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Mr. and Mrs. Smith
By Cathy East Dubowski
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Cathy East Dubowski
All right reserved.
Katrina -- is the tape on?
Okay, yes. Hand me the mike. This is Dr. Wexler, and these are the transcripts from my taped sessions with a Mr. and Mrs. John Smith from the first of last month. Compiled and typed up by my assistant, Katrina Östlicher. Also includes comments typed in from my notes about the patients' facial expressions, body language, etc., etc., as usual, and so on.
When Mr. and Mrs. Smith enter my office, I am somewhat surprised. First of all, they are a bit younger than the couples I usually see. Very nice looking, too. Like movie stars, actually, both of them. Well groomed, neatly dressed. Polite.
Both seem quite pleasant, very intelligent.
And they are smiling.
To look at them, you'd think they were the perfect couple.
So, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, I think, what are you doing in a marriage counselor's office?
Sometimes my clients storm into my office in a bloody rage. Sometimes they come in quiet -- volcanoes about to erupt. Sometimes you can tell they've even been arguing in the waiting room. Ach! The things my receptionist tells me! I could write a book!
But these two. No clue. They are, if not overly affectionate in public, extremely polite with each other. I note that he even holds out her chair for her. And she says, "Thank you."
Very unusual, in my office.
I am instantly intrigued.
I've been in practice almost twenty-three years, and I've seen just about everything you can imagine. But in general, most people fall into a few predictable categories. Husband cheated on wife with another woman. Wife cheated on husband with another man. Or another woman. Wife more successful in her career than husband, and so on.
But I sense something different going on with Mr. and Mrs. Smith. And so, I think, an interesting case.
As usual, I ask permission to record their session. What follows below is the taped session, transcribed verbatim to paper, interspersed with my notes and observations.
FIRST SESSION, MR. AND MRS. SMITH
I allow Mr. and Mrs. Smith to settle into their seats. I smile at them over my glasses, then spend a few moments offering them coffee or tea (both decline), opening their file, selecting a pen from my pen holder, polishing my glasses -- a technique that allows my clients a chance to settle in and relax before I ask the first question.
NOTE: Mr. Smith is already leaning forward, anxious to make something clear.
MR. SMITH: "Okay. First up, I want to say we don't really need to be here -- "
NOTE: Yes. A lot of people begin this way.
MRS. SMITH (smiling): "Actually it's a funny story."
auction slash barbecue -- "
MRS. SMITH: " -- our friends the Colemans. They live next door. Devout -- "
MR. SMITH: "Episcopalians."
MRS. SMITH: "Presbyterians."
NOTE: Slight discrepancy. Nothing to worry about. Unless ... ah, yes. A little frown passes between them.
MR. SMITH: "Anyway, the grand lot was -- "
MRS. SMITH: " -- a mystery lot."
MR. SMITH: "I'd sunk a few, wasn't driving -- "
MRS. SMITH: "A few?"
NOTE: Mrs. Smith rolls eyes. Mr. Smith responds with a hard look. A muscle twitches along his jaw. Obviously his drinking is an issue.
But he doesn't take the bait.
Classic case of withholding his feelings. At least in front of strangers.
My early guess is that this is a couple who never argue in public.
Mr. Smith continues as if he hasn't been interrupted.
MR. SMITH: "So Jane starts bidding. She gets a tiny bit competitive ..."
NOTE: Mrs. Smith's lips purse at this remark. Another issue between them?
MR. SMITH: "Upshot is: We end up blowing eight hundred bucks on the mystery lot."
MR. AND MRS. SMITH (at once): "Four sessions with Dr. Wexler."
NOTE: They both laugh. Politely. A little too loudly.
MR. SMITH: "The Colemans have a great sense of humor."
NOTE: Another burst of laughter, which fades quickly.
Now my senses are on alert. The couple hasn't come here on their own initiative.
And yet they came.
I scratch out a note, giving them time, to make sure they've said their piece.
Then I look up at them and smile.
ME: "But you didn't have to come."
NOTE: Complete silence.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith glance at each other, then quickly look away.
I say nothing, and wait patiently. Sometimes it's the best way to get someone to talk. A comfortable silence doesn't bother a person whose mind is at ease. But a pregnant pause seems to compel people who are nervous to completely spill their guts. It's a little technique I picked up from police dramas on TV. I wait.
MR. SMITH: "Right -- "
MRS. SMITH: "Absolutely."
NOTE: They sit back in their chairs. A bit nervous. I can see Mrs. Smith thinking, though.
MRS. SMITH: "But we have a theory ..."
MR. SMITH (startled): "We do?"
MRS. SMITH (smiling): "The 'Oil Check.' "
MR. SMITH: "Oh. Right."
Excerpted from Mr. and Mrs. Smith by Cathy East Dubowski Copyright © 2005 by Cathy East Dubowski. Excerpted by permission.
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