Learning to Talk About Difficult Issues
They were both in their 60s, second marriages for each of them. They initially sought counseling because of conflict related to some situations with some of their adult children.
In the counseling process, we discovered that over the course of their 20-year marriage, they truly struggled with letting each other know how they felt and how to ask for their needs to be met – in addition to resolving areas of disagreement.
He did not want to hurt her feelings, he reported. She often made decisions without understanding how he felt about their plans. He agreed because he didn’t know how to tell her that he didn’t concur and because he was afraid the discussion might evolve into an argument.
When they finally came to counseling after all those years, they were feeling hopeless and afraid they could not repair the damage. At the same time, they loved each other and were willing to explore what could be possible.
The couple was diligent: They completed assigned “homework,” read the recommended book and were able to be unusually open and candid in sessions. We discovered issues related to intimacy that they were never able to discuss; they learned to set aside time each day to talk; they learned that it was OK to disagree and that they could learn to resolve most issues by deeply understanding each other’s concerns.
They stated that by feeling safe and secure in the counseling sessions, they could begin to transition to handling any challenging situations themselves. When they first came to therapy, the distance and anger between them could be felt in the room. As therapy progressed, they were able to connect even when difficult topics were brought into the discussion.
Old wounds were able to be healed and understood. They learned new ways to understand each other and to have their concerns heard by their spouse. “We never knew this was possible,” she said as therapy was concluding. “We are so much closer now than we had been all those years in the past.”
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