Alcoholism: What People Don’t Get

Alcoholism wreaks more havoc on individuals and families than any other problem that I see in my practice. Insidious and baffling are words that are often used to describe it, and these words could not be more apropos. Sometimes the effects of alcoholism and drug addiction are obvious, as in the case of the wino who has given up on any pretense of self-respect. Other times the effects of alcoholism are far less obvious, as in the case of the pillar of the community whose shame is a private affair known only (but denied) to the alcoholic and his or her family.GettyImages_134467440

Despite the adverse effects that alcoholism has on people’s lives and its prevalence (there are the same number of alcoholics as there are left-handed people) most people, and I’m including mental health professionals, don’t have a clear understanding of what it is. It is usually equated with nothing more than a drinking problem when, in fact, alcoholism is a complex disease. This does not mean that the public is not more educated about alcohol abuse than when I received my training. Anti-drunk driving programs, the advent of rehabilitations centers, the notion of “responsible drinking,” the notoriety of celebrities with alcohol and drug problems, to name just a few relatively recent developments, have raised the public’s awareness of the significance of the problems associated with excessive drinking. More and more people today realize that old myths, such as “alcoholics need to drink every day,” “alcoholics have weak moral character,” and “alcoholics can’t hold a job,” are simply not true.

Everyone understands, with the possible exception of fraternity members reenacting Animal House and alcoholics who are deep in denial, that consistently abusing alcohol is a problem. There is a general consensus that individuals who are intoxicated act obnoxiously, create great anxiety for their loved ones, and imperil society if they get behind the wheel of a car. There is little misunderstanding about alcoholism as it relates to drinking. Rather, the confusion about alcoholism results from a lack of understanding of what alcoholics experience when they do not have alcohol in their systems. Non-recovering alcoholics may seem cool, calm, and collected on the outside when they are sober, but they are feeling anything but that on the inside. They may be able to wear a façade that hides what they are feeling from public view or they may be able to find a way to distract themselves from paying attention to their feelings, but non-recovering alcoholics are in a constant state of emotional distress when they are sober.

An appreciation of the concept of alcoholism as a disease is necessary to comprehend fully what an alcoholic experiences when he or she is not drinking. Alcoholics process alcohol differently than social drinkers do. When social drinkers take a drink, the liver produces enzymes that break the alcohol down into a substance that gets into the bloodstream and works its way to the brain. Once the broken down alcohol reaches the central nervous system, it enters brain cells and slows down the activity of those cells, which social drinkers experience as a nice pleasant buzz. After an hour the alcohol leaves the brain cells and is discharged by the body, and to a greater or lesser degree, the brain cells are the same as they were prior to the social drinkers having had the drink.

GettyImages_86521850When alcoholics take a drink, their livers produce a different set of enzymes than social drinkers. These enzymes break the alcohol down into a substance that is stronger and more toxic than its counterpart in the social drinkers. This stronger substance gets into the bloodstream and, just like with social drinkers, it works its way to the brain where it enters the brain cells. Once inside the brain cells the same basic process occurs in alcoholics as it does in social drinkers–that is, the brain cell activity slows down–but the strength and toxicity of the substance causes the alcoholics to have a much more intense experience. Alcoholics find being under the influence to be far more pleasurable than the nice pleasant buzz experienced by social drinkers.

This is only half the story. Other factors are at work that cause the allure of drinking to be substantially greater for alcoholics than it is for social drinkers. The brain cells of alcoholics are affected differently by their exposure to alcohol than the brain cells of social drinkers. These brain cells adapt in such a way that they require alcohol in order to maintain their equilibrium. In essence, these brain cells are out of whack without alcohol. Subjectively, alcoholics experience this as some form of feeling “not-right.” This explains my earlier assertion that alcoholics are in a constant state of emotional distress when not drinking. Alcohol is both creating the emotional distress and giving relief for it at the same time.

