Thursday, February 9, 2012

Recent effects of my past (i.e., acquaintance rape) on my marriage

I know I said in my last post that I was going to discuss my most recent therapy session, but I had a slight change in plans. I am going to stop making those types of claims because I don't think they ever prove to be accurate! Well, actually, this post does stem from a question posed by my therapist in Monday's therapy session, so I guess I wasn't completely off-base. :)

Because it had been a while since we had spoken about my husband in therapy, my therapist asked me how much my husband knows and whether I consider him a source of support in all this.

To bring you up to speed, last week my my husband came into town from January 28th - February 3rd, almost an entire week.  My husband could sense that I was going through a particular rough patch that week, so he decided to get a last-minute flight down to visit me. I received a call from him on that Friday letting me know that he was coming in on Saturday afternoon with plans of working remotely for that week. The physical distance between us (i.e., me in the South trying to finish up graduate school and him in NYC working) makes the whole supporting thing a challenge sometimes, but I guess you can say that we're doing the best we can with what we have. He is doing everything he knows to do to help me, and I am very lucky to have his love and support.

Prior to his recent visit, my apartment had become a mirror of the chaos in my mind. I won't go into how gross it was, but I'll admit, to say it was "pretty bad" would be an understatement. Getting such last-minute notice that he was coming into town did not allow me to tidy up for him (i.e., get rid of all the evidence of how badly I have been doing). It's much easier to present an "I've got this under control" impression over the phone or Skype than it is when you have someone pop in without much notice. Needless to say, my husband got a closer look into my mind than I would have otherwise liked. Although he tried to conceal his concern, it was written all over his face. He is very worried about me, and I hate that this is affecting him so much, too. 

While I was in class during his visit, he cleaned my apartment in between his work-related phone appointments and assignments. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I had made an appointment at the local sexual assault center; when I almost chickened out of going, he drove me there and offered to walk me in and sit in the lobby and wait until I was done (for whatever reason, his offer motivated me to toughen up and go in because the thought of him coming in with me freaked me out a little - almost making this "thing" all the more real).

I'm telling you all of these wonderful things that my husband has done for me because he deserves to be perceived as the wonderful, caring man he is. Because I realize how great he is and how lucky I am to have him, I feel the need to precede with caution. I'm afraid that my thoughts, emotions, and actions toward him will be perceived by others as selfish, stupid, ungrateful, whiny, and just downright mean. Honestly, the feelings and actions toward my husband that I have been having don't really make much sense to me either. I just wish that I could figure them out, and then make them go away. 

I can get pissed as hell at my kind husband and then struggle to feel even the smallest bit of anger towards my perpetrator! Ugh, now that really pisses me off (not really at my perpetrator though, more at myself for not being able to direct the negative feelings elsewhere). Everything nice my perpetrator has ever done for me was a form of manipulation, yet I still find it so difficult to feel anger toward him. Why? Why? Why? Why?

I haven't really come to understand the answer to that question yet. Dr. Harriet Lerner, author of The Dance of Anger, might suggest my inability to express anger toward him could be indicative that I am inadvertently choosing "easier," or "more acceptable" emotions over anger. I can see the rationale for such an argument in cases in which I beat myself up with self-blame and self-doubt (i.e., by subjecting myself to these emotions, I take responsibility for what my perpetrator did to me, thus denying that he would have knowingly gone against my will and violated my body); however, I do not understand how such a rationale makes sense within the context of my marriage. Why the heck would taking it out on my husband be easier than taking out these negative emotions on my perpetrator? I sometimes even find myself almost feeling sorry for my perpetrator, which I really struggle to understand.

Of course, I never blame my husband for what happened with my perpetrator. I hadn't even spoken to my husband at the time of my rape.  However, I frequently get annoyed, and even angry, at my husband when he is trying to support me, whether it be by listening or verbal means (e.g., offering his advice).

