Friday, April 24, 2009

Compassion Heals

It's been a long time since I posted. I am happy to report that I am doing much better, and surprisingly, so is my marriage. There has been slow, but steady improvement for more than seven months, so I have reason to be cautiously optimistic.

One reason I haven't been posting is my awareness that all too often, any changes an abusive man makes, do not last. Some men change for months, even years, and then revert to old habits. Maybe I didn't want to chronicle my foolish, false hopes. - if that's what they turn out to be - but I decided to do it anyway. His changes may or may not last, and if they don't, hopefulness and disappointment is part of the process too.

After the ugly name calling scene in August, I purchased Steven Stosny's book "Love without Hurt". Some cyber friends had told me that it had helped them heal even though they chose to end their marriages.

Stosny's approach, towards both husband and wife, is very compassionate. His book has two sections, the first devoted to the abused spouse (more often the wife), the second section for husbands, he calls boot camp. Both sections, specially the boot camp are very "hands on" with lots of exercises to do.

After looking at the book, I was so impressed that I approached my husband. I told him that I believed that he truly wants to be a good husband and that I know he can't feel good about some of his behavior towards me. I said that I had total and complete confidence that he could be a good husband if he does the necessary emotional work. I said that obviously his attempts to simply 'control' himself wasn't working and maybe it was time to try another approach.

He bought a copy of the book for himself, and started doing the work. Not surprisingly, he would slack off after a short time. When he did, I backed away from him. When he kept at the work, I came a little closer. It was very, very difficult for him to grasp some of the material, but once he did, it has made a huge difference.

  • I no longer have to fight to be heard. (Now I realize how crazy it was for me to even do that in the first place.) Discussions of issues between us no longer feel like battles, even when we disagree.
  • He no longer gives me orders. He asks politely and expresses appreciation for the things I do.
  • I no longer avoid him. I rarely feel tense around him anymore. Sometimes I still do begin to feel uneasy when I sense he is anxious about something, remembering that would often lead to him being abusive towards me. When that happens, I tell myself that if he blows, I can handle it. But he has handled his feelings without taking them out on me.
  • He can, and does, apologize spontaneously and sincerely, and even makes amends.
  • There is a growing sense of partnership in the relationship. His pack-rat tendencies remain, but he is making an effort make more room for me in the common areas of our home.

There are still areas that need improvement, but I actually enjoy being married to him now.

I highly recommend Steven Stosny's approach. Patricia's Evans book was very helpful to me because of her detailed description of what a verbally abusive relationship looks like. She gave me valuable insight into the mindset of an abusive man. Unfortunately, her suggestions for dealing with it were only partially effective. I think the missing piece was compassion.

Stosny's book helped me increase my compassion for myself and for my husband, while at the same time making me stronger. Although I already realized it, Stosny's writings helped me keep it front and center that an abusive person is also a hurt person.
Stosny says:

. . . the sole purpose of your husband's resentful, angry or abusive behavior is to defend him from feeling inadequate, especially as a protector, provider, lover, and parent.

Your husband's inability to tolerate occasional feelings of inadequacy is why he becomes resentful, distant, angry, or abusive when you express some desire or emotional need or say anything that he can remotely construe as criticism. The vast majority of people who are resentful, angry or abusive fail to tolerate feelings of inadequacy long enough to motivate behavior that will allow them to reconnect and reattach to loved ones. Instead, they blame their feelings of inadequacy on their loved ones.

Lest anyone confuse compassion with 'being nice' or tolerating abuse, let me say that Stosny makes clear that if a man refuses to do the necessary work, you must leave him in order to prevent grave damage to yourself. He also makes the point that leaving a man who does not change is the most compassionate things you can do for him.

Every time he says a harsh word to you or gives you the cold shoulder, or simply fails to value and respect you, he hates himself a little more.

If he won't change, your leaving him is his only hope.

Well, that's a nutshell update for now. Wherever this goes, I'm doing better.

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