Podcast Episode 97 – Marriage Challenges & Feeling Again After Emotional Abuse

Jul 3, 2023 | Podcast

I’m Diana Swillinger, and this is the Renew Your Mind podcast, Episode 97 Listener Questions about challenges in marriage. Welcome to The Renew Your Mind podcast. I’m your host, Diana Swillinger. A lot of us have tried to do the right thing all our lives, but we still feel overwhelmed and stuck. I believe that you deserve to get unstuck and experience more joy, more peace, and more contentment. Regardless of what life sends your way, I’m here to help you renew your mind and make it all possible.

DIANA: Hey. Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode with Rianon and listener questions. And if you have a question that you’ve been wishing we answer on the podcast, you just got to join the Facebook group, the Renew Your Mind community. And we always ask every month if you have a question because, uh, we would love to answer your question here on the podcast. So, anyway. Hey, Rianon. How are you doing?

Rianon: Good. How are you?

DIANA: I’m doing great. Yeah, I’m good. I think I’m getting sick of winter, but I’ll, uh, just go to Texas for a week and get away from it and then come back. And then it’ll be almost over. That’s my plan.

Rianon: That sounds wonderful. Where are you going in Texas?

DIANA: So my mom and I are going to a town outside of San Antonio just because that’s where I found a pretty place to go. So it’s in a hilly spot. Wine country, I guess. Did you know there’s wine country in Texas? Who knew? And so there’s supposed to be some nice views. So I plan on doing not much of anything.

Rianon: That sounds wonderful. Good for you.

DIANA: And turning 50 while I’m there, that’s what I’m going to do. That’ll be enough work.

Rianon: No way. Happy birthday.

DIANA: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Rianon: Super exciting and hard to believe that you’re going to be 50. Seriously, right?

DIANA: Yeah, seriously.

Rianon: That’s awesome.

DIANA: Um, when 40 came, I thought, I’m going to hate being 40. That seems so old. And I was like, no, this is great. And then I was like, oh, 50 is coming. Oh, no. And then I’m like, no, I think 50s are going to be great.

Rianon: I love that attitude. I love it.

DIANA: Except for the wrinkles. I use a lot of face moisturizer these days.

Rianon: I don’t see any wrinkles. I don’t see any

DIANA: that’s because it Smooths it all out on the zoom. But, um, young people listening, listen. Moisturize your skin.

Rianon: Public service announcement.

DIANA: Yes. I did not moisturize my face as much as I could have. I don’t know if it make a difference. But anyway, that’s my public service announcement for the day. You’re welcome.

Rianon: Thank you.

DIANA: All right, well, let’s do our questions. We got two questions today, uh, I guess, right?

Rianon: We do, yes. And both questions today are about marriage.

DIANA: Awesome. I know a lot about marriage, good and bad.

Rianon: Well, great. I, uh, think these are good questions that are very relatable to a lot of people. So curious to see what you have to say.

DIANA: Awesome. All right, let’s go for it.

Rianon: Okay, so the first question that I have is from dawn, and she asks, how do I accept my husband’s answers to questions I ask when his facial expressions don’t match his answer. For example, are you mad? You’re awfully quiet today. His response. No, I’m fine.

DIANA: Wow. I think everyone in the world is going to or a lot of people in the world are going to resonate with this one. This happened in my marriage in the past, and I wrestled with it on many levels. In fact, I tried to just accept it. Like, what’s, uh, the name of this person?

Rianon: Her name is Don.

DIANA: I used to do this with my husband where he would just ask me to just trust him. Like, I’m telling you, I’m not mad. Why don’t you just believe me? And I’m like, you know what? Fine. Then I’m just going to accept your answer and I’m just going to believe you. And it still felt weird every single time. So I don’t know if we can accept it, but let’s figure out where it is. We actually want to go with it. First, let me address what is probably frustrating about it. It’s a situation that’s creating cognitive dissonance. It’s kind of a buzzword these days, but that’s a vocabulary, uh, term or terms that have been around for quite a while in the psychology world. And cognitive dissonance is when we would probably naturally be thinking and feeling one way, but we’re really trying to convince ourselves to think and feel a different way. And there’s dissonance in music. My son’s a musician. I’m a musician. A lot of musicians in the family. I used to know what dissonance meant. It’s ah, that one of those weird, eerie notes. Like if you’re in the haunted mansion at Disney or you’re watching a Spooky movie or whatever, and it’s like and they hit a weird note and you’re like, that’s called dissonance because it doesn’t land where it’s supposed to land. It feels off. And in music, it creates a certain mood. But in real life, when we’re having an experience where we’re feeling one thing, but what we’re trying to believe is something else, it feels off, feels weird. It’s slightly unsettling. It can leave us feeling confused or just like I said, unsettled. So that’s the cognitive dissonance.

