Receiving the Communication

Jeff was stunned when Eileen announced that she wanted a divorce. For nine years he had considered himself a model husband, never arguing, letting her do whatever she wanted to do, and working hard to increase his income to support their lifestyle. He begged her to reconsider and offered to seek counseling to prove he was willing to change. However, he had trouble imagining how he could do anything differently.

Eileen refused to come to counseling with him because “If he couldn’t figure it out for himself, it proved he was hopeless.” As we talked, it was clear that Jeff knew what he liked to do and how he felt about lots of things, but he had very little information about his spouse. He was puzzled about her seemingly odd priorities.

Why would she want to redecorate the living room? It seemed fine to him. Nevertheless, he let her repaint the room and put in a new floor by herself. He was a little annoyed by the mess and by her being too tired for much lovemaking, but he managed.

He also admitted he was a little annoyed when Eileen attended meetings several nights a week, but he never said anything to her about it. He usually got involved in online computer exchanges with others when she was away; in fact, he got so engrossed that he would not even notice when she would come home and go to bed. He had no idea what her meetings were about.

Jeff was surprised when I suggested that he ask her, but he agreed to experiment by doing his best to ask and to really listen to her answer. To demonstrate to her that he was listening, he was to try to restate what she said.

Jeff admitted that he wasn’t particularly happy in his marriage either, but thought that was normal. Growing up with his divorced mother, who did whatever she could to make his life easier, he had never really had the opportunity to see a couple discuss differences or solve problems together.

Eileen felt encouraged enough to attend the next meeting. She was understandably furious at Jeff for ignoring her for so many years. She had made many attempts to tell him about what she needed, but he had never even noticed. Finally she had started attending a support group and a study group which had helped her decide to leave her joyless marriage. However his recent attempts to listen to her made her hopeful that he could change. She was surprised to discover that Jeff had never learned the basic emotional skills that he needed to create a more satisfying relationship.

Learning life skills takes time; Eileen decided to wait six months before making a decision about whether to stay together. Jeff participated in a treatment group, and they had couples’ sessions at least once a month. Their marriage did become more satisfying, and they decided to stay together. They stayed in counseling until they mastered the art of supporting each other’s growth.

Is this you? “I don’t need therapy, but I could use some advice about…”
[tags]Togetherness, Relationships,Communication,Relationship Advice[/tags]

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