Hank, a thirty-ish committed bachelor, has been in therapy for more than a year. Through the years, he as learned to defend his emotional core with a gruff, intimidating exterior. His full-body tattoos, heavy-metal jewelry, leather jacket, motorcycle boots that match his Harley, and his deep voice and bulging muscles send the message: "Don't mess with me."
Hank recently began dating a woman named Sara; it's the first exclusive relationship in his life. He is heartily embraced and is implementing healthy relationship tools: boundaries, communication skills, being real, staying in touch with your feelings, and getting reality checks from his support groups.
A few weeks into his relationship, Hank called the office between appointments, asking for clarification and support.
"I need to check something out with you," he began. "I got together with Sara last night, and she started to rail on me, how I was being an asshole."
"What caused that reaction?" I asked.
"We were out having a steak, and I ran into a buddy of mine. I started talking to him, and the next thing I know, she's shooting me the death look. You would have thought I was hitting on some chick," he said. "So I did that bubble thing, the boundary, you know, what we worked on last week: putting an energy field around me, protecting myself. Is that what I am supposed to do?"
"You got it," I said in an affirming tone. "How did that feel?"
"Felt good, safe. I liked it."
Hank's willingness to implement the relationship skills he is learning demonstrates his commitment to recovery. The building of new skills can often feel tedious, awkward, and uncomfortable. But the results of one's efforts can be gratifying.