So for me, I can speak from experience on this one all day because this was a thing my husband and I did. What are you upset about? I’m, um, not upset. Okay, you seem upset. The other thing I’d like to say is what happens here is and there is science behind, um, intuition and it has to do with our perceptions. I have not personally perused these studies, but I’ve heard psychologists talk about these studies where what we call intuition, which sounds really woo woo and magical, isn’t it’s? Our brain getting cues from outside of us. So when husband has an energy about him that seems like he’s angry, our brain is automatically picking up on that. It could be a micro expression in his face. It could be a slight variation in his tone. It could be that he’s walking just a little bit harder on the floor.

There’s all sorts of things, or they might even be more obvious, right? Like, when he went to put the spoon in the sink, he tossed it where usually he sets it in nicely. So some of them we pick up on our subconscious, other ones are a little more obvious, but we still just try to dismiss, um, but that’s real. So when you think your husband is angry, I would like to affirm you and say, I think you’re right. You’re probably picking up on something real. Maybe it’s not anger. Maybe it’s upset or frustrated or annoyed or, um, disappointed. It’s something there’s some unsettling emotion that he’s dealing with that he is either ignoring or shoving down or, uh, denying for whatever reason. And he might have a lot of good reasons. Like, I don’t think it’s good for me to seem upset. That’s not the kind of man I want to be. But I don’t know how to handle my emotions appropriately. But I don’t want to admit I’m upset because I’m not the kind of guy that gets upset. I’m a good guy. They have their own internal struggle going on in this us. But if you’re picking up on the fact that he’s upset, he probably is. So trying to accept what he says when it doesn’t match his facial expressions is going to leave you with cognitive dissonance because, you know, deep down, yeah, he’s probably upset and he’s either denying it or, um, uh, he’s ignoring it and not picking up on it himself or whatever.

He’s just not advanced enough in his own, um, managing his thoughts and emotions to really even figure it out himself. So what do you want to do? That’s the question. We don’t have dawn here, but I’d ask, like, what do you want? How do you want to feel when that happens? You ask, hey, you seem, um, upset. What are you upset about? And he says nothing. I’m, ah, not upset. How do you want to feel? If you’re trying to accept what he says, you’re trying to accept that he’s not telling the truth. So that feels weird. Probably acceptance is not what you want or acceptance is what you want if you look at it a different way. And this is a, um, lot, what I have done in my marriage, and that is I’m accepting the situation for what it is.

We have talked about this a lot on the podcast, Rand, and you and I have talked about it a lot too. Right. Husband seems upset and he’s saying he’s not upset. That’s what’s happening. Mhm, that’s it. I asked him if he’s upset and he doesn’t want to talk about it, or he would. So I maybe just want to get to a place of acceptance of that. That’s what’s happening. Something’s off. I’m not going to deny the reality of what I’m experiencing. Mhm, he doesn’t want to admit it. That’s the reality. Now what? Let’s just accept that that’s it and you can’t change it. If anyone’s been to boot camp or you’ve been in my coaching program, the very first thing we talk about all the time is control. Because we could talk about what you think, what you feel, what you do. But I always want to start with, hey, what can you control? Because you can never control what other people think, feel, or do or say. Never. You can only control what you think, feel and do. So why not just accept he’s thinking something that’s making him feel something, and what he’s doing is denying it. I can’t change that. I accept the reality for what it is. There might be more you want to do.

