My song today is ‘Jackson’. This song was written in 1963 by Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Leiber, and was first recorded by Wheeler. It is best known from two 1967 releases: a pop hit single by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, which reached Number 14 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ and Number 39 on the ‘Easy Listening’ charts. However, it was an even bigger hit when recorded by Johnny Cash and June Carter. It reached Number two on the ‘Billboard Country Singles Chart’.
Story: The song is about a married couple who find (according to the lyrics) that the ‘fire’ has gone out of their relationship. It relates the desire of both partners to travel to ‘Jackson’ where they each expect to be welcomed as someone far better suited to the city's lively nightlife than the other is. The ‘Jackson’ referred to in the song is thought to be Jackson, Tennessee.
The song was a big success for Johnny Cash and June Carter and their 1967 version reached the Number 2 spot on the ‘US Country Chart’, and won a ‘Grammy Award’ in 1968 for being the ‘Best Country and Western Performance Duet, Trio or Group’. This version was reprised by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, performing as Johnny Cash and June Carter, in the 2005 film, ‘Walk the Line’.
While I spent a few years in Canada and visited several states of the U.S.A. while there during the early 1960s, I never saw Tennessee, but I did once spend a few days in the neighbouring state of Kentucky.
I love the theme of this song, about renewing a marriage when the fire has gone out in the relationship. For several years, when I first became a Probation Officer in West Yorkshire during the early 1970s, one of the specialist roles I worked in was as a ‘Matrimonial Guidance Counsellor’. When I began in the Probation Service I was as keen as mustard to arm myself with as many skills as possible, and between 1970 and 1985, I attended many advanced training courses in a variety of specialised subjects. I had always displayed above-average intelligence in my youth but left school at the age of 15 years before taking my examinations. I came from poor family circumstances and wanted to start working so that I might have more money in my pockets, better clothes on my back, and more fashionable shoes on my feet. Although I returned to the academic field in my late twenties to obtain the educational qualifications I had failed to take as a teenager, for a good decade between the ages of 30-40 years of age, I had what can only be accurately described as an ‘educational hang-up’ as I played academic catch-up. I would read half a dozen books weekly, and I was determined to advance myself in the field of worker knowledge by attending the most advanced and prestigious of courses I could.
Each year, the ‘West Yorkshire Probation Service’ would fund various courses for staff members who wanted to acquire ‘specialist skills’. The annual ‘Matrimonial Guidance Counselling’ course was operated by the ‘Tavistock Clinic’ and was one of the most prestigious courses in the country, which the successful applicant would attend for one week every quarter throughout a two-year period. Being the most expensive course also, only one applicant per year from the whole of West Yorkshire would be selected to attend. I was that lucky applicant early in my Probation Officer career.
The Tavistock lecturers mostly dealt with Matrimonial and associated sexual matters, and the course tutors came from the highest of academic cycles and eminent professions in the country. One of the course requirements (as well as the eight full weeks practical attendance throughout a two-year training year) was to submit case records upon matrimonial clients worked with during that year that the group of entire course members would discuss.
Today’s post will not concentrate on many of the common problems experienced by men and their wives coming for counselling to improve their marital relationships or the techniques used by most matrimonial guidance workers. Instead, I want to tell you about one course member who I became close friends with over my two years membership on this course.
Her name was Margaret, and like most people who become ‘Matrimonial Guidance Counsellors’ (myself included), few of us are strangers to being in unsatisfactory marriages ourselves, which could have undoubtedly benefited from a bit of marriage guidance counselling! Margaret was just shy of thirty years of age and had got remarried to her second husband at the age of twenty-seven years. She lived in the midlands, and we would frequently chat during coffee breaks and mealtimes. The morning parts of the course would usually be listening to lectures and during the afternoons and evenings (we went on until 9:00 pm nightly) we would have role-playing sessions. These role-playing sessions would always be televised sessions in which one course member would enact the role of ‘Marriage Guidance Counsellor’ and two other course members would play the role of a married couple seeking help to improve/save their marriage.
During our many chats, Margaret told me that she had married a man whom she described as being ‘very needy’. Her husband had been in Care from infancy until his 18th year of life. He had been raised by a succession of foster parents and had spent intermittent periods in Children’s Homes in between foster home placements. He was twenty-eight years old when he married Margaret and both he and Margaret had always said they wanted to have children before they got too old.
Margaret had been previously married at the age of twenty-two years of age, but that marriage ended in separation and divorce three years later. Her first husband drank too much alcohol and would become aggressive and violent when drunk. Fortunately, they separated before any children were born to the union.
