Straws and categories

I spent a couple of holidays with relatives-of-relatives a few years ago before I broke up my marriage (deliberate phrasing there)- when I talked to one of them recently, a lovely woman, she commented ‘of course, that was when you and XXX were still getting on okay’.  I was startled by that phrase, as it just shows what a dysfunctional pa marriage can look like from the outside.  I replied quickly- ‘no, it wasn’t that we couldn’t ‘get on’, we always did, it’s more that I just wouldn’t put up with his behaviour any more’. We ‘got on’ so well that he actually suggested we kept the house on and shared it like housemates, as it was a nice house!  Doesn’t that sound insane? ”Yeah, we get along really well it’s just that he’s cruel and spiteful to me and I’ve decided not to put up with it any longer!!!???”. 

I guess there were two levels of the relationship, the visible day to day politeness and routines and the actual invisible intimacy, where I might expect to plan for the future, share our inner thoughts and dreams, support each other with what we both wanted to achieve individually and as a couple.  Where one would be aware that the other was having a particularly hard time and do a bit more than their share temporarily. Kindness. I even imagined that having a family would be a joint venture! Wrong!  In Eric Berne’s theories of Transactional Analysis (I think this is mentioned in What do you do after you say Hello) he writes that routines and processes can cover up the fact that there is no real intimate relationship going on. The fact that I would cook and he would clear the kitchen doesn’t make it an intimate relationship.  When I had bronchitis years ago it felt exactly like a big man was sitting on my chest and I was in bed for a month; he just got angrier and angrier about the fact that he had to cook. Relationship?

Straws. There wasn’t any one thing that finally made me see the light.  There wasn’t any ‘dealbreaker’ such as infidelity, gambling or physical violence, that I could point to and say ‘yes, that was the reason’.  PA behaviour is a thousand small cuts rather than one decapitation.  It did come to a head when his family moved closeby and I could see it more clearly- things happened more frequently- I’ll explain what I mean as I go on through my blogs.  In England we have a phrase ‘The Last Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back’ (not sure if you have that in the USA?).  So there wasn’t any big, final humiliation, but rather a collection of straws that in the end became too much for my back to bear.  I’d like to write about those straws gradually, in order to get them off my chest (back?!) and out of my head permanently.  It probably won’t be interesting for other people to read but I’m hoping it will be cathartic for me and I will add categories where I can. (??)

Categories?. At one time I felt that I was suffocated by his tiny dysfunctional behaviours coming at me from all sides.  How on earth does he manage to think up so many small, hurtful, thoughtless and uncooperative things to do?  It feels like a full-time job! I was exhausted fending them all off and trying to pre-think and defend myself against what he might do next. Something that I did find really helpful was when I eventually realised that he isn’t that clever. There are only five or six actual different types of behaviour, it’s just that he did them repetitively with different props.  Once I understood this it became less personal as I labelled the issues and I felt more empowered.  The earlier blog about the airing cupboard, for example, can be categorised as ‘actions to make sure I live in chaos and can never take charge of any area of my life’.  The purpose of this action (I guess)  is to exhaust me physically by trying to keep anything in order and emotionally, to keep me in a state of frustration.

3 thoughts on “Straws and categories

  1. ” The purpose of this action (I guess) is to exhaust me physically by trying to keep anything in order and emotionally, to keep me in a state of frustration.” Yep, exactly! Same thing with my ex husband. Had 11 years of chaos then divorced. Divorced and he still ruins my credit and has gotten me into about 60k worth of debt I can never file bankruptcy for. (student loans he had put in his bank account, after he manipulated me into going to school because I was such a loser. I used scholarship money for my classes, he pocketed and spent the rest of the money, try telling the government that though. Ha-ha!)

    These men are terrible. I’m beginning to think there are a high rate of these men. I got away from my PA/Narc husband then got remarried THEN ended up in a living situation with my husband’s PA/Narc father which I had to educate him on these types of crazy people. After 2+ years of living there we moved away… into a house with… you guessed! Two PA guys!! It never ends. Some may find your blogs boring? Who knows… you mentioned that in your post. But for people like me, it helps to be reminded that we aren’t the only ones… we aren’t crazy. Other people experience this too! If you would like to read about my FIL adventures, I’m at : I stopped writing in there after I moved out. I probably could start a new one with the antics my crap roommates pull though. :/

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  2. Cathy, you wrote, ” routines and processes can cover up the fact that there is no real intimate relationship going on. ”

    After only being married to Norman for a few months, I realized that the only source of ‘ happiness’ that I could create was by managing our lifestyle with the every day routines. If it were not for those routines, I would have had absolutely no source of stability or ‘happiness’ in my life to buffer the weight of misery that had consumed me. Even going to the grocery store with Norman became an activity that I would look forward to because it was something that we could share together. I went to exhausting measures to create jolly holidays just hoping for a few minutes of shared joy. Eventually, it became quite apparent that even the routines were not enough to sustain me and with the loss of hope, I couldn’t feel any joy in anything that I did.

    I loved my dogs, they were the only true source of joy I had in my life and I relied heavily on their presence as a distraction from the miserable life I was living. Routinely caring for them, walking them, playing with them etc.. became the only purpose in my life and the only reason to get up each day. Once my dogs were gone and I was left alone and one on one with Norman, I really noticed and felt just how empty and abusive our relationship was. I understood why so many abused women committed suicide after their children matured and left home.

    I noticed several years ago that my brother would use his children much the same way I used my dogs. He used them and their routines as a distraction from his miserable life with his wife ( she was PA and N and abusive) and our dysfunctional family. He used his children to avoid conversations with me and my mother. In other words, he would always shift the conversation or the activity to be about the kids. He hid behind his children and it really bothered me and was very disturbing to me. Anytime I would ring him to talk about something he would put the kids on the phone and have them relay to me what he was saying in the background!! SICK! It really angered me that he would use his children as a shield.


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