A clarification of this not-right feeling is in order. As often as not when I tell alcoholic clients that they feel uncomfortable when they are not drinking, they will dispute this, claiming that they feel perfectly fine. Even their spouses may say that everything is great except for the drinking. However, if I ask those same female spouses if they have to “walk on eggshells” so as not to trigger their husbands’ tempers or if I ask those male spouses if their wives are moody, depressed, or anxious most of the time, they will almost always say yes. Perhaps, the most common form of denial is the belief that those emotional states–anger, depression, and anxiety–are “just the way I’ve always been” without the alcoholic being able to see that drinking is simultaneously maintaining and providing relief for these feelings.

The implications of this paradox are huge because it means that quitting drinking is not an adequate way to address the problem of alcoholism. Alcoholics who simply quit drinking without engaging in a recovery program simply leave themselves in a state of discomfort without a way of getting relief. The vast majority of individuals who are in this state of “white-knuckle” distress eventually crack under the pressure and start drinking in order to get some relief. A smaller number of individuals are able to abstain from drinking for extended periods of time but they are either so badly in need of a drink that they are miserable and constantly in a foul, negative mood or they are so cut off from their own feelings that they cannot connect on an emotional level with family and friends.

I believe strongly that the only way to accomplish the two objectives of recovery–abstinence from alcohol and emotional comfort–is through active involvement in a 12 Step Recovery Program. So the answer is simple: go to meetings and don’t drink. Like most things in my life, I relate this to golf: simple concept–hit the ball straight and put it in the hole–but incredibly difficult to do. Counseling and/or rehab can be incredibly helpful with this. My recommendation for people struggling with their own drinking or who are being adversely affected by a loved one’s drinking is to find a therapist or rehab center that is knowledgeable about the disease concept of alcoholism and that respects and understands the value of 12 Step Programs. It can be a difficult process and the answer can be elusive, but the promises of recovery are well worth the struggle.




“One year ago, I felt hopeless, angry and trapped in a terrible situation. I’ve tried counseling twice in the past, but never did anyone get to the heart of things as quickly or easily as Rory did. I walked into the first session not expecting much more than the usual ‘meet and greet.’ I walked out feeling–for the first time ever–a sliver of light at the end of a very long, dark, lonely tunnel. His direct approach, insight, sense of humor, storytelling and kindness helped me learn how to face and overcome challenges I couldn’t even articulate that first day. With Rory’s help, I am now in a place where I feel confident, strong, happy and free. The bonus: as I got stronger, I was able to be more present for my children and help them heal, too. Every day, I thank God for giving me my life back. And I will always be grateful to Rory for helping me through this difficult absolutely essential journey.”

“Rory is the 3rd professional we’ve used over the course of our 24 year marriage and the only one I would recommend. When my wife and I first came to see Rory, we were not in a good place. Rory was able to help each of us understand how to better understand the other and how we could communicate more productively. After about 6 months, we were in a much better place and didn’t think we needed to continue the therapy. That was about 18 months ago and our relationship has been better than ever since. Thanks Rory!”

holding hands“Rory is simply the best. His super-practical approach, genuine compassion and likeable demeanor make therapy something that I actually look forward to. He has guided me through many tough situations with skillful advice, dedicated concern and a great sense of humor. He’s more than just a therapist…he’s a good friend. Everyone should be so lucky to have a Rory.”
–One of his many fans

“I would recommend Rory to anyone who is looking for insight and perspective into their life. He is perceptive and honest and makes observations that immediately get to the heart of the matter. He always responds to our conversations in a way that is genuine and thought-provoking. His years of experience really inform his ability to connect to those around him. I sought Rory’s help at a time when I felt down about my life and wanted to better understand how all the pieces fit together. After spending a good bit of time with him, I realized that he pinpointed the crucial issues I face in our very first meeting.”
— Laurie S.

“My husband and I contacted Rory at a very bad time in our marriage. He was able to meet with us immediately which helped to diffuse the situation. After seeing Rory for about 6 months, my husband I felt we were completely back on track. I have since recommended him to other close friends and they have also been very happy.”

