45 year old Harriet* was referred to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) by a previous counselor in private practice who “could not break through Harriet’s defensive” behaviors. When Harriet began seeing her counselor at the DVSC, she initially identified reconciling with her husband of eight months as her goal.
In the beginning stages of her work, Harriet was actively attempting to get her husband to join her in couples counseling, but also worked with her DVSC counselor to change some things about the marriage that were bothersome to her, including that she was paying for all of her husband’s expenses despite the fact they were living apart, frequently tolerated verbal tirades when she was not immediately available to him, and often curtailed her activities to avoid accusations and threats prompted by his jealousy.
Harriet found that when she began to end conversations with him when he was yelling and calling her names that she felt better. She also realized that she felt supported and empowered when she spent time with her friends and doing activities she enjoyed, even if it bothered her husband. Though it took Harriet a while to fully acknowledge that her marriage was abusive, she was able to bolster her support system and improve her well-being. When she was ready, without any pressure by her DVSC counselor, Harriet contacted an attorney to begin the process of formally dissolving her marriage.
After several months of seeing her DVSC counselor, Harriet will now tell you, with no small degree of astonishment, “I can’t believe I couldn’t see what was happening to me.” Harriet credits the patience of her DVSC counselor, who guided her through her own process of discovery, with her new insight. Harriet is now actively working to understand why she did not initially realize some of her husband’s behavior was problematic by exploring her core beliefs about marriage, based on what she witnessed in her family growing up, and by reflecting also on her beliefs about what it means if she is not in a relationship. Harriet is considering dating again once her divorce is finalized but says that she’ll take it slow.
*Names have been changed.