After 14 years of marriage, Mark and Cathy have separated. Mark is having an affair. Cathy is miserable and doesn’t know what to do. She’s tried so hard to make her marriage work and, through her tears, she wonders where things went so terribly wrong.She doesn’t remember it now. It happened so long ago, just after she and Mark returned from their amazing honeymoon in Paris. They’d had a wonderful first day in their new home. Late that evening, Cathy brushed her teeth and walked into their bedroom where Mark was sitting in bed, flipping through channels on the TV and crunching pretzels. Cathy was still exhausted from the trip. She yawned and crawled between the covers, hoping Mark would get the hint and turn off the TV. He didn’t.
“Mark,” she said firmly. “I’m tired. It’s late and it’s time to turn off the television and go to sleep.”
She got no response, so she tried again. “Mark, I can’t go to sleep with the TV on and you crunching pretzels! We both need to get some rest so we can get up for work tomorrow, so stop with the pretzels already and please turn off that stupid television. ”
Still no response.
Cathy was getting more and more frustrated, so she sat up in bed. “Mark! Are you listening to me?”
Still nothing. No matter what she said, he just kept on crunching and flipping. In exasperation, she got up, put on her robe, grabbed her pillow, and went into the living room. She thought that would surely make him aware of how much his behavior was bothering her. She waited for him to come in and apologize. He never did.
It seems like a simple thing, but it was the first sign of a negative pattern of interactions that, unaddressed, would increase in intensity over the years. Cathy would make a comment or ask for something, and Mark would feel criticized and freeze. Eventually, Cathy gave up trying.
In the beginning, Cathy was what psychologists call “the pursuer” and Mark was “the withdrawer.” By the time they separated, both had withdrawn from each other.
Could they have done anything differently? Can they now? What do you think?