Here is the story of Laurie and Nate.
[NOTE: I’m sure you realize that I do not use real people’s stories here. I know you’ve seen on TV and online all sorts of horrible “true life” stories, some even by therapists. This is unethical. It’s taking advantage of people when they’re down. I realize that many programs provide therapy in the background and that is excellent. But if you Google some of the people’s names you will find that they did not have good outcomes from all that self-revelation on national TV. In one or two cases, people even committed suicide. In any case, the ethics of my profession don’t permit it and I am in full agreement with them. So when I get real live testimonials, I don’t use a name at all. In my case studies, I make up composites of what I have heard over the years and then add my imagination.]
Laurie was 26 when she married Nate. She was shy, yet people thought she was outgoing because she put on a front of friendliness. It’s not that she didn’t feel friendly; she genuinely liked people. It’s just that she never would be certain that they would like her in return.
But she had discovered that if she showed her true feelings of liking people, they would usually like her back. So that worked.
Nate was different. He didn’t care at all if people liked him, but this never came out in dating. In dating, he seemed very kind and considerate. He also donated money to charity which really impressed Laurie. She thought he was a good person. That was one thing that was important to her. Nate was not gorgeous but as Laurie said to her closest friend, that didn’t matter.
All that changed within a few months of the marriage.
It was a small thing. But big.
After Church one fine Sunday, as everyone left the building, a man from the congregation said Hi to Laurie and she said Hi back. They chatted for about five or ten minutes and parted ways.
This turned out to be a capital crime.
When they got home, Nate was seething. “I saw you. You can’t fool me,” he said, starting a litany of accusations.
Never for a minute — unfortunately — did Laurie say to herself, “There’s something wrong with him! Normal people don’t make accusations that are so obviously ridiculous and off the wall.”
Instead, because of Laurie’s upbringing (in which her parents always thought they were “encouraging” her by saying, “You can do better at [whatever project she was doing] than that”) she took the accusations very seriously and decided she must have done something wrong. She also knew she’d done absolutely nothing wrong. She was really confused.
When you’re in that place — where nothing you do is right — it’s called a double bind.
Nate put her there.
The problem is she didn’t know it. And the worst part of the problem is that she did not see how easy it would have been to fix the problem. Years later, she got out.
How could she have fixed the problem?
A person needs an internal moral compass. That is, a person needs to know who they really are and that what they do is okay. That must come from deep within. Although Laurie knew she was a good person — and she certainly knew she wasn’t a flirt — she always took responsibility on herself for what other people did wrong.
To get that INTERNAL moral compass, sometimes a person first needs a voice from outside of herself telling her that she was okay. Sometimes that is a friend’s voice, sometimes a clergy-person’s voice, sometimes the wisdom in a self-help course, and sometimes the voice of a therapist you respect. When enough people you respect give you feedback about yourself, you internalize it.
Armed with the knowledge that she did nothing wrong, the next step would have been to confront her brand new husband by asking him if he really meant what he said. Did he really think that badly of her? And a further question could have been — and this one is really important because it speaks to how people view the world as a whole — is he generally suspicious of people? Does he think they’re going to hurt him?
The answers to these questions could point Laurie to therapy for her husband or for them as a couple. Or she could have decided to quit the marriage.
I am not in favor of divorce. After all, who among us is perfect? – No one. We all have some growing to do. And sometimes our best growth takes place with the people we love most.
But I AM definitely in favor of getting to the bottom of these kinds of problems. Don’t accept pain as a part of your life. Correct it or move on.