Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘marriage’ Category

The Divorce

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 10, 2014

The attraction, the dating, the romance, the marriage and then the divorce. This journey captures my imagination as the bonds which draw people in, also serve to break them apart, and yet, no one knows going in, that they are on a path towards destruction. All couples begin with hope and enthusiasm, but when divorce happens, the hope is often transformed into despair. Is it age, boredom, wanting something better, maturity, or just going in different directions? Izzy, sixty-one, female, and Leonard, sixty-seven, come to mind. They are both married for the second time, for twenty years. They both brought teenage children into the marriage, but now they are all grown. They both express confusion as to what went wrong, but both agree that they must split up. There were no betrayals or lies. “I just do not want to grow old with him,” Izzy says bluntly, in front of Leonard. “I don’t want to grow old with her either,” Leonard says, obviously hurt by Izzy’s comment, but wanting to save face. “When did things go sour?” I ask, trying to get a timeline on their relationship. “I think we were raising our kids and we were busy, and now that it is just the two of us, we have time to reflect on whether this is right, and I don’t think it is,” Izzy says, with characteristic succinctness. “Yea, we were desperate raising our kids alone, so we were like the Brady Bunch and now we don’t need each other in that way,” Leonard, once again, echoes Izzy. “It is sad for me to hear this,” I say, having known Izzy and Leonard for many years, but also wondering if they are sad, as well. “Yes, it is sad, but we don’t like to go there,” Izzy says, speaking for the two of them, as if they are still a couple. “Are you guys open to working on your marriage?” I ask, given that they are in my office with the implicit assumption that they do want to persevere. “Yes, but there is little hope,” Izzy says, as if to hurt Leonard, once again. “I heard the word hope,” I say, suggesting that maybe Izzy is trying to save face, given how definite she was about going their separate ways, earlier in the session. “You have been married for a long time, it seems like that warrants some effort in seeing whether this is a bump in your journey, or whether you each need to find a new path,” I say, hoping to infuse more thoughtfulness into their interactions. “OK” Leonard jumps in, leading me to further believe that he is hurt by Izzy, but he is not ready to cut the cord.

Posted in Divorce, marriage | 2 Comments »

Does Therapy Ruin A Marriage?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 24, 2013

Ten students, two absent, made for a vibrant class discussion last evening. My class is titled  “Psychoanalytic Technique”. My students have engaged in a two-year Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy program, in which they attend class from 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm every Wednesday night for two years, with a two month break in the summer.  There are psychiatrists, social workers, MFTs and psychologists, all together with a common purpose: trying to understand how to help folks who suffer. As per my previous posts, our class began with understanding Transference. Yet, as the conversation unfolded, in ways that are interesting to reconstruct, we went down a path in which we outlined how if one person in a couple goes into treatment, that it could, cause significant relationship tension for a variety of reasons. If, for example, there is a ‘idealizing transference’ then the partner in the relationship could begin to feel competitive with the therapist. Alternatively, if the patient experiences significant personal growth, then he/she may turn to his/her partner and feel a large emotional disparity in terms of their maturity levels. Of course, this change in maturity level can happen in any relationship, but psychotherapy is one way in which that can happen. “Should the therapist feel good or feel bad if patients who come to therapy without conscious issues with their life-partner, but over time, develop these issues?” One student asks, highlighting the dilemma, that therapy, as the movie suggests is a “Dangerous Method”. “Therapy is a journey,” I say, “and so we never quite know where we are headed. As Freud instructed his patients, therapy is like a train ride where we narrate what we see out the window, not knowing what is coming next.” My students were sophisticated and intelligent, and clearly dedicated to their work. These classes don’t increase their prestige or their fees. This is a labor of love, for all involved. Yet, at the same time, all of us in the room are aware that our good intentions sometimes cause others, either in the consultation room, and/or their collaterals, significant distress. “Personal growth is a challenging experience,” I say, “and next week we will talk about ‘resistance,’ the unconscious fight against such a challenge.” I do learn by teaching. The adage holds up.

