It’s not about me

Last Friday was Mi.Vida’s self imposed deadline to talk to his boss about getting a more significant raise to accompany his very significant promotion and significantly augmented responsibilities. You may remember that Mi.Vida was given this promotion at the beginning of the calendar year. For almost five months he’s talked about asking for a raise but not actually done it. We’ve established in our counseling sessions that Mi.Vida has (mild) disordered anxiety about confronting his boss for a raise, though when I ask if he wants to see Sara, our counselor (not her real name), by himself, he says he doesn’t need to. From what I understand, Mi.Vida has spent the last five months not asking his boss for a raise for various reasons: he doesn’t think he’ll get one, he wants to leave anyway so he doesn’t see the point, it would be better if his direct boss were there to support him (she was on leave for a while), he’d rather avoid the conflict, he’s anxious about it.

As last week wore on, I had a feeling Mi.Vida wasn’t going to talk to his boss about the raise. At first I felt frustrated and betrayed but as the day loomed closer I realized Mi.Vida’s reluctance to ask for a raise has nothing to do with me. In couples counseling he promised himself, in front of me and Sara, he would talk to his boss, but he never promised me. His failure to do so is not a betrayal of our trust or his love for me, it has everything to do with him and his issues. And with that realization, a deep understanding washed over me: so many of the issues between Mi.Vida and I don’t involve me. They are HIS issues and they have little to do with our relationship. It’s an incredibly freeing realization. It’s also terrifying.

It makes sense that I made all this stuff about me. I mean, it seems, for all intents and purposes that these issues are about me, or us, because they directly affect our family. How much money Mi.Vida makes, how happy he is at his job, the standard of living we hope to achieve, these are all very important to our family as a whole, but they aren’t integral issues to our relationship. They are Mi.Vida’s issues, that he has to figure out for himself. For months I’ve thought that the answers to these questions were wrapped up in me and his feelings for me, but they aren’t. Mi.Vida needs to think about these things for himself.

Why is he not asking his boss for a raise, really? Is the anxiety of the actual moment really paralyzing for him? Is he ambivalent because he doesn’t want to be there? Is he reluctant to ask for more money, or look for a new job (there has been glacial progress on that front for the past year as well) because he doesn’t really want to make more money? What standard of living does Mi.Vida hope to achieve? What sacrifices is he willing to make in his professional life to achieve that standard of living? These are the questions Sara asked him to consider before our next appointment.

In the past I would have believed his answer to any of those questions was a reflection of how he felt about me and our relationship. If he LOVED me he would want what was best for us. If he really wanted to be a part of our family, he would make that work. Of course, in my mind, what was “best” for us and what would make it “work” were what I wanted for our family, or followed the compromises I was willing to make. But Mi.Vida’s answers to those questions are about who he is fundamentally as a person. It’s not about me. At least, the actual answers are. The only thing that concerns me is the steps he wants to make after he’s figured out the answers.

Mi.Vida has a lot of soul searching to do to figure out what he wants in life. Right now he is paralyzed, by a belief that there is no job out there that could provide him the money he needs to support his family AND the fulfillment he hopes to achieve personally. Basically he thinks he can be happy making not enough money or miserable making too much but that there is nothing in between. I know how he feels, I feel the same way. It’s a hard wall to come up against. But just as my struggles with this issue aren’t, at their core, about him or our relationship, neither are his about me.

This morning I tripped on a box of law books that have been sitting in our hallway for over three years. For THREE YEARS I have asked Mi.Vida to get rid of those stupid law books. Every time I give up and say I’m just going to do it, he swears he’ll do it himself. But then he doesn’t. For the past three years I’ve seen those law books (every time I pass them in our narrow hall) as a reminder of Mi.Vida’s shortcomings, as a reminder of how, even when he knows something is important to me, he still doesn’t follow through. Today I tripped over those law books and started my same internal monologue.

