For as long as I’ve known my husband, Josh, which is over 20 years, he’s always had a hard time dealing with frustration and disappointment, and he is easily angered. When he gets angry, I find it hard to be around him, and I also worried for our children when they were growing up. Being subjected to his behavior during those times must have been unbearable for them.
Over the years, I’ve tried my hardest to convince Josh to speak to a therapist in order to learn how to control his anger, which, at times, seemed like rage. He always told me that he wasn’t “sick” and didn’t need to speak to anyone. However, around four months ago, his reaction to something that happened was so over the top that I gave him an ultimatum if he wouldn’t finally go to a therapist. And so he agreed to go — kicking and screaming. I did a lot of research, and, based on a referral from a friend, found someone who sounded gentle and kind and would probably be a good fit for my husband.
I have to admit that his behavior has definitely improved. Josh will get angry, but then I see how he takes a moment to calm himself and is usually successful. So I’m thrilled that he went the therapy route and I’m grateful for all that the therapist has done for him.
But here is the reason I’m writing in. After a few weeks of seeing his therapist (I’ll call her Ruth), he started talking about her a lot. He quotes her very often, especially when he feels that I’m acting in a certain unacceptable way, and he’ll say something like, “Well, if Ruth saw what you were doing, I’m sure she’d be horrified.” It’s as if there is a third person in the room with us, criticizing me.
He also talks about Ruth in such glowing terms. He’ll talk about how much Ruth “gets him,” how sensitive she is to him, how she really understands him in a way that I never did. When he talks that way, I have to say that I find it insulting and even demeaning—as if I’m not and have never been a very good wife to him.
I also feel as though I’m competing with a woman I’ve never met, who happens to be his therapist. It really puts me at a disadvantage and makes me feel insecure. So I’ve asked Josh if I could go with him to a session with Ruth, so I can see who this “amazing” person actually is and also let her see that I’m not such a terrible person, which is an impression that I think she has.
Josh refuses to let me go with him to a session, insisting that this is his private time that he needs and doesn’t want to disrupt in any way. He also won’t allow me to go meet her on my own. He tells me that if I want to speak to a therapist, I should get my own. But that completely misses the point, which he doesn’t seem to get.
So where do I go from here? Though I’m delighted that he’s doing much better with his anger issues, I’m almost regretting that I encouraged him to speak with a therapist, since it’s leaving me feeling like the “bad” spouse and somewhat alone. Is there anything I can do? Should I just call the therapist on my own and explain to her my irritation and dissatisfaction with the way the situation now stands?
I can certainly understand why you are now the frustrated one in the relationship. Despite all the wonderful growth that Josh is clearly experiencing, there is something wrong with this journey if it leaves you feeling worse about yourself, left out, and insecure. I’m disappointed and somewhat surprised that Josh is so dead-set against allowing you to go with him to his therapist at least once. Clearly, it would give you a better sense of what’s going on, but, just as important, it would give both Ruth and Josh a leg up in fully experiencing the two of you as an interactive couple.
I’m not going to try and guess what is behind Josh’s stand and why he’s unwilling to budge at all and step out of his comfort zone, even for one session, in order to allow you to take a peek into his private world and contribute something to the storyline. I’m sure he has his reasons, which may or may not make sense to either of us, but apparently his relationship with his therapist is sacred and something that he is not willing to share with anyone, including you, who, I’m going to assume, is the most significant person in his life.
I definitely discourage you from calling Ruth on your own. The main reason is because it would be a waste of your time. Josh is her client and therefore her allegiance must be toward him. She will not disclose any private conversations they have had and she will not agree to see you, even alone, if Josh is not on board. Right now, Josh feels very safe with Ruth. This is necessary in order for Josh to do the wonderful work that he apparently is doing. So despite your annoyance, you probably don’t want to rock that boat.
I suggest that you see if Josh would be willing to go with you to a separate therapist for couple’s counseling. You were once successful in forcing him into therapy — let’s hope you can be successful once again.
The purpose of this engagement would be so that you have an opportunity to freely and safely express to Josh how you feel marginalized during his jaunt in therapy and together figure out a way for Josh to keep his sessions private while learning how to speak to you in a way that is more respectful, appropriate, and helpful. Though it sounds like a lot of therapy, this issue is separate and distinct from what Josh is working on with Ruth, but equally important and worthwhile.
Should Josh resist joining you in couple’s therapy, which would be a real shame, I would suggest that you see your own private therapist. Besides being able to unload your feelings of frustration and insecurity, she may be able to help you frame your conversations with Josh in a way that will lead to better results.
I don’t think you should regret forcing Josh into therapy. I’m sure he is growing as an individual and will learn skills that will make him happier, plus ultimately enable him to be a better husband, father, and someone easier to be around. But sometimes in life, we take two steps forward and one step backward before taking another two steps forward. And, of course, to every action there is ultimately a reaction. That is what the two of you are presently experiencing. It’s great that you’re tuned in to this dynamic and recognize what needs to be tweaked now, before any unhealthy patterns take hold.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.