(Note: A downloadable PDF copy of this lesson is available on the last page.)
Rachel Baker was a bundle of nerves. She could not sit still for long. She would pace the floor, and toss and turn in bed at night, unable to sleep. Her family and friends wondered what was wrong with her. She would, for no apparent reason, suddenly break off a conversation, turn away as if angry, and refuse to say anything more to them.
She had gone to her physician because she was nervous. After a thorough examination he assured her that her nervous system was all right, and that there was nothing wrong with her body’s organs. He said some problem must be troubling her.
At the advice of her physician she came to our clinic for counseling. Knowing her history of “nervousness” from the referral, I proceeded to discover the reason.
“Are you having any difficulties?”
Mrs. Baker was quite surprised. “That’s what my doctor asked me.”
“No, I don’t have any problems.”
“How are you getting along with your husband?”
“Oh, fine,” she replied.
“Any problem with the children?”
“Or with your parents?”
We were having a fast-moving conversation. She was answering my questions promptly–too promptly–without even giving them a passing thought. It is not unusual for a reluctant client to respond this way.
“Are you here because you wanted to come?” I asked.
“Frankly, no,” she said, “I’m here because my physician insisted. To level with you, I’m disgusted to be here. What can talking to you possibly do for my nerves? Does my physician think I’m a mental case?”
She answered my last question with lots of feeling and more than her usual terse reply. There was a lively person under that indifferent front after all.
“You must have an ideal life,” I ventured.
“Well, no,” she replied, smiling faintly. “I wouldn’t exactly say that.”
“Then what about it is not ideal?”
She thought for a few seconds, then volunteered: “Well, I’d be a little happier if my husband were more considerate.”
I encouraged her to be specific.
“To be truthful, there are a number of things he does that put a damper on the happiness of our home,” she said. She went on to explain that her marriage had not turned out just the way she thought it would. In fact, she said, there were many ways her husband failed to measure up.
“If his friends only knew the way he treats me!” By her tone and choice of words she was implying a selfish, heartless brute of a man.
“In what ways is he inconsiderate?” I asked.
She did not reply, and was silent for nearly two minutes. Finally she said: “I can’t seem to think of anything definite right now.”
I asked her to think a while longer. It wasn’t necessary to talk just to fill a gap in our conversation. So she sat quietly for several minutes. Eventually she spoke.
“I’m a little embarrassed–oh, it’s not anything I should bring up. I mean it’s kind of small, but anyway, you asked me to be specific, so I’ll tell you what comes to my mind.”
“It started early in our marriage. You see we have a toothbrush holder in the bathroom. I’m left-handed so I’ve always liked to hang my toothbrush in the slot farthest to the left. He’s right-handed, and he knows I’m used to that slot. But time after time, where do I find his toothbrush? In my slot!”
She apologized again for bringing up such a trivial thing, but said it did remind her of something else.
“It’s the washbowl. Do you think he’ll wipe it out when he’s through shaving? Indeed not! And the towels–when I ask him to put clean ones out, he hangs them on the racks with a horizontal fold instead of a vertical.” And that, she indicated, was enough to upset anybody.
There was more. Her father had always gone down to the kitchen before the rest of the family and had the toast ready when they came to breakfast. But not her husband. He never got near the toaster.
“I try and try to get him to match his tie with his suit, but he goes to work looking like a rainbow if I don’t catch him before he leaves the house.”
At the start she had presented her husband as an awful individual. But like many people who describe their antagonists in broad, accusing terms, she could come up with no more serious indictment than faulty toothbrush storage when asked to be specific.