Berkeley, California USA
Jen: Hey L, it's your sister.
Me: Hi. What's going on? You sound upset.
Jen: Yeah, S. and I got in a big fight.
Me: Are you ok?
Me: Do you want to talk about it?
Jen: I don't know....I mean it started over nothing really. We were trying to decide where to go out to dinner. And I really wanted to just stay home, but I said to him anywhere would be fine. But he wanted me to make a decision. And I kept on telling him anywhere was fine. And finally he asked me if I even wanted to go out at all. And I said that I didn't.
And then he... [starts crying]...he yelled at me for not telling him earlier that I didn't want to go out in the first place....and why did we waste an hour talking..and all that...
[pause] [slowly stops crying]
..and he's not talking to me now.
Me: Didn't something like this happen when you guys came to visit me in June? Same fight?
Me: And last time, I asked you if you felt like you could tell him what you wanted without him getting mad at you...and you said you couldn't.
Jen: No. I can't.
Me: Do you deserve to be treated like that?
Jen: Well, I should communicate more.
Me: You seem to communicate just fine. It's him that can't communicate. He's refusing to talk to you right now.
Jen: [mumbling] yeah
Me: Jen, can you just once shift your perspective and look at your marriage from the outside? Pretend you're me looking at your relationship. Pretend I'm married and my husband is picking stupid fights with me. How would you feel about that?
Jen: I don't know. Upset.
Me: Upset how--sad or angry?
Jen: Both...and helpless.
Me: Yeah. That's pretty much how I feel.
Me: Jen, I know he can be kind and sweet at times, but he blames you for all the problems. And he picks fights.
Me: Jen, you know you deserve to be treated better.
Jen: [reluctantly] Yeah.
Me: Yeah, but it doesn't sound like it. Just try shifting your perspective. Stop making excuses. Is he treating you like you deserve to be treated?
Jen: [quietly] No.
Me: Think about that. Why don't you stick up for yourself, get him to go to therapy? It's completely ridiculous that he refuses to go but thinks you should go. And you just admitted he doesn't treat you the way you deserve to be treated. What does it take to get you angry enough to stick up for yourself
Jen: [quietly] He makes me angry.
Me: And? What? You hide it all inside.
Jen: L, you're pissing me off. Stop criticizing my relationship!
Me: That's the type of angry you need to get with him.
Jen: Stop patronizing me!
Me: I'm not!
Jen: Yes you are. I can handle this. It's my marriage!
Me: You've been telling me the same stuff for two years. And you keep on parrotting his words: "it's a communication problem." "I need to communicate more" You don't even call them fights, you call them "discussions." You're completely lost in the relationship and can't find yourself. You used to be so stubborn and strong and now you're little miss wimpy.
Jen: Shut Up!
Me: No. Wimpy.
Jen: Fine! Fine! You want angry? OK...Hold on...
[calls S over to the phone]
[I can overhear the conversation she's having with S]
Jen to S: S, I need to talk about the fight we had earlier.
Jen to S: I don't want to talk about the details. Instead I want to talk about the way we argue. First, you need to stop digging at me to communicate the way you want me to communicate. You know me well enough to know what I mean when I say things. Stop pretending I have a communication problem. You have a listening problem. Second, pouting and refusing to talk to me is immature and if you do it again, you'll get no sympathy from me. I didn't marry a three-year-old. Third, I've been going to therapy for two years to work on "my" communication problem and I'm not going anymore. This last argument has made me realize that the problem is not mine alone--it is ours. You and I need to go together to therapy, and you need to start treating me the way you should treat a life partner: with respect and kindness. Agreed?
[S is a bit taken aback but I can't really hear what he says]
Jen to S: OK. Now pardon me while I get back to my phone conversation.
Jen to me: Wow. I actually feel a lot better.
Me: Good. It's about time.