“I don’t know why I have to keep talking about this,” Paulette says angrily. “I’m going to be 50 years old. I’m finished. I want out of my marriage! There’s nothing more to talk about.”
Keeping my voice calm, I say, “I certainly wasn’t suggesting you stay in your marriage, but I know every time you’ve left Derek before you’ve gone back, so I thought it would be helpful for us to look at what feels different this time.”
Paulette runs her hand through her hair and sighs. “The kids are gone, either in college or out on their own. They’re launched. I don’t have to worry about them any more.”
Treading carefully I say, “I wasn’t aware that you went back the last several times because of the kids.”
Paulette glares at me. She says nothing.
“Right this moment do you feel you want to leave me too?” I ask.
“That’s exactly what I was thinking. Maybe I should. Maybe I should leave you too. Maybe this has gone on way too long. And now you’re telling me I should stay married even though I’m so unhappy.”
I know that is not what I said, but arguing with Paulette is not helpful, especially when she’s incensed. “So you’d leave me and you’d leave Derek. What specifically would you do?”
“Are you daring me? You think I couldn’t do it. You think I couldn’t walk out of here right now, go home and pack up and leave?”
“I think you’re angry, Paulette. I think when you’re angry it’s a poor time for you – or anyone – to decide anything.”
“Are you trying to aggravate me? Because you’re doing a pretty damn good job of doing so.”
“No, Paulette, I’m not trying to aggravate you. As we’ve talked about, once you’re angry anything and everything can make you angrier.”
“You’re talking to me in that goddamn condescending voice, like I’m a child.”
“I’m sorry. You’re right. I am. But in some ways you feel like a child right now, Paulette. You know when you get angry the feeling just gets bigger and bigger until it wipes everything else away. So much so that you can forgot what you’re even angry about.”
“Did you just apologize to me?” Paulette asks, surprised.
“Yes. I have apologized before. Especially when I’ve let these interactions between us escalate to the point of us both just being angry.”
Paulette takes a deep breath. “That’s true. I remember,” she says, more calm now. She pauses. “Why can’t Derek do that?”
My thought - because he’s not your therapist - goes unsaid. Instead I say, “I imagine because he gets caught up in his own feelings.”
“Can you say what you’re thinking?” I ask.
“I was thinking about what set off this whole argument over the weekend and that what I’m afraid of is exactly that, his getting caught up in his own feelings.”
She sighs. “He made plans to go see our youngest daughter at college. Didn’t invite me, didn’t ask me, didn’t tell me,” she says, her voice rising. “Why would he do that?” Paulette demands. “He’d know what my reaction would be.”
“So you see him as provoking you?”
“Well yeah!” she says sarcastically. “But you know that’s not the worst part. He wants to be alone with her. He doesn’t want me around messing it up. I know, she’s a big girl now – sort of – and she’s not going to let him do anything inappropriate. But what if he tries? What if his feelings get the better of him? He’s always wanted her. He always preferred her over me.”
“Paulette,” I say gently. “Your father started molesting you when you were 10. You’ve asked your daughters multiple times, cautioned them multiple times to not let anyone touch them inappropriately, to tell you if anyone ever made them feel even vaguely uncomfortable. Neither of them has ever said a word to you about their father.”
“But what if she likes it?”
Oh, oh, I think. Lots of issues there and we’re near the end of the hour. The thorniest question of whether she’s talking about herself will have to wait for our next session. For now I’ll take the easier path. “Well,” I say, “she may enjoy her father’s attention, the special relationship she feels they have.”
“They’re always excluding me. I feel I’m in competition with my own daughter! That’s sick.”
“Lots of issues came up here, Paulette. Why don’t we table them for the moment and talk about them at our next session.”