Counseling #2 – Nothing Much New

February 29, 2008

All I can say is that there were no new revelations or breakthroughs during our second counseling session.  I think it was Emily who suggested that real work didn’t happen until session #3.  In my case, it may be session #4.

This session was spent with the counselor getting more background on our parents.  I can’t think of much that was revealed that I haven’t talked about before.  Her Dad’s alcoholism was a major theme, as well as the tendency of him to favor her two younger brothers over her.  For instance, she’d ask for a game or something for Christmas and it would appear under the tree…for her brother!  She spent quite a bit of time going over the strains of that relationship, and then when my name came up she dealt with comparing my frugality juxtaposed with her father’s monetary generosity.  Thing was, her dad was so fraught with guilt, he felt the need to compensate in the form of money and stuff.  So while I was trying to pinch pennies when we were starting out with very little money and lots of debt, she rebelled and went out and bought stuff anyway.  This just made things worse, money-wise.  So in a certain sense when comparing me to her father, I was coming up short in the money/provider department.

That was a bit difficult to hear, but I couldn’t apologize for that.  But I could acknowledge that I enabled it by avoiding talking to her about her spending.  I saw a lot of stuff coming into the house and didn’t question it much, figuring her dad was bankrolling her.  That was a mistaken assumption as she was using her credit cards and pretty much maxed them out.  We finally, finally have those crooks from Visa paid off.  They have steadily been shortening the grace period, raising the interest rate, increasing the amount of time on the penalty rate from 6 to 12 months and raising the late fees .  Playing with credit cards is like playing with poisonous snakes.  Sooner or later you will get bit.

I talked a bit about growing up on the farm and how that took priority over everything in the family.  It was an oppressive enough atmosphere that looked a lot like a sweatshop type of thing to us kids that we all live as far as Iowa as possible with my brother on the West coast, my sister on the East coast and me in the deep south.  But I think climate had quite a lot to do with it, too, seeing as you Midwestern folks are suffering this winter.  I have not forgotten frigid mornings fighting snow and ice or sweltering humid summers. 

I sat in the counseling session and found myself wondering why we both needed to be there and why we needed a babysitter.  Reflective listening is comforting in a way, but it was not getting us anywhere.  Little new ground and certainly nothing approaching resolution.  I’m willing to give it a half dozen more sessions but at some point there needs to be some progress made considering the time and money invested.  Arwyn and I have made progress on our own individually but not much together as a couple.  The next session, Arwyn will be going on her own followed by me going on my own the following week.  Maybe those sessions will shake something loose and I’m willing to stick with going a few rounds with that.  The fees are reasonable at $75 per session, but not if we’re not getting anywhere.  I might as well spend the money on lottery tickets.

One thing of note, is that starting in January (well before counseling appeared on the radar) I did confront Arwyn about her odd sleeping posture, i.e. sleeping with her head at the foot of the bed and wrapped in a totally separate blanket.  She has since reoriented her self back to having her head at the head of the bed, but she is still wrapped in her own blanket.  Cold weather would seem to be opportune snuggling weather since her chief complaint about sleeping close to me is that I’m too hot but that hasn’t happened.  So maybe there is some progress in there somewhere, but it has been glacial at best.  Warm weather WILL be back soon enough and then the hot complaint will kick in.

So you Yankees just hang tough and stay warm! 



February 22, 2008

That’s what I’ve been watching the past week ever since I discovered all of the seasons are now available online. I’ve watched a few episodes before but never really got hooked. I’m kind of glad I didn’t because now I can just watch as many consecutive episodes as I want without having to wait! It’s a lot like watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended version) when you didn’t see the original movies. This being made even more true by the presence of Dominic Monaghan a former hobbit of said trilogy. I’m almost through season 2!

But it also reflects where we are the past few days. Thanks for all of the comments and encouragement, and I expected a lot of positive feedback given the fact that most of you have been beating me over head with a counseling club the past couple of years. Arwyn is willing to go, this is true and good. But we’re still not really going anywhere. I looked at some old journals and found that this business of being marooned dates back to at least 1999! Which happens to coincide with the birth of our first child.

Desmond asked for some special needs child backstory. No, this has not been a theme of this blog although it has been a major theme for Arwyn’s emotional storyline. I actually do have a blog out there that deals with autism and disabilities (she knows about that one but doesn’t read it) but my personal story as a parent still is not a major theme there. It’s sort of a secondary story. It has been a big part of our lives and I think we’ve been dealing with it. But I put the marriage on a higher priority level than any disability. This is easier said than done for any mother I’ve ever met. The children usually are elevated into a position of supreme importance and most other things become marginalized including the mothers themselves. In the process, I had to learn to be less selfish which has been a constant and painful exercise.

