Family Crisis Story

To honor our confidentiality commitment to our clients, the story below uses the fictional name of “Wendy.” “Wendy” worked with Sheryl Johnson, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (MA, LCPC), at Catherine J. Hunter & Associates.

What initiated counseling?
Wendy’s family was splitting apart. Her husband’s family constantly controlled her immediate family, and her own daughter continually tried to divide family members. Eventually a crisis in control and loyalty occurred because her own daughter decided to move in with Wendy’s sister-in-law. “It felt like “do or die” to save my family,” said Wendy. Through Sheryl Johnson, she found the help that she needed to manage her feelings and behaviors within her family.

What did Wendy discover?
The counseling revealed that Wendy’s husband acted as if he was really “married” to his parents and siblings. His family’s attitude was “do what we say or you are out.” Wendy and her husband were “pleasers” and were continually faithful to keep others happy at any cost. When Wendy’s husband regularly pointed out how they might disappoint his family, Wendy felt minimized, inadequate, and controlled. Her self-esteem continued to plummet and her isolation increased.

How did the counseling sessions work?
“I couldn’t stop crying and wondering if I was a failure,” said Wendy. “Sheryl helped me find my voice and open my husband’s eyes to our issues.” Sheryl and Wendy first worked on two key areas: setting boundaries and letting go of her fear of conflict. Eventually, her husband joined the sessions where together they worked on healthy boundaries and conflict resolution. The couple learned how to support each other and interact with their daughter by speaking the truth in love in direct ways. The result was a shift from unhealthy codependency to healthy interdependence with boundaries and accepting others’ choices. She developed the tools to make choices within her areas of control.

“Even though we had been married for 36 years, it felt like our first year of true marriage after therapy,” explained Wendy. “We now use what Sheryl taught us every day. To help us take a step back, she would say, ‘Wow, what do you feel and think about that? What are all of your options?’ We often say that to each other at important moments.”

How did counseling help you with the most difficult changes?
It was hard for Wendy to accept that her family experienced brokenness. “Since my childhood had been difficult, I wanted to create the perfect family,” said Wendy. “Sheryl helped me to accept this as an unrealistic goal, since no one has a perfect family situation. She helped me shift my focus to healthy changes around areas that I control and taking more responsibility for myself. Throughout these changes, there was a tremendous amount of support, so I didn’t have to go it alone.”

Recently, Wendy’s daughter stated she wanted to reunite with the family and repair the damage with her three siblings. “I am a fixer and wanted to help the children come together,” explained Wendy. “Sheryl helped me see that my daughter owned that responsibility. That really freed me from being in the middle and trying to solve the problem.”

Throughout the counseling process, the spiritual aspect was also very powerful. “Sheryl is a deeply spiritual woman,” said Wendy. “To help with our journey, we even read Scripture together about how Jesus walked through his journey. It encouraged my husband and I to keep the faith and find more hope for the future.”

Any advice?
“You have to be honest and throw that can of dirt on the table. Sheryl can then help you make sense of it,” said Wendy. “There is nothing better than working through things in a healthy way; every husband and wife should do it.”

How has counseling changed her life?
Wendy feels that they finished counseling as a more caring and loving couple. “I have always loved my husband, but I really started to like him when he shared all his true feelings and put it all on the table,” said Wendy. “I also feel better about myself. Sheryl helped me see that I am somebody important.”

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