Going through couples' therapy...need support

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jedi_giraffe

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Going through couples' therapy...need support
« on: September 08, 2019, 07:05:58 PM »
Hi everyone, I am new to this forum and so thankful I found this website. I'll provide some background on myself and my relationship, because there is a lot going on here. I really am struggling and in need of some support from people who understand my experience.

I have C-PTSD from my childhood. My parents divorced when I was about 7 years old, but it seems like it was a process that took forever. My mother has severe mental health issues, including possible borderline personality disorder. There was one instance of abandonment that in recent years I'm realizing affected me more than I thought. I was about 5 years old and woke up to find that my mother was not home. I was scared and alone all day; she wasn't on her medication and was planning to go for a drive to calm down and be home before I woke up, but she got into a car accident. I ended up having to spend a night in a shelter and then moving to live with my dad in another state. My father was never emotionally supportive, was extremely critical/condescending, verbally and somewhat physically abusive. My brother was always bullying me and so were children at school. I really grew up without any emotional support whatsoever, which I've been processing in therapy over the last few months. My mom and I got closer in high school and I moved back to live with her the last 2 years of high school. I have distanced myself from my parents in the past few years due to political differences and realizing how badly they hurt me as a child. My brother and I have gotten closer, but he unfortunately lives in another state right now and he doesn't fully recognize how badly our parents traumatized us. I only really started to realize how much my trauma has affected me and my relationship when I started working as a child therapist with the birth to five population starting in 2016.

On top of all my childhood trauma, I also had a traumatic experience in college shortly before I met my current boyfriend. I met this guy and fell in love with him, but he was only using me as a rebound from his fiance who cheated on him. He told me that the reason he tried to have some kind of relationship with me was because he wanted to hurt somebody as badly as his fiance had hurt him. So that was definitely not helpful for someone with severe abandonment issues.

Onto my relationship: my boyfriend and I met in college when we were both 20 years old. We've been together about 8.5 years. He was also traumatized as a child; he was a refugee and his father abused him and his mother before abandoning them when he was about 4-5 years old. His mother was extremely critical and took out all of her emotions/trauma on him as a child. We developed completely different attachment styles, me being anxious and him being avoidant.

There has been a lot of uncertainty in our relationship over the past few years and we recently started couples' therapy to sort out if we can have a future together. I spent a significant amount of our relationship taking out my past trauma on him. I was incredibly toxic and emotionally abusive. He would distance himself from me when I treated him like this, which perpetuated the cycle (me feeling abandoned, him feeling overwhelmed). We have both improved our communication in recent years to the point where we can be completely open about everything that's happened between us. I've improved my ability to notice when I am being triggered and not burden him with that. He has improved at being less critical of me. We are best friends and get along well, have fun together, and have similar values, but our trauma has caused so much damage to our relationship. In a way we understand each other because of our experiences, but unfortunately our own traumas have triggered each other.

For several years in our relationship, there was also conflict because I was very religious and he's an atheist. I have since abandoned my religious beliefs for various reasons. However, this caused a lot of issues with regards to intimacy and concern about the future. For several years, I was pushing him to get married because everybody I knew was getting married. He was uncertain about marriage because he really couldn't express to me anything that he was feeling; I would shut him down and turn it back on how HE was hurting ME. Religious differences are no longer an issue, but I know that also caused a significant amount of guilt and shame for both of us.

We started couples' therapy and have had about 5-6 sessions. During the last session, we talked about how there is no emotional safety in our relationship. It was a really hard session and we almost broke up. He was the one who wanted to schedule another session sooner, even being willing to rearrange his work schedule so we could go. After therapy, I told him to end it if he really felt like there was no hope, but he didn't. I spent 2 hours crying in his arms, with him holding me and telling me how sad he is to see me hurting so much. We are still together because, like I mentioned, we really are best friends and would miss each other so much if we broke up. However, there is so much resentment there on his part, a lot of which he has expressed is directed towards himself because there were some instances where he felt he should have broken up with me but he didn't. There's so much hurt and pain and I wish I could take back everything I've done to him. I'm just so afraid that nothing I do will be good enough to keep our relationship.