“I’ve known Rory Gilbert for over twenty years. From outside appearances, I was a happy and successful man. But I wasn’t. Rory’s hard work helped me untangle that unhappiness. Rory brought compassion, acceptance, and accountability to our sessions, and I have great gratitude for that. I no longer see Rory, a testimony to our success, but he is a friend. I have recommended Rory to many people, including those I love dearly, and I recommend him to you.”
— Pat

“Rory is one of the smartest guys I know. He remembers everything and really listens. He has the unique ability to really understand things from my point of view. During my counseling sessions with Rory, I would say you don’t always hear what you expect and you don’t always hear what you might like, but definitely always hear what you need. I have been sober for 20 years and married for 40 (to the same woman), so I guess it works.”
–Ray K.

“I sought counseling with Rory Gilbert during a period of overwhelming stress in my family following the death of my mother. His compassionate, sensible approach helped me gain valuable insight about my feelings and our difficult family issues. I was always rather skeptical about counselors and how they could help me. However, Rory’s practical wisdom has benefitted me tremendously. I feel much stronger, more confident and happier. Thank you Rory!”
–Beth P.

“My thanks to Rory for his help and guidance during a very difficult time. With patience, he would listen to my story, give me feedback that would shed light on the situation. He enabled me to see my way out. He not only helped me through that time in my life, he gave me tools for the rest of my life.”

“I was lucky enough to stumble upon Rory’s name online, and went to see him during a very rough time in my marriage. Within one session I was able to see my whole life-past, present and future–with new insight and clarity. Rory got to the bottom line fast, making everything seem so clear and simple, when before it had seemed so complicated. I would say that within a few sessions the way I viewed my relationship completely changed, and I was able to use this new way of thinking to make positive changes for myself and my family, and still am to this day. Rory loves his work and genuinely cares about his clients. I highly recommend him!”
–anonymous 🙂

Therapist, Yes, Movie Critic, No: Why A Good Woman Can End Up With An A**hole

One of the drawbacks of being a therapist is that it makes me hyper-aware of the negative and hurtful aspects of much of life, even when watching a light comedy. Parts of Bridesmaids, for instance, were hard for me to bear. I have many clients who have problems that are so similar to Kristen Wiig’s character, Annie, that it was painful to watch.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, Annie has a relationship with a jerk named Ted, played by Jon Hamm, that consists of little more than sex and only when it’s convenient for Ted. This type of relationship is all that Ted wants, but, though Annie puts up with it, it isn’t satisfying for her. Take a look at this exchange between the two the morning after one of their nights together:

Ted: You slept over.
Annie: I did.
Ted: I thought that we had a rule against that.
Ted: Just kidding.
Annie: Oh, that’s funny. You’re funny in the morning.
Ted: I like hanging out with you.
Annie: I love hanging out with you. I think we get along really well. And you’re so sexy…
Ted: I know. Look, I just have a lot coming up at work. And I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep.
Annie: We’re on the same page. I’m not looking for a relationship right now either, let’s just say that. Whatever you want, I can do. I like simple, I’m not like the other girls who would be like, “Be my boyfriend!” Unless you were like, “Yeah!” Then I’d be like, “Maybe.”
[They hug tightly and he kisses her deeply. The he lets her go. Stares at her…]
Ted: Wow, this awkward. I really want you to leave but I don’t know how to say it without sounding like a dick.

There’s no hiding that Annie and Ted aren’t “on the same page.” He doesn’t even want to see her in the morning, and she wants him to be her boyfriend (“maybe”). So why does Annie pretend that they are on the same page? As a therapist, I found Annie’s understated desperation and humiliation excruciating. Also, as a therapist, I found this scene too true. This post will address the age-old question that Annie’s plight raises—why do bright and attractive women put up with such “dicks”?

woman gazing out a windowThis question can be answered, at least in part, by looking at the interaction between a woman in Annie’s state of mind and a man with Ted’s personality. Annie is desperate to be in a relationship, and Ted is totally self-centered. This combination places the woman at high risk of being taken advantage of in the relationship. The more desperate a woman is, the more likely she is to be attracted to a jerky narcissist. This is analogous to the problem of going to the grocery store when hungry: the hungrier you are, the more prone you will be to buy junk food that will be a quick fix for your cravings.

