Laura no longer felt she was the center of Jason’s world. During their courtship, she was the prime object of his attention and time. He even ignored his job in order to direct his energies toward winning her favor. He was thoughtful, perhaps overly so, constantly brought her gifts and went on at length regarding his love, devotion and commitment to her.
It was, in fact, the primary basis of Laura’s attraction to him. She had finally found someone whose love she felt she could count on. He was the man of her dreams, who provided the love she never received during childhood. As a middle child, she found it difficult to compete with her older brother and impossible to be the baby in the family, a position held by her younger sister. Throughout her life, Laura perecived herself the odd person out. She lacked the confidence she perceived her brother to have and saw herself as an ugly duckling, lacking in femininity, who could never be the femme fatale her sister was. But Jason changed her life. He made her whole. He gave her the feeling that she was worthwhile.
There was only one problem: she required his constant attention. She could ill afford for him to have a contrary opinion, to be involved outside of the home, to go out with the boys, or even to have a business appointment over dinner. The more he grew as a person, the more successful he was at work, the more independence he displayed, the more her insecurities increased. As a result, not a day went by when she didn’t call him two or three times to solve problems she could easily have handled on her own, or to instruct him to pick something up at the store on his way home.
Visits to Jason’s family were seen as a threat because of the loss of his full attention. She was jealous of the camaraderie he felt with his siblings and the joy he experienced while being there. Jason felt it more than coincidental that every time they planned to visit his home, Laura got sick or started an argument which justified her insistence that they stay home. For the first five years, Jason tolerated her behavior because he was accustomed to living with a strong woman who dominated the home, called the shots and controlled her husband’s and children’s behavior. As a child, he learned that love was dispensed for compliance, captitulation and cooperation. In that regard, he saw Laura as a carbon copy of his mother. It’s no wonder that during their altercations, he frequently called her by his mother’s name. It wasn’t meant as a compliment and it set her off on a tirade. It was also the only way he had of expressing his resentment toward himself for desperately needing a woman’s love to make him whole.
During the sixth year of their marriage, Jason began coming home late from work and frequently expressed a need to work on Saturdays. As you might also expect, he lost interest in having any physical contact with his wife. She became suspicious, accused him of having someone else and retaliated by directing all of her attention toward their two children. After one extremely confrontational argument, he shouted, “I’m through. I don’t love you. I want out” and then began to sob. “But I can’t leave because of the children. I’m trapped.” In effect, Jason had replicated the relationship he experienced with his mother with his wife, and unconsciously stayed, trying desperately to get Laura to love him, nurture him and be the mother he always wanted, but never felt he had. The problem is that if you marry someone similar to your mother, you can’t expect them to behave differently.
In a similar fashion, Laura no longer felt herself a whole woman. Her increased attempts to control stemmed from her need to have Jason behave in a manner that would reinforce the notion that he really cared. Her emotional logic being, if he acquiesced and acted according to her wishes, it must mean he loved her.
In effect, both of these individuals were emotionally crippled. Their relationship, initially and throughout 80% of their marriage was one that made each of them feel whole. But the price they paid for that relationship was the forfeiture of their own desires, opinions and freedom. They felt hurt, trapped and unloved, but unable to leave. They both blamed each other for the situation they found themselves in. The irony is that each of them, because of their own sense of insufficiency, could only survive emotionally by viewing themselves as a victim. Thus, despite its conflictual state, their marriage provided them with an insurance policy that stated, “None of this is my fault. My problems stem from my other half.”
Their relationship is a quintessential example of all too many of the marriages I have seen in therapy. Neither owned their own life, or enjoyed the life they shared. They tolerated each other, lamented their situation and chose to stay in it, explaining their behavior on the basis of not wanting to hurt their children, their love for each other and their desire for their marriage to work, which would occur if their partner would change.
The truth is that noone can make you whole. If they do, you can ill afford for them to grow, to change, to alter their behavior, their verbalizations, or their feelings. You need them to stay the same to continue to make you okay. That, in itself, causes each of the parties involved to feel restricted and controlled by the very nature of the relationship. In an odd sense, it’s no different than the old Chinese custom of wrapping a woman’s feet to restrict their growth so they’d look dainty and feminine, which, of course, eventually contributed to the women being crippled and unable to walk. The solution is obvious. Unwrap their feet. It goes without saying that no marriage is worth crippling yourself for. The solution: become proactive, be a whole person and learn to stand on your own two feet. You need to feel confident in your ability to make it on your own before you can make it with someone else. It will mitigate your fear of losing your partner because of your inability to support yourself, literally and figuratively. That doesn’t mean you don’t love or desire, care for and nurture your spouse. It means you don’t need them, but you want them. There is a great deal of difference between the two. One weighs your partner down. The other lifts them up.