Hello and welcome! My name is XXXXX XXXXX X’ll be assisting with your question today. I am sorry to hear that you and your husband are going through this right now, it sounds like a very trying time. If the goal is to reunite then I would suggest continuing the therapy sessions together or even separately to help work through what is going on and practice coping skills necessary to move forward in the relationship. I think that he would need to explore why he is getting the feelings he is and it is most likely what you said from childhood trauma issues. Here are a few books that you might find helpful http://www.amazon.com/Emotionally-Focused-Couple-Therapy-Survivors/dp/1593851650/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1362797289&sr=8-4&keywords=relationships+with+trauma AND
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Hi! I will be glad to try to help. You know, to give you the best answer, I think I should ask you a few questions first that will help define the problem and the situation.
Your question is very evocative: the most unusual part of the situation is that you've had 11 years of relatively happy marriage. As a survivor of alcoholic parents, that your husband was able to maintain a stable intimate relationship that long is a tremendous achievement for him. I'm sure there were times that weren't so easy. So that's a testament to your loving and caring in this marriage.
My main concern is that this situation rarely is resolved in couples therapy without the adult survivor of alcoholic parents (ACoA; I can talk more about that and the treatment if you feel it will be useful) having individual therapy. Because your description seems very accurate: "anxiety and flooding about being in a close relationship". And that's not really possible for you to work on with him until he's working on it within himself.
Is he working in individual therapy right now? If so, what type? How is it going?
If not, did he ever? When was the last treatment? What type of therapy was it? Was it helpful?
You went to two couples therapy sessions. ACoAs often are very resistant to any therapy and that you got him to agree to go is excellent. Why did they stop?
He was able to maintain for 11 years. Why, do you think, he decided he couldn't cope with an intimate relationship at this time? What was or were the triggers?
Any extra information that will help, feel free to share.
You're in Australia and I'm in the US. So please be patient if you're online when I'm offline and vice versa. We'll get there with patience. All the best,
Hi M. Thank you for the added information. It helps a lot. I believe I can now be of help with this issue.
First, let me say I am amazed at your strength in dealing with all of this. You were not long winded and I appreciated the thoroughness very much; it helps me in understanding what's going on and what might have a chance to succeed. I can imagine how easy it would be to be pessimistic. ACoAs are most often pessimistic anyways and so for you to still be hopeful and searching for a way the two of you can have a good marriage is really very inspiring. I have worked with ACoAs in my private practice every so often and your husband's situation, self description, and behavior seems very consistent.
The psychiatrist he was working with was attempting to do psychodynamic therapy with your husband. This is very long term work and has a much better chance of success when the ACoA "buys into it". It can be very helpful for the long term but only if your husband would have the comfort with what's going on and feel free to "act out" the emotional blockages. It seems the psychiatrist never got to that stage. Your husband is much more results oriented and the psychiatrist would have perhaps done better modifying the therapy toward smaller positive outcomes throughout the therapy rather than a long term gain very slowly.
So our situation is that your husband is "therapy shy" now. It is unclear whether he is prepared to do productive work in therapy as he is distrustful and the therapist would need to spend time building that trust. Therefore, I would like to suggest two areas of exploration on your own outside of therapy. I want to be hopeful along with you and I don't think that just recommending another round of therapy will be able to sustain your hopefulness. Though I want you to understand that if he will be willing to continue in therapy, whether couples or individual, and you find someone experienced with ACoA and the standoffishness of ACoAs, who is smart and kind, then I'd say jump at the opportunity to work with him/her. But let's explore the ACoA internet world and a book for the two of you to work on that I have had success using with couples when one partner is reticent to go to therapy.
For both of these I'm really addressing you both because you both need to be involved. With the ACoA groups, I'll address him directly but you may find benefit as well. You are very caring and patient and it may be useful as a resource for you as well. You two are seeing each other regularly so sharing my answer I hope will be comfortable. I'll address him here:
You've had to take care of yourself and to be watchful of others your whole life. That's a strength. But it has an inherent weak spot: the ability to receive love and to receive being cared for. And that can shut out those you love. This is a very deeply ingrained thought/emotion/behavior pattern. And it has taken a tremendous effort on your part to keep trying and working on this relationship with your wife. Good for you.
