Discouraged After Working For Three Years To Recover From One Year Of Emotional Abuse
Four years ago my wife accused me of having an affair with a female friend of mine. About one year of emotional and verbal abuse of me by my wife followed.
We have now been married 14 years, we were near our 10 year anniversary at the time. We've been together nearly 20. I have no romantic or sexual experience with anyone except my wife and I like it that way, it is a part of what it means to be me.
This was not the first time my wife demonstrated tendencies toward jealousy. She had yelled at me about my closeness to a male friend some years before. At the time she and I were about to move to the other side of the country anyway so that problem solved itself - I simply fell out of touch with him, no more concern from her.
While in graduate school I had hoped to make friends with a group of fellow students (I don't make very many friends, it is difficult for me) but one of the female students showed signs of developing a strong crush on me and so my wife - understandably - wasn't comfortable with it (specifically she screamed at me about it and expressed that desiring friendship with this woman was evidence that I wanted to have an affair) and I gave up on the idea of making and maintaining friends in that group of people.
I don't regret that decision. I could not figure out how to maintain friendships with the others and exclude one. After that happened, I promised myself that I would learn how to discuss and set boundaries and expectations with possible friends in the future with the hope of being able to build and maintain some lifelong connections.
I met this new female friend because we share some of the same hobbies, and I was pleased to learn that she and I were on the same page regarding wanting to stay in touch and also wanting to set clear, healthy boundaries that worked for both us and our spouses.
It was not long before my wife demanded that I cut off contact with my new friend, and this time I told my wife I needed her to work with me on it. I am finding that friendship is just too rare in my life for me to be at peace with walking away if it can be made to work. I was optimistic and confident that my wife would work with me and we would sort out something that worked.
I thought my wife trusted me. I was right, we sorted it out. It took about 12 months though. I was also wrong, she didn't trust me, and during that time my wife accused me of every kind of affair, started using uncharacteristically stark and hostile language ("grow some balls", "you're immoral", "there's something wrong with you", profanity in front of our son who was 3 at the time).
We got therapists involved, but somehow that process broke and I found myself being burdened by my own therapist, her therapist, and her, with the project of assuaging her anxiety as if it was my fault. I was starting to feel abused and neglected and ignored, and no one involved with this process seemed to care about that and I started to feel completely alone.
As the negative feelings grew, I concocted ways to overcome them with positive feelings. My wife stopped smiling for a while. She has a pretty smile, I missed her smile. When I was feeling hurt, I would imagine her smiling and that would make me feel better. After about 3 months that technique stopped working.
I then realized that if I imagined committing suicide, and contemplated the relief that death would inevitably bring some day, that brought temporary peace. Eventually, that technique stopped working too.
After about 5 months of this, I remember a distinct moment where I felt a snapping sensation and a numbness, kind of like a tooth chipping in my chest, and ten minutes later or so I started having intense flashbacks to various things she had said to me or my therapist had said to me. Sometimes they were so vivid I could hear her voice echoing in my ears. Other times I'd feel like I was in two places at once, and could practically see my therapist sitting in front of me even though I was nowhere near the office.
Other times the experience was strictly emotional: anger, confusion, and intense psychological pain. Back then, the flashbacks were so frequent I would measure the time between them in seconds and they would crash in on me in waves. There were still 7 months to go before my wife saw clearly that she was hurting me and was able to find the strength to stop.
It's four years later now. Lots of therapy for me, about a year of medication. My symptoms fall relatively neatly into such categories as OCD and PTSD traits. I use visualization exercises such as ones suggest on this site although not in a daily disciplined fashion (perhaps that needs to be the next step).
My wife is sorry. She's worked very hard to change her tendencies toward jealousy, and has made a lot of progress. She came from a very abusive family, I should have expected I would feel the weight of that past hurled at me eventually.
She wholeheartedly supports my friendships now. And with work, my flashback episodes are now hours, days, weeks, even months apart on occasion. But I'm tired of how hard this is. I can predict that an average of once per month, for a few days, the flashbacks will swell to peak intensity and be accompanied by intense anger and confusion and pain.
I wouldn't say that I have trouble managing it any more. But I'm very tired of having to manage it. And no one seems to understand that this bad year could do such lasting harm to me and be so difficult to recover from.