For example, sometimes I really appreciate when he just sits and listens to me while I work out some of my emotions or experiences from the day, but then other times, it makes me livid at him. Sometimes I'll comment on my feelings, and if I perceive too long of a period of silence, I can quickly go from being content with this level of support to snapping at him - "What, you don't have anything to say right now? Why are you just sitting there looking at me like that?" And, then if he looks kind of frightened by my harsh words, my anger will increase - "Don't look at me like that. Like you're scared of me. I hate that scared look. Can't you say something?"

And, then there are the times when he tries to say something supportive...and, well, that angers me, too. Like last night when I was in a good mood, I decided to tell him about how I felt slightly guilty about something I said in therapy because I was worried I may have offended my therapist (i.e., by seeking additional services at the local sexual assault center). My husband responded by saying something like, "M, don't feel guilty about that. You have every right to say and do that..." Immediately, I felt a streak of anger and snapped, "Don't tell me how to feel. You can't just tell someone how to feel. Ugh, that's so annoying. Like this is easy. Yeah, okay, I just won't feel that way anymore. What a hollow statement. Don't feel. Seriously?" He also said something along the lines of, "She shouldn't be shocked that you did that since you guys can only meet every other week." The word "shocked" set me off - "Stop exaggerating everything I say. I didn't say she was shocked. You're not listening to me. Are you trying to make me feel more anxious? Shocked? I said, I think it may have surprised her. You sure do know how to make me even more anxious."

Of course, the guilt sets in almost immediately. Though guilt is also unpleasant, it is familiar, and it helps to damper the anger. Though I continued to feel annoyed at him for the remainder of our phone conversation, it was more manageable, and I was able to more constructively tell him an alternative way of getting his point across that I deemed at that moment to be less provoking. When these types of scenarios arise, I try to direct him to alternative ways of showing his support for me because I know he feels very helpless in this situation, too; however, I don't know if I even really know what I need, and sometimes I think my needs change so rapidly that I can't even keep up with them (how the heck am I supposed to expect him to keep up with them?).

Besides, is there anything he can say or do to make me not get angry at him? Is there anything he can say or do to make me truly feel better? Am missing something? Are we missing something? It's almost like I create scenarios in which my husband can't win for losing. 

On top of this, I often forget that he doesn't really have anyone he can talk to about all this. I forget that he has his own worries and frustrations regarding what's going on with me. For example, he feels anger toward my perpetrator, but he can't really express it to me because it sends my anxiety through the roof. He can't be honest with me about how worried he is about me because it sends my feelings of guilt and shame through the roof. He can't talk to me about logistical things, such as his concern that I may take longer to move to NYC than we anticipated (i.e., due to my mountain of makeup work for graduate school) because doing so sends all of my emotions through the roof.

Let me provide an example of my current emotional functioning regarding handling logistical things. My husband expressed his anxiety regarding our current distance and the lack of a clear date for me to join him, and within seconds - seconds - I was yelling at him. I tried yelling at him, but it did not convey what I was feeling inside. My yelling turned into yelling and beating my chest with my fists as hard as I could. And, when that didn't cause me enough pain. I used those same fists to beat the sides of my head, coughing and crying and yelling to the point of dizziness. And then, the flood of guilt with seeing how concerned he was about me and utterly silent he was because he was scared to death to say something wrong. And, then the anger and frustration returns - doesn't he have anything to say? Why he is putting so much pressure on me and then sitting there like a mute?

Instead of meeting my unruly temper tantrum with his own anger or defensiveness at attacks I was throwing his way (e.g., "You're acting like all this is my fault. You're in New York because of your job. When you took that job, you knew you were going to be living in New York, and now you're putting this all on my shoulders? Giving me a hard time because I might need to tack on an additional month of long distance? UGH! Think about what you are saying.")

