Minding Your P’s and Q’s

13 Jul

Photo Credit

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.

Photo Credit – Writer’s Block

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.


17 Responses to “Minding Your P’s and Q’s”

  1. thewondermya June 22, 2014 at 4:24 am #

    Reblogged this on Healing my codependency and your narcissism and commented:
    This post has highlighted one of the point that has always been grey to me… so thankful !

  2. Samantha Baker July 14, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    Ahh sweets. I’m just now catching up on everything. What an emotional session. I’m looking forward to hearing about your weekend and seeing if there’s progress on this.

  3. letterstotheotherwoman July 13, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    I’m so sorry things have been so difficult for you lately. Honesty would definitely make the boundary list for me, too. Wendy’s suggestion about having Mr. Mess make suggestions of his own is a very good one, I think. Gives him some “control” and makes him think about his boundaries/areas of protection as well. Will be thinking of you.

    • beautifulmess7 July 14, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

      Yeah, I have already asked him to do that. He said that he is going to put some thought into it and get back to me. So far he said that he agreed with everything on the list and has no concerns. I actually look forward to seeing what he will add for me.

  4. emotional tornado July 13, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this so candidly. I am working in my head on my boundaries, what has to be done and what I would like be done. I know that I’ll end up in a mess again if I don’t figure it out. He probably is a compulsive liar. He lied for so many years to control the story and what information I had. He might need IC to work this habit out.

    I am looking toward the experiences of those on here sharing their journeys. I hope you two find some peace soon. It is not easy wondering if you are living a reality or what someone else created.

    • beautifulmess7 July 17, 2012 at 9:19 am #

      I would say that he will DEFINITELY need IC to work that habit out. If it is a habit, it will also be habitual – or ongoing – unless he addresses it head-on and at a deeper level. It is a tough journey that they have to take. It is also hard being married to someone who lies compulsively. No matter how detached I try to be, it will always hurt to be lied to.

  5. Rollercoasterider July 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    “He said that the more time I am detached the more it will make him bitter.
    …also said that I will have to stay detached for a bit until I see real progress.”
    It seems that both of you may have a slight misunderstanding regarding detachment—what it really is.
    It’s a common confusion. There is attached/detached and connected/disconnected. It is vital to detach and yet there is a limit beyond which you risk simply not caring and becoming cold or numb. That is a protective defense, but it is not a healthy defense when it reaches that level—at least it is not healthy for staying and reconciling a marriage. Maybe it’s helpful for those who choose to divorce instead—I couldn’t say in that regard. People think being attached is synonymous with being connected. NO! Though they are similar, they are not the same. It’s important to be connected, to rebuild the connection and to maintain the connection. After Bomb Drop that was one of my first goals, to rebuild and improve our connection—and to do that while also detaching.
    The connection may be more subjective or more of a spiritual level—maybe a spiritual attachment. I am connected to my mother, but I’m not attached to her—I’m cordless now. Attachment is more about emotions. Attached, your emotions cycle with his emotions—you are reactive rather than responsive. I use the analogy of a heart surgeon. Suppose that a little boy has an accident or disease and needs emergency heart surgery. The best heart surgeon is his mother. But is she the best person for the job given that she has more at stake? Detached, a physician still cares for his patient and the outcome; detachment is not about not caring. But detached the physician can perform surgery with steady hands. Could she detach sufficiently to perform surgery on her own little boy? If he did not survive—and maybe the odds were 25% survival, so against her—could she live with that? Would she blame herself and wallow in toxic guilt?
    It’s not about staying detached for a bit. Stay detached. Period. But while you are detached, build your connection. I’ve linked my name to my Releaser series—detachment is only the first level.

    • beautifulmess7 July 17, 2012 at 9:17 am #

      That is very helpful insight. I’m going to have to read that a few times to let it sink in. I definitely don’t want my emotions to be tied to what he does or doesn’t do. I can see now that it has to be an always thing, not something I can only do for a little while.

