I have never been good at complimenting my wife or showing her appreciation. I have, however, been pretty good at pointing out her faults and things she isn't getting done around the house. I've gotten even better at letting her know about them. Over and over.
It's caused some huge fights between us. There have been times when I've punched a wall and put holes in it. I've kicked a garbage can through the house, slammed doors, and have screamed at her.
I've disappeared into the desert because I was so angry I didn't know what else to do. There've been times when I've considered going to the bar and getting totally trashed, thinking that would help me to feel better. Maybe then she would understand how much I hurt inside over how I've hurt both her and my son. Maybe she'd see my fear because I didn't know how to stop.My wife had begun to point these things out to me over the last few years. I mostly ignored her. If she threatened to move out, I might be good for a few days, hope it would last, and then regress again. This has been a constant and painful cycle for us. It's one that has gotten worse before it's gotten better. We fight. She holds grudges. Then, we talk divorce. It's been our cycle. One I hate.
Now I am in the process of saving my marriage.
The turning point for me has been in the last few months. I have seen the effect this is having on our son and his emotional well-being. My son wanted very little to do with me. He would get mad if I went to pick him up at the sitter's. He'd ask where his mom was until she came home. He didn't have much interest in going to the store with me or doing much of anything with me.
It really gets your attention when your son shows you people on TV arguing and says they remind him of home, or when he asks why you are arguing with mom all the time.
I came from a home where arguing was the norm. I had a very controlling mother who did everything for me and did not allow my father to voice his opinion. There was a lot of criticism while I was growing up. I was slapped often and screamed at by my mother when I did something wrong. It was normal for her to open the house window and scream your name when she wanted something or meet you at the door and begin telling you what you needed to do in the house.She called it "being on the warpath" and she would stomp through the house telling you what you had not cleaned up yet. I remember times when my father met me at the door and mentioned what was going on. As a teen, I would leave and come home after dark when I knew she had gone to bed. I spent a lot of my teen years at my Grandparents' home doing work on their acreage. My grandfather was a patient person and I enjoyed being around him.
Growing up with the criticism and bringing it with me into my adult life has created problems for me as a man, a father, and a husband.
There have been times when I have felt suicidal over it and have believed that my wife and son would be better off without me. It is a dark feeling to have.
With my wife's support, I have started taking medicine to help me control my ADHD symptoms and have worked extremely hard on controlling my anger. We have gone to marriage counseling and I am now going to individual counseling to learn to control my self-sabotaging behaviors from childhood.I have notes around the house from my counselor to remind me to compliment. I'm learning to control the urge to react purely on my emotions instead of thinking situations through before I speak.
I have also done a lot of soul-searching during time in the outdoors. I am a life-long outdoorsman. I have found that sometimes, the best time to think about what I really want from this relationship has been during a hunting trip or hiking trip when it's just me and nature.
I remember times when I've sat in my truck in the outdoors somewhere and bawled because I wanted my marriage to work so badly. I couldn't understand why I wasn't able to control my emotions. Why couldn't I just compliment her instead of criticizing everything she did? I've spent some time at work looking around at the guys I work with who are going through divorces. I've listened to their stories and I don't want their story to become mine.I had to decide for myself if I wanted this marriage to work. I realized that I needed to put the same effort into my marriage that I've put into my job. I had to admit to myself that I needed help from someone else. I've had to let the "wall" down that was preventing me from getting better.
I still struggle daily with remembering to compliment before criticism. I relapse often. I spend a lot of time apologizing to her after realizing that I was acting on my emotions again. It is very hard to retrain yourself to listen when someone is trying to constructively criticize you, instead of immediately becoming very defensive. Becoming defensive has always been my normal response. It's where I feel comfortable.
Thankfully, she is a very patient, loving person. It is a long, painful road to go down. I wish I had done this much sooner.
Originally appeared at The Good Men Project