no-one-listen_sml.jpg“I can’t do it anymore. It’s too much. I have to leave the marriage and the family. There’s no hope”.

Angelina was desperate. She was almost hyperventilating as she gasped out her distress.

Her second son, Barry, was almost out of control at home. He believed that his father, to whom he was previously very close, was showing an inconsistent approach to members of the family.

As Angelina continued to relate her situation, she was almost claustrophobic in her yearning to escape the tension of the distressing environment. She felt that the only solution was to leave the marriage, because of the present circumstances.

Could I possibly help? As her Pastor, and although previously unacquainted with this distressing situation, I was willing to do every-thing within my power to help. I recognised that Alan was not a Christian, and that any counselling depends on the willing cooperation of all the participants. Hopefully he would help. Angelina was willing to try to make arrangements for me to meet with Barry if he was willing. In the event, Barry agreed to meet with me, but Angelina still felt desperate and wanted to walk out.

A Bouncy Session

[Part of my strategy was usually to meet with one party at a time. There is no aggravation due to the presence of the “offending” party. No distracting facial expressions. No one is there to interrupt the aggrieved person. He is free to present his case alone, without contradiction. He feels that at last he has been heard, especially when this is particularised and committed to paper.

Further, I seek to meet on his “turf”—his home or wherever he feels more secure, relaxed and more ready to open up and talk.]

With barely any greeting, Barry was pacing around the room in his home, muttering and gesticulating.

“Barry, I understand that you are pretty upset with Dad, because you think he is unfairly treating your brother?”

[A cathartic statement, having deduced that the underlying grievance was related to the treatment of his brother.

However, any sense of empathy must be limited, so as not to prejudice Barry’s comments. I am there as a negotiator rather than a counsellor in this instance.]


“Barry, if I am to help, I need to be able to take your concerns to your Dad. I need your help. What should I tell Dad? Firstly, tell me about your older brother, Greg.”

“Well it’s not fair”, he stammered, still throwing his arms around in agitation. A series of brief comments followed—somewhat disconnected.

I finally pieced together the thread of this first/basic concern and wrote it down, as I understood it.

“Now, Barry, you also mentioned … ”, and I sought to clarify the cloud of interlocking issues.

I jotted down notes, identifying some six issues. As each issue was addressed and clarified, Barry calmed more and more. Finally he was sitting down quiet and relaxed. The distress and agitation had subsided.

[Someone had finally heard him.]

I asked him to listen carefully as I read my points back to him.

[And I unashamedly express the letter in my own words, in order to keep a clear and positive presentation, although the counselee must be able to “own” the final product.]

“Now listen carefully, Barry, I need to be sure that I have heard you correctly, because I will be reading this letter to your Dad. And check it out – I don’t want to have Dad laugh in my face and make some comment like: ‘Stupid young fellow, he still doesn’t understand it’”.

[And invariably in this context of hope, they settle to a most reasonable position.]

He seemed calm as I read the points back, and he exclaimed excitedly, “Yeah, that’s right, yeah”. His specific complaint had been articulated precisely. If there were any modifications, they would need to be made now. And we polished the points after which I sought his clear affirmation that his concerns were correctly and fairly represented.

I then enquired what responses and actions would satisfy his complaints. And I helped to temper these expectations to be fair to his Dad, and to be reasonable.

[And most people will be very honest.]

Having completed the list of complaints and remedial expectations, I read these back to him.

“Barry, I will read this letter to your father. This is exactly as it will be presented. Is there anything to be added or changed?”

[It is a sobering thought. And most people are now relaxed as they feel that their case is being addressed. And they sense keenly the need to avoid any rebuff from the respondent, and they carefully reflect upon the seriousness of the situation.]

With a sense of calm and quiet confidence, he assured me that that was all.

[At last someone had heard. The first step towards resolving the conflict.]

Dad’s response

I then contacted Alan (Barry’s Dad) and arranged to meet him a couple of days later.

[In this circumstance, with both parties living in the same house, it was important to move ahead as quickly as possible in the resolution, to avoid exacerbating any tension that a delay might cause in the home.]

He was most courteous, cooperative and obliging—especially considering that he was under some scrutiny.

[Most people are really aware of the correct balance of facts in a given case, even if the emotion of the situation causes a stale-mate, but they are usually too proud to redress the position unaided.]

I briefly explained (what he probably already knew) that I had been appraised of Barry’s upset, and of Angelina’s request for me to talk to him (Barry); that we had met and discussed his concerns; that I had summarised those concerns and the expectations he had for them to be rectified. I then read the complete statement from Barry, to enable Alan to have an overall perspective.

Taking each point separately, and noting Barry’s expected solution for that point, Alan responded without hesitation, in the terms requested, with only minor modifications. Seeking to ascertain if I needed to follow up on the actions, he replied that there was no need, as he would fully cooperate. And I believed him, and thanked him for his helpful assistance.

I carefully noted down all the responses, formulated a reply letter, and then read it back to Alan, ascertaining that I had the correct details.

[The second step towards resolving the conflict was now complete—and an exceptionally straightforward development on this occasion.]

Subsequently I arranged to report back to Barry.

[Again noting the need for some urgency as indicated above.]


I explained to Barry what had transpired, especially emphasising the very positive cooperation from his Dad.

[This was important, in order to help restore respect for his Dad.]

I then read the first concern that Barry had raised, together with his requested action, and then read his Dad’s response and undertaking. I allowed a few moments for that to sink in, and then asked very quietly, “Does that satisfy your requirements?”

“Yes”, was the simple reply.

And so we proceeded through each of the items.

At the conclusion, I simply asked, “Does that satisfy all your requirements? Are there any other matters?”

The simple reply was, “No, that is all; thank you very much”.

And so concluded—very simply in this case—a quite serious issue. Barry and his Dad had a restored relationship, although I was unaware of any personal steps they took to achieve this. Angelina stayed on. They have not looked back.