"He Doesn't Keep His Word"

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The Counselor's Turn

Kathy and Phil were stuck in what I call 'stable misery,'" said the counselor. "Kathy was angry and exhausted: No matter how hard she cajoled, she couldn't get Phil to respond to her needs. The harder she pushed, the more he withdrew. Incensed, she pushed even harder, to the point where she overreacted even to unimportant things. Phil was baffled by Kathy's anger. To protect himself from it, he either said yes but did nothing or else checked out -- classic passive-aggressive behavior. Phil loved his wife and didn't mean to hurt her, but his attitude was just as controlling and contemptuous to her as her fury was to him.

"To help them understand the subtle dynamic behind so many fruitless arguments, I asked them what they did in their worst moments. Kathy conceded she often yelled and insisted that Phil behave in a way she believed to be the right one. Phil admitted that he retaliated by withdrawing -- an unsurprising reaction, given his emotionally barren childhood. Still, I was firm with him: 'You say you love your wife yet you are not acting in ways that show it.'

"Phil was surprised, but my words registered. 'You have to find ways to repair the damage,' I continued. 'Start by telling Kathy what you really feel. She can't read your mind. If you're not ready to go through your mother's belongings, say so.' By not sharing his feelings, Phil missed opportunities to find solutions to minor problems and unwittingly reinforced Kathy's belief that he didn't care.

"'Forgetting' about financial issues was a similar, though more serious, breach. If he'd been upfront, Kathy could have shown him she understood. Instead, by not telling her the truth, he set off a cascade of negative feelings. 'Partners don't do that,' I said. 'Nor do they make promises and not follow through.'"

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


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