During a recent session with a couple, the wife used a metaphor to describe her view of her in-law troubles. She saw the parties involved as living in separate rooms and her husband as shuttling from one room to another. Their doors remained tightly shut and no-one else was to enter.
Her husband quickly latched on to the metaphor. He added that whilst everyone had a room, he lived in the corridor that linked the rooms. He felt he had been doing so for many years and this was his fate largely caused by some bad decisions on his part.
Metaphors and symbols can be very powerful.
Salvador Dali, the Spanish surrealist artist, used a number of symbols to communicate his ideas. One of them were drawers to depict hidden desires, often sexual in nature. While these desires remain unseen and locked away, they nevertheless assert an influence on the individual.
Another client, in his first session with me, declared that he stopped going to his previous counsellor because the latter kept trying to pry open the “boxes” in his mind where he had kept all his unpleasant and difficult-to-deal-with feelings.
My “rooms” couple had a troubled relationship around the strained ties between the wife and her in-laws. Her father-in-law had served as a buffer between his wife and elder son on one side and my client on the other. However, after the father-in-law passed away suddenly, the couple was at a loss as to how to resolve the undesirable state of affairs.
The status quo avoids confrontation but is not sustainable. The wife fears that one day, her spouse might collapse in the corridor from physical and emotional exhaustion. Who would come to his aid and, in the worse-case scenario, who would claim his body?
There is a glimmer of hope with them, though. The wife indicated that although she is not yet ready to welcome and make peace with her in-laws, she is opening her door ever so slightly. She is willing to talk and try to be understood as well as to understand.
This couple set me thinking about the dark secrets and difficult issues we may have locked away. There may be some misunderstanding, a hurt that has grown deep or a dark secret hidden away from others.
Is it time some of our rooms, drawers or boxes get aired and, hopefully, resolved?
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
Picture from shutterstock.com