"He Told Our Secrets Online!"

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The Counselor's Turn

The Minutiae of Daily Life

"I'm constantly surprised by how many couples, though very much in love, fail to discuss how they will handle the minutiae of daily life -- be it housekeeping tasks or money management -- once they're married," said the counselor. "Inevitably, they are shocked by how quickly fights over seemingly trivial matters swamp good feelings. While Ryan's online confessions, and subsequent excuses, were undeniably hurtful, Isabella's discovery forced them to take a hard look at problems they had swept under the rug for two years. My goal was to help them nourish their love while they figured out how to live with each other.

"Like many newlyweds, especially those who've never lived on their own, these two found themselves stumbling through a period of disappointments. Isabella and Ryan lacked the basic communication skills necessary to discuss sensitive or negative feelings, as well as to disagree and actually resolve problems before skirmishes erupted.

"Both also needed to grow up. Isabella had to loosen the emotional ties she had with her family and align herself with her husband. I encouraged her to find ways to remain close to her sister without seeing her every night. Ryan had to take responsibility for the practical aspects of his life, including sharing household tasks and making long-term career goals.

A Kernel of Truth

"Like her mother, Isabella tried to be the perfect wife. And she assumed that once she and Ryan were married, he would share her desire for a neat-as-a-pin home and embrace her family. When that didn't happen, Isabella's irritation deepened but, unable to tell Ryan how she felt, she stuffed her anger inside until it leaked out in sarcastic comments or temperamental outbursts. 

"I said to her, 'Ask yourself: Is there a kernel of truth in what Ryan wrote? Sometimes, if you can admit some responsibility for the problems, you can begin to make changes.' In time, Isabella realized her constant carping was pushing Ryan away. 

"'Timing is critical,' I said. 'The first five minutes after you see each other at the end of the workday set the mood for the entire evening.' I reminded Isabella to choose her words carefully, using nonaccusatory statements. 'Could you help me with dinner?' will elicit support far more effectively than 'Why can't you ever start dinner?' We also discussed the 'when you/I feel' model: 'When you leave dirty clothes on the floor, I feel that you expect me to pick them up.' I cautioned her to stay in the present: 'Discuss one issue at a time, and don't dredge up what he did or didn't do last week.' At the first twinge of resentment, I advised her to take several deep breaths to calm down and think about whether her anger was justified. She reported back that on several occasions, simply applying the verbal brakes kept her from lashing out.

Continued on page 5:  The Counselor's Turn, continued


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