Angry husband won't seek counseling


October 09, 1994|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"Ken has every right to be mad," says Marie, 30, a pretty redhead with two daughters, ages 4 and 6. "I should never have made such a show of myself at his office party. But did he have to move out? I only wanted a little attention from him."

Ken and Marie were childhood sweethearts. When they married eight years ago, she was so busy setting up a home and, before long, being a mother that she didn't notice how wide the gulf between them was getting. "Oh, I joked about the fact that all Ken ever talked about was political science and all I talked about was diaper rash," she recalls, "but I never seriously believed he thought I wasn't good enough."

However, once Ken, who's also 30, graduated from law school and was offered a job with a large firm, Marie sensed her husband was growing increasingly distant. Now, she says, the rare times they spend alone he makes her feel self-conscious and stupid. The funny part is, any time she makes a move to look for a job that would challenge her, Ken reminds her of the chores and responsibilities she has at home.

The night of his firm's big party, Ken coached Marie in what to say and how to act. Secretly furious, she drank more of the champagne fruit punch than she should have. "The next thing I knew, I was twirling on the dance floor, first in the arms of one man and then another." It was exhilarating for Marie, devastating for Ken. He hasn't spoken to her since. "He promised to come for one counseling session, no more," she says sadly.

"I don't see what good talking can do," snarls Ken. "I've been very good to Marie, and she's repaid me by making a fool of me with her cheap behavior." Ken says he's always wanted to

protect Marie. "She's not a stupid woman," he says, "but she played more than she studied in high school, and even now she never reads a book or newspaper." Ken is disgusted. "But I'm not one to talk to a stranger about my personal problems," he says curtly. "Marie, not me, needs help. I agreed to come here once -- and only once."

Refusing to be counseled

"Like Ken, many people refuse to seek professional counseling," says Esther Rosenthal, a counselor in private practice in Belle Harbor, N.Y. Often, they insist that their spouse, not them, is the one with all the problems. Or they believe there's a stigma to seeking professional help. Behind this firm refusal is the fear of admitting that perhaps their problems are more than they can handle.

Whatever a partner's fears, it's important to learn how to ease them. Talking with a third party can often help couples defuse self-righteous anger and see problems, as well as solutions, in a new light. If your spouse has dug in his heels, these tips can help:

* Don't deny a problem and hope it will go away. If there's something your spouse is doing, or not doing, that is making you so angry or so hurt that your relationship is suffering, don't fool yourself into thinking it will all blow over. It won't.

* Let your partner know that his actions or words are causing you pain or difficulty. Without being judgmental, sarcastic or accusatory, explain how that behavior is affecting you and your marriage.

* Gently point out any destructive patterns you see in your spouse's behavior. Empathize with his feelings: You might say you can understand and feel the pain (or confusion, whatever the problem) he must be facing.

* Don't trick or shame him into seeking help. If he, like Ken, tries to shift the blame, listen sympathetically to what he says but patiently press your point. If your conversation seems to be escalating into a battle, drop the subject until times are calmer.

* Seek counseling yourself, even if your spouse says he won't join you. Marie was right to call a therapist: She needs emotional support and career direction. Once she felt better about herself, she contacted the career-counseling department at the local college and is now working as an aide at a pediatric hospital.

Noticing the positive changes in his wife, Ken asked if he could move back home and agreed to come for counseling, too. He's finally able to understand that his need to dominate Marie stemmed in part from his inability to allow her to be a separate person with her own strengths and weaknesses. Once he stopped trying to rescue her, and began instead to accept her, Ken felt better about himself as well as his marriage.

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