Working together. Some orienting thoughts.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Got asked this recently.  “How should I approach counseling with my partner?”   I sent this response and you may get a kick out of it.  I’ve said this sort of thing so often it is almost poetry to me.

Remember, I chat, and don’t do counseling.  No, I don’t do sliding scales.  I simplify, by keeping the flat rate for an hour of my time, so that I can live in peace with all the people who call or visit.  I rarely see people in person, except for my group and classes.  Don’t have an office and don’t want one.  I am concerned about your hard earned money, but as a wise old Navy psychiatrist told me in 1965, “Get your money situation in hand, Al. Then go see someone good.”

Ok, how do I suggest  you approach your roles and counseling.
  1. Overall.  Both are 50% responsible for everything.  His 50% is easier for you to see. Your 50% is easier for him to see.  Your 50% is for you to fix, maybe with his help.  Spend 98% of your energy on this. His 50% you can do nothing about, but maybe help him.  Spend 2% of your energy on this.  Blame is only useful when you two are trying to figure out whose stuff belongs to whom.
  2. Both are equally, but differently, traumatized by childhood.  As a rule of thumb, when you note his damage, you have the same level.  When you note your damage, he has the same level.  Between you two, you have to address the totality of effects left over.  One way of looking at it is to guess how much damage the worst damaged of you two has.  Then multiply by two and set your goals to do that much work.
  3. In dealing with his stuff: a) do not take responsibility for his stuff*,  b) don’t get hurt, impatient, discouraged, etc., c) listen when he shares, and prove you are listening, e.g. mirroring, etc. d) PreValidate him always, e) Validate him any chance you get. Offer suggestions only very very rarely.  Display curiosity about how he is gonna deal with his stuff.  Offer to help at his direction.  Keep your boundaries solid, feet on the ground especially when he has trouble, and remember to protect your Lizard.
  4. In dealing with your stuff:  a) only occasionally focus on your stuff in his presence and make sure he explicitly wants you to.  When you need an in-depth listener, find some great friends or maybe use a professional.  Don’t expect your partner to do it.  Enjoy it if he does.
  5. Share your recovery journeys.  Remember to play.


* Taking responsibility for another adult is the way to keep them (enable them) to stay in their troubles.  Learn such useful phrases as , “I love your problems and am eagerly waiting for you to share your solutions,” or “Wow what a mess! How are you going to handle it?”  Hand responsibility back to them.


Working together. Some orienting thoughts. — 2 Comments

  1. Hi Al,
    I love your articles and am starting to use some of your advice on validation, pursuers and avoiders as my husband left me 8 months ago after 18 years of being together and me not realising he was so unhappy. He still hasn’t told our three children but works away so only visits every six weeks anyway.

    The thing is, he has recently become even more depressed than when he first left and has admitted to thoughts of death. He is going to a counsellor but says he doesn’t believe in it and only goes because me and his Dad said he should. He wouldn’t visit this week despite a lovely, friendly chatty visit a month ago. He says he doesn’t want the kids to see him in this state.
    I am interested in biology and psychology so it is very difficult for me to hold back when I know what’s going on at a chemical level. He has suffered from a terrible childhood but I have read so many stories of men overcoming this sort of depression and then regretting leaving their wives.
    Do you have any advice on what I should do to help maintain his relationship with the children? I really feel playing would help him as it certainly cheers me up when I’m down. Do you think I should suggest family therapy-I’m so concerned that he is affecting them already with this little contact, they are 14, 10 and 7 years old.

    • Sorry, Carrie, for what is going on, but then this does describe the fairly normal situation of a couple “waking up.” I’ve described this elsewhere as a situation where at some later date you say, “Darn, I wished I learned all that 10 years ago!” These awful situations seem to be necessary to get that learning going. So before you both, all of you, is the “class”.

      His depression, yup. That normal “stuckness”. That sinking into “hopeless, helplessness!” Hard to watch. Usually it is an earned state. In other words if I had lead my life the way he did or is then I’d probably be depressed, too. Is a giant invitation to change things and to move forward. Kinda like a giant signpost in life that simply says, “Don’t do that anymore.” Change is coming. But usually the depressed person has to do it by themselves and much of the outside efforts to “fix it” tend to make it last longer. I think the best is to walk along with the person as they make their changes or even better find a Mentor who can walk with them. He’s got a counselor. Great! Sure games and exercise are great. I write about depression in my articles on Emotions.

      So here go the kids into learning too. They didn’t ask for this, but get it anyway. You might want to get a counselor to walk with you as you find yourself explaining what is going on to them. The goal I think is to a) give the kids as much structure and awareness as possible, b) avoid any blaming of yourself, of them, of him, c) open the doors to learning and the future as much as possible. Kinda a “Dad is hurting and taking care of himself for a while. I’m learning how to better help him and also learning how I didn’t see this coming. Parents don’t know everything. I’ll check in with him on Saturdays. In the meantime you’ll have to handle being on your own more.”

      If the kids start struggling, you might check out counselors for them.

      Good luck, Carrie. The outcome hopefully will be a better wiser family all around.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.