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To empathize, or not empathize; that is the question.

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Reality posted 11/5/2013 18:22 PM

WH posted over in the Wayward forum about a big confrontation we had over the weekend. Like he noted, I think we’re getting to the final line in the sand. The same confrontation is replaying with increasing frequency and I’m losing hope rapidly. (This is probably going to be sickeningly lengthy as I try to map it out, so if the word tsunami is too much, skip to the end if needed. I updated my profile in a much more concise manner.)

In the story he relates, the kids had a strong and negative reaction to a movie that came out. To give a bit of context, all the kids are extremely gifted. They skip grades, get high scores without much effort, and pick up new material really quickly. The story – and now movie - is about gifted children. To be honest, the kids shrug off most of their I.Q. level and are quick to defer to a long line of genetic predisposition that way. In fact, it makes them slightly embarrassed to have it addressed openly. As their mother, I’m glad they have talents intellectually, but the part that I’m most proud/in awe of is how empathetic and kind they are. They love people and are very gregarious and easy going. I get comments all the time from strangers who run into them that “it’s strange, but nice, to see siblings get along and like each other.”

In the story, one of the defining characteristics of the protagonist is that he hates violence. He prefers diplomacy and working with people versus controlling or bossing people around. He’s empathetic and makes friends easily. This is the key part that my children identified with. In many situations, through all of their experiences, they have been chastised for their lack of “killer instinct.” They are cooperative versus competitive, as a preference and a natural aptitude.

This has been a major point of contention in key points of their lives. Their biological father – see my profile for more detail – could not identify with that aspect of the children and viewed it as weakness. He actively was abusive concerning it. Currently, unfortunately (to put it ridiculously lightly), how WH has manifested much of his wayward behavior has been… bullying. He was/is confrontational by default – which is part of his natural inclination and also part of perpetuating a cycle of encouraged hostile interactions he was taught in his parents’ home. It really hurt WH growing up, but he engages in it in a whole lot of ways. He behaves as if debating is the default for all communication. When there is a discussion, he spends most of the time interrogating why the other person feels the way they do, if that makes sense to him, and if it doesn’t, why the other person would think it should matter over WH’s feelings. If you read over his post, you’ll see it in action.

His physical body language is amused and somewhat mocking as he does this. It is pronounced enough that it can look like he is making fun of the other person’s feelings. He has done this with me. He has done this with the kids. It is something that is still an active dynamic even through the trauma of all of us dealing with his infidelity.

Back to the confrontation in question. The kids had looked forward to the movie because they hoped to see that key empathetic characteristic reflected in the story line. The screenplay played into the battle scenes and less into the psychological/emotional dynamics than what was hoped. They expressed that. WH debated it, as usual. It bothered the kids so much that one of them flat out walked away and wouldn’t engage further. Before we had a stampede, I stepped in and tried to explain. WH then debated with me. I took him aside after we left and explained again that especially in the context of the past six months, as the kids have reacted to his latest batch of affairs, him being confrontational or dismissive of their feelings was not going to happen again. I used an example from some prior abuse I had suffered during childhood when adults had been dismissive of my feelings and insisted I didn’t have sufficient reason to respond to the situation as I had. WH looked perplexed at our reactions and then shut down for the rest of the evening and didn't approach anyone as I soothed the kids.

The next morning, he asked to speak with me. He told me it hurt his feelings that I had used that example with him, that I was correlating situations in an insulting way. I was… speechless. I explained why I had used it, the commonalities, but WH wouldn’t back down. He still hasn’t backed down, even in the face of my frustration, of the kids detaching from him, or even of the acknowledgement he has made that he sees the same cycle repeating. He still thinks this is about us not listening or giving credence to his feelings.

I’m on my last straw, guys. I understand where WH’s reactions come from, but that hasn’t been his world for a long, long time. As a childhood abuse survivor, I understand the pain, but I’ve fought very hard to make the children as safe as possible. I won’t sacrifice them for WH’s sake, even as he is continuing to deal with people through a historic framework that is not only hurt him, but has and will continue to hurt everyone around him.