But then I stopped myself. Those law books aren’t about me. I tried to make them about me by asking him over and over to move them, but they aren’t about me. They are about Mi.Vida and what motivates him to follow through and do something. That box of books is never an issue for Mi.Vida, he doesn’t have to move it away from the wall and sweep around and under it once a week. He doesn’t have to find places for all the other crap that doesn’t fit in our house. He hasn’t moved those books not because he doesn’t love me or doesn’t care about me but because he doesn’t care about those books. They are constantly overshadowed by the millions of other things that are more important for him to do.

Mi.Vida and I are different people. I can’t determine what I would do in a situation and then use that same expectation to judge why he is or isn’t doing something in the way I would do it. And I can’t see all his decisions as a reflection on how he feels about me. That is not an accurate representation of things.

Our counselor (who I swear is pregnant and not telling us, and it’s really starting to make me mad) is going to be gone for two weeks. After that we’re supposed to get together again, the three of us, and see where we are. Then we both need some individual sessions and hopefully, by the end of the summer, we’ll have a general direction mapped out. And while there is a part of me that feels incredible frustration that it’s taking us so long to get wherever we are going, another part of me is grateful we’re at least trying. Hopefully, some day, this will all be resolved and the effort we’re spending now will feel so worth it.

But the trudging through of it is hard. And I’m tired. And I can’t wrap my head around the fact that we seem to have made so little progress while also coming so far. The whole thing feels like a constant contradiction.

Knowing Each Other’s Heart

If there were any one thing I regret as a blogger, it is that by the time I sit down to convey what happens during our couples counseling sessions, I’m just too emotionally drained to do a decent job. I think it is valuable to record them here, both for myself and for those who may not have the resources available to see a counselor themselves, so I muddle through, but I never feel I’m doing them justice. I’m sorry if these posts aren’t very insightful or well written, but I do think it’s important to put them out there, despite their shortcomings.

Last week our appointment mainly dealt with the fallout of our missed month of TTC. We also got some homework to do for this week’s appointment (usually we don’t go every week but this month’s schedule was weird). The homework mainly had to do with our reasons for having another child. We were both supposed to list our fears and reasons for wanting another baby.

Mi.Vida went first, relaying his fears. Interestingly (to me) Mi.Vida’s biggest fears center around TTC. He’s worried it’s going to be difficult for me again and that–as he’s already stretched so thin–he won’t have enough support to give me when I’m floundering. He also worries that prescribed sex will make him resentful. He fears the whole ordeal will be as brutal and heart wrenching as it was the first time. I don’t blame him for his concerns. They are all very valid and understandable, especially given what we went through the first time. I wasn’t surprised to hear his fears but it was still powerful to acknowledge them. I hope I can remember them as we move forward and do whatever I can to make this a positive experience for him.

My fears were more based in the challenges of TTC, possible loss, pregnancy and infancy all while managing a toddler. Basically I’m worried about how I’ll navigate all the difficulties of trying to conceive, dealing with a loss (if we have one), the exhaustion, nausea and discomfort of a pregnancy and then the sleep deprivation and hormonal swings (not to mention breastfeeding struggles) of the newborn months, all with an energetic toddler in tow. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to manage it all, especially not while I’m working full time. It just seems like too much. And after watching our relationship crumble under the weight of one child, I’m terrified of what two will do to us. I worry for Mi.Vida’s happiness and my own sanity.

Next we presented the reasons why we do want to have another child. Mi.Vida’s were all expressed with heartfelt sincerity and I appreciated them very much. He mentioned how much he loves being a father, how he appreciates the challenges of parenthood even if they sometimes feel overwhelming; while he misses the lazy carefree existence of life without kids he also values all he accomplishes as a father. He says he loves the connection he has with Isa and looks forward to nurturing a similarly fulfilling relationship with another child. He also says, for all its nuanced complexities, that parenthood has brought us closer together and he wants to build our family knowing that we, as a couple, will grow too.

