Upping the Ante: Turning the tables on love

You may have more options than you think.

Posted Dec 05, 2016

Flickr/Creative Commons
Source: Flickr/Creative Commons

                                                          Tracy, a 27-year-old diagnosed with an adjustment disorder, was referred by her primary care doctor following a miscarriage.  She said the worst part of it was that she received absolutely no support from her husband, Matt, a high-end home builder, either during the pregnancy or following the miscarriage.  Also, Matt’s mother, Maude, a saint in Matt’s eyes, had just died.  At the funeral, Matt refused to talk to Tracy, but embraced his former girlfriend, who Maude had preferred to Tracy. 

Maude also preferred his former girl-friend’s child by Matt, a 14 year-old-boy, Dillon, over Tracy’s 5-year-old daughter by Matt.  Matt had maintained a close relationship with Dillon over the years and Dillon was invited on a regular basis to visit Tracy and Matt’s home.  Dillon verbally tormented Tracy’s daughter and when Tracy tried to intervene, Dillon verbally assaulted Tracy, using particularly foul and disrespectful language.  Matt sided with Dillon, and Tracy felt she couldn’t do much about it.

Matt regularly criticized Tracy’s housekeeping. Several weeks ago, following a get-together with Matt’s family (which included three sisters, their husbands and children, and Matt’s father), Matt became angry at Tracy after the guests had left for not cleaning up fast enough, and shoved Tracy while their daughter looked on.  And now, Matt had invited a business acquaintance to dinner this Saturday, and Tracy was expected to play the perfect hostess. 

Tracy said she wasn’t sure that she wanted to save her marriage, but didn’t have anyplace to go and had no money.  She had called a former boy-friend, a dentist, who was kind, understanding, and sympathetic—the complete opposite of Matt in Tracy’s eyes.  He had since married his dental assistant, but offered Tracy and her daughter an apartment and living expenses, provided Tracy would become his faithful mistress.

I asked Tracy if she still loved Matt.  She said yes.  Did she love her former boy-friend?  She said yes, and that he still loved her.  Did Tracy think Matt loved her?  Yes, Tracy replied, it was only that he loved his mother more, going along with her every whim.  I pointed out that Tracy was very fortunate to have two men love her—the problem was that each wanted her on his own terms.  It was important that Tracy turn the tables and take charge of the situation, yet leave her options open.

The first thing to do was to make sure she was not taken for granted by either man, but to be one step ahead of them by being slightly unpredictable.  If she was seeing the dentist, consider changing the time, the place, or the date at the last minute.  When he complained, she might ask how she could be expected to make a first-class commitment for a second-rate relationship.  Also, she might call Matt’s father and ask, since he was now alone, if she could do anything for him, possibly inviting him to the zoo or someplace with his granddaughter.  If Matt objected, she might say that their daughter had a right to get to know her own grandfather.  Also, she might call up a caterer to prepare and serve the dinner this Saturday for Matt’s business acquaintance.  And she might tell Matt to clean up afterward or hire a cleaning service.

Before Matt’s son, Dillon, came again, Tracy might tell Matt that she would take her daughter and either go to the movies, have dinner out, visit a girl-friend, or possibly spend the night at a motel.  Moreover, she might say that if Matt ever laid a hand on her or her daughter again, she would change the locks on the house and file for a divorce.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, that Tracy decided to do under the circumstances, was to be judged right or wrong, moral or immoral. There were only consequences. 

Tracy laughed and said she didn’t realize she had so many options. I suggested that Tracy might as well have fun and enjoy herself while others reacted.

At the next session, Tracy was radiant. Matt had actually vacuumed the living and dining room rugs after the caterers left.  He also made a dinner date to discuss their marriage.  He apologized for his son’s abusive tongue and agreed that their daughter should have a relationship with his father. She told him that she would consider staying together, but wanted to give it at least a month to see how things went.  Also, her dentist-friend said now that he had found her again, he realized how much he missed her, and couldn’t live without her.

I congratulated Tracy for completing the first step. She could now “up the ante” and set her terms.  I pointed out that Tracy had a special flair and would be welcome in any social circle of her choosing.  She replied that she wasn’t so sure, since she had dropped out of college.  I told her about a successful actress I knew who dropped out of high-school, but that didn’t stop her from modeling chic clothes, attending concerts, appreciating modern art, and enjoying whatever life had to offer.

After several sessions Tracy announced that she had taken Matt to see an impressionist art exhibit, which they both enjoyed.  She had subscribed for good seats for weekly concerts, a top-ranked theater company and had volunteered for women’s political outreach.  But, I asked, when would she have time for her housework? 

Tracy laughed and said they hired a cleaning person once a week. Also, when Matt got home before her, he was now starting the dinners. And after dinner, to her complete amazement, he was even scouring the pots and pans. 

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                      This blog was co-published with PsychResilience.com