Pushback is inherent to the reconciliation process. It can be very disturbing and even quite hurtful when it occurs, and indeed it can be very painful to endure. You simply have to be willing to suffer some pushback if you are in a distressed marriage, and have an obstinate spouse whom you are trying to sway in the direction of reconciliation.
Pushback can also be enlightening. It can be a window into the obstinate spouse’s heart, and soul. It is a method through which the troubled mind expresses itself, and it often does this in very transparent ways. If you understand what pushback looks like, then you can experience it with a calm detachment and sense of compassion that will allow you to endure — and you will need endurance to get yourself to the finish line.
Yesterday was Wednesday, and with every Wednesday comes professional commitments that bring my wife into town for about 36 hours or so. By now I know her rhythms and can largely anticipate her movements. She typically arrives around 9:00 a.m., when the adulterer drops her off at the home of a colleague with whom she stays when in town. This colleague is an older, single lady who commands a six-figure income, yet lives in a tiny, drab little house in a somewhat questionable neighborhood. She has a dingy little basement apartment, furnished with only a bed, in which my wife spends one night per week.
She seems to spend the morning doing frivolous things, like sitting in cafés, drinking coffee and surfing the net. She might have some lunch and then go shopping. Then, she will do a bit of teaching and then go to an evening rehearsal. This wraps up quite late, and she will have someone drive her back to the colleague’s place, where she will spend a depressing evening all alone in that dingy, dank basement, watching the ceiling lights flicker. The next morning will also be spent with frivolous activities, as will the early afternoon, then she will teach a bit in the late afternoon. After this, she will be picked up by the adulterer and driven back to his house out in the boonies 40 miles north of here.
These are her movements as best as I’ve been able to reconstruct them from six months of observation.
Yesterday proved to be no different. She arrived in the morning, and texted me a bit before 11:00 a.m. to ask me to drop the dog off for her week of custody. She claimed in her text to be busy all day and to have no time to see me. I called her back immediately; it went straight to voice mail, and I left her a message asking her to call me back. I also texted a response that said “Please call me ASAP.” I had some tax documents she knew about that needed to be signed, and I needed to get that taken care of without fail.
I then got a call from a client, and during the middle of that call my wife called me back. I returned her call when I got off that call with the client. She was clearly in some sort of public location, and began to prevaricate about how she was busy and wouldn’t be able to see me. I told her about the documents, and she then did assent to see me. We arranged to meet at a shopping center a couple of hours later, as I’d be heading in that direction on my way to work. She also asked me to drop the dog off later in the day, but I declined her request, telling her that I felt uncomfortable dropping our dog off if there were nobody home. I explained this to her very thoroughly, and she understood. She then agreed to let me take her home from her rehearsal and to deliver the dog at that time.
When the appointed time came for our first meeting, I arrived punctually and found her in a clothing store. I greeted her cordially and gave her a kiss on the forehead. She seemed a bit off. I talked her into joining me for a coffee (tea, actually) and we sat at a nearby coffee shop for a few minutes while we signed the documents to prepare them for mailing. She seemed rather distant and preoccupied. I offered to give her a lift somewhere, and she asked me to take her back to her colleague’s house. I dropped her off and made my way to work.
Later that evening, I went to pick her up. I had to run some errands on the way, and this included picking up some photos I had ordered — old pictures of our dog when she was a puppy. These had a pretty high nostalgia factor and followed a specific theme. A couple of magazines had come in the mail for my wife, and I knew she’d read them, so I placed a few of the photos at random intervals inside the magazines. I also had a grapefruit that I had collected from the shrine on Sunday that I would be giving her. I had told her about this in advance, so she knew it was coming.
As I sat in the parking lot and waited for her, I was reminded of a time almost a year ago when I went to pick her up — also on a Wednesday night, right around 9:30 — when I was going to unleash a torrent of emotional violence into her life. On that night, I had discovered her affair, and had resolved myself to kick her out of the house, and to pursue a divorce. But that’s a story for a different time.
She came out of the rehearsal and got in the car. I told her I was hungry and had not eaten dinner yet; she was also a bit hungry, so we headed out to get something to eat. She still seemed rather off and a bit distracted. While we were driving to the restaurant, she began to badger me about logisticals she wanted me to take care of, things I’d been basically ignoring because they would contribute to our separation. I more or less did not engage in this conversation.
We arrived at the restaurant, and she really seemed preoccupied. She would not even look me in the face. I attempted to engage her in conversation, and she began by asking me why I continue to live in our house, which we have rented for about four years now. She told me she was not coming back, she had made up her mind and would not change it, and that I simply needed to accept that and move on. She tried to convince me that it would be better to live in an apartment and save money. I did not answer any of these questions; instead, I asked her why she wanted to talk about these things when we were having dinner. Clearly, she was very troubled.