I have to admit, every single one of Mi.Vida’s reasons for having another child surprised me and not just because they were so thoughtful and well articulated. I didn’t realize how much he valued fatherhood and its challenges. I didn’t realize how much joy he took in his relationship with our daughter. I didn’t know much he really, truly loved his new role as dad. And I definitely didn’t recognize his belief that we have become stronger through all of this. Hearing his reasons was a eyeopening indeed.

In the wake of Mi.Vida’s reasons for wanting another child, mine felt incredible pragmatic. I want Isa to have a sibling, and I hope they will be close as my sister and I were. I want to have another child, experience the connection I have Isa with someone else. I want to know what it’s like to love someone else like I love her, to have that bond with two people instead of just one. I want to experience pregnancy and child birth again (well, really just those precious hours after childbirth would be fine). I also hope to learn more about myself by parenting another child; the lessons Isa teaches me are more relevant and profound than any others I’ve ever learned. I also want to see who we, together, can bring into the world. I know we are so lucky to be able to have biological children–a mixture of the two of us–and I want to meet another person that is borne of our love and commitment to each other, almost more so since it’s become so hard won.

Sharing our pro and con lists for having another child was a powerful exercise. I think for the first time we really understand where the other person is coming from. I hope that knowing each other’s hearts will help us moving forward, that we will be able to show each other more empathy and compassion, that we will be able to give each other more support. I also hope it will aid us having more faith in ourselves as a couple, in believing we can do this, despite the struggles we’ll surely face.

Exorcising Some Dark Shit

As you might have noticed, I’ve been a little absent from this space lately. One reason is I have been working on my new space, which I’m really starting to love. But the bigger reason is I just haven’t had that much to say here. Or better said, there isn’t much I’ve wanted to say here, because there definitely is shit to say.

Last weekend was hard for me. I found out some family friends (really they are Mi.Vida’s friends), are having another baby. Their children will be exactly two years apart. Oh, and they will be visiting us in June, when she is 8 months pregnant.

It really upset me.

A lot.

It isn’t even that she got pregnant easily again (I’m assuming this but at a perfect two year distance I’m pretty sure it’s a correct assumption). It isn’t even that they have never and will never have to deal with loss. It’s not even that they both have great jobs, which they love and which make them great money, or that they own a wonderful house, and are living the lives they have always dreamed of, that they always wanted.

What bothered me is all they HAVEN’T had to deal with. What bothered me is that they HAVEN’T had to deal with loss or struggled with TTC. They haven’t had to fight about if and when to have another child because one partner wasn’t sure or there wasn’t enough money. They haven’t had to wonder if they’d ever make enough to expand their family. They haven’t had to wonder if they could even build their family if they ever did manage to make enough. They haven’t had to go to couples counseling for six months to negotiate when to have another child, to tediously cobble together a treatise on family building. They haven’t had to ponder a future at a job they hate. They haven’t had to give up their creative dreams to just barely but not really support their family. They haven’t had to do ANY of those things.

And of course, I would never wish they’d had to.

Ultimately, me being upset has nothing to do with their (seemingly) picture-perfect lives. Actually it has everything to do with my not picture-perfect life. It has everything to do with the fact that, for me, there is no “haven’t” in any of the above sentences.

Turns out I’m still having a hard time coming to terms with a lot of aspects of my life. I envisioned it a certain way and it’s not that way. I still have to struggle for so many things I expected to take for granted. And I’m still upset about it. Bitter even.

And I know I have SO MUCH. And I know SO MANY struggle more than me. Have lost more than I have lost. Feel deeper pain than I feel. (Yes, I know there is no pain olympics but I also KNOW that many, many, MANY people suffer more than I do). I know that in many ways I live a charmed life. I know that people reading this probably think I live a charmed life and that I have no reason to complain. I’m sure to some I look like a real housewife of insert-expensive-place-here bitching about how one of her favorite nannies wants to take a week off because her grandma died and it’s just SO HARD to make my schedule work with that kind of inconvenience. I get it. But this is my life, and it’s hard for me sometimes (I’m really miserable at my job and really scared to start TTC again, and some other shit too).

