"We Fight All the Time"

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The Counselor's Turn

Power Struggles

"I could hear Karen and Mike bickering in my waiting room," said the counselor. "Theirs is a classic example of how unresolved arguments can fuel a bitterness that festers and destroys intimacy. Valerie's and Mike's constant anger pushed aside any positive feelings they had for each other and erased their joy in their children and in their relationship.

"Ironically, Valerie and Mike had similar complaints. Articulate and outspoken, they both felt ignored and unloved. They desperately needed to learn how to listen, and how to express anger without blame and how to really be a couple. To protect herself from the destructive environment in which she had grown up, Valerie developed a tough outer shell. She demanded constant support from Mike, and when she felt she wasn't getting it, she became anxious and even more demanding. Like her mother, Valerie used the phone as a lifeline to her friends. She was totally unaware of the impression she had on her husband. She didn't hear the sarcasm or criticism in her voice and failed to understand that she was making no room in her life for her husband.

"When Valerie brooded or became panicky, Mike would try to pressure her into his solution. When she resisted, he retreated. This was how he had reacted to his mother's helplessness and hysteria. Mike needed to develop empathy for Valerie and to accept the fact that her approach differed from his. Until he did this, their problem-solving would be stalled by power struggles.

"After they spent several sessions blaming each other, I tried to break the stalemate: 'You have a choice,' I said. 'You can continue to squabble, or you can try to see things from the other's point of view. Until you both emotionally commit to this marriage, I can't help you.'

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

 

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