"He Criticizes Everything I Do"
Frank's distant behavior was breaking Tim's heart. What happens when ordinary disagreements rage out of control?
"I'm at the end of my rope," sobbed Tim, a tall Homicide detective with soft brown eyes. "I don't want our partnership to end, but I just don't think I can take any more of this constant bickering."
"Frank complains constantly about everything. He'll torment me about my lunch order and bring everyone else at work what they ask for. Or he'll accuse me of being obsessed with a case when I'm just trying to do my job.
"Frank has many lovable qualities and enormous talent. But his endless criticism has become intolerable.
"We met on my first day in Homicide. I was paired up with him on my first case, and there was instant chemistry. Still, our relationship developed slowly. It was years before he asked me to be his partner.
"It's only now that I'm realizing how much Frank reminds me of my father. Dad was always emotionally distant when I was a kid, and we never had a close bond. I thought that Frank and I had a better relationship than that, but he's so cold and distant I might as well be on my own.
"Every day with Frank is a battle now. He doesn't offer any support when I feel down, and he never even wants to have dinner with me anymore. We can barely speak civilly to each other."
"He's the only partner I've ever wanted, but I just can't stand his attitude any longer. I hate to say it, but if he doesn't change, I will have to end our partnership."
"It is unfair for Tim to expect me to change," said Frank, an intense man with a powerful presence. "I don't know what he's complaining about. I treat him the same as I always have."
"Tim wants me to hold his hand and smooth everything over for him. He'll probably tell you that I'm mean to him, that I order him around and don't respect his opinion. That's not true, but I hate putting up with his needy behavior and his whining.
"Every time we try to work together, Tim gets obsessed with the details of the case. I just want to work through things and get the job done, but Tim has to worry about the reasons and motives behind everything. It's like nothing is ever good enough. Then he gets depressed and moody, and he expects me to make everything easy for him. Well, he's a grown man and I can't do that.
"I was raised in Catholic schools and I learned to be self-sufficent. I'm not the type to have many friends or to get emotional. I usually work alone, and I was content with that when Tim came into my life.
"I enjoy working with Tim, but I can't be his babysitter. So I get angry sometimes when he can't let anything pass. Can you blame me?
"I want to continue working with him, but he can't expect me to coddle him anymore. Why can't he see this from my point of view?"
THE COUNSELOR'S TURN
"At first, I had serious doubts as to whether this partnership could be saved," the counselor said. "Tim and Frank had completely opposite approaches to problem-solving and conflict resolution."
"Tim tended to get emotional and over-analyze even the smallest conflict. He also remembered old injuries and applied leftover anger to current situations. Frank, on the other hand, distanced himself from his problems, preferring to deal with the surface issues and move on quickly to something else. But both partners expressed a desire to resolve their conflicts and continue working together, so they agreed to make the effort.
"Tim felt hurt that Frank didn't pay enough attention to his emotional needs. He grew up feeling rejected by his father, so when Frank wasn't empathetic, he became extremely needy and clingy. The first step in counseling was for Tim to learn to leave old problems in the past, and focus on the present situation. He also had to remember that Frank wasn't a mind-reader. If he wanted support from Frank, he had to be more honest, rather than concealing his problems and feeling hurt when Frank didn't automatically understand how he felt.
"Frank felt pressured by Tim's needs, so he withdrew or got angry and harangued Tim for acting childish. He needed to get in touch with his anger. I asked him to pay attention to his physical responses - such as headache pain - when Tim said or did something that made him feel upset.
"Tim started to understand that his needy behavior was asking too much from Frank. Instead of getting emotional over minor problems, he learned to deal with small issues on his own, and ask Frank directly for support on major concerns. When Frank felt less obligated to 'parent' Tim, he became more open and responsive.
"This couple ended counseling after three months, though Tim still contacts me when he feels overwhelmed. The last time, he reported that Frank had become a better partner. 'He still acts distant sometimes,' Tim said, 'but I think he understands when I need his support.' "