Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for November 27th, 2010

Thanksgiving Drama

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 27, 2010

   Javier and Luisa, both in their sixties, married for thirty years, three grown children, have verbally violent confrontations almost every day. Mostly, Javier yells at Luisa about something she is doing wrong: folding the laundry, taking care of the dog, taking care of the fish, working too hard. Mostly, Luisa stands there and takes the verbal assault, with little pushback. Internally, Luisa feels helpless and confused, not angry or revengeful. Javier, by contrast, feels self-righteous; he feels like he is “helping” Luisa lead a better life. Javier and Luisa do not come for marital therapy; they come because they are worried about their thirty-year old daughter, Isabel, who is trying to find her way, but in the meantime, she is financially dependent on Javier and Luisa.

    “How was Thanksgiving?” I asked, just wanting to break the ice after a three week separation from our sessions. Luisa begins, “well, we were an hour late to our friend’s house  because Javier started screaming at me about how I did not feed the dog on time. It was a holiday so instead of feeding Spot at 8:00 am, as I usually do, I did not feed him until 10:00 am.” “Let me get this straight,” I say. “Javier screams at you when you are supposed to be leaving. You stand there for an hour, as he is screaming, then you gather your stuff together, arrive at your host’s home, and then you act as if nothing happened.” “That’s right,” Luisa says flatly. “How do you go from feeling traumatized to being social,” I wonder aloud. “I have  years of practice,” Luisa says with her same flat tone. “Maybe we should change the focus of our sessions away from Isabel and towards your marriage,” I say with trepidation. “Javier does not think there is anything wrong with our marriage,” Luisa maintains her flat tone. “Is that true?” I ask Javier. “Yes, that’s true,” he says dryly. “Luisa needs to learn things from me, so I needed to explain to her why it was so wrong that she fed Spot late today,” he stated in a matter of fact way. “Did you need to yell at her?” I ask, thinking that I am defending Luisa, but maybe I need to do that now. “Yes, I needed to yell at her, that is how she listens.” I am feeling bad for Luisa, but I know I need to focus on the task that Luisa and Javier outlined. “Where would you like to go from here?” I ask, hoping they will agree to marital therapy. Javier says bluntly, “I think we have to go back to talking about Isabel.” “OK,” I say, “but if you want to talk about your marriage, we could do that, or I could refer you to someone else,” I say as a further attempt to help them with their dynamics.

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