After a few years of married life to her second husband, it had become apparent to Margaret that he also had personal problems which were adversely affecting their marriage. She described her second husband as someone who was ‘emotionally draining her’ with his constant attention-seeking behaviour and his personal insecurities. He had become ‘too needy’ and Margaret was on the verge of leaving him. Her common complaint was, despite having no children to their union (something they both wanted), Margaret was not prepared to bring children into a marriage where the husband of that marriage behaved like a child himself with his overbearing needy behaviour and emotional demands. I had been married six years at the time, and my wife was also displaying emotional and non-communicative difficulties, so I could more easily sympathise with Margaret.
Margaret told me nine months into our course, that when she started attending the Tavistock course, she was on the verge of leaving her husband but had decided to give their marriage another chance. One of the earlier course session lecturers had suggested to assembled students that most couples experiencing marital problems could benefit from a change in their usual environment and their general routine. Some couples might be advised to change their sexual approaches and responses while all couples would be advised to talk and listen to each other more. Some couples who had lost the spark in their marital relationship were advised to have a ‘dirty weekend’ away in a hotel or ‘to go on that holiday of a lifetime’.
The lecture and advice that attracted Margaret’s attention most, was being told that often in a failing relationship, a large part of the relationship problem lay in some emotionally unresolved part of one marriage partner’s past. Until that repressed event/events and negative feelings could be faced, expressed, discussed and dealt with, nothing could help the marriage to improve substantially, however much the couple talked together, or whatever they changed in their marriage routines and practices. The lecturer indicated that the partner with the ‘unresolved problem’ of their past could not come to terms with their past until their repressed negative feelings had been expressed and emotionally resolved.
In a roundabout manner, Margaret devised her own way of doing things that were to save her marriage. She had taken on board all the matrimonial advice and useful tips and suggestions she had garnered from the course and had applied some of them in a way that had never been originally suggested by the marital experts and lecturers.
First, she was able to convince her husband that unless their marital relationship improved, the marriage was over. She was also able to persuade her husband to talk more ‘about his past years in Care’, as he had rarely spoken about them during their courtship and early years of marriage. During those discussions, her husband frequently became angry as he explained some of his unhappier experiences he had endured at the hands of others while being raised in Care. Having been abandoned by his mother as an infant, and never having known his father, Margaret concluded that her husband had several unresolved identity issues. Never having had a family or home of his own, made marriage to Margaret an attractive prospect for him. It also reflected a need to have his own happy family situation. He thought that marrying Margaret would provide him with the happy life and family circumstances which he had always craved, but never had. His emotional need of being with Margaret grew more and more unhealthy the longer he continued to repress his hurtful memories. Margaret said that he invariably started to respond like an emotionally demanding child, who was insecure and was constantly demanding attention. Margaret became emotionally drained with his demands and had reached the end of her tether.
Then, one weekend she got an idea. Instead of following one of the course tutor’s suggestions of going away on a weekend break or a big expensive holiday, she decided it would be more beneficial to take her husband elsewhere. She said it was extremely hard to persuade her husband, but she reminded him that he needed to do what she asked of him or their marriage would end. Her threat of divorce eventually worked.
Between one quarter and the next (in between attending the Tavistock course), Margaret managed to get her husband to speak about the places in his life min Care where he was very unhappy or most cruelly treated. Then, they would travel to each one, and when they got there, they would sit in the car outside the location. They would never go in. Margaret would then ask her husband to relate the precise nature of the unhappy times he had spent there, and she encouraged him to recall his most painful memories.
During these visits (she said there were around two dozen in all, spread around the country), her husband would cry as he emotionally released a dam of repressed feeling which he had held in his body for over two decades. By visiting all the places where he had thought he’d left his unhappy memories, he was able to cry out the hurt he had repressed deep down for so long. Only after many tears and much more discussion of his bad feelings was he ‘emotionally free’ to be strong enough to seek out his Social Work file from the ‘Social Services Department’ and read about the circumstance which had led his mother to initially place him in Care. While learning more about his mother’s past did not lead him to ever want to seek her out, the fact that ‘he knew’ seemed to lessen the hurt he had felt and harboured all of his life.
Although Margaret and her husband were still in the early stages of a much improved marital relationship when the Tavistock course ended, and I had no farther contact with Margaret, I will never forget the way she rearranged the information of the marital experts in a manner that resolved her husband’s emotional blockage.
Even if at the end of the process, the couple eventually decided to end their marriage, Margaret had helped her emotionally repressed husband to become less emotionally demanding in his future relationships without ever needing to go to Jackson with him!
Love and peace Bill xxx