Statistic tells us, that the average person exists with a life-influencing problem for seven years before looking for professional help. So what are people doing for nearly a decade? Strangely enough they are under the impression that they have it all under control. This is what Gertrude thought, when she came to our open day event: ‘Enjoy your first hour with a professional counsellor for free’. Gertrude was a 55 year old teacher in secondary school. She enjoyed working with children; she lived in a beautiful house – although the house was not entirely finished. After 29 years of marriage her husband is still putting all his money into building and rebuilding the house. The place is a mess. But it does not matter, Gertrude is earning enough to sustain the family. And her husband has promised that everything will be finished in May. Finally! Gertrude is happy.
One year later my colleagues and I were hosting the same event. Gertrude came and was happy to see me again. She told me how much she enjoyed working with children. She lived in a beautiful house – although the house is not entirely finished. After 30 years of marriage her husband is still putting all his money into building and rebuilding the house. The place is a mess. But it does not matter, her husband has promised that everything will be finished next summer. Gertrude is – finally – realising that she told me the very same story a year ago.
Bottom line: Gertrude’s husband was playing her. While she has worked full-time at a school and raised, fed and clothed the children and her husband, he had fun playing with his construction plans. Once Gertrude had accepted the fact that her husband was not the misunderstood hero but was rather egoistic and self-serving, she began to understand her own position much better. No matter how hard Gertrude had tried to make this family work, she had always ended up working for the family.
- There was a crisis in the family, Gertrude had it covered.
- Their peer group expected participation, Gertrude was on it.
- Her husband had a problem, Gertrude took responsibility.
By having a closer look at the relationship we discovered that, unfortunately, this was not the only problem. Even her attempt to see a partner-therapist showed the same pattern and brought absolutely no positive result.
Gertrude is not alone with this phenomenon. Many people are stuck in a one-sided relationship. This does not necessarily have to be a marriage. An unbalanced relationship with a business-partner would do nicely. The crux is that partner A is totally submerged in their own problems while partner B is running the show. Any attempt by B to change the situation would be considered extremely egoistic and thoughtless. The trick is perfect, and, I am afraid, there is no way out as partner A’s sole interest in the relationship is partner B doing the hard work.
Gertrude and I were going through a couple of questions which should bring some clarity to the situation.
- Is my partner constantly telling me how much I neglect him?
- When was the last time that my partner actually listened and responded to my problems?
- Does my partner overreact emotionally when I have a different opinion?
- Do I enjoy spending time with my partner?
- Have I tried different solutions to our problem? Have they all been rejected?
- Was I ever able to achieve a significant and lasting change for the better in our relationship?
Gertrude had nothing but discouraging answers for every question. Looking at the result she decided that it was time to go. She hired a solicitor, moved into a tiny flat, started to count numbers and filed for a divorce. Yes, it was complicated. Yes, it took its time. And yes, her friends and her children congratulated her on this bold step. Finally Gertrude had learned that her marriage was not the only way of spending her life.