To Love is to Prune

Psychologist: “You seem to keep a lot of your concerns to yourself. How about opening up more with your spouse?”

Client: “I don’t like to make waves.”

P: “You mean you don’t want a hassle?”

C: “I don’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

P: “Is there also a chance your wife might get angry?”

C: “Yes.”

P: “And you are uncomfortable with her anger?”

C: “Yes, I guess it scares me.”

P: “So you don’t want to risk a confrontation and have your wife get upset or hurt by what you say.”

C: “Exactly.”

P: “When you keep so much inside instead of telling her what is on your mind, you pay a price for that, do you not?”

C: “I guess so.”

P: “You told me that you have been feeling depressed, and you also mentioned that your stomach has been upset a lot, right?”

C: “I’ve been feeling quite angry at times as well.”

P: “But you haven’t shared it, have you?”

C: “No, not really. I bang things around in the kitchen sometimes or I withdraw. She tells me I’m moody.”

P: “Is your spouse perhaps a mind reader?”

C: “Of course not.”

P: “How is she supposed to know what bothers you if you don’t tell her?”

C: “It won’t do any good to say anything anyway; she won’t change. I can’t change her.”

P: “I suspect you’re right when you say you can’t change her. She is probably as strong-willed as you are and won’t be forced to do anything she does not want to do. However, she may change on her own if given a chance. By not saying anything to her, you rob her of the opportunity and the choice.

C: “I used to bring things up on occasion, but it became such a hassle.”

P: “I wonder if you were feeling quite upset when you finally spoke up and it may have sounded confrontational?”

C: “I get to a point where I can’t keep it in anymore and I just let loose. She gets angry with me at first and then she cries and I feel like a heel for causing trouble.”

P: “Maybe it would work better if you spoke up when an issue first arose and you were still fairly calm about it. You might then come across more the way you intend.”

C: “I’ve tried that once or twice and she was still upset, although not as angry.”

P: “When she gets upset you find it hard, don’t you?”

C: (Nods in agreement.)

P: “Do you feel guilty?”

C: “Yes, very guilty.”

P: “It sounds like you have trouble accepting her feelings when you give her feedback. Do you wish she would just hear what you say and not feel anything?”

C: “Well, when you put it that way….”

P: “When you say you don’t like to hurt her feelings, you are also concerned about hurting your own feelings, are you not? When she gets angry you feel threatened, and when she is upset you feel guilty. So by not speaking openly with her about your concerns, you are really protecting yourself more than her.”

C: “I hadn’t thought about it that way. You say I have trouble accepting her feelings. What if I don’t agree with them? Or don’t understand them? How can I accept them if I don’t agree or understand?”

P: “It is possible to accept another person’s feelings whether you agree, disagree or understand. What usually happens, however, is that you become caught up in your own feelings about what is happening. She gets upset and, instead of acknowledging this, you get overwhelmed by your own worries and concerns. This translates into guilt.”

C: “So let me get this straight. I just have to acknowledge her reaction to what I say, and that will magically take care of things?”

P: “You sound a little skeptical. I don’t know about magic, but your actions will convey to her two things. The first is that you have the courage to share a concern in a diplomatic or kind way. Secondly, if your words upset her, you don’t panic but allow her to feel what she feels. I suspect that she will find the experience helpful as she probably had no idea that you were so concerned. She may get frustrated with you for not having spoken up earlier.”

C: “I know that if something is bothering her, I certainly want her to tell me about it. So it makes sense that it could work both ways.”

P: “Some people think that love means never rocking the boat or causing distress to the other. A positive attitude is a wonderful thing. However, there are times when the loved one needs to hear what is on your mind. Something is upsetting you and she can sense this. Maybe she will be surprised or a bit shocked at what you say. However, after a little compassion on your part, it might be possible to have a discussion that leads to some constructive changes in the relationship.”

C: “It would be great to work out some of these issues, as we are getting more distant all the time and I worry about this a lot.”

P: “I believe that if you two can learn to be more candid with each other, accepting each other’s feelings without letting them wreck your day (like a child might react to the upset of a parent) you would do some good business together and feel much more intimate as well. Not being afraid to prune a little leads to new growth all around.”

To Love is to Prune
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Denis works with couples and individuals. His areas of interest include marriage, grief and stress. He also counsels people who suffer from depression and anxiety symptoms, as well as those struggling with personal growth issues.

Denis is eclectic in his use of psychological approaches, which include Adlerian, cognitive/behavioural, systems, psychodynamic, brief solution focused, existential and emotionally focused therapies.

Denis is a popular speaker who presents talks and workshops on a variety of topics including marriage, grief, retirement, emotional maturity and family relationships. He has published a book titled, “Marriage Can Be Great!…no really.”

Denis was a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. He helped to start the first hospice program in B.C. in 1975.

Denis received his Master of Arts degree from the University of British Columbia in 1977 and works as a Registered Psychologist. He is a member of the B.C. College of Psychologists and the B.C. Psychological Association.

Most importantly Denis has been married to Maureen for over thirty years and they have four children.

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