George asked to talk with you (whatever helping role you most frequently fill – pastor, counselor, small group leader, friend, etc.) because his marriage was in crisis. George’s presenting problem is simply, “I have to learn how to communicate better.”

As you begin to learn of the current situation, George talks about many intense arguments but something about the recent one resulted in his wife, Pam, taking the children to stay with her parents. George seems confused about why this argument was worse than the others.

When you try to discern what logistics need to be addressed due to the separation (i.e., children’s school and extracurricular schedules, financial implications, or how to communicate with mutual friends), George replies with different variations of, “I don’t know.” It becomes clear that Pam has been managing everything. A couple of times in the early part of the conversations George gets emotional and says, “If I’m that bad, I think they’d all be better off without me.”

The conversation transitions again when you ask, “Well, if you guys argue frequently, can you tell me what you argue about? Are there any common themes or topics?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” George replies, finally with some substance, “My drinking. That’s always what we fight about.” George goes on to say that Pam doesn’t drink because she’s a better Christian than he is. [You can’t tell if he means it or if he’s trying to win points with you because he knows you’re a Christian too.] But she knew he drank when they got married, so its not like he lied to her. Pam’s family didn’t drink either, so George explains that’s why she’s so sensitive about it.

You ask some questions about George’s drinking habits. You learn that he drinks every day, stopping by a bar on the way home from work most days and driving the rest of the way home buzzed. He goes to his “man cave” when he gets home and continues drinking there. Arguments happen when Pam comes in the man cave. He admits he drinks to avoid the stress of having to engage with the stresses of being a husband and father.

From this last statement about avoiding stress, George transition seamlessly into a conversation about how stressful it is to provide for three children and the high expectations Pam has for him (i.e., things like helping with homework he doesn’t understand, taking kids to their extracurricular events, and talking through difficult financial decisions). He summarizes these expectations with, “She can’t expect me to be perfect all the time.”

You ask if Pam might be willing to come to one of your meetings in the future. “She’s been begging me to come to counseling forever. She always said she would come, but I’m not sure anymore. I think she may just be done with me. She’s about given up on me being the man she wants, and I think I have too,” was George’s reply as he started to get bristly and despair again.

The conversation reaches the point where both you and George realize its time for you to give a sense of direction. What would be helpful to focus on? Why? You are searching for an answer to these questions and then realize that, even once you have a sense of direction, you need to explain it well enough to get buy-in from George. Your mind and heart rate begin to speed up as George looks at you, waiting for you to speak…

Case Study Discussion

This case study was written to set up the presentation for the free webinar Counseling Triage – A Case Study. The webinar will be Thursday August 20th at 1pm EST. My goal in this twice-monthly series of free webinars is to teach one primary counseling concept or skill each month and then provide a case study that allows participants to become more proficient at utilizing that skill or concept.

These are great events for:

  • Pastors, chaplains, and ministry leaders looking to enhance their pastoral care skills
  • Counselors wanting CEU credits to help them learn more about the intersection of their faith and practice
  • Leaders in church-based counseling ministries looking to grow in their case wisdom
  • Undergraduate students looking to discern a calling to vocational ministry or a career as a professional counselor
  • Friends and small group leaders committed to walking faithfully alongside their peers in tough times

Note: If you want to participate in many or most of the webinars in this series, when you RSVP click “auto subscribe to all future webinars,” so you don’t have to keep up with registering for each event.