Mr. Mess and I had a marriage counseling session on Wednesday. It was very emotional, so I’m warning you now that this will be very long. We touched on quite a few things. It was the first time we had sat down in the same room and talked about the lying incident and its aftermath. The entire session is a bit of a blur. Unlike the way I can usually recall conversations in very specific details from beginning to end, my memories of that hour are jumbled. They pop up in my brain in small segments. I recall things in the order of impact they had on me instead of their chronological order. That is a new experience for me, and has made it very difficult to write about. I have started and stopped, erased sentences and entire paragraphs, re-arranged my thoughts over and over, and given up more than once.
Today I decided that it is important to do my best to catalog my emotions and the topics covered. One big reason is that we are going away for the weekend. More about that later. I think I need to put a period on this in my mind so that I can move on and fully engage.
Just about the only thing I didn’t go back and forth with about this post is its title. Since I’m not sure where to start, I will start there. Wednesday night as I was lying in bed sifting through my emotions and thoughts, I began trying to form a general outline of this blog post. It’s something I find myself doing unconsciously now. It’s a way to organize my thoughts and process them. If I can start forming them into a logical order that would make sense to a reader, then they also start to make more sense to me.
The very first thing that popped into my head during that process was “Minding Your P’s and Q’s.” I like titles that play off of socially recognized phrases or ideas, but mean something different. That title was a natural choice because of the direction our therapy session went. Our counselor asked a lot of questions, and so did Mr. Mess and I – hence the “Qs.” Other topics that we discussed started with the letter P. In fact, at one point our counselor said something to the effect of, “I have two words for you, and they both start with the letter P. They represent two ways you can look at this situation. I want to tell you the difference.”
Now that I have explained my title and gotten the first few words on the page, I can feel my brain loosening up. Thank you for bearing with me up to this point. Here we go.
There are a few different posts about how my husband lied to me regarding his work schedule two Sundays ago and how I discovered those lies (Setting Boundaries). I have shared how the fact of a lie wasn’t as bad as the fact that he continued to lie, tried to cover his lies with half-truths, and kept lying once I found evidence that countered his story (Lies, Lies, Go Away… Come again NEVER!). I talked about detaching and the things I have done for myself since (Farting on the Massage Table and A Holiday, a Tattoo and a Piercing). Hopefully you now know enough of the story from my perspective.
What I discovered in counseling was Mr. Mess’s perspective. After giving a brief description of events (Mr. Mess lied, then kept lying, then gaslighted, and now we are sleeping in separate rooms), our therapist jumped right in with the questions. His first one was whether Mr. Mess lied intentionally or unconsciously. My husband then plainly stated that he made the conscious choice to lie. It wasn’t a gut reaction. It wasn’t a slip. He lied because he had intended to lie to me all along. That was a punch in the gut! But at least I knew the truth. It wasn’t a mistake. It wasn’t an instinct. I am not crazy. He wanted to lie to me, so he did.
Let me tell you, in that moment I felt all hope slip away. I was thinking so many things simultaneously – “How could he? After everything we have been through and all of the progress we have made, he just decided to throw it out the window? I married a monster! He is pathological! What could he possibly get out of lying that my feelings mean absolutely NOTHING to him?” The overriding thought was “I don’t think I can deal with this.” I didn’t say any of that. I just sat there staring at the floor. I don’t know if I could have gotten up and left if the thought had entered my mind – which for some reason it didn’t.
The next question from the therapist was something to the effect of “what was the goal of lying” or “what did you get out of it” or “why did you make the choice to lie.” I obviously can’t remember the exact wording. Either way the answer was that he wanted control. He wanted to feel like he had control over something completely – that there was something that was just “his.” He didn’t want to share with me. He didn’t want me to know about it. He wanted me to just leave him alone and not bother with caring what his work schedule was or when he would be leaving the house.
He continued by saying that he doesn’t feel like he has had any control since this “whole thing” started. I was baffled. Completely. I think I actually snorted. “Are you serious?” I threw out, exasperated. “Come on! You are driving this crazy bus and dragging me along behind you! I didn’t pick this, you did!” Our therapist gently stepped in and said that we probably don’t have the same perspective (there’s a P-word), but it is still important to hear where Mr. Mess is coming from. He asked for a clarification, more information about the how he feels he lacks control.
Again, Mr. Mess said that from the beginning of this “whole thing,” he didn’t feel like he had any say in how things happened. I had to cut in to ask what he thinks of as the “beginning” – the start of our relationship, the affair discovery, his childhood, this lie, what? He said May 2011. I asked, do you mean March 31, 2011 (side note – he doesn’t even remember the date? What the hell?!?!?)? He said, sure, whatever – from this last discovery forward. I said okay, then sat back to hear what he could possibly have to say.
