Home for the Holidays?
Celia took an important step in breaking her part of a dysfunctional couple pattern: chronic accommodation to Rob’s needs, real or perceived, at the expense of her own. As Celia let Rob solve a problem that was Rob’s to solve, instead of letting him off the hook, Rob in turn was encouraged that Celia was able to acknowledge his predicament rather than fixing it, then resenting him.
Rob and Celia are happy with their therapist, Carolyn. She was actually grateful, she said, that they had issues scheduling the first appointment, because it was a chance to talk about how to turn a negative pattern into a positive one. They left their first session feeling hopeful that Carolyn would be key in getting their relationship back on track.
While they are still in what Carolyn calls an “assessment phase,” they have both learned a lot already from talking about their respective families. Carolyn shared her perspective that in choosing a mate, we often select someone who will replicate an experience from our families of origin. For example, Rob, a firstborn child, and Celia, a youngest, fit together naturally in a manner that will be emotionally comfortable, even if this experience is unconscious.
Rob and Celia have teased one another playfully since then whenever they observe the other behaving in accordance with their birth order. Once Rob ordered for Celia in a restaurant without even checking with her, perceiving a power vacuum where none existed, as firstborns are inclined to do. Celia said once in passing, “I’ll apply for that job next week” even though she was very interested in it, assuming as a lastborn that eventually things will happen regardless of the quality of her efforts. Carolyn assured them that their ability to laugh with one another over these unconscious patterns is a positive couple trait.
As they talked about their families, though, Rob became more convinced than ever that part of Celia’s struggles in the relationship have something to do with her parents’ divorce and her father’s remarriage. Celia denies this, although she admits that every year since she has been of age she has refused her father’s invitation to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, or both with him and his second family. Carolyn is encouraging Celia to consider visiting this year, in part for the purpose of “doing some detective work” around her own feelings, which Carolyn considers crucial before marriage.
After this third session, Rob chimed in vehemently to support Carolyn’s suggestion, to the point that Celia realized that refusing to visit her father over the holidays is going to become an issue for them. Since Thanksgiving is next week and Christmas is right around the corner, she needs to address this soon.
What should Celia do?
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