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As we become involved in the communication loop with the individual and especially as we focus on communication content, it is extremely important that we understand both the meaning and feeling of each message.

As we try to understand the meaning and feeling dimensions of each message, we need to be sure we do not assume that the individual feels this way or that way about it.  In the case of the teenager who thought her boyfriend was going out with another girl, we may have assumed that the teenage girl would be angry with her boyfriend.  We would have been wrong.  She was, in fact, angry with the other girl but not with her boyfriend.  Had we assumed that she was angry with her boyfriend without checking that out with her, we would have been very much on the wrong track in working with her.

Mrs. N says, “I really didn’t have any interest.  It just doesn’t turn me on for him to come home and say, ‘Well, do you want to do it tonight?’  I said No because that really doesn’t do anything for me—I mean, you just can’t say, Well, okay.  If I’d say No, he’d say, ‘Well, okay.’  The next time he was alone, he would take out his sexual frustrations on himself rather than bother me about it.  [You ask: Do you think the masturbation part is bad?  What do you think about it?]  I don’t think that’s really wrong, but it makes me feel inadequate.  I feel like I’m not satisfying him or something.  But when he feels so guilty about it, that’s what really bothers me.  If he could feel like its okay and there’s nothing wrong with it, I wouldn’t worry about it at all.  We get along fine most of the time, but it’s just when he walks in and says, ‘Let’s do it,’ that upsets me.”

Mrs. N is in a yellow crisis.  She is apprehensive and anxious.  As our picture of her crisis developed, we learned that the conflict had something to do with the interaction between her and her husband.  The conflict seems to focus specifically around their sexual relationship.  As we can see from the series of messages, however, she has the most serious feelings about his verbal approach to her and the fact that he feels guilty about masturbation.  She feels somewhat inadequate along with feeling guilty because he feels guilty.  Even though her over-all mood, or affect, is afraid and anxious and her crisis is yellow, she has specific feelings about specific aspects of her situation.  As we communicate with her, then, it is important for us to understand the feeling that goes with each message so that we do not misinterpret or misunderstand the message.  As we think about the crisis content, it is important for us to understand the meaning of the individual’s messages.  When we ask, “What happened?” we must be sure that we pursue things until we really do understand what happened.  This understanding must, then, combine with a similar understanding of how the individual feels about what happened.  We are then very close to “really understanding.”

Ken, age twenty, talks calmly and quietly with you on the hot line but seems a little sad.  You have been talking with him for a few minutes and ask him what he does not like about marriage.  “Well, I feel bad.  I was the one who talked my wife into marrying me.  She wanted to wait till we were sure, but I didn’t want to wait, and now I don’t like it.  She doesn’t want to do anything.  All she wants to do is sit at home.  I’ve always been active.  I think it looks bad for a newly married couple—for one of them to go out by himself.  I’ve been sitting home with her.  The only thing we do is visit her parents.  I really love her parents.  I don’t mind going over there once in a while, but she spends from nine in the morning until midnight there on Saturdays and Sundays.  We never do anything together, by ourselves.  I’ve never seen anyone change so much in my life.  Before we were married, she wanted to do things and go out to nice places all the time.  Now she won’t do anything.  [You see that Ken is not very happy about his relationship with his wife, but “won’t do anything” is fairly vague.  You want to know a little more clearly what kinds of things Ken is concerned about.  He doesn’t like something, but what is it that he doesn’t like?  You ask: Won’t do anything?]  Even sex isn’t good.  She just wants me to do it and then wants to go to sleep.  That ain’t much fun for me, and I can’t see how she’d like it much, either.  She likes to wrestle.  I like to wrestle and play with her too, but she tries to hurt me.  She pinches and scratches and bends my fingers to where it really hurts.  She thinks it’s fun, but I don’t.  I get scratches on me from her fingernails.  When I ask her not to be so rough, she just gets real quiet and walks off.  I’ve really tried hard to talk with her about it, but she just gets mad and says that we can talk later.  I try, but she just doesn’t care to talk with me about our problem.  This sounds really stupid, but I finally wrote her a letter.  She read it.  She just stared at me.  I asked her to talk about it, and she said, ‘So what?’  She’s perfectly happy.  I do everything I’m supposed to —pay the bills, go to work, make sure she has the things she wants, help around the house.  I told her she reminded me of my mom.  I really love my mom, but the way she treated my dad is the same way she treats me.  [You say: You seem to feel really sad about this.]  It sure gets to me.  I can’t sleep, and I vomit up everything I eat.  [You say: That’s really rough.  From your knowledge of depression and understanding of crisis communication, you verbally speculate by asking: How do you deal with the angry feelings you have about things with your wife?]  I feel kind of guilty about this.  No, I don’t know.  Maybe I don’t feel guilty about it.  Anyway, I went to a ball game the other night.  I had tried to get her to go with me, but she said she’d just stay home and watch TV.  I really was pretty mad when I left.  Anyway, I met an old high-school girl friend of mine at the ball game.  Well, I really was mad at my wife and figured, so what!  If she doesn’t care, what difference does it make.  Well, one thing led to another, and you know how it goes.  [You say: I could guess.  But why don’t you tell me so I don’t have to guess?]  We talked for a while, and she was so nice and gentle and understanding.  I really enjoyed the attention, and she really made me feel like someone important.  I don’t know whether I love my wife or not, but I hadn’t had that feeling for a long time.  We went for a ride and made love.  It was nice, and I probably will be seeing her again. At least, she doesn’t scratch me and make me feel like I’m attacking her.  [You ask: What do you think your wife would feel if she found out about you and your friend?]  I’m not about to tell her, but I’m not sure it would make any difference to her.  I could just pay the bills and make sure she had everything she wanted, and she wouldn’t have to bother with me anymore.  [You say: That must be a rather hopeless feeling.]”

As you talk with Ken, it becomes clear that he is depressed and feels that his relationship with his wife is hopeless.  His crisis has a black quality.  You also see, however, that he does not feel depressed about everything.  Apparently, he has good feelings about his girl friend and enjoys that relationship.  You might suspect that his wife would be upset if she were to learn about the relationship.  Ken’s feeling is that she wouldn’t care.  In fact, she might like the idea since it would give her an excuse to pay even less attention to him.  The content of some of Ken’s messages was somewhat unclear.  As you talked with him, you carefully tried to clarify the content of his messages while being sure that you understood the feeling attached to the messages.  Carefully combining your understanding of both the feeling and content of his messages gradually moved you to a point of greater empathy and understanding.  It is true that Ken did almost all the talking.  As you think about the discussion, however, it is important to see that your comments and questions gradually encouraged him to let you know more about the feeling and content of his messages and of his situation.

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