Counseling helps couple redirect their energies

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

June 02, 1996|By FROM LADIES' HOME JOURNAL Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"How can a man who's been a workaholic for the 20 years we've been married suddenly give it all up?" wonders Molly, 40, who met Jim when he was an Army recruit at the base where she was working in the PX. "Our life was wonderful," she recalls, "but clearly I missed some signals."

After they married, Jim began his own collection agency, with a financial boost from Molly's father. Working only with a secretary, he created a flourishing enterprise. Molly gave birth to a son and a daughter and, for the next 15 years, immersed herself in motherhood and community affairs. "Jim seemed perfectly happy, though he did bring a lot of work home on weekends. I didn't have a clue anything was wrong!"

But one Monday morning, Jim said he needed a day off. Molly thought nothing of it, until one day turned into a week. "I suggested I go into the office to help him with the paperwork that must be piling up, and he blew up at me. I've never seen him so mad."

That was six months ago. Jim goes to work only occasionally. Molly is scared, puzzled and angry. "How could he just drop out without worrying about our financial future?" Molly is beginning to think it's time for her to take the children and forge a new life.

Jim, 40, says he feels like a world-class heel. "The rational part of me says to get back to work, but another part tells me I've been buried alive for 20 years." Jim hates his work. "Oh, I'm good at it, all right. But this is not a fulfilling or stimulating way to spend your life," he says. "I love Molly and the kids and I don't want to lose them -- but I've lost myself somewhere along the way."

Using therapy

"These two have become so caught up in the daily details of their lives that they had stopped talking about their dreams and hopes for the future," says Robert L. Barker, a marriage counselor in Washington.

If you are considering marital counseling, here are some suggestions to help you help yourself:

Make a real commitment to work for your marriage. Counseling succeeds only if both spouses agree that resolving their differences is their No. 1 priority.

Don't expect to change a partner who has no interest in changing. You can only change your own part of a bad relationship. But you can learn to negotiate and compromise.

Stop being defensive. Put your ego on a shelf and admit that you may have been wrong. Take a look at the part you play in the marital drama.

During the six months that they saw a counselor, Molly and Jim discovered many avenues each wanted to pursue. Molly realized she was bored with bake sales and safety patrols, and she has gone to work in Jim's office as a bill collector. This has given Jim more time to concentrate on bringing in new business, which he enjoys, as well as weekend camping trips with the kids. "I don't feel tied to the desk anymore," he says.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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