In the early cases, alongside thinking about identity and attachment, certain patterns would become apparent repeatedly:
- The absence of men. The women would normally go to court for a separation order, sometimes to protect themselves from violent men; others would try and use the court to manipulate their men to return. Often the man was nowhere to be found and certainly he was usually unwilling to subject himself to a meeting with his ex partner and some official such as me who was clearly seen as in alliance with the women. Words were female weapons – actions male; we were clearly in the female camp.
- Winning and losing – in this world, there was no third way. Issues tended to be presented as black and white, good and evil and the fantasy seemed to be that the partner could ‘win’ whilst saving the relationship in some way. The expectation was the rather childish assumption that the parent authority (the Court, the probation officer etc) would now come down in favour of one side and thereby force the other to accept ‘the truth’ and their own blameworthiness.
- Authority and helplessness – people would experience themselves as helpless in the face of the behaviour of their partner and look to change being enforced through the exercise of authority by the courts or their officials. Some would be bewildered if the Court failed to do this and anger was easily turned on the officials.
- Rationality and madness / dangerousness – one partner would present themselves as a model of common sense and rationality, and present the other as quite mad, irrational or even dangerous. The solution was always expected to be a rational one.
- The conflict was central and the children peripheral – the children’s role would be to evidence the madness or dangerousness of the opposing party, or to be a sort of sentimental justification for whatever position in an argument the party was taking. They would often seem to cease to exist as separate beings with their own views, and become aspects of the warring parties’ view of the world.