Ending vicious cycles

Ending vicious cycles

It takes work to rekindle a flame that’s lost its spark

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 10/13/2011

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­­Dear Patti,
I can’t stand my husband. I’ve tried therapy — both individual and couple counseling — but nothing has been effective, and we don’t get along. Leaving him isn’t an option. I love our home, our children, our friends and our life together. It’s not all bad, but inside I’m angry and resentful. When we’re out of earshot of others, I make digs and put-downs, and he does the same. I snap back at him to protect myself, but then I feel sad. More than anything, all I want is closeness, to be loved and cherished and to be able to love back. — Jodi

Dear Jodi,
I understand that you’re angry and disappointed and that your husband may be a difficult man, but it sounds like one of you needs to change your behavior in order to stop the vicious cycle between you. 
Since you’ve tried other things (including therapy), try this. Pretend that the richest woman in the world promises you whatever you want — a mansion, world-class travel, college tuition for your children — if you do her one favor. She reveals that she has only three months to live and has just discovered your husband is her long-lost son. She desperately wants to make him happy but needs your help. If you can’t accomplish this task in three months, she’ll go to her deathbed saddened by the knowledge he was miserable all his life. 
You awaken the next morning and realize you can’t let her down. You lie there and plan how you can treat your husband with respect and show him you’re happy he’s in your life. Let your smile be the first thing he sees when he wakes up. For the rest of the day —and every day — make it your mission to be attentive, fun and happy. Periodically stop what you’re doing to truly listen to him. Ask yourself what his favorite thing would be for you to do for him and do it. Treat him like he’s very special, like someone who, if he wanted to, has the power to give you the world. (He actually does have that power).
The ground rules are that you can’t complain, argue, criticize or be disrespectful. Rather than suppressing your resentment or railing against your husband, write it in a journal, go back to individual therapy or vent to a trusted friend. At the end of each day, choose one – and only one – behavior or comment that upset you and calmly ask that he try not to repeat it. For example—“I’d really appreciate it if before you go to bed you hang up any clothes you left out during the day. I know it’s easy to forget, especially when you’re tired, but I’d really appreciate it.” Not “I know you think all you have to do is go to work all day and the whole house is my responsibility, but you’re a totally lazy slob and I’m sick of it.”  
If he tries to pick a fight, don’t engage, analyze, label or call him names. Simply move on and try again the next night. If he counters with arguments about your own habits and behaviors, respectfully respond that you’ll try to work on them and let it go. 
The next night, bring up another change that is reasonable and would be meaningful to you. Whenever you can, correct and improve the things he has consistently asked you to change. Eliminate blaming, ordering, belittling, preaching, threatening and ignoring and replace these with acts of enthusiasm, love, trust and co-operation.
While there’s no fairy godmother to sprinkle you with eternal happiness dust, the truth is that if most people really realized what was at stake in nurturing a close and priceless relationship for the rest of their lives, they would discipline themselves to give the project of mending their marriages 110 percent of their care and attention. If you put the same energy into your marriage that it sounds like you have put into your children, lifestyle and friends, the rewards could be huge. Hopefully your husband will start being more like the knight in shining armor you saw when you first fell in love. Every time you take care of your husband, you’re also taking care of yourself.  

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site: patticarmalt-vener.com.

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