A Case of Mid-Life Difficulties
Fritz is 42 years of age and has been in Australia for the past 25 years. He migrated from Germany with his immediate family, comprising of his mother, father and two sisters. At the age of 17 Fritz was filled with great dreams and aspirations for his new life in a new country and until recently had been quite happy with the life he had carved out for himself.
Fritz has sought counselling largely due to the persistence of his wife. Fritz does not really understand why his wife is so upset with him but states that she thinks he is going through a “mid life crisis”. A summary of the sessions is as follows. For ease of writing the Counsellor is abbreviated to “C”
In the first session ”C” focused on establishing a clear understanding of the presenting concerns before moving any further with the client. Fritz was having difficulty explaining the details of the present situation and why his wife seemed so concerned about him. Basically he didn’t see much of a problem and simply wanted to try something new because he was feeling bored and restless. “It’s not like I’m having an affair” he asserts. From this first session “C” was able to elicit useful background information and began to build much needed trust and rapport with Fritz as he was quite sceptical towards the benefits of counselling.
Essential Case Information
Fritz is a Personality Need Type A with moderate to strong needs for self recognition. He has been married for 19 years and until recently has had a reasonably happy relationship with his wife Anna. “Of course we have had the usual ups and downs like most couples”, Fritz explains, “but overall things have been all right”. Fritz finds it hard to describe what the discord is about and simply states that “Anna believes I am neglecting my family responsibilities and says that I appear distant and uninterested in her and the boys”.
Fritz has two boys, Ric (13) and Hans (15). Fritz describes them as generally good boys who are developing their own interests and he feels that they don’t need him as much any-more. He believes that they would prefer to hang out with their friends rather than their “old” dad anyway. Hans the oldest son has been getting himself into a bit of mischief lately, not attending school some days, causing disruption when he does attend and he has also been caught shop-lifting on a few occasions. Fritz dismisses this behaviour as “kids stuff” and thinks that his wife is over reacting. He simply states that “Hans will grow out of it”.
When “C” encourages Fritz to discuss the situation with Hans further, Fritz states that he has more important things to worry about. He goes on to explain that he is a Butcher by trade and runs his own delicatessen. Business has been slow lately and he is afraid that the large chain stores are finally going to ruin his business. Fritz has not discussed his financial concerns with his wife or the disappointment he feels at never being able to achieve his long term dream of expanding and establishing other shops in the surrounding areas. Rather he has decided to sell up and is thinking about moving away from the city.
Fritz continues to explain that when Anna found out that he had approached buyers for the shop she was furious and could not understand why he had not discussed it with her first, after all it was her inheritance money that enabled Fritz to purchase the shop in the first place and besides, he had always consulted her in the past on important decisions. “C” clarified with Fritz that this was indeed correct, that in the past both he and Anna discussed important decision and came to an agreement. Fritz replied “yes, that’s right”.
Over the past few weeks Fritz has been withdrawing more and more from the family hoping to avoid further conflict, he has busied himself finalising details with the sale of the shop (he is determined to go through with it despite his wife’s resistance) and arranging alternative plans. He does not see that such avoidance behaviour is actually creating more conflict and simply asserts that “Anna will come round when she gets used to the idea”. Anna has threatened Fritz with a divorce and states that she is not going to let him drag the boys out of school and away from friends and family.
Fritz has entertained the thought that perhaps life would be much simpler if he did go it alone, shake off all his responsibilities and simply do those things he has always wanted to. “It’s not to late” he stated “I’m still young enough to enjoy myself”. However, Fritz knows that he still loves his wife and a divorce would make him feel like an even bigger failure.
It is obvious to “C” the amount of stress that Fritz is under and the fact that he does not share his fears and anxieties with anyone only heightens the sensation. At the conclusion of the first session “C” runs through some relaxation techniques with Fritz which he can implement immediately to help alleviate some of the symptoms of stress.
It is also apparent that Fritz needs to communicate with his wife and family, however “C” will endeavour to teach him some effective communication skills in the next session. The reason for this is so that when Fritz does begin to communicate with his wife it is constructive rather than destructive.
In the meantime however “C” encourages Fritz to spend more time with the family instead of distancing himself from them. It does not have to be anything too structured “C” explains, simply watching T.V. with the boys or throwing a ball around with them after school. Even asking Anna about her day will show his family that he is interested in them.
