Jose and Tina were at it again. She saw Jose looking at his phone and turning his back to her.
Tina thought the worst, “He is texting other women, he is planning to leave me.” As soon as he put his phone back on the charger and walked away, Tina grabbed it and began reading through his conversations.
When Jose came back from the washroom, he noticed that his phone was missing. He was angry and demanded its immediate return. She said, “I didn’t take it” in a voice quivering with emotion. She was hoping to prevent the perceived impending abandonment. Jose said, “I want my phone back or it’s all over.” Tina’s prophesy of abandonment was coming true! Her behavior had brought about the destiny she hoped to avoid.
She freaked out. Tina pushed Jose and called him a liar. He said, “That’s it. I can’t trust in you, I’m leaving!” Tina grabbed Jose and they wrestled around for a while until they were too tired to continue the game. She crawled into the bedroom, he fell onto the sofa. She couldn’t sleep. Tina got up and put her blanket over Jose. He got and up and put the blanket over her. She got back up and put the blanket over him. He figured, “To hell with it,” and kept it.
It turned out that Jose wasn’t talking to other women after all. He had been emailing his fantasy football friends, but that wasn’t the issue. His issue was trust, as hers was preventing abandonment.
Jose remembers being told, “You can’t trust people.” Since his wife, Tina, was a person, he couldn’t trust her. None of this is rational, it isn’t even conscious, but these lessons were destroying the marriage.
In counseling, Tina was able to tell her husband Jose, her underlying fear of abandonment. Jose confessed his trouble with emotional vulnerability and that he couldn’t even trust himself, let alone her.
Both felt relief from a lifetime of being controlled by insecurities. Each reassured the other that these fears from the past were inappropriate in the present. Both agreed that their suspicions were a cancer on their marriage, that it was exhausting and needed to stop.
Their homework was to catch themselves about to overreact to some minor provocation, and then consciously choose not to blow it out of proportion for dramatic effect. They were given the choice to do something else instead. They could choose to be honest and use their words (not their behavior) to express how each other’s actions made them feel.
They were able to identify three reasons to keep their relationship going:
1. I get you: I understand you
2. I’m in your corner: I support you
3. What you say is significant: what you say is important
The following weekend they were driving home from the movies. Tina said that she didn’t understand why the hero did what he did. Jose was about to yell so as to demonstrate the supremacy of his insightful observations into human motivation, when his mental idiot-light went on “overload.” He spared himself this cheap shot at his wife’s expense. Instead he chose to agree that the plot was hard to understand, and he did the best he could to enlighten her in language she could comprehend. She didn’t get it completely, but it helped. What helped even more was that her husband was actually speaking to her in a tone as if she were an intelligent human being. He had risen to the occasion. She had made it easier for him to do so.
Tina, in the absence of a dismissive and patronizing tone, was able to see how she had been provoking Jose all these years. They realized that they had power over each other. No one can hurt you like your spouse and no one can make you feel good like your spouse.
If Jose and Tina decide to stop pushing each other’s buttons and act like adults, then they can be responsible for how their behavior shapes their partner’s responses. If they decide to trust their judgment to solve problems as they occurred, rather then seek control to prevent potential disaster, they can feel confident. If they decide to give each other freedom to choose how to act and not be a parent to one another, they can feel respected. These choices promote honesty, trust and intimacy, which eliminates the need to defend from the threat of insecurity.