The Thompsons called early in the morning and insisted they be seen for an emergency appointment. Fortunately, a patient had called earlier to cancel, so I was able to accommodate them.
When they arrived, Mary had been crying. It appeared as though she’d had very little sleep the previous night. John, on the other hand, was quiet and sullen and appeared to be feeding his own anger. Each insisted they be heard, and that the other not interrupt them. Neither complied with the other’s wishes. When Mary tearfully interjected that John’s account was lacking in truth (she called it a lie), he adamantly stated, “It’s my turn. You’ll get yours after I’m finished.” His tone was threatening, and demeaning. Her reaction was to retreat and to cry more forcefully.
When they were finished telling their sides of the story, it boiled down to the fact that he had responded to an email sent by the female half of a couple who were to visit them the following weekend. In her email, she stated that she had lost seven pounds, was going to the gym on a steady basis, and that she was really proud of her achievement which, she added, was noticed by her husband, who complimented her on her svelte body. John’s response was, “Wow! We look forward to seeing you this weekend.”
When Mary saw his response, she became angry and accusatory. She stated that he was inappropriate and suggestive in his response, and then accused him of wanting to have an affair with her. His response was, “There you go again. All your fears and anger come from your lack of security. You have no sense of self worth. If you did, you would never have responded to my email that way.” Her retort was, “It’s no wonder I have no sense of security. You cheated on your first wife. I think you cheat on me, and you’re always threatening me with divorce.” Their exchanges escalated to the point that he left the house and spent the next two nights in a hotel. Finally, he called the house, claiming it was to check on the children. During their conversation, he told Mary where he was, and also informed her he wasn’t coming home. Twenty minutes later, she knocked on his door. She was crying hysterically and apologized for her reaction to the email. She then stated that all he had to do was assure her that he loved her, that she was the one he cared for, and that she could call their friend, and question whether they had something going on between them. He replied, “You make an apology and then you list your demands.” She obviously didn’t hear him, because she added that he would also have to admit that his words were ill chosen and totally inappropriate, and that he would never do it again. Her demands totally infuriated him. “You’re trying to control me again. Your whole stance says I’m to blame for everything and that I caused you to react the way you did.” He ended his tirade with, “We can’t go on this way. We’re two different personalities and we need to get a divorce.” She became hysterical, knocked over a lamp, and stated, ‘I’m going to take you for everything you’ve got. And your children will know about your fooling around with other women.” He screamed that she was a crazy woman who was paranoid, and pushed her out of his room. She banged on the door to the point that security was called by someone in another room, and she was ejected from the hotel. Each of them then called my office.
You can readily see that the Thompsons had literally created a mountain out of a molehill. The problem is that the molehill was invisible, but the mountain was real as rain, at least to each of them. In the course of their interaction, neither was able to look at themselves. The “where” question, i.e., “where am I coming from?” was the farthest thing from their minds. Instead, their reactions were the almost universal reaction that people in conflict resort to. Who is right? Each of them had their position and was sticking to it. Neither was able to own up to their own feelings of insecurity, and both were vying to be the victim.
The solution was for John and Mary to recognize the inappropriateness of their own reactions, to own or take responsibility for them, and then to learn to live with the insecurities in them that they brought to their marriage. It was their baggage. None of it was created by, or even endowed to them by their partner. Instead, it was part of their own hard drive, and they had to learn to live with it and behave in spite of it.
Are they crazy? Not at all. Scenarios of this type don’t usually escalate to the point theirs had, but they occasionally occur in most intimate relationships. In most instances, one of the partners relents and acknowledges the other partner is right, even though they don’t really believe it. They do so because they want to avoid a fight, or are too fearful of the other person’s rage or rejection. Emotionally, the other partner has the notion that, “If I can prove I’m right, and the other person will acknowledge they’re wrong, that will cure the problem.” What they fail to realize is something I have heard a thousand times in my life, that now makes me smile because of its naked truth; “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.” That fact is, being “right” doesn’t solve the problem. Fixing the clock may.
So, what does all this have to do with each of you? It’s a reminder that being right, proving you’re right, intimidating another person to admit you’re right, doesn’t fix you. Once again, I am saying that the solution to a problem is to fix your own clock. If you do so, but I’d prefer to say when you do so, you will come to a place where you can laugh at yourself, take responsibility for your reactions and feelings, and learn to live with you and others, even when you’re wrong. All of which will allow you to react and behave in spite of what you feel, instead of because of what you feel. That’s when your molehills remain molehills that you can easily step over.