets things done, agrees with you, and think of things to do for you, even before you ask.

I think that Bob was attracted to me because of the ways in which the real me resembles his 'dream woman'. The problem is, he does not accept those ways in which I am not his dream woman.

In adulthood, the controlling spouse, i.e. The Pretender, is trying to plug his pretend person into the body of the partner. When the authentic woman speaks up the Pretender may think "Sometimes Teddy talks about stuff but
it doesn't have anything to do with you, so you just nod now and then." Teddy wants what you want.

One day Teddy is upset by something you did. How could this be? Delivering a barrage of diverting and and countering finally silences Teddy. Teddy stays quiet for a few days so okay, maybe everything is back to normal. Teddy malfunctioned briefly but maybe now she is back.

In the old days, I would always inquire about Bob's important business meetings. I was interested in his work and his successes and frustrations. Even now, I have no wish for him to fail. He is talented and I wish him well. It's just that I stopped giving that kind of attention to someone who was showing very little interest in my life and well being.

I have repeatedly and clearly spelled out the issues that need to be addressed and have been ignored. A few days ago I told him I would prefer that he would address me by my name, rather than with terms of endearment such as "sweetie" because such terms imply a degree of closeness that is not present between us. This upset him and he said sarcastically "Fine, I'll just drop this fantasy that everything is okay." "That would be great." I said.

It really would be great if he would drop the fantasy and relate to me as a real person.

As usual, after a few days have passed, Bob does what I call a "teddy check". I've been through this cycle with Bob more times than I care to remember. Even though it was late at night and I was in my room, he sought me out to tell me about his meeting that evening.
I thought something out of the ordinary that I needed to know about must have happened. After listening politely for a few minutes, I realized he simply wanted to talk to Teddy. I politely told him he would need to leave because I was going to sleep now. It is so maddening that he expects a loving wife to be there for him when he has shown a near total disregard for my needs. Unbeleiveable.

If you have never been treated as Teddy, it probably sounds weird if to feel annoyed when your spouse comes to you to share their good news. In a healthy relationship, spouses share their good news with each other. However, in a healthy relationship spouses also listen to each other when the other is upset about something. They try to understand each other. They try to reach and follow through on fair agreements with each other.

Perhaps I am having a hard time seeing the reality of him as well. The idea that relationships are reciprocal seems to be hardwired into my brain. I have to remember that he doesn't see it that way. I am Teddy to him. Teddy doesn't require reciprocation.

I feel like I am caught between bad choices. Must I growl at him each morning to remind him that we don't have a relationship? If I do, he will become surly. Yet when I am simply polite, as I would be to any stranger, he thinks Teddy is back.

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