Saturday, March 28, 2009

bad timing

Over the years (nearly twelve), the All Time Number One Top Cause of Vicious Arguments in my marriage is my mother-in-law ("the MIL"). The Sober Husband has his mother on a a pedestal (during one argument, he memorably said, "My mother has never felt jealousy or anger in her life. She doesn't know those emotions", to which I snapped back, "Notify the Vatican; we have a new saint"), and there's no love lost between the woman and me.

Last week I noticed, while writing all the art classes I'd signed the children and myself up for on the calendar, that the MIL was coming soon for a full week. I counted the days on the calendar to make sure. Years ago, during a prior bout of couple's counseling, we reached a marital treaty on the MIL's visits, where we agreed that a long weekend four times a year would displease both of us equally and was therefore acceptable. The Sober Husband had told me a week or two ago that he had invited his mother out for five days "to make it up to her" that we weren't going away together leaving her alone with the children (neither Iris Uber Alles nor I had turned out to be ready for that). Five did not sound like fun to me, but seven? I was instantly furious.

When I finally brought it up to my husband, he claimed it was only six days (it's seven days and six nights) and that it was a mistake, he thought it was five days. I worked at letting it go and didn't say anything more. A few days later, on Thursday, it was time for couple's counseling, and I raised this as an example of how we've been getting along well lately. How ironic that was, as within seconds the Sober Husband was in a rage and I was in tears.

Our counselor asked me for examples of problems I have with the MIL, in order to understand this dynamic, and I gave two examples off the top of my head: (1) after meeting me for the first time, the MIL then met my parents... and told them that she thought I was having a severe mental breakdown; (2) she used to lie on the floor in my kitchen while I was cooking, and this behavior escalated until once she was lying prone on the floor right in front of my stove. This lying-on-the-floor behavior was famous among my friends, and I was asked to act it out more than once. The counselor was taken by these examples and asked the Sober Husband for his feedback. After expressing the general sentiment that his mother is a perfect guest, a sheer joy, he went on after some time to say that actually, come to think of it, for most of our relationship I was having a severe mental breakdown and could have benefited from commitment to a mental hospital. Oh, and it wasn't true that his mother had ever lain on the floor. I was prone to exaggerating and misunderstanding things and inventing things and believing things that weren't true.

On top of that, when the counselor drew him out about his feelings of me coming between him and his mother, the Sober Husband said with considerable emotion, "Carole comes between me and my work, me and my friends, me and my family, me and the children, me and EVERYTHING." I cried. The therapist made a bravura effort to get the Sober Husband to admit that although in his eyes, his mother might be flawless, she might be hard for me to get along with. No dice.

I left, shattered and unable to look at the man to whom I have had two children. He, weirdly, was smiling and chipper.

"One of us is going to a hotel," I said. "I need to be away from you." The Sober Husband, smiling, suggested that I go to a hotel, but when I informed him that he would then need to pick up the children between five and five thirty, his smile flagged. "Five?" he stammered. I gave him a withering glare as he jumped onto the subway.

After I got home, I informed him that I would pick up the children and he should NOT come home. Then, however, he said he was ready to leave work early to get the children, but I curtly told him not to. Feeling extremely distraught, I managed to safely drive across the town, gather up not only my own two darling hellspawn but one of Iris Uber Alles's best friends, drive them all home, cook a a nutritious but beloved dinner of broccoli pasta, coax Iris and her friend down from the fence, clean the kitchen, supervise Iris's homework, and turn Iris's friend over to her mother. Then we were all unwinding in the living room around 7:30, me with a glass of wine, when the Sober Husband arrived with a weird, fake smile on his face.

"What are you doing here?" I asked. He kept the fake smile on and suggested that he thought I was going to go to a hotel. I said that I'd made it clear that I wasn't, and he said that he'd needed to come home anyhow to get his stuff. The children, who hadn't had a clue before that anything was amiss, asked him what was wrong. Smiling, he said, "Mommy got mad at me during couple's counseling and wants me to go to a hotel."

I felt white hot rage. "How dare you make me the bad guy? He said I was crazy and that I make things up!" I glared at him again. "I was going to tell them you were working late!" Lola cried; Iris looked stressed. I whisked them upstairs, fetched their favorite stuffed animals, started a video, and made them chocolate milks, hissing at my husband on the stairs, "Thanks for being an asshole."

The children calmed down and went to bed a bit troubled but all right. I stayed snuggled up to Lola until she fell asleep. In the morning, I got us all up and out to school early, everyone seeming fine. I spent most of the day at the school, since it was my day to supervise the kindergarteners and first graders at lunch and recess. When it was time to pick up Lola, I recoiled: she was carrying Clover.

Clover is a massive stuffed giraffe who takes turns spending the weekends with the different kindergarteners, whose parents are supposed to record his adventures in a scrapbook. This feels like a contest amongst the parents to show who has the best, most wholesome and fabulous weekends, and here I was, having thrown out my husband. I quailed. I don't even know how to get the pictures off our new digital camera. I cravenly told Lola she should call her daddy and ask him to come help her with pictures of Clover.


J9 said...

Wooo that's a TOUGH ending to a week! It's sounds like teh Sober Husband is having issues growing up and admiting any culpability on his or his mother's part. I wish you a less stressful weekend!

Carol Ann said...

I am so sorry to read this. I had hoped that things were getting better with the counseling. I remember the laying down in front of the stove from elsewhere on the web.

Dread Pirate Davi said...

