Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

What’s Up With Marla?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 11, 2011

“What’s up with Marla?” Monte asks. Of course, I have never met Marla, so I enjoy the speculative nature of our discussion, but first I want to know what Monte is trying to get at. “What do you mean?” I ask right back. “Why does she want to have a relationship with me? I understand why I want to keep this tortuous relationship going. I mean I sort of understand that, but I can’t get my head around why she continues to engage with me. She could just go completely silent and never return my phone calls. Instead, she only goes silent intermittently.” I am wondering why Monte cares about Marla’s motivations. Maybe he feels that if he understood her motivation then he could make a better decision about whether to continue this twenty plus year relationship. “What are your ideas about that?” I ask, before venturing with my associations to his question. “I think that she is trying to work something out with me. I think she feels guilty for how she has treated me and so by continuing the relationship with me, she tries to assuage her guilt. Severing the connection, it seems to me, would make her have to face her own cruelty. This way, she can reassure herself that she has been forgiven for her dismissiveness and her rage.” Monte explains this to me as if he has given this really deep thought and although he opened the session with this question, he appears at this moment to be more interested in his ideas than mine. “So, does your theory about Marla trying to cope with her guilt, change anything about the way you think of her? I ask. “A little,” he says, “in that, I know she does not have my best interest in mine, but then again all relationships are selfish when it comes down to it.” Monte returns to his tortured state. His body language changes, he appears frustrated and confused. As he explained how he sees Marla as selfish, and then quickly protects her by saying we are all selfish, his mixed feelings about Marla quickly resurface. “Marla means a lot to you, but exactly what she means to you is my question,” I respond. “I would like to know why you spend so much time thinking about this relationship when you have so many other things going on in your life.” I say, trying to be compassionate, but wanting to challenge him at the same time. “I lost my best friend when I started my psychoanalytic training, which is also when I first met Marla. I think that has something to do with it.” Monte says with tears in his eyes. “You mean that somehow Marla has become the continuation of your best friend. She has somehow eased the pain of that loss.” I say, surprised that I had never known this fact before. “Of course, I am just guessing, but I have been thinking about that recently.” Monte says, crying heavily. “That is very moving,” I say, taken by the change in affect, and struck by the new understanding of the meaning that Marla might be playing in his life. “It is really too bad we have to stop now,” I say, struggling with how to close this moving session. “Yea, I left the major punch for the end. I hate it when I do that,” Monte says, trying to make light in the midst of a heavy session.

2 Responses to “What’s Up With Marla?”

  1. Shelly said

    Is Monte and Marla’s relationship a friendship or a romantic relationship? I thought you mentioned they were both married with children. If it was simply a friendship, then why couldn’t Monte be honest with Marla and just simply tell her how he felt about her behavior? Why give her so many chances to redeem herself? Why is Monte so stuck with Marla? Why doesn’t he find another professional to work with? Is his self-esteem so low that he sticks with being put down and manipulated so often in this “relationship?”

  2. shirah said

    A professional “friendship”. Marla appears to have strong needs to be liked by everyone and so she avoids confrontation. Monte does tell Marla how he feels, but Marla denies that she has caused Monte pain since again, Marla’s self-image if one of an all-giving, all-loving person. Monte gives Marla so many chances to redeem herself because for reasons that are mysterious to Monte, he feels that the continuity is very important to him. This could be a matter of Monte’s self-esteem, but it could also be a matter of a critical hole in Monte’s character that Marla seems to fill up. This hole could be thought of in the broader category of self-esteem, but I think it can be defined more precisely than that. Thanks.

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