Marriage Story: From Cold War to Resurrection
“Our Journey Together With Benita A. Esposito”
In the following story, you’ll see how a distressed couple on the verge of divorce transformed their marriage in six months. The story is told by the wife. If you want to skip the details, scroll to the end to read about the breakthroughs and what worked in therapy.
The Wife’s Side of the Story
We started our journey with Benita just over eight months ago. Our 15-year-old marriage was hanging on by a shredded string.
I personally didn’t see any real good outcome from any attempt to try and repair it. We were traveling in a tight circle of repetition and we couldn’t get out. My husband and I were the absolute worst roommates on the planet. And to add to the mix, we had two children who witnessed our madness. There wasn’t a whole bunch of screaming, hollering, and fussing. There was no adultery, drugs or alcohol, lost jobs or reckless financing.
We suffered from something worse: silence. Our silent home suffered for year and years. It was about eight years ago when I started to notice that we really weren’t communicating – at all. Other than my husband talking about issues going on at his job, he really didn’t talk to me about anything else.
When I brought the issue up (and ways to correct the issue), the problem got worse and worse.
As we were juggling the communication issue, other issues in our marriage started to take front line with me adding fuel to an already hot fire. I started to notice the imbalance of household responsibilities, lack of intimacy, a hit or miss sex life, and never spending any quality time together. Again, after addressing the mounting issues, things somehow managed to get worse. So for the past three years, I joined the party of silence.
After a few years of the ‘quiet house’ routine, more pressure started to push in through the cracks of our home.
I’m not sure which of these issues caused the most pressure:
- My husband discovering and attempting to treat an A.D.D. issue (our son has A.D.H.D. but I was used to his issues), or
- moving my mother-in-law closer to us so we could assist during her journey with Alzheimer’s and a variety of other critical medical issues, or
- the additional financial pressure of off-setting mom’s living expenses, or
- attempting to deal with the shortage of college money for our daughter, or
- the invasion of the in-laws. They brought extreme chaos because of decisions my husband made regarding his mother’s care or their own personal nightmares, or
- issues with my job where my responsibilities affect the state of Georgia budget, or
- my brother who’s health was failing and was on the waiting list for a new heart, or
- my 73 and 82-year-old parents who are still working and running into difficulties in their company, or
- the death of my dog five days after the death of my mother-in-law …
We had already played touch-and-go tag with lawyers to end this entire nightmare.
The stress in my life had caused a number of stress-related physical manifestations. Migraines lasted for months and months. I couldn’t sleep for days at a time. My stomach ached resulting in ulcers. There were panic attacks, sciatic nerve issues and nervous system shock waves. I was on so many medications at one point, I couldn’t name them all.
About a month before we started counseling, I was digging up the number and address for my lawyer. The evening I decided that enough was enough, my husband told me that he made an appointment with a marriage counselor.
While I continued my pursuit of an end to the madness, I attended my first assessment meeting with Benita. I feel really bad. I rattled off non-stop for 45 minutes about the insanity of my life. I couldn’t imagine anything she had to say was going to ‘fix’ anything going on in my own personal little piece of hell. But we both agreed to continue to come to counseling. I believe my comment to her was, “I’m here until I’m out.”
Our sessions were initially for my husband to work through A.D.D. issues. About a month into the process, I decided to have my own sessions to combat a seemingly endless bout of anxiety issues – largely caused by his ADD.
The first couple of sessions didn’t do anything magical as we really weren’t communicating any better than before. We did not make the homework a priority.
Then I got q call from my brother that a heart was available for him to have a transplant. By the time I got my airline ticket several hours later, he was already being wheeled into surgery. I didn’t have a chance to tell him I loved him or that I would be there soon. It was a long non-stop flight from Atlanta to Austin. When I landed, he was out of surgery. Heart transplants take less time than getting your hair, nails and feet done.
I stayed for a month to help my brother with his recovery, and my husband agreed to continue counseling on his own. While I was away, our son went from being an A-B student to straight F’s in 30 days. He made multiple trips to the principal’s office and was completely out of control. While it’s easy to assume that he might have been worried about his uncle or missed his mommy, that’s not what happened. His ADHD medication had stopped working – completely.
Our first meeting together with Benita was a disaster when I returned from Texas. When I relayed my fear about my brother’s surgery, our son’s crazy behavior, drama at work, my husband took it personally and stormed out of the session. We continued with counseling, but we met separately. It was about two months later before we came back together in counseling. While we were doing our own homework, and things between us were getting better, we needed to be accountable for each other and complete our counseling together.
