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"Mind-Mapping": How We Manipulate the People We Love

All too often, people do hurtful things with impunity and entitlement in relationships simply to gratify their own needs.

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Stanley took his time responding. “How do you know I could read Kristin during sex?”

“This isn’t an ability you’ve recently developed. Kids usually develop mind-mapping ability around age 4. And from what I’ve seen so far today, I’d guess you were quite aware of Kristin’s dissatisfaction, frustration, and unhappiness.”

Stanley looked down sadly, and then at Kristin. “If I knew it, I didn’t know I knew it. It must have been unconscious.”

I couldn’t let him off the hook so easily. “On the contrary, someone can’t operate as effectively as you are without consciously mapping other people’s minds,” I said. “I’m not going to debate this with you. One possibility is you were just doing this to protect yourself from being rejected because you felt inadequate. This is the explanation you and Kristin seem to like best, and the one most therapists will give you. But I keep thinking about you having sex twice a week for 25 years, and I can’t imagine you emotionally dying each time. So another possible picture is that you enjoyed taking advantage of her apparent naivety. I have to wonder if you took pleasure in tying Kristin up in emotional knots, having such control, and keeping her ‘captive.’”

“That would be a really cruel thing to do,” Stanley remarked.

“It would indeed,” I replied.

Stanley and Kristin locked eyes for an eternity. Neither said a word. Stanley’s face was impassive. The silence in the room was deafening.

“I’ll think about it,” Stanley said, implying he’d do it later.

“I hope both of you do that,” I replied, looking at Kristin.

“Why are you encouraging Kristin to be suspicious of me?” asked Stanley, trying to map my mind.

“You just reinforced my belief you have mind-mapping ability. You mapped out that I was encouraging your wife. But I’m not encouraging suspicion of you, I’m encouraging Kristin to confront herself, confront what she knows. If she resolves this by sticking her head in the sand or lying to herself, neither she nor you will ever really be secure. I’m not against you. I’m trying to help you, but not by encouraging you to trust me or my judgment blindly. I want you to look at this for yourself.

“If any of this is true, Stanley, you’re in a tight spot because if Kristin realizes this after you’ve supposedly made a new start, your relationship is likely over. But if it’s true, and you handle this in ways that demonstrate remorse and Kristin can respect, you may save your relationship. In any event, you can rebuild your own integrity, and at least have a relationship with yourself. I can’t promise what Kristin might do. What’s important is that you handle this in a way that best fits your true self-interest.”

A critical assumption in my approach is that clients understand more about their own motives and the reactions of their partners than many therapists give them credit for. We prefer to think clients are so “out of touch” they don’t foresee the impact when they say or do cruel, hurtful, inconsiderate things. This is how we maintain the cherished shibboleth: “People always do the best they can at the time.” Unfortunately, basic decency isn’t something we can take for granted. “Ambivalent attachment” and “insecure attachment” don’t begin to address the depth of hatred, animosity, and resentment that develop in many families and marriages. I use the term normal marital sadism to describe the nonreportable domestic violence that partners often inflict on each other.

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