So, you are an Adult Child of Alcoholics (ACoA--I just want to make sure you're familiar with the acronym). I want to recommend you take advantage of the resources. Therapy is a very hit or miss enterprise for ACoAs; it all depends on the skill of the therapist to read your needs. And you as an ACoA don't make that easy. Here's the website of the international organization. Lots of resources:
There are many other resources. I'm especially thinking about online support groups. I gather from what your wife wrote that you travel quite a bit. Therefore online groups may be more practical. They may also be less threatening. But if you live in a metropolitan area, there may be local groups available and that would be a very worthwhile step. Remember: our goal here is for you to feel more able and comfortable to accept your wife's love and caring without feeling hemmed in or strange. So that you can feel freer to give love back.
Here's the website for Janet Woititz. Since the 1980s she's been the leader in ACoA therapy. She's still speaking nationally, I believe. I use her books with my patients and think she's great. Here's her site:
Let me paste in for you her 13 characteristics of ACoAs. See how many you recognize:
1. Adult children of alcoholics guess at what normal behavior is.
2. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end.
3. Adult children of alcoholics lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
4. Adult children of alcoholics judge themselves without mercy.
5. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty having fun.
6. Adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously.
7. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty with intimate relationships.
8. Adult children of alcoholics overreact to changes over which they have no control.
9. Adult children of alcoholics constantly seek approval and affirmation.
10. Adult children of alcoholics usually feel that they are different from other people.
11. Adult children of alcoholics are super responsible or super irresponsible.
12. Adult children of alcoholics are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.
13. Adult children of alcoholics are impulsive. They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsively leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.
What do you think? Whatever you got from this list, I want you to take the time to feel more comfortable within the framework that I've been establishing here: the source of the ingrained behavior, etc. is the lack of training early on in how to receive love and caring in healthy ways. I work frequently in therapy via Skype, for example, and I recently worked with someone on this in ACoA work. It is indeed possible to feel more at ease with oneself and with the vulnerability that being able to receive love and caring from someone produces.
Okay. Now I'm back to both of you. There's also some couples work I'd like you two to try. Communication is the muscular system of love. And love is the circulatory system. Let me repeat that because it's so important: it's not sex; it's not beauty or looking good; it's not being smart or clever. Communication between the two people is the love muscle; it's the muscular system of love. The desire to give to the other person, to make the other person happy is the heart of love, the circulatory system. ACoA makes this tough but I'm so impressed with how the two of you are trying and not giving up. It's very inspirational.
You're going to start with a book. You'll get 2 copies, one for each of you. Each night you're both going to read a few pages or a chapter and do the exercise there if there is one in those pages. Every 2-3 days when you get together for coffee, talk about what you read. What you think of it, what it inspired in you. Make notes in the margins. And each one talk about the subject of the pages and what you think. That's your assignment and dates. Treat it as a date and spend the time reading and making notes so that you have good comments and questions to discuss together.
The book: It's by the foremost researcher into relationships in our day, John Gottman. He's famous for being interviewed on TV and being able to tell when a couple will get divorced within 5 minutes and having 90% accuracy. He's American, but so what? I've studied his therapy and use his therapy in my practice and that's why I'm concerned that you two do this. So the book is the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. You can get it online or see if you can get it locally to save time.
Now, a secret: the magic is not in the book. The exercises and Gottman's insights will be very useful and important for the two of you. But the magic is in the act of working together on your marriage! The two of you paying attention every single day to your marriage and making effort every single day: that's the magic ingredient in great marriages that GROW in love as the years pile up. I want to make sure you both understand this. Because that's the key to our work here. Okay?
Again, you are each quite an amazing person to have gotten this far with what you’ve gone through.
Okay. I wish you the very best!
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