Luckily we went to couples counseling the day after this person crisis took place. Our therapist helped us both understand where I was coming from and helped Mi.Vida give me the validation I needed.

So yeah. That is where I have been. And that is why I haven’t been writing. Because I haven’t wanted to write that. But I wouldn’t come back here until I did. So I’m spitting it onto this page and hoping that by exorcising it I can move past it and return to write something of worth here.

In the meantime, this is all I’ve got.

Family Drama

There is so much to say but I’m too hurt to say it. The last few days have left me depleted, exhausted, over wrought. I just don’t have much left in me.

The morning after I wrote Thursday’s post, my IL’s sat Mi.Vida down and expressed their intense concern over the methods I was using to discipline my daughter. They believed I was “withholding” food in at attempt to force her to say “please” (I have NEVER not given my child food to make her say anything) and that “time outs” in her crib were not only developmentally inappropriate but detrimental.

The whole thing tore me apart. I was deeply, deeply hurt. Wounded. This weekend, which was supposed to be really wonderful, and which I had been looking forward to very much, was pretty much ruined.

Mi.Vida went over on Saturday morning and spent three hours speaking to his parents. Saturday afternoon he relayed to me what was said. I had a very difficult time listening. On Sunday morning Mi.Vida and I spent an hour at couples counseling going over the whole thing a second time. I would love to write something coherent and meaningful about what was said but I just don’t have it in me. I’m too exhausted, both emotionally and physically, to recount everything, but I will say this:

– Mi.Vida did an impressive job standing up to his parents and defending me as a mother. And even though at first my hurt made it difficult for me to listen, I am forever grateful for all he did this weekend.

– Even though my in-law’s concerns came from a place of love for Isa, it was inappropriate for them to share those concerns, especially in the way they did.

– This was especially hard for me because not only was someone attacking the way I parent, but they were attacking the aspect of mothering in which I feel most capable. Also, the people attacking me were people I care about and am grateful for. Because of my in-laws’ willingness and ability to watch Isa I can go to yoga when Mi.Vida is away, we can go to couples counseling twice a month, we can enjoy the occasional date night, and we can get big projects done. Also, my FILs willingness to watch Isa four mornings a week this year has allowed me to work part time, a long-time dream of mine. These are not things I take for granted.

– Of course, their excessive presence in our, and Isa’s, lives, make situations like these incredibly difficult and probably do a lot to cause them.

– We have two options as we proceed. (1) Require that Mi.Vida’s parents’ address both of us with their future concerns so we can respond to them as a united front. (2) Listen to, and ignore, their future concerns in whatever way they choose to share them with us (this is possible because, currently, I’m not worried about whether or not they do these things in their own home, if Isa were older it would be different).

– Mi.Vida needs to be more involved with parenting decisions like these. In the past he has relied on me to figure these things out and when issues arise with his parents he feels ill equipped to suppor/defend me. He also feels he’s taken too passive a role in this aspect of parenting and wants to read more books and be better educated to both form and express his own opinions on issues like boundary setting and enforcing.

– When both Mi.Vida and I are feeling hurt and confused we may not have the emotional fortitude to support each other in the ways we want and that is okay, as long as we both understand what is going on. I wanted to be there more for Mi.Vida this weekend but I just couldn’t. He felt similarly. By Sunday night we both were able to come together and give each other the support we needed but Friday and Saturday we were totally incapable of that.

– My in-laws didn’t ruin this weekend for me. They did something and I reacted to what they did. I take full responsibility for the way I reacted and the fact that I felt my weekend was ruined. I do not blame them for my response to what they said, even if I believe what they said was inappropriate. I am responsible for my own feelings.

– Sometimes shit sucks and there is nothing to do but move through it. That was hard for me this weekend.

Couples Counseling: Making Progress

Mi.Vida and I had couples counseling this weekend and I forgot to write about it. I really want to document our couples counseling experience because I think it could be useful to others dealing with difficult moments in their relationships and because I want to be able to look back and see how much we’ve done and how far we’ve come.

