Hey, GreenMile. I can really see a lot of similarities in the way you and I react to things, so I thought I might be able to point some things out in ways that would be helpful to you. Even if it's not helpful to you, maybe writing some of the thoughts will be helpful to me.
I really, really empathize with that feeling that every time there is a downturn it feels like what your wife is saying is definitive and final and there is no hope. I get that feeling a lot, and if I let it happen, it can make me completely crazy, make me do absolutely STUPID stuff, and make me do things that absolutely HURT my wife. Then the next thing I know, the reason there is no hope is ME!
Listen, she is likely to use language that to you sounds like "I'm through with you and this marriage and this recovery," when what she means is "I'm through with this discussion because it is hurting me." She is also likely to say things out of emotion in the heat of the moment that she won't feel like later. Have you seen this happen? Remind yourself of this in the heat of the moment; let her vent. It's not the make or break moment for your marriage.
And listen, you've got to face the fact that she's always got the choice to end it. What will you do if she does make that decision? In order to avoid turning into that quivering bowl full of helly, you've got to come to grips with this fact and face it with a measure of acceptance. You need her badly, but you need to become a person who would be capable of standing on your own. If you had a plan for personal recovery in the event of DWG deciding to be through with you, a plan that involved yourself and your sons and your personal recovery, then maybe you would react with less fear when you feel like your marriage is threatened. Yes, it would be very sad for you if DWG were to pull the plug. But, you would keep breathing. You would still have a lot to live for.
When things get rough, the most important issue is THE WAY YOU HANDLE IT. I�m sure you know that, but your instincts about how to handle it are going to be totally, totally wrong. You want recovery to continue, you want the good times you two are starting to experience to continue, you feel like those things are threatened by this obstacle (and they are), and so you desperately start trying to MAKE the obstacle go away. DO NOT DO THIS. This is the wrong way to handle it. From your point of view you are just trying to make things better. You feel like in fact you are just trying to help your wife. But that desperation and that attempt to MAKE things get better makes her feel controlled!!! That makes the problem worse!!! In fact, whether you realize it or not, you are trying to control your wife�s thinking. It�s the classic Disrespectful Judgment, and it�s a Love Buster here just like it is always. A massive Love Buster. Your instincts are gonna kill you here if you don�t get them under control and quit following them.
And I hate that because it sets progress back so much.
But take heart. It is not too late in the game for you to learn new habits and learn how to not follow these instincts. It�s just new habits and skills for you to learn as far as how to react when there appears to be a threat to recovery. (A conflict, though you might not realize at the beginning that conflict is occurring; you�re likely to simply perceive a threat to recovery/marriage, and not notice there�s a conflict until you guys are into massive Love Busters. We rationalize our own controlling LBs (SD, DJ, AO), and that means they appear rational to us so we don�t even notice them!!!)
I empathize with some of the things you are saying about Extreme Precautions. Long before Marriage Builders, before I even met my wife, I put in my own �extreme precautions� (using a different name) to avoid sexual behaviors I regarded as wrong. And I had to do a lot of talking to myself, basically personal coaching. �I am a new man, I am not the man I was before, I am strong and have walls in place that cannot be broken through,� etc. They way you talk about your EPs sounds a lot like the way I talked to myself back then, and it�s probably a great way to encourage yourself and keep those EPs strong. But it�s no way to talk to a woman. It�s not going to reassure her at all. How do you help her understand you were not that guy you were all those years? You DON�T do it the same way you convince yourself of that fact. Your thought is actually a rationalization of wanting to CONTROL what she�s thinking. You think it�s helpful, but that desire to control her thinking is more damaging than you can possibly imagine.
What you need is a plan you can stick to and fall back on. A written plan for yourself with three aspects: your extreme precautions, your plan to overcome Love Busters (especially including your plan for eliminating control/abuse LBs: SD, DJ, AO, all attempts to control her and her thinking), and your plan to meet her Emotional Needs. You probably already have all this. (If not, get it!) Your plan is to be continually refined as you become more of an expert at all of these. When obstacles come, you remind yourself �I have a plan for success. I will keep following my plan. I won�t try to control her here and bring her along; I�ll just fall back on my plan.� This will give you confidence and take away that fear. Because of your increasing understanding of your wife, your plan is nearly guaranteed to succeed, if you follow it faithfully with continuing refinements, and IF SHE LETS YOU. The trick is she doesn�t have to let you, and you have to accept that. So you tell yourself �I�ll stick with my plan until the very end. I�ll go down with the ship, if necessary. Even if she starts trying to get out, I�ll continue to offer compensation by working at becoming an expert at meeting her emotional needs, having no tolerance for Love Busters on my part, and taking Extreme Precautions to avoid any outside threat to our marriage.� (Though it probably won�t come to going down the ship. But if it did, your plan is to keep on following-through, even up to two years after she�s gone. If you will aim out that far, you will likely hit your target and it won�t be an issue.)
