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Dr. Michael
Dr. Michael, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2177
Experience:  Licensed Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology with 30 years of experience in private practive and as a clinical psychology university professor.
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I wanted to follow up on my posting from last year, if you

Customer Question

I wanted to follow up on my posting from last year, if you are available.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
Sure. Go ahead. I'm off/on the computer for the rest of today but we can certainly talk some more, if you don't mind a bit of a delay in our exchanges.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

That's fine with me. Are you able to review the exchange we had last year? I had written an additional reply a while later, and wanted to know your thoughts on the last part.

 

Basically, we are doing better but I am still uneasy about not knowing what really happened. I feel like we are doing better due to my efforts; my just deciding to move forward no matter what really happened. I'm sad that he really didn't step up and do some of the things I asked him to. Not sure if I'm doing the right thing.

Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
Thanks! I re-read our posts from Feb 19 thereabouts and I think I'm up to speed again on your situation as we left it then.

Can you describe more about what is the uneasy feeling about e.g., wanting to know more of the details of what he did, exactly. One thing I do invite clients to do is ask themselves what they would think or do if their WORST fantasies and mental constructions of what happened, were true. What would they then think or do. So in other words, in the absence of not knowing what happens in episodes of cheating, I suggest people create a fairly extreme scenario of what might have happened and then explore whether this is something they can 'live with' or whether such a worse case requires different steps or new actions on their part, etc.

What hasn't he done that you hoped or expected in the past year?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

I have thought up some extreme scenarios, for sure. If these things were true, I don't think I could forgive my spouse doing them and especially lying about it for so long. I wouldn't want to continue a relationship with someone who was capable of such things plus being dishonest on top of it. I think I would take a different path, away from the relationship. But, I am not sure.

 

We agreed to some basic boundaries, related to his behavior on business trips, etc. He agreed to them but then blew a few of them off. He seems put out by these restrictions, annoyed. I asked him to initiate discussions with me, he doesn't. He doesn't seem remorseful, just irritated that I'm still hurt about it and that I still have questions. I gave up talking about it many months ago. I am now just trying to re-connect with him. I am being more loving toward him, in hopes that he will soften up. It's actually working a little.

Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
What were the boundaries and restrictions, and what has he ignored or rejected; this is important because they were set up for him to demonstrate trustworthy behavior on his part, and because you felt they would built trust and reassure you that he was being faithful. So I'm a bit concerned that he isn't taking them seriously or thinking about himself, rather than your feelings about them. It IS a good sign that he is softening up a bit as you attempt to be more loving toward him.

I'm just feeling a need here to prompt you to keep on being loving and encourage a closer connection, but at the same time stay really vigilant and watchful for signs of infidelity, because he isn't doing all he can to be reassuring and build trust, as he might. What do you think?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

I had asked him not to go to the hotel bar by himself and not to have more than 2 drinks per outing with clients or co-workers. He would then call me and I could tell he clearly had more, and he would admit it.

 

My feeling is he cannot face the reality of what he did. I do think he feels bad. So bad that he can only focus on his feelings. If I express negative emotions, it just reminds him of how he feels and everything shuts down.

 

I agree with your advice, but it is tiring after a year of being vigilant. It would be very easy for him to hide things from me. I try to have the attitude that if there's something I need to know, I will see the signs like I did before. I just would really like to know who I'm married to. A decent guy who made a one-time judgenment error or someone sleazy and dishonest. It's sad that I'm not sure.

Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
I think you hit the 'million dollar question' on the head, so to speak: Are you in fact, married to a basically decent guy who made a one-time cheating move or someone who is actually quite ready to cheat on you again if the opportunity arises because he is dishonest. You can't know for sure so the next best thing is to be vigilant---and I do realize how draining and tiring this can be. This is exactly the position all women get put in when their husband's cheat. They have to try to trust and hope, but they also know they don't want to be fooled or taken advantage of if their husband is fundamentally a dishonest guy.

Now, I'm assuming he still doesn't want you to travel with him on any of these trips ever?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

No, he has invited me on 2 trips. I did go on one and it was not entirely comforting. He made it clear that he was there to work, and said something about not liking to mix business with pleasure. I was disappointed because it is so rare for me to go with him, I felt he could've treated me better in front of his co-workers. He said he didn't want to appear like he was vacationing when he was on a work trip. Made sense to me and I did not pressure him not to work, but something was definitely off in his attitude.

