Frustrating cycles of abuse and neglect stop here with a conscientious communication and consideration.
Phillip and Vanessa have been married for twenty-two years and have two small children ages five and seven. When Phillip made the initial contact to schedule a therapy session with Arthur and me, he stated that his marriage has been a constant roller coaster. One minute the marriage was low and the next minute it’s at a a sudden, climatic high.
The couple argues morning, noon and night about petty issues. The relationship has never become physical but Phillip thought that his anger was getting to that level. He said he did not want to be sexual with Vanessa, and wanted to move out of their bedroom and possibly out of the house and petition the court for joint custody. Phillip said he was tired of making up just to break up.
Vanessa admitted she pushes his buttons and says negative things to get a reaction from Phillip. Throughout their marriage he has allowed her to humiliate and disrespect him privately and in public. He asked her to stop embarrassing him, especially not in front of his friends several times, however she often wanted to hurt him because he would not communicate with her. To her, the best way to get his attention was to embarrass him with his friends. Negative communication is better than no communication she thought.
Vanessa and Phillip worried about their children and how the arguing affected their lives. Their son is acting out in school and fighting with his sister. Their daughter is becoming withdrawn and isolates herself in school away from other students. She also began to stick very closely to Phillip, not wanting her mother to come near him for fear that she would hurt her father. She cries at night and has regressed to sleeping back in the bed with her parents to keep them from arguing.
Arthur and I suggested that Phillip and Vanessa begin to take a closer look at the dynamics within their home and how their behavior is affecting their children. We discussed three components to consider.
The first component was their family origin, second, their cultural and value system, and third, the roles within the household. They never considered that Vanessa’s mother’s behavior towards her father played a key role in Vanessa’s behavior towards Phillip. She demonstrated the same negative and controlling behavior that she witnessed as a child.
Phillip admitted that his value system was harsh and one-sided. He thought that his role being the head of the household meant that he could lead his family without sharing his thoughts or feelings which, in turn, frustrated Vanessa a great deal. She remembered that her father would not greet her mother coming into the house and would ignore her after many attempts of trying to have a positive conversation with him. Vanessa’s frustration grew into bitterness as the scenario became real for her own life. Phillip thought that he was effective as the spiritual leader, but he was not because Vanessa resented his lack of engagement with her over the years.
They both are now recognizing how they have transferred their behaviors from their family origin and must figure out how to rebuild their family. Their children have attended some of their therapy sessions and have been very transparent. This has helped Phillip and Vanessa truly see how they were heading down a dark path that could have torn their family apart forever.
Most recently Vanessa thanked Phillip for finding help for them and has admitted that she was the destructive spouse. As her husband communicates more, she has become more passive and nurturing towards Phillip and the children. The children have had a good semester in school and they are looking forward to a family vacation together.
At the end of the last session their daughter pulled me aside and whispered in my ear and said “ Dr. Kim, I am back in my bedroom and I know my mommy will not hurt my daddy and they love each other again. Thank you and Mr. Arthur so much”. It bought tears to my eyes and I gave her a big hug and told her I would see her soon.
The bible says the race is not given to the swift or the strong but to those who endure to the end (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Arthur and I always say: “there is a light at the end of the tunnel if you can just stop turning off the light.” Even a 30-second break can help a couple push the reset button on a fight, licensed clinical counselor Timothy Warneka says. “Stop, step out of the room, and reconnect when everyone’s a little calmer.”