Several years ago I participated in a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) group to help with my depression. The group didn’t do much for me, but I did gain some insight from it. We had a session where members of the group were talking about different issues. I remember talking about the realization that since we live in the Bay Area, I would never be able to afford a house in an area that I would actually want to live in. Mundane, but at the time upsetting to me since I had grown up believing that since my parents bought a house(while my dad was still in grad school) that I naturally would follow in their footsteps. The most striking shared story was from a young woman who started with a tale about being in a minor car accident, but that quickly morphed into some weird conspiracy theory about the government or some shadowy organization being out to get her and ruin her life. I remember the rest of the group just kind of going quiet and realizing that perhaps this person might be better suited for more specialized help. The facilitator played it cool, but I really hope that he talked to her afterwards. What I took from this was the way in that people can distort reality. Not just this young woman who took a car accident and some random phone calls and assembled the pieces of the story in a highly elaborate conspiracy, but that even I was guilty of it. I think I thought of it as differing levels of reality distortion. I tend to twist or filter reality to push out any positive traits about myself and convince myself that I am a complete and utter failure, worthless and better off dead. Having that realization didn’t make the thoughts go away, those thoughts still float around in the back of my head at times, but they aren’t as powerful or present as they used to be, but it made it easier to see that perhaps I wasn’t viewing things from a completely accurate perspective.
As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I started up couples’ therapy earlier in the beginning of the summer. The focus has been on recognizing how we trigger each other and fall into these negative loops. Our therapist specializes in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and recommended a the book ‘Hold me Tight’ . It’s been amazing for me to be reading this book and look back on what we’ve been doing in our sessions. I can see how our patterns of behavior are very commonplace and how many other people react the same way I do to stressful situations with their partners.
Things have been stressful at home with a new schedule for my wife’s work and a new school for the kids, as well my starting a position in a new lab. It came to a sort-of-head the other night when my wife seemed to suddenly get really cold and annoyed with me. I asked what was going on, and she told me that she was really mad at me and had been for several days . She didn’t know completely why(although there are plenty of reasons), but there it was. Normally I would have stormed off and announced thoughts of how our relationship was doomed, and I that couldn’t do anything right.
This time around, those thoughts were still there, but at the same time I was also a bit mad and feeling that she was being unfair. From the reading and our therapy sessions I knew that me withdrawing wasn’t going to help, so I calmed myself down and tried to engage my wife in conversation to see what was going on. She was very resistant to talking about it(I found it interesting that I was the one trying to work out issues this time around), but in the end we did manage to discuss her stress and worries over work and the kids. Nothing was solved, but it felt like a bit of tension was released and were able to do it together.
This episode reminded me of a recent exercise given to me by my coach, I had to come up with a list of reasons that I am a good husband. Painting myself in a positive light of any sort is extremely hard for me, but this exchange with my wife and thinking back on the CBT group has pushed me to go ahead and do it. Here is a subset in no particular order:
- I respect my wife as a person and individual.
- I support my wife in times of need as well as in the pursuit of her own dreams and goals.
- I am committed to bettering myself and constantly working on our relationship
- I am conscientious of how my being away from the house can impact the family and make an effort to always check before participating in activities that will keep me out later than usual.
- I take an active role with the children.
- I am willing to adjust and shift my schedule if she has her own obligations to take care of.
- I encourage my wife’s independence, but also appreciate shared time and activities.
- I appreciate how lucky I am to such an amazing woman as my partner in life and try to let her know that.
So that’s it for now. It’s hard for me to look at this list and not want to qualify it or put some sort of disclaimer, but I’m going to let it be. I hope I can keep this perspective during the inevitable stressful periods that I will encounter in the future. I’ll work on reminding myself that difficult children, eye rolls and exasperation from my wife are not necessarily signs of a conspiracy proving that I am a terrible person.