Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Couple Friends

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 16, 2013

What happens when you don’t like your husband’s friends? Do you pretend you do or do you make a fuss? If you make a fuss, do you feel guilty about that? Rainer, thirty-three, comes to mind. She has sleepless nights every time she and her husband go to dinner with her husband’s college roommate and his wife. She has not linked those two events together, but after many months of working with her, we have connected those dots. “Maybe you have trouble with your dinner dates?” I say, giving her permission to not like all comers. “Yes, but what am I going to do? Should I tell John (husband) that I won’t go any more? That would not come down well,” she says, suggesting that she has thought about this before. “Why can’t you tell John how you feel?” I say, suggesting that the holding in of feelings, seems to leak out in her slumber time. “He will get mad,” she says, as if to end the conversation. “Ok” I say, “so you tip-toe around him to avoid his anger?” I say, suggesting that anger can be a form of control. “I feel like a bad person for not liking his friends,” she says, making me pause. “That is curious,” I say, wondering how she leaps from not liking his friends to being a bad person. “I am thinking that if you do not have the same feelings as  your husband has, then there must be something wrong with you. It is as if you do not feel entitled to have your viewpoint of the world.” I say, seeing Rainer in a new light. “Yes, I think you are telling me I have low self-esteem, and I have to agree with you, ” she says in a sad and reflective way.

5 Responses to “Couple Friends”

  1. Shelly said

    John would be angry at Rainer because Rainer would be, in effect, saying that she questions John’s choices in friends. It is not a question of Rainer being a bad person, it is a question of John and how he handles Rainer’s feelings. Rainer questions herself because she cares deeply for John and believes that everything (and everyone) that John likes, she should like. John probably thinks the same. Can you expand on anger being a form of control? I think that is an interesting concept. Or is the fear of someone’s anger enough to control someone?

    • John likes to get his way, meaning that John likes to have the company he likes, and the activities he likes. He gets angry when that does not happen, hence Rainer, afraid of his anger, goes along with John’s activity, but at a cost of resentment and insomnia. Rainer feels controlled because she is afraid of John’s anger, and John appreciates that Rainer never expresses her own point of view. Yes, John and Rainer are a good example of a well-fitting couple in that John gets angry and Rainer gets fearful, leading to a life where John gets his way, making John happy, and Rainer living out her childhood fears of not pleasing authority. By well-fitting, I mean that their unconscious needs fit together making their marriage very stable, although also very uncomfortable for Rainer. Thanks.

  2. Ashana M said

    It’s interesting you mention self-esteem as a factor, when a great body of research on self-esteem indicates that low self-esteem has no effect on real-life outcomes, except possibly in self-perceptions of one’s own happiness and success, and efforts to increase self-esteem do not have any measurable benefits–as I’m sure you’re more than well aware. So, why would it make a difference if she has low, average, or high self-esteem?

    • The issue here is that Rainer could not sort out her feelings leading her to terrible insomnia. We postulated together that it was her inability to know and therefore express her feelings to her husband which led to internal distress. We further postulated that the guilt she felt by having negative feelings might have come from a place where she did not feel entitled to “not like” people. This may have been a function of not knowing herself very well, which, in lay terminology, is low self-esteem. Thanks.

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