What Happens After “Happy Ever After”?

Jenaway, A., 2010. What Happens After “Happy Ever After”?. Reformulation, Summer, pp.8-9.


In planning a CPD day on drawing diagrams, I wanted to give trainees a reformulation letter to use to pull out the reciprocal roles and start to draw a diagram for the client. Rather than use a real client (and risk the letters getting taken away) I decided to let my imagination roam over what happened next to Cinderella and Prince Charming...

Dear Prince Charming

You came for therapy feeling frustrated and disappointed in your life. You are unhappy with your marriage and you are struggling to find meaning in your work. You are worried about your weight and your physical health since you have developed diabetes.

You grew up in a very privileged setting. You were the only son of Royal parents, who were very wealthy. As a child, you were given every material thing you asked for, indeed, you were often given things that you had not asked for and didn’t even want. There were servants around to do anything you asked. The problem with all of this was that you never had to wait for anything, work for anything, or cope with disappointment or realistic limitations. Even now, you expect everything to go your way and be on your terms. You find it incredibly difficult if you don’t get your own way immediately. You can become quite angry and demanding, a bit of a bully. This has caused problems in your intimate relationships. This was a problem in our relationship at first, as you expected that I would drop all my other clients and see you “on demand”. I am glad that we were able to find a compromise and that you have continued to attend even though the timing of the sessions is partly on my terms.

Unfortunately, because of your parents’ position, they were often busy or away on trips. You were generally looked after by servants who did their job, but none of them seemed to like you much. You rarely had much time with your parents and they never really got to know who you really were. They expect you to want the same things as them and to be prepared to live the same kind of lifestyle. At first you were delighted to be taken along and shown off on Royal visits and you did your best to impress them, but after a while you realised that you were being shown off as an object, rather than as a living person with views of your own. Whenever you showed any emotion, or too much enthusiasm for anything, your mother would “look daggers at you” and not talk to you for several days. After that, you would be given a “good talking to” by your father and made to apologise. You felt criticised and rejected if you did not do what they were expecting.

When they started looking for a partner for you, they did not even ask you about the sort of woman you would like to marry. They assumed that it had to be a girl from another royal family and they introduced you to many of these girls. Unfortunately, you found them all rather spoilt and demanding (perhaps because they had been given everything on a plate, like you). It is not surprising that when you met Cinderella, and she was actually interested in you as a person, you fell in love. Perhaps it was also a way of rebelling against your parents by marrying a commoner? Cinderella grew up in a completely different environment to you. She was treated like a servant and expected to do all the work at home after her father died. At first, she seemed happy to go along with whatever you wanted and you were blissfully happy together. At last you had found the loving attention that you missed out on as a child, and you were able to give it back to her. However, as the years went on, and you had your two children, Cinderella seemed to have wishes and opinions of her own. She wanted to spend time with the children and be a proper family, but this meant that you could not do exactly what you wanted. Although you could see her point of view, it made you angry and you started getting into fights. This was unbearable for you and you found yourself looking around for a new woman who would give you what you wanted. Unfortunately, you have never learned to negotiate, to compromise, to discuss things and come to an agreement together. Your children are very close to their mother, but you see little of them. You are not quite sure how to be a good father. When you do spend time together, they seem a bit distant and reserved, not really wanting to be with you. This leaves you feeling hurt and rejected so you avoid spending time with them and so a vicious cycle has begun.

The lifestyle you prefer is one of endless parties and entertainment. You find it hard to limit your food intake (you were never taught to do this) and you have put on a lot of weight. Although you used to enjoy exercise, you suffered a knee injury and you cannot be bothered now. You have little will power to make yourself go to your gym or use the pool. Since you developed diabetes, you find it very hard to follow your doctor’s advice and your blood sugars are rather high. You tend to parent yourself in the way that you were parented. You allow yourself every material thing you want, with no limits, while rather neglecting yourself where it really matters, emotionally and physically.

I hope that through this therapy you can start to find that middle ground between having exactly what you want, with no limits and feeling neglected, rejected and deprived. In that middle ground you may be able to accept a good enough compromise, where you can get what you need but also give in to others sometimes and acknowledge that they also have needs and feelings, just like yours. I hope that in this way, you can start to become a better parent to yourself and to your children.

Reformulation Letter

Dear Cinderella

You came for therapy feeling angry and hurt about your husband’s affair with another woman. You feel that you have tried to give him everything he wanted over the years, but when you started expressing your own needs and opinions, he rejected you for someone else.

Your childhood was very difficult. Your mother died when you were very young and you have no real memories of her – you have been told that she loved you very much and that she was a wonderful person, always loving and giving. You grew up with your father, who can be quite difficult and demanding at times, and you vowed to be like your mother – always caring and helping out, never thinking about yourself or your own needs. When your father remarried and your stepmother came to live with you, bringing her two daughters, you continued this same pattern. You spent every moment trying to please them and do what they wanted, hoping that they would love you. At first they seemed grateful to you for all the work that you did around the house, but gradually they began to expect it and take advantage of your good nature. The girls wanted a bedroom each, so you were made to give up your room and sleep down in the kitchen. You did not tell your father when they began to call you names and treat you like a servant – he was busy at work and you did not want to bother him. The more they shouted at you and blamed you for anything which was not done perfectly, the more you felt guilty and that you had let yourself, and your real mother down. At these times you would punish yourself by not eating and not washing, wearing dirty rags instead of clean clothes. The more you punished yourself, the more critical and blaming they became and so a vicious circle was created.

You always dreamed that if only your mother was still alive, things would have been different, so when a fairy godmother appeared one day, you felt that your dream had come true. She helped you go to the royal ball where you met your husband. He seemed to adore you from the start and you were incredibly close, doing everything together. His lifestyle was very glamorous and you enjoyed dressing up and going out with him. Looking back now, you realise that you never spoke up about what you wanted to do, you just agreed with him – that was what you were used to, doing everything to please the other. But sometimes, when he wanted to go out to a party, you would have preferred to stay at home and have a quiet night in.

Once you had your two children, these feelings became stronger. You wanted to spend time with them and be a proper family (you knew what it was like not to have this in your childhood and you wanted to give them what you missed out on). Unfortunately, the Prince wanted to carry on the party lifestyle and leave the children with a nanny. He even wanted you to leave them and go on long trips abroad. You wanted to be a good mum and so you read a lot of parenting books. Learning about being a good parent meant that you had to set limits with the children and not give them everything they wanted. This was such an eye-opener for you – you started to see that your husband was a bit like a spoilt child and you began to resent that. For the first time in your life, you started to say “no” – perhaps it was easier to do this on behalf of your children than for yourself? Anyway, it was a shock to the Prince and caused arguments. Good for you that you stuck to your decision not to go abroad with him, and to stay behind with the children, but you have since found out that he met another woman during this trip and had an affair.

You are now confused about what you want to happen. Having spent so long looking after other people’s needs, you have never really known what you want or enjoy – you have lost touch with your real self. I hope that through this therapy you can start to get back in touch with who you really are and what you want from your life. Perhaps then you can start to express that to others and learn to negotiate and compromise so that both parties can get some of what they need.

Alison Jenaway is a consultant psychiatrist in psychotherapy in the NHS and works part of the time in a Liaison psychiatry team with working age adults with physical illness, medically unexplained symptoms and chronic pain, and part of the time with adolescents, particularly those leaving care.

Full Reference

Jenaway, A., 2010. What Happens After “Happy Ever After”?. Reformulation, Summer, pp.8-9.

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