When Michael accepted my suggestion that we meet individually for a while I was both surprised and pleased. In our first session he opened up and told me that he was, frankly, worried that his behavior and attitudes, if unchecked, could drive Diane away. Already he’d sensed some distance between them. He did not want to lose his marriage and family—so in his words he was “ready to talk.”
What this talking led to was my understanding of how Michael’s past had shaped his adult personality. His father had abandoned him and his mother when Michael was five. Michael never saw the man again. His mother, who was an alcoholic, subsequently married and eventually divorced another alcoholic, who was hostile and abusive to Michael. She’d had another son by her second husband, and this boy was the recipient of whatever largesse that man had been capable of. Moreover, though younger, Michael’s stepbrother had quickly learned that he could abuse Michael, if not physically then emotionally, by making sure he got almost all the attention and material benefits his parents had to give.
Michael’s mother, meanwhile, seemed to have decidedly divided loyalties. Sometimes, Michael said, she would defend him when she thought he was being treated unfairly; at other times she would stand back and do nothing. Similarly, she could be affectionate with Michael at times, but only when they were alone together. Most of the time, Michael felt ignored.
Michael had never spoken much to anyone about his childhood, including Diane. She knew only that Michael had had it “tough” as a child, but she had no real insight into what Michael had actually experienced. And she had never met his family, as Michael had broken contact with them well before they started dating.