The divorce rate for parents of children with special needs is about 80%. For autism it is around 90% according to statics Arwyn has read. The question of “why” has not been sufficiently addressed in the professional literature of either autism or marital therapy fields. It’s not hard to imagine how increased medical costs can strain a marriage financially. Or the stress of raising a child with physical and behavioral issues. However autism lends itself to stresses as far as cause and treatment unlike any other disorder or disability. There are no physical markers. There are no blood tests. There are behavioral rating scales and tests of physical, emotional and adaptive development. Even though everyone agrees this is neurological no one knows exactly the the cause and there is no cure. So it is like there is this mystery thing at work and Arwyn set off to solve it. Mostly without me, even though my education and background are more in-depth in this area. She set off to find the cure. This involved trying a lot of stupid crap. Special diets. Special nutrients. Special therapies. All of it is pseudoscience and all of it is expensive as hell. Our financial hell was mostly fueled by this sort of crap financed by my limited salary as a special education teacher.

As I started to say last post, my response to Arwyn’s deepening obsession with pseudo science was anger and withdrawal. Supportive? Why on earth would I support something that is so obviously fraudulant? It is a long con that always opens with “Just try it! Wouldn’t you do anything for your child if there was only just a chance? Why won’t you just try it? How can you put a dollar amount on the health of your child?”

All cons make use of pride, guilt and fear. With autism, the guilt is already there and so is the fear. All the con artist has to do is fan the flame a bit and then pride takes over when a family who is doing the diet, therapy or other expensive intervention is seen as being more hopeful, more intelligent, more diligent and a better parent than the ones who are not throwing money down the toilet. I might even get a comment or two here from purveyors of crap if I give this an “autism” tag. It’s like the spanking discussion; it’s hard to have a rational conversation about interventions when so much is based on irrational feelings.

Parents of older kids know what we’re just starting to learn: we have to accept our kids as they are. Autism is not the end of the world. It doesn’t have to be the end of marriage. But it frequently is.

If you talk to women, they will point the fingers at the father. He is in denial and can not handle it so he abandons his wife and child. I do see that sometimes, but that is making it seem more simple than it really is. The man might not be abandoning his child as much as his wife. Is it because he wants no responsibility? Not likely since most guys are willing to put forth a minimum of effort if they get married in the first place. But I have seen firsthand the change the mother goes through once she becomes mother. The whole concept of “wife” get thrown out the window in favor of this new role. The guy who is now “father” doesn’t anticipate the role of “husband” coming to an end but that pretty much becomes the reality. Most couples do experience a cascading effect where marital satisfaction declines after a child is born. It involves a fundamental shift in roles and responsibilities and if a marriage is already weak, having a child makes it even weaker. If the child has special needs, multiply that effect by a factor of 4.

Arwyn did admit that she was consumed by the autism world until fairly recently. She can still get caught up in things but she has mellowed on it a bit. Her and I would still have intimacy issues regardless of our child’s disability, so I have not made that a major theme here. We are exceptional and extraordinary because of what we’ve been through. But we haven’t gotten any closer as much as we’ve gotten less hostile which is progress of its own. But we can do so much better if the marriage could just show up on the radar screen for both of us once in a while. The counseling at least helps put it there for an hour or so a week.


Counseling #1

February 20, 2008

We didn’t talk much about it, except I did ask her if she still wanted to go and she said she was fine with it. And that was that.

We drove to the church in silence. The closer we got, you could feel the tension ramping up. We walked into the counseling center and filled out a variety of miscellaneous papers. While insurance would not cover these visits, the cost was within our range. While this guy has a Master’s degree, he is still working under the supervision of someone who is licensed and working towards his own license. It occurred to me that by the time the church took their cut and he spent time going through the paperwork and such, he was not getting paid very much for his time, relatively speaking. Pair this with the odd hours and it adds up to a tough career. It beats farming, though.

So we walked in and he went over his credentials, approach, privacy policy and other things and then asked us why we were there.

So I had to do some talking not unlike what I do here with you folks. He’s a skilled empathetic listener, often restating what I said to make sure he was hearing it correctly. I’m not a big fan of empathetic communication skills for marriage counseling but I do have a better appreciation for it now that I’ve seen it done with some skill.