Within about six months of sessions, things started to improve. Now I felt like things were going to get better. We started taking the homework seriously and our communication was better than it had ever been – ever.
The stress continued, but now it was almost like water off of a duck’s back. We handled it together. As WE got better, the issues with our son started to diminish. The finances didn’t seem like a nightmare, our sex life dramatically improved. Everything got better and better and better.
While not all of the issues have ‘gone away’, we are talking about everything. Some old habits and annoyances tend to crop back up from time to time, but instead of the issues dragging through our lives for weeks and months at a time, they are squashed within hours or minutes.
The Husband’s Side of the Story (as told by the wife)
Dealing with everything that was going on was difficult and unmanageable, especially when his mother’s Alzheimer’s went into high gear.
Dealing with Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.) is tough because it doesn’t allow my husband to focus for long periods of times. If there is more than one thing going on (especially in a conversation). he starts to notice all the squirrels in the trees or the weird fuzz ball on the floor, right in the middle of a discussion. This can easily be viewed by me as indifference to the conversation or that he isn’t paying attention, which he isn’t.
Imagine trying to deal with a really ticked-off wife every day plus all the other stuff mentioned earlier, on top of all of his personal issues, then not being able to focus on anything in particular. Even though the issues with this disorder were evident to me, mister wasn’t 100% confident that A.D.D. was the issue. It was difficult for him to continue to want to take his medication. After a while in therapy, he committed to taking his medication everyday.
Then we started working on his wall of stone. He refers to our pattern as “east meets west – the Berlin wall.”
We chipped away at it little by little. Once the wall of stone was removed, he was better able to express himself and be heard. He could hear what I was saying and poof, we were talking.
Breakthroughs within six months – yay!
Once the dam broke, we started talking and couldn’t stop.
We have a gazebo outside our home where we spend most of our time. Getting to bed for me used to be a 9:00 – 9:30pm mandate, but now we are staying up until 11:00-12:00 just talking.
We used to hate coming home after work, and we now we rush home to each other.
Instead of having sex once or twice every six to ten weeks, not many days go by without someone getting lovingly “attacked.”
Instead of having to schedule mandated time to talk, we have to schedule time away from each other just to get personal stuff handled.
Instead of me going shopping every week just to get away from the house, I can’t remember the last time I went shopping.
We call our gazebo, our OASIS. We spent an entire weekend beautifying our OASIS with a new floor, plants, candles, and an outside tank of backyard wildlife (turtles and frogs). Now it’s just our absolute favorite place to be.
What worked in therapy?
There were several methods Benita used with us, but there were a few that worked best. My favorite and most effective tool is her meditation CD, “Journey Into Wholeness.” I fell in love with how I felt the first time I listened to it. I felt free, balanced and centered, relaxed, focused and whole. If nothing else, get the Journey into Wholeness CD.
Another helpful tool was identifying our behaviors using the descriptions of the Four Horsemen described in The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman.
My husband’s horse was the ‘Stonewalling Horse’, mine was the ‘Criticism Horse’. Once we were able to identify our horses, it was easier not to get on them and ride them into marital destruction. For the first week, I dismounted my horse, but he walked beside me. Then he walked behind me. Then I put him in the barn to rest. Every now and then I go and rub his nose, but for the most part, my horse stays in the barn. Once my horse was comfortable being in the barn, my husband’s horse found it safe to go and graze in the meadow.
I was on two medications for anxiety and migraines when we started our sessions with Benita. After about two months, I was able to function without my migraine medicine all around me (in my car, at the job, in my purse). And for the past month, I have been off of my anxiety medication and feeling great. Where mister used to watch as I went through my anxiety attacks, he now sees me stopping them before they take hold.
My husband and I swear to protect our marriage and never return to the chaos. We want more of each other and more from each other. I never thought we could love each other like this, but we do. While I’m not 100% ready to let go of Benita, I have a feeling that we are better equipped to manage our marriage on our own. We still intend to keep her close one way or another, and I thank God for her. She allowed us to see a way out of absolute chaos in our marriage. We both have hope that things are going to continue to get better. My needs are being met and so are his. I believe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I have a partner and so does my husband. We wouldn’t be able to say that had we not found Benita when we did.
Written by Sheila who gave permission to post this story. She says, “Benita, I want others to know just how anointed you are to do this kind of work and how completely awesome you are. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your help, love and assistance. (July 2012)
Benita A. Esposito, MA is a Licensed Professional Counselor who uses Gottman Method Couples Therapy, Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy by Dr. Sue Johnson, and Brainspotting.
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