Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Only You can Ground Her Emotionally

On page 31-32 of our book, Geoff tells the story of Teri, who uses the word "gruesome" to describe her life with Ken since she found out about his involvement in pornography. Ken could have easily reacted defensively--"Life with you hasn't exactly been a picnic, either!"--which would have left her feeling misunderstood. If he hadn't been her "ground wire," letting her pain pass through him at that time, it would have continued to build for her. She may have felt the need to use even stronger language the next time she was hurting. 
Instead of defending himself or attacking Teri, Ken asked her to tell him more about what the word gruesome captured in her experience. He asked her to let him in on just how much she'd been hurting. She talked those feelings out, and as a result she felt more understood by him and safer with him. As a result of conversations like that one, over time her feelings toward Ken had been softening rather than heightening.

Since then Ken has kept trying to listen to Teri when she's upset instead of pulling away from her. Her anger has continued to transform over time. Recently Ken sent this email to Geoff:
"Teri has been so close and we've both felt very connected. She has not had an anger episode for 51 days. What a wonderful milestone! Yesterday was the first time and it was really not an episode. It was so much better. We sat and talked about what she was going through. She did not pull away and get depressed, laying in bed. She was not quiet and did not reject my offers to be there to listen.  We were able to talk.
"She said that watching my progress toward re-baptism into our church is bringing up all the old feelings in her. She's reminded that it's because of my betrayal that we even have to be going through this in the first place. She told me how hard that is for her. I responded that it is hard for me as well. She said, 'I hate it when you say that! Why do you say that?' Just because I was having a hard time, too, I said.

"She said, (mind you I understand that this is the anger talking) that she did not want to go to the baptism. I said, I can certainly understand why you would not want to. We sat there for a while and did not say anything. I just kept rubbing her back. After several minutes she asked what I was thinking. I had just finished reading Love You, Hate the Porn, so I said, 'I'm thinking about how glad I am that we are here together sharing the pain, and that we are not alone.' She said 'we are not sharing the pain, we are just talking. It doesn’t help the pain.' I said that it may not seem to help right away, but for me it does make a difference later. It drifts away so much faster when I've shared it instead of keeping it inside. She just listened and said 'hmm.'
"After a while she said she was angry. I told her I was sorry she was. She said she hated it when I said that. She hates it because, although she knows I mean it, I have said it so many times. (The funny thing is she always tells me an hour, a day, a few days later that it did help.) I know at the moment she is in angry mode and doesn't really want anything to help. In fact she told me 'I want to be angry.'  I just said 'That's okay. I'll be here with you while you are angry.' 
"She instructed me as to which spot her back needed rubbing. She asked why I wasn't getting angry back at her anymore if this topic is still hard for me. I told her that, having gone through 34 years of internal struggle, I was sick of feeling that way inside. I know for me the anger just festers and takes me to false beliefs and places that I don’t want to be anymore, so now I follow my exit plan of the things to think of to get out of that place. If I were to try to figure it out how to handle my anger in the moment, it would take much longer to get out. I would be like a general trying to make an exit plan in the midst of being defeated. I told her that this works for me, but it's okay for her to be angry if she wants to. She said, 'who would want to stay angry?' There was a slight, 'c’mon that is silly,' in her tone, a disconnect from her statement from a few minutes ago that she wanted to stay angry. I said 'You're right, no one would.'
"The trust is still building. At one point in our conversation she talked about sharing her story again in group therapy. It brought back up a lot of scared feelings for her. Virtually all of the ladies in her group are on the verge of divorce. She asked why I was such the exception. All of the other guys seem to be relapsing and struggling with the addiction still. Why are you the only guy out there that is not relapsing.  After a bit she said, 'You have all become master liars. You could be lying to me right now. How am I supposed to know that you are not lying to me?' 
"It was so peaceful to not get defensive, to not have feelings of fear or feel unappreciated for all the work I have done. I knew she just needed reassurance and to feel safe again after her discussion with the women in her group group rocked that. I just said to her, 'There is no way of you knowing. I know it's hard to trust me. I did lie and hid and you're right, I could be lying now. I'm not, and all you can do is look at my behavior and the things I'm doing that are different than what I used to do. I do my daily plan of action and you see the way I interact with you and the kids now compared to the way I used to. Those little things would change if I were acting out again. She said a soft 'Uh, huh' in agreement, as I was instructed once again to rub her shoulder. 

"She now told me to rub her hip that had been sore. We lay there on the bed with each other until we had to get the kids ready for school and I had to get ready for work. When I left we had a long embrace.  There were no words said other than 'I love you' from both of us, but there was an understanding that we are okay together. What I heard in that embrace was 'Thanks for being there for me and allowing me to feel and share. The pain is better.'  We kissed and the next time we saw each other there were smiles, love, safety and security in our relationship. 

"The big difference for me at this stage in recovery is the positive feeling I have about this experience. I see these discussions as extremely valuable and productive instead of something to be avoided at all costs. Sure she has difficult emotions, but the point is: she expresses them to me. She wants me to touch her and soothe her. She wants me to stay right by her and be with her. She may say some things that sound contrary to that, but I know to look under the conversation, which is by far more important. I know not to react from the hip at a statement. I understand that decades down the road I will still have to offer safety and security to her, and as I show patience and love she will respond in kind. In this way our bond will become stronger and stronger and our connection will be eternal."

When Geoff sent me this update from Ken, he said, "What a blessing to be involved in this great work." I couldn't agree more. Wow. When I witness the heroic efforts of couples like Ken and Teri, I'm blown me away. What a privilege to see love conquer pain and connection defeat separation. If that hasn't happened for you yet, don't give up! You'll get there, and the victory will be even sweeter for all the pain you've suffered in battles along the way.

Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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