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Karina was particularly annoyed that Marcos didn't set limits with his boss, Eva, with whom he worked closely and traveled regularly. Eva often texted him after business hours—even on weekends and in the middle of the night. One Sunday afternoon while the family was on a rare outing at the Central Park Zoo, she'd called Marcos in a panic. Without explanation, he'd left his wife and child alone with the picnic basket and rushed back to the office. While Marcos acknowledged that Eva could be extremely demanding, he justified his actions by saying that he'd come to the U.S. to build a financial nest egg and was just doing whatever he could to get the bonuses he deserved.
I've worked with many couples—especially European and Latin American—in which the person having an affair was dead set against revealing it. I've also worked with couples in which it was the other partner who preferred the comfort of ignorance or denial to the agony of knowing. In this case, I felt I was dealing with a joint pact, in which both partners had implicitly decided that they weren't going to deal openly with the secret at the edge of their relationship. Given the way I work, that meant that I'd have to manage the many ambiguities inherent in this situation. I'd most likely sit with Marcos—and his secret—to explore the meaning of this affair. I'd also meet individually with Karina to see what she wanted to do about her situation. At the same time, I'd want to offer them a "holding environment," which could allow them to review problems in their relationship and possibly work on rekindling their connection. I was aware that, to be effective with them, I'd have to sustain a delicate balance of empathizing with Karina, who was probably mystified and frustrated, while trying to gain Marcos's trust to help him face whatever this affair meant for him, and what he wanted to do about it.
By the end of our first session, I'd explained my confidentiality policy to them and suggested that we meet individually. In my session with Karina, we talked about why she thought her relationship with Marcos had derailed. We went over her feelings of loss and isolation after they'd moved to the new country, the impact 9/11 had had on them, and the stresses from complications in her pregnancy and, later, of caring for an infant. When she mentioned Eva, I asked her directly, "Do you think that Marcos is having an affair with her?" To my surprise, Karina responded that she was pretty sure that there was nothing sexual going on between them. She'd met Eva once, and thought that she was "vulgar," and she was convinced that she wasn't Marcos's type. When I asked her what she expected from therapy, she said that most of all she needed to know if Marcos still loved her, and she wanted my help in deciding how to give him a deadline for leaving his demanding job.