by Dr Eva Stamou
I met Dinos, a 47 year old businessman two years ago when he came into my office to discuss some personal issues that troubled him at the time. According to him, there were problems in his marriage due to his wife’s insecurities and her ‘paranoid’ jealousy. Martha 38, felt very competitive towards other women in Dinos’ life -he claimed-, especially his mother and his 7 year old daughter from his first marriage. Dinos was tired and upset from the continuing rows, his wife’s aggression, his mother’s complaints. Not even for a moment did he consider his own involvement and the possibility that his behavior might have had something to do with Martha’s reactions. Instead he blamed Martha’s past, the fact that she had gained weight, her hormones, the bad influence of her female friends.
A few sessions later, I met with Martha. The couple was at a point where they were getting physical during their fights, and were seriously considering divorce after three years of marriage. My first impression was that Martha was depressed and very angry towards her husband. Although during their common sessions Dinos was doing most of the talking, gradually a different story from the one that he had given me emerged through his wife’s comments: a story of repeated infidelity.
Martha claimed that Dinos had started becoming interested in other women immediately after their honeymoon ended. Moreover, he was communicating with his ex-wife frequently during the week, ignoring Martha’s objections. Martha felt terribly insecure and upset on a daily basis, but each time she was trying to talk about it, Dinos was accusing her of being paranoid.
Then, during their first summer together, Martha left Athens for a month to visit her ill father who lives in the north of Greece. When she returned on a Sunday morning with the early flight, she found the house spotless, as if it had been empty for a long time. Very puzzled she called Dinos, who said that he had been staying at his mother’s, but later in the day when Martha talked to her mother-in-law the woman seemed to be surprised to hear that Dinos was supposed to be staying at her place; however, later that night she called Martha in order to back up her son’s claim, saying that it was all a misunderstanding on her part.
Martha was desperate to find out the truth. She trusted her best friend, a lawyer, who advised her before taking any legal action to try and find out how Dinos was spending his free time. Checking Dinos’ mobile and email messages she discovered that after work he would often visit his ex-wife’s apartment, as well as arranging meetings with young women working at an escort service.
Martha decided that the only logical thing to do was to force Dinos admit to the truth. As she was never good in confronting people, she kept postponing talking to him, until she became really upset. She started attacking him both verbally and physically. Dinos would not admit he was seeing other women. He provided excuses and explanations for everything: he was visiting his ex-wife because the school psychologist had advised him to see his daughter as often as possible; the girls from the escort service were for his friends, he was trying to hook them up. He kept accusing Martha of pathological jealousy and became in his turn uncontrollably aggressive.
The situation got worse, but it wasn’t until Martha asked for a divorce that Dinos decided to look for professional help. He said to me that he did not want to get a second divorce both for emotional and financial reasons.
Dinos and Martha were having sessions for months, until she found the courage to clearly tell him how hurtful his behavior had been and how intensely she suffered, nearly from the beginning of their relationship. She admitted to feelings of inferiority and failure, as well as terrible frustration each time he was cheating of her or ignoring her. Martha’s words seemed to finally shock her husband who for the first time admitted that he was having sex with other women. He said he thought it was something natural, something all men do, something his mother had always accepted from his father without complaints or hysteria. He also realized for the first time that infidelity was one of the reasons behind the breaking up of his first marriage. He seemed honest when he confessed that he never thought his ‘habit’ could cause another human being such distress.
Martha decided to give her partner a final chance to behave as a husband should, but at the same time she made it clear to him --and to her own self-- that infidelity, was not acceptable. During our sessions we worked on establishing new rules to support their relation. It was gradually dawning on both of them, that the healing of common wounds, starts by taking individual responsibility.