“I can’t take it anymore,” Joanna said tearfully. She grabbed a tissue, adding, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t going to cry.”
“What’s going on?” I asked. Joanna was a new client and I didn’t know anything about her history.
“I’m sick of my marriage. I’m not sure how I feel about James anymore. It seems like the more we try to talk about our problems, the angrier I get. I want out but feel guilty about wanting a separation.”
“Tell me more about your marriage,” I said. “How long has this been going on?”
“We’ve been fighting nonstop for the past year,” she said, her mascara now running down her face.
“Fighting nonstop?” I asked incredulously. “Really?”
“Not literally nonstop. But, we can’t find a solution to our problems and every time one of the hot buttons comes up—and we’ve got a bunch—we fight.”
“So, have you folks considered doing couple’s work so you can learn some tools for navigating these hot spots?”
“He won’t come for counseling,” she said. “Says it’s a waste of time and money. He says he has no use for psychologists.”
“I’ve heard that a time or two,” I said smiling. “But, it looks like what you’re doing isn’t working very well either.”
“Nope,” Joanna said, trying to compose herself. “It’s to the point where I’m about ready to tell him it’s counseling or he can find himself an apartment. I’m exhausted and just can’t do this anymore. Do you think that’s too radical?”
“Not at all,” I said, matter of factly. Listen to what you’re saying. You’re telling me you two can’t talk about these many ‘hot buttons’ without a flare-up. You’re saying these flare-ups are exhausting, causing you to consider separating. You’re saying you can’t solve these problems alone. It seems perfectly reasonable for you to insist on professional help. If you don’t take action, your marriage will be in greater jeopardy, possibly leading to a separation. Do I have it right?”
“Perfectly,” she said softly.
We continued to explore some of the “hot buttons” in their marriage. Married for only three years, they had a blended family and were having problems with each other’s children. There were financial struggles, with each disagreeing about how the other spent money. They were also fighting about sexual issues. The common denominator, however, was an inability to deal with issues effectively. They needed help.
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