Whats a Man to Do?

“Most people never feel secure because they are always worried that they will lose their job, lose the money they already have, lose their spouse, lose their health, and so on. The only true security in life comes from knowing that every single day you are improving yourself in some way, that you are increasing the caliber of who you are and that you are valuable to your company, your friends, and your family.” – Anthony Robbins

What was he supposed to do? I mean really.  How could my husband have possibly reacted when I told him about my daughter? Presumably he was in love with me at that time.  Decent people don’t just cut and run from those they love when they are told of some traumatic event in a person’s life.  Compassion and understanding is usually warranted. Perhaps hand holding and offering a shoulder to cry on. Listening is even better.

He cried, expressed some emotion, and held me. End of story, right?

He probably thought so. In fact, I am certain he rarely gave it much thought. Why should he? I didn’t. At least not outwardly.

We went on with our life, our relationship, our eventual marriage, our children. We traveled to Israel, Greece, and the Caribbean. We hosted au pairs from all over the world. We had great parties at our beautiful home and enjoyed celebrating holidays with my large family. He most likely assumed it was no big deal to me. That I was over it.

I did not talk about it daily. I lived a normal, productive life. I had a good career. Friends, family, why would he assume anything other than that I was fine.

I wasn’t.

What he did not know was that inside me brewed a wild, raging emotional storm. I am highly introverted with a rich internal life. I think a lot. I read a lot. I ponder events, outcomes, actions and reactions. I may appear to be playing mini golf with my children but internally I am ruminating – constantly.

I kept a lot from my husband. I felt my adoption trauma was my wound and mine alone. I didn’t want to tarnish our marriage. I wanted to keep the hurt and the bad stuff separate from the good stuff. I felt no one could understand, no one would treat me with care and consideration. Telling people how much I hurt would only lead to the standard dismissive phrases. Get over it. Stop carrying on.  You should be happy your child was taken away. She got a wonderful family (how people knew this as fact will forever boggle my mind).

By keeping everything inside me, I created an enormous rift in our relationship. My husband had no idea what I was feeling and being an extravert himself, he isn’t the most intuitive person. I convinced myself he would never understand, could never understand, and that telling him would only put our marriage at risk.  I had created an external false self and a more genuine internal true self. In classic Gemini fashion, I was always at war with those “selves”.

Gradually, over a period of a few years, my husband did finally get tuned into something being wrong. Very wrong with me.

He was at a complete loss as to how to help.

Spouses of alcoholics have Al-anon.

Children of alcoholics have ACOA and Alateen.

Spouses and family members of those with mental illness, drug addiction, and physical handicaps have abundant resources to call upon for help understanding and supporting their loved ones.

Where does the spouse of a mother (or father) of loss go for help? Who do they talk to? What books can they read? Where is their support group?

Try none. Or almost none.

My husband had no idea what to do, what not to do, what to say. As such, he pretty much screwed up every time. Literally.  He tried attending a support group with me. He messed that up. He tried telling me to get over it. He messed that up. He tried telling me that since I found her now I should be over it. He messed that up. He tried to avoid, deny, and ignore it. He messed that up. He told his mother about my daughter without me present.  He messed that up. When I kept things from him, he spied on me. Major mess up. He was either totally violating boundaries or completely avoiding me. He read one adoption book (Birthmothers: Women Who Have Relinquished Babies for Adoption Tell Their Stories by Merry Bloch Jones). Upon reading the book he criticized me, attacked me, and even mocked me. He felt uncomfortable and out of place and threatened and made the book reading all about him and his feelings and not mine. Yes, he messed that up too.

The more he messed up, the more I withdrew from sharing with him.

Can I blame him?

Do I? 

No.

He was ill equipped to deal with this trauma. He had no idea (as I had no idea early on) how deeply I had been affected and how it had permeated every aspect of my life.

What is a man supposed to feel when he discovers his wife had a child with another man?
Should he be happy?
Relieved?
Jealous?
Envious?
Angry?
Should he go after that man and defend her long lost honor?
Should he ignore it and allow his wife to deal with it?
What about when they have their own children?
How is that husband, now father, supposed to feel about the child, half sibling, of his own children?
How should a man feel knowing his wife may have unresolved feelings for her child’s father?
Should he help her resolve them? Can he actually do that? How does he do that without feeling threatened and jealous?
How should that man treat his in-laws that sent his wife away?
Where does a man go to vent his fears and frustrations and concerns over his wife and her adoption trauma status?

If his wife had cancer, he could go to a support group, talk to her doctors, and help her through chemo.

But emotional trauma from adoption? What is he supposed to do?  My husband graduated with a degree in architecture and lighting design — not psychology.

Spouses, whether they be husbands of wives, of parents of loss are additional examples of the collateral damage caused by adoption. These spouses often walk into the marriage with limited knowledge of adoption. They have ingested the adoption Kool-Aid served up by the media. They are unclear why it hurts so much, why it’s such a bad thing. They cannot possibly understand and many mothers, like me, just don’t know how to explain. We fear rejection and abandonment – again. If they really know us, what we felt, what we did, what happened to us, they would leave us. Or so many of us think. It safer to keep it inside. To deny it. To not share.

Where, oh where, are these spouses supposed to go for help?

7 Thoughts.

  1. Ugh, good question. Spouses of adoptees need somewhere to go too.
    I’ve hidden a lot of my feelings about relinquishment and adoption from most people. Most people don’t get it. They CAN’T. I don’t hold it against them, but at the same time, I don’t feel that I can burden them with this lifelong pain.
    Thanks for the much needed reminder that adoption affects the families of those involved too. I think it’s time for me to check up on my own hub.

  2. once again you have nailed it. My husband’s reaction wasn’t quite the same as yours, he prefers to live in “don’t ask/don’t tell” land and even after our 12 years of marriage doesn’t know the story of my daughter’s relinquishment or the relationship I had with her father or my own parents at the time. He’s made sense of it in his own way in his own mind and doesn’t want to be bothered with the facts.
    After some really large blowups he has accepted my daughter and our reunion, and “allowed” a relationship between all of us (her, me, him, our 2 children at home), but he still whispers and looks around when he talks about her, just to remind me I have something to be ashamed of I guess.
    thanks again for all that you write and share.

  3. Andie, your last sentence is so thoughtful to your husband. I think things would be different and better off in my relationship if was kept more as a partner in the loop instead getting it all at once and not knowing how to handle it. At the time, I’m sure that seemed like the best course of action. I handled it badly but it was such a blow to the ego to hear some of the things that knocked me over like a tsunami. Hopefully all the people involved in adoption follow your goal of “checking up on” the spouses not directly involved because their feelings are important.

  4. Hmmmm… got me to thinking about how some things Joy has said to me knock me off my feet for a while without her intending that to happen. She has suffered from my expressions the same way.
    So likely has my husband. I’ve been so wrapped up in my recovery I’ve tended to be oblivious to his experience. People have told me, well he IS a psychologist. He SHOULD be my support. Uh, yeah. Sure thing. NO.
    Psychologists don’t treat family members for a good reason.
    Beautiful work Suz.

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