"His Ex Is Destroying Our Life!"
Stanley was constantly comparing John to his former partner. How can a new relationship begin when old feelings remain?
"If Stan really cares about me, why does he always talk about Mitch? It's destroying our partnership," began John, a tall, striking man who spoke so quickly it was sometimes hard to follow him.
"I try so hard to be a good partner, but I always feel like a failure. Stan is so distant; we fight all the time, and I'm afraid I'm going to lose him.
"Every time I try to do anything, Stan says that Mitch, his old partner, did it better. He keeps telling me that I should do things the way Mitch did them, that my own way isn't good enough. It really hurts, and it makes me so angry. It's like I can't do anything right. He'll ask me for a quarter, and if I don't have any spare change, he starts berating me and acting like I did something wrong!
"When we first met, things were so different. Stan wowed me from the day we met. I would have done anything to be his partner. I was so thrilled when we started working together! It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I thought Stan respected me the way I respected him.
"I was a rebellious teenager, and my parents were always complaining that I wasn't as well-behaved as my younger brother. As a result, I tried more and more to do things my own way. Even when I settled down into this career, I developed my own style. So I like to work at my own pace; is that a crime?
"According to Stan, it is. If I don't do exactly what he tells me, he gives me the silent treatment, acting like I don't even exist. Then he'll lecture me about how Mitch did things better and how I am not good enough for him.
"I'd do anything to save our partnership, but I'm tired of feeling like dirt. Having a close relationship with my partner means the world to me. Why can't I do anything right?"
"Why is everyone on my case?" asked Stanley, a big man with distinguished-looking white hair. "I'm tired of hearing what a louse I am. I don't see how counseling can help us."
"Sometimes when John is whining the way he does, I think I'll go crazy. Mitch never acted this way. Everything in our partnership was kept on an even level.
"If John would only work on things systematically, everything would work out. But no, he dawdles, he leaves files all over the desk, he wastes time hanging out in the coffee room. Meanwhile, names in red are piling up and he's trying to avoid answering the phone.
"I'll concede that my standards are pretty high, but John is truly impossible. All he does is complain. If I ask him to do the smallest thing, he starts crying that I don't respect him; that I don't treat him as a partner. I can't correct even his smallest mistake or ask the smallest favor without triggering his attitude. He'll rush to tell anyone who'll listen that I'm unfair. Yet he claims that he respects me. If he does, why doesn't he just listen to what I say?
"Still, it's not just the case files that bother me. He's irresponsible about everything. I'm just not comfortable with his sloppy behavior. I'm used to having things neat and organized. His messiness is intolerable.
"I think that the best thing for both of us would be to end the partnership. I can't deal with John anymore. Unless he can change his ways, I just don't see a future for us.
THE COUNSELOR'S TURN
"On the surface, these partners were fighting about Stan's ex-partner Mitch," the counselor said. "But the real problem here is a struggle for power and control.
"Within minutes of these two walking into my office, it was obvious that their personalities were wildly different. John was laid-back, sometimes even lazy, preferring to wait for problems to resolve themselves. He also needed reassurance from his partner to boost his self-esteem. Stan, on the other hand, was a perfectionist, and John's lackadaisical approach infuriated him.
"Despite the fact that they had been working together for years, neither one had developed any tolerance for the other's individuality. Stan tried to bully John into changing his attitude, while John took any criticism from Stanley as personal abuse.
"Their behavior was so deeply ingrained that for a while I was afraid counseling would not be productive. Each wanted the other one to be fixed up, but was resistant to any idea of changing themselves. The turning point came when John admitted he sometimes deliberately tried to provoke Stan with sloppy behavior. Stan was then able to face up to his contribution to John's unhappiness.
"This couple's problems were worsened by a breakdown in communication. Stan would bottle things up and express his anger in petty criticism. John would then overreact and become emotional and irate. Stan would then become frustrated and shut John out.
"In counseling, Stan learned that he had to be understanding rather than critical. One assignment I gave him was to make a list of things about John that pleased him in a partner. He soon realized that they had a stronger relationship than he believed, and he cut down on the comparisons to his ex-partner.
"When Stan became more accepting, John became less resistent to change. He started to realize how irritating his sloppiness was to Stan. Because he truly respected his partner, he made the effort to become more organized. This helped Stan become less critical, and try to compromise more often.
"Three months after these partners ended counseling, I phoned John to ask how things were going. 'There's not much news,' he told me, 'except that we've finally become true partners.' "