I think you've put up with enough of this garbage. I admire you for standing up to him and not backing down for anything. I've never had the guts to stand up to my boyfriend of a year-and-a-half. It's time for a change, wouldn't you say??

I hope the girls handle this well. They're tough cookies, those two, you've raised them well. Good luck.

Missy said...

Big, big hugs. ((()))

It's been over 11 years that I've known you...and I can attest to the lying on the floor anecdote.

Of course, you know that.

I'm so sorry that things came to this point. I hope and pray it gets better for you.

And kudos to you for not retreating in a sodden mass to your bedroom. You did a great job holding it together for Iris and Lucy.


Caroline said...

Wow. The man violated the FIRST rule of being a grown-up, which is, YOU DON'T DRAG YOUR KIDS THROUGH YOUR SH*T. Between this and the previous "I want Carole to anticipate all my needs" comment, I think someone has serious issues around this mother stuff (not that you don't know that already). I'm assuming you're going to tell your therapist about this UNACCEPTABLE behavior so she can BEAT IT INTO HIS HEAD that it is UNACCEPTABLE. Gah!

Anonymous said...

I had a very similar incident in my own counseling when my husband accused me of never getting out of bed to get our son off to school. That fact that he was out of the house before my son got up, and therefore, wouldn't have any knowledge of how lazy I was or wasn't being was immaterial. I was stunned. It left me speechless that he would say something like that. Of course, he was using this as proof that I was slacking off so horribly in my motherly duties that whatever awful, unpardonable shit he did or said to me was completely justifiable on the grounds I was being a lousy mother. And the kicker was (after several rounds of, I get up every morning to see him off and get him breakfast--No, you don't) that I realized later that this was his MOTHER'S behavior. Something that he has expressed to me repeatedly over the years. I know your rage, no, your outrage, and I share it. I have been there.

JKG said...

I'm sure this is in the back of your mind, but as the product of a comparably peaceful (yet still quite human) set of parents, I wanted to mention it.

Your children are brilliant, incisive observers of their own worlds. They are doubtless keenly aware of everything that's going on between you and SH. I'm willing to bet that they have private conversations between them about what's going on with Mom and Dad. From my own experience, I'd even go so far as to say they've worked out contingency plans -- even though their hatred of each other is deep and enduring.

In short, this is affecting them. And though SH is apparently willing to lay it all out for them, even if he wasn't they'd know.

In my humble, unprofessional opinion, the sooner DH and SH can come to a new and stable conclusion, the better. Either drop the games, or drop the marriage.

As an aside (and knowing I only have DH testimony on the matter) I'd have to say these apron strings are overdue for a chopping.

the Drunken Housewife said...

I have to say that this came after a period where I thought things were getting better and we were doing valuable work. We were actually discussing when we would end couple's counseling, and then this happens.

Since Thurs., I've been on the brink of tears at all times. I skipped the kitten season kick-off party at my rescue's founder's mansion yesterday because I felt too teary and pathetic. I just want to cry all the time and never see my husband again. I really am not sure what to do next.

Anonymous said...

This may sound like a stupid question, but have you guys had a counseling session regarding your personal love languages? It sounds like he's built up some serious resentment about something. Wishing you the best, remember to take care of yourself thru all this.

pie_ho said...

I'm so sorry you're going through such a tough time, especially when it seemed like your couples counseling work was paying off. That's quite a toxic load the SH dumped on you. Has he shown any sign yet that he realizes he stepped many fathoms over the edge?

I read a little blurb in The Week (my only real source of current events) excerpting an Indian editorial in favor of arranged marriages. The author asserted that American marriages end in divorce most often because of in-law problems or money problems, whereas arranged marriages more successfully plan for financial and familial compatibility. I read this and thought "feh! I'll buy the money side, but I can't think of any Amrikan marriages in trouble because of evil in-laws, and I'm not that fond of my in-laws! and my parents are still married, even tho both MILs have caused trouble, etc etc." So what do I know.

Debby said...

I'm not going to write that your husband needs a kick in the rectal region...plenty of others have already said it better than I.

What I will say is that my husband and I went through a similar period of discord (I PM'd you on EHell about it). The repairing that his self centered behavior required came in spurts. And, at times, just when we seemed on the brink of things getting better he'd do something totally bizarre, hurtful, and borderline insane.

He *knows* he screwed up about MIL's visit. So, he had to turn everything back to you. When my DH would be on the verge of accepting that maybe leaving me to raise two young children (one with special needs) and care for my dying father while he pursued his career 100 miles away was a bad idea, I'd get a a blast of "You hold me back, you're horrible." His mom wanting to visit on top of discussions about ending therapy? Your husband imploded.

Your husband did not learn healthy or effective communication methods in his home. You can't change it. You can't behave in such a way that he'll always be happy. This is his work and he has to commit to it. Perhaps its time for him to work indivudally with a therapist.

Anonymous said...

I love you and adore you and love reading about the details of your life, but I wonder if it might be best to not post on this subject here.

I just think it might be very difficult to come back to trust (to a sense of privacy) after such a public discussion, even though I totally get why posting about this here is so attractive. Being an at home parent is extremely isolating, and being a writer at heart, the urge to make sense of your feelings must be really strong. And, my god, just the need to feel heard and understood! Still, I wonder if the goal is to reconcile, if it might not be best to not post this here. I might be totally off-base and I say this with love and not judgment, so, please just ignore it if it doesn't resonate with you.