At counseling this week we touched on the following:

– Mi.Vida admitted that he has issues to work through, namely his intense anxiety surrounding conflict. Basically he is hypersensitive to conflict and wants to avoid it at all costs. This is making confronting his boss about his raise very difficult for him.

– Mi.Vida recognized that he needs to carve time for himself and the things he wants/needs to get done, like looking for a job.

– I noticed that I struggle focusing on “our” time if we haven’t planned to do something earlier. Last week, when we planned to watch a movie I was able to put my phone and computer away and snuggle with Mi.Vida on the couch, enjoying the film. This week on Saturday, after Mi.Vida came home from seeing friends, we both mucked about on our computers for most of the night, not really doing anything and then lamented the fact that we hadn’t taken better advantage of our time.

– I also admitted that I would appreciate more planned family activities during the weekend because I’m sick of just tooling around the neighborhood when I’ve been doing that all week. I also think we need to practice parenting together because I notice lots of moments of tension when we each want to handle a situation differently. We solo parent a lot, giving each other breaks and time to get things done, and when we parent together we’re not as smooth as we could be or as we’ll need to be to deal with Isa as she gets older and more cognizant of what’s going on.

– Mi.Vida’s homework is to start planning what he’s going to say to his boss, line by line.

– Our homework is to spend at least one hour a week having structured together time (as in not just together in the same room on our computers).

All in all I am very pleased with all we’ve accomplished in couples counseling so far. I truly believe it has fundamentally changed our relationship for the better. I shudder to think where we’d be without it.

Ten minute check-in

Today was couples counseling. Things are good between Mi.Vida and I so we spend couples counseling creating preemptive strategies to deal with issues in the future. One issue that I’m already worried about is my growing anxiety about TTC. I want so badly for this go around to be a positive experience, one not mired in my fears, obsessions and worries. I so want this to be different than the last time.

I was doing pretty well keeping all my crazy shit at bay and then this 21 day cycle showed up and sparked all manner of obsessive anxiety, which I attempted to tame by compulsively researching natural remedies for my short cycles and even shorter luteal phase. I spent most of Friday night researching B6, Vitex and natural progesterone cream. By the time I went to bed my head was spinning and I could barely congratulate myself on not actually ordering any of the products I’d viewed.

One of the symptoms of my anxiety is to worry obsessively over that which I can’t control. TTC and pregnancy are HUGE triggers for me; they are situations over which I have no control despite being deeply invested in the result. The way I combat this is to exert control over the few things I can – by regulating my diet, taking supplements, getting exercise and charting my temps. But I don’t want to do those things this time. I don’t want to let TTC take over my life. That is why I don’t want to write about it much here and why I don’t want to bring it up constantly with Mi.Vida. Not only does it make him miserable but it fans the flames of my anxiety instead of squelch them.

Mi.Vida and I talked about this today in counseling. He was actually thoughtful enough to bring it up first, mentioning that he realized I was feeling stressed but that I wasn’t bringing it up with him. He also assured me that he wanted to be there for me, no matter what. I appreciated that so much, but also explained that I wanted to be more positive and hoped to find a way to bring up TTC only in productive ways.

With our counselor’s guidance we agreed that every day we’d check in about TTC related things for ten minutes. Before I bring up my issues I will make it clear if I’m looking for support or advice. I will then spend ten minutes, and only ten minutes, going over whatever is on my mind. In this way we can tackle these issues together without them overwhelming our relationship. It will also help me to reign in my wildly obsessive thoughts and hone in on or two concerns that are most important. Hopefully it will focus my thoughts more productively.

Our first check-in is in a couple of minutes. We’ll see how it goes.

Two steps forward…

This Tuesday Mi.Vida’s colleagues were informed of his promotion. In the New Year he will become the managing attorney at his non-profit. He’s known about the promotion for almost two months and while he was told it would include a substantial raise, he was never given an exact number. This was great news for us because our financial plan for a second child required $10,000 more a year from each of us. I figured I could make my$10K tutoring and giving private classes in the evenings. Mi.Vida’s $10K was going to come from his raise.