He puts the books about communication and building relationships down half read. Our experience in MC was terrible and the MC thought WH was “good to go.” I’d love for him to get into a good IC, but that does no good if he’s not as motivated as I am to get into the mechanics of this horrible machine. When the going gets tough, he so often runs back to the coping mechanisms that spawned the affairs and arguments.

Got this far? You may need a nap. Or some Visine.

Do I need a massive 2 x 4 here? Should I even be posting in R? The kids and I are getting far too good - through necessity – in easily detaching from him when he’s like this. We live separate lives for days at a time.

TLDR: WH has a big problem with empathy. He makes it our problem. I don’t see enough improvement to even qualify as improvement. Losing hope and I wish that scared me more.

[This message edited by Reality at 6:32 PM, November 5th (Tuesday)]

morethantrying posted 11/5/2013 21:23 PM

I briefed though and I always go with giving him EMPATHY because that is for YOU! Sit down again with him and JUST LISTEN and tell him you will do that. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO AGREE. Just listen. Validate his feelings and ask questions.

IMO, If you are sincere with R this is a --albeit quite challenging opportunity -- (who said is was going to be easy) but definite real, true bonding chance. THIS IS YOUR TEST, in MY opinion...and I believe you CAN DO IT!!

You can show him YOU will listen, be there and is not about WHO IS RIGHT OR WHO IS WRONG....that will, I guarantee, get you NO where.

The point IS: to try to come to some understanding of each other views and understand each other better...THAT IS THE ONLY both do not have to agree. The fact that he wanted to tell you how he felt is GREAT...don't beat him up abut it...he was really sharing his TRUE FEELINGS...that will give you a true, sincere, honest don't have to LIKE his opinions or even like his feelings...but they are HIS and he is SHARING!!!! Your are trying to RECONCILE!

Is it hard work? Yes. WIll you feel like you somehow have to give in, get over, give up your ego? YES...but is the relationship worth it? YES YES YES is not easy. It is not all fuzzy warm is hard and worth it 1000 times over. You are tough....choose the bigger person if you have to think of it like that

But ALSO feel time spent trying to understand WILL make both stronger, more committed and realize both of you that YES it is WORK and it takes TIME...but so worth it....this is your MARRIAGE....

Just try to UNDERSTAND each other -- you would do this for a friend wouldn't you? -- and grow in love...Just my opinion.

[This message edited by morethantrying at 9:30 PM, November 5th (Tuesday)]

Reality posted 11/5/2013 21:40 PM

Thanks, more. I completely agree that empathy is necessary in any interaction. I feel like, at this point, after two batches of affairs, after almost eight years of trying to explain why listening is important, I have possibly empathized too much.

I do understand where the chain of events comes from that has solidified such a strong - and reliable - response in WH. There is, unfortunately, a long standing habit of him relying on my willingness to listen and listen and talk some more, but with him getting angry and distant with me when I process and exhibit any emotion about what's going on. It's been all about making things accessible and easier for him and him taking it as his due. It's a major part of why he will argue with us when we express emotions, especially if they differ from his. He won't listen. He will go on attack mode.

I am so bloody sick of the kids getting stepped on because he does what's easy for him, no matter the cost. Ideally, I'd love for him to be aware of the cost to everyone involved - the kids, me, him, EVERYONE. I just don't see that happens without another scene getting played out where everyone and everything has to stop to remind him that we aren't the enemy.

[This message edited by Reality at 9:42 PM, November 5th (Tuesday)]

morethantrying posted 11/6/2013 01:38 AM

You poor thing! This is so rough isn't it?! If reconciliation has taken a hit and you have hit a bump maybe this would helped us talk. AND if you can put extreme emotional expression aside (tears, yelling etc) it! Doesn't mean you cannot express emotion but there is way that is better than another.

Only My Opinion but This might help: First, pick one issue that is hindering R from moving forward. Then write it out... This works well when it is kept very brief and on topic and come up with some ACTIONS to take. ALSO, choose a good time together to talk.

Basic pattern is this: First in each section KEEP IT SHORT!!!!

Section One: acknowledgment of what he/she is doing RIGHT. Pick one or two things and say how great it makes you feel. EX: You have been so great in acknowledging how hard this is for me. I especially feel wonderful when you hug me and look in my eyes and say you love me....saying this will make you feel good too and help you to see what IS going right....

