February 22nd, 2011 | No Comments

Fran (65) caught her husband Raymond (68) (not their real names) cheating with a neighbor in their Florida retirement community. At her insistence she and her husband went to see a therapist I knew well, in an apparent attempt to effect reconciliation in a broken relationship. He went once and refused to go again. She continued to go for at least 3 years at which time her therapist got very sick and retired. Fran was on Medicare and saw her therapist once a week at a co-pay cost to her of $10.00 a visit, and to Medicare of another $80.00 per visit.
Fran blamed Raymond, but continued to live with him. He apologized and swore he would never do it again. He also saw it as a far less significant ‘sin’ than she did. Moreover he had his own ‘rationale’ for doing what he did. Whether it was because she did not provide him with enough physical affection or some other reason, I was never told. After she caught him, she watched him like a hawk and believed he had not sinned again.
Her sessions consisted of telling her therapist all the things her husband currently did that she felt showed a lack of love, consideration, respect, affection, etc. Fran did a lot of reading and had virtually no social life. Her relationship with the husband continued unabatedly bitter and confrontational. It seemed that the highlight of her week was her therapy session.
My therapist friend told me the story, without disclosing any names, until I was asked to ‘make my case’ directly to her patient. The reason was simple. I kept asking the therapist: Has your patient managed to improve her relationship? The answer was always no. So I then asked: Then why do you think she has been continuing to see you for years? The answer was: She still hopes to improve her relationship with her husband.
To which I responded: It seems obvious by what she is doing that that will never happen. There is one way and one way only that she can improve her relationship: That is by making her husband feel good about himself. She is continually doing just the opposite as her sessions indicate to you. Moreover, it seems to me that the only reason she comes to see you is because you are a therapist with a diploma on the wall, to wit: a person of respect! You listen to her grievances against her husband weekly. By listening, empathizing and not disagreeing, you provide her with ‘professional’ vindication of her position, thus making her feel good about herself. That is the real payoff she is seeking, whatever else she says or believes to be true.
At the therapist’s request and with the patient’s consent I made my case to the patient in a 2 hour session. The expected response occurred. Fran asked in anger: Why should I make him feel good about himself when he is at fault. Let him do that to me. I responded: He isn’t here. You are. That’s why. There is only one road to a good relationship. You must choose between that road and the bad relationship you are in now.
One session is never enough to correct the situation described, and it wasn’t here. If it was to work at all, it would have taken a few sessions at least. That did not happen. But that does not change the fact that it still almost certainly remains the only answer. Meanwhile Fran will probably continue to seek therapeutic help, ostensibly to repair a relationship. The real reason, even if unbeknownst to her, is to have a professional person ‘of respect’ empathize and vindicate her feelings and thus make her feel good about herself. Also, and I am sad to say this, all this will be done primarily at taxpayer expense through Medicare.

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