What does “working on it” look like?

We are rapidly approaching the end of therapy, at least for the summer.  Last night, Arwyn and I had a rather  intense exchange about where we are at.  We’ve had these before, of course, and sometimes they get somewhere for awhile and then fizzle out.  Sort of like Farmwife’s garden analogy where the weeds keep coming back if the place isn’t tended regularly.  And the garden of our marriage is pretty lush with noxious weeds.

One of the questions that came out of a recent 1:1 therapy session was this: What would it look like if Arwyn made our relationship a priority?  If she was to really commit to working on it, what would it look like?  I had no idea, so last night I asked her.

A bit of background: for the past few years she’s been working part-time at a church preschool as a teacher.  She’s good at it and everyone tells her so.  She’s just gifted in this area.  She works 3 hours/day for 3 days a week, plus whatever time she puts into planning for it and putting stuff together.  She’s quite thorough and a bit of a perfectionist sometimes.  The preschool follows the school calendar, so sh gets all the breaks the kids get and summer off.  It doesn’t pay a lot, though.  This past spring many of our counseling sessions revolved around the idea of Arwyn considering quitting her job in order to concentrate on our family and especially our marriage.  While I was willing to support her in whatever decision, I had a few misgivings about the idea as in she’d get bored being at home alone and would simply find other things to fill her time.  The financial hit, while small, would involve us sacrificing some of the comforts we’ve started to enjoy since getting out of debt.  In the end, she decided she would stay with her job.

So I brought this up last night, and pointed out that she’s been off for nearly a month and I hadn’t seen any real work on  our relationship or marriage.  I brought up a few things I had tried.  So I asked what she had done.  Every time we have a joint couple’s session, the therapists asks us what we think the other has done to help strengthen our relationship.  And more often than not, I find myself grasping for anything.  ANYTHING.  I’ve come up with her doing laundry, taking care of the kids, sometimes cooking for me and having sex a time or two.  And the domestic chores truly look lame to me.  I mean they are important, but these are not reasons to get married and poor reasons to stay married.  She has a much easier time answering that, because I do step in help with domestic things and occasionally buy little things for her or make things for her or whatever.

But without getting real confrontational, I asked her to help me out.  I could be just really obstinate and blind and missing all the things she is doing for our relationship.  So what has she done?  She had to think awhile and she did come up with one thing.  Back when she bought Fire Proof and The Love Dare.  That was one thing and I definitely used that as an example in one of our counseling sessions back in February.  But she had to really dial back a long way.  She admitted that she hasn’t done much since then and hadn’t picked up the love dare book since she bought it.

We then had an exchange about how hard I can be to please, sometimes.  I didn’t really see this, but I’m more than game to hear here out.  She wanted to me to name stuff she could do to make me feel appreciated and valued as she said she had no idea. I should have just given her (another) copy of my top 20 list.  And perhaps I still will.

Throughout the discussion, she did occasionally venture into “I’m sorry but you seem to want me to be someone who I’m not.”  I’ve heard of other guys getting caught with that one, but I really wasn’t accepting it.  I asked her, “Well, are you happy with who you are?  Are you satisfied with the way things are?”  She said no.  So basically, I’d like to see her be whoever she’s going to be and would be happy to help her get there, but staying the same is not a happy option for either of us.

There was lots of other content here, but sex was not a major part of it, as that just pushes her too far.  And she was on the edge of leaving the room crying as it was.  She does feel a lot of guilt from that so I didn’t feel like pushing it at the moment.  What did come out was that my interest has waned over time.  A lot of the hope has drained away for anything resembling a lovely, regular and fulfilling sex life. I’d still like it, but I don’t see Arwyn ever turning into someone who could want or enjoy that.  I’m just looking for something more basic that says she values our relationship beyond the money and lifestyle I provide.  Then perhaps we can build on that.

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10 Responses to What does “working on it” look like?

  1. Dave says:

    Has to be frustrating, and discouraging, when it seems as if you never see signs that you or the relationship are valued. There was a time when I would call myself “the invisible man”, or “the walking ATM”, cuz that’s about all it felt that I was. I hope eventually this gets better for you.

  2. Mu Ling says:

    “What did come out was that my interest has waned over time. A lot of the hope has drained away for anything resembling a lovely, regular and fulfilling sex life. I’d still like it, but I don’t see Arwyn ever turning into someone who could want or enjoy that.”

    I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been giving up over the last year or so. I don’t even really want him, anymore. But that doesn’t mean not “working on it.” It simply means turning one’s attention to other matters.

    He got angry and hurt when I indicated that I don’t have much desire for him anymore. Sometimes I feel I am damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

  3. FTN says:

    “I’m sorry but you seem to want me to be someone who I’m not.”

    Been there, heard that. Still do. And I have no idea what to do about it, because that’s the core of the conflict. And there’s no simple resolution to it. What’s the counselor say about that simple-yet-profound statement?