Section two: The Problem: Now state one important "problem" or trouble that is HINDERING R forward and do so in one or two sentences. On Tuesday is trash day and the trash needs to be put out. This is a problem for the smooth running of this house.

Section three: My feelings: stated as "I feel" .. I feel anxious, scared, insecure (whatever) when you say, do ...(don't exaggerate here and be as factual as possible!!!). I feel angry when you don't take out the trash as we agreed. I feel unsupported and ignored. I feel sad to feel this.

Section four - action or solution: (acknowledge if you can) I understand you love and want to support me and that this is important to you as well. Can we discuss this and come up with a solution/actions that will work for the both of us?)....

Last section: Have a few suggestions/actions that might help....BUT DO NOT DON't write these down on the sheet you give him!!!!!!....but do write them down but only for YOU. You will want to have one or two ACTIONS that you will verbally suggest AFTER he has given may not even NEED to SAY these...

Once there is a action or solution, write it down, put it on the fridge or something..."I will take the trash out on TWF and You will take it out on MTh. like that....

THE BIGGEST CAUTION, is to KEEP IT BRIEF...edit, edit, EDIT and work hard to make sure you are saying it right, well, and in a way that will get results YOU want him to be open, receptive, not feel criticized, or attacked but rather respected and appreciated for any honest and sincere efforts and surely there are some....maybe more than you realize.

My trash example may not be the best but probably you get the general idea. Take are STRONG and keep trying...a marriage will never be perfect, but it can be better! Accept that it is okay to have difference of opinions about many things and still love and respect each other. Hope this may help a bit.

[This message edited by morethantrying at 2:48 AM, November 6th (Wednesday)]

Knowing posted 11/6/2013 06:52 AM

I read your post and I read your profile. You identify your biggest problem as him wanting to debate the validity of feelings and emotions, yours, the kids, etc... My fWH was like that, until his A. He really, truly hated acknowledging and accepting other people's needs and feelings as valid. It was awful, having to fight for mine and my children's needs and feelings.

If there's any empathy or understanding to be directed towards your WS it would be to understand that his unwillingness to accept or acknowledge feelings as valid is likely from FOO, and is a defence mechanism. If he rejects all feelings then he never had to face his own painful emotions and better yet he never has to face the devastation he has wreaked on you, your M and by extension your children.

All I can tell you is I wouldn't R with someone who wasn't willing to do everything to help me feel safe and loved again. He doesn't get it. Without IC and MC, reading and some empathy on his part he may never will. He's the one who needs a 2x4 upside the head.

bionicgal posted 11/6/2013 06:56 AM

Reality -
It does sound like a FOO issue, or a defense mechanism, or perhaps a little Asperger-y. You guys need a way around this -- would he agree to a couple of sessions of MC on this topic if it is important to you?

I hear your frustration, and have found in these sorts of intractable arguments, in our case, that there is work to be done on both sides. We are different, and have to find ways to deal with that. I am not saying your husband is right or wrong, but I am wondering how defensive it must make him feel to have the whole family ganged up on him, and feeling he is wrong. That is not a position that is easy to operate non-defensively from. It sounds like your dynamics need tweaked here, and not just on his end. (Gently)

[This message edited by bionicgal at 6:58 AM, November 6th (Wednesday)]

Reality posted 11/6/2013 11:30 AM

Thanks for your replies, everyone. I completely agree that it's a major FOO issue with both his defensiveness and how he chooses to engage. Which is why I'm still here.

Let me clarify that when the confrontations happen, he instigates them. He is the one that "goes there." The kids aren't confrontational. WH seems to have a really hard time reading responses to what he says or does and adjusting his course accordingly. His attitude is so firmly directed at how he feels and what his interpretations are that even when the other person varies in response from no reaction to positive reaction to all ranges of negative reaction, his response rarely changes.

He will upset someone, then act like nothing happened, or act hurt that the issue is still in play. Yes, it's frustrating.

