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Word Weapons

by Melissa Martin  
11/13/2011 / Marriage

Two wounded soldiers limp into my office for relationship counseling. They each bring a bag of shattered expectations, battered egos, power struggles, and selfish desires. Nuclear-powdered tongues of name-calling are poisoning their love. Bullets of hurt and rejection bruise emotional flesh. Word wars. Toxic profanity. Dialogue of anger brews and bubbles. Acidic arrows of betrayal. Stones of criticism destroy dreams. Venous accusations. Reciprocal verbal abuse. The battle rages into the bedroom slicing Eros arteries; lost passion via sharp sarcasm. Broken wedding vows litter the floor.

Counseling is the last stop before divorce for this couple. During the first session, I firmly set the ground rules for therapy in my office: no violence, no threatening, no name-calling, no profanity, no lies, no blaming, no shaming, and no character defect bashing. I list the rules of communication; take turns talking, do not interrupt, pay attention to voice tone, do not point your finger, scowl, or roll your eyes, use 'I' statements, and don't use me as a referee. The experiences of trial and error have taught numerous lessons on how to conduct marriage counseling.

I try to glean the strengths of their relationship and use some brief solution focused questions. "Can you tell me about the times you communicate well?" Loud sighs ensue. I perceive they both want to vent. Hence, I request thirty minutes alone with each client and allow some venting. Of course, I hear blaming and complaining. Jack wants me to ordain a divorce so he doesn't have to be the bad guy. Jill expects me to change Jack into a spouse who helps with childcare and housework. They fight about money, in-laws, and discipline of the kids. Jack wants more sex and Jill wants more romance.

I recommend three sessions with individual therapists at my agency before they return to relationship counseling with me. Reluctantly they agree. After they leave, I take two aspirins for my headache.

In time, I decide that providing marital counseling is too stressful. I'd rather counsel serial killers.

Melissa writes about the God and human connection and condition.

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