An Umbrella Attack.
Griffith was the CEO of a successful construction conglomerate that his father started, while his wife, Jenny, helmed her own medical consultancy firm. They were not a young couple, when Andrew was born. They had been at odds which parent Andrew ought to follow to church, as Griffith and Jenny attended different congregations. Both also had differing ideas how they disciplined Andrew. When they came for counselling, they were on a cold war footing over Andrew, who was three years old at the time.
Griffith and Jenny were brought up very differently in their respective family of origin. His father was a disciplinarian, and there were indications of parental physical and emotional abuses in his most formative years growing up, while Jenny’s upbringing was fairly liberal. However, they exchanged parenting styles with Andrew; Griffith was rather relaxed with his misbehaviours, while Jenny did not spare the rod. Their disciplinary overcompensation was obvious. However, like many high achieving professional couples, they were similarly running parallel lives, with barely any meaningful and sustained communication between them. They were as comfortable in a ritzy hotel room on their own, as they were in their palatial home together. With the passage of time, they had set themselves up for potential conflicts, without the benefit of handles learnt earlier through mutual bonding. In everyday language – they had become distant and allowed their love for each other to grow cold.
One wet morning, Jenny arrived at my office first. I enquired about Griffith, as I had expected to see them both. She shrugged her shoulders and mumbled, “He is sulking downstairs.” “Did you have a fight?” Jenny nodded. The bell rang and Griffith was at the door. I let him in. He went straight for Jenny, who was a couple of feet away, with his wet umbrella raised to strike. I rushed forward and stood between them, and deflected his umbrella. I was stunned for a second, but immediately grabbed his arm and led him towards the front door. He broke free and threw his umbrella at Jenny. It missed her, as she dodged it. I pulled him away. Once the door was closed behind us, I released my grip. In the few months of couple’s therapy, I had never seen Griffith in a rage. As we stood outside the office, he was looking away, his jaws tight as ever, still seething with fury. I put my arm around his shoulders and began to talk softly, to calm him down. In a few seconds, he swung around suddenly and said, “Why are you saying that to me? What did I do?” He looked at me quizzically, as though he was lost – disconnected from what happened earlier. He actually could not recall that he had tried to assault Jenny. After filling him in on his behaviour, he said he was exhausted and wanted to return home. I sent him off. It is not unusual to be tired out after a dissociative episode.
Back in the office, Jenny said that she had seen Griffith in that state a few times, but had avoided coming into contact with him on such occasions. He had never attempted to attack her like he did that morning. With an existing mental health issue above a marital problem, my priority, with client’s consent, was to focus first on the abnormal psychological concern; as not attending to it first, it will probably keep confounding marital stability.