Last article we met Alaina and Aaron, a married couple who presented with some raw tension.
We focused attention initially in treatment towards a history. Their respective histories include upbringing and its influences. Those influences can be enlightenment towards understanding present day attitudes and behaviors. Additionally, that both Alaina and Aaron are experiencing a second marriage, I wonder about their first marriages.
I’ve come to realize the value of learning from marriages ending via divorce or widowhood. I place special emphasis upon personal growth and development. It’s worth exploring with clients such as Alaina and Aaron what contributed to their first respective marital endings by divorce.
They report that tension has been occurring within their marriage for a number of months. I invite each to bring to this session information regarding how the first marriages ended and what each learned about him/her. Welcome back Alain and Aaron. We met for the first time a week ago. I spoke to you regarding the tension you each brought to our first session. Since that matter is what you had in common, I wondered where that derived from. Any thoughts?
“I’ll go first, if that’s OK with you, Alaina?” (Alaina nods approval) I spent some time this week being quiet. I began to look back at my first marriage with my wife Judy. She had a demanding job as an administrator for a sizeable company. I was working as a foreman in a factory. I recall how Judy literally brought home her work. She worked long hours and came home for a quick bite of dinner that I prepared. Then she retreated to her home office for hours of more work. This trend pushed into weekends. Her supper busy work life left little room for our life together. I essentially raised our two daughters. I got them ready for school, packed their lunches, brushed their hair, put them on the bus, and then drove to work. I got home prior to the bus arrival. I helped them with school work and made dinner. Judy made time to tuck them in bed. This trend went on for years. Summers we had childcare. Forget about any fun time for myself. I felt like a single parent in a two-parent home. Judy brought home a good salary. My salary was less. Together we paid our bills on time. We took two weeks summer vacations. We visited our own families and explored on day trips. Frequently, Judy brought her laptop and retreated to a quiet space. She was enveloped in her job. One memorable time we were visiting my folks. They invited us for a hike and for a quick dinner at a kid-friendly restaurant later. Judy hiked with us. She kept her work phone on her person at all times. Judy took a call when we sat down for dinner. The girls and my folks were laughing at a clown who came to our table. We ordered food after a 10 minute wait for Judy. She came later and announced she wasn’t hungry. The girls looked sad as well as my parents. I barked at her. Quite an embarrassing scene I must say. Judy left and sat in the car while we ate in silence.”
“I’m afraid to say that may have been a means to an end. Judy accused me of being verbally abusive. We sought counseling. Judy dominated the sessions and seemed to convince the counselor that she was a good parent. She used my “outburst” in the restaurant as a force against me. Several sessions later, I felt overwhelmed. The woman counselor suggested an ager management group for me. I was stunned and dumb-founded. I took the class in order to save my marriage and my family. A friend of mine later told me that I’d become sullen/passive. I was fearful of Judy’s power to persuade others to follow her values. We retreated at her request to separate bedrooms. My sex life was nonexistent. This transformation took place for a couple of years. Our daughters needed both of us living under one roof. Then Judy began to put me down. She would comment on her making more money than me; plus demeaned my working in a factory.”
“Enough of that. We occasionally saw the counselor. In that place, I told Judy I needed to move out. I suffered from depression and was anxious and afraid around her. She got a lawyer to swallow me legally. She stayed with the girls in our home. I found an apartment nearby. The girls visited me. It wasn’t the same. I had bedrooms for them. They preferred not to spend the night. By then, they were old enough to have friends to sleep over with. Judy hired a nanny to clean, cook, and take the girls to activities. I felt worthless. I saw my own counselor who helped me feel better about myself. I got a promotion and a raise at work. I became a better person. You talk about growth and development. Looking back, I think my living apart helped me to grow. I learned not to be intimidated by Judy. My lawyer made certain our divorce was just and fair. It took me a good two years to feel adequate. My counselor told me that as human beings, Judy and I were no better or worse than each other. This helped me deal better with my girls. We went on outings and they began to do sleep-overs. I helped them with school work. We’d cuddle together watching movies. When I think back, I have to admit that the tension was great between Judy and me. I’m glad I got to feel better. But maybe I didn’t completely deal with the tension.”
So Alaina, you’ve been quiet. I’m wondering if you are aware of what Aaron just laid out. Have you heard any of this before? How does this report of his make you feel?
“A lot of what I just heard is fairly new to me. When Aaron and I started dating, I had a sense of his being timid. Yes, I know he approached me with drinks at the golf club. I began to sense his being. How would I describe it…like guarded. Over time, he spoke about Judy but not in a ‘she’s a bitch’ description. He never put her down. He said she was a good mother. He didn’t want to share the details of their divorce. I guess he wanted to move on. I think I feel glad that Aaron could open up here. I really can’t say for now how this new information affects my view of Aaron.”
She looks at Aaron.
Hey, maybe we need to have more open talks. You’ve been kind of hiding from me.
“Thanks. Guess I’ve got some unfinished business to conduct.”
Great. Let’s see you in a week.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Marshall Greenstein holds a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756.