It is easy for all of us to recognize why a Big Mac is appealing when we are starving, but it is less obvious to see why a woman who is longing for a loving and kind man would fall for a selfish, inconsiderate guy. I can begin to make some sense of this by looking at the relationship my old neighbor Cosmo had with his car.

Every night I would come home to find Cosmo making love to his car. At least that is the best way to describe what he was doing. He would wash it, and wax it, and then work his way under the hood in a way that was nothing short of an act of love. Then one night, I came home and he was doing what he always did, but it was a different car. He asked me what I thought. I told him, “It’s beautiful, but where’s your car?” He said, “I got rid of it, and this is my new car.” I felt terrible for his old car and exclaimed, “But I thought you loved that car!” He looked at me like I was a touchy-feely weirdo and said, “I did love that car, but it was getting old, so this is my new one.”

If you think about it, he did love his old car, but it’s a selfish type of love. That is, he loved it for what it did for him. He had no interest in its thoughts, feelings, or wishes. If he wanted to drive to a ball game and the car wanted to drive to a movie theater, he wouldn’t stand for it. I’m getting silly, but you get the point. This kind of selfish love is appropriate for an object but does not work well with people.

When something (or someone) is the target of this selfish love, that love is very intense. Cosmo was really into his cars. Remember, every night he would make love to it. When I get a new golf club, I want to show it off to all of my friends and take great care of it. However, when it is not the target of desire, it is out of sight and out of mind. At the end of the golf season, my wonderful new club goes in the basement and I don’t think about it until spring.

So, if you’re that woman who badly wants to be in a relationship and a jerk-in-good-guy’s-clothing is intensely being attentive to you, it is easy to mistake his attention as a genuine interest in you and not a self-centered attempt to satisfy his desires. For a woman who is “hungry” to be with a guy, a self-centered man is the Big Mac of relationships. Annie’s response to Ted in Bridesmaids is a great case in point. Presumably, the night before the scene described above, Ted was acting loving and attentive to her. Annie’s desperation set her up to think “maybe he really is into me” and overlook the red flag that signified “booty call.”

The way to avoid falling into this trap is to pay close attention to the little voice in the back of your head that is whispering “something is wrong with this picture.” This is not always easy to do. When you badly want to be in a relationship and the guy is professing his love, or at least his interest in you, it is hard to remain objective and exercise the self-control necessary not to fall into the same trap as Annie.

Furthermore, the situation is even more difficult when the guy’s desire to be in a relationship is as great as the woman’s, causing him to believe the declarations of love that he is making. That is, despite what many women believe, all men are not as self-centered as Ted. Of course, predatory men do exist, but I believe they are the exception. My male clients long for satisfying long-term relationships as much as my female clients do. Unfortunately, while a woman’s insecurities put her at risk of being taken advantage of, the combination of a man’s longing to be in a relationship and the effects of testosterone can make a good guy act more self-centered than his normal disposition. In the dance of life, whether you lead or follow, both men and women are equal participants.

In the short run, it’s a lot more fun to give in to temptation and ignore the part of you that is being a buzzkill and telling you that you should exercise restraint—I’m sure that Annie enjoyed her night of being the center of Ted’s world. But in the long run, the price that you pay is feeling bad about yourself and feeling used and taken advantage of. If you’re trying to determine if the guy is a keeper or a jerk, you get a lot more good intel when you set limits out of respect for what you think is right than when you go along with his advances despite your reservations. It’s a good sign if you can say, “I had a great time last night.” It’s a better sign if you can say, “I still feel great” the next day. If you haven’t seen Bridesmaids I don’t want to spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that the movie ended with Annie feeling great, and the angst that I experienced in the beginning was gone.

