Presenting Problem: I feel Like a child in this Relationship.
My husband Noam and I have been married for five years now, and b”H we have three healthy children.
Somehow he knows how to trigger me, and when he does, which is quite often, I stay angry for hours.
In the past he would try to communicate with me by asking if something was wrong, and I would respond with the issues at hand. He would then deny everything, blame me for the most part, and we would continue fighting in this vicious cycle.
Recently he no longer asks me if something is wrong, and if I ask him the same question, he says, “Oh, nothing,” but more often just doesn’t respond. His silent treatment makes me even more angry. I know this may sound crazy, but I feel like I am a child in this relationship.
Noam comes from a dysfunctional home where his parents were quite immature and had very poor coping skills. Noam, the oldest of four siblings, had to take on a parental role, sort of a total role reversal, as if he was the parent and his parents were the children. He loved his parents very much, but nevertheless his job would be to provide the discipline and emotional support for his parents and siblings in this family system. As a teenager this was a very draining and debilitating experience. He prayed to get married and free himself from this unacceptable responsibility.
Dina, on the other hand, came from a very strict home where love was more conditional than unconditional. If Dina did as she was told, then, so to speak, all quiet on the Western Front. If not, she felt the uncomfortable tension, and emotional parental rejection, and violation of her own rights by failing to express honest feelings, thoughts and beliefs. As she grew up the family rules were as follows: 1) Perfection—mistakes are unacceptable and will not be tolerated, and 2) Honesty—be always honest, tell all. Concealments will not be tolerated.
Yes, on an entirely unconscious level you are the child, and he is the parent.
This two-part battle taking place is due to an ongoing Child /Parent conflict, that we call Ego States and Anger.
Let me explain this two-part process:
Part 1. Psychologist Eric Berne in his book “Transactional Analysis” states that without being aware of it we have three main Ego States: 1) Parent, 2) Adult and 3) Child.
To feel safe, the brain will change Ego States in any given relationship. These Ego States are coping mechanisms that provide the flexibility to adjust to human emotions such as happiness, sadness, love, fear, acceptance and security. In a healthy marriage the Ego States are flexible, and for the most part move from one Ego State to another, depending on how you feel emotionally. For example, Dina, one morning you may feel needy, silly, sort of in a child Ego State. Then again later in the afternoon you may feel more critical where you’re in a parental Ego State. Should the Ego State not feel safe, it may not relinquish its disciplinary role, as with your husband Noam where it seems his Parent Ego State remains stuck.
1. Parent Ego State: Protector, nurturing, critical, punishing disciplinarian.
2. Adult Ego State: Mature, acceptance, good communication and coping skills.
3. Child Ego State: Freedom to express thoughts, beliefs, feelings, encouragement and feelings of self-worth.
Part 2. Anger—Whether directed at yourself or another person, anger is an emotion that can easily cause strain in a marriage. When anger is misdirected at our spouses, we consequently point our frustration in their direction and create a division between ourselves.
Here are the stages where anger can affect marriage negatively:
1. Passive Aggression: Engages in behavior known to upset (trigger) the other person. Examples include withholding attention, conversation or intimacy when upset. May deny that anything is wrong. May forget or fail to follow through on commitments.
2. Sarcasm: Makes snarky or “funny” remarks about others, causes embarrassment to others or engages in public humiliation. Tone of voice indicates disapproval.
3. Cold Anger: Avoids people, especially those closest to them, regardless of whether they are the reason they are angry. Will not discuss emotional issues.
4. Hostility: Visibly upset, frustrated or annoyed. Snappy and shows anger with a raised voice or impatience.
5. Aggression: Shouting, verbally or physically abusive and name-calling are obvious signs of aggressive and dangerous anger.
As is his plan, Hashem gives us a second chance to heal our childhood pain, often by sending us a partner like the parent/s you had the most difficulty with. Through the partner, we play out those issues in the marital relationship. The unconscious guides you to this person for the purpose of healing. In this way we can get beneath the surface, and complete unfinished business from the past.
It seems that Noam is stuck in a Parent/Child conflict. The brain does what is familiar, where his Ego State has interpreted his role of protector of the child as that of a punishing disciplinarian. It seems for now he uses Passive Aggression, but in time he may use all the stages of anger.
Dina, your Child Ego State needs are triggered by the lack of childhood support, self-worth, caring with positive, unconditional love, something that Noam for the most cannot give you since he is preoccupied in a hostile Parent Ego State.
Insight is not enough. A couple’s awareness, through discussing these triggers, can be helpful to dissect some of the misunderstanding and hurt feelings. Yet when the brain does not feel safe, the stress response is activated, the amygdala’s signals can influence and dominate brain functioning on all levels, something described by renowned neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux as a hostile takeover of consciousness by emotions.
I find that this situation calls for both hypnotherapy and cognitive fusion. Cognitive therapy to communicate with the brain’s prefrontal cortex that allows the brakes to be pushed on both Dina’s and Noam’s impulsivity, and hypnosis to calm Dina’ and Noam’ s overactive amygdala, the alarm bell with its induced anxious, emotional reactions.
B”H I find that as the unconscious mind begins to heal, so does the conscious marriage. This way they can learn the communication skills in building shalom bayit.
Moishe Herskowitz, M.S. LCSW, CH is a couples and marital hypnotherapist. He is the director of How We Communicate PLLC, a 12-step program for healing couples in crisis, and founder of Cable Therapy, which uses hypnotherapy and energy as a cable for couples to reconnect. He can be reached at 718.404.2344, mherskowitz.com, howwecommunicate.info, and [email protected]