Meanwhile, rage had been causing contention in my marriage for many years. How could it not? That kind of behavior takes its toll.
In 2007, Mike and I had been married for about five years and together for ten when things began unraveling. I quit my job to start my own law firm and he had quit his construction business to go back to school to get a degree in architecture. Like a lot of relationships do, ours had hit a lull. We weren’t very sexually active anymore; we’d grown distant. And then one day I found out that he’d strayed from our marriage. His indiscretion didn’t involve sleeping with another person, but I still felt incredibly hurt and betrayed. I was also deeply disturbed by his dishonesty, even though it seemed almost like he wanted me to find out.
After I found out, Mike began going to individual therapy for the first time. I was so hurt by what he’d done, but also wanted to save our marriage, so we decided to go to couples therapy. We spent our evenings working through exercises, exploring our hopes, dreams, and preferences. Little by little, some truths about his actions and mine came into focus.
“I probably wanted you to find out,” he admitted one day during therapy. “I couldn’t tell you.”
Wow, I thought.
“Why couldn’t you tell me?” I asked. “Why can’t you be open and honest with me?”
He took a deep, shaky breath.
“Because you constantly threaten that you’re going to leave me,” he said. “You constantly say you don’t want to be with me anymore. So I think that if I say what I’m actually feeling…you might go off on me. So I avoid those things. You scare me, Alreen.”
You scare me, Alreen.
It echoed through the room. Through my head.
Scared of me? The girl who spent every day of her childhood quietly terrified?
I had never heard anyone say that before. Then suddenly, like watching a split-screen movie, I saw myself and my dad side by side. We were both screaming nasty things at the people we loved the most. We were both threatening. We were both so consumed by rage that we were lost to it. I may never have said the exact words to my husband that my dad spat at me, but I was just as rude and mean.
I was in shock.
I had never seen myself like that before. I had only ever seen myself as the scared one—never the scary one.
I did not want the person I loved most in the entire world to be afraid of me.
Mike’s confession forced me to acknowledge that what I had experienced as a child had taken root in me. The lifelong effects of trauma I hadn’t addressed were twisting me into the kind of person I never wanted to become.
In fact, I reflected on my issues with Mike for a long, long time. I thought hard about all the times I’d flipped out over insignificant things. It was incredibly eye opening. He was right: I made a lot of threats and went off on him when he said something I perceived through a skewed lens. I thought about them all, and I saw how they would seem real to Mike, who came from a family of divorce, in ways they never would to me. I thought I was pushing, maybe trying to find his limits, but I never intended to follow through. If anything, I expected him to leave me and make all my beliefs a reality: that I wasn’t meant to be with a man who was kind and loving, and that I deserved abuse. After all, that was the pattern I’d always known. There’s no divorce in my family. For better or worse, we stay together until the end.
When I was clear-headed, I could apologize and acknowledge that my behavior was a problem. I could tell him how much I wanted to be different, how much I wanted to be able to stay calm. But at the moment, I didn’t know what a trigger was and had never heard about “triggers” in a clinical context. So while we were working through our communication issues, I didn’t know I was being triggered by his behavior because of my own past. Beyond my ideas about my fiery family and coming from a fiery culture, I didn’t understand why I behaved the way I did.
Still, my husband had spent a decade loving and accepting every part of me. No one else in my chaotic world had ever done that.
So I wanted to be better. For him.
Discover the full story and find the courage to share your own with a copy of my new book: Fired Up!