Saturday, January 24, 2009
Ghosts (Harold’s response)
Joanne, being an excellent therapist herself, is insightful as she assesses the stance of Rob and Celia's therapist Carolyn. There is someone or something (the ghost) behind Celia that is influencing her behavior. And, it is in everyone's best interest to try to make this subconscious influence more conscious. Good therapists like Joanne (and Carolyn) know the behavioral and emotional markers to look for in spotting these ghosts. But, how can those ghosts be spotted in everyday situations when Joanne and Carolyn aren't around? Here are four "signs" to clue you in when a ghost is present in your intimate relationship:
(1) As Joanne pointed out, look for a disproportionate emotional response. If your partner is giving you verbal or non-verbal feedback that seems overblown relative to the situation, there is probably a ghost present.
(2) There are certain land mine topics that explode every time you touch it--so you may have learned to stay away from these topics.
(3) There are topics about which your partner does not or refuses to talk about--so you may not know much information about certain incidences or periods in his/her life
(4) Your partner behaves differently (maybe more withdrawn, silent, sensitive) when around particular people
Although these tips may give you more insight into when these ghosts are at work, it still remains difficult to resolve them-often because they are associated with deep-seated emotions. Professionals such as Joanne are helpful to get underneath these. But, one of the best things you can do on your own when you recognize a ghost may be present is to be patient and reassure your partner that you are there for them. Don't try to force everything on the table in one or two discussions. Give it time.
I have given four signs that ghosts may be present. But, I'm sure there are others. What can you add to this list from your experience?
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Ghosts (Joanne’s response)
Carolyn is a good therapist. She knows that ghosts haunt relationships. She knows it will be a colossal waste of time to try to convince Celia that Rob really, really does want to be supportive and not controlling. While she can help Rob speak and behave in ways that make this clear to Celia, until they get underneath Celia's response they won't move forward. As a therapist I look for ghosts when a client's reaction seems out of proportion to what's happening in the present. Rob really did come through at Christmas and I understand why he thinks Celia's doing a one-eighty on him. Rob's curiosity about Celia, which Carolyn coached him in stating, will help Celia get to this. She may not even know herself why she reacts his way. I'm curious where DM's readers will take this one!
Monday, January 19, 2009
Rob and Celia are in a tough session with their therapist,
Carolyn, following their holiday trip together to Celia’s family. Rob is angry that Celia waited until
therapy to share her insights with him about the trip; Celia still fears Rob
will tell her what to do.
“This was why I went home
with you, so we could begin to make decisions together on this stuff,” Rob
said. “I don’t want to tell you
what to do. I just want to help. I feel like we’re moving backwards
right now.” Rob was actually
shaking and took a sip of water from a paper cup on the table.
Carolyn stepped in. “Celia, you explained very honestly
about your reasons for keeping this inside until our session. Rob, thank you for your response. There’s a lot going on between you two
right now. Rob, what are you
Rob drained his water cup
and put it down. “Hopeless. We’re not getting anywhere.”
Carolyn turned to Celia
expectantly, silently asking the same question. “I feel bad that Rob is upset, but this feels OK to me, like
we are getting somewhere. I think this is good.”
“What’s good about it?”
Carolyn asked her.
“Because if Rob is angry
about this, that means he cares about what I’m thinking,” Celia said. “He really wants to know, not to
control me, but to help.”
“I don’t get why you
didn’t already know that,” Rob said.
Carolyn stepped in
again. “Rob, I’d like you to ask
Celia that question again, but turn toward her and try to ask it
differently. Try to soften your
words. That will help her.”
Rob could be impatient
with Carolyn’s little psycho-babbly exercises. With a smirk at Carolyn, who knew this, he shifted on the
sofa toward Celia. “Celia, we have
been doing good work here. We got
through your Christmas concert just fine without Carolyn’s help. Why are you still afraid I want to
control you? I don’t want to
control you. I just want to – love
you.” He turned to Carolyn for
validation that he had done this well, and she nodded her support.
“Celia, how did those
words feel?” Carolyn said.
“They felt good. Like he means it.”
“Why wouldn’t I mean it?”
Rob said, anger rising again.
“Rob, I want you to slow
down for a moment. Perhaps Celia’s
reactions to you on this point don’t actually have anything to do with you,”
Rob looked at Carolyn,
Reader, you determine what
comes next. What is the reason
this has nothing to do with Rob?
Monday, October 27, 2008
A Call for Help
Rob and Celia, in their early twenties, are trying to figure out their future together. When Celia turned down Rob’s marriage proposal, they considered living together, but began to fight badly about this “solution” because it pleased neither. Finally, Rob gave Celia an ultimatum: decide what you want, so we can move forward together – or apart.
Rob was getting anxious. When Celia had responded, “I’ll let you know” to his ultimatum, she had not mentioned by when. Four days had passed. He was sensitive to the fact that he had come on pretty strong recently, and didn’t want to continue overwhelming Celia. He missed her and he wanted her to choose him over her independence, but her tears in their final fight helped him to grasp what her independence meant to her.
Meanwhile, Celia had struggled too. She had spent time on the phone with her sister Catherine, who was unabashedly pro-Rob, but had also hung out with her friend Marian who was anti-marriage to anyone. Nevertheless, though her confidants were partisan, the conversations helped. Two clear threads emerged for Celia. One, she wanted to grow and change and experience the world. Two, she wanted to do that with Rob at her side. Moreover, after a few days to reflect, the two directions she yearned to follow no longer felt mutually exclusive, and Celia began to imagine a future that could reasonably include both.
Just as Rob had settled the debate with himself about whether or not to call Celia (in favor of a quick check-in text), Celia called him and asked if she could come over. Both of them were nervous, but Celia quickly filled Rob in on her process of the last few days. When she told Rob she wanted to make it work out, he took her in his arms and kissed her.
“But,” she said. Rob stiffened. “We still have issues to work out, and I don’t think we can do that without help. Would you be willing to see a therapist with me?”
“Can we call it pre-marital counseling?” Rob asked.
“I’ll call it pre-marital counseling as long as we’re not engaged – yet.” Rob looked disappointed. “But I get that that’s the goal, and it’s what I want to work toward too.” Celia kissed Rob this time.
The next morning, Celia called a therapist whose name she’d gotten from the pastor at the church at which she conducted the choir. She had requested one located near Rob’s office so he could conveniently leave during the work day. She scheduled an intake appointment for the following Monday morning.
An hour before the appointment, Rob called Celia from work, in a panic. “I can’t make it to the therapist. The auditors are coming in today and my boss is out sick. I’ve got to be here.”
“Can’t you leave for just an hour?”
“No. Trust me, that would be bad.”
“Bad how? Like lose your job bad?”
“Probably not that bad, but passed over for promotion because I let down the team bad.”
“But Rob, this is important to me.”
They were both quiet, but it was a quiet full of meaning: Rob could feel Celia silently begging him to leave the office to meet her, and Celia could hear him communicating a plea to be let off the hook.
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