Prabha and Reema were friends for 4 years and married for 3 years. Prabha was 36 years old, and Reema was 30. The session began by asking each of them to tell me a little bit about themselves that had nothing to do with the problem and later reasons that brought them to see me. Prabha was a professional photographer. For fun he enjoyed cooking, gardening, listening to music, reading and dancing. Reema taught in a prestigious institution. She also enjoyed cooking, music and enjoyed going out with friends to clubs and movies, talking on the phone for hours with friends, meeting friends, travelling and reading.
Therapist : Tell me something about your relationship that had nothing to do with the problem?
Prabha: We often enjoy shopping together. We earlier found happiness when we did things that pleased each other. Lately, I seem to get frustrated and very angry towards Reema.
Reema : I love shopping together. Prabha is very considerate about my needs and feelings. I was not aware that he was holding negative feelings for me.
Therapist : Are there things that you would like to ask me before we talk about the problem?
Prabha and Reema : Declined to ask any questions. They looked at each other. Then preferred to begin describing why they had come to see me.
Prabha : I am deciding to move out of country in anticipation of a new career step. Reema is deciding to stay back in India since she feels confident with her career and friends. We have been recently fighting and arguing and this seems to stand in the way of confidence in our relationship. So I have decided to move out of the marriage itself. Reema suggested we meet a professional counsellor and seek help. Reema : So you came because I suggested? I am far better off with my friends. They do not talk of leaving. This is disgusting. I too need to rethink about this relationship. Please Madam take a decision for me.
Therapist : Shall I speak to each one at a time. This will help me to understand and unpack your experience of fighting.
Reema : Puncutated the conversations with interruptions, primarily in the form of loud and lengthy denials and corrections.
Prabha : Interrupted Reema again and the two seemed very angry and unsatisfied.
Therapist: My reassurance that each would get a chance to speak had little impact. The couple seemed very frustrated. Tell me the person you would choose to report to if you have failed work experiences? I moved away from the core issues. They will take some time to relax and talk.
Prabha : Yes. People do not care about my work. Prabha made an attempt to put his ideas into words for the first time, though he looked confused at times, he asked what this had to do with his relationship with Reema.
Therapist : If I host the same conversations you and Reema had at home, it probably would not be helpful. I was looking for alternative perspectives, both for listening and for telling, so that there may be more room for expressing your experiences.
Prabha and Reema : It is agreeable to explore the possibility of talking and listening. They seem to be a little relaxed.
Reema : I was at a club recently to meet some friends. Prabha dropped in accidently he said. While we were waiting for the friends we were listening to the music, and Prabha and I seemed to be fine and enjoying. Then a friend interrupted and I started talking to my friend. Later in the evening, I was surprised to discover that Prabha did not particularly like my friends or have an interest in them. This is my problem in the marriage, she said.
Prabha : I am not keenly interested in bringing her friends perspective in our marriage. But I feel compelled by things with which I do not agree. And I want to be myself. I can no longer take this....
Therapist : Application of ideas Prabha and Reema brought to these kinds of conversations that allow them to listen the way they did. There can be different ways of looking at things, and that one can like people without agreeing with them. Also keep in mind a bigger picture, so that you both could disagree without losing track of the other points of agreement and the working relationship rather than only specific problems said at a particular moment.
Prabha and Reema : Agreed and they were reminded to repeat key phrases at certain points, when they lost track of their position.
Reema : Described the fighting. When I try getting close he shuts me out and ignores me.
Prabha : Well she has a lot of people who will not ignore her.
Therapist : Prabha, make an attempt to talk without irritation, annoyance, anger and defensiveness.
Prabha : She is bullying.
Therapist : That implies power difference. How does the bullying express itself?
Prabha : Sometimes when I want to be close to Reema, she won’t pay any attention to me. Then I find myself unloading a barrage of criticism and exploding in anger. At other times she’s criticizing everything, and then she goes out or into the other room and won’t talk, and I feel even more angry.”
Therapist : And from these early conversations which affected each differently to engaging in externalised conversations with Prabha and Reema the sessions continued for a few weeks. They realized that, as a couple they had never talked about this problem withfriends or family. It was a tremendous relief to find that their problems led to a discussion of the experiences in which closeness dominated their relationship rather than the happiness and idea of success in living with each other for many years.