The Continuum: a look at what draws people together for good or ill

My last post about Joe and Gina shows a classic example of opposites attracting. Joe was an outgoing guy who needed to be the center of attention, and Gina played the role of Joe’s sidekick. She was content to be behind the scenes and did everything in her power to avoid having the spotlight on her. They came to counseling when their respective roles had become too extreme—Joe had become too self-centered and Gina had become, in a sense, invisible—but when they finished counseling, they were living “happily ever after” with their respective roles intact. Their personalities didn’t change. Joe was still outgoing and extroverted while Gina remained quiet and reserved, but Joe had “stretched” his personality in such a way that he gave more consideration to Gina’s feelings and Gina became more assertive permitting her personality to come out.

In this post I want to begin to look at some of the forces that bring people together and the bonds that keep them together—for good or ill. This topic is so huge that this post will barely scratch the surface, but I believe that a good starting point is looking at the way in which people get their needs met in relationships.

You old folks like me may remember that in the 1970s and 1980s assertiveness training workshops were extremely popular. They had a great way of conceptualizing the manner in which men and women get their needs met. The most common participants in assertiveness training workshops were women like Gina who wanted to become more forceful and get their voices heard more effectively, but the concepts are relevant not only to meek women, but to overbearing men too, and everyone in between.

This model shows that the manner in which people get their needs met can be thought of as being on a continuum with the two ends being unhealthy or dysfunctional and the middle representing a healthy range:


The people on the right get their needs met by respecting their own wants, wishes needs and desires while disrespecting the needs of others. This is a working definition of self-centered behavior:


Although there are exceptions to the rule, men, more than women, tend to fall into the self-centered category. There is a range of personalities and behaviors that comprise this group. At first glance it may sound odd, but a lot of the people who fit this definition of self-centered are quite popular and a lot of fun to hang around with. Joe is an example of this. He was a great guy with many friends and, as Gina described, he was the life of the party. The negative aspects of his personality only showed up in his marriage, his most intimate of relationships.

Of course, the self-centered category also includes people whom everyone would agree have personality problems. This would include the selfish—“C’mon, I’m only on three softball teams and you can come watch”—the alcoholic—“what difference does it make when I get home? You’re asleep anyway”—the narcissist—“it pisses me off that you’re having your period when I want to have sex”—the abuser—“I wouldn’t have gotten so mad if you had listened to what I said”—and a myriad of other people who need to have power and control in relationships.

The people on the left side of the continuum are the opposite of self-centered. They are selfless to an unhealthy degree. They get their needs met by showing respect to the wants, wishes, needs, and desires of others while showing disrespect to their own needs:


The majority of people who fit the description of selfless are women. This does not mean that men are immune from giving to others at their own expense but, in general, selflessness—giving more than you get—is an issue that women struggle with. Everyone tends to like these women and the bonds they form with one another create strong, BFF-type relationships. However, when they connect with Alpha males (and females!) they, sooner or later, feel “used and abused.” At first glance, it may seem that putting the needs of others before one’s own needs is a positive trait. However, when it crosses a line and the person finds herself being taken advantage of or treated like a doormat it is no longer a virtue.

Although the label that is most frequently given to selfless people is co-dependent, I think that we can come up with several subtypes. There is the people-pleaser—“don’t worry about me. As long as you’re happy, I’m happy”—the self-sacrificer—“no, no you take the chair. I’m fine right here on the floor”—the mother hen—“stay right where you are. I’ll get your plate ready”—the I-need-a-boyfriend-or-I’m lost—“the reason that I’ve come to therapy is that I don’t have a boyfriend”—and the victim—“I shouldn’t have disturbed him. He’s been under a lot of stress lately.”

