"My Husband Is a Big Bore"

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The Counselor's Turn

"A common predicament among couples who seek counseling is that one or both feel dissatisfied with themselves, but project that dissatisfaction onto their partners," said the counselor. "In this case, the more I heard Emily complain about her husband's shortcomings, the more I became convinced that the root cause of their marital woes was her profound personal unhappiness -- not Joe's behavior. To explain her misery, she had fixated on petty faults of Joe's, such as his expanded waistline and outdated wardrobe. I thought that if Emily felt better about herself, she would soften toward her husband and their marriage could be revived.

"First, we examined how Emily's childhood had shaped her behavior. After hearing her talk about her parents, I came to believe that both were narcissists -- manipulative attention-seekers who never take responsibility for being wrong. Adult children of narcissists are often insecure and unhappy, having tried to please their parents only to fall short again and again. Emily was typical: She did whatever her parents asked, from becoming a teacher to sending birthday cards to every distant relative, but nothing was ever enough, and she ended up angry and critical. She had unrealistic expectations for herself, Joe, motherhood, and marriage, and when life did not match those expectations, she retreated into a state of perpetual disappointment.

"'Narcissists don't take responsibility for their actions,' I told her. 'Hence, they never change. So the sooner you put some distance between you and your parents, the sooner your healing can begin.' Emily began declining their invitations, screening phone calls, and changing the subject when they criticized her. Midway through the couple's counseling, Emily's parents retired and moved to North Carolina, easing the withdrawal process. 'I haven't cut them off,' Emily said, 'but now I fight back when they try to meddle.'

"Similarly, I believed that being around Deb, whose life Emily saw as exciting and enviable, contributed to her discontent. So I encouraged her to cool things off. This proved to be fairly easy, because Deb was busy finalizing her divorce and preparing for her move. By the time Deb left, Emily was no longer under her spell."

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


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