"You know, if you'd only said. . . ." David tries to interject, unable to help himself. Sarah looks pained at the interruption and David settles back down.
"You want to . . . ?" I ask him, but he shakes his head, equal parts gracious and disgusted. Things are heating up.
"OK, so at this point, I'm not happy," Sarah continues. "But I'm not crazy unhappy," she says, smiling. "Then I do get crazy unhappy when, two days before the dinner, David gets off the phone with our friend Rudi, turns to me and says, 'Hey, Rudi and Joan are going to that dinner, could be fun. Wanna go?' Wanna go?" she remembers the phrase, incredulous. "He spoke as if I'd never brought it up. He never remembered talking to me about it." Tears fill her eyes.
"A small thing, a small thing, maybe, but I felt invisible. And as far as I'm concerned, that's why we're here--because David hears what David hears, and David does what David does. He's not mean; he doesn't bully. He's the world's nicest guy; ask anyone. But if he woke up in the morning and found me sprawled on the stairs with my throat slit, he'd step over me and ask if I wanted some coffee. There are times when it feels like I don't even exist," she says, punctuating each word for emphasis.
"Got it," I tell Sarah, turning to David. "How'd you like to respond?"
"If only she'd said to me 'I,'--like you taught us, Terry," David explains--"'I want to go.' But that wasn't her phrasing. She said, 'I think we should go.'" He turns to her, "'Should go,'" he repeats, vindicated. "And I didn't think so. So that's all. That's all there is to it."
I squint at David for a minute as he sits back in his chair, looking satisfied, I think. Then I break the first of many rules I'd learned in my training--I take sides.
A cardinal principle of couples therapy as I learned it was: Thou Shalt Not Take Sides, and particularly, you're not to side with a woman against a man. Evenhandedness is critical, I learned. If you lost your "therapeutic neutrality," you had to go talk to your supervisor. But I'd heard enough, not just in this moment, but also in others from previous sessions, to convince me that Sarah's complaint had the ring of truth to it. She was right--David didn't listen.
"So," I ask him, "the fact that she brought it up two, three. . . ."
"Five," Sarah offers.
"Five times," I say. "That doesn't tell you something about how important it is to her?"
"But she didn't say. . . ." David tries.
"That," Sarah interjects, "just gets us from small to big. Really big comes when I try to talk to him about it and he just gets defensive and angry."
"Damn it, Sarah! That's ridiculous," David objects, looking . . . well, defensive and angry.
"David, you didn't talk to me for the next three days!" she exclaims.
"True?" I ask him.
"I was hurt," he explains.
"Hurt?" I ask.
"And pissed, I suppose," he admits, begrudgingly.
I look at them both. It's time for me to speak.
"So," I turn to David. "This is the part, my friend, where I say, 'I can be nice to you right now, or I can work to save your marriage. What's more important to you?'" David sighs, a big sigh. His hand stretches up to his yarmulke. "Bring it," he says grimly.
"Thank you," I answer. "So, take a breath; this might sting a little."
"I'm good. Go ahead," he assures me.
"She's right, David."
"Your behavior, which would drive most women crazy," I tell him.
"As in rip her hair out." He nods quietly, taking it in, not fighting me for the moment. Next to him, Sarah does what many women do at this juncture--she begins to cry, not from pain, as she later explains, but from relief. She's dragged her husband to three therapists before me. Until this minute in this session, no one has ever taken him on.