This is the story of a woman who timidly got out of a mediocre marriage and with her feet still dripping those tepid waters plunged into a passionate union that was wonderfully happy and fulfilling—until the day her new husband hit her. She hid this violence from friends and family; but she could not hide it from herself and when he struck her a second time, this time with verbal violence, she sought help.
“I have to make this marriage work,” she told me.
“You want to at least try,” I said. That was most of what I was able to say for the rest of the hour. She needed every minute to tell me how awful she felt and how scary this new marriage was.
Second marriages don’t magically fare any better than first marriages, I would have said had she left me an opening, but couples seem more willing to spend time and energy to make the second marriage work. Some have said that the first marriage is for happiness ever after and there is an assumption that the partner or the partnership is going to make it so. If the happiness doesn’t happen, and if one divorces and marries again, there is a willingness to expect less from the new spouse and more from one’s self. Also, if a second marriage doesn’t work, one might begin to know there is no “right” person who will bring happiness.
We are more likely, it is said, to find happiness in a search for wholeness than to find wholeness in a search for happiness; and we are more apt to find a partner while seeking fulfillment than to find fulfillment in the new partner. Whatever.
This woman said she did not want to walk out of the marriage, painful as it was. And who’s to tell her she should? She could get hit again. On the other hand, she could, in therapy, discover a part of herself that thinks she deserves this kind of anger. The couple might discover together a dynamic in the new partnership that has not been conscious and so, up to now, not available for consideration or conversation.
Their marriage is certainly not hopeless. Yet, at least. In theory, they might “work” on their lives and this relationship until thoughts, feelings, values, perceptions, and actions—conscious and unconscious–had been considered. They might stay together, they might split. I hoped they would give themselves some time, some counsel. What drew them together, after all? Something.
As it turned out they came in together for one session, mostly a standoff. About all I could do was observe their painful and fruitless dynamic. By the end of the hour, it was I who wanted out. They canceled the second session. He came in alone for the third session to tell me she had moved back to the east coast and he was taking a new job in another state. He told me she was crazy and that he had made a terrible mistake in marrying her. He said he would phone me, but he did not. He sent me a check for the three sessions.
I felt bad. I had not done much. Or had I? Did I lose a couple and save a couple of lives in the process? Or did they begin a long conversation by phone and are they now living happily ever after in a big house overlooking Puget Sound?
Donna Hardy, 1989