James Hillman's essay has shaken loose a number of insights, mainly on the theme of differentiation.
I've realized this for a long time, but I get it more deeply now that the seat of the fissure between Gary and me is the fact of conflict.
After years of a similar pattern to our struggles I realized that part of what really twisted inside me about them was that they often rose when he held me responsible for something that I could not have known, unless my brain had been sitting behind his eyes. More and more it became clear that in his dealings with me he was fully expecting that my perspective was indistinguishable from his. A minor manifestation of this might be the two of us trying to maneuver a long table through a doorway:
Gary: "Move the end to the right...to the RIGHT! ...the right!!!!" Me, having moved the 'end' to the 'right', totally puzzled and stung by his tone. Then it turns out he means his right, and by 'end' he means the upper end, and by 'move', he means tip. I've pointed out to him before that because he can see something from his vantage, it looks different from mine, and more precise language rather than increased volume might get better results. I can tell by the acoustics that he doesn't 'get' this, that he really feels I had all the information I needed and if I didn't it was on account of stupidity (mine).
I see now that this is just one mundane example of a common thread that is pervasive in our marriage--he really believes that what he sees is what I see too. And when I differ to him it feels like a betrayal--as if I realized my eye had been 'telling' me the tree was green, but it really is red.
The fact of any conflict at all between us, and in this sense I define 'conflict' as a divergence in how we perceive a shared event, is offensive to him. Because if I were indistinguishable from him, then there would be no conflict.
So this is why we haven't been able to get a handle on even the basics of conflict management: we're not supposed to have conflict in the first place. Therefore attempts to resolve conflict, beginning with acknowledging the presence of conflict has already offended him and he is coming from a place of resentment--which creates more conflict.
This explains the curious spiral nature of the issues between us, where conflict A happens, I name it, he a) dismisses b) diminishes c) criticizes my response, and then conflict A is still unresolved and now there's conflict A1 to deal with too. Eventually we may come to a sort of resolution, but the cost has been that he harbors resentment toward me and feels I've brow-beaten him into 'admitting' he's 'wrong'.
I've not correctly apprehended the nature of this very basic problem. I have assumed that he is a rational person and tried to point out to him that essentially he's expecting me to read his mind and this isn't a reasonable expectation. I've been baffled by the fact that he doesn't seem to see this, and the basic problem recurs in a different form, at all levels of our relationship. I've wondered if it is me who is expecting too much, if I've made an error in my reasoning somewhere, or if I'm 'too sensitive' and therefore susceptible to his tone--in other words I've wondered if I'm at fault.
To consider that this is an issue of differentiation makes a lot of things clear.
What I understand about Theory of Mind comes to mind here. I hope I don't offend in mentioning it, because I know that many parents of autistic children dislike it intensely. But I think it applies in this case to a person with a typical neurology--it certainly explains what I've been experiencing. To illustrate Theory of Mind a child is shown a film of Millie who has taken a bar of chocolate out of a drawer, eats some, puts it back in the drawer, and leaves the room. A few moments later in the film Millie's mom removes the same chocolate, uses it in cooking, and puts it away in a different drawer. The child watching the film is asked which drawer Millie will look in to find the chocolate when she comes back. An immature child will think that Millie will look in the drawer that he saw the mother put the chocolate in, not realizing that Millie is carrying a different construct in her head based on her experience. In essence, Gary is not distinguishing his perspective from that of Millie--he expects Millie's behavior to be based on his perspective. Furthermore, he doesn't see that he's not separating his perspective from hers.
This would account for the sense of dead space between us, where I just don't feel I've connected when I try to explain to him that I couldn't possibly have known what he meant about something.
This is a big problem. It's a primary source of conflict in our relationship; it's a primary obstacle to being able to clean up after a conflict. It's a source of resentment from him toward me. It's the source of often poisoned air between us. It's like living on a fault line and at any moment a gap will open underfoot to fall into. It's difficult to anticipate the next time he will expect my perspective to be identical to his so I can compensate for it in advance. He is blind to it, so it is unrealistic to expect him to adjust his behavior.
The big question is, how is this affecting the boys? Is living in this zone ultimately more harmful to them than the trauma of a parental separation/divorce?