Silence is not always golden
I’d just finished fall leaf removal on a brisk day. The sun shone following a few consecutive rainy days. I felt my cell phone vibrate and I answered a call. A woman’s voice spoke softly, and, hesitantly she introduced herself.
“My name is Anna. Do you do couple’s counseling?”
Yes, I replied. There was a pause. Then she asked me if she could talk about a relationship problem. I sat upon my garden mower and listened.
“My boyfriend, Pedro, and I are having problems. We’re not married; we’ve been together two years. I love him and I think he loves me. But I talk; he doesn’t. The lack of communication is weighing on me. What can I do?”
I invited her and Pedro to an appointment.
“Oh, he won’t come. No way. He’s mad because I’m calling you.”
Anna agreed to a session which may or may not include Pedro.
Two days later, I met Anna and Pedro. They were 20-something and both appeared to be healthy, later confirmed by an assessment. Anna sat close to Pedro. He sat staring straight ahead. I wondered how Anna engaged Pedro to come to this appointment given her doubts when we spoke on the telephone. I introduced myself and shook their hands. Anna’s grip was firm, Pedro’s reluctant. I looked to both, then asked Anna what she’d said to Pedro about this scheduled appointment.
“I told him that we spoke. I told him that I loved him but that I couldn’t take the tension anymore. He won’t say much, and then gets mad if I keep at him to talk. I’m afraid that our relationship is on the outs.”
What did Anna say, Pedro, to convince you to come to this session? She had some doubts. I’m glad you came today with Anna.
Pedro looked at me for what seemed like an eternity. Silence carries the ingredients of a story perhaps yet to be told. Anna tried to break the silence. I put up my hand and asked for the silence not to be broken by her. I looked back at Pedro. I sat back in my chair, attempting to offer a non-threatening atmosphere. Pedro finally spoke in a soft tone.
“Anna told me that if I didn’t come today, we were done. So, I’m here.”
Pedro, I asked, have you ever had counseling?
Did you imagine this appointment in any particular way?
“Yeah, man. I figured Anna was going to get on my case like she does at home except with you taking her side.”
I thanked Pedro for his brief, yet honest, introductory sentiment. Pedro, I think Anna wants help not just for you but for both of you. What do you want?
“I want us to work out man. Yes, we’re not doing well. I work all day. I come home tired. She works, too. I eat, watch TV or play games on the computer. Then I go to bed and do it all over again.”
This time, as silence followed, I turned to Anna. Anna, you heard Pedro. He wants to work on the relationship. Coming here today, you were motivated. Any guess as to how Pedro was imagining this to play out? I can see that he (I gestured to Anna to speak directly to Pedro), that you might feel threatened. You’re a big guy. Why would you feel threatened, Pedro?
Pedro looked at Anna and then looked away. Out of nowhere, certainly a surprise, to Anna’s face, Pedro broke down crying and placed his head in his lap with his hands covering it. Anna looked stnned. We let Pedro purge for several minutes as he then gathered himself. He sat up very quietly and said, “I’m sorry.”
Anna looked to Pedro.
“Have you ever experienced this before, Anna,” I asked.
Anna looked at me and said, “No, he’s never cried before. Well, I take that back. Our pet dog died and Pedro cried, not much though.”
Did you comfort him then, Anna?
“Not really. He doesn’t like to be touched. Don’t get me wrong, we’re intimate but otherwise, he doesn’t like to be touched like a hug or a tickle.”
Do you think Pedro might want some comfort now? Anna turned to Pedro.
“Can I hug you?”
Pedro nodded his head and they embraced. Pedro, what were you feeling when you cried?
“Scared. You see, when I was a kid, my mother had a seizure. Man, she shook something bad. I was alone. I didn’t know what to do. She died, man. I didn’t know about 911. My dad came home later from work to find my mom’s head in my lap.”
Pedro broke down in tears and gestured soon after that he was OK. Enough for today. They agreed to another session.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Marshall Greenstein, a Cassadaga resident, holds a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email firstname.lastname@example.org.