The given case study presents a couple (Carl and Diane) that have been living apart for six months owing to their disagreement on the issue of responsibility for caring for their three-year-old son. While Carl believes that this is an exclusively mother’s role, Diane insists on his acceptance of the responsibility since she brings more money to the family. The agreement has not been reached.
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In order to help this couple resolve the conflict, it is highly important to remember that when couples arrive in counseling, they are close to breaking up and any mistake made by their counselor may result in a divorce. Furthermore, they do not have an emotional bond with their therapist, which implies that trust is to be established gradually (Long & Young, 2007). That makes it especially important to develop a set of questions that would not hurt the couple’s feeling and give the counselor an insight into the problem.
First and foremost, it is necessary to find out the source of possible antagonism between the partners. The following questions might be significant for the therapy:
- When did the first conflict arise?
- Who initiated the birth of the baby?
- Are both parents attached to the child?
- Was the child the reason for their marriage?
- Is there any difference in the spouses’ backgrounds (family history, cultural belonging, religion, education, socio-economic status)?
- What is the reason for the difference in their present-day income?
- Is the couple willing to settle the problem or are they inclined to divorce?
- If the partners are indented to stay together, what is their suggested solution to the problem?
- How do they see the behavior of the other side and what wrongs do they find in one another?
- Did they have any significant external problems they had to solve?
As it is evident from the list of question, there is a big number of issues that may have affected the way the couple interacts. The stressors may be both horizontal (related to the present-day state of affairs) and vertical (connected with an individual history of one or both the spouses). Both will make them get caught in recurring negative cycles of failed communication; yet, the solution to the problem would be different in each case (Long & Young, 2007). The therapist, therefore, must investigate whether the issue is deeper than presented by the couple. For instance, it would be useful to know (however, the point must be made as delicate as possible) if the husband had any history of abuse in the family. His father’s negligent or aggressive behavior may make him mirror the same pattern of conduct towards his own son. Another crucial point is whether the marriage was voluntary for both spouses and whether the baby was actually planned. Carl and Diane may also have different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, which make their views on child-raising drastically different.
As far as horizontal aspect is concerned, the therapist must find out what is the reason for their difference in income (Carl may feel depressed and humiliated by his wife’s success and protest against his position in such a way). There may exist other factors making Carl and Diane dissatisfied with each other’s behavior, which are also important to know (as well as their proposed solution to the problem).
Finally, the couple can be affected by systems-level stressors due to the changes in their economic or social environment (Henry, Sheffield Morris, & Harrist, 2015). For instance, it is possible that they had to move to another city due to financial problems. The therapist must be sure that there are no external factors that aggravate the situation.
Henry, C. S., Sheffield Morris, A., & Harrist, A. W. (2015). Family resilience: Moving into the third wave. Family Relations, 64(1), 22-43.
Long, L. L & Young, M. E. (2007). Counseling and therapy for couples (2nd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.