"Our Dog is Coming Between Us"

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The Counselor's Turn

Power Struggle

"Despite their current distress, I had high hopes for this couple," said the counselor. "Robin and Ted are affectionate, and they both have a playful sense of humor and similar values. But the daily bickering over Penelope masked their real struggle, which was for control.

"I wasn't at all surprised to hear that Penelope had become a wedge between Robin and Ted. Pets are often a vehicle for acting out childhood or marital problems. Fortunately, animals can also break down defenses and open the way to explore personal problems.

"Robin automatically identified with anyone else's pain. As a child, she channeled her feelings of unworthiness into academic excellence in an attempt to win her father's approval. But he always found ways to cut her down. As a result, Robin grew up feeling unloved. Constantly aware of the imbalance of power at home, Robin unconsciously replicated that imbalance in her own marriage. Robin was focused and ambitious, while Ted would probably have drifted along for some time. Her family was wealthy, his blue-collar, and professionally she was miles ahead of him.

"While Ted initially described his hardworking parents as living a happy, white-picket-fence life, it was clear that Ted's father was--and is--most likely an alcoholic. What's more, Ted later revealed that his mother had been a chronic spendthrift who often asked Ted to rip up letters from creditors so his father wouldn't find out. When his family filed for bankruptcy when he was thirteen, Ted felt partly responsible.

"Clearly, the seeds of inadequacy were planted during Ted's early years, and they flourished after his dream of becoming a Marine was shattered. Ted needed Robin to take care of him; she needed to care for someone. When Penelope arrived, the precariously balanced relationship collapsed. Fighting over Penelope allowed Ted and Robin to sidestep the issues they should be working through with each other.

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


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