The couple loved each other very much. Yet, when the wife spent a weekend at a women’s retreat (away from her new husband) she realized that she felt freer and happier at the retreat; she did not look forward to returning home. Her husband wanted/expected her to do XYZ (or so she thought), and although she didn’t like it much, and he knew it (or so she thought), she felt she should.Several years later, their marriage is much stronger and happier. Whether they use that particular technique today I have no idea, but I’m certain they could, should the need arise.
(XYZ isn’t relevant, though it’s not anything you couldn’t tell your kids.)
How much did the husband want his wife to XYZ? How aware was he of her feelings about it? There were other issues, but as I heard the story, someone at their church recommended a certain counselor, and they went for a series of visits. There they learned a technique for resolving an issue; it worked like this:You agree on some object—this salt-shaker, say. One person, say the wife, goes first: while holding the salt-shaker, she is allowed to share her perception of events, her feelings, etc. As long as it’s the wife’s turn, her husband is not allowed to speak, except to clarify and confirm his understanding of what his wife said, for example:The technique brought better mutual understanding, peace, and happiness to this couple. Could they have read about the technique in a book or magazine, or on a blog? Sure they could have, but there are about 30,000 such techniques out there. The counselor didn’t give them 300 or 30 or even 10 techniques; they got one technique to try, and it worked well for them.So you’re saying that when I spend $_____ on a new ________ without discussing that with you first, you feel ________—is that right?Once the wife is satisfied that her husband understands her concern, she places the salt-shaker back on the table, and their roles are reversed.
Another example comes from our own lives, and I’ll try to summarize. Carol and I got into a huge fight. It was hurtful and demoralizing for both of us. She felt hurt by something I said, then she said something that made me crazy, and I said things I should not have said… we saw our counselor a couple days later.
Penny asked me to explain what happened from my perspective, to share my perceptions. So I said how we had decided upon something a few weeks earlier, and on Saturday Carol said something related to it, and I answered thus and so (based on our earlier decision).The Bible tells us in Proverbs 20:5 that The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out. (2011 NIV)
It later came out that she felt unhappy about this, for other reasons that I didn’t understand. But when she expressed her feelings to me early Monday morning, I felt sorely vexed and said things that were unhelpful, and she felt even unhappier. I was getting more and more upset, I said, and I saw this was going nowhere, so I apologized loudly and repeatedly, and fled to work. En route, I listened to the daily prayer from pray-as-you-go.org and asked God for help. (As I recall, the reading was from Genesis 1, including “Let there be light,” and I prayed for light to shine in my dark heart.) There’s more, but I think that’s enough to give a general idea of the conflict.
How does a counselor help? The first thing is that we were under adult supervision, and we also wanted to make the session as productive as possible. Consequently, we did our best to be calm and rational. After I recounted my perception of events, Carol explained a few things. (When at Penny’s, we try especially hard not to interrupt each other.) Penny suggested some changes in the way we say certain things. Carol asked if a particular wording change would help, and I said it probably would. I requested that certain things not be said, and Carol agreed. (She really had no idea of the effect some phrases have on me.)
Penny encouraged me to tell Carol that I never intend to push her out of her comfort zone. When I did that, I added, “and I know, when I remember to think of it, that you never intend to do that to me.”
It’s important for Carol that she hear those things; it’s also important for me that I say them. As Merton writes, “we become real by telling the truth.”
We left Penny’s office with hopeful hearts, and have got along more smoothly since then.
So a trained counselor has insight that can illuminate what’s going on. She or he may have techniques that can be conveyed. The office provides an environment where all parties do their best to be calm and rational (the clock is ticking and money is being spent). Another thing about the office is this: once you have a few successful talks there, your mind will think of it as a place of hope and calm.
For all those reasons, a counselor can indeed be very helpful for a couple who desire to love and understand each other better.