“I’m not your father." Eddie jabs each word with his finger.
“What does that mean?” Eve raises an eyebrow.
“He was a charmer. Quite a womanizer. Just ‘cuz I’m good looking like he was…” He winks. “… doesn’t mean I’ve a woman in every port, like he had.”
Eve ignores Eddie’s attempt at humor.
“No. Just one woman too many right here." Eve’s voice slows for emphasis.
“C'mon Eve. I’ve explained and showed you in every which way that I’m not having an affair with Amy.”
“Yes yes, she’s such a good listener…that’s what you say…blah blah blah.”
“Yes, she listens when I talk. But you see us talking, then fill in the blanks. You think all men are like your father. You put onto me your belief that men lie, cheat, and make their women miserable.” Eddie tries to be patient.
“Well, perception isn’t only superficial. My eyes don’t lie. About my Dad. About you." Eve inhales sharply. “And my mother was miserable. When I was 15 and told her about the love letter I found, she didn’t want to hear it. She turned a blind eye. She’d retreat and be silent just to avoid conflict. To keep the peace. No matter how miserable she was. Disgusting. I’ll never be like her!”
“That’s my point." Eddie tries again. “Because I’m friendly with Amy at work, you imagine I’m having an affair with her. Like your Dad would have. You accuse me so you don’t feel like a victim like you saw your Mom. But I’m not your Dad. I’m not having an affair. You’re not your Mom. Or anything like her. And you’re not the victim of any betrayal. “
I’m impressed. Eddie has absorbed our discussions of how each of their histories is likely reflected in their present relationship tensions. As a teen, Eve saw her Dad’s cheating ways without understanding the complexity of her parents’ relationship.
The Past in the Present
Their comments remind me of more of their history. Eve’s Dad, a good-looking sales rep and back-slapping friendly type, had a rotating cast of mistresses. While angry with him, she remained equally angry at her Mom for not protecting herself—or both kids, I might add.
Although very different, Eddie’s history fits hand-in-glove with Eve’s. His Mom was a screamer who yelled about any little thing. He learned early to keep under her radar to stay out of trouble. So clearly, Eddie leaning away from conflict would surely trigger Eve.
Eddie is accurate to highlight both the similarities and differences in their histories. I think that now seems like the right time to deepen that understanding. So I step in.
“Remember," I say, “early on we talked about how babies need to bond for survival with their primary caregivers?” They both nod. “From Day One, neither of your families helped you to feel safe in the world in general.
“Specifically,” I turn to Eddie, “your Dad was distant while your Mom wore the pants. She yelled when you didn’t get straight A’s, or didn’t look perfect in front of neighbors. She sounds pretty shaming, as was likely done to her. Especially if you showed any needs or dependency. No wonder you lean away from Eve’s strong emotions, which you experience as demands.”
“Yeah,” Eddie nods. “I expect Eve to make impossible demands like my mother. And Eve expects me to lie and cheat to protect my own interests without a glance back at her.”
“Oh. And when you turn away from me,” Eve chimes in, “I feel rejected and can get really mean.” They look tenderly at one another. I think: They’re doing good teamwork! They confirm that right now they feel seen and understood.
To address both of them, I turn to Eve. “While Eddie’s parents were pretty consistent in their distancing and lack of affection, your parents also sound unsupportive and unavailable but in a different way. Your Mom expressed her own strong need to be close to you, especially when your Dad traveled. So she enjoyed you being articulate and expressing your own wish for touching and affection. But then she got depressed and rejecting with what she called your clinging and neediness. From your memories, she could switch on a dime and punish and push you away, even when she had encouraged you the week before. Pretty crazy-making.“ I added, “Probably for her as well as for you.
“So while seemingly opposite, neither of your sets of parents helped you to feel safe in a close relationship, let alone trusting. We see how this situation with Amy fits right into both your insecurities. Perception is not intent.”
“I get it,” Eve says. “I’m primed to expect Eddie to betray me.” She looks directly at him. “But I wish you didn’t look so much like you’re enjoying yourself when you talk with Amy.” She leans in toward Eddie.
He takes her hand. I think: Great! He’s learned how to respond positively to Eve’s bids. “It’s true that I like to talk to Amy because she listens so well. But as we’re talking about it now, I realize it’s just like you used to look and listen to me when we first met. Remember how we used to talk for hours?”
They smile at each other.
Eddie adds, “Then, of course, we'd end up in bed!” They both laugh.
My Post-Session Notes
- Have learned to ‘fight well.’ Mutual emotional regulation much improved.
- Now they hear/listen (better) to the other. Thus we can get to more content of this betrayal narrative.
- Moving closer toward our goal: Opening up (and being vulnerable? Maybe?!) and understanding how they both contribute to Amy’s presence in THEIR story.
1) PACT = Psychobiologic Approach to Couples Therapy
(1) Santayana, G. ( (1905-22), v.1; The Life of Reason; or, The Phases of Human Progress; C.Scribner’s Sons; NY, NY.
(2) Tatkin, S. (2018), We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection, and Enduring Love; Sounds True; Boulder, Colo. p. 75 - 105 Chap 5: What are Your Styles of Relating?