 

In reading your words, I can say I don't believe my husband is a fundamentally dishonest person. I do think he is being dishonest related to this topic, though. I think it's something more like denial than dishonesty. I think he's ashamed and he cannot face it. I think he just wants to forget it ever happened, but he's unrealistic about how his actions have affected me and his children. He seems so selfish to me. He is only focusing on his feelings and avoiding making himself feel bad.

Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
I've read your post. Need time to respond due to too-packed Friday schedule. Talk to you soon.
Dr. Michael, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2177
Experience: Licensed Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology with 30 years of experience in private practive and as a clinical psychology university professor.
Dr. Michael and other Mental Health Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
I'm sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I'm sorry that you seem to be with a man who clearly cares significantly more for himself and his work, than he does for you. Most guys who really wanted to patch things up would be bending over backwards discussing this issue with their wife and figuring out how to rebuild the trust---this is all behavior stuff that people can to and it isn't 'rocket science'. But his avoidance of it, acting a bit put out when you've tried to talk about it, and his coping with it by trying to ignore it; plus the fact that he really doesn't want you to be with him on trips and doesn't prefer to socialize with you when he is on the trips---this all adds up to a guy who probably doesn't really love you as much as you love him. Men who have for example, a bit of a narcissistic personality disorder streak seem to act very much like your husband does. Their marriage, their work, their social life, how one spends time, is in the end, all about THEM, their preferences, wants and needs. So they can express feelings of love but relationships basically exist for them to support them, their needs, wants etc. These are not evenly balanced, mutually BENEFICIAL relationship, emotionally.

In the end, women who have to live with men such as this, will try to get them into couples therapy and of course, this usually fails, but it certainly is worth trying, and then trying again and perhaps, again. They do spend a lot of time just wishing and hoping their husband would change, try to figure out what deficiencies in themselves they can correct etc. But if the man has a narcissistic personality disorder or some features of it, women end up feeling helpless and frustrated and quite 'unloved'. So after years of frustration and failure, they either divorce, or stay married and reconfigure their personal life. They start living a roughly parallel life to the marriage e.g., go back to school, travel, figure out ways of compensating for the lack of love in their marriage. They find healthy ways of rationalizing how to extract compensation from the marriage, family budget etc., for having to live in this unhappy situation they have tried to change but can't seem to---but which they really don't want to give up either. In other words, the figure out how to compromise things and yet stay married for things such as financial security, providing a stable environment for the kids, etc.

I'll pause here and solicit your feedback.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

I have done tons of reading in the past year. I have read about narcissists, controllers, abusers. It all sounds familiar but always more extreme than what I am dealing with. Can a person be slightly abusive? Slightly narcissistic? My husband is definitely a person who is comfortable putting himself first and having a companion that supports him. I can see that this is how he was raised, as his mother operates (happily) in a servant type role in his family. He yells at her frequently but is very caring about her.

 

So my concludsion is that he has some narcissistic traits but not an actual disorder. I feel like he got stuck somewhere when he was a child, and just is completely clueless as to how to have a mature relationship. I feel like he has no idea what to do to help here, even when I give him specifics (I asked him to initate a conversation with me about important things, not just household stuff - he hasn't). I asked him to be affectionate toward me, he does for a day or 2, but then stops. If I go to give him a hug, he makes a face and acts like I'm bothering him but then relents and seems to like it.

 

 

 

Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
To answer your questions above, the answer is absolutely "YES". These patterns of behavior and personality really lie on a continuum. Personality disorder symptoms cross over or overlap too. So there are very mild, moderate, severe narcissistic personality types. The books and cases we read about are always the extreme ones, because it is the extreme cases that help the 'average' person appreciate the key problems and symptoms. Most lay people wouldn't understand or 'get' clinical descriptions or books that discuss the milder cases. Really, they wouldn't 'get it'. So when I teach this stuff, I always have to use video interview and case materials that are in the 'extreme' end of the continuum of personality disorders to the students 'get it'.