We talked about our own marital history and some of the stressors we’ve had to endure. Like having a child with special needs, which our particular disability category gives us about a 90% chance of being divorced. Or put another way, 10% of making it all the way. When we went over the stressors it did give me an appreciation as to how we’ve managed to persevere. We know a few other couples with special needs children and most of them have marriages that are falling to pieces. But 90% of the time a divorce is in the cards under the emotional, financial and general stress generated by this sort of trial. You don’t have to look too far in our little community to find casualties of the struggle to raise kids with extra needs.

We briefly went through so family history but not a whole lot of time. He had a little family tree where he took notes on our parents and on us and the kids. Given our moving around and how spread out our families are, I can see some utility in trying to keep track of everyone. I could see more utility in family systems therapy for younger parents who had extended family close by and where there was deeper enmeshment or even estrangement. But we’re just connected by distance.

Not a lot of real deep disclosures were made in this initial session. We did talk about the where we were in the sexual arena which is to say we’re having sex about every other year. And this is supposedly his specialty so it will be interesting to see how he deals with this. Our initial goals are to get out of our marital rut and to move into an area of greater intimacy. Or, if sex wasn’t going to happen, I would have to deal with that. He said dealing with not having sex would be a last resort, as it would be preferable to move into greater intimacy.

Arwyn appeared to be fairly relaxed in the session. She voiced her own anxieties and frustrations in being a mother to a demanding son and wife to an equally demanding husband and the seeming never-ending crises that we endured as parents. We were both pretty needy at that time with very little in the way of family and social support. Thing was, especially early on, as Arwyn’s anxiety was always high it sent my own anxiety into the stratosphere. Not knowing how to deal with that, I did what pretty much every guy does when confronted with domestic stress; I dove deeper into work and spent more time away from home. Home was too stressful a place where things were out of control, contrasted to work where I could exert control and get positive feedback and respect. I’m not saying it was right. It was classic avoidance and denial. I have no idea what else I could have or would have done. Better to live on a corner of a roof than to live with a contentious wife. But I was not helping her be less contentious by avoiding while still being demanding.

Anyway, since we had her mother watching the boys we did go out to eat and it was a fairly nice and relaxing time. We’re in a place where I think we can move on because we’re not embroiled in contempt and hostility. The counselor said he thought he could help us and we are setting up for next week. We’ll then maybe do some individual stuff for a couple of sessions which will help from having to scramble for childcare every week. Arwyn seems to be pretty open about the process so that will help move things along. It’s too early to place a whole lot of confidence it this guy or the process but we’ll see.


Okay, okay, okay

February 11, 2008

Alright already!


Nothing like telling the entire internet that you’re going to do something to put pressure on a body to actually do it, is there? And then the comments that dug it in, I was feeling like my back was against the wall!

But that’s sort of why I did it that way. I needed to corner myself in order to make escape futile. And it turns out that things just might fall together just right in order to make this happen in a profitable way. We’ll see.

I just happened to have some real loose time on my hands this afternoon where I couldn’t get any work done or already had done what it is I was trying to get done. I made that call and got right through to the fellow that I needed to talk to. He seemed nice enough over the phone. He sort of outlined his schedule and then we sort of got things together where I have an appointment next week. And it just so happens that Arwyn’s mother will be in town so I’m hoping she’ll be able to watch the boys for us if I can get her to go in for that initial consultation. Arwyn’s probably going to be feeling some king-sized pressure but this does put the ball squarely in her court. When I tell her about this, she’ll have to decide to go or not to go which will give me a more definitive answer as to her commitment one way or another. I suppose she could agree to go and still not be committed, but it would at least show a willingness to go through some motions which we haven’t even done that much up until now.

I did ask him his approach and he told me all about how he uses family systems, and likes to go back a couple of generations on the family system. This is a red flag for me, because while I see it is useful to learn from the past, one can not live back there. This is one reason why the 12 step approach seems so impotent to me is because Arwyn is spending all of her time back there in the past while ignoring the clear and present threat where she is at. I asked him if he had heard of Schnarch and he said he had used some of Schnarch’s material in his training so there was at least a glimmer of hope there. Remember his specialty is Christian sex therapy, so it will be interesting to see how he applies his eclectic tool kit here.

I was nervous as hell making that call, but felt better after making the appointment. But now I’m nervous as hell telling Arwyn about it.

We’ll see. Hang on to your butts.


Realized while working out…

February 7, 2008

Differentiation is hard! Not being an avoider (when it is part of your nature) is hard! Not getting all tangled up in someone else’s issues is hard!

