DK: In this series of brief essays I have referred to marriage as a Wonderland, the magical underground world where Alice went when she fell down the rabbit hole, or as a Forest the setting for many fairy tales. In Alice’s Wonderland and in the Forests of fairy tales conventional reality shifts, things are not exactly what they seem, they are more than they seem. I am using these images to highlight the intriguing complexity and the less apparent but powerful experiential undercurrents in the depths of marital relationships.
Some therapy methods are like teaching and deal with what is explicit, out in the open. My way of working is indirect, less explicit, sometimes playful, thus slightly distorting and dream-like. In being a therapist you have to have ways of understanding that allow you to see more, to increase awareness, before you become too deeply involved, captured by one point of view, hooked by the obvious. The challenge for therapists is how to use the interview to help people who are patients to have the security to think their way through to more depth.
Symptoms, both pathological and healthy, belong to or characterize the marital relationship, not just one of the partners, until proven otherwise. Symptoms appear in a person, but they belong to the relationship. If he is angry, her anger is equal, but hidden. The same personal quality or symptom will be overt in one and covert in the other. For example, he sounds to be an angry person, his anger is overt, on the outside. She seems quiet and suppressed by him. Her anger is equal but covert, expressed in her passivity and in emotionally withholding herself.
Another example is power. Her power is in her logic and assertive control of events, and is obvious (keep in mind that logic and truth are not synonymous). He is apparently powerless, intimidated by her. His power is covert, in his passivity, in his apparent niceness, but his power, his capacity to neutralize her is not so easily seen at the outset.
Some of the features to which this equality (marked by overt/covert difference) include:
Enjoyment of tolerance for ambiguity
Frustration with the other
Capacity for intimacy
Sense of humor
While sexual affairs attract most attention, and tend to be the hallmark of infidelity, her emotional bond to her mother goes unvoiced, or his ‘affair’ with the checkbook is assumed to be necessary. Likewise affairs may occur with the children, tennis, any business, golf, the truck, an image.
Gender identity (reciprocal):
The macho man is married to the hyper feminine woman. The man who has access to the feminine side of himself is married to a woman who has access to her masculine side.
It is very difficult, if not impossible to see it in a relationship of which you are a member. But if you can keep it in mind, it may help you see around persistent marital struggles. He is as lonely as you are, he handles it differently. Her frustration with you matches your frustration with her. The symptoms belong to the relationship. Amy wrote about a related topic in Create the Partner You Desire ( March 25).
…Then, after listening to all that, she decided to go to bed. And the frog said, “Good idea. I‘ll go to bed with you.” And the princess said, “Oh no! No slimy pretentious frog is sleeping with me!” and she picked up the frog and threw him against the wall, and what do you think? The frog smashed against the wall and turned into a prince! And then, they left the castle to wander even deeper into the forest where they lived happily, more or less, ever after.