Marriage Of One

February 18, 2014

Disintegration and being an asshole

Filed under: marriage,relationships — marriageofone @ 8:36 pm

We’ve hit what may be bottom.  We, by that I mean I, spent years trying to engineer our life, lifestyle and family setting so that Susan could get the ‘space’ she wanted, the ‘time’ she needed to ‘grow’.  For us to ‘grow together’.  At every stage I failed. I don’t say ‘failed’ to illicit either sympathy or criticism.  It is a fact and I actually feel a sense of stoic pride in having failed – because you can only fail if you try.  And I tried.  A lot.


Readers of this blog will remember how Susan’s reasons for (unknowingly) creating the Marriage Of One seemed to take many avenues.  Tiredness, lack of time, too cold, too hot, stress at home, stress at work, stress about her parents, stress about her sister(s) and so on.  But the one that came to dominate our life was her relationship with my parents.  And simply and fairly put, it was because they lived with us for much of our marriage.

If you want the full background, read the back story in earlier posts.

But it became clear to me about 6 years ago that actually my parents were just a part, albeit a significant part, of a large edifice of Susan’s mental and emotional persecution complex.  Thereafter I stopped trying to work with Susan and stopped trying to engineer our life with my parents.  It was clear to me that the problem was either not my parents and their close involvement in our lives, or that the problem had it ever been my parents, had long since moved on to something else.

So we moved and started to live together again, generally on good terms with only occasional run of the mill family tensions.  Until about 6 months ago.

To say it all came to a head would be understating it.  The result though was that Susan and my parents have now fallen out completely.   That is, no conversation at all.  My parents decided to find a new home. Susan, on one hand expressed her apologies for my parents leaving, but made it pretty clear in the days leading up to the altercation that that is what she wanted.

It has left the home in a pretty bad state because in between my parents decision to move out and the actual move was several months of passive aggressive posturing on both sides.  And in the middle I had to stand calm and dependable as a go-between between my mother and Susan to ensure that the kids got taken to school and had everything they needed.  I still remember in the initial few weeks when the normal chatter in our home first dried up – the children must have felt the chill in the house but probably wondered why grandma didn’t know what they needed to take to school or when they would get picked up.  Or why mum didn’t just tell grandma.  But because we didn’t know how long this interim period would last, we could not tell the children what was going on.

And it lasted a long time.  Too long.  In between there were excruciating family events like birthdays, Christmas and New Year, which for the children’s sake we just managed to scrape a smile or two together.

But the time is nearly over.  My parents will be moving out soon into a new apartment.  The children have been to grandma and granddads new home, and the move has been framed in a positive way.  It’s a new and exciting development, and they can go to sleepovers at their grandparents. But why hasn’t mum come over to see it yet they ask?  Susan has deftly managed to skirt round a direct answer so far.  What happens when they ask me?

How can this get better?

I believe it can – if and only if Susan recognises that she has got what she wanted and draws a line under the past.  She will then have to gradually build up a rapport again with my parents by visiting them at their apartment over the coming weeks and months and showing that she can still be a friend and daughter-in-law.  It won’t be easy because they way this has blown up has wrecked her own character so severely.

Will she do it? That is the million dollar question.  Remember that she sees herself as a victim.  That this whole situation and the unravelling and the disintegration is not her fault or responsibility and as such she has no control over it.  She is just taking control of her own life and preventing them from having so large an influence on it.

But here’s the crux of the situation as it stands today.  There can be no right by her.  She has loaded herself up with paranoia and anger.  She does not realise the damage that she has done to her own image in their eyes.  She does not recognise how much she has hurt them.  Her focus is 100% inward.  So if they do say anything she hears an inflammatory statement.  If they don’t speak they are being aloof or ignoring her.  If they show independence they are rejecting all that we have done for them.  If they show need, they are not standing up for themselves.  The red mist will have to clear from before her in order for her to see clearly what she has done, and how she can go about restoring a working relationship with them.

And that is if she even wants to.  For now her behaviour suggests that she expects my parents to make the first move.

I must emphasize now because I have skipped so much of the background to this post, that my parents are not blameless in this situation.  In fact over the years they have not helped things very much at all.  But generally they have been perpetrators of crimes of omission rather than commission.  That is, their biggest fault has been that they have failed to ever consider that their influence or presence could ever be anything other than positive.  They either naively believed or chose to believe that we were all one big happy family.  They just did not or would not see the cracks when they appeared from time to time.  But for the specifics of this situation, they bear a relatively small part of the responsibility.

When the crisis started I asked them to consider taking a more flexible arrangement to their lifestyle – perhaps switching between my sibling and our homes on a regular basis as well as spending a few months overseas.  This was shot down immediately.  It’s not a bad arrangement – this would still be their main home and I believe Susan would have been amenable to that arrangement.  Indeed that was broadly the reason why we moved all those years ago from our first family home.  (It failed of course on that point and in parallel our marriage nose-dived as well.)  But with my parents unwilling to consider a compromise on accommodation and Susan unwilling to compromise on lifestyle there could only be one solution.

When the decision finally came down to it, Susan went to my parents to apologise for her behaviour.  The apology came in the form of a rationalisation for her behaviour and consisted of an explanation of her need for space.  It may have had some element of regret, but I think her sense of entitlement to said ‘space’ means that she would probably not have felt any real remorse – nor would the apology have covered the actual trigger event which brought all this about.  I have to say she did ask me if I wanted her to ask my parents to stay.  I told her not to – we had already gone too far.  The positions had already become too entrenched.  We would have simply bottled up the potential for an even worse conflict later, and I was already seriously concerned that in the unlikely event that my parents reluctantly agreed to stay on, the tension would remain.

