Two men worked late tonight, not by choice. Both of them called home and informed their wives that they wouldn't be home at the expected time. One wife snapped, "Fine. All you do is work. If you don't want to be home then don't come home. I don't care" and hung up. The other wife said, "Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry you have to work again. Come home when you can and I'll fix you a bowl of ice cream, okay?"
So . . . what makes the difference? Is the difference in the quality of the husbands and the level of devotion and love they inspire in their wives? Is the difference the quality of the wives and their level of maturity? Maybe the difference is in how loved the wife feels overall--does one wife interpret her husband's late hours as a lack of love while the other wife doesn't question whether she is loved and sees the late hours as an unavoidable nuisance but nothing personal in the context of the whole relationship? Or is it more about their families of origin and the emotional baggage each brought into the relationship? Maybe it has to do with self-awareness--the ability to know how one is coming across to others and to send the message one intends to send. Maybe it's about expectations. Or habit. Or the effects of a capitalistic system on marriage.
I think about this stuff all the time and I have all kinds of books that postulate all kinds of theories. Do we look at attribution theory? What about attachment theory? Maybe we need to think systems. Maybe we need to do a genogram. Or maybe we need to talk to everyone involved about how they were potty trained. Do we intervene by teaching communication strategies or by teaching empathy? Do we try to raise the level of civility or the level of maturity? Is the second marriage actually more likely to survive?
Counseling is always an art and a science. There is real hard data to help us help couples. There are all kinds of theoretical frameworks to light the way. It's my job to be familiar with all of that and to keep it consistent. But then it comes down to intuition and the mystery of what unfolds in the moment as I work with couples . . . I guess that's why I love my job.