Richard is a 41-year-old plant operator in a heavy machinery company. He works long hours and must start very early each day. Twelve months ago he accepted a transfer from a country location to a capital city 250 kilometres away from his family. Due to financial obligations this was seen as a necessity. He travelled back to see his family on weekends. He has a wife and 4 children to support.

His wife Amy is 38 years old, has 4 young children and works 2 days per week as a shop assistant. She now regrets the decision they both made for Richard to work so far away. The weekends he comes back to her and the children are getting fewer and when he does return, all they seem to do is argue. Amy is frightened that her marriage will fail and is also concerned Richard has found another women (Richard had an affair 15 years earlier soon after they had married). They both decided to come and see me for marriage counselling.

A Personality Need Type Profile was prepared for both Richard and Amy. Richard was identified as a Type A (possessing a stronger need for recognition) and Amy Type C (possessing a stronger need for security). Both Richard and Amy were helped to understand what their emotional need types were and from where need gratification would come. Over time poor communication between them had resulted in them both not understanding their emotional wants, desires and overall needs. Richard was a risk taker, while Amy required higher levels of security.

This counselling relationship has been in place for six months. One of the key areas identified by both of them was the lack of trust in their marriage. Clarke 1998 tells us that “trust tends to relate to a person’s perceptions (attributions), value judgement, self-esteem and, therefore, to their self-image. For example a client says “I trusted him and he did that to me,” a statement of significance, indicating that values once held by the client are no longer valid.”

During a number of counselling, sessions Richard denied that he was having an affair and said that his issues with Amy centred on her unwillingness to trust him and her failure to include him in family decision-making. Amy felt neglected by Richard, that he had abandoned her, she was concerned he had become very angry, his behaviour had become erratic and she was fearful he was seeing another woman.

Soon after this session, Amy contacted me in a distressed state. She had found out Richard was having an affair and that he had become very ill. She needed to see me urgently. A counselling appointment was organised that afternoon. This was only a very short discussion.

Situation — Amy has discovered that Richard is having an affair. He has experienced an emotional breakdown and is in hospital. Amy was clearly very upset. However, she was able to indicate that she had come to see me so she could decide what she would do about her marriage.

The Counselling Session

For ease of writing, the Professional Counsellor is abbreviated to “C”. Names have been changed.

C — Last time we met you were concerned about your husband’s emotional state and his erratic behaviour. Can you tell what has happened?

Amy — Well to my absolute shock I have found out my husband is having an affair with another woman. As you know I had some suspicions for some time, but the woman actually rang me to warn me my husband was having a breakdown. Can you believe that! He sat here in this room and lied to both of us so many times! I feel like throwing him out and divorcing him. But there are the kids to worry about and I still believe I actually love him.

C — Amy I hear what you are saying. You must be feeling shocked and betrayed. And yes his lying to us both is a serious issue.

Amy — Yes so much so I can’t describe it, I certainly feel confused and not wanted any more.

C — Where is your husband now?

Amy — Well this woman was right. He went crazy when I confronted him about it. Threatened to kill himself. In the end I had to call an ambulance. He is in a hospital at the moment, sedated.

C — How terrible for you and your children. How long ago was this?

Amy — 2 days ago.

C — You are doing very well Amy. You have been able to share your feelings in this room before in safety so keep going, just take your time. (It’s important now that I take time to validate Amy’s feelings and reassure her that this room is a safe place for her).

You mentioned that you wanted to divorce him. Have you considered some of the impacts on you and your children if you did this? Things like the house, finances, not having a partner in your life.

Amy — Sort of. It frightens me when I think of being alone, with less money and possibly no house. But he is so confused at the moment I can’t even talk to him about it and I am so angry with him!

C — Amy you have a right to be angry about the lies that have been told to you. (At this point I validate her right to be angry about what has happened). Can I ask what the doctors say about your husband?

Amy — They say once his medication starts to work he will be easier to talk to.

C — That must help a little knowing he can be assisted.

Amy — Yes, it does. Him being in hospital helps me to cope at the moment. Unfortunately I still love him I think.

[In this very difficult situation it is essential that the counsellor does not lose sight of the client’s goal. Amy wanted help in deciding what to do next with her marriage. To help her achieve her goal, questions were asked of Amy to help her consider the logical consequences of various courses of action she could take.]