We've spent hours talking together about the dynamic over the course of our relationship, before, during, and after the affairs. I had a upbringing that was decidedly uncool, too. I understand it can be difficult to see the world as it is, versus stay in a mode of reacting to the world as it was, but that has to happen. Especially when dealing with the people we love and the relationships we want to have.

I saw what happened in my own family of origin when people chose to stay in the experience of the abuse and react to everything else in the world through that filter. It destroyed people, families, and the ability to grow individually for them.

I made a conscious decision a long time ago that my experiences and reactions would not be the default ones my children had to duplicate or deal with. To be clear, WH has some amazing gifts. I chose him to be with us because of those gifts and because he wanted the closeness and relationships me and the kids have together. I want that for him.

I'm understanding more and more than unless he chooses to prioritize us over those FOO issues and get help to do so, there really isn't any chance of progress. It's only going to repeat and repeat until the collateral damage is impossible to come back from. I understand his pain, but we're worth the effort to live a different way. But he does have to make that effort.

sisoon posted 11/6/2013 16:20 PM

It sounds like this could be a conflict between empathy and boundaries. It's said that to understand all is to forgive all. I agree in a sense, but at the same time, it's not necessary to accept all behaviors just because you understand and forgive them. For example, feelings are not open to debate. So why debate your feelings? Why not just tell him you feel what you feel?

Do you debate too much? Can't you just say that some things are settled, and you won't discuss them further?

You won't be able to change your H, but you might also have some success in teaching your kids to withstand the onslaught from your H. How old are they?

How sure are you that you read your kids and H right?

Reality posted 11/6/2013 16:40 PM

Hi, sisoon. You said what I'm been realizing more and more: I don't have to answer his interrogation. I have been, as have the kids, because I've always thought that lack of information was the source of most conflicts. The kids have been taught that, too. The whole "knowing is half the battle" model of trying to prevent as much misunderstanding as possible.

The kids and I are "borg" in that we often say the same thing at the same time. We understand each other and communicate without any major issues. Like I mentioned, the kids have great social skills. I seem to get along with people easily and manage a large company with pleasant interactions between myself and the employees. They kids range in ages from 11 to 22 now. All live at home; some are at the university, some still in elementary through high school.

We've met with two different counselors as well as many members of the extended family so WH can get information and interpretation from more than just me or the kids. WH mentioned how he and my father often talk together about all this, also. Everyone has said variations on the same theme to WH: work on empathy, "be humble", put your family first.

The MC felt that because WH was aware of the dynamic, we didn't need him anymore, that WH "just needed to choose the man he wanted to be and then be it."

The point I've come to is understanding that it doesn't matter how many ways I explain the same situation. He's had so much information. He needs to choose what to do with it.

hathnofury posted 11/6/2013 17:31 PM

I read the whole post. I can identify with so much of what you have written. I also have gifted kids, and one of them has been diagnosed with Aspergers, and likely WH is an undiagnosed Aspie.

So much of what you have said, I have seen in both of them. I chose to focus on the child, because she was the one having trouble at school while WH was the one that needed to choose to do the work for R. I was bewildered how she could KNOW what she is supposed to do yet time and time again made poor choices. That lack of empathy aside, she knew exactly what she should have done when confronted after the "rage" cycle had passed (and "rage" cycle for them does not necessarily have to include violence, and can just be verbal abuse like you stated in your examples). It certainly FELT like she was deliberately making her choices on purpose and didn't care at the time. And sometimes still didn't care afterward.

So in the process of being evaluated and diagnosed, her psychologist put her on meds in addition to some exercises at home and accommodations at school. I was leery of putting her on meds, as it seems every other kid is getting diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and put on drugs like candy when they don't look like they need it. In her case though, it wasn't stimulants or the more serious drugs. It was just Zoloft, a garden variety AD that has been around forever. Apparently for many Aspies, the conflict of being smart enough to be aware of their social ineptitude but not being able to reconcile it with what they actually feel, among other mental stuff that comes with being Aspie, just ups the anxiety out the wazoo. This agitated mental state greatly hinders them from making good choices on demand.

Zoloft alone has proven to be an effective remedy for many to dial the mental chaos down so an Aspie can actually SEE "Hey, social standards dictate I should do THIS, even though I really want to do THAT. Even though I don't have the empathy to intuitively understand how this affects others, the social standard is there for those reasons and I should comply to avoid hurting others."

