Marriage has man on the edge
Meet Bernie, the beta-man. Bernie was a study of marital anxiety. He called and came reluctantly. The self-reproach, the shame he described emanated from an abusive marriage.
His self-described alpha wife reportedly tormented Bernie for years. Though described as a “nice guy” by family, friends, and professional colleagues, he suffered under the burden of emotional distress.
Welcome Bernie, what is your daily life like? I recall you telling me over the phone that you can’t sleep. How long has this been going on?
“Thanks, sir, for seeing me. You know when someone points out your flaws on a regular basis, sleep becomes immeasurably burdensome. Calling you for an appointment and now being here feels weird, strange.”
How so, Bernie? “I don’t know. I feel uneasy being here.”
Well, Bernie, you mentioned your wife telling you to get therapy. “Yeah, well, she thinks I’m messed up.” In what manner does she explain this diagnosis of sorts, Bernie? And, is she planning to attend your sessions? Did she activate this plan for counseling therapy only for you?
Bernie sat rigidly in his chair. He blinked several times rapidly. “I don’t know.” Bernie then quickly rose out of his chair. “I think being here any longer won’t work for me.” I stood to meet Bernie’s eyes which had glazed over. Bernie, please sit and let us explore you and not your wife and her manner. I want to learn about you. You came here today. I hear your resistance. Is it yours alone? Is your discomfort overbearing, over-whelming now? Bernie sat down and placed his head between his legs.
Given a few moments to gather himself, Bernie looked up at me. You look to be on the edge of letting go of some emotions. Is that true, Bernie?
“I think so. I want to cry, at times. When I do, my wife berates me. She calls me a weak man. Sometimes I wonder why she even married me. I’ve given up trying to figure her out, sir. She can be so cruel to me.”
How often does she do what you’ve begun to describe? “Maybe two, three times a week.”
Please say more. I want you to teach me about who you are. Sounds like your wife’s words depress you. Any truth to that Bernie?
He shakes his head. “She’s mad at something a lot. I rarely see her smile. She thinks others are stupid. She has an answer for anyone she disagrees with. And she’s loud and boisterous. She yells at the TV, the newspaper, and the internet. If I don’t agree with her position on any subject, there’s hell to pay.” Bernie’s rigid posture took an exaggerated pose. Bernie, how about trying something. You can refine this simple exercise. If you need to cry in order to unburden yourself, then I invite you to open your mouth really wide and take “a big yawn and repeat. Perhaps, it might help you. Crying is OK Your wife’s opinion is her own. She doesn’t own you, Bernie.
He looked up at me, placed both hands on his head, and started to breathe deeply. He gave out a yawn once, then twice, again and again. Then, unexpectedly, Bernie began to shiver like he was feverish.
His movements unceremoniously transitioned into full-scale laughter like a man possessed until he then began to cry. The glaze in Bernie’s eyes turned to an avalanche of water works. Tears streamed down his face. Some people catch themselves at that juncture to regain some composure.
Ten minutes of Bernie’s fever broke he began to hiccup and to laugh simultaneously. The energy eruption was intense. I looked at Bernie and silently signaled acceptance of his unburdening. His deep breathe slowed down. He hiccupped once more and gave off a laughter defined not by what I knew. I wanted to understand the root of the energy release I had witnessed.
Several minutes later, Bernie’s rigid pose took on a look I asked him to define. What did Bernie do, the man who arrived rigid and suffering from an “alpha wife’s” reproach that he could allow himself to unblock dramatically? How did Bernie experience this process? Was this a real transformation? Was it temporary? What might be learned? And will he return?
So Bernie, quite a heavy experience you had here today. How do you feel? “I’ve never done anything like that before. I just thought if my wife were here, there’s no telling how she’d react. I got to admit, she scares me; a little physically, more emotionally. When she gets mad, there’s no debate. In her mind, I guess, I’m a loser; I’m a stupid beta man. That’s what she says. It’s been going on for all our 22 years of marriage. We don’t have kids. We have a dog, which she hates. Any mess the dog makes he berates me. She wanted to get rid of the dog. I begged her not to. She said she lived with two beta dogs. Whenever she knocks me down, I can barely go to work. I barely completed high-school. I work as a bartender. I do OK. My wife drinks alcohol. Usually, she gets drunk and then gets on me. She works part-time as a waitress. She thinks all the customers drag her down. I can’t figure her. I want to come again.”
We set up another appointment for the following week.
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 an d Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email firstname.lastname@example.org.