Okay, you’re all saying “DUH!”

But it came to me that all of this is physically as taxing as it is mental. Since finishing the Schnarch book and maybe even while finishing it, I had slacked off on working out. I had work issues that had to be dealt with and it was hard finding the time or inclination to work out. So while my weight has continued to melt off, I haven’t been able to keep up stamina-wise. While finishing up a session of a marathon Stepmania song, it occurred to me that I really needed to stay in good physical condition. Not to mention the other endorphine-related benefits of a good hard, wet workout. I’m in a better place when I’m in better physical shape as far as my mind and emotions and working out helps take a lot of the urgency and edge off of the frustration.

And there’s plenty of that going on. This morning the skittering away while trying to talk in the bathroom was almost funny if it wasn’t so sad. She’ll kiss and hug for very brief amounts of time, but that’s it. She’s in full-blown avoider mode. 12-step groups are good for learning disclosure but since no cross-talk is allowed, it doesn’t build up much endurance when it comes to a real reciprocal interaction. This illustrates why the “delicate flower” analogy leads to some unintended consequences. “Learned helplessness” is a big one, and we see it all the time in education when kids are used to having things spoon fed to them all the time. That’s not to say that providing support, guidance and instruction is a bad thing. Having some sheltered shadowing can be a good and helpful thing. But if the person you’re trying to help becomes overly dependent, it’s not a help at all.

I was back up on the elliptical this morning before leaving for work and got a good workout and might work again this afternoon. It’s good therapy. Hmm. Had something else I was going to do today but forgot what it was….


Gotta Do It

February 6, 2008

I have hedged, hammered and hawed all over this for too long. I’ve been avoiding for too long. Y’all have been good about pointing that out, and while I’ve been receptive in some areas, I often deflect some of the most obvious suggestions and measures that might move me forward.

It’s about being in the proper space developmentally in order to do what needs to be done. I’ve covered some significant distance these past few months doing independent study with a little help from my blog friends. Y’all do what you can and I SO appreciate it! So now I need to advance more and I’m feeling stuck. It’s time to get that local therapist’s number programmed into my cell and make the call for some professional coaching on how to proceed. I’ve talked about it before, and will keep talking about it until I get it done. Then I’ll talk about it some more.

Yesterday, as I was walking out of the house (and writing yesterday’s post in my head) it occurred to me that I’m about tapped out. I’ve probably been out of my league for quite some time but getting up to speed on Schnarch’s approach might help save some time in the long run. Hopefully this guy will be up on it. It’s hard to imagine a marriage or sex therapist who wouldn’t but that’s sometimes the way things go out here in the sticks.

The recent comments by someone identifying herself as Kathy also made me aware that I need to go deeper to acquire more tools and resources. The average layperson has a basic assortment of tools at their disposal in order to take on various relationship and psychological issues. Thanks to self-hep books and the internet, more people are accessing more information but it is often not very good information. Many of the options and suggestions new readers bring in tend to be of a more shallow nature. For instance, for the woman who is married to a guy who doesn’t want sex; how often have you heard, “You need to wear sexy lingerie and spice it up!” If you’re a guy in the same position, we always hear, “You need to do more around the house and take more time with the kids and give her more time to herself!” Other offers involve being more considerate, being less selfish, doing something for yourself, find a hobby, get a pet, talk it out, practice better communication skills, be more affectionate in a nonsexual way, speak the proper love language, nonsexual date nights, buy more gifts, take the pressure off, fix yourself, be less judgmental, more empathetic listening, sensory nonsexual exercises, more physical exercise, eat healthier, lose weight, penis enhancement, breast augmentation, Viagra, wild oats, wild yams, ginseng…

I’m sure I’m missing some.

It’s not that these are bad suggestions. Most of them are pretty good and can serve a purpose. But after a few years and trying several variations of these, it might be time to drill deeper. The standard plays don’t always work and then it might be time to go for something different. No guarantees there, as my chastity play clearly illustrates, but it did represent a pretty good effort in creativity and thinking outside the box. I got some useful information there that may yet prove to be useful down the road. In fact, I need to process that from a more Schnarchian paradigm to see what comes up. The most important thing is to keep at it and to keep driving for progress, such as it is. Writing and blogging has been an invaluable tool to help me process so I need to keep investing the time into doing that, even if never makes the blog.


Out of Sync

February 5, 2008

I’m not sure what to write by way of an update. In some ways, it seems like there is progress. In other ways, it is the same old thing.

