When she walked in she was timid, tearful. Beverly (not her real name) sat down, fumbled with her purse and spoke, her voice quivering with sadness. She began by explaining why she had decided to see me. “You see, I’m sixty-two and I’ve never seen a therapist. I don’t know how this works. I’ve been married for 20 years, and, well, I found out yesterday that my husband is having an emotional affair.”
She pulled out a large stack of papers and said that that these were email exchanges between her husband and his brother’s wife. She held them out to me. I took them and laid them face down on the table. “Beverly, already I see that you are a strong woman. I want to hear your story, get to know you. If you think by the end of this session that I still need to read these exchanges, I will.” She nodded and began to discuss the events following her finding these emails. “I didn’t mean to find them. I don’t snoop. He just threw them into the garbage, and I went to put something into it and saw them lying there.” She began to sob and fumble with her fingers. She started to recount the past twenty-four hours. Her finding the papers in the garbage. Her sobbing for hours. Her NOT confronting or telling her husband.
Throughout our meetings she discussed details of her life that led her to where she is at today. She told her husband what she had found before our second session. She described his emotional detachment and his lack of regret. She spoke of all the things she had done wrong that led him to go into the computer arms of his brother’s wife (they had never met in person). She sat beside him as he told her that he wanted to see where things led between himself and this woman. We spoke of boundaries. We spoke of love. Beverly admitted to her lack of male relationships. She had never known her father. Her mother was not emotionally available to her. She was bullied about her weight by her grandfather. She recalled having a crush on a boy in high school but never allowing herself to “be noticed.” Her first relationship began at age 41 with her husband.
We discussed boundaries in relationships. How in a marriage, spouses can stand beside one another. That having a boundary is not mean and doesn’t push the other person away. Beverly’s fear of having boundaries rested in the fact that if she set them for herself, that she would be left by her husband for the other woman. As time went on, she began to resent her husband for his lack of empathy for her and his inability to understand that he was hurting her by continuing this relationship with the other woman. She brought up boundaries again. She questioned their love. She began to stand on her own.
It seems like boundaries has been a big issue lately with clients. How have you discussed boundaries with your clients?
Maureen Werrbach is a counselor providing counseling in a group practice setting and volunteers counseling services for returning military men and women.