My Aspie kid is still the same kid, but makes better choices most of the time now. She is learning empathy and other social skills, and of course they are very challenging for her but the meds allow her to try.

I've told my WH he should get formally evaluated and diagnosed, and try the meds too. I suspect when in manifests in the way you have described, it is not unlike a bipolar person who is not on meds or the right meds. Perhaps this is something that he should look into, and you make it a condition of R to investigate it fully. The way I see it, I want him to pursue it whether or not R is successful. The kids need a healthy Dad, and one that is not abusive - whether the abuse is intentional or not.

Hugs. I know it's hard. Hang in there.

sisoon posted 11/6/2013 19:11 PM

Gently, that MC is incompetent, and my guess is that you've got some important blind spots, but obviously I could be wrong. IDK...I suspect you describe what's going on but don't get the emotional aspect, and emotions trump intellect every time. I suspect you're seeing only part of Reality.

Understanding an issue is a long, long way from solving it or even being able to solve it. Is your H in IC? If so, what are his goals? If not, why not?

I would expect your MC to have explained something about your and your H's ineffective communication and helped you change, perhaps suggesting IC for one or both of you. Did the MC say anything along those lines?

Reality posted 11/6/2013 19:50 PM

Hath, that's not the first time we've had someone suggest WH may be on the Aspie spectrum. There are a lot of overlaps with the manifested behaviors. WH responds with, "I'm not Aspie, I just have bad habits." I'm for investigating anything that would help. I'll bring it up with him again.

Sisoon, the MC was incompetent, completely agreed. I've been in IC for most of my life: first for the CSA, then for the damage from my XWH who was a diagnosed psychopath. He's the biological father I mentioned in my top post. The kids have seen more than there share of someone who not only doesn't care about their thoughts or feelings, but someone who will prey on them for their own agenda.

I think my worst fear is that I'm not holding WH to a high enough standard of behavior. Like I mention in my profile, I grew up around some dangerous, predatory people and then was forcibly married to another one very young. I've been to six different ICs over the course of the years. I get told I'm very empathetic and resilient. I am worried that my scale of behavior for what a lot of men are capable of is... off. WH has had two sets of affairs, has bullied the kids and I, has been demanding and negative and a part of me still shrugs and says, "We know it could be WAY worse."

I know that's messed up. I'm trying to face that more fully. Like the psychiatrist who finally diagnosed my XWH as textbook psychopathic told me, "Just because you've learned how to manage predatory people well, doesn't mean you should be expected to, or that you should think that's a normal part of life."

I want WH to be happy. I want to be happy. I refuse for the kids to not have every chance to be happy.

No, WH isn't in IC. His schedule with law school is demanding and he doesn't think he can fit it in now. I've STRONGLY encouraged him to post here to get feedback, at the very least. He has said it has helped him to see his thoughts in more concrete form.

SlowUptake posted 11/7/2013 02:51 AM

Are you absolutely positive that you and/or your children do not contribute to, or escalate the 'debating' dynamic?

To give a bit of context, all the kids are extremely gifted. They skip grades, get high scores without much effort, and pick up new material really quickly. The story – and now movie - is about gifted children. To be honest, the kids shrug off most of their I.Q. level and are quick to defer to a long line of genetic predisposition that way. In fact, it makes them slightly embarrassed to have it addressed openly. As their mother, I’m glad they have talents intellectually, but the part that I’m most proud/in awe of is how empathetic and kind they are. They love people and are very gregarious and easy going. I get comments all the time from strangers who run into them that “it’s strange, but nice, to see siblings get along and like each other.”

I could be way off base here, but why did you feel the need to inform potentially 40,000 strangers on the internet how gifted your children are?

In my experience the most common reason for parents to point out how special their children are, is to try and excuse their bad behaviour in a given situation.

IMHO reconsiliation & marriage should be you & your spouse together against the world, even if at times that includes your children.

I get the distinct impression that in your case it's you & your children against your husband. YMMV

[This message edited by SlowUptake at 3:54 AM, November 7th (Thursday)]

Reality posted 11/7/2013 06:09 AM

...wince. I did explain too much, Slow.

