Look How Hard I’ve Tried

Original First Edition of Games People Play 1964

Original First Edition of Games People Play from Eric Berne’s private library.

In its common clinical form this is a three-handed game played by a married couple with a psychiatrist.  The husband (usually) is bucking for a divorce, despite loud protestations to the contrary, while the spouse is more sincere in wanting to continue the marriage.  He comes to the therapist under protest and talks just enough to demonstrate to the wife that he is cooperating; usually he plays a mild game of “Psychiatry” or “Courtroom.”  As time passes he exhibits either increasingly resentful pseudo-compliance or belligerent argumentativeness toward the therapist.  At home he initially shows more “understanding” and restraint, and finally behaves worse than ever.  After one, five or ten visits, depending on the skill of the therapist, he refuses to come any longer and goes hunting or fishing instead.  The wife is then forced into filing for divorce.  The husband is now blameless, since his wife has taken the initiative and he has demonstrated his good faith by going to the therapist.  He is in a good position to say to any attorney, judge, friend or relative “Look how hard I’ve tried!”

The couple is seen together.  If one — let us say the husband – is clearly playing this game, the other is taken into individual treatment and the player is sent on his way, on the valid ground that he is less ready for the therapy.  He can still get a divorce, but only at the expense of abandoning his position that he is really trying.  If necessary, the wife can start the divorce, and her position is much improved since she really has tried.  The favorable, hoped-for outcome is that the husband, his game broken up, will go into a state of despair and then seek treatment elsewhere with genuine motivation.

In its everyday form this is easily observed in children as a two-handed game with one parent.  It is played from either of two positions:   “I am helpless” or “I am blameless.”  The child tries, but bungles or is unsuccessful.  If he is Helpless, the parent has to do it for him.   This reveals the elements of the game.  The parents should find out two things: which of them taught the child this game;  and what they are doing to perpetuate it.

The description of this game on this page is incomplete.  For a complete description of this game, refer to Games People Play.