Case Study - Marie
**note that small details have been changed to protect the anonymity of my client, whilst staying totally true to the process - the dialogue between myself and the client and essence of the work
Marie and her ex-partner shared custody of their two daughters. Their relationship was acrimonious and they only communicated via text or email – never in person. Marie planned to move in with her new partner – a woman – and wanted the girls to move schools so that they would be nearer her and her new partner. The school was in her view better for the children as it was near a forest and they would spend lot of time doing outdoor learning. Her ex-partner refused citing his discomfort with the fact that Marie was in a lesbian relationship and he didn’t want the girls having to deal with having ‘two mums’ as the school gates.
When Marie came to see me, she was furious and in a state of high anxiety. She was adamant that she was not going to let her ex-partner dictate what was best for her children and that she was going to fight to make sure that their daughters enrolled in the school near her, regardless of what their father had to say. She was “not going to let his prejudice and controlling behavior impact her life anymore”. She commented that during their 10-year marriage, he had been controlling and jealous with frequent angry outbursts and that now she was in a loving relationship, she would not “let him dampen her joy and prevent her from living the life she wanted to lead”. Working on the principle that relating from a defensive and angry place rarely brings positive results even if the result one is aiming for is a ‘good’ one, I suggested that Marie take a breather and let go, for the moment, of the need to ‘win’ this argument and instead find ways to bring herself back into balance. I could see that her anxious state was more to do with her desire to get her own way, rather than what her ex-partner was doing or not doing and as such she had the power to replace feelings of anxiousness and resentment with calmer more positive ones simply by letting go – at least for the moment.
As a next step, we began to try and understand the situation from her ex-partners perspective. Rather than seeing him as a ‘prejudiced bigot’, we began to explore the idea that he might feel hurt, left out and rejected and that because of this, he was acting out and imposing limitations on her. Once she began to connect to his hurt and pain, more empathetic feelings arose in Marie and her desire to ‘go against him’ diminished. She no longer felt the need to defend herself from this “controlling man”. Instead she was moved to “go easy on him” and give him time and space to come round to the idea of her new relationship. She chose to have faith that if she put out the right signals and began to communicate with him in a gentler and more flexible way, that he would eventually come round.
Needless to say, after one month, he too let go of his fixed position and even agreed to meet with Marie and her partner and to go and look at the school. He has since agreed that it is in the best interests of their daughters to send them to the school closer to Marie.