During the second session “C” focussed on teaching Fritz some effective communication techniques. “C” begins to help Fritz convey his thoughts and feeling without projecting ridicule or blame, to listen openly and not interrupt and most importantly “C” helps Fritz to begin to understand that it is OK to express his insecurities and concerns.
For Fritz these are new ideas, a change that he will have to get used to in time as it goes against his earlier learning. Fritz explained that he had not wanted to discuss the issues with his wife because he felt like such a failure. His father had taught him that a man does not show any sign of weakness or people will lose respect for you. “C” recognised that this attitude needed mediating as it was one of the underlying causes of Fritz’s communication difficulties.
He was afraid to talk to his wife yet the apparent lack of communication was one of the causes of the marital difficulties. “C” spent sometime discussing with Fritz how communication can enhance a relationship and that by talking about ones fears, anxiety and failings can actually enhance intimacy. This new information helped Fritz to see that improved communication may actually help iron out some of their problems.
“C” helped Fritz to make up an affirmation he could repeat to himself when he began to fall back into his old way of thinking, that “talking was no use and that he was responsible for working out his own troubles”. Instead he would say to himself “I am an effective communicator” and/or “I am comfortable sharing my thoughts and feelings with my wife and kids”.
Fritz later reported that the affirmations have made it much easier for him to talk to Anna and the boys and he has also noticed the tension at home diminish. “C” offered encouragement and praise. Reinforcement is critically important to achieve lasting behaviour change and “C” frequently asked Fritz to discuss the improvement he has seen in the family relationships since he had adopted the new attitude. On one occasion Fritz remarked how much Anna like his new “openess” and had actually thanked him for making an effort to let her know what he was feeling rather than shutting her out.
In the following sessions “C” began to focus on another underlying cause of Fritz’s mid life dilemma, his unfilled dreams. “C” began to explain that it is common for people around his age to look back over their lives and assess their successes and failures. To see if they have achieved the dreams once set for themselves early in life.
For Fritz the possible loss of his business is a terrible blow and he still feels like a failure even though he has discussed some of this with his wife. He once dreamed of having a string of stores all named after him “Fritz’s Delicatessen” and now he may lose the only one he has. He describes how people have been so proud of him, “For a migrant who started with nothing Fritz sure has done well for himself!” they’d say. “If I could start my own chain they would be even prouder” Fritz explains.
It is clear to “C” that the success of the deli has provided a great source of recognition for Fritz over the years with friends and customers delighted with the gourmet foods he provides and now the fulfilment of his personality need are being threatened. “C” is emphatic towards Fritz and the disappointment he feels, but asks him to consider those dreams that he has fulfilled, for someone who started out with nothing Fritz now has a loving family and a close network of friends and he has established himself financially.
A half smile appears on Fritz’s face as he begins to see the positives in his life that he has overlooked. “I guess I have taken all those things for granted and focused on the one problem”. He is encouraged immensely from this discussion and is inspired to sort out his current business situation.
At the conclusion of this session “C” sets some homework for Fritz. “C” suggests that throughout the following week it would be extremely beneficial for him to make a list of all his achievements in life so far. The rationale for this is to keep Fritz thinking positively, so he can see for himself how much he has accomplished in life and that he is certainly not a failure.
In the next session Fritz states that he has discussed the business situation with his wife and they have agreed to go ahead with the sale of the shop in order to start up a new business venture. Fritz is quite excited about the prospect. After so many years in the same business he feels like he really does need a change.
“C” asks about his original dream and Fritz admits that it was just that, a dream “I don’t think I ever really expected it to happen” he explains and then continues “I understand now that having the deli is not the only way I can meet my needs as I have achieved much in my life and will continue to do so in other areas that will give me the recognition I desire”.
Fritz now has a thorough understanding of his personality needs and in time has been able to review his dreams and expectations. In doing this Fritz has reduced the gap between his real and ideal self and has therefore also reduced the amount of stress and anxiety he has been experiencing.
As Fritz is now beginning to see this stage of his life more positively, he sees a new set of challenges before him rather than the problems “C” is confident that he no longer needs counselling and will be able to navigate the new course set before him successfully.
Author: Deirdre Stevenson