      As far as the connection, I feel we are nurturing that, especially after this weekend. I will have to work on being conencted without being attached, though. That sounds very difficult. I am very connected to my mother, but I don’t know if I am detached. I would certainly be sad if she were sad – for example in a recent storm she lost all but 2 of the koi in her pond. It was very distressing for her, especially having to take their dead bodies out of the water. I felt very sad that she had to go through that. Honestly, I would always want to feel sadness for her if she were going through something hard. That doesn’t seem unhealthy to me, it seems compassionate…

      I do understand the heart surgeon analogy. Being an avid fan of Grey’s Anatomny I can certainly “get” that.

  6. Wendy July 13, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    I like your therapist, but what bothered me is that he didn’t explore what your husband feels like HE needs to do to make amends. He said he felt controlled by what you suggested that he do to make things better, well does he have something better in mind? I bet if he had been asked he wouldn’t have had anything. It’s just that he doesn’t like it because they aren’t his to claim. But it isn’t about who suggests what…it’s about understanding what needs to be done and having boundaries and limitations within the relationship to help keep things in order.

    And when your husband said he wouldn’t have married you, I think that that is his way of saying that he would have protected you from him and not put you through the pain and turmoil he has caused you. And also for him to not have another regret in his life.

    I know it is hard dealing with the lies, the half-truths and the trickle-truth. My husband did the trickle-truth. He also lied about things in the beginning when I confronted him about things she had told me. He wanted to deny them to avoid causing pain…but, what he didn’t realize was that it was too late.

    • stilllearning2b July 13, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

      Wendy – I agree with your assessment of why he stated he would not have gotten married. Protection – there’s another “P” word;)

      This is interesting for me to read. My husband was also a compulsive liar, but I did not discover that until after he disappeared (and committed bigamy, I might add!). I never had the opportunity of a conversation with him about it, much less therapy. I read this and wonder how my ex would have responded.

      I give you credit for establishing and sticking with your boundaries. You have to look out for you first and the marriage second.

      • beautifulmess7 July 13, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

        Yep, another P-word. Funny how things work like that.

        The compulsive liar issue is by far the hardest thing for me to deal with. Part of it is that he feels he is “protecting me” from the hurt – but like Wendy said, it has already happened. More lies just create more hurt. The major components of his lies seem to be more about him, though. Not wanting to admit fault, not being able to deal with the guilt and shame, not wanting to “answer to” anyone else.

        I am working on setting up clear boundaries right now. I have to feel safe in this marriage, so there have to be boundaries around the most important issues. I will be posting it once we have worked them out together.

        • stilllearning2b July 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

          I wish you the best. Living with lies – a virtual reality – is absolutely crazy making. Stay strong!

    • beautifulmess7 July 13, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

      Yeah. My husband had two chances to take care of it “his way.” Both resulted in failure because he repeated those behaviors again. After the third major incident I wasn’t going to rely on “I can stop by myself” anymore. I agree that it isn’t about who suggests what, but I think the fact that he had nothing else to suggest or that all of the solutions came from my one decision that he get individual counseling makes him feel overrun. Like you said, he doesn’t like it because they aren’t his to claim.

      Thanks for the perspective on the not marrying me part. That has been sitting in the back of my head making nah, nah, nah, nah, nah faces at me ever since. The alternative you just suggested quiets those taunts.

  7. A Dog With Fleas July 13, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Sounds like a very intense meeting with the MC. And I am proud of you for remembering that you need to keep yourself happy in this journey and set up boundaries along the way. Things sound very rough between you two right now and I’m sorry about that. Hopefully whatever decision occurs, you will be happy and at peace with it. Because it sure as hell seems that you have and are doing everything you can. Good luck my friend!!


  1. I’m Getting Tired of Talking About Lying « Being a Beautiful Mess - October 28, 2012

    […] Minding Your P’s and Q’s (beingabeautifulmess.wordpress.com) […]

  2. Our Boundary Agreement « Being a Beautiful Mess - September 14, 2012

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