Mary came to the first session by herself questioning whether to continue her relationship with Sean. She checked out of the marriage years ago. Sean wasn’t listening and being responsive to her emotional needs. When I entered the waiting room to get Mary for her third session, Sean was with her. He knew his relationship was on the rocks and he insisted on coming.
Sean grew up in a stoic family—no one expressed emotions unless it was criticism or sarcasm. I could sense that Sean didn’t have the skill set to meet Mary’s emotional needs. He needed a coach.
Mary had little hope that Sean could change. Left on their own, she was probably right. In our first marriage counseling session, Mary expressed what she needed emotionally from Sean. Initially he would talk about how he was meeting her needs. I told Sean that he was talking in the past tense and was defending what he had done. I had him talk in the present or future tense, saying he was committed to meeting her needs and being more attentive moving forward.
I would occasionally represent Sean’s position to model emotional responsiveness. Sean eventually applied the skill of listening and responsiveness on his own. In a recent session he said, “I’m not looking for you to check back into the relationship the way things were. I know I need to get better.” He was starting to get it.