Andrea called Bill and said, “I’ve been trying to reach you. Where are you?”
“Why?” He questioned.
“Well you’re never away from your cellphone, and I was worried, for a moment.”
“I was getting a massage and left my cellphone with my personal belongings.”
“Oh, you’re at the club.”
“No, I’m at the house.”
“Well, who gave you the massage?”
“Jackie,” he replied.
“Jackie,” she screamed! “She caused the problems between us before, and now you’re with her getting a massage. That confirms all my suspicions.”
He found himself catching his breath, getting angry and unable to respond. He thought: Why is it her business any longer? There she was accusing him again, no different than she had throughout their marriage.
Then, he caught himself and thought, “What would Dr. Ed say? He’d say, ‘What do you want to achieve? What will you gain by attacking her, losing your temper and behaving out of an old knee-jerk reaction? That’s exactly what you experienced throughout your childhood. You were constantly condemned, guilty or not, and lived with anger that you were too frightened to openly express to your parents. Instead, you developed passive-aggressive ways to demonstrate your resentment toward them. It’s no surprise you would marry someone with whom you could replicate that behavior. It’s hurtful, but familiar.’ ”
His next thought was, “I need an emotional tune-up.” Before even sitting down, he said, “Dr. Ed, I’ve told her countless times that my business is no longer of her concern. Whether she believes it or not, I have no interest in my masseuse. She isn’t someone I’d ever be attracted to. But, she never believed me. Do you know why? Because she was jealous and angry, which stemmed, I now realize, from her insecurities.” But, her answer was always the same. “My insecurities are based on good reason. Even before I married you, I saw those text messages to your ex-wife, saying you loved her and still cared for her. All the while, you were living with me.”
“That’s the truth, but I told her it was a time when I was very lonely and needy. I was looking for someone to fill that empty hole inside me, and getting over leaving my kids. For the most part, it was at times when I was drinking, but I never went back to her or got involved with her. After therapy, I told Andrea the question you need to ask yourself is why did you marry me after you found all of those messages? You had a choice, but you chose to be with me and to be jealous, accusatory and constantly suspicious about other women, even though there weren’t any. Why did you do that? Wouldn’t you have been better off if you didn’t marry me?
“Can you guess what her answer was to that question? I’m sure you can. It was, ‘I thought you’d change.’ ”
His last statement was right on target. In almost every instance, when I see couples in therapy, one of the partners always plays the victim, while the other plays the victimizer. What they don’t realize is that every individual needs to be aware of what they can’t live with today, because after you marry, old issues rarely get better, they get worse.
After you say “I do,” all of your insecurities and fears are exacerbated, because once you’re married, your partner can hurt you even more than when you were dating. The nature of your conflicts doesn’t necessarily change, but your level of anxiety, fear and stress does. The result is increased discord and unhappiness, because you previously knew you could always open the door and leave. After the wedding ceremony, you tend to feel trapped and helpless.
What Andrea didn’t realize, even after divorce, was the part she played in their dysfunctional relationship. She was unable to own her own behavior. Instead, she perceived her angry, critical and distrustful behavior as a justifiable reaction to his behavior. What she failed to see was that after their marriage, she, similar to Bill, didn’t change where either of them was coming from. The “uncertain love” she experienced early in her life, mitigated the comfort she otherwise might have gotten from her marital relationship, because her depreciatory sense of self-worth and her feeling of insufficiency permeated her new “loving” relationship.
Similar to most people, she married and re-created the “loving” relationship she knew, the one she was familiar with. She then “fell victim” to her own expectations. Rest assured, however, it wasn’t a one-way street. Unconsciously, Andrea and Bill chose each other on the basis of their own emotional dynamics, rather than their good judgment and intellect.
What neither realized was that marital relations only change when the individuals in the marriage stop pointing their fingers at each other and look inside to determine the only thing they can alter, themselves. Each person needs to be able to say, “I am in control of me; I am going to behave on the basis of who I want to be, rather than out of my childhood emotions and insecurities.”
So, what can you learn from Andrea and Bill? One, that people gravitate to what they know, even though they consciously speak critically of it. Thus, for example, children of alcoholic or abusive parents, at some time in their childhood, think, “I’ll never be an alcoholic or abuse my kids.” Yet, years later, you see them choose the same coping techniques as their parents or marry someone with the same problems.
Two, before you criticize, find, fault or divorce your spouse, you need to fix you, because the broken you in your first relationship will continue to be broken in your second and third relationships. Only after you’ve come to grips with you, can you make a rational wise decision about leaving or staying in your present relationship.
All the while, remember your broken child inside is a fragile human being who easily is hurt, so handle him/her with care. He or she doesn’t deal well with criticism or accusations. What he or she needs is love and acceptance for who s/he is. Therefore, you need to remind yourself to treat you with forgiveness, care and love. Once you can do that, it’s easier to treat your spouse the same way.
Three, know that your emotions don’t change when or if you leave your spouse. You will continue to be who you are and to behave out of old childish feelings, until you learn to alter your own actions, come to love yourself and share yourself with everyone whose love you desire.