The key thing about personality disorders in mild form, or traits of personality disorder, is that they tend to be stable and unchanging over time. The people tend to be comfortable acting as they do and really see no reason to change. What you've got today here with your husband, is pretty much the way he will 'be' in say, 3-5 years as well. People only change when they have a huge incentive to change or feel they have to change because it will resolve a crisis e.g., avoid a divorce or someone leaving them. Then, they may get serious about counseling or couples therapy, etc. This doesn't always work because some spouses actually care so little, deep down, that they would rather deal with a divorce or having someone leave, than work on fixing the relationship or communication problems.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
I feel like I have to do something extreme to get him to wake up, but he knows and I know I won't do anything that will upset my children, like leaving. This is all very interesting and I see his negative traits in my daughter, as well. Do you have any good books to recommend? I have been doing the execises in "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" which helps to identify if your partner has a personality disorder. THANK YOU for your help.
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
Let me mull over your last post and I'll get back to you. Is this o.k. Probably won't be able to respond until this evening or tomorrow a.m.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

That's fine. No rush. I think this may be closer to what I'm experiencing....

Egocentrism is a personality trait which has the characteristic of regarding oneself and one's own opinions or interests as most important or valid. It also generates the inability to fully understand or to cope with other people's opinions and the fact that reality can be different from what they are ready to accept despite any change in their personal belief.

 

But wait....he's very caring about his mother and co-workers, his children and friends. Because I read his emails, I see him wishing people happy birthdays, sending flowers if someone's hospitalized, expressions of concern if someone is going through a hardship. It seems the issue is how he is treating me, not that he is unable to be thoughtful of others. But could he be manipulative?

Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
it could be manipulative but at the same time, playing out a role of doing many socially appropriate things to create favorable impressions is something men with strong narcissistic traits do quite well. So they are constantly doing self-promoting and doing some very kind, considerate things. But those whom the person feels they 'have' in their corner, feel increasingly taken for granted. It is a kind of extreme form of neglect or being taken for granted some married people discover after they've been married for a time, "My wife used to take care of herself and want to look nice and do things for me. But now that she has what she wants---to be married and have a steady income and home, it is like I don't matter to her much". What do you think?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

 

Thank you for the free month to continue our discussions.

 

Interesting. Is the quote you make at the end an example of the husband or wife being narcissistic?

 

 

Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Last night my daughter and I were each reading our books together in my bed. When she was done she closed the book quickly and it slipped and hit me square in the face. I reacted by saying her name and sounding annoyed. She said she was sorry but in an annoyed tone. That tone made me tell to be more careful next time. Then she was mad at me. She said, "I said I was sorry!"

 

This is exactly what I go through with my husband. It's like I'm always the wrong one no matter what. If he did something wrong ( i.e. the co-worker issue) it's really me who is wrong because I'm not reacting to it the way he wants (i.e. not making a big deal out of it). This is why I said I see some of his traits in her.

Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
Well, your daughter has almost certainly learned to 'act' in both an apologetic manner, but communicate the 'apology' in a way that is defensive and somewhat accusatory of you---she learned this by watching how her dad interacts and deals with you. That is, even if he rarely if ever has apologized to you, your daughter 'knows' that when problems arise between you and anyone, you are to 'blame'. It is a sort of 'family rule' about the role you play---you are the scapegoat. Anyway, my hypothesis is that your daughter has learned that you play this role in the family. So I'm not at all surprised to hear that your daughter may increasingly, mimic the behavior her father has modeled in your home toward you. What you are describing is really not a biological 'trait' your daughter was born with, but rather, mostly likely learned behavior. Kids do learn to act in self-serving and narcissistic ways by watching one of their siblings act this way, get what they want, 'cause' others to react in particular ways. The other interesting thing about your daughter's reaction is that she has learned that women cannot safely 'own up' to mistakes they make because when they do something wrong, the only thing they can expect is consternation and emotional punishment. Your daughter's reaction to you might have been her attempt to fend off what she expected from you in the way of consternation and rejection---because she has seen you suffer this consternation from your husband when you've 'messed up' or did something that bothered. So both of these explanations could apply. Both represent behavior learned through observation.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

DoctorMichael - Do you want me to hit the accept button or can I continue to ask questions? Not sure how it works with the free trial.

 

I am concerned at the messages my daughter is getting, but I don't want to traumatize my family by leaving or threatening to leave. I really don't want to leave - I want things to improve. I want to help my children.

Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
The idea is to answer one question or possibly, one question and a follow up, then hit the Accept button. I'm not sure what the free trial involves. You might want to shoot a question off to customer service and ask them. I'll be on/off the computer the next day or two so write back if you wish.

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