Nancy B’s whirlwind romance – just ten months from first date to marriage – didn’t give her enough time to really get to know to her husband. Had she waited a little while longer she might have seen his fears and panic attacks which really came to define how they lived their life. Here’s Nancy B:
He was a very, very fearful person. When I was forty years old, he’d had a form of a breakdown. It was actually on my fortieth birthday, cancelled party and all that. I had to take him to a psych hospital and here I have my daughter in her little foldup stroller, she’s like three years old, or not even that. He had a lot of fears and over the years, our lives became more and more centered around those fears.
When we got married, I had a career, but he didn’t want me to travel. I was in public relations and there’s almost always traveling. I worked for an agency. I traveled all over the country, I traveled throughout Canada, to Hong Kong, Japan, all over. He didn’t want me to travel because he couldn’t be alone, or he felt he couldn’t be alone, he believed that. So I gave up my job and I was a stay-at-home mom. I started my own business, a baby products company. It was more of an avocation rather than a big money-maker. I think he always liked that, that he was the breadwinner. It gave him the sense that he could keep me there because of the money.
Our life became smaller. He was very afraid of being alone because he had panic attacks. He had it in his mind that he could not stay alone overnight by himself, that he would die. Things kind of came to a head on the day when I turned forty and I said, “You have to get medication.”
When we first got married, there weren’t a lot of medications, but by this time, there were things starting to come out, and I said, “You have to get some help.” So he did find a psychiatrist and he found a psychologist and got on some meds. Things did improve, but he never could get over the fact that he could not stay alone, and he really, really believed that.
So I could never take my daughter and fly to see my parents or go on a mother-daughter weekend…we always had to be there for him. If I went some place, then he’d have to have a member of his family come and stay with him. It was that bad.
There was a lot of shame associated with my marriage and secret-keeping. My husband didn’t want anyone to know of his panic attacks and his fear of staying alone so we were always making up excuses with friends and some family members. I found out much later that he would tell the people at work that he couldn’t go on the annual golf trip with all the other top managers because I wouldn’t let him. So everyone at work thought that I was a controlling witch.
I would make up things to my friends about why I couldn’t go on the girl scout camp out with my daughter or on the girls getaway to San Francisco. I regret that a lot because I’m sure that my daughter picked up on it and big secrets and lies are never good.
I should also mention that my sister and I had lived together for seven years when we were single. My sister also suffered from panic attacks and had agoraphobia. Four years ago she had a complete breakdown, but is doing better today — she never wanted to talk about her panic issues either but when she finally did that is when she began to feel better! It’s ironic that two people so close to me had very similar issues. I was caregiver to both. Co-dependency on my part, I’m sure.
I think the treatment helped him initially, but he was never able to get over that big fear, the big elephant in the corner. He just kept seeing this same therapist for the next fifteen years, and I kept saying,
“This guy isn’t helping you. We live in the LA area, therapists are a dime a dozen, I don’t care how much it costs, go find someone who can help you…you have to get over this fear, do it for yourself, don’t do it for me,” although it was impinging on my life too.
He never would and never would, and never would, and finally I couldn’t stand it anymore. I could see that my daughter was getting ready to be launched. I wanted to travel, I wanted to go and do fun things, and he just had too many fears. So when she was gone for four days on a school trip or something and I told him,
“I can’t do this anymore.”
It was pretty awful. The next eighteen months were like out of a bad movie, a bad Lifetime movie.
The Divorce Coach Says
It is tempting to think that had Nancy B waited longer she might have seen the panic attacks and might have had second thoughts about committing to marriage. Of course, we’ll never know and that would have, could have, should have thinking isn’t helpful in the healing process. Quite possibly it would have made no difference – given Nancy B’s knowledge and experience with anxiety from living with her sister, she may have had a higher level of tolerance for the condition and as Nancy B said in the first post, she really wanted to be married. With that mindset, it’s all too easy to discount red flags or to think you’ll be able to change the other person.
It’s very telling that Nancy B was collaborating with her husband in keeping his illness secret. In a dating program I did, – one of the questions on a checklist for compatibility was,
“Have I made excuses for this person to my family/friends?”
This is a very powerful question. Not only does it apply in a dating situation but also to a marriage. If you answer yes to this, then you have work to do. What are you making excuses for? Why are you making excuses? What if you stopped making excuses and shared the truth? What if you told your friends the real reason why you couldn’t come or you were late or why your spouse didn’t come? Have you talked to your spouse about this?
I know I made excuses for my ex and I did that because I was embarrassed by his behavior, I thought it reflected badly on me and probably because if I made an excuse and covered it up, it meant I didn’t have to confront it either.
Have you made excuses for your spouse?
Photo credit: marcn