I know some of this is my past trauma talking, but I'm so scared of losing him. Since our therapy session last Monday, this fear has been triggering me so much. I've had a lot of emotional flashbacks, been crying almost constantly, had trouble feeling hopeful about the future. It was actually the other day that I found this website and the description of emotional flashbacks, which made me feel so empowered because I was finally able to name what's been going on for me. I've felt triggered during some of my therapy sessions for work and let my clinical director know what is going on. He was supportive and I'm also going to talk to my supervisor tomorrow.

I just want so badly to be able to repair my relationship, but I know my boyfriend is exhausted by everything I've put him through. I'm trying so hard to fix what I can, but I'm so worried about him leaving me. He's the only person who has been there for me consistently throughout so many losses in my life, even when i treated him badly and wasn't there for him. I just feel stuck in this dark place because I know it will take work to get through this, whether or not we break up. I'm seeing my therapist on Tuesday but I feel like I don't have a lot of people I can reach out to about this. I don't want to overwhelm my boyfriend with what I'm feeling either, because I constantly did that in the past without considering his needs.

If anybody has advice, kind words, or other suggestions I'd really appreciate it. Thank you.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2019, 07:27:42 PM by jedi_giraffe »

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Blueberry

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2019, 12:45:22 PM »
Hello jedi_giraffe,

A warm welcome to the forum  :heythere:

I've never been in a couple so I don't feel best placed to give you advice.  Except that you will likely get more of a welcome here on the forum, if you put the first 3 paragraphs over on the Welcome Board. If you like, you can let me know and I'll do it for you, or you can do it yourself.

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notalone

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2019, 05:06:21 PM »
Hello. Welcome to OOTS.

I have been in marriage therapy. My situation is very different from yours, so I can't give much of a response from my experience. It is good that you are seeing a therapist alone. Really good to be able to work on your own issues and to process couple's therapy in your individual sessions.

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jedi_giraffe

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2019, 02:57:51 AM »
Hello jedi_giraffe,

A warm welcome to the forum  :heythere:

I've never been in a couple so I don't feel best placed to give you advice.  Except that you will likely get more of a welcome here on the forum, if you put the first 3 paragraphs over on the Welcome Board. If you like, you can let me know and I'll do it for you, or you can do it yourself.

I will do that. Thank you  :)

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jedi_giraffe

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2019, 02:58:28 AM »
Hello. Welcome to OOTS.

I have been in marriage therapy. My situation is very different from yours, so I can't give much of a response from my experience. It is good that you are seeing a therapist alone. Really good to be able to work on your own issues and to process couple's therapy in your individual sessions.

Thank you for the welcome! Did you find that marriage therapy triggered some of your past traumas?

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Anjulie

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #5 on: September 10, 2019, 11:10:19 AM »
Hi jedi_giraffe, welcome here. I'm glad you found this forum in this dark time.
I can feel your fear of losing him as he is so important to you also as your best friend. This must be a horrible experience.  When you can see clearly how you were to him because of your trauma and can't change the past.  :hug:
However, he is still there, and there seem to be a lot of good things and a deep bond between you.
I hope that you both can find a place from which to build this emotional safety.
Well, in my marriage (we trigger each other with our problems, too, sometimes) we established a time when each of us has equal time to talk about our feelings.
And when I realize I am triggering him (showing strong emotions causes him to fall into depression and helplessness, which is in effect a form of withdrawal, too), I have to deal with those feelings on my own, in my room, until it is safe for him to be with me again. So, when the first wave of feeling comes, I turn to myself and only come back, when the pain has subsided a little.
Knowing that I will not overwhelm him every other moment gave him a sense of safety and allowed him to stabilize more.


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Kizzie

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2019, 05:46:22 PM »
Hi jedi_giraffe and welcome to OOTS  :heythere:

So sorry to hear you're in a dark place b/c your relationship is under threat.  Most of us with CPTSD don't have that many people in our lives so the loss of someone we have a bond with is just plain frightening.   

I haven't been in couples therapy yet but my H and I are going to start because his and my trauma have flared up in the last 2 years due to various stresses (work, health). Now he's retiring and we're moving so we've been under even more stress, last month particularly. 

