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|Case Studies Mar/Apr - Page 3|
Boot Camp vs. "Feelings Words"
Sherry and Carl had been married 17 years, during the last 5 of which they'd been to three experienced marriage counselors. An attractive couple (if you looked beyond the resentment in their faces), they sat on a love seat in my office—as far apart from each other as was physically possible.
Sherry started the boot camp with 15 minutes of the usual complaints about an emotionally unavailable man, but at the end of her list of grievances, sadness overshadowed complaint, when she mentioned something her husband hadn't heard before: "I'm not sure that he loves me anymore."
Carl was astonished at first, and then offended: "What do you mean I don't love you? I go to work every day!"
"You'd go to work every day even if I weren't with you," she snapped back. But, noticing the look of frustration on his face, she explained: "I know in his heart he loves me; he just can't show it."
Their previous therapists had worked hard to teach the couple active-listening, mutual-validation, and other empathy-inducing skills. One had taught Carl a series of "feelings words," so he could better express how he felt and validate Sherry's emotional states.
"He says the right words," Sherry complained, "but it always sounds phony at home, like he doesn't really mean it. He's supposed to say something he appreciates about me every day, and he can't even do that."
"How many times can you tell her she's smart, competent, attractive, and . . . ," Carl grew more frustrated as he forgot the other compliment he was supposed to give. "What else was I supposed to say?" he asked his wife.