I don’t know what’s going on in a marriage when something like this is happening. For me, it was a wedge ah in our marriage because it, um, affects the emotional intimacy of the relationship. Because there’s some denial or some dishonesty or some hiding of reality or not sharing what’s going on within. And so I don’t know if this is affecting the marriage or is this just a once in a while thing? It’s not really affecting it. I don’t know. But, uh, if you can get to a place where you’re just accepting this is what husband’s doing, that’s him, this is his deal. And you release the responsibility of it from yourself because you have no control over it, it feels a little bit like a relief. And then you can decide, what do I want to do about this? Anything. And in some ways, uh, it’s a long game. It could be this has been going on in our marriage where he doesn’t open up to me and I want to figure this out. And it might take you months or years or who knows? But, uh, you can get to a place where you can create some relief for yourself so you can start making some decisions. Because when we sit in the cognitive dissonance of, well, he says he’s not upset, but he seems upset, and then we go, am I interpreting it wrong? Am I judging him? Did I say something wrong? I need to figure this out. Did I make a bad breakfast? Did somebody argue with him at work? Is he upset that our child failed a class? I need to figure this out. And then, uh, we just put ourselves in a thought spin about the whole thing. And we’re never having relief where we can decide what it is we actually want to proactively do in the relationship if there is something we want to do or not. Maybe not so many variables and I don’t know. Rianon, you have to tell me. Did I explain this in a way that is understandable because I was talking about some psychology stuff or do you have any questions on?

Rianon: No, I think that’s great. And I like that you started with trusting your intuition because I think that I would imagine that most of us have experienced this at some point and to some level more than others. But if you’re in a situation like that a lot where someone is acting a certain way, but their words or their actions aren’t lining up and, um, what they’re doing and what they’re saying aren’t lining up, if you don’t validate yourself, you start to not trust yourself. And then, like, you were just saying how that it gets that anxious thought loop going where you are trying to solve the problem. So I love that you just pointed out the control thing and remembering that that is on that person because it’s so easy to have all those thoughts, well, did I do this? Did I do this? And now your piece is completely gone. It can last for a day or days, depending on the situation where you’re trying to fix a situation that isn’t yours to fix. Um, so I love that you validated dawn, and I think it’s really important for us to connect to our emotions. We’re not always right about things, but at least we, uh, can acknowledge, just like you said, okay, he’s saying this, but he’s doing this. This doesn’t line up and what am I going to do? And I think so much more relief and so much more kind of clean cut than going into, um, that anxious place where you’re thinking all sorts of thoughts.

DIANA: It’s like craziness for me. It was craziness in my brain. And then the next time he seemed upset, I’m like, should I ask him if he’s upset? Mhm. Did I do something? And then I just without even having the conversation, I’m just creating the cognitive dissonance for myself. Every time I ask him if he’s upset, he generally says no. So he probably isn’t upset, but he seems upset. And then I keep doing the same thing again. HM. So I finally got off the roller coaster of that by making it my husband’s issue. Not much. He does seem upset about something. He’s probably not going to tell me about it and I’m going to let him be him and he’ll figure it out. He’s in charge of his emotions and if I did something to upset him, I have no idea what it is. So he’s a big boy, and if he wants to share it with me, he can share it with me anytime. And then we could talk about it then, right?

Rianon: And that’s really the only way that true change can occur for either person. But we can’t control other people. But if you want the best odds at that person changing, letting them take hold of their own responsibilities, their emotions, their thoughts, the things they do is giving them the best odds, um, of changing. So, I mean, it really is beneficial to both people.

DIANA: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m all for our listeners and Dawn’s, sanity first, right? And validating yourself and sanity first. But sometimes we do get in the way of whatever’s going on for other people by always trying to solve for them and help figure it out or help fix the relationship. And if they’re not a part of it, then we’re trying to keep the whole boat afloat. Mhm, and it’s exhausting. Mhm. So, permission to trust your instincts, permission to, um, give yourself some space by delineating where their stuff ends and your stuff begins and not getting it all enmeshed together. And, um, step by step in relationships, there’s no, like, hey, we’re going to solve this problem right now. This is something I imagine anyone listening who’s like, you know what, I need to think about this one. Uh, it could take several months or even longer of trying to navigate this to where it starts to make more sense to you. If we have thought loops and we get in our marriages a lot and in our, uh, close relationships a lot, um, all the stuff that we’re talking about just takes time. That’s okay.

Rianon: Yeah, absolutely. Baby steps. Yeah. Well, thank you for that answer. So the other question that I have for you is from an anonymous listener. And it sounds like this listener just recently got out of an abusive relationship and kind of put up lots of walls to protect herself from being hurt. And so her question is, how do you open yourself up to feeling emotions and tear down some of those walls in a safe way, uh, after putting up these walls for so long?

