Q. My husband and I are in relationship counseling. The most enlightening insight has been the reality that I did not really know my husband before I married him, nor did he really know me. It wasn’t any one’s fault, it was a lack of knowledge about how much it would have helped us. Here is our story.
A. My name is Emily and Ricky is my husband. Like all couples we had our ups and downs but when they started to become more frequent I shared with a co-worker that we were struggling. She and her husband were talking to a therapist so I called and made an appointment.
Ricky was very quiet when we were having a disagreement. He retreated instead of communicating his thoughts and feelings. I became more frustrated, raised my voice and vented how much I wish he would talk. This pattern has been going on for a couple of years now.
During our counseling sessions I learned why Ricky was so quiet and I was so loud. In Ricky’s family of origin his dad was the controlling, “it didn’t matter what you thought or felt” kind of dad. His mother never questioned his dad, she retreated and fell silent.
One especially sad memory for Ricky was when he told his father he did not want to go deep sea fishing because the waves made his extremely sea sick. His father made him go anyway and made fun of him for being sick. Ricky learned ed early in his childhood that speaking up served no purpose. So he carried this behavior into adulthood and into his marriage.
Emily’s family of origin was very different. Both of her parents were substance abusers and very expressive with their thoughts and feelings. It was “normal” for Emily to get into shouting matches with her parents. “I learned that to get their attention i had to be loud; they were always distracted with their next fix.”
As a result of their childhood experiences, when Emily and Ricky argued the following script played out: Emily would share a concern, Ricky would respond. If Emily continued in a louder voice, Ricky would grow silent which made Emily come on stronger and louder.
Therapy helped this couple learn the origins of their behavior and gain more understanding and respect for each other. They are learning some new dance steps and making progress.
What is so exciting about their progress is their commitment to their marriage and to each other.
If you would like to send a question to Vicki, email us at [email protected]
Vicki L Mayfield, M.Ed., R.N., LMFT Marriage and Family Therapy Oklahoma City