by: Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Roger, 33, is a successful
engineer. Married with one child, Roger called me because his
marriage was falling apart. His wife, Laura, had recently told him
that the marriage was over unless they got some help. She told him
she just couldn’t take it any more.
Roger and Laura were both on the
phone for their first phone session with me. Laura described what
the problem was for her.
“Roger is never present – not
with me, not with our daughter. He just does his own thing and
doesn’t consider what anyone else might need. If I get upset or
irritated, he completely retreats and waits for me to fix it. He can
retreat for days at a time and the energy around the house is awful.
I try to take care of myself, but I just can’t be around his
“On top of that, if I ask him to
do something, he either refused to do it, or says he will do it and
then doesn’t, or ends up messing it up. I know he is competent
because of the work he does, but he sure doesn’t act competent at
home. The only time he is really interested in me is when I’ve
completely pulled back. If I want anything from him, he retreats. I
can’t live like this anymore!”
“Roger,” I said, “Do you know
what Laura is talking about?”
“I know what she is talking
about, but I don’t see it the way she does. I just feel like she
always wants something from me. I end up feeling criticized and
trapped a lot. I shut down to get away from feeling trapped.”
“Do you still feel this way, now
that she wants out of the marriage?”
“It’s funny that you should ask
that. No. As soon as she said she wanted out, all of my feelings for
her came back. I can’t figure it out!”
“Roger, was one or both of your
parents controlling with you?”
“Yes, my mother. She was
“And did you learn various ways
of resisting her?”
“Yes!” Roger laughs. He
obviously gets pleasure out of being resistant.
Roger has a deep fear of
engulfment. As soon as someone wants something from him, his terror
of losing himself is activated and he automatically resists. He does
not even stop to ask himself if he wants to do whatever it is the
other person wants. He does not stop to think about what he wants or
what is in his highest good. He just resists.
He resists because not being
controlled is more important to him than anything. Not being
controlled is more important to Roger than being loving to himself
or to others. Not being controlled is his God.
While Laura can certainly be
controlling at times – as we all can – she does not cause
Roger’s resistance. His choice to resist rather than care about
himself and others started as a small child, and has continued into
adulthood. As long as not being controlled is more important to
Roger than being loving, there is nothing Laura can do.
The real issue is that Roger has
never developed an adult part of himself capable of thinking about
what is best for him. He is operating from a small child aspect of
himself who automatically resists in the face of Laura’s requests,
just as he did with his mother. Until Roger is willing to do the
inner work necessary to develop a loving adult self, he will
continue to respond on automatic pilot, and Laura will continue to
feel unloved by him.
The irony of the situation is that
Roger is being controlled by his resistance. He is not deciding for
himself what he wants and doesn’t want – he is just
automatically resisting. He is not even conscious that he is
choosing to resist.
Because Roger did not want to lose
Laura, he was willing to do some inner work. The first step was to
become aware of his resistance.
“Roger, I suggest that you
consciously choose to resist rather than just doing it
automatically. By choosing it, you will become aware of it. Are you
willing to try this, or do you want to resist this too?”
Roger laughed. He could already
feel his desire to resist doing what I asked him to do. But he did
choose to try it.
Within a few months, Roger was very
aware of choosing to resist. He was also aware that it was no longer
much fun. It was not making him happy. Roger decided that it was
more important for him to be loving than to resist being controlled.
He was on the road to healing.