DIANA: Okay. Tearing down walls might have to do with opening yourself, being vulnerable in other relationships. Okay. And then, um, opening yourself up to feeling emotions. Let’s start with that one. So in abusive relationships, there’s no way to not put up walls to protect yourself because the whole definition of an abusive relationship is it’s not safe. It’s not safe to be fully me, it’s not safe to and, um, there’s so much pain. If you were to let yourself feel a lot of the emotions, it can just be way too much. And so a lot of people in abusive relationships will turn off the feeling a little bit. And that totally makes sense. And it’s okay. Now, coming out of it, let me just throw in this caveat.

Anybody coming out of any kind of abusive relationship at all, I recommend finding a counselor that’s informed on trauma recovery therapy. Trauma. I think sometimes we think of as like, hugely traumatic experiences where something really big happened and that’s trauma but any kind of abusive relationship, even if it’s very subtle abuse that happens over time, just little bits, kind of like pin pricks over and over, that’s still trauma. And so I do recommend that highly a trauma informed therapist, because these emotions are in there and they need to be addressed, and they need to be addressed in a safe place. So in addition to that, this is a tough one because I don’t know the situation, and it’s also a very painful situation. So I think the most important thing for this person is to validate herself. Mhm so she’s saying she wants to open up herself to feeling emotions.

To put that in a real time statement, it would sound something like, it’s difficult for me to open myself up to feel emotions. And I would say, and that’s okay. Yeah. Mhm, it’s okay that it’s difficult for you to open yourself up to feeling emotions. Totally makes sense. You were in a marriage where there was some verbal abuse and you learned to shut down your emotions and not feel like it’s safe to share them. And that makes sense. That’s valid. It’s totally okay. And having walls up that protect you so you’re not vulnerable, well, that totally makes sense. It’s okay. That’s where you’re at right now. It’s totally okay. Now you can do things to move forward, but it’s so much easier when you first decide it’s okay. Exactly where I’m at could sound something like, I haven’t cried for years. And that’s okay. I don’t even know what I’m feeling most of the time, and that’s okay. Maybe I’ll, uh, take some steps and be able to start feeling some things, and maybe not. And that’s okay. Maybe I’ll make progress on this in the next year or two. Maybe I won’t. Maybe it’ll come in ten years, and that’s okay. Wherever you’re at, I just can’t say it enough. It’s okay.

Because I think in a lot of these situations, we think, oh, my gosh, I should be better now. I’m out. I should heal and move forward. I’m out. I’m, um, not in that relationship anymore. I should be better now. No, you shouldn’t. When you’re coming out of an abusive relationship, it could take years or the rest of your life to recover or to get where you want to be or to experience things the way you want to experience them. And that’s okay. Sometimes this side of heaven, we don’t fully get there, and that’s okay. But we can move forward and we can grow. If listener anonymous listener. If you get nothing else out of it, out of this discussion, I’m going to say some other things, but this is it. This is the big thing. Exactly where you are today is okay. You get to have compassion for you. And I recommend therapy. And then how do you open yourself up to feeling emotions? There’s some practical things you can do. Um, and I don’t have a list prepared. I didn’t hear this question ahead of time, so I’m just going to be, like, rattling off, like, random things. Sometimes listening to music helps open yourself up to feeling an emotion. If you listen to a song that’s inspiring, like, um, for me, the Greatest Showman, This Is Me always brings up some emotion for me. So even if I’m feeling emotion just during that song and for a few moments after, and that’s it, I’ve pulled up some emotion.

Um, I wanted to cry recently, so I put on the movie Hope Floats with Sandra Bullock and Harry Connock, Jr. Because, uh, I always know this one scene in the middle when the daughter wants to go with her dad because the parents are getting divorced and the dad rejects that bid for her to go along. And he drives away. She’s got bag in hand and she’s screaming, Daddy, no, Daddy, take me with you. And he drives away and I cry. So looking to things outside of ourselves to pull up some emotions, it might seem artificial. It’s not. It’s just helping you tap into the emotions that are already there, that are yours. So that’s something you can do. Um, another thing I would say, and this is both with feeling emotions and tearing down the walls a little bit so you can be more vulnerable, is to purposely put some people in your life, even if it’s just one, could be two or three, a few people in your life that you can totally trust. If you don’t have them, you need to look for them. You need to find them. You need to reach out. For example, two people in my life that I trust very much and I could say anything to, and they’re completely trustworthy, were, uh, either leaders or speakers at some women’s things that I was at. And I had admired them for a while, and I thought, you know what? I’m stepping out. I’m going to invite each one of them out to coffee. And it’s not like I shared anything vulnerable with them at first, but they proved to me that they were very trustworthy people. And when I decided to share something neither one judged at all, they totally supported. And once that relationship was established, and if you already have a relationship like this, that’s amazing.