This Friday Mi.Vida was finally given an offer letter. His raise was substantial alright-substantially smaller than he had expected. All the plans we’d spent three months in therapy working towards seemed to be unraveling before our eyes. It was a difficult afternoon.

In the hours after I heard of the raise debacle I felt a number of things, primarily anger, frustration, despair and panic. I wanted Mi.Vida to march in there and demand an explanation. I wanted him to say that he would have to leave because (a) the compensation was not adequate for the amount of work he’d be doing and (b) he couldn’t support his family on the salary they were proposing. I wanted resolution and I wanted it now.

Of course even if Mi.Vida didn’t avoid conflict like the plague, he would never had done any of that. That isn’t his style and it’s probably for the best. I can’t imagine my plan would have produced the desired result anyway.

The next 24 hours were difficult for me. I lamented the fact that our plan was basically ruined, as it hinged on money that we falsely believed we’d be earneing. I feared the conflicts this would create, as Mi.Vida handled the disappointing raise, and eventually finding another job, in ways I didn’t understand or endorse. But really, the thing I was most upset about was the uncertainty. I was so looking forward to knowing what at least one large part of the next couple of years would look like; now yet another piece of our future was completely unknown.

Turns out uncertainty stokes my anxiety big time.

Once I was able to articulate that realization I felt better. Just knowing that the uncertainty was what bothered me most made all of it more manageable. I no longer felt overwhelmed by all of it.

On Saturday I initiated sex with Mi.Vida during Isa’s nap. Our joint “homework” from our couples counselor was to spend 30-60 minutes a week doing something we both enjoyed and to have sex once a week, whether we “wanted to” or not (you can imagine who that last bit was aimed at). We’d barely fit our first sexual encounter in the week before and I was determined to get the second one done as well (I’ve always been a straight student and I NEVER turn my homework in late). Initiating sex on Saturday felt like checking a task off my to do list but in the end I was so glad we did it. It’s true that being intimate can help kindle a connection between two people, even if one (or both) lacks the urge to do it.

On Saturday night I went to my staff party and told Mi.Vida to spend the evening with his friends. While I carve out time to meet with my girl friend he almost never takes the same initiative. I knew he wouldn’t mind going to my staff party but I also guessed he’d prefer to take advantage of “guy time” so I pushed him to do that. We both ended up enjoying the evening immensely and were happier to see each other the next morning than we might have been had we forced a shared experience.

On Sunday we went to couples counseling. Mi.Vida’s homework was to agree to the time line I’d proposed at the last meeting. I was sure that the new financial uncertainties would determine his decision but they didn’t, or at least not in the way I expected. He felt we were doing much better emotionally and that the financial piece would fall into place. He not only agreed that we could start trying in June of next year, but conceded that we could even begin earlier if things continued in a positive direction. I couldn’t believe it.

The rest of the day Mi.Vida spoke with sparks of excitement about finding something new. As a someone who’s never been a self started he believes this raise debacle might be just the kick in the pants he needs to make a move to something new and hopefully better. And while I’m still anxious about the uncertainty involved, I feel more hopeful about the eventual outcome than I did about the original (assumed) raise.

Two weeks ago I was wondering if the time, effort and money we’d been spending at couples counseling was worth it. While some days were obviously better, there was a lot of that “two steps forward, one step back” sentiment. I doubted any real progress would ever be made. It seems, though, that it has. I see it in the disagreements we have that don’t ruin our time later together, even if the issues haven’t been resolved. I glimpse it in the renewed support we show each other at home every night. I recognize it in the way we handled the bad news this weekend, in the honesty and acceptance present in our discussions about the future.

It’s true that we’ve been taking two steps forward, one step back. I’ve been so focused on the back steps that I forgot one simple truth – the final sum of that equation is still one step forward. It may take a long time to get anywhere when you’re making a go of it one step at a time, but you will eventually get there. And it seems, slowly but surely, that we are.