Devotion, or the weight of our troubles…
John, a devoted husband and father, is furious with his wife who has gradually been gaining weight. He says that his wife is the only woman he wants to be with but he is on the verge of leaving her because of the anger he is feeling towards her. He says she will make herself ill with diabetes or heart problems if she persists in not taking care of herself nutritionally. He does not want to be around to see it happen. John had had a course of individual therapy in which he had explored his feelings about a very turbulent and traumatic childhood. His mother had owned a business that had supported the family, but lost it due to depression and alcoholism developed during the course of a difficult marriage to John's father, who had been hyper-critical, distant, and physically violent. John's mother died of alcoholism when John was an adolescent. After her death, John's younger siblings were placed with family members and John was left to fend for himself. At age 17 he met his wife, fell in love and married her.
John realized that the past was affecting his reactions to his wife, whom he adored, yet he could not stop harping on her about her weight. Tensions between the couple were escalating. John's wife, it seemed, was drawing the children in to support her side in arguments against him. John was overly angry with the children for not cleaning their rooms, and not attending to tasks at his request, which widened the rift between him and the family. Even though John understood that the past was affecting his feelings and behaviour towards his wife he felt powerless to change it. He was referred for couple counselling, which he accepted as a last effort to fix things between him and his wife.
Couple therapy helped to de-escalate the present conflict. John's wife expressed how angry and hurt she was feeling about John's behavior. John shared how he had felt about his mother's death and loss of his family, and that a part of him panicked when he imagined that his wife would die of an illness and leave him. John felt heard and acknowledged and his feelings softened towards his wife who drew closer to him when he expressed his fear of losing her. She acknowledged that the stress in the couple relationship had overwhelmed her emotionally and contributed to her neglect of her own self-care. She stated her desire to face the issues in their present life together. She expressed her own concern about her weight, and shared her thoughts about what activities and changes in the couple's lifestyle could help her to establish better self-care. She agreed to support John's efforts to discipline their children and reinforce healthy expectations they both have for the children's participation in family chores, if John can do so without losing his temper. John agreed. John told her how committed he is to her and their children and how much he loves her. John and his wife found relief through the couple therapy, strengthened their bond, and renewed their hope for a more emotionally intimate life together.
Piret KOPPEL, thérapeute conjugale et familiale