Jason slouched in the chair. He appeared depressed and angry. I said, “Jason, when I’m with you, I feel as though I’m watching television with the mute button on. I see a person sitting there and it appears the wheels are churning inside, but nothing comes out. I wish you could show me what’s inside. Because, if I knew, I could help you to cope more effectively.”
He replied “I’m depressed. I’m working twice as hard and making less money. The company lowered my commission and increased my territory. I did better in the days before cell phones and text messages. I had to travel half the time, but when I got there, I made a sale. Nowadays, I’m working alone, my sales are down and I don’t get to see anyone. I’m even lonely at the movies.” He angrily glared at his wife and stated “She doesn’t care about me. In the theater, she sits at the end of the row while I sit in the middle, where I get the best view.”
Shelly immediately retorted, “I have to go to the bathroom two or three times during a movie. How can you expect me to climb over everybody that many times?”
Jason continued, “The other day she didn’t even come back to the same row. She sat on an end seat two rows ahead of me, because everybody else’s feelings are important. It doesn’t matter what I feel.”
To hell with the other people, the movie, my job, and where my wife sits. If I wanted to be next to her, I’d climb over everybody just to do so.”
Shelly explained again that she felt ashamed and embarrassed about annoying people.
I asked if she had seen a doctor.
She replied that she didn’t want to take medication and suffer all the side effects.
I asked Jason if he had ever thought about moving from the center of the theater to the end of the row, so that they could be together.
‘No. The best view is in the middle.”
“Seems like we’re at an impasse. You’re accusing each other of not caring; griping about being alone, but not exercising your choices. You can move closer to her. If the middle view is more desirable, then stay there, but don’t complain. Conversely, Shelly, get some medication. It’s better taking a pill than getting a divorce.”
“After the way he screamed and cursed? No!”
“After listening to you, I question whether either of you want closeness. At some level of awareness, you’d rather cast blame than look at yourselves.”
Jason said, “That’s not all she’s done. For years, she walked twelve paces behind me and criticized me for walking too fast. When I walked slower, she was still twelve paces behind. I figured it didn’t matter what I did, she didn’t want to be with me. Finally, I told her to walk where ever she wanted. Now she walks twelve paces ahead.”
“Is that true?” I asked.
She replied, “I’m not going to allow him to make me look like a third world wife following behind her husband. So, I walk ahead so he’ll know what it feels like to follow.”
“Shelly, if you really want closeness, why don’t you hook your arm in his and walk side by side? And Jason, why walk behind and complain? Run up and walk beside her.”
Jason replied, “If she doesn’t want to be with me, I’m not going to chase her.”
There you have it. Two people living together, alone. Constantly griping, staying together, not divorcing. There are pragmatic solutions to their problems, but neither one avails themselves of them. Why do they stay? Because Shelly and Jason are exactly the same. Both claim to want closeness, but their behavior belies their words. Recall that every human being is two people; one, the adult, who wants to love and be loved. The other, the child who is too frightened to reach out and make himself vulnerable by asking for the love he/she desperately wants. Consequently, they sabotage potentially positive relations to protect themselves from hurts similar to those they experienced during childhood.
I asked Jason to visualize himself lying on a couch, with his head in Shelly’s lap, saying, ‘Shelly, I’m as low as I’ve ever been. I see myself as a failure. I thought when I reached this age, I’d have enough money for retirement. Instead, I’m working harder and afraid of losing my job. I feel the same at home. That you don’t want me and are looking to leave. What I need is for you to reassure me by saying, ‘I love you. I’m not going anywhere, even if you lose your job.’”
“I’d never say that. I wouldn’t give her the chance to hurt me that much.”
She responded, “With his anger, I won’t promise him anything.”
“Sadly, I don’t believe either of you are willing to lower your guard. You’re too busy defending yourselves. Jason, you’re angry and she’s the recipient of your wrath. Not just the resentment she may deserve, but also the anger you’ve felt all your life because you see yourself as never being accepted or loved. Shelly, you’re just as angry. You’ve married your excuse. His behavior justifies your not reaching out and saying, ‘Jason, I’m embarrassed to step over people two or three times during a movie. I’ll go to a doctor and try to fix it. Meanwhile, please sit next to me at the end of the row.’ Instead, you appear angry and rejecting. It’s apparent the distance between you is not an accident. Congratulate yourselves. You’re working together very effectively to create and maintain distance. You’re both terrified of the closeness you want.”
If you can see yourself in this example, try to introspectively get in touch with your own fears and the way you provoke distance. Then resolve, despite your fears, to reach out for the love you want.