I saw something apropos to the people who fall on the selfless side of the continuum on the Discovery Channel. I learned that every animal that has eyes on the side of its head—squirrels, mice, and rabbits, to name a few—are always, in nature, somebody else’s lunch. These are nature’s victims. If we stopped and talked to one of them, “Mrs. Rabbit, how are you today?” She would answer, “Well there is a fox over there and he’s smacking his lips and there’s a hawk flying overhead and there is a hunter in the distance with a rifle.” In other words, nature’s victims base their sense of wellness on what others are doing. Similarly, if you ask a co-dependent woman how she is doing, she’ll answer in terms of how the people in her life are doing—“I’m great. Tom was in a good mood all weekend and Danny got to school on time without me waking him up and Kristin found the most wonderful dress for the prom.”

Returning to the continuum and the question of what attracts people to one another, we always marry someone the same distance from the middle as ourselves. This isn’t always opposites attracting. Two people who reside on the right side of the continuum can become a couple. Their relationship will tend to be passionate and their conflicts will tend to be heated. While two people who reside on the left side can also become a couple. Their relationship will tend to lack passion and they’ll describe themselves as “never arguing” but not really happy. But, as often as not, opposites do attract. Joe and Gina are a good example of that.
When a relationship falls within the healthy range:


The relationship is well functioning and stays in balance. It has the potential for a “‘’til death do us part” life expectancy. The person on the left does not get taken advantage of and the person on the right is respectful of his (or her) partner. Incidentally, in this arrangement, the person on the left is the quintessential mother. She would be described as loving, compassionate, and nurturing. While the person on the right has the personality that is made for rising through the corporate ranks, he is an ambitious go-getter.

When a relationship falls outside the healthy range problems are inevitable:


The people who come to therapy most frequently are women who are feeling unhappy, overwhelmed, and unfulfilled as the result of living life on the left side of the continuum. They give and give and give and don’t get much in return. Often they report that they know that they are getting the short end of the stick in their marriage or relationship but feel powerless about doing anything about it. Other times, even though it is clear that they give far more than they get, they report that they are happy in their marriages—“Bill is a great guy, he is just very busy with work and under a lot of stress”—but they report they are suffering from depression. Many people in our post-Prozac era find it too threatening to acknowledge marital dissatisfaction but are comfortable with attributing their unhappiness to genetics and a chemical imbalance.

With regards to the people on the right side of the continuum, they tend not to come to counseling on their own volition. Rather, they seek help when their partner has had enough and forces couples counseling. Or these types come when their self-centeredness has gotten them in hot water. All of the “boys will be boys” types of problems like extramarital affairs and alcoholism fall into this category.

Once in therapy, the goal is to get the self-centered to be more mindful of their partners’ wants, wishes, needs, and desires and to get the selfless to show respect for their own wants, wishes, needs, and desires. Joe and Gina sought help when their marriage was in a state of crisis. The trick was to help Gina gain—and, importantly, maintain—a sense of empowerment and to help Joe find a way to be comfortable when sharing the limelight.

In therapy Gina was able to identify the fears and anxieties that made her comfortable staying in the background, and with Joe’s help and support, she addressed these fears and developed behaviors that allowed her to get her fair share of attention. Similarly, Joe became aware of the insecurities that drove him to be the center of attention, and with Gina’s help and support, he developed the confidence to share the stage with her and he learned to place value on being sensitive to Gina’s feelings. To their credit, they pulled it off beautifully. At last report, their marriage was on track and their relationship was thriving.

Joe and Gina: an example of marriage counseling for opposites that have attracted to one another

As a couples therapist, the most overriding questions that I deal with concern the nature of relationships. These questions include: Why is someone attracted to one person but not another? What makes a relationship successful? Why do some people seem to have all the luck while others never seem to be able catch a break? Similarly, why do some people keep repeating the same mistakes? And why do so many people stay in relationships that have clearly gone south? This entry, and for that matter all future entries, will be taking a look at these questions.