Since the Shower Scene, there has not been a repeat of that. However, I have spent time in the bathroom while she showers and I shave and we can generally talk. Generally. But her gut reaction to me being there remains; get the hell out of there as quickly as possible. Over time, that reaction has become more and more pronounced. I’ve asked her more than once if she minded and she said she didn’t but…

The idea of this, from my POV is just to be around each other in an “adult” way without the kids hanging all over us. Being comfortable with each other’s and our own nakedness is a big developmental task. However, I’m seeing her shift back into the old pattern. It isn’t just her being naked around me, it’s her comfort with my nakedness. Now I admit that bleeds over into my own thinking sometimes and it is difficult being naked around her for that reason. I sense her anxiety and unease about it and it gets my own anxiety going. But I get on with it. These times still have this over hanging tension to them, though. I was hoping some familiarity might help alleviate things. Like any other stage of development, when a body first tries it is awkward and uncomfortable but eventually you get the hang of it and master it. Tying your shoes isn’t a big deal anymore once you’ve mastered it. Neither is swimming or running. Getting over the fear of the water involves having some good times in the water over a period of time.

But there is a deeper more pervasive pattern that I am trying to overcome, here. It’s the pattern of avoidance. Yep. I am sick and tired of being an avoider. I am also sick and tired of living with an avoider. Outside of moving out of the house (still an option) I can only realistically control how much of an avoider I am. Arwyn is going to be whatever she is going to be as long as she decides to be that way. I can enrich the environment and put out the salt block, but she isn’t going for it until she decides. And one reality I’m dealing with is the unpleasant realization that she is every bit of a selfish prick as I am. I’ve been in denial about that since forever.

Instead of stayiing up until 1 a.m., I’ve been going to bed earlier in hopes that her and I might be able to share some sort of meaningful time together. That has not happened as she rolls over to sleep as soon as she hits the pillow. Or she stays up after midnight. So I’ve tried the other end of it in the morning, and that involves the bathroom time mentioned above. Typically, I used to stay in bed while she showered and then I would get up while she was getting the boys ready for school. Now I get up when she does, and then I’m synced up with her and the boys. But there have been no gains in the intimacy department there. She gets dressed and out of the bathroom as quickly as possible. This morning as she was darting out I said, “I’m tired of being an avoider.”

“I need to make breakfast!” was her only reply. She was running 10 minutes ahead of her own schedule because she doesn’t work today and doesn’t shower until after we are all gone. She’s got the day to her self.

The avoider theme has been a constant one and it is one that I’m keen to change. I don’t know if I can live like that anymore.

And then there is the ongoing theme of sexlessness. We’re just a month or so shy of another sexless 12 months. There’s a whole lot of other people bitching and moaning about their pathetic sex lives who have sex a lot more often than that! I would rather have no sex than lousy sex, except here’s the thing; how do you know how lousy it is, unless you actually have it once in a while? It would be nice to have a refresher course in Lousy Sex more often than updating my CPR certificate, you know? And there have been no moves in that direction at all, except from my right palm. And once a week is plenty for that. I find myself reaching for that sort of comfort more when I’m feeling in a pissy mood which is quite a lot over the past few days.

I’m rereading the Schnarch book to pick up what I left out or missed. But I know I’ll end up at the same place: the two-choice dilemma. If I stay married to Arwyn it is likely that my sex life will stay the same. That is, there will be no sex. No bad sex, no good sex, no mediocre sex. There will be no sex. Marriage = no sex. I can hold off and see if there is another equation and I can hope for a different outcome and I can pray for a different outcome. But as long as there is no different outcome, there is no different outcome. There’s the way it ought to be and then there’s the way it is. The way it is, is that there’s no sex within the confines of this marriage. That doesn’t mean it will stay that way, but it isn’t moving any time soon.

I’m frustrated and much of that is a rebound from a couple weeks ago. I guess I hadn’t let go of the hope that I cling to as much as I thought. When I see Arwyn NOT trying, that really makes it difficult for me to even give a shit, you know? It’s like the crack addict who is homeless and is always begging money; do you keep giving them a hand out despite the fact that they show no interest in breaking their addiction or getting a job? It’s like she continues to attend 12-step meetings and knows all the lingo but it seems to translate into zero work on her actual marriage relationship.

Basically we’re back to normal which is out of sync, as usual. We spend a lot more time out than in, it seems.

BTW, my weight went down to 187.6 yesterday. That’s a new low of a more positive sort. My ultimate goal was around 185, even though I haven’t been pushing it very hard. I haven’t been working out as much but I’m still eating a lot better.