As I'm writing out this post, I realized I may have an answer for why I take so much out on him. Perhaps when he is showing his support, it's like he is giving me permission to feel and grieve this mess; because emotions besides guilt and self-blame are unfamiliar territory for me in relation to my rape, perhaps that makes me angry at him. Anger is surfacing, which I'm guessing is good, but perhaps directing it at my perpetrator is still overwhelming because it is acknowledging and accepting that what he did to me was rape. Perhaps my husband's attempts to verbally support me ignite anger and other counterintuitive unpleasant emotions because in all honestly, I still feel like crap. I want so badly for him - anybody, really -  to tell me magical words that will make me feel normal again and prove to me that what happened to me warrants all of this craziness. When that instant relief does not come, perhaps that's why I feel angry.

I know that he can't give me everything I need because a lot of "that" is going to have to come from somewhere inside me. And that, in and of itself, is pretty difficult to accept, given the fact that I would love to take someone else's opinions, or even perception of me, over my own.

Part of the reason I followed up with my initial evaluation at the local sexual assault center is because I began to realize that this mess has become more intrusive in my marriage. When I first became sexually intimate with my husband, I had all sorts of issues arise due to my rape; however, besides the occasional mishap, those issues had been dormant for several years. Well, they decided to rear their ugly head, and I couldn't be sexually intimate with my husband for the entire week he was here. 

I feel so saddened and guilty about this. The fact that he didn't push the issue makes me feel even more guilty. I know that it would only make things worse, but I find myself sometimes wishing that he would just yell at me about how upset he is regarding how I have been treating him, demanding me to acknowledge that he isn't the one who raped me. He is the one who stood by me through everything. Even when my family didn't. He deserves my respect and love in return, but yet he still stands by me when I lash out at him like a crazy person.

How can I be so angry at this wonderful individual who looks at me with love and who showers me with the respect that my perpetrator never had for me? Why is it so easy for me to feel everything toward him that I want - and think I should - feel toward my perpetrator?

I am going to close here because this post has become a lot longer than I anticipated (and perhaps on the convoluted side), and I need to calm my tear ducts and wind down a bit so I can get some sleep; I am starting the day off with a 6:40 am exercise class - woo hoo! I better not toot my own horn quite yet though - I need to make it there first J

Thanks for reading this longwinded post. If you have any feedback or advice regarding how to put this in perspective, I would love to hear it (I promise I won't bite your head off!)


  1. I think you should let your husband read this post.

    People we love and people who love us, we generally want them to agree with our opinions. It really doesn't matter if they are favorable or negative of someone or OURSELVES, we want our loved ones to AGREE with us. When we are mad at ourselves we want to know that we aren't over reacting and sometimes the thought of them not understanding or agreeing that our anger toward ourselves is justified, pisses us off.

    When we hate ourselves and everyone around us loves us, we feel worse for hating ourselves. I think this is the basics of why you snap at your husband. He simply isn't disliking, hating, or loving you at the same time you are. That I suspect makes you feel alone in your suffering, I know it does me.

    People call me brave all the time, but I don't feel brave. Often when people tell me I am brave, it feels like a slap in the face instead of a compliment.

    Communication is the key, but I know it's hard to communicate what you are feeling when you don't even understand it.

    That's mt 2 cents. Now it's time for me to go put on my clown uniform.

    1. Thanks so much, Jaime. What you said makes a lot sense, and I think I might just do that (let my husband read this post). xx

  2. As I read that, it seemed as though I identified with everything. I have this amazing husband with whom I am so quick to anger; but, like you, am not angry with my perp. One thing I have learned during my still young marriage is the whole idea of finding another way to communicate these things with him. I think letting him read your thoughts is a great alternative to uncomfortable face to face.

    1. Hi Iris, thank you for reading and commenting. My husband doesn't read all the posts in my blog, but I do forward him some of them. I think I'll make this post one of those. Thank you for sharing your personal experience and letting me know that I'm not alone in these feelings/behavior toward a supportive husband. xx

  3. Let me know how it goes if you let him read this post.

    1. A friend is visiting me from out of town so I'm thinking I'll do it on Sunday so I'll report back soon. Thanks for caring. xxx