People ask me all the time what it’s like being a therapist. I tell them it’s hell. They ask why I do it. I say because I’m addicted. There’s nothing noble behind my reasons. Sure, I like to see happy people and fix things, but in order to fix my patients, I need to absorb some of their pain. I also need to fight the social pressures around standing by a commitment although the circumstances have changed. I’d rather be fishing.
“Hello, Alexis. What’s this?”
“It’s a little something I thought you’d like: gourmet coffee from Hawaii.”
“Wow. Thank you. That’s really not necessary.”
“I figured you’d get more from that than the traditional apple.”
“I’m so embarrassed about our last session.”
“Don’t be. Tell me about this week. Any developments?”
“Well, I didn’t screw any clients, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“No, that’s not what I’m asking.”
“I know. Again, sorry. I started thinking about how things would be if Mike and I split.”
“Good. What did you envision?”
“Ideally, he’d move out, we’d share custody–every other weekend to myself. You know.”
“So you feel fifty-fifty is fair.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Great. That will make things easier. Do you anticipate challenges around finances?”
“Actually, no. Mike’s a generous person, and I’m sure he wants to take care of his obligations.”
“Let’s hope so. How do you anticipate moving forward? ”
“I’m not sure. I can’t just kick him out and say our marriage is over.”
“You can, but you’re right. Do you want to role-play with me?”
“That might help. Can I be Mike?”
“You bet. Ready?”
“Mike, let’s talk.”
“Can it wait until halftime?”
“No, Mike, it can’t.”
“Fine, grab me a beer. What’s up?”
“Mike, are you happy?”
“With us. Our relationship. Is this what you signed up for? Are we happily married?”
“Jeez, honey. What’s going on?”
“Answer the question: Are you happy?”
“I’m fine. Sure, we have our disagreements, but we’re fine.”
“Are you attracted to me, Mike?”
“Of course I’m attracted to you. Hey. Are you having an affair?”
“No, Mike, but to be perfectly honest, I’m not happy and I know you’re not either.”
“You can’t tell me how I feel.”
“Mike, we lost that fire somewhere along the way and we can’t seem to get it back. We both deserve to be completely smitten like we were when we first met.”
“It is unrealistic between us because we can’t undo all the time and memories–not that they were bad. Mike, we just don’t seem to mix anymore. It doesn’t suggest there’s something wrong with either of us; the combination doesn’t work like it used to.”
“Then, maybe we should take a vacation, or go see a marriage counselor, or something.”
“Or, maybe we should part as friends, for the kids’ sake, and move on.”
“You’re giving up. I can’t believe this. I’m not leaving. You’re not taking my children away from me.”
“Mike, I would never do such a thing. I want us to do what’s right for the kids and each other. We’ve spent a significant portion of our lives together. There’s no reason we can’t minimize the damage and do this right. I understand if you don’t want to move out. That’s fine. I’ll start looking for a place.”
“What? No. I can’t let you do that. You need to be here with the children. Are you sure you’re not seeing someone else?”
DOCTOR’S NOTE: She’s done well with this. Maybe it won’t be as painful as these breakups usually are. I’ll stop the role-playing now.
“OK, Alexis. Let’s return to patient and doctor.”
“You certainly handled that well. It’s like you know Mike or something.”
“I assure you, I know Mike, the type, not Mike, the person. It seems from our exercise that he’s going to suspect there’s another man.”
“Isn’t that natural? Well, plus now there have been other men.”
“I realize you feel the urge to be completely honest with him, but I’m going to insist that you leave out the details of your trysts, for his sake and yours. Alexis, men have huge egos. If you tell him that you allowed another man to have you and give you feelings Mike can’t, he’ll be devastated. Remember, you did what you did for you, not to him. Once you split, all is fair, but maintain discretion about your affairs, or you’re going to have a major problem to deal with, and I guarantee it will affect your children.”
“Good. Before our next session, I want you to run the scenarios through your mind repeatedly, and make an appointment with your husband with no distractions. You need to have this discussion with him. I doubt he’ll react exactly the way we predicted, so be prepared to handle him with care. As always, you can call me if you need to talk. Sound like a plan?”
“It does. Thank you.”
“Thank you, Alexis, for the coffee. Good luck.”
“I’ll see you next week.”
Diagnosis: She seems to have settled into the realization that it’s time. I predict Mike will resist, but agree, once he calms down.
Treatment: Support her decision to stay or move. See if attorney-free settlement is plausible. Discuss next steps.
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