She then told me that she didn’t like having to shuffle our dog around from one place to another. She said she didn’t want to cut me off from her entirely, but that some other solution needed to be found. At this point, I said, “you know, there is an easier way.” I did not elaborate, but I was implying that she could just come home and begin to reconcile. I do believe she understood the implication of what I was saying. She then began to criticize me, saying that I did not have a peaceful life, and that I was very egotistical for not “letting go” of her. I told her that my life actually is very peaceful, and that she was able to make decisions of her free will. Not only that, but that she took a course of action a year ago without giving me any choice or say in the matter.
This is where her pushback became very transparent: she was simply projecting her own turbulent emotions onto me.
She seemed very adamant about her choices, and was visibly annoyed and frustrated as she ate her meal. I tried to engage her in conversation, and she asked me not to change the subject. She continued to harp on the idea that her mind was made up and that she would not change it. She complained that I call her twice a day (actually, it’s usually about three times), saying, “Do you think that’s going to change my mind? You know, I don’t even listen to your messages.” I did not buy into any of it.
Then she told me that she had received an email from the university telling her that she needed to apply for on-leave status, and that she would be assessed with a large fee if she did not. She had been told by others at the university that she was not eligible for this application because she was overrunning, and that instead she’d need to petition the Dean for an extension once she knew when she’d be likely to finish up. She seemed very concerned and this probably was adding to her overall cocktail of stress. At this point, I counseled her very thoroughly and rather sternly, since I know how these bureaucracies operate. I told her that she absolutely had to go on campus the following day and talk to these people face to face. Not only that, I told her to get all of this information in writing, and further to get names and contact information so that it’s all documented. That way, if somebody did screw up and give her incorrect information, she’d be covered.
The rest of our dinner together was rather tense. Well, actually she was tense; I was more or less fine. We paid the bill and headed out for her colleague’s house. En route, I tried to make conversation. I asked her how her brother was doing. Her response was simply, “I have no idea.” This tells me that she had not spoken with her family in quite some time.
We arrived at the colleague’s house, and she told me I didn’t need to come in with her. I helped her with the dog, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. She paused in the middle of the street, clearly wanting to communicate. She told me that she felt trapped, like a bird being kept in a cage. She felt as though she were some sort of zoo animal. “Do you know what happens to birds you keep in a cage? They die.” That’s what she said. She insisted that she would not change her mind. She told me it had been a year, and her feelings hadn’t change. Well, of course they hadn’t — she has been committing adultery for all that time, and her feeling pretty much can’t change until that affair has run its course. I told her that she took that initiative to “be free,” and made choices of her own free will, and that I was given no choice in the matter. I quite simply said that I am married to her and plan to stay married, and that I would always believe in us and in our marriage. This left her visibly quite frustrated, and she turned around, walked across the street, and into her colleague’s house.
I realize this post is getting quite long, but there are two main things to draw from this encounter. First, she is in tremendous pain, and obviously is having serious difficulties with her chosen path in life. This is predictable: any path that begins with an act of gross immorality is a path that ends in ruin. This pretty much always happens. The pushback has been occasional and has come in fits and starts, but has become a bit more frequent these past few months as her path quite predictably crumbles. Second, it is very clear to me that she is about an inch away from a breakdown. She is in an incredibly fragile state right now, and feeling as though she is under tremendous pressure. She wants to blame all of this on me, because it would be much easier for her to just externalize everything and walk away from it all. That never works, though. All of the problems, the pain, and the guilt would follow her wherever she might go. It truly is a lose-lose situation for her.
What also is a lose-lose situation for her is the aftermath of this conversation. I’m sure she has talked it over with someone. She probably talked it over with her colleague that very night. This colleague is much older and has never been married, has put her career before her personal life, and in so doing has never really had any successful relationships. She would really not be in any position to help my wife. But the real lose-lose dynamic occurs with the adulterer himself. She was sure to have been frustrated after this encounter, and likely to want to share that frustration with him. This news would only make him mad and impatient, I would think. Knowing that she would cause him to become mad and impatient, she could instead keep those feelings and that encounter secret from him, and this would simply cause the tension to build.
I know my wife better than anyone. I have seen her break down many times. I know that this breakdown is right around the corner, and could well be preceded by a blow-up. Part of me is just waiting for a phone call with the message “please come get me,” as I think it quite likely that she’ll blow up at the adulterer and he’ll throw her out of his house.
The other thing I know about my wife is that these pushback phases are temporary and that there is some sort of softening that follows. The last time she had given me pushback, it was over the phone, and she emailed to apologize for her behavior later that evening. This time, she didn’t apologize, but emailed the following morning (yesterday) to thank me for preparing the tax documents. She also told me that her grandfather had passed away the day before. Since she is a bit estranged from her family, I believe she had just found out about it that morning, as she indicated the night before that she had not spoken with her family in some time. Her grandfather was 92 years old, and in many ways the black sheep of the family; this story might be the topic for another post.
For now, dear reader, if you wouldn’t mind just holding my wife, her family, and especially her grandfather in your thoughts and prayers, that would be greatly appreciated.