Like you we're able to see what it is that's triggering us but not until it's too late.  We feel we need some positive guidance to be able to come up with strategies for not letting it get to the point where we're in distress. We're also hoping that therapy will allow us to renew the positives in our relationship.

 I hope in the end couples therapy helps you to renew your relationship  :yes:

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notalone

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2019, 09:52:58 PM »
Hello. Welcome to OOTS.

I have been in marriage therapy. My situation is very different from yours, so I can't give much of a response from my experience. It is good that you are seeing a therapist alone. Really good to be able to work on your own issues and to process couple's therapy in your individual sessions.

Thank you for the welcome! Did you find that marriage therapy triggered some of your past traumas?

My trauma was buried fairly deeply. We started therapy for our marriage. After several months the subject of sex came up. Well, everything started falling apart for me and I started individual therapy at that point. Again, it seems that our situations differ in many ways. Because things have gone a certain way for me, doesn't mean that your path will be similar.

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jedi_giraffe

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #8 on: December 14, 2019, 10:23:26 PM »
Hi everyone, he and I have decided to break up so that we can each work through our trauma on our own. Our traumas have negatively affected the relationship and the uncertainty about the future was taking too much of a toll. We still love each other so much and are going to remain in contact. My question is how to make sure that I focus on healing for myself? How do I make sure that I continue the healing process and keep him in my life? We've both talked about the possibility of us getting back together when we're both more healthy, but I don't want to expect that and then just be let down if it doesn't happen. He wants to keep communication open, start with texting and then see where things go. I've expressed to him that I won't be able to just see him as a friend. The hard part is that we both are still in love and neither of us wanted this. We took a month break to try to find some clarity/solutions because couples' therapy didn't work for him. He is hoping to find his own therapist to deal with his trauma too, but he has significant trust issues (one of the things he feels he needs to work on). We talked and he feels the solution is for each of us to work through our trauma while not being in a relationship. I know it makes sense but he's so important to me and such a big part of my life. I don't want to lose everything that we have, because we truly are best friends. I'm trying to go with the flow of life and trust that if it's meant to be, we will be able to be together again with all the good things about our relationship but without the bad things (mainly the things caused by trauma). Neither of us is interested in or planning to date anyone, because we're both really trying to focus on our own healing. I wish we could do that while still dating but neither of us wants our traumas to continue negatively affecting our relationship. If anybody has any support or encouragement to offer, I'd really appreciate it. I feel completely broken because I love him so much and my PTSD regarding my mother abandoning me has been triggered by all of this.

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Kizzie

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #9 on: December 15, 2019, 05:42:11 PM »
Hi Jedi, really sorry to hear this but glad you reached out here for support and encouragement    :thumbup:  :grouphug: 

I think it's really quite brave (and a sign of good recovery already underway) that you made the decision to separate, especially when you have abandonment issues.  Also it's a big step forward into health imo that you both recognize it's your trauma that's getting in the way of your relationship versus either of you.  It's sad that we lose so much to our pasts, but it's in facing and dealing with all that that helps us to move into the present and look forward to a better future so bravo to you both  :applause:


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jedi_giraffe

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #10 on: December 16, 2019, 10:01:07 PM »
Hi Jedi, really sorry to hear this but glad you reached out here for support and encouragement    :thumbup:  :grouphug: 

I think it's really quite brave (and a sign of good recovery already underway) that you made the decision to separate, especially when you have abandonment issues.  Also it's a big step forward into health imo that you both recognize it's your trauma that's getting in the way of your relationship versus either of you.  It's sad that we lose so much to our pasts, but it's in facing and dealing with all that that helps us to move into the present and look forward to a better future so bravo to you both  :applause:

Thank you for your response. We spent some time together yesterday and it was like things were the same but different. We were still able to talk openly and honestly and discussed what would need to happen in order for us to be back together in the future. I don't feel like I can label what we are right now; I can't see him as just a friend or an ex-boyfriend. I'm trying to give myself permission to accept that and accept all the unknowns/uncertainty. I know we both have a long way to go in terms of healing. I think it will take us some time to figure out how to continue to be in each other's lives in a way that is healthy for both of us. I'm so thankful that we will still be in contact regularly, but it will be so hard because I know we aren't healthy enough to be in a relationship. It seems my trauma symptoms come out specifically within the context of romantic relationships and I don't want to keep putting him through that. I'm also so glad he was able to express his need for space even though it hurts. I'm trying to take things one day at a time and adjust to this new normal. I do feel hopeful that this will help us forgive each other for the past and rebuild trust. I know that even if we never get back together I'll still always love him. I'm trying to figure out how to focus on my healing and make that a priority. I'm going to therapy tonight so I know that will help. I don't want to be constantly dwelling on what it would take for us to get back together, because I know that I need to focus on healing my inner child. I am trying to accept that if things are meant to be, they will happen at the right time and under the right circumstances. I did promise him that if we got back together I would make sure that I am healthy enough to not  put him through everything I put him through before. I also feel like this helps my abandonment fears, because even though we aren't in a relationship right now, he didn't completely leave me. This is just a confusing and heartbreaking situation and I'm trying my best to soothe my inner child through it.

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sanmagic7

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #11 on: December 18, 2019, 05:39:24 AM »
i give you both a lot of credit for working on this process.  trauma is a demanding beast, causes us to think and act in ways we wouldn't if our wounds were healing and/or healed to a major extent.

i think focusing on and working thru your own issues separately is an excellent idea.  i've seen too many couples believe that if they separate for a while w/o doing the work needed, that they can get back together and everything will be different.  unfortunately, i've not seen success that way.  i do believe, tho, that recovering ourselves in mind and spirit can go a long way to helping create a new and healthy relationship.

best to both of you.  stay strong.  hearts can shout at us very loudly at times, but they're not always what we need to listen to.  sending you love and a hug filled w/ much support, strength, and determination. :hug:  and, welcome to the forum. :heythere:

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jedi_giraffe

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #12 on: December 18, 2019, 06:12:21 PM »
i give you both a lot of credit for working on this process.  trauma is a demanding beast, causes us to think and act in ways we wouldn't if our wounds were healing and/or healed to a major extent.

i think focusing on and working thru your own issues separately is an excellent idea.  i've seen too many couples believe that if they separate for a while w/o doing the work needed, that they can get back together and everything will be different.  unfortunately, i've not seen success that way.  i do believe, tho, that recovering ourselves in mind and spirit can go a long way to helping create a new and healthy relationship.

best to both of you.  stay strong.  hearts can shout at us very loudly at times, but they're not always what we need to listen to.  sending you love and a hug filled w/ much support, strength, and determination. :hug:  and, welcome to the forum. :heythere:


Thank you so much. I'm still trying to work on figuring out what aspects of the pain are related to my trauma vs the current situation. We have still been talking regularly and somehow the concept of being broken up seems to have helped relieve some pressure for both of us. We have already been able to talk about and process things that went wrong in a more effective way than we did when we were officially in a relationship. My therapist was also extremely validating that it will take time for both of us to figure out what being in each other's lives will look like. It's so hard because neither one of us is looking to date other people and we're still very close. We are both trying to keep the focus on healing ourselves while also supporting each other/staying in each other's lives. I'm trying not to create expectations for the future either way and just be grateful that we care about each other so much. We've talked about how even if we never get back together, this will give us an opportunity for growth and learning to love each other in a healthy way. We both feel sad and even a sense of confusion, because things between us are almost the same but without the pressure/uncertainty created by being in a relationship. We are trying not to put a label on what we are right now and just accept this phase of our relationship. I know this is what we both need and that it will help us both heal, regardless of what happens in the future.

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Buttonphobic

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #13 on: December 19, 2019, 06:24:23 PM »
Wow I think you are so brave. I've been with my partner 37 years since and being apart from her is unimaginable. Yet since she told me that she wasn't in love with me but still loved me, I've been dogged with abandonment, trust and gelousy issues all linked to her. As a child my mum used her love as a weapon that could easily be withdrawn, she beat me with sticks and left home twice (not coming back the second time). I'm now in therapy for CPTSD and know my relationship is the thing that can guide me through this mess, but that it's also the cause of my angst. Well done you, I wish I had the same guts

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Sasha

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Re: Going through couples' therapy...need support
« Reply #14 on: April 02, 2020, 09:08:23 AM »
Hey Jedi, how are things for you at the moment?