I may not do justice to this part because I don’t remember what he said word for word. By this point I also had so many different swirling emotions, thoughts, and crazy feelings that my head was literally buzzing. The general gist is that when I discovered the last time he was viewing and hiding porn on his phone I told him he was a sex addict and made him go to therapy. Yeah… that’s what he said. I (not so kindly or graciously) cut in to say that, yes, when I found teen porn on his phone it was the last straw and I said go to therapy or leave. Period.
He took my outburst in stride and continued with his version of events where I diagnosed him with sex addiction, something his current therapist said that he “might have.” Again, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing and had to jump in. I said something like “Seriously? I didn’t diagnose you, and that’s not what he said to me when I met with him.” What I should have added (but didn’t) is, “You ended up going to him after you described your own issues to several therapists who said it was over their head and you need to go see him because he specializes in problems like that – a.k.a. porn addictions.”
He (rather sarcastically) asked what Dr. C told me then. I said something like, “We both sat down in his office and he said point-blank that you have a sex addiction problem, but he was going to help you through it. He said that you need to use a 3 pronged approach – medication, therapy (including a sex addiction workbook) and SA meetings.” Our MC asked if he remembers that. Mr. Mess said yes, but… This is the point where my brain gets fuzzy because I just couldn’t accept one more excuse, justification, denial, or re-writing of history. I think he said something to the effect of – I just went along to get along because she told me I had to.
I know I nearly yelled that I did not MAKE him do anything. I just said that this time I wasn’t going to just sweep it under the rug. I told him what I needed in order to continue this relationship. If he didn’t want to do it, he was free to walk out of the door. I told him that then and reiterated it more than once. I think at that point he may have agreed with me, but said that he didn’t have any control over what he had to do in order to stay with me. He said that he “loved” me, then quickly corrected himself and said that he still does. He didn’t want to lose me, so he did things that he didn’t really want to do in order to keep our marriage going.
I can’t remember if there was any resolution to that or how we got on a different topic, but I do know that we started talking about my response to his lie this time. He said that I shut him out completely. He felt I was saying that I was done and the relationship was over, and that I was going to show him by doing things just to “spite” him.
I asked what he was talking about. He brought up my tattoo and piercing, saying how I did those things to hurt him. Huh? I said, “No, I did those things for myself. It had nothing to do with you.” He said that the timing and the fact that I didn’t talk to him about it first makes him think I was trying to make him angry – that he had no idea I wanted to do that. What?? I asked, “Don’t you remember us bicycling to the tattoo parlor in the 100 degree weather to see about a piercing and tattoo before our fight? That should tell you that I was serious about getting something done.” He countered that I was talking about a different piercing (the face one that I found out is permanent) and a tattoo in a different place. He didn’t know what I wanted specifically. So?? Was he looking for me to ask permission (another P-word)? Would it really have changed anything if I asked him before I went instead of telling him when I was there? He said yes, it would have. There was more back and forth which was petty and not important to this summary.
Thankfully at this point our wonderful MC got involved again to referee this issue and get us back on track. He said that in a healthy marriage I probably would have talked to him about what I wanted to get done more specifically before I just did it. However, I didn’t feel safe enough to do that. This relationship wasn’t in a healthy place.
Again, the movie in my head skips here. I know that we started talking about Mr. Mess’s past and how he relates to people in his life. Yesterday I talked briefly about his lack of empathy for others – or at least how it takes him a lot of effort to consider how his actions could make another person feel and actually care about those feelings. He admitted that he has negatively affected the lives of every single friend, family member, or person who has loved him. Every. Single. One. Wow! That must have taken a lot to admit. He talked about regrets he has, especially that he can’t apologize to his parents, who are both passed away.
He also said that he has always done whatever he wanted, right or wrong, consequences be damned. He has never had another person be so affected by the things he chooses to do. He has never “answered” to anyone for his actions, or had to worry about having another person tied to the outcome of his decisions. He is afraid that he can’t be the kind of person who thinks or cares about how he will affect someone else.
Our MC then asked the next logical question – “Then why did you decide to get married?” He said that he is not trying to be flippant or sarcastic, but getting married is the ultimate act of tying your life to another person’s. It requires selflessness, sacrifice, compromise – the exact opposite of what he just finished describing. Mr. Mess said something like “Yeah, that’s true. I didn’t think about it that way, though. I proposed because I didn’t want to lose her.”
MC then asked if he had thought about it then, does he think he would have done it? Mr. Mess said no. He wouldn’t have proposed to me. He wouldn’t have gotten married. If he had thought things through back then, if he knew what he knows now, then he would never have married me. I didn’t (and still don’t) know what to do with that. I don’t know where that leaves us now. I don’t even know why our MC asked that. What’s the point? We can’t change the past. So why torture me with the fact that my husband wouldn’t even be my husband if he had put any kind of thought into things? Maybe to point out that he loved(s?) me enough to try to change his own nature? Maybe to tell me to run? Maybe because he likes to see people squirm? Okay, those last two probably weren’t entirely fair, but still… That was pretty messed up!