Couple on a sofaTheories abound about these questions. The aforementioned “some people have all the luck” theory is popular with country–western singers. Astrologers believe that the answers are the result of the alignment of the sun, the stars, and the moon. Ancient Romans held Cupid and his arrows responsible. Many psychoanalysts attribute theories of love and attraction to an unconscious search for a mother’s (or father’s) love. I, too, have my own thoughts on the subject.

Unfortunately and predictably, I cannot share all my thoughts on this topic in a single article. I have thus decided to write a series of entries, beginning with this one, devoted to the question of what brings couples together and what keeps them together—for better or for worse. Now, let me introduce you to Joe and Gina, a married couple and former clients of mine who can show us a lot about the rules of attraction.

It would be an interesting exercise if we could somehow see a videotape of a married couple’s first date. I bet that we could see the seeds of what would develop into the relationship’s strengths and weaknesses. Joe and Gina, a couple whom I saw in marriage counseling many moons ago, are my favorite illustration of this. They were a couple in their mid-thirties who sought help because Gina was very unhappy in the relationship and contemplating divorce. Several weeks into the therapy they mentioned something about the night they had first met. I hadn’t heard this story so I asked them about it.

They told me that they had met at a party at a mutual friend’s house. Gina said that they clicked right away. I asked what the attraction had been and Gina said that during the party she had been drawn to Joe because he had been the funniest person she had ever met. She went on to say that he started talking about his work and told story after story about what he did at work and whom he worked with. Then he talked about his family and all of his crazy aunts and uncles. Then he talked about high school and all of the antics the he and his buddies pulled. She concluded by saying that she had laughed so hard between 8:00 and midnight that her side hurt and she had just about wet her pants.

Bear in mind that I knew these people fairly well, so when she was finished I pointed out that they hadn’t even been on a date at this time but I wondered by the end of the evening what they knew about each other. Gina said, “What did I know about Joe? I knew a ton about him. I knew where he worked, who he worked with, what he wanted to do with his career, where he grew up, the constellation of his family, where he went to high school, the names of his high school friends, and the activities that he participated in.”

So I asked Joe what he knew about Gina. Joe was very clever and he didn’t miss a beat. He said, “By the end of the party I knew three things, “I knew that I loved the sound of her laugh, the shape of her ass, and I also knew her telephone number.” When Gina heard that, she got an incredible “aha” look on her face and said that she now understood things in a way that she had never understood before. She said, “That night was fifteen years ago and I now see that all of the issues that have me in a marriage counselor’s office contemplating divorce were present at the party. Joe was a self-centered son of a bitch who only thinks of himself that very first night when I fell for him.” She added that she could also see how her opinion of his stories had evolved from finding them amusing to finding them obnoxious.

Although I was glad that Gina had developed some insight into Joe’s personality and her marital problems, in order for counseling to be beneficial, people must have insight into their own problematic behavior. So the next question that I asked her was what I considered to be the most important. I asked her what she would have done if Joe had stopped himself and said, “What’s the matter with me? I’m monopolizing the conversation. Tell me who you are, what you think, what you believe.” Gina said, “What would I have done? I would have excused myself ASAP to see if the hostess needed help in the kitchen. I would have been so uncomfortable.”

As we talked about this in the counseling, it became clear that Joe dealt with his issues and insecurities by needing to be like Johnny Carson (remember, I saw Joe and Gina years ago). What was less clear was whether Gina needed to be like Ed McMahon or the audience. Ed, as you will recall was always there to back up Johnny and never was the center of attention himself while the audience was always present, but for all intents and purposes, was invisible.

This anecdote serves as a great illustration of the way in which people’s personalities blend together to form a relationship, but we still don’t have any answers to the questions raised at the beginning of this entry. Clearly, Joe and Gina had an opposites attract thing going. But why did Joe need to be the center of attention and be with someone who found him funny? And why did Gina need to keep herself out of the limelight, and why didn’t she find it odd that she and Joe had spent hours together and he hadn’t asked any questions about her? These are the types of questions that future entries will be looking at.