Posted in marriage, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Relationships, Teaching, Teaching Psychoanalysis | 7 Comments »


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving weekend, a time for family, relaxation, good food and low stress, maybe. Crystal, fifty-eight, worked hard putting an elaborate meal together, to which her husband, whom she loves, but is frustrated with, said to his brother “Crystal does not  even know the difference between the various kinds of mushrooms she used in the stuffing.” It was an off-hand comment, which Crystal could have ignored, but it hit her hard. “Where was the gratitude?” she asked me. “I just felt so humiliated,” she continued. “I confronted my husband, in private, and he apologized, but I still felt knocked over,” Crystal says with a tone of resignation and hopelessness. “The next day he was sweet to me, but I still felt injured,” Crystal confided. “I can see that if you were hoping for appreciation, but instead heard criticism, that you would be offended.” I say, pointing out that her feelings seemed linear. “People tend to humiliate others when they themselves feel small.” I say, pointing out that the use of humiliation is often revealing of character issues. “Yea, but that does not help me. I know my husband has self-esteem issues, but I wish he would keep them to himself,” Crystal says, understanding my point, but reminding me that it does not help her feel better in the moment. “It is a little thing and a big thing at the same time. It represents how my husband is clueless about how to make me feel good.” Crystal says with despair. “I can see that,” I say. “Maybe you have to remind him of that.” I say with a strong directive. “Now that helps me feel better. I can do something about that,” Crystal says with a sense of empowerment.

Posted in marriage, Psychotherapy | 4 Comments »

The Complicated Marriage

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 18, 2012

Jo, fifty-one, female, got a huge job promotion. Her husband, Joey, told her not to take it. “We have five kids, and I have a big job, and I just don’t think it is good for our marriage or our family,” Joey says to her, in my presence. “Yes, but what about me? What about what I want? I won’t get this opportunity again. This is an executive position that I have wanted my entire professional career. How can he tell me not to take it?” Jo, looks at me, almost begging for support from a fellow female. “Look,” Joey responds. “Our kids need a lot of attention. I mean all kids do, but ours especially. Brittany, our twelve-year old needs to go to educational therapy twice a week. Rachel, our ten-year old, does club soccer and she needs our support to take her places. Sure, we can hire help, but I just don’t think it is good for our kids.” Joey says, as if appealing to me that I should arbitrate this major crossroads in their marriage. I stay neutral. “It must be hard to navigate these waters when there are so many things to think about.” I say, trying to help them problem solve through this dilemma. Jo, though, is not interested in problem-solving. “I am taking the job and that’s that.” She says, almost defiantly. “How will you feel about Joey’s disappointment with your decision?” I ask, curious to see how she thinks about how her actions impact her marriage. “I have been plenty disappointed with many decisions he has made and we have dealt with that,” Jo says, almost as if she is taking the job out of a sense of retaliation. “There seems to be so much bitterness in your voice,” I say, trying to help Jo reflect on her tone. “I am bitter, but we will deal with it and the kids will be fine, and we will appreciate the increase in my salary,” Jo says, reminding me that there is a big financial gain from her perspective. “I think it is important for your marriage and for your children for the two of you to have a relationship of mutual respect and bitterness could interfere with that.” I say, trying to help them be more supportive of one another. “We will be fine,” Jo says in a dismissive tone. “I hope so,” I repeat, suggesting that there is still work to be done.

Posted in Couples Therapy, marriage, Psychotherapy, Relationships | 4 Comments »

The Withholding Husband

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 16, 2012

Abey, fifty, always felt inadequate in her family of four brothers. She is the youngest, and although she is an attorney, happy in her career, financially successful, she feels that compared to her investment banker brothers, she is the “poor relation.” Not surprisingly, she marries a man who never tells her she is pretty, smart or successful. Also, not surprisingly she feels she is “missing something” from her relationships. Abey suffers from underappreciating herself and thereby cultivating relationships in which ultimately she feels taken for granted. When Abey came to realize this dynamic, she was married for thirty years and taken aback by her tolerance for such little appreciation. This understanding led to some relief and some despair. “Do you know what it is like to be married to a man who has never told me I am pretty?” She asks, not wanting an answer, but wanting an appreciation for her deprivation. “I guess you recreated a relationship which was all too familiar for you,” I say, expressing compassion, understanding and sorrow. “Yes, but now what am I supposed to do?” She asks, this time expecting an answer. “Maybe you should begin by appreciating yourself?” I say, pointing to the fundamental problem that Abey has no sense of her own achievements and her own beauty. “I don’t know how to do that,” she says with tears. “I know. That is a big first step.” I say, helping her begin to tackle this larger issue of self-admiration, thereby changing the focus away from her husband and on to herself.

Posted in marriage, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy | 4 Comments »

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