Disintegration II

So why did she feel she had to tear up the family?  Well there was that all-important trigger event.  But she somehow morphed that into a general problem: because it was affecting our social life.  And secondly (and presumably less importantly) because it destroyed our relationship.

So what has this done to our ‘marriage’?  Again, readers of previous posts will know that Susan is not one for the surgical strike.  While she turned her guns on my parents, she sent a good few salvos in my direction too.  So for many weeks I was spoken with only slightly more than my mum.  Just enough to keep the wheels of the home turning.  Over the months that has improved very slightly.

But Susan’s character has been rewritten in my eyes.  I knew she could get angry, irrationally so.  I knew that her rage could be a blunt tool sometimes.  I knew that she could expertly play the victim card.  I recognise that she had a fatal streak of entitlement that meant she always prioritised her rights over her responsibilities.  But the venom and indifference in turn that she has displayed over the past few months has been shocking. Her self-righteousness has not waned with the months and even today the conversation is fixed on just one topic: my parents.

If her focus was on the future, then I would have hoped to have heard something positive from her in the past few weeks at least, once it became clear the move was happening.  Instead the only ‘future’ talk has been about us getting a new house.  I agree – although my motivation is out of shame: I can’t live in such a large house when we need so little of it, and when it was bought specifically for an extended family.  Her motivation is to improve our lifestyle by running a cheaper household.  That may well be the case, but it that is all she wants why not do a course and improve her employability so she can earn a higher salary?  Oh yes, entitlement.  And she has no idea of our finances anyway.  She takes a passing interest in our finances once or twice a year consisting of a two minute conversation on the current balance of the joint account.

And I said one more thing to her.  I told her that there was no guarantee that she would have me forever.  It may be a week or a year or ten years.  But I would not make a promise that I could not keep.  So when she finally gets to the ‘after’ conversation I hope she remembers that she is playing in the Last Chance Saloon.


I’m an asshole, or in danger of becoming one.  Of course, it’s entirely feasible I became one a long, long time ago.

Susan occasionally makes an attempt to converse with me.  I mean converse about the problem we’ve got at this moment in time (i.e. my parents).  We have to talk about  practical or immediate necessities – the things that keep the wheels of the home turning.  (Although even that is quite difficult.)

I’m not responding though.   I’m finding it really difficult to participate and contribute to conversations with her.  She is trying a little small talk.  There is a hard and impenetrable shell around me that I know is there, that I know shouldn’t  be there, and that I can remove should I choose.  But I won’t.  That’s why I’m an asshole.

And I sense her frustration.

She’s made a handful of attempts to try to absolve herself of the ongoing tension in the house by repeating the line that she has tried to make an attempt to explain herself to my parents.  “But”, she complains, “I just don’t understand why they are behaving like this.”.  Um… perhaps because you kicked off this whole disaster in the first place?  Or because you’re not supposed to understand how my parents minds work any more than I understand your parents – you just have to accept it and try to shape your own life to your own – and our  benefit?

Anyway, I don’t say much.  I just agree or nod or make a non-committal comment.  My problem is this: for the past few months the conversation has not moved on from “your parents…”, “my parents and your parents…”, “it’s not about Karen…”, “what did you expect me to do…”.

Maybe I should take the bait and let her know exactly what I’m thinking.  But I’ve given her enough clues.  That she took matters into her own hands at the worst possible time in the worst possible circumstances.  That she undermined the stability of our home life in the worst possible way.  She apologises without being sorry.  Her argument is that she was not prepared to continue living like we were.  I still by the way, don’t know what she means by “we”.  Is it just a collective noun for all of us, including my parents?  Or is she specifically talking about our family – the children, herself and me?  Or dare I say it, is she referring to the holy grail – us, the couple?

A few weeks ago, she confronted me so I said to her that she needs to stop trying to understand my parents (which I don’t believe she is actually trying anyway) and worrying about the other damage that has arisen, and start to visualise what she wants from the “new beginning” she has intended for us (whoever that may encompass).  If she tried and failed to get herself understood by my parents, then it implies that only time will heal or mend the rift and she needs to stop trying to fix it.  The damage has been done.  Move on.

She instantly countered that it wasn’t just what she wanted for the future – it was up to me as well.  I chose my words carefully: “Look, they are going to move out in the next few weeks or months.  That is inevitable, and there is going to be a different life that comes out of it.  We’re going to have to have to make something positive of it.”  “Yes”, she said, “But it’s not only up to what I want”.  “That’s fine” I said.

That’s all I said.  I got the feeling that she expected  a little more.

But I  didn’t want to say anything more. It’s not that I want to hold her feet to the fire – although a part of me wants that, I’m sorry to admit.  I genuinely don’t feel like talking to her yet.  For me to consider even starting the difficult dialogue to come, she needs to move away from the victim mentality and come down firmly squarely and exclusively on the conversation that got stalled 6 years ago – her and me.  Nobody else, nothing else.  The words she uses needs to signal to me that that change has happened or is about to happen.

My current rather loose plan is to wait until my parents have actually moved. At that point it won’t matter if her stuck record moves on or not.  I’ll give her a further few weeks to consolidate her ‘new life’ as she intends to implement it.  After that I’ll initiate the conversation, and we’ll see how much she is prepared to adopt a new life – or whether it will be the same old complaints and excuses – or some new ones.

In the meantime, she may come to hate me (if she doesn’t already) because I refuse to play her guilt reduction game.  And I may be the asshole because I won’t hold her in my arms and tell her that everything will be OK.

I have a choice of misleading her with false platitudes and reassurance, or of being  a silent asshole.  I choose the latter.


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