1. I Don't Matter- You Don't Matter - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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1. I Don't Matter- You Don't Matter

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > I Don't You Don't, DepAnxiety-Cple

I Don't… You Don't… It Don't Matter, Depression and Anxiety in Couples and Couple Therapy

**Author’s Note: Other than public figures or people identified in the media, all other persons in this book are either composites of individuals the author has worked with and/or have been given different names and had their personal identifying information altered to protect and respect their confidentiality.  

The couple therapist can never know what the couple will bring up in session.  He or she can never know what was started the fight-of-the-week.  Things that seem otherwise to be insignificant will sometimes trigger incredibly intense and scarring battles.  Something that should not matter or should not matter that much somehow becomes a matter of life and death.  Kyle accused Isabelle of putting too much spice in his food.  "You know I can't have spicy food.  It aggravates my ulcers."  Isabelle retorted, "The one time you come home for dinner on time, you bitch about the food being spicy.  How about how long I took to cook?  With all the chores… the kids… shopping… How many times, you don't even let me know that you won't be coming home for dinner?  How do you think I feel?"  "Make me some decent food and I'll come home for dinner more often," Kyle said tensely. "I spend all day at work… and all I ask is for a little less spice!  I might as well grab a bite on the way home.  Didn't I ask you?  Didn't you hear what my doctor said?"  Isabelle wept into her hands, "And what about me!?  What about what I need?"

"I don't matter …" and "there's nothing I can do about it."  Each person has a fundamental need to feel that he or she matters, including having power and control.  Depression may be conceptualized as not mattering to others, within relationships, and the world.  Anxiety may be conceptualized as non-specific fear due to vulnerability to harm from not mattering to others, within relationships, and the world.  In a healthy couple's relationship while balancing mutual needs, each person experiences subjective and objective power and control over his/her own mind, body, voice, energy, needs, and passion.  Partners experiment with mastery and control with each other and seek to get feedback that they matter, have control, and are safe.  A partner who has been emotionally and spiritually disempowered because of abuse, neglect, trauma, and/or stress becomes vulnerable to being triggered by activity that threatens a sense of importance, value, and power and control.  It is often in the couple's relationship that the sense of mattering or being safe is most tested.  Any experience of dismissal or empowerment, whether real or implied can threaten the individual.  The individual can become depressed and/or anxious.  On the other hand, when a person validates his/her partner- in other words, prompts joy, exhilaration, hope, or importance, a sense of mattering and having power and control is fostered.  Affective interactions and power dynamics affect each partner and subsequently, affect the relationship.  Both the consequences and attempts to change the balance may create other reactions.

Kyle and Isabelle both responded to a sense of not mattering or not being in control by giving messages to the other that "You don't matter."  Mattering may be existential in terms of being valued or it may be in functional terms of power and control.  "The… view popularized widely by Jay Haley and also by feminists, is that power is central to all human relationships, and while patterns of mutual influence may occur, mutuality of influence does not necessarily entail equality of influence.  Inevitably, hierarchical patterns of organization permeate human system" (Byrne and Carr, 2000, page 425).  The therapist needs to be aware that when a partner feels less importance or less powerful, he or she may develop depression that changes the hierarchical arrangement within the relationship.  "…non-depressed spouses try to keep their depressed spouses' exercise of control a constant amount (vertical gap) below their own.  According to this theory, if one partner's mood is low or if one partner requires a large vertical gap, he or she may need to maintain their spouse's mood within the depressive range, and any efforts to raise it (for instance, in therapy) will be countered (Byrne and Carr, 2000, page 408-09).  Issues over power and control may arise in different ways.  "Cromwell and Olson (1975), in a thoughtful analysis, argue that power may be conceptualized as a construct incorporating three analytically distinct but interrelated domains: power bases, processes and outcomes."  Power bases are economic and personal assets, including control of optional spending, commitment, sex-role attitudes,  intimacy desires, and forms of aggression.  These form the basis for one partner's control over the other.  Power processes are what one uses to gain control over parts of the relationship.  These include persuasion, problem solving, or demandingness.  Power outcomes are about who has the ultimate say when addressing problems or making decisions (Byrne and Carr, 2000, page 409).  Lack of adequate power bases, processes, and outcomes in a relationship may trigger helplessness or hopelessness- in other words, depression.  Inconsistent fluctuations in power bases, processes, and outcomes would foster uncertainty about interactional outcomes, partner response, and behavioral consequences- in other words, anxiety.  The couple therapist should take note of couple's interactions that express personal messages of "not mattering" about oneself or the partner.  These may be indicative of a partner's depression and anxiety and a couple dealing with such depression and anxiety.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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