Yikes, which is exactly what I would do at WH's insistence normally. I was pre-emptively explaining the "whys and hows." "Why" the kids would respond emotionally to a movie, of all things. I am also used to bridging events for them in relation to many adults of our close association: XWH, the family members I mentioned above that consider the kids to have something "wrong" with them because they don't want to kill each other. In this forum, I give more information than I ever would normally because I'm desperate for more info and like I mentioned, my attitude has been that a fuller picture yields better results.

The kids love WH, as I also mention in my profile. They have tried to talk to WH during many of the confrontations, but he is as willing to dismiss them as he is to dismiss me if they don't agree with him. This is painful for them and echoes a lot of the important adult responses they've experienced. As I've mentioned in previous posts, my youngest daughter even developed anorexia from the stress and conflict of WH's affairs and surrounding behavior. She is doing better thanks to some intense treatment.

There is likely some element of us versus him in these confrontations. It doesn't start that way, but once it gets to the point that he hurts their feelings, I step in. I won't side with him in that. I try to keep it separate from the kids, which is why I pulled him aside, just us, after. The kids have been patient and loving with him. They shouldn't have to bear the brunt further.

painfulpast posted 11/7/2013 11:40 AM

As I've mentioned in previous posts, my youngest daughter even developed anorexia from the stress and conflict of WH's affairs and surrounding behavior.

Gently, I agree to a point with SlowUptake. Your writing does appear to be you and your children against your WH. I quoted the above because, as someone that has survived an eating disorder, blaming her anorexia on your WH's affairs says, to me, one of two things: your daughter was made aware of far too much in relation to the affairs, and was also used as a shoulder to cry on, thereby unloading some of the stress onto her, OR you are blaming every problem in the household on your WH and the affairs. There is absolutely no reason that a parent's affair would or should bring enough stress and uncertainty to create an eating disorder. Also, they are usually the result of years of stress, feelings of a lack of control, and some bits of depression mixed in. Also a major cause is early abuse or sexual abuse. The length of an A downward spiral is not that long. Yes, the healing is a long process, but the period where the WS and BS are confused, overwhelmed, and unable to 'hide' what is going on, or at least minimize the damage, for the sake of the children is short lived. Even if it went on for 6 months, that isn't what would generally be enough time for one to develop an eating disorder. Again, I suffered for years with both anorexia and bulimia. I've had a lot of therapy for it, and I know a great deal about them from books, therapists, group sessions and my own experiences.

I actually read your H's post in the wayward section. Honestly, it's hard to say that these are even the same stories because the outlook on them differs so greatly.

Were your children's feelings hurt over your H's behavior? Was he getting angry that they didn't agree with him? Have they commented on it, on their own, and express sadness over the events? You wrote that you were 'soothing' them. What does that entail, if I may ask?

Also, what was some of the exact language your H used? Again, the stories are so very different, at this point it would be useful to me, and possibly others, to get a better idea of what actually happened at the theater. Please don't get me wrong - I have no doubt you both vehemently believe your respective stories, but there is clearly a misunderstanding in there somewhere.

Thanks, and congratulations and well done on your caring and bright children. The intelligence level is genetic, but being a caring person is upbringing.

Simple posted 11/7/2013 13:09 PM

I feel for your situation. R is difficult period.

The kids and I are getting far too good - through necessity – in easily detaching from him when he’s like this. We live separate lives for days at a time.

This is not good for R. The whole point of R is to NOT detach and continue to build a "window" whereas a 180 or D is building a "wall" towards your spouse. If you see yourself continuing to do this then I feel for your spouse, IF he is truly trying to change. Cause then at that point, you're leading him on.

Have you ever heard of "active listening"? I had to learn this myself. I am quick to argue and pipe up in conversations instead of just shutting up and let the other person speak. Sometimes people just need to talk, BS or WS, doesn't matter. Maybe that's all he needs? The more the home front is comforting, the more WS's tend to open up as they feel their way into what they think is a minefield. IMHO I think his argumentative side is a form of self-defense. You running away from it, just makes it even more likely he will continue that behaviour.

