When they came for counseling, Ann said, “Dr. Brandt, we prefer to be together as we talk to you.” “That’s right,” joined her husband. “You see, we do everything together. We have nothing to hide from each other.”
That first session was a puzzling one. I could come up with no clue to their trouble. There were no issues, no unresolved problems. Only one suggestion occurred to me.
“Will you watch for any differences of opinion that may arise this week and pay attention to your reactions?” I asked. “And will you try to review your life together to see if there can possibly be any unresolved problems?”
Ann broke in: “I’m sure there are none. We love each other and solve any problem as soon as it comes up.”
“That’s true,” said Jack, right behind her. “Are you suggesting that we aren’t honest and open with each other?” Turning to his wife he said tenderly, “You are open with me, aren’t you, Ann?”
Her answer was to nestle in his outstretched arms. They looked at me as if I were an enemy seeking to drive them apart.
Surprisingly, they were back the next week. Neither had seen any sense in it. Yet that nagging coolness remained, and they had to admit that something was wrong, something they either could not or would not see. Gently but firmly, I urged them to try again to discover it.
“If there is an ache in your body, something is wrong,” I reminded them. “No matter how reluctant you are to admit it, you must find and correct the trouble to get rid of the ache. Coolness between people is like an ache. Something is wrong. This may be a frightening idea, and you may prefer that it did not exist; but you cannot wish trouble away. You must get at it by uncovering the cause and removing it.”
Next week they returned. Ann asked to see me alone. She entered the consulting room, closed the door, slumped into a chair, buried her face in her hands, and began to cry uncontrollably.
What had happened? She had made a discovery, and not a pleasant one. The past week had been rainy. Their lawn still wasn’t in, so naturally mud was tracked into the house. Tuesday was an especially trying day in the classroom, and she knew she had to go to a church meeting that night. She was tired–worn out physically, fed up with the mud that seemed to be everywhere. As she stood at the kitchen sink peeling potatoes for dinner, she heard a car pull up in the rutted driveway. That would be Jack. The door opened and slammed.
“Take off your shoes on the landing!” she shouted, too tired to go to the stairs as she usually did. She heard one shoe fall, then the other. Jack came into the kitchen; absentmindedly she asked, “Did you take your shoes off?”
Using ample lung power he shot back, “Yes I took my shoes off!”
Ann broke into tears. “You don’t need to shout at me.”
“You don’t need to shout at me either,” he snapped. He was furious.
Jack wavered between two impulses. One was to take her in his arms; the other was to run. He ran. Into the bathroom he went, slamming the door behind him. Once there, he felt ashamed and confused. Not knowing what to do, he slipped into the living room and hid behind the evening paper.
Ann called dinner at 6 as usual. Jack went silently to his chair. Grace was said under considerable strain. Jack looked up to see Ann’s eyes were red and swollen. She looked so pathetic, but he was frozen in his chair. There was nothing he could think of to say. Ann had nothing to say. So they didn’t talk about the incident. And they hadn’t brought it up since, till Ann mentioned it in her interview with me alone.
Later Jack came into the office for a private talk. I told him that Ann had shared with me the shouting episode. He was upset.
“She told you about that?” He had assumed she would keep such things to herself. He certainly would have. Then he assured me that their spat was only an isolated incident. Why make a mountain out of a molehill?
That was a good question. So I turned it back to him. “Why make a mountain out of a molehill?”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“For an isolated incident, aren’t both of you carrying this rather far?”
Jack became thoughtful. Perhaps I was right, he said ruefully. This little incident had created a thick wall between them.
A week of silence followed during which neither exerted an effort to make up. At the next visit, Ann had little to say except to remark that Jack seemed very distant. The whole situation was muddled to her. She just couldn’t think.
Jack was more talkative. He had done some thinking, and he didn’t like what he was coming up with. During the week, his mind had wandered back to their courtship days. Yes, he had admired Ann’s neatness. He had also entertained a thought or two in those days that maybe she was a bit too fussy. But he had never allowed so unkind a thought to linger. Now, by contrast, he thought more frequently of her fussiness, and he found himself dwelling on the thought.
He remembered how Ann constantly prodded her college roommate to be neat. Now, he was thinking, she’s keeping after me in the same way. He realized that he resented the push.
Oh sure, Ann had changed his whole life for the better. But when she hadn’t pushed him into a change, she had pulled him.
I asked Jack if he had shared his thoughts with his wife.
“Are you kidding?” He was amazed at my question.
“Why don’t you?”
“No,” he smiled, but not happily. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Jack apparently had forgotten telling me during our first session that they talked everything over and he had nothing to hide from Ann. No doubt they both believed what they were saying. It is indeed true that a person can deceive himself. According to the Bible: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? ‘I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings'” (Jer. 17:9-10).
Evidently, when Jack and Ann said they shared everything, they meant sharing what they thought would not disturb the other. To return to my interview with Jack, I asked, “How would Ann take it if you shared your thoughts with her?” He didn’t know and would not even consider talking to her as he had talked to me. In fact, he felt terribly guilty for having told me such things. His wife was a wonderful woman. He owed a lot to her; she had inspired him to work hard, to set wise goals for his life, to take his responsibility as a Christian seriously. If it hadn’t been for her, he might have drifted far away from the Lord. But after he said all that, the resentments of her fastidiousness, her bossiness, her pushing were still there.
Toward the end of our session, I called attention to the Apostle Paul’s goals as outlined in Philippians 3:12-15. Paul realized that he was not perfect. Still he was open to learning. This willingness to know and to be known was what he called perfection. He added that for anyone who would be perfect, God would reveal any reluctance to know or to be known. Look at his exact words:
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you (Phil. 3:12-15).
“Maturity,” I told Jack, “is not having arrived, but the will to see new light. Personal growth and development is based squarely on an honest look at yourself with the intent to correct any failings you may discover.”