Posted by: ellyn on Sep 9, 2010
I am thrilled by how many of you took time to think about the transcript I posted last month. I enjoyed reading your perspectives and seeing your comments about my interventions. Before giving you the second section of the transcript, I want to reflect first on some of the questions and comments.
A very good, old friend from Belgium wrote and said that it was hard to understand the true meaning of each role. So, let's start there.
The initiator is the person who takes action and raises an issue first. The initiating partner brings a topic to the attention of both people in the couple. Initiation can be very passive and undifferentiated or it can be very active and well defined. However, either way the initiator is the one who experiences some tension and brings the stress to the attention of both people.
Stress can be positive or negative. It can be tension that shows desire to move towards positive growth or change in the relationship. The stress may also occur because:
- A partner is having old issues or trauma triggered
- A partner feels like a victim, gets angry and remains mostly passive
- A partner is tired, hungry, overloaded or overwhelmed and starts to regress
- A partner recognizes an arena where there is significant disagreement and wants to negotiate a good solution
When a partner initiates, I am always listening for the quality of the initiation, for the source of the stress and for the level of differentiation in what is presented. Tom's initiation in this transcript is blaming, vague and very undifferentiated.
Whenever a couple is new to doing the I-I process, I especially want to find a way for it to have a positive outcome. At the time of this transcript, Vicky and Tom are relatively new to the I-I process, so I want to notice and acknowledge any strength I see, even when Tom starts out vague and undifferentiated. Since I am still learning a lot about this couple, I also know that a positive outcome from this session will occur if all of us gain increased clarity about what starts their power struggles and what role they each have in maintaining them. I usually won't figure all that out in one session, but each initiation will help delineate clearer boundaries around the contribution from each partner's specific issues. Because Tom presents in a vague and blaming manner, it gives me an opportunity to structure Vicky and help her learn not to take his issues personally. Effective inquirers do not draw attention to themselves and they are able to contain their own reactivity and listen openly to their spouse. For all of us, this is tough when we feel blamed! Yet, doing it leads to marvelous outcomes.
Last month's transcript ended with this comment:
Ellyn: Vicky, I know it isn't your intention. This is about Tom's perception. See if you can keep pursuing his image without thinking about yourself and why you do or don't do certain things.
Vicky: Where else do you want to be independent?
Tom: In choosing my reading. You tell me what to read and it's like you are taking charge of me.
Ellyn: Vicky, you are doing a great job hanging into this discussion and trying to learn more about Tom's yearning for independence.
Tom: I want my life to belong to me. I want to read what I want to read.
Vicky: I asked you so we could discuss the book. I thought it would interest you.
Ellyn: You ask him to read it and for some reason he feels like you are taking charge of him. That makes him angry.
Tom: (Sighs) That's right. I want to read what I want to read. I want to go to school only if I want to go to school. When you talk to me it, it's like you are pounding me with your words. You'll never stop having expectations of me.
Vicky: I feel sad and lonely. I'm not trying to do these things. Ellyn: Vicky. This is what happens to so many inquirers. You can see his pain, you know you aren't trying to do this and you feel stuck, and I think he feels helpless.
Tom: I don't like feeling helpless.
Ellyn: And you especially don't like feeling helpless with your wife. The more helpless you feel, the bigger and more controlling she seems.
Tom: (Slightly teary, but says angrily) You bet I don't want to be helpless with her.
Vicky: (In a sad pleading voice). I don't want you to feel that way. But can't you understand this isn't about what I am doing?
Tom: (angrily) I don't need an intellectualizing lecture from you right now.
Ellyn: Tom, she is trying. I think you just snapped at her because you don't like feeling your helplessness. You were starting to cry.
Let's stop again. Please comment again on my interventions. As the session is evolving, the extent of Tom's projection of 'negative parent' onto Vicky is surfacing.
What have I learned about each of them?
What are some principles that determine my interventions now? And what principles might determine where I go next? Again I will send another installment after I read your comments. I look forward to hearing from you.