I've been accused of being argumentative and I agree. I need to tone it down. However, my FWH is in the too passive camp. Once we learned to meet in the middle, he and I learned that sometimes when we disagree about something and TRULY LISTEN to each other's points, we glean something good from other person's perspective. 6 years of R later, we think our differences are awesome! We like to discuss things that we may or may not agree with and it's done on an intellectual level and a learning level just to see the other side of the coin. We don't have to change our positions or beliefs, but we learn from hearing a different perspective.

Maybe think of it this way? Hey, just giving you a different perspective...

hathnofury posted 11/7/2013 13:13 PM

Just another perspective on sharing about the gifted kids and the fact he is not their bio dad, the stuff about the bio dad..I think details like this are actually really helpful in understanding the whole picture. I think it is awesome when a poster is able to share this info (because sometimes they rightfully can't or won't) because the devil is always in the details.

My first impression, and I haven't read his side, is that there is an us vs. them going on in the house. The fact he is not their bio dad and that they are likely way smarter than him only makes the divide worse. And it does sound like the kids know information that is not age-appropriate for them, but without specific examples I cannot confirm this.

I can share an experience about my gifted kids that may shed some light for others that don't understand why a detail like that is important. It's not about them being a "special snowflake" that deserve special considerations, LOL. They just are way more likely to figure out things that are not age-appropriate for them, despite your best intentions, than kids that are not gifted.

For example, I took my DD to the pediatrician for a checkup, and the wait in the exam room was long. She read a poster about the Guardasil vaccine, and asked if HPV was a virus or a cancer. She also asked why you had to wait until age 9 to get it, and why it was important to not wait too late to get it. And if it was so important, and could cause cancer, why couldn't you get it before age 9. All these are very valid questions for a kid able to read the poster - however my DD was 3YO at the time. It was super difficult to answer them to her satisfaction at an age appropriate level. A gifted kid is not going to take "it's for big kids, honey" as a satisfactory answer and let it go. I can only imagine what kinds of questions my kids would ask if they had any idea of their dad's infidelity history. Having to deal with the secondary effects is hard enough.

So like I said, being able to share these details when you can is important. Just like a previous poster illustrated about the eating disorder, it is a piece of the puzzle to the problem, but the infidelity in and of itself did not cause her to have an eating disorder. I understand sharing too much info with people not ready or willing to hear it, can also be a symptom of much bigger issues too. But I like to think SI is the safe place you can share this stuff as long as you are willing to tolerate what will be said about it in response. Then you take what you can use and leave the rest.

Reality - I hope you understand everyone is trying to help you. YOU are not on trial here. We just want to point out what we think may be happening on all sides from our perspective in ways you may have not considered. The things that may be happening on your end are things you have control over, and it is so empowering when you are able to fix things you do have control over - as long as you know what they are.

Simple posted 11/7/2013 13:14 PM

I just want to add, we created rules to follow when having an "argument":

1. Have to hold each other or touch physically
2. Have to remain calm and logical at all times
3. When the person says "I feel" then there is no right or wrong it is their feelings. They are entitled to feel whatever the heck they want.
4. No name-calling.
5. No swearing.
6. NO GOING OFF-TOPIC. Don't make the discussion about another part of your lives or another situation.
7. Have to end the argument in good footing. If having trouble, kiss and make-out.
8. If argument is getting heated, say how much you love each other. Makes the argument pointless.
9. Don't be petty.
10. Make it educational-like instead of my perspective is better than yours...

Hope that helps. I personally like rule #7.

StrongerOne posted 11/7/2013 15:11 PM

I read your WH's explanation of the situation, and I think that what you say about him in general is accurate and that he is trying to acknowledge it and to work on it. I also think that the us vs them dynamic in your family is no doubt exacerbated (if not created by) the fact that he has been unfaithful, untrustworthy, and also very difficult to get along with for quite some time. He does seem to be trying, or wanting to try, but also quite clueless about how to communicate with his family. And, he seems to be sad about his continued inept behavior.

I hope that the other WS in the wayward forum can persuade him to go to IC. And that he will be willing to work specifically on listening skills.