I have another mind jump here… I think that last thing just put me in stunned mode for a little bit. The next thing I remember we were back to the aftermath of this last lie. I know at some point during the visit Mr. Mess asked if I am done. I asked him a question right back – can you tell me you won’t lie to me. He said no. And I said, then I guess maybe we are. Neither one of us was giving. He was still stubbornly tied to the idea that I abandoned him, was acting out to “spite” him, and had already decided I was out of the door. I couldn’t get past the hurt of his intentional lie. It was a stalemate.
Then our therapist gave his “two P-words” speech. Those two P-words were protection and punishment. He said that my withdrawal after his lie felt to Mr. Mess like a punishment. Mr. Mess indicated his firm agreement in that. He then said that what it actually was is a way to protect myself. He asked me if he was correct. I said absolutely. I just know that I absolutely cannot handle another lie. That I don’t know what it would do to me emotionally or physically. That I felt like my head might actually implode. That meant I couldn’t open myself up to him because it would be disastrous if he hurt me again. It might cause irreparable damage. So I had to do the only thing I could do – focus on me. Do things that made me feel good, that made me happy. Be my own rescuer for once.
Mr. Mess still didn’t get it. He said something like, “yeah, but all of that was about me – she was doing it to spite me or in spite of me. I feel like she was throwing it in my face.” I said, no – I wasn’t thinking about him at all. I was only thinking about me for once. Our MC interjected to say that it is a boundary. That in order to protect my emotions and keep myself from any additional pain I had to set a firm boundary and take care of myself. He also said that there is a difference between a boundary and an ultimatum – just like when I said I need him to be in therapy working on his issues in order to continue with the marriage.
Mr. Mess said that sure sounds like an ultimatum to him. MC said, no, it isn’t. She is asking for what she needs to feel safe. You have the option to do it or not. I said that I think the big difference between an ultimatum and a boundary is that it has nothing to do with the other person. I don’t set a boundary to manipulate him, make him “do what I want” or get a certain result (like an ultimatum). I set a boundary because it is something I have to have. It’s not tied to him or anyone else – it’s all about my limits and what I can accept in my life.
He then said that he might have to move out. He said that he knows himself, and if he keeps sleeping on the couch and seeing me doing my own thing he will grow to resent me. He said that the more time I am detached the more it will make him bitter. Because he knows himself he also knows that he will probably end up doing something stupid and cruel to purposefully hurt me. I told him that he doesn’t have to sleep on the couch. We have 3 rooms, and one could easily be a spare room if he just set up his bed again. He said he isn’t going to sleep in a boiling hot room. I said he could always buy a window A/C… they aren’t that expensive. He said he would think about it.
Then I made sure he knows that whatever he decides I am fine with it. I have set my boundary, now he needs to choose what to do in response to that. The MC concurred. He said that Mr. Mess needs to do what is best for him as well. If that means leaving so that he can work on himself outside of the home, then he should do that. It is up to each of us to decide how we respond to the things and people around us.
Our MC explained it like this – he said that when couples come in to see him he often asks them to do an exercise where they list their needs and wants in two separate columns. He tells him that the only things that should go under the needs column are the non-negotiables. Most things in a marriage are negotiable – are up for debate, can be compromised and worked around. Some things can’t be. They are the necessities. Those are the things that boundaries are there to protect.
I said exactly! And at the very tippy top of my list is honesty. If he thinks that he can’t give that to me then it will be a deal-breaker because it is something I can’t compromise. I don’t know for sure, but I think that might have been the point that Mr. Mess understood, at least a little bit. He said that if he promised me he will never lie to me again that would be a lie. But, what he can tell me is that he is going to work on his lying problem. He is going to try his best not to lie. He is going to keep going to Dr. C because he admits he has an addiction problem and an issue with lying that he needs IC to address. He also said that he would keep coming to MC with me for as long as I was willing. He even said he would keep going to SA. I told him that is something I can accept. I also said that I will have to stay detached for a bit until I see real progress. That my boundaries are now firmly in place, and I have to keep protecting myself.
So that’s where we are. We returned from MC and actually continued talking – at least much more than what we had done in the week and a half between. I told him that I am stepping back and it is now up to him to decide whether to step up. I told him that I can’t be the one bringing up everything, initiating our discussions, coming to him to figure out his feelings, etc., etc. We had some heated words in the middle, but I think we left things in a pretty good place.
Since then he has gone to work at 3am and gone to his night class. I went out with a woman from work to see our co-worker’s band perform. We played pool. I listened to heavy metal, which is so not my style but was still somehow enjoyable. I caught up with some old school friends (high school and college) who happened to be at the bar. I had fun. Who knows what is to come down the road, but I have decided that I’m going to enjoy the journey no matter where it takes me.
- What Are Your “Non-Negotiables?” (thebottomoftheironingbasket.blogspot.com)
- Boundary Q&A (ifhappyeverafterdidexist.wordpress.com)
- Marriage Sherpa Shares 3 Tips to Deal with Emotional Pain After Infidelity (prweb.com)
- Have You Been Gaslighted? (clutchmagonline.com)