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|In Consultation - Page 2|
I begin by highlighting the distortions in their learned model of fairness. Bob and Sandy's ideas about what they owe to and deserve from each other are diametrically opposed. In Bob's family, it was considered selfish to put your own needs ahead of those of someone you love. Bob's underlying belief is that if Sandy loved him enough, she'd stop this argument simply because he asked her to.
Sandy grew up feeling that her domineering mother never allowed her to have her own voice, her own independent take on life. While she's aware of her anger toward her mother, she's unaware that her predisposed resentment when challenged now rules the way she treats Bob, and limits her capacity for a fair and emotionally intimate relationship with him. She reacts defensively and angrily to what she interprets as Bob's attempts to control her. She mistakes her obstinacy for her right to assert herself and oppose Bob's influence.
In short, Bob idealizes and accepts his family's model, while Sandy treats Bob as if he were her mother. Both operate with biases that are largely unknown to them, and certainly unknown to each other. The result is deadlock.
To break it, I began by challenging each of them. "Bob, instead of thinking this is objectively Sandy's problem, let's look at what the problem is between the two of you. And Sandy, since just dismissing Bob's concern as controlling doesn't help, tell me if you recognize any reasonableness in his request. Tell me more about what you expect from each other, and where you learned those expectations. Tell me what you learned about love and fairness in your families growing up."
Like many couples, Bob and Sandy initially resisted talking about their family experiences, saying they had nothing to do with their problems today. I reassured them that I wasn't interested in an archaeological dig, but in connecting the dots between the past and present to resolve distortions between love and fairness. I asked them to talk about the give-and-take they'd experienced in their families of origin and their history as a couple. Was one more a giver? a taker? or were giving and taking balanced? How had each resolved differences in the past?
Not surprisingly, differences hadn't been resolved, either in their families or in their marriage. In the two years since their wedding, they'd relied on the old stand-bys of make-up sex, turning the page, and sweeping things under the rug. But now these methods weren't working. To recover from their conflict, as well as build trust for the future, they had to build a new model for fair relating. This model has four key components.