Linda: When I first met Cynthia, she was in a mindset of hopeless and despair. She told me, “I just don’t trust him anymore. There’s no point in trying to work things out until Tom starts acting more respectfully towards me and shows me that I can trust him”. This wasn’t the first time that Cynthia had concluded that her marriage was in big trouble, but she sounded more hopeless that she had in any of the previous times. And she was justified in feeling hopeless. Tom didn’t seem motivated to do anything about his habit of raging at her whenever he felt frustrated, threatened, or hurt, and after countless unsuccessful efforts to try to do anything about it, Cynthia was convinced that her efforts to change her husband were futile.
Much of their twelve-year marriage had been problematic and since she seemed to be unable to change Tom, it looked to her like she had only two options to continue to tolerate a situation, which had become increasingly intolerable or to leave the marriage. Feeling like she had nothing to lose, Cynthia decided to try something new, something that she had never done during the course of her marriage: She stopped focusing on Tom’s behavior and focused instead on her responses to him. Rather than trying to get him to alter his behavior, then feeling resentful and hurt when he inevitably did not, Cynthia sought to become more aware of her own feelings.
She needs and gave herself the care and respect that she had been trying to get Tom to give her. When she was feeling hurt or frightened she gave herself the love and comfort that she needed, taking whatever actions and speaking whatever words were necessary to make her feel more secure. In standing up for herself rather than focusing on Tom she began to see that her husband wasn’t the only source of her pain and mistrust. The child part of her had felt abandoned and betrayed by the adult part of her who was so busy trying to control Tom, that she was neglecting her own needs. Gradually Cynthia came to realize that she was out of trust with herself for providing the care that she needed when she was frightened and hurting. “I was so busy trying to get Tom to change that I didn’t see how I was contributing to my own pain by being so neglectful. I had to repair and rebuild my damaged self-trust by tuning in and responding to myself rather than to Tom.”
Although Cynthia’s self-trust didn’t develop overnight, over a period of months it grew and deepened significantly. As her efforts to influence Tom increased, he felt less controlled by her and the frequency of his angry outbursts gradually diminished. The more trusting Cynthia became of protecting herself and provide for her own needs, the less caught up they both were in their destructive patterns. Cynthia wanted her marriage to work out but she knew that if it didn’t she would be all right, that she could trust herself to take care of herself. Trusting her commitment to her own self-care became one of the most important ingredients in the repair of her marriage and of her connection with herself.