I made a discovery recently. My discovery is about the words �defensive� and �defensiveness.� My discovery is this: I always thought that �being defensive� was about my feelings. It was a feeling I needed to learn to control. And if my wife thought I was being defensive, well, really she was judging my feelings, and this is a subjective thing with multiple opinions and points of view.
Turns out I was wrong. If you�re defending yourself, you�re defensive, no matter how you feel.
Same for me, here. I gotta quit defending myself, and so do you. Women tend to word things in ways that make men look at and question their feelings (and then proudly proclaim that the feelings are right, because they are), but men need things worded in terms of behavior: what should I do? What should I stop doing? What you should do is stop defending yourself, entirely. Like Pep said, there�s nothing to defend here. If she doesn�t like something, you�ll quit doing it, period, without even trying to negotiate a way to do it. If she wants to know something, you�ll tell her. If you don�t remember, you�ll simply say you don�t remember. If you remember later, you�ll go back and tell her. Be honest. Always be honest. Just be honest and let her decide if your answer is something to worry about or not, and how to react to it.
What should you do instead? You focus on her and her feelings. That�s what thoughtfulness is!
Women, especially your wife, don�t want to teach you how to do this. That�s the shortcut approach anyway. You�re obligated to learn it even if she won�t help you. It�s still your responsibility. And she does NOT have it in her to help you! Even if she did, she�d probably be ineffective, because she speaks Woman, and you speak Man. All she�d tell you is how to feel, and you already feel that way; you need to know how to ACT.
So, here�s how to act: when your wife comes to you with ANYTHING she wants to know, anything that�s wrong, anything that indicates a conflict, anything that smells to you like a threat to recovery: FIRST, make sure you have an understanding of what happened, what�s worrying her, what you did, etc. SECOND, achieve empathy by understanding why she is hurt: �This is how you got hurt?� �This is why you got hurt?� �When stuff is moved around in my car, it worries you because it looks like somebody has been in there?� Validate her on the fact that she got hurt.
Don�t do or say anything to give her the idea that you think she should not be hurt or would like for her to get over being hurt quickly. (No matter how much you do feel for her pain and want her to feel better. This is not the time for apologies.) Both of these steps are all about being a good conversationalist and using conversation to investigate and understand your spouse. Seek understanding. THIRD, express apology: �I am sorry that I gave you cause to worry by moving things around in my car!�
No defensiveness, at all. That means no defending yourself, no matter how you feel. We don�t need to determine who is right or wrong; what matters is her feelings! Defending yourself even includes these statements, which my crappy instincts would have told me sound thoughtful: �I didn�t know� �I didn�t realize,� or their cousin �How was I supposed to know?� It�s all about her and what she feels at this point, not about you and what you know.
LATER (possibly MUCH LATER if she is still reeling from the hurt), offer to have some discussion and brainstorming and negotiation on how to make sure it never happens again.
Read this great article, and you�ll see a perfect image of how you came off to your wife. (Painful for me to read, as I know I�ve been doing this for six years.) http://www.marriagebuilders.com/graphic/mbi8507_fft.html
You wanted to tell your wife she has nothing to worry about. This instinct doesn�t help, because essentially you are telling her not to be hurt. Ow. When you cause a wound (which you did by moving stuff in your car), tend to the bleeding instead, using the process I outlined above. (Steve Harley gave it to me on the phone, so it must be good. It looked like liquid gold to me, like just the piece I was missing.) You don�t reassure her by reassuring her.
Finally, I�d say it doesn�t matter much that you have DWG�s blessing to be in this band. It sure looks risky, and she looks reluctant. Do you think she�s still ENTHUSIASTIC about it?
Why can�t you guys spend 100% of your time together?
By the way, don�t be surprised your wife can remember exactly where everything was in the car. Women�s brains are more connected than ours (I tell my wife their brains are more melted than ours) and they notice details like that.