Try sharing one of the stories. You have feelings that are still in there that need to get processed, probably. But it’s also like feeling something in real time when you have a discussion with someone and you share one of the things that happened in that difficult relationship, share one of the difficult moments like this was a verbally abusive marriage. There was that one day when my husband said this to me, and I never imagined anyone who said that they loved me could say something like that to me. It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever heard. And you share a story like that with someone that you trust, you’re practicing bringing down the wall a little bit and being vulnerable. And then you’ll probably have some emotion from that experience come up. So it’s doing both. And I know that’s scary, but moving forward, you could listen. Okay, listener, I would say to listen to, um, I have three podcasts on Shame. You can listen to the ones on Shame because what we’re also talking about in my podcast on Shame is vulnerability. And vulnerability is very scary because we’re exposing within. And if somebody rejects something that we’re exposing from within, then we’ll feel shame like something’s wrong with us.

So the vulnerability and shame dance kind of goes hand in hand. So those might be helpful. But being vulnerable is trusting someone with something that’s very important or held dear by you, or is very much a little bit of who you are. And it’s scary that somebody else might not get it, or they might mishandle it, or, um, they might seem like they don’t care. But if that’s the case, that’s because of them and what they’re thinking. It’s not because of you or that there’s anything wrong with you. But going out there does, uh, to be more vulnerable does require testing the waters and taking a chance here and there. And as you do that, you’ll find some people, uh, that person didn’t get it, not going to tell them another thing about anything intimate within me, because they just don’t get it. That’s not safe for what I need. So I’ll try with somebody else. And that was about them.

They didn’t get it. That’s on them. It’s not me. It’s not because I did anything wrong with somebody else. So it feels very like a very important thing. And so I understand that. I’m not saying any of this, um, flippantly. And ultimately, this walk belongs to the person who asked this question. So it could be that anything I said, she’s like, no, don’t want to do any of that. That’s okay. You don’t have to, because where you’re at today is just fine. You’re going to do the best where you’re at right now. You don’t have to be anywhere else other than where you’re at today and what you’re feeling today and what you want to do or don’t want to do today. That’s okay. It’s okay.

Rianon: Just so wonderful to hear all of those things you said and just very comforting, I think, for anyone who’s been in that situation. And some of these questions are a little heavier, but we all go through some heavier things in life at some point in time. So I, um, appreciate you addressing them and being willing to talk about them and what you said. It’s okay. What a wonderful thing to hear, because a lot of times we don’t feel like it’s okay to be where we’re at. But I feel like that alone just gives you so much relief. Yeah.

DIANA: You know how I say all those positive memes on Instagram, they don’t work? Well, there is one I like, and, um, I’m not okay, and that’s okay. Or versions of that it’s okay to not be okay. I like that one. That’s true.

Rianon: We’ll keep that one and get rid of the rest.
DIANA: Yeah.
Rianon: Well, that was so wonderful. Thank you so much for taking these listener questions and just for the advice and insight that you have to offer for all of us. And just always appreciate it every time.
DIANA: Yes. And thanks to the listeners who brought those questions. I really believe that, uh, the people who are willing to explore these things in themselves are courageous. Asking these questions was courageous. Taking a step in any of these areas is courageous. And I’m just cheering everyone on. And I want such good things for you. So thank you for being courageous. Thanks for being willing to grow yourself, be more of who God’s created you to be, step into who you are. And along the way, I hope that you have more experience of joy, more experience of hope, more peace. Uh, and I pray that for each and every one of you listening. So that’s it for today.

Quick reminder that the Renew Your Mind Boot Camp Five Day Experience free. It’s coming up in April. Make sure you’re on the email list so you don’t miss how to sign up for that. And I guess that’s it for this week, so we’ll catch you next time. Until then, take care.

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