As for yourself, having empathy does not mean you have to sit through unkindness or thoughtlessness. You can understand your H's behavior, and feel badly for him about it, but it doesn't mean you have to keep putting up with it. I think you should tell him that. And if you still want to R, add that you will help him learn to behave differently.

I wonder if you can work out a low key way of signalling to him that his communication skills are lacking in a situation -- something nonverbal the two of you can agree on? He expressed a desire to know when to just listen -- so if he's bulldozing along but should listen, could you catch his eye and tug your ear? He doesn't feel chastised in front of the kids, but gets a signal that he should take a breath and stop talking, start listening. Maybe work with him on things to say when you tug your ear at him: "Wow, I'm really going on and on! Sorry about that! Tell me what you think." He may need to practice ahead of time.

t/j Hathnofury, thank you for that very good explanation and example. I've been that kid and I have that kid, and you conveyed the issues really well. And it makes a good story to tweak your kid when she's older!

[This message edited by StrongerOne at 3:16 PM, November 7th (Thursday)]

Reality posted 11/7/2013 16:58 PM

I apologize, I may not have been clear. WH had a first set of affairs in March of 2012. The kids didn't know about those situations. There was a lot of closed door discussions between WH and I that whole year as he rugswept and we argued about the affairs. The constant tension took it's toll on the kids - WH was aggressive and negative to everyone. It was during this time that my youngest daughter stopped eating. She didn't know what was going on and in an effort to control something, she started eliminating groups of food she would eat. She dropped weight gradually at first and said it was because of a growth spurt which coincided. To my shame, I was so overwhelmed with the constant fighting, I didn't notice all the eating habits she developed during that time. This is classic eating disorder genesis and behavior.

This past March, another set of affairs - a new set of women he had cultivated during the year since the first D-Day - came to light. During that confrontation, it was not... subtle. A door was almost broken as WH tried to prevent me from leaving our room. My oldest son, who is 17, interceded. The four oldest (ranging from 21 to 15) heard it all, including my youngest daughter. It was during the following couple days as WH moved out, that she admitted what was going on. During the next few months, while WH was away, the anorexia peaked and we got into active management. She has been very angry with WH. She has always been especially bonded to him and him rejecting everyone in the house emotionally hurt her badly.

I didn't blame WH for the anorexia. Those are her words. WH's mode of being negative and confrontational during normal interaction had been a point of conflict for a few years at that stage. His amplified behavior during both sets of affairs and the time in between was incredibly stressful for everyone in the house. Like hath said:

It was super difficult to answer them to her satisfaction at an age appropriate level. A gifted kid is not going to take "it's for big kids, honey" as a satisfactory answer and let it go. I can only imagine what kinds of questions my kids would ask if they had any idea of their dad's infidelity history. Having to deal with the secondary effects is hard enough.

The older kids, finding out what the last year had been about, where upset with me for not telling them. However, I have really strong feelings about kids being able to stay kids and not getting parentified. I agree information should be age appropriate and kids should be shielded accordingly. My youngest two have been, but again, they're very bright and I'm sure have extrapolated way more than I'd prefer.

StrongerOne was spot on:

I also think that the us vs them dynamic in your family is no doubt exacerbated (if not created by) the fact that he has been unfaithful, untrustworthy, and also very difficult to get along with for quite some time. He does seem to be trying, or wanting to try, but also quite clueless about how to communicate with his family. And, he seems to be sad about his continued inept behavior.

Yes, yes, and yes. I believe he is trying, especially the past few months. He's made connections and improvements in many areas. What I'm posting about is the root of all that's left, and it's pretty systemic, unfortunately. We have talked about the very thing you suggested - some subtle signal or phrase to stop and think. So far, no luck with something he picks up on, but I'll keep experimenting with other signals. The problem has also been that when he does realize the dynamic is in process, he gets defensive and that exacerbates everything.

Simple, those are some good rules. WH does better when I form a physical connection with him. With my history, that can be hard for me - that I'm delving into managing his attentions with a physical aspect. Touch and trust are very connected to me.

I really appreciate everyone's help. Yes, the situation is painful. I worry that I'm putting the kids through more trauma and we've seen plenty enough trauma.

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