Why Esther Doesn’t Love Adam

Last vignette, we met Adam and he began to explore his anger masked as general irritability, grumpiness and cussing. Now in retirement, he was able to touch in with the source of his experience. A secondary effect to his moodiness was brought to light by Esther, his wife. She had dealt with Adam’s displaced anger for an unspecified period. Adam invited her to join us in session. With some prompting, Adam expressed his heartfelt love for Esther. She responded with an “uh, huh.” I’m not sure what I expected otherwise. Adam quickly got upset. “You see! That’s why I kept my feelings hidden. All I get is a shoulder shrug and an uh-huh. Like you could give a crap, Esther.”

Esther stood up, took herself quietly out of the room and left my office. “You see, Marshall. When I’m angry and try to talk, Esther shines me on. It’s like she could care less.”

We continued our session without Esther and agreed to see him alone unless Esther decided to come on her own choosing. When a client leaves session, copious information pours in for a response. Assessing those events is handled delicately. Is the person a danger to self or others? Do I follow the client? Do I communicate at the earliest date thereafter? Do I wait for the client to call?

A couple of hours later, Esther called me. She apologized for leaving. That was uncharacteristic behavior, she added. She wanted to come back later for her own individual session. Before agreeing to a time, I asked her about her current mental-emotional state. She assured me that she was safe and not going to hurt herself or anyone else.

We met later that afternoon. She wore the same casual clothing from the morning session with Adam. She wore a summer dress, sandals and braided hair. Her eyes were puffy. Her makeup was redone. She drank an iced tea, the store-bought kind.

“Esther, thank you for calling,” I said. “I could only appreciate from my vantage point what you must have been experiencing. You left quietly. No words; no outbursts, as are often seen in marital couple sessions. How are you right now?”

Esther slowly shook her head and opened her mouth several times without sound. Over time, I’ve learned that there’s a time to jump in. This didn’t feel like one of those times. I stayed focused and silent. The silence lasted a few minutes. Her body language spoke reams of information. She shook her body, rubbed her eyes and crossed her legs multiple times. Reading into that provides some adequate information to conclude her current state of emotion and thought.

Then Esther spoke.

“I’m trying to weigh my words, Marshall. I’ve got much to say. I’ve never had a forum, a place to say what’s on my mind.” Another pause followed. Esther looked at me. No words. Only body language ensued.

“Esther, what’s holding you back? What obstacle is in your way? Are you afraid to speak your mind?” I asked.

“I don’t know where to start,” she said.

“How about today’s session with Adam?” I said. “He expressed his love for you. You acknowledged with an uh-huh, which set him off. Then you left. How were you feeling at that moment before you left?”

“I was mad,” she said. “Adam has been treating me with disrespect. Yes, he’s taken out his angst towards work out on me. I’ve never felt like I deserved his wrath. He can get fired up Marshall. It’s ugly and frankly scary. He’s never hit or assaulted me. Yet, I freeze. I get panicky and want to run. That’s tough to do at home. Today, I heard his words of endearment. I couldn’t accept the sentiment. You see, while he’s been dealing with the crap at work, he’s neglected me. He wants me to hear his complaints. Meanwhile, he’s lost touch with me. He doesn’t know what I experienced at work or life in general. Now we’re both retired. I don’t want to be around him. Here we are with our good friends on an extended holiday. Damn, Marshall — what do I do?”

We agreed to a second session in two days. Assuring me she’s safe, Esther left.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.