C — Amy a few minutes ago I asked you about the possible impacts a divorce could have on you and the children. It may be of some value for you to imagine what it would be like in the future if you stayed with your husband and then what it would be like if you decide to divorce him. Is this OK with you? (It’s important in this emotional situation that the counsellor obtains the client’s permission to explore what is obviously a painful process).

Amy — I’m not really sure about this. My mind is not very clear. But I will give it a try. If I were to stay with him, the girlfriend goes. No more cheating. He has to come and see you. He will have to sort out his emotional problems. At least the kids would have a father at home. They do like him a lot. He has to move back from the city. We could keep the house and have more money to live on.

C — Amy you are doing very well, keep going, how about if you were to decide to leave him.

Amy — That would be good pay back. He deserves some pain. But I know the house would probably be sold along with the boat and other things. There would probably be a lot less money. I know I would get very lonely. The kids would miss him. That’s all I can think of.

C — You have done a great job thinking about what might happen. It must be upsetting to have to do this. So where do you want to go from here?

Amy — This has helped you know. I can’t imagine what must being going through your mind considering he pulled the wool over your eyes too! I’m going to wait till his emotions settle down and I can talk to him. I want some answers from him first. But I think I want to save my marriage if I can. If this was to happen soon I am not sure how to go about it.

[In this statement Amy, is again seeking out how I feel about Richard’s abuse of the counselling relationship. I handle this by giving a short answer and then shift focus back to her new goal.]

C — Amy, yes it’s true Richard lying to us both greatly disappoints me, but my role is to help you achieve your goals, which may indirectly help Richard.

New Goal: Amy wants help to get her husband to see value in their marriage once again.

Amy — Thinking about all that I have told you today, where to from here? If I decide not to divorce him, how can I get him to get rid of the girlfriend.

[It is also important to note Amy is now seeking specific feedback and advice from me as the counsellor and to notice that her goal has shifted from her seriously contemplating divorce to perhaps saving her marriage.]

C — Amy, I can see your distress and I hear just how hard this is for you to decide what to do. But that’s a fair question to ask. Though without knowing clearly why he decided to have an affair it is a little hard to be specific. However, just like you and I did earlier, we examined the possible futures for you depending upon what you decided to do. You still saw some value in your marriage after thinking this through.

It is possible Richard could do the same. You may be able to encourage him to think about the good times you have both had together and the positive life you both have had over the past 10 years. The children he loves are part of this. You may be able to get him to see there are negatives for him too, if you divorce him or if he was to move out from your home. You could help him see this. This may also help him to realise that your children and you have greater value than the girlfriend. I could help with this if you wanted me to. How does that sound to you? Have I got close to the mark?

Amy — I think what you said might help.

[The Counsellor can now provide Amy with information, some instruction and options.]

Amy — If I was to try and do this alone with my husband, how could I go about it?

C — I will not try to kid you that this will be easy, especially if you do not get the sort of answers you may hope for. Are you sure you want to try this alone?

Amy — I am not sure yet, but I could get the chance unexpectedly and so I want to be ready for it if I can.

C — Well, I suggest you and I role-play what could be used to help you to help your husband see value in your marriage. We could swap roles. I become you, then you try it, after me. I could also role-play being your husband and try and give you a number of different answers to the same questions. This may assist you to prepare for his different reactions. Do you think this would be helpful for you?

Amy — I’d like to give it ago, when could we do this?

Amy waits for the opportunity to speak to her husband.

End of Session

Some points to consider with undertaking Marriage/Relationship Counselling and using Logical Consequences.

  1. Emotions can run very high for clients in such situations and thus client thinking and decision-making can be deeply impacted upon. Using this process can help a client to be more logical in their decision-making.
  2. In this particular case the client has been given accurate feedback, specific information about their situation, some instructions and some clearly articulated options still open to her.
  3. To remain ethical in this circumstance it needs to be acknowledged that the counselling relationship with Richard has changed. At some stage his non-disclosure about his affair would need to be confronted. It may mean that I could no longer be his counsellor and he may have to be referred on to another relationship counsellor.

Author: Grahame Smith

References

  1. Clarke J, (1998) Advanced Professional Counselling, The Fundamentals of Human Behaviour and the Theory and Practicalities of Counselling. Published by J&S Garrett -Australia.