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Helping My Wife Overcome Her Guilt Complex

Hello all!

So, I haven't been able to find any information about this at all and it's driving me somewhat insane (not her condition but the fact I can't help). My wife and I are currently in a long-distance marriage (I'll be reunited with her Fall of 2021). Unfortunately, her ex was extremely abusive, a narcissist, etc. He essentially spoon-fed her guilt trips until it escalated to the point of her feeling like crap for days if she spent 5$ on herself.

To further this, nearly everyone in her life treats her the same. Her sister guilt trips her constantly, her two younger brothers, and yes, even her children. Now, I'd like to make it clear, it isn't an infidelity issue. She has spoken to a few doctors about it and has done some personal research. The doctors agreed she's experiencing an extreme guilt complex. Ever since I came into the picture, I've been slowly helping her, however sometimes it still gets pretty bad.

For example, we just got off the phone. Her one Christmas present to herself is a tattoo (her appointment is tomorrow, actually). I call her and she's frantically running around her house saying, "I feel if my house isn't spotless before I go to bed, then I don't deserve to get my tattoo done tomorrow." She and her ex are going through the entire court process (for custody), and another thing she said to me tonight was "in some weird way, I feel as if the judge will somehow know my house is a mess."

I've known her for 16 years in total and I know she's always had a guilt complex to some extent, however I didn't realize it is as bad as it is. I'm sticking by her side through everything and anything. I'm just trying to figure out what I can say to help ease her mind from some of these random thought patterns. I'm always calm when we speak, and sometimes she and I can just joke about it and it seems to calm her.

However, other times it seems she instantly becomes infuriated. I just want to help her!

Any advice would be sincerely appreciated. Thank you! I hope everyone is safe!
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13167 tn?1327194124
She sounds like she's brushed with OCD.  Compulsive obtrusive thoughts.  I agree therapy would probably help a lot,  as well as medication.
Helpful - 0
207091 tn?1337709493
Totally agree with Annie - therapy is a must for your wife.

It's great that you want to help her, but you're her husband, not her therapist. If you want to support her, encourage her to get therapy.

The only thing you should say is that you love her and think she's wonderful. Annie's right about you being careful not to be the rescuer. You're her partner - not her savior.

I come from a family of guilters, though not nearly as bad as your wife. It takes a lot of work to learn how to set boundaries and not allow people to emotionally blackmail you.

You can't fix this for her. It's admirable that you want to try, but it's not your job. Just be kind to her, When she says that she thinks the judge will know the house isn't clean - which I'm sure it was fine anyway - it's probably her feeling that it's one thing she can control. She can't control what her ex does, her kids do, or the judge does. She can control what her house looks like. Let her have that. She knows, rationally, that the judge won't know her house is a mess.

Also, I don't know why you are separated for a year, but is there a way to change that? She's going through a lot, and I'm sure she needs you. I don't know if you are out of the country, incarcerated or what, and you don't have to share with the class, but if you can change that, you should give that some thought.

Helpful - 0
Hey, thank you for your response! As I said in Annie's comment, I've learned to play a supporting role instead of trying to "rescue" her, per se. I tell her rather frequently how phenomenal she is (truth be told, she's unlike any other woman I've ever met). Oh yes! In terms of setting boundaries, she's beginning to stand-up for herself and she's able to tell people "no" without being overwhelmed with guilt. But as I said, besides constantly reminding her of how amazing she is, I've learned to just listen when she's experiencing guilt. This, in turn, has helped her lower her guard in that regard, so she's able to just rant/vent/etc. to me without hesitation. Her progress is rather remarkable.

In terms of us being reunited, it really isn't anything crazy, I suppose. I have an old criminal record that's currently preventing me from being there. Basically, I got into a bar fight when I was 21. Originally, I was charged with a mild misdemeanor, however upon the judge discovering I have formal training, I ended up being convicted of a violent felony offense. She's in Canada and I'm in the US: for Canada, most criminality automatically drops off after 10 years, but mine didn't/won't because it's a violent felony case. I hired a lawyer about a month ago and he's working on our spousal sponsorship application.

For the lawyer to finish our needed documents is about 3 months, and then it takes the Canadian government 4-6 months to process the actual application. So, at this point in time, I'll have my permanent residency by about August of 2021. Truth be told, I've been experiencing my own, rather harsh, moments of guilt. I know she is going through all of this alone, however our marriage/relationship, despite the distance, is unimaginably strong. Of course, there are periods of moderate difficulty, but we've been able to resolve/compromise without issue.

That said, we knew each other for 16 years before our actual romantic relationship started. It's rather wild. I Duo/Skype with her children quite frequently, and it's to the point of they both call me daddy, tell me they love me, etc.

Anyway, as I said, I appreciate your response!
Wow this sounds like a 90 Day Fiance show. (If you haven't watched that, Google it - it's a "reality" show all about couples in different countries, complete with sensationalism and drama lol. The legal aspects are really interesting, though. There's a couple in a similar situation - the man is from the UK, and can't come to the US because of a bar fight years ago.

Anyway, it sounds like a tough situation that covid isn't helping at all. I think therapy is an even better idea now, because blending families is hard enough and then add in the rest and I can't imagine doing it without assistance.

Half the battle in any relationship is recognizing the problem and wanting to fix it, and you've done both, so that's awesome.

Keep us posted. :)

134578 tn?1642048000
Sometimes what comes out of one's mouth when we are motivated by the thought "I just want to help her!" comes across instead as "You are incapable and I am better." If you say something and it elicits an angry reaction, that's probably why. Enough people in her life have run over her. Now it's time for her (not you) to be in charge of ways to address her emotional over-reactions.  

In your shoes, what I *would* strongly support (monetarily and emotionally) is her working with a therapist or counselor who specializes in this kind of inferiority complex. (Lots of therapists are doing video appointments now.) Not just talking to a few doctors, but really diving in with someone who specializes, and sticking with the therapy. It cannot be comfortable to be in her shoes, she should find herself some professional help.

You could offer to help her find someone if you think you know who to ask for references, but possibly she would be better off asking her doctor for help finding someone. Then, you just follow her lead. In the meantime, you could have a couple of appointments with a therapist yourself, to try to understand how to be married to her without taking on the role of rescuer (which will only make her feel more incapable than she already feels).

Without a big dose of therapy, I don't think your marriage will be very successful in the long run. It seems like time for her to take this seriously, and also for you to watch out for jumping into a rescuer role.

Helpful - 0
Hey! I appreciate your response and you're absolutely right (about the trying to "save" her). However, I was quick to realize that's what/how I was coming off, so what I've been doing instead, is just being there while she needs to rant, vent, etc. I can tell it definitely helps far more than me trying to "solve" everything. The doctors (and our personal research) were the catalysts to her seeking the help. As I said, we can both tell she's making tremendous strides, but there are times it seems to randomly hit a peak out of the blue. That's when I sit back and listen to her.

Despite doing this from a distance (we'll only be long distance for about another 6-7 months), we've made huge progress as a couple as well. Our communication is amazing and I've been able to learn how to pick up on subtle queues while speaking via phone and Duo. She told me today she believes she found a therapist she's going to work with, and she knows I'll help her financially, emotionally, etc. Thank you again for your comment!
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