    Man, I’m in a pessimistic mood tonight. Sorry.

  4. Ginny says:

    Ok, first of all, I am always sorry to read about your frustrating experiences within your marriage. And, I always have questions to ask you after reading your posts. So, here’s my question: what feeling do you have right now for Arwyn? How best can you describe what you feel for her as your wife, your partner, your companion?

    I think it might help to really take things down to the most basic fundamental aspect of what your marriage is, to both of you but mostly you can only focus on yourself at times like this. Still, I continue to hope that you all can arrive at some form of a happy, healthy marriage thru this persistant and committed effort. I, as always, admire and respect your ability to not give totally up on your marriage no matter what………………….

  5. Cat says:

    “Well, are you happy with who you are? Are you satisfied with the way things are?” Good for you seriously because that I am just being me stuff is the biggest cop out I have ever read. Someone she’s not? Really? Would that be a wife???

  6. Emily says:

    Actually, I’m wondering why you try so hard to identify something she’s done to strengthen the relationship if you really think she hasn’t.

    What would happen if youd said, “Look, I’d like to be able to identify something she’s done, but actually I can’t. Her lack of consistent commitment is really hurting me and our marriage”?

  7. Emily says:

    Ps Mu Ling, you don’t know how much I’ve missed you! I know you don’t blog any more, but do you have an email address I could contact you on? Mine is at my profile

  8. Aphron says:

    Well, believe it or not ya’ll seem to be making progress. Will Arwyn ever be in the person you want? Probably not. The dialogue is there.

    It seems that spouses want the other to become something they are not. I want Sybil to change things about herself, and there are things about myself she wants changed. A couple have to find a way to move past that and get to the fundamentals. It isn’t easy, and it may never happen. Also, there is a law of unintended consequences. What if that person became whom one expected? There might be side effects that were not anticipated.

    I think it boils down to this: if Arwyn didn’t ever change, could you live with it? If her efforts continued to be on everything but ya’ll’s marriage and you, could you live with it? Can you handle the status quo? If the answer is yes, then great. Be content. If no, then…well…I have no pearls of wisdom. That is a door that might be better left closed.

  9. Digger Jones says:

    It’s interesting how you put that, Dave, because “walking ATM” has been what it has felt like for me, in addition to cook and mobile childcare center.

    Of course he’s going to feel angry and hurt, Mu Ling, because once you stop desiring, his control over you declines and the balance of power in the relation ship shifts. So yeah, it really is a double bind!

    I haven’t approached the counselor with that one, FTN, but my answer is, “Then you’re telling me that who you are right now is exactly what you’re happy with?” I know in Arwyn’s case, it isn’t true because she is forever on a self-improvement quest and I suspect Autumn is also. Women are more likely to be dissatisfied with themselves, but that statement “Sorry you want me to be someone I’m not” is a move designed to put you on the defensive, as Cat said in her comment. I’ve heard of guys taking refuge there as well. Notice how my response looks like reflective listening.

    Yeah, when you put it like that, Cat, it does make one wonder what being a wife looks like. And that’s sort of what we’re trying to figure out.

    Actually, Emily, I did that at least once. I came right out and said that I was drawing a blank. However I didn’t go on the offensive by pointing the finger at her so much as reflecting on what I might be missing. I know I do stuff for her that she totally misses. Could the reverse also be true; that I simply fail to see things she does? But while I sometimes miss things, she has a hard time coming up with things in her own right. I’m not sure what I gain by expressing my own hurt, though. Other than just expressing it, it just comes off as an attack and an instance of trying to inflict guilt. Earned or not, no one does well with an overload of guilt, especially when it is without conviction. And neither do I do well in the role of victim.

    Aphron, for good or ill the status quo rarely remains the status quo. While Arwyn has her share of aversive traits, she really is not nearly as annoying as most other women I know. Somewhere along the line, I’m coming around to the conclusion that perfection and happiness are not what its all about. And I can live with a lot of adversity and neglect. I’m not exactly thriving, tho.

    I just need to find happiness outside of sex or else find sexual happiness outside of the marriage. It might yet happen but I’m not holding my breath.

  10. Digger Jones says:

    Oh, and I didn’t mean to overlook you, Ginny. To answer your question, Arwyn is more the mother of my kids than a wife to me. I am trying to make her more of a companion by talking about more things with her and we’re partners as parents and somewhat in life. But in my opinion we’re missing some fundamental bonding which would be the sexual part. It’s just not there and I feel too tired to pour more energy into it at the moment. She’s definitely not inputting on that score, so I’m weary of the solo effort.

    The hard, bare bones of it, is that I’m not convinced that a fulfilling sex life is in the cards at all for me. Even if i left the marriage, there’s nothing guaranteed.

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