Sherri & Jason have been married 14 years. They have 3 children ages 6-11. Jason is successfully employed in the information technology business. Sherri runs a rapidly expanding catering business. They look back with fondness and nostalgia on their dating years and the first few years of marriage. Both are committed to each other, but Sherri has intermittently complained for years about feeling lonely in her marriage. When she tells Jason she feels lonely they increase their efforts to spend more time together, but within a short time career, family and other demands short-circuit their good efforts.
Sherri is increasingly upset about Jason’s complete absorption in his career and his lack of support and interest in her life in the last few years. With Jason’s encouragement Sherri attended 6 months of individual counselling a few years previously. Her confidence increased so that she now wants to exit her catering business to return to school for training in a field her mother had talked her out of when she was a young adult because of the low earning potential. Jason, though not as negative as her mother, is worried about the family finances.
Couple’s therapy was initiated at Sherri’s insistence: “I’m so tired of fighting. We’ve grown apart. I’m ready to call it quits.”
Jason was not particularly unhappy in the marriage, but he was unhappy that Sherri was no longer that interested in sex.
During the assessment process the couple reported they had heard about Dr. John Gottman’s research finding that couples have “perpetual problems” where they keep arguing about the same things… they make some inroads on the problem but before they know it they are just as upset again about the same issues.
Sherri quickly identified loneliness as a perpetual problem: something she’s particularly sensitive too ever since her parents divorced when she was 9 and her mother began working long hours to keep the family fed and clothed. Sherri told Jason how she sat by a dark window after her older sister had put her to bed waiting for her mother to come home.
Jason knew about this aspect of Sherri’s life, but with the help of the Couples In Step therapist, Irene, Sherri was able to convey to Jason on a deeper level the impact this had on her. Irene helped Jason put aside his defensiveness and learn how to listen much more intently. Jason heard how his absorption in his career made Sherri feel abandoned just as she had as a child.
Jason, for his part, was able to own how his career focus was the result of being the only person in his family to have a successful career. Sherri had always suspected this but Jason had mostly minimized this influence in his life.
Closeness and connection intensified as Sherri and Jason stopped trying to resolve Sherri’s perpetual problem of loneliness and Jason’s perpetual focus on success in his work life. Instead, Sherri learned to talk of how occasional waves of sadness would come over her when Jason was so busy with his work, and Jason hesitantly began to speak about his sense of inadequacy and fear of failure related to work.
Sherri reports that “we still have problems in these areas, I guess we always will, but if we can get to talking about what’s really going on for us deep inside, and when we’re both emotionally accessible to each other, we both feel better.”
Jason reports that their busy lives still leave them sometimes too tired for sex, but “there’s more of it then there used to be and besides as long as I remember to stay interested in Sherri’s life Sherri is warm and engaged in sex and not cold and distant.”
Finding time together is still a challenge for Sherri and Jason. Currently, they’ve committed to scheduling a session with a therapist every 6-8 months to help them stay accountable to each other and their relationship.
*The people in the above account have given permission to use their story. For reasons of confidentiality, identifying details are disguised.