Creative Connections & Client Communications

Counseling Insights, November 30, 2005

Helping the Client Establish Significances

Quite a successful client of mine, in the international banking business, was working with me on strategy issues at one of the highest points of his career development. The gentleman had everything going for him in his senior years.

In the conversation, he startled me by saying –seemingly out-of-the-blue—“I’m having an affair; is my wife going to find out?”

Now this marriage is a long-standing, wondrous marriage, by anyone’s evaluation. An affair for him would hardly cross one’s mind. –The measurement that possibly suggested this wrinkle in his development was slight, and I would have never brought it up! This situation was beyond consideration.

My mind reacted immediately to how residually off-center his question was –“Is my wife going to find out”—That really wasn’t the right question, I thought. I replied immediately: “That’s quite a surprise. [I made a pause here to build up the importance of what was to follow.] Instead of worrying about people finding out, I think we need to discuss just what you’re getting out of this liaison?

[Isn’t that really the issue here?]

In other words, we have to see what the significance of this development is. –And we must remember that so very often, the answer to a question is within the very question being asked!

I felt that my client knew that the affair would be exposed within the family, and that that possibility had to be paired with the significance, the value of the experience in his life at that time [Did he fear early signs of impotence? Was the affair making him feel younger? More important, in the light of the new business challenge he was facing, was this liaison building his acquisitional confidence?].

As we began to discuss this, reality-truth began to temper adventurous invigoration. Wisdom caught up with hormones. Significance from his past experiences –a lust for this woman from long ago, now suddenly rekindled-- re-focused to give him guidelines, perspective, and sensibility to stop the situation. And, in that moment, the answer to his original question started to change: his wife would not find out about it, because the affair would no longer exist.

Now, of course, there is much nuance here that could be discussed, but the bottom-line exchange in the consultation, proved through careful ‘turkey-talk’, was to stop the affair; that it wasn’t worth it; we knew why it had occurred, and that was vital. That knowledge showed him he didn’t any more need the proving of self represented by the affair. It certainly wouldn’t now make him any happier.

A senior married man said to me that he was having an intense affair with a younger woman. A bit of discussion revealed that this “affair” was intense, all right, but it was Platonic, because the woman was totally, completely unavailable. They talked with each other daily, torridly, by phone, but the affair was not going to go anywhere … but he was “willing to wait”.

This was presented to me as if astrology would knock down a wall and make things happen!

I realized that this affair had different significances than one would normally ascribe to the situation. I pursued the significance of this strange situation. --I said, “I don’t think this affair is a statement about the wonders of your potential relationship with this woman; I want to suggest that it’s a projection of that fact that you want to dissolve your long-term marriage with your wife … and you’ve never had the courage to do it. And even now, with the unattainable lady, you are putting the whole issue “on hold,” still, further … for how much longer?”

He simply has never wanted his hand called in the frustration game. He lived with his family in a small community with pervasive conventions of conduct. He could not make the decision to divorce, so he latched onto something unattainable that would not be threatening but would offer hope for resolution! He was deceiving himself about happiness.

My last words to him –and his feelings had barely budged in the light of the clarified significances [and the man has Uranus oriental!]—my last words were, “I think you owe it to yourself to take the chance, have the divorce, and be free.” (Pretty startling statement, which he had never heard before, surely! In essence, I was calling his bluff for him. The decision still was his, but I gave him an Uranian jolt in good measure!))

If he did affect the divorce, he would accomplish what he had wanted to do for a long long time. If he went on with the Platonic relationship, how long could the charade prevail … it would be a new prison.

It’s important to appreciate the following in the context of significances and values: tests have shown that people very easily project great expectations for happiness upon the attainment of something placed in their near future: “If this happens, I’ll be in 7th Heaven; If I get this job, all my problems will be over!”

Tests have shown that our ability to predict how good or bad we will feel after future events is surprisingly poor! –Curiously, whatever happened in terms of success or failure didn’t fit predictions: those who achieved the sought-after golden ring felt less happy than they had expected to, and those who failed didn’t feel as bad as they had predicted they would … i.e., life didn’t “end”!

Psychologist and Psychiatrist Dr. Raj Persaud in Staying Sane (a Bantam book) reports many, many tests about “happiness.” He wakes us up with an experimental demonstration that “big money national lottery winners were found not to be statistically significantly more happy than those paralyzed following a major car accident, six months after each incident!”

In other words, the significances of events are elusive. We must rely on measured common sense, informed rationality, more than the fleeting euphoria of emotional projections.

**In this spirit, we must keep client experiences tethered to terra firma so that significances are practicable and enriching. Most often, the best evaluation emerges from such conversation.

Next Update: December 31, 2005


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